"Good morning!" Shawn's grin was huge as he approached. It was Monday morning at the job site on the 299, and Bailey had just pulled up.
Getting out of his truck, Bailey put the strap of his bag over his shoulder. He grinned at Shawn. "Good morning." By this point, a few of the other guys on the crew also knew the sign for the greeting, and Bailey found himself responding to signs from multiple folks.
He smiled as they entered the work trailer. Bailey looked at Shawn as the young man poured himself a coffee. "All okay?" Bailey was a little worried, and it must have shown on his face. "I want to be sure we're okay after Saturday."
Shawn took a sip of coffee, and he nodded. Then he put the mug down so he could sign. "Yes. Everything is fine." He smiled and shook his head. "I won't tell anybody."
That was a relief. Bailey nodded and smiled at Shawn. "Thanks." Then he narrowed his eyes at the coffee pot. "Move. I need coffee."
Shawn laughed, then motioned at the coffee pot, standing aside so Bailey could get to it. "I'll meet you outside."
Bailey nodded as Shawn gathered his mug, and the blonde man walked out of the trailer. Bailey sighed as he poured himself a cup of the dark, strong liquid. Okay. Time to get productive.
The week passed, and the first Friday in November arrived. It was after school, and Rayne sat beside a very calm Elias. Rayne was anything but calm. He bounced his leg nervously where he sat, fidgeting and moving.
They were both in a small waiting room along with a half-dozen other teenagers. Most, they knew from school, and Elias chatted easily with a pair of girls from his algebra class. Elias' hand sat in Rayne's lap with their fingers intertwined. They made it no secret that they were together. Even the boys at school largely left them alone. Sure, there were a few idiots, but strangely, they had only had to suffer through being accosted a couple of times. Twice, two boys had actually walked up to apologize the day following an incident.
Rayne looked over at Elias. The young blonde noticed, and he turned his head. Then Elias smiled and leaned forward. He gave Rayne a little kiss, then pulled back and patted his hand. "You okay?"
The dark-haired boy made a face. "I will be when it's over."
A woman in scrubs appeared at the doorway. She smiled at them. "Hey, Rayne and Elias. Right?"
The boys stood up, and Elias nodded. "Yes. That's us." He squeezed Rayne's hand reassuringly. "Is it our turn?"
She nodded. "It is." She waved a hand. "I'll take you down to the lab, and we can get your blood drawn."
Rayne made a groaning, desperate noise. Elias chuckled and put an arm over Rayne's shoulders. "Relax. It'll be fine. I'll be right there."
The boys had decided to get their testing done so they wouldn't have any obstacles to moving forward with a physical relationship. They had yet to take that step, but last night they got very close. If it weren't for Elias stopping things, Rayne was confident they would have had sex. "We promised, Rayne." Elias had breathed heavily under Rayne as the boy slipped out of his underwear. "I want to, but, we promised."
So, instead of penetration, they had helped one another to orgasm with a lot of kissing, stroking, and touching. Then they had cleaned things up as well as they could while in the Clay cabin.
Dad was right, Rayne thought as he sat in the blood draw chair. I really wanted it to happen, even after I promised him we'd be good. The cap came off of the needle, and Rayne turned his head away. Elias' warm hand gripped his other, and Rayne squeezed him.
"You're fine." Elias smiled as the needle went in. "I'm here." Rayne opened his eyes and stared at Elias. The boy sat by and smiled at him. "You're doing so good, Rayne."
Rayne smiled. Elias was always encouraging in every scenario. "You make it easy." Needles typically terrified Rayne, but he felt like he could do anything if Elias were there.
Soon it was done. The woman wrapped Rayne's elbow with a stretchy, blue bandage, then it was Elias' turn. The boys switched spots, and Rayne watched as Elias handled his blood draw like a champ. The boy didn't flinch when the needle went in and even watched the whole thing. She finished wrapping him as well.
Elias smiled at the phlebotomist. "Thank you." He stood up. "When will we know the results?"
"A couple of days. So, probably Monday. Maybe even tomorrow, if the lab we send them to is moving fast. They'll drop right into your electronic medical record. So you can check it tomorrow if you like."
The boys left the lab and walked out to the main clinic lobby. There, Mason sat reading a magazine while he waited. He looked up as they approached. "All done, guys?"
"Yeah." Elias looked fondly at Rayne and hugged him closer under his arm. Then he glanced back at Mason. "Thanks for bringing us, Mason."
"Sure. I remember doing this very same thing myself." He stood up. "Let's get back. I think we're having those feta burgers Greg makes for dinner tonight."
"Mmm!" Rayne loved the meals the guys made at the campground. He liked just about everything about the place. Even though the weather had taken a decided turn toward colder and wetter times, there were plenty of covered spaces. Rayne liked to sit outside with rain pattering on the easy-up above his head while Elias sat beside him. They were warm and comfortable together, even though it was chilly.
The boys got into Mason's little truck headed back to the campground. Elias sat in the middle leaning over until his head lay on Rayne's shoulder. The blonde sighed in unmistakable satisfaction.
Rayne smelled his hair and gently kissed the top of Elias' head. Then he smiled and laid his cheek against Elias.
Mason could see them out of the corner of his eyes, and he smiled as he drove. There was nothing said the whole way. Instead, there was a simple, pure contentment pervading the cab of the truck.
They pulled into the campground, and Rayne saw his family's red hatchback parked at one of the cabins. He knew that his dad had made the trip out and would once again spend the weekend at the campground.
And Rayne's smile became a grin.
Three weeks passed relatively quickly for Harlan. The weather slowly turned into the typical winter for the northern coast of California. A few times they even got frost in the morning, though mostly it was cool and wet.
It was now the morning of Thanksgiving. On Monday, Orlando had finished with his job and left the campground to go south. So now it was just the regular campers at the grounds. Though there were big plans made for the afternoon and evening.
Greg and Clay had been hard at work on their house next door. The two-story home was almost completely renovated. Though there was still work to be done, it was in good enough shape to host a big dinner. That was precisely the plan.
"Harlan, are you and Bailey sticking around?" Clay had asked yesterday as he carried a turkey in each arm. "We'll have plenty of food. If you guys are around, then come. And invite your dad too."
It wasn't typical for Harlan to anticipate social events, but he found himself looking forward to spending the time with Bailey and the guys. Additionally, his father Gary had been so excited when Harlan had suggested they do Thanksgiving at the campground.
Harlan hadn't told his father about Bailey. At least, not more than to mention in passing that there was a new camper and that he was mute. He wasn't sure what his dad would think about their slowly growing connection. Gary had already said he loved and accepted Harlan exactly how he was, but it was still a different thing when presented with it face to face.
His ASL studies were going well. Harlan could now communicate basic ideas and concepts to Bailey. Daily, he learned more vocabulary from the patient and helpful Bailey. They had only used the services of Bailey's co-worker, Shawn, once more for translation. After that, Harlan had learned enough ASL to get by.
Harlan pulled his car up close to the house beside the campground. Getting out, he carried a couple of bags with their contribution to dinner. Bailey had insisted they make something. Harlan only nodded along. When Bailey set his mind to something, Harlan had learned to just agree and then figure out how to make it happen.
Bailey had gone to go pick up Shawn. The young guy was away from family and couldn't get back home for the holiday, so he got invited to dinner. The regular Raven Project kids would all be there as well. Many of them didn't have the best home lives, and Jeremy, the Raven Project administrator, had extended the invitation to them for that very reason. Carrie Denton would also be there with her nephew, Patrick. Patrick was a trans boy, and one of the Raven Project members. It had been some time since Harlan had seen them all, but he still remembered them.
Harlan entered the house through a mudroom and made his way to the kitchen. There was a lot of activity. It smelled of sage, butter, cornbread, and the savory scent of roasting turkey. Greg wore an apron that said 'kiss the cook' on the front and held a wooden spoon that had stuffing stuck to it. He turned his head to look over his shoulder. "Jeremy, can you put Avery to work on the cranberry sauce? He knows how to make it." He waved his spoon. "I'm already up to my elbows in stuffing and turkey, so I'd appreciate it."
Jeremy nodded and finished pouring ginger ale into a big bowl of punch. "Yep." A girl walked by with a tray of sliced cheese, a little ramekin of mixed nuts, and some crackers. "Samantha, do you know where Avery is?"
The black-haired girl shook her head. "No, but I'll find him for you." She put the appetizers down on the kitchen counter and left.
Harlan navigated moving bodies with a nod and a smile at various folks. He put his bags down on the kitchen table, then reached inside and removed his still-warm baking dishes.
Harlan put his hands on his hips and nodded at Greg. "Yep. It's what Bailey wanted to make, so that's what we did." He scratched his head. "That camp kitchen got a workout over the last two days."
Clay entered the kitchen. Audibly inhaling, he smiled. "God, it smells so damn good in here." He grinned at Greg. "Hey, husband. What else needs doing?" Clay was working on getting the table in the next room set up and ready. "I'm done with the table. Well, the tables. One isn't gonna do it."
Greg bit his lip and looked over the assembled food. "Uh ..." Then his eyes widened. "Shit! Wine! I forgot the wine!"
"Got you covered there." Carrie Denton entered with a sack in her arms and smiled as she walked into the kitchen. She handed the bag to a grateful Clay, then stepped aside and let her nephew, Patrick, enter.
"Patrick!" Jeremy grinned and hugged the teenager. They both wore huge smiles as they embraced.
Carrie laughed and shook her head. "If I didn't know better, I'd think he's a rockstar. This is how every single person he has run into has greeted him so far."
Patrick pushed back and shrugged. "Yeah, I'm used to it." Then he laughed at the look his aunt gave him.
Harlan was feeling a little claustrophobic in the crowded room. He slipped out of the space into the dining room which was connected to the kitchen. There, Rayne and Huck chatted with Elias, Orson, and Joseph. The group looked up at Harlan and gave him a nod, which Harlan returned. Then they went back to their discussion.
The mood was festive, social, and warm. Harlan took a seat, watching as people flowed past. Mason entered a few minutes later with Avery, a ceramic bowl of cranberry sauce in hand. The food was carried out of the kitchen, and soon the table was set up with all they had to offer. "There you are!" Shawn's voice cut through the low din of noise in the room, and Harlan looked up to see him and Bailey enter.
'"Hi, Shawn." Harlan signed with a smile at the blonde.
Shawn grinned. "Hi, Harlan."
Harlan was more than happy to show off his increased skill and confidence with ASL. He had a long way to go, but he was learning more every day. Bailey smiled warmly at him, then leaned into Harlan and gave him a quick, sweet kiss.
"Well, I don't think we've met. And by the look of it, we probably should!" Harlan jerked at the voice.
Clearing his throat, Harlan turned to his dad, who stood in the doorway to the room. "Uh, hey Dad." Harlan put a hand on Bailey's shoulder. "Dad, this is Bailey. Remember? I told you about him."
Chuckling, Gary extended a hand. Bailey grinned and shook it. "You told me about Bailey, yes." Gary nodded affably. "Nice to meet you, young man. My name is Gary." Bailey returned the gesture, then Gary looked at Harlan and continued. "Though you neglected to mention you make it a habit of kissing him."
Gary looked amused as Harlan squirmed. Bailey smirked at his lover. Shawn found another place to be, quietly disappearing.
Luckily for Harlan, it was nearing time to eat. Greg entered the dining room, and he looked over the space. "Hello, everybody." He smiled warmly at the assembled group. "Find a seat. We've just got a few more things to get to the tables, then we'll be ready."
Harlan and Bailey sat, and Harlan watched as the room filled. The Raven Project kids sat together. Samantha, Avery, Rayne, Patrick, and Elias all were in a row with Jeremy and Mason on the end. Carrie found a spot across from Patrick, smiling at her nephew. Huck was next to Carrie, and Harlan watched as he shook her hand and introduced himself. Gary was in the seat to Harlan's left, looking over the table and its offerings in amazement. Orson and Joseph were near the end, and they kissed one another with a grin as they took their spots. Shawn made sure to sit across from Bailey, just in case he might need to translate for him. And their hosts, Greg and Clay, buzzed around as they prepared the final bits of the meal.
Finally, Clay entered and took a seat near the head of the table. They'd had to push two together, and it was a long line of chairs, food, and people now. All of them talked, and the room was filled with happy and animated sounds. Then Greg came in and stood at the end of the table. He grinned over the group, and slowly everyone fell silent.
"I'm so glad everybody can be here." He nodded over them. "Welcome to our home, and to Camp Refuge." Greg picked up his glass of wine, and his guests followed suit. Each had already had wine or punch poured for them, and everyone waited for Greg to continue. He shook his head. "I'm humbled, and honored to know you all." Greg raised his glass. "To friends, family, and traditions."
The table echoed him, and all sipped their chosen drinks. Then Clay clapped his hands together. "Okay, time to eat!" There were a few laughs, and then various dishes began to be passed around to waiting and eager hands.
Harlan's plate filled up with turkey, stuffing, one of the twice-baked potatoes they'd contributed, green beans, cranberry sauce, and a cornbread muffin. He watched as people ate, talked, and happily experienced the holiday with one another. Then, he felt eyes on him, and he turned to look at Bailey.
The tall man stared at Harlan. Bailey chewed a bite of food, then he swallowed and put his fork down.
Harlan frowned. "You okay?"
Bailey started to nod, then bit his lip and shrugged. The entire room seemed to drop away as Harlan looked into those blue eyes. Bailey raised his hands. They were still for a moment, as he tried to find a way to communicate what he wanted to say. Then he set his jaw and started to sign.
"I didn't mean for this to happen. But I love you." Bailey's eyes stayed locked onto Harlan.
Harlan felt a wave of chills travel up his spine. Oh, god. I don't deserve this guy. I don't deserve this. And that was the only thing he could think to say. "I can't let you do that." He shook his head. "I don't, I don't deserve you."
Bailey looked at him, open and honest. Then he smiled. "Not your choice. It's mine." Bailey picked up his fork, gave Harlan another kiss then went back to eating his dinner.
Harlan sat there, a little stunned. Then he took a breath, and despite what he had said, he couldn't help but smile.
He loves me.
The afternoon meal continued until the early evening. And after they retreated to the home's living room, Bailey had Harlan translate for him while he talked with Gary. It was good practice for Harlan, and it helped them all get to know one another.
"So, how long you been dating my son?" Gary's cheeks were rosy from a few glasses of wine, and he smiled at Bailey.
The black-haired man glanced at Harlan, then turned back to Gary. Bailey signed. "Two months." Harlan translated.
Gary nodded and eyed Harlan. "And you didn't see fit to mention this to me? That you're dating this feller?"
Gary stared at him until Harlan looked down at his feet. Then Gary's eyes slid over to Bailey, and he winked. Bailey grinned. Oh, he's an ornery old man.
Gary sighed and patted Harlan's shoulder. "It's fine, son." He leaned back and stretched. "Well, boys, I've taken up enough of your time." He stood up and nodded at Bailey. "It was real nice to meet you, Bailey."
"Ah, he said it was nice to meet you too," Harlan translated as Bailey replied. Bailey continued to sign, and instead of repeating it, Harlan frowned.
Gary looked back and forth between them, then cocked his head at Harlan. "Well?" Gary waved a hand. "What'd he say?"
Harlan grimaced at Bailey, then he turned to his dad. "He said we should invite you to dinner."
Gary's face broke into a smile. "Well, that sounds like a great idea!" He nodded at Bailey. "I'd be thrilled to have dinner with you guys."
Bailey reached and the two men shook hands. Harlan's face screwed up while they grinned at one another. "Why do I feel like I'm getting set up?" Harlan crossed his arms over his chest.
Gary laughed. "Oh, Harlan. It's not like I'd use this chance as an opportunity to tell all sorts of embarrassing stories about you as a kid." He snapped his fingers. "Oh! Like the time I caught you with your pecker in that rolled up magazine!"
Bailey threw back his head and wheezed with laughter while Harlan put his face in his hands. Gary patted Harlan's back. "I'd never do something like that to embarrass you, son. Don't you worry!"
After a few more jibes at his cringing son, Gary bid the men goodbye. He had been drinking, and he couldn't drive home. Luckily, Greg and Clay had set Gary up with a free cabin, and he was making an early night of it.
Bailey waved one last time at the departing Gary, and then he lay back on the couch and grinned at Harlan. Bailey earned a hard look from his brown-haired lover. But then Harlan cracked a smile and shook his head with a laugh. "Damn old man."
"He loves you," Bailey signed, and he smiled. "I can tell.'"
Harlan bit his lip and nodded. "Yeah." He spoke and signed at the same time. "I don't think I deserve that." His eyes locked with Bailey's.
Bailey leaned forward. "Doesn't matter what you think. Not your choice."
Harlan stared at Bailey. "Well, I can still think he's crazy."
Bailey grinned. "Yes. That's your choice."
Harlan continued to gaze at Bailey, his eyes wandering over the handsome man's features. Then Bailey reached. He pulled Harlan in. And there, on the couch of a warm, busy, and social little house, Bailey kissed the man he was falling in love with.
Patrick was happy. He was full of great food, he had his fizzy punch in his hand, and there was a house full of people to talk to. He was in conversation with Samantha and Avery when Elias stepped up beside him.
"Hey, Patrick." Elias smiled and gave Patrick a friendly hug. Patrick had always liked Elias, and the young man seemed transformed. The time with Orson and Joseph had done fantastic things for him. Now, he looked so much better and more confident.
"Hi, Elias!" Patrick grinned. He looked at the blonde teenager. "You look great." Then Patrick's voice dropped. "So, how's everything going with Rayne?"
Elias laughed, his eyes sparkling. "Things are great, Patrick." They both glanced across the table where Rayne talked with Shawn. Patrick caught bits and pieces of the conversation, some of which included the math used in the engineering work Bailey and Shawn were doing on the 299 highway. Shawn wore a look of fascinated surprise as Rayne spoke, and Patrick chuckled.
Elias turned back to Patrick. "Though I was going to ask how your aunt is doing." He waggled his eyebrows.
Patrick frowned. "Aunt Carrie?" He turned and waved a hand toward her. "She's fin—" Patrick blinked. His aunt had a big smile, and she sat next to Huck. They hadn't moved from their places, even after most of the table had broken up and found other spots in the house. Huck's eyes never left Carrie's face, and he couldn't seem to stop smiling at her.
Patrick frowned and put his hands on his hips. "Well, she looks more than fine, doesn't she?"
Elias laughed and slipped his arm back around Patrick's shoulders. "She does." The teens all watched them, and at some point, Huck glanced up. He saw the attention, then gently elbowed Carrie. The woman looked at them. Her eyes locked with Patrick's, and Carrie flushed red.
Avery snorted with a laugh. "God, adults are so bad at this." Samantha laughed. Patrick only crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Carrie, though his face bore a smirk.
Carrie gave him a watery smile, shrugged, then went back to talking with Huck.
Elias squeezed his shoulders. "Happy Thanksgiving, Patrick."
The boy laughed. Then he turned and gave Elias another hug. "Happy Thanksgiving, Elias." He smiled against Elias's chest. "I'm glad to know you."
"Same here, Patrick."
Not to be excluded, Samantha and Avery both threw their arms around them too. And the Raven Project kids laughed as their pile of arms, legs, and bodies nearly toppled over.
Samantha grinned as she clung to the shifting bodies of her friends.
"Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!"
At the campground it's time for Thanksgiving. There's a lot to be thankful for too.
Speaking of which, I'm thankful for you, taking the time to read the chapter. Let me know what you think of it by leaving a comment below and/or a reaction.