Ethan

There’s something about half-broke horses and half-broke boys that used to draw me like a moth to a flame; the barely tamed wildness, the gleam in their eye. The way they’re always testing their limits and yours, pushing to see how much they can get away with, waiting for you to rein them in.

Maybe that’s why I always got the roughest of the new kids on the Bar H Ranch. High school kids from the suburbs with dreams of the wild west. Farmer’s kids looking to show their parents they don’t need help. Strong, wild boys who think rules are for people too stupid to break them.

Not old enough to be their fathers, too old to be a peer, I acted as a mentor to these kids. Showing them how to be the best they could be, competent, strong, dependable. I listened to them rail against their fathers, cry over women and, less frequently, men. I helped them make that final leap from boy to man, then sent them on their way.

Of course, that was all before Danny Sasaki.

Danny came in from California on the wings of a March snowstorm. His beat-up four-by-four roared onto the ranch and skidded into a ditch on the side of the north fence. He jumped out with a whoop, asking for the boss.

Trouble oozed from his every pore. That swaggering walk, the slow crooked grin. Dark hair and dark eyes. Twenty-one years old to my thirty-five and he wrapped meĀ around his finger day one.

I pushed my way through the knee-high wet snow and dragged him over to the main house. I watched him charm Mrs.Harrington, watched the Harrington twins grow starry-eyed, sensing a new playmate in the making. He watched me watching him.

I led him to the bunkhouse. He was the only one there this night. He kicked the snow off his boots against the door frame, shook the wet flakes off his hat and turned around to me. The look in his eye was unmistakable.

“Well, I think this job is gonna work out even better than I thought,” he said, sauntering over to me. His hand pressed against my chest, fisting up the material of my shirt as he walked me backwards against the wall.

Any protest burned up in the heat from his body and the force of his kiss.

I’m not that kind of guy, I thought even as I reached for him. Apparently, I was. I never broke Danny. He brought out a side of me I’d never seen before, made me feel like the hot-blooded adolescent I had never been.

Anyone on the outside looking in would have known it wasn’t going to end well, that it was all going to go down in flames.
And when it did, when real flames cost Danny his life and left me half-crippled, I only had myself to blame.

I was lucky, they said. Luckier than poor Danny, that’s for sure.

My body healed, more or less. But I knew I’d never be the man I was before. Then Jake Kearny and those damn bees showed me how to be a better one.

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