May 18, 2018 (Friday)
Mason paced back and forth in his cabin, phone in hand. He checked the time. It was still 6:58 AM and he made a noise of frustration. He knew his dad and Greg were already up. He heard Greg's door open this morning a little after 6:00 AM, and then there were the sounds of a fire getting built. Mason checked the time again. 6:59 AM.
"Ugh." He forced himself to sit and he tried to relax. He was supposed to call Jeremy today. He knew the redhead started work at 7, and he didn't want to look too eager by calling early. He made himself take 10 slow, deep breaths.
He checked his phone. "Yes!" Mason selected the contact for Jeremy Adams in his phone, and he punched the call button. He eagerly waited through two rings. "Hello, this is Jeremy."
Mason grinned, the expression completely unconscious and unstoppable. "Hi, Jeremy. This is Mason. You said to call today."
"Yes, Mason! Thanks for calling!" There was a note of excitement in Jeremy's voice. That same giddy feeling as when he saw Jeremy in the clinic was in Mason's gut. "The reason I wanted you to call was to ask if it'd be possible for me to come out today. I need to see the campground, and what it is Greg has planned. Some of my kids are sort of … fragile. And I want to prepare them for what they'll find there."
Mason's heart seemed to try to thud its way out of his chest. "Y… yes! You should totally visit the campground today." He licked his lips. "I'm sure Greg won't mind. He told me to be as accommodating as possible to you."
"Okay. That sounds great. How about around 4:30 today?"
Mason was elated. "Yes!" He heard the excitement in his own voice, and he made a real effort to tone it down. "That'll be fine." Then an idea sparked in his brain. "Hey … if you don't have anything else planned, why not camp the weekend here? That way you can really experience it." Mason held his breath.
"Huh." Jeremy seemed to think about it. "You're sure Greg would be okay with that? Maybe I should ask him."
"Yeah, he's totally fine with it." Mason bit his lip. "He actually suggested you camp so you can get to know the place." The teenager flinched at his little lie.
"Really?" Another moment went by. "Well, that's really good of him." Mason heard him smile over the phone. "Okay. I love to camp. So it sounds like I'll be spending the weekend there." He made a thoughtful sound over the phone. "I'll be a little later then. I need to get my gear together."
Mason grinned. "All right, sounds great. We'll see you later today."
Mason hung up and he did a wild jig of happiness in the cabin. Then he stopped, eyes wide and his brain whirled. 'Gotta talk to Greg.' He had to lay the groundwork for Jeremy to stay.
He exited the cabin and saw his dad and Greg at the patio table next to the Airstream. Over the last few days, they were more and more comfortable showing their affection for one another, and Mason caught them in a moment. They sat in chairs, right next to one another and Greg leaned over until his head rested on Clay's shoulder. Greg's eyes were closed, and a subtle smile was on his lips. His dad had his arm around Greg's shoulders, and he was … smelling Greg's hair? Mason made a face.
"Weirdos." He said as he approached, and Mason pulled out a chair. Greg opened his eyes and grinned, but he didn't move his head. Clay only shrugged and smiled. They really didn't seem to care much.
Mason poured himself a cup of coffee and dumped in cream and sugar. Greg and Clay had mugs in front of them, and they steamed in the morning coolness. Usually, they would be up and be working already - all of them. But it was getting close to the day Clay had to leave. And Greg wanted to get as much of this sort of time as he could with his policeman.
Mason grabbed a bagel from a bag that lay on the table, and some cream cheese. The crumbs told him the men had already eaten, and he smeared some on the bread.
Mason made himself look calm, and sipped his strong, creamy coffee. He did love the ritual of the stuff now. Though he definitely needed sugar and cream to make it palatable. After a couple of sips, and bites of bagel, Mason made his play.
"Hey, so I talked to Jeremy, the guy running the Raven Project this morning."
"Yeah?" Greg lifted his head and picked up his coffee. "When's he gonna visit us? That's what was on the agenda, yeah?"
"Yes. Ah, he will be by today after he's done with work." Mason licked his lips. "And he said it'd be best if he could actually camp out, so he'd know what the kids are going to experience." Mason made himself look at the coffee instead of at Greg. He did his best to look uninterested in Greg's response. He was a terrible liar, but he was very motivated to make this work.
"Huh. Yeah, that sounds reasonable," Greg said. The man took a sip of his coffee and he looked past Mason at the campground beyond. "He could stay in any of the tent sites. If he wants to know what the kids will go through then he'd probably need to do a tent vs a cabin."
Mason tried to keep his face neutral and he glanced up. Greg smiled at him, and Mason felt relief. Then he looked at his dad.
Clay stared at him, his eyes narrow in suspicion. Mason stared back and he fought the beginning of panic. The boy felt a drop of sweat start to roll down the side of his face. Clay made to say something, then he frowned at the sound of an engine.
Mason exhaled with relief at the distraction. A green park service truck pulled off of the road onto the asphalt of the loop through the campground and stopped next to the Airstream.
Greg and Clay stood up. Mason took another swig of his coffee and did the same.
The same park ranger Greg met earlier got out of his truck. The man looked over the grounds and he nodded appreciatively at the progress. He looked over at Greg and smiled. "Nice work! The old place looks like new again." His eyes landed on Clay and Mason. "Got yourself some helpers?"
"Yep." Greg introduced them all to one another. As Harry shook Mason's hand his eyes landed on Mason's patch he had sewn on his jacket.
The patch was a rectangular rainbow. This particular accessory was responsible for quite a few physical altercations in Alabama, but Mason refused to remove it. The boy saw the frown from Harry, and his hackles instantly rose.
"Yeah, we've made a lot of progress." Mason motioned at the campground. "It's going to be the best gay-friendly campground for miles."
Greg flinched but didn't correct him. Harry's frown deepened. "Ah. Yeah. I can …" he looked again at Greg then at Clay. The two men stood close to one another, "... I can see that." He straightened and nodded. "Well, you folks have a good day."
Without another word, he got back into his truck, backed out of the campground and took off down the highway. Mason stared after him, his posture aggressive and a frown on his face. Clay shook his head. "Son … don't make trouble for Greg."
"What trouble?" Mason waved a hand at the highway. "It's not like he's not gonna find out that Greg is gay, or that this is a gay-friendly campground." His eyes landed on Greg and his voice turned acidic. "Do you really want to keep it a secret? Even here? In California? What are you afraid of?" His tone told the story of his absolute disdain for that tactic - no matter the location.
Greg frowned and started to answer. Clay interrupted. "Mason. If I hear you speak to Greg that way again, if you disrespect him again, my last legal month as your guardian will be pure misery for you." Clay stepped close to him and Mason flinched. "I'm going to call and ask how things are going here with you. And all Greg has to say is that you acted out. And that's it. You'll come right back to Alabama." Clay reached and firmly gripped Mason's jaw and made him look into his eyes. "We clear?"
Mason swallowed and nodded.
Clay released him and stepped back. The big man folded his arms. "Apologize."
Mason glared at Clay. "Am I supposed to lie?" He said it before he could stop himself. Clay's eyes widened and his chest seemed to swell to twice its size.
Greg reached out a hand and put it on Clay's chest. "Easy." He looked over at Mason. The youth frowned and licked his lips.
"I don't want you to apologize if you don't mean it," Greg said, his voice subdued. "Instead, I want you and I to have a talk later. That's all I ask of you." His hazel eyes searched Mason's. "I think we need that before we'll know if your staying here is going to work for both of us." Greg smiled, but there was no happiness in it. "Sorry. But I didn't come here to be judged. Not by you, or anybody else."
Mason worked his mouth. He suddenly felt in the wrong, and he wasn't used to that. Normally he was righteous in his convictions, but now he felt as if he were the bad guy. He nodded. "Okay."
The three of them split up and tackled their remaining tasks before the campground was to open on Monday morning.
At some point, Greg went to help Clay in the kitchen area. While they worked Greg looked at him. "Hey." Clay turned his head. "I'm sorry about how things went down with Mason and me." He frowned. "I probably could have handled it better."
Clay shook his head. "Nope. You were fine. And I support what you said, 100%. If it's not going to work then it'll be because he's a stubborn git who can't see past his own self-righteous nose."
Greg nodded slightly. "Well … I'm sure I can find a way to at the very least tolerate him. I know he needs to be here, to keep him safe." Greg sighed. "I shouldn't have threatened to send him back."
Clay put his hammer down and stepped over beside Greg. "Partner," his voice held as much care and love as Greg had ever heard, "do you really think I'd let him stay if he can't find a way to respect you?" Clay shook his head and put his hands on Greg's shoulders. "I'd never do that to you." He looked into Greg's eyes. "I'll find another way. If you decide his being here isn't gonna work, then I'll find another way."
Greg took a deep breath and nodded. He smiled at Clay. "Thanks, Partner." He put his arms around Clay and kissed the big man. It lingered, and Clay's hand was soon on his rear and the other on the back of his head. Greg pulled away with a grin. "Nooooo …" He laughed at Clay's put-out expression. "I have to go talk to your son."
Clay smiled and rubbed his crotch against Greg's. "You might wanna wait till that settles down a bit." He could feel Greg's erection against his own.
"Yes, and you're not helping!" Greg pushed him away and grinned. He adjusted himself and tried to point his cock down so it was less obvious. But now it was just a hard tube across the front of his jeans.
Clay gave him a thumbs-up and an exaggerated wink. "Much better."
Greg shook his head. He stood around and waited until his excitement was less obvious. Then he left Clay as he did some finish work on the outdoor kitchen.
Mason was busy clearing the last tent site of brush and brambles. The teenager's shirt was soaked with sweat, and he swung the machete with force. Greg watched him for a minute, then he cleared his throat.
The young man jerked to a stop. He took a breath and turned. "Hey, Greg." He carefully leaned the machete against a tree so no one would step on it. Mason straightened and he looked at Greg. His eyes were nervous.
"Come on. Let's go down by the river." Greg smiled and tried to get rid of some of Mason's tension. The two of them walked through the camp to the riverside. Greg found a seat on a large flat stone, nice and warm from the sunshine, while Mason sat in the dry sand a few feet away in front of him.
Greg took a deep breath and looked out over the water. He let his mind settle and calm. Then he looked back at Mason.
"I want to tell you something. It's something nobody in my life now knows, not even Clay." Greg swallowed. He could already feel the pain of the memory he was about to relive. "And I want it to stay that way. You need to promise not to repeat this. Can you do that?"
Mason frowned, but he nodded. "Yeah. I promise."
"Okay." Greg steeled himself. "I've only said the words 'I'm gay' once. Ever." He laughed a little. "Well, twice now." Greg licked his lips. "I first said it to my mother, when I was 12." He took another breath, and fought the anger and terror associated with the past.
Mason watched his face. He could tell this was really hard for Greg, and Mason's attention was absolute. Greg continued, "It may be difficult for you to imagine, but that didn't go well." Greg cocked his head. "Do you know what ECT is?"
Mason did. "Electroconvulsive Therapy." His eyes suddenly had a spark of realization. "It used to be used to … convert people. To make them straight." He shook his head. "But it doesn't work. It never did."
Greg nodded. "Right on all counts. My mother didn't get the memo about the effectiveness. And I was forced to undergo 'treatment'." Greg frowned. He was determined to get through this, but it was hard. "They strapped me down, attached this … well, this torture device to me, and they flipped the switch." He dragged in another shaky breath. "My muscles contracted so hard I ruptured both of my biceps."
Mason's face fell. His horror was obvious.
Greg's eyes lost the spark of the present as he sifted through his memory. "After the first treatment, I swore I was cured." He shook his head. "She didn't believe me. It took a month for my arms to heal - just in time for the next session." Greg blinked and a single tear escaped to roll down his cheek. "This continued, every month for three years."
Mason shook his head. "How could your mom do …"
"She's not my mom." Greg's voice snapped. "I refuse to call her that. She lost that title the day she decided to torture her son."
Mason swallowed and he nodded.
Greg frowned. "Sorry." He tried to calm down. He found some success and he continued," I turned sixteen, and I was just under 6'0". I weighed 160 lbs at the time. And I decided I was never going to be shocked again. My mother tried to force me into the car and she couldn't. I didn't fight her. But I was not getting into that car."
Mason's eyes were worried. "What happened next?"
"She told me if I didn't go then I couldn't live with her anymore. I refused … and she threw me out of the house." Greg smiled sadly. "Of course, all of my family knew what happened. And none of them would take me in. Instead of going into the foster care system, I began the process of becoming an emancipated minor."
Greg picked up a stone and he threw it into the river. The stone made a little splash in the flowing water. "The foster system in the state was full to bursting. So I was granted emancipation. I struggled. But I got a job, got my GED, and soon after that I started community college courses." He smiled. "Criminal Justice, of course. I was the youngest in the whole college at the time, as I had just turned 17. After I got my Associates I transferred to university and got my BA. Then I started applying for the academy."
He sighed deeply. "During that whole time, I didn't have sex once. I hated that part of myself so much. I despised that it had caused me so much pain." Greg shook his head. "I was a 21-year-old kid, with no sex drive." He laughed quietly. Then he frowned. "What happened next I could never have predicted."
Mason leaned forward, utterly caught up in the story.
"I got word that my mother died suddenly in her sleep. The autopsy said it was a massive stroke." His mouth quirked into a lopsided smile. "Turns out she never wrote a Will. And that meant as the next of kin, our family home was mine. My uncles and aunts frothed at their mouths over it, but there was nothing they could do." Greg's smile turned grim. "I felt it poetic. The sale of that house helped to fund the start of this place." He motioned over the river in front of him.
His hand dropped and Greg idly stirred the sand beside the rock with a finger. "I became a cop because I wanted to help people. And I did, alongside your dad. But … I began to want more of a life for myself too. I knew I wasn't done with service to my fellow man, but I also wanted a little slice of it for me too." Greg nodded. "And that's where the idea for this place came from."
Mason looked shell-shocked. He blinked as Greg turned his eyes on him.
They stared at one another for almost a minute. Greg finally smiled. "I'm so glad you get to literally wear your pride out for all to see. And I'm glad you never had to grow up in a home where the people who are supposed to love and protect you are your worst enemy." Greg's eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. "But I want you to understand, not everybody has it that way. And when you judge others because they're not out enough, it only shows one thing - your ignorance."
Mason struggled, but his face screwed up into a frown and he felt himself start to cry. "I … I'm sorry." He looked down and shook his head. "I didn't know."
Greg stood and he went to Mason's side. He sat down in the sand beside him. "I know." Greg patted his knee. "Now that you do, what are you gonna do about it?"
Mason sniffed and wiped at his face. He nodded to himself. "I'll do better, Greg." He looked up, his eyes watery and red. "I will." He said the words and he meant them.
Greg smiled at him. This time it was broad and carried his relief and joy. "Good." Greg leaned over, and Mason hugged him.
The two embraced and Mason put his face down, against Greg's neck. "I really like it here. Don't send me away."
Greg almost lost it. "I'm not going to." He managed to keep himself together and he patted Mason's back. "I mean, I need someone to cut down those blackberries."
Mason laughed and pushed back. The youth wiped his face. "Okay. Sounds good."
The two stood and brushed themselves free of sand. Then they made their way back up to the campground. They slowly walked along the loop, and eventually came to the kitchen.
Clay was just finishing up and he saw them approach. He put away his tools and he walked over to meet them. It was just about lunchtime anyway, and good timing. "So, what's the verdict?" His eyes found Greg's. "Either way is fine with me, whatever you decide."
Greg put his arm around Mason's shoulders and his other around Clay's. "He stays."
"Thanks, Greg," Mason said, his voice thankful and humble.
Clay nodded. "Okay." He looked over at Mason. "You better not disappoint me. I swear, I'll yank you back to Alabama in a second if you do."
"He's going to be fine." Greg patted Clay's shoulder and he took a deep breath. "We're all gonna be fine."
They had a quick lunch of sandwiches that Greg made. Mason noticed Greg did most all of the cooking and meal prep. The teen was secretly thankful. His dad was not the best cook. After decades of knowing him well, Greg realized this too.
All of them went back to work. Most of the remaining work centered around the large fire pit Mason convinced Greg to install near the center of the campground. The men installed benches made of reclaimed lumber in a circle around a brick-lined depression in the ground. The fire pit was 6' across, and it would be a great gathering spot for dinner, or just for hanging out after dark.
Mason grinned as Clay put in the last of the bricks that lined the pit. "I think that's it. Is that it?" He looked around at Greg.
Greg grinned back at him. "I think you're right, Mason. All the cabins are done. The kitchen is up," Greg jerked a thumb at the outdoor kitchen, which now had a double sink, a propane stove with oven, and a dishwashing station, "and all the tent sites are cleared. Bathrooms and showers are ready, trash is handled." Greg pursed his lips and nodded as he looked around the campground. "I think we're ready!"
They all did a group high-five. "This deserves some kombucha." Mason turned and started to walk toward the Airstream.
Clay rolled his eyes and looked at Greg. "You've ruined my kid. Now he drinks kombucha?"
"Heh. It could be worse."
"Okay, true." Clay grinned. "Come on. Let's get a cider."
It was about 4 PM and the three guys sat and relaxed under the shade of Greg's patio space. It was a sunny, warm day, and the cold drinks were welcome.
As they hung out Clay watched Greg and Mason interact. It seemed different somehow - as if they had come to an understanding of a sort.
"So," Clay looked at Mason, "what'd you guys talk about?"
Mason glanced at Greg. Greg's face was unreadable and he only looked back at Mason. The teenager nodded and turned back to Clay. "Sorry, dad. That's between Greg and me."
Clay frowned, then it slowly turned into a smile. He nodded. "Okay." The fact that Mason showed respect for a conversation between him and Greg was encouraging. And Clay would press him no further on it.
Almost an hour passed, and the guys all worked on their second drinks. Greg also started the charcoal BBQ to prepare for dinner.
They all frowned when the sound of a car reached their ears. Then Mason jackknifed forward out of his chair. "Jeremy!"
Both Greg and Clay frowned in confusion at his excitement. He couldn't help but run out to the pavement.
A little, beat-up, silver Saturn pulled into the campground, and it slowed to a stop. Mason grinned broadly at the redhead behind the wheel. "Hey, Jeremy!" Mason suddenly felt self-conscious. He was dirty, and he probably smelled bad from all the sweating he did over the day.
Jeremy didn't seem to notice. "Hi, Mason!" He smiled back. Mason again noticed his beautiful teeth and skin.
'And that hair.' Mason forced himself to focus. "Uh, okay. So, tent camping is down here. I'll show you. We can unload your stuff, then come back and talk to Greg and my dad."
The mentioned adults only watched from their chairs as Mason sprinted down the pavement toward the tent camping. The silver car slowly followed the excited teenager.
Greg looked over at Clay, the question obvious on his face. Clay looked back and only shrugged.
Mason helped Jeremy unload his gear and a cooler. The redhead also brought a couple of camp chairs. He left one at his campsite, and he carried the other back to Greg's Airstream.
He smiled at the two men, and they rose to greet him. Jeremy put down the chair and he extended a hand. "Hi, gentlemen. I'm Jeremy Adams. Great to meet you both."
"Hi, Jeremy." Greg smiled and shook his hand. "I'm Greg. I own the place. Glad you could join us. And I'm looking forward to discussing how we can help your organization."
The young redhead smiled and nodded. Then he shook Clay's hand. "You must be Clay, Mason's dad?"
"That's me." The big man looked down at him. His eyes flicked to Mason. "Mason told you about us?" Clay pointed at himself and Greg. The teenager watched them interact, a slightly nervous expression on his face.
"Yeah, he did." Jeremy nodded. "It's great to meet you both." He looked over at Greg. "I wanted to say that I really appreciate the suggestion that I stay at the campground."
Greg glanced at Mason who had gone pale. He only paused for a heartbeat as he processed that, then he refocused on Jeremy. "Sure thing. I thought it'd be a great opportunity for you to see the space."
Jeremy smiled and began talking to Clay. Greg looked at Mason and he smirked at the cringing teenager. 'You little shit,' Greg thought and he shook his head at Mason, then he grinned at the boy. Mason knew he'd been caught, but he also looked relieved Greg covered for him.
Eventually, Mason and Jeremy walked back to his campsite. Mason was more than eager to help him set up his space, even though Jeremy assured him he would be fine.
Greg watched them go. "Well … I think we know why Mason was so spun up about Jeremy." Greg shook his head. "Wow. He is a GOOD looking young man."
Clay frowned and glared at Greg. He noticed. "Ahhh …" he put his arms around Clay, "don't worry. You're the only one for me," Greg said and laughed.
Clay's arms tightened around Greg. "You mean that?" His eyes were serious, and his voice was low and reverent.
Greg swallowed and he quickly thought about it. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah." He stared back at Clay. "I guess I do."
Clay's face twitched and the big man cleared his throat. "Good …" he shook his head and cleared his throat again, "good to know."
The two of them stood together, arms comfortably over one another's shoulders. They watched as Mason buzzed around Jeremy, next to useless as the small redhead steadily set up his tent. "Gonna have to watch those two," Greg said and smiled at Clay.
The big man made a face and nodded in agreement. "He seems to have it pretty bad." He smiled and looked at Greg. "Kinda like his old man."
Greg swallowed. "Well, damn. That was smooth, Officer Jameson."
Clay pulled him close. "It's also true." He looked into Greg's eyes. "I hope you know, you're gonna have to figure out how to live with me in that trailer. Because I don't plan on this staying long distance."
Greg's heart seemed to jump into his throat and his eyes watered. "Fuck." He shook his head, embarrassed to cry.
Clay lifted his chin. The big man leaned down and gently kissed the man that he loved.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
And thank you for reading!
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