Another Chance - Book Three

Chapter Eighteen: Toby

by Zarek Dragon


Patrick thought Toby looked scared and that made him feel sorry for the boy. Toby looked at the teacher, "You're going to call my dad? Please don't, he'll kill me. I only said what I did because my parents tell me all the time that they wish they could get away from me." Now Patrick really felt bad for him.

"Dude, I was lucky, I had parents who wanted to be with me all the time. My dad was teaching me how to repair the first car he ever owned and said it would be mine on my sixteenth birthday," Patrick stated. "Now, I have new parents who have shown me in a week that they love me just as much."

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said what I did. Just this morning, my mom said that she was glad school was starting so she didn't have to look at me for a few hours," Toby started crying.

The teacher looked at Toby, "If Patrick can forgive you, I won't take you to the principal's office, but I do want to call CPS to investigate these allegations. If what you say is true, they are abusing you in the worst possible way."

"Is there any way that they can investigate without my parents finding out? I'm scared what might happen," Toby was starting to shake.

Patrick looked at Toby, "There is no excuse for what you did, but I can understand your thinking every parent must think like yours. I can forgive you. Maybe you would like to come to my house sometime to see how my dads are."

"Did you say dads?" Toby asked, "As in a gay couple?"

"Yes, my dads are gay," Patrick declared, "Do you have a problem with that?"

Toby thought for a minute, "That depends, would they try making me gay?"

Patrick shook his head, "Heavens no. From the way I understand it, either you're gay or you're not. No one can turn you gay. And to be straight forward, they've never seen me naked or even tried. They hug me when I'm hurting and kiss me on the cheek because I am their son. Nothing gay about it." Patrick didn't think Toby needed to know about his changing in front of Jim, especially since all Jim saw was his butt.

Toby smiled, "Then I don't have any problem with them being gay. I just know my dad would go ballistic if he found out I went to their house."

Patrick got a bright idea, "What about the Another Chance Ranch? Dad's teaching me to ride and says that I'm doing really well. My Dad and Papa work there."

"I could ask, convince them that they would be away from me for a few more hours. Give me your number and I'll call you if I can go," Toby seemed excited, he actually felt like someone did want to spend time with him.

The teacher waited for Patrick to give Toby his number and then told him to go to his next class. She wanted to talk with Toby to get as much information as she could before she called CPS.

At Lunch, Patrick invited Toby to sit with him. They chatted and went to play some basketball in the gym until lunch was over. Patrick did his best to make Toby feel what having a friend was like.

Jim and Joe got to the ranch at one thirty for their Student Work Opportunity class. They thought about how nice it is to work at the ranch as part of their schooling. Dusty went to work helping at his dad's office.

When Jim arrived, Zac told him about Jake and how hard it was leaving the boy. Jim wanted to leave right away to go pick him up. Zac laughed, "Relax, Dude, he has two hours before his class is released. I thought maybe we both would go pick him up, but I'm sure he's having fun." Jim just sighed.

When it was finally time to go pick the boys up, Jim was more than ready. Jim jumped into the passenger side of his truck as Zac was heading for the parking lot. Zac laughed as he climbed in. "You really miss our boys, don't you?" he asked.

Jim explained, "You do realize this is the first time since school let out that we haven't been with Jake? Aside from sleeping, but that doesn't count."

Zac shook his head, "I'll feel sorry for you in thirteen years when he graduates and moves away."

Jim looked at Zac with horror on his face, "THAT SOON?!?!" Then he gave Zac a smile.

"You'll only be thirty if we decide to adopt another one once he graduates." Zac kissed Jim's hand.

Jim stated, "We'll see when the time comes, but I'm not sure any boy will make me happy other than Patrick and Jake."

"What about me?" Zac asked.

Jim answered flirtatiously, "You're no boy, you are all man."

Zac chuckled, "I can accept that answer."

It didn't take long for Zac to get to the elementary school parking lot. It was busy with busses and other parents, but Zac found an empty spot and parked. Jim jumped out and headed for the door as students were coming out, Zac led him to the kindergarten room. Seeing them, Jake ran over, "We had fun except they made us take a nap twice. And I made a friend, his name is Chase, and we chased each other during recess, but he went home at lunch time."

Jim gave Jake a hug and said, "Whoa, slow down there. You're talking a thousand words a minute. I think the speed limit might be sixty. And I've missed you all day."

Zac nodded his head, "He wanted to come get you as soon as he got to the ranch, but I reminded him that you still had two hours left of class."

Jake continued, "And we colored a picture of a horse. The teacher said that my crayon was called gold, so I colored Horsey Gold. You want to see it?"

"I would love to see it," Jim answered. Jake grabbed his hand and led him to where the pictures were hanging. "Wow, you did a good job, especially for your age. That horse is gold."

Jake nodded his head, "Uh huh. But I went out of the lines there."

Jim smiled, "When I was your age, I didn't do that good, you did an awesome job and I'm proud of you. Daddy can teach you a little trick to help, but just practice and know that I am very proud of the job you did." Jake offered Jim a smile.

Zac looked at his watch, "I hate to rush you, but we need to go pick up Patrick, yet."

"C'mon, Daddy," Jake got excited, "We need to pick up my brother."

As Zac pulled up to the Cody Middle School, they saw Patrick coming out of the school with a boy. Putting down his window, Jim asked, "Who's your friend?"

Patrick answered, "Dad, this is Toby. He'd like to come out to the ranch with us."

"I don't have a problem with that as long as it's OK with his parents," Zac responded.

"I'm sure they won't mind," Toby stated.

Jim pulled out his phone and asked Toby for his number. Toby was afraid of what would happen if Jim called, but gave him the number anyway. The phone rang once and Jim placed it on speaker. A lady answered, "Hello, this is Regina Maelstrom, how may I help you?"

"Yes ma'am, my name is Jim Bolt and my son Patrick is in class with your son, Toby…" Jim started, before being interrupted.

"What has that worthless accident done now?" Regina asked abruptly.

Jim was taken aback. "Ma'am, he hasn't done anything. Patrick seems to have befriended him and would like for him to join us at the ranch to go riding. I'm just calling to see if that was alright."

Regina huffed, "That troll can stay away as long as he likes."

Jim shook his head in disbelief, "Thank you, Ma'am, in that case, can Toby spend the night at our house? We can take him to school in the morning."

"Oh yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes," Regina answered.

After hanging up, Jim looked at Toby, "Is she always like that?"

Toby started to cry, "No, she was being nice. She's normally worse."

Patrick wanted to cry for Toby, "I can see why you were so mean this morning."

Toby sobbed, "I really am sorry that I said those things. I can already see the love you said you feel from your new parents."

Zac didn't look happy, "What did you say?"

"It's not important, Papa," Patrick intervened, "He apologized and I forgave him."

"That being the case, I'll drop it," Zac responded.

Toby didn't feel right not telling him, "I was a bully and said that his parents…"

Patrick put his hand on Toby's arm, "You don't need to explain, I forgave you and Papa said that he would drop it."

"But if I am going to be your friend, I want to be honest," Toby cried, "And if I don't tell them, I feel like I am lying."

"It's his call, Patrick," Jim stated. "But Toby, know that you don't have to tell us to be Patrick's friend. Whatever you said, he forgave you and I believe you really are sorry for saying it."

"Thank you, Sir," Toby responded. "I told Patrick that his parents probably killed themselves to get away from him. Patrick was quick to say that his parents loved spending time with him and that his new parents have already proven to love him just as much. I can see that to be true just by you picking him up. Mine made me use the bus."

Jim had a serious look on his face, "Well, what you said was wrong and I don't appreciate you being a bully. From talking with your mom, I can understand why you did it, but that's no excuse. I'm glad that you apologized and Patrick forgave you. Now that you've told us, can we drop it so it doesn't interfere with your friendship?"

"Thank you, Sir," Toby answered, "And you have my word, I'll do my best to never be a bully again."

"That's good enough for me," Jim said. Zac just nodded in agreement.

Once they got to the ranch, they noticed a van with guys moving furniture into the house. Patrick took Toby to meet the horses. Jim asked Zac to keep Jake occupied while he made a phone call. The phone rang and Jim started talking once the person acknowledged him, "Hello, Miss Childress, this is Jim Bolt. I'm calling for a couple of reasons. First, Judge Buchanan wanted to expedite matters and asked Judge Sprayberry to finalize our adoption of Patrick. It wasn't our idea to do it behind your back, but I am glad that he is legally our son."

Miss Childress was less than happy, "I hope that you realize that means we'll be stopping your support checks as foster parents."

Jim explained, "Yes ma'am, but we're not concerned with those checks. The adoption made Patrick happy and that was our only goal. The money means nothing in comparison."

"In that case," Miss Childress responded, "I'm happy for the boy. What was your other reason for calling?" Jim explained about his conversation with Regina Maelstrom and what Toby did in school. He gave her as much detail as he could. "Yes, thank you for calling me. His homeroom teacher called just a few minutes ago and we are preparing to investigate the home here shortly."

Jim informed her, "Well, Toby's mom said that Toby can spend the night with us, if that helps any?"

"If the need arises, how long can he stay with you?" Miss Childress inquired.

Jim thought about his answer, "I'd like to say indefinitely, but with me still in school and working, Zac will be starting college classes soon and working, so I don't think it would be fair to take on another child. He can stay for a few weeks, though, if the need arises."

"Thank you," Miss Childress said, "I will do what I can to make sure that boy is safe."

Jim hung up the phone and found the boys looking at Gold. "Toby, what would you think of staying with us for a few days? I don't know for sure if it will happen, but it is a possibility."

"I don't know," Toby answered, "My dad may go ballistic, especially if he finds out that you are gay."

"He may not have a choice in the matter," Jim responded. "What your parents are doing is abuse and I know that your homeroom teacher has already called CPS. If they determine that it is unsafe for you in that house, you may be removed from it. We can't take you permanently, but we can give you a place to stay for a few days."

"I'm scared." Toby admitted.

Jim gave the boy a hug, "I know you are, but CPS will do what they can to keep you safe. And I promise, you will always be welcome to stay at my house, except if you become a runaway. If it comes to you being afraid for your life, call me and then nine-one-one. They will want to stay on the phone with you until help arrives, so make sure you call me first."

"I can do that," Toby agreed.

"Good," Jim stated, "let's go riding. Have you ever been on a horse before?"

"Only the ones at Wal-Mart," Toby chuckled.

Jim laughed, "Real ones are totally different. They don't take pennies to ride."

"He can ride Toranado with me, Dad," Patrick suggested.

Vince was driving his SUV when he saw Jim, Patrick and Toby. He drove over to the corral and got out. "Hey Grandpa. How's the Mustang?"

Vince just shook his head, "She has a cracked block and the tranny is shot. I ordered a five point oh engine which I can make fit, but it'll be tight. And instead of the four-speed tranny, you'll have a five speed. That definitely won't be your typical '65 Stang."

Jim took a breath and said, "We can't afford a new engine and transmission right now, Vince."

"I know," Vince acknowledged, "but that car was Patrick's dad's and I'm sure driving it will mean a lot to him." Looking at Patrick, he added, "Consider it a gift. Who's your friend?"

"Grandpa, this is Toby," Patrick said.

Toby started crying, "Wow, even your grandpa seems to love you. Mine kicked my dad out as soon as he turned eighteen and I've never met him. I swear, whenever I have kids, I want to be like your parents."

Vince had a tear running down his face, "That's a sad story."

"I feel sorry for your dad, but I see a little better why he is like he is," Jim stated. "I can only hope he sees what he is doing before it's too late."

Vince got back in his SUV and the boys prepared the horses. Zac and Jake came over to see how things were going. Jim asked Jake if he wanted to ride Oro or go on Gold with him. Jake didn't even take time to think, "Horsey Gold."

Zac went to get Silver. He thought about asking if he could join the ride, but knew what Jim would say. Jim just smiled at him as he came back out with his horse. Toby looked at Patrick and said with a smile, "I hate you. You have parents who love you."

Patrick laughed, "You don't hate me, I can tell."

"No, I'm glad to have a friend like you, but I am jealous of your relationship with your parents," Toby explained.

"I feel for you, dude," Patrick whispered.

To change the subject, Toby started asking questions about why they were grooming the horses before riding. Jim smiled when Patrick started explaining the necessity of it. "We brush the horse to make sure there are no burrs that might get under the saddle. Have you ever felt a burr?"

Toby answered, "Walking through the woods, I've gotten them on my jeans. They didn't feel good picking them off."

Patrick asked, "Can you imagine the horse if you were sitting on its saddle and there was a burr underneath?"

"Ouch," Toby responded, "I can see the need to brush them before."

"Not to mention, a good brushing feels good to the horse," Jim added.

Jackson came out of the house and walked over to the corral. "Jim, Zac, what school does Jake attend?"

"Sunset Elementary, why?" Zac answered.

Jackson explained, "The Sunset Elementary School kindergarten teacher called and would like to bring her class out next Monday."

"Labor Day?" Jim questioned.

Zac laughed, "Next Monday isn't Labor Day, it's the thirty-first. Labor Day is the following Monday."

"Dang," Jim said, "even Dusty was thinking it was next Monday. When are they coming and how long will they be here?"

"From what I gather, they'll be here from eight thirty in the morning until three in the afternoon. She'll be sending permission slips home tomorrow. The students won't be riding any of the horses, except maybe Jake, but I am providing lunch by the lake. First half of the day, someone," Jackson stopped to look directly at Zac, "will be talking about what's involved with taking care of horses and then give a tour through the barns. Then we will load the students into the wagon and take them by the lake for lunch. After lunch, someone will talk about what's involved with riding. I figure that will be either Jim or Joe."

Jim pouted, "I guess someone will get to spend time with his papa all day and I'll be stuck at school for the first half of it."

Zac shot back, "It's not like I'll be playing with him or anything, he'll be with his class and I'll be working."

Jim continued to pout, "Are you going to try to convince me that you won't even talk to him while he's here?"

Zac kissed Jim's lower lip, "I won't lie to you, of course I will end up talking to him, I'll probably have to tell him to stay with his class."

"I wish I could spend all day at the ranch on Monday," Jim stated.

Zac laughed, "Today was your first day of school and are you wanting to play hooky already?"

Jim smiled, "No, not really, but I do think it would be fun talking to Jake's class."

Zac inquired, "Do you want to be the one who tells the class what is entailed with learning to ride?"

Jim nodded his head once, "I do, but since Joe is the main riding instructor anymore, I think he should do it."

"You, sir," Zac said before delicately kissing Jim's lips, and then added, "have one of the purest hearts. I love how you care about others."

Jim smiled, "I love how you kiss, whether they be delicate or full-blown passionate kisses. I just love your lips pressed to mine. I love your touch, and I just love you."

"If I wasn't already married, I'd ask you to marry me," Zac teased.

Jim grinned, "Then it's a good thing that you're married to me."

"Geesh," Toby moaned, "I think I'm going to be sick."

Patrick clapped his hand on Toby's shoulder, "Sorry Dude, I guess I should have warned you how much Dad and Papa love each other."

Toby had a tear running down his cheek, "My parents barely even talk to each other. When Mom talks, she's usually screaming at Dad or me, and Dad, well, let's just say that he looks at both of us in disgust. Sometimes I wish they would just divorce and send me to live with my Aunt Darla in Angeles Oaks, California."

"Wow!" Patrick said in surprise, "I would hate to see you leave because we just became friends, but at the same time, I wish you could go and be happy. I would definitely miss you."

Toby explained, "Aunt Darla has told my parents many times how much she would love to take me in. Seeing how they both look at me with contempt, I'm surprised that they haven't sent me."

Jim looked at the boys, "Mount up, or did we saddle the horses to chitchat?"

Patrick got on Toranado and scooted up in the saddle as much as he could. Jim helped Toby get on and he sat behind Patrick. "Wrap your arms around Patrick's waist and hold on tight," Jim advised.

Toby whispered into Patrick's ear, "Good thing we have clothes on. I think my private is trying to go up your butt."

"Yeah, it's a good thing," Patrick responded.

Zac got on Silver and Jim handed Jake up to him. Jake asked Zac, "Can I ride Horsey Gold?"

With a little disappointment, Zac answered, "Sure, but you have to wait for Daddy to mount up."

Once Jim was on Gold, Zac handed Jake over. Jim asked, "So you wanted to ride Gold, and not so much ride with Daddy?"

Jake explained, "I want to ride with both you and Papa, but I like Gold better than Silver because I know Gold loves me."

Jim nodded, "That makes sense, I guess." Zac felt better after hearing Jake explain.

Patrick asked, "Can we ride to the lake and go swimming?"

Zac shook his head, "None of us brought any swim trunks and I'm not sure Toby would feel comfortable swimming in his underwear or skinny-dipping."

"Yeah, I'd rather not," Toby replied, "but next time, I can bring some trunks."

"Fair enough, I guess," Patrick said, disappointedly.

As they rode, Jim's phone rang. He saw that it was Miss Childress, so he had Gold stop while he answered it. Zac had the boys continue to ride. "Hello, Miss Childress, what can I do for you?" Jim asked.

She answered, "I personally visited the Maelstrom home. Richard Maelstrom claims that he loves his son very much and doesn't understand why anyone would file a complaint against them."

"I don't know about him, but I know what the mother said and I know what Toby claims. I don't think he is lying," Jim was getting upset.

Miss Childress explained, "Well, the mother was asleep when I arrived. Probably drunk, but I don't know. I don't doubt what you are saying, but at this time, I don't have any evidence to support it. I'm afraid that Toby needs to be returned home but I will monitor the situation until I have reason to remove the boy or feel that there is no just cause."

Jim asked, "The mom gave permission for Toby to spend the night with us, so can he return after school tomorrow?"

"I don't see why not," Miss Childress answered and then hung up her phone.

After their ride, they took Toby to their house and Jim started explaining what Miss Childress had said. "I don't want to go home, I know Dad will go ballistic," Toby started to cry. Someone had started ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door, incessantly.

Zac opened the door to see a very angry looking man. "Where's my son, you perverts? If you have him naked, I swear, I will kill all of you," the man averred.

"Sir, we are not like that," Zac insisted, "And your wife gave Toby permission to spend the night."

Richard Maelstrom glared at Zac, "That was because she wasn't aware of what kind of perverts you are." Then, sounding even angrier, he yelled, "Tobias Eugene Maelstrom, you best get your ass in my car immediately. I'll give you to the count of three, after that, you will be punished more severe than you ever have."

Zac scowled, "Sir, the way you are threatening your son is clearly abuse. I will give you to the count of two to get off our property."

"Not without my son," Richard claimed. Toby was coming out of the dining area. He had never seen anyone stand up to his father like this.

"Jim, call the police," Zac requested.

"No, I'll go," Toby quivered.

As Toby walked out to the car, Zac could hear Richard Maelstrom yelling at Toby, asking what he knew about the CPS visit. He didn't hear Toby's response.

At school the next day, Patrick was a little worried when he didn't see Toby. The home room teacher made an announcement, "Class, I have been told that Toby Maelstrom will not be in class for some time. Apparently, he attempted to commit suicide and is in the hospital."

Patrick started to cry, "No, how can he do that? It's just not fair." He ran out into the hall. The teacher followed him.

"Patrick," she said, "I know you must be hurting, but Toby isn't dead. He's in the hospital. He needs you to be a friend now more than ever."

"Why? Why would he try taking his life? Nothing can be so bad as to kill yourself over," Patrick cried, having wrapped his arms around the teacher.

Pushing Patrick back a little, the teacher looked him in the face, "I agree with you and am glad that you feel that way, but sometimes other people don't see it that way. Toby will be alright, but he needs to know that he has friends who care so he won't want to try again. Can he count on you to be strong for him?"

Patrick wiped his tears and sniffled a little, "I can do that. He's my friend and I don't know how hard it would be if he died."

"I can only imagine. I feel partly to blame, perhaps if I didn't call Children's services…" the teacher didn't finish her sentence, "No, I had to, he was being abused and I did the right thing."

"If anyone is to blame, I would blame his parents," Patrick stated, "I wish he had parents like mine."

Jim and Zac picked up Jake and then went to pick up Patrick. Patrick was looking down as he walked out of the school. "What's wrong, Bud?" Jim asked.

Patrick started crying, "Toby is in the hospital. The teacher said that he tried to commit suicide. Why would he do that? Why would anybody do that?"

"That's a hard question," Jim responded, "There are several reasons, but I guess it's mainly, they feel hopeless. He's going to need every friend he can get to help him not feel hopeless. Would you like to go visit him?"

"Can we?" Patrick seemed to cheer up a bit.

Zac was a bit angry that he let Toby go home. He didn't know what legal ramifications would have come, but he had a gut feeling when Toby left. He hoped that Jim's talk with the boy would have made an impact, so he wasn't expecting this.

When Patrick walked into Toby's room, he noticed bandages covering both forearms. Toby looked at him and then out the window. "Guess you're not going to be my friend now," Toby muttered.

"Why, because you did something stupid?" Patrick asked. "Show me one person who hasn't done something stupid. When I was eight, I tried diving into a kiddie pool from the top of our shed. I'm glad I went feet first and only broke my leg."

Toby countered, "That doesn't sound as stupid as slitting your wrists in front of your dad."

"Yeah," Patrick chuckled, "You don't get much stupider than that, but it's no reason to end our friendship. When I heard that you tried committing suicide, I cried thinking that I lost you."

"You want to know the truth?" Toby asked. "I did it far enough away that he couldn't stop me, but only deep enough to bleed, hoping he would react and save me. At least I know he does love me some."

Patrick spoke sternly, "That was still a chance that you shouldn't have taken. If you would have killed yourself, then I would never have talked to you again."

Richard Maelstrom was returning to his son's hospital room when he spotted Jim and Zac sitting out in the hall. "What are you two fags doing here?" he asked.

Jim spoke, "Our son is in Toby's class. They are friends and Patrick was worried about Toby. He's in there now showing Toby that he is a friend."

"Can I ask you something," Zac asked, "You came to our house calling us perverts without ever meeting us, why?"

"When I asked Miss Childress where Toby was, she said that he was with a classmate and his dads. I asked for the address and seeing how she didn't find any reason to keep Toby from me, she gave it to me," Richard answered. "Now, I wished that I would have left Toby there. Regardless of what I think of you, it would have been better than him in a hospital."

Zac replied, "Just so you know, we are not that much different than you, well except we love our spouse and children."

"I love Toby," Richard blurted.

"Yes, I believe you do or he would be at the morgue instead of the hospital," Zac acknowledged.

Richard put his head in his hands, "To be honest, his mother and I stopped loving each other long ago. We only stayed married for him. I may have started resenting him for that. When she woke up and I told her that Toby was in the hospital, she started cheering that she would be free of him for a few days. I just filed for divorce."

Jim spoke up, "That's got to be rough for you and Toby, but I think you'll be happier without her."

Richard contemplated, "How do I tell my son that his mother doesn't love him?"

"I think that Toby has suspected that for some time. You might be better off just telling him that you do," Jim advised.

Richard apologized, "Look, I'm sorry that I called you perverts. I don't agree with your lifestyle, but it is your lifestyle. So long as it doesn't affect my son, you should be free to love whomever you wish."

"So you have no problem with our sons being friends?" Jim asked.

Richard nodded his head, "I have no problem, Patrick can come visit whenever he likes and Toby is free to visit your house, that is after his grounding is over for pulling a stupid stunt." He stood up, "Now if you don't mind, I need to tell my son that I love him and that I approve of his friendship with Patrick."

Zac smiled, "I think it's long overdue." Richard just nodded his head and went into his son's room. Zac spoke to Jim, "I wouldn't call it a total victory, but it's a start."

Patrick was sitting in a chair chatting with Toby when Richard walked into the room. He offered, "Sir, if you would like for me to leave…"

"No, you can stay, what I have to say concerns you as well as Toby," Richard responded. "Toby, I have never told you how much I love you. Your mother and I quit loving each other since before you were born but stayed together thinking it was best for you. I'm sorry that I ever made you feel less than loved. Your mother is moving out as we speak and I filed for divorce. I requested custody so I can show you that I do love you, but if it's too late and you'd rather live with Aunt Darla, I can make it happen."

Toby cried, "I just want to feel loved, preferably by you and Mom, but I would have settled for Aunt Darla. If you're really going to love me, then I want to stay with you."

Richard started crying, "I'm glad, son. Starting today, I want to prove every day that you are loved. As for you, Patrick, you will be welcome in our home anytime you visit and I told your dads that Toby is welcome to visit your home."

Toby was the first to speak, "You seriously mean that? I love you, Dad."

"Yes, I mean it, but the visitation can't start until a month after you get out of the hospital. You'll be grounded, forced to spend your time when not in school with me," Richard smiled at his son.

"I thought I was going to be punished," Toby chuckled.

Richard explained, "OH, it'll be punishment alright. I plan for us to clean the basement, garage, and gutters. Things that I've been putting off because I didn't want to do them alone."

Toby just said, "I won't mind the hard work with you there helping me and knowing that you love me."

"And I do," Richard replied. Patrick left and couldn't wait to tell Jim and Zac what had transpired.

Every day after school, Jim and Zac took Patrick to the hospital so he could visit with Toby. Toby was released to go home Saturday morning.

Monday morning, Zac was dropping Patrick off when he spotted Richard Maelstrom dropping Toby off. He got misty-eyed when he saw Richard giving Toby a hug. As the boys walked into school together, Richard walked back to Zac's truck. He volunteered, "I'll be picking Toby up after school. If you would like, I can drop Patrick off to give the boys a few extra minutes together."

Zac graciously accepted, "That would be great, Jake will be at the ranch with his class, so it would really help if you could drop him off there, maybe even get you on a horse for a quick ride."

Richard nodded his head, "I've never been on a horse before, but Toby hasn't stopped talking about the day he spent there since we started talking. If it would mean that much to Toby, I would like that."

"I'm glad that you have proven you really do love your son, Mr. Maelstrom," Zac stated. "I'm sorry about what it took before you got there, but I am glad that you did."

Richard admitted, "Yeah, well I blame myself more than Toby for what he did. Don't tell him that I told you, but the doctors told me that if he was really trying to commit suicide, he never would have succeeded. His wounds were too superficial and he would have stopped bleeding before he would have died."

Zac laughed, "Patrick said that he claimed he was just trying to get your attention and he was reasonably sure that he wasn't going to die."

Richard started to laugh, "He did get my attention, he should have had it all along, but I'm glad he wasn't really trying to commit suicide. He passed his psych-eval and the police aren't pressing any charges but CPS will be monitoring us for a while. In a way, I'm glad that they care enough, but I can't wait to have our privacy back."

Zac nodded his head, "I can understand that. If you ever need anything, don't hesitate to call."

"I may do that, being a single dad won't be easy, but Toby is worth it. It was nice chatting with you but I need to get to my office and you need to get this young man to school."

Zac barely got Jake to his class. As he dropped the boy off, he told him that he would see him at the ranch. The teacher walked over, "Since I know he'll be there, I can mark him present if you want to take him with you."

"You want to ride with Papa to the ranch or go with your class?" Zac asked.

Jake inquired, "Can Chase ride with us?"

Zac shook his head no, "I'm sorry, Buddy, but I don't have a car seat for him."

"I love you, Papa, but can I ride with my friend?" Jake asked.

Zac felt hurt a little, but he could understand Jake wanting to spend time with a friend. "Sure you can, Buddy, and I love you, too."

Zac got to the ranch and Jackson looked at him. He could tell something was wrong and he questioned, "What's eating you?"

"My little boy is growing up, wanting to spend time with friends instead of Papa. Don't get me wrong, I want him to have friends and I realize that Jim and I monopolize most of his time anyway, but when he asked if he could ride with his friend instead of me, it hurt a little," Zac answered.

Jackson laughed, "And you were making fun of Jim last week."

"Yeah, so I'm just as guilty," Zac chuckled, "Can you blame us?"

Jackson smiled, "I'll bet you a hundred dollars that he gets off the bus and yells out 'Papa.' It wouldn't surprise me if he runs out of line to come hug you."

Zac shook his head, "No bet, I already told Jim that he probably would and I'd have to tell him to stay with his class."

The bus with the class pulled in a few minutes later than scheduled. The teacher apologized for being late. Jackson respond, "We don't have a tight schedule, so it's no big deal. If you want, have the children sit in the bleachers facing the corral."

The teacher went back on the bus and told the children to get off the bus in an orderly fashion and go to the bleachers. Jake and Chase got off the bus together. When Jake saw Zac, he told Chase, "That's my papa." Then he took Chase's hand and ran over to Zac. "Papa, I missed you."

"What, the whole forty-five minutes since you've seen me?" Zac chuckled. "You and Chase need to get back with your class. This is Chase, right?"

Jake answered before returning to his class. "Yes Papa, this is my friend, Chase." Jackson chuckled and winked at Zac.

Once all the kids were sitting in the bleachers, Zac started telling them about everything required to properly maintain and care for a horse. He saved talking about the horses' diets for the tour as it would be easier to explain when he can show them the clipboards.

After he was finished talking, he started the tour, talking about each individual horse, what their dietary needs are and why different horses had different needs. When he got to Platinum, he looked at Jake and said, "This is your horse, would you like to tell them what you can about him?"

Jake walked over to Zac and Zac put him on a bale of hay. He stated, "This is Platnum, as Papa said, he is my horse, but he's just a foal right now. Papa and Daddy said that male foals are colts and female foals are fillies, so Platnum is a colt. He was born almost two and a half months ago, so he's too young to ride, plus Daddy says that he needs to be breaked. I'm not sure since I can't read, but I think he has a normal horse diet."

As Jake went to stand with his class, Zac clarified, "You did a good job, Jake. You know more about your horse than I realized. Platinum gets most of his diet from his mother. We are slowly weaning him away from that and he and his brother are enjoying a diet designed to help them grow stronger. Platinum will be around three years old before his bones and muscles are strong enough to support an adult rider, but Jake might be able to ride him sooner if we can find someone small enough to break him. Once he is weaned, we plan to take him with us on rides to help him develop his muscles quicker, and we'll start putting a saddle on to get him used to having weight."

Zac continued with the tour and when he got to Gold, he wanted to see what Jake knew, so he called on him again. Jake proudly declared that Gold was his daddy's horse and only lets his daddy, Patrick and him ride him. He asked Gold for a hug and Gold gave it. Jake's classmates were impressed. After he was done, he asked Zac if Gold had a regular horse diet. Zac answered, "Yes, for the most part but since your daddy takes care of him, he gets extra treats like apples from time to time. Would you like to give him a piece of apple?"

Jake nodded his head and Zac told him to hold his hand flat. "With most horses, you want to keep your hand flat so the horse just eats the apple and doesn't accidentally bite you. I'm sure many of you know that horses love apples, but you need to be careful that you don't give them too much. Too many apples are not good for a horse but I'd rather not talk about that with this group."

After finishing the tour of the barns, the children started loading into the wagon while Zac saddled Silver. They were still trying to get all of the children in the wagon when Zac was in the saddle. "If it helps, I can take Jake on Silver," Zac offered.

The teacher gratefully responded, "That would be wonderful, we only need one person not going by wagon for everyone else to fit. I was about to ask if one of the students wanted to sit on my lap up with Mr. Sprayberry." Zac laughed at the face Jackson made.

One of the ranch hands had been by the lake all morning preparing lunch for the students. When the wagon arrived, he was ready to start serving. The children lined up like they were in a cafeteria and one by one they filed through, grabbing a plate. When they were finished eating, Jackson and Zac each grabbed a canoe and took a group of students around the lake. It took them two trips each to make sure all of the students had a turn.

After lunch, they loaded back into the wagon. Jim and Joe were just pulling into their spots when the wagon stopped at the corral. Jim gave Zac a knowing smile when he spotted Jake riding Silver with him. Zac put his hands up, "In my defense, they didn't have room for one child, so I suggested Jake ride with me."

Jim just smiled and whispered, "You don't need to explain, if the roles were reversed, I would have done the same thing. But I think you should give me a kiss when there aren't so many eyes watching us."

Zac looked at Joe, "Are you ready to tell all these students what you teach when someone is learning how to ride a horse? There's something in the office that I really need to show Jim."

Joe smirked, "I've got this, you two can go. Jim, don't take any lip from him, just tongue." Jim started to laugh.

Once they got in the office, Zac turned to face Jim and pressed their lips together. Jim slightly opened his mouth to allow Zac's tongue access. After their kiss, Jim told Zac, "I think you improve at that every time we do it."

Zac grinned, "That's because I love you more and more every day."

"So, not to change the subject because I really love this subject, but what time are we leaving to pick up Patrick?" Jim asked.

"We're not," Zac smirked, "Since Toby is grounded, Mr. Maelstrom offered to bring Patrick here so the two can spend a little time together."

Jim hugged Zac, "I'm glad that he's come around to being the dad Toby needs. I'm sorry with what it took, but at least he's accepted the responsibility. And he's treating us with respect."

Zac spoke quietly, "You should have seen him hug Toby before school. I don't think Toby cared who could see them, he was just happy feeling loved."

Jim was extremely happy hearing this, "OK, so what was it you were wanting to show me?"

Zac pulled Jim in close and whispered in his ear, "How much I really love you."

Joe made use of the ponies and let all of the students take turns brushing them. He and Jackson went around making sure that they did it right. At three o'clock, the teacher informed the students that it was time to head back to school, "Jake, since your parents are here, you can stay here, everyone else, let's get on the bus."

When Richard Maelstrom dropped Patrick off, he didn't stay. Patrick found Jim and Zac and explained, "Toby's dad said that he was sorry but he had an emergency with his company. He also asked me to ask if you can sign him and Toby up for riding lessons on Saturdays around two."

Zac looked at Jim and then back to Patrick. "We can do that."

"I can give them lessons while I finish training you," Jim offered.

Patrick teased, "Do I get any kind of a discount? Lessons aren't cheap and if I'm sharing my time…"

Jim chuckled, "Sure, I'll give your dad fifty percent off."

"Only fifty?" Patrick acted flabbergasted, "I'm sharing my time with two people and it wouldn't surprise me if you ask me to help with what I know."

Jim wrapped his arms around Patrick, "OK, I'll also throw in a hug."

Patrick wrapped his arms around Jim and said, "That's better, I accept your terms."

Zac just shook his head.

Horse Runner

I hope you enjoy the story and that it draws you in, wanting more. If you have any suggestions or concerns, don’t hesitate to email me.  Thoughts and suggestions are always welcomed and may or may not be implemented. Concerns will be considered and addressed as much as possible.

Also, I have created a mailing list.  If you would like to be added to it to be informed of new submission, please contact me at Zarek Dragon.  Please let me know that you read it on The Story Lovers' Website.