Chapter 13: Sacrifice
Two weeks passed. Harlan woke as Bailey shifted. His lanky, handsome boyfriend had his arm around Harlan as they faced one another, and he breathed quietly as he continued to sleep.
Harlan didn't know what time it was, but it was still dark in their cabin. A week ago, in the last days of November, Harlan had asked Bailey to move in with him. He had tried to be practical about it. "We're always together. It'd save us both money." In response, Bailey smiled, and he nodded.
In truth, as time went on, Harlan found it harder to be apart from Bailey. He didn't know exactly what would happen to them after Bailey's job wrapped up. They hadn't spoken about it. But, he hoped that the mute man would stay.
'You're being selfish.' Harlan frowned. Unconsciously he pulled Bailey a little closer to himself, his limbs tangled in a warm mess of sheets and skin along with Bailey's. 'You know he deserves better. You know he deserves someone decent. Someone good.'
He couldn't help but feel guilty. Bailey was this pure, beautiful soul. Everything Harlan discovered about him only raised Bailey up in his eyes. And it felt like a stark and insurmountable counterpoint to Harlan's past.
It was true that there was a lot less work for him that Harlan would call damning since Corbin took over the operation in Idaho. Yet, Harlan still carried the memory and the knowledge of what he had to do in the past. He knew. And Harlan couldn't allow himself to simply move past those times, just because it might be convenient now.
But, so far, Harlan couldn't let Bailey go. He bit his lip as he breathed against the skin of Bailey's neck. 'Maybe if he found someone better. Maybe then, if I knew he'd be okay.' Harlan lay there and tried to convince himself he would willingly give up his connection with Bailey if someone else came along who the mute man found interesting.
'Yeah.' Harlan nodded slightly, and he rubbed Bailey's warm back. 'Yeah. I'll just stand in until he finds the real thing.' Harlan swallowed. 'Then, I'll let him go.' He pushed back on the hollow sensation in his gut at the thought. 'It's the right thing for Bailey. And when the time comes, I'll let him go.'
Despite the early hour, Harlan didn't go back to sleep. Instead, he lay, and he enjoyed every moment he could get with Bailey. While he still had them.
Huck grinned. "No no. That's not how this is gonna go." He laughed at Carrie's expression. "We said no gifts, Carrie. Are you trying to make me look bad?"
Carrie put her hands on her hips and stood protectively in front of the wrapped present at the base of the little, decorated potted tree. She narrowed her eyes at him, though her smile ruined her attempt at seriousness. "This is nothing!" She motioned at the present.
It was a week before Christmas, and Huck had just gotten home from his work at the sawmill. He found Carrie outside his door with a bag in hand.
Huck and Carrie had connected over both their kids and their faith. Huck found her attractive, thoughtful, caring, and he especially appreciated the way she treated Patrick, her nephew.
It wasn't long before the pair were a regular sight at the little Baptist church in town. Preacher Rogers' style had completely changed. Now, the man focused on forgiveness, loving one's neighbor, and the other positive message in the Bible. Huck wasn't sure what caused the change in him, but he was thankful. And, as a result, he felt good about bringing Carrie to the services with him.
"Carrie," Huck stepped close, and he smiled down at her. "I don't need anything." Huck's face was a little mystified as he gazed upon her. "I have everything I want, right now."
Carrie smiled up at him. "Wow." She grinned. "That was pretty smooth."
"It's easy when it's true." Huck put his arms around her so that his hands rested on the small of her back.
And there, in the sparkling light of a small Christmas tree, he leaned down and gave her a sweet, lingering kiss.
It was Christmas Eve. Bailey walked along with Harlan in Crescent City. They shopped for a few little gifts, and Gary, Harlan's dad, told his son to take the day to be with Bailey.
That made Bailey very happy. While they stood on a corner, waiting for the signal to change, the tall man leaned over, and he put his head on Harlan's shoulder. It was just a moment. It was only a little way for Bailey to show Harlan how he felt. One that he hoped wouldn't draw too much attention to them.
Only a few people on the street nearby seemed to notice. They attracted a couple of disgusted expressions. But, for the most part, those out and about seemed to be focused on their own worlds and tasks.
"Come on," Harlan said, his voice short and hard. Bailey quickly followed him across the street.
'Shit. Did I piss him off?' He knew Harlan didn't often show overt displays of emotion or affection. The only times he did were at the campground. 'Sorry.' Bailey signed when they stopped at the corner of a building a couple of blocks from the car. 'Didn't mean to embarrass you.'
Harlan's eyes shifted and kept a pair of men in his vision until they stepped around the corner of the building. "That's not it," Harlan mumbled. "Follow me, stay RIGHT on me."
He turned and walked quickly down the alley that split the block. Bailey was confused, but he did as Harlan said. They got about half-way when Bailey reached and gently put a hand on Harlan's shoulder.
Instantly, Harlan turned, and he pushed Bailey against the brick wall. "Stay there. Don't move. STAY." Harlan's eyes were intense, and Bailey felt a little fear as he looked into them. Bailey nodded hurriedly.
Then Harlan released him, and he stepped back out to the middle of the thoroughfare. He stood so he faced Bailey, the open ends of the alley to his left and his right. That's when Bailey noticed the pair of men from earlier at one end. One of the men had drawn a knife, and the pair wore disgusted looks on their faces.
"Fucking faggots." A broad, husky man in a denim jacket cracked his knuckles as he walked beside the thinner, tall man with the knife. "This might be California, but this ain't fucking San Francisco, you deviant fucks."
Bailey hadn't even noticed, but another man was at the other end of the alley. And he quietly approached too. The three men closed, and Harlan stood, watching them all with his peripheral vision. His eyes were forward, and he continued to look at Bailey. "No matter what, stay right there."
Bailey's eyes flicked to the men as they neared. Bailey took out his phone, and he began to unlock the device.
"Ah, none of that!" The single man on the other side was close now, and he stepped near then tried to knock the phone out of Bailey's hand.
And that's when it began.
Harlan moved. It was so fast, Bailey couldn't be sure precisely what Harlan did. But the man that had reached for Bailey's phone flew through the air, and he landed in front of his friends. They had begun to join the fight, but instead, they had to step over their surprised buddy on the dirty asphalt.
"The fuck, Jimmy? You gonna let a fa …" Harlan moved again. He stomped brutally down on the hand of the fellow he had just thrown as he tried to rise. The man screamed in pain as the bones in his hand broke, and Harlan pivoted on top of the injured limb.
Bailey was dumbfounded as Harlan's knuckle strike impacted the big thug's throat. The man's speech cut off, and his eyes widened. His hands instinctively went up to his damaged neck, and he fell to his knees.
The man with the knife was fast, and he used the weapon with some skill. He stabbed straight at Harlan. It was a very efficient, quick movement.
Bailey had no idea how, but Harlan had turned his torso, just slightly out of line, and the knife missed him by a millimeter. The surprise on the attacker's face would have been comical had the situation been different.
Before Bailey could move, or even think, Harlan brought his foot up in a crushing snap kick, and the man with the knife went down like a sack of potatoes, holding his groin.
Now there were three groaning men at Harlan's feet. He looked, disgusted at them. And he kicked the knife away from an outstretched hand.
Bailey opened and closed his mouth. The fight was over in less than eight seconds.
Harlan looked at him. "Come on." His voice still carried the commanding, sure tone from earlier. And Bailey did as he was told. The men quickly left their injured assailants behind, and they fast-walked to the car.
After he ensured they were not followed, Harlan unlocked the vehicle, and they both got in. Harlan was cool, calm, and he started the car. Bailey put a hand on Harlan's leg, then he began to rapidly sign. 'Police. We call.'
Harlan shook his head. "No." He pulled onto the street. "No police."
Bailey exhaled in a huff of breath. 'Why?' Bailey shook his head, his confusion and stress obvious. 'How did you do that? Why can't we call the police?'
Harlan set his jaw, and he turned onto the highway. "We just can't, Bailey. And I already told you - I had to learn how to protect my boss in Italy." Harlan shrugged. "That included martial arts training."
Bailey gaped at Harlan. He closed his mouth, and he blinked as he thought. Then he shook his head. 'No. Security guards can't do what you can. And security guards call police when there is trouble.' Bailey's eyes stared at Harlan. 'Tell me.'
For the first time since the fight, Harlan looked nervous. He shook his head slightly as he drove. "I can't, Bailey." He glanced over, and Harlan swallowed. Then he clenched his jaw. "I can't. It's to protect you."
Bailey stared. He was quiet for a few minutes, and finally, Bailey sat forward, and he stared at the road as they drove.
"Bailey?" Harlan pulled into the campground, and he parked. Bailey opened the door, and he started to get out. "Bailey, wait." The mute man stopped, and he looked at Harlan. His blue eyes were injured, and he knew Harlan could see it.
'You don't trust me,' Bailey signed, and then he got out.
Harlan followed him. "That's not it." Bailey walked to their cabin, and he opened the door. Harlan was behind him, and he followed Bailey inside. "Bailey, that's not it." Harlan reached, and he put a hand on Bailey's shoulder.
The tall man spun in place, and he glared at Harlan. 'If you trust me then you tell me.'
Harlan's face reflected his roiling emotion. But, mostly, Bailey saw regret. "I … I can't."
Bailey felt something break inside. He slumped, and he fought against the tears that tried to come. Harlan reached for him, "Bailey, please, I …"
The blue-eyed man knocked Harlan's hand away. He set his jaw, and he shook his head. 'No. We're done. If you can't trust me, then we're done.' Bailey waited, hoping Harlan would make the right choice.
Instead, Harlan swallowed. Then the brown-haired man blinked, and he nodded. "Okay," Harlan whispered. Then he exhaled. "I'll move to another cabin."
Bailey felt almost numb. He stood, disbelieving as Harlan gathered his stuff. Harlan had his clothes under his arm, and he looked at Bailey. There was a hollowness in his eyes, yet, also a certainty. As if he knew this would happen. And without another word, Harlan turned, and he left.
Bailey stared at the door. And then he let himself fall apart.
Harlan put away his things. He had to make a few trips to the shared cabin, and Bailey was nowhere to be found. He was thankful for that. Now finished, Harlan sat at the desk in the new cabin. He remembered Mason's face when he asked to rent it. It was apparent Harlan didn't want to discuss things, and the young man didn't press him on why he was getting his own space. Instead, he only nodded and handed the key to the cabin over after Harlan paid.
Harlan pulled the blinds. Then he stood in the middle of the cabin, and he conjured The Box. It was a mental construct - that place he shoved his pain, and his angst. Harlan had a visual representation of it. He imagined a cool, blue framed box with transparent sides. And as he filled it with his emotion and his hurt it shifted from cool to hot, and from blue to red. Then, once it was full, he discarded it, and he began to fill another.
Harlan closed his eyes. The box filled and he discarded it. Another appeared, and seconds later he pushed that one aside as well.
"Another," Harlan whispered, and his voice wavered. It filled, and the red began to spill over. Harlan frowned, and he shoved that box away. "Another." His voice was firmer. This time, the box filled, almost to the top. But a sliver of blue remained, and the red liquid in the box boiled with Harlan's turmoil.
He breathed. "This is for Bailey." Harlan watched the red as it crept a little higher, almost to the top of the box. He knew he was close to this limit. It was everything he could do to control himself, and squash his desire to go back to the blue-eyed man. "For once. For once in your fucking life, do the right thing. Don't be selfish. Let him go. Do the right thing."
And, instead of going back and apologizing, instead of Harlan trying to win back Bailey, he let himself curl up into a ball on the bed.
There, on Christmas Eve Harlan allowed himself to cry, and to mourn the loss of a dream that he felt he never deserved in the first place.
A long, miserable, and lonely week went by. Christmas passed, and Harlan stayed locked in his cabin. He made sure his schedule overlapped Bailey's in such a way as to avoid the man. Various campers asked gentle questions here and there, but Harlan directly rebuffed all attempts to talk to him about the situation.
Instead, he focused on his job. He renewed his interest in Elias' wellbeing. Though by now, most of the kids at Elias' and Rayne's school knew better than to mess with them, a few had to be convinced to leave the pair alone. And Harlan was more than happy to put the fear of the Devil into them. "You fuck with these guys, at all, and I'll tear your little cock off and feed it to you." Harlan's eyes had been angry pools of roiling emerald as he leaned against the car of the latest misguided bully that tried to harass Elias. "Understand me?"
The boys lived a life free of worry thanks to Harlan. And he threw himself at the work, and at his father's store. He also stepped up his physical efforts. He did everything he could to avoid thinking about Bailey.
But, there was only so much he could manage.
It was the first Friday in January. Evening had fallen, and Harlan just finished with his dinner, once again cloistered in his rental. He threw away the remnants of his food, and he crumpled the paper plate in his fist.
A knock came at his door, and Harlan cast an angry gaze at it. He tossed the plate into the garbage, then he stepped over and opened it.
Bailey stood there. Harlan's breath caught in his throat as he looked into the man's blue eyes. Bailey gave Harlan the tiniest of smiles.
'Hi.' The men hadn't spoken at all in a week, and they had barely seen one another. So it was a shock to see Bailey.
Harlan gathered himself, and he nodded. "Hi, Bailey."
Bailey bit his lip. 'I wanted you to know, I'm leaving soon. The job is over on Friday. And I applied to another down south. I'll leave next Monday.'
Harlan kept his emotion hidden only through a tremendous act of will. He nodded. "Okay." Harlan set his jaw. "I wish you luck."
The look on Bailey's face as Harlan shut the door almost killed the brown-haired man. And for a long time, Harlan leaned against the wood of the closed portal.
'Fuck.' The way Harlan ached was like nothing he had ever dealt with. It was as if someone reached and pulled his heart out of his chest, and left a ragged hole there instead. "Be strong. Let him go."
Harlan hung his head, and he breathed. "Let him go, but, show him how wonderful he is." He blinked. "Yeah." Harlan's eyes shifted, and he pushed himself off of the door. And he sat down at his computer.
He irritably wiped his face. "Fuck. Stop it. He's going to be better off." Harlan sniffed, and he ignored the tears that continued to stream down his face. He quickly navigated to Bailey's music video, the very first thing Harlan found online of Bailey's old life.
Harlan began to dig. It wasn't long before he had the name of the man who Bailey worked with years back to create his record.
"Jonathan Forester." Harlan set his jaw. He already knew that Bailey never actually produced his album. It was done, musically at least. But, there was no use in Bailey paying the significant fees to produce it and make it available as a professional work for purchase. 'It's a dead project.' Bailey had told him once, while they lay together in bed. 'I can't tour. There's no money in it for the producer. Since I can't pay the fees, he owns it, and it's done, but it'll never see the light of day.' Bailey had shrugged and smiled sadly.
Harlan found the phone number, and he took out his cell. Seconds later, Harlan punched in the digits, and he waited.
Harlan sat up. "Hello. My name is Harlan, and I wondered if I could talk to you about a project you own." Harlan cleared his throat. "I'd like to find out what it'd take to purchase all rights to the work."
The day came. Bailey checked the cabin one more time. He had everything, and he went back out to his truck. The entire campground came to see him off. Elias and Rayne both took the afternoon off of school, and all of the regular campers were there as well.
All but one.
Bailey smiled and hugged all of the men as they bid him goodbye. As he hugged Mason, the lanky teenager smiled sadly at him. "Hey. I know Harlan is down by the river." Mason shrugged. "Just in case you wanted to know."
Bailey set his jaw, and he shook his head. He turned away, but not before he saw the disappointed understanding in Mason's eyes.
Bailey got into his truck. And, before he could change his mind, he pulled around the loop. As he waited for traffic on the road, he looked in his mirror. All of the campers waved goodbye. Bailey smiled, and he raised his hand so they could see it. Then he sighed, and he pulled onto the road.
He drove in silence for a while. It wasn't long before he hit the city limit of Crescent City. Bailey thought about Gary as he drove past the street he and Harlan took to get to the little house where Harlan's father lived, and where Harlan grew up. The men had been to Gary's house a number of times for dinner in the past few weeks, and Gary had become important to Bailey.
Bailey frowned as he felt his eyes sting. 'Stop. Stop it.'
He took a breath, and when he was at a stop light, he leaned over and opened his glove box. 'I need some music.'
His eyes were on the road, watching for the light, and his fingers found a jewel case. Bailey pulled it out, and while he steered with his elbow, he opened the case. Then he looked down at the CD.
Bailey stared. On it was a laser-etched picture of him. It was from his performance when he was on stage at Riches, over two years ago, before his accident. And there was a slip of paper in the jewel case as well.
A horn sounded behind him, and he jerked. Bailey frowned, and he pulled down a side street, off of the main drag.
He parked, and he looked in wonder at the CD. Stamped on the disc was a warning. 'Master Copy - Handle With Care.' Bailey knew that meant this copy was the only one. It was a master. It could be used to make others, but, this was the only one that currently existed. Bailey put the CD carefully aside, then, with shaking hands, he gingerly unfolded the little note.
'Bailey.' It was Harlan's writing, and Bailey put his hand over his mouth. 'I hope you remember how special you are. I hope you know how much value you bring to the world. I hope you find a man who will be everything you need.'
Bailey started to cry, and he shook his head. He continued to read. 'I know I'm not the lucky guy who gets to be that for you. No matter how much I want that, I know. And, though this CD has proof of how amazing you were, I want you to know - even without your voice, you'll always be amazing to me. You'll always be my rockstar, Bailey.
Bailey reread the note. Then he reverently folded it up, and he slipped it into the chest pocket of the flannel shirt he wore. He took one more breath, and he put the CD into his player.
And the clear, professional sound of HIS music began to play. Bailey sobbed, and he gripped the steering wheel. He knew it cost thousands of dollars to do what Harlan did. Additionally, for him to have the Master copy of the music, it meant that Harlan bought the rights to the work as well as produce it.
'Why?' As the music played, Bailey's mind railed. 'WHY? Why would he do this? Why would he pay thousands of dollars, and go through the effort? Why?'
And with a sudden burst of realization, Bailey's head jerked up. Chills traveled up his body as he breathed. Bailey stared at the CD player and the music continued to play. Then he nodded, and with a determined expression on his face, he put the truck into gear.
Harlan had been out by the river for hours. There was nowhere he had to go, and he had nothing to do. So, he sat on the big stone by the water and Harlan watched as the river flowed past.
His stomach growled, and he made a face. 'Fuck you.' He didn't want to get up. He didn't want to face anyone in the campground. If he didn't have to stay and watch over Elias, he wouldn't have remained. He would have left the campground as soon as Bailey had gone.
His heart and soul mourned over the loss of Bailey. Harlan tried to stop the runaway train of emotions. He filled box after box in his mind, but they just kept coming. His chest ached, and he hung his head as he let his mind spiral around the hopeless way that he felt.
He heard movement behind him. Harlan's eyes narrowed. He wouldn't let anyone see him this way. He straightened his spine, and he cleared his throat. "I don't want to talk. So go away."
He listened. And instead of the person walking back up the river trail, he heard footsteps on gravel and sand. Harlan closed his eyes, and he tried to avoid the pain of his loss turning into anger. Harlan stood. "I said …"
He turned around, and Bailey was there. His handsome face was neutral, and he stared at Harlan.
Harlan swallowed. 'No.' He shook his head. "I've nothing to say, Bailey. You should go."
Harlan began to turn his back on Bailey, but the man put a hand on his shoulder. Then Harlan let himself be turned to face the taller fellow.
Bailey set his jaw. 'I'll go. But first I want to hear you say you don't love me.' He nodded. 'Tell me you don't love me. I'll go.'
Harlan couldn't keep looking into Bailey's eyes, and he dropped his gaze. "Fine. I don't love you, Bailey." He clenched his jaw, and he nodded. "There. Now, go."
Bailey shook his head, and he lifted Harlan's chin. Harlan couldn't keep the spark of fear out of his eyes as they connected with Bailey's. 'Look me in the eye, and tell me.'
Harlan's heart felt as if it would beat its way out of his body. He swallowed, and Harlan's mouth worked. "Bailey, I," he shook his head, and Harlan again dropped his eyes. "I don't …"
Bailey lifted Harlan's chin again. And the brown-haired man's speech cut off mid-sentence. He stared at Bailey, and Harlan bit his lip. Then a crack appeared in the emotional dam he had built.
Harlan blinked, and a tear slowly began to run down his face. "Bailey, please." Harlan grimaced, and his voice wavered. "Please, just go." Another tear joined the first, and Harlan squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm trying to do the right thing for you. Please, go."
Bailey put his hands on each side of Harlan's face, and he leaned forward. He gently kissed Harlan's forehead, and Bailey pushed back to look at him.
Harlan cried, and he lay his face against Bailey's neck. "No. Bailey, no." He felt Bailey's arms circle him, and Harlan shook his head. "I'm … I don't deserve it. You don't know me." By now, Harlan's defenses were completely wrecked. "I don't deserve you."
Bailey pushed back, and he signed. 'My choice.' Bailey cocked his head, and he looked into Harlan's eyes. 'You don't choose for me.' Bailey smiled. 'I got your gift. I know.' The color of his eyes was a remarkable deep blue. 'But I want to hear you say it.'
Harlan raised his face to the sky, and he pulled Bailey back in. Though the man was taller, he leaned down so that Harlan could put a hand on the back of his neck. Harlan took deep breaths, and then he nodded.
Harlan released Bailey, and he took a step back. The brown-haired man streamed tears, and he began to sign. 'I learned to say this for you.' He shook his head, and he laughed. 'I tried to be strong. I tried to pretend, so you find someone better.' Harlan gritted his teeth, but he continued. 'I didn't mean for it to happen.' Bailey smiled, when Harlan signed the same words he did, back at Thanksgiving. Harlan laughed again and then his voice joined his hands.
"I love you, Bailey." Harlan gently stroked his hand over Bailey's face, and his own features bore naught but fascination. "I can't help it. I tried. But, I can't."
Bailey grinned, and he cocked a handsome brow at Harlan.
'That's what love is.'
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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