Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 3: Loss

Chapter 3: Loss

12 November 2018, Monday 5:12 PM

"See you tomorrow, Grant," the spectacled, grey-haired man said with a smile.

Grant nodded and picked up his laptop bag. "I'm looking forward to it, Dr. Petrucci. Thanks for your help today."

The man made a face. "Call me Russell." The two of them walked down the hallway to a door.

Russell pushed the external door open. "And you did a great job today. Made it a pleasure to mentor you." He nodded, and his green eyes danced. Then he looked outside through the open door at the parking lot. "Drive safe. It snowed a little more."

"Ah, yup. I see. Will do. Goodnight."

Dr. Petrucci and Grant stepped outside. Grant zipped up his coat and waved as the doc got into his car.

Grant quickly unlocked his Subaru wagon, and he got in with a shiver. The sky was gray, and flurries occasionally drifted down to land on the car, and on the world around him.

There was about an inch and a half of snow. Grant sighed, and he started on the careful drive back home.

It wasn't long before he had to pull over.

"Damn it. I know this isn't the right way." He took out his phone. He had to look up his own address, and luckily he had it saved in his notes. He typed it in. Grant shook his head at himself. "I'm probably the only guy in the world who can get lost in Barre, Vermont."

Soon his phone had a route for him to follow. Grant whistled a little tune as he pulled back onto the street.

A few minutes later he parked in his driveway.

"Hurray, technology!" He celebrated a successful trip home and turned off his phone's navigation. Grant gathered his things, and he hurried inside his house, eager to get out of the chill.

Again, it was a bit cool inside. He went to the kitchen and put his computer bag down on the counter. Then it was back to the fireplace.

Ever-prepared, there were a few sticks of wood already there on the hearth that he had set out, waiting for him to use. Grant quickly got the fire going.

He stood up and stepped into the kitchen. He looked over at the slow cooker. Grant was all about convenience when it came to food. And so the slow cooker was one of the few cooking implements he liked to use.

A straightforward meal waited for him inside. He removed the lid, and he smiled down through the steam that rose up from the appliance. There were three chicken breasts. Before he left for work this morning, Grant put in the meat, placed a slice of swiss cheese on each, and then poured in a mixture of cream of mushroom soup and white wine over all of it. He wanted leftovers, and he'd have dinner for the next couple of nights done too.

Grant knew he should eat more vegetables. He told a few patients that very thing today. But he was at a healthy weight. And he ate a salad for lunch. Though he could admit to himself, he had that salad because of a potluck at work. He got to the party a little late, and that was all that was left. Grant hadn't contributed anything, so he couldn't have been choosy.

He wanted to try his chicken. He looked for a knife and a fork and then he remembered. "Oh. Damn it." Grant wrinkled his nose. He had planned to do yoga after work, and he had forgotten. And thanks to only eating a salad at lunch, he was hungry. He wanted to sit, eat, and read the journal.

He sighed. "No. You gotta cook the rice anyway. You might as well workout. Put in the work, then you can eat and relax."

Grant replaced the lid on his slow cooker and turned it to the "warm" setting, down from "low." He also pulled out the rice cooker and set it up with a cup of uncooked brown rice and some water. Grant pushed a button and started the gadget. Then he went upstairs and changed out of his slacks and button-up shirt. He returned downstairs dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Grant grabbed his yoga mat that was in the garage, and he went into the living room.

He began his yoga set. It was a long series of movements that he had memorized long ago. He cycled through the motions slowly, with good form. It took fifteen minutes for him to go through the set once. And depending on his mood and how he felt, he would either do them four times for an hour or six times for an hour and a half.

Since he was getting back to the habit after over a week off, he cut things off at an hour.

He stood up and breathed a tired and satisfied sigh. "Good job, Grant." He gave himself a little pat on the back. He peeled off his damp t-shirt, and he mopped his face with the material. He sweated profusely during his routine, and a wet stain marred his shorts from his waistline halfway down his crotch.

He looked down at himself. "Eh." He didn't care. He had nobody to impress, so he'd eat his dinner in his sweaty shorts.

Grant put a scoop of brown rice in a cute little blue and white porcelain bowl - yet another thing that came with the house. Then on top of the rice went a chicken breast and a few spoonfuls of the cheesy, creamy sauce left in the slow cooker.

He looked at the bowl, content with his dinner. "Okay. Journal time." He sat at the table, cut into his food with his fork, and he opened the book.

20 August 2013, Tuesday 10:20 AM

Well, the neighbor came over this morning. Aaron skipped work to try and fix their garage door. One of the wheels came off of the rail, and he came over to ask if I could help him lift it back up into place.

I went over, and I climbed up to take a look before we made a try. It was good that I did. The rail was all bent to hell. When they put some 6x6 beams up on the rafters of the garage to get them out of the way, one of the beams fell and hit the rail. They didn't notice anything was wrong until they tried to open the garage this morning. And that's when the wheel on the door jumped the rail.

The poor guy. Aaron stood there with an epic frown on his face. He was entirely out of his depth. Well, time for some good neighbor currency! I came home, took a bar over with me, and I took my time prying the rail back into shape. It looked a little weak, so I reinforced the railing at that spot with a piece of plumber's tape that I ran around it. Then I anchored the tape to the ceiling beam.

We lifted the door back up. I'll give one thing to this guy - he's strong! He held it up while I moved it into position. And soon it was back in its proper spot. The moment of truth was when Aaron tried the door.

Tada! Contractor-man saved the day again! It worked perfectly. He shook his head. Then he pulled out his wallet. And he tried to give me $100. I couldn't take his money though. Not for something that simple.

I did let him know that I was available for renovations and other handyman stuff. He asked about my business, and he was surprised when I said I didn't have a website. Well, guess what Aaron does? Yep. Website developer! And he offered to set up a site for me.

I'm now the proud owner of www.contractorman.com! That's right. My own website. I feel super legit now. John is gonna be happy. He has been harping on me for years to get my stuff together and get a "real" business going. Here I thought my contractor license would be plenty. Apparently, no. It got Mr. John Pharmacist through school though, didn't it?

Oh man, I've spent too long writing. I need to get back to work on the shelving John wants. When I don't have paying work, I make sure to plug away on that honey-do list.

I'm going to get to it. Later, Journal!

~ T

Grant blinked. "Really? A website." He retrieved his phone. He quickly tapped the address into the machine. And he waited while the site loaded.

The site came up. A lanky, brown-haired guy, in a red flannel shirt with his arms crossed and a grin on his face appeared in the right lower corner of the page. He also wore a leather tool belt around his slim hips. There was no doubt what he did for a living. There were various buttons for different services that a customer could select, listed in a neat column down the left side of the page.

Grant was pleasantly surprised to see one for fences. He happily selected the button. The page redirected him to an error. He pursed his lips, backed up a page and tried another button. He found himself at the same error page.

He exhaled. "Hrmm." He went back to the main page. Grant began to read everything there that he could find.

Down at the bottom, he found a link labeled "Customer Reviews." Grant clicked on the link. It worked, and he grinned as he ate and chewed his food.

"Troy is great. He's fast, friendly, and he doesn't overcharge. You can't really go wrong with the guy." - Donald B

"Replaced my fence in record time. And for about ½ what someone else would charge. Troy will do a good job, for sure. Hire the guy!" - Brian H

They continued, over a dozen of them. Grant worked his jaw.

"Troy." He made a small sound of satisfaction. "At least now I know your name."

Then Grant noticed the very last review. "Troy, if you're reading this, call us, bro. We're worried about you." - Brian H

His fork stopped moving, and he merely stared at the phone. "Huh. Worried about him?" Grant could see the date of the last review. "Whoa. September 2018? That was only a couple of months ago."

Grant's eyes slid from the phone over to the journal.

"God, I've got to know." He picked it up, and he flipped through until he found the last entry.

15 Dec 2017, Friday 8:30 PM

It's done. They've won. I decided that it's not worth fighting over anymore.

I tried to work out terms with the bank so I could stay, but they wouldn't go for it. They also came and took inventory of everything left in the house. If I take so much as a fucking wrench out of the garage, they'll prosecute me for stealing.

It doesn't matter. Without John, it's just a building. It's an empty, hollow shell.

I've loaded all the tools that I had tucked away into the van. It's a thousand wonders that we left the camper in my name only. At least they can't take it. Our procrastination and lack of legal connection saved me there.

My god. What a nightmare. The last four months have been nothing but a nightmare.

All I ever wanted is gone. I lost my John. I'm losing the house we had together. I've lost everything important to me.

So, I guess this is where our dream ends.

I built a fire. And the last thing I do in this house is to send this little book up. It was written to document our life together. And now that it's over, I can't stand to see it anymore.

I hope you see these words. I love you, John. And I pray your memory gives me strength that I just don't have right now.

Goodbye, my love. My John.

~ Yours forever, Troy

Grant stared at the pages. Tears rolled down his face, and he blinked. "What?" He shook his head. "No. No, that can't …" he turned a few pages back. He quickly read the last few pages before the final entry.

"Car accident." He sat back in the chair, a stunned and sorrowful expression on his face. Every indication in the journal showed something scarce - a real and sincere love affair between the two men.

And at their shared table, Grant mourned the loss of a man he never knew.

___________________________________

13 November 2018, Tuesday 10:12 AM

Troy nervously licked his lips as he stood in line. He had already attracted a couple of disgusted glances from other patrons in the store. He knew he had to be ripe. He had tried to clean up, but there's only so much a guy can do with wet wipes.

He had a basket with a few items. Everything was very calorie-dense, and cheap. He had oats, almond butter - which oddly was on sale and less expensive than peanut butter today, rice, and he bought a tiny bag of granola too.

He also sprang for a bottle of multivitamins. The last time he had a fresh piece of fruit was a distant memory, so he knew he needed the vitamins.

The cashier made a face when it was Troy's turn. Then she realized he was the source of the odor. She nodded once, short and curt, and she rang him up in record time. He paid, thanked her, and left the store as fast as he could.

Troy got to his van and gratefully stepped inside its relative safety. He quickly put away his things.

He had already paid his bill at the lumber yard earlier in the day, and the rest of the money from the Burgess job now sat in his savings account. He had enough for the deposit and the first month of rent. But he still needed one more gig. Otherwise, he'd go hungrier than usual. And he wasn't sure he'd be able to work if he ate less than he did now.

Though, on the hunger-front, he felt pretty good at the moment. Thanks to Mr. Burgess, he went to the Cornerstone Pub on Sunday night. And though they put him all by himself, off in the corner of the place, they served him. He ordered a big steak, with fries and a pint of beer. It was more than he could eat, so he had what was leftover last night. It was cold, but it was still delicious.

Though his stomach had digested the food over twelve hours ago, his body still felt the effects of the increased calories. Troy had forgotten how much better he felt when he had enough to eat.

He sat on his bench seat, and he pulled up the internet on his phone. He hated to spend the data, but he needed to check his email. He navigated to his account quickly.

"Come on." That desperate edge crept back into his voice. There was still no email from anyone needing work done.

Troy put the phone back on Airplane Mode. It made the battery go longer, and it kept the device from spending data without his permission.

He had nowhere to be and nothing to do. Though his body could use the rest, he needed to be earning money.

He figured another $500, and he could make it work. After gassing up the van, and buying groceries, he had a total of $1,413.56 in the bank. So he absolutely had to find another gig. It was either that or go another month living in the van.

Troy chided himself. 'You should have used that $50 better. A steak dinner was a big mistake.' Though, there was a part of him that vehemently disagreed. 'You deserved it. Don't beat yourself up.' He sighed. What was done was done.

He noticed movement, and he looked outside through the windshield.

A police cruiser slowly drove by. The officer gave his vehicle a hard look as he passed. Troy knew the van likely was reported here and there by concerned locals. So far he had avoided trouble, but it was probably only a matter of time before there was a problem with the law.

It was time to move on. Troy got into the van, and he started the engine. He drove to the exit of the parking lot. As he did, he saw the patrol car turn for another loop.

'Too late, copper.' Troy pulled into traffic. Soon he was just one vehicle among the rest on the road. He drove a few blocks, and he turned down a quiet, residential street. Most everyone was at work, so there was plenty of room to park.

He breathed a relieved sigh as he put the van into park. He shut off the engine, and then he slumped a little in his seat. He sat that way for a few minutes. He stared into space, and his mind swirled with worries, memories, and plans.

Finally, he shook his head as if trying to wake up. He stood and went to the back. Troy lowered his bed.

'Might as well rest.'

In his state, he could always sleep. He pushed off his boots, and he got into bed.

He knew what he had to look forward to. It was almost like the price of admission - something he had to pay before he could rest.

The words of the officer that told him about the accident, and that his John had died rang through his mind, like the tolling of a terrible bell. And with a clenched jaw, Troy drifted to sleep.

___________________________________

13 November 2018, Tuesday 3:52 PM

Grant was distracted. He sat at his desk at the clinic. His 4:00 patient canceled, so he had a ½ hour until his last appointment of the day. And now that he had free time, his mind spun.

'Poor John.' He frowned as he stared, unseeing at his computer screen. 'No. Poor Troy.' Those last few entries were dark, filled with pain, and anguished beyond anything Grant had ever read.

"You doing all right, Grant?"

He turned and looked at Rhett, his assigned medical assistant. The man was in his early 20s, skinny, short, and wore little round glasses. His blue eyes were curious and showed a mild concern. "You've been staring at that chart for a couple of minutes now."

Grant laughed a little. "No. I'm just thinking." He shook his head. "I admit, not about work."

"Oh? What's going on?" Rhett seemed nice, and interested. Everyone at the clinic was very friendly to Grant. He suspected they were told to be. New providers were hard to find. Still, he appreciated it.

Grant hesitated. 'Don't throw Troy's business out there.' "Ah, well, my fence fell. A piece of it did. And I'm having trouble finding someone to help fix it."

Rhett made a sympathetic noise. "Ah, that sucks." His brow furrowed in thought. "Have you checked around? I know there are some local repair operations." He shrugged. "Though, if you don't want to spend much, you could go with the van handyman."

Grant's breath caught in his throat. "What? Van handyman?"

"Yeah. He drives this old camper van, and he works out of it." Rhett made a face. "He's a little rough. But he did some work for my brother. He did a really good job, and Dan was happy with his prices." He tapped his chin. "I can't remember his name. Though, you can see his van all over town. He must be a busy guy."

Grant was suddenly animated. "Do you think your brother would know how to contact him?"

Rhett nodded. "Probably. I know he found his ad on Craigslist."

"Ah, I should have thought of that." Grant smiled at Rhett. "Thanks."

"Sure. If you can't find him on Craigslist, I'll ask Dan if he still has the contact information." The younger man turned back to his own computer and pulled up their next patient in the electronic medical record.

Grant checked the time. They still had twenty minutes until the appointment. He opened Craigslist, and after a little decision-making, he went to the Skilled Trade link under the Services section.

Grant scrolled down a little. He narrowed his eyes at one of the entries. 'Handyman, repairs, certified contractor. Cheap Prices.' He clicked on the link.

'I'm fast, I do good work, and I will come to you. Going rate is 33% plus the material cost of your build. Can handle most jobs.'

Grant clicked through the photos attached of the examples work done by the man. All of it looked professional and very good. Though, he still wasn't sure if this entry was Troy's.

"Hey, Rhett." He motioned at the computer screen. "Is this the guy who worked on your brother's project?"

Rhett looked at the screen. He took the mouse, and he started clicking through the examples of the work. Grant watched his face as he did, and suddenly Rhett's eyebrows went up. "Yep. That's my brother's deck." He pointed at a nice, stained back deck. "This is the van handyman's work."

Grant nodded. "Okay. Thanks. And thanks for the suggestion."

Rhett went back to his work. And Grant stared at the "reply" button in the upper left-hand corner. He made a choice, and he clicked the button.

His email came up, and Grant's fingers hovered over the keyboard. 'What do I say?' He frowned down at his hands. 'You need a fence fixed. And here's a guy who can do the work.' He nodded. 'Here we go.'

Grant typed a quick little message.

'Hi. My name is Grant, and I need help with my fence. I think it will need to be replaced. I'd like you to call me to discuss the work when you get the time.'

Grant left his phone number, and then he sent the message.

'Okay. Message sent.'

Rhett got up to get their last patient of the day. The woman arrived a little early, and Grant was more than happy to see her now.

He opened the patient's chart, and he attempted to focus on her appointment.

But his mind kept going back to the heartbreaking story detailed in the pages of a damaged, burned book.

___________________________________

13 November 2018, Tuesday 6:16 PM

"Oh, yes. Fuck yes." Troy sat in his driver's seat, and he flopped back with relief. He just checked his email, and he had a hit. "Thank god. A fence. That'll be easy and fast." There was a number to call, and he quickly punched it into his phone.

He still wore the relieved smile when the line picked up.

"Hello?"

"Uh, hi. My name is Troy, and I think you contacted me about some work on a fence. Is this Grant?" Troy licked his lips. This had to go right, and he was nervous.

"Yes, this is Grant. Thanks for calling, Troy." The man sounded relieved. "And, yeah. I definitely need work done on my fence."

"Okay. Well, I'll need to come to take a look before I can give you a price for the work." Troy got a pen and a slip of paper. "What's your address?"

There was a hesitation on the phone. Troy was just about to repeat himself when Grant spoke, "Ah, I'm at the corner of Winter Meadow and High St."

Troy felt his stomach tighten. "Oh?" 'No. No fucking way.' "What's the exact address?"

Another pause. "Sorry, I just moved here. I don't have it memorized yet." There was some movement, and Troy heard a door open. "Ah, looks like 41 Winter Meadow."

Troy wanted to vomit. He swallowed, and he covered the receiver on the phone. "Fuck. Fuck, why that house? Why?" He took a breath.

"Hello? Hello, are you there?" Grant's voice sounded a little panicked.

Troy cleared his throat. "Hi, I'm here. I'm really sorry, but I won't be able to help you. I can give you the number of another local outfit."

There was a pause, then a disappointed sounding reply. "Oh. Okay. Well, I'd pay well for the work. I've struck out a few times already. Nobody wants to work in this weather."

Troy clenched his jaw. "I said no. Sorry." He couldn't make himself continue, and he simply hung up.

He lay his head back. Troy breathed, and tried to calm himself. "That bastard has my house." He hung his head. "Fuck."

Troy pushed air in and out of his lungs in long, slow respirations. Eventually, he felt more centered, and he reached down to start the van.

The old machine made a whining noise as it started, and Troy cocked his head, an incredulous look on his face. "No." He set his jaw. "This had better be a fucking loose belt." He turned off the engine, popped the hood, and he stepped out into the crisp air of the early evening.

Troy raised the hood, and he did a quick check of the engine. All of the belts were snug, and his face betrayed his worry. There were only a few other things that sound could be. And they were all expensive.

He got back into the van and restarted it. It made that same whining noise. Troy pressed on the brake, and he shifted into drive. The whine increased in volume when he shifted. He felt the transmission slip, and then the whine died away after the gear engaged.

"Fuck. FUCK!" He slammed his hand on the steering wheel.

He couldn't afford to replace the transmission in the vehicle. Something like that would cost a minimum of $4,000. Praying he was wrong, he got out again and crawled under the middle of the van. He used his cell phone and turned on the light so that he could see.

A reddish fluid had leaked onto the snow under the van. Troy grimly touched it, rubbed it between his fingers and smelled the liquid.

He let his head fall, and he lay face first in the snow. He laughed, the sound a little manic. "Fuck. Of course. Because I don't have enough to handle. I don't have enough to do."

Wearily, he crawled back out. Troy sat in the snow beside his van, his back to the machine. 'What am I gonna do?'

As soon as the van died, he would officially be well and truly fucked.

He leaned back, and he stared up at the clear, cold sky. Stars already started to appear. He blew out a cloud of vapor and watched his breath as it swirled above him.

"I need to move the van. I'll get towed here." He was at the park again. And it was a high traffic area during the day. He figured he could drive the van a short distance without a lot of damage. But once he parked, he'd be stuck until he had the transmission replaced.

He couldn't fix upon a solution. He couldn't make his mind work. There was just too much. There was too much that was wrong, and he was so close to his breaking point. He couldn't make himself try and solve the problem.

He watched the cars pass on the street as the sparse traffic died even more as it grew later. And his eyes tracked a satellite as it made its way across the sky. His butt and legs began to get cold from sitting on the ground, but he wasn't ready to move just yet.

Troy finally sighed. He had to do something. He had to make a decision.

He forced himself to stand.

'Boy, get your shit together.' Troy flinched. In his mind, he clearly heard John's voice. 'You got a job to do. Why aren't you doing it?'

Troy licked his lips, and he frowned. "I don't want to go back there." He whispered. Troy put his hand on the van door, and he got back inside. "I don't want to."

The voice didn't reply. Troy knew it was only in his head. Some coping mechanism. It had a name, and when he could afford a counselor, she told him what it was. It didn't matter now.

'I've got a job to do.'

Troy made a sound of surrender. He took out his phone.

He dialed and held the phone to his ear. It picked up after a ring.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Grant. I'm sorry about earlier. I'd like to take the job. I won't cheat you. I'll quote a good price, and I'll get it done fast." Troy propped his head upon his hand. "I can start tomorrow."

The man seemed excited. "Okay, great!"

"Good deal. I'll see you tomorrow. We'll go over cost and if you approve I'll get going on it."

After a short additional conversation, Troy hung up. He started the van and winced at the sound of the transmission. Then he gingerly pulled onto the street.

A few minutes later, Troy parked across the street from his old house. He looked out the window at the cute little place, and at the smoke as it curled from the chimney.

"Hi, house," Troy's voice wavered.

He hung his head, and he took a deep breath.

Troy went to the back, and he pulled down his bed. He went through his nightly routine, and he lay down.

'I'm proud of you.' There was so much warmth and love in John's voice.

Troy squeezed his eyes shut. "God, I know you're a figment of my fucking mind." He shook his head. "But I'm glad you're here."

It was a rare night when Troy didn't relive the phone call. But, tonight, he went to sleep quickly, peacefully.

And he dreamed of better days.


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

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