Chapter 8: Growth
"Hey, Commander Holbrook!"
Bailey turned to look at the tech - a man named Jackson. The fellow grinned at him. "Petty Officer Crandall and I heard you last night at the club." He shook his head. "Damn, I had no idea!"
Bailey smiled. "Well, you'll be able to hear me anytime you want, if you buy a CD. My label and I are almost done with it. I'm going next week to produce it, finalize the payment plan for the fees, and then, it'll be finished!"
"Man, that's exciting." The tech nodded, and he stepped around the edge of the big, gas turbine. They were below deck, and they were assigned to work on the massive chunk of machinery. The turbine was shut down for maintenance. Bailey and Jackson were both certified to work on gas turbines, and it was their task to ensure it was safe, and ready to be put back into service. And the men seamlessly moved from socializing to work.
Bailey's eyes flicked over the turbine. "I think we're about ready."
"Yep. Let me know when you want me to feed the beast, sir." Jackson would turn it on with the electric start. That would begin the fuel spray and then the air flow, which together, would be ignited. Pressure would build inside the turbine until the fuel and air burned at a very high temperature and efficiency. This would then be converted to mechanical energy through a complex system which connected the fuel combustion chamber to a physically linked piston-like rod.
Bailey checked it once more. This turbine had been out of commission for a few weeks, and it always made him nervous when a chunk of metal and ceramic this big went from cold to screaming hot in a few minutes. He could see no mechanical flaws, and nothing visibly wrong. But that meant little. There was no way to know if there were any micro-cracks or weaknesses until the machine was in use. There was only one way to tell if it was going to work, and it was time for the real test. He straightened, and he took a step back away from the turbine. "Okay. Let's do it."
Jackson hit the starter. The partially exposed, ceramic-coated, metal fins began to rotate, and they could hear the rush of flame within the body of the big cylinder.
"Looks good!" Bailey grinned. He checked a gauge bank which gave him a readout of both internal pressure and rotations of the shaft that was attached to the turbine. "PSI climbing, RPMs are where they should be."
Jackson nodded. "Vibration at a minimum." He grinned, and he looked up. "Purring like a kitten!"
Bailey smiled, and he began to respond.
This is where memory got fuzzy. The next thing Bailey knew, he was on his back. A klaxon rotated to throw an oscillating light over the room, and there was a terrific pain in his neck. He lay and blinked up at the ceiling of the small room. He felt the floor under him begin to vibrate, and he knew the turbine must now be unbalanced. If he didn't do something fast, it'd tear itself apart, and sling metal through the bulkheads like a gigantic nail bomb. Vapor streamed into the space from the damaged casing of the wildly spinning turbine, then the stream of almost invisible gas caught fire. And now there was a nearly white-hot, six-foot-long blowtorch of flame above him.
It was eerily silent, and he felt a pain in his ears. He realized that both of his eardrums must have ruptured.
Bailey pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He gritted his teeth. The pain in his throat was incredible, and Bailey felt warm liquid running down his neck, then down his chest. He could see the emergency shut-off through the haze, and he crawled under the gout of flame just above his back.
Bailey also saw a pair of boots as he crawled. 'Jackson.' The man was unmoving. But, the priority had to be cutting the flow of aerosolized gas to the turbine. Otherwise, the whole thing could explode, and tear a hole through this section of the ship.
He coughed, and fluid leaked from his mouth. He was so disoriented and dizzy that he could barely crawl. But, he made it to the shut-off. Bailey pulled himself up, and he slammed his palm against the button.
The flaming jet almost immediately cut off, and the machine began to wind down. And now that the majority of the danger was past, Bailey crawled over to Jackson.
The man had a piece of one of the metal fins sticking out of his chest. Jackson's eyes were open, and he was still.
'No.' Bailey gritted his teeth, and he pulled himself up until he stood. He was barely able to stand, thanks to his lack of balance. 'Have to get help.'
A man in a hazmat suit appeared at the entry to the room, and a small crew of similarly dressed people was behind him. Bailey saw them, and he pointed at Jackson. He tried to talk.
Another blinding pain hit him as his throat contracted. He had no idea if he had made any noise, but just trying to speak almost took him to his knees.
Bailey reached up. He put his hand on his throat, and his eyes widened. He felt a jagged piece of metal lodged there. Blood continued to run from the wound, and Bailey staggered on his feet.
Two people rushed in, and they grabbed him as he wobbled. He could see their mouths moving through the clear visor on their suits, but he couldn't hear a thing. Then the room filled with the disaster response crew.
Mercifully, that's where Bailey's memory of how he got his injury ended. And he woke from his short sleep.
Harlan's arms were still around him, and when Bailey shifted Harlan turned his head. The man looked at him. His eyes were like calm, green pools, and as Bailey stared at him, he breathed through the after-effects of the dream and his relived memory.
Harlan rubbed Bailey's head and neck from his spot under the taller man, and he put his face against Bailey's neck. Harlan's slight stubble gently rubbed Bailey's scar. He didn't say anything. Harlan just held Bailey.
And at that moment, that's what Bailey needed.
Huck still had his arm around Rayne. The boy wouldn't leave his side, and Huck knew that he would need to spend a lot of time repairing the damage he had done. He didn't realize how badly he was hurting Rayne - not until he held his upset and lonely boy in his arms.
But, now, he knew. And he'd never make that mistake again. He patted Rayne's shoulder. "Son, are you hungry?" The smell of cooking beef, onion and now sour cream sauce combined with egg noodles was torturous. The whole, delicious mess bubbled on the gas burner, and Clay smiled down at the dutch oven he tended filled with beef stroganoff.
Rayne sat up, and he nodded. Dinner tonight had a few steps, so it took about forty-five minutes from start to finish. But that gave Huck time to sit with the group of men.
He watched as the broad-shouldered tall officer, Joseph, leaned over and kissed Orson, the one-legged man on the side of his face. Then Orson smiled, and he turned his head. The men shared a quick affectionate kiss as they stood at the edge of the fire pit.
"Jeremy, did you take your meds?" Mason's voice bought Huck's head around. He watched as Jeremy grimaced from his spot at the end of the picnic table. A little sheaf of papers lay in front of him, and he worked on something.
"Damn it, I forgot." He waved his hand. "I'll get them in a minute. I'm almost done with my proposal."
Mason shook his head. "No." He walked over behind Jeremy, and Mason put his hands on his shoulders. "Go get them, right now." He leaned down his face next to Jeremy's ear. "You take care of you first, then you can take care of the Raven Project." He gently shook Jeremy's shoulders. "You hear me?"
The redhead sighed. "Yeah." He stood up, and he smiled at the tall young man. He gave Mason a hug. "Thanks, for taking care of me."
As Jeremy walked to his cabin, Huck couldn't help but smile. And he remembered when he used to have these moments himself. Little, loving, gentle moments in time, shared between two people. 'They're so, so normal.'
He wasn't sure what he expected. He had never knowingly socialized with gay men. The gay jokes that flew around among the rough and tumble guys at his work made Huck think all gay men wore heels and lisped so much it was hard to understand them. Huck understood men like that existed. But, none at the campground seemed to fit that description. Out of all of the guys, Jeremy was what Huck considered to be the most effeminate. But, that did nothing to take away from his opinion of the small, bearded, redhead. From what he knew, all of the men led socially conscious, and forward-thinking lives.
'They're doing more for people than my church is.'
A small blonde boy approached the table. The young fellow sat on the other side of Rayne. His son noticed, and he straightened. "Hey, Elias." Rayne smiled at him, and then he turned to Huck. "Dad, this is Elias. He's my friend."
Huck leaned around Rayne, and he stuck out his hand. "Hi, Elias. I'm Huck. It's nice to meet you." There was a strange intensity in the eyes of this young man, and he shook Huck's hand.
"Hi, Huck." Elias smiled. "Nice to meet you, too." Elias glanced at Rayne, then he looked back to Huck. "Thanks for coming."
Huck set his jaw, and he nodded.
He watched as Rayne looked over, and he grinned. Then Rayne put an arm around both of their shoulders. "I'm really happy."
Huck gazed at Rayne. 'When's the last time he said that?' Huck felt the sting of tears as his eyes watered, and he struggled to hold them in. "Ah, I'm glad, son." Huck cleared his throat.
Elias leaned forward a little, and he looked knowingly at Huck. There was a small smile on his lips. Huck saw, and he laughed. Huck gave up, and he wiped at his eyes. "Ah. Must have something in my eye."
Elias' smile grew, but he said nothing. Instead, he slipped his arm around Rayne's waist, and he quietly sat there in his spot.
"Oh my god. You're out with the rest of us?" The man, Greg walked over next to Elias. And he grinned, good-naturedly down at him. "What brought you out of the Clay Cab …" he stopped mid-sentence when he noticed that the boys had their arms around one another.
Huck saw how Rayne flushed red, and his son glanced at him. While Elias only shrugged. "This is more important right now."
'This boy likes Rayne.' The thought filtered through Huck's mind, and he mulled it over. 'And, from the way my son is squirming, pretty sure that's mutual.'
Huck looked at Rayne as his son bit his lip. Huck felt the moment come, that chance he had to let his son know how he felt about his sexuality. 'Do what feels right. What feels right?' Huck swallowed, and he nodded. "Well, I'm glad you think my son is important, Elias." Huck stared into Rayne's eyes. "I think he's pretty important too."
Rayne blinked. It wasn't precisely permission or acceptance. It would take a while for Huck to get there. But they could all see, he was trying. Rayne smiled, and he lay his head on Huck's shoulder. "I love you, Dad."
Huck closed his eyes, and he sighed. "I love you too, son."
He took a deep, cleansing breath, and he searched his heart. 'God, I hope this is what you want from me.' He squeezed his son a little tighter. 'Because I don't think I can do anything else. If that means that I'm a bad Christian, then I guess that's the price I'll pay.'
"Wow." Rayne chuckled. "I, ah," he looked back and forth between his dad and Elias. "I never thought I'd get to sit with both of you." Rayne's face was a study of wonder. "I prayed for this." He looked at Huck. "I prayed for this, this exact thing."
A deep sense of realization settled in Huck's chest. 'There's your answer.' Huck smiled. "I … I'm glad, son." As Clay began to serve up bowls of creamy and meaty beef stroganoff, Huck leaned his head against Rayne. "I'm so glad."
Harlan's stomach growled. Bailey still lay on top of him, and Harlan's hands rested easily on the small of his back. The black-haired man raised his head, and he grinned at Harlan.
Harlan smiled. "Hungry? You already know that I am."
Bailey nodded. Though, the man didn't move. He looked over Harlan's face, then he tentatively leaned in.
Harlan and Bailey kissed.
To Harlan, kissing was used as a way to get a guy interested in sex. It was sort of the price of admission to better things. But, now, he found himself enjoying the act itself with Bailey. His hand came up, and now it lay on the back of Bailey's neck as the men kissed.
Finally, Bailey drew back a little. He again looked thoroughly over Harlan's features. Harlan gazed at Bailey's stunning blue eyes. 'Wow. What the fuck is this guy doing here with me?' Harlan kept his face neutral, only through a huge act of will. 'He's not with you. He's in your bed, but that's it. You're just a bit of fun for a handsome guy like him.'
Bailey blinked, then he pushed himself up. 'You ok?'
Harlan was surprised. Bailey could see the doubt on his face, even though he tried hard to keep it secret. Harlan let out a big breath. "Ah. Yeah. Sure." He sat up.
Bailey cocked his head, then he shook it. 'No. Tell me.' He used simple signs, ones Harlan had already reviewed during his bit of study.
Harlan wasn't used to admitting weakness of any kind. And doubt was a weakness. Still, there was something about Bailey that disarmed him. Something made him want to be truthful, and completely honest with the black-haired man.
Harlan's eyes shifted as he thought of what to say. "I, uh," he glanced at Bailey, then he looked back down at his hands that lay in his lap. "I guess I'm wondering why you let this happen. Why you'd let this happen with a guy like me."
Bailey sat back. They were both naked on the bed, and Bailey had his legs folded, Indian-style under himself. He frowned. 'I like you.' Then he grimaced, and Bailey held up a finger. He started to pull out his phone from his jeans that lay on the floor next to the bed.
Harlan gently intercepted Bailey's wrist. "You don't need the phone. I understood." Harlan laughed. "I, ah, I learned how to sign that." He swallowed, as he gazed into Bailey's eyes. "Just in case I ever worked up the nerve to say it."
Bailey grinned. 'You like me?'
Harlan shook his head with a smile. "Damn it, I just said so." He looked fondly at Bailey, and a bit of fear was on his face too. "Yeah. I like you, Bailey."
'Good,' Bailey signed, then his stomach gurgled angrily. He made a face, and he put his hand over his belly.
Harlan laughed. "Come on." He stood next to the bed, and he reached down.
Bailey looked up at him, smiled, then he reached and gripped Harlan's hand.
Harlan hauled him up off of the bed, and the two guys stood close. He couldn't help himself. Harlan put his arms back around Bailey, and he hugged the man close. He and Bailey stood there, skin on skin, sharing their warmth.
"Damn, I really do like you," Harlan murmured, his face against Bailey's neck, his tone tinged with wonder. Harlan didn't even realize that he'd spoken out loud. But, he wouldn't have taken it back, not even if he could.
Greg's eyes roamed over the group of campers as they ate their meal. He had already eaten a small bowl of the great dinner they had prepared, and he'd have more later. But for now, he wanted to be available to help with anything anybody needed while Clay and Mason ate.
He stood behind the kitchen counter, and he washed his bowl. Greg raised his gaze as Bailey and Harlan strolled past. "Hey, guys." He jerked his head toward the dutch oven on the stove. "There's plenty of beef stroganoff left if you're interested."
Harlan quickly took a few steps to the donation jar, and he dropped $10 into it. Then he turned to Bailey, and he signed at him.
Bailey threw his head back, and he laughed. Though no sound came from him, it was still apparent that was what he was doing.
And, much to Greg's surprise, Harlan was GRINNING at Bailey. 'Whoa. When is the last time I saw Harlan crack a smile?' Greg's eyes narrowed in suspicion at the two men, though he also smiled, a little confused. He watched how Bailey smirked at Harlan, and at how Harlan stayed as close as he could to him without actually touching. 'What is, oh. OH.'
Greg got a couple of bowls, and he set them out on the kitchen counter where the guys could reach them. He scooped a big, steaming amount into each bowl, then he sprinkled a little fresh, chopped dill on top of each dish. "It's ready, guys."
Bailey got his bowl, and he playfully bumped Harlan with his shoulder as the shorter man moved by. Harlan snickered, and he picked up his own bowl. As he turned to find a seat by Bailey, Greg leaned over. "Hey."
Harlan turned and looked at Greg, a little confused by the conspiratorial whisper. "Uh, yeah?"
Greg waggled his eyebrows. "You know, you and Bailey smell like a teenage boy's bedroom, right?"
Harlan's jaw dropped, "We …" he swallowed, "do we?" Then he saw the grin on Greg's face. He narrowed his eyes at Greg. "You bastard." He shook his head, realizing that he'd been had. And he turned away. Just before he did, Greg caught the smirk on Harlan's face.
Harlan sat next to Bailey, and he shot one more look at Greg. Greg grinned, and he got himself another small bowl of dinner.
Greg stood and ate his food while he looked over his campers.
Rayne had an arm around Huck's shoulders, while Elias leaned into Rayne on his other side. Joseph and Orson sat across from Elias, and the two men looked as if they'd burst with their love for the young man. Clay had a spot on the other side of Huck, and Greg caught a few words here and there as the men talked about the trials of raising a gay son.
Orlando finally came back out to socialize. Why he stopped, Greg wasn't sure. Regardless, the handsome man was back. And he was smiley and talkative with a fellow who was passing through the area and needed a cheap place to spend the weekend. Greg was reasonably sure how that'd end for that pair.
Jeremy's head lolled as Mason stood behind him. He smiled down at the redhead as he massaged Jeremy's shoulders and neck. If Greg was reading them right, they'd be leaving the table soon, to enjoy more intimate time together in their cabin.
Greg let his eyes take them all in. 'This. Right here.' He smiled to himself, and he nodded slowly. 'This is why I started this place. This is why.' Greg knew that it couldn't always be this way. But, everyone was, for the moment, content. Everyone was taken care of. They all had a place to be, and reason to be there. And not only were the physical needs of their campers met but those of the mind and soul as well. That need for connection, and for some, love.
Greg took a contented breath, and he ate another bite of his food. 'What a great night.'
Orson was tired, but he tingled with feel-good emotions. They had spent a fantastic evening with the entirety of their campers. Dinner was great, and everyone seemed happy - even the typically stoic Harlan.
Joseph sat on the edge of their bed, and he pulled off his shoes. Orson, too, got ready for sleep. He unbuckled his jeans, and he let them fall down to the floor. Then he sat on the bed, and he took them off. Next, Orson unfastened his prosthetic right leg. He sighed, relieved to be free of the weight. Though it enabled him to live a relatively normal sort of life, it was still not his own body. And it was always nice to be free of it.
"Orson? Joseph?" The couple looked over at Elias. The boy stood next to the half partition which served as a visual delineation of the "bedroom." Though it wasn't closed completely, and the small building lacked privacy, Elias was very conscious of the men's need for space. Regarding their relationship as guardian and ward, he was a dream come true for Orson.
"Yeah? What's up, Elias?" Orson slipped under the blanket, and he patted the bed. "Come on."
Elias wore his t-shirt and his boxers. In Orson's mind, he was still a kid. But, Elias now approached seventeen years old. And he was finally starting to grow into his age. He was still small, but his frame had begun to fill out. Though, Orson was pretty sure he'd never be much taller than his current 5'5".
Elias entered, and he crawled onto the bed. He sat in the middle, between Joseph and Orson. Both of the guys smiled affectionately at him. "What's going on?" Joseph asked, and he put a big, warm hand on Elias' shoulder. "You all right?"
Elias nodded, and he smiled at them. "I wanted to ask you guys something." Orson watched Elias' face. The young man seemed nervous.
"Okay. Go ahead." Orson leaned forward, and he put a hand on Elias' back.
Elias nodded. "Well, I was wondering if it'd be okay for me to rent my own cabin." He shrugged. "I wanted to ask you guys first before I bring it up with Greg and Clay. But, I thought that I could pay to have one built. One where I could work on my projects, have my own space, and still live on the campground." He looked tentatively at the men, trying to judge their reactions.
Initially, there was a plan to purchase a studio space for Elias on the property next door. But Clay and Greg needed the little building originally slated for the studio. Elias later confessed to Orson that he was relieved. He wanted a studio, but he didn't want to move from the campground, not even to the lot next door.
"Elias, are you sure?" Orson rubbed his back. "I mean, that's your money, and you certainly have enough to do it. But," Orson frowned at what he was about to say. He swallowed, and he shook his head at himself. "Sorry. I'm being selfish." He smiled, and then he nodded. "I think, if this is what you want, then you should bring it up with Clay and Greg."
Elias frowned. "What were you going to say? I want to know."
Orson sighed. "Ah, I was just going to say that I'd miss you."
All three were quiet for a beat, then Joseph nodded. "We'd both miss you." The handsome cop put his hand on Orson's back. "But, you'll be right here on the campground." He said that as much for Elias as he did for Orson. "And, if you feel like it's time, Elias, then Orson will support you, right?"
Orson took a breath, and he nodded. "Of course. Yeah. Absolutely."
The boy grinned. "Okay." He leaned forward, and he hugged Orson, then Joseph. "Thanks. I'll talk to Greg and Clay tomorrow."
Elias jumped up, and he stepped toward the futon, where he spent his nights. He stopped, and he spun in place to face them again. Elias' eyes were filled with his gratitude. "I love you guys."
Orson felt as if he'd been hit with a hammer. Elias had never said that before. They knew. But, he'd never uttered it. And, to give Elias the emotional space to grow, Orson studiously avoided saying those words to him until Elias was ready to accept it.
Joseph cleared his throat. "We love you too, Elias."
Orson nodded. "We do." His voice was rough, but Orson held it as steady as he could.
Elias smiled, and the young man disappeared into the other room. Orson stared at the empty spot where he just was, and a tear streaked down his blank, expressionless face.
"Hey," Joseph whispered, and he put a hand on Orson's back. "Hey, it's okay."
Orson turned, and he put his arms around Joseph. The blonde man lay back with him. "Shhh. It's okay." His hands stroked up and down Orson's back and his head.
"He doesn't need me." Orson's voice was low, and he curled his body into Joseph's. "He, he doesn't need me anymore."
"Shhhh." Joseph smiled as he held Orson. "It's okay. It means you did a good job." His deep voice whispered sweetly to his lover. "You've done so good, Orson."
Orson knew it was true. When Elias first came to him, the boy was emotionally damaged - almost beyond what he could possibly hope to save. Orson would wake up to the skinny little boy crawling into bed with him because of his nightmares. But now, their young man was asking for his own cabin.
Intellectually, Orson knew this amounted to a success. And the logical part of his mind screamed in joy at this fantastic step Elias was trying to take. Yet, the emotional part of him mourned.
Joseph understood that. And the man held Orson against his muscular, warm chest until he finally went to an exhausted sleep.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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