CHAPTER TWO

Nothing To Lose

An Out To Sea Novel

Chapter Two

© 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 life-altering surgery resulting in paralysis, emotional/verbal abuse from a narcissistic parent, and mild stalking. Please proceed with caution if any of these issues are triggering for you.

 

 

***

 

 

 

It wasn’t until the torture sessions three times a week that Hudson understood the meaning of the phrase, ‘muscles were screaming in pain.’ He was half-convinced that he actually could hear a faint, high pitched shriek every time he forced his legs apart, stretching the band around his calves. His thighs were trembling, and his brow was sweating like he’d been running a marathon.

 

The irony just happened to be that he wasn’t running a marathon because he couldn’t. He never would, in fact. Not that it had ever been something he’d planned on doing. Hudson had done the bare minimum exercise weekly just to tell himself he was trying. Prior to everything falling to pieces three years before, he’d been one of the corporate engineer cogs for a multi-billion-dollar company with its own restaurant and gym.

 

He'd have a sandwich, then walk on a treadmill for fifteen minutes and call it a day.

 

When he noticed his feet starting to go a little numb and his muscles feeling weak, he blamed it on his desk chair. When he’d collapsed in his shower and had to call his husband to haul him out and take him to the ER, he blamed sleeping wrong.

 

Then the scan came back with a huge mass on the base of his spine.

 

Hudson was trying to ignore the onslaught of memories as he continued to stretch the resistance band, the voice of his physical therapist kind of a low drone in the back of his head. But this was trauma—or so his therapist had told him. It wasn’t something he’d ever just get over, no matter what his life eventually looked like.

 

He could recall, with annoying clarity, the punch of relief when the biopsy came back benign. But his joy was quickly punctured by the doctor telling him that it was likely he wouldn’t walk away from the removal surgery without consequences.

 

It wasn’t likely he’d walk away from the surgery at all.

 

“The mass is, unfortunately, pressed against your spinal cord and there’s very little chance we can remove it all without causing some damage.” The rest had been a mumbling blur of medical jargon that amounted to, we’re basically going to have to paralyze you in order to get rid of this thing, but this thing is paralyzing you now so we might as well take the option that comes with some hope of being on your feet again.

 

Three years later and he could walk—but very short distances, and with a walker. He had some feeling in his lower extremities, and he could control his bladder and bowels—mostly. His doctors considered it a triumph, but for a long while after, Hudson considered it a tragedy.

 

He didn’t regret the surgery, of course. He didn’t regret saying yes because saying no would have probably been worse. He lived—he survived—even when his marriage didn’t. His husband had taken the whole thing just too hard, and it wasn’t like Hudson blamed the man.

 

Well, that wasn’t true.

 

He did.

 

He blamed Austin for being so goddamn fixated on whether or not Hudson could get his dick hard, and whether or not Hudson would be able to pound his ass the way he used to. And when the answer wasn’t satisfactory enough, Austin cracked.

 

Austin was also six years younger than him, with lofty aspirations and a fixation on what a healthy marriage was supposedto look like.

 

Apparently, getting railed nightly by a human penis instead of an impressive dildo was high on his list. To his credit, Austin did try, but Hudson was unsurprised the night he came home and found his ex sobbing into his hands.

 

“He didn’t mean anything,” was how Austin, in the end, confessed that he’d cheated. That he’d been cheating for a while now. “I just needed something you can’t give me anymore. I swear I won’t see him again. All you have to do is say the word.”

 

Hudson believed him, but he also knew he couldn’t do that. He’d never be able to trust him again, and Austin’s cheating simply brought all of Hudson’s fears to life. That no matter how hard he loved, people always left him…in the end.

 

It was the final nail in the coffin of their marriage. The divorce went through quietly, their assets split neatly, and Austin didn’t bother asking for alimony. The very last thing to sell was the house, and only because the judge granted Hudson time to find a place that was accessible for his new needs.

 

Hudson wanted to be bitter. There were nights he missed Austin because he was gorgeous and he was funny, if not a little dim at times. But he was one of the few people who’d been able to make Hudson smile even on the days he didn’t want to. Austin had been around and had supported Hudson through dealing with his narcissistic mother, and through the diagnosis, and all the fears that came with not knowing what was wrong with him.

 

And losing Austin made Hudson realize all the other things he missed about his former life—because he couldn’t go back to being single the way he was before.

 

If it had happened before the surgery, he would have chased his feelings down with a bottle of whiskey, then held a stranger against the wall and fucked him into oblivion. Hudson was a big man—tall, broad, strong, thick. He had a cock to match and a sex drive that didn’t ever let up. Austin had loved it—all of Hudson’s past lovers had adored him for it.

 

It was the one thing he didn’t like to think about losing.

 

It was also the one thing he was working on reclaiming.

 

Of course, it took therapy and mourning and anger and the desire to burn his life to the ground to figure out what he needed. His therapist had been the one to make the suggestion—a simple, flippant, “You’re an engineer. Why don’t you figure out a way to take the control over your body back? So your dick doesn’t work the way it used to, right? Why not invent something that gives you that same feeling of power? Think about it. How many men just like you are out there wondering if there’s a way to feel like they can regain a part of themselves they should have never lost?”

 

Hudson had been frustrated with himself for not thinking of it first. And a few nights after that session, he’d rolled up to his little design table and started thinking about what might work.

 

He knew a lot about the science of his own body now—more than he ever wanted to. He learned that orgasms and ejaculation came from the spine which was why he couldn’t connect to orgasms the way he used to. And sure, he’d tried all the shit his PT had suggested, and he could come with light touches and hard scratches right along his sensation line, but he wanted more.

 

At first he researched online, trying to find toys for men like him—or anyone in situations like him. Disabled. Bodies that didn’t react or function the same way everyone else’s did.

 

And there were a few, but there weren’t enough.

 

Now, two years later, he had an entire line of toys, a profit that made his previous job look like a hobby, and satisfied customers from all walks of life that were clamoring for more. His personal life had remained unchanged, but he hadn’t really expected it to be any different. Hudson had never been the friendliest person in the world, and his inability to bend to the whims of someone else made him difficult to date.

 

He and Austin had worked because Austin seemed immune to his storm-cloud bad days and blunt truth he refused to soften for anyone. In fact, Austin almost seemed to like it—to crave it. Hudson couldn’t say they were in love, not the way most people fell in love, but that worked for them. They were satisfied in other ways, and it was enough.

 

Still, Hudson couldn’t say he wasn’t lonely. Every so often when he made progress in PT, or came up with a particularly clever design, it was hard coming home to an empty place. It felt sad and pathetic, cracking open a bottle of wine to share with no one but himself and his little whistling conure parrot who—in all reality—couldn’t give a shit if he lived or died.

 

But he wasn’t going to twist himself into shapes to make other people happy either. He’d meet someone who took him as he was, or he’d die alone.

 

And with his vast array of toys, at least he wouldn’t die unsatisfied.

 

Pushing up onto his elbows, Hudson wriggled his legs beneath him until he was in a table position. He sat up in a kneel, his balance better than he thought it ever might be, and he was happy with it. He wasn’t going to show it on his face the way Dan was grinning at him like he’d just won a fucking marathon, but it felt nice.

 

“You want a hand up?” Dan asked.

 

Hudson considered the question honestly. He was always weaker in the hours after a long PT session, but today had been a lighter work-out. “I think I’ve got it.” His walker was within reach, and he was using it more than he was his chair now at home. It made him feel old—not that he was some young spring chicken or anything at forty-two—but he had been hoping to prolong the whole metal contraption and tennis balls look for a few more years.

 

His was nice though—a sleek design with a bench that went through doors without problems. And the townhouse he’d just purchased was even nicer with its very even wood floors and accessible shower which had been the selling point. The person who’d lived there before had been in his nineties, and Hudson planned to take advantage of everything he’d left behind.

 

The man had also died in the shower, or so his agent had told him, but Hudson had never been squeamish about the realities of human mortality. In the ten days it took to get his biopsy results back from his tumor, he’d checked over his will, planned his funeral, and even picked out a memorial play-list, and all with a straight face.

 

He was fairly sure that’s one of the things that tipped Austin over the edge. His ex had spent those ten days pacing and crying and raging at Hudson for not being more upset that he was about to make the man a widower.

 

Hudson found it almost amusing that Austin had already written him off, but it was likely the stress which had eclipsed the big, bright red flag Austin had been waving. He felt a little foolish about the whole thing now.

 

With a sigh, Hudson heaved himself up to his feet. After all these years of recovery, he could finally feel the blood rushing to his toes which was always uncomfortable because the pins and needles sensation could take hours to go away. His legs still moved like he was walking through deep water, but the important part for him was that they were moving.

 

He was never going to run again, but he’d always fucking hated running anyway. There were better ways to get his cardio—even if he couldn’t hoist twinks up by their asses anymore.

 

“Hudson?”

 

Gripping the handles of his walker, he turned his head to face Dan because his tone was hesitant. Any unspoken question about what was going on was immediately answered when his gaze hit the window and he spotted her.

 

His mother.

 

She was walking around Hudson’s car like she was making sure it was his.

 

“Oh, fuck me. Get me my wheelchair,” Hudson hissed. Okay, he might have appreciated the ability to run now. He’d been no-contact with his mother for the last eight months, but she wasn’t taking it well—just like any narcissist. She’d taken to hovering in the parking lot while he was working late, and filling up his voicemail inbox with screaming and sobbing and threats.

 

The week before, she’d trapped him in his office building until one in the morning, and he was on the verge of calling the cops before she finally got tired and left. When she’d popped into the PT’s office before, she had always just missed him.

 

Until now.

 

As he dropped into his chair and settled his legs, he fought the urge to roll out there and run her down with his wheels. This was the third time in as many months, and he was goddamn over it.

 

“She’s at it again?” Dan asked. His face paled and he made a quick shooing motion with his hand. “Go. She’s heading for the doors.”

 

Hudson could have won the fucking Paralympic games with how fast he made it from the floor to the changing rooms. His heart was thrashing in his chest and his lungs were heaving with panic and exertion as he rolled to a stop in the middle of the floor.

 

He hadn’t sweat half as much during his session and his plans for being able to escape quickly went right down the drain. He wasn’t going to shower initially, but now he needed to take up time, so he rolled into the stall and started the water before parking his chair, stripping, and moving onto the bench.

 

The grapefruit scent of the bulk soap the office stocked was a little bit of a trigger for him. It reminded him of early days where he’d sweat buckets like he’d run fifty miles in one go just trying to push against a two-pound resistance band. He was no longer that nervous man who had no idea what his future was going to look like—the man whose life had fallen apart and whose marriage was quickly crumbling—but he could remember what it was like as though it were yesterday.

 

And he never wanted to be that person again. He never wanted to feel so fucking defeated, ever again.

 

He rinsed quickly, then sat under the spray for another two minutes before finally turning the water off and getting dressed into his work clothes. The polo felt itchy on his skin, and he made a mental note to have Aspen look into it since she insisted on being in charge of the merch, and they were selling them on their website.

 

He didn’t want people to be distracted from buying dildos because their t-shirts were scratchy.

 

Rolling up to the short mirror, Hudson combed his hair, then put on a couple swipes of deodorant before packing his bag. He was just zipping up when the door opened, and his heart gave a little thud before he saw friend's head poking around the corner.

 

“She’s gone?” Hudson asked.

 

“She’s still in the parking lot,” he admitted. “I’m not sure she’s going to leave unless you go out there.”

 

Hudson groaned and slapped a hand over his face. He didn’t have time to hide in a locker room until one in the fucking morning. He was going to have to face her. “Thanks for trying,” he said. “I’ll pick up the walker next week. I need to be able to get the hell out fast.” He was a goddam expert now at transferring to his SUV, his upper body strength enough that he could probably take on The Rock if they were both sitting down.

 

He'd just have to put up with her incessant bitching until he got the door shut and the engine started.

 

Dragging a hand down his face, he hitched his bag over his shoulder and shot a wave at Dan as he rolled through the door. “See you next week.” He normally hated PT, but he’d take a hundred hour-long sessions over dealing with his goddamn mother.

 

She spotted him the moment he came out of the doors, and he was halfway to his car when she started walking toward him. “Hudson.”

 

He kept going, pausing by the back door to throw his bag inside. It would be tricky getting around her so he could lift up onto the seat, but he could do it.

 

“Hudson. Don’t you ignore me. This is serious. I’ve been beside myself all week. The doctor is worried about my heart now thanks to all the stress you’ve put me through. And I realize you don’t care whether or not I live or die…”

 

He laughed. He didn’t mean to. His therapist had told him it was important not to react or engage when she tried emotional blackmail, but the thought of her keeling over because he wouldn’t talk to her was hilarious.

 

“Oh? You think my condition is funny?”

 

He got the door open and was up on the driver’s seat in seconds. She was at the door like expected, but when he reached down for his chair, she put both hands on it. She hadn’t been brave enough to touch any of his mobility devices since his surgery, so it startled him enough that he pulled back.

 

“You’re not leaving until you listen to me,” she spat.

 

He pulled his phone out of his pocket, then looked her dead in the eye. “Yes, I am. And I will leave my wheelchair here. I will record you holding it, then record myself dragging my body into my office, and I’ll post it on the fucking internet for the entire world to see.”

 

She snatched her hands away like the chair was made of hot coals. “Do you think going hell for all eternity is funny, Hudson?”

 

“I think it’s hilarious,” he said dryly. “You’ve been threatening me with it since I married Austin.”

 

“You’re divorced,” she said, lunging for the door so he couldn’t close it after he got his chair inside. It was upside down and haphazard—probably bending the frame a little, but he could fix that. It was better than taking the time to pull the wheels off. “Surely you’ve come to understand…”

 

“I’ve come to understand,” he interrupted sharply, “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. Then, he pulled out onto the main road, and only after that did he let the nerves hit him and his body start to shake apart.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Hudson skipped the office and instead went through the drive-thru to grab a burrito and a drink. With his straw clenched between his teeth, he told his phone to call his second in command, and he sucked on his fizzy soda until Eli picked up.

 

“Code bitch,” he said when Eli answered.

 

Eli sighed. “Where’d she get you today?”

 

“PT. She waited by my car, then she tried to grab my chair,” Hudson complained. He let go of the wheel for a second to set his drink down, then used his left hand to press harder on the gas. All he wanted was to be home, even if his new place was still in disarray. “I had to leave my walker with Dan.”

 

“Want me to swing by and pick it up?” Eli asked.

 

Hudson breathed out a small sigh of relief because he wasn’t ever the kind of man who would ask, but he also wasn’t going to tell his friend no. “It’ll be helpful when I get to my kitchen.”

 

“It’s no worries. I was going to call you anyway. We got a shipment delay, so I sent Aspen and Rain home.”

 

Aspen and Rain were siblings with a best friend who had passed from ALS. Prior to him passing on though, they’d concocted a few ideas for kink toys and had run into Hudson on an online forum. Rain had been the kind of man who, before his surgery and subsequent bitterness after his divorce, could have used his big Bambi eyes and thick hips to get a man like Hudson to do anything.

 

As it was, Hudson still had trouble telling him no. It was just lucky that both twins had a good eye for both business and design.

 

“I’d be annoyed if my fucking mother hadn’t just ambushed me,” Hudson admitted as he took the turn that led toward his new place. “I’m going to go eat a burrito and pretend like I don’t have a whole house to unpack.”

 

Eli snorted. “Sounds good. You meet your neighbors yet?”

 

“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have neighbors,” Hudson bitched. He had no idea who the person was living next door, but if he could wager a guess, it was some lonely old granny. The hallway smelled like baked goods and cinnamon the way his gran’s house always used to.

 

The last thing he needed was someone fussing, so he planned to keep his whole situation as private as possible. The first time he had to explain what he did for a living, the whole ass HOA would start calling him a deviant.

 

Or worse—they’d start calling him brave.

 

He couldn’t stomach either.

 

“I’ll be by in a couple hours,” Eli said. “I’m going to finish up this pile of invoices, then forward everything to Rain so he can get on the shipments.”

 

“Put another ad up for shippers,” Hudson said. They were making enough now they could afford a couple more employees. “With the new line going out, and with that fucking viral TikTok video, we’re going to be overwhelmed.”

 

“You got it. Talk soon.”

 

Hudson hung up, appreciating that Eli rarely ever argued with him, and when he did, it was always for a reason. He also took Hudson’s moods with a grain of salt—one of the few people who never took his snark personally. Hudson knew he should be better to the few people in his life who cared about him without toxic love involved, but well, a tiger couldn’t change its stripes.

 

Maybe that was a shitty excuse, but he was sticking to it.

 

Pulling onto his street, he eyed the shared driveway, but there was no sign of another car. The neighbor’s garage was closed, and he quickly opened his own, pulling in and shutting the door seconds after he turned the car off. His SUV filled the room with exhaust, but he was out of the car and in his chair, rolling toward the door with his burrito bag clenched between his teeth.

 

Eli had helped him install the ramp up, so he wheeled inside without having to tip backward, and when the door shut behind him, he let out a breath of relief. His place was still a little bit like an obstacle course, but he maneuvered around boxes until he was in his living room, and he set his drink and burrito down.

 

Before he could get comfortable, he noticed that the alert for his doorbell cam was blinking, so he pulled out his phone and turned on his app. He’d silenced notifications because he really didn’t give a fuck about people coming by to welcome him during the day, and all of his mail either went to his PO Box or the office.

 

He pulled up the recorded video and watched a grainy image of a younger man—thin, maybe tall, Asian, long dark hair pulled into a bun—ring the bell, then set something down on his porch.

 

A flaming bag of dog shit maybe, or a package for the former dead owner?

 

His curiosity overwhelmed him, so he pulled the front door open and blinked in surprise when he saw a large white plate holding cling-film-wrapped muffins to the side of his ramp. He had just enough reach to lean over and snag them, and he noticed there was a large post-it hanging off the side, slightly soggy from the rain earlier that morning.

 

He squinted, wishing he had his reading glasses, though the black ink was in neat lines.

 

 

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

 

 

Hudson reared back. This was a hard no. A hard hell no. He wasn’t going to become besties with some baker who wanted to give a fucking muffin basket to strangers. That was the exact kind of person he wanted to avoid.

 

Rolling back in, Hudson went to the nearest box labeled office and began to rummage through it. He crumpled up the post-it, then found a sticky note pad and a sharpie, and quickly scribbled back a response.

 

 

Not interested.

 

 

Simple and to the point. He attached his note to the muffin plate, then set it on the side table and moved to the sofa so he could enjoy his meal. He did everything in his power not to think about the neighbor—and how he was young, and good looking, and normally Hudson’s type.

 

He was in no position now to be any kind of anything to a person like that. Someone kind for the sake of being kind. Or maybe a creepy stalker, he reminded himself. He knew better than to assume these days.

 

The burrito quickly distracted him from the rest of his thoughts, and then the show on ice fishing did the rest. He had his legs propped up and his heavy blanket on, and it wasn’t long before he found himself slipping into a much-needed nap.

 

***

 

A loud thudding noise of something heavy hitting the wall dragged Hudson from his sleep. He sat up with a startled gasp and threw his legs over the sofa to stand up. Or, well, he tried. It had been years now, but every now and again he still attempted to fly out of bed when something scared him, and it almost always ended with him landing in a huge heap on the floor.

 

This time, he managed to catch himself with a string of nasty swears, glancing up through his shaggy hair that badly needed a cut. Eli stood there—in all his broad-shouldered, sharp-jawed glory—arms over his chest, his expression vaguely amused.

 

“What the fuck?” Hudson growled, pushing himself up to sit. He wriggled his toes and turned his ankles in a circle to try and get as much feeling to return as possible.

 

Eli snorted. “The fuck did you think you were going to do?”

 

“Tackle you, sit on your face, and suffocate you with my ass cheeks,” Hudson muttered. He shifted to the edge of the sofa cushion and attempted to rub the sleep from his eyes. “What time is it?”

 

“Four,” Eli told him.

 

That checked out with the way the street was kind of pale from the late afternoon fog. They never got it as bad as Fog Alley in San Francisco, but they got the edges of it nearly every day in Seaport. Hudson had moved there with his family when he was sixteen, but he swore almost three decades later, and his internal clock still hadn’t adjusted to the dim afternoons.

 

Rolling his neck on his shoulders, he gave his cheeks a quick slap as Eli began to wander around the room. He felt silently judged, though he knew his friend wouldn’t be that much of an asshole about how long it was taking him to unpack.

 

Eli had tried to convince Hudson to let the moving company unpack things since they had the service and he could afford it, but he wasn’t ready to give up that much of his independence. Maybe when he was old and every one of his bones were arthritic and weak, he’d consider it.

 

But for now, he could damn-well do it himself. Even if it took a month.

 

“Stop,” he said, groping for the watery soda he had left from his meal. It tasted like shit, but it soothed his dry throat. “I’ll get to it eventually.”

 

Eli rolled his eyes, then passed the little curio table where he stopped and stared down at the plate of muffins. “What the fuck are these? Did you bake?”

 

“God, no. Those are from my neighbor,” Hudson grumbled. He sat back and lolled his head against the cushion so he could see out the window. The fog was heavier than usual, and he was glad he’d gone home early.

 

Eli frowned down at the plate. “Your neighbor sent you muffins with a note that says not interested? What the hell did you offer him?”

 

Hudson sat up straight. “No. That’s what I wrote. That fucker thinks he can just leave muffins on my doorstep like it’s nineteen-fifty-seven. He even told me I could borrow a cup of sugar.”

 

“Wow,” Eli said dryly, “what a sociopath.”

 

Hudson flipped him off, then eyed his walker and quickly grabbed it, tugging it close. It slammed against the edge of the table, but he didn’t care. The rubber grips were firm under his hands, and he stood up with an eager desperation. He’d need to piss soon, and he wanted to be up on his feet.

 

His body ached as it stretched properly, and he could immediately feel his feet start to plump up, but he didn’t care. It was heaven. “You don’t have to hang out,” he said as he took his slow, shuffling steps toward the little hallway. “I’m not exactly great company right now.”

 

Eli sighed. “When are you ever? But I actually have a fuckton of work to get done, so I might take off.”

 

Hudson nodded and waved him off, pausing when he reached the hall arch, and looked over his shoulder. “Could you drop that plate back off next door?”

 

Eli frowned. “You want me to return your neighbor’s gift with that asshole note?”

 

Hudson shrugged. “Why not? I’m not going to eat them, and I don’t want him to think we’re going to be friends.”

 

“God, you are a fucking curmudgeon.”

 

“I wear the badge proudly, and you promised to love me for exactly as I am,” Hudson reminded him, echoing one very drunk night where Eli was feeling affectionate.

 

His friend shot him a middle finger, making Hudson smirk. “Mm, except I get to be the asshole and knock on that poor person’s door. It’s probably someone’s grandma.”

 

“Nope. It’s this really fucking hot guy at least ten years younger than us,” Hudson told him as he turned the corner. His legs were stiff, likely from the tension because of his mother, but he forced himself to keep going. “But don’t get any ideas. He’s not welcome in my life.”

 

“Oh, you’re a dick. I’m going to ask him out and then marry him,” Eli called after him. “Then you’ll have to put up with his muffin ways the rest of your life.”

 

“I will fire and disown you. Lock up before you go,” Hudson called, then closed the bathroom door and all but collapsed on the toilet just before he pissed himself.

 

Living was messier now. It was complicated and it was slow and it was frustrating.

 

But he was…maybe not happier with his new career, but he felt better. He didn’t feel like some cog in a wheel, turning until his eventual retirement and death. He didn’t feel the compulsion to flee his office at the end of every workday and lose himself in booze and sex just to distract himself from how utterly bland it all felt.

 

Washing up, Hudson moved into his office where Bagel was perched on his little wooden swing. The bird eyed him, then opened his beak and began to squawk until Hudson opened the door to the cage. They weren’t exactly friends. The damn thing had been a parting gift from Austin—which was where the ridiculous name had come from. Austin hadn’t wanted him to be lonely.

 

And now Hudson just had another reason to want to murder the man. Luckily, Bagel was quiet and happy so long as he had access to the top of his cage so he could shit on everything below, and frankly, Hudson wished he could swap places with him sometimes.

 

“You wanna hang out?” Hudson asked.

 

The bird wolf-whistled—another gift from his ex. Hudson knew if he came any closer, the bird would fly at him and bite his face, so he kept his distance and when he was sure Bagel was happy with his top of the cage situation, he turned and walked out, leaving the door open a crack so the thing could waddle into the living room if it wanted.

 

Hudson moved back toward his sea of boxes in the front room and was relieved to find the plate of muffins and Eli both gone. He really did love his best friend, even if he was not the kind of man who would ever say that aloud no matter how drunk he got. Eli put up with a lot of shit from him, and he was pretty sure the man meant what he said when he told Hudson that he cared about him no matter what a grouchy piece of shit he was.

 

It was one of the few things that could make his insides go soft, even if no one ever got to see that side of him.

 

Glancing around, he sighed at the mountain of work he had to do. Luckily his business was running smoothly and he wouldn’t have products to test and tweak until the shipment came in, but unluckily it meant he would have to focus on his home.

 

He moved back to his chair since his walker would be no help in getting around with any kind of hustle, then he pried open the office box he’d already dug into. Everything was on flat dollies, so he pushed his knees against it, then slowly began to wheel toward the office.

 

It was endless, agonizing, impossible Herculean tasks, but he would be damned if he didn’t get them all done eventually. After all, he planned to make this home forever. A little lonely, entirely alone, and apparently with a hot neighbor who could bake that he was sure would hate him once he got the plate of muffins back.

 

All in all, it was livable. It was survivable. And that was all he could possibly ask for.

 

To Be Continued...

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Chapter Three

 

 

Chapter Three Preview:

 

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…he’s not a muffin guy.”

 

Peyton had been in the middle of feeling sorry for himself after a bag-spill 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.

 

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.