Greg sat in the Emergency Room. It had been hours since they'd taken Lee.
Clay rubbed his back from the spot beside him. "Hey. We're not doing him any good by losing sleep." He shook Greg gently. "Come on. Let's go home, get a little rest, then we'll come back."
"I have to stay." Greg nodded. "You go. This one is mine, and I have to stay." Clay began to argue, but Greg silenced him with a smile. "Really. I want you to go. I'll be fine here, and if I need you, I know you'll come to me."
Clay took a deep breath. "You know, I'm just gonna go stretch out in the van." Clay draped an arm around his shoulders. "You come wake me if anything happens, or if there's news. Okay?"
"I will, I …" Greg and Clay stood as the doctor entered the waiting room. "Dr. Cain, how is he?"
The tall, lanky guy smiled warmly. "Hello Mr. Hanson, Mr. Jameson. Lee is stable, for now. We got some fluid in him, and that helped." The smile disappeared. "But we've got to get him into surgery on that leg. The infection there has to be handled fast. It's poisoning his bloodstream with bacteria—and he'll die if left much longer."
"They won't have to take the leg, will they?" Clay asked.
"No, that's really unlikely. The bone seems fine, untouched by the infection." The doc looked at the men. "I'm sending him to the O.R. They'll do some debridement and drain the wound. Then we'll give him some antibiotics. I figure that will take at least five hours." He shrugged. "After that, it'll be up to Lee."
"Okay." Greg rubbed his eyes. He turned to Clay. "Maybe we should head home, sleep a bit. But I want to be here when he wakes up."
"Yeah, we can do that." Clay smiled fondly at his husband.
"One more thing." Dr. Cain seemed puzzled, and he handed a brown paper bag to Greg. "He was wearing this under his clothes. Even barely conscious, he insisted you have it. He said to 'keep it safe'." The doc wrinkled his nose. "Not the cleanest thing in the world, but we didn't see any blood or other body fluids on it."
Greg waited until he walked away, then he opened the bag. He looked inside. "Oh. Oh, Lee." Reaching inside, Greg pulled Lee's apron into view. Greg stared down at the dirty article of clothing. "I'm sorry." He closed his eyes, hands tight on the apron. "I'm sorry."
"Hey, come on." Clay put an arm around Greg's shoulders.
“I don’t wanna leave.” Greg shook his head. “Let’s just sleep in the van.”
“Ok, that’s fine. We can convert the back seats to a bed. We'll unzip and share that sleeping bag in the back.”
Clay steered him outside to the van. Once inside, Greg pulled the apron into his lap. He gazed down at Lee's name.
Clay got their makeshift bed ready and sighed. “Come on. Lay down.”
Greg did. But he never let go of that apron.
14 November (Saturday Night)
A few hours later, Mason watched from their bed as Jeremy sat on the edge and spoke on the phone. "Do you guys need help? We can be there, just say so." Jeremy glanced at him. "Okay." He hesitated. "Have you guys told the Mercers that you found him?"
Reaching, Mason rubbed Jeremy's bare leg and continued listening to the one-sided conversation.
"I do think they'd want to know, yes." Jeremy inhaled. "Okay. I'll call them. And Avery's probably gonna ask if Lee can have visitors; do you know if he can?" Jeremy listened, then nodded. "All right. That's good."
Mason sat up and hugged Jeremy from behind, his legs bracketing his boyfriend's. Jeremy rested a hand on Mason's arm.
"Okay. Yeah. I'm glad to hear he made it through surgery all right." Jeremy wet his lips. "Hey, Greg? You know this isn't your fault, right?" Jeremy leaned back into Mason. "No, it's not. Okay, fine. We'll just have to disagree."
He's so good. Mason smiled against Jeremy's neck.
"All right. Say hello to Lee for us. Bye." Jeremy hung up and sighed.
"He's stubborn," Mason murmured.
"Yes. I hope Lee recovers, or Greg might carry this around for a long time."
"I get why." Mason remembered Greg's past, how he had come from a broken, unsupportive home. "Greg could have been Lee. If things had been just a little different, he could have been Lee."
"We're all just a few steps away from being Lee," Jeremy said. "Sometimes, all the difference in a person's life is the willingness of those around them to either help or look away."
"Yeah." Mason kissed the back of Jeremy's neck. "And you. You're such a helper. I love you for that."
Jeremy smiled. "Thanks. That goes for you too."
"You, Greg, Dad. You all make for good examples of how to be."
A few quiet moments passed, then Mason nuzzled the nape of his neck. "So, are you ever gonna ask me?"
Jeremy froze. "What?"
"Are you afraid I won't say yes?" Mason whispered.
Turning, Jeremy faced him. "I think," he shook his head, "I think I'm more afraid you will. And that you'll regret it."
Mason nodded. "Okay." He slid off the bed. On his knees before Jeremy, he grinned. "You're the love of my life. I know that." Mason opened his palm revealing the engagement ring Jeremy'd had made. "And part of loving you is checking your pockets before I do laundry."
Jeremy laughed. "Damn it!"
Mason's smile remained. "So." He put the ring in Jeremy's hand. "You let me decide what I will and won't regret. Trust me to make the best choice I can." Mason's eyes glittered. "Trust me."
Somehow, Jeremy held his voice steady. "I trust you." He presented the ring. "Mason, will you marry me?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Mason grinned, an odd counterpoint to the tears he began to shed. "Yeah. Yes, of course, I'll marry you."
The pair kissed, and Mason squeezed him tight. "Oh, man." He chuckled as they embraced. "Okay, you need to talk to my dad; he's a bit old-fashi—"
"That's done," Jeremy said. "It has been done for a while."
"Yeah." Jeremy shook his head. "Really, I didn't expect how easy that would be."
"He knows this is good." Mason gave him an affectionate squeeze. "Hang on."
Jeremy frowned as Mason got up to rummage in the bedside table. "What?"
Reaching far into the back of the drawer, he pulled out a small, nondescript cardboard envelope.
"No." Jeremy stared at him. "You did not get me a—" Mason interrupted by grabbing his hand, and dumping a slim, gold band in his palm.
"And now I know why when I called Dr. Wade to ask if I could get his blessing, he laughed before he could stop himself." Mason smirked.
"Oh my God." Jeremy shook as Mason slipped the gold ring on his finger. After staring a moment, he did the same for Mason. Now they both wore their rings.
"I want to wait," Mason said. "I want to wait until I graduate. But I will wear my ring till then."
"That works for me."
Again, they kissed. Mason's hand rested gently on the back of Jeremy's neck, and the kiss drew on. Both began to respond to the stimulation.
"Mmm!" Jeremy pulled back. "I have to make a phone call before we get that started."
"You'd better hurry." Mason stood, his cock stiff and swinging to his movements. He waggled his hips and it slapped back and forth.
"Stop that!" Jeremy laughed and Mason clambered into bed. "Okay, be good, I'm calling the Mercers."
Jeremy dialed and Mason pressed himself, erection and all against his backside. "I'm always good."
"You are n—" Jeremy cleared his throat. "Hi, Avery!"
Mason grinned and rubbed lube on Jeremy. His fiance pushed feebly at him, but there was no real intention in it. "Are the Mercers around?"
Pushing forward, Mason began a slow entry. Jeremy covered the receiver and groaned. "Oh! Yes, Mrs. Mercer. I'm fine." He bit his lip as Mason bottomed out. "I ah … I just had some news concerning Lee."
Mason chuckled. Deciding to have mercy, he held still.
"Yes. They found him. He's at the hospital with Clay and Greg. He'd injured his leg, and they're getting him taken care of."
Jeremy gripped Mason's hip. "He'll be able to have visitors tomorrow. I'll text his room number to you after this. Yes, we're all really relieved too. Of course. You're welcome. Take care, and we'll probably see you soon. Goodbye."
Mason immediately began to hammer away eliciting a moan from Jeremy.
"Bad." Jeremy gasped.
Mason reached around to help Jeremy along. "That's me. Your bad fiance."
Jeremy grinned and let Mason control the pace. Everything about the moment was fast—loving but needful.
"Ah!" Jeremy arched his back. "Close."
"Good." Mason's breath came in gasps and he held himself as deep as he could go. Releasing with a grunt, Jeremy followed him in short order.
"Mmmm." A final few thrusts and Mason lay still behind his lover. He kissed Jeremy's neck. "I love you."
"You'd better." Jeremy looked at him over his shoulder. "You're marrying me!"
Mason laughed and squeezed him. "Yes. I am."
15 November (Sunday morning)
"Watch. Your. Teeth."
Orson chuckled as he nuzzled Joseph. "But you like it." He gave a feather-light kiss on the faint mark still visible on Joseph's neck. "I wouldn't do it if you didn't like it."
"Well. An addict likes drugs, but you shouldn't give them to him." Joseph groused. Yet Orson noticed he didn't move.
"Are you really comparing my little love bites to a drug addiction?"
"Yes." Joseph smacked Orson's naked hip. "The guys still give me hell over it."
"That's how you know they love you." Orson laughed when Joseph twisted to spear him with a glare. They'd just had wonderful sex, and in the moment Orson had left a little reminder of their coupling, which had elicited groans of approval from Joseph while it was happening. "Maybe they're jealous."
"You're pretty cranky for a guy who just had a," Orson wiped his semen-covered hand on Joseph's belly, "really messy orgasm."
"Eww!" Joseph squirmed, but Orson locked arms around him and held on. "We already gotta change sheets, was that necessary?"
"Yes!" Orson laughed as Joseph thrashed. The sheets were now hopelessly tangled, and Orson cackled as he held on.
"You're in so much trouble!" Joseph laughed, unable to turn around and face him. "Ah! I rolled in my own spunk!"
"What was that?" Orson gritted his teeth as he strove to hold his stronger partner captive. "Did I hear a bottom crying?"
"You are so screwed. Literally!" Joseph flexed his shoulders and arms, finally parting Orson's failing grip. It wasn't long before a sweaty, exhausted Orson lay on his front, pinned to the bed.
Panting, with a grin on his face, Orson lay there.
"You stopped fighting?" Joseph rubbed himself against Orson's rear. Youth was on their side, and they both had responded to the new positions. He began to push his already slick penis into Orson. "Who's the bottom now?"
Orson grunted as Joseph entered him. "You." He smirked. "But we can pretend for a while."
"Yeah, that's what you're doing?" Joseph pressed down, holding Orson in place. He slowly pushed. Once inside, he lay on Orson's back. "You're pretty convincing."
"I'm a good actor." Orson's mouth hung open.
The tables turned, both men enjoyed each other one more time.
15 November (Sunday afternoon)
Frowning, Lee struggled to open his eyes. Finally managing it, he blinked against the brightness of the sun as it streamed through a window in his room.
Everything was a bit fuzzy. He recognized the effect of powerful sedatives and strove to push through it.
Looking at what he could view from his perspective, he'd been placed on his left side and could only see half of the room. But that was enough. Hospital. Lee searched his memory, his eyes widening. "Greg." Only the barest whisper, it was still heard.
"Lee?" Greg entered his field of view. He must have been seated behind him. Greg's shoulders relaxed when he saw Lee awake. "Hey."
Lee swallowed. "Hi." He stared, unsure of what to say.
Greg smiled. "I'm glad you're awake." He nodded. "You, ah, you did a number on your leg."
"Yeah," Lee agreed. "I fell."
For a long moment, nothing was said. Then Greg cleared his throat. "So, I have something of yours." A tan piece of cloth was folded in his hands. "We couldn't get all the stains out, and if you want, I'll have another made." Letting the apron unfold, Greg held it up. His voice was rough. "It belongs to you. If you want it."
"Is Avery …" Lee began, "Is Avery okay?"
"He is." Greg smiled. "He really wants to see you, but his parents wanted to give you time to come around first."
Profound relief hit Lee like a physical force. He put his hands over his face. A sound between a groan and a sob escaped, and he curled in on himself until he lay in the fetal position.
"Hey." Greg rubbed his back. "It's okay. It's gonna be okay."
Unable to speak, Lee reached.
Greg seemed to understand. "Here." He put the apron in Lee's hand. Lee drew it close, holding it against his chest. "It's yours. As long as you want, okay?"
The implication wasn't lost on Lee. He nodded, still crying.
Lee, Camp Cook.
16 November (Monday afternoon)
The next day, Bill and Anna walked along the hall with Avery. He clutched his laptop against his chest, tension and eagerness in his manner.
"Hey. Relax." Bill patted his back.
Avery nodded. "Yeah. I am."
Smiling, Bill didn't correct him. "Okay. Here we are. Room four-oh-five."
Avery faced the door. He stared at the wood, shifting foot to foot.
"Go on," Anna said. "He knows you're coming; he'll wonder if you take too long."
Nurses and orderlies passed behind them in the wide hall as they went about their work. But Bill's attention remained on Avery.
"What if he's mad at me?" Avery wet his lips. "I'm the reason he ran away. The reason he got hurt."
"Were you mad at him?" Bill left a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "When you had to go to the hospital, were you mad at him? You wouldn't have taken those drugs if Lee hadn't wanted them. Does that make it his fault?"
Avery shook his head. "No." He straightened. "Can … can I call if I need you?"
"Of course." Anna hugged him. "Always."
A little smile flickered on Avery's lips. Then he squirmed away. "Okay." He knocked on the door.
"See you in a couple of hours, Avery." Bill grinned. "Don't scare him too bad with those movies."
Avery pushed the door open and giggled. "No promises." He entered, closing the door behind him.
Bill and Anna waited for a few minutes. She took a deep breath. "Well, I think he's okay."
"Yeah. I think he is." Bill looked with unstinting affection at his wife. "Come on. Let's go get some dinner."
Bill threw up his hands as they walked down the hall. "What has happened to you? That kid has turned you into a sweet-hound!"
"Don't blame Avery!" She leaned into him. "I've always loved sweets."
"Really?" Doubt and playfulness both saturated Bill's voice.
"Yep." They entered the elevator and she looked slyly at him. "I married you, didn't I?"
Bill laughed. "Wow. Okay, that was good."
She responded with a kiss, and Bill closed his eyes, lost for a moment in the arms of the woman he loved.
"Hi, Avery." Lee was sitting up in bed. He had been dressed in one of those cloth hospital tops, one with little designs of some sort. His hair was wild, probably from all the lying down, and his lower half was covered by a sheet and blanket.
Lee nodded, his eyes locked on Avery. "I'm glad you are."
They'd both said it at once. Avery snickered and Lee grinned.
Lee looked at the laptop. "A movie?"
"Yeah." Avery waved a hand. "If you want."
Avery pulled a bedside table over to the bed. "Okay, let's get it set up." In minutes, the laptop was open, on, and a movie queued.
Dragging a chair so he could sit beside the bed, Avery settled in.
"Is this one scary? Will I have to hold your hand?" A bit of mirth in Lee's voice made Avery smile.
"No, it's Pacific Rim. One with big robots fighting monsters."
Lee nodded, then turned his hand, palm up next to the edge of the bed. "I don't know. That sounds pretty scary."
Avery looked down. "Yeah." He slipped his hand into Lee's and squeezed. He looked into Lee's eyes. "Maybe so."
The boys leaned until they met in a kiss. The movie began to play and Lee smiled against Avery's mouth. He pulled away. "Movie time."
Avery grinned. "Yeah." He wiggled his fingers till they interlaced with Lee's. "Movie time."
18 November (Wednesday evening)
A couple of days had done wonders for Lee. Though far from healed, the antibiotics administered by the hospital began to work on the infection in his leg. With rest and nutrition, his body began to mend, and he was released with additional antibiotics and a care regimen for his leg.
"Easy!" Anxiousness rang in Greg's voice, and his hands hovered just over Lee as he hopped up from the wheelchair on one leg. "Use the crutches!"
"I hate them." Lee pivoted, his wrapped right leg held just above the ground. He gripped the side of the van, a look of determined concentration on his face as he stood at the slider. He crouched slightly, his body tensioning like a spring.
"Don't you dare try jumping in. You mess up that drain and it'll mean another surgery. Hang on." Greg got a shoulder under Lee's arm. With both Greg's and Clay's assistance, they safely deposited Lee on the van seat.
"See? It's fine." Lee positioned his leg with his hands.
"Seatbelt." Lee sighed but complied when Greg pointed at him.
Clay started the van, patiently waiting for Greg to stop fussing over Lee. Finally, his husband climbed into the passenger seat. "Ready?"
Greg glanced back at their passenger. "You ready to go home, Lee?"
Lee kept his face pointed away, looking through the window. "Yeah." He nodded. "Sounds good."
"You heard the man." Greg patted Clay's leg. "Let's go."
The journey was quiet. Lee seemed introspective, while both Clay and Greg were happy to let him be. But as they neared the campground, Lee sat straight, his eyes searching for that first glance of his cabin in weeks.
Clay turned in and drove down the loop. As they neared Cabin Seven, Greg watched Lee.
Lee stared. The Easy Up had been deployed outside his door. 'Welcome Home, Lee’ hung from a banner between the posts, and the whole campground huddled under the shelter in the misty weather.
Smiles and waves from those gathered elicited a disbelieving laugh from Lee. The van stopped by the cabin, and Avery opened the door.
The teenager grinned. "Welcome home, Lee."
Anna and Bill Mercer smiled as they looked on. Elias, Joseph, Bailey, Orson, and Harlan stood around a folding table.
"What is this?" Lee fumbled with a crutch.
Avery helped him out and got him under the shelter. "It's your party. Your welcome home party."
Lee turned shocked eyes on everyone, one by one. "I …" He shook his head, still confused. "A party? For me?"
"Come on." Greg's arm was warm across his shoulders. "Let's get you parked inside where you'll be comfortable."
"Yeah!" Avery followed. "I'll bring you cake."
Greg helped him to the futon, and most of the party moved inside. Bailey turned on some music, and different campers took turns chatting with Lee while they snacked on sandwiches, chips, and cake.
Standing back, Greg watched. Lee looked as if he were a man in a dream. Terrified of waking up.
Greg hadn't noticed Harlan. Somehow the man just … showed up, and there he was, leaning beside him against the wall of the cabin. After Greg got past his surprise, he sighed. "Not really." He looked back to Lee as he laughed along with Elias. "I almost cost him his life."
"Almosts and nearlys will drive a man mad," Harlan said knowingly. "Look at where he is now. That's because of you."
Greg considered. "Maybe." Greg shifted on his feet. "So, would you happen to know how Lee's hospital bill got paid? The folks there said they got an eleven thousand dollar deposit wired directly into Lee's medical account—it'll cover all the work they did, and probably the bit left to come too."
Harlan shrugged. "Huh. Isn't that odd." The man turned green eyes on Greg. "What would you have done if that money hadn't shown up?"
"I'd have figured it out. I'd have figured a way, so Lee didn't start with that debt."
"Yeah, I thought so." Harlan pushed off the wall. "See you around." He headed toward Bailey who grinned at something Clay had said.
Watching Harlan and Bailey leave the cabin, Greg worked his jaw. He shook his head, then looked at Lee.
He caught Lee staring. There was something undefinable in those eyes. Greg stepped over and sat beside him. "Your leg okay?"
Lee nodded. He'd continued to look at Greg, and now, up close Greg saw the confusion, gratitude, and deep emotion in his gaze. "Why'd you do this?" Lee looked around and motioned at the campers, the food, and the cabin. "I'm a nobody. I'm just a whore."
Greg shook his head. "No. You're wrong." He put a hand on Lee's knee. "You are Lee Sloas. And you're the camp cook."
Lee smiled, then looked away as tears started. "You just …" He wiped his face. "You just don't wanna cook."
"That's right." Greg leaned into him. "You figured me out."
Lee turned and embraced him. Avery, who'd been standing nearby, sat on Lee's other side. He leaned over, joining their hug.
Greg patted Lee, then looked up into Clay's eyes. His husband smiled down, then raised his head. "All right, people." He made a shooing motion. "Let's leave Lee be."
As folks meandered out, they bid goodbye, until Avery and Greg were all that remained with Lee.
"Come on, Avery." Anna smiled gently from the doorway. "Tomorrow's a school day."
Avery nodded. "Okay." He glanced at Greg. "Thanks. For letting me come tonight."
Greg smiled. "Yeah. Of course, Avery."
Lee pushed to his good foot and hugged Avery. "Bye." He frowned, emotional, but trying to control himself.
"Bye." Avery smiled. "It's okay. I'm glad you get to stay."
Together with Jeremy, Greg had decided that Lee had the greater need. He would be the one who stayed, while Avery was disenrolled from The Raven Project for violating their drug abuse policy. Through it all, Avery had been a trooper and held to his word. He'd accepted the decision and punishment with far more grace than Greg had expected.
With a final hug, Lee and Avery parted. Then the boy left under the arms of his foster parents.
Lee seemed to deflate as the door shut behind them. Greg rubbed his back. "You okay?"
He nodded. "Bill and Anna, they love him."
"Yes." Greg smiled. "Yes, they do."
Lee turned to him. "Can he ever come back?"
"Well, he can rent the campground spots on his own, if he likes. He's not forbidden from the grounds," Greg said. "Would you like that?"
Leaning, Lee gingerly lowered himself to the futon. Greg sat beside him. "They love him. I mean, really love him."
Greg was confused. "Well, yes." He cocked his head. "Why does that change anything?"
Lee's eyes shifted.
What is going on in that head of yours, Lee?
Lee straightened. "No. I don't want him to come back."
Greg sat back. "What? Why?"
With absolute certainty, Lee spoke. "Because he can live a normal life." He nodded. "Bill and Anna, they can make sure he gets a normal life." Lee flinched. "I can't. He needs to stay away from me."
Opening his mouth, Greg hesitated. He's giving him up. Lee's giving Avery up for his own good. "Lee, are you sure? You really want me to forbid Avery from the campground?"
Lee responded with a slow nod. "I want to see and be around him. I want … I want him." Lee closed his eyes. "But I shouldn't. And I don't trust myself." Before Greg could reply, Lee gripped his hand. "Don't say it would be okay." Lee's intensity was alarming. "I need you to help me do the right thing. And … and maybe this way, he'll be around Anna and Bill more."
Stunned, Greg held Lee's hand. "I don't kn—"
Lee's eyes sparked with desperation. "Please."
The tremendous need in Lee couldn't be ignored. Lee has a point. Maybe Avery will finally realize what he has in his foster parents this way. Greg exhaled. "Okay, Lee." He nodded and gave voice to what Lee needed to hear. "He already knows he can't return through the Raven Project. But if he ever asks, I'll tell him he can't come back."
We're nearly to the end of this one.
There's one chapter remaining. I do like how things end up, so stick with me just a bit longer.
Let me know what you thought of this one. I have my own thoughts, concerning Lee and Avery, but I will keep those to myself in favor of hearing yours instead.
Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.