It’s been years since Jonah Levinson has seen his parents. But now he is going to spend Hanukkah with them in order to finally tell them the truth: not only is he gay, but he is a successful author of gay novels and not the struggling (and straight) writer they imagine him to be.
But the holiday starts poorly. A record blizzard delays his flight. The snow storm locks him and his loud, argumentative relatives in the house. The power fails. And, worst of all, Jonah has to share his room with his childhood rival, the perfect Jewish son, the one he spent his entire life unfavorably compared to: Dr. Ethan Rosenberg, son of his mother’s mahjong partner, and apparently God’s gift to the Chosen People.
If this isn’t bad enough, Jonah has to interpret Ethan’s strange new fascination with him. Is Ethan flirting? Or is this just another trick to break Jonah’s heart?
But when a valuable family heirloom is stolen during the festivities and suspicion falls on Jonah, Ethan agrees to help prove Jonah’s innocence. They have eight days to do it. But will they solve the crime before the cooking oil – and everyone’s civility – runs out?
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I was pleased to hear that, due to inclement weather, my flight was delayed.
For some people, the prospect of spending the holidays marooned in a plastic chair with rigid arms in a vacant hallway of vending machines in a regional airport with one toilet sounds like a nightmare. But for me it was a very reasonable--one might say even attractive--alternative to enduring Hanukkah with my parents.
Before I'm judged too harshly, it is important to point out that my parents, Leonard and Helene Levinson, while decent, law-abiding folk who have never murdered or even skimped on their taxes, are surprisingly terrifying human beings. Especially when you are their only son.
I love my parents. I'm grateful that they raised me. I just wish they would stop raising me and let me get on with my own life.
I had successfully avoided my folks for four years. I moved to Seattle specifically to be as far away from them as the continental United States would accommodate. I concocted excuses every year not to return home to Connecticut. But the long arm of guilt stretched across the country and stoutly slapped my face. My mother muttered of various polyps and varicosities. My father was surely inhaling his last breath. I had to come home, I was their only child.
And so I agreed, but mostly because I had another reason.
I had turned thirty that November, and I figured it was time to put an end to the forwarded JDate personals and curtail the habitual haranguing regarding so-and-so's beautiful unmarried or recently divorced daughter and the chronic reminders that my child-rearing days were sunsetting.
I had to break it to my parents that I was gay.
And notonly gay; I actually made money being a gay fiction writer.
All they knew was that I wrote. They thought I was unsuccessful. How could I tell them my last novel, Nautilus, won a Lambda award and was a bestseller available through their local gay bookstore?
Did Hartford even have a local gay bookstore?
Was I really going to do this?
Well, the delayed flight gave me a respite. I settled into a molded plastic chair, bent my neck at an unreasonable angle in an attempt to "rest" my head on my shoulder, and closed my eyes. Problem solved. No large family scene, no sighing over the now lost theoretical grandchildren, no rows about the fact that I would not be passing on the family traits (heart disease, geographic tongue, a knack for finance, and high blood pressure).
To my dismay, the damned airline efficiently found me a replacement flight, and before long I shuffled onto a touch and go, turbulence-prone commuter flight, then another, and another, until I arrived in Hartford much worse for wear and unprepared for the fourteen inches of snow that had fallen since morning.
My bag was missing. This wasn't as much a surprise as an inevitability, given the flurry of last-minute airline transfers. This meant I would be living the next twenty-four hours out of my carry-on. All my presents were in my checked luggage, along with my clothes, my razor, and, I'm pretty sure, my balls. Because the second my feet stepped out onto the frigid landscape of New England, I felt like an insecure teenage boy again.
Other than my carry-on, the only item I had with me was a small but heavy vinyl suitcase stuffed full of copies of my books, including my latest bestseller, which my agent forced me to schlep across the country for a book signing in Bridgeport. Upon landing, the first message I received on my cell phone was that the book signing was canceled, due to snow.
Now all I had to give my family for Hanukkah was twenty copies of Nautilus.
I sniffled in the frigid air and braced myself. Against all odds, I was here. The world outside Bradley International Airport turned the color of bone. Everything merged in a blurry flurry of snow. I knew the weather was particularly treacherous when I saw even taxies driving slowly.
I looked around for my parent's beige Lincoln Town Car, but could not see it.
There was no way they forgot I was coming. I'd called them from my last transfer and they said they would pick me up.
I turned, and my expression--my entire ego--sank.
Standing before me--towering over me, actually--was Ethan Rosenberg, looking attractive, wealthy, successful, and smug.
Excuse me. Dr. Ethan Rosenberg, the acclaimed physician, son of my mother's mah-jongg partner, kid I grew up living next door to. The boy who tormented me in high school. The crush I had that could never be expressed. Damn him. Damn, damn, damn. Mr. Perfect himself was at the airport.
Ethan had a boyish handsomeness that only improved the more he aged. His light brown hair ruffled in the breeze. His hazel eyes sparkled with amusement. He was tall, did I mention that? His clothes broadcast the number of digits in his bank account. His tweed scarf matched his leather boots. The REI tag was legible on his warm-looking gloves. I had a sudden, overwhelming urge to stick my hands inside of them and feel Ethan's heat.
Or just heat, really.
"Hi, Ethan," I said, teeth chattering, squinting through the whiteout of snow for my parents. "And here I thought the chill in the air was just the blizzard."
Ethan smirked. "Nice to see you again."
"Picking up a relative?" I said casually, hoping he didn't notice me checking out his arms, which looked sculpted even through layers of wool and down. "I'm surprised you didn't call a limo service. I heard you make millions now."
"That's an exaggeration," Ethan said.
"Oh? My mother still keeps me posted. I get all your newspaper clippings. Congratulations on finding your lost cat last month, by the way."
I realized I was running off at the mouth, as usual. Always so attractive when coupled with uncontrollable teeth chattering.
"So who are you here to pick up?" I said, attempting a semblance of civility.
"You, actually." Ethan lifted an eyebrow at my bag. "Where's the rest of your luggage?"
"En route to Zanzibar." I narrowed my eyes. "Where's my dad?"
"He's back at the house, but didn't want to drive in the snow so I volunteered to get you." Ethan was already walking toward his car. He effortlessly plucked the suitcase full of books from my hand. "Let me get that for you."
I yanked it back, masculine pride rising up in me. "I can carry it fine, thank you."
Ethan shrugged. "Suit yourself."
I slipped and stumbled through the snow as I followed him toward the parking lot. How did he walk so unerringly on ice? Maybe he was a secret visitor from some cold intergalactic planet. He certainly couldn't be human. There was no way his hair could always be mussed in such symmetry without the influence of superpowers.
Why did Ethan have to be here? For that matter, why was he here anyway?
"Why were you at my parents' house?" I asked belatedly. I slipped on a patch of ice and Ethan's hand shot out, grabbing my elbow, steadying me.
He smiled. "I'm staying at their house over the holidays."
I felt my throat go dry. "Why?" I croaked.
Ethan let go of my arm. "My dad's in the hospice unit. I came home to see how he's doing, and your mother offered to let me stay with them for a few days."
I almost asked about his mother, and then remembered another clipping, earlier this year, announcing her funeral.
So Ethan had lost his mother. And unless "hospice" was a fancy new term for "recovery ward," it sounded like he was about to become an orphan. Even if he tormented me in high school I couldn't help but feel sympathy.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled. "About your mom. And your dad."
"It's okay. He's pretty out of it. At least he isn't in a lot of pain."
We reached his car. It was a massive SUV, the kind that my people in Seattle would denounce, and I wanted to hate him for it, but then I realized, it probably handled well in snow and I should be grateful.
"All the rental company had, unfortunately," Ethan said, as if reading my mind.
"Rental car?" I fumbled with the frozen door handle. "You don't live here anymore, then?"
"I moved to Seattle," he said, and I felt like I had been sucker punched.
One beautiful part of living in Seattle was the fact that my upbringing and my adult life could never intertwine. Seattle was for the adult Jonah Levinson, the confident, openly homosexual, successful writer who had friends and a great apartment overlooking Lake Washington and a kayaking obsession.
Dr. Ethan Rosenberg belonged to the Connecticut version of Jonah Levinson, a person full of self-doubt and guilt and incomprehensible urges, unnaturally focused on the one boy who showed him up and humiliated him. Ethan himself.
I fumbled at the parking gate for my wallet but Ethan was way ahead of me. He paid the attendant and gave her one of his customary flirtatious winks.
"I'll get you back for that," I told him.
"Don't worry about it. It's really good to see you again." Ethan shot me a dashing smile and then appropriately turned his attention to the blizzard enveloping us.
It's really good to see you again.
Did he mean it? How could he mean it?
We ran into each other around the holidays when I returned to Hartford. Our parents had been friends since before we were born, and we shared two high school buddies in common who still lived in the area. We had even found ourselves at the same house parties on occasion.
I would watch him from afar, pointlessly torn between desire and a seething hatred. After all, Ethan was the only guy from my neighborhood who had played on the intramural soccer team. He was the basketball team captain, the guy who girls swooned after, who was Homecoming King, who had perfect grades, who got into Harvard Medical School, who worked at a homeless shelter on weekends, delivered the paper every morning, was an apprentice cantor at the synagogue, who fixed my mother's sink and rototilled her garden every year.
He also won the state spelling bee in sixth grade.
His mother loved him and talked about him incessantly. And because his mother and my mother spent every waking moment together when I was growing up, my mother ended up constantly rehashing the pro-Ethan monologue.
"Why can't you get a summer job at the synagogue?" my mother would demand. "Rabbi Oblat told Ethan that he can clean up after shul and make a little extra money."
Or, "Ethan got a scholarship to Harvard, Jonah. Maybe you should consider getting a scholarship to Harvard."
As if the only thing between me and a scholarship to Harvard was sheer will.
So I resented him for being everything I wasn't--beautiful, talented, popular. His parents took pride in him. Which was more than could be said for my own parents, and understandably so.
In high school I was awkward, all limbs. I did poorly in team sports and I was almost cripplingly shy. And as I would walk home, I would see Ethan with his friends, confident and laughing and beautiful, and I wanted him, I wanted him almost as much as I disliked him.
Even now, he made me nervous. He smelled so good. He looked so handsome. He had such easy confidence about himself. Even in a blizzard he drove one-handed.
I asked him to pull over at a convenience store. Inside I bought myself a pack of cigarettes and a lighter to replace the one airport security had taken from me. Ethan raised an eyebrow as I stuffed the pack into my inside coat pocket, but didn't say anything. He turned back onto the snowy highway.
"When did you move to Seattle?" I asked.
"Last month," he said. "I still don't know my way around very well. I'm hoping you can take me to a few good restaurants."
Take him, as opposed to tell him about? Interesting choice of words.
I gulped. "Why'd you move? Can't be for the weather."
Ethan laughed. "People keep warning me about the weather but I tell you what: I'll take three dreary weeks of rain over this." He squinted into the blinding nothingness.
"So why did you move then?" I asked.
"Maybe I just wanted to see more of you." Ethan flashed me another confusing smile, which sent a chill down my spine, and I shivered.
Ethan, always the gentleman, turned up the heat.