“What’s your most prized possession?” Joshua asked.
“My wedding ring,” Nate replied without a moment’s hesitation.
“I’d have to say that too,” Colin echoed. “Followed closely by this.” He pulled a pendant from around his neck, extending it for all to see. “It’s the emblem that was on our Chuppah. The Star of David wrapped in the Celtic Cross. The one his mother had designed for us.”
Joshua nodded. “I’m with Colin 100 percent.”
“Hmm,” David mused. “Well, I love my wedding ring. But my most prized possession—or rather possessions,” he amended quickly, “are the letters Nate wrote to me when he and I lived on opposite coasts. I treasure those letters beyond anything else in my life. I came to know him through those letters; we grew close though writing to each other.” He paused for a moment then continued. “Maybe the distance made it possible for us to be more open, more honest. But I can follow the path of our love’s growth just by reading them in order. They still give me a thrill.”
Nate leapt to his feet and pressed a kiss to David’s cheek. He whispered something into his ear, then settled on his lap. “Well, I am a good writer.” He kissed David again, then turned to Joshua. “You must treasure Colin’s love letters the same way.”
“I don’t have any,” Joshua replied. “He never wrote me a love letter, or any other kind of letter, come to think of it.”
“I don’t like putting things in writing,” Colin mumbled.
“What!” Nate spouted. “You afraid he’ll sue you?”
“Hey!” Colin responded. “He never wrote me any either.”
“Well, none that I actually sent,” Joshua murmured, drawing a darting glance from Colin.
“You wrote me love letters but didn’t send them?”
Joshua shrugged. “I wrote them more for me than for you. To, well… vent my feelings, I guess. Given the way we parted I didn’t think you’d care to read them.”
Colin growled out an unintelligible response and turned away scowling, staring into the fireplace.
“Give them to him now,” Nate suggested, noting Colin’s somber expression.
“Do you still have them?” Colin asked, spinning toward his husband.
“I think they’re in Glencoe,” Joshua told him. “In my dresser drawer.”
“I want those letters,” Colin blurted out.
“Oh, Lord god,” Joshua moaned.
“What?” Nate asked. “You don’t want him to read them?”
“I was pretty—well—emotional when I wrote them. They might be a little,” he squirmed, his face flushed, “embarrassing.”
“For whom?” Nate asked. “Him? Or you?”
“Me mainly,” Joshua admitted. “I honestly didn’t think anyone would ever read them, so I was pretty, umm…” he shrugged, his voice trailing off.
“Open and honest?” David suggested.
Joshua grimaced. “More like blunt and explicit.”
“I want those letters,” Colin repeated.
“Honey, why?” Joshua said, leaning toward him. “I was pretty upset when I wrote them. I was just… spewing. Trying to ease my broken heart. They weren’t really meant to be read. They were…” he shrugged again, “… therapy.”
“Did you go into detail about what a dick he was?” Nate asked, nudging Colin with his elbow.
“No!” Joshua said. “Of course not! He wasn’t a dick.”
“I was a dick,” Colin disagreed, leaning forward to poke Nate back. “I was a huge dick.”
“Now you’re just bragging,” Nate teased.
Colin reached for Joshua’s hand. “I won’t read them if you’d rather I didn’t,” he told his husband. “But I will say this. There’s no amount of emotional openness and honestly, even blunt and explicit honesty, that you need ever find embarrassing. Not with me.” His hand tightened and he drew Joshua closer. “And I’d genuinely like to know what you were feeling back then.”
“Oh god, Colin,” Joshua groaned. He grimaced and bowed his head, then felt Colin’s hand tug him closer.
“I want to read them,” he repeated.
“Fine!” Joshua said, sagging in defeat. He husked out a noisy sigh. “Next time we’re in Glencoe I’ll give them to you.”
“Oh, I cannot wait to hear what’s in those letters,” Nate said with a grin.
“You honestly think I’d tell you what’s in them?” Colin asked him, then dunked two fingers into his glass of beer and flicked the liquid onto Nate’s face. “Forget it!”
Nate wiped his face, laughing. “You don’t know that. Wait ‘til you read them. You might want to broadcast them to everyone you know.”
“Not unless he wants to spend a month eating bread and water for dinner,” Joshua muttered, slumping in his chair. “I don’t even want him to read them let alone anyone else.”
“Unless you absolutely forbid it, I’m reading those letters,” Colin declared.
“Well, I won’t forbid it,” Joshua said, his voice heavy with reluctance. “But I won’t be doing the dance of joy either.”
“How many are there?” Nate asked.
“Only a few, three or four. I may have thrown some of them away.”
“Josh!” Colin protested.
“Well, dammit, Colin, I never expected you to read them! I told you. They were just… therapy.”
“We gotta’ plan a trip to Glencoe.”
“Oh god help me.”
But it was weeks before they even discussed a trip to Glencoe and only then because Colin’s birthday was approaching, and Joshua’s family wanted to celebrate it with him. Much to Joshua’s relief, Colin hadn’t mentioned the letters since they’d first discussed them with David and Nate, and he secretly hoped they’d slipped his mind. Maybe I can manage to avoid this whole embarrassing chapter, he thought.
When they finally arrived at the Abrams family home, Joshua carried his suitcase up the long staircase which led to their bedroom while Colin lingered behind in animated conversation with Joshua’s mother and brother.
“Jessica baked you the most beautiful cake,” Bracha told him. “I can’t wait for you to see it!”
“You guys are so good to me,” Colin said, then kissed her cheek. “Thank you.”
“And I might even let you win a game of chess this trip,” Joshua’s brother teased. “As a birthday present, you know.”
“Oh, Abel, please spare me your bull…” he glanced at Bracha and hastily changed the ending, “…crap. I kicked your Jewish butt last time we were here. You leaned too hard on the ‘King’s Gambit’ and it cost you, bro.”
Joshua looked down at them from the top of the stairs and smiled, then lugged his suitcase into the bedroom. He tossed it onto the bed, then on impulse moved to the dresser. For a moment he stood before it in silence, then slid the top drawer open. Tucked far in the back underneath a pile of socks lay a packet of papers wrapped in a red ribbon. Joshua hesitated, then drew them out and stared down at them, startling when the bedroom door burst open, admitting an excited Colin.
“Hey bud, guess what!” he blurted out, tossing his suitcase next to Joshua’s. “Jessica baked me a cake!”
“Well, you had to know she would,” Joshua replied, laughing. He shoved the letters to the back of the drawer and shut it before Colin could notice. “Do you want to unpack now?” Joshua asked. “Or wait ‘til after dinner.” He turned toward Colin and glanced at his watch. “Probably won’t be long ‘til we eat.”
Colin flopped onto the bed and sat motionless, staring at Joshua. “What I want, my dearest husband, is for you to stop sandbagging me and give me those letters.”
Joshua winced and let out a frustrated sigh. “Dammit, Colin!”
“What! C’mon, Josh. How bad can they be?”
Joshua wrinkled his nose. “Have you ever done anything deeply embarrassing?”
“Well, there’s the time I puked on your shoes in McCafferty’s parking lot,” Colin admitted with a grin. “But, shit, I don’t dwell on that kind of stuff. Everyone does embarrassing things at some point in their lives. And anyway, why should love letters embarrass you?”
“Because they’re not just love letters,” Joshua told him. “They’re me having an emotional breakdown in writing because the man I loved broke my heart.” He shot Colin an exasperated glance. “God, I’m sorry I ever mentioned them.”
Colin frowned and got to his feet. He walked to where Joshua stood and laid both hands on his shoulders. “Look,” he said, “I don’t want you upset. If you’d really prefer that I not read them, then I won’t.” He shook Joshua gently. “We’ll have a ritual and burn them in the fireplace or something. Just to mark the occasion.” He pressed his lips to Joshua’s forehead then flashed his dimples in a quick grin. “It’s my birthday, baby! I want you to be happy!”
“Actually, your birthday was last weekend. We spent it in Situate at your mother’s house, remember?”
“This is my ‘second’ birthday.”
“How many do you get?”
“As many as I damn well please.”
Joshua leaned against Colin’s chest and was enveloped in two strong arms which pulled him close. For a long moment he rested there, drawing in long, deep breaths, luxuriating in the feeling of Colin’s body pressed tightly against his own. He’s so damned good to me, Joshua thought.
He leaned back and stared up at Colin for a moment, then abruptly spun to face the dresser. He pulled the drawer open, grabbed the packet of papers, wheeled back to face Colin, and held them out. “Here.”
“I thought you didn’t…”
“I changed my mind.”
“Because I love you. Because you’re wonderful. And because it’s your second birthday and I don’t have any other gift to give you.” He extended the letters toward Colin. “Take them.”
Colin frowned and tilted his head, gazing at Joshua, his expression thoughtful. “Are you sure?”
“Take them,” Joshua said, jamming the letters into Colin’s hand. “Now go sit on the driftwood and read them cause I don’t want to be around.”
Colin tapped the letters against the palm of his hand, still gazing at Joshua. “OK. If you’re sure it’s what you want.”
“Go,” Joshua told him, then pushed him gently toward the door. “Just be sure no one else sees them!”
“I didn’t think I’d get to see them,” Colin told him, moving out of the bedroom and down the stairs. “I sure as hell wouldn’t let anyone else read my letters.” At the bottom of the stairs Colin turned and looked up at Joshua who stood at the top of the steps, leaning on the railing. For a long moment he didn’t move, then he threw Joshua a salute and strode toward the front door.
Darkness was falling by the time Colin returned to the house. Joshua was helping Jessica set the table for dinner, engaged in a lively discussion over whether or not Jessica would sit with the family on this occasion.
“You know Colin will want you there,” Joshua said, placing silverware next to each plate.
“What that sassy Irishman wants and what he gets are two different things!” Jessica snapped.
“C’mon, Jess,” Joshua coaxed. “It’d really make him happy if you sat with us. You know you are part of this family.”
The housekeeper scowled at him for a long moment, then sighed. “I’ll sit with you after I serve,” she conceded. “But only because it’s Colin’s birthday.”
Joshua smiled and hugged her just as Colin strode into the dining room. “You making him work for his supper?” he asked, hugging Jessica as well.
“He’s been setting the table for me since he was this tall,” Jessica told him, her palm nearly level with the floor.
“Give a call when you’re ready to serve,” Joshua called after her as she moved into the kitchen. “I’ll come help.” He turned back to Colin. “You hungry?”
“When am I not hungry?” Colin asked, then extended his hand. “Come with me for a minute.”
“Oh god,” Joshua moaned softly.
“Are you going to make me talk about those letters?” Joshua asked as they strolled into the living room. “Do you have a million questions?”
Colin fell onto a sofa and pulled Joshua down beside him. He huffed out a noisy sigh and for a moment simply gazed into Joshua’s eyes. Then he pulled the packet of letters from his jacket pocket and held them out. “No. I don’t have any questions. And I’m not going to make you talk about them. But I do want to say that I’m really sorry for how badly I hurt you with my stupid Irish temper tantrum.”
Eyes lowered, Joshua reached with tentative fingers to accept the packet of letters. He caught his upper lip between his teeth and lifted his eyes to meet Colin’s. “Colin, you don’t have to…”
“I know,” Colin interrupted. “I know you don’t expect an apology and would never ask for one. But what I did to you back then was just plain wrong.”
“It was a reaction to the emotional pain you’d been suffering for twenty years,” Joshua replied, his voice gentle. He stretched out his hand and his fingers traced a slow path along Colin’s cheekbone. “The O’Malley case brought back all the feelings you had when you lost Kathy. The feelings you’d been suppressing since her death.”
“Didn’t justify verbally beating the shit out of you. You didn’t deserve that.”
“It’s not about that. It never was. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t me you were yelling at. I was just a stand-in for all that you’d been through.” He shrugged and feathered his lips across Colin’s. “I didn’t take it personally, Colin. Even then. I knew there were other factors at work.”
Colin nodded. “Thanks for letting me read them.”
“I’m not sure I did you a favor.”
“No, Josh. I’m glad I did. There were consequences to the actions I took that day, and I needed to recognize them.” He hesitated for a moment, then kissed Joshua’s cheek. “And I needed to apologize for them.”
“Some fucking love letters,” Joshua muttered, his voice husky with sorrow.
“Those letters were overflowing with love,” Colin insisted. He laced their fingers together and fell back against the couch. “Didn’t you tell me once that with great love comes the possibility of great pain?”
Joshua arched his brows and shrugged his agreement. “I prefer to demonstrate my love painlessly.” He leaned against Colin’s body and felt his husband’s arms tighten around him. “Happy fucking birthday,” he muttered and glanced up when Colin laughed aloud.
“Oh, stop it. Those letters didn’t hurt me. Just made me realize how lucky I am.” He shook himself, brows furrowed in aggravation. “I should have listened to my heart rather than my pride and come to Glencoe the minute I had your address. Would have prevented a lot of the pain you went through.”
Joshua grunted his acceptance of Colin’s words, then sat up when he heard Jessica’s voice coming through the house intercom.
“Joshua I’m about to serve. Everyone else, come sit.”
The birthday dinner was a joyous success. Jessica’s green and white multilayered cake was a celebration of all things Irish, and Colin couldn’t stop praising it. And when the family sang “Happy Birthday” to him, tears welled in his eyes.
“I’ll get the ice cream,” Jessica said after the song. “You can cut the cake.”
“Wait a second, Jess,” Joshua said, rising to his feet. “I have something to say first.” He drew in a deep breath then smiled down at his husband. “In Jewish tradition,” he began, then bent towards Colin, “which I know you love so well, a birthday psalm is usually read to the honored guest.” He swallowed hard. “The psalm used is the one which signifies the year the birthday boy is entering…” Again, he leaned towards Colin, “…which for you would be your thirty-sixth year.” He lifted a piece of paper, then glanced around at his family. “I’m only going to read part of the psalm because David does tend to go on and on, but to me this is the most fitting part. “And,” he added, “this a modern rendition.” He glanced down at Colin and read:
“God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic,
His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic.
Yet in his largeness nothing is lost;
Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks.
How exquisite your love, O God!
How eager we are to run under your wings,
To eat our fill at the banquet you spread
as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water.
You’re a fountain of cascading light,
and you open our eyes to light.
Keep on loving your friends;
do your work in welcoming hearts.
Don’t let the bullies kick me around,
the moral midgets slap me down.
Send the upstarts sprawling flat
on their faces in the mud.”
He laid the paper down as everyone except Colin applauded. He sat, gazing up at Joshua, tears now sparkling on his cheeks.
“I know it’s probably blasphemy to say that, to me, this psalm speaks with perfect clarity about how I experience your love, but that’s exactly how I see it, Colin. Your love and protection are the banquet you offer, not just to me, but to anyone you care about. Your love is exquisite, and I am always, always, always eager to run under your wings. Your love opened my eyes to cascading light, a I hope you do your work in my welcoming heart for as long as you live.” He bent and kissed Colin who slid his fingers into Joshua’s curls. “Ani ohev otcha,” Joshua whispered. “Happy birthday, my magic man.”
“Ta`mo chori istigh ionat,” Colin murmured in response, his voice choked with tears.
The family all applauded, and Jessica handed Colin a silver cake server. “OK. Now cut the cake and start putting the pieces on those cake plates. I’ll get the ice cream.”
They ate Colin’s magnificent birthday cake, accompanied by green mint ice cream, then Bracha handed Colin a wrapped gift. “From us,” she told him. “Happy birthday, Son.”
Still feeling a bit overwhelmed, Colin leaned close and kissed her. “Thanks, Mom.”
In the package was a beautiful set of silver cufflinks fashioned as a Celtic knot. “Wow!” Colin said as he examined them. “They’re beautiful! Thank you.”
Jessica’s present was a green Irish wool trinity cap, which Colin immediately donned, before jumping up to hug and kiss her in thanks.
“Spiffy!” Joshua said, laughing. “It looks perfect on you!”
After finishing their dessert, the family wandered into the living room. “Game of chess, bro?” Abel asked Colin as he and Joshua fell onto the sofa, but Colin shook his head.
“Not right now.” He turned to face Joshua. “I need to go upstairs and get something. OK?”
Puzzled, Joshua nodded and watched as Colin got to his feet. “I’ll be right back,” he said, then ambled toward the stairs.
“Where’s he going?” Bracha asked, glancing up from her glass of brandy.
“Dunno,” Joshua replied. “Said he needed to get something.”
The family chatted while Colin was gone, catching up on the latest happenings in their lives, and what they had planned for the future. Every few minutes Joshua glanced toward the stairs, but it was over a forty-five minutes before Colin returned.
“There he is!” Bracha said, smiling as her son-in-law entered the room.
“Took you long enough,” Joshua complained, laughing. “I was about to come looking for you.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Colin said, then held out his hand to Joshua. “Come with me for a minute.”
Surprised, Joshua shot a glance at his mother, then got to his feet and followed Colin as he led Joshua through the kitchen, stopping only to kiss Jessica who was clearing away the dinner dishes, before leading Joshua outside to the patio.
He hit the switch which bathed the area with soft golden light, then sat down on the stone wall which enclosed them, drawing Joshua down with him. For a moment he simply gazed into his husband’s eyes, then he breathed out a soft sigh and lifted Joshua’s hand to his lips.
“Colin, is something wrong?”
“No. Nothing’s wrong. I just have something to give you. Something I wanted to give you privately.” He withdrew a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and held it out. “Here. This is for you.”
Clearly puzzled, Joshua took the paper from Colin’s hand. “What it is?”
“Read it and you’ll see.”
Joshua unfolded the paper in his hands and read:
My dearest husband,
You let me read the love letters you wrote after I broke your heart, and it nearly broke mine to know how much damage my misplaced anger did to the most wonderful man I’ve ever known.
It’s not just that I blew my Irish top. It’s not just the awful things I said to you that day. It’s not just the terrible accusations I made. It’s so much more than that. Chief among my sins is the knowledge that I waited so long to come to you when I knew from the moment you left, that I could never, ever live without you. That I let my fear and pride stifle the voice of my love and need for you.
Josh, I was desolate after you left. I’d been fooling myself for months, trying to fight the feelings that grew more profound and intense every day we were together. Trying to pretend that they were something else. That they weren’t that one thing I feared more than any other: love.
But it was love, Joshua. Almost from the day we met… it was love. I was so lonely back then, Josh. I confessed this to you on our wedding day. So sad. My life was a failure in every imaginable way. I knew no joy. I knew no happiness. My only satisfaction came from those rare moments when I could bring some criminal to justice, but even those moments were overshadowed by the knowledge that there’d be another case the very next day, and that these brief flashes of fulfillment were external events that could never touch the man I was inside. I’d go home to that dreary little apartment and try not to think about how dark and lonely my life had become.
I tried to fight my feelings for you, Josh. But from the very first, being with you illuminated me. Not with bright flashes of light, but with a warm glow of belonging that I hadn’t felt since I was a child. You made me laugh! Me, who rarely ever cracked a smile. Who rarely ever felt even an instant of gladness. You taught me the sweetness of intimacy. Me, who fled from closeness like a devil flees holy water. Your sweet smile. Your gentle, kindness. Your dry, brilliant wit. Your constant, steady presence at my side, flooded my heart with feelings that both healed and terrified me.
You never asked for a thing. I knew you loved me. I could see it in your beautiful, brown eyes. I knew you wanted more. Wanted my love in return. But every time I saw the love glowing there in your eyes, I was gripped by a panic that nearly stopped my heart. What if I offered you my heart and you rejected it? What if I lost you and had to go through that heartbreak again?
So, I ran. I treated you with coldness and rejection. I know how much it hurt you, Josh, and there is nothing in my life that I regret with more bitterness.
Your love is my greatest treasure. You lifted me out of the darkness which had imprisoned me since the day my sister died. You healed my heart when I had long ago given up any hope that it could be healed. You brought happiness and love to a man who had long since turned his back on such things, thinking that they were not meant for him. You filled the emptiness inside me with the warmth of your love. And there are no words which could ever adequately express my gratitude.
I won’t ask for your forgiveness. I know I don’t have to. You understand. You always have. That’s one of the many blessings your love freely offers without me having to do a thing to earn them. Those blessings are just there, a part of the man you are. My love. My life.
I can’t promise you that I’ll never hurt you again. You know me well enough to know what an empty promise that would be. But I do promise you this: we will last forever, and I will love you every day of my life just as I love you at this moment… with all my heart and soul.
I will always be…
Joshua lowered his hands into his lap with infinite slowness. He stared straight ahead of him, but Colin could hear his breath catching in his throat.
“I thought,” Colin whispered, “I figured… you know, that you deserved a love letter too.”
Joshua turned and pressed his face to Colins shoulder, his body shaking with sobs he tried hard to suppress. “Oh god, Colin,” he breathed out, dampening Colin’s shirt with his tears. “Oh god, sweetheart, thank you.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to make you cry,” Colin said, wrapping Joshua in his arms.
Joshua leaned back, wiping his face with his forearm. “Well, what did you think that letter would do to me, you big Irish doofus?” He swallowed hard and forced back his tears, though his breath still shuddered in his chest. “Now I understand what David meant,” he whispered, his hand lifting to cradle Colin’s cheek as he clutched the letter to his chest. “This is the greatest treasure of my life.”
“Awww,” Colin said, nuzzling against his cheek. “And here I thought my dick was the greatest treasure of your life.”
“It’s a close second,” Joshua said, knuckling Colin’s ribs. “And stop joking. I’m serious.”
“I needed you to smile,” Colin told him lifting his chin. “I don’t like to see you cry.”
“Those were tears of joy, my love. Of happiness and gratitude.”
“Well, in that case…” Colin muttered, then wrapped Joshua tight in his arms and kissed him, hoping that the tenderness of his lips on Joshua’s could convey the depth of the love he felt for this gentle Jewish man. He slid his lips to Joshua’s ear. “I meant every word,” he whispered.
For a long moment they stared into each other’s eyes, then Colin blew out a breath and got to his feet. “And now, my beloved husband, I’m going to give myself a birthday present by walloping Abel in a game of chess!” He drew Joshua to his feet and kissed his cheek. “Care to bear witness as I kick your brother’s weenie ass?”
“I’d love to,” Joshua told him. But as they wandered toward the house, Joshua drew Colin to a halt and turned to face him. “Happy birthday, my love,” he said. “I hope we’re still blowing out your candles when you turn eighty.”
“You can take that one to the bank,” Colin replied, then tightened his hold on Joshua’s hand and drew him toward the door. “C’mon. I want more cake!”