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    Wayne Gray
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Ash and Ember - 5. A Wall Falls

16 November 2018, Wednesday 6:58 a.m.

Grant stepped outside. The main garage door was open, and the gray, muted light of the overcast sky flooded the room. Troy was dressed in the same clothes he had worn yesterday - an old, thinning jacket, a red-checked flannel shirt, thick Docker work pants, and his scraped, gouged boots. He wore gloves and a knit cap as well. Grant caught Troy as he examined the table saw in the center of the space.

Troy nodded at Grant. "Hey, good morning."

Grant smiled at him. "Good morning."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant arrived at work. He sighed and got out of the car. Their unseasonable cold spell had broken, and the ground was wet and slushy. Though it was still chilly, it wasn't below freezing anymore, and it hadn't snowed last night.

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

"Oh, great." Grant gave an exasperated grunt. He shook the wet foot, but that didn't help. The insidious sensation of cold wetness creeping through his sock made him groan in annoyance. He walked the rest of the way to the building. Letting himself in, he shut the door with an irritated kick.

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

 

16 November 2018, Wednesday 8:44 a.m.

“Nnn. Oh, no.” It started while Troy was standing between the fenceline and the side porch, He grimaced. It had been a couple of days, and his body was ready, regardless of if he was or not.

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

He grabbed the key under the welcome mat and entered the house.

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

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

Barely in time, Troy sat on the commode and leaned his head back, eyes closed, mouth slightly open as his body evacuated everything in his bowels.

Sitting there, legs extended, he breathed in relief.

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

He made a face as he did. His rear was sore with raw, irritated skin. Many nights Troy went to bed in wet, filthy clothes, and that took a toll. The lack of proper showers had a significant impact on his hygiene and health too.

There was a hand mirror on the vanity. Standing with his pants down around his ankles, he debated looking at the damage. "No. I don't wanna know." He pulled his pants back up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You had better not get used to that.

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

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

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

He went to the wheelbarrow. It contained a slurry of concrete that he had been working to mix before he had been interrupted by the demands of his body. Mixing was helped along by an old hoe from the garage, and he gripped the well-used implement.

He swallowed. The smoothness of the hoe handle in his rough hands sparked yet another flash of memory. "No. No. Just get the job done." His John had used that very tool. He’d been an avid gardener and had struggled with the cooler environment of Vermont in the garden. Their second year in Vermont, John had found a set of vegetables he liked to both eat and grow that would thrive in the New England climate. Once he did, there was no stopping him in his pursuit of fresh, home-grown produce.

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

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

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

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

"Don't you laugh at me."

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

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

Troy finished mixing his concrete and wheeled the load over to the first post he had yet to reinforce with the material. Looking down, he estimated how much he'd need for that particular hole and scooped up some with the hoe.

"I never could tell you no." With a small smile, Troy got back to work.

 

16 November 2018, Wednesday 11:54 a.m.

Rhett had just cleaned the room after Grant wrapped up their last morning patient, and they had a few minutes before lunch. "Go ahead, Rhett. Thanks for your help. I'll see you this afternoon."

Rhett gave a relieved sigh. "Oh man, thanks. I gotta run to the bank, so the extra few minutes will help." He grabbed his jacket and was out the door.

Grant was fast with the computer, so he had already finished the last of his charting for the patients he had seen so far. He was prepared for those he'd see in the afternoon and had already read through their chief complaints.

Grant retrieved his lunch. He returned from the break room, his reheated bowl of leftover spaghetti in hand, and went to his desk.

Sitting, he began to eat his food. He looked over his shoulder as he slurped his noodles to see that nobody was in the hallway outside of the office. Rhett would be gone for another half-hour, at least.

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

Man, I need all the help I can get with Troy. He scrunched up his face and bit his lip. One more. One more entry. Then I'm done. He opened the journal back near the beginning - back to the happy times for John and Troy.

 

22 August 2013, Thursday 7:40 PM

Damn him! That man knows me way too well.

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

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

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

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

The tempter was making breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

He knew exactly what he was doing.

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

What man can stay mad after that?

The fucker.

~ T

 

Grant smirked and swallowed his bite. "Nice." He tapped his finger on the page. "Huh. You like breakfast." There was a sound in the hallway as someone walked toward the room. He quickly slipped the journal back into the bag.

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

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

Even I can make toast.

 

16 November 2018, Wednesday 6:17 p.m.

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

Worry crept into Troy's mind. "Where is he? He didn't say he'd be late." Troy thought back to the morning. The man had been awkward and uncomfortable during their exchange before he had left for work. Troy could tell. He was learning to read Grant better, and he had squirmed while they talked in the garage.

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

Troy opened the van door as the Subaru pulled into the driveway. He walked across the street, and Grant got out of the car. Grant retrieved a few grocery bags from the back and then struggled to snag his shoulder bag on the passenger seat.

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

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

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

Grant laughed. "Yeah. Please."

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn't long before Grant stepped out of the side door. He grinned at the sturdy posts, spaced eight feet apart. Troy knew Grant wasn't a builder, and that he probably could have gotten away with cheaper lumber, but Troy couldn't live with substandard work. He had too much pride in what he did for that. The work was the one thing in his life under his complete control, and he clung to the high quality of his completed projects with a fierceness.

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

"Don't touch. Not yet." Troy almost laughed at how Grant jerked his hand back from the post. "Sorry. I'm just not sure how well the concrete has set, and every post is perfectly straight."

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

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

He felt fondness.

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

Grant walked over. "Really straight. Nice work."

Troy let himself smile. "Thanks." He cleared his throat and nodded at the fence. "I'll have it framed up tomorrow, and completely built out. It'll be done. Then after I’m paid I'll have the van towed, and you'll be rid of me."

"Oh." Surprise registered on Grant's face. Troy had expected him to be happy, but that wasn't what he saw.

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

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

"No, a fence is pretty easy stuff."

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

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

Grant smirked, then nodded. "Yes. I think that's probably a good plan." His breath swirled in a white cloud between them, and he seemed to consider something. "You know, I've got some more work that needs doing. There's a spot for a furnace in the house, but no furnace. It looks like someone started the project, but stopped for some reason." Grant shrugged. "If you're interested in finishing someone else's work, then I'd like to hire you to do it."

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

He had worked hard to avoid the house as much as he could. Grant was nice, but Troy wasn't sure he could handle working inside - not with all of those memories. "Well, furnaces are expensive. They're between seven and fifteen-hundred." He couldn't help the stricken look on his face as he made a play to avoid the work. "I'd have to charge more than my thirty-three percent." He gave a shake of his head. "Those installs take a while, and I ... I'd have to charge going rates. Maybe even a little more."

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

Troy didn't want to, but he agreed. "Yeah. That's right."

Grant shrugged. "Do you think you can get it done if I paid three thousand?"

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

Three thousand was also too much to ask for the job. Troy felt the push and pull in his mind. I can't charge him that much. I can't cheat the guy. Trapped by his own morals, he felt a little deflated. He needed that money, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.

"Grant, that's too much money. Don't let anybody charge that much for the work." He kept the disappointment out of his voice, but only barely. He sighed. "If we bought a middle of the road furnace, one for about twelve-hundred, then I can do it for two-thousand, total. But so could just about anybody else."

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

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

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

Grant walked inside and shut the door.

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

"Breakfast?"

 

16 November 2018, Wednesday 6:31 p.m.

Bacon popped and sizzled on the stove in front of Grant. He had eight strips of thick-cut, peppered bacon in a cast-iron pan and stirred them around with a fork.

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

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

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

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

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

He juggled the hot bread and dropped the slices onto a plate.

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

He grinned, then toned the expression down. Grant wiped his hands on a kitchen towel, then opened the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, I’m fine. Thanks." Troy picked up his fork and the two men dug into their food.

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

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

Troy blinked, then he looked up. "Good jam." His voice was hushed and low. "It tastes homemade. Where … where did you get it?"

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

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

The desolation on Troy’s face made Grant feel awful. He tried to do something to make it better. "If you wanted one, then just take it."

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

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

Grant finished with a satisfied grunt and stood. "All done?"

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

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

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

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

Troy seemed so drained. He stood. "Yeah. Let's get this planned out."

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

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

"Okay. So, we agree on two-thousand total?" Troy didn't seem to notice Grant's reaction.

"Yeah. That sounds fine."

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

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

"All right. Thanks." Troy seemed antsy. "Well, I'm gonna head out to relax a bit before bed. Thanks for dinner." He turned toward the front door.

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

Troy stared at him, and his jaw shifted. It looked to Grant as if he fought with his response. "It … it wouldn't be a bother?"

"No, not at all."

Another few heartbeats passed as Troy considered, scrutinizing Grant. Finally, Troy sighed. "Okay. Yeah." He nodded. "That'd be nice." He hurriedly added, "I'd take them at night, so I won't be in your way when you're getting ready for your job."

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

Grant watched Troy. The man bit his lip while his shoulders slumped in misery. Troy confessed, "Yeah, it's a struggle to get there."

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

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

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

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

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

Troy seemed to surrender. He had carried so much alone, for so long. Thanks to reading the journal, Grant knew he also had incredible pride, and that it took a lot for Troy to allow Grant to help him. But he was doing it.

Troy nodded again. "Okay." He rubbed his head. "Ah, some of my stuff is pretty bad. Not sure you want my sheets in your washer."

"If they're that bad then we'll toss them." Grant held up a hand as Troy began to object. "Sheets are pretty cheap, Troy." He reached up and gripped Troy's shoulders. The man hung his head, and Grant felt the mixture of shame and thankfulness as it rolled off of him. "These are easy fixes, and won't cost me anything I'm not able to spare." He looked up into Troy's eyes. "I want to do this.” Grant smiled as reassuringly as he could and squeezed Troy's shoulders. “Will you let me?” He grinned good-naturedly. “Come on. It's just a few bucks ..." Grant caught himself. "I mean, I'm happy to help. Really."

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

Despite Troy's unpleasant state, Grant pulled him in and embraced the lonely, weary man. “Hey, it’s all right,” Grant spoke softly.

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

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

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

Here it is, chapter five. This one is a bit of a keystone chapter in the story.

I hope you all enjoy it. Thank you for reading, rating and commenting.

The next update will be on Thursday. 🙂

Copyright © 2020 Wayne Gray; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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55 minutes ago, Wayne Gray said:

Hrmmm, yes. That journal. It has slowly turned from an asset to a liability, hasn't it?

*tick tick tick* 🙂

Uh oh...if Troy were a gamer I wonder how he’d feel about cheat codes. 🤔

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3 hours ago, Wayne Gray said:

Great comments, Danners. 

I like your thoughts concerning the journal. Grant has leaned pretty hard on it in his dealings with Troy, that's certain. Has it moved beyond pure altruism? Was it ever?

It'd be terribly easy for Grant to simply destroy the journal. Will he? These are smart characters. I write characters who may make bad decisions in the moment, but they will be mistakes anybody could make if in a similar position.

Ohhhh ... very interesting thoughts about Grant and how his actions are venturing into the language of a loving person, and not just that of an acquaintance. We're watching him expend effort, energy, and ... emotion on Troy. When will either of them realize it? Will they ever?

That wall needed to come down, though you are right. It's a two-edged thing for both of them. Troy has more to lose, but ... Grant is getting some skin in the game too.

Hahaha ... yeah, this story is out there. But you'd miss out on the edited version. I plan at least two new scenes too which will help with the story overall. Stay strong if you can! hehehe

Thanks for reading. There's more on Thursday. 🙂

Sure, it’ll be easy enough to destroy the journal by tossing it in the aforementioned Shred-It bin, but Grant has a conscience — a guilty conscience — and I don’t see it as something he’s capable of ignoring. Even with it gone, the truth would come out somehow — an offhand comment about a subject he shouldn’t know about, for instance.

The difficult but more worthwhile option is to present the journal to Troy and give him the choice of what to do with it. It’s another opportunity to afford him some closure while reminding him of happier times. Troy may react badly in the moment as past pain is dredged up, especially when he finds out John read some (not all!) of the entries, but this is part of the foundation upon which that wall of his was built on.

If it were me, I’d present the old journal along with a new one to chronicle his rise from the ashes. But, of course, Grant is your character, not mine — and not me. Half the fun is watching him stumble.

To quote Critical Role’s Matt Mercer: “Is it Thursday yet?!”

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1 hour ago, Philippe said:

I understand some of your concerns and focus on the journal but this is a unique case from the beginning. The house and all the contents are totally and legally Grant’s. Likewise, even accepting that the journal is a more personal thing, it was thrown in the fire, trashed; perhaps in despair and depression but none the less tossed from Troy’s life; the journal does legally belong to Grant while the memories are Troy’s.

Grant was naturally curious to learn more of how and why he got this house. Within that story he started to see, understand, and know the people through the eyes and hand of the author “T.” Then the skip ahead to learn the tragedy has snowballed into calamity for “T” Troy. How can any human not feel compassion, empathy, and a certain guilt in knowing your benefit came at a huge loss to someone enjoying a rewarding and love filled life.

The journal then allows Grant, a compassionate young man, to see the dire situation. Troy is not going to ask for help, can’t position himself for professional help, and is not likely to accept any in this cruel world that stole his love, is house, is reason for living. The more we see and understand Troy, the more it would be a terrible mistake to place this treasure back into his hands prematurely, yet, more important not to destroy the only true memories Troy will have of his first love, house and life before. Once he is in a better place it should be graciously and respectfully returned to the owner of those cherished memories. Even should Grant develop feelings of love for Troy, I can’t imagine him being so selfish as to deny or destroy such a living memory for Troy.

Likewise, Grant has respected the privacy of the journal to just himself and for the purpose of helping; not for any personal gain or for gratitude. Meanwhile, it is helping Grant find ways to reconnect Troy to the world,  through Troy’s love for John and the loving things John did to show his understanding and appreciation for Troy. The journal is the RESET needed by Grant to rescue Troy from complete failure and withdraw.

Thank you for a different perspective. You raise some good points about the journal as a tool rather than a crutch, along with how and when it is returned. They’re Grant-centric and I appreciate that. We, myself especially, often get mired down in the possibilities instead of grounding ourselves in the known truth. In fact, I’m so drawn to subtext that I sometimes ignore what’s actually written on the page.

Grant is a wonderful, caring, generous guy and I don’t doubt for a minute he has anything but the best of intentions. Legal ownership notwithstanding, he admits to a moral obligation to at least address having found the journal.

My main concern lies with Troy.

His life was ruined when John died and he’s barely been able to keep himself afloat. Having closed himself off to any one in a position to help him for any number of reasons (pride, self-preservation, shame, etc.), the trust he so recently placed in Grant is fragile and easily broken. If — and that’s a big if — he views Grant’s use of the journal as a betrayal instead of immediately understanding the guy’s altruism, he could regress beyond the point of repair. It’s in his character to do so because of the degradation of his life up to this point.

I agree with you that Grant shouldn’t destroy the journal and should respectfully return it when he knows Troy is in a better state of mind. The reason I’d like to see that happen sooner rather than later is this: the foundation of their budding friendship is built mostly on what Grant learned from the journal. Troy deserves to know that before he becomes more involved with Grant.

it’s . . . not easier for John to explain how he found it, why he read what he did, and that his reasons for applying that insight toward helping Troy are innocent ones, but his explanation is likely to be more well-received in the short term. At no point has someone thanked a stranger for reading their diary, not right away anyway. The longer he waits to at least bring up the journal, the more he risks alienating Troy, not to mention the risk to Troy’s mental health.

Like I said, I focus on possible outcomes more than current events, but let me sum up the above blathering in the framework of risk assessment:

We KNOW Troy’s feelings will be hurt regardless of Grant’s intentions. So it’s up to Grant to decide when to broach the subject and how to best minimize the damage. 

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The journal and the backyard fence have become symbols for the relationship between Troy and Grant. Yes, John died and that began Troy's despair, but he was able to restore the fence by good workmanship and by applying the same sense of restoration to his relationship to John, he can rebuild that life as well. The opportunity and the means are there, but what needs to be restored is Troy's desire to rebuild. Troy is a proud man, so proud that he is unable even to admit to himself that he is destroying his own life, the life that John can give through both the voice in his head and the journal, if he will but accept the help that is offered. Grant can be a conduit for that restoration, if Troy can even accept Grant's help. 
Troy is a good man who is in need of help and Grant in real life and the voice of his lover, John in his head are able to provide that help... if Troy can ever accept it.

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10 hours ago, JeffreyL said:

Wonderful chapter and great dialogue! I am glad Troy has softened a bit toward Grant helping him. Grant is doing a pretty good job thinking on his feet to get Troy to go along. Thanks. 

Thanks, Jeffrey.

Grant wore him down. The house, the friendliness, the food ... it heaped on Troy until he couldn't justify remaining an island.

There's a lot more to come for these guys. 🙂

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21 hours ago, Hawgdad said:

Great chapter Wayne!  Eagerly waiting to see what the keystone holds together...

Tom

Thanks, Tom!

We'll get to it. Thorn got the edit to me early ... and I may be feeling generous.

Maybe. The night is still young.

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The journal might legally belong to Grant, but morally, it’s still Troy's – and it would still be Troy’s if John had been the diarist. It’s kind of like the people who search for the original owner (or their family) when they find something like a lost wedding ring or military medal. Legal ownership is not necessarily the same as moral right.

Some people still do the right thing, even when it’s just a nice thing – like the guy who managed to capture a picture of a man proposing to his girlfriend on a lookout in Yosemite from another ridge and posted it online to try to get the picture to the couple (successfully, by the way).

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