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 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 and it 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 sees as 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.

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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

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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!”

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve


They were approaching a New Year’s Eve unlike any other. Parties were out of the question, as was the chance to join their friends at McCafferty’s for a repeat of last year’s joyous New Year’s Eve celebration.

This was the year of COVID-19 and get togethers of any kind were something Colin would not even discuss, let alone consider. “We’re not sticking our noses outside that door for anything that’s not absolutely necessary,” he told Joshua as he sat at their kitchen table munching toast. “We can Zoom David and Nate at some point just to see how they’re doing. But you and I are staying home!”

Joshua nodded but didn’t respond. He stood staring out the kitchen window that led to their small backyard, both hands resting on the sink.

“You don’t want to go out do you, Josh?”

“Good god, no,” Joshua said, turning to face his husband. “It’s blind luck that we haven’t caught this horrible bug already. And this close to a vaccine… there’s no way I’m taking any chances.” His head dropped and for a moment he stared silently at the floor. “But it’s sad.”

“Well…,” Colin drawled out. “I tend to agree but…,” He paused and grinned at Joshua, flashing his deep dimples. “I promise to make your New Year’s Eve uhhhh…,” he smirked and arched an eyebrow, “… memorable.”

“This whole year has been memorable.”

“But not memorable for the right reasons,” Colin grumbled. “And not nearly as memorable as I plan to make your New Year’s Eve.”

Joshua lifted his head and smiled. “Of that I have absolutely no doubt.” He stepped to the table and sat down next to Colin. “And I’m totally happy to spend New Year’s Eve with you, just the two of us together. In fact, I prefer it. But I know you like celebrating with our friends.”

“I’m happy celebrating with you,” Colin said. He leaned toward Joshua and reached to take his hand. “But this has been a shit year,” he said. “I’ll be glad to see it end. And you’re right. Given our work with the public, plus David and Nate catching this goddamn thing, we’re lucky we got through it unscathed.”

“What was your best moment this year?”

Colin paused, considering, then scowled. “Not many come to mind,” he muttered. “We’ve spent so much time sitting in front of the TV that my eyes have started to glaze over.” He shot a glance at Joshua. “It’s all merged into one long, unending stream.” He scowled down at their joined hands. “Supernatural has started to melt into NCIS until I can’t tell the difference between Dean Winchester and Special Agent Gibbs.” He sighed and shifted in his chair. “We aren’t getting out all that much, and when we are, we’re usually running errands for David and Nate or dashing to the store at five in the morning to beat the mask-less assholes to the last roll of toilet paper.”

Joshua’s lips curved in a hint of a smile. “Now you know damned well that people are masking up a lot more these days. And we’ve got enough toilet paper in the pantry to last ‘til the next pandemic. How much did you think we’d need anyway? You must have bought out every store in Charlottesville.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but the whole world knows that I’m full of shit!”

“Stop it.”

“Do you have a favorite moment from this past year?”

“I do.”

“Well for god’s sake don’t keep it to yourself!”

Joshua raised their joined hands to his lips and pressed a kiss to Colin’s knuckles. “We’re standing in David and Nate’s front yard,” he began. “Davy is standing in the bedroom window in his bathrobe with Nate beside him.” His eyes shifted to meet Colin’s, smiling in loving homage. “And you, my yedid, are standing in the snowy grass below with both hands jammed into your jacket pockets, singing ‘Fields of Athenry’ to them in the most beautiful voice I have ever heard.”

Colin ducked his head and flushed. “C’mon, Josh.”

“You asked for my favorite moment and I gave it to you.”

“Well, thanks, babe. I appreciate it.”

“What’s more important is that David appreciated it. I’d bet it’s his favorite moment of the year too.”

Colin shrugged, brushing off the compliment.

“C’mon,” Joshua encouraged. “You can’t think of one good moment from this year? Not even getting your law degree?”

“Graduating in an online Zoom ceremony while sitting in our living room sort of sucked the ‘special’ out of it.”

“Not for me! Colin Michael Campbell: Juris Doctorate.”

“Campbell-Abrams,” Colin corrected. “Fat lot of good it’s done me. Can’t even take the bar exam ‘til all this COVID shit is over.”

“Gives you more time to study.”

“Humph,” Colin grunted. “Lucky me.”

“C’mon, baby,” Joshua begged, leaning toward him. “There has to be one moment this year that made you happy.”

“Josh, there were a lot of moments this year that made me happy. Being with you here in our home always makes me happy. Being healthy enough to help our friends through COVID made me happy.”

He slumped in his chair and stared down at the table. “I don’t mean to sound all whiney, bud. You’re right. We’ve been incredibly lucky this year. But damn!! I wanted to dance with you on New Year’s Eve. I wanted to dress up in our fancy duds and drink champagne and kiss you at midnight and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’.” He lifted his head, his face screwed into a self-deprecating grimace. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. It’s wonderful that you want that. I want it too.” He tightened his hold on Colin’s hand. “But Irish, we have a lifetime of New Year’s Eves ahead of us.”

Colin said nothing. His head dropped and he gazed at Joshua through lowered lashes.

“Let’s make it a great New Year’s Eve,” Joshua begged. He leaned toward Colin and batted his eyes. “I’ll get some Sufganiyot,” he promised, in a lilting voice.

“Offering the baby a cookie so he’ll stop pouting?” Colin asked.

“Offering my husband a treat so he’ll cheer up,” Joshua corrected.

“I’m not sure there are that many jellied doughnuts in all of Charlottesville.”

“We’ll see.”

On New Year’s Eve Joshua cooked Colin’s favorite Jewish dish, Cous-Cous Royale, and topped it off with plenty of the deep-fried Sufganiyot Colin loved. Colin responded with compliments and a show of good cheer, but Joshua could tell he was still brooding over his lost hopes for their New Year’s Eve celebration.

They spent that evening watching TV in their underwear. Joshua tucked a warm blanket around them and snuggled against Colin’s side, laughing every time Colin stretched out his hand to pluck yet another jellied doughnut from the nearby platter. “You keep this up and you’ll have to start the new year with a diet!” But at a quarter after eleven, he rose and ambled toward the stairs. “Be right back.”

Colin nodded, his attention riveted to the TV screen, but when twenty minutes passed and Joshua hadn’t reappeared, he strode to the bottom of the steps and called: “Josh, getting close to midnight! What’re you doing?”

“Hang on,” Joshua called down, then seconds later he appeared at the top of the stairs. He was wearing the dark suit he wore on their wedding day. In his hands he carried what looked like a champagne bottle, and Colin’s black wedding-day suit. He descended the stairs and shoved the clothing into Colin’s hands “Get dressed,” he instructed, “while I start the music and put this on ice.”

Colin laughed. “Do I have to wear the tie?”

“No. Just the suit. You can put it on over your T-shirt if you like.”

Colin laughed again and slid his arms into a white dress shirt. “Nope. I’ll forgo the tie. I might even forgo the socks and shoes. But I’ll put on the shirt and suit.” He buttoned the shirt and drew on the suit pants and jacket. Then, as he tucked the shirt in, he watched Joshua heap ice around the champagne bucket and grab two glasses. “Think you’re pretty clever don’t you?” Colin accused, grinning.

Joshua turned to face him and pulled his cellphone from his pocket. “Clever enough to have created a Spotify playlist of our favorite songs.” He propped the phone on their mantle and as the first soft notes of ‘We Can Last Forever’ floated out over the room he held out his arms to his husband. “Care to dance, hot stuff?”

Colin took a step forward and wrapped Joshua in his arms. They danced with a slow, swaying motion, at times scarcely moving, at others spinning in dizzying circles as Colin twirled them around the room. Joshua’s eyes lifted and met his husband’s and he saw Colin smile, his emerald-green eyes glowing with a warmth and love that nearly took Joshua’s breath. His fingers slid into Colin’s sandy hair and clenched there as Colin bent and kissed him, molding their mouths together in a deep, sensual merging that Joshua wished could last forever.

Moments before midnight, Colin lifted Joshua’s chin and kissed him again. “Thank you, my love, my life,” he whispered. “You’ve made this New Year’s Eve more special than I would have believed possible.”

Joshua’s phone suddenly chimed out the ringtone that signaled that the new year had arrived, and Colin once again took his husband in his arms and as they danced, he crooned in his ear:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

 

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

 

As always, his voice was rich and filled with the emotion of the moment and Joshua felt his eyes burn with tears of love and gratitude. “Thank you,” he whispered against Colin’s ear. They stood for a moment after the song ended, staring into each other’s eyes, then Colin bent and kissed him again.

“Are you kidding? You’re the one provided the perfect New Year’s Eve even after I was a whiney little bitch about it!”

“Champagne?” Joshua offered, his fingers moving to caress Colin’s cheek.

“Love it,” Colin replied, leading Joshua to where the sparkling wine was waiting. Joshua filled their glasses, then Colin lifted his in salute. “To you, my sweet Jewish boy. And to every New Year’s Eve we’ll share for the rest of our lives.”

Joshua lifted his glass and touched it to Colin’s. “To us, my love. And to every adventure that awaits us in the year ahead.”

After they had sipped, Colin took Joshua’s glass and sat it alongside his on their liquor cabinet. “C’mon,” he murmured, his strong arm wrapped once more around Joshua’s waist. “I’m not done dancing. And then I do believe I promised you a memorable New Year’s Eve.” He tightened his arm and pressed Joshua’s body hard against his own. “And that’s one New Year’s resolution I have every intention of keeping.”

“Happy New Year, my beautiful magic man,” Joshua whispered. “Ani Ohev Otcha.”

“Happy New Year, my beautiful Jewish love,” Colin whispered in return. “Ta`mo chori istigh ionat.”

Halloween – Between the Sheets! A Colin and Josh Halloween story!

Joshua clutched Colin’s shoulders in an iron grip. “Colin! Oh fuck! God!” He desperately gulped down air as his orgasm repeatedly ripped through him, jolting every nerve ending, and sending electric thrills of heart-pounding bliss throughout his body.

“Josh,” Colin moaned, shuddering in a mindless ecstasy that matched Joshua’s in its intensity. “Oh, God, baby, so good. So perfect.”

For a long time they lay together, gasping for breath, feeling each other slowly relaxing, molded against each other’s hot, sweaty body.

“Jesus, Colin,” Joshua murmured finally, “that was fucking incredible! You been practicing or something?”

Colin chuckled, burying his face against the damp skin of Joshua’s throat. “All I do is get in bed with you and let nature take its course.”

Joshua gave a low moan as Colin’s now-flaccid cock slid slowly out of his body, and then he wriggled a bit to ease the pressure of Colin’s weight.

“Am I too heavy, babe? I’ll move.”

“No. Not yet.” He tightened his arms around Colin’s neck, holding him close, shutting his eyes to better savor the warm, comforting weight of Colin’s body. He smiled and slid his fingers through Colin’s unruly curls, wriggling again. “I like how you feel, but, OK. Now you can move. I need to cool off.”

Colin slid slowly off Joshua’s body and half turned to reach toward the bedside table. When he turned back to Joshua, he had a towel in one hand. “Clean up, sir?” he asked with a grin.

“Love it!” Joshua replied, laughing as Colin dabbed at his naked body with the towel, eagerly blotting up all traces of semen and sweat. “What’s this? I don’t usually get this kind of service.” The towel was soft, and Colin slid it, tenderly, over his body, then used the other end to wipe at himself before tossing it to the floor.

“Now,” he said, grinning down at Joshua. “It’s time for a Halloween treat.

Josh stretched languorously. “A Halloween treat? What kind?”

“Next year we should dress up,” Colin said, bending over him.

“As what?” Josh asked. “A cop and his prisoner?”

“No,” Colin said, shaking his head. “Though, I do have some ideas about that.” He placed something on Joshua’s chest.

“What’s that?” Josh asked, lifting his head to peer down. “What did you put on me?” Then, spotting the small item, he burst into laughter. “Oh my god, Colin!” A piece of candy corn was resting close to his nipple. “Please tell me you didn’t steal that from Sarah and Deborah’s Halloween bags!”

“I’ll have you know,” Colin said, faking an offended tone, “that I did not steal Halloween candy from David’s daughters. I bought this candy corn myself especially for this occasion.” He bent and ate the candy from Josh’s chest, his wet tongue gliding across Joshua’s nipple many more times than was necessary to accomplish his task.” Mmmmm,” he sighed. “So good! This is just heaven.”

“You,” Joshua observed sadly, “are totally bat-shit crazy. Do you know that?”

“Really?” Colin said, laying a piece of candy a bit lower on Josh’s chest. “You think so?” He bent and licked the treat from Joshua’s smooth, olive skin.

Josh shivered a bit as Colin’s tongue caressed his chest. “Well,” he admitted finally, “I have to admit, this feels pretty damned good.” He sighed, closing his eyes, then abruptly opened them again. “Hey, what ‘thoughts’ did you have about Halloween costumes?”

Another piece of candy corn landed on Josh’s body. This time the sweet treat fell right next to his navel.

“Mmmm,” Colin hummed appreciatively. “Now that’s a beautiful sight.” He bent and licked the candy into his mouth. Then, unable to resist, he swirled his tongue around Joshua’s navel.

“Mmmm, yourself,” Josh moaned in response, feeling his dick begin to respond to the moist caress of Colin’s lips and tongue. “Costumes, Colin?” he said finally. “Your thoughts on costumes? And if you put one of those on my dick I’ll…” his voice trailed away leaving his threat unfinished.

Colin grinned, nuzzling Joshua’s smooth belly. “You’ll what!” he demanded.

“Just the visual, Colin,” Joshua said, choked with laughter. “C’mon, Irish! The visual!”

Colin pressed his face to Josh’s naked belly, his whole body shaking with laughter. “Mean!” he said finally, recovering a bit. “That’s just mean, Joshua.”

“Costumes, Colin,” Josh reminded him.

“Well,” Colin said, placing another piece of candy corn on the crease where Josh’s leg met his body. “What I visualize is this.” He lifted his hand and moved it across thin air as if setting a stage. “YOU,” he said dramatically, “dressed as a slave boy.”

Joshua choked with laughter.”

“A red leather thong firmly in place,” Colin continued, staring into space as he described his vision. “The straps of leather attached to the thong are wrapped – seductively wrapped mind you – ” he added, “around your thighs.”

Joshua screamed with laughter as Colin lowered his head and licked up the candy leaving a wet trail on Joshua’s thigh.

Then he lifted his head and continued: “A matching red leather harness is twined around your chest, extremely hot, and yet…” he inhaled and paused for effect “tasteful. It displays your pectoral muscles and nipples in a daring peek-a-boo manner, guaranteed – guaranteed mind you – ” he said soberly, waving a forefinger in front of Josh’s face for emphasis… “to make a grown man – who would be me – ” he added in a stage-whisper, pointing to himself, “positively weep with joy.”

Joshua gasped for breath, still shaking with laughter.

“And,” Colin continued, seemingly unaffected by Josh’s shrieks of mirth, “around your neck is a gold collar to which is attached…” he paused for emphasis. “…a red leash.”

“You don’t say!” Joshua choked, still laughing.

“I do say,” Colin continued. “And I’ll bet you can’t imagine who is holding that leash!” He paused and peered down at Joshua, eyebrows raised questioningly. “Care to venture a guess?”

“Would that be…” Josh paused and rolled his eyes, as if thinking the question over, “… YOU, perhaps?”

“Me, indeed!” Colin replied. “And may I say you are VERY intelligent for a slave boy.”

“And how are you dressed, Colin?” Joshua asked him, grinning from ear to ear. “Or should I refer to you as master?”

“Not until you’re wearing the costume,” Colin informed him. “Me? How am I dressed?”

“I can’t wait,” Joshua said, chuckling.

“Well,” Colin said conversationally, leaning on his arm as he stretched out next to Joshua, “as you might expect, I’m dressed entirely in black leather.”

“Looking ever so hot!” Joshua added.

Colin laughed. “But of course!” he said, laying another candy corn on Joshua’s belly. “You know I always look hot in leather.” He dipped his head to lick the candy corn from Joshua’s body.

Joshua wrapped an arm around Colin’s neck and tugged him closer until their bodies were once again molded together. “It’s one of the very first things I noticed about you,” he murmured seductively. “That you look hot as fuck in leather.” He captured Colin’s lips in a long, lingering kiss.

Colin returned his kiss, snuggling closer. “Mmmm…” he moaned. “This is heaven.”

“I thought you said eating candy corn off my body was heaven,” Joshua reminded him, still grinning.

“Anything that has to do with your naked body is heaven,” Colin replied.

“You got any more of that candy corn?” Joshua asked, trying to peer over Colin’s shoulder toward the bedside table. “You’ve been hogging it. And what’s in that huge bag you brought in with you tonight? You shoved it into the fridge before I had a chance to peek at it.”

Colin turned and plunged his hand into a small, brown bag that sat on the nearby table. It immediately emerged filled with candy corn. “Here you go,” he said, pouring half the candy into Joshua’s hand and then popping a few into his mouth. “Far as the bag goes it’s got more candy, a quart of cider that’s just dying to be heated up in the microwave, a pumpkin pie with whipped cream for the top, aaaannnd,” he drawled, “… a DVD!”

“What’s the DVD?”

“BWAAA HAAA HAAA!” Colin fake-laughed “I stopped and borrowed it from Jeff! It’s The Thiiiiiiing!”

“Brilliant!” Joshua exclaimed. “You are the perfect Halloween date!”

“Then later, maybe, we’ll have hot cider and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.”

“And when we do,” Joshua said, nuzzling Colin’s cheek, “I’ll have something interesting to lick off your body!”

Colin snickered. “I’m willing to bet that I’d be totally …” he inhaled deeply and waggled his eyebrows in a wickedly suggestive manner, “up for that activity.”

“I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised,” Joshua said, grinning. “And hey,” he added in a softer voice, “Happy Halloween, baby. And thanks. You always make me feel so special.”

“That’s because you are special.” He returned Joshua’s kiss and smiled. And besides, I love you, my little Jewish slave boy. Now let’s go watch The THING!’

Joshua grabbed the candy bag and, cackling like a couple of witches hovering over a boiling caldron, they dashed downstairs to the living room where pie, whipped cream and ‘The Thing’ waited.

 

A Colin and Josh Halloween story!

“Trick or treat!” Sarah Gardener called, knocking on the door in front of her. Behind her, her older sister, Deborah, hung back at her father’s side.

“Go on, Deb,” David encouraged. “Go get some candy.”

“Daddy, that’s kid stuff,” the fourteen-year-old told him.

“Kid stuff!” Colin blurted, in fake shock. “Do I look like a kid to you?”

Deborah Gardener turned to him and giggled. “You look silly, Uncle Colin.”

Behind her Joshua snickered, but Colin squatted down beside her. He was dressed in a Kelly-green jacket with long tails. A bow tie and high-top hat of the same color completed his costume. In his hand was a trick or treat container in the shape of a pumpkin. “Hey,” he said, taking the Deborah’s hand. “I’m going after some candy! Don’t you like candy?”

“I love candy,” Deborah said, still giggling. “But trick or treat is for kids isn’t it?”

Colin drew himself to his full height. “Deb, am I a kid?” He held out his hand. “C’mon. Keep me company. Let’s see if we can get more candy than Uncle Josh.” He bent to her and whispered: “He thinks his crappy costume is better than mine! Let’s show him!”

Sarah turned from the door, her trick or treat bag in her hand, and pointed at him, giggling. “You said a swear, Uncle Colin!”

“Shhhhh!” Colin said, waving his hands. “Don’t tell! Your dad will yell at me!” He took Deborah’s hand and they moved toward the door. “Josh, c’mon!” he yelled over his shoulder.

Laughing, David turned to Joshua. “Well get up there! The integrity of your costume has been called into question.”

Joshua sighed heavily and looked down at himself. He was dressed as Superman, complete with red cape and tights. “WHAT integrity!” he asked David. “He stuck me into this ridiculous costume so he could laugh at me, and he hasn’t stopped laughing since I put the damned thing on!”

Nate snickered and offered Joshua a bite of chocolate. “Have some chocolate. You’ll feel better.”

Joshua ate the chocolate then grimaced at Nate. “I do NOT feel better.” He heaved a huge sigh and moaned: “WHY did I let him talk me into this?”

“Because you love him?” Nate suggested. “And because he can talk you into anything!”

“Not anything!” Joshua protested.

“Probably not your most effective argument while you’re standing on a public sidewalk dressed in red and blue spandex,” Nate said, choking with laughter.

Meanwhile Colin and Deborah had knocked at the door. “Trick or Treat! Leprechaun come callin’!” Colin called in a faked Irish brogue which caused Deborah to giggle uncontrollably. “Open the door if you want to have good luck!” The door opened and Colin bowed low from the waist. “Greetings, Madam,” he said using the same exaggerated Irish accent, then leaned toward the smiling and very attractive young lady. “This young lass and I have come in search of candy! Have you any to spare?” He grinned his engaging grin and held out his pumpkin. Deborah continued to giggle but when Colin nudged her, she extended her trick or treat bag as well.

The woman laughed and dumped a large handful of miniature chocolate bars into each of their containers before arching an eyebrow at Colin. “I’ve never seen a Leprechaun trick or treating before,” she said, her tone clearly flirtatious.

Behind them Joshua rolled his eyes. “Oh, here we go!” While David and Nate doubled over with laughter.

Colin took the woman’s hand and kissed it. “Aye, me dear. I am a Leprechaun. Lost me pot of gold and come searching for candy with the help of this fine Irish lass. We thank you for helping us on our quest.”

“Where’s my good luck?” She asked with a coy smile.

“I’ll bring it back for ye’ later,” he murmured, then waggled an eyebrow and bowed low again, before taking Deborah’s hand and leading her back to where the rest waited.

“No fair, Daddy,” Sarah pouted, examining Deborah’s recent haul. “Debbie got more chocolate bars than I did.”

“I suspect it’s the company she keeps,” Joshua muttered, then elbowed Colin. “Knock off the damned flirting!”

Colin shook with laughter and kissed his cheek before quickly dumping most of his chocolate bars into Sarah’s container. “There you go, Lassie,” he said, bending to kiss the top of her head.

Sarah giggled. “You’re funny Uncle Colin.”

Colin handed his pumpkin to Joshua, then took each of the girls by the hand and began skipping down the sidewalk, singing as they went.

La ta tee, da diddley dee, la ta tee ta tee da

La ta tee, da diddley diddley dai

La ta tee, da diddley dee, la ta tee ta tee da

La ta tee, da diddley diddley dai

There’s a leprechaun in my room.

He swats me with a broom.

That’s the reason I forget the words of this song.

Oh, he shows me a four-leaf clover,

and before me song is over,

He’s buried it in a bowl of Lucky Charms.

The other three men strolled behind them, shaking their heads and laughing. “I never thought I’d see the day he’d actually admit to being a Leprechaun,” Joshua chuckled. “He hates them!”

“He’s doing it for the girls,” David said, nodding toward Colin who was teaching the girls the lyrics to his Leprechaun song. “He’s great with them.”

“Why wouldn’t he be?” Joshua laughed. “He’s a kid himself!” He gazed ahead at his husband. “He has the ability to blow off inhibitions and throw himself into the moment with all the innocence and joy of a child.” He smiled and shook his head in wonder. “God, I love that about him.”

A few steps ahead of them, Colin crouched before David’s daughters. “Now when we go to this next house, what are we gonna’ do?”

“Sing: La ta tee, da diddley diddley dai!” they both crowed.

“Perfect!” Colin said, then took their hands and walked with them to the door.

“C’mon, Uncle Josh!” Sarah called, waving him forward. “Bring your pumpkin!”

Nate snickered and gave Joshua a gentle shove. “Yer’ on, Caped Crusader!”

“Oh, good lord above,” Joshua moaned, moving toward Colin and the girls with a slow, plodding step while behind him David and Nate grinned at his discomfort.

“C’mon, babe!” Colin encouraged. He reached to grab Joshua’s arm and pulled him close. “Now when the door opens… you know what to sing don’t you?” Colin asked, his green eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter.

Joshua glanced at him through narrowed lids and a furrowed brow. “Do not make me do this.”

Colin’s hand fell onto his shoulder and he doubled over with laughter. He tried to respond but was laughing so hard that he couldn’t form words.

Joshua rolled his eyes and sighed and just as he did… the door opened.

“La ta tee, da diddley diddley dai!” Deborah, Sarah, and Colin sang. Then Colin did a dance step that could only have been an Irish jig and gestured toward Sarah and Deborah with a flourish.

Joshua couldn’t help but laugh as the girls did their best to imitate Colin’s jig, then held out their trick or treat bags to receive their candy.

“Doesn’t Superman want some candy?” the woman at the door asked.

“Sure he does!” Colin said, reaching back to grab Joshua’s arm. “He’s just shy,” he whispered to the woman as he dragged Joshua forward. “We found him hiding in a phone booth and convinced him to come along with us.” He nudged Joshua’s arm and nodded toward the woman who was holding out a handful of candy and laughing at Colin’s antics.

Joshua accepted the candy then bowed. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“Strange company you’re keeping,” she said with a grin.

“Ma’am you have NO idea,” Joshua muttered, then turned back to Colin and the girls. “Can’t I please just stay hang back with Nate and David?”

“You don’t want to trick or treat with me?” Colin asked, his hand on Joshua’s arm.

Something in his tone caught Joshua’s attention. This whole evening had been a lark. A frolic to entertain David’s two daughters and give Colin a chance to do what he did best… enjoy himself. But his question to Joshua held a surprising note of appeal.

I hurt his feeling. Joshua thought. I have to fix this.

The girls were tugging on Colin’s arms, but he stood, unmoving, staring into Joshua’s eyes, his hand still grasping Joshua’s spandex covered arm. For the first time that evening, his eyes were shadowed. Joshua smiled and reached to caress his cheek. “Of course, I want to go trick or treating with you,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss a chance to share Halloween with my very favorite Leprechaun, would I?”

Colin smiled. “Come on then,” he said, taking Joshua’s hand in his. “OK, girls,” he told him pointing to the next house, “I’ll bring Uncle Josh, you two just remember to sing our song when they come to the door.”

The girls scampered ahead and as soon as the door opened, sang Colin’s song and gave a fairly good impression of his Irish jig. Laughing, the man at the door filled their bags then glanced back at Colin and Joshua who were standing behind the girls, hand in hand. “Superman with a Leprechaun?” he asked, holding a handful of candy out to them.

“Well, sir,” Joshua said, stepping forward. “This Leprechaun here was encouraging these young ladies to play pranks on the other children, which as you know is not in keeping with truth, justice and the Halloween way.” He accepted the candy and tilted his head toward Colin. “So, I’m forced to follow him around tonight… to make sure he behaves himself.”

“Little does he know,” Colin said from behind him, waving his pumpkin, “that I hid a handful of kryptonite in his pumpkin!”

“Oh no!” Joshua cried, holding his pumpkin at arm’s length while the man laughed. “Not kryptonite!”

Colin waved his pumpkin and gave an evil, wicked laugh. “Beware Superman! You WILL be at my mercy!”

“We’ll protect you, Uncle Josh,” Sarah said, then shook her finger at Colin. “No fair using kryptonite!”

“Awwwww,” Colin complained. “You guys are no fun. I wanted to sap Superman’s strength.”

“One more house, girls,” David called, waving them forward.

Joshua sidled up to Colin and nudged his arm. “I’ll be at your mercy, huh?”

Colin waggled his eyebrows and snickered. “Completely at my mercy.”

“You don’t need kryptonite for that,” Joshua said, poking Colin’s ribs and leaning against him.

“Now, now,” David admonished, chuckling. “None of that in front of the girls.”

Nate had trailed David’s daughters to the final house and was making a valiant attempt to sing Colin’s song and do his Irish jig.

Colin laughed. “Well done, Nate!” He nudged David’s arm. “Has your husband got a touch of Irish blood?”

David shook his head, smiling. “What my husband has is a burning desire to be loved by his step-daughters.”

“Doesn’t look to me like he has any problems in that area,” Colin replied, watching as Sarah and Deborah both laughed and hugged Nate, praising his singing.

“He’s a great step-dad to them,” David said, watching as Nate ushered the girls back to where everyone waited.

“Is that all?” Colin said, a note of sadness in his voice. “We’re all done?”

“Colin, we probably went to thirty houses,” David said. “They have enough candy to keep them wired for a week.”

“Besides,” Nate added, “we have to check it before they can eat any of it.”

“Check it?” Joshua asked.

“Good idea,” Colin said. He dumped most of the candy in his pumpkin and Joshua’s into Deborah and Sarah’s candy bags. “Make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.”

The four men and the girls wandered through the neighborhood and back to David’s home where Nate took the girls to the kitchen table to go through their candy. “How much can they have tonight, David?” he called.

“Just a couple of candy bars,” David said from where he reclined on the living room couch. “Then off to bed.”

Colin went to the kitchen to hug the girls and say goodnight while Joshua donned his jacket and fished his car keys from the pocket. “Thanks for asking us, David. He had a great time.”

“And you?” David asked, rising to them to the door.

“I never went trick or treating as a kid,” Joshua said, looking past David to where Colin stood, joking and teasing Nate and the two girls, threatening to steal choice candy bars. “I don’t know how to unwind and enjoy the moment the way he does.”

“Never went trick or treating?” David asked, frowning.

“The old man wouldn’t let us.”

David shook his head as Colin moved to Joshua’s side and patted David’s shoulder. “Thanks, buddy! I had a blast.”

“La ta tee, da diddley diddley dai!” Joshua sang, then grinned at Colin. “So did I. Thanks for asking us, Davy.”

Colin took Joshua’s hand as they walked to the car. “You learned my song!”

Joshua grinned at him. “Well it’s not like I’d never heard it before. I get it from the shower nearly every morning.”

“I know you were embarrassed in that Superman getup,” Colin said as they climbed into Joshua’s car. “Was I mean to insist?”

“No,” Joshua told him. “It was good for me. The whole evening was good for me.”

When they arrived at home Colin threw his Kelly-green hat to a chair before yanking off the bow tie and removing the Leprechaun coat. “OK,” he said, dusting his hands together. “My time as a Leprechaun is officially over.”

“’Til next Halloween,” Joshua added.

“Yeah. ‘Til next Halloween, when I’ll don it again.”

“I thought we were going to do ‘Slave boy and Master’ next Halloween,” Joshua said with a grin.

“In front of David’s daughters?” Colin asked in fake horror. He walked to where Joshua stood and rested both wrists on Joshua’s shoulders. “Look, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you tonight.”

“You did not embarrass me,” Joshua said. He slid his hands up Colin’s chest then cupped Colin’s face between his palms. “Listen to me,” he said, his voice intense with feeling. “I would give anything to be like you. To be able to throw myself into the fun of the moment without worrying about how I look or what people think of me or any of that neurotic bullshit.”

“You’re not neurotic.”

“It’s hard for me to be that way, Colin,” Joshua continued. “And I’m always…,” he hesitated and glanced at Colin somewhat sheepishly. “I’m always afraid I’ll look stupid in front of you.”

Colin grimaced. “Come on!” he said dismissively.

“I mean it. I’m not able to just be spontaneous like you are. And I’m afraid if I force it, I’ll just look idiotic and embarrass you.”

“Embarrass me?” Colin said, wide-eyed. “I was the one doing a jig while dressed as a Leprechaun singing ‘La ta tee, da diddley diddley dae’ remember?” He cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not exactly fertile ground for embarrassment.” He slid his arms around Joshua’s waist. “Besides, you did get into it, Superman, and you were wonderful!”

“I was also scared to death,” Joshua admitted, resting his forehead on Colin’s shoulder.

“Scared of having fun on Halloween?” Colin asked.

Joshua’s eyes dropped, and Colin drew in a quick breath. “It was your dad wasn’t it,” he said, cupping Joshua’s chin in his hand, lifting his face until their eyes met. “He made you feel bad about having fun.”

“We got in trouble if we laughed too much or got too… rambunctious,” Joshua told him.

“You never really got to be a child, did you?” Colin asked, his voice gentle.

“Not really, no,” Joshua replied. “So, I feel really awkward when I’m in situations like tonight. I don’t know how to act. I don’t know how to be spontaneous. I’m inhibited all the damned time!”

“Except in bed,” Colin teased, nudging Joshua’s arm.

Joshua laughed softly. “Being with you helps with that, believe me.”

Colin stood beside him in silence, staring past him as if thinking. After a long moment he once again, met Joshua’s eyes. “Will you do something for me?”

“Anything. You know that.”

“Will you play with me?”

“What?!”

“Play with me. Go to the park and just…  play! We can play catch or – or swing on the swings! I love doing that!” He wrapped both arms around Joshua’s neck and drew him close. “We’re going to hop on the merry-go-round and spin until you’re dizzy! We’re going to go up and down on the teeter-totter! We’re going to play!” He captured Joshua’s face between his palms and kissed him. “Will you? Will you, Josh?”

“Colin,” Joshua said, his voice choked. “God, you’re so good to me.”

“I just want you to trust that when you’re with me, it’s not only OK to be yourself… it’s actually encouraged!”

They climbed the steps to their bedroom, Colin’s arm tight around Joshua’s shoulders. “I’m going to teach you how to be a kid,” Colin told him. “You might even end up being an obnoxious kid.”

Joshua laughed and leaned against him. “You think so?”

“Anything’s possible,” Colin said as they stepped into their bedroom. “I know this much. By next Halloween you’re not going to be afraid to have fun with me.”

Joshua smiled at him. “You nailed it. It’s all about being afraid.” He sighed and began to undress, piling his clothes on a nearby chair.

Colin watched him, slowly pulling his own clothes off as he did. He turned to deposit several items on the bedside table, then turned back to Joshua. “Well, I’m no shrink. But I do know this…,” he said, walking to Joshua and wrapping him in his arms. “There’s not one damn thing wrong with letting your hair down now and then and just having fun. There’s not one damn thing wrong with just being silly now and then.”

“Certainly, you have no problem with it,” Joshua chuckled, then kissed him tenderly. “And I envy you for that.”

Colin drew him to the bed and they both lay down. “Trust me, Joshua,” Colin said, holding him close in his arms. “I’m going to teach you how to play. But more than that… I’m going to teach you how to enjoy it.” He reached to one side and grabbed a small item. “And we’re gonna start with this.” He reached around Joshua to awkwardly pull the wrapper off several small chocolate bars then held one between his teeth and leaned toward Joshua, who burst into laughter.

Colin waggled his eyebrows, the candy held tight between his lips and Joshua laughed again before kissing him, taking his share of the chocolate at the same time.

They both giggled and Colin held a chocolate to Joshua’s mouth. “Your turn,” he said, grinning.

Joshua laughed and took the candy between his lips, waiting until Colin bent to kiss him as they shared the chocolate.

They both laughed, licking the leftover chocolate from each other’s lips. “Now see?” Colin said. “That’s how to be a kid!”

“Happy Halloween, sweetie,” Joshua whispered, his fingers tangled in Colin’s hair. “I love you so much.”

“Same to ya,” Colin said with a grin. “Now pass me another chocolate bar ‘cause I’m just getting started.”