May 23, 2018 (Wednesday)
Mason stood in the shower stall and the water cascaded down his body. His mouth was open, and he leaned, hands against the wall, face down. As the days went on his nausea had increased. He knew it was a possible side-effect of his medication, and so far he had managed to keep it controlled with bland food and munching on celery.
Today was the worst it had been. He breathed, in and out, and slowly he conquered his body's desire to empty the contents of his stomach. He straightened and finally got on with his shower.
He finished up and as he dried he checked his phone where it lay on the bench as one entered the shower room. He had a notification from Dr. Wade on his electronic medical record, and he opened the message. The doctor said the nausea should pass, though it could be up to two weeks for that to happen. He suggested to take it with food to help blunt or avoid nausea.
Mason made a face and sent a quick response of thanks to the doctor. He had already taken his dose for the day, and though he really didn't want food now he needed to go force himself to eat. He dressed and exited the shower.
They hadn't had any takers yet for the campground. They didn't really expect any either, not until Jeremy brought his little crew, which was scheduled to arrive today. Despite how he felt, Mason smiled when he thought of Jeremy.
He walked over to the patio table and Greg exited his trailer with a towel over his shoulder. He wore only a pair of shorts and shower shoes and had his shower kit and his clothes for the day in his arms. "Hey, good morning, Mason," he smiled at the teenager.
Mason nodded at him. "Mornin'." He jerked his chin at the Airstream. "Mind if I get a bagel?"
"Nope. Go for it," Greg answered, then looked carefully at Mason. "You feeling alright? You're a little pale."
Mason waved his hand dismissively. "Yeah, the belly is just a little upset." He opened the door to the trailer. "Thanks for breakfast. I'll toast you one too."
Greg smiled. "Thanks, and you're welcome." He turned and walked to the shower room.
Mason split a couple of bagels and carefully placed them face down on the firepit grill. Greg had already started a fire to drive off the early morning chill, and it worked well to toast their breakfast. Mason sat in a camp chair and watched as the bread warmed, then began to crisp and toast. His stomach gurgled, angry and upset. He grimaced and put a hand on his abdomen.
"Shut up, you," he licked his lips and he swallowed. Just for a moment, he wondered if it was worth taking the medication, and his mind instantly conjured an image of Jeremy - his blue eyes, thick red beard, pale skin, and small lithe body.
"Worth it," he whispered.
The birds sang above him and flitted about the redwoods. He could hear the river to the south as it gurgled over the rocks, and there was a light breeze that blew through the trees. It was misty, but the sun was just beginning to burn it away. The fire cast a welcome warmth over him as he sat close to the firepit, and the smell of the bagels as they toasted began to cut through his nausea and make him hungry.
The young man closed his eyes, took a breath, and he imagined what it would be like to experience all this, while his arms were closed around Jeremy's body. His mouth unconsciously curled into a smile.
"Definitely worth it."
Jeremy carefully turned into the campground. He always drove more cautiously when someone else was in the car, and he had two nervous young people with him.
Elias Pennington, a skinny 15-year-old boy looked out the window as they entered the paved loop. "I love the name," he said, his voice held in a near whisper as they passed the sign on the highway. He looked into the rearview mirror at Jeremy's eyes from his spot in the back seat. "Is it really? A refuge?"
Jeremy smiled and nodded. "It is. We talked a little about it, but the guys who run the place are a couple. And they understand." Jeremy grinned as he saw Mason. The tall teenager loped across the campground toward the car as it crept along the loop, and Jeremy came to a gentle stop at the first campsite - where he had camped before. "Here comes Clay's son, Mason. He helps with the place too."
"He's a kid," Patrick said. He pushed his glasses up and pulled at the dress he wore. He hated the clothes, and he frowned down in his lap, embarrassed. He lowered his head, so only his buzzed blonde hair could be seen.
Mason stopped beside the Saturn. "Hey, Jeremy!" He smiled broadly at the redhead, and he bent so he could see the other two occupants. He smiled at the teenaged girl and boy in the car. "Hi. I'm Mason. Good to see you both."
Jeremy nodded at Mason. "Mason, this is Elias and Patrick. I'm going to help them get set up, then I'll pay the fees for our camping."
Mason processed ‘Patrick’ and realized he had jumped to the wrong conclusion. He recovered quickly and grinned. "Sounds good. If any of you need anything, let me know." Mason looked at the kitchen. "It's just about lunchtime, and Greg is going to start a communal meal. If anybody wants, they can come help him and he'll teach you how to cook whatever he's making."
Patrick frowned down at his lap. "I don't wanna cook." Then he blushed, "Sorry … my aunt makes me cook with her all the time."
Mason smiled at him. "You don't have to help. But that's where we'll be if you wanna hang out and talk or whatever. Okay?"
Patrick looked up at Mason, uncertain at first. Finally a nod, "Okay. Thanks."
"I want to." Elias looked shyly at Mason.
"Sounds good, Elias. Whatever you all want to do is fine. Once you're settled I'll walk you around so you can see the whole campground. Then whoever is interested can get started with Greg in the kitchen." Mason patted Jeremy's arm. "See you after you're settled?"
Jeremy nodded. "Yep. Thanks, Mason." Mason turned and ran back across the campground toward the kitchen. Jeremy took a breath to settle himself. 'Good to see you, Mason,' he couldn't help but think. He smiled and pulled into the spot for the campsite.
Jeremy helped the kids get their tents set up. Elias had never been camping before, so everything was new to the boy. Patrick, on the other hand, camped often with his family when he was younger. He loved being outdoors, and though nervous he was also excited to be there.
As soon as their tents were set up Patrick picked up a plastic Walmart bag. It had a couple of changes of clothes in it, and all still had the tags on them. "Mr. Adams, I'm going to go change."
Jeremy's face fell. "Oh Patrick, I'm sorry. Why didn't you remind me?"
The boy shrugged. "We were busy," he looked down at the ground. "Thank … thank you for the clothes."
Jeremy's eyes filled with his compassion. He walked over where Patrick stood by his little gray and yellow tent. "Patrick, you're welcome." He reached and put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "I know your aunt doesn't understand. But here, you can be free for a few days. Okay?"
The young man glanced up at Jeremy's face and he nodded. His blue eyes were both pained and grateful.
"If you need help with the binding Samantha should be here soon."
"I can do it." Patrick straightened and turned toward the closest bathroom/shower room building. "I'll be back soon."
Patrick walked across the grounds, his bag of clothes in hand, and dress flapping in the breeze. Elias watched, a frown on his face. "Patrick's aunt sucks."
Jeremy grimaced at the boy. "Elias, she just doesn't understand. We know Patrick is a boy, but it's hard for his aunt to see that. We have to give some people more time than others."
Elias' frown remained but the boy nodded. He looked over at the kitchen where both Greg and Mason moved about, getting started on their food prep. "I'm gonna go see what they're doing."
"Okay." Jeremy watched Elias go and he smiled slightly. Then he got into his car and pulled up to the next site in line. He unloaded his own things, and he began to set up his tent.
About halfway through Jeremy's campsite set-up, Patrick returned from the bathroom. He was now dressed in blue jeans, a Superman t-shirt, and a pair of low rise hiking boots. He smiled as he approached, and his head was up, his eyes confident. It was obvious … this was who he is.
Jeremy grinned at him. "Better?"
Patrick responded with a laugh. He disappeared into his tent, dropped off his old clothes, and the bag with the rest of his new outfits. He reappeared and looked over at the kitchen. "Mr. Adams, I'm going to go hang out with the rest of them."
"All right. I'll be over there in a bit. Have fun."
Patrick walked quickly over to the kitchen, and despite what he said earlier, he was soon mixing a marinade for some chicken. Jeremy finished his site set up, and he smiled to himself as he walked over.
"Hey, Jeremy." Greg washed his hands at the kitchen sink and grinned at the redhead. He dried his hands. Patrick and Elias also took turns at the sink while he spoke to Jeremy. "Is this all we're expecting?"
"Hey, Greg. No, a couple more are on the way - Avery and Samantha. A co-worker is bringing them out on his lunch since I didn't have room for all of the kids and their gear."
"Ah, cool." Greg looked at Mason. "You wanna take them on a quick tour, or do you want to wait for the other two?"
"I'll take them now. I wanna show them the river!" Mason grinned when he saw Patrick's eyes light up. "Yep, it's awesome. Come on!"
The three young people eagerly walked south, chatting to one another, and disappeared on the path that led through the brushy hedge between the campground and the river. Jeremy watched them go, a grin plastered on his face. "Oh, this was such a good idea," he turned and gave Greg a thankful look. "I'm so glad you're doing this. It's amazing."
It had finally settled into Greg's mind, he was really making this dream happen. All the planning, sacrifice, and saving he had done over the years were finally paying off. He swallowed, and the moment hit him in a powerful way. "Thanks," his voice was suddenly rough and he cleared it. But there was no stopping his emotions. "I just," he felt himself tear up, "shit … I just want them to have a safe place." He shook his head and wiped at his face. "I want all of us to have a safe place. That's all."
Jeremy's eyes glittered with unshed tears, and he stepped forward. He gave Greg a hug. They embraced and Jeremy smiled. "You've done a great job, Greg. Thanks."
Greg nodded and they separated. "You're welcome," he wiped at his face again and sniffed. "Ah, damn it. Allergies are awful," he grinned, and Jeremy laughed.
Mason watched both Patrick and Elias as they dipped their bare feet in the water of the river. He already knew the water was very cold, and he warned the two of them. But they still wanted to try wading around.
Elias' eyes shot open wide as he stepped in. "Oh wow!" He gave a full body shiver. "It really is cold!"
Mason refrained from "I told you so" and instead laughed good-naturedly at them. They were both stubborn and soon were up to their knees in the cold, flowing water.
"Careful. The rocks are slippery. Don't want you …"
Elias yelped, and down he went. "Ahhhh!" The water was up mid-chest when he was on his rump, and he slipped again when he tried to stand up. Mason instantly waded in. He still had his tennis shoes on, but he didn't hesitate. The lanky teenager easily helped Elias up.
The blonde boy's teeth chattered and he immediately made for the shore.
"You okay?" Mason waded after him, "You didn't hurt yourself did you?"
Elias frowned and looked at the ground. He hunched over a little and his arms crossed his chest. Unconsciously he rubbed his arms where Mason had lifted him. Mason noticed. "Did I hurt you?" Mason took a step toward him, his hand extended.
"No!" Elias' eyes went wide and he flung himself away. Mason looked at him, surprised by his reaction. Then Elias licked his lips and visibly tried to calm himself down. "No. I'm fine," he took a deep breath. "Thanks for helping me." He looked back at the path. "I'm gonna go change."
Elias turned and left. Mason took on a worried look and stared after him at the trail.
"It's okay." Patrick waded out of the river and came to stand by Mason. "He'll be fine."
Mason glanced at Patrick. "Are you sure? He seemed really upset."
Patrick sighed. "Elias has been through a lot," he seemed to think it over and decided to trust Mason. "He doesn't like to be touched." He shrugged. "He knows you had to help him, but yeah. He doesn't like it."
"Oh." Mason felt a little stab of sadness for Elias. "Okay. Thanks for telling me."
The two of them came up the path together. As they walked Mason looked over at Patrick. He debated asking his question, and he decided to go for it. "You're trans?"
Patrick smiled slightly. "Yes," he laughed and padded his flattened chest where he had bound his newly developing breasts. "Though my body didn't get the memo."
Mason smiled at him. "Cool. I'm glad you're here."
Patrick nodded, and his bottom lip quivered just a bit. "Yeah." He licked his lips "When Mr. Adams told us about this place it was hard to believe it." He looked up at Mason. "You're so lucky. You get to be here all the time. Where nobody cares if you're gay, or trans, or whatever."
Mason thought about that a moment. "I guess I am. I mean, I know I am. I just forget it sometimes."
They walked until they got back to the kitchen. Then Patrick joined Greg and Jeremy as they began chopping vegetables and mushrooms to go with the marinating chicken. Mason peeled off and went back toward the tent sites.
Elias exited his tent, dressed in a change of dry clothes. He carried his wet pants and shirt over his arm. Mason smiled as he drew close. "Hey, Elias. We can hang those up. Come on, I'll show you Greg's line."
The boy eyed Mason and nodded. They walked on the asphalt loop until they got to the Airstream. Greg showed Elias the clothesline Greg put up to dry his laundry, and the boy quietly hung his wet clothes. When he was done he looked at Mason.
"Thanks," he looked down at his feet. "Sorry for being weird at the river."
"You're welcome. And you don’t have to apologize. Everybody's weird." Mason grinned when Elias glanced up. The blonde boy smiled back at him. Then Mason jerked his chin toward the kitchen. "Come on. Didn't you wanna help with lunch?"
Elias nodded, and the two of them walked through the grounds to the kitchen to join the others.
Soon there were chunks of vegetables, and chicken coated in a flavorful, savory marinade. The chicken sizzled directly on the gas grill in the kitchen, and the veggies steamed in a foil-sealed tray on the grill as well. Patrick asked if he could cut up a pineapple he brought, and grill that too.
"I've never had grilled pineapple." Greg was slightly skeptical but willing to try it. "Let's give it a shot." It wasn't long before everything was done, and grilled spears of pineapple joined Greg's planned meal. They put everything into a large aluminum tray, and put that on very low heat on the grill to stay warm.
They had just finished with that, it was just after 1230 and they heard another car enter the campground.
Jeremy walked over and met the car at the entrance. His coworker couldn't stay, and Jeremy helped two kids, a boy and a girl unload their tents, coolers, and other items. Then the car left.
They dumped their stuff at tent site #3, and Jeremy brought the pair over to the kitchen where the rest of the group sat under the shade of the roof over the area.
"Guys, this is Samantha." Jeremy introduced a dark haired and dark eyed girl to Greg and Mason. She smiled a little at both of them and nodded her head. "And this is Avery."
"Hi!" The young man grinned at Mason and Greg. "This place is awesome!" His blue eyes were wide with excitement, and he pushed his blonde bangs out of his face. "I love everything!" Greg was about to say something when the boy continued. "What smells good?"
Jeremy laughed. "Okay, calm down, Avery." All the rest of the kids rolled their eyes. Apparently, they were used to dealing with Avery's excited, fast-forward style. "That smell is lunch. Patrick and Elias both helped make it."
"Choice!" Avery held up his hand, and after a moment of hesitation, Patrick gave him a high-five.
Greg looked amused and he smiled at the group. "Welcome to Camp Refuge, all of you." He looked around the table, and his face turned a little more serious. "This is a place where you can all just be who you're meant to be. It's not closed to straight people. But everyone has to be open-minded, and treat everybody else with respect." He looked around at every face, then he continued. "We do expect additional campers at some point. And if you run into ANYBODY who disrespects you, or makes you feel bad about yourself, then you let me know."
Every head nodded, and the kids all looked at one another. Little smiles were on all their lips. Greg slowly grinned at them. "Okay. Who's hungry?"
All the kids sat at the picnic table near the firepit while Greg, Mason, and Jeremy served up the food. There was happy conversation from them, as they waited. Soon each had grilled chicken thighs, steamed veggies, and grilled pineapple on their plates.
Jeremy planned to pay the cost of the food out of his grant funds for the Raven Project. He wanted the kids to learn how to cook, and to eat good food, but he didn't want Greg to incur the cost of feeding them. He had the money for the food and for the camping fees in his pocket, and he would settle up after they ate.
"Oh man … grilled pineapple is crazy." Avery wolfed down his entire spear of pineapple and licked his fingers.
Patrick laughed and popped a mushroom in his mouth. "I told you!"
Once all the kids had food Greg, Mason and Jeremy got plates of their own. Greg watched as they all settled in and began to eat. His eyes looked over each of the kids' faces, then Jeremy's and Mason's. He noticed that the young men sat close, and Mason's eyes met his own. The teenager smiled slightly at him, then went back to eating.
'Only missing one thing,' Greg's expression turned wistful and he thought about his policeman. He'd call Clay tonight when he was alone in his trailer.
'I miss you, Officer Jameson.' Greg forced his mind back to his meal, and he began to eat. His eyebrows went up as he tried the pineapple.
'Damn. This IS good.'
Another day slowly rolled by for Clay. Today he was on patrol solo and Orson was paired up with Boggs. It was sort of a trial, to see how well they worked together. If it went well then they'd be partners once Clay retired.
Clay knew that wasn't his problem but he hoped it went well. Orson was a good man. Boggs could be grating, and he was a bit of a busybody. But he wasn't a bad guy. Clay hoped Orson could deal with the man's particular brand of humor. If he could then it would probably work.
He walked through his front door, into the kitchen, and put his bag on the table. There was a huge amount of work to do before he could move - more than he could do alone. He said as much to Greg over the phone last night.
He thought back to how that conversation went.
Clay stood in his living room and looked at the various boxes he had already packed. "I don't think I'm going to be done in time. I won't be able to retire, pack up the whole house, and make the drive out in time for Mason's birthday." Clay sighed heavily into the phone. "I'll tell Mason. I'll probably be a couple of weeks after."
There was silence for a moment. Clay frowned and was just about to say something when Greg cleared his throat. "Ah, that'll be a no. You're going to call Applewhite Movers. I'll send the money for the expense."
"Greg … you can't …"
"I will. You're going to be here. If I have to come out there and help you I will. And that's all that there is."
Clay laughed and rubbed his head. "Okay. You win." He nodded to himself. "Thanks, Greg."
"It's what partners do, you know."
Clay forced himself back into the present and he smiled at the memory. He pulled out his phone, turned it on and lay it on the table. He had Greg's conversation to look forward to tonight.
And later, while he lay in bed on the phone with Greg, he might try to inspire his lover to take matters into his own hand.
"Mr. Adams, come on. Please?" Samantha sat on one of the benches by the firepit. Greg had started the fire a few minutes earlier, and the sky had grown dark. Stars were just beginning to wink into visibility in the sky. Elias and Avery were busy putting marshmallows on long sticks to roast for smores. And Samantha continued to gently hound Jeremy.
Mason came back to the firepit from the Airstream. Greg told him good night and was turning in for the evening. So Mason was in charge of getting their campers anything they might need. To that end, he had been sent on a quest to find graham crackers and chocolate bars for the smore project. He handed over the supplies to a very eager Elias. Mason looked back and forth between Samantha and Jeremy. "What's going on?"
Samantha smiled and took on an impish countenance. "Mason, tell Mr. Adams to sing for us. He's really good."
Jeremy sat on a bench and grimaced at Samantha. "Sam … stop it. Nobody wants to hear me sing."
Four voices clamored and proved him wrong. Mason laughed and looked around at the kids. "He's good, huh?"
All of them nodded. Mason looked over at Jeremy. "I think you're outvoted."
Jeremy laughed softly, then he sighed and nodded. "Okay, fine." He held up a finger. "One song!" Mason grinned and he sat between Jeremy’s spot on the bench and the firepit, directly in front of the redhead.
The Raven Project kids all got their smores and sat on the grass around Mason. Elias was sure to pick an end, so he only had to be close to one other person.
Jeremy smiled at all of them. "Okay, so if it's my choice then you know what you're going to get." There were a couple of moans from the kids, but Patrick grinned.
"Country!" Patrick laughed. "Hurray!"
Jeremy laughed at him. "Yep, country."
The kids settled down and Jeremy's eyes seemed to lose focus. Mason looked up at him from his place on the ground. Then he inhaled, and he began to sing.
"Sometimes I tell you the way that I feel.
I swear that I'm going crazy,
Keep telling myself it ain't that big a deal,
It's better than pushing up daisies."
Mason's face slowly relaxed into a slack-jawed expression.
"I felt the arrow from death's fatal quiver,
Come so close it actually grazed me,
I've bled the blood and I felt the cold shiver,
God only knows how he saved me."
His voice seemed to strengthen, fill out, and bloomed into a force.
"There's two dates and times that they'll carve on your stone,
And everyone knows what they mean,
What's more important is the time that is known,
That little dash there in between.
Ohhhh that little dash there in between."
Chills rose on Mason's arms, and he felt his skin tingle as endorphins flowed from the effect of Jeremy's song.
"Sometimes my heart is as true as a dove,
Sometimes my heart it betrays me,
So I draw my sword, fortified from my love,"
Jeremy's eyes focused on Mason's face.
"And without a whisper he slays me."
He stopped and openly stared at Mason. The teenager stared back, utterly stunned by the beautiful voice and words from Jeremy. No one made a sound, and the kids began to look back and forth between the two young men.
Jeremy blinked and he stood up.
"Hey! That's not all of it." Samantha complained.
"It's … it's enough." Jeremy quickly walked away toward the bathrooms. "Eat your smores."
Mason stood up. He could still feel the effects of the music on him, and only now were his chill bumps starting to subside. After some confused chatter, the kids were soon distracted by their sweet treats or the firepit.
Mason bit his lip. He debated on waiting for Jeremy to exit the bathroom. 'No.' He took a breath. 'He obviously wants to be alone right now.'
After some quick wishes goodnight, and assurances from Patrick that he would put out the fire, Mason retreated to his cabin. The lanky teenager undressed and got in under the covers. He stared up at the ceiling of the little space. And Jeremy's voice ran on repeat through his mind.
Jeremy was inside the restroom and leaned against the door. Slowly he let himself slide down until he sat on the cold concrete floor.
He drew a shaky breath. "So I draw my sword, fortified from my love, And without a whisper he slays me."
He slumped. And he let the tears come.
Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
And thank you for reading!
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