"Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions,
a special day spent in the warm circle of family and friends."
-Margaret Thatcher

Hi all,

I hope you're all enjoying the holidays!  At the time of this writing, I'm just feeling really overwhelmed but glad this newsletter is happening!

Like TBAA, JABB has developed several traditions over the years.  And for the majority of our history, there's always been a Christmas story.  In the early days they were short and fanciful.  In later years they've become lengthier and dealt with serious, real-life issues as varied as homelessness, grief during the holidays, and the Iraq War.  Well... this story is a combination of both those traditions.  It's somewhere in between length-wise and while it's lighter with a return to fantasy there are some serious moments.  (ETA: Good gravy.  It wound up being 44 pages long.  Oops.)  In the wake of "Safe" which was probly my most challenging writing experience to date, I just couldn't bring myself to do another "assignment story" so soon.  Thus, this one's entirely Dyeland-centric.  So I hope you enjoy this rather different take on our annual Christmas tale.  (And as another part of our traditions... you can try to spot the holiday cultural references!)

BIG thanks to Liz and Yvette who penned their characters' "vision" stories and to Jennifer and Nicole who provided me with outlines so I could write theirs.  Without that help, I just don't think I would have had time even to write a shorter Christmas story.  So thanks so much!

Have a blessed Christmas, happy holidays, and you'll be hearing from JABB in 2011!  Thank you all for being a part of JABB's 13th year! 

God's blessings to you all,

PS- I did not have time to proofread this one the requisite three times.  So... new Christmas game!  Spot the typos! ;-)

To Be With You

JenniAnn breathlessly hummed along to a Christmas CD as she raced to and fro between crates of ornaments, a buffet covered in dishes, and a long table nearly invisible beneath an array of craft supplies.  She was well into preparing the Willowveil ballroom for an evening-long Christmas tree decorating party/carols sing-along/crafting session/dinner and dancing extravaganza.  The multi-faceted party was proof that when the Dyelanders got together, they made the most of their time!  And that Christmas they especially needed the joyous time together.  October had ended on a hopeful but stressful note and November had disappeared in the blink of an eye amidst shopping, deadlines, assignments, schoolwork, and family obligations.  Now, on Christmas Eve, they all looked forward to reconnecting and so had cleared their calendars to ensure it happened.  Of course, there were some among their group who were not the masters of their own schedules...

Musing over that sometimes troubling fact, JenniAnn at last stood still and closed her eyes.  She prayed that the angels would be given the time off... even if only for a few hours.

"Hey, you all right there?" Rose asked as she entered the ballroom, her arms brimming with garlands and lights.

JenniAnn opened her eyes and nodded.  "Oh, yeah.  Just praying that the angels will all be able to be here tonight.  Ya know, it's the first Christmas since Monica came back into the fold, so to speak.  So it'd just be nice if they could all be together and with us."

Rose grinned.  "For Monica's sake?  You mean you have no personal stake in the appearance of anyone in particular?"

"Haha," JenniAnn responded, rolling her eyes.  "But I do love having everyone together at Christmas and Christmas without Andrew... well, it's like Christmas without a tree.  You can make it work.  But something just seems... off.  And..."  She paused and nervously rotated her claddagh ring around her finger.  "I just really want this Christmas together, well, to happen first of all!  And beyond that... I want it to be blissfully happy and cozy and fun.  I mean two Christmases ago Andrew was in Iraq for much of the time and then last Christmas... well, we certainly got to see more of him but... I dunno.  It was hard to be completely cheery when he had his poor arm in a cast and we all remembered all too well why and..."  Her lower lip began to quiver.

Rose hugged her friend.  "Andrew is well and he is happy.  And I really think he's going to be here.  So don't worry.  You'll just stress yourself out."

The older woman drew in a deep breath.  "I know.  Thanks.  I'll try really hard to calm down... and not worry.  Not about Andrew nor anyone else."  She patted Rose on the back and returned her attention to setting ornaments on tables so everyone could have a better view of them as they decorated.

"Good.  Cause I think you may be a little too stressed already."  Rose waved to a large, misplaced object in the middle of the room.  "It kind of looks like you were starting something and got distracted.  Unless you really want that big ol' decorative Christmas gift box right there.  But don't you think people might run right into it?  Or is that actually a present?  It's huge!"

"Huh?  I don't have a big gift decora..."  JenniAnn turned to where Rose was pointing.  Indeed there was a very large box in the middle of the room and she knew it had not been there a moment before.  She may have been stressed but she wasn't losing her mind to the point of forgetting she'd lugged a strange box, one large enough to hold a person, into the room!  And not even just a small person.  A man even.  In a flash, JenniAnn knew the origins of the mystery box.  Her heart soared.  She stifled a laugh and waved Rose nearer.  "That's not a decoration.  That's Andrew," she whispered.

Rose giggled.  "Oh!  He has been especially goofy and prank-happy since we got back from West Hollow.  Last week Aunt Josephine and I were cleaning and I stepped into the pantry to grab some fresh dust rags and he was in there, holding them out to me!  And then he stuck around to help clean!"

"I think he's trying to make it up to us for... well, for that assignment being so trying.  But he shouldn't feel that way.  It was an honor to be with him then.  Still... if he wants goofy, we can do goofy.  So... just play along."  JenniAnn winked before sighing dramatically and raising her voice.  "Oh, you know me, Rose.  I get distracted so easily.  Daydreams about a certain someone, ya know.  I'm sure I just dragged the box there and wandered off.  But, ya know, we could just leave it.  It kinda makes for a nice bench, right?"

"Totally!  And the green and gold wrapping reminds me of Andrew."

"Oh yes...  Those are certainly his colors.  Speaking of his colors... did you see that green and black flannel shirt he had on yesterday?  He... looked... stunning."  JenniAnn began waltzing around the room, humming "Once Upon a Dream" from Sleeping Beauty.

Rose noticed the box shift ever so slightly.  As she imagined the blushing angel inside, she buried her face in her arm to keep from bursting out with laughter.

JenniAnn collapsed and leaned against the box.  She began idly tapping her fingernails on the top, grinning the entire time.

"Yeah, well, it's hardly surprising you were so, um, inspired," Rose responded after finally getting control of herself.  "We are talking about the guy who still ended up looking totally swoon-inducing last year while dressed as Jesus."

"Mmm hmm.  Speaking of that look... how about his hair these days?"

"I'll admit it was a little sad when he had to cut his hair in October.  But I could really get used to that shaggy mane of his," Rose mused.  "Andrew always looks cute but oh my gosh."

JenniAnn's eyes lit up and she held her hand over her mouth.  With her free hand, she gestured Rose nearer the box.

A muffled voice sounded from the box.  "Bad idea.  Really, really bad idea."

Not willing to give up yet, JenniAnn resumed her dreamy ponderances.  "I wish you'd been around last Tuesday, Rose.  Andrew spent part of the day outside... chopping wood for the fireplaces.  He looked so manly and adorable all at once... bundled up in his long beige coat and white scarf and his hair all windblown."

"And I suppose you dubbed yourself his official log pile straightener or something equally pointless and made up that allowed you to be there?" Rose teased.

"No.  But I made sure to check if he needed a refill on his cocoa every so often.  Lovely, lovely Andrew..."

Indistinct muttering emanated from the box.

Rose sensed the game was nearly over and motioned JenniAnn far enough away to avoid being hit by strewn wrapping and cardboard.  "Hey, you want to sing a Christmas song for Andrew?  Maybe... wherever he is... he'll know we're thinking of him."

"You're wicked," JenniAnn whispered.

Rose grinned.  Once they were far enough away and facing the box, she began to sing.  "'Well, I don't want a lot for Christmas.  There is just one thing I need.  I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree.  I just want you for my own!'"

As the box began to shake and a very familiar pair of hands could be seen punching through it, JenniAnn joined in.  "'More than you could ever know.  Make my wish come true!  All I want for Christmas is... you!'"

On the last note, a very red-faced angel of death emerged from the box and gaped at them as they gleefully stared back.

"Wow, that song is magic!" Rose cried.  "Here's Andrew now!"  She beamed playfully up at him.

The angel of death folded his arms over his chest.  "You knew I was in there."

"I may be scatter-brained.  But I'm not so scatter-brained that I'd drag an AOD-sized box in here and not remember.  You were totally going to pop out of that box and send us screaming so you, my friend, deserved it," JenniAnn teased.

Andrew chuckled.  "Guilty as charged.  But I think I've suffered enough for my mischief."  He held his arms open and they ran to hug him.

"So how are you?" Rose asked when she'd pulled away.

The angel shrugged.  "Pretty good but I, umm, made my last visit to Erica and Jonah and everyone... at least for a long time.  So maybe I'm just a little sad."  He looked away for a moment, melancholy washing over his expressive face, then quickly recovered and smiled at his friends.

JenniAnn hugged him again.  "Aww, Andrew.  That must be so hard after spending nearly three months with them, off and on.  What can we do to cheer you up until the party starts?"

"Well... I was actually kinda hoping you'd ask..."  Andrew bestowed his most angelic smile on JenniAnn.

"Anything you want," she vowed.  There were few people in the world to which she'd utter such a phrase but Andrew was most assuredly one of them.

Rose cringed, wondering if JenniAnn was missing the impish gleam in Andrew's eyes.  "I don't know, JenniAnn...  Given how he's been acting lately, you're liable to wind up becoming a JenniAnn-in-the-Box or something."

Andrew chuckled.  "A gentleman never puts a lady in a box.  I was just hoping maybe you'd let me string a few lights outside the castle.  During my last assignment, the one before I stopped by West Hollow, I worked with one of those professional lighting companies.  It was great.  And I thought maybe I could do that before the party.  It'd be a nice way to welcome everyone, you know."

"Of course you can!"  JenniAnn's face fell into a frown.  "But I don't really have too many lights."

Thanks, Laja!  And don't worry, the company was upgrading and asked me if I wanted some of their old lights so I can use those.  Do you need any help in here first?"  Andrew looked from Rose to JenniAnn.

They both shook their heads.

Andrew beamed.  "Great.  Well, I'll be outside if you need anything."  He started towards the doors before turning around and facing JenniAnn.  "You know, if you feel compelled to bring me refills on cocoa again... maybe you could come check every five minutes instead of three this time," he teased.

Rose laughed riotously.  "Wow, really every three minutes?"

"Well, he's... he's... Andrew!" JenniAnn cried, laughing at her own inability to defend her excessive actions.

Andrew stepped back to hug them.  "What would I do without all of you?"

"Apparently not drink as much cocoa?" Rose suggested.

The angel chuckled.  "Apparently not.  But now I'm going to get started.  Yell if you decide you need anything in here."

"Will do," JenniAnn promised as Andrew finally left.

Rose turned away from the hallway where he'd gone and smiled at JenniAnn.  "I can't wait to see what he does.  But I hope he doesn't stay out there too long.  It's cold!"   She shivered.

"I'm sure he won't.  I mean how many lights could he possibly have?  C'mon, let's finish organizing this craft table and then we'll check on him.  Bring him some hot cocoa."  She looked tenderly out the window as Andrew passed.

"And then admire the view?"

"Yeah.  And admire the lights, too," JenniAnn responded with a grin.


Three Hours Later


"I think the answer to your 'How many lights could he possibly have?' is higher than you thought," Rose guessed as she and JenniAnn stood on the lawn outside Willowveil Castle.

"Next time he needs a last name... I'm suggesting Griswald."  JenniAnn raised her hand to her eyes to block out the setting sun.  "Andrew, come down, please.  You've done plenty!  And there's ice on those eaves.  You're immortal, yes, but invincible... no.  You spent last Christmas with a cast on your arm and I'd rather not have you spending this one in traction.  I'd counted on dancing with you tonight, ya know," she shouted.

"Me too!" cried Rose.  "And, besides, it's almost 5:30.  People will be showing up soon and they'll want to see you... and not just from a distance!"

After finishing their pleas, the two women could make out Andrew adjusting a few of his decorative efforts.  They were ready to begin a round of bribes when, in one fluid movement, the angel leapt to a tree branch then swung down to the ground.  He paused to shake some snow out of his shaggy hair then approached.

Rose and JenniAnn looked on in awe.

Andrew smiled rakishly and shrugged, making no effort to hide his amusement at being so admired.  Things had changed for him in recent months, especially since October when they'd been with him on assignment for over a week.  He'd grown more comfortable with their affection for him and less worried that his for them would somehow limit or put a strain on their lives.  And so he was simply happy that JenniAnn and Rose took such notice of him.  He hoped they'd be equally delighted with his decorating efforts.  After all the work they'd done to make his temporary abode in Iowa a home, he wanted to do something spectacular for all of the Dyelanders.

The two women roused only when they heard clapping behind them.

"I give it an 8.7.  It would have been higher but the dismount was a little shaky, I felt."

The blonde angel of death chuckled and hugged his silver-haired friend in greeting.  "Hey, Adam.  I just finished a gig stringing Christmas lights professionally and Laja was kind enough to let me use up my excess inspiration for the party."

"Well, aren't you going to turn them on?" Adam queried expectantly.

"Laja, it's your home.  You want to do the honors?" Andrew offered.

JenniAnn politely declined.  "No... this is all you."


The younger woman shook her head.  She could tell that Andrew was secretly very proud of his work... whatever it wound up being.  "I think you should go for it, Andrew."

With a smile and nod, he happily jogged off to where a series of surge protectors were.  With one slide of his hand, all the lights flashed on.

It was a display that Mr. Clark Griswald would have envied.

Lulu and Fawn, up til that moment busying themselves with a rope toy, began to bark.  Their two legged friends took in the glorious shades of indigo, gold, red, green, orange, and pink.  Gaudy as it was, the spectacle appealed to their sense of wonder.

Not taking her eyes from the castle, JenniAnn gripped Andrew's gloved hand.  "It's so beauti..."

"Oh, thank God!"

The four turned to see Yva standing behind them.

"It's only Christmas lights!" she called back to Nigel, Willy, and Sir Sven who were hurriedly exiting the Wonkavator.  She turned back to her friends and began to laugh.  "We were taking an aerial tour of Dyeland before the party and all of a sudden we saw a flash of light and looked down to Willowveil.  We thought it was on fire!"

Adam laughed.  "Well, I'm glad you now see that it's not... only the work of one apparently very energetic angel of death with a flare for dramatic lighting that I don't think any of us knew he had."

Andrew smiled and focused his attention on the newcomer.  "Hey, Yva.  Sorry, I scared you."  He hugged her.  "You look great.  That color suits you."

Yva blushed.  "Thanks, Andrew.  You look... jolly."

Laughing, Andrew's smile grew to fit the word.  "Thanks.  So... now that you know Laja's not in trouble... what do you think?"

Yva turned back to the castle as the three men who had arrived with her approached.

Nigel gaped at the facade.  "My heavens...  One certainly would not see something like that back in my time."

Yva laughed.  "That's an understatement.  Andrew, it's beautiful.  Very, very bright... but beautiful."

"Dear lady, I hope you see to it that the lights have been shut down before you go to bed or else I fear you won't catch a wink of sleep," Willy warned the castle's owner.

JenniAnn grinned.  "Oooh... a Christmas all-nighter!"

Andrew shook his head.  "I think I'll just be hooking them into a timer..."  He glanced at JenniAnn with mock sternness causing her to laugh.

"Well, how about we all we get inside before Andrew starts trying to put antlers on the dogs or something?" Rose suggested.  "It's cold!"

"We should hang out by the big picture window and watch the others' faces as they arrive," Yva suggested with an impish grin.

And so the group did exactly that, laughing each time a guest arrived... froze a few yards from the castle... stood slack-jawed as they first looked at Andrew's handiwork... then grinned like children.  It was the first of the evening's many experiences of wonder.


The Dyelanders and their myriad guests had all congregated by 6:00 and sat down to an enormous potluck dinner.  Midway through dessert, Adam made a show of having to leave briefly to attend to business.  The adults smiled knowingly as he departed to get into costume.  Santa appeared just as the attendants gathered around the Christmas tree and commenced visiting with the gleeful children.  He stayed until he'd spoken to each and every one of them then, citing his busy night ahead, departed.  After waiting a few minutes, Adam reappeared and voiced his disappointment over missing the jolly old elf.

Once the children had again settled down, the entire group drifted towards where the ornaments, assorted decorations, and craft supplies lay on tables.

"So how exactly are we doing this?" Adam asked as he surveyed the tables' contents.

JenniAnn set her hand on a table filled with multi-colored bulbs and photographic ones.  "Well, I thought we could just hang the generic stuff now while people make more if they like and then, maybe after a toast or something, we could hang our individual ones and then..."

"Dancing and carols?" Rose asked hopefully.

"Exactly!" JenniAnn responded with an eager nod.

"At some point we need to figure in Nigel's surprise," Yva added, smiling proudly at her guardian angel.

Several of the Tunnel children's eyes lit up at her final word.

"Is it anything like Andrew's surprise?" Lady Beth asked, glancing out the windows which were each framed by lights in different colors.

Andrew chuckled.  "I think Nigel has just a little more sense than I do."

"I would not say that, my friend," the guardian angel protested.  "But my surprise is not, perhaps, as grand as yours."

"Well, as much as I love Andrew's light show... as the person who actually has to live here... I think less grand is a good thing, Nigel," JenniAnn assured.

"Very well then.  I've brought along a little part of a traditional English Christmas.  Christmas crackers," the Victorian gentleman explained.

Evan, one of the children looked crestfallen.  "You mean just... more food?"

Nigel laughed.  "No, dear boy."  He walked over to a heaping bag he and Sir Sven had lugged out of the Wonkavator and pulled an item out of it.  It was made of metallic paper and looked something like an elongated, 8 inch piece of taffy.

"What's that?" Shelby asked, cocking her head and scrunching her eyes as she studied it.

Monica clapped her hands.  "I know those!  I've often seen them when the Father's blessed me with the chance to celebrate Christmas in Ireland."

Nigel handed them out to the guests.  "I've ensured there's one for everyone.  However, you need two people to properly crack them.  Monica, would you do me the honor of helping to demonstrate?"

The caseworker nodded eagerly and took an end of the cracker Nigel was holding.

"There will be a bit of a noise for a moment but not too loud," he assured the younger children.

Everyone looked on as the two angels yanked on the wrapping and the cracker popped and came apart in a flurry of confetti.

The adults all laughed as the children eagerly began pairing up and the room was filled with a series of pops as everyone broke into theirs.  In a few moments, the floor of the ballroom was littered in glittery bits of paper and all the partiers were greatly amused as they donned the goofy paper hats and crowns that had fallen from the crackers.

Tess eyed herself in a mirror.  "Now I could get used to this," she joked as she admired the pink tissue crown adorning her piled up hair.

"Aw, Tess, it suits you!" Andrew complimented as Shelby and Millie attempted to affix his as he crouched on the floor.

"Well, Beth, I think we can save ourselves some money.  You don't need a veil.  You can just wear that," Mick teased his fiancée who playfully glared at him from beneath her circlet of blue.

Logan, smiling goofily, handed over the trinket that had fallen from his cracker.  "Here, you can have this.  You'll need a ring.  And Mick's done a lot for me so I'll cover that."

Beth laughed at the flimsy bit of aluminum and plastic masquerading as jewelry.

Mick accepted it from his younger friend and slipped the ring onto her finger.  "Just keep watch to make sure it doesn't turn your finger green or anything."

Beth held her hand out to show off her gem.  "I feel so loved."

"Very classy," C.J. opined with a grin.

Nigel beamed.  The crackers were obviously a hit.

"This is great, Nigel!" JenniAnn cheered.  "I read a story once about these..."  She frowned.  "Now, what was it?

"'Christmas Crackers' by Juliana Horatia Ewing," Vincent answered.  "I believe I read it to you and your peers one year in English class."

Owen nodded.  "That was after I came because I remember you reading that, Vincent.  Didn't all the characters have visions of their futures after they cracked the crackers?"

The longtime teacher nodded.  "Indeed they did.  Although I think they were more visions of the future they wanted and not quite so much the actual future.  Although we can, of course, hope they were one and the same."

"Any body having visions?" Eli checked as a goofy grin lit up his face.

"I'm not," Andrew responded.  "At least not *this* year..." he added silently as he glanced at the tree and recalled the previous Christmas Eve when the Father had seemed to grant him a quick but touching vision of Christmas future.  He smiled and turned his gaze to his friends.  "But I kinda like that idea.  I mean I know it's important to live in the present.  We tell our assignments that all the time.  But it kinda seems appropriate to think about the future a little on Christmas.  And the past, too."

"Very Dickensian of you to say that, buddy," Adam replied in a teasing tone.

"Is there something wrong with being Dickensian?" Catherine asked, feigning offense.  "I'll have you know I was wooed via Mr. Dickens."

"Fair enough," Adam conceded with a playful bow.  "And it can be fun to think about the future.  But right now... in the present..." he lowered his voice.  "I see some children anxious to start decorating."

"You're right," Yva agreed.  "So let's stick to Christmas Present for now.  Maybe we can chat about Christmas Future later."

Andrew nodded.  "That sounds like a plan to me."

With those words, the decorating party began as the children shrieked with glee.
  The adults, too, were especially thrilled, if not quite as expressive about it.  Unlike the children, they couldn't always make time in their daily lives for a little frivolity and creativity.  The result was too often a drive to get things done in order to later enjoy free time that never quite seemed to come.  It was a feeling Countess Jennifer knew very well.

C.J. at last felt herself relax as she helped Tess and Josef strew some tinsel on the tree.  The mindless task, undertaken with friends, was very welcome to her.  It seemed as if life had become an endless loop of job duties, school, to-do lists, and harried trips from one place to the other.  She was always striving for more time with her friends: equine, angelic, and human.  However, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day.  She constantly felt torn between her life in Dyeland and on Earth.  Unlike JenniAnn and Rose and some others, she didn't reside solely in Dyeland.  There was still so much she wanted to accomplish in the life she'd lived before coming there.  And life on Earth meant having a job and other obligations.  In the struggle to make time for everything C.J. needed to do, what she wanted to do in Dyeland lost out.  For this reason, Andrew's and Adam's words appealed to her.  Despite her current struggles to fit as much as she could into her busy life, she believed with all her heart that one day she would find a way to balance it all.

A voice interrupted her thoughts.  "Here, C.J.  I thought you might want to hang this one."

The woman turned and looked at the ornament Monica was holding out to her.  She smiled when she saw it bore a photo of her on one of her horses. 

"Thank you, Monica.  I do.  That was a happy time."

As she hung it on a nearby branch, her mind began to wander.


It was a glorious winter day on Harmonic Hollow  Though the air was brisk, the sun was shining.  It was perfect riding weather.  And C.J. was very glad she wasn't the only one who thought so.

"Let's have our picnic in that grove of trees," she hollered.

Andrew nodded and led his horse to the right.  He dismounted and began to unload the saddle bags.

C.J. inhaled deeply as she also stepped onto the ground.  She affectionately ran her fingers through the horse's mane and fished two apples out of her bag.  She fed one to her horse and the second to Andrew's.

"It's even nicer here, sheltered by the trees," the angel mused as he lay a thick blanket on the ground.  "Almost warm.  Although my senses might be off.  I did just get back from the Arctic, after all."

C.J. laughed.  "I'm very aware.  I think that was the longest two weeks anyone's had around here in a longtime.  Consider yourself lucky there are no portals from Dyeland to the Arctic or else you may have found yourself with iglooguests."

"My barren tundra is your barren tundra," Andrew vowed with faux-solemnity.

His joking made C.J. laugh even more.  Then she sighed and squinted up at the sky.  "It's two weeks until Christmas and I don't feel at all stressed."

"That's a good thing, isn't it?"

"It's a great thing.  But I was just remembering all those years before... first with worrying about finals and term papers around this time of year.  Then about getting to work on time.  Making ends meet.  Trying to find time to spend here in Dyeland... and often not finding it.  And then one unexpected inheritance and everything changes."  C.J. shook her head, still not believing the turn her life had taken.

Andrew squeezed her shoulder.  "It was a real blessing.  And a deserved one.  You've given a lot of yourself, C.J.  First at the fire station back in your hometown and now at the one here in Dyeland.  I'm glad that you have time to relax, too.  I think the horses are also real glad."

The two smiled as the horses frolicked in the few remaining clumps of snow.

"These were the times I missed most and the ones I'm most glad I have back now," C.J. mused.


"Sure, those.  But I mean the random, spontaneous times with you.  I missed you, Andrew.  And I regretted all the times I wasn't around when you needed help."

The angel hugged her.  "That's funny.  Because when I think about the past... I just think about all the times that you were."

C.J. smiled as she returned his hug.  "That's such an Andrew thing to say."

He chuckled.  "Then I guess it's a good thing I said it.  And I mean it.  Sure, it would have been great to have you around more often, C.J.  But don't sell yourself short.  You were around when you were most needed.  And I never forgot that.  And if I know our friends... they never forgot, either."

The woman gratefully accepted the canteen of soup Andrew held out to her.  "Thanks, that makes me feel better.  Still, I am very glad I'll be around here more now.  There were other things I missed that now I'm hoping I can make up for.  Like all those times I wasn't around to 'accessorize' the Jolly Green."

Andrew struggled to swallow his soup as he remembered.  "Do you have any idea what it's like to have to explain to an assignment why they got sprayed with silly string when they reached into the glove compartment to find the manual or stash their, well, gloves?"

"No, but I have a feeling you could tell me."

"And then there was the time I had to explain exactly why there was a squishy bright pink heart-shaped pillow in my back seat... with matching blankie."

C.J. burst out laughing.  "Okay, that one I was actually there for and that's all on Rose."


"It was!"

"Well, I think you'll have many, many years ahead of pulling pranks on yours truly.  I'll watch my back."  Andrew eyed her suspiciously then grinned.

C.J. took another sip of her soup and for a while they sat in companionable silence, soaking in the peace of the valley.  Her gaze traveled along the horizon, admiring the majestic mountains that surrounded them.  "Are you in a hurry to get to an assignment or anywhere?" she asked.

Andrew shook his head.  "No.  Nothing until tomorrow."

"How about a ride into the mountains?"

The angel's face broke into a wide smile.  "We haven't done that in a long time.  I'd love to."

Smiling back at him, C.J. motioned for the horses and soon the four were off again.  They ascended the mountains where their sense of awe, peace, and closeness to God increased.

As she led her horse up the mountain with Andrew and his horse close behind, C.J. thanked God for the friendship and relaxation she was finally able to claim and appreciate fully.


C.J. came out of her reverie when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

"Sorry to interrupt after Monica just did but we found another of your ornaments, C.J.," Yva explained.  "We thought you might want to hang it even though it's not your 'official' ornament."

C.J. stared at the object being held out to her.  "Right.  The paintbrush ornament I had before my horse one.  From the year we fixed up Andrew's house."  She smiled as she remembered all the painting she'd done and all the fun they'd had together.  The Andrew she had just imagined was right.  She truly had been around for many important occasions.  Gratefully, she took the ornament from Yva.  "Sure, I'd love to be the one to hang it up."  C.J. took a moment to do so and smiled once it was hung on the brightly lit tree.

"Looks great.  But you looked a little... pensive when I approached.  Everything going well?" Yva checked.

C.J. nodded.  "Oh yeah.  But I just got to thinking about what Andrew was saying.  About the future.  I guess you could say I was daydreaming about my ideal future.  Having more time in Dyeland, riding horses with Andrew.  Things like that."

Yva laughed.  "I have a feeling the phrase 'with Andrew' pops up in a lot of ideal futures here.  When I think of mine... I'd like to think he'll be a part of it.  Although I'd like to find myself with a fulfilling role in both Dyeland and back home.  We're so blessed to be surrounded by the message of God's love here... we couldn't help but be with all these angels around.  But I'd like to share that message with others who need to hear it."

"I think that's a great dream to have," C.J. encouraged.

"Thanks, C.J.  Me too."  Yva smiled brightly.  "Well, Tess asked me to go through some sheet music for the caroling later so I better get back to that but we'll catch up more later."

"Sure," C.J. agreed before turning back to the tinsel and taking a moment to throw some at Andrew.

Yva laughed as she walked away, noticing Andrew shake the silvery strands out of his hair.  But her conversation with C.J. had left her with some serious thoughts.  As she rifled through the music, she began to ponder just what her future might look like.


It was ten years in the future and Yva had just celebrated her 50th birthday.  Her eyes were still filled with the same youthful vitality that she had carried during her younger years, her hair although still brown, was showing traces of gray, which came with age and wisdom.  Sir Sven and she were still together and had just celebrated their silver anniversary.

The lights that shone outside of Soaring Spirit were reminiscent of the years that had passed during the time she had lived in Dyeland.   Now, she periodically returned to keep up with everything, mostly the gardening and tending to the pets, who were, as time would show, getting up there in years.  Along the pathway leading from their home, she would take in the beauty of the patches of roses and other flowers that would grow between her and Sir Sven’s house and Nigel’s.

Of course, in December, there were no blossoms.  All that seemed apparent were the thorny vines that grew along the way.

“Rather like me,” she mused to the stillness of the area.  Sir Sven had gone inside, and she was left standing outside.  “Where did the time go?”  she asked the stillness.  “Is Dyeland still as I remember?  Is Andrew still around helping people, cleaning dog poo, or pulling weeds in Rose’s garden?”

“Perhaps, when you experience what I have experienced in life, you will discover that time is really not of any relevance; that it somehow is a commodity that is defined by what people think.”  A voice suddenly emerged, thus breaking into her thoughts.

Yva turned to see that Nigel was standing next to her.  His hair was the same as she had remembered during her younger years.  His blue eyes, still the same crystalline color that she remembered after having spent time with him.

“Nigel,” she smiled as she spoke his name.  Although she did not cry out his name as she had done when she was younger, but instead spoke it as though embracing him with them.  “It’s wonderful to see you again.”

“And you,” he said smiling.  “Let me look at you.”

He reached for both of her hands, which she relinquished readily and shrugged her shoulders as though to say, ‘I’m not much, just older’.

As the Victorian angel’s gaze took in her appearance and he spoke, Yva could suddenly feel the heat rushing to her cheeks.  “You look stunning.”

“Thank you,” she smiled as the blush intensified.  “That sounds like something Andrew might have said way back when.  You know how he used to always say flattering words to us to make us feel better.  It took a long time for me to accept his words as being the truth.”

The Victorian angel smiled.  “Ah yes, but he is an angel and must always speak the truth.  So, when he was flattering you, it was only his acknowledging them to be the truth.”

“True, but how could I come here and not remember him?”  she asked.  “Who was it who said ‘God loves you’ so many times that I learned to believe it?  I mean, we had our differences, but during the course of the last ten years, I took a great deal of his words to heart.  Especially those which told me that I would make a great minister?”

“He did a lot of encouraging you, didn’t he?”  Nigel asked.

Yva nodded.  “Well, he did a lot for all of us.  He taught you how to use the Internet.  I still remember when you asked him what Google was.”

“Yes, I seem to recall asking him if it was something a gentleman does to a lady,” Nigel chuckled softly.  “I have learned a great deal from him, things that I perhaps would not have been inclined to ask any other angel about such things.  Not that they would laugh or amuse themselves at my ignorance, but I felt that if anyone could assist me in understanding today’s world, it would be Andrew.”

As the angel and the woman reminisced about their adventures with Andrew, a large glass object appeared on the horizon and landed several meters from where they were standing.  Once it did, Yva turned to see a man disembark from the object, his hands grasping a cane and his curly hair somewhat grayer than she remembered.
“Papa?”  She spoke as the man nodded.  She could not remember seeing her surrogate father looking as frail as he did, but all the same, she was so immensely happy to see him.  As he reached where the two of them were standing, she looked into his blue eyes.  They were the same blue as Nigel’s.  Perhaps that was what made Yva feel so close to both of them.

“Hello Yva,  Nigel,” Willy Wonka spoke each of their names in turn as he handed Yva a small object. The wrapped object told her it was a Christmas present.  “I wasn’t sure if you would be here, but I wanted to stop by, give you this, and see if he happened to be around.”

“Hello Sir William,” Nigel spoke formally, the soft sounds of his English accent filling the candy maker’s ears.

“Don’t feel much like a Sir,” Willy said honestly as he shook hands with Nigel before making his way over to the gazebo and sat down.  Once Yva and Nigel had followed him inside, Yva closed the glass door, leaving the cold outside and welcoming them to the internal warmth of the glass covered gazebo.

“How have you been?”  Yva asked.

“All right, retirement is nice, especially during this time of year,” Willy said, smiling as he looked around the glass enclosed room.  “Yva, was this gazebo always glass covered?”

“No, Andrew came here and helped Adam and Sir Sven insulate it,” she said.  “During the summer, the doors can be opened, but I think he got inspired to play handy man after watching ‘The Sound of Music’.  I suppose he wanted to make a replica of the gazebo in those sweet romantic scenes for Sir Sven and me.”  She paused.  “So what brings you back?  I haven’t seen you around here in such a long time?”

“Boredom,” Willy said.  “Retirement is nice, but I have not felt too terribly inclined to enjoy it.  I have too many new ideas buzzing around in my head.   So, I came back to Dyeland to visit with Andrew and get inspired.  It was quite by accident that I found you here.  I had intended on leaving your present at the front of your house.”

“I know what you mean, I have been rather busy.  A seminar here, a Sunday service there.  It can get rather immense, but it was a dream of mine to do this, so I guess I should be grateful,” Yva said smiling as she looked at Willy.  “Did you have some nice conversations with Andrew?”

“I should say I did,” Willy said.  “Before I came back to Dyeland, Andrew stopped by the factory in London and told Charlie that he hadn’t seen me in a while and wanted to see how I was doing.” He paused.  “Charlie was a bit unnerved by having an angel of death roaming about, but Andrew quickly reassured him that he wasn’t there to take me away any time soon.”

“Are you still having doubts that Andrew is an angel?”  Nigel asked gently.
“At times, but it’s not as intense as it was some years ago.  Andrew helped me to redefine my faith to try and find some sort of compromise within the confusion of it.  So, it is safe to say that perhaps I am not so much a disbeliever as I am a man encompassed with questions.”

“That’s why I studied for the last ten years,” Yva said.  “I had too many questions, and as much as I love Andrew, I can’t say that he answered them, but I can say that he catalyzed them somewhat.”

Willy nodded.  “That’s precisely what I have found with Andrew, too.  The impact that he has had on my crisis of faith has been enormous.  I don’t know if it makes very much sense to you, but I can say in all honesty that I am glad I know him.”

Nigel and Yva nodded as the three of them shared a three way hug.


"Do I look any older to you?" Andrew asked as he came to stand beside Yva.

She started, surprised that he'd say such a thing just as she'd been envisioning the future.  "Huh?  Why?  No."

Andrew chuckled.  "I was just asking because, as you may have noticed, a moment ago my hair was silver streaked.  I hope I got all the tinsel out.  But you seem startled, Yva.  Are you all right there?" he asked, all concern.

Yva nodded effusively.  "Of course, Andrew.  And, yes, you got all the tinsel out.  But when you came over, I was imagining the future so it was a little alarming when you said that."

"I hope it was a good future."

"Oh, yes.  Very good.  I'd found my place on earth but I could still come back here and feel at home and know I had friends."

"You always will," Andrew assured.  "I, for one, am counting on it."

"Because you'll need someone to keep you fed," Lady Beth teased as she approached. 

Andrew shook his head.  "While I might very much enjoy all the culinary delights I've been introduced to here... you could all be awful cooks and I'd still love being around you."  He looked fondly at the two women.  "I'd just bring food with me," the angel added as an afterthought.

Lady Beth laughed.  "Well, that's certainly nice to hear but you won't ever need to worry about bringing your own food unless you want to."

"We'd never let you starve, Andrewkins," Yva added.

"Or be lonely.  It's hard to be lonely when there are always friends dropping in... even sometimes when I'm on assignment.  That's meant a lot to me, you know.  I'm incredibly blessed."  Andrew hugged them both, feeling very proud.

Yva smiled at him.  "We all are.  But now I think I'm done picking carols so I'm going to go help some more with the decorating.  How about you two?"

"Sure," Andrew readily agreed.  "Lady Beth?"

Something in Andrew's heartfelt statement about not feeling lonely had deeply affected Lady Beth.  He spoke the truth.  In recent years, the Father had seen fit to occasionally allow the Dyelanders to help Andrew on assignments.  Though this sometimes caused the angel some consternation, they all knew that Andrew felt better having them with him at the more difficult moments.  They'd each done their best to impress upon him how much they truly wanted to be of help to him.  Lady Beth very much hoped to have further opportunities in the future.  As Andrew stood waiting for her, she began to think of all the future chances she might have not simply to be his friend when times were good but to work alongside him when there were challenges.

"Lady Beth?" the angel repeated, setting a hand on her arm.

"I'll be right there.  I just need a few moments to think is all," she assured.

"All right.  We'll be right over by the tree... waiting for you," Andrew promised.

Lady Beth squeezed his hand then let him go.

As Andrew and Yva walked away, Lady Beth looked out the window as a glistening snow fell and imagined her future.


The day was a typical winter day a number of years in the future.  Lady Beth had a fire going as well as candles flickering in a couple of locations while she had a pot of homemade tomato sauce and meatballs cooking on the stove.  As she went to wash her hands, the familiar tingle of an angel’s presence went over her.

“I thought you were on assignment,” she commented as she turned toward Andrew as he stood in the entry taking off his jacket.

“So the feeling has gotten stronger over the years.  I guess none of us will be able to sneak up on you anymore,” quipped Andrew.

“I’m sure there will be times any of you will be able to come in unnoticed.  But seriously, what’s wrong?  It’s not common for you to show up in the middle of an assignment.”

“Lady Beth, I need your help with something.  My assignment is a family that consists of a mother and her two sons aged 11 and 8.  They’re great people and are just getting by.  Both sons have expressed the desire to read more and the oldest also wants to cook but was ashamed to admit it to me.  Apparently, when the father was still in the picture, he made it seem that it was an insult for a man to cook since cooking is a woman’s job.  Now that he’s gone, the son really wants to learn so he can help out his mother.  They can’t afford many books let alone cooking classes but I have a couple of ideas.  I just want to know if I’m going in the right direction with those ideas.”

“First thing you do is to teach both boys how to make a couple of the easy things that I’ve shown you.  Take them both grocery shopping and get them into the kitchen to help with everything.  In my opinion, it’s good for a boy to learn to cook so when he leaves home, he’s self-sufficient.  Having the younger son help out will also show him that it’s okay to cook and he doesn’t need to think otherwise.  Also create a binder or something with all of the recipes you know so they have something to refer to.”

Andrew nodded, his face brightening.  "I like what you’re saying.  It could work out well.”

“One thing you do have to emphasize though is that they can’t cook without an adult present.  You can be there now but you’ll have to talk to the mother about it so she’s aware of what’s going on.”

“Good call.  I never thought of that,” commented Andrew.

“Also teach the mother that there are ways of making healthy and delicious meals on a limited budget.  She should feel like she’s part of it, as well,” added Lady Beth.

“True enough.  It could be a way for the 3 of them to bond and become closer.  Now what can I do in regards to getting them books?” asked Andrew.

“Simple.  Do they live close to a library?  That way they can all get library cards and take out books that they’ll enjoy including more cooking books.  Going to the library can be made into a family affair, as well.”

“Come to think of it, I do believe that they live a block away from the main library.  How come I never thought of that?” Andrew said as he chuckled.

“It’s because I’m the bright one,” joked Lady Beth.

Andrew groaned at the remark, knowing that he’d never live that one down.

Just then, Lady Beth looked up and glanced over at the door.

“Is someone coming?” asked Andrew as he rose from his chair just in case his help was needed.

“It’s nothing serious,” Lady Beth said as Henry walked in from the cold.

“I do believe we’ve got our own version of the Twilight Zone here,” Andrew commented just before a tea towel was thrown at him.

“Let me guess, her spidey senses are at it again,” joked Henry for which he received a glare from Lady Beth.

They all broke out laughing at what had just gone on.

“I think I’ve been around all of you angels for too long," the woman kidded.  "Mind you, I like it so I’m not complaining.”

Andrew said, “We like being around everyone here.”

“Especially when there’s something cooking on the stove,” added Henry.

They talked for a bit before Andrew got up to leave.

“Thanks for the advice.  It was pretty much what I was thinking and more.  See you soon.” 
He hugged his two friends before heading out the door and back to his assignment.

After Andrew’s departure, Henry and Lady Beth talked for some time until the early evening.


"Wow, if I come across one more spaced out person, I'm going to accuse JenniAnn of putting something in the punch."

Lady Beth whirled around to find Henry studying her.  "Let's not accuse JenniAnn of anything.  Even if she did spike the punch, it'd only be with chai or something.  And that doesn't cause people to space out.  Christmas just makes everyone a little contemplative, I think.  At least it does us deep people."

Henry laughed.  "Is that so?  Well, my deep-thinking friend, how about you come help decorate?  There's a lot to be done before we get to
our individual ornaments.  You ready?  Because I can wait if you have more deep thoughts to think."  He jumped back after being playfully whacked with the end of Lady Beth's scarf.

"No, I think decorating the tree sounds great.  C'mon." 

Grinning, Henry followed Lady Beth over to the tree.  As he walked, he glimpsed a sobering scene out of the corner of his eye.  A small cluster of Dyelanders had stepped away from the main group.  Solemnly, Andrew handed Josef an ornament fashioned out of a silk poinsettia.  JenniAnn pressed some hearts formed of Celtic knotwork into Vincent's hands before taking Eli's hand and walking with him to the tree where he placed a peace sign on a branch.  Andrew followed, hanging a small assortment of ornaments.  These decorations were special, emblems both of hope and sadness.  They represented a wife-to-be gone too soon, beloved parents, an inspiring godmother, and treasured assignments who left the world under circumstances not of the Father's choosing.  Sarah, Lor, Cora, Sophia, Dawn, Maggie, and Ryan.  Their ornaments were reminders that the dead are never truly gone, even when being without them can bring so much pain.

For a moment, Henry's bravado faltered as he imagined future Christmases when more and more ornaments would be hung by those left behind.  His eons of work as an angel, especially his current stint as an angel of death, had made him a realist.  But he was a hopeful realist.  When he imagined the future, it was as he thought it would likely be.  But for all it's sadness, there would most certainly be hope and the remembrance of love.


The night was crisp and cool with a full moon as the fluffy snow continued to fall gracefully from the sky.  It was a perfect evening for this time of year, Henry mused, as he continued strolling through the park.  At one point he stopped, turned his head upwards, closed his eyes and just let the joy envelope him and make him feel good about what he'd done and ready for further assignments.  It wasn’t long before he was joined by someone who felt the same way he did.

“It’s definitely a perfect night for this time of year,” mentioned Andrew as he approached Henry.

“I couldn’t have said it better.  To have the snow falling tonight is like putting icing on a cake.  It truly makes me feel humble,” answered Henry.

“You got that right especially in regards to the feeling humble part.  Nothing else makes me feel this way and that’ll never change.”

“I do have to admit that being here in Dyeland makes it special, as well.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else since being with family and friends are important over the Christmas holiday,” said Henry as a look of fondness came over his face.  “Even though the residents now are the descendants of the original residents who were first here, they still hold a special place in my heart.”

“That’s something I’ll agree on 100%.  It feels more homey with them here and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” replied Andrew.

Henry pulled his watch from his pocket to check the time.  “What do you say we make our way to the church to see if they need any help with the final preparations for midnight Mass?”

“Sounds like a good idea.  I do know we’ll have the ritual hot chocolate and baked goods afterwards which is always a nice thing.”

“I wonder what our local cook/baker has in store for tomorrow’s meal?” chuckled Henry.

“It’ll be a delicious surprise as usual,” Andrew said as he licked his mouth.

The two angels made their way to the church knowing that the special feeling of the night would never be forgotten.


Henry sighed.  True, there would be Christmases to come when he wouldn't be surrounded by the people with him in that moment.  But it was assuring to realize that he, Andrew, and the other angels of death would always have friends in Dyeland.  And Henry thoroughly believed that would be the case.  New generations would be born or adopted into Dyeland. 

Perhaps sooner rather than later... 

He stifled a laugh when he noticed JenniAnn, clearly recovered from the memorial ornament ceremony, looking rather swoonily at Andrew who had lifted Shelby onto his shoulders so she could reach high branches.

"You want me to get the Andrewcam so you can remember it always?" the bespectacled angel of death offered as he approached her.

JenniAnn blushed.  "Well, he's just..."

Henry affectionately patted her shoulder.  "I know.  I mean... I don't know... know.  But I get it."

JenniAnn hugged him.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome.  But just a hint."  He leaned in and whispered.  "You'd look less obvious if you were hanging ornaments, too."

JenniAnn blushed more deeply but smiled gratefully at Henry.  As she went over to the tables to collect some ornaments, she kept glancing over at her student and the much-loved angel of death.  The little girl was excitedly telling Andrew of some recent adventure.  He smiled and asked her several questions then looked over her head to JenniAnn.  Andrew's smile grew wider and even with the distance between them, JenniAnn could see the sparkle in his eyes.  The tenderness and love in them made her want to approach but she knew it was Shelby's time with Andrew.  Besides, she was enjoying the sight of him doting on the child.  It reminded her of long held daydreams.

JenniAnn finally selected an ornament from the box at random.  She looked down to find she was holding one of Jacob's tiny hand prints from his second Christmas.  As she traced the small digits, she succumbed to one of her daydreams.


Entering Willowveil Castle, JenniAnn could hear a familiar and much-loved voice reciting the familiar words.
"'You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there 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.'"
Smiling, she quickly stashed the Santa gifts she'd purchased and made her way to the ballroom.
"'Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.  Is it all real?  Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding,'" Andrew read aloud.  "'No Santa Claus!  Thank God he lives and lives forever.'"
JenniAnn leaned against the entry way.  "Thank God he lives and lives forever," she echoed softly as she smiled at the angel with the young girl to his right and the toddler boy on his left.
Unaware of JenniAnn's return, Andrew continued.  "'A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.'"  The angel closed the book.  "The end.  And I think now it's time for bed."
"Just one more story, please, Uncle Andrew!" the girl begged.
Andrew shook his head, resolute.  "You promised your mommy that you'd go to bed on time, AnnaDru.  And it's very important to keep promises."
With a dramatic sigh, AnnaDru nodded and began to gather up her blanket and doll.
JenniAnn chose that moment to enter the room.
"Mommy!" the girl called, dropping her things and running to hug her mother's knees.
"Hey, sweetheart.  Did you and Avi have fun with Uncle Andrew?"
AnnaDru nodded, her curls bouncing.  "He made us snowmen and then we had cocoa with dinner."  She turned back to Andrew who was still on the couch with a wearied Avi tucked against him.  "Now can we have another story?  Mommy should be able to hear one."  She looked from Andrew to her mother, grinning.
JenniAnn smiled, knowing full well she was being used.  Still... hearing Andrew read or recite hadn't lost any of its appeal in the nearly twenty years she'd known him.  If anything, the appeal increased with each year.  She looked over at him as he bestowed a rascally smile on her, already knowing AnnaDru would get her way.  It was an expression that had grown even more adorable coupled with a few gray hairs and deepening lines around his eyes.  JenniAnn took a seat beside AnnaDru who quickly scrambled into her lap.  "Maybe a short one, if your uncle is willing."
"Definitely willing," the angel agreed.  "So what should I read?"
Avi roused.  "Veveteen Wabbit," he lisped.  "Pease."
Andrew looked at JenniAnn for permission.  But he was already reaching for the book, knowing she would consent.  Avi had come by his love of the book honestly.  As expected, the boy's mother nodded.  The angel pulled Avi onto his lap and began to read.  "'There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid.  He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen.'"
"Like the devil?!" AnnaDru cried.
Andrew hid his laughter behind Avi's wild tufts of straw-colored hair.
"No, it's sa-teen, AnnaDru.  Not Sa-tan.  It's a fabric.  Like denim and flannel," JenniAnn explained.
"Gee, I wonder why you picked those two fabrics as examples," Andrew teased, pointedly straightening the sleeve of his flannel shirt.
JenniAnn bit her lip and smiled, rolling her eyes.  "Perhaps, you would be so kind as to resume the story, Uncle Andrew."
"All right then...  Back to the rabbit."  Andrew hugged Avi as the sleepy boy snuggled against him then continued.  "'On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.'"
For JenniAnn, the scene itself couldn't have been any more charming.  There was Andrew, reading the same story to her children that had once had so much meaning for the two of them.  Tears came to her eyes when he came to the Skin Horse's bittersweet story.  He briefly clasped her hand in his but soldiered on to the miraculous ending of the story.

The angel of death closed the book and smiled when he saw both the children were beginning to nod off.  They were swiftly tucked into their beds with prayers murmured and a lullaby sung.  When they were sure the two little ones were content, Andrew and JenniAnn returned to the ballroom.

Andrew surveyed the toy-littered room.  "Sorry, I probably should have had them clean up earlier."

"Yeah, well... I guess I can't complain too much about a free babysitter," JenniAnn teased as she began to toss dolls and blocks and balls into the toy box with Andrew's help.

"Do you still plan to lay the ornaments out tonight for tomorrow's party?"

"Yep.  It always makes the decorating party so much easier doing that rather than having everyone digging through the boxes searching for their Star Wars figurine, turkeys, roses, etc., etc."

"I could stay and help," the angel offered.

JenniAnn looked hopefully at him.  "That'd be nice," she responded eagerly then grew concerned about jeopardizing his time after she'd already left him with two kids for six hours.  "So long as you're not in a hurry to get home or, well, Home.  If you are I understand," she added.

Andrew shook his head.  "I wouldn't offer if I didn't want to be here, Laja."

The woman affectionately squeezed his hand and led him to the storage room.  "Ya know... I'm really glad everyone will be here for Christmas.  So often over the years I worried that... that people would get too busy and just never quite seem to make it back," she mused as she and Andrew dragged a red and green box out.

Andrew paused to hug her.  "Everyone will be here tomorrow and this place is going to be louder than when we had to negotiate the great War of the Rubber Ducky last month.  And much friendlier.  So, you see, there was no reason to worry."

Giggling, JenniAnn returned his hug.  "Very true."  She sighed contentedly, pulling the lid off the ornament box and beginning to unload it.  "It's a wonderful life.  Not just the best Christmas movie ever but true."

Andrew beamed at his friend.  "I'm glad you think so.  Sometimes when you were younger... well, I was a little concerned about how what you felt for me might..."  He blushed.  "Well, it might limit your life."

JenniAnn picked up two Christmas ornaments bearing tiny hand prints and two sets of dates: a birth day and an adoption day.  She held them out to the angel.  "I don't think there was any reason to worry about that, either," she responded with a proud smile and misty eyes.

Andrew took the ornaments and delicately held them in his hands.  "No, there wasn't," he murmured as he traced the imprints.

The woman watched as he stared at them.  She prayed he knew, and would always remember, that far from holding her back in life he had played a large part in giving her one that was, in a word, wonderful.



JenniAnn snapped back to reality when she felt her godfather gently enfold her in his arms.

"Why are you crying, child?"

"I... oh..."  JenniAnn wasn't entirely sure how to explain herself.  Vincent had long held a front row seat to the drama that was her falling for Andrew and, thus, was past being shocked.  Still, she wasn't exactly eager to tell him what she'd just been imagining.  "Happy crying.  Just thinking of all the good times to come."  She smiled as she remembered the two little kids with their ever-amazing uncle.  Becoming giddy, she blurted out a request without giving it any thought.  "Hey, when I have kids... since I won't have a husband... would you and Catherine be their second set of grandparents?"

Vincent stepped back to study her.  He noted that she was quite serious.  "Psyche, yes.  Of course.  I would be honored and I have no doubt Catherine would feel the same.  We would be over-joyed but... why has this come up now?"

JenniAnn shrugged.  "Just, ya know, the Dickens thing.  We just... well, we had our remembrance of the past so I guess I wanted a bit of the future.  And having you and Catherine a part of my children's lives just as you were part of mine growing up... that would be part of my ideal future.  So..."  She reached up to hug his neck and kiss his cheek before sprinting off to help Rose and her aunt untangle a strand of garland.

Vincent remained perplexed.  It was in that state that his wife approached, hand in hand with their son.

"Papa, look.  A snowflake."

Vincent smiled as he accepted the ornament.  "Jacob, this is the most exquisite snowflake I have ever set eyes upon," he praised.

The little boy beamed then dashed back off to the craft table.

Catherine laughed.  "We may just have to leave him here overnight, Vincent.  I couldn't even coax him away with cocoa.  I think we have a little artist on our hands."  She grabbed Vincent's hand and held the snowflake up.  "Truly.  Look at the detail."

Vincent examined the perfectly symmetrical curlicues that made up the snowflake.  "Surely you helped him."

Catherine shook her head.  "I handed him the pen and the paper after I'd cut the shape out.  But otherwise... no.  Owen's been saying for a while that the kid's got an artistic spark."

"An artist..." Vincent murmured as he proudly eyed his son.


Vincent stood in front of the screen, anxiously waiting.  After a few moments, it blinked to life and showed a bustling art gallery. A second later, a familiar voice could be heard.

"Can you hear me, Vincent?" Andrew asked.

"Yes," he responded.  "Very well."

"Great.  Well, we're about ten minutes from the unveiling," the unseen angel explained.  "Wait, here's someone who you'll want to speak to."

Vincent chuckled as he saw only Andrew's hand in front of the camera, enthusiastically waving someone over. 

"It's on.  Come say 'hi,'" Andrew called to the as-yet-unseen subject.

Vincent's face lit up as his wife stepped into view.  Even at seventy, she looked as gorgeous as she always did.  "C-catherine," he greeted, his voice catching in his throat.

"Yes, my love.  I wish you could be here and hear all the things people are saying about our boy.  But at least Andrew's set up the next best thing."  Catherine smiled warmly at the cameraman.

"It's my pleasure," the angel humbly responded.  "So, Catherine, how's our artist doing?"

She laughed.  "He kicked me out of the back room because I wouldn't stop fussing over his hair.  But he's well.  Anxious.  Very glad to know his father will be seeing his first gallery showing."

Vincent wiped at a tear.  He was so immensely proud of his child's accomplishments and the way in which he'd found a place for himself in the world Above without losing touch with his home Below.  He was truly the child of both worlds that he and Catherine had long dreamed of.

"Vincent, would you like me to check in with Jacob so you can say a few things?" Andrew offered.  "I promise not to touch his hair so I think he'll let me enter."

Vincent brightened at the idea of being able to speak to his son on his big night.  "Yes, please, Andrew."

The image on the screen became jumpy as Andrew wound his way through the crowd, briefly spoke to a security guard, and with Catherine at his side entered a back room. 

Jacob sat at a table, wildly drawing.

For a moment, Vincent saw the little boy who turned to his crayons whenever he was frustrated or nervous.  He longed to set a fatherly hand on his shoulder and assure him everything would be well.  "Jacob?" he called.  "How are you doing, my son?"

The man spun around, the tension easing out of his face as he heard his father's voice.  "Papa..." he murmured, peering at the camera.

"Jacob, Andrew's recording this for your father.  I told you he was working on a surprise," Catherine explained.

The artist smiled at the angel then immediately turned back to the camera.  "Papa, I wish you were here.  There are so many people and what if... what if they don't like what I've done?  Maybe I should have picked different pieces."  He leaned into his mother's embrace.  "I just... I want them to see... I want them to look at my paintings and see the love and the hope and the truth I grew up with.  I want them... I want them to see you."

"Jacob..." Vincent called, reaching out to the screen before drawing his hand back.  He felt better when the image panned down for a moment and he saw Andrew reassuringly squeeze Jacob's shoulder.  He felt blessed to have such a friend standing in where he could not. 

"You know, Jacob," Andrew began, "artists... well, they can be a lot like angels.  Bringing much-needed messages and inspiration.  And there's one thing every angel needs to remember."

"God loves us?" Jacob asked as some color began to return to his face.

"Definitely that.  But something else, too.  'Fear not!'"

The artist smiled.  "You hear that, Papa?  Andrew says I'm like an angel.  You believe it?"

Vincent chuckled.  "Perhaps... but only at times," he teased gently as Jacob's smile grew. 

There was a knock at the door.

"Mr. Wells, you're expected in the main gallery in three minutes," a voice called.

The color again drained from Jacob's face.

"Sweetheart, you'll do fine," Catherine assured, kissing his hair.  "And we're all here for you.  Aunt Yva's out there.  And Psyche and your cousins and so many other friends."

"Papa?" Jacob cried, looking up to the camera.

"I'm with you, as well, my son," Vincent assured.  "Jacob, ever since you were a little boy, people have been touched by your work and the messages it brings them.  I am so very proud of you and I know your mother is, too.  We all are.  You are our emissary to the world, Jacob.  You will bring the values we hold dear to those who need to know that kindness, loyalty, and beauty still exist.  You have worked so very hard to create, to inspire.  But tonight... tonight the work of touching hearts beyond our little community begins.  I know you are up to the task.  I know you will face it bravely.  I love you, Jacob."

"I love you, Papa," the young man echoed back. 

Vincent watched, feeling as if his heart would burst with pride, as his son stood and exited the little room with Catherine at his side.

Andrew dutifully followed, capturing everything for Vincent. 

Thunderous applause broke out as the young artist entered the gallery, knowing that his father was experiencing each moment with him.


Catherine tugged on her husband's arm.  "Earth to Vincent.  Come in, Vincent."

The man stirred and realized that both his wife and father were staring at him. 

"Such a smile..." Father mused.  "Dreaming of dancing sugar plums?"

Vincent smirked.  "Far better than that."  He led the other two over to where Jacob sat, biting his lip and focusing on a Christmas tree cut-out he was decorating.  Rose, who had cut the shape out for the little boy, smiled up at his parents.

"The kid's amazing!" she cried.  "Aren't you?" she asked Jacob, tousling his hair which he kept long like his father's.

Jacob shrugged, too intent to answer.

Rose giggled then looked up at the Wellses.  "I love having kids around at Christmastime.  Makes it all more special and more magical."

"Don't I know it," Catherine replied, taking a seat beside Jacob and beaming at him.  She softly stroked Jacob's hair.  "You're our Christmas miracle," she murmured.

Rose noticed both Father and Vincent brush at their eyes, completely in sync.  The bond between the little family touched her.  She could still remember that eventful Christmas Eve, three year previous, when she and the other Dyelanders had rushed into Catherine's and Vincent's chamber to find them cradling their newborn son.  Jacob truly had been a miracle.  But then she knew all children were.

With that thought, Rose stepped towards the window, smiling again at Andrew's enthusiastic decor, and got to thinking of what her own future Christmases held.


"Slow down!  You don't want to scare him!  Especially when it looks like he's on a ladder," Rose shouted after the two children who were barreling towards Serendipity.

But she needn't have worried, Andrew glanced over his shoulder, smiled, abandoned his Christmas lights, and made his way to the ground in time to be hugged by the little boy and girl.

"Well, hello there, Amelia and Landon!" the angel greeted. 

"Uncle Andrew, look what I can do."

Andrew watched attentively as Amelia did a pirouette.  He clapped when she finished.  "That's great!  So do you want to be a ballerina when you grow up?"

"No," she answered simply.

Andrew chuckled.  "All right then."  He glanced at Rose who was shaking her head and grinning.

"Uncle Andrew, can we play with your cars now?" Landon asked.

"Hey, mister," Rose warned.  "Haven't we been talking about patience?  We just got here!"

"How about we have our snack first, talk a little, and then you can play with the toys?" Andrew suggested.

"All right," Landon agreed with his sister echoing him.

Andrew led the three visitors into his house. 

Rose smiled when she noticed that some more of the art prints which had once decked Andrew's entryway had been replaced with framed childish scrawls.  She recognized them as past birthday and Christmas presents from her own children and those of her friends.

When they reached the kitchen, Andrew immediately got the milk boiling as Rose pulled some cocoa mix and cookies from her bag.  She snickered when she saw the angel eying the container.

"Yes, they're peanut butter," she assured. 

The angel's face lit up. 

"But they might be broken.  Amelia dropped the container on the floor this morning."  Rose pulled the lid off and frowned.  "Well, they're peanut butter crumbles now."

Andrew shrugged.  "They'll still taste just as great as always."

Soon the cocoa was ready and the four sat down at Andrew's table.  After answering a few questions about their plans for Christmas vacation, Amelia and Landon scarfed down their cookies and cocoa and looked pleadingly at their mother and surrogate uncle.

"You can go if it's all right with your uncle," Rose responded to their silent inquiry.

Andrew laughed when they looked at him with puppy dog eyes.  "Sure, you can go and play."

The brother and sister raced off. 

"Want to go sit in the living room?  We can keep chatting as we watch them," the angel suggested.


Rose grabbed the cookies as Andrew carried their mugs out.  Once they were settled onto the couch, Andrew eyed his friend.

"So how you holding up, Rose?  I mean with this being your first Christmas with Max away," he asked, patting her hand.

Rose smiled wistfully as she moved in to hug him.  She settled back against the couch cushions with a sigh.  "I knew there'd be holidays like this when I married a navy man.  And we're very blessed.  Coping's a lot easier with the Internet, video phone, etc.  The kids and I got to see Max last night and we talked for a while.  He's in really good spirits.  He knows what he's doing is important and he's teaching the kids that there's more to life than just getting yourself ahead in the world.  Max has always reminded me a little of someone else in that respect." 

Andrew blushed as Rose grinned over the rim of her cup.

"And we have an easier time of it than some.  It's been great to be able to spend more time here in Dyeland, surrounded by loved ones.  Some of the other wives fret about their kids not having a strong, male role model while their dad's away.  And I've certainly not had to worry about that.  They have a pretty amazing uncle."

Andrew's cheeks turned even more red.  "You know, I really thought you and JenniAnn might out grow this game of yours."

Rose laughed.  "Tough luck, Amish Boy."

Andrew chuckled.  "I'm glad I can be here for you and the kids."  He smiled at the two little ones who were contentedly playing with the toys he kept around for them and the other children. 

"Max says we're taking you out to dinner when he gets back.  He's pretty grateful, too.  And he says you owe him a football rematch.  He feels it only fair he give you a chance to reclaim your title as MVP," Rose teased.

The angel munched on a cookie, remembering how Rose's husband had finally given him a run for his money on the makeshift football field in the yard.  "Tell Max it's not fair challenging an old man like that."
  His eyes lit up as he jested.

Rose rolled her eyes.  "Andrew, you've always been a very old man.  But it's hardly an excuse.  Driver's license, please."  She expectantly held her hand out.

Grinning, Andrew obliged.

Rose smiled as she examined it.  "This here says that human form of yours is a mere forty seven.  So Max will get his rematch.  No excuses."

Andrew held up his hands in surrender.

Rose laughed and hugged him.  "I'm glad we're still doing this," she murmured.

"Doing what?" Andrew asked, briefly resting his chin on her hair.

"Chatting, joking around about the same old stuff we always did.  So much has changed in my life... mostly for the better, of course.  Max, the kids.  But it's good to know some things stay the same."

Andrew hugged her more tightly.  "I'll always be here for you and the kids and Max."

Rose smiled up at him.  "I know."

For a few moments, they simply watched the children as they happily played.


Rose's face shone as a gentle squeeze of her shoulder brought her out of her reverie.

Andrew was surprised when she spun around and gave him a bear hug.  He chuckled.  "Well, that was well worth coming over here to tell you that we're getting ready to hang our ornaments.  Thanks."

"No problem, Amish Boy," Rose responded as Andrew led her back to the group.

Once there, Andrew was gently pushed to the center of the crowd.

"You're doing the toast," JenniAnn informed him as she handed him a champagne flute filled with ginger ale.

"But you're the hostess," he protested.

"And you're Andrew."

The angel chuckled.  "Oh, okay.  Well, then that settles it.  If my name was George, would someone else give the toast?"

"No.  And you are my George Bailey," JenniAnn reminded, eyes twinkling.

Andrew blushed and, when he'd recovered, raised his glass.  The crowd hushed.  "I'd like to thank everyone for coming tonight.  I think it's great that we could all find the time to celebrate together, to share a meal, and to have some fun.  You know, earlier I was talking about how Christmas is a good time to remember our pasts and look forward to the future.  And when I look back on my past... well, first of all, that involves looking back a very, very long time... how long I'm not about to say."

Rose gave a theatrical sigh causing the others to laugh.

Andrew smiled at her then continued.  "When I look back on my more recent past, I thank the Father for bringing me here to Dyeland.  This is my eleventh Christmas here and each one has meant more than the last.  Each has brought new friends our way and they've brought old friends back."

Monica smiled and leaned into Tess' embrace as she caught Andrew's gaze.

"I don't know what Christmas Future will bring," the angel of death added.  "But I know they're all in God's hands."  He turned to the tree.  "Last Christmas, when we were preparing for that decorating party, I told Laja that this tree reminds me of God's love.  It's a love that
holds the friendships, families, and romances represented in this room together just as this tree will soon hold the ornaments that represent each of us together.  This Christmas, I'm praying that we all always remember that.  Cheers, my friends."

The room resounded with the clinking of glasses as everyone toasted.

"And now... the ornaments!" Andrew called out.

The merry group surrounded the tree, each hanging the ornament that represented them.  When they were finished, they stepped back to admire the completed tree.

"It's beautiful," Yva murmured.  "And it makes me think of what you said, Andrewkins."

Andrew smiled back at her but before he could respond, he felt a tug at his sleeve.  "And how can I help you?" he asked the Tunnel children clustered around him. 

"We know everyone's planning on singing carols now but..." Shelby began.

"Can we play in the snow first?  It's the perfect type of snow for a snowball fight," her brother, Asher, finished.

"You know, I think that can be arranged," Andrew responded, liking the prospect of a snowball fight himself.  "Who's up for a pre-caroling snow ball fight?" he called.

Everyone dashed into the hall to retrieve their coats and ran into the yard.

"Andrew!  Your lights look even more amazing now that it's darker!" C.J. called.

"Pretty cool," Mick agreed. 

The entire group paused for a few moments to admire the display.

Andrew beamed, overjoyed that they appreciated what he'd done for them.  He was still basking in the warm glow of a job well received when he felt a sudden pressure in between his shoulders.  He spun around to see Henry laughing with traces of snow on his glove.  "It's on now, buddy!" he cried as he formed a snowball and launched it back at Henry.

The yard was filled with gleeful shrieks as an all-out snowball war began. 

Though a mean snowball-thrower, Andrew was soon driven back.  He sought shelter behind some bushes near the castle and began to stockpile snowballs.  As he stood to peek over the bush and get a good idea of where his opponents were stationed, the angel caught a glimpse of the Christmas tree through the window.  He was transfixed, remembering what the Father had shown him that previous year.  For a few moments, snowballs were forgotten as the angel of death once again considered the future.


Andrew sat on a couch near the fireplace, readying his camera, and smiled at the scene before him.  It was chaos.  But beautiful chaos.

Laughing, Yva plopped down beside him.  "Hard to believe these Christmases have gotten even crazier!  But I love them even better.  They make planning Christmas services seem downright relaxing," she joked.

Andrew hugged her.  "And they're beautiful services.  You've done a great job as a minister, Yva.  But then I always knew you would."

The woman hugged him back.  "You helped me find the courage to pursue that dream, Andrew.  Thank you.  I hope your own dreams come true."

The angel smiled as he took in the scene before him.  "Every day, Yva.  Every day," he responded softly.  But then he burst into laughter as a little boy streaked across the room with half of a suit on.

Beth dashed after him.  "Michael Turner St. John!  Come back to mommy.  We just want one picture of you and your brother with the other kids and Santa."

Mick grabbed his son just as he was about to careen into the Christmas tree.  "Whoa there, buddy."  He deftly fixed the little boy's outfit.  "Don't you want to see Santa?"

Yva leaned nearer to Andrew.  "I'm so glad Adam's been able to keep that Santa gig.  You know he loves it."

Andrew nodded.  "And the kids do, too.  Just maybe not so much velvet suits and ties." 

The two laughed as a stubborn Michael finally relented and took a seat beside his brother, Joe. 

"I think maybe I'll go entertain the kids with some carols while we wait," Yva excused herself.  "Poor Monica's been reading stories for a while and probably needs to rest her voice."

Andrew watched as Rose settled her two children into the group while JenniAnn did the same with her own and some young students.  The former approached him after her children were situated.

Rose greeted the angel of death with a laugh.  "Who would have thought, so many years after some of us first saw him playing Santa at that party supply store, that Adam would still be at it?" she whispered. 

Andrew smiled.  "Oh, I think the Father knew after that first time that Adam had fallen in love with the gig.  I doubt He'll ever take it away from him now.  He'll still be wearing that red suit when Landon's and Amelia's kids are ready for a visit to Santa."

"You think?" Rose asked, looking over at the children hopefully.

The angel of death nodded.  "Yeah."  His smile grew as Yva led the children in "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" while Tess played along on the piano.  "I'm glad we still have this time together," he commented, putting an arm around Rose's shoulders.

"Me too.  I'm glad my family has a place in Dyeland.  I couldn't imagine raising the kids without this place being a part of their childhood.  After all, you all kind of helped raise me.  At least during the last couple years of my adolescence."

Andrew looked proudly at the young woman.  "I think we did a really great job," he complimented.

Rose smiled and hugged him.

"You better get over there.  I think I hear sleigh bells," he warned. 

Rose grinned like a child herself then dashed back over to her husband to be near their kids when they had their time with Santa.

A few moments later, amid the sound of sleigh bells and accompanied by his loyal elves, Sparkles and Sprinkles aka Shelby and Jacob, Santa entered the room.  He was immediately mobbed by excited children.

Andrew leapt up from the couch and began filming.  He smiled as each child met with Santa whose silver-blue eyes sparkled with each 'I love you, too, Santa' that was bestowed on him.  He was touched also by the looks of pride on his friends' faces as their children and nieces and nephews settled onto Adam's lap for a chat. 

Once Santa had returned to the North Pole and Adam reappeared, feigning disappointment for once again missing the toymaker as he did every year, the decorating party began.  With his camera tucked away, Andrew gave himself a few moments to stand back, study his friends, and thank God for the great things He had done in their lives.

Adam, as was obvious, had maintained his seasonal stint as Santa Claus as well as becoming a supervisor to other angels.  His ready wit mixed with his warm heart had guided several new angels of death through the sometimes difficult early days of that gig.

Eli, too, had been entrusted with supervising duties in recent years.  But Andrew chuckled as he thought of how the angel of death still managed to find time to comb Ronald's archives and find the most embarrassing moments of his angelic career so he could leak them to JenniAnn.

Tess continued to work cases on her own and with an assortment of other angels, sometimes stepping in as a supervisor when needed.  The number of her "angel babies" had grown.  And yet there remained a special spot in her heart for Andrew.  When the effects of his decision to age alongside his human friends had first become apparent, Andrew had joked to her that one day it would seem silly for her to call him, as his boyish looks faded, "Angel Boy."  Tess had adamantly shook her head, pulled him into one of those immense hugs he so loved, and assured him "You'll always be my Angel Boy, Andrew."  And he knew it was true.

There was Monica, several years into her solo stint as a supervising caseworker.  By all accounts she was doing amazing work.  And yet she had never again drifted away from him but had instead regularly checked in with both him and Tess, making sure they knew that she carried the lessons she'd learned from them with her on every assignment.

Yva, too, was delivering the message of God's love to others.  And very happily if her earlier conversation with Andrew was any hint.  She and Sir Sven had successfully bridged their Dyeland and earthly lives.  The angel of death knew it meant so much to everyone, Nigel and Willy included, that they made a point to check in no matter how busy.

As for Nigel, he was happily continuing his work as one of God's messengers in Victorian England.  However, the guardian angel had become increasingly comfortable in the ever-changing modern world which never ceased to amaze him.

Willy, too, had experienced some changes.  He remained every bit the hard-working, creative, contemplative man he'd always been.  But it seemed to Andrew that he had found peace with at least some of the questions that had tendency to trouble him.

And then there was the St. John family...  Andrew sighed as he thought back on how tumultuous Mick's and Beth's path had been.  But in recent years their dreams had come true and they had two adorable sons to show for it. 

Thinking of the St. John boys, Andrew's thoughts turned to the absentee Josef who was the eldest' s namesake.  His happily-ever-after hadn't come.  But the vampire was making the most of his long life.  It had become a testament to the love he still bore for his Sarah.  Josef's charity would soon be a decade old and its founder had spent countless hours doing what he was doing at that moment, freeing people from bondage and helping them to build new lives of freedom and dignity.

Andrew chuckled as his thoughts drifted to the last of the Los Angeles clan: Logan.  His story had taken an interesting turn only the week before when a worried Mick had burst into his basement and found a note which simply read: "Proposed to Zelda.  She said YES!!!  Took the cure.  We're going to Las Vegas to get married by Obi Wan!!!!!  Be back after the new year.  Live long (but not  freakishly long) and prosper. -L."

And that had only be the most recent in a succession of romances.  Andrew beamed as Rose and her husband each lifted one of their children so they could place their ornaments on higher branches.  Then the couple stepped back, embraced each other, and watched as the little ones stood in awe of the tree.  Andrew thought back on the teenager he'd first met, the girl who had blushed as she'd once told him that if she ever had kids she's already chosen their names: Landon and Amelia.  Now her dreams were reality and their Uncle Andrew was very glad for it.

There were the couples who had stood the test of time, too.  Among them were Sir Sven and Yva and Catherine and Vincent.  Together for nearly forty years, the Wellses' love for each other was evident to the lucky few who were able to glimpse them.  It was a love that Andrew knew strengthened and inspired their son and helped Vincent as he led the Tunnel Council, promoting the values and utopic way of life that his father had instilled in him. 

The Council itself was now populated by some of the grown children and young people who Andrew had first met.  Owen, Amy, Hareton, Gary, and Jessie now worked alongside Vincent and the older members but their youth made their opinions no less valued.  It was a happy, peaceful time for everyone Below.

Andrew's attention turned to Vincent's godchild.  Over the years he had come to recognize that Catherine's and Vincent's great love had struck JenniAnn to the core and helped her to, in time, fully embrace a life and a love that was far from standard.  And so, several years after their fateful meeting in the Fields of Gold, JenniAnn remained devoted to him.  And, in spite of that, she had twice become a mother; giving Andrew his beloved niece and nephew: Annabel and Avi.

Andrew heard C.J. laugh, a most welcome noise.  After years of having to rush around, she had finally come to a peaceful, relaxing place and was enjoying more time on Harmonic Hollow and Vermillion.  The angel knew they both relished their now more frequent rides together and looked forward to many more.

The clinking of dishes drew Andrew's gaze to Lady Beth.  Years after she first arrived in Dyeland, her delight in helping others and sharing her talents with them continued to be evident.  At that very moment she was dishing up a plate for Henry who was leaving early on an assignment, doing so with greater joy now that he knew he always had friends to come back to.

And, as always, the entire community was enlivened and unconditionally loved by an odd assortment of pet turkeys, cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, and more.

This was the family that God had brought together and Andrew thanked Him daily for it.  Struck anew by the immense blessings surrounding him, the angel lifted his eyes to the rafters and uttered a simple but heartfelt "Thank You, Father."

Following his prayer, Andrew was joined by JenniAnn.  He sighed contentedly as she embraced him.  "It's been a wonderful party, Laja." 

JenniAnn beamed up at him then noticed a few stray hairs and brushed them into place behind his ear.

Andrew smiled sheepishly.  "It's really graying, isn't it?  I mean I knew it was going to happen but... not this quickly.  What would that girl in the Fields think of me now?" he teased.

She peered up at him, all seriousness.  "'The soul of all that was most dear to me is here-- here, with the worn face, and the grey
head,'" she murmured.

Andrew stared at her, recognizing the quotation and unable to place it but intensely moved by its utterance.  "Laja..."

"It doesn't seem like so long ago that it was another Christmas... that year you first went all out with the lights..."  She laughed.  "That year you hid in that box, too, come to think of it.  And Adam was teasing you about your Dickensian view of the holiday.  So I decided to insert a lil Dickens of my own this year.  And it's truthfully meant," JenniAnn vowed.

Andrew knew in the depths of his heart that it was.  Whatever type of love his friends had ever borne for him, it had continued over the course of many years.  Their love and the Father's was constantly with him as he took on his assignments, continuing to bring people the gift of eternity the Father had entrusted him with.  The angel smiled at the woman at his side then looked out at all the joyful faces that surrounded him.  Every inch of his being felt content.

A moment later, C.J. approached.  "Uncle Andrew, I come as an emissary from the toddler set.  You're being ordered to read a Christmas story."

Andrew grinned as JenniAnn laughed and released him.

"What am I reading?" he asked as he settled down on the floor among the children with the adults forming an outer circle.

"This," Avi responded, holding a familiar book out to him.

Andrew looked tenderly at his namesake as he accepted the familiar book and began to read. 
"'There was once a velveteen rabbit..."

, a delicate snow fell and blanketed the ground.  It collected around the lights covering Willowveil castle.  The effect was beautiful as the snow itself took on the color of the lights beneath it.  A dove settled on the windowsill and peered in at the crowd gathered around the storyteller, cooing a benediction upon them all.


Andrew was smiling giddily as he emerged from behind the bushes.

JenniAnn had her arm raised, ready to pelt him but let the snowball drop and ran to him.  "Andrew, what's going on?  You look... transfigured."

Seeing JenniAnn abandon the fight and dash to the angel of death; Yva, Rose, Lady Beth, and C.J. also approached.

"What's the matter?" Rose asked with alarm.

Andrew shrugged, unable to wipe the smile off his face.  "I was just daydreaming."

"What exactly do angels daydream about?" Yva asked, amused by the idea.

"Love," Andrew answered simply, pulling them into a group hug.

"Aww, come on now.  Can't we have something a little more specific than that?" Lady Beth pressed with a grin.

Andrew considered.  His vision had been comprised of all the dreams his friends had shared with him over the years and all the ones he knew they treasured in their hearts even if they didn't say them out loud.  It was their happiness that had made his own future self so happy.  Still, he didn't want to reveal it all to them and have them thinking he was pulling for them to make particular life choices should their dreams change.  Finally, he settled upon his answer.  "I daydreamed about another Christmas, several years from now.  And the most important thing about it... the thing that made me happiest... was that we were all still celebrating together."

"Aww!" a chorus of female voices responded.

Thus assured their friend was well and knowing themselves to be easy targets if they remained still, the five women parted from the angel of death and rejoined the snowball fight.  When they were ready to return indoors, everyone joined together for caroling.  After singing several songs, the children were tucked into their beds back in the Tunnels with visions of their visit with Santa fresh in their minds.  Around 10:00, the adults gathered again in the ballroom.  As they moved chairs and tables to make room for dancing, JenniAnn put a CD on.

Andrew was struck by how perfectly the lyrics matched his vision.

"We gather by the fire,
reminiscing by its light.
The kids will be up early
but it's hard to say goodnight.
To be with you.
To be with you.
I love this time of year.
It always brings me here,
to be with you."

The angel of death was not the only one struck by the words.  As Christmas Eve wore on and the dancing began, each person thought of their own ideal future.  Ensconced in the cozy ballroom with so many of those who were dear to them and had figured into their dreams, they silently prayed to God that the futures they so desired would come to pass and that they would never truly be parted nor face a Christmas future without the love and friendship of the others.

Unseen by all, a dove appeared amid the highest branches of their Christmas tree, the tree that Andrew had come to see as a symbol of the Father's love.  The dove's presence was proof that, though the Dyelanders' futures might not unfold exactly as they planned, they would unfold as God planned.  And it was His plan that the ragtag family He had joined together would always remain exactly that for every Christmas and every day to come no matter where the journey of life took them.

The End

Cultural references (holiday and otherwise... hopefully I didn't miss any):
"To Be With You" by Sara Groves, both the title and the closing lyrics come from her beautiful song.
"Once Upon a Dream" from Disney's Sleeping Beauty
"All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
"Christmas Crackers" by Juliana Horatia Ewing
The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Sound of Music
The Twilight Zone
"Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" by Virginia O'Hanlon and Francis P. Church
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Star Wars
It's a Wonderful Life
"Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clark Moore
"Jolly Old St. Nicholas"
Star Trek
Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens

Finally, another JABB Christmas tradition is that I make a donation in the group's honor.  Typically, I choose a charity that somehow relates to the Christmas story.  However, this year there were no easy associations.  (Alas, a time-traveling charity does not seem to exist nor does a "Keep an AOD Happy, Buy Him Some Christmas Lights" one.)  So, since I used them as a source for "Safe" which was the previous story and because this did contain a couple brief references to those characters, I've made a donation to RAINN because they do great work.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

God bless,


JABB 317

(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.)