"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.
The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.
I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."
~Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Hi all,

Welcome to the Christmas story I didn't intend to write!  Okay, so some parts are as planned.  But I had intended for this to be short, sweet, and goofy.  And it is... in parts.  I discovered that I couldn't fully move on from some of the more dramatic happenings in the lives of the Dyelanders this year (if you get confused, just give a holler or check the Encyclopedia).  I guess I needed to tie up some loose ends for myself.  So this ended up being a story about the past, the present... and maybe even some hints of the future.  I hope you enjoy!

Special thanks to Nicole and Yvette who answered some questions I sent out to the YG about Dyeland Christmas goings on.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!  Enjoy the remainder of 2009!  We'll be in touch in the new decade!

God bless,

The Past, the Present, the Future


December 20th ~ December 21st ~ December 22nd ~ December 23 ~ December 24th


"I know sometimes Christmas is hard for humans. 
Maybe even sometimes for angels.
It's hard not to think of those they once
celebrated with who are now gone from them.
But I hope everyone can remember the
true meaning of the season:
Love, and those we love, are never really gone."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

December 20th, 1954

Heavily pregnant, Cora Cleary struggled to make her way into the cathedral.  Morning Mass had ended and the church was nearly empty.  She was glad.  Not only was she wary of running into her mother and her mother's friends, but she was in a contemplative mood and needed solitude.  Settling into a pew, she stared at the creche near the altar.  For years she'd reverently looked upon the Holy Family and marveled at the courage and strength of Mary.  That year she felt an even stronger sense of awe and even a kinship.  She set her hand on her belly and wondered what her own child would bring to the world.  She prayed for the strength to help him face whatever came.  She also prayed for deliverance from the overwhelming loneliness that had set upon her.  Her eyes filled with tears as she stared at St. Joseph, looking protectively and lovingly at his wife.  They must have been so frightened for the tiny child entrusted to them.  Yet they had been able to face those fears and worries together.  She suppressed a sob as the contrast with her own situation overcame her.  Only a year ago she and Lor, newly wed, had celebrated their first Christmas together.  Little had they known it would be their only one.  For a moment, his laugh, his smile, and his very presence came back to her.  Startled, Cora turned around.  Of course, he was not there.

Weeping, Cora made her way to the altar near a statue of St. Joseph and lit a candle in her husband's memory.  She heard footsteps behind her and saw Fr. O'Brien coming down the nave.  Unable to bear conversation, even with the kind man, Cora waved and hurried as best she could out the side door.  Brushing at tears, she forged her way through holiday shoppers and returned to the house she shared with her best friend, Theresa.  Hoping to cheer Cora and keep her occupied, Theresa had laid out boxes of Christmas ornaments before departing for work.  She had not realized that, for Cora, the boxes only conjured Lor even more strongly. 

Patting her stomach, Cora took deep breaths to calm herself.  "Baby," she murmured, "mama's a mess right now and may get messier still but don't worry.  I think we need to do this.  Thinking of your da this Christmas is very, very hard.  But hiding away everything he held dear is harder still.  So if you could just give me a little strength, I know we can do this."  She smiled as the baby kicked.  "Alright then." 

It was heartbreaking to unpack the Nativity Lor had carved and the ornaments they had created together that charted the course of their all too brief romance.  But when she stood back to examine the decorated tree, Cora was glad she had persevered.  It was beautiful and a testament to not only Lor's love but God's, as well.  Tears again filled the woman's eyes but brought less pain than before.  She prayed and remembered for several minutes then began to tidy up.  She was tossing packing materials back into the box when she noticed something poking out from one of the folds.  Expecting only a stray bit of packing paper, Cora disinterestedly yanked it out.  Her heart sped when she realized it was a letter: a letter addressed by Lor.

Though it was not her name on the envelope, Cora felt that her husband would want her to know its contents.  Settling into a chair, the woman began to read.


Sunday, December 20th, 2009

"There doesn't seem to be any sort of rule book on what to do if you're
an angel of death and a woman's fallen in love with you. 
And there's definitely no book to tell an AOD what he should do after
he gives the woman a scare like I did last month. 
But I think if the book did exist, it'd tell me I owe her. 
So that's why I'm going to the mall...
to help her find a dress...
five days before Christmas...
Father, help me!"
~ from Andrew's letters to God
Andrew, JenniAnn, Lulu, and Fawn were settled in front of the fire place in the Willowveil ballroom enjoying one of the peaceful, contented silences that had become commonplace in the preceding month.  With Andrew's right arm not yet healed and the memories of all that had occurred still so vivid in everyone's minds, the angel of death hadn't been returned to his official duties.  So he'd spent many an hour with his friends, sometimes preparing for Christmas, sometimes helping as best he could with their projects and hobbies, and sometimes simply sitting to admire the snowfall or the night sky or the festive decorations. 
On that particular morning, Andrew was showering the dogs with attention while JenniAnn plugged away at a craft project that she kept shielded from him with a pillow.
"Can I see yet?" Andrew finally asked.  When he'd arrived JenniAnn had been intent on her work but refused to let him look.  She'd informed him that it was part of his Christmas present and that she had every intention of giving it to him early but for the moment he was forbidden from looking.  Of course, that made him want to see it even more.
"Nope.  Soon, though.  Very soon."
Andrew couldn't help but chuckle.  She was so focused!  He returned his attention to Lulu who had dropped a squeaky toy in his lap.  Carefully, he tossed it.  He gave a smug little smile, secretly proud of how much his left-handed pitch was improving.  It has been nearly two weeks since he'd launched anything into a Christmas tree or sent knick-knacks flying.  He tossed the toy several more times until Lulu and Fawn curled up on the couch for a nap. 
Bored, Andrew approached the tree and studied the ornaments.  The gang had decorated the tree weeks before with ornaments representing each of them and hung others on behalf of those dear to them.  There was a bear for Yva and hung right next to it was a colorful airplane signifying Sir Sven.  Naturally, Adam had a turkey.  Records for Henry.  Cookie cutters for Lady Beth.  A Victorian heart for Nigel.  Candy for Willy.  A cluster of multi-colored roses and ribbons for Rose.  A Bible for Josephine.  Music notes for Tess.  A coffee cup for Monica.  Red and white roses stood for Vincent and Catherine, a tiny bud for little Jacob.  A stack of books for the elder Jacob.  A glittery butterfly for JenniAnn.  Dog-themed ornaments for Fawn and Lulu.  An assortment of turkeys for Adam's pets.  The cats and bunnies of Dyeland, too, had representation.  And for himself... it was obvious JenniAnn had been struck with indecisiveness when it came to him.  There was a gold pocket watch, a football, and most recently she'd added tools.  Wistfully, he touched the hammer.  It had been a while since he'd been able to handle the real thing.
"Soon," JenniAnn reassured him as she approached and carefully set a hand on his cast.  "Just a couple more weeks, right?"
"Right."  He smiled at her, proving he wasn't too troubled by his continued convalescence.  "So... now can I see it?"
"Clearly you were never the Angel of Patience," she teased.
Andrew chuckled.  "I wonder if we have one of those?"
"You should ask.  If yes, maybe he or she could give you lessons.  But first..."  JenniAnn returned to her chair and retrieved the framed canvas she had finished while Andrew was occupied with the tree.  Blushing, she handed it to him.  "Merry Christmas, Andrew."
Andrew recognized the depicted scene at once and his face broke out in a wide grin.  "I'm George Bailey!  Hot dog!"
JenniAnn giggled at his attempt at an impression.  "Well, yeah, kinda.  You do remind me of him.  Always thinking of others, that sometimes goofy sense of humor, and, well, the way you sometimes hold things in because you're concerned for us and just want us to stay happy.  And even that night in the alley... the way you wished, well, not that you'd never been born, thank God.  But that you weren't in our lives.  But then you learned otherwise..."

"That I did."  Andrew embraced her.  "And I won't forget."

"Good.  Well, your outline isn't exactly how I wanted it and I wish I could do needlepoint like in the movie but..." 
The angel traced the paper decoupage words.  "No.  Laja, it's great!  'Andrew Lassos the Moon,'" he read, beaming.  "This is one of the most thoughtful..."  He noticed something scrawled on the back of the frame just as she'd written it the year before: "I'll love you til the day I die."  Moved as he had been then, he hugged her again. 

JenniAnn returned his embrace then sighed.  "What time is it?"

Andrew stepped away and looked at his pocket watch.  "Almost 10:30, why?"

"I'm meeting Yva and Rose at the Cafe at 11:30.  We're having lunch and then...  we're meeting Catherine at a mall in NYC.  See, with my parents coming here for Christmas Eve I feel like I should buy a new dress... a grown-up, 'see things are actually pretty normal here, please don't worry, I do have it altogether' one.  Not princessy, not Celtic, not hippie."  She waved at the sage broomstick skirt trimmed with triskeles that she was wearing.  "I hate non-princessy, non-Celtic, non-hippie dress shopping...  And it's five days before Christmas so ya just know the mall will be nuts.  So Yva and Rose and Catherine are going for moral support... or maybe just to haul me out of the dressing room if I have a breakdown." 

JenniAnn laughed but Andrew could tell she truly wasn't thrilled by the situation.  He knew she'd much prefer spending time at the Cafe or at the Phoenix or in the Tunnels with her friends.  "Laja, these are your parents.  I'm sure they're looking forward to seeing you so much that they won't care at all how you're dressed."

"Oh, I know they love me... even with all my eccentricities.  But I just want everything to go smoothly and... well, they were kinda worried..."  JenniAnn stared at her feet and absently twirled her signet ring around her finger.

"About?" Andrew prodded gently.

JenniAnn shook her head.

"It was about what happened, wasn't it?  When I was homeless," he guessed.  She nodded but offered no further details.  "Laja, they're coming here on Thursday and I really think I should know what they're concerned about so I can do what I can to put their minds at ease.  You shouldn't have to alone."

"That first night... with your hand...  my mom called not too long after you left and I was... absolutely hysterical."  JenniAnn flicked at a couple tears running down her cheeks.

Andrew grimaced.  "I'm so sorry, Laja."

"It's not like you chose to have it all happen," she stressed.  She took a deep breath then forced a smile.  "So I just need something cute but kinda sophisticated.  Unrattled-looking."

Andrew nodded, lost in his thoughts.  He still regretted the pain his friends had felt during his last assignment.  Further, he was getting the idea that JenniAnn wasn't as much intent on proving to her parents that she had it altogether as she was on proving that her bond to him wasn't maladaptive or, even worse, destructive.  Though he hadn't done it on purpose, it was obvious he'd gotten her into the situation and it was up to him to help get her out.  The prospect of spending an afternoon in the ladies' department of a packed-to-the-max store didn't thrill the angel but that was immaterial.  He knew he'd be of no help fashion-wise.  However, he also knew his presence calmed her... or at least distracted her.  Thus, Andrew knew what he had to do.   "Well... if you really feel a new dress would help then what if I went with you?"

JenniAnn noticeably brightened.  "Can we run away to the flannel shirts department if things get really bad?"

The characteristically charmed response made Andrew chuckle.  "I doubt they have their own department but, yes, we can run away to the flannel shirts.  And I think this could be fun.  Maybe I'll learn something.  You never know, I might end up as a fashion designer one day.  Or a costumer."

JenniAnn gave him a skeptical look.  The idea of Andrew running around with yards of chiffon amidst primping models seemed a stretch.  But then the idea of Andrew plowing fields with the Amish or getting auctioned off on a date or toting a gun didn't seem very believable and yet...  "You're sure?"

"Yes, Laja.  As long as you don't think Yva, Catherine, and Rose will mind my crashing your shopping adventure."

"Oh, I'm sure they'll rebel and refuse to go," she jested.  "Andrew, you know they'll be thrilled.  So... I need to get ready but meet you at the Cafe in an hour?"

"It's a plan!" Andrew agreed.

JenniAnn looked on fondly as he called for Lulu who quickly roused and followed him out the door.  Maybe shopping wouldn't be so bad...


"Sometimes I wish I could do the whole revelation thing
whenever I wanted.  Centuries ago, You sent angels to
proclaim 'Fear not!'  I think right about now there are
some people that need a slightly different message:
'Stress not!'"
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Andrew and his friends weren't surprised to find the mall's largest department store brimming with anxious, harried shoppers.  However, that didn't make the scenes unfolding around them any less unpleasant.

"What do you mean you're sold out!?!  No, I don't want a raincheck!  Christmas is Friday!!!  There's no time!"

"So what size does she wear?  Well, I can't very well buy her pants if I don't know her size!!!!  How could you forget to ask!?!"

"Mommy, I want to go hooooooommmmmme!!!"

Andrew looked sympathetically at the toddler who was crying in his mother's cart.  His feelings were less tender for the man having a hissy fit at the Customer Service counter and the woman shouting into her cell phone as she looked at slacks. 

Yva shook her head.  "It's a shame it comes down to this when Christmas is supposed to be joyful."

The angel nodded.  "That poor kid.  He looks so tired."

"Speaking of tired, how are you feeling, Andrew?" Catherine asked.

"I'm feeling really good, thanks.  I have most of my energy back.  And this," he raised his cast, "will come off soon!"

"Yay!" Rose cheered.  "I bet you're already thinking of everything you're going to do but I hope you don't push yourself."

Andrew shook his head.  "Don't worry.  I won't.  I know that wouldn't go over well!"

"Lectures galore for you!" Yva agreed, smiling.  She looked away from the angel and back to Catherine.  "So how's Vincent?  When I last saw him he seemed kind of quiet."  She frowned with concern for her surrogate brother. 

Catherine mimicked Yva's expression with her own worried one.  "He is quiet.  Distracted.  I know he isn't having nightmares.  He has his appetite.  He's been teaching, building, reading, exploring with Jacob.  All his usual things.  So I know he's fine.  I can feel he's fine.  But there's an undercurrent of emotion that I can't get him to talk about."

"Maybe he needs a little time to wrestle with it himself before he brings it to you," Andrew suggested.

Catherine laughed.  "I do believe my husband has used that exact same line to calm your friends when something's eating at you."

Andrew smiled.  "Then maybe it's true."

"Maybe," Catherine agreed.  "Hopefully soon he'll open up.  But right now..."  She glanced at the turning knob of the dressing room, "I believe we're about to see the first dress!"

The group looked up at JenniAnn who had emerged from the dressing rooms.  "Alright... what do you think?"

Rose and Yva tilted their heads.  Catherine frowned.  Andrew was oblivious.

"I think you look great!" he encouraged.

Catherine shook her head.  "I just think... Well, Psyche, you look..."

"Fourteen," Yva finished.

"Exactly!" the older woman agreed.

"I kinda thought so, too," JenniAnn admitted, "but..."  She glanced at Andrew.

"Did you pick that?" Rose asked, turning to the angel.

Andrew shrugged.  "Well, I don't know what I'm doing!  I just kept thinking of that song from The Sound of Music.  You know, 'girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes.'  It seemed... classic."

Catherine burst out laughing.  "Andrew, you have many talents.  But maybe women's fashion isn't one.  And that's okay.  You make us smile and that's more important."  She directed her attention back to her cousin.  "Why don't you head back in and I'll look around, okay?"

"Oh...  No, no, no..." a strange voice chastised before JenniAnn could respond to her cousin.

The group turned around to see an immaculately dressed woman sporting a name tag reading 'Justine.'

"That dress is much too safe, too plain," Justine opined.  "Let's see what we can find for you.  I'll be back in just one moment."

JenniAnn visibly tensed.  "I'm, uh, going to go change back into my clothes and then... we may need to escape to the flannel."  She hurried back into the dressing rooms.

"This could get ugly..." Catherine said under her breath, recalling other shopping trips that had taken bad turns. 

"Maybe Justine will have some nice ideas," Andrew encouraged.

The three women looked at him and shook their heads.  It was obvious Andrew had never been clothes shopping with JenniAnn.  She instantly became uptight and nervous around strangers bearing clothing options.

Rose kept glancing behind them.  All too soon, she saw Justine approaching.  "She's already coming back!"

Seconds later, JenniAnn emerged looking slightly crumpled but dressed.  "Flannel, now.  Up!  Go!" she called.

Yva, Rose, Catherine, and Andrew bolted from their seats but it was too late.  Justine had Andrew by the shoulder.

"Sit, sit.  You can help your friend decide."  She smiled sweetly at him.

Reluctant, they all obeyed.

"Now how about this, my dear?" the clerk asked, turning to JenniAnn.

JenniAnn turned up her nose.  "Black?  For Christmas?  And, besides, black makes me look ghastly pale, I'm afraid."

"How about a royal blue then?"

"It's gorgeous but too glitzy for me and the occasion.  Really, I think I just need some time to..."

"Alright.  Here's a nice cocktail dress, no embellishment."

"It's kinda short...  Sorry, but if I could..."

"Now this is really the look of the season..."

"Yeah... which I'm afraid makes it kinda too trendy for me."

The three women and Andrew looked back and forth between the two feeling as if they were watching a tennis match.

"I really don't mean to be impossible," JenniAnn apologized.  "But I really think maybe if I just looked for a bit longer myself..."

"Perhaps just one more?" Justine pressed, sliding another dress of the rack and turning it towards JenniAnn.  "This is one of my personal favorites.  Isn't it lovely?"

Rose had to stifle a laugh as JenniAnn looked at Andrew, an almost Pavlovian response to the word "lovely."  Of course, she couldn't help glancing at him herself.

Andrew raised his eye brows and tilted his head towards Justine who was waiting for a response.

"Oh, right!"  JenniAnn snapped back to attention.  It was then she realized the true horridness of the dress and her face flushed.  "I... ummm...nooooo."

"Well, dear, it's difficult to tell on a hanger.  Perhaps, try it on.  It is a good color for you."  Justine held the garment out to her customer.

"Can we just see it?" Catherine asked, curious as to what was causing JenniAnn to resemble a tomato.  "She's looking for a dress because her *parents* are celebrating their first Christmas at her place," she hinted.

Justine looked admiringly at the dress and shrugged.  Smug, the saleswoman turned around with the gown.  She held it in front of Andrew.  "Well, this may not be the best for that but what girl doesn't need another dress for a special occasion?  Sir, what do you think?  Don't you think she should try it on?"  She winked at him.

Sitting on either side of the angel, Rose and Yva began to worry that his eye brows were actually going to launch off his head. 

"Oh boy..." Yva muttered as Andrew stood up.

"I think..." Andrew mumbled.  "I think..."  Really he thought that if Justine pushed JenniAnn to try on the extremely low cut dress, he was going to have to go all indignant big brother on the saleswoman.  But surely there had to be a better, calmer way to get her away from the ladies.  A quick prayer later, he had his response ready.  "Scarves!  Where are scarves?  I need to buy some nice scarves... for some friends.  Right now.  Please."

Justine smiled fondly at him.  "Of course!  Let me show you right where those are."  She thrust the dress onto a rack and then led Andrew away.  JenniAnn was, gratefully, forgotten.

Before disappearing around a display of turtlenecks, the angel smiled back at his friends.

"I think it's definitely a good thing Andrew came!  That lady was pushy!"  Catherine shook her head.

JenniAnn collapsed onto the chair Andrew had abandoned.  "Definitely a good thing.  That was close!  Holy cow..."

"Well, she was right.  It is a good color for you," Yva teased.  "I'm glad Andrew got her away.  But now how are we going to meet up with him?  We shouldn't stay here.  Justine might come back... with more barely there pieces of fabric she calls dresses.  Does anyone know if he brought his phone?"

"I'm not sure.  Didn't you say that if things got bad we were going to check out the flannel shirts, JenniAnn?" Rose questioned.  "I think maybe we should go there.  If for no other reason than you need to calm down.  And Andrew knew about that plan.  He'll figure out that we're there."

"Flannel..." JenniAnn murmured, looking dreamily at the direction Andrew had gone.

Catherine laughed and stood up to lead them.  "Come on, ladies."

Together the four women made their way to the men's department where all dress trauma was quickly forgotten as they waited for Andrew to reappear.


Andrew was pretty pleased with himself.  Not only had he managed to distract Justine for a full five minutes but he'd also crossed a few items off his gift list.  He'd found a moon and stars scarf for Tess, one patterned with delicate coffee cups for Monica, and another peppered with daisies for Raquel.  Once he was sure Justine was occupied helping another customer, Andrew made his way back to the dress area.  He figured the women would have already gone to the flannel shirts but he wanted to check first.  Sure enough, they were gone.  The angel was preparing to head to the men's department when he noticed a rack of dresses in a corner beneath a sign reading "CLEARANCE."  A particular dress caught his eye.  It looked like it had been taken directly from Mary Bailey's wardrobe on It's a Wonderful Life.  And while he couldn't have told JenniAnn's dress size to save his no-saving-needed life, it looked like it would fit.

Feeling self conscious while surrounded by taffeta, lace, silk, and satin; Andrew grabbed the dress and quickly left the department.  He felt instantly more comfortable when he crossed over into the world of suits, jerseys, jeans, ties, vests, and, of course, flannel.  Now he simply had to find the girls...


"I see him!" Rose called, pointing several aisles over.

A few yards away, Catherine was checking out with some sweaters for Vincent and Father but craned her neck to look for Andrew.  "Psyche, you might want to prepare yourself.  He's carrying a dress."

"Oh good gosh!!!  Poor Andrew.  Justine probly foisted it on him in hopes he could reason with me."  JenniAnn rolled her eyes.  "I think I'm just gonna make due with something I have."

"Don't be so negative," Yva countered.  "Who knows, maybe Andrew picked it out himself?  Maybe it's another number from the Rodgers and Hammerstein collection."  She laughed.  "But even though the white dress and blue sash wasn't exactly fashion forward, you have to admit he was pretty cute about it."

"Yeah..." Rose and JenniAnn responded in sync.

Moments later, Andrew approached.  "Good!  I'm glad you got here and weren't waylaid by any more helpful sales associates."

"Were you?" JenniAnn asked, suspiciously eyeing the dress he was holding.

Andrew shook his head.  "I know all of you may have had your dress choosing confidence in me shattered after I followed the wise words of Julie Andrews but... I think I just might have redeemed myself.  Here."  Beaming, he handed the dress to JenniAnn.

Catherine approached with her bag and exclaimed over the dress.  "It's beautiful!"

"And definitely age appropriate," Rose added.  "And kinda vintage-y.  But not hippie."

"Good job, Andrew!  JenniAnn, what do you think?" Yva asked.

"It looks like something Mary would wear in It's a Wonderful Life," she cooed, staring at the dress.

Andrew smiled knowingly.

"Well, go try it on!" Catherine enthused, gently pushing her cousin back towards the ladies' department dressing rooms.

Once there, the four waited anxiously for the verdict.  When it came, it wasn't so much spoken as demonstrated when JenniAnn emerged wearing the dress and promptly hugged Andrew.

"It's perfect.  Thank you for finding it!  I'm definitely wearing this on Christmas Eve!" she gushed.

"Good.  I'm glad I could help.  Now are you ladies about finished here?  Because I have a surprise."  Andrew smiled mischeviously.  "But I won't tell you about it.  I'm going to have to show you."

"Oooh!  A surprise!  I'm just gonna go change back and pay for this and then I'm ready.  All of you?" JenniAnn checked.

"You bet!" Rose answered.  "I've got to see what Amish Boy's got planned!"

Andrew smirked.  With the beard he'd grown since Thanksgiving, the nickname fit better than it often did.

"I'm done.  Yva?" Catherine looked to her friend.

"I'm going to check out with this vest I found for Papa and then I will be.  I can't wait to see your surprise, Andrewkins!"  With a smile she went off to the cashier and JenniAnn once more to the dressing room. 

Only a few minutes later, the four women followed as Andrew led them out to the mall proper in search of his surprise.


"Vincent believes that on Halloween 'the walls between the worlds grow thin.'
Maybe it's especially true then because humans think more about
spirits on that day.  But this Christmas I hope Vincent discovers that the walls
between the worlds are always thin.  All the love waiting for him in Heaven
is already with him now."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Seated across the table from Vincent in his chamber, Jacob looked anxiously at his son as they played chess.  Vincent had just botched a chess move and it was very likely the old man would triumph over him.  Something was definitely amiss.  He'd suspected as much for days but the rook he'd so easily captured was the last straw.  Jacob was going to make his son talk.

"Vincent, perhaps we had best postpone the remainder of our game.  You seem troubled."  The patriarch set his hand over his son's.

Vincent looked up from the board.  "Not troubled, Father.  But I have been thinking."


Vincent stood up and began to pace.  "About a Christmas party.  Above."

Jacob sighed.  He had hoped that with Vincent's and Catherine's marriage, their son, and the introduction of Dyeland that Vincent's unrequited pull to the world Above would have been dulled if not extinguished.  Clearly this was not the case.  "And where is this party?"

"The party is not, Father.  At least not yet.  It's a party I think I would like to host."

Further confused, Jacob could only stare at his son. 

Sensing his father's discomfort, Vincent soldiered on with his idea.  "I think I would like to host a party for our people, whichever Helpers might be able to attend, our friends in Dyeland, Joe, and Angie... in my mother's home.  I love the house but I... I still feel such sadness when I'm there.  For days I have been considering ways to end the melancholy I feel when I enter it.  I think, perhaps, if I had a Christmas party it may bring joy back to the place."

Jacob squeezed his son's hand.  He was relieved that Vincent had settled upon an occasion Above that he and their friends might easily provide for him.  "Vincent, I think that's a fine idea!  It wouldn't take much effort to make this a reality.  Perhaps we could merely move our planned party on Tuesday to Cora's... your house?  William is already prepared menu-wise.  We could easily send word to the Helpers and you can relay the change of plans to Psyche, Yva, and the others."

"You would not mind?"

"Not at all!  I can't imagine anyone would.  And Vincent?"

"Yes, Father?"

Jacob stood and kissed the top of Vincent's head.  "I think this idea would make your mother very happy." 

"Thank you, I hope so."

"I know so.  I'll go speak to William.  Let me know whatever else you need."  Jacob beamed.  "This will truly be a wonderful Christmas."

Vincent smiled.  "I believe it will, Father."


"I'm always amused by the situations humans put Santa in.
He's had scheming children in countless movies.
In one song, he spends a lot of time kissing mommies.
In another he plows over grandma.
But somehow no one's ever hit on what I saw
Santa doing today. 
He shoots... he scores!"
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Back at the mall, the ladies were following Andrew amid the throng.  He'd nearly walked the length of the mall and shown no indication of what his surprise might be.

"We're going to see Santa?" Rose guessed as the mall's stone pillars and faux marble flooring gave way to huge candy canes and fluffy white, snow-like carpeting.

Yva grinned.  "I think I know what the surprise is!  Or rather who the surprise is!  It's Adam again, isn't it?"  She looked to Andrew for verification.

The angel only shrugged and smiled. 

The five continued heading towards the North Pole-like enclave at the end of the mall.  Just as they drew near, an elf appeared to put up a sign reading "Santa will return in 20 minutes." 

Andrew approached the elfin lady.  "Excuse me, ma'am?"

"Santa Claus will return shortly," she answered without turning around.  When she did she noticed the ages of the people behind her and looked curiously at them.  "No offense but... aren't you all a little old?" she whispered.

"You're never too old for Santa!" Catherine enthused.

"Especially not when he's Luscious," JenniAnn murmured quietly enough to not scandalize the elf.

Andrew chuckled.  "Especially not when he's a friend," he edited for the woman's benefit.  "We were hoping to speak to Adam.  Do you know where he is?"

The elf's face broke into a wide grin.  "He said he might have some visitors.  My name's Charlene, otherwise known as Snowy.  Follow me."

The group followed her down a long white hall and then into a large storage room.  They looked on with amusement as a cluster of mall employees in black slacks and white shirts and one red cloaked figure played basketball.  The women giggled and a bemused Andrew shook his head as "Father Christmas" leapt up and slam dunked the basketball, hanging off the rim for a moment.  When he landed, the five broke into thunderous applause and cheers.

Blushing, Adam turned to see his friends.  Excusing himself from the game, he joined them. 

"JenniAnn, Yva, Rose, Catherine, Andrew," he greeted, hugging each of them.  "I'm glad you could come.  When Andrew called to tell me you were headed this way, I hoped we'd be able to meet."

"Adam!  You look wonderful!  I think I like this costume even better than last year's!  You look so... old world!  Nigel would love this!"  Yva admired his velvet cloak and gold-trimmed tunic.

"And your hair!  It looks so much like your real hair... except white!"

The elder angel of death grinned at Rose.  "It is my hair.  A little divinely aided dye job you could call it.  It'll be gray again after I'm finished here."

"You look very much like Father Christmas, Adam," Catherine gushed.  "I wish we had some of the kids with us!"

"Jessie would love to see you like this!  And I know she'd keep it quiet for the littler kids," JenniAnn added.

Andrew looked to Catherine.  "Isn't the Tunnel Christmas party on Tuesday?"  When she nodded he continued.  "Do you think maybe you could find some time to stop by, Adam?  Can you leave the mall with this?"  He waved to Adam's costume.

"Buddy, the costume isn't mall property.  Don't you recognize it?"  Adam looked to the ceiling.  "It's on loan and I'm sure its owner would be fine with my taking it Below.  And as it happens, I have Tuesday night off.  What time's the party?"

"I think we're starting at 5:00 so any time after that would be great, Adam... Santa."  Catherine straightened his holly and ivy crown which had gone askew during the basketball game.

"Thanks.  Then I'll be there.  And tonight I'll be back in Dyeland for dinner.  Any plans?"

"Egg nog.  Cookies and milk.  That's right up your alley now, right?" Rose teased.

Laughing, Adam winked.  "Sure.  And then candy canes for dessert?  Maybe gingerbread for a midnight snack?  Who cares about the food pyramid?"

"We were thinking of dinner at the Cafe and Tess mentioned stopping in so I think we better plan on some real food, too, unless we all want to end up on Tess' naughty list."  Andrew cringed.

"That's even scarier than ending up on his!" JenniAnn cried, pointing at Adam.

"Okay, so egg nog.  Cookies and milk.  Candy canes.  And an actual dinner," Yva corrected.  "We'll see you then?"

Adam nodded.  "I'll be there.  But right now, if you'll excuse me, Father Christmas thinks he has another slam dunk in him."  Grinning, he hugged each of his friends once more then returned to his co-workers.

Andrew laughed.  "Now, wasn't that surprise worth the wait and trek through the mall?  How many times do you get to see Father Christmas dribbling a basketball and hanging from a rim?"

Yva and the other women were still staring in awe as she answered.  "I think this is truly a once in a lifetime experience."

With that the five left, anxious to regale their friends with news of Adam's basketball prowess over egg nog, cookies and milk, candy canes, and a Tess-approved dinner.


Monday, December 21st

"In the rush to get things done
(presents wrapped, cookies baked, stockings filled, etc.),
I'm afraid sometimes people lose sight of what's best about Christmas.
Today I was guilty of that.  But in one shining moment,
my friends helped me see the truth.
Thank you, Father, for them."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Many of the Dyelanders were still tired from dinner at the Cafe which had gone long into the previous night.  However, they had promised to help Willy and his workers complete a series of last-minute Christmas orders that had been placed.  After a quick breakfast in the candy maker's office, the group made their way to the packing room.  There they busied themselves with arranging and wrapping chocolate, taffy, Gobstoppers, candy canes, lollipops, and more into festive boxes. 

Not wanting to put a damper on anyone's cheery mood, Andrew tried to mask his annoyance with himself.  With only his left hand available, wrapping the treats had proved impossible.  Next he'd tried to carry the candy to his friends as it arrived so they could prepare it.  However, this created lag time for whomever he helped since he could only carry half the candy the other runners could and even that he did so awkwardly.  More than once the candy had ended up scattered across the floor: ruined.  The first time he'd apologized and laughed it off.  The second time he'd apologized even more profusely but again brushed it off.  But staring down at the spilled contents of the third tray and knowing he'd succeeded only in creating more work for Willy and his helpers, Andrew gave up.

"Don't worry about it, Andrew," the candy maker consoled as he helped the angel sweep up the remnants.  "There's more where that came from!  I'm stressed because we have so much that still needs to be put in holiday packaging, not because we're short on candy."

"Unfortunately, I'm not much help with the packaging, either," Andrew muttered.  "I want to help, Willy.  I really do."  He lowered his voice.  "But since that's not happening, maybe I should sit this out.  Even though you can replenish the candy I ruin, I know watching me struggle is hurting the girls so I think I'll go back to Serendipity for a while and..."

Willy shook his head.  "Andrew, I really don't think you should do..."

"Stupid, stupid, stupid ribbon!" JenniAnn shouted. 

Alarmed, everyone in the room looked to her.

The woman blushed.  "Sorry.  That was loud.  It's just this ribbon keeps slipping out of place before I can make a bow so it ends up really loose and sloppy looking.  I wish we weren't all so busy.  I could really use someone just to hold this in place."

Willy smiled at Andrew.  "The young lady needs a hand... only one.  I think you could help her."

"And when you're done helping JenniAnn, Andrew, I could use a hand matching these addresses up with the boxes.  I think my eyes are getting a little strained from staring at this spreadsheet," Yva added.

"Did you bring your glasses?" Willy asked.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pulled them out.

"And maybe at some point do you think you could help me count out these candy canes, Andrew?" Rose requested.  "Three to a box."

"I trust you can count to three?" the candy maker questioned with a grin.

Andrew responded with a sheepish smile and a nod.  "I'm sorry I was sulking."

"Don't be sorry.  Just go help your friends."

"Yes, sir!" Andrew responded with a chuckle then went to JenniAnn's table.  "So what would you like me to do?"

"Just put your pointer finger here."  She set her finger at the top of the box where the two ribbons crossed.

Andrew obeyed and watched as she deftly formed a bow above his finger.  After a few more effortless ribbons, he began to suspect JenniAnn really hadn't needed his help.

"Yes, I could have tied the bow without you," she whispered.

The angel of death looked at her in surprise, wondering if she'd added mind reading to her talents.

"Don't look so surprised.  You know how expressive your face is."  JenniAnn remained focused on tying the bows as she continued to speak but she couldn't keep her voice from rising.  "I saw that look on your face.  That self-critical one which, frankly, I've seen a little too much of today.  So here's the truth...  I can tie this bow without your help.  But I would *prefer* to have your help.  Not only because it makes it a lil easier but also because I just like having you here working on this with me.  Why do you have to carry things or wrap things?  Isn't it enough just to be here with us?  Isn't the fact that we want, not need but *want,* you here enough?  If it is then would you please stop frowning, put your finger there, and talk to me?" she pleaded.

Andrew walked around the table and hugged his friend.  "It's always been enough just to be with all of you.  I'm sorry that for a moment I lost sight of that."

Before JenniAnn could respond; Nigel, Rose, and Yva approached.

"Are you two alright?" Yva checked.

Andrew responded first.  "I'm just fine.  I guess I needed a little reminder about what's most important: friendship, love, and having a good time together.  Instead of appreciating that I was, um, well, I was frustrated and angry at not being able to help Willy as much as I would have liked to.  And I appreciate that you ladies thought of things I could do but I realized that it was exactly that: you thought them up to protect me.  Because you knew I was upset.  In some ways, I guess that made me feel worse."  He smiled.  "But then I learned better."

"I think it was a very kind effort," Nigel complimented the ladies.  "Though I am sorry for your troubles, Andrew.  But surely it is no great sacrifice for the ladies to have you near and working with them?"

Yva laughed.  "Oh, yeah, HUGE sacrifice."  She grew serious.  "Andrew, I don't believe that a single person in Dyeland, were they asked what they loved best about you, would respond with 'he has a fully functional right arm.'"

"If they did, we would have to wonder about them," Rose added with a grin.  "Because that's a really weird thing to say."

Andrew chuckled.  "I have to admit that in all the compliments I've received since coming here, I don't think my right arm was involved in any of them."

"Exactly.  So, now, could you please help JenniAnn with those bows and then spend some time with Rose and I?" Yva requested.  "And maybe Nigel could use some help, too."

"I would deeply appreciate it.  I've been entrusted with the task of selecting color schemes for the boxes but have little idea of the colors most attractive to people of this time."

"You do have a good sense of color, Andrew," JenniAnn encouraged.  "You're the reason I now realize brown and turquoise really pop together."

Andrew smiled.  Maybe later he'd tell her the Father had chosen the particular outfit he knew she had in mind.  "Nigel, I'd be happy to help."

"Good.  Then your schedule is set.  Now I'm getting back to my candy canes," Rose informed them, returning to her table. 

Following her lead, the five all refocused on their work.  Soon Andrew was comfortably busy going from JenniAnn at the wrapping station, Yva at the computer, Rose at the candy cane table, and Nigel at the boxing station.  He was rushing between them when Willy stopped him.

"Andrew, how's one of my best helpers?" he asked.

The angel looked appreciatively at the confectioner.  "I took your advice, I helped my friends, and more importantly I listened to them.  I learned a thing or two about my purpose."

Willy surveyed the bustling room and smiled.  "Andrew, I've learned a thing or two about workplace productivity during my years in the chocolate business.  A workplace with good morale is a productive workplace.  And good morale you can and have supplied here today.  We're almost done.  Hours before I thought we'd be!  You've played a part in that.  But beyond that these are my friends and Yva is my daughter.  I want them to be happy and I know you play a key role in ensuring they are."  Willy looked with fondness at the Dyelanders working away at their various tasks.  When he looked back at Andrew, he was relieved to see the angel was truly smiling without any hint of frustration or sadness.

"Thanks, Willy.  I see that now.  I'm really glad we came here today."  Andrew looked proudly at his friends, smiling when they'd glance up at him.  "Really glad." 

"So am I, my friend.  So am I." 

With that Willy returned to supervising and Andrew to aiding his ever-appreciative friends.

"I know now how difficult it is to be homeless,
especially during the holidays.
Thank You, Father, for leading some of
Your children to a loving home this Christmas.
I pray one day they all find that place."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Content with what they'd accomplished at Willy's; Andrew, JenniAnn, Rose, and Yva prepared to leave Dyeland and help Catherine and her charges celebrate the season at the Phoenix Inn.  Since the attacks of the previous month and Andrew's involvement had brought some publicity to the new shelter, more women and children had arrived seeking shelter, food, care, and other resources.  With newcomers always arriving, the holidays were celebrated daily since Catherine didn't want a single one of her guests to miss out. 

When the angel of death and three women arrived they found the Phoenix bustling with activity.  Catherine was doing her best to supervise in the kitchen as dozens upon dozens of cookies were being baked.  Cira, having accepted a position as Catherine's assistant, was keeping the children distracted as a group of mothers wrapped presents in the dining room.  Crystal made a beeline for Andrew the moment he entered.

"Merry Christmas, Andrew!" she cried as she threw her arms around him. 

"Well, hello there, Crystal!  Merry Christmas to you, too!" he greeted, beaming at his former assignment. 

"Mmm..."  She hugged him tighter.  "I missed you."

Andrew chuckled.  "I was just here on Saturday."

"I know.  But JenniAnn said withdrawal is normal."

Cira laughed.  "She would know."

Blushing, Andrew shot a look at the blonde woman who only shrugged innocently and ducked into the kitchen to check in with her cousin.

Just as the last of the coats were shed, a shout rose up from the dining room.  Cira quickly hurried towards it.  She re-entered a moment later herding a group of children.

"You were told to stay out of the dining room!  Santa is watching!" the exasperated woman threatened.  She looked gratefully up at the Dyelanders, focusing especially on Yva.  "Yva, you can sing, right?"

"I definitely love to sing," Yva responded.

"And she sings beautifully!" Andrew added, looking with pride at his friend.

Yva blushed and squeezed the angel's hand.  "Thanks, Andrewkins."  She turned to Cira.  "Why do you ask?"

Cira glanced down at her small charges.  "Distraction in the form of a sing-a-long?"

Yva laughed and nodded.  "Of course.  I'd love to lead some caroling."

Sighing with relief, Cira looked down at the kids.  "Children, Yva is going to lead us in some carols.  How does that sound?"

The children cheered and in no time took seats scattered around the living room.  Reluctant to part from Andrew, Crystal claimed the couch for the two of them and Rose.

Yva was pleased to see that one of the Helpers had donated a piano to Catherine.  Lydia, one of the older children, proved a proficient accompanist and so the caroling began. 

Once assured that Catherine didn't need any help elsewhere, JenniAnn returned.  The chairs and couches were all occupied and Andrew began to stand to offer up his seat but she indicated for him to remain and settled on the stairs.  She'd only been seated long enough for "O Holy Night" when Cira joined her as the carolers discussed which song to sing next.

"He looks really happy," she whispered.  "And relaxed.  Even a little younger.  A lot better than when he first came here... well, at least when I first knew him to be here."

JenniAnn nodded.  "I think he is happy.  But maybe a little stir crazy.  And earlier he was getting frustrated with his broken arm.  But, yeah, I think Andrew is basically happy."

"Do you know when he's going back to... uh, work?"

Shaking her head, JenniAnn shrugged.  "I don't know... I've... well, I think we all have... gotten used to having him around so much.  Suddenly things I used to do alone all the time, it seems like he should be there for..."  She grinned.  "For example, we took him with us when I had to go shopping for a dress."

Cira laughed.  "Was that some sort of punishment?"

Joining in on her laughter, JenniAnn shook her head.  "No.  He was such a good sport about it and so adorable and he actually found the dress."  She sighed and looked across the room at Andrew.  "This past month... I hate why it happened.  I hate that his arm was broken, I hate what those cretins who did it said to him.  But he said we need to accept what good came from it, not get bogged down in the hows.  So I have and it's been the happiest month of my life.  And I know the others have loved it as much.  So I keep hoping he doesn't go back until after Christmas... selfishly."

Cira squeezed her shoulder.  "I don't think that's selfish, especially after everything..."

"How'd you get the owie on your arm, Mister?" a high, chirping voice asked.

Yva looked up from the sheet music she was leafing through.  Rose gripped Andrew's hand and Crystal patted his arm.  JenniAnn turned ashen and Cira rested a hand on her shoulder.

Andrew only smiled at the little boy who stood before him.  "My name's Andrew.  What's your name?"


"I'm pleased to meet you, Jason.  As for this..."  Andrew held his cast up a few inches, "Well, I ran into some people who didn't like me and didn't realize that hurting people isn't the right way to handle your emotions."

"Does it hurt?"

"It did at first.  But not any more.  Some very good doctors fixed me up and my friends helped me out.  Sometimes I get annoyed with myself for taking longer to do things.  But most of the time, when I look at this, it's that help and care from friends that I think of.  Not how it happened."  Andrew briefly looked away from the boy to affectionately smile at the Dyelanders.

"Is that a turkey?"  Jason looked in awe at the brown and red sketch on Andrew's cast.  "It is!"  He laughed and waved for the children around him to look.

Andrew smiled at the drawing and then the little boy.  "My friend Adam drew it.  Pretty cool, huh?"

Jason nodded and soon the children were all clustered around to look at the drawings and brightly colored messages on Andrew's cast.  As they admired it, Andrew's friends all relaxed.  When the kids settled back into their seats and Yva and Lydia struck up with "Jingle Bell Rock," the grim spectre of Andrew's attack dissipated. 


"Yes, Mandy, there is a Santa Claus.
And thank God he lives."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Before anyone crowded into the living room at the Phoenix Inn realized it, an entire hour had passed.  The group had sung dozens of carols and were just about to begin another when there was a knock on the door.  It seemed to be followed by the jingling of sleigh bells.  Adults and children all looked at each other in surprise.

Catherine, at last free from the kitchen, peered out the window.  Her face lit up.  "It looks like we have a very special visitor!"

The children looked to each other, Catherine, and their mothers with excitement writ across their faces.

"Is it Santa?" a little girl finally asked.

In response, Catherine opened the door and stood out of the way of stampeding children.

"Ho!  Ho!  Ho!"

The Dyelanders looked from one to the other with confusion.  It sounded like Adam yet he hadn't said a word to any of them the day before.

A second later Father Christmas entered.  His friends looked on, laughing, as he was swarmed by the little ones.

"Well, hello there, children!  Santa is very happy to see each and every one of you!  I asked Catherine if I could stop by to visit you and she was good enough to welcome me.  How about that?"  Adam winked at the woman and stood to hug her.  "Why don't we all thank Catherine?"

Catherine blushed as mothers, children, and Dyelanders all broke into applause.  "Well, who doesn't want Santa stopping by?" she demurred once the cheers died down. 

As Adam made a show of squeezing his bulging bag through the door, Andrew noticed one girl of about nine who kept her distance.  He knew her name was Mandy and that she and her mother and little brother had been at the Phoenix for two weeks.  He approached her.

"Hi there, Mandy," he greeted.

"Hi, Andrew," the girl responded, still gawking at Adam.

Cira drew nearer, worried the girl was feeling left out.  "Mandy, would you like to go see Santa?"

Mandy bowed her head and declined to answer.

"I could go with you," the angel offered, sensing the girl was shy.

"I-I don't believe," Mandy confessed quietly.  "I don't believe in Santa.  When I was younger, I saw this statue at a store.  It was Santa Claus kneeling by baby Jesus.  I thought that meant he knew Jesus and could get to Heaven.  So last Christmas, when we were in the van, I left Santa a letter to take to my daddy in Heaven.  But when I woke up...  The letter was still there.  Santa didn't come.  And this morning I-I saw Mom wrapping our presents in the dining room.  One said from Santa.  So I know there's no Santa.  It's just Mom.  But seeing him... I miss believing." 

Cira looked to Andrew, panicked.  She didn't have any idea how to respond.

Andrew knelt down to be at eye-level with the girl.  "Mandy, there was a real Santa Claus and he lived a very long time ago.  Back then he was known as Nicholas.  He was very generous and loved to bring joy to people.  And when people are that loving and that kind, they continue to have a presence in the world... even after they go to Heaven.  So now, every year, Santa's spirit touches people.  He inspires them and they become Santa to each other.  So, yes, in that way your Mom is Santa.  She loves you and she wants you to feel that love Nicholas felt so strongly."  Andrew smiled across the room at Adam who was unloading his bag and greeting every child by name.  "And that man: he's full of that love Nicholas knew... and still knows... so well, too.  And do you want to know something else I know, Mandy?"

The little girl nodded, her eyes beginning to sparkle.

Andrew squeezed her hand.  "It's not just Nicholas who is still with us.  Mandy, your dad is still with you.  In your heart.  And when you want to write to him, you don't need Santa Claus to carry your words to him.  He'll know.  God will see to that.  Okay?"

Mandy nodded and hugged the angel.  "Thanks, Andrew.  That makes me feel a lot better.  So... in a way... that is Santa?"  She pointed to Adam.

Andrew nodded.  "He sure looks like him, doesn't he?"

Transfixed by Adam, Mandy nodded.

Andrew smiled and patted her head.  "Why don't you go say 'hi'?"

With that, Mandy dashed off and into the throng of children. 

"Mandy!" Adam cried.  "I was hoping you'd come to see me!  I have something for you here..."

The little girl, enchanted, was all smiles as Adam rifled through his bag in search of her gift.

Looking away, Cira turned towards Andrew and brushed at some tears.  "That was beautiful.  I wasn't sure how to handle that but you... it was just really beautiful."

"Thank you.  It was the truth."

"I do have one question..."


Cira lowered her voice.  "Do you know St. Nicholas?"

Andrew grinned.  "Where do you think Adam got that costume?"  He laughed as Cira's jaw dropped.  He put his arm around her shoulders.  "Merry Christmas, Cira."

Still gaping, Cira nodded.  "Uh huh..."

"Come on."  Andrew chuckled some more then led Cira over to introduce her to Father Christmas. 


Tuesday, December 22nd

"Deck the halls with repurposed mistletoe and gingerbread me's!
~ from Andrew's letters to God

While JenniAnn had put up most of her personal decorations weeks earlier and the Dyelanders had set up the main tree not long after, there was still much decorating to be done in Willowveil prior to their annual Christmas Eve party in the ballroom.  After a leisurely breakfast, many of the Dyelanders and their friends were decking the halls.

Among the group of Tunnel dwellers that had arrived to help was Owen.  A blushing Andrew was arranging candle centerpieces as JenniAnn scattered gingerbread Andrews made from craft wood around them when the young man approached and cleared his throat.  They turned to see him holding a ball of mistletoe.

"I just have one question," he began.

JenniAnn looked up from an Andrew-as-mime gingerbread man.  "Shoot."

"What's with the mistletoe?  I noticed it in Andrew's place, too, when I was over there.  I mean... what exactly do the two of you do with it?  I don't think, uh, the traditional purpose makes much sense for you," he waved to Andrew then to JenniAnn, "and then not for you, either, by default." 

JenniAnn laughed.  "'By default,' I like that.  Anyhow, who says we have to stick with the traditional purpose?  If we end up under it, we hug.  And far be it from us to deny the happy couples a chance to kiss."

"Exactly.  Besides, it's Christmas-y," Andrew added.  He lowered his voice and mimed looking around suspiciously for any unwanted listeners.  "And at Valentine's Day... sometimes we put up hearts and little pink Cupids."  He raised a finger to his lips.  "Shh..."

Owen rolled his eyes and laughed.  "You are getting more and more smart alecky by the day!"

"He's learned from the best!" Rose interjected as she and Yva approached dragging garland.  "Owen, you're tall.  Probably the tallest with Vincent getting ready for his party and Adam at the mall.  Could you please help Yva and me hang this on the curtain rods?"

Owen tossed the mistletoe to JenniAnn and nodded.  "Sure, but I have to leave in about 45 minutes.  I promised Vincent I'd go pick a live Christmas tree for him."

Yva frowned.  "I spoke to Cathy earlier.  She said she offered to go to Cora's with him to decorate but he said he wanted to be alone while he put up the tree."

"That's right."  Owen nodded.  "He just wants me to get the tree and drop it off.  Father's concerned about it, too, but Vincent insisted his time was better spent reading to the children and Catherine's at the Phoenix.  I'll offer to stay and any of you are welcome to go with me but I think he's pretty set on this."

"He is.  I offered to help him myself but he also turned me down," JenniAnn added.  "I think he's not sure how he's going to react... going through his parents' Christmas things... and wants to be alone until he knows."

"He said something to me along those lines.  Maybe we could all pray for him?" Andrew suggested.  His friends nodded and joined hands then looked at him expectantly.  Taking the hint, Andrew began the prayer.  "Dear Father, please be with Vincent today as he remembers his parents.  While we know grief will be part of this day for him, please let the memory of their love and Yours protect and guide him towards joy this season.  Amen."

"Amen," the others echoed.

Feeling more at peace, they dispersed to complete their various tasks.


"Dickens was definitely onto something.
It seems to me that, more than any other time of the year,
Christmas is when Past, Present, and Future meet.
We remember the joy of Christmas past.
We do our best to celebrate fully this Christmas.
And together those two give us hope for all the Christmases to come."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Vincent stared at the cardboard box labeled "Christmas ornaments" in his mother's delicate, loopy handwriting.  It was unfathomable that a year before the beautiful script would have been completely unfamiliar.  In the past months, it had become nearly omnipresent.  It was a part of Vincent's daily life as he read the letters she had left for him.  And here was her last mystery.  He'd unpacked and set out the assorted other decorations but the tree decor daunted him.  Those ornaments, more than anything else, symbolized his parents.  He was about to lift the lid when he heard the door unlock.  A few moments later, Yva and Owen entered pulling a tree behind them.  Vincent looked at the former in surprise as he helped them drag the tree into a corner of the living room and plant it in the holder.

"I'm not staying," Yva clarified once the tree was situated.  "But I thought Owen could use some help and I wanted to bring you this.  It's from Papa.  Willy Wonka's Finest Hot Cocoa.  And some German Stollen from me.  In case you get hungry."

"It's delicious.  I got a sample of each."  Owen smiled at his teacher though it faltered somewhat.  "We can stay, though, if you've changed your mind."

"No, thank you."  Vincent smiled appreciatively at them both.  "I do appreciate your kindness.  But I believe I must do this on my own.  Perhaps only this first year."

"I understand, dear brother."  Yva hugged him.  "Owen's dropping me off at the Phoenix, though, so I'll be around if you change your mind.  Catherine and lil Jacob, too.  I can help Cira if you decide you want Catherine here."

Vincent nodded.  "I know, thank you.  I know not one of you would ever let me down during a time of need.  But I have every confidence that I will soon have this place decorated and ready to welcome you all back... and my own mind clearer and my heart lighter."

"We've been praying for exactly that," Owen told him. 

"I am very appreciative.  And thank you for delivering this.  It's truly splendid."  Vincent admired the spruce tree.  He turned back to his friends.  "I will see you both at 5:00?"

"Of course.  Unless we hear differently from you," Yva promised, accepting his farewell hug.

Owen squeezed his hand,  "Take care, Vincent.  We're only a phone call away."

Vincent watched the two leave, sorry that he was causing such concern amongst his friends and family.  But something made him believe that he needed to be alone with the memory of his parents.  Perhaps it was the knowledge that the three had never spent a Christmas together.  Until his own time on earth was through, Vincent believed that this Christmas would be the closest they would come to it.  Praying for strength and peace, Vincent lifted the lid from his mother's box.  She had described the ornaments to him but he had never seen them.  Gazing upon them, he was immediately moved by their beauty. 

At the top were a layer of store-bought ornaments.  Vincent surmised these had been among the few Lor's parents had purchased for him and some Cora had added in the decades that followed.  He hung each one, pondering what they may have meant to his parents.  Below them there were a series of wooden bulbs.  These had been among the ornaments Vincent had most counted on seeing.  He knew them as the ones his father had carved and his mother painted.  Each one signified a step in their relationship or someone important to them.  As Vincent hung them on the tree and recalled his mother's telling of their story, he allowed their courtship to unfold in his mind's eye.  He also imagined his father's hands, hands so much like his own, carving the bulbs out of chunks of wood one December morning as his wife slept.  He could see his face, perhaps the only other face like his, lit with love and devotion as he worked.

It was the final two ornaments that tugged the most at Vincent's heart.  One was a flat stone with an infant's hand and foot print in red and green paint.  "Lor, 11 mos" was written on the back.  Wrapped up with it was a larger slice of wood.  On this was a hand print in blue paint.  "Cora, 17 yrs." was painted on the back.  Vincent recalled how, moved by Lor's parents' reverence for their child's first Christmas, Cora had regretted her own parents' disinterest in her life.  Lor had sought to right that and immortalized his wife's first Christmas with him.  Misty-eyed, Vincent hung the two ornaments on adjacent branches.  He would remember them both together, forever.

Before returning the packaging to the box, Vincent checked one final time to ensure he hadn't missed anything.  He nearly dismissed the white paper lodged against the side of the box as unused packing paper.  However, when he pulled it out, he noticed it was an envelope.  To his great surprise, it was addressed to him!  Not by name but his nonetheless: "To my child on his or her first Christmas."

Even more surprising to Vincent, it wasn't his mother's handwriting on the envelope.  Somehow, though he had died before Cora knew of her pregnancy, Lor had written his son a letter. 

Shaken, Vincent sunk into a chair.  With trembling hands, he opened the envelope and read.

December 25th, 1953

Dear child,

I feel a bit foolish writing to ye when I don't even know that you'll come into being.  Maybe it's the magic of the season or that, since I met your mam, I've begun to believe anything is possible.  Tonight we both prayed for ye.  God's granted many a prayer from me, including the ones I thought impossible.  To the depths of my being, I feel He'll grant this one.  And so I have this I want to tell ye wee one: I love ye.  Your mam does, too.  She's smiling as she sleeps and I believe it's of ye she dreams.

Perhaps because this is the first Christmas during which I've entertained the possibility of a child, that greatest of stories has touched me more deeply than ever before.  I believe I can imagine the hope, fear, and, above all, love that Mary and Joseph felt.  To gaze upon your child and imagine all the possibilities in that tiny bundle...  I pray, when your time comes, you realize all those possibilities.  It may be more difficult for you than others but it is possible.  God works many miracles, great and small.  I know He will in your life.  And your mam and I will be so blessed to see them unfold, dearest child.

Happy Christmas.

Love always,

Vincent hung his head and brushed at tears both of grief and happiness.  He'd received a gift he thought he would never have: hearing from his father.  But this was mixed with the pain of the young man's dashed hopes.  Lor had not lived to see his birth, let alone all the blessings that would follow.

Vincent was nearly overcome by the sadness of it when his attentions were redirected to the CD of Irish music he had found and put on before beginning to decorate.  The current song had so well matched his mood.  Dirge-like with lyrics that dripped with longing.  But just then the music had cast all sadness aside.  It became triumphant.  Two voices swelled together and sang:

"I hear your voice calling,
through the silence of time.
I hear you through darkness
when stormy seas run high.
Hear me!  Hear me!
The sun will rise again.
Hear me!  I'm by your side!
Our voices speak as one."

Vincent abruptly looked up.  He had the sense as he sometimes did that he was not alone.  Though he could not see anyone, the sensation did not leave him.  And then he heard a voice, calling from Eternity.

"I was there when ye found your Catherine.  I stood beside ye at your wedding.  I was there when, together, ye found wee Jacob.  And now we are both here.  Loving ye, watching over ye.  Happy Christmas, Vincent."

Smiling through his tears, Vincent looked to the ceiling.  "Merry Christmas, Da and Mother."  When he looked back down, the house seemed warmer and brighter.  He knew that the promise of the season was true: love is never lost and life never ends.  Carrying that message in his heart, the man prepared to welcome his guests and cherish each moment with them.


"Francis P. Church once wrote:
'[T]here is a veil covering the unseen world
which not the strongest man,
nor even the united strength of all the
strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.'
But every so often, You do tear that veil.
This time it healed a friend.
Thank You for that, Father."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

That evening, the Dyelanders, Tunnel dwellers, and friends crammed into the house Cora had left to Vincent.  With little time but a great deal of care and joy, Vincent had transformed the house into a cozy winter wonderland for his guests.  The elder Jacob read the Christmas story, the children put on a production of A Christmas Carol, carols were sung, and, true to his word, Father Christmas showed up shortly before dinner to the delight and astonishment of the children.  Jessie and some of the other children looked on knowingly but kept Adam's secret to themselves. 

While the children took turns visiting with Santa, many of the adults clustered around Vincent who was telling of his Christmas miracle.  Catherine clung to him, feeling very grateful that the final unsettled piece of her husband's past had fallen into place.  His father had loved and wanted him as much as his mother had and God had pulled back the veil between Heaven and Earth just long enough for Vincent to learn of Lor's love.

Andrew came upon JenniAnn and Yva in the study after they'd heard the tale.  He noticed the tears of joy in their eyes and aspect of relief on their faces.  "It's really amazing, isn't it?  We prayed for Vincent to find peace but I think the Father went beyond what any of us imagined."

Yva nodded.  "Not that I'm surprised our prayer was answered but, no, I wouldn't have imagined this.  I'm so happy for my brother.  It took over fifty years but... he has peace now."

"And I'm glad he shared it with all of us.  It makes what you've often assured me of even more obvious."  JenniAnn smiled wistfully at a photograph of Cora Cleary then Andrew.

"What's that, Laja?"

"That when it comes right down to it, we're not that different.  Spirit or angel, we're all immortal."

"Never to be truly parted," Yva added.

Andrew nodded and hugged them both.  "That's exactly right."

"What is?" Owen asked when he entered the room.

"That we're all immortal," Andrew reiterated.

Owen nodded.  "Right.  And I'm grateful for that.  Although it does mean you're going to have to deal with the overzealous attentions of certain individuals for all eternity.  No rest for the... wonderful."

Andrew chuckled.  "I think I can cope.  And thank you for refraining from calling me wicked."

Rose's aunt Josephine approached.  "Andrew, who could ever call you wicked?"

"No one with any sense at all," Yva responded before he had the chance to modestly respond.

"That's what I thought.  Well, I came in here to let you know that Vincent's preparing to say grace in the living room," Josephine informed.  "He said that since he's been blessed by so many guests that we can't all possibly fit in one room, he thought it best that we at least all pray together."

"I like that idea," Andrew opined and followed Josephine with the others into the living room.

Vincent stood in the center of the already crowded room.  He smiled at all the loved and loving faces around him then bowed his head and offered a simple but heartfelt prayer.  "We gather here at Christmastime to give thanks to God for all His blessings: for good food, for comfortable homes, and for family... wherever we may find them.  Most of all we thank you for Your gift of love... a gift without end.  Thank You.  Amen."

An echoed chorus of "Amens" followed and then they all shared in delicious dishes and precious company.


"'I am an angel sent by God
to tell you He loves you.'
I've missed saying it."

~ from Andrew's letters to God

After dinner, Vincent's guests all settled down to watch holiday movies.  Despite seeing a live production of the famous tale only hours before, as a favorite among many in the group, A Muppet Christmas Carol was the first film shown.  It was during the lull between that and It's a Wonderful Life when Rose first noticed someone in the group was absent.  Andrew had been sitting with Joe and Angie on the couch with Shelby nestled beside him.  Rose knew at some point during the Ghost of Christmas Future segment of the Muppet film, Andrew and JenniAnn had left to put the sleeping little girl to bed.  Craning her neck, Rose saw that JenniAnn was back and helping Vincent to refill mugs of cider, egg nog, and cocoa.  But Andrew was definitely no where to be seen. 

"Have you seen Andrew?" Rose asked her aunt, Yva, and Sir Sven who were nearby.

Alarmed they all looked around the room.

"Didn't he come back when JenniAnn did?" Yva questioned.

"It doesn't look like it.  I'm going to go check with her."  Rose stood and went to JenniAnn.  "Hey, where did Andrew go?  I haven't seen him since Shelby fell asleep." 

Biting her lip, JenniAnn tilted her head towards the kitchen.  "He said he needed some fresh air.  I offered to go outside with him but he said he just needed a moment alone.  But it's been more than a moment...  I was just thinking maybe I should go check.  Or someone should."

"I'll go," Rose volunteered.  She walked through the room as quickly as she could without causing alarm, then into the kitchen where Catherine, Willy, Nigel, and William were arranging trays of cookies.  She smiled at them then peered out the window.  Sure enough, Andrew was in the backyard. 

When Andrew saw the young woman approaching, he moved to the porch since she didn't have a coat.  "Hi there, Rose.  I was just getting ready to come in.  I didn't mean to worry anyone, I just..."  He grinned but then it faltered. 

"It's okay, Andrew.  Whatever it is, please tell me," Rose pleaded.

"I needed to speak to the Father.  I needed some information... on my assignment."  Andrew couldn't help but smile again.  "I have an assignment!"

Rose returned his smile, knowing how much he'd missed his work despite being content in Dyeland and among his friends.  "That's great news, Andrew!  So when is it?"

Andrew began to play with the fringe on his scarf.  "Well, it's tonight.  I need to leave... soon."

JenniAnn and Yva had stepped onto the porch just as Andrew answered Rose's query.

"Leave?" JenniAnn repeated, stricken.

Andrew looked with compassion at his friends.  "Just for a little while.  To Massachusetts.  I'm helping a bunch of neighbors who were organizing a Christmas pageant when their director died of a heart attack.  The Father says it's important they complete it.  I need to encourage them.  He also promised me I'll be back for Christmas Eve dinner.  Laja, Yva, Rose, I know that with everything that happened last month... it's natural for you to worry.  But please, please try not to.  It's not that I want to leave all of you but..."  He smiled again.  "This month, spending all this time with each of you... it's been wonderful.  The best Christmas gift I could get.  Believe me, if I could be in two places at once I would be.  But I can't and so now... It's Christmas and... I want to do what I was created to do."

Yva hugged him.  "Oh Andrew, you don't need to convince us.  We'll miss you but, like you said, it's only for two days.  We'll manage.  Friends don't keep each other from doing what they love."

JenniAnn hugged him next.  "I'll try to keep breathing," she teased.  "You just remember that whatever feelings we have for you... we have them for you as an angel.  We would never begrudge you that."

"Exactly.  So you go and you help put together the best Christmas pageant ever!  Who knows?  Maybe you'll even wind up in it and get to be an angel playing an angel!" Rose encouraged.

Andrew chuckled.  "I don't know about that.  But thank you all for understanding and being happy for me.  I have..."  He checked his pocket watch.  "About ten minutes.  So let's go back inside.  I don't want to simply disappear without thanking Vincent and speaking to the others."

Inside the house, everyone's reactions mirrored those of JenniAnn, Rose, and Yva.  Each and every person was happy for Andrew.  Nonetheless, they felt a twinge of sadness.  But they knew that somewhere in Massachusetts a group of people were about to become very blessed.


Wednesday, December 23rd

Andrew had been gone for 16 hours, forty seven minutes, and some odd seconds... not that JenniAnn was counting.  She and some of the other Dyelanders were putting the final touches on the Willowveil ballroom decorations when Owen approached her with something slung over his arm.

"Psyche, I found this lying behind one of the armchairs.  Where should I put it?"  He unfurled a blue cardigan sweater.

JenniAnn stared at it then reached out and took it from her friend.  "It's Andrew's.  He must have forgotten it here yesterday." 

Owen looked on, both amused and concerned as his friend began to fold the sweater as if it was a holy relic then hugged it to her.  He noticed, too, that she was beginning to tear up.  "Psyche, I swear if you do that Brokeback Mountain thing and bury your face in that sweater, I will never, ever let you live it down," he joked, hoping desperately to make her laugh.  It was Christmas Eve Eve and he didn't want her spending it despairing over an angel.  It just seemed wrong.  He was relieved when she launched her customary throw pillow at him.

Eli, who had elected to spend Christmas in Dyeland, was nearby unpacking dishes and noticed.  "Problems?" he asked as he drew near.

"Owen found Andrew's sweater.  So I was having a moment," JenniAnn explained.  She finished folding the cardigan then set it on a table, partly to prevent herself from doing anything like what Owen had jokingly suggested.

"I think you're entitled to 'have a moment,'" Eli reasoned.  "Things have been tough for all of you and even though Andrew's assignment sounds breezy..."

Yva had witnessed JenniAnn throw the pillow at Owen and, curious, had approached just in time to hear Eli's response.  "It'd be a little easier to cope with it if that Roses and Thorns mess hadn't happened," she interjected.

"Roses and thorns?" Eli asked, confused.  "Does this involve Rose?"  He pointed to the girl hanging wreaths halfway across the room. 

Wondering why the angel was pointing at her, Rose joined the group.  "What's going on?"

"Oh, we're just talking a bit about Andrew's assignment and I got a lil discouraged and weepy for a moment.  Eli's trying to console us but as Yva pointed out, last time Andrew did anything acting related... Roses and Thorns," JenniAnn recapped.

"And I have no idea what that means," Eli added.

Rose rolled her eyes.  "Poor Andrew ended up working on a soap opera set with a buncha ingrates and, I can't even remember how exactly, got bumped on the head.  So he had this weird nightmare that we were all actors paid to pretend to be his friends.  Like some sort of angelic version of The Truman Show."

Eli raised his eye brows in just such a way that the Dyelanders wondered if he'd adopted the habit from Andrew.  Or Andrew from him.  "That sounds... unfortunate.  Poor guy.  I think I can guarantee, though, that our friend will remain conscious and clear-minded through out this assignment."  He set a hand on JenniAnn's shoulder.  "Try not to worry."  He looked to the others.  "None of you."

Yva took a deep breath.  "I'll try not to.  In the meantime..."  She picked up the cardigan.  "I have an idea for this."

With Rose's help, Yva soon had the ever-watchful, cardigan-wrapped Andrewcam 2000 looking on as they continued to decorate.  Though the idea of capturing every moment for Andrew comforted her, JenniAnn couldn't help getting choked up by the sight of it.  She was grateful for the distraction of a cell phone call. 

"It's my parents.  Probly asking what they can bring for tomorrow's dinner.  I'll be right back," she excused herself.

Rose giggled as JenniAnn walked away to take the call and she heard her say "Buddy the elf.  What's your favorite color?"

"She's such a nerd."  Owen laughed.

After taking the call, JenniAnn was gone for about five minutes before she burst back into the ballroom and ran to her friends.

"Ah!!!" she cried.  "My mom said she could tell I was upset and I tried to convince her otherwise but she wasn't buying it.  She wanted me to come there early... as in today!  Obviously, I shot that down.  I'll spend Christmas Day in Nebraska but I just hafta to be here for Christmas Eve with all of you!  So now she's convinced they should come here early!  They're going to be here in two hours!!!  Gah!!!  And..."  She lowered her voice and tears began to well up in her eyes.  "Mom said they got our photo Christmas card and that she thought Andrew looked haggard."

"Haggard!" Rose cried.

JenniAnn nodded effusively.  "And she asked if I was sure he was well.  Then no sooner had I, rather emotionally, explained how it was taken mere days after his last assignment and told her he looks more rested now than she told me some kid I had a crush on in grade school moved back to town.  'Wouldn't a little reunion be nice?'  No, no it wouldn't!!!  I love Andrew and I don't care how haggard he may or may not look.  He's lovely!  Accept it!" she ranted.  "And I can't spend an evening, without him, and with just them wandering around here asking questions and calling him haggard!"  She remembered the camera then and blushed deeply.  "We are so editing this out."

"I think that's probably a good idea," Yva agreed.  She went to the camera and turned it off.  While she highly doubted Andrew would be surprised by JenniAnn's reaction, she wasn't keen on him discovering that the word "haggard" had been attached to him.  "As for you, maybe someone could stay here with you while they're here.  Sir Sven and I planned to celebrate our Christmas tonight but..."

"Nope, no one is changing plans.  Thanks, though."  JenniAnn walked to the camera and reclaimed the sweater. 

"I'd be happy to stay," Eli offered.  "But I'm not sure how your parents are feeling about me these days." 

JenniAnn smirked.  "Oh you mean about the guy who they thought might finally win their daughter away from an angel of death... only to discover he was also an angel of death who then aided and abetted their child's escape back to the previously mentioned angel of death... on Valentine's Day?  Eli, they love you and think you're the best thing since sliced bread."

Eli laughed.  "Alright!  So I'm out!  Am I going to have to hide behind the drapes during Christmas Eve dinner?  Will someone sneak me food?"

Rose shook her head.  "No way!  That seems like overkill.  As for tonight, Tess and Aunt Josephine are doing some last minute shopping.  I was just going to stay home and watch movies but I could stay with you, JenniAnn.  I'll help you defend Andrew if need be!"

JenniAnn let out a sigh of relief.  "Thanks, Rose!  That'd be great!"

"Well, that's settled then.  Now, there's just one more thing." 

"What's that, Owen?" Yva asked.

"Give it," the young man held his hand out to JenniAnn.

Reluctant but smiling, JenniAnn handed Andrew's sweater over to her friend and watched as he hung it in the closet.

"So when are you going to wear your dress?" Yva asked.

JenniAnn blanched.  "I forgot about that!  I wanted it for my parents' sake but I was set on wearing it tomorrow...  I... I mean Andrew picked it out so I'd like him to be there when I wear it."

"Good gravy.  The man's a fashion guru now.  Is there anything he cannot do?" Owen asked rhetorically though he soon got several answers.


"Give out trick or treating candy."

"Make me hate him."


The other four looked at Eli curiously.  "What!?  He can't!  I spent a month seventy years ago working with the dude at an orphanage.  Those little girls had him beat every time." 

Yva laughed.  "I guess none of us have ever had reason to learn that about Andrew."

"But something tells me this Spring you'll all find reason to make him try."  Eli chuckled.  "But right now... we better finish."  He checked his pocket watch then looked to Yva.  "You have a dinner with your husband waiting."  Then to Owen.  "You have children to read to."  Finally, his glance landed on Rose and JenniAnn.  "And you two..."  He grinned.  "You two are gonna have a whole lot of fun tonight!  Take some advice from someone who has been around a for a very long time: relax and wear comfortable clothes... even if that means bell bottoms and love beads." 

Rose smiled appreciatively at the angel of death and JenniAnn drew in a deep breath.

"And if it all goes south, I'll be at the Phoenix.  Catherine asked me to reprise my Lumiere shtick for the kids.  But you can just give me a call and I can come right over here with some of Andrew's flannel shirts for distraction"  Eli winked at Rose and JenniAnn.

Yva laughed.  "For only being around here less than a year, you sure have us pegged.  But then I guess you've known about us a lot longer than we have about you."

Eli nodded.  "And I never once thought any of you were deranged."  He set his hands on JenniAnn's shoulders.  "So relax, kiddo.  You'll be fine."

JenniAnn bit her lip and twisted her ring nervously. 

"For real," the angel stressed.

She smiled.  "Angels can't lie."

"That's right.  So trust this one." 

And so she did and the five parted, hoping for the best.


It was well after eight o'clock and the dinner JenniAnn had prepared for Rose and her parents was over.  She wasn't normally a four course meal type of person but she'd stretched it out to stall the tour her parents had requested.  It wasn't that she was ashamed of Willowveil or of her life in Dyeland.  But so much of it was beyond her ability to explain to them.  Blessedly, the first floor rooms they'd walked through hadn't sparked much to bring about awkwardness.  Unfortunately, that all changed when JenniAnn's father, Robert, requested a tour of the basement.  Vincent had once mentioned the tunnel his people had installed there and Robert was eager to see their work.  Reluctantly, JenniAnn and Rose led the couple through the laundry room.

"This is... cute," JenniAnn's mother, Allison, commented in such a way that suggested she found the T-shirt she was holding anything but cute.

Embarrassed, JenniAnn snatched the shirt away as soon as she realized it was the one bearing Andrew's nicknames.  "That's one of my pajama tops.  It needs to be washed."

"I wasn't aware Andrew had his own line of ladies' sleepwear," Allison continued.

Robert harrumphed. 

"Trust me, he doesn't.  Andrew didn't even know that existed for months after we created it on a whim."  Rose laughed breezily.  "It's just for fun."

"Neat," Allison replied in an unconvincing tone.  "I see you've painted.  It looks very nice."

JenniAnn smiled, grateful for a change in topic.  "Thanks."

"So where's this tunnel?" Robert asked. 

Rose approached a door mostly hidden by a sheet that was hanging to dry.  "Right through this door." 

JenniAnn ushered her parents in.  She hoped they didn't intend to explore the tunnel long enough to discover it led directly into Andrew's basement. 

"So where does this tunnel lead?" Robert questioned.

JenniAnn cringed and noticed that Rose looked a little alarmed, too.  Just then they heard the faint sound of the doorbell ringing.  More than a chime, it sounded like a miracle to them!

JenniAnn knew her parents would be less inquisitive and more reserved with Rose.  It seemed logical for her to go check on the door, taking the time to plan her answer.  "I better see who that is.  Be right back!"  Before they could say any more, she leapt up the steps.

When she'd reached the front hallway, JenniAnn peered out the window and saw a red cloaked figure on the stoop.  "Adam?" she wondered aloud.  She could have sworn Tess had said he was finishing off his stint at the mall that night.  But not knowing who else it could be, she opened the door.  As she did, the figure turned around.  JenniAnn discovered it was no red cloak at all.  There on her doorstep was a long-haired, bearded man wearing sandals, a white robe, and a red mantle. 


Not particularly fond of near-strangers and pleasantly full after she and Fawn had stolen some Christmas cookies from the tray JenniAnn had prepared for her parents, Lulu had retired to JenniAnn's bedroom shortly after Allison's and Robert's arrival.  She was curled up asleep with Fawn.  Earlier, a jittery JenniAnn had read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to the dogs to calm herself.  She would have been surprised to learn the poem had made an impression on the basset hound.  As Lulu quietly snored, she dreamed about what she'd want from this St. Nick she'd been told about.  There weren't any sugar plums dancing in her head.  Just her boy.  Pouring her food, tossing her ball, and taking her for a walk.  She gave a contented puppy sigh when dream Andrew picked her up and cuddled her to his chest. 

But then something began to tug Lulu from her sleep.  Her ears perked up.  Her nose raised into the air.  Her little heart sped up.  She nudged Fawn but the other dog only moved away and continued to sleep.  Lulu sniffed the air once more.  He was there!  As fast as her stumpy, little legs could carry her, Lulu was out the door and headed down the stairs.  She just knew that St. Nick had brought her exactly what she wanted most of all.


"Uh oh."
~from Andrew's letters to God

Downstairs, JenniAnn was still gaping at the figure on her doorstep.  She snapped out of it when she noticed he was shivering slightly. 

"Sheesh!  Sorry!  Come in!" she cried.  She took his hand and pulled him inside and shut the door.  "You're back," she murmured.  "Sorry I was just staring."

"Staring is a completely reasonable response to me right now."

"You're back," JenniAnn repeated dreamily then hugged her guest tightly, "and I don't even care that you're inexplicably dressed like Jesus, dearest and loveliest of Andrews."

Andrew chuckled.  "I told you I'd be back for Christmas Eve, Laja.  It turns out the Father could do even better."  He pulled away and smiled down at her.  "This, um, costume...  I, uh, well, Jesus Christ Superstar was their director's favorite musical.  So they wanted to end their pageant with a rendition of 'Superstar' as a tribute to their friend and, well, I was the only one with a beard and long hair.  And the only one who couldn't do the dances and hand movements required for other parts so..."  He blushed. 

JenniAnn laughed.  "Thank God.  I thought maybe this was some really strange throwback phase you were going through!"

Andrew shook his head.  "No, believe me, I'd rather be in my own clothes.  I was going to go home to change but this robe must have a hole in the pocket because my keys fell out and I couldn't find them in the dark and snow so... could I use the basement tunnel?  As soon as I change I'll come back, I prom..."  Andrew became aware of a growl-like noise.  In fact, he was sure it *was* growling.

"Joshy!" JenniAnn chastised the small black dog who had come out from under a table.  She laughed when Andrew stepped away from her and the dog calmed.  "He always was possessive of his women!"

Andrew's right eye brow arched.  "What's Josh doing here?  Why isn't he with your parents?"  He stepped even further away when the dog wedged himself between his and JenniAnn's legs.

"Joshy, go see Mommy," JenniAnn directed.  When he left, she redirected her attention to Andrew.  "Well... my parents came over a day early because... well, I'll tell you later.  And my dad asked to see the tunnel because he never had and Vincent mentioned it to him last time they talked.  So he's down there with my mom.  Which is why you can't use the basement.  Rose is over and showing them around.  I was, too, until I heard the door bell and..."  She hugged him again.  "I'm so glad you're back!  And I don't care how you're dressed!"

Face reddening, Andrew looked to the floor.  "Your parents are here!?  Laja, I don't want to greet them like..."

Before Andrew could finish his sentence, the two heard scampering little feet and turned to see Lulu.  A split second later she was pawing at Andrew's robe.

JenniAnn giggled as Andrew picked up the dog, cuddled her, and then let her give him a half dozen sloppy kisses.  However, she quickly sobered.  "Well, yeah, that might be strange."  She looked anxiously at the stairwell then tilted her head to the kitchen.  Andrew quickly followed her.

"I'll just run over to my house if you could lend me your copy of the keys," Andrew decided once they were safely in the kitchen.

"You've already been walking around in the snow too much with those sandals!  Absolutely not!  Hey, can't you just, like, you know disappear?"

Andrew looked heavenward.  Nothing happened.  "I'll take that as a no."

"Well, maybe not when you're holding Lulu.  Here."  JenniAnn reached over and took the dog from him.

Lulu twisted around in protest.

Andrew once more looked to the ceiling but, again, remained.  "Definite no."  He took Lulu back.

"Okay, well, just stay here.  We've already shown them the kitchen so you can hide here.  I'll figure something out to distract them.  Then Rose will come and tell you when the coast is clear and you can sneak to the basement.  Okay?"

Andrew sighed with relief.  "It sounds like a plan."

JenniAnn left and hurried to the basement to coax her parents up and alert Rose to the presence of their unexpected but gladly received surprise guest.

"Who was that, dear?" Allison asked once her daughter approached.

"Oh, umm, just someone with a message for me," JenniAnn answered lamely. 

Rose looked at her suspiciously.

"Hey, you know what we should do?  Go to the ballroom.  I know you'll see it tomorrow night but you can really admire the architecture so much better without the crowd!  The pillars!  The cathedral ceiling!  The gorgeous curtains!" JenniAnn gushed.  "And you can see the night sky so clearly through the big windows!  And the view of the snow covered lawn is so beautiful!  Dad, have ya seen all ya wanted to down here?"

"Yes.  Although I still haven't figured out where exactly this leads.  To your City Hall?"

"Umm, yeah... among other places.  It's really wonderful.  Ooh, Rose, you know what would be great?  Having hot chocolate in the ballroom.  Would you please go make some?  Yours is the best."

Rose cocked her head, confused.  "Sure..." 

"Then just meet us in the ballroom after you've taken care of what needs to be done in there."  JenniAnn smiled cheerily at her.

"Alright... I'll just go make my signature hot chocolate."  As Rose headed up the stairs she surreptitiously sent her friend one more look of absolute confusion.  JenniAnn briefly looked at her apologetically then turned a radiant smile upon her oblivious parents.

Shaking her head, Rose tore up the staircase.  "I have no idea what she's talking about!  I don't know anything special about hot chocolate!  Now if she'd said egg nog...  Something is obviously going on," she muttered to herself.  Nonetheless, clearly it was important she go to the kitchen so she did so.  She took one step inside then stopped dead in her tracks.

"I can explain!" Andrew cried.

Rose quickly closed the door behind her then slid down it, laughing hysterically.  Her laughter only increased when Lulu crept out from behind Andrew's robe and stared at her, head cocked.  "I hope you will!" Rose finally squeaked out.  "But first..."  She hugged him.  "Welcome back.  Now: explanation."

Smiling as he moved out of her embrace, Andrew quickly filled Rose in on his assignments, their tribute, the origin of his very holy ensemble, and his lost keys.  "I only wanted to use the tunnel to get back to Serendipity to change and *then* come back.  But JenniAnn said her parents were there so she was going to send you to tell me once she'd gotten them to move so I could then sneak down and do that."

Regaining control of herself, Rose finally stood up.  "Well, JenniAnn was going to move them to the ballroom so let me just go make sure they're there.  If they are then I'll come back and tell you the coast is clear.  Okay?"

Sighing with relief that the entire debacle was soon to be over, Andrew nodded.  A few moments after Rose left, the angel realized how thirsty he was.  Knowing JenniAnn wouldn't mind, he opened her refrigerator in search of some ginger ale.  He saw the bottom shelf was filled with it and bent down to grab a can.  It was as he was straightening up that Lulu began to whimper.   A second later, Andrew heard a man clearing his throat.  Turning around, Andrew saw Robert Chandler with an exasperated Rose standing behind him.

"Hmmm.  Ginger ale.  Can that be turned into wine also?" Robert asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

Andrew shook his head, flustered.  "Oh... no... It... I can't do that...  But... JenniAnn has some red wine for when Mick and Josef come over.  I could, umm, get you some, Robert."

Rose cringed.  It was a train wreck. 

"No, I'm fine, thank you.  I was only going to help Rose with carrying in the hot chocolate which I now suspect was fictional.  But she was so adamant about my not going into the kitchen I began to fear something was afoot.  I must admit the thought did not occur to me that she and my daughter were hiding an angel of death dressed as Christ in the kitchen."

"Rose!  Andrew!" JenniAnn's hushed voice called from the hall.  "I don't know where my dad we..."  She turned into the kitchen.  "Went.  Hi, Dad."

"I was just saying hello to Andrew.  I'd really love to catch up with him.  It's been too long.  In fact, why don't we all go catch up in the ballroom?  I think we have a lot to discuss."  Robert's eyes never left Andrew and his arms never unfolded until he turned and exited the room.

Mutely, the two women and the angel of death, carrying his dog, followed the man back to the ballroom.


"Rose said this will all be funny tomorrow.
I'm not so sure...
Father, help me.  Please."

~from Andrew's letters to God

Feeling very ill-at-ease, Andrew was at least glad to have JenniAnn and Rose on either side of him as they sat on a couch across from the former's parents.  Of course, the fact that the two girls were dressed in styles reminiscent of the 60s didn't do much to alleviate the concern that he felt about his wardrobe.  Though Andrew had switched out his mantle for the blue cardigan JenniAnn produced, they still looked like escapees from a Jesus Christ Superstar touring company.  It didn't help matters that Lulu had climbed onto the top of the couch and was more or less wrapped around his shoulders while Fawn had seen fit to sit on his feet... all while Josh sat on Allison's lap and looked at him suspiciously.  And all JenniAnn wanted was to assure her parents that their friendship was healthy and sane...

"How's your arm, Andrew?  Robert and I were very sorry to hear about what happened."  Allison smiled kindly at him, finally breaking the awkward silence.

"Only two more weeks with the cast.  No pain.  Thank you very much for asking.  I've been so grateful for your daughter's and Rose's help and the support of all my friends here."  He smiled warmly at the couple.

"She's a helpful girl and I have no doubt Rose here is, too," Robert responded gruffly.

Another awkward silence settled in.

Taking a deep breath, Andrew finally spoke again.  "I, uh, feel I should explain...  I had an assignment working with some people on a Christmas pageant and they were really set on doing 'Superstar' from the musical.  Really set.  As a tribute to a friend who recently passed away.  I don't normally dress like this and lurk around Laja's home, I promise," Andrew pressed upon them.  He groaned inwardly as soon as he realized the pet name had slipped out.

"Who's Laja?  JenniAnn, I didn't know you have a house mate!  That's wonderful!  I never did like your being all alone in this huge... castle."  Allison looked around the massive room, frowning.

JenniAnn blushed.  "I don't have a house mate.  I'm Laja.  It's a nickname.  And, just for the record, before tonight we've definitely never seen Andrew dressed like Jesus.  Ever.  Isn't that right?"  She looked to Rose for back-up.

"Never.  I swear.  Andrew usually wears jeans and flannel shirts and sweaters and things like that.  But he couldn't very well disappoint his assignments, could he?" she reasoned.  "Especially not at Christmas!  And he lost his keys which is why he came over here.  So he could use the tunn..."  Rose suddenly became intrigued by the pattern of the couch and began tracing it, hoping against hope that maybe the Chandlers had missed the last thing she said.

"The tunnel," Robert muttered.

"Well, it's really very practical.  You know how I hate big storms so that way I can get to Andrew and he can, well, talk me down," JenniAnn defended.  "Ya know, cheap therapy."  She laughed uneasily.

Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Andrew smiled at JenniAnn and Rose.  But when he looked back at JenniAnn's parents he saw only annoyance and concern.  It was obvious his presence wasn't welcomed by either.  He drew in a deep breath and met their wary gaze.  "I fully intended to change into appropriate attire before being seen.  I'm sorry that didn't happen.  You have my sincere apologies for interrupting your visit with your daughter and making for a very odd scene.  I think I'll just go home now.  I look forward to seeing you both tomorrow when I'm more... myself." 

Andrew stood, dislodging Fawn, and smiled at Allison and Robert but JenniAnn and Rose saw only the disappointment in his eyes. 

JenniAnn looked at her mother, pleading for her to tell Andrew it was okay to remain. 

"Alright, then.  We'll see you tomorrow, Andrew," Allison responded as Robert nodded dispassionately.

"I'm very, very sorry," Andrew reiterated before walking away with Lulu at his heels.

Tears pooling in her eyes, JenniAnn rested her head in her hands.  Rose rushed after the angel, catching up to him in the hall, and grabbing his left arm.

"Andrew, you don't have to leave for the night.  I know JenniAnn wants you here.  And so do I.  Earlier you yourself said you intended to come back here," she pointed out.  "So you should."

Andrew held up his good arm in a gesture of defeat.  "Not if it means making things more complicated for JenniAnn with her parents!  You saw them!  Robert looked... well, I'm not sure 'horrified' is exactly it but close!  Too close!"

"He looked shocked.  And wouldn't you be?  I'm sure if you just go home and change then everything will be fine.  This will all be hysterical by tomorrow, I promise!" Rose vowed.

Andrew laughed bitterly.  "Right.  JenniAnn sets out to prove to her parents that this," he pointed from himself to Rose to the ballroom where JenniAnn remained, "is actually okay.  I don't think they think this is okay!"

Rose folded her arms over her chest.  "Can you please just go change because I have a few words I'd like to say to you and it's really hard to say them when you're dressed like that!"

Something in her expression was so uncannily like Tess that Andrew couldn't help but laugh.  He raised his left arm and his cast in surrender.  "Alright.  I'm going to go change.  Then when I come back you can yell at me all you want."

Rose grinned.  "I'm looking forward to it." 

Andrew smiled back at her, picked up his discarded mantle from a chair, and headed to the basement.

Rose ducked her head into the ballroom but sensing that the Chandlers needed some time, she returned to the hall to wait.


"Well, he does make a very handsome Jesus," Allison opined.

JenniAnn looked at her mother blankly.  She didn't even have the heart to point out that Andrew was several shades too light, likely several inches too tall, and too blonde to actually resemble Jesus of Nazareth.  She really wanted the floor to open up... into the basement... so she could run screaming after Andrew.  But as that was not going to happen, she merely nodded.

"There's no reason to sulk," Robert chastised.  "I'm sure you can go one evening without him and spend it with your parents."

JenniAnn's head bolted up.  "This isn't about going one evening without Andrew.  If Andrew had come over and you'd nicely asked to be alone with me that would be one thing.  But the two of you just glaring at him!  So the costume was weird but it's not like he's gallivanting around you like that on purpose.  You acted like he was some sort of... wacko.  He's put up with enough of people looking down on him lately without my own parents heaping the disapproval on!  And only two days before Christmas!"

"We do NOT look down on Andrew or disapprove of him... on his own.  Or even as your friend.  And the costume... well, maybe it highlighted the reality of his... otherworldliness.  No parenting book prepared us for an angel of death in our child's life!  This... whatever this is... it has us concerned."  Allison moved to hug her daughter.  "Can you really blame us for worrying?  Especially after last month... you were a wreck, sweetheart.  And you know it's not good for your epilepsy if you get worked up."

JenniAnn pulled away.  "Maybe I was a wreck!  But he ended up in the hospital!  I don't think I'm the one that got the short end of the stick there!  And even if it had brought on a seizure, I'll take staring into space for a few seconds over getting my arm bashed by a psychopath!"

"Of course, we think what happened to Andrew was awful but he *is* an angel.  He'll manage," Allison continued.  "I just don't like how worked up you got over everything.  Maybe if you just stepped back a little."

JenniAnn crossed over to a table near the largest window.  She closed her eyes and prayed before lighting a candle near the Nativity.  She smiled at the porcelain baby with his hand outstretched.  "No chance.  Not ever and especially not now.  Christmas is about Heaven and Earth drawing near, after all."

Allison set a hand on her daughter's shoulder and peered at the creche.  "Yes, but it's also about a mother looking out for her child."

"And then learning to let that child go and lead his own life, even... even when it was difficult and heart breaking," JenniAnn murmured.  She squeezed her mother's hand and swiped at a tear but stood resolute.

Robert continued to sit in silence.  Unsure of how to respond to their daughter, his wife moved away from JenniAnn and began to explore the room.  She came to a coffee table between two overstuffed arm chairs.  On top of it was a scrapbook.  Looking back over at her daughter and husband and seeing that both were still unresponsive, she settled into one of the chairs and began to flip through the book.  A year of the Dyelanders' lives unfolded before her.  The book was brimming with images and notes from football games, Tunnel events, a visit to the Renaissance Faire, picnics, holidays.  On the final page there was a photo of Andrew, looking weak and weary but smiling, surrounded by his friends in Central Park.  It was dated December 3rd.  Allison knew only a little over a week before that, Andrew had been living on the streets.  She tried to fight the memory of her conversations with her daughter during that period.  She could still hear her bleating voice: "Mama, I'm so scared for him.  I can't... I can't do this."  The pain in her child's cry had tore through her, especially when she knew she could do nothing to alleviate it.  Allison respected and admired the angel but she couldn't see how her daughter's attachment to him could end with anything but heart break. 


"I think Tessness is contagious."

~from Andrew's letters to God

Back in the hallway, Andrew had surfaced wearing a much more practical ensemble of jeans, a long sleeved T-shirt, and the cardigan.  Lulu scampered after him.

Rose stood up from the chair she'd been waiting in.

"Lecture time?" the angel asked.

"You bet."  Rose tilted her head to the closed door leading into the ballroom.  "I understand your wanting to leave to change.  This really is a much better look for you!  Much more parent friendly, too.  But what was with the saying you wouldn't come back until tomorrow?"

Andrew shrugged.  "I guess I thought there wasn't any sense in staying when I was making Robert and Allison that uneasy.  I know it wasn't just the costume, Rose."

"So you decided it would be better to make JenniAnn uneasy by leaving?"  Rose knew it was an unfair accusation but she also knew sometimes Andrew needed to be provoked before he'd truly discuss what bothered him.

"No!"  Andrew ran his hand through his hair and began to pace.  "And I had every intention of helping JenniAnn face her parents.  I truly did.  But she was already concerned enough about making a good impression without me running around in a robe, sauntering around her kitchen!  And, Rose... let's be honest with ourselves.  They know about last month.  They know how upset she was.  I can understand not being crazy about someone who put your daughter through that.  I'm just so grateful your aunt isn't upset.  I don't want to come between families."

Rose hugged him.  "Andrew, Aunt Josephine understood.  She wanted to be there for you, too!  We all know you feel bad about how worried and upset everyone was but we also know it was never your fault.  I'm sure Allison and Robert do, too.  But even if they do hold it against you, unfairly, it's not how JenniAnn feels.  And she's our friend.  And she needs us.  And we're her family, too.  Every year different branches of families come together at Christmas and, yes, it can be difficult.  Even strained.  But people deal with it.  So you just need to..."  Rose bit her lip, contemplating how to best express what she had to say.  She wasn't quite there when she blurted out "Man up!"

For a moment Andrew only stared at her, more than a little shocked by her outburst.  Then he began to laugh til his whole body shook and he plopped on the floor.  "I need to 'man up', huh?" he finally got out.

"Well..."  She took a seat beside him.  "I wanted to say it a little differently."

Andrew put an arm around her shoulders.  "No, I think that's exactly what you needed to say.  And it's exactly what I need to do.  So would you care to join me while I 'man up' in the ballroom?" 

Laughing, Rose readily agreed and after taking a few moments to calm down they moved towards the door.


Sliding the scrapbook back onto the table, Allison glanced at JenniAnn who was curled up on the couch, facing away from both her parents.  She glanced to her husband then and noticed that, inexplicably, he was tapping his foot.  And his mouth was moving.  Curious, she drew nearer to hear. 

"'What's the buzz?  Tell me what's a-happening.  What's the buzz?  Tell me what's a happening... what's happening?'" he kept repeating, absent-mindedly.

JenniAnn began to stir and stared at her father. 

Blinking, he realized what he'd been doing and looked embarrassed.  He stopped and a stern look returned to his face.  But he knew it was too late.  He'd been caught.  He shrugged and smiled at his child.  "It's been stuck in my head ever since I found that friend of yours!"  He laughed and began to sing again.

Unable to resist the pull of one of her favorite musicals, JenniAnn began to sing.  "'Why should you want to know?  Don't you mind about the future.  Don't you try to think ahead!  Save tomorrow for tomorrow!  Think about today instead!'"

Allison began to laugh so hard that new tears formed, tears of amusement.  The ridiculousness of the situation!  The angel of death dressed as Jesus!  She imagined what must have been JenniAnn's and Rose's initial reactions and it only made her laugh more.  And then the sight of her stolid husband singing!  Her daughter, always so reluctant to sing aloud with witnesses, taking up Jesus' part of the song!  And then the message hit her...  "Save tomorrow for tomorrow.  Think about today instead." 

Allison glanced back at the scrapbook.  She recalled all the photos of her daughter beaming at the angel.  That was the current reality.  Though struggles could and did arise, in general Andrew made JenniAnn, and seemingly all of his friends, happy.  And Allison knew she and Robert would have to accept that and "save tomorrow for tomorrow."

When Andrew and Rose returned to the ballroom they found all three Chandlers singing.  Allison and Robert blushed and laughed when they realized they'd been discovered.  Determined to make her point, JenniAnn approached Andrew and abruptly switched to the song's reprise.

"What's the buzz?  Tell me what's happening.  What's the buzz?  Tell me what's a-happening.  Hang on..."  She paused to think.  "Lord" was hardly appropriate.  Then her eyes lit up.  "Hang on, love.  We're going to fight for you!"

"That's right!" Rose seconded.

Blushing himself, Andrew laughed.  "Well, thanks," he whispered. 

Robert managed to regain his composure and approached Andrew.

"I guess you inspired a little bit of a musical interlude," he explained, still chuckling.  "We haven't had that much fun together in a long time.  So thanks, Andrew.  I'm sorry we were a little distant earlier it was just..."

"Shocking?" Andrew offered.

"Exactly.  But please, come sit down again.  We really would like to catch up.  And with you, too, Rose.  Allison and I would love to know more about the people our kid considers family."  He smiled warmly at them and soon the five were having a pleasant conversation before the fire, enjoying their much-delayed hot chocolate and egg nog.


Thursday, December 24th

"As I thought of Dawn, I remembered these Christmas
verses from her favorite poet:
'Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men.'
Let is always be so, Father."
~from Andrew's letters to God

JenniAnn woke up bright and early, hoping her parents wouldn't be up until much later.  She considered it a good sign that Fawn hadn't budged.  There was something she needed to do and the fewer witnesses, the better the surprises.  She quickly got ready for the day then waited in the basement.  It didn't take long before she heard the door knob turn.

"You ready?" Andrew asked.

JenniAnn grinned and yanked a box from inside a laundry basket where it had been hidden by clothes.  Carrying it, she went up the stairs with Andrew following her.

Once inside the ballroom, the two stared at the Christmas tree.

"Do you think they'll even be able to find room on the tree?" the angel questioned.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Andrew, there is *always* room for more ornaments.  Didn't you know it's part of the magic of Christmas?"

Andrew eyed the brimming branches skeptically but then chuckled.  "Whatever you say, Laja."

Together they began to unload smaller ornament boxes and bags from the larger box and set them on a table.  Each bore the name of someone who would be sharing Christmas Eve dinner later that night.  However, there were three who had no one to claim them.  Andrew held these boxes reverently.

"Andrew, are you sure having these up won't he too hard on you?" JenniAnn asked quietly.

Andrew didn't answer for a few moments and instead struggled to open the packages.  He looked gratefully at JenniAnn when she began to help him.  "They're happy and at peace now, Laja.  Besides, all of these ornaments are to remember some of the people who touched our lives this year.  And they," he set his left hand over the three, "did."

"I know.  But that doesn't mean you're not allowed to be sad. I know it's still difficult for you to remember... how their lives ended.  And you feeling that doesn't diminish the hope any of us has for Heaven.  You can be both grateful and grieving at once.  We humans are pretty good at it," she consoled.

Andrew smiled as tears formed in his eyes.  "You're right.  But I think... do you think it would be okay to hang them now?  I'm not sure about doing it tonight with everyone around and so happy."

"Of course," JenniAnn assured.  She finished unwrapping the three ornaments and, one by one, handed them to Andrew.  First, a decoupaged pink bulb with Christina Rossetti quotes for Dawn.  Second, a Statue of Liberty for Ryan who had so admired the real Lady Liberty.  And, finally, a second bulb decoupaged with copies of illustrations from Maggie's favorite book that she had carried every where with her during her time on the streets.

Andrew hung all three then stepped back to admire them.  "You know, a couple days ago I was hoping Vincent would realize how near Heaven and Earth are.  This tree really is a perfect symbol for it."

"How so?"

Andrew sighed and smiled at JenniAnn.  "This tree is like... God's love.  Its branches point in all directions and fill this entire space, holding everything together.  And, you were right, there's always room for more just as God always has enough love to hold everyone.  And when you're looking at my pocket watch or Yva's bear or Henry's records, you don't see that Maggie's bulb is here, too, because it's on the other side of the tree.  But they *are* all on the same tree.  And the Father, who is everywhere, can see them all.  Together in His love."

"Forever," JenniAnn murmured and hugged Andrew.


"The Dyeland Christmas tree:
Proving that Stars War characters,
talking candlebras, Celtic hearts,
and tiny turkeys do belong together.
Just like us."
~from Andrew's letters to God

That evening, all of Dyeland, the Los Angeles clan, JenniAnn's parents, Vincent and his family, and other Tunnel dwellers all came together in the Willowveil ballroom.  After a dinner largely prepared by Lady Beth but supplemented by the offerings of the many guests, they milled around catching up and, in some cases, getting to know each other.

After giving everyone several minutes to mingle, Andrew and JenniAnn made their way to the front of the room.  As JenniAnn stood behind a covered table, Andrew smiled out at the gathered crowd. 

"I hope everyone's having a good time.  I know I am and I'm so grateful we could all be together.  Actually, it's that togetherness that brought JenniAnn and me up here.  A few weeks ago, many of us came here to decorate the tree.  Each ornament represents someone in this room or someone dear to someone here.  And even though it appears full, I'm told that a Christmas tree is never too full."  He turned and grinned at JenniAnn.  "So we prepared some ornaments for those of you that don't yet have one."

"Mom and Dad!  You're up first!" JenniAnn called.

Greatly shocked, Robert and Allison made their way to the front of the room. 

"Andrew made these, with my input, shortly after we first learned you'd be with us for Christmas," their daughter informed them rather pointedly.

Andrew blushed.  "I hope you like them."

In unison, the couple unwrapped clay ornaments that Andrew had worked on during an assignment as an instructor at an art school.

Robert admired the detail of the tackle box in his hands which symbolized his favorite hobby while Allison was greatly impressed by the clay woman surrounded by children which represented her career in childcare.

"Andrew, this is lovely, dear!  You're quite the artist!" JenniAnn's mother gushed.

Andrew blushed for a second time.  "Sometimes I guess I am, when the Father wants me to be."

"Well, you definitely were when you created these.  I can't believe how exact this is!"  Robert held his ornament out to his wife.  "Look at the little lures!"  He directed his attention back to Andrew.  "Do you fish?"

The angel nodded.  "I love to fish, have for a long time."

"Maybe we could go fishing together sometime.  Beats going alone," Robert suggested.

As JenniAnn struggled to keep from breaking out into a cheer, Andrew gratefully accepted her father's offer.  The two Dyelanders watched in wonder and relief as the couple went to the tree and hung their ornaments.

Recovered from the excellent shock of her father's invitation to Andrew, JenniAnn looked to the next ornaments in line.  "Josef, Mick, Beth, and Logan, could you please come up here?" she asked.  "We've known you all for more than a year but this is your first Christmas celebration with us so it's about time you get ornaments!"

Looking surprised, the Los Angelenos made their way to the table.

"Josef, we got you a Scrooge ornament because you said you related," Andrew announced.

"Bah humbug and thank you," Josef responded with a laugh.  "I'm glad I haven't really been visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  In my case, he would have needed several nights to cover everything."

Andrew chuckled.  "Just remember, there are some here even older than you."

"And I won't let you forget it.  In fact, I'm thinking of financing Rose's study of your age, my friend," he threatened with a grin before turning to hang his ornament.

The angel of death shook his head in feigned disapproval.  "Give a guy an ornament and he threatens you with revealing your secrets."

Josef shrugged with a smug grin and sauntered over to Rose then looked pointedly at Andrew.

Still laughing, Andrew turned to JenniAnn and saw the ornament she was surreptitiously holding.  "Well, while Josef and Rose work on their study, we'll move onto the next ornament.  Logan," he called.

The youngish vampire bolted up to Andrew, practically hopping in anticipation.

"Okay, so we found this at a flea market and the person selling it said he was important to Star Wars but heck if either of us know who he is.  Nonetheless, something told Andrew this would be meaningful to you," JenniAnn explained and handed Logan what appeared to be simply some old robed guy.

Logan accepted the figure and for a moment the angel and woman thought he was going to hyperventilate.  Then he began speaking in what sounded like gibberish but was suspected to be some Star Wars lingo.

"Is he okay?" Henry asked in alarm.

"Yes!  But he's gone all out fanboy."  Mick chuckled as he rolled his eyes.

"Oh, sure, and you wouldn't know *anything* about being a fanboy," Beth teased.  "I bet you know who that is.  So why don't you translate vamp fanboy-speake for us?"

Logan was still hysterical so Mick followed his girlfriend's suggestion.  "Andrew and JenniAnn, you have good, if clueless, Star Wars tastes.  What you have here is General Jan Dodonna: otherwise known as the first character to say 'May the force be with you.'"

Logan nodded enthusiastically, hugged both Andrew and JenniAnn, and added his ornament to the tree.

"Good on us," JenniAnn responded.  "Well, Mick, since you're up here... I'm afraid your ornament isn't as exciting but Andrew thought you'd like it."  She handed the little package to the angel who held it out to the vampire.

Eagerly, Mick unwrapped it and started laughing.  He held it up for all to see.  It was a miniature billiard table on which Andrew had scrawled "IOU."  "And you do owe me, my friend.  I'm reclaiming my championship pool title as soon as you're ready."

"I'm counting the days," Andrew assured as he accepted Mick's hug.

The P.I. hung his little pool table then patiently waited by the tree for his girlfriend.

"Beth, you're next!" JenniAnn called. 

Andrew handed the woman her package which she carefully unwrapped, breaking into a wide smile as the paper fell away.

"It's a little TV with my picture glued unto it.  Thanks, guys!"  The reporter hugged the two, pausing for a moment as JenniAnn whispered something.  Hearing it, Beth hugged her again and grinned.

Once Beth went to the tree, Andrew looked at JenniAnn with a raised eye brow.

"I may have engaged in a bit of Irish superstition... sorta.  I embedded a ring inside the TV."  JenniAnn looked over at the couple as Beth hung her ornament next to Mick's before embracing him.  "It's not that I believe in it but, ya know, positive thinking never hurt and she really, really wants an actual ring!"

Andrew chuckled.  "Is there one inside the pool table?"

JenniAnn shrugged and began twisting her own ring.  "Maybe...  Is that bad?"

Andrew squeezed her shoulder as he continued to laugh.  "I can't guarantee it will work.  But I'm sure there are a lot of prayers going out about this, too.  Maybe some day..."  He beamed at his former assignment and his beloved.  "I believe it."

JenniAnn sighed contentedly then they both refocused on the task at hand.  "Willy?" she called.

Confused, the chocolatier approached her.  "My dear, I already have an ornament."

"We know," Andrew responded.  "But someone close to you doesn't."  He handed Willy a package.

The candy man opened it and smiled appreciatively at them.  "Yes, Snickerdoodle should have her own ornament.  Thank you kindly for remembering her.  I'll be sure to tell her when I return to the factory."  He turned and hung a colorful dog-shaped ornament from a branch.

Once Willy had rejoined Yva and Sir Sven, Andrew and JenniAnn moved onto the next series of ornament. 

"Now, these are special," Andrew began.  "While we wanted to keep this a surprise for most of you, we did tell some people.  And they created their very own ornaments.  Kids!"

There was a cacophony of cheers and giggles and a rush of footsteps as many of the Tunnel children crowded around Andrew and JenniAnn as they passed their ornaments out to them.  No one could resist smiling at the childish glee with which the children added their ornaments, some needing to be lifted up to reach their chosen branches.  Though it took a few minutes, eventually all the ornaments were hung and it was time to move on.

A lump caught in Andrew's throat as he picked up the next ornament.  "Vincent," he called.

Vincent was, like the children, not surprised to be called.  Wanting to know how he'd feel about adding an ornament for his parents', JenniAnn had spoken to him of their plan.  However, he didn't know what the ornament would be and was greatly touched when Andrew held out to him two intertwined hearts covered in Celtic knotwork.

"I was so honored to spend the time I did with your mother, Vincent," Andrew began.  "And I know we were all touched by the story of Cora and Lor.  It's an honor for us all to have a reminder of them on our tree."

Vincent hugged the angel and his godchild.  "Thank you," he murmured then proudly hung the ornament.  When he'd returned to his family, Catherine embraced him and silently thanked the couple who had given her husband life.

Back at the ornament table, JenniAnn had selected the next ornament.  "Oh boy, now it's my turn to get misty eyed."

"Only fair," Andrew teased.

"True enough.  Owen!" JenniAnn called.

"Really?" Owen asked, feeling not entirely deserving of the honor.

"Yes!  Now get up here, mister!" JenniAnn demanded.

Adam jumped.  "Whoa.  For a second there I thought we had two Tesses." 

The supervisor angel looked sternly at the angel of death for a moment before smiling.  "Now, would that be a bad thing, Angel Baby?"

Adam laughed.  "Yes, ma'am!  You really are an original, Tess.  And I wouldn't want that changed."

Moved, Tess pulled the angel of death into one of her famous bear hugs.

In the meantime, JenniAnn had coaxed Owen to the front of the room.  "Owen's been a part of my life for a few years.  He's like the brother I never had.  But this year... last month... you really became a part of all of our lives.  So we wanted you represented on our tree."

Everyone looked on, moved, as the usually irreverent jokester's eyes began to fill with tears. 

"I can remember, shortly after you first came Below, there was a day when I was really upset.  And you had so much on your own plate but you still took the time to talk with me.  And, by the end, I felt a lot better.  I can still remember you telling me that life doesn't always go as we planned and sometimes it does seem like it's hopelessly shattered.  But God can always make something beautiful out of it.  You reminded me of that again last month and so..."  JenniAnn paused, overcome with emotion herself.  "Merry Christmas, Owen."

Swiping at tears, Owen pulled away tissue paper to reveal a heart made of hundreds of broken pieces of glass which had been smoothed out.  Uncharacteristically bereft of words, he could only hug Andrew and JenniAnn.  The latter went with him as he added his heart to their tree.

While JenniAnn recovered, Andrew picked up the next package.  He grinned when he felt what was inside it.  "Adam, buddy, I'm going to need you to come up here next."

"Andrew, I'm afraid you might be a little confused.  I happen to know I have an ornament on that tree.  And my turkeys do, too."

"You're right.  Some do," Andrew agreed.  He waved for the older angel of death to approach.  When he did, Andrew directed him to cup his hands.  With a little help from Yva, Andrew opened the bag and poured its contents into Adam's hands.

The silver-haired angel of death laughed as several more miniature turkeys fell into his hands.  "Is this actually an accurate count of all my hatchlings?"

"Of course!" Andrew insisted.  "We kept a tally.  Yva, do you think you could help him hang these?  Otherwise we might be here all night."

"Not a problem," Yva agreed, still laughing at Adam's bewildered expression.  She suspected he hadn't realized how truly fertile his flock was until Andrew had started dumping the ornaments out.

While the two approached the tree, JenniAnn made her way back to Andrew.  Only two ornaments remained on the table beside them.

"I think you better do this one," JenniAnn whispered to Andrew.

Squeezing her shoulder, Andrew agreed.  "These next two ornaments both go to the same individual.  While I've had the pleasure of knowing him for decades, all of you got to know him this past year.  Eli, please come join us."

The group watched as Eli moved to stand beside Andrew and JenniAnn.  He smiled when Allison squeezed his hand as he passed.  Once Eli had reached the table, he took a moment to hug the two behind it.

"Eli, you've inspired us.  You've encouraged us.  You've definitely amused us!  So I think your ornament is fitting."  Andrew handed him one of the packages.

Eli smiled brightly when the torn paper revealed Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast

"I've seen many productions of the musical," JenniAnn began, "but your Lumiere definitely made me most want to be his guest!"

"I had an unfair advantage over other Lumieres.  I've had eons of experience lighting up a room," he demurred with a grin.

Everyone laughed then sobered when they saw JenniAnn take his hand.  "You've also had a lot of experience lighting up one life in particular," she whispered.

Though Eli had been asked about whether or not he wanted the next ornament added, he still became emotional when Andrew pressed the second package into his hands.  "It was mutual," he murmured.  As JenniAnn and Andrew each placed a hand on one of his shoulders, the angel unwrapped the final ornament.  He laughed through his tears as he picked up an obnoxiously colored peace sign.  For years it had hung from the dashboard mirror of Sophia's car, drawing many bemused and surprised looks as passersby saw the little, old lady hop into her hippie-fied car. Proudly, Eli hung the candlebra and the peace sign together.

Everyone clustered around the tree, admiring its beauty and symbolism.  Andrew had been right.  It was the perfect reminder of what united them all: love and eternity.

"Oh!" Allison cried out after a few moments.  "Look at the snow!"  She pointed to the window where large, fluffy flakes could be clearly seen.  "It's so beautiful."

"It's not *too* cold out," Eli pointed out.  "Anyone thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Sledding!" JenniAnn cried.

"Snowball fight!" Shelby added.

"I might stay inside.  All that snow might make me go to sleep," Josef fretted. 

Rose shrugged.  "Man up!"  She noted Andrew laughing and Josef looking shocked.  The phrase was quickly becoming a favorite.  "Everyone loves making snow angels!  Even you have to, Josef!"

"Don't forget snowmen and women!" Yva piped up.

"We checked the ice earlier and its good for ice skating, also," Owen announced.

There was a flurry of activity as everyone pulled on their coats, gloves, and scarfs.  Rose was just about to help Andrew into his coat when they heard someone clear their throat.  They turned to Tess who was staring at them and holding, of all things, plastic food wrap.

"Now, Angel Boy, that may be a warm coat but I'm just not sure it's snow resistant and with that cast of yours..."

"Aww, Tess, it'll be fine.  I won't get it wet."

"Baby, I know you.  And I'll give you about 10 seconds before you're on the ground making snow angels and dodging snowballs."

"That would be one weird looking snow angel," Andrew responded with a chuckle, flapping his cast.

"It would be a fine looking angel!" Rose assured.

"A fine looking angel with a functional cast.  Rose, baby, help me."

Andrew sighed in defeat but couldn't help but be amused as Tess and Rose wrapped his cast.  At least Tess wasn't trying to clean his face with spit again.  When they were finished, the entire group headed outside and threw themselves into their wintery activities.  Suddenly, JenniAnn cried out. 

"Eeek!  I think we left all the candles burning!"

"Yikes, we should know better," Eli responded.  "I'll go blow them out if they're not."

"I know I extinguished some as I passed," Vincent added.  "But I know I did not get them all."

Nigel nodded.  "As did I.  But I did not think to look back on the entire room once we had left."

"I'm nearest the door," Andrew announced.  "I'll go check."  He turned down the many offers of help, knowing it wouldn't take him long and not wanting to take anyone else away from their fun.  Before walking away, Andrew looked out on his friends and smiled.  It was wonderful to see everyone together and enjoying themselves on a beautiful Christmas Eve night.


"You blessed us with pasts that,
whatever else, have brought us
to this blessed present together.
How can I be surprised that
You'll give us a future as
blessed and as beautiful?
Thank You.
I love You."
~ from Andrew's letters to God

Andrew went rushing back into the ballroom to ensure the candles were, indeed, extinguished.  He pushed back the door and nearly cried out.  The room was far from empty!  In his surprise, it took Andrew a few moments to realize who was filling the cheerily decorated room dominated by a Christmas tree even larger than the one that had been there only minutes before.

Andrew's gaze flickered from one familiar face to the next before he realized there were many faces he did not know.

"This coffee cake," Mick began, "is seriously the best one yet."  He smiled at the toddler balanced on his hip.  "Joe likes it, too.  Don't you?"

Andrew watched, astounded, as the supposed vampire wolfed down a piece of cake he was sharing with the little boy who looked suspiciously like him save his blonde hair.

"Mick!  You're eating!" Andrew cried.  However, the man made no response.  "Father, what is this?" he asked, gazing around the room.

"You boys save room for dinner!" a visibly pregnant Beth called from the couch, smiling as she shook her head.

Andrew's heart swelled with joy for the couple.  He didn't want to look away but also sensed his time was fleeting.  He wanted to see which other of his friends were around.  He walked to near the front of the ballroom, hoping the woman whose back was facing him was who he thought she was.  She was!

"Yes, Jacob, I will be very sure we sing 'Carol of the Bells,'" Yva assured as she and Catherine's and Vincent's son sat by the piano while Sir Sven looked on proudly.  "You know how to play it, right?"

"Yes, Aunt Yva.  I learned it last month because it's my favorite," the boy replied, his hushed voice reminscient of his father's.

Andrew looked fondly at his friends and wistfully at Jacob who was no little boy any longer.

"Mama!" a little girl called.  "Avi's ball rolled behind the tree and he's back there and won't come out!  Grampa Vincent's trying to get him out but he won't listen!"

"Laja," Andrew murmured as a blonde woman in her thirties stepped out of the storage room carrying candles.

"Aww, geez."  JenniAnn abruptly set down her tray and approached the tree.  "Andrew Vincent Chandler, you know you shouldn't be back there.  Now listen to Grampa and Mama and get out here right this minute."

"But it so pretty.  All the lights, Mama."

"Avi, it looks pretty out here, too.  Please come out," JenniAnn coaxed.

"Avi, Santa will be here soon.  I don't believe he'll be able to squeeze back there," Vincent added.  "Not to mention all the other guests who will soon be arriving.  They will, no doubt, miss you.  Especially Gramma Catherine."

"I see some people coming!" Rose called from her vantage point near the window.

"Rose!" Andrew cried, grateful to see her.  If this was a vision of the future, as he was beginning to suspect it was, each presence brought him joy. 

Andrew moved to the window, anxious to see who else would be arriving.  It was snowing and he could only make out forms.  There were at least four or five people, possibly more.

The little girl who had called for JenniAnn stood next to him, unaware of his presence.  Suddenly, her eyes grew wide and her face broke into a grin.  "One of em is Uncle Andrew!  I see him!  I see him!"

Andrew turned towards where JenniAnn was still crouched by the tree.  Smiling, she twisted the ring he knew so well around her finger.

"Avi, did you hear that?" she asked.

Andrew watched as the tree's branches began to move.  The mysterious Avi was going to emerge and the angel wanted to see his apparent nephew.  At the same time, he heard the handle of the ballroom door begin to turn.  He turned his head quickly from the tree to the door and back. 

But just as suddenly as it had begun, the scene ended.  Andrew was alone in the unlit ballroom.  Of course, he knew he wasn't really alone.  And he couldn't keep from smiling.  In the past month, even in the past days, he'd grown concerned about the supposed limiting influence he might have on his friends.  And for what?  It all seemed foolish in light of what he'd just seen.  He knelt down and raised his eyes to the ceiling.  "Thank You, Father.  I don't know what that was exactly or how it happened.  But I needed to see it and You knew that."

Finishing his prayer, Andrew became cognizant of the muted sounds of amusement from outside.  Still smiling goofily, he did a final check of the ballroom then returned to his friends.

"Look at you!" Eli commented.  "You look like a lottery winner or something."

Andrew shook his head.  "No lottery win.  Something better.  I'll tell you about it later."

Eli raised his eye brows then looked to the heavens, hoping God would provide a more thorough answer.  None came.  He turned to look back at his friend but was surprised to see Andrew wasn't there.  But he could hear him chuckling.  He was sprawled on the ground, making a snow angel.

Noticing, several of the others approached and began making their own snow angels.

Eli shrugged.  "Might as well."  He flopped onto the ground and added his own.

Far above them, a lone dove perched on the naked branch of an oak tree.  It watched the troop of angels appearing on the snow and cooed.  Though the snow angels' sizes varied, all were nearly identical save one.  A lone angel towards the center had a malformed wing.  If the people on the ground could have seen as the dove did, they would have found it appropriate that this one was nestled amongst its friends. 

Back on the ground, Yva had started up a round of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." 

As he sang along, Andrew looked up to the stars again.  Gratitude to the Father filled his spirit.  Never had the words of the carol seemed so true.

"Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.
Through the years
We all will be together."

To the depth of his being, Andrew trusted they would be.  If not physically then in their spirit and in their hearts.  Forever.

The End

In the past, I've tried to make allusions to various holidays films and such in these stories.  I did a bit of that this year but also through in several other cultural references so here goes what I *hope* is a complete list:
  • It's a Wonderful Life
  • "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music composed by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers
  • The quote about the "walls between the worlds" was taken from the Beauty and the Beast episode "Masques" written by George R.R. Martin .
  • "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" composed by Tommie Connor.
  • "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" composed by Randy Brooks
  • "O Holy Night" composed by Adolphe Adam and Placide Cappeau
  • "Jingle Bell Rock" composed by Bobby Helms
  • "Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus" by Virginia O'Hanlon and Francis P. Church
  • "Deck the Halls" (traditional)
  • "Hear Me" from Waking Ned Devine, composed by Shaun Davey
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • A Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Brokeback Mountain
  •  The Truman Show
  • Elf
  • "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clark Moore
  • Frasier- The episode "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz" is one of my all-time favorite Christmas episodes of a show.  Niles, having gotten suckered into participating in a number from Jesus Christ Superstar for a crazy Christmas pageant, ended up hiding in Frasier's bathroom while Frasier entertained his girlfriend's mother who, of course, found "Jesus" hiding.  I was kinda enough to switch the bathroom to a kitchen for Andrew. 
  • Jesus Christ Superstar by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
  • "Love Came Down at Christmas" by Christina Rossetti
  • Star Wars
  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast
  • Richard Paul Evans- His Christmas books inspired the Andrew journal excerpts that I carried over from last year.
  • "Carol of the Bells" composed by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych.
  • "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" composed by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane
Also, in keeping with our traditions, I've made a donation in the group's honor to the National Coalition for the Homeless which does amazing work and was an invaluable resource as I was writing "In the House of the Lord." 

I think that's it!  Merry Christmas, everyone!  Thanks for being a part of JABB this year!

God bless,


JABB 290

(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.)