Riding Lessons III – Second Chances
By Andrew Todd


Chapter 9

The remainder of their stay in Spain went very quickly for the boys.

Soon they were back on the private jet for the return trip to America. Mr. Alvarez’s lawyers had worked quickly to have custody of Diego placed with CJ and Danny and made sure all the paperwork was in order for him to accompany them back to the States.

Ace and Devon had taken Diego under their wings and he was quickly acclimating himself to being amongst so many friends after having spent so much of his life alone with his father.

Mattie had helped Diego sort through his belongings before they left the rancho. Mattie told him they would need to get to a clothing store. While Diego had tons of clothes, Mattie didn’t think much of it would be worth taking. Diego’s wardrobe consisted of breeches, button-down shirts and formal wear. All he had for shoes were boots and dress shoes. Mattie was shocked a sixteen-year-old didn’t have a pair of sneakers.

Mattie told Diego to pack a couple of his dressier outfits and a couple sets of riding clothes. Diego packed several pairs of boots and two pairs of shoes. There were a few personal items he wanted to take with him. Mattie and Ace helped him pack them up and they had them shipped to the States.

While Diego was excited about moving to the States, he was still upset about his father. CJ and Danny had several long nights with him, helping him come to terms with the changes in his life.

Mattie talked to CJ about shipping Diego’s horse, Domingo, to the States. He knew the Andalusian gelding was all that Diego really had left from his life on the ranch. CJ readily agreed. Diego was beside himself when Mattie and CJ told him they had made arrangements to send Domingo to Second Chances Ranch.

CJ made the arrangements right away so that Domingo would be there when they arrived home. He knew that he would be quarantined for a few days and wanted that taken care of so Diego would have him right away.

The last week in Spain was spent on day trips and relaxing around the Alvarez’s villa. Ace, Spin, Mattie and Devon took Diego into the city to shop for more casual clothes. Diego was shocked by the amount of clothing they made him buy. Mattie kept explaining that jeans and t-shirts would be the most common outfit for him at the ranch.


The flight back was just like the one to Spain. The boys broke into smaller groups to talk and play games. All of them spent at least a portion of the flight sleeping, knowing they’d be back to school in another day and the next week would be a busy one for all of them.

Sarge and several of the hands were there to greet them when the plane landed.

Ace walked off the plane and over to his father. He tried to read his father’s face, but it was a mystery to him.

“Hey, Dad.” Ace grinned as he hugged his father.

Sarge hugged Ace back and growled in his ear, “I don’t know whether to congratulate you or string you up. If you ever pull another stunt like that…”

Ace stepped back and looked seriously at his father. “Dad, I’m supposed to be part of the security team and you never told me about Mattie’s uncle. If I had been in the loop, I could have kept a better eye on him. We did what we had to in order to get Mattie and Dylan back. The only thing I regret is taking Jesse with us, but we didn’t have a choice.”

Sarge grabbed Ace in another hug. “I am so proud of you, my son. And you’re right, if you’re going to be part of the team we need to keep you in the loop. Though hopefully, now that their uncle is taken care of things will be relatively calm.”

Devon and Diego walked over to where Ace and Sarge were.

Devon hugged Sarge. “Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, Dev. Did you have a good time?”

“It was a lot of fun, but it’s nice to be home.”

Sarge laughed, “You mean it’s nice to get back to TJ?”

Devon blushed and nodded.

“Don’t worry, I think he feels the same way since he’s been calling me two or three times a day for the last week to see how you were doing.”

Ace waved Diego over. “Dad, this is Diego Montoya. He’s going to be staying at the ranch.”

Sarge offered his hand to Diego who shook it.

Sarge nodded. “Nice to meet you, Diego. I take it you are my son’s accomplice in that little rescue mission.”

Diego nodded shyly. “I am, sir. I apologize if I have caused Ace any trouble. I only wanted to make sure that Mattie and Dylan were safe.”

“No harm, no foul, son. You two did a good job and everyone is safe and sound.”

As Dylan and Jesse came off the plane, Dylan saw his parents waiting for him.

Dylan’s mother came rushing over and grabbed him in a tight hug.

Dylan hugged her and then stepped back. “Mom, what are you doing here?”

“We had to make sure you were all right. Sarge told us that you and Mattie were ok, but we had to see it with our own eyes.”

Dylan shrugged. “I’m fine. It was a little scary, but Mattie and I are great now.” He reached over and pulled Jesse to him. “Thanks to my hero.” He giggled as he kissed Jesse’s cheek.

Jesse turned several shades of red, and then he felt himself being enveloped in Mrs. Summers’ arms.

“Thank you, Jesse,” Mrs. Summers cried.

“Ace and Diego are the real heroes,” Jesse said shyly. “I made them take me, cuz I couldn’t take the thought of losing Dylan and not having done something to save him.”

Mr. Summers walked up and hugged both boys.

“Are you coming home tonight?” Mrs. Summers asked hopefully.

Dylan looked at Jesse who nodded. “Sure, Mom. I just want to check on Dodger and help Diego get settled. Jesse will drive us over in time for dinner.”

“Well, then I guess we better get home so I make sure I have the pantry fully stocked for you boys,” Mrs. Summers said as she pulled both boys into another hug.

After they had gathered all their luggage, the boys split up into the SUVs for the ride home.

When they arrived at the compound the boys quickly gathered up their luggage and ran it up to their rooms. Mattie and Spin showed Diego to his room on the third floor and quickly dragged him back out to meet with the rest of the boys.

Everyone headed to the main barn to check on their horses.

All the boys took turns showing off their horses to Diego, who kept looking expectantly around the barn.

“Diego, are you looking for something special?” Sarge grinned.

Diego nodded sheepishly.

Sarge put an arm around the boy’s shoulder. “C’mon, I think what you’re looking for is out here,” he laughed.

Sarge led Diego out of the backdoor of the barn and pointed to a fenced in field about 100 yards away.

Diego lit up when he saw Domingo grazing in the field.

Diego whistled sharply and Domingo looked up and whinnied in response.

Zak and Dusty had just come out of the barn. “Oh, great,” Zak moaned. “Another one who whistles.”

Dusty laughed.

They watched as Diego ran towards the paddock and jumped the fence. Domingo ran right up to him and Diego launched himself onto the gelding’s back and took off across the field.

Sarge walked back towards Dusty and Zak. “Looks like another daredevil,” he laughed.

Zak shook his head. “Not sure yet. I think right now he’s excited cuz Domingo is the only part of his old life he’s still got. He’s a terrific rider and he and Mattie are already plotting how to make Mattie’s grandfather’s ranch even bigger.”

“I thought Mattie was planning to get a mare for Ash,” Sarge said.

“Well, once he found out that he and CJ still owned the rancho, he decided that the horses would be more valuable in Spain. He’s going to advertise Ash for stud services here in the States. Since he knows that Ash is part of that line and there aren’t too many in the US, he figures he’ll be in demand.”

“Well, speaking of baby animals, you guys may be in for a bit of a shock.”

“What do you mean?” Dusty asked.

“Well, there’s been a bit of spring fever around here.” Sarge grinned. He saw Mattie, Spin, Dylan, Jesse and Danny and called them over. “You all need to hear this. I hired a new hand while you were away. His name’s Brandon, he probably goes to school with some of you. He showed up one day asking if he could do any work around here. He wanted riding lessons and riding time and was willing to work for it because his dad won’t pay for it.”

“His dad doesn’t want him to ride?” Danny asked.

Sarge shook his head. “No, his dad said it’s ok for him to ride, but his dad thinks he’s got too much on his plate and the boy wants a horse in the worst way. So he biked over here and offered his services in exchange for lessons and riding time. At first I wasn’t sure, but he biked about three miles to get here, so I gave him a chance. That boy has been here between 5 and 5:30 every morning and he works like the devil. You boys will like him–he’s a good kid. But, he’s just learning, which brings us to the spring fever issue.”

All the gathered boys listened curiously.

Sarge continued, “I had explained to Brandon that when we let the horses out into the fields, the mares and geldings could go together. It’s really my fault, cuz I didn’t make sure he knew the difference between a gelding and a stallion. He simply thought geldings were ‘boy horses’ and mares were ‘girl horses’.”

“Oh, shit,” Dusty moaned.

“Yup, before I knew what he had done, he had put Angel and Onyx in the same paddock. It was a few hours before I realized what he had done and by that time it was too late. Apparently, no one had noticed that Angel was in heat.” He put his hands on Zak’s and Danny’s shoulders. “You boys are going to be grandparents.” He grinned.

The other boys laughed as Danny and Zak just stood there trying to absorb the news.

Sarge turned to Jesse and Mattie. “You two are going to be, too,” he laughed.

Jesse and Mattie stopped laughing and looked at Sarge quizzically.

“But Sarge, Val is a gelding,” Jesse argued.

Sarge nodded. “Right, but Kaya…”

“Oh, fuck, Cesar!!” Mattie exclaimed.

Sarge laughed, “Exactly. Bridget was keeping an eye on them for you boys and apparently she caught them…ahem…in the act.”

CJ came walking up to the crowd. “Hey, guys, what’s up?”

Dusty grinned at him. “You’re going to be a grandfather and an uncle?” he said as all the boys laughed.

Ace found Devon hanging out at Bullet’s stall.

“Hey, Dev, where’s TJ? I’d a thought he’d have been here waitin’ on ya.”

“His dad took him to tour some college campuses this weekend,” Devon explained. “They left Friday morning and won’t be back till late tomorrow night.”

“Well, then you’ll just have to hang around with me and Diego for the rest of the weekend,” Ace laughed as he wrapped his arm around Devon’s neck. “I’m gonna take him around tomorrow to get him acquainted with the area. Also see if we can find him some American clothes.”

Devon rolled his eyes. “We just loaded him up with clothes.”

“I know, but he’s in America now, we need to get him some Levi’s and stuff.”

Devon laughed. He always wondered how he, the ‘gay poster child’, ended up with Ace, the redneck, as a best friend. But however it happened, he thanked his lucky stars every day that it had.

As the afternoon wore on, the boys started to go their separate ways.

Dusty and Zak headed out for dinner with their moms. Jesse and Dylan took Kaya to spend the night at Jesse’s house. Mattie took Spin home. Normally, he would have spent the night, but since it was Diego’s first night in a new home, he wanted to be there for his friend.

Late Saturday night, Dylan snuck down to the kitchen for a snack and found his dad sitting there.

“Hey, Dylan.”

Dylan grinned sheepishly. “Hey, Dad, guess I’m still on Euro-time, I’m wide awake and hungry,” he explained as he rummaged through the freezer. He grabbed a couple of ice cream bars and sat at the table across from his father.

“So how are you feeling?” Mr. Summers asked.

“I’m ok, Dad, really,” Dylan sighed. “Mom’s kinda driving me a little nuts.”

Mr. Summers chuckled. “Well, Dyl, you’ll have to put up with it for a few days. After everything you’ve already been through and then we send you to a foreign country and you get kidnapped, that’s a bit much for a parent.”

“I know. But I’m ok. Mattie and I made it through and we’re alright.”

“I know, but parents can’t help but worry.”

Dylan grew quiet for a moment and then spoke, “There is something I haven’t told you.”

“That you shot Diego’s father,” Mr. Summers stated.

Dylan looked at his hands and nodded slowly. “Sarge told you?”

“Yes, he told us after we spoke to you when everything was over.” Mr. Summers moved to the seat next to Dylan, he put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “Dylan, listen to me, you did what you had to do. There is very little doubt that those men took Mattie with the intention of killing him and when you got in the way and they grabbed you, chances are they were going to hurt you too. You were brave and you didn’t panic and you saved yourself and your friends.”

“Then why do I feel so guilty?”

“Because you’re a good person with a big heart who can’t stand the fact that he hurt anyone, even someone who would have hurt you without a second thought. That makes me even prouder of you. If you weren’t affected by the shooting I would be far more worried about you.”

Dylan got out of his chair and hugged his father. “Thanks, Dad. I love you.”

“Your mom and I love you, too. Now why don’t you try to get some sleep, before Jesse comes down here looking for you?”

“Too late,” Jesse laughed from the doorway.


Sunday was a lazy day, with boys constantly coming in and out of the house. Everyone was trying to finish up the school work they had been assigned since they had left a week before spring break. Several of the boys went off on trail rides or worked in the arena. Since the ranch was closed for another week, they didn’t have to worry about trail rides or lessons, but there would be plenty of work to get things ready.

Dusty came down to find Erik already there and working with Rain. He was pleasantly surprised to see how far the little filly had come along in the two weeks he was gone.

“Looking good, Erik,” he said as Erik rode over to him.

Erik grinned and patted Rain’s neck. “She is doing so well,” he said excitedly. “I’ve been working with her every day. Either arena work or hitting the trails. I even went on the trails with Stephanie a few times.”


“Yeah, she just moved here with her brother, Luka. He’s a show jumper, but she just likes to trail and take it easy.”

“Oh, the twins. Ace told me about them. He said the boy was really excited to meet Danny.”

Erik laughed, “Yup, Luka’s kinda intense. He works his horse every day, but all he could talk about was taking lessons with Danny. He’s a nice guy, just really focused.” Erik looked at Dusty hesitantly. “Um, I kinda let Steph ride Rain a bit, cuz you said it was good for her to get used to different riders–I hope that’s ok.”

Dusty nodded. “That’s cool, as long as you were with her and she knows what she’s doing.”

“Oh, I was with her the whole time and I told her what Rain could do and what her cues were. She’s a good rider, very relaxed…light hands…she and Luka are so different, she’s so mellow and fun.”

“Are you getting a crush there, Erik?” Dusty laughed.

Erik blushed. “Uhh,” he stammered.

“It’s ok, Erik, I know you’re on our team, I’m just teasing you. I’m glad that you had someone to hang out with while we were gone and from the looks of things you’ve done a great job keeping Rain in training. Let me give her a try to see where we are at.”

Erik slipped off and handed the reins to Dusty. Dusty hopped on and worked the filly for a while. He let Erik know how impressed he was. Erik was excited that Dusty was noticing him and was happy with the work he and Rain had done.


CJ and Danny had called Kate, Zak’s mother, and asked her to stop by the house. She was the president of the school board and they wanted her opinion on what they should do about Diego.

After talking with CJ, Danny and Diego and learning that he had been tutored for the last few years, Kate recommended that they continue Diego’s tutoring and online classes for the rest of the school year and then enter him in the high school in the fall. He would probably have to go through some testing to determine which grade was best for him, but Kate thought, given his age, that he would enter as a junior, which would put him in Mattie’s class.

Kate knew a couple of young teachers who did tutoring until they could find permanent positions in the local school system and she offered to contact a couple and see if any were available to tutor Diego.


Monday morning, Diego was up early. He was still on Spanish time and would probably take longer than the other boys to adjust. It was very quiet in the house. The other boys probably wouldn’t be up for another hour or so. He quickly got dressed throwing on a pair of Wranglers that Ace had insisted he buy yesterday and a t-shirt. He pulled on a pair of yard boots and grabbed a denim jacket that was also a purchase that Ace had insisted on.

Diego went out to the private barn to see if there was any work he could do.

He was surprised to see a light on in the barn. “Hello,” he called softly.

A boy of about fourteen poked his head out a stall. “Hi,” he said cheerily.

“Hi,” Diego answered.

The boy came out of the stall. “You must be one of the guys in the big house. Sarge told me you would be back over the weekend. I’m Brandon; Sarge has been letting me come and help out in the mornings.

“I am Diego, Diego Montoya,” Diego said. “I am actually new here too, I just moved from Spain to stay with CJ and Danny.”

“Cool.” Brandon smiled. “Are you going to the high school?”

Diego shook his head. “No, it’s too late in the school year to start and I am used to being tutored and taking online classes, so I am going to continue that and then hopefully go to school in the autumn. Excuse me, but are you usually here this early?”

“Well, I’ve been coming out for about six the last week cuz school was out, but since school starts back today, I decided to come earlier.”

“Do you live close by?”

“No, I live about three miles away.”

“How do you get here?”

“I ride my bike.”

“How long does it take you?”

“About half an hour or so.”

Diego looked at his watch. “You leave your house at 4:30?”

“Actually, closer to four.”

“You’re doing this for money?”

Brandon grinned. “Nope. I’m doing it for lessons and riding time.  See I really want a horse of my own, but my dad won’t get me one, cuz he says he doesn’t think I have time for it. So I’m trying to prove him wrong. I talked to Sarge and he said if I came and helped out around the ranch that I could get lessons and some riding time.”

“But aren’t you going to be tired for school?”

“Nah, I don’t usually sleep that much anyways. I like the work and I like to be busy.”

“How are you getting to school after this?”

“Well, I’m gonna use the locker room here to shower and change and then bike to school.”

“But you are coming back after school?”

Brandon nodded.

“We should see if one of the boys can give you a ride to school.”

“I don’t want to bother anyone.”

“Brandon, you are here before light to do work just so you can have lessons? There are at least three drivers here; someone should be able to give you a ride. I’m sure Mattie or Jesse would be happy to and then you can get a ride back after school.”

“Are you sure?”

Diego smiled. “I am quite sure that they will be more than willing to help you out. They probably will not be up for another hour or so. I will help you in here and then you can shower and I will check with Mattie.”

“You don’t have to help me. I’m good.”

“I am used to doing work around the ranch and since I am not going to school right now, I would like to feel useful.”

“Ok.” Brandon shrugged. “I’m good with these if you want start in the next hall.”

Diego nodded and went to work cleaning stalls and feeding the horses according to the lists in the feed room. He had met all the horses so he knew who was who.

After about forty-five minutes, Brandon poked his head into the stall Diego was just finishing.

“Hey, you’re pretty fast,” Brandon laughed.

Diego looked up and grinned. “I have been doing this most of my life, so I am used to just getting it done.”

“I think there’s only one more stall left,” Brandon said. “It was empty, but they must have gotten a new horse over the weekend.”

“Oh, you might want to wait on doing that one,” Diego warned. “That is Domingo, my horse, and he sometimes does not like new people.”

Diego came out of the stall and walked with Brandon to Domingo’s stall. The gelding whinnied when he saw Diego. Diego reached up and scratched the horse’s neck.

Domingo stretched his neck towards Brandon and sniffed at the smaller boy. Brandon reached out and stroked the horse’s nose.

“Hey, big guy,” Brandon whispered in a sing-song voice. “You’re beautiful.”

“I am impressed,” Diego laughed. “He usually does not warm up to new people this quickly.”

“He’s great,” Brandon said. “He’s yours?”

“Yes, I have had him since he was a baby. I trained him myself.”

“I can’t wait till I can get to ride.”

Diego thought a moment. “Has Sarge told you who would be giving you lessons?” he asked.

Brandon shook his head. “No, he said that a couple of the boys did and he would see who was available.”

“Well, I am going to have lots of free time right now and Domingo seems to like you, so why don’t I give you lessons?”

Brandon’s eyes lit up. “Really?!?”

Diego nodded. “Of course. I am not an instructor like some of the other boys, but I have been riding my whole life, so I can teach you. I do not ride what they consider English though, so if that was what you were interested in then someone else would have to help you.”

“No, I wanna learn western, not that showy stuff,” Brandon said.

Diego grinned. “Then I would be happy to teach you. We can start today after you get out of school. That way you will not have to wait for one of the others to have a space on their schedule.”

“But I thought the ranch was closed this week.”

“Well, it is, but I will just be teaching a friend to ride, so it would not be necessary for us to be open for business. I will check with CJ, but I am sure it is fine.”

“And you’ll really let me ride Domingo?” Brandon asked hopefully.

Diego nodded. “Of course. He likes you and he will be a very good teacher for you. He will challenge you. I will tell you it will not be easy–he has his own personality and he does not allow anyone to take liberties–but if you learn on him we will make you an excellent rider in no time.”

“Awesome!!” Brandon exclaimed.

“The boys should be up by now; you should go shower and change and I will see if I can get you a ride,” Diego said. “When you are ready come up to the house and I will introduce you.”

Brandon ran off to get cleaned up and Diego finished with Domingo’s stall and headed back to the house.

He ran up to take a quick shower and change and when he came back down to the kitchen, he found Mattie, Jesse, CJ, Danny and Idgie having breakfast.

“Good morning,” Diego said.

“Hey, Diego, you were up early,” CJ said.

“I did not wake anyone did I?”

“No, I went to check on you when I woke up and you were already gone.”

“I am still on Spanish time, so I woke up too early and decided to do some work. I met a young boy named Brandon who was cleaning stalls in the barn.”

“Oh, that must be the kid that Sarge took on when we were gone,” Danny said. “He was looking to do some work in exchange for lessons.”

“Correct,” Diego answered.

“He was out there that early?” Mattie asked.

Diego nodded. “Yes, he goes to your school and wanted to get the work done before classes so he was here very early. I helped him out. I told him that I would see if you or Jesse could give him a ride to school.”

“How does he get here?” Mattie asked.

“He rides his bicycle over three miles to come here.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No, that is why I offered to see if he could get a ride with one of you.”

“Sure, I’ll take him with me,” Jesse offered. “I just have to swing by and pick up Dylan.”

“Thank you, Jesse. He is cleaning up and then I told him to come here and meet you.”

“He must really want to ride if he’s going to these lengths,” CJ said.

“Oh, he does,” Diego agreed. “Actually, I told him I would teach him if that was alright. Domingo took to him right away.”

“You’re going to teach him on Domingo?” Danny asked.

Diego grinned. “I already warned him that it would not be easy, but he is very anxious to try.”

“That’s fine, Diego; it will give you a project and we won’t have to worry about scheduling lessons for him.”

There was a knock at the door. Diego went to answer it and came back into the kitchen followed by Brandon.

“Everyone, this is Brandon,” Diego said. “Brandon, this is Jesse, Mattie, CJ, Danny and the little one is Idgie.”

“Hi,” Brandon said.

“Hey, Brandon, nice to meet you,” CJ said. “Diego was telling us that he’s going to give you some riding lessons.”

“Yes, sir, if that’s ok.”

“That’s fine and please call me CJ. Tell me, how do you usually get to school from your house?”


“Ok, well, Jesse’s going to give you a ride this morning. But I think from now on, you can skip coming in the morning and catch a ride with one of the guys in the afternoons. Then you can do lessons with Diego and help out with feeding and stalls in the afternoon and one of the guys can take you home afterwards.”

“Are you sure? I don’t mind coming and working early.” Brandon said nervously.

“Brandon, relax. Sarge has told me what a hard worker you are and I appreciate that, but it’s also important that you get enough sleep and keep up with your school work. Sarge mentioned that you were trying to show your father you were responsible enough for a horse of your own. Part of that is making sure you keep some balance in your life. Diego isn’t an instructor here, so if he is willing to give you lessons then that is between him and you. If you want to help out around the ranch that is always appreciated, but not a condition of Diego helping you. Since you are a friend of Diego’s if he wants to take you on a trail ride or use another horse that is fine as well.”

“Gee, thanks.” Brandon grinned.

Danny invited Brandon to join them for breakfast and then Mattie, Jesse and Brandon left for school.

Mattie took his car to pick up Spin and Jesse drove to pick up Dylan.

When Dylan got into the car, he saw Brandon in the back seat.

“Hey, Brandon,” Dylan said with a smile. “What are you doing here?”

“Hey, Dylan. I’ve been helping out at the ranch and Jesse offered to give me a lift to school.”

“I take it you guys know each other,” Jesse said.

“Yeah, we have a couple classes together,” Dylan explained.

“Cool. Like he said, Brandon is helping out at the ranch and Diego’s giving him some riding lessons.”

“Great. Which horse is he using?”

“Domingo,” Brandon announced proudly.

Dylan turned to look at Brandon. “Really? That’s pretty cool. I know Diego says he doesn’t often take to new people.”

“That’s what he told me this morning, but we seemed to get along good, so he said we could try with him.”

“Well, if you learn on Domingo, you’ll get good quickly. He’s gonna make you work though.”

“That’s what Diego said. What do you mean?”

“Well, Domingo is trained very well. He neck reins and has a very sensitive mouth, so Diego’s gonna teach you how to ride with your seat and your legs and how to work on leads,” Dylan explained. “Don’t worry; he’ll explain it all to you,” he said when he saw the blank look on Brandon’s face. “Just know that it’s not going to be like just hopping on any old horse. You’re gonna work, but you will learn a lot.”

Dylan and Jesse invited Brandon to join their table at lunch. Their group had grown so large, that they would push a couple tables together. Spin also knew Brandon and he and Dylan introduced him to Ace, Devon, TJ and Zak.


Ace walked up to TJ’s locker between classes. He looked around to see if Devon was nearby.

“Hey, TJ.”

“Hey, Ace.”

“Where’s Devon?”


“Shit, that bitch is on him already?” Ace shook his head. He was getting pissed at all the grief that Devon’s chemistry teacher was giving him. She couldn’t accept the fact that Devon was a really smart kid; she kept testing him and trying to prove that he cheated. She was judging him on his looks and not his work and Ace had had just about enough.

TJ nodded. “He handed in the work he did for the week you guys missed and she is quizzing him on everything cuz she still thinks he cheats.”

“This is getting ridiculous. I need to say something to my dad or Kate.”

“You know Devon doesn’t want that.”

“I know, but it’s just not fair; he is so smart and she is dogging him because of the way he looks. He wants to fight this himself, but she’s targeting him and that’s wrong.”

“Look, let’s give it some more time; if she’s still on him I’ll go with you to whoever we need to.”

Ace shrugged. “Ok, but if this ain’t the last time, I’m talking to Kate or my dad.”

TJ nodded.

“So, did you get everything taken care of?” Ace asked with a grin.

TJ smiled. “Yup, his present is all set and ready.”


“Your dad helped me find a place. We’re all set for Friday afternoon.”

“Awesome, he’s gonna be so excited,” Ace said. He looked at TJ’s grin. “You got one for yourself too, didn’t you?”

TJ laughed and nodded. “Couldn’t help it.”


After school, Jesse drove Dylan and Brandon to the ranch.

Brandon ran off to search for Diego, while Dylan and Jesse went into the house to change into their riding clothes. Zak and Dusty were joining them for a trail ride since they were not doing any practices this week.

“Hey, Jesse!!” Danny called from the kitchen as the boys came in.

Jesse and Dylan went into the kitchen.

“Danny, what’s up?” Jesse asked.

“This came for you.” Danny handed a large envelope to Jesse.

Jesse looked at it curiously and then tore it open and removed a booklet and some papers. Dylan rested his chin on Jesse’s shoulder as they read the papers.

“Oh, it’s the information about Trevor’s camp in Florida,” Jesse explained to Danny. “He had me give his manager my address so he could send me this.”

“Can I see?” Danny asked.

“Sure,” Jesse said handing the packet to Danny.

Danny quickly read through the papers. “This is a great opportunity, Jess, are you interested?”

“I guess, but probably not this summer,” Jesse answered. “It’s my first summer here and I want to just spend it with Dylan, working and training; the rescue is opening and we told Dusty we would be helping out.”

“Well, it’s your call, but this is a great opportunity, especially if you are going to make this a career.”

“But they have this camp every summer, so it won’t hurt to wait a year. That way Dylan and I can plan to go together.”

“I don’t know if my parents can afford something like this,” Dylan said.

Danny grinned. “Don’t worry, Dyl. If you keep going the way you are, I’ll make sure you go with Jesse next summer.”

Jesse and Dylan both grinned and rushed over to hug Danny.

Brandon found Diego in the barn polishing a very ornate saddle.

“Cool!” Brandon exclaimed. “Is that yours?”

Diego grinned. “It is. My father gave this saddle to me the day I first rode Domingo. It is a Spanish saddle. I only use it occasionally as it is rather heavy and ornate, but since I had the time I decided it needed a cleaning after its journey from Spain.”

“So what kind of saddle am I going to use?” Brandon asked excitedly.

Diego laughed, “Eventually, you will be using a western saddle, but you have a lot to learn before you start riding.”

“I thought you were going to give me riding lessons,” Brandon said suspiciously.

“And I am, but in order to be a horseman, you need to learn to be a horse handler,” Diego explained. “Riding is only part of working with horses–granted it is the part that is the most fun, but there is a lot of work involved. I know you know about the feeding and cleaning of the stalls, but there is a lot more to it than that.”

“Like what?”

“Well, it’s not just about feeding the horses; you’ve seen the list in the feed room?”

Brandon nodded.

“Well, that is because each horse has specific needs and there are various factors that affect those needs. Then there is how to actually handle the horses. So far you’ve just opened the doors and let them into the paddocks, right?”

“Well, sorta,” Brandon said shyly.

“What did you do?”

“Well, Sarge asked me to move a couple horses and I thought they went together and it was a male horse and a female and apparently they got busy.”

Diego laughed, “Aha, so that was you. Zak and Danny were going on about being ‘grandparents’ when we got back.”

“Are they mad?”

Diego shook his head. “No, I think they were shocked, but an Arabian/Friesian cross should be a very nice horse to have around.”

“So after that, Sarge told me to just open the back doors and let the horses into the small paddocks and the other hands would move them around if they had to.”

“Ok, so we need to teach you how to actually handle the horses–grooming, washing, feeding, caring for your tack.”

“Wait…am I going to get to ride at all?”

“Yes, my friend, you will ride; it will probably take some time, but we need to take care of these things first. We will not take any short cuts. You are not just taking lessons so that you can get on a horse and just take off like a cowboy in a film. I am going to teach you to be a horseman.”

“Ok, let’s get to it,” Brandon said with a grin.

For the rest of the week, every afternoon Brandon would meet up with Diego and they would work for several hours. Diego started by teaching Brandon about the tack they would use. He broke down every piece of the saddle and bridle and had Brandon learn all the terms and what purpose each served. He then showed Brandon how to properly care for each piece.

After Brandon had mastered tack, Diego went on to teach him about the nutritional needs of the horses. He reviewed the feed lists and the various types of grains and hays that were used and why each horse was given the feed they were given.

By the end of the week, Brandon felt like his head would explode from all the knowledge that Diego was cramming into it, but he was starting to understand why Diego was teaching him this way. He knew that most students would simply be taught how to ride, but Diego was taking the time to teach him everything he would need to know to get his own horse and take care of it.


On Thursday afternoon, a news crew from the local television station came out to do a story about the grand re-opening of the ranch and the opening of the rescue.

CJ, Dusty and Danny spent most of the after showing them the facilities and explaining what they would be offering at the ranch. They also spent time explaining that the rescue would operate with mainly volunteer help and spoke of the opportunities that would exist there for people interested in helping.

When the boys came home after school, the crew spent time filming them with the horses.

The reporter spent a lot of time interviewing Dylan about Dodger, since he was the first horse they had rescued.

Dylan was a little nervous about being interviewed, but Jesse and Danny had assured him that the reporter could not know about Cody and the rape and even if she did it would be a violation of his privacy for her to bring it up.

Jesse stayed with Dylan throughout the interview. Once Dylan started talking about Dodger and his recover, he relaxed and became his cheerful self. After the interview, Dylan and Jesse saddled up Dodger and Val and the crew filmed them jumping. The reporter also spoke to Jesse about his win in the competition.

After the crew had left, everyone focused on all the last minute things that needed to be finished for the Grand Re-Opening on Saturday.

All the ranch trucks and trailers had been repainted and detailed with the new ranch name and logo.

Devon ran around making sure all the signs were perfect and then he, Ace and TJ covered them all so they could be ‘unveiled’ on Saturday.

Later Thursday afternoon, Dylan was watching television in Jesse’s room while Jesse worked on his computer.

“Jess, aren’t you done with that homework yet?” Dylan asked. “I gotta get home soon.”

“I’m finished with my homework, I was just writing a quick e-mail.”

“To who?”

“I was e-mailing Trevor thanking him for the invite to the camp and letting him know that you and I planned to attend next summer. I don’t want him to think we weren’t interested.”

“Cool. I can’t believe Danny wants to pay for me to go.”

Jesse turned and looked at Dylan. “Why not? You mean a lot to him. He thinks of you like a brother and he’s always going to make sure you and I are taken care of.”

“I know, but I don’t want him to think he has to do this.”

Jesse walked over and lay next to Dylan. “He doesn’t think he has to, he wants to. I know he’s more like a brother than a father to me, but he loves us and he’s gonna take care of us–we’ll always be family.”

Dylan turned to Jesse and grinned.

“What?” Jesse said.

“I love you so much,” Dylan said as he leaned over and kissed Jesse.

“Me, too,” Jesse said quietly.


Friday morning after all the boys had left for school, Danny and CJ were just coming out of the barn, when they saw a brown sedan drive up.

A man in a business suit got out and walked towards them.

“Excuse me,” the man said. “I’m looking for…” He looked down at two envelopes in his hands. “…Daniel James and Carlos Alvarez, Jr.”

“I’m Danny James,” Danny answered. “And this is CJ Alvarez.”

The man smiled and handed them each an envelope. “Good day, gentlemen,” he said as he turned and got back in his car.

“What the hell was that about?” CJ asked as Danny tore his envelope open.

Danny scanned the paper while CJ watched the car drive off and ranted.

“CJ, stop.”

CJ turned and looked at Danny who had gone pale. “What is it?”

“Custody papers, we’re being sued for custody…”

“Sam’s suing us for custody of Idgie?” CJ asked. “Why now?”

Danny shook his head and looked at CJ. “Not Idgie, Jesse…”


“Jesse’s father is suing us for custody.”


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