CHAPTER EIGHT

Nothing To Lose

An Out To Sea Novel

Chapter Seven

 

© 2022 E.M. Lindsey

 

All rights reserved.

 

 

This serial novel is not meant for sale or distribution without the express permission of the author. These chapters are not authorize to appear on any other site except emlindseyauthor.com

 

 

Text is unedited and is subject to change before final publication. This book will be released on amazon after the completion of the serial novel.

 

Content Warning: This chapter contains mild descriptions of stoma and bag care.

Peyton’s attention span lasted just long enough to get through his morning hours of baking and packing orders.  He set the boxes aside for his brother to pick up since Linden promised to do a post office run, and Peyton made sure that Ginger was comfy in the guest room before heading over to the crunchy-granola pet store in the strip mall a few blocks from his house.

 

Now that he was keeping her, she’d need supplies, and it made him feel good to have something in his house he could spoil for a bit.  His bank account wouldn’t thank him, but his heart would.

 

Pulling into the parking lot, he reached for his phone, and it began to buzz against his fingers.  He startled, then glanced down and saw a message from Austin waiting for him.  

 

 

 

I hope I didn’t overstep.  I just think you’re really cute and I’d like to show you a good time.

 

 

 

Peyton’s stomach dropped somewhere around his feet.  He knew what those words were saying without actually saying it.  Bile rose in his throat, and he swallowed against the bitter taste.  He knew the smart thing to do would be to tell Austin that he wanted to take things slow—very slow.  But he could hear his brother’s voice in his head telling him he needed to start taking steps forward.

 

Maybe even leaps.

 

Yes, he wasn’t ready to jump in bed with a stranger, but he could probably let a guy show him a good time.  And maybe it was time to confront this issue head on.  But he’d deal with it later.  Much later.

 

Tucking his phone into his pocket, he hurried into the store and quickly began to grab everything he needed for Ginger.  He tapped his foot on the polished floor at the cat treat aisle, then snapped a photo and opened up his Instagram to upload it.

 

 

 

BakersMan:  What kind of treats do cats like best?  In fact, if you all know something I can bake for my new baby, let me know.

 

 

 

He hit post, then slipped the phone into his pocket and instead headed for the kitten food, then loaded up on toys, litter, a fancy self-scooping box, and a little hooded bed that the cat probably wouldn’t use but looked cute anyway.

 

At the check-out, he tried not to cringe as the total continued to climb, and he reminded himself he was finally on the other side of broke now that his shop was picking up orders again.  He didn’t need to stress too much.  He could spoil his new pet a little bit.

 

“…you, don’t I?”

 

Peyton glanced up and realized the cashier was talking to him.  He was a younger guy, probably not much older than twenty-one, skinny with ripped jeans and a flannel since all that nineties shit was making a comeback.  He was very attractive, and Peyton definitely didn’t miss the look the guy was giving him.

 

“Sorry,” he offered, fighting the urge to tug the hair tie out of his hair to remake his bun.  “I was in a world of my own.”

 

The guy—Chris, his nametag read—shook his head and grinned back.  “Totally fine.  But uh, you’re that guy from Instagram, right?  The baker with the asshole neighbor?”

 

Peyton immediately flushed, rubbing the back of his neck.  “Ha.  Yeahhh, that would be me.”

 

Chris leaned toward him and winked.  “You know, I’d never turn you down if you left cookies in my porch.”

 

Peyton flushed harder and glanced off to the side.  “That’s…”

 

“I’m not trying to be a creep,” Chris said in a rush.  “Just…you’re so hot, bro.  You deserve better.”

 

Bro?  Fucking kids these days.

 

Peyton managed to conjure up a smile as he swiped his card and tapped the button to add on a donation for the pet store charity.  “Well, to be fair, I’m not trying to date the guy.  I was just sending him a welcome to the neighborhood gift which is totally my fault.  Not everyone likes bakes.”

 

Chris stared at him another moment, and Peyton hoped the look on his face meant he was getting it: Peyton’s flat tone meant he wasn’t interested.  “Is this stuff for that stray kitten you adopted?”

 

Peyton knew he had no right to feel a little creeped out that the guy was just talking about his personal life, especially considering he was the one posting it to his social media.  But it was a weird feeling nonetheless.  “Yep.  I’ve decided to name her Ginger.”

 

Chris’ mouth softened into a smile.  “That’s sweet.  I hope I can meet her someday.”

 

Peyton just gave a noncommittal hum and gathered his things, setting them back into the basket so he could hurry out to his car.  He swore he could feel Chris’ eyes on him as he loaded up his stuff, so he left the cart in the outdoor corral and then jumped behind the wheel.

 

His phone began to buzz again as he sat, but instead of opening his messages, he connected his phone to the car speaker and called his brother. 

 

“Tell me there’s not a crisis.  I’m almost at the post office right now.”

 

Peyton gripped the wheel tight, then turned left instead of right in hopes of finding a café not too far off.  For as long as he’d lived in the neighborhood, he’d been either consumed with his shop which was ten miles to the north, or he’d been trapped in his home, recovering.

 

“Hello?” Linden pressed.

 

Peyton cleared his throat.  “Yeah, yes.  Sorry.  Some guy at the pet store knew me.”

 

“What, like an ex?” Linden asked.

 

Peyton scoffed.  “Yeah sure, all those exes I have hidden.  No, I mean from Instagram.  And I think he was hitting on me.”

 

“Was he hot?”

 

“He was a baby,” Peyton shot back.  “He was like…twenty.  Anyway, that’s not really my crisis.”

 

“Okay,” Linden said slowly.  “Do I need to hold your hand through this?”

 

Letting out a frustrated growl, Peyton glanced up at a little strip mall with a café whose only sign was a hanging wooden cup of coffee on its side.  It was cute—a little kitsch—but the mom-and-pop shops always had the best brews so he pulled in and put his car in park.

 

“So, I’ve been…talking to this guy.  Um.  On the dating app.”

 

“Oh shit,” Linden breathed out.  “You really did it?  Have you told Taylor?”

 

“No,” Peyton snapped.  “It was awkward as fuck to know that my best friend and my brother have been discussing my sex life.”

 

“Love life,” Linden corrected with a sniff.  “Whatever Taylor wants to know about your dick is his business, not mine.”

 

“I hate you,” Peyton breathed out.  He pinched the bridge of his nose, then shook his head.  “Anyway, so I think I’m having a panic attack because I started talking to one guy who seemed nice, but then…”

 

“You have other messages now?” Linden asked, sounding like he was smiling.

 

“Yes.  I don’t…”  He stopped when his voice cracked, and Linden met him with heavy silence.  “I don’t know how to feel ready for this.  I don’t know if I’m strong enough to deal with people’s…disgust.”

 

“Hey,” Linden said after a beat, his voice softer.  “I don’t have some magic answer because you know I suck at relationships.  I don’t think I’ve had anything go past a week and a half in years.”

 

Peyton felt a sudden pop of guilt because that was true.  His love life was never particularly stable, but he’d preferred it that way.  Linden on the other hand was the kind of person who wanted something long term.  He wanted the whole marriage and kids thing that their gay friends gave them shit about because it was so normative or whatever.

 

Linden always laughed it off, but Peyton knew that made him self-conscious and afraid he’d never really belong.

 

“I’m not asking you to solve my problems,” Peyton said after a beat.  “I just…I don’t know.  I think I need you to tell me I’m not doing it wrong if I choose to talk to just one person.”

 

“One that makes you feel safe?”

 

Peyton laughed because he wasn’t quite sure he’d met that guy yet.  And to be fair, he hadn’t really explored the other profiles yet.

 

“Look,” his brother said when Peyton was quiet for a long while, “there’s no right or wrong way to do this.  You need to go with what feels most comfortable to you, okay?”

 

“Yeah.  Shit,” Peyton said.  He rubbed his hand down his face, then glanced at the café door.  “Look, I’m gonna get some coffee, then head back home to start on tomorrow’s orders.”

 

“Sounds good.  Call if you need help, okay?  Taylor and I will be there the second we have free time.”

 

“I know.  Thanks,” Peyton told him, reaching for the button to shut his car off.

 

“I love you.”

 

Peyton froze, then smiled.  “I love you too.”

 

They didn’t say that a lot.  They were a family who showed it more than they ever voiced it, but Peyton was grateful because he needed that right then.  He hung up before either of them could make it awkward, then he grabbed his wallet and headed inside.

 

The café was cute—bright cream walls with coffee beans painted like they were being thrown into the air.  On the far wall was the café name BrewBiz in red letters—the shade matching the tops of the tables.

 

There was faint music playing on the speakers, and a barista with his back to the counter, cleaning the espresso machine.  Otherwise, it was completely empty.

 

Peyton glanced up at the chalk menu, then walked to the counter and waited until the man turned around.  He was very tall with dark hair, and when he finally spun toward Peyton, he let out a gasp and grasped the front of his chest.

 

“Sorry,” Peyton began.

 

The man’s hands lifted, and it took Peyton a second of his rusty college language courses to realize that he was signing, though Peyton could only pick up a couple of words.

 

‘Surprise…today.’

 

Peyton looked at the man’s apron.  Normally when cafés hired Deaf workers, they had a pin on their shirt, but there was only the ASL handshape for coffee embroidered on the front.  Which…oh.

 

Oh.

 

BrewBiz…true biz.

 

It made sense.

 

Peyton licked his lips, then curled his hand into a fist.  ‘Sorry.  I learned ASL in college but it’s been a long time.’  He was a thousand percent sure his grammar was shit, but the man just smiled at him and waved him off.

 

‘You’re fine.  What do you want?’  

 

When Peyton hesitated, the man grabbed a printed menu from the side of the register and Peyton glanced down to find the names of all the drinks and the corresponding signs in surprisingly well drawn ASL instructions.

 

He grinned and looked up at the man again, finally settling on his name which was also embroidered on the apron.  Caleb.

 

He pointed at the man’s name.  ‘What’s your name sign?’

 

Caleb’s smile widened even further and he lifted his hand to show Peyton who quickly copied it, then got a thumb’s up in response.

 

‘P E Y T O N,’ he spelled for himself.  ‘I’d like a…’ he glanced down at the paper to make sure he was going to get it right.  ‘Vanilla latte, double shot.’

 

Caleb winked at him then very slowly signed the total.  Peyton mouthed along with the numbers, then tapped his card on the machine before taking a step back.

 

‘Three minutes,’ Caleb told him.

 

Peyton lifted flat hands, palms forward.  ‘Great, thanks.’  When Caleb turned away again, Peyton wandered over to the bakery display to find three very empty racks.  What was there looked like it was well baked and delicious, but apart from some cookies and a row of muffins, there wasn’t anything else.

 

His brow furrowed and he told himself not to even go there because he didn’t have time to add in a café to his current to-do list, but something was telling him he should.

 

When Caleb turned back around with the coffee and walked over to meet Peyton, he knew his resolve had snapped.  

 

‘Do you bake here?’

 

Caleb frowned, then glanced down and rolled his eyes before lifting his fist.  ‘Yes.  Not a lot though.  Obviously.’  He spelled the last word which Peyton appreciated, and it made him laugh.

 

‘They look good.’

 

‘They are good,’ Caleb answered, mouthing the word ‘are’ for emphasis.  ‘But our baker…it’s…’ he signed another word that Peyton was pretty sure meant complicated.

 

Digging into his pocket, Peyton pulled out his wallet again and snatched one of the few business cards he kept.  It had his old brick and mortar address on it, so he lifted his hand and asked, ‘Pen?’

 

Caleb quickly dug into his apron pocket and produced a black sharpie which was perfect.  Peyton snatched it up and circled his Instagram handle, then wrote his number on the back before scratching off the former address.

 

He handed the pen back, then set the card on the counter.  ‘I bake.  I have a bakery online.’

 

Caleb’s brows shot up.  ‘Bakery?’

 

Peyton nodded.  ‘It’s just me alone, but maybe we can talk later and discuss what you need?  Maybe I can help?  Wholesale,’ he spelled, because that was definitely not a word he’d ever learned before.

 

Caleb’s entire face brightened.  ‘You sure?’

 

‘Yes,’ Peyton insisted.  ‘Nothing complicated, but I can make it work.  I can make a sample of things and deliver it this week so you can taste.’

 

Caleb held up a finger again, and before Peyton could do anything, the gangly man leapt over the short counter door, then grabbed Peyton in a hug.  Peyton let out a grunt at the impact, then he started laughing as the man’s joy began to infect him.

 

‘Sorry,’ Caleb signed quickly as he stepped back.  ‘Sorry.  Even for Deaf, I’m too…’  Peyton was pretty sure the word he missed was touchy.

 

He waved the barista off.  ‘I don’t mind.’  And really, he didn’t.  It had been so long since someone other than his brother or Taylor hugged him and it felt kind and warm.  ‘Your boss will be okay with this?’

 

Caleb’s grin turned into a smirk.  ‘I’m one of the owners.’

 

“Oh shit,” Peyton said, then quickly lifted his hand.  ‘Sorry.’

 

‘I can read lips…a little.  And I know all the swear words,’ Caleb bragged with a wink.  ‘It’s so nice to meet you.  Can I text you later?’

 

‘Any time,’ Peyton assured him.

 

Caleb hesitated, then darted forward again and dragged Peyton into another hug before letting him go.  This time he didn’t apologize, and Peyton grinned before grabbing his coffee. 

 

‘Sorry, I have a kitten at home or I’d stay longer.’

 

Caleb waved him off.  ‘Go, go.  We’ll talk soon.’

 

Peyton really didn’t have time or space in his life to take on bakery orders for a café, but he couldn’t deny that something about the partnership seemed like maybe—at least in his professional life—things were starting to make sense again.

Chapter Nine

Start At The Beginning

Author's Notes:  Nothing To Lose will be going on hiatus until July 1st, so please keep an eye out, and enjoy your early summer.  

The BrewBiz coffee shop will the be setting for my upcoming, Deaf-Owned coffee shop series coming in 2023.  That series will feature not only a mostly-Deaf cast, but also the reappearance of two of my favorite characters: Rocco and Simon from Love Him Free.  While this series will have no connection to Cherry Creek, there will be a Simon and Rocco short novel about their life away from Colorado.

 

BrewBiz is a play on the ASL slang term true biz, sighed true + work and it means something like "real talk" in English.  Please click on the link to see it, and if you want to read more about the Deaf experience, pick up the coming of age story TrueBiz by Sara Nović 

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Chapter Nine Preview:

“I was hoping for peace and quiet,” Hudson told him, and when Peyton’s gaze darted over, Hudson had the smallest smirk playing at his lips.  “I know, I know.  I’m an asshole.  Trust me, no one lets me go very long without being reminded.”

 

Peyton damn-well knew that was meant to be a joke, but there was the slightest tinge of hurt in Hudson’s voice that told Peyton there was definitely more to his story.  “I don’t think you’re an asshole.  I know I can be…overbearing.”

 

“Eli—the guy you met—he wouldn’t agree.  He’s been on my ass about being nice to you.”

 

Peyton bit his lower lip, then shrugged.  “You ever get the feeling that there are too many people-pleasers in the world?”

 

Hudson made a soft choking sound, then pushed his wheels and rolled closer to Peyton.  “You’re not one of them?”

 

“Oh,” Peyton said with a laugh, then dropped down in spite of not being invited to sit, “I definitely am.”