Male Model Justin Hopwood as Casey.
Got Nuffin - Spoon
Lonely By Your Side - Azzido Da Bass & Johnny Blake
Blue - Gemini
OUT OF MY MIND: PART 3
“What’s going on?” Casey put a hand above his eyes, creating a visor from the sun.
Adam squinted at him. “Didn’t Link tell you?”
“Hey.” Casey put his hands up. “He told me I was working the front desk today.”
Adam groaned. “Not today. It’s Single Mingle. There’s going to be more guests than usual, and Link’s faster with check-in. You haven’t been trained on the computer yet. I don’t want you getting flustered trying to keep up with him. For the time being, until we can get you fully trained, you’ll help me greet guests, and run errands around here, getting them this and that until they’re settled. It’ll help you memorize the layout of the place too. Link did give you the tour, right?”
Casey shook his head. “No, but it’s not his fault. I had to deal with this damn rash.” He scratched his chest. “He kind of had a meltdown about it.” Or he just plain melted when I kissed him, Casey thought.
“He stresses easily.” Adam smiled. “It’s okay. Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine. Grab one of the pamphlets from the front desk, one with a map on the back, and get back out here.”
“All right, but first…what’s Single Mingle?”
“Right. Every second week of the month, during non-camp months, we host a Single Mingle campout. Singles sign up on the website, and when spots open up for the next mingle, they come here to hang out, camp, and have fun for five days. It makes us good money to put back into the camp, we donate ten percent of our earnings to LGBT charities, and everyone has a great time. Except Perry, he hates to pay the cleaning guy at the end of the week. The guy charges extra for that kind of mess.”
“So, it’s like a dating service?” Casey grunted, nervous now more than ever. “For…”
“Yes, the gay community, men and women. When you’re not busy sometime, check out the bulletin board in the lobby. We post letters and pictures from couples who got together at Single Mingle. It’s a safe place to meet people who are actually looking for long term relationships.” Adam caught Casey’s frantic eyes. “Don’t worry. They won’t bite, too much.” Adam shoved him, laughing. “You should see the look on your face.”
“Sorry. This is all kind of new to me.” Casey messed with his bangs.
“It’s all good, Case. You’ll have fun and meet people too. It’s a pretty easy gig. For the most part, they stay out at the lake, weather permitting. Unless they pay for a cabin, which isn’t expensive, but some people like their privacy. You know, the shy kids.” Adam winked. “You’ll be free of service at five. Perry and I will take over from there. We’re doing cocktails and dinner out by the dock after that. But you’re more than welcome to hang out with the guests. Maybe you’ll meet someone.”
Casey toed his sneaker in the grass, putting his hand in his pocket. He’d already found someone, but he wasn’t so sure if Link felt the same. “Cool,” he lied.
“Hey. You okay? If this is too much for you, and you need another day—”
“No!” Casey whipped his head around. “I’m good. Work will keep my mind off of things I don’t need to worry about right now.”
Adam nodded, clapping him on the back. He leaned in. “Then go get that map and get your butt back out here.”
“Yes, Captain.” Casey saluted him and ran up the stairs to the lobby. He heard the first car pulled up. Voices laughed on the other side of the screen. A door slammed and he started to sweat. What if he wasn’t any good at being social with them? What if he… Casey looked up, catching Link glance away.
He shuffled to the front desk. “Hey.”
Link plastered on a smile. “Yes?” He finally looked up.
“Uh, I need a pamphlet?”
Pulling a folded piece of paper out of a holder on the counter, Link held it out to him. “The map’s on the back. No one booked the deluxe cabin, so you don’t have to worry about trekking out there alone with a guest. Sometimes you get a creep, you know what I mean?” Link adjusted a vase of flowers near the computer.
“Not really, but I’ll take your word for it.” Casey peeked over his shoulder, hoping they were alone. Satisfied, he put his elbows on the counter. “Hey. We cool? I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to like pounce on you or anything.”
Link sighed. “Yep, we’re cool.” He turned around, cranking up his music a little. “You better get out there. The fresh meat is arriving.”
“Fresh meat?” Casey cringed.
“Yeah,” Link gave Casey his profile, scared of direct eye contact. “Fresh meat, a pack of potential hotties to play with? If you want to hookup, Single Mingle is the only chance you really get around here.”
Casey inhaled painfully. “Do you do that often, hookup with the guests?”
Link shrugged, playing it cool. He hadn’t touched a single guest since he’d been in Shermin, but he refused to let Casey think otherwise. He wasn’t about to be played by any man. “There isn’t much else, Casey. It’s not like in Frankfort where the getting’s good. I’m not exactly a priest either.”
“No, you’re not.” Casey fisted the pamphlet behind his back. He faked a smile for Link in the mirror. “I’ll see you later,” he bit out.
“Sure. Later.” Link held up a hand, giving Casey his back.
Suddenly upset, Casey took a few deep breaths, before walking outside into a small group of eager faces. Adam turned around, shooting him a stern look. “And this is Casey. He’ll be helping ya’ll get settled out at the lake or in your cabin, after you check in with the lobby.”
Casey held up a hand. “Hi.”
“Hi there.” The closest guy smirked. He was maybe mid-thirties, tall and built, with close cut golden curls. He was handsome, if you liked the rugged, outdoorsy types that wore expensive river rafting sandals twenty-four seven. “Are you going to be joining the festivities?”
“I’m just part of the staff,” Casey blurted, taking a step closer to Adam.
“He’ll be available until dinner.” Adam nudged him, laughing through his teeth. “Why don’t we start getting you all checked in?”
The man chuckled, and stepped back, giving Casey some room. His move made Casey relax, but his eyes were guarded. The man crossed his arms, still definitely interested. “Available, huh?”
“To service you around the grounds.” Casey blanched, realizing how it sounded when everyone started laughing.
“I’m just giving you a hard time, kid. Relax.” The man reached out, and shook his hand. “I’m Gunner, a regular here at Single Mingle.”
“Yeah, because no one can put up with your ass longer than five days, much less date you.” His friend snickered. “And I’m Roy, his BFF, and longtime single. I keep telling him we should just get call it quits and marry each other, but he’s determined to get rid of me.” They both thought Roy’s joke was the most hilarious thing in the world, leaving Casey lost.
“Nice to meet you both.” Casey calmed down, feeling less threatened.
“You too, Casey. We’ll come back and check with you after we sign in. We got a cabin this time.” Gunner leaned down. “Hoping to get some, you know?”
“Not from me I hope,” Casey joked back. “Roy seems pretty available.”
“You’re cute, but not my type, kid. And I wouldn’t get with Roy if I was piss drunk. He’s like a brother to me. Besides, I’m into older men.” Gunner winked.
“You are old.” Roy barked a laugh, shaking his shoulders. “Get off him, G. He looks ready to crawl away.”
“I’m cool.” Casey chuckled. “You guys check in and we’ll get you settled.”
“See you soon, kid.”
Four thirty came around fast. Casey was exhausted. He hadn’t done that much running around since he was a kid. Everyone was already well into the swing of things down at the lake. Tents were set up, drinks were flowing, and Perry had lit a fire. A banquet table had been erected. A few part-time staff members were setting up dinner and bartending. Some of the singles had even jumped in the lake, wading around the shallow shore, laughing and screaming. Casey stood at the edge of the path, watching them all have a good time. He caught Gunner and Roy sitting with two guys around the fire, smiling and whispering, and he thought of Link.
Relieved of his duties early, Casey turned around and went to find his roommate. He didn’t like the way they’d left things this morning, and it was only right to talk it out like adults. He had to make Link understand. He just didn’t want to jump into things. He’d only been here for less than a week. He didn’t want Link to think he was like that. Then again, Link seemed to be cool with hooking up on a whim. Or was he just saying that, Casey thought.
A flustered mess, Casey fought the pain in his feet all the way up to the lobby. He was surprised to find the place empty and quiet. What did he expect? All the guests were busy. There wasn’t any need for Link to man the desk during a private event. And from what he’d been told, they were booked for two months solid. He walked down the long hallway to their room, only to find it empty too. Link’s bed was perfectly made, but his side of the floor was still a mess of neon t-shirts, jeans that looked just stepped out of, and at least ten pairs of ridiculously colorful underwear.
Casey stretched his arms, pivoting to his side of the room. It looked bare compared to Link’s poster covered walls and sparkly, toiletry covered dresser. Only his bedding, his still unpacked bags, and a pair of shoes took up residence. But on his bed was a bottle of fragrance-free detergent, a piece of mail addressed to him, and a handwritten note.
You’ve got mail. Duh. And make sure to wash your polo for tomorrow. I don’t do other people’s laundry. It’s the second door down. Don’t wait up.
“So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh? You weren’t kidding about getting some fresh meat, I guess.” Casey crumpled up the note and tossed it into the wire wastebasket next to his bed. He sat on his quilt covered mattress, picking up the letter. It was postmarked from New Orleans. He frowned. There wasn’t a return address and the Shermin address with his name was made on a printed label. He tore it open with his finger.
A folded piece of printer paper slid out of the envelope. A few lines of typed text sat in the middle of the page.
You deserve every bit of bruising I left behind. She plans to take everything. If she intends to make a fool out of me, I’ll go down with a bang. You can count on it, faggot. You can’t hide from me.
Casey let the paper flutter to the ground, scooting back to the wall. He drew his knees to his chest and put his head down as if a monster had just walked out of his closet, and truly, one had. His dad was going to haunt him for the rest of his days, never free to be himself. The tears came easily as he struggled to pull his phone out of his pocket. His anxiety spiked, concocting a panic attack of the worst kind. He could barely breathe, searching through his contacts with blurred vision. He couldn’t call his mom. She would do something stupid, he just knew it. He couldn’t call the police. His dad was one of them. He couldn’t jeopardize his place here in Shermin by telling Adam or Perry. So despite their tense afternoon, Casey dialed Link.
It rang and rang until Link’s singsong voicemail chimed in. Casey waited for the beep and let go of his tears. “Link, please call me back. Please. I’m sorry about everything, but I need you. I really need you.” He let the call drop and waited for a reply that never came.
Link waved goodbye to the porch full of ladies. He blew a few air kisses, loving their giggles.
“Get on home before you give someone a stroke, sugar!” Miss Merna laughed.
“Thanks for the pie, beautiful. I’ll let Casey know where it came from.” He held it up, watching her blush.
“Bring that boy with you next time,” Granny Ella Mae hollered. “We need more young blood.”
The ladies cackled. He howled with laughter, pointing at her. “I’ll do that, you little vixen.”
Granny Ella Mae swiped the air like a tiny tiger, complete with her best meow.
“You better watch where you aim that sexiness. Someone’s liable to get blinded.” Link gave a final wave, laughing under his breath. Damn, he loved those ladies. They were too much fun. And what was better than spending a few hours with a pack of warm, loving grannies who listened to him vent to his heart’s desire. Nothing, there was absolutely nothing better. Okay, maybe making up with Casey and watching him scarf down pie would be better, but he had yet to get that far.
He pocketed the little fabric samples the quilting bee had given him. They wanted to know what color Casey wanted. At this rate, they’d have to ask Adam and Perry to give them another room just to store quilts.
He got into his car and buckled up. His phone blinked on the charger, notifying him he had messages. Casually, he picked it up, waking the screen. A few missed calls from locals scrolled under his finger, but the last three had been from Casey, and every one of them had a voicemail. He pressed play, holding the phone to his ear. He expected some sweet, awkward apology, trying to be cool again, but what he didn’t prepare for was the anguished sobs and the barely understandable words from Casey’s mouth.
Link threw the phone onto the floorboard, and floored the gas, sending his tiny purple demon down the streets of Shermin.
Link locked the lobby up for the night, hurrying down the hall to their room. He threw the door open, out of breath. With no sign of Casey, he stopped, hearing the shower going, and freaked out.
“No, no, no. Casey,” he pleaded, expecting the worst. He pushed the bathroom door open, almost tripping over a towel to get to the figure huddled in the bathtub on the other side of a filmy green curtain. “Casey.”
Metal brushed metal. Link wrenched the curtain to the side, falling to his knees next to the tub. “Casey,” he murmured, reaching out.
The blond was tucked in a corner, still wearing his jeans, but nothing else. He was sopping wet, letting the shower drench him with warm water. “Casey, talk to me.” Link tried to pull him over. “What happened?”
Casey said nothing. He turned away, eyes bloodshot. His fingers bit into his arms.
“No. You look at me.” Link cupped his face. “I thought you were going to…” Link sighed, able to breathe now that Casey was still alive. Casey jerked away.
“Fine. You don’t want to come to me? I’ll come to you.” Link pulled his shirt over his head, and kicked off his sneakers. “But I hate wet jeans, so don’t think I’m trying to pull something here.” He shimmied out of his denim, revealing his hot pink briefs, and climbed into the tub. Rubbing his eyes of water, he scooted over to Casey. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you called until I got back to my car. Casey, please say something.”
“He’ll never leave me alone,” Casey whispered, hiding his eyes behind his fingers.
“Who?” Link managed to pry Casey’s hands from his face, squeezing them in his.
“My dad is going to do something bad and I can’t stop him.”
Link scowled. “Is he the one who hit you?”
“Yes.” Casey looked up. “And when he comes for me—”
“He’s not coming here.” Link wrapped Casey in his arms. “He wouldn’t dare.”
Casey slid down, resting his head on Link’s chest in defeat. “You don’t know my dad. There isn’t anything he won’t do when he’s angry.”
Link reached over and cut the shower off. “Why do you think he’d come here? Didn’t he want you gone?”
“He sent me a letter.”
“Shit. I knew that letter looked weird. Was it threatening?” Link lifted Casey’s chin, staring down at him.
Casey nodded. “Very.”
“Then you have every right to file a restraining order against him. We can call Sheriff Beauchamp out to the grounds tomorrow and talk to him about getting one.”
“No.” Casey squirmed away. “No cops. He’ll hear about it and try to do something before I file. That’s why I came here, Link. I already thought about getting one, but it’s pointless.”
“Casey.” Link crawled over, hugging him again. “This isn’t that kind of town. Beauchamp has a marriage equality sticker on his squad car for crying out loud. I don’t think he’d let word get out. He’d do anything in his power to help you. Trust me.”
“Huh uh, you have no idea how stuff like this works, and besides, he made sure no one could pin that letter on him.”
“Why do you say that?” Link frowned.
“He typed the entire thing, left no return address, used generic paper and an envelope, and probably dropped it in a public postbox. I’ll guarantee there aren’t any prints either. He’ll say I made the whole thing up to help my mom’s divorce lawyer tip the scales.”
“Either you watch way too much television or that’s really fucked up.” Link ran his fingertips over Casey’s hair, smoothing back his bangs.
“He’s fucked up, a control freak, and very, very smart.” Casey looked down, ashamed of his bruises. “My mom sent him divorce papers. She wants to bury him in the ground for what he did to me, I guess. And he implied that he doesn’t care about what happens to him, as long as he gets his revenge, starting with me.”
“He won’t touch you, Casey. Not anymore.” Link kissed his forehead. “This is a safe place and these are good people. They took care of me when I went through a hard time. They’ll take care of you too. You need to tell Adam, immediately. If someone is making threats to his family, rest assured the Calvary will come to your aid.”
Casey got to his feet, pushing Link off of him. “No! This is all I got, Link. This is the only place I want to be, and I won’t repay Adam’s kindness by stuffing my problems down his throat. I’m not safe anywhere else, but here.”
“You’re at a fucking haven, Casey. What do you think this place is for, booty calls? No. This is a sanctuary from the outside world, for people like us that are shunned, confused, hurt, and stressed because some people just don’t understand. What in the hell do you think Adam will do if you ask him for help? He’s going to help you, because that’s what he does! He helps people in need, damn it. If you think your dad is going to come after you for a good old gay bashing, ask for help. I don’t want to find you in a ditch somewhere, Casey! I want you to be a grown ass man, put some clothes on, and march your butt over to the lake. Better yet, I’ll take you. I don’t trust you not to bolt.”
“Is that how you treat all your friends? You yell at them?” Casey let the bathroom door bounce against the wall, leaving water all over the floor as he went into their room.
“You can be mad at me, but yes, that’s how I’m treating the only friend I have. It’s the only way you’ll listen because you’re terrified and you’re shutting down. You have no idea what to do right now. You’re overwhelmed. You’re tired. But you need help.” Link caught up to him, whirling Casey around. “Just stop and think. What if he does come here, Casey? What are you going to do, just let him beat you up again?” Link fumed. “Why did you even come out in the first place if all you’re going to do is let someone else dictate who you are and hide? Coming out is scary, but you did it because you want to be yourself, free to love who you want. Don’t let him ruin you.”
“I am ruined!” Casey growled. “Don’t you see that? My parents are splitting. My dad is a fucking lunatic with a registered weapon. I’m gay and don’t know what the hell that even means at the moment. The only thing I’m good at is music and I can’t do that here, in this small town prison. I’m stuck, Link. I’m stuck here.”
Link balled his hands into fists, breathing through his teeth. “Why did you even call me, Casey, if you don’t want any help? Did you need me to give you another taste of this morning to make it all better for the time being? Why does everyone think that’s all I’m good for?! I have feelings too.”
Casey kicked the wastebasket. “You didn’t answer your phone because you were off fucking some guy!” He turned around, his eyes murderous. “Fresh meat, remember?”
Link’s eyes watered. He stormed into the bathroom, yanked his jeans off the floor, and dug through a pocket until he found what he was looking for. He went back into the bedroom and slapped the wet squares of fabric to Casey’s chest.
“I spent all night talking about you, and what color quilt you’d like. I wasn’t sure, so the ladies gave me some swatches to look over.” Link stepped away. “But I don’t give a shit what color you pick. I’ll be too busy being a whore.” He grabbed some things off the floor, gathered up his cell and keys, and went to the door.
“Link, I’m so sorry. I—”
“And I don’t want to hear it.” Link shrugged, crying. “Because you’re right, Casey, I am a slut. I might as well not hide it anymore. I guess I just wanted you to keep looking at me like you do, like I’m something special and not someone’s trash.”
Casey dropped the fabric on the floor, rushing to the door. He slammed it shut before Link could leave. He pressed his stomach to Link’s back, trapping him. He couldn’t let Link get away, no matter how scared he was. “I did need your help because I trust you. You’re the only person who’s made me smile during all the bad shit that’s happening around me. You’re the only person who’s asked the tough questions. You’re the only person that doesn’t walk on eggshells around me, or treat me like a child. I’m sorry I said that. I was being defensive, because everything you said is right. And this morning wasn’t nothing to me. I walked away because you didn’t deserve a quick bump and grind, Link. I promised myself after Mike, I wouldn’t jump at other boys without thinking first. And I did think about you, a lot actually. And what I did was wrong. I wanted to let you know how I felt first, with words, to your face.”
“And how do you feel?” Link wiped his nose on his arm, keeping his head down.
“Earlier today, when you talked about getting with some other guy, I was so angry.” Casey dipped his head, resting his chin on Link’s shoulder. He put his hands around Link’s waist. “I didn’t want another guy touching you. I thought you didn’t care about me. I should have known better. You’ve done nothing but help me since I got here, Link. I’ve told you things I couldn’t admit out loud for weeks. There’s just something about you that makes me want to stay right here, just like this.”
Link shook his head. “I’ve heard that before, Casey.”
“Not from me.”
“And why are you so different?”
“I won’t lie to you, Link. I’m a fucking mess and all I want to do right now is touch you, but I’ll wait for however long you want, if you need space. All I can do is apologize and show you how much I value you from here on out. Friends first.” Casey stepped away from Link. “You can go wherever you were going and I won’t stop you. But if you need me, I’ll be right here.”
“You’re supposed to stop me from leaving.” Link threw his stuff on the ground and faced Casey.
“Do you want me to stop you?”
Link huffed, throwing his hands up. “Yes! Everyone always lets me go. I don’t want to leave. I never have. I want to be friends, Casey. That’s why I came here, because I care. But I also…” Link lost his enthusiasm, groaning into his hands.
“You want to be more?” Casey moved in.
Link nodded. “Yes.”
“Why can’t start with friends and work our way up?” Casey lifted Link’s chin. “I have a feeling you’ve never done that before, and neither have I. I’m not sure what happened to you before you came here, but I’m not an asshole like those guys. I care about more than sex.” Casey grinned. “Because I’ve never had it, so I’m not really sure what I’m missing.”
Link’s eyes went wide. “Bullshit. Not even with a girl?”
“Like I said, I lived in a pretty strict household. I was too scared of being caught when I was younger and I guess the fear kind of stuck. I didn’t need to lead some girl on with sex either. I knew I liked guys. That would unfair to her, you know?”
Link shook his head. “Haven’t you ever just wanted to hookup? No strings attached?”
“No. And Link?”
“What?” Link was very aware of the way Casey’s hands rubbed his arms.
“There’s nothing wrong with you if you do, like hooking up.”
“That’s not my problem.” Link sighed. “My problem is I get too attached to guys. I’m needy and I know it. Now there’s a t-shirt for ya.”
“I’d wear it.” Casey brought Link’s hands up, putting them around his neck. He stepped in, pressing them together. “I don’t think you’re needy. I think you have needs. There’s a difference.”
In all his life, through all the attachment issues Link had growing up, wanting someone to finally keep him, he never thought anyone could understand this was exactly what he wanted. Link didn’t say anything, putting his head in the crook of Casey’s neck, and let himself be hugged. Casey was the first guy who’d ever given him a hug, a real honest to God hug created to comfort, not rub up on him like a sleaze. When Casey started to sway, holding him tight, Link closed his eyes, and drank it all in.
Casey kissed his head. “I’m sorry I scared you. I want you to know, no matter how bad things get, I’d never hurt myself.”
“I swear it.” Casey continued to hug him. “And you’re right. I need to tell someone about my dad. I know exactly how he is, and how angry he was before I left. He’s going to do something. I just need to prepare myself before he does. I’d like to talk to that Sheriff guy, if you wouldn’t mind coming with me. I get nervous around cops.”
“Everyone does.” Link smiled. “And of course I’ll come with you. But first, we need to talk to Adam and Perry.”
Casey took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay.”
Link pulled back, still trapped in Casey’s arms. “We should do it now before everyone gets too drunk.”
“Adam and Perry get drunk with the guests?” Casey’s brows rose.
Laughing, Link shook his head. “No. But the guests do, and babysitting can be exhausting.”
“Got it.” Casey stepped back, his heavy thoughts clear in his eyes before he turned around. “We should change first.”
A little put off Casey didn’t follow up his hug with something else, Link swallowed. “Yeah.”
He went to his small dresser, scrounging up some jeans, and jumped when a hand pressed to his back. Casey leaned down. “And for future reference, it’s red.”
“What’s red?” Link glanced over his shoulder. Casey’s face was inches from his.
“My favorite color.” Casey pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.
“I’ll let them know.” Link beamed, stealing a quick kiss back. His cheeks were ten shades of Casey’s favorite color as he got dressed, happier than he’d been in a long time.
Casey shoved the letter in his pocket and trailed behind Link out of the lobby and into the night. He grabbed Link’s hand, keeping his face forward as they walked down the lighted path to the lake. Link stopped and groaned.
“This isn’t first grade, Casey.” He bit his lip.
“Do you not want me to hold your hand?” Casey sulked.
“I do, but I want you to also…fuck it.” Link yanked Casey to him, pulled his head down and kissed him.
Casey’s eyes closed, getting Link’s drift quickly. He opened his mouth and accepted the heated kiss with just as much excitement as Link.
Joseph Belgard handed his partner Shane the binoculars, and sat back in his seat. He stared out over the lake, eyes drawn to the string of lights leading to a raging bonfire. He was able to make out a few dozen people dancing around the open area, having a good old time. His rage grew.
“Looks like your kid’s got himself a boyfriend.” Shane lowered the binoculars, taking a hit of his cigarette. “It’s fucking sick, Joe. This whole damn place gives me high blood pressure.”
Joe swiped his finger over his personal computer on the dash, pulling up the New Heights Haven website. He sneered at the pictures flashing by every few seconds. “Yep, it’s the perfect little hideaway to take a dirty mistress in plain sight.”
“Well, he ought to know he can’t hide from you.” Shane chuckled, blowing smoke between his lips. “What do you wanna do, Joe?”
Joe looked up, a smile crossing his lips. “We start by making things very uncomfortable for our little runaway, turn the fire up under his ass. Find out what you can on that little whore groping all over him. He wants to mess with my things? I’ll mess with his.”
“Roger that, Joe.” Shane picked up his phone and started making calls.
TO BE CONTINUED…