Another Chance - Book Three

Chapter Twenty-Five:Christmas Shopping Gone Wrong

by Zarek Dragon


Patrick wanted to go watch the football game, so Jim and Zac decided to take the boys. Walker saw them and pointed them out to Sean. "Is he here to see how I do?" Sean asked.

Walker tried pepping Sean up, "I think he's here to root us on to victory. Coach wants youSean starting today. You did awesome when he put you in last week. No pressure, if we win, we get to play in the State finals for Junior High. If we lose, we still did better than before you joined."

"I seriously helped the team?" Sean still couldn't believe it. "I even managed to make my dad proud of me, which was a shock."

Walker gave a grimace, "Yeah, well, he should have always been proud of you, but that aside, I'm glad."

Sean corrected him, "Not when I was being a bully. No one should be proud of that."

"True," Walker responded, "but would you have been a bully had he not made you feel bad?"

"I don't know," Sean admitted.

At half time, Cody was ahead twenty-one to six. Sean had scored two of the three touchdowns. Coach asked, "Sean, do you want to keep playing, or would you like a breather?"

"Whatever you think is best for the team, Coach," Sean replied.

"What I think is best for the team is for you to keep playing. I wish that I had you all season," Coach stated. "What I think is best for you is to take a breather, let Collin play for a quarter, maybe less if the other team gains ground. You can finish the game, then."

Sean smiled, "I'm all for what you think is best. Collin can get some game time in. He's good, too."

With Collin playing, Cody only achieved one touchdown and the visitors gained two during the third quarter. Coach put Sean back in. When the game was over, Sean had scored a total of four touchdowns and the final score was thirty-four to nineteen. The team lifted Sean onto their shoulders and carried him to the locker room. All the players signed the ball and gave it to Sean. Sean asked Walker, "Would you give this ball to that boy I was picking on, not Patrick, but the last boy. I understand that you are friends with his family."

"No," Walker stated flatly, "but I'd be happy to have my parents take us to his house so you can. I think it would mean more if it came directly from you."

"Do you think he would accept it from me, and maybe an apology to go with it?" Sean questioned.

"Yeah, I do," Walker stated. "He has a big heart."

"Thanks," Sean said. He hung his head in shame of the way he had been.

"Dude, lift your head up," Walker instructed. "Yes, you were a bully, but the keyword is 'were.' Now, you have a feeling of self-worth and may even find yourself a boyfriend if you want."

"Wh… wh… what?" Sean stuttered. "How did you know?"

Walker smiled, "It's called gaydar. I could sense you were gay since the first day I met you. Your secret is safe with me, I won't out you if you don't out me."

"Out you?" Sean seemed puzzled.

Walker explained, "I could be wrong, but I think you need to be gay to have gaydar."

"Oh," Sean said and then it hit him what Walker just told him, "OH!"

Walker gave a wicked smile, "Would you care to share a pizza at the victory party?"

Sean returned Walker's smile and asked, "Are you asking me out?"

"In a sense, but since all the players will be there, no one else needs to know. No one would think anything of it with the captain of the team sharing a pizza with the person who scored more points alone than the other team did all together."

"Are you interested in maybe being my boyfriend?" Sean asked, unsure of why.

Walker grinned, "Let's just say that I'm open to the idea. We can hang and get to know each other. Then if we both are up for it, maybe we will decide to become boyfriends. But I don't want to just jump into being boyfriends before we really know each other."

"Why?" Sean asked. "Why do you even consider me as boyfriend material?"

Walker chuckled, "Not totally convinced you're worthy? Look, you are a great guy when you're not a bully. You're handsome, good at sports, have a great personality, and you seem intelligent. Come on, let's get on the bus to go get pizza and we can talk there."

Patrick looked at Jim and Zac, "Dad, Papa, the team's going to get pizza and celebrate, can we join them so I can congratulate Walker and Sean?"

Jim looked at Zac, who just smiled. "We haven't had supper yet and I think pizza sounds like a good meal for tonight."

Patrick hugged Jim and then Zac. "Thank you, Dad and Papa. I love you both."

Zac squeezed Patrick just enough to pull him tight, "We know you do and we both love you. And for the record, we never get tired of hearing you say you love us."

"I love you, too," Jake added,

Jim picked Jake up and hugged him. He whispered, "And we love you."

Jake kissed Jim on the cheek and laughingly said, "I meant Patrick."

Jim tickled him, "You're ornery, do you know that?" Jake just laughed some more and gave Jim another kiss.

At the pizza place, Zac procured a table. It seemed as though everyone at the game came here to celebrate. The table that he snatched had six seats. When Walker saw that every table was taken he asked, "Do you mind if we join you?"

Patrick looked at Jim and Zac. They didn't say anything, but nodded, and Jim winked. The boy looked at Walker and said, "We'd be happy to have you join us." As they sat down, Patrick started jabbering about how good they did in the game. He told Sean that he was amazed at how fast he ran down the field to score four touchdowns.

Sean joked, "I just imagined you were chasing me to kick my butt for being a bully."

"Seriously?" Patrick asked.

Sean chuckled, "No, I'm just pulling your leg. When I was your age, I was the one picked on by bullies, so I learned to run."

"So you know what it's like, yet you became a bully?" Patrick inquired.

Sean hung his head, "I know, that makes me pretty stupid, doesn't it?"

"You're not stupid," Walker challenged. "You may have been misguided, but you are not stupid."

"I'm with Walker on this. You're a smart guy, Sean, and if I ever hear you call yourself stupid, I may have to turn you over my knee," Patrick joked.

Sean looked Patrick in the face and said, "I'm stupid." Then he smiled. Patrick just shook his head.

Patrick saw a man walk into the pizza parlor and look around. When he looked in their direction, he headed over. Stopping at the table, he looked at Sean and said, "I can't believe how good you are. I was so stupid for calling you worthless for all these years, I'm the one who is worthless." Patrick noticed tears running down the man's face.

Sean spoke in a low loving voice, "Dad, you're no more worthless than I am. You made mistakes and made me want to hate you, but I never could. You're my dad. Instead, I became a bully at school, but thanks to these guys, that stopped."

Mr. Williams responded, "I guess I was to blame for you being a bully."

"No Dad," Sean stated, "I made the choice, I am responsible for my own actions. Regardless of my reasoning or excuses, I can't blame anyone but me."

Mr. Williams cried, "I'm proud of you, Son. I was a bully throughout junior high and high school. If I could go back and change it, I would. I guess you're smarter than me, or lucky enough to have friends to help you come to your senses."

Sean stood up and hugged his dad. He said, "I don't know about smarter, but I am damn lucky to have friends show me that I don't need to be a bully. And Walker may become my boyfriend." Patrick choked when he heard Sean say that.

"So, are you saying that you're gay?" Mr. Williams asked.

Sean started crying, not sure how his dad would react. "Yeah, I've been struggling with the idea for a year or so. I figured as long as we are talking, I should come completely clean."

Mr. Williams took a breath and exhaled. Sean thought sure that his dad hated him now. The older man spoke calmly and quietly, "I can't say that I am happy at the idea, but you need to be true to yourself. Being gay will have its struggles, but unlike when I thought you were straight, you will have my support. I know that I haven't shown it until lately, but I love you, Son and just want you to be happy."

Sean was surprised, "You're not mad at me or hate me?"

"Hell no, I'm not mad at you. You didn't choose to be gay, did you? No. I'm disappointed that you won't produce any grandchildren for me, but I can get over that, and if you adopt, I'll get over it quicker," Mr. Williams stated.

Sean hugged his dad again, "I love you, I always have and I always will."

"I was going to see about joining you, but the place seems packed. I think I'll get a pizza and go home," Mr. Williams commented.

"There's a chair over there, you can bring it to this table and sit with us," Walker suggested.

Mr. Williams grabbed the chair and sat at the end of the table. Patrick leaned over to Sean and whispered, "So, I'm guessing that you're a 'fag' too."

Sean smiled, "Yeah, and I'm so sorry for calling your dads that. I was hating myself for being one, I guess. As you and Dad have told me, I didn't choose this."

Patrick declared, "That's the past. Everything you did before we became friends is forgiven and forgotten."

Walker told Patrick, "All the players signed the ball that we used tonight and we gave it to Sean. He wants to give it to Gabriel and apologize."

"I'm proud of you, Sean," Patrick replied.

Sean responded, "Yeah well, I hope Gabriel forgives me, but I can understand if he doesn't."

Patrick stood up, becoming animated with his hands as he spoke, "Are you kidding me? I forgave you and I'm sure he's more forgiving than I am. Just be sincere and honest. I promise, he will forgive you."

Sean wasn't totally convinced, "And if he doesn't?"

Patrick sat down and put his hand on Sean's, "He will, but on the off chance that he doesn't, I'll buy your lunch every school day until you graduate."

Sunday, Dennis Jenkins took Walker and Sean to visit the Kennedys. Mrs. Kennedy answered the door when they rang the bell, "Walker, how are you and who's your friend?"

Walker smiled, "This is Sean Williams. He won our football game for us."

Mrs. Kennedy looked thoughtful, "Sean Williams, why does your name seem so familiar?"

Sean hung his head down, "I was a jerk who used to pick on Gabriel…"

Interrupting, Mrs. Williams looked at Walker very angrily, "You brought him to my house? How could you?"

Walker held his hands up, "Just let him finish what he was saying and I think you'll understand.

"Fine, I'll give you a chance to state why you are here," Mrs. Kennedy stated.

Sean started to cry, "As I said, I was a jerk. I don't deserve forgiveness, and I won't blame Gabriel if he doesn't accept my apology, but I'd like to give him the game ball from Friday night and to offer an apology even if he doesn't accept it.

"Are you for real? You pick on a boy with Asperger's for how long and then suddenly you apologize?" Mrs. Kennedy scowled.

"Are you really sorry?" Gabriel asked, coming out from the kitchen.

Sean continued weeping, "I can't be any sorrier. I can understand if you don't forgive me, I don't deserve it, but I'd still like to give you the ball and a promise that I will never pick on you again."

"If you truly mean it, I forgive you," Gabriel stated.

"Thank you, I was hurting for what I did to you and I can't say that I'm sorry enough. All of the players signed the game ball and gave it to me, but it's yours if you would like it," Sean offered.

Mrs. Kennedy took Walker to another room but stayed within view of Gabriel, "Mark my words, if this is just a joke on Gabriel, I will hold you accountable."

"Ma'am, I promise you, Sean has changed," Walker declared. "I'll gladly accept responsibility for his actions concerning Gabriel from here forward."

Mrs. Kennedy calmed down, "You've always been good to Gabriel, so I guess I can accept that Sean really is sorry. Next Saturday, we should take him to the ranch that you keep talking about."

"I really think he would like it," Walker stated.

Monday morning, Sean cornered Patrick at his locker, "Ummm, you don't have to buy my lunches. You were right, Gabriel accepted the ball and forgave me. I feel so much better knowing that."

Patrick smiled, "I'm glad, now what would you like for Christmas? Papa is taking Jake and me Christmas shopping to get Dad something. Then tomorrow, Dad is taking us."

Sean shook his head, "You don't have to get me anything."

"I know," Patrick insisted, "but you're a friend, so I want to."

"In that case, what do you want?" Sean turned the tables.

"I want Patrick Henry to be better so he can come to school," Patrick stated. "He's in remission right now, but who knows how long that will last."

"Anyone ever tell you that you have a big heart?"

Patrick grinned, "Even though I was adopted, I take after my dad in that respect. Everyone tells him that his heart is too big, sometimes."

Sean exclaimed, "I can see that in you. Not just anyone would have been a friend like you are, even after I tried punching you and punched your friend by mistake."

Patrick smiled, "You did? I told you, I forgot everything before we became friends."

Sean chuckled, "I don't think you really forgot, but I appreciate what you're saying, so thank you."

Walker came over and asked, "Did you tell him?"

"About Gabriel forgiving me? Yeah, but I didn't tell him that Gabriel's family wants to visit the ranch this weekend," Sean replied.

Walker explained, "Yeah, they were still reluctant to bring Gabriel out. I thought they were going to, but they changed their mind. When Sean gave Gabriel the football and apologized, they decided that maybe it would be good to get Gabriel out of the house."

Patrick frowned, "Too bad the ranch is closed to general public for riding, but I'm sure Jackson wouldn't say anything about Gabriel coming to see the horses."

Walker looked upset, "Can you find out? I would hate for them to go out to the ranch for nothing."

Patrick nodded his head, "When Papa comes to pick me up, I'll ask him and if you go out with me, you can find out right away."

Scott walked up at that time and had a horrid look on his face. "Did I just hear you ask Walker out?"

Patrick couldn't believe Scott just asked him that, "What, no, besides, I'm too young to date. And if I asked anyone out, it would be you."

"Liar, I heard you ask him to go out with you," Scott cried.

Patrick thought for a second but it was Walker that spoke first, "He was asking me to go out to his dad's truck so I can find out if Gabriel can go to the ranch. He wasn't asking me on a date, but I can see how you might have thought that."

"I'm sorry, Babe," Patrick said, "I didn't mean for it to sound like you thought."

Scott looked down, "I'm sorry that I overreacted and called you a liar. I should have known better."

Sean was flabbergasted, "Wait, so you two are dating?"

"Not officially, we're too young," Patrick explained, "but Scott and I are kinda like boyfriends. And before you ask, my dads didn't influence me in any way."

Sean smiled, "I know, I was just being stupid when I said they would."

Walker shook his head, "You weren't stupid, you were struggling with your own sexuality and I believe you were hoping to explain it without accepting that you are gay."

Sean agreed, "You are probably right. I know that I'm not stupid. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm not stupid."

"Then will you please quit calling yourself that?" Walker pleaded.

"On one condition, you come to my house after school," Sean said with a grin.

Walker frowned, "I'd love to spend time at your place, but not as a condition. Besides, I can't until tomorrow, Dad's taking me Christmas shopping after school today."

Sean looked at Walker and said, "I didn't say when but tomorrow works for me. As for the condition, I just said that, believing you would regardless."

Walker smiled, "Then I'll let my dad know I'm going to your house tomorrow. I don't think he'll mind."

After school, Zac and Jake were waiting on Patrick when he came out. As suggested, Walker was with him, "Papa, the Kennedys have finally decided to bring Gabriel out to the ranch this Saturday. I know that it's closed to the general public for riding, but can they still come out?"

Zac told Patrick, "The ranch is open year round, we just don't do general riding for the public, so yes, they may come out."

Walker got excited, "Awesome, they are planning to come while I am there. Sean would like to come, too."

"Bring him," Zac suggested.

"Thanks," Walker said. "Well, I gotta go, there's my dad. He's taking me to the mall to buy Christmas presents."

Patrick chuckled, "That's where we're heading. I hope you don't see what I get you."

"Or you see what I get you," Walker shot back. "I'm not sure what it'll be, but it's gotta be nice."

Once they were at the mall, Zac asked Patrick, "Think you can handle shopping by yourself so Jake can get his present for you without you seeing what it is?"

Patrick smiled, "Yeah, and that way, I can pick up Jake's."

"Don't forget to get something for Dad. That IS why he's not here, after all," Zac reminded him.

Patrick inquired, "Can Jake and I go in together and get him something really nice, like maybe something from the trading post?"

"Sure, we can do that if you boys want," Zac replied. "Jake?"

"Uh huh, Patrick and I can go together to get something for Daddy and you," Jake answered.

Patrick added, "But yours may not come from the trading post."

"That's cool," Zac replied. "I don't want any clues of what it is so I can be surprised when I open it. That includes where you buy it."

"Thanks Papa," Patrick responded. "When I'm done, I'll wait up front for you, unless you get done before me."

Zac said, "In which case we will wait for you."

Patrick asked, "Would you be upset if I went to get the presents wrapped before I meet you at the front?"

"That's an excellent idea. There's a soft pretzel store near where the volunteers wrap presents, why don't we meet there instead?" Zac suggested.

"Thanks Papa, I love you," Patrick said, giving Zac a hug.

Patrick saw Walker but just waved. He didn't want Walker to see what he had gotten for him, plus, he didn't want Walker to think he was trying to see what he had bought for him. Walker waved back but didn't make an effort to come over. Patrick figured he was thinking like him.

After finding what he thought everyone would like, Patrick went to the cash register. The cashier was leery at the amount of his purchase, but Patrick pulled out cash and handed it to her. "Where did a young man such as yourself get this much money? Do your parents know that you're here?" the cashier asked.

Patrick smiled and said, "I ride horses with my Dad and we take people out on the trails. They give tips to me, as well as my dad. As for knowing I'm here, my papa is here with my brother, helping him pick out a Christmas present for me. He asked if I could shop alone so that I didn't see what I was getting."

"I see, so if I called him here to confirm this, he wouldn't have a problem?" the cashier still seemed skeptical.

Patrick started to worry, "His name is Zac Bolt, if you feel a need to call him, but please, leave everything bagged up so neither he nor Jake sees what I bought."

"Zac Bolt, will you please come to cash register nineteen at the mall entrance, please. Zac Bolt, please come to register nineteen at the mall entrance. Thank you," the cashier spoke into a mike.

As Zac approached the cashier, he saw Patrick standing there and wondered what the problem was. As he was within range, he stated, "I'm Zac Bolt, is there a problem?"

"Young man, I'm looking for this boy's father. What are you trying to pull?" the cashier was adamant.

Zac remained calm, "I am one of his fathers, we adopted him. Why did you call me here?"

"Well, unless his real father comes to this register, I don't feel I can allow him such a high purchase amount. And I'm inclined to call the police and turn his money over to them as he probably stole it," the cashier was just shy of being rude.

Zac stayed as polite as he could, but was forceful as he spoke, "Ma'am, he rides horses with my husband, taking guests out on the trails. They give him tips and some of those tips are very generous. I assure you, that is HIS money, and if you're not allowing him to make a purchase, I wish to speak with your manager. AND, if you refuse to allow him to make the purchase but don't return his money, I will call the police myself and have you arrested for theft."

"Well, you just made up my mind," the cashier said and she placed Patrick's bags into a shopping cart. She placed his cash in an envelope and put it under her drawer.

"Your call, either call your manager right now or I'm calling the police," Zac stated.

Patrick informed Zac, "Walker's dad is here."

Zac just saw Officer Jenkins after Patrick said that. He called him over, "Officer Jenkins, can you come here, please?"

"What's up, Zac?" Dennis asked.

"This lady refuses to allow Patrick to make a purchase, but she's holding his money, saying that she's going to give it to the police," Zac answered.

"Ma'am?" Dennis gave her a puzzled look. "You need to call your manager, now."

"Are you this boy's father?" the cashier inquired.

Dennis pulled out his badge and showed the cashier, "No, this young man is one of his fathers. I am Officer Dennis Jenkins with the Cody Police Department. I said, you need to call your manager now." Dennis took note that Patrick looked like he was ready to cry.

When the manager came to the register, he asked the cashier what the problem was. She gave him her side of the story. After she was done, he looked at Zac, "You are the boy's father?"

"I can run home to get the adoption papers if I must," Zac said sternly.

Dennis added, "I am with the police force. I can vouch for what happened to the boy's birth parents. This is his first Christmas without them and now your cashier has tainted it for him. And her keeping the boy's money is theft. Either it needs to be returned, she completes his purchase and gives him his change, or I will arrest her. And I can attest to this young man being the boy's father."

Trying not to look embarrassed, the manager agreed, "The only thing I can say in her defense is, you do look too young to be his father, but I can imagine it being possible. I am sorry for the hassle. Allow me to ring his purchases again and I will return the balance of the money to the boy."

Patrick cried, "These are Christmas presents. Do they have to be around for you to ring them up again?"

Looking at Patrick's face, the manager's heart broke, "No son, they can go about their business and I will wait until they leave before I take anything out of the bag. I am so sorry for how you must feel right now."

Zac took that as a hint to leave, so he pushed the shopping cart Jake was sitting in over to another register. Jake looked at him and asked, "Is Patrick alright? Why was he crying?"

Zac answered, "The cashier didn't think his money was legit, or really his. As bad as I feel right now, I'm glad that I was the one here today instead of Daddy. I'd hate to think how he would have felt."

The cashier rang up Jake's purchase and Jake handed her his money. She counted out what she needed and handed the balance back. Zac took Jake and his purchases to the volunteers and asked for them to be wrapped. With each present, Jake told them who it was for.

Once Jake's purchases were wrapped, Zac bought three giant soft pretzels. Patrick walked over, pushing his cart of wrapped presents and Zac offered him one. Zac could tell that Patrick was still upset. "I'm sorry, Bud. I guess we didn't consider how our closeness in age could hurt you," Zac apologized.

"It's not your fault," Patrick declared. "I wouldn't care if you were only a year older than me, it's their problem and they need to not be so mean about it."

Zac gave Patrick a hug, "I'm glad you feel that way. My only regret is how you felt when that cashier wouldn't allow you to make your purchase and then tried to keep your money. Did the manager do anything to make you feel better?"

Patrick explained, "He said that he gave me his employee discount, but to me, that feels like he cheapened the value of my presents."

"I can understand that, but you put as much time into each present regardless of what you paid. He may have lowered the cost, but they are just as valuable because you took time selecting each present," Zac argued.

"Thanks Papa, I feel better since you said that," Patrick wept, giving Zac a hug. He started eating his pretzel.

Zac put all the presents in the back of his truck and headed for Jake's Trading Post. When they got there, he let the boys look around as he stared at a blue saddle blanket with gold trim. "That would look good on Gold," he said out loud.

"Indeed, and I could have Gold's name embroidered on it for an additional five dollars," Jake, the owner, advised.

Zac became excited, "Let's do it. Now, Jim may or may not be here with the boys tomorrow. Please don't let him see it. And don't let on that the boys are buying his Christmas present here if he does come in."

"It's the only one I have, so I will send it to the embroiderer tomorrow morning. He won't see it."

Patrick picked up an item that he really liked and asked, "Is this the size Dad wears?"

"Yes, that is just his size," Jake stated.

"What about this?" little Jake inquired.

Jake chuckled, "That's everybody's size."

The boys picked up both items and paid for them. After he rang them up, Jake put both items into gift boxes and did a quick Christmas wrapping for them. The boys thanked him and they left.

When they got home, all the presents, except what Patrick got for Toby, Walker and Sean, went under the tree. Patrick put Toby's, Walker's and Sean's presents in his room. Over dinner, Zac told Jim about the hassle Patrick had at the mall. Jim asked, "Don't people realize that some children do have a way of getting money?"

Patrick cried, "I even told that lady that I get tips riding horses with you and taking people out, but she treated me like I was a thief."

Jim gave Patrick a hug, "Well, you have that part of your Christmas shopping done, so you won't need to deal with her again. I am so tempted to go there tomorrow and tell her off."

Zac advised, "There's no need and you wouldn't accomplish anything by doing it. I think Officer Jenkins was ready to arrest her today."

"Well it irritates me that she treated Patrick like that," Jim moaned, sitting back down.

Patrick placed his hand on Jim's, "It's done, Dad. I'm going to finish my homework and go to bed."

Jim kissed Patrick's forehead and said, "I love you, Bud."

At school, Walker asked Patrick what happened at the mall. He stated, "The way my Dad tells it, one of the cashiers was trying to steal your money and he almost had to arrest her."

Patrick looked down, "That about sums it up, maybe not quite, but close enough and I'd rather forget about it."

"OK, I'm sorry," Walker apologized.

When classes were over, Jim picked the boys up so they could buy Zac's Christmas presents. Walker went home with Sean as he said he would. When they got to Sean's room, Sean asked, "This may be personal, but have you ever done anything with another boy?"

Walker smiled, "It is a little personal, but if we're going to be boyfriends, then you have a right to know. This past summer, I was down in El Paso working on my uncle's ranch for two months. My cousin Robbie is a year older than me and asked me if I was gay. At the time, I didn't know so he told me to strip. Trusting my cousin, I did what he asked. The next thing I knew, he was on his knees giving me head. He told me that he wanted to do everything with me but if I didn't like something, to let him know."

"Was there anything that you didn't like?" Sean asked.

"At first, when he fucked me. I told him that it hurt, but he asked me to give him time and I would enjoy it. After he shot his load in me, I asked when I would start to enjoy it, so we never did that again, but he let me fuck him many times," Walker explained.

"So, does that mean I'll never get to fuck you?" Sean sounded disappointed.

Walker advised, "If we get to that point, we'll see. I won't rule it out yet, but I'm not ready to try it again at this time."

Sean raised his head up, "Can I kiss you?"

"I'd like that," Walker whispered with a smile.

Saturday, Sean was there with Walker as they started preparing horses for Patrick to take to be "exercised." Sean never fully trained to ride a horse, but he knew enough to ride with Patrick and Walker. As they were mounting, Walker asked, "Can we wait a few minutes? That's the Kennedys' car parking beside your papa's truck."

Patrick insisted, "Definitely, I've been dying to see Gabriel with the horses."

Jim walked over and told Patrick, "If they want to ride, we have more horses needing exercise." Patrick just grinned.

Mrs. Kennedy walked over to Jim, "I see that riding for the general public is closed, but Walker said that we could still come out so Gabriel can visit with the horses. I hope that's alright."

"Yes, ma'am," Jim responded. "In fact, I was just telling Patrick that we have more horses needing exercise if you and your family would like to ride?"

Mrs. Kennedy thought for a minute before speaking. "I think I would like to see Gabriel's reaction to the horses before I decide, but what would it cost?"

Jim averred, "As you know, our riding is closed for winter, so I don't offer to let just anyone go riding simply to exercise the horses. Since that is why you would be riding, I wouldn't charge you for it."

Mrs. Kennedy gave Jim a smile, "Then if Gabriel reacts favorably towards the horses, we may take you up on that."

Patrick grabbed three horses for the Kennedys and told Gold that he should come out, too. As soon as Gold saw Gabriel, he walked over to him. Mrs. Kennedy was nervous seeing the horse just walk up to her son but Gabriel looked at Gold and said, "Hi horse, you are beautiful."

Jim explained, "His name is Gold and he's my horse. If you ask me, he is the best horse around."

"Can I ride him?" Gabriel asked.

Jim was getting ready to apologize when Gold nodded his head. Jim was surprised, but then he realized that Gold knows Gabriel is special, "Normally Gold only lets me and my boys ride him, but he says that you can." Like most people, Mrs. Kennedy was surprised when she saw Gold respond to a question.

Mr. Kennedy walked over to Sean, "Gabriel loves that football you gave him. It means a lot to him and he says that it's a token of friendship and a promise."

Sean felt good, "He's right. I'm glad that I brought some joy into his life, but I can never make up for the pain I caused him."

Mrs. Kennedy interjected, "That is so true and it is the past so don't even try. Just live each day as a new day and keep your promise."

Sean smiled, "That I can do."

Jim saddled Gold and helped Gabriel mount him. Jim mounted one of the other horses Patrick had brought out. He rode beside Gabriel and showed off how well Gold listened to commands. Mrs. Kennedy rode on the other side. She was impressed with how easily Gabriel was riding the horse. Mr. Kennedy rode beside Patrick and Sean rode beside Walker.

When they returned to the corral, Mrs. Kennedy told Walker, "We should have done this sooner. Gabriel really seems to connect with the horses and he's enjoying himself."

Walker just nodded his head. Part of him wanted to say, "I tried to tell you," but he kept quiet and nodded his head.

Sean walked up to Gabriel and said, "You looked good on that horse. I had some lessons, but you looked like a natural."

Gabriel smiled, "Thanks Sean, but Gold made it look easy. I was just along for the ride. Gold is a good horse."

As the weeks progressed, Jim and Zac did their usual Christmas decorating of the barn, but Patrick and Jake added some of their touches this year. Patrick had found an old train set with Santa as the engineer. He set that up circling a nativity scene. Jake helped hang ornaments and Jim or Zac would pick him up from time to time to hang some higher up. When everything was done, Patrick commented about how beautiful everything looked.

The last day of school before Christmas break, Sean walked up to Patrick, "I hope you don't mind, but I brought you something for Christmas."

Patrick laughed, "Why would I mind? Besides, I told you I was getting you something." Patrick handed the giftwrapped box to Sean. "Here comes Walker, do me a favor and wait for him so you open them together."

"OK, but you don't need to wait," Sean said.

When Walker met them, he and Patrick exchanged gifts. Then he and Sean opened their presents at the same time. Walker pulled out a silver necklace with a football on it. Sean's looked identical until Patrick told them to look at the back. Walker had a "W" on his and Sean had an "S" on his. Walker asked Patrick, "Would you be upset if I ask Sean to wear mine and I wear his? I mean, they will still belong to whom you gave them to, but this would be kinda like we exchanged friendship rings or something."

Patrick smiled, "I think that's a cool idea, myself." With that, the boys placed the necklaces on each other.

As Patrick went to open the present from Sean, Sean said, "I had trouble thinking of what to get you, so I hope you like it."

ChapsPatrick assured, "You took time looking, I know I'll like it." He ripped the paper off and opened the box to find a pair of black leather chaps. "Sean, I love this, but you spent way too much on me. You should take these back and get me something else."

Sean admitted, "I didn't buy them. When I was six, I had an older brother, he was eleven. I remember that he used to ride horses every chance that he got. I was just beginning to learn when it happened, Connor was riding a horse and a snake spooked it. Connor fell off the horse but his foot was caught in a stirrup. The ranch hand he was riding with tried to get the horse to stop and he finally did after it dragged Connor for a mile or so. Connor didn't make it and my parents stopped me from taking any more lessons. These were his and it would mean a lot to me if you wear these the next time you ride in a rodeo." Sean started to weep.

Patrick placed a hand on Sean's shoulder as Walker embraced him. "Won't your parents get upset with you giving them to me?" Patrick asked.

Through his tears, Sean cried, "No, they let me have them after Connor was buried. I asked them if I could give them to you since they're too small for me now. Mom said that they were mine to do with as I wanted but she thought Connor would be pleased if I gave them to a friend."

Patrick swallowed hard before he spoke, "In that case, I will accept them, but you better be sitting so I can see you at the next rodeo I ride in."

Noticing a tear in the corner of Patrick's eye, Sean averred, "I wouldn't miss it."

Patrick opened the box that Walker gave him and Walker stated, "I feel like this is insignificant compared to what Sean gave you."

Patrick nodded, "Tell me about it. I feel cheap giving you both necklaces in comparison.

"Hey, you both put thought into your gifts. I love this necklace and I wouldn't trade it for anything," Sean argued. "I'm never taking it off so long as Walker remains my boyfriend."

Patrick pulled out a leather cord with its ends tied together. In the middle of the cord was an authentic Indian arrowhead. "This is cool, I love this," Patrick exclaimed.

Walker queried, "You're not just saying that, are you?"

"No way!" Patrick proclaimed, "I really do like it.

In last period, Patrick handed Toby a present, and Scott looked at him as if to say, "Where's mine?" Patrick informed him, "This is the last day that I will see Toby before we return to classes in January. Your present is under my tree. Dad says that you're spending this weekend at my house."

"Then should I wait to give you yours until then, or would you like it now," Scott replied.

"No, you should wait so we can exchange them together," Patrick grinned.

After class was over, Patrick and Scott walked out to Zac's truck. Scott told Patrick, "I'll see you this weekend. I'll miss you." Scott started to walk away, looking for his parents.

"SCOTT," Jim shouted. Scott walked back. "Your parents said that since you have no more classes, the weekend starts today. We'll run you to your house so you can grab what you need, but you're staying with us until Sunday. I hope you don't mind sleeping with Patrick. He snores."

"I don't snore," Patrick said defensively.

Jim chuckled, "Oh, that's right. It was your puppy snoring."

"And he snores loudly, too," Patrick laughed.

Scott was giggling at the antics between Jim and Patrick. When he finally got a chance to talk, he agreed, "I think I can put up with sleeping in the same bed as Patrick, even if he does snore and blames the puppy."

Patrick scrunched his face and claimed, "I don't snore." Everyone laughed.

Scott placed his present for Patrick under the tree with the other presents and then the boys went upstairs. Patrick locked his door and then his door leading to the bathroom. "What do you have in mind?" Scott asked, grinning.

Patrick smirked, "I still owe you head from our bet. I think it's as good a time as any for me to pay up."

Scott looked down, "I don't want you to pay up."

"What?" Patrick was surprised. "Why not?"

Scott explained, "I think I would like for you to give me head, but not because of a bet. I want to cancel the bet. And if you still want to give me head, I want to return the favor."

Patrick gave Scott a kiss then said, "After Walker told me more about it, I want to at least try it. I don't know if I will like it or not, but I at least want to try it. We can decide then whether we do it again."

Jake came downstairs crying, "Patrick locked me out of his room. I want to play with Scott, too."

Jim grinned knowingly and said, "Buddy, there are times when Patrick and Scott need some private time. I'm sure you'll get a chance to play, but when Patrick locks his door, he and Scott need some private time."

After Jake went back up to his room, Zac asked at Jim, "Do you realize that our son is more advanced than we were? I mean, I was sixteen years, two months and three days old when I had my first kiss and only a week after that before we had sex. I don't know what Patrick and Scott are doing, but they are definitely further than I was at that age."

Jim laughed, "Other than kissing, you were my first, and I don't think they would lock the door to just kiss."

Zac agreed, "Probably not."

Horse Runner

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