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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 - 9. Yonder

20 November (Friday evening)

Bill parted the curtains, watching as Avery trudged up the sidewalk. Fridays typically found Avery rushing from school to Camp Refuge where he'd spend the weekend.

But not anymore.

Letting the curtain fall back into place, Bill looked over his shoulder. "He's here."

Anna smiled nervously. "Oh, I hope he likes this."

"Yeah, me too."

Avery's key slid into the lock, and he opened the door. He stopped to stare at the assortment of gear, coolers, and fishing poles piled in the living room.

"Good, you're home." Bill patted his back. "We've already packed a few changes of clothes for you, but go get anything else you might want out of your room. Oh, make sure to take your raincoat; it's November, and it'll probably rain on us at some point."

"What?" Avery closed the door. He took in the mound of supplies and then looked in confusion at Bill. "Where are we going?"

"We've rented Mccarthy Point Lookout, in Lassen National Forest. It's a haul to get there, but we've got time." Bill grinned at a secret well kept. "You've got all week off for Thanksgiving, and we both took time off too. We'll be there till next Sunday."

"We know it's not the campground," Anna began, "but there's hiking, fishing, and great views. We've seen pictures; it's beautiful."

Avery blinked. "But, Thanksgiving … we were going to Carol's?"

"Aunt Carol understands, and we'll see her at Christmas." Anna rubbed his back.

Bill watched Avery. The young man looked over the room once more, then smiled. "I'll get my coat."

He bounded down the hall to rummage in the coat closet.

Anna reached for Bill's hand. They shared a smile, then the family packed up the truck and set off.


03 December (Thursday morning)

A little over two weeks had passed since Lee had returned to the campground. Now, early on a chilly, foggy Thursday, he walked carefully on his healing leg.

The disapproval on Greg's face was apparent; Lee snickered as he neared the patio table.

"You should still be using crutches, damn it." Greg drummed his fingers on the glass tabletop.

"I hate them." Lee slowly sat in a camp chair, making certain his leg didn't brush anything.

"Hmm." Greg sipped his coffee. "Well, how's it feel?"

"Itchy." Lee flexed his fingers, giving the impression he wanted to scratch the skin off the limb. "I know it means it's healing, but I wake up scratching it."

“That’s what the cotton sock is for.” Greg narrowed his eyes. “You’re wearing it to bed, right?”

“Yes.” Lee poured coffee from a thermos. He took a drink and sighed.


Lee leaned back and looked up the trunks of the great redwoods. Their tops disappeared in the mist flowing through the campground. There was almost no wind, but what little blew in from the West pushed gently on the giant trees, causing them to sway to and fro.

"It's so peaceful here." He watched the slow dance of the trees. "So calm."

Greg sighed contentedly. "Yes." He too looked up. "I love this place."

Lee nodded in understanding. A few silent minutes passed, then a cabin door opened. Joseph said something indiscernible to Orson. Lee smiled.

He sat up, then pushed to his feet. Turning toward the kitchen, he began the slow walk there.

Once behind the counter, he put on his apron. Tying it in place, he considered his options. He knew his stock without having to look and settled on lemon blueberry pancakes with sausage and eggs.

Lee pulled out his big mixing bowl and got to work.


24 December (Thursday, Christmas Eve Morning)

Something needled at the back of Lee's mind, and it had while he had healed over the last three weeks. Lifting the apron from its spot, he looked at the embroidered letters, lost for a moment in thought.

"How's it goin'?"

Lee started as Harlan swung a leg over the stool at the kitchen counter. He laughed at his own reaction and tied on his apron. "It's okay." Lee frowned. "I won't be starting breakfast for a while; it's really early. I just came out here to clean and think."

"That's fine," Harlan said.

Lee idly wiped the counter. He didn't know much about Harlan, but there were moments when the fellow reminded Lee of a cat—quiet, careful, and precise. "Well, why are you up so early?"

"To think." The green in Harlan's eyes caught the light from the kitchen. He smiled, then looked at the campground exit near the Airstream.

Lee followed his gaze. That needling intensified, and he wet his lips. "Do you ever wonder what's out there?"

Considering a moment, Harlan nodded. "Yes. There's always more to see and do." He shrugged. "I've been many places, seen and done a lot of things. I've met so many people." He turned back to Lee. "But my telling you about them, anybody telling you isn't the same as being there." Harlan leaned back. "Hrmph. Actually, I was about your age when I left home."

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Lee tore his eyes from the exit and continued wiping the counter. "I have a good life here. People are nice, and it's safe."

"You do. They are. And it is." Harlan's fingers drummed lightly on the counter.


Lee shook his head at the thought. He glanced at Harlan who stared at him. "What?"

"Nothing." Harlan smiled. "As long as you're content, then this place will always be enough. And that is something of a gift—finding contentment." He shrugged. "It took a long time and a lot of wandering for me to figure out what I needed out of life. That's all."

Looking down at the rag, Lee sighed. "I'd be afraid. To leave."

"Why would you want to? Leave, that is."

"I … I don't."

"Oh. Good."

Lee clutched the rag. "I'd be crazy to want to."

"Yep," Harlan agreed easily. "Crazy."

Putting the rag on the counter, Lee rubbed his right hand with his left. He glanced at Harlan, then looked again at the exit. "I just wonder if … if I could do it on my own."

For the first time, Harlan's eyes softened. "Well, that doesn't sound crazy to me."

"Greg wouldn't like it." Lee inhaled suddenly, terrified of what he was thinking. "I can't. I can't."

Harlan laughed, though there was no malice in the sound. "You could." He leaned forward, conspiratorial and serious. "In fact, I happen to know there's a Christmas Eve bus running in Crescent City, late tonight."

"Tonight?" Lee ran his hands over his apron, feeling the raised letters under his fingers. "Where … where's it going?"

Harlan grinned. "Does it matter?"


25 December (Friday, Christmas Morning)

Greg opened his front door, then looked down, confused. "Oh." He bent and picked up a badly wrapped box he'd knocked with the door. The rectangular gift had a bow taped on and a little paper tag. Greg read it.

To Greg from Lee

Greg smiled. "Why'd he leave it …" His smile slipped. Greg re-entered the house, the present in hand.

He sat next to their twinkling tree and slowly tore away the paper to reveal a plain cardboard box. He slid the lid off the box.

The apron lay folded inside. Greg reached, drawing it out with shaking hands. He'd known that something had been going on with Lee, but he'd not expected this.

A slip of paper fell from the apron, and Greg bent to retrieve it. Lee's scrawl covered most of the page, and Greg began to read.

I hope you're not mad. I don't want that. You and the others have all been so good to me and I don't want you to be mad. I have to see if I can live on my own. I need to try. I've always had someone taking care of me and now I have to try. I have your phone number and I'll get myself a phone. If I need to call I will. I promise. And I'll be back. Once I prove I can do this I'll be back. So keep my apron safe till I come home.

Merry Christmas.

Love, Lee

Greg read the note again, then he lay back on the couch. Fear, loss, pride, and hope all twisted in him. Hugging the apron against his chest, he laughed and shed tears at the same time, unable to separate the emotions.

"Merry Christmas, Lee." Greg squeezed his eyes tight. “Love you too.”


26 December (Saturday Afternoon)

Straining to clear eyes that felt like sandpaper, Lee shook his head. After a day and a half of busses, with only a few hours of sleep, he struggled to think clearly, but he couldn't rest yet.

After dropping his things in the motel room, he walked outside and checked the address again on his prepaid phone. "Okay. It's a few blocks."

Colorado Springs was not warm, but luckily it was sunny. Lee bundled up as best as he could in clothes not quite suited to the colder environment and set off, careful to avoid slipping on the ice.


"Stump! What'd I tell you about smoking that shit?"

"It's legal now, Mamma!" Stump whined, his bloodshot eyes telling the story behind his giggles earlier. With his good arm, he carried a bin intended for dirty glasses and dishes on his way out of the kitchen. He entered the dining room, the door swinging back and forth behind him.

"I don't care. Don't smoke weed while you're workin'!" Greta called after him and shook her head. "Duller'n a baseball bat."

"I heard that!"

"Good!" Grumbling, she pushed through the door.

"Mamma G, don't let 'im get you riled." At the main bar in the restaurant, Tiny cleaned glasses as he removed them from the dishwasher racks. Tiny was particular, and anything left on the glasses by the machine was soon removed by his attention. "I got your special here when you're ready."

Greta smiled. "Oh, if you're trying to get in my good graces, bribery may help." She swung by, snagging her gin and tonic with muddled blueberries and mint.

"I know what you like."

"You'd better!"

Greta moved through her place, sipping her drink, checking in with patrons. People came to Mamma's House for good food and strong drinks, but lately only one of those had been consistent.

Their cook tonight was a friend of hers who, frankly, stretched the definition of the word "cook". Ralph was working as a favor, and he tried, but he was not cut out for the quality her patrons had come to expect. Business had begun to suffer, and Greta wondered if she would ever find a replacement for her main chef.

Greta, or Mamma G, as most knew her, caught sight of Sweetie. The petite blonde nodded her way from her place by the door. A thin, young guy stood next to her, his eyes shifting around as if he were a mouse in a room full of cats.

"Mamma G," Sweetie motioned at the kid, "this is Lee." Sweetie cocked her head. "Says Harlan sent 'im."

"Oh, did he?" Greta felt warm, and it wasn't from the gin. "Well, why don't you just come with me, then?"

"Oh, uh, okay."

Lee trailed along behind the stout woman. "Stump! Come'ere."

The one-handed man put down his half-filled bin and followed.

Once in the back, Greta turned to Lee. "What does Harlan want, then?"

Stump whitened. "H—Harlan?"

Greta nodded at Lee. "This one says he sent 'im."

Even with the noise of the fryer and grill in the kitchen, Stump's fearful groan was audible.

Lee frowned. "I … he told me to come and ask for a job?"

"Did he?" Greta took a long drink from her glass. She made a face as she lowered it. "Mmm. Okay. A job." She shrugged. "I'm not sure about that. This one, he's scared shitless of that green-eyed bastard."

"I—I'm not afraid of him." Stump frowned.

"I can feel all the courage from here." She took another drink, put down the glass, then focused on Lee. "So, Lee, friend of Harlan, and searcher of a job." She crossed her arms. "What can you do?"

Lee looked into the kitchen at the griddle top and stove. He drew himself up straight. "That. I'm a cook."

"Mamma, we have to." Stump pleaded.

"No, we don't." Greta grimaced. "I don't know why everybody bends over a barrel for that man," she stabbed her chest with her thumb, "but not me." Greta pointed at Lee. "You want a job?" Lee frowned and nodded. "All right. You gotta prove you can do the work." She motioned at the griddle. "Go ahead! Wow me."

Lee blinked, then looked at the cooktop. He smiled slightly. "What kind of omelet do you want?"

Six minutes later, Lee slid a cheddar, mushroom, scallion omelet in front of Greta. Her glass had been refilled by an attentive Tiny, and Stump kept making excuses to hover near the bar where she had her plate.

Lee nodded at the plate. "Go ahead."

Greta cut and speared the bite on her fork, then popped it into her mouth. She chewed, expressionless as she stared at the young man. Swallowing, she daintily wiped at her mouth. She stood.

"Stump, show this one where the lockers are. Then have Sweetie get him set up with a nametag." She made a chopping motion with her hand. "You start tonight. You get paid every two weeks and have a share of the tips."

"Y—yes, okay." Lee tried to catch up.

"'Lee' isn't going to do. You need a nickname." Greta pondered as she looked at him. She cocked her head. "You're gay."

Lee opened his mouth, shut it, then nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

"None of that 'ma'am' crap." She put a hand on her ample bosom. "I am Mamma G." She pointed. "And you … you are …"

"Truckerbait." Stump snickered.

"Oh, that's awful!" Mamma G smacked Stump.


Mamma G ignored Stump’s pained cry. "I love it. Truckerbait it is!"

Tiny shook his head, chuckling to himself. "Welcome aboard the crazy train, kid."

"What's crazy is my drink is empty again." Mamma G sighed ruefully. "I don't know how that keeps happening."

"I have an idea," Tiny offered helpfully.

"Shut up."

"Yes, Mamma."

"All right!" She rubbed her hands together. "Get my new cook set up." She turned to Lee. "Truckerbait, after Stump and Sweetie finish with you, get Ralph to show you the basics in the kitchen, and how the tickets from the tables work. You watch and help him for a bit, then see what you can do on your own." She smirked. "If you've not run off after tonight, then I'll bother putting you into our computer system."


Greta watched Stump lead Lee into the back where the lockers were. She nodded to herself. "All right. Let's see how long you last."


26 December (Saturday Evening)

Hours later and miles away, Harlan smiled at the number on the phone. "There she is." Steeling himself, he picked up.

She started immediately. "You think just because you're some mobster bigshot, you can dictate who works in my place? My place?!" Harlan began to reply, but Greta wasn't done. "That kid just sayin' your name about caused Stump to pass out!" Apparently she was just getting warmed up. "We have an arrangement, you and me; I keep Stump outta trouble, an' he gets to keep on breathing."

"Ms. Oldfather, always a pleasure." Harlan lay on his bed. "Though I'm not sure what you're talking about. 'Stump?' 'Mob?' Hmm. Have you been drinking?"

"We both know the answer to that! And don't play coy with me. He's one of mine, Harlan. I don't care who or what you are—I will see you put in the ground if anything happens to that one-handed idiot."

Harlan grinned. "You've no reason to worry. Nobody in Jacob's … ah, Stump's old life knows he's still upright." He frowned. "And I think you misunderstand. If Lee doesn't deserve work, then you're not obligated to give it to him. He wanted to see if he could make it on his own, and that's all I want—for him to get a chance." He shook his head. "I won't hold Stump's safety as a bargaining chip to force you to hire Lee."

"Oh, I already hired him." She sounded annoyed. "Kid makes a mean omelet. Right now he's slinging steak and fries and loving every second of it."

Harlan smiled. "You got a good one, Mamma G."

"Only my friends call me that. I'm Greta to you, you bastard."

Chuckling, Harlan nodded. "All right then, Greta. I'll be around."

"I'm sure you will. Call next time or I might shoot you."

Without further conversation, she hung up. Harlan laughed, then shook his head. "Oh, you missed your calling." Sitting up, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. "You'd have made a hell of a Don."


14 May (Friday Afternoon)

Spring had come to Camp Refuge. With it, the rainy weather had let up some, and that Friday promised to be bright with sun.

It was a good day for a wedding.

The nervous anticipation on Orson's face and the way Joseph shifted on his feet made Greg smile. He watched from beside Jeremy and Mason where they sat in the small group gathered on the fragrant grass.

Both men had dressed in suits, both dapper and sophisticated, each with a silver vest over a white shirt with a light suit jacket over that. Black slacks and sky blue ties set off their look and worked perfectly in tandem with the rest of their outfits.

"What an honor." Clay grinned from his place before the grooms to be. "I am so honored to get to do this for you both."

Officer Anderson stood at Joseph's elbow, a smile on his face as he enjoyed the position of his partner's best man. Most of the rest of the small police department was there too, in the group behind Greg. Some were in uniform, as they were officially on duty, and their patrols today took them conveniently out of the way to the campground.

As Clay began, an old car pulled in. Greg glanced with some annoyance at it, as no one manned the front at the moment. They'll just have to wait. He refocused on the couple.

The sound of the car door made Greg look again.


Leaning against the vehicle, Lee crossed his arms. Greg stared.

"... take Joseph to be your husband?"

Greg blinked. He tried to concentrate on the couple. Orson grinned, tears of happiness on his face. "I do."

Unable to help himself, Greg looked back at Lee. The young man smiled, waiting patiently, giving the men their time.

"I now pronounce you married." Clay laughed. "Kiss him like you mean it!"

The crowd cheered when Joseph grabbed Orson and dipped him in a classic movie-star kiss.

Greg clapped along with them and congratulated the new husbands. Then, as soon as he could, he hurried across the campground to a man he could never have imagined that he could love.


"Lee." Greg crushed him in a massive hug.

Lee squeezed back, just as hard. "Hi."

The men held on, and Lee felt wetness on Greg's face. He pushed back and smiled. "You miss me?"

Greg laughed. "Yeah. A little." He wet his lips. "We, ah, we rented your cabin."

Lee nodded. "Good."

"If … if you wanted, I could reserve one for you."

"Just for the weekend." Lee smiled. "I, ah. I have to get back. Poor Ralph is covering for me, and I don't wanna be away too long."

Emotion made Greg frown, and more tears came. He nodded silently.

Lee hugged him again. "It's okay. I'm okay, thanks to you."

Greg buried his face against Lee's neck.

Lee held him. "I hope you have my apron because I'm taking it with me."

Greg nodded. "Yeah. I've got it."

"Okay." Lee pushed back a bit to look at him. "Well, let's go get it." He turned to the kitchen where most of the wedding party milled about. "Maybe I'll take omelet orders while I'm here."

Greg laughed deeply. "It's about time you paid your way."

Lee only smiled. Everything he wanted to say was in the way his eyes locked with Greg's.

"Lee!" Clay approached, a huge grin on his face. "Holy crap, you look good!"

Lee turned to meet Clay, and that moment with Greg was over. Though, as he endured an embrace from the massive man, Lee knew there would be more.


28 September (Wednesday Morning)

Time marched on. At and around the campground, connections grew, strengthened and bloomed into true gems, cherished by those nurturing them. But further afield, for one young man a full year and some months later, he pulled up in front of a well-known diner in the city of Colorado Springs.

The young trucker stopped in the parking lot of Mamma's House. He'd heard a lot of good things about the place, and one particular recommendation stuck out in his mind.

He'd been on a long haul, his third such trip from San Francisco to Denver. It'd turned out to be a profitable run, and he was happy with the work.

He'd tried to make himself come to the restaurant the two times before, but he'd been unable to take the leap. He'd used the short distance he'd have to go out of his way as a deterrent, but he knew that was simple cowardice. Finally, he took I-25 on a quick trip south from Denver. His GPS directed him straight to the restaurant where he sat in his truck, staring at the door.

Never know unless I try. He forced himself to open the vehicle and jumped out, his sturdy boots grinding on the asphalt in the parking lot.

He checked his parking job. Fresh out of his training program, he'd only been driving rigs for a couple of months, so he still had a lot to learn. Though Mamma G catered to truckers and others passing through town, so spots for big rigs had been set aside. Pulling down his cap, he walked to the door and entered.

"Hello, welcome to Mamma's House." A short man waved from the bar on the other side of the room. "Have a seat, Sweetie will be by to take your order."

The trucker nodded and walked to the bar. "It okay if I sit here?"

"Sure." The little man eyed him and slipped a menu across the counter. "You look a bit young to be drinking."

"I just want coffee."

"That works."

Voices from the back drifted out, and a laugh made the trucker smile. Coffee appeared, steaming and inviting in a heavy ceramic mug. "Thanks."

"Yep." The bartender shrugged. "I don't know where that damn girl is. You know what you want?"

"Yeah. Cheddar cheese omelet with sundried tomato, sausage, pancakes on the side."

"Comin' up." He scribbled on a pad, then pushed through the swinging door leading to the kitchen.

He returned in short order. "It'll just be a bit."

"I'm not in a hurry. Thanks."

Nursing his coffee, he looked at the walls. 'Best Breakfast in Colorado Springs' hung in a gaudy, gold-colored frame. It had been placed right beside the kitchen entrance—not designed for the eyes of patrons, but rather for the staff.

He smiled.

"Oh, Truckerbait is movin' quick today."

The bartender put the plate in front of him, and the trucker laughed. "Truckerbait?"

"Haha. Yes. Our cook."

A subtle smile played on the trucker's lips, but he resisted further comments. Instead, he cut into his breakfast.

Ten minutes later, he pushed back from his empty plate.

"How was it?" Tiny picked up his dirty dishes.

"Great." The man in the cap wiped his mouth. "Say, can I meet the cook? I'd like to tell him what a great job he did."

"Yeah, he'll love that. Hang on." Tiny took his dishes into the back.

He wiped a sheen of sweat from his forehead, then pulled the cap back down again.

Lee walked out, wiping his hands on a rag. He sported a tan apron, and though it had been well over a year since he’d seen it, the trucker recognized it. Lee smiled at the man. "Hey, good morning."

The trucker nodded, "Howdy." He looked up, letting Lee see his face. "You still make a great omelet, Lee."

Lee froze. "A—Avery?"

Avery grinned. "Hi."

"What—" Lee gaped. "What are you doing here?"

"Eating." He leaned forward, elbows on the bar. "But really, I'm wondering if you'd like to see a movie later."

Lee laughed in delighted disbelief. "I … it depends. Is it going to be scary?"

"Absolutely. Terrifying."

Grinning, Lee came around and Avery stood to meet him. The two hugged.

"Only if you hold my hand," Lee whispered.


⟽ The End ⟾

Here it is - the final chapter of this rather short addition to Camp Refuge.
I tried to fit more in here to explain some of what happened, but it didn't work. I tried to include a scene where Lee is heard talking about his wanderlust with Elias, and Harlan overhears, but Lee and Elias don't have that sort of relationship. And Lee wouldn't have talked to Greg about it ... because he doesn't want Greg to think he's ungrateful.
Instead, we've got Harlan. Watching Lee. Recognizing the signs of a young man itching to be his own person. And that has to be enough.
There's an entire backstory in my brain concerning Mamma G, Stump and Harlan. Snippets get explained, but not all. And ... that's okay. I wanted her to give the impression of someone who is rough, loyal, and tenacious. Someone you don't cross lightly. Even if you're a "mobster bigshot".
Anyway. Despite my limits, and despite all that is unsaid, I hope you liked what is here.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate you all.
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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