Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 18: Revelation

Chapter 18: Revelation

18 January 2019, Friday 4:54 PM

Grant had been sore in his life. Yoga pushed him to do things with his body most people couldn't. He had progressed far in his practice, and he could now perform asanas only a fraction of the population could. That meant pushing past his old limits, and that always meant soreness.

Yet, six, near-solid hours of skiing did something entirely new to his body. He flinched as he flexed his foot when he stepped up into the van. This time Brian joined him on the bench seat, while Natalie and Aaron chatted in the back row.

Grant reached down, and he rubbed at his shin. Brian looked over at him. "Ya all right?"

"Yeah. My tibialis anterior - my shin, is sore, for some reason." Grant continued to rub his leg. He was a little surprised at the sensation. It was very sore.

"Because you were doing this," Brian raised his hand and flexed it up and down, "all day with your feet, with the weight of the skis attached." He smiled knowingly. "I remember my first long ski day. I could barely walk when we finished. So you're doing pretty good."

Grant shook his head. "No, I can't be sore already. Tomorrow, maybe. But not right after we finished."

Brian held up a hand, one finger extended. And then, before Grant knew what was happening, he jabbed it, relatively gently, into Grant's ribs. A surprising pain shot across Grant's chest and he sucked in a breath of air. Brian chuckled as Grant rubbed his side. "You're already sore. It'll be worse tomorrow. We all will be sore. None of us ski enough to avoid it."

Natalie leaned up to put her face between the guys' heads. "Yeah. Though you'll have it the worst, Grant." She laughed. "Maybe you can get Troy to give you a rub."

"I do owe him one." Troy pulled away from the skiing area and started on the drive to the restaurant they chose. "He has yet to collect on that particular Christmas gift."

"Well, I think I'll take you up on it." Grant grimaced as he shifted in his seat. His middle was startlingly tired and sore. "Wow. I'm surprised it affected me so much."

Aaron piped up from the back, "You did really well, Grant. I'm impressed you caught on so fast. Most people take quite a bit longer before they're on the intermediate slopes."

"He's got good body-awareness," Troy said over his shoulder. "You should see him do yoga."

"Sounds entertaining. But, after we get some food." Georgette gnawed on a strip of beef jerky. They were all hungry. Their lunch was just a bunch of snack food they took along with them to the ski area. Hours of skiing meant they were all ready for a real meal.

"Food sounds great." Grant lay back against the seat. He was hungry and exhausted. Though, they had all had a great day. And while he was trying not to fall, Grant didn't worry about the journal.

Even now that stress took a bit of a back seat. Because at some point while he was out on the slopes with Troy, he knew what he had to do. There was no longer a doubt. He knew he'd give it to Troy. He didn't quite know when, but he knew it was inevitable. And, oddly, now that the decision was indeed made, he felt less stress over it.

That didn't mean entirely no stress. But, for now, his hunger and the loud complaints from his body took center stage. "I feel like I could eat a cow." Grant rubbed his empty belly.

That elicited a few chuckles and agreement from the van of friends. The vehicle drove east. Ten minutes later, they parked in front of a place called American Flatbread. They were tipped off by a few other patrons at the resort about the spot. Supposedly they had fantastic pizza, and right now that sounded good to all of them.

During the summer it was nearly impossible to get a seat without a significant wait. But, during the winter months, it was a bit easier. The group entered. Troy gave their party size to the attendant, and, since they were early, they got seated immediately.

They all looked around at the room. Incandescent bulbs and not LEDs lighted the place. This made the lighting look more like the warm yellow of candle flame rather than the harsh white light from the more modern bulbs. There was wood everywhere - the tables, chairs, and the floor. And they could see into the kitchen, where a sizeable woodfired clay oven squatted like a toad under a metal hood.

"They cook the pizza in there?" Georgette pointed, and she grinned. "That's awesome."

Their server appeared, and soon they had drinks in hand. Georgette wanted lemonade, Troy stuck to water, while the rest of them ordered beer and wine.

Grant smiled as his beer was sat before him. He looked over at Troy where he sat beside Grant, as he picked up his beverage. "Tomorrow, someone else drives, Troy. So you can drink."

The lanky man smiled and shrugged. "I'm not worried about it."

Their server gave them a few minutes, and then he returned. More patrons were filtering in, and Grant was thankful they arrived just as the kitchen was getting fired up. They gave their orders - a couple of large pizzas to share among all of them, and the server went back to the kitchen and handed over their order to the fellow manning the oven. Then the suddenly busy server was out taking more requests in the crowd.

They chatted, drank, and Grant felt the warm hand of Troy on his leg. If someone looked really carefully at them, they'd see it. But Grant wasn't overly worried. He turned his head and smiled at Troy. His boyfriend grinned back at him. Grant had the urge to kiss Troy, but he squashed it.

The struggle must have shown on his face. Troy smiled, a little sad, and he turned forward to look down at his water.

"Hey." Troy looked over at Grant's voice. Grant leaned forward and gave him a swift kiss. Grant pulled back. Troy's eyes opened, an explosion of wildness and green. They expressed so much emotion in that quiet moment. 'I'd do anything for you,' Grant thought, as Troy squeezed his knee under the table.

Grant blushed a little, and he looked down. He picked up his beer and took a sip. He couldn't help but notice most of their friends looked across the table at them. All smiled.

Brian cleared his throat, and he raised his dark beer. "To vacation. Let's do it more often."

Agreement came from the table, and they all took a swig of their respective drinks. Grant sighed, deeply relaxed, and happy. He smiled across the table, and then the expression faded as he looked at Brian. The big man set his drink on the tabletop, and he had his gray eyes locked on something behind Grant and Troy.

"Excuse me." He stood up, and he walked around the table. Natalie watched him as he did. Grant turned, and he observed as Brian stopped at the table behind them. Brian leaned down, looming over a couple of young, twenty-something guys as he spoke quietly to them. His face was neutral, but by the reactions on the guys' pale faces, Grant could tell something was going on. The two men nodded hastily in some agreement, and Brian smiled, though the expression was grim.

Brian straightened, and he returned to his seat. He picked up his beer and resumed sipping his beverage.

"Uh, everything okay?" Grant asked, and he glanced behind himself at the table with the two men. They both stared down at their beers, jaws set, and their faces flushed red.

"Yup. Everything's fine." Brian smiled, the expression only lifted one side of his lips. "Just handling something before it becomes an issue."

The light dawned in Grant's mind. "Did I cause a problem?"

Brian looked at Grant. "Nope. It's their problem. And we've come to an understanding about it." The big man's eyes went back to the men, and he continued to observe them.

Grant felt uncomfortable, and despite what Brian said he also felt responsible for stirring up trouble. Troy put his arm around Grant's shoulders. "Relax. We're not doing anything wrong." He patted Grant's shoulder, and then he let his arm slip off of Grant. It was apparent that Grant was still nervous.

"Sorry," Grant whispered, "I didn't mean to make anybody upset, or draw attention to us."

"You're fine, Grant. Really." Troy smiled at him. "There's 215 lbs of vigilance across the table, and a red-headed firecracker right beside him. Those guys aren't gonna do anything. And Brian's right - it's their problem. Okay?"

Grant still felt his nerves jangle but tried to calm himself. "Okay." He took another drink of his dark, strong beer. The bitter flavor and the coldness helped to ground him, and he let go of some of his stress. 'They're right, you know.' Grant let the thought sink in.

There was the sound of scraping chairs, and the two men behind him got up. Brian watched them as they threw money on the table, and they left the place. One of the guys shot a glance at their table, but that was it. The server looked confused, but he picked up the cash and cleaned up the table. There was already a wait, and soon there would be others there instead.

As the door closed behind them, Brian visibly relaxed. So did Aaron. Grant knew that both of the men were ready to defend them if they needed to.

Aaron let out a breath. He looked over at Brian, and the men shared a small nod. Each resumed drinking. And this time, it wasn't just a sip.

'They were waiting. Staying sober until any potential threat passed.' Grant was both angry that the situation existed in the first place and thankful for this group of friends. He couldn't let it go without some sort of recognition. "Hey, guys." He looked back and forth between Brian and Aaron. "Thanks."

Natalie leaned against Brian, and she put her arm around his back, her face happy and proud. The big man focused on Grant, and he nodded. "You're one of us." It was a simple statement, one that was uncomplicated with subtlety or nuance. It was their truth - all of theirs. Simple though it may have been, it implied much.

Their food arrived, and it broke the serious mood around the table. The friends were all ravenous, and they fell upon the pizza like a pack of barely restrained wild animals.

Grant took a slice from each. There was the pepperoni pepper pizza, and one made with local sausages. It was a very suitable meal because all of the friends were omnivores, including Grant.

There were happy sounds as they dug in. Georgette in particular amused Grant by the savage little noises she made as she ate.

Aaron looked at her, a little surprised, and maybe a touch afraid. "Geez. Stop growling!"

Georgette only shot him a glare and continued to wolf down her food. She went from queasy and sometimes ill with morning sickness early in the day, to hungry during midday and at night.

"Leave the pregnant woman alone, Aaron!" Natalie pursed her lips and frowned at the redhead. Then she gave them both a little grin and tore into the slice of sausage pizza she held in her hand.

It was all in fun. It made for a friendly time, one that Grant welcomed after the earlier tension.

They all enjoyed their food. Soon they were full, and a couple of lonely slices remained. Aaron wisely asked to have them boxed up for his wife, who after just saying she was full, declared they'd make good "road food" for the fifteen-minute trip back to their bed and breakfast.

They got back into the van. And sure enough, Georgette made short work of the last two slices on the way to their accommodations.

The vehicle was relatively quiet as they rode. Content bellies worked at digestion and paired with the efforts of the day it meant they were all both sleepy and tired.

They arrived at the bed and breakfast, and they piled out of the van.

"I think we're gonna go relax in our room for a while, guys." Natalie stretched and yawned. She chuckled a little when she looked at her phone and saw the time. It was only a little after 6:30 PM. "I'm going to have to force myself to stay up though. At least another couple of hours!"

"Same here." Troy wearily got out of the van. Grant had to admit that he felt the same way. Skiing for hours at a time was a surefire way to ensure a body needed rest.

Troy and Grant went up to their room on the second floor of the place. Troy walked over to the bed, and he flopped down with a groan.

"I could fall asleep. Right now." He closed his eyes and smiled. His arms were extended out to his sides, and he wriggled happily back and forth.

Grant looked down at him. He swallowed, and he took a seat on the bed. Grant turned to stare at the wall, and he felt his anxiety ramp up. 'It's time.' An idiotic terror blossomed in Grant's chest, and he felt like he wanted to throw up.

Troy must have been watching him because he sat up. "Hey." He threw his legs over the side of the bed to sit beside Grant. "What's wrong?" Troy slid an arm around Grant's shoulders. "Are you upset about what happened at the restaurant?"

Grant shook his head. His jaw worked, then he steeled himself. He turned to look at Troy. By now, the lanky man had a worried expression on his face.

Grant forced the next words out of his mouth. "Troy, I have to tell you something."

___________________________________

18 January 2019, Friday 6:47 PM

Troy knew something was bothering Grant. He'd known for a while. Though, his discomfort seemed to increase over the last few days.

"Okay. You can tell me anything." Troy rubbed Grant's back and tried to be as reassuring as possible.

Grant blew out a nervous breath, and he smiled sadly. "Well, you might change your mind about that soon." He stood, and he picked up his shoulder bag. He put the bag in his lap, and he took another breath. Then he unclipped the bag.

Troy watched as he reached in, and he removed a burned leather book.

A journal.

A lightning bolt of realization slammed into Troy. "My journal." His voice was shocked. Troy's mind whirled, and he reached over. His fingertips brushed the cover. "That's, that's my journal." He blinked and his eyes stung with tears. "How?" Troy's voice croaked with emotion.

Grant hung his head. "I found it. The day I moved in. I went to start a fire, and it was buried in the ash."

Troy felt a wild riot of emotion. His fingers shook as Grant handed it over to him.

"I, I'm sorry," Grant started. "I read some of it. It's how I found you." He took a steadying breath. "I felt so awful, Troy. I still do." He rubbed his face. "I shouldn't have used the journal the way that I did. And I'm sorry."

Troy heard the guilt and the self-recrimination in Grant's voice, and he blinked. The first spark of something like anger lit in his chest, and his eyes narrowed. "So, you knew. You knew I was gay. You knew I lived in the house. You knew about John." He gritted his teeth, as he let the realization wash over him. "Why?" He looked up at Grant. "Why give it to me?" His voice began to fill out with the bite of his ire. He shook his head. "You could have just read, and then destroyed it. I would never have known." Troy's eyebrows went up in realization. "Oh, you felt guilty. That's why." He set his jaw. "So this is for you. It's to make YOU feel better?" Troy couldn't help but feel betrayed and manipulated. That Grant had been the one behind it stung all the more.

For his part, Grant sat in what appeared to be abject misery. Troy felt both glad and terrible that Grant would feel so bad. At that moment, he hated his love for Grant. He wanted to be purely angry. He wanted to be happy that Grant was miserable about what he had done. But he couldn't. A part of him wanted to comfort Grant, even though he was the reason for the situation in the first place.

"You're right." Grant nodded, and he wiped his face. He still looked down at the floor. "I was going to shred it."

"Why didn't you?" Though his voice still carried his anger, Troy was genuinely curious.

Grant gently took the journal from Troy. And he opened it to the back page. Troy's breath caught in his throat as he saw the writing. "Oh god."

'Hey, baby.

It has been a couple of weeks now since we moved to Vermont. And you write in this thing almost every night. No, I didn't read any of it! So don't even get yourself riled up!

Anyway, I figure in a few years you'll stumble onto this little note. And I wanted to say a few things - things that will never change.

The first is that I love you. I love you so deep, and so much that it hurts. Sometimes when we're together, and you're holding me, I have to keep myself from crying. The emotion just wants out, you know?

Second, is that I'm so proud of you. I know your family and mine have both been pretty nasty to us. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate that you stuck with me, even through all of that drama they caused us. I guess I'm proud of both of us. That's it. I'm proud of us.

The last thing I want to tell you is that I'm never ever gonna leave you. I'm always going to be there for you. I'm gonna pick you up. I'll hold on tight. And I will be there through every dark moment you might have. I hope you don't have any of those, of course. But if you do, I'll help chase them away.

You're mine. And until the day comes that you don't need me anymore, I'll always be yours.

Forever in love, Your John'

Troy streamed tears, and he clasped a hand over his mouth.

'He risked everything so you could see this, baby. He loves you. Just like I did.' John's gentle voice came to him.

Troy's eyes squeezed shut, and he felt Grant's arm slide around his shoulders. "I couldn't destroy it," Grant said softly and leaned his head against Troy. "Not after I found this. I knew you must have never seen it. And I knew I had to give it to you."

The lanky man was overcome. He felt his anger evaporate, and in its place was the knowledge that he was loved. He had proof, in his lap, that Grant cared for him more than he valued his own happiness. And that lingering doubt Troy had about Grant's moodiness and his quiet moments disappeared. Now he knew.

Troy draped an arm over Grant, and he rested his face against the side of Grant's neck. The two men sat that way for a time.

Finally, Troy straightened. He looked down at the page with John's writing, and he ran his fingers over it. Troy was reverent, gentle, and had such a sincere appreciation for this gift he'd been given. A part of him tried to cling to his anger, but it was such a small slice of who he was. The thought that Grant had betrayed his trust was overridden by the apparent display of regard and love the man had for Troy.

"I'll never EVER do anything like this again, Troy," Grant said it with such conviction. "I'll never trick, or keep anything from you. Ever. I swear it."

Troy took a shaky breath. He wet his lips, and he nodded. "Okay." He closed the journal, and he smiled through his tears down at the book. "You know, many many times, I regretted burning it. Even without knowing about the note from John. I mean, it holds some of the best memories of my life. And when I lay in the van, struggling to sleep, I wished that I had it with me. So I could read about the better days."

Grant squeezed him. "Well, you've got it now. And I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but I wanted to let you know that I am so thankful that I got to know John a little - through your writing." Grant smiled. "He was a good man. And I'm so glad you guys got to be together."

Troy felt a surge of emotion. He didn't trust his voice, so he nodded. He cleared his throat, and he chuckled. "You two are very different. But the way I feel for you is so similar." He looked down at his hands and the journal. "It's terrifying sometimes, you know? I started to notice that you were moody, and it scared the fuck out of me." Troy shook his head. "I thought, maybe, you'd decided that you didn't want to be together."

Grant seemed appalled. "Troy, no." He gently shook Troy with the arm that was over the tall man's shoulders. "No. I was just wallowing in my own struggle." Grant put his hand on the side of Troy's face and turned it, so Troy looked at him. "I feel more for you than I have ever felt for anybody, or for anything." Grant's face softened. "But, yeah. I know what you mean about it being terrifying." Grant bit his lip. "You've got my heart. And that's pretty scary."

Troy knew precisely what Grant meant. It was scary. "Well, we've got to have a lot of trust in each other." He took a deep breath, and he straightened. A thought occurred to him. "Hey, did you tell anybody else about the journal?"

"No. Brian figured out I wasn't totally upfront with how I knew you lived in the house. But he doesn't know how."

Troy felt a little relief at that. "Okay. There's stuff in there about all of the friends, and I'd rather they not know my deepest thoughts about them." Troy smiled. "Nothing in there is bad. But, it's all unfiltered."

Grant nodded. "I get it." The dark-haired man looked at Troy, and he smiled. "I'm glad this is done." He looked relieved. "I don't know how much longer I could have carried this around with me."

"I'm glad too." Troy leaned over and kissed Grant. They stayed with their heads together. Both breathed quietly, and both relaxed into the other.

Troy felt emotionally and physically drained. He almost dropped to sleep as he sat there, and he started fully awake. Both he and Grant laughed.

"I think maybe I need a nap." Troy grinned.

"That sounds nice. Can I keep you company?" Grant's eyes moved over Troy's face. In them, Troy saw a sincere and profound need for connection with him. And that made him happy in a way nothing else could.

"Yes. Absolutely."

The men undressed. It was unspoken, but Grant seemed to know that Troy wanted to be held. And after Troy put the journal on the nightstand by the bed, he lay down, and Grant scooted up against Troy's back.

"Should we set the alarm?" Grant nuzzled Troy's neck, and The slim man felt Grant's warm lips on the skin there.

"No. Let's just sleep, and wake up when our bodies want us to." Troy pushed his body back until he was flush against Grant - as much of himself as possible was pressed against his boyfriend's front.

"Okay." Grant lay tiny, gentle kisses on his shoulders and his neck. "Go to sleep. I've got you."

Troy's eyes slid closed. His body slowly relaxed. He felt safe, protected, and cared for. And as sleep claimed him, he felt the love of not just one man - but two.


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

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