Chapter 10: Worthy
It was now a little after ten AM. Bailey, and Harlan had spent a few hours of the morning together. First, they woke up and had that delicious sex. Then they had breakfast, coffee, and lazed around. But, now, it neared time for Bailey to set things in motion for their dinner date tonight.
Only a few minutes earlier, Harlan had told him that he needed to do some work for his dad in Crescent City. Then the brown-haired man left the table with a wink at Bailey, and he disappeared into his car and drove out onto the road.
Bailey entered his cabin. He thought for a while about how he wanted things to go for the date. 'I really don't want to just text him the whole time.' Bailey sat at his desk, and he rotated the phone, over and over in his hands. Finally, he nodded. 'Okay. Worst that happens is he says no.'
He unlocked the phone, then he texted Shawn. 'Shawn. I hope your Saturday is going well. And I also wanted to ask if you could help me with something. Can we video chat?'
Bailey sent the message, and he watched the status. It changed from "complete" to "read." Seconds later his phone rang with a video chat request.
Bailey accepted, and he smiled into the phone. 'Hello.'
'Hello!' Shawn smiled back at Bailey. 'How can I help you?' Though Shawn knew Bailey could hear, he set the phone down, so it still pointed at him, and he responded back in ASL.
Bailey bit his lip. 'I wondered if you could help me. I have a date tonight. I'll buy you dinner if you go. It's a nice spot in B R O O K I N G S. Pacific Sushi, at six.'
Shawn grinned, and he started to respond, but Bailey jumped in. 'Wait. I'm going on a date with a man. I'm gay. It's okay if you don't want to do it.'
Shawn's face fell, and he frowned. Then he tried to cover with a watery smile. Bailey felt a sinking feeling in his gut at the initial reaction, as he watched Shawn try to come up with a response.
Nobody at his work had known that he was gay. Bailey knew it was a macho sort of environment, and that keeping things close to this chest was probably the way to go. But, Shawn seemed cool. Though, now, Bailey knew that he must have misread the young man.
He tried to crush his disappointment. 'Nevermind.' Bailey smiled, though it never touched his eyes. 'Sorry to bother you. I'll see you Monday.' Bailey hung up, then he huffed out a breath of air.
'Well, fuck.' He rubbed his face. Bailey now had bigger worries than his date with Harlan. Now he had to stress over what work was going to be like on Monday. It's true, in California his employment was protected. He couldn't be fired just for being gay. But, life could be hell. It could be a terrible place to work if nobody wanted to talk to him or any number of different things. He could have to leave.
He sat at his desk, then he slumped. Bailey stared down at his hands where they dangled between his knees. He set his jaw, then he blew out a breath. 'Well, no use stressing over it. You don't know what will happen Monday. Just, push it aside, and let it go.'
Bailey put his phone down on the desk. 'Okay. Time to get busy with plan B.' He opened his notes application, and Bailey began to type out all of the questions he had about Harlan, and around the brown-haired man's desires and needs moving forward.
That kept Bailey occupied for the next hour. By the end, he had a list of over forty questions he could ask. And he'd just copy/paste them into a text message to Harlan. That way, his portion of the conversation would go quickly, and Harlan could reply verbally back. It wasn't perfect, but it'd have to work.
Bailey plugged in his phone to charge. 'Wouldn't do to run out of juice midway through my date.' He smirked. Then he drummed his fingers on his legs. 'Well, I've got a few hours. I guess I'll get some work done.' Bailey pulled out his notebook, and he went over the next stage of the project on the highway.
Harlan was back at the campground after helping his father with the store in town, and it was now four thirty in the afternoon. From his strange vantage point, Harlan stared up at the floor. He was at the tail end of his workout, and he held his body up in a full handstand. He only wavered slightly back and forth as he maintained his balance in the middle of his cabin. The curtains were drawn, and the door locked. He didn't need anyone to see the short, efficient, yet brutal workout he put himself through every day.
He did this to maintain his body and his skills. Harlan was now in his mid-thirties. Though he tended to recover a bit slower than he used to, he found his ability to build strength had increased as he aged. He knew that would continue until his early to mid-forties. After that, it would be harder to maintain his physical prowess. Though, not impossible. It would just take more work.
Harlan controlled his breath, and he let it out as he allowed his body to descend. He bent his arms at the elbows until his forehead was an inch from the floor. He held the position, and sweat rolled from his face down to drip off of his nose. Harlan's body screamed in burning agony. But, by now, he was an expert at putting his discomfort and pain into a box. He compartmentalized it, and that allowed Harlan to push his body to its breaking point.
Finally, he bent at the waist, and he put his feet on the ground. Then he straightened his arms, and he stood up. He had only been at it for about forty minutes. But, in that span of time, Harlan put himself through more effort and work than most people could in two hours. That's because Harlan was willing to suffer. In fact, suffering was a part of his routine. To deal with self-inflicted hardship and pain hardened him, mentally, as well as physically.
He exhaled, and he shook his head. Beads of sweat flew from his hair, and he blinked as his eyes stung from the saltiness. He also felt beads of fluid run down his bare chest and back to soak the waistband of the shorts he wore. Harlan grabbed a towel, and he wiped his face. He'd already had one shower, but he definitely needed another.
Harlan threw the towel over his shoulder, put on some sweats, and he slipped into a pair of shower sandals. Then he picked up his change of clothes and his leather dress shoes.
He had already carefully chosen the outfit he'd wear tonight for his date with Bailey. He owned some very nice things - all required for certain Family events he was still expected to attend. But, this was not Sicily or Rome. So he dialed things back to a nice long-sleeved gray button-up shirt, black slacks, and some black leather shoes. He had already surreptitiously peeked at Bailey's clothes earlier in the day where they hung in his small closet-space in his cabin. And he knew they'd match up in terms of quality and cut of their 'on the town' clothes.
Harlan had already written down a bunch of phrases he wanted to learn to sign, and words he wanted to watch on the computer. That way he could, hopefully, make things easier tonight during their date.
"Shit. I'm going on a fucking date." Harlan bit his lip, and he shook his head. He didn't even know how he was supposed to act, not really. He'd never been on a date before. Though, he knew there were some socially expected things of him.
Harlan left his cabin. He carried his change of clothes and his bathroom kit to the shower room. Harlan knew he'd be expected to share information about himself during the date itself. And, over the years, he had cultivated an ironclad identity to present to others. So, he wasn't apprehensive about that. There was little risk to him by telling Bailey the typical lines. And it'd be safer for Bailey too - he never needed to know it all.
Harlan entered the shower room, and he stripped off his sweaty clothes. Soon he stood under the warm, comfortable stream of water. After his workout, it was a stark counterpoint in physical experience. Where he pulled away from how his body felt during his workouts, during moments like the shower, or sex, he keyed into every sensation and everything his senses delivered.
He finished up with his shower, and Harlan dried his body. Soon, he was dressed. He wiped the steam off of the mirror on the backside of the door, put some gel in his hands, and then he styled his hair. Harlan knew the last time he had used gel. It was last month when he had gone back to Hailey, Idaho for his monthly meeting with the Family. Otherwise, there wasn't an occasion for Harlan to make himself handsome or more presentable than usual.
In fact, Harlan's success during his more clandestine ventures depended on his not sticking out. He needed to fit in, and for that, he strove for average.
But, tonight, he felt as if "average" was a liability. Bailey was so handsome. His blue eyes and black hair were stunning together. He had a strong jaw, and his face was something Harlan would expect on a magazine cover.
"Dude should be a movie star," Harlan whispered as he stared into the reflection of his green eyes. He struggled to squash the feeling of inferiority he had around his own appearance as compared to Bailey. That was not an emotion Harlan typically suffered through. So, he found himself ill-equipped to handle it.
Still, Harlan was not a quitter. And he never shied away from a challenge of any sort. And, as he looked at his reflection, Harlan had to admit that he cleaned up pretty nice. During his day to day life, he wasn't trying to set himself apart in any way. But now, with his hair styled in a soft point, his clean shave, and the nice clothes, Harlan smiled a little. 'Okay, I'd do me.'
He laughed at the thought. Then he opened the door.
Rayne sat at the little desk in the "Clay" cabin, and he watched as Elias worked on the serpent sculpture. Typically, the boys would chat and otherwise socialize while they hung out. But, there was something different when Elias was focused, and working.
Music played at a low volume in the background. Elias preferred gentle, soothing songs. A lot of it was stuff Rayne had never heard. But he found himself enjoying the overall vibe of the Indie music that streamed through Elias' phone.
While they listened, Elias' hands moved in flowing, tiny movements as he cut scales into the clay with his fingernails. And he slowly worked his way down the body of the sculpture. It was mesmerizing, and Rayne stared in wonder as the details took shape.
The expression on Elias' face was one of relaxed focus. Rayne swallowed nervously as his eyes moved from the clay up to look at Elias himself. Rayne let his gaze roam, and he took in the thin, short teenager. Everything about the young man grabbed Rayne, and it forced him to pay attention. Rayne couldn't get enough of the blonde boy.
Elias straightened, and he cocked his head as he looked at the contorted snake. Then he glanced at Rayne. "What do you think?"
Rayne laughed, and he shook his head. "It's crazy. I mean, it's really good." He had a dumbfounded look on his face. "I swear, it's like a superpower to me." Rayne motioned at the sculpture. "That you can just DO this."
Elias laughed. "Well, that's the worst superpower ever!" He grinned, then Elias washed his hands in a semi-clear bucket of water that sat nearby.
Rayne loved to just watch him. He liked how Elias moved, the way he laughed, and how he looked. But, mostly, Rayne loved how Elias made him feel. He never felt judged or looked down on. Elias accepted him. All of Rayne's flaws and his imperfections were merely a part of him. And Elias didn't focus on those. He, instead, concentrated on Rayne, as a whole and complete person. It was a new thing for Rayne. And he hadn't realized how much he needed that sort of interaction until he began to get it.
Elias finished washing up, and he smiled at the bigger-framed boy. "We've got a bit before dinner. You want to hang out a little?"
Rayne nodded. He didn't know exactly what to do with what he felt toward Elias. And it was almost as if Elias could sense that.
The blonde teen stepped around Rayne, and he shut the door to the cabin. Then he turned his head, and he looked at Rayne. Elias smiled. "I wanted to tell you, that, I like you." Elias' eyes were sincere and unguarded. Elias shrugged. "I just want you to know that."
Rayne swallowed. "Really?" He crossed his arms over his chest, and he smiled nervously. "Uh, I, I like you too."
Elias grinned at Rayne. "Cool." The skinny boy took a step closer. His eyes stayed focused on Rayne's face. "I'd like to hug you. Is that okay?"
Rayne nodded. And the boys hugged one another. Rayne breathed as he held Elias against his body. Then he laughed, a little nervously. "Uh, sorry, I'm getting a boner."
Elias leaned back a little, and he smiled reassuringly at Rayne. "So am I. It's okay." The blonde boy took a breath. "I want to do things with you, but, not that. Not yet. Okay?"
Rayne nodded again, and he felt something like relief. In truth, the thought of sex was both exciting and terrifying to the dark-haired youth. And, he just wasn't ready for it. "What, ah, what kind of things did you want to do?"
Elias wet his lips. "Well, I thought we could start with this."
The blonde leaned forward.
Rayne closed his eyes. And, there, in the muted light of a little cabin in the woods, he had his very first kiss.
Bailey sat in the passenger seat of Harlan’s car. It wasn’t a long drive, and they pulled into the parking lot of Pacific Sushi in Brookings with ten minutes to spare.
The men got out of the car and entered the place.
Once inside the server seemed to know Harlan, and the young woman greeted them with a happy smile. They were seated immediately.
Bailey looked around, and he smiled at the decorations and furniture in the cozy place. Stained glass lamps hung over each wooden tabletop. High-backed, straight bench seats were their seating arrangement. And though tables were tightly packed, even Bailey had enough leg room. Bailey still had a smile when his eyes ceased their roaming, and when they landed on Harlan.
Harlan had requested a spot in the corner, and the brown-haired man took the seat with the wall to his back. Harlan's green gaze was on Bailey, and a little smile was on his face. "I like this place." Harlan glanced around. "It has good food, and it's not too busy if you know the right times to come." He grinned. "Plus, they remember a good tipper."
Bailey laughed. He pointed at Harlan, raised his eyebrows, and he rubbed his fingers against his thumb tip. 'You tip well?' Bailey was hoping his intent would get across.
Harlan frowned slightly. "Ah, sorry." His face shifted to a smile. "Can you write it for me?"
The moment had passed. And Bailey sighed. He shook his head and waved his hand. 'This is going to be tough.' A flicker of disappointment passed across Harlan's face. Then his eyes moved to a point over Bailey's shoulder, and they locked onto someone at the front of the restaurant.
"I'm supposed to meet them here. Ah, one of them is named Bailey. I'm not sure what name the reservation is under."
Bailey's eyes widened. 'Shawn!' He stood up and turned. His coworker stood at the front of the place, and he talked with the person at the little reception area. Shawn looked good. Though he had on jeans, they were new, still dark blue and unscathed by the hard work done by the guys. He wore brown boots, and he had on a pearl-snap button-up, gray denim shirt. His blonde hair was styled nicely, and his head came up when Bailey appeared.
"Ah, there they are!" Shawn smiled affably at the server. "Thank you." Then the young man walked toward them. Bailey got out of the booth, as did Harlan. Shawn stopped, and he signed while he spoke verbally. "Sorry, I'm late." Then he turned to Harlan. "Hi, I'm Shawn. And I'm here to interpret for Bailey."
Bailey grinned at Shawn. Then he watched Harlan. For his part, Harlan seemed to accept this new situation with a thoughtful expression. He slowly nodded, then he stuck out his hand. "Hello, Shawn. I'm Harlan. Thanks for your help." While they shook hands the brown-haired man chuckled. "Ah, this is a new thing for me. So, pardon me if I seem a little off."
Shawn laughed. "Yeah, well, I get that. I've never done this for a date before." He smiled. "My goal is to just be an instrument. I'm going to sit quietly unless I'm needed. I won't talk, or interact otherwise. The goal is for me to fade into the background."
Harlan seemed to relax a little. "Okay. That sounds good."
Bailey felt a vast appreciation for Shawn at that moment. He put a hand on Shawn's back and grinned. Shawn slid into the booth on Harlan's side so that he could see Bailey. Then he frowned. "Uh, why don't you guys sit on the same side? I'll take the other."
Harlan made a noise. "Yeah. That sounds great." The men shifted spots, and soon they were settled. Harlan and Bailey sat with their backs to the wall, and Shawn was across from them.
They all perused their menus. The place served sushi of all kinds, along with various Japanese soups, appetizers, meat and noodle dishes. Bailey's mouth watered just reading the offerings of the restaurant.
Harlan closed his menu, and he glanced over at Bailey. He turned his body, and he tapped Bailey's shoulder. When the mute man looked at him, Harlan signed. 'All the sushi is good, and the soup.'
Bailey grinned, his teeth showing in his surprise and happiness. Harlan shrugged. "I didn't know we'd have help talking. So I practiced some stuff."
Bailey nodded. 'Thank you,' he signed, and Shawn dutifully translated. Though Bailey was fairly sure Harlan knew that sign already, the man had the grace to simply smile his thanks to Shawn.
Harlan folded his hands on top of the menu, and he looked over at Bailey. "So, you're an engineer?" He glanced at Shawn, and then back to his black-haired date. "You know each other through your work? What do you do here?"
Bailey nodded, and he began to sign. Shawn expertly translated the conversation. Though, the blonde blushed and grinned when Bailey added some at the end. "Without Shawn, I wouldn't have a job. Granite wouldn't be able to employ me. So I'm thankful for his help."
Harlan smiled at Shawn. "Thanks, Shawn."
The flushed young man laughed, and he waved a hand. "You're both welcome, but, I'm not here." He pointed at Bailey. "You're making it hard to just be a part of the background!"
Bailey grinned, then the expression slipped and he signed. 'I hope you're not uncomfortable.'
Shawn sighed. 'I was at first at the thought. I'm fine now.' He gave Bailey a chagrined expression. 'Sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel bad.'
Harlan glanced back and forth at the exchange. "I caught about twenty percent of that."
Shawn nodded and explained. "Well, when Bailey first asked if I could do this, I, ah, I didn't react the best way." He grimaced. "I don't know many gay people. And it took a little bit for me to wrap my head around it." He grinned at Bailey. "Besides, I've been promised dinner."
Bailey put his head back, and he laughed. Then he turned to Harlan. 'Not a cheap date.'
Before Shawn could translate, Harlan laughed. Shawn sniffed, and he straightened in his seat. "Hell no, I'm not a cheap date." He took a renewed interest in the menu. "All right. Let's see, what sounds expensive AND delicious?"
Harlan smirked, and he looked over at Bailey. The blue-eyed man grinned at him. Then he signed at Shawn. The blonde's expression softened, and he smiled. Shawn leaned over the table, toward Harlan. "He said that you're worth it."
Harlan focused on Bailey. "Yeah? You really think so?"
Bailey nodded, then he leaned forward. The men kissed, and, for a second, Bailey forgot Shawn was there. He was entirely in the moment with Harlan, and his skin tingled with sensation as they kissed.
They pulled back, and Bailey looked into Harlan's eyes. 'God, you're handsome.' He stayed facing Harlan, and he signed it. Shawn translated. The moment was seamless, and the pair continued to smile, and look at one another. Thanks to the high backs of the booths, they were secluded in their own little, private area. Nobody but Shawn could see them.
Harlan smiled at him, and his warm hand was on the back of Bailey's neck. "I'm glad you think so, Bailey." His eyes ventured over Bailey's face. "Because you blow me away." Harlan bit his lip. "Yeah. Everything about you is, ah, it's amazing." Harlan shook his head. "And not just how you look. But, how brave you were when you saved Rayne."
Bailey wasn't sure if Harlan caught that detail when Elias said something at the picnic table. But, apparently, he had. He shrugged, and he signed. "Couldn't let the boy drown." Shawn translated, and Bailey could tell he now had questions about what happened. Though, Shawn kept them to himself.
At that moment, the server appeared. Soon, their orders were taken, and the guys continued to talk. It got easier to open up as the evening went on for Bailey. And, at one point, Harlan asked how he got his injury.
Bailey signed his way through the story. Both Harlan and Shawn looked fascinated as he told it. At one point, when he detailed the part where the beam of superheated, flaming gas was just a foot over his back as he crawled across the floor, Shawn shook his head. His expression was one of near disbelief. "Jesus. I'd have shit my pants." Shawn blew out a breath. "Sorry. I'll keep my comments to myself from here on."
Though, the only reaction from Harlan at the comment was a smile and an agreeable nod of his head.
Their food arrived, and the men started to eat. Periodically, they would pick up their chat. And, thanks to Shawn, Bailey got to dive into his questions.
"What did you do, before you worked for your dad?" Shawn repeated the question for Bailey.
"Well, when I was nineteen I left home. And I wanted to get as far from here as I could. So I took a job working security for an Italian businessman. I had to learn the language, and learn the job too. But, they were willing to teach me if I was able to guarantee that I'd stick around." Harlan smiled. "A kid from Crescent City got to go, live and work in Italy." He shrugged. "It was a dream come true, and the chance of a lifetime." He stirred his miso soup with his chopsticks, and he hunted for a chunk of tofu with the implements. "After a little more than a decade, I had enough of Europe, and I searched for a job closer to home." He popped a savory morsel into his mouth, and he swallowed his bite. "I found it in a spot at a resort in Idaho. Again, it was a great job. And even while working for the resort, I stayed on as a part-time employee, doing security consulting for my old boss. So, every month I have to go to Idaho and meet up with his representative there. And then, every year or so, I head to Italy and do some in-person work." He glanced at Bailey. "And that's pretty much me."
Bailey thought about what Harlan said. Then he signed rapidly at Shawn. "What sort of training did you do for your security work? Did you have a law enforcement background or something?"
Harlan shook his head. "No. Most of that stuff, I learned from a man already employed by my old boss. A lot of his security concerns are unique to his organization. He is a businessman in an area which is rife with organized crime." Harlan smiled. "So, I had to learn a lot about the Italian mafia, their methods, and how to counteract them."
Bailey blinked. Then he signed at Shawn. The blonde man wiped his mouth, and he shook his head. "No, I don't know the sign for 'mafia.'" He frowned. "Never had to sign that one before." Shawn made the sign for "mob" at Bailey. "I think this will have to do. But I know it's not exactly right."
Bailey nodded. Context would have to play a part in communicating 'mafia' instead of an unruly group of people, which was the exact definition of the sign Shawn used for 'mob.'
Their night continued, and it wasn't long before they had cleaned their plates, bowls, and little platters of food. They all did a lot of sharing, and everyone got to try the various rolls ordered.
The check came, and Shawn reached for his wallet. "Bailey, I'm not going to make you pay for my food, man." He shook his head, and he took out some twenty dollar bills. "I appreciate it, but I'm not gonna do that to you."
Bailey made a distressed face. He began to sign his disagreement when Harlan nodded at the bill. "This one's on me." He smiled at the guys. "I insist." He calmly reached and took the bill.
Shawn smiled. "You sure?"
Harlan nodded. "Yep."
Shawn chuckled, and he looked at Bailey. He signed and spoke at once. "This mean you have to put out?"
Bailey almost choked on the sip of water he had started to take. Harlan smirked at Bailey as he recovered. The mute man shook his head, and he pointed his finger accusingly at Shawn. Though, he grinned. 'I guess Shawn is okay with everything after all,' Bailey was reassured by the joking from his younger coworker. If he was comfortable enough to joke around, then Bailey had little worries about what Monday morning would be like when he arrived at the worksite.
Harlan settled up the bill, and the three of them left the building. They stood outside, and Shawn waved as he walked to his vehicle. "See you Monday, Bailey." He smiled at Harlan. "Thanks for dinner, Harlan."
Harlan nodded. "No problem. Thanks for helping us out."
Shawn grinned. "You know, I was happy to do it." He opened his truck, and he paused a moment. "Let me know if you fellas need me to do this again. Seriously." He shook his head with a smile. "I actually enjoyed it. You guys are both interesting as hell."
'Thank you, S H A W N.' Bailey signed, and he waved as Shawn got into his truck. Then he and Harlan got into the car.
Harlan started on the drive back, and as he pulled onto the highway, he glanced over at Bailey. "Did you have a good time?"
Bailey nodded, and he pointed at Harlan, his eyebrows raised. 'Did you?'
Harlan nodded. "Yeah, I did." He grinned. "I wasn't sure about having Shawn there at first, but it worked out. It was nice to be able to talk."
It WAS nice. Bailey reached over, and he put a hand on Harlan's leg.
Harlan looked thoughtful as he drove. "I'm going to try really hard to learn more ASL." He set his jaw, and his face was determined. "I want to be able to talk to you myself."
Bailey grinned, and he took out his phone. There was an app he could use which would read text he input into the machine. And he began to type away. Finished, he hit 'play.' "I'm worth that to you." The computerized voice had zero inflection, so it didn't sound like a question, though Harlan knew that it was.
Harlan smiled. "Yeah, you're worth it, Bailey."
Bailey again put his hand on Harlan's leg. And as they drove home, he felt the start of something he hadn't experienced in a long while.
Bailey felt hope.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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