The site looked good. If there had been any residual damage from the storm it had long since been cleaned up. Just like on the drive in there had been no sign of the tree that had taken me out that fateful night.
Donna spotted me and came over with Karl and the others. They waited until I clambered awkwardly out of the cab of the rented Explorer and dropped to the ground then they crowded around me.
"Looking good, boss," Karl said.
"So's this place. You guys have finished up nicely. I'm impressed."
"Hey, you taught us well."
I grunted. They followed me as I strolled down toward the river.
"Are we ready then?" I asked. I knew the answer but I wanted to give them the chance to sign off on the project. "The opening's supposed to be next week. Mr. Thurlow expects to bring all those political bigwigs out. I want to know now if there's anything I missed."
"We're ready," Donna said.
I knew she was right. We were and it was. Except...
"That gravel better be delivered next week. The grader crew will be out on Tuesday to level the parking lot. If there's no gravel we're up a creek." I met Donna's gaze. "Did you get in touch with them like I asked?"
"Done and done. They assure me the truck will be here first thing Monday with the initial load."
"Good. Then I think we are truly set."
To say the site was transformed was an understatement. I knew all those before pictures were going to look incredible next to the after shots I was about to take. I hefted the camera.
"Let's do it, then."
They walked with me as I spent the rest of the day strolling the entire fifty acres. They pointed out things to my restless eye. I snapped the equivalent of a triple roll of film then grabbed the old Canon and took another roll of black and white. I'm a big Ansel Adams fan.
We wound up back at the willow, where I took nearly a dozen pictures.
"Now let me get back and check these out. If we're green, I'll let you know, but so far I'd say everything's perfect. Congratulations, guys. You'll pulled off another one. Biggest one yet, too."
I shook each one's hand and clapped Donna on the back. "Next project, you're my site foreman. Is that fair?"
Donna grinned and the others all hooted and punched her in the arm or slapped her back.
"Hey, not fair." Karl laughed. "How are we supposed to accuse her of sleeping her way to the top if the boss is gay?"
"Well then it's a good thing I didn't make you foreman, isn't it, Karl?" I said and everybody roared with laughter.
It was a good end to a rough project.
At the end of the day I was exhausted. I knew I wasn't used to any kind of activity anymore, so the tiredness wasn't any big surprise. What did surprise me was how great I felt. We had done a good thing here. Not only in terms of completing the project in the time frame allotted, but also in the way we had brought a dead landscape back to vibrant life.
"We did good, guys. You can be proud of yourselves," I said as we gathered one last time around the cooler with drinks in our hands. "So let's call it a day. One last time up here tomorrow to make sure we didn't overlook anything, then we can call it a wrap."
"When will you call Mr. Thurlow?" Donna asked.
"Tomorrow, I think."
That night I uploaded all the digital images to my laptop and began to cull through them. After due consideration I picked out a dozen of the best and printed them up on my color laser. Then I went back through the original, 'before' shots. Now I was after the worst of the bunch, and had an unusually high number to choose from. I made sure to add a couple of the 'dump site' we had finished cleaning up only last week.
The entire fifty acre site had been a magnet for illegal dumpers who didn't want to pay the fees to legally dispose of their garbage. The stuff had all been gathered into one spot then I had brought in a recycling company to sort through it. I'd had them compile a list of what they found and planned to include it in the final report along with visual images. The thousand words and the pictures. It was a powerful indictment.
I scanned at the list. I already knew most of the items on it. Eleven mattresses. Two entire bed sets. Thirty-seven appliances, ranging from toasters to refrigerators. Kitchen sinks to car tires. Enough sofas and easy chairs to stock a furniture store. A ton of newsprint, magazines and just plain paper. One hundred and twenty-nine sealed bags of garbage. We'd even found an old Ford Pinto, essentially intact in one of the back lots. Victim of some teenage joyriders no doubt.
I continued to delve into the before shots. I suppose I should have been expecting it, but it still clipped me in the gut when I saw him.
As he had looked the first day he showed up on the site. Then other shots of subsequent visits.
Charlie sketching. Charlie wandering through the site. Charlie straddling his bike, his powerful legs holding the Harley upright. I remembered how he had felt straddling me, my cock buried up his incredible ass. I was instantly hard. I groaned.
My balls ached. I wasn't going to be able to think clearly unless I did something about that. I stumbled to the bathroom where I unzipped my jeans and pulled out my cock. I stroked myself a few times then let my mind wander. Unfortunately it wondered back to Charlie. Charlie sprawled cross my bed, his hard cock lying across his flat stomach. Charlie with his dick embedded deeply in my ass, my legs wrapped around his pumping hips. It barely took a dozen more strokes before I blew my load into the shower. I cleaned up and went back to the computer. I quickly found the 'worst of' pictures I wanted. I ended up with twenty shots that would be set up in a display for the dedication. I wouldn't need any after for that, the site itself would be my testament. That and Charlie's four panels.
It was going to be one damned impressive portfolio.
My phone call to Thurlow the next day was anticlimactic. He thanked me for the call, but had been out to the site earlier in the week and knew for himself how close we were.
"That artist, Reid. He's done as well. I spoke with him just yesterday. He'll be bringing the four panels down with him next week. On Thursday we have the dedication. I'm quite excited, how about you, McKay?"
"Excited," I echoed. "It's a wonderful moment, sir. You did a good thing here." It always paid to toot the client's horn as much as possible. I might have done the work, but the original concept had to come from them. Without their vision -- no matter how crass the motivation -- there were no projects.
"Excellent. Excellent." Thurlow preened. "Then we'll be seeing you next week at the dedication."
"It'll be my pleasure, sir."
I felt a sick excitement in my stomach that went beyond butterflies. Charlie was going to be at the dedication where his work would be unveiled for the first time. This time he couldn't avoid me.
Even if he wanted to.
The day of the dedication dawned sunny and cool. There was a definite autumn nip in the air. It felt good. There would be a lot of fall color up at Lynx Woods. I just hoped the sun would hold.
I dressed with care, though the cast on my arm was going to throw off the look. Michael grabbed an hour from his job at the TV studio to come by and trim my goatee and make sure I had my tie on straight.
He kissed my mouth when he was done. "You're looking hot, sugar. You'll have that sexy painter dribbling in his Hanes."
I leaned toward the bathroom mirror and touched my eye, still discolored, though Michael's genius at makeup had gone a long way toward concealing it. What could I do? Thurlow wasn't going to put off the dedication until I recovered a hundred percent. We needed to do it now, before winter sealed the whole place up.
Michael grabbed my good arm. "Come on, sexy. I'll walk you to your truck. Then I gotta get back to work before Raoul grows another ulcer on top of the first two I gave him."
At the truck he kissed me one more time, 'For luck' he said, then scrambled into his Mazda and sped out of the lot.
My timing had been good. I arrived before any of the other guests. The only other vehicles on the grounds were the catering crew. Donna, Karl and the others pulled in soon after. I always tried to get the benefactor to include my crew in the opening day ceremonies, since I'd never get the job done without them. Some, like Thurlow, seemed to respect hard work and didn't have a problem with the request, others were irritated at the idea of being asked to attend a ceremony with non-socialites or moneyless workers.
Thurlow had gone all out in catering the event. I watched a pair of burly setup guys haul a six-foot long folding table out of their truck. One of them spotted me.
"Where do you want this?"
I pointed at the edge of the newly laid gravel parking lot. "Have to be there. It's the closest thing to a level spot."
Three more tables followed the first and then they in turn were followed by tubs of ice and massive coolers that went under the tables once their loads of tinfoil covered trays and bowls had been removed.
I wondered over to the activity. I studied one of the tubs. "Is that going to stay cold enough?"
"There's a core of dry ice in each of the tubs," the burlier of the two setup men said. "That will guarantee heat transfer is kept to a minimum. We also have a canopy to set up to limit exposure to direct sun."
I could just imagine some high-end catering firm in Toronto getting a phone call from Winston Thurlow about a job for a big party he has in mind. Any catering owner would foam at the mouth at such a prospect. I wondered what they had thought after they found out where Thurlow expected the party to be held.
From the looks of it, Thurlow had chosen wisely, and actually got someone who could pull it off.
The catering people continued to set up. The last items to be brought out were massive punch bowls that had an inner lining filled with frozen water. A rainbow of sangrias and virgin punches flowed into the ice bowls. Then they were loosely covered with more tinfoil.
Finally the crew returned to the truck one more time and came out with the canvas canopy which they set up to shield the laden tables.
Chairs were loosely grouped around the tables. I grabbed a few and hauled them toward the river, figuring there were going to be some guests who might like the view. I even put a couple around the willow.
Then the other guests began to arrive.
I saw him less than an hour later.
I had already spoken to Thurlow who was preening with self-satisfaction at the spread he had created. He was gorging on the endless flow of praise of his guests; I had already seen the Provincial Premier grab a photo op with him and other high powered politicos hovered to share in the honors.
To the far left of the picnic area a cordoned off section had been gathering a crowd for several minutes. I could make out several shapes huddled under drop clothes and knew they were Charlie's paintings and the dedication plaque that Thurlow had sent up early in the week.
That was when I looked around and saw Charlie.
His gaze was naked with hunger and I felt my knees go weak just looking at him.
But when I moved toward him he disappeared into the well-heeled crowd. Jesus, what kind of game was he playing? I swore some more and headed off in the opposite direction. My path took me over by the willow.
I slipped around behind the massive trunk and crouched down amongst the twisted roots, staring out at the slow moving brown water. There were no blue herons today, nor any wood ducks. Nothing marred the serene surface except the occasional riffle from an undertow. I picked up a small stone from the bare ground and flipped it out toward the river bank. The ripples it created vanished almost as soon as they were made. There was probably some kind of metaphor to life in that.
I heard voices behind me. The ceremony must be starting soon. I climbed to my feet and would have headed back but an arm came out and braced against the tree trunk, blocking my path.
I looked up the wall of chest muscles into Charlie's tension riddled face. His eyes bore down into mine.
"You want to tell me what happened to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"What's this I hear about an accident? And why the hell do I have to hear this from someone I barely know? Why couldn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what? I had a minor car accident. No big deal."
He pointedly took in my face and then let his gaze slide down to the sleeve of my jacket hanging limply at my side and the bulge of my cast under it.
"No big deal?" he murmured. "That's not what your girl told me."
"Donna. She tells me you totaled the Landrover and spent a couple of days in the hospital. Why didn't you tell me, Ty? Why did you send me that letter giving me the brush off and you couldn't even tell me you'd been in an accident?"
"Because I didn't want you coming back out of pity!"
Charlie's arm still blocked my exit and when I tried to duck under it he blocked that move too.
"What the hell --"
"Why do you haunt me?" Charlie stared at my mouth. "Why the hell can't I get you out of my mind? Who are you to stalk me like this?"
"Maybe you can't forget me for the same reason I can't forget you. You can't just blow off love. Not that easily."
He was wearing the shirt I had bought him in Gatlinburg. I walked my fingers up his silk tie and pulled his head down level with mine.
"You can't forget this." And I planted my mouth on his.
He jerked away from me, but not before he had started kissing me back. I let him go. He watched me through half-closed eyes, his mouth drawn in tight line.
"You're right," he whispered. "I can't forget. Damn you to hell."
Then he put his big hands on either side of my face, leaned down and covered my mouth with his.
It wasn't a wild, fuck-me kiss. He didn't shove his tongue into my mouth or try to swallow my tonsils. But it was a kiss laced with passion and tenderness. I melted into him.
Someone cleared their throat. Charlie dragged his mouth away from mine.
Donna stood watching us from behind the willow.
[More to come]
If you like this story so far, let me know at Patrick I'm always happy to hear comments, suggestions, anything. You can also read all my stories at Archerland