"Once the angel did appear to say 'be not afraid',
that the angel's watching over you is the prayer
that I will pray.  And as we gather around the tree
and sing those Christmas songs, we'll hear your voice
above the fray until  you're safely home."
~ from Sheryl's Crow's "There is a Star that Shines Tonight"

Hi all,

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!  Here we go with the traditional Dyeland Christmas story, complete with the obligatory holiday film, TV, book, etc. references.  Although it's pretty fair to say that after 10 years of this I'm getting a lil creative with the term "holiday film" and similar!  Whether you can pick out the references or not, I hope you enjoy this story.

I can't help but think that mood-wise it's a little more somber in places than in some years.  And maybe more giddy in others.  I hope that doesn't take away from anyone's enjoyment.  This has just been a real emotional roller coaster of a season for me and I guess I just couldn't quite keep it outta Dyeland!

Anyhow, have a wonderful time with your family, friends, and all you hold dear at this blessed time!  We'll be back in 2009!

God bless,

I'll Be Home for Christmas

"Poets, song writers, etc. seem to think it's best to be a child

at Christmas.  I guess I wouldn't know that for sure since I've never been a child. 
But it is a pretty good time to be an angel!  0:-)"
-from Andrew's journal

December 24, 1961
The Tunnels beneath New York City

Jacob Wells silently cursed his friend, Peter, as he watched his son devour the latest Archie comic book the man had given him for Christmas.  For six years Jacob had instilled in Vincent a love of great literature.  Now an orange-haired pretty boy had commandeered time previously devoted to Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson. 

"Vincent, it's time to put that rag away, brush your teeth, and go to bed," Jacob commanded.

"But, Father, it's just to the best part.  Archie and Betty are..." the boy protested.

"Vincent," Father warned with a stern gaze and took the comic away.  He carefully marked the page and set it down. 

"But could I have a story first, Father?"

Jacob sighed.  "You were just reading your..."  He turned up his nose as he looked at the comic.  "Story," he finished with reluctance.  "To bed, young man.  You know you need to be asleep before You Know Who comes." 

"But Pascal said he heard Santa comes through the chimney, Father.  And we do not have a chimney." 

The man tried his best to not laugh upon seeing the dramatically woeful expression in his son's blue eyes.  "St. Nicholas can always find his way.  He did last year, after all."

Vincent nodded, joyfully remembering opening up the miniature carousel and books that had been his gifts the previous year.  "But can I please have a story first, Father?  I'll brush my teeth right now and then go right to bed!"

"One story then.  Run along and then come right back, Vincent," Jacob called as the boy ran to go brush his teeth.  Upon his return, Jacob scanned the bookshelves.

"I'd like to hear one about angels, Father."

Jacob looked back at the boy on the bed.  "Angels, eh?  Well, let me see..."  He selected a large, golden edged book and brought it back to his chair beside his son's bed.  "We might as well start here.  'And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.'"

After Jacob had finished reading, he noticed Vincent looking curiously at him.  "What is it, my boy?"

"Father, how come people saw angels all the time back then?  Do people still see angels?"

"Well... maybe people do but they simply don't realize it.  Not all angels have bright lights and wings, perhaps," Jacob offered.

Vincent sighed and snuggled more deeply into his blankets.  "I think I would like to see an angel."

"Maybe you will one day but for right now, rest well."  Jacob bent to kiss the boy's hair and tuck him in.

And so the boy fell asleep and dreamed of beautiful angels with flowing garments and downy wings, surrounded by a magnificent golden light.


December 20, 2008

A now nearly fifty four year old Vincent couldn't help but chuckle as he remembered that evening nearly half a century ago.  He had met many angels since then.  At that moment his gaze fell on one in particular.  The image did not quite match with the reverent imaginings of his youth.  Andrew was definitely not hovering majestically in silken, ivory robes.  Denim, flannel, and thick wool composed his current ensemble.  Nor were his movements very graceful.  In fact, to a stranger's eye it may have looked very much like he was dragging JenniAnn across the pond near the Fields of Gold.

"One skate in front of the other.  Left, right, left..." Andrew directed.

"Gonna fall!" the woman cried.

"You won't and if you did I'd catch you.  Right, left, right."

JenniAnn grinned.  "Ooh, then maybe I want to fall."

"Left, right... no, you don't.  You said you wanted to learn how to skate, not fall," the angel reminded her with a teasing smile.

"Haha.  And I do but maybe I'll go watch for a bit and you can give Rose a lesson.  Besides, I wanna go talk to Vincent.  He's looking very... amused."  JenniAnn tilted her head towards the shore, nearly casting herself off balance.

"Whoa there!" Andrew called, righting her.  "Alright, I'll take you back."

As soon as Andrew had gotten her back to the shore, JenniAnn switched back into her boots and took a seat on the bench beside her godfather.  "So how bad did that look?"

Vincent chuckled.  "It looked like you were having fun," he answered, diplomatic and polite as always.  "I was thinking of when I was a boy.  Father read to me the Gospel of Luke when I wanted to hear a Christmas story about angels.  I envisioned these glorious, elegant beings.  I longed to meet one.  Now I have and..."

"Oof, close call!  Are you okay?" JenniAnn cried as she watched Rose bravely let go of Andrew's arm and nearly collide with a tree before the angel yanked her back in the nick of time. 

"Oh definitely," Rose hollered back before smiling goofily at Andrew who looked more than a little alarmed by the near miss, oblivious to the thrill caused by being saved by him.

"Yay," JenniAnn responded then turned back to Vincent.  "So are you suggesting Andrew is not looking particularly glorious or elegant just now?" 

Vincent smiled.  "Perhaps not.  But I would not trade him for my childish imagining for anything."

"Me neither," the woman agreed, looking fondly at the angel leading their friend around the frozen pond.  Rose was clearly a quicker study than herself!

Andrew and Rose continued to skate for some time as Vincent and JenniAnn finalized holiday plans.  The two on the shore suddenly became aware that the sounds of skates on ice had stopped.  They looked out onto the pond to see Rose looking uncertainly at Andrew who was staring up at the sky.  After a few moments they were moving again and headed towards the shore. 

"I just heard from the Father.  I have an assignment and I need to leave tomorrow morning."  Andrew didn't look at either JenniAnn or Rose as he laced his boots and told them this.  He knew they would be disappointed.

"But you'll be back soon, right?  I mean for Christmas Eve dinner?  If not before?" Rose asked, hopeful.

Andrew looked up then.  "I don't know.  But I hope so."

"Where are you going?  If you can say, I mean."  JenniAnn tried to mask her disappointment.

Andrew shuffled his feet and ran his hand through his hair nervously, knowing his words would rattle his friends.  "I'm going to Iraq."


"As the song says, 'I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.'
I wonder how many people will be spending
the holidays in their dreams this year?"
- from Andrew's journal

In light of Andrew's change of plans, all of Dyeland gathered at the Cafe that evening.  The preparations for the planned Christmas Eve dinner were no where near complete but everyone agreed an impromptu, smaller party was necessary in the event Andrew wasn't back by the 24th.

"I'll really only be there for a couple days then I'm flying back with a returning soldier.  I spent some time with him a few months ago and the Father thought I would be the best one to talk to him, help him begin to process everything he's seen during his tours," Andrew explained to the concerned Dyelanders crowded around him.  "By Tuesday night I should be in Germany and after that onto the States, helping my assignment get to his family for Christmas."  The angel smiled, trying to bring some peace to his friends.

Yva smiled back at Andrew.  "I wish you could be here the whole week but it seems selfish to be too upset when so many families have gone months without seeing their loved ones."

"And it's important your assignment talk about what he's gone through.  He couldn't have a better listener."  Lady Beth patted Andrew's hand.

"Thanks, I'll definitely miss everyone here but, you know, there's still a chance I'll be here for dinner on the 24th.  I just can't guarantee it."  Andrew sipped his ginger ale.  "If I don't I'm sure you'll save me some leftovers?"  He grinned at this friends.

Willy laughed.  "Have they ever not saved you leftovers?  Sometimes I wonder if you can even eat everything that they save for you, Andrew."

"I have a healthy appetite, believe me."  Andrew reached for a handful of fries as if to prove the point.

Adam smiled at his fellow angel of death.  "We'll dedicate a few songs to you, buddy.  That is if you're not there to play with us."

"Thank you, Adam."

"And now here's 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.'  This one's for you, Andrew," Henry joked, miming playing the piano.

"That sounds wretched!  It is an actual song?" Nigel asked, aghast.

Mick had returned with a cup of hot chocolate for Beth just in time to hear the most recent exchange.  "'Grandma got run over by a reindeer, walking home from our house Christmas Eve.  You can say there's no such thing as Santa, but as for me and Grandpa we believe," he sang while doing a little jig.

Beth burst into laughter and sobered only when she noticed Nigel's horrified expression.  "Sorry, he's a little immature for his age sometimes." 

"Sorry," Mick echoed.  "She's right."  He beamed at his girlfriend and then cast a quick glance at Nigel who still looked troubled.  "It's a stupid novelty song."

"I should make little chocolate reindeer next year," Willy mused aloud, trying to distract Nigel.

"I think that would be wonderful.  With little cherry chocolate noses?" Yva suggested.

"If that's what you would prefer, Yva, then yes."

A silence fell over the group then. 

"It's weird," Andrew started after a moment.  "I used to spend every Christmas in a different place.  I never wanted anything else.  But after these past few years, it just doesn't seem right to be away from Dyeland."

JenniAnn sniffled.  "It *doesn't* seem right for you to be away.  But you won't be entirely away.  You'll be in our hearts, Andrew."

"Thanks, Laja."  Andrew tried to encourage her with a bright smile but he could tell the tears were already forming.

"Maybe by the time you get back JenniAnn and I will be skating!"  Rose's voice came out high-pitched with forced cheer.

Adam didn't want to see Andrew struggle with the disappointment that was threatening to boil over.  "I can pick up the lessons where Andrew left off," he offered.  "We can do The Nutcracker On Ice.  Just, uh, no throwing skates at imaginary mice.  That could get dangerous," he joked.

"The time will just fly right by and if he's not here on the 24th then we can celebrate Christmas again whenever Andrew gets back," Lady Beth pointed out.  "It's not like we've ever been adverse to having multiple parties in a short span of time."

"I never thought I'd meet anyone who threw more parties than Josef.  Now it turns out there's a whole group of you."  Mick laughed.

"How is Josef?  Are you celebrating the holidays with him?" Rose asked.

Beth nodded.  "We're going to his place for Christmas Day.  Paula's making Christmas dinner for her niece and her family and she invited us.  Josef actually bought a tree and everything."

"Josef never struck me as the Christmasy type," Lady Beth mused.

Mick frowned.  "He's not.  But lately he's the distraction type."

The unspoken reference to Sarah's death silenced the group again for a moment.

JenniAnn bowed her head for a moment.  "That puts everything into perspective.  Like what Yva said earlier.  Even if Andrew doesn't make it back in time for Christmas, we're not talking months or... or a lifetime with out him."  She looked at the angel, relieved and thankful.

"We'll miss you, Andrew," Countess Jennifer added.  "But we know you'll be bringing a happier Christmas to your assignment than he might have otherwise had."

"Amen to that," Adam agreed.  He raised his glass of orange juice.  "To Christmas, wherever it may find us."

"To Christmas," echoed the others, smiling at each other.


"It's occurred to me that we angels do face a certain type of mortality.
At least I think I will.  I've changed a little from the person I was before Dyeland.
I hope for the better.  I think for the better.
Sometimes I wonder what will happen to that Andrew once they've gone Home."
-from Andrew's journal

December 21, 2008

It was well after 4:00 AM before the last of the Dyelanders had left the Cafe.  Andrew would be leaving soon and most of them had wanted to spend every available moment with him before that.  For his part, Andrew couldn't shake the nagging feeling that there was one last thing he needed to do before leaving Dyeland.  For reasons he couldn't understand, he kept thinking about Avalon.  With only twenty minutes before he was due to appear to Lieutenant Richard Stanley in Iraq, Andrew made his way to the island.

The pull Andrew felt to Dyeland's cemetery and memorial was explained when he approached the center of the island and glimpsed a lone man standing in front of a grave.  Poinsettias were heaped around the monument. 

"Josef?" Andrew called.

Josef turned around and nodded.  "Andrew."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude."

The vampire shrugged.  "I don't mind.  I guess company would be nice."

"They're beautiful, Josef."  Andrew motioned to the flowers as he approached.

Josef smiled.  "Sarah loved Christmas and these were her favorite flowers.  The first Christmas we spent together... the only one before the coma... I filled the whole house with them."

"I know.  She told me how thrilled she was when she saw them, and how loved she felt.  You filled her room with them every Christmas after that.  It meant a lot to her."

"I'm glad, thanks.  Sarah made me a better person.  She made me want to do good things.  Sometimes I think when I lost her, I also lost the best part of me.  Now all that's left is a vain, egomaniacal materialist."  Josef laughed darkly.

Andrew shook his head vigorously.  "That's not really who you are, Josef.  I know Sarah left a bigger imprint on you than that.  Even in her short time with you.  You have to believe that!"  The angel was surprised by the determination in his own voice.  The truth was Josef's words concerned him.  He rebelled against the idea that, as Josef feared Sarah's impact had left him, so too would his friends' impact eventually fall away from himself.  "Josef, you wouldn't be here if you were truly vain and egomaniacal."

Josef closed his eyes.  "You're right.  I guess I just didn't think about how hard this time of year was going to be.  Last week I was out shopping for gifts for my employees.  Everyone in the store was all smiles and laughter.  A man dressed as Santa Claus was playing the piano.  'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' and 'Silver Bells.'  As I walked by the jewelry counter I saw one of my accountants.  He asked me for my opinion on an engagement ring for his girlfriend.  He looked so happy and hopeful and..."

"It's okay, Josef.  Go on," Andrew encouraged.

"I felt so angry.  How dare they laugh!  How dare he cheerily ask me for help!  Sarah is dead!" Josef bellowed.  "There is no Christmas for me!"

Andrew didn't so much as flinch as the man's eyes flashed an eery blue.  He set a hand on Josef's shaking shoulder.  "There will always be Christmas for you, Josef, and for whomever wants and needs it.  Christmas is bigger than Sarah or any of us.  It's a time of hope.  It's a time of love: the love of God, the love we all share.  Death... it doesn't diminish or end that love, Josef.  Sarah knows that, Josef, and this Christmas she wants you to know that, too."

Josef drew in a deep breath.  He felt peace wash over him.  "I love you," he whispered, looking up at the stars.  A moment later he turned to thank Andrew for his counsel but the angel of death was gone.


Later that day...

Andrew's absence necessitated a change of scenery for many of the Dyelanders.  Thus, after they awoke late in the morning after their long night, they piled into Andrew's mini-van with Henry driving.  In time they arrived at the same store they had visited two months before.  However, all trace of the Grim Reapers and risque costumes that had bothered them during that visit were absent.  Now the party supply store was packed with elves and reindeer, Santa hats and snow flakes.  Over the din of cash registers and frantic shoppers, the Dyelanders heard an unmistakable, jolly voice.

"Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Well, hello, Christine!  That is a lovely dress!"

"Oh!  He sounds so Santa-like!" Yva cried and grinned as she led the group towards the back of the store.  They stopped a few yards away from the candy cane fence-lined enclosure where Adam sat, enthroned on a sleigh, with children swarming all around him. 

"He's truly a natural," Willy commented as Adam spent time with each child.  Their smiles lit up their whole faces and there was no doubt they were enjoying their special moment with Santa's undivided attention.

Henry looked on proudly at his friend.  "You weren't kidding when you said he made a great Santa."

"He's magical," JenniAnn enthused.  "I wish Andrew were here to see this," she added, wistfulness creeping back into her voice.

"When Adam's on break we'll get a picture." Rose consoled.

"Something's going on.  Why is that woman crying?" Lady Beth motioned to a woman standing near Adam, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Alarmed, the group pressed closer. 

"Oh my God.  It's, like, totally like that movie!"

The Dyelanders looked curiously at the employee who had spoken thus as she passed them. 

"I can't see Adam.  Where did he go?" Yva strained to see past the throng of shoppers.

Countess Jennifer had moved towards the left side of the North Pole-like enclosure and motioned for her friends.  The group hurried over.  They could just glimpse the sleigh and the area nearby it through a cluster of people.

Adam was kneeling on the ground.  In front of him was a girl in a wheelchair.

"I heard her mom say she has cerebral palsy and is deaf," a man whispered to the woman next to him.

The entire crowd watched in moved silence as the scene played out.  The girl signed her Christmas wishes to "Santa" and he signed his assurances right back to her.  All the while the girl's mother looked on.  She had expected only a cursory "Ho!  Ho!  Ho!" if not an averted, uncomfortable gaze.  Never could she have hoped that "Santa" would have a path cleared for her daughter, speak to her, and listen to her.

"God is with you and He loves you and Desi so much, Brenna," Adam murmured into the woman's ear as he hugged her before returning his attention to the girl.  "Good bye, darling.  Yes, God loves you very, very much," Adam signed before hugging Desi good bye.

Soon the noise level picked up again but the effects of a moment of true grace lingered.


As soon as his break time rolled around, "Santa" sent an "elf" out to the store to ask his friends to join him in the break room.  It was only moments later that Adam was swarmed by the ladies of Dyeland as Henry, Nigel and Willy looked on with amusement.

"Oh Adam, you were wonderful!" Yva cried.

"Very lovely.  People were crying," Rose gushed.

"Well, thank you.  I hope I only did what every other Santa would do," Adam responded, blushing slightly.

"I don't know what others would have done but I'm glad you were there, buddy."  Henry hugged his longtime friend once the women had begun to step back. 

Lady Beth frowned despite the warmth left by Adam's moment with Desi and Brenna.  "I only wish Andrew could have been here.  He would have been so proud of you, Adam."

"He's here in spirit," Countess Jennifer reminded.

"Aww, yeah.  But... oooh..."  Lady JenniAnn's face broke into a wide grin as she began to dig through her purse.

"You shrunk Andrew and are keeping him in your purse?" Willy teased.  "My dear lady, I am shocked."

"Hey little buddy," Adam called, staring at JenniAnn's purse, with a gleeful sparkle in his eyes.  "You know what Tess said about not getting into ladies' purses.  I'm shocked, too." 

"Haha.  Very funny.  But I have an idea!  Everyone!  Say hi to Andrewcam 2000!" JenniAnn shouted, pulling a digital camcorder from her purse.

"Andrewcam 2000?" Nigel asked curiously.

"Well, yeah.  Since Andrew isn't here I thought I'd take video for him to watch later.  I wish I'd gotten footage of you earlier, Santa Adam, but it seemed wrong to record such a private moment.  Anyhow... one, two, three... here goes!"  JenniAnn raised the camera and turned it on.  "Everyone say 'hey' to Andrew!"

The break room erupted with a chorus of greetings to their faraway friend.  The camera kept rolling as the Dyelanders took turns filling Andrew in on the miracle they'd just witnessed as Adam smiled modestly.

As Adam began to prepare to go back out into the store, the Dyelanders said their good byes to the newly christened Andrewcam 2000.

"We'll see you soon, Andrew.  And we'll be counting the days.  Literally.  We have a rock candy jar for counting purposes," Yva told the camera with a grin and wave towards Willy.

"And when you get back there will be so many cookies waiting for you, you won't know where to start!" Lady Beth promised.

"And presents!  Maybe even some new flannel shirts to replace the ones that mysteriously disappeared," Rose added with a wink.

"Take good care of yourself, Andrew," Countess Jennifer added.

"We'll be praying for you, buddy" Adam and Henry added in unison.

JenniAnn's voice shook from behind the camera.  "Adam needs to get back to work and we need to finish some shopping but we'll all be thinking about you, Andrew." 

The camera began to wobble as JenniAnn scrawled something on a piece of paper that she held up for the others to see.  Then she began to count off with her fingers.  1...2...3.

"We love you, Andrew!"  the group shouted altogether, as directed by the note.

Then, slightly deflated, JenniAnn turned off the camera.

"Imagine how much fun Andrew will have watching this," Adam encouraged. 

The woman nodded as she put the camera back in its case.  "Yeah.  I know he will.  I just can't help but wonder what he's doing and thinking and feeling right now."

"How about before I go back out there we all pray for him together?" Adam suggested.

The group joined hands and did exactly that.  In their prayerful circle, with their thoughts on their absentee friend, for a moment he didn't seem so far away.


"Today I found myself thinking about Francis P. Church's
'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.'  I love this part:
'Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain
and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.'
I pray that, no matter what, humans never lose those five things...
and I hope angels never lose the first four."
-from Andrew's journal

Meanwhile in Iraq...

Andrew was surprised to find himself smiling and in some sort of reverie as he walked towards the building where his assignment was.  Maybe it was the glorious night sky which, despite war and strife, was as beautiful as it had been on that first Christmas.  That was certainly part of it but there was more.  He felt enveloped in love and good cheer.  He hoped he would be able to bring a little of it to his assignment.  Upon entering the medical unit, Andrew found Richard speaking to one of the wounded men from his unit.

"And how are you feeling tonight, Mike?"

Mike shrugged and winced at the movement.  "I won't be shooting any hoops any time soon but I've been worse.  And considering..."  Mike bowed his head.  "I feel blessed."

Andrew bowed his own head, remembering the men killed in the same explosion that had left Mike wounded.

"Speaking of blessings," Mike continued with a wink.  "You're leaving tomorrow, right?  Finally going to get to see that kid of yours?"

Richard's whole face lit up with a smile.  "Yeah.  My wife says he looks exactly like me.  I don't see it in the photos or video but maybe I will in person."

"Enjoy it, man, and try not to think about us."

Richard looked doubtfully at his friend.  "I don't think I can promise that, Mike."

At that moment Andrew cleared his throat and stepped closer.

"Well, hey, if it isn't the chaplain!  I haven't seen you around in a long time, Andrew!" Mike smiled at Andrew.

Richard also greeted Andrew with a friendly smile.  "He just got back here this afternoon.  Says he's only here for a short time," he explained to Mike.

Andrew stepped closer to the two soldiers.  "I've had some assignments elsewhere," the angel explained.  "But it's good to see you both again."

"They sure ship you around a lot, Andrew," Mike mused.  "Sometimes I have a hard time believing you're a chaplain.  Maybe you're actually with some secret security force and you just can't tell us.  Is that it?" 

Andrew chuckled.  "Secret security force, huh?  Maybe something like that.  How are you feeling, Mike?"

"Been better, been worse.  Did you hear Rich is going home tomorrow?" 

Andrew smiled.  "I did.  That's great, Richard!  Home for Christmas.  Wow.  So what have you got planned?"

"My wife and son and I were going to spend Christmas at her aunt's place in Los Angeles.  After the holidays... We'll be looking for somewhere to settle down, I'll hopefully get a job and get back to normal life, I guess."  Richard smiled but both Mike and Andrew could see the doubt and anxiety behind it.

Mike set a comforting hand on the lieutenant's arm.  "You'll have a merry Christmas, Rich.  I know you will.  Write me all about it, will ya?"

Andrew watched his assignment struggle to maintain composure. 

"Sure, Mike.  I'll do that," Richard promised as Mike yawned.  "But now I think I'll let you rest.  I'll stop by before I leave tomorrow."

"I'll still be here," Mike joked with a wry grin. 

With that the three men wished each other good night and Andrew and Richard walked back outside.

Richard looked up at the stars and then out at the land surrounding him and sighed.

"You alright, Richard?"

The man looked at the angel and shrugged.  "How can I not be?  This time Wednesday I'll be with my wife and my son celebrating Christmas."

"I just want you to know it's normal to feel torn, Richard.  Wanting to be with your family but not wanting to leave your friends here, it's not disloyal to either of them.  And having a good time doesn't mean dishonoring those who gave their lives.  They would want you to be happy," Andrew counseled.  "God wants you to be happy."

Richard responded with an edgy laugh.  "I don't care what Mike thinks.  You're definitely a chaplain.  You talk like one."

Andrew smiled.  

"I think I'm going to turn in.  Good night, Andrew.  See you tomorrow," Richard called behind him as he turned away.

Andrew watched, concerned, as his assignment walked away, shoulders slumped.

December 22, 2008

After an afternoon spent in the Tunnels watching holiday films projected onto one of the Great Hall's walls, many of the Dyelanders had congregated at Willy's factory for some Christmas candy-making.  Earlier that morning JenniAnn had grown tired of constantly carrying her video camera and so it was now perched at the end of the long table the Dyelanders were working at, a flannel shirt lovingly wrapped around the tripod.

Tess was the last to arrive at the factory having been called away to a short assignment.  After greeting everyone in the room, her gaze fell on the camera.

"Babies, is that camera wearing one of Angel Boy's shirts?" she questioned, eyebrow raised.

Adam chuckled to himself, willing to let someone else explain the phenomenon to Tess.

"That's Andrewcam 2000, Tess," Yva started to explain, nonchalant and intent upon giving eyes to a caramel chocolate elf.

"Is it now?" Tess prodded. 

"Well, ummm..." JenniAnn started before losing her nerve and focusing back on following Willy's demonstration on how to create chocolate dipped candy canes.

Willy looked up from the vat of sprinkles.  "Would you like to learn how to make my one-of-a-kind candy canes, Tess?" he asked, hoping to dispel the awkwardness that had fallen over the group.  But Tess was transfixed and seemed not to hear him.

"Since Andrew's not here we decided we'd videotape the holidays here for him.  So he can feel like he was a part of everything when he gets back," Lady Beth explained as she helped Henry to decorate a chocolate snowman.

"I see.  That's very thoughtful, babies.  It's just a little... surprising at first."  Tess smiled, putting everyone at ease.  "I miss Angel Boy, too."

Rose motioned to the camera, expectant.

"Oh, yes."  Tess smiled at the camera.  "I miss you, Angel Boy.  We all do.  You hurry back just as soon as the Father lets you."  The angel looked away from the camera then and brushed at her eyes.

"Tess, are you okay?" Adam asked.

Tess smiled at Adam.  "Yes, baby.  I guess I just didn't realize how much I was looking forward to celebrating Christmas with you, Henry, and Andrew until it started to look like it may not happen.  I'm so happy you and Henry and all these babies," she indicated the rest of the group, "are here but... I do miss Andrew."

Tess' tears made it easier for the others to speak up.

"I just keep thinking about how I hardly spent any time with him last Christmas cause I was so wrapped up in my own life.  We had this tradition and I mucked it up last year and I was counting on fixing it this year but now..."  JenniAnn trailed off and gratefully accepted a tissue from Adam then hugged him. 

"I miss Andrew randomly showing up in that goofy elf hat he got from an assignment a few years ago," Rose added with a frown that turned into a laugh at the memory.

"I miss his hugs under the mistletoe," Lady Beth added.  "Not that everyone else's aren't nice," she added.

Adam chuckled.  "Andrew is going to be bright red when he watches this segment.  But I miss him, too.  If he doesn't get back it won't be the same singing carols without hearing him."

"How would everyone like it if I showed you how we make chocolate boxes?  Then everyone could make one or more and put notes for Andrew in them.  We could have them waiting for him when he gets back," Willy suggested.

"That's a wonderful idea!" Yva cheered.  "I think that will greatly help us all.  So, how do we start?"

At that Willy began to instruct the group and soon their sadness was diminished as they focused on extending good wishes and thoughts to Andrew.


"Sleep is a funny thing.  It's healing, it's necessary.
And dreaming... dreaming can be great.
But it may also make you face things you'd rather not,
or remind you of things you want but don't have."
-from Andrew's journal

December 23, 2008

Andrew woke up and rolled over in the bunk he'd been directed to the previous night.  He wondered where the smell of chocolate and marshmallows was coming from.  The angel of death quickly dismissed it as remnants of a dream.  It was then he heard the noises a few feet away from him.  It sounded like a struggle.

Andrew flicked on the lamp next to him and saw Richard flailing around on his own bunk.  Before Andrew could reach him he bolted upright and looked around, his chest heaving. 

"Where are we?" he asked the angel in between gasps for breath.

"Kuwait, Richard.  We're waiting for word that it's safe to leave.  Then we'll go to Germany and then onto Los Angeles," Andrew explained in a soothing voice.

"Right.  Sorry.  I was just having a nightmare.  Sorry if I woke you."  Richard slunk against the wall behind the bed.

Andrew rested a hand on Richard's shoulder.  "It was a flashback, wasn't it?  Do you want to talk about it?  It might help."

"I'm fine.  I'm just going back to sleep.  It'll make this wait seem shorter."

"Okay.  I'm here if you need to talk," Andrew promised.  He settled back onto his bunk and closed his eyes, praying. 

Andrew lost all sense of time as he prayed but became aware, again, of Richard struggling. 

"Father, please help me to get through to him.  You asked me to help him have a merry Christmas and get home to his family but he won't even listen to me. I want to do Your will, Father.  But I need Your help," Andrew finished silently before again approaching Richard.

To Andrew's surprise, Richard jumped up from the bunk and flung at him.

"Who are you?  I remember now... the day... the explosion that killed Ed and Carlos, that messed Mike up... we left you at the base b-but you were there.  I was running towards them but you were there already.  In the midst of it.  Flames every where but you... my God... what are you?" Richard demanded.

Effortlessly, Andrew pushed the larger man away and back to his bunk.  "Richard, my name *is* Andrew.  And I'm an angel sent by God."  With those words, golden light surrounded Andrew and his uniform was transformed into a white suit.

Richard continued to glare at him with a stony face, even as he shielded his eyes from the warm glow.  "An angel?  An angel sent by God for what?  Why didn't you stop IED from going off?  Why didn't you stop me from leading my men into danger?"

Andrew bowed his head as tears stung his eyes.  "God didn't want your friends to die.  He doesn't want anyone to die like that.  But free will was a gift to His children and it's one He still values and upholds even if... even if they don't."  He drew a deep breath before continuing.  "I was sent to you and your platoon months ago, to counsel all of you, to remind you of God's love and then to take Ed and Carlos home to Him.  I was with them in their final moments.  I was there to tell them again that the Father loves them and that He would be there for their families, for Mike... and for you.  They knew you would blame yourself and they didn't want that, Richard.  They want you to go on and live a full, beautiful life."

The man on the bunk began to shake with sobs.  "I'm not sure I know how to do that, Andrew."

Andrew sat down beside his assignment.  "You do it one day at a time and you do it with help: God's, your families', your friends', whatever help you need, you take.  And when you need to cry, you cry.  And when you want to laugh, you laugh.  And you hold your family and your faith tightly.  You honor the men and women you served with in doing all those things, Richard."

Richard inhaled deeply and closed his eyes before opening them and gazing heavenward.  At last he offered Andrew a weary smile.  "Thank you.  I needed to hear that.  And from an angel, no less."

At Richard's acceptance of his message, the glow dissipated and Andrew's uniform reappeared.  The angel was surprised when the soldier began to laugh.

"Richard, it's good to hear you laugh but... I think I'd like in on this joke."  Andrew smiled encouragingly at the man.

Richard shook his head as he continued to laugh.  "I guess I was just thinking about my Sunday school teacher.  At Christmas she told us all about how glorious the angels looked that night in Bethlehem.  Like she actually knew.  Now I find myself sitting next to an angel with bedhead and wearing rumpled camo.  I wish I could tell ol' Miss Tess what they're really like." 

Andrew had been chuckling right along with Richard but stopped.  "Wait..."  He went to his jacket and pulled out his battered prayerbook.  "This wouldn't happen to be Miss Tess, would it?"  He held a photo he'd pulled from it out to Richard and sat back down.

"Hey, that's her!  Are you telling me she's an angel, too?"

"You seem surprised," Andrew remarked with a grin.

Richard became flustered.  "Well, she just... I mean I guess I always thought angels were... well, placid."

Andrew laughed so hard he nearly fell.  "Some are.  But placid is definitely not a word I would use to describe Tess so I can see why you'd be surprised."

"So who else you got in there?  Gabriel?  Michael?"

"No, not either of them although they're great guys.  But these are mostly angels I've worked with often and some humans I've come to know and befriend.  Do you have any photos of your family with you?"

Richard retrieved a small album from his pocket and, as they waited for word of their departure, angel and human talked about the loved ones they were anxiously waiting to return to.


Meanwhile in Dyeland...

"And this... this is you in your gray flannel shirt and jeans," JenniAnn chirped as she trotted a gingerbread man across Lady Beth's kitchen table, giving the Andrewcam 2000 a perfect view.

Rose picked up another cookie.  "And this is your white flowy shirt, also with jeans."  Another gingerbread man sashayed across the table.

"And who can forget your umbrella?"  Lady Beth smiled at the camera and then twirled a gingerbread wearing a coat and scarf and carrying a parasol that appeared to have been nabbed from a tropical cocktail of some sort.

As the parade of cookie fashion was going on, Tess and Henry hung back.

"Are they always like this, baby?" Tess whispered.

Henry chuckled quietly.  "Oh no, Tess."

Tess breathed a sigh of relief.  "Well good because this is a little biza..."

"Sometime's they get really goofy about him.  This is just a mild diversion," Henry finished, this time not bothering to cover his glee at Tess' horrified expression.

"Here comes the next batch!" Countess Jennifer called before setting a baking sheet down on the table.  "Adam made this sheet.  And he said we have to leave some undecorated."

"Why?" Yva asked as she set down the bowl of frosting she'd been mixing.

"I thought it might be pleasant to actually eat some of the cookies and I find it a little hard to do when they're made to look like one of my friends or... hey, is that me?  Oh look, Tess!  It's me as a cookie!"  Adam proudly held up his doughy double.

"Tis the most luscious cookie ever," JenniAnn declared.  "Ooh, show Andrew."

Adam dutifully displayed his gingerbread self for the camera.

"Did she just say 'luscious'?" Tess questioned Henry.

"Hmm?  What?  Oh look, we can eat those cookies.  You first, Tess."  Henry handed her an undecorated gingerbread.

"Mmmm."  The eldest angel gave Adam a thumbs up as she tasted the cookie, all nickname-based concerns forgotten.

"And we have almond crescents and brownie bites and spritz cookies.  Chocolate chip, of course.  Both with and without oatmeal," Lady Beth listed off.  "What am I forgetting..."

"I think we have more than enough cookies for the party tomorrow night.  That's not even counting the cakes and chocolate and the actual meal and...  It does seem like we're forgetting something, doesn't it?" Yva agreed.  She began to contemplate it.

"Let's see... Willy has the chocolates," Henry started.  "Lady Beth already made the cakes.  We have the cookies now.  Adam is bringing the turkey-like substance, I've got mashed potatoes and gravy assigned to me.  JenniAnn has the vegetable and fruit trays, right?"

JenniAnn nodded.

"Rose, myself, Countess Jennifer and Nigel are all bringing different salads," Yva added.

"Catherine mentioned something to me about bringing the 'grown-up' drinks to add to the wine Mick brought over yesterday,"  JenniAnn interjected.  "I said I had plenty of ginger ale and orange juice and sparkling grape juice for the kids and those of us that don't like champagne much.  Coffee is being brought in from the Cafe."

"Dinner rolls!"  Rose looked up from the cookie she was decorating.  "No one is bringing dinner rolls."  Then the meaning behind her words hit her and Rose's face clouded.

"Babies, I can do that much," Tess offered, disturbed by the gloom that had settled over the group.

"Dinner rolls..." JenniAnn muttered and looked to be near tears.

Tess looked at her curiously. 

"Andrew has supplied the dinner rolls the past two years," Adam explained. 

"I see."   Tess frowned for a moment before smiling again.  "How about this: we'll all make the rolls together, right here in front of the..."  She paused to look doubtfully at the camera that was, that evening, wearing a gray sweater.  "Andrewcam 3000."

"2000," Adam corrected.

Tess turned to glare at him but calmed herself.  "The Andrewcam 2000 with the same recipe Angel Boy uses.  I'm sure we could find it." 

"I have it.  I'm the one that gave it to him."  Lady Beth turned to search through her recipe books.

"But..." JenniAnn began to protest.  "It won't be *his* recipe.  On a page torn from his journal... written with his favorite pen and with the splotchy ink on the corner from when he nearly dropped it in the sink..."

"I think Andrew keeps it in his blue binder.  You remember, the one we decorated and gave him when he had that longish assignment at the community college," Yva added.

Rose laughed.  "Right.  We gave him a hard time because he had to teach Don Juan!" 

Tess again looked mildly aghast at the ease with which the ladies could dredge up so much of the minutiae of Andrew's life.  Nonetheless, she knew that it was all borne of love and so she moved to grab her coat.

"Where are you going to Tess?"  Adam moved to help the supervisor into her coat.

"Thank you.  I'm not the only one going.  We're going to Andrew's to get that recipe and then we'll just bake the rolls there.  I know Angel Boy won't mind.  Will you, baby?"  Tess was surprised to find herself affectionately patting Andrew's sweater draped over the camera tripod.

With that the matter was settled and soon Andrew's kitchen was filled with the laughter of his friends.


"Sometimes I'm amazed at the way the Father works.
He can bring people together when we least expect it."
-from Andrew's journal

December 24th
Los Angeles

Mick and Beth had joined Paula at Josef's place and were helping to prepare for the next evening's dinner.  Josef himself had left early on the 21st for a business meeting in New York.  While there he was to meet Paula's niece and grand-nephew after their train ride from Ohio.  From there Josef would escort the new mother and her child on an early flight back to Los Angeles for Christmas Eve with her aunt and her husband who was hopefully to arrive from Iraq later that night.  Little did any of them know that the same Christmas reunion they were striving to accomplish was also being worked on by Andrew.

Mick was choosing music for the party's play list when Josef's phone rang.  Paula and Beth were busy decorating the tree and so he paused to answer.

"Kostan residence.  How may I help you?"

"My aren't we proper!  It's me, Mick."

"Josef, what's going on?  I thought your flight left two hours ago.  Have you met up with Meri yet?"  Mick listened to the exasperated sigh on the other end of the line.

"My meeting ran late and Meri's train got hung up.  By the time we were both ready..."  Josef growled quietly.  "A snow storm had settled in.  All flights canceled.  I've been trying to find us a room for two damn hours but the whole city's booked up.

Mick grinned.  "So, Josef, you're telling me that you're there with Meri and her child and there's no room for you in any inn?"


Mick could hear his friend's annoyance and laughed.  "Do you want me to call JenniAnn and see if her cousin's apartment is free?"  Mick waited for an answer.  "Josef?"

"Listen, the storm's really bad and I think there's a good chance we won't make it out for a couple days.  And I won't be surprised if Meri's husband doesn't end up marooned somewhere.  The last thing this lady needs is to celebrate Christmas in a stranger's apartment.  I'm taking her to the brownstone, Mick.  Paula said she loved the place when she visited a couple times.  I only called so Paula wouldn't worry.  My cell phone battery is dying but if you need us... you know the number.  I haven't had the phone disconnected yet."

Mick grew serious when he realized the implication of his friend's words.  Josef hadn't been back to the house where Sarah had died since a few days after the funeral.  "Do you want me to come there?  I could take the portal and stay with you."

"I already told Meri my friend Mick and his girlfriend were in Los Angeles and having dinner with us there.  She'd get suspicious.  I'll be fine.  We'll get there when we can."

With that Josef hung up, leaving Mick to worry for him.


New York City

After an excruciatingly long cab ride, Josef, Meri, and her baby arrived at the brownstone.  "Sorry about the dust," Josef apologized as he led the woman and the crying infant inside.  "Your aunt and I moved out a couple months ago after...  I guess we didn't clean very well."

"It's fine, Josef.  Thank you for doing this.  I know it must be difficult.  Aunt Paula told me your wife passed away recently after a long illness.  I'm very sorry."

Josef knew the half-truth Paula had told her niece but somehow it hurt to hear it said aloud.  "Thank you," was all he could manage in return before he began to pluck sheets off furniture and motioned for the woman to have a seat.  He watched as Meri began to unwrap the layers of blankets from around her son.  As soon as the baby had emerged from his cocoon, he stopped crying and seemed to examine the room around him. 

"Was that a smile?" Josef asked with a laugh.

Meri smiled at her host.  "I think so.  Manny must like it here.  I think he senses there was a lot of love here."

A melancholy smile settled on Josef's face as he looked around the room.  "There was."  He cleared his throat and then picked up the bag of food he'd gotten for Meri before they'd left the airport.  "I'll just put these way.  Make yourself at home."

"I will.  Thank you again, Josef."

When Josef returned a few minutes later he found that Manny was fast asleep but it was now his mother who was crying.

"Meri?  What's wrong?  If there's anything I can do..."

Meri forced a smile and shook her head.  "No, it's just... Richard just called.  His plane made an emergency landing in Richmond, Virginia.  All flights canceled there, too.  He and a friend were trying to book a rental car but no luck yet.  They'll probably end up celebrating Christmas in a terminal.  I... I just wanted so badly for Manny to spend his first Christmas with his father but I guess..."  She drew in a deep breath.  "At least I know Richard's safe and Manny and I have somewhere warm and comfortable to stay.  It just... it's hard spending Christmas away from the one you love."  Meri blushed then.  "I'm sorry.  I shouldn't be going on about myself like this.  Especially when you've lost your wife."

The word cut through Josef again but he tried to hide the pain from Meri.  "It's okay.  I guess neither of us are having the Christmas we want.  But a friend told me something recently.  He said Christmas will always be there for those who want and need it, no matter what.  He told me it's about love, love that isn't ended by death or by distance.  Will you celebrate Christmas with me, Meri?  We'll get each other through this."

Meri nodded and smiled at Josef. 

"Great.  Then I think we need to make this place a little more festive.  I'll be right back."

Josef hurried out of the room and went upstairs.  He paused reverently outside Sarah's bedroom door and then continued on to a storage room.  He carried out box after box of the Christmas decorations Sarah had so loved and brought them to Meri who set about transforming the gloomy house.  Josef knew that Sarah was looking down and smiling.


"Merry Christmas, you wonderful, green, oversized chunk of metal!"
-from Andrew's journal

Richmond, Virginia

Richard was sitting on a bench with his head in his hands as he listened to Andrew talk to yet another rental car agency on the phone.

"Could you tell me when a car might be available?" Andrew asked.  "Yes, I know road conditions are bad...  I'm a very careful driver...  How many years accident free?  Uh...  Would you believe eighty years?  Hello?  Hello?"  Andrew stared at the phone, vexed.  "They hung up on me!"

Richard couldn't help but laugh.  "I guess they weren't buying the eighty years thing."  His disappointment returned full force then.  "I can't believe this is happening...  Meri's stuck in New York.  I'm stuck here.  My son's going to spend his first Christmas stranded in his great-aunt's boss' house of all places...  And I imagine this means your plans are down the drain, too.  I'm sorry, Andrew."

"I wish we were both where we wanted to be but if I was going to get stranded in an airport with an assignment, I'm glad it's you, Richard.  I don't always have a chance to get to know my assignments but I'm glad I got to know you."  Andrew clapped the man on the back. 

"Thanks, Andrew.  That means a lot.  I just... I miss my wife, I miss the son I haven't even got to meet."  Richard's eyes filled with tears and he reached for his photo album.

Andrew sensed Richard wanted to be alone for a moment and so stepped away.  He went to a window and stared out at the snowy airfield.  "Father, you told me I was supposed to help Richard adjust to life after the war so he could spend a happy Christmas with his family but this...  I guess this isn't what I thought You meant.  Father, if there's a way I can get Richard to his family and me back to... back to mine, show it to me.  Please.  Your will be done, Father."  Andrew closed his eyes but opened them when he heard a strange jingling next to him.  He turned but saw no one there.  He looked to the ground and stared for a moment before scooping up the car keys with the telltale football key chain and shouted excitedly.  "Richard!!!  Richard, follow me!" 

Richard looked up, confused, but followed the angel as he grabbed luggage and ran into the parking garage. 

Andrew could have hugged the green mini-van that sat there in a stall to his right if only his arms were big enough.  He popped open the trunk and threw he and Richard's bags in.

"How'd this get here?  Is it yours?" Richard asked, still shocked by the sudden turn of events.

"Sure is!  Get in!"  Andrew gleefully unlocked the car doors and once he and Richard were belted in, began the slow trek to New York City.



It was well after 7 P.M. and the Dyelanders were still playing assorted games.  This had never been a part of their tradition but it seemed like a good way to stall.  Perhaps Andrew would arrive soon.  If dinner were only put off a little bit longer... 

"Carols!  Let's do carols now!" Rose suggested after everyone had agreed that they really couldn't abide with another round of Pictionary or Jenga.  The prospect of beginning the traditional round of carols with out Andrew wasn't particularly desirable but it was better than starting dinner and admitting he would miss out on that.  And so Adam and Henry took turns at the piano as Tess led the singing.  For a few moments more all was well.


New York City

"Do you have any eights?" Meri asked.

"Go fish," Josef answered.

Meri drew a card and shook her head.

"Do you have any nines?" the vampire checked.

"Actually, I do and here..." Meri was cut off by a knock on the front door.  Her eyes went wide and her expression became one of hope.

Josef stood up and went to the door.  He couldn't make anything out through the window.  The snow was still falling thickly.  "Stay back, I'm going to have to open the door to see who it is."

Meri picked up the sleeping Manny and went into the hallway.  In another moment she burst out into the main room, hearing the voice she had longed to hear in person for many, many months. 

It took only a split second for husband and wife to find each other's embrace.  Giddy, Meri stumbled through introductions as she clung to Richard.

Andrew and Josef looked on, happy to have accomplished the reunion they'd both been striving for.  They politely moved into another room as Meri introduced Manny to his father.

"So Meri's husband was your assignment this whole time?  Funny how things work out, isn't it?" Josef motioned back to the room they'd just left.  "I suppose you see things like this all the time.  Joyful reunions, I mean."

Andrew nodded.  "I do.  But I never get tired of seeing them."

"So I guess this means your assignment is done.  It's only, what?  7:30 in Dyeland.  Your friends will be happy.  When I talked to Mick yesterday he said they were bouncing off the walls for lack of you.  Something about a camera wearing your clothes."  Josef shook his head at the strange image but smiled.

For his part, Andrew raised an eyebrow and pondered what Josef could possibly mean.  But right then it didn't seem important.  "So what are you doing, Josef?  Are you staying here?  Because you can come to Dyeland if you want."  Andrew watched with concern as Josef grabbed a folder and began sorting papers.  He sincerely hoped he wasn't planning on spending the holiday doing business when this year, of all years, he needed to spend it among friends.

Josef shook his head but didn't divert his focus from the papers he was writing on.  "I think it's best I leave Richard and Meri and Manny to themselves, let them enjoy their new home.  I'll take the portal back to Los Angeles."

Andrew was confused.  "New home?  Josef, what are you talking about?"

Josef was growing excited.  He smiled at the angel as he signed a paper with a flourish.  "Meri was telling me that she and Richard haven't settled on where they're going to live.  She's been living in military family housing since he was deployed.  She also told me she's always dreamed of living in New York so...  It's like I told you.  This house used to be filled with love and happiness at Christmas.  Sarah made it that way and tonight... tonight I watched Meri work that same magic.  It feels right, Andrew.  I want this place to be filled with love and happiness again.  I had too many good times here to let it languish as a tomb forever."

Andrew was touched by this amazing act of kindness.  "Josef, they'll be so... shocked and happy and..."

"They'll be home for Christmas.  And that's where I want to be.  And that's where you need to be.  Get moving, Andrew.  If those women find out I kept you here talking, I'll be staked for Christmas," Josef grinned and then lead Andrew back into the mainroom where Richard and Meri were seated on the couch, Richard's amazed and proud stare drifting back and forth from his wife and child.

"Richard, Meri, I've decided to stay at a friend's place tonight," Josef explained.  "So I'm going to walk Andrew out and let you enjoy your Christmas together."

"Josef, I hope I'm not crowding you out of your home," Richard responded, apologetic. 

Josef beamed at the couple.  "No, not at all.  Oh, I left you a gift on the table in that office there," he casually indicated the room he and Andrew had just exited.  "Just a token of my appreciate for your service, Richard, and for your helping me to find Christmas again, Meri.  You don't need to look now.  Tomorrow morning, maybe."

Meri and Richard looked at each other, perplexed.

"It's a good thing, trust me," Andrew assured them.  "You two have a merry Christmas.  Take care of yourselves."  The angel crouched down then to take Manny's tiny hand in his own.  "Your parents love you very much, little guy.  And so does God, remember that always."

Meri looked on in awe.  Richard had told her about Andrew's revelation in Kuwait and she could only stare at the angel with a teary, beatific smile. 

"Merry Christmas!" Andrew and Josef called as they exited the house.  Josef paused for just a moment on the door step.

"You okay?" Andrew checked.

Josef nodded.  "I actually... I feel great.  Merry Christmas, Andrew.  Give my best to everyone in Dyeland.  And thank you... for what you said at Sarah's grave.  I feel like everything good that's happened today happened because of that."

Andrew smiled.  "Maybe.  But it also happened because of the goodness inside of you.  I told you you weren't really ' a vain, egomaniacal materialist.'"

Josef laughed.  "I guess I shouldn't argue with angels.  Good night, Andrew.  You better hurry.  That camera might be stealing your clothes."


Josef laughed again at the angel's bewilderment and then dashed off to the alley where the portal was hidden.  Andrew looked after him for a moment and then got back into the mini-van and disappeared into a gust of snow, hoping he would next find himself in Dyeland.



The Dyelanders had sung carol after carol from a rocking rendition of "Winter Wonderland" to a reverent chorus of  "What Child is This?" to a stirring "Children, Go Where I Send Thee," to countless others.  Yet, Andrew had still not arrived.  The children among them were growing restless and Adam stepped away from the piano and approached JenniAnn.

"Andrew wouldn't want the children growing grumpy on his account.  And it's nearly 8:00.  Do you think we could start dinner, JenniAnn?"  Adam asked the question gently, knowing that to do so would be to admit Andrew was not coming.

JenniAnn looked to where most of the children sat and found herself unable to resist the puppy dog faces they made for her benefit.  She laughed and nodded.  "Okay, let's start bringing dinner out."  She stood and began to step away from the table. 

Seated next to JenniAnn, Father noticed the way she let her hair fall and mask her face.  It was a trick Vincent had inadvertently taught her, a subconscious means of hiding disappointment and grief.

Father stood.  "I do not wish to delay so fine a dinner as I am sure is in store for us.  However, I have always considered 'O Holy Night' to be the finest hymn and I cannot imagine ending our caroling without it.  Might it be sung, even a single chorus, before dinner is served?"

JenniAnn slunk gratefully back into her chair, her relief mirrored by each of the Dyeland women.

Tess smiled at Father.  "Of course we can sing it.  I can't imagine how we forgot it until now.  Is everybody ready?"

Everyone in the ballroom assented and the carol was begun,

"O holy night!  The stars are brightly shining..."

No one heard the front door creak open, nor the approaching footsteps.

"A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices!..."

The newcomer hung up his coat and for a moment stood in silent appreciation of the scene before him. 

Nearest the door, Yva picked up on the voice first.  Just as they had sung the words "Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!," the chorus seemed to grow one voice stronger.  Yva nudged Willy and set off a chain reaction.

"O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!  O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!" 

And then silence.  Every eye was turned to the entry way as if they didn't quite believe...

"I'm, uh, back.  Hey.  Merry Christmas!" Andrew greeted, all too aware that every eye was on him.

A great cacophony of sound erupted then as many of the revelers leapt up from their seats and ran to the angel. 

Patiently waiting their turn to greet Andrew, the Wells family looked on with amusement.  Vincent paid particular attention to the joyful reunion.  As he watched Andrew hug each of his friends, attentive to each, unbothered by the fuss, and radiating love and peace, the man thought once again of the imagining of his childhood.  Perhaps the young boy had been more right than the older Vincent knew.  Of all the words that he knew, only one seemed to fit Andrew just then as he greeted his friends: glorious.


"Thank you, Father, for all the blessings you've given me.
I love You.  Beyond that... I'm speechless."
-from Andrew's journal

Soon after Andrew's arrival, dinner was served.  Then dessert was brought out, a special cake to celebrate little Jacob Wells' first birthday among them.  Afterwards most of the Tunnel dwellers returned to their home leaving only the Dyelanders to sit before the fire, sipping coffee and hot chocolate and cider.

"So did you know you'd make it back, Andrew?" Rose asked.

Andrew shook his head.  "No, I just hoped.  A lot.  I prayed I would be and I'm very glad that's one prayer the Father chose to answer with yes."  He smiled at each of them.  "So what did I miss?  Please tell me."

"We can do better than show you!"  Lady Beth smiled and then looked expectantly at JenniAnn.

Thus prompted, the woman went to retrieve the memory card from Andrewcam 2000, hidden behind a curtain.   She had hastily stashed it there after finally pulling herself away from Andrew upon his arrival.  However, she unintentionally revealed the entire camera and tripod. 

Curious, Andrew drew nearer.  "Laja, is that camera wearing one of my ties?" he raised an eyebrow and then chuckled as he stood to examine the tie more closely and discovered it was, indeed, his own.

"Laja" only blushed in response. 

"Baby, I think Andrew should know about Andrewcam 2000," Tess encouraged.

Surprised by Tess, JenniAnn smiled and began to explain breezily.  "Well, we were worried you wouldn't get here at all and we had so much fun and, oh, Adam was Santa and..."

Andrew again look perplexed.

Adam chuckled.  "At that store you saw me at on Halloween.  I was Santa at a store," he clarified.

"But it was more than that!  You'll see, Andrew!"  Yva beamed at the ever-modest Adam.

"Wow.  That's really...  I'm touched.  Thank you for finding a way to include me even when I was away.  But the tie?  Josef had said something about a camera stealing my clothes." 

"He... it... whatever.  Had one of your sweaters and a flannel shirt earlier," Countess Jennifer reported. 

JenniAnn blushed again but quickly recovered.  "Tonight we actually intended to put the beige sweater on him but now I know why we didn't find that.  It looks infinitely better on you.  Andrewcam doesn't have much of a shape to him..."

Then it was Andrew's turn to blush at the apparent admiration for his own shape.

"I must admit at first I was a trifle put off by this," Nigel waved to the camera.  "But it did make you feel more present, my friend."

Henry nodded.  "Sometimes it really did seem like you were right there."

Everyone nodded.

"Strange thing is, sometimes I felt like all of you were out there with me.  There was one morning I smelled chocolate and marshmallow so strongly I could have sworn I was in Willy's factory."  Andrew smiled at the chocolatier and at all his friends.

Andrew's admission reminded Willy of the package he had brought with him.  He went to retrieve it and quickly returned.

"Well, thank you, Willy," Andrew gratefully accepted the box and untied the ribbon.

"There's one from each of us."

Andrew looked from Countess Jennifer who had just spoken back to the contents of the boxes.  Inside were several much smaller boxes, each made of chocolate.

"Should I open them?"

"Sure.  And you can eat them all right now, too!" Yva answered.

Andrew gave her a wary look.  He didn't really want to think of all he'd had at dinner and dessert.

Yva laughed.  "Or not.  You can save the chocolate for later.  But do read the notes."

"Out loud?"

"No!" JenniAnn adamantly shook her head and then realized Tess was staring at her.  "Well, I just mean...  I guess you could..."

A couple other of the Dyelanders looked similarly concerned at the prospect.

Andrew stifled a chuckle.  He couldn't read JenniAnn's mind nor any of theirs but he had the impression that if he could he would hear something like "Gah!  Bad, bad, bad idea...  Tess is gonna freak!"

So Andrew opened each box as his friends looked on expectantly.  Each opened box brought with it a feeling of love and hope and goodwill.

"Hey buddy,
I hope you're having a merry Christmas, wherever you are.  You should see what's going on here!  I guess you will and when you do you'll know that we all thought of you and missed you.
Take care, Andrew,

"Happy holidays, Andrew!  I hope you enjoy these treats and know how much everyone here cares. 

"Happy Christmas, Andrew!  Know that you are being thought of at this blessed time.

"Namaste and love to you this Christmas, Andrewkins.  Hurry back to us!

"Two years ago at Christmas I told you something.  I'm not sure if you heard and I'm afraid that, if you did, after last Christmas you might doubt it.  But wherever you are now I just want you to know this: Andrew, I'll love you til the day I die.

"Peace and love to you, Andrew.  Please come back to Dyeland soon.  I'm afraid they'll start dressing appliances up as you.  ;) 
Your friend,

"Merry Christmas and happy New Year, Andrew.  I hope you're back before 2009 starts...
Your friend,
Lady Beth"

"Andrew, this has been a crazy year for all of us, but you were there through it all.  Your friendship means so much to me and I want you to know that I'm thinking about you.  Have a wonderful Christmas!
Take care,
"Dear Andrew, remember that Christmas is a time for love, miracles, and joy.  Whatever this Christmas brings, I hope your day is filled with an abundance of all of those things.
Lots of love,

"We're all thinking about you, Andrew, and hoping you have a merry Christmas!  We'll see you soon.
-Countess Jennifer"

When he'd finished reading, Andrew gratefully accepted a handkerchief from Tess and even more gratefully rested his head on her shoulder after she'd sat down beside him on the couch.  He was surprised as all the emotion of the past few days rushed through him.

"There, there, baby," Tess soothed. 

The rest of the group waited quietly.

After a few minutes, Andrew drew a deep breath.  "Sorry, I guess I just..."

Rose shook her head.  "Andrew, there's no need to apologize or make excuses.  We're just all so glad you're back!"

Andrew smiled and nodded.  "Okay, thanks."  He ran a hand through his hair, took another deep breath and surveyed his friends' faces.  "So... what's this I hear about video?"

"Everyone ready?" JenniAnn asked, poised next to the projector.

The group clustered together on and around the couch and watched as their week played out on a large screen on the stage, accompanied by Christmas carols and, not surprisingly given the editor, music from RENT. 

"This is great.  I feel like I was there when all this was happening.  Thanks, everyone."  Andrew looked away from the video only long enough to smile at all his friends gathered around him.

"You're welcome, Andrew," Yva answered first.  "It was actually very fun and...  Well, that's strange.  JenniAnn, what would cause that?"  Yva pointed to the screen as footage rolled of the group praying for Andrew during their visit with Adam.

JenniAnn wiped at the lens of the projector, attempting to dislodge the dust she was sure was causing the strange misty column in the footage.  Nothing changed.  The strange formation remained, poised in the center of the circle the group had made as they prayed.

"Weird lighting in the break room?" Henry hypothesized.

"Could be.  It's gone now," Countess Jennifer pointed out as the scene shifted to glimpses of the movie marathon in the Tunnels.

"There it is again!  What the heck?!?!" JenniAnn exclaimed as the scene cut to Willy's factory.  "I don't remember it being there when I edited..."

Andrew drew closer to the screen, planning to examine it for irregularities.

"Father in Heaven..." Tess murmured, looking on.  "Andrew, baby, I think that... that's you."

What Andrew could not see was that as he approached the screen, his silhouette matched up perfectly with the mysterious image on the screen.

"I... I guess you really were with us."  Rose continued to stare at the juxtaposition of Andrew and the image. 

Lady Beth looked curiously at Andrew.  "Why didn't you tell us?"

Andrew fell back onto the couch, staring in awe at the video.  "I didn't know.  There were a couple of moments...  In Iraq I caught myself day-dreaming.  I couldn't even remember what about but I felt love and peace and... happiness.  Then when we were waiting in Kuwait, I woke up and I could smell chocolate so strongly, like I told you, and those same feelings were there."

"What time did these things happen?" JenniAnn asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

"The first was Sunday evening in Iraq, the second was yesterday early morning in Kuwait," Andrew answered.

"Accounting for the difference in time, that matches up with when all of you came to visit me at the store and when we were at Willy's," Adam pointed out, amazed.

Tess put an arm around Andrew.  "I guess the Father knew you were the one to help Richard but he also knew how much you wanted to be here, Angel Boy."

"And how much we wanted you to be here," Yva added.

"It is truly a miracle."  Nigel looked with new appreciation at the video camera.

Andrew nodded.  "There was a moment before I left for Iraq when I grew concerned."

"About what, Andrew?" Rose asked.

The angel hesitated but then decided to continue.  "I suppose I was concerned that we might not have that many Christmases together and my going to Iraq was just the start.  I didn't want to think about it but... I did.  But now... now I see that," he waved to the screen, "and I know in my heart that the Father brought us together this Christmas.  And He'll keep us together."  Andrew beamed at each of his friends as a group hug ensued.

Everyone was drawing apart when they heard tapping at a nearby window.  The group looked to see a dove poised on the windowsill.  Its coo seemed to be a verification of Andrew's words.  Everyone ran outside and watched, huddled together, as the little dove rose into the air and flew to the brightest star in the sky.

After the dove had disappeared, Andrew glanced at his pocket watch and noted it was midnight.  "Merry Christmas, my friends," he said quietly.  "Merry Christmas, Father.  Thank you for loving us."

Andrew's gratitude and love were echoed by the others as they went back inside to continue celebrating a Christmas they would never forget.

The End

Thank you for reading this story which ended up far longer than I anticipated.  And to think I even cut some scenes I'd considered!  I'd like to dedicate this story to my Grandpas who served in World War II and Korea.  As with last year, I chose to make a donation to a charity connected with the themes in this story.  So, in honor of all of you and military families, a donation has been made to Fisher House.  You can read more about the work they do here. 

And now here's the rundown of the holiday media references:
The Andrew journal quotes through out are my homage to the work of Richard Paul Evans, an author most famous for The Christmas Box series.  He often begins chapters in his books with journal excerpts from his characters.

Scene one is very closely based off the opening scene of Hellboy 2 which is comprised of a similar Christmas Eve scene.  Go Ron Perlman!  Hellboy begged his father to read him a story about elves as he waited for Santa but I decided angels was more appropriate for Vincent and us.

The lyrics to "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," as performed by Mick, were written by Randy Brooks.

The Santa Adam scene was inspired by A Miracle on 34th Street.

Yes, I did name Richard's wife Meri just so I could have Mick make a crack about Meri, Josef and there being no room in the inn.  Also, as Vincent stated, the Bible quote in the first section is the Gospel of Luke.

Andrew's reappearance was based off a Hallmark commercial I haven't seen in ages but I can remember tearing up over it even as kid.  It was a family gathering and one of the brothers was MIA.  And he and another brother always did a duet of "O Holy Night."  So the lone brother starts singing and then, voila!, the other brother shows up and joins him... and I think he was even wearing a beige sweater.  If anyone ever sees this commercial anywhere online, I would love to see it again.  Instant warm fuzzies!

As with the previous two years, I threw in the "I'll love you til the day I die" from Mary-to-George It's a Wonderful Life quote cause I love it!  Andrew's journal entry about the Jolly Green Giant, Coolest and Loveliest of Mini-Vans is also a lil homage to George Bailey with his "Merry Christmas, you dear, old Building and Loan!"

"O Holy Night" was written by Placide Cappeau.

The video montage was loosely based off the Christmas Eve-set finale of RENT.

I think that's it...  If I missed anything you caught, please let me know!  All the best to you this season!


JABB 263

(Photo Credits: The photographs used on this page are from "Touched by an Angel" and owned by CBS Productions, Caroline Productions, and Moon Water Productions.  They are not being used to seek profit.)