July 13, 2018 (Friday, 10:14 AM)
Joseph pulled up to the curb at the airport. He saw Orson and Elias, each with their bags, fresh off their flight. He stopped in the loading zone, and the guys tossed their bags into the trunk of his little car. Orson got in the front seat, and Elias jumped in the back.
He couldn't help but smile at Orson. "Hey."
Orson grinned at him. "Hey." The black-haired man wet his lips with his tongue. "Thanks for picking us up."
Joseph didn't answer. He stared at Orson a moment, then he leaned in and gave the man a long, deep, slow kiss.
After, he leaned back just enough for his eyes to focus on Orson's face. For his part, Orson looked as if he were lost in the moment, and his eyes slowly opened.
"I missed you," Joseph whispered.
"Me too." Orson smiled, and to Joseph's eye, it looked a little like Orson couldn't quite believe how he felt.
Joseph gave him a rakish, lopsided smile, and put the car into gear. They pulled away, and soon they were on the highway, headed east toward the campground.
As Joseph drove, Orson reached over and put his warm hand on Joseph's leg. The officer couldn't help but notice that hand was fairly high up, only a couple of inches from his crotch.
"Ah, you're waking up Stanley." Joseph laughed and he shifted his hips as he tried to make himself more comfortable.
"You gave it a name? Really?" Orson said and his voice carried mock scorn. "And it's 'Stanley?!'"
"What? Didn't you name yours? That means I get to!" Joseph grinned.
"You're both weird," Elias said from the back with a snort.
Joseph made a noise. "Damn it, I'm sorry! I forgot you were back there, Elias!"
The boy shrugged. "I've heard worse." Joseph saw the young man grin at him in the rear-view mirror. "What was it you kept saying to Orson the first night you stayed over in the cabin?"
Joseph's mouth dropped, and he flushed a deep red. "I … you were not awake."
"'Yes, Orson yes. Oh god, yes!'" Elias smirked after he imitated Joseph's deeper voice.
Orson laughed. "Yeah, sounds like he was awake after all."
Joseph had nothing he could say, so the blonde man gave up and laughed along with two of the most important guys in his life.
July 13, 2018 (Friday, 10:22 AM)
Greg walked the loop with Mason. The campground hovered around half-capacity and had for the last few weeks. Greg nodded to himself as he counted the occupied sites and cabins.
Nobody else but Clay knew how much the campground needed those reservations. 'It looks like we'll make it this year if this holds up.' Greg felt some relief, and he and Mason continued with the chore of emptying the recycling and the garbage bins.
Greg glanced over at Mason and the lanky young man quietly did his work. He seemed preoccupied, and as they put their bags on the wheeled hand cart Greg smiled at him. "Hey, you okay?"
He started a little. 'Wow, you really are thinking about something.' Greg took the cart handle and they continued on to the next set of bins.
"I'm fine." He took a deep breath. "But, there's a lot going on for me in the next year or so." He locked eyes with Greg. "I decided what I'm gonna do, Greg."
"Oh yeah?" They opened up the bins and began emptying them. "You mean for work or school?"
"Both. Yeah." Mason heaved a particularly full bag of recycling onto the cart. Then he wiped his face with the back of his hand and caught his breath. "I want to be a Game Warden. I've been doing some research on jobs where I'm mostly outdoors, and where I can be involved in law enforcement. It's perfect for me."
As Mason looked at him Greg could tell Mason searched for his reaction. "Mason, I think that's great. If that's what you want to do then you should go for it."
The teenager relaxed a little and smiled. "Cool." He reached down for the handle of the handcart and he pulled it to their next stop. "I've not talked to Jeremy or to Dad yet about it. I don't know how they'll take it."
They started work on their last set of bins. "I don't think you are going to have an issue, Mason. They're both going to be glad for you." Greg felt a little happy glow inside. 'Mason told me first.' He grinned as they finished up. Greg decided to reveal something of his own as well. "You know, your dad and I have decided on a date."
Mason's eyes widened. "For the wedding? Really?" He grinned. "Tell me!"
"28 July. A Saturday." Greg helped him with the cart as they wheeled it along the loop. "We're going to do it here."
"Two weeks!" Mason laughed. "Wow. Wow!" They pulled up beside the campground's dumpster and all of the trash went in. The recycling they unloaded into the back of Greg's truck. They'd take it into town in a bit. "What do you have planned? Anything wild and crazy?"
Greg laughed and shook his head. "No, nothing crazy." He put his hands on his hips and he turned to look over the campground. "We're already right where we want to be. I mean, we're on vacation, almost all the time." He waved a hand at the load of recycling in the back of his truck. "Sure, there are little chores to do, but it's easy stuff."
Mason looked at him, his face thoughtful. Then he snapped his fingers. "I know what I'm gonna get you for a wedding present. I'm going to do all the camp chores for a week." Then he made a face. "Except for cooking. You and dad can keep doing that. I'll just never be as good of a cook as you guys."
Greg laughed. "Well, that sounds pretty awesome to me. Thanks, Mason." The two men looked at one another, then Greg stepped forward and gave Mason a hug. He rocked back and forth with the lanky young man bound up tight in his arms. "I'm gonna marry your dad, Mason!" His voice was excited, and Mason laughed.
"I know." Greg released him and Mason nodded. "I'm happy for both of you guys. I really am." Mason bit his lip and he looked down at the ground. "I just want to say thanks for making my dad happy again."
Greg felt that tug hard on his heart, and he swallowed. "You know, it works both ways. I never thought I'd find what Clay gives me."
Mason was quiet a moment then the young man smirked. "Sorry, Greg. I don't wanna hear about what my dad gives you."
Greg's jaw dropped as Mason ruined the dangerously emotional moment. "Mason! You know that's not what I meant, you shit!" He took a step toward the teen, and Mason sprinted wildly down the asphalt loop.
Greg took off after him. Mason cast a glance over his shoulder, and his eyes widened. Greg was fast and always had been. Mason laughed again, and various campers watched with grins and laughter as they made a fun and goofy scene.
Mason dashed for the trail down to the river. And as Greg followed he couldn't help but think, 'God, what a great life I live.'
July 13, 2018 (Friday, 10:52 AM)
Bruce lounged in his camp chair that was set up outside the cabin he and Jenoah rented. He watched as the blonde policeman and Orson returned with Elias in the back seat. They all got out and were greeted like they were rockstars by the camp regulars.
He took out his cell phone.
'They're back. They look happy. :-)' He sent the text and then continued to observe. Orson had a grin on his face, and he showed his phone to both Greg and Clay. They were all incredulous, and thrilled.
'Wish I were closer, damn it.' Bruce stood and he walked as nonchalantly as he could on the loop past Orson's cabin.
"Jeremy is going to be out of his head happy," Bruce was close enough to hear Mason say. The lanky young man hugged Orson, and then Elias. "Thank you, guys. This is amazing."
Bruce continued to walk past and nodded in greeting at the men. Then he entered the restroom facility. His phone vibrated and he checked the text from Jenoah.
'Good to hear. I'll let the Don know. He and Paul just landed in Boise an hour ago. They should be home in another couple of hours.'
Jenoah was taking a shift at Gary's shop. The two of them switched off on the days they covered the place, and sometimes they worked shifts together too. Bruce liked working at the little store. So many of the people who came in were concerned for Gary and asked about him. He and Jenoah weren't told to keep his condition a secret, so Bruce freely told anyone who asked about Gary's cancer, and treatment. It was nice to hear all of the well wishes, and there were even get well cards that started to show up.
Bruce was happy to send them along to Harlan and Gary in SF. And even the stone-cold Harlan thanked him for the cards.
"Dad loves them. Thanks, Bruce." He said at one point over the phone. Bruce almost fainted. Okay, not quite, but it was a rare display of emotion for Harlan.
Bruce used the facility, then he exited. He walked by the group again and he could hear all of the guys making plans to surprise the redhead, Jeremy, with the news.
'It's nice to be a part of this.' Though he wasn't necessarily responsible for the good fortune of the Raven Project, or the campground, Bruce was glad he was here to witness it.
Bruce returned to his camp chair and he had a seat. He sighed, contented in the sun, and he watched happy people make happy plans.
July 13, 2018 (Friday, 6:05 PM)
Jeremy drove into the campground and he parked at Mason's cabin. He was eager to meet up with Orson and find out what came of the visit with the art collector in Chicago.
He also made plans to have the Raven Kids out at the campground next weekend. He knew that the final disposition of the Raven Project would be decided by then, and he wanted to communicate what was going on with the kids.
So long as the offer from the collector was legitimate then everything would be fine. 'Please, PLEASE be real,' he thought as he entered the cabin. He wanted to offload his bag, then he was going to go find Orson. The lack of news from the guys sat in his gut like a lead weight. And he tried to mentally prepare for what would be a brutal disappointment.
Jeremy tried to come up with a contingency plan. But he started to spiral when he thought about it. And instead, he had to wait and see, which was a sort of stress in and of itself too.
Mason wasn't in the cabin and Jeremy didn't see him on the way in either. His truck was there, so Jeremy knew he was nearby.
He dropped off his bag, then he walked along the loop, straight for Orson's cabin.
He passed numerous campers there for the weekend, and his mind offhandedly noted that attendance was up. 'That's good. More folks are finding out that this place is awesome.'
Jeremy stopped at the door and knocked. "Orson?"
"Jeremy! Come in!" Orson yelled from the other side.
Jeremy opened the door.
Mason, Elias, Orson, Greg, Joseph, and Clay were all inside the small space of the living area, just in front of the door. All wore broad grins.
"Welcome home," Mason said with a smile. He stepped forward and took Jeremy's hands. "Elias has news for you."
Wordlessly the boy stepped up. And he handed Jeremy a small slip of paper.
Jeremy released Mason's hands and he took the paper. It was a check made out to The Raven Project.
"$100,000?" Jeremy's voice was a hoarse whisper. He choked up and started to cry. Jeremy put a hand over his mouth and he shook his head. He had so many things he wanted to say. He wanted to thank Elias and Orson. He wanted to thank Greg and Clay. And he wanted everyone to know how much he loved and appreciated Mason, who stuck with him through all of his weakness and his down days.
But he couldn't even speak. Instead, he cried, and Mason folded his arms around him. Some of the guys laughed and swiped at their own eyes too.
Elias stood, his eyes glittering and he looked at Jeremy. "That should keep us running for a while, right?"
At that, Jeremy laughed. He pushed back, looked again at the check and he nodded. Then his eyes came up to lock with Elias'. "You did this. YOU saved the Raven Project, Elias."
The boy smiled, and a single tear slowly trailed down his face. He didn't bother wiping it away. "Well, then this is payback." He stepped forward and hugged Jeremy. With his face against Jeremy's chest, he murmured. "Because the Raven Project saved me."
There were a few holdouts with relatively dry eyes until Elias said those words.
But no longer.
July 16, 2018 (Monday, 8:12 AM)
"It's official. The cells from your bone marrow have taken up residence in Gary's bones, and they are now reproducing. Your dad now has a white blood cell count, which is a tremendously good sign." Dr. Sparks smiled across the desk at Harlan. "We need him to stay in the house on the grounds until he gets to 1,000 cells per microliter, but he's on the way. Once he hits that milestone then he'll be able to go home."
Harlan heard the words, but he wasn't ready to relax. He stared at the doctor, his elbows on his knees, and his hands tightly clasped as he sat forward, utterly engaged in the doctor's information. "So, he's going to be okay?"
Dr. Sparks nodded. "It certainly looks that way. There's still a risk of Graft-vs-Host Disease, where the new cells consider Gary's body as foreign. That's always something we need to monitor. But it's rare with such a good match." His eyes grew thoughtful. "With the rate he's making cells, he'll be able to go home in just a few days." Dr. Sparks breathed, the sound both relieved and satisfied. "I really like cases which turn out this way." He leaned over his desk and extended his hand to Harlan. "Thank you for donating. And congratulations - you've got your dad back."
Harlan sat up and he shook hands with Dr. Sparks. "Thanks, doc."
He left the office and he made his way down to the parking lot next to the hospital. His dad rested in the cottage on the hospital grounds, and from all accounts, he seemed to be doing really well. He said his bones hurt, but the doctors said that was normal. Essentially his body was in overdrive, madly producing cells to fill the vacuum left when the chemo they gave him destroyed all of his own white blood cells and bone marrow.
Gary also lost every bit of hair and his eyebrows. It was a byproduct of the harsh chemo they used to initiate the procedure.
"Look, I'm slick as a baby!" Gary cracked weakly when Harlan had to help him out of the shower last week. And like a horrible train wreck, Harlan couldn't help but look.
"Thanks for the mental trauma, dad." He shook his head and helped his unsteady and villainously gleeful father into a bathrobe.
But daily Gary grew stronger. As his body recovered from the chemo, more and more of his natural spark returned.
Harlan entered the cottage, and his dad slept on the couch. A dangerous amount of pale, hairless leg was exposed due to his errant robe, and Harlan stepped over. He shifted the robe a bit to preserve Gary's modesty, and he noticed the chill bumps on his father's skin. Harlan walked to the hall closet, found a blanket and returned. Then he gently lay it on Gary.
He looked down at his father. '...you've got your dad back.' Dr. Sparks' words rang in his mind, and Harlan's face twitched.
Harlan sat in the chair next to the couch and he continued to look over at Gary.
'He's gonna be weak and recovering, even after we leave for home. And he's supposed to stay away from the public for a while.'
Harlan's eyes lost focus and he mulled over the issue. He tried to parse the decision completely removed from his emotions, and he kept running into problems. But each time he let himself feel, each time he allowed it to be a part of the decision he sensed the right thing as if it were cast in bronze.
He sighed, and he pulled out his phone. He dialed and waited.
"Hello?" Corbin's voice was strained and haggard. "Paul! Put it down!" There was a pause as someone spoke in the background. "I don't care if she lets you! It's not good for them!"
Harlan frowned. "My Don? Are you all right?"
"Oh, we're all just peachy. All six of us." There was another interruption from someone in the room and Corbin irritably responded. "It's not because I'm jealous!" Corbin grumbled and resumed speaking on the phone. "I'm sorry, Harlan." He heard a door close and the background noise dropped considerably. "What's going on?"
Harlan took a breath and got right to it. "I need more time. Perhaps a lot more." He left that hanging and waited for Corbin to respond.
"Well it's funny you should ask because I have a new job for you anyway."
Harlan felt himself panic a bit. "But, my Don, I need time here with my father, not time away working." Immediately, a war began in his heart as he weighed his loyalty to his employer and that to his father. 'Don't make me choose. Please.'
"Oh, I think this job will suit you fine. I see great things in the boy, Elias' future. And the matter of the Costa is not settled. They will try for him, I'm certain. That is unless I can casually let it drop that the fearsome Harlan has his eyes and ears on him."
Harlan blinked. "My Don? You would pay me to watch your sculptor?"
"No. I'd pay you to watch Elias along with that campground and those who run it. I've dug more into the Raven Project, and the men who own the campground. I don't believe I can find a more worthwhile pairing of causes. I also think anyone would have to be insane to try anything with three or four police on hand almost all the time. But, if that's not enough then adding a man from my own Family WILL be." Corbin made a thoughtful noise. "Though, I don't really have a cover for you. You can't stick around forever with no local job. Would you have any ideas related to this problem?"
Harlan could almost hear the smile in Corbin's voice over the phone. He lifted his eyes and they found the sleeping form of his father on the couch. And slowly his own mouth shifted into a satisfied grin. "I think I can find a way, my Don."
"Good. Effective once Bruce and Jenoah are returned to me, you are assigned to the protection of Elias Pennington and this … Camp Refuge."
Harlan knew what Corbin was doing, and he felt an utter lack of ability to properly thank him.
"I …" he swallowed, "I don't know what to say."
"There's nothing to say, Harlan. I'm your Don. Do as you're directed." Corbin's words were hard, but his voice wasn't.
Harlan straightened in his seat. "Yes, my Don. And, thank you."
"You're welcome, Harlan. I'll expect your regular weekly reports, and our monthly in-person meetings to continue. Let me know should you need help."
Harlan agreed, hung up, and he looked at his dad.
"My god," he whispered and shook his head. "I'm going home. I'm really going home."
Harlan closed his eyes, and let the perfection of the moment settle in his mind.
July 18, 2018 (Wednesday, 11:18 AM)
"Elias, are you sure you're okay staying here?" Orson looked at the boy as he spun a thin, delicate bowl on the wheel.
The young man didn't take his eyes off of the clay but he nodded. "I'm fine. Mason, Clay and Greg are all here."
Orson wavered. He knew Joseph was on the way to pick him up. He texted to let the man know he was with Elias in the Clay cabin. But he could sense a disappointment in Elias' voice, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Orson and Joseph were going into town for a lunch date at a little Hawaiian place that Joseph loved. Orson could hear the excitement in Joseph's voice when he called this morning from his apartment in the city to set it up.
"Our first lunch date! It's gonna be nice."
Orson started to say something else to Elias when he heard the engine of Joseph's car outside the Clay cabin. Joseph got out and the blonde officer stood in the doorway.
"Hey, guys." Joseph saw Elias at the potter's wheel in his clay-spattered clothes and his face dropped. "What? Why aren't you ready, Elias?"
Both Orson and Elias looked at Joseph.
Elias glanced at Orson then back to Joseph. "You want me to go?"
Joseph made a face. "Well, yeah!" He stood aside. "Go take a quick shower, and put on some clean clothes." He made a shooing motion toward the doorway. "Hurry!"
Orson thought he probably saw every tooth in Elias' mouth when the boy grinned. Elias stopped the wheel, the fragile bowl he worked on slumped over, and he pelted out of the cabin.
Orson looked at Joseph and smiled. "That's really nice, Joseph. To include him. Thanks for that."
Joseph seemed confused. "Orson, you two are a package deal. I just thought it was for granted that we'd include him whenever we can." He smiled. "And I really like Elias. He has had it rough, and it's time for something to go his way. I'm gonna make sure to help with that, however I can. And include him whenever I can."
Orson stared at Joseph, and his mouth started moving before he could stop himself. "Joseph, I think I'm in love with you." Orson was a little shocked at himself, but he let the words hang in the air between them.
Joseph blinked. Then he licked his lips. He took a step closer and reached down for Orson's hand. His blue eyes looked down at their hands, and he entwined his fingers in Orson's. A little smile began, and then Joseph shook his head and laughed. He then looked back up at Orson's face. "There are probably tens of thousands of songs about love - probably more!" He released Orson and then put his arms around the dark-haired man. "And every time I hear one," he brought a hand up and gently put it on the side of Orson's face, "I think of you." Joseph's blue eyes were intense and honest. "I can't help but think of you, Orson."
Orson wasn't sure he could respond, so he didn't try. Instead, he leaned in, and he kissed the only man, the only person, he had ever loved.
Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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