Exercising Some Caution

By Jenny


“That dog has got more balls than brains.”


“Yeah,” Andrew sighed in agreement.  Rick might have been joking but it was true; Tip didn’t tend to see the big picture, rushing in when it would have been wiser to assess the situation a little beforehand.   And maybe consider the consequences as well.  Andrew understood him all too well.  And now his poor dog had a nose full of porcupine quills that was undoubtedly stinging worse than his own sore backside. 


The dog in question lifted sorrowful eyes to his master, begging for both help and forgiveness.  That he hadn’t obeyed when Andrew tried to call him off his prey was something he was obviously regretting.  It had been an unpleasant surprise to find that the small animal he was chasing was well armed against curious dogs.  He’d slunk home with his tail between his legs and a muzzle resembling a pincushion.


Rick squatted down in front of the whining dog to take a closer look at the damage, keeping his hands well back; Tip was Andrew’s dog and still new enough that Rick didn’t give him commands nor handle him much.   It could confuse a working dog to take orders from more than one master.


“They don’t look deep; you should be able to get them out with the pliers easy enough.”  It was a long drive to town to the vet’s and there was the chance the agitated dog would drive the quills in deeper on the way.  Rick stood up and went to the truck to rummage through their untidy toolbox for what he needed.  “I’ll get the disinfectant,” he called over his shoulder as he headed for the barn.


Andrew led the injured dog onto the porch and spread a blanket out on the boards for him to lie down on.   He knelt down next to Tip to stroke a comforting hand along his back, carefully keeping his own tender bottom off the floor.


“You’ll have to do it,” said Rick, handing Andrew the pair of cleaned pliers.  “He’d rip my arm off.”


Andrew nodded, knowing it was true.  In pain, Tip was quite capable of biting anyone but him.  And he was his dog, his responsibility. 


Tip was an unlikely cattle dog, the biggest German Shepherd that Andrew had ever seen he was nonetheless an excellent herder.  Rick’s border collies were more experienced but the other dogs accepted him quite happily, respecting his competence.   He was the only one of them that could be suckered into Champ’s schemes though.  Rick’s oldest dog was a compulsive herder, unable to resist chasing the cattle even when there was no need.  The minute he realized that neither of the men was around to see what he was up to he was off and running, only stopping to entice Tip to join him.  The other dogs were too savvy to be conned into such a foolish pastime, knowing it would quite literally end up with them in the doghouse.  Realizing that a stretch confined to the dog run was a given if they were caught harassing the cattle was enough of a reason to keep them from joining in.


Steeling himself, Andrew cradled the dog’s head tightly against his chest and grasped the barb with the pliers.  Making sure that he pulled straight out so not to break the quill he yanked it free of the dog’s muzzle.


Tip yelped and struggled in his arms, trying to get free.  Andrew could see what an effort it was for the dog not to bite him.  “Sorry,” he crooned, as he fought to keep the dog still. “Sorry, that’s a good dog.”


Finally the half dozen quills were removed and Andrew lay down the pliers with a hand that shook slightly.   After his nose was swabbed liberally with antiseptic Tip was allowed to run off to sulk underneath the porch.


“You think he’ll learn not to chase porcupines?” Andrew asked his partner who had been leaning on the porch rail watching the procedure.


“Oh, yeah,” Rick assured him.  “Nothing like a little discomfort to reinforce a lesson, he’ll remember.”


Andrew grimaced, he’d experienced a little more than discomfort across Rick’s knee this afternoon.  He sure hoped it helped him remember.



Rick, a mop in his hand, surveyed the disaster area that was their kitchen.  Beside him, Andrew observed aloud, “This is going to take a while.”


Finally the pressing needs of the cattle had eased up enough that some of their attention could be given to their untidy house.  “We can get someone in…” Rick offered.  He had suggested it several times already but Andrew was adamantly opposed.


“No,” said Andrew.  A private man, the thought of a stranger in their house, handling Rick and his possessions, made his skin crawl.  “It’s fine.”


“It won’t take that long,” Rick reassured him.  “Did you get the laundry going?”


Andrew nodded, “Yeah, I’ll start on the dishes next.”


“You’re a brave man.”  Both men turned to look at the impressive stack of dirty plates and cups piled at the side of the sink.


“I know,” replied Andrew solemnly.


Rick laughed and gave him an encouraging push towards the sink.  “Prove it.”


Andrew had barely begun when they heard the dogs in the yard bark.  With his arms immersed in soapy water up to his elbows he let Rick answer the knock at the door.


“Hey, Dad.  David,” Rick greeted his father and youngest brother as he opened the door wide.  “Something wrong?”


“No,” said Joe easily.  ‘Just thought I’d stop by and see if you and Andrew were free this morning.  A few of my bulls took on the neighbor’s and I need help separating our herds and fixing the fence.”  It was a common enough problem in the early summer when the bulls were in fields with the cow, breeding next year’s calves.


David looked around the kitchen, taking in the clutter.  “Jeez,” he complained to his father.  “And you say my room is a mess.”


“Your room is a mess,” said Joe mildly.  “And if you’re going to be rude you can wait in the truck.”


“Sorry,” David apologized hastily and turned to talk to Andrew.  “Ethan’s home for the summer.”


Andrew’s face lit up. Of all Rick’s brothers Ethan was the one he was most at ease with although he hadn’t had a chance to see him for awhile.  Ethan spent most of the year at University on a rodeo scholarship and Andrew was glad he was finally home for the break.


“I guess we can clean another day,” said Rick, leaning the mop against the wall and abandoning the half-finished floor. “If that’s okay with you, Andy?”  A day spent with his brothers and father in the field was too good to pass up. Work was more pleasure than effort in the early summer when the intense stress of calving and branding had passed.


“Sure,” agreed Andrew, drying his hands.  “We haven’t got typhoid yet.  Another day won’t kill us.”


“I wish I lived with you guys,” said David wistfully.


Rick tossed Andrew his cowboy hat as he placed his own on his head.  “No you don’t,” he said.  “You’re so picky; you’d starve to death without Mom’s cooking.”


“I’m not picky,” protested David indignantly as he followed the other men out the door.


The three older men laughed, knowing the truth and that the teenager wouldn’t last a day living with Rick and Andrew.


Seeing David’s face flush, Andrew took pity on him.  “Saddle Breeze for me?”


“Sure,” agreed David, the teasing forgotten in an instant.  While Andrew hooked up the horse trailer to the truck, he went to the corral to tack up his horse for him.  Their horses had to work hard, covering sometimes 30 or more miles in a day chasing cattle and they favored those with lots of spirit.  That Andrew thought he has skilled enough to handle his horse made David swell with pride.


“Thank you,” Andrew said sincerely to the boy as he took the reins of his saddled horse from him.  “Appreciate it.”


“No problem,” shrugged David, standing back to watch as the horse was loaded onto the trailer.


Rick’s mother insisted on feeding them as soon as they set foot on the ranch and it wasn’t until after they’d all eaten a second breakfast that the men were set to work.  On the way to the field Ethan rode his horse alongside Andrew’s mare, talking excitedly about his University courses.  Although the two young men were close in age, Andrew’s life on the rodeo circuit had toughened him, making him appear older and Ethan pumped him for information about bullriding any chance he had.  Reaching into his shirt pocket Ethan pulled out a can of beer and handed it to Andrew.


It was hot and dusty and Andrew accepted it with a grateful thanks, pulling the top as Ethan fished another can for himself out of his other pocket.  A half hour of riding and they were at the right field, evidenced by the long stretch of fence that was knocked down.  “Holy shit,” breathed Andrew.  “That must have been on hell of a fight.”


An eerie noise, high-pitched and piercing, reached them.  An enormous bull was standing on the crest of a hill, its head raised, bellowing a challenge to several smaller bulls that stood close.  Joe gestured to the bull, which must have weighed close to three thousand pounds, and said wryly, “I’m guessing he won.”


Rick’s father reached down to his saddle and untied a long, black bullwhip that hung from it.  Their use wasn’t common and Andrew watched, fascinated, as Joe uncoiled it and then rode towards the bulls, lazily twirling the length above his head.  Suddenly he flicked his wrist and an almighty crack rang out.  The bulls’ attention shifted from each other towards the sharp sound and they all turned their head in its direction.  A bull has respect for a horse and their kicking power and they warily watched Joe’s unhurried journey towards them.  Another crack split the air and the bulls moved uneasily away from the approaching horse and rider.  Skillfully Joe wielded the noisy whip, driving them further away from the cows.


“Ted, come with me,” Joe called.  “We’ll take the Walker bulls home.  The rest of you sort out the ladies.”


The two men deftly separated the neighbor’s bulls from their own, driving them towards their own field.  The crack of the whip grew fainter as all the bulls disappeared form their view and the other men plunged their horses into the herd, sorting the cows by brand.  It was a couple of hours of hot, sweaty work for both the horses and the riders.  The cows, by nature, were more amenable to direction but the sheer number of them meant it was a long task.  By no means disagreeable though.  It was a challenge and the young men took to it eagerly.  They were soon joined by Joe and Ted returning with several men from the neighboring ranch.  As soon as the herd was separated the ranch hands starting moving their cows in the direction of home.


Joe dismounted and stretched his legs, stiff from hours in the saddle, “I’m getting too old for this,” he complained.


“That’ll by the day,” said Rick.  He turned to study the ruined fence.  “You’re going to need the post pounder.”


“I know,” he agreed.  In the summer the ground was too hard to lay fence by hand, nothing by the hydraulic power of a machine would sink the posts deep enough.  “Who wants to ride back and get it?”


“I will,” Rick offered.  “You want to come with me, Andy?”


To his surprise, Andy waved him off, “No, that’s okay.”


Pleased, Rick nodded.  He was glad that Andy didn’t seem to need his company to be at ease with his family anymore.


When Rick had ridden off, Andrew looked closer at the whip, now coiled again at the side of Joe’s saddle.  Seeing Andrew’s interest Joe untied the thin leather strip that anchored the whip.  “You know how to use one?” he asked. 


Andrew shook his head.


Joe grinned.  “Want to?”


“Hell, yeah.”


Joe shook out the length of the long whip and drew it back so it trailed behind him.  “Stand back,” he ordered and everyone moved well out of range.  The whip came alive in his expert hands, jumping and snapping as he demonstrated several different ways to crack it.


“Here,” he said, passing Andrew the whip, handle first.  Andrew listened patiently to Joe’s instructions before he was ready to try.  “Careful,” warned Joe.  “It can cut if it catches you hard.”


Andrew’s first attempt sent the whips fall whirling around him, knocking his cowboy hat from his head and leaving a vivid welt on his forearm.  All the men standing around watching laughed and Andrew’s face flushed as he bent to pick up his hat from the dirt.


“Don’t take any notice of them,” Joe said firmly.  “Everyone does that first time.”  He sent a warning glance towards the grinning men and their laughter subsided.  “Don’t try so hard,” he instructed.  “Think of the whip as part of you.”


Taking a deep breath, Andrew carefully drew back the heavy whip and then cast it forward in a fluid movement.  Snapping his wrist he stepped ahead.  A loud crack split the air and a satisfied smile appeared on Andrew’s lips.


“Good,” Joe gave a pleased nod.


They all took turns, tossing the whip from hand to hand, each one trying to outdo each other and produce the loudest crack.  By the time Rick returned with the truck and post pounder all the young men were wrapped up in the competition.


Joe finally held up his hand, stopping the contest, “Enough,” he said good-naturedly.  Rick unloaded a cooler, filled with sandwiches his mother had made from the truck and they all ate hungrily. The food was washed down with the usual cans of beer but before they could get too comfortable Joe was dividing up the work.


“Rick, you drive,” he said.  “I’ll work the pounder and Ted and David, you can hammer the staples.”  He turned to Ethan, “You and Andrew ride out and check on all the bulls, see if any of them is hurt.”  It wasn’t uncommon for a bull to break another’s leg or dislocate a hip while fighting with each other.


Knowing they’d gotten the best job, Ethan smiled widely.  He went to the case of beer and stuffed his saddlebag full and then picked up the whip that was still lying on the ground.


The two young men were soon out of sight.  The ranch’s fields were immense; it could take a while to cover them and they set a good pace.  Ethan drew out a can of beer from his saddlebag and held it out to Andrew.  “You’re like a walking liquor store,” Andrew laughed, accepting it gladly.


They lapsed into long silences as they rode along in the peaceful field, searching out the bulls.  They had found all but one of the six bulls and while a couple of them were a bit banged up none of them were seriously injured. 


“There,” Ethan nodded towards the far corner of the pasture.  The last bull was standing close to the fence line, clearly sulking from his losses.  They needed to see him walk to make sure his legs were sound and Ethan untied the whip attached to his saddle and held it out to Andrew.  “Get him moving, Andy.”


Taking it eagerly, Andrew tried to snap the long whip as he had done before.  His horse took serious exception to the braid of leather whipping around her ears and reared.  “Easy, Breeze,” Andrew said firmly but she wouldn’t settle.  He’d thoroughly spooked her and she wasn’t about to cooperate as long as he was wielding that whip.  Fed-up with her skittishness, Andrew dismounted.  He drew the whip back and threw it forward but instead of cracking, it hit the ground hard, spraying him with dirt.  Breeze squealed in alarm and danced farther away.  The next attempt had the same result and sent her running and Ethan turned his horse in pursuit.


“Shit,” Andrew swore angrily.  Embarrassed at his clumsiness in front of Ethan, he drew the whip back again, determined to make it crack.


The bull, its head up, had been eyeing him suspiciously.  But with the disappearance of the horses over the nearest hill, his sense of fear left him.  Andrew seemed to sense the change in his attitude and stilled his arm to look at the bull properly.  The massive animal turned sideways, showing off its immense size and power.  Knowing that this was a lead up to a charge Andrew froze in place.  ‘Don’t run, don’t run,’ he told himself, not wanting to trigger an attack.  Even if he made it to the fence it wouldn’t do any good, the barbed wire was an annoyance, not a barrier to the bull.  His chest squeezed tight with fear, he forced himself to turn and face the bull square on, the human equivalent to a broadside threat.  Apparently not impressed by his display, the bull lowered his head and pawed at the ground.


Fear sharpened his senses and Andrew could hear Ethan riding back, maybe realizing how vulnerable Andrew was but he was too far away to be of any use.  He drew the whip back for one more desperate try, praying to a God he didn’t think he believed in to make it work.  A crack, like lightning striking, rang out and the bull stopped in its tracks and stood still for a moment.  Not liking the noise and the movement of the whip he swung his head from side to side.


Andrew heard the sound of a horse being ridden hard and relief overwhelmed him as Ethan pulled his horse up beside him.  “Get on,” Ethan ordered and held out a hand for Andrew.  Grasping hold, Andrew swung himself up behind Ethan.


“Hot damn,” Ethan swore excitedly.  “That was a close one.”


So much adrenaline was racing through Andrew’s veins that he felt like he could have taken on the bull in a wrestling match and won.  There had been plenty of near misses in Andrew’s life and he reacted as he’d always done.  He laughed right along with Ethan as he slid down from the back of the horse once they were a safe distance away.  He quickly pushed aside what might have happened, he was safe now.  They found Breeze close by, grazing contentedly and he tied the whip to his saddle before remounting her.  He gently touched his heels to her side and was relieved when she obeyed him, her skittishness gone.


The fence was fixed when they reached the point where they’d left the others, its wires tautly stretched across the new posts.  Only Rick remained with the truck, everyone else having ridden back home already.  Despite Andrew sending fervent ‘shut up’ glares, Ethan immediately launched into a glorified version of what had happened with the bull.  That he had both Andrew and himself portrayed as heroes in his account was a given.


One look at Rick’s face and Andrew knew he wasn’t buying it.  “What were you doing off your horse?” he asked bluntly.


Andrew shrugged, refusing to make eye contact.  An open field, an aggressive bull and a man on foot was a tragedy waiting to happen.  The excitement and thrill of his close call was fading fast into a definite feeling of unease.


Turning to his younger brother, Rick said, “I wouldn’t tell Dad that story, he wouldn’t be too happy about you two taking a chance like that.  We’ll have to tell him something though.”  A bull that would threaten a man was one too dangerous to keep.  Dominance was everything to a bull; if they viewed a man as equal to themselves they’d attack him the same as they would another bull.  There weren’t any second chances, despite his high price tag, this bull would be culled the first chance they had.


Ethan scowled, Rick hadn’t been averse to taking a chance or two when he was younger but he realized his brother was right about the warning.  He crossed his arms over his chest and said reluctantly, “I wouldn’t want Dad to think I’m not careful.”


I bet, thought Rick.  He’d be stuck doing the most boring jobs if their father didn’t trust him.  “I won’t say anything, “Rick promised. “But remember, you get broken up by a bull and you can kiss that scholarship good-by.”


“I know,” Ethan said.


So Joe got to hear a bastardized account of Ethan and Andrew’s adventure and not being a fool, he knew it.  He raised a bushy eyebrow at all three of the young men standing there, letting them know he wasn’t a fool but he didn’t say any more.  They were all in one piece, as far as he could tell anyway.


Rick’s mother loaded several bags of baking into their arms as they were leaving.  The smell of fresh bread and cinnamon buns filled the truck as they drove down the gravel road to home but Andrew’s stomach gurgled with worry, rather than hunger.  He’d been far more at fault than Ethan this afternoon and he knew it.  And more importantly, Rick knew it.


Andrew lay down the package of bread he’d carried into the house on the kitchen table, nervously smoothing the edges of the bag flat.


“So what happened?”


Andrew sat down at the table, thumping onto a chair.  “Ethan told you.”


A snort greeted that statement, letting Andrew know what he thought of his brother’s account.  “And now ‘you’ tell me,” Rick said firmly, placing his palms on the table, he leaned his weight on his hands, pinning Andrew in place with his eyes.


A bead of sweat rolled slowly down the side of Andrew’s face and he reached up to wipe it away.  Ethan might have felt comfortable playing fast and loose with the truth but Andrew’s insides got all shaky just thinking about lying to Rick.  He fixed his eyes on the tabletop and lifted a shoulder, “Don’t really remember.”  If he tried real hard to block it out, he almost could.  That wasn’t a real lie.


His eyes flicked up to see how that went over with Rick.  Not so well judging by the set look on his face.  Andrew swallowed hard, the noise audible in the silent room.  His eyes anxiously followed Rick as he straightened up and crossed the room to the cupboards.  Once he reached them he opened a drawer and plucked out a pad of writing paper and a pen.

“How about you write down everything that you ‘can’ remember?  I’m sure it’ll come back to you.”


“I need to get to those dishes,” Andrew tried, getting half-way to his feet.


But Rick shook his head, “After.  Nothing else is going to happen until you finish this.”


“Okay,” Andrew said unwillingly and sank down into his chair again.  Rick didn’t sound like he was going to give in easy.  He night was well get it over with.


It was just as difficult to lie on paper as it was out loud.  Andrew’s hand hovered over the paper, trying to find that elusive line between the truth and an outright lie.  There must be some way to write it so he didn’t incriminate himself.  Damn but it was hard.


“Can I have a glass of water?” he asked, wiping his hand across his face.  He was sweating heavily even though it wasn’t overly hot in the kitchen.


“Sure,” Rick set a cold glass of water down in front of Andrew, taking in the fact that the paper held little but a few crossed out lines of words.


“It’s really hard to remember,” Andrew said quietly.  He looked in appeal at Rick, hoping to be let off.


“I know,” said Rick, his voice soft with sympathy but he didn’t relent.


The paper was a mess of smudged ink where Andrew’s damp hands had touched it.  He was no closer to finishing at the end of an hour than he was at the beginning but his nerves had reached their ends of endurance.


“Can I read it?” asked Rick, holding out his hand for the piece of paper that Andrew was concentrating so hard on.


“It’s not done,” said Andrew, clutching the paper protectively.  There was a smear of blue ink on his cheek where he’d rubbed his stained hand and he looked thoroughly miserable.


“That’s okay.  Just show me what you’ve got so far.”


It was ridiculous.  He was writing about what had happened that very afternoon, not something from years ago.  There was no reason for Andrew not to be able to finish it in a few minutes.  He reluctantly handed over the crumpled paper to Rick.


“All right,” Rick said as he tried to decipher the few words written.  “You let me know when you finish.”


Watching Rick place the paper in front of him on the table Andrew felt a moment of panic.  This was never going to end; he’d go on eternally writing and scribbling out the same few phrases until doomsday.


“Unless you want to just tell me,” Rick offered gently.


“Yeah,” Andrew sighed.


Rick sat down beside him and took his hand, giving it an encouraging squeeze.


The urge to lie, or at least subvert the truth a lot, was still very strong but Andrew managed to overcome it.  It was really a short anecdote, a few minutes of telling and it was over. 


“Why, Andy?  Why would you do something so dangerous?”


“Breeze didn’t like the whip; it spooked her.  I had to get off.”


“No,” Rick shook his head.  “You could have easily got that bull moving using the horses.  There was never any need to use that whip.”


“I know,” Andrew admitted unhappily.  “I just got…caught up.”


“You never get off your horse in an open field with a bull.  It’s far too big a risk.”


“Yeah,” Andrew sighed.


“You know who gets killed on a ranch?” Rick asked quietly.


Andrew didn’t answer, the lump in his throat cut off his words and Rick continued on.  “Kids, little ones that don’t know any better, old men that have got too complacent,” he paused, “and young men who are too rammy.”


He watched Andrew shift guilty in his chair for a moment.  “If I can slow you down some and get you to think, I’m going to do it.”


Already Andrew could feel his heart beating faster.  They’d been through this before; the bulls were the biggest risk to them although they weren’t the only ones.  A horse or any of the cattle, especially a cow with a calf, could inflict fatal injuries.


“Go get the paddle.”  Andrew winced, those were the words he’d both been expecting and dreading.  He cursed his own stubbornness, having just spent a totally unnecessary hour of agony, only to reach the same point.


Getting slowly to his feet, he tried one last desperate time.  “I don’t have a scratch on me!”


“Bulls don’t leave a scratch, Andy,” Rick said bluntly.  “If they get hold of you they leave you so broke up you’re lucky to be able to walk again or they leave you dead.  And most of the times it’s the second.”


It was never easy, cooperating in your own punishment and by the time Andrew reached the desk where the paddle was kept he was deep in an argument with himself.  A part of him wanted to refuse to accept the punishment.  He had that right, it was always there, tantalizing him but he knew he wouldn’t refuse.  He’d earned this paddling, consented freely to it, despite his earlier maneuverings and he’d take it the best he could, which unfortunately didn’t mean he always mustered up sufficient grave to accept it without any arguing but he always tried.


“I’m sorry,” he said as he offered the small paddle to Rick.


“I’m sorry too, Andy,” Rick said.  “I don’t want to punish you but I will, every time you take risk that you don’t need to.  I don’t want to lose you.”  He reached out to wrap a strong arm around Andrew’s waist, pulling him down to sit in his lap. Andrew held himself stiffly for a few moments before relaxing against Rick.


“I just forget sometimes,” Andrew said forlornly.


Rick nodded, “I know but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to.”


Thank God, Andrew though.  He really, really hated to be paddled.


“Come on,” said Rick, gently nudging him off his lap.  “Let’s get this over with.”


With Rick’s warm hand lightly resting on the back of his neck, Andrew allowed himself to be led to the living room.  A swelling feeling of panic rose in his chest as Rick unfastened his jeans and slipped them down and when Rick patted his lap, inviting Andrew to lay himself over it, he bit his lip and hesitated.  “Right now,” Rick commanded and Andrew shook himself, remembering and obeyed.


Feeling Rick pull his shorts to his knees, Andrew squirmed anxiously and tightened the muscles in his backside.  He could feel Rick’s calloused hand on the back of his leg, rubbing soothingly and he took a deep breath, trying to relax.


It was almost a relief when Andrew felt the first hard swat land on his unprotected bottom.  He was never any good with anticipation, that hour of mangled writing had just about done him in.  Relief was soon replaced by dismay; Rick seemed to be spanking with extra resolve today.  The warm-up alone left him sore and fighting tears.  When the hand spanking stopped and Andrew knew Rick was picking up the paddle he couldn’t help but beg, just a little.


But Rick simply lifted his strong right leg, elevating Andrew’s already reddened bottom high, and brought the paddle down.  Its sting was powerful, Rick knew and he held Andrew tightly around the waist to keep him place as he continued to paddle him soundly.  Andrew pressed his elbows against the soft material of the sofa, trying to shift himself but Rick’s arms prevented any real movement.  His strong legs kicked spasmodically in response to the pain and he felt his chest heave with the effort to suppress his sobs.  Rick wasn’t giving him a chance to gather his resolve though; the small piece of wood caught the already marked skin of his bottom again and again.  And Andrew had no choice but to cry.


When it was over, Andrew tucked his arms under his chest and tried to stop his gasping sobs.  Rick’s hand firmly massaging his heaving shoulders helped.  His cries soon quieted now that it had ended and he shifted himself off Rick’s lap to kneel on the floor.


Ow,” he said expressively looking up into Rick’s face.


But there was as much determination as sympathy on his partner’s features.  “You going to be more careful, Andrew?”


“Yes, sir.”


When Rick opened his arms, Andrew gladly went to him.  Although his backside was so sore that he could hardly bear to touch it, he held no resentment for the punishment.  He only felt a special closeness to Rick, an intimacy that was both powerful and unexpected.



“How’s Tip?”


Andrew smiled; his dog had joined the others when he put out their food bowls.  Tip was his own playful self again, his wound invisible and his ordeal seemingly forgotten.




“And how about you?”  Rick’s voice had softened and Andrew had to blink back sudden tears.


“Fine,” he answered quietly.


“Come here,” ordered Rick and pulled Andrew against his solid chest, encircling him and his arms.  His hand slid down Andrew’s back and gently caressed his jean-covered backside.  “Sore?”


Andrew nodded wordlessly against his shoulder, not trusting his voice.  The soreness had actually faded to an itchy tenderness that was now more irritating than painful.


“Mad at me?” Rick asked.


“No,” said Andrew firmly.  “Are you mad at me?”




Andrew gave a shaky laugh.  “Then we’re good.”


“We’re good.”  Rick let him go with one last squeeze.  “Except for that kitchen….”