Thursday morning arrived in a swirl of snow and wind. Corbin's alarm woke him at 6 AM to a wintery scene outside his windows, and he shivered in the crisp air inside his home. The fire had died down to embers over the night and he threw back his blankets then quickly put on his sweats and sweater. He had worn his wool socks to bed and they stayed on his feet.
"Fuck me it's cold!" He couldn't quite see his breath inside, but it was close. He went to the fireplace and poked at the ashes and coals. There were some glowing red spots left and he gave thanks for that. He tossed a chunk of the dry spruce wood into the hearth, then he opened the front door, squinted against the swirling snow, and grabbed a green log from his pile. He shut the door quickly with a full body shiver. The spruce smoked, then caught fire as he watched. Once that was going he carefully leaned the wet piece of wood across it. He hoped the fire would be hot enough to dry it out and burn it.
Now that the fire was nominally taken care of he went to the bedroom, gathered his clothes for the day and then went to the bathroom.
He brushed his teeth, and then he turned to the shower. He turned on the hot water,and was amazed to find it warmed almost immediately. Then he remembered he had an on-demand water heater. "Well, that's nice." He stripped off his warm soft clothes, quickly stepped into the tub and pulled the shower curtain. The hot water felt amazing on his skin, and it was such a luxury after how often he had been cold over the last two days.
He took his time, and spend a little extra on his cock. Predictably that got a rise out of him. He grinned. Why not? He worked his hand up and down his shaft, and rubbed the other over his chest down to his belly and then to his balls.
It was really not going to take long. He reached up, gripped his nipple and rolled the tip between his fingers while his other hand continued to stroke. Then he made a grunting sound of release and suddenly his body jerked as he orgasmed.
His semen was lost in a swirl of water and soap as it washed down the side of the tub. He finished and sighed. This was his life now. But at least when Paul came over he would have already had this taken care of. Maybe he'd be able to control himself better.
He finished up in the shower. He really dreaded it, but he pulled the shower curtain back and his teeth immediately began to chatter, and his wet skin rose in chill bumps. "Fuck it's cold!" He needed to check on that fire! He dried quickly and pulled on his clothes. That included a pair of long underwear he wore under his jeans, a skin-tight long-sleeve undershirt, flannel shirt, and another pair of wool socks.
Corbin carried his boots out to the living room and eyed the hearth. Okay, it was burning. It was just taking a while to warm the house. But the living room itself was no longer chilly. That green wood was definitely a challenge to burn. It was still steaming away, but there were plenty of coals, so he was confident it would be alright.
He sat on the couch and put on his boots. He had never owned a pair of steel-toed work boots. But after Corbin told his handler he had chosen to come here, his handler suggested he purchase some. Apparently, Mr. Harris had some experience in these matters. He was glad he followed the recommendation. The boots agreed with him. They felt sturdy on his feet and they kept him warm.
He stood up and checked the time on his phone. "Okay. I've got time to make breakfast." Surprising to some who knew him in the past he was a good cook. By no means could he be called a chef, but he got by. He narrowed his eyes in thought. He walked into his kitchen and pulled everything to make pancakes from his pantry and fridge. He couldn't help but smile as he got started.
A few minutes before 8 he heard the telltale sounds of a diesel engine then the crunching sound of tires on gravel. A truck door opened and shut, then he heard the sound of footsteps on his porch. He plated breakfast just as the knock came.
He put the plates on the table and walked to the door. He stood to the side of the door and loosed the snap on his holstered .38 that was always strapped to his side.
He checked the window quickly and saw who he expected. He forced himself to relax, then he opened the door. Paul was dressed almost identically to yesterday, though … there was something different. Corbin couldn't quite place it. "Hi neighbor." He grinned at Paul as he said it.
Paul laughed. "Howdy." Corbin stood aside and motioned him inside. Paul shook a dusting of snow off of his boots and came in. "Oh …" he sniffed, "something smells good."
He jerked his head toward the kitchen. "Come on. I made us breakfast." He carefully watched Paul's face. The tall man cracked into a surprised smile and Corbin was inwardly gratified. 'See … I can be a good neighbor.' As Paul entered Corbin realized what was different. Unlike yesterday he looked to be very carefully groomed. His beard ended in a sharp line that ran from his jawline across his neck to the other jaw. It looked great on him.
He tried not to think about it and led Paul to the kitchen, and there on two plates was their breakfast. He made them both pancake sandwiches - something he always loved. It was pretty simple. Two pancakes for the bread, then fried egg, cheese, and bacon in between them. Good and filling. Though he used to be made fun of for his simple tastes in food now that turned out to be an asset in this new life.
Paul was very pleased. "Pancake sandwich?" He sat at the table, picked up his breakfast and peeled back a pancake to look at the fillings. "Oh, bacon! Sold." He raised it to his mouth and bit down. His eyes fluttered and he gave an appreciative thumbs up.
Corbin laughed and joined him at the table. The men ate and chatted a little about what they were going to do. Paul had his chainsaw, a maul, a sledgehammer and splitting wedges, a nice ax, and a hatchet. The plan was to round off the spruce on the ground into 14" - 16" pieces. Then they'd split the rounds into firewood. There were quite a few old, downed trees on the property. But they were starting with the one closest to the cabin. It was a big tree so that one alone should keep him in firewood for some time.
After they ate Paul again washed the dishes. Corbin forced himself to avoid staring at Paul's backside while he did. Then the guys headed outside.
He watched while Paul tinkered with the chainsaw. Paul explained what he was doing as he did it. He noticed that Paul didn't ask if he knew how to use one, and … again, he was glad he didn't have to own up to yet another necessary skill he didn't possess.
Paul handed him a pair of earplugs and then he started the noisy machine. He noticed how Paul showed the blade a LOT of respect and was hyper aware of where it was at all times. He ran the chainsaw for a while and cut up about ¾ of the tree then he motioned at Corbin. "Here!" Paul yelled over the sound of the engine, and carefully handed the machine to him. Then Paul coached him through sawing a branch off of the trunk. It was a little terrifying to hold the buzzing chainsaw at first. But soon he had gained more confidence, and then he was slowly making rounds of the main trunk while Paul watched attentively, and made corrections here and there as needed.
He finished the final cut and then he handed the machine back, using the same care Paul had. The tall man turned off the chainsaw then they both removed their earplugs. Paul grinned. "All right. Nice work." He looked at the many rounds of wood. "Okay, so now we've got some splitting to do." He put down the chainsaw and picked up a round. He seemed to assess its weight in his arms. "Really dry, mostly free of knots. I don't think we'll need the maul or sledge." He set up the piece of wood and took his ax. He checked to ensure he was clear through the entirety of his swing and he swung the ax in a fluid arc.
The round split easily down the middle. Paul grinned and pointed at the split wood. "That's exactly what we want. When it splits that easy then we can do the work with an ax." He put one of the halves back up on end and repeated the maneuver. Corbin continued to watch. He tried to notice everything about how Paul moved, held the ax, and where he hit the wood. After a few splits, Paul handed him the ax.
Again, Paul coached him through his first few tries. He was pretty awful on the first couple of attempts. He realized that Paul only made it look ridiculously easy. But after a few glancing swings, he actually got the ax head to firmly impact the wood, though he was finding it hard to fully split a round with one swing.
"Shit." He pulled at the ax that was stuck about halfway down in the latest round. With a snapping and tearing of wood, he pulled it free. He glared at the round and made to hit it again.
"Easy." Paul stepped to his side and put a hand on his shoulder, on the opposite side of the ax. "Wait a second." Corbin stopped and held the ax at the end of the handle. The metal head was down on the ground. He breathed heavily from his efforts, and he was obviously more than a little frustrated.
Once he saw Corbin wasn't going to keep swinging Paul stood behind him. "Okay, here." Paul reached around him and shifted his hands. "Keep this hand on the end of the ax handle. This one …" he slid Corbin's hand up a little less than halfway up the shaft, "goes here at the start." He could feel Paul's hip against his rump, and the tall man's beard scratched against the tender, sensitive skin on the side of his neck. "As you swing, this hand in the middle slides down the shaft to the end." His breath was warm against Corbin's skin. "Got it?"
He worked his jaw. 'Fuck he smells good. Like pine, sweat, and musk.' Paul stepped away and Corbin licked his lips. Jerking off this morning did NOT help. He was glad for all his layers of clothing that hid his problem, but his dick hurt as it tried to cut its way out of them. "Uh, yeah. Got it." He tried to focus on his task, and follow Paul's instructions. He did, the ax went up, his hand slid down the shaft and added to the momentum, and then it blasted through the round easily.
"Nice!" Paul grinned at him and clapped him on the shoulder. "Great job." He smiled back at Paul, proud of himself. The two men stood there a moment, Paul's gloved hand still on him. Finally, Corbin swallowed and looked away - anywhere but those eyes. He was both disappointed and relieved when Paul removed his hand.
"Ah … wanna take a break? Do you want something warm to drink? I can make us some coffee."
Paul cleared his throat. "Yeah, that'd be great." Corbin turned to go into the house and the tall man followed him inside.
He put a small pot of warm water on the stove and turned on the burner. Then he pulled out the French Press and his coffee. While he did Paul poked around in the living room and threw another green log on the bed of coals. He watched as Paul squatted to look at the fire. 'This guy needs to stop touching me, and getting himself into my space.' He looked back down at the Press and busied himself with putting coffee in it. Then he frowned at his internal dialogue. 'You're in charge of yourself Corbin. YOU. It's not Paul's fault if you can't control your cock.'
"What's that frown for?" Paul had walked over and leaned against the bar that split the living room and the kitchen. He wore that same, easy smile and his green eyes looked at him in an interested, engaged way. He had been so distracted by the coffee and his own mind flopping around he missed Paul moving from the fireplace.
"Ah, just thinking of everything I have yet to do." The lie sprang to his lips, though he could hear the equivocation in his own voice. By necessity, lying was a way of life for him, but he found it hard to do with Paul.
He saw a shadow pass over Paul's face, and he knew that one really didn't pass muster. He sighed. "Okay … I'm mainly just wondering how the hell I'm going to pay you back for everything you've done." Though not the truth of the moment that qualified as something of a real worry for him.
Paul's smile returned. "You've fed me twice now. That's a good start." He laughed and Corbin couldn't help but smile along with him. He liked hearing Paul laugh. "Seriously though, it's fine. If I ever need your help I'd like to think I can ask for it." He stuck out his hand. "Deal?"
Without hesitation, he reached and took Paul's warm callused hand in his own. "Deal." He was a little surprised at himself, but he knew he meant it. It wasn't just words, it was a pact. As he released Paul's hand Corbin felt his mind try to reassert caution. 'You need to watch it with this guy.'
His self-preservation instinct was muted and dulled whenever Paul was around. Paul had the effect of putting him at ease, and that was dangerous. His rational mind knew it. He needed to be on edge, he needed to be sharp. And this man seemed to … disarm him. As he turned back to the stove Corbin poured willpower into his wall. 'One chance. Don't fuck it up.'
He felt a little more controlled. The water began to boil and he picked up the pot. "Hey, let me show you a trick." Paul came around the counter into the kitchen. "If you're ever using coffee that's not the greatest, some bitter stuff maybe? Do this." He shook a little salt into his hand then dropped it into the grounds in the French Press.
"Salt?" He frowned at the white flecks on top of the coffee.
"Yep. The salt counters bitter smoothes it out. You just need a little" Paul motioned at the press. "Go ahead. Pour it on."
He shrugged and complied. The water frothed and mixed with the grounds. The scent of coffee hit his nose and both of the men made an appreciative noise. He laughed, and Paul grinned. "I guess we both need some coffee." Paul patted his back, and his hand remained perhaps a split second longer than normal protocol between men who were just friendly.
He tried hard to ignore it. 'Push it aside. Don't react.' "Coffee will be ready soon." His voice was surprisingly steady and he stepped past Paul to get a couple of mugs from the cabinet. "You take anything in it?"
Paul walked back to the kitchen table and sat. "Yeah. Cream only if ya got it. Otherwise black."
"I've got it." He pulled a small carton of half-and-half from the fridge and he stepped into the pantry for his sugar. He then dolled up his cup with a spoonful of sugar and a little cream. Paul's cup he only put a bit of the cream.
By this time the coffee was ready. He pressed slowly and the plunger on the French Press steadily descended. It left in its wake a black liquid mostly free of grounds. He smiled as he poured the strong coffee into their cups. Just knowing he was about to drink it put him in a good mood. "Didn't know how much cream you liked. There's more if you want it." He gathered their mugs and walked to the table.
He put Paul's coffee in front of him, and the tall man smiled up at him. "This is fine. Thanks."
"Welcome." He pulled the chair that was beside Paul to the other side of the table and sat. His eyes flicked up, and he caught a shadow of confused disappointment on Paul's face before it disappeared. 'Good. He needs to realize I'm not interested.' Corbin couldn't help but clench his jaw. 'No … he needs to THINK I'm not interested. I'll lie because I must to others, but I can't fucking do it to myself. That's too dangerous of a game to play.'
The two men sat quietly and sipped their coffee, each lost in their own thoughts. The silence was broken by Paul. "Good coffee." He mumbled.
He nodded. "Salt was a good idea. Never heard of doing that, but it is smooth. And I can't taste the salt." He finished, then stood and took Paul's mug from him as the man downed the last of his coffee. "Need another?"
Paul stood. "Nope." He jerked his thumb outside. "I'll get back to splitting. See you out there in a bit." His deep voice was all business.
He stood at the sink with the mugs and he nodded, his back to Paul. "Okay. Be out there soon." Paul left and the door closed. He exhaled. He was now almost sure Paul was interested in him. And he hated pushing back on the tall man. 'Why is this so fucking hard?' He washed his mug, and put it to drain. Then he froze with Paul's mug in his hand. His Adam's Apple bobbed, and he looked down at the little swirl of creamy coffee left in the bottom. Before his brain could reassert control he tipped the mug and swallowed it. His tongue ran over his lips.
'GET A GODDAMNED GRIP.' He grimaced at his own weakness and he quickly washed the mug.
He finished in the house and headed out to find Paul standing in about two inches of snow, smoothly splitting rounds. The ax rose and fell, and the tall man seemed to lose himself in the rhythm of the physical effort.
Corbin gathered the wood left in Paul's wake and threw it into a pile out of their way. The man worked until sweat appeared on his brow. The temperature was below freezing, but the physical effort was an intense one. He began to wonder how long Paul could go. The man didn't appear to need to stop, but he didn't want to assume.
"Paul, want me to split?"
The tall man stood, ax in hand and his breath streamed from him in white plumes. He eyed Corbin. "You should. You need the practice." Paul walked over and handed the ax to him. "You use the ax, and I'll take the maul. I'll get the heavier, thicker pieces and the stuff with knots."
"Okay." He felt a stab of guilt as Paul turned away from him. "Hey." The tall man looked over his shoulder. Corbin smiled slightly. "Really appreciate the help, Paul."
Paul's face softened just a little. "Sure." He smiled back, though the expression only touched his mouth. Then he turned back to the work.
The men split wood off and on for another couple of hours. By the time they were done both of them were sweaty and tired. But Corbin was consistently splitting the rounds now with a single swing.
As things wound down, he looked over the fairly large pile of wood and made a decision. "Paul, I want you to take ½ the wood."
Paul loaded his maul into the back of his truck and looked over at him. He seemed to think about it. "Well, it's hard for me to turn down dry wood. Everything on my property is still a year away from being dry enough to really burn." He nodded. "All right. I appreciate it."
He felt relief that Paul was getting something tangible out of helping him. "Good. Let's load up your truck with whatever it'll take."
They spent the next fifteen minutes loading Paul's big truck. His bed took nearly ½ of what they split, and Paul declared it was enough.
"Well, I'm gonna head on home." Paul opened his truck door and glanced at the sky. It still spat occasional flurries, but it looked to be letting up. "Weather is supposed to be clear the next few days. So maybe it'll warm a bit and your wood will last a while."
He stood beside the big diesel and nodded as Paul got in. "Well, we can hope."
Paul jerked his chin toward Corbin. "Thanks for the wood and for breakfast. See ya, neighbor." With that, he shut his door, started his truck and off he went.
He threw up his hand and waved as Paul drove away. As the truck rounded the first bend in his road he slowly lowered his arm. He noticed the pointed absence of another scheduled visit. He sighed heavily, then he turned and started the task of stacking all his split wood.
Another ½ hour and he had his dry spruce in a neat stack on the other side of the porch. Wet rounds were on the other side in their own stack. The wet stuff seemed to burn okay long as the fire was really hot. But it was a slow thing. He'd save those just before he wanted to go to bed, so the fire would hopefully die down, but last through the night.
His stomach complained loudly at him, and he realized it was nearly noon. He went into the house and poked around in the fridge. He had some leftover meat sauce from his spaghetti dinner with Paul. He toasted some sourdough bread while he warmed the sauce on the stove, then he fried a couple of eggs.
He put the over-medium eggs, one on each slice of bread. Then he spooned the thick, meaty sauce on top of the eggs. He went to the living room, sat on the couch in front of the fire and he ate his meal. Again, it was simple, but filling and it tasted good.
He tried to avoid thinking about Paul. He had a lot to do today, and he hoped to keep himself busy enough that the tall, handsome man would stop running on repeat through his mind. He stood and took his dishes to the kitchen. He washed them and stared down at his hands as they worked.
'I upset him.' He flinched. Then he frowned. "So what?" He said it aloud, his tone acidic, and he finished up with his dishes. "Why do I care? I didn't ask for him to help me, or for his interest."
He was irritated. "Fucking talking to yourself." He shook his head. He definitely needed some sort of outlet. And that was on his "to-do" list.
He put his coat back on and closed up the house. Then he got into his truck and drove to Hailey. He still had the trailer, and he dropped it off at the rental place in town. His next stop was Hailey Coffee Company. It was a little after noon, and so they had a bit of a rush in the place. He noticed that they also served light lunches, and most patrons in the shop had both food and coffee on their tables.
He patiently waited in line until he was only a single person away from the counter. The same, chipper woman worked both the register and the espresso machine. He was surprised to see there wasn't anyone helping her. The dark-haired patron in front of him seemed a little lost as he looked at the menu above head.
"Ah … Due grandi lattini senza grassi?" The man said, his voice hopeful he could be understood. Corbin looked closer at him. He was dressed well, and it was obvious he was on the way through town.
The blonde behind the counter frowned, not understanding. "I'm sorry … I don't …"
Instantly picking up on her body language and tone the man at the counter sighed, dejected. He looked around as if searching for someone. "Dov'è lei?" (Where is she?)
Corbin stepped up. "He wants two large non-fat lattes. How much does it cost?"
The barista smiled at him. "Thanks!" She totaled up the amount. "$8.00 even." She turned to start the drinks.
The Italian turned his dark eyes on Corbin and he smiled. "Dovrai otto dollari. Ma la convenzione sociale richiede circa dieci per un buon servizio." (You will owe eight dollars. But social convention demands about ten for good service).
He smiled broadly. "Grazie!" He pulled $10 from his wallet and placed the bill on the counter. His drinks were ready shortly after and he happily took them from the shop with another smile and a nod of his head at Corbin.
The barista eyed him and smiled. "You know … what … Italian?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I … took it in school. I'm sort of a language nut."
"Handy. Though, I admit it doesn't come up often here." She laughed. "Good timing!" The line was beginning to stack up behind him, so she got back to business. "What can I get for you?"
"Well, I'd like a large latte, and an application for a job, if you're hiring."
Her eyes widened and so did her smile. "Really? Okay. By all means, fill out an application!" She took a sheet of paper from behind the counter and slid it over to him. "I'll get started on your drink."
He took the application and waited for his order. He noticed that she was very fast at the work, and the quality of the drinks never seemed to suffer for it. He guessed she had to learn to be quick working solo like this.
His latte came, and he paid up. "What's your name anyway? Mine's Corbin."
She looked surprised. "Oh … Corbin? You bought my grandparent's place. I thought you'd be older!" She laughed. "Small town. My name is Karen. Great to meet you, Corbin."
He nodded and smiled at her then got out of the path of the line. He found a small table tucked out of the way in the corner of the shop. He sat, drank his latte and filled out the application as best as he could. He didn't really have any reportable job experience. But luckily Karen seemed to like him.
He finished both his drink and the application. "Thanks, Karen." He slid the paper across the counter to the eternally happy woman and she smiled.
"Thanks for applying! I'll let you know if I have any openings, Corbin." Then she was back to slinging espresso and coffee in a whirlwind of activity.
He left the coffee shop and made his way to L.L. Green's Hardware on Main Street. There he purchased an ax, a canister of bear spray, a hatchet, and he even bought a small chainsaw and a fuel can. He still wasn't so sure about the chainsaw, but he committed to learning to use the machine better. To do that he needed to have one on hand. 'Can't learn if you don't have the damn thing.'
He was told he'd need a file to sharpen the chainsaw, so he also bought the one suggested by the clerk. The woman tried to explain how to use it to sharpen the strange, angled teeth on the saw, but he wasn't sure if he understood or not. While she checked out everything he bought he immediately thought he would just ask Paul about it.
As he stood at the checkout counter he frowned in thought. 'Paul may not want to help me anymore.' That put what felt like a cold iron weight in his gut. He set his jaw and gathered his purchases. "Thanks." He left the store and went to his truck. He loaded his things behind his seat then he got into the truck cab. 'I'll just do it myself. I can look stuff up on my phone.' He nodded as he started the machine. 'It'll be fine.'
He drove back home. Just before he turned onto his road he looked up at the ridge and could see smoke curling lazily from a hidden house up there. Paul's house. He flexed his hands on his steering wheel. "I'll be fine." He whispered.
He had promised he wouldn't lie to himself, but this time he wasn't really sure if it were true or not. In this case, all he could do was hope that it was.
Author's Note: Please let me know your thoughts about the chapter at the following email address link. Wayne Gray
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