Chapter 5: Hope
It was Tuesday. The rain returned to the campground, though this time it was gentle, almost a mist that fell upon the forest and the cabins. Rayne, Elias, and Avery had just gotten off of the bus, and Rayne numbly began to walk to his cabin. Avery was right beside him, and the chatty blonde was 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. And 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 at Rayne. "Did you want to hang out for a little in the Clay Cabin with me?"
Avery had stopped too, and he frowned. He waved at Elias and Rayne. "I'm gonna go see what Greg is making for dinner!" And the blonde boy doubled back the way they came, toward the Airstream where Greg and Clay lived. The Airstream was the home of the men 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 saw the boy. Rayne 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 the boy turned toward the Clay Cabin. Rayne stepped a little faster, and he 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. And for all of his faults, Avery respected that.
Rayne left his temporary home, and he soon stood at the half-open door to Elias' favorite place on the campground. He knocked gently on the door, and he poked his head inside.
Elias had a clay-smeared bucket in one hand, and he smiled. "Come in." Rayne stepped inside, and he watched as Elias set down his clay, then he poured a little water from another bucket on top of the yellowish-orange chunk of earth. Elias glanced at Rayne's face. "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 he followed Rayne's gaze to the reasonably large, concealed object. He grinned. "This is something I've been working on for a few months. Off and on as I find the time." Elias put a hand on the tarp. "You want to see it?"
"Yeah!" Rayne found Elias' work amazing. The things the blonde boy did with clay stupefied him. He leaned forward from his spot on the futon.
Elias removed the tarp, and under it was an intricate and twisted serpent. It was in a figure-eight, laying on its side, and it doubled back and bit its own tail to create an infinity symbol. About half of the serpent had beautiful, realistic scales, while the rest of it was blank, awaiting Elias' hands to work their magic on the piece.
"Wow." Rayne didn't even feel himself make the decision to stand up to get closer to the sculpture. But his feet carried him, right over next to Elias where the boy stood with the clay-stained tarp in his hand.
The blonde boy's green eyes 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. Their eyes met. "I could never make anything like this."
Elias smiled, and he 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 slowly. He sounded far too tired and weary to be a fifteen-year-old boy.
Elias walked around the coffee table, and he sat 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 nervously.
Elias gazed quietly at him until Rayne finally turned his head and he looked at Elias. 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 couldn't help his lips as they formed a smile. "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 he looked at Elias' hand as it rested, warm and still on his leg. Any other time that would have thrilled him. But the boy found it hard to breathe as he thought about his father. Rayne 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 he felt his eyes sting with tears, "because I'm gay." He felt a massive disappointment in himself as he began to cry. But he just couldn't hold it in.
Elias looked at him with such empathy and sorrow. "I'm sorry." He moved his hand, and 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, and his face was 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' face 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 dad can love me."
Elias hugged him, and Rayne cried against the blonde boy's 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, he 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 drove 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. And, on the way, he passed Orlando. The handsome man glanced at Harlan, nodded curtly, then continued on. Harlan stopped at his cabin door, and he 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.
Harlan sighed. 'Well, I guess my fun with Orlando is at an end.' Harlan entered, and he closed the door. In truth, Harlan wasn't overly surprised at Orlando's reaction. Their last coupling had been a great time for Orlando, but the way Harlan treated him after was what drove Orlando away. Harlan couldn't blame him.
And, at this point, Orlando wasn't the man Harlan wanted. Invariably, his thoughts landed on Bailey, and Harlan felt his cock respond. 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." He looked down at himself, and the hard tube of his member was evident on the front of his pants. He sighed. Harlan hunted around, and he found a flannel shirt. He put it on, and he 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 he didn't want to have an obvious woody on display when he did.
Harlan made his way toward the bathroom building. As he did, he noticed a few of the guys out at the kitchen. And he saw Bailey sitting at the picnic table with Mason and Jeremy. Clay had put up an Easy-Up to cover the table. And now it was protected from the mist that still fell over the world. Usually, Harlan would join them at the kitchen, and he'd wait his turn to make his dinner, or he'd buy into whatever Greg and Clay were making. But not this evening. Harlan had plans in town.
He passed the picnic table, and he saw Bailey perk up. The mute man waved at Harlan, and he smiled.
Harlan was initially surprised, and he stopped in his tracks. He blinked, then he finally made himself behave in a socially acceptable way. He waved back, and 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 he cocked his head, and he pulled up the flannel shirt. The look from Bailey hadn't helped Harlan's situation at all. His erection was still in full force.
Harlan shook his head, and he unbuckled his jeans. "Well, pissing with this will be fun."
Huck got to his apartment. He unlocked the door, and he stepped inside. His flannel shirt was covered in sawdust, along with his hair. He could also feel the itchy stuff down the collar of his shirt. It got everywhere.
Huck sighed, and he 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 first moved here eight years ago for the job he, Rayne and Bethany were happy. Or, Huck thought they were. Now that he had time to look back on things, he could see little tell-tale signs of Bethany'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 said as much in her letter, which drove a knife into Rayne. Even though she wrote that she loved Rayne dearly, that remark and her actions spoke louder than anything else.
He looked forlornly at his quiet home. And Huck's eyes found the chair where Rayne liked to sit and read his books. He felt crushed by loneliness and his lack of clarity. He just 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."
Huck 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?"
Huck felt a mix of emotions. Preacher Rogers was the only person really trying to help him with Rayne. Yet, the path set before Huck by the man was so hard for him to follow. And, 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 he 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, Harlan had been parked near Preacher Rogers' house. He wanted to lay eyes on the place, and on the man himself. But, shortly after Harlan arrived, the object of his study got into his car. Harlan followed the Pastor there to Huck's apartment building. And he 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 he pulled back onto the street. Soon, he was, again, 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.'
Harlan got out, and he walked to the front door. He knocked and waited. No answer came, and Harlan walked back to his car. He drove around the block until he found the alley that split the block. Then Harlan turned down the narrow lane. He stopped when he was at the backside of the house.
Harlan assessed his risk. There were high fences around all of the yards. It was doubtful that someone would see him if he tried to gain entry. Harlan decided it was worth the attempt. He got out of his vehicle, and he opened the back gate of the yard.
Harlan slipped inside, then he closed the gate. Next, he started for the back door. Once there Harlan checked for any visible 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.
He quickly had the door unlocked, and Harlan went inside. He let his eyes roam 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. Harlan didn't linger. He didn't know how much time he had, so he moved quickly toward the staircase.
Harlan went up quiet as a ghost, and he got to a hallway. There were three closed doors and one open which led to the bathroom. Harlan took a moment to decide, then he carefully opened the door on the end. That was most often the spot of the master bedroom, and that held true this time. Harlan entered, and he shut the door behind himself.
His trained, and detail-oriented gaze raked over the room. A dresser, along with an unmade king-sized bed took up most of the floor space. Harlan started to walk toward the dresser when he stopped.
His eyes noticed the brown handle of a suitcase tucked carefully between the bed and the small end-table next to it. Harlan was immediately intrigued, and he stepped over. He gripped the handle, and he pulled, sliding it out of its snug little spot.
He put the suitcase on the bed, and Harlan opened the luggage. Inside were various receipts, printouts, and a checkbook.
'Checkbook. Really? How old-fashioned.' Harlan took the small item, and he flipped through the copies of the written checks. As he did, Harlan felt the old fire which fueled him burn a little brighter. He allowed himself to smile down at one copy in particular.
Harlan took a picture of the carbon copy, then he put his phone away. He returned everything to the suitcase, and Harlan put it back in its spot, wedged beside the bed. And he turned toward the door to go.
He kept the grim, satisfied expression on his face as he left the dwelling. Harlan locked the door to the home, then he 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 he pointed his car toward the campground.
Bailey was almost done with his dinner, and only a few bites of his food remained. Nearly all of the permanent residents of the campground had been gathered around the picnic table earlier in the evening. They were only missing Elias and Harlan for the year-round residents. At one point, Elias came over, whispered to Orson, and then he got a couple of bowls together. Then the boy disappeared back into the Clay Cabin. Bailey was fairly sure he took food to the young man, Rayne.
Tonight's meal was a great meaty chili made by Greg, while Clay fixed peanut butter sandwiches to go along with the chili. He noticed Bailey's raised eyebrow at the combination.
"What?" Clay grinned, then he 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!" Then the big man took a bite.
Bailey did. And, yes. It was odd, but he enjoyed the pairing. Clay watched, and he laughed when Bailey sighed and nodded.
Now, he and Clay were the only ones left in the kitchen area. There was a little amount left in the bottom of his bowl and Bailey started to scrape it up together. Due to the old injury in his neck, he ate slowly, and he was almost always the last to finish a meal. While he did, Clay washed dishes in the kitchen. Then Bailey heard a car. He looked over, and a familiar little Toyota parked at Harlan's cabin. The brown-haired man got out, and Bailey watched him.
Harlan looked over at the kitchen. Then he 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 bit his lip. "You, ah, you don't mind if I eat with you?" Before Bailey could shake his head that he didn't mind, Harlan grimaced. "Shit." He seemed scattered all of a sudden, and he 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 finally slumped. He stared at the ground, and Bailey watched Harlan as he set his jaw, and then the brown-haired man 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 grave and determined facial expression, it 'sounded' a little weird. Still, Bailey grinned. He nodded, then he clapped. Bailey looked at Clay, and he pointed at Harlan. 'Did you see?' Bailey thought.
Clay had a bemused expression on his face. "I saw him. What did you say, Harlan?"
"Ah, I just asked if Bailey wanted to eat with me." Harlan seemed a little embarrassed, but he looked up at Bailey, and he smiled.
'Oh shit.' His eyes widened before he could stop himself, and the realization hit Bailey as he saw Harlan act so nervously. '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 he reached into his pocket for his $5 donation for the meal.
Bailey suddenly stood up. He reached and grabbed Harlan's arm. Bailey shook his head, and he took out his own wallet. The mute man pulled out a $5 bill, and he put it into the donation jar. Then he smiled at Harlan. Bailey signed two distinct words at Harlan. He knew, full well the man wouldn't understand. But, he grinned broadly.
Harlan pursed his lips, and he 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, and only his breath as it passed through his mouth made a sound. Then he made a motion at Harlan, obviously intended to have Harlan sit.
Harlan eyed Bailey, then he finally sat down. Harlan stirred his chili, and he narrowed his eyes at the mute man. "You know, it just makes me want to learn what you said."
Bailey smiled, and he nodded. 'That's the idea.' Bailey was pleased with 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 the whole time, even though the mute man was done soon after Harlan sat. While Harlan ate, Bailey picked up various things off of the table, and he signed to Harlan 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, Harlan's body-awareness was off the charts. The only time he got something wrong was when he didn't see it from the correct angle. Harlan memorized the signs as he repeated them back to Bailey.
Bailey's face as Harlan followed along and copied the signs made Harlan want to continue. The dark-haired man grinned happily as Harlan got the signs correct. And a couple of times, Bailey reached, and he adjusted Harlan's finger positions or the angle of his hands. Each time, Bailey looked straight into Harlan's eyes as he gently shifted Harlan into the correct position. Then Bailey would nod at the new configuration.
Finally, Harlan finished with his dinner. He hadn't wanted to. He wanted to sit out at the picnic table with Bailey all night. But it was growing cooler, and Harlan had dishes to wash.
As Harlan stood up, Bailey rose with him. Then he surprised Harlan when Bailey hugged him. Harlan had no idea his learning a few signs would be so meaningful to Bailey. But it was evident that it meant a lot to him.
'And that hug was nice.' Harlan smiled as he thought back on it. Bailey smelled good when he was in Harlan's arms, and the hug drew on for a bit.
But, now Harlan was back in his cabin. The last thing he saw before he closed the door was Bailey as the man stood on the asphalt loop. The mute man grinned, and he waved. Then Bailey disappeared into his rental.
Harlan shook himself. "Okay, before you forget them. Call before you forget."
Harlan picked up his phone, and he dialed a number he had memorized. 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 was on a video chat with a black-haired woman in Sicily. Harlan placed the phone so she could see his hands, and he copied the signs he saw Bailey do, as the man 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?"
Harlan shook his head, and 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 he 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
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