Riding Lessons
by Andrew Todd


Chapter 22

Zak lay in bed dreaming. He grinned in his sleep.

In his dream, Dusty entered his room. His tall, dark and beautiful boyfriend. Dusty stood by Zak’s bed and stripped slowly for Zak’s enjoyment. First he removed the band that he used to keep his long black hair in a ponytail. His thick pin-straight hair cascaded down onto his shoulder. Zak shivered. He loved when Dusty’s shiny hair was loose.

Next, Dusty pulled his wife beater over his head revealing his tight muscular chest. Zak sighed when he saw Dusty’s gorgeous pecs, tight abs and hard dark nipples. Dusty dropped his pants and stood in front of Zak with just his briefs on.

Zak reached over and grabbed the waistband of Dusty’s briefs and ripped them off. He drank in the sight of Dusty standing before him in all his glory. He watched mesmerized as Dusty’s beautiful penis hardened and lengthened.

Zak reached out to touch Dusty’s rock-hard cock. But, Dusty pushed his hand away. Dusty reached over and pushed Zak back onto the bed.

Dusty lay on Zak covering Zak’s small body with his tall muscular one. He kissed Zak deeply. Dusty then moved to nuzzle Zak’s neck. Zak groaned.

Dusty started licking at Zak’s neck. His tongue seemed awfully big to Zak. Zak started to say something and then Dusty’s long tongue slipped over his lips. He felt Dusty licking at his cheeks. Then he heard laughter. Why was Dusty trying to lick him all over? Who was laughing at him?

Zak felt a pressure on his chest. Sharp nails were raking across his torso and Dusty was licking his nose??

Zak moaned in his sleep. Dusty was acting strange. Now he was running his tongue all over his face and neck and his tongue was enormous. Dusty was drooling all over him and his breath was terrible. What was wrong with Dusty?

Zak heard more laughing. He started shaking his head as he floated between dream and reality.

Zak opened his eyes. Everything was blurry. He tried to focus. He could still hear the laughing and his face was wet. He looked up and found himself staring into a huge pair of brown eyes that did not belong to Dusty.

“Arrrgghh!!” Zak screamed as he jumped and fell off his bed.

The laughter got much louder. Zak looked over and saw his mother, Dusty and Herc standing in the doorway. Dusty and Kate were laughing so hard they had tears rolling down their cheeks.

“Oh, you scared him, you big bully,” Dusty scolded Zak.

“Scared who?” Zak asked groggily.

Zak rose to his knees and peered over the top of the bed. Sitting on the far side of the bed was a large Great Dane puppy. The puppy saw the top of Zak’s head and scrambled over to that side of the bed.

Zak kneeled next to the bed while the puppy stood on the edge of the bed looking at him.

Zak turned to Kate and Dusty. “Wha–, Who, Whe–“ He was confused and still half asleep.

“Happy Birthday!!” Dusty and Kate exclaimed as Herc loudly barked his greeting.

Zak stood up and tried to shake the cobwebs from his head. “Thanks,” he said. “Now can someone explain what is going on?”

Dusty laughed. “Don’t you like your present?”

“What pres…?” Zak started, and then it hit him. He looked at the puppy seeing it for the first time. “He’s mine?” he whispered.

Dusty grinned and nodded at him.

Zak looked at his mother. Kate smiled and nodded as well.

Zak ran across the room and jumped into Dusty’s arms.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!” he shouted as he hugged and kissed Dusty.

He dropped from Dusty’s arms and turned to his mother and hugged and kissed her too.

Zak walked back over to his bed and sat down and held his hand out to the puppy. The puppy walked over to where Zak sat and sniffed and licked at his hand. The puppy then crawled up into Zak’s lap. He put his front paws on Zak’s chest and licked at his face. Zak reached down and took the puppy in his arms and hugged it and kissed its head as tears came to his eyes.

Kate squeezed Dusty’s hand. He looked at Zak’s mom and she also had tears in her eyes. She reached up and kissed Dusty’s cheek and whispered in his ear. “I’m going to give you guys a few minutes.”

Dusty smiled at Kate. “Thanks,” he said as she slipped out of the room and shut the door behind her.

Dusty walked over to Zak’s bed and sat down next to Zak and the puppy. Herc stood at the foot of the bed, his large head resting on the bed.

Zak looked up at Dusty, tears still rolling down his cheeks. Zak reached up and stroked Dusty’s cheek and then moved up to kiss him. Dusty wrapped his arms around Zak as they kissed with the puppy snuggled between them. They embraced and kissed for a few moments, until the puppy began licking both their faces.

Dusty held Zak’s hand. “So do you like him?” he asked.

Zak nodded his head. “I love him and I love you,” he answered, kissing Dusty on the cheek and then kissing the puppy on the head. “Where did you get him?”

“My mom’s friend, Jackie–you met her at the house before. She’s a breeder. This guy is actually Herc’s full brother,” Dusty explained as he scratched the puppy’s head. “He’s about three months old. He was the biggest of the litter and Jackie was saving him for me, but when we met I knew I wanted you to have him. So she’s been holding onto him for me until today.”

“You’ve been planning this for that long?”

“Well, for a couple months. That first day when you brought Herc here to scare your mom started my wheels turning. I talked to your mom a few times to make sure she was ok with it. Cuz he’s gonna be a BIG boy. She said she had no problem with me giving him to you.”

The puppy ran around the bed while Dusty and Zak talked. He would walk to the edge of the bed and peer over as if planning to jump. Every time the puppy would get too close to the edge, Herc would walk over to where the puppy stood and stand there as if guarding him.

“Actually, Jackie was able to get him housetrained while she was keeping him,” Dusty told Zak. “So that’s one headache out of the way.”

The puppy wandered back over to Dusty and Zak. He walked around behind Zak and jumped up and put his front paws on Zak’s shoulders. Dusty and Zak laughed as the puppy licked at Zak’s neck and tried to climb up his back.

Zak, who was very ticklish, couldn’t take it and spun around and grabbed the puppy. He pulled it to his chest and cuddled it as it squirmed and tried to lick his face.

Finally, Zak placed the puppy on the floor. Dusty leaned back against the bed headboard and Zak sat between Dusty’s legs and lay against his chest.

Dusty wrapped his arms around Zak and nuzzled his neck and cheek as they watched the puppy explore Zak’s bedroom.

As the puppy wandered around, sniffing around Zak’s floor and closet, Dusty asked, “So, what are you going to name him?”

Zak thought for a few moments. “Loki,” he answered.

Dusty laughed, “Isn’t he the bad guy in “The Avengers” movie?”

“Yes, but that’s not why I’m gonna call him that,” Zak explained. “You like mythology. Don’t you know who Loki is?”

Dusty shook his head. “I like Greek mythology. That’s not Greek.”

Zak chuckled, “No, it’s Norse mythology. Loki is the God of Mischief.”

Dusty laughed as he watched the puppy root around in Zak’s closet. “That’s perfect.”

Zak sat up and turned around so he and Dusty were face to face. “So, what’s on the agenda for today?”

Dusty grinned, “We’re going to the ranch and taking the horses and the dogs to the lake.”

“Spin and Mattie too?”

“Oh, no. Just you and me and Herc and Loki and Onyx and Phoenix,” Dusty said.

“Awesome,” said Zak. “It’s been so long since it’s been just you and me.”

Dusty nodded and leaned forward to kiss Zak.


Dusty pulled up in front of the main barn where Spin and Mattie were waiting excitedly.

Zak sat in the passenger seat with Loki lying in his lap.

Spin and Mattie ran towards the truck. Herc, in the bed of the truck, saw Spin and jumped out of the truck and headed towards the little redhead.

Spin stopped and grabbed Mattie’s arm. He looked at Mattie expectantly, since Mattie was the only person besides Dusty that Herc would listen to. Mattie just laughed and shook his head.

“Oh, shit!!” Spin yelled as he took off running in the opposite direction with Herc in hot pursuit.

Dusty and Zak got out of the truck laughing. Mattie ran over and gave Zak a huge hug.

“Feliz Cumpleanos, mi amigo”

In his hurry to get to Zak, Mattie missed the large puppy squirming in Zak’s arms.

“Who is this?” Mattie asked rubbing the puppy’s ears.

“This is Loki”, answered Zak with a big smile. “He was my birthday present from Dusty.”

“He’s beautiful, said Mattie. “And when he gets bigger, we’ll have another one to sic on Spin.”

The three boys laughed as Spin came running around the side of the barn followed closely by Herc.

Dusty decided to have mercy on Spin. “HERC!!!” he yelled. “Get over here!!”

The big dog stopped his pursuit of Spin and ran over to his master. Spin ran over to hug Zak and stopped when he saw Loki in Zak’s arms.

“Oh, SHIT!!” he cried. “Not another one!”

Mattie and Zak laughed at Spin.

“Spin, this is Loki,” Zak said. “Loki, this is Spin, the human chew toy.”

As if on cue, Loki leapt from Zak’s arms and marched over to Spin and jumped up on the redhead, his front paws on Spin’s knees.

Spin couldn’t resist the cute puppy and knelt down to pet Loki. The puppy hopped up on Spin and licked at his face.

“Ok,” laughed Spin. “You can stay. But you need to teach your friend to stop chasing me.”

“Oh, they’re not friends,” said Dusty. “They’re brothers.”

“So, Zak got the smart one in the family then,” Spin said as he leapt to his feet and ran from Dusty.

“Herc, get him,” Dusty ordered.

Herc took off after Spin with Loki trying to keep up.

“Great,” said Zak. “Do we really need all three of them tearing around here?”

A minute later, Spin came running around the side of the barn once again, this time being hotly pursued by Herc, Ember and a tiring Loki.

Mattie laughed, “Oh, shit, he found another one.”

Dusty put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and gave one of his ear-piercing whistles.

“Ember, Herc!! Leave the chew toy alone!!” Dusty yelled.

Herc and Ember ran over to Dusty. Loki continued to chase after Spin. Once Spin knew the bigger dogs had stopped their pursuit he turned around and scooped Loki up and carried him over to Zak.

As he handed Loki to Zak, Spin said, “Please tell me you’re going to send this one to a better obedience school than those two went to.”

Dusty looked at Spin menacingly. “Do you want to try for round three?” he asked.

“Nope. I’m good,” Spin answered.

Zak put Loki down and watched carefully as the puppy walked over to Ember. The Retriever sniffed at the puppy. Herc kept an eye on the two watching out for his young charge.

Mattie looked at Dusty and Zak. “So are you guys heading out to the lake?”

Dusty nodded.

“We are?” asked an excited Spin.

Mattie cuffed his energetic boyfriend on the back of the head. “No, dummy.” He said exasperated. “They are. We’re staying here to work. Remember?”

Spin looked at Mattie for a minute. Mattie rolled his eyes and glared at Spin.

“We are?” Spin asked. Then his eyes popped open. “Oh, yeah!!  I have some lessons today don’t I?”

Mattie grinned and nodded, “Yes, you do.”

From behind Zak, Dusty glared at Spin. Spin shot him an apologetic look and Mattie just laughed.

Dusty finally said, “Yes, we’re going to take the dogs and go for a ride out to the lake and spend the day. Then I have to bring Zak back so his mom can take him out for dinner.”

“Cool,” said Spin. “Zak when are you getting your license?”

“I was supposed to go today, but they had to change my appointment to Monday morning. If everything goes right, I’ll have a week to drive around before school starts.”

“Awesome,” said an excited Spin. “So, you’re going to drive me and Mattie to school, right?”

“Yes; I told you, I’ll pick you guys up when I can so you don’t have to take the cheese wagon.”

Mattie and Spin high-fived each other and then high-fived Zak.

Dusty looked at Zak. “Let’s get going,” he said.

Zak nodded and walked towards the barn.

“We’ll see you guys later,” Zak said as he passed Mattie and Spin.

“Have a fun day, Zak,” Mattie said.

“Yeah, have fun,” said Spin, giggling.

Dusty walked up to Mattie and Spin and glared at Spin.

Mattie laughed, “Don’t worry, Dusty. We’ve got it all taken care of.”

“You’re in charge, Mattie,” Dusty said, still looking at Spin.

Spin rolled his eyes. “Dusty, he’s my best friend. I won’t fuck this up.”

Dusty grinned and grabbed Spin in a hug. “You better not, you little shit,” he laughed.

Spin hugged Dusty back and then Dusty walked off to the barn looking for Zak with Herc in tow.

Dusty found Zak right where he expected, at Onyx’s stall. Zak was standing in the stall with Onyx. He had let Loki down and the puppy was standing in the middle of the stall nose-to-nose with Onyx. Zak just talked quietly to both.

Dusty laughed at the sight. Three months ago, Zak had never ridden a horse and had never been around animals and here he was, practically the owner of the biggest horse on the ranch and introducing his horse to his new puppy.

Dusty walked into the stall and wrapped his arms around Zak. Onyx never even budged. Dusty was amazed at the change in Onyx’s behavior since Zak had arrived. It had started with Onyx just allowing Zak to get close to him, but Zak had mellowed the big horse out so much that Dusty and Mattie had each ridden him a few times. Onyx did not take to Spin as easily as the other boys, but most people didn’t warm up to the little ball of hyperkinetic energy very quickly either.

Onyx also no longer gave any grief to anyone who came to feed him or clean his stall. To Dusty, Zak had worked a miracle with the Friesian.

Dusty leaned down and whispered in Zak’s ear, “You ready to go?”

Zak turned around and looked up at Dusty. “Yep.” He reached up and kissed Dusty. “If I forget to tell you later, this is the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

Dusty smiled at his boyfriend. “It’s only begun, how do you know it’s the best already?”

Zak grinned. “Let’s see…I have an awesome horse, a cute new puppy, two best friends and the most beautiful boyfriend ever–how could it not be the best birthday?”

Dusty grabbed Zak and laid a big kiss on him.

“Let’s go,” Dusty said.

Zak walked out of the stall and grabbed Onyx’s halter and lead. He went back and got the halter on Onyx and led him out of the stall. Dusty bent down and picked up Loki so he wouldn’t get stepped on.

Dusty followed Zak outside to the crossties. While Zak hooked Onyx’s halter to the ties, Zak put Loki down and left him in the yard with Herc and went to get Phoenix.

By the time, Dusty came back with Phoenix, Zak had Onyx brushed and bridled. Zak had thrown his saddle bags over Onyx shoulder, just as Dusty had done with Phoenix.

Dusty left Phoenix standing in the yard and went over to give Zak a leg up.

When Zak was settled on Onyx’s back, he motioned to Dusty. Dusty looked behind him to see Loki asleep by the barn door.

Dusty went over and picked up the drowsy puppy and handed him up to Zak.  Zak laid Loki on Onyx’s back and held him with one hand and the reins with the other.

Dusty went back to Phoenix and jumped up onto the mustang’s back.

Dusty whistled for Herc and they all took off down the trail.

When they got to the lake, the boys dismounted their horses. They removed Onyx’s bridle and Phoenix’s hackamore and turned the two loose to graze. The dogs followed the boys over to the campsite where their tent still stood.

Dusty had Zak sit on one of the logs they have laid around the fire pit while he went into the tent.

Dusty came out with a large cooler and placed it in front of the tent. He stepped back into the tent and came out with a couple of small wrapper boxes. He placed the boxes on the cooler and returned to the tent.

Zak looked at the items Dusty had stacked up. “What are you up to?” he asked.

Dusty stuck his head out of the tent. “Just wait,” he grinned.

A few seconds later, Dusty came out of the tent with one hand behind his back.

He walked over to where Zak sat. Herc and Loki were lying at Zak’s feet since there was no fire going.

Dusty sat down next to Zak. He reached out and stroked Zak’s cheek with his free hand. Then he leaned forward and lovingly kissed Zak on the lips.

Zak kissed Dusty back and wrapped his arms around Dusty’s neck. He pulled back from the kiss and whispered, “I love you so much.”

Dusty smiled at Zak. He kissed Zak’s cheek and then kissed his forehead. “I love you more than you could imagine,” he said. “I can’t imagine ever being without you.”

Dusty took his hands from behind his back.

In his hand, Dusty held a bouquet of six roses of different colors. He held them out to Zak.

“Do you know anything about roses?” Dusty asked.

“Just that they end up costing a lot of married men a lot of money on Valentine’s Day,” Zak laughed.

“Very funny,” Dusty replied. “Every color rose has a meaning.” As he explained the meanings, he handed Zak each individual rose. “The first one is lavender–that means love at first sight, cuz that’s what I felt when I met you. Next is yellow for friendship, because you gave yours to me the instant we met. This one is coral–it’s for the desire that I feel every time I am in your presence. This pink one is for the perfect happiness I feel more and more each day that I have you in my life.”

As Dusty continued, tears began to roll down both his and Zak’s faces.

“These last two are white and red. The white rose signifies innocence. You were so innocent when I met you and you still are–so innocent and sweet. The red is for love, because I love you more than anything or anyone ever in my life. Given together the red and the white represent our union.” He handed Zak the last two roses.”

By this point, Zak was crying. He held the roses in his hand and looked up into Dusty’s tear-filled eyes. He wrapped his arms around Dusty and hugged him as hard as his small body could manage.

“Thank you,” Zak whispered. “You’re the best present I ever got.”

Dusty hugged Zak back and just sat there and held him.

Dusty sat back and released Zak. He said, “Wait right here,” as he got up and walked over to the small pile he had made outside the tent.

Dusty picked up the cooler and the boxes he had piled on top of it and carried it down to the lake shore. Herc followed him. Loki stayed lying at Zak’s feet, as Zak sat and waited for Dusty.

After a few minutes, Dusty came back from Zak. He offered Zak his hand and the two walked hand in hand to a quiet spot near the lake. Zak snapped his fingers for Loki to follow them.

Zak inhaled sharply when he saw what Dusty had done.

A large blanket had been laid out on the beach. The cooler Dusty had carried down was on one corner of the blanket. Next to the cooler was an ice bucket with a bottle of sparkling cider in it. Two fluted glasses sat next to the bucket. In front of the cooler was a small pile of wrapped boxes.

Zak squeezed Dusty’s hand tight. He was trying not to start crying again. He’d never had a birthday like this. His mom had always spoiled him a little on his birthday, but never had someone taken so much time and energy to make the day so special for him. Zak knew that even if he and Dusty were together for a hundred more birthdays, he would always cherish the memories of this one most of all.

Dusty led Zak to the blanket and had him sit down. He took the roses from Zak and placed them in a crystal vase and set the vase down next to the ice bucket.

Dusty opened took the bottle of sparkling cider and poured some into the glasses. He handed a glass to Zak. The two clinked their glasses together in a silent toast and sipped their cider.

Zak leaned into Dusty and kissed him. “What’s for lunch?” he asked with a grin.

Dusty grinned back at Zak and opened up the cooler. As Dusty pulled each item out of the cooler, Zak grinned wider and wider until he was laughing deeply at the unusual meal that Dusty laid before them.

To anyone else, the buffet laid before him would be a complete mystery, but Zak knew that Dusty had gone out of his way to create a meal that was made of all his favorite foods.

Dusty had placed in front of him a foot-long Spicy Italian sub from Subway, a bag of Cape Cod potato chips, a jar of Cain’s dill pickle spears, a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, a pack of Oreos, a bag of Twizzlers and a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Zak was laughing so hard at this point that he was rolling around on the blanket. Loki saw his new friend and thought he wanted to play so he ran over to Zak and began crawling all over his new boy licking at his face and neck. Ticklish Zak laughed even harder as his puppy continued to attack him with his tongue.

Laughing at his boy and his new dog, Dusty finally had mercy on Zak and lifted Loki off his body. He held the squirming puppy while Zak caught his breath and sat up.

The boys sat back down to enjoy their lunch. Dusty pulled a small bag of dog food out of the cooler and set out two bowls for Herc and Loki to have lunch as well.

When they finished, Zak looked over to Dusty. “I can’t believe you did all this,” he said.

“Why not? “asked Dusty.

“Well, no one’s ever gone to this much trouble for me.”

“Your mom must do stuff for your birthday.”

Zak nodded, “Well, yeah, she kinda spoils me for my birthday, but it’s always about spending too much and making sure I have ‘stuff’; but you went to the trouble of making me a lunch of all my favorites. And you knew what they were. And you thought of the roses. It wasn’t just that you got me flowers, you got me flowers with thoughts and meanings behind them.” Zak looked at Dusty with a single tear rolling down his cheek. “Are you trying to make me fall more in love with you?”

Dusty slid over so he was right next to Zak. He took Zak in his arms and looked into his sky-blue eyes. “I’m just showing you how much I love you.”

“You show me that every day,” Zak said choking up again. “You’ve shown me that since the moment we met. And I love you so much more every day that we are together.”

Zak tilted his head up and kissed Dusty with as much love as he could.

The two boys laid back on the blanket and kept kissing and caressing each other.

After a few minutes. Dusty pulled back and sat back up.

“Before we get too far gone here, there’s a little matter of your presents.”

Zak sat up. “Presents?” he queried. “But you already gave me Loki and this great day. You didn’t have to do more.”

Dusty looked at Zak. “It’s not about ‘has to’ it’s about ‘wants to’,” Dusty declared.

Dusty handed the first package to Zak. Zak tore it open. Inside was a new collar and leash for Loki. Zak excitedly called Loki over and put the new collar on the puppy.

The next box contained a new halter and lead for Onyx. Wherever Dusty had gotten it, he had had them embroider Onyx’s name on one side of the halter and Zak’s on the other.

As he continued, Zak opened boxes containing a new pair of boots, a pair of breeches, a black Stetson hat and a few new toys for Loki.

Zak was beside himself over the gifts. “Dusty, it’s all too much,” he protested. “You shouldn’t have done all this.”

Dusty took Zak’s chin in his hand. “Zak, I’ve been waiting for you all my life. So, I’m going to spoil you as much and as often as I can. You’ve made me so happy and I just want to do the same for you.”

“You do. Every day I thank God that I found you and that my mom forced me to take this job. To think about that first day and how I wanted to get out of coming here in the worst way. And now I couldn’t imagine my life if you and the ranch and Mattie and Spin and Onyx weren’t in it.”

Zak started to choke up and Dusty grabbed him in a hug. Dusty rocked Zak till he calmed down.

Dusty spoke to Zak in a quiet voice, “I’m sorry, baby, but I have one more gift for you.”

“Oh, God, you’re kidding.”

“Nope.” Dusty handed Zak a very small ring box. Zak opened it and inside was a small ring with two hands holding a heart with a crown on it.

“I’ve seen one of these before, it’s a Clo–, no… a Clu–…”

Dusty laughed, “It’s a Claddagh ring. It’s Irish. The crown symbolizes the loyalty that I will always have to you; the hands are for the friendship that started our relationship; and the heart is for the enormous love I have for you. There are four ways you can wear it, each symbolizes the wearer’s romantic status. I want you to put it on your right hand with the point of the heart towards your wrist.

Zak put the ring on the ring finger of his right hand in the direction Dusty had requested. He looked up at Dusty. “What does this mean?”

“Well, if you wear it on that hand that way, it means you’re in a relationship, your heart has been captured.”

Zak smiled wide. “It sure has,” he said.

In a few years, we’ll move it to your other hand and point it towards your fingertips, that will mean we are engaged, and then there will come the day that you turn it around on your left hand.” Dusty leaned in and kissed Zak’s cheek and whispered in his ear. “That will be our wedding day.”

Zak kept grinning and grabbed Dusty around the neck and hugged him as hard as he could.

“Oh, my God,” Zak sighed. “Every time I think I couldn’t possible love you more, you prove me wrong. I so don’t deserve you.”

Dusty looked at Zak very seriously. “Don’t you ever say that, Zachary Aaron Myers,” he scolded. “You deserve all this and so much more. You are the most incredible, beautiful, sexy, warm-hearted person I have ever met and I never want to lose you.”

Zak looked into Dusty’s dark eyes which were filling with tears. He grabbed Dusty’s hand and kissed the palm. “You’ll never lose me,” he said. “I’d die without you.”

The two embraced and lay back on the blanket. They cuddled and snuggled and kissed in the warm late summer sun. After all the emotion of the day the two were spent physically and emotionally. They soon fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The two slept for a couple of hours. Dusty was the first of the two to stir. He opened his eyes slowly and smiled. Zak was nestled in his arms. Loki was curled up against Zak’s stomach, asleep, and Herc was laying on the blanket standing guard over the boys.

The day had, so far, turned out even better than he had hoped. He had been planning for this day almost from the day he met Zak. He knew that Zak still doubted that he ‘deserved’ to be loved by someone, but he was determined to show him every day just how much he was loved.

Dusty looked at his watch. “Oh, shit,” he exclaimed. He gently shook Zak. “Zak, baby, you need to wake up, we’re late. We need to get back.”

Zak slowly rejoined the land of the living. “Huh?”

Dusty chuckled at him, “Baby, we need to get going. Your mom’s coming to get you and we need to get back to meet her.”

Zak suddenly sat up. “Oh, shit!! We have a reservation and we can’t be late.”

“It’s ok. We have time; we just need to get going.” Dusty started gathering all of Zak’s gifts as well as the cooler and leftover food items. He stacked everything on the cooler and carried it back to the tent. Zak picked up the blanket and shook it out. Loki, now rested and full of energy, thought that this was a new game and kept trying to bite the edges of the blanket as Zak shook it out.

“Loki, no,” Zak said. “We don’t have time for this.”

Dusty came back from putting everything in the tent. He grabbed Loki so that Zak could finish folding the blanket. They walked back to the tent, Zak carrying the blanket and Dusty carrying Loki. Herc walked between the two boys.

Zak threw the blanket in the tent. “How are we going to get all this stuff back?” he asked.

“It will be ok here for now,” Dusty answered. “I’ll come out later with the 4-wheeler and get it all.”


Dusty let loose one of his whistles and Phoenix came running.

Zak, who could not and would not produce that whistle, just yelled, “Onyx!!” and the big black horse came trotting up.

Zak quickly bridled Onyx and Dusty slipped Phoenix’s hackamore on. Dusty gave Zak a boost up onto Onyx and handed him Loki. Dusty jumped onto Phoenix’s back and called for Herc and they took off for the ranch.

When they got back to the ranch they noticed that there were no cars in the barnyard.

“I wonder where my mom is,” Zak said.

“Maybe she’s running late, too,” Dusty replied.

“I guess there’s a first time for everything,” Zak answered.

The boys rode up to the side of the barn. Dusty dismounted and then took Loki from Zak. Zak then slid down from Onyx’s back. They slipped the bridle and hackamore off the horses and put their halters back on. Zak had remembered to take Onyx’s new bridle and lead before they left the lake.

‘Hey, Zak,” Dusty said. “Why don’t you go in the office and see if your mom left a message. Sometimes we don’t get a cell signal at the lake. I’ll take Onyx.”

“Good idea,” Zak answered as he handed Onyx’s lead to Dusty.

Zak went over and opened the barn door.



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