"What is wrong with you?" Anderson smacked Joseph's knee.
Joseph had been vibrating the whole vehicle with his restless, bouncing leg. "Sorry." He forced himself to be still. The patrol car lay hidden in the deep shadow of an alley between an apartment complex and a chain-link fence. "Just a lot on my mind."
"I can tell." Anderson's eyes narrowed as a pair of men appeared in the alley mouth. Assigned to patrol some of the rougher sides of town, this spot was popular with both dealers and their buyers. He relaxed as the guys continued past. "Will it help to get it out?"
Joseph's leg began anew, and Anderson looked meaningfully at it. "Shit. Sorry." He chuckled nervously. "I guess I should."
"Well, let's hear it."
"Yeah." Joseph nodded. "Okay." God, I'm warm. He pulled at a collar that seemed far too tight. "I'll just say it." He flinched as he tried to find exactly the right words, then audibly gulped.
Anderson openly stared at him. "Wells, what is going on?"
Rubbing his forehead, Joseph wiped sweat on his leg. God, why is this so hard? "I just … I don't want things to change." He blinked as he realized that was it. "Yeah. I'm about to tell you something, and I don't want things to change because of it."
"Okay. Is it because you're queer?" Anderson shrugged. "Is that it?"
Joseph jerked. "Wha—" His mouth hanging open, he stared at his partner.
"Well?" Anderson motioned at him. "Is that it?"
"Ah, yeah?" Joseph blinked. "Wait, no. That's not all of it. I'm getting married to Orson, from the campground."
A full grin lit up the darkness of the car. "Wow! Really?"
"Yeah." Immense relief crashed into Joseph as Anderson clapped him on the back.
"Congratulations, man. That's awesome. Orson is a great guy; hell, he's a hero, and you get to marry him!"
Joseph chuckled. "Yeah." Still processing his partner's reaction, he shook his head. "But how'd you know? I mean, I don't exactly advertise."
Visible even in the dark, a flush of red crept up Anderson's neck. Joseph leaned back. "Whaaaat? What is it?"
Anderson sighed. "Okay. So … don't be mad."
Crossing his arms, Joseph ran his tongue over his teeth. "I won't. Go ahead."
"You will." Anderson snickered then made himself stop. "So … we know you're gay because most straight guys don't have bite marks where you sometimes do."
"I'm bi," Joseph said. The changing room at the station was a regular part of life for most cops, and Joseph was no different in this respect. Mortification crept into his mind. "Oh, fuck."
"Well, whatever you wanna call it is fine." Anderson winced. "And … maybe Orson doesn’t notice, but sometimes those marks are like super clear." He patted the back of his own neck where it met his shoulder. "Right here."
"I'm gonna kill him." Joseph nodded. "Yep. Death."
Anderson cocked his head. "You sure?" At Joseph's questioning glance, he grinned. "If you did that, who'd make sweet, sweet lovin' to that ass of yours?" Anderson batted his eyes.
"Shut up!" Joseph shoved his partner, who roared with laughter. Though it wasn't long before Joseph joined him.
24 October (Saturday morning)
Avery suppressed the first urge to wake Lee. Way too early. He'd dragged the chair from inside his cabin and sat at the doorway so he could watch Lee's tent. A mug of herbal tea with lemon and honey steamed in the morning and the mist that had risen off the river wound its way through the trees.
He forced himself to wait. Ten minutes dragged by, and Avery finished his tea. He straightened as the tent shifted. The shadow inside sat most of the way up, turned, then flopped back down.
That was good enough for Avery. He stood, put his mug on the chair, and marched happily down the asphalt.
"Lee!" Avery shook the tent. "Come on."
A mighty groan made Avery snicker.
"What time is it?"
"It's just past seven. Come on! Greg will let us make breakfast if you get up." Avery leaned close. "It's more money for you if you do."
Avery waited for more, but the tent had gone still and quiet. "Lee, if you don't get up I'll come in after you."
"No." The sound of Lee's sleeping bag moving gave Avery the impression he'd pulled it over his head. "Go 'way," said a muffled voice.
"Okay. You asked for it." Avery unzipped the tent, and Lee popped his head out of the nest of pillows and coverings. A baleful glare met Avery's eyes, then he realized what Avery intended.
“Bomb’s away!” Avery jumped on him with a WWE-style elbow drop.
Mason snorted as he watched Avery's legs kicking in Lee's open tent. Lee's protests had changed to laughter as he and Avery wrestled around.
Footsteps on the path leading from Greg and Clay's house next door brought Mason's head around. "Hey, morning."
Greg smiled. "Mornin'." Stopping beside the patio table, he put his hands on his hips and shook his head at the two guys in the tent. "I see my cooks are awake."
"Not quite raring to go, but awake." Mason smirked behind his coffee.
"I guess it'll do." Greg stepped up into the Airstream. "I'm stealing coffee. I think I'll need it for this pair."
"Go for it."
Greg disappeared inside, and Avery howled as Lee managed to gain enough advantage to sit atop him. "Aiee! You're naked! Get off me!"
"I told you to leave me alone!" Mercilessly, Lee pinned Avery's arms and wriggled his bare ass on top of the boy.
Avery laughed and thrashed about. It didn't sound as if he was actually in any distress at all. Mason smiled. "Yep. You're definitely gonna need that coffee."
Upright, clothed, and standing before the stove, Lee yawned.
"Okay, guys. Both of you pay attention to this." Greg stood beside Lee, the burner on and warming a pan. "First, we pour in our eggs. They should sizzle a bit when we do." Greg smiled when the expected sound resulted from the well-mixed scrambled eggs hitting the buttered metal. "Okay! That's what we want." He swirled the pan, evenly distributing the eggs. "Next, salt, pepper. Keep an eye on the eggs - we don't want them too done just yet."
"Wet omelets are gross." Avery wrinkled his nose. Lee agreed with a nod.
"And dry, overdone omelets are terrible." Greg smirked as he crumbled cooked bacon and Havarti cheese onto the eggs, keeping most in the center. "The trick is to strike a balance." He watched carefully, letting the heat do its work. "Okay! See the state of the eggs? Now, now is the time." He deftly flipped one side, creating that classic omelet shape.
"It's still wet!" Avery shivered.
"Yes, but it's also still cooking." Greg removed it from the skillet and slid it onto a plate. "Let it sit thirty seconds or so. Then you guys split it; tell me what you think." Greg washed his hands. "I'll get busy cracking the rest that we'll need for breakfast."
Lee was hungry so he sat in front of the steaming omelet.
"Want toast?" Avery opened a bread bag. "I can make us some."
"Yeah." Lee looked over his shoulder. "Do we still have some of that homemade blackberry jam? It'd be good with the bacon and cheese in the omelet."
Nodding, Avery retrieved the little jar of jam from the fridge.
"You've got a good sense for flavors, Lee." Greg began the process of cracking two dozen brown, farm-raised eggs into a big bowl. "Something sweet to counter the savoriness of the omelet will work well."
Lee shrugged. "I don't know about all that. I just know what I like."
"That's the first step to being a good cook." Greg smiled as he cracked eggs. "The second is figuring out why things appeal the way they do."
Why is he beating this to death? Lee looked down at the omelet. "I guess."
Greg concentrated on avoiding shell in his cracked eggs. "By the time that toast is done, your breakfast will be ready to eat."
"Good." Avery removed their freshly made toast, juggling the hot bread. "Butter and jam on toast, coming up."
A couple of minutes later, Avery sat across from Lee, the plate pushed to the middle of the counter where they could both reach it.
Observing as they cut into their food, Greg grinned. "See? See how the eggs are almost liquid, but not quite? They're nice and moist without being," he looked pointedly at Avery, "gross."
Avery rolled his eyes. He and Lee both took a tentative bite.
"Mmm." The unconscious sound of appreciation from Avery elicited a lop-sided smile from Greg. The youth covered his mouth and laughed. "Fine!"
It's really good. Lee chewed and tried his toast. The sweetness of the jam brought out the sharp flavors present in the bacon and cheese. He closed his eyes for a moment. Possibly the best bite of food he'd eaten in a long time, he savored the way the flavors and textures worked in tandem.
Greg watched knowingly. "You can do this too, Lee." He turned back to the chore of breakfast. "Finish up, and I'll show you how."
Lee nodded as non-committedly as he could. "Sure."
With both Avery and Lee eating the same omelet, it didn't take long for it to completely disappear. Lee stood with the empty plate. "I could eat another of those."
"Same!" Avery came back around the counter to join them inside the kitchen.
"Well, then let's get busy." Greg nodded at the other burner. "Lee, wash your hands, then fire up a pan—you're helping me with custom-ordered omelets, and I'll coach you through a few."
Lee did as Greg instructed and soon the pan was hot, awaiting the first order. Elias put in five dollars, and stood first in line. Lee wet his lips. "Hey." He motioned at the possible ingredients in front of him on the counter. "So … what kinda omelet do you want?"
Elias considered the selection. "Hmm. Sundried tomato, mushroom, and … some pepper-jack."
Greg leaned over. "Let's give the mushrooms some color in the pan before we start the omelet, Lee."
"Okay." Lee dropped the mushrooms into the pan and they immediately began to release steam.
"All right. Once they're about half their size, they're done. Then you can start the omelet." Greg looked over his shoulder. "Avery, how's that bread for the toast coming?"
Lee, Greg, and Avery spent the next half-hour preparing breakfast as campers ordered.
"I keep overcooking them," Lee growled as Greg remade Clay's breakfast. Lee frowned and stood at Greg's elbow as he folded the blue cheese, onion and sausage omelet. "How do you know when it's ready?"
Greg chuckled. "Practice. Be patient - you'll get there." He handed over Clay's breakfast.
"You're getting better," Avery offered. "I mean, they're all edible."
Shuffling his feet, Lee worked his jaw. "I wanna try another."
Greg wiped his hands. "Well, the only two who've not eaten yet are Harlan and Bailey." He looked at the empty egg cartons. "Aaand, we've blown through an extra six eggs. If you don't want to cut too much into your pay for helping, then more practice will have to wait." I guess that'll end our cooking lesson for this meal.
Lee glanced at the carton, then at the donation jar. He loved getting paid, that much Greg knew. He nodded once. "I'll pay for it." Stooping, Lee took another dozen eggs out of the fridge.
Greg stared as Lee cracked three eggs into a bowl.
"I'm gonna add more cream this time - then it'll give me a little more time to decide on when they're done." Lee glared down at the mixture. His wrist did most of the work as he scrambled the eggs with the cream.
"Oh. Well, okay." A confused smile flickered on Greg's face. "Yeah, that'll help."
Okay. Well … I guess the lesson isn't over. Once again, Greg watched over Lee's shoulder as he renewed his efforts to master the subtle art of the omelet.
On his way to the restroom, Harlan looked over his shoulder at the kitchen where the young guy, Lee, leaned over the counter.
"What kinda omelet you want?"
"Sorry, Harlan. Lee, maybe he's not hungry today." Greg smiled as he and Avery cleaned after serving the majority of the campground breakfast.
Harlan inclined his head. "I'll be over in a minute."
After using the facilities, Harlan returned. Lee looked expectantly at him. Knowing Lee got a cut of the profits, he understood the motivation. Smiling slightly, he dropped a five into the jar. "Okay." He folded his arms over his chest and looked over the ingredients on display. "Let's go with mixed bell peppers, that peppercorn Dubliner cheddar, and some of that fine-diced ham."
"Okay. You got it."
An odd intensity on Lee's face was shared by the other two in the kitchen. Harlan's eyes shifted from Avery to Greg to Lee. They all seemed totally adsorbed with the process.
Lee began stir-frying the peppers in butter, and Avery jumped into action. "I'll get toast going!"
"Just butter on the toast, please." Harlan took a seat opposite Lee at the bar counter.
"You should try the jam. It'll be great with the savory of the omelet." Lee's voice rang with certainty. He removed the peppers and poured in the eggs.
Avery hesitated at the fridge, looking at Harlan.
Keeping the annoyance off his face only through years of training, Harlan took a breath. "Fine. Butter and jam, then."
Lee nodded. "Good choice." He watched the eggs, eyes never leaving the pan.
Greg wet his lips, about to speak when Lee dumped the cheese, cooked peppers, and diced ham in the middle of the eggs. He waited another twenty seconds, then flipped the omelet closed.
With the seriousness of a surgeon, Lee slid the omelet off the pan and onto a waiting plate. Avery had his timing down, and placed the toast beside it.
Lee swallowed, then pushed the plate slowly to Harlan. "Do you want anything to drink?"
"No." He settled in, then glanced at his audience. All three watched him.
Greg chuckled. "Ah, let the guy eat." He patted Avery and Lee. "Come on, let's clean up."
Though they went through the motions of washing dishes, they all still kept him in sight. Harlan wanted to laugh.
Ignoring them for a moment, Harlan cut into his breakfast. He took a bite of the steamy, slightly gooey omelet.
"How is it?" Lee had stopped pretending and simply stared.
That intensity had returned, but Harlan felt genuine surprise. "It … it's good." He looked at the omelet. "Yeah. It's delicious." He cut a little slice and put it on his toast. Folding it around the bit of egg, he ate it.
Oh, man. He was right about the jam. Harlan chewed. He eyed Lee, then raised one hand, his thumb up.
"Good job, Lee." Greg patted his back. "I think you've got it. And those are such difficult things to master, too. They're simple if you don't care, but without attention and skill they will never be genuinely good." Greg smiled. "It's why lots of chefs test their prospective cooks by having them make an omelet."
"Hey!" Avery frowned, hands on his hips. "What about my toast skills?" When Greg and Lee looked at him he cracked a smile. "Kidding!"
Harlan continued eating. To a casual glance, he'd appear totally engrossed in his meal. Instead, he listened, watched, and filed information away, word by word, action by action.
Lee had moved from a curiosity to someone who warranted a second look.
Greg drummed his fingers on the patio's glass tabletop, sheltering under the canvas awning, watching Lee. The young man stood near Avery under the little porch in front of Avery's cabin, smiling at something the youth had said.
Over time, Lee's manner had slowly relaxed. He seemed almost content. Almost.
Greg stood. It's time. Time to see.
The rain had again started, and it looked as if they'd need shelter for their lunch meal. Greg headed through the precipitation, head down, eyes locked on Lee.
As if the force of his attention had drawn their notice, both boys looked at him. Lee's face slackened as Greg neared.
Arriving at the cabin, Greg stood out in the rain, water running down his face and plastering his t-shirt to his body. He crossed his arms over his chest. "Lee. Let's talk."
Worry marred Avery's features, but Lee nodded. "Okay."
"Avery. Go get the Easy-Up situated and wipe down the picnic table."
The boy looked at Lee. Lee smiled. "I'll come help after we're done."
"All right." With another glance at Greg, Avery dashed through the rain toward the outbuilding where they stored the Easy-Up.
Lee moved to stand inside the cabin and Greg stepped under the protection of the porch. Lee wet his lips. "What's going on?"
Greg pushed his wet hair back out of the way. "Let's talk about the future. Yours." Greg nodded toward the rain sheeting down. "You won't be able to camp in this much longer - actually, I'd be surprised if your tent is still dry."
"Yeah. I wanted to ask about that." Rubbing the knuckles of his right hand with his left, Lee looked away from Greg. Instead, he stared down at a spot between their feet. "I was gonna ask how much it was for a cabin. I know there are still three empty right now."
Unmoving, Greg finally blinked. "You … you want to stay?"
Lee hesitated. "No. But … I thought ..." Panic sparked in his eyes. "Officer Wells, he told me I can't leave."
If I tell him he can go, he will. Cool understanding sent chills down Greg's spine. We could be rid of him; he'd be away from Avery. In truth, Joseph had told Greg that it was his call. If he wanted Lee to leave, then Joseph would take him to town and let him fend for himself.
Lee glanced up. Something in his gaze made Greg certain that he'd never admit he wanted to remain at the campground.
But he does. Greg swallowed. "That's right. You're stuck with us here." The decision made, Greg continued. "I was going to offer winter rates for a cabin. The money Officer Wells paid is gone, so that means you'd have to keep working the kitchen for your meals, and you'll keep getting paid whatever isn't needed to resupply." Greg straightened and eyed Lee. "We'd take out the twenty dollars a day for the cabin rental, and the rest would belong to you. What do you think?"
Relief made Lee's shoulders relax. Wrinkling his nose, Lee sighed. "It's better than being wet." He nodded. "Okay, yeah. I'll do it."
"All right." Greg leaned out into the rain and pointed. Lee followed the line of his finger. "Cabin Seven, the one beside Orson's." He turned back to Lee. "It's close to the kitchen too."
Lee seemed far more at ease. "Okay. I'll move in after I help Avery."
"Sounds good. Pick up the key from Mason, and pay for your first night." Pausing a moment, Greg continued. "If you pay for a full week at a time, we'll discount twenty off the price."
"Oh." Lee nodded. "Yeah. Okay, that's a good deal." He began rubbing his hand again and shifted back and forth on his feet. "Ah, I'll go help Avery."
"Okay, get to it."
Greg watched as Lee ran out into the rain. He stood in thought a moment, then shook himself. "Before I forget." Pulling out his phone, Greg began a text.
Mason, if Lee wants to pay for a week's cabin rental, cut $20 off the price. Pretend we do it for everyone.
Slipping the phone back into his pocket, Greg left Avery's cabin.
After a lunch of burgers, sweet potato fries, and avocado salad had been prepared and served, Lee paid his cabin rental. He thought he'd hate parting with the money, but as he handed over the $120, his main reaction had been relief. A week. I have a roof for a week.
"Oh, I like this one." Avery put Lee's bedding on the twin bed in the cabin. "It's a mirror of mine."
"Yeah." Lee was wet, but he grinned. "I like it too."
"Good. We should hang up your tent. It's drenched. We gotta let it dry before putting it away or it'll get moldy."
Avery spread a couple of towels on the floor of the back wall. Lee watched as he finished, then began hanging the wet tent above so it'd drip on the towels below.
"You gonna help?" Avery smiled, holding one corner of the tent against the wall.
Lee and Avery spent the next half-hour getting his cabin situated. With his meager belongings put away, Lee turned in place, looking at the desk with the lamp that created a small pool of light for writing or reading. Then he smiled at the futon. It was used but had been recently reupholstered, along with an application of new finish on the wooden parts. But the bed, that was a true marvel. The little twin was clean, with fresh sheets, fluffy pillows, and a thick comforter on top. Oh, that will be so nice. Lee's skin prickled in anticipation of crawling between those sheets.
"It looks good." Avery nodded, satisfied at their work.
"It does." Lee had never noticed, but one of Avery's eyebrows was split by an old scar. Realizing he had been staring, Lee cleared his throat and looked at the desk. "It's really cool to just have a place to sit—someplace of my own."
"Yeah." Avery scuffed his feet. "Well, I'll go." He turned. "Anyway, I'll see you at dinner, I guess."
Lee frowned as Avery moved toward the door. "Wait." Avery looked over his shoulder, and Lee smiled. "We've got a few hours before dinner. Did … did you wanna play a game, or something?" He shrugged. "Maybe we can find cards, or a board—"
"I've got my laptop. My favorite movies are on there." Avery grinned. "Do you like horror films?"
"Ah, yeah?" Lee lied. He gave his best smile and pushed firmness into his voice. "Yep, I love them."
"Okay! I'll be back!" Avery dashed out into the weather, headed toward his own cabin.
Lee stared out after him, his hands against his chest, the left rubbing his right.
Lee couldn't seem to hold still, and Avery glanced at him. "You doing okay?"
Eyes glued to the monitor, Lee nodded with short tiny motions of his head. The crew of the Nostromo had just brought their stricken crewmate back to their ship after an ill-conceived outing to a crashed alien vessel on the surface of planet LV426. "Is he gonna be all right?" Lee wet his lips. "Do they get it off him?"
Avery smiled faintly. "You've never seen Alien before?"
Lee shook his head.
"Oh, you are in for a great time!" Avery considered. "Yes, the face-hugger comes off him. Don't worry about that."
With a secret little smile, Avery resisted the urge to snicker. Instead, he moved the bowl of popcorn. "I'm cold. I'm gonna get your comforter."
"Okay." Lee's attention was on the screen.
Returning, Avery draped the cover across Lee, then slipped under. He handed the popcorn to his couchmate.
"Thanks." Lee absently took a few kernels.
"Welcome." Avery scooted beside Lee, as close as he dared. Their shoulders almost touched.
"Oh!" Lee breathed a relieved sigh. "It came off."
Avery smiled. "See? I told you."
Lee's knee contacted Avery's under the blanket. "Sorry," Lee mumbled and scooted over a fraction of an inch.
"It's okay." Avery fought the sensation in his belly and leaned into Lee. "I like it. It's … nice to be close."
This time, Lee didn't move away. He looked over.
Avery laughed nervously. "I mean, is it okay?" He risked putting a hand on Lee's leg. Lee blinked but otherwise didn't react. "It's warm here, with you."
Lee swallowed loudly. "I … I don't—" His head jerked as a tiny alien burst out of the chest of the unfortunate crew member on the screen. "Holy shit!" Lee gripped Avery's leg under the comforter. "Oh my god." He stared as the little killer escaped through a vent.
Avery smirked as Lee snuggled close. Okay, horror movies, every night.
Chapter five of Broken has landed.
A few choices were made, and some progress too. I'm curious what people think of it.
Thanks for reading and for any time you spend commenting too. I appreciate all of that.