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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. 

Broken - A Camp Refuge Story - 2. Rotten

16 October (Early Friday Morning)

It was only four in the morning, but Lee was awake. Sitting up with a grumble, he pushed his sleeping bag aside.

He cocked his head. The world was so very quiet, apart from the white noise of the Smith River flowing to the north. No cars on the road or doors slamming. Nobody yelling, crying, or screaming. Nothing. Nothing but the water.

"Not normal." Lee shivered. He hunted about in the dark tent and found the hoodie Officer Wells had purchased for him back at the market. Lee pulled it on and unzipped the tent.

Getting to his feet, he stood outside his little dwelling and peered about in the dark. There wasn't much man-made illumination; only the kitchen area had one small light going and each of the bathroom buildings had lighting over the doors so campers could find their way at night.

Lee grimaced at his legs and bent to rub them. "Ouch, fuck." Shaking his head at the aches, he looked in his tent for his sweats and shoes. Soon he was dressed and tottered like an old man down the trail to the river.

Only the moon hung overhead for light, but that was plenty. Moonlight reflected on the water and Lee stared at the river. After a few minutes, he blinked. "It's so calm."

A wave of exhaustion hit him, and he hurriedly sat on the sand. His eyes watering, he rocked back and forth. Anxious and tired all at once, he held out a hand to hover in space. It vibrated in mid-air, eliciting a groan from Lee.

"Fuck. The shakes. Fuck me."

With a grunt, he forced himself to his feet. Knowing he was in for misery, he made his way back up the trail and crawled into his tent. He didn't bother undressing. He shoved his sandy shoes into his sleeping bag, shivering and teeth chattering all the while.

⟽⟾

"Hello in there?"

Lee opened his bloodshot, watery eyes. "Go away," he growled at the silhouette framed by the sun that had appeared sometime after he had closed his eyes. The grit in his sleeping bag just added to his discomfort.

That voice belonged to Avery, and the young guy shifted back and forth on his feet. "We're gonna have breakfast soon. Aren't you hungry?"

"No. Go. Away. I'm sick. I just want you to leave me alone." The mere effort of talking made Lee nauseous.

"Oh." That shadow hesitated. "Well, I can bring you some ging—"

Lee shot up to a seated position. "GO AWAY! Fuck! Leave me alone!"

Avery jumped, scrambling away from the tent. "Sorry! God."

Sighing, Lee lay back down. The sun made his eyes tear, and he squeezed them shut. "Just leave me alone," he whispered.

⟽⟾

"What's wrong with him?" Avery sat at the picnic table near the kitchen and leaned back to look past Elias at the blue and green tent across the campground.

"He's detoxing," Joseph said as he handed the plate of pancakes across the table to an eager Bailey. The off-duty cop smiled reassuringly at Avery. "He'll be okay. For some, it can be life-threatening, but Lee doesn't get a consistent supply of the stuff. His dependence isn't as bad as it could be, and he has been through this many times, I'm betting."

"We'll still keep an eye on him," Greg said from his place behind the stove. He slid the perfect over-medium eggs onto another plate piled with them. "He's just miserable right now and will be for a few days, at least. But we'll keep checking on him." He handed the plate over to his husband, Clay.

Avery looked at the tent. "He sounded awful."

"He sounded mean." Elias followed Avery's gaze to frown at Lee's site across the pavement. "I'd leave him alone." All of the campers had heard Lee's outburst a few minutes earlier.

Reaching for the plate of eggs, Orson shrugged. "Sometimes people try to protect themselves by being mean, or by avoiding others."

"Still," Jeremy began, "be careful. Lee isn't in a very good frame of mind right now, and if he wants space then we should give it to him."

“I was just trying to help,” Avery grumbled. He ground his teeth in frustration. “I can’t do anything right.”

“Avery,” Clay took a seat beside the mopey teen. “You did fine.” He sighed, patting Avery's back. “Maybe it’s better not to get too close to this one anyway.”

“Let’s just see where he settles after he’s clean and sober a while.” Greg smiled and took a seat on the end of the bench next to Clay. He motioned at the food. “Eat. Later we’re going to see about catching some dinner from the river. You’ll need your energy for that.”

Murmurs of conversation began as the campers dug in, and even the quiet Harlan cracked a rare joke, eliciting surprised laughter from the group. Avery didn’t hear what was said. Instead, he mechanically ate his breakfast and stole glances at that very still, lonely tent across the way.

⟽⟾

Finally driven to his feet by a need to visit the restroom, Lee left his tent. Shading his eyes from the afternoon sun, he walked slowly across the pavement.

He attracted a look from that big husband of Greg’s and that annoying blonde kid, Avery. They watched him from the patio table set up beside the Airstream. Avery seemed ready to get up out of his chair, but his companion lay a meaty paw on his shoulder, holding him in place.

Good. Lee had no desire to talk with anybody, least of all some kid.

His stomach lurching as he moved, Lee held one hand against his middle, teary eyes focused on the bathroom facility.

“Hey, you’re up.”

Greg’s voice from the kitchen made Lee sigh. “Have to piss,” he growled, not bothering to look at Greg, and pushed open the restroom door. Inside, he breathed in relief as he sheltered in the dim, concrete room.

That relief was not destined to last long. His mouth watered as his body prepared. “Fuck. No. I don’t want to do th—”

Lurching forward, Lee almost fell in his haste to get his face over the toilet bowl. He emptied the remains of last night’s dinner into the pot in belly-twisting contractions.

He gripped the porcelain. Least it’s clean. From his spot on the cold floor, he spat into the bowl, then flushed. Grunting, he pulled himself to his feet and put himself into position.

“Ahh.” His bladder was full, and he sighed while he urinated. Closing his eyes, he rocked back on his heels as he emptied the tortured organ.

Lee finished and washed his hands. Rinsing his mouth, he slurped down a couple handfuls of water from the sink. Water dripped off his face. He stared in the mirror at his rheumy, bloodshot eyes.

I wonder if I can eat?

That’d mean interacting. Wrinkling his nose, Lee pushed open the door.

Avery had turned completely on the picnic bench while Clay had vanished. As soon as Lee appeared he rose, headed toward him. Lee inwardly groaned.

“Hey! Feeling better?” Avery fell into step beside him as Lee headed toward his tent.

“No.”

“Oh. Sorry. Well, are you hungry? You missed lunch—tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and sun-dried tomato.”

That sounds good. Lee swallowed saliva as his mouth watered. He wavered as he tried to decide how to respond. "I … I don't have money to spend—I have to save mine."

“Don't worry about that. I'll take care of it.” Avery seemed so eager to be helpful. “Greg saved you some; I’ll warm it for you.” He turned back toward the camp kitchen.

Lee stood by his tent, uncertain. He still felt miserable, but starving himself wouldn’t help. He glanced over at the kitchen. Avery had arrived there, and Greg made space for him behind the counter. Greg’s eyes connected with Lee’s across the sunny grounds. He smiled, then went back to his dinner prep.

Feeling a strange embarrassment, Lee sat in the open mouth of his tent so it shaded him and so he could watch the ever-moving Avery. The boy rattled pans, talked with Greg, and greeted all campers who happened by.

What does he want from me? Lee’s eyes narrowed. Avery poured the steaming soup into a large mug and slid a grilled sandwich onto a plate. Probably what everybody does.

By the time Avery had arrived with Lee’s lunch, Lee had figured him out. Now that he understood, he relaxed.

“Here.” Avery handed the mug and plate to him.

“Yeah.” Lee wet his lips. “So I’m in no shape to pay for this now. But probably tomorrow I’ll be fine.”

Avery frowned. “Pay?”

“Yeah.” Lee dipped a corner of the warm, gooey sandwich into the soup and raked Avery with a practiced eye. "Just take a few minutes.”

While Lee took his first bite of lunch, Avery cocked his head like a confused cocker spaniel. “What?”

Lee sighed and swallowed the savory bite. “I’m not giving you my money for buying lunch, so I’ll just suck you off and we’ll be even.”

Avery reddened. “What?!” He waved his hands as he spoke. “No! No, that’s not … you don’t have to do that.” Avery was clearly appalled. “Bill and Anna gave me a little extra money for stuff. It's fine. You don’t owe me anything.”

Lee blinked at the squirming blonde. So … he doesn't expect sex from me. Just like Greg.

“What?” Avery frowned. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Lee shook his head. "Nothing." He pushed himself to his feet, still processing. "I … uh." Staring at the plate and mug in his hands, Lee nodded. A word he'd not truly meant in years tumbled from him. "Thanks."

Avery walked alongside Lee to the kitchen. "You're welcome."

Greg reached for the dishes. "I got 'em." He eyed the pair. "Lee, you still don't look hot. You're off kitchen duty tonight, but I want to see you out here for dinner. You need to eat."

"I'll help instead, Greg." Avery put a tentative hand on Lee's shoulder. "I can take his place so he can relax."

"Well, no time like the present." Greg jerked his chin at a cutting board. "Bell peppers, onion, mushrooms all need dicing. Get in here."

Avery grinned and gave Lee a pat. "See you later?"

He didn't wait for a response and stepped away to help Greg with dinner prep. After a few uncertain seconds, Lee turned. Using the time it took to walk back to his tent, he went over the way he'd been treated by the campers. Yet, by the time he arrived, he'd still not figured out exactly what their angle might be.

He watched from his tent, legs splayed out on the grass, rear inside on a pillow, leaning back on hands propping him up from behind. He stared at Avery as the boy laughed and carried on with Greg.

"Yeah." It was the barest whisper. "See you later."

⟽⟾

Elias was utterly in his element. The turning clay under his fingers, the slight earthy smell, the way tiny changes in pressure and angle affected the work on the potter's wheel, the total control he had over the fate of what had been an amorphous lump of earth. It all amounted to an experience he had come to crave and need.

While turning on the wheel, tiny specks of mica in the orange clay he had dug out of the riverside flashed as they reflected the afternoon light pouring in through the western window of his newly built cabin. Allowing the wheel to slow,he sat back to look at the piece.

Greg should really like this. Grinning, Elias rubbed his fingers along the lip of the wide, thick-walled crock. After it firms up a bit, I'll cut some grooves out so I can seat a lid in it. Oh, that'll be fun to make. Puzzling out the process was part of the joy for the young man; the "almost seal" needed by a fermentation crock was an interesting challenge. They needed something airtight until the crock had to "burp" off the gases produced by fermentation. Greg had been after one so they could make their own sauerkraut and kimchi, but he'd yet to find one at the local thrift stores.

"Well, now he doesn't have to. Hopefully." Elias carefully moved the still wet piece so it could rest on one of the shelves lining his workshop, along with many other drying projects. He sighed in satisfaction, then set about cleaning the area.

The cabin had turned out to be perfectly suited to Elias' needs. The ceramic workshop, a kitchenette with a generous fold-out table, and a tiny bathroom were all downstairs, while a cozy bedroom was up a set of steep stairs against the southern wall. The eye of an artist had gone into the design, while Bailey's engineering had made that design structurally sound and legal. It was a compromise between Elias' vision and the necessities of the real world.

Elias loved his little space, as did Rayne.

"Hey."

Turning toward the open door, Elias grinned in happy surprise. "Hey!" In two steps he had enfolded his black-haired boyfriend in his arms. A kiss followed, and Rayne smiled against his lips.

"You weren't supposed to be here till tomorrow," Elias murmured against Rayne's neck.

"I have my license, and I wanted to see you now." Rayne breathed in Elias's scent, then rubbed his groin back and forth, proving he was absolutely eager to see the potter. "So here I am."

"Mmm." Elias reached, shutting the door behind Rayne. "Yes. Here you are." Elias took Rayne's hand. "Come on. There's something upstairs I want to show you."

With a laugh, Rayne let Elias lead him toward the stairs. "I think I can guess what it is."

They got to the top of the stairs, and Elias peeled off his shirt. He smirked as Rayne began unbuttoning his jeans. "I think you probably can."

⟽⟾

"It's almost dinnertime." Jeremy stood in the hall of the Airstream, his arms crossed over his chest. "Put it down, and come on."

Mason grimaced. "I'm just getting the hang of this!" Algebraic matrices were not the simplest things in the world, and Mason had finally wrapped his mind around them. He hunched forward almost protectively over his notebook and tablet. "I never should have done a distance learning math course, but I have to deal with it now that I started!"

Initially about to argue, Jeremy sighed. "Okay." He sat across from his partner with a loving smile. "Just a few more minutes, all right?"

"Yeah. Definitely. I mean, I am hungry." Mason's eyes darted back and forth as he systematically solved the matrix.

"All right." Jeremy stood. "Hey, I'll meet you out there. I wanna talk to Greg and Clay before they get busy serving."

Almost entirely focused on his work, Mason nodded. "Yeah. Don't worry, I promise."

Jeremy managed to avoid an amused snort. "Okay. You promised—you're going to let me tie you up and do terrible things to you all night tonight."

"Yeah. Sounds good." Those green eyes were still on his math homework.

Turning, Jeremy snickered quietly, then left to go find Clay.

⟽⟾

As Jeremy approached, Clay instantly knew something was up. "I'll be back before we start, Greg." He slipped behind his husband to walk around the kitchen counter.

Greg had his head down, chopping the fresh toppings for their dinner. "Okay. I've got it handled for now."

Meeting Jeremy on the asphalt loop that ran around the campground, Clay cocked his head. "Hey, Red. What's going on?"

Jeremy had blanched to a shockingly pale color, sweat beaded on his forehead despite the coolness of the day, and he trembled as he stared up at Clay. "I … I need to ask you something." He swallowed audibly, while those blue eyes never looked away from Clay's face. "And I really want to know what you think. I really do."

God, he's going to fall over. "Okay, come on." Clay gently slid an arm around his shoulders and steered him. They parked themselves in the pair of currently unoccupied camp chairs in front of Orson's cabin.

Jeremy took a deep lungful of air. "Okay." He nodded slowly, eyes unfocused. "Okay. I'm just going to ask. I need something from you. But … only if you want to give it."

"Ask what?" Clay leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "What do you need from me?"

Those blue eyes focused, and Jeremy inhaled. "Just one thing."

⟽⟾

"What do you think of our new camper?"

Bailey frowned at Harlan who'd just signed at him. It was rude to talk about people in a language they didn't understand. Not to mention, Bailey was hungry and he wanted to eat the fantastic, thick chili Greg had made.

The table was filled with their regulars, and off by himself Lee, the skinny newcomer, sat on a stool at the kitchen counter. Bailey put down his spoon. "He's quiet." He shook his head at Harlan, his expression showing disapproval. "We can talk later."

Harlan nodded once, instantly picking up on more than just the signs.

Both men went back to eating, though now Bailey eyed Lee. The young guy slowly ate his meal. He seemed uncomfortable, agitated, and like he had to force down the food. He shivered too, even though he wore thick sweats and a sweatshirt.

What's your story, Lee? Bailey knew some, just by hearing the regular gossip around the campground. The how behind Lee's appearance there was less interesting to him. Instead, Bailey questioned why. I wonder what drove you to be how you are. What put you in the situation you were in?

Lee was offering no answers, and Bailey didn't expect them. Instead, he concentrated on his meal and enjoyed the warmth of his boyfriend beside him at a crowded picnic table on a clear, October evening.

⟽⟾

17 October (Saturday, early morning)

"Fuck. Fuck, please … please no, I just wanna be don—" Lee wasn't done. He vomited again, bent with hands on his knees, his middle contracting hard to expel the last of his meal out of his body and into the grass and weeds on the edge of the campground.

He had been awoken by the urge and stumbled out of his tent in the dark. Lee made a sound between a groan and whimper as saliva dripped from his mouth.

Panting, he slowly regained control over his body. He straightened and cast a wary glance around the silent campground. It was late, and nobody seemed to have heard him.

This was the pattern associated with withdrawal. Knowing that didn't make it easier, or fun.

Water. I need water.

He spat one last time and rubbed his mouth with the back of a hand. Thankful for lights at the kitchen, he had no problem picking the structure out of the dark. He walked with aching legs past his tent, his socked feet cold on the asphalt road.

Least it's not rainin'.

It was October, so that could change at any time. Lee didn't relish the thought of being stuck in a tent in the rainy weather.

He entered the kitchen. Grabbing a cup from the dish drainer, he filled it to the brim from the tap. He took a swig, swirled it around, then spat in the sink. Then he took a tentative sip. Lee sighed as the liquid traveled down a tortured digestive tract. "Please stay down." The plea was a whisper. Before his body could reject the fluid, he took another drink. He wet his lips as he waited. Then he noticed something.

"What the fuck?"

Lee locked eyes on the donation jar. Greg hadn't emptied it. There were ones, fives, even a ten-dollar bill in there. That along with change too. He blinked, then jerked and looked around. He couldn't see at all in the dark around the lit kitchen.

He bit his lip and looked back at the jar.

A lot of money in there. Lee put down the cup on the counter and sidled up to the jar. He looked around again. Nobody was in sight, but it'd be almost impossible to see anybody past the limit of the light. Though he listened carefully, Lee didn't hear anything apart from the river.

Quickly, he took the jar from the little shelf, then dropped to hide behind the counter. Lee pulled the bills out of the container with shaking hands.

"I can get out of here. I can go back. Eddie will take me back if I bring this to him, and … and the other money too."

Lee soon had all of the cash, even the coins in hand. He crammed the money into his pocket. Slowing his breath, Lee stood up again. He put the jar back on the shelf, then hurried away, back to his tent.

Once there, he clicked on the light Officer Wells had purchased for him. He carefully counted the money.

"Forty-five dollars." Lee grinned. With the money he'd been paid by his trick in town and with what he'd earned yesterday helping Greg with the meal, Lee now had a little over one-hundred-fifty dollars.

A spark of hope lit in his chest. "Now, I just have to get out of here." Though he felt excited, his body had run out of steam. Lee yawned mightily. "I'll figure that out tomorrow." He tucked the folded bills and change into his shoe beside the zippered door.

Adjusting his nest of sleeping bags and pillows, Lee lay down.

In moments, he was asleep, completely unaware a pair of disappointed eyes stared at his now-dark tent.

⟽⟾

Later that morning, the soft patter of light rain fell against the material of Lee's tent. He blinked as he woke, then frowned at the brightness. Even overcast, the tent was awash in light, which meant he'd slept later than he typically would.

The money. He sat up and grabbed the shoe, searching for his ill-gotten gains.

"Gone." Lee was certain it had been the right shoe, but he tried the left. "No. Fuck!"

Lee put a hand over his mouth after his outburst. "Fuck," he said more quietly. Someone had stolen his money!

I should tell Gre— The thought abruptly stopped as he realized where that line of questioning would end.

Frustrated and angry, Lee shoved on his shoes. He unzipped the tent and squinted in the mid-morning light and drizzle. Pulling up his hood, Lee zipped his tent and stomped over to the kitchen.

Greg was alone behind the counter, though Lee's eyes landed on that cursed jar. It was brimming now. It looked like it had both last night's and this morning's meals' donations in there.

"Hey. You look better today." Greg smiled and wiped his hands on the worn dishtowel he kept for cleaning up. "You want some pancakes?"

In his riled state, Lee hadn't even considered food. Not until Greg had asked. "Uh, yeah." He worked his jaw and nodded at the jar. "I … ah, I don't have any money I can spend, though."

"Officer Wells paid for your meals for a while." Greg pulled a cast iron pan out of a spot under the counter. "What kind? You want blueberries or pecans in them?"

Struggling to understand what had happened, Lee couldn't decide. "Both? Can I have both?"

"Sure. That sounds good!" Greg began mixing up the batter, dropping chopped nuts and blueberries in. "Have a seat." Lee did as he was told, and Greg carefully poured batter into the hot, buttered pan. A satisfying sizzle rewarded him, and Greg smiled. "Since you're feeling better, you wanna help with lunch today? There'd be more money in it for you; whatever isn't needed to replace the food, that'd be yours for helping."

Lee sank down in his seat. "S—sure." He couldn't make himself look at Greg, so he stared at the pan.

"Great. Thanks. That'll be a big help."

Before Lee could think of what to say in response, he turned his head at some movement. Avery walked along the loop. The young guy had a towel slung over his shoulder on his way to the restrooms.

Avery had to have seen him, yet he stared straight at his destination, his jaw clenched. Lee's face lengthened into a mortified expression.

As Avery reached the door to the shower, he looked over his shoulder at Lee.

In that split second, the boy's knowing expression communicated far more than words ever would. Then he turned his back and disappeared inside.

I do think the chapter title fits. There are a few Rotten things here, and those swirl around Lee and the choices he made in the past, and then those he made in the chapter too.
Can he learn another way to be?
Thanks for reading. Please read, and leave a rating or a comment. I appreciate all of them.
Copyright © 2021 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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