"We're so much more than blood, we're more than names.
We're bound by bonds that only God sustains.
But this time of year we all gather here
and I always know I'm home."
~~from Dave Barnes' song "Family Tree"

Hi all!

Merry Christmas!  I hope you're all very much enjoying the holiday season!

So... due to time constraints, computer issues, and Christmas just really sneaking up on me; I'm still working on the annual Christmas story.  The good news is that I'm almost done.  I've not quite decided whether to add a bit here every day between now and Christmas Day or just put it all up at once.  Either way, I intend to have it completely posted here by Christmas Day.  (The easter egg and dedication will be added once I'm finished.)  But for right now... enjoy a lil Christmas Past and a lil Christmas Present.

God bless,

PS- I'm not going to send an email upon completion of the story so please just keep checking here.  Thanks!

The Family Tree

BC/AD        December 19th        December 20th        December 21st

December 22nd        December 23rd        December 24th        December 25th


Circa 15 BC

Yosef grumbled to himself as he followed his mother, Samiya, and kept hold of his little brother's hand.  He was much too old to be going along on this visit to Hannah.  He wished he could have stayed with his father and watched him work.  Hannah did not even have any children to play with.  Well, except for the new baby.  And she was a girl.

When they arrived at Hannah's and Yehoyakim's house, Yosef spied several of the men gathered in the yard.  He headed towards them.

Samiya pulled him back.  "Yosef!  You stay with me.  You are a little boy, not a man... not yet.  Mind Ma...  Oh, Matthan!"

Yosef looked over to find that his brother had somehow gotten a hold of a clump of wool and was trying to eat it.  He attempted to pull the wool away but Matthan began to scream.

"Sorry, Ama..."  Yosef murmured as Samiya hoisted Matthan onto her hip and extracted the wool.  He sighed with relief when his mother ruffled his hair.

"All is well now."  Samiya smiled down at her eldest son.  "Do you not want to see the new baby?"

Yosef shrugged.  In truth, he loved babies.  But he was nearly five now and he was convinced that it was time for him to focus on the world of men.

"We will not stay long," Samiya promised.  She held out her hand to the boy.  "Come along."

Yosef took his mother's hand and followed her into the house.  Women were crowded around Hannah, oohing and aahing over the bundle in her lap.

"Oh, Hannah, she is such a beauty..." the rabbi's wife complimented.  "You and Yehoyakim must be so pleased."

"God has truly blessed us," Hannah replied.  She tore her gaze away from her daughter and smiled at the newcomers.  "Samiya!  I am so pleased you came.  Yosef and Matthan, too."

Yosef blushed as all the women turned to them.  Some reached out to stroke his hair and pat his cheeks.  

"Perhaps Yosef has come to stake an early claim upon his wife," one of the women teased, causing a few of the others to laugh.

Horrified by the idea, Yosef buried his burning face in his mother's robe.  He was not going to leave his Abi and Ama!  He was never, ever going to get married... especially not to that baby.

The rabbi's wife clucked her tongue.  "Oh, Tirzah!  Look, you have embarrassed the poor child."  

Samiya set Matthan down to toddle among the women.  She knelt by Yosef.  "She is only teasing."  Smiling tenderly, Samiya cupped the boy's chin.  "I have no intention of letting you go for many, many years, my boy."

Calmed, Yosef returned his mother's smile.  In spite of himself, he glanced over towards the baby.  

After giving a gentle smile to the boy, Hannah looked up at her friend.  "Please, come meet my Maryam, Samiya."

Samiya looked down at her firstborn and, when he nodded, they approached the mother and child together.

The baby opened her eyes when they were near.  Yosef stared into them.  He was sure they were the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.  Transfixed, he reached for her flailing hand then stopped, looking to Hannah and his mother and back again.  

Hannah squeezed the boy's hand.  "Would you like to hold her?"

Without thinking, Yosef nodded.  

Tirzah smirked.  "What did I say?"

Samiya glowered at her.  "Yosef has always been very good with little ones.  That is all.  He is a godsend with Matthan."  She turned her back on the other woman and lifted Yosef into a chair.

Hannah stood, lowered the baby into the little boy's arms, and knelt beside him.  "Very good.  That is the perfect way to hold a baby," she praised when Yosef raised his elbow to elevate Maryam's head.

Yosef smiled at Hannah then gazed back down at the infant.

Samiya hugged Hannah's arm and walked her back to her cot where they watched over their children.

Soon the women began to visit with each other and Yosef picked up on snippets of the conversation.

"A shame she is a girl," one of them whispered.  "At Hannah's age she is likely the one and only."

Yosef scowled and lowered his head to speak to the baby.  "Do not listen to her."

"Jochebed is right.  She is a beauty.  They will do well with her bride price."

"If they do not lose her to the Romans first.  They could barely pay the taxes last..."


Appalled, Yosef cuddled the baby closer.  He was surprised by the words he found himself murmuring to her.  "I promise I will never let anything bad happen to you, Maryam."  He sealed his promise with a smile.

Yosef was sure the baby smiled back at him.


Circa 1 AD

Yosef eyes filled with tears as he paced outside the stable.

"I promise I will never let anything bad happen to you, Maryam."

A fine job he had done keeping his word!  His wife was giving birth on the floor of a stable with the aid of two women she had never before set eyes on who seemed to resent being called upon in the middle of the night... as if midwives should expect that babies would only be born at convenient times!

Neither of their mothers were there... none of Maryam's kinswomen.  And instead of the warmth and simple beauty of their house, Maryam was laboring in a drafty, dirty stable with only Yoktan there to represent home and comfort.

Yosef found himself envying the donkey for being allowed so near to Maryam.  He trembled when her cries filled the air.

The innkeeper held a cup out to him, offering a drink.

Yosef shook his head.

"She will be fine," the man consoled.  "They usually are."

Yosef blinked at him.  "Usually..." he choked out.

"I will pray it is a boy.  A good, strong son for you," the man continued.

"He is a boy," Yosef numbly replied.

The man chuckled.  "So certain.  Do you, ah, know a trick?"

Yosef glared.

Maryam cried out again.

"Maryam..." Yosef moaned.

And then he made his decision.  He bolted towards the stable's entrance.

"Get back here!  Do you want to make yourself unclean?" the innkeeper bellowed.

The midwives were so focused on Maryam that neither noticed Yosef.  His wife, however, did.

"Yosef..."  Maryam released the rope Sarai, the eldest of the midwives had tied to the ceiling for her use during contractions.  She settled back against the piled hay, smiled weakly, and held her hand out to her husband.  She knew it was improper to have him there but God had blessed her with a pious but exceedingly compassionate husband.  She longed to have Yosef near and silently prayed in thanks for him.

"Go!  This is no place for you!" Sarai shouted at Yosef.

Yoktan brayed in protest of her harshness.

Yosef had eyes and ears only for his beloved.  She looked so pale and worn but still so lovely.  If being near her meant being unclean then he would be unclean.

"Maryam..."  Yosef murmured as he went to her side.

"I am here, my love," he whispered into her ear, kissing her cheek.  He reached for her hand and frowned when he saw the rope burn on her palm.  He softly kissed it.

Maryam wept.  "What if... if... I... I cannot... do... th-this..."

"You can," Yosef assured.  He lowered his voice.  "You were chosen for that reason.  You... you can bear it all, my Maryam."

"With God... with you..." Maryam whispered, her voice hoarse.  She attempted a smile but it soon contorted.

Yosef knelt behind his wife and wrapped his arms around her.  "I will not leave you," he promised.  "I... I will not let you go."

Maryam rested her head against his upper arm as her breathing quickened.

"Oh, let him be, Irit!  Let him be!" Sarai screeched at her assistant.  "There is no time to bother with him!"

Yosef became aware that the woman was tugging on his arm, trying to pull him away.

"Nazarenes..." Irit muttered before releasing Yosef and returning to Sarai's side.

Yosef kept tight hold of Maryam as the contractions grew more intense.  After each one, she sunk against him.

"Could I have a damp cloth, please?" Yosef requested of the two women.

Irit begrudgingly handed him one.

Yosef gently dabbed at Maryam's face.

"You are doing so well, my love.  So well," he encouraged.

In spite of her discomfort, Maryam managed a small smile.


Her words were cut off by another wave of pain.

"Push, girl!" Sarai ordered.

Yosef's breath caught in his throat when Maryam shoulders pressed suddenly and fiercely against his chest.

"I can see the child's head!" Irit shouted.

Yosef grinned.  "Maryam!  His head!"

When she made no response nor, indeed, any sound; Yosef looked down at his wife.

Her eyes were closed and tears were streaming down her face.  She knew that the moment the child left her body, she would never be able to protect him as utterly as she had during the nine months he had grown inside her.

"I... love... you, my... own..."

Knowing the words were not for him, Yosef rested his cheek against Maryam's hair.  He sensed something holy and profound was passing between his wife and the child.

"Once more!" Sarai directed.

Maryam's eyes fluttered open.  She sat up straighter and gripped Yosef's arm.

Yosef tightened his embrace.

Maryam cried out again.  Her own voice was beginning to falter when a shrill cry responded.

"Maryam... Maryam..." Yosef intoned, not knowing what else to say.  He craned his neck and tried to see the baby.

Sarai and Irit were silent.

"My... my baby..."  Maryam's hands stretched forward but her son was just out of her reach.

The two midwives gaped at the tiny, screaming child and wondered why they felt as they did: calmed, quieted.  Irit was the first to spring into action.  She cleansed the boy then brought him to the couple.

"But the afterbirth is not yet..."  Sarai cut off her own protest.  Nothing else about the child's birth had gone as it should... namely the intrusion of the troublesome father.  The girl likely had enough heartache with such a clod as her husband.  They should allow her the moment with her child... such a child.

"A...a boy," Irit whispered with tears in her eyes.  She placed the baby in his mother's waiting arms.

"Yeshua..." Maryam cooed.

Hearing his mother's voice and feeling her warmth, the baby ceased his crying.

"Yosef, he... he..."  Maryam's voice broke as her emotions, all the love she felt for the tiny one, overwhelmed her.

"Is... is beautiful," Yosef finished, tears trailing down his own face.  "Yeshua..."

Maryam adoringly counted her son's fingers and toes.  She gently traced the contours of his sweet, little face.  She paused for a moment, noticing a small mark on his temple.  Smiling, she bent to kiss it then dotted his face with more kisses.

"I love you, my own," she repeated as she began to carefully wrap Yeshua so he would be comfortable and warm.  As she did, Maryam thought of the angel's visit.  She had been so astounded and then so pleased... the Messiah was coming... he would be born to her.  Maryam sighed raggedly but then smiled again.  The Messiah had, indeed, come but that night he was simply her precious, beautiful baby... hers and Yosef's and God's.  And she loved him with a depth she had never known.

"I love you high as the sky and back again," she murmured then beamed at her husband.

Yosef kissed the boy's forehead.  "I... I love you across the earth and back again, Yeshua."

"Would... would you like to hold him?" Maryam offered.

Without thinking, Yosef nodded.

Maryam laid the baby in Yosef's arms then kissed him again.

Yosef noticed the strain on his wife's face.  "Maryam..."

"I am well," she assured.  "Treasure these moments with... with our... our son."

While Maryam delivered the afterbirth, Yosef obeyed her command.  He gazed down at their son... the child God had entrusted to them.  He thought of his dismay and anger and heartbreak when Maryam had told him she was with child.  Yosef remembered, too, the nights he had laid by her side, praying he would be able to love the child as if he were his own.

Holding the boy, Yosef knew his worries had been in vain.  There was no child he could love as much as he did the one in his arms, their Yeshua.

"I... I love you so, my... my Yeshu.  I always will," Yosef huskily vowed.

After Irit and Sarai had tended to Maryam and gotten her settled on sweet-smelling, fresh hay and linens, Yosef returned Yeshua to her.

Without another word or disapproving look, the two women left the little family alone.

Yosef kissed Maryam.  "You did so well, my love.  So brave..."  He looked at Yeshua again and sighed.  "Your eyes... he has your eyes.  How wonderful..."

Maryam beamed.  "We have been mightily blessed."  She peered up at the stars, including the one that shone so brightly, and then turned her loving gaze upon Yeshua.

Yosef held his wife in his arms as she cradled their son and sang to him.

“My soul and my spirit rejoice for now, my own, you are here.
The Mighty One has done great things, best of all brought you near.
My little one, my precious one, to you these promises I make:
I will love you in the daytime, in the nighttime, in the morn as you wake."


Friday, December 19th, 2014

Andrew peeked into the nursery where JenniAnn was rocking Belle and humming Maryam's lullaby to her.  Tears were in the woman's eyes as she gazed down at the baby.

Spotting the angel, JenniAnn smiled and held her finger up to indicate she would only be a moment.  After laying Belle in her crib, she went to Andrew.

"Sorry.  I didn't intend to rush you," he apologized.

JenniAnn shook her head and clasped his hand.  "No, it's okay.  She'd been asleep for about fifteen minutes.  I...I was just thinking about last year.  I remember sitting there at Ivy's concert and so badly wanting Christmas with my own baby.  A-and now she's here... our baby."  She gazed back over at the sleeping Belle then swiped at her eyes.  "So I was being clingy but..."  JenniAnn circled her arms around Andrew.  "I can be clingy with you, too."

The angel of death chuckled.  "You can...  Although Violeta asked if we could go to the kitchen in ten minutes to taste test her and Liam's cookies.  Your call."

"Well... we can be cuddly whenever but there's only a certain period of time during which one has access to Christmas cookies," JenniAnn reasoned.

"And, with that, I'm thrown over for gingerbread men," Andrew teased.

"Now, don't sell yourself short.  I happen to know they were also making fudge and Froot Loops clusters."

Andrew noticed JenniAnn's smile falter for just a moment.  He pulled her closer and rested his chin on her hair when she snuggled against his chest.

JenniAnn sighed.  "I was longing for Him, too, last year.  And then, in a few weeks, there he was.  It would be nice if Joshua came... at least got us through our... our first Christmas after... everything," she quietly opined.  "Not that...  I don't mean to... to sound ungrateful or... or greedy.  We had more time with Joshua than most people do in... in this life but..."

Andrew kissed her hair.  "I know.  I do.  And it's not ungrateful or greedy.  It means a lot to God when people long to be near Him."

"Has he said..."

"No, Laja.  But I don't think that means anything, either way."

JenniAnn drew in a deep breath.  "Okay."

Andrew released her but kept hold of her hand.  "I have something for you, Laja.  Something I made."

"Andrew...  I thought we were exchanging gifts on Christmas after we do the kids' stockings!"

"And we are.  This is something else.  I made one for all the households and I want the first one to be yours... ours.  Can you come into my room?"

"Love..."  JenniAnn squeezed his hand and went with him.

Once inside his room, Andrew brought JenniAnn to a rocking chair he'd finished the previous month.  "Just let me get it out of my closet."

JenniAnn admired the carved spindles of the chair as she rocked.  Andrew was becoming quite the talent.  She smiled as she chalked it up to his lineage.

"Here it is."  Andrew set a box in JenniAnn's lap then knelt beside her.

Lifting the lid, JenniAnn found three small items and one large one all wrapped in tissue paper.  "Andrew!  This looks pretty extensive.  A lot more than a 'just because' gift!  And you made, what, well over a dozen?"

Andrew nodded.  "I wanted everyone to have one."

Her curiosity getting the best of her, JenniAnn began to unwrap one of the gifts.  "Aww!  Another donkey!"

Andrew smiled.  "A little smoother than the first one I gave you.  I'm improving.  Of course, it might have helped that I had a model for that one."


Still smiling, the angel simply shook his head.

JenniAnn moved onto another piece and, with it, Andrew's secret was out.  "A sheep...  Did you... is this a..."  She picked up another package and unwrapped it.  Tears filled her eyes as she took in the figure of a family... a family they loved very much.  Yosef had his arms around Maryam who was reclining against him.

"Baby Joshua..." JenniAnn cooed as she studied the infant Maryam was tenderly holding.  The tears began to trickle down her cheeks when she noticed that Andrew had even painted on Joshua's birthmark.

"That last part is the stable and I thought maybe, every year, I could add a piece for everyone," Andrew explained.  "Shepherds, angels, Magi, more animals.  I got the idea last month when you were bemoaning all the inaccurate looking Nativity sets so that didn't leave me much time.  Only enough for these four pieces.  I thought of waiting until next Christmas but it just seemed right to start this year... to celebrate our first Christmas with our baby with this reminder of Maryam's and Yosef's first Christmas with their baby."

"Love..."  JenniAnn carefully returned the Nativity to the box then knelt at Andrew's side and hugged him.  "I absolutely love it," she whispered in his ear before kissing his cheek.  "I know the others... oh, Andrew, they'll be so pleased.  They... they're so perfect."  She again reached for the Holy Family carving and cradled it in her hands.  "It... it'll be so nice for Belle to grow up with a Nativity set that truly resembles the Maryam, Yosef, and Joshua that we actually know.  And Yoktan, too!  And whomever the sheep is, I'm sure your figurine looks exactly like him or her."

Chuckling, Andrew embraced JenniAnn.  "I'm so glad you like it.  Now that you have ours, I'd like to give Monica, Arthur, and Liam theirs.  And I have one for Violeta to take when she and Ivy move to Serendipity.  I'll give that one to her tonight, too."

"All that work..."

"Worth it," Andrew insisted.  "Now to sample those cookies?"

JenniAnn grinned.  "Absolutely."

After Andrew took a couple more boxes from out of his closet, the two headed towards the kitchen.  They smiled when they found Violeta and Liam removing a tray of gingerbread from the oven.  Liam's clothes were covered in powdered sugar and chocolate but he was grinning from ear to ear.

"Look at our cookies!" he exclaimed.  "They look so yummy."

JenniAnn stooped to hug him.  "They sure do!  I haven't even tasted them and I can already tell you and Aunt Violeta did an amazing job."

"Do you think Daddy and Monny will be back soon so they can try them?"

Andrew set the Nativity boxes on the table and nodded.  "They should be here any minute now.  Your Monny sent me a text just a few minutes ago saying they were on their way."  He smiled as he imagined Monica and Arthur wrapping and stashing Liam's presents.  The two were thrilled to be celebrating their first Christmas as parents.  Andrew knew the feeling well.

"How about we take some cookies and milk into the ballroom?" Violeta suggested.  "That way we can look at the tree as we enjoy!"

"Yeah!" Liam cheered.

JenniAnn got a decorative platter out and set it in front of Liam.  "How about you put some of the fudge and clusters on there and Aunt Violeta will take care of the gingerbread?"

Liam nodded and eagerly began to load up the platter.

While JenniAnn poured six glasses of milk and Violeta removed the gingerbread from the baking tray, Andrew went to the ballroom to turn on the lights.  He smiled as he took in the tree.  Though it was brimming with ornaments already, he was pleased to see that there were enough bare branches to accommodate all the ornaments for the St. Genesius crowd.  There was also one very special ornament: a brightly painted wooden orb reading "Annabelle's First Christmas, 2014."

JenniAnn entered the room in time to see Andrew caressing the ornament.  She smiled as she wrapped her arms around his middle.  "It really is beautiful... for our beautiful girl.  Good job."

"Thanks, Laja.  You too.  I hope it was right to use Annabelle instead of Belle."

"It's what you saw in your vision so it's how it's meant to be.  When she's older and knows why we chose Annabelle, it'll be important to Belle to see it there."

Andrew and JenniAnn both sighed as they thought of the duplicate ornament hanging on the tree at Serendipity.  Andrew had carved and inscribed two which JenniAnn had painted in a nearly identical fashion.  One they would always keep, the other would go along with Belle wherever her life took her.

"Hello?  Anybody home?"

"Monny!  Daddy!"

Andrew and JenniAnn turned and watched through the entryway as Arthur and Monica entered the castle and Liam launched himself at them.

"Well, hello, sweet boy," Monica greeted, kissing Liam's cheek.

Arthur smiled and hugged the boy.  "Did you have a good time baking with Aunt Violeta?"

Liam responded with an enthusiastic nod.  "And Aunt JenniAnn let me feed Belle.  And Uncle Andrew took me to see his carpenry stuff.  Come have some cookies!"

Violeta laughed as she carried the platter into the room.  "I love this kid!  So much excitement!"

"Sounds familiar," Andrew teased.  He hugged his protege.  "The cookies look very, very yummy."

Once they were all seated, Liam bowed his head and closed his eyes.  He peeked to ensure everyone was ready then began his prayer.  "Dear God, thank You for the cookies.  They were fun to make and I hope they taste good, too.  If they do, You should come have some, too.  Amen."

"Amen," the others echoed, hoping God would indeed come.

Arthur sampled a Froot Loop cluster first.  "Liam, Violeta, this is one of the best cookies I've ever had."

His son beamed.  "Me and Aunt Violeta made the recipe up!"

"Well, they're definitely delicious," Monica praised.  "Good thinking."  She lightly ruffled Liam's hair and smiled gratefully at Violeta.

After a few minutes of happy chatter had passed, Andrew retrieved the gift boxes and gave one to Violeta and the other to Liam.

"I made something for each household among our group," he explained.  "Violeta, you can take yours over to Serendipity when you and Ivy move.  Liam, I hope you and your Monny and Daddy can find a place for it at Veritas."

After Andrew had returned to his chair, JenniAnn clasped his hand.

Liam scooted the box in front of Monica then climbed into her lap to open theirs.

Violeta excitedly pulled off the lid and started to unwrap hers.  She slowed when she realized what it was.  Her eyes met Andrew's as she began to sniffle.

"Oh, Andrew..."  Monica looked to her old friend with a smile and tear-rimmed eyes.

Arthur spoke through the lump in his throat and reached for Andrew's free hand.  "It... it's beautiful.  The perfect gift for this year."

"Joshua... and his mommy and daddy," Liam cooed.  He reverently handed the figurine to his father then made his way around the table and chairs and hugged Andrew.  "Thank you, Uncle Andrew.  I love them."

Andrew's eyes filled as the boy kissed his cheek.  "You're very welcome.  Joshua loves you, too, Liam.  Maryam and Yosef, too.  Very, very much."

Liam smiled and then returned to his parents.  He resettled onto Monica's lap and took up the carving again.

The adults all watched, with tears in their eyes, as Liam softly kissed the baby.


Saturday, December 20th

JenniAnn awoke with a sigh.  She glanced at the alarm clock and noted it was 6:30.  Turning to her other side, she smiled at Andrew's sleeping form.  After Arthur, Monica, and Liam had gone home and Violeta had headed out to join Max, Rose, and Owen for a movie; they'd taken to her room for a gift wrapping blitz.  She'd parked herself on the carpet in front of the fireplace to wrap while Andrew had settled onto her bed to write out gift tags and curl ribbon.  An hour into it, JenniAnn discovered that he'd dozed off and so she'd taken away the ribbon and marker and left him.  It was no wonder.  Many of those times she'd thought he was sleeping in his room, he'd likely been working on the nativities.

Since it was unlike him to sleep past 7:00, JenniAnn knew Andrew would soon awaken.  It seemed like an ideal morning for breakfast in bed.  Careful not to rouse him, she slid out from beneath the covers, pulled on her robe and slippers, and tiptoed to the nursery door.

Belle was calmly sitting up in her crib.  She smiled when she saw her mother.

"Ah!  Ah!  Ah!"

"'Ah!  Ah!  Ah!' back at you, sweetheart."  JenniAnn lifted the baby from her crib and snuggled her.  After Belle's diaper was changed, the two headed down to the kitchen.

"What should we make Daddy for breakfast?" JenniAnn asked.


JenniAnn giggled as she remembered two weeks before when Andrew had returned from an assignment to be greeted with an enthusiastic "Dadda!"  She was convinced the look on Andrew's face in that moment would have melted the hardest of hearts.

While contemplating the options, JenniAnn noticed that someone had already started coffee.

"Aunt Violeta must be up and about.  Probably out with the animals, huh?"

As JenniAnn reached for her and Andrew's mugs and Belle's sippy cup, she realized something.  Violeta's mug was still there on the shelf.  The gold one... Joshua's... was not.  In fact, it was no where to be seen.



Holding securely to Belle, JenniAnn ran into the hallway.  She turned towards the stairs, thinking Joshua might be in his room.  However, something urged her towards the ballroom.

"Ah!" Belle repeated.

JenniAnn paused outside the ballroom, knowing that in a moment she would either be heartbroken or exceedingly happy.  Drawing in a deep breath, she stepped into the room.

Joshua sat near one of the windows, calmly sipping his coffee.

"Ah!  Ah!  AH!" Belle screamed.

Joshua hurriedly set down his mug and rushed to the two.

Unable to speak or move or breath, JenniAnn watched with tears trailing down her cheeks.

Joshua wrapped the mother and child into his embrace.  "I'm here, JenniAnn and Belle.  I'm here," he murmured.

JenniAnn wept into his shirt as she used her free arm to cling to him.  "I... we... all... hoped..."


Joshua chuckled and took Belle who was squirming on her mother's hip.

Once he had Belle, JenniAnn kissed Joshua's cheek.  "So... so glad."

With one arm around each of them, Joshua affectionately squeezed Belle and JenniAnn.  "And I'm so glad to be here.  Actually...  I was wondering if you might have room for Ama, Abi, and me over the next week?  If not, there's always the stable...  I think Yoktan's already made himself at home there."

"A week!" JenniAnn cried.  "A whole week!"

Joshua grinned and nodded.

Belle happily babbled as she snuggled against Joshua.

"Of course!  Joshua..."  JenniAnn rested her cheek against his shoulder and softly caressed Belle's face.  "We... I... need to tell people!  I mean if...  Tonight everyone's coming over for..."

Joshua reached into his pocket and held out a piece of paper.  "I know."

JenniAnn smiled when she saw the invitation she and Andrew had left in Joshua's room.

"I figured if the entire St. Genesius crowd is coming here tonight, I better be here."  Joshua smiled and looked over at the tree.  "It's beautiful.  And it'll be even more beautiful tonight.  As for telling people, let me visit with Andrew and Violeta first.  Then maybe I can borrow your laptop and send an email and CC it to their phones?  Seems the fastest way to get word out."

"Yep!  And, if it's fine by you, tell them they can come as early as they want and stay as late as they want!  Stay all week if they'd like!" JenniAnn offered.

Joshua hugged her.  "Thank you.  I'm sure you'll get many takers on that."

"The more the merrier!  It's Christmas a-and... you're here!"

"Ah..." Belle contently cooed.

"Wait... is that... your name?" JenniAnn asked, looking at Joshua as she gently squeezed the baby's hand.

Joshua kissed Belle's curls and nodded.  "Not always.  Sometimes an 'ah' is just an 'ah' but other times, yes.  The -j and -sh sounds are too difficult just yet but I know what she's saying.  Isn't that right?"  Joshua lowered his head so Belle could give him a sweet, slobbery kiss.

"Thank you.  Now... should we go get Aunt Violeta and Daddy up?" he asked.

Belle smiled.

Joshua reached for JenniAnn's hand.  "Come with us?"

With a happy nod, JenniAnn followed him to Violeta's room.

Joshua softly knocked on the door.

"Is that you, JenniAnn?  Can you help me with my..."  Violeta, her hair half-braided, went mute when she opened the door.  However, the quiet didn't last long.  "Joshua!" she shrieked.

JenniAnn took Belle so the angel could greet Joshua.

"We were just saying last night how much we hoped you'd be here.  And you are!  Right now!" Violeta gushed.  "Are you staying til Christmas?  Please, please, please stay til Christmas!"

Joshua laughed as he held the angel close.  "Actually, I was thinking we'd stay until the 27th.  How about that?"

"Awesome sauce!"

Joshua kissed Violeta's temple.  "I'm glad you think so.  Now... I still haven't told Andrew so..."

"Oh my gosh!  He'll be so... so... this is awesome!"

Chuckling, Joshua released the angel.  "Very awesome.  I'll be just a moment."

While he headed towards JenniAnn's room, Violeta flung her arms around JenniAnn and Belle.

"He's here..."

"He is."

The two sighed happily while Belle gurgled.


Andrew began to rouse when he heard someone in the room.  He opened his eyes and realized he was in JenniAnn's bed.

"Wow.  Laja, I'm sorry.  I must have dozed off and..."

"Knowing JenniAnn, I'm gonna guess she didn't mind."

Andrew hurriedly rolled to his other side.  A smile lit up his face when he saw Joshua standing near the door.

"You're here..."

Joshua nodded and held open his arms.

Andrew leapt out of bed and hastened into them.

"I had so many reasons for coming.  One of them was definitely being with you and JenniAnn and Arthur and Monica during your first Christmas as parents.  And Kemara's and Sean's first engaged Christmas.  And Belle's and Manny's first Christmas.  And everyone's first Christmas after... after everything we experienced together."

When Andrew stepped away, he saw the tears in Joshua's eyes.  "I'm so glad and Laja was so hoping..."

Joshua smiled.  "She knows I'm here.  I made coffee once I got here and from there... she found me.  And she told me I could use her laptop to send an email/text out to everyone so... I hope you won't mind being inundated with guests soon."

Beaming, Andrew shook his head and hugged Joshua again.  "Not at all.  How long..."

"Til the 27th.  Ama and Abi, too."

"And John?"

Chuckling, Joshua nodded.  "You'll be seeing plenty of John but he's seeking other accommodations."

Andrew grinned, imagining that Fr. Mike was in for an interesting morning.


Fr. Mike jolted awake when he heard the cell phone vibrating against his desk.  He groaned when he realized he'd fallen asleep while working on his homily... again.  His back protested as he straightened up and reached for the red phone.

The caller ID registered that the caller was "Mike"... himself, from his landline.

Frowning in confusion, the priest answered.


"Hi!  Could I, perhaps, have my phone back for the week?"

Fr. Mike's hand began to tremble.  "J-John?"

"I'm in the kitchen."

With that, the line went dead.

Clutching the cell phone, Fr. Mike bolted from his chair and ran to the kitchen.  He found John calmly sitting at the table, grinning from ear to ear.


The baptist rose and held his arms open.

Laughing, the two men embraced.

"So... not that you need a reason... but why have you honored me with this visit?  Did you really just need your phone back?" Fr. Mike asked as he handed the cell to John.

Shaking his head, John continued to grin.  "Actually... you should know the reason any minute now..."

When the phone again vibrated, John returned it to his friend.

"Huh.  JenniAnn sent a mass email with high priority.  Subject line is 'I'm at Willowveil.'  Well, where else would she be at this hour?"

"Maybe it's someone using JenniAnn's account since he doesn't have an email address," John suggested.

Fr. Mike stumbled into one of the kitchen chairs as he read aloud.  "'Good morning, beloved ones!  JenniAnn has kindly lent me not only her laptop but also her email account.  We thought this would the quickest way to let all of you know that I'm here at Willowveil and will remain here, with Ama and Abi, until the 27th.  Andrew and JenniAnn would like it made known that you're all welcome to stop by as soon as you'd like and stay as often as you'd like throughout the week ahead.  I'm so looking forward to spending my birthday week with all of you.  We're going to have so much fun!  All my love, always, Joshua.'"

John patted the priest's back.  "Since Andrew and JenniAnn will have a full house, I'd hoped..."

Fr. Mike squeezed his hand.  "Your room's ready.  No one's used it since you left.  I... I just want to clean up and then... then can we head to the portal?"

John beamed and nodded.  "Nothing would make me happier."

After returning his smile, Fr. Mike hastened to his room to get ready for a wonderful day.


During what she was sure would be a very brief lull before friends began descending upon Willowveil en masse, JenniAnn snuck up to Joshua's room to ensure everything was in order.  She smiled when she saw that his fleece blanket was spread over the bed and a week's worth of clothes hung in the closet.  His guitar was resting against the bureau.  Clearly someone had beat her to the room.  Suspecting she knew who, JenniAnn went to the neighboring room and knocked on the door, hoping for an answer.

Maryam smiled when she opened the door and greeted JenniAnn with a hug.

"Thank you for allowing us to stay here.  Yosef and I are so pleased."

"I... I'm so glad you're here, too," JenniAnn choked out.

Maryam softly caressed her hair and then led JenniAnn into the room.

The younger woman laughed when she saw that Yosef was fixated by the two rocking chairs Andrew had built and brought into the room some weeks before.

"That boy is a quick study... a very quick study," he mused.  Then Yosef straightened up and smiled at their hostess.

JenniAnn embraced him.  "We're all so glad you'll be with us for Christmas!  I think people will start pouring in any minute now!"

"Perhaps we could go downstairs to greet them?" Maryam suggested.

"Definitely!  I can't wait to see the looks on everyone's faces!" JenniAnn exclaimed.

Then, with a giddy smile, she led the couple to the main level where Andrew, Belle, Violeta, and Joshua were waiting.

Only moments after the group assembled, the front door flew open.

Kemara rushed towards Joshua and his ready embrace.

"Good morning, Kemara," Joshua greeted with a grin, gently running his hand over her hair when she nestled against his shoulder.

After lingering a few moments, Kemara looked up at him and smiled.  "Good morning, Joshua."  She took in the others.  "Good morning.  Sorry.  I just..."

Violeta squeezed her shoulder.  "We know!"

After giving out a series of hugs to them all, Kemara whirled around to face Joshua again.  "Sean...  He... he hasn't gotten to meet you yet.  I mean... not knowing who you are."

Joshua beamed and nodded.  "I know.  Today's the day!  And Ama, Abi, and I have been looking forward to giving you both our congratulations on your engagement in person."

Kemara hugged him again and, as she did, flinched.  "Phone..."

Joshua chuckled.  "Even with my live feed down, I bet I know who that is."

Grinning, Kemara nodded.  "Sean...  Can I?"

"Of course!"  Joshua motioned for the others to step into the ballroom to give Kemara privacy if she wanted it.

"So your live feed is down again?" Andrew checked.

"Yep.  Not for any hugely significant reason like last time."  Joshua grinned.  "I just like being surprised.  The suspense of wondering who will show up next...  Being caught delightfully off-guard by something one of you says...  The excitement of not knowing exactly how we'll spend the weekend, only knowing that it'll be wonderful!"  He hugged Violeta who was bouncing around near him.  "I like my Christmases on Earth to have a little mystery."

"Ha!  That, my boy, is quite the understatement," Yosef teased.

Maryam laughed and took her son's right hand in both of hers.  "But such beautiful mysteries."

Joshua smiled lovingly at her and brought her hand to his lips.  "Glad you think so, Ama."  His eyes twinkled as he looked to Yosef.  "At least this time I promise to not wake you up every three hours screaming."

"It was more like two," Yosef playfully grumbled.

Joshua hugged him.

Kemara re-entered the room, tears glistening in her eyes.  "Sean was already on the subway when he called.  He's on his way to St. Genesius' a-and so...  I... I can tell he's nervous but really... really happy."

Andrew hugged JenniAnn, remembering how much joy he'd felt that first afternoon when she had recognized Joshua.  He smiled at Kemara then at Joshua and again looked back to the woman.  "I'm so happy for you both.  This... it's an amazing thing to share with someone you love.  These memories..."  He looked tenderly at Joshua.

Joshua waved them all into a group hug.  "I'm so happy that we have this chance to make and share even more memories."

As the others all nodded and smiled at each other, they wondered who would be next to arrive.


Caleb positioned himself in the center of the hall.  To the left was his and Edward's room with Clay's beside it.  To the right was his aunt's and uncle's room.  Across the hall from them, Kylie was sleeping in the guest room.  Grinning, the man took a deep breath and then yelled.

"Get up right now!  Everyone out of bed!  Joshua is back!  He's at Willowveil.  Up!  Up!  Up!"

In mere seconds, four doors flew open and the five other occupants crowded around Caleb.

"D-did I just dream that?"

"I hope not..."

"How do you know?"

"Did you see him?!"


Caleb continued to grin.  "For once, my Farmville antics pay off.  I... I was in the kitchen getting some coffee going and then my computer beeped a-and..."  He grabbed the laptop off the side table and held it out for them all to see.  "Read it."

The five all read.

"Oh..."  Blissful tears formed in Kylie's eyes and she clasped Clay's hand.

"Well, go get dressed!" Caleb ordered.

Laughing, the group hurriedly dispersed and, in record time, reconvened in the boys' parlor.

"Ladies first," Caleb offered to Kylie and Dot.

Holding hands and beaming, the two women went through the portal together.

"Age before beauty," Caleb teased, waving at his uncle who rolled his eyes but couldn't stop smiling.

"Clay, you're next."

Clay squeezed his friend's hand.  "Thank you."

"You bet."

When they were alone, Edward and Caleb hugged.

"Together?" Edward suggested.

Caleb took his twin's hand.  "Together."

They stepped through the portal, leaving the house empty.


Andrew chuckled as he stood near the ballroom window, videocamera poised to capture everyone as they ran from the gazebo to the front door.

"Albany's arrived," he shouted as he filmed.

JenniAnn stepped away from the breakfast buffet she and the others were setting up.

"Aww, look at them!" she gushed.  "Joshua, we can handle things in here.  Wanna take door duty?"

"I'd love to."  Joshua smiled and stared at the table once more, summoning loaves of warm, freshly baked bread and jars of honeyed figs and other toppings.

Kemara and Violeta smiled giddily.

Joshua winked at them and then headed to the door.  A moment later, the Albany contingent had him completely surrounded.

"It's so wonderful to have you here, Joshua!" Kylie gushed, gleeful tears streaming down her face.

"We missed you so much, Josh!  Not that you were gone but..."  Edward frowned for a moment before his face lit up again.

"You know," Caleb finished for his brother.

"I do," Joshua assured as he hugged Clay.

Dot peered into Joshua's eyes and softly caressed his face.  "So... so good to..."

Joshua pulled her close.  "It's so good to be here."

Randall couldn't speak but smiled as Joshua pulled him into the hug, too.

"Wilsons!" Andrew shouted from the other room.  "Jeff, Tyson, and Tim!"

Edward laughed.  "Brace yourself, Joshua."

Willowveil's main doors where once again thrown open.  The entire Wilson family flooded in followed by the True Light contingent.  Arthur, Liam, and Monica were only a few steps behind them.

"Lord!" Zeke shouted, his excitement evident in both his voice and huge grin.

"Wilson family!" Joshua responded, pulling Zeke and the three older children into his embrace.

"We're so happy you're here!" Kendra chirped.

"For a week!" Hailey added.

Sy smiled at Joshua.  "Now we can spoil you for your birthday."

Joshua chuckled.

Zeke nodded.  "Definitely.  After the birthday you gave me...  Wow."

"Being here, like this, is already a wonderful gift."  After squeezing the man's hand, Joshua turned to Diana who was cradling Manny.  "Diana and our little Manny..."  He gently hugged them and kissed Diana's cheek then Manny's forehead.

The dozing baby's eyes opened and he gazed at Joshua.

Diana beamed at him.  "He remembers you, I think."

Once Joshua had Manny in his arms, Diana squeezed his shoulders.

"We're all so thrilled, Joshua.  This... it's amazing, Lord," she smiled at all those crowded around then back at Joshua.  "You always are."

With that, Diana waved the others nearer and, though mindful of Manny, each greeted Joshua with absolute joy.


Portia laid in her bed, softly stroking her daughter's hair as she slept beside her.  At seven years old, Persephone seldom slept in their chamber any more.  She preferred bunking with the other Tunnel girls in their shared room but Christmas always made them both a little emotional.  Portia wondered if, somehow, her little girl had inherited her conflicted feelings about the holiday season.  With a sigh, Portia recalled December 15th, 2006.  It had been the last day before winter break during her third year of college... the date she had told her boyfriend, Persephone's father, that she was pregnant.  Brad had hugged her and assured her everything would be just fine.  They'd both go back to their families during their break and then, when they'd returned, they would finish up college and start making wedding plans.  From there, together, they'd begin medical school just as they'd planned.  What a life they'd have!  All the things they'd be able to provide for their little one!

Without waking, Persephone stirred and drew her mother's full attention as she snuggled closer.

Portia smiled at the girl, marveling anew at the miracle of her... her Persephone.  Her mind again drifted back to that fraught month.  She remembered returning to the Tunnels and, full of nerves, telling Father and Vincent that she was pregnant.  The Tunnel community and even the Helpers had all pitched in to help her make it through college and begin to save for medical school and now this...  Father had looked displeased but Vincent had embraced her and assured her that everything would be fine.

But the real chore had fallen to Psyche, Owen, and Eliot.  They had been with her the day after Christmas when she had excitedly opened what she was sure would be a love letter from Brad.  Instead, she had found a check and a brief note informing her that he wouldn't be returning to school nor to New York.  She was to use the money to provide for herself and her child as she saw fit.

With Catherine and Vincent so focused on the newborn Jacob, it had been her three friends who had tucked Portia into bed and, in the days that followed, made her eat and drink.  Then there was only Psyche.  Portia had later learned that Eliot and Owen had driven to Brad's hometown and tried to reason with him.  It was there they had discovered that Brad was already engaged to a girl.  "A young lady a little more at my level," as he had described his intended.  Portia had only gotten that tidbit out of Owen months later.

Portia had slogged through the remainder of her vacation.  There she was: the cast-off, orphaned, unwed, pregnant teenager.  She'd felt like one of the ruined girls from a Jane Austen novel.  Though she'd managed to finish the semester, her grades had slipped and returning for a fourth year had seemed unlikely.  Then July 10th, 2007 had arrived.  After seven hours of labor, Mary had handed her the most precious bundle she had ever held: Persephone.  Seeing her and holding her and kissing her, Portia had known that life would go on... happily.

Tears welled in the woman's eyes as she mentally compared the tiny baby to her growing daughter.  As she did, she couldn't keep her thoughts away from another baby... and the man he'd become.

Shifting slightly, Portia gazed at the painting of Joshua that Owen had given her.  She'd burst into tears when she saw that her friend had painted an infant Persephone into the portrait, too.  Joshua was smiling down at her baby.

Portia had realized then, weeks after he'd left, who Joshua truly was.  Everything... Owen reconciling with his family, an infinitely more chilled out Andrew and JenniAnn, and the serenity that Catherine, Vincent, and Father all exuded... had suddenly made sense.  Joshua hadn't simply been playing Jesus... he was Jesus.  After her epiphany, Portia had wracked her brain, trying to bring into focus her memories of him.  She found herself doing it again.

She'd hugged him that day he'd left the Tunnels, hadn't she?  Maybe even after the show when she'd gone to see it...  Yes, she was sure she had.  Hadn't she?  Well, surely she had when he'd brought Gracie to the hospital.  Maryam, too.  They'd been so kind...

But Portia wasn't sure if any of the embraces had truly happened or if she'd conjured them to make herself feel better.  After her discovery, she'd begun to pray more... and differently, too.  She hadn't worried about how her prayers sounded.  Joshua hadn't seemed the type to care if what one said was graceful or not.  He'd merely liked to listen.  Still, even with that increased closeness, Portia wished she'd known about Joshua while he'd still been among them.  She understood why her friends hadn't told her.  The truth came to everyone in their own time, they'd said.  But to have told Joshua to his face how much he meant to her...  And to tell Maryam how often she'd thought of her as she'd carried Persephone...  To share that with Persephone...

Filled with longing, Portia reached for her phone.  She'd ask Psyche if it would be okay to stop over at Willowveil and spend a little time in Joshua's room.  She smiled when she saw that Psyche had already texted her.  Then she read the words...

Persephone drowsily opened her eyes when she heard her mother crying.  Frowning, she gripped Portia's hand.  "Mommy?  Why are you crying?"

Portia beamed at her daughter and hugged her tightly.  "This is a very, very happy cry, Perse."  She turned her phone over to the girl and watched as her eyes grew wide.

"Joshua's back!" Persephone exclaimed.

Portia laughed as the girl scrambled out of bed and began to pull clothes out of her drawer.  Soon, she began to do the same, eager to go to Dyeland with her own little miracle and reconnect with the Miracle Maker.


"Joccy...  Zoe...  Gotta get up, girls."

The two sisters sat up and looked around in confusion.  Then they smiled, remembering that they were in Manhattan, staying with Emma and Peter for a few days.  They'd arrived the previous day and had been enchanted with the magic of the city at Christmas.  Seeing the excitement lighting up Emma's face, they wondered what she and Peter had planned for the day ahead.

Jocelyn sleepily snuggled against the couch cushions but smiled at Emma.  "What are we doing today?"


Zoe peered over Emma's shoulder and saw that Peter was unloading several items from the refrigerator and putting them in bags.  "What's Peter doing?"

Emma beamed.  "You know how we said that we were going to some friends' house for a party tonight?"

Jocelyn and Zoe nodded.

"We're going to head there earlier... soon actually.  As soon as we all get ready.  And, if you girls are okay with it, we're going to stay there for the rest of your visit because..."  She handed them Peter's laptop.

Peter left the kitchen and perched beside Emma on the arm of a chair.  He hugged her as the sisters read.

"J-Joshua..." Zoe choked out.  "He's here?"

"We... we can see him?" Jocelyn checked.

"And hug him and talk to him and hang out with him!" Peter gushed.

Grinning, Jocelyn closed the laptop, set it on the coffee table, then grabbed Zoe's hand and ran into Emma's room.

"We'll get dressed and ready right now!" she cried before closing the door.

Peter chuckled then kissed Emma's temple.  "This is awesome!"

Encircling her arms around him, Emma nodded.  "I... I'm just afraid I'm going to... to start bawling.  Ama and Abi are... are there, too... a-and surely John's around and..."

Peter returned her hug and softly rocked.  "And all of them are perfectly used to bawling, sweetheart.  There's nothing to be afraid of.  I doubt my eyes are going to stay dry, either."

Emma snuggled against his chest.  "It... it's just so daunting.  Last year I... I was just alone in my apartment, wishing Dusty hadn't closed the diner for the day.  Cause... cause then at least I'd be around people.  And now..."

Peter buried his face in her hair.  "You'll never be alone again, Emma.  Never.  Joshua promises you that and so do I."

Emma stretched up to plant a kiss on his lips.  "I love you," she murmured.

Peter grinned.  "The feeling's mutual."

Laughing, Emma rose from the chair and, together, they finished packing up and preparing for their extended visit to Willowveil.


Owen beamed as he came through the portal with some of the children.  Just ahead of them, Cira and Crystal were running towards Willowveil and Shane was rushing the front door.

"Good thing this is special wood.  We'd be wearing these stairs down the way we're all thundering down them," Owen jested to Vincent who was just behind him.

Vincent smiled as he helped his father down the steps.  "Joshua truly knew what he was doing.  As always."

"Joshua!" Jacob shrieked as he led his playmates in darting away from his parents and towards the castle.

Catherine laughed as she watched them go.  Then she turned back towards the portal where Eliot and his family were coming through.

Brittony smiled gratefully when Eliot and Catherine each took one of her arms and helped her down the steps.

"I don't remember getting winded this easily with Galen!" she remarked.

Eliot hugged his wife.  "There was also only one Galen in there."  He gently patted her abdomen then ruffled the little boy's hair.  "Isn't that right, Galen?"

"Only one me!" the child agreed before rushing after his playmates.

Brittony looked over her shoulder and saw Portia and Persephone coming through.

"Why don't you two go ahead of us?" she suggested with a smile, knowing they were eager to properly greet Joshua.

"You're sure?" Portia checked.

Brittony nodded.  "I might take a while waddling in."

Jacob laughed.  "You won't be the only one taking your time, my dear.  Portia, do go ahead."

"Okay..."  Portia knelt down to be level with Persephone.  "You ready, my girl?"

"Yes, Mommy."

Hand-in-hand, the two headed towards Willowveil.

On their way, they noticed Sean standing to the side of one of the potted pine trees Andrew had planted and decorated.

"Hi, Sean.  How are you?"  Portia greeted him with a hug.  She knew they were in the same boat.  Both had learned the truth about Joshua after he'd returned Home.

Sean smiled and warmly returned her hug.  "Good... great.  A little... I don't know.  And you both?"

"Good!  Excited!"  Not sharing the adults' nervousness, Persephone burst into the castle.

Sean held open the door and waved Portia in.  "After you."

"Thank you.  And, uh, good and... I don't know, too," Portia replied with a wavering smile.

They both entered in time to see Persephone launch herself at Joshua who easily caught her.

"Persephone!  Good morning!  I've been looking forward to dancing with you again."  Joshua smiled as he stroked the girl's hair.

"Joshua made us breakfast!  It looks really, really yummy," Jacob enthused.

Laughing, Joshua squeezed the boy's shoulder.  "I'm glad you think so, Jacob."  He returned his attention to Persephone.  "How about you go get yourself some breakfast with your friends?  I'll talk to your Mommy and then she'll come join you."


After watching the children scamper into the ballroom, Joshua looked to Portia and Sean.  His eyes filled as he beckoned for them.

At first, Portia slowly stepped forward and then, like her daughter, she collided with Joshua in a flurry of ramblings and tears.

"I wish I'd realized before and... did I hug you?  I can't even remember if I hugged you.  Oh, Joshua...  I should have known.  You were so..."  Portia peered into his eyes and could no longer speak.

Joshua tenderly wrapped his arms around the young woman when she rested her head on his shoulder.  "You did hug me, Portia.  Twice.  Once after you got Gracie settled and again after the show.  And they were both very nice hugs.  Furthermore, I've heard every word you've said about me in your Bible studies.  And all the assurances you've given to our Perse.  I know you love me.  And I love you very, very much.  It'll be nice to have this Christmas together, huh?"

Portia couldn't help but laugh at the massive understatement.  It was more than nice... it was incredibly wonderful.  "Uh huh," was the only answer she could manage.

Joshua smiled.  "Why don't you go join Perse in getting some breakfast?  Then we'll talk more soon.  There's a lot I want to say to you about how wonderful you were with Andrew and JenniAnn during those first days and nights with Belle.  Your expertise and gentle care mean so much to your friends, Portia, and will continue to be of great importance to them in the years ahead."

Feeling giddy, Portia simply kissed his cheek and then, dazed, ambled off towards JenniAnn who laughed as she helped her to a chair before she ran into a statue.

The Wellses and O'Hannas stepped into the entry.

Joshua smiled and waved at them but they hung back, guessing that Sean hadn't yet had his moment.

"Sean!  Kemara told us you were on your way!  How was the subway ride?" Joshua queried.

"Good... fast...  Hi...  Hi, Joshua."  Sean held his hand out and then, before Joshua could take it, pulled it back and instead went for a hug.

As he embraced the man, Joshua heard Sean sniffle.  Patting him on the back, Joshua spoke very softly.  "Did you bring your bodhran?"

Sean nodded, trying to avoid crying in public.

"Great.  Later you can go with me to my room to get my guitar.  We'll talk there and then come back downstairs and do a set together, okay?  Maybe get Fr. Mike going on his tin whistle, too?"

Calming, Sean pulled back a space and nodded.  "I'd like that a lot," he agreed with a smile.  He drew in a deep breath and looked Joshua straight in the eyes.  "It's good to have you back like this."

"Thank you.  And it's good to be here to congratulate you on your engagement," Joshua replied with a grin.

Blushing, Sean laughed.  "Thank you... and for your pushes that made it happen."  He glanced over to see Kemara peeking around the corner of the ballroom.

When Joshua smiled at her, Kemara joined them.  He clasped their hands together.  "This is good," he declared.

Teary-eyed but smiling, Kemara looked back and forth between the two men she loved best.

With a silent nod, Sean agreed with Joshua's assessment.

"Go fix yourselves up a plate and, please, do me a favor?" Joshua requested.

"Anything," Kemara vowed.

"Make sure Abi's not drowning anything in syrup."

The joke putting him further at ease, Sean laughed.  "We'll do that."

Joshua looked after the two as, hand-in-hand, they entered the ballroom and got in line for some breakfast.  When he turned back, Brittony and Eliot were standing before him.

Brittony's face shone as she reached for Joshua's hands and placed them on her burgeoning belly.

Joshua's eyes misted.  "Well, hello there, little ones," he whispered as the babies kicked.  When they quieted, Joshua met the couple's proud gaze.  He squeezed Brittony's hands.

"Thank you for that.  You look beautiful, Brittony.  And you, too, Eliot."

Chuckling, Eliot hugged him.  "Thank you... and she does."  A proud smile lit up his entire face as he looked to his wife.

"How are you feeling today?" Joshua asked Brittony.

"Big.  But very, very, very good."  After embracing Joshua, Brittony sighed.  "And as utterly happy as I am to see you... I'm also really looking forward to seeing your Ama.  I come armed with questions."

Joshua laughed.  "And she has plenty of answers.  Ama has been looking forward to seeing you, too."  He waved to where Maryam was helping some of the children pour milk into their cereal bowls.

After kissing Joshua on the cheek, Brittony took Eliot's arm and the two headed into the ballroom.

"Joshua..."  Catherine stepped forward and hugged him tightly.  "Such a way to wake up!"

"Did the phone wake you up?" Joshua asked as he returned her hug before moving onto Vincent.

Vincent chuckled.  "Alas, it was a different noise entirely."

With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Owen grinned.

Laughing, Joshua set his hands on his hips.  "Owen, what did you do?"

"Oh, nothing much.  I just snuck into the room behind their chamber and blasted 'Christ Is Come' through the stained glass window."

Continuing to laugh, Joshua embraced him.

"It gets even better than that," Catherine added.  "He kept shouting 'Back!' every time they said that."

Jacob shook his head but couldn't avoid smiling.  "Then the three of them just waltzed right into my chamber and continued their chorus.  No respect for an old man," he teased before embracing Joshua.

When Jacob stepped back, Joshua beamed at all four of them.  "I'm so glad you're all here."

"Is everyone else?" Owen asked.

"Nearly everyone.  A few of the angels are finishing assignments so the only ones not here yet are..."

Before Joshua could finish, the front door swung open once again.

Seeing Emma and Peter and the two young girls, Vincent squeezed Joshua's arm.

"We'll leave you now," he whispered before leading the others into the ballroom.

Joshua faced the newcomers and held his arms aloft.  Peter and the three girls thundered towards Joshua who laughed and stumbled back several paces.

"Good morning, Zoe, Jocelyn, Emma, and Peter!"  Joshua individually hugged and kissed each of them.  He clasped the sisters' hands.  "You have no idea how happy I am that your mom agreed to let you come visit Emma and Peter."

Jocelyn smiled but her lips trembled slightly.  "She's coming to get us Wednesday, though."

"We won't be here for... for your birthday," Zoe murmured.

Joshua squeezed their hands.  "No matter what, I'll be with you on my birthday.  This is going to be a tough one for your mom and she needs you with her.  And we'll have this weekend and Monday and Tuesday," he encouraged.

"That's true."  Jocelyn beamed at Joshua then stepped back and ogled her surroundings.

"An actual castle..." her younger sister oohed.  "Like Narnia... but with electricity."

Peter laughed.  "And modern plumbing, too.  We'll make sure you get a tour."

Emma, leaning against Joshua, smiled at the girls.  "And they have sheep and a donkey...  Is Yoktan here?"

"Present and accounted for," Joshua replied.

"Donkeys," Emma corrected.  "And dogs.  And there are a couple cats who I imagine will be around."

Joshua nodded.  "Warren and Lloyd are already on the hunt for breakfast scraps with Lulu and Fawn."

Excited, Zoe and Jocelyn smiled at each other.

Sensing Emma needed a moment alone with Joshua, Peter turned to the girls.  "Well, it looks like we may be the last to arrive.  I know you've met some of our friends, Zoe and Jocelyn, but how about I introduce you to the others?" he offered.

"Sure!" Jocelyn agreed as Zoe nodded.

Joshua and Emma watched them make their way to the ballroom.

With a contented sigh, Emma hugged Joshua's arm.  "He's so good with them.  I..."  She blushed.

"Keep thinking about what a good dad he'll be?"  Joshua smiled.  "I know.  And he will be... and you a very good mom."  He kissed her hair.  "I'm proud of you."

"A-and that means everything.  Joshua... this... such an amazing Christmas.  I... I thought it would be wonderful enough just being with Peter but now..."  Emma threw both her arms around Joshua.  "Happy early birthday!"

His face and heart alight with love for Emma and everyone, Joshua could only smile as he held her close and gazed adoringly into the ballroom.  Then he lifted his eyes to the ceiling and murmured his thanks to his Father.


As the others made themselves comfortable in the ballroom, Andrew and JenniAnn snuck away to her room and set about trying to decide where they'd put all their guests.

"Okay, so, the Tunnel group... excepting the little kids... said they'd stay there during the nights since it's not like they need to go outside to get to a portal.  So weather and traffic aren't concerns.  Ditto for the Albany group.  And Kylie is staying with them," Andrew relayed.

JenniAnn nodded.  "And my parents said they'd put up Doreen and Mr. Spel... Mark."  She smiled and shook her head, remembering that, following his wedding to Ivy's grandma, her old teacher had requested that they drop the formalities.  "And, when Raquel and Nico arrive, Mom and Dad said they'd be perfectly happy to have them stay there, too.  Violeta and Ivy are set on taking over Serendipity.  So we can send them over there with Hailey, Kendra, and Kemara if she doesn't want to make the trek from her place every morning.  I think Cira and Crystal would be happy there, too, if they want.  And Emma and her girls.  Or, actually, I'm sure Violeta would be okay with lending Emma, Jocelyn, and Zoe her room since she won't be there.  Oh and I forgot that Shelby wants to stay in Belle's nursery.  I told her that would be okay.  Don't you think?"

Andrew smiled.  "Her first Christmas as a big sister!  I think that'd be just fine.  Belle will love that.  What about Rose?  And Aunt Josephine?  It'd be quite a trek from Hopeful Haven every day.  Especially for Josephine."

"I asked Rose about that and she agreed.  So they're taking one of the guest rooms on the fourth floor since it'll be quieter.  Max is taking the other one although he said he'd share.  Maybe Sy and Sean?  They're pretty chummy."

"Great.  So that leaves Max's sometime-room down here empty.  Shane and Peter?"

"Good idea.  Okay..."  JenniAnn glanced at the copy of a Superstar program that they were using as a check list.

Andrew peeked over her shoulder.  "What about Samson, Tim, Tyson, and Jeff?"

"Well... I was thinking we'd put the little kids in the rec room across from Joshua's room.  Monica volunteered to stay nearby since she's not sure how Liam's going to feel sleeping away from their place.  So we could put her and Gloria in the neighboring guest room and then Samson, Tim, Tyson, Jeff, and Arthur in the one next to that?"

"Sounds like a plan.  What about Fr. Mike and John?" Andrew checked.  "I mean if it does snow in New York."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Fr. Mike said they'd skate to the portal if they had to.  He's got to be at St. Mary Mag's for Mass tonight and every morning, anyway."

"Got it.  Heard from the Levines?"

Grinning, JenniAnn shook her head.  "No.  And Joshua kept them off the email.  Since they're not getting back in town until shortly before Shabbat service, he didn't want them getting anxious at the airports.  So..."

Andrew chuckled.  "We're all surprising them at Beth El tonight, aren't we?"

"Yep!  It'll be awesome!  We'll see what they say after that but I suspect Rabbi Yakov's gonna feel like they need to stay in town just in case.  At least there's a Tunnel entrance nearby.  What about all the angels?"

"Adam, Tess, and Henry all volunteered to put them up if they'd like.  If the bridge or water iced over, it's not like they couldn't still get here."

"Great!  Oh!  Grant and Molly are coming in on Monday!" JenniAnn remembered, biting her lip as she tried to puzzle out their addition.

"Well, let's keep them near Arthur and Liam.  I'm sure Arthur would be fine sharing a room with his parents.  Then we can move Samson, Tim, Tyson, and Jeff to..."

"The attic's fixed up so nicely now that *someone* built all those shelves."  JenniAnn smiled proudly at Andrew.  "And there's the pull-out couch and the futons.  So that'll work, won't it?"

"Definitely."  Andrew hugged JenniAnn.  "Thank you for this."

JenniAnn leaned up to kiss his cheek.  "It's your home now, too.  Thank... Doug and his family!  Surely they'll make the drive now that they know Joshua is here."

Andrew thought.  "Well, Vincent did say we could use Cora's house if we wanted.  Even if Azalea, Basil, and Lily decide to go there instead of staying at their own place, I think they'd all still be comfortable and not too cramped.  Then they'd have the Tunnel entrance and they wouldn't even have to go that far in to get to the portal.  They'd be what?  Five minutes away?"

"Good plan!  So let's see...  Uh oh.  I forgot that I was thinking of giving the room across from Maryam's and Yosef's to Zeke and Diana.  They really need their own room what with Manny still getting up all the time and Diana nursing and..."

The angel began to toy with the pen he and JenniAnn had been using to make room assignments.  "I agree.  So maybe... they could have my room?"

"But then where..."

"Only if you'd be okay with..."

Catching onto Andrew's intent, JenniAnn smiled and grabbed the pen away from him.  She took both his hands in hers and gazed up at him.

"I would be okay with that."

Andrew beamed down at her.  "Then we're set."

"We're set," JenniAnn agreed.

Andrew embraced her and closed his eyes as he rested his chin on her hair.  For a few silent, precious moments he reflected on the days to come.  His first Christmas as a father...  Their first Christmas in Willowveil... and with all their Superstar friends near.  The angel began to laugh.

Smiling, JenniAnn peered up at him.  "Care to let me in on the joke?"

"It's goofy but it suddenly hit me that in the show... well, the movie before the show... we were the innkeeper and his wife.  It suits us."

JenniAnn laughed.  "It does.  Although I'm glad we have more to offer than a stable.  That would be one crowded stable with all of us!"

"But we'd still be happy."

"We would..." JenniAnn agreed.

They smiled at each other, both knowing they'd be happy anywhere so long as their family and Joshua were near.


After everyone had finished breakfast and Andrew and JenniAnn had given out room assignments, the angel of death moved to the front of the group.

"Okay, everyone, I know today hasn't started out exactly as we all planned it," he began.

"Way better!" Violeta shouted.

"Hear, hear!" Sy seconded.

Andrew chuckled.  "No argument from me there!"  He smiled at Joshua.  "But I've spoken to Joshua and he'd like us to stick with our plans... with a slight alteration.  We're all going to break for about an hour.  Anyone who hasn't already can go back to their homes to pack up what they'll need for the week and, if you have any perishable food, please bring it.  Any crock pots you have would be good, too.  Since we're going to be in a bit of a rush to make it to Beth El tonight, we'll just do a leftovers potluck.  Sound good?"

The crowd cheered.

"Great!  If everyone's okay with it, we'll pool some money for fresh groceries... cause we're gonna need some.  It's Joshua's birthday week and we don't want him having to summon every meal."

Joshua laughed.  "Thanks for the consideration."

"You're very welcome," Andrew replied with a grin.  "After we all reconvene here, we'll split into groups to do our shopping for the Bible study's donations to True Light and the Phoenix.  The group buying food will also do our grocery shopping.  And... I think that's it, right?"

"Cookies!" Adam reminded.

"Trust you to remember that," Andrew teased.  "It looked like we had quite a collection growing in the kitchen but, yes, if you didn't bring your cookies for the decorating party tonight, please do.  So..."  He pulled out his pocket watch and studied it.  "Let's all meet back here at 9:30, got it?"

With shouts of enthusiastic agreement; the angels, Dyelanders, and St. Genesius group all went their separate ways and began to count the minutes until they were all together again.


Joshua sauntered through Macy's, smiling as he held Belle.  She had grown weary of sifting through ladies' clothes with her mother, Kemara, Emma, Doreen, Mere, and Freya.  Joshua had been happy to take her as he wandered from group to group.

As they strolled, Joshua studied the other shoppers.  He knew who each gift was going to and what hopes and prayers were attached to each item.  He also thought of all the people who would be touched and heartened by the clothing and toys that the Bible study members would be gifting.  He recalled the previous month when the group had begun to discuss what they might do for his birthday.  While they'd considered many options, Joshua had been pleased when they'd decided to pool their money to buy gifts for Arthur's and Catherine's clients.  He'd relished knowing that he would be with them when they did their shopping.

"Dadda!" Belle cried, interrupting Joshua's thoughts.

Joshua kissed her curls and followed her gaze, spotting Andrew sizing up some sweaters with Zeke and Peter.  "Yep!  That's him all right!"

They made their way to the three.

"How's it going?" Joshua asked.

Zeke waved to a nearby counter.  "That's what we have so far.  Diana's taught me well when it comes to bargain hunting."

Laughing, Joshua nodded.  "She has.  That's great!  The guys at True Light are really going to appreciate all that."

Andrew took Belle from him and snuggled her.  "How are the other groups doing?"

"Diana, Brittony, Eliot, and Catherine are doing really well in the baby department.  Owen, Portia, and Monica are heading up the toys group and I'm so proud of the kids.  Not once did they start looking for themselves.  They were getting so excited figuring out what they could get for the kids at the shelters," Joshua reported, pride and love evident on his face.  "The teens' group is doing really well, too, and we had a very fruitful discussion about self-expression and body image.  You'd never know this was the first time Jocelyn and Zoe had met your girls, Zeke.  They've made fast friends with them, Ivy, and Violeta."

"Glad to hear it!" Zeke enthused.  "Hopefully that'll make their stay at Serendipity even better."

Joshua chuckled.  "I think so.  They're scheming about something but I'm not sure what."

"And no doubt my protege is heading up the scheme," Andrew guessed, wincing slightly.  "So how'd you end up with Belle?" he asked.

Joshua kissed Belle's fingers when she reached out.  "She just got a little bored looking at skirts and sweaters and leggings, I think, so I offered to take her.  The women's group is doing really well, though.  They've amassed a stack of clothes to rival yours.  But I'm afraid the housewares group is a little behind schedule.  Abi had a lot of questions when he and Ama wandered by."

Peter chuckled.  "Well, I imagine they're enjoying filling him in.  How much longer we got before we're supposed to meet for lunch?"

Andrew checked his watch.  "Fifteen minutes.  I guess we should check out."

After selecting a couple more sweaters, Andrew settled up and the five headed towards the Cellar Bar & Grill where they'd agreed to meet.

As everyone excitedly told the others about their purchases, Andrew did a head count.

"What's wrong?" JenniAnn asked when she noticed he was frowning.

"We're missing two."

Joshua shook his head as a sheepish smile flickered on his face.  "And that would be my parents!"  He laughed.  "I bet I know where they are.  You all stay here.  I'll go get them.  Shouldn't be long."

Overhearing, Emma tilted her head as she watched Joshua go.  "I wonder what they're doing?"

John grinned.  "I think I know.  They're fixing Nativities.  They do that sometimes."

Diana laughed.  "What?"

John only shrugged and smiled.  "I'm sure we'll hear plenty about it when they get back."  He chuckled as he watched his cousin walk away, still shaking his head as he continued to smile.


"My love?"

Maryam turned away from the snow globe she was studying.  "Yes, Yosef?"

"I have a question for you."  Yosef pointed to the ceramic Nativity scene in front of him.  "Perhaps my memory fails me but my Abi did not visit you and Yeshu while we were in Bethlehem, did he?"

Maryam giggled as she stared at the miniature, aged Joseph.  "Alas, dearest husband, that is meant to be you, I fear," she whispered.

Yosef blinked.  "I know some of them think I was considerably older than you but he... he is ancient, Maryam!"

Maryam hugged him.  "If it is any comfort, you are ancient."

Smirking, Yosef kissed her forehead.  "But I do not look it!  And I was not then!"

"This is true."  Maryam patted her husband's beard then stared at the figurine.

Yosef burst out laughing when the figure's snowy white hair turned ebony.

"An improvement, yes?" Maryam checked.

"Infinitely better.  Although I will never understand..."  Yosef reached out and moved Joseph closer to Mary.

Maryam rested her head on his shoulder and smiled as she studied the little family.  "Much better."

Taking her hand, Yosef moved from display to display and shifted their doppelgangers so they were near each other as they gazed at their beatific son.

"He was so tiny...  I can still remember how light he felt in my arms," Yosef mused, his voice wistful and gravelly.

"Even then, when I gazed into Yeshu's eyes, I felt like I was looking into Love itself," Maryam added, dabbing at her eyes.

Overhearing the two as he approached, Joshua snuck up behind his parents and embraced them.  "I felt the same, Ama.  And I will never forget how comfortable and secure I felt in your arms, Abi."

The couple turned and smiled at him.

Joshua lowered his voice.  "And I'm glad I didn't grow up with parents who always maintained a yard's distance from each other."  He winked and slid another Joseph nearer to his bride.  "Now, everyone's over at the restaurant so..."

"We are late?"  Yosef grimaced.  "So hard to tell the time of day without the sky..."

Joshua smiled.  "It is.  And you're only a few minutes late.  But, perhaps, I need to get you a watch for Christmas, Abi," he jested.

"My thanks, Yeshu, but I have already received the only Christmas gift I will ever need," Yosef replied, again hugging his son.

"We both have," Maryam echoed.  Her eyes welled as she looked on then joined their embrace.

Joshua kissed them both.  "Thank you for that.  I... I think I got a pretty great gift, too.  Two of them even."

Hand-in-hand, not caring that some people stared, the three went to rejoin their group.


That evening, after the Shabbat service, Rabbi Yakov ran towards Joshua who was gathered with the other congregants in the reception area of the synagogue.

"My friend!" the man cried as he hugged Joshua.

With tears in his eyes, Joshua smiled and returned the embrace.  "Yakov... a wonderful celebration tonight!  And I'm so glad you and Tiva are safely back home now."  He turned to the woman who, unlike her husband, had been able to fawn over Joshua before and during the service.  "Tiva was telling me all about your time in Hawaii."

Yakov smiled.  "I was reluctant to leave the warmth and sunshine but now... now I'm glad we did.  And your parents and cousin are here!"  He pointed to where the three were conversing with the Frankl family.

With a nod, Joshua beamed at the group.  "Ama and Betty are arranging a time for us to visit them at their home.  Monday, I think.  But tonight..."

"Tree decorating!" Tiva exclaimed.  She lowered her voice.  "I have always loved visiting Willowveil at Christmas and admiring the decorations but now... I feel so much a part of it."  She squeezed Joshua's arm.

Joshua patted her hand.  "You are a part of it.  I was hoping..."

"I'm bringing rugelach," Tiva interrupted with a grin.

Chuckling, Joshua shook his head.  "You'd think you were the one who can read minds!  I'm glad to hear it.  I've been craving it."

"Speaking of our party tonight... where did everyone go?" the rabbi questioned.  "I saw the whole group sitting with you during the service."

"They left to get everything ready for the tree decorating.  Truthfully, I think they wanted to give us a few moments to ourselves."  Joshua again hugged the two.  "Let's go see what Ama and Betty have decided and then we can head there?"

Eagerly, Tiva and Yakov nodded.

"Joshua!"  Moishe smiled as he approached.  "Monday night!  The ladies have decided that is when you and your family will honor us with your presence."

Clapping the man on the back, Joshua beamed.  "I'll be looking forward to it!"

Betty squeezed his hand.  "I'm so glad you and your family have returned for a visit."

Joshua kissed her hair.  "Me too.  I've been looking forward to this visit since April.  We all have."  He smiled at his parents and cousin.

"Please do let us know if we can bring anything, Betty," Maryam requested.  "You have John's number?"

Samson nodded.  "We do."  He winked at John.

"Moishe, you must remember to show me that uneven shelf.  Perhaps if I could take a look..."

Betty scowled.  "Moishe!  You are not putting our guests to work!"

"He offered!" her husband countered, looking to Yosef for back up.

With a laugh, the carpenter nodded.  "I did, Betty.  I enjoy my work.  It would be no sacrifice and is, likely, a very quick job."

"Abi would know."  Joshua smiled at his father.

"Thank you, Yosef.  Well, I suppose we should head home before that rain freezes."  Moishe looked to his son.

"Sounds good, Dad."  Samson hugged Joshua.  "I'll be by as soon as I get them settled in," he whispered.

Joshua nodded, smiling in anticipation.

The two families embraced before parting then Joshua turned back to the Levines.  After Rabbi Yakov had seen the other congregants off, the group made their way to the Tunnel portal and the party that awaited them.


The scents of cookies, coffee, butterbeer, tea, cider, cocoa, and other delicious treats all mingled together in the Willowveil ballroom.  Those spending their first Christmas in Dyeland were touched to find ornaments especially made for each of them.

Joshua lifted Lily so she could reach the branch she'd selected for her ornament.

"Pretty tree...  I like it here, Josh," Lily confided as she patted his cheeks.

Joshua returned her smile.  "I like it, too.  Now... you want to help me hang my ornament?" he asked, carrying Lily back to the table where he'd left a wooden Trinity knot that Andrew had made for him.

Lily nodded with eagerness.

"Hmm...  Well, where did it go?"

Joshua re-examined the table, knowing the ornament had been there that morning.

Lily began to giggle.  "I painted.  We all painted."

Joshua grinned.  "I think you know something that you're not telling me."

Lily rested her finger against her lips.  "Surprise."

Standing nearby, Max began to chuckle.

"I think Max is in on the surprise, huh?" Joshua asked Lily.

"Yup," she averred.

"Max, anything you'd like to say?" Joshua questioned.

"Hmm...  Nope, not really," the man replied as Rose giggled beside him.

Joshua's eye brow crooked upwards.  "Would I be right in guessing that you've all decided to take advantage of my live feed being down?"

"You would be," Max verified, trying to stifle more laughter.

Joshua looked around the room and noticed that Andrew was holding a box.  When Joshua caught his eye, the angel grinned and beckoned for him.

After kissing Lily's cheek, Joshua smiled at the girl, Max, and Rose.  "Guess I better go see Andrew, huh?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Rose encouraged, moving to follow him.

With Lily still balanced on his hip, Joshua went to Andrew.  He noticed that everyone had crowded nearer.

"Well, hello there, Andrew.  Lily and I were just looking for my ornament and turns out it's missing.  You wouldn't happen to know about that, would you?" Joshua queried, trying not to laugh.

"Oh, well, yeah.  Actually, I do know about that.  We decided, as a group, that you really shouldn't have an ornament.  Instead, you need this."  Andrew patted the box.  "Maybe Liam can open it for you?" he suggested when he noticed that Lily was reluctant to relinquish Joshua.

Eyes twinkling, Joshua nodded.  "I would like that."  He squeezed the little boy's shoulder.  "Thank you, Liam."

"Welcome!"  Liam plopped on the floor with the wrapped box and tore the paper away.  After lifting the lid, he tilted the box towards Joshua and beamed up at him.

Joshua knelt down with Lily and studied the contents.

"Like a rainbow!" the girl enthused.

Zeke blinked back tears.  "Thing is, Lord, we all wanted our ornaments to be near yours so... this seemed like a good solution."

"Andrew went Home briefly earlier today.  He needed a bit of Eternity in order to carve all of those.  Then we all took turns sneaking into his basement to paint them," JenniAnn informed Joshua.

Joshua's eyes glistened as he looked up at them.  "They're beautiful.  And I... I can tell who painted each one."  He picked up the end of the Trinity knot garland and moved from one piece to the next.  "Kemara, Samson, Emma, Owen, Dot, Basil, Robert, Ama... all of you."

Andrew patted his back.  "We'll add Raquel's and Nico's onto it when they get here on Tuesday.  And the Harmons'."  He looked to Arthur.  "And Grant's and Molly's, too."

Arthur beamed.  "They'd like that."  Even though they didn't know who Joshua was, he was sure his parents would immediately take to him.

"Lily, sweetie, let Mommy hold you for a little bit," Azalea suggested, sensing that Joshua wanted to begin a round of hugs.

Lily kissed Joshua then went to her mother.

Joshua got to his feet and smiled tenderly at everyone gathered around.  "Thank you all.  This is beautiful and I treasure the meaning and the love behind it."

After he'd hugged each of them, Owen and Violeta climbed ladders and wound the garland around the tree, from top to bottom.

When they were finished, everyone stepped back and admired the fully decorated tree.  Joshua's symbol encircled it all, another reminder of God's all-encompassing love.


Sunday, December 21st

Arthur startled awake, momentarily wondering where he was.  Then he smiled as he remembered the previous day.  Joshua and his family were with them there at Willowveil!

After giving himself a few moments to reflect, Arthur yanked on his robe and stepped into the hallway.  He made his way to the rec room but stopped when he noticed Monica's and Gloria's door was open.  Glancing inside, he saw Liam snuggled against Monica.  Both were sound asleep.

Arthur tried to ignore his conflicted feelings.  Liam appeared content and that was all that mattered.  Smiling upon them, he quietly pulled the door closed lest light or noise prematurely wake them or Gloria.

In search of something to drink, Arthur headed to the kitchen.  Entering the room, he found Joshua standing in front of the open refrigerator.

"Good morning, Josh!" Arthur greeted.

Turning around, Joshua smiled at him.  He closed the door and hugged the man.  "Good morning, Arthur!  How did you sleep?"

"Really good.  Actually, it was the best sleep that I've had in a while.  How about you?"

"Great!  It's the only sleep I've had in a while," Joshua responded with a grin.

Arthur laughed.  "Well, I'm glad you enjoyed it but... I'm also glad you don't sleep when you're... you know."  He pointed to the ceiling.

"Me too.  I'd miss too much!"  After another smile, Joshua reopened the refrigerator.  "I was going for some orange juice.  How about you?"

"That'd be great.  Thanks."

Joshua removed the carton and filled two glasses.  "Shall we enjoy it in here or elsewhere?"

"Here's good," Arthur responded.

Joshua set the glasses on the table and motioned for Arthur to sit.  "Your first Christmas with Liam!  That's great, huh?"

Arthur took a sip of the juice and nodded.  "It's amazing, Josh.  Really.  I feel like a little kid again myself, seeing Christmas through his eyes.  Santa and elves and reindeer and just... awe.  When Andrew gave us our Nativity... well, I'm sure you saw."

Beaming, Joshua nodded.  "I got a kiss."

"Yeah...  Just stuff like that.  He wasn't self-conscious.  He didn't do it to be pious.  He just kissed the baby because he loves you.  All the magic and innocence... even with... everything before..."

Joshua reached over to clasp Arthur's hand when he saw his eyes fill.  "You and Monica are doing a wonderful job with Liam.  The strides he's made since October...  Arthur, it's miraculous."

Arthur set his hand over Joshua's and nodded.  "Yes, thank you and your Dad for that."

"You're welcome.  But you have to know that you're a big part of that.  Monica, too.  Your parents.  And all his aunts and uncles and cousins!  Arthur, just because my live feed is down right now, it doesn't mean I don't remember everything from before.  You've been talking a lot to Dad and me and Abi, too, about how you feel.  Don't you think it might help you to say it all aloud?" Joshua gently suggested.

Arthur let out a ragged sigh.  "Yeah.  I... I think so.  Josh, you know that I am so grateful for everything you've done for us.  I mean... well, everything.  But specifically for my family.  Letting Monica have that food truck... it's been great.  She and Liam are seldom apart and it's pretty often that the three of us get to spend all three meals together.  And I am so very, very glad that the two of them...  I know Monica couldn't love our little guy more if she'd given birth to him.  And Liam couldn't love his Monny more.  That makes me so grateful but..."

"It's okay," Joshua encouraged.

"Ri-right now... Liam is curled up with Monica.  I don't know if he had a nightmare or was just scared by the unfamiliar surroundings or if the sounds of the other kids sleeping were too much but... he must have gone into her room.  Just like he does every time he gets scared or... or can't sleep.  Or even during the days when he's feeling a little under the weather or sleepy or something upset him... we could both be right there a-and... he goes to Monica every time.  And, please, don't think that I'm upset because I'm jealous or... or feel like he's ignoring me.  I get a big hug and kiss every time I go to work and every time I come back and every night when we tuck Liam in."  Arthur smiled through his tears then lowered his head.  "But... but it hurts to know my own son... he never comes to me for comfort, to feel safe.  Will... will Liam ever trust me, Josh?"

"Arthur...  Liam knows you love him and he knows you'd keep him safe.  But for most of his life, the men he knew... they were hurtful and loud and angry.  He knows his Daddy's not like that," Joshua consoled.  "But you're Daddy, Arthur... not Monny.  For all her struggles, Nessa nurtured Liam when she could.  Thus, women are more comforting for him.  But that won't always be the case.  One day he will look to you for comfort.  I know it.  Liam just needs time."

Arthur brushed at his tears.  "Thank you.  That means a lot, Josh.  I... I guess I just... I don't want this to last so long that... that by the time Liam trusts me, he's a grown boy.  I've already missed his infancy and his toddlerhood.  I don't want there to be this... distance between us during his little boy years."

"There won't be," Joshua vowed.  "And, if it's any comfort, this could happen even if you and Monica had both been in Liam's life from day one on.  Little ones are often... cuddlier with their mothers.  In fact..."

Yosef ambled into the kitchen, rubbing at his eyes.  "Coffee?"

Joshua laughed.  "Can you wait two minutes or should I do my thing?"

Yosef chuckled.  "I will happily wait.  I rather enjoy watching the thing work."

Joshua set up the coffeemaker and began to pull mugs from the dishwasher.

"Is Ama up yet?  Should I start water for her tea?"

Yosef shook his head.  "Still sleeping... like an angel, as they say.  Strange turn of phrase."  He turned to Arthur.  "I fear I may have interrupted your visit.  Once I have my coffee..."

"Oh, no.  It's okay," Arthur assured.  "Actually... if you could stay..."

Joshua nodded.  "I think it would be good if you did, Abi.  We've been talking about Liam.  And you know a thing or two about being a father."

Laughing, Yosef glared at Joshua.  "Only a thing or two, Yeshu?"

"Just another strange turn of phrase, Abi."  Joshua smiled and kissed Yosef's cheek.  "You could write a book."  He pulled out a chair and motioned for him to sit.

Yosef returned Joshua's kiss then sat down.  He smiled across the table at Arthur and patted his arm.

"I have been very pleased when I have checked in on you, Monica, and Liam.  Maryam has been, too."

Arthur blushed.  "Thank you, Yosef."

"I have heard you, Arthur.  And I believe I know what Yeshu was about to say."

Joshua poured some coffee into Yosef's mug and set it in front of him before reclaiming his seat.

"I was there the moment Yeshu drew his first breath.  I held him that very night.  I peered around Maryam's head as she counted his fingers and toes."  Yosef beamed at Joshua.

Joshua squeezed his father's shoulder.

"Yeshu and I were always close, Arthur.  But I did sometimes feel... through no fault of their own... apart from Yeshu and Maryam.  Yeshu was so small... he did not pick up on this.  Maryam did and tried to remedy it but..."  Yosef shrugged.  "The simple truth was that Yeshu was always with Maryam.  I had to work.  In later years, I brought Yeshu into the shop with me but to do so when we were in Egypt and he was so little..."  The carpenter shook his head.

Arthur stared down at his hands, struck by how closely Yosef was echoing his own thoughts.  He looked up and peered at Joshua who was smiling gently at him.

"Arthur, please don't think Dad and I didn't think about that when we gave Monica the food truck.  But your work is so important and yet..."  Joshua looked to Yosef.

"You deal with difficult people sometimes, Arthur... even more difficult than the grumblers who I worked for," Yosef continued.  "They would frighten Liam at his current age."

Joshua nodded.  "And I know you have considered sacrificing this job that means so much to you and that you find so fulfilling, Arthur.  But I know you don't really want that.  I don't want that.  And your work... in the years ahead... that work will mean a great deal to Liam."

"Yeshu, as always, speaks truthfully," Yosef averred.  "There came a time, when Yeshua was four and we had returned to Nazareth, that another village boy taunted him."

"Ivy told us a story about that.  The kid who said you were, uh, not Yosef's?" Arthur checked.

Joshua nodded.  "One of them.  Ama was at a neighbor's when it happened.  But Abi settled me onto his lap and held me and began to tell me the truth.  And even when Ama returned in the midst of it, I remained in Abi's arms.  Because, well, his eyes had teared up...  And, even though I couldn't have articulated it at the time, those tears made me realize how much my Abi longed to make the world safer and better for me.  From then on...  Well, let's just say that when I got scared in the middle of the night, I was just as likely to shake Abi awake as I was to shake Ama awake."

"And he did," Yosef verified, ruffling Joshua's hair.

Grinning, Joshua continued.  "That moment... it's going to come for Liam, too.  You'll see, Arthur."

Arthur let out a sigh of relief.  "I believe you.  Thank you."  He smiled at both men.  "Maybe, umm, I'll just go check on Liam and Monica and see if they're awake yet?"

"Good idea," Joshua assented.

Joshua and Yosef watched the man leave then turned to each other.

"So that is why we are here, yes?" Yosef checked.

"Partly.  We've got a lot to cover this week."  Joshua squeezed his Abi's hand.  "A lot of different things happened that very first Christmas: the stage was set for humankind to be redeemed, the divide between Heaven and Earth, angel and human began to evaporate.  But, for me, one of the most important things was that I... I got two wonderfully loving parents."

"And your Ama and I... we became parents," Yosef added, his voice gravelly with emotion.

Joshua embraced him and nodded.  "So I want to spend this Christmas making things better for these parents and children... and others... and pave the way for those children yet to be born."

"Then we will do that," Yosef vowed.


Joshua and Yosef looked up to see Maryam standing in the doorway and smiling at them.

Joshua watched, pleased, as his Abi leapt up from his chair and pulled another out for his Ama.

"Tea, my love?" Yosef offered.

"Yes, please, Yosef."

As Yosef prepared her tea, Maryam beamed across the table at Joshua.

For a few quiet moments before the others began to rise and mill around, the three enjoyed their time together.


After enjoying a shared breakfast, the group made plans to attend church.  Even though they belonged to several different denominations, they all wanted to remain together and near Joshua as much as possible.  Since Zeke wasn't preaching at his church that Sunday, the group decided to make themselves part of Fr. Mike's congregation.

Once they left St. Mary Magdalene's, some of the group headed back to Dyeland while others remained in New York and went to the Phoenix Inn.

Though there had been a lot of turnover since Joshua and his family had last been there, Catherine had invited many of the year's past residents back.  Their glowing remembrances had endeared the women and children currently residing at the shelter to Joshua.  He was swarmed as soon as he crossed the threshold.

"Joshua!  Please read us a story!"

"Santa's coming, Joshua!"

"Josh, meet my new baby brother!"

Joshua laughed and smiled as he greeted and hugged each child.  That he knew their names was written off, by those who were new, as careful preparation on Catherine's part.

Once he'd made his way through the sea of little ones who had moved onto Maryam, Yosef, and John; Joshua found himself face to face with Gracie and her baby.

"Gracie..."  With great care, Joshua wrapped his arms around the woman.

Missing his cheek, Gracie kissed Joshua's chin and held her baby out to him.  "Harmony, Joshua."

Joshua cradled the baby, admiring her as she dozed.  "Harmony is absolutely beautiful, Gracie.  And, with a name like that, I have a feeling she's going to be a singer."

"A famous singer?  Like Taylor Swift?"

Joshua chuckled.  "I think Harmony's going to very much be her own person."

Gracie grinned.  "She's so pretty...  I love her."  Her eyes welled.

With his free arm, Joshua embraced the woman again.  "I know you do.  And Harmony knows, too.  And I think she wants her Mommy back."  He returned the infant to her mother's arms just in time for his own mother to approach.

"Oh, Gracie...  Your daughter is absolutely precious," Maryam gushed.  "She looks so much like you, my dear!"

Gracie beamed.  "Thank you, Maryam.  Come with me to feed her?"

"I would be honored," Maryam accepted.

Joshua smiled after his Ama as she followed Gracie.  He knew she would spend the time building up Gracie's self-esteem.  As the woman had grown more comfortable at the Phoenix, she had also become increasingly aware of her own uniqueness and the difficulties her autism sometimes posed.  Though Catherine and Portia had tried their best to put her worries to rest, Gracie still spent many late nights wondering if Harmony might be better off with someone else.  Joshua knew that, from the moment they'd met, Gracie had formed an unflagging trust in his Ama.  Spending time with her would give Gracie the peace of mind she so needed.  In the meantime, he and his Abi had someone else to tend to.

"Yes, yes.  I will give piggyback rides in just one moment," Yosef promised.  "Please allow me to speak to my son first.  In the meantime, I might point out that my nephew here has excellent shoulders."  He grinned at John.

John chuckled.  "Thanks for the kind praise, Uncle."

Catherine cringed.  "You're sure you're all right with..."

John squeezed her shoulder.  "More than all right.  It'll be fun."  He lowered his voice.  "I wasn't exactly popular with the kids in my day.  Pretty sure they thought I was insane...  Looking back, I can understand that."

Laughing, Catherine hugged him.  "But we know better.  Okay, kids, let's form a line.  And, remember, we're going to have to keep rides short because soon we're going to have another visitor..."

"Santa!" the kids screamed.

"Adam?" Yosef whispered to Joshua.

With a nod, Joshua pulled Yosef into the hall and lowered his voice.  "Yes.  And... he's bringing Mrs. Claus this time."

Yosef grinned.  "Kylie?"

Joshua nodded.  "Andrew's bringing them separately.  Right now they're at the theatre so JenniAnn can do Kylie's makeup."

"And Clay?"

"Kylie asked him to come so..."

"So we will speak to him here?"

Joshua hugged Yosef.  "Yeah.  And we'll have help."

Yosef followed his son's gaze to the floor.  "Ah...  Most helpful."

With a smile and another nod, Joshua peered into the common room.  "In the meantime, maybe we give my cousin a hand?  That's quite a line."

Chuckling, Yosef nodded and followed Joshua to the line of children awaiting their piggyback rides.


Maryam sat beside Gracie as she nursed Harmony.

"I read an article that said breast milk is healthiest for babies," Gracie relayed.

Maryam smiled.  "When possible, I agree that it is best."

"When Joshua was little..."  Gracie trailed off.  She knew she sometimes asked questions that weren't right to ask.

"Yes, I nursed Yeshu."

"He's big and strong."

"He is," Maryam agreed with another smile.  "I think your Harmony will grow big and strong, too, Gracie."

Gracie bowed her head so she could kiss her baby.

After a pause of a few moments, Gracie spoke again.

"I want to keep Harmony for as long as I can so she gets really healthy like the article said.  But then..."  The woman's eyes filled and she began to rock.  "Baby... baby... my... my baby."

Maryam caressed Gracie's hair.  "Dear Gracie... why do you think you need to give Harmony up?"

Gracie began to cry in earnest.  "I... I don't always think right and...  Harmony should have a good mommy."

Wrapping her arms around the woman's shoulders, Maryam spoke in a tender whisper.

"You are a very good mommy, Gracie.  I was there the first day you saw her picture.  Yosef and Yeshu, too.  We all saw how happy and excited you were.  You are reading about ways to care for Harmony.  You feed her and change her diapers and dress her and play with her and rock her and, most of all, you love her.  You do everything a mother should... must... do.  With some help, yes.  But there is nothing wrong with that."

"But I... I don't understand other people sometimes... a lot.  What if I don't understand Harmony?" Gracie questioned.

With a teary smile, Maryam pushed some hair away from the young mother's face.  "Mothers often do not understand their children.  There were times with Yeshu...  Yosef and I both struggled to understand him.  And we did not always understand him.  But he understood that we loved him so.  We still love him so... even though there are times we still do not understand all of him."

"He loves you and Yosef.  I can tell."

"And Harmony loves you.  I can tell."

Gracie smiled at the echo.

"Gracie, you will always have help.  Catherine would never make you leave here.  You know this, yes?"

Gracie nodded.

"If Harmony needs help that is difficult for you to give, Catherine would help.  Portia would help.  Cira, Crystal, JenniAnn, Kemara, Kylie... so many helpers.  And I will be praying for you," Maryam promised.

"You're in the Bible," Gracie solemnly intoned.  "Yosef and Joshua, too.  Maybe John."

Though caught by surprise, Maryam smiled and nodded.  "Yes, John, too."

"'In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David,'" Gracie recited from memory.  "The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.'  That was you," Gracie finished simply.

With happy tears in her eyes, Maryam nodded.  "Yes."

Gracie squeezed her hand.  "Joshua wants me to keep Harmony?"

Maryam tread carefully, knowing the girl had to make her own decision.  "Do you think he does, Gracie?"

Peering down at her baby, Gracie nodded.

Maryam beamed.  "I think you are very right."

Gracie raised her head and beamed at Maryam.

Then Maryam watched as Gracie expertly burped Harmony after she was done nursing, checked her diaper, and swaddled her.

"Can we go see Santa now?" Gracie asked with a smile.  "I can put another picture in Harmony's book."

Filled with joy, Maryam took Gracie's free hand.  "I think that is a wonderful idea."

When they entered the playroom, Joshua smiled at them.

"How was your talk?" he asked.

Gracie's smile lit up her whole face.  "Good.  I know who you are, you know."

Joshua's smile grew.  "I do know."  He remembered how, during some sleepless nights, Gracie's sharp mind had begun to piece everything together.  Though the words had come slowly, he was touched by the simple way she expressed her conclusion.

Maryam looked at her son in surprise as he and Gracie embraced.  Her gaze followed the woman as she approached John and Yosef.

"You did not tell me," she whispered to Joshua.

Joshua grinned.  "Nope.  I didn't."  He kissed Maryam's cheek.  "I wanted you to hear it from Gracie, Ama... to be the first to hear it from Gracie.  She's believed for a while but this is the first time she's spoken of it."

Touched that her boy had gifted her with that experience, Maryam hugged him tightly.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  Thank you for talking with Gracie.  I'm so glad she's keeping Harmony," Joshua whispered.

"The Father told you?"

Joshua shook his head.  "Didn't have to.  I knew you wouldn't fail in helping Gracie realize that Harmony needs to stay with her, Ama."

"My own..."

Joshua rested his cheek against his mother's hair as they remained in each other's embrace and watched over the children and their mothers.


"And the sleigh has arrived!" Andrew declared as he pulled into the driveway of the Phoenix Inn.  He turned around and smiled at "the Clauses," Belle, and Clay.

Clay hugged Kylie.  "You look adorable.  Old... but adorable."

Kylie laughed.  "Thank you."  She glanced at herself in the dashboard mirror.  "You really did an amazing job, JenniAnn!"

Twisting around in the passenger seat, JenniAnn returned her smile.  "Thanks!  And you two look great!  I think Belle agrees!  I don't think she's stopped gazing at one or the other of you the whole time."

Adam reached forward to lightly tousle Belle's curls.  "You're definitely on my nice list, sweetheart."


Andrew chuckled.  "That sounded suspiciously like Adam.  I think she's onto you, buddy."


"She probably wants to be held," JenniAnn concluded.  "Adam, you wanna take her for a lil bit and I'll head in and see if they're ready?"


Kylie unbuckled Belle then handed her to her uncle in the seat behind them.

Belle cooed away as Adam swayed with her.

"Kylie, are you sure you don't want to have a first name as Mrs. Claus?" Adam checked.

Kylie shook her head.  "I don't want to be the weak link.  There's no agreed upon name and I don't want to cause doubt by picking a first name and having one of the little ones say they heard differently."

Clay reached for Kylie's hand.  "Good thinking."

"Thanks!"  After checking to ensure no one was peeking out the windows of the Phoenix, Kylie gave Clay a quick kiss.

Adam laughed.  "You didn't see that, Belle."

Belle smiled and wound her hand in his beard.

Once JenniAnn had made it to the front door and waved to them, Andrew took Belle and the group exited the van.

"They're waiting in the playroom," JenniAnn informed them when they reached the porch.

Adam repositioned his sack of toys and took Kylie's hand.  "You ready?"

"A little nervous... but yes."

Clay squeezed her shoulders.  "You'll do great.  The kids will love you both."

"You'll come watch?" Kylie checked.

Clay's only response was a nod.

Kylie gave a slight frown.  "Are you okay?"

Forcing a smile, Clay nodded again.  "Definitely okay."

"Good."  Kylie turned back to Adam and beamed.  "I'm ready, Santa."

Adam drew in a deep breath then entered the shelter.  "Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Now where are the children we're supposed to visit, my dear?"

Shrieks of glee echoed down the hall.

"Sounds like they may be in the playroom, Santa," Kylie replied, suppressing a giggle.

"Ah, yes.  I think you're right, Mrs. Claus.  Shall we go join them?"

"I think we should!"

Andrew, JenniAnn, Belle, and Clay looked on happily as the two headed down the hallway.  They hadn't even reached the playroom before kids skipped and ran towards them.

"Mrs. Claus is here this time!"

"Why wasn't she here last year, Santa?"

Joshua poked his head around the corner of the playroom entry and laughed.

Panicked, Adam looked to his "wife."

Kylie knelt down in front of the questioner.  She recognized the boy from her time at the Phoenix.

"Well, Luke, last time the elves ran into a little trouble while they were making cookies.  So I decided to stay behind to help them while Santa came to visit all of you.  But I'm so happy that I get to see you all today!  How about we all go into the playroom and get comfortable then we can enjoy some cookies and milk together?  I think Santa here's getting a little hungry!"

Kylie's idea was met with cheers and a rush for the playroom.  She and Adam were nearly dragged away as the little ones vied for their hands.

Still laughing, Joshua hugged Andrew, JenniAnn, and Clay as they trailed the others.

"Mrs. Claus is quick thinking!" he praised as he took Belle from Andrew.

With a proud smile, Clay peeked into the room.

"Come on, let's sit down.  This is so much fun to watch!" JenniAnn gushed.

Andrew hung back for a moment when he noticed Clay wasn't budging.  He remembered the man's seeming hesitance on the porch.

"Clay, are you sure everything's okay?" Andrew gently questioned.

Clay stared down at his hands.  "It's just...  I mean... I've been here before but... not with all the kids around.  Some probably haven't seen me and I don't..."

Andrew hugged the man.  "Clay, the kids are so focused on Adam and Kylie right now that they probably won't notice any of us.  And even if they did, all the ladies know your story and can reassure their sons and daughters."

"Yeah, I know."

Joshua patted Clay's back and glanced at Andrew.

The angel of death knew Joshua had everything under control so smiled at Clay and took Belle back from Joshua.  "Good.  We'll just head in then."

Joshua said nothing but remained at Clay's side, peering into the room.

As the adults passed out milk and cookies, the children gathered around Adam and Kylie who began to read The Polar Express aloud.

"Look at her..." Clay murmured.  "She's so good with kids."

Joshua beamed at the throng, his gaze lingering on Kylie.  "She really is."

"We, umm, when we babysat Belle a couple weeks ago...  She said..."  Clay's voice cracked.

"I know."  Joshua recalled the way Kylie's cheeks had flushed when she'd used the phrase "one day with our own kids" while talking to Clay.

Seeing Joshua embrace Clay as his shoulders began to shake, Yosef kissed Maryam's temple and rose from where they were seated on a large bean bag.  He silently followed Joshua as he steered Clay towards Catherine's room at the Phoenix.

As they entered, the closet door opened and Vincent emerged from behind some of his wife's clothing.

Clay peered at the man.  "Vincent..."

Vincent embraced him.  "Yes, Joshua told me to come.  I must admit I am surprised my reason for being here seems to involve you, Clay.  What's wrong?"  He waved to a couch and looked to Joshua.

While Joshua sat beside Clay, Yosef and Vincent slid a chair and an ottoman nearer for themselves.

Through his tears, Clay smiled at them all.  "Is this some sort of intervention?"

Yosef reached for his hand.  "It is, son."

"I... I guess this is the part where I admit I have a problem?"

Joshua lightly clapped Clay on the shoulder.  "I think it would help to talk about it.  Big fan of words here."

Clay laughed.  "Not a big surprise coming from the Word."  He slowly inhaled and exhaled then looked to his three friends.  Clay's face flushed when his gaze landed on Vincent.

"I always wanted kids," he began.  "My dad's a good guy and he's been a good dad and so I thought... hoped... I'd be a good dad, too, someday.  But after this..."  He waved his hand over his face.  "Well, it didn't really seem possible.  And then along came Kylie...  And I know she loves me and I know that, someday, she wants to have kids... with me, apparently.  But I think about all the things I did with my mom and dad growing up."  He waved to the door.  "Going to see Santa at the mall, going to the movies, Disney World, the zoo, the park...  And I know I could do all those things with any children I had but... but now...  I don't think I should have children.  The burden it would put on them to... to have a father like me.  And since Kylie wants children maybe I... I..."  Clay again looked to Vincent and went pale.  "I'm so sorry...  Vincent...  I didn't mean..."

Vincent reached for the man's hand and shook his head.  "Don't.  We each have our own struggles.  I understand, Clay.  I cannot take Jacob to Disney World or to the movies or the mall.  You can but you know... you fear the reactions of others.  Not for your own self.  But for your children.  You don't want them to feel embarrassed by the stares and whisperings.  You don't want them to be teased.  And you tell yourself that Kylie willfully chose you and all that brings.  But the children... they would have no choice."

Clay looked to the older man, surprised at how accurate Vincent's interpretation of his feelings was.

"I've had similar thoughts about Jacob, Clay.  But I also know this: I love that boy.  And I may not be able to give him a normal life Above.  But I can give him a life of wonder and beauty and love Below and in Dyeland.  Jacob is still young and I know there will be disappointments as he grows older.  But he's my son and I'm his Papa.  I would never change that and I don't believe he would, either.  And as for Santa... I wouldn't worry about taking any children of yours to the mall, Clay.  I don't think Adam's ever going to let his side job go."  Vincent smiled as he concluded.

Joshua laughed.  "You've got that right, Vincent.  I've already told Adam that he can keep that gig for as long as wants.  Clay, you know our Santa would adore your and Kylie's children."

Clay nodded.  "That's true.  But the other things..."

"No father is ever able to give his children all he wishes to, Clay," Yosef interjected.  "All the things I wished I could have given to Yeshu... starting with a home to be born in instead of a stable."

Joshua smiled and squeezed Yosef's hand.  "You always gave me everything I needed, Abi."

Yosef beamed at his son then returned his attention to Clay.  "And you would give your own children everything they truly needed, Clay.  A loving home, unwavering love for their mother, unconditional love for them, faith in God, hope.  Vincent spoke of the wonder and beauty and love of his world.  Think of all the adventures to be had on the farm, Clay!  All the other things, they are not impossible.  You are free to go to the zoo, to the theater, yes?"

"Yes," Clay assented.

"Then you should go!" Yosef encouraged.  "You and Kylie could teach your children lessons in compassion and patience.  Explain to other parents and children about your scars.  It would do them good to be reminded that their own freedom to go to the zoo comes at a cost.  Yes, there are times your children may become upset but they will have their parents to comfort them and those experiences... they will make them stronger.  They will learn from them.  And take this from a man who married well... do not let Kylie go.  To go through life with a woman who loves you and who you love... it is a treasure beyond compare, Clay."

Vincent nodded in ready agreement.  "I second that!"

Joshua grinned.  "Eternal bachelor here but I've seen a lot and am inclined to agree."

Laughing, Clay rose to hug the other three men.  "Thank you.  All three of you.  It was a very successful intervention."

"Hallelujah!" Joshua cheered.

Yosef elbowed him and gave him a sly smile.  "Not very modest, my boy.  But fair.  God be praised, indeed."  He hugged Joshua and patted his hair.

"Thank you, Abi."

Clay and Vincent both looked on in gleeful awe, each hoping that one day they would be as mutually affectionate with their own adult children.


Shortly after 2:00, Andrew and Joshua drove Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their entourage to True Light.  Because Arthur's shelter was much larger than the Phoenix, the entire group was able to reconvene there.

Emma, Peter, Jocelyn, and Zoe were waiting outside when the Jolly Green and the Davidsons' car pulled up and parked.

"Oh..."  Zoe stared, wide-eyed, as Adam and Kylie exited the mini-van.  "I... I think I've decided to believe in Santa again."

Her older sister hugged her.  "I think I have, too!  They look so perfect!"

Smiling, Emma gave them a nudge.  "Go say hi!  I'll take your picture."

"Hello, Jocelyn and Zoe!" Adam greeted.  "Let me introduce you to my missus: Mrs. Claus."

Kylie laughed as she embraced the two girls.

"Wow!  You look really old, Kylie!  In a good way!" Zoe complimented.

"Thanks!  JenniAnn's a whiz with this stage makeup stuff."

"And yet I can't put mascara on myself.  Go figure."  JenniAnn shrugged.

"You don't need mascara, Laja," Andrew assured.  "I like your eyes just the way they are."

"Aww!" several of the others cooed as JenniAnn grinned and hugged the angel.

Andrew blushed.  "I thought I said that pretty quietly..."

Peter laughed.  "I heard it.  And I thought it was very aww-inducing."

Emma snapped a photo of the girls and the Clauses.  "I agree.  And brownie points for Andrew."  She smiled at him and JenniAnn then turned to Clay.  "Clay, get in there with Kylie.  I want a picture!"

Smiling, Clay obeyed and put his arm around Kylie.

After Emma got the picture, Clay hugged "Mrs. Claus" and rested his forehead against hers. 

"Maybe some day we can show that to our kids.  I think they'd get a laugh out of it."

Tears of relief welled in Kylie's eyes.  She'd noticed the unease on Clay's face after her slip and was greatly relieved to find it gone. 

"Yeah.  I... I'd love that," she replied.

"Aww..." Joshua, the only one near enough to hear, whispered.

Clay and Kylie pulled him into their embrace.

Adam smiled at the three then motioned for Emma to take another photo.

Once the moment had been captured, everyone but Adam and Kylie entered the shelter.  As they waited for word to enter, Adam wrapped his arm around Kylie's waist.

"I'm really happy for you, you know that?" he checked.

Kylie rested her head on the angel's shoulder and clasped his hand.  "I... I do.  I'm happy for me, too.  And I suspect Joshua and Yosef had a talk with Clay.  Did you notice them sneak away for a bit while we were with the kids at the Phoenix?"

Adam nodded.  "I did.  And I hear Vincent was around, too... summoned by Joshua."

"Oh..."  Kylie's eyes again filled.  "The three most perfect people to help Clay see that, some day, he'll be an awesome father.  I just know it!"

"And you'll be an equally awesome mother, Kylie.  I just know that."

As the two hugged, Peter poked his head out the front door.  "Ready to get mobbed?" he asked with a grin.

Adam and Kylie smiled at each other and then at him.

"Ready!" they responded in unison.

Peter led them through some hallways and up a flight of stairs.  Before exiting the stairwell, Peter raised a finger to his lips and hurried forward, glimpsing all the children excitedly milling around the playroom/children's library.

"Looks like they're ready!" he informed the other two, holding open the door for them.

Hand in hand, Adam and Kylie entered the room.

"Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Hello, children!" Adam greeted.

The children surged forward, excitedly hugging their guests.

"Santa!  It's Santa!  And Mrs. Claus!"

Adam tilted his head for a moment, trying to place the familiar adult voice.

"Santa!  I know him!  I know him!"

"Buddy!" one of the children cried, pointing behind Adam.

Adam turned around and let out a jolly laugh as he came eye-to-eye with a costumed Caleb.

"Did you know he'd planned this?" Adam quietly asked Kylie.

Her eyes twinkling, she nodded.  "I was sworn to secrecy.  Joshua, too.  Caleb asked him first because he didn't want to seem to be stealing your spotlight."

Holding his arms aloft, Adam smiled at Caleb.  "Buddy!  My elf!  Get over here for a hug!"

The kids and adults all laughed and cheered as the two men embraced.

"You're okay with this?" Caleb checked.

"So long as you are.  You're part of this gig now.  Forever," Adam teased.

Caleb grinned.  "I'll take it."  He turned to Kylie.  "Mrs. Claus!"

Kylie laughed and patted his back.  "So good to see you here, Buddy!  How did you get here?  I didn't see you on the sleigh."

"Well...  I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel!" Caleb quoted without missing a beat.

Chuckling, Arthur stepped out from behind the table where he and Tyson were laying out cookies.

"Kids, let's let Santa and Mrs. Claus... and Buddy, get comfortable and we'll have some cookies and milk while they tell us a story.  Then you can each have some time with our very special visitors, okay?"

With enthusiastic agreement, the children all got their cookies and milk then settled around two festively decorated recliners.  They all laughed when Caleb plopped down on the floor with them and rested his chin on his hands, staring adoringly at Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Arthur brought Adam and Kylie two glasses and a plate of cookies then made his way to Joshua.

"I wish they could all know who our very, very special visitors are," he quietly confided.

Joshua clapped him on the back.  "I'm just glad to be here, Arthur.  I love this!  And I know Abi, Ama, and John do, too.  And look..."  He waved to where Liam was seated on the floor, beaming as he held Belle while JenniAnn and Monica hovered nearby.  Joshua had a sudden flash of his Abi holding his newly born Ama and had to bite his tongue to keep from verbally drawing a comparison.

Arthur beamed at his son.  "He's such a gentle little guy..."

Joshua settled an arm around Arthur's shoulders.  "Takes after his Daddy like that."

"Thank you, Josh.  So how about some cookies and I'll introduce you around to the guys?"

"I'd like that a lot."

After helping themselves to some cookies and milk, Arthur and Joshua began to make the rounds.

Having introduced Chris to Maryam, Yosef and John anxiously awaited the chance to introduce their friend to Joshua.  When Arthur approached them, he gladly turned the honors over to Yosef.

"Chris, this is Maryam's and my son, Joshua," Yosef introduced with pride.

"And my cousin!" John added.

"Yeshua, this is Chris.  John and I met him back in March, remember?" Yosef took care to ask, providing Joshua with cover for any overly knowledgeable remarks.

Joshua nodded and smiled at Chris.  "Yes, of course!  My Abi and my cousin told me about you and your little ones, Chris."

Chris cringed, remembering his demeanor upon first meeting Yosef and John.

"Good things!" Joshua reassured.  "How are you, Kian, and Elsie doing?"

"Good... really good."  Noticing that Joshua's hand was hovering in front of him, Chris thrust his own hand out.  "Sorry.  I'm a little off right now.  It's just...  Well, I'd heard some of the guys around here talking about your production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  The kids and I were so new to True Light at the time that I didn't feel right leaving them alone yet so I didn't go.  But a while back Arthur let me watch his DVD and wow...  You were something else!  So I guess I'm a little starstruck," Chris admitted with a sheepish smile.

Joshua continued to smile.  "Well, I'm just me.  A carpenter, not a superstar."

"And a preacher!" John piped up before considering that he might have done best to keep mum.

Maryam patted John's back and beamed at her son.

Chris blinked.  "A carpenter/preacher playing Jesus?  That's something else!"  He chuckled then shook his head.  "I was really kicking myself for not going to the show after I saw that recording.  Everyone sounded great!  I bet it was even better live."

Joshua tilted his head.  "You know..."  He turned around and spotted Emma and Peter.  "Emma, Peter, could you please come here for a moment?"

Tearing their gaze away from Adam and Kylie, the couple approached.

"What can we do for you, Joshua?" Emma asked.  "Hi Chris!" she greeted, noticing the man who Arthur had introduced her and Peter to some months before.

"Hi Emma, Peter!" Chris replied, smiling at the two theatre owners.

"Chris here just gave me an idea."  Joshua cast a proud smile at the man.  "Emma, Peter, what do you think about doing some sort of Christmas revue?  Maybe Tuesday?  We wouldn't need much time for rehearsal since we'd be singing/reciting songs and pieces we're familiar with.  Superstar was great but let's make this one kid-friendly.  What do you think?"

Emma's and Peter's faces lit up at the idea of all of them taking to the stage together again.

"I love it!" Emma replied.

"Definitely," Peter agreed.  "It's probably too late to sell tickets so let's just invite friends and family.  Obviously whomever wants to come from here, the Phoenix Inn, the VA hospital, first responders, and...  Owen?"

Hearing his name being called, Owen abandoned the cookie table and came towards them.  "Present."

Peter laughed.  "Good.  Joshua just suggested that we do a Christmas show on Tuesday night.  Would you want to invite the folks from your grandma's place?"

"You bet!  Grandma's gonna be thrilled!"  Owen smiled at Joshua.  "And not just because it'll be a chance to see her beloved grandson."

With a chuckle, Joshua hugged Owen.  "I'm sure Olivia will be happy about that, too."

"I'm going to go call her now!"  With that, Owen dashed into the hall.

Smiling, Chris shook his head.  "Wow!  When I brought up your show, I didn't foresee it turning into another show."

"Well, I'm glad you did bring it up.  It'll be a lot of fun to get up on the stage again with everyone."  Joshua let out a happy sigh as he began to imagine it.

Overhearing as he was bringing Diana cookies, Zeke backed up.

"What did you just say, Lor...  Joshua?"

"Abi, please grab the cookies," Joshua requested with a grin.

"Huh..."  Zeke tilted his head in confusion as Yosef took the plate of cookies from him.

"Zeke," Joshua began, "we've decided to do a Christmas revue at St. Genesius' on Tuesday."

Zeke threw his arms around Joshua.  "All of us?"

"Sure."  Joshua chuckled as he patted Zeke's back.

Seeing the fuss, Shane made his way to them.  "Hey, is everything all right?"

"We're doing a Christmas show on Tuesday!" Zeke relayed.

Shane's eyes glistened with tears.  "Re-really?"

Joshua nodded.  "Emma and Peter agreed."

Shane took a turn hugging Joshua.  "Do you think maybe this time we could sing a song together?  A nice song?"

"Oh, Shane, of course!" Joshua promised.

Chris looked on curiously and with a strange stirring in his heart that he couldn't account for.

"Maybe I could do your program cover for you?"
he found himself saying.  "I mean if you're doing programs?"

With an encouraging smile, Joshua clasped the man's hand.  "I think that would be wonderful, Chris!  I can't wait to see what you come up with!"

Yosef smiled when he saw how much the comment meant to Chris.  Silently, he prayed that the fellow would come to realize just how sure he had been when, all those months before, he had told him that God loved him very much.  Yosef's own heart swelled with pride as Joshua invited Chris to sit with him and others of the St. Genesius crowd as they brainstormed.


Monday, December 22nd

JenniAnn awoke to soft, high-pitched singing.  It took her a few moments to realize what was going on.  Once she did, she smiled and continued to listen.

"'Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright...'"

"Ah!  Ooo!"

When the singing and accompanying cooing didn't let up, JenniAnn shook Andrew's arm.

"Andrew, sorry, but... I think you should get up.  Love, listen."

Groggy, Andrew blinked.  "Huh?  What?  Laja, what..."

"'Round yon virgin, mother and child...'"


"Shel's singing Belle back to sleep, I think."

With a weary smile, Andrew turned towards the open nursery door.

"That's so sweet.  But do you think one of us should go in there?" Andrew queried.  "I don't want Shelby getting too tired thinking she's responsible for Belle."

"Maybe if it keeps up much longer," JenniAnn answered, nestling closer.  "But Belle's coos are getting sleepier sounding."

Andrew smiled as he wrapped an arm around her, touched and happy that she could read their daughter so well.

Silently, they listened to Shelby's song.

"'Holy Infant so tender and mild.  Sleep in heavenly peace.  Sleep in heavenly peace.'"

"Night, night, Belle."

Andrew and JenniAnn waited a few minutes before tiptoeing towards the nursery door.  Peeking inside, they saw Belle sound asleep in her crib while Shelby was dozing while slumped against it.

"Aww!  That's so adorable!" JenniAnn murmured, her eyes glistening.  "But poor Shel..."

Andrew nodded.  "She's going to be pretty achy tomorrow if we leave her like that.  I'll move her."

As quietly as possible, Andrew lifted the ten year old into his arms and carried her to the bed.

Shelby began to stir as JenniAnn tucked her in.

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled at the sleepy girl.

"We heard you singing, sweetie," JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew brushed some hair from Shelby's forehead.  "You did a very good job of getting your sister back to sleep.  Thank you."  He bent to kiss her brow.

"Rest well, Shel," JenniAnn added before bestowing her own kiss.

"G'night..."  Shelby squeezed both their hands then snuggled into her pillow and closed her eyes.

Back in JenniAnn's room, she and Andrew sat on the edge of the bed and held hands.

"Did you ever imagine spending a Christmas like this?" JenniAnn asked.

Andrew shook his head.  "Sometimes I'm still in some sort of... wonderful shock over this being my life.  And I don't know why I should be."  He raised his eyes to the ceiling, knowing Joshua was right above them.  "His blessings are often greater than anything we... angels or humans... can imagine."

JenniAnn nodded as she pulled his arm around her.

Andrew rested his chin on her hair and, for a few moments, they sat silently and basked in the wonder of it all.


By dawn, a light snow had blanketed the ground.  Since it wasn't unbearably cold, the teenagers had all taken to the stable as soon as breakfast was finished.

Violeta squealed with glee as she and Sy got sweaters onto Mary and Silly.

"They look so cute!  Of course, they always look cute but... sweaters!"

Sy laughed as Violeta kissed the sheep.

"Pose with them, Violeta.  It could be your Christmas card next year," Ivy suggested.

"Well, you get in it, too, then!  It could be our Christmas card since we'll be living together!"

After the two girls were in place, Sy snapped a few photos.

"Zoe and Jocelyn, do you two have pictures with Yoktan?  Not every day you get to have your picture taken with a biblical donkey," Hailey pointed out with a grin.

"Could you?" Jocelyn asked Sy.


Yoktan brayed happily as the two sisters posed with him then, not wanting him to feel left out, the teens fawned over Yonah, too.

"Who does Yonah belong to?" Zoe questioned.

"JenniAnn.  Andrew bought him for her as a sort of..."  Ivy tilted her head.  "Gosh, I don't know what to call it."

Kendra gave Yonah's back a good scratching, much to his delight.  "I think he's sort of, kind of like her wedding ring."

"What?" Jocelyn asked with a laugh.

"Well, it's not like they're married.  But they're... committed," Sy concluded.

Zoe sighed.  "Everything here is so romantic and nice!  I wish we'd been around all of you before this weekend!  Especially when the show was happening but..."

Knowing her sister was recalling the unhappiness of the previous spring, Jocelyn hugged her. 

"At least we're here now!  And we get to see tomorrow's show!" Zoe concluded.

"I'm so excited that's happening!" Ivy cheered.  "I can't wait for you two to see Emma on stage.  She's just so wonderful!"

"I can remember her singing to us when we were little," Jocelyn recalled.  "But then she stopped..."

Hailey gently patted the younger girls' backs.  "Now she's singing again.  And with Jesus!"

Zoe grinned.  "That's pretty amazing.  Joshua isn't at all like who we were raised to think Jesus was."

Kendra frowned.  "That's really sad.  I mean I was kind of surprised when we all found out who Joshua really is but Mom and Dad always taught us that Jesus loved us."

"We heard that a lot," Jocelyn affirmed.  "But then... it was like He only loved us if...  Always an if."

Violeta sat up from where she'd been cuddling with the sheep.  "That makes Joshua and the Father really sad.  I mean they want us all to do our very best because sometimes it's really hard to feel close to them when we know we've really messed up."

"Violeta, when have you ever really messed up?" Hailey asked.  "You're adorable!"

Violeta blushed and smiled.  "Thank you, Hailey.  But I can be a little... judgy.  Just because, ya know, there's a lot I don't understand like... like certain temptation.  So then Andrew and JenniAnn or Joshua or Ivy have to explain it to me."

Sy had to bury his face in Ivy's hair for a moment to keep the angel from seeing that he was laughing.  What she didn't realize was that Ivy often called him for explanations which he, in turn, got from his parents.

"Anyway, Joshua and the Father still love me even when I say things I shouldn't.  And they still love everyone even when they do other bad stuff," Violeta shared.  "That's why Joshua was born.  To show that."

Jocelyn stared down at her hands.  "I've always wondered..."

Ivy placed her hand over the younger girl's.  "It's okay.  You can ask or say anything, Jocelyn.  We don't judge each other... and we try really hard not to judge anyone else."  She smiled at Violeta.

Jocelyn smiled, too, then resumed her question.  "Violeta, I know you weren't, umm, born then but...  So Joshua was in Heaven and then he was born here a-and then he died.  In a really, really, really bad way.  And I know he rose and everything but still...  The angels were used to him being in Heaven and... and safe.  Indestructible even.  And then that...  Weren't they mad?"

Violeta bit her lip as she plotted her answer.  "I think kinda... some, anyway.  Only for a little while.  Because, even though he tried to explain everything to them, I think the shock...  People don't think clearly when they're upset... human people and angel people.  The angels who were around humans more understood better.  And I think, after the fact, other angels got it even more.  Like Andrew.  I mean he's understood for a long time but he told me it deepened after he came here... and especially now.  It's like if someone you really, really loved was drowning and someone else died saving them.  Even though you weren't the one at risk, the hero's sacrifice would still mean an awful lot to you, right?  Because without it..."  The angel shivered.  "You wouldn't have your loved one."

Jocelyn bowed her head and nodded as her sister clasped her hand.

Kendra rested her head on Hailey's shoulder.

Sy sniffled and hugged Ivy.

They were all so deep in thought that none of them heard the approaching footsteps.

"Wow.  Quiet in here!" Joshua observed as he stepped into the stable.

All at once, the seven teenagers encircled him in a group hug.

"Well, this is nice," Joshua murmured.  "Everything okay out here?"

Ivy smiled up at him and nodded.  "We were just talking about you."

Joshua kissed her forehead. 

As he did, the two donkeys and the two sheep moved in.

Sy laughed.  "Now it's an inter-species group hug."

"Technically, it was inter-species just with me," Violeta pointed out.

Joshua laughed and caressed her hair.  "This is true."

After pulling the kids closer for a moment, Joshua released them and took a seat on a hay bale.

"Ah... feels like home," he jested.

Zoe laughed and hugged his arm.  "Can you tell us about when you were born?"

Joshua shook his head.  "It's tradition for Ama and Abi to tell the story and they plan to on Christmas morning.  I don't want to ruin their big moment.  After all, I all ready crashed their wedding," he joked.

Violeta snorted and began to giggle.

Jocelyn's face fell.  "But... but we'll be gone by then.  Could Andrew maybe record it for us?"

"Oh, I'll make sure Andrew records it," Joshua promised.  "But...  I borrowed John's phone and made a call earlier."

The Wilsons and Ivy all looked at each other, hoping they had correctly guessed at what Joshua was going to say.

"I called your mom, girls.  And I invited her to have Christmas with us and she accepted."

Jocelyn and Zoe began to cry happily and again hugged Joshua.  Then Zoe pulled away.

"But Emma..."

"I checked with her first," Joshua reassured.  "She's fine with it.  As much as you girls didn't want to leave, I think she was dreading your leaving even more.  And I certainly wanted you to stay."  He kissed the tops of Zoe's and Jocelyn's heads.  "It'll be a wonderful birthday present for me."

"And, once again, I... I feel like we get the best gift on your birthday, Yeshua," Ivy softly opined.

The others solemnly nodded as they gazed with love at Joshua.


While some of the adults in the group had dispersed to tend to jobs and other responsibilities, a few gathered in the dining room after lunch to make plans for the rest of their time together.

"I'm assuming people would still like to have their Christmas mornings with their families and significant others, right?" JenniAnn asked.

Monica nodded.  "It would be nice to have some time alone with Liam since it's his first Christmas with us.  I know Arthur, Molly, and Grant feel the same way."

Blushing, Kemara spoke.  "It might be good to have a little time with just Sean.  Is that okay?"

"Of course!  I don't blame either of you one bit," Zeke replied.  "I don't want to miss out on our time with Joshua but... I'm sure everyone has their Christmas morning traditions."

"And I think it's likely Joshua, Maryam, Yosef, and John would appreciate the time to themselves, too, don't you think?" Diana asked.

Andrew smiled.  "They would.  We have enough rooms for each family and couple to sequester themselves for a while and then we could all gather for brunch at what?  10:00?  Would that work?"

"I think so," Shane assented.

"But what are we doing about a Christmas service?"  Emma looked around the table.

"Zeke, are you preaching at all?" Peter checked.

Zeke shook his head.  "No.  The other fellows kindly gave me this week off since they knew this was our first Christmas with Manny."

Diana smiled at the sleeping baby nestled against her chest in a sling.

"What's St. Mary Mag's schedule, Fr. Mike?" Eli questioned.

The priest smiled.  "Oh, now, please don't feel that you all need to attend there again.  I can understand if you want to go somewhere else."

"Since Zeke's not preaching, that leaves you and me as the only clergymen who know about Joshua, Fr. Mike.  And I think I would raise too many eye brows if I attempted a Christmas service at Beth El," Rabbi Yakov jested.

Fr. Mike laughed.  "I see your point.  Well, how about the 4:00 children's Mass on Christmas Eve?  It's not just for children by any means.  But it's kid friendly.  That'd free up your Christmas morning and get you all back here in enough time for Adam and Kylie to do their thing."

"I think we have a winner!" Andrew declared after looking around the table and seeing several nodding heads.  "We'll just run it by Joshua but I'm sure... actually, where is Joshua?"

Diana frowned.  "Is he with Maryam and Yosef?"

JenniAnn's cheeks flushed.

Emma noticed.  "All right, JenniAnn... where are Maryam and Yosef?"

"In their room... watching Sleepless in Seattle on my laptop," JenniAnn confessed.

Andrew burst out laughing.  "Explain, please," he requested.

"Well... I was wrapping presents earlier and Maryam knocked on my door because she wanted to talk just about... things."

No one missed when JenniAnn fleetingly glanced at Andrew.

"Anyway, she was sorta perusing my bookshelves and I have some DVDs there and she saw Sleepless and mentioned that she'd seen bits and pieces during her sojourns here and thought it looked like a lovely film.  So what was I going to do?  Of course I lent it to her."

Owen, who had up until that moment been content to quietly sit as the others planned, lurched forward and rested his cheek on the table, laughing hysterically.

"Psyche, you may have just gotten the Mother of God hooked on rom coms!  It starts innocently enough... Sleepless in Seattle.  Then maybe While You Were Sleeping.  Next thing you know, she's in deep and poor Yosef is standing around with a boom box over his head and blasting Peter Gabriel... actually, that's a very biblical name now that I think about it."

The others roared with laughter.

JenniAnn wiped at her eyes after she regained control of herself.  "I shoulda asked if they wanted popcorn..."

"Popcorn!" Diana echoed.  "We should check on the kids and see if they need any refills."

"I'll go," Andrew volunteered.  "Maybe they know where Joshua disappeared to."

After grabbing a bag of popcorn, the angel made his way to the TV room.

Andrew halted before entering.

On the screen, A Charlie Brown Christmas was playing.  Max, Rose, and the teenagers were sprawled across the room on body pillows and blankets with assorted pets snuggled with them.  On the largest couch, Joshua was sitting on the center cushion with Belle and Lily on his lap.  Liam and Jacob sat on either side of him with Persephone and Galen beside them.  Shelby was seated on a cushion on the floor, her head resting on Joshua's knee. 

Andrew set the bag of popcorn down and made his way back to the kitchen.

JenniAnn leapt up when she saw the tears in Andrew's eyes.  "Love, what..."

Smiling, Andrew shook his head.  "Nothing's wrong.  It's beautiful.  You should all go peek into the TV room.  Quietly.  It... it's just like he said.  'Let... let the children come to me.'"

In twos and threes, the others went to see what Andrew had.  All of them returned with smiles and watery eyes, knowing they would treasure that image forever even if the photographs they had surreptitiously taken didn't turn out.

"So... who's up for planning one heckuva birthday present?" Shane asked when he was again able to speak.

Once everyone had recovered, they began to brainstorm for a gift befitting the King of Kings.


"'It's so important to make someone happy.  Make just one someone happy.  Make just one heart the heart you sing to...'"

Tears poured down Maryam's cheeks.

"Oh, Yosef mine... that was such a lovely film.  The little boy... bringing the two together...  It rather reminded me of... of our Yeshu..."

Chuckling, Yosef kissed his wife's hair.  "It was a charming film and, yes, I could see our Yeshu in that boy.  Although if we had planes in Nazareth and he had taken one...  I would still be having words with him.  That is far more worrisome than the Temple."

Maryam laughed and took the handkerchief Yosef offered her.  She rested her cheek against his chest once he'd moved the laptop. 

"I am so glad your heart was never broken as Sam's was when his wife died."

Yosef brushed his fingers through her hair.  "Only one woman ever had my heart, my love.  Though your own heart..."

Maryam sat up and placed her finger against his lips.  "You are here now, never to leave again.  Dance with me?"

Grinning, Yosef got to his feet and began to hum the closing number as they danced.

After a few moments, the couple realized they were being watched.

Once they spotted him, Joshua clapped and beamed.

"Very nice, Ama and Abi!"  He sighed with contentment.  "I've always loved watching you dance and I hate to interrupt but... Molly and Grant just came through the portal and I'd like to introduce you."

"How wonderful!  Liam will be so pleased!"  Maryam smiled as she recalled the little boy's enthusiasm at breakfast as he'd told her about his grandparents.

"I know Arthur was so looking forward to introducing you," Yosef relayed.

Joshua only smiled in response as he lead his parents to Willowveil's entryway.

As they came down the stairs, they saw Molly hugging Liam and covering his face in kisses as he laughed.

"I love you, Grandma!"

"I love you, too, my darling!  One more kiss!"

Molly planted a kiss on Liam's forehead then stood up.  "Andrew and JenniAnn have done a tremendous job!  The castle looks beautiful!"


Grant stepped around his wife and made a beeline for the Davidsons. 

Arthur and Monica looked on, mouths agape, as Molly gasped and hastened towards Joshua, too.

Soon the three were hugging and laughing.

"Arthur, I had no idea your Joshua was the Joshua!" Molly chirped.

"I had no idea you knew about the Joshua.  Well, I mean, of course I know you believe but... what's going on?" Arthur asked, hoisting Liam onto his hip so he could be level with them.

Joshua motioned for his own parents to step forward.  "Arthur, I'll explain everything but first...  Molly, Grant, these are my parents: Maryam and Yosef."

"Oh my..."  Molly's eyes welled as she looked at the two.  "So... so pleased to meet you."

"Joshua has told us so much about his Ama and his Abi," Grant added, equally awed.

"Thank you, Grant.  We are very proud of our Yeshu," Yosef replied, his eyes twinkling.

Joshua clapped Arthur on the back.  "Arthur, I've joined your parents on a few missions.  They learned about me three years ago."

"We saw him raise a girl from the dead.  No joke!" Grant recalled.  "Of course, we knew right then but everything about him..."  He hugged Joshua again.

Molly threw her arms around Arthur.  "We so wanted to tell you, Arthur, but Joshua assured us that, one day, you two would meet and you'd learn about him in your own time.  And you have!  Although it's a wonder we never saw any photos or anything at your places, Arthur and Monica...  You spent whole weeks with Joshua during your show.  Surely you have photos!"

Arthur's face flushed.  "Oh, we definitely do.  But Monica and I put them away... and the DVD... whenever you came over.  I just didn't trust myself to not tell you everything and then I thought you'd be sad since you were in Haiti all during the show's run but now..."  He grinned at Joshua.  "We can all talk freely!  Isn't that right?" he asked Liam, tousling his hair.


"Well, Mom, Dad, why don't we get you two settled in and then we're going to do some rehearsing in the ballroom for tomorrow's show, if you'd like to join us," Arthur suggested.

"Oh, yes!  Of course!" Molly enthused.

"Molly, Grant, I believe you are staying just across the hall from Yosef and me," Maryam informed them. 

"Could I help you with your bags?" Yosef offered.

Grant stared at him.  "Oh, no...  We couldn't..."

With a grin, Yosef retrieved a bag from where it had been left on the floor.  Joshua grabbed another.

In a daze, Grant followed suit and they all trooped up the stairs with Maryam taking Molly's arm and gushing over Liam as the little boy beamed and Arthur continued to hold him, treasuring the moment along with Monica.


That night, after promising to be back at Willowveil in time for a before bedtime snack of cocoa and cookies, the Davidsons and John made their way to the Frankl residence.  While Maryam kept Betty company in the kitchen and Samson and John set the dining room table, Yosef and Joshua tended to the uneven shelf in the couple's living room as Moishe supervised.

After a few straightening attempts and several amused smiles secretly exchanged between the carpenters, Moishe clapped his hands.

"Perfection!" he praised.  "Thank you!"

"You are most welcome," Yosef replied.  "What is it that you and Betty will be putting on the shelf?"

"Family photos.  We need more room now that, ah..."  Moishe's face flushed as he recalled the years he had forbid his wife from displaying pictures of Samson.

Joshua squeezed his shoulder.  "I understand, Moishe."

Yosef focused on putting away his tools and wondering what the old fellow would think if he knew how much Joshua saw and understood.

"I must thank you again, my friend, for... for what you did for us back in April.  To have our boy with us during the holidays... Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and now Hanukkah..."  Shyly, Moishe hugged Joshua.  "And soon Christmas, too," he added with a smile.  "My Samson is Christian."

Joshua beamed at Moishe, knowing how much strength and love it took for him to utter the simple sentence. 

"You're very welcome, Moishe.  The greatest thank you that you could give me is seeing your family together again... and you have given me that," Joshua responded as he returned the man's hug.

After letting out a deep sigh, Moishe looked to Yosef and smiled.  "You are a good man, Yosef.  I can tell you would never be as foolish as I've been."

"Oh, trust me, Moishe.  I have had my foolish moments," Yosef demurred, winking at Joshua.  "But I think now you and I are both wise enough to praise God for our sons and our wives.  Speaking of our wives... should we go see if the ladies need help?"

"Yes.  We should!" Moishe agreed, leading Joshua and Yosef to the kitchen.

With so much assistance, the food was soon all laid out on the table and everyone was seated.

"Joshua, perhaps you could say the blessing?" Betty requested.

Samson smiled across the table at Joshua.  "I think a blessing from Joshua would be perfect," he opined.

"I'd love to," Joshua accepted, taking Maryam's and Moishe's hands.

"Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe," he began.  "We thank You for this wonderful meal You have brought to us, through Betty's talent and hands.  Thank You for her hospitality and Moishe's.  Most of all, thank You for this home and family filled with love... Your love which forgives, endures, and hopes all things.  Amen."

"Amen," the others echoed.

Moishe patted Joshua's hand.  "Thank you."

"It was my pleasure."

After dishes were passed around and plates were filled, everyone began talking all together and in groups of twos and threes.

Every so often, Joshua withdrew from conversation and silently listened, zeroing in on the easygoing back and forth between Samson and his parents.  He let out a shaky breath as he recalled the previous Christmas when Samson had prayed over a trash can fire that, somehow, he might be reconciled with his family. 

Suddenly aware that Samson's voice had gone silent, Joshua looked up to find the man staring at him.  The message in his eyes was so clear that Joshua didn't need help from his Father to hear it.

"Thank You, Josh.  I'm so glad I'm here... even more glad that You're here," Samson silently told him.

With tears in his eyes, Joshua nodded.

The two refocused on the conversation around them, soaking in the warmth and sense of belonging.


Since the Frankls retired early in order to open the deli in the wee hours of the morning, it was only 7:30 when Joshua, his parents, and John parted from the family.

"No one's expecting us at Willowveil for at least another hour.  Let's take a walk around Midtown and admire the lights," Joshua suggested as he drove.

"A wonderful idea, cousin!" John agreed, casting a sly smile at Joshua.

They both glanced in the dashboard mirror and spied Maryam and Yosef huddled together, already admiring the lights.

"Ama?  Abi?"

"It is a lovely idea," Maryam agreed, smiling into the mirror.

Yosef nodded.  "Lead on, Yeshu."

Joshua found an empty parking space with ease.

"Cheater," John teased.  "Your Dad told you where that was."

Joshua grinned.  "I can't help that I've got connections."

Laughing, John hopped out of the car.

Yosef slid out and held the door for Maryam, linking his arm through hers as they began to walk.

They took in window displays and decorated trees with Joshua quietly telling them a little about the window dressers, shop owners, and others. 

After several blocks, he abruptly stopped.

Maryam smiled as she gazed up.  "Oh, Yosef!  Look!  It is the Empire State Building!"

"So it is!  Do you think, perhaps, any young boys are up there orchestrating marriages?" Yosef questioned with a smile.

Maryam snuggled against his chest and laughed.  "Yes, perhaps."


Maryam turned around to find Joshua holding an envelope out to her.

"For you.  A Christmas present... and a thank you... a few days early."  Joshua leaned in and kissed her cheeks.

Maryam stroked his back as she held onto him.  "Yeshu...  It was present enough asking your Abi and John and me to be here with you this week!" 

"But I want you and Abi to have this... and, okay, it's partly selfish, too.  I want this.  And John wants to start a meme among our friends," Joshua explained.

Yosef tilted his head.  "A meem?  What is a meem, Yohannan?"

"In this case, I hope, an image to be passed around among our friends so that they can each edit it for their amusement," John explained.

"I see..." Yosef replied though the look on his face made John doubt his words. 

Joshua laughed.  "Abi, John just wants a funny picture of us."

"Ah..."  Yosef nodded then turned to his wife.  "What is in the envelope, my love?"

Maryam broke the seal and removed four tickets.  "Oh..."  Her eyes filled and she threw her arms around her son's neck.  "Yeshu..."

Joshua wrapped his own arms around her in a tight embrace.  "I love you, Ama."  He waved Yosef and John closer.  "I love you, too, Abi.  And you, John.  And I'm excited to have this adventure together!  We're going to the top!"

"My boy..."  Yosef patted Joshua's shoulder, unsurprised but touched that he'd chosen a perfect gift.

Maryam didn't stop smiling during the brief wait and the elevator ride. 

Once they were on the viewing deck, Yosef took Maryam's hand and led her to the edge.

"Even with what we have seen, it is still so very beautiful, yes?" he asked, his voice hushed and reverent.

Maryam clasped his arm and nodded in silent awe.

"Well done," John whispered to Joshua.

Joshua smiled.  "Thanks.  And thank you for helping me get the tickets... my computer whiz cousin."

Chuckling, John shrugged.  "I was touched that you included me.  This would have been a nice experience for just you and your parents."

After elbowing his cousin, Joshua hugged him.  "And an even nicer one with my parents and my cousin!  Plus... I'm going to need a little help."

"Right..."  John smiled and patted the phone in his pocket.

For several minutes, the four made their way around the deck, admiring the view from different angles.

Maryam hugged Joshua.  "Thank you, my own.  This was most wonderful!"  She leaned up to kiss him.  "We should make our way back to Willowveil."

Joshua nodded.  "We should.  But one thing first."

Maryam and Yosef smiled at each other as Joshua took their hands and led them back towards the elevators with John following them.

"Now for a picture!" Joshua declared.  "Like in the movie."

Blushing and laughing, Maryam stepped into the elevator with Yosef and took his hand.  The two cast adoring gazes upon each other.

As John stepped back to snap the photo, Joshua knelt in front of his parents with a boyish grin lighting up his face.

Just before the doors closed, John hurried into the elevator.

"And here it is..."  He displayed the photo for them.

Maryam sighed. 

Yosef smiled and rested his cheek against her hair.

Joshua continued to grin.  "That's going right into my wallet...  And in my carpentry shop."

"And I am emailing it out!" John declared, busying himself with the tiny keyboard.

Still aglow with the romance of the moment, Maryam wrapped her arms around Yosef's waist and nuzzled his shoulder as he brushed his hand through her hair and looped his arm around her shoulders.

Joshua smiled lovingly at them both as innumerable memories of the two people who had given him his humanity and his childhood flooded his mind. 


Tuesday, December 23rd

The next morning, before many of the others were up, Joshua visited with Diana, Zeke, and Manny in their room.  While the couple snuggled together on the bed, Joshua rocked the baby.

"So content..." he cooed, kissing Manny's forehead.

Diana beamed.  "He is easily the most low-key of our four babies."

"They were all precious," Zeke added.  "But loud!"

Joshua chuckled.  "Babies pick up on how their parents feel.  And you both... you're very peaceful now.  Not that you were crazed with Hailey, Sy, and Kendra."

Diana laughed.  "You're being kind.  I was so young when Hailey was born... well, at least I felt it.  And Zeke was at work so..."  She cut off.

Zeke kissed her temple.  "It's true.  I was at work a lot when all the other kids were babies.  I'm glad I left the stock market behind me!"

"Me too."  Joshua smiled at the two.

"Thing is... since you're here face to face like this...  Wanna give a guy some advice?" Zeke requested.

With a grin, Joshua nodded.  "I would.  And I understand.  Three kids soon to be in college... a baby."

"The youth pastor gig is great, Lord.  And I love the work but..."

"Money's a little tight," Diana finished.

"So, in an ideal world, what would you want to do, Zeke?" Joshua questioned, readjusting Manny when he squirmed.

"I love serving you and your Dad.  I don't want to stop that.  And I've been away from the markets too long to get back into it." 

"Ever considered being a chaplain?" Joshua asked, already knowing the answer.

With a laugh, Zeke nodded.  "You know I have, Lord."

"True.  Well... I happen to know that the True Light chaplain's wife has been begging him to retire so they can move to Pennsylvania and be closer to their kids and grandkids.  And... I also happen to know that on Christmas morning, she's going to open a gift box to find a binder of information about moving companies, Realtors in Scranton, bubble wrap, and a promise.  And on the 26th... said chaplain is going to give Arthur his six weeks notice."

Zeke gaped.  "Arthur would consider me?"

Joshua nodded.  "You know how protective he is of his guys and the kids there.  Imagine the peace of mind he'll have hiring someone he knows!  And it's flexible hours.  You could still keep your shifts at the church's youth center if you wanted.  Obviously, it isn't going to be the big bucks.  But between the two and Diana's income, you'd all do just fine."

Diana brushed at some tears.  "That... that would be wonderful!"

Joshua raised his fingers to his lips.  "Just keep quiet about it until Saturday, please.  Arthur's going to be thrilled that you're interested, Zeke, and I don't want that showing when Lawrence... he's the outgoing chaplain... comes to him.  It'd hurt his feelings even though Arthur wouldn't mean it.  And Lawrence has served the shelter and me very, very well.  It'll work nicely for you to have some time to train with him."

Zeke let out a deep breath, tears trickling down his cheeks.  "I pray I'm up to the challenge, Lord."

"You are, Zeke.  Remember, I've seen everything!  All the sound counsel you've given to your kids and the kids in your youth ministry and the both of you, the way you've been ministering to Kemara and Sean for their pre-Cana: wonderful!"  Joshua beamed at the pair.  "Thank you for that, by the way.  It's been such a blessing for them both, especially with Kemara having a difficult time opening up sometimes.  It would have been a real trial for them to go through the counseling with a couple they'd never met before.  You two are an amazing example to so many!"

Diana and Zeke rested their foreheads against each other's and smiled.

"You remind me of my parents in a lot of ways," Joshua continued.

The couple turned their gaze on him.

"Lord..." they murmured in unison.

"I mean it.  Ama and Abi are why I used the bride and Bridegroom imagery so much.  They love each other and me with utter selflessness.  The legacy of that sort of love... it lasts for generations."  Joshua smiled down at Manny and gently caressed his hair.

After admiring the two, Zeke looked up to Joshua with tears in his eyes.

"So stunning... startling even... to think that you were once..."

"Small and smelly and screechy?" Joshua checked with a grin.

Zeke burst into laughter.  "And there I was trying to have a reverent moment, Lord!"

Laughing, Joshua rose and placed Manny in Diana's arms.  He kissed them both then moved around the bed to kiss Zeke's cheek.

"Thank you for this time with you three.  Now... I'm going to venture over to the teenagers' lair and see if I can get any volunteers to help make some pancakes."

"Lord, I can help," Zeke offered, beginning to rise.

Diana nodded.  "I'll just put Manny in the cradle and..."

Smiling, Joshua shook his head.  "Nope.  Kids make breakfast, parents rest."

With that, he left the room.

Diana and Zeke sighed, rested their heads together, and peered down at Manny.

"To be held by God Himself on your first Christmas..." Diana cooed.

Manny peered into her eyes with such a knowing look that his mother and father knew there would never be any need of explaining Joshua to him. 

"Amazing..." Zeke murmured. 

Together, Diana and Zeke softly sang "Away in the Manger" to their baby.


Joshua gazed out the window of the Willowveil ballroom, watching for the latest arrivals.  As with the Levines, he had kept the Morettis off his initial email.  Since Nico couldn't very well leave a cruise ship he was captaining, there was no way he and Raquel could have gotten there any earlier.  To Andrew's and JenniAnn's credit, they hadn't breathed a word about his presence when the couple had called earlier from the Chicago airport.

Clustered around Joshua; Liam, Jacob, and Shelby were also watching.  They were nearly as excited as Joshua to reveal their surprise.

"Grandma Raquel and Grandpa Nico!" Liam shouted, the first to see them.

Shelby scrambled off the bench and grabbed Joshua's hand, pulling him towards the coat closet.

Joshua laughed.  "So you've decided that I'm gonna hide in the closet?"


Liam and Jacob giggled as Joshua waved to them before the girl closed the door.

Stepping out from the kitchen with Belle in her arms, JenniAnn looked around the entryway.

"Where's Joshua?"

"Closet," Jacob replied, trying not to laugh.

"Okay..."  JenniAnn went to the closet and opened the door.  "Going back to Narnia, are you?" she teased.

Joshua grinned.  "Roar."

"Close the door, Psyche!  They're coming!" Shelby called as she spotted Andrew leading the couple towards the front door.

Laughing, JenniAnn closed the door again then joined the children.

Andrew opened the front door and waved the Morettis in.

"Merry Christmas!" JenniAnn and kids greeted.

"Merry Christmas to you, too!"  Raquel pulled each of the children into her arms and then JenniAnn and Belle.

"Such a wonderful welcome party!" Nico enthused, following with his own hugs.

Raquel sighed as she took Belle into her arms.  "You're getting to be such a big girl, darling Belle!"

Belle planted a kiss on her grandmother's lips then began to flail.  "Ah!  Ah!  AH!"

Andrew stole a look at JenniAnn who was struggling to keep from laughing.

"What's she trying to reach for?" Nico asked as he stroked Belle's curls.

"I think she wants her coat so we can go outside and show you the lambs and donkeys... donkey," Jacob corrected.

"Is that it, sweetheart?  Do you want to go outside?" Raquel asked.  She looked to JenniAnn.  "Can we?"

Unable to speak, JenniAnn simply nodded.

Raquel kissed Belle's forehead and smiled.  "Okay then!"

As the two walked away, Shelby giggled. 

"I thought I was going to have to make something up to get them to the closet!" she whispered.

Overhearing, Nico looked curiously at the girl then followed his wife.

"Is Joshua in that closet?" Andrew asked JenniAnn, his voice hushed.

"Uh huh..."

"AH!" Belle screeched as Raquel's hand reached for the doorknob.

Raquel opened the closet door and jumped back. 


Nico hurried his steps.

"Joshua!" he repeated.

Laughing, Joshua stepped out of the closet and hugged them both.

"Surprise!" Shelby, Jacob, and Liam cried.

"Such a surprise!" Raquel murmured.  "Oh, Joshua..."

Joshua smiled as both she and Belle rested their cheeks against his chest.

"Raquel, Nico, I'm so glad you're here.  And little Belle...  You nearly gave me away!"  Joshua gently patted the baby's back.

Nico squeezed Joshua's shoulder.  "I... I am so pleased that you're here, Joshua.  Have you come alone?"

"Will you stay long?" Raquel asked.

"My Ama and Abi are here along with my cousin, John.  We're staying until the 27th.  We got here on the 20th but I knew you two wouldn't be able to get away so... we decided a surprise would be best," Joshua explained.

"And such a surprise!"  Raquel beamed at him then turned to Andrew.  "Excellent job keeping quiet all during the drive from the airport!"

The angel of death chuckled.  "So many close calls.  When you asked how everyone was handling Christmas since the big reveal... Nico, I came so close to responding with 'Well!  Especially now that Joshua is here!'"

Nico clapped Andrew on the back.  "An excellent display of restraint, my friend.  I have to admit, I'm very relieved."

Raquel nodded.  "We both are.  When you said you had so many guests, we were afraid maybe you were all struggling but..."  She kissed Joshua's cheek.  "Such a wonderful reason to bring everyone together!  And to be with you for your birthday..."

Joshua again hugged her.  "I'm so looking forward to it.  And so much more!"  His loving smile rested on them all.  "Now, the others are scattered around the castle so let's go let them all know you're here and then... we have Doug's family coming!"

"And then the show!" Shelby cheered.

"We'll see you on stage, Joshua?" Nico checked.

Joshua nodded.  "Definitely!"

"Lovely..." Raquel murmured, her eyes glistening. 

Joshua rested his hand on her cheek, remembering Thanksgiving when Raquel had asked Andrew and JenniAnn to let her and Nico watch the DVD of Superstar.  He knew how difficult some parts had been for her and was glad she would see him giving a much lighter, happier performance.

"We'll be making many, many joyful noises," he promised.  "Isn't that right, kids?"

Shelby, Jacob, and Liam all began talking at once, telling Raquel and Nico about what was planned.

Listening intently, the couple joined hands and followed Joshua, Andrew, JenniAnn and the children towards the living room where they would begin greeting everyone else.


That afternoon, the entire group convened on St. Genesius' Community Theatre to plan blocking and set up sound and lighting equipment for their concert.  They had been there for an hour when Emma, Peter, and Joshua stepped out into the lot. 

"Just out of curiosity... why did you tell Doug and his family that you were here and not Raquel and Nico?" Peter asked as they watched for the Harmons' minivan. 

Joshua smiled.  "Because I was using John's phone to keep in touch with Doug and the kids while they were with Larissa's family.  The signal would have come and gone for Raquel and Nico which would have been stressful for them.  Plus, it's still kind of difficult for the Harmons to be here at the theatre without Lucy.  I wanted them to know I'd be waiting for them, like this, when they arrived."

Peter's eyes filled.  "I knew there would be a good reason or two... and there was."

Emma hugged Joshua and smiled at him.  "Always is with you.  I was wondering if we might see Beth and Logan and Mick and Josef?  At least Beth and Logan since, you know... they know."

Joshua ran his hand through his hair and shook his head.  "They won't be coming.  Josef's been struggling so Mick foot the bill for all of them to go on a vacation in Seattle and other parts of Washington and Oregon."  He smirked.  "They're going to spend some time mocking Twilight... on location!  It always makes Josef feel better.  Beth and Logan thought about trying to get away for a couple days but..."

"It would be hard to explain why to Mick and Josef?" Emma guessed.

Joshua nodded.  "Plus, they know Josef needs them.  Mick, too."

Tears filled Emma's eyes.  "How sad to know you're here and yet not be able to see you..."

Joshua hugged her shoulders.  "Well, I didn't say that..."

Emma and Peter both perked up.

Joshua only smiled. 

At that moment, Toby's van came into view.

"They're here!"  Emma grinned as the van turned into the lot.  As soon as it parked, she raced to it with Joshua and Peter only a few steps behind.

All four doors flew open and the group began to exchange hugs and a flurry of greetings.

"Seat belt stuck!" a tiny voice bellowed from inside the van.

"Oh!  Matilda!" Larissa exclaimed.

Toby dove for the back seat but Joshua was already at the door.

"There's my Tildy!" Joshua enthused as he helped Toby's and Larissa's three year old out of her car seat.

Doug caressed the girl's hair as Joshua lifted her out.  "I'm so sorry, sweetie!"

Tildy nestled against Joshua's neck as she clung to him.  "I okay."

Her eldest brother, Ryder, tweaked her foot.  "Sorry, Tildy.  I guess we just got excited."

Larissa kissed the girl's cheek.  "I'm so used to you bolting out of that seat on your own, baby!"

Keeping hold of Tildy, Joshua knelt down in front of Noah, the middle child, and kissed the boy's hand.

"Seems to me that today is someone's fifth birthday..."

Noah grinned and nodded.

"Hmm...  I think we need some ice cream and cake, don't you?" Joshua asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

Wide eyed, the little boy nodded.

"Well, let's go get some!"

Doug circled his arms around Emma's and Peter's shoulders as Joshua and the three children raced ahead. 

"He's something else, isn't he?"

Peter nodded.  "Beyond words."

Emma rested her head on Doug's shoulder and smiled at Larissa.  "I'm so glad you'll all be able to see Joshua around everyone.  And meet his parents!  And John!"

"Well, let's go!" Toby responded, laughing as he took his wife's hand and they dashed after their children.

Doug, Emma, and Peter lagged behind.

"You ready?" Emma checked.

Doug looked ahead to where Joshua was waiting by the door and smiling at him. 

He nodded.  "I am."

Doug let out a deep breath as he crossed the threshold of the theatre.  He smiled as he realized he felt only peace and joy... feelings which deepened when they made their way to the lobby. 

Amid all the smiling faces, there was a table holding a cake decorated with pairs of brightly colored animals and containers of rainbow sherbet. 

Noah's grin stretched from ear to ear.  "Like my story!"

Joshua smiled, recalling all the nights Doug, Toby, and Larissa had lulled the boy to sleep by reading his Noah's Ark storybook.

After Yosef had lit the candles, the room filled with voices singing "Happy Birthday" as the first of the week's three birthday parties commenced.


Fifteen minutes before the show was due to start, there was a knock on the office door where Joshua was tuning his guitar.

"Come in!"

Andrew poked his head inside.  "Got a couple guys here who want to say hello."

Noting the tears in the angel's eyes, Joshua knew who he meant.  He set down the guitar and headed to the door.

Andrew stepped out of the way to reveal Matthew and Tyron.

Joshua pulled the two men to him and into the room.

The officers' attempts to remain stoic crumbled.

"I'm so glad you're here, Matthew and Tyron.  So, so glad," Joshua murmured, kissing their cheeks.  "Roslyn and the kids?"

Tyron brushed at some tears and nodded.  "Already seated and looking forward to the show.  Thank... thank you for the invitation.  The personal one a-and the one at the precinct."

Matthew nodded.  "Means a lot.  Especially after..."  He bowed his head and bit his trembling lip.

"I know," Joshua assured with tears in his eyes. 

"Sorry we didn't get here earlier in the week but..."  Tyron's voice trailed off.

"I know," Joshua repeated.  "You're here now."  He studied the two and, seeing the toll of the last weeks, brushed the tears from their faces. 

Matthew drew in a deep breath and smiled at Joshua.  "I'm glad you're here."

Tyron nodded.  "And that we know..."  He chuckled softly.  "Back in the Spring, I had no idea how spot on I was joking about how maybe Andrew had hired himself the real Jesus."

Joshua laughed and hugged the two again.  "Surprise!"

"Andrew said it happened for everyone when you meant for it to," Matthew added.

"Yes," Joshua assented.  He recalled the autumn day when, following their shift, Matthew and Tyron had gone to the former's apartment with a case of beer, hoping to unwind after a disheartening day.  Though neither had become drunk, they'd had enough to weaken their reserves.  The hypothesizing about him had begun... and ended with Andrew and JenniAnn being awoken at 10:30 in the night by a frantic call from the two followed by their visit to Willowveil and to his room.

"We'll talk more after the show?" Joshua checked.

Both officers eagerly nodded.

Joshua squeezed their hands.  "I love you."

"Love... love you, too," Tyron choked out.

Matthew could only nod in agreement.

"Let me walk you out," Joshua offered.

As they made their way out to the house, they passed several of the other cast members whose eyes welled as they watched the three men walk with their hands linked.


The set was simple but beautiful, left black with white Christmas lights illuminating the background and poinsettias bordering stage left and stage right.

The audience clapped as the curtain rose and Monica and some members of the orchestra took to the stage.  After a brief instrumental introduction, Monica began to recite with her soft, lilting voice.

"'I sing of a night in Bethlehem,
a night as bright as dawn.
I sing of that night in Bethlehem,
the night the Word was born.'"

As the angel spoke, a screen lowered from the ceiling and images from the Nativity portion of the Superstar prologue movie played.
"'The skies are glowing gaily.
The earth in white is dressed.
See Jesus in the cradle,
drink deep in His mother's breast.'"
Standing offstage right, Joshua embraced his mother and kissed her hair.

"'And there on a lonely hillside,
the shepherds bow down in fear
when the heavens open brightly
and God's message rings out so clear.
"Glory now to the Father
in all the heavens high!
And peace to His friends on earth below!"
is all the angels cry.'"

After Monica had stepped offstage, she threw her arms around Joshua.

"Lovely," he whispered in her ear before kissing her temple.

Blinking back her tears, Monica smiled then went to where Arthur and Liam were waiting for her.

Once the orchestra had finished and cleared the stage, the audience applauded as the lights dimmed.

Joshua squeezed his parents' hands then grabbed a stool and slung his guitar over his shoulder.  When the lights came back up, he was sitting at center stage and beaming.

The audience burst into enthusiastic applause.

Chuckling, Joshua waved at them then focused on his guitar. 

A thrill went through the crowd as he began to sing and strum.

"'Well, it’s been real nice living way up here
In paradise, over the atmosphere.
But I can’t stay long, gotta make my way.
I’m leaving Heaven today!

You see the world is dark and it needs a light.
I’m gonna hang a star in the eastern sky.
So everybody’s gonna know where I touch down.
I’m leaving Heaven right now!'"

As he sang, Joshua's smiling gaze traveled over the house. 

"'I’m gonna walk around that broken Earth,
trading in these streets of gold.
So if you ever wonder how much you’re worth:
You should know
that you’re the reason why I’m leaving Heaven.'"

Several of the audience members' eyes filled as his words sunk in.  Each felt that Joshua was looking directly at them as he sang.

Behind the scenes, the cast and crew all embraced each other, angels and humans both, as Joshua sang about his own birth.  Maryam and Yosef huddled together and softly swayed, thinking of their baby amidst the hay.

"'And when my time comes to an end,
I’ll lay down my life like a truest friend.
When I get back home, I’m gonna make some room.
So, don’t you worry, ‘cause I’m coming back for you.'"

In the front row, the Harmons all clasped hands and shed grateful tears.  Seeing them, Joshua blew them a kiss before resuming.

"'And you will say goodbye to that broken Earth.
You’re gonna walk on streets of gold!
And if you ever wonder what my love is worth:
Well, you should know
that I’m the reason you’ll be seeing Heaven.
Oh, you’re the reason why I’m leaving Heaven.
I’m leaving Heaven!'"

The theatre filled with thunderous applause as Joshua bowed and then held his arms aloft.  When the room finally quieted, Joshua spoke.

"Good evening, everyone!  On behalf of our cast and crew, I wanted to thank you all for spending this evening with us.  We hope we can bring you some Christmas spirit, hope, joy, and love.  We have a lot planned for you tonight... including some audience participation which I haven't been told much about so, trust me, I'm just as nervous as you are about that."

The audience laughed. 

Joshua grinned.  "Whatever it is, I'm sure we'll have a great time!  Later on, there will be some numbers that we'll all sing together so be sure to check your program for lyrics if you don't know them.  Speaking of your program, we'd like to extend a special thanks to Chris there for designing the beautiful cover."

Chris blushed and smiled when Joshua waved to him and indicated for him to stand up.

On either side of their father, Kian and Elsie beamed.

"Thanks, Chris!" Joshua cheered before glancing off stage left where Emma was miming dunking cookies.  "Right!  We hope you'll stick around after the show to join us for some festive beverages and desserts.  Now, without further adieu... here's Emma singing 'Be Born in Me.'"

For a few moments, Emma clung to Joshua.

"It means so much to Ama that you chose this song," he murmured.

"It... it's just so... her," the woman replied, her eyes already welling.  "I hope I don't completely lose..."

Joshua shook his head.  "You won't, my own."  He kissed her forehead then rejoined Maryam, Yosef, and Peter who stood just offstage, ready to embrace Emma when she was finished.

The house was silent except for the notes of music and Emma's sweet, tender voice as she sang of the Annunciation then moved onto Maryam's reverent musings as she carried Yeshua.

"'All this time we've waited for the promise.
All this time You've waited for my arms.
Did You wrap Yourself inside the unexpected
so we might know that Love would go that far?'"

Emma peered over at Maryam and drew in a shuddering breath before ending her song.

"'I am not brave,
I'll never be.
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy.
I'm just a girl,
nothing more.
But I am willing, I am Yours.

Be born in me, be born in me.
I'll hold You in the beginning, You will hold me in the end.
Every moment in the middle, make my heart Your Bethlehem.
Be born in me.'"

Emma only managed a quick, teary smile for the audience before rushing offstage and into Maryam's waiting arms.

"You... you're one of the bravest people, I... I know, Ama," she choked out.

With a gentle smile, Maryam pushed some hair behind Emma's ears.  "Thank you, dearest Emma.  But I... I did not always feel it."

"Beautiful, Emma," Joshua praised, stroking her back. 

Emma hugged him.  "Thank you."  She smiled at Sean who was standing behind them with his bodhran, looking nervous.  Patting Joshua's back, she stepped away.  "You better get back out there."

Joshua smiled and nodded then looked to Sean and Fr. Mike.  "You ready?"

The priest beamed.  "Definitely!"

Joshua clapped Sean on the back.  "It's gonna be great!"

Calmed by Joshua's touch and cheerful voice, Sean nodded.  "It is, isn't it?"

"Yes!" Kemara assured, sneaking in a quick hug for her fiance.

"Can't argue with Joshua," Fr. Mike jested.  "Well, you can.  But you won't win."

Laughing, Joshua pulled the three into a hug.  "The dancers ready, Kemara?"

"Ready and waiting!"  Kemara waved to the stage.  "Out you go!"

With that, the three took their places on stage with members of the orchestra and began to play the Galician Carol.  After a few moments, the children trooped out and began their jig. 

The adults and the audience clapped along as Shelby, Jacob, Liam, Lily, Persephone, and Galen danced to the merry tune before crowding around Joshua in a giggling group hug.


The program proceeded with the audience alternately moved and amused.  Peter's rendition of "Joseph's Lullaby" left Yosef speechless and clamoring to embrace the younger man.  Shane got his wish and joined Joshua in serenading his parents with Dave Barnes' modern rendition of the Christmas story.  Edward, Caleb, and Joshua donned red, green, and blue sweatshirts while Randall shouted from offstage as, aided by helium balloons, the trio sang "Christmas Don't Be Late."  Zeke, Diana, and Joshua had the crowd rocking along with them to a spirited version of "Children Go Where I Send Thee."  Accompanied by Joshua and his guitar, Kylie sang a version of "A Cradle in Bethlehem" that would have removed any doubt Clay had about children if Joshua, Yosef, and Vincent hadn't already gotten to him. 

While Adam, Eli, and Henry performed "We Three Kings," the teenage girls gathered in the lobby and some of the men found themselves being approached by the ladies in their lives and silently led further backstage.  Doug was surprised when Emma crouched in front of him and, smiling, requested that he come with her.

Thus, Andrew, Arthur, Doug, Joshua, Fr. Mike, Peter, Sean, and Zeke, who was holding Manny, all found themselves gathered in the men's changing room.  Standing beside a stack of boxes, Monica was grinning.

With an amused glint in his eyes, Joshua crossed his arms over his chest.  "Okay... so I wouldn't be setting a very good example by being afraid but... I'm definitely getting nervous.  What have you ladies done?" he questioned, looking specifically at his mother.

Maryam only smiled and shook her head.

"Monica is our ring leader.  She'll tell you," JenniAnn replied.

Giggling, Monica faced the men.  "Well, little Manny there inspired me.  He looks so adorable in his ugly Christmas sleeper from Kemara and Sean.  I thought his daddy should have something to match."

Playfully, Zeke glared at Sean and Kemara.  "So you two got us into this!  And there I was thanking you for the Little Man's present!"

Kemara laughed as Zeke stared down at his baby. 

"And, of course, if I was going to sew something for Zeke then how could I possibly leave out my darling Arthur?" Monica continued.

Arthur laughed.  "Oh boy..."

"And I was so thrilled by my idea that I couldn't keep it to myself so I told JenniAnn and Kemara and Emma and Diana...  And they just loved it!" Monica gushed.

"Laja..."  Andrew chuckled as he studied JenniAnn who was smiling sweetly as she swayed with Belle.

"And JenniAnn mentioned it to Sibyll," Monica related.

Fr. Mike couldn't do anything but laugh at his mother's cheesy grin.

"And, naturally, we just had to tell Maryam.  And, Doug, Emma was so sure that you'd want to be included among your fellow Jesuses... Jesusi?"  Monica shrugged.

Laughing, Doug hugged Joshua and Peter.  "Well, sure... I think."

"I'll have you all know that Monica spent so much time on these that she had to go Home just to finish," Diana informed.  "So I hope you all appreciate her labors."

With that, each woman grabbed a box and handed it to their counterparts.

"Okay, on the count of three," Monica directed.  "One... two... three!"

The men opened their boxes and burst out laughing.

"You've got to be kidding me..."  Sean lifted pants, jacket, and a tie all in a candy cane print.

Fr. Mike ogled his own suit which was covered in garish ornaments.

Andrew shook his head as he eyed his gingerbread men suit.  "Nope..."

"Yep..." JenniAnn countered.

Zeke laughed as he handed Manny to Diana then pulled on his multi-colored reindeer jacket.

Doug shrugged and began to put on his snowmen tie.

"Very hot..." Emma teased as Peter held up his neon snowflake pants.

Smirking, Arthur pulled Monica into his embrace.  "I will wear this hideous suit covered in demonic looking elves only because I love you so very much."

"They're not demonic looking... they're... impish!  But thank you."  Monica smiled and kissed his cheek.

Maryam laughed and hugged Joshua as he gaped at his suit which was inexplicably covered in crazed looking Santas.

"Well, that'll teach me to go live feed-less," Joshua kidded.  He winked at Monica and hugged her.  "So what are we doing in these?"

"Well..."  Monica grinned and began to describe what they had planned.


Back in the house, the angels of death had finished their carol and the audience wondered what was afoot when the elegant white twinkle lights flickered off and were replaced by a multitude of red, orange, gold, green, blue, and purple lights.  They erupted in laughter when Sy and John stepped onto the stage wearing matching Christmas lights themed suits and ties.

"You think this looks bad, just wait until you see what's coming," Sy joked.

Laughing, John clapped him on the back before looking out into the audience.  "Ladies and gentlemen, please look to the aisles where you'll see our friends Violeta, Ivy, Kendra, Hailey, Jocelyn, and Zoe.  They're handing out brightly colored cards and it's important that you each take a card of each color.  These are going to be your voting mechanisms for our little improvisational game."

"We'll also be having two buckets that the ladies will be bringing around.  For those of you on my side, your bucket is filled with slips of paper with the names of Christmas songs on them," Sy explained.

"And on my side, the bucket has a bunch of different song styles in it," John added.  "We'll have someone pick two pieces of paper from each bucket and then that side will vote on which we go with.  Then, for example, our Ugly Christmas Suit Band... who you'll soon be meeting... might find themselves singing 'Away in the Manger' as a reggae song."

The crowd laughed and waved their cards.

Sy peeked offstage and saw his father and the other men had assembled. 

"And here's our band now!" the teen shouted.  "We have Andrew, Arthur, Doug, Joshua, Fr. Mike, Peter, Sean, and my dad and little brother... Zeke and Manny!  Ladies and gentlemen, the Ugly Christmas Suit Band!"

The audience, which had grown to include the rest of the cast and crew, hooped and hollered as the eight men took their places.  Zeke took a bow with Manny and then handed the baby offstage to Diana.

John chuckled as he studied them.  "A fine day for men's fashion!" he joked.  "Fellows, you've had the rules explained to you?"

They nodded.

"Unfortunately," Peter jested, causing the others to laugh.

Chuckling, Sy looked out to the crowd.  "Okay, looks like Ivy and Zoe have the buckets going around.  Remember, pick two pieces of paper and then shout them out and we'll do a vote."

"Punk rock and country!" Gracie hollered after pulling two slips from the bucket.

Kian had ended up with the other bucket and, after conferring with his father who quietly read the words to him, he called them out.  "'Good King Wenceslaus' and 'I Saw Three Ships!'"

"Oh boy..." Sean muttered.

"Okay, red is punk rock, yellow is country.  Let's raise those cards up!" Sy directed his side.

"Blue for 'Wenceslaus', green for 'Ships,'" John shouted.

Laughing, Sy studied the crowd.  "I think that looks like a punk rock 'I Saw Three Ships,' John.  What do you think?"

John nodded.  "Definitely.  So now we'll give our band one minute to plan and... go!"

"Punk rock...that's the head banging type, isn't it?" Fr. Mike checked.

Joshua laughed.  "Sometimes.  And Andrew, Peter... we're the only ones with movable hair."

"Great..." Andrew replied with a grin. 

"So you three do that and then can't we just scream the lyrics or something?" Zeke asked.

Doug chuckled.  "I think that's about the best we can do."

"I'll do some sort of angry echoing thing, maybe?" Sean offered.

"Can't hurt!" Andrew replied.

"Let's hear it, fellows!" Sy called.

The eight took their places and the audience howled with laughter as Joshua and Peter rhythmically thrashed their heads around, their hair bouncing.  Andrew pounded on the drum set Rusul had left on stage and sent his lengthier hair flying.

Gloria and Tim flashed the Christmas lights as the other men began to "sing."

"'I saw three ships come sailing in,'" Zeke, Fr. Mike, Doug, and Arthur bellowed.

Sean jumped into the hair and pumped his fist.  "Three ships!" he screeched.

"'On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; I saw three ships come sailing in.'"

"Three ships!"

"'On Christmas Day in the morning.'"

"Three ships!"

"'And what was in those ships all three.'"

"Three ships!"

Every time Sean jumped into the air, the audience doubled over with the other members of the band soon joining them.

They'd barely made it into the second verse before the song completely fell apart and there was only the sound of laughing.

Joshua made his way to Sean and hugged him.  "I will never, ever hear that song again without hearing you shouting 'Three ships!'"

Sean broke down himself and clung to Joshua as they both laughed hysterically and swiped at tears.

John started to speak but couldn't continue.

Sy reclaimed his composure first.  "That was hideous... and hysterical.  Who's up for more?"

The house was filled with clapping and cheering.

Ivy and Zoe found two new recipients of the buckets and after another vote, the men were stuck with a Broadway showtune version of "What Child Is This?"

Doug scratched his head.  "Boy... I don't know where to go with that.  I mean a showtune could be in any style.  If they mean a big showstopper..."

Zeke suddenly grinned.  "I have an idea.  Just follow my lead.  I happen to know a Broadway song about a special baby king that we can mix in."  He winked at Joshua then hurried offstage and returned with Manny.

The other men all looked with anticipation at Zeke as he stepped to the center of the stage. 

Though the words that came out of his mouth were in a language none of them spoke, nearly everyone in the audience recognized them.

"'Nants ingonyama bakithi, Baba!  Sithi hu ingonyama!'"

Peter collapsed with laughter as Zeke briefly raised Manny into the air... though, to Diana's relief, not as high up as Rafiki had lifted Simba.

Andrew, his eyes alight as the audience laughed, elbowed Joshua.

"It makes sense... you are the Lion King."

Grinning, Joshua linked his arms around his shoulders as they all joined in the chanting.
"'Ingonyama, Ingonyama nengw'enamabala.  Ingonyama, Ingonyama nengw'enamabala.  Ingonyama, Ingonyama nengw'enamabala.'"

Just as the song would have normally shifted into the English lyrics, most of the men started up with "What Child Is This?"

"'What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary's lap is sleeping?'"

"'Ingonyama, Ingonyama," Zeke, Arthur, and Joshua continued to chant with many of the audience members joining in.

"'Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?'"

"'Ingonyama, Ingonyama.'"

John made his way to Sy.

"This one's actually quite good, isn't it?"

Sy nodded. 

"'This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.'"

"'Ingonyama, Ingonyama.'"

"'Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.'"

"'Ingonyama, Ingonyama.'"

When the surprisingly good mash-up ended, the audience applauded and Joshua embraced Zeke and Manny.

"Good save!"

Zeke smiled.  "All those years of watching Disney movies and musicals with the kids have paid off.  It was kind of beautiful, wasn't it?"

"It was," Joshua agreed, squeezing his hand.

The next round led to a hip-hop version of "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" which found the men waving their arms and shouting "Hey... ho, ho, ho" repeatedly as Peter beatboxed.  Andrew gave his all to leading a bluesy version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  Finally, the Ugly Christmas Suit Band closed their set with a swing version of "Silent Night" that left everyone feeling giddy and in the ideal mood for a Christmas and Hanukkah sing-along.

After a few songs, the house emptied out and everyone moved to the lobby for cocoa, coffee, cider, and cookies.

JenniAnn and Andrew, with Belle on his hip, observed for several minutes before loading a plate with cookies, grabbing a few drinks, and sneaking to the secret door.

Vincent, Catherine, and both Jacobs hugged them once they were up the steps.

"A wonderful show!" Vincent praised. 

"Truly a joy to behold," his father added.

JenniAnn tousled little Jacob's hair.  "It was!  With some great dancing!"

"The best!" Catherine gushed, hugging her son.

Jacob beamed and kissed his mother's cheek. 

"Jacob, you can go back downstairs with everyone else if you'd like," Vincent offered.

"You're sure, Papa?" the boy checked.

Vincent hugged him.  "I'm very sure.  Mama and Grandpa and I will wait here and enjoy these delicious treats that Psyche and Andrew have brought us."


JenniAnn smiled at her cousins.  "We'll see you in a bit then!"

"Thank you, Psyche."  Vincent clasped her hand for a moment and stood to kiss Belle's curls.

As soon as they were back in the lobby, Jacob made a beeline to where many of the children were enjoying themselves with Christmas coloring books that Shane had donated.

Once they had cookies and cocoa for themselves, Andrew and JenniAnn continued to hang back and watch with wonder as Joshua worked the room.  With great ease, he made introductions between members of the assorted groups: veterans, police officers, Olivia's friends from Abundant Living, and residents of the Phoenix Inn and True Light.

"Why do I have the feeling that he's forming future couples and families and best friends and colleagues and confidantes?" JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew's face glowed with a proud smile.  "Because he's Joshua."

"'For I am the great Bridge Builder,'" JenniAnn quoted, her voice quiet and reverent.  As she cradled a sleepy Belle, she rested her head on Andrew's shoulder.

Gazing across the room, Andrew saw Arthur, Monica, and Liam nearly mirroring them.  He smiled.

"That he definitely is, Laja."


After leaving the theatre, Joshua and his parents escorted the Harmons to Cora's house where Vincent and Catherine met them.

Doug hugged the couple once he'd sat down his bags.

"Thank you so much for your hospitality.  With such a crowd, I thought we might need to stay in a hotel."

Vincent shook his head.  "It's nothing, Doug.  Our pleasure.  I like for the house to have life in it, especially at Christmastime."

Joshua stepped inside, carrying a sleeping Noah who was holding the giraffe couple from the hand-carved Noah's Ark playset that Joshua had given him for his birthday.

Toby followed with an equally zonked Matilda in his arms.

Vincent softly chuckled.  "Perhaps quiet life for tonight."

Ryder smiled at Vincent when he entered the house.  "Cool house!"

Vincent returned the boy's smile.  "I'm glad you think so, Ryder."

Once Larissa and Maryam were inside, Yosef closed and locked the door. 

"Why don't you get the two little ones laid down and then we'll show whomever would like to see how to get to Dyeland?" Catherine offered.

Ryder's face lit up. 

Joshua chuckled as he remembered the previous month when the Harmons had returned to New York over a long weekend to meet Manny.  During their stay, Larissa and the kids had been introduced to Dyeland and the Tunnels.  While the younger two had been overwhelmed, Ryder had been enchanted.

Toby patted his eldest son's head.  "Ryder, Andrew and JenniAnn said you were more than welcome to stay with the other kids at the castle if you want.  I think Noah and Matilda are just a little too young."

Ryder looked to his mother.

Larissa laughed.  "It's okay.  You can stay there tonight.  My feelings won't be hurt!"

Ryder grinned and nodded.  "I'd like to stay in the castle."

Smiling, Doug shook his head in wonder.  "Never thought my grandson would be sleeping in a castle."  He stooped down to hug the boy. 

"Jacob has greatly enjoyed being there and I'm sure you will, too, Ryder.  Could I show the rest of you to your rooms now?" Vincent offered. 

"Yes, please!" Toby replied for his family.

While Larissa and Toby got the two sleeping children tucked in, Doug helped Ryder pack an overnight bag.

"Perhaps we could leave the car here and take the portal to Willowveil?" Yosef suggested.

Joshua nodded.  "Good idea.  No reason to take Ryder into the cold again."

With a smile, Maryam hugged her son's arm.

Catherine smiled.  "Now there's the look of a proud mother!"

Maryam nodded.  "I loved all the songs.  But the first you sang, my own..."

Joshua kissed his mother's hair.  "Thank you, Ama.  I'm looking forward to your and Abi's annual performance on Christmas."  His eyes twinkled as he looked to Catherine.  "My birth story... and then some."

"We're all looking forward to it, too!" Catherine cheered, hugging the three.

"Ready!" Ryder declared as he skipped into the room.

After Joshua bid Larissa good night and kissed the two sleeping children, the rest of the group headed to the basement.  From there, Vincent showed them to the portal.  After more good night hugs, the Davidsons and Ryder continued on to Dyeland.

The seven year old clapped as they stepped through. 

"It's even cooler with the Christmas lights!"

While Maryam and Yosef strolled at a more leisurely pace, Joshua hurried after Ryder.  They stopped just outside the doors of Willowveil.

Joshua watched, as he always did, while the boy blew a kiss to his Grandma Lucy in Heaven.

Ryder brought his hand to his mouth a second time then paused and tilted his head as he looked at Joshua.

"Well, since you're here..."

Joshua beamed as the boy planted a kiss on his cheek before bounding into the castle.


After getting Ryder settled in with the other kids, who were taking turns telling Christmas stories to each other, several of the adults crowded into the parlor adjoining Maryam's and Yosef's room to enjoy some tea and coffee and conversation.

"Tonight was truly great!" Arthur opined.  "Chris couldn't stop talking about you the whole way back to True Light, Joshua.  He may not be there quite yet but I think he's onto you."

Joshua smiled.  "He's made great strides at True Light, Arthur.  You should be very proud."

John and Yosef both nodded.

"He has such a sense of peace to him that he didn't last Spring," the former offered.

Yosef reached over to pat Arthur's hand.  "Well done, Arthur."

Grant and Molly clasped hands and smiled with pride at their son.

As Arthur blushed, Monica hugged his arm.  "The reception after the show was so lovely," she remarked with a contented sigh.

Eli nodded.  "It did my heart good to see so many people from all different walks of life talking and laughing together.  And Matthew and Tyron...  I talked to them in the lot right after they arrived and they looked so haggard.  But when they left?  They were laughing and smiling!"

"It was wonderful," Kelly agreed.  "And did you see Gracie?  I think she struck up quite a friendship with Olivia and a couple of her friends.  It looks like we'll have more people helping us build her up."

"Sweet baby..." Tess murmured before wrinkling her nose.  "I'm not sure I've recovered from 'I Saw Three Ships.'"  She glared at Sean.

"Aww, c'mon, Tess.  It was fun!" Andrew protested.

"Three ships!" JenniAnn mimicked from her perch on the arm of his chair.

Sean laughed.  "I don't even know where that came from..."

"I was wondering..." Kemara teased.

Chuckling, Zeke shook his head.  "I think I would be happy to have that be the only punk rock song I ever perform.  There would be no way to top it."

"And here I was hoping you fellows might try for a punk rock 'Twelve Days,'" Adam jested.

"No," the members of the Ugly Christmas Suit Band responded in unison.

Emma smiled through her yawn as she nuzzled Peter's shoulder.  "I had no idea you could beatbox."

"Neither did I... until a company Christmas party a couple years ago when I, uh, over-indulged."  Peter rolled his eyes and smiled.  "Another reason to be glad to be outta there!"

Maryam rose from the loveseat she was sharing with Yosef and stroked Emma's back.  "That is the fifth time you have yawned since we all sat down, Emma."

With a sleepy smile, Emma nodded.  "I should probably turn in.  I just want to go over to Serendipity and check on the girls before I do."

"I will walk with you," Maryam offered.

Emma clasped her hand.  "Thank you."

After a good night kiss from Peter and hugs from the others, Emma and Maryam made their way to the tunnel and up through Serendipity's basement.  Once they were on the main floor, they immediately heard laughter and excited chattering.

"Girls?  It's Maryam and me," Emma called.


Emma's eyes went wide as she glanced over at Maryam. 

"That's a little worrisome!"

"I am sure it is nothing.  Still... no harm in checking?"


They followed the hushed noises to the kitchen where they found Kendra, Hailey, Zoe, Jocelyn, Ivy, and Violeta all in their pajamas and robes... and busily working.

Maryam laughed as her gaze drifted over their projects.

Emma gaped and shook her head.  "All that sugar..." 

"Samples?" Zoe offered the two.

Then Emma shrugged and accepted the snack along with Maryam who held her arms open and gathered the girls to her.

"He will love this," she assured as the teenagers beamed.

Emma let out a peaceful sigh, glad for Joshua who she knew would love his birthday celebration but happier still for all of them who would be celebrating at his side.


Wednesday, December 24th

In the morning, everyone gathered at Willowveil for breakfast together before breaking up into smaller groups to prepare for the evening's party.  Allison, Catherine, Molly, and Raquel found themselves in the children's room, supervising the little ones.  They chatted over coffee as the kids crafted and played. 

Raquel laughed as she watched Belle crawl from child to child.  She curiously observed each of them before parking herself in Liam's lap.

Allison reached over and set her hand on Molly's arm. 

"Liam's so good with Belle.  I know she can be a bit... pushy."

Molly shook her head and rested her hand over the other woman's.

"He is a good little fellow and he loves being around the other children... maybe Belle especially.  He's a nurturer like his daddy." 

Molly used her free hand to clasp Raquel's and smiled at Catherine.

"I'm glad I have this time with you ladies.  I've been wanting to thank all of you and your husbands for considering Liam your own.  Arthur and Monica told Grant and me that he seemed to assume any grandparent of Belle's was also his and you were all too kind to set him straight."

Raquel's eyes misted. 

"It means a lot to Nico and me that Liam wants us as grandparents... and that you and Grant are open to that.  We never thought we'd have one grandchild... let alone two."

Allison sighed as she watched over the children.

"Robert and I felt the same.  They're both miracles!" she gushed.  "All of them are!"

Catherine's eyes filled as they rested on her birthday boy who was lost in his own world of paint and paper.

The four watched with amusement as Belle rolled off Liam's lap and quickly crawled towards them.  She stopped at their feet, smiled, and held her arms up.

"Uh, uh!"

Raquel picked the baby up and cuddled her. 

"Oh, I hope you never grow out of being a little cuddlebug, sweetheart," she cooed.

"I think we all second that wish!" Allison added.



Only moments after he stepped into the room, Joshua was mobbed by the little ones.

"Hey there, kids!"  Joshua knelt down to hug and kiss each of them.  "I thought maybe I could read you a story or two?"

The children all cheered and hopped around with excitement.

"Okay!  Can you go pick a couple books?"

Belle kissed Raquel but then began to squirm.


"Down?" Raquel checked.


Smiling, Raquel set her down and watched as she crawled to Joshua.

Chuckling, he picked her up then settled into an overstuffed couch.

"Liam, would you like to come sit with us?" Joshua invited.

The four women watched as the little boy's face lit up and he hurried onto the left side of Joshua's lap.

"Could you read this one?" Jacob asked, handing a book to Joshua.

"I'd love to!  Did you all know that book is about Yoktan... well, inspired by him?"

"Yes!" the kids asserted.

"Can we ride Yoktan later, Joshua?" Galen requested.

"Ride donkey?" Tildy asked with wide eyes.

Joshua cupped her chin.  "Yes, sweetheart."


"We'll go do that in a little bit," Joshua promised.  "I think Yoktan would like that a lot." 

Once the other children had scrambled onto the couch, Joshua smiled at the grandmothers and began to read.

Allison, Catherine, Molly, and Raquel looked on with teary eyes as all the children snuggled nearer to their hero. 


The four turned around to find JenniAnn and Monica standing in the doorway, equally moved by the sight in front of them.

As inconspicuously as possible, JenniAnn crept into the room and took a picture.  When she was finished, she returned to Monica's side and clasped her hand.

"I'll send you a copy.  That's gotta be going into their baby books, right?"

Squeezing her hand, Monica nodded as she continued to peer at her son. 

Together, the two sat down on a brightly colored bench.

Joshua glanced up for just a moment and smiled at the two, knowing they would treasure the photograph for years to come.

After finishing The Small One and The Littlest Angel, Joshua looked to the hallway.  Seeing no one, he smiled at the kids.

"You know, I think I could do with another story.  How about you?"

Liam's much loved Little Santa was quickly produced as Joshua resumed his recitation.  He was only a couple pages from the end when there was movement in the hallway. 

Looking up, Joshua saw his cousin and Andrew, bundled up and giving him the thumbs up sign.  He finished the story and then rose from the couch.

"I think it would be a very good idea if we all got into our coats and gloves and scarves now," he suggested.

"To go see Yoktan?" Noah asked.

"Yes..." Joshua replied with a mischievous smile.

Andrew stepped forward and rested a hand on Catherine's and Raquel's shoulders.

"I suggest all of you ladies get your coats and accessories, too," he encouraged.

"What do you boys have planned?" Allison asked.  "I thought Joshua was looking a little flushed when he came in..."

John grinned.  "Just another of my cousin's schemes!"

After helping the kids, the adults all retrieved their coats and the group met up in Willowveil's entryway.

"Jacob, why don't you lead us out?" Joshua asked.

Eager to see what was afoot, the little boy stepped forward and set his hand on the doorknob.


Joshua nodded.

Jacob threw the door open and let out a gleeful cry as he ran to his father who was waiting at the bottom of the front steps.

"Snow!  Lots of snow!" Jacob cheered.  Peering around his father, he caught sight of a large snow wall on which "Happy birthday, Jacob!" was written in snow paint. 

Vincent scooped up his son and hugged him.

"Happy birthday, my boy."

"Papa..."  Jacob hugged Vincent's neck before he was sat back down on the snowy ground.  "But just a little bit ago, Mama said there wasn't enough snow for sledding..."  He turned to look at Joshua and beamed.  "Oh..."

Joshua knelt down and hugged the boy.

"Happy 7th birthday, Jacob!"

Jacob warmly returned his hug.  "Since it's your birthday and your birthday is very, very important; it would have been okay to wait for mine," he murmured.

Joshua shook his head.  "Thank you for being so unselfish, Jacob, but it just so happens that your birthday is very, very important to me.  Now, c'mon.  Let's show everyone how sledding is done!"

With arms linked, Catherine, Vincent, and the elder Jacob watched with happy tears in their eyes as their boy took Joshua's hand and raced with him towards a pile of sleds.  Once they were off, gleeful pandemonium broke out.  The older children began to sled while the younger ones were pulled around on smaller sleds by the adults as Yonah and Yoktan gave rides and the lambs, dogs, and cats played in the snow.

When the group began to tire, they all moved to the ballroom where cocoa and Jacob's birthday cake, a huge tray of frosted brownies, awaited them.

As Jacob opened Joshua's gift of more paints and a personalized hand-carved easel, Joshua's eyes misted.  He recalled the night of Jacob's birth... angels, the bright glow of a star.  He reached for Catherine's and Vincent's hands and squeezed them.

"Thank you," he mouthed.

The couple both began to cry softly.  Seven years before, Tess had told them that God knew they were the right parents for Jacob.  In the years since, they'd done their share of wondering about who this God was who trusted them so much.  Now they knew He was the man holding their hands and looking with absolute love at their son... and he was pleased with them.


An hour later, the Davidsons, Jocelyn, Zoe, Peter, and Emma all went to the theatre where Jodi was due to meet them.  As Joshua and his parents tried to keep the nervous girls distracted by going through photographs from prior productions, Peter sat in the office with Emma and encircled her in his arms. 

"I'm so proud of you, Emma.  You're one of the best people I know." 

Emma blushed as he kissed her temple.

"I... I doubt that."

"Why?  Listen, I know how hard it's going to be for you to see Jodi but you put that all aside because you wanted the girls to be happy.  And they are, sweetheart!  Frankly, I'm ever so slightly concerned about what may be going on over at that all-girls house but... Jocelyn and Zoe are clearly having a wonderful time."

Emma smiled and snuggled closer. 

"No reason to be concerned.  They're just working on a birthday surprise for Joshua.  And they are happy, aren't they?  You'd think they'd known the other four girls so much longer than a few days the way they've been palling around."

"And that, in no small part, is thanks to you.  Emma, you know that Joshua wouldn't have made you welcome Jodi.  But when he asked... you didn't even seem to debate it with yourself," Peter pressed on.  "You just said yes."

Tears welled in Emma's eyes.

"I... I spent too many years feeling separated from Joshua.  If having Jodi around is... is going to give those two girls a few more days with Joshua right here to... to talk to and hug and wish happy birthday, I could never deny them that."

"Hence, you're one of the best people I know."


Emma stroked his face and smiled at his beard which she'd caught him comparing to Joshua's.  With a soft sigh, she placed a tender kiss on his lips.

Then she spied Joshua walking backwards out of the office.

Emma pulled away from Peter and giggled, causing her boyfriend to turn around.

"Sorry!  I didn't meant to spy.  I just walked right in without thinking and... oops," Joshua apologized as he smiled at the two.

Taking Peter's hand, Emma rose from the couch and shook her head.

"I'm thinking that's definitely not the first time you've seen that.  Even if it is our first time seeing you seeing us kiss," she teased.

"It's been wonderful seeing you two so happy," Joshua replied as he hugged them both.

"It's wonderful to be so happy."

The huskiness in Peter's voice caused tears to form again in Emma's eyes.

Joshua released them to each other's embrace but kept a gentle hand on Emma's back.

"Jodi just called.  So long as traffic cooperates, she's about ten minutes away," he told the two.

Emma drew in a deep breath.

"Emma, I can meet her in the lot and take her directly to Cora's if..."

Emma shook her head before Joshua could finish and managed a smile.

"No.  Thank you, though.  I've done okay with the few phone calls we've had.  A-and I want Joccy and Zoe to see that we can get along."

Joshua clasped Emma's hand in both of his and beamed.

"Then we'll all go to Cora's, get Jodi settled in and introduce her to Doug and his family, then head to Mass.  Okay?"

The couple nodded then followed Joshua to the lobby.

Emma smiled as both teenagers wrapped their arms around her.

"I'm glad we'll get to be with you, too, this Christmas," Jocelyn murmured.

Emma stroked her hair.  "Me too."

After a few minutes, they saw someone through the festively painted windows.

"Mom..." Zoe recognized.

As the two girls stepped away from Emma, Maryam and Peter moved to stand on either side of her.

Joshua answered the door.

"Jodi, welcome!  Merry Christmas!" he greeted, taking her bags from her.

The woman closed her eyes for a moment as he embraced her.

"Thank... thank you."  Jodi swiped at her eyes and managed a smile.  "Happy birthday."


Joshua chuckled as a persistent mewing sounded. 


Zoe hurried forward and knelt by her cat's crate. 

"Sweetie, you can take her out," Emma assured.

Zoe hugged her mother in greeting then quickly freed her pet and snuggled her.

Jocelyn stepped forward and embraced her mother.

"Hi Mom.  I'm glad you're here."

"Me too," Jodi choked out as she cast a furtive glance at Emma.

Drawing in and letting out a deep breath, Emma moved closer.

"Thank you for letting the girls visit us, Jodi," she began.  "Peter and I were having a wonderful time hosting them and then, of course..."  She waved to Joshua.  "Things got even better."

Jodi took a few hesitant steps nearer to Emma.

"Thank you for... for inviting them and letting me... letting me..." 

When Jodi began to sob, Emma closed the distance between them and hugged her.

"Everything's fine now, Jodi," Emma consoled.  "It's Christmas.  You're with... with your girls a-and Joshua and his family are here.  What could be better?"

"N-nothing," Jodi replied.  She pulled away just enough to smile at Emma then cocked her head.  "Joshua's family?" 

A proud smile formed on Joshua's face even as tears welled in his eyes upon seeing the two women embracing.

Jodi's gaze traveled back and forth between the two people she didn't recognize. 

"Jodi, please meet me parents, my Ama and my Abi: Maryam and Yosef," Joshua introduced.

"Shalom, Jodi," Yosef greeted.

Maryam held out her hand.  "I have so enjoyed spending time with your daughters, Jodi.  I look forward to visiting with you, as well."

From the midst of their group hug; Emma, Peter, Jocelyn, and Zoe smiled as a dazed Jodi took Maryam's and Yosef's hands.

Joshua smiled over all of them, knowing that the next few days would be healing ones for Emma, Jocelyn, Zoe, and Jodi.


After attending Mass, the entire group gathered in the ballroom at Willowveil for a potluck dinner.  Only Adam, Caleb, and Kylie were absent but the children were too awed and excited to notice.

Just as the last of the dishes were set out, there came the sound of myriad jingle bells.

"Well, now who could have made that sound?" Andrew pondered aloud.

"Santa!" several of the children shouted.

"Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Did I hear someone say my name?" an unseen Adam asked.

"Santa!" the children repeated more loudly.

The doors to the ballroom flung open and Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Buddy the Elf stepped into the room.

Mild chaos broke out as children ran from their parents and into the jolly entourage's waiting arms.

"Well, hello children!" Adam greeted.  "Mrs. Claus, Buddy, and I are so happy to be here with you!  You've all been such good little boys and girls!  We were all so proud of you when you let the children at the Phoenix Inn and True Light and other places have the toys you no longer play with.  So we wanted each of you to have a new, very special toy.  Let's all go sit down by the fireplace so I can get into my bag."

In awe, the kids obediently gathered around the Clauses and Buddy as they settled into chairs.

Adam's eyes twinkled as he smiled at each of them.

"Now, children, there are so many, many little ones in the world that sometimes ol' Santa here needs help making the toys," he began.

"Elves!" Ryder shouted.

"Like me!" Caleb cheerily cried.

Adam chuckled.  "Yes, I have elves like Buddy here.  But this year, I needed even more help.  So the toys I have for you here... they were made by someone very, very special."



"Ah!  Ah!"

Joshua beamed as all the children swiveled around to smile at him.  He'd given Adam the toys but meant for him to claim them as his/Santa's creations. 

"Mrs. Claus, perhaps you could escort our Master Woodcarver up here?" Adam suggested.

Happily, Kylie leapt from her chair and went to Joshua, linking her arm through his. 

"Adam didn't have to do this," Joshua whispered.

"He knows.  But he wanted to give his Boss his rightful place," Kylie answered, squeezing his arm.

Andrew hurried to place another chair in front of the children.

When Joshua was seated, Adam opened his bag.

"Will you help me hand your gifts out, Joshua?" he asked.

"I'd love to, Santa," he readily agreed.

The toys were quickly passed out and unwrapped with equal swiftness.

Shouts of "thanks" and "I love yous" filled the room as the children pushed around dolls in little wooden prams, piled up brightly colored blocks, and more.

"And now for the grown-ups!" Adam hollered.  "Andrew, my boy, I believe you have gifts to add, as well."

Andrew snuck a playful scowl at Adam over the "my boy" then, with JenniAnn's help, began to dole out his boxes.

When everything was sorted, the unwrapping began again.  Each household found themselves with their Nativity from Andrew and, from Joshua, a set of colorful, carved Christmas bulbs.  Each member had their own with symbols and images that held great meaning for them... often meaning that only they and God knew.  The pets, too, were included with each receiving their own handmade toys from Joshua.

There was laughter and tears and many, many hugs and sloppy doggy kisses before the group settled down enough to begin their dinner.

Once everyone was seated, Joshua stood.

"Beloved ones, I am so very, very happy to be here with all of you this night.  Whether you came from New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, Colorado, Connecticut, the seas, Heaven, or the North Pole; you are all a part of my creation, of my heart.  I, umm..." 

Maryam clasped her son's hand when she saw the tears well in his eyes.

"I left Heaven for you many, many years ago and I... I'm very glad I did because I love each of you so much and every minute... every moment was worth it to have this time with you a-and..."

Yosef took Joshua's other hand.

"And all the time to come.  I love you all so much!  Now... before we go into a full-blown reprise of 'Jesus wept'... Andrew and JenniAnn, would you please lead us in the blessing?" Joshua requested, smiling tenderly at their hosts.

Clasping JenniAnn's hand, Andrew began.

"Dear God, we thank You for this time together which has been filled with so many, many blessings.  Thank You for the beauty of Your snowfall and starlight... and for the beauty of each other.  Our thanks to You for this delicious meal and all the loving, talented people who prepared it."

"Thank You for children and parents and siblings and soulmates and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and pets," JenniAnn continued, smiling at all those gathered around the tables.  "Thank You for all the opportunities You bring to us to spread Your love.  Most of all... thank You for being with us now a-and all those years ago in Bethlehem.  Amen."

"Amen!" the entire room echoed, complete with barking and mewing.

Then there was a cacophony of joyous noise as everyone began to eat and drink and be merry with Joshua very happily in the midst of them.


Thursday, December 25th

At midnight in Seattle, near Pike Place Market, two figures made their way to the waterfront and gazed out at the starry sky.

"What do you suppose they're all doing now?" Logan asked, breaking the reverent silence.

Beth brushed at a tear and smiled.  "Sleeping probably.  It's 3 AM for them."

"Oh, right.  Joshua, too, you think?"


Beth reached into the bag she was carrying and set a lone cupcake on the picnic table near them.  She gave it a rueful smile.  At 9:00 PM the idea had seemed cute: sneak out of the hotel while Mick and Josef played poker, go to the waterfront with Logan, and have their own little birthday party for Joshua.  Now she wondered what they were going to do with the cupcake.  Logan couldn't eat it and she wouldn't eat it in front of him.  The gulls would enjoy it, she supposed.

Logan's eyes gleamed as Beth placed one candle in the center of the cupcake and lit it.

"Happy birthday, Joshua," she murmured.

"Happy birthday," Logan repeated, his voice cracking.


The two spun around towards the shops and restaurants but saw no one. 

"Over here!"

Clasping hands, Beth and Logan turned again and looked out at the bay.

Joshua grinned as he stepped off the water and onto the land.

The two friends were too stunned to move as Joshua hopped over the railing and pulled them into a hug.

"Thanks again for the birthday wishes.  It is a happy birthday!  Even happier now!" 

Rousing from their shock, Beth and Logan spoke over each other.

"I can't believe you're here!"

"We wanted to get away but didn't know how to..."

"We thought about pretending to be sick and going home but didn't think you'd like that."

"Mick and Josef just don't seem ready to believe..."

Joshua tightened his embrace and kissed their cheeks.

"I know.  I know it all.  And, you're right, I wouldn't have liked you both pretending to be sick.  Mick and Josef have enough on their plates.  And your mom, too, Logan."

The boyish vampire beamed.  "She's doing really well, though!"

Joshua returned his smile.  "She is.  And she'll continue to do really well, thanks to you."

Logan shook his head and clung to Joshua's hand.  "You..."

Beth led Joshua to the picnic table's bench and handed him the cupcake.

"For you!" she cried, tears of joy replacing her earlier, maudlin ones.

"Thank you both so much.  It means a lot to me that you wanted this moment for us." 

Joshua smiled brightly at both of them before beginning to enjoy his cupcake.  When he was finished, he reached under the table and produced a bag.

"Presents from Dyeland," he informed.  "And wine for the boys."

Like two eager little children, Beth and Logan peeked into the bag.

Joshua laughed.  "You can open them."

The two tore into their gifts.

"Andrew made the Nativities.  I made the ornaments," Joshua explained.

Beth and Logan admired each piece then took turns hugging Joshua.

"We'll tell Andrew how much we love the Nativities.  The ornaments, though..."  Beth wrapped her arms around Joshua and kissed his cheek.  "Perfect."

Logan traced the fantastical design on his ornament then silently gripped Joshua's hand.

For the next two hours, the three caught up and celebrated Christmas together.


At a little past 5:00, Andrew and JenniAnn rose and began to fill stockings for Belle, Max, Shelby, and Violeta as It's a Wonderful Life played in the background.

Once the stockings were hung and the gifts piled in front of the fireplace, the two sat together on the settee with gift bags.

JenniAnn placed the one near her on Andrew's lap. 

"You first."

Chuckling, Andrew shook his head.

"No, ladies first," he insisted.

JenniAnn giggled.

"The lady is deferring to age," she teased.

"Ouch!" Andrew cried with mock horror before kissing her forehead.  "I'm just really excited for you to open yours.  How about we open them at the same time?"

"It's a deal!"

Together, they each reached into their bags and pulled out cards from each other which they read with glistening eyes.  When they were both finished and had exchanged hugs, they moved onto their gifts.  They looked at each other curiously as both removed jewelry boxes.



"On the count of three?"

Andrew nodded.  "One... two... three..."

They unwrapped the small boxes, pulled open the lids, and gaped.

Inside each box was a silver chain and pendant.  JenniAnn's was a delicate cross while Andrew's was in the style of a dog tag with a cross engraved into it.  At the center of both were small rubies and sapphires.  On the four corners of Andrew's and four points of JenniAnn's were second sapphires, amethysts, aquamarines, and diamonds.  For them, for Shelby, for Belle, for Max, for Violeta.

"Did Max tell you?" the two asked each other in unison.

"No!" they responded.

"My love..."


As they embraced each other tightly, Andrew softly swayed and kissed JenniAnn's hair.

"Thank you, Laja.  It means so much to me and, well, obviously I liked the idea..."

JenniAnn could only let out a sob in response.

Andrew smiled and rested his cheek on her hair. 

When JenniAnn calmed down, she pulled back and stroked Andrew's face.

"It... it's so lovely.  Thank you.  I love you."  She stretched up to kiss his cheeks.  "I hope yours is okay.  I know you probably can't wear it all the time.  Although Max said you could always wear it under your shirt."

"I can," Andrew assured.  "Laja, I do love it so much."

JenniAnn smiled and took his box then fastened the cross around his neck.

When she was finished, Andrew did the same.

"It's a wonder Max kept it quiet.  Did you take him shopping as a second opinion?" JenniAnn questioned.

Andrew nodded.  "You?"


"Good boy!  Of course, he may have been thinking that since we're keeping a secret for him... he best keep ours," Andrew pointed out.

JenniAnn grinned.  "True..."  She planted another kiss on his right temple.  "Merry Christmas, my love."

"Merry Christmas, my Laja," the angel echoed.  Then he tucked a large blanket around the two of them and they snuggled together to enjoy their annual visit with the Baileys.


At Cora's house, all was still and quiet except for the attic's tenant.

After attempting to sleep a bit longer, Jodi gave up and moved to the window seat.  She closed her eyes as she rested her cheek against the cool glass.

By the moonlight, she studied the room... a room that Joshua had brought her to, telling her he had found it to be an excellent place for peace and quiet and reflection.

Jodi could scarcely believe that she had spent the night in an attic where Jesus Christ had once slept... for weeks... while playing himself in a show directed by an angel of death... who lived in a castle... in another world... where her girls now slept.  It was so crazy sounding that Jodi couldn't keep from laughing.  But she knew it was true.  And in that world, among those people, her daughters had lit up like they hadn't since they were small.  Jodi hadn't had the heart to ask them to spend the night with her.  She had left them in their cozy little room in a sweet little house with four girls who had to know their story, their history and yet accepted them and befriended them.

Tears began to streak down Jodi's cheeks as she recalled the previous evening.  After dinner, she had briefly found herself alone in the kitchen with Emma... Emma who she had neglected to protect, Emma who she had tormented... Emma who still loved her Joccy and Zoe in spite of it all.

And then, horrifically, Jodi had found herself speaking.

"How... how do you do it?  Don't you see him in them?  Especially Jocelyn... her eyes.  When you look into her eyes, don't you see Derek's eyes?"

With those words, Jodi knew she had put the lie to all the progress she had supposedly made in the previous months.  The new town, the new house, the girls' new school, new friends, Jesus Himself helping them move in... through it all, she had continued to hate her ex-husband and, though she loved her daughters, God help her... they had reminded her of him.  Then Emma had answered.

"No, Jodi.  I only see Joccy's eyes.  I only see two sweet, darling girls: Joccy and Zoe."

The effect of the younger woman's words had been immediate.  It was as if she'd opened the floodgates and all the beautiful memories of the girls' childhoods, memories that had been overridden by fights with Derek and threats and cold silences, returned to Jodi in a torrent.

"Take this.  You'll know what to do."

Jodi remembered the little box Joshua had given her before they'd parted for the night.  She ran to the desk where she'd placed it and opened the lid.  Inside was elegant, hand pressed paper and envelopes and a gorgeous wooden pen.

Taking a seat, Jodi began to write Christmas love letters to her daughters.


Arthur awoke to someone frantically shaking his arm. 


"Arthur, wake up!"

The man's eyes flashed open.

"Monica, what's..."

"I... I woke up and Liam wasn't there so... so I went into the children's room to check on him b-but his sleeping bag was empty.  I'm sure he's somewhere in the castle but Joshua's not in his room and so I can't ask him and..."

Arthur scrambled out of bed.  He considered waking his parents but left them.  They'd rouse them if they needed to.

"Maybe Belle's nursery?" he suggested, recalling that Liam had found his way there in the middle of the night early on.

Monica nodded and hastened down the stairs with Arthur following her. 

As quietly as possible, they peeked into Belle's nursery but found only the baby and Shelby contently dozing.

"Should we get Andrew and JenniAnn up?" Monica asked.

"Let's just check the kitchen first.  Maybe he got hungry."

"Yes, maybe."

They raced down another flight of stairs and tore into the kitchen. 


Disheartened, they returned to the hallway and were just about to discuss what they might do next when they heard a pitter-patter in the ballroom.

Taking Monica's hand, Arthur led the way.

In the center of the room, illuminated by the tree and several other twinkle lights, Liam spun with his arms thrown wide.  A smile of absolute delight lit up his face.

Arthur and Monica both sighed with relief.  The former began to cry at the sight of his blissful, exuberant little boy.

Monica wrapped her arms around Arthur as they watched.

Spying them, Liam halted mid-rotation and grinned.

"Monny, Daddy!  The lights look all blurry and bright and pretty when I spin!  Come see!"

Liam hurried towards them then stopped when he saw his father's face.


The boy came closer and rested his hand on Arthur's damp cheek.

"What's wrong, Daddy?"

Arthur smiled and cleared his throat.

"Nothing... nothing is wrong, my boy.  I... I'm crying because I'm happy.  So happy... that... that you're here."

Liam's own eyes filled as his father pulled him into a bear hug.  He closed his eyes and nestled his cheek against his daddy's shoulder.

"I love you so much, Liam.  So much..." Arthur choked out.

Monica kept her gaze focused on her son and noticed an almost imperceptible flicker of recognition.  She knew, in that moment, that Liam truly saw Arthur and saw the depth with which he loved and adored him. 

Liam kissed Arthur's cheek.

"I love you, too, Daddy.  Come spin with me?  You, too, Monny?"

As her own tears threatened to fall, Monica nodded.

Hands linked, the three returned to the center of the room and spun and spun as the magic of Christmas swirled around them.


Maryam stirred when she heard voices in the hallway.  She smiled as she recognized them as Arthur's and Monica's and Liam's.

"How about we try to get just a little bit more sleep?" Arthur asked.

"Okay.  Can I stay with you, Daddy?"

"Of course."

"See you soon, Monny."

"Thank you, baby," Monica replied.

Maryam smiled as she imagined the angel kneeling down to accept the little boy's kiss.

"Sometimes it does not seem so long ago, does it?  Us with little Yeshu..."

Maryam shifted to see that Yosef was awake, his eyes glistening as she was sure hers were.

"No.  No, it does not," she murmured.

Yosef cuddled his wife.

In the same instant, they both sighed.


Joshua materialized just outside his room, his face glowing as he remembered the long, sweet conversation with Beth and Logan. 

He was just about to enter his room when he heard his Dad's voice.  He smiled tenderly, turned away from his door, and started down the hall.


Yosef glanced over at the bedroom door when he heard it creak open.  He frowned when no one appeared.

"When it is light, I must check those windows in the hall, Maryam.  I think there may be a draft."

"Yosef...  Working on Christmas Day?"

"No.  No, I suppose not..."

Maryam was silenced by a bit of childish laughter... laughter she recognized very well.

Yosef's eyes went wide. 


"Ama...  Abi..."

"Oh!"  Maryam shifted to her stomach and peered over the edge of the bed.

"Yeshu!" she cried.

The little boy grinned as his mother scooped him up from where he was sitting on the floor.

Yosef laughed as he beheld his son who appeared just as he had when he'd been four years old.

Maryam covered Yeshua's face in kisses and settled him onto her lap.

Yosef ran his hand through the boy's mass of curls.

"An even better Christmas present than the one you gave us on Monday night, Yeshu!" he exclaimed.

"Surprise!" the boy chirped.

"A wonderful surprise..." Maryam cooed as she softly rocked.

For a delightful hour, the little family snuggled together as Maryam sang and Yosef told stories and Yeshua soaked in the love of the two people who had been with him when it all began.


Willowveil Castle and Serendipity were humming with activity and celebration as families gathered in various rooms for their private celebrations. 

After opening presents with her grandma and Mark at the Chandlers', Ivy made her way to Andrew's room where the Wilsons were cloistered. 

Shyly, she knocked on the door.

Sy answered, stepped into the hall, and hugged her. 

"Merry Christmas, Ivy!"

"Merry Christmas, Sy!  I'm not too early, am I?  Because I can wait.  I don't want to intrude on your family and..."

Diana approached the door and shook her head.  "Ivy, sweetheart, you are never an intrusion.  Get in here!"  She held out her hand and took the girl's.

Smiling brightly, Ivy stepped into the room with Sy following her.

"Merry Christmas, everyone!" she greeted.

"Merry Christmas, Ivy!" the family responded.

"Did you have a nice time with your Grandma and Mark, Ivy?" Zeke asked as he tossed torn wrapping paper into a recycling bag.

Ivy nodded.  "Oh, yes.  It was so cute watching them open each other's presents!  And, of course, they're really looking forward to spending the day with everyone."

Kendra and Hailey giggled when Ivy winked at them.

"Did Santa bring you all what you asked for?" she queried with a smile.

"Yep!" Kendra replied.  "Super cute clothes... weird how when you're little, you hate getting clothes.  Now... it's awesome!"

Hailey laughed and tugged the younger girl's braids.  "My sister's growing up!"

"But we still got Manny!" Sy enthused, kneeling down to kiss his brother.

Diana brushed at a tear.  "Okay, everyone, please take your seats again.  I have one more present for each of you."

Hailey giggled.  "You sounded so much like a teacher there, Mom."

"I am a teacher, Missy," Diana countered, ruffling her daughter's hair.  She stepped into Andrew's office and returned with six gift bags. 

"For my boys..."  Diana handed a bag to Sy and two to Zeke for himself and Manny.

"And for my girls..." 

Ivy's eyes filled as she, like Hailey and Kendra, received a bag.

"Okay, open them!"  Diana directed.

The five all tossed tissue paper out of their bags then pulled out the contents.

"My girl!  I love it!  And this..."  Zeke pulled a small scarf that matched his out of Manny's bag.  "We're gonna be stylin'!"  He stood to kiss his wife. 

"Did you make these, Mom?" Sy questioned.  "They're awesome!"

Diana nodded.  "Adam's been giving me lessons.  It kept my mind occupied while Manny was sleeping."

Hailey and Kendra hugged their mother after wrapping their scarves around their necks.

"So pretty, Mom," Kendra murmured, kissing her mother's cheek.

"They're beautiful, Mommy," Hailey whispered, feeling suddenly childish as she nuzzled her mother's handiwork, smelling traces of her perfume and lotion.

"Oh, baby..."  Diana stroked her eldest's back.

Ivy ran her hand over the bright yarn.  More than its beauty and warmth, she treasured the scarf because Diana had included her in her gift to her family.  For the first time in a long time, Ivy felt something of what it was like to have a mother right there.

Diana knelt in front of the teenager and gently wrapped the scarf around her then planted a soft kiss on her forehead.  Days before, she had asked Joshua if he thought giving Ivy her scarf at the same time she gave her husband and children theirs might alarm the girl.  He had unequivocally told her to carry on as she'd planned.  As Ivy rested her head on her shoulder, Diana realized just how right Joshua's insistence had been.

For a few moments, the rest of the family politely busied themselves with tidying the room and admiring their presents as Diana held Ivy while she softly cried.

Then, once Ivy had recovered, their happy chatter resumed.

"So what is it that you girls have been so secretive about over at Andrew's old place?" Zeke asked.

Hailey, Kendra, and Ivy laughed.

"Something..." Kendra teased as she bumped her shoulder against her father's.

Zeke burst out laughing.  "Now there's a helpful answer!"

"Manny's looking a little overwhelmed by all the hoopla," Sy observed.

Diana and Zeke laughed as they peered at Manny whose tiny brow was furrowed.

"Pretty sure that face means something else..." Zeke hypothesized.  "If you'll just excuse us..."  He lifted the baby from the bouncy seat, grabbed his diaper bag, and headed to Andrew's office.

"Girls, how about you come with me to see if anyone's started coffee?" Diana requested.

Hailey and Kendra smiled at their mother's transparent attempt to give their friend and brother some privacy.

"Yes, ma'am," Hailey agreed.

Kendra stuck her tongue out at Sy then grinned and followed her mother and sister out of the room.

Sy blushed as he took a beautifully wrapped box out from where he'd stashed it beneath the bed.

Smiling, Ivy withdrew a package from the bag she carried.

Since both were trying to save for college, they had agreed to restrict themselves to homemade gifts.

"Should we take turns or... or open them together?" Ivy asked.

"How about together?" Sy suggested.

With a nod, Ivy focused her attention on her gift.

Sy smiled when he noticed the care she took to not tear the paper.

Catching his glance, Ivy gave him a sheepish smile.  "It's just such pretty paper...  Did you wrap it yourself?"

Sy nodded as he unwrapped his gift with less caution.

Both found themselves looking at books and both pairs of eyes welled when they cracked them open.

Ivy had made Sy a scrapbook covering the months since they'd met and, with Diana's help, even the weeks before. 

Sy felt the lump in his throat grow as he studied a photograph of himself and Joshua playing basketball behind the theatre and, later, casually chatting on the stage.  The photos continued, right on to earlier in the week.

"Ivy..." Sy clasped her hand.  "I will treasure this always.  Thank you."

Ivy sniffled and used her free hand to flip through her book.  On each page, Sy had taken one of her poems and mounted it on beautiful paper.  Then she came to the last page and realized she had not written the poem there.

Sy stared down at their linked hands as the girl read the poem he'd written for her.

"It... I know it's not as good as yours but... but I felt every word and... and..."

Looking up, Sy saw that his girlfriend was peering at him.

"I... I love... love it a-and you and..."

"I love you, too, Ivy, and..."

She leaned in.

He leaned in.

For one sweet moment, the two shared their first, blissful kiss.


"Oh, baby.  No.  No eating the wrapping paper!"


JenniAnn laughed as Belle gave her the sweetest smile.

Andrew chuckled.  "Why do I have a feeling that disciplining this one's gonna be harder on us than on her?" he jested as he tweaked Belle's curls.

Max grinned.  "You're going to send her to her room and then end up bummed out because you'll be separated from Bellaluna's extreme cuteness.  Meanwhile, Belle will be in her room, merrily chattering away to her stuffed animals."

"Belle is never, ever going to be bad," Shelby asserted.

Belle launched a wadded up, slobbery ball of wrapping paper across the room.


"Well, maybe not bad very often..." Shelby corrected.

"Aww!  It woulda been so cute if we coulda gotten her to say 'humbug.'  She already has the 'bah!'"  Violeta smiled and kissed the baby then began hugging the others.  "This was so nice.  And thank you all for my presents!"

Max patted her back as he received his hugs.  "And thank you for the awesome Harry Potter mug set.  I can't wait to get my drink on!  Butterbeer, of course.  Right, Dad?"  He cast a pleading look at Andrew.

"I spose I can make butterbeer," Andrew agreed with a grin.

Shelby kissed Andrew's and JenniAnn's cheeks.

"Thank you for my Elsa doll and my Frozen game.  Will you play it with me?"

"Of course, sweetie," JenniAnn promised. 

"But first we have another game..." Andrew tantalized.  "Just as soon as Rose gets here."

Violeta clapped her hands.  "Scavenger hunt!"

"Yep," JenniAnn averred.  "You and Shelby are a team and Max and Rose are a team."

"And since the castle's rooms are pretty filled up, we kept it to the halls and common areas," Andrew explained.

"Okay!  So much fun!" Shelby cheered, hugging Violeta's arm.

A light knock sounded on the door.

"It's me!"

"Come in, Rose!" Andrew invited.

"Merry Christmas!" the young woman greeted.

"Merry Christmas!" they all replied.


Rose giggled and picked Belle up for a moment when she crawled to her. 

"I'm sure you'll see Joshua soon," she assured.

Belle kissed Rose's cheek.

"Aww...  So sweet," Rose cooed.

Max turned away for just a moment as his eyes filled.

Stalling, Andrew approached Rose.

"So as we were just telling the other three, JenniAnn and I wrote this game so that you all will be avoiding the bedrooms and offices since people are using them.  Think hallways and public areas, okay?"

"Got it!"  Rose hugged Belle then handed her to her father. 

"Ya ready?" Shelby asked.

"You bet!" Rose assented.

"All right...  Your first clues."  JenniAnn handed an envelope to Violeta and the other to Rose.  "Now, off you go!"

Rose thought it somewhat curious that Max hugged both Andrew and JenniAnn tightly before he joined her but she said nothing.  Max did tend to get emotional at Christmas after all...


After their eleventh clue, Max and Rose found themselves in the empty children's room.  Taped onto the window was another envelope.

Rose snatched it and read.  "'Now is when the teammates part.  Rose, go across the hall to where God art.  But our darling Max will not.  He'll find what he's seeking in another spot.'  Weird...  They've never had us split...  Max?"

Turning around, Rose discovered that she was alone.  She looked back down at the piece of paper and shrugged.  Andrew had said that the clues would keep them out of private rooms.  But, then again, Joshua's room was open to everyone.  Amused but not surprised that he would be part of their annual game, Rose stepped across the hall.  She smiled at Joshua who was sitting on his bed with a knowing smile.

"Almost done with the scavenger hunt, huh?" he asked, patting the spot beside him.

Rose sat down and hugged him.  "Yes.  Happy birthday, by the way."


"Did you and your parents and John have a nice morning?"

"My parents and me, yes.  John stayed with Fr. Mike.  I'm sure they're having a nice time.  I hear they're making a huge batch of boxty for us."


"But first you gotta finish your game.  So what ya got there?"

Rose handed Joshua the clue.  "Weirdly, they had me and Max split up and, come to think of it... they didn't even tell Max where to go.  And yet he went.  Like he... he knew." 

A surge went through Rose's body as a thought suddenly came to her.

"Max... he... he was in on this one, wasn't he?"

Joshua hugged her.  "Yes."  He withdrew an envelope from the pocket of his flannel shirt.  "For you, sweet Rose."

With tears in her eyes, Rose accepted it and opened it.

"'Come to the roof, please.  Always, Max.'"

"Oh... oh..."

Joshua beamed. 

"Walk with me?" Rose requested.

Nodding, Joshua helped her to her feet.

Arm in arm, they made their way up the stairs and to the door of the conservatory.

Joshua kissed the girl's cheek.

"He's waiting for you, Rose," he murmured before opening the door for her.

Laughing and crying at once, Rose stepped inside.

Max stepped out from behind a trellis and approached Rose.  He led her to a bench and knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his.

"Rose, I... I never believed in love at first sight.  I wanted to b-but I didn't.  And then... then I met you.  From the moment I saw you in Cora's kitchen, I knew... knew you were someone incomparably special.  A-and then once I got to really know you, I felt that even more.  And I knew you were smart and funny and kind a-and you laughed at my corny jokes."

Rose laughed and brushed some hair behind his ear.

"We... we started out just... just talking about Harry Potter but then it all... it became so much more.  I knew I could talk to you about anything.  And I wanted you to feel like you could talk to me about anything."

"I... I did.  I do..."

Max grinned.  "Maybe save that last bit for just a few moments more..."

Rose giggled and nodded.

"I want to spend my life making you happy and ensuring you... you feel loved a-and, hopefully, having the family together that... that neither of us had growing up.  If... if you think it would make you happy... Rose Windham, would you, umm, want to marry me?  Please?"

"I do!  Yes!  Max!  Yes!"

Rose sunk to her knees, flung her arms around Max's neck, and kissed him... and then kissed him again.

Max returned her kiss, burying his right hand in her hair.  Then he pulled away.

"Oh no!"

"What!?" Rose cried.

"The ring!  I... I totally forgot to... to use it!"  His face bright red, Max pulled the box from his pocket and offered it to Rose. 

Giggling, Rose rested her forehead against Max's. 

"I was so excited that... that I didn't even notice!" she exclaimed.  "Oh, Max..."  Rose sighed as she admired the gold and garnet ring.

Calmed, Max slid the ring onto her finger then laughed.

"I can't believe I did that!  All the times I ran through this in my head and..."

"It was perfect.  Every moment," Rose assured then beamed.  "Getting help from God was a nice touch."

Max smiled.  "A last minute change.  Andrew and JenniAnn helped me plan this a few weeks ago but when Joshua showed up...  Joshua is worth changing plans for."

Rose nodded.  "Definitely.  He, umm, I think he's just outside.  I asked him to walk me up.  I'd started to suspect..."

"I wondered..."

Rose stole another kiss then walked with Max to the door.

Joshua stood where Rose had left him, his smile stretched from ear to ear.  He brought their hands together.

"And now it's an even happier birthday!" he cheered.  "Congratulations!"

The three hugged and danced around in celebration.


At 10:00, the children led Joshua into the ballroom and seated him at the head of the center table.

He laughed when they placed a menu in front of him.

"What do ya want, Josh?" Noah asked.

Joshua took care to read the scrawled menu.

"Well... let's see...  I'll have a cinnamon roll, scrambled eggs, and boxty, please," he selected.

"And drink?" Lily checked.

"Hmm... what do you recommend, Lily?"


Joshua squeezed her hand.  "Then I'll have that, please."

"Thank you!" he called as his servers ran off.

Smiling, Basil crouched at his side.  "The kids' idea entirely.  We were just going to do buffet again... and we still are... but we were told in no uncertain terms that it's your birthday and you shouldn't have to get your own food."

Joshua sighed with contentment and patted the man's arm.  "I love them...  And all of you."

Basil placed his hand over Joshua's.  "We know.  Ah and apparently your parents and cousin aren't meant to lift a finger either," he remarked with a chuckle as Maryam, Yosef, and John entered the room led by Jacob, Shelby, Ryder, Galen, Persephone, and Liam.

Joshua beamed as his family was seated near him.

Once their orders were taken and served and everyone else had helped themselves, Yosef rose from his chair.

"I have asked to lead this morning's blessing along with Maryam," he began. 

Joshua clasped his mother's hand as his eyes filled.

"Perhaps we could start with the prayer our Yeshu wrote?" Yosef suggested.

Everyone bowed their heads and recited the Lord's Prayer together.

Yosef drew in a deep breath then turned to Joshua.  "Yeshu, my boy, thank you for choosing us.  I mean, of course, for choosing your Ama and me as... as your parents but also... all of us.  For choosing to live among us... for us."  He squeezed Joshua's shoulder and bent to kiss his hair.

Maryam placed her other hand over her son's.  "When Gabe first came to me..."  She paused and smiled at the archangel.  "I was filled with gratitude to God for bringing our Deliverer to us.  But what... what I could not know then... not fully know... is what it meant that He was bringing Yosef and me a son... a beautiful son who we would love as... as high as the sky and back again, across the earth and back again."  She kissed Joshua's damp cheek.  "Thank you for this moment and every moment, my own.  Happy birthday."

"Happy birthday!" everyone echoed, many with tears running down their own cheeks.

"Thank you..." Joshua quietly responded through the lump in his throat.  "Thank you," he repeated, much louder.  He accepted a handkerchief from his mother and wiped at his eyes then smiled.  "Parents..."

The entire room laughed.

Joshua looked proudly upon Maryam and Yosef.  "Thank you, Ama and Abi, for making my birth day so wonderful.  I know it wasn't what you planned or... or wanted.  But I knew I was loved and so... so it was perfect to me.  And thank you to everyone here for making this birthday so special to me.  I love you all so much and I'm going to be collecting hugs later but now... in the immortal words of one, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore: tuck in!"  He winked at Rose and Max then sat down.

With more laughter, the roomful of people obeyed.


After brunch, Joshua requested that everyone gather in the entryway.  He stood on the first landing, in front of Andrew's tree which, in keeping with the season, had strings of green lights threaded through its branches.

Smiling down at everyone, Joshua spoke.

"Last spring, I presented Andrew with this tree.  I told him it was his family tree.  Every bird represents one of you.  And your number has grown since then!"  Joshua gazed up at the Wilsons' nest with its little Manny-bird, at Liam's little bird, Portia's and Persephone's, Sean's and Kemara's nest, and at Azalea's, Basil's and Lily's nested trio. 

"Now I have a few more additions... and a bit of editing to do."  Joshua reached into the box at the base of the tree and produced a nest containing three birds.

"Jodi, Jocelyn, and Zoe, could you please come up here?"

With Peter's arms circled around her, Emma looked on with a smile as the two girls joined their mother in placing their nest.  While Jodi still seemed a little shocked, it was evident how much the inclusion meant to Jocelyn and Zoe.

Once they were done, Joshua produced another nest.

"Molly and Grant!"

Arthur parents' faces glowed with happiness as they accepted their nest. 

"There's a spot right near Arthur's, Monica's, and Liam's nest," Joshua pointed out as he hugged them.

Once the Reeses' birds were situated, Joshua brought out another nest and a lone bird.

"Tyron, I'm gonna need you up here with Roslyn, Piper, and Milo, please.  You, too, Matthew."

The Billings family and Matthew beamed as they made their way to Joshua.

Tyron embraced the carpenter.  "Thank you, Josh.  So much."

Matthew nodded and simply clasped Joshua's hand.

"You're very welcome.  Now, this tree is serious business.  You're not on the peripheries around here any more.  You dedicate your lives to keeping others safe and that means a great deal to Dad and me.  But when you need support... you need to remember that you have it waiting for you," Joshua counseled, waving to the others who clapped and cheered in agreement.

"We will," Matthew vowed.

"We promise," Tyron added.  Then he turned to his wife and children.  "Let's find a spot for our nest.  And it's gotta be on a branch where there's room for Uncle Matthew."

Matthew's face brimmed with happiness as he lifted Piper up into his arms.

Roslyn hugged Joshua.  "Thank you... for the birds and... and for what you said to them."

Joshua stroked her back.  "Thank you for all your prayers.  They were heard.  Every one," he soothed.

"Thank you for... for that," Roslyn murmured before smiling and turning back to the tree.

Once they'd found the ideal spot for the five of them, Joshua reached into the box again, this time producing two nests.

"Harmon family!"

Toby, Larissa, Doug, and the three children made their way up the stairs. 

"Ooh... pretty!" Tildy exclaimed as she admired the larger nest which Joshua placed in her mother's hands.

"A pretty nest for a beautiful family," Joshua replied before giving the smaller nest to Doug.

Doug drew in a ragged breath but smiled as he saw his own bird huddled in his nest.  On the rim of the nest, a beautiful white dove perched with her wings stretched protectively over her mate.

"Joshua...  My... my Lucy..."

Joshua kissed the man's forehead.  "She'll always be with you."

Teary eyed but smiling, Toby hugged his father.  "Let's find a place for the nests, Dad.  Close together."

Doug nodded.  "Yes.  Definitely."

Once the Harmons were finished, Joshua studied the tree.

"You know... I think a couple things need a little tweaking.  Eliot, could you come up here for a minute?"

Grinning, Eliot made his way towards Joshua.

"Now, I'm going to take your nest down for just a little bit..."  Joshua reached for the nest, unclipped it from the tree, and handed it to the man.  "You might want to take a peek in there."

Eliot did and began to laugh.  "There are two eggs!" he informed the others who began to laugh.  He hurried down the steps to show Brittony and Galen.

Joshua chuckled.  "Check back in a few weeks for an even bigger change."

Brittony beamed as she patted her belly.

Once Eliot had replaced the nest, Joshua again made a show of examining the tree.  Then he cocked his head and knelt down to the box again.

"Well, that's funny...  There's an empty nest.  Who could that be for..." 

As Joshua scratched his head, Max and Rose clasped hands and giggled.


Joshua reached up to the branches and selected first one bird and then another.  He placed them in the nest then admired his handiwork.

"You know, I like the looks of that...  Max, Rose, I think your birds need to stay this way," Joshua announced with a grin.

Violeta shrieked and nearly knocked Max into one of the banisters.

"Wait... what?" Monica questioned.

"Rose's hand!  Oh my gosh!" Shelby chortled, suddenly understanding why it was her and Violeta's scavenger hunt hadn't ended in the same place as Max's and Rose's.

Everyone broke into applause as they realized what had happened. 

While the others milled around to congratulate Rose and Max after they'd placed their nest, Joshua made his way back to the main floor.

"That was adorable how you did that!" Ivy gushed.

Joshua smiled.  "They weren't sure how to make the announcement and when I told them that I wanted to update the family tree... this is what we went with."

Sean chuckled.  "I have a feeling we'll be in for quite the wedding-heavy year."

Blushing, Kemara nodded.  "Just think... next Christmas will be our first married Christmas."

Joshua took their hands in his.  "Whether or not your first married Christmas is how you're picturing it, I know it's gonna be beautiful and filled with joy!"

Something about the way Joshua spoke gave Kemara pause but, seeing the happiness in his beautiful eyes, she pushed her worries aside.

Joshua hugged them both before turning to Andrew and JenniAnn and grinning.

"So how's it feel?  Your baby is learning how to talk and your eldest just got himself engaged!"

"Wow...  Thinking of it that way..."  JenniAnn snuggled Belle closer.  "Stay a baby," she whispered.

Andrew chuckled and hugged her.  "We have a long way to go before Belle's giving or accepting marriage proposals, Laja.  Thankfully.  Joshua... it feels pretty great!"

Smiling, JenniAnn nodded.  "It really does.  Look how happy they are!"

Joshua peered up at Rose and Max and smiled.  "Very happy.  And that has a lot to do with you two."  He held them close, along with Belle, as he continued to speak.  "So much will happen in the year ahead.  I want you two to make sure that you always find time for each other.  It's important."

"O-okay," JenniAnn promised.  "We will."

"Happily," Andrew vowed.


After another smile, Joshua moved on.  When he looked over his shoulder, he saw Andrew had encircled Belle and JenniAnn in his arms.  The latter smiled dreamily as she rested her cheek against the angel's sweater. 

"They are beautiful," Maryam observed as she linked her arm through her son's.

"Yes, Ama.  They are."

Though Maryam saw some trouble in Joshua's eyes, she did not comment on it.

"All will be well," Joshua whispered.

With a soft smile, Maryam nodded as they stepped further back into the entryway.

Gazing up at the family tree, Joshua smiled.  He saw the tree as it was but also as it would be in the future... more branches, more birds.

More family.


That evening, the ballroom was cleared except for beverages and a few trays of snacks.  Joshua once again found himself being led by the children, this time to a comfortable chair between the fireplace and the Christmas tree.  Maryam and Yosef were seated on either side of him.

All the lights were extinguished except for the twinkle lights.

Joshua's eyes were brimming as everyone gathered in front of him and began to sing.  To his surprise, it wasn't "Happy Birthday" but instead a far newer song.

"'On that most unexpected night,
a holy and precious sight,
when mercy and hope poured out.
And Heaven's grace came down
and one life was born to give
that beautiful and perfect gift,
that all men may truly live,
on the night when Love first cried.'"

As the singing continued, Sy and Arthur opened the doors and the crowd parted down the middle.

Joshua smiled as Ivy, Violeta, Zoe, Jocelyn, Hailey, and Kendra approached carrying a large candlelit tray.  As they drew closer, he saw that the candles spelled out "Happy birthday, Joshua!!!"

"A wiser choice than placing over 2,000 candles," John deadpanned, causing his cousins to laugh.

"Girls..." Joshua murmured as he glimpsed the contents of the tray.

In the center were blondies and brownies, frosted and covered with Froot Loops.  Bordering them were fruity marshmallow treats which were surrounded by chocolate dipped pretzels sprinkled with crushed cereal. 

Once the song ended, Joshua blew out the candles.

As Andrew and Monica transferred the tray to the table, Joshua hugged the teenagers.

"Thank you, my girls!  It all looks delicious!  You've truly spoiled me!"

"Impossible..." Violeta whispered before kissing his cheek.

Once they'd each received their hugs and kisses, the girls escorted Joshua to the table where they loaded up a plate for him.

When Joshua was back in his chair, the group again separated and made an aisle.

"Oh, look at them!" Joshua gushed as the beaming children approached, pulling a toy wagon bearing a large, wrapped gift.

Shane stepped forward once the kids had reached the birthday boy.

"Josh, we weren't quite sure what to get you for your birthday.  What do you get for a man who literally has everything?"

Chuckles and giggles sounded throughout the room.

"We figured, though, that there are at least two things no one can ever have enough of: good memories and love," Shane continued before nodding to Andrew.

"Joshua, you told me once about a box you kept after your Abi died," the angel of death related.

Joshua clasped Yosef's hand and nodded.

"A memory box," Andrew explained, "with mementos of your times together.  We are... all of us... grateful that... that we won't lose you like that ever... ever again.  Nonetheless, we know it may be some time before we're all together in your Kingdom so, in the meantime, we want you to have these with you."

When the angel waved to the gift, Joshua knelt down beside it. 

"Would you help me?" he asked the children.

Several eager little hands helped Joshua tear away the paper to reveal a plain wooden box which was covered in messages and scrawls from each person in the room. 

"It's beautiful..." he praised before opening the lid to reveal his treasures.

Piled inside were dozens of little trinkets, each with a story and a memory of love: a white butterfly, a clay duck, a lilac bush, a Gryffindor pin, a tiny basketball, a lion cub, and so many more.

"Perfect... all of it perfect," Joshua huskily declared.

One by one, each member of the party sat with him and reminisced about the memories behind the items they'd chosen for him.

Once Joshua had spent time with each of them, he turned his attention to his parents.

"And now... it's time!" he announced.

Settling onto a cushion in front of Maryam and Yosef and gathering his children around him, Joshua beamed and waited.

Yosef cleared his throat and began. 

"Well, it was a very starry night and Maryam and I had just arrived in Bethlehem..."

Grinning, Joshua shook his head. 

"Go back, Abi!  Back to when you went to speak to Saba."

Yosef playfully rolled his eyes.

"If I must recount my bumbling proposal for all to hear then I shall..."

Clearing his throat, Yosef began again.

"Now, you all must know that Maryam and I grew up together.  Our parents were very close even before we were born.  That does not, however, mean that they arranged our marriage."

"Yosef and I were both very blessed to have parents who had married for love and wished the same for their children," Maryam interjected.

"Therefore, I had no reason to believe Yehoyakim... that is Maryam's Abi, Yeshua's Saba... grandfather... would consent to our betrothal.  Nor, indeed, did I know if Maryam would wish to marry me."

Maryam made a face that betrayed some incredulity, causing the women especially to laugh.

Yosef grinned.  "Happily, Yehoyakim gave his consent... although he told me I had to make my proposal to Maryam, as well.  Looking back, I think Yehoyakim just wanted to watch me squirm."

"Yup," Joshua verified with a smile.

Maryam laughed and nodded.

"And I did," Yosef admitted.  "I pledged to Maryam 'a comfortable donkey near her parents and an obedient home.'" 

"Yoktan was very comfortable!" Maryam assured.  "The home... well, I suppose it was as obedient as a house can be."

Yosef chuckled.  "And so we were betrothed!  I felt as if I were the most blessed man to ever live... to have such a wife..."

Maryam leaned over and kissed his cheek then looked out to their listeners.

"Some days later, after Yosef had gone to one of the cities to work and earn some money for us, I was washing some rugs when I heard a rustling in the trees.  When I looked up, there was an angel and he said..."

Gabe smiled as he met her gaze.  "Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!"

Beaming, Maryam resumed speaking.  "Gabe told me that I would bear a son, conceived of the Holy Spirit, and he would be called Yeshua... Jesus... Joshua."

Joshua knelt in front of his mother and kissed her hands.

The room was still and quiet except for Yosef's and Maryam's voices as they proceeded on through their story.  John's eyes welled as he heard again of how he had leapt in his Ama's womb.  Yosef confessed to his initial disbelief and heartache, anger and fear.  Then their audience smiled as they heard about the couple's joyful reunion, wedding, and first months together. 

"Then it was a very starry night when Maryam and I arrived at Bethlehem," Yosef continued with a wink at his son.

"Because of the census, all of the inns were filled and there was no room for us except for a stable that a sympathetic innkeeper and his wife offered to us," Maryam explained.  "Much was different back then.  While today it is common, expected even, for the man to be with his wife as she labors, in our day it was considered quite wrong.  So Yosef waited outside with the innkeeper."

Many in the group frowned, their image of that first Christmas taking a hit.

"For a time...  And then I made a 'mad dash,' as you say, for the stable," Yosef added, causing everyone to grin and laugh.

"I would just like it noted that this is who I got my rebellious ways from," Joshua teased as he looked with pride at his parents.

After smiling at her boy, Maryam's loving gaze turned to Yosef.

"I was so grateful to have my Yosef near as... as I... we... welcomed Yeshu into the world, his world.  So beautiful, so tiny, so perfect..."

Two sets of brown eyes flecked with gold peered into each other.

Then Joshua rested his head in his Ama's lap as she brushed her fingers through his hair.  Yosef knelt down and patted his son's back.

The reverent silence was punctuated only by the occasional sniffle or sob.

When Joshua sat back up, he reached back for his parents' hands and clasped them as he looked with love upon each and every human, angel, and animal present.  He smiled, too, at the spirits who drew near, whispering love to those they'd never truly left behind.  His smile grew as he saw other spirits, too: children yet to be born.

Families and friends wrapped their arms around each other and quietly reflected on how one little family and God had changed the world.  Each person vowed to do what they could to further the message and the love of the God and Man they loved so much, the One whose life would always be the greatest of Christmas gifts.

The End

Notes and sources:

Special thanks to Kim and Heather for reading these stories and helping me out with continuity and character issues!  No organization/tracking system that I can create could ever top having two more sets of eyes looking over these stories!

While I wish I coulda had a lil more time with this story, I hope whomever read it enjoyed it and was touched by it.  When I was writing "The Carpenter," I kept telling myself "You CANNOT turn this into 'Messiah Takes a Holiday.'"  And, for the most part, I kept "The Carpenter" and The King" from veering too much into pure zaniness and fluffy fun.  However, I felt like some of that was in order after all those heavy issues.  So... if this story verged into "Messiah Takes a Holiday" then I guess I'm cool with that!  :-)

And finally... happy birthday to Joshua/Yeshua/Jesus!!!  I've got Froot Loops!  Just sayin'...  ;-)

Works cited:
"The Family Tree" by Dave Barnes
Luke 1:26-39- The Annunciation
Luke 2:1-20- The Nativity
"Christ Is Come" by Big Daddy Weave
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Jesus Christ Superstar
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
John 1:1- The Word
"Silent Night" composed by Franz Xaver Gruber and Fr. Joseph Mohr
Sleepless in Seattle
A Charlie Brown Christmas
While You Were Sleeping
Say Anything
Matthew 19:14- "Let the little children come unto me"
1 Timothy 6:15- King of Kings
"Make Someone Happy" by Jimmy Durante
"Away in a Manger"
Genesis 5-9- Noah's Ark
"Happy Birthday to You" by Patty and Mildred Hill and Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman
"Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil/I Sing of a Night in Bethlehem" translated by Seán MacRéamoinn
"Leaving Heaven" by Matthew West
"Be Born in Me" by Francesca Battistelli
"Galician Carol"
"Joseph's Lullaby" by MercyMe
"Mary and Joseph" by Dave Barnes
"Christmas Don't Be Late"/"The Chipmunk Song" by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.
"Children Go Where I Send Thee"- Traditional
"A Cradle in Bethlehem" by Alfred Bryan and Larry Stock
"We Three Kings" by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.
"Good King Wenceslas" by John Mason Neale and Thomas Helmore
"I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In)"- Traditional
"What Child Is This?" by William Chatterton Dix
"The Circle of Life" by Elton John and Tim Rice
The Lion King
"Jolly Old St. Nicholas" by Benjamin Hanby
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Johnny Marks
The Small One by Charles Tazewell
The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell
Little Santa by Jon Agee
John 11:35-"Jesus wept."
It's a Wonderful Life
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Lord's Prayer/Our Father
"When Love First Cried" by Sonicflood

This newsletter is dedicated to John Dye for inspiring yet another fun, edifying, and lovely year in Dyeland!

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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.)