Chapter 1: Crowded Solitude
Bailey rubbed his face, his eyes tired. He had been at the coffee shop almost all day - studying his options, replying to prospective employers, and reading the gentle rejections he received from all of them.
'I need a job.' He blew out a breath. 'I need something.' He leaned back in the chair, and he looked up at the ceiling. Bailey was in a Starbucks in the Castro, in the city of San Francisco - one of the most iconic places in gay culture in the United States. Though reassuring to be surrounded by gay men and lesbians, the cost of living in the city was astoundingly high. He was currently staying at a hotel, but he was resigned to the idea that he couldn't remain much longer.
He traveled to the city from San Diego where he was a US Navy Officer. After his discharge, he thought perhaps his skills as a trained and experienced engineer would enable him to land a job rapidly. But that hadn't been the case.
In an act of desperation, Bailey cast his net far and wide. He applied to jobs up and down the state - to anything which looked even remotely like something he'd be able to do.
He had just shut off his iPad when his phone vibrated. Bailey took it out, and he looked at the text message.
'Hello, Mr. Holbrook. We have reviewed your qualifications, experience, and your particular requirements for workplace accommodation. We believe we can accommodate your needs, and we have an opening for a person of your skills. The job description for the contracted engineering consultant is attached. If you can interview at our office in Crescent City, California this Friday, and you feel you can meet the requirements for the work, then please reply to this message.'
Bailey read the job description, and he grinned. The company was called ‘Granite Construction,’ and they did a lot of roadwork in the state for CalTrans. Then his smile faded. 'Crescent City? Where's that?' He punched the city into his mapping app. Bailey made a face when he saw the three hundred plus mile trip he would have to take north.
‘It’s barely in California.’
He couldn’t afford to be choosy. His income couldn’t take San Francisco prices much longer, so one way or another, he was leaving the city.
Bailey shrugged, sent a quick reply to say he would be there, and he downed the rest of his coffee. He stood up and went outside to the parking lot.
Bailey got into his beat-up Chevy Colorado. Once on the street, he pointed it toward his hotel room. ‘Okay. I've got to pack. I guess I’m heading to Crescent City tomorrow.'
It was Wednesday, late in the afternoon. And he was just about out of options. This offer had to work out.
Bailey parked in the $25 lot near his hotel. He grimaced as he did. ‘Everything costs money here - a lot of it.’ His room was $180 a night. Add on food, and a day in the city meant at least a cost of $250. More if he didn’t carefully watch his expenses.
He got out and walked upstairs to his room. It was a beautiful, October day, and Bailey was a little sad he would have to leave the city. He had only just started connecting with a small group of people locally. But that couldn’t be helped.
He opened the door and got his bag. He started packing, and soon everything was put away that he wouldn’t need for his morning rituals. It was too late to leave on a three hundred mile trip, so he’d start out early the next day.
Bailey lay on the bed, and he unlocked his phone. ‘Cheap accommodations crescent city’ went into the search. After the page loaded, he examined his options.
‘Oceanview Inn. $53 a night.’ He nodded. Then he read the ‘call for reservations’ bit. He made a face. ‘No online reservations? Really?’ That was a dealbreaker for Bailey, so he navigated back a page and scrolled down.
‘What’s this? $25 a night for a cabin?’ He opened a link to an advertised nearby campground, and he began to read. ‘Lower rates for the offseason! Family and Gay-friendly destination! Come spend Fall with us!”
Bailey made a sound as he blew air out of his nose. ‘Gay-friendly? That’s surprising.’ He selected the link and an option for reserving one of four available cabins came up on screen, along with a hand-drawn map of where in the campground the cottages were situated.
He smiled. ‘This is sort of perfect. No indoor plumbing, but a short trip to the showers and bathrooms. A lot like living aboard ship in that respect.’
Bailey found the map sort of homey, but cute too. And he selected the cabin closest to the river. He loved to swim. On the warm days left in the year, a dip in the river would be welcome.
He reserved the cabin, starting the next day, all the way through the next two weeks. Then he had the receipt emailed to himself. ‘Easy.’ He nodded, satisfied with the simple process.
Bailey sighed, and he put the phone down on his chest. He had already gone for his jog early in the day. He was packed, and his cabin was reserved.
‘I should go buy a cooler and some food that’ll keep a while. Salami, cheese, fruit, stuff like that.’ He continued to mentally plan, and he sat up. He stood and soon, Bailey was in his truck, on his way to REI in San Francisco.
It wasn’t long before the black-haired man had his cooler and the food. Bailey also loaded the insulated cooler with ice. He knew the ice would easily last through the night and the five-hour drive to Crescent City. He put most of his things in his truck, set the alarm, and he went back to his room.
It was only just after six pm. But, Bailey was in for the night. He wanted to ration his money, so his entertainment was limited to whatever he could find on his iPad. Though, he had plenty to look up.
He searched for information on Granite Construction, Crescent City, and Camp Refuge. And he spent the next three hours taking notes and reading.
Finally, he put the iPad down to charge, and he yawned.
Bailey stripped off his clothes, and he pulled down the blanket and sheet. He climbed in, and he reached to turn off the lamp.
Then he lay back. Bailey stared up at the ceiling fan in the room, and he watched as it turned in the near darkness.
He sighed. ‘Well, this time tomorrow I’ll be in a cabin, just outside of Crescent City.’ He swallowed, and he ran his fingers along the left side of his neck. He lightly traced the sensitive skin there.
Bailey grimaced, then he rolled onto his side. He held his pillow, and he curled around it. And though it took some time, he finally dropped off to a restless sleep.
Harlan woke. It was still dark, and the only sounds were the river and the gentle breaths of the man beside him.
Harlan rose up on an elbow and looked down at Orlando in the little moonlight that filtered through the tent. The handsome, brown-skinned man was asleep. And he felt warm and comfortable against Harlan’s naked body.
But that was done. Harlan carefully extricated himself from his spooning, and he pulled on his shirt in the tent. He found his shorts, and he unzipped the tent.
Harlan stood up outside next to the tent flap. He got his shorts on, hidden in the dark, and he snagged his flip-flops near the entrance. Then he zipped it back up.
Orlando slept through all of it - just as he had every night over the last two weeks.
Orlando was working a job in Crescent City. And the campground was the best deal in the area. When he arrived three weeks ago and set up his campsite, he caught Harlan’s eye. And a week after he came, Harlan made a move.
Orlando was more than happy to have sex with Harlan. He would be in the area for a couple of months, and Harlan found him a great and fun sexual partner.
But Harlan wasn’t interested in anything more with him. Luckily, Orlando was okay with that as well.
Not that it’d have mattered. Harlan didn’t do relationships. Orlando was someone who didn’t require anything of him except for Harlan’s cock up his ass. And that Harlan could give him.
He went to the shower room, locked the door, stripped, and he dropped a dollar into the coin-operated device. The water came on, and Harlan stepped in. He cleaned up and urinated down the drain while the warm water ran.
The water kicked off, and Harlan dried himself. Then he put on his shorts and flip-flops.
Harlan carefully opened the door. He never turned on the lights in the shower, so his eyes were still adjusted to the dark. Harlan didn’t see anyone. He knew it was likely around one or two AM, and nobody was up.
Harlan padded silently to his cabin. He slid his hand along the top of the door. The clear tape he put there when he left to go see Orlando was still intact. He smiled, sure his cabin didn’t house any unwanted visitors, then he unlocked and opened the door. The tape snapped, and he entered.
Harlan still checked the inside of the small space. Finally satisfied, he crawled into his bed.
Harlan was eating well, exercising, sleeping enough, had shelter, and he was now getting regular sex. His basic biological needs were met.
“Can’t ask for much more,” he murmured. Then he rolled into his sheet, and he went to sleep.
It was just after four PM on Thursday when Bailey’s truck crept into the campground. He started at eight AM from San Francisco, but he didn’t count on the slow going required for the northern portion of the 101, and then the 199 highway.
Regardless, he had made it. He pulled in next to the silvery shell of an older Airstream, and he saw a forty-something brown-haired man step out toward the road. A lanky young guy sat at a patio table next to the Airstream at a table, along with a broad, salt and pepper haired fellow.
The two at the table looked casually over as Bailey waited for the man to get to him. He held his phone, a screenshot of his reservation on the device.
“Hello!” The man smiled. “I’m Greg. I’m one of the camp hosts here at Camp Refuge.” He cocked his head. “Are you Bailey? The guy who reserved cabin five?”
Bailey nodded, and he handed over his license and the phone. He watched as Greg’s eyes read the reservation information and look over Bailey’s license. Greg nodded to himself, and he handed the items back to Bailey.
“Looks good.” Greg grew serious for a moment. “I want to be sure you’re aware - we are a gay-friendly facility. Do you have any issue with that? If so, I’ll refund you, and you can be on your way.”
Bailey grinned, and he shook his head. It was great to hear this guy lay it all out right off the bat.
Greg smiled, and he extended a hand. “Then, welcome to Camp Refuge, Bailey.” As he shook Greg pointed. “Keep heading along the loop. Your cabin is the first after you pass the river trail.” He dug in his pocket. “Oh, and here’s your key. Let me or either of those guys at the table know if you need anything.”
Bailey took the key, and he nodded his thanks. Greg stepped back, and Bailey drove slowly along the paved, well-maintained road.
He looked with some interest at all the tent sites and at the cabins as he motored along. There were only a few tent campers, as the season was almost over, and it was getting wetter and colder. Though, cars were parked at half of the cabins.
He also passed a structure near his cabin. Bailey parked at his assigned spot, and he got out of his truck. He looked, curious at the open-sided building. That was the covered kitchen he saw in the information he read on the campground last night.
‘Huh. That’s different.’ Bailey knew that use of the kitchen was included in his reservation fee. And he planned to take advantage of that resource.
He unlocked the cabin, and he stepped inside. The little building smelled clean, and like the forest which completely surrounded the campground. Bailey smiled. ‘This is really cute.’ He put his bag down on the full bed, then he went to fetch his cooler.
Soon he had unloaded all of his gear. Bailey sat on the futon, and he pulled up the email with his reservation on his phone. He typed the wifi password for the free internet into his iPad. He smirked. ‘I’m really roughing it.’ Bailey had to nurse his funds, and he was there for the low cost, not for the camping experience. Plus, he needed the internet for his interview the next day. As well, if he got the job, he’d have to use the connection for various aspects of the work.
He spent the next twenty minutes writing an email to confirm his interview at ten AM in Crescent City the next day.
He finished, sent the email, and he stood up. It was close to five PM, and he was hungry. Bailey took a plastic bag of marinating chicken thighs out of his cooler, a plastic-wrapped box of mushrooms, and a little plate with him. Bailey left the cabin, and he checked the kitchen.
Nobody was there. A few people were starting fires in their fire pits, and Bailey noticed that he had a fire pit in front of his cabin as well. ‘That’ll be nice when it cools off in the evening.’
Bailey walked over to the kitchen. He quickly puzzled through how the gas grill worked, and soon his chicken and mushrooms sizzled on the hot appliance.
Bailey flipped the meat. As he was focused on that task, a shadow fell across the grill, and he looked up.
A plain-looking, brown-haired fellow eyed him. The man glanced from Bailey down to the meat as it cooked. “Smells good.” He brought his green eyes back up. “I’m Harlan. Nice to meet you.” He extended a hand over the grill.
Bailey smiled. He shifted the tongs he held, and he shook Harlan’s hand. He nodded affably. Then Bailey went back to tending his food.
Harlan stood there a moment longer, then he cleared his throat. “Okay. I guess I’ll leave you to it.”
Harlan walked away, his face neutral. Bailey eyed him as he left. Bailey rushed through the remainder of his meal preparation.
Just as Greg, the camp host approached Bailey finished up. The man smiled at him. “Hi, Bailey. Find everything in the kitchen?”
Bailey nodded, put his head down, and he hurried away with his steaming paper plate of grilled chicken and mushrooms.
He made it back to his cabin, and he put his food down on the small desk in the building. It was getting a bit dark, so Bailey turned on the desk lamp. He sat with his iPad off to the side as he ate, and he continued to look over the company information for Granite Construction. He wanted to be an expert on the organization and the project before he ever walked through the door.
Bailey finished his meal, and he took his paper plate and the biodegradable plastic fork over to the upright, brown trash container near his cabin. Then he took a few steps over to his fire pit.
The previous tenant left some wood stacked in a neat pile near the iron-walled fire ring. Bailey looked at the feature. ‘A fire could be nice.’ He wasn’t a big camper, but he did enjoy a naked flame.
Bailey set about building a fire. As he was about to light the ball of paper beneath the teepee of kindling, he heard voices near the center of the campground.
He looked, and there were some people gathered around a big fire. It must burn in the large pit he noticed near the kitchen. He could see silhouettes backlit by the flickering light. Some pairs of men stood close, arms around each other, while others talked and laughed among the group. Still, other folks sat at the benches that bordered the circular area.
Bailey watched and listened. ‘Sounds like they’re having fun.’ He swallowed, and he looked down at his own fire pit. Suddenly, he wasn’t in the mood to sit alone by his fire.
He frowned and he tossed the little piece of kindling down beside the wood pile. Bailey looked longingly at the central fire pit and the happy group.
He subconsciously rubbed his throat as he debated. ‘It might be okay. To go, sit and just hang out. It might be fine.’
After an agonizing minute, his shoulders slumped. ‘No. It’d be awkward. You won’t fit in. You never do.’
With one more dejected glance, Bailey sighed, and he silently entered his cabin.
It was a little before noon the next day. Clay watched as the blue Chevy Colorado pulled around the loop. It parked at cabin five, and the tall, black-haired man, Bailey, got out of the vehicle.
Clay knew Bailey had left around nine in the morning. Both Clay and Greg saw that he had turned west, toward Crescent City.
“He’s a quiet one,” Greg remarked as they watched him leave. “Seems like a guy who just wants to be left alone.”
That was fine with Clay. Bailey wasn’t making trouble. It was easy to forget he was even there. Even better, he had prepaid two weeks on his cabin.
Clay got back to his chore of prepping lunch. Five different campers paid into the meal, so Clay was busy preparing burgers with all the fixings.
As Clay started frying the patties, he looked up to see Bailey. The man had a notepad under one arm, a camp chair under the other and he headed for the river trail.
It had rained earlier in the day. It was a short rain shower, but it was a good amount of precipitation. Now, the sun was out again. Though the air temperature was warm, Clay knew the river was currently unswimmable. ‘I hope he doesn’t expect to take a dip.’ Bailey was in jeans and a t-shirt, so Clay was pretty sure he wasn’t interested in swimming.
His burgers hissed, and Clay looked back down to refocus on his current task.
Bailey carried his chair and notepad down the trail that led to the river. He stepped onto a small river-side beach of wet sand and rocks. Bailey instantly noticed the boy sitting on a large rock that sat right next to the brown water of the river.
The young man glanced over at him when Bailey exited the trail. But he went right back to staring out over the water.
Bailey debated leaving. He had hoped he’d be the only one on the little beach. But the boy didn’t seem interested in him at all.
‘Good.’ Bailey set his chair down a few feet from the fast flowing, turbulent water. Then he took a seat.
He put his notepad in his lap, and he looked again at the boy. The young guy seemed to be about fourteen or fifteen years old. He had a mop of dark, untamed hair. He was pale, and he looked a bit on the chunky side. He also appeared quite pensive, and he brooded in silence. He picked up a pebble, and he threw it into the water with a little splash.
Bailey allowed himself a tiny empathetic smile. He knew what it was like to feel isolated, even in the presence of others. ‘Alone in a crowded room.’ Bailey opened his notepad, and he sighed. ‘Welcome to my world, kid.’
He pushed aside the negative thoughts, and he listened to the sounds of the raging stream. His interview went well, and he was hired for the contracted engineer consultant. His job specifically was to ensure Granite Construction’s planned execution of the CalTrans road widening project was done in a structurally sound way.
Bailey began to list out all of the deliverables for the job. Then, beside each, he noted the desired date of completion. This would become his roadmap for the overall project. He knew, if the work began to run behind, that is when he would have to pay particular attention to any time-saving measures Granite tried to take. Ultimately, it would be Bailey’s name certifying the work as safe. And he simply would not sign off for substandard work or methods.
Granite knew this because Bailey told them. Yet, they still hired him. So he knew they were all on the same page.
It was a funny sort of relationship. Bailey was paid by the same people who depended on him to ultimately approve the work done. Luckily, Bailey got the impression Granite wanted to do a good job, and that made it easy for him to sign on.
He caught movement as the teenaged boy stood up on the rock. The young fellow cast a glance at him, and he turned in place to jump down onto the sand.
Bailey watched him leave. He spent a long moment, staring at the river trail where the boy had disappeared to head back into camp. He couldn't help but feel a strange kinship with the quiet, moody teen.
'I get it.' Bailey sighed, and then he looked to the churning, brown waters of the river. 'I really get it.'
"Rayne, there you are." The teenager turned his head to see Jeremy, the red-haired administrator of the Raven Project walking toward him. He had just left the trail that led down to the river.
"Hi, Mister Adams." Rayne gave Jeremy a small smile as the man stepped up next to him.
"I was looking for you. You okay?" Jeremy's blue eyes focused on Rayne.
Rayne looked down at his feet. He knew Jeremy probably would have a bit of a problem with him hanging out at the river unsupervised. So he kept that to himself. "Yeah, I'm fine." He sighed. "I'm just gonna go read." He started to head for the cabin Jeremy rented for him and Avery.
"Well, okay." Jeremy was obviously disappointed that Rayne seemed down. "Let me know if there's anything you want to do, or anywhere you want to go. Okay? We could probably get some guys together for a game."
"No. It's fine. I just want to read." He forced a smile. "Thanks, Mr. Adams."
Rayne turned away, and he walked to his cabin. He opened the door, and he looked around. He stepped inside, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He was alone in the cabin. He liked Avery, but the boy was on fast-forward. And he just didn't want to deal with Avery's rapid-fire questions and comments at the moment.
He sat on the futon, and he pulled his dog-eared copy of 'The Call of the Wild' from the little stand beside him. Rayne opened the book, and for a while, he could pretend that he was loose - with a pack of those who understood and respected him - somewhere he could be free from judgment.
Harlan worked at his father, Gary's store in Crescent City. He actually told his Dad to take the day off. "When's the last time you had a day off, Dad?" Other than a cancer scare a few months back, he couldn't really answer Harlan's question.
Harlan could easily handle the store solo. It wasn't that the place wasn't busy, but rather that Harlan was used to a much faster pace of life - one which required him to think and act rapidly to be successful. Though, by comparison, now his days were languid and relaxed.
He closed up the shop at four, and he drove back to the campground. Harlan pulled into his cabin's parking spot, and he looked over at cabin five.
Bailey, the new camper headed toward the kitchen. He had a plastic bag of meat and vegetables in his hand, marinating in something. Harlan sat in his car a moment, and he eyed him.
'Stuck up bastard. Wouldn't even talk to me.' Harlan frowned. He could respect a man who wanted to keep to himself. But, if Harlan greeted someone, then he expected something in return.
Typically, Harlan wouldn't let it bother him. He knew that about himself. As he got out of the car, he forced a little self-reflection, and he was annoyed at his conclusion.
'He's a handsome man,' Harlan admitted, and he shook his head at himself. He found the quiet man attractive - something that didn't happen very often.
Harlan went to the door of his cottage. He carefully checked to ensure the cabin had remained closed, and he was satisfied when he saw the intact thread that crossed the gap between the door frame and the door.
He entered, and he went straight to his cooler. 'Maybe I'll give him another chance.' He smiled as he opened the insulated icebox, and he took out a steak he had saved. He looked thoughtfully at the beautifully marbled cut. 'Maybe.'
Bailey's mouth watered. He got lucky again, and nobody was at the kitchen when he walked over with his pork chop. This time he had marinated the meat in a honey mustard dressing with big slices of onion and apples.
He put everything directly on the gas grill. As he did, he realized something. 'Shit. I didn't clean the grill yesterday.' In his haste to avoid socializing, he left right after he finished. And that meant whoever came after him had to clean up the mess he made before they could ever get started on their own food.
Bailey sighed, and he resolved to ensure the appliance was taken care of after he finished this time. His dinner heated up and gave off an intoxicating aroma as the sugars in the marinade caramelized on the meat, apples and the onions.
The man, Harlan approached. Bailey bit his lip. The interaction yesterday with the brown-haired guy was a bit awkward. And Bailey watched as he drew close.
Harlan put a steak wrapped in plastic down on the picnic table. He glanced at Bailey, then stepped into the kitchen behind him, grabbed a couple of plates from the rack where they were stored. Harlan then went back to the picnic table. There, he unwrapped his steak and put it on one of the plates. Then Harlan salted and peppered the meat well.
Bailey made himself concentrate on his grilling. He couldn't hurry through cooking pork. He kept his head down, but he couldn't help notice that Harlan had parked himself on the edge of the picnic table. The man leaned against it, and he crossed his arms over his chest.
Bailey didn't want to look up. Harlan was utterly silent, and he merely stood there. The silence drew on, and finally, Bailey looked at him.
Harlan's face was neutral, and he looked at Bailey. He didn't say anything. Bailey swallowed, and he gave Harlan a smile and a nod. Then he went back to his grilling. 'What does he want?' Bailey frowned to himself, and he checked his pork chop with his finger. He could tell by the firmness how done it was. He was relieved that the meat was finished.
Bailey pulled all of his food off of the grill. Then he turned up the heat. As the grill heated up, he scoured it with the metal bristle brush that lay off to the side. It didn't take long, and the surface was just as clean as when he started.
He reached to turn off the heat.
"Leave it." Harlan picked up his plate. His eyes found Bailey's. "Oh, and thanks for cleaning the grill today." There was a slight smirk on the man's face.
Bailey flinched. He gave Harlan a chagrined smile, then he picked up his dinner, and he stepped around Harlan.
He walked quickly to his cabin. Bailey set his food down on his desk, and he sat heavily in the chair. 'Fuck.' He stared down at the crosshatched grill marks on the pork chop. 'I'm already pissing off the natives.'
Bailey sighed, and he picked up his knife. As he went to cut his food into bite-sized pieces a flash of lightning flared outside, and flickered into his cabin through the window. A peal of thunder followed a few seconds after and grumbled like an angry titan across the sky.
Bailey looked at the window and then as the rain pattered on the roof of his cabin he snorted air out of his nose.
'Perfect.' He sheared a bite off of his dinner and he put the morsel into his mouth. 'Suits my mood.'
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!
If you'd like to be on a list specifically for notification of updates to my stories onThe Story Lover's Home, email and let me know. I'll add you on. Click on the following link Update List.