Chapter 7: Speaking
Huck nodded his greetings at the church-going regulars, and he took his habitual seat near the front. His hip was flush with the end of the bench, and nobody took up the few feet beside him. That was reserved for the family Huck used to come with.
He sat a moment. Then, he looked over at the empty spot, his eyes a little lost.
Soon Huck's attention went back to the front of the room. Pastor Rogers slowly walked across the slightly elevated stage, a sheaf of papers in his hand. Huck straightened, and he prepared to hear the words delivered by the pastor. Huck knew there would be hard lessons ahead. And he didn't know if he was strong enough to act on the pastor's words.
"Give me strength," Huck whispered as he watched the pastor. "God, please, show me the right thing to do."
Preacher Rogers stood in the pulpit. Huck watched, and the man nervously shuffled his papers. Then Rogers looked up. His eyes seemed to lock onto Huck.
'He's pale.' Huck noticed that the pastor was almost white. He looked as if he had a scare. Huck looked back at Pastor Rogers, and he saw the man nod once, almost to himself.
His prepared notes, he folded them closed on the lectern. And then he looked out over the gathered congregation. "I have been inspired by God to talk tonight about a very godly virtue. Because even the best of us make mistakes. And all of us err. So, tonight, I want us to consider the merits and the goodness that is wrapped up in the power of forgiveness."
Harlan was pleased. He left the little Baptist church shortly before Preacher Rogers ended his sermon. He wore a pair of dark glasses during the sermon and took a seat in the far back corner of the room. The eyes of the pastor had landed on him multiple times during the delivery, and Harlan got a little thrill from the way the man's voice wavered in fear. Something was satisfying about tormenting a tormentor. And it was obvious to Harlan, the good pastor at the very least suspected they had met only a half-hour earlier at the Rogers' residence.
It was now just after eight PM, and Harlan got back to the campground. He was tired. Anytime he worked outside the lines of the law he was on alert, and he rode a knife-edge of hyper-awareness. And that sort of focus maintained for hours at a time wore him down.
He hadn't eaten anything for dinner. Harlan walked through the foggy night toward the camp kitchen. He could see that there was a flame which flickered in the brick-lined firepit. Harlan wasn't in much of a mood for socialization, so he walked behind the kitchen counter instead of to the fire. Though, he glanced over at the benches that lined the pit once he was behind the counter.
Bailey sat there. He had that same green ceramic mug that he liked, both hands wrapped around the cup. Steam rose from it, and Bailey stared into the flames. His blue eyes reflected the light, and they reminded Harlan of jewels sparkling. He was dressed warmly in thick pants, and a comfortable-looking high-necked, gray thermal shirt.
He looked deep in thought. Harlan bent to look into the fridge. "Ah. Good." There was some leftover chili from the night before in a small pot. He took it out, and Harlan put it on the gas burner to warm up.
Then he walked over to the fire. As he did, Bailey's head came up. And he gave Harlan a little smile. Bailey waved.
Harlan waved back. And he sat on the opposite bench. 'How are you?' Harlan signed. He'd been practicing basic phrases, and he also memorized the common possible responses.
Bailey blew air out of his nose as he reacted to Harlan. And his smile grew a tiny bit. 'I'm ok.' Harlan knew what he signed, but Bailey's face didn't quite match up. Unfortunately, Harlan was at the end of what he could communicate via ASL, and he cocked his head at Bailey.
"Really?" Harlan pursed his lips. "You don't seem okay."
Bailey sighed. He took his phone out of his pocket, and he typed out a message. Then he got up, and he walked around the warm fire. Bailey handed his cellphone to Harlan.
'I'm just feeling sorry for myself. I miss talking to the deaf people in San Diego.'
Harlan read the message, and his eyes came up to Bailey as he stood there. "Yeah. I can see how it'd be hard." Harlan stood up. "Hang on. Let me check on my chili."
The food was bubbling and warm. Harlan shut off the heat, and he scraped the chili into a bowl. As he did, Bailey stepped over to the donation jar. The mute man dropped a $5 bill into the pot, and he looked at Harlan.
'Cheap date.' Bailey signed, and he smirked, again expecting Harlan wouldn't know what he said.
This time, Harlan was ready. 'Not a date without a kiss,' he signed, and he stared at Bailey, a little smile and a challenge on his face.
Bailey's jaw dropped. Then he grinned. Harlan loved how Bailey flushed a bright pink with embarrassment. 'Fuck, he's handsome.' And a realization began to sink into Harlan's mind. 'Is he actually interested?'
Bailey bit his lip, and he stepped back over to the bench. This time he picked the one Harlan was on earlier. His eyes once again found the fire, and he sat with his mug.
Harlan settled in beside him. And he felt the silent companionship from Bailey, as the man sat there. Harlan began to eat, genuinely hungry. The chili tasted even better tonight than it had yesterday.
Harlan glanced at Bailey's face. It was in profile as he looked forward at the fire. And a dreamy, content expression rested there. Then, Bailey blinked, and he looked over at Harlan. His eyes roamed over Harlan's face, and his damaged throat moved as he swallowed. He looked almost nervous.
Harlan finished chewing his bite and washed it down with a swig of water. "What are you thinking, Bailey?"
Bailey smiled sadly. He stood up, and he shook his head. He signed something. Harlan was beginning to more clearly see the signs as individual words. This time there were six of them. Bailey motioned at himself twice during the exchange. Though Harlan didn't know the vocabulary Bailey just used, so he had no idea what the man said.
Bailey patted Harlan's shoulder, then he walked away, that same sad expression on his face. Harlan watched his back as he disappeared into the fog. Then Harlan turned forward, and he put his bowl down. He went through the same motions he saw Bailey use. Then he repeated them. And then again. Confident he had captured the signs, he quickly finished his meal.
Harlan cleaned up, and he put out the fire. Then he entered his cabin. Now armed with Mirabell's number, he called her.
She answered, and her face came over the video chat. She smiled at Harlan. "Hello, Harlan!" She smirked. "I trust this call isn't simply to see my lovely face. Is that mute man still vexing you?"
Harlan smiled. "Hello, Mirabell." He considered. "And I wouldn't say 'vexing.' But, yes, this does concern him." He put the phone propped up, so it was focused on his head and torso. "Can you tell me what this means?"
He chained the signs together for her.
"Hrmmm. Again, please. I want to be sure."
Harlan signed again. He felt a little uncertain. "I think I got them right. Does it not make sense?" Harlan picked up the phone, and he looked at her.
Her dark eyes looked a little pained. "It does make sense. I must be missing some context, but the sentence is coherent."
"What does it mean?"
"It means, 'I'm a broken man, dreaming I'm whole.'" She smiled sadly. "Your mute man, he seems to suffer."
Harlan simply wasn't used to sharing much of anything with anyone else. And the fact was, that Mirabell was a woman he knew only through Family connections, and work he did while in Italy. Yet, here he was, sharing these very personal moments with her. It wasn't like him. Harlan also had a fearsome reputation in Family circles. He knew this may make him appear soft in the eyes of Mirabell. But, he had to know. And she was his best resource.
Harlan nodded slowly. "He does seem to suffer."
It was almost as if Mirabell could sense Harlan's thoughts about involving her. "I am at your disposal, Harlan of Family Reina." She smiled. "And what we do between us here will remain between us." She held up her right hand so that Harlan could see the silver ring on it. "Giuro sulla Famiglia," her voice changed to a reverent and serious tone.
Harlan gave her a grim smile. "Grazie, Mirabell."
A short time later he hung up. Harlan sat at his desk, and he looked down at the wooden surface as he thought.
Then he opened his little laptop. He navigated quickly to the ASL lessons he had saved, and he began a targeted search for a particular group of signs.
The next day came. It seemed that the entire thing passed in a blur to Huck. He was thankful for the busy time at his work, as it helped him keep his mind off of things. But, now, he was home. And he had a lot of time to think. He needed guidance. So he called the only man he knew who could provide it.
"But, Pastor Rogers, I don't understand." It was Thursday evening. Huck spoke on the phone, and he shook his head. "I really need to speak to someone. And I don't …"
"I'm sorry, Huck." The man interrupted him. "I really am. But, I can't help you anymore." The pastor took a breath. "Look, I think you should contact an expert. Maybe a psychologist, or a therapist for Rayne."
This was a complete 180-degree turn. It was only last week that Pastor Rogers railed against mental health professionals from the pulpit, and their definition of homosexuality as "normal." Huck felt as if he had whiplash. "I, really?" He sat on the couch, and he put an elbow on the end table. He propped his head upon his hand. "But, what if they tell me he's okay? That being gay is okay?"
"Huck, that's between you, Rayne, and God. I've got to go. Good luck." And with that, the pastor hung up.
Huck stared at the phone in his hand. He blinked, and he let his arm fall into his lap. Huck breathed slowly, and then he closed his eyes. 'What feels right? God, I can hardly even tell anymore.'
Huck spent so long trying to do the right thing in the opinion of his pastor that it was a novelty for him to examine his own feelings. He opened his eyes, and they slid over to Rayne's chair. The old, overstuffed thing looked so empty and forlorn. He longed to see his son there - bundled in a blanket, wearing his flannel PJs, and reading one of his books.
"I want my son back." Huck's voice wavered. "I want my son."
Huck set his jaw, and he stood up. He checked his phone for the time. He had a couple of hours before the stores closed. He walked to his door, put on his jacket, and he went out into the night.
Rayne felt almost as if he were a wrung out rag. Like, he couldn't squeeze anything else out of himself. He felt like he had nothing left.
Elias tried to help. The young man was so sweet, and Rayne actually fell asleep against the blonde boy's chest when they sat on the futon together last night. Elias let him sleep there for over an hour, until Rayne woke, drooling on the both of them.
It was nice to feel human contact and touch. Rayne's emotions were so raw, and he was on edge. And being with Elias helped calm him.
It was Friday. They just finished their school day, and the three boys got off of the bus. Rayne was supposed to go home today. And he clung to the dim hope that his dad would talk to him.
As he walked to the cabin to pack, Mason approached him. The lanky guy had a strange look on his face, and Rayne frowned as Mason headed straight for him.
"Hey, Rayne." The tall young man smiled at him. "I need to talk to you real quick, okay?"
Elias cleared his throat. "I'll talk to you later, Rayne." He smiled at the boy. "Come to say goodbye before you leave, okay?"
Rayne nodded at him. Avery peeled off, and he went into the cabin he shared with Rayne. He too was scheduled to leave today, back to his foster family, and he had to pack as well.
Mason put an arm around Rayne's shoulders, and he walked with him. "Come on. Let's head to my cabin."
Rayne took shuffling steps. He could sense something wrong, and he didn't know if he could take anything else. Finally, Rayne stopped a few feet from the cabin. The boy looked at Mason, and he shrugged. "Just tell me. What is it?" His voice was flat, and he tried to conjure that dead, numb feeling inside - just so he would hurt less.
Mason looked at him, and he bit his lip. "Ah, well, your dad. He called. He wants to pay for the weekend, for you to stay."
Rayne's face twitched. He blinked, and tears rolled down his face. He soundlessly nodded.
Mason gripped Rayne's shoulders. "I'm sorry." He knelt in front of the quiet boy. "I'm sorry. What can I do? Rayne, tell me, what can I do."
Rayne swallowed, and he shook his head. He didn't trust his voice. Rayne only shrugged his shoulders and made Mason release him. Then he turned to head back to his cabin.
That's when he saw the hatchback enter the campground. Their family's little red car drove up until it was even with the Airstream and it stopped. Mason walked past Rayne. "I'll be right back."
The black-haired boy watched as Mason talked to Huck. He couldn't hear what they said, but Mason turned, and he pointed at Rayne's cabin.
Rayne's soul jerked and fluttered like a wounded butterfly in his chest. Hope, despair, and pain burned there, and the car continued along the loop. It parked beside the cabin. Then Huck got out of the vehicle.
Rayne stared at him. His dad shut the door, and he walked straight toward him.
Huck stopped in front of Rayne, and he looked down at his son.
The tears had continued to fall, and Rayne's cheeks were a web of shiny tracks from their passage. Huck stepped close, and he knelt in front of him. He reached up one palm on either side of Rayne's face. And he wiped the tears away with his callused hands and his thumbs.
"I love you, son." Huck's own eyes glittered with unshed tears. "No matter what. I love you."
Rayne hadn't heard those words for months. And he laughed. It was the sound of a mind, unable to process the information given. And, then, it hit him. "Really?" Rayne took a shaky breath, and he shook his head. "Even if I'm gay?"
"No matter what," Huck repeated, and he gently shook him by his shoulders. He set his jaw. "I won't pretend to understand what is happening to you. And maybe that's not my job. But, my job is to love you. And I know how to do that. I just had to remember." Huck took a deep breath. "And, I thought we could spend the weekend here - together."
Rayne put a hand over his mouth. He squeezed his eyes shut, and tears streamed from him. But, he nodded.
"Aww, come here." Huck's voice was raw as he pulled Rayne in. He hugged his son tight against his chest. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, boy."
Rayne squeezed him, his face against Huck's neck.
On up the loop, Harlan stood just around the corner of one of the cabins. His expression as he secretly watched Huck and Rayne never changed.
That is until Huck hugged him. And then, the devil smiled.
It had seemed like a very long week to Bailey. But finally, Friday rolled around. And he left the worksite with a wave and a weary smile at Shawn.
Bailey drove to the campground. He had to work a little late today, and he arrived right about as Greg and Clay started their work in the camp kitchen for the dinner crowd.
And today, there was a new person gathered with the others at the picnic table. The boy, Rayne, sat beside a dark-haired man, tanned from years working in the sun. The fellow had his arm around Rayne's shoulders, while the boy leaned against him, his eyes closed. They looked similar. 'Ah, Rayne's dad.' It was as if Rayne were starved for touch and love. And now he couldn't get enough of it. Bailey could see that need and its fulfillment on the boy's face as clear as if Rayne had announced it.
Bailey smiled as he approached. He knew Rayne had some problems with his dad, but, now, things looked as if they were going to be okay.
As Bailey sat, Greg looked up from cutting up an onion. "Hey, Bailey!" He grinned, then he looked at the new fellow. "Huck, that's Bailey." Greg motioned with his knife, and a small chunk of onion flew. "He's the one who rescued Rayne." Greg caught Bailey's look. He shrugged. "Rayne told him already. And he wanted to meet you."
Huck disentangled himself from his son, and he got up. He walked around the table. Bailey stood to meet him, and Huck hugged Bailey.
It was a real hug, and Huck held on. The man breathed against Bailey. "Thank you for saving my son." He squeezed, and Bailey grinned against him. Bailey patted Huck's back.
Finally, the man released him. He nodded once more at Bailey, wiped his face, then he went back to his spot at the table beside Rayne.
Bailey felt his mood rise just from the proximity of the emotions around him. Mason soon had a good, warm fire burning in the pit nearby. And the group milled and flowed between the picnic table, the kitchen itself, and the benches around the fire.
'Harlan.' Bailey looked around. 'Where's Harlan?' The brown-haired man wasn't with the rest of them, and Bailey felt disappointed. Then he frowned at himself. 'No. Stop it. Don't even think about it. Why would you do that to someone normal? Someone whole?'
Bailey felt the heaviness of his situation like a lead weight. And his eyes found Orson as he laughed along with his tall, handsome officer, Joseph. Orson's prosthetic was almost invisible in the growing darkness. Though it reflected light here and there as the fire grew.
'Is Orson selfish? Is that how you think of him? Is he selfish, for being with Joseph?' Bailey's frown grew, and he looked down at his hands in his lap. He finally shook his head, just slightly. 'No. It's not the same. Orson functions out in the world. But I need help to. I need someone's help, all the time. Without Shawn, I wouldn't even have a fucking job.'
Ever since the accident, Bailey struggled with depression and negative thoughts. He had also learned to recognize when it started. But, there were times when he didn't care. There were times that he wanted to be miserable - where he felt he deserved to.
Bailey jerked. Harlan stood beside the bench where Bailey sat. He hadn't even realized that Harlan had approached. Bailey looked up at him.
Harlan smiled. And despite Bailey's earlier spiral, he returned it. The light of the fire played over Harlan's face, and at that moment, Bailey found him to be a handsome sight.
He tried to reign in his emotions. 'No. Just go. Go to your cabin.'
Bailey stood up. He tried to give Harlan a reassuring smile, and he shook his head. He pointed at himself, then he made a shooing motion, and he started to leave.
As he stepped away, Harlan grabbed his wrist. "Wait." He looked over the small crowd of people at the fire, and near the kitchen, then his eyes went back to Bailey. "I want to talk to you." He motioned with his head at the asphalt loop. "Will you walk with me? Just for a little?"
Bailey wanted to, and he hated himself for it. He sighed, and he nodded.
The two men walked over a few feet to the paved loop that circled the campground. And Harlan set a slow pace. Bailey felt a strange contentment with Harlan. It was as if the man meant safety and calmness. 'So absurd.' Bailey looked at Harlan. 'He's a small guy. I could probably take him. Why does he make me feel safe?'
Harlan saw the glance, and he took a breath. "Hey. So, I wanted to tell you something." They continued to walk, and they passed under one of the cabins. The lights on the front of the little building were on, and Harlan stopped in the brightness. "It really bothered me - what you said. About how you're broken."
Bailey was surprised, and his face showed it. Harlan must have memorized the signs, after seeing them ONCE. 'Impressive. But it doesn't change anything.' He shook his head, and he shrugged his shoulders. 'Why?'
Harlan stared at Bailey. "It bothers me because you seem to be making a choice for me." Harlan lifted his chin, and he drew himself to his full 5'10" height. Which, was still short next to Bailey's 6'2". Regardless, Bailey noticed the change in Harlan's posture and the seriousness in Harlan's eyes. "And before you do that, I wanted to tell you something."
Bailey swallowed. He eyed Harlan, then, he slowly nodded. He motioned at Harlan. 'Go ahead.'
Harlan squared his shoulders, so he faced head-on with Bailey, so there'd be no mistake what he signed. 'Sometimes a broken piece is the only one that will fit.'
Harlan dropped his hands, and he stared at Bailey. He said nothing, and he only waited. And, this time, there was a hopeful, earnest look on Harlan's face. Bailey couldn't ignore that. As much as he wanted to write off what Harlan said, he couldn't.
Bailey's face showed his anguish. And, before he could stop himself, he signed, 'why? What do you want? Do you want a project?' His hands flew as he let his emotions rear up. 'Do you want to feel good about yourself? That you took pity on a poor mute man?! Is that it?'
Harlan's eyes tracked Bailey's hands as they moved, at least, at first. Then they came up, and they just looked into Bailey's face.
Bailey stopped, and he worked his mouth. He huffed out a breath of air, one of the only sounds he could make now. And he turned to go.
"Bailey," Harlan's voice stopped him. "I don't know what you said." Bailey felt Harlan's warm hands on his shoulders. And he let the man turn him around. Harlan looked up into Bailey's blue eyes, his hands still resting on Bailey. "But, I'm willing to learn. If you let me, I'll learn."
Bailey sighed. And he shrugged. 'Why?'
Harlan smiled. His eyes moved, and he gently pulled the high neck of Bailey's shirt down until the wide, terrible scar was exposed. Bailey swallowed, and he felt the warmth of Harlan's hand against the skin there. "Maybe it's not obvious to you," Harlan's voice dropped until it was almost a whisper, and his smile vanished. "But, I'm broken too." Harlan's fingers lightly traced the mark on Bailey's neck, and the tall man blinked slowly as Harlan caressed him. Harlan's eyes again found Bailey's, while his hand rested against the scar, hiding it. "I thought, maybe, we could be broken together."
Harlan stepped very close. Bailey's body broke into goosebumps as the man's arms went around him, and Harlan held Bailey there. Harlan's hand stroked up and down Bailey's back, from his neck to his rump.
Bailey's eyes closed, and his body responded to Harlan. It had been a very long time since he had been held this way. And there was no doubt now, he found Harlan attractive, and desirable.
Harlan continued for a couple of minutes. Then he leaned back a little. Bailey opened his eyes, and the men looked at one another.
The choice happened for both of them, almost at once. Each put a hand behind the head of the other, and they drew in.
Harlan's mouth met Bailey's, and the men kissed. The decision-making center of Bailey's brain quieted, and along with it his uncertainty. This was right. This was good.
After a moment Harlan pulled away, and he grinned at the stunned, addled look on Bailey's face. "I'd really like to continue this, inside." That hopeful expression was back on Harlan's face as he held Bailey.
The dark-haired man nodded. Harlan turned, and he opened the door that they stood next to. Bailey hadn't even realized that they were beside Harlan's cabin. 'Tricky man.' He smiled as Harlan shut the door behind them.
Harlan pulled off his shirt, and Bailey did the same. Then they continued to kiss one another. Bailey's hands were all over Harlan, and he loved how the shorter man made approving little sounds every time Bailey did something that he liked.
Harlan's hands came down to Bailey's waist. He looked down, as he unfastened Bailey's jeans, and he unzipped them. He made an appreciative sound at the bulge in Bailey's briefs, and Bailey's mouth opened when Harlan rubbed his covered erection. Then Harlan pulled him back in, and he kissed while his other hand slipped past the waistband, and he firmly stroked Bailey's cock.
'Fuck, you need to be naked.' Bailey felt a desperate need for Harlan, and he began to pull clothes off of him. Soon, they were both undressed. Bailey pushed Harlan onto his back, then the tall man climbed on top of him.
Harlan's arms circled Bailey. The two men lay on his bed, and they kissed, while Bailey ground his long, proportional member into Harlan's.
Harlan frowned, and he pulled back. "Uh, you need to stop."
Bailey stopped moving, and he cocked his head, the question evident on his face? 'Why?'
Harlan gave him a sheepish grin. "I'm gonna get off if you keep doing that."
Bailey smiled evilly. He shrugged. Then he, very slowly, started to grind again. Harlan laughed, and he lay his head back on the pillow. Bailey kissed, and nibbled on Harlan's neck, and he felt the skin move under his lips as Harlan swallowed.
Bailey's hips picked up in speed, and their groins were both slick with precome. His breathing began to come faster, and Bailey made small, breathy sounds as he neared orgasm.
Harlan's jaw dropped. "Ah, ah fuck." His arms were tight around Bailey's torso, as their bodies pressed together. Then Harlan pulled on Bailey's neck, and the two men again kissed.
Bailey breathed hard around Harlan's mouth, and he came. Harlan followed only a moment after, and he groaned while Bailey continued to buck his hips. Bailey off-handedly noted that Harlan was a lot stronger than he appeared. The man's arms were very tight around him, though, Bailey liked how it felt to be held that way.
Bailey finally relaxed, his body limp, and panting on top of Harlan. Harlan breathed quietly, and his hands stroked, very lightly up and down Bailey's back.
The mute man smiled. 'This is nice.' He blinked, and he pushed himself up a little to look at Harlan.
The green-eyed man smiled at him. "You don't have to get up." He wrapped his arms back around Bailey, and he pulled him down again. Bailey sighed, and Harlan's hands resumed their gentle stroking of the skin on Bailey's back.
Bailey's eyes were really heavy. He felt so safe, and his body was comfortable and warm against Harlan. Piece by piece, he relaxed.
Without even knowing it was happening, Bailey slid into a comfortable, peaceful sleep. All while wrapped in the arms of one of the most dangerous men alive.
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!
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