CHAPTER THREE

Nothing To Lose

An Out To Sea Novel

Chapter Three

© 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/blog

 

 

Text is unedited and is subject to change before final publication.

 

 

Content Warning: This chapter contains mentions of a chronic illness, stoma surgery, care, and recovery, and emotional grief due to a life-changing procedure. The chapter also contains personal issues relating to adoption.

 

 

 

 

Peyton found himself pacing, muttering under his breath, and ignoring his brother’s pointed stare because he knew the moment he caught Linden’s gaze, he’d spill his guts. He didn’t want to admit to his brother—or to anyone—how humiliating it had been to assume the attractive guy bending over on his front stoop was his dinner delivery. Or how humiliating it was to realize he was returning the plate of muffins—untouched, with nothing but a short note attached to the side.

 

The guy was kind enough to give him an apologetic smile, but it was full of pity which Peyton hated. “I, uh, wanted to drop these back off. He’s…not a muffin guy.”

 

Peyton had been in the middle of feeling sorry for himself after a bag-leak issue and second shower. He was frustrated and in pain and wondering if he really had made the right choice with the surgery because fuck, it was so hard sometimes.

 

They were moments of, well, not quite weakness, but of feeling weak, which were getting fewer and further between. But they weren’t entirely gone.

 

“It’s fine,” Peyton had managed, but his hurt was clearly obvious in his tone from the way the guy looked at him like he was some kid having his macaroni art rejected.

 

“See you around?” the guy offered.

 

Peyton had no idea who he was. Maybe he was the neighbor’s boyfriend, or husband. He wasn’t about to risk further humiliation and ask, though, only to be told it was none of his business. So instead, he took the plate back inside and stared down at the block writing on the little sticky note.

 

 

Not interested.

 

 

Peyton wasn’t used to having his bakes rejected either. At least, not since he was younger and more experimental with flavors. He’d won local competitions, and had even been on TV once for a little week-long baking contest. He’d come runner-up in that at nineteen. And granted, he knew he wasn’t the best baker in the world, but he also knew he was good.

 

The asshole next door hadn’t even tried them. He hadn’t even taken a sniff. The plate was wrapped exactly as Peyton had left it.

 

Of course, he might have been gluten-free, Peyton realized. Or maybe vegan. Maybe one of those militant vegans who wanted to veganize the entire world? He hadn’t really taken into consideration that his neighbor could have restrictions.

 

It was almost ironic considering his own. No nuts, no eggs, no legumes, no seeds, no citrus. He felt like an immediate fool for not only sending over a random plate of muffins to a man he’d never met, but then also for being upset when they were rejected.

 

His pacing ceased and his shoulders sagged, and he heard his brother walk a few steps closer. “Whose ass am I kicking?”

 

Peyton scoffed. “Mine. I was being a dipshit.” He finally looked up at Linden who had his head cocked to the side, an icy look of determination in his eyes. It was the same one he used to wear in high school when he’d get suspended for beating down kids who thought their racist jokes were funny.

 

Peyton eventually got tired of his brother fighting his battles for him and they had it out—Linden eventually agreeing to stop. But Peyton secretly appreciated it since Linden was one of the few who actually did offer to go to war on his behalf. His mom never wanted to make waves, and his dad just never quite got it.

 

“I brought the neighbor muffins and he sent them back,” Peyton confessed.

 

Linden’s eyes immediately began to scan the kitchen, and his gaze locked onto the plate that still had the note attached. Marching over, he picked it up, then let out a small growl. “What the fuck?”

 

Peyton held up both hands. “Dude, no. It’s fine. He’s probably gluten-intolerant or something. I didn’t even ask.”

 

“He could have said that instead of leaving this asshole note,” Linden insisted, shaking the little piece of paper so hard, Peyton was surprised it didn’t rip.

 

Walking over, Peyton plucked the note from his brother’s hand and set it back on the counter. He should have thrown it away. He wasn’t quite sure why he didn’t. Maybe it was just a reminder that not everyone was going to be charmed by his own, unique love language.

 

“I don’t care about him,” Peyton said—a slight lie. He was, by nature, a people pleaser and it got under his skin when strangers disliked him. His brother knew it but didn’t call him out. “So far he’s quiet and…”

 

It was almost as if the universe was trying to test him because in the pause during his sentence, there was a sudden, loud squawking. It was muffled through the wall, but still loud enough to cut through their conversation.

 

“What the actual fuck?” Linden demanded.

 

Peyton could have sworn he’d heard the bird the night before, but it had been three in the morning, and he was high as a kite on pain killers so he thought it was just a dream. Apparently not. Apparently, the new neighbor had a bird.

 

“Just ignore it,” Peyton said. The noise went on though, so eventually he led the way into the living room where the sound was more muffled.

 

“You can’t fucking live like that,” Linden insisted. “Go next door and tell that fucker to shut it up.”

 

Peyton waved him off. “I’m pretty sure the guy works during the day. He wasn’t home when I dropped off the muffins. It’s probably why the bird’s bitching.”

 

“So he neglects animals too? He sounds like a real winner.”

 

Peyton sighed. “Will you please drop it. Your anger isn’t helping my stress levels.”

 

“Fine.” Linden didn’t look satisfied, but he also seemed like he wasn’t going to push the issue. He dropped on the couch next to Peyton and rested his head against Peyton’s shoulder. It was a familiar position from when they were younger and feeling strange, emotional pain their parents could never understand.

 

“Are you happy here?”

 

Peyton sighed. “You ask me that a lot.”

 

“Because you don’t seem happy,” Linden said. He pushed up and turned to face his brother. “You were always so…bright. You were always laughing and no matter how bad things were feeling, you could always find…God, I’m going to sound like such a fucking jackass, but you could always find the light at the end of the tunnel.”

 

Peyton’s gut twisted with a new but familiar ache, even as he managed a tight grin. “I know. I mean, I know that’s what everyone thought. And I was happy,” he added, because saying he wasn’t would have been a lie. “Everyone just counted on me to be that guy, you know? I think after losing control over my body, something just cracked.” Peyton’s voice went small and soft as he prepared to admit something aloud he’d only been saying to himself—and one time his doctor. “How am I supposed to live like this, Lin? How can I meet a guy and be like hey, I’m super fucking gay but we can never do anal and I can barely get my dick hard these days because I shit into a bag and don’t know how to be sexy anymore.”

 

Linden looked at him a long time before he spoke. “You never said anything.”

 

“I know,” Peyton said with a bitter laugh, dragging a hand down his face. “I can barely talk about this whole thing at all. I still feel like myself. Nothing makes me happier than baking and watching people smile when they eat my food. I still sing in the morning, and I think I’ve half-adopted a stray cat. But right now, it feels like there’s a piece of me missing and I don’t know how to get it back. I don’t know if I can.”

 

Linden looked slightly uncomfortable. “I don’t…I’ve never…”

 

Peyton reached for him, squeezing his arm. “I know your first reaction is to fix it for me, but this time you can’t. This time, there’s nothing you can say. I don’t need saving, okay? I just need time to mourn this fucking massive loss.”

 

Linden instantly deflated. “Wow. I’ve been a huge asshole, haven’t I?”

 

“Well, that’s nothing new,” Peyton told him, his old smile coming back. “If you weren’t being one, that’s when I’d start to worry.”

 

“Dick.”

 

Peyton laughed and shrugged. “Same me, no anus.”

 

“Holy fuck,” Linden whispered.

 

“Barbie butt,” Peyton added, and he was smiling, but there was a twinge inside him because well…that was the case. There was nothing actually there anymore. The first time he saw it in the mirror, he laughed his ass off. The nurse was with him, and he’d cracked a few jokes to make her smile.

 

The second time, he was alone, and he sobbed into a pillow until his lungs hurt.

 

Now he just sort of washed himself and put a new bag on and tried not to think about what it would be like the first time he went on a date—assuming that ever happened again. He couldn’t get a Grindr match half the time because he didn’t have the right color eyes. God knows what they’d say if they found out the bottom half of him looked the way it did.

 

And yeah, he had always loved anal. He loved being slammed against the wall and fucked into oblivion and sometimes there were…shitty moments. Literally. But they could laugh those off in the shower together after.

 

It was a bizarre thing to miss, but he couldn’t help it. His therapist told him to mourn however his mind and body wanted to mourn—and this was apparently it.

 

“We should get to work,” Peyton said, shaking himself out of his head. This wasn’t the time. It was his first week back with the online store, and he was starting up the shop with cookies. “Do you have that list printed out?”

 

“Yep.” Linden pointed to the small stack of papers on the coffee table. “I’m also going to set up the printer before I take off. Are you sure you don’t want me to go punch your neighbor in the face?”

 

“Positive,” Peyton said. He hadn’t even met the guy yet, so it only seemed fair to give him a chance. “But if that changes, you’ll be the first one I call.”

 

Linden smiled at him. “That’s why you’re the best brother in the world.”

 

Peyton grinned back at how easy to please his big brother was, and how easy it had become to accept his place in their relationship. He wanted to be happy again, and Linden’s concern had just given him reason to start moving on.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

It was ten that night by the time Peyton finished the orders. Four-hundred and eighty cookies total. Forty dozen orders, and only because he’d put a limit. His waitlist was already full, his email pages and pages of unread requests for invoice. His Instagram page had been blowing up all day since he’d been posting progress photos, and he knew that while he was going to be making plenty of money to survive, he was going to have to take it slow

 

His entire midsection was aching, and he couldn’t cook on pain killers, so he was muscling his way through the final batch.

 

It was an allergen-free pudding cookie recipe with vegan chocolate chips, made with an extra pop of cornstarch and vanilla pod to make them extra soft and full of flavor. They were his most popular order, even from people who didn’t need allergen-free cookies.

 

He was limiting those though, because the recipe was that much more expensive, but he had overestimated his dough amount and when he was finished cooling the final batch, he realized he had eleven left over.

 

For a moment he contemplated just adding the extras as a little thank you gift, but then he thought about his neighbor and figured he could maybe try one more time. He wouldn’t offer a cup of sugar or directions to the supermarket which probably had come off a bit patronizing. The person was probably stressed as hell with all the move-in shit, and Peyton couldn’t blame them for being irritated.

 

He carefully packed up the cookies in a plastic container, then added a second note which he pinned to the top.

 

 

Hi, sorry about the assumption earlier. I didn’t ask about allergies and I know better than that since I have plenty of them. These are my allergen-free pudding cookies which I promise are the most delicious things you’ll ever eat. They’re gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and egg-free. The flour is rice, oat, and potato, and all the mix-ins are vegan. Please enjoy these on me and I look forward to getting to know you. Hope the move in is going well. Don’t hesitate to pop by if you need anything.

 

 

Your neighbor, -P

 

 

He felt fairly satisfied by it, then he walked them over and knocked on the door. When there was no answer again, he rang the bell—but still, nothing. With a sigh, he set them to the side of the ramp and headed back to his place, wondering what kind of person they were.

 

Man, woman, nonbinary? Did they live alone? Was there a small family involved?

 

The person hadn’t taken down the former resident’s ramp which had been necessary as he’d gotten along in his years. Peyton remembered more than a handful of times walking over to help him up with his groceries while he pushed his walker inside.

 

Peyton also remembered knowing the man was going to pass soon. He could see it in his eyes—the fatigue of just living every day at his age. It made him ache, but more than mourning, he’d been relieved for Barry when his grandson came over to tell Peyton he was gone.

 

He hadn’t been the most pleasant person in the world to get along with, but most people liked Peyton, and Barry was no exception.

 

After his death, there’d been a short period where Peyton felt the absence of something to do every Thursday when the grocery order never arrived, but then his intestine had perforated and the surgery had happened, and his life had changed.

 

One grief took over another, and Barry was relegated to a quiet memory.

 

It was probably the way it should be, he thought as he finished cleaning up the kitchen. He set an alarm on his phone to get up early and order the package pick-up, then he left the rest of the food to cool as he stepped outside.

 

There was a quiet little mrow not far, then the sound of paws rushing through the grass. Peyton flopped down on the edge of his patio and within seconds, a tiny furry body was rubbing itself all over his legs. He laughed, giving the kitten a scritch. It was thin, but not dangerously so, though he still debated about going in to get it a can of tuna.

 

He was just about to stand when the sound of the bird started going off again, and the kitten took off like a rocket before Peyton could stop it. RIP bird, he thought, hoping a window wasn’t open. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if his neighbor came home to find their bird dead and the little stray licking its paws.

 

With a wince, Peyton pushed to his feet and went back in, feeling a little bit lost. There was little to do now, and it was barely eleven. He was still young, but the idea of going out was laughable. He didn’t have the energy for it, and when that eventually came back, he didn’t know if he’d have the courage.

 

Normally he’d crawl into bed, find some nice porn, then rub one out until he got tired. His favorite thing was slipping a small little bullet vibe into his hole and letting the pleasure rocket through him.

 

His doctor had suggested external prostate stimulation, but he could never get it quite right, and the first time he tried to use a toy, he kept fumbling with it—unable to get the angle right. Then his balls kept getting in the way, and his dick refused to get hard, and… Well.

 

It threw him into a fit of anger, which dissolved into an anxiety attack leaving him near tears.

 

He hadn’t tried since then, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to now. He’d rarely ever been able to get off just by stroking himself, which was why he hadn’t spent a lot of time masturbating when he was younger. His world had been changed the first time a man in a club rolled a condom on, then pounded his prostate until he was sobbing into the crook of his arm.

 

He didn’t know he could come that hard, and the thrill and pleasure of it had never worn off.

 

Squeezing his eyes shut, he decided crashing in front of the TV was a better option. There was no sense in lying in bed, letting his brain run in circles that wouldn’t stop. It felt a little pathetic and a lot lonely, but Peyton knew it would be a slow climb to his new normal.

 

He drifted to the sounds of the soothing time-keeping music of the baking show, then jolted wide awake sometime later when something rattled at his front door. Unsure what time it was, Peyton dropped his feet to the floor, but when he stood, he felt a familiar tug on his bag.

 

It was full—close to bursting. He paused to listen, making sure there wasn’t some rando criminal trying to break in, and when he was met with silence, he hurried off to the bathroom and dug his supplies out to make the change.

 

It was the longest process now—carefully detaching the bag so nothing spilled, wiping away the adhesive that was leaving a permanent red ring around the opening, ignoring the strange sort of zing he felt every time his intestine was exposed to air. It had no feeling, but the hole around it was still tender.

 

He tried not to look too closely at it—how alien it was, how unnatural.

 

He knew eventually it would just become like another appendage, but it was still early days.

 

He swallowed thickly, then attached a new bag, slipped on the cover, then gave it a gentle tug to make sure it was properly stuck in place. Ten minutes had gone by, and he wondered if he was ever going to get faster.

 

God—if he had been on a date and had to excuse himself for this…?

 

He shoved that thought out of his head and walked back into the living room. The time on the wall clock read just after one in the morning, and he listened carefully again, but there was still not a sound other than his own breathing, and the soft hum of his fridge.

 

Something was nagging at him though, so he walked to his door and peered out the little peephole. The street was awash with the yellow glow of the ugly streetlights, the sky pitch black, and all the other townhouses dark. His own porch light was off, and he regretted not installing one of those doorbell cameras because it just seemed the safe thing to do these days.

 

Hesitating, he gripped the knob, then pulled the door open a crack. Still nothing. He turned to shut it when something fluttering in the faint late-night breeze caught his eye, and Peyton glanced down to see something sitting on his stoop. It was a bag—one of those black, small kitchen bags for trash. The ends were loosely tied, and there was something attached to the knot.

 

Pulling the door open all the way, Peyton knelt down and plucked it off the little bundle.

 

 

What part of NOT INTERESTED is confusing for you?

 

 

The note was in the same hand as the previous one—from his neighbor. It took him a second to realize what it was, then he lifted the bag and knew the cookies were inside it. Beneath it was the little container he’d sent them in—which at least the person had been kind enough to save.

 

His stomach burned hotly with shame and rejection. How could someone be so unkind? If there was an issue with baked goods, they could have at least knocked on his damn door and told him instead of trashing them and leaving them on his doorstep.

 

What kind of fucking monster was living next door?

 

Peyton snatched up the container, then stepped back and slammed the door shut. It wasn’t as satisfying knowing he was the only one who could hear it, but it still felt good to release some of his anger. He marched to the kitchen and dumped the bag on, then ripped it open. The cookies were at the bottom, a crumbled mess of soft dough.

 

Sneering, Petyon stuck the note on top of them, then grabbed his phone off the charger and snapped a photo. He didn’t think twice before posting it to his Instagram as he walked back to the sofa and crawled beneath his blankets.

 

 

TheBakerByTheSea: This is what my neighbor thought of the welcome basket of pudding cookies I left him. Guess you can’t please everyone, right?

 

 

He set his phone down and turned his attention back to the TV. There was no way in hell he’d be sleeping tonight, but he knew people would see his post and maybe their love of his bakes would soothe some of the white-hot sting that was simmering just under his skin.

 

He was a simple man, after all, and a little validation went a long way.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Start at Chapter One

 

 

Click HERE for the low-allergen pudding cookie recipe.

 

***

 

Chapter Four Preview...

 

“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, I signed you up for a dating website.”

 

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