Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 10: Silent Requite

Chapter 10: Silent Requite

22 November 2018, Thursday 9:46 AM (Thanksgiving Day - US)

"Brian! Where's the tablecloth? The good one?" Natalie dug through the linen closet in their hallway, and a frown creased her pretty face.

He came walking in from their laundry room, the tablecloth over his arm. "I told you I was going to wash it." His bass voice growled, but he smiled at her. "Relax, Nat."

Natalie made a relieved sound, and she grabbed the tablecloth. "I am relaxed."

She turned to go back into the living room, and he caught her arm. The big man pulled her close, and he looked down at her. Affection, patience, and amusement all played on his face. "You're running around here like a mad woman." He reached down and pushed a stray bit of hair off of her forehead. Then he leaned down and gently kissed her.

He was right. He was almost always right. It was an annoying thing at times. But Natalie was so thankful for him. The kiss ended, and he continued to stroke her head. His gray eyes roamed over her features, and not for the first time, she wondered what it was that he saw in her. She sighed, and she lay her head on his thick chest. "Okay. Fine. I'll slow down."

"Good." He kissed the top of her head, and he smelled her hair. "I don't want you stressing out. Today's a time for fun, eating too much, and hanging out with friends."

"You're right." She smiled. Brian was warm, strong, and she felt so protected merely to be near him.

"What else needs doing?" He continued to pet her, and his hands rubbed along her spine. She felt her back try to turn to jelly under his touch.

"Mmmmm," her mind lost focus for a moment. Then she fixed upon something that needed attention.

Natalie reached down, and her hand lightly brushed Brian's groin. Her guy was definitely awake below the waist, and she loved how it felt under her palm. "I think I found something that needs doing."

Brian didn't need to be told more than once. The big man made a hungry, animalistic noise in his chest. She yelped with surprise as he scooped her up. Then she laughed, and they both grinned at one another as he carried her into their bedroom.
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22 November 2018, Thursday 10:58 AM (Thanksgiving Day - US)

"What time are we supposed to be there again?" Grant asked as he carefully poured his mulled wine into two, one-gallon glass jugs. He used a funnel, and he did it in the sink, just in case he spilled. But so far, every drop of the spicy, sweet mixture had made it into the jug.

Troy put aluminum foil on his baking dish of mashed potatoes. "Dinner starts at two. But Nat said we can show up anytime after noon." He finished putting on the foil, and he looked at Grant. "I'd like to go over around noon if that's all right. It'll give my potatoes time to warm up slowly in the oven."

Grant nodded. "Okay. That's fine." He continued to slowly pour in his wine. "That leaves us, what? An hour? What else do we need to do?"

Troy rubbed his jaw. "Nothing, really." He smiled and watched Grant as he worked. "You've got steady hands."

Grant laughed. "This is too important to screw up." He stared at the wine as it disappeared into the jug.

"You really like mulled wine, huh?"

Grant nodded. "I'm not a big drinker, but warm drinks when it's cold out, I especially like."

It was definitely cold out. The weather had turned again. The temperature dropped, and the sky fitfully spat snow on Barre. Grant was thankful that he wasn't out in the weather today.

Troy seemed to key into the same thought. He stepped over to the kitchen window that looked out over the side yard. At the moment, the snow fell hard and fast. "Man, I'm glad I'm not sleeping in the van right now."

Grant finished with his jug of wine, and he capped the container. He heaved it out of the sink, and placed it beside the other he had already filled. Then he leaned to look out of the window as well. "Yeah." He looked for a bit, then he glanced at Troy. "I'm glad you're not out there too."

They stood shoulder to shoulder at the window, and Troy turned his head to look at Grant. There were only about six inches between their faces. Troy swallowed. "Thanks." He stared into Grant's brown eyes. "It means a lot to me, to be here again."

Grant knew that they were closer than he'd typically find comfortable. But he didn't want to move. Instead, he gazed at Troy, and his heart began to beat faster in his chest. He nervously swallowed with a 'gulp'. "Well, you belong here. I hope you don't feel like I stole your house from you."

Troy smiled. "No. I don't feel that way." He let his eyes move a little over Grant's face.

Grant nodded. "Good." He held Troy's gaze a moment longer, then he forced himself to look back at the falling snow. He could still feel his heart as it hammered under his sternum. He almost felt dizzy.

Troy looked back at the snow too. And after a few seconds, he put his arm around Grant's shoulders. "I'm glad I'm not spending Thanksgiving alone." His voice was thick with emotion, and it pulled hard on Grant's heartstrings.

"Me too, Troy." Grant wanted to slip his arm around Troy's waist, but he fought the urge. Instead, he enjoyed the comfortable warmth of Troy's arm around his shoulders.

They stood together and they watched the snow fall.

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22 November 2018, Thursday 12:10 PM (Thanksgiving Day - US)

Troy couldn't help but grin as he and Grant walked through the snow, up the sidewalk to Brian and Natalie's house. He was the only one with an arm free, as Grant had a jug of wine in each hand, so Troy knocked on the door while his other arm held his dish of potatoes.

Brian opened the door, and he gave Troy a full-on grin. "Hey, buddy." He reached for the dish. "I'll take that."

"Hey, Brian. Good to see you." Troy handed it over and he grinned back. He turned and took a jug from Grant. "Here, let me help."

The men trailed into the house, and they walked past a fully decked out table. There were place settings for six and a tasteful autumn display on the center of the table. It looked a little as if Martha Stewart had made an appearance, and had her way with the table.

"Wow. This looks awesome." Troy smiled at the sight.

"Make sure to let Nat know." Brian put the potatoes down on the kitchen counter, and Troy followed him in. He and Grant put their jugs of mulled wine on the counter along with an array of side dishes. Brian looked at Grant. "Hey, Grant." He eyed the jugs of wine. "TWO gallons?"

Grant laughed. "Hey, I like mulled wine!" He offered his hand, and Brian shook it. "Thanks for the invite, Brian."

"Sure." He smirked. "Anybody who walks in the door with two gallons of mulled wine is welcome."

They all laughed at Brian's joke.

Natalie appeared in the hallway. "I thought I heard victims of my husband's humor." She grinned at Brian's put out expression. "Oh, I'm kidding, you big baby." She entered the kitchen, stretched out her arms and embraced Troy. She smiled against his chest. "Oh, it's so good to have you in the house again, Troy."

Troy squeezed her. "Same here, Nat." He smiled affectionately as they separated.

Then it was Grant's turn. Natalie stepped over and gave the man a big hug, same as she gave Troy. "Good to see you, Grant." She stepped back and patted his chest. "Thanks for coming."

Grant seemed a little overwhelmed by all the positivity, and the closeness. But he was still smiling. "You're welcome. Thanks for having me."

A knock sounded on the door.

"Ah, that'd be the Davisons." Brian walked down the hallway.

Natalie looked at the potatoes and the mulled wine. "Do you guys need the oven and stovetop?"

Grant nodded. "Yeah, is that okay?"

"Yep." Natalie fished a big pot out of a cabinet. "Here's a pot for the wine. It should all fit."

"Thanks, Natalie." Grant took the pot from her.

There were the sounds of greetings, and happy reunions in the hallway, as Brian welcomed their next guests. Soon they appeared in the living room.

Troy grinned, and he walked into the room to greet them.

Aaron was much as Troy remembered - red-haired, pale-skinned, lean, and freckled. His blue eyes widened as they landed on Troy. "Dude!" He stepped over and hugged Troy hard. Aaron was wiry and deceptively strong. Most of the air in Troy's chest left him in a 'whoosh' when the man squeezed him. Aaron finally let go and pushed back to look at him.

Troy coughed a little as he got air back in his lungs. Petite little Georgette stepped up beside her husband, and her brown eyes looked at Troy with both happiness and surprise. "Troy!" She shook her head. "Where have you been?!" She registered how much weight he'd lost. "And, why are you so damn skinny!?"

Georgette was never one to hold inside what she thought. Troy loved that about her. 'You never have to guess with Georgette.'

Troy recovered from Aaron's hug, and he grinned. "Hi, guys." Grant stepped into the room, and he stood nearby. Aaron glanced at Grant, then back to Troy. And Troy could see the unasked question on his face. Before anyone could ask anything that'd embarrass Grant, Troy spoke up. "Okay, first, this is Grant. He's my friend and my landlord."

Aaron stepped over and stuck out his hand. "Hey, Grant. Good to meet you."

"Hi." Grant smiled. "Apparently, we're neighbors too. Though with the new fence, we don't see much of one another's yards."

Georgette made a noise. "Wait. You're Troy's landlord, in Troy's old house?"

Grant started to answer, and Troy laughed. He held up a hand. "Everybody, relax. Let's sit down, and I'll get started on what happened in the last year or so." Troy dropped off the radar after he lost the house, and he knew Aaron and Georgette must have a lot of questions.

Grant said hello, then he excused himself, and he went back into the kitchen. Troy heard him open the oven, and put their potatoes inside. And then the click of the stove top, as the gas ignited. Soon there would be warm, mulled wine to drink.

The rest of them settled in the living room. Georgette watched Grant go, then her eyes came back to Troy. He knew that look. "So, he seems nice." She said quietly, and smiled, almost all of her teeth on display.

Troy laughed. "Okay, before he comes back, let me set a few things, er, straight."

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22 November 2018, Thursday 1:45 PM (Thanksgiving Day - US)

Grant watched as Troy mingled with his old friends. It was fascinating to see him as he interacted. He cracked jokes and laughed. There was a joy and a sense of belonging in his countenance that Grant hadn't yet seen. 'He's becoming T. He's becoming who he was when he wrote the journal.'

Grant supped his warm, spicy wine, and he relaxed around the group. Aaron and Georgette had asked questions about his work, and they had already been home to see the new fence. "Great fence!" Georgette said to Grant. Then she smirked and looked at Troy. "I think I recognize that work."  Troy only laughed at her remark.

'This is a good bunch.' Grant found himself far happier to be in the room with them than he had anticipated. The holidays he remembered were filled with passive-aggressive family, who tried to make other passive-aggressive family feel sorry about their lives.

But, mostly, he was happy to see Troy so upbeat. It was almost as if the man had been holding his breath. And now he could inhale. He could live.

Grant saw Georgette and Natalie as both women hugged on Troy. They sat on the couch, one on either side of the thin man. They'd all had a bit of wine, and emotions were a little quicker to come out on display. Grant felt a warm sensation in his chest as he looked on them. And he smiled as he sat back in one of the comfortable armchairs.

He got the distinct feeling he was being watched, and Grant looked at the other end of the couch.  Brian and Aaron had their eyes on him. They both wore a knowing smile, and Brian raised his mug at Grant. "Great wine, Grant." Aaron nodded in agreement, and he took a slug of his drink.

Grant smiled. He tried to focus on why they stared at him, but the fuzziness from the alcohol made him care just a little less about it. "Thanks." He raised his mug at the men, then he took another drink.

Natalie got to her feet. "Okay, guys. I'm gonna put out the food."

"Oh, thank god. I'm starving." Aaron stood up. He reached down and held his hand for Brian. The big man clasped it, and Aaron helped haul him up to his feet.

'These guys are so comfortable with each other.' Grant felt a stab of envy. 'I wish I had that.' Grant could make superficial friends easily, quickly. But deeper relationships never seemed to last for him. He wasn't sure why, but after a while, he tended to back away from friendships.

"You need help, hon?" Brian put a hand on Natalie's back and followed her as she moved toward the kitchen.

"Nope. You guys find seats."

They jostled a little as they pulled out chairs. Grant wasn't sure if it was intentional, but he and Troy ended up at one end, 90 degrees to one another. He looked over, and Troy already had his eyes on him. The lanky man smiled. "You doing good?"

Grant nodded. "Yeah." He looked around the table. "This is really nice."

"You sound surprised." Brian had overheard him, and the big man wore a cocked smile.

"Ah, sorry." Grant chuckled. "Let's just say, holidays, where I'm from, are not exactly fun times."

Natalie brought in a steaming, golden-colored turkey. Georgette made a noise, and she quickly removed the centerpiece on the table. Natalie nodded her thanks, and she put the massive bird on the center of the table.

"Oh, that's a work of art." Troy shook his head. "Wow, thanks, Nat."

She laughed. "There's more to come!" Natalie went back to the kitchen.

Soon there were baked yams, Troy's potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce to go with the turkey. Aaron whistled at the display, then he screwed up his face. "Sorry about not bringing anything, Nat."

"You two just got back into town." She waved her hand. "No problem."

Brian looked around. "Okay, before we dig in, Nat and I talked, and we'd like to start a new tradition." He looked over at Troy. "Particularly now, since we've got our Troy back in our lives."

Natalie nodded. She hadn't yet sat down, and she stood at her spot, next to Brian. She rested a hand, relaxed and natural on his shoulder. She looked directly at Troy. "We want everybody to say one thing that they're thankful for," She smiled warmly. "Since I'm up, I'll go first." She held up her mug. "I'm thankful for you, Troy. That you're here, that you're safe." Her eyes glittered in the light of the room. "We've missed you."

Troy pressed his lips into a thin line, and he nodded. Grant knew he fought to keep his emotions bottled up. One by one, those at the table stood, held their mugs and told Troy how glad they were to have him back.

It was Grant's turn. He thought a few seconds, and he stood up. "Ah, I guess, I'm thankful that I've got such a good group of people, who sort of adopted me for the holiday." He raised his drink. "Thank you. It's good to be here."

Everyone murmured warm responses, and he took his seat. Troy was last. And he struggled hard. The table was silent as he stood.

He put his mug down, and he took a shaky breath. "I, I'm thankful. So very thankful, for all of you." He shook his head. "But, I have to tell you, Grant," he turned a little to look down at Grant. "That, without you, without your kindness, and your empathy," he frowned, and tears began. "Ah, damn it." He wiped at his face, and he swallowed, determined to get through it. "Without you, I wouldn't be here, surrounded by all my friends, and having this awesome meal." He picked up his wine. "I'm thankful, for you, Grant." His teary eyes held so much regard and were so honest.

Grant exhaled, and he couldn't quite keep everything inside. He wiped his face and grabbed his mug. The rest of the table copied him. "To Troy." His voice was rough, and as the table echoed him, he noticed his wasn't the only rough voice.

They drank in honor of their friendship, and in celebration of the life of a man Grant had come to value more than he thought possible.

Troy sat. Aaron was seated on his other side, and he reached to pat Troy's back.

"Okay." Brian grinned. "Let's eat."

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22 November 2018, Thursday 6:42 PM (Thanksgiving Day - US)

"How much is left?" Aaron slurred a little as he stood next to the stove, his mug in hand.

Troy stirred the pot of mulled wine with the metal ladle Natalie had provided. "Looks like we've still got some. Enough for another mug each."

"Good." Aaron held out his mug and shook it back and forth. "Wine me."

Troy laughed, and a scoopful of the sweet, warm wine went into the redhead's mug.

Aaron grinned, and he swayed a little as he walked away, back into the living room.

Troy could admit to himself that he was buzzing hard. He was a lot lighter in weight than he used to be. And he no longer drank much. But he was in great company, he was comfortable, and Natalie already told all of them they could crash at their place if they needed to.

Troy refilled his mug, and he wandered into the living room. Grant slumped in the armchair, and he blinked slowly. Troy stood beside the chair, and he grinned down at him.

Dinner was amazingly good. Full bellies of food, and now multiple glasses of wine both took their toll on all of them.

Georgette and Natalie sat together on the couch, and they looked at Grant as he struggled to stay awake. Troy frowned as they giggled. 'Oh god. What are they up to?'

Grant finally noticed Troy was there. He lay his head back and looked up at Troy. A big smile appeared on his face. "Hey." He closed his eyes, and still wore his smile. "I'm glad I'm here with you."

Troy smiled down at him. "Yeah. Me too." He sat on the arm of the chair, and he sipped his wine.

Troy was surprised when Grant lay his head against Troy's ribs. The dark-haired man sighed, eyes closed, his body relaxed, and he seemed utterly content to lay there.

"Okay, I'm just gonna say it." Georgette had the most devilish look on her face as she looked at them. "You guys would make an adorable couple."

There was a flush of apprehension that shot through Troy, and he started to say something.

Before he could, Grant frowned and sat up. "I'm not gay."

Georgette and Natalie glanced at one another. Natalie nodded. "Okay. That's fine."

"Yeah. It's fine." Grant rose unsteadily to his feet, and Troy put one hand on him to make sure he didn't fall over. "Sorry." Grant slurred a bit, and he disappeared down the hallway. Troy heard the bathroom door open and then close.

Troy glared at Georgette.

"What?" She shrugged. "We're all thinking it!"

Aaron laughed. "Yeah, but none of us except you would SAY it."

Troy shook his head. "Guys, he's straight. And, besides, I'm not, ah, I'm not interested in anything with anybody right now."

Brian tossed back what was left of his wine, and he eyed Troy. "Dude, you know we all love you. Right?"

"Yeah, I know." Troy looked down at his mug of wine. "I'm fine. Grant is fine." He nodded, then he looked back up. "Stop trying to see something that's not there, okay?" He grimaced. "It just makes me think about stuff I shouldn't. That there's a chance with him."

"Hah!" Georgette pointed. "You do like him!"

"God DAMN it, woman!" Aaron flopped back on the couch.

"What?!" She looked around, her brown eyes challenging. "Can anybody here tell me why this is a bad thing - for Troy to like a handsome boy with a great job?!"

"Troy likes a boy?" Grant stood at the entrance of the hall, and his face was deadpan - cold, serious, and maybe a touch angry. His eyes met Troy's. "Who? Who is it?"

"Ah, nobody." Troy heard Georgette stifle a yelp when Natalie elbowed her. "I don't like anybody."

Grant stared at Troy. Nobody else said a word, and they all watched them both. Grant's jaw worked, and then, finally, he smiled a little. "Good." He walked back over to the armchair, and he sat back down next to Troy.

Grant uttered a small grunt, and he again leaned against Troy. His eyes slid closed.

Troy bit his lip, and he watched his friends on the couch. Brian shook his head and gave Troy a knowing grin.

'Fuck, maybe Grant IS gay.' Troy glanced down at Grant as he slid off to a drunken slumber, all while the side of his face lay against Troy's warm ribcage. He frowned. 'No, he's just drunk. He's not gay, get it out of your mind.'

Natalie cleared her throat. "So, we need to talk about the ski trip."

"Okay," Troy was thankful the topic of conversation had moved on. He smiled at her. "You guys still do the trip?"

"Well, we didn't go last year." Aaron's expression was kind, and he smiled. "We had a friend disappear on us, and we spent a lot of time looking for him."

Troy blew out a breath. "Okay, yeah. I'm sorry."

"It's fine. You're here now." Brian looked down the couch at his wife. "Go ahead, hon."

"Okay. Mad River Glen. Our regular haunt." She pulled out her phone and started reading her notes. "We can get rooms at the Yellow Farmhouse Inn for $160 a night."

"Is that the Bed and Breakfast we tried last time?" Troy asked. He really enjoyed the place. It was rustic, served an excellent breakfast, and it was close to everything important. It also had a great fireplace, where you could just lay around if you were done skiing for the day.

"That's the one." Natalie nodded. She checked her notes. "I think the 18th through the 21st of January looks great. We'd head home on the Tuesday of that week, the 22nd. There should be plenty of snow, and that's far enough in advance for all of us to get the time off."

There were sounds of agreement around the room.

Georgette leaned forward. "So, do you think Grant would want to go, Troy?" Her eyes sparkled, mischievous and bright.

Troy looked down at him. Grant was out, and his relaxed body lay against Troy's side. "I don't know. I can ask him. Ah, maybe tomorrow."

Natalie smiled. "How about, we just plan for him to go? From what we heard, he doesn't get out and do much. It'd be good for him."

Aaron nodded. "Yeah. You guys can share a room if he goes, and if not then we'll chip in to help you cover the cost."

Troy felt as if his life was being planned for him, but he truly wanted Grant to go. "Uh, okay." He looked at Natalie. "Can you see if there's a room with two beds?"

Natalie smiled. "Yeah, of course." Troy saw her type a note into her phone.

Georgette eyed an unconscious Grant. "You know, we could just tell him that he agreed to go. He'll never know better."

Aaron looked at Brian and waved a hand toward his wife. "See? See? This is how she is."

They all laughed, Troy included. Grant shifted against his side a little as Troy's ribcage moved, but he didn't wake.

"Okay. So let's just plan on Grant going, and rooming with Troy." Brian looked at Troy. "You cool with that?"

It was a struggle, but he kept the hopeful expression off of his face. "Yeah. Sounds like a plan."

They chatted a little longer about their plans. Then Troy began yawning himself. It was only a little before eight o'clock, but the meal and the wine made them all sleepy.

"Come on. Let's get Grant to bed." Natalie smiled, as Troy roused a sleepy Grant.  Troy bid goodnight to the rest of his friends, and he helped Grant walk to one of the back bedrooms.

Troy put him on the edge of the bed, and Grant sat and blinked tiredly.

"You guys okay sharing a bed tonight?" She looked at Troy.

Grant answered instead. "That's fine." He flopped back on the bed.

Troy shook his head, and he started to remove Grant's shoes. "Apparently, we're fine, Nat. Thanks."

"Okay." She stood in the doorway. "Let me know if you guys need anything." With that, she left and closed the door behind her.

Troy took off Grant's shoes. Then he stood up and looked at the drunken man. "Grant, stand up. Come on." He reached and pulled at Grant's hand. He got him up to his feet. "Get ready for bed, Grant."

Grant fumbled at his belt. It took some time, but he eventually stripped down to his briefs. Then he flopped back, sideways on the bed, his legs over the side.

Troy stood next to him, and he looked down at Grant. He’d already undressed, and he wore a pair of new boxers he'd bought recently.

Grant had an incredible body. Avid yoga practice meant he was well conditioned, and Troy began to physically respond to the sight of him.

Grant raised his head. "I'm tired." He dropped back to the mattress.

Troy blew out a breath. "Yeah. Here, let's get you under the covers."

Troy helped turn him, and he got Grant situated correctly. The dark-haired man sighed as his head lay on the pillow.

Troy climbed in, and he rolled on his side, to face away from Grant. He lay on the edge, as far as possible from Grant as he could. He breathed as he tried to calm the jackhammer pace of his heart.

Grant shifted, and he put his arm over Troy's middle. He scooted up against a very still, surprised Troy, so his chest was flush with Troy's back.

"Warm." Grant murmured in Troy's ear, and he went to sleep.

Troy gulped. He could feel Grant's cock against his rump through their underwear. It wasn't erect, but he could feel it. Troy, on the other hand, was as hard as he had ever been in his life, and he could count his pulse in his dick.

After a few minutes, Grant didn't show any sign of moving or waking. Troy chuckled quietly to himself.

'Well, I guess I don't really need to sleep tonight.'


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

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