Camp Refuge

Chapter 18 - Camp Refuge

June 08, 2018 (Friday, 8:00 AM)

"Guys, have you seen Orson?" Clay asked as he stopped by the patio table. "Has he not come out of his cabin today?"

Greg and Mason looked at one another. Greg shrugged. "I've not seen him. He didn't even come out for coffee this morning."

Mason nodded. "Yeah, the French press in the kitchen was still under the counter when I made breakfast this morning. So he didn't use that one, or come over to visit us when we had our coffee here."

Clay looked worriedly over at Orson's cabin. "I'm gonna go check on him."

Greg made a face. "Okay. Yesterday he seemed miserable and was moving pretty slow. He's probably sore from his fall you told us about. I tried to include him a couple of times in things, but he wasn't biting." Greg smiled up at Clay from his seat. "Let us know if he needs our help with anything."

Clay nodded. "I will." He patted Greg's back and walked over to the cabin.

Clay knocked. "Orson? Hey, did you want some breakfast?"

He heard the metallic ring of a crutch and movement from inside. "No. Thanks anyway." There was no mistaking the despondence in Orson's tone.

Clay made a concerned face. "Buddy, let me in. I'm worried about you."

There was a moment of silence then the lock was undone. Orson opened the door. Clay inhaled a little in surprise.

Orson was shirtless, and only wore a pair of shorts. His trunk was crisscrossed with scrapes and scratches, some of which looked angry and swollen. Orson wordlessly turned and hopped over to the futon.

Clay's face fell as he saw Orson's back. There were three spots where he had thorns still embedded in his skin. They looked infected, with red welts around them, and each drained a little fluid too.

"Orson … dude." Clay entered, and he gently gripped Orson's shoulder. "Hold on, right there."

"What is it?" Orson asked. Then he made a knowing noise. "Oh, the scratches. Yeah, they probably look worse than they are." He sighed. "It's why I'm not wearing a shirt. The ones on my back hurt."

"There are blackberry thorns in your back, Orson. That's why they hurt so much." Clay shook his head. "Why didn't you say something?"

Orson looked over his shoulder at Clay, and his eyes carried his surrender and desolation. "I didn't know about the thorns. It hurts, but, I didn't want to bother anybody."

Clay's lips pressed into a thin line. "You're not bothering anybody. But we have to fix this. It's going to get worse if we don't. We need to take you to the clinic."

"No." Orson frowned and shook his head. "I don't want to go to the clinic. It will probably cost a lot of money, and I don't have much I can spare until my disability payouts start."

"We can cover …"

Orson's eyes flared with anger. "NO. You guys won't pay for me. I'm not going."

Clay worked his jaw. "Okay. Then you at least have to let us get those thorns out, and doctor up your back." Clay folded his arms over his chest. "If you won't let us take you to the clinic, then that's happening. You don't have a choice."

Orson glared at him a moment, then his shoulders slid down, and he sighed. But he nodded. "Okay."

"Good. I'm gonna get Greg, and we'll take care of you. All right?"

Orson sat on the futon, and he put his face in his hands. Clay looked down at him. The big man sat beside Orson. "Man, it's okay." Clay patted his shoulder. "It's going to be okay."

Orson looked up, and silent tears streaked down his face. He swiped angrily at them. "I just want to stop being a project. You know? I don't want to need help. I don't want to have to be taken care of." He shook his head. "I appreciate you guys, I really do. But …" he took a shaky breath, "I think maybe I should leave. I hate being a burden on you all."

Clay knelt down in front of Orson. "Okay, you need to stop." His eyes locked onto Orson's. "We knew we'd be in for a little bit of work when we planned to do this for you." He rubbed Orson's leg. "Buddy, we accepted that, right off the bat. Greg and I both did."

The black-haired man looked back at Clay. He didn't look convinced, but he swallowed, and he slowly nodded. "All right."

Clay patted his knee. "I'm gonna get Greg. We'll be back."

Clay left. Greg and Mason were still at the patio table. Greg's eyes showed that he had noticed Clays' grim expression as he approached, and he stood up.

"What's wrong?" Greg asked.

Clay blew out a breath. "Orson needs some help. His back is all torn up from his fall. We're gonna have to take out some thorns."

Mason's face mirrored how they all felt. "What? He fell two days ago!"

Clay nodded. "I know. They look like they're getting infected. We've gotta get those things out of him." He grimaced. "I tried to get him to go to the clinic, but he refused."

Greg thought a moment then he looked at the Airstream. "I've got a great first aid kit. Figured I'd need it for various hurts and scrapes campers get. I'll grab that." He turned to Mason. "Can you heat some water and leave a big pot on simmer? We'll probably need it to clean him up."

Mason nodded, and he stood up. The teen loped across the campground to the kitchen, and they heard the sound of pots rattling about.

Greg and Clay both had training as first responders. But Greg took their medical training farther. He toyed with the idea of becoming a paramedic in addition to a cop, and he took a smattering of other medical training at the community college as courses were offered.

Clay smiled at Greg. "Thanks, Greg. Sorry for the trouble."

Greg looked at Clay, confused. "Why are you apologizing? Let's take care of our friend."

Clay grinned at him. "Sounds good."

A couple of minutes later Clay and Greg entered Orson's cabin. The black-haired man was still on the futon where Clay had left him.

Greg took a look at his back as they walked in. "Hey, Orson." He winced at the raised red marks. Each was over an inch across. In the center, there was the black butt end of a thorn that was ripped out of the blackberry vine as the man fell. And around that yellow/white pus gathered in a ring. A fragile layer of skin grew over the top and was stretched tight by the pressure beneath. They all looked extremely uncomfortable.

"Hey." Orson leaned over with his elbows on his knee. He stared at the floor and didn't bother to look up.

Greg bit his lip as he thought. "Clay, I'll be right back. I'm going to grab my old cot in the Airstream." He seemed to assess the injuries on Orson's back. "This is probably going to be messy. I want to do this outside. Easier cleanup and the sunlight will help me see what I'm doing."

Greg left the room and Orson sighed. He reached and got his crutches. The man stood, and Clay followed him outside.

Greg carried the cot over to the pavement in front of Orson's cabin, and he set it up. Orson looked down at it, his face impassive.

"All right. We need you to lay down on your belly, Orson." Greg took his crutches and Clay helped Orson lay down. The black-haired man turned his head to the side and shifted a little to get comfortable.

Mason appeared with a steaming metal pail of water. "This water is almost too hot to handle," he said as he sat it down beside the cot. "But I figured you could put cold in it if you needed."

Greg clapped him on the back. "No, this is good. Thanks, Mason." He took a washcloth and dropped it into the pail. Then he knelt beside the cot. He put a gentle hand on Orson's back. "I'm going to use the hot water to clean your back. It should also feel good, and help dilate these injuries. Hopefully, it'll make it easier for me to get the thorns."

Orson nodded. Greg took a pair of tweezers out of the kit, and he rubbed them with an alcohol pad. Then once they were dry, he set them aside on a little sterile pad he had set up beside the cot. "Okay. Are you ready?"

Orson nodded again. Clay noticed Orson's hands tightened on the sides of the cot.

Greg reached into the hot water and got the steaming rag. He whistled a little at the temperature and held the cloth up for a bit to let it cool slightly. Then he gently lay it on the first thorn. Orson inhaled, and he closed his eyes. "You okay?" Clay asked and watched Orson's face. The man licked his lips, and he nodded.

Greg waited until the rag cooled then lifted it and made a surprised sound. "Well, that was ready to come out." The heat had caused the vesicle over the thorn to pop, and the offending briar slid out under its own pressure. He plucked it off Orson's skin with the tweezers. The injury oozed a little blood and quite a bit of pus. Greg cleaned it up with sterile gauze as it came out.

Orson made a relieved noise. "That feels better." He blew out a breath. "It felt so tight before. It's a lot better now."

Greg smiled. "Good. But we're not done yet." He took the rag and dropped it back into the hot water. "Okay, two more to go."

Ten minutes later Greg gently washed Orson's entire back. All the thorns were out, and the wounds drained. Clay watched and assisted as needed. Mason stood nearby during the whole process and alternatively watched, then turned his head away when there was "stuff," as he called it, coming out of Orson.

Greg squeezed a small amount of antibacterial ointment on each injury and covered them with 2x2 gauze pads. He secured them in place with sturdy silk tape. "Okay, we'll have to change these daily until you heal up. Though I don't think it'll take long, maybe a couple of days - now that the thorns are out, it should go fast."

Orson sat up on the cot. He nodded. "Thanks." He made a face. "Sorry for the trouble."

Greg sighed. "Orson, man, I don't need an apology. I need you to promise me something."

Clay watched as Greg's posture and tone changed. It was subtle, but he could tell that Greg had moved into his "I need you to understand this" mode. He had seen it many times over their years as police partners, and now he could recognize it instantly.

Orson seemed to hear the change in Greg's voice too. He looked up at Greg's eyes, his own unsure. "Uh, okay."

"We're all brothers - you, me, and Clay. And what happened to you could have happened to any of us. So this is our duty. And when we agreed to have you out here, we made a commitment. We committed to helping you. But there was an implicit agreement that you would LET us help you." Greg knelt in front of him. "I guess that wasn't clear enough. So let's make it explicit - I need to hear you say it. I need you to tell me; you're going to let us help you." Greg shook his head. "We don't want to hold your hand, Orson. But all of us need help now and then." Greg cocked his head in a question. "So, I'm asking, 'are you going to let us help you?'"

Orson looked at Greg. Then his eyes shifted over to Clay and Mason. In every face, he could see the desire and commitment to him. He came back to Greg, and after a moment he nodded. "Yeah. I will. I promise." Orson took a cleansing breath, and Clay knew this was something of a turning point for Orson. Perhaps it was only one of many, but it was progress.

Greg patted his shoulder. "Good." He stood up and held out a hand. Orson looked up at him, smiled and grasped it. Greg hauled him up to his foot. "Now, I'm gonna make some more coffee, because you've not had any. Are you hungry too?"

Orson nodded. "Yeah. But, I can handle my breakfast." He grinned. "You tend to overcook eggs. Thanks though."

Greg's mouth dropped. "Bastard! You can make your coffee too!"

Mason howled with laughter, while Orson and Clay grinned.

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June 11, 2018 (Monday, 12:01 AM)

Jeremy's first realization as he woke was the sensation of fabric sliding off of his body. Mason gently pulled his briefs down, and the teenager sidled back up against him.

"What are you doing?" Jeremy smiled over his shoulder at his big spoon. He was still tired and sleepy. "What time is it?"

"It's just after midnight," Mason said in his ear. "And I'm now an adult." That last part, he spoke in a low growl.

Jeremy's eyes widened. He had been at the campground all weekend. And though they had kissed and snuggled plenty, Mason insisted neither of them get off. "I want us to save it," he said when Jeremy had asked him if he wanted to play around.

Mason pressed himself against Jeremy from behind, and his arm was tight across the redhead's chest. Mason's penis was hard, and he slowly rubbed it, up and down, back and forth across Jeremy's opening.

The sensation was maddening. Jeremy's mouth opened, and he breathed heavily. "Are … are you sure about this? You really want to? With me?"

In response, Mason reached for their lube. He squirted some in the palm of his hand and rubbed it against Jeremy's rear. Mason toyed with him a little, and Jeremy inhaled as one finger slipped inside him. "I want to." Mason breathed in his ear. The finger rotated a little and worked at stretching Jeremy a bit. Then another joined it. "And I want it with you."

Now Jeremy wanted it too. He wet his lips. "You'll have to go slow and easy. I've not done this in a long time."

"I will. I'm not going to hurt you." Mason's fingers left Jeremy's body, and he lubed himself too. Mason positioned himself. Jeremy felt Mason's breath against the back of his neck. "I'm never going to hurt you." He whispered. A slight pressure began and then let up. Pressure, then none. Again and again, Mason's hips moved back and forth.

It felt so good. Jeremy loved the pressure and the sensation. He didn't even notice that Mason slowly increased the force he used. Using far more patience than Jeremy knew he possessed, Mason steadily worked until he slipped inside.

"Ahhh." Jeremy breathed rapidly. "Oh god."

He allowed Jeremy to adjust, then Mason resumed. He took his time and thrust by thrust he slowly disappeared into Jeremy's body.

"Fuck. Oh god." Jeremy felt Mason's pelvis against his rump. He rolled his head around on the pillow, almost incoherent with sensation and lust. Mason's hand found Jeremy's leaking dick. And his fist went up and down while his cock rhythmically slid in and out of the redhead.

"Oh, this feels so good." Mason's said. The teenager began to pick up his pace. "Oh man. I'm not gonna last long."

Jeremy had lost the ability to form coherent words. He gripped Mason's arm, and his body tightened on the young man's member. Jeremy gasped and cried out as he released. His load was considerable, and it shot onto a towel that had mysteriously been placed on Jeremy's side of the bed. He looked down as semen spurted out of him, and onto Mason's hand.

The teen groaned as Jeremy's body locked down on his cock. He convulsed and shoved forward. He held position there, and Jeremy felt Mason's delivery shoot into his body. Mason pumped a few more times, and then he finished with a shiver.

They lay there, tangled together in both body and spirit. Jeremy felt the moment hit him, and he could no longer deny reality. As Mason nuzzled the back of his neck, and as he planted a soft, sweet kiss there, Jeremy breathed.

"I love you, Mason." He couldn't help himself as a tear slid down his cheek.

Mason laughed, a joyous and elated sound. "I love you, Jeremy." Mason squeezed tight, and he smiled behind the redhead. "I thought sex was going to be your gift to me … but I was wrong."

Jeremy grinned. The two lay there. Mason eventually slipped out of Jeremy, and they sighed in contentment.

And soon, they were both asleep.

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June 11, 2018 (Monday, 1 PM)

"Oh yes! Yes yes yes!" Avery bounced up and down in the passenger seat in Jeremy's car. His eyes were as round as saucers as they turned into the campground.

Patrick was in the back seat along with a bunch of their camping gear. He giggled at Avery and rolled his eyes. But Jeremy knew the boy was just as excited - he only hid it better.

He parked at their regular tent site, and Samantha ran up to the car. Samantha and Elias were dropped off at the clinic in town and then picked up by Greg in the van. Elias hung back, but he smiled at the car. The quiet boy continued to work at setting up his little tent.

The kids piled out. And the three each hugged one another. Elias looked up and watched them. Patrick seemed to notice. "Hi, Elias!" He smiled and waved. Elias smiled a little and raised his hand, then turned back to his tent.

Jeremy helped get the kids' equipment out of the car. As he put Avery's cooler on the grass, he felt a pair of arms circle him from behind.

"Hey." Mason held him and rubbed his chin against Jeremy's neck. "I missed you."

Jeremy laughed. "I was only gone for an hour!" He turned, and Mason kissed him. All of the Raven kids stopped and stared. Jeremy looked around while Mason grinned.

"That's right, kids. This one's mine." Mason shook him back and forth a little.

A cheer went up from three of the kids, while Elias only grinned. "It's about time, Mr. Adams!" Patrick said. Then he remembered something. "And happy birthday, Mason!" All of the kids echoed that and Mason laughed.

"Thanks!" Mason smiled at all of them. Then he winked at Jeremy and released him. "I'm gonna go see if Greg needs help to unload the van." He kissed Jeremy once more. "See you in a little, boyfriend."

Jeremy grinned and watched as Mason sped off.

'I can't believe this.' Jeremy shook his head at himself and got back to help the kids set up their tents. 'I have a boyfriend. Wow.'

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Clay shook the metal support of the badminton net and nodded, satisfied that it was sturdy enough to last through the party. There was commotion behind him, and he turned to see Jeremy's car arrive. Chaos ensued as teenagers ran around, young people hugged and exclaimed happy greetings, and camping supplies began to appear from the vehicle.

He watched as Mason hugged Jeremy. And the two young men looked at one another and then kissed. Clay saw the look on Mason's face as they separated, and it suddenly hit him.

'My boy's in love. He's really in love.' He watched as they interacted and he closed his eyes. "Our son is in love, Kathy," he whispered. He let the beauty of it settle in his mind, then he opened his eyes, and he began to stream tears.

But this time, he let them fall.

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Orson put himself right in the middle of the madness. He crutched his way near Mason's cabin where most of the kids had gathered and were in the process of setting up their tents at the nearby sites.

One blonde boy looked at him, and his eyes widened. "Whoa!" He pointed where Orson's missing leg should be. "Is that real?" He waved his hands around. "Like, really gone?"

"Avery!" Jeremy twisted around from assisting a little thin blonde boy setting up his tent. Jeremy had a stricken look on his face, and he glanced at Orson, his expression apologetic.

Orson laughed and waved away the concern. Then he looked at Avery. "Yep. It's really gone."

"Wow." Avery seemed fascinated and stared at Orson's stump. Then he was distracted by a girl carrying the things needed to make smores. "Sam! Are we making smores?!" The boy left his tent half-finished and walked quickly after her.

Orson grinned. 'Oh, this is gonna be fun.'

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Greg watched as Clay walked over to the unruly and shifting group of kids. He introduced himself and he soon chatted with all of them. Greg checked his pocket one final time. He could feel the smooth metal, and the small bumps caused by the slivers of turquoise in the band. He swallowed nervously and licked his lips.

'He already knows how you feel. Jeez man, get a grip.' He nodded to himself and smiled again at the happy chaos.

"You gonna work, or you gonna make the birthday boy do it all?" Mason quipped as he walked by, two bottles of soda under one arm, and a bag of ice in his hand. He looked over his shoulder at Greg and grinned. Then he continued to the kitchen.

Greg shook his head. "You're not too big to spank!" He yelled at the teenager. Greg laughed when Mason picked up his pace a little.

He bent and lifted a cooler filled with hamburger patties, hot dogs, and some vegetable skewers. With a smile, he followed Mason over to the kitchen, the cooler in his arms.

__________________________________

It was another hour before their tents were set up, and their things put away. But at last, all of the Raven Kids gathered around the picnic table near the kitchen. Greg already started grilling burgers and hot dogs, and there was a plate of them covered with tin foil to keep the yellow jackets away. Once he got them started, he put Mason in charge of the grill.

"Your dad and I need to go get your gift." He grinned as he handed over the spatula and tongs. Orson watched as Mason's face took on a curious expression. But he only nodded and smiled at Greg. Then Clay and Greg left in the van.

The kids all sat on the picnic table benches, with Elias on the end. Orson slowly made his way over and he took the end across from the small, blonde boy. Greg told Orson that Elias was 16, but it was almost impossible for Orson to believe. The young man was so little! He was barely 5' tall, and if he were over 100 lbs, Orson would have been surprised.

Patrick cocked his head at Orson. "Orson … are you gay?" He looked slyly at Avery. "SOMEONE wants to know."

Avery opened his mouth in surprise. "Patrick!" Samantha cackled with laughter, and even Elias looked amused at their antics. The blonde teenager sputtered. "I was just curious!" He glowered at Patrick.

Jeremy shook his head at them, and he checked in with Mason at the grill. After Mason assured him he had things in hand, Jeremy headed toward Mason's cabin.

Orson smiled broadly at the kids. "I'm not gay. I'm asexual." All of the kids frowned a little.

Elias surprised him. "What's that?" Orson hadn't heard the boy speak at all until now.

"Well, it means I'm not attracted to anybody at all."

Avery looked disappointed. The other three looked fascinated. Over the next ten minutes, Orson answered all sorts of questions from the kids about his sexuality.

Then they heard the sound of the van as it turned back into the campground. All of the kids got to their feet, eager to see what sort of gift Mason had received.

Mason seemed pretty eager too. He turned and walked out of the kitchen toward the van. Then another vehicle pulled in behind it. Orson realized that Clay drove the little green Nissan truck behind the van, and all of them could see the grin on Clay's face from the kitchen. Mason started running toward them. The little truck had a short bed, four doors, and an extended cab, and though used, was in great shape.

"No! No way!" He jumped up and down as he got close. And when Clay got out, he leaped into his dad's arms. "Dad! Oh my god!"

There was pandemonium as the kids, Greg, Clay, Mason, and then Jeremy when he came out of Mason's cabin, all converged on the truck. Orson smiled as Mason put a hand on the hood. He looked utterly blown away by the gift. Sure, it was a used truck, but Orson could tell the young man was completely overwhelmed by it.

"Good job, partner," Orson said quietly. Orson wished he had the funds to help with the purchase. But Clay and Greg assured him they could handle the cost.

Then Orson noticed movement and he turned his head. Elias still sat in his spot. He looked calmly at the celebrating crowd, and he smiled. Then he glanced at Orson. "They're pretty happy."

Orson nodded. "Yeah." He looked a little bemused at the boy. He looked over at the group and then back to Elias. "You don't wanna go celebrate with them?"

Elias sighed. "No. Not really." He looked at the crowd then smiled slightly. "I can be happy from here."

Orson felt a twinge of sadness for the boy, but he didn't have much time to dwell on it. At that moment all of them returned to the kitchen area in a wave of joviality and noise.

Clay had his arm around Mason who stared at the keys in his hand. "Your own truck, son. I hope you get a lot of years out of it."

Mason still looked dazed, and he nodded. "I'm gonna take such good care of it, dad. Thanks so much."

Clay jerked his chin at Greg. "Well, you need to thank that one too. He put up ½ for it."

Mason turned, and Orson watched as he threw his arms around Greg. "Oh my god, thank you!" Greg laughed and patted Mason's back.

"You're welcome." Greg smiled.

Mason pulled back and wiped his face. "Man, I can't even think about how I can repay you."

Orson saw a strange smile on Greg's face. "Actually," Greg began, "there is something you can do. And we can call it even."

Mason nodded. "Tell me."

Greg reached into his pocket and pulled out a beautiful white gold and turquoise ring. "You can grant permission for me to give this ring to your father." Greg's voice cracked with emotion.

Everyone's breath caught in their throats, and Mason looked at his dad. Clay seemed stunned but elated. Mason turned back to Greg, and his eyes glittered with unshed tears. "He's yours."

Orson thought everyone was loud over the truck, but apparently, he hadn't heard anything yet.

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The party continued with food, cake, games, and music. There was no real set end to it. But some of the young ones began to tire as it grew later, and soon after 10 PM they had gone to bed. The older folks stuck around the kitchen firepit and started a nice blaze. It was a night for talking, and laughter, and reflection for them.

All, that is, except for Orson.

He excused himself from the group. Orson built a fire in his own firepit, and he sat and relaxed in a camp chair in front of his cabin. The nighttime insects chirped and sang. The wind through the tops of the trees made a peaceful sound as it blew. And he stared up at the stars overhead.

He didn't know what time it was, only that it was dark. He looked from the sky to the center of the campground, and he could see a few silhouettes of people at the central firepit near the kitchen. Good-natured laughter came from that direction, and he smiled.

'It's nice to hear happiness,' he inhaled, and he raised his beer to his lips.

A small sound on the road in front of his cabin caught his attention. Orson looked, and he saw the boy, Elias.

"Hey," Orson sat forward and smiled at the skinny teenager.

"Hey," Elias licked his lips and scuffed his feet on the asphalt. He was nervous, and he stood awkwardly in the flickering light of Orson's firepit in front of his cabin.

"You okay?" Orson asked. From their previous interactions he knew the boy was a nervous little thing, so he kept his voice low and calm.

Elias nodded.

"All right." Orson put his beer in the cup holder on his chair, telegraphed that he was about to stand up, and then he did. He leaned on one crutch while Elias watched him closely. "Did you want to have a seat? If you do there are some at the patio table. You could get another chair."

Another nod.

The boy went to the patio table, and he borrowed an empty chair. Nobody was there. Either they had gone to bed, or they were at the central firepit near the kitchen. He returned and stood there, holding the camp chair awkwardly in front of him. Orson smiled at Elias and motioned with his free hand at the spot beside his chair. "Go ahead."

Elias bit his lip, and he glanced at Orson. Then he walked over quickly and sat the chair down as if Orson were going to grab him as he walked past. He turned and sat as fast as he could and eyed Orson.

Orson looked down at him, a little worry and sadness on his face. Then he took his own seat.

The two sat in silence for a bit. Then Elias found his courage. "Are you really?" His voice was timid, quiet. "Are you really asexual?"

Orson looked over at the boy. Elias stared at the flames, a worried frown on his face.

"I really am. I don't feel attraction for anybody. I never have, and I probably never will." Orson watched Elias as he spoke to the boy.

Elias worked his mouth, and then he looked over at Orson. "You don't ... you don't feel anything for me?" His eyes looked almost frightened as he stared at the dark-haired man.

Orson sat back in his chair, "Uh, no. Not like that. No." He smiled gently, "Sorry. Even if I did, you're a bit young, Elias."

A relieved smile flickered on the boy's face, then it vanished, and he looked back at the fire. More silent time passed, and he took another breath. He struggled, but he forced the next words out of his mouth. "I know I'm weird. I know it's weird." He smacked his palms on his knees, and he took a couple more deep breaths. "The last time I was hugged was before … before … IT started. And I know it's weird. But I know how long it has been. I've not been hugged in two years, three months, and fourteen days."

Orson looked at the boy as he sat. It was as if Elias had a tremendous amount of energy inside himself, and he almost vibrated with nervousness in the chair. He continued to stare into the fire.

"Elias ... do you want a hug?"

The boy gripped his own kneecaps, and he squeezed his lips together tightly, so they were in a thin line. "You promise? You PROMISE you don't like me? You don't like me, not like Danny did?" His voice now had a pleading, desperate tone.

Orson felt an instant stab of aggression toward this man, this 'Danny.' And he swore to himself he would find out more about him. He nodded. "I promise." He used his crutch, and he stood up. He watched as the boy almost rocked back and forth in his chair.

Then Elias looked up at him, his eyes hollow and haunted. Orson had never seen such vulnerability and need in a person before.

Cautiously, slowly, he stood up. Orson didn't move toward him. Instead, he put his arm out, and he smiled at the boy.

Elias took two shuffling steps, then gingerly he put his arms around Orson's torso, his head turned to the side against Orson's chest.

As gently as he could, Orson closed his arm around the boy.

Elias was silent and still for a long moment, then his skinny frame hitched in a sob.

"It's okay." Orson rubbed his back. "It's okay." The young man wasn't sure what was happening in Elias' head. But he had witnessed the pain associated with abuse. And he was now sure Elias had suffered more than his share.

Elias clung to Orson. And as he cried, one word replayed over and over in his mind.

'Safe, safe, safe.'
______________________________

Jeremy was up early. He walked from Mason's cabin and headed up the loop toward the kitchen. He wanted to sit on the water's edge and maybe journal a bit before the day got going, but first, he wanted coffee. As he turned the corner on the loop, he noticed something odd. In front of Orson's cabin, he saw an unzipped sleeping bag that lay in the dewy grass and then another on top of it to create a little bed of sorts. It looked as if a person lay between the bags. A single socked foot stuck out of the sleeping bag that was on top of the still body.

He frowned and stopped in his tracks. Then he walked over to the sleeping bag. That's when he noticed the other pair of socked feet tangled up along with the first foot he saw.

Jeremy carefully pulled back the corner of the sleeping bag.

Orson lay in what HAD to be an uncomfortable position - on his back, while Elias lay on top of, and against him. Orson's arms circled the teenager, and both were clothed in soft, comfortable clothes. Elias was completely out, his face on Orson's shoulder. But when the sleeping bag moved, Orson opened his eyes.

He blinked tiredly at Jeremy, and then he looked down at Elias. "Wow. I guess I fell asleep." He whispered, so as not to wake the boy.

Jeremy gawked at the sight, completely unable to make an intelligent sound.

Orson smiled at Jeremy, "He didn't want to sleep alone last night. And I didn't want to take an underage young man into my cabin."

Jeremy shook his head and made a motion at Elias. "But ... he won't ..." his eyes moved around as he tried to reconcile what he saw with what he knew. Finally, he looked into Orson's eyes. "What did you do? He doesn't let anyone touch him."

Orson smiled and looked down at the still sleeping Elias. "I guess ... he was ready." He turned his face back up to Jeremy. "I'm honored he picked me for this." Then he made a face and tried in vain to stretch his contorted back. "Though, after this, my spine is in need of a serious massage." Orson looked back down at Elias and Jeremy saw him squeeze the boy as if he were his own. "But … it's worth it."

Jeremy stared a little longer, and then he shook his head. "I don't know what you did," Jeremy's eyes welled up as he looked down, "but that little boy is a wounded soul." He smiled at Orson. "I'm glad you're here."

"Me too. This is where I'm supposed to be." He took a deep breath, and a smile pulled at his lips. "I know that now."

"I'm right where I'm supposed to be."


Author's Note:

Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link.   Wayne Gray

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