Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 29: An Ember Burns

Chapter 29: An Ember Burns

18 April 2019, Thursday 4:17 PM (Pacific Time)

Brian watched the proposal happen. It was almost surreal to him. His mind fixed upon the way Grant's eyes looked at Troy. And, at that moment he knew that there wasn't another man who would love Troy more than Grant. And when Troy said yes, Brian's voice rang out with the others - a choir of happiness, surprise, and support for these two beautiful men.

Natalie and Georgette both screamed in abject joy. And the women almost tackled Troy as he was down on his knees before Grant. The tall man laughed, and he patted their arms that were now clamped across his neck.

Aaron laughed. "Yeah!" He stepped close, and he clapped Grant on his back. Grant grinned, but his brown eyes never left Troy's face. Aaron was immensely happy for the men. And he marveled at the way they stayed connected with their eyes. 'No stopping this train,' Aaron thought. He and Brian looked at one another. They had worried together over Troy for many months. And now, the knowledge that they would no longer have to passed between them. 'He's okay. He's really gonna be okay.'

With no room next to Troy and Grant, Rhett and Beth hugged one another. Beth bounced up and down, and Rhett laughed. Rhett heard Beth say something under her breath as she celebrated but he didn't quite catch it. Whatever it was sounded like it was spoken in relief. Before he could ask, the two men stood up.

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Troy turned to Grant's mother and Father. The friends separated, and they quieted down as Troy took Grant's hand. And Troy stepped up, his lover's hand clasped in his own. Troy's eyes were shining as he looked upon them. "I'm an old-fashioned guy." He opened his hand, where the ring Grant gave him rested in his palm. "And, though I have said yes to your son, I also want to know that I have your blessings." Troy smiled. "It would mean a lot to me, to have that."

Sandra reached for William, and he helped her to her feet. She looked up at Troy, her green eyes thoughtful. Sandra let his question hang in the air for a long moment. Then she looked at William. "What do you say, dear?" Her gaze came back to Troy. "Should we give Troy permission to marry our son?"

William hugged Sandra around her shoulders. The way he did it, Troy couldn't even tell he helped her to stand. It looked simply as if they were two, close people who loved each other. And, Troy supposed that was true. William grinned. "I think that there's no one better suited." He bit his lip, and he looked as if he would get emotional. "Troy, you make our son happy. And, so long as you continue to do that," he nodded, "then yes. You have our permission to marry Grant."

Troy stepped forward, and he hugged both Sandra and William where they stood. And as he did, he felt the stirring of John in his mind.

'Good move, baby. Good move.'

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24 July 2019, Wednesday 1:52 AM

A loud, insistent knock sounded on the front door and jarred Grant awake. It was now July in Barre, Vermont, and the area was just beginning to enjoy a warm and beautiful Summer. Troy and Grant slept with the windows open, with only screens between them and the outside to help stay cool. And through the mesh, Grant now plainly heard Aaron's voice from where he stood downstairs at their door.

"Grant, Troy! Get up! It's time! Oh god. It's time."

Grant shook Troy. "Get up! We've gotta go!"

Troy made a confused, surprised sound, but he obeyed and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Both men got up, shoved their clothes on, and they ran downstairs. Grant opened the door. Georgette stood bent over, her hands on her knees, and a terrific look of concentration and pain on her face. Aaron was white as a sheet, but he was beside Georgette on the front stoop, and he rubbed her back. Georgette looked up at the men as they exited.

"Good. Guys, make Aaron sit down." Georgette gritted her teeth. "He's gonna pass out on us."

"I'm fine." Aaron patted her back.

"So, the nervous vomiting you did when I woke you up is perfectly normal?" Georgette laughed, and her hair dangled down to frame her face as she stayed bent at the waist.

"Okay, I think that means I'm driving." Troy dashed across the street, and he started the van. While he pulled up to the house, Grant went to Georgette.

Soon, the men had her loaded in the van. As they did, Grant heard Troy call Brian and Natalie on his cell phone. They were going to meet them at the hospital, as soon as they could get there. Grant called the hospital to let them know they were on the way, while Aaron stood beside her and held Georgette's hand. The look on the redhead's face was one of real concern and love for his wife. Though, Grant did worry about Aaron. He was sweating bullets, and Grant could see his pupils were dilated. "Aaron. Sit down." Grant gently, but firmly pushed Aaron down into the seat beside Georgette. "Hold her hand from there." Grant almost laughed when, even while in active labor Georgette smirked at her husband.

Troy drove quickly but safely to their destination. And when they arrived, a couple of workers in scrubs waited with a wheelchair in front of the emergency room entrance. Georgette was whisked inside. But, before Aaron could take more than five steps alongside her chair, one of the workers made him sit in a wheelchair of his own. "Sir, you're really pale. Have a seat."

He finally relented and took the offered chair. "I'm fine!" He proclaimed as he was wheeled along with her. Grant shared a grin with Troy, shook his head, and he followed behind them with a smile.

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24 July 2019, Wednesday 4:45 PM

In ways, the labor passed so quickly, and yet it also felt like an eternity to Aaron. Only a few people were allowed in the room at any one time. But, he knew his friends were in the adjacent room to the one he and Georgette were in. And periodically he would go out to let them know how she was doing.

"Aaron!" Georgette's voice and the sound of her efforts as she strained through a sharp contraction made Aaron's head snap around. He was in the room with the friends, but he dashed away, back into the labor suite. He rushed to her side, and he took her hand in his own. He almost flinched at her grip. Her eyes stared up into his. She looked practically feral - alive, wild, and so intense.

"Oh, here we go, momma." The doctor patted Georgette's thigh. "I can see the baby. Everything looks good." The woman looked over Georgette's bent knees at her. "You're doing great. When the contraction comes, push and push hard."

Aaron watched, fascinated.

Georgette gritted her teeth, cried out, and she pushed.

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24 July 2019, Wednesday 5:02 PM

Natalie stood up as Aaron staggered into the room. He looked utterly stunned, elated, and unsteady on his feet. He raised his eyes, and he put a hand over his mouth, completely overcome. All of the friends went to him.

"Is everything okay? Are they okay?" Brian asked, his voice worried.

Aaron nodded his hand still over his mouth. He closed his eyes and tears rolled from them. Then he laughed. "We have a son." He threw his arms around Brian, and Natalie grinned as she saw her husband crush him in a hug. "We have a son!" He screamed as Brian lifted him up off the ground.

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24 July 2019, Wednesday 5:11 PM

"He's beautiful." Grant had an arm around Aaron's shoulders, while Troy stood on the other side of him. They stared down at the little human being, as Georgette held him against her chest. Grant watched her. She made little soothing sounds, almost on instinct, and her hands lightly pushed the headful of reddish-blonde hair back out of his face.

Rhett and Beth smiled broadly. They both came to the hospital after they finished with their shifts. Beth actually had to pull double duty and cover Brian's class in addition to her own. Thankfully, a teaching assistant made that possible, but it was still a lot of work for her. She didn't seem as if she minded.

Aaron wiped his face, and he laughed again - a happy little sound. He reached, one hand down on Georgette's head, and he looked with such adoration at her. "You're amazing, momma."

She looked up at him, and she smiled - tired, but elated. "You too, daddy."

Beth gently touched the baby's pink little arm. Her dark skin contrasted against his, and she bit her lip. "Wow. It's so amazing." She blew out a breath as her fingertips stroked him. "You guys made a little PERSON."

Both Aaron and Georgette chuckled, and Aaron nodded. "I know. It's wild."

"Is it too early to ask about his name?" Rhett put an arm around Beth's shoulders as she cooed at and petted the baby.

Georgette looked down at the little boy in her arms. "His name is Henry. After Aaron's grandfather."

"Henry Allen Davidson." Aaron grinned.

"Good name." Brian patted Aaron's back. He nodded at them and looked proud and satisfied. "I'm so glad we got to be here for this."

"Me too." Aaron took his wife's hand in his own. Grant felt the connection between them thrum and vibrate as it strengthened. Then, as Grant watched them, he realized that it wasn't just the connection between Georgette and Aaron he felt.

'It's all of us.' His eyes roamed over the room, and he took in every face and felt all of the emotions of those present. And, at that moment, he knew that he had indeed found his tribe.

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31 August 2019, Saturday 9:52 AM (Pacific Time)

Once again, all of the friends gathered under the oak tree in the winery grounds. Grant stood before his father and mother, and he turned to look out over their friends.

Gavin roamed all around, but he tried to be as unobtrusive as he could. He held a nice digital camera, and he had already taken dozens of photos. Grant knew that he was under strict orders to take pictures of everything, and the man was doing exactly that.

A group of five men and women waited patiently off to the side on a small wooden platform Troy helped William build. Each held an instrument, but currently, they were silent as they awaited the moment they were supposed to start the music. Till then, they only watched and smiled as proceedings got underway.

Aaron held Henry in his arms. The five-week-old boy slept peacefully against his chest, while Georgette stood beside her husband, her hair gently moving in the slight breeze that blew beneath the shade of the ancient oak.

Natalie was close to the new parents. She had a small bouquet of wildflowers in her hands. And she smiled so broadly she couldn't help but show her teeth.

Rhett and Beth, too, stood in the cluster of friends. As Grant's eyes swept over them, Rhett grinned, and he nodded at Grant. It was a quiet show of support and approval. Grant returned it, and he nodded back at him.

Brian stood just behind them. When it came time for the men to pick their best man, they both agreed that they would ask Brian. And that he could serve that role for the both of them. The big man was honored, and Grant smiled as he remembered the way one of the toughest, strongest men he knew cried when they asked him.

They looked amazing. The women all wore silvery white dresses, with a wide, blue sash around their waists and gray shoes. While the men sported the same color blue shirts, gray slacks, and silver-white vests that matched the ladies dresses.

But, the reason Grant stood there was Troy. His fiance was on his right. And Grant couldn't help but look in love-struck awe at him. Troy's beard had completely filled in. It was short, but dense, and suited his face so well. His green eyes held a spark of vitality Grant would never tire of. And their matching light gray slacks and blue, tailored button-up shirts hugged his body perfectly.

In what amounted to a wonder to Grant, his own mother insisted that she be their officiant. At first, he thought it was about control. But, as they planned the simple ceremony, he realized that wasn't it. He could see her excitement and her happiness for him. And that she was included in it, that she was a part of it thrilled her. The fact that she would become ordained, solely for this moment also spoke to how important it was to her.

That also meant his father was included in the ceremony itself. Sandra's condition had slowed, but it would never remit. And William stood, right next to her. His arm was around his wife, and William's smile lit up his face as he helped her stand.

Grant and Troy had just walked out together, Brian behind them, and they stopped before his parents as they awaited the couple.

Sandra smiled at him. "My son." Then her eyes met Troy's. "And Troy." She inhaled. "Today, we're gathered to marry these two men. We're here to be witnesses to both their commitment and to their love." She grinned. "Both grooms requested this ceremony be, and I quote, 'short and sweet,' and so, I will now give the ceremony over to Troy, who will recite his vows to Grant."

Grant watched as Troy turned from Sandra to him. "Grant. You're so many things to me." Troy shook his head as if he struggled with the enormity of his emotion. "You stepped into my life when I was at my lowest. You saw me, dirty, starving, almost broken, and lost. Yet, you still reached out. You still stepped straight into my world. And you reached down to lift me up." Troy's eyes were so bright as he stared into Grant's soul. "For that, I promise myself to you. I promise that I will be yours and that I will, forever desire you to be mine."

Grant wiped his face, and he laughed. He wanted so badly to kiss Troy but now wasn't the moment. Sandra seemed to feel Grant's urge, and she grinned at him. "Grant, please, recite your vows to Troy."

Grant took a deep, steadying breath. Then he began, "Troy. I know you think that I saved you." He bit his lip, and he shook his head. "But, I don't feel that way at all." Grant took both of Troy's lean, callused hands into his own. "You dropped into my life like a comet. Meeting you was a pivotal, beautiful moment. And, like that comet streaking across the sky, I kept expecting that moment to end. Because it is so intense, that I couldn't imagine it could continue." Grant let his tears fall, and they ran down his face. "But, here you are. And so long as you'll have me, I promise to be yours." Grant smiled through his tears, and he put a hand on the back of Troy's neck. "I'm yours, Troy."

Grant finished, and the men stared at one another. He heard his mother clear her throat, and she wiped her eyes. The men faced her, and they smiled at Sandra's emotional response to their vows. She recovered and nodded at them both. Then she looked out over those assembled. "All of you, bear witness to this - bear witness to my son, and Troy, as they join themselves in marriage." Her green eyes met those of Brian as the big man stood behind the couple. "The rings, please."

Brian nodded, and he stepped forward. He handed the pair of rings to Sandra. She took them, then she faced Troy and reached for him. Into his palm, she placed Grant's ring. Troy then took Grant's left hand, and he positioned the ring, ready. "Repeat after me, Troy."

"I, Troy Beckford, take this man, Grant Sexton to be my husband. I promise myself to him, so long as we both shall live."

Troy said the words, and his shaking fingers slid the ring onto Grant's hand.

Sandra cleared her throat again. But, this time, she let the tears remain on her face. "Grant." She smiled at him, barely able to speak. "Son, repeat after me."

"I, Grant Sexton, take this man, Troy Beckford to be my husband. I promise myself to him, so long as we both shall live."

Grant's mind fixed upon the way Troy stared in quiet amazement down at the ring, as he placed it on Troy's finger. Then the tall man looked up at him.

"I now pronounce you, husbands." Sandra looked on, her face a study of wonder. "You may kiss."

Grant felt the warm arm of Troy around his waist as the man drew him close. Then they leaned in, and they took their first kiss as husbands.

Their friends exploded into a wild cheer. And Grant felt deep, profound relief.

Grant leaned back, and the men looked upon one another with such adoration and love, as their friends and parents carried on. The band his father hired began to play, and Gavin continued to snap picture after picture of them.

But it all faded away. Everything, but the man he held in his arms.
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31 August 2019, Saturday 12:47 PM

Wine, fantastic food, and celebration was the order of the day. The friends, Grant's parents, Gavin, and Troy all made it a time to remember. And Troy couldn't ask for a more perfect, and magical event.

But, he needed time to think. He needed quiet, and just a moment to himself. So he slipped away. While everyone continued to celebrate, Troy sat at the table under the shade of the porch. He lay back in the chair, and he laughed quietly to himself as he allowed the realization of what they had done sink in.

Then, he felt a stirring. It was as if a door opened, whereas before it was only cracked. Troy felt chill bumps rise on his skin, his eyes widened, and he slowly sat up.

'Baby, I've looked after you. And that first year, seeing you struggle, and hurt, and fight, it pained me more than anything. And I knew if I didn't do something, that you weren't going to make it.'

Troy sat perfectly still as the voice spoke to him. He hadn't heard from John at all since the proposal. And, now, Troy paid full and careful attention to him.

'A love knows a kindred soul. He knows exactly what his lover needs. And when it was time for Grant to pick where he was gonna go, I called to him.'

A creeping sort of realization struck Troy. And he began to understand, John wasn't a figment of his mind. He was there. He was with him, and he had been from the start. Troy blinked in his shock. John continued, 'just getting him to pick Barre, that was my doing. I had to get him there to you. And keeping the journal from burning, that was me too. But the rest was him, and it was you. And, baby, it's time. It's time for me to go.'

"John?" Troy voice cracked, and he streamed tears. "John, are you really here?"

'I am. But it's time. I'm tired, baby. And my work is done.' It was the first time John's voice had ever replied directly to Troy.

"John!" Troy stood up. "No. No, don't go."

'Awww, you don't need me anymore. You and Beth are both gonna be okay. I know it. And that is all I ever needed to rest. Tell me goodbye, love. And then go, and live your life with that man of yours.'

Troy closed his eyes and exhaled. He heard the tiredness and the hollowness in John's voice. Troy knew that he would need to let go for his John to rest. And for the man he loved, Troy would do anything. Even if that meant saying goodbye.

He raised his face to the sky, eyes tightly closed, and he imagined John's face. He breathed and tried to calm his heart as it hammered in his chest. "Goodbye, John. I love you."

His imagined vision of John smiled, mouth open, teeth visible, his eyes moved from looking straight at Troy to the sky, up and into the great beyond. The equal of a relieved spiritual sigh breathed like a gentle wind in Troy's mind. And along with his mental picture, that presence that had resided with him peacefully disappeared, like mist burning away in the morning sun.

He was gone. Troy opened his eyes, and Beth was there. She was streaming tears, same as he. And wordlessly, she stepped up. They embraced. After a moment, they pushed back, and Beth wiped her face. "You heard him. He was with you." It wasn't really a question, but a statement. And that's when Troy realized that she too heard him - that she had also carried John with her.

Troy nodded. Beth smiled through her tears. "He always wanted a dramatic exit." They both laughed, happiness and sadness at war in their hearts. Both stood close, each supported the other.

Beth looked across the courtyard. Grant was laughing and smiling with his mom, Rhett, and Brian. Their other friends danced or chatted as the band played. Troy and Beth both saw as Grant frowned a bit, and as he began to look over the grounds for Troy.

Troy blew out a breath. "Okay. I guess it's time."

Beth looked up at Troy. Her brown eyes reminded him so much of John's, and she smiled. She looped her arm in his. "It is." She squeezed her arm tight on his. "Let's go."

Troy and Beth walked across the courtyard. Grant's face as Troy approached was a miracle of love and completion.

And as he released Beth to hold his husband, Troy looked into Grant's eyes. They were so intense and so bright. 'Like embers. Beautiful, vibrant embers.' Troy smiled in unrestrained joy.

And he kissed the second great love of his life..



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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This was such a fun, emotional, and challenging story for me.  It demanded more of me than anything I've ever written.  It controlled my sleep, my dreams, and my weekends.  It forced me to write.  It stole my time.  But, when I read what I've written of these two actualized souls, I feel that it was worth the time and effort spent.  I hope you all enjoyed the work, and the journey.

If you take nothing else from this tale, know this: The coldest ashes can hide an ember.

Thanks for reading.  Much love and appreciation to you all.