Chapter 5: Hope
It was Tuesday afternoon. Rain returned to the campground, though this time it was gentle—almost a mist that fell upon the forest and cabins. Rayne, Elias, and Avery had just gotten off the bus, and Rayne numbly began to walk to his cabin. Avery was right beside him, going on about something that had happened in one of his classes.
Rayne wasn't listening. Avery was always talking, so Rayne had to learn to pick up on when he said something worth hearing. Right now, the boy was on fast-forward.
"Hey," Elias' voice interrupted Avery. The teenagers stood at the spot where they diverged to get to their own spaces, and Rayne looked over at Elias when he spoke. Elias smiled. "Did you want to hang out for a little in the Clay Cabin with me?"
Avery had stopped too and frowned. He waved at Elias and Rayne. "I'm gonna go see what Greg is making for dinner!" The blonde boy doubled back the way they had come, toward the Airstream where Greg and Clay lived. The Airstream was their home while they remodeled the house on the property next door. The guys had big plans for that place, and they were getting closer all the time to completing it.
Rayne was a little surprised by Elias' question, and a part of him was pleased. He liked Elias, he had the first moment he'd laid eyes on him. He smiled a little. "Yeah. That'd be great." He gripped the backpack strap over his shoulder. "Let me drop this off at my cabin. I'll be over after."
Elias nodded and turned toward the Clay Cabin. Rayne stepped a little faster and put his bag on the futon in the cabin he shared with Avery. Rayne slept on the futon, so that was "his" space in the little dwelling. For all of his faults, Avery respected that.
Leaving his temporary home, Rayne soon stood at the half open door to Elias' favorite place on the campground. Knocking gently on the door, he poked his head inside.
Elias had a clay-smeared bucket in one hand and smiled. "Come in." Rayne stepped inside, watching as Elias set down his clay, then poured a little water from another bucket on top of the yellowish-orange chunk of earth. Elias glanced at him. "I'm just liquifying this stuff so I can pass it through a sieve." He grimaced. "This is raw clay from the bank of the river. And it has all sorts of junk in it. But the color is awesome, and I want to see if I can use it."
"Oh. Okay." Rayne sat on the futon, and he watched as Elias moved around the cabin to put all of his things in order. Rayne's eyes landed on something on Elias' worktable, covered with a tarp.
Elias finished his little chores, then followed Rayne's gaze to the fairly large, concealed object. He grinned. "This is something I've been working on for a while—off and on as I find time." Elias put a hand on the tarp. "You want to see it?"
"Yeah!" Rayne found Elias' work amazing. The things he did with clay were stunning. He leaned forward from his spot on the futon.
Elias removed the tarp, and under it was an intricate, twisted serpent. It was in a figure-eight, lying on its side, doubling back and biting its own tail to create an infinity symbol. About half of the serpent had beautiful, realistic scales, while the rest was smooth, awaiting Elias' hands to work their magic on the piece.
"Wow." Rayne didn't even remember making the decision to stand up to get closer to the sculpture. But his feet carried him, right over to where Elias stood with the clay-stained tarp in his hand.
Elias watched Rayne's face. "Do you like it?"
Rayne laughed. "Uh, yeah." He shook his head. "I don't know how you make this stuff." Then Rayne glanced at Elias. "I could never make anything like this."
Elias smiled and covered the unfinished sculpture. "Maybe not. But you can do other stuff I can't."
"Like what?" Rayne sighed, and he went back to the futon. He sat and exhaled heavily. He sounded far too tired and weary to be a fifteen-year-old boy. Elias walked around the coffee table to sit beside Rayne. He's warm, Rayne couldn't help but think as they sat close. The dark-haired young man swallowed. He's so cute too. Rayne fidgeted.
Elias gazed quietly at him until Rayne finally turned his head to look at him. He smiled at Rayne. "Oh, like calculus?" He laughed and shook his head. "You're so smart, Rayne. You're taking all of those advanced classes. Aren't they worth college credit?"
He thinks I'm smart. Rayne smiled. "Ah, yeah. A few are." But the good feeling in Rayne's chest was soon crushed. "I signed up for them, hoping my dad would notice. So he could be proud of me."
Elias put a hand on Rayne's knee. "And he's not?"
Rayne swallowed and looked at Elias' hand where it rested, warm and still on his leg. Any other time that would have thrilled him, but he found it hard to breathe as he thought about his father. He shook his head. "No." He felt tears threaten, and he fought hard. Don't cry. Not in front of Elias. Don't cry.
"Why not?" Elias asked, genuinely confused. "He should be. You're so smart," Elias repeated with utter conviction. He watched Rayne's face, and his eyes roamed over the skin there.
Rayne cleared his throat. "Ah," he shook his head and felt his eyes sting with tears, "because I'm gay." He felt a huge disappointment in himself as he began to cry, but he couldn't hold it in.
Elias looked at him with such empathy and sorrow. "I'm sorry." Moving his hand, he slid his arm around Rayne's shoulders. "But he sent you here. He had to know this was a gay-friendly place, right?"
Rayne shook his head, his face pointing down. Tears dripped off of the boy's nose. "I don't know." He took a shaky breath. "I saw one of the conversion camp flyers at the house. And I thought, maybe he was going to send me there." He bit his lip. "I want him to. I want them to fix me."
Elias' expression changed to one of shock. "What? But, you're not broken, Rayne."
Rayne shook his head again. "I am. God says so. And that's who Dad listens to; Preacher Rogers, and God." It was hard for him to speak now, and he tried to breathe through his emotion without sobbing. "My dad won't even talk to me. And he sent me, he sent me away." He gritted his teeth. "I just want it to go away. I don't want to be gay." He shook his head. "I don't want it. I want to be norm—I want to be normal. Then my dad can love me."
Elias hugged him, and Rayne cried against his shoulder. The young men sat together, and Elias did his best to help share some of the heavy load that Rayne carried with him.
Harlan stepped away from the corner of the cabin. He had walked past to check in on Elias, and instead caught some of the exchange between the two boys. He hadn't heard all of it, but he had heard enough. Listening to Rayne fall apart over the way Huck was handling his sexuality was alarmingly emotional for Harlan, and he swallowed the lump that had gathered in his throat.
It made Harlan relive that day, years ago, when he left home—when Gary's lack of acceptance and understanding had driven him away. Harlan couldn't help but feel that same despair and anger from so long ago. Though this time, it was directed at Huck and his spiritual confidant, Preacher Rogers.
Harlan walked toward his cabin. On the way he passed Orlando. The handsome man glanced at Harlan, nodded curtly, then continued on. Harlan stopped at his cabin door and watched Orlando as the man entered his own dwelling a little further down the asphalt loop. There wasn't even a look back at Harlan before Orlando went inside.
Sighing, Harlan shook his head at himself. Well, I guess my fun with Orlando is at an end. Harlan entered and closed the door. In truth, he wasn't overly surprised at Orlando's reaction. Their last coupling had been a great time for Orlando, but the way Harlan had treated him after was what drove him away. Harlan couldn't blame him.
Besides, Orlando wasn't the man Harlan wanted. Invariably, his thoughts landed on Bailey and his body responded. He made a face as he grew an erection in his jeans. "Damn it." Harlan pushed it into a more comfortable position. "I'll take care of you later." Looking down at himself, the hard tube of his member was obvious on the front of his pants. He sighed. Harlan hunted around and found a flannel shirt. He put it on, then looked at himself again. The untucked material covered his crotch, just barely.
That'll do. Harlan had to go walking past most of the campground to get to the bathroom and didn't want to have an obvious woody on display when he did.
He made his way toward the bathroom building. As he did, he noticed a few of the guys out at the kitchen. Bailey was among them, sitting at the picnic table with Mason and Jeremy. Clay had put up an Easy-Up to cover the table, protecting it from the mist that still fell over the world. Normally, Harlan would join them at the kitchen and wait his turn to make his dinner, or he'd buy into whatever Greg and Clay were making. But not this evening. He had plans in town.
He passed the picnic table, and Bailey perked up. The mute man waved at Harlan with a smile.
Harlan was initially surprised and stopped in his tracks. He blinked, then finally made himself behave in a socially acceptable way. Waving back, he gave Bailey a half-smile.
Then he turned away and entered the bathroom. Harlan took a deep breath in the safe space of the small room, then cocked his head and pulled up the flannel shirt. The look from Bailey hadn't helped his situation at all. His erection was still in full force.
Shaking his head, Harlan unbuckled his jeans. "Well, pissing with this will be fun."
Unlocking his apartment, Huck stepped inside. His flannel shirt was covered in sawdust, along with his hair. The itchy stuff was down the collar of his shirt too—it got everywhere.
Huck sighed wearily and took off his outer shirt. It went into a laundry basket he kept by the front door, specifically for his work clothes. That way, it limited how much of the sawdust got into the apartment.
He worked as the manager for a local sawmill. They cut trees into lumber, and they also did custom beams when a customer needed them. When his little family had first moved there for the job, eight years ago, he, Rayne and Miranda had been happy. Or, Huck thought they were. Now that he had time to look back on things, he could see little tell-tale signs of Miranda's discontent with their relationship.
She just wasn't ready. Having a child so early in life, and being saddled with the responsibility of parenthood was too much. She had said as much in her letter, which had driven a knife into Rayne. Even though she wrote that she loved Rayne dearly, that remark and her actions had spoken louder than anything else.
Huck looked forlornly around his quiet home, his eyes finding the chair where Rayne liked to sit and read his books. He felt crushed by loneliness and his lack of clarity. He simply didn't know if what he was doing was the right thing.
"It doesn't feel right," Huck whispered as he looked at Rayne's chair. "It doesn't." He closed his eyes. "God, please. Please, tell me what to do."
The downstairs door buzzer went off, and Huck jumped. He quickly stepped over to the intercom beside his front door. "Hello?"
"Huck, it's me." The warm tones of Preacher Roger's voice came over the speaker. "You got a minute?"
A mix of emotions boiled in Huck. Preacher Rogers was the only person really trying to help him with Rayne. Yet the path set before them by the man was so hard to follow. It hurt so much to put Rayne through this silent treatment. "Yes. Please, come on up." Huck hit the button, and he heard the door buzz.
Huck opened the door, and Preacher Rogers soon walked around the corner. The tall, large man smiled beatifically at him. "Hello, Huck." He extended a big, meaty hand. "I'd like to sit and talk with you and your son, if you don't mind."
Huck shook the pastor's hand and felt his soul jerk around in his chest. "Uh, actually, Rayne is away, uh, at a friend's." The little lie came, and Huck inwardly cringed. But then he continued with the truth. "I wanted to get him out of the house." He took a breath. "I just couldn't deal with the not speaking. It's too hard, and I think we both needed a break."
Pastor Rogers' eyes were soft and understanding. "I can see how that would be tough, Huck." He smiled. "Well, I'm here. Can you and I talk for a bit?"
Huck welcomed the company. He needed interaction and counseling on how to handle Rayne. "Yes. Please, come in." He stepped aside and Pastor Rogers entered. Then Huck shut his door.
Harlan looked up at the second-floor window of the apartment building. Earlier, he had been parked near Preacher Rogers' house. He wanted to lay eyes on the place, and on the man himself. But shortly after Harlan had arrived, the object of his study got into his car. He had followed the Pastor there to Huck's apartment building, then watched as Pastor Rogers entered the place.
A few minutes passed. "Hrm." He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. Harlan started his car, then pulled back onto the street. Soon he was back in front of the Rogers' residence.
From his research into the religious man, Harlan knew the preacher was married with two grown children. Though there didn't appear to be any other cars currently at the address which belonged to the household. Maybe wifey is away.
Getting out, Harlan walked to the front door. He knocked and waited. No answer came, and Harlan went back to his car. He drove around the corner, until he found the alley that split the block. Then he turned down the narrow lane, stopping when he was at the backside of the house.
Harlan assessed his risk. There were high fences around all of the yards. It was very unlikely that someone would see him if he tried to gain entry. He decided it was worth the attempt. Getting out of his vehicle, he opened the back gate of the yard.
Slipping inside, Harlan closed the gate. Next, he started for the back door. Once there, he checked for any obvious alarm systems. He saw none, so he carefully listened, his ear on the door. After a minute, he pulled his well-used lockpick kit from his pocket.
Quickly unlocking the door, Harlan went inside. His eyes roamed over the kitchen, where he entered the house. It was a well-appointed room. The best home kitchen equipment and dishes all graced the counters and the exposed shelves.
Serving God pays well, apparently. Harlan couldn't help but compare the pastor's home to Huck's. He didn't linger as he didn't know how much time he had, moving quickly toward the staircase.
Harlan went up, quiet as a ghost. He assessed an open bathroom and a number of closed doors from the landing. He took a moment to decide, then carefully opened the door on the end. That was most often the spot of the master bedroom, and that held true this time. He entered and shut himself inside.
His trained, detail-oriented gaze raked over the room. A dresser, along with an unmade king-sized bed took up most of the floorspace. He started to walk toward the dresser when he stopped.
The brown handle of a suitcase tucked carefully between the bed and the small end-table next to it immediately intrigued him, and he stepped over. Gripping the handle, he pulled, sliding it out of it's snug little spot.
He put the suitcase on the bed and opened it. Inside were various receipts, printouts, and a checkbook.
Checkbook. Really? How old fashioned. Taking the small item, he flipped through the copies of the written checks. He stopped at the last one, staring down at it. As he did, Harlan felt the old fire which fueled him burn a little brighter. He allowed himself to smile down at the copy.
Harlan took a picture of the carbon copy, then put his phone away. He returned everything to the suitcase and put it back in its spot, wedged beside the bed. He turned toward the door to go.
The grim, satisfied expression on his face remained as he left the dwelling. Harlan locked the door to the home, then got back into his car. "For a man living in a glass house, you sure are casting a lot of stones."
With a final glance at the second story of the home, Harlan pulled out back onto the street and pointed his car toward the campground.
Bailey was almost done with his dinner. Nearly all of the permanent residents of the campground were gathered around the picnic table, only Elias and Harlan missing. At one point, Elias had come out and whispered to Orson, before getting a couple of bowls together. Then the boy disappeared back into the Clay Cabin.
Tonight's meal was a great meaty chili made by Greg. Clay fixed peanut butter sandwiches to go along with the chili and noticed Bailey's raised eyebrow at the combination.
"What?" Clay grinned, then dunked his sandwich into the chili. "It's good." He motioned with the tip of the split sandwich, now stained by the juice of the chili. "Try it!" He made a show out of taking a bite.
Bailey did. And, yes—it was odd, but he enjoyed the pairing. Clay watched and laughed when Bailey sighed and nodded.
There were a few bites left in the bottom of his bowl and Bailey started to scrape it up together. He ate slowly, almost always the last to finish a meal. Everyone else had finished and scattered to their cabins. While Bailey ate, Clay washed dishes in the kitchen.
Bailey heard a car. Looking over, he watched a familiar little Toyota park at Harlan's cabin. The brown-haired man got out.
Harlan looked over at the kitchen, then started on his way toward Bailey and Clay.
"Hey." Harlan smiled at Bailey.
Bailey inclined his head. Then he motioned at the empty picnic table.
Harlan wet his lips. "You, ah, you don't mind if I eat with you?" Before Bailey could shake his head that he didn't, Harlan grimaced. "Shit." He seemed scattered all of a sudden, and laughed nervously. "Uh, wait. Wait." Harlan frowned to himself, then his eyes widened. "Oh yeah!" He held up a finger. "Okay, I've got it."
By now, Bailey and Clay both looked at Harlan as if he had lost his mind. "Uh, Harlan," Clay appeared to be a little worried, "you okay, man?"
"Yeah!" Harlan shook his head. "Shit." He slumped, staring at the ground, and Bailey watched Harlan as he set his jaw. Then he looked up at Bailey, his eyes determined. Harlan's hands came up. "Do you want to eat with me?"
Bailey sat back. Harlan had signed perfectly. Though with his very serious and determined facial expression, it 'sounded' a little weird. Still, he grinned and clapped a single time. Bailey looked at Clay and pointed at Harlan. Did you see? Bailey thought.
Clay had a quizzical expression on his face. "I saw him. What did you say, Harlan?"
"Ah, I just asked if he wanted to eat with me." Harlan seemed a little embarrassed, but he looked up at Bailey and smiled.
Oh shit. At seeing how nervous Harlan was acting, the realization hit Bailey. Harlan likes me. Bailey's smile grew a bit. He really is kinda cute, too.
"Cool." Clay scooped up a bowlful of chili. "Here you go. Though you're on your own to do your dishes."
"No problem." Harlan jerked his head at Bailey. "I'll get his too." He took the food, then reached into his pocket for his five dollar donation for the meal.
Bailey suddenly stood up, reached and grabbed Harlan's arm. Bailey shook his head and took out his own wallet. The mute man pulled out a five dollar bill and he put it into the donation jar. Then he smiled. Bailey signed two distinct words at Harlan, knowing full well the man wouldn't understand. He grinned broadly.
Harlan pursed his lips and looked at Clay. "Do you know what he just said?"
Clay smirked. "No, but from his shit-eating grin, it was probably a dig at you."
Bailey laughed, only his breath as it passed through his mouth making a sound. Then he made a motion at Harlan, obviously intended to have him sit.
Harlan eyed Bailey, then finally sat down. He stirred his chili and narrowed his eyes at his silent companion. "You know, it just makes me want to learn what you said."
Nodding, Bailey smiled. That's the idea. Bailey was pleased himself, and he scooped up a little more of his meal. He chewed the bite slowly as he watched Harlan eat his food. Let's see how far you'll go with it.
Clay had long ago left the two alone, and Harlan had finished with his meal. Bailey stayed with him, even though he was done soon after Harlan sat. While Harlan ate, Bailey picked up various things off of the table and signed what they were.
The little lesson went on. Harlan already knew three different languages fluently. His brain was primed to learn new vocabulary and syntax. ASL was different, but the dedication required for mastery was not. Additionally, his body-awareness was off the charts. The only time he got something wrong was when he didn't see it from the correct angle. He memorized the signs as he repeated them back to Bailey.
Bailey's face as Harlan followed along and copied the signs made him want to continue. The dark-haired man grinned happily as Harlan got the signs right. A couple of times, Bailey reached to adjust Harlan's finger positions, or the angle of his hands. Each time, he looked straight into Harlan's eyes as he gently shifted him into the correct position. Then Bailey would nod at the new configuration.
Finally, Harlan finished with his dinner. He hadn't wanted to. He'd wanted to sit out at the picnic table with Bailey all night. But it was growing cooler, and he had dishes to wash.
As Harlan stood up, Bailey rose with him. He was surprised when Bailey hugged him. He had no idea his learning a few signs would be so meaningful to Bailey, but it was obvious that it meant a lot to him.
And that hug was nice. Harlan smiled as he thought back on it. Bailey had smelled good, and the hug had drawn on for a bit.
Now Harlan was back in his cabin. The last thing he had seen before closing the door was Bailey as he stood on the asphalt loop. The mute man grinned and waved, then disappeared into his rental.
Harlan shook himself. "Okay, before you forget them. Call before you forget."
Picking up his phone, he dialed a number from memory. It was for a restaurant in Hailey, Idaho, and a smooth, Italian accented, bass voice came over the receiver. "Hello. Mattone e Fuoco. How can I help you?"
"Hello, Jenoah." Harlan smiled. He only knew of one person in the Family who might be able to help, and Jenoah could help him find her. "I need to know if you can put me in contact with Mirabell."
In moments, Harlan spoke on a video chat with a black-haired woman in Sicily. He placed the phone so she could see his hands and copied the signs he had seen Bailey do, as the man had paid for Harlan's meal.
Mirabell began to laugh. "Oh, Harlan." Her dark eyes twinkled as she grinned at him over the connection.
"What? What did he say?" Harlan was impatient to know.
"He called you a 'cheap date'." She smirked at Harlan's expression. "Harlan, are you dating a smartass deaf man?"
Shaking his head, he laughed along with her. "He's not deaf, only mute. And we're not dating. No." Harlan let a longing sigh escape his lips and looked straight into the phone at the amused woman. "Not yet."
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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