"A happy family is but an earlier heaven."
~~George Bernard Shaw


Hi all,

Welcome to another Valentine's story!  Just a short recap on the annual tradition: starting in 2008 I would write a story in which Andrew, LJA, or Andrew *and* LJA would interview their friends about different types of love, splice them together with photos and video from the past year, and then put together a documentary which they'd then show to their friends at a Valentine's party.  That's what we did on through 2011 and while I very much enjoyed having assorted folks pen their characters' answers, it seemed time for a change.  So now the Valentine's story is more loosely related vignettes that have something to do with love.  And, frankly, after the last couple stories... I needed some fluff!  I hope you enjoy!

Happy Valentine's Day!  Tell someone ya love em.  God loves you and so do I!  :-)

God bless,
Jenni


Roots & Wings

February 13th, 2013

Andrew and JenniAnn stood on the porch of a cabin in the Fields of Gold.  They were resting their eyes after spending hours compiling photographs and video for the annual Valentine's documentary that they would present to their friends the following day.  As the two relaxed, they looked out at the expanse of land.  It had been a harsh, difficult winter but the Fields were finally coming back to life.  Patches of grass were beginning to turn green.  Shoots of leaves that would soon be flowers were just peeking above the warming dirt.  The sunshine was filtering through trees whose branches were no longer weighed down by snow or ice.  Spring was on its way.

JenniAnn sighed. 

"Was that a happy sigh or a melancholy sigh?" the angel of death checked.

JenniAnn considered the question.  "It was a... hmm... a contemplative sigh.  I was just thinking about this whole Valentine's documentary tradition."

"Do you not want to do it any more?"

"No!  I mean yes!  No, quitting isn't what I was thinking of and, yes, I do want to keep it up.  I was just thinking about how much this tradition has withstood.  In 2008, when this started, I was dating Eliot and working on the video and interviews alone and... well, and barely talking to you.  In 2009, we..."  JenniAnn approached and hugged Andrew, beaming up at him.  "We were doing very, very well."  She sighed again.  "But then Aunt Sophia died and you were left to handle the video alone and then my lovely cousin Veronica forged my handwriting and had you believing I'd walked out on you."  JenniAnn grimaced.  "By the way, are you really sure I have to go to her wedding in April?  I mean wouldn't it just be okay to send a lovely gift?  Like maybe, I dunno, a nice prickly cactus?"

Andrew burst into laughter.  "Laja..."

Annoyed as she was, JenniAnn couldn't resist the angel's amusement.  "Well, I mean really!  The girl wrote 'plus one' on my invitation but then on a sticky note inside she wrote 'If it's too emotional for you to attend alone, please know I understand if you don't come.  We're registered at Macy's.'  Translation: 'So sad for you that you're single.  Buy me something.'"

The angel of death continued to laugh.  "I'll admit the girl has no tact but... family is important."

"So says the guy descended from perfection," JenniAnn teased.

"Ha ha.  Besides... I kinda thought, you know..."  Andrew tilted his head and looked over the top of his glasses at his friend.  "Maybe I'm 'plus one' material?" 

"Oh..."  The woman's face lit up.  "Oh!  I just... I didn't think you'd wanna...  Really?"

"Free dinner.  Free cake.  Dancing.  The chance to make people wonder what exactly we're up to..."  Andrew tempted with an impish smile.  "I mean only if you want..."

"I want."  JenniAnn hugged the angel again.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome.  So... what color tie goes with cactus?"

Laughing and feeling very much relieved, JenniAnn shook her head.  "We'll discuss wardrobe later.  Anyway...  So we survived the machinations of Queen Veronica, thank God.  Then came 2010 which was going extremely well until..."

"Until you found out I had every intention of aging right along with you and the other girls."  Andrew took his turn to hug JenniAnn. 

"And I behaved like an infant...  Actually, infants have more consideration."

"Laja...  You found out in probably the worst way possible."

"Drunk vampire..."

Andrew chuckled.  "Yeah, drunk vampire.  But that was also when Mick and Beth got engaged.  So... taken altogether... I think 2010's documentary experience was pretty great."

"Yeah, it was."

They were both quiet for a few moments, thinking of 2011.  It had been a time of grief but also of hope born anew.  Andrew's embrace tightened.  "The daffodils will be back soon," he murmured.

JenniAnn smiled.  "Yeah... and I'll never forget the three we found that Valentine's Day."

"Me neither," Andrew agreed.

Simultaneously, they looked up to the heavens for a few moments before returning to their conversation.

"It's hard to believe it was only a year ago that we stood here, Mick's and Beth's wedding having ended just hours before," Andrew mused.

"I know!  And I'm still impressed that we were able to turn their wedding video around in a night.  And I really loved that video."  JenniAnn bowed her head and began to twirl her Claddagh ring.  "I... I watched it a lot over the winter."

Andrew kissed her hair when he saw tears well in her eyes.  "Laja..."

"I just kept... kept wondering if I'd end up doing the 2013 video alone a-and with you only being in the segments from July and earlier."  Frustrated, JenniAnn swiped at a tear.  "When am I gonna be over this?  You've been back for three months!  You've got to be really tired of me crying over everything... including literally crying over you and messing up your clothes... all the time."

The angel shook his head.  "No.  Laja, walk with me."  He took her hand and led her off the porch and into the field.  "You wanna know why I asked you if we could work on the video here this time instead of in your office?"

JenniAnn shrugged.  "I guess I just figured it was because we worked on it here last year and both agreed it was a nice change."

"Well, yeah, there's that.  But mostly it was because of..."  Andrew carefully pulled JenniAnn a few paces to the left.  "Right here.  Do you know where you're standing?" 

"In the Fields of Gold..." JenniAnn ventured.

"Right.  But I mean specifically."  The angel paused, only continuing when the woman shook her head.  "You were standing right there when we met." 

"Well, I know I was around this area but... you know it was this spot specifically?"

Andrew nodded and turned her around.  "See that redbud tree?"

"Yep."

"It may not look like much now but that day it was blooming.  I remember that it was behind you and you were perfectly centered in front of it.  It looked like you had fairy wings."

Touched that the memory would remain so vivid for him, JenniAnn reached up and stroked the angel's hair.  "Andrew..."

"That was thirteen years ago next month.  And I know none of us had any idea what the next thirteen years would bring.  You, me, all of our friends... we've been through so much together.  And this past fall and winter... that was really, really hard.  If I can still remember exactly where you stood thirteen years ago then is it really any wonder that the memories from when I was in Afghanistan are still so vivid for you?" Andrew gently questioned.  "So... you're just gonna have to cut yourself some slack for crying over things that remind you of that and I'm just gonna have to give myself a pass when I get a little misty-eyed every time I see a redbud.  And... we're both gonna have to be okay with the fact that Max will probably start getting teary over socks."

JenniAnn cast a quizzical look at Andrew.  "Max... socks?  Where'd that come from?"

Andrew smiled.  "Have you already forgotten your pre-trip shopping adventure with Rose?"

"Oh...  Aww!  It really meant that much to him?"

Andrew squeezed her hand.  "He wasn't the only one it meant a lot to."  As the angel remembered that day, the wind rose.  "Good thing I have this sweater," he mused with a knowing smile.  "Let's go inside.  We'll get going on the last leg of the video with the Orlando trip stuff... and talk."

JenniAnn nodded and eagerly re-entered the cabin with him.

The angel of death walked towards the table where a slew of photographs were spread out, waiting to be scanned.  He picked one up and handed it to JenniAnn who smiled at the image of Rose hugging a Superman shirt clad Max. 

"It was a fun day," JenniAnn wistfully recalled.  "Actually... way more fun than a day that started in a laundry room had any right to be."

*~*~*

'One can never have enough socks,'" said Dumbledore."
~~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

February 1st, 2013


A thick snow had blanketed portions of JenniAnn's hometown, leaving many of her elderly relatives in a bind.  Hearing of this, Andrew and Max had insisted upon taking over shoveling and snow-blowing duties.  Touched by their kindness, JenniAnn had settled on payback in the form of doing their laundry.  She was sorting clothes when, upon picking up a pair of Andrew's jeans, something pricked her finger.

"Ouch!" she cried.  Curious, the woman examined the jeans and quickly found the culprit.  "Love..." she whispered to the non-present angel. 

On each side of the waistband of Andrew's jeans was a large safety pin, one of which had unclasped.  JenniAnn had known that Andrew was still down at least a couple dozen pounds owing to his time in Afghanistan.  However, she hadn't realized none of his clothes fit.  Those he showed up in following an assignment were nearly always perfectly tailored but his every day clothes... clearly they hadn't been replenished.  While safety pins and other tricks were all fine and good under bulky winter sweaters, they were leaving for Florida in four days and the makeshift fixes were going to be very obvious under lightweight shirts.  And the jeans issue was only the last in a list of clothing deficiencies JenniAnn had noticed as she'd laundered and put away Andrew's and Max's things.

JenniAnn set down the jeans and took out her cell phone.  The laundry would have to wait.  There was more important "work" to do.

*~*~*

Several hours later, Andrew and Max shuffled back into Serendipity, wearied and ready for dinner. 

"I'll go get the soup going.  You wanna get the fire started?" Andrew asked as he kicked off his boots.

"Sure thing.  That'll feel good.  I think my toes are frozen together."  Max tore off his own boots then headed into the living room, stopping abruptly when he entered.  "Uh, Andrew?"

"Yeah?" the angel called from the kitchen.

"I think we've been reverse robbed."

"What?!"

"Also, there are two girls hiding behind your piano."

In the kitchen, Andrew smiled and shook his head.  He started to heat the soup, making sure there was enough for four, then made his way to the living room.  "Ah...  JenniAnn and Rose.  Why am I not surprised?"  He moved to hug them both.  "Sorry.  I probably still feel cold."

"Like we care.  Cold hug is better than no hug," Rose countered.

"Well, thanks.  So... what's this about a reverse rob..."  As Andrew hugged JenniAnn, he turned and saw the neat stacks of clothes on his couch.  "Laja, Rose...  What did you do?"

"We had fun.  Aww, now, Andrew, please don't give me that look.  It was nothing," JenniAnn responded, eyes twinkling.  "We just wanted you both to have some new things for the trip.  We got ourselves some new stuff, too."

"Look what I found!" Rose cheered.  "Let's see if it fits!"  She pulled a striped shirt in Gryffindor colors from Max's stack and began measuring it against his shoulders and arms.

Andrew chuckled as Max turned beet red and a dopey smile lit up his face.  Knowing they were both distracted, he turned to JenniAnn.  "Laja, you shouldn't have..." the angel whispered.

"Hush.  I saw your jeans.  You shouldn't be having to deal with safety pins and, anyway, Max needed some things and he'll feel less awkward about it if you just go with it," JenniAnn counseled.  "Besides... I rather like thinking the Father didn't replace your Dyeland clothes because He knows how much I enjoy shopping for you."

Andrew smiled.  He wasn't so sure she wasn't in the right there.  "Thank you."


"Look at this green sweater."  JenniAnn held it out to Andrew.  "So soft and cuddly...  And it's light enough that it should be perfect if we go out in the evenings in Orlando."

Andrew gamely pulled the cardigan on.  It did fit extremely well...

"Ooh.  I like it!" JenniAnn enthused then grew quieter.  "You should have seen Rose light up when we were looking for things for Max.  Besides, we didn't spend much since we have every hope you'll both outgrow the clothes soon.  And then you can donate them.  Please don't be upset."

The angel briefly rested his chin on her hair.  "Of course I'm not upset.  Just a little taken aback."

JenniAnn grinned.  "Good.  It really was so much fun.  I just hope everything else fits.  Turns out pants size actually isn't in your record.  Violeta checked.  So we just had to go off measuring the pinned up jeans."

"I'm sure everything will be just fine."  Andrew hugged her again then turned to watch Max, who had pulled the Gryffindor shirt over his other clothes, take in his haul.  The man seemed puzzled by two ten packs of socks.

"Oh!"  JenniAnn stepped away from Andrew and neared Max.  "Sorry.  That was my doing.  Kinda went overboard with the socks.  I didn't know whether you liked crew cut or ankle cut so I got both and the 10 packs were the ones on sale so... you got a lot of socks, Max."

The woman was startled when, a moment later, Max hugged her tightly.  "Thank you," he said softly.

"Aww, Max, you're welcome."  JenniAnn patted his cheek then watched as Rose waved him off to his bedroom to make sure everything fit.  Mystified, she turned to Andrew and Rose.  "So... I guess he really likes socks?"

Andrew pulled both of his friends into a hug.  "I think there's more to it than that.  It's a beautiful thing you both did.  Thank you.  Now, you at least have to let us treat you to dinner.  You up for it?"

Rose beamed.  "As if you even need to ask.  Thanks!  And it'll give us time to look more at the Islands of Adventure park map and figure out the quickest way to get to Hogwarts!  I'll go lay the map out on the dining room table!"  She hurried away to do exactly that.

JenniAnn shook her head and grinned up at Andrew.  "Obsessive maybe... but it is good to see them so happy."

Andrew smiled up at the ceiling where he could hear Max moving around and then towards the dining room.  "It is.  I just hope it's everything they've dreamed it will be.  I think they've both been daydreaming about going since the park opened."

"It'll be even better," JenniAnn assured. 

Rose poked her head back into the living room.  "JenniAnn's right.  It will be better because unlike in our daydreams... we'll all be together."

Touched, Andrew smiled at her then silently prayed.  He thanked the Father for the gift of time, fun, and togetherness that they'd been given.

*~*~*

February 13th, 2013

"I still don't really get why Max was so emotional about socks," JenniAnn mused aloud as she uploaded some video from the group's first day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  "Wait... is it a Harry Potter thing?  I mean there was that part with Dobby and the sock.  But Max was never enslaved by a dastardly bleach blonde..."

Andrew smiled and shook his head.  "For once no Harry Potter element at all.  Max wanted to tell you but he was afraid he'd tear up and he didn't want Rose to see that.  But he told me later.  I guess back when he was in grade school... well, you know how negligent his father was."  The angel frowned, still bothered by Rex Remus' continued absenteeism.  "Poor Max's socks had worn out and his gym teacher got on his case about it.  When he kept showing up with the same hole-filled socks, the guy asked him why he couldn't just ask his mother to get him some new ones.  Apparently he didn't realize Max didn't have a mother at home.  Some kids overheard and teased the poor little guy about it.  Fast forward fifteen years and here you come with twenty pairs of brand new socks... two types even.  In his mind, his mother finally came through."

JenniAnn's eyes filled with tears.  "I... I just noticed doing laundry that his were getting pretty shabby."

Andrew hugged her.  "And that's it right there, Laja... you noticed and you did something about it.  That meant a lot to Max.  And it hit something deep inside him.  All of us have deeply rooted memories and feelings and hurts and hopes and dreams.  And when something happens that brings those to the surface... we should never be ashamed of those tears.  I can tell it touched you to find out how much what you and Rose did meant to Max.  And it touches me deeply to know how much you care and how much you wanted me home.  Those tears... they're a reminder of our roots.  They are NOT some sign of a failure to get over something.  Okay?"

JenniAnn nodded, returning his hug.  "Okay."

"Good.  You know, I was thinking earlier about this tradition of ours.  And I think it's appropriate that it's all worked out as it has.  Last year we documented the beginnings of a marriage.  And this year... well, this year I feel like we're documenting a family.  We always were.  But I dunno... this year it just seems even more obvious."

"It does, doesn't it?"  JenniAnn smiled when Andrew pulled up a photograph of the two of them, Rose, Max, Adam, Violeta, Josephine, Lady Beth, C.J., Yva and Nigel huddled beneath the iconic Jurassic Park gates.  "First day of the family vacation.  I still wish everyone had been able to go but, really, with everyone's divergent schedules and obligations; it's something of a miracle we got even eleven of us together for it."

"I think so.  And at least we got to catch up with Monica, Tess, and Henry, too, that night at Bubba Gump's."  Andrew laughed when he took a good look at the photo.  "Look at how excited Max and Rose are here.  I gotta hand it to them.  As anxious as they were, they made sure not to rush Josephine.  Still... we're lucky we even got them to stand still long enough for this picture."

"I did get a kick out of watching them but I also thought it was adorable seeing how awed Violeta was by everything."

"Her first vacation," the angel of death pointed out. 

"It's just too bad it started out so rocky for her!" JenniAnn lamented.  "But she was a trooper."

Andrew looked tenderly at his protege smiling back at him from the screen.

*~*~*

"The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance."
~~Brian Tracy

February 5th, 2013


As they walked quickly past an authentic Jurassic Park Jeep, JenniAnn grabbed Andrew's arm.  "Let's run ahead.  I wanna get a shot of Max and Rose especially just as they walk across the bridge to Hogsmeade."

"Better yet, let's do video so we can hear the fanboy and girl exultations," the angel suggested.

JenniAnn giggled.  "Yes!  I like the way you think!"

They hurried ahead, soon reaching the bridge that marked the dividing line between dinosaurs and wizards, science and magic.  JenniAnn dug the camera out of her purse and handed it to Andrew.  The angel had it on and running just in time.

"Look... look, look, look!" Rose cried.  "It... it's so beautiful.  Max... Max..."  She wouldn't tear her eyes away from the castle but waved her hand around, reaching for her fellow fan.

"That's my nose, Rose," Adam informed, laughing.  He gazed up at the castle.  "It is something to see..."

Max finally came out of the stupor he'd entered upon reaching the bridge.  "We're finally here...  Hogwarts!"

"It does look so much like the movie!" Violeta exclaimed.  "Can we go in or do you just look?"

"We can go in!  There's a ride inside.  So..."  Rose looked to Andrew.

Laughing, the angel of death turned off the camera and returned it to JenniAnn.  "Hogwarts awaits."  He smiled as Rose and Max rushed ahead with Violeta at their heels.  The others followed at a far more sedate but lively pace.

Once the group was inside the castle, there were a few moments when it seemed as if it might be a struggle to keep Rose and Max from running into the depths of Hogwarts and declaring squatter's rights.  Thankfully, the group was able to keep moving through the hallowed halls.  The diehards strained to hear Professor Snape outside the Potions classroom and let out excited cries as they glimpsed Fawkes and Godric Gryffindor.  Potter fan or not, they all felt gleeful as Dumbledore himself spoke to them.  When on the ride itself, they flew through the Quidditch field and faced down Death Eaters.  Confronted with the terrible creatures, Violeta nearly burst her supervisor's ear drums by screeching in the seat beside him.  But the allure of Butterbeer and breakfast at the Three Broomsticks, along with Andrew's promises that they'd come back to the castle later, got them all out together.  After their meal, the group huddled in a small shop and watched giddily as a wand chose its wizard.  Enchanted, they listened to a troupe of beatboxing magical frogs.  Then there was sampling of pumpkin juice, Cauldron Cakes, chocolate frogs, and peppermint toads at Honeydukes.  Andrew, knowing full well he would bear the brunt of the shenanigans, looked on warily as Adam perused the merchandise at Zonko's, the on-site practical joke shop.  When the group gathered at the Hogwarts Express for another group photo, the Dyelanders' two premiere Potterphiles tried to stump the conductor with trivia and duly failed. 

And then they came face to face with the monster... the Dragon Challenge roller coaster.

"Wow..."  Andrew gawked at the massive ride.  "Look.  It's two tracks and they swoop at each other!  And look at those loops!  I'm going!"  He started to the line entrance then turned back to his friends with a grin.  "So who's with me?"

"Definitely me," C.J. responded.

"Count me in, too," Lady Beth added.

"As if you even have to ask," Rose replied, eagerly stepping near the line with Max.

"I'm looking..." Yva responded, warily eying the coaster.  "And I think I'm just going to keep looking... maybe sit with Nigel over there and watch the owls.  I want to take another look at some of the writing materials over at the Owl Post, too."

"Writing materials sounds much more inviting than that contraption," Josephine agreed.

"I'm up for it.  I love living dangerously," Adam averred with a gleam in his eye.

"Dangerous?" Violeta asked warily.

JenniAnn patted her shoulder.  "He's just teasing.  These rides are held to very high safety standards at parks like this.  But if you don't wanna go then you can sit with Yva and Nigel and Aunt Josephine."

"Of course, we'd be delighted," Nigel readily agreed.

Violeta smiled appreciatively at the guardian angel then looked from Andrew to the roller coaster and back again.  "I should probably give roller coasters a try at least once..."

"This would be one to experience if you think you'll like them, Violeta.  I read it's one of the best out there," Max enticed. 

Violeta drew in a deep breath then smiled breezily.  "Then I'll go!" 

"Then we're set!"  Andrew approached his trainee and rested his arm around her shoulders.  "It looks like there are four seats across.  How about you sit between Adam and me?"

"That sounds good.  Thanks." 

After waving to Nigel, Yva, and Josephine, the eight entered the line to the roller coaster.  Just as they did, a "dragon" sped over their heads.

"Dearest Yva and Josephine, I think our friends are not quite sane," Nigel opined.

Yva laughed.  "You've just now figured that out, Nigel?"  Laughing, the three went to go admire the animated owls while the others defied the laws of gravity and reason.

*~*~*

Ten Minutes Later...

Max nearly jumped out of the roller coaster car.  "That was..."

"Awesome!" Rose finished for him as they and the others dizzily stumbled through the Dragon Challenge exit line.

Adam paused to stare up at the track and feigned an elderly man's voice.  "Back in my day we thought Ferris Wheels were a thrill.  And we had to walk uphill ten miles each way to get to one!"

"Back in your day weren't they still trying to perfect the actual wheel?" Lady Beth teased.

Adam laughed.  "Good one."

"Rides really have come a long way," Andrew agreed.  "I loved the part where we were going all upside down and then spinning at the same time and then whoosh!...  Down that big drop!"  A goofy grin stretched across his face as he relived the ride.  "You know, I'm actually glad I don't have long hair right now.  Nothing to tame back into place."

JenniAnn smirked as she picked at her own hair.  "Tell me about it.  It was pretty exciting although... I'm feeling my age.  My stomach's somersaulting.  I'm just glad no one got..."  She did a quick head count.  Eight people had gotten on the ride... now there were seven.  "Hey, where's..."

Andrew turned in time to see JenniAnn dash off towards some bushes.  A moment later he saw that his protege appeared to be losing her breakfast.  He hastened towards the two girls, looking with concern at the angel.  "Violeta, I'm so sorry..." 

JenniAnn held the angel's hair and gently stroked her back.  "Go get some damp paper towels, please," she requested.

Andrew nodded and made his way to the nearest restroom, waving the rest of the group away.  He knew poor Violeta was going to be embarrassed enough as it was.

A few moments later, Violeta at last turned around. 

JenniAnn gave her a sympathetic smile.  "C'mon, let's go sit down."

"I don't ever want to do that again.  So embarrassing..." Violeta muttered.  "And so gross.  I've never vomited before."

"Aww, it happens to the best of us."

"B-but... I've..." Violeta lowered her voice.  "I've traveled at the speed of light and..."

"Not in this form you haven't.  Your human form must just be a little prone to motion sickness.  It'll pass.  I promise," JenniAnn consoled.

"So gross..." the angel repeated.

"We'll get you all cleaned up as soon as Andrew gets back.  Then I'm thinking you and me avoid roller coasters for the rest of this trip.  There are plenty of other things to do."

"But Andrew was so excited about them and I... I wanted to spend this time with him.  It's not that I don't want to spend time with you, too, but..."  Distressed, Violeta looked in the direction her supervisor had gone.

JenniAnn hugged the angel then steered her towards a bench.  "Trust me.  I totally understand.  But Andrew definitely doesn't want you making yourself miserable, Violeta.  Besides, I'm sure that at least for a while he's gonna wanna sit the rides out and watch over you.  It'll be okay."  She looked up to see Andrew rushing towards them with the paper towels and a bottle of Sprite.

Andrew held the bottle out to Violeta.  "No ginger ale but try this.  It'll help settle your stomach.  You feeling any better?  Do you want to go back to the hotel?"

"A little and no."  Violeta took a sip then rested her head against Andrew's shoulder when he sat down.  "Did everyone see?" she asked glumly.

Andrew shook his head.  "They know you got sick but those bushes were hiding you pretty well."

Violeta groaned and drank more soda.  "I'm going into the restroom to clean myself up a little more.  I'll be right back."

Andrew and JenniAnn frowned when she walked away. 

The angel of death shook his head.  "I shouldn't have been so eager to get on that ride.  It never occurred to me that it might make her sick.  Poor kid."

"You couldn't have known," JenniAnn defended, squeezing his hand.  "She did fine on the plane and the other ride... well, other than the screaming.  Andrew,
I'm perfectly happy to do other things with Violeta while the rest of you go on the scarier rides.  I'm sure Nigel and Yva would take her with them, too.  Same with Aunt Josephine.  But... Violeta's determined to spend this time with you and she's equally determined not to keep you from doing what you enjoy so...  Not sure how you wanna handle that."

"Maybe we could ask the others how they'd feel about going to do some of the more intimidating rides now.  Then the three of us, Aunt Josephine and Nigel and Yva, if they want, can do something else," Andrew suggested.  "Just long enough for Violeta to get over her unease and embarrassment.  Later I'm sure I'll find people to go do the rides with me again.  By then Violeta will be less rattled."

"Sounds like a plan!  And here she comes.  So... where are we headed that Violeta could reasonably think you'd want to be?"

"Carnival games?"

JenniAnn laughed.  "Really?  You like those?  Never knew that."

"Metal milk jugs shake in my presence," Andrew informed her with a mischievous grin. 

Laughing, the two rose to meet Violeta and plan with the others.

*~*~*

JenniAnn, Violeta, Nigel, Yva, and Josephine watched as Andrew picked up his second ring and, as with his first toss, landed it perfectly over the bottle.  He launched his third and fourth rings with the same precision while the man behind the booth looked on in surprise. 

"Four out of four," he announced.  "You win.  Pick a prize."

Andrew turned to his protege.  "Violeta, why don't you come pick something out?"

"Really?  Me?" 

"Sure."

The three women looked on in admiration, touched by Andrew's gesture. 

"Purple unicorn," JenniAnn whispered to Yva and Josephine as a beaming Violeta selected her prize.  "Kinda touching to know the unicorn fascination transcends angel and human lines.  That's what I woulda picked at fifteen, too."

Once she had the unicorn, Violeta practically skipped over to the women to show it off. 

"What are you going to name it, honey?" Josephine asked.

Violeta intently studied the horned horse then nodded resolutely.  "Andrea."

Yva smiled.  "Fitting.  I think Andrew will like that."

When they turned back to inform Andrew that he had a new namesake, the four noticed he was staring across the way while Nigel grimaced beside him.

"What's going on?" Yva asked her guardian angel.

"That child won a prize but is having a disagreement with his mother," he explained.

Wordlessly, Andrew crossed over to the booth the mother and child stood in front of.  He took the place beside them, setting a five dollar bill down.

Grateful for a break from the awkward scene, the woman behind the counter activated the water gun in front of the angel.

Andrew's friends crowded around him, watching as they listened. 

"But I won!  I get to pick my prize!" the little boy cried, casting a disapproving glance at the plush animal on the counter.

"Trevor, sweetheart, don't you think you'd rather have this nice blue dragon?  Pink unicorns are just... well, they aren't really for boys."

"But I love the pink unicorn, mommy."

JenniAnn gasped quietly.  "It's like Mother, Mother..."

"Not if I can help it," Andrew declared as his gaze remained fixed on the game.

Violeta frowned and stroked her unicorn's mane, wondering how she would have felt if Andrew had told her she couldn't have it because it was for boys.

Andrew stayed focused on the stream of water coming from his gun, systematically downing the bizarre plastic creatures sliding past him. 

"Geez!  That's really cool!  You got them all," the worker enthused.  "I've never seen anyone do that.  Well, pick a prize.  You can get one of the big ones."

Sidetracked by the impressive feat, the little boy and his mother had turned to Andrew. 

"Naw, that's okay.  I'll take that pink unicorn there, please," the angel requested.

Trevor sighed. 

Once Andrew had the toy, he turned to the child and crouched down.  "Hey so, I need to get on a plane in a couple days and won't have room to pack this in my bag.  Do you think your dragon could use a friend?"

His eyes lighting up, the little boy nodded and reached out towards the plush animal then paused and looked up at his mother.

The woman rolled her eyes at Andrew and opened her mouth to speak.

Standing up, Andrew spoke first, his tone hushed.  "Sometimes a pink unicorn is more than a pink unicorn.  I think we both realize that, Cassandra.  God gave you a precious gift in your son.  Accept that gift for who he is and who he will be."

The annoyance drained from the woman's face and she let out a short gasp.  "How did you know my..."

Trevor yanked on her sleeve.  "Mommy, can I take it?"

Cassandra finally tore her gaze away from Andrew to glance at her boy.  Swallowing a lump in her throat, she looked back to Andrew.  "You're right.  Thank you."  She smiled down at Trevor.  "Say thank you to the nice man."

Trevor's smile spread from ear to ear as Andrew handed him the unicorn.  "Thank you!"

"You're welcome.  I hope you and your mommy have a great rest of the day."  Andrew tousled the boy's hair then stepped away from the booth and began walking.

"Well done, my friend!" Nigel enthused as he followed Andrew.

Just as she turned to leave, Yva noticed that JenniAnn remained still and was staring after Andrew.  The woman laughed and gave her friend's arm a pull while a smiling Josephine lightly pushed JenniAnn.  "Let's go.  One foot in front of the other," Yva directed her.  "You can gush over him later.  We both can."

"Best supervisor ever..." Violeta murmured before rushing after Andrew and hugging him.

*~*~*

February 13th, 2013


"The purple unicorn..." JenniAnn smiled at the photograph of Violeta.  "It reminds me of the pink unicorn...  You were so amazing with little Trevor.  And his mother.  So... I take it that was all a 'God thing'?  You winning, knowing his mom's name..."

"Yes and no.  The Father told me her name.  He had a message for her that she needed to hear.  The winning... that was... well, everything's a God thing.  But that was also lots and lots of practice.  Remember my Twirl-a-Rama assignment?" Andrew chuckled at the memory.

"How could I forget?"

"Yeah, well, when things were slow with the carnival, Adam and I would get to know our fellow carnies by playing their games and talking with them.  We both got to be pretty good.  Came in handy last week.  The pink unicorn... it was more than a stuffed toy.  Kids... they internalize so much.  Think about Max with the socks.  And it's like you said: the movie.  John's character latched onto that teddy bear his mom wouldn't let him have as a symbol of her rejection and I just... I couldn't let it happen for real," Andrew declared, tracing the outline of his mouse pad.  "I have no idea if Trevor is gay but it was pretty obvious to me he isn't whatever his mother thought a typical boy should be.  But he's who God made him to be!  And I really hope that now Cassandra continues to accept Trevor for who he is."  The angel of death ran his hand over his hair and glanced at his friend.  He stared at JenniAnn for a moment, trying to read her expression.  "Laja, you okay?"

Startled, JenniAnn looked into the angel's eyes then back to the photograph of Violeta.  "Yes.  Sorry.  I heard everything.  Just zoned out.  I hope Cassandra is there for her boy, too."

Andrew turned back to the laptop and frowned.  On several occasions since he'd gotten back from Afghanistan, the angel of death had sensed something in his friend... something that always seemed just beyond his grasp.  Yet he could never bring himself to make any more than a polite inquiry.

JenniAnn patted Andrew's arm as he clicked to the next photo.  "I think she will be," she continued breezily.  "She seemed pretty struck.  And like she knew there was something about you... something that made you impossible to not listen to.  And... I think Violeta took a lot from that, too.  I love her dearly but you know how she can be.  She's very attentive to social mores.  Now, if she ever is assigned to someone who doesn't fit the mold, don't you think she'll remember that moment and maybe... soften her response a bit?"

"That's probably true.  She really paid that much attention?" the angel of death asked. 

"Absolutely.  I wish you could have seen her face as she watched you with Trevor and his mom.  There was awe and pride but something deeper... she saw in that moment that no matter what she ever says or does that you will always, always love her.  I know she's not human.  She's not a teenage girl in the same way I was a teenage girl and I know you're not her dad.  But there are similarities and it's HUGE, at that age, to know that someone supports you and accepts you just as you are... especially when that someone is the person you love and admire most, second only to God."

Andrew briefly rested his head on his friend's.  "Thanks.  I hope Violeta never forgets that."

"I don't think you'll let her.  And I sure..."  JenniAnn burst out laughing and sat up when Andrew clicked into a folder of photos from their second full day of their trip.  "The girl's got talent.  Great photo!"

With a sheepish smile and shake of his head, Andrew looked at a photo of himself attacking a burger in the Jurassic Park section of the park.  Violeta had taken it after borrowing his phone ostensibly to photograph the park's gorgeous flowers.  The angel's expression grew softer as he shifted to the next image.  His protege had indeed captured some vibrant lilies but what caught Andrew's eye was Max in the background.  The young man looked pensive and Andrew knew just what had been on his mind.

*~*~*

"Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.
~~Anthony Brandt

February 6th, 2013


The group spent their second morning together.  They shared breakfast at a pastry shop in Universal Studios before taking in a couple shows.  They toured the mock-ups of American cities, visited Shrek and Co., and got turned into Minions at the Despicable Me attraction.  After lunch they broke into smaller groups with some remaining in the shopping-heavy Universal Studios and others heading back to the Islands of Adventure.  So it was that Andrew found himself back in the Jurassic Park Welcome Center with Max, Rose, JenniAnn, and Violeta.

"So... Andrew... How about you critique the dinosaurs for us?" Max asked quietly as he, Rose, JenniAnn, Violeta, and the angel of death milled around the raptor hatching area and an informational display on DNA harvesting.  "Ya know, tell us about how they compare to the real deal."

Beside him, Rose began to giggle.

Andrew shot Max a faux-angry glare then smiled.  "Did Rose put you up to asking that?"

"Maybe..." Max deflected.

The angel of death laughed.  "All right.  I'll critique but I'm not telling you whether it's from memory or what I heard."  Andrew stood near the grand staircase and began to turn in a circle, taking in all of the fake dinosaurs.  "That dude should be more brown.  That guy should be a few feet taller but the coloring is great."

Max chuckled.  "Informative.  How about that triceratops?"

"Just about right."  Andrew tilted his head.  "But that T-Rex over there is too scrawny... although I guess it could just be malnourished.  Or maybe they just seemed bigger when they were chasing me..."

The three humans and angel-in-training gaped at Andrew.

Andrew laughed again and shook his head.  "I'm kidding!  I was never in danger of being dino food.  But, for the record, that dilophosaurus is incredibly accurate in the face... not so much the neck thingy and... the raptor drinking a Coke is really off... although the Coke looks good.  As do the fries the anachronistic apatosaurus is holding."

Delighted that Andrew's appetite was at full force, a bemused JenniAnn jumped at the opportunity to get him to eat.  "Well... as it happens... Rose's and my eyes were caught by that display of amber jewelry back in the gift shop."

"Was that really a bug in that jewelry?" Violeta interrupted, her brow furrowed.

"Yep!  Can't say that was what I was gonna look for but you wanna come with Rose and me?"

"Sure."

"Cool."  JenniAnn turned to Andrew and Max.  "And maybe you guys could go get a snack while we peruse?"

"I'm game," Max agreed.

"I could go for a brontosaurus burger... and fries," Andrew added.

Rose smiled at Andrew's expansive interpretation of the word "snack."  "All right.  Fred, Barney... we'll meet you over at the restaurant in a little bit."

Once the three ladies had turned back towards the gift shop, Andrew and Max crossed over to "The Burger Digs" then sat down at a table where the girls would be able to see them when they were through.  Their chosen spot had the added bonus of being some distance from other park guests allowing for less restricted conversation.  This fact was not lost on Max.

"So... all dinosaur contemporary joking aside... I know your age is a big secret," the man began in between bites of his burger, "but you're obviously... up there."

Andrew took a sip of his Coke and grinned.  "You could say that."

"It's... well, it's daunting sometimes.  To think about that.  Someone who, for all I know, actually met a dinosaur... knows me...  cares about me."

The angel smiled tenderly at the man.  "Max, even if you'd never met me, there would still be Someone who met a dinosaur and cares about you and knows you."

Max grinned.  "I know...  But I don't sit on God's couch eating His leftover pizza and watching football with Him."

Andrew chuckled.  "This is true." 

Max was quiet for a few moments, drinking his shake.  Andrew could tell he was parsing his thoughts.  Finally, Max was ready to proceed.

"In the past... however long that was for you... did you have other..." Max waved to where he could see the three girls bent over a jewelry case.  "Families?"

"Well... I've always considered the angels I work with family.  Really, we're all family.  Children of the same Father.  And I've certainly had assignments I grew very close to.  In fact, there's one family whose AOD I've been for generations.  But..."  The angel of death shook his head.  "Nothing like what we all have.  I never imagined being part of anything like this.  This... it's a once in a lifetime thing, Max.  Even when that lifetime is an eternity.  And I'm gonna make the most of it for as long as I can." 

As Andrew's gaze traveled from him to the women and back, Max beamed.  There was no mistaking Andrew loved them all and took none of their love for granted.  His decision to age along with them made that abundantly clear.  However, it also caused Max some concern.  He'd yet to say anything about it but right then it was pressing on him and he decided it was high time to speak up.  "There's something else I found myself thinking about as you did your dinosaur schtick.  Regardless of when you were born, you've always basically looked like you do right now, right?"

Andrew swallowed a fry and nodded.  "Right."

"But one day... you won't."

"Also right."

"But... how's that going to work?  I mean say you start aging tomorrow.  Sixty years go by and you're 96.  You can only age for so long.  At one point will you 'freeze' or something?  Start going backwards?  And... and are you still going to be happy about that when... when we're gone?"  Max frowned.  "Sorry.  This is vacation and I'm going all philosophical.  I'm blaming that massive reminder of my own mortality over there."  He waved to a scaled replica of a complete dinosaur fossil across the street.

Amused, Andrew swiveled around to look at the formation .  "So that's what that is... and here I thought it was a iguanodon."

"Ha ha..."

The angel was smiling as he calmly turned back to Max.  "The truth is... I don't know.  I think about it sometimes.  And I wonder.  I have my theories.  But I don't know.  What I do know is that, whatever happens, it's the Father's will.  And... and I know that a family doesn't end just because some of its members die.  Bodies die.  Spirits don't.  And love doesn't die, either.  So even when that happens: Trust me, we'll still be in touch."

Max quietly considered this.  It was easy to imagine growing old along with Andrew and the others.  He'd seen people grow old.  But he couldn't fathom what their lives or relationships would be like in Heaven.

"We will," the angel assured.  Wanting to restore some levity, Andrew looked back over to the gift shop then turned to Max.  He tilted his head as if puzzled.  "Hey, do you think JenniAnn's spirit will come back and give me a hand with the laundry?  I'm not sure I'll be able to handle those stairs back home at 120."

Max laughed.  "I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes.  And, if it's possible for spirits to obtain clothing, she'll probably see to it that you're kept in the height of centenarian fashion.  And she'll probably have help.  I wonder how old her spirit would appear to be?  Would she be visible to others?  Could be scandalous..."

Andrew struggled to keep the sip of soda he'd just taken from spraying all over the place.  Once the danger was over he grinned at Max.   "Good to think I might still inspire some gossip in my old age."  Then he noticed that the three women were headed their way.  "Here the girls come."  He drew out his pocket watch.  "As soon as we finish eating, we should probably head over to the Universal Studios side so we can meet up with the others in time for the parade.  So... you okay?"

Max nodded, smiling brightly.  "I'm okay.  Thanks for the talk."

"Any time."

"So how's the snack?" Rose asked as she plopped down beside Max.

Max pushed a basket of fries towards her.  "It's... enlightening."

Curious, Rose took a few fries then looked over to Andrew who gave her a nonchalant smile as he handed his camera phone over to his trainee.  "Well, good," she finally responded, looking on with a grin as a mischievous Violeta snapped an unflattering shot of her supervisor.

*~*~*

February 13th, 2013


After surreptitiously adding the burger photo, JenniAnn slid one of Andrew and Max into the storyboard.  "I think we would have had a wonderful time regardless of when we'd gone to Orlando but... I'm glad we took this trip post-introduction of Max.  It was good to see you two having so much fun together and just... vegging.  I mean not that we don't see that here but, ya know... vacation's just different.  It's so..."

"Free," Andrew finished, resting his hand over hers.

"Yes... free."

"It flew by so fast.." Andrew commented as he came to the last image from the 6th and moved onto the 7th, the final full day in Orlando.

"It did...  But it really was... no pun intended... magical.  I think that last night was my favorite.  Everyone had gotten to do everything they wanted to do and we could just relax."  JenniAnn sighed as Andrew came to the photographs of the entire group seated on the patio of the Three Broomsticks, sipping Butterbeers and digging into plates of fish and chips. 

"Agreed.  So... you ready to watch the video from that night?"

"Sure."

After grabbing some tea, the two sat back and relived that night.

*~*~*

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family; whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."
~~Jane Howard

February 7th, 2013


"So what was everyone's favorite part of the trip?" Andrew asked from behind his camera. 

"Seeing Hogwarts," Max replied without hesitation. 

Rose nodded.  "I got goosebumps the first time I saw it off there in the distance.  And we can now say we were in the same room as Dumbledore and Harry and Hermione and Ron.  Sort of."

"I quite enjoyed those delightful singing frogs," Nigel added.

"The Dragon Challenge," Adam concluded after some thought.  "That thing's great.  We should get one back home."

C.J. smiled.  "I could go for that.  And maybe one of those big water rides like that Jurassic Park one."

Violeta wrinkled her nose.  "You won't have to tussle with me for a spot in line with the roller coaster, Adam.  But I did like the castle ride even if those Death Eaters were scary.  And I love my unicorn."  She smiled at Andrew.

"I loved the whole thing with Trevor's unicorn," JenniAnn added, looking tenderly at Andrew.

Lady Beth grinned.  "Andrew, I think you've fueled JenniAnn's love for you for at least a good century with that."

Andrew blushed as JenniAnn quietly asserted that she'd hardly been in need of any more fuel on that front. 

"I thought that Beetlejuice show was a lot of fun and I was very impressed by the musicians.  I'm glad we took time for that.  It made me feel like a kid again.  A lot of this trip did."  Yva stood to hug Andrew who handed the camera off to JenniAnn.  "Thanks for that."

"So, Andrew, what was your favorite part?" JenniAnn questioned as she leveled the camera at him.

"The food."

Everyone laughed.

Andrew smiled.  "The food really was great but I think it was just having this time together.  With no worries, no crises, no problems."  He took a sip of his Butterbeer then smiled at the group.  "I, uh, I'm really grateful to Mick, Beth, and Josef for getting us here.  I loved having this time away to just... just have fun with all of you."

"Thank you for choosing to bring us here, Andrew," Rose responded.  "We know you probably had other places you wanted to go like maybe Paris but... you brought us here."

"I just wanted to go somewhere that as many of us as possible could enjoy," Andrew explained.  "Because I..."  His voice became gravelly and he looked at them all with a shaky smile.  "Excuse me if I'm going a little Hagridesque here but... I love all of you and... and you all saw me through what was... well, it was one of the darkest chapters in my life.  But even during that..."

Adam quickly grabbed the camera when he saw JenniAnn was beginning to shake.

Andrew took in a deep breath and soldiered on.  "God gave me a lot of light amid that darkness... His light and your light.  And now... now here we are together.  In Hogsmeade of all places."  He laughed as he brushed away a tear.  "I know that we'll share many, many memories in the future but I want to always hold onto this memory of us here right now... sipping Butterbeer in Hogsmeade under the stars... together.  Always."

Max raised his mug.  "To always."

"Always," the others echoed, smiling at each other as the moon and stars shown down on them.  

*~*~*

February 13, 2013

JenniAnn hugged Andrew as the segment ended.  "Your words are still as touching and dear as they were that night..."

"And still as sincerely meant," he responded. 

"And now... we're nearly done.  We just have the finale.  So... it was your turn to pick the final song.  What did you go with?"

"Well..."  Andrew dragged a song file into place.  "I know it seems to be a parent singing to their baby.  And I'm sure it is.  But for the most part... I thought it was perfect.  These are my hopes and prayers for everyone."

Preparing to start crying again, JenniAnn nodded.  "Well, let's hear it then."

Andrew pressed play and sat back on the couch with JenniAnn.  Unlike the previous segments which had gone chronologically, the finale incorporated video and snapshots from through out the year.  He watched as his friend's eyes misted.  Tears welled in his own eyes as the images flew by until, finally, the screen faded to black.  Only the word "Always" in white glowing letters remained.

JenniAnn swiped at her eyes.  "Andrew, it... it's perfect.  A perfect ending.  A perfect song.  I'd never heard it before but... I love it."  She settled into his waiting hug.  "So... you think you'll be up for this next year?"

"I can't imagine why not.  I love this," the angel affirmed.  "I'm sure there will be changes ahead but I don't want this tradition to end.  Ever.  I vote we keep doing this even when we both have bifocals and gray hair... or no hair."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Okay!  No matter what happens, the tradition will live on."

"Good!  So... can I finalize the movie and call it a year?" Andrew checked. 

"Yep.  Hey, you know what I've really realized this past year?"

The angel set the video program running then stood to stretch before turning to his friend.  "What's that?"

"Just how many ways there are to show someone you love them.  With socks and with unicorns and a bottle of Sprite."

Andrew smiled.  "With jeans and paper clips and psalms late at night."

Getting to her feet, JenniAnn giggled at the rhyme.  "An all expenses paid vacation and music and taking in a roommate and horse rides and dance."

"Seven course breakfasts and fairy tales.  Mini Christmas trees and a file full of medical notes.  Shark teeth and new romance."

Sighing, a smiling JenniAnn shook her head.  "So many of these I wouldn't have thought to say a year ago.  So much has changed this year.  I wonder what else will change?"

Andrew hugged his friend.  "I don't know, Laja.  But I believe that whatever change comes our way... we'll all face it together.  And who knows?  Maybe we'll be even happier for it?"

"I truly hope so."

"Me too.  And God's gonna be with us through it all.  Always."  Andrew looked down at her with his most reassuring smile.

"Always..." JenniAnn murmured.  She rested her head against his shoulder and prayed.

*~*~*

Exactly one year later...

*~*~*

"Where are those photos from the Alaskan cruise?" Max shouted.

Rose poked her head out from his kitchen.  "I think I put them in a folder in My Pictures.  Maybe it's just called Summer 2013?"

"Shoot..."

Rose laughed.  "What now?"

"I accidentally deleted the Christmas footage from out of the storyboard.  I'll add it back."

The woman re-entered the room carrying two mugs of Butterbeer.  "Maybe if you weren't trying to multitask everything..."

"I just want to make sure we get this done.  From what I hear, it's a pretty big deal.  I don't want to be the one in charge when 7 years of tradition gets ruined!" Max fretted.

"It's not going to get ruined.  If the documentary isn't as polished as it's been in past years... trust me, everyone will understand.  It's not like we were expecting to do this.  But since Andrew and JenniAnn can't..."

Max smiled at the thought of his friends.  "What do you think they're doing right now?"

Rose grinned.  "Probably not sleeping either.  And I bet they've gone for stronger stuff than cocoa by now."

"Probably."  Max bit his lip and flipped through some photos.  "Everything will work out, won't it?"

Rose hugged him.  "Yeah.  It will.  It has to."  She took Max's hands in hers, bowed her head, and together they began to pray.

*~*~*

JenniAnn woke with a start.  Despite her exhaustion, she leapt out of bed and dashed into her hastily remodeled office.  Her nerves settled when she saw Andrew was already there, singing softly.  A lump formed in the woman's throat as she recognized the words.

"'It's only for a moment you are mine to hold.  The plans that heaven has for you will all too soon unfold.  So many different prayers I'll pray for all that you might do,'" the angel crooned to the bundle in his arms.  He stopped when he saw JenniAnn.  "Hi Laja.  I was hoping I could console her before the crying woke you up.  Guess not."

JenniAnn looked at the angel with a weary but enamored smile.  "Thanks.  But I don't mind.  Do you think I could just sit with you two and listen?"

"Of course.  Do you want to take her?" the angel offered.

JenniAnn shook her head, sensing that Andrew didn't really want to relinquish the baby.  "No, she looks very comfortable with you."

"Thanks."  Andrew took a seat on the couch he'd been using as a bed and squeezed his friend's hand when she nestled beside him.  Together they gazed down at the infant.  "Look Annabelle.  Mommy's here now, too," the angel cooed.

JenniAnn let out a ragged breath at hearing the prized title directed to her.  "Andrew... not yet.  Something could still... what if..."  She ran her hand over the baby's shock of hair.  A tear slid down her cheek when Annabelle's tiny fingers curled around one of hers.  "What if something happens and the adoption falls through?" she asked almost inaudibly.

Andrew shook his head and cupped her chin.  "It won't.  You're her mother.  I know this, Laja.  I... Laja, I've known it from that first moment you found us."

JenniAnn tore her gaze away from Annabelle and peered up at Andrew.  Her nerves settled as she beamed at him, stroking his hair behind his ear.  "Thank you.  Andrew, I..." 

The baby squalled as if she realized all eyes were not on her.

JenniAnn laughed and
bent to kiss the downy head.  "My Belle..." she murmured.
 
Andrew smiled.  "Belle.  I like that.  It suits her and... it's very appropriate." 

JenniAnn nodded.  "Our Belle."  Her eyes closed briefly as she thought of the rose... Andrew's rose now completely and brilliantly red. 

The angel settled the baby into the crook of his left arm and wrapped his right around his friend's shoulders.  "Do you remember what we were doing a year ago tonight?"

"Working on the video, as usual.  Still so grateful that Max and Rose could take over after... well, after everything.  It is strange how..."  The woman bit her lip then cut herself off.

"What's strange, Laja?" Andrew gently prodded.  "Talk to me.  Please."

"A year ago tonight you told me about Max and the reason behind his reaction to those socks and I... I was touched for him but also cause, well..."  JenniAnn blushed.  She met Andrew's concerned gaze.  She had so few secrets from him.  Maybe it was time to let another go.  "Andrew, I... I really did want to be a mother.  I mean I was happy to be motherly towards Max and I still really am but... we spent that night reliving the Orlando trip and how you were with Violeta and especially with the lil boy who wanted the unicorn and I just... wanted more.  And after having Shelby so close by while you were in Afghanistan and then staying with you for a while and... 
It made me not want to be alone anymore.  Something... something I thought I was content to do without... or only have pieces of... suddenly became absolutely necessary.  I... I wanted so badly..."  JenniAnn wrapped a blanket more securely around Annabelle.  "I wanted this.  And I was so afraid that... that it wouldn't happen and that I'd draw away from you and...  A year to the day... here we are.  With Annabelle."  She again caressed the infant's hair and gazed into her sweet face.

"The Father knew, Laja," Andrew responded, his voice thick with love for his Father.  "He heard you.  He always does.  And He... well, He heard from us both that night."  Annabelle let out a tiny sigh which the angel echoed before continuing to speak.  "Laja, before you came in here I... well, I wasn't really sleeping.  I was just... watching her.  And thinking about last year.  Remember how you wondered what changes would come our way?  Did you say that because you were worried about us?"

Brushing at a tear, JenniAnn nodded.

"Now you don't have to worry any more."  Andrew nestled Annabelle closer.  "She's a very good change." 

Half-laughing and half-crying, JenniAnn nodded.  "Yes.  A very good change and a wonderful blessing."

Andrew began to sing again, remembering when he had first played the song for JenniAnn.  Though they had both loved it, neither had realized how prescient his choice then had been.

Snuggled against her uncle and caressed by her mother, Annabelle drifted to sleep to the song that would always be her lullaby.

"I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage
To dare to do great things.
I'm here for you whatever this life brings.
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings."

When he had finished, Andrew noticed that the song had succeeded in lulling the sleep deprived JenniAnn, too.  He smiled at the two sleeping forms and once again let his mind wander back to the previous Valentine's eve.  He remembered the rhymed litany of ways to show love that he and JenniAnn had composed.  Now he had so much more to add: 2 AM feedings and diapers, a desperate run in the night, and the guidance of a Homeless Man who kept true to His words: I'm always with you.

Andrew rolled his head back onto the couch cushions and stared up at the ceiling.  "I love You.  Thank You," he whispered.  The angel chuckled when the response came.

"I love you, too.  Get some rest.  You have 54 minutes before the little one's diaper is going to need changing.  Happy Valentine's Day, Andrew."

"Happy Valentine's Day," the angel echoed before drifting off to an all too brief sleep as a dove alighted on the windowsill and kept watch.

The End

Credit where credit is due: I recently traveled to Universal Studios and had a wonderful time so yay them!  And, of course, much of this story would not exist without J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.  Ditto for Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and the movies it inspired.  But I especially wanted to say a bit about Mother, Mother.  I think of that movie every time I see carnival games.  In the film, John's character (Jeff) recalls winning a carnival game as a boy and really wanting a red and black teddy bear.  However, his mother felt it was too "dramatic" and made him get a blue and white one.  And that poor guy hung onto that memory and its implications for 20 or so years.  So... when I was thinking of vacation-related highlights I wanted in this story, I knew I really wan
ted a scene of Andrew winning a stuffed toy for a kid.  And because these Valentine's stories have a special place in my heart now given the 2011 Valentine's tale was the first full-length story I wrote after John's death and thus a sign that things could and would go on... seemed fitting to make the nod to my most favorite of his films.  Finally, the lyrics to the song Andrew sings are from "Find Your Wings" by Mark Harris.  Beautiful song I just happened upon as I wrote this.

Author's note: So in the 2010 story, Andrew's decision to age became known.  I had decided to go this route for several reasons but chief among them was this: I truly hoped John Dye would get another TV show or array of movies and that we could then use those photos in JABB newsletters as shots of Andrew.  Obviously, John was going to age and so Andrew would need to also for that to work.  But then John passed away.  I really, really wished that I'd never started with the whole "Andrew is going to age" thing because what had once seemed so interesting became very sad.  I didn't want Andrew to get to grow old when John couldn't.  But those of you who know me know that I'm too set on continuity to all of a sudden drop something.  Plus, the more I thought about it, the more appropriate it felt to continue on as I planned.  No, John is not going to age along with us on Earth.  But his legacy, his compassion, and the peace he brought to us all... that's gonna be with us until we go to Heaven, too.  And in the 2010 story, that was Andrew's chief reason for wanting to age: so that he could be with his friends until they went to Heaven... and beyond.  So this newsletter is dedicated to that peace that John's performance as Andrew brought me.  I know it's not always going to be easy to write for an aging Andrew.  But I know I can without getting overwhelmingly sad.  Because John's life *is* continuing... on the Side where he once assured us life also is.

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(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.)