Irish Stout and Vows of Undying Love

Colin wandered in from the kitchen munching on an apple. He was wearing his workout clothes which consisted of very tight shorts and a raggedy T-shirt. And he was drenched in sweat.  “What’re you doing?” he asked Joshua who was sitting on the couch bent over his iPad.

“Wordle,” Joshua told him. “I’m trying to beat David which is goddamned hard to do!”

“I think the professor cheats,” Colin said grinning.

“No. The professor just has a brilliant mind.”

“Well so do you,” Colin informed him. He dropped into an easy chair across from where Joshua sat and stretched out his legs. “What’s the plan for tonight?”

“We’re meeting the guys at McCafferty’s,” Joshua told him, then glanced up with a quick grin. “Got it in four!

Colin rolled his eyes and laughed. “Well, honey, I’m thrilled for you. How did David do?”

“Don’t know yet,” Joshua told him. He messaged David his Wordle score then shook his fist at the iPad. “Beat it, Professor!”

Colin laughed again. “Jeez, you guys take your Wordle way too seriously! Are we having dinner there?”

“Where?”

“McCafferty’s!” Colin blurted out. “Where’s your head at, bud?”

“Oh! Sorry, babe. Yeah, I guess so. Well, we are because I didn’t plan a damned thing for dinner tonight.” He eyed his husband. “I assume you’re on your way to the shower.”

“Nah,” Colin drawled out. “Thought I’d celebrate New Year’s Eve smelling like a goat.” He winked at Joshua. “You don’t mind that do you? I thought you loved the smell of my sweat!”

“After we make love, yeah. I do. But this sweat…” and here he paused to sniff the air. “Has a totally different… um… aroma.

Colin rolled his eyes and got to his feet. “Yes, I’m on my way to the shower.” He tossed his apple core to Joshua who caught it in one hand.

“We’re meeting them at seven,” he said, then shot a quick glance at his watch. “And you’d better lay out your suit. It’s nearly six now.”

“What?!” Colin blurted, spinning to face his husband, one hand on the railing. “A suit? C’mon, Josh!”

“Professor says suits,” Joshua replied with a shrug.

“I wear a suit every damned day!”

“I know. I watch you walk out the door in one every damned day looking hot as all bloody hell!”

Colin turned and started up the stairs, grinding out a disgusted sigh. “Jesus! Gotta wear a freaking suit on my one day off!”

“You’ve got three days off!” Joshua called after him. “And…” he added in a low murmur, “… I like seeing you in a suit.”

“What’d you say, baby?”

Joshua gave a soft chuckle. “I said…,” he called out, moving to the bottom of the stairs “… that I like seeing you in your suit.”

Colin grinned down at him. “You see me in one every damned day!”

“Maybe,” Joshua told him. “But every damned day you’re wearing it for court, not for me!” He heard Colin laugh in response, then the bathroom door closed and a moment later he heard water running and Colin’s voice lifted in song.

Sunday morning just at nine
Dan McGinty dressed so fine,
Stood looking at a very high stone wall,
When his friend, young Pat McCann,
Says, “I’ll bet five dollars, Dan,
I could carry you to the top without a fall.

Joshua stood at the foot of the stairs looking up and listening. He felt hot tears burn his eyes and smiled. God, I love hearing him sing, he thought, knowing that’s what brought the tears and the ache in his throat. It’s the heart and soul of why I love him the way I do. He drew in a shaky breath and turned away and fell back onto the couch.

Colin was still in the bathroom when Joshua climbed the stairs to their bedroom and began to lay out his clothes. He draped his dark suit over his arm and ran his hand across the fabric in a loving caress. He had worn this suit on the day of their wedding and it remained as precious to him as the memory of that day. He gathered the rest of his clothes and carried them all downstairs to the half-bath where he shaved and donned his dress slacks and shirt. Satisfied with how he looked, he draped his dark tie around his neck then walked back to the living room, his jacket over his arm.

He heard the bathroom door open, followed by the sound of Colin’s footsteps coming down the stairs. He tossed his jacket onto the couch and turned to face him.

Colin stepped off the bottom step, brushing invisible lint off the sleeve of his black suit jacket. His thick, sandy hair was half-combed into place, but still tousled, as if refusing to obey its owners wishes. As always, his suit hung perfectly over his broad shoulders, giving him the aura of authority and power that had always left Joshua breathless, and that left him breathless now.

“Lord god,” he whispered, standing at the end of the couch staring at the man he had married… the man who had married him while they both wore these same dark suits. For a moment he felt transported, mesmerized, almost unable to believe what he knew to be real and true. This man was his. His husband. His partner. His for the rest of his life.

“My god you are so incredibly handsome,” he said at last, his voice a rasp in his throat.

Colin glanced up at him, his hand still poised over the sleeve of his suit jacket and the smile that broke over his handsome Irish face brought the hot sting of tears back into Joshua’s eyes. “Well, thank you, my love, my beautiful Jewish boy.” He walked to Joshua’s side and with one swift movement, pulled him against his body and kissed him with hungry passion.

“It’s the last day of the old year,” Colin murmured, rocking Joshua against his body. “So let me say this now, let me end the year with this.” He gazed into Joshua’s eyes until he saw the tears that burned there spill onto his cheeks. “I love you,” Colin murmured, his voice low, filled with rough emotion, raw with honesty as he bared his soul to the man he loved. “I love you with everything that I am and everything I will ever be. And with every beat of my Irish heart I love you more.” He pressed his lips to Joshua’s ear. “Joshua Samuel Campbell-Abrams, beloved of my heart, I… love you!And I always will.”

Joshua tried to answer, but the words would not come. He bowed his head until his forehead pressed to his husband’s chest and sobbed, drawing in a long breath that shuddered and trembled in his chest. When he lifted his eyes to meet Colin’s his face was streaked with tears.

“I know,” Colin whispered. “You feel the same.”

“I do,” Joshua choked out. “With all my heart I do, my beloved, hanasikh shelik.”

“And when midnight hits and the new year arrives I’ll say the same thing. I’ll make the same vow. With all my heart.”

“As will I,” Joshua said, reaching to caress Colin’s cheek. “This year and every year.”

“And so, my handsome husband, shall we go meet our friends and bring in the new year with Irish Stout and vows of undying love?”

“And maybe an Irish folk song or two?”

“Whatever you want, my darling,” Colin murmured then kissed him again, his honeyed-green eyes shining. “If you want me to sing… I’ll sing for you.”

“When do I not?”

“Then let’s go!” Colin urged. He grabbed Joshua’s jacket and helped him into it, then flipped his loose tie with a finger. “Gonna fix that?”

“Once we get there,” Joshua said. He slid his arms into his overcoat then linked his arm with Colin’s. “Ready, my love?”

“Ready, my darling.” He bent and kissed Joshua’s cheek, then waved him through the door and onto their porch. “Happy New Year.”

“Shana tova,” Joshua told him in reply, keeping their arms linked as, together, they strode down the sidewalk and toward Colin’s car.

Thanksgiving in Glenceo

It was Thanksgiving in Glencoe, Illinois. Colin and Joshua, along with Colin’s mother, Brianna, had joined Bracha and Abel Abrams to celebrate the holiday. It had been Colin’s idea to bring the two families together this year, his first Thanksgiving with Joshua as a married couple.

The Thanksgiving meal had been cooked by Jessica Hansen, housekeeper and friend to the Abrams family since Joshua was a child. She was joined in the kitchen by both Brianna Campbell and Bracha Abrams who each added their own individual touches to the meal. After the food had been laid out, Colin pulled Jessica into a chair. “Hush!” he said, waving away her protests. “You’re eating with us!”

He stood for a long time, gazing around the table at the people surrounding him, then lifted his glass of wine. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he said. All at the table echoed his gesture, then Colin drew in a deep breath and glanced down at Joshua who was gazing up at him, his chocolate-brown eyes glowing. Colin passed his hand down the back of Joshua’s head, caressing the dark curls he loved then, once again glanced around the table.

“After my sister died,” he said, “I sort of withdrew into myself.” He winked at his mother. “Mom can tell you. I wasn’t the most attentive of sons.”

Brianna Campbell dismissed his comment with a wave. “You’re a fine son and always have been.”

Colin smiled and shook his head. “She’s biased,” he told the group, then reached to take Joshua’s hand. “Today I want – I need – to tell all of you that since Josh came into my life my heart has opened again. Not just to him… though that would have been enough. But to all of you as well. I have a new, and deeper connection to my mother. I have a whole new family who I love with all my Irish heart. And most of all, the most wonderful man who ever lived has agreed to be my husband.” He lifted Joshua’s hand to his lips and kissed it. “How could I be more blessed? he continued. “And on this day, it’s so damned important to me that all of you know what I’m most grateful for in life… and it’s all of you.” He moved his hand, encompassing the entire table, then he bent and kissed Joshua. “Especially you,” he whispered.

Colin’s mother clinked her spoon on her wine glass and stood. “My turn,” she said, her voice thick with tears. “On this day of Thanksgiving I am most grateful to this family,” and here she indicated Bracha and Abel Abrams. “This family who gave me this young man,” and here she lifted her glass to Joshua, who sat with Colin’s arm wrapped around him, gazing up at her. “Joshua, my son walked in darkness until your love lifted him into the light. He could have died, but your love and devotion held him close and kept him safe. I’m grateful to the family who raised you. And I’m forever grateful to you for returning my son to me.”

Joshua moved to Brianna’s side and hugged her tight, struggling to choke back his tears. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you, mom.” He drew in a wavering breath. “He’s my whole life.”

“That I know,” Brianna whispered in return. “And he knows too.” Then she turned and shot a fake glare at Colin. “Or he’d better know!”

“He knows!” Colin said, raising his hands to defend himself. “Believe me, he knows!”

“My turn now,” Bracha Abrams said, rising to her feet with her wineglass in her hand. “First, I want to say Happy Thanksgiving to our entire family, including YOU, Miss Jessica!” Bracha sipped her wine then turned to face Colin. “As your mother thanked my son, I now have to thank hers.” She drew in a quick breath. “Joshua also walked in darkness,” she said. “He suffered terribly in his childhood and because of that he withdrew from life and from his family for many years.” She swiped a hand across her face to wipe away her tears. “I missed him more than words could say.” She shot a quick glance at Able. “We both did.”

“Amen to that,” Abel added.

“But when you came into his life, Colin, he came back to us. Your love for him and his love for you opened his heart and helped to heal his pain. And now I not only have my son again, but I have a new and wonderful son to fill our home and our hearts.” She lifted her glass to Colin. “Thank you,” she whispered, her voice thick with tears.

Colin leapt to his feet and embraced Bracha, then stooped to hug Abel as well. “Well, OK,” he said, his own voice trembling. “I think we’re all done with the crying and hugging.”

“Not quite yet, Mr. Bossy-Boots,” Jessica said, rising to her feet. “If I’m a member of this family then I get my say too.”

Colin moved to her side and bowed low. “Ms. Jessica,” he said, “you have the floor.”

Jessica took his arm. “I’ve watched these boys grow up,” she said, lifting her glass to Joshua and Abel. “I’ve watched this family move beyond a painful past, into a new and happier future. I’ve been friend, caretaker, cook, housekeeper, shoulder-to-cry-on, and keeper of the spankin’-stick.” At this both Joshua and Able burst into laughter.

“And I want to say today that I’m thankful to have been a part of their journey.” She paused, then turned and gazed up at Colin. “He was a sad and lonely boy,” she said, her voice low. “His mother and brother tried, but he kept all of us at arm’s length.” She stood on tip-toe and kissed Colin’s cheek. “He’s a happy man now thanks to your Irish ways and your loving heart. And I thank you.”

Colin hugged her then swiped a sleeve across his damp cheeks. “OK. Are we done now because I’m hungry!”

“Not quite yet,” Joshua said, getting to his feet.

“Oh god,” Colin moaned, resting his head on Jessica’s shoulder.

“Get over there with your Irish ass,” she teased, shoving him toward Joshua.

Joshua laughed as Colin joined him, his eyes wide in fake terror. “No more, Josh,” Colin begged. “Jesus, Josh, I’m wrecked!”

Joshua nodded and kissed him, resting his hand for a moment on Colin’s cheek. “I just want to say this,” he said, lifting his glass. “I am the happiest man on Earth,” he said. “Not just because of him…,” and here he tilted his head toward Colin. “But because of all of you as well.” He lifted his glass. “L’Chaim,” he said. “To life. To all of our lives. To family.”

All at the table returned Joshua’s toast, then Colin pulled him down into his chair. “OK,” he said, “that’s IT! No more emotional toasts. Let’s get this craic going!!”

Joshua leaned against him and kissed his cheek. “Happy Thanksgiving, my yedid.” (Beloved)

Colin gazed into his eyes for a moment, then kissed him tenderly. “Happy Thanksgiving, a chroí.” (My heart)

COLIN’S BIRTHDAY – Getting Older by the Minute

Getting Older by the Minute – A story for Colin’s Birthday!

Colin stumbled to the breakfast table and fell into his chair. He drew in a deep breath and stared straight ahead, his face contorted in a scowl.

“Morning, darlin’,” Joshua said in greeting, setting a filled coffee mug in front of him. “First off, happy birthday!” He bent and kissed Colin’s cheek. “And second off, why such a sourpuss?”

“I’m thirty-seven!” Colin told him, staring at his coffee mug. “What’s to be happy about?”

“What is this?” Joshua queried, plopping down next to his husband. “Well, for openers, you could be happy about the fact that you’ve lived for thirty-seven years and are still going strong!”

Colin’s scowl deepened, and he shot Joshua a look. “Do you realize that in three years I’ll be forty?

Joshua ducked his head, smothering a smile.

“I saw that, Josh! This isn’t funny!”

Joshua held his thumb and index finger a short distance apart and arched his eyebrows.

“No! Not even a little!”

“Honey, c’mon,” Joshua soothed, reaching to stroke Colin’s arm. “Don’t be like that. I want you to enjoy your birthday.”

“Mm,” Colin grumbled. “What’s to enjoy? Getting older by the minute?”

For a moment Joshua sat in silence, then he shot to his feet. “Goddammit, Colin! Don’t be like this! It’s vain and…and…selfish.”

“Vain?”

“Yes! Vain!” He walked to the sink and paused for a moment, staring out the window. Then he turned to face his husband, who had spun in his chair to look at him. “No one on this planet has less reason to bitch about birthdays than you do.”

“Is that so!”

“Yes, that’s so!” Joshua snapped. He strode to Colin’s side and gripped his shoulder. “Listen to me! When you were shot, I sat beside you for hour after endless fucking hour hoping and praying to every god I knew that you’d GET another birthday! Don’t you dare dishonor those prayers by not being grateful for your life.”

“Josh, I—I didn’t mean…”

“How dare you, Colin!” Joshua told him, his voice shaking with tears. “How dare you be in a pissy mood because you’ve lived another year! I—I just…” His voice trailed off and he wheeled away. “Forget it,” he muttered, waving his hand in dismissal. “Just forget it.” He stalked into the living room calling over his shoulder: “Happy birthday, asshat!”

“Oh, fuck me!” Colin moaned. He rolled his eyes and heaved a huge sigh, then struggled to his feet and followed his husband into the living room. “Josh…” he began.

“Don’t talk to me!” Joshua snapped, his voice thick and shaking.

“I have to talk to you. And you have to let me.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s my birthday!”

Joshua husked out a scornful breath and fell onto the couch. “Fat lot you care! All you want to do is whine because you didn’t DIE last year and spare yourself the trouble of turning thirty-seven!”

“Honey, I’m sorry,” Colin said. He sat down on the couch beside his husband and laid a hand on his arm. “I apologize. I do. And you’re right. It was vanity.”

“Damn right it was!”

“I admit it,” Colin told him. “Fact is, I’ve been thinking about it for days. Feeling down. Thinking that I’m getting older, thinking about all the things I wanted to do that I’ll never get to do…” Colin shrugged. “It put me in a pissy mood.”

“What do you want to do that you can’t do?” Joshua challenged.

Colin shot him a hangdog look through lowered lashes. “Play first base.”

“You can play! Trent said you could play this year if you wanted to.”

“I’ll never be as good as I used to be out there, Josh. I don’t have the same dexterity I had before I was shot. I’d be a piss-poor first baseman, a shadow of what I once was. That—that just won’t work for me.”

“You can’t be a superstar, so you’d rather not play at ALL?”

“It’s how I feel, Josh.” He gazed at Joshua, his honeyed-green eyes clouded with pain.

Joshua winced and nodded, beginning to regret his earlier outburst. “I get it, Colin. I do. What else, baby? What else can’t you do?”

“Be a cop.”

“I thought you loved being an attorney!”

“I do!” Colin said. “I love my career. But I also loved being a cop and…and well, I just fucking hate it that I was forced out before my time.” He shrugged and met Joshua’s eyes. “I could have made captain, you know.”

“Of that I have no doubt.”

Colin leaned back on the couch. “So, I guess my birthday just got me taking stock a little bit.”

“Well,” Joshua said, stroking Colin’s cheek, “that IS what they’re for.”

“And I just felt a bit like,” he wrinkled his nose and shrugged again “like, well…you know… like I’m getting older. Like…life was getting away from me.”

Joshua nodded and leaned against Colin’s arm. “Sweetheart, I want to apologize for snapping at you. Birthday blues is actually a pretty common phenomenon.” He leaned back and met Colin’s eyes. “I guess your birthday means so much to me that I didn’t stop to think about what it might mean to you.” He kissed Colin’s cheek then cradled it in his hand. “I’m sorry, my love. I was wrong. It just hurt my feelings because I put so much into planning for today. We don’t have to celebrate if you don’t want to. Or we can keep the celebration really low-key. Whatever you want, baby.”

“Oh? Do you plan to send my mother home when she gets here?”

Joshua reared back, eyes wide. “How did you know she was coming?! That’s supposed to be a surprise!”

“They’re both coming.”

He shot his husband an annoyed glance. “Goddammit, Colin!”

Colin snickered.

“You’re just so damned nosy!”

“Well, you left the receipt for their tickets lying on the dining room table,” Colin said. He shrugged and grinned. “I’m a cop. I’m trained to spot clues—especially when they’re two inches from my face.”

“Did you have to look?”

“It was lying there, Josh! I didn’t sneak into your desk and find it hidden under a pile of papers. It was lying in plain view right on the dining room table!”

Joshua’s frown was so comical that Colin burst into laughter.

“You’re right,” Joshua moaned, shaking his head. “I’m absolute shit at hiding things from you.”

“And I want to apologize too,” Colin said. He wrapped an arm around Joshua and snuggled him close. “I forget, at times, what you went through when I was shot. And I shouldn’t, because I remember the agony I went through when you were missing.” He pressed a kiss to Joshua’s temple. “So, you’re right. I should stop whining because I might have a gray hair or two and start showing a bit more gratitude that we both get to have birthdays and grow old together.”

“You found a gray hair?”

“A couple, yeah.”

Joshua began to examine Colin’s hair, carding the sandy locks through his fingers. “Where? Did you pull them out? I don’t see any gray!”

“Uh, Josh?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re looking in the wrong place.”

“Well, what kind of hair was it?” He pulled Colin’s T-shirt down and began to examine his chest.

“Uhhh, Josh? Guess again.”

“Well for fuck’s sake, WHERE?” Joshua blurted out

Colin arched his brows and tilted his head towards his crotch.

For a long moment they stared into each other’s eyes, then both burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe you!” Joshua choked out between bursts of mirth. “So, you found a gray pube hair, and it hurled you into the valley of darkness?”

“I know! I know!” Colin said, clutching Joshua’s arm as he laughed.

After a moment Joshua got himself under control. He turned to his husband and grabbed both his arms. “Colin Michael Campbell-Abrams, are you going to stop being a complete dick and celebrate your birthday with me like the happy Irish leprechaun you are? Or do I have to kick your Irish ass!”

“You know I HATE leprechauns!”

“I don’t care. I want your promise that you’re going to do cartwheels of happiness all day today because you turned thirty-seven!”

Colin lifted his hand as if taking an oath, forcing his face into a somber expression. “Iffy on the cartwheels, but other than that, I so swear.”

“And do you swear or affirm that you’ll eat cake, blow out candles, sing songs, entertain our mothers, and accept your birthday gifts with all the Irish good humor that resides within you!”

“I so swear—especially about the cake.”

“My god, you’re a twat at times.”

“Hey! You can’t talk to me like that! I’m the birthday boy!”

“I know, my darling,” Joshua whispered, winding both arms around Colin’s neck. He kissed his husband, then kissed him again. “Happy birthday, Colin. And I hope you’re still alive and kicking and being a grump about it when you turn one hundred.”

“Me too!” Colin said. He gave Joshua a quick kiss, then got to his feet. “I’m gonna get dressed. Then we’re going to take me out for a birthday breakfast.”

“And I suppose I have to PAY,” Joshua grumped.

“You’re goddamn right you do,” Colin told him with a grin. “I mean, after all, Josh! It’s my BIRTHDAY!”

 

 

The aftermath of Relevant Law

THE AFTERMATH OF RELEVANT LAW

A couple of reviews have complained because Relevant Law was so long. One of them bitched that the conclusion happened at the 60% mark while another complained that it suffered from a need for paring down.

But for me, the ‘climax’ of Relevant Law doesn’t happen when Colin and the rest of Lenny’s team rescue Joshua from the hands of his kidnapper. It could have ended there, but was that really the end of the story? I’ve known people who suffered the kind of trauma that Colin and Joshua suffered in Relevant Law. I know people who’ve suffered the kind of trauma they suffered in Love’s Trials. And the story does NOT end at the 60% mark. In fact, that’s probably closer to the beginning than the end.

One doesn’t simply walk away from that kind of trauma with a big smile on their kisser. That kind of trauma does DAMAGE. It leaves scars which are not physically visible. It triggers pain from their past that moves forward with them into their future. I follow them down the road AFTER Joshua is rescued so that we can see how these two men handle that aftermath.

Colin handles it at first by trying to control everything around him. He relives the moment when he didn’t know if his beloved husband was dead or alive in everything Joshua says and does. He is stuck in that one moment in time and can’t move forward. He is massively overprotective and reluctant to allow Joshua engage with a world he now believes is threatening to destroy the very foundations of his existence. It takes love, understanding, and a lot of therapy for him to come to terms with the feelings awakened within him on that terrible day. But eventually he does.

Joshua is also traumatized by his experience. Page’s assault triggers memories and pain from the a childhood marred by both physical and emotional abuse. He both longs for Colin’s strength and protection and resents him for demonstrating those same qualities. He blames himself for not standing up to Page, for not fighting back when, in fact, doing so would have surely gotten him killed. And again, with love, understanding, and therapy he begins to find the healing he needs.

So for me the story doesn’t end with the rescue. There is a lot more going on in connection with this experience. My interest moves beyond just the facts of Joshua’s abduction, assault, and rescue. I also care about the aftermath. I care about how these two men react to their experience. I care about how they feel about it and how they react to those feelings. I care about how they express the pain they suffer because of this experience. I care about how they come to understand their pain and find healing from it.

I care about the experience as a whole, not just the dramatic act, but the not-so-dramatic, but even more important, consequences. And I think my readers care too.

Bud – A St. Patrick’s Day story

 

Bud

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.”

Joshua nodded.

“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.”

“Thank you.”

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.”

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

Heart of Gold – A Valentine’s Day Story for Colin and Josh

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?”

Westbrook nodded.

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?”

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?”

“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.

Stereotypical? Could be.

I just read a review of Love’s Trials that rather upset me. I should know better by now than to read reviews, good or bad… but I plunged in and ended up regretting it. The reviewer accused me of writing stereotypes. Colin the rowdy Irish cop. Joshua the quiet Jewish psychologist. And I suppose they’re right. Those character types are stereotypical. I don’t – and wouldn’t – argue the point with anyone who chose to judge them as such.

I’m certainly not required to defend myself; but I’d like to say this (in my own defense). Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. There ARE a lot of Irish cops. Ethnic and cultural characteristics are far from non-existent. Is there an unspoken rule about never writing an Irish cop? Or a Jewish psychologist? I hope not because I plan to keep doing so.

I wrote these guys the way I wrote them because I WANTED to. I like Colin! I like Josh! I wanted to write an Irish cop because it’s a character type that appeals to me. I wanted to write a quiet Jewish man because it’s a character type that appeals to me. And the idea of writing these two character-types in a relationship appealed to me because I saw the potential for friction that created a ton of sparks as they strove to blend their two personality types into a cohesive, loving relationship.

I suppose out of fear of having my characters labeled stereotypical I could have written Colin as a quiet, Irish librarian and Joshua as a boisterous Jewish U.S. Marine. But I wrote the characters I liked! I wrote them the way I did because their story pleased me. Their relationship pleased me. Their way of dealing with their life, their love, and their various problems pleased me.

Yes. When Colin lay dying in a hospital room, Joshua prayed to God to spare Colin and take him instead. Stereotypical? Perhaps. But it is also exactly what Joshua would DO! Colin feeling emasculated because of the debilitating injuries he suffered in Love’s Trials may also be stereotypical, but it is exactly how guys like Colin react to such situations. I know this because I’ve talked to guys like Colin who went through exactly this situation and that’s how they reacted.

I’m sorry that this reviewer didn’t like Love’s Trials. I’m sorry they found the story weak and stereotypical. I’d like everyone to like my books and the characters which inhabit them. But that’s just not going to happen.

So, I guess for me it must go back to the same old thing I’ve had to remind myself of with every book I’ve ever written. I write this stuff for me. I hope others like and enjoy my books. But I don’t write for them. I write the characters I like in the situations that appeal to me. I write them the way they appear to me in my mind. I write them the way I see them. I write them the way I hear them.  And I always will. I write what I love. And if the odd reviewer finds my work stereotypical… I’ll just have to live with their disappointment. There are other writers and other books out there for them to enjoy.

Reviews like that one, so scathing and dismissive, are hurtful. I won’t deny it. But I also see them as grown-promoting and thought-provoking. So, I’ll thank the reviewer for sharing their thoughts and thank my readers for accepting my stereotypical characters and loving them – flaws and all – as much as I do.

Follow me here!

Blog/Website:  https://bit.ly/2ImV9b8

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gayromanceauthor/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janice.jarrell.5076

Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/2MeKhcL

Goodreads: https://bit.ly/2IChQ7a

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Revolut35174972

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jjarrell8576/boards/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC89jsKCw8elwFBMiDgKJHvQ?view_as=subscriber

 

 

About the guys….

Last week I received this very thoughtful request from the wonderful ‘Reed Kay’:

maybe sometime you will talk about how you see these guys. As an author how attached are you to the personalities. Will you ever be able to walk away from them…stuff from your pov compared to the readers attachment to them. They have become like distant relatives to me.

I found this request fascinating because it occurred to me recently that I think about the guys, ALL the Revolutionary Heart/Fearless Heart men, but particularly Colin and Josh, all the time. As I’m watching movies, reading posts on Instagram, watching TV shows, it often occurs to me to wonder what they would think about these experiences… how they would respond.

I felt Colin’s fury when George Floyd was murdered. I feel Joshua’s anguish anytime a police officer is killed or injured. I feel Colin’s frustrated anger when he can’t protect Joshua from a deadly virus. I see Joshua’s tears anytime a song plays which he has heard Colin sing. I see them gaze into each other’s eyes anytime a TV show talks about undying love. They speak to me through every life experience. I hear their voices as I ride the bus, as I read a book… as I write a post or create a video. They are always with me.

Colin and Josh are very distinct personalities who react to life in very different ways. In a story called ‘Colin vs. Corona’, this is how they respond to the news that Nate has become infected with the Corona virus: (Lawyer on My Case, story Colin vs. Coprona’)

Stunned and grief stricken, Joshua stared straight ahead of him feeling his eyes well with tears. He felt Colin surge to his feet and turned just in time to see him snatch up an empty coffee mug and hurl it against their fireplace with explosive force. “Colin!” Joshua rose and grabbed his husband’s arm. “Honey, that won’t help! And you just broke your favorite mug.”

Colin jerked away and strode toward the kitchen. “Josh, leave me alone for a second. Let me…. just – just give me a minute!”

Joshua fell back onto the couch and after a moment of steady, even breathing he grabbed his phone and called the nurse who had been spelling Nate at night twice a week. David was much better, but he was not fully recovered. And if Nate had contracted COVID-19, they were going to need more help, especially at night. He was discussing various options with her when Colin walked back into the living room.

Colin, predictably enough, reacts with anger, while Joshua, after a moment of tearful grief, quietly steadies himself and looks for ways to help.

I see this as being their default dynamic, barring some unforeseen change. Colin will always right himself and he does rejoin Joshua later in this story and is a huge help to their infected friends. But his initial reaction to uncontrollable events will always be frustrated anger, particularly when a loved one’s welfare is involved. Joshua’s initial reaction will always be to turn within while Colin’s is to explode without.

At the core of both these men is a deep desire to be of service. They’ve both survived childhood trauma which defined their lives. They turned the pain of these experiences into a desire to help and heal others who have suffered. And, to me, the shared pain of those childhood experiences and shared goal of wanting to help others who have suffered is one of the most powerful bonds that unites them.

Colin looks at Joshua and sees a gentle, caring man whose tender heart guides him in his healing work. Joshua looks at Colin and sees a valiant warrior who fights to right the wrongs of the world. Even in their very first get-together he compared Colin to Don Quixote. But what they don’t seem to realize – at least not yet – is that they see in each other qualities which live within themselves.

Colin also has a gentle and caring heart. He keeps it well hidden much of the time, but it remains the enduring core of who he is as a man. He became famous on the University of Virginia campus for his compassionate treatment of assault victims. It’s one of the first qualities Joshua fell in love with. (See the ‘Magic Spells’ story: The Healer).

And Joshua is also a courageous warrior. His psychological toolkit may lean more toward quiet intervention than angry outbursts, but his devoted and courageous support of Colin after he was shot demonstrates the warrior’s heart within him. While Colin hovered between life and death, Joshua refused to surrender to his inner agony and directed every ounce of his energy to reviving the man he loved.

I felt compelled to write a story about how they would respond if their best friends became infected with COVID-19 because such a tale would perfectly illustrate the many ways in which these two men are both polar opposites and at the same time deeply intertwined kindred spirits. I could never see Joshua hurling his coffee mug against the wall, but I can see him adoring Colin’s passionate approach to life’s challenges. And though Colin isn’t much given to quiet introspection, he refers to Joshua as ‘my oak’ for a reason. His abiding love for Joshua’s Jewish ancestry has its roots in his worshipful admiration of Joshua’s steadfast inner strength.

Would I ever give them up? Not unless forced to do so.

I occasionally question whether or not writing the same couple over a long stretch of books is the best path for an author. I’ve asked other authors and I particularly value the counsel given me by best-selling author Joe Cosentino when I messaged him with this question:  Joe, tell me something. Is it wrong to want to stick with one pairing and just write them? Honestly? I feel lost and dissatisfied when I’m not writing Colin and Josh. I just love them and don’t feel their story is done yet.

This was Joe’s response: Hi Janice, I think it’s terrific. They’re great characters and great stories, so why not continue them. Look at daytime TV dramas. In some cases they have characters and storylines lasting for decades. It’s great fun to imagine what will happen next for a character you’ve created. I too miss my characters when I’m not writing them. That’s probably why I wrote 11 Nicky and Noah mysteries (2 not published yet), 5 Cozzi Cove novels, 5 Jana Lane mysteries, 3 Bobby and Paolo Holiday Stories, 2 Found At Last stories (not published yet), and 4 Player Piano Mysteries (not published yet). So I think you should keep writing Colin and Josh for as long as the spirit moves. Enjoy!

 

I probably will always include the other Revolutionary Heart/Fearless Heart men in any Colin and Joshua story I write. Those men – those friendships – are an integral part of my universe and Colin and Joshua’s lives. Colin and Joshua had both kept pretty much to themselves before their relationship blossomed. Their need to protect themselves from further pain isolated both men. Neither of them was able to form lasting relationships with other men, and even family and friends were kept at arm’s length. But as their own relationship grew and deepened into love, their individual walls began to crumble opening both their hearts not only to each other, but to the world around them. The love they share was the pebble in the pool whose circles expanded to include their families and their friends.

I can see myself continuing to write Colin and Joshua as their journey continues. Colin must pass the bar and become an Assistant District Attorney. Joshua will complete his schooling to become a Forensic Psychologist. I can see them working cases together at the University of Virginia, solving crimes, unraveling mysteries, helping each other professionally as their love continues to grow.

I can see the two of them remaining deeply connected to their friends as their stories develop. Jeff and Trent have their own story to tell, and it’s never possible to think of Colin and Josh without David and Nate being close at hand. Those friendships are as much a part of them as they are of each other and I believe their six lives will remain intertwined as they all move forward into new futures.

I love Colin and Josh. I love Colin’s fire and energy. I love his courage, his Irish pride and his cocky charisma. And I love his willingness to lay all those qualities aside in deference to the love he feels for the quiet, Jewish psychologist who walks by his side. Colin refused love for most of his adult live. But when he fell, he fell all the way. He would, without thought or hesitation, lay down his life for Joshua. And Joshua returns his feelings with every fiber of his being. Neither of these men gave much credence to the myth of ‘star-crossed lovers’ or ‘soul-mates’  – until they found each other.

I love Joshua’s quiet strength, his studious introversion, his brilliant mind. And I love his willingness to take the step which he knew would lead to a broken heart and move forward into the whirlwind of a relationship with Colin Campbell. I love Joshua’s willingness to silence his love in deference to Colin’s fear of love. I love his willingness to walk away from the love that was his whole world because he knew it was the only way that love could ever be truly his. And I love his ever-present willingness to forgive his hot-headed, impulsive, prideful partner – take him by the hand, and lead him back to the peace of their home and the love they share.

No, I can’t see myself giving them up. Not anytime soon. I can see myself writing other couples in Colin and Joshua’s universe. But I can’t see those stories being as satisfying to me as writing Colin and Josh. Writing them is like coming home. There is a warmth, an abiding intimacy to their story that I just don’t feel with anyone else, no matter how much I might like and enjoy the pairing.

So as long as I have readers willing to walk with Colin and Josh as they continue down the path they’ve chosen for themselves… I will be willing to walk with them, eavesdrop on all their conversations, peep into their bedroom at night, follow them around taking notes as they grow and evolve.

And I hope all of you will walk with us.

Love to all my readers…

Jan

My Amazon, Audible, and Books To Read Pages!

One dream. One wish. One love.

Amazon Author: https://amzn.to/2O6okBw

Audible Author: https://tinyurl.com/jjaudi

Books2Read: https://books2read.com/ap/x2gey6/Janice-Jarrell

❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

I do it for me

Anytime I get to that point where I’m about to place something brand new out there in front of the world, as I just did with Relevant Law, I get nervous. I get imposter syndrome. I get antsy. I begin to feel unworthy. Why should I think that anyone would want to read what I write?

I wrote fan fiction for thirty years before writing and publishing Love’s Magic. I’ve been writing since high school. I’m pushing eighty years old, and I STILL get that feeling.

I was raised in an era where a woman’s only allowable goals in life were to get a man, have his kids, and live to service all of them. And I did that. Nothing was for me. I was a selfless martyr. Nothing I wanted mattered. And I wondered why I wasn’t happy.

So, when I’m about to release a new book, I have to remind myself of the most important fact regarding this worthy endeavor. I do it for me.

I love the feedback. I love reading good reviews. I love having readers who appreciate what I write. I love having the respect of follow authors. But come right down to it, I write because I love writing. I write for me.

And that fact gives me comfort in those pre-publishing moments when I’m struggling to believe in myself and in what I create. It’s the creative process that matters most. And I do that for myself. I hope folks out there enjoy the end result of that process. But my value as an author doesn’t depend on whether or not others approve of my finished work. Because I don’t do it for them. I do it for me.

There are other moments when I have to stop and remind myself why I write these books. And those moments usually revolve around seeing that another author had made the ‘best-seller’ list or has received some kind of award. OK. I admit it. At moments like that I feel a HUGE flood of envy followed almost immediately by a nearly terminal case of ‘imposter syndrome’. Why don’t my books make the best seller list? Why haven’t my books won an award? I must be a terrible writer and my books must be shit!

No. I’m not a terrible writer. And my books aren’t shit. I’m not ashamed to admit that it takes a little while for me to shake off those horrible feelings and dismiss my inclination to remove all my books from Amazon and delete Scrivener from my MAC. I can’t use the success of others as my yardstick. I have to narrow my perspective. I can’t cast my net over the entire planet, or even the entire spectrum of those who write gay romance. I have to narrow it down to just one small point in the whole universe. Me.

Do I like what I wrote? Do I find it worthy? Did I do my best to tell the story with all the skill and love I possess? Did I give it my best shot? Did I give it my all? And if I can answer ‘yes’ to those questions I need to get a grip and remember that I don’t write my books to get on the best seller list. I don’t write them to get an award. I write them because those stories are inside me, dying to get out and I’m the only one who can release them onto an unsuspecting world.

Everyone doesn’t have to like them and not everyone will. But I can’t care about and I’d go insane if I tried. I have to do it for me. And when I stop doing it for me… I need to stop doing it at all.

A St. Patrick’s Day Surprise for Colin

St. Patrick’s Day was only four days away and Joshua was scrabbling to come up with an idea that would make the day extra special for his uber-Irish husband. He’d already bought him a card and a beautiful Celtic Knot T-shirt. But Colin already had a closet full of Irish T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies so all this would do is add to the collection.

“It needs to be something special,” Joshua muttered. “Something unusual. Something just for him that no one else has ever come up with.” Google searches provided no real help. Most of the suggestions he found there focused on St. Patrick’s Day treats for children. And while Joshua would be the first to admit that his husband could throw inhibition to the wind and embrace his inner child at the drop of a hat, the suggestions still weren’t a good fit.

“Nate, help me think of a way to surprise Colin on St. Patrick’s Day,” he implored the next day at lunch. “I’m drawing a blank.”

“Well,” Nate mused aloud, “I’m not all that well versed on St. Patrick’s Day rituals, but I know there are some! What goes with that goofy holiday?”

“Don’t let him hear you call it ‘goofy’,” Joshua replied laughing. “Well, shamrocks, I guess. Leprechauns.”

“Oh god, don’t go there!” Nate urged, laughing. “You know he hates them!” He wrinkled his nose in thought. “What about the color green?”

“Green,” Joshua repeated. “God, yes. It’s his favorite color that Irish-green.”

“Paint your house green,” Nate suggested, grinning. “Or better yet, paint yourself green!”

“With edible paint?” Joshua replied, chuckling.

“And let him lick it off?” Nate inquired, then bent over laughing. “Oh, man, that is one amazing image. You, painted green and totally naked, and Colin lapping it off like it’s ice cream.” Nate snapped his fingers. “Better yet, cover yourself in mint ice cream!! Wow! Both Irish and hot!”

“Tempting though that thought might be, it would also be pretty damned cold.” He cocked an eye at Nate. “But the whole idea of green food would appeal to the Irish in him and the food lover as well.”

“Throw some green food coloring into his oatmeal,” Nate offered with a wink.

“I think I can get more inventive than that,” Joshua replied. “But I don’t have much time and I have a bit of research to do.”

Within days Joshua had his St Patrick’s Day menu completed. Breakfast would consist of healthy matcha green tea pancakes covered in whipped cream and strawberries and served with a sweet green-apple juice. Lunch would be a glorious green sandwich filled with green hummus, avocado, sliced cucumber, and goat cheese served up with a green Bloody Mary. Dinner would, of course, be corned beef and cabbage but Joshua would include as many green elements as possible, including a luscious green dessert made with Oreo cookies and mint pudding, topped off by a tall, green Murphy’s Irish stout. Green candy and cookies would be spread all over the house.

He studied his ingredients with satisfaction, but something still wasn’t right. He needed something more. He’d done green food for Colin every St. Patrick’s Day they’d spent together. Gotten him green cookies and candy and created the green beer. None of this was new. He’d done all of it before, though perhaps not to this extent. “Dammit, I need to think of something different.”

It was the day before St. Patrick’s Day and he still hadn’t come up with a brand-new idea. Desperate, he searched the web for hours, and at long last found the concept he’d been looking for.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Colin sat at their dining room table, munching on his green tea pancakes, praising Joshua to the skies. “So good, Josh!” he mumbled around a mouthful of pancake and whipped cream.

Joshua grinned at him, then rose. “I have something else to give you this morning,” he said, moving into the dining room. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Colin heard him open and close the hall closet and detected the rustle of paper. He leaned back in his chair, craning his neck, trying to see Joshua from his seat in the dining room, then watched as he entered with something held behind his back.

“I made this for you,” Joshua said. From behind him, he drew out a large, green piece of poster board. Joshua turned it to face him, and Colin could see that it was cut in the shape of a Shamrock, with all three leaves folded inward.

“What is…,” Colin began, but Joshua raised his hand to stop him.

“Unfold the leaves one at a time,” he instructed, stepping close enough for Colin to touch the poster.

Colin unfolded the first leaf. In the center of the shamrock Joshua had written: “I’m lucky because…” and on the first leaf Joshua had scrawled the words: “…I have you.”

Colin smiled up at him. “Baby, that’s so sweet! Thank you. I’m lucky for the same reason.”

“Because you have you?” Joshua teased with a grin. “Unfold the next leaf.”

Colin reached to unfold the next leaf which read: “… you’re healthy and strong.” He smiled up at Joshua. “I wish this damned thing had more leaves!”

Joshua laughed. “Me too. It was hard sticking to only three reasons.” He nodded toward the last leaf and Colin reached to unfold it.

It read: “… my husband is the most wonderful man alive.”

Colin gazed at the now unfolded shamrock and nodded. “I want to hang that in the bedroom,” he said, then quickly glanced up at Joshua. “You’re still fixing corned beef and cabbage, aren’t you?”

Joshua laughed. “Of course, I am!”

“Good! I thought maybe this was my only St. Patrick’s Day gift.” He winked at Joshua and rose and took the shamrock from Joshua’s hands, placing it on their coffee table.

“The bedroom?” Joshua asked with a grin. “Won’t go with our decor.”

Colin strode to where he stood and wrapped both arms around his waist. “OK, then. I’ll hang it in my workout room. I can look at it when I’m doing reps and be inspired by your love.” He kissed Joshua tenderly, then rocked him in his arms. “I’d need a million leaves to tell you all the reasons I’m lucky to have you, Josh.” He leaned back and gazed into Joshua’s chocolate-brown eyes. “Thank you, baby. That’s the best St. Patrick’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten.” He kissed Joshua again, then looked around. “OK. Where’s the cookies and green candy?”

Joshua laughed and turned away from their embrace, moving once again toward the hall closet. “Comin’ up!”