Camp Refuge

Chapter 25 - Camp Refuge

 June 27, 2018 (Wednesday, 10:52 AM)

Harlan's face was utterly neutral as he approached the counter. "Father." His voice was cool, clinical, and detached. "I got your message." He looked over Gary, noticed his pallor, weight loss, and overall frail appearance.

'He looks like shit.' Years of practice meant Harlan could bottle how he felt, squash it, keep it secret. And he did.

Gary met Harlan's coolness with surrender. He sighed and shook his head. "You didn't have to come." He looked down at the counter. "I'm glad you did, but I don't deserve it. Not after what I did."

Harlan bit back on the initial urge to agree with him. Instead, he took as logical an approach as he could. "You're my father. It's my place to come."

Gary grimaced and looked at him with a bit of disgust. "So, I'm an obligation now. That's why you're here." He waved a hand. "Go. It was a mistake to write, and try to fix what I broke." He looked back down at the counter. "Go on. I don't need that. I won't die knowing I did one more thing to hurt you."

Instead of anger, Harlan felt a tiny spark of regret. He crushed it before it could bloom into something more. "In your email, you didn't say you were going to die. Tell me what the doctors said." His brown eyes were intense and focused.

Gary shook his head. "Why? What do you want to hear, Harlan?"

The brown-haired man was an expert at reading people, situations, and predicting outcomes. 'Fear. Pain. Fatigue. Surrender.' Harlan knew all those things were his father's current reality. 'He's going to die if he doesn't have a reason to live.' That spark of regret flared back into life in Harlan's mind, and this time it refused to go out.

They were both quiet for a moment, then Harlan swallowed. "Dad …" his voice softened when he said the word, "I want to hear what the plan is for you to be healthy again."

There was such sadness in Gary's eyes. "I don't know. They want to send me to a specialist down in the city." He shrugged. "I don't know if I'm gonna go."

"We're gonna go," Harlan said it before his usual, careful brain had a chance to think through implications.

Gary gave a sad little laugh. "You know," he sighed, "I'm just happy I got to hear that word again - 'Dad.'"

A wild surge of emotion hit Harlan, and it was only through a tremendous act of will that he managed to push back on it. He cleared his throat. "Well, let's make it so you hear it more often." He reached across the counter and put a hand on Gary's shoulder. "But first, we need to get you fixed up."

Gary smiled a little. He nodded. "All right."

Harlan walked around the little counter. And wordlessly the two men embraced for the first time in almost two decades.

___________________________________

June 28, 2018 (Thursday, 6:27 AM)

Clay watched the brown-haired man as he walked on the pavement toward the patio table. "Not so sure about that one," he said quietly to Greg. Something about their new camper set him on edge.

Greg nodded and sipped his coffee. "Yep. I know what you mean."

Harlan was close now, so they held their tongues. He nodded at them. "Good morning."

"Good morning. Harlan, right?" Greg asked.

"Yep." Harlan reached into his pocket. "Gary Flemming's my dad. He gave this money to me from the sale of some ceramic done by one of your campers." He pulled out a wad of cash.

"Uh, okay." Clay frowned and took the money from Harlan. "We'll get it where it needs to go." He looked up at Harlan. "The plan was for Gary to drop it off. Things okay?"

The man seemed to think about his response. "Not really. He's going to have to close up shop for most of next week. He told me to let you folks know."

Clay felt the crawling sensation of a story untold behind that statement. "Really? Is he okay?"

Harlan turned his brown eyes on Clay. His gaze moved about a little - took in his build, the way he sat, his overall appearance. "He's not. We're going to the city to try and make him okay."

Getting information out of this guy was like yanking teeth - it could be done, but you had to work for it.

Greg drummed his fingers on the patio table. "Well, is there anything we can do to help?"

Harlan's face was unreadable. "Not sure." Then his mask cracked just a tiny bit, and he frowned slightly with worry. "But he's stressed about the shop closing."

Greg and Clay looked at one another. Clay suddenly had an idea, and he turned back to Harlan. "Well, my son, Mason ran a cash register at a gas station for a summer job once. I can see if he'd be interested in helping out."

Harlan looked blankly at Clay. "Really?"

"Well yeah, I'll check with him. How long are we talking?"

The man still looked a little unsure that Clay was for real. "We're leaving on Sunday. His appointment is on Monday. Not sure how long we'll be there, but it could be a couple of days. It just depends on what the specialist wants of him."

"All right. I'll ask Mason about it. We've already got Gary's contact information. We'll let him know if Mason can do it, and if so he'll need a crash course on running the store."

Harlan stared at him. Then he slowly nodded. "Okay." A strange smile flickered on his face, almost as if the expression were unfamiliar. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Your dad helped Elias, twice. We're going to repay him if we can." Clay stood up. "I'll talk to my son. We'll let you know."

Harlan nodded. "All right."

The man walked away, and before Clay left the table, he glanced back at Greg. Greg made a face and shrugged.

Minutes later, Mason said, "Yeah, of course, I'll do it." Clay found him walking back from the showers, and they strolled along the loop on the way back to Mason's cabin.

Clay smiled. "Thanks, Mason. You're helping Gary out a lot. I'll let Harlan know." The teenager nodded, but he looked distant to Clay. "You all right?"

Mason sighed. "Not really. Jeremy got some bad news about his grant." The young man went on to explain the issue behind the Raven Project. "He only has funds for another month or so. Then, it's done. The Raven Project will be dead."

Clay made a sound of disbelief. "What the fuck was the funder thinking? Those kids need that program." He shook his head. "Wow. Okay. Well, there have to be other grants out there."

"There are. But Jeremy has a full-time job already. Grant writing isn't exactly easy either." Mason sighed. "Still, he's gonna work late every day until he gets something else in place."

They were now at Mason's cabin. When Mason opened the door, Jeremy was on his way out. He was dressed for work, and he was in a bit of a rush. He smiled at Clay.

"Hey. Good morning, Clay."

"Good morning, Red." Clay smiled slightly at Jeremy. "Good luck with the grant. Let me know if there's any way we can help."

Jeremy set his jaw and nodded. "Thanks. I will. But, since I don't know the outcome, I'm going to call our regular campers while I still have funding. They'll at least get to have one last trip on the Project if I can't get additional grant money. I'd like to have them over Friday evening through Sunday morning. That okay?"

"Of course." Clay nodded. "It'll be great to see all of them again."

Jeremy smiled, but he looked a bit stricken and upset. Mason stepped up and put his arms around Jeremy. "Hey. It’s gonna be fine. Okay? Even if you can’t get it fixed, I’ll talk to Greg. I’m sure we can work out something so they can stay free, at least a few times of the year."

The smaller man nodded against the tall teenager’s chest. "Okay."

Mason pushed back and kissed him. “Go on.” He patted Jeremy’s shoulder. "Go make a difference."

Jeremy smiled, a little more realness to it this time, and he left to head to work.

Clay waited on Mason.  As he pulled up even with his dad, Clay reached and put his arm around Mason's shoulders.

"I'm real proud of the man you've become, son."  He squeezed Mason.  "I love you."

Mason looked at his dad, and smiled with affection.  "I love you too, dad."  He grinned.  "And, I learned it from watching you."

Clay and Mason walked back and joined Greg at the patio table.

___________________________________

Elias frowned at what he heard. 'The Raven Project is in trouble?' He had walked over to Mason's cabin to say hello but stopped at the back corner when he overheard their discussion.

He waited until Mason and Clay walked away, then he quietly went back to the Clay cabin. There he had experimented with new techniques for some larger pieces of art. He stood before the workbench and looked thoughtfully at the slab of clay he started to shape into a rough head shape.

Elias' face fell. The Raven Project was the only good thing in his life up until he met Orson. And it was because of the Project that happened.

"I need to do something for Mr. Adams." His voice was small and quiet in the still morning air inside the cabin. "What can I do? What can I do?"

His eyes landed once again on the chunk of clay he started to shape. The boy's lips twitched a little in a smile. "I'll make him something. Something nice. Something … different."

Elias walked over to the nascent head sculpture. And he pushed the palm of his hand through the soft clay. He soon had it back into an amorphous blob. Then Elias took a determined breath.

'Okay. Let's start.'

___________________________________

June 28, 2018 (Thursday, 7:49 PM)

Orson smiled, a little confused but happy regardless. "Joseph! Hi!"

The policeman stood outside his cabin door. Orson had gotten up to answer the knock and found the tall blonde man there.

"Hey, Orson." He grinned. "Sorry, I couldn't stay away. I got off duty, and I'm camping another couple of nights."

"Oh, that's great." But then Orson's smile slipped. "Ah … I've got my appointment in Redding tomorrow though." Orson felt disappointed he would miss being around Joseph for what amounted to a large chunk of the day. "That's a bummer."

"Oh, I remembered you had the appointment." He eyed Orson. "What do you think about my driving you over? We could take that lunch date there in the city."

Orson had asked Joseph to lunch the last time he was at the campground, and the man enthusiastically agreed. Though they had yet to nail down the details.

"Really? You'd do that?" Orson didn't want to say anything, but he was a bit nervous about driving. He had never driven with his left foot, and he didn't know how the roundtrip four-hour trip would go.

Joseph nodded. "Yeah, it'll be great." He looked hopefully at Orson. "What do you say?"

Orson thought only a moment. "Sure! If you want to drive over with me, that'd be great. You sure you don't mind driving?"

"I don't mind, Orson." Joseph's blue eyes sparkled, and his teeth were so white.

Orson felt almost giddy. "Okay." He couldn't quite stop grinning at Joseph. Then he realized he had kept the officer out on his stoop. "Oh, come on in. I'm sorry. So rude of me."

Joseph stepped inside, and his body was right up against Orson. The two men smiled at one another, and the tall officer leaned down for a long kiss that was filled with promise.

__________________________________

June 29, 2018 (Friday, 7:07 AM)

"There you are." Orson stood on his crutches at the door of the Clay cabin and smiled at Elias. The boy was already covered in smears of clay. Last night Orson had to go hunting for him. He found him hard at work with the clay, and he had to be forced to go to bed.

Elias glanced at him. "I'm here." He turned back to the strange sculpted shape. It was about a foot long, wide as the palm of a hand, and textured with incredible detail.

Orson moved a bit inside to get a better look. "Whoa. A … feather?" It was a large feather sculpted from clay. The base of it was still locked in a block of the material, or maybe the boy intended to leave it that way, as a stand of sorts. It was, by all accounts, a masterful piece.

"Yes. One of them." Elias stepped over to his workbench and pulled back a clay-stained canvas. There were three others like it under the protective cloth.

As Orson looked, he realized they were all slightly different sizes and shapes. He marveled at the speed Elias must have used to produce them. "Elias, how did you make all of this so quickly?"

The boy moved his new sculpture and put it with the others on the bench. Then he put the tarp back over all of them. "I got up last night to work a little on them."

Orson gaped at him. "Elias. That's not okay. You need to sleep."

He shrugged. "I woke up, and this is all I could think about." He turned back to his pile of reconstituted clay. "I'll sleep when I'm done."

Orson didn't have much time to argue with him. He had to get on the road to make his appointment in Redding. But he also had to try. "Elias, you need to get more sleep. If it looks like I'm not doing a good job taking care of you, then the judge could take you away from me."

THAT got his attention. Elias made a face, and he glanced at Orson. After a bit of thought, he nodded. "Okay." He sighed. "I'll take a nap today, I promise."

"Okay, good." Orson relaxed a little, and he allowed a smile. "It's excellent work though. You know that, right?"

Elias licked his lips, then he grinned. The boy nodded at Orson. "It's pretty good … so far."

"I want to see how far you've gotten when I get back," Orson said. Then he frowned. "What are you making anyway? A bird?"

Elias nodded. "I am." He returned to his clay. "I'll show you when you get back. Maybe you'll be able to guess which bird when I get more parts done."

Orson grinned. "All right. Joseph is going to drive me over. We should be back early in the evening, okay?"

"Okay." Elias' head dropped a little, and Orson saw his face take on a focused and intense expression. His fingers began to work the next chunk of clay. The process was mesmerizing, and Orson could already see the basic shape starting to emerge - it was as if Elias could sense it in there and all he did was bring it forth.

He forced his eyes away, and he went the short distance to the car. Joseph waited for him on the loop in front of the Clay cabin.

Orson stowed his crutches in the back seat then he hopped over to the door and got in. "Ready?" Joseph smiled at him.

"Yeah." He looked over at the handsome cop. "Let's go get my leg."

Joseph made an odd expression, and he put the car into gear. "You know, I think that's the first time I've ever heard that sentence."

Orson thought about it then laughed. "I think it's the first time I've ever said it."

Filled with positivity, Orson sat back, and Joseph navigated out to the road.

The blonde man looked at Orson. "Okay. Here we go. On a quest to find Orson's leg!" Then he turned onto the highway.

"Weirdo." Orson grinned.

Joseph laughed. "That's me." He glanced over then he patted Orson's knee. His hand lingered a bit, then he grudgingly withdrew it and gripped the steering wheel on the curvy little stretch of highway.

Orson made a quick decision, and he put his hand on Joseph's warm leg. The blonde smiled broadly.

"No randiness now. I don't want to kill us because you got frisky on the road," Joseph joked.

"Nope." He leaned over to whisper in Joseph's ear. "I'll save that for tonight."

Joseph made a hopeful face. "Yeah?"

Orson nodded.

The young officer grinned, then he made a face. "Damn it." He squirmed a little in his seat.

"What is it?" Orson asked, concerned.

"Nothing!" On a straight stretch of road Joseph reached down and adjusted his unruly and half-hard penis. "Nothing at all!"

Orson threw his head back and laughed.

___________________________________

June 29, 2018 (Friday, 9:54 AM)

Elias' stomach rumbled for the third time, and he frowned, annoyed at his hunger. Now that he had the picture in his mind, he had to keep going. Eating, sleeping, and other such necessities were things he would do, and then move on from as quickly as possible. So he could get back to the work.

He completed all of the single feathers which would be on the edges of the wings. And all were set aside under his canvas. He made sure they each had deep holes in their bases for the rebar needed for the assembly which would come later.

'Will they hold up under their weight? Wet, no. Dry, fired, and glazed, yes.' Elias nodded to himself, and his belly growled again. Elias made an exasperated noise, and he turned. The boy jumped.

"Hello." One of the new campers, Harlan, Elias thought was his name, stood at the doorway. The teenager hadn't heard him or noticed his shadow falling across the room floor.

"Uh, hi." Elias licked his lips.

"You're the kid who makes the ceramic stuff? In my dad's shop?" Harlan's eyes seemed to stare right through Elias, down into his soul.

The boy suppressed a shiver. Though Harlan made no move toward him, and his voice was calm, there was still an underlying … aggression in the man. Elias could sense it. As if what he was now was only a mask - that Harlan was just a step away from something … darker.

Elias nodded and observed Harlan. "Your dad is Gary?"

The man smiled slightly. "Yes. Dad likes your work. It has been selling well, and he bought a couple of the mugs himself." Harlan looked at the canvas. "What are you working on?"

Elias took a step back from him, then turned and lifted the canvas. Harlan walked over and looked carefully at the work.

As he examined the ten individual feather sculptures, his eyes took on an incredulous cast. He turned to Elias. "You did these? All of them?"

The boy nodded again. When Harlan turned back to the sculptures, Elias took a step toward the doorway. "I'm going to get some oatmeal."

Harlan looked over his shoulder. "Good. I could hear your stomach from the doorway." He straightened up and looked at Elias critically. "You need your energy if you're going to finish," he waved an arm over the bench, "this."

Elias smiled a little. "Yeah, that's what Orson says too." He swallowed. "I'll be back."

"Oh, I'm going to leave you alone. I don't want to keep you from this." Harlan walked past Elias, and he strolled along the loop without another look back.

Elias watched him go.

This time the boy let himself shiver.

___________________________________

June 29, 2018 (Friday, 11:15 AM)

Orson sat on the exam table in a fitting room of the Tegerstrand prosthetic office. His prosthesis lay beside him, and he looked nervously at it.

Joseph asked if he wanted company in the room, and Orson was glad he agreed to have the man come back with him.

"You all right?" Joseph leaned forward in his chair and smiled reassuringly at him.

Orson licked his lips. "Yeah. I think so." He looked at the limb again. "I guess I didn't know exactly what to expect." The device was a blend of carbon composite, plastic, and metal. It was decidedly artificial-looking.

Joseph nodded. "Yeah. It's a bit robocop, huh?"

Orson laughed. "Yeah, a little bit."

After speaking to the tech, Orson opted for the "blade" attachment in addition to the basic articulated foot. The woman then left the room to find some choices for Orson to pick through.

His insurance would cover the vast majority of the cost, luckily. And his supplemental policy picked up the rest. For once he wasn't worried about the price. Which is why he went for the lightest, strongest model they had.

The pleasant woman returned, three different blades in her hands. "Okay, Mr. Warner. Let's figure out what is going to work for you."

Orson took a breath and smiled at her. "Okay."

An hour later, and after a lesson from the tech on use of the leg, they moved to the long hallway in the building. Orson sat in a chair at the end of the hall. The prosthetic was attached to his leg, and he stood up. Orson slowly put weight on the articulated foot. He could feel the weight of his body on the end of his right leg where it met the artificial limb. But it wasn't terrible. He knew it would get tiring and it would eventually hurt if he were up a lot. But right now it was fine.

He grinned at Joseph. "I'm doing it." He took a step. "Oh wow. This is different."

The tech observed him. "Good. You'll find that balance is tough at first. But if you do the exercises I gave you, you'll gain balance, strength, and stamina with the leg." She smiled. "You'll be able to run again."

Orson had already incorporated the exercises Jeremy found for him into his daily routine. And so he was a leg up on that particular aspect of his care. "Man, going for a run would be great." He walked a few steps. Joseph walked along with him. The blonde man instinctively reached for him anytime Orson looked as if he were going to fall. But Orson didn't fall. He made it all the way down the hall then he turned and walked back. This time with a gait and a pace which was very close to normal.

The tech nodded with approval. "Wow. You're doing great!" She grinned. "I think you're ready. As long as you follow up with the ortho doc on the coast as we planned, then you are a free man."

Orson laughed. He looked down at the leg, and he exhaled in satisfaction.

"Ready for lunch?" Joseph patted his shoulder. His blue eyes were happy, and Orson was so glad he was there.

"I am," he said, then he turned to the tech. "So … is there any good food nearby?" He grinned. "Someplace within walking distance?"
___________________________________

June 29, 2018 (Friday, 6:54 PM)

Harlan watched as the young people gathered around the redhead, Jeremy, near one of the cabins. The young bearded guy seemed to be a teacher or a leader of sorts, and Harlan sat in his camp chair with a beer in hand. His tentsite was just close enough to hear them, and he pretended to be uninterested in what Jeremy had to say. He listened as Jeremy went through the funding problems for something called The Raven Project.

"And that's what's going on," Jeremy said. Harlan could tell Jeremy tried to put on a brave front for the kids.

'He's scared. He's worried about failing them.' Harlan watched the kids as they talked with each other, to Jeremy, and to Elias. The quiet potter seemed to be one of them, and Harlan noticed the boy wasn't as surprised as the others were. 'He already knew. Interesting.'

Harlan sipped his beer. There were upset tones in the voices of the young people. He looked back over at the group. 'Gay, lesbian, gay, trans. According to dad, they're exactly who the camp was designed to serve.' Harlan shrugged and set his jaw. 'Not my problem.'

"But, Mr. Adams," the trans boy, Patrick's voice dripped with disappointment, "this is the only place I can be, where I can be me."

The rest of the conversation was drowned out by the other campers, and Harlan felt a hot stab of empathy. He frowned at his beer. One finger tapped on the bottle. 'Not my problem. I've already got a lot to deal with.'

Suddenly Harlan made a connection. 'Raven Project.'

The brown-haired man turned his head and eyed the Clay cabin. And the wheels began to spin in his mind.

 


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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