Heart of Gold
It was the day before Valentine’s Day, or rather, the evening before Valentine’s Day. Colin and Joshua had joined David and Nate at McCafferty’s for a burger and a drink and were teasing each other over which couple habitually demonstrated the most lovesick, sappy behavior. Or, more to the point, Nate and Colin were teasing each other while David and Joshua observed.
“Oh, come on, Colin!” Nate stated, waving away his arguments. “You know you and Josh win hands down!”
“The hell we do,” Colin protested. “Need I remind you of the many lurid demonstrations of sappy lovesickness we’ve been forced to watch you two engage in?” He picked up his phone and pointed at it. “I have pictures! I might even have video!”
“Have you been peeking into our bedroom window when we’re at the cabin?” Nate demanded. “Unfair, Colin! Not to mention rude!”
Joshua rolled his eyes and laughed. “He has never been a peeper,” he assured Nate. “Not of you or anyone else.”
“That you know of,” Colin added with a snicker, nudging Joshua’s elbow. He glanced around the table then rose. “I’ll fetch us another round.”
“Then we need to hit the road,” Joshua told him. “We’ve both got work tomorrow.”
Colin nodded and strode to the bar. Joshua watched him order their drinks, then saw him touch the shoulder of the man who was seated next to him. The gentleman in question was hunched over his drink, and even from this distance, Joshua could see that he was rocking back and forth as if in pain.
“Who’s that?” Nate asked.
“I have no idea,” Joshua replied. Colin leaned over the man, and Joshua saw him place both hands on the man’s shoulders, talking to him in a manner that—to Joshua’s eyes—seemed more than a little intense. The man nodded and Colin shook him gently, as if to emphasize what he was saying. The man nodded again, and Colin patted his back and turned away. He gathered up their drinks and made his way back to their table, his face twisted in a grimace.
“Colin?” Joshua said, getting to his feet as Colin approached. “What’s going on? Who is that guy?”
Colin sat their drinks down and fell into his chair. He bent over his knees, his big hands fisting in his hair. “Oh god, Josh!”
“Honey, what is it?”
“Who is that?” Nate asked, turning to look at the man at the bar. “Do you know him?”
Colin lifted his head. “Yeah. Friend from the university. He’s a faculty adviser. His name is Westbrook.”
“Paul Westbrook?” David said, leaning toward Colin.”
Colin nodded. “Yeah. He’s married to a guy named Dale Tolliver,” Colin told them, his voice a droning monotone, his eyes fixed on Westbrook. “They’ve been married for years.” He turned to Joshua. “Paul’s been out of town at a conference for the university, but decided to come back early to surprise Dale.” Colin sucked in a staggered breath. “And he—he caught Dale in their bed screwing another guy. In their own bed!”
“Oh god,” Nate moaned.
“Jesus,” David breathed out, reaching for Nate’s hand. “I know him and his husband. Colin, this is awful!”
“He’s—he’s devastated!” Colin said. “Christ, Josh, I’ve never seen anyone in so much pain. I didn’t know what to say…what to do!” He swallowed hard. “Jesus Christ, if that was me, I’d go insane…” Colin muttered. “I’d—I’d I don’t know what I’d do!”
Joshua knelt on the floor at Colin’s feet and took his hands. “You’ll never have to find out.”
Colin’s eyes met his. “Josh, I’m really tempted to put this guy on a suicide watch.”
“God, Colin,” Joshua whispered, then got to his feet and turned toward the bar. “Is he still here?”
“Yeah,” Colin said, tilting his head. “He’s right there.”
“Come with me,” Joshua said, tugging on Colin’s arm. “Have to speak to this guy.” He tugged again. “Colin, come with me.”
Colin rose and followed Joshua who moved quickly to Paul Westbrook’s side. “Paul?” Joshua said, reaching to touch his arm. “My name is Joshua Abrams. Joshua Campbell-Abrams.” He indicated Colin who was standing on Paul’s other side.
“Josh is my husband,” Colin said.
Westbrook nodded. He seemed puzzled, his gaze moving from Joshua to Colin, then back again.
“Paul, please forgive me for intruding at what has to be a terrible moment. But Colin told me what happened to you tonight, and I asked him to introduce us.”
“Why?” Westbrook croaked. He lifted his glass to his lips and drained his drink, then signaled for another.
“I’m a doctor,” Joshua said. “A psychologist. It’s not my habit to solicit patients in a social setting or to solicit patients at all for that matter.” His hand tightened on Westbrook’s arm. “But I’ve rarely seen my husband as distraught as he was after speaking to you. And I simply could not leave without asking your permission to talk to you about what you’re going through.”
Westbrook turned his head and met Joshua’s eyes.
“May I?” Joshua asked. “May I please speak to you on this matter? I will leave at once if you prefer.”
Westbrook gave no response, but as he reached for his freshly refilled glass, he gave Joshua a slight nod.
“Paul, please do not go through this alone,” Joshua begged. His voice was low and gentle but carried a tone of urgency that was unmistakable. “What you’re undergoing is the equivalent of seeing someone you love murdered right in front of your eyes. Please let me offer you support while you navigate this painful experience.”
Westbrook’s breath caught in a soft sob, and Joshua’s arm slid around his shoulder. “I work out of the Rainier Clinic,” he said. “If it’s a question of money, there won’t be any charge, I promise you. If you’re not comfortable seeing me, we have several wonderful grief counselors who can help you make sense out of this awful experience. Please,” he said. “Please let us help you.”
Joshua’s entire focus was on Paul Westbrook, so he didn’t notice how intently Colin’s gaze was fixed on him. He didn’t see the look on his husband’s face as Joshua bent over Colin’s distraught friend. He didn’t see Colin’s eyes shine with an ever-deepening expression of love and pride.
“I don’t know what to do?” Paul choked out, swiping a hand across his eyes, barely controlling the sobs that shook him.
“May I offer a suggestion or two?”
Joshua turned to Colin. “Sweetie, would you fetch my briefcase please?” After Colin left for their table, Joshua focused once again on Paul Westbrook. “First off,” he said, “do not go home tonight. You and your husband both need a bit of space right now. You need a bit of time to gather your thoughts and find a calm place within yourself. Right now would be a bad time to talk or try to make decisions. Do you have a place you can stay? Just for tonight?”
Colin returned with Joshua’s briefcase.
“My brother’s?” Paul glanced at Colin as he handed the briefcase to Joshua. “You know Roland.” He turned back to Joshua. “We’ve both known Colin for years.”
“Can you call him?” Joshua asked, then opened his briefcase and removed a prescription pad.
Colin picked up Westbrook’s phone. “Dial him for me, Paul. I’ll have him come and get you.” After Westbrook dialed, Colin turned away and began to talk in a soft voice.
“My car…” Paul began.
“Let it go for tonight,” Joshua said quickly. “You shouldn’t be driving right now anyway. Colin and I will bring you back to pick it up tomorrow if your brother can’t manage it.” He drew a card from his jacket pocket. “Here’s my card. Please call me tomorrow. I promise you, I’ll help you figure all this out.”
Paul took the card then drew in another sobbing breath.
“I know,” Joshua said. He rested his hand on Westbrook’s shoulder and squeezed it. “I know that right now everything seems unmanageable. I know the pain is beyond measure.” He shook Paul’s shoulder gently. “But we’re going to help you get through this. No matter what you decide, no matter how you and your husband choose to handle your life moving forward. You won’t be alone.”
Colin rested his hand on Westbrook’s other shoulder and returned his phone. “Roland is on the way,” he told Paul. “He said you could stay with him tonight, no problem.”
“Thanks,” Paul told him, then turned to Joshua. “Thanks to both of you.”
Joshua nodded. “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through,” he murmured. “I can’t imagine…” He shuddered and blew out a breath. “You’re incredibly courageous.”
“I don’t feel very courageous,” Westbrook told him.
“You allowed me to speak to you. You were willing to accepting support. That takes indescribable courage, Paul. Indescribable strength.”
“The man knows,” Colin said. “He’s had the misfortune of having to deal with someone who would take a sharp stick to the eye rather than admit he needed help.”
Paul gave him a small smile. “I can guess who that ‘someone’ might be.”
Joshua breathed out a quiet laugh and patted Paul’s shoulder. “I bet you can!”
After only a few minutes Paul’s brother arrived. The brothers embraced, then Roland shook hands with both Colin and Joshua. “Thanks for being here for him.”
“Not a problem,” Colin said.
Joshua scribbled something on his prescription pad then tore the paper free and handed it to Roland. “This is a script for a mild sedative. Only a half-dozen pills. I’m giving it to you, and for right now I’d like you to hold onto them and give them to your brother as needed.” He turned back to Paul. “Please don’t take offense to this. You and I haven’t spoken with enough depth yet for me to know you well. My only concern right now is for your well-being and safety. Forgive me if I’m being overly cautious.”
Paul shook Joshua’s hand then stared to his eyes. “I understand, Josh. And I will see you tomorrow.”
Joshua smiled. “I’ll be there.” He leaned toward Paul. “We’ll get through this.”
Paul embraced Colin. “Quite a guy you have there.”
“You have no idea,” Colin murmured.
Joshua and Colin stood together watching as Paul and his brother left the pub, then Joshua made a move to return to their table where David and Nate sat waiting.
But Colin took his arm and drew him to a halt. “Wait,” he said. His voice was soft in a way that Joshua had never heard it before, and he lifted his face to gaze into Colin’s eyes.
“Are you OK?” Joshua asked.
For a long moment Colin didn’t move or speak. His honeyed-green eyes remained locked on Joshua’s, his expression one of surprised wonder.
Colin’s hand tightened on his arm. He drew Joshua closer and bent toward him until his lips brushed against Joshua’s ear. “I adore you,” he whispered, his voice roughened with emotion.
Joshua’s breath caught. “God, baby, I…” He shook his head, leaning back to once again meet Colin’s eyes. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t you?” He pressed a kiss to Joshua’s cheek, then led him back to the table where David and Nate bombarded them with questions.
“Is he OK?” Nate asked. “Who was the guy who came to get him? Was that his husband?”
“No. His brother,” Colin replied, reaching for his glass of stout.
“He’s not OK just yet,” Joshua told Nate. “But he promised me he’d come to the clinic tomorrow, so hopefully we can help him be OK eventually.”
Colin leaned back in his chair. “You two should have seen what I saw just now.”
“What did you see?” Nate queried.
“I saw my husband in a way I’d never seen him before,” Colin replied. “I saw him in a way that took my breath away.”
“Honey…” Joshua protested.
“He was…he was magnificent!” Colin breathed out, leaning toward their friends. “He was…he was…” He stopped and drew in a quick breath. “I don’t have words to describe it. I wish I did.” He turned to gaze at Joshua, who flushed and bowed his head. “Don’t turn away,” Colin said, reaching to tilt Joshua’s face toward him.
“I honestly didn’t know,” Colin told him, his voice soft with wonder. “I assumed you were a good doctor. I assumed you were good at what you did. But to actually see it?” He shook his head. “I feel like an ass because I didn’t comprehend the depth of your compassion, Josh. I had no idea how amazing you are.”
“You’re not surprised, are you?” David asked.
Colin took Joshua’s hand in his and lifted it to his lips. “No. Not surprised,” he told his friend. “But there’s a huge difference between assuming that he’s a great healer and actually seeing him be one.”
“Honey…” Joshua whispered, his chocolate-brown eyes glistening with tears. “Please, stop.”
“Don’t say that, Josh!” Nate objected. “Let him be proud of what he just saw. Let him have that moment of realization.”
“Joshua has a heart of gold,” David said. “We’ve all seen it time and time again.” He pointed at Colin, “You most of all!” He shrugged. “Doesn’t surprise me to learn that he’s a world-class healer.”
“He’s who I’d want to talk to if I were troubled,” Nate said, lifting his glass in Joshua’s direction.
“All of you,” Joshua begged. “Please stop! I don’t deserve this.”
“But, my darling, you do!” Colin said, pressing Joshua’s palm to his cheek. “You do!”
“Can you imagine what that poor man was going through?” Nate said. “And on the day before Valentine’s Day!”
“Horrifying,” Joshua rasped out.
“But you lifted him out of his anguish,” Colin said. “I saw it. I heard it. You were gentle. And kind. But you were also stronger than I’ve ever seen you. The power in your voice was unbelievable.” He kissed Joshua’s cheek, then brushed away the tears that lingered there. “You were a light in the darkness, my love.” He pressed a kiss to Joshua’s lips. “Jesus, I’m so proud of you.”
Again, Joshua bowed his head. “Sweetie, please stop,” he whispered, once again choked by tears.
“Stop saying that!” Colin told him. He grabbed Joshua’s chair with both hands and dragged it forward until they were only inches apart. “Just say thank you,” he murmured. He pressed Joshua’s palm to his cheek. “Just accept it. Accept what I’m offering and say thank you.”
“He’s right, Josh,” David added. “Your husband just gave you a precious gift: his unbounded admiration and respect. Don’t refuse him. Accept it with thanks.”
Joshua lifted his head and met Colin’s eyes. He inhaled a wavering breath and tried to speak but couldn’t. He bit his trembling lower lip then swallowed hard and once again tried to speak. “Thank you,” he finally offered in a barely audible whisper, then leaned forward into Colin’s embrace, struggling not to break into sobs.
“Well, there’s no damned doubt who won the ‘sappiest couple’ award tonight!” Nate told them, laughing.
“Nothing you give me for Valentine’s Day could ever top this,” Joshua whispered against Colin’s shoulder.
“Yeah? Well, you’re getting a card and candy anyway, so just suck it up and cope.”
Joshua turned to face David and Nate. “Thank you too,” he said.
“Heart of gold,” Nate mused. “Wasn’t that a song?”
“Neil Young,” Colin told him, both arms holding Joshua close. “I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold,” he quoted, then nuzzled against Joshua’s cheek. “That was me,” he murmured. “I wanted to live. I wanted to give. I was a miner for a heart of gold.” He bit his lower lip, his own eyes filling with tears. “I was searching,” he whispered to his husband, his voice choked. “Always searching.”
“Colin,” Joshua whispered, clutching him close. “I love you so much.”
“I found my heart of gold in you, my love. Thank you.”
“And I found mine in you,” Joshua murmured against his ear.
“OK! OK!” Nate called out. “Enough! You two already won the damned award! No fair going for ‘Sappiest Couple 2.0’ on the very same night!”
“Awww, let them go,” David chimed in. “I like seeing them all lovey-dovey schmoopy.”
Colin touched Joshua’s cheek and kissed him, then turned to face their friends. “Lovey-dovey?” he asked, eyebrows raised. “Me?”
“BEYOND lovey-dovey,” Nate said. “So just shut up, Campbell, and own it!”
“Campbell-Abrams,” Colin corrected with a wink.
Joshua pressed himself against Colin’s body, his lips nearly touching Colin’s ear and whispered: “Let’s go home.”
Colin reared back to gaze at him. “Yeah?”
“And celebrate Valentine’s Day a bit early?”
“You got it.”
“You have any specific type of celebration in mind?”
Joshua nestled his head against Colin’s shoulder and gave a soft laugh. “Tonight, you get to order off the menu.”
“Dayam!” Colin blurted. He surged to his feet, Joshua’s arm in one hand, his leather jacket in the other. “We’re headed home,” he told their friends.
“Gee,” Nate said, arching an eyebrow. “I can’t imagine why.”
Joshua laughed again while Colin wrinkled his nose and smirked. “Jealous!”
“Hardly,” Nate replied, his voice dry.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, you two,” David said, rising to his feet. “We’re headed home too.”
“Enjoy your celebration,” Nate cooed, waving as Colin and Joshua moved toward the door.
Outside McCafferty’s, Colin wrapped his arm around Joshua’s shoulders as they moved toward his car. “Been quite the night,” he said, then pressed a kiss to Joshua’s hair as he opened the passenger door for him. “And it’s not over yet!”
Joshua wheeled to face him and threw both arms around his neck. “Thank you,” he whispered, then kissed Colin with such hungry urgency that he staggered backwards.
“You’re welcome,” Colin replied. He nuzzled against Joshua’s neck, then leaned back and met his eyes. “I love you,” he murmured. “Is tusa mo thaisce.”
“I am your treasure?” Joshua interpreted, smiling.
“You are my heart of gold. Now and forever.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day to us both,” Colin replied, then nudged Joshua’s arm and tilted his head toward the open car door. “Now get in the damned car! You have promises to keep.”
Joshua did as he was asked, then turned to face Colin as he entered and fastened his seatbelt. “Looking forward to it.”
As they both laughed, Colin took his hand. He steered the car onto the highway, singing in a soft voice: “I’ve been in my mind, it’s such a fine line… that keeps me searching for a heart of gold.” He turned to Joshua. “I always loved that song because it was just…me.”
His fingers tightened on Joshua’s hand. “I was in so much pain back then. My sister hung herself. My dad died of a broken heart before I could really be a good son him. In my job, I saw nothing but grief and suffering. I was desperate to find peace. I tried a lot of relationships looking—searching—but found nothing.”
He lifted Joshua’s hand to his lips. “I damn near gave up, Josh. Then I met you.”
Joshua unbuckled his seatbelt. He scooted close Colin and took his arm. “My beloved, my life was just as empty until I met you.” He kissed Colin’s shoulder. “We both were searching for that heart of gold. And thankfully, we both found it.”
Colin bent to press his cheek to Joshua’s hair, then nudged him. “Buckle up.”
Joshua laughed, refastened his seatbelt, and took Colin’s offered hand. Then, holding on tight, they drove into the darkness and headed for home.