Clay woke at an annoyingly early hour, thanks to his lack of adjustment to Pacific Coast time. Instead of trying to go back to sleep he sighed and got up, dressing in a sweatshirt, sweats and tennis shoes. The morning air was cold inside the cabin, so he knew he'd need the warm clothes.
He also needed coffee. Leaving the cabin, he began walking to the kitchen. It was dark and misty out, and almost silent. Apart from the river, there were only the little sounds of a sleeping forest.
As he got close, Clay noticed a figure sitting at the picnic table.
"Mornin'." Orson sipped a steaming mug of sweet, black coffee. "You still on Alabama time too?"
Clay laughed. "Yeah. Morning, Orson." He saw a half-full French press on the sink counter and made a happy little noise. "I'm stealing the rest of your coffee. I'll start more water too."
Clay poured a mug of coffee and started another pot on the stove. Then he walked around to have a seat across from Orson. He took a sip and eyed Orson's crutches where they leaned against the tree near the table. "You manage okay?"
Orson made a face but nodded. "It's an adjustment. Everything is at least a little harder. Boiling water. Digging into the cabinet for the French press." He waved a hand at the crutches. "You should try balancing on one leg and a crutch while pouring boiling water into coffee grounds."
Clay smiled sympathetically. "I'd probably end up with second-degree burns." He reached across the table and patted Orson's arm. "Thanks for making coffee."
Orson nodded then sighed. "You're welcome. And, I'm sorry about the bellyaching. I just need to get over it." He looked around. "I know how lucky I am that you guys offered to put me up here." His eyes found Clay's. "Thanks for that."
"Hey, you're paying rent. You're paying your way."
Orson smiled. For a minute the two men only sat and enjoyed the quiet, peace, and the warm mugs against the palms of their hands.
"So," Orson still looked at his mug, "you wanna talk about anything?" He glanced up at Clay's face.
Clay took a deep breath and let it out. "Damn it. You heard us, huh?"
Orson shrugged. "I heard some. Just that you guys were upset." Orson eyed him. "And that you slept in the cabin." He motioned with his head at Clay's little cabin. "I watched you walk over here from it."
Clay grunted. "Sorry about that." He looked down at his coffee, embarrassed. He shrugged. "I guess there's nothing really to talk about. Mason wants to have a relationship with Jeremy, and I don't want him to. That's it."
Orson looked at him. "Well, it's pretty obvious those guys like each other. You can tell from how they interact." He cocked his head to the side. "What's wrong with that? Are you hung up on Mason's age? That won't be an issue soon, right?"
Clay made a face. "What you don't know is Jeremy has HIV." He watched Orson for a reaction.
The younger man sat back. He was initially surprised, but that changed to a thoughtful expression. "Well… did they use protection? Or were they planning to?"
Clay stared at Orson. "It doesn't matter if they did." Clay shook his head. "No form of protection is absolute. Eventually, Mason will get it if they continue to screw around."
Orson frowned. "Clay, man, that's some crazy logic, and flat-out wrong." Orson tapped his chin. "But let's forget about the protection stuff. What would you say if Mason told you he wanted to be a cop?"
Clay sensed a trap of some kind, but he answered anyway. "I'd be proud of him. And I'd try to encourage him." He paused, realizing where this was going. "But… I'd worry."
"But you wouldn't forbid him from doing it." Orson picked up his mug. He looked over the rim of the coffee cup at Clay. "We both know police-work is dangerous. What's the difference?" While Clay struggled, he took a long drink of his coffee.
Clay had a terrific look of concentration on his face. He swallowed, and his brows knit together. "I… it's just different." Inwardly Clay tried to figure out why.
Orson wet his lips, slightly nervous. "Do you want a genuine opinion here?"
Clay already knew he wouldn't like it but nodded. "I do."
The black-haired man took a deep breath. "Mason is about to be an adult, Clay. And if you stand in the way of what he wants to do, without a damn good reason? One you can explain? Then he's going to resent you. And when he turns eighteen, he'll do what he wants anyway." Orson tapped the table with one finger. "And you may be sleeping in that cabin some more. Because Greg and Mason seem pretty tight."
Clay sat and stared at his mug, and at the steam as it slowly rose from the black liquid inside. He didn't want to believe what Orson said, and he tried to punch holes in the argument. He couldn't, so he came up with another tactic.
"But, Mason kept this from me. He's taking that PrEP stuff. He planned this, and he didn't tell me."
Orson looked deadpan at him. "So you're upset because Mason took every step he possibly could to be safe? Or you're upset because Mason was afraid you'd react exactly how you're reacting right now?"
Clay felt like he'd been slugged. He leaned back on the bench and grimaced at Orson. "I…" He frowned. "You make me sound like the bad guy."
Orson laughed a little. "Nah, you're not a bad guy. There is no bad guy. There's only a dad trying to protect his son, and a son who is trying to grow up and make his own decisions."
Clay swallowed and looked down again. Slowly his face went slack.
Orson didn't say anything. He only watched Clay as he worked through it in his head.
"Fuck. You're right." Clay rubbed his mouth. "I fucked this up." He sat straight and ran his hands over his short, salt and pepper hair. "Fuck. Everybody's pissed at me." His eyes suddenly looked hurt and injured. "And… god, that poor kid - Jeremy." He grimaced. "I was just so… set on keeping Mason safe." He shook his head. "I didn't care that I hurt him."
Orson shrugged. "Well, what are you gonna do about it?"
Clay groaned. "Eat a lot of crow, that's what." He slumped. "I still don't like Mason seeing Jeremy."
"Why? Is it because you don't like Jeremy, or is it purely the HIV?"
Clay didn't have to think about that. "It's the HIV. I don't have a problem with Jeremy, he seems like a decent young man."
Orson nodded. "Okay. Then I think you need some information on the condition, because you're better than that. You aren't the kind of guy to dislike someone because of something they can't help."
Clay sighed. "Mason sent me some stuff on it." He wiped his face and nodded. "I'll read it. Hopefully late is better than never."
"Good. Because it sounds like Mason is trying to be responsible." He smiled at Clay. "You raised a smart kid."
Clay laughed. "I raised a stubborn one too!" He made a face. "God, he was mad. I hope he'll talk to me today."
Orson smiled. "I think if you lead with 'I was wrong', he will." He laughed. "I know that would have made me stop in my tracks if my dad had ever said that to me."
Clay took a breath and let it out. "Yeah. Okay. I'm gonna try." He then looked at Orson, a question obviously on his mind. "How the hell did you get to be so damn smart?"
The younger fellow laughed, this time loudly. "People make sense to me. What they feel, how they work, why they do things." He shrugged. "I even studied psych for a while before I switched to Criminal Justice."
Clay looked impressed. "I think you should pick that up again. Seriously." He looked genuinely thankful. "I appreciate your help with this."
Orson waved his hand. "You would have figured it out."
"Yeah. In a month." Clay snorted at himself. "Maybe." He sighed. "I think I'm going to ambush my son now, before he has a chance to wake up and stew over what happened."
Orson looked over at the stove. "You better pour that boiling water into the press and take that young man a coffee if you do that."
Clay nodded in agreement. "Peace offering, I like that."
He got up and made the next batch of coffee. After he refilled his own and Orson's mugs, he poured some for Mason. Cream and sugar went in, and he looked over at Orson as he started on his way to Mason's cabin - a mug in each hand.
"Wish me luck."
Orson held up his mug in a salute. "Good luck!"
Clay smiled a little nervously. "Thanks." He put a determined look on his face and walked across the grass and between the trees to the cabin.
With a deep breath, Clay opened Mason's door.
The smell of coffee was the first thing Mason noticed. Groggy, he opened his eyes. Inside the cabin it was pretty dark, but he could see enough. There at eye-level, on a chair that had been pulled up next to the bed, was a mug of coffee, steaming invitingly in the morning air. He sat up on his elbow, confused. Then he noticed his dad as he leaned against the wall a few feet away.
Mason glared at him. "Coffee won't make me like you again." But he still picked up the mug and was pleasantly surprised to see it had cream. 'At least he knows that much about me,' he thought irritably.
"I know." Clay took a couple of steps and then he sat on the floor beside the bed.
It reminded Mason of when he had been little and afraid of the dark, or when he would wake from a bad dream. Clay would sit by his bed and rub his back until he finally drifted to sleep. He pushed aside the sweet memory. "I don't want to talk to you." He took his coffee and sat forward on his rump with his knees folded up and the soles of his feet on the bed. He looked straight ahead, unwilling to look at his dad. He took a sip. 'Sugar too.' Another small surprise.
"Well, then let me talk." Clay sighed heavily. "I've been thinking, and uh, I was wrong."
Despite his determination to ignore Clay, Mason looked at him. "W… What?"
"I was wrong," Clay said again, this time louder.
Mason stared at Clay. Then he finally blinked and shook his head. "Did… did you read the stuff I sent you?"
"No. Not yet. I will, but I don't need to read it to fix this." Clay put his hand on the bed, his palm up. "If you tell me you're doing everything you can to stay healthy… then," he licked his lips, and Mason could tell that Clay struggled, "then I'm going to do what I should have done at the start. I'm going to trust you."
Mason looked down at Clay's hand. He fought against his emotions though his anger dwindled to nearly nothing. He cleared his throat. "I promise, Dad." Mason reached and put his hand in Clay's. He squeezed and released after a moment, then Mason hung his head. "But, it doesn't matter. Jeremy isn't texting me back or taking my calls."
Clay patted Mason's leg. "Well, we know where he works, right?" The teenager looked at Clay, and his dad smiled. "Come on, son. I know you're not gonna give up on this." His face grew contrite. "Don't let me ruin this for you. I don't want that. Not anymore."
Mason tried to stop it, but he felt himself break. "Really?" His eyes began to well up, and he laughed softly. "You'd let me go get him?"
"If that's what you want. Yeah." Clay frowned at him. "Don't cry, damn it." Clay shook his head, and Mason saw he was trying to avoid it himself.
Mason laughed, tears running down his face. He put his coffee cup down on the chair and leaned over. The two men hugged, and Clay smiled over Mason's shoulder. "I really am sorry, son."
Mason nodded and the two separated. "Yeah. I know. I can tell." He bit his lip. "Did Greg talk to you or something? About Jeremy and me?"
Clay sheepishly rubbed his head. "Orson did. Greg's kind of upset with me right now. Or at least I think he is." He grimaced as he remembered what he had said to Greg. "He should be."
Mason gaped at him. "Dad! What'd you do?"
"Just being my idiot self." Clay got to his feet. "I need to make it up to him."
Mason wiped his eyes. "Well, it's gonna take more than coffee. I'd start with breakfast."
Clay grunted in approval. "Huh. That's not a bad idea." He pursed his lips. "I wonder if we have the stuff to make pancakes."
"We do, and I want some too." Mason grinned at Clay and laughed as the big man frowned at him.
Clay shook his head. "I feel set up." But he smiled at his son. "I'll make pancakes for all of us. Then after we eat and the clinic opens we'll take a trip to the city."
Mason nodded, his eyes bright. "Sounds good, Dad."
Clay nodded once. "Okay. I'm gonna get busy." He walked to the door.
His dad left, and Mason stared at the door. "Wow." He shook his head with a smile and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Miracles do happen."
The Airstream door opened. It was just getting light outside, and Greg sat up in bed. Clay looked around the divider of the bed area.
"Hey." A smile barely touched his lips.
"Hey." Greg noticed a smell that made his mouth water. "Did you make bacon?"
Clay grinned and revealed a plate of food. Two big pancakes with syrup and butter, three strips of bacon and two over medium eggs were on one of their big serving platters. Clay had used it as a huge plate, and he walked over with it.
"Here. Get comfortable." Clay waited while Greg put his back against the wall. Once Greg stopped moving, he put the plate on Greg's blanket covered thighs. Then he handed Greg silverware wrapped in a napkin that he had carried in his pocket.
Greg eyed him and took the silverware out of the napkin. "This is a good start." He sniffed. "No coffee though."
Clay didn't say anything. He stepped outside, and then came back in with a mug of hot black coffee. It was through a tremendous act of will that Greg didn't laugh or smile. He looked over everything and nodded. "Okay. This is almost enough." Greg looked at Clay, expectantly.
Clay sighed. "I'm sorry. I really am." He looked appropriately chagrined. "I screwed up."
"Uh huh. And are you going to apologize to your son?" Greg began to cut his pancakes.
"Already have. We're going to take a trip into town later. See if we can find Jeremy so I can apologize to him."
Greg looked up at Clay as if he had grown another head. "What?" He blinked. "Really?"
"Yeah." Clay frowned. "Why is that so hard to believe?"
Greg didn't mean to, but he brayed a laugh. He made a face and put his hand over his mouth. Clay's frown intensified, and he cocked his head at Greg.
Greg finally was able to form actual words. "Because I know you!" He waved a hand at Clay. "You usually come around to the right thing, but not this fast!"
Clay continued to glare at Greg, then the expression slipped. "Yeah… well, I talked to Orson about it. And he helped me see that, ah, I may not have been very rational." Clay pointed at Greg. "I still don't like it - that Mason wants to be with Jeremy. It scares the fuck out of me." He slowly lowered his hand. "But… you're right. I need to trust him. It's not my life."
Greg took that in, then shook his head. "Wow." He shoved a bite of pancake into his mouth and chewed as he looked at Clay. He swallowed the morsel. "Whatever Orson told you, I wish I could bottle that."
Clay rolled his eyes. "I'm not that bad."
Greg tried not to, but he laughed again.
It was just before seven a.m. when Clay and Mason pulled into the parking lot of the clinic in Crescent City. There were already some cars there, and a few people waited at the door for it to open.
The men sat in the van until someone from inside opened the doors. Then they followed the small crowd inside.
There were four receptionists, so the line moved quickly. And then it was their turn.
"Hi. I'm Brenda. Do you have an appointment today?"
"Ah, no. But we need to see Jeremy Adams." Mason said.
One of the other women at the front desk looked over when Mason said Jeremy's name. "Oh. Well, he's usually here by now, but he hasn't made it in yet." She seemed to recognize Mason from before. "I'll buzz you through."
The door that led deeper into the clinic vibrated, and Mason grabbed the handle. Soon they were seated outside Jeremy's office in a small waiting area.
After about ten minutes Mason stood up and began to pace. Clay watched him, but he kept silent.
"Mason?" Dr. Wade walked down the hallway. "Were you looking…" As he came around the corner, he saw Clay sitting in the chair. "Oh. Hello. I'm Dr. Evan Wade."
Clay introduced himself, and Mason interjected as soon as he could.
"Dr. Wade, where's Jeremy? We need to talk to him."
The doctor looked a little worried at the closed door of Jeremy's office. "His first patient isn't till 8, but he's always here an hour early so he can prepare and be ready to go." Evan looked back and forth between Clay and Mason. "Did something happen?"
Clay cleared his throat. "There was a misunderstanding. And we're looking for him to make it right."
Dr. Wade seemed to process what Clay said. "I see." He glanced at Mason. "Is there any reason to think he's upset?"
Both of the Jameson men took on a grim expression and nodded.
Evan bit his lip. "I usually wouldn't do this… but I think maybe it's for the greater good. Would you two be willing to go check in on him, at his apartment? It's not far."
Mason looked at Clay and the big man nodded. Dr. Wade seemed relieved. "Okay, good." He wrote his own cell number and Jeremy's address on a sticky note. The address, Mason entered into the mapping program on his phone. "I'll tell the front desk that he called out and that we need to reschedule his patients. When you guys find him, call me. Okay?"
Mason was getting more and more concerned. "Okay." His face was worried. "Doc, is there something wrong?"
Dr. Wade sighed and looked at them both. "I hope not." He smiled reassuringly. "Go on. Let me know when you find him. And, thank you."
The two men left. Clay drove while Mason gave him directions. Soon they pulled up in front of a two-story apartment complex. It had a brick facade and metal railings on the second floors. It was middle of the road - not the best or the worst in the city.
They walked up the stairwell and stopped in front of apartment 2B. Clay knocked. The two of them heard movement inside, and then nothing. Mason stepped up to the door.
"Jeremy! Jeremy, it's me. Let me in."
There was more movement, and the two of them heard something scrape against the other side of the door. "Go away, Mason." Jeremy's voice was raw and gravelly.
"I'm not going away. Let me in." Mason knocked again. "Jeremy, please?"
There was silence for a long moment.
Clay reached past Mason and tried the door. It wasn't locked, and he merely pushed it open.
Jeremy stood a step away. He wore only a pair of briefs, and his hair was thoroughly disheveled. He gaped at the two. "Hey. You can't just come in here." Mason couldn't help but take him in. He was a hairy guy. He had a reddish brown pelt all over, but mainly on his trunk. And Mason also noticed his small waist and the moderate bulge in his shorts.
Mason stepped into a tidy little apartment. There were lots of books on shelves in the living room, a compact sound system, and a laptop computer set up at a small desk. There was also a nearly empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the coffee table. Clay followed and closed the door. "Jeremy, we just need to talk." He looked behind at Clay.
Clay nodded. "Jeremy, I'm sorry. I should never have tried to get between you boys." He gave Jeremy a little smile. "You're welcome at the camp, anytime you like. I really mean that."
Mason looked hopefully at Jeremy. The redhead stared at Clay for a moment. He swallowed, then began to shake his head - the motion exaggerated and slowed. "Nooooo. You were right." He flopped down on his couch and reached for the open bottle of whiskey. "Just like Dad was. You're right." He nodded sagely and turned up the bottle.
Clay and Mason watched as he took three big gulps of alcohol. Clay stepped forward and gently took the bottle. "Son, that's enough." His eyes were worried. He looked at Mason. "Give me your phone."
Mason handed his phone to Clay, and he pulled up a number. Mason sat beside Jeremy on the couch as Clay begin to speak to Dr. Wade, though his attention was on Jeremy.
The redhead sat with his elbows on his knees and his head down. Mason could tell he was very drunk. He gently reached and put his hand on Jeremy's back. The small man jumped a little, then made a slight noise as Mason began to slowly stroke his spine.
Mason didn't say anything, but he watched Jeremy's face from the side. Jeremy's eyes closed and his bottom lip trembled.
"You… you shouldn't be nice to me." He whispered as Mason petted him. He shook his head. "I don't deserve it."
Mason's heart felt as if someone had plunged a spear into it. "Why would you say that?" He continued to rub Jeremy's back gently. "I want to be nice to you. It makes me happy."
Jeremy's face screwed up, and he began to cry. "I don't… I don't deserve it."
Mason put his arm around Jeremy's shoulders, and the redhead leaned against him, his face against Mason's chest. Clay stepped near and Mason looked up at him with a worried and lost expression.
Clay stared down at them. "I called the doc. He said that he'd let the clinic know Jeremy's not coming in tomorrow too."
"What'd you tell him?" Mason looked back down at Jeremy who was still crying.
Clay blew out a breath. "I didn't know if he'd get in trouble for this… so I told him we found him asleep on the couch - sick." Clay smiled a little. "Pretty sure he knew I was lying, but he also sounded happy to spread it."
Mason smiled up at him. "Thanks, Dad."
"Sure." Clay looked at a barely conscious Jeremy. "It's probably not a good idea for him to be alone tonight." He glanced at Mason. "You think he'd have us prosecuted for kidnapping if we took him home with us?"
Mason almost couldn't believe what he heard. He blinked up at Clay. "I don't think he'd do that."
Clay nodded. "Okay. Let's find him a couple of changes of clothes, and gather up his bathroom stuff."
A few minutes later they had dressed Jeremy in some loose fitting clothes and gotten him in the van. Mason sat in the second-row seat beside him. The redhead was utterly inebriated. They had just arrived at the campground and opened the door when he lurched forward and vomited beside the van. It smelled of whiskey and pickles.
Clay made a face and shook his head. "At least he did that outside the van." Mason laughed and Clay looked over to share a smile with him.
It was now a bit after eight-thirty in the morning and Greg watched from the loop with a raised eyebrow. He was doing one of his chores - walking the grounds, loading up trash from the bins in use into large black bags. He put his bag down beside a bin and walked over.
"Hey, guys. What's going on?" Greg observed Jeremy as the redhead looked blearily around.
"We're having a guest for the day, and probably tomorrow too." Clay gently patted Jeremy's back. "And… I'm going to go to the Hiouchi market for some Gatorade. I think Red here is gonna need it." He sighed. "Should have thought of that before we left Crescent City." He shrugged. "Ah well." Clay put a hand on Mason's shoulder. "You're in charge of him." He looked Mason in the eye as he spoke. "He makes a mess, or needs help, it's all you. All right?" Clay gazed meaningfully at the half-digested pickles beside the van.
Mason nodded. "I got it, Dad. No problem."
Clay left for Hiouchi. Mason got Jeremy to his feet and began to lead him to his cabin. "I'm gonna put him to bed. Then I'll come back and clean up that mess."
Greg smiled at Mason. "Okay." He watched as the two young men slowly walked to the cabin. "Hey, Mason."
The teen turned as he opened the cabin door. "Yeah?"
Greg grinned broadly at him. "I'm really proud of your dad."
Mason broke into a grin of his own. "Yeah. Me too."
He helped Jeremy inside. Then he stripped the redhead down to his briefs and lay him down on his side. Just in case, he also pulled the trashcan in the room over beside the bed.
Jeremy was unconscious almost as soon as he lay down.
Mason went back out and did the unpleasant chore of cleaning up Jeremy's mess. It wasn't fun, but it went fast. He hosed off the pavement after he finished.
Then he was right back inside his cabin. Mason stared down at Jeremy and felt a riot of emotion. He was happy to be near him, sad that Jeremy was in such a state, and he felt a fierce protective urge toward him. He also had the overpowering need to be close and to feel Jeremy's skin against his own.
Mason stripped and gingerly climbed into bed. He slipped behind the smaller man, and put his arm around him. Very slowly, he rubbed Jeremy's chest and belly with his hand. Jeremy made a small, contented sound and Mason smiled.
"I'm gonna be nice to you. And you do deserve it," Mason whispered in his ear. He settled in and got more comfortable. Then he pulled Jeremy as close as he could, pressing their bodies together. "You deserve it. And I'm going to tell you so until you believe me."
Clay eats a lot of crow... and he sees the wounds caused by his efforts to keep Mason safe.
I think that really sums this one up.
Let me know what you think of the chapter, and thank you for reading. 🙂