Chapter 3: A Treasure Lost
Bailey stared down at his mug. At first, his eyes were unseeing, his viewpoint merely resting on the lip of the ceramic container. He sat by Greg, who supped his coffee and seemed content to sit quietly. Greg had started a fire a few minutes earlier, and Bailey let his eyes slide closed as the warmth began to sink into his bones.
The river was shockingly cold. Bailey had only been in it for a couple of minutes, but that was plenty long enough for the silent man.
"Do you know sign language?" Bailey looked over at Greg when he asked the question.
Bailey nodded. He then pointed at Greg, his eyebrows raised. 'Do you?'
Greg shook his head. "No." He smiled at Bailey. "Though, you make it pretty easy to understand you."
Bailey made a small noise when he blew air out of his nose. He held up his fingers, barely apart, and he squinted his eyes. 'Little things.'
Greg nodded. "Yeah. I guess it'd be tougher with more complex subjects."
Bailey nodded along with him. 'This guy's trying. That's nice.' It was good to communicate with someone. Even if the communication was rudimentary.
"So, your scar." Greg's eyes were kind as he spoke. "That's why you can't speak. A surgery? Accident?"
Bailey nodded once. Paused, then nodded again. 'Yes. To both.'
"Accident and then a surgery?" Greg sipped his coffee as he watched Bailey. He obviously began to realize a lot of Bailey's communication centered on his expressions, and subtle differences in positioning. So he paid careful attention to the man.
Bailey nodded, and he touched his nose. 'Got it. On the nose.'
Greg's eyes shifted. Bailey could tell that he tried to figure a way to ask his next question in a way that Bailey could answer. He could anticipate what Greg wanted to know. Bailey smiled, and he waved a hand. Then he held up a finger. 'Okay. Watch.'
Bailey used his finger, and he began to draw in the air. Greg watched as Bailey spelled with his fingertip.
"N. A. V. Y." Greg blinked. "Navy? You were in the navy."
Bailey grinned, and he nodded. He knew he could use a phone to type out messages to Greg. But, that lost something. It just wasn't the same as "talking" to another human being. So Bailey vastly preferred to communicate directly - using his body to transmit information, and receiving it back through either sign or verbally. To Bailey, the extra effort was worth it.
He then made a wavy motion with his hand and arm.
Bailey watched as Greg went from a frown to a happy realization. "Ah, you were aboard a ship!" Greg grew thoughtful. "Did your accident happen on the ship?"
Bailey nodded, and he sighed. That was the day his whole life changed. He went from an upward trajectory in both his naval career and in his personal life, to an entirely different path. He had yet to really feel as if things had leveled off. The last two years had been a struggle of adjustment and acceptance of his new way of life. And he still wasn't quite there yet.
Greg put a companionable hand on Bailey's shoulder. "Well, I'm glad you're okay. And we're glad you're here, Bailey." Greg smiled. "It's your business to reveal what you want to who you like. So Clay and I will keep this to ourselves." He patted Bailey's back. "That work for you?"
Bailey looked at Greg. He smiled affably, and he nodded.
Greg made a noise of affirmation, and he stood up. "Okay. I'm gonna give the guys a call. Find out how Rayne is doing. I'll talk to you later, Bailey. Come find me if you need anything." His eyes met Bailey's. "Okay? I'm serious. Let me know if you need something from us."
Bailey sat back. 'He means it.' He was happy to know that Greg was ready to back up what he said. Bailey nodded at Greg.
Greg walked away, and he took his cell phone out of his pocket as he moved toward the Airstream. Bailey watched him go, a small smile on his lips. Then he noticed movement.
He turned his head, and he saw the man, Harlan, walking across the campground. It looked as if he was coming from the bathrooms. Bailey frowned. 'Weird. I didn't see him go in.' The way Bailey faced, it would be next to impossible for someone to go to the building without him noticing.
Bailey tracked Harlan as the man stalked across the grounds. Just before Harlan was about to turn the corner to his cottage, the brown-haired man looked over at Bailey.
For a second their eyes met. To help him function after the accident, Bailey had spent the last two years of his life studying the combination of complex hand movements and the expressions that go along with communicating with American Sign Language, or ASL. A single glimpse of a face told Bailey a story few others could read. But, he was now an expert. And Harlan's face told him much.
The man disappeared inside his cabin. And Bailey frowned. 'Sadness and anger.' He looked thoughtfully at the cabin. 'I wonder what's wrong?'
Harlan's hands flexed open and closed as he stood in the middle of his cabin. "Fucking Greg. Greedy bastard. You've already got Clay, you fucker." Harlan fumed. He saw how Greg put his hand on Bailey, and how they sat close.
He struggled to find his center - his calm. And he partially succeeded. Harlan took a deep breath, and then he exhaled. Then he forced his normally logical mind to push through his gut response. 'You don't know what is going on. You're leaping. And even if Clay and Greg are making a sandwich out of Bailey, it doesn't matter. He's not yours. He won't be yours. He's out of your league.'
Harlan flinched. 'You have Orlando. You're already fucking a great-looking dude. Why does Bailey matter?'
Harlan grimaced. "I'm just crushing on the guy. I need to let it go." He nodded to himself.
A knock at Harlan's door startled him. He chuckled at his response, then he opened it.
Avery, the skinny, hyperactive, blonde teenager stood outside. He was one of the Raven Project kids, and by now Harlan knew his name, and that he was a ball of boundless energy. The boy didn't waste any time. "Hey, Harvey! Do you know what's going on with Rayne?" He waved a hand. "Greg told me they'd be back soon from the hospital, but he won't tell me anything else."
Harlan did his best to look severe and serious, and he ignored Avery getting his name wrong. "I have no idea."
Avery frowned at him. He was quiet for a beat, as the two stared at one another. Then Avery wrinkled his nose. "You look mad."
Harlan had to stop himself from laughing. He worked hard to cultivate a fearsome persona, one that most people would just prefer to avoid. But this kid, he seemed immune to it. Harlan kept his composure, and he nodded a little. "I guess I am."
"Why?" Avery shrugged. He seemed utterly unimpressed with Harlan's posture, expression, and tone of voice. The boy simply wasn't intimidated by him.
'Ah, the gift of ignorance,' Harlan thought as he narrowed his eyes at Avery. "I don't want to talk about it."
Avery snorted. "Fine. But that's dumb. It just means you want to be mad." He turned to go, and Harlan gaped a little at him. "I'm gonna go find Elias. Maybe he knows what's going on."
And he was gone, down the loop, and knocking on the "Clay" cabin door, where the boy, Elias, did his ceramic projects. Harlan stuck his head outside, and he stared down the asphalt at the little cabin, where Avery had disappeared.
He blinked. It wasn't often Harlan was called "dumb." He pulled back inside his cabin, and he closed the door. He stood there, one hand on the wood, and he lowered his head as he thought.
'It is dumb. It's not like you to just wallow.' Harlan's normal, logical processes started to click back on. 'The problem is a lack of information. And the resolution is the acquisition of information.' Harlan stood a little longer, and he let a plan percolate in his mind. 'You have resources. Use them.'
A moment later, Harlan smiled.
Rayne had definitely seen better days. After they arrived at the hospital, Jeremy tried to call Rayne's father. He managed to get ahold of him after an hour, and after Rayne had already been cleared of any serious head injury.
Rayne listened to Jeremy's side of the conversation as Jeremy talked. "Mister Yoman, please, your son is in the emergency room, and he's scared." Jeremy set his jaw, and he glanced over at Rayne. The bearded administrator of the Raven Project stood up and walked away from Rayne's hospital bed, but the boy could still hear him, and Jeremy's tone now had a bite to it. "If that's all your worried about, yes, our insurance covers his trip here. You do realize, he could have been killed. And, even though you didn't ask, he's going to be fine."
Rayne turned his head away, and he closed his eyes. He was scheduled to be with Jeremy at the campground all week. He would even catch the bus to school from there during the weekdays. Rayne knew that his father looked forward to the time he would be gone. And, that Jeremy's phone call was an annoyance to the man.
Mason stood beside the bed, and he reached down. He put a gentle hand on Rayne's back. Jeremy continued to talk on the phone. He sounded upset, but he was too far away, and Rayne couldn't hear what he said now.
It didn't matter. He knew. His father wasn't coming for him. Ever since Rayne told him that he was gay, the man largely ignored him. And when his dad did look at him, it was this disappointed, detached expression. He never hit Rayne, or even raised his voice. But sometimes Rayne wished that he would. At least it would have been some sort of acknowledgement that Rayne existed. Instead, he used The Raven Project as a way to dump Rayne off for a week, so that he could pretend he wasn't a single father with a gay son.
Rayne refused to cry. He just wouldn't. He shrugged off Mason's hand. "I'm fine." He curled up a little, an unconscious movement, and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut.
A few minutes later Jeremy returned. He patted Rayne's shoulder. "Hey." Rayne looked up at him, and Jeremy smiled, though it was forced. "Your dad and I talked, and now that he knows you’re ok, he gave me permission to let you continue your stay at the campground." Rayne knew that Jeremy tried to frame it in a positive way, but the teenager simply wasn't able to accept that.
Rayne sat up, and he clenched his jaw. "He doesn't want me home." His head hurt a little, but the bandaged injury on his forehead was bearable.
Clay flinched. The big man looked at Jeremy and something unsaid passed between the men. Rayne could see that the thought of a father discarding his son angered and upset him.
‘Mason’s so lucky.’ Rayne envied the lanky young man. Clay was Mason’s dad, and even when they didn't see eye to eye, it was always apparent that there was a lot of love and respect between the two. It also helped that Clay was in a relationship and married to Greg, the campground owner.
Jeremy started to say something, thought better of it, then he sighed. He pulled up a chair, and he sat beside the bed. "I know it probably doesn't help much, but we really like having you around, Rayne." The redhead's blue eyes were so earnest as he looked at the boy.
Rayne bit his lip, then he nodded. He cleared his throat, and he swung his legs over the side of the bed. "I'm ready to go. Can we go?"
"We can go, son." Clay's warm hand felt nice on Rayne's back as the big man patted him. "Come on."
As they walked out to the van, the black-haired youth felt so hopeless. And he got in all the way in the back set of the vehicle. He waved Mason away when he tried to sit beside Rayne. Instead, Rayne sat alone, and he looked out of the window. He heard murmured conversation among Jeremy and Clay from the front seats, and the van began to move.
Rayne closed his eyes. 'I wish I were dead. He should have let me drown.'
Rayne's eyes opened, but he let them stare, unfocused out of the window as they drove. 'I should have just drowned.'
Bailey saw the van return. By now it was almost noon, and Greg operated the kitchen. Greg had gotten a text from Mason, and he knew they were on the way back. Greg prepared Rayne's favorite sandwich - a grilled cheese. And he heated some tomato soup in a pot on the gas burner of his grill.
Word had gotten out that Rayne was at the hospital. Greg told those who asked only the barest of information. "Rayne fell in the river, got banged up, and needed some assessment."
Bailey had already made it clear through a text to Greg that he didn't need or want attention or credit for pulling the boy out of the water. And Greg was doing his best to honor that. Though, they were both reasonably sure once Rayne returned he would tell the campers what happened.
The van stopped near the Airstream, and the guys all got out of the vehicle. Bailey watched as Rayne got out. The redhead, Jeremy put a hand on his back, and he gently led Rayne to the boy's cabin. Avery, the blonde boy, buzzed around the both of them, and he fired questions at the pair.
Finally, Clay had enough. "Avery!" Clay's voice had deepened to 'dad-mode.' "Leave the guy alone a minute, okay?"
Avery looked injured by Clay's tone, for just a moment. Then he made a face, and he stomped off.
Bailey looked at the backside of the cabin where Rayne and Jeremy had gone. 'God, that kid looked miserable.' Then he watched Clay and Mason speak with one another nearby on the paved loop. Finally, the two guys headed toward the kitchen.
Greg looked hopefully at Clay. "Well? How's he doing?"
Clay made a face, and he shook his head. "He's fine, physically." He swallowed, and he gave another shake of his head. "His father is a piece of work. Wouldn't even come to pick him up. Apparently, he's got a big date tonight."
Greg stared at Clay. "Wow. I knew he would never win a 'dad of the year' award. But," he blinked and grimaced. "Jeez. Poor kid."
All of the men knew that The Raven Project accumulated kids who were in households which were close to being broken. Almost all of the kids in the group identified as gay, lesbian, trans, or bisexual. And that alone was a risk factor for a difficult homelife. Rayne's example held true to this.
Mason gazed across the campground at the cabin. "I think Jeremy is going to see if Rayne can get in to see a counselor at his clinic." The young man rubbed his arms. "He just seems so, so TIGHT. Like he's about to snap, or break any second."
Bailey watched, and he listened. And though the issue was serious, and the stakes high, he couldn't help but feel a warmth around the men. 'They care. If Rayne lets them help him, then he'll be okay.'
Greg made a noise as the grilled cheese on the stove nearly burned. "Shit." He flipped it one more time. "Okay, this is ready." He put the gooey sandwich on a plate, and then Greg filled a big mug with tomato soup.
Mason reached for the items. "Hey, I'll take them. Maybe he'll talk to me. I know he needs to talk to someone."
"Actually," Jeremy walked up to the kitchen. He had just left the cabin with Rayne. His eyes met Bailey's. "Actually, he wants to talk to you."
Bailey motioned at his own chest. Jeremy nodded. Bailey looked and felt flabbergasted. 'Shit. Shit.'
Greg stepped in. He glanced at Bailey, then at Jeremy. "Ah, that might be a problem. Bailey here can't speak."
As Greg explained for him, Bailey's mind began to turn. 'If he wants to talk to me, then so be it. You can do it.' He stood up, and he motioned at Greg with his fingers and his head. The man stopped mid-sentence, and he still held the plate with the grilled cheese and the mug of soup.
Greg looked at him. "Uh, you're gonna go? Really?"
Bailey nodded. Greg pursed his lips, and he looked doubtful, but he handed the items over to Bailey. "Okay. If you need help or anything, just come and get us. All right?"
Bailey nodded. Then he turned toward the cabin. He covered the ground quickly, and then he knocked awkwardly on the door with his elbow.
After a moment Rayne opened the door. The boy looked at Bailey, and then his eyes dropped to the food. His mouth almost smiled when Rayne saw the grilled cheese and the soup. Almost. He let the door open wide, and Bailey stepped inside. Then Rayne closed the door.
Rayne walked over, and he sat on the futon. Bailey stood near the entryway, then he took a few steps, and he put the food in front of Rayne on the coffee table. Rayne stared at the plate. Bailey moved, and he sat beside the boy, and he watched Rayne's face in profile.
The young man took a deep breath. "Why did you save me?" He continued to look forward, and his mouth worked. Emotion roiled under the surface of the teen's barely intact veneer.
Bailey reached into his pocket, and he pulled out his phone. Luckily, he kept his phone in a waterproof case, and even after a dip in the Smith River, it still worked fine. He started tapping away at a message. Curious, Rayne frowned, and he looked over at Bailey's hands.
Finished, the dark-haired man held his phone so Rayne could see it. 'You needed help. Not going to let you drown.'
Rayne read the message, then he looked at Bailey's eyes. "Why did you just type that?"
He thought maybe Rayne had heard Clay ask about his inability to speak down at the river. But the boy was probably too shocked to process it at the time. Bailey swallowed, and he pulled the neck of his shirt down. Rayne saw the scar, and he quickly put it together. "Your neck is hurt. You can't talk?"
The mute man made a sad expression, and he shook his head.
Rayne looked intrigued by this information. Then the basic empathy most people have for one another took hold, and he made a face. "That has to be hard."
Bailey smiled, and he nodded.
Rayne bit his lip, a little of his own problems forgotten. "Will, will it ever get better? Will you ever talk again?"
Bailey felt his emotions rear up, and he blinked. 'Fuck, you should be past this.' However, 'never' is a long time. And though Bailey liked to fantasize that one day there'd be a miracle surgery that could repair his destroyed vocal cords, he knew better. He tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace, and he shook his head.
Rayne's eyes locked with Bailey's. He drew in a shaky breath, and then the teenager welled up. "I'm sorry." Tears streaked down his face, and Bailey knew most of the young man's emotion was due to his own circumstances. But, connecting with him brought it to the surface. Rayne opened his mouth, and he audibly breathed through it as tears ran down his face.
Bailey put an arm around Rayne's shoulders, and the boy sobbed. He seemed to crumble in on himself, and he leaned into Bailey.
Bailey lay back with Rayne against his chest, and Bailey raised his face up to look at the ceiling. He breathed through the moment, along with Rayne as the boy cried, and he held the young man.
Bailey wished now, more than at any other point since his accident that he could speak. He wanted to tell this boy that he was going to be okay. Bailey wished so badly he could tell Rayne that the men at the campground wanted nothing but good, and wonderful things for him. But, all he could do was hold on.
Yet, sometimes, that's what a soul needs.
It was early evening before Harlan heard back from his contact. He had sent Bailey’s license plate in to a connection he maintained with the DMV, and the man finally got back to an impatient Harlan. As soon as Harlan got the notification, he made his way to his cabin, and he closed the door. Then he eagerly unlocked his phone.
"Bailey Daniel Holbrook." Harlan looked at the email he received back on the device. Then he immediately began a search for Bailey's full name.
He narrowed his eyes at the search. A number of results popped up. There appeared to be a Facebook page for Bailey, and Harlan grinned. He selected that entry.
There was only one post that he could see with the particular permissions Bailey had used when he made it. Harlan began to read the entry.
'To everyone who has ever encouraged me along this journey. I wanted to let you know that your support, love, and patience have all been fantastic. And performing for you has been a dream come true. But, this dream, like all others, had to end.
It's ending earlier than I would have liked. I felt as if I had just started down this road when an unexpected turn came. Yet, here I am.
I'm leaving the scene, and, for me, there's no coming back. But I'll forever remember and cherish you all.
Thank you. For everything.'
Harlan frowned. There were no comments. "Huh. He must have turned off comments. Weird."
He went back to his search and scrolled down. "Hrmm." He read the text of another link. 'Bailey Holbrook performs, tonight at Rich's!' It was an old advertisement for a bar in San Diego. Harlan tapped the link.
A moment later a site loaded. There were numerous videos on the page, archived on the bar's website. One showed Bailey in freeze-frame. He stood on a short stage, and he grinned out at a small crowd of people.
Harlan wet his lips. "He looks like a superstar up there."
Harlan hit the video, and it began to play.
On the small screen of the phone, Bailey motioned for the crowd to quiet. They finally did. "Okay, here's one I'm still working on." He looked over his shoulder at a man with a guitar. "I'm gonna do it acapella this time, Jonathan." The bearded fellow nodded, and he smiled as Bailey turned back to the microphone.
Harlan watched as the handsome, self-assured Bailey took a breath. And then he began to sing.
I've heard love is like a wound, that it aches and it consumes,
So my question here it seems, centers on that simple theme,
Have you ever bled the blood?
So I'll ask you here and now, answer true, do you vow?
A lot depends on how this goes, And now my need begins to grow,
Have you ever bled the blood?
I ask because I need to know, if how I feel is just for show.
I just don't think that I can take, Jumping into something fake,
Have you ever bled the blood?
Have you ever burned so bright, a supernova in the night?
Have you ever felt the fire, has your heart ever conspired?
Have you ever bled the blood?
It feels so nice to hold your hand, you are the reason why I stand,
And show the world just how I feel, what we have to me is real.
But have you ever bled the blood?
They say that words do not contain, and yet I long to hear my name,
Fall like sweetness from your lips, From your love I need to sip.
Will you ever bleed the blood?
So have you ever bled the blood? Is your need for me a flood?
Do you hold back any part, can I really have your heart?
Have you ever bled the blood?
The last note faded from Bailey's lips, and the crowd went wild. Bailey laughed, and he bowed graciously as they happily shouted encouragement and accolades at him. Then, the video ended.
Harlan blinked. "What the fuck?" He stared at the phone, and he played the video again. After it finished the second time, the man shook his head. "Why isn't he famous?" Bailey's voice reminded him of a young Randy Travis - a country music superstar back in his day.
"Why is this guy here?" Thanks to his connections and research, Harlan quickly discovered Bailey was a certified engineer, and that he used to be a US Naval Officer. He also saw that he was discharged a couple of years ago.
Military records are hard to acquire. And Harlan would need to have an excellent reason to flex that particular muscle. Unfortunately, digging for information to sate his curiosity wasn't a good reason. So he had no idea why Bailey was discharged.
"Hell, he probably got out to make music." Harlan nodded to himself.
He looked at the time. "Huh. It's after five." Usually, by now Orlando was at his door, or vice versa. But, tonight, Harlan was interested in something other than the purely physical act of sex with the man.
He opened his door, and Harlan turned toward the large firepit next to the kitchen. It had cooled off, and he could already see people moving around in the slowly darkening light near the kitchen.
Harlan saw Bailey. He sat by Jeremy and Mason, and he nodded at something Mason said. And a plan began to bubble in Harlan's mind.
Harlan set his jaw, and he started toward the firepit.
Bailey smiled along with Mason and Jeremy. The boy, Rayne was feeling a little better. But, now he wanted to quietly read, alone in his cabin. And Bailey left him there. Jeremy had gone to check on the young man, and Jeremy said that Rayne even smiled a couple of times at the redhead.
"We'll just have to keep an eye on him," Mason said.
Bailey nodded. Clay was building a fire, and Greg manned the gas stove in the kitchen. They were currently the only ones at the firepit. Though, that'd change as the light given off by the flames grew.
'This is nice.' Bailey smiled as he watched Clay, and as Mason offered unhelpful advice on the process of feeding the fire. Bailey had to go to work the next day, but, it was still early in the evening. And he looked forward to spending a few companionable hours with the guys. He still couldn't readily communicate with them. But that didn't matter so much right at that moment.
Harlan walked up, and he took a seat on the bench opposite of the one Bailey shared with Mason and Jeremy. Bailey felt pretty positive, so he smiled, and he gave the man a nod.
Harlan's face twitched in a smile. His green eyes were intense as he looked at Bailey. "Hey, uh, Bailey, right?"
Harlan gave him a little knowing smile. "For a guy who can really sing, you don't talk much." He waved a hand at Jeremy. "You should do a duet with that one sometime. I bet you guys would sound great."
Every single person at the fire froze, and they looked, appalled at Harlan.
Bailey felt like he'd been slugged. 'How? How'd he …' The color drained from Bailey's face, and he stood up. He turned, and he walked through the campground, opened his cabin, and entered.
Harlan was so confused. "Uh, what," the stares of everyone around the fire suddenly felt damning, and he could feel the judgment. "What'd I say?"
"Harlan, Bailey can't talk." Clay shook his head. "So I have no idea what you're talking about, but you really twisted a knife in the guy."
Harlan frowned. "What? That's ridiculous." He pulled out his phone. "I found him, online, performing at a club. Not only can he sing, but he should be fucking famous."
Jeremy shook his head. "He had an accident. A couple of years ago." He sighed. "If you really found him singing well, and if a gift like that was taken from him ..." Jeremy made a pained face. "Man, that'd kill me - to never sing again."
Harlan processed that information, and he swallowed. "Shit." He held the phone in his hand, and suddenly the Facebook post by Bailey he found made sense. "Shit."
"You didn't know," Greg admitted from the kitchen. "But, still." He made a face and he looked toward Bailey's cabin. "This was the first time he had really decided to hang out."
Harlan groaned inwardly. He had nothing he could say, so he just walked off. He got back to his cabin, hid inside and he put his hand over his mouth.
Harlan was trained in culture. He knew art, music, good food, and wine. And he deeply felt when the world lost something unique - when a treasure of world vanished.
He sat on his bed, and he pulled up the video again on his phone. Harlan started it, and once more, he watched and listened to Bailey as his beautiful voice brought the words of his song to life.
And Harlan, one of the most fearsome men to ever step into the state of California wept.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
And thank you for reading!
If you'd like to be on a list specifically for notification of updates to my stories onThe Story Lover's Home, email and let me know. I'll add you on. Click on the following link Update List.
Additional Note: American Sign Language is VERY complicated. It's a combination of finger and hand movements, arm positioning, and then facial expressions and posture. It's remarkably expressive. However, it omits certain "bridge" words, and it assumes those words chain the signed ideas together. For example - to sign "I am going to the store" you'd sign "I go (going) store." It means the same thing. Primarily, I wanted to point out that it's not just the hands involved, and also that the basic structure of the language itself is different from what most of us are used to.
It's also mostly used in the deaf community. Bailey's case is a little strange. He can hear fine, but he can't speak. Still, it often puts him in the same position as deaf folks - unable to express complex ideas to those unable to sign.
So far, Bailey has been limited to miming his way through his interactions with the guys at the campground. So far.