Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 7: Good Intentions

Chapter 7: Good Intentions

16 November 2018, Friday 6:40 AM

A very quiet knock on his bedroom door startled Grant awake. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Yeah? Hello?"

"Hey, Grant? Uh, are you late?" It was Troy's voice on the other side of the door.

Grant swung his legs over the edge of the bed and padded across the carpet. It was warm in the house when he went to bed, so he only wore his briefs. He opened the door a little. "Hey. No, I don't work Fridays." He blinked in the landing light that shined into his bedroom.

Troy grimaced. "Ah, shit. Sorry." He took a step back toward the stairs. "Go back to sleep. I won't start on the furnace until you're up and around." Grant noticed Troy was dressed for work. His flannel sleeves were rolled up a little, and his tool belt graced his hips.

Grant yawned and waved a hand. "What time is it?"

"Just after 6:40."

Grant cleared his throat. "Eh, I should get up anyway." He nodded at Troy. "Thanks for making sure I wasn't late."

"Sure." Troy turned to walk down the stairs. "I started your coffee pot. Hope that's all right."

"Hell yes, that's all right." Grant laughed. He heard Troy snicker as the lanky man descended the stairs.

Grant closed his door, and he searched around for his sweats. He found them on the end of the bed, and he slipped them on. Then he put on his favorite fuzzy sweater and a pair of warm socks.

He left the bedroom and he stepped into the bathroom. He quickly relieved himself, then he checked the mirror. He made a noise of irritation. "Damn it." His black hair stuck up in a wild array of peaks and tufts. It looked ridiculous. He frowned and he pushed it down into some kind of presentable fashion.

'Why are you trying to make yourself look good?' Grant's hands stopped moving over his head, and he stared at his reflection. 'Is this for Troy?' He swallowed, and he bit his lip. Finally, he shook his head. "No, I just don't want to look like a troll doll." He finished with the taming of his hair, a little irritated with himself.

He descended the stairs. Troy stood in front of the utility closet. He had a mug of coffee in one hand and he sipped the steaming liquid as he examined the open space. He looked over at Grant. "I started your fire too." He moved his head toward the fireplace. "Figured you wouldn't mind."

"I don't mind at all. Saved me the trouble. Thanks." Grant shuffled into the kitchen. The mug he typically used was already down, and it sat beside the mostly-full coffee pot. 'Huh. He knew the mug I like. He must have seen me using it, or noticed it draining in the dish drainer.' Grant was inordinately pleased by this small detail.

Troy walked into the kitchen, and he walked to the sink. He began to wash his mug. "Okay, I'm gonna make some noise here in a bit." Grant watched his back move as Troy washed up. "I hate to ask, but I might need some help moving the furnace." He turned off the water, put the mug in the drainer, and he turned with the dish towel in his hands. "Once it's in the hall I can push and pull it where it needs to go.

"Hmmm?" Grant was distracted. He forced his mind to work. "Ah, yeah. No problem. I can help."

Troy dried his hands and frowned slightly. "You feeling all right?" He hung the dish towel back on the oven door handle, where he found it. "You seem a little out of it."

"Yeah, I'm fine," Grant answered quickly. He cleared his throat and wiped his hands on his sweats. "Well, let's get to work moving that furnace."

He started to head toward the garage. As he passed Troy, the tall man reached to stop him, one hand on Grant's chest. Troy looked at him, then he looked down Grant's front. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

Grant had a moment of panic, and he licked his lips. 'Oh god, please tell me I don't have an erection.' He looked down. All he saw was a bit of a lump where his soft penis showed a little through the material, and his socked feet. "Uh, I don't …"

"Grant. You can't move stuff in socks. That's asking for trouble." Troy shook his head and chuckled. He dropped his hand from Grant's chest. "Go get some shoes on. Boots, if you've got them."

"Oh. Oh yeah. Okay." Grant felt a flush of relief. "I'll, ah, I'll be back." He hurried past Troy, back upstairs.

He grabbed a pair of old work boots and he sat on the edge of his bed. Grant had a grim look on his face as he pulled them on.

'Dude, get a grip!'

___________________________________

16 November 2018, Friday 9:53 AM

Troy straightened. His back popped with an audible crack, and he made a sound of relief. He was a tall guy, and the work on the furnace required a lot of bending, flexing, and otherwise contorting himself into odd positions.

He pulled out his phone. He wanted to check one more time on the wiring for the thermostat. "Damn it." His phone flashed the battery symbol at him and it went off. It refused to respond. He sighed in frustration.

"What's wrong?" Grant looked up from his laptop. He sat at the kitchen table, and he had been hard at work on something for the last hour.

"Ah, my phone." He grimaced and put it back into his pocket. "I was gonna look up the thermostat wiring, but my phone died. Battery." He made a face. "I think I know how it's done, but I wanted to be sure."

"Oh." Grant stood up and dug in his computer bag. "It looks like my charging cable will work with it." He pulled out a cord and walked over. "Here." He plugged it into the wall and handed the end to Troy.

Troy nodded. "Thanks." He retrieved his phone then he plugged it in. It came back to life and began to go through its startup process. Troy smiled at Grant. "This is almost the last step. So you'll have a furnace soon."

Grant smiled back at him. "Cool. Yeah. That'll be great." He looked over at the fireplace. "I've really started to like having a fire. But it'd be nice to not need one."

Troy nodded in agreement. "Absolutely. That was exactly my thought when I convinc …" Troy stopped, mid-sentence. He was about to reveal far too much about himself, and it happened so easily. "Ah, when I convinced another client to do the same thing."

Grant eyed him, but he seemed to accept what Troy said. Then he gave Troy a goofy smile. "Yeah. It'll be good for those romantic evenings by the fire."

Troy laughed a little. And before he could stop himself, he quipped, "yeah? Do you have a lot of those?"

Grant blushed, and he laughed uncomfortably. "Ah, not really." The black-haired man looked into the kitchen. "I better finish my charting."

Troy nodded, and he watched Grant as he re-entered the kitchen. Grant pulled out the chair and he sat. Troy frowned. "'Charting?' What do you do?"

Grant unlocked the computer. "Ah, I'm a PA, a Physician's Assistant at Barre Health Center." He looked over at Troy. "I'm new to the work, and to Barre. I'm from California." He cocked his head a little. "How about you? How long you been here?"

Troy didn't see a reason to avoid the question. "Five years." He took his phone in hand and turned on the browser. "I moved here from Georgia."

"Georgia? Wow." Grant turned in his seat so he faced Troy. "That's a big change."

Troy could see things were going to get personal really quick, and he wanted to stop that. "Yeah. That was sort of the idea." He looked back at his phone. "Okay, I'm gonna knock this out."

"Ah, all right." There was a little note of disappointment in Grant's voice. Troy could tell the man was curious. He ignored it, and he focused on the instructions for this particular furnace and its thermostat.

He set about with his install. Another twenty minutes, and he had the thermostat hooked up. He checked all of the connections, the gas feed, and the furnace itself. Satisfied that he had checked everything he could prior to turning it on, Troy turned on the gas.

He heard the initial hiss as the gas filled the lines in the furnace. Then he got down on his knees. He put his hand over the ignitor, took one final look over the equipment, and he pressed it.

The furnace flared to life. He stood and looked at the thermostat. It was a digital job, and it said the temp in the house was 63 F. The temp for the furnace was factory set at 50 F. Troy turned it up until it read 68 F. Then he knelt down next to the furnace. There were the soft, clicking sounds of warming metal and a rush of flame as the inside of the furnace began to heat.

He grinned. "You've got a furnace."

Grant looked over from his spot at the table. "What? Really?" He stood up and walked over. He looked at the thermostat. His eyes flicked over the numbers, buttons and then he looked at the furnace itself. He nodded, then he smiled. "Nice job, Troy."

Troy stood up. "Thanks." He felt a pang of regret that he hadn't gotten this project done back when the house belonged to him. He pushed it to the back of his mind.

"Well, let me pay the rest of the cost of the install. I only gave you enough for the furnace cost so far, right?" Grant walked over to his computer.

"Yeah." Troy followed him over and stood beside the chair where Grant sat. Grant pulled up his banking site. "Okay, so, it looks like I owe you another $800 for the furnace install, and then, also the full cost of the fence job." Grant looked up at Troy. "I took a look at the fence. It was great work. Thanks."

Troy made an anguished sound. "Damn it, I never even showed you the finished product." He rubbed his head. "Sorry. I'm not on my game." Troy's eyes widened a little. "Ah, before you pay for the fence, I need to show you a few spots. I messed up the yard a little, and there are a couple of places on the fence where I'm not really happy with my work."

Grant had an odd smile on his face. "The yard is fine. It's going to be a mudpit no matter what. And I'm sure the fence is great." He went back to the computer. He pressed a few buttons. "You want the money in the same account?" Troy had already given Grant his account information so he could pay for the cost of the furnace up front.

"Ah, yeah." Troy sighed. He knew Grant probably never would even notice the few spots on the fence that needled his perfectionist sensibilities. He let it go. "Once that's in my account, I'll be able to have my van towed, and repaired. So it'll be out of the way."

Grant pressed a few keys, then he looked up at Troy. "Done. And the van isn't in the way."

Troy took a relieved breath. "Thanks. But I'm eager to get her fixed." He sighed. After the repair, he'd be back to a few hundred in the bank. He was going to be worse off, financially, than he was a week ago - before the van broke down. There was no way he could afford rent this month.

Grant continued to look at him. "What are your plans after this?" He waved a hand toward the front door. "After you get the van fixed?"

Troy felt a little of his stress return. "Ah, I'll take jobs where I can find them, and I'll save for rent and a deposit."

Grant kept his eyes on Troy. "How long will that take? To get enough for a place?"

Troy couldn't quite keep the worry off of his face. "I don't know." He sighed. "If nothing breaks, I stay healthy, and I get consistent work, then I can get it done in a month."

Grant drummed his fingers on the table. "How likely is that?"

Troy slumped. "Eh, truthfully, not very. The van is old. She's slowly falling apart on me." He bit his lip. "But I don't have much of a choice." He shrugged. "It's all I can do."

Grant leaned back in his chair and gazed up at him. "I planned to set up my second bedroom and rent it out." His brown eyes held Troy's attention. "I was going to charge $500 a month, including utilities." He took a sip of tea, and then put the mug back on the table. "You interested?"

Troy stared at him. 'Say something.' His brain both tried to prompt him to respond and simultaneously made it unable for him to do so. He frowned and finally managed it. "I, ah," Troy licked his lips, "I won't have the money after I get the van fixed and pay my bill at the lumber yard."

Grant shrugged. "Well, I've got some siding I need to have replaced on the south side of the house. We can trade the rest of the month's rent for that work."

Troy knew that exact spot. There was a little area where water had infiltrated and damaged the wood. It would be a simple job - only a couple of days of work. Troy's mind spun. 'Oh shit. I can't. I can't stay here.' He rubbed his face. 'You could sleep in a bed again. A real bed.' He tried to make a choice. "Uh, can I think about it?"

Grant nodded and he went back to his computer. "Sure. Let me know soon. I won't post it to Craigslist if you want it."

"Okay. I will. Thanks for offering it to me." Troy stood a moment more, then he made his feet move. "Excuse me a minute." He walked through the kitchen, out the side door. He closed it behind him, and he stood on the porch.

It had snowed a little overnight. A thin, white blanket of the stuff lay over the world. He exhaled in the cold November air and watched his breath as it billowed out from his lips. "God, what a fucked up thing this is." He whispered. He leaned on the rail, the ice crystals there bit into his palms and began to melt under his hands. He ignored it, and he let his head dip to hang as he stared down at the ground next to the porch.

'Maybe you'll finally get through your honey-dos this way.' There was a smug tone in John's voice.

Troy laughed. Snark from an auditory hallucination was more than he was prepared to deal with. "God, that's exactly what you'd say too." He shook his head, then he took another deep breath. "Okay." He nodded. "So, I can try it for a month. If I can swing it, then great - cheapest rent I'm ever gonna find. If not, I'll be no worse off than I was." He laughed quietly. "And I'll get showers."

He licked his lips. "Fuck. Okay." He nodded once more to himself. "Okay." Troy pushed off of the railing.

He turned and opened the door. Grant still sat at his laptop, and he looked up at Troy when he entered.

"You all right?" Grant smiled, the expression a little bemused. "Something funny outside?"

Troy kicked himself. He had really laughed and Grant had heard him. "Yeah, sorry. I, uh, I almost fell and caught myself. Just relieved is all." That was a weak cover, but Grant seemed to accept it.

"Oh. Well, I'm glad you're okay." Grant looked back at his laptop. "I'm almost done with all of my charts. Did you need to go anywhere? I'm going to head into town soon, and you can ride along if you need to."

"Ah, actually, yeah. I need to go by the auto place on Main St. I'm gonna have them come to get the van, and settle up with them on a price before they start the work."

Grant nodded. "Not a problem." He pressed a few more keys, then he powered off the laptop.

"Uh, and, I think I'm gonna take you up on the offer of the room." Troy took a deep breath. "That is if you're sure."

Troy watched as Grant's face lit up into a genuine, broad smile. "I'm sure. And that's great, Troy." He laughed a little. "Well, that accelerates my timetable to outfit that space." He stood up. "We'll have to go by the furniture store too. You can help me pick out a bed, and some basic furniture for the room."

Troy felt a twinge of stress. "Uh, I don't really have the money to buy furniture."

Grant put his computer into his bag. As he did, Troy caught the faint odor of something. 'Smoke?' There was a definite scent of burned paper or wood as Grant closed up the bag. 'Weird.'

"I don't expect you to buy anything needed for the room, Troy. I'm the one renting it. It's a part of my responsibility to make sure you've got a furnished space." He looked up at Troy. "That was the agreement, right?"

Troy made a face. "Yeah. I guess." He hurriedly added, "but we still need to figure out what we'll need for the siding." He wasn't about to forget the chore he needed to do as payment for the room.

Grant nodded. "I've not forgotten." He walked into the living room. Troy followed and the men put on their coats. "So, auto shop, furniture store, the lumber yard, and then I need to stop at the grocery store." He looked at Troy. "Anywhere else?"

"Nope, that'll do it."

Troy followed Grant out to the car. He got in, and though it was fainter, there was the same smell of smoke in the car. He frowned. 'What IS that?'

___________________________________

16 November 2018, Friday 3:43 PM

Grant put his hands on his hips and stood back to survey the room. Troy had just finished putting the bed together, while Grant's fumbling assistance made the task harder than it would have been had Troy done it on his own. It was a Full, and though Grant tried to buy a Queen, Troy insisted he only needed the Full-sized bed. "It's just me. I don't need more space than a Full." Troy had waved a hand at Grant as they stood by the display at the store. "I've slept on a damn cot for over a year. A Full is fine."

Grant caved and bought the smaller size. Still, it made the room look a lot bigger since the bed took up less space.

They had a busy morning and afternoon in town. Troy got his van towed, and after a few hours, he got a call from the shop. He was relieved to find out they could probably repair the transmission instead of replacing it. That meant the cost went down as well. Instead of $4,000 he was quoted $2,800 for the repair.

Grant thought, maybe that would change things for Troy. That he might decide not to rent the room after all. But Troy seemed committed to their agreement. That made Grant happy, simply to know that Troy would live in the house again. He tried not to think about why that was.

"What do you think?" Troy waved a hand over the room, then he glanced at Grant. Grant looked over the space. There was the bed, it was centered and its headboard was furthest from the door, against the far wall. There was plenty of space on both sides and a little second-hand wooden nightstand was on the left side as he looked at the bed. Grant tried to buy a new nightstand, but Troy insisted they stop by the thrift store on the way home. "Grant, I'm a contractor, man. I'll fix anything we pick up, and it'll look like new. Let's call it part of my rent." A new lamp sat on the nightstand, and it filled the space with a nice subdued light - for those times Troy just wanted to relax and read without the overhead light on.

Grant nodded and he smiled. "It looks pretty good." Troy grinned. Grant watched him as he surveyed the space.

After a moment, Troy's eyes came back to Grant. He scratched his head. "Hey, thanks for this." He seemed to struggle a little to accept what was happening.

"For what?" Grant asked. "You just helped me put my rental space together. I should be thanking you."

Troy nodded, then he grinned. "Go ahead then." He crossed his arms over his chest and smirked at Grant.

Grant laughed. 'Yeah, this is gonna be interesting.'

___________________________________

16 November 2018, Friday 9:12 PM

Grant lay on his belly. He was on his bed, and he looked over his shoulder to ensure his bedroom door was closed.

It was. He settled and got comfortable, then he took the journal out of his bag. Grant sighed as he looked at it. 'You should destroy it. You know that.' He ran his fingers along the spine and felt the damaged leather under his fingertips.

Like a seductive whisper, his next thought purred through his mind. 'You could use it. To help him. You already keep the private information of your patients to yourself. You can do this. You can help him.'

Grant knew it wasn't the same thing. Patients in the medical practice willingly put their privacy into his hands. And even then, only what was needed for their care was known to Grant. The things in the journal were beyond what a person would share with a medical provider.

Yet, his mind still tried to justify reading it. 'Do you think he would be better off if he never met you? If you never found the journal?'

Grant bit his lip. His will wavered.

He opened the journal.

24 August 2013, Saturday 2:15 PM

I met some interesting folks today.

A guy named Brian Hicks sent a message through my Craigslist ad. He wanted a quote for a fence replacement. I went out to his place, and I met up with him and his wife, Natalie.

They're nice. And I instantly hit it off with both of them. That's so weird for me! Usually, John is the social one, and he is the one with the circle of friends. I'm sort of the guy who tags along on his coat-tails in the social sphere.

I must have been really comfortable because I let it slip that I was here with my partner. Neither of them batted an eye. And after I looked at their fence, and we agreed on a price, they invited us over for a party they scheduled next week.

I have to admit, I'm excited. This is our first social thing here, and it is happening because of me! Hah! Take that, mister social butterfly!

John is gonna be so proud of me. He's out grocery shopping right now. I can't wait to tell him.

Oh, he just pulled in. Later, journal!

~ T

Grant gazed thoughtfully at the entry. "Brian and Natalie Hicks." He closed the book, then he lay on his back. He stared up at the ceiling, then he grabbed his phone from the nightstand.

"Brian Hicks Barre VT" went into his search engine. A few seconds later a Whitepage entry popped up for that name. The name had a local area code attached to it. Grant furrowed his brow. Something tickled the back of his memory. "Ah!" He opened Troy's old business website. And he scrolled down the customer feedback entries. He stopped at the last one.

'Troy, if you're reading this, call us, bro. We're worried about you.' - Brian H

Grant stared at the review, then he let his hand with the phone fall to the bed beside him. 'They became friends. That review was only a couple of months ago, and Troy did the work for them years before that. When John died, Troy dropped off the radar.'

Grant's tongue appeared at the corner of his mouth as he thought. 'Why would he do that? Why wouldn't he reach out?' Then he remembered how carefully he had to approach anything he did for Troy. How much harder would it be for a proud guy like Troy to show up, filthy, broken, and poor at the door of people he knew and respected?

It was so hard for Grant to imagine it. He had so little concept of what it was that Troy had endured, and what sort of coping mechanisms it took for him to get through the last sixteen months of his life.

He heard the bedroom door next to his own open and then close again. There was the sound of movement in the space, and Grant listened. Soon it was quiet, and he assumed Troy had climbed into bed. That man could fall to sleep at the drop of a hat, so he was sure it wouldn't be long before he was out.

He went back to his phone. Grant ran his tongue over his teeth and he debated with himself.

He sat up. Grant pulled out his laptop and started it up. He pulled up Facebook and checked for Brian's name. Locally, there was only one Brian Hicks. Grant clicked on his profile, and he looked at all of the public pictures and posts on the man's page.

There weren't many. But, one caught his eye. It was dated a couple of months back, the same date as the review. "If anybody out there knows where Troy Beckford is, contact me. He might have moved, but he used to live in Barre. He ran the 'Contractorman' business. His friends are worried about him. Here's a picture. He's the guy on the right. Thanks for your help." Attached was a picture of Troy. His arm around a short, skinny African American man. They stood on a snowy hill, and a ski lift was behind them. Both were dressed in warm coats, ski pants, and gloves and they had huge smiles.

Grant blew out a breath. "Man, this guy was really trying."

He looked at the message option on Brian's Facebook profile. He clicked on it, and the screen came up. His cursor blinked.

Grant began to type. 'Hi. I wanted to let you know that Troy is okay. He also has no idea I'm writing to you, and I'd prefer it stay that way. I only found out you are his friend through a lot of luck. Anyway, I thought you'd want to know he's doing all right. If there's a way you can reach out to him that doesn't involve me, then that'd be great. FYI - he's at his old address again.'

He moved the mouse cursor over the "send" button. 'If Troy finds out you did this, he will probably be upset.'

He hesitated. 'Even if he gets mad at you, it'll be good for him to be around his friends again. If you really care about his well-being, then you'll do this. If you're not interested in helping him, then throw away that damn journal.'

Grant narrowed his eyes, and he clicked the button.


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

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