This Passover I’m releasing a new, improved author version of Learning from Isaac, the first Tarnished Souls books, which was originally published by Loose Id in 2012. The new version is a little longer (5%) with a few plot and narration tweaks. I’m hoping it gives readers a fuller vision of both Nathan and Isaac and their sweet love story. To celebrate this re-release, I’m posting this short to let everyone know where the guys are now. The new version of Learning from Isaac (with this stunning cover by Jordan Castillo Price) is up on Amazon now. I hope you enjoy both the new version of the book and this little glimpse into their life two years later.
The First Question
Plain, egg, onion, whole wheat, poppy seed or spelt? My stomach twisted in knots as I stared at the matzo display. On some level I knew that no one would really care, but hosting our first real Seder felt like a big-deal, grown-up, serious thing to do and I wanted it to be perfect. For a lot of reasons.
I was the kid who never paid attention while the adults droned through the ritual. One year they caught me passing notes back and forth with my cousin, playing hangman instead of learning about Moses and the red sea and plagues. But these days, Passover meant something different for me. Looked at one way, Seder at Nathan’s mother’s house had been our first date. Which was the way I liked to remember it. That other first date? Some things are best forgotten.
And now here I was, standing in a grocery store in front of a Passover display that was nestled between tortillas, canned chilies, beans, and rice noodles and soy sauce, with a shopping list and a case of nerves. Nathan was back home cleaning out the spare room for his mom and her boyfriend who would be flying in from Chicago in the morning. l grabbed three different boxes—variety’s good, right?—and started shoveling the rest of the supplies into the cart, gefelte fish, macaroons and sweet wine. The horseradish tripped me up again—regular or pink with beet juice? Both. I wasn’t taking chances. I’d been planning this night for a long time.
The cart bulged with regular and ritual food. I could picture Nathan’s face when I dumped bag after bag of food on the counter. He’d stare at me wide-eyed in that sexy way he had, then shake his head and smile. And I’d go all gooey inside. Maybe we wouldn’t make it to the end of putting away the groceries before we were going at it on the kitchen floor. It wouldn’t be the first time.
The bill was three times what we usually spent on food. And it was okay. We could afford it. Wasn’t that amazing.
I stepped out into the April heat and inhaled the gas-fume-laden air. I loved California, the heat, the ocean, my job, loved the word engineer in my title, and mostly I loved the freedom of walking down the street without meeting anyone who’d known me before. I hadn’t expected to like respectability. But I did. I loved it—loved our life, our overpriced condo and our grown-up furniture. Our friends had real jobs and even if I was almost always the youngest at any social gathering, it was okay because I was just another guy, half of a couple, a matched set.
I drove into the snarl of traffic. Faces in the cars beside me looked mad or anxious or resigned, and maybe I would have too, if I hadn’t spent long winters in Chicago selling my soul for tuition money and another long winter in Madison only seeing Nathan on weekends. Three months before, I’d graduated early, Nathan quit his job and we moved to sunny California and now we car pooled to work for the same environmental consulting company. It was like stepping into the light. I was still blinking from the contrast.
In the empty kitchen, steam roiled from a pot of water boiling on the stove. A carton of eggs sat next to it. The balcony door was open and there stood Nathan, beating the guest room rug, his hair a dark halo in the sunlight and a deep furrow between his eyebrows as he squinted against the dust. I watched him. Even after two years, having Nathan in my life felt like a miracle. My Nate. The professor—smart, sexy and all mine.
He glanced up and smiled. I loved the way he looked at me with those dark, kind eyes. Like I was special. Like I was worthy. Like he thought I was a prize, too.
The water. Hard boiled eggs for tomorrow. I dropped in a dozen eggs, turned off the burner and walked into the living room. Nathan came in from the balcony, meeting me halfway for a hug and kiss too long and deep for the hour I’d been away.
“I bought too much matzo,” I told him when we pulled apart.
“Among other things.”
“Mom loves you. There’s nothing to worry about.” He brushed hair out of my face. It was getting too long, the curls too wild, but there didn’t ever seem time to get it cut. Besides, he liked it. He kissed me again, this time sweet and slow.
When the kiss broke, I looked into his deep brown eyes. It was right there on the tip of my tongue. Had been for months. “Nate…”
The timer beeped.
“Is that the eggs?” He pulled away and strode toward the kitchen. “We should peel them now. Getting the shells off is tricky once the albumen has cooled.”
God I loved him.
I trailed him to the kitchen. He dumped the hot water and ran cold into the pan. I leaned against the counter, chewing on my unspoken words.
He handed me an egg to peel. It was warm. “Nate?”
“Hmm?” He frowned down at the egg in his hand as some of the white chipped off with the shell.
It was like diving into the ocean from a high rock. You had to just jump.
“What is it?” Nathan stopped peeling and looked at me, his fingers still in the icy water.
I took a deep breath and leapt. “I think we should get married.”
He dropped his egg and stared at me.
I rushed on before he could say no. “It’s legal here and we already have a joint checking account and, um, it would be good for our taxes.” I could hear the whine creeping into my voice and shut up.
Nathan didn’t say anything. He pulled his hands out of the water, reached for a dish towel and dried them. He folded and set the towel on the counter and looked at me, that furrow between his eyes back again.
“You think we should get married for the taxes?”
“No.” I leaned forward, not touching him but wanting to. “No. I want to marry you because you’re it for me. The one man I can see myself loving forever. You’re my heart. My home. I just thought you’d find the taxes argument more convincing.”
His eyes went wide. He shook his head and smiled. “I’m a lot older than you. When I’m sixty-five you’ll be—”
“—Twenty years older than I am now and it still won’t matter. We get to change our names when we get married, but not our ages.” I put my right hand over his heart and took his hand with my left. “I thought about making a big proposal at dinner tomorrow night, down on one knee and everything, but I decided you wouldn’t like that. So now, over a pot of unpeeled hard-boiled eggs, I’m asking you, Nathan Kohn, if you’ll make an honest man out of me.”
“You’ve always been that.” He caressed my jaw, his eyes searching mine. “Are you serious?”
His face split into a wide smile that went all the way up into his eyes. He wrapped his arms around me and drew me into a long, deep, whole-body kiss.
I guessed that was a yes.