Camp Refuge

Chapter 24 - Camp Refuge

 June 26, 2018 (Tuesday, 7:25 AM)

Orson and Joseph cleaned themselves up the best they could in the confines of Joseph's tent. They dressed, then they got out. Orson stood on his crutches and looked around. It appeared that his exit from the small dwelling had gone unnoticed by the few folks who were up and about.

Joseph stood up and stretched, and then he smiled at Orson. "I'm gonna go shower. Meet me over at the kitchen for breakfast?"

Orson grinned. "Yeah. Sounds good. I'll see ya there."

He watched Joseph as the man sauntered away toward the showers. Orson made an appreciative noise as he checked out the tall, well-proportioned officer. He shook his head at himself, and he made his way over to his cabin, only a short distance away.

Orson entered. "Elias?" He shut the door behind him, and he came around the corner of the entrance.

Elias sat on the futon. His head was down, and he stared at his hands as they dangled limply between his knees.

"Hey." Orson felt an immediate concern come over him. "Hey, you okay?" He sat beside Elias, and he felt a sharp stab of angst when Elias turned his head away a little. "Elias? What's wrong?"

The boy's mouth worked. "You didn't come home. I looked for you."

Orson felt as if a band had tightened over his chest. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He put his arm around Elias' shoulders. The boy relaxed a little and leaned against Orson a bit. Orson could see the dark circles under Elias' eyes. "Did you sleep last night?"

"Not after I woke up and you weren't here." Elias swallowed. "It's okay. I'm used to people not staying. Mom was always gone." He nodded as if he knew things would be the same way. "I think people just need to get away from me."

Orson felt crushing guilt and pulled him into a hug. "No. No, that's not okay." Elias quietly held on to him. "Look, I … I should have told you where I was. Okay? I was just across the road." He licked his lips. "I was with Joseph. You know, Officer Wells?"

Elias pulled back and looked at Orson. He studied the man's face for a long moment, then his shoulders slumped. His face took on a resigned expression, and he slowly nodded. "Okay."

"No. Again, that's not okay." Orson gently turned Elias to look at him. "Elias, I don't want you to be upset. And it's obvious you are." He rubbed the young man's back. "What can I do to make it better?"

Elias frowned and he teared up. He looked at Orson with eyes which were weary and fearful. "Are you gonna get rid of me because you have Officer Wells?"

"Elias, no. No no no." Orson hugged the boy tight against him. "Never. I promise." Elias buried his face against Orson's neck, and he squeezed Orson hard.

After a couple of minutes, the boy released him, sat back up, and he wiped his face. Orson waited for a little and patted his back. "Hey," Elias looked over at him. "If you tell me that you don't want me to see Joseph anymore, then I won't."

Elias stared at Orson. The boy blinked, and another tear escaped to roll down his face. "Really?"

Orson couldn't quite keep the disappointment off his face, although he tried. He nodded. "Yeah. If that's what you want."

Elias looked at him, and Orson watched his expression shift to one of pure wonder. Orson realized that Elias began to understand the level of Orson's commitment to him. His eyes moved around as he processed this information and Orson could tell he struggled with it.

"I'll just … I'll just stop seeing him." Orson patted Elias's knee. Then he fought to keep the deep sense of loss he felt from his face. He forced a smile. "I mean, it was only this once. So, it's fine.” He tried to convince himself too. “It'll be fine."

Elias stared into Orson's eyes. "You like him."

Orson tried to avoid tears, and he barely did. Though, his eyes glittered with their threat. "I do." He shook his head and pushed back hard on his emotions. "It doesn't matter. You matter. And I'm gonna do whatever I need to do, to help you."

Elias looked at him a little longer. Then he turned forward and stared down at his hands. He seemed to be deep in thought. After a quiet moment, Orson saw him give a slight nod. The boy looked at him again. "Does Officer Wells make you happy?"

Orson laughed. "I think that maybe he could have, somewhere down the line."

Elias pursed his lips, and he shook his head. "Then I don't want you to stop."

It was Orson's turn to feel wonder. 'He cares more about my happiness than his own.' The black-haired man gave a little, short laugh. "Wow. Elias." He hugged the boy with the arm that rested over his shoulders. "Are you sure? Because if this is going to upset or make you sad, then I'm not going to do it."

"I know." He smiled, his expression now sure and confident. "You're not like mom. She never would have said what you did." Elias slipped out from under his arm and stood. "I'm gonna go make more pottery."

"Oh. Okay." Orson felt a little whiplash by the shift in Elias' priorities. "Uh, if you need a nap or something, come on home and take one, okay? And go over to the kitchen in a bit to get some breakfast."

"All right." With a wave, Elias was out the door.

Orson sat there a little longer. He felt both relieved and a little overwhelmed. Finally, he shook his head and laughed.

"Wow. That kid is a trip."

With a bemused smile, he stood up, grabbed his crutches, and went to find a certain blonde-headed officer.


June 26, 2018 (Tuesday, 7:52 AM)

Clay spent an entertaining morning watching Joseph and Orson. The two men sat as close as they dared on the picnic table bench. He could tell they wanted to keep whatever happened between them under wraps - at least for now.

'It's early. I get that.' Clay mused, and he caught Joseph as he shot Orson another furtive little smile. Clay grinned, then looked down at his plate, so he wasn't seen observing the two.

The picnic table held a rotating cast of people. Campers paid into the breakfast, and either Clay or Greg made pancakes, bacon, and eggs. Though, they called the payment a "donation" to avoid trouble with business licensing, food permitting and such. It was a very social, happy place to be, with couples, singles, and a few with kids. They'd already fed a dozen people. Most were folks they didn't even know.

And that was good news. Word slowly spread about the campground. More and more folks began to trickle in. And Greg's initial suspicion that the purpose of the campground could be a draw was right. Most of the newcomers heard about the gay-friendly atmosphere, and that is why they picked their campground over the ½ dozen others within a thirty-minute drive. The ones who showed up randomly were quickly educated on the nature of the place. Some left shortly after, but others shrugged and stayed.

Clay stood up to wash his dishes and those of a few of the campers who had finished eating. He carried them over to the sink and stood close behind Greg as the man flipped another couple of pancakes.

"Hey, sexy." Clay leaned over, and Greg smiled at him. Then the two men kissed.

"Hey. And you're pretty sexy yourself, mister." Greg gave him that lopsided smile Clay loved so much.

Clay gave him another little peck, and then a voice cleared which brought the guys back to reality. Orson stood on his crutches across the counter from the sink. He smirked at Clay. "Hey, loverboy." Then his expression changed, and he looked nervous. "Can I talk to you for a little?"

Clay put the dishes in the sink. "Yeah." He looked over at Greg. "I'll be back to do these. Or if you see Mason, get him to do them!"

Greg laughed, his hazel eyes twinkling. He nodded, most of his attention on the pancakes in the cast iron pan on the gas range. Clay walked around and joined Orson.

The two of them walked over to Orson's cabin, and Clay followed him inside.

Orson went to his futon, and he sat. Clay took a seat beside him, and he turned a little to look at the quiet black-haired man.

"What's up, Orson?" Clay asked, as nonchalantly as he could manage.

Orson licked his lips, and he glanced over at Clay. "I needed to ask your opinion, Clay." He rubbed his knee nervously and exhaled with an audible sound.

"Sure. Whatever you wanna talk about is cool."

Orson nodded and bit his lip. "Okay. So, I think maybe I'm not quite as asexual as I thought. I guess I'm more of a Gray Asexual. It's where someone is attracted to only a tiny fraction of the population." Orson's eyes were unfocused, and he looked ahead, and Clay could see his brain churning.

"Yeah?" Clay smiled. "Well, how'd you figure this out?" Clay knew precisely how, but he wanted to hear it from Orson.

Orson blew out another breath, and he ran his hand over his head. The silver streak in his hair stood out in sharp contrast to the rest of the very dark color. "I … ah … I sort of have the hots for Officer Wells."

Clay smiled, and he put a hand on Orson's back. "Well, that's all right, yeah? I mean, you don't know if he's gay or not, but …"

"Oh, I know," Orson said with a certain tone. Then he blushed. He cast another glance at Clay, and then he laughed. "He’s bisexual. And … I slept in his tent last night."

"Fuck yeah, man!" Clay grinned and clapped Orson on his shoulder.

Orson grinned back at him. The expression was a little pained from embarrassment, but mostly he seemed thrilled to Clay. "Heh. Thanks." Then he got serious. "But, what I really wanted to talk to you about is Elias."

Orson went on to discuss his interaction with Elias earlier in the morning. Clay listened carefully, and he watched Orson as the man recounted the moment.

After he was done, Orson sighed with indecision. "So, I don't really know. I mean … I don't know if I should try to keep going with Joseph. Or even IF Joseph wants to keep going. Maybe what we did was just for fun for him?" Orson seemed a little lost as he sat there. "I'm fucking confused, and I don't want to hurt Elias. And I don't want to get hurt. But, I do want to see what Joseph wants, and I hope it's to see me again." He stopped suddenly, and he snorted at himself. "Fuck. I'm sorry. I'm just … I'm rambling." Orson blinked, and he stared down at his hands where they were clasped in his lap. "I don't know what I should do." His voice was so quiet it was nearly a whisper.

Clay smiled. The amount of fondness he had for this man grew the more he got to know him.

"Are you always the good soldier, Orson?" He reached and put his arm around Orson's shoulders. "You keep saying, 'I don't know what I should do.' But, you already know what you WANT to do." Clay squeezed him a little. "Man … you're ready to give up the only person you've ever been attracted to." Clay shook his head. "Do you know what that tells me?"

Orson looked at him, his eyes unsure. "No."

Clay smiled. "It tells me how selfless you are. It tells me you love that boy." Clay's green eyes sparkled in the light of the cabin. "And you know what else? That Elias didn't MAKE you, even after you gave him the chance?" Clay grinned, a fiercely glad expression. "It tells me that he loves you too. That he wants you to be happy, even if it means he might have to share you."

Orson sat there. After a little while, he slowly nodded and smiled. "I do love that kid." He rubbed his face and breathed. "Okay. Okay, so let's say I decide to give things with Joseph a shot. What happens now?" He shrugged and looked totally lost. "I've never done this, man. I mean, not really. I don't know what I'm doing."

Clay laughed. "Nobody does!" He waved his hands. "It's fucking terrifying for all of us."

Orson's eyes widened, and he made a face at Clay. "Okay, that's great to know," he said in a shocked voice. Then he shook his head and laughed. "Wow. I think I'm gonna ask a boy on a date."

"You should. You've got some built-in kid watchers too." Clay winked at Orson. "Elias will be fine. You guys should go have lunch, somewhere in town or something."

Orson seemed to think it over, and he nodded. "Yeah." He warmed to the idea, and he smiled. "Yeah. That's a good plan. I'll talk to Elias about it first, see if he'd be okay with it. Then I'll see if Joseph likes the idea."

"Do that." Clay patted Orson's back then he jerked his head at the door. "Come on. Let's get back out there." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "You've got a tall, blonde officer to seduce."

"Hah!" Orson barked a laugh and stood up. He reached for his crutches. "Already done that. Apparently, the crutches were just too much of a draw for Officer Wells."

"That's right. Work the gimp factor," Clay said. He held the door, and Orson cackled with laughter as he exited the cabin.

The pair were soon back at the kitchen. Joseph was up at the sink, and he washed a pile of dishes. Greg stood behind him and threw up his hands as the guys walked to them. "He wanted to do them. I'm not gonna say no."

Clay watched Orson as the black-haired man grinned at Joseph. The blonde officer looked up at Orson, and he smiled broadly.

Greg noticed. He gave a suspicious look at the two of them, then he glanced at Clay. The big man only smirked.

'Later, Greg. I'll tell ya later.' With that thought, Clay smiled.


June 26, 2018 (Tuesday, 11:27 AM)

Gary sat behind the counter of his little shop in Crescent City. And he smiled at the woman at his register. "Thanks for your business. Enjoy that mug. It's by a new artist in town." She happily left with her purchase, and Gary stood up to look at the shelf where Elias' pottery sat.

'Jeez, that stuff sells quick.' He shook his head. He was down to four mugs, and Mason had dropped off a dozen only yesterday morning.

Gary sat back down. He was exhausted today, and he frowned down at his hands. His skin was pale, and he had so little strength lately.

He went to the clinic late last week for some testing. And as he began to wonder about his results his phone started to ring. He looked at the screen.

"Huh. Speak of the devil." He answered. "Hello, this is Gary."

"Hi, Mr. Flemming. This is Darci, Dr. Wade's nurse. And we've got some lab results for you." He heard her shuffle a few papers. "So, the doctor would like to see you really soon to go over them. Can you come in this afternoon?"

Gary had never gotten an appointment so quickly. Most of the time the clinic was scheduled weeks out. "Ah, I guess I can close up a little early. Is 4:00 gonna work?"

"Let me check." A few keyboard presses later, "Yes. That will be fine. We'll see you then. Make sure to come in 15 minutes early so we can take your vital signs, okay?"

"Sure. Okay, see you then."

Gary hung up and thoughtfully looked at his phone.

'Pretty sure I'm gonna get some bad news.' His jaw worked, and he turned to his laptop next to the register.

With slow, deliberate strokes he began to type.


June 26, 2018 (Tuesday, 8:36 PM)

Harlan finished his chores, and he relaxed on his bed, reading in his cabin. He worked for Trinity Hot Springs, a resort in rural Idaho. At least, that was one of his jobs.

He had no assignments currently, so his days were filled with his work at the resort and his martial art drills. It was easy, non-demanding, and took only a small fraction of his capacity. He wasn't exactly bored, but he also wasn't challenged if he wasn't on assignment.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he frowned. He looked at the device.

Harlan slowly sat up and stared at the screen.

"Son of a bitch," he whispered. He looked off into space then he nodded to himself. He navigated to the number pad and dialed a number from memory.

"Hello, Harlan." The voice of Harlan's REAL boss came over the connection. "What can I do for you?"

"Hello, my Don," Harlan spoke very respectfully. Though the man was cordial on the phone with Harlan, the Don was definitely in charge. "I need to take some time. Perhaps … a bit of it. An issue has come up in California, and I need to see to it."

"Is this anything I need to know?"

Harlan shook his head through habit. "No, my Don. With your permission, I will handle this issue myself."

"Very well. You have my permission. If you need longer than two weeks, inform me, or if you need help then let me know."

"I will, my Don. Thank you." Harlan hung up. Then he stood and immediately began to pack.

'I'll need to buy a tent.'


June 27, 2018 (Wednesday, 5:57 AM)

Greg looked up from his coffee cup as the car turned into the loop from the highway. The vehicle slowed to a stop and idled beside the Airstream. The early morning fog swirled around it and made it difficult for Greg to see the occupant.

Greg stood and made sure to take his mug with him. He ambled over to the car, and the window rolled down as he did.

"Hi." Greg smiled at the brown-haired man behind the wheel. "You looking to get a site?"

The fellow’s eyes were critical and flicked about to take in Greg's gait, stance, and overall manner. Greg noticed, and got a distinct impression that he was being assessed. The man nodded, "Yep. Am I too early?"

"We're not usually open for new campers until 8, but I'm up and ready. So you can take any unoccupied spot that strikes your fancy." Greg did a little assessing of his own. The man was lean, unassuming, an average looking guy. No identifying marks that Greg could see. There was only a single, silver ring on his right hand. But there was something about him that pinged in Greg's mind. Regardless, he went through his normal verbiage about the camp. "So you're aware, we are a gay-friendly campground. Anybody's welcome, so long as they respect everyone else here."

Harlan's lips twitched a little, and he almost smiled. "That won't be a problem."

"Okay, good." Greg forced a smile. "Then, welcome to Camp Refuge." He stuck out his hand. "I'm Greg. Let me know if you need anything."

The man shook Greg's hand. "Harlan. And I will." Greg got the impression of a restrained strength in his grip. "Thanks."

Greg watched as the car drove deeper into the campground. He frowned to himself.

'Harlan … where have I heard that name?'


June 27, 2018 (Wednesday, 10:52 AM)

Gary sat in his shop, and he felt slightly better today. Which struck him as funny, considering he now knew the issue.

His clinic visit yesterday went about how he expected. He hadn’t known what was wrong, exactly, only that something was. And now he had a name to go along with his symptoms.

"Leukemia." He sighed and shook his head slightly at his medical report. Next week, he was supposed to go see a specialist down in the San Francisco Bay area. He had a particularly fast and aggressive sort. Right now he was on the cusp of requiring a transfusion, due to the anemia caused by the condition. So time was not exactly on his side.

His options were not set in stone until he saw the specialist. But Dr. Wade went over some general choices.

"It may respond to chemo or radiation therapy. It may not. If it doesn't, then the next option will be a bone marrow transplant."

Gary remembered the words. He immediately thought of the massive cost of all of this. His insurance was for a catastrophic scenario, which this was. But it would still cost a vast sum of money in his share of cost and deductible.

'This is going to break me. If it doesn't kill me, it'll break me.' He sagged in his chair. He had worked hard his whole life. And here a quirk of his genetics was going to destroy everything he had built.

He only had his shop and a small, two bedroom house in Crescent City. His truck barely held together, and he wasn't sure it would even make the trip to the specialist.

He needed a distraction. Gary loaded up his email and checked one more time. Still no response. He sent a message yesterday to his son's old email address. In it, he apologized, told Harlan he suspected a severe diagnosis, and he talked about the new campground in the area.

He felt dejected by his failure to reach Harlan, and he closed the laptop. It was just as well, as the bell to the door of the shop tinkled as someone came inside. Gary stood up. "Hi, how can I …" his eyes widened as the man entered and walked toward the counter.



June 27, 2018 (Wednesday, 3:43 PM)

Jeremy sat at his desk, and he slowly read the email twice. He forced himself to take deep, calming breaths.

His funding was gone. The funder had chosen a small, Catholic after-school program instead for the grant. The Raven Project had another month of operating capital, and he had until then to secure a new funding source. If he didn't, then the Raven Project was dead.

Jeremy felt frustrated tears start, and he let them stream down his face. He shook his head, and he picked up his cell phone.

Mason picked up after the second ring. "Hey. How are you?"

Jeremy couldn't keep this secret anymore. "Hey. I'm not good."

"What's wrong?" Mason could tell Jeremy was upset, and his voice instantly shifted to concern. "Do you need me to come there?"

"No." The redhead rubbed his face. "I lost my funding. The Raven Project is in trouble. I've got another month, and if I can't get additional funding then … then it's gone."

"Ohhhh … oh no. I'm so sorry. What can we do? There's gotta be something."

Jeremy tried hard not to spiral. "I need to focus on another funder." He propped his head upon his hand. "Elias is the only one of the kids I don't worry about now. The rest though, the rest are all at risk. They're the reason for the project. They're exactly the reason for the project."

Mason's calming voice helped a little. "It's okay. We've got time, right? We'll figure it out."

"I hope so." Jeremy shook his head. "Because if we don't, there are going to be some repercussions in the lives of those young people." Jeremy frowned. "Bad ones."

Author's Note:

Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link.   Wayne Gray

And thank you for reading! 

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