After breakfast, Zac and Jim took the boys to the ranch. Patrick and Jackson started opening crates while Jim and Zac carried the saddles to the proper horse stalls. Even Jake helped where he could by grabbing the reins and following Jim or Zac.
Once the crates were opened, Jim grabbed Gold's saddle and reins. Gold didn't need asking, he just started following Jim, knowing he was going to be ridden. At the crossties, Jim placed the saddle on the white wooden saddle stand and called Patrick over.
"Are you ready to teach me how to ride?" Patrick asked.
Jim looked at his son and told him, "This is your first lesson. Before you put the saddle on your horse, you want to brush him. This helps make sure there are no burrs or dirt between the saddle and your horse. I guarantee, your horse will appreciate it and give you a better ride." And then Jim demonstrated. Patrick needed a stool to reach the top of Gold's back, but Jim assisted him. Patrick actually enjoyed brushing Gold.
After brushing Gold, Jim took Patrick to where the saddle was sitting, "These saddles are new, so they should be clean and free from burrs, but you want to check to be sure."
Patrick was looking at the saddle, being thorough. "Dad, is this what a burr looks like?" Patrick asked pulling a burr from the underside of the saddle. "Ouch."
"And where did you find it?" Jim asked. Patrick showed him. "Very good, that's the one I planted to see if you could find it."
"It hurt my fingers," Patrick stated, "I would hate to be a horse with that between the saddle and me."
"So you understand the importance. I'm sorry that you hurt your fingers, but glad you see why it's necessary to inspect your tack."
"It wasn't a tack that pricked my fingers, Dad," Patrick stated.
Jim had to laugh, he hadn't taken into consideration that Patrick may not know the lingo. "No, your gear you use to ride a horse is called tack. That includes the saddle, reins, cinch and anything else. Even a grain of dirt can become an irritant."
Next, Jim showed Patrick the proper way of putting the saddle on the horse, making it easier for the rider to put it on as well as not causing any unnecessary pain to the horse. Once the saddle was in place, Jim started showing Patrick how to tighten the cinch. "You want this to be taut, but not too tight. And you are being watched."
"I know," Patrick said, "but I'm trying not to let that distract me. I want to go play with him, but I really want to learn how to ride."
"I'm glad you're taking this seriously and trying not to be distracted. Once you know how to ride, I believe you will enjoy it," Jim stated before continuing the lesson, "Now let's check the tightness of the cinch. To really know for sure how tight your cinch is, you must feel it where the cinch crosses bone at the horse's sternum here between his front legs. Insert a finger from the back forward so that when you pull out your finger, the hair smooths down; you should be able to insert one finger to the first joint. If you cannot, it is too tight and if you can get more than one finger in, your cinch may be too loose."
Jake was in the new office as that part of the house was done. He was watching Patrick like a hawk. "Patrick not playing with me. Is he mad at me?" the little boy asked.
"Heaven's no," Zac responded. "He thinks the world of you, but right now, Daddy is teaching him how to ride a horse. We believe that will help him ease the pain he's going through."
"Then I hope Patrick learns. I'll play with Lego's so I not distract him."
A tear ran down Zac's cheek, seeing the love Jake has for Patrick and knowing Patrick loves the boy back. "You can watch him if you want and I don't think you'll distract him. We should start teaching you how to ride a horse too."
"If learning to ride a horse helps Patrick, can we wait until he's done? I want Patrick to feel better."
That was just too much for Zac. He picked Jake up and gave him a hug and kiss, "I love you boys so much, you know that?"
Jake giggled, "And I'm not wearing my 'so loveable' shirt."
Zac laughed, "You don't need that shirt to be loveable."
Patrick was sitting on Gold when Jim saw Matt parking his car. "Watch this," Jim told Patrick and then turned to Matt, "Hey Matt!"
At first Matt didn't notice it wasn't Jim on Gold, he just started walking over. When he saw that Jim was standing beside Gold, his mouth dropped. "Is Gold alright? Is he letting just anyone ride him now, what gives?"
Jim laughed, "Patrick, Matt is your papa's best friend. They are almost like brothers."
"So he would be Uncle Matt?" Patrick asked.
"Patrick? What happened to Jake?" Matt was bewildered.
"Jake is in the office with Papa while Dad is teaching me how to ride a horse," Patrick explained, only he confused Matt even more.
"Wait a minute," Matt said, starting to laugh. "I'm guessing that you and Zac have another son. He just called you Dad and you both referred to Zac as Papa."
Patrick looked down, "My parents were killed in an accident on Saturday. I was lucky that Aunt Sallie asked Dad and Papa to take me in."
Now Matt felt bad, "I'm so sorry. I lost my grandfather a few years ago and I still feel the pain. So Gold is letting you learn on him to help ease the pain? So do you prefer Patrick or do you also go by Pat?"
"I think, but Dad said that Gold would be the easiest horse for me to learn on. And I prefer Patrick, that way everyone knows I am a boy."
Matt joked, "Well, I am envious of you Patrick. I would love a chance to ride Gold but he won't let me."
Jim smiled, "He won't let Zac either, except in an emergency. I think Patrick and Jake get to because they're children and the fact Gold knows they are Zac's and my sons. I'm not sure if he would let other children ride him."
"Interesting thought, and Gold didn't give any indications one way or another. I'm guessing he wouldn't let just any child on his back, but maybe family and possibly friends," Matt commented. Gold nodded his head up and down causing everyone to laugh. "I came by because Jackson said the new barn was done and I should check out Fareyr's and Kearis' stalls. He said that each stall has storage for tack now. I should get my own saddle and store it here." Patrick started to giggle. "What's so funny?" Matt asked.
"Just go check out the stalls and you'll see," Jim stated as he started laughing, too.
Matt went into the barn while Jim kept working with Patrick on his riding lesson. Joe parked beside Jim's truck and walked to the corral where Jim and Patrick were. "Hey Patrick, how are you today? I see Gold lets you ride him, what gives? You and Jake can, but everyone other than Jim can't?"
"I'm Dad's son," Patrick stated as though he was proud of the fact. Jim smiled.
Joe acted hurt, "But I'm his brother."
Patrick looked Joe in the face, "Not the same thing, Uncle Joe."
Joe couldn't help it after that, a tear started down his cheek, "No it's not and do you have any idea how you just made me feel? I never met your parents, but I would like to go to their viewing and funeral to be there for you."
"I would like that," Patrick said solemnly.
"Viewing is tomorrow from noon to three. Zac, Jake, Patrick and I will be there a few minutes before so Patrick can have some time alone with his parents before everyone else shows. And the funeral is at nine, Thursday morning," Jim informed Joe.
Joe saw the look on Jim's face as he spoke, "This has to be hard on you, too. I can only imagine the pain resurfacing for you."
Patrick looked at Joe and quietly spoke, "Papa pointed that out last night. I'm glad that Aunt Sallie suggested I stay with Dad and Papa, but I also feel for Dad. I imagine his pain is probably as bad as mine, though he won't admit it."
Jim shook his head, "No, it might be, but I would think yours is worse because you lost two people you love."
"But you have the pain from your dad as well as feeling pain for me," Patrick debated.
"Like I said, it might be, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that we can be there for each other, and we have family like Papa, Jake, Uncle Joe and Grandma, when she and Nick get back from their honeymoon. Then we also have great friends like the guy pulling onto the parking lot right now," Jim said waving at Dusty and Cheyenne.
Dusty got out of his car and helped Cheyenne out. He saw Jim's face as he approached, "Oh no, I recognize that look. You're not going to start shutting down on me again, are you?"
Jim chuckled, "No, I know a certain psychiatrist's son who would never let that happen."
Joe looked down, "I think I am partially to blame. After seeing the look on Jim's face indicating that he was thinking about his own pain resurfacing, I asked how he was doing."
Dusty smiled, "You're right, I will never let you shut down, ever. And Joe, that pain was there, I was wondering how long Jim could hide it. The sooner he admitted it, the better."
Jackson had joined the group and was getting ready to ask how things were going when Matt returned from the barn, "You didn't have to do that, Jackson."
"Do what?" Jackson didn't notice from where Matt came.
"The saddles and other tack, you didn't have to buy them for me," Matt insisted.
Jackson explained how the insurance company paid for everything, "Technically, I didn't. My agent asked how many saddles and other tack we lost, I told him that I wasn't sure of the number but we didn't have enough for all of the horses. He told me that he would submit my policy for the maximum allowance and I should be able to buy enough tack for every horse, so that is what I did."
"I appreciate it, don't get me wrong, but you know you could have used the money for something other than my tack," Matt offered while giving Jackson a hug.
"I got a hug from a friend, indicating I made him happy," Jackson chuckled, "I say it was money well spent."
"So, do you think it's fair that Patrick gets to ride on Gold and other than Jim, none of the rest of us do?" Matt chuckled.
"I would say that Gold knows a thing or two, and look at the smile on Patrick," Jackson commented.
"Why are we all standing here, let's go riding," Dusty suggested.
"Patrick hasn't seen the lake yet," Jim said, "We should ride there."
"Lake?" Patrick asked, a smile growing on his face. "Can I go get Papa and Jake to join us?" Before anyone could answer, Gold took off toward the office, running through the open gate with Patrick still on his back. Once Gold stopped outside the office, Patrick got off, "I wasn't expecting that and you scared me. It was fun, but I was scared." Gold gave him a "hug" as if to say, "I'm sorry."
Jim came running over, he looked at Patrick, "Are you alright?"
Patrick admitted, "Yes, but I was a little scared."
Jim gave Gold a dirty look, "You know he hasn't been on a horse before you, what were you thinking?" Jim looked at Gold for a few seconds like he was expecting Gold to answer. Then he hugged his horse, "Fortunately, he was able to stay on, and I think you knew that he could, just please don't scare me like that again."
Seeing Patrick outside the office, Zac and Jake came out. "Whoa dude, did you really ride Gold over here like that?" Zac asked.
"I don't think I was given a choice," Patrick stated, causing Gold to lower his head.
Jim looked at Zac, "I already spoke to Gold and he assures me that he won't do that again. Patrick said that he wanted to ask if you two wanted to go riding and Gold took off to come here."
Jake asked, "Can I ride on Gold with Patrick?"
Jim grimaced, "Not this time, buddy, I want Patrick to feel more comfortable riding by himself before I let him take passengers."
Everyone else finally made it over. "Wow, that was impressive," Cheyenne stated. Patrick felt like a star with everyone complimenting his riding.
"I'll start getting the horses and tack," Joe stated. "What horse will Patrick ride?"
"Gold," Jim replied with Zac giving him an "I don't know about this" look. "I still believe that Gold is the best horse for Patrick to learn riding on. Once he feels comfortable enough on Gold, he can start learning to ride horses that are, shall we say, less understanding."
"You do have a point," Zac conceded, "but that recent display has me skeptical."
Jim looked at Gold, "He was just eager and I think he knew Patrick would stay on. Besides, he did promise me not to do that again."
Joe looked at Jim, "So are you planning to ride Aurixi, then?"
"No, you can," Jim answered, "Austin gave me permission to use Toranado whenever I want or Kage gave me permission to use Chrysos."
Joe shook his head, "Which do you want? I'll count to five and if you don't answer, you can grab your own horse, mister."
Jim started to laugh, "I guess Toranado so I can see how he rides for Austin."
Joe went to go grab the horses while Patrick climbed back onto Gold. Jim sat Jake in front of Patrick. "This is only until we get to the corral. When we go riding, you can ride with Papa," Jim informed the little munchkin.
Jake smiled, "OK, I like riding with Papa, and you. Can't wait until I can ride with Patrick, though."
Patrick grinned, "I'll ride whenever Dad and Papa let me so I can get some practice."
"Just remember," Jim said, "I'd rather you only ride Gold when I'm around. He may not let you if I'm not and it wouldn't be fair to Papa to saddle him if he won't let you."
"I understand, Dad," Patrick answered.
After the horses were ready, everyone mounted except Jim. He waited so he can hand Jake to Zac. Zac asked his little passenger, "You're riding with me instead of Daddy?"
Jake grinned, "Daddy told me to." Zac gave Jim a puzzling look.
Jim explained, "I've not ridden Toranado yet, so I thought Jake might be safer in your arms."
Zac smiled, "You know how to handle any horse on this ranch, I think, but I'm glad that you'd rather not take the chance. I love you."
"And you," Jim gave Zac his most flirtatious smile, "are my one true love."
Jim mounted Toranado and they started riding towards the lake. Once they got close enough Jim thought Patrick could see, he watched him for his reaction. It no sooner got into view and Patrick was amazed, "It's beautiful. I wish I had my swimming trunks."
"Dad and I have spent many days here," Zac informed Patrick, as he was dismounting Silver. "I promise; we will bring you back." Looking at Jim he added, "We should come camping here this weekend. It's the last weekend before school starts."
Jim looked at Patrick and then Jake. Patrick looked eager, but Jim didn't think Jake was paying attention to what Zac just said. "I don't know; I don't think the boys like the idea. You know; cooking hamburgers over an open fire, sleeping in sleeping bags in a tent, swimming in this beautiful lake. I think we should pass for their sake."
Patrick gave Jim a smile telling him that he knows Jim is just playing, "You like to torture us, don't you?"
"You mean you would like all of that stuff?"
"And we can roast hotdogs and marshmallows," Patrick suggested.
Jim gave Patrick a grin, "You better ask Jackson if we can. It's his property."
Patrick spoke to Jackson in a soft voice, "Dad said I should ask you if we can go camping this weekend."
"And your dad is pulling your leg," Jackson stated. "He already knows that he and your papa don't need permission." Jim started to laugh.
Patrick declared, "That was mean, Dad!"
"How?" Jim asked, still chuckling. "Did it hurt you in anyway? Sure, you don't know Jackson very well, but it gave you a chance to talk to the best bosses a guy could ask for. But then, Jackson is more than just a boss, we consider him family."
"So what do I call him?" Patrick inquired.
"They're not sure how I fit into the family," Jackson answered. "I'm not like a brother and I'm not like a father figure, I'm just Jackson."
"Pleased to meet you, Just Jackson," Patrick giggled.
"Hey Joe," Jackson called, "Are you and Patrick related in any way?"
Not hearing what Patrick called Jackson, Joe was curious, "He's my nephew, why?"
"He just called me 'Just Jackson,'" Jackson explained. Joe thought back to when he first met Vince and started to laugh.
Joe walked over to Patrick, "The more I get to know you, the more I like you, and I thought it wasn't possible to like you any more than I already do."
Patrick didn't know what to say, "Thank you doesn't quite convey how I feel. I'm just learning about you and haven't really spent much time with you. Dad and Papa want to go camping this weekend, do you ever go camping with them?"
"Sometimes. I take it, you would like for me to join you so you can get to know me some," Joe guessed.
Zac sat beside Patrick, "Joe is always welcome to join us, he knows that. Even this weekend, Joe."
Joe looked Patrick in the eye, "If you want me to join you, I will. Your dad and papa can share one tent; you, Jake and I will share another."
"Now that that is settled," Zac looked stern, "I don't mind you inviting Joe, but don't you think you should have asked your dad or me, first."
Patrick looked down, "I'm sorry Papa, it's just I want to get to know my new family."
"I can understand that," Zac smiled. "Now for punishment…" Zac laughed when he saw Patrick's face. "For punishment, you have to keep an eye on your younger brother while you swim."
"I didn't bring any trunks to go swimming," Patrick exclaimed.
Zac advised Patrick, "If Cheyenne wasn't here, I'd say go skinny-dipping. You can swim in your underwear, though. They cover everything that swim trunks do."
Patrick looked a little embarrassed, "I don't know, I mean, I know you are right, but it doesn't feel the same."
Zac hugged Patrick, "It's up to you, bud. If you want to go swimming, the option is there, but you don't have to swim if you feel uncomfortable about it. Dad and I always keep towels in our saddle bags, so you can wrap one around you when you get out."
"In that case," Patrick smiled, "I might. I was worried that once my underwear got wet, people could almost see through it."
Jake came running over, "Come on Patrick, Daddy said we can swim in our underwear."
Patrick looked at Zac, "Have the towel ready for me when I get out?" Zac just smiled and nodded so Patrick stripped down to his briefs.
The boys played in the water while the adults chitchatted watching them. After they had played in the water for half an hour, Ryan showed up with buckets from Chester's Chicken. Jim and Zac, each grabbed a towel for the boys. "I have plenty of chicken to go around, plus we have fried corn, tender green beans, gizzards and liver," Ryan announced. Jake made a face when Ryan mentioned the liver.
"You don't like chicken liver?" Patrick asked.
Jim shook his head no, "He tried beef liver and onions and didn't like it."
Patrick debated, "Chicken liver isn't the same thing, they do taste almost the same, but not quite."
"I'll try a piece for you, Patrick," Jake agreed.
"Want to try a gizzard? Lots of people seem to like the gizzard." Jim asked.
Jake looked at Jim, "Do I have to?"
"Just a small piece to see if you like it. If you do, I'll get you more and if you don't, then you won't ever have to eat it again."
"OK," Jake agreed.
Patrick grabbed some liver and gizzards and a drumstick. He also put a small helping of the green beans and the corn on his plate. He gave Jake a small piece of the liver. Jake put it in his mouth and made a face. "Just spit it out and throw it in the lake. Fish like liver," Jim advised the boy.
Jake did as he was told and as he tossed it he said, "Here, you silly fish."
Jim laughed and asked, "Did you just call the fish silly?"
"Uh huh, they like liver," Jake explained.
"So does Patrick, Daddy and Papa. Are you saying we are silly?" Jim questioned.
Jake got a devilish grin, "Uh huh, if you like liver, you are silly."
Patrick and Jake discussed who was the silly one until Jim told them they were both silly. Patrick ate a gizzard and offered a piece to Jake. At first, Jake wouldn't take it, thinking it was liver. "You promised Dad that you would try it. This is a gizzard and it tastes much better than the liver, but it's chewier."
Jake stuck the piece in his mouth and started chewing. Jim watched him as he continued chewing. As Jake was chewing, he commented to Patrick, "It's good."
"You want some, then?" Jim asked.
The boy, still chewing his gizzard acknowledged, "Uh huh."
"Dad, you didn't get any green beans," Patrick observed.
Jim chuckled, "Makes more for you. Since you like them, I will fix them once in a while, but Dad doesn't like them."
Patrick suggested, "These are good Dad, you should try a bite, you might like these."
Zac watched Patrick trying to get Jim to eat green beans for a bit and then said, "If you get your dad to eat two bites of green beans, I will buy you a cowboy hat."
"Two bites?" Jim questioned, looking like he was asked to sit in the electric chair.
Patrick pled, "I could use a cowboy hat, Dad. It's not like a death sentence."
"Fine," Jim gave in, "but only because I love you."
Jim went to get Jake some gizzards and grabbed a little of the green beans. He took a bite and looked like he was going to throw up. Then he took a second bite and put the rest on Patrick's plate. After he swallowed the second bite, he looked at Zac. "That cowboy hat is coming out of your funds." Zac laughed.
Patrick was eyeballing Zac. "I didn't see you eating any green beans either. Dad tried them."
Zac stated, "That would be because I don't like them either."
Patrick reiterated, "Dad tried them because he loves me and now you owe me a cowboy hat."
"Yeah," Jim responded. "If you eat three bites, I'll buy the boy a pair of cowboy boots."
"Three bites?" Zac gave Jim a dirty look. "I only made you eat two."
"If you would have left it at one, I would have left yours at one. Turnabout is fair play," Jim smiled.
"I thought you loved me," Zac pouted.
"If you eat the three bites, I'll throw in a kiss," Jim coaxed.
Zac took his fork and grabbed a bite off Patrick's plate. "Hey!" Patrick hollered.
Zac swallowed that bite and said, "You wanted me to try them and you're the one getting the stuff. Besides, you can go get more."
Patrick conceded and let Zac take two more bites. He ate his three bites and told Jim, "This better be one of your best kisses making me eat three bites of them."
"I didn't say I would kiss you. You have green bean breath," Jim scrunched his nose, "Jake, go kiss your papa."
Jake ran over to Zac and kissed his cheek. Zac kissed Jake back but looked at Jim, "That one doesn't count. You made me eat green beans, you are the one kissing me. Besides, you have green bean breath, too."
Patrick watched as Jim grabbed Zac, pressed their lips together and then dipped Zac. "Dad," the boy asked, "did you stick your tongue in Papa's mouth? Isn't that gross?"
"Not normally," Jim declared, "but that time, he still had green beans in his mouth. He didn't swallow that last bite."
Zac started laughing, "Teach you to make me eat three bites."
After they ate, Jackson thought it was time to head back to the barn. "Y'all can stay as long as you want, but Ryan and I still have some catching up to do."
Dusty asked Patrick if he wanted to take a walk. Patrick looked at Jim as if asking permission. Jim just nodded his head. As they walked, Dusty started talking, "I know the next couple of days are going to be really hard on you, with seeing your parents in their caskets at the viewing and then the funeral. Don't be afraid to cry, you'd be surprised how much better you'll feel if you do."
Patrick looked down, "Dad and Papa already told me that if I feel like crying I should. Papa said that he knows he will because he knows I will be hurting, and they both agree that Dad will be crying maybe as hard as me."
Dusty smiled, "You know what happened to his dad, and he had to put his very first dog down. Your papa tells me that Jim still cries in his sleep for Shadow from time to time. Yes, he'll be crying hard, maybe as hard as you, maybe not, but he will be crying hard. Hug him and cry into his shoulder while he cries into yours. It'll do both of you some good. And if you ever need to talk, either of your dads are good listeners, or I'm around from time to time."
Patrick hugged Dusty and with a scratchy voice, "I might cry now. I feel like you really care about Dad and me. I can see why Dad says you're his best friend."
Dusty started rubbing Patrick's back, "If you want to cry now, go for it. I promise, you will feel better. I won't say that the pain will go away, or even ease at this time, but you will feel better." Patrick cried for a few minutes and then thanked Dusty. Then they headed back.
"OK, we need to clean up, get the horses back to the barn and groomed. Then after they are in their stalls, we need to go get school supplies, still," Zac stated.
Patrick looked at Jim, "Grooming again?"
"Yes, that's your final lesson for today," Jim stated. "You want to groom your horse after the ride as well, make sure they don't have any burrs, ticks, or any other hitchhikers. And you can check your horse over for any injuries they may have suffered. Think of it as a way of telling your horse thank you for the ride."
"Wow, I didn't think about all of that. You never see anyone on TV doing that stuff," Patrick was amazed at everything that riding consisted of that wasn't actual riding.
Jim chuckled, "Would you want to watch them doing it?"
"Not really, I see your point," Patrick admitted.
As Zac drove to Wal-Mart, he put a CD in his stereo. The song, "Thank the Cowboy for the Ride" started playing and Patrick laughed. "I thought we're supposed to thank the horse," the boy chimed.
Jim smiled, happy that Patrick thought of what he said, "In the case of this song, it's about a boy giving a girl a ride, and not just any ride, it's the ride of their lives. Listen to the words, it's a sweet song."
Patrick listened and enjoyed the singing, "Who is that and can I get some of his CDs?"
Zac gave Patrick a grin, "His name is Chris LeDoux. He was born in Wyoming. He was as real of a cowboy as they come. Not only did he sing, he also rode in rodeos. I got to meet him once when I was six. He signed the case for that CD and gave it to me. Chris passed away when I was eight." Zac worried about saying the last part, but at the same time, he didn't want to walk on eggshells too much.
Patrick did have a tear come out of his eye, "That's a shame. He sounds like someone I would have loved to meet. So, I'm guessing I can't get any of his CDs?"
"You and me both, bud," Jim shared. "I would have loved to meet him, too. As for his CDs, we can check at Wal-Mart for them. If we can't find any there, we can look online."
Wal-Mart had the school supply list sorted by the school and then grade, so Zac grabbed one for all three schools. Jim's list was easiest to fill as he really didn't need anything he didn't already have. "Papa, since I don't need any school supplies, can I get a new laptop?" Jim asked.
Zac gave him a funny look. Jim wasn't sure if it was because he called Zac Papa or the fact that he just got his laptop less than two years ago, or both. "Papa? And what's wrong with YOUR laptop?"
"In the computer world," Jim reasoned, "it would be considered ancient. Besides, Patrick will be needing a computer or laptop soon, so if I get a new one, I figure it would serve his needs for a few years."
Zac smiled at his husband, "Patrick will be needing one, and if you want to give him yours, I suppose we can order a new one for you. We will order it from HP so you can get what you actually want."
"Thanks Papa," Jim giggled.
"Thank you Papa and Dad," Patrick chimed. It did Jim good seeing Patrick so happy, knowing what was coming ahead.
After they had all of the school supplies, Zac looked at Patrick, "Do you need any new school clothes?"
"Just a cowboy hat and boots," Patrick reminded him.
"We'll get them at Jake's," Jim stated, watching Patrick give him a funny look. Jake giggled.
After Zac purchased everything, they headed to Jake's Trading Post. As they pulled in, Patrick saw the sign and looked at Jake, "I didn't know you owned a trading post."
"I don't," Jake explained, "but the man inside is named Jake, too."
"Ooooh," Patrick commented, pretending like Jake just taught him something.
Patrick walked in first followed by Jim. "Dad, check out this shirt," Patrick said. He was looking at a bright red shirt with a forest green western yoke.
Jake looked at who was talking and seeing Jim, he said, "Jakey, you've aged."
Zac was carrying Jake and came in the door as Jake spoke, "No silly, I'm here. That's my brother Patrick."
Jake looked at Jakey, "Brother, I didn't know you have a brother."
"I just got him two days ago," Jakey explained.
Patrick laughed, "You make me sound like a dog."
"Well," Jake giggled, "Kunie did have puppies when you arrived."
Patrick looked at Jakey and started panting like a dog, "Arf, arf." Everyone laughed and Jim started patting Patrick on the head. "Do you have this shirt in my size and Jake's?" Patrick asked.
"That's the only one I have of that shirt. It looks like it might be one size too big for you, but you'll fill it soon enough. In Jakey's size, I have a reverse of it, bright green with the deeper red yoke," Jake informed the boy.
"Dad, Papa, can we get them? That would be so cool especially since my favorite color is red and Jake's is green," Patrick begged.
"Before you answer that, did Jackson receive all of the saddles that he ordered?" Jake inquired.
Zac answered, "He did, why do you ask?"
Jake smiled, "Jackson ordered them through me and while I made a killing on them, well the sales rep told me that these shirts didn't sell over Christmas like he had hoped. He was so pleased with the order, he gave them to me and said whatever I get, consider it a bonus. Between Another Chance and you two, if I lost all of the rest of my customers, I would still be in business. As a thank you, and seeing the smiles on these two, I'd like to give these shirts to them."
Jim put an arm around Patrick, "Jake, I'm touched. You don't know how much Patrick and little Jake appreciate this."
Patrick hugged Jim. Looking up, he asked, "Is it alright that I hug this man to say thank you, he seems to know you, Papa and Jake."
"Yes, Papa and I have been shopping here for as long as I have worked at the ranch. Jake will treat you right," Jim replied.
Patrick ran over to hug Jake but Jake stopped him, "Hold on, Partner. You expect me to accept a hug from you?" Patrick looked down, wondering why Jake wouldn't accept a hug as a thank you. Jake teased, "You're not wearing boots or a cowboy hat, how can I believe you are these two varmint's son?"
"That's why we came here," Patrick got excited. "Papa and Dad don't like green beans, but they made a deal with me that if I got the other to eat some, Papa would buy me a hat and Dad would buy me some boots."
Jake started to laugh, "In that case, you can hug me." Patrick smiled and hugged the man. "They don't like green beans? What's wrong with them?"
"I know, right? Maybe they were dropped on their heads as babies," Patrick chuckled.
Zac shook his head, "I'll drop you on your head."
Patrick went over and hugged Zac, "You love me too much to do that."
Zac hugged Patrick back, "Yeah I do, even when you're picking like this, or is it especially when you're picking like this?"
Jake looked at Jim and Zac, "It's none of my business how he came into your family, but I would say he definitely belongs." That brought Patrick back to the reality of it all and he started to cry. Zac put Jakey down so he could hold Patrick. Jakey saw Patrick's face and went to hug him as well. "I'm sorry, did I say the wrong thing?" Jake asked.
"It's not your fault, you didn't know," Jim explained. "Tomorrow is the viewing and Thursday is the funeral for his parents."
Jake felt bad, "I'm so sorry, Patrick. Had I known, I wouldn't have made that comment. You just seemed so happy with Jim and Zac."
Patrick wanted to tell the man that he understood, but he was crying too hard. Jim looked at Jake, "You didn't say anything wrong, aside from bringing his parents back to life, Patrick does seem happier with us. And he does belong with us now; he'll eventually get past the pain, but not for a while. To be honest, Patrick is still at the stage where just saying 'hi' to him could hurt."
After a few minutes, Zac let Patrick go. He told his son, "You might want to tell Jake which hat you want and boots."
"And we should get you some new jeans so you look snazzy for school," Jim added.
They got home and had several bags of school supplies and new clothes. They unloaded the truck with most of the bags going to Patrick's room. "After supper, you boys can play for a bit, but remember, we need to be at the funeral home around eleven in the morning," Zac reminded them.
"I don't feel like playing," Patrick groaned. "I wish I could just go to bed and sleep for two days."
Jim wrapped his arms around Patrick, "I can imagine. I didn't want to go see my dad in his casket either, but I am glad that I did. I was able to tell him goodbye and how much I would miss him."
Patrick started crying as Jim held him, "It's just not fair. No offense, I love you and Papa, but I also miss my parents and that drunk should be the one going in the ground, not them."
"We know that you love us but would rather have your parents," Jim was patting Patrick's back. "I'm glad you came into our lives, but I wish you didn't have to do it in this way. As for the drunk driver, I don't know what will happen to him."
"He didn't die, when he's the one that should have," Patrick cried.
Jim kept holding Patrick, "I felt that way when my dad was killed, too." Jim thought about telling Patrick that he forgave William but decided that it was too soon.
Patrick asked, "I'm not very hungry, can I just go to bed?"
Jim remembered when he went days barely eating and his Mom telling him that he needed to eat. "Trust me when I say you need to eat something. Eat at least a lunch meat sandwich, please."
"I put a Marie Callender's Lasagna in the oven. Can you eat at least two or three bites, do it for us?" Zac begged.
"You both ate green beans for me, I guess I can eat something," Patrick agreed.
Once Patrick took a bite, he didn't realize how good the lasagna was or how hungry he had become since eating lunch at the lake. He ate his share of the lasagna. Jim looked at Zac and nodded towards the boy who "wasn't very hungry."
"I'll put the dishes in the dishwasher," Zac suggested, "why don't you three go plan your clothes for tomorrow?"
Jim giggled, "Yes, Papa." Zac just shook his head.
Jake was too young to really understand what was going on, or pick out his own clothes, so Jim went in to help him. Jim picked out clothes he thought would be appropriate, a pair of black pants and a button up shirt. After he had Jake ready, he knocked on Patrick's door. Patrick didn't answer so Jim opened the door to call his name. Jim thought he heard sobbing.
Looking in the room, He didn't see Patrick anywhere. He called Patrick's name again and headed towards the sobbing. Opening the closet door, Jim found the boy sitting on the floor. "Have you picked out your clothes for tomorrow?" Jim asked.
Patrick looked up, "I've never been to a viewing, what should I wear?"
"Come here," Jim said softly, while taking a seat on the bed. Patrick came out of the closet and sat on Jim's lap. "You want to look nice for your parents, but you can wear anything. Most people wear black for mourning, but you don't have to."
"Can I wear my new shirt with a pair of black pants?" Patrick asked.
Jim kissed Patrick on his forehead before answering, "You said red was your dad's favorite color, so I think that would be appropriate if that's what you want to wear."
Patrick questioned, "Is Jake wearing his?"
Jim pulled Patrick tighter against him, "I wasn't planning for him to, but he can if you want."
"I think it would show that he's my brother," Patrick declared.
Jim started to cry, "You are an amazing boy and make me happy with how quick you've taken Jake as your brother. I love you more and more."
"Dad," Patrick said with his face smooshed against Jim, "You're smothering me, and your armpit smells."
Jim let go of Patrick and started to laugh. "I take it you're feeling better?"
Wiping his eyes, Patrick admitted, "Maybe a little under the circumstances. At least I'm not hiding in the closet anymore."
Jim chuckled, "Be careful who you say that to, some people may take it to mean something totally different than what you mean." Then Jim told the boy what the phrase means and Patrick turned red.
"So what are you wearing tomorrow?" Patrick asked.
Jim confessed, "I haven't looked yet. Let me go switch Jake's shirt for the one you want him to wear, and then you can help me decide."
"I love you, Dad," Patrick averred.
Here was a boy only eleven years old facing probably the most tragic event that could occur to a boy that age and he took time to tell Jim that he loves him. Jim couldn't help but get choked up. "I love you too," Jim managed to croak out.
In Jim's and Zac's closet, Patrick found two similar western shirts that he thought they should wear. "Won't these seem too cheerful?" Zac asked.
"Red was Patrick's dad's favorite color so that's how Patrick wants to say goodbye to him," Jim stated.
"If that's what you want, Patrick, then I will wear one of these shirts for you," Zac agreed.
"Thank you, Papa. I love you," Patrick responded. "I'm going to bed, if I may."
"It's still early, but if you want to, it's your call," Zac answered with a raspy voice.
After Patrick went to his bedroom, Jim turned to Zac, he started crying and grabbed his husband in a hug, "It's just not fair. Don't get me wrong, I am happy that he's a part of our family, but he's too young to be burying his parents. At least with my dad, I know William was remorseful. Dusty shared with me that he found out the drunk who hit Patrick's parents is the same drunk who hit him, Dusty that is. That guy almost cost me my best friend and now took one of the sweetest boys' parents."
"Seriously? That guy should have lost his license," Zac was upset.
"He did, but he only did a few months in prison. He still has no license so what was he doing driving? He better be getting some serious jail time for this," Jim declared.
Zac assured Jim, "I'm sure he will."
Jim and Zac let Patrick and Jake sleep late, he didn't wake them until nine. As they got ready for the viewing, Jim told them not to put their shirts on until after breakfast. He made French toast and bacon. Jake put his bacon between the slices of toast and poured syrup over the top. After seeing him do it, Patrick tried it.
After breakfast, Jake had syrup on his face, hands and chest. "Come on, let me wash you so we can finish getting dressed," Patrick requested of the boy.
"Don't touch anything until Patrick washes you," Zac requested. Then looking at Jim, "I'm glad you told him not to put his shirt on yet."
It was time to leave for the funeral home and everyone piled into Zac's truck. When they arrived, the funeral director led them to the proper room. "You have an hour before anyone else will be admitted into the room. Hopefully that's enough time for you. If you do need a little more time, I can delay opening the door for a few minutes, but no more than fifteen."
"Thank you, sir," Patrick responded. Patrick started to open the door and stopped. He looked back at Zac and Jim, "Are you coming in with me?"
Jim had a lump in his throat, "That's up to you, Bud. If you want time alone, we understand, but if you want one or both of us for support…"
Patrick had a slight smile on his face, which shocked Jim, "I want to introduce you to my parents. You are my family now and I want both families to meet, even though that is just their bodies. It's not really them anymore."
"Where did you hear that? I believe what you said is true, but where did you hear it? And yes, we'd love to meet them," Zac started to cry.
"When I went to bed, Mom and Daddy came to visit me. They told me that they know I'll be sad and it's alright to cry, but that's not them anymore. They are in heaven."
Zac and Jim followed Patrick in the room. Jake walked between them holding both of their hands. As Patrick got close enough to see their faces, he dropped to his knees and start sobbing, "I know they said it's not them anymore, but it sure looks like them."
Jake let go of Jim and Zac and ran to Patrick, "I love you." Patrick pulled his little brother into a hug. Jim knelt beside Patrick, and didn't say anything. He just put his arms around his sons and started crying.
Zac walked over to the caskets, "Paul and Patricia, my name is Zac. Jim and I have been blessed with Patrick over the last few days. I want to tell you how strong your son has been with dealing over losing you. In the short time I've known him, he has been an amazing young man and you both would be so proud of him. I can tell that you both loved him very much. The younger guy is Jim's and my son Jake. Patrick has shown him more love as a brother than most real brothers even consider. The big guy blubbering over the two boys is my husband Jim. He lost his dad to a drunk driver and Patrick has been worried over his pain as much as we have him. I don't know what else to tell you other than Jim and I plan to treat Patrick as our own son, and do everything we can to make him happy." After Zac quit talking, he fell to his knees and started crying.
Patrick stood up and walked over to Zac, "Thank you Papa, I needed that. I can feel my parents in my heart smiling at you."
Jim was hugging Jake, "Just so you know, I love all of you guys, but I don't know if I can stay in here. I need to step out for some air."