Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 25: Clarity from Crisis

Chapter 25: Clarity from Crisis

25 February 2019, Monday 12:49 PM

Troy spent nine days working on the project in California. Every night, Grant would call him. He loved hearing Troy's voice. But it was torture to the dark-haired man to be apart from his tall lover.

Even Rhett noticed. "You all right?" Thursday of last week, Rhett looked over at Grant as they left the exam room and headed to their office. "You seem a little distracted."

"Ah, Troy's still gone." Grant sat at his desk with a sigh. "I guess I'm just missing him."

Rhett grinned at him. "Awww. That's super sweet." Then his smile fell a little. "It must be nice to have someone to miss."

Grant recalled that conversation as he drove to the airport to pick up Troy. Troy's plane should have landed already.

He craned his neck as he drove slowly past the cars parked with loading and unloading passengers. Grant caught sight of his tall boyfriend as he milled among the passengers in the loading zone.  Troy looked at his phone. It seemed as if he were texting, and sure enough, Grant's phone vibrated in his pocket. The black-haired man pulled up to the curb, and Troy grinned at him.

Troy opened the back of the Subaru and tossed in his luggage. He got in, and immediately leaned over and gave Grant a kiss. Then he sat back and looked at him. "Man, it's so good to see you."

Grant smiled and put the car back into gear. "Same to you." He pulled onto the loop to exit the airport. "We've got the rest of the day to catch up. I took off the afternoon."

Troy grinned, broad and unashamedly lustful. "Good." He put his hand on Grant's leg, all the way up against Grant's crotch. Grant laughed as Troy teased him with small movements of his little finger as he rubbed back and forth.

Troy seemed very pleased to feel Grant's cock grow in his pants, and then his fingertips traced their way up his shaft and back down to his balls. Grant stuck his tongue out at the corner of his mouth, and he tried to concentrate on driving. "Ah, you'd better quit that. You're a dangerous distraction."

Troy smirked, but he did stop. "Fine. I guess I can wait until we get home."

They quickly made the drive to the house. The men got out, and Grant helped with Troy's bags.

Troy unlocked the door, and both of them put down the luggage. The door shut, and Grant found himself pressed against the wall by the tall, wiry body of his lover. Troy kissed him, and he ground his groin into Grant's.

They made out there in the hall. Passion and need ramped up, and Grant leaned his head back against the wood of the wall as Troy kissed, and nibbled gently at his neck.

Grant already knew what he wanted. He made the conscious decision to save up for Troy, and he hadn't gotten off in days. He grabbed Troy's hand. "Come on."

Grant led him upstairs. They pulled off their clothes, and they kissed. They were soon naked and pressed against one another by the bed. It was comfortable and warm in the room. The only light was from the window - a muted illumination from the gray, overhead sky softly lit the space.

Grant forced himself to pull away from Troy's kiss. He smiled as Troy nuzzled his neck, and the lanky man continued to breathe heavily, and grind his hard cock into Grant's groin. Grant finally disentangled himself, and he lay down on the bed, on his belly. He looked back at Troy with a grin.

Troy made a growling noise as he looked down at Grant. He took the convenient bottle of lubricant that sat on the nightstand, and he used a good amount on his hard member.

Grant lay his head down on the pillow, and Troy climbed behind him. Then he felt the bristles of Troy's face against his rear. He took a sharp breath as Troy's eager tongue found his opening. Troy's hand slid under Grant's body, and he wrapped his fingers around Grant's cock, as his tongue worked Grant's rear.

Grant moaned and writhed as Troy aggressively went at him. Both of them had built up a tremendous need, and even though Grant was the one receiving he wasn't passive at all. He moved, vocalized his pleasure, and he pumped his hips back and forth against Troy's tongue.

But it was getting to be too much. Troy's warm, slick hand around his dick, and his tongue inside Grant pushed the dark-haired man toward orgasm, and he panted. "Stop. God, I'm gonna get off."

Troy did, and he smiled as he pulled his face back. He let go of Grant's cock, and then he lay on top of Grant. A few adjustments of his hips and his erection lined up with Grant.

After Troy's work with his tongue, Grant was ready for him. The lanky man slowly pushed himself into Grant, and he kissed the back of Grant's neck. Troy bottomed out, held still, and breathed heavily. For his part, Grant simply enjoyed the sensation of Troy's cock inside him. It had been over a week, and his body craved this connection - both emotional and physical.

Grant groaned, a deep and resonating sound in his chest. Troy started moving his hips. It was slow, and he pushed himself until his pelvis was tightly pressed against Grant, then he pulled back and repeated.

The sensations Grant felt were terrific. The man he loved was inside him, and Troy's breath was warm on Grant's skin. "I love you, Grant," Troy whispered. He kissed the nape of Grant's neck. "I really love you."

"I know." Grant smiled. "I love you too, Troy."

Grant was a little surprised when Troy shifted his weight, and he pulled them both up onto their sides. He never broke their connection, but now Troy could reach Grant's dick. Troy's hand found Grant's oozing cock, and he began to stroke Grant as his hips continued their slow rhythm.

Grant gripped Troy's hip, and he pushed back in time to Troy's thrusts. His lanky lover seemed to want to make things last, and his tempo never increased. But now there were breathy noises behind Grant.

"I'm close," Troy whispered, and his hand increased in speed on Grant's erection.

Grant knew he had a fairly unique sign as it concerned orgasm. And it was upon him. He took in a breath, and he held it. For some reason, it greatly intensified the experience of orgasm for him. And deep inside, he felt it start.

Almost simultaneously, both Grant and Troy grunted. Grant felt the wild sensation of a forceful spurt of come from Troy as he fired while deep inside Grant. For his part, the dark-haired man shot up his own front. The smell of semen hit his nose, and he breathed as they both rode out their moment - together, entwined, and connected.

Troy's body relaxed, and he breathed quietly behind Grant. Neither of the men moved. They both lay there, and they enjoyed the flood of hormones that always accompanies an orgasm with a trusted and loved partner.

Grant smiled. "I could go to sleep like this."

Troy kissed the back of his neck, and he patted Grant's hip. "You can if you want. Though, we should probably hit the bathroom. I'm pretty sure I deposited a quart of stuff up your rear."

"Oh, I felt it!" Grant grinned, and he looked over his shoulder. He sighed. "Okay, fine. Let's get in there before those Troy swimmers try and make me pregnant."

Troy laughed, and the two stood up. Before Grant would let him walk away, he pulled Troy in. They stood together, chest to chest, their arms around one another.

After a time, Grant sighed. "I really missed you." He inhaled Troy's unique scent, and he was happy to only be with him.

"Same here." Troy kissed him once more, and he rubbed Grant's back as they embraced. He patted Grant's firm rear and he made a face as his front smeared the semen on Grant's chest. "Okay, let's clean up before your juices run off onto the floor."

Grant laughed. And with a smile, he led the lanky man into the bathroom.

26 February 2019, Tuesday 5:11 PM

The men spent all of Monday afternoon and evening together. It was a languid, sensual time as they reconnected over their short time apart. And it cemented what Troy already knew.

'I need him.' He thought as they lay down to sleep. He was still on California time, so he lay awake while Grant dropped off. But he was happy to be with his lover in the still and calm moments before his own body decided he should rest. 'It has stopped being a want. It's a need now.' Troy listened to Grant breathe, and he let the realization of that knowledge settle in his mind.

The next day, Grant had to go to work. Troy didn't have a job until early afternoon, so he got to sleep in a bit.

Troy got up at nine, and then he started his day by puttering around the house. It was cold and snowing outside. So he put a batch of beef stew on for dinner. It was a great way to wake up.

He then spent the day working on a job repairing a section of a fence that had fallen down. The little old lady was incredibly thankful, as she had a dog, and she really needed the enclosed yard when he had to go out.

Troy got home, cold, tired, but happy with the job. He only charged the woman a tiny amount over his cost. He could tell she lived on a fixed income, and he had just gotten a big payment from William and Sandra for the work at the vineyard.

The vineyard job was challenging. But both William and Sandra were pleased with the outcome. The updated irrigation system worked, and the install went as well as it could have gone. Though, Troy couldn’t help but feel a little as if the amount they paid him was a bit of a bribe for his silence concerning Sandra’s condition.

He wasn’t comfortable with the secret. And he had hoped Sandra would tell Grant sooner rather than later. When he gently asked, she gave him an icy look. “I will tell my son when I am ready. And I will certainly not do it over the phone.”

Troy entered the house, and he smiled when he smelled the delicious scent of the stew. Grant’s car wasn’t home yet. But that wasn’t overly unusual - sometimes Grant didn’t finish up at work until after five.

He walked down the hall, and he put his tool belt on a kitchen chair. The leather was cracking, and it needed to be conditioned before he used it again. Troy planned to make that his project for the evening while Grant did his yoga routine.

He pulled out a pot and soon there was brown rice bubbling away to go with their stew.

Troy checked the stew. It was thick, rich, and done. He smiled and turned off the crockpot.

A knock sounded, and Troy wiped his hands on a towel. He walked down the hall and opened the door.

“Hello, Troy.” William stood, his arm around Sandra’s back and under her armpit. Her own arm was up around William’s shoulders. It was plainly visible she leaned hard on him. Even then, it didn’t look as if standing was easy for her.

“Ah, hello?” Troy blinked in surprise, then he hurriedly stood aside. “Come in. Get out of the cold.”

They did, and Sandra gritted her teeth. She struggled hard, but her other leg didn’t seem to want to hold her weight. “Here.” Troy moved to her other side, and he put her arm around his shoulders. He and William then helped her to the couch.

With their help, she sat. Sandra nodded at Troy. “Thank you.” She looked exhausted. “I’m sorry to drop in like this.” William sat beside her, and he reached for her hand. She smiled a tiny bit when he took it and put his own on top of hers.

Troy nodded. “It’s okay.” It was apparent that her condition was worse than she had let on. Or that it had gotten worse in a short span of time. “Grant will be home soon. Oh, and we have plenty of stew for dinner. You’re both welcome to it.”

Sandra smiled, a little weakly. “Thank you, but I’m not very hungry.”

“But she’ll have a bowl anyway.” William looked with unstinting love at her. “Since she hasn’t eaten at all today.”

She looked as if she was about to protest, but instead, she sighed and nodded.

Troy suddenly remembered the unfolded laundry on the guest room bed. He stood. “Uh, let me get the guest room tidied up for you both.”

“Oh, we’ll get a hotel room. I imagine it’s upstairs.” William pushed a lock of Sandra’s hair out of her face. “And it’d be best if we can avoid those right now.”

Troy kicked himself. “Damn it, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Sandra pulled at her leg to get it into a more comfortable position. “This is a surprise visit,” she glanced at William, and he nodded reassuringly, “but it’s time.” She looked pained to admit it. “It’s obvious now. And I can’t really expect everyone working for us to keep my issue quiet. And I don’t want Grant to hear it from anyone else.”

Troy nodded, then the front door opened.

Grant appeared at the doorway to the living room. He had his laptop bag on his shoulder, and he stared at his parents.

Sandra straightened, looking all the part of a regal and proper queen. “Grant, dear.” She patted the couch next to her. “Come, please. We’ve things to discuss.”


26 February 2019, Tuesday 5:37 PM

Grant was shocked to see his parents in the house. “What are you doing here?” Then he noticed how tired his mother looked. He froze. “Is everything okay?”

William cleared his throat. “Grant, come and sit. Let your mother talk to you.”

Grant noticed the way William didn’t answer his question. Troy looked back and forth between them, and he stood. “I’m going to plate dinner for all of us. You guys talk.”

Troy went into the kitchen, and Grant felt a growing sense of dread. He walked across the living room, and he sat beside Sandra.

She shifted and faced him a bit more. “Grant. Son.” She looked nervous, and a thrill of trepidation shot through Grant’s stomach.

“Mom,” he turned and took her other hand. “What’s going on?”

She swallowed. William rubbed her back, an obvious attempt at reassurance. She sighed and nodded to herself. Then she looked Grant in the eye. “I have progressive MS. It has gotten to the point where, most days, I can’t walk unassisted.”

Grant let the information sink in. Then his provider brain kicked into gear. “How long have you had symptoms? And you said Progressive MS. How do you know it’s not relapsing-remitting? This could just be a bad period that will improve later.”

“About three months total. Probably longer, but that’s when serious symptoms began." Sandra smiled, the expression was both sad and proud. "And, I’m impressed with you, son.” She shook her head. “But you’ve got to know that we’ve been to the best specialists in the state. I can no longer pretend the diagnosis is anything but accurate.” She leaned toward him, her eyes intense. “I didn’t come here expecting you to fix me, Grant. That’s not what this is about.”

Grant stared back at her. He was a family medicine focused PA. He didn't have any patients with progressive MS, and his knowledge of the condition suddenly felt inadequate. “Mom, what can I do? What do you need from me?”

Troy slid bowls of brown rice and beef stew onto the kitchen table. There were only three chairs, and the tall man put his own dish on the bar countertop where he could stand nearby and eat. Troy also took his leather tool belt off of the back of one chair. He cleared his throat. “Sorry to interrupt, folks. But the food is ready.”

Sandra looked over her shoulder and nodded at him. “Thank you, Troy.” She patted William’s and Grant’s knees. “Help me over. Let’s eat and talk.”

Grant and his father helped Sandra to the table. And suddenly the realness of her condition hit him. ‘She’ll never walk the fields again. She'll never dance again.’ He gingerly lowered her to the chair.

She gave him a tired smile. “Thank you.” She leaned so that she could see Troy around Grant. “And thank you for the food.”

Troy nodded. “You’re welcome.”

They all settled in. Grant sat in the middle chair, his father and mother were at the ends of their small table. Grant stared down at his bowl of stew and rice. He was not hungry, and his brain circled madly as he thought.

“Grant,” Sandra began. He looked at her. Her eyes were once again serious. “We’re here to talk about next steps.”

He took a calming breath, and he nodded. “Okay.”

William pulled a folder of documents from his bag, and he handed them over to Sandra. She opened it, and she quickly scanned the first few pages. Then she closed the folder and gave it to Grant. “You’ll find our updated Will in here. Should anything happen to both of us, you’re named as the sole beneficiary. This will upset your aunts and uncles.” Something sparked in her gaze. “But, this has taught me that they are not my allies. They only want one thing from me - the winery.”

Grant looked at the folder in his hands. He bit his lip, and the mortality of his parents, particularly of his mother was now all too real. William patted Grant’s arm. “Son, we’re not planning on going anywhere anytime soon.” He smiled at Grant. “But this was important to your mother. And she wanted to do this in person.”

Grant nodded. His throat felt tight, and he stared down at the folder. He always made it a point to put on a strong front for Sandra. But seeing her vulnerable and open was profound to him.

He felt the warm hand of his mother on his cheek. And she wiped his face free of a tear he didn’t know had escaped. He looked at her. It seemed as if a wall had finally broken, and Sandra’s eyes filled with tears. Then Grant did something he hadn’t done in years.

He knelt on the floor, and he hugged Sandra to his chest as she sat in the chair.

“Oh, Grant.” Her voice wavered. She held him in her arms. “I’m fine, son. I’m going to be fine.”

Grant didn’t know his dad had gotten up, but William put his hands on Grant’s shoulders as he stood behind him.

The black-haired man held on, and Sandra let him. “It’s going to be okay, Grant. I promise.” Her voice was so caring, a tone Grant hadn’t heard in a very long time.

He nodded against her. And it was his turn to say something he’d not uttered since he was a boy.

“I love you, mom.”

Sandra breathed, and her arms tightened around him. “I love you, Grant.”

And despite the heaviness in his heart, Grant smiled.


26 February 2019, Tuesday 9:44 PM

Troy watched Grant as he bid goodbye to his parents. They were on their way to a local hotel, only about a mile from their house. They had a flight for the very next day, as the conversation with Grant, and the updating of the will were the only reasons for their visit. Grant closed the door behind them. He stood there, then he let his body lean forward, and his forehead rested against the wood of the door.

Troy approached, and he put a hand gently on Grant's back. The dark-haired man turned, and he put his arms around Troy. They stood silently together. Grant squeezed Troy, and Troy let him.

He knew Grant was tired, emotionally drained, and that he needed precisely what Troy was doing. So he held on.

A few minutes passed. Then Grant took a deep breath, and he pushed back. He glanced up at Troy's face, and he nodded. "I'm all right."

Troy smiled. "Okay." He knew Grant needed rest. "Come on. It's bedtime for you."

Grant let Troy lead him upstairs. Once they got by the bedside, Troy gently undressed Grant. For his part, the dark-haired man allowed himself to be handled. Soon, he was naked, and he climbed into bed. Then he watched with tired eyes as Troy stripped.

Troy slipped into bed, and Grant turned onto his side. Troy spooned him, and he lay a soft kiss on the back of Grant's neck. "Go to sleep. Try not to think about this right now. Just go to sleep."

Grant sighed. Troy murmured sweet little things to him. And Grant fell to sleep listening to his whispers.

Troy raised up on an elbow, and he looked down at Grant. He blew out a breath. Watching the emotions of Grant and his parents forced Troy to examine his own family relationships. His relationships with his parents and siblings were likely unsalvageable. But, there was one person from his past he missed, someone he valued.

Troy carefully reached and picked up his pants on the floor. Grant stayed asleep, and Troy pulled out his cell phone from his pocket. He lay back and unlocked the phone. Troy navigated to his email program, and he did a quick search.

He found the address, and he started to type.

'Hi, I know it has been a while. And I know you've probably tried to find me. I'm sorry for dropping off the face of the Earth the way that I did. But it was just too painful for me to have any sort of reminder of John, and what it was that I lost when he died.'

Troy bit his lip. Then he continued. 'I want you to know that I am doing well. I've met a great guy, and things are better than I could have ever imagined that they would be. I'm even living with him in our old house. It's a very long story. But it's one I hope to tell you.'

He frowned at the device. 'That is if you decide you want to speak to me. I know it's probably a lot to ask, but I hope you can forgive my silence and absence from your life. I know John's loss impacted us both so much, and I feel as if I cut and ran. At the time it was all I could do. Though, I know it had to hurt you for me to do that. I'm sorry.'

Troy stared at what he wrote, and he reread it. Then he began typing again. 'I guess that's all I wanted to say. Anyway, if you'd like to talk, I'd love to hear from you. I hope life has treated you well, Beth. If you take nothing else away from this, know that, at least.'

Troy nodded slowly to himself as he reread it all. Then he shrugged. She would either respond or she wouldn't. He finished up his email. 'Here's my contact information, along with my new phone number. Take care. And I love you. ~T'

He sent the email, then he let the hand with the phone lay on the bed. He stared up at the ceiling, and he breathed. Beth was the last connection to his old life that he had yet to pick up again. He really did love her. She was the only supportive person in John's family. The rest of them pretended Troy was John's "good friend," and they ignored their relationship as anything more than that.

John and Troy avoided marriage because of them. John was so hopeful that they would come around. And John didn't want to lose them entirely. He knew if they married, that it would be something they couldn't ignore. And forcing the Erikson family to deal with anything never went well. So, Troy was content to wait, because it was what John needed.

But Beth was always their advocate. She was the one at the family gatherings who always included Troy. She always invited him. She always greeted him warmly and publically. She would ask about their life together, while her brothers and sisters squirmed uncomfortably. Which she would answer with a glare and a challenge in her eye.

Troy smiled as he thought of her. The more he recalled, the more he regretted not reaching out sooner. She was the youngest of the bunch too - he thought she would be something close to twenty-three or twenty-four years old now. Young, smart, driven, outspoken. All of those things described Beth Erikson.

Troy rolled and put the phone on the nightstand. Just as his hand released it, the device began to vibrate. He made a face, and he snatched it up so it would stop buzzing against the wood. Grant only shifted a bit, but that was the extent of his reaction to the noise.

Troy carefully got out of bed, and he answered, his voice low. "Hello?"

There was silence on the other end for just a moment. Then a very familiar voice laughed. "Troy Beckford. Boy, you are in SOME trouble."

Troy walked out of the bedroom, and down the stairs. All the while a huge grin plastered on his face. "Hey, girl. I know. I'm sorry."

"Uh-uh. Sorry ain't gonna cut it." Her voice was firm and sure, but Troy could hear the undercurrent of relief and joy in it too. "We need to sit and talk. You an' me, at the same table. So, you had best get ready for a visit."

"Beth, it'd be amazing to see you." Troy sat on the couch. "Can you really come for a while?"

"I can. I'm done with my program. I'm just waiting on my credentialing to come through. Then I'll be a teacher. So there's nothing to stop me from driving up to Vermont." She took a breath. "We've got a lot to talk about, Troy."

"Yeah. We do." Troy couldn't quite describe how he felt. There was joy at reconnecting with Beth, for sure. But there was also a set of emotions that didn't feel like his own. Almost as if John were listening in, and he was living those feelings from his perspective as well as his own. "Well, we've got a guest room. When do you think you can make the trip?"

"I can be there in a day, maybe a little longer." Beth's voice was thoughtful but determined. "I've done it before. And I need to see you. So you'd best wash those sheets in that guest room. And you better get your new man ready - Beth is coming to town!"

Troy laughed. "I don't know if he'll ever be ready for that. But, it'll definitely be good to see you." He sighed. "Thanks, Beth."

"For what?" She sounded genuinely confused.

"Oh, for allowing me to step back into your life like this." Troy definitely felt guilty about his lack of contact with her.

"Troy, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't mad at you." Her voice softened. "But I know what John would want. And I love you both. So, this is happening."

Troy closed his eyes, and he nodded, the phone pressed against his ear. "Okay."

"I'm gonna let ya go. But I'll call you tomorrow when I start out. You go to bed. You're gonna need your rest to deal with this crazy woman coming to town."

Troy chuckled. "I think you're right. Goodnight, Beth. Drive safe. And we'll see you soon."

"You better believe it. Goodnight, Troy."

She hung up, and Troy lay his head back, so it leaned against the back of the couch. As he stared up at the ceiling, he felt a swirl of emotion. But the overriding one was that of joy. 'My Beth. I'm going to see my Beth again.' He closed his eyes, and he smiled.

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

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