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    Wayne Gray
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Ash and Ember - 29. An Ember Burns

18 April 2019, Thursday 4:17 p.m. (Pacific Time)

Brian watched the proposal happen. Seeing the way Grant looked at Troy made Brian understand that there wasn't another man who would love Troy more than Grant. When Troy said yes, Brian's voice rang out with the others - a choir of happiness, surprise, and support for these two, beautiful men.

Natalie and Georgette both screamed in abject joy. They almost tackled Troy as he was down on his knees before Grant. Laughing, he patted their arms now clamped across his neck.

"Yeah!" Aaron stepped close, clapping Grant on his back. Grant grinned, but his brown eyes never left Troy's face. Aaron marveled at the way they stayed connected with their eyes. No stopping this train, Aaron thought. He and Brian looked at one another. They had worried together over Troy for many months. Now, the knowledge that they would no longer have to passed between them. He's okay. He's really gonna be okay.

With no room next to Troy and Grant, Rhett and Beth hugged one another. Beth bounced up and down, and Rhett laughed. Rhett heard Beth say something under her breath as she celebrated but he didn't quite catch it. Whatever she had said sounded as if it were spoken in relief. Before he could ask, the two men stood up.

 

Troy turned to Grant's mother and father. The friends separated, quieting down as Troy took Grant's hand, then stepped before them. "I'm an old-fashioned guy." He opened his hand where the ring Grant had given him rested in his palm. "And, though I have said yes to your son, I want to know that I have your blessings." Troy smiled. "It would mean a lot to me, to have that."

Sandra reached for William, and he helped her to her feet. She looked up at Troy, her green eyes thoughtful. Sandra let his question hang in the air for a long moment, then she looked at William. "What do you say, dear?" Her gaze came back to Troy. "Should we give Troy permission to marry our son?"

William hugged Sandra around her shoulders. The way he did it, Troy couldn't even tell he had helped her to stand; it looked simply as if they were two, close people who loved each other. And, Troy supposed that was true. William grinned. "I think that there's no one better suited." Biting his lip, he looked as if he would get emotional. "Troy, you make our son happy. So long as you continue to do that," he nodded, "then yes. You have our permission to marry Grant."

Stepping forward, Troy hugged both Sandra and William where they stood. As he did, John stirred in his mind.

Good move, baby. Good move.

 

24 July 2019, Wednesday 1:52 a.m.

A loud, insistent knock sounded on the front door, jarring Grant awake. It was now July in Barre, and the area was just beginning to enjoy a warm and beautiful Summer. Troy and Grant slept with the windows open, with only screens between them and the outside to help stay cool. Through the mesh, Grant now plainly heard Aaron's voice from where he stood downstairs at their door.

"Grant, Troy! Get up! It's time! Oh god. It's time."

Grant shook Troy. "Get up! We've gotta go!"

Troy made a confused, surprised sound but obeyed and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Both men got up, shoved their clothes on, and ran downstairs. Grant opened the door. Georgette stood bent over, her hands on her knees and a terrific look of concentration and pain on her face. Aaron was white as a sheet, but he was beside Georgette on the front stoop, rubbing her back. Georgette looked up at the men as they exited.

"Good. Guys, make Aaron sit down." Georgette gritted her teeth. "He's gonna pass out on us."

"I'm fine." Aaron patted her back.

"So, the nervous vomiting you did when I woke you up is perfectly normal?" Georgette laughed, her hair dangling down to frame her face as she stayed bent at the waist.

"Okay, that means I'm definitely driving." Troy dashed across the street to start the van. While he pulled up to the house, Grant went to Georgette.

Soon, they had her loaded in the van. As they did, Troy called Brian and Natalie on his cell phone. They were going to meet them at the hospital as soon as they could get there. Grant called the hospital to let them know they were on the way, while Aaron stood beside and held Georgette's hand. The look on Aaron's face was one of concern and love for his wife. Though Grant did worry about Aaron. He was sweating bullets and his pupils were dilated. "Aaron. Sit down." Grant gently but firmly pushed Aaron down into the seat beside Georgette. "Hold her hand from there." Grant almost laughed when, even while in active labor, Georgette smirked at her husband.

Troy drove quickly but safely to their destination. Arriving, they met a couple of workers in scrubs waiting with a wheelchair in front of the emergency room entrance. Georgette was whisked inside. But before Aaron could take more than five steps alongside her chair, one of the workers made him sit in a wheelchair of his own. "Sir, you're really pale. Have a seat."

He finally relented and took the offered chair. "I'm fine!" he proclaimed as he was wheeled along with her. Grant shared a grin with Troy, shook his head, and followed behind them with a smile.

 

24 July 2019, Wednesday 4:45 p.m.

In ways, the labor passed so quickly, and yet it also felt like an eternity to Aaron. Only a few people were allowed in the room at any one time, but their friends were in the adjacent room to the one he and Georgette were in. Periodically, he went out to let them know how she was doing.

"Aaron!" Georgette's voice and the sound of her efforts as she strained through a sharp contraction made Aaron's head snap around. He was in the room with the friends but dashed away, back into the labor suite. He rushed to her side, taking her hand in his own. He almost flinched at her grip. Her eyes stared up into his. She looked practically feral - alive, wild, and so intense.

"Oh, here we go, momma." The doctor patted Georgette's thigh. "I can see the baby. Everything looks good." The woman looked over Georgette's bent knees at her. "You're doing great. When the contraction comes, push and push hard."

Aaron watched, fascinated.

Gritting her teeth, Georgette cried out, and pushed.

 

24 July 2019, Wednesday 5:02 p.m.

Natalie stood up as Aaron staggered into the room. He looked utterly stunned, elated, and unsteady on his feet. Raising his eyes, he put a hand over his mouth, completely overcome. All of the friends went to him.

"Is everything okay? Are they okay?" Brian asked.

Aaron nodded his hand still over his mouth. He closed his eyes and tears rolled from them. Then he laughed. "We have a son." He threw his arms around Brian, and Natalie grinned as her husband crushed him in a hug. "We have a son!" He screamed as Brian lifted him up off the ground.

 

24 July 2019, Wednesday 5:11 p.m.

"He's beautiful." Grant had an arm around Aaron's shoulders, while Troy stood on the other side. They stared down at the little human being, as Georgette held him against her chest. Grant watched her. She made little soothing sounds on instinct, her hands lightly pushing the headful of reddish-blonde hair back out of his face.

Rhett and Beth smiled broadly. They both had come to the hospital after they'd finished with their shifts. Beth actually had to pull double duty and cover Brian's class in addition to her own. Thankfully, a teaching assistant made that possible, but it was still a lot of work for her. She didn't seem as if she minded.

Wiping his face, Aaron laughed - a happy little sound. He reached to place one hand on Georgette's head and looked with such adoration at her. "You're amazing, momma."

She looked up at him and smiled, tired but elated. "You too, daddy."

Beth gently touched the baby's pink little arm. Her dark skin contrasted against his, and she bit her lip. "Wow. It's amazing." She blew out a breath as her fingertips stroked him. "You guys made a little person."

Both Aaron and Georgette chuckled, and Aaron nodded. "I know. It's wild."

"Is it too early to ask about his name?" Rhett put an arm around Beth's shoulders as she cooed at and petted the baby.

Georgette looked down at the little boy in her arms. "His name is Henry. After Aaron's grandfather."

"Henry Allen Davidson." Aaron grinned.

"Good name." Brian patted Aaron's back. He nodded at them, looking proud and satisfied. "I'm so glad we got to be here for this."

"Me too." Aaron took his wife's hand in his own. Grant felt the connection between them thrum and vibrate as it strengthened. Then, watching them, he realized that it wasn't just the connection between Georgette and Aaron he felt.

It's all of us. His eyes roamed over the room to take in every face and feel all of the emotions of those present. At that moment, he knew that he had indeed found his tribe.

 

31 August 2019, Saturday 9:52 a.m. (Pacific Time)

Once again, all of the friends had gathered under the oak tree in the winery grounds. Grant stood beside his father and mother, looking out over them.

Gavin was off to the side, trying to be as unobtrusive as he could. He held a nice digital camera and had already taken dozens of photos. He was under strict orders to take pictures of everything, and the man was doing exactly that.

A group of five men and women waited patiently off to the side on a small wooden platform Troy had helped William build. Each held an instrument, but currently, they were silent as they awaited the moment they were supposed to start the music. Till then, they only watched and smiled as proceedings got underway.

Aaron held Henry in his arms. The five-week-old boy slept peacefully against his chest, while Georgette stood beside her husband, her hair gently moving in the slight breeze that blew beneath the shade of the ancient oak.

Natalie was close to the new parents. Holding a small bouquet of wildflowers in her hands, she smiled so broadly she couldn't help but show her teeth.

Rhett and Beth, too, stood in the cluster of friends. As Grant's eyes swept over them, Rhett smiled and nodded at Grant. It was a quiet show of support and approval.

Brian stood just to his left side. When it came time for the men to pick their best man, they had both agreed that they would ask Brian - that he could serve that role for the both of them. Brian had been honored, and Grant smiled as he remembered the way one of the toughest, strongest men he knew had cried when they asked him.

They looked amazing. The women all wore silvery white dresses, with a wide, blue sash around their waists and gray shoes, while the men sported the same color blue shirts, gray slacks, and silver-white vests that matched the ladies dresses.

The real reason Grant stood there was Troy. His fiance was on his right, and Grant couldn't help but look at him in love-struck awe. Troy's beard had completely filled in. It was short but dense, and suited his face well. His green eyes held a spark of vitality Grant would never tire of, and his light gray slacks and blue, tailored button-up shirt hugged his body perfectly.

In what amounted to a wonder to Grant, his own mother had insisted that she be their officiant. At first, he had thought it was about control. But as they planned the simple ceremony, he realized that wasn't it. Her excitement and happiness for him was plain. That she was included in it, that she was a part of it thrilled her. The fact that she would become ordained, solely for this moment, also spoke to how important it was to her.

That also meant his father was included in the ceremony itself. Sandra's condition had slowed, but it would never remit. William stood right next to her. His arm was around his wife, and William's smile lit up his face as he helped her stand.

Grant and Troy had just walked out together with Brian behind them, and they stopped before his parents where they awaited the couple.

Sandra smiled at him. "My son." Then her eyes met Troy's. "And Troy." She inhaled. "Today, we're gathered to marry these two men. We're here to be witnesses to both their commitment and to their love." She grinned. "Both grooms requested this ceremony be, and I quote, 'short and sweet,' and so, I will now pass it over to Troy, who will recite his vows to Grant."

Grant watched as Troy turned from Sandra to him. "Grant. You're so many things to me." Troy shook his head as if he struggled with the enormity of his emotion. "You stepped into my life when I was at my lowest. You saw me, dirty, starving, almost broken, and lost. Yet you still reached out. You stepped straight into my world. You reached down to lift me up." Troy's eyes were so bright as he stared into Grant's soul. "For that, I promise myself to you. I promise that I will be yours and that I will forever desire you to be mine."

Grant wiped his face and laughed. He wanted so badly to kiss Troy but now wasn't the moment. Sandra seemed to feel Grant's urge, and she grinned at him. "Grant, please, recite your vows to Troy."

Grant took a deep, steadying breath. "Troy. I know you think that I saved you." He bit his lip, and shook his head. "But, I don't feel that way at all." Grant took both of Troy's lean, callused hands into his own. "You dropped into my life like a comet; meeting you was a pivotal, beautiful moment. And, like that comet streaking across the sky, I kept expecting that moment to end. Because it is so intense, that I couldn't imagine it could continue." Grant let his tears fall to run down his face. "But, here you are. And so long as you'll have me, I promise to be yours." Grant smiled through his tears and put a hand on the back of Troy's neck. "I'm yours, Troy."

Grant finished, and the men stared at one another. His mother cleared her throat and wiped her eyes. Troy and Grant faced her, smiling at Sandra's emotional response to their vows. She recovered and nodded at them both. Then she looked out over those assembled. "All of you, bear witness to this - bear witness to my son and Troy, as they join themselves in marriage." Her green eyes met those of Brian where he stood behind the couple. "The rings, please."

With a nod, Brian stepped forward. He handed the pair of rings to Sandra. She took them, then faced Troy and reached for him. Into his palm, she placed Grant's ring. Troy then took Grant's left hand, and he positioned the ring, ready. "Repeat after me, Troy."

"I, Troy Beckford, take this man, Grant Sexton, to be my husband. I promise myself to him, so long as we both shall live."

Troy said the words, and his shaking fingers slid the ring onto Grant's hand.

Sandra cleared her throat again. This time, she let the tears remain on her face. "Grant." She smiled at him, barely able to speak. "Son, repeat after me."

"I, Grant Sexton, take this man, Troy Beckford, to be my husband. I promise myself to him, so long as we both shall live."

Grant's mind fixed upon the way Troy stared in quiet amazement down at the ring as he placed it on Troy's finger. Then Troy looked up at him.

"I now pronounce you husbands." Sandra looked on, her face a study of wonder. "You may kiss."

Grant felt the warm arm of Troy around his waist as the man drew him close. Then they leaned in to take their first kiss as husbands.

Their friends exploded into a wild cheer, and Grant felt deep, profound relief.

Grant leaned back, and the men looked upon one another with such adoration and love, as their friends and parents carried on. The band his father had hired began to play, and Gavin continued to snap picture after picture of them.

But to Grant, it had all faded away. Everything but the man he held in his arms.

 

31 August 2019, Saturday 12:47 p.m.

Wine, fantastic food, and celebration was the order of the day. The friends, Grant's parents, Gavin, and Grant all made it a time to remember. Troy couldn't have asked for a more perfect and magical event.

But he needed time to think. He needed quiet and just a moment to himself. So he slipped away. While everyone continued to celebrate, Troy sat at the table under the shade of the porch. Lying back in the chair, he laughed quietly to himself as he allowed the realization of what they had done sink in.

Then, he felt a stirring. It was as if a door opened, whereas before it was only cracked. Chill bumps rose on his skin, his eyes widened, and he slowly sat up.

Baby, I've looked after you. And that first year, seeing you struggle, and hurt, and fight, it pained me more than anything. And I knew if I didn't do something, that you weren't going to make it.

Troy sat perfectly still as the voice spoke to him. He hadn't heard from John at all since the proposal. And now, Troy paid full and careful attention to him.

A love knows a kindred soul. He knows exactly what his lover needs. And when it was time for Grant to pick where he was gonna go, I called to him.

A creeping sort of realization struck Troy, and he began to understand. John wasn't a figment of his mind. He was there, with him, and he had been from the start. Troy blinked in shock. John continued, Just getting him to pick Barre, that was my doing. I had to get him there to you. And keeping the journal from burning, that was me too. But the rest was him, and it was you. And baby, it's time. It's time for me to go.

"John?" Troy's voice cracked as he streamed tears. "John, are you really here?"

I am. But it's time. I'm tired, baby. And my work is done. It was the first time John's voice had ever replied directly to Troy.

"John!" Troy stood up. "No. No, don't go."

Awww, you don't need me anymore. You and Beth are both gonna be okay. I know it. And that is all I ever needed to rest. Tell me goodbye, love. And then go, and live your life with that man of yours.

Troy closed his eyes. John's voice sounded hollow and so tired, and Troy knew that he would need to let go for his John to rest. For this man he loved, Troy would do anything, even if that meant saying goodbye.

He raised his face to the sky, eyes tightly closed, imagining John's face. He breathed and tried to calm his heart as it hammered in his chest. "Goodbye, John. Thank you for helping me hold on. I love you."

His imagined vision of John smiled, mouth open, teeth visible. John's eyes moved from looking straight at Troy to the sky, up and into the great beyond. The equal of a relieved spiritual sigh breathed like a gentle wind in Troy's mind, and along with his mental picture, that presence that had resided with him peacefully disappeared, like mist burning away in the morning sun.

He was gone. Troy opened his eyes, and Beth was there. She streamed tears, same as he. Wordlessly, she stepped up to embrace him. After a moment, they pushed back, and Beth wiped her face. "You heard him. He was with you." It wasn't a question, but a statement. And that's when Troy realized that she, too, had heard him - that she had also carried John with her.

Troy nodded. Beth smiled through her tears. "He always wanted a dramatic exit." They both laughed, happiness and sadness at war in their hearts. They stood close, each supporting the other.

Beth looked across the courtyard. Grant was laughing and smiling with his mom, Rhett, and Brian. Their other friends danced or chatted as the band played. Troy and Beth both saw Grant frown a bit and begin to look over the grounds for Troy.

Troy blew out a breath. "Okay. I guess it's time."

Beth looked up at Troy. Her brown eyes reminded him so much of John's, and she smiled. She linked her arm with his. "It is." She squeezed him. "Let's go."

Troy and Beth walked across the courtyard. Grant's face as Troy approached was a miracle of love and completion.

As he released Beth to hold his husband, Troy looked into Grant's eyes. They were so intense and bright. Like embers. Beautiful, vibrant embers. Troy smiled in bittersweet joy.

There, surrounded by friends and basking in the sun, Troy kissed the second great love of his life.

Here it is ... the end.

Some readers hate the fact that they were reading a ghost-story all along, and if you're one of those ... well, you can imagine that John was merely a shared hallucination between the two people who loved him the most.

I do hope you enjoyed it, though. All the way to the end.

Oh, and if you've not already, please rate/recommend/review the story itself. You can do any and all of those things below through the story link.

Thanks again for your readership and your time. I appreciate you all.

Copyright © 2020 Wayne Gray; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



First you trick me into reading a story where a trusted and supposedly trustworthy character double-crossed the protagonist! Then you tricked me into reading a werewolf story! And now you’ve tricked me into reading a ghost story!
;–)

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4 minutes ago, Butcher56 said:

I’m truly happy for Grant and Troy as they were married at the same place they were engaged under the oak tree outside Grant’s parents home and winery. Troy got the best approval he could have gotten from John as he told Troy goodbye now that he knew he would have someone to take care of him as well as Beth now having Rhett to take care of her. I thought it was great that Sandra was the officiant for the ceremony even though she had to have Williams help to stand. It was very nice to have Aaron and Georgettes son there as well since he was born five weeks before the wedding. I agree with the others that this was a very interesting and fantastic story to read, this chapter was amazing, thank you for the opportunity to read this fantastic story.

Thanks, Butcher.

I do like this one ... this story. I wrote it right after I finished the first section of Camp Refuge. I had learned a few things, and I wanted to see what I could do with just a little more experience under my belt.

Like anything, we get better with practice, and we can always improve. For a while this was my best. Though, what's coming with A Silent Song will hopefully surpass this in the eyes of most readers.

See you back in Camp Refuge, Butcher. 🙂

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I love how Grant came home to the Bay Area to get married! Even though he wandered far from home, he returned to his birthplace for one of the most significant events in his life.

I can see a series of short stories involving these characters. Another wedding. Sadly, a funeral. Gavin crossing over to Camp Refuge…
;–)

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Thank you for a great story that I can say I have read officially twice. Keep up the great work.

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1 hour ago, Brokenbind said:

Enjoyed this immensely.

 

Thank you, Brokenbind. I'm really glad that you and others liked the story. There will be more down the line from me, and I hope to see you at the next one too.

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1 hour ago, droughtquake said:

I love how Grant came home to the Bay Area to get married! Even though he wandered far from home, he returned to his birthplace for one of the most significant events in his life.

I can see a series of short stories involving these characters. Another wedding. Sadly, a funeral. Gavin crossing over to Camp Refuge…
;–)

Thanks for the comment, droughtquake.

He did wander far from home. Yet, the gravity exerted over a person by the place they were born can't be denied. He couldn't see joining with Troy in any other place.

Maybe you're right about those short stories. Time will tell.

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59 minutes ago, kbois said:

I am so disappointed.

We've reached the end of another fantastic story. 

You've done well Mr. Gray.  I truly enjoy your writing skills  and the characters you create. 

The ending was perfect. Babies should be a welcome joy and Henry certainly is. He has great parents and wonderful aunts and uncles to look out for him. 

Troy and Grant's tribe expanded from the Quad Squad  into the Super Seven (I  count Henry) and Grant's  parents have embraced them all...sweet!

I'm sad that this story has to end. As a reader, the characters live in your head the way the author brings them to life. You have an advantage as the author, you get to visit them whenever they pop into your mind. I'm a little jealous!

On that note I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store for the Camp Refuge gang. Don't keep us waiting too long, take care and thank you again for keeping us entertained!

Kudos!

Thanks for the comments, kbois.

Henry is a good boy, and really a perfect addition to our little crew. Then you've got Sandra and William (and even Gavin) tossed into the mix too. It's hard not to feel the pull we mostly associate with family in such a place and around such people.

Yeah, all stories have to end. But ... that leaves space for more tales to tell later. Though I will say I had quite a few readers ask for updates to this one, and that's flattering. It's also tempting! I love these characters. Yet other projects await.

Oh, A Silent Song is already written and just needs some polish. So we'll likely go to the same schedule as this tale (Thursdays and Sundays). Though, that may have to wait a week. I have ... something else I may post between stories. We'll see.

Thanks again. 🙂

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32 minutes ago, Hugsly said:

Thank you for a great story that I can say I have read officially twice. Keep up the great work.

Thanks for commenting, Hugsly!

I'm really happy it was worth your second spin through. It means a lot for me to capture a reader at all, and twice is even better. 🙂

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What a perfectly wonderful final chapter; birth, marriage, John’s final parting - it’s all there, and beautiful. Thank you for this lovely story. 

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14 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

What a perfectly wonderful final chapter; birth, marriage, John’s final parting - it’s all there, and beautiful. Thank you for this lovely story. 

Thanks, Parker.

I still can't believe you guessed that John was a ghost, and not just a figment of Troy's mind. 😮

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Loved the end of the story the first time, and love it now too -- though the feelings it brings now are a tad bitter-sweet; thoughts of loosing C, and thoughts of the present with SP. I'd like to think C would have approved of him.

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6 minutes ago, Fae Briona said:

Loved the end of the story the first time, and love it now too -- though the feelings it brings now are a tad bitter-sweet; thoughts of loosing C, and thoughts of the present with SP. I'd like to think C would have approved of him.

Thank you for the nice words, Fae.

I could see why it'd conjure those feelings for you. There was and is still a lot of you wrapped up in the memories of C. Your being with SP doesn't diminish that. I think C would want you to be happy, really. So long as you and SP are, then I think yes, he would approve. 🙂

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I loved this story the first time, and love it even more the second time around.  Thank you so much for sharing your talents with your readers, allowing us to experience your stories and characters.  I definitely look forward to joining you back at the Refuge.

Tom

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5 hours ago, Wayne Gray said:

Thank you, MJC. I'm glad you enjoyed the story and the chapter too. 🙂

There's more to come from me down the line. I need to start editing the continuation to Camp Refuge, then that story will pick up once again. I hope to see you there too!

I really liked your 'Camp Refuge' story as well, I'm sure the sequel will be just as much fun :) 

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