'Comfort and Joy' is a combination of insightful, short stories which give us a look at relationships particularly during the holiday season which is, by definition, an emotional time for most of us. It's also be a magical time when hearts are more open than at any other time of the year, giving us the opportunity to right wrongs; sort out misunderstandings; and rekindle love we thought was lost to us forever.
Rest and Be Thankful by Joanna Chambers
“The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.” ~ Ritu Ghatourey
It's close to Christmas, but from Cam McMorrow's perspective, everything isn't merry and bright Cam started a kayaking business a year ago; even though he has a good plan, he doesn't anticipate the venture being so seasonal. With most of his business being in the spring, summer, and fall. Cam doesn't have any income at all during the winter. Cam doesn't make friends easily but he's tried to fit in. After an argument with Rob, the town's café owner, he's sure no one is going to want anything to do with him, so he becomes a hermit. Things look up when his sister, who realizes he's depressed, gives him a ticket to Glasgow’s Wildest Hogmanay Party. Cam has always loved attending in years past and this year in particular; he really needs a time to let go and forget his problems and enjoy himself, at least for a few hours. On the way there, Cam runs into several obstacles that eventually leave him stranded in the last place he wants to be; in front of Rob's house.
Since losing his partner, Andrew, to cancer, Rob has resigned himself to living alone, but is beginning to realize that it's not necessarily what he wants anymore. Rob is beginning to feel lonely, wanting someone's company. When Rob answers Cam's knock, Cam is the last person Rob is expecting to see; but unlike Cam, Rob doesn't feel any ill will toward Cam; he is more than willing to help him. When it becomes obvious that he can't leave, Cam accepts Rob's hospitality. Cam can feel the spark between them, but assumes there's no chance that Rob would be interested, particularly after their infamous argument; but Rob doesn't see it that way. This is Rob and Cam's first real chance to get to know each other and clear up any misconceptions they may have, not just about each other, but in their lives in general. As the revelations continue, Cam and Rob begin to realize that things aren't nearly as bleak as they have seemed.
This story may be short in words, but it's full of emotion. Joanna has created an effective setting clearly reflecting Cam's desperation. Everything seemed out to get him. Even the weather becomes a character, conspiring to keep Cam from his destination and direct him to another, where he's meant to be. This is an intense story about two men who had almost given up, but have their faith in love and life restored.
Out by Harper Fox
“An injured sense of self esteem has driven me to this extreme. I'm terrified to let one see the wounded heart inside of me. I'd never want to be portrayed as someone weak, just too afraid.” ~ Jessica, Soon I'll have to leave...
Imagine being the pinnacle of efficiency at work, well respected by employees and patrons as well. There's no obstacle you can't overcome; at least, if you stay inside the building. Cosmo Grant of 'Out' by Harper Fox, is painfully familiar with agoraphobia and its adverse effects, and goes to great lengths to avoid going out. One day he is coerced by his bully manager to give an umbrella to a special guest, Ren Vaudrey, who has just gone outside, telling Cosmo that it's raining and he doesn't want Mr. Vaudrey to get wet. Cosmo knows that he's stuck in a very bad position; face the threat of losing his job or brave the possibility of a horrible anxiety attack if he does what he's told. The result of his choice doesn't cure his agoraphobia, but it does get him a knight in shining armor in the form of Ren Vaudrey.
Right away, Ren recognizes what is wrong with Cosmo and does his best to shield him from embarrassment. He takes Cosmo to his room and they have a long talk. This, of course, endears Cosmo to this handsome, mysterious guest, who doesn't seem at all like the accountant he's claiming to be. Cosmo confides in Ren, telling him why he's in the emotional turmoil that he's in, which he's never told anyone, except the police, before. Ren is very understanding and reassures him that being frightened is a perfectly reasonable reaction to his trauma. Ren also confides in Cosmo, telling him what he'd already surmised, that Ren wasn't an accountant, but a police officer instead. Ren is looking for his partner, John, who has vanished; Ren fears he's gone after the man who murdered his son. Ren talks of John with so much emotion that Cosmo wonders if they are lovers and is hesitant to get too close to Ren because of it. Cosmo wants to help Ren, especially since he knows how much John means to him, but there's only so much he can do confined to the hotel.
Looking outside, Cosmo watches the activity, people preparing for Christmas. Nostalgia overtakes Cosmo; although he does his very best to make his imprisonment comfortable, there are things he dearly misses. “Suddenly I was missing everything. Fresh air, crowds, the smell of hot dogs on street corners. I missed having a boyfriend... I missed sex. I really missed music. There was my music stand, gathering dust by the window. My violin was propped against the wall. I hadn't touched it in a year.” Cosmo knows that if it had been anyone else in his situation, he would be the first one to get him to a doctor, yet, even in all his pain, he can't face taking that route. With Ren by his side, Cosmo gains more confidence; he learns that he can do a lot more than he thinks he can. It takes an incredible amount of courage and determination, but Cosmo discovers ways to help solve the mystery of the missing partner and set things right for everyone.
I enjoyed everything about this story, the perfect setting, the remarkable, flawed characters, the mystery, suspense, and the very British flavor shown in the lyrical language, customs, and scenery. The hotel even seemed like more than Cosmo's gilded cage. It was a microcosm of the city around it, even though Cosmo wasn't satisfied there and ashamed he couldn't leave. It made his coming out even more spectacular. Agoraphobia, with its terrible anxiety attacks and fear that you will die unless you get back inside the cocoon you have made for yourself, is very sad and extremely debilitating. Harper has done a marvelous job imparting how someone with this problem feels and how desperately they wish they could overcome it. Thanks, Harper, for offering us such a well-written, descriptive love story of mystery, education, love, and passionate lovemaking to boot. It's a lovely holiday story.
Waiting for Winter by L.B.Gregg
“The thing about loving someone, is that yelling at them only feels good while you're doing it -- as soon as they're gone, all you want to do is take it all back”~Lauren Barnholdt, Getting Close
Misunderstandings between lovers are a sad, painful, and often unnecessary. Luke, of 'Waiting for Winter' by L.B. Gregg, thought his world was falling apart when his lover, Winter, makes a major decision without consulting him. Luke is so furious about being taken for granted he breaks up with Winter rather than going through the humiliation of being left behind. What, if anything, will bring these men who still love each other back together?
Luke is in a great deal of pain over his breakup with Winter, but refuses to consider that he may be responsible for some of it. They have grown apart; Luke wants to settle down and enjoy life while Winter always wants more; more money, more adventures, more challenges. In his haste and excitement, Winter assumes that Luke will want whatever he does and doesn't consult Luke about any of it. To make matters worse, after a six-month separation, Winter comes back to town and expects Luke to pick up from where they left off. This upsets Luke as well, but apparently Winter is trying to make Luke feel the way he felt before by using tactics that worked in the past, except now, they just make Luke feel angry and used. What he wants is some sincere emotion and an apology; what he gets from Winter is the caveman approach. Winter expects him to jump up and follow him even after all this time and, at least for Luke, loneliness and pain. Luke tries to resist Winter but it's hopeless. His body is responding to Winter just like it used to before; he's losing the battle. Against his better judgment, Luke falls into bed with Winter and almost immediately regrets it. Winter wants to talk, but Luke is still too hurt to hear him. Hoping for a bit of payback, when Luke gets a chance, he jumps out of bed, gets dressed, and leaves Winter just so he can feel what it is like to be left behind. Predictably, it only makes Luke feel worse and solves nothing.
Six months later, it is Christmastime. Luke has been drafted into picking up Winter from the train station and take him to Luke's cousin's house. Winter is surprised to see Luke. Unlike Winter's normal calm, cool, and collected self, Luke notices that he seems nervous and unsure of himself. All the way there, Luke keeps throwing barbs at Winter, while Winter doesn't reply to. Instead, Winter's behavior is atypical. He's almost nostalgic, reminding Luke of the good times they had in the past. Luke keeps pretending that Winter's comments don't affect him. When Luke's cousin and her family are delayed by the weather; Winter and Luke end up spending Christmas together which means they are forced into a situation where neither can leave. Inevitably, they get around to discussing what happened between them and why and ruminate on all the what ifs. Winter and Luke need a Christmas miracle. Their love is still there, but they can't feel it until they listen with their hearts instead of their heads.
This is an intense story of two men who lost sight of what was important. L.G. reminds us how important it is not to take those we love for granted; love each other enough to share our feelings so there are no misunderstandings leading to pain and alienation. Thanks, L.G., for the great Christmas story.
Baby, it’s Cold by Josh Lanyon
“Sometimes, life gives you a second chance because just maybe the first time you weren't ready.” ~ unknown
Why is it that some people who change their status in life, whether it be job or relationship-wise, often feel that they have to change the way they behave? Rocky and Jesse, from 'Baby, It's Cold' by Josh Lanyon, should have made the best couple ever because they have a true affection for each other and so much in common; but instead of bringing them closer, it creates a distance that baffles both of them. It is as if the closeness is uncomfortable rather than comforting. Jesse knows that Rocky is the one and is determined to bridge the gap between them. He cooks up (pun intended) an elaborate plan to break through their stalemate and get their relationship back on track. What he didn't anticipate, is someone else who was interested in Rocky as well, choosing that particular night, Christmas Eve, to make his move on Rocky.
Rocky is surprised when Jesse shows up at his door, particularly since the weather is beginning to turn bad. He's skeptical when Jesse tells him that a special client has been hired to cook Rocky a special dinner, but that the chef who was supposed to cook has fallen ill and Jesse, as a favor, is taking his place. Rocky is skeptical, but he's missed being with Jesse too and goes along with it. Jesse has planned all of Rocky's foods, hoping that the way to a man's heart truly is his stomach.
Things are going reasonably well until Louis, Rocky's manager and friend, shows up with the intention of wooing Rocky as well. Caught in his own lies, Jesse has no choice but to follow through with cooking the dinner while giving Rocky the impression that the intruder is the one who ordered the dinner. As deceptions often go, a comedy of errors ensues; Jesse's well-laid plans fall apart; he's entangled in his own deceit. Louis is agitated that Jesse is there since he feels Jesse had his chance with Rocky and blew it. Rocky is angry that he's being deceived and poor Jesse is despondent, disappointed, and starting to come down with the flu. Instead of the romantic evening he is anticipating, the weather traps all three of them at Rocky's cabin with everyone miserable.
As Shakespeare wrote: “What a tangled web we weave...” This could have been the theme for this story. If Rocky and Jesse could have been honest with each other they wouldn't have put up the ridiculous barriers between them, eliminating the need for all this confusion. Josh has done a great job setting the mood using the snarky dialogue between the characters as they banter back and forth, neither saying what they really mean. I went through a myriad of emotions from laughter to tears as I followed Rocky and Jesse's ups and downs, mostly wanting to shake them and yell at them to figure out how they felt and show it, but the course of true love rarely runs smooth especially for two strong-willed, stubborn people like Rocky and Jesse. Thank you, Josh, for a wonderful holiday story giving Rocky and Jesse their second chance.