Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 17: The Poison of Doubt

Chapter 17: The Poison of Doubt

17 January 2019, Thursday 4:51 PM

"Is that it, Rhett? Our last patient?" Grant looked at the computer on his desk. He'd just exited the examination room, finished with Mrs. Hayes' appointment for her diabetes check.

Rhett was on his way to the exam room. "Yep. I'm going to hand over the diet information you wanted her to have. I'll be right back."

He left, and Grant sat back in his chair. He sighed, then smiled. "Oh yeah. Vacation time." They were due to head to the bed and breakfast in the Mad River Valley tomorrow. The trip wasn't a long one. But there was a bit of snow on the ground. So it'd make the going a bit slow.

Grant began to shut down his computer, and then he packed his bag. As he did, he looked at the locked drawer in his desk.

The journal ate at him. The knowledge of what it contained, and knowing that he kept Troy from seeing the last message he'd ever read from a man that he loved - that drove a knife into his heart. Grant's eyes lost focus, and he tried to imagine what Troy's reaction would be.

Grant bit his lip. 'Doesn't matter. It's not yours to keep, is it?' He took a deep breath, and he unlocked the drawer. Grant slipped the burned book into his bag, and he closed the drawer. He finished clipping his bag back together when Rhett returned.

The skinny, short man pushed his glasses back up his nose. He gave Grant a smile. "I hear you're on vacation for a few days next week. Going anywhere fun?"

Grant put the bag over his shoulder. "Yeah. Mad River Valley for some skiing. Going with some friends. It should be a good time."

Rhett's eyes lit up. "Oh, I love skiing. You ever been to Mad River Valley?"

"No, but I'm looking forward to it. The way Troy talks about it, he makes it sound like it's a good time." Grant said Troy's name easily, naturally. Grant didn't even think about it.

"Yeah? Is he one of the friends you're going with?" Rhett shook his head. "You've only been here a couple of months, and you've already got a group of friends. Must be nice to make friends so fast!"

Grant paused. This was the first time he had been presented with the dilemma of what to reveal to who. Everyone at his work seemed very open-minded. They had a varied population of patients. But it was still another matter to take that step. Once he did, there was no going back. He made a choice. "Uh, actually, yeah. Troy's my, uh," Grant swallowed, unsure why it was suddenly so difficult for him to say the words. But he'd started down this road, and he was determined to finish. "Troy's my boyfriend."

Rhett blinked, and Grant watched as he processed the information. "Oh. Oh, cool." Rhett recovered, and he smiled. "Well, I hope you guys have a good time."

Grant felt the pressure let up at Rhett's reaction, and he audibly sighed in relief.

Rhett noticed. He smiled at Grant. "Hey, it's cool that you're dating a guy, Grant. My brother's gay." His smile grew into a grin. "This is an accepting sort of place. Honestly, Dr. Petrucci will just be happy you found a reason to stick around the area."

Grant laughed. "Yeah? Well, that's great to hear." He took another breath. "Wow. I'm glad you were the first person I told here."

Rhett nodded. "I'm honored you picked me to do it. I watched my brother struggle with it. It's hard." He eyed Grant. "I also know what happens when people who are trusted spread the word before you might be ready for others to know. So, if you want, I'll keep it to myself."

"Damn, that's really empathetic, Rhett." Grant thought about what he wanted. "Uh, I guess, so long as you don't have to lie for me, I'd like it to stay between us for now."

Rhett smiled. "You got it, Grant." He stepped closer and held out his arms. "Can I hug ya?"

Grant grinned. He stepped up and pulled Rhett in for a hug.

Rhett patted his back. "I'm glad you're here, Grant." They pushed back, and Rhett took on a thoughtful expression. "Do you mind if I tell my brother we've got a gay male provider? He's been looking for one local, and there are not many."

Grant thought a moment, then he nodded. "Yeah. That sounds fine. I'm assuming you mean because he's looking for a provider who understands his particular issues."

Rhett nodded. "Yep. He has complained about it to me, that there's nobody around who really understands his health issues and needs." Rhett shrugged. "Till now, I didn't know of anybody local who he could see."

Grant made a face. "Well, I guess I'll have to do some research on common gay men health issues."

Rhett laughed. "I think, mainly, it's about being able to be honest and not making the provider uncomfortable." The short man picked up his bag. "Okay, have fun on your trip, Grant."

"Thanks, Rhett. Have a good long weekend."

The blonde man smirked. "Not all of us have Fridays off, Grant." He laughed at Grant's expression. "But, thanks for the sentiment."

After saying farewell, Grant exited the clinic. It was definitely good skiing weather. There was fresh, dry snow on the ground, and more was falling. Grant smiled as he stood and looked up at the drifting flakes as they slowly descended to Earth.

Finally, he breathed a contented sigh, and he got into his car. He started the Subaru, and he began the drive on the way home.

'I'll have to figure out how to give him the journal.' Grant bit his lip as he thought on the drive. The idea itself gave him an icy feeling in his gut. But he felt as if he didn't really have another option. 'I need to come clean, and I need to do it soon. Maybe a good time will present itself on the trip. Maybe.'

That thought was still on Grant's mind as he pulled up into the driveway.

___________________________________

18 January 2019, Friday 6:12 AM

The next morning, Troy smiled against the back of Grant's neck. Their alarm already went off, but they were both content to be lazy. They didn't have to meet up with the crew until eight. That left time for other things.

Grant shivered as Troy rubbed his prickly face against his neck. "Mmm. It's like warm sandpaper." Grant giggled, and he turned his face. Troy stretched and kissed him.

Troy settled back down behind Grant. "You said you liked it." Troy continued to rub his very short, brown, bristly beard against Grant. "I kinda like it too. Especially right now, in the winter." In addition to his face, Troy also ground his pelvis against Grant's backside. They were both naked, and Troy watched Grant's jaw move as his excitement began to mount.

Troy wanted to see Grant's face. He pulled back, and he rolled Grant onto his back. Then he took position between Grant's legs. The men continued to make out, and Troy pushed and pulled until Grant lined up.

The time for talking had passed. They communicated with their bodies, expressions, and with the sounds they made. Troy lubed them both, using a generous amount of lubricant. Then he went back to kissing his boyfriend.

His cockhead pressed against Grant, and Troy felt Grant shift a little under him. Then both held still as Troy entered him. Grant's neck arched and he breathed through his open mouth. Troy gently kissed his neck as Grant adjusted to the welcome invader.

Slowly Grant relaxed back onto the bed, and he smiled. Troy grinned. That was his permission to continue. They kissed, and touched, and expressed so much through their bodies as Troy's member disappeared, bit by bit into Grant.

Grant broke the kiss to moan. Troy's hips slowly moved, and he smelled, tasted, and kissed Grant as the man writhed under his body. Grant was stroking himself, and Troy reached down to pull his hand off. Troy took over, and he stroked Grant's cock in time to his pelvis.

Grant's hands opened and closed against the sheet. Then he shifted his hands to Troy's waist. His breathing began to increase, and his head rolled back and forth on the pillow. Troy loved how Grant moaned, moved, and obviously enjoyed their moments together. Troy felt his body edge closer to orgasm, and he increased his tempo on Grant.

Troy watched as Grant inhaled through clenched teeth, then he locked up - his breath stopped, Grant's core contracted so that Troy could see every muscle in his stomach, and Grant's body clenched on Troy's penis.

They both groaned. Troy began to unload inside Grant, and Grant shot a streak of semen out to land from his own neck to his belly in one long strand. Then more followed as Troy continued to handle him in time to his own body's thrusts.

They both shivered, and their moment shifted from passionate to something far more tender. Troy put both of his hands on the sides of Grant's face, and he leaned over his lover's body to kiss him. It was gentle, slow, and it burned like an ember in his soul. The kiss ended, and Troy rested his forehead against Grant's. They both let the moment draw out, extend, and last.

"I really love you," Troy whispered.

Grant smiled, his eyes still closed. "I love you too, Troy. More than I've ever loved anybody."

Troy smiled back, and he gave Grant another little kiss. They separated, and Troy stood. He helped Grant get up, and he pulled the man to his chest. He didn't care about the sticky mess of come that now smeared between their bodies.

Grant's warm hands rested easily and naturally on Troy's rump, while Troy's did the same to Grant. They both breathed, eyes closed, heads on one another's shoulders.

Troy grinned, his face against Grant's neck. "What a great way to wake up."

Grant laughed. "Absolutely." He smirked and smacked Troy's butt once with his hand. "We should get ready. We've got four friends we don't want to keep waiting."

"Yep, you're right there." Troy released him, and he held his arms overhead. "Mad River Valley, here we come! Whooo!"

Grant smiled, took Troy's hand, and he led the two of them to the shower.

___________________________________

18 January 2019, Friday 7:52 AM

The knock came, just as Troy said it would, and Grant laughed. Troy looked at him, and the men shared a grin as Grant stepped to the door.

Grant opened it to find a very eager, bundled up Aaron as he bounced on his toes. "Guys! Are you ready? We're gonna be late!"

Georgette was behind him, and she rolled her eyes. "I tried to stop him."

Troy smirked. "I actually thought he'd be here five minutes earlier."

Aaron frowned. "Hey! I'm just trying to keep us on schedule. We're supposed to be AT Nat and Brian's at eight!" He held up a hand, all five fingers extended. "It takes five minutes to drive over. That means we have," he checked his watch, "two minutes before we have to get in the van!"

"Oh my god, okay. You're totally right." Troy winked at Grant as he pushed through the hallway past him. They'd already loaded most of their things into the van, and he only had the suitcase he carried in his hand. "Aaron, come on. Let's load you guys up."

"Oh, that's done. You left it unlocked, and we already took care of it." Aaron still followed Troy outside.

Georgette shook her head, and she smiled at Grant. "That's my husband."

Grant grinned. "It's all good." He shouldered his final bit of luggage. He had a shoulder bag he loved, and inside was some writing material and Troy's journal. It still weighed heavily on Grant's mind, and he actually felt a little queasy when he thought about it. For now, he focused on the trip, and on having some fun with Troy and their friends.

All of them left the house. When they got to the van, Grant started to take the passenger seat, and Georgette made a pained face. "Grant, I'm really sorry. Would it be okay if I took shotgun? My morning sickness has been all right for the most part, except when I'm in a vehicle. And it helps to be able to look out of the windshield."

"Oh, sure!" Grant needlessly helped Georgette step up into the passenger seat.

"Thanks." Georgette settled into her spot, and Aaron handed her a bottle of ginger ale. She gratefully took it, uncapped the bottle and she sipped the fizzy liquid. She sat back and gave them a smile. "Okay. The pregnant woman is onboard!"

Each of the men grinned at her. Grant and Aaron sat on the first bench seat and buckled up. Troy had put his bench seats back into the vehicle and removed the equipment required for his contractor business. Now he only had a small toolbox of the essentials placed under one of the long bench seats.

As a result, there was plenty of room for all of them and their luggage. Earlier in the week, Troy took the van to Ross at Main Street Automotive for a tuneup and a thorough check. It wasn't a long drive to the ski resort. But Troy still wanted to be sure the van was up to snuff. They were as prepared to go as they could be.

Troy pulled onto the street. As soon as they did, Grant noticed Aaron texting. A few minutes later they turned the corner that led to Brian and Natalie's house. Troy snorted with a laugh. The two were outside, all of their luggage in hand. "Aaron, you totally texted them."

Grant answered for him, "he totally did."

Aaron sat up in his seat. "That's right. I did. Someone has to keep this train on time!" He checked his watch. "Hah! 7:59!"

They all laughed, and the panel door opened. Natalie smiled broadly as she stepped inside. "Hey, everybody!" She slipped around to sit on the back bench seat, while Brian put their luggage through the double doors in the back along with everyone else's bags.

Soon Brian entered and found his spot. "All right. Let's get this show on the road." He grinned at Troy when he looked in the rearview. "Thanks for driving, Troy."

Echoes of similar sentiment came from all of the passengers, Grant included. Troy smiled. "Sure thing." He put the van into gear. "Okay, we're headed to highway 12, so hang on."

There were some groans, and Grant looked around. Aaron leaned forward toward the back of Troy's driver's seat. "Damn it, why do you like the 12? Is it even open right now?"

Troy seemed ready for the argument. "Yep. I checked this morning. No closures. And the 12 is a straighter shot." He sniffed as he pulled away from the curb. "Besides, I'm the one driving!"

There were some nods and at least one sigh as the friends acquiesced. Grant didn't know the area well enough to have an opinion.

They were soon out of town and headed in a generally west direction. Grant looked at the passing scenery. "How long of a trip is it?"

Aaron followed Grant's eyes to the window. "Well, if we took the 89, like normal people,” Aaron said at the back of Troy's head. That elicited only a grunt from the tall man. "We'd be there in forty minutes or so. This way will take an hour."

Grant smirked at Aaron as he harassed Troy over his decision.

The friends settled down. There were quiet conversations among everyone, and they were all in good moods as Troy drove. Well, most were.

Grant continually found his mind looping back to the journal. He felt the stress of the uncertainty of how Troy would react, and he weighed revealing the book against not.

'You have to tell him. He needs to see that letter.' Grant stared down at his hands as they rested on his knees. 'But, he's going to be upset. I'm almost sure of it. I would be.' Unconsciously, Grant frowned as he thought.

"You all right over there?" Aaron wore a quizzical expression. "You look like you're thinking pretty hard about something."

Grant sat up. "Uh, yeah." He smiled a little. "I'm just worried about work. I need to let it go for a while."

"Absolutely," Troy said from the driver's seat.

Grant forced a neutral expression. He'd bent the truth and lied more in the last two months; all centered around the journal than he had in years. Lying made Grant uncomfortable, and particularly so in this case. He liked all of Troy's friends. They were becoming his friends too. 'I have to fix this.' He felt his stomach as it roiled with stress.

He thought while they drove. The time passed quickly for Grant as he spent much of it in his introverted headspace. Before he knew it, they pulled up in front of their bed and breakfast - The Yellow Farmhouse Inn. Troy parked, and he turned to grin at the back of the van.

"We're here!" Troy announced. The sound of doors opening, happy voices and movement forced Grant's mind back to the present.

All of them emptied out of the van, and they each grabbed their luggage. That is, except for Georgette. Aaron refused to let her carry her own bag.

"Oh, quit it, you chivalrous idiot. I'm fine! I can carry my bag." She said the words, but they lost their impact thanks to her loving grin.

Aaron smiled at her and shook his head. "Nope. This is my job, and I'm gonna do it." He stomped through the compacted snow ahead of her on the path to the front door.

Natalie put her arm around Georgette's shoulders. "He's taking good care of you, Georgette."

"I know." Georgette smiled and then had to obviously fight back tears. "Ugh! Stupid pregnancy hormones! I'm crazy emotional right now, so if I start bawling for no reason, that's why!"

Natalie squeezed her one more time in response.

They entered and were immediately greeted and then shown to their relative rooms.

Grant and Troy were left to themselves in the Nicole Room. It was tastefully decked out in blue, white, gray and black. Grant put down his bag and his shoulder satchel. He walked through, into a room that adjoined the bedroom, and he made a sound of surprise. "Hey. Did you know there is a jacuzzi here?"

Troy grinned and joined him to stare down at the tub. "Yep! It's one of the reasons we love this place. Downstairs there's a nice fireplace too, in the common area of the inn."

Grant nodded in approval. "Well, this is gonna be nice. I'm sure I'll be sore from all the falling down I'm about to do today."

Troy laughed, and he put his arms around Grant. "You'll be fine." Then he reached up and put a hand on Grant's face. His eyes held a question. "You okay, Grant? You were really quiet on the way here."

Here it was. Here was his chance. He could come clean, and it'd be over. He could stop worrying about that book. But he might do so much damage in the process that Troy wouldn't want anything to do with him. Grant's desire to do the right thing warred with his need for Troy to remain in his life. Ultimately, there had to be a winner.

"Ah, sorry. I've been in a little funk." He tried to smile. "I've just had a lot on my mind."

"Yeah, I can tell." Troy hugged him, and he rubbed Grant's back. "Well, you know you can talk to me, right?"

Grant breathed in Troy's scent as he held on. "Yeah. I know. I might take you up on that sometime soon."

Troy squeezed him, then pushed back and smiled at Grant. "Well, I'll be here." He put a hand under Grant's chin. "Can you let it go for this weekend? Whatever it is? I want you to have fun, Grant."

'God, I love this man.' Grant bit his lip, and he nodded. "Yeah, I'll try."

Troy grinned. "Okay. Good." He patted Grant's rump. "Come on. Let's meet them downstairs. We're headed to the lodge. Unfortunately, we've gotta drive, but it's a short one."

Grant gave him a quick kiss, and the men walked downstairs.

'Okay. Later. Worry about it later.' Grant tried hard to push aside his worry and the impending decision he would have to make.

As the bundled up crew of friends climbed back into the van, Grant took a deep breath. 'Yeah. Later.'

___________________________________

18 January 2019, Friday 10:04 AM

Troy repositioned his skis on his shoulder, and he stood out in front of the rental shop. Soon, Brian joined him, his own rentals in hand. It was a clever set-up. The rental shop was very close to the ski lifts, and to the skiing itself. They were only a few minutes away from cutting through the snow down the slopes.

"Ready to go?" Brian smiled easily at Troy and shifted his skis to rest one end in the snow.

"Yep. I think I'll be on the beginner slopes with Grant for a while. You guys taking the intermediate, or you gonna try the expert runs?"

"Oh, I think we'll start with the intermediate, get warmed up, then hit the tough ones." Brian's eyes sparkled with anticipation. "We've been looking forward to this for a while now. I'm pretty stoked."

Troy nodded in agreement, took in a breath, and watched as his exhalation plumed white in a vaporous swirl. He could feel Brian's eyes on him, and he turned his head to look at his friend. "You okay, Troy?" Brian asked, his voice low.

Troy started to nod but then paused, and he sighed. "Yeah, I am. But something's up with Grant. I'm not sure what's going on. Maybe something with his family, but I don't know."

Brian's expression shifted to something akin to concern. "Oh? What makes you think something's up?"

"He's just so quiet. I can tell he's stressed. It's almost like he's afraid of something."

Brian frowned. "Huh." Brian turned his head to look at the ski shop, and Grant stood at the doorway with Aaron. The redhead helped Grant get some of his gear figured out, and the two men began to awkwardly tromp toward them, through the snow in their ski boots.

"Well, let's just keep an eye on him. Maybe we'll be able to help with whatever's bothering him," Brian said quietly.

Troy nodded in response, as Aaron and Grant were now only a few feet away. Grant almost fell, and Aaron caught him. The two men laughed.

"This, I feel, is only a prediction of how this day is gonna go!" Grant continued to chuckle at himself.

Troy felt a little relief that Grant was smiling, and laughing. 'Maybe he's fine,' Troy thought.

As they took a seat on the bench to put on their skis, Troy couldn't help his next thought. 'He's not having second thoughts about us, is he?'

Troy stood up, and he helped Grant to his feet. The man gritted his teeth as he slid around a little on the skis. But Troy held him up. Grant's eyes came up and met Troy's.

Grant's face fell. Troy knew Grant could see the residual doubt in his face. "Is something wrong?"

Troy saw the concern, the need Grant had for him to be okay, and he saw more.

'Love. He really loves me.' Troy took a relieved breath, and he smiled. "No. Nothing's wrong." He gripped Grant's gloved hand. "Come on. We're destined for the bunny slopes!"

Grant laughed, and he let Troy pull him along toward the ski lift.


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

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