A Moments In Time Novel
Growing up, Jason Stern led a charmed life complete with devoted sisters, a father who was one of Brooklyn’s most respected rabbis, and a mother who made the world's best babka. He headed to NYU ready for anything—except falling for the wrong guy, coming out, and getting disowned by his once-loving family. In spite of that, Jason managed to graduate with honors. He's got friends who treat him like family, and he's proudly running the largest LGBTQ teen shelter in Manhattan. Life is good, but he's still falling for the wrong men.
When charming, sexy Quinn Fitzpatrick begins work at the shelter, Jason falls hard and fast. Quinn is tall, blond, funny—damn near perfect. Only if Quinn’s gay, even he doesn't seem to know it. If he does, he's not telling anyone. And he's about one ceremony away from becoming a Catholic priest.
Long hours of work turn to long nights of talking and laughter, and Jason dares to hope this time he's falling for the right guy. But Quinn's got a past to deal with and major decisions to make about his future. When Quinn leaves for a silent retreat, Jason knows the silence may change everything.
WORK USED to be a twelve-hour-a-day distraction from the fact that I didn’t have a love life. For the past three weeks, it had been a lesson in how fucking sexy a priest can look building cabinets.
Almost-priest. He hasn’t taken his vows yet. The hopeful thoughts popped into my head almost as quickly as the negative ones.
He’s also straight.
I blew out a long, slow breath and tried to focus on the stack of grant applications on my desk instead of gazing down the hallway to watch Quinn carrying boxes. Goddamn, I loved to watch him carry stuff. Arm muscles flexing, T-shirt stretched taut across his back.
Fuck it. I pushed my chair back so fast, it screeched on the worn wooden floors. Quinn must’ve heard, because when I stepped into the hall, he was looking right at me—a look that had me thinking more inappropriate things than I’d ever thought about any coworker, anywhere. And I’ve worked a lot of places.
“Need some help?” I asked, wondering if the desire in my voice was detectable to anyone other than me.
Quinn gave a quick smile and nodded before setting the box atop a stack of others. He wiped his forearm across his forehead, making his crazy-blond hair stick up in a way that had me wondering if that’s what he looked like first thing in the morning after a good night of fucking. A thought that would no doubt get me a one-way ticket to hell if he really did wind up a priest. And if hell existed. Not that either of those things mattered. All that mattered was that I stop staring and help him carry the damn boxes.
Trying to act as casual as possible, I peered into the room that was going to be the shelter’s new kitchen in a few months. At the moment it was a huge barren space with crappy linoleum peeling up at the corners and chunks of plaster missing from several parts of the wall. The supplies to rebuild it had all been donated. Quinn had been hired to provide the labor. Part of my job was to assist him, which would be a hell of a lot easier if I could focus on anything when he was in the same room.
I surveyed the cartons and crates along the wall. “All those arrived today?”
“Yeah. Actually, a second truckload just pulled up. I signed for it. I hope that’s all right. I didn’t realize you were here.”
Great. I’m invisible. “Hey, as long as no one’s charging anything for the deliveries, sign for anything that shows up.”
“It’s pretty amazing how much you’ve had donated. You must’ve been really convincing when you pitched these companies for help. Pretty impressive.” He threw me another one of his killer smiles.
Okay, so maybe not completely invisible…. “Thanks. It’s easy to be compelling when it’s something you care about.”
“Well, you must care about New Home a lot. Collin said you’ve been working with this shelter for years.”
“Three.” I smiled, thinking about Collin. The misguided crush I’d had on him the summer before last had almost ruined our friendship, but we’d managed to salvage it. We didn’t talk often, but when he’d found out Quinn was going to be working with me for three months, he’d texted and asked me to keep an eye on his big brother for him. “Big brother” had been more literal than I’d anticipated. Quinn was not only several years older than Collin, he was at least three inches taller and much more cut. Solid.
Focus. Just focus.
“It’s great that you found the time to do that while you were in college.” Quinn headed down the hallway, and I followed him out to the truck. “Did you start as an intern?”
“Not exactly. I was almost a resident.”
Quinn’s eyebrow popped up, and he eyed me with definite curiosity. Having him look at me that intently sent a fresh wave of inappropriate thoughts swirling in my brain. He opened his mouth but paused, probably trying to figure out a tactful way to ask what I meant. I was in no rush to answer, and it gave me a chance to study his lips. His perfect, pink—
“Jason.” The shrill voice of Alice, our sixty-year-old secretary, cut through the air. I turned and saw her leaning out her office window. “There’s a young lady here to see you. I just sent her to your office. What are you doing out on the street?”
“I’m helping unload this shipment.” A funny thing to say when I hadn’t managed to do so much as touch a box yet, let alone carry one into the building.
“Well, get over to the office. She’s gonna think I’m sending her on a wild-goose chase.” Alice reminded me of my grandmother, which made it really hard to say no to her.
“I’ll be right there.” I turned to Quinn, who’d managed to take another three cartons out of the truck. “Sorry, I better go see who’s waiting. Let me take two of those.”
Quinn handed over the top two boxes, waiting until I had a good grip on them before he let go. My arm brushed against his, and the touch of warm, smooth skin in the cold fall air set off a fresh batch of fantasies.
“Don’t want to keep the young lady waiting.” He smiled again.
“And I really don’t want to piss off Alice.”
Quinn chuckled. Even the sound of his laughter sent my mind racing in the wrong direction. Deep and masculine, but with a little gasp at the end that left me wondering what he’d sound like gasping about other things.
Stop it. Just stop.
And what young lady could be here? There’d been no new hires that I knew of, and the volunteer list was full, thanks to students needing to fill their community-service duties. The beds were all full too, unfortunately. I struggled through the door, careful not to look like too much of a klutz on the off chance that Quinn was watching me. Maneuvering around the corner took some doing, but I managed not to bang into the wall. Then I saw the woman standing in the hall and nearly dropped everything.
I hadn’t seen my sister Leah in over two years, but there she stood, in front of my office, shifting from one foot to the other like she always did when she was nervous. It was good to know some things hadn’t changed.
“Hey,” I said as I got closer.
Her gaze darted up from the floor. Dark eyes, just like mine—only way more makeup. When had she started wearing makeup?
“Jason.” Her sweet, melodic voice flooded my brain with emotions. When we were kids, we’d sneak up to our roof at night and talk for hours. I fell asleep listening to that voice more times than I could count. I hadn’t heard it in so long.
“Are you okay?” She didn’t seem hurt or overly upset, just nervous. And much prettier than I remembered. I mean, I’d always thought she was beautiful. We both had our mom’s delicate Russian features. Large eyes, thin nose, high cheekbones, straight dark hair. When we were little, people thought we were twins. I was only ten months older, and we were the same height until ninth grade. Then I grew a foot and she stayed five feet tall.
Leah nodded, and I realized she was too choked up to speak. A knot formed in my throat. I wanted to hug her, but so much time had passed. Time filled with silence. I shoved my hands in my pockets.
She blinked, and a single tear fell on her cheek, making my eyes sting and water.
“I’m fine,” she said. “And I’m so sorry.”
Leah catapulted herself forward and wrapped her arms around me. I staggered for a second, from a mix of shock and impact, then held on tight. God, it felt good to hug her. Not only had I missed her, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d hugged or been hugged by anyone.
I gave her an extra-tight squeeze then eased away. “You sure you’re all right? What’s going on?”
She glanced around, wiping beneath her eyes with her fingertips. “Is there somewhere we can talk?”
“Sure.” I gestured to my office. There was no door yet, but there was also no one around other than Quinn, who was still busy unloading the truck, and Alice, whose office was technically in the next building over. I cleared a stack of papers off the spare chair, then pulled my desk chair over to sit facing her. “What’s all this about?”
Leah took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, looking up at me from under the dark fringe of her bangs. “I need a favor.”
Of course. Disappointment brewed in my stomach, and my shoulders tensed. “Okay….”
“I’ve been seeing a guy. From school. He’s in the architecture program, but we had a class together, and we hit it off.”
I’d heard through the grapevine that she’d gone to Parson’s and was majoring in some sort of design. “Sounds great.”
“It is.” The nervous look crossed her face again. “But I’m worried.”
Here we go. “And why’s that?”
“He’s Methodist. And his dad’s a pretty well-known minister.”
“Do Mom and Dad even know you’re seeing him?”
Her bangs swished back and forth as she shook her head.
“Just keep seeing him, then.”
Tears welled in her eyes again. “I kind of have to tell them.”
She gave a shuddery gasp, then held her breath, staring at her lap. Her eyes rose slowly to meet mine. “I’m pregnant.”
I heard the words, but it took me a second to process them.
Holy shit. A baby? My little sister’s going to have a baby?
She wiped her eyes again, then fiddled with the edge of her sleeve. “Are you mad?”
“What? No. Of course not.”
More tears. I reached over to the top desk drawer and rooted around until I found a stack of napkins from the pizza place. I handed them to her and watched as she dried her eyes and blew her nose, while I debated which of the zillion questions in my head to ask her first.
“Jason, I don’t know what to do.”
Understandable. “Well, first off, are you sure? Have you seen a doctor?”
She nodded. “I’m about ten weeks. The doctor said everything seems perfectly normal.”
“Normal” was not the word my parents would use for my unwed, twenty-two-year-old sister’s current condition. “That’s good.”
“I guess.” She sniffled and started shredding one of the other napkins.
“Have you told—shit, I don’t even know his name.”
I tried to muffle my laughter, but I couldn’t.
Even Leah gave a small smile. “I know. Could he be any more obvious about being Christian? And yes, he knows. He’s actually kind of happy.”
“What about you? Are you happy?”
Her eyes grew wide. “I don’t know.”
Uh-oh. “Do you love the guy?”
“Yes.” There wasn’t even the slightest hesitation.
“Does he love you?”
“Yes.” More napkin shredding.
“Do you want the baby?”
“Of course. I’ve always wanted kids.”
I took a deep breath and sighed. “You’re just scared shitless to tell Mom and Dad.”
She closed her eyes and nodded. “I’ve been trying all week, and I can’t do it.”
“Have you told anyone else?”
“No. I told Christopher as soon as I found out. I might have told Rachel if she was around, but she moved to North Carolina after the wedding. Did you know that?”
I shook my head. I’d heard about my older sister’s wedding from an old neighbor I’d run into on Fire Island, who assumed I’d been invited to the wedding. Not the case.
“I’m sorry, Jason. I tried to get them to invite you. Mom tried too. Dad was adamant that it wasn’t the time or place to air family problems.”
That sums me up. A family problem. The one son. The massive disappointment. The gay sheep. The shameful secret. That was me. “I get it. I didn’t expect anything different. Thanks for trying, though.”
“You know how they are. And you know how they’ll react when I tell them about this. The rabbi’s daughter knocked up by the minister’s son? It’s like a bad Lifetime movie.” She rested her hands on her tummy, cradling it protectively.
She was right. They wouldn’t take it well. “What are you going to do?”
Leah chewed her lip and scrunched up her nose—her “I’m about to ask the favor” face.
I cocked an eyebrow.
“I thought maybe you could come with me when I tell them. Maybe talk to Dad for me?”
There was nothing funny about any of this, but I laughed. “Seriously? You think Dad’s going to listen to me, of all people?”
“He used to.”
“That was a long time ago. He hasn’t said a word to me since the day he kicked me out.”
“Then how can you think it’s a good idea to bring me along? Am I supposed to tell him to look on the bright side, at least you’re not gay too, you’re just pregnant?”
“No.” She looked hurt, and I regretted the sarcasm.
“Look, it’s not that I don’t want to help you. I just don’t know how I can.”
“I thought maybe if he saw you, I don’t know. Maybe he’d realize that he’s already lost one child, and maybe he won’t want to lose another. I thought maybe he’d forgive us both.”
I had my doubts, but she looked so hopeful.
Leah reached out and grabbed my hand. “Will you come with me? Please, J-Bear?”
“Really? Seriously? All this time without a single phone call or e-mail, and now you’re pulling the J-Bear card?” That was her nickname for me when we were kids. I hated it and loved it and could never say no to her when she used it.
“Did it work?” The big brown eyes did me in. Puppy eyes.
Fuck. “Yeah, it worked. When do you want to do this?”
My jaw dropped.
“I checked. Daddy’s home tonight because he’s leaving in the morning for some sort of meeting in Florida for the rest of the week. I figured it would be good if he had some time away to think about it in case it doesn’t go well.”
My stomach knotted and I noticed my hands had clenched to the point that my knuckles had turned white. I forced myself to relax. This had little enough chance of going smoothly. If I went in angry, the chance went down to next to nothing. “Leah….”
Her shoulders fell, and she stared at the pile of shredded napkin in her lap. “It’s okay. It was a stupid idea. You don’t owe me anything. I’m sorry I—”
Her eyes grew round. “You will?”
I haven’t done anything supremely stupid this week apart from crushing on a priest. Sure. Why not? “Let me just tell people I’m taking off.”
Leah’s face lit up with a huge smile. “Thanks, J-Bear.”
“Don’t thank me yet. This may not work at all.”
“I’m thanking you for saying yes.”
Her eyes watered again. Was this pregnancy hormones or had she missed me as much as I’d missed her? I didn’t really care. I was just glad she was here.
I told Quinn to lock up when he left and asked Alice to e-mail me any messages that came in while I was gone, then Leah and I headed out. My nerves prickled the second I started down the stairs to the subway. I hadn’t taken the Number 4 train since the last time I’d gone home.
The word filled me with a mix of longing and dread. It wasn’t my home anymore. It was just the place I’d grown up. The place where my father lived. The place I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to be going.
THE STREET looked exactly the same—treelined, cracked sidewalks, neatly kept brownstones all in a row. Familiar and foreign all at the same time. My shivering had nothing to do with the October breeze and everything to do with the fact that each step brought my old house closer.
“You okay?” Leah asked.
I’m doing this for her. It’s about her, not me. “I’m fine.”
“I should have worn a heavier jacket.” Bullshit. My leather jacket was more than warm enough, but it didn’t have superpowers, so it couldn’t stop the flashbacks from ricocheting around my brain.
Our front stoop.
I’m five, and my father is giving me a pep talk about how not to be nervous on my first day of kindergarten.
I shook my head, hard, to clear it and forced myself to climb the brick steps. Leah keyed into the house.
The first breath nearly broke me. Inhaling slowly, I took in the mix of scents. Roasted chicken… something recently baked, challah, maybe? The faint, ever-present smell of candle wax and smoke. Each aroma swirled around me like a ghost.
Leah closed the door quietly behind us. “You ready?”
Ready as I’ll ever be.
We crept down the hallway toward my father’s office, stepping lightly as we always did. He could be on the phone or with someone, and we never wanted to interrupt. I shifted to the left side of the hall, from memory avoiding the squeaky floorboard. The solid, wood double doors of his office were ajar. I could see the deep blue area rug in front of his desk.
I’m eight, and I’m on the carpet, on my stomach, drawing with the fifty-pack of magic markers I got for Hanukkah, while my father writes at his desk.
Leah glanced up at me as we neared the door, and we both stopped to listen. I heard his voice but no others. My heart raced faster, and my nails bit into my palm, but the memories kept coming. I stared at the pattern carved on the dark wood of the door.
I’m twelve, and my father’s called me to his office. I’ll be turning thirteen soon, and he’s preparing me for my bar mitzvah. “You’ll be a man soon.” His eyes are kind and soft and full of pride.
I swallowed hard, fighting the urge to leave. Forcing myself to focus, I thought about Leah. About what she had to tell him. It didn’t help.
I’m fourteen. I’ve gone into my father’s office to ask his advice on a school project. He’s talking to a handsome young stranger, a man in his twenties with silky dark hair and dark eyelashes and five-o’clock shadow. A man with slim hips and long fingers and a slow smile that makes me realize that although he’s a man, I’m completely attracted to him. I blush and stammer as I shake his hand, and he squeezes my fingers in a way that I’ll imagine a million times over in the privacy of my room.
My father’s voice boomed. He was clearly arguing with whoever was on the other end of the phone. Leah threw me a worried look, but I shrugged. Waiting for another day wouldn’t make this problem go away, and we were here now. She seemed to read my mind and nodded with a gentle sigh. I put my hand on her shoulder, needing to grab on to something as much as I needed to try to reassure her.
I’m eighteen. My scholarship letter from NYU has just arrived. It’s bigger than we expected. My father beams at me from behind his desk, all smiles and light. I’m full of hope and excitement.
My heart pounded so hard, I was sure Leah could hear it.
I’m nineteen. I’m in love for the first time in my life. I’m home on winter break, on cloud nine, thinking my life is more perfect than I could have ever hoped it would be. I want to share my news with my family because I’ve never been happier. My father calls me into his office, looking eager to hear what I have to say. I tell him.
“I met someone.” I can barely contain my emotions.
“Wonderful.” He sits on the edge of his desk. “So tell me, who is this lucky young woman?”
I ignore the misunderstanding, letting my excitement propel me forward. “We met at a party a few weeks ago. We have so much in common. We talked all night, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. I’ve never met anyone I felt so close to like this. It’s… magical.”
He chuckles. “Sounds like my son thinks he’s in love.”
“I think I am. And I want you to meet him.” I hold my breath, praying that the glow I feel will cast all of this in a positive light. How could it not? All my life he’s told me he wants nothing more than my happiness, and I’m elated.
“You want me to meet whom?” The dark cloud that’s passed over my father’s face doesn’t register immediately, and I keep talking.
“Marcus. He’s a junior and he works part-time, so he’s really busy, but I’m sure he’d make time to meet you and the family. I want….”
My father stands up and walks away from his desk, away from me. He stops, facing his bookcase, and it finally sinks in that maybe this isn’t going well.
“Dad, you’ll like him. He’s so smart, he’s working on—”
He turns, hand raised, and I shut up immediately. No one speaks when my father’s hand is raised.
“You believe you’re in love with a boy?”
Emotions bubble inside me—love, fear, desire, yearning. “I know I am. This is what I’ve been looking for as long as I can remember. I’ve had crushes on guys before, but nothing like this. No one’s ever—”
“You’ve had these feelings before?”
I nod, watching my father’s eyes close as he turns back to the wall of books. “Dad, if you meet him—”
“I will not be meeting this young man. And you will not be seeing him anymore either.” He has his most serious voice on, and it chills me to my bones.
“I can’t not see him anymore, we live in the same dorm.”
“Then you’ll move home.”
I shake my head, trying to make sense of what he’s saying. “No.”
“You’ll move home. You’ll go to another university. You’ll not see this boy again.”
“You don’t understand. I love him. I don’t want to stop seeing him, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us from being together.”
“You’re telling me that what you think you feel for this boy is more important than everything else in your life? Your family? Your faith? Everything you were raised to respect and honor?” He’s turned to look at me now, eyes as dark and solemn as I’ve ever seen them.
I stand and meet his stare, swallowing hard to keep my voice steady. “I’m telling you I’m happy for the first time in my life. I’m telling you I’ve met someone I love.” I pause and take a breath. “I’m telling you I’m gay.”
The darkness in his eyes spreads across all his features. “Be careful with this choice. It will change your life.”
“It’s not a choice. I think I’ve always known. To be honest, I thought you knew too.”
His nostrils flare, and he paces before facing me again. “If you choose this lifestyle, you’ll do it without support from me.”
The words sting, but I know my father. He’s counseled hundreds of people. He’s caring and loving. He helps people for a living. “Dad, there are some shuls where same-sex couples—”
“Not my shul. Not my family.”
“There is no but in this discussion. ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.’ Love does not justify this act. You have lain with this Marcus?”
I can’t speak.
“Your silence answers for you.”
I can’t look at him. I can’t look at anything. I close my eyes and wonder how this all went so horribly wrong. My blood feels thick, like my heart can barely pump it through my veins. “I can’t change how I feel.”
“And I cannot change my beliefs. I cannot change the words of the Torah. If you choose this, you will no longer be part of this family.”
“You’d do that? You’d disown me?”
“This is your choice, Jason, not mine.”
I can barely get the words out. “It’s not a choice.”
“If you believe that, then that is your choice. And I have no son.”
My body feels every word, but my brain won’t process them. “You can’t mean that.”
“Have you ever known me not to mean what I say?”
My brain catches up. “No.”
“Then we have nothing left to discuss.”
The hallway shimmered, and I realized I hadn’t blinked in way too long. Leah was beside me, shifting from foot to foot.
“He’s almost done,” she whispered.
I listened, and sure enough he said good-bye and the phone clicked as it nestled back into the charging cradle. There was a pause, and for those moments all I could hear was Leah’s quickened breathing and my own racing heartbeat.
Leah’s hand shook as she brought her balled-up fist to the door and knocked softly.
“Come in.” My father’s voice, calm and welcoming, left me feeling anything but calm or welcome.
“Hi, Daddy.” Leah sounded like a little girl again. I could imagine her in pigtails and glasses going in to ask him if she could have money to go see a movie with her friends.
“I expected you home hours ago. I thought you had no classes on Thursdays.”
“I don’t, Daddy. I had other things to do today.” She reached for my hand, and we entered his office together.
My father’s back was turned. Leah was right. He was packing, busily placing papers into the briefcase he’d had as long as I could remember. He snapped the latches shut and lifted it off the desk before looking up. When he saw me, it nearly slipped from his hands, but he kept his composure and set it on the floor before looking up again.
“I see the other things you had to do involved your brother.”
Was that a good sign? If she had a brother, then he had to have a son, right?
“Yes.” Leah gripped my hand tighter, and I squeezed back. The numbness in my fingers distracted me from the mix of fear and anger bubbling inside me.
I knew he was speaking to Leah, but he stared directly at me as he spoke. “I see. Have things changed that I would need to know about?” Leah and I exchanged a quick glance.
“Yes,” she said.
“And no,” I added.
My father sighed and sat down at his desk. “I don’t have time for riddles. Why don’t you two tell me what this is about, and we can all get on with our lives?”
Leah looked at me, and I nodded, still holding her hand.
She swallowed hard. “I met someone.”
My gaze flew to my father’s face. He paled. He’d heard it too. The exact same words I’d said to him three years ago.
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