Joshua paused and turned to Colin, a dishcloth dripping in his hand. “What do you want to do for St. Patrick’s Day this year? Anything special?”
Colin’s nose wrinkled as he shrugged. “Nothing I can think of.” He smiled and reached to swipe at Joshua’s cheek. “You always make it special.”
“Did your family celebrate it when you were a youngster?”
Colin’s eyes dropped and Joshua saw his teeth catch his lower lip.
“Is it…” Joshua began, then hesitated.
Colin leaned against the counter and met his eyes. “Is it what?”
“Is it a bad memory?”
Colin laughed out loud. “No. In fact it’s a good memory. We’d have a block party. The whole neighborhood was Irish, so we all got together and threw this big potluck dinner. Tons of wonderful Irish food.”
“And gallons of stout,” Joshua added with a grin.
Colin nodded then gazed out the kitchen window to the grassy backyard beyond. “Oh, for sure! Me and my friends would sneak as much stout as we could until one of our mothers caught us.” His voice trailed off and he continued to stare out the window, his expression thoughtful.
“You seem…” Joshua began, then stopped and reached to touch Colin’s cheek. “You say it’s a good memory, but you seem sad. You look sad.”
“My dad was always at the center of everything on St. Paddy’s Day,” Colin mused. “He and my grandpa. They’d gather all the neighbors who could play any kind of instrument and form this big makeshift Irish band.” He glanced at Joshua. “You know that my grandpa played the mandolin.”
“Well, my dad played the harmonica.”
“I didn’t know that! Do you play?”
“No. Never learned. Stuck with the mandolin.”
“Did you play in the band when they’d throw these St. Patrick’s celebrations?”
“No,” Colin muttered. “I was self-conscious about playing in front of my friends.” He shot Joshua a rueful glance. “They were bad-asses and all. I guess I thought I was too.” He rubbed his dishtowel along the edge of the counter, following it with his eyes. “I wish I’d been smarter. I wish I’d played.” He husked out a sigh and threw Joshua a sidelong glance. “Kathy would sing. I’d sing too sometimes, when she’d goad me into it.” He hesitated, then murmured: “After she died though…”
“You didn’t sing anymore?”
“The family never attended the celebration again.” He frowned at the cloth in his hand. “Somehow it just didn’t seem—you know—right.”
“That’s horribly sad, Colin.”
“Our whole life was sad after Kathy died.”
“Honey, I’m sorry. We can talk about something else.”
“No, that’s OK.” He glanced around. “Are we done?”
Joshua took the dishcloth from his hand. “We’re done. But you never answered my question. How do you want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year? Or rather how do you want us to celebrate it? Go to McCafferty’s with the guys?”
“If you like.”
“What would you like to do?”
Colin turned away and moved toward the living room, his face still creased in a frown. “I don’t really care. We can do whatever you like. I’m up for McCafferty’s if you want to go.” He fell onto the couch and gazed into the unlit fireplace.
Joshua lowered himself to the couch beside him and captured his hand. “St. Patrick’s Day is your holiday. I want to do whatever would make you happy, even if that’s staying home and watching The Quiet Man.” He pressed a kiss to Colin’s cheek. “As long as we’re together I don’t care what we do.”
Colin gave him a small smile. He pulled free of Joshua’s hand and wrapped his arm around him, snuggling him close to his side. “McCafferty’s is fine.” He pressed a kiss to Joshua’s temple. “You call the guys and set it up OK, bud?”
Joshua nodded, then raised his head and met Colin’s eyes. “Why do you call me ‘bud’? I’ve meant to ask you for ages now. Where did that come from? I never heard you call anyone else by that nickname.”
Colin wrinkled his nose, but his smile grew broader. “Odd you should ask me that.” He drew in a deep breath then tilted his head back until he was gazing at the oaken beams crisscrossing the ceiling. For a long moment he was silent. “My dad used to call me ‘bud’,” he said finally, then quirked his mouth and shook his head as if bemused. “I never knew why. It was just his nickname for me for as long as I can remember.”
He sat forward on the couch and turned to face Joshua. “I must have heard him call me ‘bud’ a million times.” His head gave a small shake as he breathed out a quiet laugh. “And in so many different ways.” He took Joshua’s hand. “I remember him telling me at Kathy’s funeral…” He hesitated for a moment then blew out a quick breath and touched the center of Joshua’s chest. “He said: ‘She’ll always live right here, bud.’”
Joshua’s hand moved to stroke Colin’s hair, but to his surprise his husband let out a quick laugh and met his eyes. “I can’t count the times I heard him yell: ‘Goddamnit, bud!’”
He pressed his lips together and shook his head. “He’d stand in the front door and yell: ‘Dinner, bud’! when I was outside with friends or ‘Time for bed, bud’, when it got late.” He lifted Joshua’s hand to his lips and kissed it. “I remember him telling me: ‘Sand with the grain, bud’ when he was teaching me woodworking.”
“Those are wonderful memories, Colin,” Joshua said, leaning close to kiss Colin’s hair.
“I was a shit son to him,” Colin blurted out, jerking away. “Especially after Kathy died.” He met Joshua’s eyes. “He was suffering! But I never knew what to say to him. I never knew what to do! I was so lost in my own misery and guilt that I…” He drew in a trembling breath and lowered his head. “I think…” he began, then stopped and met Joshua’s eyes.
“What, my darling,” Joshua whispered.
“I think I call you ‘bud’ to make him part of our life. To make him part of me…of us.”
“And I’m honored that you do,” Joshua said. He wrapped both arms around Colin’s neck and held him close. “Colin, you were a teenager! Of course, you didn’t understand how to deal with your parent’s suffering. No fourteen-year-old could have the emotional maturity it would take to cope with that kind of tragedy. It’s just not possible!” He caressed Colin’s cheek and lifted his head until their eyes me. “It was up to them to comfort you!”
“And they tried,” Colin murmured. “But Dad became so withdrawn after…” He swallowed hard and drew in another deep breath. “And Mom spent a lot of her time in church.” He rested both hands on Joshua’s arms. “I just wish I’d been a better son to him. I’ve had time since then to make it up to Mom. But Dad…” He shook his head, his face twisted in sorrow. “I had no time. He went so suddenly. I had no time.”
“My darling, everyone has regrets when someone they love dies. Everyone! Especially,” he added, “if their loved one passes suddenly.”
Colin nodded, then pressed his forehead to Joshua’s shoulder. “I remember one time at one of my baseball games. I hit a home run, and after I ran the bases I went over to where they were sitting, him and Kathy and Grandpa, and I handed him the ball.”
Joshua felt him shudder in his arms as his breath caught in his chest.
“He said to me: ‘I’m so proud of you, bud’. I never forgot how he said it. How proud he sounded. What a great feeling it was.”
“And, Colin, if he were here right now, he’d say exactly that same thing exactly that same way.” He lifted Colin’s head and kissed the tears from his cheeks. “You’ve talked to me about your father often enough that I can say this with absolute certainty: you are exactly like him!”
Colin tilted his head. His expression dubious.
“You are!” Joshua insisted. “Your work ethic is exactly like his. Your integrity! Your loyalty! Your courage and strength! Your determination to protect those you love.”
Colin kissed Joshua’s cheek and huffed out a soft laugh. “Well, he was a good role model, I’ll say that.”
“And he raised a good, decent man with a great and loving heart,” Joshua whispered against his cheek.
“You’re biased!” Colin accused. He pushed Joshua back and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “OK,” he said with a quick smile. “Enough with the sad talk. I like your plan for St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll even bring my mandolin along and sing some of your favorite Irish songs.”
“Sing some of your father’s favorites too,” Joshua murmured.
Colin stared into his eyes for a long moment, then kissed him again. “Would it surprise you to learn that they’re the exact same songs?”
“It wouldn’t,” Joshua replied. “And it would make me very happy.”
“Then you’ll have a very happy St. Paddy’s day,” Colin told him, holding him close.
“Every day I have with you is happy,” Joshua murmured. “Ani ohev otcha, my love.”
“Ta`mo chori istigh ionat, bud.”
“Every time you say that I’ll remember what you told me today and bless you for giving me such a special nickname.”
Colin laughed and nuzzled Joshua’s cheek. “I didn’t decide to call you that,” he said. “It’s not like I gave it any thought. It just popped out.” He kissed Joshua again. “It just felt…right.”
“I’ll take that as a sign that Dad approves of me.”
“Well, if I AM exactly like him…there’s no other way he could he feel!” He carded his fingers through Joshua’s dark hair, letting the locks float from between his fingers in a slow drift of silk. “He’d be proud of me for choosing you, Josh,” he whispered. “He’d know he did a good job raising me because I picked such a wise and wonderful man to love.”
Colin’s fingers tightened in Joshua’s hair, and he kissed him tenderly. “Thank you, my pretty Jewish boy.” He stroked Joshua’s cheek and grinned. “We’re gonna’ have a great St. Patrick’s Day.”