Nothing To Lose
An Out To Sea Novel
© 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 frank discussions about adoption trauma, experiences of racism, chronic illness, and disability.
Austin: Tell me if I’m way off base here. I totally understand if you’re busy, but I know what it’s like to regret giving your number out.
Austin: I won’t keep bothering you, I promise.
Austin: Just tell me to fuck off if that’s what you need to do. No hard feelings.
The messages seemed kind, but a small part of Peyton wondered if the guy was actually being pushy and passive aggressive. This was what he got for never having bothered to actually date someone before his illness.
He also had a long DM thread with Caleb from BrewBiz and a tentative list of things to bake for their café. Caleb was sweet and understood that Peyton was a one-man army and could only do so much, but it turned out their baker had become a sudden single caregiver—and Peyton had a feeling there was a bit more to it, though he didn’t pry.
But according to Caleb, anything was better than nothing, and Peyton had a long list of cookies and batch bakes he could prepare in bulk without throwing off his timetable too much. Then all the shop baker would have to do was throw them in the oven and serve them hot. Anyone could manage it. At least, he hoped.
Worse came to worst, he could probably put an ad out for a part time assistant since a new contract with BrewBiz meant he could probably afford it. As it was, his order queue was completely full again and his bank account was heavy with profit.
After checking on Ginger who wasn’t interested in sleeping in her new bed, but was interested in sleeping in the box the litter pan came in, Peyton took a cup of decaf and wandered outside. It was late, so the neighborhood was dark and quiet, and he took in a long breath of the thick sea air.
Peyton jumped so hard he spilled coffee on himself, letting out a long string of swears.
“Sorry.” It was the neighbor with that rich, cinnamon voice Peyton could have listened to for hours. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
The man sounded as tired as before, but a little less hostile, so Peyton relaxed a fraction. “It’s fine,” he said after a beat. “I didn’t realize anyone was out here.”
There was another long pause, then the neighbor cleared his throat. “Do you want your, uh, container thing back?”
Peyton frowned, then his brows shot up. “Oh. Yeah, sure. Uh…I can run over or whatever.”
“Back gate’s open,” the guy said. His tone was sharp and short again, but Peyton was starting to think that maybe that was just how he talked. Like a resting bitch voice.
He could live with that, and he sure as shit wasn’t turning the guy down for the chance to see him again, and maybe wear him down a bit. “Are the brownies still in there?” he asked as he set his cup down and headed for his own gate.
The guy huffed, but Peyton was pretty sure it was more laughter than anything. “No. There was no way I could have eaten all that by myself, but my business partner came by, and he’s obsessed with your bakes.”
Peyton flushed lightly as he pulled the latch on the wooden door, then slipped out and gently pushed on his neighbor’s fence. For a second it stuck, and he felt a surge of panic like maybe the guy was fucking with him. But he gave it a second nudge and the hinges creaked as it swung inward, and he almost tripped over himself as he stumbled onto the grass.
“You’d think people with two functional legs would have the whole walking thing down a little better than you,” the guy said dryly.
Peyton rolled his eyes. “Hilarious. Tell that to the fourteen-year-old me who hit his first growth spurt.”
“You too?” The guy pushed forward in his chair, coming to the end of his concrete patio, and he had the box on his lap. “I was sixteen though. I think my parents were convinced I wasn’t gonna get taller than five nine.”
“What’d you end up at?” Peyton asked, leaning against the patio support beam. He crossed his arms and studied the neighbor’s wide shoulders, trying to make an educated guess.
The guy smiled—actually smiled—and fuck, he was even more gorgeous than before. “Six two. Wouldn’t know it from here.”
“I think I had a pretty good guess,” Peyton said. He stood still a moment, then stepped up onto the concrete and offered his hand. “I’m Peyton, by the way. I don’t think we were officially introduced.”
The guy hesitated, then swiped his right hand on his thigh before pressing his palm to Peyton’s. It was calloused, dry, and very warm. “Hudson.”
Hudson. It definitely fit. Peyton drew back, fighting the urge to find another excuse to touch him, and he turned his gaze out past the tall fence. Not for the first time, he wished he’d been rich enough to afford an ocean view, but the fact that he could hear the waves was good enough.
“How do you like it here?”
“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.”
He stretched his legs out into the grass, then patted the concrete next to him. Out of the corner of his eye, in the dim porch light, he saw Hudson’s face journey. The guy looked like he wanted to tell Peyton to fuck off, but then to his immediate surprise, Hudson set his brake, used his hands to shift his legs past the foot rests, then eased himself down in front of his chair.
Peyton was almost giddy, but he did his absolute best to try and keep it cool. “My brother and I were adopted,” he said, and almost laughed when Hudson’s brows flew up. “I know, I over-share. It’s a tragic flaw. Anyway, he’s super white. Like he fits right into their whole WASP thing they have going on, so no one ever assumed he had a tragic backstory.”
“He was born HIV positive, but he tested negative by the time he was like six months old, I think? It was way before my time.” It was also something Linden wasn’t shy about, but rarely brought up. But it had sparked an almost obsession with health care which, coupled with his hero complex, set him right into the field as an EMT.
“And your backstory?” Hudson asked, sounding a bit more cautious.
“Normal, I guess. Though, I think every adoptee feels a little tragic from time to time.” He rubbed the back of his neck, toying with his bun, then shrugged. “My adoption was closed so I never did get to find out why I was given up. I didn’t even know what ethnicity I was until I was old enough to buy one of those DNA kits.” He reached between his knees and tugged at some of the grass absently.
“And that made you a people pleaser?”
Peyton snorted a laugh. “Being raised by the kind of people my parents were did. People have literally asked if I was, like, abandoned on the streets of Shanghai or something.” He turned to face Hudson with a grimace. “I had all this pressure to be grateful to my parents for ‘saving me’ from some tragic third world fate.”
“Yeah, like it’s so much better here,” Hudson said bitterly. “Where you can develop a tumor, lose the use of your legs, and all you get is a hospital bill big enough to bankrupt you, and divorce papers.” He seemed to realize he’d overshared because his face immediately went blank, and he looked away. “Please don’t ask.”
Peyton put up his hands in surrender. “Not a word.”
Hudson relaxed after a beat. “Sorry your parents were shitty.”
Waving him off, Peyton shifted and leaned his shoulder against the post. “They weren’t shitty. They were just woefully uneducated in how to handle adopted kids who’d eventually become adults with questions and, you know, trauma. Then you throw in a chronic illness and life-altering surgery…” He saw Hudson’s eyes flicker to his waist, and without really thinking, he pressed his hand over his bag which was still empty. “…and shit gets complicated and you forget how to react to things like a normal person.”
Hudson glanced away again. “My…um. Eli—my business partner—he follows you on social media. He mentioned he saw something about your illness.”
“It’s a stoma,” Peyton said, resigned. Not that it really mattered. A guy like Hudson wasn’t ever someone who’d take interest in Peyton anyway. And maybe not having to do the whole big reveal thing with his neighbor was a blessing. “I developed Crohn’s about five years ago, and it was fine for a while. Then I got all this scar tissue and things came close to bursting. It’s not a pretty story.”
Hudson chuckled softly. “Yeah, I get that.”
Peyton realized he probably did get it. “Cancer?”
Hudson looked like he was debating about answering, then he shook his head. “It was a tumor, but it was benign. It was big enough that it was causing paralysis though—which ironically was also the risk of the surgery.”
Peyton didn’t need to ask what happened. That much was obvious. “It sucks, right?” He hadn’t meant to say that aloud, but when Hudson fixed sharp eyes on him, he just couldn’t stop talking. “It’s like, you finally get used to being alive—to figuring out all this adult shit in your professional and personal life. Then this big thing comes along and changes your entire body. And you think, whatever, I’ll just go to the club like before and it’ll be different, but it won’t matter.”
“Except it does,” Hudson murmured quietly.
Peyton smiled a little sadly. “I haven’t actually been brave enough to try yet. I don’t know how to make my body work the way it used to. And I’m on this app, right, that my best friend and brother signed me up for? They want me to get back out there, and they don’t fucking realize that there’s not some switch I can hit in my brain that’ll make it all feel okay again.” He stopped, realizing that he was breathing a little fast, and that Hudson was watching him with dark eyes. “Sorry.”
“No. No, I…yeah. It’s like that,” Hudson said.
Peyton bit his lip and wrapped his arms tight around his middle. “I’m sort of talking to this guy—I’m gay by the way. I feel like I don’t need to explain myself considering you live here…”
Hudson lifted up one hand. “I’ve been out since I was nineteen.”
Peyton breathed out a sigh of relief, then tension raced up his spine because that was one more barrier removed. It didn’t change the fact that Hudson was hotter than the sun, with that sort of salt and pepper bear vibe going on—and probably way out of his league—but still.
He didn’t do well with little scraps of hope. They tended to start wildfires of fantasy in his mind.
“Anyway, I’m talking to this guy, and he seems nice. He says all the right things, but then I start to wonder if he’s just full of shit. Like, what happens when I have to take my pants off and he sees this literal shit bag hanging off my stomach. Or he reaches around to find that they stitched up my asshole like a goddamn Ken doll?”
Hudson stared, then after a beat, he threw back his head and burst into laughter. Peyton thought maybe he should be offended, but it was impossible at the sound of the man’s chuckles. They were low and infectious, and after a couple of seconds, Peyton was joining him.
“I’m sorry,” Hudson said, waving him off. “I haven’t laughed in a long fucking time, and I didn’t expect you to just say all that out loud.”
Peyton offered a crooked smile. “Yeah. I guess I kind of do that.”
Hudson’s laughter died down, and his face went back to serious, though there was more light in his eyes now. “You’re not that old, are you?”
Peyton shrugged. “Old enough that I can’t deal with guys in their early twenties, but I haven’t hit the magic age where I pull a muscle in my sleep.”
Hudson snorted and shook his head. “Right. Then you’ve got time. Hell, even us old gays have time. My friend keeps telling me that at some point, someone will come along who doesn’t give a shit that I need things done a little differently.”
“And do you believe him?” Peyton challenged.
Hudson’s lip quirked. “No. But I’ve always been a pessimistic asshole. I have a feeling you have a little bit more hope than that.”
“I did. I…I think I do,” Peyton admitted. “I’d like to.”
Hudson nodded, then reached behind him for his chair and pulled the bento box down. He stared at it for another minute, then handed it out. “You should try and find it. After all, one of us needs to, right?”
Peyton turned the box over in his hands. “What’s your favorite cookie, Hudson?”
The man groaned. “Please don’t get ideas.”
Peyton grinned and shook his head. “Now I know you don’t mean that, so just answer the question and save us the trouble of playing this little will-he-won’t-he eat the bakes game. Come on, just tell me one flavor you can’t get enough of.”
Hudson groaned, then finally let out a slow sigh. “Peanut butter—with bits in it.”
Peyton grinned widely and held the box tight to his chest, making no move to get up, and Hudson didn’t seem like he was going to tell him to go any time soon. “I’m gonna knock your socks off,” he said after a second.
Hudson let out one more, very soft chuckle. “I wouldn’t bet against you.”
Peyton’s heart gave a single stuttered beat, and he knew in that moment, he was in big trouble.
Chapter Ten Coming July 20th
Chapter Ten Preview:
“Are you ever happy to see me? Genuine question,” Eli said.
Hudson scoffed and almost choked on a few crumbs of bread that hadn’t made it down yet. “Are you ever going to give me a reason?”
Eli sat up properly and leaned toward him. “Undying love? Loyalty?”
Hudson raised a brow.
Eli sighed and crossed his arms, sitting back. “I found a product tester for your newest toy idea that is absolutely not at all about your massive crush on Peyton.”