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    Wayne Gray
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

A Silent Song - 13. Sacrifice

Violence depicted in this chapter.

Two weeks passed. Harlan woke as Bailey shifted. His lanky, handsome boyfriend had his arm around Harlan as they faced one another, and he breathed quietly as he continued to sleep.

Harlan didn't know what time it was, but it was still dark in their cabin. A week ago, in the last days of November, Harlan had asked Bailey to move in with him. He had tried to be practical about it. "We get along. It'd save us both money." In response, Bailey had smiled and nodded.

In truth, as time went on, Harlan found it harder to be apart from Bailey. He didn't know exactly what would happen to them after Bailey's job wrapped up. They hadn't spoken about it, but he hoped that Bailey would stay.

You're being selfish. Harlan frowned. Unconsciously, he pulled Bailey a little closer to himself, their limbs tangled in warm sheets. You know he deserves better. You know he deserves someone decent. Someone good.

He couldn't help but feel guilty. Bailey was this pure, beautiful soul. Everything Harlan discovered about him only raised Bailey up in his eyes. It felt like a stark and insurmountable counterpoint to Harlan's past.

It was true that there had been no work for him that Harlan would call damning since Corbin took over the operation in Idaho. Yet Harlan still carried the memory and the knowledge of what he'd had to do in the past. He knew. He couldn't allow himself to simply move past those times, just because it might be convenient.

For now, Harlan couldn't let Bailey go. He bit his lip as he breathed against the skin of Bailey's neck. Maybe if he found someone better. Maybe then, if I knew he'd be okay. Harlan lay there and tried to convince himself he would willingly give up his connection with Bailey if someone else came along who treated him well.

Yeah. Nodding slightly, Harlan rubbed Bailey's warm back. Yeah. I'll just stand in until he finds the real thing. Harlan swallowed. Then, I'll let him go. He pushed back on the hollow sensation in his gut at the thought. It's the right thing for Bailey. And when the time comes, I'll let him go.

Despite the early hour, Harlan didn't go back to sleep. Instead, he lay there and enjoyed every moment he could with Bailey—while he still had them.

♬♬♬

Huck grinned. "No, no. That's not how this is gonna go." He laughed at Carrie's expression. "We said no gifts, Carrie. Are you trying to make me look bad?"

Carrie put her hands on her hips and stood protectively in front of the wrapped present at the base of the little, decorated, potted tree. She narrowed her eyes at him, though her smile ruined the attempt at seriousness. "This is nothing!" She motioned at the present.

It was a week before Christmas, and Huck had just gotten home from his work at the sawmill. He'd found Carrie outside his door with a bag in hand.

Huck and Carrie had connected over both their kids and their faith. Huck found her interesting, thoughtful, caring, and he especially appreciated the way she treated Patrick, her nephew.

It wasn't long before the pair were a regular sight at the little Baptist church in town. Preacher Rogers' style had completely changed. Now the man focused on forgiveness, loving one's neighbor, and the other positive message in the Bible. Huck wasn't sure what had caused the change in him, but he was thankful. As a result, he felt good about bringing Carrie to the services with him.

"Carrie." Stepping close, Huck smiled down at her. "I don't need anything." His expression was a little mystified as he gazed upon her. "I have everything I want, right now."

"Wow." She grinned. "That was pretty smooth."

"It's easy when it's true." Huck put his arms around her so that his hands rested on the small of her back.

In the sparkling light of a small Christmas tree, he leaned down and gave her a sweet, lingering kiss.

♬♬♬

It was Christmas Eve. Bailey walked along with Harlan in Crescent City. They shopped for a few little gifts, and Gary had told his son to take the day to be with Bailey.

That made Bailey very happy. While they stood on a corner, waiting for the signal to change, the tall man leaned over and put his head on Harlan's shoulder. It was just a moment. It was a small way for Bailey to show Harlan how he felt; one that he hoped wouldn't draw too much attention to them.

Only a few people on the street nearby seemed to notice. They attracted a couple of raised eyebrows. But for the most part, those out and about seemed to be focused on their own worlds and tasks.

"Come on," Harlan said, his voice short and hard. Bailey quickly followed him across the street.

Shit. Did I piss him off? He knew Harlan didn't often show overt displays of emotion or affection. The only times he did were at the campground. "Sorry," Bailey signed when they stopped at the corner of a building a couple of blocks from the car. "Didn't mean to embarrass you."

Harlan's eyes shifted and kept a pair of men in his vision until they stepped around the corner of the building. "That's not it," Harlan mumbled. "Follow me, stay right on me."

He turned and walked quickly down the alley that split the block. Bailey was confused, but he did as Harlan said. They were about half-way when he reached and gently put a hand on Harlan's shoulder.

Instantly, Harlan turned, pushing Bailey against the brick wall. "Stay there. Don't move. Stay." Harlan's eyes were intense, and Bailey felt a little fear as he looked into them. He nodded hurriedly.

Releasing him, Harlan stepped back out to the middle of the thoroughfare. He stood so he faced Bailey, the open ends of the alley to his left and his right. That's when Bailey noticed the pair of men from earlier at one end. One of them had drawn a knife, and the pair wore disgusted looks on their faces.

"Fucking faggots." A broad, husky man in a denim jacket cracked his knuckles as he walked beside the tall, thinner man with the knife. "This might be California, but this ain't fucking San Francisco, you deviant fucks."

Bailey hadn't even noticed, but another man was at the other end of the alley. He quietly approached too. The three men closed, and Harlan stood watching them all with his peripheral vision. His eyes were forward, and he continued to look at Bailey. "No matter what, stay right there."

Bailey's eyes flicked to the men as they neared. He took out his phone and began to unlock the device.

"Ah, none of that!" The single man on the other side was close now, stepping near to try and knock the phone out of Bailey's hand.

Harlan moved. He was so fast, Bailey couldn't be sure exactly what he'd done. But the man that had reached for Bailey's phone flew through the air, landing in front of his friends. They had begun to join the fight, but instead had to step over their surprised buddy on the dirty asphalt.

"The fuck, Jimmy? You gonna let a fa …" Harlan moved again. He stomped brutally down on the hand of the fellow he had just thrown as he tried to rise. The man screamed in pain as the bones in his hand broke, and Harlan ground his heel as he pivoted on top of the injured limb.

Bailey was dumbfounded as Harlan's knuckle strike impacted the big thug's throat. The man's speech cut off, and his eyes widened. His hands instinctively went up to his damaged neck, and he fell to his knees.

The man with the knife was fast and used the weapon with some skill. He stabbed straight at Harlan. It was a very efficient, quick movement—one designed to kill.

Bailey had no idea how, but Harlan had turned his torso, just slightly out of line, and the knife missed him by a millimeter. The surprise on the attacker's face would have been comical had the situation been different.

Before Bailey could move or even think, Harlan brought his foot up in a crushing snap kick, and the man with the knife went down like a sack of potatoes, holding his groin.

Now there were three groaning men at Harlan's feet. He looked dispassionately at them, kicking the knife away from an outstretched hand.

Bailey opened and closed his mouth. The fight was over in less than four seconds.

Harlan looked at him. "Come on." His voice still carried the commanding, sure tone from earlier. Bailey did as he was told. The men quickly left their injured assailants behind, fast-walking to the car.

After ensuring they were not followed, Harlan unlocked the vehicle, and they both got in. Harlan was cool and calm as he started the car. Bailey put a hand on Harlan's leg, then started to rapidly sign. "Police. We call."

"No." Harlan pulled onto the street. "No police."

Bailey exhaled in a huff of breath. "Why?" Bailey shook his head, his confusion and stress obvious. "How did you do that? Why can't we call the police?"

Clenching his jaw, Harlan turned onto the highway. "We just can't. And I already told you—I had to learn how to protect my boss in Italy." Harlan shrugged. "That included martial arts training."

Bailey gaped at Harlan. He closed his mouth, blinking as he thought. Then he shook his head. "No. Security guards can't do what you can. And security guards call police when there is trouble." Bailey stared at Harlan. "Tell me."

For the first time since the fight, Harlan appeared nervous. He shook his head slightly as he drove. "I can't, Bailey." He glanced over and swallowed. "I can't. It's to protect you."

Bailey was still for a few minutes and then finally sat forward to stare at the road as they drove.

Pulling into the campground, Harlan parked at their cabin. "Bailey?" Bailey opened the door and started to get out. "Please, wait." Bailey stopped and looked at Harlan. His blue eyes showed disappointment, and he knew Harlan could see it.

"You don't trust me," Bailey signed and got out.

Harlan followed him. "That's not it." Walking to their cabin, Bailey opened the door. Harlan was behind him and followed him inside. "That's not it." Harlan reached and put a hand on Bailey's shoulder.

The tall man spun in place and glared at Harlan. "If you trust me then you tell me."

Harlan's face reflected his roiling emotion. But mostly, Bailey saw regret. "I … I can't."

Something broke inside, and Bailey slumped, fighting against the tears that tried to come. Harlan reached for him, "Bailey, please, I …"

The blue-eyed man knocked Harlan's hand away. He set his jaw and shook his head. "No. We're done. If you can't trust me then we're done." Bailey waited, hoping Harlan would make the right choice.

Harlan swallowed. Then he nodded. "Okay," Harlan whispered. He exhaled. "I'll move to another cabin."

Bailey felt almost numb. He stood, disbelieving, as Harlan gathered his things. Harlan had his clothes under his arm, and he looked at Bailey. There was a hollowness in his eyes, yet also a certainty. As if he had always known this would happen. And without another word, Harlan turned and left.

Bailey stared at the door. Then he let himself fall apart.

♬♬♬

Harlan put away his things. He had to make a few trips to the shared cabin, but Bailey was nowhere to be found. He was thankful for that. Now finished, he plugged in his little laptop and sat at the desk in the new cabin. He remembered Mason's face when he had asked to rent it. It was obvious Harlan didn't want to discuss things, and the young man hadn't pressed him on why he was getting his own space. Instead, he'd only nodded and handed the key to the cabin over after Harlan paid.

He pulled the blinds, then stood in the middle of the cabin and conjured the box. It was that place he shoved his pain. Harlan imagined a cool, blue framed box with clear sides. And as he filled it with his emotion and his hurt, it shifted from cool to hot and blue to red. Then, once it was full, he discarded it and began to fill another.

Harlan closed his eyes. The box filled and he discarded it. Another appeared, and seconds later he pushed that one aside as well.

"Another," Harlan whispered, his voice wavering. It filled, and the red began to spill over. Harlan frowned and shoved that box away. "Another." His voice was firmer. This time, the box filled, almost to the top. But a sliver of blue remained, and the red liquid in the box boiled with Harlan's turmoil.

He breathed. "This is for Bailey." Harlan watched the red as it crept a little higher, almost to the top of the box. He knew he was close to this limit. It was everything he could do to control himself and squash his desire to go back to the blue-eyed man. "For once. For once in your fucking life, do the right thing. Don't be selfish. Let him go. Do the right thing."

Instead of going back and apologizing, instead of trying to win back Bailey, he let himself curl up into a ball on the bed.

There, on Christmas Eve, Harlan allowed himself to mourn the loss of a dream that he felt he'd never deserved in the first place.

♬♬♬

A long, miserable, lonely week went by. Christmas passed, and Harlan stayed locked in his cabin. He made sure his schedule overlapped Bailey's in such a way as to avoid the man. Various campers asked gentle questions here and there, but Harlan simply rebuffed all attempts to talk to him about the situation.

Instead, he focused on his physical pursuits. Harlan worked hard on mastery of his body, pushing ever harder and longer during his brutal workouts. While his body was in agony, his mind had to give him a break from hurting over the loss of Bailey.

But there was only so much he could manage.

It was the first Friday in January. Evening had fallen, and Harlan had just finished with his dinner, once again cloistered in his rental. Throwing away the remnants of his food, he crumpled the paper plate in his fist.

There was a knock and Harlan cast an irritated gaze at his door. He tossed the plate into the garbage, then stepped over and opened it.

Bailey stood there. Harlan's breath caught in his throat as he looked into the man's blue eyes. Bailey gave the barest of smiles.

"Hi." The men hadn't spoken at all in a week, and they had barely seen one another, so it was a shock to see Bailey.

Harlan gathered himself and nodded. "Hi, Bailey."

"I wanted you to know, I'm leaving soon. The job is over on Friday. And I applied to another down south. I'll leave next Monday."

Harlan kept his emotion hidden only through a tremendous act of will. "Okay." He nodded. "I wish you luck."

The look on Bailey's face as Harlan shut the door almost killed thim. And for a long time, Harlan leaned against the wood of the closed portal.

Fuck. The way Harlan ached was like nothing he had ever dealt with. It was as if someone reached and pulled his heart out of his chest to leave a ragged hole there instead. "Be strong. Let him go."

Harlan hung his head and breathed. "Let him go, but show him how wonderful he is." He blinked. "Yeah." Pushing himself off the door, he sat at his computer.

He irritably wiped his face. "Fuck. Stop it. He's going to be better off." Harlan sniffed, ignoring the tears that continued to stream down his face. He quickly navigated to Bailey's music video, the very first thing Harlan had found online of Bailey's old life.

He began to dig. It wasn't long before he had the name of the man who Bailey worked with years back to create his record.

"Jonathan Forester." Harlan set his jaw. He already knew that Bailey never actually produced his album. The recordings were done, but there was no use in Bailey paying the significant fees to produce and make it available as a professional work for purchase. "It's a dead project," Bailey had told him once while they lay together in bed. "I can't tour. There's no money in it for the producer. Since I can't pay the fees, he owns it, and it's done, but it'll never see the light of day." Bailey had shrugged with a sad smile.

Harlan found the phone number and took out his cell. Seconds later, he punched in the digits and waited.

"Jonathan, here."

Harlan sat up. "Hello. My name is Harlan, and I wondered if I could talk to you about a project you own."

♬♬♬

The day came. Bailey checked the cabin one more time. He had everything, and he went back out to his truck. The entire campground came to see him off. Elias and Rayne had both taken the afternoon off from school, and all of the regular campers were there as well.

All but one.

Bailey smiled and hugged the men and boys as they bid him goodbye. As he hugged Mason, the lanky teenager smiled sadly at him. "Hey. I know Harlan is down by the river." Mason shrugged. "Just in case you wanted to know."

Smiling sadly, Bailey shook his head. He turned away, but not before he saw the disappointed understanding in Mason's eyes.

Bailey got into his truck. And before he could change his mind, he pulled around the loop. As he waited for traffic on the road, he looked in his mirror. All of the campers waved goodbye. Bailey smiled and raised his hand so they could see it, then he sighed and pulled onto the road.

He drove in silence for a while. It wasn't long before he hit the city limit of Crescent City. Bailey thought about Gary as he drove past the street he and Harlan took to get to the little house where Gary lived, and where Harlan had grown up. The two of them had been to Gary's house a number of times for dinner in the past few weeks, and he had become important to Bailey.

He frowned as he felt his eyes sting. Stop. Stop it.

Taking a breath at a stoplight, he leaned over to open his glove box. I need some music.

His eyes were on the road, watching for the light, and his fingers found a jewel case. Bailey pulled it out, and while he steered with his elbow, he opened the case. Then he looked down at the CD.

Bailey stared. On it was a laser-etched picture of him. It was a frozen moment from his performance on stage at Riches, over two years ago, before his accident. There was a slip of paper in the jewel case as well.

A horn sounded behind him, and he jerked. Bailey pulled down a side street, off of the main drag.

Parking, he looked in wonder at the CD. Stamped on the disc was a warning. 'Master Copy - Handle With Care.' Bailey knew that meant this copy was the only one. It could be used to make others, but this was the only one that currently existed. Bailey put the CD carefully aside, then with shaking hands, he gingerly unfolded the little note. It was Harlan's writing, and Bailey put his hand over his mouth.

Bailey. I hope you remember how special you are. I hope you know how much value you bring to the world. I hope you find a man who will be everything you need.

Bailey started to cry and shook his head. He continued to read.

I know I'm not the lucky guy who gets to be that for you. No matter how much I want that, I know. And though this CD has proof of how amazing you were, I want you to know - even without your voice, you'll always be amazing to me. You'll always be my rockstar, Bailey. Always.

He read the note again. Then he reverently folded it up and slipped it into the chest pocket of the flannel shirt he wore. He took one more breath and put the CD into his player.

The clear, professional sound of his music began to play. Bailey sobbed and gripped the steering wheel. He knew it had cost thousands of dollars to do what Harlan had done. Additionally, for him to have the Master copy of the music, it meant that Harlan bought the rights to the work as well as paid the fees to produce it.

Why? As the music played, Bailey's mind railed. Why would he do this? Why would he pay thousands of dollars and go through the effort? Why?

With a sudden burst of realization, Bailey's head jerked up. Chills traveled up his body as he breathed and stared at the CD player where the music continued to play. Then he nodded and, with a determined expression, put the truck into gear.

♬♬♬

Harlan had been out by the river for hours. There was nowhere he had to go, and he had nothing to do. So he sat on the big stone by the water, watching as it flowed past.

His stomach growled, and he made a face. Fuck you. He didn't want to get up and face anyone in the campground. If he didn't have to stay and watch over Elias, he wouldn't have remained at all. He would have left the campground as soon as Bailey had gone.

His heart and soul mourned over the loss of Bailey. Harlan tried to stop the runaway train of emotions, filling box after box in his mind, but they just kept coming. His chest ached, and he hung his head as he let his mind spiral around the hopeless way that he felt.

He heard movement behind him. Harlan's eyes narrowed. He wouldn't let anyone see him this way. Straightening his spine, he cleared his throat. "I don't want to talk, so go away."

Instead of the person walking back up the river trail, there were footsteps on gravel and sand. Harlan closed his eyes and tried to avoid the pain of his loss turning into anger. Harlan stood. "I said …"

He turned around, and Bailey was there. His handsome face was neutral, and he stared at Harlan.

Harlan swallowed. No. Get him out of here. He shook his head. "I've nothing to say, Bailey. You should go."

He began to turn his back on Bailey, but the man put a hand on his shoulder. Harlan let himself be turned to face the taller fellow.

Bailey set his jaw. "I'll go. But first I want to hear you say you don't love me." He nodded. "Tell me you don't love me. I'll go."

Harlan couldn't keep looking into Bailey's eyes, and he dropped his gaze. "Fine. I don't love you, Bailey." He clenched his jaw, and he nodded. "There. Now, go."

Bailey shook his head and lifted Harlan's chin. Harlan couldn't keep the spark of fear out of his eyes as they connected with Bailey's. "Look me in the eye, then tell me."

Harlan's heart felt as if it would beat its way out of his body. His mouth was dry. "Bailey, I ..." He shook his head and again dropped his eyes. "I don't—"

Bailey lifted Harlan's chin again, and the brown-haired man's speech cut off mid-sentence. He stared at Bailey.

Harlan blinked and a tear slowly began to run down his face. "Bailey, please." Harlan grimaced, his voice wavering with emotion. "Please, just go." Another tear joined the first, and Harlan squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm trying to do the right thing for you. Please, go."

Bailey put his hands on each side of Harlan's face and leaned forward. He gently kissed Harlan's forehead before pushing back to look at him.

Harlan cried, and he lay his face against Bailey's neck. "I'm a monster." Bailey's arms circled him, and Harlan shook his head. "I'm … I don't deserve it. You don't know me. I don't deserve you."

Bailey pushed back and signed. "My choice." Bailey cocked his head and looked into Harlan's eyes. "You don't choose for me." Bailey smiled. "I got your gift. I know." The color of his eyes was a remarkable deep blue. "But I want to hear you say it."

Harlan raised his face to the sky and pulled him back in. He took deep breaths, then nodded.

Harlan took a step back. Streaming tears, he began to sign. "I tried to be strong. I tried to pretend, so you find someone better. Someone good." Harlan gritted his teeth but continued. "I didn't mean for it to happen." Bailey smiled when Harlan signed the same words he had used back at Thanksgiving. Harlan laughed and then his voice took over for his hands.

"I love you." He gently stroked Bailey's face, and his own features bore nothing but fascination. "I can't help it. I tried, but I can't."

Bailey grinned and cocked a brow at Harlan.

"Join the club."

We're almost to the end of this one. One more chapter to go, folks. Thanks for sticking with me. 🙂
Let me know what you think of this chapter, please.
Copyright © 2020 Wayne Gray; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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I was expecting Costa, but we got run-of-the-mill homophobic, wannabe bullies instead. With the threat of only a single chapter left, I cannot imagine the Costa quietly giving up. I guess you’l have to write a sequel or ten to resolve the situation.
;–)

Don Corbin has yet to make an appearance again either…
;–)

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Will Harlan distribute the CD on the Reina label? Will we be able to download Bailey’s music from iTunes or Amazon? Is this why the Costa return?
;–)

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