Six years ago, as a newly minted romance author with just a few published titles under my belt, I headed off to my first romance-focused convention—the very first GayRomLit Retreat in New Orleans. I met a lot of great people along the way, people I now call friends. A few of them were my road companion, Vicktor Alexander; my hostess and host for lunch-with-an-author, Z.A. Maxfield and William Cooper; Kate McMurray, who sat with me on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street for dinner; my riverboat cruise drinking companion, Rowan Speedwell…
… and a similarly newly minted author who went by the name of JP Barnaby.
JP and I were in a similar boat back then. We both only had a few titles out, and we were both very shy around new people, so that made it super hard to step up and talk to the many strangers around us. We mostly spoke at dinner one night, when JP invited me to join her with a few others. (I’m pretty sure she asked us because part of dinner would be a blog interview, and she wanted a little extra buffer. I know I would have done exactly the same!)
It can be hard to pinpoint exactly when a colleague or friendly acquaintance becomes a friend in the full sense of the word. For JP and me, I think a major turning point came in the summer of 2013, when she came to Atlanta for the Romance Writers of American convention. Sitting and giggling together on the floor in the back of a huge ballroom during a panel, slightly tipsy from too much margarita at lunch, tends to forge solid ties.
A little over a year later, after a million conversations both online and in multiple cities all over the country, JP—my friend Trish—contacted me and said, “Hey, I’m thinking about moving to Atlanta. Want a roomie?”
In January 2015, Trish came for a weekend so we could find an apartment, and in March, she packed up her entire life outside Chicago and shipped herself to Georgia.
Even as a writer, I hesitate over the right words to use to describe the changes I’ve seen in Trish since then. “Blossoming” is the main one that comes to mind. Trish has always been a good person, a great friend, brilliant and talented and beautiful. But she’d been muted, held under wraps, in part because of things she’s shared with all of us, through her books and the personal stories she’s related online.
Today’s Trish is the same woman she was when I met her six years ago, but she’s been reshaped through hard work and the support of so many people. She’s stepped out of the shadows, risen from the ashes of hardship like the phoenix tattooed on her back.
And in the process, she’s found her own happy ending.
Trish probably doesn’t think of herself as an optimist or a romantic, but I think her actions prove otherwise. Not long after she moved to Atlanta—and while we were in the throes of planning my sister’s wedding—Trish posted a personal ad online. Not long after that, she got a response from a guy named Paul. He seemed nice enough, and as a bonus, he wrote in complete sentences (never a guarantee in these cases), liked to read, and was a big baseball fan. As a huge fan of her Chicago Cubs, Trish could look past his allegiance to his hometown Braves.
You could say they hit it off.
Back in the spring of this year, Trish and Paul moved in together, along with two of Paul’s sons and Trish’s dog Chase. Their instant family fit together like puzzle pieces. And this summer, in front of most of their immediate family members, Paul proposed.
Today, right about the time you’re reading this post, Trish and Paul are being married in the backyard of Paul’s parents’ house. It’s a baseball-themed wedding, divided between two teams, but united in happiness for the newlyweds. In a week, they’ll head off on their honeymoon, and then they’ll settle into married life.
Today, JP Barnaby becomes Trish Gillham. The quiet little caterpillar has emerged from her cocoon as a glorious butterfly.
And they live happily ever after.