Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 5: A Wall Falls

Chapter 5: A Wall Falls

14 November 2018, Wednesday 6:58 AM

Grant stepped outside. The main garage door was open, and the gray, muted light of the overcast sky flooded into the space. Troy was dressed warmly in the same clothes he wore yesterday - flannel, thick Docker work pants, and his boots. He wore gloves, and a knit cap as well. Grant caught Troy as he examined the table saw in the center of the space.

Troy looked up at Grant. "Hey, good morning."

Grant smiled at him. "Good morning."

Troy looked back at the saw. He motioned at the equipment. "Does this work?"

Grant made a face. "I have no idea. I've never used it, and honestly, I probably never will. I like my fingers!" Grant waved a hand over the garage. "Most of the stuff in here was in the house when I bought it. The place was a repo." Grant knew this wasn't news to Troy. But at this point, he didn't know how to come clean about the journal. So he played this little game. 'I'll just destroy it. He never has to know I read it. Yeah. I'll get rid of it soon,' Grant promised himself.

Troy looked back at him, his face stony. "Oh. I bet you got a great deal. Good for you." Maybe it was because Grant knew the story, but he felt the resentment in Troy's words. Before Grant could respond the thin man seemed to shake off his ire. "Well, I was gonna ask if I could use it. I have a circular saw, but this would make things go a LOT faster."

Grant was eager to help in any way. "Yeah, absolutely." He nodded. "Use whatever you want in here. Seriously. Just consider it yours." Grant said the words, and he immediately wanted to bite off his own tongue.

Troy's face didn't change at all. It was almost as if he were numb. "Okay. Sounds good. Thanks."

Grant left the garage before he could say anything else, and do more damage. He got into the car. He pulled onto the road, and he shook his head at himself. "Wow. Really, Grant? Really?" He blew out an irritated, disappointed breath.

He was usually better with people. Typically, they were so easy for him. He could read them, predict them, he knew what to say to put people at ease. But there was something about Troy. Grant frowned as he thought about his missteps. "What the hell is wrong with me?" His brain seemed to misfire, and in his hurry to be helpful, his mouth just blurted out things like what he said in the garage.

Grant looked over at his bag on the passenger seat. There was more than his computer in there. Troy's journal was safely tucked away as well. Grant realized that he needed to destroy it. There were what amounted to years of Troy's life in that little book. To keep reading would be even more of an invasion of the man's privacy. Grant knew the destruction of the book was what Troy wanted. And there were these huge shred bins at the clinic. 'I'll just toss it in, and it'll be done,' he thought to himself as he drove.

Grant arrived at work. He sighed, and he got out of the car. Their unseasonable cold spell broke, and the ground was wet and slushy today. Though it was still chilly, it wasn't below freezing anymore, and it didn't snow last night.

Grant made a face as he walked through the stuff. He was distracted by his thoughts of Troy and the journal, and he misjudged a step. His brown, leather shoe completely disappeared in a slush-covered puddle in the parking lot of the clinic. He yanked it out of the hole, and he stood there on his foot as the one in the air dripped ice and muddy water.

"Oh GREAT." Grant gave an exasperated sigh. He shook the wet foot, but that didn't help. He felt the insidious sensation of the cold wetness as it crept through his sock. He made a noise and walked the rest of the way to the building. He let himself in, and he shut the door with an irritated kick.

Grant squelched down the hall, and he sat at his computer with a grumble.

14 November 2018, Wednesday 8:44 AM

Troy grimaced. It had been a couple of days, and his body was ready, regardless of if he was or not.

"Fuck." He held his hand over his stomach. Usually Troy only had a bowel movement every three days or so. When a guy doesn't eat much, the body slows down. But all that brown rice last night was an amount of fiber his body wasn't used to. And now there was a sudden sense of urgency.

Troy was in the side yard when it hit him. He grabbed the key under the welcome mat, and he entered the house.

"Ah, damn it." He grimaced and took little steps as he walked down the hall. He got to the bathroom, and he struggled with his tool belt.

He was going to go. Sitting on the pot or not, it was going to happen. "Come on!" He finally got the tool belt undone, and it crashed to the floor of the bathroom. Troy flung his pants down, and he threw himself at the toilet.

He was barely in time. He sat on the commode, and he leaned his head back, eyes closed, mouth slightly open as his body evacuated everything in his bowels.

He sat, legs extended, and breathed in relief.

Finally done, Troy blew out a breath. "Whew! Wow. That was close." He looked around, almost dazed. After a minute, he stood and began to clean himself up.

He made a face as he did. His rear was sore. The skin felt angry and irritated. Many nights, Troy went to bed with wet clothes. And he was sure the lack of proper showers had a significant impact on his hygiene and health too.

He saw a hand mirror on the vanity. He stood with his pants down around his ankles and debated looking at the damage. "No. I don't wanna know." He pulled his pants back up.

Troy had long ago given up on underwear. They never lasted long, and he couldn't afford to keep replacing them. So he always freeballed it.

He put his tool belt back on, straightened, and he washed his hands. He frowned down at his fingers. There was a surprising amount of filth that streamed off of his hands into the sink. The warm water in the house and the soap also meant he got a lot cleaner than he did in the van.

There was a visible line on his wrists at the limit of his washing. He pursed his lips.

'Don't think about it.' Troy reached for a towel, but he was afraid of getting one dirty. Instead, he pulled a few loops of toilet paper, and he dabbed his hands dry. Then he flushed the wad of moist, grayish paper down the toilet.

He felt much better. His ass crack hurt, but that was something he was used to. He checked himself in the mirror over the vanity. His brown hair was under his knit cap, and his green eyes were bright. He frowned a little. 'Fuck, my face. I look like one of those starving kids in another country.' He rubbed his cheek, and he could feel the concave surface of the skin there.

Though today he felt great. He ate every bite of food in that Tupperware bowl last night. He had energy, and along with his regular oatmeal this morning, he felt like he had enough fuel in his tank.

'You had better not get used to that.'

Troy sighed. Then he left the bathroom. He walked past the kitchen table, and he forced his eyes to stay up, and off of the furniture. His mind still conjured up the memory of he and John - pants down to their ankles, rolling around on the floor, with pieces of a broken chair under them.

He shook his head and tried to banish it. "Get to work." He growled at himself.

He exited the house, and he looked at his progress. All of the posts were already upright. And most of them had wet concrete slowly curing as well. He had half a dozen more to fill with concrete, then that step in the process would be finished.

He went back to the wheelbarrow. It had a slurry of concrete in it that he had worked to mix. Before he was interrupted by the demands of his body, he combined the mess with a hoe. He went back to it. He had a small amount in the wheelbarrow. The six posts that remained wouldn't take much.

He swallowed. The smoothness of the hoe handle in his hands sparked yet another flash of memory. "No. No. Just get the job done." He knew his John used this very tool. John was an avid gardener, and he struggled with the cooler environment of Vermont in the garden. He finally found a set of vegetables he liked to both eat and grow that would thrive in the New England climate. And once he did, there was no stopping him.

Troy dropped the hoe, and it clanged against the side of the wheelbarrow. He rubbed his face with both hands.

'Baby, get back to work.' The dulcet sound of John's voice made him jump.

Troy laughed a little. He blew out a breath. "I'm going crazy." He reached down and gripped the handle again. "But, if it meant I would never hear you again then I don't want to be sane."

Though he didn't hear anything when he said the words, he could almost feel John's amusement.

"Don't you laugh at me."

Troy grinned at himself. He knew the auditory hallucinations were precisely that, and entirely in his head. He realized that he shouldn't feed into them. But he also knew when he was at the worst points of his life, or at moments that were particularly difficult, the sound of John's voice would soothe his emotions.

Twice now, that voice saved his life. When he was as low as a man could get, and when he was completely ready to surrender, John refused to give up on him. He wouldn't let Troy give up on himself.

Troy finished mixing his concrete, and he wheeled the load over to the first post he had yet to reinforce with the material. He looked down, estimated how much he'd need for this particular hole, and he scooped up some with the hoe. With a small smile, Troy got back to work.

He never could tell that man no.


14 November 2018, Wednesday 12:04 PM

Grant finished with his morning appointments. He just completed his charting for the patients he had seen so far. He felt good about that. He was ready for those he'd see in the afternoon, and he had read through their chief complaints.

He already let Rhett go to lunch after he roomed their last morning patient. "Go ahead. Thanks for your help. I'll see you this afternoon, Rhett." The man had to run to the bank, so he appreciated the extra few minutes of time he'd get.

Grant returned from the break room his bowl of leftover spaghetti in hand, and he went to his desk.

Grant sat, and he began to eat his food. He looked over his shoulder as he slurped his noodles. Nobody else was in the office, and Rhett would be gone for another ½ hour, at least.

He chewed, and he pulled the journal out of his bag. 'You need to shred this thing.' He held the book in his hand, and he looked thoughtfully at it as he ate his food.

"One more. One more entry. Then I'm done." He opened the journal back near the beginning - back to the happy times for John and Troy.

22 August 2013, Thursday 7:40 PM

Damn him! That man knows me way too well.

John came home with a new car. Yep. That's right. NEW! He's now the proud owner of a Scion. The little silver car is cute; I'll give him that.

But damn it, I was HOT when he first got home. He didn't even talk to me about it. I mean, I knew he was looking, but this was a decision we needed to make together.

Well, while he was trying to talk to me, I stomped off to the garage.

I was in there for maybe twenty minutes, just stewing in my own juice. Then I smelled it.

The tempter was making breakfast.

That's right. Eggs. Sourdough toast. Bacon.

That's just not fair. He knows I love breakfast for dinner. That'd be like me waving a chocolate bar at him. It's beyond the pale - the nuclear option.

Ugh. I folded. I followed my nose out of the garage, and into the kitchen. He stood at the frying pan, wearing his little apron.

JUST his apron. And I could see he was excited behind that material.

He looked over at me. And wouldn't you know it, the beautiful bastard grinned.

He knew exactly what he was doing.

After a delicious dinner, he let me have my way with him on the couch.

What man can stay mad after that?

The fucker.

~ T

Grant smirked. "Nice." Then he tapped his finger on the page. "Huh. You like breakfast." He heard a sound in the hallway as someone walked toward the room. He quickly slipped the journal back into the bag.

Dr. Petrucci entered. And the two men began to discuss Grant's morning appointments, and they went over some of Grant's treatment plans for the trickier ones.

As they talked, Grant's couldn't quite help where his mind took him.

'Even I can make toast.'


14 November 2018, Wednesday 6:17 PM

Troy frowned. He sat in the driver's seat of the van, and he watched the street. Grant still wasn't home.

He started to get a little worried. "Where is he? He didn't say he'd be late." Troy thought back to the morning. The man was awkward and uncomfortable during their exchange before he left for work. Troy could tell. He was learning to read Grant better, and he was squirming while they talked in the garage.

Headlights turned down the street, and Troy looked carefully in his side mirror. "Ah, there he is." He felt something like relief. He barely knew the guy, but the last time Troy waited for someone to come home, it didn't end well.

Troy got out as the Subaru pulled into the driveway. He walked across the street, and Grant got out of the car. He had a few bags in his hands, and he struggled to snag his shoulder bag on the passenger seat.

"Here, I've got it." Troy reached into the car and grabbed the strap of the bag.

"Oh, thanks." Grant stood and let Troy loop the strap over his shoulder. He had his keys locked in his hand along with a plastic grocery bag.

Troy felt mildly entertained. "Would you like help with the door?"

Grant laughed. "Yeah. Please."

Troy took the keys from Grant's otherwise busy hand, and he found the one to the front door. He unlocked the door and pushed it open. He made a motion, ushering Grant inside.

Grant grinned, and he walked past. "Let me put stuff away, and then we can take a look at the fence," he said as he walked down the hall.

Troy nodded. "I'll be around back." He called into the open doorway. There was a sound of acknowledgment from the kitchen, and the rattle of plastic bags as Grant sat them on the counter.

Troy walked around. This time he had to walk between a couple of posts which were destined to hold one of the new gates. He had already assembled those gates in the garage. He couldn't do any banging or work on the posts until the concrete set, so he focused on other tasks that needed doing.

He thought about building the panels for the fence, then putting them up after the concrete set. But to do that he'd need help moving the panels. And he didn't want Grant to have to lift a finger. He was hired for the work, and he would do all of it. So he had to settle for building the two gates today after he put in the posts.

It wasn't long before Grant stepped out of the side door. He looked at the posts, spaced eight feet apart. Troy knew Grant wasn't a builder. And he knew that he probably could have gotten away with cheaper lumber. But Troy couldn't live with substandard work. He had too much pride in what he did for that.

Grant nodded in approval, and he walked over to a post. "So, these are the supports? For the rest of the fence?" He reached to touch it.

"Don't touch. Not yet." Troy wasn't sure how set the concrete was. And every post was perfectly straight. "The concrete is still wet."

"Ah, okay." Grant stepped into the line of the posts, and he closed one eye. His tongue came out a little as he lined up the posts in his vision.

'He's such a dork.' Troy felt a little moment of amusement. And as he looked at Grant, he had the tiniest twinge of something he hadn't felt in a long time.

He felt fondness.

Grant turned his goofy smile on Troy. The man's brown eyes caught the fading light of the sky, and his dark hair was a little messed up after a full day of work. "Really straight." He walked over. "Nice work."

Troy let himself smile. "Thanks." He cleared his throat, and he nodded at the fence. "I'll have it framed up tomorrow, and completely built out. It'll be done."

"Oh." Grant seemed surprised. Troy expected him to be happy, but that wasn't what he saw.

'He's, what? He's disappointed?' Troy had a little flash of concern. "Is something wrong? Do you not like what I've done?" He wet his lips, "If something's not right, I can …"

"No. No, nothing's wrong." Grant smiled at Troy. "I ah, I just didn't expect you to finish so fast." He looked at the fence again. "I thought this would take a little longer, that's all."

"No, a fence is pretty easy stuff."

Grant snorted. "Maybe for you. You saw what happened when I tried my hand at it."

Troy remembered the plumber's tape, and the mess Grant made with it. He laughed. "Yeah. You may want to leave the building to me."

Grant smirked, then nodded. "Yeah. I think that's probably a good plan." He exhaled, his breath swirled between them, and he looked at Troy. There was a question in his eyes. "I've got some more work that needs doing. There's a spot for a furnace in the house, but no furnace. It looks like someone started the project, but stopped for some reason." Grant shrugged. "If you're interested in finishing someone else's work, then I'd like to hire you to do it."

Troy knew precisely what the situation was for the furnace. He started that install himself. He and John paid for the materials as they could afford them. Between paying jobs, Troy installed the infrastructure needed, and they were on track to have the furnace installed before winter hit in 2017. But then, the accident happened in August, and Troy's whole world crumbled.

He had worked hard to avoid the house, as much as he could. Grant was nice, but Troy wasn't sure he could handle working inside, with all those memories. "Well, furnaces are expensive. They're between $700 and $1,500." He licked his lips and made a play to avoid the work. "I'd have to charge more than my 33%." He shook his head. "Those installs take a while, and I'd have to charge going rates. Maybe even a little more."

Grant nodded. "Well, since all of the ducting looks like it's done, then it'd just be the furnace for the material cost, right?"

Troy slowly nodded. "Yeah. That's right."

Grant shrugged. "Do you think you can get it done if I paid $3,000?"

Troy rubbed his face. 'Fuck. That could get the van fixed. With the money I've got in the bank, I could get the transmission replaced. I wouldn't have to have her towed to a repair shop to sit. I could get her FIXED.' Troy planned to have the van towed to a repair shop in town after his job with the fence was done. From there he was going to try and bargain his services for the cost of the repair. It was a gamble, but he didn't know of anything else to do.

It was also too much to ask for the job. Troy felt the push and pull in his mind. 'I can't charge him that much. I can't cheat the guy.' He felt a little deflated. He needed that money, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. "Grant, that's too much money. Don't let anybody charge that much for the work." He kept the disappointment out of his voice, but only barely. He sighed. "If we bought a middle of the road furnace, one for about $1,200, then I can do it for $2,000. But so could just about anybody else."

Grant looked at Troy. And after a moment he smiled. "Thanks, Troy. I really appreciate your honesty." He shrugged. "It makes me want you to do the work even more." Grant looked at the house. "I've got stuff for dinner, for both of us. I'd like us to sit down and talk about the next job if that's alright with you."

Troy bit his lip. "Ah, I've already got something made that I need to eat." He did have a jar of oats, mixed with almond butter for flavor and calories waiting for him in his fridge. So it wasn't a lie. He surrendered to the idea that he would have to take the job. "But I can come in after you're done. I'll take a look, and we can discuss it."

Grant nodded. "Okay." He stepped up onto his porch, and he opened the door. "If you change your mind, there will be plenty for both of us." He smiled at Troy. "I know it's weird, but sometimes I like to make breakfast for dinner."

He walked inside and shut the door.

Troy stared at the closed door. His face shifted into a wistful expression.



14 November 2018, Wednesday 6:31 PM

Even Grant could fry bacon. He had eight strips of the stuff in the cast-iron pan, and he stirred them around with a fork.

He also had six eggs, cracked and scrambled in a bowl. While the bacon fried, he poured a little cream into the eggs and mixed them up a bit. He rechecked his laptop where it sat open on the table. "Okay. So, the cream is in. Salt and pepper are in. Is that it? It's really that easy?" He frowned at the recipe for scrambled eggs. It seemed like there should be more to it. There wasn't. He shrugged, and he poured the bowl of eggs into his non-stick pan.

Grant slowly stirred the eggs. They began to set up, and he shifted his attention back to the bacon. It was ready to come off. He stabbed each piece with a fork and put them to drain on a plate with a paper towel.

He took a step over to his toaster. He hit the plunger, and four pieces of sourdough bread began to crisp up in the appliance.

The eggs needed attention. He stirred them again. Grant liked his eggs a little wet. Though it made complete sense when he read the directions for the recipe it was a minor epiphany that cooking time made the difference there.

Grant could follow directions. He turned off the heat, just before he thought he should based on the state of the eggs. 'They'll keep cooking. Even off of the heat.' He covered them with a metal lid, and he glanced at the toaster. It popped, and he smiled at his timing.

He juggled the hot bread, and he put the slices onto a plate.

Grant barely heard a quiet knock as knuckles rapped on his side door.

He grinned. Then he made sure to tone the expression down. He opened the door.

Troy stood there. He had a sheepish expression and smiled in a self-deprecating way. "Hey, if the invite for dinner is still open, I'd like to take you up on it."

Grant nodded. "Yeah. I made enough for us both, just in case."

"Oh, cool. Okay. Thanks, Grant." The thin man seemed genuinely appreciative, and he stepped inside.

"No problem." Grant motioned at the table. "Go ahead and have a seat. I'll be done soon."

Troy pulled out a chair. For a split second, Grant saw a flicker of emotion on Troy's face as he looked down at the table. Then, just as quickly, it was gone, and Troy sat.

Grant plated eggs for them both, and each plate got four strips of bacon. Last was the toast. Grant spread butter on the still-warm bread. Then some of the homemade jam went on as well.

Grant grabbed the plates of food and some silverware. "I hope you like blackberry jam."

Troy flinched. "Yeah." Grant slid the plates onto the table. "It's my favorite." Troy stared down at the food.

Grant sat across from him. "Good." He scooped up some eggs on his fork. "You need something to drink?" Grant pointed at the fridge. "I've got juice or milk."

"No, it's fine. Thanks." Troy picked up his fork and the two men dug into their food.

Grant enjoyed breakfast for dinner. 'I'm glad Troy's getting a good, hot meal.' He stole little glances at Troy as the man methodically ate his food. When Troy took a bite of the toast, Grant saw the man's jaw slow, and then it stopped altogether. He knew Troy recognized that jam - the very same jam his old lover, John had made for him.

'Shit. I forgot about that. Shit.' Grant surreptitiously watched Troy.

Troy blinked, then he looked up at Grant. "Good jam." His voice was hushed and low. "Where did you get it?"

"Ah, I found a box of it in the garage. It was dated for last year. I figured it'd be a crime for it to go to waste. Someone obviously worked hard on it."

Troy swallowed, and his Adam's Apple bobbed. He nodded. "Yeah. It would be a shame for it not to get used."

Grant felt so awful. He tried to do something to make it better. "If you wanted one, then just take it."

Troy bit his lip. He stared at Grant. Grant saw Troy's face as he struggled to control all of the emotion that boiled under the surface. He finally spoke. "That'd be great. Thanks." He looked back down at his plate, and he resumed eating his food.

They didn't speak for the rest of the meal, and they both ate everything on their plates.

Grant finished, and he stood. "All done?"

Troy was very quiet, and he started when Grant spoke as if he had been daydreaming. "Hmm?" He frowned at himself. "Yeah." He handed the plate to Grant. "Yeah, thanks for the food. It was good."

Grant took the plate. "You're welcome. Glad you liked it." He walked over to the sink and put the dishes in it.

Troy sat at the table, and Grant washed dishes, his back to the room. They both let the silence draw out. Grant looked over his shoulder once at Troy. The thin man stared down at the table. His thumb drew little circles on the surface as he sat.

Grant went back to his task. He soon finished up and turned. "Ready to take a look at the spot for the furnace?"

Troy took a breath, and he stood. "Yeah. Let's get this planned out."

Grant took him to the utility closet, and he opened the door. Troy looked over the fittings, the space, and the ductwork that led from the area. "This will work fine." He seemed to think about something. "Looks like a Rheem or a Carrier would work in here." He glanced at Grant. "They're brands of furnaces, and they're a little higher than the middle of the road in terms of price and quality."

"Oh. Okay." Grant waved a hand. "Yeah, whatever you think is fine." The two guys were pretty close since both had their heads in the little room. And Grant couldn't help but catch the stale, old smell of sweat and body odor from Troy. He kept any reaction off of his face, and he stepped back as soon as he could without alerting Troy. 'Poor guy. God, I need to help this dude.'

"Okay. So, we agree on $2,000 total?" Troy didn't seem to notice Grant's realization.

"Yeah. That sounds fine."

Troy nodded, and a little smile flickered on his face. "Okay. Cool." He scratched his head and looked into the closet space. "Luckily the hardware store delivers if you buy more than $500 worth of stuff. I'll have them bring it over tomorrow."

"Okay," Grant said. "Don't forget to grab a jar of jam in the garage. They're all still in the box I found them in, other than the one in the fridge." Grant didn't quite know how to bring up the other thing he wanted to say, and he struggled with how to frame it.

"All right. Thanks." Troy seemed antsy. "Well, I'm gonna head out. Thanks for dinner." He turned to walk to the front door.

As the man began to walk away, Grant decided to just go for it. "Hey, Troy." Troy turned to look at him. Grant smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring way. "Hey, so if you like you can use my shower." Grant shrugged. "You're working hard. And I know a shower feels nice after a day of work."

Troy stared at him, and his jaw shifted. It looked to Grant as if he fought with his response. Finally, Troy sighed. "Okay. Yeah." Troy nodded. "That'd be nice." He hurriedly added, "I'd take them at night, so I won't be in your way when you're getting ready for your job."

Grant nodded. "That works great. There are towels upstairs in the hall closet next to the bathroom." Grant cocked his head. "Oh. And since your van is busted, you probably can't get to the laundromat, right?"

Grant watched Troy. The man bit his lip, and his shoulders slumped. Troy confessed, "yeah, it's a struggle to get there."

"Well, while you're working for me, use my washer and dryer in the garage." Grant waved a hand. "Call it a perk of the job."

While Grant looked at him, Troy's eyes held so many things at once. There was gratefulness, shame, wonder, and confusion. But Troy swallowed, and he gave a short nod. "Okay."

"All right." Grant smiled. "I'm gonna go get some stuff ready for you upstairs. Come on up for your shower when you're ready."

Troy took a deep breath. "I will." He cringed a little. "I, ah, I don't know what to say."

Grant looked him in the eye. "There's nothing you gotta say, Troy." He patted Troy's shoulder, and then he wrinkled his nose. "Okay, I'm going to get you a pair of sweats and a shirt to change into after you're done with the shower. We're doing your laundry tonight. All of it." Grant looked toward the front door, beyond which, he knew the van sat across the street. "You should go get your sheets and bedding too."

Troy seemed to surrender. Grant could tell that the man had carried so much, for so long. He also had incredible pride. And it took a lot for Troy to allow Grant to help him. But he was doing it.

Troy nodded again. "Okay." He pulled in on himself. "Ah, some of my stuff is pretty bad. Not sure you want some of it in your washer."

"If they're that bad then we'll toss them." Grant held up a hand as he saw Troy begin to object. "Sheets are pretty cheap, Troy." He reached up and gripped Troy's shoulders. The man hung his head, and Grant could feel the mixture of shame and thankfulness as it rolled off of him. "These are easy fixes. And I want to do it." He looked up into Troy's eyes. "Okay?"

Troy blinked slowly. All the little muscles in his face twitched and moved. He gradually broke as Grant watched, and Troy frowned with emotion. The tears began.

Despite Troy's unpleasant state, Grant pulled him in, and he embraced the lonely, weary man.

Troy lay his face against Grant's neck. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Tears rolled from his eyes down his nose.

Grant grimly held him. "Don't be sorry. It's okay. It's going to be okay."

And for the first time, in a very long while, Troy began to believe that might be true.

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

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