Monday, December 28, 2020

Advent Calendar Finale

 I'll be honest, when I began this year's Advent Calendar I was not really in the mood for it--in fact, I was pretty sure this would be the last Advent Calendar. Even with so many wonderful contributions, the calendar is always A LOT of work and I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. This year has been a tough one, no lie. 

But as I began to put the calendar together, and so many really lovely submissions began to come in, I found my attitude changing--improving--and I really do think this was one of the all time best calendars we've done. So thank you to everyone who took part from those of you who took the time to read and comment to those of you who contributed art, games, fiction. 

I hope the calendar did its job and offered a little comfort and joy this holiday season because that's its sole purpose! :-)

Again, my heartfelt thanks to the following contributors:

(In order of appearance)




Meg Perry

Catherine Dair

Terry Wylis






Joel Leslie Froomkin

(please, please let me not have missed anyone--every contribution was so very much appreciated!)

To make life easier on myself, I plan to work on next year's calendar throughout the year rather than wait till the midst of the holiday hubbub (er, yes, I do still use the word hubbub) ;-)  So if you come up with something you'd like to contribute to 2021's calendar, no need to wait till the last moment! 

In the meantime, I wish each and every one of you a very happy rest of your holiday season! See you in the New Year! (And let it be a better one.)

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas!


Wishing you every good thing today and always. 




Aubrey and Aloysius from OUT OF THE BLUE

 England, December 24th, 1925

Twilight. Those soft, rosy minutes after sunset when shadows stretched and memory came creeping like a ghost.

For a few moments Aubrey gazed out the diamond-paned window, watching the sky darken, waiting for those first pinpricks of light in the fabric of night. The lilting voices of the carolers drifted into the crackling December air.

The holly and the ivy

When they are both full grown

Of all trees that are in the wood

The holly bears the crown…

Noddy. Pip. Tubby. Heath. Varlik. Gene. Orton. God. Orton. Friend and foe, he saw them all again in his mind’s eye.

Saw Cowboy. Cowboy. He smiled faintly. Such a long time ago. A lifetime ago. But in fact, it was only seven years since the war had ended.

The door below the window opened, casting a long yellow rectangle across the snowy ground. Waring appeared, inviting the carolers inside.

From his vantage point, Aubrey could see what he hadn’t noticed before: the bony thinness of the shoulders beneath the butler’s black coat, the pink shine of his balding back of head. Waring was an old man now.

Well, they were none of them getting any younger.

Years go falling in the fading light. Gene had written that. Funny to still remember.  

The study door opened behind him. Aubrey turned as Archie poked his head around the edge of the door. Lying on the rug before the cavern-sized fireplace, Digs raised his knobby little head and began to pant in welcome.

“Uncle Aubrey?”

Aubrey smiled. “Finished?”

Archie nodded. He was the spitting image of Aubrey at the same age—tousled pale hair, solemn gray eyes, spindly limbs.

Aubrey held out his hand. “Let’s have it then.”

Archie pushed the door wide and crossed the shining floor to hand over the missive he had been laboring on for over an hour.

Archibald Reginald William Bryant, Earl Denford, was seven now. His father, Aubrey’s eldest brother Archie, had died in 1918 while in Spain on a “diplomatic mission,” i.e., spying, and his mother, Lady Pamela, had fallen victim to the Spanish flu not many months later. The old Earl, Aubrey’s father, had been carried off in the same wave.

Aubrey was beyond fond of his nephew, but guardian and trustee would not have been the future he chose for himself. However, with the old earl’s passing, his wings had effectively been clipped. If there was one lesson he had learned during the war, it was that life had a way of getting in the way of one’s plans.

Gravely, he read over the laboriously written letter to Father Christmas, mouth twitching a little at the ink stains and occasionally reversed letter.  Archie watched him with a hopeful intentness reminiscent of Digsby waiting for his walk.

“An aeroplane,” Aubrey murmured.

Archie’s eyes brightened, he opened his mouth, but was interrupted by the uncharacteristically sharp tones of his governess.  

“Master Archibald! Qu'est-ce que c'est?”

Both Aubrey and Archie jumped guiltily.

Mademoiselle Ghislaine Berger was Archie’s governess. She was young and very pretty and took her responsibilities very seriously.

Mortified that the prisoner had escaped, she began to apologize profusely for the interruption, but Aubrey cut her off with a smile.

“The boy’s alright,” he said easily. “I must approve the letter after all.”

Mademoiselle bit her lip, looking a little uncertain.

Aubrey winked at Archie who gazed up at him with worshipful eyes. “Looks good to me, old son. Go on. Chuck it in.”

Archie tossed the letter into the crackling fireplace. The three of them—four counting Digs—watched in silence as it shriveled into black crinkles. Archie’s wishes drifting up with the red embers into the night sky.

Then Mademoiselle snapped back to herself, apologizing again to Aubrey before shoeing her charge off to bed.

Not all wishes could come true, sadly.



Some time later, Waring appeared to inquire if Mr. Bryant required anything else that evening and to announce the arrival of Mr. Cooper.

Waring was used to the estate manager’s unceremonious comings and goings, but he still disapproved of the American’s lack of…well, being English.  

“Thank you, Waring. That’ll be all,” Aubrey said. “You can show Mr. Cooper in.”

Waring nodded glumly, withdrew, and Aubrey went to the black and gold chinoiserie liquor cabinet and poured two brandies.

A moment or two later Mr. Cooper arrived, Tall, broad-shouldered, with just as a hint of a limp as he went to join Aubrey. Mr. Cooper’s eyes were as bright as Texas blue bonnets, his smile as warm as the western sun.  

They kissed once, twice, lingeringly. Aubrey handed Mr. Cooper his brandy and they chinked glasses, the crystal chiming in the cozy room.

“How was the kiddie party?” Cowboy asked.

Bat groaned. Loudly.

Cowboy chuckled and kissed him again.



It was not easy for them, but it was a hell of a lot easier than it had been during the two long years when Bat had believed Cowboy was dead.

Originally they had flown together with the No. 44 Air Squadron stationed outside the village of Embry near Calais, but winter of ’17 Bat had been dragged back to St. Omer to serve as a flight instructor. This was after his brother Dorian had died in the North Sea, and Bat had always suspected his brother Archie of pulling strings in an effort to ensure at least one of them survived to carry on the old family name. Needless to say, Bat had kicked like hell to return to the front. To no avail.

In any case, that spring Cowboy had been transferred to Escadrille Américaine. In February ’18 he’d been transferred again into the United States Army Air Service.

They’d tried to keep in touch, of course, but it hadn’t been easy. A few months after Cowboy’s second transfer, Bat had learned he’d been shot down and taken prisoner.

Then came the worst news of all. Captain Aloysius Cooper had been killed while trying to make his escape from a German prison camp.

Not unexpected, of course. They had talked occasionally of the possibility that one or both of them might die. Probably would die, in Bat’s opinion. Cowboy had been more optimistic. Stubbornly, aggravatingly optimistic.

So that had been that.

The war ended—along with most of Bat’s world. But life went on. Had to go on for there was a squalling, shrieking, red-faced newborn Earl Denford to be preserved and raised and prepared for his eventual responsibilities. And eventually to be loved. Loved as if he was indeed Bat’s own son.

Then, unexpectedly, two years after the armistice had been signed, a wish was granted. A wish that was more like a miracle. Out of the blue, Mr. Aloysius Cooper applied for the position of estate manager to Denford Castle in Kent…



The clock on the mantel struck midnight, twelve slow, silvery chimes drifting across to the rumpled bed.

Cowboy turned his head on the pillow. He said lazily, “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Bat murmured, relaxed and warm and contented within the circle of Cowboy’s arms.

“It’s snowing again.”


Cowboy studied the ceiling. He asked, “What’ll you do about the aeroplane?”

Bat made a sound of amusement. “I’m not buying Archie a bloody plane.”

“Not this year,” agreed Cowboy. “We can’t afford it this year. Nor next.”

“Not ever.”

Cowboy’s smile was enigmatic. “You don’t fool me. You’d love to fly again.”

Bat snorted, but yes. He missed flying sometimes. Sometimes. He tilted his face up, studied Cowboy’s rugged profile.

“What’s up?”

“What’s that?” Cowboy asked.

“Something’s worrying you. I can tell.”

Cowboy grimaced. “I was going to wait till after Christmas to tell you. No point spoiling the day.”

Bat ignored the sinking feeling in his chest. “Tell me now.”

“I got a telegram from my sister. The old man’s not doing so well.”

Bat swallowed. Said, “You must go home then. You can’t wait. You’ve got to go right away.”

“Yes.” Cowboy’s eyes met his, piercingly blue even in the soft gloom. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Bat nodded. Cowboy had been back to the States twice before. Each time was… wrenching. Each time Bat feared Cowboy would not return. Would be pressured by circumstance to stay as Bat had been pressured by circumstance to make the choices he had.

“I’ll be back before you know it.”


Three days from London to New York by steamship. And then how many days by train to Texas? Too many. Too long. That went without saying. It already felt like forever and Cowboy hadn’t moved an inch from his side.

“Look at me,” Cowboy commanded.

“I’m looking.”

“No. I mean, look at me.”

Bat gazed solemnly into Cowboy’s eyes.

Cowboy said, “England is my country now and you’re my home.”

Bat’s throat closed. He turned his face into Cowboy’s shoulder. Muttered, “Tall tales and Texans.”

“Have I ever lied to you?”

Bat raised his head, glared. “Yes. You have. As well you know.”

Cowboy laughed. “You still holding that little bitty white lie against me?”

“Little bloody bitty!”

Cowboy’s mouth captured his. When Bat could breathe again, Cowboy whispered. “I’m coming back. And that’s a promise.”

Bat managed a shaky laugh. Reminded himself that Cowboy always kept his promises and, sometimes, wishes did come true.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Advent Calendar Day 24

 I can't believe it's already Christmas Eve!

I'd hoped to finish another coda by now, but this last week just slipped through my fingers. Hopefully tomorrow? In the meantime, we have a song--Adrien English's favorite Christmas song, and a particularly apt one this year.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Advent Calendar Day 23

 And now for something completely different. ;-) 

Joel Leslie Froomkin recently did a live reading of A Christmas Carol to benefit the Ali Forney Center. So far they've managed to raise over $2000. for homeless teens. If that isn't a demonstration of the spirit of Christmas, I don't know what is.

Joel very generously offered to share his performance with us, so here for your listening pleasure on this wintery December morning (a mere TWO days before Christmas) is the full reading of A Christmas Carol.

God bless us, every one. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

CHRISTMAS CODA 60 (and a fun puzzle for you to do!)



Michael and Len from REQUIEM FOR MR. BUSYBODY


The smell of coffee infiltrated my dreams.

My nose twitched.

Coffee and…pastries.

And, more faintly, aftershave.

I opened my eyes. That warm, spicy scent that meant Len had let himself into my apartment, poked his head in briefly, and then retreated to the kitchen to let me sleep my fill.

I had not been sleeping well lately, and Len knew it. A week ago Nico Tzara had been sentenced for Second Degree Manslaughter. Five to fifteen years.  He’d be out of prison before he turned forty.

Which would probably have made Maurice happy because, despite what he’d told me and his niece and even Nico, Maurice never had changed his will. Never had cut Nico out. Which I’d have bet Nico knew, but the prosecution had not been able to prove that to the jury’s satisfaction. Had not been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Nico hadn’t accidentally killed Maurice.

So. Five to fifteen.  

It was hard not to be angry. Hard not to want…something.

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. Per Len. He had always been better at accepting the limitations of the justice system. But then he was a cop. He believed in God. And he hadn’t known Maurice.

I sighed, shoved back the blankets.

One of the things I liked about Len—and really, there were too many to count—was that he understood I needed time in the morning. Time and space.



By the time I wheeled into the kitchen, the coffee was ready and Len was sitting at the table eating warm walnut povitica and reading the Times.  

“Morning,” I said, pausing beside his chair.

He kissed me, tasting pleasantly of coffee and cinnamon, and said, “Merry Christmas.”

I grimaced. “Bah humbug.”

“You are a bad humbug,” he agreed. “Unless elves broken in last night and set that Christmas tree up.”

“Ha. The tree is for you, man.” I wheeled over to the counter and set about fixing my coffee.

“It snowed again last night.”

“Ugh.” I never liked snow, and I liked it even less now, snow tires notwithstanding. “How was work?”

Len’s sigh was heartfelt. “What I would like most for Christmas is for people to stop killing each other for one day.”

I threw him a sympathetic look, finished dousing my coffee in cream and sugar—a holiday treat; I usually took it black—and wheeled to the table. I took a big swallow and felt promptly better as all that sugar and caffeine hit my system. “At least you have today off. In theory.”

“In theory.” Len handed me a plate with pastry. “Bad night?” His shrewd brown eyes were soft with concern.

I shrugged, tore a piece of bread off. “Yeah. But that was as much about the new book as anything. It’s hard to turn my brain off right now.”

“Sure.” I didn’t fool Len.

I was excited about the new project though, an account of the 1943 Christmas Day murders in Bolt, Montana, and the subsequent manhunt and shootout. One of the principals had been James Jameson, a young newspaper reporter who later went on to win a Pulitzer prize. Jameson had come out as gay in the 1960s, at a time when it was not an easy thing to do. I thought he was a fascinating character and I only wished I’d had the opportunity to interview him.

Len said, “I know it’s not what you wanted, but fifteen years in Rikers is no picnic.”

“If he gets fifteen.” I met his eyes. “Sorry. Just not brimming with the milk of human kindness today.”

“Hey. You lost someone you loved. You’re allowed to be angry and sad and all the rest of it.”

“Maybe.” My smiled felt lopsided. “So much for my belief in criminal reform.”

“It’s a little different in this case.” He held his hand out and I clasped it, squeezed it, smiled. Len really was one of the good guys and I’d been wondering for the last seven months what I’d done to get so lucky.

We smiled at each other for a moment, then Len’s expression changed, grew…well, had it been anyone else, I’d have said he looked nervous.

“So. Listen,” he said hurriedly. “I don’t know if this is the right time or not, but I’ve been thinking a lot about this, about us.” He nodded at the cozy kitchen and crumb-covered table. There was a plaster gnome with red-glowing eyes in the center of the table, which was my half-assed effort at holiday décor; I think the gnome was actually intended as a Halloween decoration, given the manic glow of his beady little eyes.

“Okay,” I said a little uneasily. The sudden hectic color in Len’s face was alarming—and his eyes matched the gnome for manic glow.

“I don’t want to—things are good and I don’t want to-to jeopardize that.”

Suddenly his fingers felt ice cold. I squeezed his hand again, more in comfort than understanding.

“Things are good,” I agreed. I probably sounded a little insistent because I was afraid there was about to be a but.

“But,” Len said.

My heart flinched. I said warily, “But?”

“What if we moved in together?”

It took me a couple of swallows to get that lump of dry bread down. “I…”

“I know you’re probably not—I know you’re probably happy with this and it’s more than I expected, more than I thought we’d have—but I love you and I would like.” He swallowed the rest of it.

“You would like?” I repeated automatically. Meanwhile my brain was racing, trying to think this through. If I said no, would it be the end of everything? Did I want to say no? If I said yes, what then? Did I want to say yes?

No. I did not. The idea terrified me.

Nearly as much as the idea of losing Len.

“More,” he said huskily. “I would like more time with you. More of you.”

I was equally husky, but trying for humor. “I think—don’t you think that might be too much of a good thing?”


We were silent for a few moments, still holding hands, still watching each other.

Len said, “Are you afraid of the idea?”

I could have dodged the question, denied, delayed, but we’d come through too much, Len and I. “Yes,” I admitted.

“Me too.” I started to laugh and he finished hastily, “Not at the idea of living with you.”

Of what then? But I didn’t have to ask because I knew. Same thing as me. That if it didn’t work out, we’d lose what we had, and what we had meant everything to me.

Len said, “Seven months. I’m over here as much as I’m home.”

True. I thought it over. “Your cat doesn’t like me.”

Len said seriously, “He doesn’t know you.”

I nodded absently. “Are you thinking you’d move in here or I’d move in with you?”

“Neither. I was thinking we’d find a new place. Together.”

Ours. Our home.

It scared me. I can’t deny it. I had everything exactly as I wanted, as I needed. I was safe right where I was.

But was safety what it was all about? Was being safe the point of being alive?

Len’s solemn face slowly creased into a smile. “You haven’t turned me down yet, Michael.”

“No. Because I love you too. But what if—”

What if it doesn’t work out? What if we aren’t happy? What if someone gets hurt? What if…

What if we are happy? What if we are truly, honestly, happy?

I wasn't religious, but it turned out I did have an idea of heaven.

No guarantees in this life. We’d both learned that the hard way.

Len said softly, “What if--?”

Leap of faith. Sometimes you jump and you break your back. Sometimes you jump and someone is waiting to catch you, someone with a tender smile and love in his eyes.

I said, equally soft, “What if I say yes?”

We caught each other.


SamSpayed has contributed a little jigsaw puzzle of the Requiem for Mr. Busybody cover. Just click this link and then choose PLAY AS (I picked 66--I don't know if it matters). It's quick and fun and relaxing. :-) 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Advent Calendar Day 21


Happy Solstice!

I'm delighted to share with you this last minute surprise offering from Haldis. I'm not going to spoil this by telling you anything more than that (but I think it's so funny and charming AND WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE). ;-D

Mr. Pinkerton looked back over his shoulder to Miss Butterwith standing at the door to their cozy cottage.

“You go ahead, Mr. Pinkerton,” said Miss Butterwith. “I’m sure you will have a much nicer time with Pyewacket, then at my Orchid Society meeting. I’ll be fine for one evening. I promise not to find any dead bodies without you.” She waved cheerily to Mr. Pinkerton.

Mr. Pinkerton turned forward and walked through the falling snow, wondering idly if Miss Butterwith ever found bodies that weren’t dead. He joined Pyewacket where he waited by the swirling portal, and together they stepped through to a dark hallway.  

Mr. Pinkerton followed as Pyewacket led the way down a set of stairs, the bannister decorated with fresh pine garlands, to the living room below, lit only by the fire in the hearth and the white, twinkling lights of the tree in the corner. It was very warm and comfortable, with soft holiday music playing, and Mr. Pinkerton tried to remember every little detail so he could share it with Miss Butterwith when he returned home.

As they headed for the rug in front of the fire, Pyewacket pointed out his two people on the couch: John, sitting on the couch, and Cosmo, who was lying on the couch with his head on John’s lap. Well, Pyewacket clarified, Cosmo was his. John apparently belonged to Cosmo. Pyewacket had told Mr. Pinkerton earlier that if they wanted the room to themselves, all they had to do was start staring at John. He wasn’t a cat person. But Cosmo liked him, so Pye was willing to tolerate him. For a time.

Both men were reading, but Cosmo turned his head, noticing Pyewacket’s entrance, and sat up when he saw Mr. Pinkerton.

“Hey, Pye. Who’s your friend?”

“Meow”, answered Pyewacket.

“Meow”, greeted Mr. Pinkerton.

“Ah, British,” said Cosmo. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Pinkerton.”

“Uh,” John whispered to Cosmo. “How do you know his name is Mr. Pinkerton? And that he’s British?”

“The accent,” answered Cosmo. “And he said his name was Mr. Pinkerton.”

“Is he like yours?” John continued to whisper, as if Mr. Pinkerton and Pyewacket wouldn’t be able to hear him. “Does he have a witch?”

“Meow”, answered Mr. Pinkerton.

“Oh yes, I see,” acknowledged Cosmo. “Botanist,” he whispered to John.

John seemed to think about that for a moment, shook his head, leaned back into the couch, and lifted his book to continue reading, while mumbling something about witches and botanists.

Cosmo smiled fondly at him before settling himself back in his original position, also lifting his own book to continue reading.

Mr. Pinkerton stretched out with Pyewacket in front of the fire, Pyewacket rolling over onto his back. He was such a little flirt. Mr. Pinkerton thought about making him wait, maybe contemplate the flames for a bit, but in the end, he decided he did not want to wait, and snuggled in close to Pyewacket, enjoying the warmth and the music and the quiet companionship.


Mr. Pinkerton was awoken from a light doze by a snort from the couch. He was pretty sure it came from Cosmo, who was shaking his head and looking with disbelief at his book.

               “I don’t know why you’re even reading that,” muttered John, without lowering his own book.

               “Jinx wanted to know if the witches were accurately depicted,” answered Cosmo.

               “I take it they’re not.”

               “Yeah, no, it’s the boyfriend. He’s a shifter, and a…”

               “Shifter?” asked John.

               “Yeah. And a homicide detective and he is going on about his wolf said this, or his wolf thought that, or howled or whatever. Like it’s a separate identity, or he’s got multiple personality disorder or something. And like ten paged ago he was just explaining to his witch girlfriend,” he grinned up at John. “Who happens to also be an amateur sleuth because trouble always seems to find her.” He batted his eyelashes up at John. John scowled. “Anyway, the good detective was just saying how he was the exact same whatever shape he was in, so same personality, same identity, right?”

               “He’s a werewolf?”


               “Why didn’t you just say werewolf, then?”

               “That’s not very inclusive. What about tigers, or foxes, or penguins?”

               Mr. Pinkerton had not thought about penguin shifters before. However, there was a constable up in Ingleby Barwick that was said to be a platypus.

               “Penguins? You know what, never mind.” John went back to reading his book for a moment. “It’s probably a euphemism.”

               “What is? Oh, yeah, ‘his wolf’. Cosmo snorted a laugh. “Of course it is.”

               John whacked him with his book.

               “Hey,” Cosmo protested, but continued laughing.

               They went back to their reading.

               Pyewacket was purring next to Mr. Pinkerton, kneading his paws into Mr. Pinkerton’s fur. It was very soothing. And very…. other things. Mr. Pinkerton thought it was about time to send the two humans elsewhere. Time to start their staring campaign.

It took about a minute and a half.

               “Now I have two cats staring at me,” muttered John.

               “You’re worth staring at,” Cosmo replied.

               “Why don’t we call it a night?” said John.

               “But,” answered Cosmo. “They just found an undead body.”

               Mr. Pinkerton perked up at these words. So, there were other bodies that weren’t dead bodies.

               “All the more reason. And I can assure you that my little wolf has a lot more to offer than their undead body,” John said

               “Little wolf?” Cosmo had lowered his book and was grinning up at John. “Big bad wolf, I’d


               “If that gets you upstairs quicker.” John stood up, dislodging Cosmo, and then held out his hand to help him up. “Although, if you bring up Little Red Riding Hood, all bets are off,” John practically growled as he pulled Cosmo up the stairs.

               “Nice to meet you, Mr. Pinkerton,” Cosmo called over his shoulder as he trailed John. And then they disappeared upstairs.

               Mr. Pinkerton turned to Pyewacket. Pyrwacket stared back. They were alone. He touched his nose to Pyewacket’s.

               Merry Christmas, Pyewacket.

               Merry Christmas, Mr. Pinkerton.








Sunday, December 20, 2020

Advent Calendar Day 20


Today's little giftie is a repeat from years past. 

Some of you know that in another part of my life I'm a just a singer in a rock and roll band. Okay no. I'm a singer of Celtic folk music. And I'm in a band--well, sort of. Even pre-COVID we didn't play that much anymore, but you mark my words, youngling, in our day we were out there gigging every single week and playing festivals across the country, and so on and so forth, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Anyway, we recorded a Christmas album (now out of print) and it has some kind of nice things, and I thought for today that I'd pop one of ours in here because I thought had time to finish this coda I'm working on, but I didn't! 

The song is "Christmas in Carrick," which I believe was written by the Clancy Brothers? Performed by The Browne Sisters and George Cavanaugh (Eric Rigler is on Uilleann pipes).

Click here to listen. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Advent Calendar Day 19



Something so lovely for you today. We have fiction from Sarah featuring two of my favorite characters from way back when: Stephen and Mark from the I Spy trilogy. 

The press of a pair of lips, the touch of a hand on his shoulder and the tinkling notes of the café doorbell lingered for a few moments after Mark had left. Stephen poured himself another cup from the pot, added milk and stirred idly. He smiled. A cup of tea, in an old teashop in Cambridge, England (though of course here it was just ‘Cambridge’), it was all so perfect. It was the first time they’d separated since their arrival in Britain a week ago. They’d done everything together: a West End Theatre, the National Gallery, both Tate Galleries, the British Museum, the walking tour of Dickens’ London, the kingsize bed in the hotel… Mark hadn’t minded playing tourist as he’d barely spent any time in London. Cambridge was a different matter; it had been home to Mark for three formative years. He’d been here when his great uncle  - his last close relative - had died, and here when he was recruited by the Old Man. As he lifted the cup from the saucer, Stephen’s lips tightened in a little grimace at the thought of that particular gentleman. Mark had now departed to visit an old tutor, one of only a handful of people with whom he’d remained in touch. Stephen had a couple of hours to explore the old university city until they were to meet up, before taking the train back to London. Tomorrow he and Mark would be flying back overnight to Virginia, arriving on Christmas Eve.


Buttoning up his overcoat, he made his way along the narrow street. The Michaelmas Term

was over; the students had gone and school-aged children were out with their parents, buying last-minute presents. Following Mark’s advice, he walked across the Cam by Queen’s College and then into the park known as The Backs. From there, the colleges looked magnificent, each framed against the crisp, blue winter sky. Stephen’s thoughts slipped from architecture and history to Mark. Throughout their relationship, theyd really only ever been together on Stephens home ground - his house, his country. Here before him was a glimpse into Mark’s past. He stood for a long while, lost in thought.


At Cambridge Mark had excelled and he’d looked set to become an academic, but then he’d been lured away by the promise of belonging to an elite, risk-taking group by the Old Man. Stephen thought of the young undergraduate with no family or home, and he understood that in addition to the attractions of secrecy and danger, Mark had been driven by loneliness and a desire to belong. A young man who was scared to let himself be loved. He’d never forgotten Mark asking if he could come home”  and his faltering voice adding, I… dont have anywhere else to go.” In spite of his anger and hurt, he’d agreed to let Mark stay because he had known that if he didn’t, he too would always be fundamentally lonely - even if he were with someone else.


After taking a few photographs of the colleges,  Stephen continued along his way, crossing back over the Cam and into the town. He took his time, drinking in the architecture and gazing into the gaudily decorated shop windows.


They’d agreed not to wait for each other, given the cold December air, so he paid for his ticket and made his way into the old converted cottages of Kettle’s Yard.  He walked carefully across the floorboards in the hushed interior. There was a warmth here that made it quite unlike the galleries in London. It had been a home and there were no barriers between the visitors and the artefacts. Mark had assured him he would love it and he did. Objects were placed on pieces of furniture and windowsills.  There were sculptures and paintings by British artists but what drew his eye was a spiral of pebbles. Small stones, selected perhaps from thousands on a beach, gathered up to be treasured. Lost objects found and given a new home.


He turned.  There he was, smiling at him. Found. Loved. His home.





Advent Calendar Day 19 - OUR PRIZE WINNERS SO FAR! (and ANOTHER givewaway!)

 Good morning! I know you're wondering, and yes, we've got some prize winners! 

We've also got another lovely bit of art from the multi-talented Terry Wylis (it reminds me of Catalina Island at twilight), so if you haven't scored any goodies so far, you can comment below and you'll be in the running for the our next round of giveaways.

Another chance to win!

Now, I know I said this year's prizes were all purchased ahead of time--and that's true! HOWEVER, my promise to get everything out right away was made before our governor initiated MASS FATALITY PROTOCOLS for our state. So I'm not sending the SO anywhere near the post office till things calm down a little again.

All the prizes will eventually be mailed, I promise. 

In the meantime, here are our winners up to now: 

Advent Calendar Day 1 

The tiny vintage planter goes to Karan!

Karan message me with your snail mail address

Advent Calendar Day 7 

Karan (again!) just blew me away with all those wonderful long-forgotten quotes--all of which will be finding their way into teasers, I suspect. 

So our first winner is, no surprise here, Karan for really any one of those, but I really, really loved this:

"Glen," Nash whispered. Not the start of a conversation, just Glen. The miracle of Glen. Still here. Still alive. Still Glen.

Glen's colorless mouth curved. He said gently, almost inaudibly, "Nash, you're raining."

~ In Plain Sight

And not to be outdone, we have Natascha with lines from one of my very favorite short stories:

The man who stood shoulder to shoulder with him on the job and the man who lay in his arms at night. When Keir went he would take both those men with him -- he would take everything. --- In Sunshine Or In Shadow

Then it got really hard to not just pick everyone and everything! 

But I finally settled on Cecily and:

“We’re watching you,” whispered the voice on the other end.

“Yeah? Did you see what I did with my keys?”

Silence. Then dial tone.

These younger demons. So easily discouraged

--The Hell You Say

And melon-whiskey (again, so many to choose from!):

"You're wrong, you know. I would let you get away with murder. Hell, I'd probably help you commit it, if that's what you wanted..." From Fair Play.

And Sarah with:

“He never lied to me. I just didn’t ask the questions I didn’t want to know the answers to.” Death of a Pirate King

And finally we have Loretta with:

"Besides, I think Kyle would have recognized him ski mask or not."

"It was dark."

"I'd know you in the dark, Tucker."

Tucker's eyes flashed up to meet Elliot's. He said curtly. "Yeah. I'd know you too."

--Fair Game

So I, *COUGH*, doubled Johanna's prize-giving, but that's okay. SHE KNOWS I'M GOOD FOR IT. 

If this set of winners could each make their magnet choice from Johanna's three festive and heartwarming magnets and let me know through message or email their pick and where to mail the magnet to, it will be much appreciated! 

Advent Calendar Day 9 

The Christmas Tree napkin holders go to Karen from New Mexico! I mean, you have to respect someone who can turn tea into booze. Talk about your Christmas miracles. ;-)

Karen, I need a mailing address. :-) 

(I just want to say youse guys really came up with some DELIGHTFUL cocktail recipes this year!!) 

Advent Calendar Day 14

The winner of Terry Wylis's wonderful artwork is Smitty!

Smitty please let me know your mailing address so I can forward that on to Terry.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Advent Calendar - Day 18

 Another cartoon. I'd never seen this before, and I hope it lasts on YouTube long enough for you to see it. It's called "Mole's Christmas", and it's adapted from the beloved childhood classic The Wind in the Willows.

How are you holding up? Not getting too stressed out, I hope? The season goes so quickly. I'm trying to really focus on everything I love about this time of year, and not get overwhelmed with checklists and Things To Do and worries about the future. One day at a time, my dears.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Advent Calendar Day 17


Good morning! I just want to take a minute to say how happy I am that so many people are participating in the calendar this year. And by participating, I mean taking the time and trouble to comment on all the posts as well as all the wonderful guest submissions we've had. It makes the calendar so much better, so thank you. I really do appreciate your engagement. <3

Today we have more fiction! Smitty has written a delightful and deliciously long glimpse into the secret life of Sam and Jason from The Art of Murder series. I think you're going to love it.  ;-)

Sam Kennedy liked California. He hadn’t lied about that. He liked that it was sixty degrees and the sun was shining. He liked that he was sitting on the beach with the waves crashing a few yards away. He liked the way Jason’s ass looked in his wetsuit. He just found it a little strange to be liking all that on December 24th.

That said, Sam wasn’t one to look a Christmas gift horse in the mouth, especially one that put him in the position to watch Jason West jog out of the surf, a beaming grin on his face and his black neoprene suit clinging to his lean body. He was still too thin, but less so than in Montana, and his posture was loose and easy.

He lodged his board in the sand with a determined flex of his biceps and threw himself down on the

towel next to Sam. He was winded, cheeks flushed, and Sam knew firsthand how the drag of the tide could easily drain strength from a man’s muscles. But, with that memory, came the one of Jason’s resolve in the water, the skills he’d learned as a lifeguard, and his comfortable rapport with the ocean.

“What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” Jason asked with a wink. Water ran from his dark hair down his face, his eyes bright in contrast. Sam despaired a bit about how utterly taken he was with Jason. Twelve years his junior, with a classical education and a bloodline stacked with philanthropists, politicians, and soldiers, there was nothing about them that made sense. And somehow that mattered not at all.

“My partner,” Sam drawled, “wanted to go surfing.” 

“Oh?” Jason grinned, his eyes crinkling at the corners. He liked that, liked that Sam would use the word partner when talking about him. Sam filed that away for later. “Is he cute?”

Jason couldn’t pull off a credible leer to save his life, which was hilarious when Sam remembered how adept he was undercover.

Sam let his own eyes crinkle. “Devastating,” he said.

Jason flushed and his grin widened.  He rolled up easily to his knees and threw a leg over both of Sam’s. Sam found his lap full of green eyes and wet neoprene, Jason’s knees braced in the sand on either side of Sam’s hips.  

For as loud and unrestrained as he was in the bedroom, Jason didn’t often initiate physical contact. Sam suspected he was at fault for that particular quirk, and he didn’t want to think too closely on it. This was nice, the hard jut of Jason’s hipbones fitting neatly in Sam’s palms, the neoprene slick and wet against his skin.

Breathtaking, Sam thought as Jason kissed him, might be an even better word than devastating, although he still felt pretty damn devastated. The beach was fairly deserted - Jason had called it ‘cold’ earlier, which was just ridiculous - but Sam’s heart swelled with the public display of affection. 

He didn’t mind rumors and office gossip. If people had nothing better to do than talk about you, at least you were making an impression. But it was nice to be here, to be able to touch Jason openly, to thumb his wet hair behind his ear and nuzzle his jaw.

Jason gusted out a sigh and said, “If you’re trying to talk me into skipping out on the party tonight, it’s totally working.” He cupped a hand around Sam’s neck and Sam breathed him in, tempted.

The Wests’ annual Christmas Eve party was some kind of legend in these parts - not that Sam had ever heard of it before Jason sheepishly confessed that they were expected to attend - and Sam appreciated the gesture, but he’d made his promise and he intended to follow through.  Not that an evening of ‘networking’ with a couple hundred of the Wests’ closest acquaintances sounded like a good time, but this was part and parcel of Jason, and despite all the resistance he’d initially put forward, Sam wanted the full experience.

“Nice try,” Sam scolded, as Jason’s thumb stroked the sensitive skin under his ear. He grabbed the towel Jason had left on the sand beside them and smashed it onto Jason’s head, scrubbing his sopping hair. “Last thing I need is your mother blaming me for your defection.”

Jason laughed, bright and consonant with the waves behind him. “If you think my mother’s the real danger,” he chuckled, “you haven’t learned anything about my family at all.”

No, Sam realized as Jason pulled the towel away and leaned in for another kiss.  He knew exactly who was the real danger.


The real danger, Sam realized four hours - four *noisy* hours - later, was the wassail.  He sloshed the contents of his cup dubiously, already feeling a little bowled over by the gulp and a half he’d taken, and he wasn’t exactly a lightweight. Then again, the atmosphere could be a contributing factor to his discomfort. 

For starters, there was the house.  This was where the elder Wests lived.  Stately West Manor, as Jason

cheekily called it, was a literal old Hollywood mansion with a courtyard and French doors on every side of the room.  And this was only one room.  Waiters and waitresses circulated silently and smoothly with trays of champagne, wassail, whiskey, caviar, and pate.  Jason, it turned out, was indifferent to both caviar and pate, but enjoyed a good sea urchin on a cracker.  What the actual hell, Jason.

Jason had temporarily abandoned him to greet someone from the local art community.  Sam wasn’t sure if the guy was someone he’d pissed off when he’d been in town looking for the killer who had turned out to be Eric Greenleaf, or if the guy hated Granville Redmond, the only painter Sam was interested in discussing.  Either way, it wasn’t like he minded.  He could use a breather, anyway.

He liked Jason’s little house, he liked Venice, and he had thoroughly enjoyed the time they’d spent on the beach that morning.  But this, this was all a bit much.  Sam came from the land of mountains and wide open spaces, free-roaming wildlife and winters that stayed far below freezing. Jason’s world was a balmy sixty-five degrees and populated by people who looked like they’d emerged from an explicitly Christmas version of the game of Clue. 

Jason’s parents were pillars of the community. They were wealthy, erudite, and commanded a power that was mellowing as their peers passed their own fortunes to the next generation. They were starting to show signs of frailty, skin going papery around the edges. By the time Jason was Sam’s age, they’d be gone, or nearly so. Sam couldn’t begin to imagine them in the same room with Ruby. 

Charlotte, or Charlie, as Sam hadn’t been invited to call her, was sweet, well-meaning, but a little...sheltered, maybe. She’d been responsible for the frou-frou magazine spread that Jason’s house had initially resembled, but as time passed, Sam saw Jason’s style edge out the throw pillows and rose petals. Jason claimed she took care of him more than the other way around, but Sam wasn’t so sure.  He liked her kid, though.  Nora was smart and sarcastic and utterly not intimidated by Sam.  In his jacket pocket, he had tucked a drawing she’d made for him in under three minutes.  It looked like a teenager rendering of a murder board and he loved it.  He could see sticking around Cali if it meant hanging out with Nora and Charlotte.

“Special Agent Kennedy,” a warm contralto lilted behind him.  “Has my baby brother left you alone to fend for yourself in this wilderness?”

Sam smiled grimly, recognizing the voice. “Mrs. Price,” he said, turning to face Jason’s other sister. At first glance, Sophie West Price looked like an older, female version of Jason. Dark hair, green eyes, thin frame, pointed nose. But under closer scrutiny, Sam could pick out ways they differed, ways Jason favored their mother and Sophie more closely resembled their father. Still, she looked pretty devastating herself in an evergreen dress that draped gracefully over her shoulders and dipped down her back. “You look stunning this evening.”

“That’s very kind of you to say,” Sophie said dryly and took a sip of her own wassail. “Though there’s no need to pretend.”

Sam raised his eyebrows. “Being attracted to men doesn’t mean I can’t recognize beauty in other forms,” he said.  “I still like art.”

“Well said,” Sophie allowed, her lips quirking up at the compliment.  “Enjoying yourself, I hope?”

Sam shrugged. “It’s not my usual scene, but your family sure knows how to throw a party.” He lifted the cup of wassail. “What is in this stuff?”

“Sodium pentathol,” Sophie said.

Sam stiffened, remembering the heavy dose of Thiapental Jason took during his attempted abduction. 

“Actually mulled cider and rum,” Sophie added. “Does the same job, though.”

Of course. He’d never actually told Jason’s family what he’d been dosed with. And he doubted Jason had either. 

“It’s certainly a potent combination,” he commented. 

“Yes,” Sophie agreed mischievously. “It’s provided us all kinds of entertainment over the years. It was sort of a rite of passage to sneak it when we were kids.”

“Jason, too?” Sam asked, because he couldn’t help himself. Jason with his Kamikazes and craft beer. 

“Oh, Jason’s story is epic,” Sophie affirmed. “But you’ll have to ask him about it yourself. He would absolutely murder me if I told you.”

“Hmm,” Sam said, smiling at his glass and wondering how old Jason had been, if he’d looked like Ethan then, or if that had been his Kingsfield-vacation era of long hair. 

“Ugh, that was a terrible thing to say to someone with your job,” Sophie said with a frown. “I suppose it’s time for me to stop drinking this, too.”

Sam shrugged. Murder was used in every day vernacular and he was well aware that she had meant it in a way far detached from what he saw daily. 

“Are you in town long?” Sophie asked. She’d been impeccably bred and raised and her elocution and manners were perfect. But the longer she lingered, the more clear it became to Sam that she had questions that went beyond polite networking conversation. 

Sophie was the real danger, Jason had told him, riding herd on the family and fighting to preserve its legacy. Jason was her primary frustration, what with having an actual job and vanishing from Important Family Events to help Sam solve murders. 

“Until the new year,” Sam told her. “Assuming I’m not needed elsewhere in the meantime.” He had been clear that he would be available from California during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, even though he was officially taking PTO. He was not, by nature, comfortable with delegation, but it was becoming more and more acceptable to him to be available long distance if it meant following through on his plans with Jason.  It didn’t hurt that it was difficult, even for him, to find fault with Jonni’s work.  “You?”

“We’re staying through New Year and don’t have to go back to DC until a few days before the congressional sessions start,” Sophie said with another sip of her wassail. “I would like to get back in time for the Nationals’ WinterFest, though.”

“Especially now that they have the pennant,” Sam agreed, although he was not deeply focused on the city’s young baseball team prior to that particular achievement and had never been to any kind of fan event. “I didn’t know you were a fan.”

“Clark was first elected the same year the franchise came back to the city,” Sophie said.  Her eyes measured him up, and she finally quirked a half smile that was nearly a mirror of Jason’s.  “I didn’t have a job in DC at first, and I was doing some volunteer work, but I certainly wasn’t in charge of anything then, so sometimes I’d go watch the team lose on weekday afternoons.”

Sophie peered theatrically to all corners of the rooms.  “State secret?” Sam asked.  “I do have Top Secret clearance.”

“You don’t need it,” she assured him. “Just don’t let Mother and Father catch wind of such blasphemy.  They raised us to be loyal Dodgers fans.”

“I didn’t know Jason liked the Dodgers,” Sam mused.

“Oh, don’t get excited,” Sophie warned him.  “Baseball outings were mostly passe by the time Jason was born.  He could care *less* about baseball, but he keeps the allegiance to make our parents happy.”

“Do your parents still think I’m Jason’s boss?” he asked. 

Sophie laughed. “It’s not so much that they think you’re his supervisor,” she said, “as they think he’s the most junior agent in the FBI and everyone’s his boss. Do they still want you to persuade him to go back to teaching?”

Sam shook his head and took a slug of wassail. “Beats me how someone can fill a kid’s head with all those ideals of action and heroism and then expect him to be happy in a classroom.”

“Oh,” Sophie said wryly. “You can blame Grandpa Harley for that one.  Jason came along just as he was retiring and - well, we all spoiled Jason rotten, but Grandpa made that his mission in life.”

“Jason speaks very highly of his grandfather,” Sam said politely. While he had wished, in Montana, that Jason was a little less defensive of his grandfather, Sam also knew that he’d never had such an idol and could not objectively place himself in Jason’s shoes. Perhaps he would have done the same. 

“The feeling was mutual,” Sophie assured him.  “Jason’s middle name is Emerson, you know, after Grandpa. He told Jason every one of his war stories, as many times as Jason would listen, taught him about all the art he’d saved, even took him to Paris when he was old enough.”

Sam had never heard of this trip.  He wondered why Jason had never mentioned Paris.

“I was seventeen when Jason was born,” she said suddenly. “And we all fussed over him. But Charlotte was already on her own, I was on my way to Georgetown that fall, and our parents were not expecting to have to start all over again. Grandma Harley died when Jay was three. Entertaining Jason kept Grandpa busy.”

Sophie glanced down at her drink and for a moment she looked every year of her half century. “Let me ask you something,” she said quietly, steel edging her velvet tone. “When my brother was in the hospital, when he was nearly abducted. How long did you have to wonder whether he would survive? How long was there an actual possibility in your mind that you’d have to walk out of that hospital without him?”

Sam’s throat closed. It wasn’t party conversation and despite the openness he’d enjoyed on the beach earlier, he still thought of his relationship with Jason as a very private thing. “Not long,” he admitted because he should be realistic with Sophie. “Half an hour maybe from the time I got the call to the time I saw him.”  He frowned at his own drink. “Felt like longer.”

“I was in DC when he was shot,” she said. “I was the closest so I was there first. He’d lost so much blood, Sam. He’d gone into shock and they couldn’t promise me that he was going to walk out of that hospital for three days.”

Sam drew in a careful breath through his nose.  “I know,” he said.  “He worries me, too.”

“It’s not like teaching would be a - a demotion,” Sophie said. “He was a wonderful teacher.  One of those teachers who made people care about the subject.  All his students were a little in love with him.”

Sam understood.  One of those bright shiny students would have been a better match for Jason, would make him happy.  Maybe still could.  But Sam was not letting go without a fight this time.  Jason wanted him, for now, at least, and this time around, Sam realized how precious a gift that really was.

“Jason would...excel,” he said slowly.  “At whatever he wanted to do.  But he has to be the one to want to do it.  He’s too damn stubborn to do anything I say.”

“Wow,” Sophie said and she quirked a shadow of that wicked grin into her wassail, even as she touched her ring finger to the edge of her eye, to blot away a tear before it ruined her mascara, Sam hazarded.  “You’ve got it bad, buddy.”

Sam smiled a little himself.  “Tell me about it,” he confessed in a wash of solidarity.  

“I would ask you to take care of him, but we both know how that would turn out,” she said.

“Would be nice, though, wouldn’t it?” Sam agreed.

“What would be nice?”  Jason slipped up to Sam’s side and frowned at his sister.  “Soph, what are you terrorizing Sam about?”

“Who said we’re talking about you?” Sam asked, sliding his arm around Jason’s waist and tugging them hip to hip.

“I know this is going to sound egotistical,” Jason said, narrowing his eyes. “But what else would you two have to talk about?”

Sophie sighed dramatically, lifting her eyebrows in a way that instantly smoothed out her face.  “Sam’s a Nats fan, too,” she said.  “Pitchers and catchers report February 13, you know.”

And then she swept past him and swatted his butt with her clutch as she swanned off - there was no other word for it, Sophie could swan like no one Sam had seen - into the crowd.

“What was that about?” Jason asked, looking adorably puzzled and suspicious.  “I thought we were a Dodgers family?”

“Nothing,” Sam said, rubbing his hand over the back of Jason’s right shoulder, where the scars from the exit wound spread like spiderwebs over his skin, under layers of shirt and jacket.  “How do you feel about getting out of here?”

“Uh, yeah,” Jason said. “Any day now.  Just gotta say goodbye to Mom and Dad.”  He was still looking at Sam quizzically, as if Sam was somehow exhibiting unexpected behavior.

“Good,” Sam said.  Forget Montana. Forget Wyoming. Forget Virginia when his tenure with the FBI was done. Jason belonged in California, and then the time was right, so would Sam. “Let’s go home.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Advent Calendar Day 16


Good morning! Grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage and settle down for a nice long-ish read set in the world of Sort of Stranger Than Fiction. I'm not sure what it is about Karl's character, but he has inspired no fewer than two (possibly more!) holiday codas. :-) 

Today's offering is from another first time contributor: Almathea. She not only tackled her first holiday short story, she did it in English, which is not her native language! It's so wonderful that we've had so many delightful and heart-warming contributions this year. It's always appreciated, but something about you all finding time to participate in such a hellish year, makes it even more special. <3 

So without further adieu...



“Once upon a time in North Pole, there was an Ice Troll living all alone in a weirdly carved ice cave. This Troll was always angry and grumpy, for he only had is loneliness to accompany him. So he spent his days fetching ice and sculpting it with the craft of his hands and the twisted in his mind and giving it the sinister shape of his unfulfilled dreams…”

“You stupid moron! If you were any dumber, you’d start doing photosynthesis!”
Karl Hagar’s eyes drilled through the equally disgusted eyes staring back at him from the mirror. He was so sick with himself. With his inability to say the right words. How could he be the rising star of the MFA Writing Program, so at ease with written words, and then so awkward with spoken ones?

When he was writing, words were flowing easily. They were pouring from him to his computer screen like a tsunami, expressing all his anger in his murder stories. Anger for everything he didn’t have. Like friends. Support. Love… He didn’t hate the characters he murdered in his tales. But he liked his killers most because they were misfits. Unhappy weirdos full of loneliness and pain. Like Karl. Writing was his catharsis. A way to both express and punish himself. Talk about self-loathing

But this emotional way out was a double edged knife, as he had finally realized. The eerie stories and gruesome deaths made people really uncomfortable. They only saw the cruelty in them and tend to wonder about Karl’s sanity. Add to that his cold looks, his deep shyness and his total inability to say his mind and one would only understand why people were avoiding him, burying his dreams of a new life here in San Francisco in the process. He had thought that leaving Peabody would allow him to be himself. Not being “the Hagar son” anymore. Not being the only single gay guy in town – and in the closet. He had thought these were the cause of his unhappiness. Now he knew better. HE was his own curse.

Karl closed his eyes and laid his head against the cold surface of the mirror. Defeated.  He could still hear himself saying “We should date Killian. Spend Christmas together. You owe me since I saved you last week”. Still see Killian’s lovely face ignite until it was almost as red as his hair. And then there had been this final glare full of wrath and loathing, so alien on Killian’s sweet features telling him what a lower being he was before he briskly turned around and disappeared into the winter night. Out of Karl’s life.

“It’s Ethan all over again” whispered Karl. And he let himself remember. 


“…One day, as he was fetching more ice at the bottom of a remote fjord, the troll saw a Christmas Elf gracefully picking edelweiss on the cliff. He watched this rare occurrence with wonder at first and then horror when the elf lost his grip and tumbled down. The troll refused to see the magical creature die and used all his power on ice to create a thick pillow of snow where the elf was going to crash.

After getting back on his feet and checking that he was still alive, the elf assessed his rescuer. “Thank you for saving my life, M. Troll” said the elf. “I owe you a Christmas wish for this. My name is Lear from the Sunny Elves Tribe.” The troll grunted. “And you are?” insisted the elf. It was hard to form a word after so many years of silence and now the troll had to struggle with his own tongue just to crow his name. “Karrel.” The elf appeared jolly after this inelegant introduction. “Do you have a wish?” Oh yes! The troll had a wish. He wanted this cheerful creature to become his friend and fill his loneliness with joy. He wanted to have someone to talk to. He wanted to carve beautiful statues instead of twisted ones! But it was too much to say for a troll who had spent years without speaking. The best he could manage was “Tomorrow. Come back.” The elf seemed to understand all the feelings hidden under these three words and giggled happily. “This is hardly a wish my friend. I’d be delighted to come back to my savior for as long as you can put up with me…”

Karl was in a bad mood when he left M. Carson’s office on December the 16th. Writing a Christmas short story due before the Christmas Holidays?  Without a killing Santa? Not even one teeny tiny murder with poison? But full of magic and feel good? Really? Jeez, Karl didn’t have a clue about how to find the beginning of an idea. But Carson had been adamant: Karl had to prove himself in a completely different genre if he wanted to get an A. “Look around you and you’ll find your inspiration” Carson had said.

Yeah! Of course. And I will see a Christmas elf appear out of thin air?

Just to prove how ludicrous this was, Karl looked around him… And saw The Elf missing a step from the steep staircase and plummeting to the ground, bewilderment rounding his eyes and mouth. Without even thinking, Karl threw himself in the trajectory of the human missile like he used to do on the football field and caught The Elf in the cradle of his arms before they ended up lying on the ground, Karl’s lungs void of air. He didn’t know if it was from the physical shock of the catch or because of the gorgeous hazel eyes focused on him. Maybe both.

With a shaking hand, Killian O’Leary –aka The Elf- pushed back his copper bangs. And then he smiled! He smiled to Karl!

“Whoopsie! That was a close call. I’m always so clumsy but this time… I thought it was all he wrote for me. Thank you for saving the damoiseau in distress Karl.” And then Killian did the most unexpected thing of all: he kissed Karl on the cheek.

Karl couldn’t speak. Not because of his usual struggle for words. Just because his mind has suddenly been turned into a blank sheet. All he could do was to absorb every detail of the moment trough his senses. The warmth of Killian’s body pressed against his. The warmth of these hazel eyes dotted with golden specks like the stars in a clear sky. The warmth left by the velvety lips still tickling on his cheek. The warmth in the sweet voice while saying his name…

Of course he had noticed Killian from Day 1. Karl had always had a soft spot for gingers with hazel eyes. But this one was definitely breath-taking with his beautiful face and lean frame. Graceful and blazingly ethereal. Hence the nickname he had secretly given him: The Elf. Karl had a serious crush for Killian but never dared to approach him. The ginger was a different type of being: always cheerful, surrounded by friends, talkative and openly gay. He was really talented for writing, but favored comedies with gay romance in them. They were just coming from two different worlds.

Except that Killian was in his arms at this very moment. And it went all supernova in Karl’s brain.

Killian chuckled. “You’re comfy and I’m certainly not complaining about you saving my neck but I think we’re drawing a bit of attention onto ourselves here.”

The words snapped Karl’s neurons back to functioning and just a quick look confirmed that all the people in the hall were staring at them, a few of them shell-shocked. Karl grunted and started to twist to extract him from under The Elf. Still giggling, Killian stood up and held a hand to Karl. “Hi, I’m Killian O’Leary. Let me help you big guy.” When they were both back on their feet with the crowd around them thinning now that the show was over –and with the next classes about to begin- Karl finally answered “Karl Hagar”. Then he realized that he must seem like a retard, stating what was already obvious. But Killian’s smile was genuine and kind when he said “Oh I know who you are! We share the same Creative Writing class. And your writing skills are certainly… 

Impressing.” Karl didn’t know what that really meant so he just grunted. “Look Karl, I have to go to my Literature class now.” Of course thought Karl, though the ginger was not finished yet. “But I’d like to repay you for what you did. Not that I could ever really repay you… What about having a coffee after classes?” Stupor muted Karl who could only manage to nod. “You know what? Give me your phone number and I’ll text you”. Like a robot Karl recited the numbers while Killian tapped them into his smartphone before rushing to his class on a last “See you!”

Two hours and six texts later –texts were good to Karl- they met at a coffee house. Though Karl felt awkward and barely dared to speak, favoring monosyllabic answers, it all went surprisingly smoothly, thanks to The Elf’s easy going and chatty nature. And he felt something like joy when Killian proposed him to do it again on the day after. After all, it was the closest thing Karl ever had to a date…

“…And the day after Lear came back to spend one hour with the taciturn troll. And the day after. And the next one, as Karrel always asked him to. Day after day, hour after hour, the troll’s throat opened up to let more words come out. And finally he was able to explain why he was living alone so far away from his people. Karrel was one of the three sons of the Ice Trolls King, Hagard, a hard man who focused all his considerable strength and gold to get more of each. If he had ever loved his third son, he never showed it. Actually he seemed to hate everything about him: his desire to craft ice instead of gaining wealth, his shyness with others while he could crush them with his regal power and –worst of all- he sensed his last son may have sympathy for Christmas beings! So, feeling that each one his words was cause for his father’s ire, the troll stopped talking until he forgot how to speak. And ultimately he left for his lonely cave where he could express himself in silence through ice. The elf always listened with patience and compassion and even wonder about his craft and his being an Ice Prince...”

For the following days it became a routine for them to meet at the coffee house at the end of the day. At first all they did was small talk. Ages. Origins. Hobbies. Living places. Favorite movies and songs. Reverting on the day classes. Innocuous topics that allowed Karl to feel at ease and speak without fear, though he never was loquacious. But he really enjoyed these meetings. They were the best part of his days. It felt right and good like… Having a friend?

Gradually they started discussing more personal topics. Killian told Karl about the day he came out and how supportive his family had been. How much he was missing his dad who had passed away from kidney cancer a few years ago. All the shenanigans he did with his siblings.

And Karl opened up like he had never before. At least, as much as he could: with short sentences and a clipped voice.  He told Killian how it was to grow up in a small town where everybody knew who he was. He talked about his life in the closet and how he had been turned down by his first crush. And he finally talked about his Father comparing him to his brothers. How he always disappointed him and was told to man up. Karl had never told about this to anyone and it felt great to finally take this weight out of his chest. More than great: freeing!

But the best part was that Killian never expressed pity. He had this way to see the best in everything and cheer Karl up. Sometimes by saying something positive like “That sucks. But hey! Look where it brought you. On the right path to become a writer!” Some other times by making silly jokes that always made Karl smile and snort.

But he really laughed when Killian told him “Heck! They call you The Ice Prince but you’re actually coming for a troll horde!” Karl had never heard anything so silly and couldn’t help laughing out loud, discovering the sound of his own adult laugh. “Trolls it is! That’s a good one. But what is it with this Princy thing?” he said when he finally could speak again.
“You really don’t know? You’re so handsome but always act so cold and aloof, that the people in CreaWri have nicknamed you The Ice Prince”.
Karl felt a bit at loss. “Are you sure? Because the last time I wore a black outfit, I heard some of them say “Beware! Here comes the Gestapo!” It was… Very unpleasant. So a prince, even and icy one, that’s… Better.”
Killian’s phone beeped. It was time to part.
But as they were saying their goodbyes in the parking lot, Killian whispered with a smile almost mysterious “You know, I may have been the first to call you The Ice Prince…” And with this he climbed into his car and left.
Karl remained there for a short while pondering over these last words, wondering if this was an opening to something more intimate, his heart warming in his chest as he watched His Elf drove by.

“…On the sixth day, the troll asked “How is it? Happiness?” This was a tricky question for Lear. How could he explain such a complex and glorious feeling to one who had never experienced it? To one who knew only rejection and frustration? He couldn’t find the words for it so he did the unthinkable. “Let me show you” he said while gently putting his hand to the troll’s chest and pressing it just above his heart. Then he thought about all the past Christmas, the merriment, the friendship the cinnamon rolls. Lear conjured all his best memories and sent them like a glowing ghost into Karrel’s heart. The troll felt like a burning sun was melting the ice surrounding his heart. Nobody had even ever touched him and there was the touch, and all this warmth and joy he didn’t know about. It was the most extraordinary feeling! And it was too much. Too much at once. The troll broke the contact, reeled back and after stuttering his usual “Tomorrow. Come back” he ran away...”

On the next evening, Karl’s chest was still tingling with warmth. And something that appeared a lot like hope.
Karl ordered his usual large espresso. Killian, who changed his order every day, went for a hot cocoa with whipped cream, cinnamon and caramel chips. It was part of their habits now. They ordered their drinks, found an isolated table and enjoyed their beverage in silence for a few minutes. Or comparative silence, as His Elf had a tendency to moan every time he tasted something he really liked.

That was one thing Karl never tired of: this ability Killian had to enjoy small things to the fullest. Like every little nice thing brought him a huge pleasure. It was so endearing. And strange too. But mostly endearing. God I have it bad! Everything about this guy enchants me. Not to mention what these moans of pure pleasure did to his crotch… Karl wiggled in his chair.

“What is it with you and sugar?” he asked to end with this torture.

Killian’s greedy eyes met his. “Oh man! This is not sugar, this is pure bliss! It’s about mixing tastes and textures. It’s about the cream and caramel melting in the chocolate. It’s like… Like a perfect kiss! Wanna taste?”

Oh yes I want to taste, but not from the cup… Still he took the cup and then a sip. It was tasty indeed. Too sweet for his taste but nice. He hesitated, braced himself and finally asked “Seriously, how is it to kiss a man?”

Killian froze. “I thought you were gay! Was it some kind of sick homophobic game?”

Karl’s eyelids fluttered. “Yes. I mean, I am. Gay. It’s not a game. And certainly not a homophobic one!”

His Elf’s posture softened. “So… Are you telling me that you’ve never been kissed at 28?”

Karl nodded curtly. Deadly ashamed. Thinking Killian would laugh so hard about how pathetic he was. Knowing he should have never asked.

“Woaw! I knew you didn’t have much experience but I didn’t realize… Sorry for thinking you were making fun of me; for believing that you could play… well forget it.” Killian paused. “Honestly, I don’t know how to describe a kiss. With the right guy it’s sweet but devastating. It’s like a prelude and like sex at the same time. Oh! But then you don’t know about sex either…”

Redder than Killian’s hair, Karl shook his head.

“Hmm… I suppose you’ll have to find out for yourself…”

Karl wanted to vanish. Now.

“Hey, don’t be ashamed. We all have started as virgins you know,” Killian said with a wink. “And with your good looks I wouldn’t worry if I were you”. The understanding and praise lightened a bit Karl’s discomfort.
“Hey! You didn’t tell me: have you finally started writing your Christmas story?” Okay. Not a bad move for a change of topic. This was safer ground. Karl could relax at last, while bitching about the assignment he had only two days left to do and had not even started.

As usual, they went back together at the parking lot and Karl escorted Killian to his battered Toyota Corolla. When the door was opened, Karl stepped back, as he always did. But Killian grabbed his arm. “Wait. I’ve got the answer to your question.” Before Karl could even understand what His Elf was talking about, he felt Killian plastering his body against his. The next second thin arms were around his neck and lips were softly caressing his. At first Karl didn’t know what to do. Then instinct kicked in and he embraced the lean body and lost himself into his first kiss.

It was intoxicating. Killian’s lips were so much softer and plumper than he had imagined. The flat body pressed against his in all the right places, like the yin and the yang. And when Killian’s tongue invaded his mouth, he tasted like chocolate, cream, caramel and cinnamon. Pure bliss. Soon, Karl was lost in their panting breaths and entwined limbs, giving as much as he received, pressing Killian between his body and the old car, his hands roaming every place he could touch trying to get to the skin, rubbing his hardening dick on the other’s stomach, bathing in the scent and taste of the man he loved.

The man he LOVED… Oh my god!

Karl jerked back, struck by the lightning of his epiphany. I was not a crush. Not anymore. It was love. Still breathless he stared into the eyes of an equally breathless Killian. How an entrancing face he had with his lips and cheeks all rosy from their shared kiss.
My first kiss. With my first love.

It was something he had waited for all his life. And suddenly he felt unprepared. Terrified by something utterly unknown. So out of his league.

Karl staggered back. He mumbled “This is… Was… That was great… See you tomorrow, okay?” Without waiting for an answer he rushed to his TR7 sports car and fled the scene of his enlightenment under Killian’s startled gaze.

“… On the seventh day, the troll was still giddy with amazement and wonder. He knew he could never go back to his silent cave and twisted statues after… After that. He wanted more joy. More happiness. He wanted to spend every single second of his life with the bearer of such light, he wanted to become a part of Christmas. That was his Wish. The wish from his heart. But it was so much more than the usual Christmas wish! It had nothing to do with “I want a new chisel” for Santa’s sake! And he feared refusal so much that the words came all wrong: “I know my Wish. I want you to be my slave as I own your life.” The troll realized what he had said only a second before Lear vanished...”

That night, Karl barely slept. He was so overwhelmed with it all. And so afraid too. 

Afraid that Killian had kissed him for no other reason than helping a friend. Or that he was looking for casual sex. Afraid to hope and see his hope crushed. Afraid to lose his first friendship and afraid to ruin his first love. Afraid of what might and what might not be.

He wanted to hope. But he knew he wasn’t exactly a keeper.

And that kiss! It had been everything. Like His Elf had said: “sweet and devastating”. He still had Killian’s taste rolling on his tongue and Killian’s scent lingering on his sweater put down next to his pillow. Just remembering Killian’s arms caressing and kneading his back, his moans or the way he had rubbed his erection against Karl’s thigh made him hard again. That night he did two things. For one, he decided to ask Killian out. Only his sheets remember the other one.

On the morning, Karl had barely slept and was unable to focus on his classes. All he could do was dream of all the things he wanted now. More kisses. Many more. Kisses were amazing. And sex, because it was said to be even better. Just thinking about sex with His Elf was a liability for his jeans buttons to pop out so hard they would ended up in orbit. But more than everything he longed for being loved in return. He needed a chance to build a real relationship with Killian. To cuddle in front of the TV. To share the intimacy of sleeping in each other’s arms. To spend Christmas together.

He spent most of his day looking at the time that passed so slowly, barely able to contain his eagerness to be with Killian again. Daydreaming about the coming evening. Too bad they didn’t have Creative Writing on that day. He even craned his neck in the hallways, hoping to catch a glimpse of His Elf without luck. But as the afternoon went by, Karl started to feel worried and unsettled. He remembered how Ethan had turned him down, kindly but firmly. His old fears crept back. And what if Killian laughed at him, thought he was preposterous?  Or was just not interested in him? Suddenly the ticking of the clock sped up. And when it was time to leave for their coffee house, Karl was a bundle of nerves. And a little late.

Seeing Killian ordering for both of them when he entered the café didn’t calm him. No more than the wave of a steaming cup and smiling welcome he received. “Hi there!  I hope you didn’t decide to try something else today, ‘cause here is your large espresso!”

It was only when they sat that Karl realized Killian’s smile was a bit forced and his silent slightly awkward. Because of the way I fled yesterday?  Or because he’s getting bored with me? They took a few sips in silence. There was no moaning today.

“Hmm… Nope. Maple syrup is not a good match with coffee.” Another silence. Karl was trying to hold his countenance.

“So… Are you going back to Peabody for the Holidays?” asked Killian.

“No. I don’t want to. I will stay here. You?”

“I wish I could go back to Denver spend Christmas with my family. But that’s a hell of a drive and planes are too expensive for us. So I guess I’ll stay here too and maybe spend the day with a friend…”

That’s my queue! I just have to tell him that I’d love to be the one spending Christmas with him because he has become so important to me. That I want to date him. It’s not that hard! Come on, man up!
Karl opened his mouth and completely different words came out. “We should date Killian. Spend Christmas together. You owe me since I saved you last week.”

One minute later, Killian was gone.

“…And so, Karrel was back to his loneliness and the cold of the cave that he couldn’t call home again, for his home was where the elf was now. Except that he would be less than unwelcome there after the stupid offensive words born of his stupid aching fears. He had lost everything. He felt sick with himself, regretful and more miserable than ever. The amount of his loss was too much to bear. He couldn’t live with it. He had to make amends no matter the cost, even if the elf would never forgive him. And he had to find a way to do it without his traitorous mouth to fail him again. So he started to express his feelings in the best way he could: by carving ice. He put all his present remorse into a statue of Lear, but also everything he had started to feel since meeting the wonderful elf. He created an artwork that was not the exact replica of the magical being, but the reflection of the elf into Karrel’s heart. Gorgeous. Warm. Glowing. Loving…”

Karl left his bathroom and sat on his bed. Alone in the dark. As always. He had fucked it all up. Again. But it was worse. So much worse. He could see now that Killian had been hinting about spending Christmas together. The same Killian that had invited him for a coffee at the beginning and knew his name. The one who had called him The Ice Prince. The one who had kissed him.
Killian had liked him. Had been attracted to Karl. But… Yeah, past tense

Karl felt broken. Maybe he should call Killian and try to apologize and explain… But no. He would probably say something mean again. Make it worse. If that was even possible. Maybe he should write him a letter. Written words were his allies. So yes he could write him a letter, a beautiful letter where he would be able to express all his love and regret. A love letter to His Elf.
Yes he could do this! He could write…

Wait! Write? To My Elf? Just before Christmas?

Karl knew what he had to do. He was going to write the Christmas story! Not to get an A, but to get a chance to redeem himself. And maybe, just maybe, get a chance at happiness.
Karl sat at his computer and started to type. The story was coming to him so naturally. An easy flow of words about a troll and a Christmas elf pouring from his heart.

By 11 P.M. he was done. Or almost done. Before he could second guess his action, he took his phone and typed “Please, I know you’re mad at me. But please read this. You’re the only one who can tell me how the story ends…” He put his short story in attachment and sent it to Killian.

Afterwards he remained there, his eyes locked on his computer clock, then on his screen saver, seeing nothing. Just waiting. Shallow.

“…The troll was exhausted when he finished the statue and truly it was a masterpiece. But he was not done yet. He cleared his throat, enchanted the statue and said “I’m so sorry Lear. I didn’t know how to tell you that for me you ARE happiness. My only happiness. You’re the blazing sun that melts my heart. You are everything to me, as unworthy as I am. I was so afraid to tell you these words that I said horrible things instead. If you could ever forgive me, I would spend my life atoning. Will you be all my future Christmas?” Karrel gathered his last strengths to summon an ice wind strong enough to carry the enchanted ice statue to the elf’s doormat. And then he collapsed on the ground and waited for his fate. He waited for what felt like years. Not daring to hope for a Christmas miracle. Not daring to let his fears sneak in back again. Barely daring to breathe. He waited and waited. Finally he realized that a snow petrel had entered his cave and landed on one of his twisted statues, glaring at him with a vellum roll in his beak. With a shaking hand, the troll took the message, unrolled it and read the answer…”

It was past midnight when Karl’s phone rang. “Lothlórien's Theme”. Killian then.

Karl was astounded. In his core he had known that Killian would answer him. Because he was a kind man. But he had expected a short text. Not a phone call.

After remaining still, now he was shaking and he fumbled with his phone to take the call before it went to voicemail. His voice too was quivering when he picked up.


He could hear muffled sobs on the other end of the line.

Had it succeeded in making it worse after all?

“Please Kil, talk to me…”

Another sob. Then Killian’s constricted voice.

“You’re so dumb!”

Okay. Nothing new here.

Then a trembling laugh.

“It’s beautiful Karl. It’s the… most wonderful thing that was ever done for me.”

“I… Thank you. I’m so sorry Kil. You are My Elf. Always. But the ending is yours.”

Another laugh, less trembling. Merrier.

Karl braced himself.

“You’re really really dumb! It’s a Christmas story! Of course there’s a happy ending. I’ll be at your place in twenty minutes. And for the record, I’m in love with you!”