Alec ran up to the door of Caleb’s large, illustrious house and knocked impatiently. “Caleb!!!” He called into the wood of the door, bouncing.
Caleb looked up from his book and tossed it aside as he ran to the door, tripping over a rug and muttering curses to himself. Once he managed to open the door, Alec grabbed his wrist and started dragging him toward his old, beat up car.
“We’re gonna be late!” Alec exclaimed as Caleb tripped behind him, his front door slamming shut as they hopped in the car, hastily. The blonde started the car, backing out of the driveway and slamming on the gas, not bothering with his seatbelt. Caleb gasped, bracing himself against the door as he buckled himself in and then reached past Alec and buckled his seatbelt too.
“My grandma goes crazy when we aren’t on time,” Alec said as he drove. “She’s gonna be on my ass when we get there!” Alec took a sharp turn at high speed, making Caleb dig his nails into the car’s seat, gritting his teeth.
Eventually, the impatient blonde slowed the car when they reached the small farmhouse, pulling into the long and winding graveled drive. Alec glanced at Caleb when they parked and stifled a laugh to see Caleb sweating and panting, his eyes wide.
“You okay?” Alec laughed, taking the keys out of the ignition. “You look like you just got fucked!”
“I’m fine,” He said, pulling his nails from the seat where they were embedded. “You’re just a maniac.”
Alec jumped out of the car.
“Maniac or not, we’re still late… crap…”
“Better late than dead…” Caleb muttered, slamming the car door loudly.
Alec rolled his eyes and took Caleb’s hand, pulling him inside the house.
Caleb held his breath, tightening his grip on Alec as an older, tall woman with short, bleached blonde hair walked out of the living room, her slanted, wrinkled eyes brightening when she saw the two teenagers.
“AH! Alec!” She ran up and hugged him tightly. “It’s so nice to see you…”
Alec stopped short when she gave him a small slap on his cheek. “You’re late!”
“Oh!” His grandma looked over at Caleb with a grin as Alec lifted his hand to his cheek. “Who’s this?”
“My boyfriend…” The blonde smiled.
“Caleb! I’ve heard so much about you! I’m Rosi…” Alec’s grandma grabbed Caleb and pulled him into a tight hug, smiling cheekily. The lanky brunette awkwardly patted her back, glancing at Alec, his eyebrows raised.
“Oh? Like what?”
“Nothing, nothing!” Alec said quickly before his grandma could respond, eyeballing her gravely before looking around the room. “Where’s grandpa?”
“Out back with the rest of the family, dear!”
Alec froze in his tracks as he stared out the back window.
“Rest… of… the family?”
“Yes. We invited them over when we heard you were bringing Caleb! They all want to meet him! And it’s such a perfect day for a cookout!”
“Grandmaaaa…” Alec groaned. “Caleb has seen enough of this psycho family…”
Rosi came up behind him and smacked him in the back of the head. The hazel-eyed teen winced and pouted, rubbing where he was hit. Caleb covered his mouth to hide his bemused smile.
Alec groaned. “I just wanted to take Caleb out riding… Not make him the center of an intervention!”
“At least go say hi!” Grandma insisted as she shooed them toward the back door.
“Fine… Caleb come on… Let’s go meet the rest of the crazies…” Alec muttered.
Alec’s grandma rolled her eyes and smacked the back of his head again. The blonde flinched and rubbed the spot again. Caleb took his hand as he walked up behind him and gently kissed the abused area.
Alec blushed slightly as his grandma giggled, opening the back entrance and walking out onto the patio, the two boys following. Caleb held tightly to Alec’s hand, his mouth a nervous thin line. The hazel-eyed teen couldn’t help but smile at the sight of his little cousins chasing chickens and throwing mud in the back yard.
Caleb took in the sight of his family; an old man -probably in his mid-fifties- in a fraying denim vest and bandana with a biker ‘stache and tattoos was at the grill cooking burgers and hotdogs. Four adults sat at one of the picnic tables, Alec’s parents and another couple Caleb didn’t recognize. Alec glanced at Caleb and gave his hand a squeeze, smiling at his uneasiness and pulled Caleb down the porch’s steps, toward the old man.
“Well hey there short-stack. Didn’t expect to see you here…” The old man grinned, turning towards the two teens. Alec frowned at the nickname.
“Hi, grandpa…” He muttered as Caleb looked away and smirked before Alec continued.
“Grandpa, this is Caleb.” Caleb put his hand out for the man to shake.
“Ahh, Caleb!” Alec’s grandpa exclaimed, taking Caleb’s hand firmly and giving it an aggressive shake. “I’ve heard about you. Nice to meet you, kid!”
“Oh really? What have you heard?” The fencer asked for the second time that day.
“Grandpa,” Alec butted in, taking Caleb’s hand. “We’re going out to the pasture to bring in some horses.”
“Hey Alec! You’re not getting away without saying hello!”
“Yeah get over here you little brat!”
Alec groaned and looked over at the man and woman that Caleb hadn’t recognized before as the fencer frowned at his second failed attempt to get information about what Alec told his family about him. Alec dragged him through the rest of his family tree.
“Is that Caleb?” The man asked, raising a tattooed arm and waving the boys over. Caleb nodded and shook the man’s brawny hand.
“I’m Alec’s Uncle Jess… So what are you planning to do for a career in the future my boy?” Jess asked, smiling.
“I’m going to college to become a Physical Therapist and Fencing Instructor.” Caleb answered, smiling.
“Hmm…” Jesse stared at Caleb a moment. “How much money would you make a week?”
“Well… Where I fence now each lesson costs $50 and an instructor has like… Ten lessons a day… And then each physical therapy session costs about $100… So…”
The whole family just stared at Caleb with wide eyes, their mouths hanging open in awe. Caleb stood tall and proud but discomfort reflected in his dark brown eyes.
“I’ll also be receiving a large sum of inheritance when my parents pass if that’s not enough...” Alec grinned smugly at his family as Caleb spoke. That’s right… I know how to pick ‘em… He thought to himself.
“Wow…” Jesse chuckled, patting Caleb’s back. “Well, congratulations kid!”
“We’re very proud of you, Caleb!” Alec’s mom stood up and hugged him tightly. Caleb looked over at Alec, confused. “You’re already a very important part of this family!” She announced proudly before leaning close and whispering in his ear. “Relax dear… You don’t have to be so uptight around us…”
“So, Caleb… I never got to hear how things went at the tournament…” Bryan said casually.
Caleb relaxed in Elaine’s arms but became tense again immediately after when Bryan mentioned the tournament, his eyes darkening.
“It was fine…” He mumbled. Alec rubbed Caleb’s back and then his neck, staring at his dad.
“We’re gonna go get the horses now…” The blonde said, noticing Caleb’s tension. Caleb turned to go, his bangs covering his eyes.
Alec guided Caleb toward the pasture when his family finally let them leave, turning to him when they were out of hearing range.
“Hey, are you alright? I didn’t expect my dad to bring up the tournament…”
“‘m fine…” Caleb muttered. “Let’s go…” Alec sighed, hesitating before going up to the pasture and jumping the fence. He put his fingers to his mouth, letting out a loud whistle. Caleb flinched away as several horses galloped up the hill towards Alec. The blonde calmed them and pulled two out of the pasture by their harnesses. Caleb regarded them nervously, taking a few more steps back, his hands in his pockets.
“You alright there?” Alec asked as he locked up the gate. The brunette nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on the beasts warily.
Alec turned and walked toward the barn, gesturing for Caleb to follow, who complied making sure to keep a large distance between him and the animals. Alec hooked the creatures up on the cross ties once they were in the stables and stifled a laugh as he glanced over at Caleb. “You look terrified!”
The prodigy shrugged. “More or less…”
“It’s okay…” Alec smiled. “I grabbed the most chill horses you could ever meet. The grey one is Vic and the dark Chestnut one is June. You wanna brush ‘em?”
“N-No… that’s okay…”
“When you’re on you don’t have to lead or anything…” He murmured as he gave the horses a quick brush down and tacked them up, moving June so she was behind Vic and connected a long lead rope from their bridals. “Just hold on and I’ll do the rest.”
“W-When i’m on?” Caleb’s voice cracked.
“Are you really that scared?” Alec frowned. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you, Caleb.”
“J-Just nervous…” He said, looking down and flushing at his voice’s octave jump.
Alec moved closer and took Caleb’s hand, pulling him slowly toward June.
“It’ll be okay…” He said gently, kissing his cheek. Caleb stiffened as they approached the creature. Alec put his hand on Caleb’s wrist and pulled his hand up so it was settled on the horse’s nose. June let out a soft snort. “You need to trust the horse in order for her to trust you.”
Caleb stared blankly at the creature and gingerly rubbed her velvety nose. Alec dropped his hands to Caleb’s waist as June lowered her head and closed her eyes, the tension between her and Caleb slowly lifting away.
Alec smiled at both of them proudly. “Now lets get you on.”
“O-On?” Caleb squeaked as Alec lead him around to the horse’s side. “Can’t I just ride with you?”
Alec chuckled. “We’d be too heavy for one horse.” Caleb swallowed nervously, his arms tucked close to his chest, staring at the horse’s flank.
“Go on… Put your foot in the stirrup…” Alec rubbed his boyfriend’s waist gently, trying to make him relax a bit. After a tiny step forward the fencer lifted his leg up into the saddle with ease as if it wasn’t three and a half feet off the ground.
“N-now what?” Caleb clenched his teeth at his way his voice wavered but he was close enough to feel the heat coming off the huge beast in front of him. Alec gently grabbed his wrists and moved Caleb’s hands toward the warm, twitching, living flesh.
“Grab the edges of the saddle and pull yourself up. Then swing your leg around and put your foot in the other stirrup.” Alec set Caleb’s hands on the saddlehorn and the small cushioning lump at the back of the saddle and Caleb pulled himself up and swung his leg around in one swift motion panting a bit more from nerves than exertion.
“Good. Hold onto the horn or the reins. Just don’t pull on them or it’ll cause her to halt and it might spook Vic… just stick with the horn. It’s right here.” Alec took Caleb’s hands gently and guided them to the horn of the saddle. The brunette gripped it tightly with trembling fingers. Alec smirked and walked back to Vic, climbing onto his back with no problems. The boy grabbed the reins with his right hand, his left on his thigh and he leaned forward, petting Vic’s neck gently and whispering in his ear, “Be easy boy.”
Caleb watched Alec as if hypnotized but was quickly pulled out of his reverie when the creature under him shifted, making him grip tighter onto the horn, his knuckles turning white. Alec tuned to look at Caleb, his smile fading.
“You sure you’re okay? The horses are really gentle, but you have to try to relax. They can feel your tension. If you’re tense and scared, June’s going to feel the same.
“I…” Caleb swallowed dryly. “I can’t help it! I can’t deal with people, let alone animals! Why do you think I like hitting them with swords so much?”
“Well…” Alec laughed a bit. “I can assure you, animals are much better than people. Just try to relax, okay? This is worth the ride, where I’m about to take you.”
Alec turned back around so he was facing forward and squeezed his heels into Vic’s side, encouraging the animal forward. The rope tugged on June’s bridal as she began following right behind. Caleb gasped, drawing in deep breaths, his eyes glued to his hands on the horn. They took a turn and walked into the woods and onto a dirt trail, dead leaves and twigs crunching underneath the horse's’ hooves as Alec glanced back at Caleb, stifling a laugh. Caleb glared up at him then turned away to the scenery to hide his reddening cheeks. The boy leading grinned and faced forward again, shaking his head. After a few minutes of wandering the woods, he took a right, coming out into a clearing, nothing but a giant hill occupying their vision.
“Ah, um…” Alec glanced back at Caleb nervously. “Caleb, we have to climb this hill and uh… the horses might run. Hold on tight alright?”
“W-what?!” Screeched Caleb, his eyes wide as he stared at Alec’s back.
“Just hold on!” Alec shouted as he kicked Vic’s sides and the horse snorted, shaking his head as he sped up to make it up the hill. Alec stood in the stirrups, leaning forward as much as he could as the horse galloped up the hill. The brunette yelped in surprise, gripping June’s mane and ducking low in the saddle, standing in the stirrups to copy his blonde partner. They made it up the hill safely and the horses instantly slowed to a walk when they reached the top of the hill, their heads lowering with exhaustion.
“It’s alright…” Alec soothed, rubbing Vic’s shoulder. “Almost there, buddy. You alright, Caleb?”
The fencer breathed heavily, leaning so close to June’s neck that he could feel her pulse, trembling from both fear and the adrenaline matching the rush of excitement he had felt. Alec smiled and looked out over the hill.
“Look how high up we are, Caleb… I’m so glad it’s fall.”
Caleb opened his eyes slowly, sitting up and looking over the view, drawing a quick breath, his cheeks flushed from the advancement up the hill, the cold, and his proximity to Alec when his legs made him feel so vulnerable.
“Pretty, right?” Alec smiled back at Caleb and turned, squeezing Vic to move forward, leisurely steering him along the narrow trail, atop the hill. Caleb gasped again as he was jerked forward, still captivated by the landscape.
Alec guided them out of some underbrush, onto a grassy cliff overlooking the landscape and pulled Vic to a stop, swinging his leg around the horse gingerly and hopping off. Caleb watched him, massaging June’s mane, still tense atop the creature.
The blonde walked over to Caleb and held his arms out, wiggling his fingers. The prodigy looked at him and took a deep breath, sliding his leg shakily over the back of the saddle and lowering himself the same way Alec had dismounted. His sore thighs and muddy sneakers betrayed him part way down and he had a sickening moment of freefall as his tennis shoes slipped out of the stirrup before Alec caught him.
“Oof! Caleb! Are you okay?!” Alec asked as the brunette in his strong arms gripped him tightly and shakily, gasping and nodding.
“Y-Yeah… I think so…” Alec smiled with relief and nuzzled his temple.
“Th-Thank you for catching me…” The fencer nuzzled his boyfriend back under his jaw, relaxing a bit in the warmth of him. The blonde smiled wider and led Caleb to the edge of the hill. It fell away in a cliff overlooking rolling hills, dappled with the bright colors of autumn leaves.
“Wait here a sec.” Alec went back to Vic and pulled off the blanket rolled up in front of the saddle, going back over to Caleb and spreading it over the ground. The brunette watched as Alec sat down on it then walked over as the blonde patted the ground beside him invitingly. Caleb settled next to him and curled against him as the blonde laid down on his back, the last strings of tension finally leaving the fencer’s body. His shoulders relaxed and the tightness in his chest dissipated then disappeared.
Alec slid his arm under Caleb and pulled him a little closer, staring up at the sky and smiling happily, content.
“I feel so much safer in your arms…” The brunette murmured, nuzzling into the warmth of his neck. Alec blushed and grinned, kissing the fencer’s forehead.
“I’ve always wanted to hear you say that… I love you, Caleb.”
With a soft smile Caleb closed his eyes.
“I love you too, Alec…”