It's on purpose. He's ignoring me. Lee stole another glance at Avery. The boy steadfastly refused to look at him, even though they were both helping Clay prepare dinner in the small kitchen.
"Lee, that's plenty fine enough. And watch what you're doing so you don't cut yourself."
Lee blinked at Clay's voice and looked at the slivers of onions on the cutting board. The knife in his hand had stopped a quarter of an inch from his fingertip.
"Yeah. Yeah, okay." Scraping the onion into a glass bowl, Lee then started on the garlic.
I don't care what he thinks. Lee glared down at the cloves of garlic as he pulled them apart. The frown deepened. "Do I just cut the whole thing? It's got … stuff on it." He picked at the papery coating on the clove.
"Show him how to do one, Avery." Clay focused on searing the short-ribs on the stovetop.
"Here." Avery grabbed the clove out of Lee's hand. The wonderful patience the boy had shown him earlier in the week was gone. "You cut off the ends," Avery deftly sliced the tips of the clove, "then you smash it a little, and peel the coating off." As he spoke, Avery performed the steps. Now a naked little clove of garlic lay on the cutting board.
"Thank—" Lee began, but Avery turned around before he could finish.
A miserable sensation twisted in Lee's gut. He hunched over the cutting board and began the painstaking process of peeling the small cluster of garlic.
I don't care. The thought repeated in Lee's mind. He squirmed uncomfortably as he finished peeling. I'll be out of here soon, and it won't matter what he thinks. Grabbing his knife, Lee slowly began mincing the cloves. I wonder if he told anybody that I took the money. Lee wet his lips, and a sheen of sweat gathered on his brow.
So far everyone but Avery had treated him the same.
Nice. Lee slid the knife under what he'd diced and knocked the bits into the bowl. Everyone is still nice.Everyone but him.
"Good." Clay looked over Lee's shoulder. "Okay, Avery take the honey, Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper flake and mix that in with Lee's bowl." Clay rubbed his hands together. "Then our sauce for the ribs we’re having tonight will be made."
Lee stepped back as Avery reached past him. The blonde mutely grabbed the bowl containing Lee's work, and he dumped it into the one he'd mixed. Avery then set about stirring the contents into a thick, dark paste.
"Can … can I help?" Lee fidgeted, the fingers of his left hand running over the knuckles on his right. "Does it need water, or— "
"I've got it." Avery nearly growled the words.
Clay raised an eyebrow at the boy. "Okay. You guys both go on." He took the bowl from Avery. Glancing at the sky, he sighed. "This rain is likely not going to get better. You two go get the Easy-Up for the picnic table. Avery, you know where it is."
Avery sighed. "Come on."
He stalked out of the kitchen into the steadily increasing rain. Following, Lee pulled up his hood.
"Hey." Lee stepped quickly to close the distance between himself and the fast-moving Avery. "Hey, wait."
Avery continued, walking around the bathroom facility to a door on the far side of the building.
Lee put a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, I— "
"Don't." Avery whirled, his glare a physical force. "Don't touch me." Working his jaw, Avery's eyes carried his judgment.
"Why are you so mad?" Lee glared back. "I know it was you that put the money back. It wasn't yours. Why do you care?"
Avery barked an incredulous laugh. "Because they care about me!" He waved a hand. "This the first time I … the first time I've been anywhere that I feel like I ..." Avery began to tear up and stopped. He shook his head. "No. Nevermind." He turned back to the door and opened it, revealing a long, narrow corridor lined with shelves and hooks on the walls. "You don't care."
Stepping inside, Avery hauled a rectangular bag off of a shelf with a scrape and a little cloud of dust. He struggled under the weight.
Lee grabbed the end of the bag. "I just want to get out of here. That's all."
Avery shrugged. "Well, then I'll tell Greg what you did, and you'll get your wish."
Lee clenched his jaw as he helped get their load out of the hall. They put it down on the wet grass then Avery closed the door.
Scratching his head, Lee shrugged. "Why didn't you? Tell him?"
This time, Avery paused. Putting his hands on his hips, he looked down at the bag. "I just … I didn't want to screw things up for you." Avery sighed. "Greg tries to help everyone. They all do." Avery's eyes came back up and met Lee's. There was a hardness in them. "But I won't let you hurt them. They care about me, and I won't let you steal from them."
He's protecting them. From me? Lee processed this, blinking in shock. "I … I'm sorry."
Avery cocked his head. "Really? We'll see." He picked up the end of the bag and Lee followed suit. They began walking with it over to the kitchen. "You're lucky I heard you hurling and got up to see if you were all right."
"'Lucky?'" Lee dropped his voice as they neared the kitchen, though Clay looked busy with his dinner prep. "I lost almost fifty bucks; how's that lucky?"
Avery stopped at the picnic table, and the young guys pulled the Easy-Up out of the bag. "You really think Greg is that dumb?" He cast a glance at Clay, decided the big man couldn't hear them, then returned to Lee. "That's the first time he has left money in the jar overnight since I've been here." Avery smirked as Lee paled and rubbed his hand. "He was testing you. And you failed."
It was rare, but it did happen. Orson bit his lip as Joseph penetrated him.
"Okay?" Joseph asked from behind, concern and lust both in his voice.
"Good." Joseph moved, sliding in and out. "If you want, I can do this more often."
Orson knew Joseph mostly liked receiving. But the way his tall boyfriend was currently making him feel was incredible. "Yeah. Anytime you want this, it's fine with me."
The languid pace continued, and Joseph began stroking Orson in time.
"You're leaking all over." Joseph grinned. "I love doing this to you."
"Oh, god!" Orson's grip tightened. "There's a reason I'm leaking." He pulled back the sheet. "Unn. Won't be long."
Joseph's breathing picked up. "Good. Same here." He arched his neck. "Ahh! It's happening."
The grunt and sensation told Orson what he needed to know. With a groan, he joined Joseph as his lover kissed the back of his neck and continued to grind against him.
They wound down, all movement slowing to a gradual stop. Joseph's sticky hand gently cradled Orson's spent cock, and he nuzzled the nape of Orson's neck. "I love you, Orson."
"I love you, Joseph." Orson sighed. "What a perfect way to spend an afternoon."
"Yeah." A waver crept into Joseph's voice. "I … I want this forever."
Eyes widening, Orson turned his head. "What … are you—"
"Will you marry me?" Joseph squeezed him tightly against his chest. "Please, marry me."
Orson's eyes filled. "You're sure?" He took Joseph's hand in his own. "Really?"
Orson closed his eyes, squeezing out tears to run down his face. "Yes. I want this forever too."
A deep sigh of relief from Joseph made Orson grin. "When?" Joseph kissed the skin right where Orson's hair began.
"Hey, you asked me!" Orson laughed. "Things aren't going to change for me a month or a year from now. How I feel isn't going to change." He patted Joseph's arm. "Tomorrow or next year. Whenever you want."
"Whenever it is, I want to invite the department."
Orson paused. As far as he knew, Joseph wasn't out at work. "Really?" Turning in Joseph's arms Orson faced him. "I don't want trouble for you."
"It's time." Joseph set his jaw. "You and Elias, you're both the most important things to me, and it's past time." He grimaced. "Besides, Anderson has started asking questions that make me think he suspects I'm not entirely straight."
Officer Anderson was Joseph's partner, and they were close. "Well, why don't you talk with him first?" Orson grinned. "I think he might be a little irritated for you to confirm his suspicion with an invite to your marriage to a man along with the rest of the department."
Joseph chuckled. "Yeah. Good plan." He pulled Orson close. The two men breathed quietly together, the scent and warmth of their bodies mingling in their shared space. "Fiancé. That's what you are now. My fiancé."
Orson kissed him. "I am." He pushed Joseph onto his back, pulling on him until they lined up. "And you're mine."
Orson spent the next half-hour repaying the favor Joseph had shown him and loving every moment of it.
“Thanks for helping with dinner prep, guys.” Clay smiled at Avery and Lee. “You’re both free for a couple of hours, then Greg will need more help.”
“Yeah, it was fun.” Avery frowned at the rain. It had steadily increased, making the Easy-Up over the picnic table absolutely necessary. No other campers were about, but that’d change come dinner time. “Greg needs to build a bigger roof over the kitchen for the table.”
“Oh yeah?” Clay rubbed his jaw and eyed the distance between the eating area and kitchen. “Hmm. Maybe.” Chuckling, he shook his head. “After he finishes our bedroom.” He waved a hand east toward his and Greg’s place next to the campground. “That house will never be done!”
Lee watched carefully as they interacted and talked. Clay seemed to have a commanding yet approachable way with Avery. In charge, but doesn’t have to prove it.
Unexpectedly, Avery touched his back and Lee flinched. “Oh, sorry.” Avery quickly withdrew his hand.
“It’s all right.” Lee hunched his shoulders. “Just surprised me.”
“Well, I was gonna say that we can go hang out at the patio.” Avery looked hopefully at him.
I guess he forgives me? Lee nodded. “Okay.”
“You ready to run through this?” Avery pulled up his hood and smiled.
Avery led the way, sprinting through the heavy October rain, with Lee close behind.
Watching them go, Clay sighed. It wasn’t hard to see the signs. Unable to do anything about the hormones of a teenage boy, he began to prep the salad they’d serve with dinner that night.
Lee was damp from their run through the rain. Now, with Avery under the canvas patio next to the Airstream, he shivered.
Rubbing his arms, Lee shrugged. “A little.”
“Hang on.” Avery dashed back out into the rain, toward the bathrooms.
Lee was used to discomfort and accepted it. Apparently, Avery did not.
The boy returned with a wheeled cart, a tall propane heater partially covered with a tarp in the back. Lee stared.
“Well?” Avery now had water dripping off his nose, yet grinned as he bent to lift the heater. “You gonna help me?”
Lee moved to assist him. They soon had the heater out and Avery took off the protective tarp. “Ok. No more cold.” He pressed the red ignition.
Due to damp it took a few tries, but soon the crown of the heater flared to life. “There!” Avery pulled a pair of chairs under the heater. “Come on.”
What’s he doing? What’s he want? Lee sat, then glanced at Avery.
“Better?” Avery’s expressive eyes had locked into Lee.
“Y—yes.” Lee rubbed his hands in his lap. He looked down at them. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Leaning back in his chair, Avery stared up at the gas-fed flames. “I like times like this; it’s nasty out, but we can still be warm and comfy.”
Unsure what to say, Lee nodded.
The heater warmed their little spot, and even through the dampness, that warmth began to penetrate. Lee’s eyes were heavy.
“Why do you hate it here?”
Lee blinked at Avery’s voice. The boy still stared at the heater. “You must have something great to go back to,” Avery continued. “Something better than here.” His brow furrowed. “I can’t think of any place better, but that has to be it.”
Opening his mouth to speak, Lee struggled. “I, ah.” He delayed with a deep breath. “I’m not supposed to be here. I have a home in town with Eddie. That’s where I belong.”
“Eddie,” Avery repeated. Sighing, he slumped. “Your boyfriend.”
“No.” Lee corrected him quickly. “No, Eddie’s not my boyfriend.” A thrill of anxiousness shot through him. “He’s … he’s someone I owe.” He nodded to himself. “Without Eddie, I’d be homeless.”
Avery frowned. “‘Owe?’” He sat up. “For how long?”
For how long? Yes. How long? Lee swallowed. “I … it’s complicated.”
Avery silently examined him. He stared so long, Lee began to squirm. Finally, Avery spoke. “Well, so long as he’s good to you, I guess that’s all that matters.”
“Yeah.” Lee nodded. “He, uh…” He straightened and looked directly into Avery’s eyes. “He treats me as good as I deserve.” As that personal truth fell from his lips, a sick sensation twisted through him.
Avery flinched. “I know what that means.” A solemn expression made the boy look ten years older. He leaned back to again watch the blue flames of the heater dance. “I’ve heard it before. I know.” Tears slid silently down Avery’s stony face.
A deep empathy unexpectedly hit Lee. “Sorry.”
There was no reply. With nothing else to say, Lee sighed and leaned back to join Avery, lost in the flames.
Dinner preparation had resumed at the campground.
"Here." Avery took the potato from Lee. "You don't need to peel them. Just wash and scrub them good." Avery showed Lee how to clean the little red potatoes for the evening meal. "It's really easy, and the peels are good."
Watching Lee carefully, Greg made himself appear busy as he stood nearby.
"Okay." Lee had his head down, frowning in concentration at his task. He dutifully scrubbed, while Avery stood close beside him.
"Yeah. That's good." Avery turned. "Greg, how many potatoes?"
"Let's see." Greg stretched over the counter to reach the donation jar. Lee’s eyes tracked him as he did. "Well, there's …" he counted the bills. "There's forty dollars in there, so eight campers have paid into our rib dinner. We're all cooking, so we eat free. We need enough for eleven." Greg waggled his head as he thought. "Let's say three each. Those guys are small, that sounds about right."
Avery scrunched his face as he multiplied in his head. "Thirty three. Okay, got it." He returned to Lee. "Let's just do thirty six, in case someone else gets hungry."
“That’s a lot,” Lee grumbled, but resumed scrubbing.
Avery stood shoulder to shoulder with him at the sink. “Nah, we’ll finish quick.”
Greg watched while they worked, and as Avery forced Lee to interact with him. At one point, Avery leaned into Lee, smirking when he growled and leaned back.
Their horsing around continued. “Stop it!” Lee tried to catch a potato Avery had knocked from his hand. It landed in the grit under the sink. “See what you did!” He pointed in accusation at the tuber while glaring at Avery.
“Oh, it’s just dirt.” Avery rolled his eyes and retrieved the potato. He rinsed it under the tap while Lee stood with his arms crossed.
“Are these hostile working conditions, Lee?” Greg chuckled while putting the freshly basted ribs back into the oven.
“Yes.” Lee glowered.
“Aww.” Avery laughed. “Poor Lee!” He put the cleaned potato on the mound they’d tackled together. “I think you like it.”
“No.” Lee’s jaw shifted.
“No? Well, I’ll have to do better.” Avery cocked his head. “Are you ticklish?”
Lee’s eyes widened. “You stay away from me!” He moved so Greg was between them.
The predatory expression on Avery’s face and the way he dropped into an aggressive stance as he stepped forward almost made Greg laugh. “Ok! No tickling in a kitchen full of knives and hot things!”
“Aww.” Avery's grin was savage.
Lee stuck out his tongue at the boy, yet still sheltered behind Greg.
“Avery, you go get that heater for the table.”
“Oh, all right.” Parting with a playful grimace at Lee, Avery left the shelter of the kitchen. Though it was still raining, that had slowed considerably and the temperature had fallen another five degrees to just above forty Fahrenheit.
“You ok, Lee?” Greg smiled. “I know Avery can be a bit—“
“Oh. No, I’m fine.” Lee rubbed his hands on his sweater. “What else do we do for dinner?”
“Ok, just checking.” Greg made a face. “Well, I wanted to boil those potatoes then toss them with fresh tomato and olive oil and bake them, but we are out of tomatoes. So, I guess we’ll just do oil, salt and pepper.”
Lee frowned. “Well, you have lemon.”
“Why not use lemon instead?” Lee waved a hand. “It has the same sort of ... bitey taste.”
“Acid.” Greg looked thoughtfully at Lee.
“Yeah. Acid.” Lee seemed to pull in on himself under Greg’s gaze. “What?”
“Nothing.” Greg retrieved a big metal bowl from under his counter. “Ok, Lee.” He pointed at the bag of lemons hanging on a nail. “Hand those to me. Let’s make your potatoes.”
Forty minutes later, the table was full and dinner was served. Tender, savory ribs melted in campers’ mouths, and crispy skin covered perfectly cooked red potatoes.
“Oh, man.” Rayne, there visiting his boyfriend, Elias, chewed a bite. “Greg, these potatoes are great. I love the lemon.”
Mumbles of agreement echoed Rayne around the table.
Greg wiped his mouth. Grinning, he leaned back so he could see Lee where he sat hunched over his plate at the kitchen counter. “Actually, the lemon potatoes were Lee’s idea. You can thank him for that.”
“Really?” Shock apparent in his voice, Joseph shook his head. “Well, damn!” As Lee tried to make himself small under the attention, Joseph raised his glass. “Nice work, Lee.”
More people said his name, and Lee nodded without looking at them.
Lee shot to his feet. “Avery, he helped me,” he blurted out, interrupting the comments.
Those at the table looked at him, then the same praise was heaped on Avery. Lee sat back down and focused on his plate.
A bit later, he’d just taken his last bite when Avery slid onto the stool beside him. The other campers talked as they cleaned up around them, but it was a rare, unspoken moment there with the blonde.
Finally, it was just them. The patter of rain on the metal roof of the kitchen was so peaceful in the otherwise silent campground. For a while, the pair watched their breaths in the kitchen lights.
“That was nice of you.”
Lee stared down at the plate. He shrugged. “I guess. It’s true; you helped.”
“True doesn’t mean it wasn’t nice.” Avery stood.
Uncertainty roiled Lee as Avery pulled him to his feet. Then the boy hugged him.
For a few moments, Lee’s hands hovered over Avery’s back. Then he gently returned the embrace. Avery squeezed him and murmured, “Maybe … even after Officer Wells says you can leave, it wouldn’t be so bad if you stayed here a while?”
Avery had voiced Lee’s swirling thoughts so closely, at first, he wasn’t sure if the young man had actually said the words.
Lee wet his lips and clung to Avery. “Maybe.”
Avery smiled, then finally gave him a bit of room. “Ok. Maybe is better than no.”
Lee squirmed free. He rubbed the back of his head and cleared his throat. “Yeah, well. We’ll see.”
Nodding, Avery seemed thoughtful. “Well, since we’re not sure you’re sticking around, you know what that means.”
Avery pounced, mercilessly tickling Lee’s ribs before he had a chance to defend himself.
“No! Noooo!” Between gales of laughter, Lee broke free and ran down the paved loop, a cackling Avery hot on his heels.
Clay knew him. Inside, out, his fears, dreams, and more. So when Greg came to bed to lie silently beside him and stare at the darkened ceiling, he knew something was on his mind.
"You wanna talk about it?" Placing a warm hand on Greg's chest, Clay rubbed, a reassuring presence in his world.
Sighing heavily, Greg turned on his side to face Clay. "It's Lee. I'm worried about him and Avery."
"Ah." Clay pulled himself close to Greg so that their hips pressed together. "Mason taught me there's no standing in the way of how a boy feels, Greg."
In a classic tell, Greg's jaw clenched. "I know. I hope I didn't screw up by agreeing to take Lee in. I wanted to help him, and I think we are." He paused, searching for the right words. "But I'm wondering if it's worth what it might do to Avery—having Lee here." Greg grimaced. "I even set him up. Didn't empty the jar for a couple of meals, and left it out overnight. I wanted a reason to cut him loose."
Clay's eyes widened. "Did he take it? The money?"
"Nope." Greg shrugged as he lay there. "Maybe he figured it out. He definitely watches that jar."
"Huh." Clay rubbed his back and Greg's eyes closed. Clay considered the issue at hand while he touched his husband. "Lee still seems pretty standoffish, for the most part."
"They were horsing around during dinner prep. Lee acted annoyed, but," Greg shook his head, "I don't buy it. He's awkward. Doesn't know how to deal with Avery, but he wasn't annoyed."
"Isn't Avery due to go back to his foster home at the end of the week?" Clay continued to rub Greg's back, pulling their chests together as he did.
"Mmm. Yeah. But he'll be back in that cabin as soon as he can." Greg moaned appreciatively as Clay's thumb traveled along his shoulder blade. "I'll … ah, I'll talk to Lee."
"Hrm." Clay ground his pelvis into Greg's. "I don't know if that's a good idea. If you tell that one he can't do something, he will want to do exactly that. He just seems the sort."
"Maybe." Greg's lips parted. "Damn it. I had been ready to go to sleep."
Grinning, Clay rolled Greg onto his back. "Yeah? Are you ready for something else now?"
Greg smirked. He wrapped lean legs around Clay's middle and pulled him down for a hungry kiss.
Knowing what he needed, Clay lubed them up, then pinned Greg's hands to the mattress.
"Ah." Greg's back arched as Clay entered him. "God, I'll never get tired of this."
"You'd better not." Clay rubbed his bristly face against Greg's neck and his hips pushed forward. He grinned at the lusty noise Greg made when he bottomed out.
For the night, Clay was the one to decide how things went. Greg needed to hand over control, and instinctively Clay knew it. He shifted until he could grip both of Greg's wrists with one hand. While his pelvis pounded away, he stroked Greg with his other hand.
"Shit. Shit." Greg's head rolled back and forth. "Ah, I'm …"
Clay grunted as his sensation peaked, then he laughed as Greg unloaded at almost the same time. "Mmmm. Good. Make a mess on that belly."
"Your fault." Greg gasped. He grinned up at Clay as they finished together. "You can molest me anytime."
Clay growled. "I'm gonna hold you to that." Leaning down, he gently kissed Greg.
They pulled apart, and Clay ran a hand over Greg's head. "So, Red came to me yesterday."
"Jeremy?" Clay let him up, and Greg folded his legs under himself. "What's going on?"
Clay bit his lip. "It's a big deal. And he wanted to clear things with me before he went through with it. I don't need time to think about it, but he insisted; I've got until Saturday to answer him."
Now Greg appeared concerned. "What? Tell me."
"Okay." Clay nodded. "Here's what he asked of me."
Oh, Lee. Tested by Greg, failing, yet saved by Avery. Why would Avery do such a thing?
Joseph and Orson are engaged! Hurray!
We get to hear some of Greg's doubts concerning Lee as he talks with Clay.
Then there's Jeremy. What's going on with him?
As always, I love hearing from you. Let me know what you think of the chapter, please.