"God created people to be free and to enjoy the existence he gave them. 
All that God wants is that we love him and love one another and in doing that, find happiness. 
It is all so very simple.”
~~from Joshua by Fr. Joseph Girzone

Hi all,

I hope you're all having a blessed holiday season!  Per tradition, this newsletter contains the annual Christmas story and, also per tradition, I was pretty rushed writing it.  So please excuse any errors or lack of polish.  In truth, I haven't even read it all once through myself!

Before I get to that, I'd like to take a moment to remember someone who, unknowingly, contributed in a pretty huge way to JABB during these past few years.  Roundabout the year 2000, I was introduced to the Joshua series written by Fr. Joseph Girzone.  I was intrigued by a Jesus who would come back to Earth, not in some apocalyptic, dramatic fashion but because He simply wanted to be among His children.  Joshua truly made me reflect on the Emmanuel-ness of Jesus.  I suppose it was inevitable that I'd introduce my own variation of Joshua to JABB.

Sadly for us, Fr. Girzone passed away on November 29th.  I'm confident that he's enjoying this Christmas with the Real Joshua.  And so, in Fr. Girzone's honor, I invite you to spend a bit of your Christmas with Joshua Davidson and Friends.

God bless and Merry Christmas!


3 BC        December 17th, 2015        December 18th        December 19th

December 20th        December 21st        December 22nd       

December 23rd        December 24th        December 25th

"O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."


Circa 3 BC

Maryam's eyes shot open when she heard someone pounding on the door.  For a moment, she feared it was the Romans come for her father.  He had paid what taxes were due... but just barely.

"Yehoyakim!  Hannah!" a voice bleated.

Maryam's concern over Romans was soon replaced by a new worry.  That was Yosef pounding on the door!  Gone was his deepened voice.  He sounded like a boy again.  A frightened boy!  She bolted up in time to see her father rush the door and throw it open.

"Yosef!  Whatever is..."

Yosef pushed past her father, not answering.

"Hannah...  Please, Hannah..." he pleaded, searching.

A lump in her throat, Maryam watched as her mother pushed away the curtain that surrounded her and her father's cot.  She hurried to the young man.

"Yosef, what is it?  Sit.  You look..."

"I cannot!" Yosef interrupted.  "My Ama..."

He spoke so quietly then that Maryam could not understand.  She only knew that she longed to embrace him... to make him smile and laugh as he usually did.

Maryam saw her mother's gentle smile fade. 

Without breaking eye contact with Yosef, Hannah began giving orders.

"Yehoyakim, wait outside with Yosef.  I will grab my bag.  Maryam, get dressed.  You will come with us."

Maryam nodded and stepped back behind her own curtain.  She prayed as she pulled on her outer robe and wrapped a shawl around herself.  She recalled Samiya's joy when, eleven years after her daughter Danya's birth, she had discovered she was once again with child.  Yaqob, Yosef, Matthan, and Danya, too, had been overjoyed at the prospect of welcoming a new little one.  They had all admitted that the child, boy or girl, would rule over them. 

But Maryam knew it was much too soon for the baby to be born. 

"Please, my Lord, whatever is wrong... please make it right.  Please do not take this baby away from Samiya and her family.  And if I can be of help... let me be a good help.  Thy will be done, my Lord," Maryam petitioned.

Hannah tugged at the curtain.

"Come along, my own," she called.

Stepping out into the open, Maryam took her mother's hand.  They exited the house and, hands still joined, followed Yehoyakim and Yosef.  The latter was speaking quickly, his voice faltering at times.

"Abi is... is in Sepphoris.  A job.  He... he thought it would be safe.  Ama's time is... is not... not yet...  It is... too soon.  I... I woke up to Danya shaking me.  She... she said Ama was breathing very hard and... and was blee-bleeding."

Maryam shivered as she imagined Danya having to see such a thing.  She squeezed her mother's hand.

"Matthan is beside himself.  I... I did not want to... to leave but..."

Yehoyakim squeezed Yosef's shoulder.

"You did the right thing, my boy.  I am glad you came to get us.  Hannah will do everything she can and, you must remember, the Lord is with your mother and the baby.  He gives them strength."

Yosef nodded but said nothing.  His house was in view and he ran towards it.  The other three followed as quickly as they could.

"Maryam, you entertain Danya.  Yehoyakim, try to distract the boys," Hannah directed in a hushed voice as they entered the house.

Maryam and her father looked at each other, doubtful that either would succeed, but nodded.  They were, at least, helped by the fact that the house was larger than their own.  Samiya would be in her and Yaqob's room.  They could keep the siblings in the room the three shared.

Hannah gave Yosef a brief hug then entered her friend's room.

Maryam was reaching out to console a weeping Danya when Samiya bellowed.  Danya screamed and hurried to her eldest brother.  Maryam winced when another cry resounded from behind the closed door.  She glanced over at Yosef whose eyes were screwed shut as he sat on the floor with Danya in his arms.  Nearby, her father was patting Matthan's back.  His lips were moving and Maryam knew he was reciting a psalm to calm the boy.

Catching his daughter's eye, Yehoyakim gave a tremulous smile.

"Maryam, my girl, your old father's voice is not what it once was.  Perhaps you could sing for us?"

Maryam returned her father's smile before beginning to sing.

"'Lord Yahweh, you have searched me and you have known me.  You know my sitting and my rising; you have understood my reasonings from the high place.  You know my way and my steps and you have investigated all my ways.  If there is an alteration in my language, you, Lord Yahweh, know all these things.  For from the beginning to the end you have formed me, and you have set your hand upon me.  The knowledge and the wonder are stronger than I and I could not master them.  Where shall I go from your Spirit and where shall I hide from before you?  If I shall ascend to Heaven, there you are, and if I would descend to Sheol, you are there also!  If I shall lift my wings like an eagle's and dwell at the end of the sea, there also your hand will hold me and your right hand will lead me.'"

Another desperate, primal cry came from Samiya's room, interrupting the song.  Yosef let out a sob.  Maryam laced her fingers through his and resumed singing.

"'You have said, "The darkness will shine to me and the night will shine upon my face."  And the darkness will not darken from you, the night will shine like the day and the darkness as the light.  Because you have prepared my kidneys and you have carried me from the womb of my mother.  I shall give thanks to you because of the wonders that you have done, for your works are exalted and my soul knows it well.'"

As time wore on, Maryam continued to sing psalm after psalm.  She was surprised that her voice was not faltering.  Every so often, Samiya's cries drowned her out but still she sang.

Then, in the pause between two psalms, there was complete silence.

No screaming, no panting, no crying.  Nothing.

Until they heard a wail.

Maryam could not tell if it was her own mother's or Samiya's.

"No... no," Yosef moaned.

"Ama..." Matthan murmured before resting his head against Yehoyakim's knee.

"A-ama," Danya echoed.  She jumped up and banged at the door.  "Ama!"

Hannah opened the door and embraced Danya.

Another wail sounded.

Yosef and Matthan glanced at each other.  Their mother was alive!  But the baby...

Maryam rose and went to her mother.

Hannah pulled her close and kissed her hair.

Over her shoulder, Maryam saw Samiya clutching a tiny bundle to her chest and weeping.

Then she heard a voice, as clear as if the speaker stood beside her.

"You shall help, Maryam, my beloved daughter."

Suddenly knowing exactly what she needed to do, Maryam slipped past her mother and entered Samiya's room.

The woman did not notice she was no longer alone with her child.  Not until Maryam spoke.

"Samiya, could I please hold your baby?" Maryam requested.

Shocked by grief, Samiya stared at the girl for a moment before relinquishing the infant.

Maryam's breath caught in her throat when she saw how tiny yet perfect the baby was.  She sat down and unwrapped the child... a girl. 

"Lord, help me," she whispered before placing her fingers above the baby's still heart.  She hummed as her fingers moved in tiny circles.

Samiya sat frozen, gaping at her closest friend's daughter.

In the doorway, Hannah, too, could only stare at her Maryam.

Suddenly, the baby jolted.  A moment later, she gave a gusty cry.

Maryam laughed as she peered down at the little one whose glare seemed to say "Who are you?  Not my mother!"  She hurriedly reswaddled the baby girl and placed her in Samiya's quaking arms.

"My... my baby..." the woman whispered.  "Oh... sweet baby..."

The infant ceased crying, momentarily giving Hannah and Maryam a scare.  Thankfully, upon moving closer they saw that the child was merely staring up at her mother with contentment.

While Maryam was still admiring the newborn, Samiya clasped her hand then brought it up to her lips.

"Th-thank you..."  Samiya's gaze traveled to Hannah.  "Both of you but..."  She looked back to Maryam.  "You... you save..."

Maryam shook her head.

"The Lord saved her.  I... I was merely doing what He wanted."

Samiya cocked her head, unsure of what Maryam meant, but she was too intent on her baby to give it much thought.

Yosef, though, heard every word as he stood in the doorway that Hannah had vacated.


Fourteen days later, Samiya beamed as Yaqob fussed over their youngest.  She was the smallest baby anyone in Nazareth had seen but she was thriving!  And today she would be celebrated!

As soon as
Yehoyakim, Hannah, and Maryam entered the house, Samiya hurried towards the three and embraced them.

"Come!  We have all been so secretive about our girl's name because we wanted you to know first but we are bursting!"

Hannah and Maryam smiled as Samiya took their hands and led them towards the baby and her father.  Yosef stood near them, gently tweaking the baby's thick curls.  He and Maryam exchanged warm smiles.

Samiya wrapped an arm around Maryam's waist.

"When I told Yaqob about what had happened... how... how I thought our girl was... was lost to us a-and then how you took her a-and then..."  The woman swiped at a tear and sucked in a deep breath.  "We were in agreement.  Our daughter shall be named Maryam."

"Oh, Samiya..."  Maryam began to shake her head, humbled by the pronouncement.

"Of course, we have every hope that our two families will forever remain close," Samiya continued. 

Maryam did not miss that Samiya's eyes briefly landed on Yosef whose face reddened.  Not wanting to cause the young carpenter further embarrassment, Maryam peered at Danya who was grinning at her.

"Thus, we realize that two Maryams could cause some confusion," Yaqob offered.  "However, we are determined to honor you, Maryam, and the friendship that exists between us all.  This little one will be named Maryam.  You, though, can choose what she will be called."

With tears in her eyes, Maryam took the precious bundle that Yaqob offered her.  Though now very lively, the child was still as beautiful and delicate as when she had first held her.  She reminded Maryam of a dove. 

"Yoninah," Maryam decided.  "'Little dove.'"

"A perfect name for her," Yosef praised.

It was Maryam's turn to blush but she beamed at the proud older brother.

"Yosef is right!" Yaqob assented.  "She is Maryam who is called Yoninah!"

With his words, the celebration welcoming little Yoninah began.


Circa 1 AD

Hannah hugged her daughter tightly.

"Remember what the angel told you, my own.  'Do not be afraid.'"

Maryam smiled at her mother and nodded.

"I will not... but I cannot help being a little nervous.  It... it is a lot to believe, Ama."

"Yosef is a good man, Maryam.  We must trust that the Lord will help him see the truth."

Yehoyakim stepped forward and squeezed the girl's hand.

"Are you sure you do not wish for me to stay when you speak to Yosef?"

Maryam kissed her father's cheek and nodded.

"I am sure, Abi.  Thank you."

"We will be just outside then," Yehoyakim assured.

After an embrace for each of her parents, Maryam settled onto a cushion.  She gently stroked her distended belly as she waited for Yosef's arrival.  She smiled as she recalled the previous months... his sincere, stumbling proposal and her joyful acceptance.  Then the tearful parting when Yosef had gone to Jerusalem.  Maryam had not wanted him to go but it was an auspicious opportunity for Yosef to broaden his carpentry skills and earn enough money to build them the 'obedient home' he had pledged.  Not long after he had departed, the angel had come to her.

Maryam's smile grew as she closed her eyes and recalled the radiant angel.  At first, she had been startled to find him in her home when she had thought herself alone. 

“Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”

Maryam shook her head when she recalled how frightened she had been.  She had feared the intruder was a zealot.

"Who... who are you?"

The visitor's warm smile and the glow around him had soon put Maryam at ease.

“I am Gabriel, an angel of the Lord.  Do not be afraid, Maryam; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Yeshua.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Yaqob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Maryam let out a sigh as she opened her eyes.  To her surprise and delight, Yoninah was standing in front of her.

"Mayam!" the little girl cried.

"Yoninah!" Maryam replied, beaming at the child.  As much as she had missed her parents and Yosef during her time with Elizabeth, Zakharia, and baby Yohannan; Maryam had been lonesome for her little shadow's company, too.  She pulled the girl onto her lap.

Yoninah kissed her cheeks and then peered down at her belly.


Yoninah set her hands on Maryam's stomach.

"Baby!" she cheered.

Maryam heard a gasp and turned to see Yosef standing in the doorway.  He looked sick.

After snuggling the little girl and returning her kisses, Maryam set her down.

"My Ama and Abi have missed having you here, Yoninah.  Will you go see them outside?"

The little girl nodded, passed her brother, and ran towards Maryam's parents.

Maryam whispered a prayer.

In the brief moments after Yoninah's declaration that Maryam was with child, Yosef had convinced himself that it was all a childish misunderstanding.  Perhaps Maryam's cousin was a very fine cook.  What did it matter if Maryam was no longer slender?  He did not love her because she was slender.  He loved her because she was kind and compassionate and faithful and devoted to God.  She could not be with child!

When Maryam stood, Yosef knew his little sister had spoken truthfully.  He stumbled into the house.

"Yosef..." Maryam murmured, reaching out to him.

Yosef grabbed the edges of a stool, bracing himself.

"Yosef, there is so much I have longed to tell you since we parted!" Maryam pressed on.

"With... with child.  You are with child," Yosef choked out.

Seeing the tears in his eyes, Maryam's own welled.

"Yes, but..."


"Yosef, I love no one but you!  I would never want to be with anyone but you!" Maryam insisted, wrapping her arms around her beloved.

Yosef began to tremble.  He felt as if someone had reached into his chest and pulled out his heart.

"Yosef mine, an angel appeared to me.  He... he told me that... that I would conceive... by God's power.  A-and I would... we would... have a son.  We are to call him Yeshua and he... he is the Messi..."

Unable to bear hearing another word, Yosef pulled away from Maryam.

Tears pouring down his cheeks, he forced himself to look at her.

"I... I am sor-sorry," he whispered, his voice as broken as he felt.

"Yosef!" Maryam cried as she watched him turn away and set off at a run.

"Yosef..." she moaned when she could no longer see him.  All she could see was little Yoninah running towards her home and Maryam wondered if she had lost her, too.


When Samiya returned home from a trip to the well which had turned into an ambush of gossip from several neighbors, she felt as if the ground itself was in danger of falling out from under her.


Sweet, gentle Maryam.

With child.

Not Yosef's.

Samiya's unease increased when she found Danya and Matthan shouting at each other.

"Go help him!"

"You do it!  Just grab Yoninah!"

"I tried!  The little beast scratched me!"

"Children!" Samiya shouted.  "What is going on?"

Danya heaved a sigh.

"Yoninah is angry with Yosef.  She is kicking him.  It is actually quite amus..."

Letting out a gasp, Samiya hurried into the yard.  There, beneath the tree, her wisp of a daughter was bellowing and savagely kicking her eldest brother.  Samiya knew that Yoninah was too small to do any damage... physically.  She ran towards the child and pulled her away from her firstborn.

Yoninah struggled in her mother's arms.

"Bad, Yosef!  Bad!  Bad!  Mean, Yosef!"

"Yoninah!  Stop it!" Samiya ordered.  "Go inside the house.  Now!"

His mother's voice finally roused Yosef from the crumpled heap he had been lying in.

Yoninah grunted then stomped towards their home.

Samiya's nose upturned for a moment when she saw a pool of vomit nearby.  She settled to the other side of her son.  To her surprise, Yosef lolled over and rested his head in her lap.


The tears that had first threatened as the women at the well yammered on now spilled down Samiya's cheeks as she stroked her boy's hair.

"Oh, Yosef...  I heard.  My sweet boy..."

Yosef groaned.

"How... how did you hear?"

"Tirzah saw Maryam's caravan arrive earlier.  She noticed... the change in Maryam.  I am afraid she told everyone she met."

"Do... do they think it is mine?"

"No, my darling.  They say Maryam appears to only be three or perhaps four months along.  They know you were away."

Silent tears rolled down Yosef's cheeks.  He had thought, perhaps, all could still be well.  He and Maryam simply would not bother to correct anyone who thought they had been unable to wait until their wedding night.  But that was impossible.  Perhaps it never had been.

"She... she swore she loved no one else and that... that she never wanted to... to be with anyone else.  I..."  Yosef drew in and let out a shuddering breath.  "I believe her, Ama.  Which... which means someone t-took her a-and hur-hurt her and..."

Samiya gently stroked her son's back as he moved onto all fours.

"I should not have left!  I should have been near her... to... to protect her!  I was supposed to protect her!"

Yosef lowered his head and again retched.


Samiya glanced up to find her husband staring at them.  He looked as if he bore the weight of the world.  A quick, silent exchange revealed to Samiya that Yaqob had also heard the news.

When Yosef had slunk against the trunk of the tree, his father reached down to him.

"Come on, son.  We will get you washed up and then, I think, to bed, yes?"

Yosef nodded.  He felt like a little boy as his father washed his beard and face.  He did not care.

Samiya quietly returned to the house.  She would put Yosef in her and Yaqob's room so the other children would not bother him.  She hastily tossed into a box a scarf Maryam had made for her. 

Samiya started some tea and, just as it finished brewing, Yaqob steered Yosef into the house.

"Go lay down in our room, Yosef," Samiya directed.

"A very good idea," Yaqob agreed, leading his eldest there.

"Bad Yo..."

Matthan clapped his hand over Yoninah's mouth.

Samiya felt a surge of pride when Matthan remained quiet despite the fact that his baby sister was clearly biting him.  She squeezed her son's shoulder then knelt down in front of her daughter.

"Yoninah, do you think Maryam would like to know that you have kicked Yosef, scratched Danya, and bit Matthan?"

Chastened, the toddler shook her head.

"But... but Yosef made Mayam cry."

Sniffling behind her told Samiya that her oldest had heard this.  She lowered her voice.

"I know, my love, and we will talk about it later but right now I need you to be nice to Danya and Matthan.  Will you?"

"Yes, Ama."

"Thank you."  Samiya kissed Yoninah's forehead then Danya's and Matthan's before entering her room.

Once Yaqob had Yosef settled onto the cot, Samiya shut the door behind the three.  She handed her son some tea she hoped would soothe him.

"Would you like to talk about it, Yosef, or would you like for Ama and me to leave you alone?" Yaqob asked.

In a flurry, Yosef relayed the whole terrible scene at Maryam's house for his father.  Samiya was startled when he got to the part she had yet to hear about.

"A-and then... then she told me that an angel had come to her a-and told her the baby was God's and we were to call him Yeshua and I... I think she started to say he would be the Messiah.  She is so broken by what happened that... that her... her mind..."

Yosef began to sob again.

Yaqob sighed, shook his head, and stroked his son's back.

Samiya remained still. 

The Messiah...

She closed her eyes, remembering the long years of Yehoyakim and Hannah hoping and praying for a child.  And then, when both were getting on in years, Maryam had arrived.  A miracle... and such a beautiful baby...  Then a sweet little girl.  Never ornery like her own children sometimes were.  Oh, Maryam had a sense of humor and playfulness but she was never mean-spirited with either.  She doted on her parents and was always among the first to offer help when someone in the village was in need.  And to see her at the synagogue...  Maryam lit up whenever the scriptures were recited.  And when she sang... 

Samiya began to cry as she remembered the night Yoninah had been born... born dead.  She was not a fool or blasphemer.  She knew Maryam had not raised her baby from death to life.  But Samiya was equally sure that, in those moments, the Lord had worked through Maryam.  Maryam was blessed... truly beloved by God.  If ever there was a girl who could be trusted to raise the Messiah...  And didn't Isaiah speak of a virgin with child?  And her son... her Yosef...  So strong and yet so tender-hearted that he'd gotten sick with grief over his beloved's state instead of reacting with anger as so many would.  Who better for God to entrust the Messiah to?

Rousing from her thoughts, Samiya realized that the room was very quiet.  Looking to the cot, she saw that Yosef had fallen asleep.

Yaqob took his wife's hand and led her from the room.  Seeing that Matthan had Danya and Yoninah playing a game, the two stepped into the yard. 

"Did he say anything more to you when you were helping him wash?" Samiya questioned.

Yaqob sighed as he picked up a shovel and began to sprinkle dirt over where Yosef had been sick.

"He wants a divorce.  A quiet one.  He does not wish to dishonor Maryam.  He thinks Yehoyakim and Hannah should take her back to her cousins... and all of them stay there.  Tell the people there that Maryam's husband died."

"Do you... think he does not love her?"

"I think he does very much.  But he blames himself for not protecting her.  He thinks she would be safer with her kin."

"And what do you think happened?"

"I think... I do not know.  Certainly I know terrible things can and do happen.  The Romans..."  Yaqob grimaced.  "She would not be the first Jewish girl defiled by them.  However, I also remember what it is to be young."

In spite of the dire circumstances, Samiya could not help but smile when she caught her husband's twinkling eyes.  She, too, remembered.

"A new place, new people...  It must have been exciting for Maryam.  Perhaps she did fall into temptation."

Samiya's smile faded.

"I will not believe it!" she cried.  "Not for a moment!  She has loved Yosef for too long!"

"And so you think she was raped?"

"I do not believe that either," Samiya protested.

"Samiya!  What other..."

"The angel."

Yaqob stared at his wife in disbelief.

"Truly you believe that?"

"I believe that God promised us a Messiah.  You do, too, Yaqob."

"Well, yes but..."

"Why not now?  Why not to us?  He will have to come at some time, to some people," Samiya persisted. 

Yaqob held his head in his hands and considered his wife's words.  After a few moments, he spoke.

"I need to talk to Yehoyakim."

Samiya nodded.

"I wish I could speak to Hannah but one of us should remain here.  You go.  Give Hannah my love... and Maryam."

"I... I will," Yaqob promised.  He embraced and kissed his wife before setting off towards Yehoyakim's home.  He hadn't gone far when he saw the man himself.  Villagers stared at Yehoyakim but he paid them no mind as he continued.  Yaqob could tell he was headed to the synagogue.  He followed.

Once inside the synagogue, Yaqob found his friend on his knees, hands held up in supplication.  When Yehoyakim's shoulders shook, Yaqob approached.


The older man turned around and looked.  He wiped at his eyes and gave a slight smile as he recognized his friend.

"Yaqob...  How... how is Yosef?"

"Unwell.  Devastated.  And... and Maryam?"

Yehoyakim began to sob again.

"Her heart... is broken."

Yaqob felt a flash of indignation.

"What did you expect, friend?  Yosef's heart, too, is broken!  To find his betrothed with child before they have laid together!"

"Maryam has been with no man!" Yehoyakim insisted.  He grabbed the other man's hands.  "If you had only seen her...  When she came and told Hannah and me about the angel...  Moses himself could not have looked more radiant as he stood on Sinai!  And peaceful... so peaceful.  And it was not only her, Yaqob.  Imagine hearing such a speech from your child!  Hannah and I should have been appalled and horrified.  But it was as if that peace settled upon us, too.  I could not make myself fear even if I tried.  Maryam has never lied to us.  Not once.  She is not lying now.  I... I only grieve now because what man wants to see his beloved child so distressed?  She loves and adores your Yosef, Yaqob.  Always has.  Ever since she was a bit of a thing.  She would do nothing to hurt him but this is what the Lord asks of her and she said yes to Him.  Would you have had her deny our Lord?"

Yaqob was silent for a while as his friend's words sunk in.

"Why did you not tell us months ago, Yehoyakim?"

"You had all gone to Jerusalem to get Yosef settled.  Maryam was determined to reach our cousin Elizabeth as quickly as possible.  She left before you returned.  Would you have believed us then?"

There was a pause.

"Do you believe us now?"

Yaqob found himself nodding.


Yosef stood in the home he had built for Maryam.  He made a circle, remembering how much love he had felt with every nail he drove and every plank he lifted.  He stopped spinning when he saw he was no longer alone.  A dark-skinned man with a wide smile and twinkling eyes stood before him.

An angel.

“Yosef, son of David, do not be afraid to take Maryam home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Yeshua, because he will save his people from their sins," the visitor decreed.

His Maryam had been telling the truth!  She was not hurt, had not lost her mind! 

A moment after this happy thought, Yosef was overcome with guilt.  He fell to his knees and wept.

Gabriel knelt beside the young man and patted his shoulder.

"Yosef, all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah:  'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.'"

"God with us..." Yosef murmured.

Gabriel chuckled.

"Exactly so.  Now, Yosef... wake up!"


Yosef sprang up in bed.  He saw his parents, asleep on cushions drawn close to the cot.  He thought to wake them but no...  He needed to see Maryam right away.  He could not waste time explaining to his parents.  There would be time for that later.  Throwing off the covers, Yosef bolted from the room and left his home.


Maryam had passed a fitful night and, upon waking for a sixth time, she gave up.  She could see the early morning sun peeking through a window so quietly crept from her cot.  She grabbed a bit of bread, eased open the door, and made her way to Yoktan's stable.  The donkey brayed when he saw her. 

Maryam fed him bites of bread then looped her arms around his neck before nuzzling him.

"I love you, Yoktan.  I... I hope I do not have to give you back but if I do... know that I love you."

Yoktan brayed again and stuck his nose against Maryam's belly.

The young woman smiled.

"I... I think he would have liked playing with you.  I hope he still can.  Yeshu will need all the friends he can find and you are such a good friend, Yoktan."

Tears filled Maryam's eyes as she remembered setting out for Elizabeth's home with Yoktan.  He had given her peace and a sense of home all through the journey.  His company on the return had been even more invaluable.  He had kept her calm as she imagined her reunion with Yosef.


Maryam stroked the front of her robe.

"We... we will be fine, Yeshu.  The Lord will provide for us.  I know He will.  But I... I wanted Yosef to be there, too.  He would be such a wonderful father to... to you.  I know he would.  And I... I love him.  I will... miss him."


Maryam looked up and saw Yosef staring at her with teary eyes.  He fell to his knees in front of her.

"Maryam...  I... I am so very sorry.  I should not have run away from you... should not have given you reason to think I... I no longer wanted to marry you."

Feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from her, Maryam began to stroke Yosef's hair.

"An angel...  Your angel, I think.  He came to me in a dream and he told me to not be afraid.  He told me about Yeshua.  Oh, Maryam..."

Maryam gently tugged Yosef to his feet then embraced him.

Yosef sighed happily.

They both laughed when Yoktan gave an approving bray.

"We will still be married?" Yosef checked.

Maryam looked down at their joined hands.

"Many people will not think well of you if you marry me, Yosef."

"Then I will not marry them.  Only you."

Maryam looked up and saw the mischief in her beloved's eyes.  She smiled before resting her head against his chest.

"And I will marry you."

Yosef kissed her hair.

"I love you, Maryam.

"And I love you, Yosef."

"And I... I will love Yeshua," Yosef promised.

Maryam looked up at him with a beatific smile.

"I have been calling him Yeshu mostly.  You do not think the Lord will mind, do you?"

"Not at all.  Yeshu.  I like it very much."

Yosef pulled Maryam closer.

"I should go back home so my parents do not worry.  But I will come again soon.  I would like very much for you to see our house."

Maryam beamed at Yosef and nodded.

"I would like that.  Until then, Yosef mine..."

Yosef blushed and smiled giddily when Maryam stretched upwards to kiss his cheek.  Then, after another smile, she pet Yoktan and re-entered her house.  She found her parents sitting on their cot and waiting, looking nervously at her.

"Yosef was here," she informed them.  "All is well.  We are going later to look at our house."

Hannah and Yehoyakim exchanged grateful smiles.

"Praise the Lord!" the latter cried as Hannah leaped up and embraced her daughter.  Only once before, the day the angel had come, had Hannah ever seen her daughter happier.


True to his word, Yosef returned a few hours later and took Maryam by the arm.  She smiled back to her parents before leaving with her intended.

"Pay no attention to any of them," Yosef urged as they walked past several scowling villagers.

In spite of the unease she felt, Maryam nodded.  Yosef believed her and that mattered most.

Soon after, Yosef halted and turned Maryam.

"This is it."

"Oh, Yosef..."

"I know it is small but I could build onto it in time and..."

Maryam squeezed both his hands, her eyes alight. 

"It is perfect.  Can we go in?"


Yosef opened the door and ushered his bride-to-be inside.

Maryam's eyes filled as she gazed around.  It already felt like home.

Yosef took her hand and led her behind the main room to a canopied area.  Maryam smiled when she saw Yosef's tools laid out in his workshop.  Next she spotted a beautiful chair with flowers carved into its arms and legs.

"So lovely!" Maryam gushed.  "Whose order is this?"

"No one's," Yosef responded.  "It is a gift... for you.  I thought you could sit out here to do your spinning and we could talk as we worked."

"Yosef...  It is perfect!  Thank you!"  Maryam smiled as she tried the chair out.

The young carpenter bowed his head.

"It... it does not seem like a house grand enough for the Messiah."

Maryam rose and rested her hands on either side of Yosef's face.

"It is a beautiful home, Yosef.  And it will be filled with love.  I would think that is what the Messiah needs most of all.  We will give him that."

Thus assured, Yosef nodded and embraced Maryam.

"We will."

"Mayam!  Baby!"

"Shh, Yoninah.  Be patient," Samiya chastised from the other room.

Maryam giggled and smiled up at Yosef.

"I told them I would get them later so they could speak to you but I fear Yoninah grew restless."

"I want to see her.  And your Ama.  If she..."

"She believes everything.  They all do."

Relieved, Maryam re-entered the house with Yosef and had her legs promptly hugged by his sister.  She noticed that the entire family was there as well as her parents.  Samiya and her mother were setting out food.

"Mayam..." Yoninah cooed.  She then shot her eldest brother a suspicious look.

Yosef chuckled and knelt in front of the little one.

"Maryam has forgiven me for being bad and mean, Yoninah.  Will you, please?"

Yoninah peered up at Maryam who crouched down.

"I would like it very much if you did, Yoninah.  Yosef is going to be my husband, after all."

The toddler grinned before kissing her brother and snuggling up to him.

"Good Yosef..."

"Very good Yosef," Yehoyakim agreed through the lump in his throat.

Overcome with emotion, Yosef used his free arm to pull Maryam into his and Yoninah's embrace. 

Though they both knew there were trials yet to come, Maryam and Yosef heeded Gabriel and cast aside their fears as they celebrated the coming of their son, their Yeshu the Messiah, with their families.


Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Andrew smiled softly as he awoke.  He clung to the images of the dream, soaking in Maryam's and Yosef's happiness.  Joshua's reasons for sending the memory-dream were not lost on the angel of death.  Yoninah... hope out of grief.  Maryam and Yosef... reconciliation.  Andrew had always loved Yosef.  All the angels did, of course.  But, for Andrew, it went beyond a fondness and respect for the man who had raised Joshua.  There was a kinship between the two.  Both desperately wanted to be able to protect those they loved.  Neither man responded well when they felt they had failed.  Yosef, though, had turned away from the angst and self-blame long ago.  He had recognized Maryam as a full partner in their marriage, someone to comfort and protect but also someone with whom he could find comfort and protection.  Andrew felt like he had to constantly relearn the same lesson.  He'd failed to heed it the previous night.  Thus, he found himself staring at JenniAnn's back, not holding her in his arms as he was used to. 

Tentatively, Andrew reached out to lightly stroke her hair.

"Laja, are you up?"

"Pretty down, actually."

"Laja..."  Andrew scooted nearer and kissed her shoulder.  "I'm sorry.  About..."  He glanced at their alarm clock.  2:17.  "Last night."

"You have four children.  I'm not one of them," JenniAnn responded in a biting tone.

"I... I know that, Laja.  I do.  Really I do."

"And I know that this has been a tremendously difficult few months for you!  The refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, awful crimes, the list goes on.  And I... I don't expect this to be a carefree, holly, jolly Christmas.  But... I... I did expect that if something had shaken you so deeply that... that you had to flee the room while we were watching Miracle on 24th Street with the kids, you might at least tell me something about it!"

"I just...  You were having such a nice time with the kids and..."

JenniAnn rolled around to face Andrew.

"You know what Joshua said.  We have to make us a priority, too.  The kids could have watched the movie on their own if you really needed some time."

Andrew brushed some hair behind her ear.

"I know, Laja.  And you're right.  I should have asked you to stay with me when I stepped out."

JenniAnn said nothing but moved a bit closer.

"As for the movie," Andrew continued, "when we started it, I honestly did feel fine.  And I was enjoying it but then... then I looked over at Belle curled up on your lap and... and suddenly I... I thought of capsized boats and... little ones crying and then... then it was like the floodgates opened and I thought of Paris and Beirut and Mali and...  It's all... different now.  I...  Laja, I-I've been the man wondering why a madman with a gun shot the woman I love.  I've been the father who... who lost sight of his daughter and wondered if... if she was gone forever.  In both cases, I... I was kept from real loss but...  I've been there when others weren't spared."

JenniAnn let out a ragged sigh when Andrew rested his head on her shoulder.  She stroked his hair and wept along with him.

"A few weeks ago, I spent a whole day sitting on a shore beside a... a man who had lost his wife and children when a boat sunk.  I'd taken them... and so many others... Home.  He didn't even know I was there but... but I just felt I needed to be."

"My love..." JenniAnn cooed as she shifted so she could encircle the angel in her arms.

"Then... last week... I... I tried to keep some women a-and children from... from getting caught up with traffickers but... but no one I tried to convince to step in would help and... and..." 

Andrew peered into JenniAnn's eyes and shook his head.

JenniAnn rested her forehead against his.

"So... so awful.  I'm so sorry.  I know you tried as hard as you could.  God knows.  But sometimes people they... they just don't listen."

"No... they don't," the angel of death responded, his voice husky.

"But...  but why didn't you say anything before, Andrew?"

"I guess I... I thought I was handling it all.  I'd talk to God a-and then be with you and the kids and our friends and I'd feel... better.  But it was all still there and... and I guess last night it just... spilled out."

JenniAnn laid down and patted Andrew's pillow.  He heaved a sigh when he rested his head. 

"The way I see it, being a father... having me in your life... it's made assignments more difficult," JenniAnn began as she brushed her hand through Andrew's hair.  "And even though they're your assignments and not mine... I'd like to share in helping you cope with them.  Even if it means being sad and angry at times.  This isn't just part of your life, Andrew.  It's part of our life... because we share a life."

"I... I just love seeing how happy you are at Christmas a-and to dim that..."  Andrew shook his head.

JenniAnn gently gripped his chin.

"But I love seeing how happy you are at Christmas, Andrew.  I'd rather struggle some myself than have you completely broken up.  We can share in the pain... and in the happiness.  I know we can."

Andrew smiled tenderly and nodded before pulling JenniAnn to him.

"I know we can, too," he agreed.

"Good cause... cause I don't want to spend another night like that.  I... I missed you."

"I missed you, too," Andrew responded after nuzzling her hair.

"And I'm sorry for freezing you out when you came to bed.  I was hurt but... hurting you wasn't the right way to respond."

"Laja...  I didn't make it easy."

"No... but still."  JenniAnn cupped his chin.  "This is better."

"It is," Andrew agreed.

"So is there more you'd like to talk about?" JenniAnn checked.

"In the morning, yes.  Right now I'm just really tired."

"I understand, my love."  JenniAnn stretched up to bestow the good night kiss she'd earlier denied.  "Wake me up if you change your mind."

"I will.  I promise."  Andrew kissed her forehead.  "I love you."

"I love you, too.  G'night."

"Good night, Laja."

Andrew smiled when JenniAnn set her hand over his heart and claimed her usual sleeping position.

In spite of his exhaustion, the angel remained awake until the woman's breathing had settled into the steady pattern that told him she was asleep.  Staring up at the ceiling, Andrew offered a silent prayer.

"I'm not sure what your plans are for this Christmas but... if there's any chance of you joining us here at Willowveil, Joshua, I'd really love that.  Then... then I'd know my Laja will have a happy Christmas... no matter what."

Though no answer came, Andrew felt a calmness settle over him.  Wearied, his head lolled to the side so his cheek rested against JenniAnn's hair.  A moment later, he, too, was asleep.

An unseen hand flicked off the light that the angel had left on.  Then a single word pronounced in a familiar and treasured voice echoed through both Andrew's and JenniAnn's sleep.


Friday, December 18th

As the minutes ticked by since her call to JenniAnn and Catherine, Isra stared at the Nativity that Andrew had given her and her family.  While studying the Holy Family, Isra contemplated her own family life and thanked God for her loved ones.

The Al-Mitras had experienced much change during the past few months.  Though the situation was tense, Behnam had been reunited with his cousins and younger sister, Adila.  Simply being able to connect with them brought him peace... though not as much as meeting little Belle had.  Relations with that side of the family were much more joyous and friendly.  At first, JenniAnn and Vincent had fretted over stifling them.  But Behnam and Isra had soon helped them and the others to see that, for them, being caught up in a close-knit, multi-generational family was the ideal.  Thus, no more than two or three days went by without a family dinner or visit over coffee or tea. 

Spiritually, Isra had never felt more alive.  She, Behnam, Aiyla, and Omar attended the Friends' Bible study once a week which brought Isra the fellowship she longed for.  On Sundays, she and the kids usually joined Emma and Peter at their church.  When he was off work, Behnam tagged along.  It saddened Isra that her husband still struggled with faith.  She knew he believed in God.  Having angels in the family made atheism impossible.  However, he was distrustful of religion and religious leadership.  In the past months, Behnam had ceased praying five times a day and Isra wasn't sure where his prayer rug had gone to.  She had kept her own and still prayed five times daily though now to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Behnam encouraged her in this and routinely asked her to pray for him.  When she had asked him to do the same for her, mostly as an attempt to discover if he was praying at all, Behnam had kissed her forehead and, with a tender smile, answered "Always, my star."  With those words, Isra had known that there was hope that, in time, Behnam would find the peace she had.  She prayed daily for guidance on how to help him.

And then there was the house...

Isra's eyes filled as she glanced around the library.  She was convinced that Vincent was a living saint.  She was quite sure the "rent" they were paying him did no more than cover the utility bills.  At $300 a month, it was less than a third of what they'd been paying for their tiny apartment.  In addition, Vincent insisted on paying Isra a stipend for the time she spent helping in the Tunnel nursery and tutoring the students who were learning to read.  Between the additional income and the savings on rent, Behnam had been able to stop working overtime which had brought much happiness to the whole family... as had their two additions.

As if sensing Isra's thoughts had drifted to him, Pilot rested his head on her knee.

"Hello, lovey!" Isra greeted as she invited the pup onto her lap.  Though the dog was meant as a gift for Omar from Appa Vincent and Amma Catherine, Pilot had won Isra's heart, as well.  When the children were Below and Behnam was at work, Pilot was Isra's constant shadow as she cleaned and cooked and read.  Seuss, Aiyla's cat, occasionally made his presence known but, largely, he left Pilot and Isra alone.  He surfaced when Aiyla returned home to dote on him like the feline king he thought he was. 

Isra buried her face in the thick fur at the nape of Pilot's neck.  The dog let out a contented sigh then rolled onto his back, exposing his stomach.  Isra gave him a good belly rub and returned her gaze to the Nativity.  She loved all the little figures, especially the Holy Family.  They were painted with olive skin and black hair unlike so many Isra had seen in the stores.  At first, Isra had thought Andrew had painted them so to suit her family but visits to Willowveil, Serendipity, and others of the Friends' homes had revealed that he'd painted them all that way.  JenniAnn had explained that her beloved had set out to create realistic Nativity sets. 

Isra prayed the set was realistic beyond having an appropriate ethnicity...  She adored how close Joseph and Mary appeared to be in it.  Isra wondered what it had been like for Mary to tell her husband-to-be about her baby.  Had Mary felt as nervous as she did?  More?  Less?

A knock on the basement door roused the woman from her thoughts.  She kissed Pilot and set him down.

"That's probably JenniAnn and Catherine," she explained as the dog's ears perked up.  Isra laughed when Pilot raced her to the door.  Though he'd grown considerably since his arrival, he was still as clumsy as his smaller self had been.

After opening the door, Isra greeted both visitors with hugs.

JenniAnn patted her back as they embraced.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

Isra stepped back and exhaled.

"Better now.  I just want to know..."  Her eyes moved to the small bag that Catherine was holding.

Catherine handed the sack over and watched as Isra withdrew a slender package.

"It is still so hard to believe this little thing can tell whether or not I'm pregnant..." she marveled.

Catherine frowned.

"Isra, I can't help but think that you don't seem very happy about the prospect," she observed.

The young woman's lip began to tremble. 

"I... I...  It... it's not that I wouldn't want this... this baby and I... I would thank God for this baby if I am pregnant but..."

JenniAnn linked her arm through Isra's and led her back into the library with its comfortable couches.  They sat together with Catherine settling to Isra's other side and taking her hand.

Isra pulled a monogrammed handkerchief out of her pocket.  She'd seen Ivy with it and admired it, prompting the girl to hand it over, insisting she had others.  Isra had eventually noticed that all the Friends had them. 

Catherine gently stroked the girl's hair as she wiped at her eyes.

After a few moments, Isra forced a smile and spoke.

"When Vincent first offered us use of this glorious house, one of his few conditions was that we'd have to let Ivy and Violeta host the occasional study group here since he'd already promised them.  Far from a chore, Behnam and I have loved having the students here.  They have all been so good about allowing us to listen in... even to ask questions, make comments."

JenniAnn smiled. 

"The way I hear it, this has become their most popular destination.  Violeta told me that they're all in awe of you two and adore Aiyla and Omar... and Pilot... and Seuss when he deigns to grace them with his presence."

Isra sniffled.

"They are all very sweet.  And I am very content.  I love to learn but I'm not sure I'm suited for school...  Not yet."  She beamed at Catherine.  "I love our Tunnel classrooms and..."  Isra turned to JenniAnn.  "I adore Willowveil's library.  But the schools here are so... large.  And crowded.  Maybe after more time I will feel more comfortable.  I would like to have a diploma at some point.  But Behnam...  The students' visits have awakened that desire in him.  I think he would go to school now if he could.  And we are both so grateful that, because of your and Vincent's generosity, Catherine, he doesn't have to work such long hours any more.  So we hoped that, soon, he could begin taking classes b-but now to add a baby...  We... we do want to have more children.  Very much.  But... we hadn't planned to yet.  That's why I asked Kemara about the uh... the Natural Family Planning, yes?" she checked with JenniAnn.

"Yes, that's it."

Isra smiled shyly. 

"We were following it but then... remember that night last month when Omar and Aiyla begged to stay at Willowveil?"

With a laugh, JenniAnn nodded.

"It was the first snowfall of the season in Dyeland.  I think they were enchanted.  Andrew and I finally had to pry them and Belle away from the windows at 9:30, promising we'd play in it in the morning."

Isra glanced at a framed photo of her merry children standing next to a snowman. 

"It was an enchanting evening here, too..." she murmured.  "We... we had gone so long without...  In Afghanistan... well, we shared sleeping space with my father and sister after our move.  The same when we were on the run from refuge camp to camp.  We... we always had the children nearby, too.  And they shared a room with us at Marianne's and Captain Lucas' and, again, when we had our tiny apartment.  We just couldn't..."

Catherine shook her head.  She couldn't imagine going so long without making love to her husband!

Though not entirely understanding, JenniAnn tried to imagine what it would be like going years without snuggling or dancing with Andrew.  Dreadful was the word that came to mind for her.

"So... so we've so much appreciated having our own room and, especially, the times when Aiyla and Omar have stayed with you... our beloved family.  And we... we really had been paying attention to my chart but that night..."  Isra sighed.  "We knew but... the house was so quiet and we'd lit candles and had a nice dinner and then dessert and it was so romantic and..."  Her hand briefly alighted on her belly.

Catherine wrapped her arms around the young woman's shoulder.

"Isra, even if you are pregnant, everything will be okay.  You and Behnam are far from alone in this."

JenniAnn readily nodded.

"By the time your little one needs things, Joy and Ian will be done with all the infant stuff.  You'd be welcome to anything from the swap shop that you needed."

"Exactly," Catherine asserted.  "And I think we should talk to Arthur.  Maybe he can find Behnam something less strenuous and with better benefits.  As for school, there's time.  Sweetheart, Behnam would never put his desire for education above his love for his children... even children he hasn't yet met."

Isra nodded.

"I... I know.  I only wish the timing...  Behnam was just starting to relax since... since... the first time since I've known him!"

"But think about when you were pregnant with Aiyla and Omar, Isra.  Did the timing seem good then?" JenniAnn pressed.

The question caught Isra off-guard.  No...  Actually, the timing had been terrible.  She shook her head.

"Not at all.  We lived with so much uncertainty and fear.  But now..."  Isra looked to her two friends and to the loyal bundle of fur who was gazing up at her as they sat in their warm, welcoming house.  There was no Uncle.  There were no roaming bands of violent, hate-filled men.  There was only a circle of friends who became dearer and closer as the days went by.

Isra closed her eyes briefly in silent prayer then rose from the couch.

"I'm going to go take the test now.  Will you wait for me?"

"Of course!" Catherine asserted.

"Absolutely," JenniAnn agreed.

After Isra had left the room, the cousins joined hands and prayed that, whatever the test revealed, Isra would know that all would be well.


Behnam was surprised when he felt a tear trickle down his cheek.  Hurriedly, he reached up to brush it away.  However, it had not gone unnoticed.  The man smiled at Eric whose hand was on his shoulder.

"Don't feel bad.  I got pretty choked up when Zany showed me the ornament he'd made for Neela."

Behnam nodded.

"It is very special.  I'm glad Andrew and Owen gave us this opportunity."  He peered across the plastic-covered dining room table to where Andrew was helping Aiyla write her name on a rainbow-hued orb she'd painted.  All of the other little Friends were in various states of making decorations for their own mothers and grandmothers and aunts and sisters.

"It really is a great idea.  And, I have to admit, I'm excited to see what the ladies have planned for us.  I'm hearing whisperings that our gifts might be edible."

Behnam laughed when Eric smacked his lips.


Behnam looked down to find Omar holding a finger-painted heart and a ribbon.


Kneeling down, Behnam threaded the ribbon through a small hole at the top of the heart.

"It's glorious, Omar.  You did a very fine job.  Mommy will treasure it," he gushed.

"Ank you!"

Omar beamed, hugged his father, and then darted off to show his creation to Liam and Jacob.

"He's really picking up a lot of words!" Eric complimented.

"Yes.  Vincent's made great strides with him.  The stability has likely helped, too."

Eric noticed Behnam's face cloud.

"You know, I'm tempted to wrap up my egg timer and give it to you for Christmas, Behnam."

"Egg timer?"

"Neela gave it to me.  Whenever I got to brooding about my past misdeeds, she'd wind it up for three minutes, let me sulk, and after three minutes, I had to move on.  You should try it.  Sure seems like something's been eating you since you got here today."

Behnam tensed.

"Do you think Aiyla and Omar noticed?"

"Naw.  Honestly, I think the kids all saw paint and markers and glitter and nothing else.  So what's going on?"

"Isra... she's seemed... distant lately.  I worry..."

After checking that their kids were all content, Eric motioned for Behnam to step into the hall. 

"What are you worried about?"

"Perhaps... perhaps she wishes her life was... different."   

"How so?"

"Sometimes I catch her looking at me and she looks... sad.  Wistful."

"Please don't tell me that you think your wife is over you."

Behnam remained silent.

Eric sighed.  "Can I be brutally honest with you?"


"All right.  Here goes...  Behnam, when I first met you, I thought 'I know that man.  That's a man who regrets his past.'  Because there was just something about you... something I recognized from myself.  And I saw it especially in a few quiet moments during Bible study when you'd look at Isra.  And I thought 'Wow...  That guy totally did some bad stuff to his wife and now regrets it.'  And then I learned your story because Neela, being a better person than yours truly, actually asked Isra before making assumptions.  And she told us.  And then I thought 'My God...  I'm pretty sure Behnam's a superhero.'"

Behnam chuckled and shook his head.

"Oh no...  I'm not."

"But you're pretty close!  You taught your wife how to read in the middle of... well, you know what you did.  That's totally badass!"

Behnam couldn't stop laughing.

"I'm telling ya!  Superhero!" Eric insisted.  "But still... at odd moments I'd see that same look that I get during my three minutes.  But here's the difference between you and me, Behnam.  I regret hurts I actually caused.  You regret things that you had absolutely no control over.  That Isra was forced into marriage is terrible.  But guess what?  You were forced into marriage, too.  Why do you never allow yourself the sympathy you have for your wife?"

Behnam had ceased laughing but found he had no words with which to respond.

"You and Isra were dealt a bad hand.  But you both made something beautiful from it.  And that girl loves you.  I'm not doubting that you're seeing something different in her.  A good husband... and you're definitely that... knows his wife.  But I don't think it has anything to do with Isra wanting away from you.  She loves you, Behnam."

Before he could respond, Behnam noticed Andrew standing in the entryway.  He waved him closer.

"Everything all right out here?" the angel checked as he approached.

Behnam nodded and clapped Eric on the shoulder.

"I was getting a much needed... not pet talk... what is..."

"Pep talk?" Andrew tried.

"Yes!"  Behnam grinned.  "A pep talk.  And a good one.  Sorry we stepped out."

"No problem at all.  Pretty easygoing in there, actually.  Bigger kids helping the littler kids.  Good stuff.  But I came out here because JenniAnn just called to let me know that she stopped by your place, Behnam.  Isra asked if we could watch Aiyla and Omar.  We're happy to, of course.  Always nice to have some alone time, right?" Andrew asked with a knowing smile.  He was surprised when Behnam didn't return it.  "Or not...  What's going on?"

"I... I don't know.  Something..." Behnam mumbled.  "Isra... she has been behaving strangely."

Andrew's eye brow quirked up in alarm.

"Do you think she's sick?  Should we call Portia?"

"I... I don't know."

Eric again squeezed Behnam's shoulder.

"Just talk to your wife, Behnam.  I know you love all that Brit lit stuff.  Never read it myself but Neela's talked me into watching some of the movies.  And those people wouldn't have near the problems they do if they'd just talk!  Fun to read, Behnam... I guess.  But not good advice."

In spite of his concern, Behnam chuckled.

"Yes... you are right."

"Doesn't happen often," Eric joked.

Andrew hugged Behnam.

"If there's anything any of us can do... you'll let us know?"

"Yes, I will," Behnam promised.  He glanced to the dining room.  "Let's go back in now.  See how our children are faring."

Sensing he needed the distraction, Andrew and Eric agreed and followed Behnam into the living room where they spent the next hour helping their little ones.


That night, after a delicious dinner of hearty stew served in bread bowls and paired with a quinoa salad, Isra took her husband's hand and led him up to the attic room.

"Sit with me?" she requested as she settled into the window seat.

Behnam obeyed.

"I love it up here," Isra mused.  "I can't say why but it feels so... peaceful."

Her husband smiled.

"It is a very nice room.  The view is very pleasant.  But... is... is there a reason you need to be somewhere that feels especially peaceful, my star?"

Isra's eyes filled with tears as she stared down at their joined hands.

Behnam let out a sob and rested his forehead against hers.

"Please Isra...  Tell me what's wrong.  You... you have seemed... unhappy.  And... and if there's anything I can do to make you happy...  Do... do you want separate bedrooms?"

Isra pulled away.


"It... it's only that... that when I've embraced you of late... I've felt you flinch."

"Oh, Behnam...  No..."

Isra cradled his face in her hands and kissed away his tears.

"It... it's not that I don't want your touch.  I do!  That's why I haven't told you to stop but... I am a little... sore."

"Sore?  Did you fall?  Are you hurt?"

"No...  Behnam, remember last month when snow fell in Dyeland and Aiyla and Omar stayed there and we..."

Behnam smiled and nodded.

Isra took his right hand and placed it over her belly.

Behnam stared.

Then he began to laugh as all the weight and worry fell away from him.

"You... you are pregnant!"

Isra nodded.

"Isra!  That's wonderful news!"  Behnam grinned until he noticed his wife wasn't smiling.  "Isn't it?"

"Yes.  I... I just hoped that... that maybe once we had a little more time to get settled, you... you could go to school but... but now..."

Gently, Behnam took his beloved into his arms.

"Is that the only reason you have been unhappy?"

Isra swiped at a tear and nodded.

"Then be happy, my star!  I am happy... tremendously happy.  Isra, we already have so many opportunities to learn!  School can wait!  A baby..."

Behnam gently patted his wife's stomach.

Isra sobbed into his chest... grateful, glad cries.

"Thank God," she murmured.

"Definitely.  And I promise, I will be much more gentle when I embrace you.  No more bear hugs."

Isra smiled up at him.

"But I love your bear hugs."

"Gentler bear hugs then."

"Okay."  Isra caressed his face.  "You really don't mind waiting on school?" she checked.

Behnam adamantly shook his head.

"No, my star.  I don't.  And I think we'll learn much during this pregnancy.  It... it will be the first during which we won't be consumed with worry and fear about what may come next.  A happy thought, isn't it?"

"Very happy.  And I think Aiyla and Omar will be happy, too."

"Undoubtedly.  They will love their new little brother or sister."

"Yes.  Oh...  That reminds me.  Vincent delivered a box of Christmas decorations.  He said they were his mother's and father's and we're welcome to use them.  He'd kept them Below because, had there been a break-in, he would have been heartsick to lose them but since we're here now, he feels good about keeping them in the house.  I thought tonight..."  Isra was interrupted by a yawn.  "I thought we could unwrap them tonight and, tomorrow, when you get home from work, we can put them up with..."  Another yawn.  "Aiyla and Omar."

Behnam laughed and bent to kiss Isra's forehead. 

"I think it's a wonderful idea but, perhaps, I should unwrap them and you should make it an early night to bed?"

Isra gave a sleepy smile and nod.

"Yes, that's probably for the best.  But you won't be long?"

"It's just one box?"


"Then I won't be long at all."


Isra bestowed a lengthy kiss on her husband.

"I love you so," she murmured.

"And I love you so," Behnam echoed. 

"I'm sorry I worried you."

"And I'm sorry you felt you had to worry.  But all is well now.  Better than well."

Isra beamed as Behnam's hand gently curved around her belly.

After another kiss, he escorted her to their room.  Not wanting to wake Isra later, Behnam also prepared for bed before making his way to the library where the box of decorations waited.


"Wow... another baby!" Andrew exclaimed as he sat up beside JenniAnn in their bed.

"Yep.  But we have to keep it quiet for now.  Isra told Catherine and me that we could tell you and Vincent but that's all she said."

Andrew mimed zipping his lips.

JenniAnn smiled and unzipped them.

"There is something I hope we can talk about..."

"Oh?" Andrew asked.

"Any idea on whether or not Joshua intends to make an appearance for his birthday?"

"He hasn't said... or not said.  I did ask him a few days ago.  He just grinned and said he definitely had plans for his birthday."

JenniAnn laughed.

"I can just see that grin.  Thing is... when I woke up this morning, I just had this really strong feeling that we will be seeing him.  Soon."

Andrew clasped her hand.

"I had the same feeling.  It... it's what kept me relatively calm when we talked more about... everything that's been going on."

JenniAnn's eyes welled as she thought of the morning.  They'd fed Belle breakfast after which she'd been whisked off by Ammas Allison and Catherine for some Christmas shopping.   JenniAnn and Andrew had snuggled together in front of the fireplace on the library where he had told her about the past weeks.

"And I felt the same as I listened," JenniAnn murmured.  "And I was so grateful that you didn't have to go anywhere today."

"Me too," Andrew agreed.

The two shared a quick kiss after which Andrew chuckled as he pulled a bit of stray tinsel from JenniAnn's hair.

"Very festive but it might be a little uncomfortable if you happen to roll onto that side in your sleep."

JenniAnn giggled.

"So that's what Belle was doing when she was playing with my hair!  Well..."  JenniAnn smiled then grabbed a notebook and pen from her nightstand.  "Given our hopefully prescient feelings... I think we should maybe operate from the assumption that Joshua will come and start planning sleeping arrangements accordingly."

"Good idea.  Can't we pretty much do the same as last year?"

"Mostly.  My parents will have Nico and Raquel with them.  Ivy would like Mark and Doreen to stay at Serendipity in your old room so that opens up a room at my parents'.  Maybe Josephine can stay there?  She really hit it off with Raquel the last time they were together. 
And Rose said she'd be happy to have Emma, Cira, and Crystal share her room which may get a bit too noisy for Josephine.  So I think that'll work nicely!  And Ivy and Violeta have their two rooms and can divide Joccy, Zoe, Kendra, and Hailey among them.  Shelby, too, unless she wants to stay with Belle."

Andrew nodded.  "I have a feeling the girls will all end up crashing in the same room, regardless.  Oh, Max said he'd already asked Peter, Sy, and Shane to stay with him."

"Good.  I'm so glad the older guys are so good about treating Sy as one of them.  Kinda a shame that we ended up with only a lone teen boy but, then again, Sy's so mature that it works."

"Definitely.  And I don't think Sy minds.  Especially since our group includes a certain teen girl."

Laughing, JenniAnn nodded before refocusing on her notepad. 

"Okay, so then Zeke, Diana, and Manny can have your room again."  She bumped her shoulder against Andrew's.  "Lucky you.  This year you don't even need to use them as a reason to invite yourself into my bed."

The angel's face flushed as he grinned.

"Sometimes a guy just needs a little push and, uh, they were it."

JenniAnn nuzzled his shoulder.

"I know and I'm very glad for it.  Now...  Adam said he's staying with Kylie and Clay and, of course, Dot, Randall, Caleb, and Edward will be out in Albany, too.  What about Henry?"

"Since Grant and Molly are coming in, Monica and Arthur are going to stay at Veritas with them so Henry will stay at his place with Eli and Kelly and walk with them when they go to and fro.  Liam may want to stay here, though," Andrew relayed.  "At least some nights."

"Right.  So I think we put the kids in the rec room again.  Rose and Co. will be close by and, hopefully, Joshua.  And Maryam and Yosef in their room...  Maybe put Eric and Neela in the other bedroom up there?  Zany will probably want to stay with the kids and then they'll be nearby, too.  If John comes, I imagine he'd stay with Fr. Mike again, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I do.  I can't imagine why he wouldn't."

"Me neither.  So that leaves one bedroom down here.  Samson, Tim..."

Andrew shook his head.

"I think leave them in the attic.  They told me they really loved it up there.  All those big windows gave them a great view of the stars.  They don't get that clear of a view in New York with the pollution."

"Good point!  So... there are still two more bedrooms up there and the one down here.  So how'd we end up with three empty bedrooms?" JenniAnn questioned.

"Well, Kemara and Sean have their own place now.  And everyone's grown closer, more people in fewer rooms," Andrew reasoned.  "So I guess that means we could have the Harmons stay here so Isra and Behnam won't have to..."

"Nope," JenniAnn interrupted.  "I already brought that up since I thought they might want some time to themselves in light of the baby news.  However, Isra's really been looking forward to playing hostess.  Sweet girl... she put together little welcome baskets for them."

Andrew smiled.  "Not surprised.  And I think that'll be really good.  I also think we'll end up using the rooms.  If the weather in New York turns bad, the Thorntons and Levines and maybe even Fr. Mike and John could end up there.  Ditto for Matthew and the Billingses.  And if Joshua does show up, our angelic bandmates could make an appearance."

"True!  But then we might not have enough rooms!"

"There's always cots in the ballroom if needed.  And Vincent said the Tunnels could put some people up if we wanted."

"That's true.  Well, whether Joshua's here in the flesh or in spirit, I'm sure we're going to have an awesome week!" JenniAnn enthused.  "We really do have so much to celebrate.  Joy and Ian...  The Al-Mitras being here.  Upcoming weddings!  Our first Christmas with Max officially ours.  And it's been so fun with Belle this year!  She can do so much more than this time last year."

Andrew chuckled. 

"Yeah, like frost cookies... with lots and lots of frosting."

"She was so proud of the one she decorated for you."

Andrew's eyes misted as he remembered his beaming daughter presenting him with his own, very special cookie a few evenings prior.  It had been at the end of a long, trying day and just the salve he'd needed.  He'd almost been sorry to eat it but knew Belle would be disappointed if he didn't.

"So precious..." he murmured.

Noticing his glistening eyes, JenniAnn put away her pen and paper and wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Wanna go take one more peek at them?" she asked.

"I do."

Smiling, the two padded quietly into Belle's nursery and admired their little girl and her cousins who were contently sleeping while surrounded by plush animals and two very real dogs.

Andrew and JenniAnn both silently prayed that soon Belle's "Osua" would be among them.


Behnam was enjoying himself as he emptied Vincent's box onto a side table in the living room.  He didn't entirely understand the Christmas tree phenomenon but had to admit they were beautiful to behold.  The tree he had bought on the way home from work one day was looking a tad bare.  Vincent's ornaments would perfectly fill the branches. 

Behnam was nearing the bottom of the box when he noticed a piece of folded paper tucked along one of the sides.  Thinking it might be directions from Vincent, Behnam plucked it out and began to read.  By the time he realized the words were not meant for him, Behnam had read too much to stop.

I want to thank you for letting Doug and his family and Jodi stay here.  I loved having them with us for my birthday, Vincent.  Being able to embrace all of you, my beloved children, was the best present I could have received.  Thank you, my own. 

Love always,

Behnam's hands began to shake.  He returned the note to the box but the words flitted through his mind.  My birthday... my beloved children... my own.

The irony of a man named Joshua having played Jesus in his friends' rock and roll passion play had not been lost on Behnam.  Neither had the fact that a man named Peter had succeeded him.  Behnam was not a Christian but, always eager to learn, he'd paid close attention in Bible study and at church services.  Behnam also knew that Joshua's parents were named Maryam and Yosef.  Again, he'd noted the significance but hadn't been particularly moved by it.  After all, there had been a married couple named Maryam and Yusuf in Isra's hometown and they had named their own son Isa... Jesus... Joshua.  Isra herself had noted the coincidences but cited the same family. 

Now this...

Behnam recalled Vincent first approaching him and Isra to ask if they minded if a family named the Harmons stayed with them that Christmas.  Vincent had stated that the Harmons had stayed there the Christmas before and it had worked out nicely.  He'd made no mention of other visits.  Which meant that the visit Joshua had alluded to in the note must have been Christmas 2014.

His birthday...

Dazed, Behnam finished unwrapping the ornaments.  As he did, pieces of a puzzle that he hadn't even realized he'd been putting together for months slid into place.

Joshua, son of Maryam and Yosef, had a birthday at Christmas. 

Joshua was a carpenter and religious teacher.  That much Behnam knew from statements during Bible study that often contained the phrase "I remember when Joshua said..."  Even the angels often said it.

Joshua was Jewish.  Rabbi Yakov had told him that when Behnam had shyly asked if, besides himself, the rabbi, and Tiva, all the Friends were Christian. 

It was Joshua's portrait that hung in the chapel in Willowveil.  Behnam realized, of course, that most religious art was modeled after someone.  But the way the Friends related to that portrait... he couldn't quite put his finger on it but it was different.  Even Isra, who had never met the man, seemed especially drawn to that one particular representation of her God.

And to call Vincent his own, his child...

Behnam crumpled onto a nearby couch as his mind raced.

Behnam knew that, per Christian belief, Jesus had been born to the virgin Mary, wife of Joseph, both of the house of David... Jewish.  Like his adoptive father, Jesus had been a carpenter by trade and, later, a great rabbi.  He was God Incarnate, the Great I Am, the Eternal Father, King of Angels.  All of this Isra believed... and all of it lined up with what he'd gleaned about Joshua Davidson.

Without looking at it again, Behnam retrieved the note from the box.  He triple checked the doors then turned off the lamp in the living room and headed towards his and Isra's bedroom.  He was somewhat disappointed when he saw that Isra was sleeping.  His questions would have to wait. 

Behnam sat the note on the bedstand then settled besides his wife.  A moment later, he felt her foot slide against his leg.

"Mmm...  Good.  I was cold."

"You're awake," Behnam murmured as Isra snuggled against him.

"Yes.  Are the decorations pretty?"

"Yes, very nice."

The flatness in her husband's voice alarmed Isra.  She sat up and flicked on a lamp.  His face...  She recognized that expression.  He'd looked like that when he'd entered her father's house with the angel, Azrael, with him.  Something had happened.  Something all at once holy and troubling.

"Behnam... what is it?  The kids..."

Behnam shook his head.

"Isra, I'm sure the kids are fine."

"You look... frightened."

"There was something in... in the box," Behnam began.

Isra wondered if something might have reminded Behnam of Badriya.

"Sweet love..." she cooed, wrapping her arms around him.

Behnam kissed her temple.

"Isra, what do you make of Joshua?  Our friends speak so highly of him."


Behnam thought the look on his wife's face was reminiscent of a time a few weeks ago when he'd walked into the kitchen to find her singing and dancing around to a song from the Disney princess movies that Aiyla adored... with no Aiyla or Omar present.

He cupped her chin.

"Tell me.  Please."

"As... as time has gone by and the more I hear... I started to think that, perhaps, Joshua is... is Jesus," Isra admitted.

"And have you asked anyone?"

Isra peered into her husband's eyes and shook her head.

"I've thought of it.  Many times.  But... I was afraid they would say no.  And I've liked thinking it's possible and... and that we might meet him.  Talk to him, have him over, hug him.  I daydream about it sometimes when I'm cleaning or cooking and... and it's been so nice and I didn't want to lose that."

"My star..."  Behnam was touched, and slightly envious, that Isra could imagine such intimacy with her God.

"I like thinking that... that you could meet him," Isra continued.  "And that... he would help you."

"Help me?"

"To relax more.  To not be so stressed.  Ever... ever since they took Badriya from you, you've been so focused on saving a-and protecting your family and... and...  so... so much stress and I've been reading about all... all the things that stress can do to your body and I... I don't want for you to get sick or... or to... to...  Behnam, you need to live a very, very long time because I... I love you and our babies love you and, also, I... I don't know how to be an adult without you because I never have been!"

Behnam bowed his head.

"Oh, don't do that!" Isra demanded.  "I know how you think!  You think 'If only Isra hadn't been forced to marry me when she was so young then she would know she could go on without me.'  And maybe I would.  But I don't think I would be happy because... you make me happy.  We are not so different from Andrew and JenniAnn, Behnam.  She was barely older than us when they met!  But God brought them together.  He knew they had to be together... for their own good.  And His, too, I think.  And... and if Joshua is Jesus... is God... then... then he could tell us that He meant for us to be together and then you could put any thought to the contrary out of your head and then maybe you wouldn't struggle so to prove yourself... to prove you are worthy of this family.  I already know you are, Behnam!  But I want you to know!"

"Isra..."  Behnam carefully wrapped his arms around her only to have her cling to him, closing what distance he'd left.  When she finally eased up, Behnam reached for Joshua's note.

"My star... this is what I found in the box.  I... I think it's from last Christmas."

Isra read the words then read them over again.

"It... it is him.  He's him.  He's Him, Behnam!" she shrieked.

Behnam nodded and rested his forehead against his ecstatic wife's.

"Tell me... tell me everything you know about him, everything you believe.  Please."

Over the next two hours, Isra let out everything that she'd held in for fear of pushing her husband into a faith not of his choosing.


Saturday, December 19th

Belle awoke with a smile on her face.  She heard someone humming and she knew it wasn't Mama or Daddy.  Turning to both sides, she saw that her cousins were still sleeping.  Only when she sat up did she him standing in the doorway leading to the hall.


Joshua caught the little girl up in his arms when she ran to him with her dogs trailing her.

"Good morning, sweet Belle!  I'm so glad to see you!" Joshua greeted.  "And you two."  He gave Fawn and Lulu belly rubs.

"Osua..." Belle repeated as she snuggled against his chest.

"Belle...  Who you talking to?"

Aiyla sat up and rubbed at her eyes.  She cocked her head when she saw the man holding her cousin.  A moment later a grin lit up her face.  She rose and approached the two.

"You're Jesus from Uncle Owen's picture."

Joshua chuckled and nodded as he patted her shoulder.

"That's right.  And you're Aiyla and that's your little brother, Omar, just starting to wake up."


Hearing his name, Omar sat up.  He smiled and joined the others.

"Oma... Osua," Belle introduced.

Joshua held out his hand to the little boy.

"Hi there, Omar.  How are you?"

"Hi, Osua.  I good.  You?"

"Very good, thank you!  So...  It's only 5:32 and that's pretty early.  What do you say we head to the kitchen to start some breakfast?  That way it'll be ready when Belle's Mama and Daddy are up."

"Yeah!" Aiyla cheered as Omar grinned and Belle smiled up at Joshua, still not loosening her hold on him.

"Great!  We'll let's leave a note first.  Will you help me Aiyla?  We don't want to scare Uncle Andrew and Aunt JenniAnn."


As he continued to hold Belle and wrap an arm around Omar who had sidled up to him, Joshua dictated a note to the older girl.

"Let's keep it simple, okay?  Just put 'We're in the kitchen.'"

"How do you spell kitchen?"

"Good question.  K-i-t-c-h-e-n."

"Kay.  Thanks."

"Then 'Come have breakfast with us.'  Breakfast is b-r-e-a-k-f-a-s-t.  Then 'Love' and then sign your name."

Aiyla did so.

"Now you two!  Aiyla, can you help your brother sign?"


As Aiyla guided Omar's hand, Joshua did the same with Belle making the two little ones giggle. 

When they were finished, Joshua hugged them all then propped the note up on Belle's bed.

"Very good!  It's very important to leave your parents and aunts and uncles notes so they don't worry.  I wandered away from my parents once and I still hear about it all these many, many years later!"

The kids all giggled at Joshua's funny face then, hand-in-hand, the four headed to the kitchen with Lulu and Fawn following them.


Andrew woke up to sun shining through the bedroom windows.  It was rare that he and JenniAnn slept in past sunrise.

It was rarer still when Belle did...

Alarmed, Andrew gently shook JenniAnn whose head was resting on his shoulder.


"Laja, it's after 7:00 and the nursery's awful quiet."

JenniAnn bolted up and threw off the covers.

"With three of them in there... they coulda gotten into some major mischief!" she cried as she ran for the door which adjoined the two rooms.

Andrew was at her heels and they both immediately saw the note.

JenniAnn dashed back into their bedroom and grabbed her robe.

"I don't think Aiyla can spell 'kitchen.'  Someone helped!"

"Someone..." Andrew echoed, a smile stretching across his face.

JenniAnn took his hand and the two thundered down the stairs. 

In the kitchen, they found Belle and Omar at the table, stringing Froot Loops onto bits of yarn.  Aiyla was standing on a step-stool positioned near the counter.  She and Joshua were laughing and chatting as they mixed the contents of two bowls.

"Joshua..." JenniAnn murmured. 

Joshua set down his bowl and greeted the angel and woman with hugs and kisses on the cheek.

"Sorry for the lack of notice but this seemed like it'd be fun."  Joshua smiled at the three children.

"Fun!" Omar agreed, holding up his necklace. 

"Pitty!" Belle added, mimicking her cousin.

"Joshua is teaching me how to make French toast!" Aiyla proudly informed.

Andrew returned Joshua's embrace then approached his niece.

"Is that so?  Well, it sure smells good so far."

The oven timer beeped.

Joshua gave JenniAnn, whose head was resting on his shoulder, an affectionate squeeze then pulled two loaves of bread from the oven.

"So now I'm going to cut this into slices then we'll dip each one in my bowl and then sprinkle some of the mixture from your bowl on top of it once it's on the griddle.  Sound good, Aiyla?"


Not wanting to get in the way, Andrew and JenniAnn took seats at the table and watched as Aiyla and Joshua worked.  Both wondered if their niece had any idea who her co-cook was.

"Awesome job!" Joshua praised as he set Aiyla down after she'd finished sprinkling the toast with her cinnamon and nutmeg mixture. 

Beaming, Aiyla peered up at Joshua.

"I'm glad you came out of the picture!"

Joshua chuckled and knelt down so he was level with the little girl.

"Thank you.  That's very nice to hear.  But I didn't come out of the picture.  Your Uncle Owen painted that picture of me."

"Oh.  So... are you really Jesus?"

Omar turned away from his Froot Loops and stared at his sister and the newcomer.

"Yes, I am," Joshua replied.

Omar began to bawl.

"Oh, sweetie!" JenniAnn cried as she pulled the boy onto her lap.

"Owie... owies..." Omar moaned.

"Oh... oh..."  Belle cooed as she slid off her chair and stood by her mother so she could pat her cousin's hand.

Joshua hugged Aiyla who was visibly troubled.

"Why don't you go sit with Uncle Andrew while I talk to your brother?"

Aiyla nodded and, once Joshua had placed her on the angel's lap, she scooted around and rested her cheek against Andrew's shoulder while continuing to study her brother.

"It's all right, Omar," Joshua soothed before stooping to kiss the boy's hair.  "Do you think I could hold you?"

Omar let out a shuddering breath then nodded.

Once Joshua had him, JenniAnn slipped over to the stove and flipped the toast.  She watched intently as Joshua cuddled the little boy.

"Omar, are you upset because of my owies that you saw in church?" Joshua asked.

The child nodded.

"I see.  Well, that was a long time ago and I'm better now.  See?"

Joshua held his right hand out for Omar to inspect.  His eyes misted when the boy set his own hand in his.  Joshua gently squeezed the little fingers and continued to cradle Omar until he'd calmed.

"Better now?"


"Good.  That first batch of French toast should be ready so let's get you kids fed.  Okay?"

The three cousins cheered as they settled into chairs while JenniAnn poured orange juice and milk.

"That's an awful lot of bread," Andrew commented as he helped Joshua cut up the toast.  "Are your parents here?"

Joshua shook his head.  "Not yet.  They'll be here a bit later but someone's parents will be coming shortly."

JenniAnn overheard and turned around just in time to see Joshua cock his head towards Aiyla and Omar.

"Oh!  It'll be so wonderful for them to meet you!" she exclaimed.  "Isra especially is always so eager to hear more about you.  I've thought so often that she was going to ask me about you but...  Not yet."

Joshua smiled as he poured syrup onto the kids' plates.

"I'm eager to see them.  We have a lot to say to each other.  But not on empty stomachs."

After the kids had their plates, Aiyla directed them to bow their heads and fold their hands.

"Thank you, God, for the French toast.  I had fun making it with you.  Amen."

"Amen!" Belle and Omar shouted before digging in.

Joshua patted Aiyla's head.

"Thank you.  I had fun, too.  I hope it's yummy."

Aiyla nodded and smiled as she ate.

"Andrew?  JenniAnn?"

The two looked at each other when they heard the calls from the hallway.  Then they peered at Joshua.

"Should we go tell them or..."

Before Joshua could respond, Behnam's head poked around the entryway.  He smiled when he saw the children.

"So you are already up and enjoying your..."

Behnam went silent and gaped at Joshua who was dipping more slices of bread.

"Let me take over there," Andrew whispered as he reached for the bowl.

Joshua nodded and approached Behnam.

"Good morning, Behnam.  Is Isra..."

Isra peeked over her husband's shoulder.

"Joshua..." she whispered, her voice reverent and her eyes clouded by tears.

Behnam noted the tenderness in Joshua's eyes.  He also realized that his wife was frozen with shock. 

"My star...  Isra..." he cooed, remembering how she had said that she would run to Joshua and hug him and tell him how much she loved him.  She remained as still as a statue.  Behnam knew that nowhere in her daydreams had she predicted remaining absolutely still and simply staring at her God with tears trickling down her cheeks.  Gently, Behnam pushed his wife into Joshua's waiting arms.

For a few moments, Joshua held Isra and rocked as he repeated "I love you" over and over.

Behnam watched with tears pooling in his own eyes.  Then he noticed that Joshua was holding one arm out.  After letting out a sob, Behnam stumbled into his embrace.

"I love you both so much," Joshua murmured.  "I've been longing for this day.  I have so much I want to say to you both but right now... you should eat."  He lowered his voice even more.  "The little one's hungry."

Isra smiled and let out a deep, contented sigh.

Joshua and Behnam led her to a chair which JenniAnn had pulled out for her.  She smiled up at the three once she was seated.

"Okay, Mommy?" Aiyla checked.

Isra smiled at her daughter.

"Oh, yes.  I... I'm just very happy to see Joshua."

Andrew placed a plate in front of her.

"Especially made by Joshua and Aiyla," he informed with a smile.

Isra blinked.  "You made this with Joshua?" she asked her daughter.


Joshua chuckled as he waved Behnam into the chair next to his wife then sat a plate in front of him.

"These three woke up very early.  I thought Andrew and JenniAnn could use a bit more sleep."

"It was heavenly..." JenniAnn recalled with a dreamy smile directed at the angel.

"It was nice," Andrew admitted as he loaded up another plate which Joshua brought to JenniAnn.

"Oh, thanks.  But you should sit!  You're the guest."

Joshua laughed.  "Nope.  I think I forfeited guesthood when I got my very own room.  Andrew and I will join you shortly."

Isra shook her head as she took it all in.

"You... you just act... so normal," she got out.

Joshua shrugged.  "This is normal for me.  It's how I meant for things to be."

Isra returned his smile as she thought about the story of Adam and Eve.  God had meant to always be walking among them in the Garden, after all.  Her smile faded when she glanced over at Behnam who was pushing his food around his plate.  He looked to be on the verge of tears and she didn't think they were happy ones. 

Joshua sat across from them and looked with compassion on the man.  He knew better than to say anything.  Behnam wouldn't want his children and Belle noticing how upset he was. 

"Aiyla, Omar, Belle, did you have fun together last night?" Joshua questioned.

For the rest of the meal, the five adults listened to the happy prattle of the three children.  After a couple amusing anecdotes, Behnam's demeanor improved.  He went without hesitation when Joshua invited the couple to his room for a chat while their children watched a movie with Belle and her parents.

"Sit wherever you'd feel most comfortable," Joshua directed.  "Bed, settee, bench, wherever."

Thinking it best she remain near her husband, Isra steered him towards the settee.

Joshua smiled and pulled a wooden chair Andrew had made into place a couple of feet in front of them.

"There's something I need for you both to know before we really get to talking.  Usually, I can hear your thoughts.  More than that, I know your thoughts before you think them.  But that's not so right now.  JenniAnn compared it to being like a computer that's been disconnected from the Internet.  Everything that was on that computer is still there but nothing new is coming in.  I came down from Heaven this morning, shortly before the kids woke up.  I know about the note, I heard the beautiful conversation you two shared after Behnam found it.  But I don't know what you're thinking right now and I won't know the entire time I'm here... although I can probably make good guesses since I know you so well.  But I'm telling you this because if you have questions, if there's something you need to say... please speak up.  I treasure hearing from you.  As much as I love the surprise, the wonder of not knowing exactly what's coming next... I do miss your voices.  Understand?"

With glistening eyes, Isra nodded.

Behnam mimicked her.


"Did... did Vincent mean for me to see the note?" Behnam asked.

Joshua chuckled.

"He did...  He prayed about it.  Behnam, he wanted for you to feel the peace he felt when he learned about me.  He was the first one, not counting the angels, of course, to realize who I was when I first came amongst the Friends."

"I... I shouldn't have needed the note," Behnam protested.  "Isra... she believed in you without a note."

Joshua smiled at Isra and reached over to squeeze her hand.

"She did.  And, Isra, I danced on your baptism day."

Isra beamed.

"But Behnam...  You need to realize what Isra and I know."

"And... and what is that?"

"That it's always been easier for me," Isra answered.

"Easier!"  Behnam looked at Joshua in shock.  "How could it have been easier?"  He clasped Isra's hand and met her gaze.  "You... you were terrified at our wedding!"

"I was," Isra acknowledged.  "And I would never wish that terror on... on anyone.  But mere days later... I knew you were a good man, Behnam.  I did not love you yet but... I liked you.  Very much.  You... you could not give me back the life I had known but you gave me whole worlds!  Thornfield.  That silly house with that silly cat!  And you showed me the world beyond... a world of sports and music and women who had strong voices and were allowed to use them.  You also... you gave me back my faith."

Behnam shook his head. 

"I... I don't see how I could have done that, Isra.  I had so little myself...  Only the motions, hollow words..."

Isra cringed as she looked at Joshua.  "When your uncle took me away from my father and sister... I was so angry at Allah... God."

Joshua patted her arm.

"And I understood.  Truly."

Isra gave him a tremulous smile before continuing.

"The anger faded, Behnam, when I saw how beautiful you were.  I began to thank God for you."

"She did," Joshua averred.

Behnam smiled at his wife.

"And... and I thanked God for you but..."  His voice broke off.

"You never felt like you deserved her.  And you still don't feel that you do," Joshua finished for him, his own voice cracking.  "You couldn't accept your own happiness because, in your mind, the same horrible system that had taken Badriya from you... that had... had brutalized her... that awful system brought Isra to you.  But, Behnam, the chains that connected you and Isra to that system... they began to crack in the days that followed your wedding... when you two befriended each other.  They were dealt a mighty blow that night on the floor of your house when Isra laid down beside you to comfort you after your nightmare.  Then the chains snapped entirely the following night.  Behnam... Isra...  It was always the will of my Father and me that you be together.  You were made to love each other.  Since the beginning of time, your wedding date was always August 13th.  And on August 13th, 2009... you truly became husband and wife.  And it was beautiful.  You made it beautiful.  Both of you.  And I have lived and loved in your marriage ever since."

Joshua reached for their hands and held them together.

"You deserve each other.  You deserve to be loved by one another.  And you are.  Both of you.  And from that love you've created two precious little ones... and there's another on the way.  Be proud of your family!  Both of you!" Joshua encouraged with a smile that stretched across his face.

Behnam and Isra beamed at each other and leaned in for a kiss before halting to cast shy glances at Joshua.

He chuckled.

"It's okay.  Really!"

After a tender kiss, Isra and Behnam grinned at Joshua.  A moment later, they both stood and embraced him.

"I'm so glad you're here," Isra murmured.

"So glad..." Behnam echoed.

Joshua kissed their cheeks and patted their backs as they remained in his embrace.

"I'm very, very happy to be here myself," he asserted.  "I do have a favor to ask."

"Anything," Behnam replied as he and Isra settled back into their seats.

"I'm going to volunteer to drive to Brewster in the Jolly Green on Tuesday to pick-up strollers that Kemara's parents purchased for the twins.  I'd love your company on the drive.  Maybe we could have breakfast at your place and then head out?  I'm sure Andrew and JenniAnn would babysit Omar and Aiyla."

Isra was so thrilled by the idea of entertaining Joshua and traveling with him that she could only give enthusiastic nods in response. 

Behnam chuckled.

"We would be exceedingly happy to do that," he replied.

With a grin, Isra reached for Joshua's hand.  As she peered down at their hands, her eyes welled and her smile grew more tender.

"I love you, Joshua."

"Very... very much," Behnam added.

With overflowing eyes, Joshua again embraced the couple.

"I love you both, too.  Very, very much."


Peter awoke to enticing scents coming from outside his room.  He smiled as he stretched and wondered what Emma was preparing for breakfast.  After tying on his robe and shuffling into his slippers, Peter stepped into the living area and was immediately met by a shriek.  The next thing he knew, Emma was running to the kitchen where two familiar figures were loading the dishwasher.

"Ama!  Abi!" Emma greeted, throwing her arms around the couple.

Peter hung back to watch the enthusiastic reunion.  His fiancee was supremely happy.

"Good morning, sweet Emma," Maryam responded as she kissed the young woman's cheek.

"Greetings, Peter!" Yosef added, waving the man nearer.

Peter beamed as Maryam and Yosef hugged and kissed him.

"This is a wonderful surprise!" he gushed as Emma, still grinning for ear to ear, hugged his arm. 

"I hope our preparations did not wake you."  Maryam waved to the mixing bowls and utensils in the dishwasher.  "We wanted to have breakfast ready and waiting for you."

Emma eyed the enticing looking dishes but shook her head.

"This is our normal waking up time but you didn't have to make us breakfast."

Maryam squeezed her hand.

"We know but we wanted to."

Yosef closed the dishwasher and smiled.

"We do enjoy playing with all the modern conveniences.  It is quite nice to not have to walk to a well for water."

Peter laughed.

"Yes, indoor plumbing is a miracle... but not as much of one as having you two here with us.  If you don't mind my asking... how long are you two staying?" he inquired, hoping they intended to stay through the holidays.

Maryam and Yosef exchanged a quick look.

"We are leaving that to Yeshu to decide but he has told us we will be here into the new year," the former answered.

Emma bounced around and clapped.

Maryam laughed and pulled her into another embrace.

After casting a loving look at his wife and Emma, Yosef turned to Peter.

"We'll be moving to Willowveil after breakfast, however.  Yeshu is already there.  I hope you and Emma will join us?"

"Definitely!" Peter agreed.  "We'd already made some decisions about roommates in hopes we'd all have reason to stay at Willowveil."

"Now we do!" Emma gushed.

"And Yeshu is so looking forward to spending his birthday with all of you... as are we.  But now we should eat before the pancakes get too cool," Maryam suggested.

Emma grinned at Yosef.

"Pancakes.  Why am I not surprised?"

Yosef laughed.

"We have made a delicious syrup but Maryam insisted on fruit compote, as well."

"I'm definitely gonna have to have a pancake with each," Emma insisted.

After one more round of hugs, the four readied their table and Yosef recited a blessing.  As they ate, Emma and Peter told the older couple about their wedding plans and listened intently as Maryam and Yosef spoke of their own wedding.


Sibyll smiled as she watched her husband and son flip through old photo albums, reminiscing and laughing.  She was glad that Mike had spent the previous night at Aisling.  He worked far too hard and it felt good to baby him on occasion.

"Mom, come sit with us!" Fr. Mike invited.  "I'll help with dishes later."

"Yes, Sibyll, come join us!" Lewellyn echoed.  "Mike and I will take care of those later.  You've been up since dawn, my dear.  Relax."

Sibyll put down her dishrag and stepped away from the sink.  Lewellyn and Mike parted so she could sit between them on the kitchen table bench.

"Oh... look at my sweet baby!" Sibyll cooed as she peered down at her younger self, beaming as she held a newborn Mike.

"I'm nearly as bald now as I am there!" the priest joked.

"But just as precious," his mother insisted.


Lewellyn looked on proudly as his son rested his head on his mother's shoulder.  Before he could say anything, the doorbell sounded.  Sibyll moved to get up but he shook his head.

"Let me get it.  I'll be back in a moment."

"Thank you, darling."

"Thanks, Dad!"

Lewellyn made his way to the front door and did a double take when he saw who was standing on the snowy porch.  Hurriedly, he threw the door open.

The visitor smiled as the man gaped.

"Good morning, Lewellyn.  By chance would Mike be available to come out and play?"

Pulling himself together, Lewellyn chuckled.

"Yes, John, he is.  I'll tell him..."

"Please don't tell him it's me.  Just say someone is here to see him."

With a grin, Lewellyn nodded and waved the man inside.

"Of course, John.  Come on..."

The saint shook his head.

"I will come inside shortly.  Thank you.  But I'd like to stay outside for now."

Sensing that John had something planned, Lewellyn gave another chuckle.

"Then I will see you in a bit, John.  I'll go get my son."


After closing the door, Lewellyn returned to the kitchen.

"Mike, you have a visitor on the front porch."

The priest looked curiously at his father.


Lewellyn shrugged.

"I suppose you better go see."

Beginning to hope, Fr. Mike squeezed his mother's hand, rose from the bench, and made his way to the front door.

Lewellyn took his wife's hand and led her to a window facing the front lawn.

Not seeing anyone on the porch, Fr. Mike stepped outside and strode a few feet away from the house.


The priest whirled around when he felt a snowball hit him right between the shoulders.

"John!" Fr. Mike exclaimed when he saw his laughing friend.  He hurried over to the man and embraced him.

"Good morning, Mike!  I have to say, that was even more fun than sneaking into your house last year."

Fr. Mike chuckled and clapped John on the back.

"It's so good to see you that I'll forgive you for knocking the breath out of me.  Come on in!  Are you hungry?  We have plenty of leftover muffins.  Is Joshua..."

"At Willowveil.  Maryam and Yosef are with Emma and Peter and all four will head to Willowveil shortly.  I suspect that, any moment now, Andrew will be sending a text out to alert everyone."

"Wonderful!  So are you hungry?"

"I would never turn down your mother's baking."

"Wise man!"

With arms around each other's shoulders, John and Fr. Mike entered Aisling Castle where Lewellyn and Sibyll gushed over the saint before escorting him to the kitchen where he dined on muffins and egg nog until all four began the trek to Willowveil.


By lunchtime, most of the Friends had descended upon Willowveil en masse and the others were trickling in.  They brought all their perishables and other groceries with them, making for an enticing spread. 

Isra was helping Omar and Aiyla fill their plates when a cry from Belle grabbed her attention.


"Appa!" Omar and Aiyla echoed, leaving their mother and galloping over to their grandfather.

Vincent crouched down and caught the three in his arms.

"Well, hello."  He kissed each of their foreheads.  "Aiyla, Omar... did you make new friends?"

Aiyla gave an excited nod.

"We met Joshua!  And his mommy and daddy and his cousin."

"John!" Omar piped up with.

"That's exactly right."  Vincent smiled at John who had been giving Liam a piggy back ride around the dessert table.

"Yatan here, too," Belle reminded.

"Ah.  I imagine Yonah, Mary, and Silly are very happy for his company."  Vincent noticed Behnam and Isra staring at him. 

Jacob, who had come with his father, also saw the two.  He knelt beside Vincent and smiled at his cousins.

"That food looks really, really yummy!  Would you help me make up plates for Appa and me?"

The three little ones chirped their agreement and, with Liam joining them, the five trotted over to the food tables.

Once Vincent was free, Isra and Behnam came towards him.  Both wrapped their arms around the man.

"I... I found the note," Behnam told him.  "Isra and I... we read it last night a-and then... then this morning."  He waved to Joshua who was approaching.

Vincent beamed at the couple then Joshua.

"I am so glad."

"As am I," Joshua agreed.  "Well done, Vincent."

"I hoped and prayed I wasn't pushing too hard, too soon."

Joshua shook his head.

"This was exactly the right time."  He patted Isra and Behnam on their backs before redirecting his attention to Vincent.  "Where's Catherine?"

"At the Phoenix.  She'll be here soon.  One of the ladies is moving into her own place and they're having a farewell party for her and her children."

"Right!  Madison, Taylor, and Elsa!"  A smile lit up Joshua's face.  "I'm thrilled for them.  And your father?  Still unwell?"

Vincent sighed and nodded.

"I am afraid he is nursing a bad cold and didn't want to risk infecting anyone else," he explained to Isra and Behnam.  "He hopes tomorrow..."

Joshua shook his head.

"No.  We'll get him here yet today.  Let me go speak to my Ama."

As they watched Joshua make his way to his mother, the other three grinned at each other.

"I believe Father is in for a very special treat," Vincent hypothesized.

"A visit from his Lady..." Isra guessed, her eyes welling.  Through little things he had said, Isra had gathered that the elder Jacob Wells had a special connection to Mary.  Never, until that moment, had she realized how personal it likely was.

"I am so happy for us all," Behnam whispered, his tone reverent.

The three looked tenderly at Joshua and his parents until the spell was broken by five kids bearing plates of food.

"Appa!  Eat!" Belle invited.

Jacob grinned.

"I hope you enjoy, Papa."

Vincent chuckled as he eyed his plate which had a single sandwich and was otherwise brimming with sweet treats.  It was obvious the younger three had done most of the food selection.

"I will, happily.  Let's go find a seat."

Isra led them to the table where she'd placed her children's food.  Once they were all seated, the three adults listened as the children excitedly chattered on about their visitors and the epic sleepover that Uncle Andrew and Aunt JenniAnn had promised.


Jacob Wells groaned slightly as he awoke.  His eyes and chest felt so heavy and his throat was parched.  Some relief came when a cold cloth was placed on his forehead.


"Mary has gone to Willowveil, Jacob.  I told her I would stay with you."

Jacob opened his eyes and smiled at his visitor.


Maryam smiled back.

The doctor became agitated.

"But I don't want you to get sick!"

"I cannot get sick.  We all want you to get well."

Jacob responded with a hoarse laugh.

"Of course...  I don't know what I was thinking."

"You were thinking as a doctor and as a friend.  Here."

The elderly man made no protest as the woman helped him to sit up and propped up pillows behind him.

"I have brought you some tea and Yeshu sent along some chicken noodle soup."

"You are too kind, my Lady.  Joshua made this soup?"

Maryam grinned.

"In his own way, yes."

Jacob chuckled.

"This was water before, wasn't it?"

"It was," Maryam admitted with a laugh.

"And yet I'm sure it will be even tastier than William's.  And your tea, as well."

When his hand shook, Maryam helped Jacob to spoon some soup into his mouth.

The effect was immediate.  Jacob's sore throat stopped raging and the chills left him.  With increased vigor, the man brought the mug of tea to his lips.  He inhaled and exhaled deeply then beamed at Maryam.

"Well!  That's the first deep breath I've had in days!  Many thanks to you and to your dear son.  I take it he's at Willowveil?  Yosef, as well?"

Maryam settled into a nearby chair and nodded.

"And John, too, though I think he will stay with Mike at the rectory."

"Very good!" Jacob cheered after another spoonful of soup.  "I am so pleased.  I will sound foolish saying this but I felt so rotten with that dratted cold that I half suspected to see you all soon... but on the other side of this mortal coil."

Maryam squeezed his hand.

"For the sake of your family, I am very glad that we are meeting here."

"As am I.  How long will we all be blessed by your presences?  If you can say..."

Maryam shook her head.

"I truly cannot beyond saying that it will be into the new year before we go.  Yosef, John, and I can return Home whenever we please, of course.  However, we are determined to remain with Yeshua until he, too, returns Home."

Jacob blinked.

"So then... this is like that first time?  More of... an assignment?" he guessed.


"I hope I can be of more help this time than I was last time."  The physician's face flushed as he remembered how suspicious he had been of Joshua.

"I truly believe you will be, Jacob," Maryam encouraged.

"And I know better than to doubt you, Lady," Jacob replied.

Tears welled in the old man's eyes when Maryam brushed his wild hair back into place.  It was a gesture so reminiscent of his own mother. 

"Tell me of what has been happening in the Tunnels?" Maryam requested.

Happily, Jacob spoke at length, glad for his hearty voice.  By the time he was finished with his soup and tea, he felt better than he had in years.  While Maryam went exploring, Jacob cleaned himself up, dressed, and readied for a fine day at Willowveil with those he loved.


Later that afternoon, a small group gathered at St. Genesius'. 

Diana kept peering out of the office window, scanning the parking lot.  Finally, she saw what she'd been waiting for.

"Someone's turning into the lot!  It's gotta be them!"

Taking his wife's hand, Zeke ran outside with Emma and Peter trailing them.  Joshua followed a few steps behind.

"There's my baby girl!" Zeke cried when the driver's seat door opened.

Hailey beamed as she stepped outside and held her arms open.

Diana and Zeke wasted no time in hugging and kissing their daughter. 

Zoe exited the other side of the car where first Emma and then Peter hugged her.

Joshua smiled at the two reunions before shifting his gaze to the back seat.  Both doors remained closed.  He stepped closer to get a better look. 

Joccy was curled up in the backseat, fast sleep, with Peri snuggled beside her.

Joshua knew the girl had passed a fretful night.  He also knew it was only the latest in a string of bad nights.

Zoe approached and hugged his arm.

"Hi, Joshua."

"Hi, Zoe." 

The girl smiled when the carpenter kissed her hair.

"I'm so glad you girls are here," Joshua continued.  "And Peri, too.  How long has Joc..."

"She's been asleep pretty much since we left New Haven," Hailey answered as she hugged Joshua.  "Jodi was kind of reluctant to let her go but..."

Joshua nodded.  Jodi had intuited that her girls could be themselves more easily without her near.  Selflessly, she had chosen to forgo Christmas with him and the Friends so she could give her daughters as much joy and freedom as she could.  Still, it had troubled her to be apart from Joccy when she was so out of sorts. 

Emma frowned.

"School hasn't gotten any better?"

Zoe shook her head.

"It's not like she's been bullied or anything...  Joccy just... doesn't really mesh, I guess.  But she does with us Friends girls!  So I know she'll feel better really, really soon!"

Joshua gave an encouraging smile.

"I'm sure she will.  Let's get her woken up so we can get you girls settled.  Ivy and Violeta are so excited for you to see Serendipity all decorated."

While Peter and Zeke unloaded the trunk under Hailey's direction, Joshua opened the back door and scooted into the seat, near Joccy's feet.  He stroked Peri who, after enthusiastically pouncing on his lap for a few moments, bounded out of the car and into Zoe's arms.  Joshua began to gently shake the teenager.

"Joccy, my girl, you're in Manhattan.  Time to wake up."

Joccy's eyes fluttered open.  She smiled wearily when she saw Joshua.

"We're here...  You're here..." she greeted. 

Joshua beamed. 

"And I'm very glad on both counts."

With a sigh, Joccy sat up.  She stretched and then lolled over to rest against Joshua.

"I feel bad that I slept the whole way."

"Don't you worry about that.  I'm sure Hailey and Zoe did perfectly fine keeping themselves amused.  Besides, you needed the rest."

Joccy opened her mouth to counter before remembering that it would do little good with Joshua.  He knew it all.


Joshua kissed her hair.

Joccy began to cry and clung to him.

"I... I... really, really missed you."

"I know.  I was there every moment but I know it's not the same for you."  Joshua gently cupped the girl's chin.  "Jocelyn, listen to me.  I know you've been trying so hard to make it seem like everything's okay because you want your mom to feel good.  But that act... that's what's making you so exhausted, sweetheart.  And we'll talk more about this in the coming days but, right now, let's get you to Dyeland so you can be among your friends and eat lots of cookies and drink lots of cocoa and, most importantly, be exactly who you are.  Because I made you and I happen to think I made someone awfully special and wonderful."

Joccy smiled through her tears and nodded.

"O-okay.  I'd really like that."


With that, Joshua helped the girl out of the car where Emma embraced her and Peter patted her shoulder.

Soon, the car was cleared out and the group made their way to the portal in the blue room.


That evening, many of the Friends went to Beth El for the Shabbat service and took part in the reception afterwards.  They spread around the room, mingling with the congregants they'd gotten to know during previous visits.

"Joshua!" a voice bellowed.

"You don't need to shout at him!" a second, female voice countered.

Standing near Joshua, Samson shook his head and chuckled.

"Ah, Mom and Dad..."

"Good!  I wanted to speak to them."  Joshua smiled and made his way to the elderly couple.

"Moishe!  Betty!  So good to see you!"  He embraced them both.

"I thought surely you had to be here.  The only time dozens of extra people show up for Shabbat is if we have a visiting school or Scouts troop... neither of which Yakov mentioned... or you come.  You always seem to bring a crowd along with you, Joshua."

Joshua could tell that Moishe was trying to puzzle this out.

"Your congregation made the St. Genesius' Theatre group feel so welcome that first time we visited that by now it's tradition for us," he explained. 

"And a wonderful tradition it is!" Betty cheered.  "Now... how long are you and your family staying in town?"

Only a couple yards away, Andrew strained to hear.

"This will be a longer stay than last year," Joshua replied.

"Then we'll have to find a time for dinner!"

Joshua clasped Moishe's hands.

"I'd like that very much.  Actually, I'm going to be working on something that I'd love for you to help me with, Moishe and Betty."

Betty smiled when her husband puffed up with pride.

"Happy to help.  We can go over it at dinner!  Oh...  Betty and I will be leaving tomorrow for a trip to Florida.  We can meet after our return?"

"Definitely!  I'll be looking forward to it."

Betty hugged Joshua.

"So will we.  I wish we could stay longer but I'm afraid we still have packing to do.  Our flight is at 4:45 in the morning!  I hope the weather won't be an issue..."

Joshua patted her back.

"I'm sure it won't be.  You two have a wonderful time!  I'll be in touch when you get back."

Moishe clapped Joshua's shoulder.

"Very good!  Take care, Joshua!"

"You too, Moishe and Betty!" 

Joshua smiled after the couple as they made their way towards the exit, grabbing Samson on their way out.  He would be in charge of driving them to the airport.  The vacation was long overdue and Joshua was glad Betty was finally getting her long-held wish.

Andrew moved to stand beside Joshua.

"I'm glad you're staying longer than last time."

Joshua nodded and turned to peer into the angel's eyes.

"Can I come to your and JenniAnn's room once everyone's settled tonight?" he requested in a whisper.  "I'd like to talk to you both about why I came this time... I mean beyond wanting to celebrate my birthday with all of you."

"Of course," Andrew agreed. 

"Thank you.  Now... I have to go compliment Yakov on that excellent sermon!"  Joshua beamed, patted Andrew's arm, and walked away.

The angel of death stared after his Creator.  The smile was sincere.  There was no questioning that.  Joshua was always sincere.  But there was a sadness in it.


Andrew was kept from further musings when Belle ran at him, wrapping her arms around his knees.

"Hello, little elf!" 

When Andrew had lifted her into his arms, Belle kissed him then grinned.

"Ummy?" she asked.

Andrew chuckled when she gazed over at the array of sweets and punch.


After kissing her again, the angel set his little girl down and they walked hand-in-hand towards the smorgasbord.


"Do you suppose he wants to be in Superstar again?" JenniAnn asked as she and Andrew stood near the balcony window in their room.  It was nearly 11:00 and they were waiting for Joshua to arrive.

Andrew shook his head as he stared out at the gently falling snow.

"I doubt it.  If that was the case, surely he'd ask Emma and Peter, at the very least, to be here, too.  And I don't think he'd do that to Peter.  He's already started making plans.  I could see Joshua stepping in as an understudy sometime but I don't think he'll ever take that back from Peter full-time."

Though pleased for her friend, JenniAnn was also a touch disappointed.

Andrew hugged her.

"But maybe Godspell sometime..." he offered.

Cheered, JenniAnn smiled and kissed his cheek.

"Yeah, maybe."

"And I really do think the understudy thing will happen at some point.  One way or another, Emma and Peter will have kids.  Peter might want some paternity leave.  Joshua would support that.  After all, he gave Monica and me parental leave."

"Yeah, he did."  JenniAnn's eyes misted as she remembered Belle's first days.

Andrew hugged the woman.

They remained in their embrace until a knock on the door sounded.

"Come in!" JenniAnn directed.

Joshua stepped inside and smiled.

"Sorry for the delay.  Beth and Logan finally got a cell signal again and called.  They should be back home shortly after dinnertime tomorrow and said they'll stop by."

"I'm so glad!" JenniAnn replied.  "I had a feeling that camping trip Mick planned was going to run into your visit... and we were all hoping so much that you would visit."

Andrew beamed as JenniAnn and Joshua hugged. 

"We'll all have plenty of time together," Joshua vowed.  He released JenniAnn and waved to the settee.

Andrew and JenniAnn took seats and looked expectantly at Joshua while he pulled a rocking chair in front of them.

"So is this going to be another group assignment?" Andrew asked.

"I really hope so."  Joshua bowed his head and, when he looked up there were tears in his eyes.

"Joshua..." JenniAnn cooed, reaching out for his right hand.  Andrew did the same and took Joshua's left hand in both of his.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners," Joshua recited in a husky tone.  He sucked in a deep breath and managed a smile.  "Andrew, your work in these past months has been tremendously difficult.  I always noticed and I was always proud of the kindness, hope, and compassion you brought to your assignments.  I was prouder still when you found the strength to share your pain and grief with JenniAnn.  That openness and that comfort is the only way you'll be able to continue your dual life: angel of death, father and soul mate."

Andrew nodded as tears rolled down his cheeks.

JenniAnn gasped.

Joshua released her hand only to stroke her hair.

"I mean that I would have to give Andrew another role.  Annunciations or Search and Rescue, maybe.  I would never take him away from you and Belle and the others, dear one," he explained.  "But this is the work he loves."

"I... I do," Andrew asserted.

"I know," JenniAnn whispered, nuzzling his shoulder.

"That's why I wanted to tell you both about this upcoming assignment.  My parents and John know but I'm not telling the others, not until after Christmas.  But first I need your help and any questions, concerns, worries, fears you have... I want you to be able to discuss them together.  And with me, of course.  Understand?" Joshua checked.

Andrew and JenniAnn nodded.

"We won't tell anyone," the angel promised.

"Not til you tell us we can," JenniAnn added.

"Thank you.  Now... you both know that human trafficking is deplorable and leads to much suffering.  It's been with us for too long and despite every attempt to persuade those behind it to see the vileness of their actions... and inactions... and repent, Dad and I have wept as the hideousness continues.  I won't tell you about all the corruption and backstabbing that goes on among traffickers.  What I will tell you is that, early in the new year, the leader of one of the most destructive and violent rings will move to Manhattan."

"You're going to take him down," Andrew guessed, his tone awed.

"I hope so."

"You don't know?" JenniAnn questioned.

Joshua shook his head.

"Defeating that man is only a small part of what I came to do."

"To proclaim freedom for the prisoners..." Andrew echoed.

Joshua nodded.  "I will remain as I am now, as I was during our Superstar run.  Dad will tell me the things I need to know but I won't be able to read minds.  I won't know exactly what's coming.  Those I hope we rescue, they need a friend... someone who, like them, has uncertainties and concerns... more than an omnipotent God they no longer trust and, in some cases, no longer believe in.  More even than that, they need friends.  As many as possible."

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's hand tightly.

"When you say we'd be helping..."

Joshua gave him a reassuring smile.

"You angels will go undercover with me, as needed.  On rare occasion, so will a human or two."

Andrew peered at JenniAnn.

"Not JenniAnn," Joshua immediately clarified.  He took the woman's free hand.  "I have other, equally important, work for you to do.  At this very moment, Reuel, Michael, and others are preparing a safe house in Manhattan.  It will have access to the Tunnels so all of you Friends can come and go as you please without being seen.  My hope is that several of you will stay there with those we rescue.  They'll need gentleness, listening ears, friendly hugs, and, sometimes, simply a meal made with love.  We're talking about men, women, and children who have been torn away from everything that family life has to offer.  Whomever agrees to help will be their family until we can reunite them."

"I... I can't imagine any of us not wanting to help in some way.  And I'd be happy to move there," JenniAnn promised.  "Could Belle..."

"Absolutely.  Belle can definitely be there.  It will truly be a safe house, never without an angel," Joshua answered.  "And I don't intend for anyone to be separated from their own families.  Or their jobs, for that matter.  You can and should continue to teach, JenniAnn.  Monica will continue with the food truck... another vital part of this plan.  Emma and Peter will still lead up efforts at the theatre.  Arthur and Zeke will serve those at True Light, Catherine will be there for those at the Phoenix Inn, and so on."

"I like this plan very much.  And I agree with JenniAnn that I can't imagine any of the Friends resisting the opportunity to help.  But I would like to know... what part will Violeta play?" Andrew queried.  "I assume she's meant to stay in school?"

"Definitely.  Violeta will never go undercover.  I don't want her at those places.  I don't want any of you there, of course, but Violeta...  She's too young," Joshua insisted.

Andrew let out a sigh of relief and smiled.

"Good, thank you."

"You're welcome."  Joshua patted the angel's arm then redirected his attention to JenniAnn.  "She'll probably be like your shadow, JenniAnn.  I'm afraid this is bound to remind her of..."

"Nen and Tzila," JenniAnn finished.

"Exactly.  She'll be clingy."

JenniAnn brushed at a tear and smiled. 

"I can handle clingy Violeta."

"She does it very, very well," Andrew averred, beaming at JenniAnn.

"Yes, JenniAnn does.  You both do a great job with her and all your kids."  Joshua smiled with pride at the two.  "I know that despite the sadness and the horror of what the people we'll be helping have gone through, we'll all have a good time being together and shining light into the darkness.  Nonetheless, I don't want this to cast a shadow over our Christmas together and especially not over Ian's and Joy's baptism and Noah's and Jacob's birthdays."  Joshua smiled as he thought of the little ones.  "The only reason I told you both now is I have another favor to ask."

"Anything," Andrew and JenniAnn said in unison.

"Thank you.  I need some time with Josef.  He's the one with the most experience combating trafficking and we'll need his help.  But... he's not sure what to make of me.  I'm not going to say too much to him about this assignment until he's gotten to know me.  So if you can think of a way to put us together...  Even better if Mick could be there."

The angel of death's face lit up.

"I've already thought of one."

"Me too!"  JenniAnn grinned as she imagined Joshua, Mick, and Josef standing around the pool table the elder vampire had bought for Andrew.

"Good.  Thank you."  Joshua rose and, when they did, too, he hugged Andrew and JenniAnn tightly.  "I'm going to let you get to sleep now.  We have a busy day ahead with two babies to get baptized!  But I mean it.  Talk to me about this if you need to.  And talk to each other."

"We will," the two agreed, laughing as they once again spoke as one.

Joshua kissed them each on their cheeks.

"Good night.  I'll see you in the morning!  Thanks again for letting my parents and me crash here."

Andrew laughed and shook his head.

"You know you'll always have a place here."

"I do.  And it means so much."

JenniAnn gave Joshua one final embrace then watched him go.  When he closed the door behind him, she turned to Andrew.

"So... what do you think?"

"I'm glad you'll be at the safe house."

"Me too.  I'm not stupid.  I know I have absolutely zero training for that sorta undercover stuff.  But you..."

Andrew kissed her hair and circled his arms around her waist.

"I'll have you and Belle and a house filled with friends to come back to."

"I... I don't like the idea of Joshua going to places like that.  It... it would be like if, God forbid, one of our kids got pulled into that a-and you had to go."

Andrew winced.  It was actually worse.  Joshua was father to both those who were being held captive and their captors.

"I know," he murmured.

Quietly, the two got into bed and, as they snuggled together, talked about what they would do to help Joshua when the time came.


Sunday, December 20th

Belle awoke with tears trailing down her cheeks.  She sat up but could barely see anything in the dark room.  Laying back down, she snuggled against her sister and patted her arm.  Shelby, however, remained asleep.

Belle crawled away from her sleeping cousins and Shelby.  She needed a grown-up.  Someone to rock her and sing to her until the bad things left her head.  Bad things like Mama doing nothing while she cried and Daddy yelling at her.  It wasn't like Mama and Daddy but it still hurt. 

Eventually making her way to the couches, Belle stood and stared at her Aunt Rose and Uncle Max.  She thought of waking them up but then a better idea entered her head.  She made a beeline for the door and ambled down the hallway.

"Osua..." she whispered.

Belle pushed open his door and tiptoed towards the bed.

"Osua..." she repeated.

Joshua's eyes shot open and he stared at the child.  Awoken from an unhappy remembrance, it took him a moment to realize where and when he was.

"Belle..." he greeted. 

The little one held her arms up as her lower lip began to tremble and tears pooled in her eyes.

"Oh, sweet girl..." Joshua cooed as he scooped her up.  "What's wrong, Belle?"

"Mama... Daddy...  No cay-ee."

"I'm so sorry.  Sounds like you were having a nightmare, too, huh?"

Belle nodded.

"How about we rock for a little while?"

With a smile, Belle again nodded and looped her arms around Joshua's neck.

Cradling the toddler with one arm, Joshua used the other to grab his fleece blanket and another for Belle.  Once settled into a rocking chair, Joshua tucked the fleece blanket around himself and swaddled Belle.

"Warm enough?"


"Good.  What should we sing?"

Belle replied with a string of gibberish.

"'Away in a Manger' it is then.'"

As Joshua sang, Belle cooed along.

"'Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.  The stars in the sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.'"

As the song continued, Belle's eye lids began to droop and soon she was asleep.

Joshua considered returning her to the rec room.  He didn't want Max or Rose or any of the other kids to worry.  But then they'd probably assume Belle was with him or his parents.  The staircase was blocked by a gate and the elevator now required a code for use.  There was really no where else for Belle to go.

Content with his decision, Joshua shifted slightly so he was more comfortable.  He smiled tenderly at the baby in his arms, grateful that she and her family would be with him in the months ahead.  They would be the chicks he would gather under his wings as he wept for the ones in rundown motels and seedy alleys... the ones he would never give up on.

After talking silently to his Father, Joshua stroked Belle's curls, whispered 'I love you' to her, and joined her in sleep.


Joshua awoke to someone brushing hair from his forehead.  When he opened his eyes, he found his parents staring at him with evident concern.

"My own, are you unwell?" Maryam asked.

"Perhaps let me take Belle?" Yosef offered.

Joshua smiled down at the still sleeping toddler and shook his head. 

"I'm fine.  What time is it?"

"A quarter after 9:00, son," Yosef answered.

Joshua jolted.

"Whoa.  We better get up.  I didn't mean to sleep in so late!  And this little one usually doesn't."  Joshua kissed Belle's forehead then began to rouse her. 

Maryam beamed at the two.

"It seems Belle was very content and as for you, my own, it was quite late before you finally went to sleep."

Joshua followed his mother's gaze to the desk where he'd taken down several notes about the assignment to come.

"It was," he admitted.  "Are Andrew and JenniAnn..."

"Max found you two just after 7:00 and told Andrew and JenniAnn.  It caused no one any worry," Yosef assured.  "We would have left you longer but..."

"Mass and the baptism!" Joshua cheered, grinning at Belle who was blinking awake.  "Sweet Belle, we need to get ready for Ian's and Joy's baptism."

In a flash, Belle was wide awake and sliding off Joshua's lap.


Maryam hurried after her as she ran into the hall.

Joshua chuckled, stood, and stretched as Yosef moved to close the door.

"Perhaps for the best that these not be seen by any visitors to your room?" the carpenter asked as he began to sweep Joshua's notes into a pile.

"Yeah, thanks."  Joshua took the pieces of loose leaf and put them in a drawer. 

"Andrew and JenniAnn mentioned that you had told them about what is coming," Yosef informed.

"How did they seem talking about it, Abi?"

"They seemed concerned for you."

Yosef hugged Joshua.

"Ama and I are concerned, too."

Joshua patted the man's back and kissed his cheek.

"Thank you.  That means a lot to me... from all of you.  But I'll be fine.  And today's going to be a good day... a great day."  Joshua moved to his closet and pulled out a shirt and tie.  "The sort of day that I'll actually wear a tie for."

Yosef laughed.

"I will see who I can find to tie that for you."

"I think maybe I can this time," Joshua ventured.

"I will see who I can find," Yosef restated with a grin.

Joshua's good-natured laughter followed the man as he left the room.


Following Mass at St. Mary Magdalene's, the Friends returned to Dyeland where Ian and Joy were christened in the chapel.  As with Belle's baptism, Joshua and his family were active participants in the ceremony.  It was an eye-opening experience for Kemara's parents when Joshua, not Kemara and Sean, held the babies as Fr. Mike and John poured the water over their foreheads.  When Kemara rested her cheek against Joshua's shoulder as the priest recited "And of the Son," David and Joyce Meeks truly realized exactly Who was cuddling their grandchildren.  The couple remained in a daze as the celebratory lunch commenced in the Willowveil ballroom.

After Kemara and Sean led grace, they were immediately set upon by Lily and Zane.

"Can I hold Joy after Ivy?" the girl requested.

"And can I hold Ian?" the boy echoed.

Sean grinned.

"I'm gonna go get us food and will leave this for you to figure out," he informed Kemara before making a beeline for the table.

Kemara smirked before turning her gaze to where her parents sat on a settee, staring at nothing in particular.  She glanced down at Ian who was content in her arms.  She felt torn between granting the children's request, which would require supervision, and going to speak to her parents.  Her mind was made up when she saw Maryam and Yosef approach David and Joyce.

"I think that'd be just fine.  But I'll just need a minute to..."

Kemara was interrupted when Azalea, Basil, Eric, and Neela came to see what their children were up to.

"Are they asking you about holding the babies?" the latter checked.

Kemara laughed and nodded.

"I don't mind at all and I'm sure Ivy would like to grab some lunch.  Maybe if we get the kids settled on those two couches in the corner?"

Lily and Zane erupted in cheers and raced to the couches.  Soon they were seated, sandwiched between their parents.

Kemara settled Ian into Zane's arms then patted Lily's hair.

"I'll go get Joy then I'll be right back, okay?"


Kemara crossed over to where Ivy was swaying with Joy as Sy looked on with ill-concealed admiration.

Ivy grinned at Kemara.

"Let me guess... Lily wants to steal Joy away from me?"

With a laugh, Kemara nodded.

"She does."

"Okay... but only because Lily's such a sweetheart herself."

Ivy kissed Joy's forehead before transferring her to her mother.

"See you later, Joy!  Have fun with Miss Lily!"

"I'm sure she will.  Thanks, Ivy."

Kemara smiled when, out of the corner of her eye as she walked away, she saw Ivy and Sy exchange a quick kiss.

"Joy!" Lily greeted when she saw them.  She hurriedly smoothed her skirt and held her arms in the way her mother had demonstrated.

"Perfect!  You've got her head supported so well, Lily!  And you, too, with Ian, Zane," Kemara complimented.

"Joy's so cute!" Lily gushed as she gazed down at the baby in her pristine, white gown. 

"She sure is," Basil agreed as he tweaked his goddaughter's toes.

"Did I have a dress like this?"

"You sure did," Azalea responded.  "I'll show it to you when we get home."


Afraid of offending Ian, Lily looked over to the other couch.

"Ian's cute, too!" she called.

"Thank you, Lily.  You're awfully cute, too," Kemara replied as she stroked the girl's hair.

"Did I have a little suit like this?" Zane asked his mother, not taking his eyes off Ian.

"Not exactly.  You were baptized in... well, you had a gown.  Not quite as fancy as Joy's."

"I had a dress!" the little boy exclaimed, his nose wrinkled.

Eric chuckled. 

"Don't worry, Zany.  So did I.  It's pretty common."

"It is," Basil assured.  "I had one, too.  It's was my dad's."

"Well, if I have a brother... he's getting a suit," Zane insisted.

Eric shot Neela a look.

"Whoa there.  Let's not put the cart before the horse, buddy!"


"Never mind."

"See what you have to look forward to," Neela teased as Kemara struggled to keep from bursting into laughter at Zane's continued dismay over his "dress."

Sean returned, carrying a plate of food for himself and his wife.  Joshua followed with their drinks. 

"And there's our brave Joy and Ian!" Joshua exclaimed.

"They were little troopers!" their proud papa gushed.  "Not a peep out of either one while Fr. Mike and John were pouring the water."

"I was worried, though.  Ian's face was getting awfully scrunchy."

Joshua laughed when Kemara did an impression.

"No one would have cared even if they had cried.  I probably would have had I been baptized as a baby.  I was definitely a crier."

"Really?" Zane asked with surprise.

"Really!" Yosef shouted from where he and Maryam were trying to talk with the Meekses.

The exclamation seemed to break some of the tension that David and Joyce felt.  They laughed along with Maryam and Yosef.  Joshua saw it as a perfect opening.

"Well, I think I'm going to go visit with Joyce and David now but you all enjoy.  I highly recommend... well, everything."  Joshua smiled then bent to whisper in Kemara's ear.  "When Zane gets hungry, I happen to know that Ian's godparents are anxiously awaiting a chance to hold him."

"Okay, thanks!  And thanks for..."  Kemara tilted her head towards her parents.

Joshua squeezed her shoulders.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you... it's my pleasure."

Kemara giggled as Joshua walked away.  He detoured to grab a plate of cookies which he brought to his parents and hers.

"So what do you fellows have planned for during our crafting session later?" Azalea asked.

Eric perked up.

"Crafting?  I thought it was baking?"

"Maybe it is... maybe it isn't," Neela teased.

Sean laughed.

"Relax, Eric.  It's not like we'll be in want of sweets, anyway."


"Anyway, we're going to the St. Mary Mag's community center to play poker and Bingo."

"Seriously?" Azalea checked, glancing over at Joshua and Yosef.  It seemed strange for them to be gambling...  And John, too.

"With candy," Sean finished.  "We're actually not sure about Joshua playing poker... I mean he'd know everyone's tells, right?  Might not be much fun for him.  So that's why we're doing Bingo, too.  It's random."

"And the best part is Fr. Mike can lock it down so Vincent can come without any danger."

"Good!" Kemara exclaimed.  "Because he definitely can't be here.  All his little grandkids want to surprise him with their gifts."

Ian began to fuss.

"You know, it's probably time for his bottle," Sean realized.

"And you should probably get some lunch yourself, Zany," Neela reminded.


Zane reluctantly handed the baby over to Kemara.  His disappointment was short-lived, however, when his father reminded him of all the goodies that awaited them.

"Sean, Joshua told me that Monica and Arthur were waiting to hold Ian.  I'm sure they'd be happy to feed him," Kemara suggested.

Sean looked across the room to where the two were watching Liam and some of the other children dance around near the CD player.

"Good idea.  I'll fix up the bottle and grab them on my way back."

Azalea smiled sympathetically at Kemara.

"I promise the days of uninterrupted meals... and sleep... do return."

"Good to know!" Kemara replied with a chuckle.  "It does help to know that we have so many babysitters waiting in the wings... but it's also hard to be away from them.  Even for a night."  She gently stroked Ian's hair.

"Yeah.  That is hard.  I think we actually slept worse the first night Lily stayed at her grandparents'," Basil recalled.

"So I've heard!  And JenniAnn reminded me that she only finally let Belle go away for a night when it was Joshua who was watching her."

"Is Santa going to come to one of our parties again?" Lily asked as she came out of a reverie.

Azalea snuck a quick glance to where Adam, Kylie, Clay, and Caleb were enjoying their lunch.  She turned to Kemara who gave a quick nod.

"Sure is!" Azalea affirmed.

"Yay!  Joy and Ian can meet Santa!  And Mrs. Santa?"

"And Mrs. Santa."

"Will Joy and Ian get lots of presents?"

Kemara gently tugged Lily's pigtail and smiled.

"Joy and Ian will get plenty of presents."

"Good!  We gonna make Daddy's present soon?"

Azalea nodded.  "After lunch."

Lily bent down and began whispering secrets to Joy.

Azalea and Kemara exchanged smiles before Sean, Arthur, and Monica joined them.

"So which one of you would like to feed Ian?" Kemara asked.

Monica was smiling giddily so Arthur nudged her forward.

"Monica can do the honors."

The angel happily took her godson into her arms before settling onto the couch the Hansoms had abandoned.

"Oh, yes.  You've been so patient, haven't you?  Such a good little fellow," Monica cooed, not taking her eyes off Ian as she took the bottle from Sean.

Monica's enchantment continued as Ian greedily sucked down his milk.

"And how's Mr. Liam today?" Sean asked.  "I didn't get much of a chance to talk to him.  By the time we got here, he was out walking Conan."

Arthur laughed.  "I think it's more accurate to say Conan was walking him.  He gets so excited that you really have to hustle to keep up with him."

"The pet population really has grown!" Basil noted.  "Lily's spending the night tonight so we went to go check out the room.  I think I counted five dogs and three cats?"

"Let's see.  Fawn, Lulu, Conan, Pilot... was Leo up there?  The fifth must have been Ivy's Leo."

"There are actually six roaming around today.  Tess brought Widget so he's around somewhere," Monica explained.  "Unless he decided enough was enough and went Home.  He's pretty friendly, though, so I doubt that.  Conan, our lovable lummox, was probably blocking him.  And then Rose's Theo, Joccy's and Zoe's Peri, and the Al-Mitras' Seuss."

"Four now.  We brought Warren and, actually, I'm pretty sure Henry brought Lloyd.  So five cats.  And that's just the house pets."  Kemara smiled at the twins.  "If the studies are right, Joy and Ian stand a good chance of not having allergies with all these pets around!"

"Here's hoping!"  Sean took a bite of his sandwich then nearly choked.  He recovered after swallowing some ginger ale. 

Kemara looked to where he was pointing and saw what was making him laugh.

Liam was dancing with their niece, Kelly, but Belle had pushed herself between the two and had her arms linked around the boy's middle.

Arthur grinned and shook his head as Andrew tried to extricate his daughter.

"We're not sure what to do with those two.  Sometimes they get awfully possessive of each other."

"Well, they were the only little ones in Dyeland for a while," Monica reasoned.  "But not any more."  She beamed down at Ian and then at Joy.

Azalea winced as she continued to study the scene. 

"Someone's not happy!"

Everyone tried to suppress their laughter when they saw Belle, beautifully dressed, sprawled on the floor with her legs and arms flailing.

"Oh to be so young that you feel absolutely no guilt for throwing a tantrum as the Creator of the Universe stands ten feet away," Sean joked.

With that, everyone glanced at Joshua who briefly looked over at Andrew and the kids, chuckled, and turned back to David and Joyce.

"Ha!  He's enjoying it," Basil pointed out.  "I imagine it's a little like the amusement your parents get when they see you struggling with your kid's antics just like they struggled with yours."

"I'm sure it is!" Kemara agreed.  "But looks like they're out of the woods.  Daddy to the rescue."

While Lily and Monica remained focused on the babies, the others watched as Andrew danced with Belle which calmed her.

Azalea smiled when a sound pulled her attention back to her daughter.

"Sweetie, was that your tummy growling?"

Lily shrugged.

"I think it was...  How about we let Arthur have a turn holding Joy and we'll go eat?"


Azalea took the baby from Lily and placed her in Arthur's arms.

"We'll be with them all day, Lily," Azalea reminded.

Appeased, Lily kissed the babies' foreheads and let herself be led away by her parents.

"So sweet," Arthur observed.

Kemara's eyes misted.

"Very.  I'm so glad we have them in our lives.  All of you, of course."

"But I imagine it's especially helpful to have someone who walked a very similar path," Monica offered.

"It really is," Sean affirmed.  "And not to change the subject but has anyone noticed how evasive Joshua is when you ask him how long he plans to stick around?"

"Yes," the other three adults answered in unison.

"Father-Jacob told me that Maryam said they were staying well into the new year," Arthur relayed.

Kemara nodded.  "And Emma said something like that, too."

"You don't suppose he's doing the show again, do you?" Monica asked.

Arthur shook his head.

"I don't think so.  He did that to reach us all.  Who else is left to reach that would be in the cast?  And the audiences are always moved by Peter's portrayal.  Joshua knows that."

"He does," Monica agreed. 

For a while, the group grew silent, focused on the babies and Joshua's unknown plan.


"Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Merry Christmas!" a festively dressed man ringing a bell shouted.

Another man whose clothes were well-worn and muted in tone, smiled with amusement as he placed a $5 bill into the kettle.

"Thank you, sir!"

"Name's Nick.  And you're most welcome."

"Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Merry Christmas, Nick," the bill ringer replied with a smile and wave.

"Merry Christmas, Tate."

The bell stopped ringing for a few moments as Tate stared in confusion at the retreating figure.  Finally, he shrugged and resumed ringing his bell.

Nick chuckled as he turned a corner.  He loved surprising people like that and often had to restrain himself.

Few people on the bustling Manhattan sidewalks paid any attention to Nick.  Stocky with weathered, olive skin and a salt and pepper beard, Nick occasionally captured the imagination of a child but that was all.  He blended in well with the city's many inhabitants and Nick liked it that way. 

Finally arriving at an apartment building that had seen better days, Nick paused before entering and whispered a prayer.

"Please, Lord, let this be the day."

Stepping inside, Nick was immediately met by the stench of urine, vomit, and marijuana.  Holding his breath, he soldiered on towards the stairwell.  Finding someone passed out there, Nick tucked a flyer for a free meal at the Bread of Life food truck into their pocket before continuing up the stairs. 

When he arrived at Apartment 125, Nick's stomach flip-flopped.  There was a man slumped against the wall outside, fixated on the cell phone in his hands.

"Who are you?" the man demanded when he noticed Nick.

"Nick.  I've come to watch the children."

"Oldest girl's twelve.  They don't need a babysitter."

"Twelve is still a child.  They do need a babysitter," Nick persisted.

The man jumped to his feet. 

"Don't you take a tone with me, old man!"

Unafraid, Nick tried to step around the man but was blocked.

"That wasn't a tone.  Trust me.  You'll know when I use a tone.  Now let me inside, please."

The man moved so he was nearly nose to nose with Nick.

"What sort of old man spends his time babysitting children?  You some kind of sicko?"

Anger flickered in Nick's eyes.

"There's one sicko in this hallway but it's not me," he hissed.

Enraged, the man shouted obscenities and punched Nick square in the nose.

Before he could take another swing, Nick formed a fist and responded in kind. 

Dizzy, the man staggered backwards then fell to the ground.

Nick knelt beside the unconscious man and whispered.

"You'll have a rotten headache for a day or two.  I'd suggest taking it easy... and spending your time reflecting on what's brought you to this sorry, selfish state.  Learn your lesson now or the way will only become more difficult.  Take care, Drake.  I'll be praying for you."

Nick rose and knocked on the apartment door.

The woman who answered gaped in horror.

"Nick!  Your nose!  It's bleed..."  She halted when she saw Drake on the ground.

"We had a disagreement," Nick explained.  "And don't worry about my nose, Thandie.  It's not broken.  Well... it is broken but that happened years ago.  This was no more than a bump.  But if I could have a tissue before the children see..."

Thandie immediately handed one over.

"Who... who threw the first punch?"

Nick merely looked at her.

"Of course..."

Nick noticed the two younger girls peeking around the corner of a half wall.  He lowered his voice.

"Thandie, you know this isn't the first time he's become violent."

Thandie bowed her head, remembering two weeks prior when she hadn't brought in enough money and Drake had beat her.

Nick clasped the woman's hands.

"I know a place.  A safe place...  He could never find you.  Thandie, please...  If not for yourself then for the children."

Thandie thought of her three daughters: Anika, Nya, and Zizi.  She thought, too, of how Drake looked at Anika, the eldest.  She had to do something.

Zizi toddled forward and hugged Nick's leg.  The man smiled and balanced the toddler on his hip.

Thandie brushed at a tear.  In the month since she'd met Nick, he'd brought up this safe place numerous times.  But always her pride and distrust had kept her from accepting his offer of protection.  No more.

"Yes...  We will go," she greed.

Nick silently said a prayer of thanksgiving and hugged the woman to him.

"I'm so glad!  You won't regret this, Thandie.  Now... let's get your and the girls' things together and go before Drake comes to."  He kissed Zizi's braids.  "Zizi, we're going on an adventure!"


Under Thandie's direction, Nick and the three girls helped pack up the apartment and soon the five were on the run.


It was quite dark by the time Nick led Thandie and the girls up to a large building.  Their travel had taken longer than it should have since they'd had to take care to avoid anywhere that Drake's cohorts might see them.  The girls had done their best to stay strong but Zizi was asleep in her mother's arms and five-year-old Nya was being carried on Nick's back.

Nick hit a buzzer and waited.

"Name please."

"It's Nick, Reuel.  I come with four guests."

"Very good!  You may enter now."

After some metallic noises there was a click and Nick opened the door.

"In we go," he directed.

Somewhat anxiously, Thandie and Anika stepped inside.  They were immediately greeted by enticing scents.

"Ah, seems we're just in time for dinner."  Nick smiled, set Nya down, and waved to a bench just inside the door.  "Let's leave your things there... they'll be safe.  We'll get you settled after we get some food in our bellies."

Across the expansive entryway, two figures stood.  They approached when Nick waved them forward.

"Thandie, these are my friends, Reuel and Eleora.  Reuel and Eleora, this is Thandie, Anika, Nya, and Zizi."

"Welcome!  I'm so glad you came when you did!  My husband, Cody, way overdid it on the lasagna," Eleora greeted.  She smiled at Nya.  "Oh, what a cute doll!  What's her name?"


"Well, Lizzie's very welcome, too.  Come on and we'll introduce you to everyone.  Sorry for the mess.  We're still doing some remodeling."

Thandie shook her head, amazed at how clean the place was.

"It... it's beautiful."

Holding hands, the girls and their mother followed their hosts through a maze of hallways until they finally came to a large room with a fireplace and a table laden with food.  They all, even Nick, stared in awe.

A woman rose from the table and hurried over to embrace Nick.

"We were hoping this would be the day," she whispered.  "So we couldn't contain ourselves."

"It's lovely.  Thank you, Zaila."

Nick ushered Thandie and her daughters to the table.  Still in a daze, they all took seats with Zizi remaining on her mother's lap.

"Perhaps grace and then introductions?" Reuel suggested.

"You'll lead?" Nick encouraged.

Reuel nodded and, once everyone had bowed their heads, he prayed.

"Dear Lord, thank You for this incredible bounty of food.  Even more, we thank You for the presence of our guests.  May they come to love this place as much as we've loved transforming it into a sanctuary filled with grace and hope and freedom.  Amen."

"Amen," the others echoed.

As the lasagna, salad, and breadsticks were passed around, Nick continued his introductions.

"Everybody, this is Thandie and her daughters: Anika who is twelve, Nya who is five, and Zizi who is one and a half.  They've been my good friends during this past month.  Ladies, these are my longtime friends." 

The others waved and smiled as Nick introduced them.

"You've met Reuel and that's Zaila.  Then there's Freya and Michael.  Elazer... Elazer, what are you doing?"

"How does this thing work?  I thought music would be nice."

"I'll help."

Nick chuckled.  "That's Azrael going to help Elazer with the CD player.  And then you've met one of my newer friends, Eleora, and beside her is Cody, her husband and our chef."

Cody smiled warmly.  "So happy to have you!  Nick's something else, isn't he?"

Thandie spoke through the lump in her throat.

"He... he is truly a lifesaver.  I... I thank God for him."

Nick squeezed Thandie's hand before helping Nya to cut up her lasagna.

"If only they knew..." Eleora whispered to Cody as they studied the man.

Across the table from one another, Reuel and Nick exchanged a meaningful glance.  Now their assignment had truly begun.


"Lord, is something wrong?"

Joshua startled back to attention and smiled at Zeke who was seated across the table from him.

"No.  Not at all.  I just heard from Dad but it was good news.  Very good news."

"Well, good.  Seems your Abi's pretty much wiped everyone out of their candy.  It's a good thing he enjoys sharing.  I think it's time we switch to Bingo now but I promised the ladies we'd get photos of you, Yosef, and John in all your poker-playing glory so..."

Joshua chuckled.  "Sure.  We'll happily pose for photos."  He grabbed some cards for props and joined his father and cousin.

"All right... now you tell me how a saint learns to play poker so well?" Rabbi Yakov prodded.

Yosef grinned. 

"Sometimes people play for church fundraisers.  I go... as a good patron should... I observe, I learn."

John laughed as the carpenter popped a Tootsie Roll into his mouth.

Joshua squeezed his shoulders.

"Well done, Abi!  What did you win?"

"Diabetes were I still mortal.  Please, everyone, take what you want.  Or for the kids.  Even if I wished to, Maryam would never let me keep all of this."

"I don't know...  You don't want to try to melt the Starbursts into pancakes, Yosef?" Peter teased.

The saint wrinkled his nose.

"Let us not ruin a beautiful thing like pancakes."

"Agreed.  Your prize, Yosef."  Andrew set a poker visor on the man's head.

Fr. Mike burst out laughing.

"It's just not something you expect to see..." he remarked.

John took a lollipop out of his mouth and smiled.

"Imagine that look on a holy card, huh?"

Joshua chuckled and shook his head.

"St. Joseph of the Straight Flush," he kidded.  "C'mon, let's get some photos.  And not just us three.  We need photos of everyone.  I'm sure JenniAnn or one of the ladies will end up scrapbooking all of this."

The men took turns with the cameras, ensuring that everyone ended up in at least a few shots.  Once they were finished, Owen and Adam handed out Bingo cards.

"Okay, so just so everyone knows...  Joshua has never seen these Bingo cards.  Adam and I printed them up this morning," Owen informed.  "I'll be calling the numbers and Adam will verify wins and we'll hand out prizes.  The possibilities for wins are horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and four corners plus the center.  Got it?"

The men all shouted assent.

"Good.  So here goes...  B10."

After Owen called out several more number and letter pairs, a hand shot up.

"Bingo," Joshua called.

Adam smirked and went over to verify.

"We have a winner, Owen."

"And we have just the prize for him," Owen replied, bypassing the actual prize table and bringing Joshua a wrapped package.

"I don't know...  This seems just a little bit fixed," Joshua commented.

"Just open the present," Adam directed.

Joshua tore away the paper to reveal a green and red striped sweater.

"Oh my..."

"It gets better," Shane informed, revealing that everyone had been in on the fixed game.

Joshua unfolded the sweater and began to laugh when he saw the front.  It was obviously Adam's handiwork.  In glittering gold yarn, the words "Birthday Boy" were emblazoned above the image of a yarn Joshua wearing a Santa hat.

"It looks even better... or worse... than I imagined!" Edward praised.  "Good job, Adam!"

Joshua got to laughing so hard that he rested his head on the table.

"Yeshua, as your father, I am ordering you to put that sweater on now," Yosef intoned in as serious a voice as he could muster given his own mirth.

Joshua nodded and marched himself off to the restroom.  When he returned, the room erupted.

"Photo... need to send photo to girls..." Sean choked out.

Andrew grabbed his phone and snapped a photo of Joshua beaming, chest puffed out to show off his prize.

"Now a group shot!"

With Joshua in the center, his arms regally outstretched, the other guys gathered around while Andrew took another photo.

"Now switch out with me so you can be in one, too, Andrew," Jeff offered.

Once they'd taken a photo with Andrew, the angel of death reclaimed the phone and started to send JenniAnn a text beginning with "So Joshua won a Bingo prize..."


JenniAnn felt her cell phone vibrate against her hip.

"Ooh, I bet that's Daddy," she said to Belle who was loading up a keepsake box with treats for her father.


JenniAnn checked her message.

"I think the guys are up to something," she announced.

The women, who were also helping kids load up treat boxes, all paused.

"'So Joshua won a Bingo prize and this happened...'" she read as the photo downloaded.  She began to giggle when the image appeared.  "Maryam, you gotta see this."

Maryam, with Omar on her hip, approached and peered over JenniAnn's shoulder.  Her face lit up and she, too, laughed.

"It is certainly... festive."

"What say?" Omar asked, smiling at the image of Joshua, Yosef, John and his father, grandpa, and uncles.

"It says 'Birthday Boy,'" Maryam explained.  "And see Yeshu wearing the Santa hat?"

Omar giggled and nodded.

"I can tell Yeshu loves it.  Adam's work, yes?"

"Oh, I'm sure," JenniAnn agreed, passing the phone to Rose who let out a gleeful snicker.

As the phone made the rounds, each of the women laughed. 

"He is so... pleasant," Isra remarked as she returned the phone to JenniAnn.  She blushed when she saw Maryam was right there.  "Not that he shouldn't be but..."

Maryam set Omar down and hugged his mother.

"I understand, Isra."

Kemara patted her on the shoulder.

"Trust me, Joshua had to deal with a lot of us having baggage and expecting him to be stern and angry."

"Or wanting us to put up with being hurt because it was the 'Christian' way to forgive and forgive and forgive."  Kylie shook her head.  "Not that forgiveness isn't good or important.  It is.  But so is loving yourself.  Joshua helped me see that."

"Some of us... or maybe just me... thought he wouldn't want to have anything to do with us," Emma added. 

"I thought that way for a while, too," Joccy agreed, her voice barely audible as tears threatened.  "But I wasn't right at all."

Emma hugged the girl to her.

Isra softly patted the teenager's hair.

"My mor... my mother loved Allah very much and she always told me that He loved me.  My father was not quite as devout but he instilled that belief in me, too.  So, as a child, I never worried.  My mother's faith wouldn't let me."

JenniAnn linked her arm around Isra as she began to weep.

From across the room, Violeta noticed that something was happening and approached.

Isra sighed as she caught sight of herself in a mirror.

"I wish you all could have met my mother," Isra continued.  She beamed at her friends.  "She would have loved all of you.  She... she's the real reason I still wear my hijab.  I know I don't have to.  I know Joshua doesn't require it.  But... I feel like I look more like my mor when I wear it and... and when I catch a glimpse of myself, it's like seeing her.  I don't have a photo so..."

"Oh, Isra..." Violeta cooed as she joined JenniAnn in embracing the woman. 

Once they'd released her, Maryam took Isra's hands in hers.

"Sweet girl," she began, "I have met your mor and she is so very proud of you and your beautiful family.  And since I have met her, I think I can say that it is as if your friends here have, too.  Through you...  You are, truly, so like her, Isra."

"Th-thank you..."

"You are so very welcome."

"Does... does she know about the baby?"

Overhearing, Violeta let out a chirp.

"Oops..." Isra whispered. 

Maryam laughed.  "She does know about your baby and is very happy.  And I think perhaps..."  She tilted her head towards Violeta who had started bouncing.

JenniAnn tried to tame Violeta as Kemara, Emma, Joccy, and Kylie giggled.

"I had better tell the others?" Isra checked.

Maryam nodded.

"Wait until Behnam is here... and after you have told Aiyla and Omar, of course, but for Violeta's sake..."

"Soon," Isra concluded.

"Good.  Could someone please watch Belle while Violeta and I go for a walk?" JenniAnn requested.

"Of course," Kylie agreed with a laugh as JenniAnn took Violeta's hand and led her towards the door.

The few who had overheard hugged Isra and congratulated her.  Then, since JenniAnn had left her phone, they resumed admiring the amusing photos of their Birthday Boy.


Shortly after 9:00, the front doors to Willowveil flew open.  Joshua stepped out of the ballroom where he'd been helping to set things up for breakfast the next morning.


Joshua held his arms open as Beth and Logan ran at him.  It was a struggle to stay on his feet once the vampire made contact but he managed.

"Happy to see me, I guess," he teased.

Beth cupped his face and nodded.

"Mick and his ill-timed camping obsession!  I swear... he decides that we need a vacation at the most inconvenient times!"

"But did you enjoy yourselves?"

Blushing, Beth nodded.

"I caught a bunch of fish!" Logan announced.  "But I let them all go because, well, Beth didn't want them and they would be wasted on Mick and me."

"I'm sure the fish appreciate that.  How is Mick?"

"Zonked," Beth reported.  "It was really getting to be a strain on him going for so long without his freezer."

Logan shrugged.

"I was fine.  Must just be because he's older."

Beth laughed. 

"I guess that's what I get for marrying an octogenarian... in bed by 9:00.  Not very impressive for a vampire."

Joshua smiled and waved them into the ballroom.

"Beth, help yourself to some cookies and cocoa.  Logan, wine?  You can have some too, of course, Beth but..."

"But you know how I love my chocolate," Belle replied.  She hugged Joshua again.  "I really am so glad you're here.  I missed you.  Well... you know."

"I do."  Joshua kissed her temple then walked with Logan to the kitchen.

"I'm sorry we couldn't be here when you arrived but... I think Mick and Beth needed the vacation," Logan confided once they were alone.  "I also think I probably shouldn't have been invited..."

"Why do you say that?"

Logan shrugged.

"I guess I sometimes feel like I'm an ice-breaker.  Or a distraction.  Josef's gone so much and Mick doesn't have anyone to talk to about... well, he knows Beth's changed and I don't think he knows what to make of that.  She's tried to get him to come to Bible study.  I mean... he's Catholic.  Oh, sure, not a practicing one but he believes.  Anyway, I feel like he talks to me about stuff he should be talking to Beth about.  Like 'What are the Bible studies like?'  'What do you think Beth gets out of them?'"

Joshua handed over a cup of wine, poured into Logan's preferred Star Wars mug, and patted him on the back.

"As it happens... I've asked Andrew and JenniAnn to try to, quietly, arrange some alone time with Josef, Mick, and me.  Josef's still coming for Christmas, isn't he?  Before I left Home, it seemed like he was starting to second guess..."

After taking a sip, Logan readily nodded.

"He is.  Beth laid down the law.  She's making him stay through New Year's Day at least."

Joshua chuckled. 

"Well, good.  So maybe Mick can spend some time with Josef and me then.  Maybe if the two are just around me more..."

Logan set down his cup and bear hugged Joshua.

"That would be great!"

"Glad you think so.  Now when's Josef getting back in town?"

"The morning of the 23rd."

"We have a show that night and we'll have to celebrate Noah's birthday but other than that... I'm free.  I'll see what I can do."

"Awesome sauce!"

Joshua laughed.

"Glad you think so."

Beaming, Logan followed Joshua back to the ballroom where he spent the rest of the evening trailing him like a puppy dog.


Monday, December 21st

After sharing breakfast with much of the group, Joshua joined Kemara and Sean in the parlor where Ian and Joy were being nursed.

"Hungry this morning?" Joshua asked.

Kemara patted the two babies who were lying on her chest.

"As always!"

"Well, Ama's very impressed.  She doesn't think she could have handled nursing two babies at once."

"I'm sure she would have if she'd had to," Kemara replied.

Sean tilted his head.

"How would that have worked, though?  Would the other baby have been divine?"

Joshua chuckled.  "I suppose.  And then Christians would worship the... Holy Quartet?"

Sean slammed his hands over his eyes.

"Stop.  Now I'm envisioning two yous, an old bearded man, and a wisp dressed up as a barbershop quartet.  Striped suits, straw hats..."

With a grin, Joshua shook his head.

"Rest assured, I will never be a twin.  Although a twin is a wonderful thing to be."  He smiled tenderly at the babies.

"Before you came in, Kemara and I were talking about last Christmas... and what you said," Sean relayed.  "'Whether or not your first married Christmas is how you're picturing it, I know it's gonna be beautiful and filled with joy!'"

Joshua beamed.  "I tried really, really hard to think of a way to get Ian's name in there but it's much trickier than Joy."

Though she couldn't move very easily. Kemara reached out for Joshua's hand.  He took hers and gave it an affectionate squeeze.

"They definitely are beautiful... a-and both sources of joy."

Sean smiled proudly at his family before turning to Joshua.

"All in all... it's been a good year.  Stressful at times... scary at times... but wonderful and amazing more often."

"And we're definitely ending it on an up note!" Kemara gushed.  "You and your family are here!  Joy and Ian are baptized!  Isra's pregnant!"

"It's hard to believe that just about six months ago, everyone was so worried about JenniAnn... and then Andrew...  Hey, where are they, anyway?  I just realized I didn't see them at breakfast."

Joshua looked out the window where a gentle snow was beginning to fall.

"They went for a ride with Belle.  She's still having those nightmares... that's why she ended up in my room the night before last."

"Poor little elf," Kemara murmured.

Joshua gave her an encouraging smile.

"So Andrew, JenniAnn, and I decided that the best way to conquer the nightmare is in a waking dream."

The carpenter withdrew JenniAnn's phone from his pocket and held it out for Kemara and Sean to see.

"Oh...  They look like they could be in a catalog!" Kemara gushed.

Sean smiled as he flicked through the images of Belle and JenniAnn, in matching cloaks, astride Yonah who was being led by Andrew.

"Where are they going?" he asked.

"To the Mystical Mountains.  They'll be back in plenty of time for lunch and then the parties at True Light and the Phoenix."

Kemara sighed happily as Sean scrolled through the photos for them.

"I'm glad for them."

Kemara stroked Joy's and Ian's hair and prayed that her goddaughter would be freed from her nightmares.


Andrew smiled as he continued to lead Yonah to the nearest cabin.  The jingle bell collar that Randall and Dot had gifted the donkey with made a truly merry sound.  Belle apparently agreed and sang along with a nonsensical tune.  The angel of death looked back to see JenniAnn beaming as she held Belle and nuzzled her curls.

"Bay-bee, bay-bee, Osua... Osua...  Dah, dah, dah.  Ooh..."

Belle giggled as a gust of wind sent snowflakes flying towards them.

JenniAnn let out a contented sigh.  Joshua had given them perfect weather for a winter ride.  Just barely cold enough for snow, the sun shining...

Yonah brayed his happiness.

Andrew pointed. 

"All right.  There's the spot just up ahead."

After a few more feet, the angel halted with Yonah following suit. 

Andrew reached up for Belle who giggled as he lifted her down.

"Okay, now you stay right there while I get Mama."


Belle beamed as her Daddy lifted her Mama from the donkey.

"Thank you," JenniAnn murmured.  She stroked his cheek.

"My pleasure," Andrew huskily replied before setting her down.

While JenniAnn fed Yonah an apple and spread out thick blankets and snacks, Andrew started a fire in a nearby stove.  Both occasionally looked away from their tasks so they could watch Belle dance in the snow.

After doing some exploration of his surroundings, Yonah returned and settled onto his blanket.  He rested his head in JenniAnn's lap, braying softly when she stroked his snout. 

Once Andrew had a fire roaring, he joined JenniAnn who sighed when he looped his arm around her shoulders.

"Oooh!" Belle exclaimed when they kissed.

"Okay, we really have to tell good ol' Uncle Owen to stop doing that when we kiss... she's definitely picking it up," JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew chuckled.

"I think it's kinda cute."

"Well, just as long as she doesn't start rapping on her sippy cup to get us to kiss... like some never-ending wedding reception."

"Yes, we'd definitely have to put our feet down on that but I think we're okay for now."

"Okay then."

JenniAnn peered into the angel's eyes and kissed him again.

Both looked up when Belle didn't respond.  She was too busy snuggling up to Yonah.

"Pitty Onah...  My Onah...  Ove Onah..."

The donkey smiled and licked Belle's curls causing her to squeal with glee.  Then she caught sight of the cookies her parents had brought.


Andrew laughed and began to pour hot cocoa from a thermos.  After testing it on his wrist, he poured some into Belle's sippy cup.

"This you don't share with Yonah," he directed.  "But you can share the cookies."

"Ay!" Belle cheered.

Taking two cookies from her mother, Belle returned to Yonah.

Andrew and JenniAnn watched as she broke the cookies in pieces.  One bite for her, one bite for Yonah.

"I'm glad she's stuck with that," JenniAnn confided.  "As much as she loves her sweets, she's never been selfish with them."

"I'm glad, too.  Our little elf..."

JenniAnn snuggled nearer when she saw Andrew's eyes fill.

"I love you."

"I love you, too, Laja."

"So much..."


Andrew and JenniAnn laughed and shook their heads as they drifted apart.

Belle grinned then returned to sharing her cookies.  When she was finished, she crawled towards her parents and sprawled across their laps.

"Pitty..." she praised as she stared up at the snow.

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled at each other when she stuck her tongue out, giggling as the flakes hit it.

After a few more moments, Belle sat up and snuggled against her mother's breast.  She smiled at her father.

"Mama...  Daddy..."

Andrew tweaked her nose.

"Belle, Mama and Daddy want to talk to you about something."

Belle continued to peer at him.

"Do you know that what you see at night... the scary... that's not real?"

Belle frowned and burrowed her face into JenniAnn's shoulder.

"Sweet baby," JenniAnn cooed as she patted her back.  "Daddy and I love you so, so much."  She kissed her hair.  "You are so precious.  We would never ignore you... or yell at you like that."

Though Belle didn't entirely understand what her mother was saying, she knew that she felt warm and comfortable and loved.

Andrew gasped.

JenniAnn raised her cheek from Belle's hair and looked to where he was pointing.

"Belle, sweetie, you need to be very, very quiet, okay?"


JenniAnn carefully turned Belle around and the three, with Yonah, simply stared at a buck, doe, and fawn some yards off.

Belle beamed at Andrew for a moment before returning her gaze to the deer.  She watched them forage and take in their fill of acorns.  She laughed as the mother nudged her baby along.  When they finally left, Andrew set Belle on his shoulders and, with JenniAnn beside them, they walked to the top of the hill and looked on as the family trotted into some trees.

On the way back to their spot, Andrew and JenniAnn each took one of Belle's hands and swung her between them.  She laughed and shrieked then ran to Yonah when he was back in sight.  After loving on him for several moments, Belle again stretched across her parents' laps.  Andrew lowered his face when she reached up.  He smiled when she patted his cheek.

"No mo cay-ee."

Andrew and JenniAnn beamed at her.  It wasn't a complaint or a plea but a declaration.

In her childish mind, Belle reasoned that no Mama and Daddy who had given her cookies and cocoa and deer and snowflakes and Yonah and cuddles could ever be mean to her.

"Ove oo!" the toddler shouted.

Andrew and JenniAnn laughed at Belle's enthusiasm and hugged her.

"We love you, too, baby girl," Andrew replied.

"Always," JenniAnn added.

Then, together, they danced in the snow before returning to their home and all the loved ones it contained.


Clay laughed when he heard a click and turned to see Adam, already in his Santa costume, with a camera in hand.  After loosening his hold on his wife, the man strode over to the angel of death and took the camera.  He laughed when he saw the image.

"Okay, that's a photo we never, ever let the kids see.  I don't want to get labeled as the meanie who kissed Santa's wife."

Kylie laughed as she wiped her lipstick off of her husband's lips.

Adam crossed his heart. 

"I won't share.  I promise.  But it was too funny to not capture."

"It is very sweet," Kylie agreed.  "But now... to the Jolly Green!"

Adam and Clay followed the woman to the parking lot of St. Genesius' where Andrew and JenniAnn waited.  Caleb and Edward had decked the mini-van with twinkle lights and faux-evergreen garland.  They'd added a few jingle bells for good measure.

Adam laughed as he took it all in.

"Not a sleigh but definitely festive!  Off we go!"

Once everyone was inside, Andrew started the van and drove towards the shelter.

"So Joshua and Co. are already there?" Kylie checked.

JenniAnn nodded as she peered into the rearview mirror.

"He and Maryam went early with Cira, Emma, and Crystal.  Emma thought it would be fun to do some Christmas dances with the kids.  Plus, Joshua wanted a little extra time to catch up with Gracie and Harmony."

Kylie smiled.

"Are they the only ones who are still there from last year?"

"Yep.  Catherine invited some past residents back, though.  Like she did last year."

"I'm glad for Gracie.  I know she'd been hoping that Joshua would come back this Christmas."  Adam smiled as he thought of the young woman.  Lately, she'd become fixated on the saints and, knowing it was him beneath the costume, had regaled him with tales of St. Nicholas... in between pushing for hints about Joshua's Christmas plans.

"What about Chris and his kids?" Clay questioned.  "Does anyone know if Arthur invited them back to True Light's party?"

"Yeah, he did."  Andrew turned around and smiled when a red light held them up.  "And I hear Chris has a surprise."

The others looked at each other with raised eyebrows before redirecting their attention to Andrew.

Andrew chuckled. 

"And I'm sworn to secrecy so it's no use trying to get it out of me.  Now... how about some Christmas caroling to get us in the mood?"

Resigned to the fact that the angel of death was going to keep mum, his passengers joined him in song.  Five carols later, they arrived at the Phoenix Inn.  Yosef pulled up just behind them with John, Peter, trays of treats, and jugs of cider.

"Let's get this Christmas party started!" John cheered as he hopped out of the Davidsons' car.

Catherine, Shelby, and Jacob greeted them at the door.

"Welcome, Santa and Mrs. Claus!" the woman greeted, loud enough to be heard some yards away.

Adam chuckled as squeals and cheers resounded.

"Well, thank you, Catherine.  We're so pleased to be here."

"And we brought cookies!" Kylie added.

"Wonderful!  Please come on in and your helpers, too."

Jacob and Shelby hurried outside to help bring in the cookies.

"Those kids are crazy excited!" the girl exclaimed.  "Emma tried to get them to dance and they did pretty good for a while but then..."

"They pretty much just started bouncing around," Jacob finished.  "It's noisy in there!  Papa said he could hear them in the Tunnels!"

Yosef chuckled.

"It is a very exciting time.  Yeshu is inside, yes?"

Shelby readily nodded.

"He read stories and let the little kids climb all over him.  Gracie's little girl crawls after him, wherever he goes.  It's super cute."

Yosef smiled as he brought the cookies into the kitchen.  He could just imagine how happy his wife and son must be to be reunited with the young mother and her beloved baby.

When the cookie and cider-bearers made their way to the toy room, they found all-out gleeful pandemonium. 

"All right, children, please let's all sit down and Santa will read us a story," Kylie requested in her best teacher's voice.

Not wanting to upset Mrs. Claus, the children hurried to obey.

While Adam began to read one of the books that had been set aside for him and Kylie, the adults all settled onto the floor in the back of the room. 

Joshua smiled tearfully as he studied the children and their mothers.  He had seen them at their worst... cowering, bruised, scarred... but now they were all grinning.  The little ones were secure in the knowledge that they would have their time with Santa and Mrs. Claus. 

When Kylie was just about the start with a second story, little Harmony tossed her sippy cup and let out a wail.

"Uh oh!" Gracie cried.  She scooped up her daughter and left the room. 

With the other children's focus now very much off of them and on the Clauses, Maryam and Joshua followed. 

Gracie beamed when she realized the two were just behind her as she entered the kitchen.

"Mo?  Mo!!!" Harmony begged.

Joshua chuckled.

"She sure likes her juice!"

"Harmony wants juice all the time now," Gracie replied as she got a clean cup and filled it with apple juice.  Harmony grinned and held her hands out.

"Eee!" she chortled before beginning to suck down the juice.  She shakily toddled to Maryam who settled her onto her lap.

"Dr. Portia says Harmony is hitting all her milestones.  She doesn't think she has autism... like me."

Joshua noted the slight tremble in the woman's voice.  He rose and hugged her.  Though he'd been at the Phoenix Inn for over an hour, this was the first chance he and his Ama had to speak privately to Gracie.

"Does that worry you?"

"It shouldn't... but yes.  I want Harmony to always like me.  It would help if she was like me."

"Oh, Gracie..."  Joshua patted her back.  "Harmony will always like you.  More than that, she'll always love you.  That doesn't mean she won't get angry at times... like now when she ran out of juice."

A laugh escaped Gracie.

"Don't you ever get angry at someone but still love them?"

Gracie nodded.

"I get mad at Sophie sometimes because it's a rule that we don't take things without asking but sometimes she takes my saints book because she likes the pictures.  She always brings it back but she's supposed to ask first.  But I still love her."

Joshua suppressed a laugh as he recalled the squabbles he'd witnessed between the two Phoenix residents.  They were always short-lived and inevitably ended with both women looking through the book together.

"Well, there ya go.  Kids and parents get mad and frustrated at each other sometimes... and so do friends, like you and Sophie.  But that doesn't mean they don't love each other."

Gracie turned to Maryam.

"Do you ever get mad at Joshua?"

Maryam smiled, cocked her head, and studied her son.

Joshua feigned fear.

"Uh oh..." 

Laughing, Maryam looked back to Gracie and shook her head.

"Never mad... but definitely frustrated.  You remember the part in the Bible about him running away to the Temple?"

Gracie nodded and began to recite.

"'Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.  When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.  After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.  Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, 'Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.'  'Why were you searching for me?' he asked. 'Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?'  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.'"

Joshua held his index finger and thumb very close together.

"She was this close to being outright mad."

"He should be glad it did not stretch into a fourth day," Maryam kidded.

Gracie giggled.

"John...  John, however, was quite mad at me," Joshua reported.  "He thought he should have been involved in my adventure.  He didn't speak to me for a full hour after I was found... but then, suddenly, it was likely nothing had ever happened.  We were buddies again."

"Good!  But I know Harmony will never do that... never run off to the temple."

"No, I do not think she will," Maryam agreed as she kissed the toddler who released her cup long enough to return the kiss.

Harmony shifted and smiled at her mother.  A moment later, she stretched her little arms out towards her.

After releasing Joshua, Gracie cuddled Harmony.  Suddenly, tears pooled in her eyes.

"I don't want you to go.  I don't want to wait until next Christmas..."

Joshua and Maryam exchanged a quick glance then embraced mother and child together.

"Gracie, we're going to stay longer this time.  In fact, how about we come see you on Christmas Day?" Joshua offered.

"Your birthday!"

Maryam smiled and nodded.

"And I could bring a birthday cake?" she suggested.

"Could I help decorate it?" Gracie requested.

"I would like that.  I will come a little while before Yeshu does so we can surprise him.  Will that do?"

Beaming, Gracie gave a firm nod.

"Good.  Now can we take Harmony back so I can get a picture of her with Santa?"

"Definitely," Joshua agreed.


Gracie handed Harmony off to him then took Maryam's hand and led them back to the toy room.


The din at the Phoenix Inn was nothing compared to the noise level at True Light which had many more inhabitants.  Since there was more space, all the Friends children were in attendance, too. 

Of course, it also helped that Santa and Mrs. Claus had a warm-up act at True Light.

As Adam and Kylie peered into the playroom, Caleb, in his Buddy the Elf suit, was leading the children in a song to welcome the two.

"'Who comes around on a special night?  Santa comes around on a special night.  Special night, beard that's white.  Must be Santa!  Must be Santa!  Must be Santa, Santa Claus!  Who wears boots and a suit of red?  Santa wears boots and a suit of red...'"

Peeking around them, Joshua chuckled.

"Caleb really has gotten into this!"

"Yeah, he tried to convince Edward to dress up as the narwhal, of all things, but Edward wasn't having it."

Adam shook his head and looked to where Edward was smilingly handing out cookies and glasses of milk.  The role was a much better fit.

One of the children caught sight of their special guests and, in moments, word spread.  The song died away and was replaced by shrieks.  Joshua hurried over to Edward just before Kylie and Adam were mobbed.

"Well, hello, children!  Are you having a good day?" Santa-Adam asked.


"Even better now!"


"And his wife!"


"Hi, Santa!"

"Hello, hello!  Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Let's all sit down near my trusted elf, Buddy, and Mrs. Claus and I will read you stories as we enjoy cookies.  How about that?"

With shouts of agreement, the children thundered back over to Caleb.  After they'd taken seats, the adults began shuttling cookies and milk over to them.

"Are my parents and John here yet?" Joshua asked Edward.

"Yeah.  They beat the Jolly Green by about five minutes.  Chris grabbed them and I haven't seen them since."

"Hmm."  An idea came to Joshua and he hoped he was right.



"Since we're at a little bit of a standstill now... I've been meaning to ask you something."

Seeing the flush on Edward's cheeks, another idea came to Joshua and, again, he hoped he was right.

"Go for it," Joshua encouraged.

"So Zadie...  You know, she's been coming around kind of a lot lately...  With Kylie being her para, they have planning they need to do, you know?"

Joshua took a sip of milk and nodded.  Zadie had been coming to the Romano Family Farm a lot more often than any work requirements made necessary...

"Well, she doesn't have any family in Albany and so, well, it could be a lonely Christmas for her.  I thought maybe... if you think she'd handle it all right... I could show her the portal and, umm, she could spend this week celebrating with us?" Edward asked hopefully.

Joshua grinned.

"I think Zadie would handle it very well.  She loves The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.  Portals and castles are right up her alley but that's not my concern."


"My concern is that if you ask her to come along, she's going to interpret it as more than just you being friendly, Edward."

"You think?"

"I do."

"Oh...  Well, right.  Of course, you'd know."

"So my question is... would it be more than you being friendly?"

Joshua eyes glistened with amusement as he took another sip of milk.

Edward blushed and stared down at his feet.  A smile played at his lips as he nodded.

"I really like her..."

"Yeah, ya do."

Edward embraced Joshua.


"You're welcome.  Just ask her over to your aunt's and uncle's tomorrow... trust me, they won't mind.  They've been praying about this for a while."

Edward chuckled.

"I was that obvious?"

"Very.  Do you want me to be there when you show her the portal?"

"If you could..."

"Sure.  I'm riding to Brewster with Isra and Behnam in the morning but we should be back around 3:00.  Then the Harmons will be arriving around 4:00.  Just let me get them settled in and then I'll meet you around 5:00 at the farmhouse portal?  We'll ask Kylie, Adam, and Clay to be there, too.  So Zadie feels more at ease."

Edward eagerly nodded.

"That'll give you and Zadie time to get dinner before the Christmas revue.  I'm sure she'd love to see you perform.  Sound like a plan?"

"A really good one."

Joshua clapped the man on the back.

"Good.  I'm glad we have that settled.  Zadie will be thrill...  Whoa!"  Joshua hurried over to Chris when he spotted him entering the room, weighed down by the box he was carrying.

"Hey, Chris!  Let me help you with that!"

"Hey, Joshua!  Thanks!  There goes my pride...  Your parents and cousin offered to help me but I said 'No, no.  I can handle it.'  Ha!  Whew.  Thanks."

"No problem.  Where are we going with it?"


Edward hurried to open the door for them.

Once they were out of view, Chris opened the box.

"Just a little something for Santa to give the kids.  Cutting it close, though.  They arrived about ten minutes ago."

Joshua's earlier hypothesis was proven true when Chris handed him an item from the box.

"That's for you.  I already gave copies to your parents and John.  They're reading it now."

Joshua beamed as he studied the book.

"In case you ever have kids someday," Chris said as he handed a book to Edward.

"You illustrated this!  And wrote it!" Edward exclaimed.

Joshua didn't need to read the book.  He knew every word.  But, for show, he flipped through the pages.

"Chris... it's wonderful."

Chris was slightly taken aback, but pleased, when the man hugged him.

"Thanks.  I decided to try my hand at writing.  It's based off a bedtime story I tell to Kian and Elsie.  I'm going to make sure Catherine gets a stack for the Phoenix.  I wish I could have sent them over earlier but..."  Chris shrugged.  "Printing delay."

Joshua smiled.  He knew how much Chris had prayed that the books would be ready for Christmas.  He wanted Kian and Elsie to see that their daddy's work had paid off, that they could continue to live in the comfortable apartment he'd found for them... maybe even begin to dream of a house.

"No time to wrap them but do you think you fellows could help me get them into gift bags?  Arthur and Zeke brought me a stack."

"Sure!" Joshua and Edward agreed in unison.

As they started, Maryam, Yosef, and John entered the kitchen, each with their books.

Yosef squeezed Chris' shoulder.

"A very fine book with a very good message, Chris.  I am proud of you," he congratulated.

"It is, indeed, a wondrous book," Maryam agreed as she embraced Chris.  "I would have, without hesitation, read it to Yeshu when he was small... had it been available."

"And I would have asked to be read it every single time I stayed over," John added as he began to help put the books into bags.  "Well done, Chris!"

"Thank you...  Thanks, I, umm..."  Chris sniffled.  "Couldn't have done it without a lot of support."

Knowing Chris didn't want to get too emotional, Joshua patted him on the back and resumed working.

"Ama, perhaps you could read it aloud now?  I may be grown but I'd still like to hear it."

"I would love to."  Maryam smiled at the book's proud author and began.


"I will never forget Kian's and Elsie's faces when I handed those books to them!" Adam gushed as several of the Friends sat around the fireplace in the Willowveil ballroom that night. 

"They were so proud of their daddy!" Kylie added, brushing at a tear. 

"Chris put his heart and soul into that book.  We all did a lot of praying when he started shopping it around," Zeke recalled.

"Maybe he'll be like the male J.K. Rowling!" Max suggested.  "Single dad... blockbuster author.  Darn.  Rose and I should have asked him to sign our copy!"

Arthur chuckled. 

"I'm sure he'd be happy to do that for you, Max.  He still stops into True Light a few times a week to help out."


"That was so kind of him to send some along for me to use."  Kelly smiled at a nearby stack.  "Sometimes it makes me so sad when I have to take kids out of abusive homes and I ask them to gather their things and... nothing."

Monica swiped at her eyes, remembering Liam with his little backpack and scratched DVDs.

"Speaking of kids... whose night is it with our kids?" JenniAnn asked, glancing upstairs where the little Friends were being entertained by their grandparents, Maryam, and Yosef.

"Joshua and me," Eli replied.

"But Joshua already took last night," Andrew protested.

"I even offered to take a turn," Kelly volunteered.  "But he insisted."

Adam frowned.

"I think he likes the constant company.  He seems a little... melancholy at times."

Clay nodded.

"I've noticed that, too.  But he also seems really, really happy.  I mean you have to figure he always has a lot on his mind.  I think we're all just getting better at noticing his moods."

Andrew and JenniAnn clasped hands but said nothing.

"I hope it doesn't have to do with Joccy," Emma murmured.  "I'm kind of worried about her."

Peter hugged her and kissed her hair.

"She's in the best place she could possibly be, sweetheart," he reminded.

"True...  And it's nice that John and Joshua are spending time with her and the girls... and Sy."

Diana laughed. 

"I'm glad we have both boys and girls in the under ten bracket now.  They won't be left alone like Sy."

"Yeah, I think it really tears the boy up," Zeke joked. 

Shane smirked.

"I can't say I've heard any complaining.  How about you, Peter?  Max?"


"Can't say that I have."

Diana shrugged.

"Okay, okay.  So clearly Sy doesn't mind.  Thank God for Ivy.  I do wonder sometimes, though..."

"About?" Zeke prompted.

"Well, it's just that they seem pretty... set on each other.  I barely knew myself at seventeen.  It's hard to imagine thinking I'd found the person I wanted to spend my life with then.  I mean I'm thrilled!  I adore Ivy.  I just wonder what that would feel like is all."

"I don't know," Owen replied with a grin.  "What would that feel like... JenniAnn?"

JenniAnn shot him a Look.

Adam chuckled as Andrew smiled and blushed.

"Well?" the elder angel of death prompted.

JenniAnn stuck her tongue out at Owen and Adam before smiling and directing her attention to Diana and Zeke.

"Well... it's not like I knew Andrew and I would be together.  I just very, very, very much hoped.  And that was without having any sort of framework.  I had no idea what together with Andrew would really even look like.  But even that uncertainty was more comforting to think about than not being with Andrew."  JenniAnn turned from the Wilsons and beamed at the angel.  She went silent for a moment as they gazed into each other's eyes.

"Anyway... given Ivy and Sy can assume that they'll be able to stick with the getting engaged, marriage, children way of things... I imagine that would be exceedingly comforting.  Plus, I would think it'd make for much less distraction while in college.  No need to look for a potential mate!"

"That's true.  And a definite plus!" Diana agreed.  She was lost for a moment in visions of her son's and Ivy's wedding and of grandbabies.

"Thank you, JenniAnn," Zeke replied.  "And we should think of Maryam and Yosef... and Behnam and Isra.  Sometimes a soul knows what it wants, even a very young soul."

"Well stated!" Eli cheered, thinking of his lovely Sophia.

"To love," Kelly toasted.

"To love," the others echoed as they clinked their glasses.


"Okay...  And my question is...  'If you could have any job except the one you have now, what would it be?'" Joshua read aloud from the slip of paper he'd withdrawn from the bowl being passed around the living room at Serendipity.  He grinned.  "Well, rock star, of course."

John and the teenagers all laughed.

"And we'd buy all of your CDs or MP3 albums and subscribe to your channel on Pandora," Sy promised.

"Hey!  That reminds me!  You haven't played your guitar at all yet this visit!" Violeta cried.

"Huh.  I guess I haven't."

"Ooh!  Play something now!  Please," Zoe begged.

"Well, I suppose..."  Joshua smiled as his guitar appeared, leaning against the couch.  He began to tune it.  "What should we sing?"

"Can you sing that song you sang with Daddy on his birthday?" Kendra requested. 

"Yes!  That one!" Hailey agreed.  "It was so beautiful!"

"Sure.  Do one of you girls want to sing your Daddy's part?" Joshua asked.  "Or maybe together?"

"Okay!" the sisters agreed.

As Kendra and Hailey settled on either side of Joshua on a couch, Ivy and Sy sat together on a love seat.  Joccy and Zoe snuggled together on the other couch while John sat beside them.

After a brief intro from Joshua, Kendra and Hailey began to sing.

"'I know I need You.  I need to love You.  I'd love to see You but it's been so long.  I long to feel You.  I feel this need for You.  I need to hear You.  Is that so wrong?  Oh, oh, oh...'"

The others chimed in with the "Ohs."

"'Now You pull me near You.  When we're close I fear You.  Still I'm afraid to tell You all that I've done.  Are You done forgiving?  Or can You look past my pretending, Lord?  I'm so tired of defending what I've become... what have I become?'"

Tears began to stream down Joccy's face and she rested her head on her sister's shoulder.

Kendra and Hailey peered at Joshua.  When he nodded, they continued.

"'I hear You say...'"

Joshua took up the song.

 "'My love is over.  It's underneath.  It's inside.  It's in between.  The times you doubt me, when you can't feel, the times that you question: 'Is this for real?'  The times you're broken, the times that you mend, the times you hate me and the times that you bend.  Well, my love is over.  It's underneath.  It's inside.  It's in between.  These times you're healing and when your heart breaks, the times that you feel like you've fallen from grace, the times you're hurting, the times that you heal, the times you go hungry and are tempted to steal.  In times of confusion and chaos and pain, I'm there in your sorrow, under the weight of your shame.  I'm there through your heartache.  I'm there in the storm.  My love, I will keep you by my power alone.  I don't care where you've fallen, where you have been.  I'll never forsake you.  My love never ends, it never ends...'"

"'Oh, oh, oh...'"

When the song ended, Joccy slipped away from Zoe, crumpled near Joshua, and rested her head against his knees.

"Sweetheart..." Joshua cooed.  He handed his guitar to Hailey then slid down to be beside the weeping girl.  "Joccy, talk to us.  You're safe here."

"J-Joccy..." Zoe murmured as she sat to her sister's other side.

"I... I... I don't want to... to... go..."

"Duckling, go get Emma and Peter, please," Joshua requested.

Without saying a word, Violeta gave a tearful nod and went.

The others clustered nearer, surrounding Joccy.

John began to pray aloud.

"'In You, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness.  Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.  Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me.  Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge.  Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.'"

Joccy had settled down somewhat by the time Violeta returned with Emma and Peter.

Zoe moved away so Emma could take her place.

"Joccy..." Emma cooed as she stroked the girl's hair.

Peter knelt nearby.

"Cómo estás, pequeña?"

Joccy gave a wan smile.

"Triste pero..."  She shrugged.  "A little better.  I just..."

Joshua kissed her temple.

"Joccy, you can't keep holding everything in."

Zoe squeezed her hand.

"Please just say it... whatever it is."

"I... well, I... I don't want to... to go home.  I... I mean... I love home but... but I don't want to go to... to school, any... any more."

Ivy cast a sympathetic look at her friend.

"Joccy, are you getting bullied?"

The girl shook her head.

"No.  No one pays any attention to... to me.  Good or... or bad.  And I just... I feel so... so anxious all... all the time and... and I tried meds and I tried counseling and I'm still... still going to counseling but... but... I just really hate school.  I hate all the... the gossip and I hate the girls crying because... cause boys broke their hearts and I hate the boys being angry cause... cause the girls cheated on them and I don't like the fighting and... and I feel like... like something's not right with me that I can't seem to... to function like... like everyone else does and I... I..."

Joccy clung to Joshua.

"I... I'm sorry that I... I'm a fail... fail..."

"Joccy!  No!" Joshua protested.  "No, no, no.  You are most definitely not a failure.  Maybe we just need to consider other options."

"She could go to school Below!" Violeta chirped.  As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she second-guessed them.

"Could I?" Joccy implored.

"But... but then you would have to be in Manhattan," Zoe murmured.

Sy glanced at the carpenter.  He knew there was another way...

Joccy peered into Joshua's eyes.

"If... if you could add a portal..."

Emma and Peter exchanged glances.  They'd brought up the possibility with Joshua before but he'd declined.

"Is that what you want, Joccy?" Peter asked.

"Would Vincent let me?"

"You'd have to ask but knowing him like I do... I would say yes," Joshua ventured.

Joccy gulped in a deep breath.

"Can I go ask him now?  I mean... I know I'll need to ask Mom, too, but...  I might as well ask him first, right?"

"Right," Joshua agreed.

With a brighter smile than anyone had seen in a while, Joccy hugged Joshua and Emma then ran to the basement so she could take the tunnel to Willowveil.

Sensing the grown-ups needed to talk, Ivy waved to the kitchen.

"I think our Joccy needs a little pick-me-up.  Anyone want to help me make some butterbeer?  Andrew taught me the recipe."

The other teens agreed and followed Ivy to the kitchen.

"But I thought..."  Emma frowned.  "When Peter and I asked you about the portal when you came after the twins were born..."

"I said I had my reasons for not doing that... then," Joshua explained.  He dragged his hand through his hair.  "I knew this was coming and, of course, I wanted to stop it.  But Joccy needed to ask... not you.  Emma, it's so hard for her to voice her desires.  But tonight she did.  And that's a good thing.  She needs to learn that it's okay to ask for help... to ask for what's good and right.  Unfortunately, having a father who didn't listen and who shouted at her even when she asked for what was right... it left its mark."

Emma shook her head.  She was glad she'd never see Derek again.  If she did...

Joshua took her hand and calmed her.

"So what exactly is going on at school?" Peter questioned.

"The usual.  But the crassness and immaturity that most kids shrug off is much harder for Joccy to deal with.  And there are plenty of kind, sweet girls and boys there.  After all, Zoe's thriving.  But Joccy... she got the worst of the bullying at her old school.  It's hard for her to let her defenses down."

"And so many of those high schools look so much alike," John reasoned.  "No wonder she feels anxious... she keeps thinking of her old school which makes it hard for her to bond with anyone at the new one."

"Exactly.  And she so wants Jodi to believe that everything's fine... that she can be happy.  So she's held all the pain and loneliness inside."  Joshua brushed at a tear.  "It was a very big deal that she told all of us what she did."

"Poor, sweet, Joccy," Emma murmured.

Peter embraced her.

Before any more could be said, footsteps sounded on the stairs.  A moment later, Joccy and Vincent stepped into the living room.  The smile on the girl's face revealed the man's answer.

"Where is everyone?" Joccy asked.

"In the kitchen making butterbeer.  Why don't you go check on them?" Joshua suggested.

With a nod, Joccy hurried off to the kitchen.

"I hope I was meant to accept Jocelyn's request," Vincent began.  "Because I did..."

"You were.  I'm just sorry it came to this... not that I don't think she'll get a wonderful education Below," Joshua explained with a proud smile.

Vincent returned it.

"I understand... I sensed her plea was coming from a place of pain.  We would welcome Jocelyn.  We've had several Helpers send their children to us for what I imagine are similar reasons."

Emma crossed the room and hugged Vincent.

"Thank you."

"You are most welcome," Vincent replied, patting her back.  "And will she need a chamber?"

Joshua shook his head.

"I'll be adding a portal to their..."

He was interrupted by Hailey peeking around a corner of the wall.  Joshua waved her over.  He smiled as she whispered then shook his head.

"Thank you much!" Hailey chortled before returning to the kitchen.

Joshua chuckled and turned back to the others.

"I was just asked if I planned to put a portal on the Connecticut University campus...  I do not.  Zeke and Diana know that Hailey craves some independence."

The other four laughed, welcoming the break in tension.

"Anyway, I'll put one in Zoe's and Joccy's house in New Haven.  Jodi loves that house and won't be moving any time soon.  It'll also make Hailey's commutes shorter... something she does approve of."  Joshua sighed.  "This change will be upsetting to Jodi but she'll bear it."  He hugged Emma and Peter.  "All will be well.  And now Joccy can have in person Spanish tutoring."

"With me!" Emma chirped as she beamed at Peter.  "I'm learning now, too," she explained to John and Vincent.

"Then it seems like a perfect plan," Vincent concluded.  "Joshua, I know you have plans tomorrow morning but, Emma and Peter, perhaps you could accompany Joccy on a tour of our classrooms?"

"That would be perfect," Emma agreed.

Joshua started off towards the kitchen.

"I'll go tell..."

The teenagers cut him off, returning to the room with pitchers of butterbeer and glasses.

Over drinks, the group talked about Joccy's decision and all that awaited her as part of the Tunnels school.


Tuesday, December 22nd

Isra beamed as Joshua finished the last of his breakfast.

"Can I get you any more?" she offered.

Smiling, Joshua shook his head and patted his stomach.

"No, thank you.  I'm perfectly content.  That was delicious, Isra.  And, Behnam, you make a tasty cup of coffee."

Behnam chuckled.

"I merely hit the button but thank you."

"Thank you both for having me," Joshua replied.  "And now... shall we get on the road?"

After eager nods from the couple, the three got the house locked up and headed to the mini-van parked in the driveway.   

"I don't want to crowd..." Behnam began.

Isra climbed into the middle, front seat. 

"We'll be fine!" she assured.

"Isra's right.  It's pretty roomy even with three people up front.  Andrew had the extra seat added because, if you can believe it, there used to be fights about who got to sit up front with him," Joshua explained.

"I trust JenniAnn often won?" Behnam ventured.

"Often," Joshua agreed with a laugh. 

"See, very comfortable!" Isra pointed out once Joshua and Behnam were on either side of her.  "Now whether we can do this in a few months..."

Behnam grinned and kissed her cheek.

"Portia and Kemara were telling me all about ultrasound photos and videos," Isra chattered as Joshua started down the street.  "Kemara showed me a picture of the twins.  That will be so... amazing!"

"I had read about them but to think we could see our own baby before he or she is born..."  Behnam shook his head in wonderment.

"It's a very special feeling," Joshua affirmed.  "I love watching parents see those images for the first time."

"Will Omar and Aiyla be able to see?"  Isra asked.

"I'm sure Portia will let you bring them if you want.  But it might make them nervous.  You'll get photos and a video that you can show them later on, at home."

"Yes, that would be better," Isra agreed.  "Vincent said that I can bring the baby to classes whenever I want... only if I want, though.  Oh!  And when he stopped by this morning to see if we needed anything for the Harmons, he mentioned we'll have a new student.  Joccy."

Joshua nodded. 

"School's been hard for Joccy.  I think going Below will be much better for her.  I'm sure she'd love to lend a hand with the little ones' reading lessons, Isra."

Isra replied with a contented smile.

"I will look forward to it."

"Behnam, you're very quiet."

Behnam leaned forward and smiled at Joshua.

"Still in something of a daze, I think.  For most of my life, I've been a Muslim.  On Thursday, I was a man without a religion.  On Friday night, I was a Christian.  And now, here it is Tuesday and I'm in a van being driven by Isa... Jesus."

Joshua laughed.

"Pretty trippy, huh?"

"Yes, trippy," Behnam agreed with a chuckle.  "I do still wonder..."


"So... my sister... she is in Heaven.  I know this.  And Isra said that your mother said that her mother is in Heaven."


"But they were Muslims."

"Uh huh."

"So... it isn't only Christians who go to Heaven?"

"No," Joshua assented.  "Do you remember when you asked Andrew that and he told you to have JenniAnn tell you the story of the Queendom?"


Isra smiled.  She had also been there when JenniAnn had told the story.  She had known in her heart that it must be true.

"I told JenniAnn that story... a parable... when we were at the grave of a Jewish friend of hers, Chava."

"Then... it's true."

"Yes.  At the end of their lives, everyone meets me.  How they respond... that's what makes the difference.  Or think of The Last Battle, Behnam.  You've read that.  You remember the discussion between Emeth and Aslan?"

"Oh, yes.  I loved that scene."

"It's like that."

Behnam smiled but, a moment later, his face clouded.

"But Aslan accepted Emeth's worship as a non-Narnian.  He was true to his religion.  But I... I wasn't like Emeth... or Isra.  I didn't keep to our traditions.  I didn't pray five times a day.  I didn't..."

Joshua reached over Isra to squeeze Behnam's hand.

"That's another way in which things were easier for Isra.  Behnam, you were still quite small when your parents died.  They were very good, very devout, very kind people.  But, unfortunately, you grew up seeing only the perverted, deadly belief system of your uncle.  Meanwhile..."

"I worshiped with my parents," Isra picked up.  "I saw how they lived their faith.  I saw how that faith comforted both Mor and Plaar when she was dying.  I didn't grow up with the distrust and anger you did, my dearest."

Behnam rested his cheek against Isra's hijab when she hugged his arm.

"Behnam, your worship was living so selflessly... and praying for your family even when you felt disconnected from me.  Though my heart broke for you, I gladly accepted that worship.  As did my Father," Joshua assured.

Behnam could only nod in response but the look in his eyes was all the gratitude Joshua needed.


"Oh, hey, let's stop here.  One of my friends works here," Joshua announced not long after they'd entered Brewster.

When Joshua pulled into the parking lot of the Brewster Public Library,
Behnam opened his mouth to speak.  He stopped himself.  Surely not...  The man remained quiet as he helped Isra step down from the van.

As the three walked towards the front door of the library, they passed a young man who was muttering under his breath.  Fixated on his phone, he nearly plowed into Joshua who hastily moved out of the way.

Isra sighed and shook her head.  Her smile returned when Joshua held the door open for her.

"Thank you!"

"You're welcome!"

Behnam followed his wife inside and immediately froze.

"Hello!  Can I help you?"

Isra gasped as she stared at the elderly man standing in front of shelves and shelves of books.

Joshua ensured the door was closed tightly so as not to let a draft in then stepped around the Al-Mitras.

"Joshua!" the old man cried.  He walked as quickly as he could towards the carpenter and embraced him.  "Such a treat!  And so close to your birthday!  We'll talk very soon but first I need to see to, uh, them..."  The man cocked his head at Isra and Behnam who were still standing in shocked tableau.

Joshua chuckled.

"They're with me, Stanley."

"Ah, I see.  Are they... unwell?"

Joshua wrapped his arms around the two.

"No.  They're just starstruck."

"Over me?" Stanley exclaimed.  "Well, why ever..."

"The... the newspaper," Behnam murmured.  Tears began to fill his eyes.  "My... my newspaper."

Isra embraced her husband tightly and wept into his shoulder.

"Stanley, this is Isra and Behnam Al-Mitra.  Isra, Behnam, I'm sure Stanley would love to hear your story about the newspaper."

Stanley nodded.

"I believe I would and I have plenty of time on my hands.  Not too many people coming in here today with the schools out.  Come.  I'll fix you some coffee.  Or tea if you'd rather."

Still in awe, Isra and Behnam followed Stanley to a little alcove.

"Black coffee, Joshua?"

"Yes, please."

"And Isra, what can I get for you?"

"T-tea, please.  Thank you."

"Chamomile or Earl Grey?"

"Earl Grey, thank you."

"And Behnam?"

"Coffee... black.  Please."

Stanley shook his head, wondering why the young man was now looking at him with a dopey smile.  Well, Joshua created all kinds...

Once they each had their beverages, Behnam had recuperated enough to begin their story.

"My wife and I... we are from Afghanistan.  I had long dreamed about coming to America.  My fascination was heightened by a newspaper an American soldier gave me."

"He taught me to read with that," Isra interjected.  "Well, that and Jane Eyre and The Cat in the Hat."

Stanley chuckled. 

"That's quite a pair of books.  Each a classic, mind."

Isra beamed and nodded.

"You... you were in the newspaper," Behnam continued.  "I would look at your photo and dream of... of having a job like yours.  Spending my life among books, helping people to find the book for them."

It was Stanley's turn to gape.

"We... we lost the newspaper when our refugee camp was attacked but I can still remember."

Joshua noticed the tears that were beginning to form in Stanley's eyes.

The man abruptly stood up and stepped into his office.  He returned with dry eyes and a folded newspaper.

"When that article ran, friends upon friends brought me copies.  A few even gave me the entire edition.  I, umm, don't have any family to share them with so... so I just kept a little stockpile.  Behnam, Isra, it would be my honor if... if you would take one.  Actually, I should have grabbed two so..."

Isra shook her head as, with shaking hands, Behnam accepted the paper.

"No.  It... it is wonderful to have one to share again.  Thank you, sir."

When Stanley sat back down, Joshua patted his back.  The two watched silently for a few minutes as Isra and Behnam looked through the paper.

"It was more than him teaching her to read," Joshua whispered.  "They fell in love over that paper... and Jane Eyre and The Cat in the Hat."

Stanley shook his head.

"To think it means so much to them...  And here I was feeling sorry for myself because that dolt Trevor... sorry Joshua... even Trevor is your creation."

Joshua smirked.

"Gave his notice... an hour's worth of it.  I'll have a time of it when school resumes and..."  Stanley blinked.  "Tell me, where does your Behnam live?"

"The Bronx."

"Oh..."  Stanley visibly deflated.

"But I could get him here... on a regular basis," Joshua added.

Stanley grinned.

"And he would be interested?"


"And he would do well?"

"Exceedingly well."

"And his wife wouldn't be offended by my not asking her?  I'm afraid I only have salary for one."

"Isra is a teacher.  She's content there and will be thrilled for Behnam."

"Ah, good."

Stanley gave the couple a few moments more with the paper before he spoke.

"Behnam, I was wondering...  My assistant librarian just quit.  In fact, you likely ran into him on the way in.  Well, more likely he ran into you.  Clumsy boy..."

Isra began to feel her heart pound.  She looked to Joshua, wondering if this was the answer to her prayers for Behnam.

"Anyway...  Behnam, you come highly recommended by someone whose opinion I value highly."  Stanley smiled at Joshua.  "He tells me he can provide you with transportation here.  So... would you be interested in being my assistant?  The pay isn't fantastic but it's regular hours, good benefits, and we're closed on weekends.  And, well, I'm nearing retirement and since I can't imagine any great battle over the position... it would likely become yours some day, should you take the assistant job... if you would want it."

Behnam stared at Stanley for a long moment then looked to Joshua who beamed and, finally, to Isra who had tears of happiness streaming down her face.  She excitedly nodded.

"Yes...  Yes, I would like that very, very much.  Thank you, Mr. Stanley."

"Please just Stanley and welcome aboard, Behnam.  Now let me show you around!"

The grin never left Behnam's face as he followed Stanley around the library while Isra hugged Joshua's arm as they trailed them.


"Well, sure you can put a portal in the garage!" Keith McCallum agreed immediately after Joshua had asked.  "We'll give Behnam the code to get in."

"And, of course, we'll have to give it to David and Joyce, too.  Trust me, we're all going to enjoy not looking at an hour-long drive whenever we want to see the grandkids!" Megan enthused.

"Portal?" Stanley, who had come along on his lunch break, asked as he stood in the driveway with the Al-Mitras.

Behnam gave a nod and smile.

"Like in Narnia."

"Ah.  I didn't realize Joshua was quite so Aslan-like."

Isra giggled when Joshua turned around and mimed swiping with claws.

"Well, let's head on in and find a good spot," Keith invited, waving the group in.  "And for privacy..."  He hit the remote and shut the door.

Joshua went to a corner. 

"Could I have a little paint... if you don't mind, I mean?"

Thrilled, Megan ran into the house to fetch some paint.

When she returned, Joshua selected some green paint and added a shamrock.  Next, he added a gray Celtic cross.

Stanley chuckled.  He was aware of the McCallums' reputation as enthusiastic Irish dancers having attended a few of their events himself.

"How apropos."

"So you'll just set the coin on the shamrock to go to the gazebo portal in Dyeland and on the Celtic cross to go to the Tunnels," Joshua explained.  "And you can remember it this way: shamrock is greenery so Dyeland, the cross is stone so Tunnels.  Stanley, I'll give you a tutorial on the portals and everything later," he promised.

"Good... because I'm quite lost."

Joshua smiled and handed him a wooden coin.

"You won't be for long.  Keith, Megan, could Stanley also have the garage code?"

"Well, I suppose he can be trusted," Keith kidded, clapping the older man on the back.

"You'll come to dinner and our Christmas show tonight?" Isra requested, peering into Stanley's eyes.  "Please?"

"And interrupt my night alone with Lean Cuisine and CNN?  Well... yes.  I would like that very much," Stanley eagerly accepted, squeezing the young woman's hands.

Touched, Behnam embraced his wife.

"This day... this wondrous day..." he praised as he smiled gratefully at Joshua.


After returning Stanley to the library and arranging for him to come to Dyeland with the McCallums and Meekses for dinner, Joshua and his passengers retrieved Joy's and Ian's strollers.  Even with the portal installed, they still drove back to give them time to discuss all that had happened.  Unlike during the ride to Brewster, Behnam could barely contain himself and relayed all that he and Stanley had planned.  During his rare quiet moments, Joshua and Isra beamed at each other.

Not long after their return to Cora's house, the Harmons arrived.  Though Joshua and Vincent were there to help ease the meeting between the two families, their efforts were hardly necessary.  Aiyla and Tildy were fast friends and though Omar was a few years younger than Ryder and Noah, the three boys bonded over playing with Pilot.  In no time at all, the two grandpas and the four parents were deep in friendly conversation, allowing Joshua to head to Albany.

When he arrived at the farmhouse, Joshua found Caleb snickering as his brother rifled through their closet.

"Where's my gray sweater?  You promise you didn't borrow it?"

"Yeah.  And seriously... gray?  Kinda drab, don't you think?"

"But it's soft.  Girls like soft."

"Whoa.  Sexist," Caleb teased.

"Well, okay, maybe not all girls do but Zadie does.  Oh, hey, Joshua," Edward greeted when he spotted the man loitering in the hallway.

"Josh!"  Caleb rose from where he'd been perched on his bed and awaited his turn for a hug.

Joshua chuckled as he embraced the twins.

"Sorry for lurking.  I've missed the constant brotherly banter what with the ol' live feed being down.  I had to listen for a bit.  And, yes, Zadie does like soft.  And your gray sweater is downstairs, Edward.  Your aunt's de-pilling it.  She wants you to look your best."

Edward smiled through his blush.

"Thanks.  And thank you for Aunt Dot.  I wouldn't have thought of that.  I'll just go get that now..."

Once Edward had left, Joshua sat down beside Caleb on his bed.

"So how are you doing?"

"Good.  You?"

"Good.  But not convinced."

Caleb smirked.

"Okay, like 80% thrilled and 20% bummed?"

"More convinced.  Go on," Joshua prodded. 

With a sigh, Caleb obeyed.

"I'm really thrilled for Edward.  Seriously, the UST was getting pretty crazy between him and Zadie.  But it's just... Clay and Kylie are married and now Edward's going to have a girlfriend and I'm still... just Caleb."

"I love 'just Caleb.'"

Caleb squeezed Joshua's hand.

"Thanks.  And I love you, too.  And I feel like that should be enough.  Like look at Shane.  I mean, sure, he's gay.  So not exactly the same.  But also not very different.  He's single and fine.  He says he never feels lonely because he knows you're there.  Owen and I tell him that we want to be like him when we grow up."

Joshua smiled.

"Shane is Shane, Owen is Owen, and you're Caleb.  That you and Owen desire companionship while Shane is content doesn't mean he's better than you both... or that you're better than him," he counseled.  "You're just different... as I made you to be.  There's absolutely no shame in wanting to share your life with someone, Caleb.  You just want to be sure you get started down that path with the right person.  I know you feel lonely sometimes now and there will be times ahead when you'll feel lonely... but it's a far more painful loneliness to find yourself with someone who you don't truly love and who doesn't truly love you."

"Yeah...  Like with Kylie and her first husband.  Even if abuse hadn't been an issue, it must have been hard to be so physically close to someone when the emotions weren't there," Caleb hypothesized.

"It was."

Caleb hugged Joshua.

"Okay, pity party over.  Let's go see how Edward looks in that sweater."

Joshua smiled and clapped the young man on the back.

"Sounds like a good idea."

In the living room, they found Edward standing with his arms outstretched as Dot inspected his sweater.  Clay, Kylie, and Adam had arrived and, with Randall, were looking on with ill-concealed amusement.

"Okay, it looks good but your hair...  Bend toward me, Eddy."

The others giggled and snickered as Dot tried to tame Edward's cowlicks.

Caleb snapped a quick photo.

"Just sending it to Mom!" he explained when Edward glared.

"There...  So handsome!" Dot declared once she was satisfied.

"Agreed," Randall assented with a wry smile.  He turned to Caleb.  "Speaking of your mother... when are we meeting them?"

"6:00 at Willowveil.  Peter's meeting them at St. G's so they can go through the portal there.  And then we'll meet Zadie and Edward at the theatre at 7:00.  Right?" Caleb checked with his brother.

"Right.  Adrian's is good for dinner, right?  I just thought, you know, it has a good history with our group so..."

"Zadie will love Adrian's," Joshua reassured.

"Good cause..."

The door bell rang.

After a nod from Joshua, Edward went to answer.  The others all smiled and quietly laughed as they waited for the two to return.

"The house looks so festive and cozy!" they heard Zadie exclaim.

"Thank you.  You look festive and, uh, nice yourself, Zadie," Edward replied.  "We're all thrilled you could come spend the evening with us."

"Oh.  Good.  Great!"

Sure he could hear disappointment in the girl's voice, Randall shook his head. 

"Now the poor girl thinks she's gotten suckered into family time!" he whispered to his wife.

"Have you ever been to Adrian's Coffeehouse in Manhattan?" Edward hurriedly asked.

"No.  Not really been much of anywhere in Manhattan."

"I thought we might go to dinner there."

"Okay.  With your family?"

"Huh?  No.  I mean... we'll see my family and they'll be at the show but I thought... dinner just for us?"

Caleb mimed banging his head into a wall.

"Oh!  Sure!  That sounds really, really nice!"

Kylie and Clay let out the breaths they'd been holding as Adam simply chuckled.

"Good.  So... let's go say hi to everyone and then we'll get going because the show is at 7:30 and I don't want our dinner to be rushed so..."

"7:30?  But it's a three hour drive!"

"Yeah, about that..."

Edward re-entered the living room with a confused Zadie.

"Zadie, you know everyone except Joshua.  Zadie, Joshua.  Joshua... Zadie."

Joshua beamed and held out his hand.

"Welcome, Zadie."

After taking Joshua's hand, Zadie gazed intently at him for a few moments.  Finally, she blushed and released him.

"Sorry.  I don't know what came over me.  It's like... somehow you remind me of someone but I'm not even sure who."

With a tender smile, Joshua shrugged.

"No worries.  I actually get that a lot."

"Oh.  Well, good.  Kylie!"

Zadie dashed to her friend and hugged her.

"You look so cute!  How's our Santa and Mrs. Claus?"

"Very, very well.  Adam and I have been having a great time.  And more fun to come tonight!"  Kylie smiled up at Adam.

"Yep.  Me and the Mrs. will be making an appearance in the lobby after tonight's show.  And tomorrow's."

"Oh good!  I can't wait to see you both in costume." 

After hugging Clay in greeting, Zadie turned to Edward.

"I'm still confused about the timing, though..."

Edward took her hand and led her towards the parlor which housed Joshua's drawings.  The others trailed them.

"So I know you've read The Chronicles of Narnia..."


A smile stretched across Edward's face.

"Well, I don't have Narnia to show you but..." 

Zadie watched, an eye brow lifted, as Edward stepped towards the wall and pressed his wooden coin against the painting of a tree.

"See you soon, Zadie!"

Kylie smiled reassuringly at her fellow teacher then, with Clay and Adam following, disappeared into the wall.

"Oh my God!" Zadie shrieked.

There was a curious moment of silence when the young woman clasped Joshua's arm.  Whether it was simply because he was nearest or an unconscious recognition, no one was quite sure. 

"Where... but where..."

Zadie reached out to the wall and blinked when her hand disappeared. 

Dot laughed and hugged her.

"Trust me, sweetheart, this is a good thing.  Now, come along, Randall, Caleb."

Caleb winked at his brother then, with his aunt and uncle, disappeared.

"I... I just...  Wow...  So that leads to Manhattan?" Zadie checked.

"Actually, that one leads to a whole other world.  Some call it Dyeland.  Some call it Asteriana.  Either way, it's wonderful and I have several friends who live there.  That one," Edward pointed to the masks painting, "leads to Manhattan.  St. Genesius' Community Theatre, specifically."

"Where all your shows happen," Zadie realized.  "I was starting to wonder how Kylie managed to stay at school as late as she does sometimes and still be in those shows...  I'd honestly started to think Randall and Dot were secretly billionaires or something and had a private plane."

Edward chuckled and shook his head.  He peered at Joshua for a moment.  He knew he couldn't outright tell Zadie who he was.  But there was no reason she couldn't know he was special...

"Joshua put these here," Edward explained.  "It's one of his many, many gifts."

Zadie stared with renewed interest at the carpenter.


Joshua nodded.

There was something so gentle in the man's eyes that Zadie put aside her usual inquisitiveness.  She'd just met someone who was magical and that was enough for her.  Really spending Christmas among friends would have been enough for her...

Zadie squeezed Joshua's hands.

"That's really amazing.  I guess you're kinda like Aslan then!"

"Kinda like," Edward agreed with a grin.

"I love Aslan," Zadie murmured.  "I always wanted to be Lucy when I was little.  I hoped Aslan would like and trust me enough to let me touch his mane."

Noticing that Joshua was fighting tears, Edward rested a hand on his shoulder.

"Joshua, maybe you should join us for dinner," he offered.

Touched by Edward's willingness to sacrifice, Joshua hugged him.

"Thank you but I already promised the Harmons that I'd be at Willowveil.  So let's go, give Zadie a quick peek there, and then you two should head to Adrian's." 

"If you're sure..."

"Very."  Joshua turned to Zadie.  "We'll talk more after the show," he promised.

Surprised by the lump in her throat, Zadie returned his smile.

"I'd like that.  And now... I want to see what's out there!"

Pleased, Edward again set his coin against the tree.  He and Joshua smiled at each other when Zadie disappeared.  A moment later, they followed together.


The first act of the Christmas revue featured several carols, a special dance from some of Emma's and Kemara's students, and the return of the Ugly Christmas Suit Band.  Halfway through their act, they were joined by the Ugly Christmas Jumper Ladies Chorale.  For their final number; Andrew, Arthur, Doug, Joshua, Fr. Mike, Peter, Sean, and Zeke were joined by JenniAnn, Monica, Larissa, Maryam, Sibyll, Emma, Kemara, and Diana in performing a country version of "Up on the House Top"

In the audience, Yosef laughed as his son and wife do-si-doed and promenaded.

"Not a usual occurrence back in Nazareth?" Toby asked in a whisper.

"No.  And truly a shame it was not."

"It's so great to see Dad so happy."

Yosef squeezed the younger man's shoulder and nodded.  Doug was beaming as he danced with his daughter-in-law.

When the song and dance ended and everyone had taken a bow, Emma and Peter stepped to the front of the stage.

"Thanks, everyone!" Peter shouted after catching his breath.  "We're going to take a fifteen minute break now so, please, step out into the lobby and enjoy some cookies, milk, cocoa, and coffee."

"Also, for any of you who procrastinated on your Christmas shopping, we've got you covered!" Emma announced.  "Our friend, Chris, is out there with copies of his newly released children's book.  A portion of the proceeds will be going to the True Light shelter.  In addition, you'll see our friends Angus, Chloe, Ronald, Mere, Basil, and Azalea at some tables with assorted handmade scarves and shawls, canned goods, fair trade tea, coffee, and chocolate and more."

"And don't worry, they'll be back after our show... and the cookies and drinks, too," Peter promised.  "Enjoy and come back ready to sing!"

With cheers, the audience began to disperse.

Once they were all back stage, Joshua and Maryam approached Emma and Peter.

"That's a great idea!" Joshua cheered.  "When did you think of adding the shopping?"

"Just yesterday, actually," Emma replied.  "Chris asked us if he could put up a promo poster for his book and then we thought 'We can do better than that!'  Then it just made sense to ask Azalea and Basil if they wanted to bring anything in from Lily's Loot.  And then there was Adam's therapy group."

"Adam himself wanted to participate of course but... he also didn't want to blow his cover if any of the kids got to thinking that Santa looked an awful lot like the guy selling scarves," Peter explained.

Joshua beamed.  "That's so wonderful.  I'm going to go take a peek.  Ama?"

"I would love to.  Let's find your Abi and Yohannan."

"Ama, could I just talk to you really quickly before you go out there?" Emma requested.

"Of course, my dear."

Clasping Maryam's hand, Emma led the woman a few feet away.  Once she was sure they were out of ear shot, Emma spoke.

"Can you please keep Joshua out in the lobby for the entire intermission?  We've sort of... tweaked Act II.  And we want to surprise him.  And he definitely can't go out into the parking lot!  And he should stay with you and Yosef and John when the show starts up."

Her eyes twinkling, Maryam nodded.

"Of course, my own.  Am I to assume that I am also to be surprised?"

Grinning, Emma nodded.

"It's a good one.  I promise!"

"I would never doubt you."  Maryam hugged the younger woman and kissed her cheek then went to retrieve her son.

Once Maryam and Joshua had disappeared behind the curtain, Emma withdrew her cell phone.

"Hey, Gabe!  Where are you and Randall?  Oh good!  We'll head out there now.  Bye!"

With a squeal of excitement, Emma dashed over to Peter.

"We have animals!" she declared.

With those words, several of the Friends rushed out into the parking lot where a pickup truck pulling a trailer was just turning in.

"My babies!" Violeta cried, rushing towards the trailer once the archangel had opened it.  "I hope you didn't get scared during the ride!" she exclaimed as she fussed over Mary and Silly.

"I'm sure they felt just fine knowing Yonah and Yoktan were watching over them," Andrew reasoned as he stroked the latter.

"So which donkey gets the part?" Max asked.

"Yoktan.  Only fair.  But we didn't want Yonah to feel left out... and no one has a camel... who we couldn't have here, anyway.  So the wisemen get a donkey, too," JenniAnn explained before nuzzling Yonah.

"The rest of us better get inside and into costume," Shane reminded.  "We have... eleven minutes."

With cheers, the group dispersed so they could get ready for Act II.


As intermission neared its end, Joshua and his family made it back to the front row of the theatre.

"Maybe I should go backstage," Joshua whispered.  "They pray between acts and..."

John pulled him down to his seat.

"You're with them.  They know that.  So stay."

"Do you know something I don't?" Joshua checked.


Maryam patted her son's arm as he settled into his seat.

Leaning forward to speak to his Abi, Joshua noticed that while Toby, Larissa, and Doug were in their seats to the other side of Yosef, their three children were not.  Before Joshua could comment on this, the house lights went down and the curtain lifted to reveal a simple backdrop of a starlit night sky.

Ivy walked to the center of the stage.  After beaming at the front row and at her grandmother and step-grandfather just behind the Davidsons, Ivy spoke.  As she did, soft lights fell on Kiyoshi and Makena who were seated further back on the stage with their violins.  They softly accompanied the girl.

"Over two thousand years ago, 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. 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.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.'  'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'"

In the front row, Yosef squeezed his wife's right hand and brought it to his lips.  After smiling at her beloved, Maryam rested her head on his shoulder as they continued to watch and listen to Ivy.

"'The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.'”

John beamed at his cousin then at Ivy.

"'I am the Lord’s servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled.' Then the angel left her.'"

Ivy stepped off stage and was soon replaced by Zeke, Peter, Eric, Max, and Gabe who began to sing.

"'The angel Gabriel from heaven came, his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame; 'All hail', said he, 'thou lowly maiden Mary, most highly favoured lady.'  Gloria.  'For know a blessed mother thou shalt be, all generations laud and honor thee.  Thy Son shall be Immanuel, by seers foretold, most highly favored lady,' Gloria!'"

As the song continued, Joshua took his mother's left hand and laced his fingers through hers.  Tears welled in their matching eyes and it was John who took up Maryam's habit of handing out handkerchiefs. 

Once the carol had ended, Gabe briefly bowed his head to Maryam.  She smiled brightly at him before he stepped offstage with the other men. 

After the crowd's clapping had died down, Sy walked onto the stage and spoke.

"'This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'”

Yosef let out a sigh and looped his arm around Maryam, briefly patting Joshua's right shoulder.

"'All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' which means 'God with us.' When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.'"

Once Sy was finished, Andrew took his place with Emma, Diana, and Kylie gathered behind him.  After a long look at Yosef, the angel of death began to sing.

"'Joseph, did you wanna pack your tools?  Head to someplace where nobody whispered, 'There goes Mary's fool'?  Joseph, did you look up and raise your hands, praying, 'God, you know I've always tried to be a righteous man'?  Joseph...  Joseph, did you lie awake confused, thinking about the small town scandal and what love's supposed to do?  Joseph...  If you felt you'd been betrayed, still you didn't walk by feelings, but you chose to walked by faith.  Joseph...'"

As the three women provided back-up, Andrew continued to sing.  Though he did his best to scan the crowd, repeatedly his gaze turned back to Yosef. 

As he made eye contact with the angel, Yosef's own eyes filled.  He remembered the day he had visited Andrew at Cora's and they'd discussed the perils of fatherhood as the angel had cradled his tiny baby.  With a ragged sigh, Yosef peered over at his own baby who was staring at him with absolute love.

In spite of the tears pricking at his own eyes and blurring his vision, Andrew made his way through the end of the song.

"'Joseph, I hope to sit with you one day and hear you tell me all about the choices you were called to make.  Joseph, it was you and no one else that God had trusted to take care of Mary and Himself.  Joseph... Joseph...  It was you, Joseph...  It was you, Joseph... God trusted.'"

Yosef looked proudly at the angel and clapped loudly with the audience.

After Andrew hurried offstage, Joshua glimpsed him run into JenniAnn's waiting arms.  He smiled then looked over at his parents who were also embracing.  When he turned back to the stage, Joshua saw that the curtain had fallen and Shane stood in front of it, dressed as a shepherd.

"'In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And everyone went to their own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.'"

When Shane turned his back to the audience, the curtain raised to reveal the Bethlehem skyline.  At the forefront was a stable.  Joshua immediately recognized it as the Superstar tomb with a new facade.  Just above it, a star began to glow.  Shane joined Joccy, Zoe, Max, Rose, Violeta, and Owen who were to the right of the stage with Mary and Silly.

"Eep!  Eep!" a tiny voice exclaimed, causing everyone to laugh and Violeta to beam from beneath her shepherdess cowl.

When he turned to smile at whichever little one had spoken, Joshua spotted Edward and Caleb at the back of the theatre.  They soon opened both doors, allowing most of the remaining Friends to file in, each carrying a LED candle.  They dispersed through the aisles and began to sing.

"'Mary, full of innocence, carrying the Holy prince, you're almost there.  You're almost there.  Mother of the Living Word, trusting in the voice you heard, you're almost there.  You're almost there.'"

Tears began to streak down Joshua's face when Behnam appeared, leading Yoktan and Isra down the center aisle.  Weeks before, Emma and Peter had suggested that they might do a Christmas pageant and had asked the couple to play Mary and Joseph.  Both had declined.  Isra was too shy and while Behnam had said only that he didn't feel right about it, the truth had been that he'd felt unworthy.  Clearly the two had very recently changed their minds and, with that, the Christmas pageant idea had resurfaced.

"'You're almost where the angels see redemption's plan unfolding.  All hope is in the Son you'll bear.  You're almost there.'"

As she rode down the aisle, Isra stroked her belly.  Tears filled her eyes.  She thought of and prayed for the tiny life growing beneath the padding that JenniAnn had helped her with.  She thought of Maryam, carrying Joshua, carrying the fate of everyone.

"'A lonely road, a willing heart, pray for strength to do your part.  You're almost there, you're almost there.  Trust the Father to provide.  Bread of heaven prophesied.  You're almost there, you're almost there.'"

Just before leading Yoktan up the ramp, Behnam turned to gaze at his wife.  Such love filled his heart that only the fact that they were in the middle of a play kept him from gathering Isra into his arms then running to Joshua, never to let either of them go.

"'You're almost where the waiting ends.  Delivering the life within.  The answered prayer, Emmanuel.  You're almost there.'"

When they were on the stage, Behnam took Isra from the donkey and gently laid her down in the stable, kissing her forehead just before the lights dimmed and the curtain lowered.

Dressed in an immaculately white suit and matching dress and bathed in light, Logan and Beth took center stage.

Joshua smiled and shook his head.  He hadn't even realized they were in Manhattan that evening.

"'She gave birth to her firstborn, a son," Logan recounted.  "'She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.  And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them...'"

"'Do not be afraid,'" Beth continued.  "'I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'  Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying...'"

“'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,'” they recited in unison.

The curtain rose and the audience oohed and aahed as Isra cradled Joy while Behnam looked on with pride.

Joshua beamed at the little girl and only looked away when more coos sounded.  The cause was soon revealed to be Hailey, Kendra, and Monica leading a troop of little angels down the aisle.  Joshua nodded and smiled at them all as they passed: Liam, Jacob, Shelby, Belle, Lily, Ryder, Noah, Tildy, Aiyla, Omar, Zany, Galen Jr., Persephone, Elsie, Kian, Milo, Piper, Parker, Natalie, Kelly, James, and Erin.  Even little Manny toddled along as he kept hold of his eldest sister's hand. 

"'Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head,'" the children sang.  "'The stars in the sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.'"

Once their carol was finished, the little angels gathered around the stable and sat down to admire the baby.

After giving the audience some time to adjust to the overload of cuteness, Portia and Eliot, also dressed as shepherds, stood at stage right and stage left.

"'When the angels had left the shepherds and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about,'" Eliot recited.  "'So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger."

Portia continued. 

"'When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.'"

Together, everyone on stage sang "Silent Night."  Portia and Eliot gestured for the audience to join in.  They followed it up with "Angels We Have Heard on High."

After the last strains of the carol had died away, Matthew and Tyron took Portia's and Eliot's places.  The former spoke first.

"'After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they replied, 'for this is what the prophet has written...'"

Tyron's booming voice replaced his partner's.

"'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'  Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.'"

As the familiar opening notes of "We Three Kings" sounded, Edward and Caleb again opened the doors to the house.  Adam, Henry, and Eli, leading Yonah, came down the aisle in fake beards and finery.

The players and the audience serenaded them as they presented their gifts to baby Joy who was contently snuggled against Isra. 

Once the Magi had knelt and the carol had ended, the star of Bethlehem flared. 

The cast members who were interspersed amongst the audience led them in the next song.

"'Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see?  Way up in the sky, little lamb, do you see what I see?  A star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite, with a tail as big as a kite.'"

Their voices soared together as they reached the final verse, a supplication for peace and generosity.

"'A Child, a Child shivers in the cold, let us bring Him silver and gold.  Let us bring Him silver and gold.  Said the king to the people everywhere,
listen to what I say: Pray for peace, people everywhere!  Listen to what I say: The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light. 
He will bring us goodness and light!'"

With the final note, the star of Bethlehem began to stretch until it had taken the shape of the cross.  Its glow was visible even as a thin white cloth covered the entire backdrop.

Ivy and Sy returned to the stage, holding hands.  After the audience quieted, the young man began to sing in a voice reminiscent of his father's.

'In the first light of a new day no one knew He had arrived.  Things continued as they had been while a newborn softly cried.  But the heavens wrapped in wonder knew the meaning of His birth.  In the weakness of a baby, they knew God had come to earth.'"

Ivy's eyes filled as she picked up the song.

"'As His mother held Him closely, it was hard to understand.  That her baby, not yet speaking, was the word of God to man.'"

"Yeshu..." Maryam murmured as the screen on stage came alive and scenes from Joshua's stint in Superstar and the visit to the Romano Family Farm filled it.

"'He would tell them of His kingdom but their hearts would not believe.  They would hate Him and in anger they would nail Him to a tree.'"

Tears rolled down Joshua's cheeks as Ivy's and Sy's voices mingled together in beautiful harmony.  Everyone on stage stood and was soon joined by the audience save Joshua who was sobbing and Maryam who sat beside him and stroked his back.

"'But the sadness would be broken as the song of life arose.  And the firstborn of creation would ascend and take His throne.  He had left it to redeem us but before His life began, He knew He'd come back, not as a baby, but as the Lord of every man.  Hear the angels as they're singing on the morning of His birth!  But how much greater will our song be when He comes again to earth?  Hear the angels as they're singing on the morning of His birth!  But how much greater will our song be when He comes to rule the earth!'"

Joshua smiled through his tears as the final image, himself in the midst of a massive group hug after a Superstar showing, appeared on the screen.

To thunderous applause, the curtain fell.  When it rose, everyone, including those who had worked backstage, took a bow together and shouted "Merry Christmas!" 

John gave his cousin a bear hug.

"They really got you with that one, huh?"

Joshua wiped at his eyes and nodded.

"Last I knew, they were just going to recite passages from the Bible and sing a bunch of carols.  Well, I knew they'd considered doing an all out pageant a while back but then they backed off and...  Wow.  That... that was a lot to put together in so short a time."

"But every moment of work was so worth it to them," Doreen replied from the row behind them.

Joshua hugged her and Mark then moved onto Raquel and Nico, Allison and Robert, Josephine, and Grant and Molly. 

"I'm really glad all of you were behind us," he said in a hushed tone.  "Not only because I liked having you near but I hope you blocked people's view of me so they didn't think I... I was rude for not standing at the end but..."

Raquel shook her head and brushed some hair behind Joshua's ear.

"Don't you worry about that.  Besides, you didn't need to stand.  We were standing for you."

Joshua nodded and murmured a "thank you" before embracing his parents and cousin.  Once he'd calmed some more, the group made their way to the lobby where the audience members explained away the extra attentiveness of the cast members to Joshua as their merely being glad to have an old friend back.

All but one audience member.

Zadie treasured up moments from the evening and pondered them in her heart.


Once the crowd had finally cleared out of St. Genesius' lobby, the Friends and their guests all headed back to Willowveil.  Monica, Arthur, Vincent, and Catherine had brought the children back early and Joshua's first stop was the rec room.  While some of the littlest ones were already asleep, many of the kids were still awake and clustered around Joshua when he entered.

Stooping down, Joshua hugged them all.

"Thank you for the wonderful show!  You were all perfect angels and you sounded so lovely singing," he praised.  "It meant so, so much to me and to my Ama and Abi and Dad."

"Baby Joy was a good you!" Liam enthused.

"That she definitely was," Joshua agreed. 

"Do you think our baby could be you next time?  I mean not tomorrow cause she's still inside Mommy but..."

Joshua stroked Aiyla's hair.

"We'll have to see what everyone decides to do next year but I'm sure your baby would be wonderful, too, Aiyla."

"So you were really in Maryam's tummy?" Noah asked.

With a chuckle, Joshua nodded.

"Yep.  Just like you were in your Mommy's tummy."

"And God... your Dad God... put you there?" Zany checked.

"Sure did."

"Is that how our baby got in Mommy's tummy?" Aiyla questioned.

Joshua struggled to keep from laughing.  That Vincent and Catherine were giggling behind him didn't help.

"Well, God certainly helped," he replied.

Content with the answer, Aiyla grinned.

"And I think now it's bedtime," Joshua announced.  "Who wants to be tucked in?"

With cries of "Me!  Me!  Me!" the children all wriggled into their sleeping bags.  Joshua kissed each of their foreheads and wished them good night, promising to be there for breakfast.  Once he was finished, he went to Catherine and Vincent.

"Are you staying in here tonight?"

Vincent nodded.

"We wanted to see what a night here is like.  Plus, Belle asked and..."

"He couldn't say no," Catherine finished with a smile for her husband.  She hugged Joshua.  "I'm so glad we were able to watch the show and that it meant so much to you."

"It truly, truly did," Joshua asserted before embracing Vincent.  "And I'm glad you could be there, too.  And the elder and younger Jacobs."

"Father was very, very pleased and Jacob was thrilled to take part."  Vincent beamed at Joshua.  "I hope tomorrow's show is just as wonderful."

"I'm sure it will be.  I hear Ian's up next to play me."

Vincent chuckled and patted Joshua on the back.

"I would say I hope he won't be too fussy but to hear Yosef tell it, that would be more realistic."

Joshua laughed and shook his head.

"I swear... you keep a guy up for a few nights and two thousand years later, he's still not over it!"

Still laughing, the three embraced again then said their good nights.  Joshua made his way to the ballroom where most of the Friends were gathered around the fireplace.  They cheered when Joshua entered.

"I should be applauding for you!" he protested.  "That was... it was amazing.  And beautiful and meaningful and... I loved it.  And to think how quickly you put it together..."

A round of hugs began and then Peter began to tell the story.

"We'd already had things pretty well plotted out before we decided to let the pageant idea go.  We figured everyone needed a break between Camelot and Superstar but... we really started to regret that decision."

"And Behnam and I regretted turning them down," Isra admitted.

"But then it didn't take much to put it all back together," Emma continued.  "The hardest part were the technical elements but Tim and Gloria really came through for us!  That star, especially, was amazing!"

After smiling at Gloria, Tim shrugged.

"It was just a matter of some coding.  It did look pretty great though, huh?"

"Beautiful," Joshua agreed.

"And then Logan pieced together the video at the end," Andrew informed, clapping the vampire on the back.

Blushing, Logan smiled at Joshua.

"I had a lot of fun going through all the footage.  It made me feel like I'd been there."

Joshua squeezed his hand.


"And they made sure to represent all the little subgroups," Tyron pointed out.  "It meant a lot to Matthew and me to be included."

"And to have the Tunnels represented," Eliot added.

"We were going to ask Reuel so El-Chanan would also be represented but umm..."  JenniAnn's voice died away as she realized she now knew why Reuel had said he was honored but would be busy elsewhere.

"He, Eleora, and Cody had plans for this Christmas," Andrew covered for her.

"But he wanted video so... we made sure to get that!"  Zeke smiled at Fr. Mike, Clay, and Tyson who had shared camera duty.

"I think it really got to Zadie," Kylie murmured.  "She was so quiet when we brought her back to the farmhouse.  Edward and Caleb even drove her home because she seemed so... spacey.  Did you get a chance to talk to her, Joshua?" 

Joshua shook his head.

"I tried to approach her a couple of times because I'd promised her we'd talk but I felt like she was avoiding me."

"I spoke with her."

Joshua looked to his mother.

Maryam smiled softly.

"She knows.  I could tell.  It is merely shocking.  She needs time.  She asked me our names, where we were from, how Yosef and I had met... I answered all the questions truthfully, of course.  But carefully.  She hugged me very tightly when we parted."

Maryam caressed Joshua's birthmark. 

"I believe we will see her tomorrow.  She only needs some rest to clear her head."

"It is a lot to take in," Yosef pointed out.

Owen nodded.

"Maybe she's like me, Joshua.  Once reality really sunk in, I just needed that one night to get my head on straight."

Joshua beamed at the artist.

"True.  I'm sure that's it."

"It was so touching to see how many people came up to you, Joshua... remembering you from Superstar."  Peter smiled at the memory.  "It took some doing to explain why we'd used video of you and not me."

"We settled on saying that your birthday was on Friday and we thought it'd be a nice early gift," Eric relayed.

"Which drew some very interesting looks!" Neela added.

Joshua chuckled.

"I did catch some people looking awfully intently at me as I enjoyed some cookies.  Hey, how did the gift booths do?"

"We sold $300 worth of things!" Azalea reported.

Basil squeezed her hand.

"Even better, we had so many people ask for business cards and promise to stop by Lily's Loot."

"Adam's goods did well, too," Ronald shared.  "I didn't keep count of the money, though."

"We came in right around $300, too."  Chloe laughed and shook her head.  "I made $50 in one sale because some guy still hadn't bought for his mom, two sisters, or girlfriend!  I hope they like crocheted pashminas because that's what they're getting!"

Adam laughed.

"Well, it would be good to think our efforts contributed to family harmony at Christmas.  How'd Chris make out?"

"Sold out!" Arthur boasted.  "He's going to try to get more from the publisher for tomorrow's show."

"We'll have to remember that for next year," Emma decided.  "Or maybe even do a little boutique a couple weeks prior.  I'd love to be able to do all my Christmas shopping and know that the proceeds are going somewhere other than a big conglomerate... but procrastinating like that would make me too nervous!"

"I could make some things," Andrew offered.  "Ornaments maybe?"

"And I would love to help," Yosef added.

"I could bring in some paintings or prints.  Obviously Adam needs his proceeds to feed back into his program.  And you need to pay your employees, Basil and Azalea.  But what would we do about the rest?  Divide it evenly among, say, True Light, the Phoenix, and the veterans' hospital?"

"Sounds good to me, Owen!" Rabbi Yakov enthused. 

"Very!  Perhaps my ladies' group at the synagogue could supply some Chanukah related gifts if you'd be interested?" Tiva suggested.

Emma gave an enthusiastic nod.


"We need pen and paper!" JenniAnn declared before rushing up to get some.

Comfortably drowsy, Joshua listened with pride as the Friends made their plans for next Christmas.


Wednesday, December 23rd

Edward and Caleb were both awoken at 3:17 AM by the former's cell phone ringing.

"Augh!  Turn it off!" Caleb moaned.

"Just a second."  Edward grabbed the phone, sure it would be the same telemarketer who randomly called him in the middle of the night.  However, when he looked at the screen, he saw the name "Zadie" in thick, white letters.  He scrambled to accept the call.

"Hello?  Wh-what...  Zadie, I can't under...  Zadie, why are you crying?  Has something..."

Caleb sat up and stared at his twin.  He prayed that nothing had happened.

Edward let out a sigh.

"Oh...  I think it would be best if I come get you.  Now.  No, no.  It's okay.  No, I think it'd be better if I drove since you're... umm...  I'll be there in fifteen minutes.  Okay.  See you soon.  Bye."

Caleb looked expectantly at his brother as he pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt.

"She needs to see Joshua... now."

Caleb beamed, sure that Zadie had settled the matter of Joshua's identity for herself.

"Should I head onto Willowveil and wake Joshua?"

"I hate to but..."

"He wouldn't want Zadie to remain in a state for longer than absolutely necessary," Caleb pointed out.

"Right.  Definitely.  Yeah, thanks."

After a quick hug, the brothers parted.


Having awoken to the sound of Caleb creeping up the stairs, Maryam had followed him to Joshua's room and listened happily as he reported on Zadie's call to Edward. 

"Sweet girl," she murmured before kissing her son's temple.  "She will be wearied and cold when she arrives.  I will go fix some spiced milk for all of you."

"Thank you, Ama."  Joshua returned Maryam's kiss and embraced her before she left. 

"This is an eventful visit for ya!" Caleb commented.  "First Behnam and Isra.  Joyce and David.  Now Zadie.  And tomorrow... or later today, I mean... hopefully... Mick and Josef."

"Hopefully," Joshua stressed before letting out a yawn.

"Sorry I had to wake you up but..."

Joshua shook his head.

"Totally fine.  I'm really glad you had reason to.  How messed up is my hair?"

Caleb chuckled.

"It's a little... bed-heady."

 Joshua glanced in the mirror and grimaced.

"I definitely don't have a mane... but I could at least brush what I do have."

"Do you ever actually do the lion thing?"


"Cool!  When?"

"Mostly when I appear in dreams... visions.  It's more comforting to some people."

"Really?  A lion is more comforting?"

Joshua set down his brush and sat on his bed, facing Caleb.

"For some, yes.  Especially those who have suffered abuse and/or rape at the hands of men."

The smile faded from Caleb's face.

"I... I guess I could see that.  It's sad, though."

"It is," Joshua agreed.  "And sometimes it's with people who bonded with Aslan more than the perverted, fire-and-brimstone version of me they grew up with."

Caleb reached for Joshua's hand and squeezed it.

"That's really cool that you do that."  He cocked his head slightly.  "I'd love to talk more about this sometime but, right now, I think I need to make myself scarce."

After a hasty hug, Caleb fled the room.  A moment later, Zadie and Edward appeared in the doorway with Maryam just behind them.  Edward had his arm around Zadie's waist but released her when they crossed the threshold.  Silently, Maryam set the tray on Joshua's desk, patted Edward's arm, and left.

"Zadie...  I'm so glad you're here," Joshua greeted.

Zadie's tears, which had dried up during the ride to the farmhouse, resurfaced when Joshua held his arms out.  She ran into them and wept into Joshua's shoulder.

Edward looked on with tears in his own eyes.

"I... I wanted it to... to be you b-but I told myself I was just... just being fanciful since this... this is my first Christmas away from my family and... and what could be more comforting than having Jesus right there?  But the more I thought about how gentle and kind you were with everyone at the theatre and... and how everyone here spoke of you...  Then I... I couldn't sleep and had to see you."

Zadie peered up at Joshua who smiled and brushed the tears from her face.

"The Spirit led you to the truth and I'm glad you accepted it, Zadie.  And I'm glad that now you'll be able to spend Christmas with my family."

Zadie smiled radiantly and reached up to caress Joshua's hair.  Then she froze.

Joshua took her hand and moved it closer.

"It's okay.  I like... and love... and trust you enough."

Moved by the echo of Zadie's earlier words, Edward beamed as his girlfriend-to-be stroked the Lion's mane.


JenniAnn let out a luxuriant sigh as she awoke.

Having been awake for several minutes, Andrew smiled and kissed her hair

"Ready to get up?" he murmured.

"Not quite."


Andrew reclosed his eyes as the woman rested her head on his shoulder and stroked his chest.



"I've been thinking... about what Joshua told us."

"Me too."

"Are you worried?"

"Concerned... but not worried."

"Same here.  But what I was thinking about is, well, Santa."

Andrew's eyes shot open.


"Yeah.  About what we all decided on how to handle Santa with the kids.  One present directly from Santa and Mrs. Claus on Christmas Eve and a few stocking stuffers from them on Christmas morning.  But nothing hugely extravagant.  Then no lying when directly asked.  When Belle or any of the kids begin to doubt... we tell them about St. Nicholas and what he inspired.  And, ya know, I think they'll handle it especially well.  Because, in time, we'll tell them about what was really going on during these months ahead and why we were helping all those people.  And then we'll tell them what Nicholas did... the three dowries for those poor girls.  And that's going to be especially meaningful for them.  Especially when they'll have seen proof that Joshua cares deeply about those sorts of unselfish acts."

"Combine that with finding out that it was their beloved Uncle Adam and Aunt Kylie bringing them joy all those years... yeah, I don't think they'll be very disappointed at all," Andrew reasoned.

"Shelby wasn't."

Andrew smiled slightly when JenniAnn sniffled.  He cuddled her closer.

"I think that was actually much more disappointing for you than her," he posited.

"She's just getting so big...  Eleven..."

Andrew felt his own eyes misting.  Through the whole year there had been little signs that their Shelby was turning into a young lady.  While she still happily played with Belle, JenniAnn had been a bit taken aback when she'd asked the girl what she wanted for Christmas.

"She asked for her very own thesaurus," JenniAnn mumbled.

"And a coloring book," Andrew reminded.

"A grown-up coloring book.  With colored pencils... not crayons."

Andrew smiled as he caressed her face before planting a kiss on her brow.

"Can you ask Joshua to make Belle stop growing?" JenniAnn requested as she returned his smile and kiss.

"Yeah.  I'm sure he'll totally go for that," Andrew teased.

JenniAnn sat up and stretched.

"Never," she replied.  "But we can enjoy our baby's little elfhood while we can.  Let's go check on the kids?"

After rising, Andrew took JenniAnn's hand and followed her.  They detoured to the chapel where JenniAnn lit St. Nicholas' candle. 

Andrew smiled as the saint's image illuminated.  Then a sudden thought came to him. 

Every year, Adam had his costume inspected by Nicholas.  Earlier that month, however, Adam had reported to Andrew that Nicholas wasn't in Heaven.  When he'd inquired, Joshua had only said that he was well and "on assignment." 

Andrew began to wonder if Nicholas was among the "others" Joshua said were stationed at the safe house in Manhattan...


Nick looked on with amusement as Azrael showed Nya how to "properly" prepare waffles.  Apparently whipped cream and chocolate syrup were required.

"There.  Perfecto, huh?" the angel of death checked.

Grinning, Nya nodded and dug in.

Despite having only been at the safe house for two full days, Thandie and her girls had already grown comfortable.  Thandie was often with Zaila and Reuel, receiving counseling and discussing what other services might be needed.  Anika idolized Eleora and followed her and Cody around all day, helping to prepare rooms.  Nya had no particular favorite and chatted easily with all the house's inhabitants.  Zizi was content whenever she was being held, no matter who was holding her.  At that particular moment, the honor had fallen to Elazer who was lost in memories of his own daughter's toddlerhood. 

With nothing better to do, Nick pulled a block of wood from his pocket.  He grabbed a carving knife from where he kept it stashed in a tall cabinet and set to work.

"Whatcha doing?" Nya asked in between bites of waffle.

"Carving.  I think this one will be a dog.  We could use a dog around here, huh?"

Nya eagerly nodded.

Nick and the angels exchanged amused looks.  Freya and Michael were, at that moment, at the Humane Society picking out new friends and guardians.

"Where'd ya learn to do that?"

"An old friend taught me."

"Will it be like... a toy dog?"

"Yes.  And I think you're hinting that you'd like it to be your toy dog," Nick teased.

Nya giggled and nodded.

"Then it will be.  After I finish and paint him... or her.  I don't know yet."

"Yay!"  Nya shoveled in some more waffle.  "Whe mo peel omin?"

Azrael laughed.

"Nya, perhaps try that again after you've swallowed."

The little girl showily chewed, gulped, took a swig of milk, and spoke again.

"When are more people coming?"

"Soon, I hope," Nick replied. 

"Will more kids come so I can play with them?"

Elazer looked up from Zizi, wondering how Nick would answer.

After letting out a deep breath, Nick put up his carving and moved to sit beside Nya at the table.

"Yes, Nya, more children will be coming and I'm sure some will definitely want to play with you.  But, sweetheart, some of the children who will be coming have been... very hurt.  And sometimes when we hurt, that makes us angry or very quiet and shy.  So if they don't want to play with you, you'll have to be patient and understanding.  Okay?"

"Okay.  Sometimes mommy is very angry and doesn't want to play.  I understand.  Nick?"


"Will you make them toys, too?"

Nick smiled and nodded.

"That I will."




"Tell me about your friend."

"What friend do you mean, Nya?"

"The friend who taught you how to make toys."


Elazer and Azrael exchanged smiles.

"Well, his name is Joshua and..."

"Will I meet Joshua?"

"I think so, yes.  In time."

"Yay!  Does Joshua like waffles?"

Chuckling, Nick nodded. 

"Yes, Joshua likes waffles."

"Does he like kids?"

"Joshua loves children."

"Kay.  What's he like?"

"Joshua is like...  What's your favorite thing in all the world, Nya?"

"Hugs from mommy."

Nick's eyes glistened.

"Well, meeting Joshua is like one wonderful, warm, tight hug from someone you love very much... like your mommy."

Enchanted and intrigued, Nya listened as Nick offered a selective history of Joshua Davidson.


When Noah Harmon had been asked what he wanted to do for his sixth birthday, the little boy had said that he wanted to stay in his pajamas all day, watch lots of movies, and eat popcorn.  So that's exactly what everyone did.

With help from an airborne Logan, a large white sheet was hung over the wall opposite from the Christmas tree in the Willowveil ballroom.  Movies would be projected upon it all day.  The kids camped out in front of it with sleeping bags, bean bags, and pillows while the adults, including Zadie who had been warmly welcomed into the group that morning, milled around the tables.  They visited with each other and made blankets to be donated to the veterans.  A long table supplied them all with popcorn, mix-ins, and assorted beverages. 

"That's so sweet!" JenniAnn cooed twenty minutes into the first film.

Joshua looked up from the popcorn/Froot Loops/chocolate chip mix he was enjoying.  He turned to where JenniAnn was pointing.  Aiyla had her arm tucked around Omar as they watched The Polar Express

"Oh, I wish Behnam were here to see it," Isra remarked. 

Andrew crept forward to sneak a photo.

"Behnam's giving notice at the warehouse today, yes?" Yosef checked.

With a relieved sigh Isra nodded.

"He felt he had to give them two weeks and Stanley agreed."

"Stanley is a pleasant fellow."  Monica smiled.  "I enjoyed talking with him after the show."

"And I was very pleased by his... calmness upon meeting me.  No fear."  Vincent smiled at the recollection.

Catherine squeezed her husband's hand.

"It's hard to be fearful of someone with a rainbow of butterfly barrettes in his hair, methinks."

Joshua chuckled as he recalled Stanley being led into the ballroom and immediately met by the sight of Vincent's granddaughters giving him a makeover.

"I think Catherine's right... but it also helped that you bonded so quickly over your mutual love of Shakespeare. Not surprising for two people who have read Othello thirty six times."

Returning to the group, Andrew shook his head and smiled.

"I love how you can do that."

The angel handed his phone to Isra.

"Good enough or do you want me to try to sneak another shot?"

After admiring the image of her children, Isra shook her head.

"No, thank you.  That one is perfect."

Maryam peeked at it and smiled.

"Behnam will love it," she declared before returning her attention to tying blanket edges. 

"The bond between siblings is a beautiful thing," Joshua opined as he set down his snack bowl and resumed helping with the blankets.

Overhearing from the next table, Doug approached.

"Speaking of siblings; Toby, Larissa, and I got to talking about something a few days back.  The Bible's got the genealogies, of course, but there's not much about your extended family, Joshua.  You know, aunts, uncles, cousins beyond John and his parents.  Where is John, anyway?"

"Trying to make Mike's web page 'yet more dynamic' with help from Logan, Gloria, and Tim,"Joshua replied.  "And... I did have aunts and uncles.  Ama is an only child but, Abi, maybe you'd like to tell everyone about your siblings?"

Smiling, Yosef nodded.  His nimble fingers worked quickly as he made blanket ties while beginning his tale.

"Gladly, Yeshu.  I suppose I must start with my parents... Yaqob and Samiya.  They were very good friends of Maryam's parents, Hannah and Yehoyakim.  I was their firstborn and then my brother Matthan came only a couple years later.  Then came my sister, Danya, not long after him.  After the three of us, my parents thought they would have no more children.  Then, eleven years later, my mother was once again with child.  We were are all very, very excited."

Yosef looked up and smiled at Zeke and Diana.

"Rather like your Manny, yes?"

The couple nodded to him then beamed at Joshua before glancing at their baby boy who had seated himself between Ivy and Sy on a large cushion.

"For my mother, though, there was some trouble."

Yosef sucked in a deep breath and smiled when Maryam took his hand.

"She went into labor earlier than she should have," Yosef continued.  "My father was in Sepphoris for the night so I was the man of the house.  I was panicked so I ran to Maryam's house... Hannah was known as a very good midwife."

Everyone who had gathered around became very silent.

"The baby, a girl, was born not breathing.  My mother was devastated by then Maryam... she came into the room and took the baby.  Suddenly, the little one was crying."

The humans gaped at Maryam who blushed and tilted her head to Joshua.

"The miracle was all God's.  I merely heeded His voice and massaged the baby's chest which started her heart up again."

Yosef beamed at his wife and son.

"Thanks to them both, our little Yoninah went onto live a very full life.  Her name was actually Maryam because my parents insisted upon naming her for my Maryam.  Not that she was mine at the time..."  It was Yosef's turn to feel his face flush.

Maryam patted his cheek before smiling at the group.

"They let me give her a nickname, however.  So I chose Yoninah... little dove.  She was so small and delicate and gentle."

"Ha!" Yosef scoffed.

"Well, she was gentle when she was a baby," Maryam corrected.  She smirked as she recalled some of Yoninah's more amusing antics.

Joshua laughed.

"My aunt Yoninah was... and is... spirited."

"But she had to be," Yosef murmured, his voice suddenly softer.

Joshua squeezed his shoulder.

"She sounds like a fascinating lady!" Brittony commented.  "I wish she was in the Bible."  Her face colored.  "Well, I mean...  Obviously what's in the Bible is sufficient..."

Joshua hugged the young woman.

"I know what you mean.  But, as it happens, my aunt Yoninah is in the Bible."

Yosef nodded.

"At age thirteen, Yoninah fell very much in love with a man named Halphai... usually translated as Alphaeus."

"Mark 16:1!" Zeke exclaimed.  "Your aunt Yoninah is the mother of James the Apostle!"

"Sure is," Joshua confirmed.

Maryam's smile faltered for a moment.

"Sadly, our Yoninah lost her beloved Halphai.  But then, some years later, she met a man named Cleopa.  He had been widowed himself and, over time, they grew to care very much about each other and married."

"But... but then...  Yoninah was... Mary, wife of Clopas..." Zadie realized.

Emma's eyes filled.  "So she was there when..."

Joshua gave a nod.

"That is why I said Yoninah had to be spirited... she was with my Maryam and my Yeshu on the day he died... when I could not be," Yosef related.

"She was a great comfort to me," Maryam offered quietly.  "I am pleased that she is remembered as my sister.  She loved Yeshu from the first moment she saw me and knew I was with child..."  Maryam sighed happily as she remembered the tiny hands on her belly and Yoninah's crooked, little grin.  "Because she had been born so early, Yoninah's lungs were not quite right.  It caused her little trouble when she was younger but when she was older..."

"It was a long, awful walk that day but Yoninah wouldn't let Maryam walk it alone."  With glistening eyes, Yosef smiled towards a window where sun was shining through.  "Yeshu is right, as He always is.  The bond between siblings is a beautiful thing."

As they reflected on the ancient carpenter's words, the Friends all looked to the children.  Whether siblings by blood or not, they were bound together and it comforted their parents, aunts, and uncles to know that, whatever might happen after their own lives ended, their little ones would face it together.


"Why didn't you tell me how sad you were?"
Zoe's question interrupted the companionable silence in the stable where the sisters had gone to help Violeta tend the sheep.

The angel ceased brushing Silly and looked to Joccy who was doing the same for Mary.

Finally, Joccy set down the brush and approached her younger sister, taking her hands in hers.

"You're my baby sister.  I wanted to protect you... not make you sad."

"Only younger by two years!" Zoe protested.

Violeta shuffled towards the door.

"Should I maybe..."

"No," the sisters answered in unison.

"Okay..."  Violeta sat back down and hugged Silly.

"It's just...  You... you did that a lot with Dad.  When... when he'd get mad, you'd take the blame even if... if it was something I did.  And I guess that made sense when I was little.  But I'm thirteen, Joccy."

"Sometimes when you do something for a long time, it's hard to stop doing it," Violeta quietly offered.  "Andrew's like that.  It's still kind of hard for him to open up to JenniAnn because he got so used to protecting others and not getting really emotional with them.  Is it like that, Joccy?"

The older sister nodded.

"It's not like you could do anything to fix it, Zoe."

"But I could have listened!"


"And prayed.  I mean I was praying for you but... I could have prayed more."

Joccy hugged her sister tightly.

"I'm sorry.  And thank you.  I promise I'll be more honest now."

Zoe smiled as she rested her head on her big sister's shoulder.

"Good.  Cause I want to hear all about school Below!  I'm kinda jealous... but I'd also miss my friends if I joined you."

Joccy beamed.

"We'll go over our days every night.  Promise."


Violeta noisily sniffled.

Laughing, the two sisters shifted.

"Group hug?" Zoe offered.

With a smile, Violeta joined them... only to be promptly head-butted by Mary.

"Oof.  You not getting enough attention?"


Zoe giggled.

"Let's take them and Yonah and Yoktan out to run around some.  Use up some energy," Violeta suggested.

"Sounds fun!"

The Lowery sisters each led a donkey out while Violeta chased after her sheep.

Unbeknownst to the girls, Mick and Josef had recently come through the portal.  Deep in conversation, they remained in the gazebo and watched the teenagers gallivant around with the animals.

"And they have a donkey!" Mick blurted out.

Josef looked up from his folded hands.

"JenniAnn also has a donkey... and I'm quite confident she's not divine."

"Yeah and she also doesn't have parents named Maryam and Yosef and a cousin named John.  And they're also not celebrating her birthday on Christmas.  And her portrait isn't hanging in the chapel.  I know it sounds completely crazy.  But, honestly, it's a lot more comforting to think Jesus is running around than that my wife is completely smitten by some random guy.  I'm willing to share her with God... but not some random guy."

"You still believe Jesus is God?"

"Sure.  I may be a sorry excuse for a Catholic... but I'm sticking with that much, at least."

"This Joshua's very charismatic," Josef pointed out.  "Maybe Beth's just responding to that.  You don't think she's... into him, do you?"

"No... because that would be weird.  But that's part of it.  I mean, yeah, I used the word 'smitten' but when she talks about him... it's not romantic.  But it's... deep.  And I feel like she's trying to get me to connect to him, too.  She wouldn't be doing that if she wanted him to be my replacement," Mick reasoned.  "And besides... things have been really good between us."

Josef clapped Mick on the back.

"I know you want this to be real... and God... whoever He is... knows you have more reason to hope than me... but if Joshua was Jesus then why wouldn't he have cured Logan?  Logan adores him so... why not?"

"'Ad majorem Dei gloriam,'" Mick murmured.

"Whoa... Translation, please?"

"'For the greater glory of God.'  Motto of the Jesuits, by the way.  He has his reasons, in other words."

"Right...  Well, I'm going to leave you to your theological ponderings.  I promised Andrew a game of pool at 11:00."  Josef checked his watch.  "And it's 10:57 so... I better head up.  Actually, he said you could come along, too.  You can avenge me if he beats me."

"If?  It's going to happen," Mick taunted.

"Maybe you and me should be the ones playing then," Josef countered.  "Best man wins."

The two teased each other back and forth until they'd made their way to the rec room.  With the children all watching movies and celebrating with Noah, it was abandoned.

Except for Joshua.

"Hey!" he greeted.  "Andrew has to take a rain check until later today.  It's Noah's birthday and he wanted a movie party.  First up was The Polar Express and now they're onto The Muppet Christmas Carol... which Belle mostly loves.  But she'll only watch the Ghost of Christmas Future part if her Daddy holds her so... he is.  I hope I'm an acceptable substitute."

"Oh, uh, yeah!" Josef replied.  He shook his head, surprised to find that Mick's theorizing had gotten to him.

"Great!"  Joshua tossed a pool cue at the vampire.  "You shoot first.  Mick, you and me next?"

"Sure..." Mick agreed, feeling slightly off-kilter. 

"Cool!"  Joshua smiled at him then focused on his game with Josef.

After Joshua made an impressive shot that sent three balls rolling into the pockets, the elder vampire laughed and held his cue over his head.

"I think I'm just going to surrender now and save my dignity..."

Joshua chuckled and shook his head.

"Naw, let's keep playing.  But first... I have a confession.  Andrew and I set you both up a little bit.  The truth is, I wanted to talk to you two but since we haven't really spent much time together during my previous visits..."

Mick and Josef glanced at each other when Joshua's voice trailed off.

"Anyway, I have a big favor to ask of you both... mostly you, Josef, but, Mick, I know you can help."

"Okay...  What is it?" Josef pressed. 

"I want to keep this quiet for now but...  There's a human trafficking ring moving into Manhattan.  Soon.  I want to take it down and, Josef, I know you're the man to help.  And you and Mick work well as a team."  Joshua smiled proudly at the two.

"You... you're an actor!" Josef spat out.  "Why the hell do you think you have the wherewithal to take down a trafficking ring?"

"Josef!" Mick chastised.

Joshua remained calm.

"I'm not an actor," he clarified.

"All right.  Carpenter then!  But still..."

"I've spent my life trying to free those who are enslaved," Joshua retorted, his voice hushed.

Mick felt a shiver go down his spine.  The creeping sensation that he was in the presence of someone beyond mortal increased when Josef shouted something in what Mick recognized as Russian.

Without flinching, Joshua replied.

Next, Josef tried Chinese.

Again, Joshua responded with ease.

Three languages later, the color had drained from Josef's face.

"Are... are you like... a seraphim or... or something?" he questioned.

Joshua smiled.

"Or something."

He rested a hand on Josef's shoulder.

"You're not alone in your fight, Josef.  You never have been.  Those you've helped think you're an angel.  JenniAnn told you that and it's true.  But it's also true that you're constantly surrounded by real angels... and the love of God."  Joshua looked to Mick.  "Both of you are."

"Everything I've done..." Mick lamented as tears spilled down his cheeks.

Joshua squeezed his shoulders and peered into his eyes.


"By you?" Mick hoarsely asked.

Joshua touched the cross fleury the vampire always wore and nodded.


Mick turned to see his wife standing in the doorway.  She smiled tearfully at him then ran towards him, pulling him close against her.

"He... he's..."

"I know..."

Over Mick's shoulder, Beth smiled at Joshua.  She whispered something into her husband's ear and, when he nodded, Beth took Mick's hand and led him out of the room.

With tears in his own eyes, Joshua smiled after them.

"So that settles it then."

Joshua turned to Josef.

"You're... Christ."

Joshua nodded.

Josef slumped into a chair.

"Then why... why don't you cure us?" he asked, not looking at Joshua.

"As I've told Beth and Logan, the cure is coming.  And, when it comes, it will be much bigger than me laying my hands on three vampires."

"'Ad majorem Dei gloriam,'" Josef echoed.

Joshua grinned.

"Yeah.  That's it exactly.  I do wonder, though... if the cure was here now, would you take it?"

Josef held his head in his hands.

"No.  The cost of this... getting hand-outs from insiders at blood banks... weighs on me.  But if I was back to my old self... I couldn't do what I do.  You don't know how many... or I guess you do know... how many times I would have been a dead man in the midst of those mobsters and hustlers and psychopaths.  How many people I wouldn't have been able to save...  An angel needs to be invincible... or nearly so."

Josef gave Joshua a trembling smile.

"So tell me more about this plan of yours?"

Joshua squeezed Josef's hand and began to divulge what he had in mind for the weeks and months ahead.


Thursday, December 24th

After St. Genesius' second and final Christmas revue, everyone had been so exhausted that there'd been little discussion upon their return to Willowveil.  Thus, it wasn't until Christmas Eve breakfast that the Friends were able to go over it.

"Well, I think the show was just as great as Tuesday's," Sean ventured.  "Just noisier."  He playfully shot his infant son a look.

Kemara laughed as she snuggled the boy.

"I tried to calm him but I think he wanted his real mommy," Isra guessed.  "He certainly seems content now."

Yosef grinned.

"I loved both nights and little Joy's performance was beatific.  Last night, however, struck me as much more realistic."

"Ama!  Abi's making fun of me again!" Joshua called.

Laughing, Maryam took a seat between the two.

"And what is it this time?" she asked.

"The crying again," Joshua replied.

Yosef reached behind Maryam and mussed his son's hair.

"At least you were cute."

"Were?" Joshua pouted.  He struggled to suppress a grin.

"You are still very cute, Yeshu," Maryam assured.

Josef sipped his wine and looked on in awe.

"I can't get over how... casual you all are."

"Especially John," Mick added after a sideways glance to one of the couches.

Joshua laughed at his cousin who was stretched across a couch, cell phone in hand.

"I think he's checking out the mobile version of Mike's web site but who knows.  He could be liking every single post on the St. Genesius' Facebook page."

"I'm glad we got to go to your show last night.  It was great to see... really knowing who it was all about," Mick commented with a teary smile for Joshua.

Josef cleared his throat and hastily wiped at his eyes.

"Well, I just want to know where I can get me one of those Christmas suits."

"I'll happily make you one if you promise to wear it," Monica offered.

Josef chuckled.

"Let me think about that..."

"There were super cool.  So what's on the docket for today?" Zadie asked.

"Well, Jacob wants a bonfire and marshmallow toasting for his birthday.  So we're doing that and a soup and stew lunch at noon," JenniAnn shared.

"And then we'll do our big Christmas party at 6:00.  Heads up that we've invited Eilish and some of the Asterians who don't know the full truth about Joshua so... just keep that in mind, please," Andrew requested.

Joshua smiled.

"I know Samuel's looking forward to it."

Zadie's eyes lit up as she realized how much celebrating there would be... and with so many people!

"Good!" JenniAnn applauded.  "So that's set to wrap at 9:00 and then we're going to have our own church service right here in the ballroom."

"Aww!" Zadie beamed.  "And then tomorrow?"

"We have some time with our immediate families then all gather back here in the ballroom for brunch," Andrew explained.  "After that, people usually drift away until the evening.  Meeting up with other family, enjoying some down time at their own place, etc."

Edward leaned nearer to Zadie.

"We'd love it if you'd spend that time at the farmhouse... I'd love it."

With a giddy smile, Zadie squeezed his hand and nodded.

"Then, in the evening, Joshua gets his cake... or similar birthday treat that somehow involves Froot Loops and, as per veeerrrry longstanding tradition, Maryam and Yosef tell the story of Joshua's birth.  The real story," the angel of death finished.

"It's all so wonderful..." Zadie exclaimed.

"It really is," Mick huskily agreed.

Josef could only look at Joshua and nod.


Sy had spent the whole day trying to find a moment alone with Ivy.  Breakfast was a lost cause considering they all ate together in the ballroom.  Then, during Jacob's birthday bonfire, she'd remained near his sisters, Violeta, Zoe, and Joccy as they mingled among assorted Tunnel dwellers.  He wouldn't have asked her to step away because he knew the girls were doing their best to ease Joccy into her new life.  Afterwards, still together, the girls had disappeared into Serendipity to get into their party clothes. 

It was the party itself, particularly the dancing, that finally gave Sy his opportunity.

"I love this song..." Ivy murmured as she rested her head on her boyfriend's chest while they danced.

"Memories we share together.  Moments no one else can know," Enya crooned from the sound system.  "I will keep them close to me, never let them go."

"It is beautiful," Sy agreed.

"'Once you filled my hands with roses, then you gave your heart to me.  When a kiss had followed this, love was meant to be."

Ivy shifted and smiled dreamily up at Sy.

The young man saw his moment and seized it.

"Can we step out for a moment after this song's over?  I just... I wanted to talk... alone."

Ivy's face clouded.

"Yes...  Is something wrong?"

Sy chuckled and twisted a lock of her hair.

"Not at all, Carrots."

Ivy grinned.  Exposing Sy to marathon viewings of Anne of Green Gables had left her with a permanent pet name. 

"We just haven't had much alone time and with my family here and your family here and, well, Violeta... I wasn't sure we'd have a chance tomorrow and, umm, there's something I want to do."

Sy finished his explanation just as the song ended. 

"Where to?" Ivy asked.

Sy realized he hadn't figured that part out. 

At that instant, Joshua walked by with Emma on his arm.

"Hey, you two should go check out the parlor," he suggested.  "Snow's falling and the way the floodlight is shining on it is so beautiful."

"We'll do that!  Thanks, Joshua!" Sy replied with a huge, grateful smile.

"Thank you, Joshua!" Ivy echoed.

Emma cocked her head as the two teenagers scurried away. 

"They seem... cheery."

Joshua chuckled as they began to dance.

"Young love... speaking of which...  How are you enjoying your first and only engaged Christmas season?"

Emma beamed.

"I'm enjoying it very much.  It was so much fun going shopping for Christmas presents for Peter's nieces and nephews... our nieces and nephews.  And then Abuela and Mama and Dad are coming for New Year's.  Oh good!  You'll still be here to see them."

"Yep.  And I'm looking forward to it."

"To think I'll be Mrs. Garcia-Campbell by the time 2016 ends...  Thank You."

Joshua kissed her hair.

"You're welcome."

They finished their dance in comfortable, reverent silence.  Emma didn't realize that Joshua was slowly leading her to the edge of the dance floor, not until she found herself staring at Peter's sweater.

"Hi," she greeted.

"Hi," he replied with a grin.

Joshua took Emma's hand and placed it in her fiance's.

"I think we need a break from the slow dances for a bit," he announced just as a rollicking tune started.  "Some swing dancing, maybe?"

Both beaming, Emma and Peter nodded then joined Max and Rose, Clay and Kylie, JenniAnn and Andrew, Toby and Larissa, Mick and Beth, and Diana and Zeke on the dance floor.
  Those who were not inclined to jump, jive, and wail formed a circle around them, clapping and smiling with glee with none so happy as the Birthday Boy Himself.


"It really is beautiful...  Like a cascade of little crystals.  Or fairies," Ivy described as she gazed out the parlor window.  "Joshua was ri..."

Ivy gasped when she turned away from the window and saw Sy holding a small box.

"I, umm...  I know that we're, uh, really young and that it maybe wouldn't go over so well if, umm, I proposed but I wanted you to know that... that I love you, Ivy.  Very much.  And always will.  And this... it's, umm, a promise that I will propose.  Later.  I mean unless you wanted to."  Sy grimaced.  "This isn't coming out like I wanted..."

Ivy reached up to lower his head and kissed him.

"It sounds perfect to me," she murmured.  "And I will always, always love you, too."

Sy beamed and opened the box.

"Oh Sy..."  Ivy's eyes glistened as she glimpsed the Claddagh.

"Can I?"

"Yes, please."

His own hand slightly shaking, Sy slipped the ring onto Ivy's right hand, taking care to ensure the heart faced her wrist.

"It's so beautiful..." Ivy admired.  "Thank you.  I wish I had your present with me right now."

Sy shook his head.

"It's fine.  This is present enough for me."  He kissed her right hand, just near the ring.


They kissed again.  And again.

"Are you ready to go back?" Sy asked after drawing in a deep breath.

"Not just yet.  Let's watch the snow for a while longer."


Ivy nestled her head beneath Sy's chin and, with their arms around each other, they gazed out the window at Joshua's beautiful snow.


After the party had ended, the Friends regrouped for their Christmas service.  There was much singing and a breaking of bread that was shared by all.  In lieu of petitions, everyone took a turn sharing what they were most grateful to Joshua and his Dad for that year. 

At the close of the service, the children were hurried off to bed since it was already late and Santa was coming back, after all.  Joshua caught Isra and Behnam as they were leaving the rec room after getting Omar and Aiyla settled in.

"Hey, before you head back home, could you stop in my room?" he requested.

"Of course!" Behnam accepted.

"Will right now do?" Isra asked.


Joshua led them to his room and waved to the settee they had claimed on their first visit.

Once they were both seated, Joshua went to his closet and withdrew a couple of parchment wrapped items.  He settled into a chair and smiled at the two.

"During previous visits, I've made sure that everyone received some sort of hand-carved gift.  I have some catching up to do and I'll take care of that tomorrow with the others but I wanted you two to have your gifts tonight."

He held the items out to the couple.

"Oh, Joshua..."

"Thank you, Joshua!"

Joshua chuckled as Behnam and Isra continued to stare at the presents.

"I think you might like them better if you unwrapped them," he teased.

Grinning like children, Isra and Behnam tore into the packages.

"Joshua..." Isra murmured as tears flooded her eyes. 

There, in her hands, was a delicately carved frame containing a photograph of her, her sister, Salma, and her parents.  It had been taken while her mother was still in good health and portrayed the happy family Isra had known.  When she finally tore her gaze away, Isra noticed that Behnam, too, was holding a photograph.

"Oh...  Sweet Behnam," Isra cooed at the little boy who had become her husband.  He was clutching his older sister's arm and smiling shyly as his parents sat behind them, Adila swaddled in her mother's arms.

"My... my uncle took this from me a-and burned it," Behnam choked out.

Joshua patted his arm.

"I saved it.  And Isra's when the refugee camp was stormed."

"Thank you," Behnam whispered.

Isra hugged her photo to her chest then moved to embrace Joshua.

"Yes, thank you.  It... it brings me such peace to have this.  And now... now I have seen my beloved's family."

Isra returned to Behnam's side and kissed her husband's temple.

"And our children can see Badriya.  And little Belle.  She truly does look like her."

Smiling through his tears, Behnam nodded and stroked his sister's face.  Then he set the frame down, kissed Joshua's hand, and pulled his wife to him.

"This is my first Christmas... and my happiest," he declared.

Joshua hugged the couple tightly.

"I am so glad," he replied.


Friday, December 25th

Andrew awoke to a half-empty bed.  His surprise was short-lived, however, when he spotted JenniAnn standing in the doorway to the nursery.  He rose to join her, looping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on her hair.

Belle and Shelby had opted to stay in the nursery that night, Belle perhaps thinking she'd be able to catch a glimpse of Santa filling the stockings in her parents' room.  But sleepiness had won over and the two girls were snuggled together.

"So precious..." JenniAnn cooed.  "A-and maybe our Shel's not so very grown-up after all."

Andrew smiled as he spotted the teddy bear Santa and Mrs. Claus had given Shelby.  It was tucked against her chest, cushioning Belle's head.  Andrew opted not to remind JenniAnn that she, too, had plush animals, albeit tucked into their headboard.

"Maybe not," he replied. 

JenniAnn smiled up at him then stepped back, closing the door between the two rooms. 

"Since we're both up, what do you say to filling the stockings now?  Then maybe we can go back to bed and not be so blurry-eyed when the kids show up?" she suggested.

"Sounds like a plan," Andrew agreed.

With soft music playing, the two filled stockings from Santa for Belle, Shelby, Violeta, Rose, and Max.  They laid presents beneath the tree and then, in their last moments of wakefulness, danced by the glow of the twinkle lights.

While JenniAnn fell into a deep sleep, Andrew's wasn't as restful.  We woke again, twenty minutes later.  Unable to fall back asleep, he carefully extricated himself from the bed and crept into the hall and up the stairs.  Questions filled his mind and he wanted to talk to Joshua.  To his surprise, Joshua's bedroom door was open.  Peering inside, the angel of death saw that the room was empty.

"Do not worry.  He will be back before any of the others awaken," a voice whispered.

Turning around, Andrew saw Yosef.  He smiled.

"Sorry if I woke you."

Yosef shrugged.

"No need.  I enjoy these nights."

Andrew followed Yosef into Joshua's room and stood with him near the window, staring up at the stars.

"Sometimes it does not seem so very long ago...  Little Yeshu...  As much as I tease him, I miss the crying.  It was so easy to figure out why he wept then.  Hungry?  Soiled?  Cold?"

Andrew rested a hand on the man's shoulder.

"I'm glad you and Maryam will be with us when this assignment starts."

Yosef gave a nod.

"Yeshu will watch over his children... we will watch over our child."

That comment alone brought Andrew a large measure of peace. 

"Do you know where Joshua is now?" he questioned.

Yosef chuckled.

"It is a funny thing the way some people get so angry about Santa Claus... saying he pushes the 'Christ out of Christmas.'  As if that could ever be!  If only they could know what I know and what you are about to know, yes?"

Curious, Andrew settled onto the foot of Joshua's bed and listened as Yosef told what he knew.


Nick smiled as he filled the stockings hung across the fireplace.  At Eleora's urging, Thandie had instructed her daughters to put them there.  All of them had contributed something to the girls' gifts but Nick had been unanimously elected by the angels, Eleora, and Cody to fill the stockings and set the gifts beneath the tree.  He chuckled as he imagined the children's glee
when they came down for breakfast... and Thandie's, too.  There was a warm blanket, fuzzy robe, and more awaiting her. 

Engaging in this kindness was a balm to Nick.  After weeks of concern over the very lives of his charges, to simply be providing them with a few means of amusement was highly welcome. 

"Thank You, Lord, for this moment."

"You're welcome, Nicholas.  Thank you for your dedication and compassion."

Joshua was beaming when the saint spun around.

Nick hurried into his outstretched arms.

"Happy birthday, Joshua."

"Thank you.  It looks like Thandie and her little ones will be celebrating it richly."

"We wanted to bring them as much joy as we could."

"You've definitely succeeded in that.  I'm so glad you got them away from Drake."

"Me too.  Did you, ah, know about the..."

"The knock-out?  Yeah, Dad told me."  Joshua clapped him on the back.  "You had no choice.  And it did give him pause."

"Well, good."  Nick grimaced.  "I do believe that man made me even angrier than Arius ever did."

"With good reason."

Joshua clasped Nick's hand and led him to the table.

"Looks like you have some milk and cookies to enjoy."

Nick grinned as he remembered Nya carefully pouring the milk... two glasses.  "In case Mrs. Claus comes, too!"

"As I have never had a wife, perhaps you'd like her portion?"

Joshua smiled and took the offered glass.

"Thank you." 

Nick moved the plate of cookies between them.

"Delicious," Joshua complimented after biting into a snickerdoodle.

"Zaila and Elazer had great fun teaching the girls to bake.  Of course, we did have to hose them down afterwards.  Flour everywhere."

Joshua chuckled.

"So they're doing well?"

"Very.  In only a few days time, they're already so much more relaxed.  And how are things in Dyeland?"

"Very well.  Five more of them have come to recognize me.  And the bonds between them all... so strong."  Joshua squeezed Nick's hand.  "I know we can do this."

Nick peered into Joshua's eyes.

"'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.'"

Nick's eyes traversed over the lengthy table, imagining it filled with angels and human helpers.

"We can do all things," he asserted.

Joshua settled an arm around the man's shoulders and gave him an affectionate squeeze.

As the first rays of the morning sun peeked into the windows, Santa and Jesus finished their cookies and parted until the causes of freedom and love that had always been theirs brought them back together.

The End

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"- traditional
Psalm 139-"
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me."- Aramaic Bible version
Luke 1:26-38- The Annunciation
Isaiah 7:14- "The virgin will conceive..."
Matthew 1:20-23- Gabriel visits Joseph in a dream

Miracle on 24th Street
Isaiah 9:6- Eternal Father
Luke 2:41-52 - 12 year old Jesus at the Temple
Genesis 2-3- Adam and Eve in the Garden
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Luke 4:18- "The Spirit of the Lord is on me"
"Away in A Manger"
Matthew 23:37/Luke 13:34- hen and chicks
Gospel of John- Jesus repeatedly uses "Verily, verily I say..." there.
Star Wars
"Must Be Santa" by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
"Times" by Tenth Avenue North
Psalm 31:1-5- "In You, Oh Lord, I have taken refuge"
"Up on the House Top" by Benjamin Hanby
"Gabriel's Message," traditional, collected by Charles Bordes and then paraphrased into English by Sabine Baring-Gould
"Joseph" by Jason Crabb
Luke 2:1-17- The journey to Bethlehem, Jesus' birth
"Almost There" by Michael W. Smith
"Silent Night" composed by Franz Xaver Gruber and Fr. Joseph Mohr
"Angels We Have Heard on High"- traditional
Matthew 2:1-11- Visitation of the Magi
"We Three Kings" composed by Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr.
"Do You Hear What I Hear?" by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker
"In the First Light" by Robert John Kauflin
Jesus Christ Superstar
The Polar Express
Othello by William Shakespeare
Mark 16:1- Mary, mother of James
John 19:25- Mary of Clopas
The Muppet Christmas Carol
"Stars and Midnight Blue" by Enya
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Jump, Jive an' Wail" by Louis Prima
Philippians 4:13-  "I can do all things..."

This newsletter is dedicated to John Dye and all the artists, authors, creators, etc. who help to spread the true message of Christmas.  God is with us!

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