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 microaggressions in the form of ableism and racism, as well as a character acting aggressive after a date. No violence occurs, but please take care if these things are triggering for you.
Peyton left Hudson’s that night hating his ex with a passion he didn’t think he could feel for a total nameless stranger. The more Peyton talked about the details of his date, the more Hudson shared about his ex, and none of it was pretty.
The guy was a self-centered prick, and although Peyton wasn’t surprised that someone would behave that way after their spouse became disabled, because he’d seen it more than once, he was struggling to figure out why someone would leave Hudson.
Yes, he was prickly. Yes, he was an asshole.
But he was also kind in ways that most people weren’t.
He wasn’t a people-pleaser, which meant every word out of his mouth was genuine. Every drop of attention he paid was because he wanted to. He didn’t invite Peyton over because he felt sorry for him and decided to endure his company for a while.
He had Peyton over because they were something like friends now, and he was trying to make him feel better.
Peyton had managed to drag a few niblets of information out of Hudson when the night was over too. Like how his favorite spice was cinnamon, and how he loved maple and peanut butter together, and how he had a love-hate relationship with marshmallow fluff because it was his favorite as a kid and his mom used it to manipulate him.
“She used to buy it for me whenever she wanted me to perform as the perfect son,” Hudson had said a short while before Peyton left. The bird, Pancake, had finally come out and had taken to Peyton, so he was stroking his feathers as the bird groomed his temple. “I want to hate it, you know? But the taste of it reminds me of the only parts of my childhood that actually felt good. Even if that was all a lie.”
“Do you eat it now?” Peyton had asked.
Hudson had given him a look to make it obvious he could tell Peyton was fishing, but he answered anyway. “No. I never buy it for myself anymore.”
“Would you though? Like, say a baker moved in next door and wanted to make something nice for his new friend. Would you eat it then?”
Hudson had rolled his eyes and grimaced, but eventually he gave a grudging shrug and Peyton took that for the yes that it was.
And the next morning, he got to work. He decided on marshmallow stuffed cookies with maple and peanut butter since they were easy and would hold their shape, and he was partway through mixing the dough when he heard Hudson’s back door slide open.
A small part of him wanted to run out because he felt almost addicted now, but he also didn’t want to impose on Hudson’s morning routine, or his private time, because it was just that: private. The man had shared, but nothing current about his life. He’d mentioned his ex, but not the person he was fucking all hours into the night.
He mentioned his mom, but hadn’t said a word about his best friend or his job or what he did for fun.
Peyton wasn’t going to pry, but he was going to use what little wiles he had in order to crack the man open like a stubborn walnut. After all, that’s what he was best at.
Glancing over, Peyton realized his phone was ringing with a text, not an order, so he snatched it off the counter and his heart thudded hard in his chest when he saw a name he didn’t expect on the screen.
Austin: I fucked up. I know I did. Can we talk?
Peyton: I feel like last night was a pretty big clue that you and I aren’t meant to be together.
Austin: Maybe, but I’d still like to talk if you’re willing to hear me out. I’m not making excuses, but I do have a reason.
Peyton chewed on his lower lip and there was a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Hudson’s telling him that this guy wasn’t owed his time. That Peyton’s gut instinct was right, and that he could just say no.
But then the panic set in, with the cold sweats. He knew he should just work through it, but instinct took over and he found himself typing, fine. Give me a call if you want.
His phone rang half a second later, and Peyton forced himself to take a long breath before answering, trying to hear over the sound of his own heartbeat hammering in his ear.
“Hey,” Austin said with a breath of relief. “I thought you were going to tell me to go fuck myself.”
“I’m not that mean,” Peyton said, and he regretted that it was the truth because sometimes he wished he could be. Just every now and again, when the person deserved it.
Austin laughed softly. “Look, I didn’t want to say this on the date, but you’re the first person I’ve been with since my ex and I’m…I panicked. You kind of reminded me of him—like, in a good way,” Austin added quickly. “All the things I will always love about him. And I don’t know. I just came down with a bad case of foot-in-mouth.”
Peyton chewed on his lower lip and hesitated because his gut was telling him that Austin was full of shit, but the rest of him was saying that everyone deserved a second chance. It wasn’t like he hadn’t made an ass out of himself when things got awkward.
“But you can still tell me to go fuck myself,” Austin said into the tense silence. There was a hint of a whine in his voice that set Peyton on edge, but he shook it off.
“I’m not really sure this is going to work out,” he admitted slowly, “but if you really think there might be something here, I’d be willing to accept a do-over.”
Austin let out a relieved laugh. “Yeah?”
No, Peyton’s head supplied. “Yes,” his mouth said, betraying him. God, why was he like this. “I can make some time.”
“How about tomorrow night. We’ll keep it casual. Those upscale restaurants always make me a little nervous.”
Peyton managed a smile in spite of himself. “Yeah, me too.”
“Can I pick you up this time?” Austin asked.
Peyton immediately bristled. “Uh, no. No, but…” He searched for a compromise. “I’ll take an Uber, and if things go well, maybe you can drive me home.”
Austin laughed again. “Okay, yeah. I’ll take it. Thanks, Peyt.”
Peyton bristled again because he fucking hated that nickname. That was the thing all the horrible jocks used to call him in school when they thought he was the “smart Asian kid” who could do their homework for them. Of course, that quickly fizzled into insults when they found out he was smart, but also an executive-functioning disaster.
He took a breath and found his courage. “It’s Peyton.”
“Oh,” Austin said, sounding surprised. “You don’t think Peyt’s cute?”
“It’s not my favorite,” he answered, leaning against the counter and staring at his cookie dough.
“Well, maybe you can make an exception for me,” Austin wheedled, then laughed again. “Anyway, I have to go, but I’ll text you details, yeah?”
“Uh…yeah,” Peyton said quietly.
The line went dead, and his heart sank toward his feet because he had a feeling the second date wasn’t going to go half as well as the first.
That evening, Peyton found himself heaving several boxes of expertly portioned and placed cookie dough through the door of BrewBiz. He’d texted with Caleb a couple of times who wasn’t in, but his assistant manager, Wren was handling the front of house business, and his baker, West, was in as well.
Peyton felt a little pulse of nerves rushing through his veins, even though Caleb had assured him that everyone had adored the samples he’d sent in. He still felt a bit like he was stepping on their head baker’s toes, and the last thing he wanted was to get reamed out by some total stranger.
Trying to hip-check the door open, Peyton almost fell flat on his face when it suddenly swung away from him, and there was a sharp, barking laughter before hands caught him. He looked up into the dark eyes of a grinning man who was clearly trying to seem apologetic.
“Sorry,” the guy said, lifting a hand up in surrender once Peyton was secured on his feet. “I didn’t realize you hadn’t seen me.”
Peyton shook his head, mortified that his hands were full so he couldn’t sign since he knew everyone employed there was Deaf. But then his gaze caught the implant on the side of the guy’s head. “Talking’s okay?”
The guy frowned, then he smiled again and nodded, gesturing for him to put his things down on the nearest table. “Yeah. I’ve had my CI since I was a baby. You’re all good.”
Peyton dropped the boxes of dough on the table with a quiet sigh of relief, then glanced back at his car because he had another two loads to carry. “Great. So this is uh…well. Not all of it?”
The guy laughed again and straightened the front of his apron where Peyton was able to catch the name. So this was Wren. He was definitely personable which probably made him great for the front of house, something Peyton could never be. He had always been a disaster trying to work the counter of his bakery.
“You good, man?” Wren asked.
Peyton shook himself out of his head. “Yeah, shit. Sorry. It’s been kind of a weird day.”
That wasn’t a lie. He was still a little upside down over agreeing to go on another date with Austin who straight up ignored him when he said he didn’t want to be called Pey. Then he tried to go over and deliver cookies to Hudson, but either the guy wasn’t home, or he was ignoring Peyton. He also knew he wasn’t going to be able to sleep soundly until he found out if he’d done something to upset Hudson. Again.
“Here, let me grab the dolly and I can help you,” Wren told him, holding up a hand.
He disappeared through the swinging door, then appeared a second later dragging the tiny moving dolly behind him. He loaded up the first boxes, then Peyton led the way to his car where they got the rest stacked up.
“You mind going into the back and explaining all of this to Jori?” Wren asked as soon as they were through the doors. “I’m technically not allowed to touch the ovens because I keep breaking things.”
Peyton quickly shook his head. “Not at all. Caleb asked me to print everything out in extra large font which I did, but I’m happy to go over everything.”
Wren’s face brightened. “Awesome. Hey…you’re not single, are you?”
Peyton almost choked on his own tongue. “Uh…?”
“Not for me,” Wren said in a rush, then looked immediately apologetic and circled his fist over his chest. “Sorry, that was…I mean, not that you’re not hot. It’s just, I’m seeing someone right now. But I have this friend who…”
“I’m kind of taken,” Peyton interrupted quickly, then bit his lip. “Well. It’s…complicated.”
“Say no more,” Wren told him. “Or tell me to shut the fuck up because I do this a lot. Caleb would probably can my ass if I wasn’t his brother.”
Peyton was startled for a second that the two were related since they couldn’t have been more different, but after a moment, he could see the resemblance. Of course, he was used to looking nothing like his sibling and he didn’t want to assume the two were even blood related. Not that it mattered.
“I’m not offended,” Peyton assured him. “Can I ask, though…”
“Why I’m so verbal when my brother's the opposite?” Wren offered.
Peyton flushed lightly and shrugged. “If it’s not rude.”
“Some people might get pissed about it, but I don’t really care.” He offers Peyton a sheepish smile and rubs the back of his neck. “Caleb and I both got implants when we were babies. We’re twins.”
Peyton’s eyes widened. “But…”
“Fraternal,” Wren offers with a slight laugh. “Anyway, mine worked pretty well, but Caleb’s kept failing. My parents eventually caved when we were like nine and Caleb was failing out of all his classes and they let him go to the deaf school.”
Peyton blinked, then frowned. “Just him?”
There was hurt in Wren’s eyes that Peyton would never understand, but he could empathize with that feeling of betrayal. “I don’t really blame them. I blame our shitty therapists that kept telling them the only way for us to be normal or happy was to learn how to function in the hearing world.”
“That’s bullshit,” Peyton blurted, and Wren barked out a sharp laugh.
“Yeah, preaching to the choir, my friend. But it’s all good now. We got this place and my mom kind of gets it now.” Wren glanced over his shoulder, then suddenly darted past Peyton and clicked the lock on the door. When he turned around and saw the slightly wary look on Peyton’s face, he slapped a hand over his eyes and dragged it down. “Oh my god I’m sorry. I’m not, like, trying to trap you in here like some serial killer. We’re closed.”
Peyton relaxed a fraction. He wasn’t necessarily worried. He was just an anxious person sometimes, especially in new situations. ‘We’re good,’ he signed now that his hands were free.
Wren lit up and Peyton resolved not to use his voice as much as possible since it was clear Wren had been robbed of his language for way too long. ‘Great. If you want to push that through the doors, West is in the back.’
Peyton nodded, mostly following along with Wren’s signing speed, and he gripped the handle on the dolly and headed toward the swinging kitchen doors. When he pushed through, he was startled at just how dark it was back there. There were only a couple of lamps on the baking counter along the corner, dimly lit with soft yellow light.
It cast an eerie glow around the kitchen, but the man in the corner was moving effortlessly through his task of stacking baking sheets. He was very tall and very thin, his white t-shirt hanging off his shoulders like it was two sizes too big. He had very pale hair and light skin, and when he turned Peyton got a glimpse of a sharp nose and chiseled jawline.
The man froze and sucked in a breath when his gaze landed on Peyton, his eyes narrowing behind very thick, red-tinted lenses that were sitting low, making him look like an old timey librarian. Peyton started to lift his hands, but the guy—West, it had to be—beat him to it.
He spelled the word so fast, Peyton only got O-O-K-I, U-Y, but his mind filled in the blanks and he raised his fist. ‘Yes.’
West relaxed and crossed the room, offering a hand which Peyton took quickly. When they parted, West rubbed his palm on his apron, an almost absent gesture. ‘You sign okay?’
Peyton’s gut sank a little, and his cheeks pinked with a flush. ‘I’m okay. I took ASL in school, but I’m slow.’
West took pity on him—at least, that’s what the expression on his face said—and he smiled. ‘Remind me to slow down if you need me to.’
Some of the tension left Peyton’s shoulders. ‘You’re fine. Wren said you wanted me to walk you through some of the instructions?’
West nodded, grabbing the top box from the stack and heaving it onto the big table in the center of the room. His thin body betrayed his now-obvious strength, and Peyton couldn’t help but think that if he hadn’t been enamored with his neighbor like a love-sick fool, and in some sort of weird carousel of uncertainty with Austin, he might want to get this guy’s number.
He snapped back to the present just as West was grabbing the instructions off the box, and Peyton’s saw his eyes widen, then his mouth settle into a relaxed smile when he looked up. He signed something, but Peyton didn’t know the words.
‘Sorry. I don’t understand.’
‘Large print,’ West spelled patiently. ‘Did Caleb tell you to do this?’
‘Yes,’ Peyton signed. ‘He said it was easier for you.’
West nodded and set the page down before adjusting his glasses. ‘Blind,’ he offered, then signed the word color. Then he spelled, ‘Legally.’
He was colorblind and legally blind, Peyton’s mind put together. ‘Did you want me to use braille?’
West laughed, the sound rich in his chest as he shook his head. ‘I suck at braille. I can read just fine as long as it’s big and heavy contrast. But this is just dough anyway, right? All ready to bake?’
Peyton walked over and tore the tape off the top box before showing him the little dough balls sitting neatly in their rows. ‘Caleb told me you needed some extra help right now.’
At that, West’s face fell and he glanced off to the side before shrugging. ‘Life got…’
Peyton didn’t know the last sign West made, but he was pretty sure it was something like complicated. Or probably fucked beyond all reason. Which he understood better than anyone. He absently touched his hand over his bag which was still empty, then he looked up at West.
‘I know how that goes.’
West studied him for a moment, and Peyton watched the way his eyes danced back and forth—just a subtle movement, and only obvious when someone was watching closely. ‘I appreciate this.’
Peyton quickly waved him off. ‘Don’t worry about it. If you want me to help with other stuff, I can. I have an online bakery and I can throw together batches of dough. The only thing I can’t do is bake it.’
‘This is enough,’ West told him, then reached out and grabbed Peyton by the shoulder and gave him a firm squeeze. ‘Thank you.’
Peyton smiled, and as he looked up into West’s gaze, then around at the kitchen, he had a feeling this was going to end up more than a business transaction. He felt warm there, and welcome, and he knew better than to throw something like that away.
Chapter Thirteen coming September 23rd
Peyton just couldn’t stand the idea of being on display. It was why he wasn’t the Stoma Guy online. It was why he didn’t advocate. Living as some sort of public figure, reduced down to his disease, his successes, and his failures was too goddamn much pressure.
He just wanted to bake his sweets and kiss cute men and move on from all of his pain.
And right then, with Austin behind him as they headed out to the car at the end of another failed date, he wondered if it was too much to ask.