Author's Note: If you have not already read it, I am about to utterly and thoroughly RUIN "Guarded", another story I wrote. It really is a good story (so I hear from folks), so if you're at all interested in reading it then you should do so BEFORE you read this chapter.
July 08, 2018 (Sunday, 8:22 AM)
"My Don, you should see these."
Vincent Costa turned his brown eyes from the ledger before him to his capo. The man stood across from his desk, and in his hand, he held some large, glossy papers. They all knew better than to disturb him without cause, but Vincent still wanted the fellow to know that he was annoyed.
He stared at the younger man until he began to sweat, but his capo didn't waver. The Don of the Costa motioned at his desk. "Put them down and leave me."
The man dropped the photos and left quickly.
Vincent watched him go then he picked them up.
His eyes slowly widened, and he traced the elegant lines of the sculpture in the photograph. "Where is this?" A boy stood beside the piece, and from his position and posture, it appeared he was the artist. "How?"
Vincent pushed a button on his desk and his voice crackled overhead through the facility-wide speaker system. "Girard. Back in here. Now."
He continued to look through the photos. And his face screwed up into a frown. He tapped the picture before him. There, in one of them, Luca Giovanni's great-nephew was obvious. Jenoah, if he recalled correctly. He also knew the boy now worked for the new Don of the Reina, Corbin.
That matter was of great distaste to Vincent. His was one of four dissenting votes when the Families decided the ultimate fate of Corbin Reina. Instead of Reina answering for his betrayal of his Family, he was rewarded with its leadership.
"Damn you, Luca." He shook his head.
At that moment his pale and haggard cappo returned. "My Don." He stood before the desk and awaited Vincent's word.
Vincent looked up at Girard. "I have questions about these photos." He stood up. He hated when others loomed over him, and he would never offer a man of inferior station a seat.
Girard told the Don what he knew. They were taken at a campground in northern California, that the artist was indeed the boy. They had no additional information - he had brought the photos to the Don immediately upon learning of the sculpture through various social media sites.
Vincent sighed and dismissed Girard with a wave. His eyes went back to the photos. 'What are you up to, Reina? Why is your man there, in the same photo with what should be my art?'
Vincent sat at his desk and tapped his fingers on the wooden top. Then he made a decision. He picked up his phone and dialed.
"Hello, Diana." He held up the first photo, which depicted the Raven with the boy standing beside it. "I am cashing in that favor. Though I foresee this ultimately as beneficial to us both."
As he listened to her response, Vincent Costa smiled.
July 08, 2018 (Sunday, 9:54 AM)
"You're kidding. You're KIDDING." Greg stared at Jeremy. "Some guy in Chicago wants to buy The Raven? For $150,000? And he's paying for shipment, and two plane tickets to fly Elias there?"
Jeremy grinned and nodded. "It's true." Jeremy looked over at an equally happy Orson. "I'm giving up ownership of it to Orson. That way he can go with Elias, and do the transaction."
Greg blinked and shook his head. "Wow."
Orson nodded. "'Wow' is right." He looked past Jeremy's head at the sculpture. Elias was busy taking it apart with Mason's help. They were in the process of carefully packing it up into boxes for its flight to Chicago.
Jeremy smiled and was about to say something when his phone began to ring. He frowned at the number. "312 area code …" He looked around the table and all of the guys shook their heads. He shrugged and answered. "Hello."
"Hello there." A woman's voice said over the line. "My name is Diana, and I work for the Art Institute of Chicago. Is this Jeremy? The seller of the Raven sculpture?"
"Ah, yes. But the sculpture has already been purchased. Sorry about that."
There was a little pause on the phone, then she continued. "Well, that's too bad. However, in addition to the purchase of the sculpture, I am calling to see if I can speak to the artist himself. We here at the Institute think his work is fantastic. Could that be arranged?"
Jeremy looked at Orson. "Well, you'll have to ask his guardian. I'm handing you over to Orson, Elias' guardian."
Orson took the phone with a questioning look at Jeremy. The redhead just grinned and pointed at the device. "Hello, this is Orson."
"Hi, Orson." The woman went through her request again to speak to Elias.
"Well, I don't see why not." Orson kept the excitement out of his voice but not off of his face. He stood up and covered the phone with his hand. "Jeremy, borrowing your phone a minute."
Jeremy nodded and shooed him toward Elias with a smile.
Orson walked the phone to Elias. The boy's head came up when Orson approached.
"Elias, there's a woman on the phone who wants to speak to you. She works for the Art Institute of Chicago."
Elias' eyes grew huge and he took the phone. "Hello?"
"Elias? Hello there!" Diana's voice was very upbeat and excited. "We here at the Institute would like to talk to you about your work. Do you have a few minutes?"
The boy put his hand over his other ear and nodded. "Yes."
Orson wanted to stand there and listen in on Elias' side of the conversation, but he made himself walk back to the patio table. He sat and they all watched Elias as he talked.
After a few minutes, the boy hung up. He stared down at the phone in his hand. Then he walked over to the patio table. Mason trailed after him, just as curious as the others thanks to the bits he heard of the conversation.
Elias handed the phone to Jeremy.
Orson looked expectantly at him. "So, what'd she say?"
The boy seemed shell-shocked. "She told me I could come to their school. That it would be paid for."
All of their jaws dropped. Jeremy recovered first. "Elias, that's amazing!" He stood up and hugged the stunned boy.
Orson had incredibly mixed feelings. He was happy for Elias, but he also knew it would mean massive changes for both of their lives. As Jeremy released him he spoke to the young man. "Is that what you want, Elias?"
He seemed overwhelmed. "I don't … I don't know." Elias looked at Orson. "I've never been to Chicago." He shook his head. "I've never been anywhere but California and Oregon."
Orson stepped over beside him and put his arm around Elias' shoulders. The boy leaned into him when he did, which immediately told Orson he was stressed. He looked down at Elias. "Hey, you don't have to do anything right now. Okay?" He squeezed Elias. "We're going to the city anyway. We can go by, see the Art Institute, check it out a little bit."
Elias took a deep breath and nodded. He looked up at Orson, and a little smile appeared on his face. "Okay."
They all sat, and the men and Elias chatted a little around the table about the offer. Overall the mood was happy, and upbeat.
But in Orson's mind he went over what he would have to do if this happened. 'I'll have to move with him.' And as soon as he thought that he slumped. 'I'll have to move away from Joseph. Away from my friends.' He rolled the thought around. He let it agonize him for a bit, and then he pushed back. 'If that's what Elias needs, then that's what will happen.'
Orson nodded slightly to himself and he looked over at Greg. Both he and Clay sat at the table and he caught them glancing at one another. They both had thoughtful expressions. Greg then looked Orson's way. When their eyes met, Greg, very slightly, motioned with his head at the Airstream.
Orson frowned, then he stood up. "Hey Greg, Clay, you guys mind if I talk to you real quick?"
Most of the others around the table didn't pay much attention to them as Greg, Clay and Orson stood. The excited chattering about the offer from the Art Institute continued, as they entered the Airstream.
Orson turned to the pair of men. "What's up, guys?"
"Timing. That's what." Clay almost growled. "It's strange that a buyer wants to meet in Chicago to buy The Raven, and that the Art Institute of Chicago offers Elias a spot in their program the very next day."
Greg nodded. "Yeah. It's just a bit strange." He shrugged. "It could be a coincidence. Or it could be the buyer, this … Corbin Blackwell is affiliated with the Institute, and put a bug in their ear about Elias." Then he thought about what he just said and sighed. "Though, I wouldn't have expected the Institute to be disappointed that the art was sold already if that were the case."
Orson's face mirrored his concern. "Should we be worried?
The men glanced at one another again. Greg turned to Orson. "I think we should be watchful. There's now a big dollar amount attached to that sculpture. Let's do our homework on both this woman from the Institute and the art buyer."
Orson nodded. "Sounds like a plan. I'll dig into this Corbin Blackwell guy. See what he's about."
"We'll take Diana from the Art Institute. Should be easy enough to find her in the staff directory of the place," Clay said.
The three left the Airstream. The guys around the table still chatted. As Orson sat, he looked at Elias.
The boy stared at him. While Orson watched, he pushed back his chair, and he walked over beside Orson's chair. He leaned down and hugged Orson.
"Thank you," the young man whispered, and the rest of the table watched them.
Orson smiled and patted Elias' back. "For what?"
"My problems used to be wondering if I was gonna get food, or if I would be able to stay away from Danny." Elias squeezed him. "Now, it's if I'm going to go to school in Chicago. So, thank you."
Orson closed his eyes and held him. "You're welcome, Elias. You deserve so much, you know that?"
Elias didn't answer. He only held on.
And in his heart, Orson knew that he would do anything for the boy. Even if that meant leaving the only place he had ever felt at home.
July 08, 2018 (Sunday, 5:48 PM)
Harlan limped only slightly as he walked down the hospital hallway. He got a few nods and smiles from the nurses as they recognized his face. Over the last week, he'd been in the hospital a lot. Not exactly his favorite place in the world, but it was necessary.
He entered a small space that adjoined his father's room. In that room, he put on a paper gown over his clothes, put on a mask, and slipped booties on his shoes. Then he entered his dad's room.
Gary sat up in bed, and Harlan was happy to see that he looked good. The older man's eyes lit up when he walked in. "Harlan!" He grinned. "Good to see you, son."
"Hey, dad." Harlan smiled under the mask. "I just wanted to check on ya, see how you're doing."
Gary nodded and pointed at the television that hung on the wall above his bed. "Fine, except they show the same twelve things on repeat." He made a face. "I've had all I can stand of the Kardashians."
That elicited a laugh from Harlan, and he pulled up a chair. He sat beside the bed. "I bet." Now fairly close, he took a more detailed look at his father. 'Good color, he's awake, aware, and even a little cantankerous. Looking good.' He relaxed a little. "How are you feeling, dad? Doing all right?"
Gary nodded. "I feel all right. They don't like when I get out of bed, but I need to once in a while." He frowned. "I'm getting tired of all the needles though!"
Harlan grinned. 'Yep, he's doing good.' "I bet."
Harlan watched as Gary looked a little nervous. He glanced at Harlan's eyes, and then he looked down at his hands in his lap. "Son, I never got a chance to ask about your life. And I want to know what is going on with you." He took a breath. "So, are you paired up? A nice girl … or … ah, a nice boy?"
Harlan felt a lump rise in his throat. The whole reason they had stopped talking eighteen years ago was that Harlan told his dad he was bisexual. Instead of acceptance, Gary hadn't understood, and it drove what felt like an impossible wedge between them. 'And here he is, asking if I'm seeing a nice boy.'
Harlan blushed, a little embarrassed. "No. I'm not seeing anybody, dad." He unconsciously wrung his hands. "I guess I'm just not boyfriend material." He laughed, though it was not really a joke to Harlan.
His dad looked up and turned to him. Gary stared at Harlan for a moment. "Son. I'm so sorry for what I did and what I said. I should have been a better father to you. I should have accepted you." He made to reach out and touch Harlan but remembered he wasn't supposed to have contact with anyone until they could prove the bone marrow procedure worked. His hand dropped down to the bed rail instead. "I hope you don't really feel that way. I hope you know that you're worth someone's time, and worth someone's love."
Harlan bit his lip under the mask, and he pushed back on the upwelling of emotion he felt. His dad said precisely what Harlan had needed to hear from him, for so many years. And this time, it was simply too much for Harlan to fight.
He lowered his head, and tears started. Gary quietly watched him, and the mask Harlan wore began to soak up the tears as they rolled down his nose. He squeezed his eyes shut to try and stop them, but they kept coming. He cleared his throat, and he forced the next words out of his mouth. "Maybe you were right those years ago, dad. Maybe I don't deserve anybody."
Gary looked wounded at his own words that he used so many years back. "Son," he said, his voice filled with both love and regret, "please, don't let something I said back when I was younger and a lot stupider steal away your shot at happiness." Harlan felt his dad's warm hand on his shoulder. He inhaled at it, and he knew Gary broke the rules for him. "I realize that I don't know everything about your life. But just from the last week, I've gotten to see part of the man you've become. And that man deserves to be happy."
Harlan had never been attached to anybody. Sure, he had plenty of sexual partners. But Harlan pushed anyone who tried to get close away. He told himself it was because of his work, and because he needed to remain single for the job. But deep down he never thought he deserved anyone else. And it started that summer night eighteen years ago, when his father, a man he loved and respected, rejected him.
Yet, here he was. Gary poured his love into his words and beat upon that wall Harlan had built around his heart. "You deserve to be happy, Harlan. And if I die before you realize it, then I deserve to burn in Hell for that."
Harlan gritted his teeth, and the tears continued. He felt a tremendous emotional pressure. Everything he knew about himself, that bone-deep knowledge of his own lack of worth started to fall apart.
"Dad," his voice was shaky, and he uttered something he hadn't said in almost two decades, "I love you."
Gary leaned over and put his arms around his son. Harlan lay his head on his shoulder, and Gary patted his back.
"I love you too, son. I never stopped."
July 10, 2018 (Tuesday, 5:21 AM)
Mason's world filled out bit by bit as he slowly awakened. His redhead was behind him, and Jeremy's pelvis pressed firmly against Mason's bare skin. Mason made a contented and comfortable sound, and he moved slightly.
As he did, he noticed Jeremy had an erection. "Mmmm," the hairy little man said and pulled unconsciously on Mason. He was still asleep, but his hips moved slightly against Mason's rear.
Mason grinned. 'Someone's having a nice dream.' He raised up a bit and snagged their lubricant. Mason managed to get some of the stuff where it needed to go, and then he pushed himself back against Jeremy's mobile hips.
He felt Jeremy's beard as it rubbed the back of his neck and the redhead's breath on his skin. Jeremy groaned a little in his sleep, and his hard cock slid along Mason's lubricated crack.
Mason licked his lips. He had only been screwed once in his life, as a part of some experimenting he did when he was fourteen with a friend in Alabama. They hadn't used lube, and it wasn't much fun for Mason.
But he watched how much Jeremy loved it. And he wanted to have this with him. Mason positioned himself, and he pushed back on the man's rock hard member.
Jeremy made some additional noises, as he rode the line between asleep and awake. There was a lot of pressure on the muscular ring of Mason's rear, then Jeremy's head entered him.
Mason couldn't help but hiss. It burned a little, and he breathed through his mouth as he tried to relax.
"What are you up to?" Jeremy kissed the back of Mason's neck as he woke. His hand wandered down Mason's front to his half-hard penis. "Awww. We can stop if you're not into it, Mason."
"No, it's okay. I only need to adjust a bit." Mason stayed very still and waited. While he did, Jeremy began to stroke him - slowly, and with a light touch at first. As Mason hardened Jeremy's grip tightened until Mason felt as if he were screwing.
Jeremy began to move slightly. Pressure, then less, pressure, then relax. Mason breathed as Jeremy's hips moved. And somewhere in the process, Mason realized it no longer hurt.
It began to feel nice.
Then it began to feel amazing.
Jeremy smiled behind him. "Someone's drooling a little bit." Mason's dick leaked precome all over Jeremy's hand, and he continued to stroke while his pelvis moved.
"Fuck." Mason's mouth opened, and his brain nearly short-circuited from the sensations from both his cock and prostate.
Jeremy began to pick up his pace. "How are you doing?" His voice bordered on urgent. "Because I'm not gonna last much longer."
"Do it." Mason managed to gasp. Then the teenager felt his own orgasm begin. He made a gasping sound, and his body stiffened. He came with a spurt of semen and a yelp, and he continued to make a mess on their sheet as Jeremy stroked him.
The redhead's breath puffed on the moist skin of Mason's neck, and he pushed forward. He held still a moment, and Mason felt as Jeremy unloaded inside him. Then the smaller man continued, every push forward accompanied by a pulse inside Mason.
They lay together, both dazed, and both satisfied. Jeremy raised up a bit and kissed the side of Mason's face. "That was really nice, Mason." He smiled. "Are you okay?"
Mason pulled his hips forward, and Jeremy slipped out of him. Then he rolled to face Jeremy. "I'm great." He took a hand and caressed Jeremy's bearded cheek. His eyes locked onto Jeremy's. "I've been thinking."
"Oh?" Jeremy could hear the tone in Mason's voice, and he immediately gave the lanky young man his full attention. "What about, Mason?"
Mason stared at him. "I think I don't need anybody else, Jeremy." His gaze was so intense. Mason licked his lips, and he nodded slightly. "I think … I want you, and just you."
Jeremy's breath caught in his throat. "Mason. Are you," he audibly exhaled, "what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I'm committed to you, Jeremy Adams. I want to be more than boyfriends." He smirked. "My dad would probably kill me if I proposed this early … but, I have something else in mind. Something more than boyfriends, a stronger bond." He looked hopefully at Jeremy. "How do you feel about that?"
"I … I'd love that." Jeremy looked in naked wonder at Mason. "Are you sure, though? I mean … you know my status, and you know I have … ah … an issue with drinking."
"I know about the bottle of Jack under the bed, Jeremy." Mason's lips curled into a smile at Jeremy's expression. "And I know you've not touched it." He pulled the redhead close. "You're BEATING it. And I'm going to help you."
Jeremy bit his lip. "You give me strength, Mason."
"And you give me purpose." The green eyes of Mason looked into the blues of Jeremy. "I love you, Jeremy Adams."
"I love you, Mason Jameson." Jeremy lay there a moment and stared at Mason. Then he nodded slightly. "Okay. If you're sure, then so am I."
Mason grinned. "Good. Then you'd better bust out your braiding skills."
Jeremy gave him a terrific frown. "What?"
July 10, 2018 (Tuesday, 8:32 AM)
"So, we need to talk." Greg had his arms folded across his chest, and he looked earnestly at Clay. They both stood in the camp kitchen, and the first wave of campers eating breakfast had come and gone. Now there were only a few stragglers eating breakfast at the picnic table.
Clay looked at Greg with a little bit of incomprehension and worry on his face. "Uh, okay?"
He wiped his hands on the dish towel. Greg motioned for Clay to follow him and they began to walk the loop around the campground.
Greg took a breath. "We need to plan the wedding."
Clay laughed. "Dear god, don't DO that to me!" He shook his head. "I thought something was wrong!"
Greg frowned, then he joined Clay in laughter. "Okay, sorry. I'm just trying to figure out a way to get it done before Orson and Elias leave for good to Chicago. If that's going to happen."
Clay made a face of realization. "Ah. Yeah." He grimaced. "Man, it's a bummer to think that they might leave."
"It is. They're both such a part of this place now," Greg said and waved at a family who said hello to them as they walked past their tents. "So, do you have any ideas? I mean, we'll know more when they come back, but they fly out at noon today. That forced me to think about it."
They had already shipped The Raven. A plane specifically for the sculpture was chartered yesterday, and it landed safely in the Windy City. Elias and Orson were to follow today on the noon flight out of Crescent City to Portland. And then eastward to Chicago.
Clay thought about it. "Well, let's plan it before the fall semester starts. I can't imagine they'd leave much before the start of the school year."
Greg nodded. "Okay." They walked a little more then Greg looked at Clay. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"
Clay stopped and grabbed him. He laid a long, deep kiss on Greg until his cock hardened up in his shorts. They attracted a few looks, smiles, and one whistle from nearby campers. Clay finally released him and looked the stunned Greg in the eye.
"No." Clay licked his lips and grabbed Greg's hand. "Though right now, I'm thinking pretty hard about something else."
Greg tried to make his erection a little less visible as he was towed toward the Airstream. He also tried to ignore the good-natured hoots and hollers from the campers around them as they walked past.
When they entered, he chuckled at Clay. "You just gave our campers a nice show."
"They just got the preview." He leaned in and growled, his bristly face against Greg's smooth shaved cheek. "Time for the main attraction."
Greg laughed as Clay began to tear off their clothes.
Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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