I'll never be.
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"And JenniAnn mentioned it to Sibyll," Monica
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
"You've got to be kidding me..." Sean
lifted pants, jacket, and a tie all in a candy
Fr. Mike ogled his own suit which was covered in
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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...
"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
"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.'"
"'On Christmas Day in the morning.'"
"'And what was in those ships all three.'"
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
Sean broke down himself and clung to Joshua as
they both laughed hysterically and swiped at
John started to speak but couldn't continue.
Sy reclaimed his composure first. "That
was hideous... and hysterical. Who's up
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
The other men all looked with anticipation at
Zeke as he stepped to the center of the
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
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
Andrew, his eyes alight as the audience laughed,
"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,
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," 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?'"
John made his way to Sy.
"This one's actually quite good, isn't
"'This, this is Christ the King, whom
shepherds guard and angels sing.'"
"'Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the babe, the
son of Mary.'"
When the surprisingly good mash-up
ended, the audience applauded and
Joshua embraced Zeke and Manny.
Zeke smiled. "All those years
of watching Disney movies and
musicals with the kids have paid
off. It was kind of beautiful,
"It was," Joshua agreed, squeezing
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
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
"A wonderful show!" Vincent
"Truly a joy to behold," his father
JenniAnn tousled little Jacob's
hair. "It was! With some
"The best!" Catherine gushed,
hugging her son.
Jacob beamed and kissed his mother's
"Jacob, you can go back downstairs
with everyone else if you'd like,"
"You're sure, Papa?" the boy
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
"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
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
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
Vincent returned the boy's
smile. "I'm glad you think so,
Once Larissa and Maryam were inside,
Yosef closed and locked the
"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
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
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
"Yes, please!" Toby replied for his
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?"
Joshua nodded. "Good
idea. No reason to take Ryder
into the cold again."
With a smile, Maryam hugged her
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
"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
"It's even cooler with the Christmas
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
"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
John and Yosef both nodded.
"He has such a sense of peace to him
that he didn't last Spring," the
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
"Aww, c'mon, Tess. It was
fun!" Andrew protested.
"Three ships!" JenniAnn mimicked
from her perch on the arm of his
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
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
Emma clasped her hand. "Thank
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
"Girls? It's Maryam and me,"
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
"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.