Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 6: Reciprocity

Chapter 6: Reciprocity

14 November 2018, Wednesday 7:23 PM

Grant held out his hands.  "Here. Let me take those." Troy held a towel around his waist while his other hand clutched the filthy clothes he had just removed. Grant couldn't entirely hide his disgust of them, and Troy didn’t blame him. Though it still made Troy ashamed. Regardless, Grant took them from Troy, held the wadded ball of clothing at arms-length, and started for the stairs.

"Sorry." Troy grimaced. "I can do it."

Grant shook his head as he walked down the stairs. "Nope. Your job is to shower. This one is mine. See you in a little while."

Troy bit his lip. He stood at the top of the stairs until he heard the door to the garage when Grant went into that room. He sighed. He really hadn't planned on this and had no idea it would happen.

'Why is he helping me?' He turned and entered the bathroom. Troy shut the door. He looked at himself in the mirror.

"Fuck." He grimaced and touched his chest. His ribs were plain to see. His fingers could feel the bone, just under the surface of his skin, and the tiny bit of fat he still possessed.

'You look like you need help. Maybe that's why.' Troy let his hand fall to his side. He took a searching look at his own eyes. Then he nodded slightly. "Okay. Get on with it."

Troy turned on the shower. He waited for it to warm, then he dropped the towel.

He stepped into the warm stream of water. Immediately his skin broke into chill bumps, as his body attempted to suck up the warmth. "Ahhhhh." He breathed in the steam. He stood there under the water. He could feel it sluice away grit, sweat, and grime.

Troy wanted to just stand there. But he had a body to scrub clean. He wiped the water out of his eyes, and he blinked at the assortment of little containers in Grant's shower caddy. Grant had pulled out a bunch of little soaps, shampoos, and body washes for him. Grant said he saved them from various hotels where he stayed. And he kept them for guests to use, in case they forgot their own supplies.

Troy selected a green tea, and lemon-scented body wash. He poured the stuff onto the washcloth Grant left for him. And he started to aggressively rub the cloth all over himself. He started at his head, and he worked his way down his entire body.

His rear he left for last. He knew that would be tough and painful. But soon, that was the only part left. He took a breath, and he turned to let the water run down his back. Troy very gently took a soapy hand, and he rubbed it down his crevice.

He hissed as he did. It burned as the soap hit raw skin between his cheeks. He set his jaw, and his eyes grew hard. 'Come on. You've been through worse.' He took a breath, and he went for it.

Troy gritted his teeth, but he vigorously scrubbed himself with his soapy hand. He didn't want to think about the rough spots he felt on his skin. He only wanted them gone.

Eventually, he no longer felt anything apart from his own skin. The area still stung and burned a little. But he was clean as a whistle.

Troy breathed in relief. He turned and hung his head under the water. He anticipated that taking a dump would be an adventure, but he'd deal with that when the time came.

He stared down at the drain as the water formed a swirl, and disappeared between his now clean feet. He noticed that his toenails were pretty gnarly though. 'I should cut them.' He wondered if Grant would mind if he borrowed his nail clippers. As soon as he asked himself the question, he knew, Grant would be okay with it.

He pushed his wet hair back. Then he turned off the water. Troy opened the curtain, and he snagged the big, fluffy towel Grant left for him. He began to dry himself, and he closed his eyes as he inhaled the clean, fragrant scent of the cloth. He couldn't help but smile. It amazed him what he missed about regular life. Little things. Things he always took for granted.

Troy finished drying, hung the towel, and he stepped out. He looked curiously at the little pile of clothes Grant left for him. There were some briefs, along with a pair of sweats, and a fuzzy sweater.

Troy hadn't put on a pair of underwear for months. He held them in his hand. 'I wonder if Grant has ever worn these.' For the first time in a while, he felt the stirring of his libido, and his penis started to wake. For some reason, that thought turned him on.

"Ah, quit that. I'm gonna be walking around in sweats." He made a face. He quickly put on the underwear. They fit well. And he had to admit, his package looked pretty sexy since he sported a semi. He chuckled and shook his head at himself. Troy put on the gray sweats, and the brown, fuzzy sweater. There was also a new pair of wool socks. And he gratefully put those on. 'New socks. Ah, man. That's nice.' He happily wriggled his toes in the warm socks.

He looked at himself in the mirror. Troy noticed that there was a small grooming kit sitting, nice and visible on the vanity. There were a disposable razor and a small canister of shaving cream that sat beside it, while a simple black comb lay on top. It was all apparently new, and Troy knew they were set out for him.

"Man, does this guy think of everything?" Troy picked up the comb, and he quickly combed his hair. Then he started with the razor. He always sheared off his beard with an old trimmer he kept in the van. But he never could get close to the skin. So he always sported a day's worth of growth. And the trimmer had seen better days. It often yanked the hair out, as opposed to cutting it off.

He finished his shave then he rinsed his face. He bit his lip as he studied his reflection.

He was thinner than he used to be. But, Troy felt a little twinge as he looked at himself. 'I know that guy.' He blew out a breath. "I know you," he said in a hushed whisper.

It's amazing what a shower, shave, and clean clothes can do for a man.

Troy leaned against the sink. "Okay. See if you can help Grant with your nasty laundry."

He took one last look at his green eyes in the mirror. Then he turned and opened the door.
___________________________________

14 November 2018, Wednesday 7:51 PM

Grant took the load of laundry out of the wash. Troy had a pitiful amount of clothing: two pairs of pants, three flannel shirts, two undershirts, a few pairs of old threadbare socks, one knit cap, a pair of gloves, and a jacket.

All of it except the gloves went in. Those, Grant threw away, along with Troy's filthy bedding. The gloves had holes in them and weren't good quality to start.

He put everything that made the cut into the dryer, tossed in a dryer sheet, and started the machine.

He had a pad of paper beside him. And as he tossed things, he wrote them down. He would replace anything he discarded. Grant looked at his list. "Sheets, sleeping bag, blanket, pillow case, pillow, gloves." He tapped the pencil eraser against the pad. "We should get him some underwear, and some new socks too." He wrote down the items. His tongue appeared at the corner of his mouth as he examined his list.

The garage door creaked open, and Troy peeked into the room. Grant smiled at him. "Hey."

Troy fully opened the door. "Hey." He gave a tiny smile back. "Ah, I wanted to see if I could help."

"Nah. It's all in the dryer." Grant carried his pad and pencil, and he stepped up beside him. "Come on. Let's sit in the living room."

The two guys walked through the house. Grant took an overstuffed chair that came with the house. The couch against the wall, Grant purchased new. He made sure to buy one that was long enough to accommodate a fully stretched out body. During his college days, he sometimes liked to lay on his couch, and drift to sleep. With a fireplace, he anticipated that would happen more than a few times in his new house, and he liked to have the option to allow it.

Troy sat on the couch, and he leaned forward. His elbows were on his knees, and one hand covered the other as they dangled, knee-level. He stared down at the floor, a few feet in front of him. The fire flickered and threw light over them both.

"Do you need anything? You want something warm to drink or some water?" Grant wanted so badly for Troy to know that he was welcome in his home.

Troy glanced up at Grant. "No. I'm okay." His hands rubbed together. He frowned and shook his head a little. "I'm sorry. About earlier." Troy tried to explain himself. "I just, ah, I didn't expect you to do all this for me." He laughed a little. "I know you didn't sign up for this."

Grant sensed the rawness of Troy's situation, and how much it bothered him to need help. He also knew from reading the journal how capable, and independent he was. With all that in mind, he carefully chose what he said next. "Well, it's fine. I hope you don't mind, but I'm keeping track of all the stuff I threw out. I'll replace it all tomorrow, keep receipts, and we'll settle up once I pay you." Grant watched Troy for a reaction. "That okay?"

There was almost instant relief on the thin man's face. "Yes. Yes, that's great." He let his head dip, and he stared at the floor. "I want to pay you back."

Grant smiled. "All right." He motioned at the couch. "You can sleep in here tonight." Grant made a face. "I had to toss your bedding. It was all pretty bad."

Troy grimaced. He sighed, then he nodded. "Yeah, I thought it might have been too far gone to rescue." He looked back up at Grant. His eyes were like pools of emerald and glittered in the firelight. "I can still sleep out in the van. If you just give me a blanket, I can …"

"Troy. It's not a problem." Grant stood up. "I'm going to go get some bedding for you. We'll make up the couch, and you can sleep here tonight."

Grant walked back to the stairs. He gathered sheets, a blanket, a pillow, and pillowcase. He returned to find Troy, still sitting in his spot. He gazed at the fire and had a dreamy, relaxed look on his face. He blinked when Grant returned and looked up at him as Grant stood by the couch.

'He's tired.' Grant smiled at him. "Here. Let me get your bed ready." He motioned with his head at the kitchen. "Even if you're not thirsty, you should have some water. I've watched you. You don't drink enough."

Troy gave a half-smile, and he stood up. "Yeah. It's a hassle to piss when you don't have a bathroom. I've gotten used to going without."

Troy went to the kitchen, and Grant heard the water run. He set to work, and soon he had a comfy little nest put together on the couch. He personally liked to feel like he was wrapped in a cocoon when he slept, so he tucked in the sheet and blanket at the foot and halfway up the sides. When Troy got in, he'd be cozy, and warm.

The thin man returned as Grant finished. "Thanks." He looked at the couch.

"You're welcome." Grant could tell Troy needed rest. "Why don't you lay down? I've got a few things to do in the kitchen, but I'll keep it down."

"All right." Troy sat, and slipped his feet under the sheet and blanket. Then he scooted down and put his head on the pillow. He blinked slowly.

Grant walked into the kitchen. He checked his freezer. 'Okay, chicken thighs. I'll look up a recipe, and fix something other than slow cooker food, or Dinty Moore.' From the bits he read in the journal, Grant knew John was an excellent cook. And he had the strange desire to give that back to Troy, at least while he was here at the house.

He pulled the chicken out of the freezer and put the three thighs into the fridge to thaw. He would eat one. But he was sure Troy could have a couple.

'I'll have to figure out a side dish too. Maybe a salad, some fruit.' Grant had never made a meal with more than three courses before. But here he was, planning a four-course dinner for a guy he met yesterday.

And that same guy was now on his couch. He looked into the living room. Troy was on his side, and he faced the room. His eyes were closed, and he was tucked under the sheet and blanket. The fire cast its glow over him and created dancing shadows that played over his face. He had the pillow wrapped in a bear hug, and he was curled around it.

Grant's face shifted. 'Spooning. He's spooning the pillow.' It was hard for Grant to imagine how Troy felt. 'To lose something so important, and so real.' Grant felt a twinge of sorrow for him.

He straightened his spine. 'He's gonna be fine,' Grant told himself. Why he needed to believe that, he had no idea. But he did.

Grant was a provider. He served to better the human condition. Usually, it meant he focused on the physical health of many people. They were like blips on a radar. Each was important, but they popped into and out of his life quickly. He knew he would see most again later, and continue to help them. But it was always episodic, and it was this paradigm Grant accepted as his place in the larger system of care.

This thing with Troy was very different. Grant gazed at the man as he slept. He knew Troy was a capable guy, and that he merely needed a little help. He needed a tiny amount of understanding, patience, and effort.

He needed someone to care.

Grant cared. He knew circumstances beyond Troy's control destroyed his life. Somehow, he had made it this far for over a year, all on his own. Grant had the support of his family, friends, and a whole system that buoyed and pushed him toward success. It didn't appear that Troy had any of that.

"It's your turn," Grant whispered as he looked at Troy. "I'll make sure you get your turn."

Grant smiled a little to himself. Then he sat at his laptop.

'Okay. Chicken thigh recipes.'

___________________________________

15 November 2018, Thursday 6:44 AM

The smell of brewing coffee woke Troy, and he opened his eyes. At first, he was disoriented, and his brain confused past with the present. 'Did I make John mad? Why am I on the cou …' Then the last sixteen months of his life crashed back into his memory.

He closed his eyes, and he drew in a breath.

'Easy. You're okay.' John's voice.

Troy didn't answer him this time. Instead, he nodded, and he sat up. He heard movement in the kitchen, and he looked that way.

Grant poured coffee into a thermos. He had such a look of concentration on his face - his brow was furrowed, eyes narrow, and his tongue again appeared at the corner of his mouth. Troy suppressed a giggle.

Grant finished with his obviously tricky task, and he put the carafe back in its spot. He looked at Troy. "Hey. Good morning. Sorry if I woke you."

Troy stood up and stretched. "G'morning. It's fine. Coffee's a great thing to wake up to."

Grant's face took on a really odd expression. It was something between a suppressed grin and embarrassment. Troy frowned, then he looked down.

Troy had a severe case of morning wood, and the sweats he wore did nothing to hide it. He was tented out worse than a circus.

"Gah!" He pulled his hips back and pushed at his erection. "Damn it, sorry." He hadn't had much going on below the waist for months. His body was challenged by his situation, and resources available for his sex organs were minimal. He couldn't remember the last time he woke up with a boner.

Grant laughed and shook his head. "Don't be. Happens to every healthy guy." He raised his thermos. "There's more of this in the pot. Help yourself. There are also eggs and bacon in the fridge. If you want breakfast, knock yourself out."

"Ah, okay. Thanks." Troy still showed, but it wasn't quite as obscene. Grant didn't seem too worried about it, so Troy let a little of his anxiety go. 'He's pretty laid back.'

"Sure. I'm heading to work. On the way home I'll stop and pick up replacements for the things I had to toss." He made a face. "Ah, I left your laundry in the dryer. Sorry about that. You can run it for a bit to unwrinkle stuff."

"I got it. That's no problem." Troy tried to focus on the job he had left to do. "I'll get the fence done today, and have the furnace delivered."

Grant nodded. "Sounds great." He smiled. "Thanks for the work. All of it looks good so far."

Troy grinned. "You're welcome, Grant."

They looked at each other, both with comfortable, relaxed smiles. Grant held his gaze for a moment longer, then he dropped his eyes, and he licked his lips. Troy knew that set of facial expressions well. 'Nervous? Why is he nervous?'

"Well, I gotta go. I'll see you when I get back." Grant grabbed his computer bag and his thermos. He walked into the living room to the door. "Just carry the extra key. You've got the run of the house while you're here."

"Oh, okay."

Grant opened the door. He seemed to be in a hurry. "Hey, have a good day," Troy blurted out.

Grant jerked to a stop. He looked at Troy, and he gave what seemed to be a forced smile. "Thanks. You too."

Then he was gone.

Troy stood there, utterly confused. "What the hell was that?"

___________________________________

15 November 2018, Thursday 6:53 AM

Grant drove. He bit his lip, and he shifted his pelvis to try and get comfortable. He finally hit a stoplight, and he reached down. He adjusted himself so that his cock lay in a better position. The light turned, and Grant continued on.

He shook his head. "Okay, so, are you going to ignore this? Or are you going to try and figure out why the sight of Troy with an erection got you worked up?"

Grant arrived at the clinic, and he pulled into the parking lot. He sat and glared down at his crotch. "Okay. Stop it."

Like most 28 year-old-guys, Grant only had a passing command of his member. And today it was on its own program.

With no sign of letting up, Grant sighed. He got out of the car, held his computer bag so that it was in front of his hips, and he hurried into the clinic.

___________________________________

15 November 2018, Thursday 4:18 PM

Troy stood back, hands on his hips and he looked over the length of his fence. He couldn't help but wear a smile. "Oh yeah. That's a beautiful thing."

He was proud of the work. It was sturdy, would last a couple of decades, and it was very aesthetically pleasing. He used alternating light and dark boards, just as he did with the panel he built years back.

He'd take the fee for the fence knowing that he did the best job he could do and that he was worth every penny.

He also selected a Rheem furnace for Grant's heater install. It was delivered around 11 AM, and Troy already checked it. The furnace was pristine. Troy could have purchased a refurbished one, as the fellow on the phone did give him a choice. But that's not what Grant paid for, and Troy couldn't short-change him.

He paid for the furnace already with money Grant transferred into his account. And Troy had a running total of all of the money he owed to whom.

Troy was also glad Grant planned to keep track of the expenses incurred by buying all new clothes and bedding. He didn't want a handout. He wanted to earn his way, and he was more determined than ever to do it.

He cleaned the yard of all detritus and debris. There were a couple of spots where he slid a bit in the mud and carved a groove in the grass. He made a note to show each spot to Grant, and give him the opportunity to dock Troy's pay for the damage.

He became hyper-aware of every error and mistake. All he could correct, he did. The rest he listed out for Grant to review. None were what he considered fatal flaws. But it was necessary for him to ensure everything was on the table.

'Well, not EVERYTHING is on the table.' Troy ran his tongue over his front teeth. 'He still doesn't know this was your house.' He grimaced. 'He doesn't know you're gay. He might have a problem with gay people. This place isn't exactly cosmopolitan.'

The thought that Grant might dislike him based simply on his sexuality made Troy frown. 'Well, he doesn't have to know.'

Troy grunted with displeasure. He and John moved from Georgia precisely because they were tired of hiding who they were, and the fact that they were together.

'No. Fuck that. If it comes up, then I'm not gonna lie.' He nodded to himself. 'Though, I don't see why it would. Shouldn't be an issue. I do the jobs, I leave. Done.'

Troy felt better now that he had made the decision. He liked Grant, but he wasn't going to lie to make Grant accept him.

Troy walked to the porch, and he looked up at the sky as he kicked his boots to knock the mud from them. He tried to ensure he wasn't going to track it through the house, as the yard was pretty messy, thanks to the melted snow. Troy narrowed his eyes at the steadily darkening clouds with suspicion.

"You're gonna bust wide open again, aren't you?" He glared at the sky. He shrugged. "Well, the furnace install work will all be inside. That's good, at least."

He checked his boots and snorted with irritation. They still had mud in the treads. He untied and pulled off the footgear. Troy opened the door, and he put them on the floor inside right beside the exit. Then he stepped inside.

He finished everything he had planned to do for the day, but he felt a little guilty not working. Troy stood in the kitchen, and his toes wiggled in his wool socks as he thought.

He pulled out his phone. It had been a while since he checked his ad, so he turned off Airplane Mode, and he pulled up his email.

He saw an email from Donald Burgess. 'Troy, I need help! Please call me, as soon as you see this.'

Troy frowned. The message was sent a little over an hour ago. He immediately dialed the number.

The line picked up. "Hello?"

"Hi, Mr. Burgess? This is Troy. I got your message. What can I do for you?"

"Troy! Oh, I'm glad you called! Look, can you come by? I've got a problem, and I need some help. And it needs to happen before tomorrow!"

"What's going on?" Troy had never heard Mr. Burgess quite so riled up.

"Ah, I tried to put in that window, dropped it, and cracked the frame. Some miracle happened, and the glass is intact. But, I royally screwed the frame."

"Uh, okay. Yeah, I can get it fixed for you. It'd be a quick thing too." Troy scratched his head. "I've got some transportation issues though. It can't wait until tomorrow?"

"No! I told my wife I'd handle it, and, I really don't want her to come home to see I screwed this up. She's at her sister's tonight, but they'll both be here first thing tomorrow. I'll never hear the end of it. From both of them!" There was a shuffling of the phone. "If you're in town, I'll come to get you. I already got a piece of wood for the side of the frame I broke. And I've got tools, you know what I've got in the garage."

"Ah, uhhhh," Troy rubbed his face, then he threw up his hand. "Sure. I'm at 41 Winter Meadow."

"Troy, you're saving my ass! I should have just had you install it like she said. Damn it. I'll pay you extra for the last minute job. Be ready, I'm on my way!"

Mr. Burgess hung up. Troy snorted and looked at his phone. "Okay." He walked to the kitchen and grabbed a pad and a pencil.

'Off to do a quick job. Should be back soon. ~ T'

Troy put the note on the kitchen table, then he picked up his boots and walked them to the front door. He stepped out on the porch and pulled them on.

He finished tying them just as Mr. Burgess' little blue Mini-Cooper pulled up. Troy walked to the car and got in.

"Oh, I'm so glad to see you!" Mr. Burgess was effusive. "You're bailing me out bigti …" he stopped talking, and he frowned at Troy. His eyes flicked over Troy's clothes, hair and his face. "Wow."

"What?" Troy buckled up. He waved a hand at the road. "Don't we have a window to fix?"

The man stared a moment longer, then he slowly nodded. A smile pulled at his lips. "We do." He put the car into gear. "We sure do."

Troy leaned back in the seat. And as the car started to move, he grinned.

___________________________________

15 November 2018, Thursday 5:49 PM

Grant got home to an empty house. He struggled with his bags, and he dropped them on the couch beside the neatly folded bedding used by Troy last night.

All of the items he needed to replace for Troy were in the bags. He'd spent most of his lunch shopping, and now he had to make dinner too.

He walked into the kitchen.

"Troy?"

He opened the side door, and he made a surprised noise. "I have a new fence!" He smiled, and he stepped out onto the porch. Grant looked up and down the length of the fence. "Wow! That looks awesome." He wanted to walk out closer, but the ground looked like a mess. He settled for his view from the porch.

He took one more satisfied look, then he stepped back inside, and he spied the note on the table. Grant read it. "Oh, another job. That's good." He made a thoughtful sound. "Wonder how he got there? Maybe it was close enough for him to walk."

Grant shrugged. He got the chicken out of the fridge, and he put it on the kitchen counter.

He set up his laptop, navigated to the recipe page he saved, and he started on his meal prep.

Twenty minutes later and his chicken with rosemary and lemon went into the oven. The thighs sat on a bed of almost cooked new potatoes and split tomatoes. All of it was tossed in olive oil, salted and peppered.

Grant smiled as he closed the oven door. "Grandma Martin would be so proud of me right now."

Next, he started on the green salad. On the way home, he bought a bag of spring mix and a blackberry vinaigrette. Grant didn't even know there was such a thing as blackberry vinaigrette. But when he saw it at the store near the spring mix, he snagged it.

He'd also make sure there was some crusty bread cut into slices to have with the food.

He reached and pulled the bread down from on top of the fridge, then he heard a knock at the front door. Grant put the bread down on the counter, and he went to the door.

He opened it to see Troy. There was a car that pulled away. It must have dropped Troy off. Troy grinned at him. "Hey, Grant." He held up grocery bags. "This stuff needs to go in the fridge."

"Hey." Grant looked at him, confused. "Okay. There's plenty of room for your food."

Troy stepped in and moved past him into the kitchen.  Grant followed him inside.  "Oh, this is for you." He put his bags on the table. "I got eggs, bacon, bread, milk, and some coffee." He started unbagging everything.

Grant walked to the table. "Why'd you do that?"

Troy opened the fridge door. "Because I got paid cash for a job. After I finished, I had my employer take me to the store so I could replace all your food I ate." He looked Grant in the eye. "I appreciate what you did for me," Troy shook his head, "but I won't be a drain on you." He began putting away the items. "I won't be a drain on anybody."

"Troy, you didn't have to …"

"Grant," Troy interrupted, "I'm not a charity case." He pulled himself up to his full height. He motioned with his chin at the bags on the couch. "Did you save the receipts for that stuff?"

Grant blew out a breath, and he nodded. "Yeah." He grimaced. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make you think I believe you're a charity case. I know you're not."

Troy finished with his groceries, and he turned to Grant. He took a step, and he stood in front of the shorter man. Troy reached out and put a hand on Grant's shoulder. "I appreciate that." Grant couldn't help but notice all the little striations of hazel in Troy's otherwise green eyes as the man gazed at him.

Grant looked up at him, and Troy smiled. Grant swallowed. "Ah, I'm making chicken."

Troy sniffed. "That's what that is. It smells good." He finally let his hand fall from Grant's shoulder. "Did you want to eat together?"

Grant licked his lips, and he nodded. "Yeah. I made plenty."

Troy nodded. "All right. Sounds good."

He walked into the living room. "I'm going to get my bed in the van ready." Troy picked up the bags, and he looked inside. He seemed satisfied with the bedding and other items Grant got for him.

Grant wanted to offer to let him stay inside another night, but he could tell Troy was probably not receptive to that suggestion tonight. "Okay. Dinner will be ready in another forty minutes or so."

Troy nodded. "All right. I'll be back soon."

"Okay."

Troy opened the door. Grant debated for a split second, then he called after him, "hey, Troy."

The thin man turned.

Grant smiled. "You don't have to knock."

Troy stood there a moment. His eyes softened. "Thanks, Grant." He smiled back, then he closed the door.


Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link.   Wayne Gray

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