A summer at the family ranch had been carefully planned for Brandon by his father, to impress upon him the kind of life he should not want. Old man Ashcot had not anticipated Brandon’s love of the land, nor did he anticipate Brandon’s love for a ranch hand. Brandon discovers much more than love while on the family ranch. Brandon discovers family secrets which his father has worked a lifetime to keep hidden from him.
This past year on the ranch and away from the family business was a welcome change from the mundane life of prep school. Brandon had never felt so free. He lived among the ranch hands, many nights sleeping outside under a star studded clear blue sky. Unlike his life back east, he had plenty of free time to experience new adventures and meet new people, people who were happy with their lives on the ranch, the simple way of life, people to whom prestige and money were not required to validate their existence. It was during this year that he had met Dylan.
Dylan Todd was one of the many ranchers who worked on the Ashcot ranch to which Brandon had been sent in order to learn about life on a working ranch and to learn an appreciation for, if not a love of the land so seemingly important to the Ashcot family. Dylan had been working on the ranch since he was a young boy and loved all aspects of it, loved the elk and bison too numerous to count, the sheep which were shorn each spring, the limitless number of stars which shown each night in the big Montana sky, but Dylan especially loved the land, the land which knew no bounds, the land which spread out before him like his life spread out before him also knowing no bounds. His life thus far was like a book whose pages were so far blank to be filled as he chose. He did know one thing for certain. He would never leave this land he had come to know and love, for there was nowhere Dylan would rather be.
Saying little as they worked, Dylan’s mind returned to this morning when he had found himself watching Brandon as he washed his young body and wondered why this had bothered him so. His enjoyment of feeling Brandon’s warm body next to his during the night was somehow unsettling. He had been along these same paths every year since he could remember with many of his fellow ranchers, but Brandon was different. He felt a protectiveness toward him that he hadn’t felt with any of the others. “Was it because Brandon was a city boy unaccustomed to the hard life of the ranch?” Dylan wondered. Dylan’s distant nature that morning concerned Brandon. He was afraid he had disappointed Dylan in some way, but he certainly wasn’t going to ask this of him. Showing weakness was one of the taboos of the Ashcots.
As the morning merged with the afternoon, Brandon wondered when they were going to stop to eat and hopefully rest for awhile, as he was beginning to feel a little woozy. Dylan worked on, deep in thought, not realizing he too was hungry and tired, and as he continued to work he did not notice that Brandon had sat down holding his head in his hands. When he did finally look up and saw Brandon, he rushed over to him fearing he had passed out. Kneeling beside him, Dylan took Brandon’s face into his hands and realized he was okay but a little weak. “Hey, what happened?” Dylan asked, deep concern etched into his face. “Oh, nothing, guess I just got a little tired for a second, I’ll be ready to go again in a minute.” “No way,” replied Dylan. “Didn’t realize it was so late, we need to stop and eat.” Relieved, Brandon eagerly devoured the beefsteak sandwiches followed by half a mug of the morning’s coffee although it was lukewarm by now. Still looking a bit pale to Dylan, he suggested Brandon rest while he finished the day’s work, then they would head back to the cabin. “No, I’m okay,” Brandon assured him, not wanting Dylan to know he was hypoglycemic and needed to eat protein frequently to avoid feeling weak. An Ashcot never revealed weaknesses, as weakness indicated imperfection which was also forbidden to an Ashcot. “Well, just take it easy and let me do the heavy stuff.” Brandon did as he was told, relieved that Dylan seemed to understand somehow, though he wasn’t sure how. As his body digested the protein it so desperately needed, Brandon began to feel like his old self again. As Dylan finished the post holes, Brandon saddled up the horses, loaded their gear, and the two of them headed back to the cabin.
Suddenly snapping out of his daydream, or night dream, or whatever he was experiencing, Dylan grabbed a large flashlight and a warm jacket and headed out into the night. He called loudly for Brandon at first, and thought he could hear his own voice echoing back to him. No answer. He then began to walk in search of his young love. He and Brandon had been all over this ranch, so he could be anywhere. “Why had he gone?” If he were sleepwalking he could be anywhere. Dylan had no idea how long Brandon had been gone. He hoped it hadn’t been long. He kept calling Brandon’s name, but didn’t want to draw attention to the predators he so feared may have already claimed the person he had come to love so much.
After an hour and still no reply, Dylan walked to the farthest barn which held the sheep, Brandon’s favorite of all the animals on the ranch. On the ground before him he saw a white handkerchief. He picked it up. It was Brandon’s and it was not yet cold, so Dylan knew it couldn’t have been there for too long. A little ray of hope in his hand, he began to run now straight for the barn, hoping he would find Brandon safe within. He ran so hard and so fast that he was positively breathless by the time he reached the barn. He threw open the door and shouted at the top of his voice, “Brandon, Brandon!” Still there was no answer.
“What’s up, sis?” asked Dylan curiously. He knew Danielle didn’t usually call this early. “Nothing’s wrong, is it?” “Oh no, Charlie and I want to take a little vacation. We want to take Molly on a cruise to Alaska. She’s been studying about the animals up there and wants to see them for herself.” “You are the only person we feel we can trust with taking care of our vineyard, and you are so good with the ranchers there that we know you would be able to run our place and treat the workers well.” Dylan thought about this. This might be just what Brandon needed. He could clear his head and hopefully get his dad out of it. “Can you give me a few hours to see if I can get away?” asked Dylan. “Sure, big brother. We’ll be out in the fields for awhile, but should be back in around noon. Call me then, okay?” “Will do, sis.”
Dylan hung up the phone and slowly walked back to the bedroom. He hoped he could convince Brandon to go to California for awhile. Maybe it was what they both needed, to be together in a brand new place, away from everything that reminded them of Ashcot Enterprises. Brandon had some tough decisions ahead of him that only he could make, and maybe getting away was the best medicine there was for his young love.