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
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
More than once the candy had ended up scattered across the floor:
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
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
"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
Andrew responded with a sheepish smile and a nod. "I'm sorry I
"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
"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.
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
"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
productive workplace. And good morale you can and have supplied
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
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
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
"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
shelter, food, care, and other resources. With newcomers always
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
"Merry Christmas, Andrew!" she cried as she threw her arms around
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
Cira looked to Andrew, panicked. She didn't have any idea how to
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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
of their story, he allowed their courtship to unfold in his
mind's eye. He also imagined his father's hands, hands so much
his own, carving the bulbs out of chunks of wood one December morning
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
immortalized his wife's first Christmas with him. Misty-eyed,
Vincent hung the two ornaments on adjacent branches. He would
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
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
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.
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
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
, 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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
moment... I was just thinking maybe I should go check. Or
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
you do that Brokeback
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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.
little reunion be nice?' No, no it wouldn't!!! I love
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
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
JenniAnn let out a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Rose! That'd be
"Well, that's settled then. Now, there's just one more
"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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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.