Another Chance - Book Two

Chapter Two: Try Again

By Zarek Dragon


Everyone was seated in court and as Judge Dillon came out, they stood up. "Please be seated. Miss Wilcox, it has been a week since we met, are you prepared to provide evidence that Mrs. Walker is ready to be a mother?"

"We are Your Honor," the attorney stated.

"Good, but since you had your chance last week, let's start with Mr. Grayson. Would you like to call your first witness?" Judge Dillon stated.

"Yes Ma'am. I would like to recall Joseph C. Walker to the stand," Ryan stated.

Joe took the stand and was sworn in again. Ryan asked him to relate the time when he lived with Mrs. Walker up to and including his last day living in the house. Joe gave a very detailed chain of events about how he basically prepared his own meals and felt like he was unwanted in the home. He told about his father finding his collection, beating him and throwing him out into the snow without even a coat while all his mother did was offer him a dress.

"Horrifying story, I would hate to see any child suffer like that," Dillon stated.

"I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, ma'am, yet I lived it," Joe stated.

"And what happened when you moved in with the Bolts?" Ryan asked.

Joe's face lit up. He started talking about how loved he felt immediately. He talked about it being two days before Christmas and Jim and Zac went out right away to get him a special gift, then he held up his foot showing the modified boot.

"Then, what was your birthday like?" Ryan asked. Joe related about all the effort that Jim, Zac, Heather and Jackson went through. He told about getting the guitar and everything. "Was there any darkness to your birthday?" Ryan inquired.

"There was one, we had sent an invitation to my birth mother to attend. She sent it back writing 'Refused: Return to Sender' on it. It was returned on my birthday," Joe responded.

"And since you were thrown out of the house by Mr. Walker just two days before Christmas, has Mrs. Walker made any attempts to contact you?"

"To my knowledge, she only made one and that was after she said that she wanted me to move to Michigan with her and before she filed for custody," Joe replied.

"I have no further questions for my client at this time, Your Honor," Ryan stated and sat down.

"Mr. Walker, do you believe that people can change?" Miss Wilcox asked.

"It is possible. I've heard stories about previous cases with Judge Dillon, but based on those stories and from what I see now, she has changed," Joe stated. Judge Dillon just smiled.

"And do you think that it's possible for your mother to change?" Miss Wilcox queried.

"It is possible, but whether she has or not is yet to be seen. From what I heard about when she came to get me, I have my doubts," Joe said.

"From what I heard, she made a desperate plea to get you back," Miss Wilcox commented.

Ryan stood up and said, "Objection, Counselor is testifying."

Dillon rapped her gavel once, "Sustained. Counselor, please refrain from making comments."

"Besides, would you like to hear the recording of her threatening my family, my real family?" Joe seethed.

"I have no further questions at this time," Miss Wilcox stated as she sat down. Judge Dillon told Joe that he could step down and Joe went to sit beside Heather and she patted his knee.

Ryan stood up, "Your Honor, I have a copy of that recording if you would like to hear it."

"That won't be necessary as I have already heard it," Dillon stated.

"In that case, Your Honor, I can call the case workers from CPS to give similar stories of what they saw. I can call the individual members of the Bolt Family, their friends, neighbors and even Joe's employer if the need arises. In the interest of time, I'd like to hear what Miss Wilcox has to say as to how Mrs. Walker has proven that she is ready to be a mother, but I reserve the right to call my witnesses if necessary."

"Yes, that does sound logical. Miss Wilcox, would you like to proceed?" Judge Dillon responded.

"I'd like to call Mrs. Walker to the stand," Wilcox stated

Mrs. Walker took a seat and Miss Wilcox looked at her. "You heard what your son had to say. Was any of it true?" Miss Wilcox asked.

"I think all of it was true, but I often drank out of fear of my husband so I don't really recall it."

"So you admit that at that time, you were definitely an unfit mother?" Miss Wilcox stated more than asked.

"Yes, but since I've been away from my husband, I've sobered up. I'm going to AA meetings and seeking counseling," Mrs. Walker said.

"And you believe that you are ready to be a mother, now?"

"Yes, I do," Mrs. Walker stated.

"And what were you told that you had to do to be able to regain custody of your son?" Miss Wilcox asked.

"His case worker told me that I had to divorce my husband and move out of that house."

"Have you divorced your husband?" Wilcox asked.

"Papers have been filed and are awaiting a judge's approval," Mrs. Walker stated.

"What about your house?"

"It sold last week, I have until the fifth of September to vacate it. At that time, I plan to move to Harbor Springs, Michigan and I would like to take Joseph with me," Mrs. Walker answered.

"I have no more questions for this witness, Your Honor"

Ryan stood up, "Mrs. Walker, you said papers were filed, before the divorce is finalized, are you capable of changing your mind and stopping the proceedings?"

"I wouldn't do that. I want my son back," Mrs. Walker stated.

"I didn't ask if you would do that, I asked if you are capable of it," Ryan stated.

"I suppose if I didn't want my son back, it could be possible," Mrs. Walker responded.

"Then shouldn't you have waited until your divorce is finalized before trying to regain custody?" Ryan pressed.

"I suppose, but as I stated, I am moving to Michigan, my house is sold and I can't stop that sale. It is finalized. I plan to take Joseph with me when I leave," Mrs. Walker stated coldly.

"Have you consulted with Joe as to whether he wanted to go to Michigan?"

"Well, no, but a mother makes decisions for their children all the time without consulting them. I believe that Joseph would be happy there, and I think he'd want to get as far from his father as he could."

"Isn't his father in prison? If I am not mistaken, he'll be there for another four years. I believe that Joe has plenty of time to 'get away' if he feels the need. Don't you?" Ryan used air quotes as he said "get away."

"He's my son, and I think I know what's best for him," Mrs. Walker's voice rose a little when she responded.

"Like letting his father beat him and throw him out into the snow without even a coat? You think that was best for him?" Ryan throw out. Then he quickly added, "Oh, that's right. You did offer him a dress."

"I already admitted that at that time I wasn't fit to be a mother. I have learned from my mistakes," Mrs. Walker stated.

"Does that include threatening the people he considers his family?" Ryan asked.

"I don't recall threatening them, I merely made a comment that it would be in their best interest to not fight me on this."

"It was recorded; would you like to hear the recording as a reminder?" Ryan offered.

"Objection, Your Honor, he's badgering the witness, he's trying to get her so upset that she loses control. As you can see, she's not the same person, she is not getting upset," Miss Wilcox tried.

"Denied, he's not badgering, but I have a feeling that he wants her threat played, and Mrs. Walker, it is a threat. Mr. Grayson, I think everyone here has either heard it or was a part of it. I see no reason to listen to it but I will make it a part of the transcript."

"I have no further questions, Your Honor."

As Mrs. Walker made her way to her seat, Miss Wilcox looked at the judge, "Your Honor, if I need to, I can call members of Mrs. Walker's AA group that have agreed to testify on her behalf. I can also bring in her counselor to testify as to her progress. Only real way to prove that she is ready, though, is to let her be his mother."

"Your Honor, while I agree with what Miss Wilcox has just stated, what if she proves that she's not ready? You have to think of what is best for my client," Ryan argued.

"You have a good point, Mr. Grayson. Many times, I have placed children with their birth parents, or more specifically, their mothers. As I have said, some of those were a good call and the children grew up happily. There have been a few, thankfully very few, where the child had to be removed for his or her safety. I regret those decisions, but one really comes to mind. Tomorrow, I will be attending the funeral of a nine month old because the birth mother changed her mind about letting the child go for adoption, then after two weeks, the baby's crying caused her to break down and she smothered the child.

"I'm glad that Mrs. Walker is seeking help, and I hope that she chooses to always be a part of Joseph's life regardless of the outcome of this case. At this time, I am not inclined to give her custody, but I don't want to totally rule it out. Joseph will remain in the custody of the Bolt Family until I reach a decision. I will give that decision on December the first. During this time, I suggest that Mrs. Walker prove to this young man that she is ready and wants to be his mother. Not once did I hear her say that she loves this young man, but I know he feels loved by the Bolts. Mr. Grayson, the Judicial Board has asked me to remain on the bench until a decision has been made. You will go unchallenged for this seat during the election, at least by me, and after my decision has been made, you will be sworn in to take my place. And as to my decision; Joseph, you will be sixteen and three quarters. I will allow you to decide which family you wish to claim and my decision will reflect your choice." Joe started crying and hugged Heather.

"I am moving to Michigan next month, Your Honor. It will be difficult for me to prove anything so far away," Mrs. Walker protested.

"That's your problem, not mine. If you want to be your son's mother, you need to prove to him that you love him. You will arrange visits through Children's Protective Services and these visits will be at Joseph's convenience, not yours. From what I've seen, you have a lot of work ahead of you. My only interest is what I believe is best for your son, not you," Judge Dillon stated.

"He's my son, Your Honor, I demand that you give me custody. I have done everything I was told that I had to do to regain custody. Don't be a bitch now."

"Excuse me, another outburst like that and I will find you in contempt. Not only will I grant immediate adoption, but you will spend time in a jail cell until you apologize to me. And with the mood you just put me in, I may wait until December to see you. I recommend that you vacate my courtroom before I'm not so nice." Judge Dillon was obviously upset.

As they walked out of the courtroom, Mrs. Walker looked at Miss Wilcox and in a lower voice stated, "What kind of lawyer are you? You specifically asked for that bitch saying there was no way I wouldn't get my son if we had her. You better not bill me for this fiasco."

"Deal was that you would get your son. I think if that child hadn't died, you probably would have. We're not done. Just be a devoting mother to your son and make him want to live with you."

"And how am I supposed to do that when I'll be in Michigan and he'll be living here? Are you going to cover my transportation costs?"

Jim walked over to Joe, put his arms around him and picked him up as he hugged him. "We did it Bro; you get to decide who you live with."

"Yeah, wonder who I'll pick," Joe stated with a hint of orneriness. That was a mistake as Jim still had his arms around him and started tickling.

"Jackson couldn't come today, but was ready to rush over if we needed him. He said that when the hearing was over, we should all head over to the ranch. I have a feeling, that new barn is going to be more for partying than what it was originally built for," Ryan stated.

"You mean it wasn't built for parties?" Zac joked. Everyone headed to the ranch.

Jackson had a cake decorated saying "Way to Go, Joe" in the center of the barn. As soon as Joe walked in, he was greeted by Buster and his family. "Jackson said that you're staying. I'm so happy," Buster stated as he hugged Joe. A tear rolled down Buster's face. Mr. and Mrs. Jones hugged Joe also.

Dusty and Cheyenne walked over and congratulated Joe before heading to the table with the punch bowl. "Bro, I'm gonna grab some punch, you look kinda busy, want me to grab one for you?" Jim offered.

"Yes please," Joe replied.

Jim walked over to the punch table and was greeted by Zarek, "Hey Couz, I hear that you have a thing for dragons. You might like this punch. I call it virgin Dragon's Blood."

"Virgin, eh? I take it there is an alcoholic drink called Dragon's Blood?" Jim queried.

"There is and this really isn't even close to it, but I thought the name sounded good. I used a gallon of cherry juice, half gallon of pomegranate juice, half gallon of cranberry juice, a quart of lemonade, and two two-liters of Sprite. It's really good."

"Sounds like it might be, I'm definitely going to try it," Jim stated. When he grabbed two cups, Zarek gave him a look and he explained that the second one was for Joe. Jeff walked over and gave Zarek a kiss.

"Relax Jeff, he's my cousin," Zarek said as Jim walked back towards Joe. He overheard Jeff stating that he just wanted a kiss nothing more, but Jim chuckled thinking Jeff might be jealous of him.

Joe sipped his punch as he made his rounds greeting those that attended. Heather was talking with Mr. Jones. Matt and Gina walked over to Joe. "Grats on you getting to stay," Matt said.

"Do I know you?" Joe asked.

"I'm more friends with Zac and Jim, but mainly Zac. I've been around, though. My name is Matt and this is my fiancé Gina," Matt said.

"Fiancé, aren't you just a junior?" Joe asked.

"We'll be seniors when the school year starts back up, but we've been dating for five years and are planning to get married shortly after graduation," Matt said.

"I hope everything works out," Joe stated.

Jackson walked over to Joe, "I'm glad to have you sticking around and have a present from Dalton and CJ. They were so sure that Ryan would win for you that they sent it."

"Where is it?" Joe asked.

"In the parking lot," Jackson told him. Then he raised his voice so that everyone could hear him, "Everyone, we're heading to the parking lot so Joe can see his present from my former employers. They were so sure of the outcome of the case that they sent it a few days ago."

Joe looked at Jackson, "They didn't influence the judge, I hope."

"I assure you, they had nothing to do with how the case turned out. Not even sure that they could, nor would they as that would be against the law," Jackson assured Joe as he led the way to the present.

Joe's mouth dropped when he saw a green Jeep Grand Cherokee sitting in the parking lot with a green bow and a sign saying "Congratulations Joe" on it. "This is too much," Joe stated.

"What can I say, they are generous guys and someone mentioned to them that you wanted a green jeep," Jackson said as he looked at Ryan. Ryan smiled.

"Are you sure that they didn't influence the judge in any way?" Joe asked.

A blonde haired boy and an Indian both unknown to Joe walked towards him. "I assure you that they did not," the Indian said. "My name is Dusty and this is my boyfriend, Zack. He's Dalton's brother."

"Heard stories about the two of you from Jackson. How long are you here?" Zac asked.

"We came just long enough to bring the present, but we've heard so much about a palomino and we would love to see him," Zack stated.

"Then when the party winds down, we can take a walk," Jim said with a gleam in his eye. He really loves showing off Gold.

As people started leaving, Jim led Zack and Dusty to where Gold was kept. Zack was in awe of how beautiful Gold actually was. He thought that CJ and Dalton were just laying it on thick but when he actually spotted Gold he knew right away. "Dalton challenged me to try and ride him, do you mind?" Zack asked.

"Yeah, they told us about you. They said they'd be curious to see if you can even mount him, let alone ride. All his life, I am the only one that he has let even mount him. Go ahead and see what happens," Jim said.

"Have you ever ridden him bareback?" Dusty queried.

"Nope, never felt a need," Jim replied.

"Mind if I try?" Zack asked. Jim gave his consent and Zack walked up to Gold. Gold started fidgeting right away. Zack tried to calm him down but it was to no avail. Gold was having no part of anyone getting on his back except Jim. Didn't take Zack long to realize that. "He's definitely a one-person horse," Zack stated.

Dusty and Zack stayed and visited with Jackson and Ryan for a few minutes, but then got in the flatbed truck they used to bring the jeep.

Parking around the Bolt house was getting to be sparse. Joe parked on the street to leave room for any visitors. When he walked in the house, he said, "Now when we go someplace, we'll have a little more leg room."

"Are you knocking my car?" Jim asked.

"No, I love your car, but even you admit that there's not so much leg room for whoever rides in back."

"So, you don't like my car?" Jim said with a straight face.

"I just said I love it, but…" Joe started to defend himself but then Jim started cracking up.

Everyone was full from the party and exhausted from the day, so shortly after arriving at home they went to bed. Joe wanted to sleep with Zac and Jim again, not because he was anxious or couldn't sleep, but because he was happy to be able to stay with them. Neither Jim nor Zac had a problem with it, but did comment about not making it a habit. When they awake, their lives should start getting back to normal.

After they awoke and had breakfast, the boys headed for the ranch. Heather headed for the law firm. Joe drove his new Jeep while Jim and Zac rode along. Made Joe feel good to drive. He pulled in where Zac normally parks and started to get out. Jackson called all three into the office before they began their shifts.

"What's up?" Zac asked.

"While you boys were on vacation, I started hiring for the upcoming school year. I hate to say this, but I won't need you boys attending to the horses during the week. You'll still take care of them on the weekends, but not during the week. I have to start preparing for when you are in school," Jackson stated.

"So then, what do you want us to do?" Zac asked. Jim and Joe weren't sure what was going to happen.

"Well, Zac, I want you to start learning more about being the manager. You are my number two. When I'm not here, you are the one in charge. You turn seventeen in four days and will be a senior," Jackson responded.

"And I will also be getting out of school two hours early as part of a work study. That means I'll need to be here every day to get credit," Zac said.

"Good," Jackson started, "now, as for you two, for the rest of summer, I just want you to ride through the week. You'll tend to the horses on the weekends as you always have, but through the week, ride the horses to exercise them. Joe, you can start breaking your new horse. He's still too young to ride, but start getting him used to being around you, and carrying light weight, he'll be easier to break when the time comes. And if anyone comes wanting riding lessons, we'll schedule one of you."

"Dad?" Colt called out as he walked into the office.

"Which dad do you want?" Jackson asked with a chuckle.

"Well seeing how the other one left for work, I would guess you. Some guy just told me that he'll be taking care of the horses that I've been handling since I moved in. I told him that I'd let him today, but I'm taking care of Zarek's," Colt seemed a bit upset.

"Was he rude when he told you?" Jackson asked.

"No, he just said that he was hired to take care of them and for me to talk to you about what I'm supposed to do. He did agree to let me to continue taking care of Midnight."

"Sorry, I should have said something sooner. As I was telling these three, I started hiring the crew to work through the coming school year. Mind you, you are the owner's son so you can pretty much do what you want here, within reason of course, but you do have to attend school. Jim and Joe will be just riding through the week. That sound like something you'd like to do as well?"

"I understand, and thanks for clearing that up. I may do some riding, but my priority will be Midnight," Colt said then headed to talk with that new hand.

Jackson started going over the scheduling and everything he thought Zac should know. Jim and Joe headed for the barn with their horses. As they got closer, they spotted Colt. "Dad explained everything to me, so I wanted to come out to let you know everything was cool," they overheard him saying.

"Thanks, I do have a question maybe you can answer," the hand stated. "This horse is supposed to get alfalfa added to her mix, but I don't see any."

Colt looked around the different feeds. "I don't see any either. Let's go check to see if we have any in one of the other barns, and remind me to say something to my dad about it."

Joe put a harness on Sunshine and a small saddle. He then started walking him, allowing him to get used to the weight. At first, Sunshine wasn't happy about the weight on his back but he seemed to trust Joe and allowed it. Jim grabbed Gold and prepped him for a ride. He watched Joe as his brother took the colt to the arena.

Colt and the hand returned, each carrying a bag of alfalfa. "Did you leave any in the other barn?" Jim asked.

"Yeah, there are eighteen bags still over there. I'm guessing that's where it's delivered and none made it here yet."

"Was probably delivered two days ago, so yeah, you may be right," Jim said as he mounted his horse. Jim headed off on one of the trails.

"Thanks for the help. If you'd like, you can give me pointers, since you know these horses better than I do. But if you need to do something else, I understand," the hand offered.

"Well I am basically free to do whatever I want, for the most part. I can help you until you're more familiar with the horses," Colt smiled thinking how his life has so changed since he moved in with Jackson. Everyone has made sure that he knows that he is not only welcomed here but wanted, even the new ranch hands that know nothing about his past.

The day went by quickly and Zac looked at Jackson. "Joe's putting Sunshine away, but I haven't seen Jim for a while. He left with Gold six hours ago."

"He probably just lost track of time. Look, I see Gold coming now," Jackson stated.

"Yeah, but Jim's not on him," Zac was starting to worry.

Gold did a quick look and ran up to Zac. "Where's Jim?" was all that he could say as he grabbed the reins. Gold quickly turned around and motioned to his back. To Zac's surprise, Gold allowed him to mount. Jackson ran to the office to call 911.

Once Zac was on, Gold galloped as fast as he could to where Jim was lying. As they got close, Zac spotted a prairie rattlesnake slithering towards where Jim lay unmoving. Jim's pistol was lying about six feet from him. Zac pulled the rifle out of Jim's saddle scabbard and took aim. The snake was inching closer to Jim and looked like it was about to strike. Zac carefully squeezed the trigger and the snake dropped dead.

Zac jumped off Gold and rushed to Jim. Gold trotted over and started nudging Jim with his nose. Jim began to stir. "Are you alright?" Zac asked with relief at seeing Jim alive.

"My head hurts," Jim said as he attempted to sit up. "How'd you know to come here and how'd you get here?" Jim asked not seeing another horse.

"Gold came and got me. He was so worried about you that he practically forced me to get on his back," Zac said with a smile. Gold nodded his head.

"Gold let you ride him?" Jim thought he was hearing things. Attempting to stand, Jim fell back down.

"He was that worried about you and from the looks of things, he had a right to be. A snake was about to strike you when I got here," Zac stated.

"You gonna let us ride double back to the barn?" Jim asked looking at Gold. Gold looked like he either gave Jim a kiss or whispered in his ear. Zac wasn't sure which. Then Gold nodded his head and Zac helped Jim get up and into the saddle. Gold looked at Zac and waited. Zac got on behind Jim and took the reins. Gold took an easy stride to keep from injuring Jim any further.

As the barns came into view, Jim could see an ambulance waiting. Jackson had just finished preparing a wagon in case he needed to go after Jim once Zac found him. He looked over at them and felt a wave of relief wash over him at seeing Jim. "If I didn't see it, I would have never believed it," Jackson shouted when they were close enough to hear him.

Jim looked like he was ready to pass out again. Gold walked over to the ambulance and Zac slid off. The EMTs pulled Jim down and put him on the waiting gurney. "What was the gun shot?" one of them asked.

"Snake was about to bite him, but I killed it as it went to strike," Zac answered.

"But it didn't get a bite in?" the EMT wanted to clarify.

"Fortunately, no. I'm no doctor, but I am concerned he might have a concussion," Zac stated.

"Chances are, you're right. We'll get him to the hospital and have him checked out," the EMT assured. The other EMT was checking Jim out and getting his vitals. When he was done, they loaded Jim into the ambulance and took off for the hospital.

Zac walked Gold to the post and started removing his tack. He was telling Gold how good he was and that Jim would be alright thanks to him. Jackson walked over, "Heather's heading to the hospital. Joe wants to go but he's waiting on you. Why don't I finish taking care of Gold so you can head on over?"

Zac thanked Jackson, found Joe and they headed to the hospital. They found Heather in the waiting room. "Any word yet?" Joe asked.

"They're still checking him out, but he is awake. They've already done x-rays and an MRI, but they're not telling me anything yet," Heather explained.

As if on cue, a doctor walked over to Heather, "Other than a definite concussion, everything looks good. We'd like to keep him overnight for observation and if everything goes alright, he can go home in the morning."

"Thanks Doctor. Can we go see him?" Heather asked.

"Normally, I'd say only one or two at a time, but I don't think it would hurt for the three of you to go in," the doctor said with a smile.

Jim smiled when he saw them walk in. "Was I dreaming earlier or did Gold really let you ride him?"

"He was that worried about you. I'll be surprised if he lets me get on him again, though" Zac stated.

"We may have to test that out when I get out."

"Sure, we can," Zac said with a smile.

"Is this your first time getting thrown? At least you didn't break your leg," Joe teased.

"Yeah, Gold has never thrown me, even when I was breaking him. But then, this was the first time we came across a snake of any kind. I had just pulled out my pistol when I lost my hold and fell," Jim explained.

"I'm just glad that you're okay," Heather stated. "Now that we know you're alright, I think we should head home and let you rest."

Joe started to head for the door, but Zac stayed put. "You two go ahead. I'm going to stay here a while longer."

Joe walked back over to Zac. "I can ride home with Mom. Here are my keys so you have a ride when you're ready," Joe offered.

After Heather and Joe left, Zac started crying. Jim asked if he was alright and Zac said among his tears, "When I first saw you lying on the ground, I was so worried that I had lost you. I was relieved when you started moving, but still wasn't sure you'd be alright. Knowing now that you are, you have no idea how relieved I feel. I've wanted to cry ever since Gold got me but knew I had to be strong for you."

Jim put his arms out and Zac moved in for a hug and kiss. Jim joked, "Guess it's time for you to soak my shoulder for a change." Zac let out a chuckle but didn't move.

About an hour later, a nurse came in and found Jim still holding Zac. "I think he fell asleep," Jim told the nurse.

"Hospital doesn't really condone this, but..." the nurse said as she removed Zac's boots and made him more comfortable.

"I won't tell," Jim said with a wink. Smiling, the nurse took Jim's vitals and left.

Zac woke up and felt Jim's arm still holding him. "What time is it?" he asked aloud.

"It's almost midnight. You must have been wiped. You didn't even stir as your boots were removed," Jim answered.

"Yeah, adrenaline crash, what can I say," Zac responded as he moved to kiss Jim. He felt Jim slipping him the tongue and he didn't resist. Normally, he's the more aggressive one, but this time Zac enjoyed being passive to Jim.

It was nine in the morning when Heather showed back up. She found Zac lying beside her son. Zac's clothes were in the chair and Jim's hospital gown was hanging on the bathroom doorknob. Fortunately, a sheet covered the two of them. "You two awake?" she asked.

Jim stirred first. "Hey Mom," he said with a smile.

"I'll go grab a cup of coffee. You two might want to get dressed while I'm out," Heather suggested. She gave him a wink as she left.

Jim woke up Zac and told him to get dressed. Zac had just finished putting on his shirt and was helping Jim put on the hospital gown as the nurse walked in. "How are the love birds?" she asked. Then she looked at Zac, "You were very vocal this morning."

"Sorry about that," Zac said feeling embarrassed and looking a little flushed.

"Don't be. You two are obviously very much in love, and that's all that matters."

Heather came back and the nurse handed her Jim's discharge papers and a prescription. "All signs indicate that he's totally normal. Doctor thinks he should see your family doctor in a couple days and rest until then. The only mount you should ride until then is this stud," the nurse added winking at Zac. Zac smiled brightly as he looked down.

"I'll go bring the car around. Zac, why don't you help Jim get dressed and the nurse can wheel him down," Heather said.

Heather left and the nurse showed Zac where Jim's clothes were stored. "I can actually dress myself, but if you want to help, I won't complain," Jim stated.

"Might take a little longer if I help," Zac commented, "but I won't mind watching, especially if you save your shirt for last."

Jim finished dressing and Zac went to get the nurse. She brought a wheelchair and Jim got in. After Jim was in Heather's car, Zac wished Joe would have driven his jeep home last night so he could ride with Jim. He walked over to it.

Once home, Zac threw Joe his keys and said that he was heading to the ranch. Colby and Kunoichi acted like Jim had been away for months. Joe agreed that he would stay home with Jim so Heather went to her office. "You could have gone to the ranch, I can stay by myself, or rather with these two," Jim told Joe as he petted his two pups.

"You know Mom wouldn't have gone to work if I did, and she makes more than I do. Besides, this way I can pay you back a little for taking care of me when I had been thrown," Joe explained.

"You know I'd do it again if the situation ever arises and you never have to pay me back. You're my brother and I love you."

"I know, and I love you. I'm just here if you need me for anything. I'm fixing grilled cheese for lunch at noon and some tomato soup. Are you going to want two sandwiches?" Joe asked.

"Yeah, that sounds good. Think I'm going to go upstairs and take a shower. When I'm done, you want to play something?" Jim asked.

"You want to play a video or board game?"

"I'll leave that up to you," Jim said as he headed upstairs. Joe started looking at the games in the hall closet. He considered both chess and Monopoly, but decided to set both their laptops up so they sat side by side.

After a few minutes, Jim came down. He was wearing just a pair of shorts. Joe admired his body and commented about how he's toning up from riding. Jim smiled and thanked Joe. Then he asked what they were going to play. "Thought we could play World of Warcraft. We haven't played for a while and our game time is going to waste. Also, the next expansion is coming out sometime this year. Don't know about you, but I want my Legendary Cloak," Joe told him.

"Yeah, I heard a rumor that once Warriors of Draenor comes out, you won't be able to get it anymore," Jim stated.

They sat down beside each other and started playing. Shortly after, Joe's laptop suddenly made a pop and turned itself off. Joe and Jim tried everything they could think of to get it to come back on. "Guess Mom will need to call Toshiba to see what can be done. Let me grab my old laptop, it still has WoW on it," Jim offered.

Jim grabbed his old HP. "I mainly use it as a backup anymore, but it's a good laptop. You're welcome to use it as long as you need," he said handing it to Joe.

Joe started it up and was impressed with it. "Why'd you get a new one, this looks like it's in excellent shape and up to date?" Joe asked.

"It's only a year older than this one, but it only has eight gigs of RAM. I got a deal on this system and it has twice the RAM and three times the disc space. I usually keep that one by my computer for when I want to look something up while playing WoW or want to copy files over," Jim answered.

Joe got the laptop set up and they started playing. Jim was playing his rogue on Silver Hand server, Bluedragoń. Joe was playing a hunter on the linked server Farstriders. His toon was named Harroc. As they played, they lost track of time and after some had passed, Jim made a comment about being hungry. Joe looked at the time and saw that it was after one. "Crap, I'm sorry, I was having so much fun that I didn't notice when noon hit. I'll make our lunches now."

"No apology necessary, we were having fun. I used to play solo before I met Zac. We play together every now and then but this was really fun. You should join us when we play," Jim suggested.

"You are still talking about WoW, I hope," Joe teased.

Jim thought for a minute and laughed. "Well the solo and playing with Zac are true for either, but yeah, you joining us is about WoW," Jim said smiling.

"What, you don't like this body?" Joe waved his hand down his body, teasing some more. He also made a pouty face.

"You have a very nice body. If I weren't with Zac or you with Buster, I'd so want to take you," Jim explained. Joe laughed and then finished making their lunch. They continued playing while they ate.

After getting off work, Heather walked in the door and caught them still playing. They didn't hear her come in. "Why isn't Joe on his laptop?" she asked startling them.

"I think his motherboard blew," Jim responded.

"What, it's not that old, how? I'll call Toshiba, it's still under warranty. You boys clear off the table and start getting ready for supper," she stated as she picked up the phone.

They took the laptops up to Jim's room. "Think Zac will be interested in joining us later?" Joe asked.

"I'm sure he would," Jim said. He grabbed a shirt and they headed back downstairs.

As the boys reached the bottom of the stairs, Heather put the phone down. "After I told the person at the help desk that the laptop wouldn't turn on, they told me to go to a web site and grant them remote access to it. They're sending a box for us to ship it to a repair depot," she said shaking her head. Looking at Jim, she asked, "How are you feeling? I had your prescription filled. It's Tylenol 3 for any pain."

"I am a little sore. My body hit that ground pretty hard and I still have a headache," Jim replied.

"You'll probably have a headache for a few days. Take a couple pills and see if that helps." Jim read the directions on the bottle and grabbed a bottle of water.

Zac walked in the door as they were finishing supper. "Did you eat yet? We have plenty left over," Heather offered.

"Thanks, but Jackson fed me," Zac replied. He looked at Jim and Joe, "He asked about how you two were. Joe, he said not to worry about your pay, as long as Jim's off, he'll pay you to stay with him. And Jim, Workman's Comp won't cover your pay since you won't be off more than seven days, but Jackson said he'll cover that too."

"Any question why we like working for him?" Jim joked. Everyone smiled.

"Jim and I are working on our Legendary Cloaks, you want to join us?" Joe asked.

"Yeah sure," Zac started, "let me go grab my laptop." When Zac returned, the boys went up to Jim's room and played until Heather told them it was time for bed.

Morning came and Heather was gone before the boys woke up. "OK, you can go to the ranch if you want," Jim said, "It's up to you."

"I'm staying here. I know that's what Mom would want and Jackson basically ordered me to stay with you. 'Sides, don't you like me hanging with you?" Joe responded.

"I enjoy your company, but I feel like I'm being babysat," Jim explained.

"I'm not babysitting you, I'm just here to keep you from getting bored."

"Fine, but I'm fixing fried rice for lunch," Jim stated.

"Sounds good, I like your fried rice. Can we have pot stickers or crab raccoons, too?" Jim laughed at Joe calling them raccoons.

"Check to see if we have any and you can fix them if we do," Jim offered.

"We have both. Which do you prefer?"

"I could make a meal with just crab rangoons," Jim stated. "But then, I could do that with pot stickers, too. I just love rangoons more."

"Raccoons, it'll be then," Joe said. "We can do the pot stickers tomorrow. Mom said your appointment with the doctor is at three."

"Works for me. How far along are you for your cloak?"

"I have to defeat the Black prince at the Temple of the Jade Serpent. You?"

"I did that right before I went to bed, only I had to fight him at the Temple of the White Tiger. I have to go to Timeless and fight all four of the Celestials. If you want, I'll wait for you. You're only one step behind me. Then we can try to get another toon to get the cloak before the quests disappear," Jim suggested.

"I'd suggest our priests, but mine isn't high enough. What about a Horde toon?"

"Silitdrot just completed the Change of Command part. You level Ketsu yet?" Jim inquired.

"Ketsumodoki, yeah, he's on change of command. What does his name mean, anyway?"

"It's Japanese, means gay male," Jim explained.

"Is Harroc Japanese, too?" Joe was curious.

"No, it's Draconian and means hunter," Jim stated.

"Good name for a hunter then," Joe said smiling.

The boys worked on completing the Legendary Cloak quests for the toons they were playing. They finished just before noon and decided that it was a good time to take a break and fix lunch. Jim had started the rice cooker before they started playing so it was done and ready to fry. He pulled out the wok, put a little vegetable oil in and dumped the rice in.

Joe followed the instructions for the rangoons and they were done first. He asked Jim if he wanted his so he could eat them warm while he finished the rice. Jim was cutting up chicken breasts when Joe put the plate beside him. After Jim put the chicken in with the rice, he grabbed a rangoon. As he took a bite, Joe looked at him, "You need a room? You look like you're about to have an orgasm."

"That's how much I love these things. If you decide that you don't want yours, bring them here," Jim said smiling.

"No worries, I like raccoons, too, just not enough to need a room," Joe teased.

After lunch, the boys went back to playing their game. Jim complained that he wasn't feeling well and went into the bathroom. As he got to the toilet, everything he had just eaten came out. Joe jumped on the phone and called Heather, "Mom, Jim said that he wasn't feeling well, now he's bringing up lunch. I'm not sure if it's an after effect from being thrown or what."

"Thanks for calling me. See if you can make him comfortable and I'll be home after I call the doctor," Heather said on the other end.

"Joe, I need help, call Mom," Jim begged.

"I already did. She's on her way," Joe stated. "What happened?"

Jim was sitting on the bathroom floor in tears. Fortunately, he had gotten to the toilet in time. "I started getting dizzy and then nausea kicked in. I'm still feeling dizzy and afraid to open my eyes."

"You'll be all right. I'm sure Mom's almost home," Joe said assuring Jim.

"Thank you for being here, I guess I did need a babysitter," Jim chuckled.

"Wasn't here to babysit, but I'm glad I was here to be with you. I hear a car outside. You ready to get up?" Joe asked.

"Not really," Jim stated.

Heather came in and found him still sitting on the floor. "Doctor wants me to take you back to the hospital. He wants to run some more tests," Heather stated.

"I better take a bucket. I think my stomach is empty, but just in case."

"Are you feeling dizzy still?" Heather asked greatly concerned.

"Yes, can I lay down on the back seat? I don't feel like sitting up." Jim asked.

"Of course you can. I'm sure Joe won't mind sitting in front," Heather responded.

"Unless Jim wants to use my lap as a pillow," Joe offered.

"Appreciate the thought, but I think I want to just lay on the seat. Besides, if I'm using your lap and I do bring anymore up, it might get on you," Jim explained as the three of them headed to Heather's car.

Meanwhile at the ranch, Colt was looking at the horses at the Rescue when he saw a beautiful mare. Josh walked over and told him that when the Rescue got her, she was so badly beaten, the ASPCA considered putting her down. "She's beautiful, I'm glad that they didn't," Colt exclaimed.

"Took some fast talking, but as you can see, we were able to convince them and she has responded well with time and our treatments to heal her. She does have one problem, though," As Josh turned towards Colt with a downcast face, "Due to all the beatings, she lost her hearing. We have doubts that it will return. If you approach her, do so only from the front so you don't spook her," Josh warned.

"Can I ride her?" Colt asked.

"I don't see why not. Let me help you get the tack on her and get mounted. I would hate for you to accidentally spook her and get hurt. Jackson would never forgive me."

"He would know it was an accident, I'm sure. But still, she probably trusts you more," Colt commented.

"Once she knows you are there, when you move out of her sight make sure you keep one hand on her so she knows where you are. She won't have any trouble letting you mount if she knows you're there," Josh suggested.

They got the tack on the mare and she had no issue letting Colt get on her. Colt rode around the corral a few times getting used to her as well as letting her get used to him. He used his knees to direct her and she responded very well. When he wanted her to speed up, he used both knees. Only time he used the reins was when he wanted her to slow down or stop.

"You're good with horses and she seems to trust you," Josh stated.

"Think I could take her out for a ride? I think she'd like that," Colt asked.

"Normally, I would want someone to ride with you but that's more to protect the horse. Just remember to keep your eyes open and stay alert. She can't hear," Josh warned.

Colt started riding out and was constantly looking around. He had just spotted what he thought was either a stick or a rattlesnake. He didn't get a chance to really look because the mare sensing danger took off at full speed. It took everything he had, but Colt was barely able to hang onto the reins much less stay on the mare.

When the horse did finally come to a stop, Colt went flying. With the force of his landing, he heard something crack. At first, he thought it might have been his bones, but then the old boards he landed on gave way and Colt fell into an old well.

As he fell, Colt frantically grabbed a sturdy root that had grown through the well's wall. He wasn't sure how deep the well was but once he heard the broken boards hit bottom there was the faint sound of hissing. Colt tried to yell for help but stopped to conserve energy knowing that probably no one was even around to hear him. Even worse, he could feel the root starting to give way. He looked desperately for something else to grab hold of, but anything he grabbed simply came loose and fell down the well. And he realized that he was deep enough that the light was dim even though it was mid-afternoon. This made the search even more difficult.


Horse Runner

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