Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 20: Thicker than Water

Chapter 20: Thicker than Water

22 January 2019, Tuesday 10:26 AM

Troy hauled the last of their luggage out of the van and into the house. They had a great trip, but it was also good to be back home. Grant put his own load of things down at the base of the stairs, and he looked thoughtfully at Troy as the lanky man approached.

"What is it?" Troy shifted the strap of the bag over his shoulder around.

Grant seemed to make a decision, and he gave a tiny nod. "What do you think about us just making my room our bedroom? We can have the other as the guest room, or as an office."

Troy gave him a fond smile. "Really? You want us to shack up, and live in sin?"

Grant grinned. "We're sinning pretty vigorously already." Grant stepped close. "It's time, don't you think? I want you with me as much as possible. I want to share as much as I can with you."

Troy looked down into Grant's brown eyes, and he nodded. "I'd like that, Grant." He leaned in, and the men kissed. Troy felt Grant smile as they did. Then they pulled back.

"All right." Grant turned and started up the stairs. "Let the war for closet space commence!"

Troy laughed, and he followed his black-haired lover up the stairs, and into their bedroom.


23 January 2019, Wednesday 4:17 PM

Grant's first day back to work after his time off was busy. The clinic was closed on Monday for Martin Luther King day, and so the week was compressed, and all of the appointments were filled.

Rhett was moving fast. He was a young guy, but he was experienced, smart, and he worked hard. Grant knew he was lucky Rhett was his medical assistant. They met in the hallway outside the three rooms Grant used for his patient visits. "Grant, Dan Olson is in room seven. Normally I'd get someone else to room him and take his vitals, but we're short today, so I just did it."

Grant frowned, a little confused. "Why would we get someone else to room our patient?"

Rhett grinned. "Ah, because he's my brother. It's a little awkward for him to tell me about his medical problems, so I left the chief complaint blank, and just took his vitals."

"Ahhh. Gotcha." Grant could appreciate the separation Rhett tried to accomplish. "I'll take it from here. Thanks, Rhett."

Grant entered the room. A man in his mid-twenties sat on the exam table. His head came up when Grant came in. He was blonde, just like Rhett. Though, he had green eyes instead of Rhett's blues. He was also taller and outweighed Rhett by twenty pounds.

"Hello, Dan, right?" Grant smiled and extended a hand.

The blonde shook it. "Yeah. That's me." He reached and pushed his long hair out of his face. He had a disheveled but handsome air about him.

'I bet you are popular with the boys!' Grant thought. Missing Dan's attractiveness was impossible. "Well, Dan," Grant took a seat in front of him on the stool in the room, "what brings you to see me today?"

Dan laughed, a little uncomfortable. "Well, first I wanna make sure what we talk about is gonna stay between us. I don't want my brother to find out what's going on."

“You’ve got it. Rhett is committed to your privacy, same as I am.” Grant could sense Dan’s discomfort, and he leaned forward. “What’s going on?”

Dan sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “Ah, I think I fucked up.” He scratched his neck and squirmed a bit. “I was at a party a couple of months back. I had, ah,” he paused, and seemed embarrassed.

Grant could guess what probably happened, judging from Dan’s reaction. “Did you have unprotected sex?” Grant asked, with no judgment in his tone.

Dan glanced up at his eyes. “Ah, yeah.” He grimaced. “With, ah, with a few guys.”

“Okay.” Grant tried to reassure him with a smile. He began documenting the visit in the electronic health record. “Just answer the questions you know, and we'll go from there."  Dan nodded, and Grant continued.  "How many partners did you have, and were any of your partners on PrEP? ”

Grant went through the visit with Dan. It turned out that one of the partygoers tested positive for syphilis a week ago, which brought Dan into the clinic. Grant also had to examine Dan, and he collected a few samples. Grant was extremely professional, and by the end of the visit, Dan seemed a lot more comfortable.

“Okay. So you’re headed to the lab for your blood work, and to leave a urine sample.” Grant read through the plan they discussed. “Then make a visit for next week at the front desk.”

Dan nodded. “All right.” He stood up. He eyed Grant, a small smile on his lips. "I'm glad you're working here now. I was skeptical when Rhett said to give you a shot, but, I think I'd like to stick with ya."

Grant smiled. "Well, I'm happy to surprise you then." Grant opened the door, and when Dan stepped out, he pointed down the hall. "The lab is that way. See you next week, Dan."

"Sounds good, Grant." Dan turned and walked down the hall. He had a swagger designed to get attention and Grant smirked.

'Oh man.  You are a bad boy. I can tell.' Grant shook his head, and he went back to his desk. Rhett was there, and his eyes came up and looked at the dark-haired man when Grant sat.

"All done?"

"Yep." Grant nodded. "Dan was our last patient. So once the room is cleaned up, you're a free man."

"You got it." Rhett stood and started for the hall. He stopped in the doorway. "Hey, Grant?"

Grant turned to look at the short man. Rhett nodded at him. "Thanks. For seeing him. I appreciate it. I'm not sure what's going on, but he seemed stressed."

"You're welcome, Rhett. It's what we do."

Rhett smiled, nodded, then disappeared down the hallway.

Grant turned back to his charting. 'All right, Mr. Dan. Let's hope you dodged a bullet.'


23 January 2019, Wednesday 5:48 PM (Pacific time)

"Sandra, he's our son. He deserves to know." William Sexton sat across from his wife, Sandra, in their spacious home. It rested on the grounds of the winery they owned, and it was one of Sandra's favorite places in the world. She loved everything about it. She loved the heat during the summer, the elegance of a party thrown under the shade of the gnarled oaks that dotted the grounds, the green of a healthy vine, the sounds of busy workers as they went about their tasks. Everything. She even loved the offseason. There was always something to do and to be done on the grounds.

The woman sat on the couch, and she stared out of the window. Thanks to the early nights, it was dark now, but she knew what lay outside that pane of glass. She remembered it so well that she could superimpose what she knew was there into the blackness of the night, and "see" it, as well as if it were the day.

When it came to some things, she was private to a fault. She held certain cards close to her chest, and she didn't want anyone, not even her own son, to know what it was she fought. She debated. Her husband waited. William knew her. He knew pressing her on a decision would do nothing to hurry her.

Sandra Sexton was recently diagnosed with Primary Progression Multiple Sclerosis. It manifested first as a strange weakness in her left leg and had since progressed to a point where she struggled to walk unassisted. The insidious tingling sensation Sandra felt in the limb had also traveled up, almost to her left hip. Now the whole leg ached with numbness, and she could never entirely trust it to hold her weight. She had to be very careful when out walking the grounds now.

'Forty-eight years old, and I have trouble walking,' she thought. It had been about three weeks since her diagnosis. And now she had a name to go along with her frustrating symptoms. That alone helped. A bit. Where at first she was bitter, now, she determined to simply live as well as she could with what time she had left.

That included dealing with her son, Grant. She recalled the conversation, early in December when he revealed to her that he was gay, and then promptly hung up on her. That was infuriating. That Grant would refuse to come home for Christmas upset her far more than his revelation concerning his sexuality.

Before her diagnosis, she was ashamed to admit that she sought a way to punish him. His refusal buzzed in her mind like an angry wasp, and she plotted a way to force his hand. The threat of cutting him out of the Will was low, even for her. And she realized she may have pushed him so far that she had done irreparable damage to their relationship. It was true, it wasn't the best to start. She reveled in the station of their family, and she couldn't understand why that grated on her son. But it seemed to her that he hated the very idea of wealth, and by proxy, her.

The Christmas holiday was the last big party they had. She had inexplicably fallen when her left leg collapsed. It was a very visible thing, and she had no doubt that her judgmental friends and family whispered to one another how sad it was that she would be so intoxicated early into the evening.

Her social identity was carefully groomed and the one she presented during these functions. And for her to "fail" so dramatically was all the more delicious to those who wanted to see her low. Unfortunately, that included most of the people she considered friends and her family.

After that happened, Sandra began to notice moments of wobbliness and tingling in her lower leg. She was vigilant about her health, and so she scheduled an appointment. Soon, she had a diagnosis. Though, it was definitely not what she wanted to hear.

"Sandra," William got up, and he sat beside her. Out of all of her friends, associates and family, William was the one person she trusted. He looked at her with his expressive brown eyes. "Look, I know you're scared. Don't you think more support would be good right about now? Grant loves you. And he works in medicine, too. He might not be an MD, but maybe he'd have some insights that we don't."

Sandra thought about it. Then she straightened her spine, and her chin lifted. He could see the defiance on her face. "William, we will not tell him about my diagnosis." She looked back at the window and imagined the oak tree in the courtyard, right where she knew it was, obscured in the dark. "He is due to come home for my birthday. I want to see if he does so on his own volition. I won't have him pity me, and feel obligated to come to see his ailing mother. Let him come on his own, or not at all."

William sighed. It was apparent to Sandra that he already expected this reaction. "Okay. Did you want to call and remind him? He's probably busy with his new life. He could use a reminder, I'm sure."

William was trying to ensure Grant came home, she could appreciate that. He knew how much Grant meant to her. It's true, she had trouble showing her emotions to her son. So, she tried to make sure that he wanted for nothing. Though, once he started his medical career, she could feel her place as his provider slipping away. He was her pride and joy, and she could do nothing as he grew up into a willful, handsome, and independent man.

The diagnosis changed many things for her. She found herself more reliant on William than she had ever been. And her husband seemed to revel in the new responsibility. It was almost as if he was just now finding his feet. Sandra also realized this was likely due to her overbearing nature in their relationship. Once she loosened her grip a bit, he stepped up, and he handled aspects of their personal lives and business that she didn't expect of him.

It was also Sandra's condition which reminded her how much William truly cared. Her husband was there for every appointment. He drove her personally so that she wouldn't have to reveal her illness to the crew of men and women who worked for them. He had become her rock in this crisis.

Sandra considered his point, about calling Grant to remind him. They hadn't spoken since the call in December, and she did want to hear his voice, very much. She gave the slightest nod. "Yes. I'll call to remind him." She glanced at William, and a smile graced her lips. "It's a good idea. Thank you, William."

He smiled. He was genuine, pure, and uncomplicated. He didn't have the desire to learn all of the politics of wealth, and the pitfalls of power. It infuriated Sandra, and yet it was what she loved about him. When they married, her father warned her that William would "never belong" with them. He was right. William didn't belong. But he worked hard to learn the business, and now he helped her run a successful vineyard in Napa Valley. Sandra was secretly joyful at her father's irritation when William succeeded in his role.

"Good. Call him. He'll still be up." He leaned over and gently kissed the skin on her forehead. "I'll leave you to it. Give him my love." He stood and looked down at her. "Do you need anything?"

"No, William. Thank you." Sandra watched him as he turned and disappeared into the kitchen. She heard him searching through cabinets. She knew he was warming some broth for her. She had lost much of her appetite, and it had become something of a ritual for him to prepare some warm, savory soup and a hot sandwich of some sort. She did her best to eat it. Sometimes she could, others she couldn't. But she appreciated his effort.

She carried a folded set of papers around with her that had the best flights that would get Grant to them the day before her birthday, and she removed them from her handbag that sat on the end table beside the couch. Sandra sighed, and she took out her phone. She stared down at the contact information for Grant. 'Remember - no matter what, he's your son, and you love him. Tell him so.'

She sniffed, pulled herself upright so that her spine was straight, and she hit the button.


23 January 2019, Wednesday 8:56 PM (Eastern time)

Grant's phone rang, just as he and Troy were about to sit down to a rare bowl of ice cream before bed.  He looked at the machine. Grant felt an immediate irritation and a tiny amount of fear. "Oh man. Here we go."

Troy frowned as he served up the vanilla dessert with a drizzle of chocolate syrup. "What's up?"

"My mother." Grant debated answering.

Troy watched him. "Grant, she's family. And at least she wants to talk to you." He shrugged. "I'd love if mine would talk to me."

Grant sighed. "Yeah, I know." He steeled himself, and he answered. "Hello, mother."

"Hello, dear." That same confident, assured tone came over the receiver.

"What's the occasion for the call?" Grant was in a hurry to get off of the phone. He knew something was coming - some play, some scheme to reel him in. He sat at the table, and he was on guard for anything she could try and pull.

"Well, the occasion is that I am calling to remind you of my upcoming birthday celebration. Your father and I very much want to see you. Oh, he sends his love, by the way."

Something was different. Grant frowned, and he tried to figure out what it was. "Uh, tell him I love him too." He bit his lip. "Ah, you still want me to come?"

"What? Of course I do!" She sounded genuinely surprised he'd even ask. "Why wouldn't I?"

Grant rubbed his neck. "Ah, I figured you might have a problem with the whole gay thing."

Troy finished plating their desserts, and he sat down beside Grant at the table. He put an arm around Grant's shoulders, warm and supportive.

"Not at all, dear. It's quite clear now why things didn't work with Rebecca. I imagine that it must be a relief for you."

"Ah, yes. It is." Grant blinked. Then he suddenly realized what bothered him. "Mother, you said you and dad wanted to see me. Did the plans change for your party?" Grant knew birthdays were an excuse to show off his family's wealth and their social connections. And typically, he was paraded around at these functions, in the most expensive clothes his mother could find.

"Oh, yes. We're planning something small. Just the immediate family. You, me and your father."

Grant's mind turned this bit of information over and over. "Really?" Something was very different. "Mother, is everything okay?"

"Of course!" She answered quickly. "We're both well. We just want a simpler party with family. That's all."

Grant caught the comment about both of them being well, but he let it go, for now. "Well, honestly, I had canceled my plans. I thought you wouldn't want to see me after I told you about, ah, about Troy." He wet his lips. "Dad is okay with it too? I mean, about my being gay?"

"I've not the slightest idea what your father thinks about your sexuality. As far as I'm aware he doesn't know unless you've told him."

Grant's mouth dropped. "You, you didn't tell him? Really?"

"Why would I? Grant, it's your place to reveal what you like to whomever you like." There was a shuffling of papers on the other end of the line. "Now, I have some flight information for you, if you were still coming. We can also get your friend, Troy, a ticket if you'd like. I would like to meet him, if not for my birthday, soon."

Grant leaned his head onto his hand and propped it up with his elbow on the table. "Uh, I need to talk to Troy about this."

"But you'll consider it?" Her voice was uncharacteristically hopeful. The demanding, imperious nature he expected he'd have to fight was simply not there.

He surprised himself when he responded. "Yes. I'll consider it." His eyes glanced at Troy. The tall man looked back quizzically at him. "Email the flight information to me, just so I've got it."

"I will. And I'm so glad to hear it, dear." There was genuine relief in her voice. There was a pause as if she debated what she was going to say next. "Grant, I want you to know, no matter what you decide," another pause, then she pressed forward, "I want you to know that I love you."

Grant's eyes widened. He couldn't remember the last time he had heard those words from his mother. "I, I love you too, mom." Years ago, Grant took to calling Sandra "mother." It was less intimate and less personal. But this time, "mom" seemed to fit. "Uh, are you sure everything is okay?"

"Yes, dear. I'm sure. Please, enjoy your evening. I look forward to hearing from you, son. Goodbye."

"Goodbye." Grant hung up, and he stared at the cell phone as if it had grown a head.

Troy gave him a few beats, then he gently cleared his throat. "So, what do we need to talk about?" He squeezed Grant's shoulders with the arm that draped across them.

Grant was still stunned, and he looked at Troy. "My mom wants to meet you. February 13th is her birthday. It's on a Wednesday this year. If we went, we'd leave the day before, stay for a few days. Probably come back Saturday or Sunday." Grant's mind began to plan everything he'd have to do to prepare. Luckily, he left himself off for that week at work. Though he had canceled the flight to California, he still planned to enjoy a staycation locally.

"Whoa. Okay." Troy eyed Grant. "Is that what you want? You want me to meet your parents? You want to go see them?"

Grant slowly nodded. "Yeah. Something's up. Either this is some new scheme, or my mom really does want to see me." Grant sighed. "Either way, I've gotta go." He turned a loving gaze on Troy. "And I'd be awfully proud to show you off. As long as you keep in mind, my family isn't the most functional in the world."

Troy snorted. "You know what mine is like. Your family sounds fine by comparison." He gave Grant a glad smile. "I'm not sure I'm worth being proud of, but I'd love to go."

Grant grinned, then he made a face at Troy. "Hey. Of course, you're worth being proud of." He turned his chair, so the two men sat face to face. Grant put his hands on Troy's shoulders. "You do such impressive things with those hands of yours. The things you build and fix, I could never do that stuff."

Troy closed his eyes, and he rubbed his face against Grant's hand, then he grinned. "Is that all you like about my skills with my hands?" His expression was pure orneriness.

Grant laughed. "No, but I'm not gonna tell my mother about those other skills!"

"Probably for the best," Troy smirked, then he grew thoughtful. "I'll need to mark myself as unavailable on my website scheduler." Troy's website had a very convenient calendar prospective clients could request his services through. Once a price was agreed upon for a project, clients would pick a day and a time that Troy wasn't already booked at another job.

"Good plan." Grant bit his lip, then he shook his head. "Wow. It seems unreal to me that you're gonna meet my parents."

"I'm glad you want me to." Troy's eyes moved over Grant's face. "I met John's family, but they were absolutely not happy to meet me. Well, all except for Beth." Troy made a thoughtful face. "I really should try to look her up."

Grant was still a bit shocked at the turn of events. But his belly was interested in his ice cream. "Okay. Well, let's eat. Then I guess we should plan our trip. I'm sure my mom has emailed by now, so we'll have a leg up on getting the flights we need. Oh, and she is paying for us both to fly. So there's no worry about the cost."

Troy looked surprised. "Really?" He arched an eyebrow. "You know, I could pay my own way. I do have almost $6,000 in the bank."

Grant sat back in his seat. "Whoa!" He was genuinely surprised. "How the hell did you manage that?"

Troy laughed. "I'm in demand." Then he tilted his head as if acquiescing a point. "Though, having a cheap rent helps too."

Grant wasn't about to tell Troy, but every buck of rent Troy paid went into an account Grant set up explicitly for those funds. And Grant had big plans for that money.

The two men began to eat their treat. Troy sat close, and periodically the man would lean over and give Grant a cold, vanilla flavored kiss.

They finished their dessert, and Grant went to the sink to wash their dishes. Troy stood behind him, and he made himself very helpful by slipping his hands into Grant's pockets.

"Err. Troy." Troy's hand wrapped around Grant's growing member through the thin material of his pocket. "That's not helpful." Though he groused a bit, Grant also spaced his feet a little further apart so that Troy could reach deeper into his pocket.

"I'm not really trying to help clean up." He put his face over Grant's shoulder and grinned as he whispered in Grant's ear. "I'm trying to help you make a mess."

Grant put his hands on the sink edge. "Well, if you keep that up you will." Troy continued to stroke him through the pocket of the comfortable cargo shorts Grant had changed into after he got home from work. Grand hadn't expected to go anywhere, so he didn't bother with underwear.

Grant's breath began to pick up, and he started to unbutton his shorts. "Here, let me get out of these."

"Nope." Troy rubbed his bearded face against Grant's neck. "I want to make you come in your shorts."

Grant groaned. "Troy, damn it." Grant let Troy pull his hands away from the button, and he put them back on the sink.

It wasn't just Troy's hand at work. His hips ground into Grant's rump, and his bearded face rubbed against the skin of Grant's neck and jaw.

"Ah, ah god." Grant's legs started to shake. Troy held him up, and he smiled at Grant's noises, and at how he allowed Troy to molest him. "I …" Grant's eyes rolled back, and he took a breath.

Grant squirted into the front material of his shorts, and he blew out a huge breath. Troy kept stroking him, and Grant emptied what he had into his clothing.

Troy took his hand out of Grant's pocket, and he patted Grant's back. "There you go." Troy turned away, and he started walking to the stairs.

Grant caught his breath, and he frowned at his lover. "Where are you going?"

Troy stripped off his shirt, and he looked into the kitchen. "I'm going upstairs and getting undressed. When you're done with dishes, come on up. And if you're game, then we're gonna teach you how to suck cock."

That was something Grant had yet to do. He knew he would, eventually. But he hadn't tried it. Troy eyed him. "How's that sound?"

Grant thought a moment, then a smile spread on his face. "All right then." He turned back to the sink. "You just want to call me a cocksucker."

"I want to call you MY cocksucker." Troy bounded up the stairs.

Grant chuckled, and he hurried through his dishes.

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

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