Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 9: Regrowth

Chapter 9: Regrowth

19 November 2018, Monday 8:59 AM

"Everything looks like it's in order." Troy grinned broadly, and he shook the hand of Ross Manos, the manager of the auto shop on Main Street. He just paid for the work on his van, and she was back in running condition.

He was going to ask Grant for a ride on his way to work, but the man seemed distracted and unsettled all day on Sunday. So Troy walked. It was a little less than two miles, and he quickly made the trip through the crisp, sunny weather.

Ross nodded at Troy. "You're welcome. Thanks for the business." His dark eyes looked critically at Troy. "You look like you're doing pretty good. Things going all right?"

Troy laughed a little. He knew precisely what Ross meant. 'I'm not smelly, dirty, and barely functioning, you mean.' "Yeah. Things are good."

Ross made a thoughtful sound. "Well, would you be interested in some work?" He waved a hand at the multi-bay garage. Two of the lifts were in use, but the third wasn't, though the parking lot was full. "We need some welding done on our lift." He shook his head. "Not the hydraulics, but the attached infrastructure. The supports on the lifts."

Though he'd not done the work in a while, Troy was a certified welder. "Well, I can do it, if I can rent a welder."

Ross still seemed to assess him. "Tell you what. If you can get this job done for me, before Thanksgiving, I'll refund the cost of the repair on the van." He shook his head. "It costs me a lot to have that lift down."

Troy goggled. "Ross, that's $2,800. I can probably have it done in a couple of days. Are you sure?"

Ross looked at the lift, and he nodded. "Yeah. You do this for me, then I'll make back that $2,800 in a day, easy. It'd be well worth it to me."

Troy blew out a breath. The rental for the welder would be a little over $100 a day. It was easily worth the cost. "Then count me in. I'll go grab the welder." He looked at Ross. "You mind if I start today?"

"I prefer it!" Ross laughed. "The sooner, the better!"

Troy slapped him on the back. "You got it!" He looked at the lift. "I'm going to check out the work needed. Then I'll probably have to go get some tools before I pick up the welder."

Ross nodded agreeably. "Do what you need to do." He motioned with his head at a couple of his crew as they walked past. "You know this bunch. If they're in the way tell 'em to move." Troy did work for the shop quite a bit before he fell onto harder times. And Ross was right - he did know most of the guys in the place on sight.

Troy grinned. "All right." He shook his head. "Wow. Thanks for the work, Ross."

"You're welcome. But, honestly, you're bailing me out, Troy. Nobody else will touch it till after the holiday. And I'm losing money every day it's down." He smiled and extended a hand. "Glad to see you're doing well."

Troy gladly shook his hand. "Thanks. It's good to be back."

Troy dodged the busy crew and walked over to take a look at the lift. There was a crack in one support, and another that bent under the increased strain when the first support failed. 'Yikes. They're lucky this thing held.' Troy made a mental note of the tools, supplies, and equipment he'd need. Then he jumped in his van.

Ross waved as he drove away, and Troy couldn't help but give a huge grin as he turned his newly repaired van onto Main St.

"I'm back in business!"

19 November 2018, Monday 5:17 PM

Grant noticed as soon as he turned onto his street that the van had returned. He smiled. "Good." He pulled into the driveway. Grant had a busy day at work, partially because the clinic put one more patient on his morning schedule. It was part of the process to ramp him up to full productivity. It was only one additional patient, but he felt the difference.

He had charting left to do on a couple of his afternoon appointments, and he sighed. Grant was tired. "I still have to make something for dinner." He grumbled to himself. He simply hadn't thought to pick something up on the way home, and now he didn't want to go anywhere. "I'll just see if there's something fast I can heat up."

Grant got to the door, and he shifted his bag on his shoulder as he struggled with his keys.

The door opened from the inside. Troy smiled at him. "Hey." He wore a t-shirt, a loose pair of cargo pants that Grant had never seen, and comfortable looking socks.

"Uh, hey." Grant smiled back. Then he caught the smell of something savory. "What, what's that?"

"It's dinner." Troy waved him inside. "Come on."

Grant followed Troy inside, and he put his bag on the armchair in the living room as he walked past. He stepped over to the stove where a dutch oven bubbled away. It smelled utterly delicious, and Grant's mouth watered.

"What did you make?" Grant used a pot holder, and he carefully removed the lid. Within the pot was a thick, rich-looking, stew of some sort.

"Chicken and Potato stew." Troy stood next to him and looked down into the pot. "I came home around lunchtime, started it in the oven, and then went back to work. I got home a few minutes ago, and put it on the stovetop to finish up."

Grant swallowed, as his mouth uncontrollably salivated. "Wow. Thanks for making dinner." He put the lid aside. "I'm sorry, but if this is done, I need to eat."

Troy laughed. "It's done." He turned off the heat under the pot. "And you're welcome."

Grant was a little shaky as he scooped the stew into a bowl. He really was hungry. He sat with his food, and he immediately tried to eat. It was scorching, so he had to impatiently wait to take that first bite.

Troy watched him, amused, as Grant blew on the spoonful of stew. Finally, Grant was able to eat it. He closed his eyes as he chewed. Grant swallowed, opened his eyes, and he smiled at Troy. "Really good." He looked back down at the bowl and scooped up another steaming spoonful. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Grant." Troy got himself a bowl. He also sliced a couple of pieces of bread for them both. As he put the bread beside Grant, the hungry man nodded, his thumb up and spoon in his mouth.

Grant and Troy were relatively quiet as they ate. Then, about halfway through his first bowl Grant inhaled in realization. He swallowed, and he wiped his mouth. "Hey. You said you were at work? Do you mean another job somewhere in town?"

Troy nodded and finished chewing. "Yep. Working for the owner of the auto place on Main."

"Really?" Grant was happy for Troy. "That was fast! Isn't that the same place you took your van?" He continued to eat his stew.

"It is." Troy dipped his bread in the stew and held it until it was sopping wet with the rich liquid. "The owner is going to refund the cost of my repair for the work." He took a big bite of the sourdough slice.

Grant liked how Troy appeared to appreciate his dunked bread, and he did the same thing. "Wow! That's great."

The guys continued to eat. Maybe it was because he was so hungry, but Grant found the stew amazingly good. Usually, he didn't care much one way or the other about flavors, textures, or taste. Food was there to do a job and provide fuel for his body. But he found a sincere appreciation for the meal he shared with Troy.

"Man, that really hit the spot." Grant sighed, and he sat back in his chair. Now he wanted to go to sleep, and he blinked slowly.

Troy laughed at him. "I'm glad you liked it." He gathered their dishes. "John made that stew a lot during the winter months." He turned and began to wash up in the sink.

Grant looked at his back. He felt the sadness in the room. Though, it also appeared that Troy was able to speak about John a little easier now, 'easier' was relative. "Well, I don't know how you could do a better job on that stew." His eyes softened. "I think John would have been proud of you."

Troy was silent. His hands moved as he washed, and the water ran into the sink. Grant watched as Troy's movements slowed, then stopped. And he noticed that the thin man's shoulders shook.

Grant got up. And he stepped over next to Troy. Troy had his head down, and tears rolled silently down his face and nose to drip into the sink.

"Hey." Grant put a hand on Troy's back. "Hey, it's okay."

Wordlessly, Troy turned.

It was instinct. Grant put his arms around the tall man, and Troy did the same to him. Troy clung to him.

"I'm sorry, Troy." Grant's voice was low and soothing. "I'm so sorry."

They stood that way for a long while. And Grant held him while Troy quietly mourned.


20 November 2018, Tuesday 5:21 PM

The next day found Troy busy. He finished up the work at the auto shop, and as promised, the fee for the work on the van was refunded to his account. He was now sitting at almost $4,000. Troy looked at his phone as he sat in the van after he finished up. He grinned and shook his head at the amount. "Wow. Never thought I'd see that again."

Happy, he headed home. Earlier, he had gotten a text from Natalie, and now he needed to speak to Grant.

Troy arrived, entered, and he eagerly waited for Grant. He sat in the armchair, and he thought warm little thoughts about his roommate. Soon, he heard the Subaru pull into the driveway. The door opened, and then Grant came inside.

"Hey!" Troy stood up. "I'm glad you're home. I wanted to ask you something."

Grant gave him a weak laugh. "Okay. Give me just a minute." He tiredly hung his coat, and he carried his computer bag into the kitchen.

Troy followed close behind him.

Grant put his bag on the floor, sat at the table and sighed. He looked up at Troy. "What's up?"

Troy hesitated. "You okay?"

Grant waved a hand. "Relatively, yeah. I'm fine." He made a face. "I just got off the phone with my mom. She's mad that I'm not coming home for Thanksgiving."

"Ah." Troy bit his lip. "Well, that's kinda what I wanted to talk to you about. Brian and Natalie have invited us to their place for the holiday."

Grant frowned. "Really? Both of us?"

"Yeah." Troy couldn't quite keep his happiness inside, and he smiled. "It used to be a tradition. One of us would host the different holidays. Brian and Natalie, Georgette and Aaron, next door, and us - John and me."

"Huh." He stretched in the chair. Troy did his best to avoid staring at how flattering Grant's khaki pants were to his package. He succeeded. Mostly. Grant didn't seem to notice the attention. Grant relaxed and lay back. He seemed drained by his day. "Do Georgette and Aaron still live over there? I've not seen them."

"Yeah. They've been out of town. Brian and Natalie still keep in contact with them, and they hang out regularly. They took an early Thanksgiving, visiting family in New York. But they'll be back tomorrow."

"Ah, cool. Okay." Grant shrugged. "Sure. Sounds fine to me."

"All right. I'll let them know." Troy wanted to be happy, but Grant acted so oddly. He looked at Grant, then he pulled up a chair. "What's wrong?"

Grant sighed. "Ah, it's just my family."

"Yeah?" Troy watched Grant's face. "They're that upset that you're not coming home? Didn't you just get here?"

"Yeah. I did." Grant groaned. "I'm just sick of the guilt, and the nagging. That's one reason why I left home." Grant seemed to fire up as he talked. "They couldn't just let me live my life. It was always their way, and if I didn't obey, then there was hell to pay." He grimaced. "Hell, even my engagement was my dad's idea."

Troy sat back. "Engagement?" He licked his lips. "You're engaged?" A hollow sensation bloomed in his gut as if he were awakened by falling off the side of the bed.

"No. Not anymore. It didn't work out with her." Grant shook his head. "It just didn't feel right, and we called it off. But my parents were so pissed."

Troy relaxed. 'Not engaged.' Then he frowned. 'But straight.' He immediately felt disappointment, and then was annoyed by the emotion. "That's too bad. They sound like they weren't ready to let you grow up."

Grant laughed. "Yeah. They'll never be ready for that." He shook his head. "And that's one reason why I moved all the way out here." Grant grew thoughtful. "I think that's why, when the choice came for where I wanted to go, out of all the places looking to hire me, I picked here." He frowned a little as he thought back. "It was almost like this place was calling me - begging me to get out of California, and start completely over."

Troy watched Grant's face as he talked. He smiled. "Well, I'm glad you're here." Troy looked around. "I get to live in my, ah, well, my old house again, thanks to you."

Grant eyed him. "How's that going for you? You all right with it? I know it has to be hard."

Troy considered, then he slowly nodded. "It is hard, at times. But then, others are a flood of good memories." His mouth quirked into a smile. "I'm trying to learn to focus on the good."

Grant looked at him, and Troy saw in his expression a real fondness. 'God, why can't you be gay?' Troy thought before he could stop himself.

"Well, I wondered if you were all right staying here, long-term." Grant looked down at his bag and started to remove his computer. "I just wanna know if I can depend on that rent."

Troy heard a clear equivocation in Grant's voice. But he couldn't quite figure out why. "Uh, well, yeah. I'd like to stay." He bit his lip. "Though, I wanted to make sure we're clear on a few things first."

Grant looked up from his computer as he sat it on the table. "Oh?" He opened the laptop. "Like what?"

"I know you said you didn't have a problem with gay people, but, does that include if I bring someone home?" Troy shrugged. "I'm not interested right now, but, eventually, I probably will be. And if this is going to be my home, then I need to know that I can have people over."

Grant swallowed and stared at Troy. His silence dragged on for a few seconds. Then he blinked. "Uh, yeah. That's fine. I have no issue with that." His eyes went down to his screen as the laptop started up. "You can do whatever you want with whoever."

He said the words, but there was such a strange tone in his voice. Troy frowned a little, but he brushed it aside. "Okay, good." He grinned. "Then you've got a long-term renter. You're really okay with the …"

"Dude, I said I was fine. You can screw whoever you want." Grant exhaled loudly, and he narrowed his eyes. He didn't look up and stared at his computer screen.

Troy sat back. "Yeah, okay, great. But I was gonna say 'with the $500 rent.'" He frowned at Grant. "What is wrong with you?"

Grant bit his lip. Then he glanced at Troy. His eyes went back to his hands on the keyboard. "Sorry." He shook his head. "I guess I'm still worked up over my family." He looked back up at Troy. "I'm sorry. And yeah, the $500 is fine."

"Well, okay." Troy felt some of the emotion that lingered in the air between them. He silently counted to three, and he let most of it go. "Do you want some dinner? We have leftover stew I can heat up."

Grant nodded. "Yeah. Though, I still need to do my yoga and chart. So I won't be able to eat for another couple of hours." He smiled. "Thanks for offering to get it done."

"Sure." Troy looked at the time. "You should have something small. I know you've gotta be hungry." He didn't wait for an answer. Troy stood, and he got a small bowl of stew into the microwave. He then cut a slice of bread, and after the microwave beeped, he took out the hot bowl. Troy turned back to the table, and Grant stared at him. "Uh, what is it?"

Grant smiled. "Thanks for taking care of me, even when I'm cranky."

Troy put the bowl down on the table in front of him. "You're welcome." He motioned at the food. "Eat. Before you get even hangrier."

Grant laughed, and he started to eat his dinner.


20 November 2018, Tuesday 7:39 PM

'Fuck, this is torture.'

Troy tried to ignore Grant as he went through his asanas. He made himself busy, going into the garage to straighten his tools, checking his email for additional jobs, and cleaning up the kitchen.

But it was like the call of a siren. He knew Grant was in the living room. He knew he was hot, sweaty, and that his beautiful, conditioned body slowly, and sensuously flowed from movement to movement.

'Fuck me.' He walked by, and Grant was up on his forearms, his back arched, and his feet dangled completely off of the ground. Grant had his eyes closed and wore an amazing look of concentration on his face. That particular position highlighted Grant's impressive abdominal development, and, of course, his crotch, which showed a nice bulge under his silky shorts.

It was almost as if yoga were designed to torture the viewer in addition to the practitioner.

Troy had stopped to stare at him. Grant exhaled, straightened his body up, bent at his waist, then put one foot on the ground, and got up to his feet. His eyes were still closed.

Troy readjusted himself. Then he quietly stepped away and walked to the garage. He took a breath, and he shook his head. "Jesus. I need to find something else to do when he's doing yoga." He waited a few minutes. He knew Grant was nearly done with his routine. Troy opened the garage door, and he heard Grant moving around in the kitchen.

Troy walked back through the house, and a sweaty Grant stood in the kitchen and drank a glass of water. His nice, slim torso glistened with sweat, and Troy forced his eyes to stay up, on Grant's face.

"All done?" Troy asked.

Grant put down the glass and nodded. "Yeah." He looked at Troy. "Sorry about taking up the living room. I know it's a hassle."

"No, it's cool." Troy liked seeing Grant perform the motions, even if it did set his libido on fire. "It's actually really neat to see you do it." Troy made a face. "I could never do that stuff."

"You could. You're lean and strong." Grant eyed Troy and nodded. "Yeah. Lots of practice, and stretching, I bet we could get you bent into all kinds of shapes." Grant said that, and then he looked mortified, and flushed beet red.

Troy couldn't help himself. "Oh yeah? What way did you want to bend me?" He grinned savagely at Grant.

Grant sputtered. "You! You know I," he frowned at Troy, then he shook his head and laughed. He pointed and shook his finger at Troy. "You're bad."

"Maybe. Just a little."

Grant got a little more of the stew, and he sat at the table. Troy sat to keep him company.

Troy watched him eat. "I know it's a sore spot, but, are you never going back to see your folks?"

Grant wiped his mouth. "It's fine. And I am going back. My mom's birthday is in February, and I'm gonna fly in for that." Grant waved the spoon in the air. "Ye-haw."

Troy laughed. "You really don't wanna go back, huh?"

Grant stirred his stew. "I don't. I love them, but they are not good for my mental health." He shook his head.

"Do you have any brother's or sisters?" Troy watched as Grant slowly worked his way through his bowl of stew. It was apparent Grant liked it, and that made Troy happy.

"No. It's just me." Grant looked up at Troy. "What about you? You an only child? Got parents in Georgia?"

Troy bit his lip. "Ah, let me put it this way. When you first saw me? Living in the van, filthy, and starving? I'm the cream of the crop when it comes to my family." He shook his head sadly. "My parents are both alcoholics, my brother is a drug addict, and my sister has eight kids by six different men." Just talking about them filled Troy with sadness.

Grant finished with his bowl of stew, and he sat back in his chair. "You don't see them at all?"

"Nope. The last time I contacted them was when John and I were leaving Savanna. I wanted to say goodbye." He exhaled in a deep sigh. "My mom put me on speaker phone. Most of the family were in the room, and she had them all say 'Goodbye, faggot!'"

Grant's jaw dropped. "Wow." He shook his head. "That's crazy. Your own family."

Troy nodded. "John and I met in high school. And I knew, I just KNEW, we were, ah, that we were meant to be together." Troy felt his emotions rise up, but he held them back. "I didn't care who knew it. After school, I got my contractor's license, and I worked and put my John through school to be a pharmacist. Then after he got through with school, and had his pharmacist license in hand, we left. For here."

Grant openly stared at him. He finally blinked, and he smiled a little. "I have a lot of respect for you, you know that?"

Troy made a face. "Why?"

Grant stood up with his bowl, and he walked to the sink. "Because if I had to go through that, I don't think I would have survived it." He turned to look over his shoulder at Troy. "You're a badass." Then he turned and began to wash his dishes.

Troy sat a moment. 'He thinks I'm a badass.' Troy felt a warm, happy sensation in his chest. And he smiled.


21 November 2018, Wednesday 6:18 PM

The day before Thanksgiving was not a good time to go shopping.

Grant stood in a long, chaotic line at the grocery store. His cart had butter, cream cheese, a bag of potatoes, heavy whipping cream, mulling spices, and four bottles of red wine. He and Troy were in charge of mashed potatoes, and the mulled wine. And since Troy had another contracting gig, and would likely work late, it was up to Grant to pick up the ingredients.

"Oh, excuse me," Grant said as a haggard mother with three children pushed by him as he waited in line. She didn't stop or even look at him. Her eyes had the glazed, tired, look of the overworked, and the underslept.

Instead of irritation or anger, Grant felt a flush of empathy for her. 'I'm sorry, momma.' He watched as she positioned her cart in the line next to his. Then he saw her carefully count the items in her cart, and she checked her phone. By her pinched face, Grant could guess that she counted dollars.

He looked at her cart. Canned cranberry sauce, green beans, boxes of dehydrated potatoes, dried stuffing, a tiny turkey, and a packet of gravy. It was a mother trying to give her kids some kind of Thanksgiving.

Grant slowly progressed through the line. He kept glancing over at the young woman. She fought to wrangle a toddler, an infant, and what looked to be a four-year-old child. 'Okay. I don't have it so bad,' Grant thought as he watched her.

Grant was now one person away from the front of his line, and he was even with the checker in her line, due to the staggered nature of the registers. He looked at her again. She was currently busy picking her toddler up off of the floor.

"Excuse me, sir." The checker in the mother's line turned to look at him. "I'd like to purchase that young woman's groceries. Please, don't tell her. And give her the change."

The older man's eyes lit up and his face split into a grin. He glanced at the young lady, and then he quickly came back to Grant. "Yes, sir. That's kind of you." Grant gave him a $50. She had so little, he was sure it would cover the cost.

Grant paid for his food, and he slowly carried his two bags of items as he passed through on the way to the door. He looked over, as the cashier informed the woman her groceries were purchased by an anonymous patron. Then the man handed the change from the $50 to her.

Her hand went to her chest, and she began to cry.

Grant watched as he witnessed the little miracle he had wrought. Then he sighed, content that he had made a small difference in a life.

He walked out into the chilly evening air, and he loaded his groceries.

And then he drove on home.


21 November 2018, Wednesday 7:28 PM

"Okay, potatoes are going into the oven." Troy slid a huge baking dish of mashed potatoes into the oven. "Once they bake a bit, all we'll have left to do is reheat them at Brian's and Natalie's." They were loaded with cream cheese, butter, and whipping cream. Troy was sure they'd be outstanding.

Grant shimmied behind him and checked the pot of wine as it warmed on the stove-top. Little bags of mulling spices floated there. He dipped a tiny mug into the wine, and he took a drink. "Mmmmm." He took another mug full. "Yeah, this is done. And we need to put it away." He dipped the mug again. "I love mulled wine."

Troy laughed. He had a great time, cooking and hanging out with Grant. It felt almost like old times for him. Though it was different, it felt familiar somehow.

"Okay, wait." Troy stopped Grant from downing his little shot of mulled wine. He fished another tiny mug off of the shelf. He dipped his and then held it up to Grant.

Troy thought only a moment before he had his toast. "To new traditions."

Grant grinned. "To new traditions!"

It had been a long time since Troy had tasted anything quite so sweet.

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

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