Sean plucked his damp t-shirt away from his sweaty back, balancing on the crotch of the tree he had climbed in pursuit of a perfect blossom he had spotted from the ground. The weather was cool, still in the 60s but the afternoon sun beat down on his shoulders and head, making him a bit warmer than he would like. Oh well, he'd be going home tomorrow with the results of his labor, surely a few of the images he had been able to capture would fit in with his project.
Grabbing the camera bag off his back Sean put his Canon Eos Rebel T2i lovingly into its spot until it was nestled securely. It was his new baby, something he had scrimped and saved for. He was a college student, but luckily his scholarship paid almost all of his school costs. He had gotten a part time job when he decided on taking some photography courses and his first class had opened his eyes to a passion, a love for the art. For it truly was.
He caressed his new equipment; the T2i had an 18 megapixel CMOS sensor, the same type used in professional models at a much cheaper price. Still, it had taken him time to earn enough to pay for the $900 price tag, not to mention the zoom and fish eye lenses he had gotten as well. Now, for this project, it was worth all the effort and all the time. He would not have dreamed of such quality in his images before. It brought a new depth of color and clarity in every picture he took. Cropping or enlarging did not matter; the images stayed crisp and clear just as he had seen it in real life.
Sean had ventured on this camping trip into the woods during the mercurial spring in search of the flowers and plants of his favorite forests, meadows and waters. Some days the weather was warm and sunny, others grey and dim. He took advantage of the sun to get pictures of the light glinting off the dewdrops that graced the petals and leaves of the foliage, as well as patterns of the raindrops that fell from the trees to bounce and ripple the waters of the streams and lakes. It didn't matter what the weather or the light, there was always some beauty in nature if one looked hard enough. Sean looked and took pictures of it all.
Some he kept, some he discarded, loading the contents of his memory cards onto his laptop each night. He looked for detail, the color, clarity and composition of each image, wanting the very best of each image for his project. Still, each day he took hundreds of shots, even the small fraction he really liked built a very nice portfolio. The rest went into a general file for reviewing later. Tonight was his last night in the forest and the late afternoon sun had glinted through the upper canopy, highlighting the blossoms that dripped in cascading bunches toward the ground. That was what had lured him into climbing this tree, the purple flowers veined with scarlet.
Slinging the strap to his case over his shoulder Sean began to carefully descend down out of the tree. He didn't get very far when his foot slipped on some moss still wet from the rain shower that fell in the dim early morning hours. He scrambled to catch his balance, clutching at the branch in front of him but his momentum ripped his hand from the large branch as he fell backward. He let out a cry; his first thought his new camera currently sitting at the small of his back. He tugged on the straps, pulling it into his stomach to protect it.
Unable to use his arms to help stop his fall he tumbled awkwardly to the ground, branches snapping and breaking as he crashed into them on his way down. He heard a loud pop when he hit the ground, his left ankle turning under him as he landed awkwardly. He let out another cry, this time of pain. His back and head hit the ground next, luckily in an area free of rocks. Still, the breath was driven from his lungs and he lay wheezing and gasping, his ankle a great throbbing pain with every heartbeat. His treasured camera was okay though as his hands patted the case resting safely on his stomach. As he lay there, still trying to catch his breath he heard the sound of running footsteps down the nearby path.
Sean heard a deep voice calling out, “Hello? Is someone there?”
“Yes,” he answered in a weak voice, his chest still hurting from the effort to draw breath. Twigs snapped under the feet of whoever was pushing their way through the bushes toward him. He felt a moment of fear and tried to get up, after all he had thought himself alone this far away from the typical tourist campgrounds and day hikes. He got up on his knees but fell when he tried to get to his feet, letting out a strangled sound as he sank back to the ground in pain.
“Oh man, did you just fall out of that tree?”
Sean saw a pair of hiking boots in front of him, looking up he took in a pair of denim jeans tucked into them and a white t-shirt covered by a thick black and red checked flannel. He didn't want to crane his neck any farther as if he were kneeling in supplication to the man that stood there so he shifted his weight, trying to sit on his ass with his legs in front of him. The act of moving his ankle made him hiss and grab at it.
Sean closed his eyes and leaned his head against the treacherous tree, frowning hard. “Umm, yeah. I fell from about 15 feet up,” he said.
“Are you hurt? Here, let me see,” the stranger said. He started undoing the laces while Sean stared at the top of his dark head. He had hunkered down, carefully cradling the hurt ankle with one hand while he unlaced the cheap boot and rolled down his sock. “Ouch... that looks bad.” He winced as if it was his ankle. His reaction made Sean look down and swallow hard when he saw the large purple bulge on his normally skinny ankle.
“You were lucky this is all that happened,” the young man commented. “My name is Jason by the way. Can you move your ankle?”
“I think so. And my name is Sean.” Sean tried and got it to move a little to one side before a stabbing pain made him gasp.
“Okay, at least it looks like you didn't break it.” Jason continued to move the ankle a little, making Sean wince. “Yup, just a bad sprain. We should get you back to your camp. Are you staying at the campground?” he asked.
“No, my tent is set up about 45 minutes north of here by the falls.”
“Hmm, well, how about I help you get back to your gear and then get out of here?” he offered.
Sean bit his lip, staring at Jason. He was a bit confused and anxious. “Why would you do that?”
“Because you're hurt. How else are you going to get there? I don't think you are going to be walking on this for a while. Besides, maybe you'll be my good deed for the week.”
Sean made a face at that comment; he hated to be the object of pity from anyone. “I don't know... it will be dark soon. I don’t think we have time to get to my camp and get back out of the woods. Not to mention you don't look like you expected to be spending the night.”
It was true; Jason just had a small pack on his back, nothing like an overnight or serious backpacker's gear. He shrugged, “Well, you have a tent right? I promise I won't bite if you let me share tonight and tomorrow morning I'll help you get back to your car. How about it?”
Sean thought about it but an involuntary twitch in his foot sent pain shooting up his leg, reinforcing Jason's completely correct read on the situation. He nibbled on his bottom lip and then pinched them together as he considered his options but ended up nodding while avoiding eye contact. “Okay. Thanks,” he said shortly.
Jason smiled at the grumpy face and terse words of appreciation. “Alright, let's get you up.” He plunked Sean's loose boot in his lap then put an arm around Sean's shoulders and under his knees, standing up easily. Sean's mouth dropped open at the feel of the strong and muscular body that cradled him.
“Put me down!” Sean's voice was shocked and angry. “Right now!”
“What? Why, are you hurt somewhere else?!” Jason asked quickly.
“No! But I'm not a child. You can't... you don't... just put me down!” Sean struggled just a bit, making Jason tighten his grip.
“Stop or I'm going to drop you,” Jason huffed, “just stop... oh fine.”
Jason sat Sean down on a tree stump next to the path. “What is the matter with you? I’m just trying to help you.”
Sean struggled with his embarrassment which made him mad. He was normally just fine about being shorter than average and his slim almost petite build, but something about this tall, strong, muscular guy made him feel insecure. “Look, I'm not a little kid okay? I'm 21, a junior over at Pinehurst University and I just... I just don't like to be carried like a child.”
“Okay... I didn't think you were a child. I mean, yeah, you're small,” that earned him a quick glare, “but I didn't mean to treat you like you weren't an adult. I just thought carrying you would be fastest way to get you back to your camp. We really should soak that ankle in the cold water and maybe wrap it.”
“Well, don't. I'm more than capable of making it on my own power if you'll just give me something to lean on,” Sean insisted.
Jason looked a bit skeptical but just sighed, nodded his head and held out his arm. “Whenever you're ready.”
Sean grabbed the strongly corded forearm that was lightly dusted with short dark hairs and pulled himself up. His foot throbbed but he took a hopping step and then another as Jason kept pace with him letting Sean set their pace. They hadn't gone more than 20 yards and Sean was already panting with the pain and effort. Jason's jaw was clenched but he stayed silent. Sean suddenly stopped, wobbling on his one good leg.
“I'm being an idiot aren't I?” he asked softly.
“Well, I don't know you well enough to say that but I might not disagree if you want to,” Jason said with a small smirk.
“Hey!” Sean objected. “You're not supposed to agree with me.”
“Well, if you just wanted to make an observation why don't we keep going then? I don't know about you but I'm getting hungry.” Jason took a step forward that made Sean take a slightly bigger hop than before. He gasped when the motion made his swollen ankle wobble sending shooting pains up his leg.
“Okay, okay... I am an idiot and you were right. Carrying me is the best way to get back to camp before we’re stuck out here in the dark,” he conceded.
Jason smiled, a bit smug, “You'll find I'm right more than I'm wrong, but it's always good to hear it,” he quipped with a wink before he carefully swept Jason up into his arms, cradling his legs with one arm just under his knees. “I'll do the walking, you do the navigating.”
Sean was mortified at the vulnerable position and the wink confused him but he gave pretty clear directions. 'I do not want to prolong this', he thought. He was surprised when Jason had them back to his camp just 45 minutes later, even with a few short rest breaks included. He almost felt sad when Jason put him down; he missed the heat of the big guy's chest and stomach. Guess he enjoyed it more than he thought he would.
“Nice camp,” Jason observed as he looked around. There was a small green tent staked to one side, a fire pit neatly ringed with rocks with a black camp chair next to it. They could hear the waterfall but it was muted enough that they could talk comfortably without having to speak over it. It was a quiet spot, the sun filtering through the trees and the sounds of birds and insects enhancing the peace rather than disturbing it.
“Do you have some shorts to change into? We really should get that ankle in the water; maybe we can keep the swelling from getting worse,” Jason told him.
“Yeah, in the tent.”
Sean tried to stand up and hop on his own and lost his balance, falling into Jason. Jason was surprised but quickly wrapped his arms around Sean's small body, picking him up just a little to keep him from putting any weight on his sprained ankle. Sean froze, not even breathing. It felt like an embrace and even though he knew it wasn't he had to fight the urge to close his eyes and rest his face on the strong chest in front of him. That thought actually made him struggle to push away. The last thing he needed was this guy to find out he was gay. Who knows what he might do?
“Why don't you just let me help you? You need help and I'm here. Let me help you,” Jason chided him. He tried to look in his face but Sean avoided eye contact. “Promise you're going to let me help.”
Sean sighed, “I just don't like having to depend on anyone, I like to do things for myself.”
“Well you can't right now and I'm willing, so what's the problem?” Jason asked.
“No problem.” Sean gave in, “I'll let you help me; just until tomorrow though.”
“Well thanks.” Jason said somewhat sarcastically. Sean flinched a little but when Jason started to chuckle he smiled a little. “Okay, so those shorts are in the tent, right?”
“Yeah.” Sean didn't object this time when Jason picked him up and walked him over to the tent. Jason set him down and he balanced on one foot while Jason kept a grip around his waist. Sean unzipped the tent and Jason helped lower him down to his sleeping pad. Sean stretched across the tent to grab his pack and Jason's gaze locked on his waist where his shirt had ridden up in the back and showed his underwear where his pants had drooped a little bit.
“Umm, I think I can actually manage to get my shorts on myself,” Sean said uncomfortably.
“Oh... ah... yeah, sure. I'll just go change and wait over by the fire pit; call me when you're ready,” Jason said, rubbing his neck a little and blushing. If Sean had looked up he might have been curious about why Jason was turning red but he kept his eyes down, still embarrassed about needing help from a virtual stranger.
Sean wiggled a little, pushing his pants over his slim hips. He hissed a bit in pain as he eased the left pant leg over his swollen ankle. He pulled his swim trunks up, cinching them tightly around his waist. If he was going swimming he would typically take off his t-shirt but he didn't feel up to actually getting in the water, so there was no need to let Jason see all his ribs in all their scrawny glory.
“I'm ready.” Sean called to Jason.
“Good. Me too.” Jason had changed into his own pair of board shorts, leaving his shirt off. The white trunks with green designs brought out his tan. At least in that one way Sean didn't feel inferior to him, he was just as brown after a week in the woods, soaking up every ray of light the sun had to offer. But now he had to face being carried against that bare chest with just that smooth skin covering the flexing muscles. 'Think gross things, girls, grandma aged girls, rotten garbage, peanut butter.' Sean kept up his personal icky image mantra all the way to the pool by the waterfall, actually managing not to embarrass himself. He still sighed in relief when Jason put him down on the mossy bank, gingerly lowering his feet into the cold mountain water.
At first the water was so cold it stung his skin but soon the numbness set in, actually dulling the pain a little. Sean sighed in relief. He really didn't like pain at all. All of a sudden a blur passed him before a yelling Jason cannonballed into the middle of the pool.
“Ahhh!” Jason yelled when he came to the surface, “Oh my god, this is cold!” Sean couldn't help but laugh even though he'd been splashed with the same cold water. “Looks like you're all wet!” Jason laughed, “Why don't you take off that shirt anyhow? You had to have gotten pretty sweaty climbing up that tree, even if you did take the lazy man’s way down.”
Sean shrugged and said, “I'm fine,” even though he really wasn't. He still felt grimy from his earlier exertions but he really didn't want to take off his shirt.
“Aww, c'mon! It's just us here, no big deal. What's the matter, are you shy?” teased Jason.
“No, it's just...” Sean scrambled to find an excuse, “I can't get in the water on my own anyway to wash, so I'll just sit here, no big deal.”
“Well, I'll fix that,” said Jason as he waded closer to Sean.
“What are you doing? Stop!” Sean yelled.
“Nope!” Jason laughed as he carefully picked Sean up by wrapping his arms around his waist and simply wading backwards into the deeper area of the pool. Sean struggled, only inches from Jason's face but it was no good. He was too small and Jason too big.
“Ahhh!” Sean yelled as Jason fell over backward into the water, soaking both of them. Sean shivered, his wet shirt now plastered to his back. “Oh man, that is cold! I normally ease in, you jerk!”
“What's the fun in that? This way you get a big shock to the system, wakes you up, makes you feel alive!” Jason declared.
“I'd rather feel less alive thanks!” Sean grouched. He grimaced but pulled off his shirt, balling it up and throwing it on the nearby bank. He really wasn't as thin as he thought he was, his 5'6” body was simply trim, lightly muscled so that he had a sleek strength rather than an overt show of muscle. He actually had more hair on his chest than Jason did. There was a submerged rock not far away where he could sit comfortably, the water covering his body up to his armpits. He directed Jason over to it so that he could get away from the warm circle of arms that were making his swim trunks a bit too snug.
“I'm going to swim around a bit, okay?” Jason told him with a strange grimace on his face. He fell backwards again, twisting under the water, agile as a fish as he swam with strong strokes toward the waterfall. He swam under the turbulent water, coming up behind the curtain to gaze around the small space. All he could hear was the hundreds of gallons of water cascading down the rock wall to splash into the pool. He leaned his head back against the smooth black rock, trying to gather his composure. It took a few minutes but he headed back under the water as soon as he could smile easily again.
“About ready to head back?” he asked Sean, who was shivering a little as the sun fell toward the horizon. It always cooled off fast when the direct sunlight faded and the shadows spread across the pond, even being the warmest day so far that year the growing twilight brought the chill of late winter.
They were both shivering on the way back to the tent, enough to distract them both from the skin on skin contact. Jason set Sean down inside the tent and went and got his jeans, t-shirt and flannel back on, sighing happily when he was wrapped in the warm clothes. Checking to see if Sean was dressed he helped him out of the tent and back into the camp chair. Grabbing Sean's wet clothes and his trunks he draped them over the bushes, hoping they'd dry a bit before they had to put them in their packs in the morning.
“So, I wasn't expecting to stay overnight,” Jason said. “I'm hoping you have enough for two for dinner? I'll make it if you tell me how to start the fire.”
“Yeah, I have a few of those stew meals that just need boiling water. It should be enough for two with the last few pieces of bread,” Sean figured. He directed Jason on how to start the fire and water boiling for the meals. Jason manhandled over a bit of log and sat down near Sean while they waited.
“So, how did you get to your age and not know how to start a fire?” asked Sean.
“My age?” laughed Jason, “How old do you think I am?”
“I'm 19,” admitted Jason, looking a big sheepish at the skeptical look Sean shot him. “No, really, I am. I'm taking courses over at Bearling Community College. And I don't know how to build a fire because I've lived in cities my entire life. This is quite the change for me. I like to get out and walk around on the trails but I've never actually camped before.”
“Oh.” Sean grinned at him. “Well, you'll have your first overnight tonight! It's not so bad, a bit cold sometimes. Umm, we're going to have to share my sleeping bag though, I've only got one, but at least I have two pads so you won't have to sleep on the floor of the tent.”
“Uhh, I'm sure we can make it work,” said Jason, getting up to stand over the fire to hide his face and check the water. It was boiling so he poured it into the stew packets and sat back down to wait. This time they sat in silence but it wasn't uncomfortable, just quiet. The sun was almost down and the flickering light both showed and covered their faces as the flames danced.
Jason was pretty matter of fact after dinner, suggesting that Sean might need some help going to the bathroom before they went to bed but Sean was embarrassed as Jason carried him over past the bushes and steadied him next to a tree. “Uh, I'm not going to go anywhere but I'll turn my back, okay?” Jason told him.
“Umm, okay.” It took a few seconds but Sean was able to go to the bathroom although it felt like his face had to have been glowing as much as he was blushing. He actually did lose his balance a bit when he tried to button and zip his pants, causing him to put his bad ankle down to try and catch himself.
“Oh no, you don't.” Jason had spun around and caught him before he had a chance to do more than gasp in momentary pain. “I'll just hold on to you while you zip,” he said.
“Thanks.” Sean allowed the warm hands to steady him while he zipped up. Once he was done Jason simply picked him up and carried him over to the tent, ducking inside and setting him down on the floor before he ducked back out to go pee himself and smother the fire.
Left alone for a few minutes Sean worked on laying out the sleeping pads and unzipping his sleeping bag. He wasn't sure what Jason meant to sleep in but with the chilly nights he had been sleeping in sweats. He hurriedly changed before Jason got back. He leaned back on his pad, looking at the damage to his ankle in the dim light of the tent lantern. It was swollen and an angry purple color, it definitely looked just like it felt.
“Hey, cool, thanks for laying this out for me,” Jason said suddenly as he ducked back into the tent. Sean started, not having heard him coming. “I guess I'll have to sleep in my jeans but I just can't sleep with anything around my neck.” he said as he shucked his flannel and shirt after he sat on his pad. The muscles in his back moved and flexed as he bent over and untied his shoes.
“Sorry, I only have one pillow,” Sean apologized.
“Don't even worry about it; I'll just roll up my flannel.” Jason demonstrated, “See, no problem.”
They both lay down, side by side under the sleeping bag. The sleeping bag was narrow enough they were lying with their arms and legs touching. Sean gasped a little when he tried to move his foot and Jason sat up.
“Hey, let's put something under that and elevate it a little. Where's your shirt from earlier?”
Sean told him and Jason rolled it into a small little cylinder. He lifted Sean's ankle and fit the makeshift pillow under it so gently that it didn't hurt him at all.
“Thanks again,” Sean whispered.
“You're welcome. Goodnight.” Jason whispered back.
Sean didn't think that he would fall asleep very easily laying next to this very attractive man and not getting to touch him intimately but it was easier than he thought. The long hike and the stress of the afternoon and meeting Jason had worn him out more than he thought. He was soon breathing heavy as he fell fast asleep.
Jason had a bit harder time nodding off. He turned on his side to face Sean and just studied the faint outline of his features against the darker tent wall. In this light he couldn't see more than a pale shadow of the platinum blond hair that had been the first thing he'd noticed when he walked through the bushes. The short locks were slightly wavy and had seemed all the paler against the tan of Sean’s face. The slate grey eyes were also covered, shuttered by fragile seeming lids with long curling lashes in a surprisingly dark color. Jason sighed and tried to stop the mental pictures before he came to those lips, forcing his mind off Sean to think of something, anything boring enough to put him to sleep.
It must have worked because the next thing he knew he was sleepily blinking and yawning, listening to the sound of the birds who had long since greeted the dawn. He yawned and went to cover his mouth, the grip on his arm being his first indicator that he was not waking up on the biscuit thin mattress of his bed at the ratty apartment he shared with two other guys. Jason's eyes opened wide and he stared at the face he had been imagining just the night before; a face that was mere inches away from his own on the pillow they were both sharing.
Glancing down Jason saw why he had been unable to move his arm freely. Sean had a grip on it and was snuggling up to his arm like it was a teddy bear. His body was contorted slightly sideways, his foot still resting on the rolled up shirt. He didn't appear to be in pain, his brow smooth and each breath was deep and regular through his slightly opened mouth, his lips glistening a little as if he had just licked them. Jason groaned silently as he tried to carefully ease his arm out from Sean's embrace.
It wasn't careful enough as Sean sighed and opened his eyes. He jerked back in surprise, trying to roll away from Jason. He was stopped by Jason grabbing his shoulder with his recently freed hand.
“Stop. You'll hurt your ankle..” Jason warned him in his deep voice which always sounded much deeper and gravelly in the morning.
“Oh. Ow.” Sean winced, the reminder enough to set his ankle to throbbing. “I'm sorry; I don't know what happened, how we ended up like that. I mean, I didn't mean to grab onto you and...”
“It’s okay. I don’t uhhh... I don't mind,” Jason said his face turned a little red. “It was kinda... nice.”
“Oh. Ok.” Sean blushed. He stared at Jason quietly for a minute, wondering. He had gotten some vibes yesterday but maybe Jason was just an affectionate guy. He wasn't sure and the risk if he was wrong? He'd never get out of the woods on his own. Better not to push his luck, besides, what were the odds that the man who came to his rescue would be gay too?
“Umm, so, how about some breakfast?” Sean asked when Jason's stomach gave a loud rumble. “It certainly sounds like your stomach is more than awake.”
Jason gave a short laugh. “Sure, I just need to take care of a little business first.” He was squirming a little, a good indicator that things were getting a tad dire. He went for his tennis shoes at first but they were knotted so he decided that he would go barefoot. When he stepped out of the tent the frosted grass burnt his feet a little causing him to almost dance across the clearing to the bushes. Sean was still snickering at the funny face and hopping Jason had done when he ducked back into the tent.
“Oh, you think I'm funny do you?” Jason asked indignantly. “Maybe I'll just let you crawl out. See how you like that?”
“No, no.” Sean snorted as he tried to smother his laughter, “I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'll stop. Soon.”
Jason shook his head and smiled wryly. “Well, I guess I probably did look pretty funny.” He checked Sean's ankle. “Hmm, still looks pretty bad but doesn’t seem quite as swollen as last night, that's good at least. Alright, let's get you up.” He grunted a bit as he helped pull Sean up off the ground and steadied him on his good foot. “How about you try to put some weight on it?”
Sean was standing stork-like, not really looking forward to moving. “Umm, do I have to?”
Jason looked at him and said firmly, “Yes. Even I can't carry the camping gear and you all the way back to the campground. You're going to have to do some walking if you can. Otherwise I'll need to make two trips.”
“I guess you're right.” Sean gingerly put his foot down, wincing as he took a hopping step holding on to Jason's arm. “Ow! Oh man, that hurts.”
“Well, let's get you taken care before we eat breakfast. Do you have a first aid kit? We should wrap your ankle with an ace wrap, that might make it easier to walk on.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t have any ace bandages in it. I never thought about it, but it will from now on. Guess we just won’t be able to wrap it. Maybe we can just tie my boot on really tight?”
“No, I don’t want to do that. Let’s get you sitting down and maybe I can tear up a shirt or something. But first let’s get something to eat!” Jason insisted.
Jason helped Sean over to the bushes and then into the camp chair. They munched on some granola for breakfast and then he brought Sean's pack out and used his pocket knife to cut and tear strips out of an old t-shirt. Tying the ends together he made a decent makeshift wrap.
“Okay, I'm going to try to be careful so this doesn't hurt.” Jason sat cross-legged on the ground and put the bruised ankle on his knee and started winding the wrap around the swollen area. Sean looked down at the guy he had just met yesterday who had come to his rescue so gallantly. He snorted to himself, sheesh; he actually called Jason 'gallant' even if it was only in his mind that was sad. He definitely needed to get out more; he was crushing on some random guy who was probably straight.
“I'm sorry, did I hurt you?” Jason said anxiously.
“No, no. You are very gentle. I was just thinking. You know, you've been really great helping me out and all. I mean, it's not like we're friends. You've been taking very good care of me and we don't even know each other. I guess, well, just thank you. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't been on the path when I fell.”
“It's no problem, really. I would hope that someone would help me if I were hurt. And I just moved here so pretty much everyone is a stranger to me.” He smiled up at Sean, tying off the last bit of strapping. “There, I think we've got that done. How does it feel?”
“Good. Tight but not too tight,” Sean answered.
“Let's put your shoe on really loose and see how walking is now. Then we'll break camp and head out, sound good?”
“Well I wouldn't say good, I'm not exactly looking forward to the 2 mile hike out of here but I'm game.” Sean levered himself to his feet, holding on to the chair with one arm until he got his balance. Jason leapt forward and grabbed his other arm.
“Woah, hey, let me help you, ok? Just don't try to do too much. If we have to I'll just carry you out and make two trips. No big deal.” He stood right next to Sean, one arm around his waist and still holding on to his arm. Sean looked up at him and smiled a big beaming grin that made Jason smile back. They locked eyes for a minute with silly grins on their faces until a harsh caw of a camp robber perched high in a nearby tree brought them out of their reverie. They both looked down at the same moment, missing the blush each had staining their cheeks.
Jason didn't let go though and helped Sean take a few steps. “Yeah, that is a lot better. It still hurts but I think if I can lean on you and we take a lot of breaks I can make it.”
“Good,” Jason said. “Cause I really don't think I want to walk 8 miles today. Taking care of you has been such a hardship, I'm nearly drained.” He struck and exaggerated exhausted posture and wiped mock sweat from his brow.
“Jerk. And after I shared my food with you too!” Sean laughed.
“Hmm, food. Speaking of that. I'm hungry again. Got any more?” Jason asked, raising his brows with a childlike look on his face. Sean burst into laughter.
“My god, you're a bottomless pit! No wonder you're such a giant. Here!” Sean dug around in his pack and pulled out some nutrition bars. “Don't say I’ve never done anything for you now! I saved you from gnawing on your own arm.”
“Hey, we can't all be slim and perfect, can we?” Jason defended himself. “Besides, you're like what, 130 pounds dripping wet? I could bench press you easily so you should be nice to giants like me!”
Normally Sean would have gotten angry over someone teasing him for his size but strangely it didn't bother him when Jason joked. Besides, he was still hung up on the 'slim and perfect' phrase. He cleared his throat and changed the subject, trying to get off the subject of him before he said something stupid. “Uhh, I think I'll go in the tent and pack stuff up while you eat okay?” Jason just nodded and helped him over to the tent, his mouth full.
It wasn't long before they had the entire camp dismantled and packed up. Jason carried Sean's large pack with the chair and tent attached and Sean carried Jason's small daypack and his precious camera bag.
“What's that?” Jason asked, pointing to the bag that Sean had carefully checked.
“My camera. I forgot to check it last night when we got back but it's fine. I might not have been hurt so bad if I hadn't had to protect this when I fell out of the tree, but it's still kind of new and, well, I was more concerned about it being damaged than myself.”
“Yeah, I never did ask you what in the hell you were doing in the tree in the first place, did I?”
“Taking pictures. There were some flowers up in the tree that were just perfect in the late afternoon sun. The light was shining just right to make the scarlet colored veins on the petals look like the delicate veins you might see on the inside of a baby’s wrist or behind the ear of a lover. It was amazing so I just had to get the image for my project.”
“Project?” Jason asked, cocking his head.
“Yeah, my photography professor is going to have an exhibition at my college in 2 weeks. It's a themed exhibition, based on our own interpretation of the subject. I'm really hoping at least one of my pictures makes it in.”
“Wow, that's so cool. I've never considered taking photography courses before; I guess I'm not much for using a camera. I don't even have one. What's the theme?” Jason asked.
“It's called 'Out Of This World'. And I didn't used to be into photography either but I took one beginner’s course as an elective and got hooked. I like to do nature shots, maybe use a perspective other people might not to get a truly unique shot. It's like art.”
“That’s really cool,” Jason said.
“Yeah, I had an idea of taking some shots that are a part of our world but don’t really seem like it. Sort of abstract art.”
“I'd love to see some of your work sometime.” Jason smiled at Sean. He was so enthusiastic about his work.
“Sure!” agreed Sean, eager for a reason to see Jason again after they left. “Uhh, maybe you can come by my place sometime and I can show you my portfolio?” he offered.
“That'd be great!” said Jason enthused. He caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of the wince Sean kept trying to hide as they walked. “Hey, how about we take a break? This pack is heavy!” he said, steering them toward a moss covered fallen tree. They sat for a few minutes, chatting as the dappled sunlight shone through the green leaves of the canopy on the water by the path. They soon got up, trying to make it as far as they could each time but taking frequent rest breaks.
After a while the path began to rise, leaving the growing stream down below it to flow through sometimes narrow rock walls before it spread out again. They paused at the top of a hill, sitting on some rocks next to a little cliff that looked over the now small river.
“Ooh, look at that! I bet that would be perfect for your project,” Jason pointed to the swirling water where it was forced through a narrow spot and over a slight drop off. The water was a dark green, the smooth areas looking almost black and the swirling water looking like light green and white froth, almost like cloth or clouds. It was an amazing sight and one that Sean instantly knew was perfect.
He grabbed his camera and started taking pictures, changing focus and settings, perspectives and the lenses. He didn't say a word, just snapped and snapped, trying to get as many different shots as possible. He must have had almost 200 when Jason cleared his throat.
“Ahem. I can see why you fell out of the tree.” Sean looked up from his latest position laying flat on his stomach with his chest hanging over the edge so he could a good angle at the water where it crashed and swirled against the rock wall directly below him. He grinned.
“Yeah, I know I tend to get a little sidetracked when I'm behind the viewfinder.”
“I'll say! Just a little? I've been sitting here watching you take pictures for almost half an hour,” Jason teased, looking at his watch.
“Oh man! I'm sorry! I really didn't mean to take so long. You should have said something,” Sean apologized, putting his camera away.
“Nah. It's fine, besides, you were so focused. You kept biting your lip and sticking your tongue out. It was cute.” Jason stopped talking abruptly, his face flaming as he realized what he said. He immediately stood up and started stretching a little as if he was stiff to avoid eye contact.
Sean simply looked at Jason with speculation but didn't say anything. He finished zipping his bag up and slung it over his shoulder. “So you going to help me up?” he asked quietly, reaching out with one arm from the ground.
Jason looked at him with a shy smile. “Yeah.” They resumed walking on the trail, Sean leaning more and more weight on Jason as the hours passed. Jason just wrapped his arm around Sean and kept going. They had talked off and on, about what they were doing in college, books, movies, all those random things you want to know about someone when you become friends. Things were comfortable again by the time they finally got to the gravel parking lot.
Sean directed Jason over to his car, a slightly beat up blue four-door Honda Civic. He fished his keys out of a side pocket of his pack and opened the trunk. Jason put the pack in it and closed the lid then helped Sean into the driver's seat. Sean put his camera case safely on the passenger side floorboard and gave Jason his daypack.
“So, umm, thanks again,” Sean said looking up at Jason standing framed in the open space between the door and the car. “I mean it, I really don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come along.”
“You're welcome. Do you think you can get home alright? I mean, you don't have any stairs or anything do you?”
“No, I live on the ground floor. I should be able to make it alright. Plus Terry should be home,” Sean assured him.
“Terry? Your girlfriend?” Jason said, cocking his head again. Sean was starting to think that little habit of his was really cute.
“Oh no, no girlfriend. Terry's my roommate. We met freshman year and just really clicked. Been living together ever since we discovered our other roommates blew chunks.” Jason laughed when Sean said that.
“Okay, well, I just wanted to make sure you would be able to get home on your own. Umm, do you think if I gave you my number or email you could let me know you make it okay or something? I mean, I know we just met and you were hurt but I had a lot of fun anyhow. I uh... I mean if you don't...” Jason looked a bit nervous, fidgeting his foot in the gravel and looking away.
Sean interrupted him, “No, no, I totally wanted to get your information. Besides, since you're new to the area maybe I could show you around or something when my ankle is better,” he offered.
Jason's face brightened. “That'd be great! It would be nice to get out. Maybe we could even go camping again sometime, this time on purpose? I'd bring my own sleeping bag of course,” he said with a wink.
Sean felt a momentary disappointment at the thought of not getting to sleep snuggled up close again but hid it with a smile. “Here,” he said, handing Jason a slip of paper with his information on it, then the notepad and pen. “Write yours down too.”
Jason scribbled for a minute then handed the pen and pad back. Sean looked at it. It was his number, email and instant message id. “Just in case you want to im me sometime,” Jason offered.
“Yeah, I'll do that.”
“Okay, well, I guess I'll let you go. Don't forget to get some ice on that ankle!” Jason said, shutting the door to Sean's car. Sean started up the engine and rolled down his window.
“Thanks again, Jason. I really mean it.”
Jason nodded, waving as Sean drove away.
** ** ** ** ** ** **
Sean and Jason continued to talk and get to know each other over the next 2 weeks. They talked on the phone and the computer, sending daily emails and talking on msn late into the night. Sean's ankle got better but their schedules never seemed to match up so that they could get together in person again. Then one night Sean was nearly bubbling with excitement in his instant message.
S4PICS:Hey man! Do you think you could come over on Wednesday night? I have something I want to show you!!!
Jase1990:Hold on, let me check.
Jase1990:Looks like I could make that. What do you have to show me, your portfolio finally?
S4PICS:It's a surprise :D Meet me here at my place at 7:00 pm, okay?
Jase1990: Man, I have to wait 3 days? Grrr! You're a tease! But I'll be there. ;)
S4PICS:Great!!! Well I have to run, ttyl k?
** ** ** ** ** ** **
Finally it was Wednesday about 6:45 pm. Jason had hemmed and hawed over how to dress before deciding on a pair of tan Dockers and a polo shirt, a nice outfit but not too dressy or too casual, he hoped. Sean hadn't spilled any more information when they talked, preferring to be mysterious. It had Jason a little annoyed but when he heard Sean's excited voice he didn't mind.
He really didn't mind when Sean opened his door and he saw the smaller man standing framed in the doorway in his tight black jeans and light blue polo. They both clung to him and his hair was newly cut, the curls tamed a bit into orderly waves leaving the fine bones of his face more prominent. Jason couldn't help but smile and give him a hug, it just seemed natural.
“So, what do you have to show me, Mr. Mysterious?” Jason asked in anticipation after Sean gave him the nickel tour and introduced him to Terry.
“Well, it's not here,” Sean said evasively.
“Okay. Where is it?” Jason asked.
“Well, c'mon, I'll show you!” Sean said, grabbing Jason by his wrist and tugging him out the door.
“Do I need my car?” Sean shook his head, still tugging Jason by his arm.
“Nope, just follow me; it's only a few blocks,” Sean hinted. He refused to tell Jason anything else the whole way there. They walked onto Pinehurst college campus and up the stairs of a large brick building.
“McDonnan Hall? What's here?” Jason asked, unable to help himself though he knew by now that Sean wouldn't answer. Sean just shook his head, grinning silently as they walked into a large hall full of temporary walls and lighting that focused on the framed pictures lining the walls. People were walking around looking at the pictures and talking quietly.
“Oh!” Jason said, finally realizing. “You got a picture in the exhibition?! Great job!” He hugged Sean with one arm across his shoulders while Sean wrapped his arm around his waist, pulling him over to a wall on one side of the busy hall.
“Just wait, there's more,” Sean said finally coming to a stop in front of a large 20 by 22 custom frame in white. Below was a plaque with the photo information detailing the photographer, camera and picture information, date and location. Right above that though was the title of the picture “Froth” and a special dedication.
With thanks to my friend Jason. Without him this picture wouldn't have been possible.
Jason just stared, and then looked at Sean, tears in his eyes. “You didn't have to do that.”
“Yes I did,” Sean insisted, “It's true. You saw this even before I did, without you I would never have taken this picture. You've come to mean a lot to me and I wanted to say thank you in a special way.”
With that Sean did what he had wanted to do almost since he first met Jason. He grabbed the back of Jason's neck and going up on tiptoe he laid a soft kiss on his mouth. It was just a gentle brush against those enticing lips but when he moved back their eyes met and locked, both holding the promise that kiss offered.