CHAPTER ONE

Nothing To Lose

An Out To Sea Novel

Chapter One

© 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.

 

Content Warning: This chapter contains mentions of a chronic illness, stoma surgery and recovery, and emotional grief due to a life-changing procedure. The chapter also contains personal issues relating to adoption, and experiences of racism. I am currently working with sensitivity readers to ensure this content is accurate without being the center of the character's story. Please proceed with caution if any of these issues are triggering for you.

 

 

 

 

Peyton was doing his best to convince himself that the sheer and vast amount of sweat pouring from his body was from the humidity and heat, and totally not at all from the fact that he was desperately out of shape and still currently unable to lift anything.

 

Though, to be fair, he’d had surgery and was still three weeks away from being medically cleared to lift things. His disease—the one that appeared out of nowhere and started ravaging his life—had him down and out for the last two years.

 

He was only just now starting to feel human, and the price he had to pay for that was the use of his asshole.

 

Literally.

 

Not exactly what a gay man wanted to hear from his doctor, but he supposed it was a worthy sacrifice if it meant being able to move around and eat and shit and live without excruciating pain. Now, everything collected neatly in a bag attached to his stomach, covered by an adorable little flower-patterned cloth his best friend made and sold on Etsy.

 

He probably should mind that she was inspired by him and making a sudden mint on stoma bag covers of all things, but his business was also thriving so he couldn’t find it in him to complain. Plus, he got all the covers he wanted for free which made the whole stoma situation a little more bearable.

 

Unfortunately, the cute little bags didn’t make dealing with the rest of having a newly rerouted colon easier. Like…well, the bags leaked, a lot more than the doctor and his nurses had warned him. He was told to expect heavy grief with the adjustment period.

 

He wasn’t told he’d wake up in the middle of the night like a newborn baby who had blown-out a diaper.

 

But it did. It was happening to him, and it was yet another reason he decided to write off the idea of dating because that was just…

 

Well, it was gross.

 

And he didn’t want to hunt down someone with a fetish just to get love.

 

The fucking part he was going to have to figure out eventually because he loved sex and he missed it. A lot. And he knew there was more than just one way to get off, but honestly he just wasn’t sure how to feel sexy ever again. He decided not to panic too much about it though, considering he hadn’t been able to get hard since the surgery. He knew his dick wasn’t broken. There was just a lot going on.

 

The year had been a strange one. The world felt upside down. His life felt upside down. His brick-and-mortar bakery closed, but his last post about going under went viral, and suddenly he was flooded with requests from across the country for delivery.

 

He and his best friend, Taylor—when he could take time from his diaper duties—sat down together and Peyton realized, after making a rather detailed graph, he actually could make an at-home bakery work.

 

He could get certified, bake from his own kitchen, and just ship things. It would save him on the rent of brick and mortar, and most of his equipment fit in his dining room.

 

Mostly.

 

Kind of.

 

He owned a surprisingly large townhouse he’d gotten from a foreclosure which meant his mortgage was disgustingly affordable compared to what he’d been paying in rent, and if he kept things up the way they were going now, he’d have enough money saved to renovate and expand a bit.

 

He didn’t want to get too ahead of himself though. He’d invested in a smaller industrial mixer which Taylor was currently heaving into the little nook where a kitchen table was supposed to go, and his brother, Linden, was fixing the last of the brackets onto their fairly decent DIY baking counter.

 

Peyton was pretending to help while lying on the couch pressing an ice pack to his stoma site which was starting to ache again. He reminded himself it had only been two months since having part of his insides now on the outside, and it was normal to not feel normal.

 

“You need meds?” Linden’s voice interrupted his melancholy pain spiral and he glanced over at his brother. Like Linden, Peyton had been adopted by their kind but WASPish parents, and every now and again he still felt a bit weird when he thought of the tall, very blond white dude as his brother.

 

Linden had always fit in with the family where Peyton had looked like some sad TV orphan: super skinny and brown-skinned. He’d described himself growing up as vaguely Asian since all he had to go by were his eyes and nose. He’d brought up the idea of a DNA swab once, which had sent his mother into a hysterical melt-down about how her love should be enough, and she chose him, so he didn’t need to know about his birth family.

 

He never bothered to explain to her the weird pain he felt not knowing where the hell he came from, or if there were other people out there who looked like him. She wouldn’t let herself believe that he could want to know and still love her just the same.

 

Luckily, his brother had understood and bought them each matching kits for Peyton’s twenty-second birthday. Linden came out exactly as everyone expected—mostly Scottish with a few drops of Swedish and French.

 

Peyton nearly choked on his own tongue when half of his came out Japanese, and the second were split down the middle between Scottish and Ashkenazi.

 

“Shit,” was all Linden said as they stared at their laptops. “Maybe we’re related, like, for real.”

 

Peyton very much doubted it considering they didn’t register as any sort of relation on the site, but it didn’t really matter. He couldn’t find anyone closely related to him at all—just a bunch of random fourth cousins spread across the globe. The Jewish side of him made all the gut issues make sense though, and he felt a small pulse of bitterness that Linden managed to escape scot-free.

 

So to speak.

 

Literally.

 

Either way, it was nice knowing, even if it didn’t answer a single damn question he had about himself.

 

He didn’t think about it all the time, though. Especially not lately. For the moment, he was hyper-fixated on getting his house together so he could get back up and running. His savings was starting to dwindle, and it was the very last year he was allowed to get any sort of medical procedure on his dad’s insurance. That magic number twenty-five was coming up and even though the man was a GP, he didn’t have sway with the blood sucking insurance vampires reading to pounce on Peyton’s chronic illness.

 

Frankly, he needed to get rich so he could stay alive.

 

Peyton blinked back to reality when his brother dropped into a crouch and pressed the inside of his wrist to Peyton’s forehead. He quickly batted him away with a scowl. “What the hell?”

 

“You’ve been out of it all morning,” Linden said, frowning.

 

Peyton sighed, then eyed the water in Linden’s hand before snatching it out of his grip and taking a long drink. “I’m not running a fever. I just slept like crap and the whole bakery set up is stressing me out. I need this to go well.”

 

He knew he didn’t need to remind his brother how shitty it had gotten after his brick-and-mortar shop had closed. Linden hadn’t been around for it much—something his brother had daily panic attacks about after deciding that his lack of involvement caused Peyton’s surgery. No amount of trying to convince the man that Crohn’s didn’t work that way helped.

 

Peyton had been kind of close-lipped about his diagnosis anyway. It had started out in his late teens as chronic stomach aches which his parents said was just anxiety. That morphed into bloating and pain, and weird outbreaks of cold sores first in his mouth—then moving to his eyes of all places. It was when the bleeding started that Peyton started to really panic.

 

Test after test, probe after probe making his asshole feel like it did the one weekend he went to a queer-led festival when he was twenty, finally gave him answers. Answers led to medication and steroids and weight gain and misery.

 

That led to stress which in turn started the cycle all over again, and the next thing he knew, he was crying in his brother’s arms trying to take his first steps after having his entire insides moved around, and a hole carved in his stomach.

 

Peyton tried to be patient with his brother too, but Linden had a bad habit of assuming responsibility for everything. Peyton just didn’t have the spoons to hold his brother’s hand over this. Not anymore. He was barely surviving on his own.

 

With a sigh, Linden and turned, flopping over next to his brother. “We’ve got your back.” He left the ‘this time’ unsaid. And it wasn’t like Peyton had expected his best friend and brother to drop everything else they had going on to pull his ass out of the fire or anything, but he had felt a bit like an island before everything had come crashing down.

 

He was grateful for their help now though, especially since half the shit that needed to get done he still couldn’t do.

 

He sipped more water, then surreptitiously touched his bag, breathing out a sigh of relief when it felt mostly empty. Linden had been there for a few of his spill-over accidents and handled it all with the grace of a highly trained EMT who had seen a lot worse.

 

But it was still vaguely humiliating.

 

“We should do Thai tonight,” Taylor said, walking into the living room and dropping onto Peyton’s right. He kicked his foot up onto the coffee table, then promptly pulled Peyton’s shirt up and poked at his stomach.

 

“Dude.”

 

“You’re the only one in this room without medical training,” Taylor said with a sniff.

 

“You’re a pediatric nurse,” Peyton grumbled, then he turned to his brother. “And you drive an ambulance. Neither one of you are qualified to deal with my insides.”

 

Both of them shrugged and settled in a little closer, and though he had no plans to say it aloud, he appreciated the contact. There were times he felt a bit like a gross little bed goblin that no one would ever want to touch again. And although his brother and his married best friend weren’t the demographic he was shooting for, it was still nice.

 

“I’m down for Thai,” he finally said.

 

Taylor let out a small happy noise. “I’ll call that place that knows you. Then we can feast.”

 

“And bake,” Peyton said, determined to get at least one batch of something done before the end of the night. He would be goddamned if he didn’t get his shit together, and soon.

 

 

***

 

 

By nine that night, Peyton was alone. He was full to the brim with noodles and vegetables, freshly showered, bag change done, and standing in his newly rearranged kitchen. Linden had taken off first, working his three-day shift which meant he’d be sleeping at the station, and eventually Taylor followed after his wife had sent him several annoyed texts about the baby forgetting his face.

 

Peyton wallowed in guilt for that one. The last thing he wanted to do was take Taylor away from his family with the new baby only a few months old. Taylor insisted it was fine, but Peyton could see tension in his eyes he knew his friend was refusing to talk about.

 

He also knew he should probably press Taylor on the issue and get him to open up, but he was still in recovery, and he just didn’t have the energy to take on anyone else’s burden right then. He missed his old self. He missed being happy just for the sake of being happy. Even when he was at his sickest, he still felt alive.

 

And he knew he’d get back there. He just needed to reach out and reclaim what he loved most—and what he did best.

 

Baking.

 

Cracking his knuckles, Peyton began working on his cinnamon toast crunch muffin recipe. It had been a fan favorite, a Saturday and Sunday bake that always sold out before nine at the shop. He already had several dozen emails asking if he was going to add them to the website, so he figured it was a good place to start.

 

He’d taken three impossibly long months off baking, but he knew he hadn’t lost his touch. There was no way. He’d been baking since he was tall enough to see over the counter on a stepstool. There were days he was sure butter and sugar and flour made up his body instead of bones, and muscle, and blood.

 

He remembered losing track of taking notes in school and coming to, only to find three brand new recipes scribbled out where his math formulas were supposed to be. The thought made him grin as he dragged his little stool over to the counter where his old, trusty stand-mixer was sitting and waiting for him.

 

It had been his grandma’s, passed to him when her arthritis had made it impossible for her to use it anymore.

 

It was a gift he treasured, considering he’d never been particularly close to either side of his family. His grandparents liked to use him to brag about what a wonderful, giving, selfless soul his dad was.

 

“Did you hear, Maryanne,” he heard his grandmother saying on the phone once, “Chuck has adopted a little Asian boy. Probably right off the streets of China. You know how it is there.”

 

He’d only been five at the time, but for some reason, he remembered those words like it was yesterday. He remembered the way she’d looked at him, like he was some knick-knack sitting on the shelf. Of course, his dad heard too, and had swept Peyton up into his arms and marched out of the room.

 

“Don’t listen to that old bat,” he’d murmured, holding Peyton tight.

 

He had no idea what was going on, but he remembered his dad’s reaction more than anything. He remembered the fear in his eyes, like somehow those words were going to infect him.

 

All they really did was create a stronger bond between Peyton and his dad. And they also didn’t go back to see that side of his grandparents for a long, long time and he was fine with that because their house always smelled like mothballs and lavender, and their food never had any salt in it.

 

He was seventeen, the day she’d given him the mixer. He remembered the way she smiled at him, with actual affection in her eyes which surprised him. “I’ve seen the way you look at it,” she said with a wink. “I’ve always known it was meant for you.”

 

He was freshly out of the closet and not sure how many other people knew he was a queer baker with no aspirations for a “real job”. If she did know in that moment, she didn’t seem to mind. She had Peyton’s grandpa dig a box out of the attic. It barely fit in the backseat of the little beater his dad had given him as a graduation present, but the moment he hauled it through his front door, he felt…something.

 

Not quite healed, maybe, but close. Like maybe one of the cracks he always felt between him and his family had sealed up.

 

The first thing he baked in that mixer was a batch of Nutella and banana muffins that his grandpa loved. He delivered them two days later, sat down and had a cup of coffee with him, and felt like a real adult for the first time ever.

 

His grandpa died three months later, and it still stung.

 

It was strange, he thought as he added a brick of butter into the mixer, how some memories felt like they lived behind an opaque veil, and others felt like a movie replaying in his head. He couldn’t remember what he’d eaten for breakfast last Tuesday, but he could recall that grin on his grandpa’s face over that cup of coffee like it happened two minutes before.

 

Smiling to himself, Peyton worked his way through the recipe as the oven heated. He tapped his little batter scoop on the counter in a melodic ditty, humming to himself as he watched the paddle whip through the lightly browned muffin dough. The scent of sugar and cinnamon was powerful, coming from the little pot of coated bread next to him.

 

When the batter was almost finished, he used his little flour-in-a-can spray on the muffin tin, then pushed his stool back to work the rest of the tasks on his feet.

 

His guts were sore—the small incisions on his stomach from the laparoscopy were healed but the scar tissue was strangely tender. He fought an urge to run his hand down his backside and once-again feel around his—as his nurse so elegantly called it—Barbie butt.

 

He’d been a little horrified the first time he looked in the mirror, but now it just made him laugh. That was easier than feeling like his gay as hell body was betraying him by taking away the one thing he enjoyed most about fucking. That was something he didn’t like to think about often. He knew he’d have to face the grief soon enough, but for now, he just wanted to enjoy living.

 

After all, it had been months since he’d felt that gut-wrenching Crohn’s pain in his intestines, and he was ready to live again, goddamn it.

 

Squaring his shoulders, Peyton set the trays on the stove and carefully began to scoop thick dollops into each little divot. This was something he could have done blindfolded and drugged without fucking up, but it still felt like a triumph that he hadn’t lost a single ounce of his muscle memory.

 

He scooped and dropped, scooped and dropped until the pan was full and the mixing bowl was empty. Setting it aside, he grabbed the bread crumble from the bowl and sprinkled them over the top of the muffins.

 

When the tin was finally ready, he set the tray on the rack, closed the door, and stared at the remnants of his fist-ever bake in his new life. It was a mess, but it was a gorgeous mess.

 

Picking up his phone, he snapped a few shots, posting them to his Instagram account. His phone immediately began to buzz, so he set it aside and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, making his way to the side door that led into his yard.

 

It was a nice night—humid from the ocean breeze, the waves crashing not far in the distance—spring in the air promising a temperate summer. He hoped for rain, even though the West Coast had been horrifically dry for so long, but he wasn’t going to complain.

 

He lived comfortably. He lived happily.

 

He lived—and that was the most important part.

 

He didn’t like to think about how close he’d come to disaster when he was rushed to the hospital. He didn’t like to think about the doctor’s face when he said emergency surgery, or that Peyton’s life would never be the same when he came out of it.

 

He just liked to think that it was finally over, and he was free.

 

He wished his water was beer—or something a little stronger. Maybe a nice glass of Malbec and a cute guy to share it with.

 

Before he could get too far into that little fantasy though, there was a loud rumble of a truck engine. For a second, he thought it was the garbage service, then he remembered it was nine p.m. on a Tuesday. The rumble came to a stop, and it sounded like it was at his front door, so he jumped down into the grass and hurried to his low fence.

 

It was just short enough for him to see over, and pushing up onto his toes, he caught a glimpse of a moving truck. It was struggling to back up into the driveway, and it took Peyton a second to realize that the townhouse next door must have sold.

 

It had been on the market a while after the old man who lived there had died in his bathroom. Taylor liked to make up stories about how the old, crotchety bastard was now haunting the place, but Peyton could only hope that miserable man had been able to move on.

 

Not that he believed in ghosts, but just in case…

 

He got lost watching the truck finally come to a stop, then a group of beefy men jump out and wrench the back open. And okay, maybe that was just proof it had been too long since he’d been on a date, but he doubted he would have minded the view at any point in his life.

 

As he stared at a particularly nice looking, very beardy man lift a sitting chair up on one shoulder like some kind of Norse god, Peyton felt something brush along his foot. He jumped in the air, then looked down and saw a wide-eyed, small cat with wiry fur staring up at him.

 

Without really thinking, Peyton knelt down and swept the cat into his arms. Instead of clawing his face, it began to purr and nudge him, so he gave it a few scratches as he went back to watching the men.

 

He had no idea if any of them were his new neighbor—or neighbors, really—but he figured he’d know soon enough. Maybe he’d share his muffins as a welcome gift. After all, it was the kind thing to do.

 

Dropping the cat back down to his feet, Peyton made his way toward the side door just as his oven timer went off. He hurried to the kitchen and gave the muffins a little shake. They were fluffy and tall and perfect, so he set them on the counter to cool, and stood back to marvel at his work.

 

He hadn’t lost his touch.

 

Picking up his phone again, he hit record on the camera, and panned forward slowly. “You all asked for it, so here’s the first little tease of what I’ll be putting up for order in my shop in a couple of weeks. Cinnamon Toast muffins. You’ve been very patient with me, so I just wanted to share my moment of triumph with you all. I’m back in the game, baby, and better than ever. Can’t wait to bake you all little pieces of my heart.”

 

He ended the recording, then after a beat, began to move six of the twelve muffins into a little plate with a flower pattern his mom bought for him from one of those big-box stores. He arranged them into a little cluster like a muffin bouquet, then grabbed a post-it from the counter.

 

 

Hey, neighbor. I just wanted to welcome you into the hallway. I’m a baker, so this is my way of saying hi and if you need to borrow a cup of sugar, you know where to find it. Hope the move in went smoothly, and if you need to know where all the good stores are, I’m your man. Take care. -P

 

 

Yeah. That would do. He smiled to himself and felt like his life was finally getting back to the way it should be. Not just content, but happy, and successful, and more importantly—his.

 

 

Chapter Two

NOTHING TO LOSE HOME PAGE

 

***

 

Would you like to bake Peyton's Cinnamon Toast Muffins? Click HERE for the recipe.

 

***

 

 

 

Chapter Two Preview (content warning: mild homophobia)

 

 

“I’ve come to understand that I’m a gay man with a spinal injury whose husband left him because being married to a disabled man was too much for him. Just like having a queer disabled son was too much for you.”

 

“You know I pray for you every day,” she said.

 

Hudson took his phone and used it to pry her hands off his door. “I have to go. We’re having a meeting about ten inch dildos today and I need to pick out my product testers.”

 

“Hudson!”

 

He managed to get the door shut, the car started, and he rolled forward over the cement parking bump, not giving a shit if it scraped the undercarriage. He watched her continue to stand there, looking like she was crying though there were no tears on her cheeks, and then he pulled out onto the main road and only then did he let the nerves hit him and his body start to shake apart.