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    Wayne Gray
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Tales from the Refuge - 2. Joe

"I've always suspected, you know." The words fell from lips that barely moved, spoken as if through tremendous effort. She stood just inside the doorway and drew in a deep drag, the tip of her cigarette glowing red. Smoke flowed from her mouth to gather in a pool on the bedroom ceiling, and she stared up at it. She completely ignored Eric as he scrambled from the room, still pulling on his pants.

She'd known. Of course, she'd known.

Joe sat up in bed, clutching the sheet covering his lower half. "Lorena, I—"

She stopped him with a glare. Pain, anger, and disappointment burned in her eyes. "You're to leave." She nodded, saying the words and expecting no argument. "You're to leave, and you're to never come back. I won't tell the kids why, so long as you stay gone."

"So, that's it?" Some of his surprise and fear became anger of his own. "I give up my farm and family, or you tell them—"

"That their daddy is a faggot? Yes. And I'll tell the town too."

She turned. "You've got till the day after tomorrow to be gone. And you'll sign the divorce papers, or else." Her soles ground on the floor, and she walked out the door.

↜↝

"Joe?"

The note of worry in her voice made him blink as he came to himself. Molly held open the swinging door to the back kitchen, an eyebrow raised. "You okay?"

"Ah." Joe chuckled and shook his head. "Yeah. Uh, what'd you say again?"

"I just said that I've always suspected you were a rocket scientist."

Moments before, Joe had cracked that pouring coffee was rocket science, which must be why he struggled with it. However, Molly's attempt at reassurance had sent his mind somewhere else.

He managed a weak smile. "Thanks, Molly." He moved past her into the kitchen. "I'll get to fixin' my mess."

Joe gathered some towels and a bin then headed back out to the dining area. Luckily, they weren't busy at the moment, and he bent to his knees with a grimace of pain to mop up the pool of lukewarm coffee under the table.

At least it smells nice. Joe sopped up the liquid and dropped the first towel in the bin. Then, he started with the next. He sighed when a pair of old polished boots stopped beside him.

"That damn pot. Always out to get ya."

Slumping, Joe shook his head. "Sorry, Jake. I'll do better."

"It's okay, Joe." His boss smiled and got down on the floor with him. "Here. Let's get it done."

Probably afraid I'll mess this up too. Joe snuck a peek at the younger man. Black hair, dark eyes, a thick, stout torso, and similarly thick ass and legs made Jake hard to ignore. He wasn’t fat; he was just built like a linebacker. Joe forced his eyes away, focusing on his task.

It had been a year since the divorce and the forced sale of the farm to Lorena. He could have fought for it in court, but in addition to his fear of what she might reveal, he knew he deserved to lose it - that he deserved to lose everything.

"There we go." Jake grinned and patted his back. "Here, let me help you." He stood, then pulled Joe to his feet.

"Thanks," Joe mumbled.

"Sure." Jake cocked his head, considering. "Say, you got anything going on tonight? I have something I wanna talk to you about, and it'd be better over an adult beverage."

Fuck, is he firing me over beers? "Uh, yeah. I mean, no. No, I don't have anything going on."

Joe couldn't have imagined a better gig than the restaurant for an out-of-work farmer. The work at the cafe in Fortuna had been a godsend. After he'd lost his whole life, Joe had headed north from his old home in Garberville and applied to the busboy position. Jake had hired him on the spot, even knowing Joe had no experience. Somehow, he had hung on for a year.

"Great. How about the brewery? Seven o'clock? I'm buying."

Joe hefted the bin with the soaked towels. "Sure."

Grinning broadly, Jake patted his back again, this time leaving his hand resting on him. "See you then."

Joe suppressed a moan. "Okay, yeah. See, ah, see you then." He hurried away, holding the bin in front of his groin. I'm fifty-two years old, for fuck's sake! I should not be popping a woody when a guy touches me!

He entered the back, tossing the towels in the deep sink where they scrubbed the pots. Joe picked one up and wrung most of the liquid out of the cloth with hands still strong from years of work on the farm.

Watching the coffee flow down the sink, he sighed. Might be my last day here. Joe considered a moment, then straightened. Well, if it is, I'll just do the best job I can. I owe Jake that much. Setting aside the first towel, he reached for the next.

↜↝

The brewery at seven on a Thursday wasn't too crowded. Joe arrived and threaded between the occupied tables along the wall and the folks at the bar on stools. Jake straightened from his seat at the end and waved. "Hey, Joe!"

"Hey." He joined Jake, happily surprised to see a beer already there waiting on him. "Thanks for the drink." He slid onto the polished wood of the stool, sighing with relief to be off his feet.

"You're welcome."

Joe took a sip and smiled as the liquid traveled down his throat. He sensed Jake looking at him, though he stayed quiet. Both men sat silently for a time, drinking their beers, watching the mind-numbing sports broadcasts above the bar.

Jake took a breath. "So, thanks for meeting me."

Here we go. Joe nodded slowly. "Sure. What, ah. What's going on?"

Straightening, Jake looked around. No one sat near enough to overhear them, and he leaned in. Joe followed his example until the guys huddled together. "I just want you to know that I've noticed how you look at me. And that—"

"What do you mean?" The first thrill of panic clawed into Joe's chest. "What … what does that mean?"

"Hey, relax." Jake smiled. "Let me finish." He took another drink, then nodded. "Yeah. So I've noticed you looking at me here and there. And well, you're not wrong. To be looking." The dark-haired man stared at his beer during his admission, then raised his eyes to Joe's.

That panic ratcheted up, and Joe gulped his beer. He knows.

There must have been something of it on his face because Jake's expression shifted to worry. "Joe, it's fine." His voice dropped. "I'm gay too. It's fine."

Joe got to his feet in a rush. "I gotta go."

"Wait." Jake got up. Joe had already taken three steps toward the door. "Joe, wait."

Joe pushed out of the brewery into the air of early evening. He dragged in great breaths of air and strode to his truck.

Opening the door, he got in, started the machine, and looked toward the bar.

Jake stood, framed by the light of the open door.

Already moving, he drove past on the way out of the parking lot. But there was no missing the pained expression on Jake's handsome face.

↜↝

Early the following day, Molly eyed Jake. Her typically good-natured, happy boss went through his routine without a smile and only the bare minimum of words.

"Going to the bank, Molly." He shoved the zippered bag of bills under his arm and headed for the door.

"Okay, Jake."

Jake passed Joe, who cleaned a table near the entrance. The men never looked at or spoke to one another, and Jake left the building.

Molly glanced at Estivo. Their cook had watched, and he sighed with a shake of his head.

What the hell happened?

"Order up. Table three." Estivo slid a heavy ceramic plate with over-medium eggs, sausage, cut fruit, and another with a pancake onto the metal counter that split the kitchen from the dining room.

"Thanks, Estivo."

Checking the plates for the correct items, Molly delivered them to their patron. But her mind wasn't on the work. After refilling his coffee, she headed to Joe.

"Hey."

Joe hefted the bin of dirty plates and silverware. "Hey." He started for the kitchen, and Molly followed.

She waited until he'd put down the bin at the sink. "So, what's going on with Jake? Do you know what's wrong?"

"Why should I know?" Joe snapped. He picked up a plate and began to scrub it. They had a dishwasher, but Joe knew that, and Molly kept herself from saying as much. "I didn't do anything."

Estivo frowned from the griddle, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Joe." Molly put a hand on his forearm. "Did something happen?" She struggled to word what she needed to say, trying to be careful. "Did you and Jake have a fight?"

"No. Jake's just my boss. That's it. There's nothing to fight about." He shrugged off her hand and continued scrubbing.

In her peripheral vision, she saw Estivo shake his head. Yeah, I feel that, Estivo. "Oh. I thought there was more to you guys."

Joe slumped. He stared down at the sudsy water, his hands hidden in the foam. "What do you mean?"

She smiled, attempting reassurance. "Joe … I mean. We can see you and Jake. The way you are with each other. We can tell you guys like one another."

Closing his eyes, Joe lowered his head. Then, before Molly could say anything else, he straightened. "I quit. Tell Jake I'm sorry." He wiped his hands on his apron, then untied it.

"Joe! No." The young woman took his arm. "No, don't do that."

He stood, uncertain as she held on.

Jake would be back any moment, and Molly struggled to come up with a way to salvage the situation. "Take the day off. Take a few days! Yeah. Just go, relax. Think about things. But don't do this. Don't quit on Jake, Joe." She frowned. "That'd really hurt him; don't do that."

Joe considered, then shook his head once. "I don't know what I'd do with time off. Don't have much money, so I can't go anywhere."

Inspiration burst in her mind like the first rays of a sunrise. "Camping! It's cheap. My sister's family just got back from camping. They took their son, and they all loved it. There's a spot up past Crescent City." She gently shook him. "Go. I think you'll love it. Go!"

Joe frowned down at his feet. "You'll tell Jake?"

"Yeah. Estivo and I have got it. We'll let Jake know."

"He'll probably just fire me. I would."

"He won't." Molly shrugged. "But if he does, he'd save you the trouble of quitting anyway, right?"

Audibly swallowing, Joe stood there for a long, drawn-out moment. Then, he nodded. "Okay. What's the name of this place?"

↜↝

Mid-morning the following day, Joe pulled in at the Camp Refuge sign. He drummed fingers on the steering wheel and rolled to a stop, waiting behind a couple of cars. Shit. It's Saturday. Place is probably gonna be packed.

He waited patiently. It wasn't long before it was his turn, and he pulled up to a lanky young man in cargo shorts and a t-shirt.

"Hi, do you have a reservation?" The kid asked.

"No. Hoping just to drop in."

"All the cabins are rented, but we've got two tent sites left. You interested?"

"Sure. I've got a tent."

"Great. I'm Mason." The guy stuck out his hand.

"Joe." He shook, then reached for his wallet.

"Good to meet you, Joe. Before we get the money handled, I need to let you know we're an inclusive campground. Straight folks can camp, but if you have any issues with queer people, then you should find another place."

Joe blinked. "This … this is a gay campground?"

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, asexual, pansexual." Mason chuckled. "Easier to just say 'queer.'"

Molly, god damn you. Joe clenched his jaw. "I think I'm in the wrong place. Sorry to waste your time."

Joe pulled away, circling the loop so that he could eventually exit. Along the pavement, tents set up with colorful rainbow flags lined the way, along with small cabins. People ambled about. Women together, men too, along with mixed-gender couples. Kids ran around, and he had to drive slowly to ensure their safety.

He stopped to let a woman pick up a toddler who had fallen in the grass beside the road, just to be sure he didn't hit anyone.

"Hey!" A young, shirtless guy grinned at him. He stood in front of one of the cabins. "Right here! I think this spot beside me is the last one!" He pointed at site eleven.

Joe shook his head. "Ah, I'm just trying to leave. Thanks anyhow."

"Best campground on the Smith. You're missing out!" The fellow waved, threw a towel over his shoulder, and walked toward the river.

Missing out. Just like the rest of my life.

Frowning deeply, Joe hesitated. The woman and toddler made it away from the road, and the way was clear.

"Fuck it." He pulled off of the pavement into the parking spot for site eleven. Joe shut off the engine and lay back in his seat. "I can always just leave."

He got out and walked across the grass to Mason's post at the entrance.

"Decide you're in the right place after all?" Mason asked, a ghost of a smile on his lips.

"No." Joe pulled out his wallet. "But I hear this is the best campground on the river. So I'll make do."

Mason cocked his head. "All right. Fair enough." He pulled out a tag for Joe's vehicle. "Let's get you signed up. How many days did you want to camp?"

↜↝

The canvas tent went up like it always did - with lots of cursing and fussing. Yet, Joe managed. The material had long since yellowed with age, but it still had no holes and would keep any rain off his head.

Next, he set up his cot. At his age, Joe had given up sleeping on the ground. Even with padding, he didn't enjoy it and never rested well.

By noon he'd finished, and he stood back to survey his work.

"Nice tent."

He turned. That same young man he'd seen earlier now dripped with water, his board shorts clinging to him. He was slim and pale, scruffy too, with short, dark hair all over his body. He looked as if he belonged on the pages of a magazine.

"Thanks. Pain in the ass, but it's nice once it's up." Joe sniffed. "Ah, I'm Joe. I decided to give this place a shot."

"I see that! I'm Pete." He offered a hand, and Joe shook it. "Glad you're sticking around. It really is the best campground for miles."

Joe nodded.

Pete smiled over the grounds. "Russell and I love this place."

"Russell?"

"Oh, yeah. My husband." Pete shrugged. "He couldn't get away for this trip, but we'll be back before the season is done."

"Yeah?" Joe looked over his shoulder at his tent. "So, ah. I gotta put some stuff away."

"Same. Say, if you wanna have drinks later, just drag a chair over."

"Sure. Thanks."

Pete sauntered away. Joe watched his hips move, then blinked when he realized Pete had stopped.

Pete had turned to look over his shoulder, and he grinned at Joe, winked, then bent to open the cooler he'd set up against his rented cabin.

Annoyed and embarrassed at getting caught ogling Pete's ass, Joe grumbled. "Looks like the beer is gonna start early." Retrieving a bottle, Joe opened the beverage and took a long slug.

↜↝

The day warmed a bit more, and Joe now sat shirtless in an old pair of cut-offs in front of his tent. His third beer had gone down quickly, and he held his phone.

Jake: Molly says you need time off. I hope you're okay, and we'll see you Tuesday.

The message had come while he'd been putting the tent up. Joe stared at the words.

"Absolutely, you should take a look at one. Here, I'll show you mine."

Pete's voice brought Joe's head up. The fellow smiled easily at a shorter but just as slim man.

"You don't mind?" The guy smiled at Pete. They stood close in front of the cabin. The man looked over the little structure.

"Nope. Come on in." Pete held the door to let the guy slip past. He caught Joe's critical eye, flashed a lecherous grin, then the door closed behind him.

"Huh. I guess 'married' means something diff—" He stopped himself. Working his jaw, Joe fished another bottle out of his cooler.

Forty minutes later, the door to the cabin opened, with both Pete and his guest framed in the doorway.

"Yeah, so thanks for showing me around." The guy grinned.

Pete pulled him in and kissed him, his hands resting on his small, shapely rear. "Mmm. You're welcome." He swatted once.

The man laughed and pulled away. "See ya."

Pete watched him leave, then looked at Joe. Satisfaction bent his lips, and he strolled over where Joe still sat in the sun. "How's it going, Joe?"

"Fine." Joe squinted up, raising a hand to block the sun in his eyes. "Looks like you're havin' a better day than me, though."

Shrugging, Pete snickered. "Yeah. Russell will be sad he missed that one."

Joe cocked his head. "Your husband knows you … ah—"

"Have sex with other guys?" Amused, Pete arched an eyebrow. "Sure. I know he does too. Though we prefer doing this together."

Four beers, sunshine, and inactivity had slowed Joe's thinking processes considerably, and he churned through this information. "So." He frowned and shook his head. "Well, that doesn't seem like marriage to me."

With a laugh, Pete shook his head. "It's ours. Has been for three years, and it works for us." He smiled down at the drunken Joe. "I'm gonna get you a bottle of water. Come down to the river with me; sit in the water and cool down."

Annoyance at being handled wrinkled Joe's nose, but the water sounded nice. He nodded. "Okay."

Pete and Joe were soon on their way to the river.

"Careful." Pete walked behind him down the narrow trail, steadying him with a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm fine," Joe grumbled, but he didn't shrug off Pete's hand.

At the bottom of the trail, they stepped around people lying on towels spread on the sand.

"Here. Let's post up here in the shade." Pete rolled out a beach towel.

Joe watched, a little bleary-eyed.

Once Pete had things situated, he motioned. "Take a load off, Joe."

Nodding, Joe flopped on the towel. Pete handed him a cold bottle of water.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome." Pete took a seat beside him, propped up with hands behind himself on the towel. He looked over the flowing water and sighed. "This is nice. But it'd be better if Russell were here."

Joe took a drink, then wiped his mouth. "So you could have shared that guy?"

Shooting him a sideways glance, Pete said, "yeah, but that's a minor part of it." He lay back on his elbows and closed his eyes against the dappled sunshine. "I just like being around him. I married him for a reason." He shifted, looking through one open eye at Joe. "Isn't there anybody in your life like that? You paired up?"

Shaking his head, Joe took another drink. "No. Not paired up." He laughed, bitterness bleeding through. "Who'd want this?" Motioning at his thin torso, he spilled a little water on the sand.

"You might be surprised."

"I'd have to be."

"Maybe you're just not able to see it." Pete wiggled sandy toes. "There's really nobody, huh?" Pete elbowed him playfully. "Nobody wants a piece of Joe?"

"No." Joe hesitated. "I don't know. Maybe."

Pete grinned and sat up. "What's his name?"

"No, it's nothing."

"Oh, don't give me that." Pete gently harassed him. "What's his name?"

Joe delayed by taking another drink, praying the water would help clear his head. "Jake. My boss."

"Oh, hot." Pete grinned. "Did you put him over his desk and have your way with him?"

"What? No!" Joe laughed.

"You mean to say porn has been lying to me all these years? I thought that's how it worked." Pete lay back again with a mischievous smile.

"You're terrible."

"Now you sound like my husband."

Joe snorted. Shaking his head, he let his shoulders relax. “You say that so easy. ‘Husband.’ Like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Like the world is okay with it.”

For a few moments, Pete didn’t reply, and Joe looked at him. Pete gazed at the water, his face relaxed and seemingly lost in thought. Finally, he took a deep breath.

“The world isn’t okay with it, Joe.” Pete looked at him, his features hardening. “But my happiness and Russell’s are worth making the world uncomfortable.” He leaned in, deadly serious. “Fuck them. Fuck them all.”

Feeling trapped by Pete’s eyes, Joe could only stare back.

Pete nodded, then pushed to his feet. “I’m going for a swim.” He reached down. “You coming?”

“Ah, sure.” Joe gripped and let Pete haul him up.

The tension from before drained away with Pete’s smile. “Good.” He suddenly turned and took three long strides, up onto a stone jutting over the water, and cannonballed in with a whoop.

People stood up to see, and Joe ran over to the edge of the stone. Pete surfaced, and Joe shook his head. “You’re crazy!”

The smirk from Pete as he lay on his back in the water made Joe laugh.

Decidedly more cautious, Joe slowly waded into the cold river, his skin prickling with chill bumps. “Good god.” He hugged himself.

“Just dive in.” Pete paddled around near the middle of the river. “Sometimes it’s best just to dive in, Joe.”

Hesitating, Joe looked at the darker water just in front of him. Undoubtedly over his head, it’d only take a step to reach deeper water.

“Come on.” Pete smiled. “Plenty have gone before, and you'll be fine.”

Sometimes it’s best just to dive in. Joe steeled himself, took a breath, and jumped.

↜↝

"Shit." Pete hissed between clenched teeth and prodded the hot skin of his shoulder.

Joe clucked his tongue, eyeing the pink color on Pete's back. "You didn't put sunscreen on your back? With skin as white as yours?"

"I can't reach my back, Joe!" He held a bottle of aloe gel and waved it. "Put it on me."

They'd spent a couple of lazy hours in and out of the water. Already tanned thanks to working outside without shirts, Joe had weathered the sun far better than the fair-skinned Pete. And while Joe had sobered, Pete drank until he had become relaxed and giggly. Once Joe had noticed how red Pete had become, he'd towed his new friend back up to his cabin.

Joe took the bottle. "Yes, I'd be happy to help you. Thanks for askin' so nicely."

"Pfft." Pete stood with his head down, eyes closed, while Joe chuckled and gently smeared the gel on his back. "Oh. Oh, that's better."

The sun sat lower in the sky, and as a result, the campground now enjoyed more shade. That suited Joe fine. After he finished with the gel, he put the bottle down on Pete's cooler. "You'll probably need more a bit later. Just leave it out."

"You wanna rub me some more?" Pete grinned, then cleared his throat, feigning seriousness. "I'd just like you to know I'm married. So no falling in love with me."

Joe reddened. "Wow. You are drunk."

"Yeah." Pete cocked his head, still smiling. "And you're a sweet, sexy man."

"You're definitely drunk."

"This is true." Pete grabbed Joe's hand. "Come on. It's time for sex."

At first, too shocked to say or do anything else, Joe let Pete tow him inside the cabin. He blinked when Pete unbuttoned his still-damp cut-offs. "Wait." He shook his head. "I'm old enough to be your father. Why are you doing this? With me? You can have anybody here."

"Not true. I've tried; these camp hosts play hard to get. But, it doesn't matter because I want to have fun with you." Pete rubbed Joe's erection through the material of his clothes, and Joe couldn't quite help the groan that escaped. "Because I want you to feel good." Pete became earnest. "You deserve to feel good, Joe."

Joe wasn't quite sure of the truth of that statement, but he wasn't going to argue. He stepped back and stripped off his shorts, then fumbled at the drawstring on Pete's trunks.

"Hey. Slow down." Pete took his hands. One, he placed gently on his balls, and Joe rubbed Pete through the shorts, while the other he led to the drawstring. "There you go. We don't have to rush."

Joe stared down at his hands. Pete closed his eyes, enjoying Joe's new, slower pace. Not rushing sex was something entirely new for Joe. Every other encounter he'd ever had with a man had been hurried, stressful affairs - always worried he'd be caught in the act.

Pete hooked his thumbs in his waistband and pushed the shorts down and off. He pulled Joe in for a kiss, and suddenly the older man stiffened.

"What?" Pete asked.

"I," Joe wet his lips. "I've just never kissed a man before."

Surprise, sadness, then empathy played across Pete's face. "Well." He pulled Joe close and gently kissed the side of his neck. "Why don't you save that for someone special then?"

Joe gulped. "If you say so."

“I say so.”

Soon, Pete had pushed Joe onto the bed. He straddled Joe's hips, lifting himself to lube up. He then wriggled until Joe slipped inside. "I'm taking PrEP. I'm a slut, but I'm a good boy too."

Joe didn't have any idea what that was. "Mmm. Okay." At that moment, it didn't matter to him. He gripped Pete's waist. The sensation of Pete's body relaxing and slowly descending on his dick made him groan.

"Ah." Pete sat on Joe's hips and arched his back so that as much of Joe as possible speared inside him. "Oh, what a great day."

Before Joe could reply, Pete lifted slightly, then let gravity pull him back down. Then he repeated. Then again. And again. Pete stared down, one hand on Joe's chest, the other working his own cock.

"Oh, hell," Joe whispered. "Oh, hell."

"No." Pete's eyes were wild. "Scream for me. Come on; let it out."

"Unn!" Joe gripped Pete's waist hard, pushing up into him as he descended."Fuck."

"Louder." Pete's body slammed into Joe's. "Show me you like it!"

"Ahhh!" Joe hammered up from beneath, his skin tingling and nerves on fire. "Oh, God!"

"Oh, yeah!" Pete shot up Joe's chest, and Joe released, holding himself as deep inside Pete as he could.

Pete resumed gyrating on Joe's pulsing dick, stopping when Joe relaxed back onto the bed. He smiled, watching Joe pant. "Did that work out okay for you?"

Joe laughed. "Uh, yeah." He looked at the puddle of semen on his belly. "Looks like it went all right with you too."

"Yep." Pete lifted off of Joe with a grimace. "Okay. I'm going to the bathroom." He snagged his shorts from the floor. "Then, when I come back, I have more work for you."

Raising his head, Joe goggled. "More?!"

Pete pulled on his clothes. "I meant for you to put more stuff on my back." Pete rolled his eyes. "What kind of boy do you think I am?" He held up a hand, forestalling a reply. "Don't answer that."

Pete left the cabin, and Joe dropped back to the pillow.

"I don't even know what kind of boy I am," he whispered. Joe sighed, then sat up to search for something to clean the mess on his belly.

↜↝

The next day, Joe paid into the breakfast served by the camp hosts. The picnic table and the benches circling the unlit firepit were filled with happy couples, singles, and kids. Some balanced their paper plates of scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, and fresh fruit on their laps, while others enjoyed bowls of oatmeal with blueberries.

Joe had chosen the egg breakfast, and he'd carried his camp chair to set it up near the kitchen. Parked in a spot for people watching, he settled in with his meal.

Pete was, of course, unmistakable. The fellow grinned at him as he stood in line for food. Joe nodded, then the incorrigible young man began chatting up a couple of guys behind him.

"Heh. You don't stop." Joe chuckled and took a bite of potato.

He turned his head to see a little, moving body dressed in a yellow onesie staggering across the grass. A woman with dark, curly locks made a noise of surprise and rose from the side of a man at the picnic table. "Rayla!"

The toddler fell face-first, then began to cry.

Before the woman and her partner could reach her, a pair of women approached. One held a baby of her own while the other scooped the squawling child from the grass.

"Oh, you are fine!" She grinned, holding the girl at arms-length. The baby blinked wide, teary eyes at her dark skin and broad smile.

By this time, the concerned parents had arrived. "Oh, thank you!" The curly-haired woman took her child. "She gets going, and BOOM, she's gone!"

"They run before they walk." The rescuer nodded, eliciting laughs of agreement from all the parents.

Joe watched. He couldn't help but remember his own kids and the experience he'd had with them. Maybe I'll try calling again. He nodded slightly to himself. Lorena has gotten softer about things. Maybe she'd let me back in their lives, even just a little.

The little group shook hands with smiles and introductions all around. The babies waved arms at one another with noises of excitement replacing cries.

Joe's gaze shifted back and forth between the women partners and the straight couple.

Babies don't care. They just want love.

A creeping realization made chills rise on the back of Joe's neck. A shaky breath left him, and for the first time in over a year, Joe cried.

I don't care. I just want love.

↜↝

A few days later, Tuesday had rolled around. Jake parked beside Joe's truck in the back lot of the cafe and went in the employee entrance.

"Hey, Jake." Molly smiled from the sink. "After I wash up, I'll get the coffee going."

"Great. Thanks, Molly." Jake stopped beside the sink. "Have you seen Joe?"

Molly nodded once. "Yeah. He said he needed to talk to you." She spent a suspiciously long while drying her hands, studiously avoiding looking at him. "He's in your office."

Shit. Is Joe quitting? Fuck, I fucked up. Jake cleared his throat. "Oh. Okay. Sounds good."

Jake walked down the hall to the closed office door. He took a breath, then entered.

Joe sat in the corner chair, leaning forward, elbows on his legs, chin on his thumbs. He looked up when Jake came in. "Hi, Jake."

"Hey." Jake shut the door and walked past Joe to his desk. "So, ah." He shifted foot-to-foot and rubbed his face. "So, I just want to say I'm—"

Standing, Joe stepped close and kissed him.

Surprised, Jake recovered and returned the kiss, sliding his arms around Joe's waist.

After a few moments, Joe pulled back. Jake slowly opened his eyes, still stunned.

"So. I don't have it all figured." Joe still held him. "But I think I'd like to try. Maybe a date if you want?"

Jake laughed. "Uh, yeah." He cocked his head and smiled. "What possessed you to do this? A year. A year I've spent hinting around and hoping." He shook his head. "Then I walk in here and you lay one on me. What happened?"

Joe returned his smile. "Someone convinced me that sometimes, even if you're not sure, you just gotta dive in."

I gave Thorn a break on editing for this one. That means any and all errors are mine (and Grammarly's). Let me know if you find any and I'll fix 'em up.

I think this story will challenge some. Pete is a free spirit, and I know some people will have issues with him. He's the kind of guy who makes no apologies, and he simply is what he is. Judge him at your own risk. 😛

This one, I will probably have to revisit in some way. Joe's story isn't done, and I feel it building momentum in the back of my mind.

In the meantime, I do hope you enjoyed this little slice of his life - watching him take a step into a bigger world. One where he's not quite so trapped by himself.

Thanks for reading, commenting, and rating. I appreciate all of it.

Also, this story was inspired in part by the country song, Cafe on the Corner by Sawer Brown. Give it a listen.

Copyright © 2021 Wayne Gray; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments



1 hour ago, spyke said:

I think this one may have backfired on you @Wayne Gray. It's safe to say that Joe and Jake are a hit with all of us, and Pete is a treasure trove. It was just so poignant when Joe told Pete that he had never kissed a man and Pete told him to "save that for someone special then." Yep, I'm predicting more of these three are going to be in the not too distant future.  Thanks Wayne!

I love the pinball that is Pete. 😄 And I'm glad Joe and Jake resonate so well.

That moment with Pete ... where he refused to be Joe's first "real" kiss. Well, Pete showed himself to be special in recognizing that he wasn't who Joe should remember when he thinks back on his first kiss with a man. Pete's a horndog, but he's caring and insightful too. And it's funny when characters do things like this. Sometimes they surprise me, and Pete did. He has earned a spot on the "will likely return" list. Next time, with a certain as yet unseen husband in tow.

Joe and Jake too deserve some additional love on the screen. I've suddenly got a lot to do ...

Thanks, spyke! 🙂

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With both of these stories, we have wonderful tales of people just starting to emerge.  Everyone's coming out story is different as is everyone's moment of truth.  Some had easier paths than others, and some never quite found their way.

As for relationships, many of us grew up in a time when we had no models to follow,  For many of us, we quickly learned that what our parents had, wasn't going to fit our lives.  We all sort of made it up as we went along.

As always, I look forward to your next chapter.  This format of individual vignettes is great!

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5 hours ago, Wayne Gray said:

I had no idea Pete would be so fun to write. And I could imagine him attempting seduction at every turn.

"Uh, thanks, but I have a husband."

"Great! Bring him!"

LOL. Once he has been turned down, he reacts with grace, but he's gonna give it a shot. 😄

Joe and Jake will get more screen-time. There are not enough stories with guys like Joe, and there need to be. Though, the continuation may venture out of the campground and into their own little spin-off story. We'll see how it goes.

Thanks for the read and for the comments!

Absolutely YEP to more stories about guys like Joe, but FOR SURE about more guys like Pete!!!  I can personally testify that several years knowing guys like Pete brought tons of balance and JOY to my life.   Tom

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3 hours ago, kbois said:

Okay, I know... I'm a little late to this party but I'm going to share my thoughts anyway because.... I can. 

First: The material had long since yellowed with age, but it still had no holes and would keep any rain off his head.

Honestly, I read this and the exact thought that crossed my brain was; "Oh Hell, he's going to make it rain!"

Thank you for not making it rain. 

Second: I'm with everyone else. Let the 'Joe and Jake' boulder in your brain pick up speed as it barrels down those synapses. 

Third: Pete needs a story too. We all need to run into a Pete in our lives. He's a great character. 

Fourth and final: 52 is NOT old dammit!

Thanks Wayne! 😉

 

kbois...  Say all those things loudly and repeatedly!!!  Tom

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Holy cow Wayne!!!   I'm so thankful I have learned to trust you and move forward in spite of ROUGH beginnings.  All the good things beyond the beginning are the reason to keep moving forward.  Tom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can't add anything new that hasn't already been said...Just love your writing!  So talented!  I look forward to each chapter you post!

Tony

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so many things to love about this one

Peter is deeper than he appears, can't wait to meet Russell

grateful for Molly's interference & intuition

happy that Joe stuck around at the camp & that he saw, really saw what was in front of him 

and Jake, well i'm quite sure he's going to be awesome too

i'm also so glad you found your way to GA & share these stories with us!

Edited by mollyhousemouse
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11 hours ago, Quixo said:

With both of these stories, we have wonderful tales of people just starting to emerge.  Everyone's coming out story is different as is everyone's moment of truth.  Some had easier paths than others, and some never quite found their way.

As for relationships, many of us grew up in a time when we had no models to follow,  For many of us, we quickly learned that what our parents had, wasn't going to fit our lives.  We all sort of made it up as we went along.

As always, I look forward to your next chapter.  This format of individual vignettes is great!

That's a good way to tie them together. "emerge" is a pretty apt description of what both Harry and Joe did.

You're right concerning relationships. It's like trying to make ourselves fit a mold that is snapping and breaking all around us. Then we feel broken and strange for things not working how they "should". Finally, hopefully, we make it to the point where Pete is. Where we say "Okay. I'm doing this my way, and I'm going to find someone who accepts that."

Thanks, Quixo. I like this format too! 🙂

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9 hours ago, Hawgdad said:

Absolutely YEP to more stories about guys like Joe, but FOR SURE about more guys like Pete!!!  I can personally testify that several years knowing guys like Pete brought tons of balance and JOY to my life.   Tom

Hahaha. Yeah, I have known a few "Petes" myself. And guys like him draw desire, envy, irritation, amusement, and more from those around him. I tended to lean toward desire. 😄

Thanks for the comments, Tom!

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9 hours ago, Hawgdad said:

Holy cow Wayne!!!   I'm so thankful I have learned to trust you and move forward in spite of ROUGH beginnings.  All the good things beyond the beginning are the reason to keep moving forward.  Tom

That was a rough start, wasn't it? I'll admit, I am pretty proud of how I got that done. Molly's comment triggering a PTSD-style flashback in Joe? Well, I've never done that before! Poor Joe. But ... still. He lived through it. He has a chance, and he's trying. I guess that's all a man can want.

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3 hours ago, pvtguy said:

Can't add anything new that hasn't already been said...Just love your writing!  So talented!  I look forward to each chapter you post!

Tony

Thanks, Tony.

There's more coming. I have a few ideas already, and I'm trying to decide which to do first. It's a good problem. 🙂

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2 hours ago, mollyhousemouse said:

so many things to love about this one

Peter is deeper than he appears, can't wait to meet Russell

grateful for Molly's interference & intuition

happy that Joe stuck around at the camp & that he saw, really saw what was in front of him 

and Jake, well i'm quite sure he's going to be awesome too

i'm also so glad you found your way to GA & share these stories with us!

Pete is deeper than what many might give him credit for right out of the gate. But yeah! What kind of guy can keep up with him? What kind of guy can make him happy, encourage him, and add to his experience? We'll have to find out.

Molly is a good-hearted woman. While Estivo is like this silent witness, Molly is all up in it. LOL. And I love her for it.

Joe got pushed to the campground, and he didn't exactly appreciate it. Once there, and once he managed to just get past himself a little, he allowed himself to simply enjoy things (including Pete!). But yeah ... watching all the regular folks helped him more than anything.

Jake's a sweet guy. He didn't get much time in the story, but that'll change. 🙂

And thanks, molly! I'm glad to be here too.

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