Camp Refuge

Chapter 6 - Camp Refuge

May 18, 2018 (Friday)

Mason helped Jeremy finish up the last touches of his campsite set-up.  It was obvious Jeremy camped a lot. He had a nice, stand-up tent, a comfortable 2" thick foam pad to sleep on, and a string of solar lights he hung from his tent poles.  He really didn't need much help at all, but after they were done he thanked the lanky teenager all the same.

The two finished up and they started the walk back to Clay and Greg.  On the way, Mason agonized over what to say to the handsome young man.  Jeremy seemed content to walk quietly and looked at the cabins as he walked past.  Mason could tell Jeremy liked what he saw - the redhead smiled as he passed the four renovated cabins on this side of the loop.

"I love the cabins," Jeremy said and looked over at Mason.  "Did you work on them?"

Mason nodded.  "A little. Though mostly that was Greg and my dad."  He motioned at the spaces between the buildings. "Most of my work was cutting down the blackberries and other briars.  They were almost to the roofs of the cabins." Mason was very aware of his accent as he spoke to Jeremy. Jeremy's voice and language were both beautiful, and Mason couldn't help but feel self-conscious.

"Oh wow."  Jeremy nodded at him.  "Nice work. That had to be tough."  The redhead smiled and Mason felt as if his legs had turned to jelly.

"Uhhh … it …" he stammered a bit, "it was."  Mason smiled back. He could feel his heart beating in his chest, and it thudded along to its own fast tempo.

Jeremy reached and companionably patted his back.  Mason licked his lips and felt a little panic as his cock began to wake at the brief contact. Along with a t-shirt and sandals he wore only his cargo shorts today, and he kicked himself for not putting on underwear.

Luckily for him, they just made it to the patio table and Mason quickly took a seat.  His dad and Greg sat in what had become their favorite way to relax together - Greg's head over on Clay's shoulder, and Clay's hand on Greg's leg.  When the guys sat Greg straightened.

Jeremy scooted his chair in.  "You looked pretty comfortable."  He smiled at the men. "Don't bother yourself on my account."

Greg smiled at the comment.  "Appreciate that." He looked over at Clay.  "I'm still a little weirded out by the public display stuff."  He grinned at Clay and patted the big man's hand on his leg. "But, it's getting easier."

Jeremy nodded.  "Do whatever makes you comfortable.  But you should know that this," he motioned at Clay and Greg as they sat close to one another, "does nothing but make me happy.  Men showing affection for one another is something I want the kids in the program to see. I want them to know it's normal and healthy."

Clay smiled.  "Well, maybe we'll get a shot at that next month when I come back."

"You're leaving?"  Jeremy asked.

Greg sighed and frowned at the table.  Clay noticed. "Hey, don't do that." He patted Greg's leg.  Clay refocused on Jeremy. "Yeah. I fly back on Sunday. I still have my job in Alabama, the house, a bunch of stuff."  He looked over at Greg. "And we've not exactly nailed down when Greg is ready for me to be here full time."

"Now,"  Greg said instantly and emphatically.  He looked at Clay, his eyes intense. "The sooner the better, Clay."

Mason spoke up, "It'd be nice to have you here all the time, dad."

Clay looked down at the table and his eyes shifted as he thought.  He worked his jaw and looked up at Greg. "You really sure?"

Jeremy glanced back and forth at the men.  He stood up. "You guys should talk." He clapped a hand on Mason's shoulder.  "Come on. Show me the campground, and tell me about the work you guys did. I really wanna see that kitchen area!"

Mason's problem below the waist had calmed enough for him to stand up without embarrassing himself.  "The kitchen is cool. It was Greg's idea to put it in, and he did most of the work on it." The two walked through the middle of the campground toward the kitchen and chatted as they went.

Clay watched them go.  "Jeremy is pretty observant, and courteous."  He smiled. "I guess Mason could have a worse crush."

"Yeah,"  Greg patted Clay's leg.  "I wonder how Jeremy feels about that?"

"He seems to like the attention.  I've noticed a few times now, Jeremy will touch him when it's not totally necessary."  Clay frowned a little. "Gotta admit … I don't like that much. Mason's just a kid."

"Mason is almost 18.  And Jeremy is … what? At most 24, 25?  The beard makes him look older than he is.  He's probably even younger." Greg reached and rubbed the back of Clay's head.  "Calm down, 'dad'. Jeremy seems to be a good guy. I don't think he's gonna take advantage of Mason."

Clay grumbled.  "Fine." He turned his eyes from the pair walking through the campground back to Greg.  "We've got stuff to talk about anyway."

"Not really.  I want you here as soon as you can get here."  Greg shrugged. "It's pretty simple on my end."

Clay stared at him, then slowly nodded.  "Okay." He took a breath. "You're sure?  I mean … I'm talking about moving here, lock, stock, and barrel."  He wet his lips nervously. "I'm talking about living with you. BEING with you."

"I know.  That's what I want, Clay."  Greg smiled at him. "We've been together for a long time as partners in our professional lives.  So, I already know your brand of crazy" He grinned. "And it fits pretty well with mine."

Clay looked down at the tabletop.  He breathed slowly, and his face twitched.  Greg cocked his head, and he saw the big man's eyes begin to well up.  "Awww … Clay." The last time Greg had seen Clay cry was when Kathy had died.  Greg slipped out of his chair and got on his knees in front of him. Greg leaned forward and hugged Clay as he sat in the chair.  "Everything okay?"

Clay's arms went around him and he put his face against Greg's neck.  "Yeah." Clay's voice was muffled and Greg felt tears roll off Clay's face and down the side of his neck.  The big man squeezed Greg. "I was sure after the first night here what I wanted."

Greg smiled as he held Clay in his arms.  "And what do you want, Clay?"

"This."  He took a shaky breath.  "I want you in my arms." He moved his face up, lips close to Greg's ear.  "I want this ... I want it forever, Greg." The whisper was low but filled with conviction.

Greg's breath caught in his throat.  "Are … are you saying what I think you are?"

Clay raised his head.  Tears continued to streak down his face, but his eyes were open and unashamed.  "I think I am." He smiled. "If you'll have me."

Greg reeled.  He never imagined something like this could ever happen.  His answer was unconscious and spilled from him. "Yes." He inhaled as he realized what they had just done.  "Oh fuck." He stared at Clay. "Did I … are we …" he blinked. "Clay … what'd you do?"

Greg had only seen this particular expression on Clay's face once, on the day he married Kathy.  His eyes were wide, his head was up, and the smile on his face was one of pure, unstinting joy. "I asked my best friend to marry me."  His eyes were an impossible green. "And he said yes."

Greg's expression was stunned.  "Clay, this wasn't supposed to ever happen to me."

Clay put a hand on the back of Greg's neck.  "I know you're surprised. I didn't plan to ask until next month, but … it just felt like the time."  He leaned forward and gently kissed Greg. They both melted into the kiss, and they slowly drew apart.  Clay rubbed his hair and searched Greg's eyes. "Are you sure you want this? Really? Last chance to back out before I really let it sink in."

Greg now had more of his faculties about him.  "I have a condition. I'm not doing distance, Clay.  You'll need to be here." He nodded, his mind made up.  "I want you with me. You do that, then … yes. Really."  He smiled. "Yes."

Clay grinned.  "Done deal." He nodded, his eyes thoughtful.  "I've already inquired about retirement. The department knows it could be coming."  He gave Greg an affectionate squeeze. "It depended on how this visit went if I pulled the trigger."

"Wow.  You really have been planning!"  Greg laughed. It still wasn't quite real to Greg's brain that Clay had asked him to marry.  He looked at Clay a moment, and he took a breath. "Are we really engaged?"

Clay swallowed and nodded.  "Yeah. I guess we are." He put his hand on the side of Greg's face.  "I love you. I have for years. And this is the final piece of that."

Greg nodded and didn't trust his voice to hold.  He simply pulled Clay to his chest. And silently the two men held each other.

_______________________________________

Jeremy walked under the roof structure of the kitchen area.  He took in the trusses and the joinery work done by Greg and he nodded at the craftsmanship.  "Wow. They did great work here." He walked slowly along and examined the posts, the sink, and the rough flagstone floor set into mortar.  Curious, he opened the under counter fridge and freezer too.

Mason leaned on the counter and watched him.  Everything Jeremy did and said, and all that he was tweaked some part of his brain.  He struggled to process what he felt, and still couldn't quite parse it all in a coherent manner.  Instead, he was washed along by a wild flood of feeling and emotion. And it was everything he could do to present as a sane person around the redhead.

Jeremy's curiosity satisfied, he turned to Mason.  "We've still got some daylight. Wanna walk down to the river with me?"

Mason nodded and motioned to the south.  "Yeah, I'll take you down there. It's really nice."

They fell into step and walked around the other side of the campground.  This route took them by the tent sites Jeremy had yet to see. Mason watched as Jeremy seemed to file away what was available in his mind.  "Are you working right now?" Mason asked and Jeremy smiled.

"I guess I am."  He nodded. "It's all about the kids.  I need to make sure they're going to have a good experience."  His lips pressed into a thin line. "They've been through so much, and the first thing for me is to do no additional harm to them."

Mason nodded.  "You really care about them a lot."  He held a blackberry vine at the start of the path that led down to the river so Jeremy could pass by.  He made a mental note to cut it back more once they returned to the camp.

"Someone needs to.  They deserve that." He squeezed past Mason on the narrow path and put his hands on the boy's slim hips as he slipped by.  He didn't linger, but Mason still reacted to the contact. Inwardly the teenager groaned at his lack of control.

Jeremy led the way and soon they stood on the small beach.  They both looked out over the river beyond. It was a nice evening, and still warm.

Jeremy looked longingly at the water.  "I know the water is too cold to swim. But man … it looks so nice."

Mason pushed his erection down his shorts leg while Jeremy looked at the river.  "Uh, yeah. It's pretty cold right now." He walked over to stand next to the shorter man.  "Greg said it'll probably be fine in a month though."

Jeremy nodded.  "Yeah, I've camped on the Smith before.  Even June is pushing it," He smiled at Mason, "but I love to swim."  His eyes went back to the water. "And I always get in the water, at least once per camping trip."

"Maybe we can try it tomorrow?"  Mason suggested. "Wait till the afternoon for the water to warm?"

Jeremy's smile broadened.  "Yeah. That sounds good." His eyes lingered for a bit on Mason's face, then he blinked.  Mason saw a powerful blush hit him, and Jeremy cleared his throat. "Okay … well, thanks for showing me around."  He nodded toward the trail that led north into the campground. "We should get back. I'm getting hungry, and I have some stuff in my cooler I can grill up.  You think Greg would mind if I invaded his space? He's got a nice set-up."

"No, he won't mind.  Let's go." Mason turned and led the way back up the trail.  'What was that look?' His mind seized on Jeremy's behavior.

He still obsessed over it as they entered the campground proper.  The two walked along the pavement to Jeremy's tent and Jeremy picked up his cooler.  Mason could hear ice sloshing around inside, and Jeremy seemed to struggle with it a little.

"Oh, let me help you."  Mason took a handle and Jeremy smiled in gratitude.

"Thanks, Mason."

They walked with the cooler held by the handles between them.  As they neared the Airstream they saw Greg on his feet as he checked the grill.  He seemed satisfied, and he removed some sort of meat from a bag where it had marinaded.

They arrived and they sat the cooler down by the grill just as he lay the flank steak on the hot metal.  The smell of the marinade and meat hit them at the same time.

"Mmmmm."  The sound was collective from all of the men, and each of them laughed.  Greg looked over at Jeremy. "I'm guessing you're not a vegetarian."

He grimaced and shook his head as if the suggestion was the most awful thing he could imagine.  "Ah, no. Definitely not a vegetarian." He eyed the meat on the grill. "I've got my own stuff too.  Anybody want some tequila-lime chicken?"

"Oh … that sounds good."  Clay's voice came from the Airstream and he came out with two bottles of cider.  "You okay to share?"

"Yeah, no problem."  Jeremy nodded at the policeman and he pulled his bag of meat out of the cooler.  Greg reached and took it out of his hands. "Hey, what are you doing?"

Greg laughed.  "I'm the grillmaster at this site!"  He smiled at Jeremy and jerked his chin at the camp chair.  "Have a seat. Relax." He looked over at Clay as the big man set the ciders down on the table.  "And if you're old enough, maybe you can talk Clay into a cider."

Jeremy's eyes lit up.  "I'm 22. And I'd love one."  He pulled up his chair and sat.  "Thanks for grilling, Greg. And for the cider, guys."

Clay ducked back into the Airstream.  He returned with another couple of bottles.  He handed a chilled cider to Jeremy, and a kombucha to Mason.

He sat down.  There were the sounds of birds as they sang and flitted about, a gentle breeze that blew through the trees and the meat on the grill as it sizzled.  Jeremy lay his head back and stared up through the limbs of the trees at the darkening blue sky of early evening.

"What a wonderful refuge."  He sighed and took a sip of his cider.

Greg seemed to jerk to attention at the comment.  "Refuge …" he laughed and looked at Clay. "That's our name.  'Camp Refuge'." He and Clay had brainstormed a name for the place, and while they had a few that were acceptable they weren't truly happy with any of them.

Clay approved.  "Yeah. I like that."  He tipped his bottle toward Jeremy.  "Thanks!"

The redhead nodded, a contented look on his face.  "No problem." He looked around the space. "It fits."

"Yeah, it does,"  Mason said and took a drink of his kombucha.  He took on a confused expression and he looked at the label.

Clay noticed.  "Sorry, Mason. The store didn't have the same kind you normally drink.  If you don't like it let me know and we'll get you something else tomorrow."

Mason swallowed and shook his head.  "No, it's fine. It's just different."  The teenager took another sip. Now that he knew what to expect it went down easier.

The men quietly whiled away the time as Greg grilled their meat.  Once that was done he removed a pot of refried beans from the corner of the grill where it had warmed and he put it on the patio table.  He placed a plate of warm corn tortillas beside the beans, and a short stack of empty plates. Lastly, the meat came off and went on its own plate.  He then pulled a container of freshly made salsa from his cooler beside the grill.

"Dinner's up, guys."  Greg put the salsa down and motioned at the food.  "Dig in."

None of them had to be told twice.  Everyone got a bit of everything, and the quiet at the table was proof of the quality of the food.

After about ten minutes, Mason shattered the silence with an impressive belch.  He blushed beet red and put his hand over his mouth. "Sorry … 'scuse me." Clay shook his head while Greg and Jeremy laughed.  

Mason stood up, he wavered a little and frowned, his empty bottle in hand.  "I'm getting another kombucha. Anybody else need something?" There was a chorus of voices, and the teenager returned to the table with an arm-full of beverages.

He handed them out, sat down and grinned.  "Good food." Mason opened his drink. "Thanks, Greg."  There was agreement around the table.

Greg nodded with a smile.  "You're welcome, guys." He pointed at a small chunk of chicken remaining on his plate.  "That marinade is crazy." He eyed Jeremy. "I'll need that recipe."

Jeremy nodded as he finished the last of his flank steak soft taco, and instead of trying to talk around his food he held up a thumb in response.

They finished both their meals and their drinks.  Greg took a plastic tote and began to gather dishes.

"Let me handle the dishes, Greg."  Jeremy stood up and took the tote from him.  "It's the least I can do."

Greg dusted his hands.  "You're not going to hear me fight you on that one."  He smiled, and he looked at Mason. "Mason, can you show Jeremy where everything is in the kitchen?"

The lanky young man nodded, the movement exaggerated.  He stood up and nearly fell. "Whoa."

"You okay?"  Jeremy held the tote of dishes, swayed a little himself, and looked concerned.

"Yeah."  Mason licked his lips.  "Just feel dizzy. Weird."  He smiled, the expression a little addled.

Greg frowned and picked up the bottle Mason left on the table.  "Uh … Clay …" he turned it so Clay could read the very fine print.  "This has alcohol."

Clay's mouth dropped and he grabbed the bottle.  "What?! But, it's that kombucha stuff!"

Jeremy snickered.  "Some kombucha is boozy."  He grinned at Mason. "You're a two-drink drunk!"  Jeremy was a really small guy at 135 lbs. So he had little room to talk about being a two-drink drunk.

"I don't drink, Jeremy, so I can't be drunk!"  Mason laughed and waved his hand. "Come on. I'll help you with dishes."

The two young men walked and staggered away, uncharacteristically chatty and giggly.

Clay flopped back in his chair.  "Shit," he wiped his face. "I bought my underage son alcohol."

Greg sat beside him and patted his leg.  "Well, he could have had his first drink in worse company."

Clay looked over at Greg with a grimace.  He was obviously not happy with himself. "I know you've not forgotten, but I'm a cop."  He sighed. "Damn it." He stewed for a bit then he finally nodded. "But yeah, I guess you're right."  He sat up straight in his chair and looked across the now dark campground. They saw the lights at the kitchen come on, and the silhouettes of both Mason and Jeremy moved about the space.

"They're fine, Clay."  Greg rubbed his back. His voice dropped, "You know, you're going to need to let him be his own man soon."

"Yep.  In a month when he turns 18."  Clay sat back and he drank the last of his cider.

Greg laughed quietly, but he would press it no further.  Instead, he put his arm around Clay's shoulders, and the two men sat in their little slice of paradise.

________________________________________

Jeremy stood next to Mason at the sink and he couldn't help but laugh as the boy scrubbed plates.  He sloshed soapy water all over the place, and Mason giggled when he soaked the front of his own cargo shorts.

"Oops."  He grinned at Jeremy.  The smaller man continued to laugh and Mason's eyes narrowed dangerously.  "Funny huh?" Jeremy didn't notice his danger and he nodded. Mason picked up the basin of soapy water and took a step toward the redhead.  Suddenly Jeremy's eyes went wide.

"No!"  Jeremy nearly screeched and tried to run.  Too late. A wave of water hurtled through the air.  Jeremy turned, and the water hit him square in the back.  He unconsciously arched as he was soaked with a spray of water and soap.  Then he looked over his shoulder, revenge on his mind. "You're in trouble!"  He pointed at Mason, and he flung a soapy bubble off of his hand.

The lanky teenager stuck out his tongue.  Jeremy made a wild lunge for him, and the smaller man tackled Mason around the waist.  Both of them went down in a heap in the grass beside the kitchen. They laughed and rolled in the soft grass.

Mason had both leverage and strength on his side, and it wasn't long before he sat atop Jeremy's hips.  He had the redhead's arms pinned above his head against the ground and he grinned down at the man. Jeremy flung himself back and forth and panted with effort.  But he wasn't going anywhere.

"Argh!"  Jeremy finally lay there in surrender.  They both breathed hard. Jeremy's eyes went from aggressive to joyful and he giggled.  "This was fun."

Mason nodded, smiled down at him and he released Jeremy's wrists.

Jeremy put his hands on Mason's thighs.  The two of them stared at one another, as their breathing slowed to normal.  Mason licked his lips. He reached a hand and placed it gently on the side of Jeremy's face.  Jeremy's eyes closed a bit at the contact.

Mason's heart felt as if it would blast its way out of his chest.  "You're so beautiful," Mason said, his voice a whisper and his eyes bright.

Jeremy's breath caught in his throat.  Then he frowned and he shook his head. "No.  No." His eyes opened wide, determined and blue.  "Let me up."

Mason shook his head in confusion.  "But …"

"Let … me … UP."  Jeremy's voice turned icy.

Mason scrambled to his feet.  The teenager rubbed his hands on his front in nervous worry.  Jeremy stood up. "I'm … I'm sorry." Mason hunched his shoulders forward and felt something like panic in his belly.  "I'm sorry."

Jeremy took a step and put a hand on Mason's back.  "You're fine." He patted the boy, then he turned and started to walk toward his campsite.  "I'm the one in the wrong, Mason." He looked over his shoulder, his eyes sad and filled with self-deprecation.  He managed a slight smile, but it only added to his air of disappointment. "Goodnight."

With that, the redhead walked away and disappeared into the night.

_______________________________________

Jeremy sat in the near darkness, with a sliver of the waxing moon the only light on the world.  The river flowed in front of him, and he stared out at the water from his vantage point of a large, flat stone on the shore.

Once he heard Mason's cabin door close for the night, he got up out of his tent and went down to the water.  He needed to think, and the river helped calm his mind.

'You messed up.'  He shook his head and gritted his teeth.  'He's a kid. And he's got his whole life ahead of him.  Stop being so selfish.'

Jeremy wiped at his face as the tears started.  He took a deep breath and tried to find his center, but the tears continued.  And the hollow place in his heart ached more that night than it had in years.

 


Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link.   Wayne Gray

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