On the way home, Gertrude said, "Alex, you cannot not have help and believe me, you have three who are the very best available."
"That's here, Gertrude. I'm sure their equal is available in San Francisco where I can stay with Josh or maybe in North Carolina where he will be, we will be, as soon as possible."
"Well, do give it some thought," she said.
"To be honest, Alex," Mavis said, "I have no desire to hear what happened to you. You were brutalized and I know that, can see that and that's more than I want to know. It's not that I don't care, because I care deeply and you know that. It's that I see what it's done to you and I don't need or want to know how. All I want is healing and health for you."
"Mavis has always been able to express things better that I can," Gertrude said, "so what she says is the way I feel."
They stopped at the bike shop and picked up the two bicycles. They looked like and were fine-tuned machines, not toys. There was a Radio Shack two blocks from Vic House and Josh told Gertrude to drop him off there and he'd see about a wireless intercom. Alex decided he could manage the walk as well, especially since there were benches along the sidewalk where they could rest if he needed to.
They bought an intercom system and as they left the store, Alex asked Josh if he was wrong in his demand. "Insofar as including Gertrude and Mavis are concerned, yes, at least after what they said. Before that I thought it completely unnecessary. It is not going to change anything about their feelings toward you."
"I think that's different. We plan to spend the rest of our life together. I told you about my life during the seven years we were separated while we were in Provo. I told you because I wanted you to know me now and how I got here. I want to know the twenty-four-year-old Alex and how he got here. I wouldn't mind telling my story again because, with the exception of a short time, it has been a good story. Of course, there was always the pain of loving you and not knowing where you were or what happened to you, but mostly it is not painful to tell. That is not true for you. I think if the team can truly see us as a couple, they can work something out, but what I really want is you well and us together."
"I think you just tossed a hot potato back in my lap," Alex chuckled, then pointed to a bench in the shade of a tree just ahead. The two sat down on the bench and Alex said, "Josh, I'll go ahead regardless, but I really don't see why you can't be present."
"Well, discuss it with the team tomorrow and whatever you decide will work for me. I just want you well and us in our own place."
"'Our own place.' Sounds like paradise to me," Alex said. The two sat for twenty minutes, people watching and in idle conversation. Finally, Alex stood and extended his hand to Josh. Josh stood and the two walked the short distance to Vic House. When they arrived, Josh plugged one unit of the intercom into a socket in the sunroom, where Gertrude spent most of her time when she was home, and took the second one upstairs while Alex had a juice in the kitchen.
He plugged the unit in and sat it on a nightstand, pushed the button and had no sooner done so that Alex's voice came through the speaker. "Josh?"
"Yes, Cheeks of Tan."
"Yeah, like I am barefoot. I look like a ghost, but anyway, Mavis called while you were on your way up and said we should come out to her place at our earliest convenience."
"Be right down." Josh bounded down the stairs, knowing that meant Sally had arrived a day early.
"Gertrude, wanna go or should we take the car?" Josh asked.
Gertrude was in on the secret and no way was she going to miss the arrival of Prince and Princess. "I'll drive us," she answered.
When they arrived, Gertrude drove toward the stable and the very fancy rig in front of it. The truck and trailer were the same red and gold as the ones Josh bought eight years ago, but there the similarity ended. The truck was a dually diesel, much larger and more powerful than the other one had been. In fancy lettering on the doors was 'Sally's and Josh's Mustangs' around an airbrush drawing of the head of a black Mustang, its mane flying. The lettering on the trailer arched over a two-thirds life-sized Mustang standing on its hind legs. Beautiful.
Alex was staring openmouthed at the outfit as he got out of the car very slowly and started an equally slow walk toward it. He looked inside and got a disappointed expression on his face. Josh was walking behind him and reached out and took his hand. "That's some fancy rig," he said as he led Alex toward the corral where Sally, Brenda and Gertrude were sitting on the fence watching a horse. As Josh and Alex walked up, Josh said, "Alex, my friend and partner Sally Wilkerson and her partner Brenda Powers."
As the two extended their hands, Sally said, "Don't let him fool you, Alex, he's not into threesomes. Glad to meet you." Brenda nodded.
"Gertrude, get your butt off the fence, open the gate and get that horse out of the corral. I didn't intend to let him out of his stable, but had a senior moment, I guess." When the horse was in the pasture and the gate closed, Gertrude rejoined the group on the fence as Mavis swung the gate to the stables open and Princess and Prince came out, shaking their heads, obviously glad their ride was over. Suddenly both stopped, whinnied and pranced over to the fence. Princess made a beeline for Alex and started nuzzling him, making small mothering noises. Prince was much more dignified as he walked to the fence and butted Josh with his head. Alex had his arms around Princess's neck, his cheek against it, tears streaming down his face.
"Well, are you just going to sit there or are you going to saddle up the horses that Brenda and Sally have gone to great pains to deliver?" Mavis asked with a hearty laugh.
Josh and Alex walked toward the tack room, the horses following them and pushing them along with their heads. Josh was pretty sure Alex couldn't manage the saddle, so he put the saddle blanket and saddle on Princess and left fastening it to him while he saddled Prince. Josh gave Alex a hand up and when he was settled in the saddle, they both laughed. Alex hadn't been in the saddle since he was sixteen and he had not had his final growth spurt then. When Alex knew he would be moving to Salt Lake, he had asked Josh to keep his fancy saddle as both used utility saddles in Wellsburg and Alex took that one to Salt Lake as he wasn't sure what might happen to the fancy one. Josh adjusted Alex's stirrups and then mounted Prince.
The two rode back into the corral. The two horses clearly knew the condition of their riders. Prince was putting on quite a show, prancing, running, standing on his hind legs. Princess, on the other hand, was walking sedately, slowly, carefully. Mavis opened a gate and the two rode to the bridle path. As soon as they went through the gate, Prince became as sedate as Princess. Every few minutes, Alex would lean over and hug Princess, alternating between tears and smiles.
Josh was keenly aware of Alex's growing tired. His session with the team had been very stressful and they had walked home from Radio Shack and now ridden ten minutes. He reluctantly suggested they turn around and Alex said, "I don't want to, but I need to." Josh suspected that would be true of a lot of things over the next weeks.
When they got back, Mavis and Brenda said they'd care for the horses and although Alex didn't want to leave, he, Josh, Sally and Gertrude walked to the porch across the back of Mavis' house. "Have a seat and I'll get drinks," Gertrude said.
"So tell me about this partnership," Alex asked and Josh told him about his agreement with Sally. He laughed and said, "And part of the agreement was that I'd never have to go back to Wellsburg but, up to this point, I've not managed to keep that part of the deal. Some crooked county officials tried to sell/buy the place and I had to rescue Winston." Josh then told Alex about that.
"But he hasn't had to come look after the ranch. Brenda and I have had two good captures both in numbers and quality including several pregnant mares, so the herd has tripled in size. Plus we're breeding kids' toys."
"Yeah, Josh got it in his head to raise ponies. Kids' toys, although I'll have to agree they are cute little buggers. I think I'm going to move them to the new place…"
"Yeah, Brenda had the brilliant idea that we were cramped for space and contacted your dad, Alex, and bought your old place. We have a family living there, the man working for us. Whole family excommunicated and shunned. It involved some shady business by some official who had more power than a poor cowboy. He and his sons are building a bunkhouse," Sally laughed. "Bunkhouse to me meant a large open room with beds, a crappy kitchen and a table with benches. Got by with staying in one several times when I was desperate without the cowboys learning I was a woman. Anyway, this will have large private rooms, a kitchen any little cafe would be proud of, a common room and a dining area. It will have room for eight men and/or women."
"Good, so there's no reason I should ever have to go back to Wellsburg." Alex said.
"None I know of. Your dad owner-financed two years ago now, a few months after we moved to Josh's place. Monthly payments deposited in both your names. Sizable sum now."
"I'll see Dad in a couple weeks. I've talked to him twice. He's in London and won't be back until then. I wanted to kinda take a step at a time and I need to get over thinking he abandoned me, at least a bit, before I see him. May sound cruel, but a round trip from London for a day's visit sounded more cruel."
Brenda and Mavis joined them and Brenda said, "Alex, I'm not sure who is happier, you or Princess." Alex's face was split by an ear-to-ear smile.
Mavis and Gertrude went inside to finish supper and Sally asked if Josh had time to talk a little business. Alex was half-asleep and they left him and Brenda on the porch and walked to the stables where they sat on the corral fence watching the two black Mustangs. "Surprised when Mavis called, Sally. I didn't expect you until tomorrow."
"After you called, I talked to Brenda and she reminded me how important my horse was to me and how he had pulled me out of the dumps more than a few times. 'We need to get that boy his horse,' she said, So we got the horses loaded and started early last night and drove to Rawlings. Slept in the hayloft there for four hours and took off again. We'll not need to be rocked to sleep tonight, but the look on Alex's face when he saw Princess was worth more than missing a few hours' sleep."
"Sally, you and Brenda are good people."
"Yeah, well, to business. I know you want to start shipping horses and ponies soon. I also know you need to be in North Carolina, probably in San Francisco, and you definitely need to be with your man."
"Two out of three's not bad. San Francisco can certainly run smoothly without me and, for that matter, so can Sentinel Mountain, but there are provisions in the will which mean I have to spend time there and soon. I have no idea how long Alex will be here. I hope he will be in shape to fly to the Mountain for a long weekend within a month and I'm looking at three months for us to be there permanently."
"I know it's asking for a lot of trust, and if that is a problem in any way, I'll understand. I'm sure were you anyone else, I would hesitate, but if you trust me, there's no reason for you coming to the ranch. Brenda and I have been looking at the horses and if the captured ones are counted, half the herd will amount to thirty horses."
"Thirty. As I said, we had a couple of good—make that excellent—captures. There'll also be half a dozen ponies."
"How many horses excluding the captures?"
"Then twelve it is. That's more than I planned."
"Again, if you trust us, Brenda and I could select the horses to ship, making sure there is a good mix of colors. Also, I'd want to include a number from the captures, some from Nevada and some from Wyoming, to give you new bloodlines. With our arrangements with Jack we have sperm aplenty, so we only captured a single stallion because he was a paint. You'll have Prince, sperm can be flown in as needed, but I would include one stallion anyway. Not the paint unless you want to arm wrestle for him. In addition to the paint, we have a beautiful bay and and an equally beautiful buckskin."
"Definitely the buckskin. Your suggestion sounds like a brilliant arrangement to me," Josh said. "I meant it when I said I never wanted to see Wellsburg again."
"Understand. As I told you, Brenda and I have developed a circle of friends and we are going to be very careful when we start hiring. We plan to build our own house next year and will move another couple—gay, straight, indifferent—into your grandparents' old place. We'd like to build a small house on the Bledsoe place and get a second couple in it. I said we didn't care gay or straight, but we do want kids around. The couple there now have two teenage sons who work like Trojans when they are not in school."
"Let me know when you are ready to start building. I'll pay for your new place since it's on property I own, but build it to suit you two. I think in the not-too-distant future we'll have to work out a way for you to own the property. I'll also finance, at a very reasonable rate, your buildings on the old Bledsoe place."
Sally grabbed him and kissed him on the lips, laughed and said, "If we were straight, I'd give you a tumble in the hay."
"What makes you think just because I love a man, I wouldn't like a tumble in the hay?"
"If you ever saw yourself looking at Alex, you'd know the answer to that question." she laughed.
"Where are you two staying?"
"We planned to get a motel room, but Mavis insisted we stay with her and spend a few days before going back, so we'll be doing that."
"Good and I want to make sure you meet Senhor D'Cruz and see his Mangalarga Marchadors."
Mavis called them to supper and all had a very enjoyable meal, Alex eating as much as any two of them, which was good. When Gertrude and the lovers got back to Vic House, Alex was pretty close to exhausted so Josh scooped him up and carried him to the bathroom. As he set him on his feet, he said, "Josh, Babe, I know we love horses, but I don't like to smell like one. Think you could help me get a shower?"
They both stripped and stepped in the shower where Josh washed Alex's hair and body before washing his own. Alex did wash Josh's back. They dried off and brushed their teeth. Josh carried Alex up the steep stairs to their room, put him on the bed, covered him with a sheet and leaned over and kissed him. There was definitely some passion in the kiss. Josh looked into Alex's eyes and he smiled. "You gave me a tingle down there and I didn't panic." Josh grinned and kissed him again. This time Alex opened his mouth then immediately jerked back. "Guess I spoke too soon," he said, a sad look on his face.
"No, we just pushed the limits. We'll take what progress we can get," Josh responded.
Josh hadn't gotten dressed before he put Alex to bed—he was asleep in less than two minutes—and when he started getting dressed, realized he was very short on clothes. Unless he wanted to wear business attire, he had to do laundry tonight. He went downstairs, carrying a load of dirty clothes. As soon as they were in the washer, he called Susan. They talked about the boys and he told her how things were going in Boulder. "It looks as if I'll be here for at least a month. I think in a couple, three weeks we'll be able to take a long weekend and fly to the Mountain. Sally and Brenda arrived today with Princess and Prince. I think that lopped weeks off Alex's recovery. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but Princess knew him immediately."
"Winston's getting ready to go with the horses and we will be ready to move when you give the word. I don't think we'll be taking anything except some personal items; pictures and stuff like that. Mom says everyone should do that every five years. I think she could carry just about all she's taking in a couple suitcases."
They chatted a few minutes longer and Josh said, "Big favor, Susan. My undies are wearing thin. I brought very few clothes with me and I need more. Could you go to my place, pick out clothes—socks, underwear, jeans, chinos, knit shirts and some regular casual ones? Shoes as well. I have business attire although I don't expect to need it. Call Walt and make arrangements to get the clothes to him. He's flying Luc and Cândido here tomorrow around five. Oh, and he's bringing a sixteen-year-old grandson. He's now the kid's guardian. His daughter, the child's mother, died and the father has just been put away for several years on a drug conviction."
"I'll call Walt right away and pick up the clothes in the morning. Anything else I can do?"
"Hug the boys for me. Sorry to keep things hanging, but Alex comes first."
"I should hope," she said, and laughed.
In the morning, Alex got a call from the clinic asking him if he could come in to have blood drawn and swabs taken before his scheduled overnight the following day and to remind him he should sign in before five. He was also told to expect to be there until noon or possibly two. It would depend on his recovery from being put to sleep for the rectal examination.
Alex was scheduled to meet with his treatment team at two and he had decided he was happy with answering questions Gertrude and Mavis had as they arose, but he was adamant that unless the three agreed Josh could be present, he would not continue.
He insisted on holding hands as they walked from the car to the office. Josh would have said he had no problem with that, but he had to admit, people staring at them made him uneasy. He was also concerned that it might trigger a negative reaction in Alex. It triggered a reaction all right. When an elderly lady looked at them and shook her head, then turned to watch them as they passed her, Alex said, "Don't you wish you had a young, handsome stud like I have? Well, you've watched him long enough, go hunt somewhere else!"
When they walked in, the receptionist referred them to a room on the second floor. When they arrived, the door was open and they walked into a living room kind of setting, not an office or conference room. Almost immediately the three doctors walked in and Alex exploded with excitement. "Princess is here. Prince too. They came yesterday afternoon." The smile on his face was radiant.
"Princess and Prince are important to you, I gather," Henry said.
"Well," Alex was a bit calmer, "of course they are. They're how we met. See..." Alex was off and running telling the story of how we met and by the end of session, he had reached the point where he and Josh were leaving for Boulder the first time.
"Looks like we have to run. You have to tell us about your time in Boulder tomorrow," Shawn said.
Helen stayed behind to make sure Alex had instructions about the overnight at the clinic. "By the way, it's no criticism of Dr. Avery, but I suspect you'll recover from the anesthesia much quicker tomorrow. Your appointment with us is later, at four, so you should be wide awake and bushy tailed by then and I really want to hear about two thirteen-year-olds in Boulder for a summer." They felt sure she meant it.
That is why whether or not Josh would be allowed to be with Alex was never discussed. Later the two were sure the very professional therapists were sucked into Alex's excitement and story.
They reported to the clinic at quarter of four so blood could be drawn, and urine and stool samples collected. After Alex signed in, he was gowned and an orderly brought a wheelchair ready to wheel him away when Josh leaned over and gave him an open-mouthed kiss which was returned. "See you tomorrow," he said since they had been told Alex would be busy with tests until Dr. Denney wanted him in bed and asleep.
The rectal exam was scheduled for nine and a nurse injected something into Alex's IV at eight thirty. He was very happy and woozy in a minute or two. She came back and injected something else in it just before nine and that was the last thing he remembered until he came to shortly before ten. He was fully awake before ten thirty and ready to leave the clinic.
At four, they showed up for the second session with the team. Helen said, "Well, how about we begin with the report from the clinic? There's no trace of the three STD infections you had. The drugs did what they are supposed to do. The HIV test was negative again, as expected but, as you know, there can be months before the antibodies show up, so re-test in three months and at the end of a year. The rectal exam showed more tearing and that was more severe than I expected from Dr. Avery's report, but most is well-healed and the rest is healing. You need to get some OTC fiber pills or powder to make sure your stool passes easily. However, you must have endured the pain from hell for some time as there are indications that not all of the tearing was done at the same time. There is one dilemma. You are putting on weight and that's good; however, since you are weak, the amount of exercise you are getting is limited. That means your body, which has been starved, is storing up fat, preparing for another rainy day, rather than rebuilding muscle mass. I spoke with your trainer and she was not surprised. She wants you to plan on an hour in the pool morning and afternoon. I'm sorry, but it looks like you have three hours a day taken for a while."
"Whatever it takes," Alex replied.
"Now, we left you and Josh on your way to Boulder when you were thirteen," Henry said and Alex was off and running. By the end of the hour he had recounted his story to the point where the Bledsoes had moved to Salt Lake.
Since Alex would be going to the gym to swim twice a day, Josh bought a membership as well. Fortunately, Alex loved to swim. Josh didn't, so he spent the morning on the machines and the afternoon swimming with Alex. Two hours at the gym and an hour with the team pretty much defined their days as Helen had suggested.
Editors: Jesse and Scott.
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