Chapter 7: Expectations
There were clear skies, for which Wren was thankful. He and Caleb had pulled the tent out of the back of the pickup, then made themselves a nest of padding, blankets, and a sleeping bag. It was too late and too dark to set up the tent, so they'd sleep in the back of the truck for the night.
He stared up into a sky filled with stars and the smudge of the Milky Way. Caleb was beside him, turned away on his side. Wren couldn't count how many times they had done this growing up as kids and teenagers. But it was different now. Wren could feel it, and he was sure Caleb could too.
Wren didn't know what time it was, but he knew sleep needed to come soon. They would wake with the light, and that would come early. There were also semi-wild chickens about with a loud, eager rooster - a farmer's alarm clock. They'd be up with the dawn, one way or another.
Caleb sighed and rolled onto his back. Clearly, he too had trouble sleeping.
They both lay there in the chilly evening, warm between the layers of blankets and an unzipped sleeping bag.
"You still sing?" Caleb asked, his voice a murmur.
Wren sat up on an elbow. "Not really." He shifted until he was in a seated position, his grandmother's quilt around his shoulders. "Not too much reason for it." He looked up at the sky. "Everything I sing turns into a country song. Nobody wants to hear that."
"Maybe in California, but we're hillbillies here, in case you forgot." An amused quality in Caleb's tone made Wren smile.
"Oh, I haven't forgotten."
"Well." Caleb put his hands behind his head. "We're awake. Sing me something."
Wren thought only a moment, and he had it. He glanced at Caleb. His friend looked up into the sky, waiting for Wren's voice.
He inhaled, and began to sing, his voice clean and carefully controlled.
At the first notes of the song, 'I Hope You Dance', Caleb swallowed. It was a piece about taking risks, loving recklessly, and living a person's true life at any cost. Wren had always loved it, and now it was the first thing he thought of when Caleb asked him to sing.
So he did. Wren closed his eyes and the tight control over his voice slowly disappeared, replaced by emotional inflection as he allowed his own mental state to bleed through.
The last notes faded, and both men were quiet. Wren opened his eyes and looked down at Caleb.
Caleb stared back at him, his expression unfathomable. Finally, he blinked and his jaw moved. "Goodnight, Wren." He rolled again on his side to face away from Wren.
He looked at the back of Caleb's head - the only part of him visible, all wrapped up in his blankets. Wren didn't know what he expected, but what he felt was disappointment. "Goodnight, Caleb."
Wren settled among the little nest of comfortable, warm layers and turned on his side. He too faced away and sighed. It would be another hour before sleep finally ended the way his chest ached, and how his mind continued to thrash in both longing and resignation.
Hours passed and night gave way to the gradual march of the sun. Light woke Wren slowly, gently, serenely. The black-haired man shifted, then his eyes shot open. Caleb's warm body pressed against his, spooning him under the sleeping bag. They were both still clothed in their t-shirts and jeans - they wanted to be ready to go if something happened on the property. That didn't stop Wren's groin from reacting.
Wren knew it was probably innocent. It was a chilly night, and sleeping bodies tended to migrate toward whatever would make them comfortable. In this case, it was Wren's body heat which was the attractive factor to Caleb, and sometime during the night he had thrown an arm around Wren and pulled him close.
Wren didn't want Caleb to freak out when he woke. He decided to lie there and pretend he was asleep so Caleb could believe that Wren was unaware. Though it was torturous, he loved how Caleb curled into him, how secure it made him feel - and how complete the world became in that moment.
It steadily brightened. It wouldn't be long before the light woke Caleb. Wren waited.
A few minutes passed, and a rooster crowed in the distance. Caleb grunted softly, and Wren heard the sound of his jaw as it moved.
Caleb leaned back slightly. He was awake, and Wren felt his eyes on the back of his head. Instead of pulling away, Caleb lay back down on the same pillow Wren used. Wren wet his lips nervously.
"Wren?" Caleb's voice was a murmur, so low Wren almost didn't hear it. He knew Caleb was testing him, to see if he were asleep.
Wren didn't answer, and his heart thudded in his chest. Caleb's arm squeezed him, just slightly, then he leaned in, his nose against the back of Wren's neck.
Caleb's lips ran over the tiny hairs on Wren's skin, and a wave of chills rose under where Caleb's soft, careful exploration occurred. Caleb breathed, his respirations warm on that same, sensitive skin.
Those breaths picked up as Caleb inhaled Wren's scent. The hand on Wren's belly gripped his shirt, and Caleb's pelvis ever so slightly ground into Wren's backside.
Though he tried to remain silent, Wren couldn't control the tiny groan that escaped him.
Caleb stopped and lay stock-still for a few beats. Wren closed his eyes. He knew it was over. His cock, trapped beneath underwear and jeans throbbed in an erection, and the amount of sexual frustration he felt was maddening.
Then Caleb's open mouth tasted the back of Wren's neck. His hips moved in sensuous, small gyrations, grinding his pelvis against Wren. There was no longer any pretending - Caleb knew Wren was awake, and he must have no longer cared that Wren knew he was.
Caleb's hand slid down until his thumb hooked under the button of Wren's Levis, while his fingers caressed the shaft of Wren's cock that lay straight up the dark-haired man's zipper.
"Are… you want this?" Wren gasped as Caleb unbuttoned his jeans and squeezed his testicles gently through the material.
Caleb responded by pushing Wren's pants down. Wren lifted his hips to help things along. Then Caleb shucked his own Carhartts and threw them over the side of the truck.
Wren turned, and Caleb immediately pulled him in. Their bodies contacted under the blankets, each of them only in their briefs. As Wren leaned forward to kiss him, Caleb's hand pulled on the small of Wren's back, pressing their groins tightly together. They writhed, and as their tongues slid over one another's, Wren began to smell that familiar scent that so often accompanied male excitement - precome. It only made him want it more.
Caleb pulled back for a moment. His underwear came off, and his strong fingers pulled at Wren's too. His breathing was almost labored, and his eyes were glazed with lust. Wren joined him in nakedness, then he pushed Caleb onto his back and climbed on top of him.
Wren lay on him. He kissed Caleb, the big man's hands continuously running up and down from Wren's neck to his ass. Wren ground himself into Caleb, frotting in a primal, animalistic sensation. Caleb leaked copiously, and things became slippery quickly.
Caleb groaned and lay his head back. His Adam's apple moved, and Caleb's lips separated as he panted.
Wren stared down at him. He was so close, but he wanted Caleb to finish first. Carnal wonderment lit in Caleb's eyes, then he arched his neck. He moaned loudly and jerked as his moment struck.
That was what Wren needed, and he too came in a messy spurt of fluid. Wren smeared their come into one sticky load between them as he continued to move and gyrate against his groaning friend.
Wren dropped to lay his face against Caleb's neck. Both panted. Caleb's wide hands rested on the small of Wren's back.
Wren bit his lip, almost afraid of what Caleb would say or do next. Wren steeled himself, then raised up to look at him.
Those blue eyes stared. The lust was gone - sated for the moment, but wonderment remained.
Caleb blinked slowly, then he sighed. "We should go up to Charles's to clean up."
Wren licked his lips nervously. "Okay." He cringed. "Uh, are we all right?"
Caleb looked at him for what seemed to be a long time. Finally, he nodded. "We will be."
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Caleb had high hopes that he and Wren could get in and out of Charles’s and Tracy’s place without a lot of questions, looks, or comments. They had wiped themselves as clean as they could and dressed in their rumpled clothes. After, they drove up to the Shaws’.
Wren pulled up, parked, and they both saw Charles crossing the big garden to meet them. Caleb sighed, already anticipating the inquisition.
“Hey.” Wren smiled at Caleb. “However you want to handle this, it’s fine.” Wren nodded. “I’ll follow your lead.”
Caleb considered. He didn't know what he wanted. He knew both Charles and Tracy accepted him, but he had no desire to throw his business out there. He rubbed his stubbled face. "Can we just, ah, hold off on sayin' anything?" He made a pained face. "I don't wanna lie, that isn't the way I wanna live. But I don't want to offer either."
Wren nodded. "All right." His eyes tracked Charles as he got close. "Let's get this over with."
Charles grinned at them as the pair exited the vehicle. "Hey! How was truck camping?"
"Good." Caleb glanced at Wren. "Uh, we're both a little ripe, though. You mind if we hit the shower?"
"Nope, don't mind at all. Y'all are doing the whole holler a favor by washin'!" Charles laughed and led them to the house.
Tracy smiled as they entered. "Howdy, guys." She was at the kitchen counter and had just begun to fry spicy breakfast sausage patties in the cast iron skillet on the stove. "I'll get some more sausage in the pan. We're havin' breakfast sandwiches."
Caleb nodded his thanks. "Sounds great, Tracy."
Wren was quiet as they walked inside. Charles got them both towels. For Wren, he added a pair of socks and a fresh undershirt. Caleb retrieved a change of clothes from his room for himself.
"You can have the first shower." Caleb jerked his head at the bathroom door. "Go for it."
Wren clutched the clean shirt and towel against his chest. He stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.
Charles eyed Caleb. He motioned at his younger brother, and Caleb dutifully followed him down the hallway into the kitchen. The sound of the shower began from behind the bathroom door.
"Okay, what's with Wren? Did something else happen?" Charles asked, then he frowned when Caleb hesitated. "Did he try something even after you told him not to?" There was an incredulous tone in Charles's voice. Tracy looked on, the spatula in one hand.
"Nope." Caleb stepped over to the coffee pot and poured himself a mug of coffee. "He was a perfect gentleman."
'Me, on the other hand…' Caleb thought.
Charles relaxed. "Okay. Good." He smiled and clapped a hand on Caleb's shoulder. "See? I told you if you just set down some ground rules, things would be fine."
"Yep, you did." Caleb nodded sagely and took a sip.
Tracy pressed the spatula and flattened the sausage patties in the hot pan. “So, what’s the plan? You gonna stay down on Wren’s land for a while?”
Caleb thought. “I think I’m gonna need to.” He shook his head. “I don’t trust those uncles of his, and I don’t want to leave Wren alone on the property.”
“I think that’s smart.” Charles frowned. “I trust them as far as I can throw Wade!”
The water kicked off in the shower, and Caleb tossed back the rest of his coffee. “All right. After we’re cleaned up, dressed and fed, we’ll head back down and get the tent set up.”
“I’ll come down and help set the poles,” Charles said. “They can be tricky. Best if I show y'all how it’s done.”
Caleb smiled. “Thanks. That’d be good.”
The bathroom door opened and a barefoot, damp Wren padded out. “God, that’s better.” He passed Caleb near the hall entrance. “It’s all yours.”
“Thanks.” He watched as Wren found a seat at the table to put on his socks. Caleb couldn’t quite help but stare a second too long at Wren’s tight, shapely ass - that same ass he’d had his hands on only a little while before.
He tore his eyes away. Then, as he turned toward the bathroom, his gaze met Charles’s. His brother stared at him, then Charles smirked and slightly shook his head.
Caleb flushed red. He’d been caught ogling Wren by his brother. He cleared his throat. “Ok. Be out in a few minutes.”
Charles saluted him with his mug, and Caleb retreated to hide behind the bathroom door.
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Setting up the mess tent was an exercise in patience and humility. Even with Charles's help, they had to start over multiple times. "Nothin' is labeled? Really?" Caleb sighed as he helped Charles dismantle the portion they had just put up. Wren only shook his head and did what he could to help.
After the majority of the tent was erected, he also stepped away, found a spot where the signal was strong enough for an outgoing call, and dialed the airline. He had his return flight refunded, minus a "service charge." Then he called his roommate, Travis, in San Diego.
"Hello?" Travis's voice came over the phone.
"Hey, Travis. Wren here." Wren rubbed his head. "So I'm not coming back. Some things have happened here, and I need to stay. I know what a hassle it is to find a roommate, so if you don't have one by the time rent is due, let me know. I'll pay the month."
"Oh. Well, okay." Travis sounded thoughtful. "Do you need your stuff? You still have some clothes, and a few other things here." Wren heard something in his voice. Subtle, but there was more Travis left unsaid.
"Yeah. That'd be great. I'll send money for the shipping." Wren hesitated, then he went for it. "So, you doing okay?"
"Yeah. I'm okay." There was a wavering quality in Travis's tone. He was quiet, then he sighed. "Well, not really. I guess, since you're not coming back I can just tell you. I've been thinking about, ah, about what you caught me doing." He took a shaky breath. "I can't stop thinking about it."
Wren hid his surprise. "Yeah?" His mind churned. Travis sounded like he just told him he'd murdered a man, and this time Wren determined to be supportive. He struggled to find something constructive he could say, then his eyes widened. "Hey. Have you thought of maybe exploring that a little more?"
The silence was pronounced as Travis thought. He finally replied, "What do you mean?"
"Well, I know of this guy." Wren bit his lip as he spoke. "He runs this, ah, service. Where guys and even couples can go, and experience, uh, stuff." Wren distinctly remembered seeing a man in a sweaty jock with another guy's face buried in his crotch on Mr. Branson's website.
Travis exhaled over the connection. "For real?"
"Yeah. Look it up. 'Managing Discipline.' His site is the first one that will come up."
Wren heard a keyboard in the background. Travis inhaled in surprise over the receiver. "Whoa."
Wren grinned. "Yeah, that's what I said when I first saw it too. The fellow who runs it is called 'Branson'. You should message him on the site." Wren's tongue appeared at the corner of his mouth. "If you do, tell him Wren sent you."
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Charles grinned as they set up the double cot. "Look. Room for two."
Caleb glared at him, and Wren snorted with a laugh. After a couple of hours, they had finished with setting up the tent. Now they moved bedding, camp lights, and various supplies in under the protection of the canvas. The shelter was hell to set up, but it was sturdy, big, and could comfortably accommodate up to a half-dozen people.
Wren smirked and shook his head. "I'm fine sleeping in my little nest on my pad." Caleb watched him roll out his three-inch thick foam pad on the other side of the tent. Both the cot and the sleeping pad created a little sleeping nook, with a two-foot wide walkway between them.
Charles stood back, hands on his hips and looked at the setup. "This looks awful snug. Cozy."
"It's a tent," Caleb said. "Only so cozy it can be. But at least it's not the dead of summer or winter. It'll be bearable."
"Till when?" Charles leaned so he could look out the front flap of the tent a dozen feet away. The tent faced Beecher's old house, and the elder Shaw brother rubbed his chin. "You're tearing down the old place, but how long will it take to get something else built?"
Wren straightened from arranging his bedding. "Well, since I'm here on site I'll be really motivated to get it done." He narrowed his eyes in thought. "Some of the foundation under papaw's house is sound - cement piers instead of loose brick. That can be reused in the new structure. But I'll still have to do a lot of prep and groundwork. Plus, I'll have to widen the foundation to accommodate my design." He looked a bit uncertain. "I know all about designing them, and I've helped with different aspects of building houses. Never built one entirely from scratch myself."
"We've done it - from foundation to roof." Caleb nodded. "Helped our folks with their place in Louisa. It's a pretty little house too." Caleb's expression changed to curious. "What kinda place you thinking anyway?"
Wren considered what he wanted to say, then he sighed. "Well, it's probably nothing you guys have seen or heard of, though it's not that different from any other house. It'll start with post and beam," Charles nodded, and Wren continued, "then we'll infill with straw bales on edge."
Caleb and Charles frowned. "Straw bales? You're building a house out of straw?" Caleb couldn't keep the incredulous tone out of his voice.
Wren nodded. "Yep. The only houses in California to survive the wildfires we had recently were made of strawbale, cob or adobe. They're almost fireproof, quiet, and beautiful." Wren glanced back and forth at each of the dubious Shaw brothers. "Okay, you guys will just have to trust me here."
Charles laughed and shrugged. "All right. It's your house. We'll help however often we're able." He smirked. "Long as you help me with hay season."
It was a well-known fact that Wren hated throwing hay. He groaned. "Ugh. Anything, anything other than hay!" Wren bargained. "Fencing? Feeding? Harvesting? Butchering chickens? Come on, anything else."
Caleb laughed as Wren and Charles continued to bicker about their planned work-trade. They all knew Charles and Caleb would help Wren build his house, and that Wren would help as much as possible with anything the Shaws needed - including baling and tossing hay into their barn.
After a few more minutes, Charles had to go, and he drove back up to his place. The next item on the list for Caleb and Wren was the repair of the tractor.
They got into Caleb's truck and were soon on the road. Caleb had been busy all morning, and he'd managed to avoid overthinking about how he struggled to define what happened earlier in the day with Wren. Now, his mind had the quiet space it needed for processing.
Wren seemed content to be a passenger, and he looked out the window at the green scenery. Caleb glanced at him and let his eyes sweep from Wren's face, down to his dirty jeans. He couldn't look too long though, and Caleb concentrated back on the road. A weird, fluttering sensation in his belly made him squirm. It felt as if he were stressed, but that feeling warred with one of contentment.
'What is happening?' Caleb turned onto the main road for the area, and they drove through a tiny map-dot of a town called Willard. He glanced again at Wren. This time Wren lay back in his seat and stared out of the windshield. He too looked deep in thought.
Wren looked over at him and sighed. His voice was tremulous when he spoke. "You ever feel like you're walking around in a dream? And anything you do will fuck it up. And you'll wake, and it'll be over."
Caleb's attention was back on the road, but he could see Wren looking at him from the corner of his eye. Caleb swallowed. "I don't know." He blew out a breath. "We're friends, Wren." He shook his head. "I don't want that to change."
After a few seconds of scrutiny, Wren again faced forward. "So, that means I'm supposed to forget about this morning?" He shook his head. "Because I don't think I can." He whispered, "I don't think I want to."
The sensation in Caleb's gut increased. "I don't know what you're askin' of me." Caleb exhaled. "Yeah, something happened. And, I… I need to think about it. I need to figure out some stuff, okay?"
"Yeah. Got it." Wren crossed his arms over his chest. "Pretend it didn't happen."
Caleb felt the anger and disappointment from Wren. "I didn't say that, damn it."
"But you meant it. That's what you meant." Wren shook his head. "It's fine."
His tone told Caleb it wasn't 'fine'. The big Shaw boy was out of his depth and floundered. "Wren, I don't know what you want from me. Just tell me what you want, fuck!"
Wren was silent, his eyes on the dash, eyebrows furrowed. Finally, he sighed a defeated breath. "Too much, I guess. I want too much."
"That's not an answer. That's just another fucking riddle." Caleb started to heat up. "What. Do. You. Want?"
Wren looked over at him. Caleb stopped at the single light in Hitchens, a small town on the way to Grayson and returned his stare.
The light changed, but Caleb continued to glare at him, unmoving. The car behind them honked, then pulled around the truck. Caleb ignored it. "Tell me what you want."
Wren's eyes softened with discouragement. He shook his head once and faced forward again. "Nothing you can give me."
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Wren stewed. He didn't speak at all in the store as they shopped for the parts they'd need to repair the tractor. After that chore, they went to buy some food that didn't require refrigeration at the local grocer, then they were back on the road again.
Caleb didn't try to engage him on the return trip. They were both irritated and quiet, which made for an awkward ride home.
They were supposed to stop for lunch at Wren's mother's. Wren didn't want to be around anyone, particularly Caleb at the moment. He needed to think. Plus, he didn't need his mom trying to figure out what was wrong with him.
As the truck turned down the road leading into the holler, Wren finally spoke, "Can you just drop me off at the tent?"
Caleb frowned and looked at him. "What? You don't even want to be around me, now?"
"Caleb, I just… I just need to think."
Caleb snorted. "Hey, that's all I asked for too." He ignored Wren's request and turned down Rachel's gravel drive. "But we both know how far I got with that."
Wren glared at him but found himself without the moral high ground to stand on. He leaned back in the seat, crossed his arms and glowered.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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