by Cole Parker

~    P a r t   1    ~

Chapter 7

Escaping one problem only to find others, a boy can find unexpected courage when pushed to his limits.

This chapter contains explicit language.

> 1 <

“What do you think of the ranch so far?”

Julia Hanson was a pretty lady, Ren thought, and he’d liked her right off the bat. It wasn’t just that she was pretty. She had soft eyes that seemed to look inside him and liked what they saw. He’d felt comfortable with her from the time Cal had introduced them.

“I haven’t seen anything but the ranch compound,” Ren answered her. “But it’s great. I’ve met some of the kids living here. I think I’m going to be really happy here.”

They were all sitting at the table now. Ren was wearing his almost-new, clean and pressed jeans and the blue shirt that wasn’t new but still looked good. He didn’t like it that the short sleeves showed off his skinny arms that didn’t have much muscle definition, but what could he do? He could wear decent clothes, but there wasn’t much he could do about his body. He’d spent some time brushing and combing his hair. Finally, Cal had yelled at him to hurry up or they’d be late, and Ren had laid the comb down in disgust. There was no way to make himself look like he wanted to look. The Hansons would just have to take him as he was: rather plain-looking, he thought, and not nearly as handsome as he’d have liked to be. Certainly not handsome enough to turn Hec’s head. Not big enough, either. A boy like that could have anyone he wanted.

They’d been met at the door by an ancient-looking black man with snow-white, curly and close-cropped hair, wearing a dark suit and tie. Cal had introduced him to Ren as Mr. Moses.

The man had smiled at Ren. “That’s my first name, son. Moses Fairchild. But people ‘round these parts take to calling black folks by their first names, and when we gets older, sometimes they add a mister or missus to it. People been callin’ me Mr. Moses for a spell now.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” Ren said, grinning. The old man was very gentle and likeable.

“Don’t be needin’ no ‘sir’ with me, son,” Moses said, chuckling. “Just Mr. Moses if you needs a name. Glad to have you joinin’ us on the ranch, and I’s hope you’ll be happy here.”

“Thanks, Mr. Moses,” Ren answered, still grinning.

Mr. Moses had smiled at him and walked slowly away, leading them to the living room.

Mrs. Hanson rose when they walked in. She wasn’t alone. A man who looked about her age and wearing a uniform was in the room with her. Cal did the introductions. Ren not only met the smiling and friendly ranch owner, whom Ren immediately warmed to, but also the man she was with, whom he found was a deputy sheriff. The four of them had sat down and talked, and Ren was so, so happy that there was no mention of why he was now living with his dad. Instead, he was asked about whether he’d liked school or not, which classes were most interesting to him, whether he’d ridden a horse before—Ren was starting to think by now that horses were a large part of the culture here—what he liked doing for fun, and what kinds of books he liked, but all this was asked in a way that was pleasant, that showed an interest in him, and wasn’t at all like an interrogation.

When they went into the dining room for dinner after Mr. Moses had come into the living room and announced it, Ren finally got to meet Hec, something he’d been anticipating, looking forward to and dreading all at the same time. Hec came into the dining room just when they did but from a different door.

Mrs. Hanson turned to Ren. “This is my son, Hec. Hec, please say hello to Ren Thomas.”

“Hey there,” Hec said, looking briefly into Ren’s face; then, when Ren didn’t reply, he moved to the table and pulled out a chair for himself.

Up close, Hec was even more striking than he’d first appeared when Ren saw him riding on his horse. He was wearing cutoff jeans shorts and a western, long-sleeved shirt. He appeared to have just come from the shower as his hair was still damp, which made his blond curls darker than they’d been when Ren had first seen him. He was exceptionally handsome—with fair but tanned skin, not a blemish in sight; arched, dark-blond eyebrows; a straight nose; perfect lips; square chin, and the bluest eyes Ren had ever seen—and Ren had been dumbstruck when the boy had spoken to him. Now, Cal put a hand on Ren’s shoulder which brought him out of his daze. He blushed, hoped it wasn’t apparent, then sat where Mrs. Hanson indicated.

Ren was glad he’d done so much talking earlier, because the three adults seemed to be happy speaking mostly to each other and allowing the two boys to simply eat. Of course, it wasn’t that easy for Ren. He’d take a bite and chew and glance up at Hec. He almost always found Hec looking at him. Ren would then blush and shift his eyes anywhere else. Eventually, though, unable to stop himself, he’d look back at the boy across the table from him. The first few times this happened, Hec appeared to be simply studying him. But after that, there was invariably a grin on his face when Ren looked up at him.

The deputy, whose name was Vern Barnley, noted that the boys weren’t being included, and in a moment of silence turned to Hec. “You kids still practicing on that rifle range?”

Hec looked up at him. “The younger ones do. I’m old enough I usually ride out and help the cowboys. I’m pretty good, good enough I guess, with a rifle.”

Vern turned to Ren. “How about you, Ren? Do you shoot?”

Ren tried to fight blushing. He hated his tendency to redden up every time an adult asked him something. “No, never. I hate guns.”

Vern laughed. “Well, out here, they’re pretty useful. There are snakes and other varmints, and even human ones. You’re a long way away from help. We don’t have much trouble here, but it does happen. A gang of several men, probably illegals from across the border, descended on a ranch three counties over not long ago. They all had rifles, and the ranch hands only had access to a few. They were outnumbered and easy targets. I won’t say what that gang of men did to those poor folks; it’s not dinner-table chat. But if the hands and owners had had their rifles handy and knew how to use them, some of them probably would have survived.”

Ren looked like he felt, shocked. “You mean…”

Vern sat back. “Don’t worry, they’ll be caught. That kind always are. I was just saying, it’s a good thing to have a rifle out here and even better to know how to shoot it. This ain’t Connecticut or Oregon. This is Texas. Being able to use a rifle is part of being a Texan.”

Cal then asked Vern about a rumor he’d heard involving rustling further west in Texas, and Ren had time to think. That became hard, however, because he noticed Hec was staring at him again. Ren met his eyes for a moment before looking away.

After that, it got even worse. Ren would lift his eyes, and Hec would be sort of wrinkling his forehead, and then once, he winked. Another time, he got an incredibly cute grin and slightly nodded at Ren. Ren kept looking down, quickly, but then he just had to look up again.

It finally occurred to him what was happening. Hec was flirting with him! That was the only explanation that made sense. That’s what he was doing. Flirting!

When the meal was finally over, Mrs. Hanson invited them back to the living room and suggested maybe Hec could give Ren a tour of the house. The idea of being alone with him, just the two of them together, got Ren’s heart racing. But Cal put an end to that.

“Sorry, Julia, but we’ve got to get back. I’ve got a really early morning tomorrow, and Ren’s still getting used to everything here and needs to get settled in at home. But this was special for us, and we both enjoyed ourselves.”

Cal then looked at Ren, and Ren quickly understood what the man wanted. “Yes, Mrs. Hanson,” he said quickly. “Thanks for inviting me—and the wonderful dinner. You’re very nice!”

“You’re welcome here anytime at all, Ren,” Julia Hanson said, laughing. “Come over anytime you like.”

And with that, they were out the door and walking back to their own house.

“You, um, seemed somewhat taken by Hec,” Cal said. He laughed, but it wasn’t a joyful laugh. Ren could hear the hollowness of it. “‘Working with the cowboys!’ Hah! I think he goes off with those two sycophants of his and smokes pot.”

Ren didn’t respond to Cal’s remark. What he did do was ask, “Why was there a sheriff’s deputy here?”

“Oh, Vern stops by now and then. Just to see everything’s fine here. And, maybe, to visit Mrs. Hanson. She’s an attractive woman—and she’s rich.”

Ren really didn’t care about Vern. He’d been trying to get Cal’s mind off what he’d seen at the table going on between Hec and him. It had worked; the subject had been changed. Now, Ren said goodnight and was off to bed. There, he wanted to remember Hec, remember all the things they’d been doing at the table, the way Hec’d looked and the way he’d made Ren feel, and he didn’t want Cal’s negative words distracting him or making him worry about any reservations Cal seemed to have about the boy.

> 2 <

The next day after breakfast, Ren thought maybe he’d be able to hang with Andy and perhaps some of his friends and see what they did for fun in the summer months, but Andy’s mother had other news for him.

“Sorry, Ren, but Andy has four books to read this summer. All the kids at his grade level do. But he hasn’t read any of them yet. So until the first one is finished and he can tell me what it’s about and describe some of the characters, he’ll be inside.” She smiled at him but didn’t invite him in.

Lucille Rivera was one of the teachers at the kids’ school. Ren knew she helped with the English curriculum. He liked her but could see the educator, the stern teacher, in her now. He didn’t even try to argue.

He walked back to his house. On the way, he saw Hec coming out of his house with a darker-skinned boy Ren hadn’t met yet. Ren hoped Hec would stop and talk or at least wave to him, but the two boys were talking together, and neither seemed aware that Ren was there, even though they passed not more than twenty feet from him.

Ren went back into his room. He still had boxes to unpack, and he wanted to sort the books on his new shelves. He’d simply unloaded the books from the boxes yesterday without worrying about putting them in any certain order at all.

He was working on a box of odds and ends when he came upon his journal. He’d kept one since they’d had an assignment in fourth grade to begin one. Unlike most of the kids in class who’d moaned about it, Ren had liked sitting down at the end of a day, organizing his thoughts about what things had happened and how he felt about them. He hadn’t written in it every day but did so at least a few times every week. He’d thought it was lost when he was thrown out of his Jackson house, but here it was, and a quick look showed it hadn’t been defaced at all. No pages were missing. Knowing his mom, it was doubtful she’d been curious enough even to open it; if it wasn’t about her, then why bother?

Just seeing it again gave Ren a very solid feeling, and after reading a few pages here and there, he decided he should continue it from where he’d last written. He had a lot to write about since then.

It took him much of the rest of the day to fill many blank pages in the journal.

> 3 <

“Won’t she buck and jump and throw me off?”

Andy giggled. “If she would, I wouldn't be having you get on her, would I? No, she’s been broken, just like all our horses. People have ridden her. But she’s funny. She seems to take to some people and not others. She took to you right away, and I think she’ll be happy to have you on her back. Anyway, I’ll be holding the reins and walking her. You just have to sit there and get used to being so high off the ground and the way the horse moves under you so you can learn how to balance properly.”

A couple of the other boys were leaning on the rails of the corral. Rocky Gonzales and JJ Mendoza were watching the lesson with interest. Rocky had wanted to ride Midnight, had wanted her to be his horse, but Midnight had had other ideas. Rocky was interested in seeing how Ren would fare with her. Ren knew nothing about riding, and Midnight was a horse who had a mind of her own. JJ was there just because it was something to do. The boys couldn’t help but kibitz. They kept their caustic remarks for Andy, however, and their lighter ones for Ren.

“Ignore them,” Andy advised. “They’re just having fun and don’t mean anything by it. Now, to mount a horse, you always get on from its left side. I’ll cup my hands, you put your left foot in them, and on three push up off my hands. I’ll boost you, and while you’re moving up, throw your right foot over Midnight’s back and land in the saddle. You’ll see how easy it is. But wait a sec first.”

He called JJ to come over and then turned back to Ren. “I’ll show you how it’s done so you can see how it works before you have to do it.”

He demonstrated with JJ, boosting him into the saddle, and then JJ grinned at Ren, slid down and went back to join Rocky.

“You ready?”

Ren nodded. He wasn’t but knew this was expected of him. He’d never been an adventurous or athletic boy, and he was way out of his comfort zone now. But Andy was smiling at him, and if he refused this…? No, he had to do it.

He put his left foot in Andy’s hands and then reached high, his left hand on the saddle horn as he’d seen JJ do. Andy counted, and up Ren went.

It worked better than he’d thought, but man! Was he high! It was scary high. From down below, it didn’t seem riders were so far off the ground. From the saddle, it looked like he’d break his neck if he ever fell off.

Andy took the reins and told Ren to hold on, then slowly walked forward. Midnight followed him. Ren felt the movement. He also felt how far apart his legs had to spread to span Midnight’s back. And he noticed the rolling motion of the horse’s muscles and the slight adjustments he had to make to stay centered on her back.

Andy walked her around the ring for about five minutes and then had Ren slide off her as JJ had done. When he was back on the ground, it took him a moment to feel secure again. Then he walked to the front and reached up to pat Midnight’s face. She lowered her head, and he rubbed her between the eyes and down her nose.

“Good girl, Midnight. Thanks for being gentle.”

They took her back inside to her stall, and Andy showed him how to brush Midnight, telling him after riding they’d usually wash their horses with a hose but didn’t need to today.

He showed Ren how to muck out her stall, how to spread fresh straw, where the feed was kept and how much to give her. Rocky and JJ stayed with them during all the lessons. They all helped Ren with the work, and Andy told him sometimes the boys helped each other, but in any case it always needed to be done.

While they worked, Andy talked about riding, about how to tell the horse what was wanted by the way one moved in the saddle and used one’s legs. How to hold the reins, how to sit the various gaits. He talked about English riding and Western riding. Ren listened, absorbing what was said like a sponge. This was all brand new to him. He wondered what it would have been like to be thrown into this environment without someone as kind and thoughtful as Andy to help him get a feel for everything, to get his feet underneath him. He decided it would probably have been a disaster. Most everything he was doing was the sort of thing he wouldn’t have been good at without patient instruction.

The riding lessons went better than he thought. Within a week, he was riding comfortably. Not like the other boys, all of whom looked like they’d been born in the saddles and acted like they and the horse were one animal, but able to be on Midnight without any fear. He was better at it than he could have imagined, and when he didn’t do something correctly, Andy was usually there to point it out, generally humorously so there was no sting of criticism.

Ren had gotten to know some of the ranch kids a little better during that week, too. They all seemed to have things they did to keep busy, and they were friendly. He was learning the names of each of them. That was coming easier than he’d thought it would be.

The thing that most disturbed him about that week was that it had gone by without his speaking to Hec. The boy simply ignored him. Of course, he wasn’t around much. He seemed to only associate with Paul Aguilar and Ray Gonzales, and most often they were off on their horses and not to be seen. But when Ren did see Hec, Hec ignored him.

It bothered Ren because the initial attraction he’d had for Hec hadn’t waned at all, and he did remember the flirting at the dinner table. Every time he saw Hec, his heart seemed to leap, then beat faster. It finally got to the point where he knew he was being too obvious, because when Hec appeared, Ren would stop whatever he was doing and just stare at him.

There was something else Ren noticed. When he reacted this way with Andy around—and Andy was quite often with Ren—after Hec would disappear, Ren would find Andy was gone, too. He was curious about that but didn’t know how to ask. To do so would mean he’d almost certainly have to tell Andy why he always stared at Hec, and he couldn’t possibly do that. But he knew his own behavior would have to change. He couldn’t keep staring at Hec like a love-sick girl.

> 4 <

Ren was in the stables, having just finished with Midnight’s stall, and was tightening the girth on her saddle when Hec walked in. Ren saw him, smiled, but looked away, not wanting to speak and be rebuffed. He realized as he looked away that, to his extreme embarrassment, he was blushing.

“Hey,” said Hec, looking Ren over, making it clear he was checking him out. One of the things Ren found so attractive about Hec was how he carried himself with a great deal of confidence; Ren found that very sexy. With Ren watching, Hec slowly reached down and scratched himself, then smiled and said, “How’d you like me to show you around the ranch. We haven’t spent any time together. We should. Let’s go for a ride, and I’ll show you some of our land.”

Ren was confused. He’d been ignored for over a week, and now it was like that had never happened. He felt he should show Hec some of the indifference the boy had been showing him, but he couldn’t. He felt flattered that Hec was now speaking to him. Maybe the older boy had had things to do, important things, and had simply waited till they were completed before making overtures. Maybe…

“I don’t ride very well,” Ren finally replied when Hec had waited for an answer.

“We’ll mostly be walking our horses. I’ve seen how you do on Midnight. She’ll take care of you. You’ll be fine.”

Ren waited while Hec saddled his own horse. Then Hec helped boost Ren into the saddle, except on the way up, he slipped a hand up onto Ren’s bottom for a final push.

The horses left the stable through the back, then walked through the barn and into the tall grass at the back of the ranch compound. Hec kept his horse in a gentle walk, as he’d said, and Ren kept up with him, Midnight naturally falling in beside Hec’s horse.

Hec didn’t say much after that, but Ren hardly noticed. This was all exciting to him, being out and away from the ranch compound, just the two of them, adventuring into the empty land, but mostly simply being next to a boy whose handsome looks so turned him on.

They’d ridden for about ten minutes when Ren realized he couldn’t see the houses any longer, and the thought occurred to him that without Hec, he’d have no way of finding his way back.

Hec stopped at that point and just sat in his saddle. Ren sat next to him, then finally asked, “Why are we stopped?”

Hec was looking around, and then Ren heard horses. He turned toward them and saw two horses and riders coming at a gallop toward where he and Hec were waiting. Two boys rode up and stopped.

“This is Paul and Ray,” Hec said. “They’re coming with us.”

The two boys looked at Ren but didn’t speak to him. Then, Hec started up again, and Paul rode next to him. Ray was a half-horse length behind them on the other side of Hec from Paul. Ren was left to bring up the rear. As the minutes passed and the four of them rode farther away from home, Ren behind the other three, the mood of the day changed. Before, it had been Ren and Hec. The two of them were together, a mutual partnership for the day. Now, it seemed like there were three boys together and one outsider, as if Ren was simply tagging along with them, the other three being oblivious to his presence. This made Ren very uncomfortable and then a little angry, but there was nothing he could do about it. If he turned around and tried to find his way back to the ranch compound, he could easily get lost. No, he’d almost certainly get lost.

Hec continued to lead them out across open prairie. Ren was unable to see any useful landmarks. The land was gently rolling here, but there appeared to be more downward roll than upward.

They’d ridden for maybe thirty minutes since the two boys had joined them when Ren thought again to look back in the direction from where they’d come. He stood up in the stirrups to get more height. He did so and was disappointed. He couldn’t see anything but more rolling grassland. What was behind was very much like what was in front of him and to each side. The sameness of everything he could see in all directions was a bit disorienting. Almost unconsciously, he urged his horse forward to be closer to the other riders.

The landscape worried him more than he wanted to admit to himself. He began really thinking about what it would be like to be lost here. There was really nothing to use as a point of reference. He could imagine being on foot and wandering for days, maybe even in circles, never knowing where he was.

He looked around more critically. Off to the west, far, far in the distance, he could just make out some mountains, or what he assumed were mountains. North, the direction he decided they were riding, there was nothing at all but more prairie.

He realized, too, that they weren’t riding in a straight line. He wondered about that. Why, if they were riding to a place, any place that was targeted, weren’t they heading directly toward it? And why wasn’t there something to mark the trail—crushed grasses, a dirt trail—if this was a place that was commonly visited?

They’d been riding in a curve, a giant curve. He knew that he really had no idea exactly where the houses were. He started feeling queasy. He was very dependent at this point on the other boys. And they were boys he didn’t really know, boys who were ignoring him, boys who were older, boys in whom he didn’t feel a lot of trust. They were three boys riding ahead of him who suddenly seemed oblivious to his presence; this was reawakening in him feelings of how it had been for him so often when he lived in Jackson.

It was about 15 minutes later that he noticed a different smell in the air, and then they came over a gentle rise, and he saw what was causing it lying in front of him. It was a lake. Or a pond. Perhaps it wasn’t large enough to be called a lake. Though it was shaped differently, it appeared to him to be about twice the size of the lawn area at the ranch compound, or perhaps even a bit larger. It lay in a slight depression, and when Ren asked, he was told it was fed by an underground spring. What looked strange to Ren was it was like an oasis in a desert of grass, but it was surrounded by no trees and only a few low-lying bushes and more grass. He’d have thought there’d have been some cottonwood trees bunched around it. But, even if the setting was a bit starker than he’d expected, the lake itself made for a pleasant change from the immense seas of grass and more grass they’d been riding through.

Ren was more than ready for that water! The sun was high and bright in the vast blue emptiness above him, and it had to be close to 100 degrees. Even with the air movement caused by their riding, he was drenched in sweat.

The three older boys let out a whoop when they saw the lake and spurred their horses into a gallop, riding down to the lake and dismounting, leaving Ren, his horse still in a walk, to catch up. Ren was a ways behind the other three and still on horseback, still approaching the lake, when the other three boys began shedding clothes. Ren, a little nervous, finally arrived and slid off his horse, allowing Midnight to walk to the lake and join the others animals getting a drink. Though nothing was said to him, he assumed he was supposed to follow the other boys in undressing, and so he did.

Hec was naked first and leaped into the water, then immediately got back out again and waited for the others. When everyone was naked, Ren headed for the water but was stopped. Hec held out his hand, and the other two lined up on either side of him, backs to the lake, confronting Ren.

“Forgot to tell you,” Hec said, grinning. “There’s an initiation for newbies at the ranch.”

Ren stopped, ten feet from the lake and facing Hec. “What initiation?”

“One everyone does. All the ranch boys do. When they’re thirteen. You’re thirteen, and you’re one of us now. So you get initiated. Ain’t that right, guys?”

The other two were grinning, too, and they nodded.

“So, what is it?” Ren’s feeling of unease was rapidly mounting as he realized just how little control of anything he had at the moment. What topped his list of what to worry about was that he had no idea how to get back home. And now these boys were making it clear it was them against him.

“It’s how all the ranch boys are initiated so they can be part of my ranch. The ranch is part mine, and eventually will be totally mine. I call the shots here. The initiation shows you understand that and want to be part of it and are willing to be loyal to me. It means you’re one of our group. This is a secret, this initiation, one that all the older boys know but never speak of. If the secret is revealed, there are consequences: whoever tells will be kicked off the ranch, along with his family. No one ever tells.”

Ren didn’t say anything. He wasn’t going to ask again. He knew he’d be told when Hec was ready to tell him. Hec was enjoying this; Ren could see that. But as Hec spoke, Ren was getting more and more nervous. He was to be initiated, and he was all alone out here. They could do anything they wanted to him.

Hec was watching him. Ren was showing his nervousness. It seemed to make Hec happy.

“All right. This is what you have to do, what everyone has had to do and all the boys as they grow will do. You need to show your loyalty and thankfulness to me by kissing my cock.” Hec stopped and smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant smile. It was one that showed a boy in complete control of his environment, one who relished the power he had.

The other guys were staring at Ren. They weren’t smiling or laughing like Hec was. They appeared to be waiting to see what Ren would do.

Ren looked at Hec and his huge grin and then at the others and then back at Hec.

There was nothing at all sexy or erotic about this. Ren had no problem with kissing a boy’s cock. He’d done it with Bobby; he’d done more then than merely kiss it. Ren was gay, and generally he could and did fantasize about stuff like this. But this wasn’t about sex; sex wasn’t involved in this at all. This was simply Hec playing a power game. Showing his dominance. Showing he was the boss and Ren was the subordinate. Showing he could make Ren do anything he wanted. Even if it was humiliating and emasculating.

Ren wanted nothing to do with this. Hec was handsome and self-assured, but the personality he was showing now totally turned Ren off. Ren didn’t want to do this, and he certainly didn’t want to show weakness in front of any of this group. He was new here. It was important that he not be seen as weak, as someone who’d agree to whatever someone else wanted of him. He didn’t want to be known as someone who’d cave in when threaten. He’d been that boy all his life and had hated it. He’d decided on the way to the ranch to change. To not be taken advantage of.

He’d known he’d be tested here, being the new kid. That was what this was, he thought. A test. But he was in charge of himself, and how he responded to that test would reflect how he looked in these kids’ eyes.

He was staring at Hec’s eyes now. Hec was staring back, and some of his grin was receding. Watching that, Ren made his decision.

“No,” he said.

Hec laughed. It was forced, and Ren could see his eyes harden. “You’re kidding, aren’t you? Everyone kisses my cock. You don’t kiss it, you’re not one of us. I’m the boss here. Like right now. I call the shots. No kiss, no swimming.”

“I’m not kissing your dick.”

“OK. We’ll take turns keeping you out of the water. The rest of us will swim. Paul, you watch first.”

He then turned and jumped into the lake, and Ray followed. Paul stayed on the bank, watching Ren.

Ren looked at him. Paul had no expression at all on his face, but his eyes were different. His eyes looked mean.

Ren turned around and looked out across the prairie. His view was restricted because of the shallow bowl the lake sat in. He didn’t want to watch the others swim, however, and he didn’t like the challenge he saw in Paul’s eyes.

Paul was 16 or 17 and muscular. Ren was 13 and skinny. A confrontation would make no sense at all.

After a very few minutes of just standing, watching the grass that was not moving as there was no breeze, Ren noticed something. His skin was starting to feel very hot. The sky was high and cloudless, the sun was bearing down on him, and his skin was white. He needed to get that sun off of him.

There was no shade, but there were his clothes. He walked to where he’d thrown them and picked up his undershorts first and was putting them on when he heard Hec’s voice.

“Hey! Paul, stop him! I didn’t say he could get dressed!”

Ren turned to look and saw Hec leaving the water, and Paul was walking toward where Ren was standing. When Paul got there, he scooped up all the rest of Ren’s clothes and then yanked Ren’s underwear down.

“Step out of them,” Paul said, and when Ren didn’t, he shoved him. Ren fell to the ground, and Paul easily yanked Ren’s underwear off. By that time, Hec was there, too.

“No clothes,” he said. “You accept your initiation, or you just stay like you are: naked.”

“But I’m getting sunburned!”

“So? Too bad. That’s your choice. You do what you’re told. You do what I tell you to do, now and always. Show some respect, and you can get in the water; you can get dressed when we’re done, we’ll let you ride back with us. But all that depends on you learning your place here. Showing you understand it. This is my ranch, and what I say is law. Law! You’ll kiss my cock and do whatever else I tell you to do. Just like everyone else. What? You think you’re special? You’re not. All the boys here do what I tell them to do.”

Ren shook his head. “I’m not kissing your dick. Now give me my clothes.”

“Nope. We’re done here. We’re getting dressed. We’re riding home. You can join us. Here.” He reached down and cupped his cock, lifting it up so it was lying horizontal in his hand. “Kiss it, or stay here by yourself—naked.”

Ren was scared now. He didn’t want to be left behind. Would Hec really do that? The thought was terrifying. He didn’t want to get sunburned, either, and he was already feeling that. But he didn’t want to give in to Hec, either. Somehow, even with his fear eating at him, that seemed worse. That seemed to be giving up everything that he wanted to be.

What could he do? He could fight him, but what would be the point of that? Hec was not only older and bigger and quite probably a lot stronger, but he had two kids at his side who’d certainly help Hec. Fighting might speed up whatever the end result of all this would be, but Ren didn’t see where it would help him, and when this story came out back home, he would be made to look like the instigator and would make whatever Hec’s excuse was just that much more believable.

So fighting him made no sense. All he had left, then, was to persuade him not to do this.

One look in Hec’s eyes told him that wouldn’t work, either. Hec wanted power over him, and he had it now and was enjoying it. Like most kids, Hec wasn’t thinking about what came later. Maybe he thought none of the adults would ever hear of this, that eventually Ren would have to cave in, and then would be too embarrassed to tell. Or maybe he wasn’t thinking past the next five minutes. Kids did that. Ren had seen it lots of times—on the school playground, in gym, lots of places. Consequences which would occur sometime later were rarely considered.

Ren could only think of one thing he could do, and while that almost certainly wouldn’t work, at least he could retain some of himself by doing it.

He spoke. “All the kids here kiss your dicks?”

Hec looked smug. “Yep, every one. They know who’s boss. But not all of our cocks. Just mine.”

“So these guys did, too?” He looked at Hec’s posse. “You guys kissed his dick?”

The two boys looked back at him, and he could see a change in their eyes. They were trying to maintain their stoic expressions, but their eyes…

Ren turned back to Hec. “I don’t believe it. Show me. I want to see them kiss your dick before I do it. I don’t think they will.”

The smug look disappeared. He looked over at Paul, and that boy looked back at him, and Ren could see some tension, see something going on he couldn’t read at all. They stared at each other for a moment, and then Hec turned away and back to facing Ren.

“I’m calling the shots here, not you. They’ve done it, just like everyone. If I wanted them to do it again, they would, but you’re not giving the orders. You’re being initiated here; that’s what’s happening. They already were initiated. So get on your knees and kiss my cock, or we’re riding off and leaving you. Your decision.”

Ren had him talking, and the longer that lasted, the better off he was. So, he kept going. “But it isn’t that simple, is it? So I do it, just to save myself, and then we ride back, and I tell my dad, and the shit hits the fan. Have you thought of that? Why didn’t any of the others do that?”

“You won’t tell,” Hec said. “As I said, there are bad consequences if anyone tells. No one has. If you do, we’ll all say you made it up. Three against one. And then I’ll see that your father gets fired, and you’ll both leave. That’s how it works.” Hec was getting excited, his voice was getting higher, and he wasn’t thinking about what he was saying. He was instead showing how strong his position was, how strong he was. “That’s what’s happened with the others. They all knew if anyone found out about the initiation, I’d get their parents fired and they’d be out of work and have nowhere to live. That’ll happen to you, too. You’ll kiss my cock now, and if I want you to do it again, whenever I want you to then, too, or you and your father are both gone.”

He was now looking at Ren with a face showing his feeling of superiority. Ren could see he wasn’t going to be able to convince him that the upper hand he thought he had was vulnerable. There was no point in trying, and the longer they stood chatting, the fiercer the sun felt on his shoulders.

He made his decision. “I’m not kissing your dick. You can leave me here if that’s who you are. I might well die out here, but if so, your life will never be the same again. I’ll write in the mud what happened and you’ll be found out and you’ll spend at least the next ten years in some sort of youth camp getting fucked by older boys, or, I’ll be found still alive and all that you’ve said and done here will come out, and the trouble you’ll be in might be just the same because all the excuses you’d come up with, all the lies you’d told, would be out in the open. You think no one at the ranch, none of the boys, will talk when pressed? Of course they will. You think about all that, riding away.”

Hec stared at Ren a moment longer, and Ren saw anger building in the boy. Hec was used to being obeyed, and Ren could see he wasn’t sure what to do when that didn’t happen.

Hec gritted his teeth, then turned to the other two boys. “We’re riding,” he shouted. “Let’s go!”

All three of the boys were still naked, and Paul and Ray had to hurry to keep up with Hec, yanking their jeans on, their boots and shirts, because Hec was already mounted and had grabbed the reins of Ren’s horse. “Mount up,” he shouted, and the other two boys did just that, not even having buttoned up yet. Then, stopping to grab Ren’s and his own clothes, Hec spurred his horse into a gallop, the other boys went after him, and they rode off over the low hill, leaving Ren naked and alone.

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