DOWNLOADABLE FROM BOOK FUNNEL!
AS EPUB, MOBI, OR PDF!
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and Joshua Abrams was frustrated. He knew how much Christmas meant to Colin; it was his favorite time of the year. But in spite of Colin’s deep love for the holiday season, he had never once decorated for Christmas. In fact, though Joshua searched high and low, he couldn’t find so much as one strand of tinsel.
“No Christmas decorations?” Joshua asked him.
“Why would I have decorations, Josh?” Colin replied. “I lived in a tiny apartment. Hell, I didn’t even have room for a Christmas tree. And I usually spent Christmas in Scituate with mom.”
Joshua huffed out a sigh and looked around. Their large living room with its many windows and high oak-beamed ceiling, was the perfect setting for Christmas decor. This gorgeous room would look even lovelier with a Christmas tree in the corner, garland and candles on the mantle, and twinkling lights around every window. “Well, we’re having a tree this year!” he said, flopping onto the couch next to Colin.
“Uh, Josh?” Colin said, leaning toward him. “I hesitate to remind you of this, bud, but you’re Jewish! What the hell do you care about Christmas decorations? You don’t do Christmas!”
“But you do!” Joshua said. “And there are Hanukkah decorations, you know.”
“So, we’re doing Chrismukkah, huh,” Colin teased, stretching out with his feet in Joshua’s lap. “Well, that’s fine by me, baby. Decorate to your heart’s content.”
Joshua nodded, still gazing around the room. He could buy decorations, certainly. But somehow that wasn’t good enough. He yearned to do something more for the man he loved, something that would make their first Christmas together the most memorable of his life. He shot a sideways glance at Colin and bit down on his lower lip. He needed help.
The moment he reached his office the following day, Joshua placed a call to Scituate, Massachusetts. “Hi, Brianna,” he said to Colin’s mother, “Have you got a minute? I need a favor. A big one.”
“Anything, Joshua,” Colin’s mother replied. “What do you need?”
“I want to do something special for Colin this Christmas, and I wondered if you had any Christmas decorations from his childhood that you’d be willing to give me. Just a few items that he’d remember from the past, keepsakes that would mean something to him.”
Brianna laughed softly. “Josh, I have about five boxes full of Christmas decorations from Colin’s childhood lying upstairs in the attic. I don’t decorate anymore. It just got to be too much for me. I’d be happy to give you as many of them as you want.”
“Oh wow, Brianna,” Joshua said, smiling. “That’s great! But you have to keep this to yourself. I don’t want Colin to know. I want to surprise him.”
“Honey, how do you plan to get them home? You can’t do it in a day, Josh. There’s too much of it.”
“Hmmm,” Joshua said. “Don’t know yet. I’ll have to figure that part out. I’ll call you back once I have a plan.”
Joshua spent the better part of the day plotting out his elaborate Christmas caper. First, he’d have to tell Colin a white lie: he’d convince his fiancé that he’d be gone overnight to speak at a psychology conference. But instead, Joshua would fly to Scituate, rent a U-Haul, pack up the decorations, spend the night with Colin’s mother, and drive back to Charlottesville the following day.
When he reached Charlottesville, he’d drop the U-Haul off at the home of their best friends, David and Nate, since he wouldn’t have time to decorate before Colin got home from work. He’d retrieve the decorations the next morning and hopefully have them up before Colin arrived.
“Oh my god,” Joshua muttered aloud. “I have got to make this work!” His first step was to inform David and Nate of his plan so that they’d be able to back him up if Colin got inquisitive. “For god’s sake, don’t breathe a word to him,” Joshua told them. “I want him to walk into the house and see it filled with decorations from his childhood.”
Once his friends were sworn to secrecy, Joshua took the first important step in implementing his Christmas escapade: he told his fiancé a bold-faced lie.
“You have to be gone overnight?” Colin complained when Joshua explained the totally fictitious conference he was being forced to attend. “You know I hate it when you’re gone all night.”
“Sorry, babe, but yeah, I do. It’s not just the conference. There are meetings I have to attend for the clinic that’ll run late. It’ll just be one night. I’ll be back the next day.” He kissed Colin’s cheek and winced internally. He didn’t like lying to his fiancé even in a good cause, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Colin dropped him off at the airport a few days later, and Joshua breathed a huge sigh of relief as he boarded the plane headed for Logan International Airport in Boston. Stage one of his Christmas caper was complete. He grabbed a cab at the airport for the forty-five-minute drive to Scituate and Colin’s childhood home.
Brianna greeted him at the door with a hug. “Honey, I still say I could have picked you up.”
“No, Brianna. I was good to take the cab. Have you heard from him?”
“Nope,” Colin’s mother said flashing the same cocky, Irish grin that was Colin’s trademark. “Not a word. Where does he think you are?”
“Philadelphia,” Joshua said. “There actually is a psychology conference going on there so if he gets nosy, I may have some cover.” He breathed out a long sigh. “I just hope this works. I want so much to surprise him.”
“It’ll work,” Brianna said, waving him forward. “Come on. I’ll take you up to the attic and show you what I’ve got. I’ve been going through it ever since you called me.”
Joshua started to follow her, then stopped and grabbed her arm. “No, wait, Brianna. Damn! I nearly forgot! We have to go pick up the U-Haul. Can you drive me?”
“Oh sure,” she said. “It’s just a mile or so down the road. Let me get my purse.”
Within a half-hour they had picked up the U-Haul and were back at Brianna’s. “You can sleep in Colin’s room,” she said as she led him up the stairs. “You’ve slept there before when you boys visited.” She waved Joshua forward. “Come on.”
They climbed another flight of stairs to the attic, and Brianna led Joshua to a corner of the room where several large boxes had been opened and obviously gone through. “I’ve been looking through these decorations,” she said, then sighed and seated herself on a nearby chair while Joshua sat cross-legged on the floor. “They sure bring back a lot of memories.” She picked up a small gift box and handed it to Joshua. “You’ll want these for sure.”
Joshua opened the box and found nearly three dozen handmade ornaments. Each plaster of paris decoration was formed in the shape of a holiday symbol: a Christmas tree, a star, a Santa Claus, a tiny infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and many, many others. All were painted by hand. “Who made these?” he asked examining them one by one.
Brianna drew in a long breath. “Colin and Kathy made them when they were youngsters. Colin was around, oh, six or so and Kathy was probably eleven.” She smiled and reached to touch one of the decorations. “The ones with the sloppy painting are Colin’s,” she said with a smile. “They had so much fun making them.” She leaned back in the chair and sighed again. “Made quite the mess as I recall, though Colin usually made a mess no matter what he was doing.”
Joshua almost held his breath as he examined the ornaments made by Colin and the sister he loved who had passed away when he was fourteen. “Brianna, these are…sacred,” he said, his voice barely audible. “Are you sure you want to part with them?”
“Honey, they’ve laid in this attic for the past five Christmases. You two boys should have them.” She picked up another item from the large box. “This is the star that was always on the top of our tree. He’ll remember it. He sat on his daddy’s shoulders to put it there when he was little.” She looked away, staring into the distance. “Been a long time since…” her voice trailed off and Joshua felt stricken to the heart.
“Brianna, I’m so sorry if this is bringing back sad memories for you. I never even considered that part of it. I apologize.”
“Joshua, my dear boy, there is no need to apologize. I’m not sad.” She shrugged and laid her hand on his shoulder. “I feel a little nostalgic maybe, but there’s no need for sadness. I have every reason to be happy, especially now that I see you here, wanting to do something so wonderful for my boy. What a good heart you have, Josh! I’m so happy you and Colin are together.”
“Brianna, he’s my whole world.”
“You’d better get used to calling me ‘mom’,” she said as she drew out another small box. “Now these,” she said as she removed the lid, “are from Ireland. Some came across with Michael and I, and some are from Colin’s grandparents, so they go back quite a way.”
Joshua’s mouth fell open as he examined the delicately formed ornaments. “They’re so beautiful,” he breathed out. “My god, Brianna, how old are these?”
“Old,” she replied with a smile. “The ones from Colin’s grandparents must be almost one hundred years old. You can identify those by the sticker I put on the back.” She turned the ornament over and showed him a tiny yellow star. “Like that,” she said. “Those are from Colin’s grandparents.”
She lifted an even smaller box to her lap. “These,” she said, “are from my sister Aileen. She and Colin are close, and she always sent him and Kathy a special ornament at Christmas time.”
“She’s the one Colin calls ‘Ahn-tee’,” Joshua said. “He talks about her all the time.”
She handed the box to Joshua who opened it and lifted out each ornament one at a time. They were beautifully handcrafted and depicted religious scenes such as the nativity, an old-fashioned Santa wearing a long green robe, and several kinds of Celtic crosses. “They’re all lovely, Brianna,” Joshua whispered.
“Colin will remember them,” she said. “There’s no doubt about that.” She drew out another, similar box and handed it to Joshua. “These are from Aileen too,” she said. “This box holds the ornaments she sent to Kathy.”
“Oh god, Brianna,” Joshua half-moaned, bowing his head. “Should I take them? Will it upset you? Will it upset him?” He nearly held his breath as he slowly opened the box. The ornaments within were similar in nature to Colin’s and just as beautiful.
“Joshua, how could it upset me to see these beautiful ornaments in the hands of someone who’ll use and cherish them? It upsets me that they’re lying, unused, in a box.” She picked up a plaque, which was obviously quite old. “Now this,” she said, laying it in Joshua’s lap, “belonged to my mother and father.”
The plaque was brushed gold and embellished with the words: Nollaig Shona Duit. He looked up at Brianna who smiled and spoke the words with a strong Irish brogue. “It means ‘Happy Christmas’,” she said. “I know Colin will remember it because he’d run around yelling it at the top of his lungs when he was a little lad…so proud that he could speak Irish.” She smiled and shook her head. “He was a cocky little stinker even then.”
“These things, Brianna,” Joshua said, his voice filled with wonder as he sat, surrounded by the items Colin’s mother had handed him. “I came here looking for decorations…for a few ornaments and some garland or something. And instead I found this treasure trove of beloved memories. I didn’t anticipate how much these objects would mean. I feel stupid.”
“Joshua, there’s no need for that.”
“But I should have known. These decorations aren’t just ornamental. They have such deep meaning to your family…to Colin.”
“Which is exactly why you should have them.” She pulled a set of two wooden plaques from the box. Small round Christmas ornaments had been glued onto the glistening wood in the shape of a Christmas tree. Each had a lovely star or angel at the top. Brianna looked at the plaques and smiled. “These need to be cleaned up a bit.” She shrugged and handed them to Joshua. “But they’re still lovely.” She smiled as Joshua accepted the plaques from her hands. “Colin and his daddy made these together.”
Joshua looked up at her. “Oh god, Brianna.”
“You should have seen them, Josh,” Brianna said, her voice nearly a whisper, and Joshua saw her eyes fill with tears. “He was just a little one then, maybe seven or eight, but so careful as he glued his ornaments onto the wood. And Michael would say, ‘Yes, just there, son. Wonderful, my boy! That’s the perfect spot.'” She sighed and reached to caress the plaques. “It was such a beautiful thing to see, Josh, father and son together.” She looked up at Joshua and smiled. “He loved his daddy so much.”
“I can’t take these!” Joshua blurted, his own eyes filling with tears, his throat aching. “Brianna, I can’t! They mean too much!”
“That’s why you have to take them, Joshua. This is Colin’s legacy. All these moments. All these memories so filled with love and happiness. They’re his inheritance. They shouldn’t be sitting in an attic. They should be in the home he shares with the man he loves.”
Joshua clutched the plaques tight in his hands and bowed his head, his tears falling onto Christmas trees that Colin had made with his father so long ago. When he looked up, he saw Brianna wiping her eyes and reached to take her hand. “I can’t begin to tell you what this means to me. There’s no way to thank you for this. None. It means too much. I can’t imagine what Colin will feel when he sees all of these treasures decorating our home.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he shed a tear or two,” Brianna said with a laugh, ” big, tough, Irish cop that he is.”
“He’s not so tough,” Joshua said, wiping away his tears.
“Ay,” Brianna said with a smile, “he’s not. Fact is, he’s a pussy cat. But I won’t tell him if you don’t.” She turned to a box sitting next to her and drew out what seemed to be a large blanket. “This,” she said, spreading it out in her lap, “was made by yours truly.”
Joshua saw that it was a quilt, embroidered with many different symbols of the season. Stars and Christmas trees, Santa’s and ornaments, and many various religious symbols had each been meticulously stitched in thread which seemed to glisten in the muted light of the attic. It was breathtakingly beautiful. “Oh my god, Brianna,” Joshua breathed out, reaching to run his fingers carefully over the stitch work. “It’s unbelievable! How long did this take you?”
“It took over three years start to finish,” Brianna said, smoothing the cloth with her hands. “It always lay over the back of the couch at Christmas time. Though one year I believe we hung it on the living room wall.”
“I’m just…just bowled over by the treasures you’re sharing with us,” Joshua said, his voice shaky.
Brianna smiled and handed the quilt to Joshua. “They’re rightfully Colin’s anyway,” she said. “It’ll all come to him one day. Silly for him not to have them now.” She looked up at Joshua and smiled. “It’ll make me happy to think of them in the home you boys share. I love thinking of the two of you sitting in your living room, enjoying them together.”
Joshua lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. “And we’ll think of you every time we look at them, believe me.”
They spent the rest of the day carefully packing the decorations into boxes which Joshua then carried down to the U-Haul. Afterward, Brianna cooked dinner for both of them. As they were sitting down at the table to eat, Joshua’s phone chimed out a familiar ringtone. He put his finger to his lips to signal Brianna to remain silent.
She nodded as Joshua thumbed the phone. “Hi, babe! How’s it going? You miss me?”
“Of course I miss you,” Colin said. “What time will you be home tomorrow?”
“It’ll probably be later in the day,” Joshua said. “You go to work. I’ll grab an Uber home.”
“How’s the conference?”
“Oh,” Joshua said, winking at Brianna, “it’s about what you’d expect. A bunch of boring psychologists spouting a bunch of boring psychobabble.”
“God, I miss you, Josh! You’re never allowed to be gone overnight again.”
“I miss you too, baby,” Joshua said. “You’ll never know how much. How was your day?”
“Same old same old,” Colin said. “After we talk, I’m headed over to David’s for dinner. He knew I was alone and took pity on me.”
Joshua laughed. “I’m glad. Give them my love.”
“You alone?” Colin asked with a snicker, and Joshua could almost hear his cocky, Irish grin. “We could have a round of phone sex, you know. I’ve never done it but I bet I’d be good at it.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” Joshua said laughing. “But, uh, no, baby. That wouldn’t work right now. I’m not exactly…” he glanced at Brianna and rolled his eyes, “…alone.”
Brianna covered her mouth with her hand and giggled aloud, causing Joshua to grin and hit the mute button. “Shhh!” he said laughing too. “He’ll hear you!” He unmuted the phone. “I gotta go, babe,” Joshua told him. “I still have meetings tonight. I’ll text you before I go to bed.”
“Well, don’t you dare have a good time!” Colin told him. “That’s not allowed unless I’m with you.”
“Trust me,” Joshua said. “I could never have a good time without you beside me.” He smiled. “I love you, Irish.”
“I love you too, Jewish,” Colin said, laughing softly. “Sleep tight, my love.”
“And you as well, my love,” Joshua replied, and hung up.
“What?” Brianna said, arching an eyebrow and grinning. “No phone sex?”
“Oh, good lord,” Joshua moaned. He blushed and bent over the kitchen table with his head in his hands. “God, Brianna, I hate lying to him.”
She shrugged and passed a bowl of potatoes to Joshua. “Eat,” she said, “you’ll feel better.” She rose and walked to the refrigerator, patting his shoulder in passing. “I’m betting he’ll be happy to forgive you.”
Early the following morning Joshua stood outside in the chill air as he said good-bye to Colin’s mother before beginning the long drive back to Charlottesville.
“Drive safely, my dear boy,” she said, embracing him. “And thank you, Josh.”
“Why on Earth are you thanking me?” Joshua said, returning her embrace. “There is simply no way for me to thank you for all you’ve done for me. You gave me a gift I can never, ever repay, Brianna. The treasures you were willing to share with me will mean everything to Colin. And that means everything to me. To be able to surprise him with all these wonderful mementos…” his voice trailed off. “Well, there are just no words.”
“And that’s why I’m thanking you, Joshua,” Brianna said. “I feared for years that Colin would never open his heart to love.” Her voice wavered and she bowed her head. “I believe a part of Colin’s heart died with his sister,” Brianna whispered, then she lifted her head and her eyes met Joshua’s. “But your love brought his heart back to life, Josh.” She smiled and touched Joshua’s cheek. “It’s just so good to see him smile again…to see him glowing with happiness.”
Joshua bowed his head and his tears fell onto her hand. “Brianna,” he said, his voice choked with tears, “I love your son with every fiber of my being. And believe me, if I have anything to say about it, he’ll be happy every day of his life for as long as he lives.”
Brianna laughed and patted his cheek. “Of that I have no doubt, Joshua. This is a wonderful, beautiful gift you’re giving my boy. Call me after he sees it and tell me how he reacts.”
“Come with me and see for yourself!” Joshua said, grabbing her hand. “Go pack a bag and come with me.”
Brianna laughed again and shook her head. “I have plans I can’t change, sweetie, but thank you for asking me. The phone call will be enough. She hesitated, then squeezed Joshua’s hand. “I think,” she said finally, “that this moment should be just for the two of you.” Then she grinned and nudged Joshua’s arm with her elbow. “If you get my drift.”
“Brianna!” Joshua admonished, laughing as he opened the door of the U-Haul.
“Enjoy the moment, Joshua,” she said, then stood back and watched as he climbed into the truck and drove away.
It took Joshua almost nine hours to make the drive to Charlottesville, and by the time he pulled into David’s driveway he was stumbling out of the truck with exhaustion. David and Nate were there to greet him. “We had your fiancé here for dinner last night,” David said with a huge grin, “and believe me, he suspects that something’s going on.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He told us you sounded weird every time you talked to him,” Nate said. “He’s a cop, Josh! He gets paid to be suspicious.”
“And to hunt for clues,” David added. “So be careful.”
“Oh god,” Joshua moaned. “Will one of you drive me home? I’ll be back in the morning to get the U-Haul.”
Colin wasn’t home when Joshua arrived at the house on the Rivanna River, and he quickly began pulling food from the refrigerator and cupboards. “I’ll feed him!” Joshua muttered aloud. “That’ll distract him…hopefully.”
He was putting the finishing touches on a chicken stir-fry when Colin burst in the back door and swept him off his feet, his mouth capturing Joshua’s in a wet, passionate kiss as he clutched him tight against his chest.
“You are never allowed to be away all night again!” Colin muttered against his ear. “Never! I fucking hate it when you’re not next to me in bed.”
Joshua laughed and cradled Colin’s handsome face between his palms. “I promise, my beautiful Irish love. Believe me, I hated not being there beside you.” He kissed Colin again as his fiancé slowly lowered him to his feet.
“Mmmm,” Colin hummed. “What do I smell?”
“You smell dinner!” Joshua said, leading Colin to the stove. “Made you a chicken stir-fry to make up for being gone last night.”
“Did you make a pie to go with it?” Colin asked.
“No, baby. I didn’t have time. But I’ll tell you what…we’ll take a drive to the store after dinner and grab a pie and ice cream for dessert.”
The following day Joshua saw Colin off to work after going through the pretense of getting ready himself, then drove to David’s to retrieve the U-Haul filled with Christmas memories.
“We’ve got a few free hours this morning,” Nate told him, “if you want some help getting everything into the house and put up.”
Joshua happily accepted their help, and the three men made short work of returning to Colin and Joshua’s home and carrying the boxes inside.
“OK,” Joshua said, looking around the living room. “First order of business is getting a Christmas tree. Then we decorate.”
They took David’s car to the mall and bought a tree, then returned to the house to begin putting up the decorations. Joshua carefully unpacked the treasured mementos, explaining to David and Nate what each one of them meant and how they fit into Colin’s life. “Jesus, Joshua,” David said, examining the ornaments which Colin and his sister had created when they were children. “He’s going be absolutely speechless when he sees all this.”
“No Hanukkah decorations?” Nate asked, looking around the living and dining area which were already decked out with holiday ornaments.
“Oh my god!” Joshua blurted. “They’re upstairs! I’ll get them.”
By the time David and Nate left, Colin and Joshua’s house glowed and twinkled with Christmas decorations and the symbols which represented their two faiths. A Jewish menorah stood at the center of the mantle and on either side of it were the Christmas tree plaques handmade by Colin and his father so long ago. Dreidel-shaped ornaments blended with the Catholic ornaments sent from Ireland. Beautiful Hanukkah candles stood side-by-side with equally beautiful Christmas candles. And on the top of their Christmas tree was the star which had always graced the top of the tree when Colin was a boy; the star he had placed there as he sat on his daddy’s shoulder.
Joshua stood in the center of the living room and stared around him, lost in the feeling of enchantment that felt almost magical. He bowed his head and drew in a deep breath, his hand moving to smooth the Christmas quilt handmade by Colin’s mother. “Oh god, please let him like all of it,” he breathed out. “Let him be happy with it. Please don’t let these memories make him sad.”
He startled when he heard Colin’s car pull into the driveaway and took a step back. Then the door opened and Colin entered the room.
For a moment he stood stock still, one hand resting on the doorknob. He gazed slowly around the room without saying a word until finally his honey-green eyes fell on Joshua. They were wide-open with amazement. “Josh…” he whispered. “Josh…what…how did…” He looked around him again. “Is that…” he moved to the couch and touched the Christmas quilt. “Is that…”
“It’s the quilt your mom made,” Joshua said, his voice a soft whisper.
Colin moved past him so gracefully and quietly that it seemed he was moving in slow motion. He stopped in front of the mantle and reached to touch the Christmas tree plaques he had made with his father. Joshua could hear his breathing growing erratic, as if he were struggling for every breath. He moved to the Christmas tree and stared up at the star before gently fingering several of the ornaments that hung there.
Then he turned to face Joshua. “How?” Colin breathed out, his voice unsteady. “How did you…do this?”
Joshua swallowed hard, his own throat aching. “I wasn’t in Philadelphia,” he said at last. “I was in Scituate with your mom. I asked her if she’d share some of the decorations you remembered from your childhood and she gave me …” Joshua’s hand swept the room and he could feel tears sliding onto his cheeks, “…she gave me these sacred treasures. These memories from your childhood.”
Colin stumbled to Joshua’s side and drew him into his arms, his face buried against Joshua’s neck. “Oh my god, Josh,” he whispered, and Joshua could feel him trembling all over. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you did this.” The big Irishman was nearly sobbing as he clutched Joshua to his chest. “Josh, Josh,” he whispered, struggling to compose himself. “How can I thank you for this? It’s all so beautiful…so perfect!”
“I love you,” Joshua murmured, stroking Colin’s hair. “And I so much wanted you to be happy this Christmas.”
“Happy!” Colin blurted, leaning back from their embrace. “Happy?” He shook his head, then drew Joshua to the couch and pulled him down beside him. He looked around once again at the decorations adorning every wall, window, and shelf, then turned to his fiancé. “I was happy already, Josh, just having you beside me this Christmas. But this? What the hell did I ever do to deserve this?”
“You’re Colin Campbell,” Joshua said, his voice thick with tears. “You’re the most wonderful man who ever lived. You’re the man I love.” He shook his head and his breath caught in his chest. “That’s all you had to do. That’s all you’ve ever had to do.”
Colin pulled Joshua across his lap and cradled him close, kissing his damp cheeks, stroking his hair. “I don’t deserve you, Josh. But as long as I’m Irish, I swear to God I will never let you go.” He tipped Joshua’s face up to his and kissed him with all the love and passion he possessed. “I love you so much,” Colin whispered. “Not for doing this. But for being the kind of man who would even think of doing this!”
Joshua caressed Colin’s handsome Irish face and kissed him tenderly. “Merry Chrismukkah, baby.”
Colin returned his kiss as they clung to each other on the couch, surrounded by twinkling lights and the many beautiful mementos from Colin’s childhood. “Nollaig Shona Duit, my beloved Jewish love,” Colin murmured, nuzzling against Joshua’s cheek. “And thank you for giving me the most priceless gift of all, your love.”
Want sneak peeks at new Janice Jarrell projects? How about deleted scenes, alternate endings, early drafts, book release details, and exclusive giveaways?
Join our VIP group, Jan’s Jazzy Jammers, for a behind the scenes look at all of this and more!