CHAPTER FOUR

Nothing To Lose

An Out To Sea Novel

Chapter Four

© 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 mentions of a chronic illness, stoma surgery, care, and recovery, and emotional grief due to a life-changing procedure. This chapter also contains disability identity exploration.

 

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Three days after his viral post, Peyton was in the kitchen when his brother and Taylor came bursting in. He was covered in a thin layer of flour from a small mixer incident with an air pocket, but he had boxes packed up and stacked high behind him, and he was just wiping down his station.

 

Taylor gave him an amused head-shake as he walked over to the wall of cookies, then turned back to his friend. “Pity orders?”

 

“Fuck off,” Peyton said, though he couldn’t exactly deny it. His email was full to bursting since he’d posted his little pity-party photo, and he had only himself to blame. He’d been looking for a little validation and he was secretly hoping he might get a pop in sales.

 

But nothing like this.

 

He’d forgotten the power of a well-timed re-post from a semi-celebrity who had ordered from him before. Of course, Peyton had quickly bumped the Tik Tok star’s order to the front of the queue, but that didn’t really matter in the literal flood of people who followed suit.

 

Peyton was now out of supplies, waiting on a massive delivery, and he put his shop on hold until he could catch up. And this was all before he started introducing the rest of his menu. He knew he couldn’t pay bills on cookies alone, but it was damn tempting to try if it kept up at this rate.

 

“I’m starting to think I need a PA,” he said as he started to wipe his face down with a wet kitchen towel. “I’ve got people overseas asking me about shipping.”

 

“Don’t do it,” Taylor warned as he began to divide the boxes by location. They were all labeled, and he’d agreed to organize them for the shipping service Peyton had called for pick-up. “It’s a massive pain in the ass.”

 

Peyton knew that—and he knew better—but he struggled with telling people no. He liked it when he made people happy. He liked seeing the photos they tagged him in with big grins holding his bakes like they were the best part of their day.

 

And the very thought that someone might dislike him—hate him even—because he told them he couldn’t provide…

 

“Stop.” Linden’s voice cut through Peyton’s spiral, and a warm hand landed on his shoulder. “I know what you’re thinking, so don’t. How long have you been on your feet?”

 

Peyton sighed. “Too long. I know.” He grumbled a little to himself, but he realized his brother was holding a massive bag of take-out and he wanted to cry with relief. “Are you staying?”

 

“I have a shift,” Linden said, dragging Peyton into the living room. He set the bag down on the coffee table, then pointed toward the little hallway. “Go shower. Let Taylor do his job and you get the hell off your feet.”

 

The ache around his middle was a little more pronounced than it had been when he was distracted by work, and Peyton knew his brother was right. He just hated admitting it. He really was happiest when he was nose-deep in bags of sugar and flour. It made all the pain and loneliness fade into the background.

 

But, if Taylor was staying for the evening, he might be able to take a load off and not want to crawl under a weighted blanket and sleep the early evening away.

 

“Thanks for that,” Peyton told him, rubbing at his eye. He tried to swallow back a yawn but failed, and he laughed a bit when his brother took him by the shoulders and frog-marched him toward his bedroom door. “God. Yes, Dad, I’m going.”

 

Linden cuffed him upside the head. “You’d be so fucking lucky to have me as a dad.”

 

Peyton agreed. Their dad was great, just a little…ignorant and unwilling to bend on it. He wasn’t quite sure how his brother had managed to grow up so differently, but Peyton wasn’t going to look that gift horse in the mouth.

 

Squeezing his arm, Linden let Peyton go the moment he was past the doorway, and then he was gone. He could hear the rise and fall of the voices in the front room, and it was a small comfort as he stripped out of his baking clothes and gathered up some sweats, heading for a shower.

 

It took him longer now to clean up with his bag, but every day he seemed to get a little faster—hands a little steadier. His body looked less foreign now too, the more he stared at himself. He liked to think he was still a good-looking man. Very little had changed about him except a bit of weight loss and a slight pouch to his stomach.

 

And, okay, yes. The Barbie Butt was strange, but he tried not to focus on that too much. He supposed if—when—the right person came along, it wouldn’t be their focus either. And there had to be someone out there like that.

 

He was unwilling to lose hope entirely.

 

Mostly he just wanted to figure out his own shit before he started looking for a partner. He wanted to be able to get off—to touch himself and feel pleasure again. He wanted to figure out this new normal before inviting another man into his personal space because he had always been a take-charge kind of guy. A bossy bottom, his ex had always liked to call him.

 

He wore the badge proudly and he was damn determined to figure out how he could be that again.

 

Drying his hair, Peyton twisted his coarse waves into a messy bun and stared at himself a little bit longer. His skin was normally a rich tan, but he was looking sallow from how long he’d been trapped in his house—first in bed, and now by the massive amount of orders he had to fill.

 

He pulled his bottom eyelids down—not that he knew what he was looking for in his eyeballs—but he’d always seen people do that in movies when they were over-worked, over-stressed, and ready to crack.

 

Stepping away, he changed his bag, then pulled his hoodie over his head and wandered into the front room, feet bare and tapping gently on the wood floors.

 

Taylor was finished in the kitchen, now setting out the massive pile of makeshift taco bar that Linden had known would make Peyton feel better after a long day. His mouth watered as he sat down and quickly pulled the container of fresh tortillas toward him.

 

“Remind me to send him a muffin basket,” Peyton said, stuffing a huge bite into his mouth.

 

Taylor snorted and flopped onto the cushion, holding a small container of guac and a bag of chips. He had crumbs on his mouth, and a little cilantro on his front tooth as he grinned. “You know he likes those lemon tarts. But if he gets a gift, I should get one too.”

 

“You can have anything you want,” Peyton said, scooping up some chicken and peppers to make a little mini taco. “Money, marriage, my first born. I can assassinate someone if you want.”

 

“There is this asshole who started my shift last week, and I would not mind if he accidentally found himself tripping and falling off a cliff,” Taylor grumbled.

 

Peyton blinked at him in surprise. Taylor had always been a little bit rough around the edges—hard corners where Peyton was soft lines—but it was rare to see him worked up. “You wanna talk about it?”

 

Taylor shook his head. “Nah. It’s not important. He just…” Taylor licked his lips, then shrugged. “He made some joke about how I’m neutered and whipped because I want to be with my wife and kids.”

 

Peyton winced. Taylor and his brother Ethan, who had finally left town, struggled growing up with an emotionally unavailable father. At least, that’s what Taylor and Ethan called it. When Peyton listened to the story, he called it emotionally abusive.

 

He’d said that once to Taylor though who turned red, got furious, and didn’t talk to Peyton for a week. He realized he’d over-stepped, but he was the kind of person who was used to confronting the difficult parts of his past, so it just made sense to him that Taylor would want to embrace what was.

 

But his best friend had grown up bound and determined to be nothing like his old man. Peyton would watch Taylor with his wife and daughter and feel bursts of envy because God, what’s he’d give to be in love like that. To have a partner who thought the sun shone out his ass? Who loved him beyond reason?

 

He knew men like Taylor were generally the exception to the rule, but a small part of him still hoped there was one more out there who was a bit more queer and a lot more available.

 

“Alright, enough about me,” Taylor said, nudging Peyton gently in the side.

 

Peyton sighed. “Nothing to report, sergeant.”

 

Taylor rolled his eyes and elbowed Peyton again, hard enough to make him grunt. “Now, do I need to call you a liar to your face, or…”

 

Peyton threw his hands up in an exaggerated shrug. “What do you want from me? Like, the bag still kind of sucks, but not being in constant pain is amazing. My therapist is really happy with my progress, but I think she’s secretly waiting for me to have some sort of grief breakdown.”

 

Taylor shifted around so he could face Peyton. “Do you think that’s going to happen?”

 

Peyton stared down at his hands. There were clumps of flour sticking to his nails and in between the wrinkles on his knuckles. He started to pick at them until Taylor smacked his hands down. “I don’t know, dude. I want to say no because the good outweighs the bad. Like, even more than I was prepared for.” He found the courage to look up and saw Taylor watching him with more concern than anything else which helped. At least it wasn’t pity. “I still can’t…” He swallowed thickly and fought back a half-hysterical laugh. “I can’t come. I started getting hard again, but I can’t…” He trailed off and looked away.

 

Taylor’s hand dropped to his knee, giving it a tentative squeeze. He very much appreciated that he could talk to his very straight friend about shit like this and Taylor wouldn’t have some sort of gay panic. “What have you tried?”

 

“Jerking off,” Peyton said, rolling his eyes as he glanced up again. “Since I have my Ken doll ass now, there’s not much more I can do.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

Peyton blinked at his friend. “Uh. Dude, you saw it.”

 

“Yes, but that’s still bullshit,” Taylor said. “Remember that guy Booker from my office?”

 

Peyton frowned. The name sounded familiar.

 

“He had that accident two years ago—a spinal injury. His dick doesn’t work, like, at all. He has to use a catheter. You know what that is?”

 

Peyton rolled his eyes. “No, I definitely haven’t had one in the hospital while the doctor was removing my literal asshole. That’s,” he said with an exaggerated ignorant tone, “one of those pee-hole tube thingies, right?”

 

Taylor slapped his leg with the back of his hand. “Yes, that. He has no feeling below his injury line, but the fuckin’ stories this guy tells.” Taylor let out a low whistle. “Trust me, he gets his.”

 

“I don’t have a spinal injury,” Peyton said flatly. He didn’t have the energy to explain to Taylor how the differences worked. He wasn’t lacking in sensation—he’d just lost the one thing that ever really got him off.

 

“I’m not saying that. I’m saying that there are other ways to feel good. You just need to give yourself time and maybe stop tugging on your poor dick since you know that’s not working.”

 

Peyton flopped backward and covered his face with one hand. “I hate you.”

 

“No you don’t. Anyway, I’m gonna talk to him and see if he has any suggestions.”

 

“Please don’t,” Peyton begged in a whisper.

 

“I’m doing it. You can’t keep going on like this,” Taylor said. “I know you, okay? You’re a sexual guy.”

 

Peyton wanted to argue, but he couldn’t. Taylor was right. Peyton could distract himself by baking, and even by basking in how human he felt again. But at the end of the day, he was struggling to get back pieces of himself the surgeon had carved away, and he wasn’t sure he could.

 

“Fine. Whatever. It’s not like I ever have to meet the guy,” Peyton eventually grumbled.

 

Taylor, who was now on his phone—probably talking to the poor bastard about his sex life now—just smiled without looking up. “That’s the spirit.”

 

Peyton wanted to strangle him. Instead, he satisfied himself by just trying to smother him with a couch pillow.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

An hour later found Peyton back on the sofa with a decent dinner spread half-gone and feeling better than before. Taylor was lying on the floor in front of the coffee table, rubbing his full stomach.

 

“Why do we do this to ourselves?”

 

Peyton snorted and sipped on his water. “A mild form of sadism? Or wait…masochism?”

 

“You’re so vanilla,” Taylor said, then propped up on his elbows. “Speaking of. Linden and I had an idea.”

 

“You do realize you and my brother talking about my kinks is super creepy,” Peyton pointed out.

 

Taylor waved him off. “It’s not about your kinks. And actually, it was Allie’s idea but I went to Linden for help.” He shifted up onto his knees, then shuffled over as he dug his phone out of his pocket and tapped on the screen. “Don’t be pissed.”

 

“That pretty much guarantees I’m going to be pissed,” Peyton warned.

 

Taylor scoffed as he stared down, navigating through a page Peyton couldn’t quite see. “Yeah, well. Anyway, we signed you up for a dating website.”

 

Peyton almost ascended into another realm of being, because what? “You did what?”

 

“Relax, I didn’t publish it,” Taylor said. He turned the phone around and the first thing Peyton saw was a photo of himself. It was surprisingly a good one—probably one that Allie had taken since she was a wedding photographer and had a keen eye. But that wasn’t enough to take the edge off his shock.

 

“What were you thinking?” Peyton asked, his voice low.

 

Taylor shrugged and let the phone go when Peyton reached for it. “That you’re lonely and feeling some type of way. I thought a few dates might not be the worst way to get your feet wet, you know? It’s not like you have to fuck these guys. It’s not Grindr.”

 

Peyton felt his cheeks redden as he read over the bio which was a little too flattering, and then his likes and dislikes which were annoyingly accurate. “The Baker?”

 

“It’s cute. And it works. And it’s kind of like your Instagram,” Taylor said.

 

Peyton pursed his lips in annoyance. “Anyone who I pick up on this app is going to expect sex.” He kept reading and noticed the distinct lack of mention about his stoma, and he didn’t know how to feel about that. It wasn’t something he wanted to hide, but it also wasn’t something he wanted to constantly talk about.

 

“You’re not looking for your prince charming, bro,” Taylor said, dropping down onto his ass and reaching out to squeeze Peyton’s ankle. “You don’t need to impress anyone. And you sure as shit don’t have to fuck them just because they expect it.”

 

Peyton knew that. Of course he knew that. He just tended to get into awkward spots because he had a hard time telling people no. That was also back before the stoma when the worst that could happen was mediocre anal in a bathroom stall with not enough lube in the tiny condom box packets.

 

He hated himself for missing that, suddenly.

 

“I don’t think I can.”

 

Taylor sighed but he didn’t relent. “You need to get back out there and practice. Are all the guys on here probably douche bags? Yes. But it’s also going to give you a taste of what it’s like when you’re finally ready to date for real.”

 

Peyton stared down at the screen, but he wasn’t really seeing it. He was picturing some random date’s face when they heard about his body.

 

“It’s not doing you any good to sit around with all these scenarios in your head. The truth is, you don’t know how people are going to react. You have no idea. And chances are, most people won’t give a shit.”

 

Peyton hated that his friend was right. He hated that Taylor’s logic was starting to shatter his resolve. “I just don’t know how I’m supposed to date someone when I can’t even connect with my own body.” He stared at his hands when he spoke, but at Taylor’s pointed silence, he glanced up and saw a strange expression on his friend’s face.

 

It took him a second to recognize it for what it was: guilt.

 

“What did you do?” he asked in a low voice.

 

“Nothing,” Taylor blurted out. “I…mostly nothing.”

 

Peyton narrowed his eyes. “Explain.”

 

Taylor heaved a sigh, then flopped back further into the cushions. “Okay, I just texted my friend about your problem… not that I told him about your masturbation habits in detail or anything.”

 

He glowered.. “Tell me why I shouldn’t punch you right now.”

 

“Because this is important,” Taylor said, a hint of a whine in his voice. “You’re miserable and I hate it for you. I fucking hate that the surgery took your pain but it also took something else.”

 

Peyton’s throat went a little hot and tight. “Okay…”

 

“While we were eating, he sent me a link, and I fell down the TikTok rabbit hole of sex toys.”

 

“Jesus,” Peyton groaned.

 

“Hear me out.” Taylor shoved his hand into his pocket and grabbed his phone, swiping on the screen. “There’s this company that makes adaptive sex toys. Like, a huge line of them for people with all kinds of needs. Their website has one of those little histories, you know? Like a cooking blog but less annoying.”

 

Peyton snorted and rolled his eyes. He was still feeling vague humiliation that his orgasm issue had bled into his best friend’s life, but Taylor seemed genuinely concerned for him, and he could quietly admit to himself that if their positions had been reversed, he’d have done the same thing.

 

“Anyway,” Taylor went on, his eyes on the screen as he scrolled, “the person who started it had some sort of spine injury and decided that there wasn’t enough sex tech out there for disabled people.”

 

“I’m not,” Peyton started, but he stopped because maybe he wasn’t the technical definition of disabled—but hell, maybe he was. He didn’t even know what that was. All he knew was that his body wasn’t the same as it had been. Biting his lip, he took a huge breath, then asked, “So there are toys out there for people who had their assholes sewed shut?” God, his life sounded like one of those body horror movies.

 

Taylor’s look was soft though, and he shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. But he thought maybe you could look and see if there’s something that might help.”

 

Peyton’s fingers were faintly trembling as he reached for the phone, hating he was doing this, but also curious. He hadn’t even considered that there could be a company like this, but he also had no faith there was something out there for him. After all, he still didn’t know how to make it work.

 

The videos on the account were mostly trending TikTok sounds and people wagging their eyebrows at the screen with a Look on their faces to imply it was about sex without triggering a ban. And all of the devices looked horrifically complicated.

 

“I don’t know,” Peyton said quietly as he kept scrolling. He wondered who the founder was, but none of the videos gave any indication.

 

“Just keep looking,” Taylor said. He leaned forward and snatched Peyton’s phone off the table and put in the password Peyton immediately regretted giving him. “Let me follow them on your shit so you can check it out after I leave.”

 

Peyton didn’t look up at his friend. The humiliation was creeping back up his spine and he knew it was just going to take time for him to deal with it all.

 

“Promise me you’ll actually give this a shot,” Taylor murmured very quietly. His long-fingered hand reached out and pulled his phone away from Peyton, and their gazes connected.

 

After a long beat and a heavy sigh, Peyton nodded. “I promise.” And he meant it. After all, he had nothing else to lose, and everything to gain.

 

Chapter Five

 

Start At The Beginning

 

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Chapter Five Preview:

 

“They were welcome to the neighborhood muffins,” Eli corrected. “And then he what? Made you cookies. And you…”

 

“Threw them in a fucking trash bag and tossed them on his porch so he’d get the message that I don’t want anything from him,” Hudson said without feeling a scrap of guilt. He hadn’t asked for any of that. He didn’t want his neighbors kindness or pity or well wishes…or goddamn neighborhood welcome. He just wanted to be left alone.

 

“Anyway,” Eli went on with a shit-eating grin. “Yesterday morning, I found him on Instagram.”

 

At that, Hudson gripped his wheels and gave one hard push, rolling to the table. “So I’m the monster for throwing out cookies, but you stalked him?”

 

“I didn’t stalk him. He’s got some famous online bakery and he was all over my recommended page.” Eli grinned as he sipped his coffee, his gaze locked onto Hudson’s. “He had a video about you.”