Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 28: Unchained

Chapter 28: Unchained

04 March 2019, Monday 1:59 PM (Pacific Time)

William hung up the phone. Grant had just told him of his plans to propose to Troy and to have all of their friends from Vermont present for it.

He closed his eyes. William imagined it - his son standing next to Troy, happy, and complete. And at first, he didn't know what he would feel. The idea of his son marrying a man was, on its face, a bit of a shock to him. But as he thought about it, and as he recalled the sound of Grant's voice each time he spoke of Troy, William only had one thing that rang in his mind.

'Finally. My son is happy. Finally.'

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05 March 2019, Tuesday 10:39 AM (Pacific Time)

Sandra watched William from her spot on the couch. She knew him. And something was up. She had noticed Grant's name on a reservation for a group in mid-April, and she mentioned it to her husband earlier in the day.

He had acted surprised, but, he must have forgotten that Sandra had the same access as he did to their reservation system. She could see the username of the person who reserved Grant's group. She knew that it was him.

'What are you and Grant up to, William?' She eyed him as he worked outside with their crew. Soon, she saw him walk past the window, and she heard the sound of the door as he entered.

A few moments later he appeared at the doorway to the living room.

"Hello, Sandra." He smiled at her and approached.

She looked up at him, and a subtle smile played on her lips. "Hello, William." She patted the couch beside her. "Would you sit with me for a while?"

He nodded and sat next to her. He took her hand in his. "Do you need anything? Can I do anything for you?"

Sandra nodded. "Actually, yes." She smiled, as sweet and innocent as she could manage. And she went for the kill. "You can tell me what the true purpose of Grant's trip here is."

William swallowed, the sound audible. "Uh, I'm not …" he could see in her eyes that he wasn't going to get away with anything. He bit his lip. Finally, he sighed. "Well, he wanted to tell you. I suppose he hasn't called yet."

"He has not." Sandra watched him. "And, he wanted to tell me what?"

William chuckled, and he shook his head. "Damn it." He patted her hand, and he looked into her eyes. "Okay. Well, he's bringing all of his friends here to witness his proposal. He's going to ask Troy to marry him."

Sandra felt a wave of chills travel up her body, and she closed her eyes.

William watched her, and she felt him squeeze her hand. "Sandra?" She could hear the worried tone in his voice. "Sandra, it's his choice. We should support …"

"Where are they staying?" Sandra interrupted him, and she opened her eyes. "His friends. Where are they staying?"

It was apparent William didn't expect that question. "Uh, they're going to rent the place on the highway. Or they're going to try. It may already be booked."

"They won't." Sandra watched William's eyes as the man tried to process where she was going. He started to say something. "Have the guest cottages reserved for them. The whole time they're all here. No charge."

William stared at her. Sandra reached, and she clasped both of his hands in hers. And, finally, she smiled.

William laughed, and Sandra joined him with a grin.
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08 March 2019, Friday 5:51 PM

Troy watched as Beth came down the stairs. A beautiful, blue dress hugged her body and set off her sapphire and silver earrings. She got to the bottom of the staircase, and she turned in a circle with a grin.

Troy whistled. "Looking good, Beth!" He smiled. "Man, he's not gonna know what hit him."

She laughed. "I sure hope you're right." Troy found it incredibly cute that she was so nervous.

Grant walked around the kitchen bar, and he raised his eyebrows when he saw her. "Wow. Don't give the man a heart attack, Beth!"

She laughed again, open mouth, a full and beautiful sound. Her joy was infectious, and the men grinned at her.

There was a knock at the door, and Troy moved toward it. "I've got it."

He opened the door, and Rhett stood there. He wore tan dockers with a brown leather belt, brown boots, a light blue button-up shirt, and a cute plaid vest over that. Rhett recently bought new glasses too, and the thin frames with rectangular lenses suited his face very well. He had a single rose in his hand. He smiled sheepishly at Troy. "Hi, Troy."

Troy grinned at him. "Hi, Rhett." He looked Rhett up and down. "Looking good, man." He stood aside. "Come on in. She's waiting for you."

Rhett stepped inside, and Troy followed him down the hall. Rhett stopped, and he stared at Beth.

Troy and Grant watched them. Beth slowly shook her head, and a hand went to her mouth as she looked at Rhett. Troy thought she would cry. Instead, she smiled, and she stepped close to him. "Is this for me?"

Rhett blinked. He looked down at the rose, and then he nodded. He smiled, and he handed it to her. "It's for you." He bit his lip, and he shook his head. "You really put it to shame, though. I never thought I'd think a rose could be ugly." His blue eyes looked at her with such wonder. "But next to you, it is."

Beth took the flower, her fingers trembling. "Boy, you need to stop saying things like that to me." She laughed, but her voice wavered. It was obvious she liked what she heard from him.

Troy felt almost like he and Grant weren't even in the room. Beth and Rhett seemed to forget they were there.

Rhett took her hand, his gaze never leaving her face. "Our reservation is at 6:30. We'll be early." He smiled a little. "Are you okay hanging out with me until then?"

Beth grinned. "I think I can manage."

Troy and Grant bid them goodbye, while Rhett and Beth left the house, hand in hand.

The door closed behind them, and Troy looked at Grant. "Uh, wow!" He laughed. "I have a feeling things between those two are going to get really serious, really fast."

Grant stepped up next to Troy. And instead of answering, the dark-haired man hugged him. Troy hugged him back, confused, but loving. "Uh, are you okay?"

Grant nodded against Troy's chest. Over the last few days, Grant had been acting differently. He was always affectionate and loving. But now, there were these moments of overwhelming, quiet emotion from him. Troy felt their connection grow even stronger, something he didn't know could happen. It had already been intense. But, now, it rivaled what he had with John.

Grant reached up. He pulled Troy down, and he gently kissed the tall man. It was a languid, lingering moment. Troy's brain lit up with those same fireworks as when they had just met, and it was hard for him to hold onto any semblance of control. After a bit, Grant's lips smiled against Troy's, and he leaned back to look at Troy. His eyes roamed over Troy's face. In them was sureness, confidence, and yet a deep need. It almost took Troy's breath away to look into those brown pools.

Troy let Grant lead him upstairs by his hand. Once in their bedroom Grant undressed them both, while the men kissed, touched, and communed, skin-to-skin. Soon, they were both naked, and Troy found himself gently pushed down onto his back, on the bed.

Grant straddled his hips, and he kissed Troy. The dark-haired man's eyes were intense, open, and expressed such a desire for the tall man. Troy swallowed as Grant began the process of settling on Troy's erect penis. "I love you, Grant." Troy sighed, and he arched his neck, eyes closed. Grant slid down and enclosed Troy's cock in pressure and warmth.

"I love you, Troy." His voice was soft but absolutely sure. Grant settled on Troy's groin, and he sat there, unmoving. He breathed, and Grant seemed happy to merely feel Troy inside him. Grant's dick was hard, and the tip shined with a drop of precome that had leaked out of him. Troy put his hands on Grant's small waist, and he looked up at his lover. Somehow, Troy knew he needed to let Grant control the pace. And he smiled up at the dark-haired man.

Grant smiled back. And he began to flex his strong core, which moved his hips up and down.

It was slow but intense. Troy groaned. He stared up at Grant as the man slid back and forth. Grant looked down at Troy. And it seemed that he was making this particular moment all about Troy. Grant wasn't stroking himself. He only looked down, watched Troy's face, and listened to the sounds the tall man made.

Troy wasn't okay with the selfishness of him having the only orgasm. He wrapped his hand around Grant's wet, turgid cock. Grant's eyes slid closed as Troy began to stroke him. Grant's hips never stopped their slow, constant motion.

Troy watched Grant as he let his head loll back. His eyes opened, but they were halfway rolled back in his skull.

Troy couldn't hold out. "Grant, I'm gonna get off." There was a desperate edge in his voice, and Grant grinned. The man looked down to watch him.

Troy gasped, and he bucked up into Grant's body. All the while, Grant's intense, focused stare held Troy's gaze. Then, at the tail end of Troy's orgasm, Grant's jaw dropped, and he inhaled.

Grant's body locked up, and he gritted his teeth. Then he let loose. A rope of come shot out of him, onto Troy's chest. He resumed breathing in a gasp, and Troy continued to stroke his handsome boyfriend until he finished.

Grant blew out a satisfied breath, and he smiled down at Troy. He made no immediate move to get off of him. Grant remained on top of the lanky man, and his eyes took in all of Troy's face. Troy watched as Grant's face almost shifted to nervous.

'God, what are you thinking right now?' Troy reached up, and he put a hand on Grant's cheek. "You okay?"

Grant closed his eyes and leaned into Troy's touch. He turned his face, and he kissed Troy's palm. Then he looked back down at Troy. "I'm better than okay." He smiled, the expression was bright and happy. He patted Troy's chest. "Come on. Let's clean up quick. We've got dinner waiting on us downstairs."

After Grant used the facilities Troy followed him into the shower for a rinse. Then the two lovers put on shorts and walked downstairs together, arms around one another's waists.
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17 April 2019, Wednesday 6:42 PM

The next five weeks passed in a blur of anticipation, stress, and preparation. Though, one major worry was crossed off of Grant's mind.

It took some clever and sneaky work, but Grant finally discovered Troy's ring size. One evening after Troy had a long, hard job, he came home incredibly tired. The man passed out on the couch before he could even eat dinner. And Grant used the opportunity to very gently measure his finger with a length of thread.

"8 ½ will do it," Grant mumbled to himself as he put in his order. Troy had long, strong fingers. But they were also thin and lean, just like the rest of him. And a couple of weeks ago the rings had finally arrived.

Grant had them delivered to his work. He had secretly examined them, and they were works of art. He wanted something unique. Something that would turn into a treasured reminder of their connection.

He chose a titanium ring with an inlay of metallic meteorite (see the ring here: Troy's and Grant's Rings). They were very handsome pieces of jewelry. And as Grant stared down at the pair of rings that had rested in his palm, he had to breathe through his emotional response. 'You can't be a mess at work, man. Rhett will wonder what's up.'

He had put them away in a tiny paper packet, and then he put that into his wallet. He wanted the rings with him, always.

Everything was lining up. Rhett and Beth both wanted to go on the trip to the winery, along with all of the rest of the group. They had become a pair over the last few weeks. Beth moved to a little apartment in town, one close to Rhett's. And the two often walked the few blocks between them to see one another.

There was more good news on that front too. Beth got her teaching credential in the state, and then she landed the job, teaching first-graders for the local elementary school.

Grant sat at their table. He stared down at his plate of food, and he tried to think about anything but the proposal. They were flying out the next day, all of them. They booked their flights as a group, and they planned to do the same for the hotel accommodations. But, Grant had been hit with a surprise from his parents concerning that. His mother had called a couple of days after he first planned the trip, and she had let Grant know that they would all be staying on the grounds.

His friends had been surprised and happy about the change. "Hell, I guess it's nice to know the son of the owners!" Brian had grinned at him when Grant told the group of friends the news. Now, the only expense to them was the airfare.

It was all falling into place. Everything pushed Grant forward - everything seemed to click and fit, the closer the day approached.

And now, the day before they were due to fly out, Grant stared down at his plate of brown rice, salad, and grilled chicken. His stomach felt full of butterflies, and he mentally went over his plan repeatedly.

The door opened, and Troy entered. Grant sat up and tried to gather himself. 'Relax. You can't show any sign of what's to come.'

Troy walked into the kitchen, grease on his clothes, hands, and a spot on his face. His toolbelt hugged his hips, and Grant smiled at him. "Hey." Grant swallowed, and he marveled at the sight of Troy. 'My god, I want him to be mine.'

"Hey, Grant." Troy grinned at him. He looked so rugged and handsome to Grant in that moment - dirty, unkempt, tired, but happy. Troy leaned down and gave him a careful peck on the lips so that he didn't get any grease on Grant.

He straightened and looked over at the counter, where Grant had assembled Troy's plate. "Oh man, that looks great. Smells good too. Thanks for making dinner." He got his food, and he took a seat at the table. "I'm gonna eat now, clean up later."

Grant nodded at him. "You're welcome." And as his lover started to eat his food, Grant tried to pretend the most important day of his life wasn't coming.
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18 April 2019, Thursday 3:02 PM (Pacific Time)

Their plane landed in Napa, California. Troy smiled, and he patted Grant's leg. "This is exciting! I'm happy everyone gets to see the winery!"

Grant looked at him, and he nodded. "Yeah. Me too." Then he went back to staring at his hands in his lap.

Troy eyed him a moment. Grant had seemed distracted and thoughtful all day. Troy knew something was on his mind, but the dark-haired man had given him no clue as to what it could be. Troy gave a mental shrug. 'He'll talk to me if he needs to.'

Soon, they had gotten their carry-on luggage, and they got off the plane. A few of them had checked bags, and they walked to the baggage claim to pick those up. As they waited, Troy could see through the windows that the outside world was awash in the spring sun. 'Oh, the vineyard is going to look amazing.' He grinned as he thought about it.

A few minutes later they wheeled their luggage to the exit. In the loading zone, William waited for them in the black Lincoln, and there was another car exactly like it behind him. Troy, Grant, Rhett, and Beth all got into William's car, while the other four friends jumped in with Gavin, who drove the other Lincoln. As was typical, Grant got in on the passenger side up with his dad in the front.

"Hi, gang!" William grinned. Introductions were made all around, and Troy could tell William was genuinely happy to see them.

'Wow, he's really giddy.' Troy smiled as William spoke over his shoulder to Beth and Rhett. And he watched as William clapped a hand on Grant. The two men looked at one another, and something passed between them. It was a look, filled with meaning, love, and shared knowledge.

Troy felt a pang of, not quite loss, but of regret - that he missed out on what could have been, at that moment. As William turned to refocus on the road, Troy couldn't help but think of his own family.

But, soon, the negative emotion was buried by all of the positivity, and all of the excitement in the car.

Beth leaned over, and she stole a kiss from Rhett. Though, the blue-eyed man was happy to give one to her. She grabbed his hand, and they sat, side by side. Troy smiled at them. "I've not seen you two in a couple of weeks. How's everything going?"

Rhett took a breath, and he shook his head. "Things are," he looked at Beth as if he couldn't believe she was beside him. "Things are great."

Beth gave him another kiss, and then she grinned at Troy. "I concur with Nurse Olson."

He made a noise. "Don't! Don't jinx me!" Rhett had yet to take his exam for his nursing license, but he was getting closer to that day all the time. "Just because I spend the money on the courses doesn't mean they're going to give me the certification."

"Oh," Beth waved a hand, "you've got this." She rubbed her thumb against his forehead, wiping away a speck of lint on his skin. She sighed, and her fingers wiggled happily as they clasped with Rhett's. "You're so smart." She narrowed her eyes at him. "And I'm a teacher - I know!"

They all chuckled. Rhett looked at her with such open appreciation, and he leaned in. This time the kiss lingered a moment. Troy watched, and when they didn't show any sign of stopping, he cleared his throat.

Rhett and Beth split apart, and they both looked sidewise at him. Rhett rubbed his own head, and he gave Troy a chagrined smirk.

Beth leaned over and whispered something to Rhett. Her hand gently rubbed the small man's leg. Rhett flushed red, and his eyes glanced at Troy as if he were afraid the man had overheard her.

Troy only laughed.
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18 April 2019, Thursday 3:53 PM (Pacific Time)

"Calm down, son." William looked at Grant, both hands on his shoulders. They arrived at the vineyard, and William noticed the way Grant kept fingering the suspicious circular object in his pocket and his pallor. William pulled Grant away from the group, and he set Gavin to give them a tour of the winery.

Now, Grant stood in the living room with William and Sandra. Grant's mother looked on as William tried to reassure him. "Grant, you're starting to sweat." William smiled. "Calm down."

Grant stared at his father. He took big breaths of air, and he let them out. Grant tried to slow his heart and his breathing, but the moment was here. And he couldn't wait anymore.

Grant shook his head. "I can't wait. It has to be today. It has to be now." He knew his parents had made preparations for the proposal. They had champagne in the fridges, waiting to be set out. And they planned to have all of their workers present for the big moment. "I don't care about the drinks, or if more people are there." Grant nodded, his eyes unfocused. "It has to be now."

William held him by his shoulders, and he stared into Grant's face. He wet his lips, and he looked at Sandra.

Sandra's eyes rested cooly on Grant. Her son and husband both knew she hated when plans were derailed. And Grant was definitely a wrecking ball at that moment.

"Grant." Sandra's calm voice snapped Grant out of his reverie, and he blinked down at her. She gave him a smile. "Son, I can tell this means a lot to you. And if it needs to be now, then it will be now."

Both Grant and William stared at her. Sandra continued, "though, you strong fellows will have to carry me, wherever you plan to do this."

Grant's face split into a smile. "Outside." He pointed out the window. "Under the oak." By the look on Sandra's face, he could tell that she approved.

William unclipped his walkie-talkie. "I'll get Gavin to take them there. Then I'll help you outside, Sandra."

She nodded. Her eyes were still on Grant. Then, she made a sound of surprise as he leaned down to give her a hug. "I love you, mom." His voice was thick with restrained emotion.

"No no." She laughed, and she pushed him away. "Not yet." She sniffed and wagged her finger at him. "No emotional outbursts until the deed is done!"

Grant nodded, a grin on his face. His eyes glittered as he looked at her.

William made a motion for them to be quiet, and they settled down. He raised the radio to his lips. "Gavin? Please bring the group to the courtyard, near the oak."

They all listened, and the man responded with an affirmative. They were in one of the processing buildings so it would be a few minutes.

"Perfect." William reached down for Sandra. "Are you ready, dear?"

She nodded and took his hand in hers. "I am." He easily lifted her, first to her feet, and then he bent and swept her up into his arms. It looked to Grant as if his father had some practice with carrying her, and he felt a pang of sadness as he remembered her new limitations.

But, her face didn't show any sort of mental anguish or pain. She was adjusting. As William stepped past Grant, Sandra looked over his shoulder at her son. "Well? Are you coming?"

Grant laughed. He reached down, took the ring out of his pocket, and he held it tight in his fist. Then he followed his parents outside.

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18 April 2019, Thursday 4:09 PM (Pacific Time)

Troy and the others walked along with Gavin. They had only just started their impromptu tour a few minutes earlier when William called for them to come back to the main house. There was a little confusion as to what was going on, but overall, the mood was still high, and all of them were still laughing and happy.

Troy smiled as Aaron kept a close eye on Georgette. The woman was twenty-two weeks into her pregnancy. Though she still had fourteen more weeks to go full term, it was now easy to see that she was pregnant. Her little belly was cute, and she often endured Aaron's amazed hands on the skin there.

"Oh god, I'm fine, Aaron!" She tried to wave him off, as she walked along with the group. Georgette had almost tripped over the side of the walkway when she stepped up. Aaron wasn't having it. He put his arm around her shoulders, and they walked that way the rest of the distance, back to the house.

Troy shared a grin with the rest of the friends. They all sort of circled the wagons around Georgette, whether she wanted it or not. And Troy knew that though she groused about it, she loved the attention.

They came around the edge of the house, and Troy saw Grant, William, and Sandra, all under the big, sprawling oak tree that grew there. Sandra rested in one of the outdoor patio chairs, while Grant and William stood nearby.

Gavin took them straight to the small gathering. "Here they are, sir." He nodded at William. Gavin started to turn to go.

"Please, stay, Gavin," Grant said. His voice sounded rough, and he cleared his throat.

Troy could see something in Grant's eyes. Something he had never quite seen. As Grant stepped close, there was no way Troy could have looked away from him.

"I have to apologize to all of you." Grant's gaze never left Troy's face. The afternoon sun bathed his skin in a golden glow, and it made his brown eyes shine like jewels. Grant's hands were both closed tight, and there was an urgency in his manner and voice that caught Troy's attention like nothing ever had.

Grant smiled, and he shook his head. "I had to get you all here." He nodded, mostly to himself and he stood directly in front of Troy. He reached up with his left hand, and he put it on the back of Troy's neck. His eyes roamed over Troy's face in that intimate, marveling way that they do. "I had to, so you could witness what I hope will be one of the happiest moments of my life."

Grant stared a moment longer into Troy's eyes. Then he let his hand slide down the tall man's arm, and he knelt before him.

Troy's breath caught in his throat. He heard a couple of gasps behind him. And Troy looked down at Grant, shock on his face.

The dark-haired man opened his right hand. His face was filled with such love, adoration, and hope as he looked up at Troy. And a gray, silvery ring lay in his palm.

"Troy Beckford," Grant reached for Troy's hand. "Will you do me the great honor of marrying me?"

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18 April 2019, Thursday 4:13 PM (Pacific Time)

Time seemed to stretch and slow for Troy as he looked down at Grant. 'Oh god. Oh god, I can't.' Troy felt an overwhelming sense of duty to John and his memory. 'I can't betray him like that. I never even married my John. I can't. Grant won't understand, but I can't.'

He opened his mouth to speak.

'DON'T you use my love like this.' The angry sound of John's voice echoed through Troy's mind, and he felt it rattle his soul. 'Don't you DARE use my love like this. If you want to tell him no, for you, then you go on an' tell him no. But don't you sully me this way.'

Troy's voice caught in his throat, and he struggled mightily. Only a split second had passed, but it felt like a lifetime to Troy as he agonized.

John's voice came again, this time it was gentle and soothing. 'Baby, you do whatever will make you happy. That's all I want.'

The spell broke, and Troy laughed. It was a relieved, incredulous, and joyful sound. And he knelt down with Grant. He stared into Grant's brown eyes, and tears began to stream down Troy's cheeks.

"I don't know what I did." Troy's face twitched as he cried. And he reached out a hand to place it on the side of Grant's head. "What did I do to deserve, not one, but two great loves?" He swallowed and took a breath.

And then he nodded. "Yes, Grant. Yes." He smiled, and his world seemed to burst into color. "I'd love to marry you."


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

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