Ash and Ember

Ash and Ember - Chapter 27: Chains of Love

Chapter 27: Chains of Love

01 March 2019, Friday 11:14 PM

It was late, and Natalie stood up. "Guys, it was great to hang out, but we've gotta get home to bed." Brian was beside her, and he put a strong, thick arm over her shoulders.

"You're okay to drive, Nat?" Troy asked, and he stepped over to give her a hug goodbye.

"Oh yeah. I only had a glass of wine. It was my turn to drive, so I had sparkling cider most of the night." She smiled as she hugged the lanky man.

"All right. Thanks for coming by." He patted her back, and then he made a little noise as Brian grabbed him. Troy endured a long, crushing hug from him. The big man was a little drunk, and he held on a second longer than typical, and Troy smiled against his body.

Brian finally gave him some room at arm's length. He gripped Troy's shoulders, and he looked into Troy's eyes. "Bro, it's great to have you back." Then he looked over at Beth where she still sat by Rhett on the couch. "You too, lady."

Beth smiled at him. "You always get touchy-feely when you drink." Then she laughed. "But, yeah, it's good to see you."

Brian grinned. "Speaking of touchy-feely, Aaron, come here so I can rub up on you."

The redhead didn't even hesitate. Georgette shook her head as Brian and Aaron hugged. From pelvises up to their necks touched. Both men grinned.

Beth snorted. "Gayest straight men I know."

Aaron pushed back and looked at her. "Hey! We're just secure." At that moment Brian gently tapped Aaron's crotch with one hand and the redhead jackknifed forward in surprise.

The room of friends laughed, while Aaron glared at Brian and covered his groin with his hands. "Not that secure!"

Brian chuckled, and he stepped around the edge of the couch and held out his arms. "Okay, you've gotten a pass for long enough. You get a hug, Rhett."

The small man stood up, his face a study of worry and trepidation. Beth got up with him. She stood very close and crossed her arms over her chest as she watched Brian. The big man glanced at her. Then he gave Rhett a very chaste "man hug," where only their chests touched. He made a big show of patting Rhett's back, all the while watching Beth.

Beth laughed. "That's perfect." The guys split apart, and she then threw her arms around Brian herself. "Boy, you are a weird one. But I love ya."

"That's Brian." Natalie grinned. "Lovable but weird." Brian pursed his lips as he clung to Beth, but he nodded in agreement.

Everyone but Rhett bid their goodbyes, and then it was just the four of them left in the house. The small man stood near Beth, and he bit his lip. "Uh, it was really nice to meet you." He looked down at his feet. Troy could tell he was nervous and shy.

Beth seemed to do and say exactly the things to put him at ease. "It was nice to meet you too, Rhett." She smiled, and Rhett raised his eyes to hers. She took on a thoughtful expression. "You know, it has been a while since I've been here." She waved a hand toward Grant and Troy as they stood off to the side. "I know the guys are busy tomorrow. But I'm wondering if maybe you wouldn't mind riding around town with me? I need to get reacquainted with Barre if I'm gonna live here. We could get some breakfast or lunch."

Rhett stared. Then he blinked. "Uh, ye, yeah." He nodded. "Yeah, absolutely." He grinned at her. "That'd be great."

She smiled, and Troy was amazed at her people skills. But he was worried about Rhett. "Hey, you've had a few tonight, Rhett." Troy motioned at the couch. "You should crash here. Then you can get an early start on your day with Beth tomorrow."

Grant nodded in agreement. "You shouldn't drive. It's a good idea for you to stay." He turned toward the hall closet. "I'll grab some blankets and a sheet for you."

Rhett watched Grant go, and he chuckled. "Okay." He smiled at Troy. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Troy started to pick up the few dishes and glasses that remained on the coffee table.

While Troy cleaned up and Grant got Rhett's sleeping arrangements put together, Beth and Rhett discussed their plans. Soon they had a loose outline of things Rhett wanted to show her, a breakfast spot chosen, and even lunch plans.

Troy smiled as he washed dishes and listened to the two of them. Beth was smooth. She could tell that Rhett was interested and yet awkward. So she made it as easy as possible for him to spend time with her if that was what he wanted. And it was evident that it was what he wanted. The tone of his voice had an undercurrent of excitement and eagerness. But, so did Beth's.

"All right." Grant finished with the couch, and he patted Rhett on the back. "You're all set. If you need anything, you know where it all is."

"Thanks, Grant. And Troy." Rhett smiled at the guys, then he covered a yawn with his hand.

"Yeah, I second that." Beth stifled a yawn of her own. "I'll be heading up to bed soon." Then she looked at Troy. "But, I wanted to talk to you real fast before that. You got a minute?"

Troy nodded. "Yeah." He put a hand on her shoulder, and he laughed. "Follow me to my office."

He led her into the garage, flipped on the light, and he let the door shut behind him. It was cool in the space, but thanks to the connection to the warm house, it wasn't nearly as cold as the outside. Beth eyed him. "So, things with you and Grant." She smiled. "You guys are serious, aren't you?"

Troy nodded. "Yeah. I guess we are."

"Ain't no guessin' needed. I can see it." Beth took a breath. "He seems real good for you too. And you for him."

Troy smiled, and he agreed. "Yeah, he really is. I love him. And I know he loves me. I can't ask for much more than that."

Beth crossed her arms, and her finger tapped her bicep. "So, what's the next step for you guys?"

Troy frowned. "What do you mean?"

Beth laughed, and she shook her head. "Troy, it's obvious you guys should be together." Her eyes focused intensely on him. "And, if I'm readin' him right, then if he hasn't done it yet, Grant is gonna want to make that more," she searched for the perfect word, "legitimate. More official."

Troy was confused for a moment, then it dawned in his mind. "Marriage?" Beth grinned and touched her own nose. Troy laughed, a little uncomfortable. "Ah, I don't know about that." He shook his head. "I mean, we've only dated for a few months."

Beth pursed her lips and cocked her head. "Troy, you told me you wanted to marry John within a few months of dating him. Now, we both know why that didn't happen. But you wanted it to." She shrugged. "Is this thing with Grant not as intense? You act like it is."

Troy felt conflicted. He was annoyed with Beth, that she'd force him to discuss something important before he had time to really think it through. And yet, he was also confused by his own reticence toward a commitment to Grant. He loved Grant, that was certain. So, why the hesitation? Then he hit upon the issue. "I guess," he bit his lip, and he sighed, "I guess I feel like it'd betray what John and I had." He looked into Beth's eyes. "Even though he's gone, I still love the hell out of that man." He shook his head. "I can't marry Grant. Not even if he asked."

Beth's arms were still crossed, and she looked back at Troy. After a moment she nodded, and she smiled sadly. "For the record, John would want you to be happy, Troy. Whatever it takes for you to get there." Her arms slid apart, and she put a hand over her heart. "I miss him." Her face screwed up, and her eyes glistened with moisture. "I miss him so much."

Troy went to her, and the two hugged. "I know. Me too" He closed his eyes as he held on. He thought about the voice he heard, and how much it felt as if John were still with him. But he couldn't risk revealing that to Beth. He couldn't tell that to anybody in his circle of friends.

Instead, he simply held the sister of his first true love. And they mourned the loss of a wonderful light, snuffed out before its time.
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02 March 2019, Saturday 7:11 AM

Grant was awake. He heard Beth up and moving around early. And then on a trip to the bathroom, Grant caught the sound of conversation downstairs between Rhett and Beth. He also smelled coffee. It appeared the two of them got a jump on their day together, and he smiled when he heard the front door open and shut.

He returned to the bedroom, and he crawled back under the covers with his lover. Troy shifted a little, but he remained mostly asleep. Grant spooned him, and he smiled at the contact with the lanky man.

The guys wore underwear to bed this time since they had guests in the house. And you never know when you'll run into someone if you have to get up for the bathroom.

But, they were alone now. Grant let his hand slide down Troy's front, then he slipped it under the waistband of Troy's briefs.

He quickly found Troy's soft penis, and he took it in hand. Troy made a sleepy noise, and he moved as he woke. "Hmmm." Grant started to squeeze, rub, and fondle him. Troy grinned, and he stretched against Grant. "Mornin'."

"Good morning." Grant smiled, and he continued to stroke Troy's growing member. Troy seemed content to lay there and let Grant do what he wanted. And that sparked another sort of need in Grant's mind.

Grant pushed his boxer briefs down, and then he did the same to Troy's briefs - Troy wiggled his hips to help things along. And Grant reached over Troy to pick up the lube on the nightstand. Troy made a sound of approval as the bottle opened. Grant chuckled at him, and he put some of the lubricant on both of them. "This okay with you?" He slid a finger into Troy, and the tall man inhaled.

"Mmm hmm." Troy pressed back against Grant's hand. After a minute of work with his slick finger, Grant positioned himself against Troy.

"God, you're so handsome." Grant sighed as he entered the brown-haired man. "I love doing this with you."

Troy groaned. He put a hand on Grant's hip as they moved in time to one another. "Me too." Grant began to stroke Troy, and he immediately began to ooze precome. "Ah god."

Grant kissed the back of Troy's neck. Then Grant's pelvis started to move faster, and with more force.

They were in tune to one another. Grant could tell from the noises, and the way Troy twitched and moved about when he was going to orgasm. And, today, the tall man was going to get off quickly.

That suited Grant fine. He went hard, and he gritted his teeth. Troy's sounds increased in volume, and Grant took in his breath and held it.

The dark-haired man began a mind-blowing orgasm - the sensation was incredibly intense as he released his breath. He continued to thrust and to stroke Troy. His lover gasped, and he threw his head back against Grant's shoulder and neck. Grant watched Troy's Adam's Apple move, and his eyes rolled back into his skull as he came. Grant felt the warm and viscous fluid as Troy coated his hand in semen. Troy always shot a lot, and this time was no different. Grant kept at him until Troy finished, and he relaxed.

The two lay in a post-orgasm fueled haze. Grant planted soft kisses on Troy's skin, still inside, still connected to him.

Troy moved, and he made a noise. "Ugh. I'm laying in my own mess." He chuckled. "Ah, the curse of copious come!"

"Wow. That sounds like the worst Hardy Boys novel ever!" Grant laughed, and he pulled his hips back. The guys got up, balled up their sheets, and tossed them into the dirty laundry. The room now smelled like sex, and they'd need to take care of the wash soon.

As Troy wiped his hip and crotch free of most of his semen, his eyes widened. "Oh shit!" He whispered. "Beth and Rhett!" He looked utterly rueful. "They must have heard us! I forgot they're here!"

Grant grinned at him. "Nope. They're already out and about. I heard them leave."

Troy sighed in relief, and he laughed. "Oh, thank god." He shook his head. "John and I got caught by Beth once, and oh my god, the hell we got for that!" He chuckled. "That woman. She loves to give me grief."

Grant smirked, and he grabbed Troy's hand. "Well yeah. Giving you grief is fun!"

Troy narrowed his eyes at Grant. "That a fact?"

Grant nodded. "Yep." He kissed Troy, who cracked a grin at him. "Come on. Shower time. Then we need to clean this house!"

Grant led his sticky lover to the shower. And they spent a suspiciously long time together in the small space, as they sluiced away the mess they made earlier. And then they created yet another mess that also had to be rinsed down the drain.

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02 March 2019, Saturday 7:29 AM

Rhett was thankful that he was driving. His brain had a task to focus on, and so he could avoid thinking about how his heart and stomach flopped around when close to the woman in the passenger seat.

"So, where are we headed, again?" Beth smiled at him.

Rhett carefully pulled around a stopped car on the main drag as the man was trying to turn. "Ah, I thought Espresso Bueno would be good. I like it. A little cafe and coffee shop where I do a lot of my studying."

"Mmmm. More coffee and breakfast food both sound great." Beth's hands rested in her lap, though her fingers drummed silently against her legs.

Rhett saw the motion from the corner of his eye, and to him, it seemed like a nervous energy sort of thing. 'Why is she nervous?' He turned into the parking lot of Espresso Bueno, and he was happy to see only a couple of cars there. Then he swallowed as he put the car into park, and his lack of confidence began to chew at him. 'She's so far out of my league. This is stupid for me to even hope for.'

"Hey." Rhett turned and looked at her. Beth's face wore a look of concern. "What's wrong?"

Rhett started to reply, he began to say 'nothing.' But he stopped, and he shook his head. "I, I just," he stared into her stunning eyes, then he made an anguished sound. "God, I'm sorry." He slumped in his seat. "I think, maybe I'm not the best guy to show you around town."

Beth was silent for a few beats. "Oh?" She put both of her hands in her lap, one on top of the other.  She was as careful and collected as any person could possibly be. "Can you tell me why? Because I think you're the perfect guy to show me around."

Rhett laughed, and bitterness was plain in the sound, He decided to stop playing this torturous game with himself. "Because a part of me keeps thinking that you might be interested in me. And, I know that can't be true." He glanced at her. "I mean," he motioned toward Beth, "LOOK at you. You're," he took a breath and struggled to hold his frustration at bay. "You're beautiful."

Beth stared at him. Rhett looked back at her for a moment, then he pointed his face down, away from her eyes.

"You really believe that." Beth's voice carried a hint of wonder. Rhett swallowed, and he nodded.

Beth reached over, and she put a hand on his back. "Rhett, why do you think I wanted to go riding around with you today?"

The small man frowned, and he looked at her. "You said you needed a guide." He shrugged. "Get reacquainted with the town."

She smiled. "Barre has a single main street, and everything is off of that except for the residential areas." She let her smile broaden to a grin. "Honey, I'm from Savannah. It's a city. A big one." She shook her head. "I don't need a guide for Barre." Her eyes focused intensely on him. "I needed time, to get to know you."

Rhett found that almost impossible to believe. But, she had no reason to lie to him. And he wanted to think that there was a possibility. "Wow." A smile flickered on his face, and he worked his mouth. Finally, he nodded. "Okay."

"Good." Then she did something Rhett didn't expect. Beth leaned over, and she very gently kissed the side of his face. His eyes half-closed as she did. He felt her eyelashes against his skin, could smell the apple scent of her shampoo, and he reveled in the warmth of her lips. She pulled back and looked at him. "Come on." She grinned. "Let's get some breakfast."

She opened the door, and got out of the car. Rhett blinked, and then he followed the strongest, most interesting woman he had ever met inside the cafe.
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04 March 2019, Monday 4:41 PM

Grant got home from work. Troy's van was gone. Grant knew he would be home late, thanks to a long job he had to finish. Though, Troy texted him and said that he had started crock pot soup. So dinner was handled.

The weekend and the workday were both interesting. Beth didn't get home from her trip around town with Rhett until mid-afternoon on Saturday. And she was evasive about what went on between them. But, when the guys asked her how her day went, she couldn't help but grin.

Rhett was less enigmatic. The small man flushed a bright red as soon as he saw Grant early in the day. And when Grant inquired how he was doing, he looked at Grant, and he seemed to be in shock. "I'm so good." His voice sounded surprised.

"Yeah?" Grant grinned at him. "Did Beth have anything to do with that?"

Rhett nodded. "Beth is," he searched for the right words, "she's like a thunderbolt. Awesome, and scary, and beautiful."

Then he  blinked, and wandered off in a semi-daze to get the day started.

Grant shook his head and chuckled as he thought back on it. And as he parked he noticed that Aaron and Georgette's garage door was open, and light flooded the cement pad in front of it. The redhead moved around in the space, shifting boards around.

Grant waved. Aaron smiled and waved back. Then Grant entered the house.

He came inside and found himself alone. Beth was gone, strategizing with Brian over applying to his school district's teaching position. Grant walked into the kitchen, and he checked the crock pot.

"Mmmm." He smiled down into the steamy, savory, thick liquid. It smelled like some sort of chicken curry based stew, and his mouth watered.

But first, he had yoga to do. Grant walked upstairs, stripped off his clothes, and he put on his compression shorts. He knew Beth would be out for a while so he could wear the skin tight clothing for his routine. He looked down at himself, and he grinned. 'Hot damn, my package looks great in these.' He gripped himself, and then he forced his hand off of his crotch. He didn't need an erection at the moment.

He walked downstairs, and he turned on the television. He bought a yoga DVD, one with some more advanced asanas. He wanted to see how much of the routine he could get through, and if he could incorporate some of the new poses into his own program.

He turned on the DVD player, and he walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Grant took a sip, and he walked back to the living room.  He put down the glass, rolled out his cork yoga mat, and hit 'play' on the remote. He rolled his shoulders as he waited for the DVD to load.

"Hey, Grant." Troy's face grinned at him from the screen, and Grant laughed in surprise.

"Hello." Grant smiled at the screen, and at the recorded message. "What did you do, goofy?"

"I know, you're probably wondering what I'm up to." The Troy on the screen rubbed the back of his neck, a little smile on his face. His eyes stared straight forward, so it appeared Troy looked directly at Grant. "Well, I was thinking today, and I wanted to tell you what you mean to me." He smiled, though it had a hint of sadness. "I already lost someone important, and the only thing I regret is not telling him how I felt more." He shook his head. "And I know it's sort of morbid, but, I would really have loved to have had something like this from John. Something to remember him by." His eyes grew intense, and the green in his irises lit up with an inner spark. "And I want you to know, these months with you have been some of the best of my life. Never doubt that."

Grant bit his lip, eyes wide, one hand over his mouth.

Troy grinned from the screen. "I love you, Grant. More than life. More than anything. I love you."

Grant watched as Troy wiped his eyes, then his lover reached and turned off the recording. The dark-haired man stood there, his hand still on his face. Then he let it drop.

Grant swallowed, and he felt his knees try to buckle on him. There was no longer a doubt, no longer a question. He knew.

Grant turned and bounded up the stairs. He threw on his jeans, and a sweater. Then he pulled on his shoes. Grant hurried to his door and snagged his coat on the way out.

He quickly crossed his front yard, over to Aaron and Georgette's place. Aaron was still in his garage, and he had just finished stacking a new load of fence boards on a couple of sawhorses. He looked up as Grant stepped into the space. "Hey, Grant." He smiled, then he noticed the focused expression on Grant's face. "What, what's wrong?"

Grant shook his head, and he forced his brain to come up with a plan as he talked "Nothing's wrong. I just wanted to get your opinion on something."

Aaron stepped around the load of wood close to Grant. "Sure, man. What's going on?"

Grant exhaled, trying to find a calm place in his mind. It was everything he could do not to scream in excitement, but he had to tone it down for Aaron. 'He can't know. He'd tell Georgette, and then they'd all know.' "Well, my family does tours of the winery they own in Napa. And my parents offered to let me take a group through for free." Grant forced a smile. "It's sort of a destination. There's even a boutique hotel nearby that caters to those folks doing wine tours."

"Huh." Aaron rubbed his jaw. "Georgette and I have done the local winery tours. They're fun." He made a face. "With her pregnancy though, I'm not sure what Georgette would be able to do."

"Oh, there's still plenty for her. Great local cheeses, chocolates, even sparkling white grape juice that we make too." So much rode on this, Grant struggled to keep his face close to neutral. "Plus, you guys would see where I grew up. I could give you all the REAL tour, stuff others never get to see." Grant quickly added, "though it'd have to be next month. It's sort of a Spring special."

Aaron considered, and he nodded slowly. "Okay, let me ask her. I'll let you know."

"Ask me what?" Georgette stood at the open door that led into the house from the garage. She was three and a half months into her pregnancy. And she was just beginning to show a tiny bit. Mainly, Grant noticed that Georgette had a sort of aura about her - that 'pregnancy glow' people like to ascribe to certain women while they carry a child.

Grant quickly told Georgette about the opportunity for them, and the rest of the friends to tour the winery. She seemed interested, mainly when Grant told her about the cheese board they served to pair with wine or sparkling juice.

"The only fees would be for the airfare, the accommodations, and anything above and beyond that you guys want to take home." Grant watched her face. He knew she would ultimately make the decision for the couple. She was the pregnant one, and Aaron would go along with whatever she wanted in this case.

She smiled and looked at Aaron. "What do you think?"

Aaron shrugged, and he nodded. "Yeah, it sounds great." He looked thoughtful and turned to Grant. "April in California. I bet everything will be blooming. It will probably be beautiful."

Grant kept the grin from his face only through a lot of effort. Instead, he just nodded. "Yep. It's nice in the Spring."

Aaron made a noise as he came to a decision. "I'm game if you are, Georgette. It sounds like a great time."

She grinned. "Yeah!" She rubbed her hands together. "Oh man, rich goat cheese, in a fancy winery! I'm so onboard with this plan."

Grant left the two of them, and he went back to the house. He locked the door, and he got into his car.

He made the drive over to Natalie and Brian's house, and he got out. He knocked, and soon the door opened. Natalie was on the phone, and she smiled at Grant.  "Yeah, he's here. It sounds fun, Georgette. Okay, goodbye." She hung up and looked at Grant with a smirk. "Hello, Grant.   It was close, but you didn't beat the 'Georgette Informational Exchange.'  Are we invited to this whirlwind trip to see your family's vineyard next month?"

Grant laughed, and he nodded. "Yep. And hello, Nat."  He looked over her head into the house.  "Is Beth still here?  I didn't see her car."

"No, she left a few minutes ago."  Natalie stood aside so he could go in.  "You going to see if she wants to go?"

"Yeah, I plan to, as soon as I see her. " Grant was invited in, and he sat with Brian and Natalie while they ate dinner. They offered to feed him, but Grant declined. He soon got up to leave. "Thanks for the offer, but I've got to head back home. Troy made dinner for us. I just wanted to make sure you guys were given a chance to see the vineyard and get in on this chance for a tour."

Brian chewed, and he swallowed. "Thanks for thinking of us. And, yeah. We'd love to go."

Grant left their house and got into his car. He drove a block, then he pulled off to park in a quiet, residential neighborhood, and he dialed his parents.

"Hello." William's warm voice came over the phone, and Grant smiled.

"Dad." Grant blew out a breath. "Dad, I need your help."

"Hey, son." William always seemed happy to speak to him. "Sure, what can I do?"

Grant nodded to himself, and he plowed forward. "Dad, I need to set up a tour next month for my friends and me." He did a quick mental count. "There will be, ah, eight of us, counting me." He included Rhett and Beth in his calculation, just in case the two of them also were able and wanted to go." He continued. "I'll pay for it, all of it up front. But I don't want any of them to know it cost anything."

"Well, all right. That's doable." Grant heard the squeak of a chair, and then the sounds of a keyboard as William sat at his computer. "I'll get it scheduled. When were you thinking?"

"Mid-month. Everything should be exploding into bloom. It'll be perfect." Grant could see it in his mind, clear as anything he had ever actually laid eyes on.

"Okay. How about April 19th? That's a Friday. Will that work?"

Grant nodded again. "Yes. That'll work."

More keystrokes could be heard. Then William made a satisfied sound. "Okay. Done."

Grant smiled broadly. "Thanks, Dad." He put a hand on his head, and he chuckled. "Ah, I also need to talk to you about the reason for the trip."

"Oh? What's the occasion, son? Someone's birthday?"

Grant closed his eyes, his head propped up on his hand. "No." He let out his breath, slowly, then he drew in another.

William heard, and Grant noticed the concerned tone in his father's voice. "Grant? What's going on, son?"

The dark-haired man laughed. "Dad, I'm gonna ask him." His decision crystalized in his mind, and he opened his eyes. "I'm going to ask Troy to marry me."


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

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