Chapter 16: Home
Author's Note: Many of you asked for an update on Travis. Well, here you go!
Finally, the day had come. Mister Branson was a busy man, and it took some time before Travis's appointment, but today was the day.
Travis felt strange about the whole thing, and he had tried to talk himself out of it. To that end, he told Candice, his girlfriend, about his appointment with Mister Branson, and his growing realization that he was attracted to men in addition to women.
Instead of rejecting him, Candice leveled a smoldering look at Travis. "Do you think he'd be okay if I showed up too?" The way she had whispered it sent a shiver from the back of Travis's neck down his spine. Travis had checked with Branson. The man was more than fine with a session which included both of them.
They entered the nondescript building together and Travis looked at the room. It was simple enough. Three chairs were against one wall and there was carpet on the floor. The light fixtures were LED, but the bulbs had a slight amber tint. The effect was a muted illumination similar to incandescent lighting.
A single door led deeper into the building. Their instructions were to sit and wait for Branson to come for them.
They took seats and Candice watched Travis as he nervously drummed his fingers on his knees. "Hey, relax." She smiled and put a hand over his moving digits. "Let's just have fun."
Travis tried to smile. "Uh, yeah." He swallowed. Travis began to say something else when the door opened.
Mister Branson was there. He wore heavy, black boots, black pants, and the skin of his bare chest glistened under the light. The large, powerful man smiled warmly. "Hello." He stepped aside and motioned through the door. "Let's get started, shall we?"
"Uh, sure." Travis followed Branson. Candice put a reassuring hand on his back as Branson led them down a hallway with three pairs of doors on both sides of the hall. Finally, at the end of the passageway, Branson opened another door.
He stood aside and Travis entered, trepidation on his face. The room was bare, save for a padded vinyl mat on the floor, and a bench near the mat. On the bench were canes, a jock, and various other pieces of equipment that Travis didn't recognize. The walls were dark, paneled in stained, oak boards. The whole place smelled of leather, sweat, and white sage.
Branson closed the door and watched them both carefully. When he looked at Candice, Branson cocked his head slightly. For her part, Candice stared back at the imposing figure of Mister Branson, and Travis could almost feel something pass between them.
Travis glanced back and forth at the two, a little confused.
Branson's smile was subtle. "Travis." He focused entirely on Travis, those brown eyes commanding his whole attention. Branson motioned at the hooks on the walls. "Strip down to your underwear and hang your clothes."
Travis began to unbutton his shirt and glanced at Candice. "Uh, what, what about Candice?"
"Now isn't the time for your questions. Do as you're told." Branson's voice had a slight edge, but his expression didn't change. "You're learning, so we'll let that one pass."
'We?' Travis frowned as he took off his clothes, but he didn't question the man again. Travis hung up his clothing, and then turned back to Branson in just his briefs. He felt exposed and unconsciously put his hands over his groin.
Branson smiled. "Drop your hands. Relax where you stand."
Travis did. Branson nodded, pleased, then his eyes slid over to Candice.
Candice straightened and glanced at Travis. "I had planned to do this with Travis."
Branson's smile slowly turned into a grin. "Yes, I know." He leveled a knowing stare at Candice. "Yet, you are not a submissive - you are something else." He motioned at her. "Come. And I will teach you how to give Travis what he needs."
Travis expected Candice to reject the offer. Yet, that's not what happened. Travis's eyes met hers, and at that moment there was no doubt on her face. Instead, as she stepped over next to Mister Branson, there was anticipation.
The next week was busy for both Wren and Caleb. They had a load of timber beams and large dimension lumber delivered to the house-site. Sheriff Keen knew this stage of the project meant they'd need a lot of help and muscle getting things put into their proper places, so he took some long-overdue time off of work.
"Two weeks," Casey answered Wren's question, then he nodded and looked up at the rough-cut post he'd just helped push into position with Wren, Caleb, and Charles. He wiped his face free of sweat and smiled. "I've got the next two weeks off. Yer mom said you'd need help gettin' this done, so I took the time."
Wren patted Casey's back. "Well, thank ya. Another pair of hands sure makes it easier." Wren's accent was slowly creeping back, as was Caleb's. Now that Caleb was away from university, and Wren was removed from California, they once again started to pick up the vernacular and the inflections of North-Eastern Kentucky. Wren looked around the house-site. "We've just got the corner posts ta go. Let's get those up, then we can see if we need to adjust the notches, or do some shimming once we get the beams up."
They continued to work. Thanks to experience gained from building barns, Charles and Caleb both had knowledge joining heavy timbers. They had already notched the posts so that the crossbeams would have a sturdy seat on which to rest before they ever connected them with heavy brackets and large gauge nails.
Casey helped Wren hoist one of the cross-beams up and into the waiting hands of Caleb and Charles, then they stepped back as the men wrestled the massive piece of wood into position. Charles and Caleb both began to nail the timbers into place, and Casey relaxed a bit. It wasn't going to go anywhere now.
Wren smiled and looked over the dirt within the perimeter of the foundation. "Once we get the roof on, then we can get busy with the floor, and get the bales in the walls."
Casey stepped beside him and followed Wren's gaze. "Yeah?" He scratched under his ballcap. "The house got a little bigger, yeah? Partial second story now? Is that because Caleb is movin' in?"
"Yeah." Wren glanced at him with a worried look. "Uh, well," he cleared his throat, "it just makes sense ta have Caleb here, on-site - since we're partners in the farm an' all."
Casey knew Wren was trying to excuse the fact that he had changed his house design a bit to accommodate Caleb living there with him. Casey put a hand on Wren's shoulder. "Wren, it's fine." He patted Wren. "I'm glad ta see y'all together, an' doing so well." Casey watched Wren's face as realization set in. "It's good. An' it's right for y'all."
"Ah, ya know about us." Wren wet his lips. "You're okay with things?"
"Yup." Casey gave a sideways smile. "I had a pair of friends in college who were gay - a couple." He nodded as he thought. "They were good men. Better'n most." His face darkened. "Really burned me when people treated 'em wrong." Casey grinned. "Besides, yer mom would kick me down the holler if I wasn't okay with things."
Wren gave him a pleased and surprised smile. "Well," he chuckled and shook his head, "I guess we don't have to watch ourselves around you."
"Nope. Y'all can do whatever you feel is right," Casey assured him.
Wren bit his lip in thought, then he looked at Caleb still on the ladder, hammering away at his end of the beam. He and Charles hadn't caught the conversation between Casey and Wren, and Wren's face shifted to an ornery smirk. "Watch this."
Casey chuckled, knowing Wren was up to no good. It wasn't long before Caleb and Charles descended their ladders.
"Do you think we can finish up the beam-work today?" Caleb spoke to Charles. Before his brother had a chance to answer, Wren strode up to Caleb, grabbed him, and lay a big kiss right on his lips.
"Mmph!" Caleb pushed, his eyes wide, but Wren held on. Charles stared in shock and looked at Casey for a reaction. Casey crossed his arms, arched an eyebrow, and smirked.
Finally, Wren pulled back and grinned at Caleb. "It's fine. Sheriff knows."
"Damn it!" Caleb laughed in relief. They both had their arms around one another's waists. He narrowed his eyes at Wren. "Yer a shit."
Wren shrugged, his grin not at all diminished. Caleb glanced at Casey, shrugged himself, and gave his boyfriend a kiss of his own.
Two weeks later saw many changes to the property. Thanks to several helping hands from friends, family, and their own hard work, Wren and Caleb got both the metal roof and the base floor layer of soil-cement done.
Now that the area was protected from rain, Wren had a couple hundred bales of straw delivered to the property. On a beautiful sunny Saturday, Wren smiled as people began to arrive for what natural building enthusiasts called a "bale-raising".
Charles and Tracy stood near Wren. Their baby Oliver thrashed happily in Charles's arms, and Wren's best friend had to keep watch to avoid a tiny fist to his eye. "Who all is comin', Wren?" Charles asked and moved his head as Oliver giggled and flailed around.
Ragan had just gotten to the site in his old pickup. The farmer threw up a hand in greeting and began to amble over toward them. Wren waved back. "Well, Ragan, obviously. Uncle Kyle will be here soon after him and Caleb are done gettin' his fields squared away. Matt's comin' too. He wants to see this happen. I know he's curious about it." Wren tapped his chin. "Then the regular crew - us, Mom," he grinned at Oliver and stepped near the excitable little boy, "and this monster!" Wren tickled Oliver mercilessly, and the baby squealed with laughter.
Ragan grinned as he neared. "I see the littlest helper is gettin' those lungs warmed up." Ragan extended a hand to Wren and the men shook.
"Thanks for bein' here, Ragan." Wren nodded at the old farmer. "We appreciate the help."
"Well, yer welcome." Ragan looked at the neat stacks of baled straw that sat nearby, awaiting use in the project. "Ta be honest, I really wanted to see this in action." He hid most of it, but there was still a dubious cast to his face. "Ah, never heard of anybody doin' this with straw before."
Wren knew that was the case for everyone but himself. "I figured." He grinned at Ragan. "I hope you're convinced it can work by the time ya leave."
Tracy smiled, an ornery sparkle in her eyes. "Let's hope we all are." That elicited a laugh from the assembled adults.
Wren accepted it all good-naturedly. He loved exposing others to the methods and eventually to the end results of his learned techniques. Though, more, he was excited to have all of the help and goodwill of the community.
Wren smiled as Kyle's green truck pulled up with Caleb in the passenger seat. Caleb had promised Kyle help with growing something other than tobacco, and Wren's youngest uncle had taken Caleb up on the offer.
As Kyle and Caleb got out, Rachel's truck crunched on gravel and came to a stop at the tail end of a growing line of vehicles. She and Sheriff Keen both exited. Wren smiled as Rachel slid her arm around Casey's waist. At first, he hadn't been sure how he felt about his mother's connection to the lawman, but Keen had shown that he was interested only in treating Rachel well. So long as that was true, then Wren was happy they were paired up.
Wren was just about to greet his mother and Casey when Matt also drove into sight. He pulled in behind Rachel, got out, and shook his head. "Looks like a parkin' lot!" he yelled and grinned at Wren.
Wren laughed. "It does."
Caleb stepped up beside Wren, and they both looked out over all of the assembled folks who had come to help them. They were there spending their time to get Wren and Caleb's house built. For that, Wren was indescribably thankful and humbled.
Wren and Caleb watched as Ragan set his jaw, walked over and shook Kyle's hand. Wren couldn't hear what passed between them, but it was evident from body-language and expressions that Kyle was apologizing, and Ragan nodded in acceptance. Caleb took a satisfied breath at the sight. Matt walked nonchalantly near the men and Wren could tell he was trying to listen in on the exchange.
Ragan walked away from Kyle to say hello to Keen and Rachel, and Matt stepped in to speak with Wren's uncle. Kyle smiled at Matt and seemed happy to shake the heavy equipment operator's hand. Matt did a lot of business with the uncles, and Wren knew the connections there were essential to him.
Wren waited a bit while local folks who enjoyed and liked one another rekindled their ties. They milled about, some remarking on the pile of straw bales nearby, others checking the foundation and roof work the men had already done.
Finally, Wren cleared his throat. "Hello, everybody." They all turned to look at Wren and soon settled down. Wren smiled over those assembled. "First, thank you all for bein' here. It means a lot to us, to have all this help." There were a few nods from the men and women. Wren motioned at the prepared foundation. There were spears of rebar stuck in it, and they pointed straight up awaiting bales of straw. "Everythin' is ready. I'm gonna lay a couple bales, so y'all can see how it's done."
Wren walked to their stack of bales, picked one up by the two strings which bound it tightly together, then he moved to the corner of the structure. Their helpers all followed along and watched as Wren speared the straw-bale on the rebar embedded in the mortared stone. Wren wrestled the bale until he had it flush with the vapor barrier on top of the foundation. He grinned at the sight of the bale. "Okay! So now, we'll just continue along the whole perimeter, layin' the bales. The second course is staggered over the first, an' we'll pin the courses together with these rebar pieces we've got handy."
Many of those gathered had experience with construction, and though they'd never worked with bales of straw in the way Wren was using them, they still appeared confident. "We got this," Matt said and cracked his neck. "Looks easy."
"That's what I like to hear," Wren said and grinned. "Okay, are we ready?"
In response, Kyle led the way over to the bales. Soon, people were carrying, positioning, and stacking bales on the walls.
Rachel found her place pinning the strawbales in position, while Ragan had an eye for keeping the walls plumb as they went up. Wren handled cutting and restringing bales when they needed smaller versions in corners or around window and door bucks, and the rest of the workers rotated working directly on the walls and keeping an eye on Oliver as he crawled around among straw and busy feet.
Three hours blew by remarkably fast, and they were now well over half-way up the walls. Wren eyed the narrowing gap between the ceiling and the top of the bales. There were only about three and a half to four feet of daylight left, and that'd be filled in before the end of the day.
"All right." Wren brushed straw off of his shirt and looked around at the laughing, sweaty, and hardworking friends and family. "Lunchtime. Let's take a break."
They had prepared for thirsty workers with coolers filled with jars of water, lemonade, and bottles of beer. They had another cooler stuffed with sandwiches that Charles and Tracy had contributed, and a few bags of chips to share.
Everyone made themselves comfortable, sitting atop bales of straw and in the three camp chairs Wren and Caleb had left out for just such purpose. Wren shared his bale with Caleb, while Charles and Tracy parked themselves nearby on their own seat.
Wren ate and drank hand-squeezed lemonade while he watched the others interact. When they had started, there had been doubt, a few snickers, and a joke or two about the Three Little Pigs. Those were gone now. Kyle and Matt brushed crumbs from their sandwiches off of themselves, grabbed a beer each from the cooler, and they walked around the project. Each pointed things out to the other and both wore a dawning realization that what Wren was doing would work. They were beginning to believe. Wren grinned as he watched them.
"It's really happenin'." Caleb leaned back on his hands, the smell of earth, straw, and sweat all wafting around him. He gazed at the almost wholly raised walls. "We're gonna have the walls up today."
Wren nodded. "Yup. There'll be plenty of detail-work, an' plenty more to do inside and out. But, yeah, the walls will be up." He smirked. "We won't have to sleep in a tent anymore."
Caleb grinned at him. "Yeah." He leaned over with a conspiratorial smirk. "You said straw walls are soundproof?"
Wren laughed. "Sound resistant." He shook his head at Caleb. He felt the urge to kiss the handsome man, but he knew Matt, Ragan, and maybe Kyle wouldn't like that much. Wren had no desire to make anybody uncomfortable, so he refrained.
Caleb could see the struggle on Wren's face. His smile slid into a sideways smirk. "Soon," he whispered and patted Wren's leg.
Just the brief contact started a reaction in Wren, and he cursed himself. Caleb had a lot of power over him, including his physical state. Wren chuckled, secretly adjusted things, and stood up. "Okay, folks." He grinned out over his helpers. "Let's finish these walls."
They got on with it. It was a day filled with talk, laughter, and wrangling a crawling eight-month-old baby boy, in addition to finishing up the bulk of the walls. After another two hours, the gap was closed - the walls in place.
Ragan checked the walls for plumbness one more time, knocked at a section with the sledgehammer, rechecked with the level, and seemed satisfied. Then Wren and all his helpers stood back to look at their work.
The whole house had a wide overhang, so the top parts of the walls were shaded. The rest showed golden yellow in the light of the afternoon sun. There were holes for the large windows Wren had planned and substantial wooden rectangles called "bucks" around the door and window openings.
"That's somethin'." Rachel shook her head and her eyes roamed over the building. She held a cold jar of water in her hand, which dripped with condensation. Casey stepped near and took the water from her to help himself to a sip.
Wren watched the interaction. It was so natural and comfortable, and he knew that things between Rachel and the Sheriff had gotten serious quickly. He smiled and nodded in agreement. "It is something." Wren stood up. "Everybody, Caleb and I just want to thank y'all for comin' and helping us out." There were nods and smiles from those gathered. Wren waved a hand over the shell of the house. "We'll get to work settin' up a plastering party. So anybody who wants to get muddy, well just come on back for more."
There were chuckles from their helpers. As people made ready to leave and head back to their properties and their own work, Ragan nodded at Wren and Caleb. "Boys, yer fields are lookin' great." His eyes lit up as he gazed past Wren at the healthy plants in the garden near the house. "Should be ready to harvest that corn in a month or so."
Caleb nodded. "Yeah. It's doin' good. The squash, beans, an' tomatoes are too."
Ragan grinned. "Good. It'll be good ta sell yer stuff out of my stall." He nodded. "This county has forgotten how good these old-time veggies are." He grinned. "We'll help 'em remember." He stretched out a hand.
"We will. Thanks, Ragan." Wren shook his hand and patted the old farmer on his back.
Wren bid goodbye to his friends and family as they left one by one. Though Kyle and Matt lagged behind, and Matt leaned against Kyle's truck. "Hey." There was an odd tone in Matt's voice as he faced Kyle. "Uh, so… did ya say you needed me ta look at that project at your place?"
Kyle frowned. "Huh?"
Matt glanced nervously at Caleb and Wren. Wren cleared his throat. "Uh, Caleb… can you look at somethin' with me?"
The two guys walked away, and Wren couldn't help but glance over his shoulder. Matt stood close to Kyle, his face grave as he spoke quietly to Wren's uncle. Comprehension dawned, and Kyle finally grinned at Matt. "Oh. Yeah! THAT project," Kyle proclaimed with just a bit too much excitement. Matt cringed and looked again at Wren and Caleb.
Wren led Caleb around the corner of the house, and both young men stared at one another. "Matt and Kyle?" Caleb shook his head. "Maybe that's why things fell apart with him an' Marcy."
Matt was freshly divorced from his highschool sweetheart. He was only a bit older than Wren, with a couple of years overlap in school, so Wren remembered seeing him paired up with Marcy in the halls of East Carter High. Caleb grinned. "Look at Kyle go, gettin' a younger man!"
"Ssshhh!" Wren giggled. He poked his head around the edge of the house and watched as Matt's vehicle followed Kyle's pick-up down the gravel road. He shook his head with a grin. "Well, maybe it's not exactly romance, but I hope they're gettin' what they need from each other."
Caleb snorted with a laugh. Wren eyed him, and Caleb didn't keep Wren waiting long. "Well, they're gettin' something from each other!"
Wren shook his head, then joined his lover with a chuckle.
Two months went by quickly. Most of their crops were harvested and swiftly sold through Ragan's stand. With the income promised from Caleb's work raising alfalfa coupled with the cash stream from their heirloom crops, Wren realized that they could make a living. It wouldn't make them rich, but it'd pay their bills, and they'd have a bit extra every month to reinvest in the farm and the house.
Construction on the house continued. They had one rough coat of red-clay plaster on the strawbale walls, both inside and out. Plastering was critical to preserve the straw from windblown rain and to avoid critters digging in the straw to make nests. The second coat of plaster was due to be applied the next day. Wren, Caleb, Tracy, Charles, Uncle Kyle, Sheriff Keen, and Rachel all spent a long, tiring, but fun day mixing up what would be the finish coat of plaster. Then they'd apply it the following day.
Now, they all sat in the late afternoon under the wide overhang of the porch. It was still hot, and they all enjoyed the shade, each with water or lemonade in hand. The trickle of the stream behind them as they rested made Wren smile.
They were quiet, all except for Oliver. The baby burbled and crawled around on the porch, closely supervised by the adults. Once the noise of work stopped, all of the life in the land slowly began to make itself heard again. The songs of Cicadas, crickets, and birds gained in volume. Wren lay his head back, listening to the soundtrack of his home.
"Wren." Caleb's voice made Wren sit up. The big man smiled at him. "Sing fer us."
Wren frowned and waved a hand. "Naw, nobody wants to hear that."
"Well, that'd be where yer wrong, nephew." Kyle nodded at Wren. "Listen to Caleb." He leaned back in his chair. "Sing fer us."
Wren looked at his friends and family gathered around on the porch. Each smiled with encouragement, and he chuckled. "All right." Wren watched Oliver as the baby picked up a piece of straw and chewed on the end. He thought about what he wanted to sing. The way he felt about his life and his growing relationship with Caleb were at the forefront of his mind when he hit upon his choice.
Wren wet his lips, then he began to sing. Home, by Dierks Bentley started to spill from him.
He allowed his eyes to close as the words came. At first, the noise of all the life surrounding them quieted at the new sound. But, piece by piece, the insects, birds, and other critters again added their own voices to the melody.
Chills chased over Wren's skin as he sang. Though tears gathered to run down his face, there was a smile on his lips, and a deep sense of belonging in his heart.
A Kentucky boy had come home. In celebration, Wren added his voice as an instrument - one of many, in the Bluegrass Symphony.
THE END (for now?)
Links to Resources Used in the Chapter
Song Wren sings - Home: https://youtu.be/LTnIS9sgkP8
It's not perfect, but this gives you an idea of what Wren and Caleb's House will be when totally finished:
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
And thank you for reading!
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