CHAPTER SIX

Nothing To Lose

 

An Out To Sea Novel

Chapter Six

© 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 verbal abuse and self-deprecation.

 

 

 

 

 

Peyton sighed as he stared down at his phone. He had half a dozen messages waiting for him, all of them from good-looking men who had no idea how…complicated…Peyton’s body was now. He regretted letting Taylor and Linden take the lead on controlling his reentry into the dating world.

 

They may have existed on the periphery of chronic illness and disability, but they didn’t understand what it was like to live it. They’d seen him in pain—seen him struggle and break down and grow a little hateful sometimes—but they didn’t know how that felt deep down in the core of who they were.

 

They never had to face themselves in the mirror and say aloud, “This is never going to change. This is your reality now,” just to let those words sink in.

 

Sitting outside as the sun slowly crept toward its midmorning position, Peyton scrolled through the messages as the little stray cat that wasn’t very stray anymore rubbed along his shins. He scratched at her ears gently as his gaze fixed on one man in particular.

 

According to his profile, his name was Austin, he was in graphic design, he lived locally, and he was single but looking for a long-term relationship.

 

 

I’m divorced, and I know most people are ashamed of admitting that, but I’m not. Sometimes in life you win, and sometimes you don’t, but there’s no point denying when you get it wrong. I’m a monogamous, family-oriented man who wants to come home to the love of my life every night, and I’m willing to be patient until I find him.

 

 

It sounded good. It sounded great, in fact. It was exactly what Peyton might have written. Or at least, close to it. He probably would have talked about his body and his disease and how he was tired of letting it control him.

 

He wished he could be that honest.

 

They were a match, so he tapped on the guy’s message icon, then drummed his fingers on the side of his phone before finally going with:

 

 

Hey, I’m Peyton. I saw we matched, and you sound like an interesting guy. Let me know if you want to chat.

 

 

God, it sounded pathetic. He fought the urge to groan loudly as he pushed to his feet, then gently prodded at his bag to see if it was ready for a change. As he turned toward the house, he heard a sudden and quiet string of swearing coming from his neighbor’s house, and his curiosity took control of his body.

 

Tiptoeing over the soft grass, he peered through a small gap in the fence for his first glimpse of the man who had been so unkindly returning Peyton’s bakes. He expected some old, gnarled curmudgeon of a man—or woman—hell if he knew for sure.

 

Instead, he found a gorgeous, middle-aged guy with short brown hair, olive skin, and rippling biceps. He was stretched out on a yoga mat with one knee pressed to his chest, his eyes closed. Peyton had no idea why the man was cursing, but after another second of watching—he realized what it was.

 

The man dropped his leg, but it didn’t lie flat or straight. It just kind of flopped over, and then the guy had to push himself to sit, manually adjusting his legs. Peyton watched as the man’s calves began to tremble like he was freezing, and the neighbor started cursing again as he massaged over his thighs.

 

Peyton’s gaze roamed the yard, and a few feet away he saw a wheelchair—and then, on the covered patio, a walker.

 

The disability issue didn’t make him feel sorry for the guy, or excuse the fact that he was a raging dick. And it was even worse learning that he was closer to Peyton’s age, because he should have fucking known how to use common courtesy and just gone over and told Peyton he wasn’t interested in baked goods or whatever the fuck his problem was.

 

Peyton started to bristle with irritation, and he was seconds away from popping up over the fence to give the guy a piece of his mind, but the neighbor’s phone started to ring.

 

“Walk away,” Peyton whispered to himself. “Walk away. Just fucking walk away…”

 

“What’s up?” the guy asked. His voice was a delicious rumble, matching his face and body, though at most he was objectively attractive. Peyton was most definitely the kind of guy who wasn’t attracted to assholes.

 

There was a long silence, and Peyton was about to turn, but the guy spoke again.

 

“Okay. Is she…” The guy stopped and sighed. “No. I’m not going to talk to her just because she gave you some sob story about a made-up health condition.”

 

Peyton grimaced, then looked down to find the kitten nudging his legs. He reached for her, cuddling her to his chest. “I bet he treats everyone like…”

 

“Do you know what she did last week? She stalked me at my rehab center and waited for me in the parking lot. Then she tried to take my fucking wheelchair so I’d have to sit there and talk to her.”

 

“Oh shit,” Peyton whispered.

 

“The most I can say is she gave birth to me, and after weeks like this one,” the neighbor said, sounding more tired than anything now, “I wonder if it would have been better that she didn’t.”

 

Peyton winced. He’d felt that way once or twice about his own birth mother when his depression was raging, and he didn’t want to get out of bed, and his adoptive parents were pressuring him to be more grateful that they’d taken him in. It had taken a lot of strength to move past it without any kind of support, and by the sound of his neighbor’s voice, he was right there in the worst of it.

 

“Jesus Christ,” the neighbor sighed out after a long moment. “I’m not telling you I want to kill myself, Eli. I’m telling you that it’s been a hard week and you more than anyone should know what a shitty person she is. Do you really think I should go down there and…”

 

Peyton held the kitten closer.

 

“Okay. Thank you. Tell the twins I won’t be in today, okay? My legs aren’t cooperating with me at all and I’m just fucking tired. I just want…” The man stopped, then let out a defeated laugh. “I don’t know what I want. Some comfort food and like six naps.”

 

There was a silence, broken suddenly by the cat letting out an impossibly loud meow for its size, and Peyton froze. There was a shuffling sound, and out of fear that the man would get into his chair and roll toward the fence, Peyton darted for his patio door and slipped in. He shut it as quietly as he could manage, then stared down at the kitten in his arms.

 

“Well, I’m definitely not going to name you stealth.”

 

“Mrow.”

 

He rolled his eyes, then moved to the counter where he had two kitten food in cans he’d grabbed from the supermarket, and he opened the lid on one. Definitely-Not-Stealth happily rushed over to help herself, and Peyton moved into the kitchen, staring around at his cupboards.

 

He should have learned his lesson the first two times he tried to win his neighbor over, but no one ever accused him of being a reasonable man.

 

“There has to be something,” Peyton mused. He glanced over at the kitten and shrugged. “Brownies? Everyone loves brownies when they’re sad.”

 

He would have kept musing, but he had to change his bag before he had an accident in the last place a health inspector would thank him for.

 

Moving to the bathroom, he opened up his cabinet and pulled out his supply of wipes, and a fresh bag, and a bag cover with stars and moons on it. It only took him a second to get the bag off and emptied, and he wasn’t quite sure how he felt about the fact that he was getting good at his little routine.

 

There was some pride, of course. Peyton was the kind of person who had always wanted to be good at everything, but this was a new level. He dropped the used bag in the trash, then began to wipe himself clean, staring down at the angry red bit of his insides that now existed outside.

 

There was no feeling in it—no pain now that it was healed up from the surgery. It was just this part of him that only felt real whenever he looked down at it.

 

His free hand absently rubbed behind him—at his ass, and the hole that no longer existed. His body shuddered and he felt a heaviness in his chest again. He thought about the random sex-toy he had in his online shopping cart—complicated but promising the stimulation he was craving.

 

His hand moved to his cock, lifting up his balls, pressing on his perinium. A little zing of something shot through his limbs, but his dick remained as limp as ever. “Fucking stubborn, useless…” he started to mumble. Of course, it wasn’t fair to take his frustration out on his cock. It was his brain that was the problem—and his fears.

 

And his grief.

 

Moving to the toilet, he emptied his bladder, then washed his hands, swiping off his stoma one more time before drying the skin and attaching the bag. His skin was starting to redden, leaving a permanent ring where the adhesive stuck. His doctors had warned him about sores and the eventual scars he’d get, but hell, what was one more?

 

Tucking the bag into the cute little cover, he pulled his sweats back over his waist, then his shirt down. He washed up one last time, then grabbed the trash bag and ran it out to the curb before returning to the kitchen.

 

Brownies were back on his mind again. Comfort brownies. S’mores brownies. They were his best recipe, and they were also his last shot. If the sad neighbor—whose life sounded just as complicated as Peyton’s—rejected those, there was no hope for him.

 

But Peyton was also the kind of man who did not like to give up. Not even on grumpy assholes like him.

 

 

***

 

 

Peyton was pretty sure the smell of baking chocolate had permeated at least a five-mile radius from his house by the time he was pulling the brownies out of the oven and sprinkling on a last little bit of the graham cracker crumble.

 

The bake was tricky because the marshmallows had to be treated delicately. Adding them right from the bag meant they’d turn to goo and ruin the bake. So, he’d freeze a few and mix them in. Then, when there was five minutes left, he’d pull the tray, add more to the top, and let them get perfectly browned by the time the brownies were done.

 

The recipe didn’t work out every time, but Peyton had spent years perfecting it. He still couldn’t get the vegan recipe to cooperate, but he was working on it.

 

Once he was finished and they were left out to cool, Peyton finally picked up his phone. There was an alert on the screen, and his heart gave a soft little thud when he realized that Austin from the app had written back.

 

His stomach was in his throat a bit when he swiped open the screen.

 

 

 

Hey, cutie! I saw you match with me when you created your profile. How are you liking it so far? Any hot dates I can be jealous over? I’d love to chat if you have time.

 

 

 

Peyton looked away with a frown. Jealousy seemed cute and coy at first, but he’d never had great luck with men who wanted to get possessive outside of dirty talk when they were fucking the breath out of him.

 

Still, he couldn’t let one word throw him.

 

 

I’m more than happy to chat. We can even exchange numbers if you want. I don’t really love the app system, and I’m much more responsive over text. Here’s my number if you do.

 

 

Peyton absently saved it into his phone, but he wasn’t brave enough to use it just yet. Instead, he pulled over a stack of paper and grabbed one of his gel pens from his little cup and began to scratch out a note for his neighbor.

 

 

Hi. I know this makes me seem like I can’t take no for an answer- which might be true but only when it comes to baked goods. I’m not offering these because I want you to owe me something, or that I think it’ll make us friends. I’m offering these because they’re amazingly delicious and sometimes bad days call for a brownie. -P

 

 

Short, to the point. Simple and maybe a little sweet. It was exactly the way he thought of his personality most days. He tapped his finger on the brownies and decided they were good enough. They wouldn’t cut neatly, but messy and gooey was better than that store bought look.

 

He grabbed his little rolling slicer and cut them into even rows. The crumbs made it even more appealing, and he was careful not to brush too many away as he packed them into a little bento box he used to use for work lunches. It would preserve the heat and keep them warm. It was black with a hand-painted flower on the side, and he murmured a quiet prayer that the grumpy man wouldn’t toss it into the bin.

 

With a deep breath, Peyton left his phone on the counter and headed out the front door. A small part of him started to panic when he noticed movement in his neighbor’s front window. The blinds were closed, but there was a small crack, and Peyton almost turned around to flee.

 

“Be brave, dipshit,” he cursed at himself. “You’ve survived worse than a bad attitude and a sharp tongue.”

 

He sucked in a deep breath, then made his way up the ramp which he realized was for this man and not his former neighbor—probably why the guy bought the house in the first place. With trembling fingers, he hovered a touch by the doorbell before pushing down, then he waited with his breath stuck in his throat for someone to answer.

 

A minute ticked by—nearly two before he almost lost it to the urge to run away. Just as he started to turn, the lock snicked open and the man from the back yard appeared. Sitting in his wheelchair, his head came to Peyton’s shoulder which probably meant standing up, he was massive.

 

He was all bulk and hotness—dark haired, olive skinned, a chiseled jaw with broad shoulders and biceps that were threatening to tear free of his sleeves. He was exactly the man that would have sent Peyton to his knees in a club if they’d met one night—anonymous, without the ugliness of rejected bakes between them.

 

“What the fuck do you want?” the man barked.

 

Peyton tried not to flinch as he got flashbacks of high school bullies who used to torment him. “I…I know I’m a huge asshole—actually, the note says it all.” Peyton thrust the bento box out, and the man just stared at it. “I live next door.”

 

“Figured that one out all on my own,” the man said, his voice a little huskier than it had been earlier when he was on the phone. “The asshole baker.”

 

Peyton swallowed thickly. “Will you just… Look, I promise this is the last time, but these are the best things I can do in the kitchen. They’re my most expensive item in my shop.”

 

The man’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you giving them to me, then?”

 

“Because sometimes people need a fucking brownie, okay?” Peyton all-but shouted. He felt his cheeks heat, and he glanced away. “I don’t actually want anything from you. I was just trying to be nice.”

 

In the long silence that followed his outburst, Peyton was sure the man was going to reject him. His body tensed, preparing to powerwalk home to try and save some dignity, but then the bento box was snatched from his hand and before he could look up, the door slammed shut.

 

Letting out a hard breath, he turned on his heel and headed home, not quite sure what the hell happened. He knew there was every chance he’d wake up tomorrow with a smashed container on his front porch and the door covered in smeared barely-done batter that looked like dog shit.

 

But there was every chance that the angry—and frankly sad—man would indulge. And Peyton damn-well knew those brownies could take the edge off everything bad, even if it was only for a moment.

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

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“Are you going to talk to him? Ever?” Eli pressed.

 

Hudson groaned and shoved at his friend who refused to be moved. “Why would I? Yes, the brownies are delicious, and I regret throwing the other stuff away. But I’m not interested in making friends.”

 

Eli turned his head and groaned into Hudson’s bicep. “But his food is so good.”

 

“Then you go make friends with him,” Hudson said irritably. His frustration was rising again and he knew it was mostly the fault of his bad day, but it was easy to latch on to this whole Peyton thing. “In fact, why don’t you ask him out since you seem so goddamn obsessed.”