June 05, 2018 (Tuesday, 10:00 AM)
He woke to a rebellion in his stomach. Jeremy managed to get his face over a trash can beside the bed, and he emptied what was left in his belly. He stayed there and breathed through his mouth, his eyes closed.
"Hey. You're okay." Mason's voice whispered behind him. Jeremy felt the teen's warm hand on his back, and Mason rubbed the skin there. "I've got you."
"Mason?" He couldn't quite bring himself to lay on his back again at the moment and stayed where he was. "What's going on?" His memory was a blurry mess. He registered that he was in Mason's cabin, and he had no idea how he got there. "I'm not supposed to be here."
"You're fine." Mason moved from behind him and took the liner out of the trash can. Jeremy barely registered that Mason was just in his boxers. "Do you think you can drink anything?"
Jeremy shook his head. Just the idea of putting anything into his body right now made his stomach somersault around. Mason tied up the bag and replaced it with a new one.
"Are you going to be sick again?" Mason put a hand softly on the back of Jeremy's head.
Jeremy made a noise. "I don't know." He finally felt a little better, and he lay back. Mason smiled down at him.
"I'm gonna take care of this, and I'll be back." Mason picked up the bag. Jeremy watched as he put on shorts and left the cabin.
He was physically miserable, and still very drunk. He lay on his back, and within moments his awareness switched off like a light.
June 05, 2018 (Tuesday, 2:00 PM)
His mouth tasted awful and was like paste. That was the first thing that registered in Jeremy's mind when he woke the second time. He worked his parched tongue and licked lips that felt cracked. Jeremy turned his head to look, and there was a full bottle of Gatorade on the little stand beside the bed.
He sat up and groaned. His head pounded fiercely, and he could hear his heartbeat in his ears for a moment as he adjusted to life sitting up.
Jeremy took the bottle, and he opened it. He wanted to chug the red liquid, but he knew better. He forced himself to sip it. He closed his eyes and breathed, and felt the fluid travel down his digestive tract to his belly.
There was a minor complaint from the tortured organ. But Jeremy was pretty sure he would hold it down. He took another sip.
The door opened, and Mason came in. His face lit up when he saw Jeremy awake. "Hey." He walked over and sat on the bed beside Jeremy. "How are you feeling?" Mason's voice was held in such a caring tone. And despite Jeremy's condition, he felt better with the teenager in the room.
Although he was still embarrassed, and Jeremy looked down at his drink. "I'm okay." He shook his head. "I don't remember how I got here."
Mason put an arm around his shoulders. "We came and got you. We went to the clinic, but you weren't there. Dr. Wade had us go check on you."
Jeremy slumped. He already owed Dr. Wade so much. And now this too.
Mason watched him. "You don't have to worry. We called out for you. You don't have work tomorrow either."
The redhead bit his lip. "Why are you doing this?" He looked up pain and incomprehension in his eyes. "Why help me?"
Mason seemed surprised at the question. "Because you needed it." He turned a little and clasped Jeremy's hand in his own. "When my dad and I found you …"
"Wait." Jeremy frowned at Mason. "Your dad? Clay knows I'm here?"
Mason grinned. "Yep. He's the one who drove me to Crescent City. He's the one who said we should bring you here." Jeremy stared at Mason, an incredulous look on his face. Mason laughed. "He really did!"
Jeremy shook his head. "Wow. Okay." He took another drink of Gatorade and wiped his mouth. He sat for a moment, and his eyes shifted around. "I don't … I don't know what I should do now."
"Well, first you need to take your antivirals." Mason stood up and stepped over to Jeremy's little overnight bag. He dug around a bit and pulled out a bottle. "You're not gonna hurl again, so now is the time."
He handed the bottle to Jeremy. The redhead took it from him. Then stared down at the bottle in his lap. "I mean … I don't know what to do," he shrugged, "about you and me."
Mason was still and quiet for a little then he knelt on the floor by the bed. He took one of Jeremy's hands in his own. "Look at me."
Jeremy raised his eyes until they met Mason's. 'God, he's so handsome,' Jeremy's mind seized upon Mason's features and his earnest expression. Something about Mason uniquely soothed him.
Mason smiled. "I only want you to answer one question." He placed a hand on the back of Jeremy's neck. "Will you do that?"
Jeremy nodded and continued to look into Mason's eyes.
"Good. All I want to know is - what do you want?"
It was such a simple question. Instantly Jeremy knew the answer, and he hated himself for it. He shook his head, frowned, and tried to look away.
Mason gently pulled his chin back up. "Jeremy. You said you'd answer me. What do you want?"
Jeremy had a desperate look on his face. He swallowed. "I … I want you." He closed his eyes. "I know it's selfish and wrong. But I want you."
Mason stroked Jeremy's hair. "It's not selfish, and it's not wrong." The teenager stretched and planted a tender kiss on his forehead. He pulled back and continued to rub Jeremy's head. "Why do you say that?"
Jeremy felt as if he'd be torn apart by the turmoil in his heart. There wasn't a way to make Mason understand, other than what he had tried to avoid. 'I have to tell him what I did.' Jeremy opened his eyes and drew in a steadying breath. "Okay. I'm going to tell you." Jeremy looked over at the wall where the guitar hung back in its regular spot. "Can you bring the guitar to me?"
Mason nodded, and he got up. He gently took down the instrument and brought it over to Jeremy.
Jeremy took it as if he were handling a baby. Mason settled back on the bed, and Jeremy put the guitar on his lap. He began to talk, and his eyes ran up and down the instrument as he did.
"Growing up I lived with my dad in town. Mom wasn't in the picture. She left when I was a toddler. It wasn't exactly a great childhood either. He drank a lot. I'd come home from school, and he'd be passed out. Well, when he had money for booze at least. So I'd always turn him on his side … cover him up, and make sure he was okay."
Jeremy smiled down at the guitar. "Music was all I had. It kept me sane. Luckily our school had a pretty good program, and I learned to play guitar. All we had were these banged up, old instruments, and I wanted something better so badly." Jeremy glanced at Mason. The young man nodded at him, encouraging him to continue.
"As soon as I turned sixteen I started working. It was an after-school job, and I worked for my music teacher. I thought it was kind of perfect." He bit his lip. "I had also figured out; I liked guys. And Mr. Hambrick was a very handsome man."
Jeremy rubbed a bit of dust from one of the strings. "One evening, we … ah well. We had sex. Mr. Hambrick was married, but he was bisexual, and I was more than happy to have sex with him. It became a pretty regular thing."
He frowned. "One day I was sick. I had a fever, these crazy sweating episodes while I tried to sleep. And I remembered from our health class that night sweats were a symptom of HIV. I went to the next teen clinic for testing." Jeremy sighed. "You know how that turned out."
Mason rubbed Jeremy's knee and kept his hand there - warm and reassuring. Jeremy smiled a little at the gesture, then resumed. "I was wrecked. And after a few weeks, I told my dad about the HIV, and being gay." He closed his eyes. "I had no idea dad was so homophobic. I mean, he said things before about gay people. But, that night was one of the worst of my life." Jeremy struggled, and he pushed through.
"Anyway. Things with dad were even worse after that. He called me names. He told me HIV was God's punishment. All the while he's drinking like a fish, and even soiling himself because he can't get to the bathroom in time, he was so drunk."
Mason looked at him with such kindness that Jeremy found it hard to keep himself together. He looked down at the guitar, and he kept going. "I was still playing my music. It's all I had. And I kept working at a few different jobs. The more time away from home, the better. And finally, I had enough for a good guitar." He strummed the strings once and made them sing. Then he put his hand over the neck to quiet them. "THIS guitar."
Jeremy smiled. "I remember that day. It came in the mail, and I was so happy. I opened it, strung it, tuned it. All the while my drunken father is just staring at me in his filthy armchair. Secretly, I was thrilled, because he had also run out of alcohol. So I knew he was going to be miserable without his booze."
He shook his head gently and ran his hand over the body of the guitar. "It was the summer after I graduated high school, and I was working full time at the clinic, and taking night classes a few days a week. At the clinic, I worked with Dr. Wade as his medical assistant. And, you've probably guessed, I'm also his patient. Anyway. I came home one day, about a week after I purchased the guitar."
Jeremy felt a tear run down his face. He didn't try to stop it this time. "Ah … I walked in, and there were ten bottles of Jack Daniels sitting on the counter. An eleventh was empty, and my dad was as drunk as I'd ever seen him. He had shit himself, but somehow he was still conscious." He breathed and wiped his face. "He laughed at me, and he said 'thanks for the whiskey, faggot.'"
The tears kept coming. "Dad had sold my guitar." Jeremy patted the instrument in his lap. He pulled a mother of pearl guitar pick out of a place where the front guard of the instrument had come up a little. It was nearly impossible to notice unless you knew it was there. "And he used the money to buy as much whiskey as he could."
Jeremy looked at the pick and turned it over in his hand. "Every night he drank, I'd always make sure he was okay. I'd always check. Always. It's probably hard to imagine, but I loved him. And I knew someone who drank that much could get in a lot of trouble if they weren't laid on their side."
He shook his head and tears dripped off his nose, down onto the instrument in his lap. "I was so mad. What he did hurt me so much." He swallowed. "I didn't check him. I just stayed in my room. I even THOUGHT about it that night. I knew I should have." He looked up at Mason, his eyes filled with tears. "I let my dad die. He passed out. He vomited. And he choked. I let my dad choke to death."
Mason swallowed, but he kept quiet and let Jeremy get it all out. Jeremy breathed out through his mouth, and he nodded. "I let my dad die because he sold my guitar." He focused on Mason's eyes. "So when I get the idea that this," he motioned with his finger at Mason and then himself, "might work?" He shook his head. "I have to remind myself that I don't deserve it. Even though it's what I want, I don't deserve it."
Jeremy hung his head, and his fingers traced the strings of the guitar in his lap.
After a moment Mason lifted Jeremy's chin. The redhead looked warily into Mason's eyes. He knew now that Mason realized what he had done, that the teenager would move on. He knew it.
"Jeremy, you didn't kill your dad. He killed himself." Mason smiled sadly at him. "You've been carrying around something that's not yours for all this time. And you need to let it go." Jeremy started to say something and Mason continued. "Were you planning to stay home forever?"
Jeremy frowned at the strange question. "No. I wanted to leave as soon as I could."
The teenager smiled slightly. "Do you think your dad would have stopped drinking when you left?"
Jeremy stared at Mason. "No."
"Then what happened was going to happen. Eventually." Mason shrugged. "I know it's awful, but that was your dad's fate. He made sure of it. Not you."
Jeremy ran his hand through his hair then propped his head upon his hand. Mason's hand was still on his knee. Jeremy glanced up at Mason. "You don't think I'm an awful person?" His face screwed up, and he felt the tears. "I just told you what I did … and … you don't …" Jeremy's voice cut off as he sobbed.
Mason gently moved the guitar off of his lap, and he leaned into Jeremy. "You're not an awful person." He smiled in Jeremy's ear as the redhead cried on Mason's shoulder. "I couldn't love an awful person."
Jeremy inhaled sharply. "What did you just say?"
It was so peaceful. Greg sat on his stone by the river, and he watched the water flow. The sun glittered on the surface and felt wonderful on his skin. Greg was finished with the daily chores of the campground, and he could now relax a bit.
Clay and Orson were near the kitchen. Orson insisted he help with the next meal. Since it was now a little after 3:30 in the afternoon the guys decided they needed to assess what they had to work with. Greg was reasonably sure they'd need to go to town for some protein, but he left them to it.
Mason and Jeremy had spent hours together today. Jeremy made a single appearance to go to the restroom. He looked pretty haggard, but at least he was upright and not sick. Greg smiled when he thought of the boys. It was apparent to him that their match was a special sort. A connection like theirs wasn't found very often. He was glad Clay had come around.
He knew that Orson was responsible for that. And as soon as he could, he'd thank the young man for whatever he said to Clay because it did the trick.
He put his hands behind him, palms down on the warm stone and leaned back on his stiff arms. He was content to bask in the sun, and his thoughts shifted to Mason's birthday party.
He needed to ask Jeremy if the Raven Project Kids could stay over for the party. And he was sure Jeremy would want to stay over. Greg grinned at that thought. He had already ordered the cake for Mason from the grocery store in town. That boy loved chocolate, so it would be an overdose of the confection.
He knew Mason wasn't hard to please. If he had cake, friends, some music, and games, then he'd be happy. Though, Greg still didn't have a gift for him. He pursed his lips in concentration as he tried to hit upon something that fit his personality and interests.
'He's interested in Jeremy.' Greg shook his head. Mason did seem to have a one-track mind lately.
Greg heard someone on the path to the river, and he turned to look over his shoulder. Clay smiled at him as he walked onto the beach. "Hey. I'm gonna go into town. I think we're grilling steaks tonight. That sound all right?"
Clay had walked over beside him. Greg looked up at his big man. "Sounds good." He motioned with his hand. "Get down here."
Clay grinned, and he bent down. The men kissed, and Greg felt the rumble of a growl in Clay's throat as the kiss drew on. Then there was a hand on Greg's crotch. He pulled away. "No. Stop that." He laughed and pushed Clay's hand off of him. "You can't get me riled up and then leave! That's just cruel."
Clay straightened, and it was impossible to miss the erection that tented his canvas shorts. "Uh huh. Cruel."
Greg snickered. "Well, I'm sure Orson will get a laugh out of it. You guys enjoy the city."
Clay's face shifted. "Orson's pretty tired. He's gonna stay back." Something about the way Clay said that caught Greg's attention.
"He okay?" Greg stood up and dusted sand from his legs and rump.
"Yeah. Mostly. I think he's feeling a little down. And he has been going since four this morning, all on one leg. So yeah, he really could be tired."
Greg trusted Clay's instincts when it came to Orson. "It won't hurt for me to check on him." The big man smiled and nodded.
Greg and Clay walked back up the path and Clay got into his van. Greg waved, and Clay was off down the highway.
Mason and Jeremy were nowhere to be seen - probably both still inside the cabin. And Greg saw Orson at the picnic table near the kitchen. He didn't appear to be doing much. He only sat, his arms out in front of him and his hands flat on the surface of the table.
Greg walked toward him, and Orson seemed to startle. He wiped at his face, and Greg realized the young man had been crying.
Orson knew he'd been seen and as Greg approached he laughed a little. "I'm fine. I'm just feeling sorry for myself."
Greg stood by the table and smiled at him. "It's okay. You're allowed, you know." Greg looked at the kitchen. "Are you hungry? You want a snack?"
Orson grimaced. "Yeah, but I shouldn't. My main exercise used to be running. And since I've not been able to do that, I've gained a few pounds." He sighed. "I need to figure out another way to burn calories."
Greg nodded, and he sat across from Orson. "I'm sure we can come up with something." The wheels turned in his mind. "I bet we could do some core stuff that'd be a killer cardio workout." Greg felt the spark of a challenge, and he wanted to rise to it. "Let me work on it. I'll have something for you by tomorrow at the latest."
Orson looked at him. "Really? Just like that?"
Greg shrugged. "Sure. I designed my routine from bodyweight exercises. Yeah, it'll take a little modification, but there's no reason you can't wreck yourself with one leg."
Orson made a surprised noise. "Well, okay. Thanks." They sat companionably for a bit, and the wind picked up a little. Orson closed his eyes as it blew across the campground and pushed his hair around. He smiled. "I love this place." He breathed deeply and looked at Greg. "I'm thankful for you guys."
Greg's face became serious. "I'm thankful it was you with Clay when the shit hit the fan." He pointed at Orson. "You kept your cool. You were an asset, not a liability." Greg nodded. "And you never know how it's going to go with someone. If you had frozen up or panicked, Clay might have been killed." Greg's eyes carried his gratitude and respect. "Don't forget that. Okay?"
Orson swallowed, and Greg could tell he dialed back on his emotional response. "Okay." He bit his lip. "You guys are fortunate to have each other." Orson made a face. "I mean … I'm not attracted to anybody. But I do envy the connection others have."
Greg was curious, and now Orson had opened the way for him to ask. "I wondered about that. You're not attracted to anybody, but can you still love someone? Like I do Clay?"
"Romantic love?" Greg nodded. Orson thought a moment then he shrugged. "I think it's possible. It'd have to be the right person. Someone who wouldn't need sex from me, or infrequent sex. I think it'd be something we'd have to work out as terms of the relationship."
Greg smiled. "Wild stuff, man." He shook his head. "Meeting you has given me a lot to think about when it comes to the human experience."
Orson grinned. "Well, I'm happy to help."
Greg was glad to see the young man in better spirits. He knew there were hard days ahead for Orson, particularly when he healed enough for the prosthetic. Greg knew others who had worn them. It was a process to gain function and to adjust to the limbs. Greg didn't want things any harder than they had to be for him.
"Okay." Greg pulled out his phone and started the note-taking program. "Let's talk about what sorts of exercises you've done before. I'll try to stick with stuff that's familiar to you, and we'll see if we can modify them to work."
Orson and Greg collaborated on his new regimen for the next half hour. And by the time they finished Clay had just pulled back into the campground.
"Good timing." Greg glanced at the van, then back to Orson. "I'll send this to you. Clay gave me your email. That work?"
Orson nodded with a smile. "Yeah. Thanks for working it out with me. I'll give it a try tomorrow morning."
"Sure. Let me know how it goes." Greg sent the workout to Orson then he stood up. "I'm going to go get those boys. Jeremy has had enough rest, and it's time for him to walk among the living."
Greg waved at Clay as he got out of the van, and Greg walked toward Mason's cabin. As he passed by the back of the building, he glanced in the window, and Greg came to a stop.
Mason and Jeremy stood in the middle of the cabin. Mason's arms were around Jeremy, his face down against the shorter man's red hair. And Jeremy seemed to melt into the tall teenager. Greg's heart almost burst from the emotion evident in them both. He slowly smiled at the pair.
'Well. Maybe a little longer won't hurt anything.' He turned away and left the two alone.
Mason and Jeremy walked out of the cabin. It was around 4:30, and Jeremy was in dire need of a shower. He wore shorts, flip-flops, and a towel was over his shoulder and carried a change of clothes under an arm. Mason could tell that Jeremy felt more like a human being, and the redhead was in much better spirits then he had been.
Jeremy smiled at him as they split up. He went to the shower, and Mason walked to the kitchen. The rest of the men were there. Greg and Clay were in a healthy discussion of how to prepare the steaks. Greg was a marinade man, and Clay was all about the dry rub.
Mason shook his head, and he sat at the table. He smiled at Orson. "Hey, Orson." He glanced at his dad and Greg. "Do you think we'll ever get to eat tonight?"
Orson rolled his eyes. "I'm not sure."
"I heard that." Clay frowned at them. He jerked his head around at Greg as he prepared a marinade in a plastic bag. "I don't know what you're gonna use that marinade on, because it won't be my steaks!"
"We're doomed." Mason laughed.
Orson smiled and nodded in agreement. "Hey," Orson's voice dropped a little, and he leaned forward, "how's Jeremy doing?"
Mason smiled broadly. "He's good. And I think he's gonna be good." He nodded. "We both are."
Orson grinned at him. "I'm glad."
A yelp of surprise drew their attention as a steak almost hit the ground. "Let go of the plate, philistine!"
Mason and Orson looked at the struggling men in the kitchen. Mason sighed. "I think we have the stuff to make quesadillas. I'll get started." He made a face at the grown men as they acted like children.
Orson could only laugh.
Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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