Common Sense

 

Pairing:  Rick/Andrew

Warning:  None

 

The two men on horseback crested the hill and paused for a moment, looking out over a gently sloped area of the field.  Glancing towards Rick, Andrew lifted an eyebrow, a challenge offered in his glinting blue eyes.  Accepting with a smile and a wordless nod, Rick leaned forward in the saddle; his own eyes alight with anticipation.

 

The horses, knowing what was expected of them, shied eagerly and the men had to hold tight to the reins, keeping them in check. At Andrew’s shouted, “Go!” they took off, their powerful haunches propelling them forward and away across the pasture.  Andrew’s buckskin mare, carrying less weight, surged ahead but Rick’s larger bay soon caught them and they raced neck and neck for a short while before she once again pulled away.

 

The horses slowed, coming to a stop at the gate and Rick swung down from the saddle to open the latch, shaking his head in admiration, “God that horse is fast, Andy.  You ought to race her at the track.”

 

Grinning, Andrew rode through the open gate, his chest tight with happiness.  That the work was hard and money was tight and would be until they sold their calves in the fall, didn’t even make a ripple in the feeling.

 

The horses trotted to the corrals, a drink and a rest awaiting them.  The men, just as eager for their lunch and a break, quickly unsaddled them and turned them out to graze in the paddock beside the barn.

 

In the kitchen Andrew opened two cans, emptied the contents into a pot and set it a burner to heat.  Rick watched with amusement.  “You’re not really going to eat that?” he asked, peering dubiously at the strange mixture.

 

“It’s good,” protested Andrew, stirring his lunch.  “You should try some.”

 

“No, thanks,” declined Rick with a smile, returning to slicing chicken for his own sandwich.

 

“I need to go to town this afternoon,” said Rick as they sat down to their respective meals.  “Do you want to come?”

 

Andrew shook his head, his mouth already full.  He swallowed and answered, “I want to ride out to the south field.  Check on that fence.”

 

“Okay,” nodded Rick in agreement.  “Do you want me to pick you up anything?”

 

“Nope,” Andrew couldn’t hide his smile as he bent his head over his bowl.  “I got everything I need.”

 

A warm contentment spread in Rick’s stomach at Andrew’s open happiness.  It had taken a while before he was even sure that his restless partner would stay at the ranch.

 

Outside, Rick scanned the darkening sky, his hand on the truck door.  “You’d better wait on that ride, Andy.  Looks like something is blowing in.”  The heat, the air thick and cloying, made the men sweat, their thin cotton shirts sticking to their backs.

 

When Andrew only shrugged, Rick turned to face him and said more decisively, “It’s going to storm.  I don’t want you all the way out in the south field.”

 

The prospect of a pleasant ride disappearing, Andrew sighed and reluctantly agreed.  There was plenty of other work to be done.  On impulse he stepped forward to kiss Rick goodbye, even though he was only going to be gone a short while.  He rarely initiated gestures of affection and he caught Rick by surprise.  Andrew ducked his head shyly and backed away but Rick reached out to grasp his wrist, drawing him close again.  The second kiss they exchanged was a lot longer and Rick didn’t let him go when it was finished.  He held Andrew tightly against his chest, stroking his lean back, until he was still, his restive squirming stopped.  Letting his hands slide down they came to rest on Andrew’s backside and Rick squeezed the firm cheeks roughly, enjoying the soft gasp that elicited.

 

“I’ll be back soon,” he whispered gruffly in Andrew’s ear.  He didn’t have urgent business in town, there was nothing stopping them from going inside to continue this but because the two men worked side-by-side every day sometimes anticipation sweetened the pleasure.

 

“Promise?” Andrew teased and let his own hands wander to Rick’s jean-covered backside to provoke an answering quiet gasp.  No sense in him lingering in town.

 

Rick laughed and finally released Andrew with a light swat to this bottom.  “Promise,” he said firmly as he climbed into the truck cab.  He raised a hand in goodbye to Andrew who returned the salute before heading to the outbuildings, deciding what chore he’d tackle first.

 

Breathing hard, Andrew rested his arm on the handle of the shovel, wiping away the dripping sweat off his brow with the other hand.  The metal shed was like a sauna, its confines musty with the smell of grain and he’d discarded his shirt a while ago.  Grateful to be done, Andrew shoveled the last of the pellets into a large bucket to take to the steers they were fattening.  Finished, he picked up a full pail in each hand, balancing the heavy load and walked to their pen to empty the feed into the trough.

 

Andrew thought longingly of a ride as he shrugged his shirt back on, it was sure to be cooler in the south field, near the creek.  He studied the sky, it looked a little clearer.  Whatever was blowing in seemed to have blown over, he told himself as he took his horse’s bridle from the rack.  His spirits rose as he saddle his horse, the slight pricking of his conscious at disobeying Rick, ignored.  Honest to God, much as he loved him, the man could be a bit over-protective at times, Andrew mused.  If he got a little wet, so be it.

 

It was several miles riding across their vast pastureland to reach the south field but the horse trotted tirelessly towards their destination.  Lost in pleasant thought, Andrew let her set her own pace, his hands on the reins, loose and relaxed.

 

The sudden boom and crack of thunder nearby brought Andrew out of his reverie and he looked upwards as the horse shied nervously under him.  The previous clouds had melded into a solid black to the west and he felt an unexpected breeze, startling in its coolness, on his face.  That this wasn’t a typical thunderstorm, Andrew instantly appreciated.  The mixture of the previous hot, humid air and now the colder wind was a volatile mixture and the hair stood up on the back of Andrew’s neck as the thunder snapped and roared ominously.  He turned the horse sharply, heading for home.  The mare was becoming uneasy too and Andrew only had to touch his heels to her side and she broke into a canter, running through the long grass.

 

Feeling the first drops of moisture, he reached instinctively behind his saddle for his oilskin coat.  That he’d left it behind, not wanting to be encumbered on such a hot day he remembered an instant later and he swore at his own stupidity.  The thin material of his shirt was soaked through within a minute as it began to rain harder, the wind picking up speed, driving the raindrops hard against his skin.

 

The uncomfortable sting of the drops quickly turned sharper, the rain had become sleet, biting into his exposed face.  He pulled his cowboy hat lower over his eyes and bent his head, trying to protect himself.  The sleet quickly turned to hail and the marble sized spheres struck hard, hurting him and Andrew kicked the mare into a full gallop, trying to outrun the storm.  There was no shelter here, no bushes to take cover under in this part of the field and Andrew had no choice but to struggle on.

 

His hat blew off in the strong wind and his thick hair was soon plastered to his head.  A large hailstone struck his forehead and he felt the warm trickle of blood down his temple.  That hailstorms were violent but short-lived, Andrew knew but in the meantime he had to protect his head or he wouldn’t see the end of it.  He reined the horse to a stop and slid down from her back.  He could barely hold the skittish horse, she wanted to run to the safety of the barn and Andrew worked furiously at the saddle’s cinch, trying to undo the thick straps.  Finally he succeeded and dragged the saddle off, letting it fall to the ground.  He slipped the bridle from the horse’s head and sent her off with a vigorous smack to her flank, yelling at her to go home.  The horse, her eyes rolling with terror, hesitated for a moment at leaving him but then bolted and was gone.

 

Andrew curled into a ball, pulled the heavy saddle over his head and shoulders and waited for the storm to pass over, the hailstones bouncing wildly on the flattened grass around him.

 

When Rick arrived home he noticed Andrew’s mare standing beside the barn.  Wondering how she came to be out of the enclosed paddock he walked towards her, intending to lead her back.  As he drew closer thought it was apparent something was wrong, she was quivering where she stood, wild-eyed and edgy.

 

“Hey, girl,” Rick crooned, slowing his steps to approach the mare cautiously.  “Hey, baby, it’s all right.”

 

He ran his hand over her soft nose, feeling the raised welts.  Gently he moved his hand over her neck and then her back, murmuring in dismay at the small round weals that covered her coat.

 

Leading her into the barn, he forked some hay into a stall and shut her in to settle down.  He ran to the house, calling out Andrew’s name.  When there was no answering shout, he jogged from building to building, finding each one deserted.  The sky was still dark to the west, the storm clouds moving fast.  Rick had seen cattle and horses caught in hailstorms and knew from the mare’s injuries she must have been in the storm.  But where the hell was Andrew?

 

In the truck Rick sat for a moment debating with himself about where to start searching before he started the engine.  He drove as fast as he dared over the rough ground of the field, scanning the surrounding hills for signs of his partner.

 

Within a short time Rick spotted him, walking slowly along the crest of a small hill, his saddle across his shoulder. Letting out a sigh, part relief, part exasperation, Rick drove towards him.

 

As he drew closer though Rick’s irritation evaporated, replaced by concern.  Soaked to the skin Andrew was staggering under the weight of the heavy leather saddle.  That he’d never consider leaving it behind didn’t surprise Rick, having won it at a rodeo it was one of Andrew’s most prized possessions.

 

Rick parked the truck and walked the last few feet to his partner.  Taking the saddle from him he placed it in the bed of the truck and turned to look more closely at the exhausted young man.  There were several raised bumps on Andrew’s forehead and cheeks and Rick took his face between his large, rough hands to look into his eyes.  They had the same shell-shocked look as the mare, the blue eyes flitting everywhere before coming to rest of Rick’s face.  Gently Rick touched the smear of blood on Andrew’s temple with his thumb, checking his pupils for signs of a concussion.  Finding none, he released his hold, his hands moving to Andrew’s sodden shirt.  Unsnapping it he gasped at the marks that covered the chest it revealed.

 

“I’m sorry,” choked out Andrew but Rick immediately shushed him.

 

“It’s all right, Andy,” soothed Rick as he carefully removed his partner’s shirt.  Andrew was shivering with cold and shock and Rick took off his own shirt to put over his shoulders.  Then he very gently drew Andrew against him, his arms lightly encircling him so he didn’t press against any of his welts.

 

With a relieved moan Andrew buried his face in Rick’s shoulder, beginning to shake in earnest now.  Rick held him against his bare chest until his trembling had eased but wanting him dry and warm, he said, “Come on, let’s go home.”

 

In the truck Andrew suddenly stiffened, remembering and said anxiously, “Breeze, I need to find her.”

 

“She’s home, in the barn,” Rick reassured him.

 

“Is she hurt?” He’d never forgive himself, Andrew vowed if anything had happened to her.

 

“She’s got a few bruises, same as you,” said Rick easily.  “She’ll be fine in a couple of days.”

 

Andrew leaned his head against the back of the seat, dizzy with relief.  Within a few minutes they were home too and Rick was helping him out of the truck cab.

 

“I need to see Breeze,” Andrew insisted, turning towards the barn.

 

“She’s fine,” Rick said again.  “You need to get out of those wet clothes.”

 

Rick’s voice had a definite firmness to it that Andrew recognized and while he hesitated for a moment he eventually nodded and allowed himself to be led into the house.

 

In the bedroom, Rick peeled off the rest of Andrew’s soaked clothes, his face grim when it revealed the full extent of his bruising.  A hot bath, a couple of painkillers and Andrew was steered towards the bed to rest.

 

“I’m all right,” Andrew protested, his argument weakened by the fact he was still shivering.

 

“I know,” Rick assured him as he drew back the sheet and waited for his partner to lie down.

 

With a groan of discomfort, Andrew settled under the covers.  When Rick bent to kiss him softly on an unbruised area of his forehead, tears welled up in his eyes and Rick paused, running his hand soothingly over Andrew’s damp hair.

 

“Rick?” said Andrew unsteadily.

 

“What is it?” Rick asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

 

“I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have gone,” Andrew stopped, looking away.

 

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Rick agreed, reaching out to turn Andrew’s face towards him again.  “Why did you?”

 

“I thought it wasn’t going to storm,” said Andrew, his eyes wide and guilty.  “It looked like it blowing over.”

 

“But I said you weren’t to go,” Rick said quietly.

 

“I thought you were just…..fussing.”

 

“Andrew,” Rick sighed.  “Do I tell you what to do for the hell of it?” When Andrew shook his head, his eyes brimming, Rick asked seriously, “Do you really think I’d stop you from doing something without a good reason?”

 

“No,” acknowledged Andrew plaintively.  He reached out to hold Rick’s hand, still feeling very unsteady, even more so at Rick’s exasperated tone.

 

Giving a reassuring squeeze to the trembling hand he held, Rick said, “The weather can be unpredictable around here, Andy.  You’re a sitting duck on a horse so far from home.  Sometimes you can’t prevent that.  I’ve been caught out like what happened to you today.  But I told you not to go and you disobeyed me.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Andrew said softly, ashamed he’d been so quick to dismiss Rick’s opinion.

 

“So you can stay off that horse for the next week to remind you to listen.”  Rick leaned over to kiss him once again before standing up to leave.  “You rest a while.”

 

Andrew nodded wordlessly, relieved at the leniency of the punishment.

 

But Andrew’s gratitude quickly faded as his bruises faded too.  Within a few days, the soreness had all but disappeared and he was left with several days of not being able to ride.

 

Getting dressed one morning, he proudly showed Rick how much the once vivid marks had faded.  “Doesn’t even hurt,” he proclaimed as he ran his hands over his tanned chest.

 

“I’m glad,” Rick smiled as he pulled his cowboy boots on.  He’d be riding out to check on the calves first thing and he caught Andrew’s slightly resentful look.

 

“I could ride out with you today,” Andrew offered, keeping his voice casual.  “Now that I’m not sore.”

 

Rick took a deep breath, steeling himself, “You can use the quad if you want, Andy but not your horse.”

 

“Why?” he demanded.  “Breeze isn’t hurting anymore either.”

 

“Why aren’t you allowed to ride this week?” Rick asked bluntly.

 

“I was sore,” started Andrew and then blushed hotly and was silent.

 

“But that’s not why, is it?”

 

Andrew shrugged awkwardly.

 

“Andrew?”

 

“No,” answered Andrew, his temper flaring.  “I get it, all right?  Because I’m an idiot.”  He threw himself into the armchair, flung his head back to stare at the ceiling and folded his arms tightly over his chest.

 

“Have I ‘ever’ said that?” asked Rick, his voice dangerously low.

 

“No, but I am,” Andrew sighed deeply.  “I’ve got no common sense. I should have known not to ride out that day.”

 

Rick crossed the room to crouch in front of Andrew, squeezing his thighs gently until he lifted his head and made eye contact. ”For god’s sake Andy, I’ve done it myself.  Which is how I knew to warn you not to go.  You shouldn’t have disobeyed me though, which is why I punished you.”

 

Andrew nodded grudgingly but his unhappiness was still clearly evident on his face.

 

“You know you can always talk to me if you think a punishment was unfair.  Was it unfair, Andy?”

 

“No,” admitted Andrew, his mouth twisting.

 

Gripping Andrew’s hand, Rick levered him out of the large armchair and sat, pulling his miserable partner down onto his lap.

 

Andrew wriggled into a more comfortable position.  They seldom sat like this, two full grown men cuddled in one chair but he laid his head on Rick’s shoulder, enjoying his closeness.

 

“You’ve got a lot of common sense, Andrew,” Rick said firmly.  “You knew to stop and use that saddle to protect yourself.”

 

“Anybody would have done that,” scoffed Andrew.

 

“You’re wrong,” Rick shook his head.  “A lot of men would have panicked and tried to make it home, regardless.  You didn’t.”

 

Andrew sat thinking for a moment before answering.  “Yeah but I wouldn’t have had to if I’d listened to you,” he muttered, his voice laced with guilt.

 

“There are a lot of things that can go wrong out here Andy.  I don’t know what I’d do without you.  I hope you know I only want you safe.”

 

“I do,” Andrew answered remorsefully.  “I’m sorry; I just wanted to go for a ride, that’s all I was thinking about.”

 

The two men sat for a few more minutes before Rick patted Andrew’s hip, “Come on, sweetheart.  I need to check on those calves.  What are you going to do?”

 

“Feed the horses,” Andrew said as he got to his feet and stretched.  “I’ll take them out a bale.”

 

The two men parted in the yard to attend to their separate chores.  When Rick returned he had a small calf slung over the saddle in front of him.  He handed him down into Andrew’s waiting arms and said, “Somethings not right with him, pneumonia probably.  I’m taking him to the vet this afternoon.”

 

They placed the calf into a crate and loaded it onto the bed of the truck for the trip to town.  “I don’t know when I’ll be back.  I guess it depends on how busy the vet is,” said Rick as he got into the truck cab.

 

Andrew nodded, “I’ll finish the rest of the chores.”

 

He was in the granary, shoveling pellets into buckets for the steers again when he heard a truck pull into the yard and the dogs start to bark.  He stuck his head out the door and recognizing one of their neighbors, shouted at the dogs to lie down.  Wiping his dirty hands on his shirt, he walked towards the truck, already worrying at the unhappy expression on the man’s face.

 

“Lawson,” the older man nodded curtly at him.

 

“What’s wrong, Mr. Snyder?”

 

“One of your damn bulls is in with my heifers.  Must have broke through the fence.  I want him out now.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Andrew answered quickly.  “I’m sorry.”

 

“You’ll be sorry if he breeds any of them.”

 

Andrew winced.  Their own Black Angus and their neighbor’s white Charolais would make an odd mix; the calves would be almost worthless.

 

“I’ll get him right away.”

 

“I already tried to move him.  Goddamn bastard went for me as soon as I got out of my truck,” the man warned him.

 

Andrew nodded absently, already deciding which would be the best way to separate the bad tempered bull from the cows.  It wasn’t going to be easy.

 

The sound of another truck pulling onto their road made both men look.  Whole days passed and no one so much as drove by their ranch but today it was grand central station thought Andrew.  He recognized Rick’s father’s truck with a certain relief.  While Mr. Snyder’s annoyance was understandable Andrew was glad to see a friendly face.

 

The dogs greeted him with soft whines and frantically wagging tails.  Joe patted their heads before nodding to the other men, “Andy, Bill,” he said pleasantly.  He stepped forward and shook hands with Mr. Snyder.  “What brings you here today?”

 

The man’s demeanor had changed remarkably and he gave a much more genial account of his complaint.

 

“Andy and I’ll get him out,” Joe assured him.  “Don’t worry.  And if there’s any grey calves in the spring you want to sell, just let me know.”

 

That Rick’s father had one of the largest cattle ranches around certainly smoothed things over, Andrew noted wryly.  The previously angry man left with a satisfied smile on his face.

 

“So,” Joe said, his eyes twinkling at Andrew’s expression.  “You got a horse for me?”

 

Andrew hesitated, just for a moment, remembering Rick’s orders.  But it was far safer to move a bull on horseback.  An irate bull could flip a quad, breaking the rider’s legs or worse.  A horse would react instinctively to avoid a charging bull, a quad could never respond as fast. “Yes, sir,” he said but then paused again; any of their spirited horses would cause trouble for an unfamiliar rider. “Sisco’s the best with the bulls but I don’t know if he’ll let you ride him.”

 

“Oh?” asked Joe, his interest obvious.  “He’s got an attitude, does he?”

 

“Oh God, does he ever,” Andrew confirmed.

 

“Well, let’s see what he’s got.”

 

Andrew eyed Rick’s father speculatively, wondering how old he was.  In his fifties most likely but it was damn hard to tell.  His face was weathered by years of exposure to wind and sun; the wrinkles more ruts than lines.  But his body was still lean and muscular.  When did people’s bones start to get brittle?   If Sisco bucked him off, he’d have more to deal with than a wandering bull but not knowing how to refuse without offending Joe, Andrew went to bring the horses in from the field.

 

Joe took the lead rope from Andy, gently patting the horse’s neck, all the while talking softly to him.  He selected a saddle from their assortment and within a few moments had it cinched on.  Andrew watched covertly as he saddled his own horse, still worried about Sisco’s temperament.

 

“I can get you a tie down,” Andrew offered.  “If he gets his head up, he’ll run on you.”

 

“We’ll be fine,” Joe smiled at him reassuringly.  He put his foot in the stirrup and swung effortlessly into the saddle.  The horse quivered for a moment, trying to raise his head but Joe wouldn’t let him, keeping the reins tight and Sisco made a couple of uneasy turns before relaxing.

 

“You go ahead, Andy,” Joe urged. “I think Sisco needs to follow for a bit.”

 

Andrew started towards the field but instead of following Sisco kicked up his heels, trying to throw the man on his back.  Joe spoke sternly to him and brought the ends of the reins down on his backside and he settled, eventually following meekly behind Andrew’ horse.  The two men rode along the fence line looking for the place where the bull had broken through.  The two busted fence posts and a tangle of barbed wire were easy to spot.

 

The errant bull was readily spotted too, a huge mass of black amongst the herd of white cows.  The bull’s head shot up when he saw the horses and he gave an angry bellow, charging towards them a few paces before stopping and eyeing them.

 

Joe signaled Andy to go to the left and Andrew took off, spurring his horse into a gallop.  All of the cattle ran as one but Breeze quickly got between the bull and the fleeing cows, culling him out as Sisco did the same on the other side.  Whooping and shouting, they soon had him separated but he kept breaking free to rejoin the cows.  It took more than an hour to herd him away form the other cattle and both men and horses were soaked with sweat by the time they succeeded.  When they reached the fence, the bull didn’t slow its panicked running and he crashed through, breaking several more posts and downing yet more wire.

 

Joe cursed long and loud, his vehement words surprising Andy.  When he saw the younger man’s expression he shrugged unapologetically and grinned.  “Nothing like working with animals to expand your vocabulary.”

 

Joining in the other man’s laughter, Andrew dismounted to get a closer look at the damage.

 

“We’ll have to fix it now,” Joe said.  “You’ll have all the bulls in his field if you don’t.”

 

And it didn’t matter that they were exhausted, hot and thirsty.  Andrew said worriedly, “We’ve got a bundle of fence posts but no pounder.”

 

“I’ve got one in my truck.  Just a hand pounder but it’ll have to do.  You stay here, Andy and make sure none of them make it back through.  I’ll ride back and get what we need.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“It’s Joe, son.  You don’t have to call me sir.”  He kicked the tired horse into a trot and started off for home.

 

The bulls kept well away from the fence with the horse and rider patrolling it and Joe was soon back, driving his truck now.  He parked it and began to unload the posts and wire from the back.

 

Andrew came closer to look curiously at the heavy metal cylinder that Joe had thrown onto the grass.  “Christ,” he exclaimed when he lifted it.  “It’s heavy.”

 

“Weighted with lead,” Joe grunted as he heaved several long posts from the bed of the truck.

 

The men removed the broken fence and positioned a new post, the pointed end aimed at the ground, the other end covered by the cylinder.  Joe grasped the handles and winked at Andrew, “Stand back, boy.”

 

Andrew watched as the older man raised his arms and the post came crashing down, the end impaled in the ground now.  Joe repeated the motion, over and over until the post was firmly set.

 

“Your turn,” Joe grinned, handing over the pounder.  He took off his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow and stood back to watch.

 

Andrew mimicked Joe’s movements, raising his arms and bringing them down only to have the fence post bounce off the hard ground.  His face flushed with effort and embarrassment.  For God’s sake the other man had thirty years on him.

 

“Hey,” said Joe easily.  “It’s harder than it looks, eh?”

 

Andrew nodded curtly and tried again, this time sinking the post slightly into the dirt.  It took forty swings to Joe’s twenty but finally the post was fully fixed.  Hot and gasping for air, he bent over, his hands on his knees when he finished.  “Good job,” said Joe, giving him a hearty congratulatory slap on the back.

 

By the time the fence was completely fixed Andrew’s arms were trembling and aching but the other man seemed unaffected.  “Do you want to take the truck?”

 

“No, I’ll ride,” Andrew insisted.

 

“See you there,” shouted Joe as he drove away.

 

As Andrew neared the house, he felt a fleeting sense of anxiousness, wondering if Rick would accept that he’d had to use his horse.  But he quickly dismissed the thought; Rick was a fair and reasonable man.

 

As soon as the saddle was off Breeze found a dusty patch in the paddock to roll the sweat off and Andrew headed gratefully to the relative cool of the house.  He found Rick and his father sitting in the kitchen, cold cans of beer in front of them.  “I’m going to shower,” he told them in passing.

 

Refreshed from the cool water, Andrew dressed in clean jeans and shirt and joined the other men in the kitchen.  A cold beer sat on the table waiting for him and Andrew cracked it and drank deeply.  It was gone in a minute and he rose to open the fridge for another.  “Anyone else?” he asked, holding up a can.

 

Both the other men accepted and Andrew rejoined them to drink his second beer more slowly as Joe amused Rick with his retelling of the afternoon’s adventures.  When Andrew got up again to go to the fridge, Rick asked for a glass of water, making meaningful eye contact with him.  Nodding, Andrew got them all a glass.  Dehydrated from hours in the sun, the cool water tasted as good as the beer had.

 

When Joe got up to leave, Andrew stood up too and thanked him for his help but Joe waved away his gratitude, “I had a great time.”

 

After his father had driven off, Rick slipped an arm around Andrew’s waist and kissed him soundly.  “I’m proud of you, Andy.  Getting that bull like that.”

 

Andrew shrugged dismissively but Rick said, “Sounds like you and my Dad had a hard time of it.”

 

“Well, he was a tough bastard,” admitted Andrew.  Then realizing what he’d said, he clarified, “The bull, not your Dad.”

 

Rick laughed and kissed him again.

 

“Your Dad was great,” said Andrew.  “But he’s pretty tough too, pounded those fence posts like a man possessed.  I’m going to be sore for a week.”

 

“Come on, I’ll give you a rub down,” offered Rick, his hand massaging Andrew’s aching shoulder.

 

Andrew hesitated, “You’re not mad, about me riding Breeze?”

 

“No, of course not, Andy.  You didn’t really think I would be, did you?”

 

“No, it’s just that….”

 

“I would have been mad if you’d done anything else, Andy.  You made a good choice, used your common sense just like you should and I’m proud of you,” Rick said firmly.

 

Andrew nodded, feeling a definite satisfaction in a job well done but he couldn’t resist pushing a little.  “So does that mean I can ride out with you tomorrow?”

 

“Nope,” said Rick easily.  “Another three days, Andy.”

 

An urge to argue rose up in Andrew, just for an instant, before disappearing.  It had been a fair punishment, he was lucky not to have been paddled.  He needed to let his niggling resentment, born of his own shame, go.  “Yes, sir,” he agreed.