salted and peppered through everything at
Christmas. And I love at least one night by
the Christmas tree to sing and
feel the quiet holiness of that time that's
set apart to celebrate love, friendship, and
God's gift of the Christ child."
As I shared last time, this newsletter will be running through
the 12 Days of Christmas. Each day, I'll add another
scene. So please keep checking back!
I hope you and yours have a safe and happy Christmas!
Yeshua and Yohannan were just outside the former's home, sitting
beneath a tree and drawing in the sand.
Yohannan snuck a peek at his younger cousin's drawing.
"What is that, Yeshu?"
Yohannan raised an eye brow. He didn't think it looked
much like a camel.
"Camels came to see me after I was born. Three camels."
"To bring me gifts. Ama and Abi will tell the story
tonight. They always do," Yeshua informed, cutting off
further questioning from the older boy.
Yohannan only shook his head. Yeshu was only six months
younger than him but he sure could act like a baby sometimes...
"What are you drawing?"
"Shells. We find them sometimes when we visit the
sea. My Ama loves it there. I have cousins there,
For a brief moment, Yeshua bowed his head and bit his lip.
"But you are my favorite cousin," Yohannan hurriedly
assured. "I like it when I visit you. I have to
sleep between my other cousins when I visit them and they
snore. You do not snore... not much, at least." He
smiled and patted Yeshua's back. "Last time, they were so
loud that I snuck out and tried to go back to my Ama's and Abi's
tent but, when I got there, I could hear them making strange
noises. Like animal noises."
Yeshua cocked his head, thinking that was a very odd activity
for old people... and Yohannan's parents were old. Before
he could offer his take on the situation, his own Abi, who had
been nearby working on a table, approached them. Yeshua
noticed his father's face was flushed but reasoned it was due to
his hard work.
"Boys, I think Yoktan could use some company," the carpenter
suggested after looking around to see if anyone was near enough
to have overheard Yohannan. Elizabeth and Zakharia would
have been mortified...
Yeshua's face brightened at the prospect of visiting his
treasured pet but he paused to peer up at his father.
"We could help you, Abi," he offered.
Yosef beamed at his boy and tousled his hair.
"Thank you, Yeshu. There will be time enough for you both
to work when you are men. For now, I can handle it.
Go see Yoktan."
Needing no further prompting, the boys scampered over to the
small stable where Maryam's donkey resided. Yoktan brayed
and nuzzled Yeshua as soon as he approached. After a few
moments, Yoktan recognized Yohannan from his previous visits and
greeted him, too.
As Yeshua watched the two, he noticed that his cousin had
changed. He seemed more serious... concerned even.
"What troubles you, Yohannan?"
The older boy looked at the other in surprise. He had not
realized his feelings were so visible.
"I was thinking about what your Abi said. About when we
are men. What do you think you will do when you are a man,
"Be a carpenter like Abi. And you?"
"Perhaps a priest like my Abi."
Yeshua smiled at his cousin's lack of enthusiasm.
"What do you want to do?"
"Be free," he answered simply. "Go where I wish, when I
wish. Following God. Do you want to be a carpenter?"
"Yes. I want to be like Abi. I want to be a
carpenter and I want to get married and I want to have
children. More than one."
A strange feeling came over Yohannan as he listened. He
peered at his cousin who was smiling and stroking Yoktan.
Yeshu would not marry.
Yeshu would not have children.
Yohannan didn't know why he thought these things but, deep
inside, he knew they were true. However, Yeshu was still a
little boy. He would not tell him these things, especially
not when they were soon to commemorate his birth.
Instead of sharing his insights, Yohannan only hugged his cousin
"What is that for?"
"Because you are my cousin and I love you."
Yeshua returned the embrace and kissed Yohannan's cheeks.
"You are my cousin and I love you, too."
Yoktan brayed loudly, protesting being momentarily left out of
the little boys' affections.
With a laugh, both Yeshua and Yohannan returned their attention
to the donkey, the latter looking forward to hearing Maryam and
Yosef tell the story of his odd, tender-hearted, precious
December 24th, 2017
The scene in the Willowveil ballroom was far more sedate than it
had been during the last couple of Christmases... although not
too sedate considering the numerous pets and children under ten
who were running around. The mood was not due to the snow
and ice outside, treacherous as it was. Many of the
Friends might not have been able to make it at all if not for
the pathway that Max and Andrew had shoveled and sanded, several
times, leading from the portal to Willowveil's front door.
What melancholy there was could be credited to the absence of
the Birthday Boy.
The Friends all knew that Joshua was present among them.
He always was. However, they missed his voice, his hugs,
his empathetic gaze, and so much more. Numerous times
since their party had begun, someone would go to the window and
place their hand against the imprint Joshua had left there
several years before. They also snuck up to his bedroom,
enjoying quiet moments of reflection and basking in the memories
of his time there.
Now most of them were gathered around the fireplace, sipping
cider, cocoa, coffee, and butterbeer and consoling themselves
with each other's company.
"I suppose now we know what Christmas was like for the early
Christians," Zeke mused aloud, ending the lull in the adult
"Happy because all their doubt was gone. They knew he
lived on... but sad because he wasn't there, in the same way as
before, to celebrate with them."
Andrew hugged JenniAnn's shoulders when she sighed and slid
closer to him.
"I have to admit, I thought he might sort of... well, ween us
off Christmases with him. You know, like not be here for a
whole week but... I was hoping for Christmas Eve and Christmas
Monica's eyes glistened over the rim of her coffee mug.
After taking a sip, she spoke.
"It is possible he still might come." She looked at the
pocket watch that Andrew had given her. "It is only a
quarter til 5:00. Not everyone has arrived."
"That's true!" Kylie chirped. "Peter just texted, by the
way. He and Emma will be coming soon. Something
about a wardrobe issue..."
"I believe I know what that's about. Emma mentioned that
she was beginning to have trouble fitting into her
clothes. It is hard to know with your first baby."
"Well, she's always welcome to peruse the store," JenniAnn waved
to where the McCallums were sitting. "Actually, Kemara
just recently brought over even more of her matern..."
JenniAnn was cut off when Owen came running towards them.
"Sean, Kemara... do you know of anyone else coming from your
way?" he asked.
Kemara considered for a moment then shook her head.
"I can't think of who..."
"Me neither. Eilish and Samuel are already here. So
they wouldn't be out there. Why?"
Owen sucked in and let out a breath, clearly excited.
"I stepped outside with Logan and we saw two lights in the
distance. Lanterns, maybe? Really powerful
lanterns. They were coming towards us. Do you
Before the artist could finish his question, the group abandoned
their chairs and rushed to the ballroom's many picture windows.
"I don't see..."
Another silence settled over the Friends as they watched the
lights... and hoped.
Meanwhile in NYC...
After finishing his text to Kylie, Peter returned to their
shared bedroom to check on his wife. He found Emma in
front of their mirror, shirt pulled up, exposing her distended
belly. For a brief moment, Peter smiled and imagined she
was thinking of their unborn baby. However, he soon
noticed that Emma looked distraught.
"Sweetheart, why don't you wear one of my sweaters?" he
offered. "It'll be huge in the shoulders but..."
Emma hastily dropped her shirt and shook her head.
"No, it's okay. I found a tunic that will fit. No
one will be able to tell that my thermal shirt is a little...
Peter chuckled when he saw that it did indeed only stretch to
her navel. He approached and wrapped his arms around Emma,
resting his chin on her shoulder and looking at them in the
"I happen to think you look awfully cute. Makes me kind of
wish we were staying home, ya know." Peter winked into the
Emma playfully rolled her eyes.
With a sigh, Emma turned and snuggled against her husband's
"What is it, Emma? Is it Joshua and his family not being
here this Christmas?"
"Kinda. I mean I am... wistful about that.
Peter cupped her chin.
"Tell me. Please."
"It's just... when I kept trying on shirts... I... I
really noticed my scars. And I got to thinking about when
the baby's born. I mean I know Portia won't think anything
of it but... what about the nurses? Or if there are other
doctors? What will they think? Will they worry that
they're sending a helpless infant home with a basket case?"
Peter brushed away the tears that had begun to fall down his
"My girl..." he murmured before kissing her cheeks and
lips. "First of all, they're professionals. Second,
I'm sure this won't be the first time that they've seen someone
who used to cut. And, finally, they'll be able to tell the
scars are old. All they'll see is a strong, smart,
beautiful woman waiting to meet her baby... our baby."
"Our baby..." Emma echoed.
"I can't wait. You're going to be the most wonderful
"I hope so... I know you'll be a wonderful daddy.
Emma leaned in for a lingering kiss then again snuggled against
"You always know how to make me feel better. I don't know
what I would do without..."
Emma was cut off when Peter's phone jingled.
"That's probably Kylie again, checking on us." Peter
removed his phone from his pocket. "No, actually it's
Shane. 'Look who showed up.' There's a photo
loading. And there... Emma..."
Peter held his phone screen toward his wife who let out an
"Let's go!" she cried.
Feeling giddy himself, Peter ran after Emma into the living room
where they put on their coats in record speed and fled their
A few minutes earlier in
"Remind me again why we're doing this?"
"Because it's fun!"
"You with your dramatic entrances..."
"Yoktan's not complaining."
"Yoktan can't talk."
"He can to me. And he's not complaining."
John halted in his march through the snow, bent down, and socked
Joshua in the middle of the back with a snowball.
Joshua whirled around and made a quick movement with his
hands. Suddenly, balls of snow lifted from the ground and
pelted his cousin.
"Not fair!" John bellowed as Joshua laughed heartily.
Still chuckling, Joshua rested his hands on John's cheeks.
Instantly, the Baptist warmed up.
"Just think of how excited they're getting, watching our
For a brief moment, John saw his baby cousin in the grown man's
giddy smile. He softened and patted Joshua on the back.
"True. Do you remember the year I stayed with you and your
family for your birthday?" John asked.
"We talked about who we wanted to be when we were men."
Joshua beamed at John.
"And you became exactly who you wanted to be! Free and
going wherever God led."
"And so did you... in your own way. A Bridegroom with
children more numerous than the stars. I had my doubts."
"I know." Joshua squeezed John's hand. "It all
worked out. Didn't it?" he asked Yoktan.
The donkey brayed, knocked off Joshua's cap, and licked his
John hurried to fix his cousin's mane.
"I can see the castle's lights. We're getting
closer. I don't want my little cousin looking like a
ruffian. Your Ama would have words with me."
"Probably so. She and Abi should arrive shortly after we
John looked around, astounded.
"They're out in this!?"
Joshua shook his head.
"Oh no. They'll just show up in the ballroom."
"I wasn't aware that was an option..."
"Payback for all the times you lorded your six months over me."
Before John could reply, Joshua set off at a run with Yoktan
John sighed and looked up at the stars.
"Your Son is a royal pain, you know that?"
Hearing the divine response, John laughed and ran after his
Soon they were pounding up the steps to Willowveil Castle.
They didn't even have a chance to knock before the door was
flung open and both men and Yoktan were pulled inside by an
excited throng of Friends.
After the pandemonium had settled down and Maryam and Yosef had
arrived, followed shortly by Emma and Peter, the Willowveil
ballroom was the site of much merriment. Adam reprised his
role of Santa with Kylie and Caleb again donning the costumes of
his wife and elf. Each child, after visiting with "Santa"
and receiving a gift, was then given the opportunity to chat
privately with Joshua who basked in their attentions and
bestowed his own loving care upon them. Following a
potluck dinner, Joshua and his family and all the older Friends
were regaled with a brief carols concert from the
children. Then, after a final round of Christmas cookies
and milk, the little ones went to bed with the assurance that
Joshua and Co. would still be with them come Christmas morning.
As they had the previous year, the Friends returned to the
ballroom and settled around the fire to visit with their honored
"I'm just so glad that you're all here!" a teary-eyed Emma
proclaimed, squeezing the hand of Maryam who was seated beside
"It is our honor," Joshua's mother replied. "And so
wonderful to see you all... and you, darling Emma... you look
"Oh... thank you. I needed that tonight. Not that
Peter didn't do a fine job of boosting my confidence but..."
Emma briefly rehashed her earlier concerns and doubts about her
scars for her friends.
"I feel a bit guilty," she confessed as she looked at
Joshua. "I feel so blessed to have this little one growing
inside me. I should focus on that. And my gorgeous,
in all ways, husband and wonderful friends..."
Joshua only shook his head in reassurance. It was Clay who
"I understand, Emma. Truly." He took Kylie's hand
and gazed at Ada-Marie who was asleep in her mother's lap.
"I'm also very, very blessed and yet... sometimes..."
Kylie gave her man an almost imperceptible nod, granting him
permission to tell his story... their story.
Friday, Dec. 1st, 2017
As they had the previous two years, Clay and Kylie had
volunteered to help decorate their church in Albany for
Christmas. With his soldier's body, it fell to Clay to
help haul several boxes of decorations up from the church's
basement. Kylie had the less physically demanding but no
less taxing job of keeping excited children out of the way while
they waited for ornaments to be unwrapped. Nonetheless, it
was a task the couple enjoyed, even moreso as it was Ada-Marie's
first Christmas. Balanced on her mother's hip, the baby
cooed and babbled at the swirl of activity around her.
Each time her father emerged from the basement, she grinned and
threw her arms up. And each time Clay returned her smile,
put down his load, and embraced his wife and daughter.
"Only a couple more trips, I think. Then the real fun
begins. I can already tell we're going to have our hands
full next year. Aren't we?" Clay asked in a voice he
reserved for Ada-Marie.
The little girl giggled and reached for Clay.
"Your turn!" Kylie chirped, transferring Ada-Marie. "The
boxes will wait. Or someone else will..."
"Ugh. I wonder if I can get worker's comp for back
strain?" Adam questioned as he approached, slightly
hunched. "I think I just carried up a box full of solid
With her hands free, Kylie gently kneaded the angel's back.
"Poor Adam! That was probably the altar nativity.
It's made of solid stone."
"Well, I guess if I was carrying Joshua and his family then it's
The angel of death was interrupted by a childish scream.
"Monser! Scay monser!" a tiny voice shrieked.
Adam's and Kylie's hearts sank when they turned to see a little
boy, no more than three, pointing at Clay.
Red-faced, Clay had shifted so that Ada-Marie hid the scarred
side of his face.
The child screamed again but was quickly hauled out of the room
by an embarrassed adult.
"I think I better get back to the basement," Clay murmured
before handing Ada-Marie to Adam and hastily retreating.
"Oh no... Oh, Clay..." Kylie choked out as she watched her
husband's retreating back.
Adam gave her a squeeze.
"You go. I can handle Miss Ada-Marie. Can't I?"
Oblivious to the unfolding drama, the baby planted a sloppy kiss
on her uncle's cheek and began to play with his shoulder-length
"Thank you," Kylie whispered before hurrying after Clay.
In the two and a half years since Clay and Kylie had joined
their congregation, the startling appearance of the former had
become a non-issue for his fellow congregants. On
occasion, a visiting pastor or guest might show some shock but
the simple phrase "wounded warrior" usually put an end to any
gawking or whisperings. Parents and teachers had done a
good job of speaking to their children and telling them about
Clay and his heroics. As a result, the kids viewed him as
less of an oddity to be feared and more of a mythical hero to be
idolized. While Clay was always quick to point out that he
shouldn't be put on a pedestal, he appreciated the kindness and
empathy his fellow church-goers showed to him.
But Kylie knew that instances like what had just transpired
still hurt Clay deeply. She hoped she could comfort him.
"Clay?" she called once she had finished the
climb down the stairs.
Kylie followed her husband's voice to a coat closet where she
found him standing alone.
"I'll get back to the boxes. I just needed a moment," Clay
Kylie approached and wrapped her arms tightly around Clay's
middle. She stretched up to pepper his face with kisses.
Once a smile had returned to Clay's face, Kylie spoke again.
"Someone must have brought some visitors. I'm sure they're
explaining everything to the boy now."
"Yeah. Probably. I just wish... I mean a kid
should be able to show up to a decorating party without being
"Clay... You can't..."
"I know. I can't hide away."
"If you wanted... we could look further into surgical options,"
Kylie offered hesitantly.
"That's so expensive and..."
"We could make it work," Kylie insisted. "We're
comfortable. We could do with a little scrimping and
Clay heaved a sigh.
"I don't think so. I'd feel like a hypocrite. Some
of the other vets I visit are far worse off. And plastic
surgery won't help them." He didn't miss the relief that
washed over his wife's face. "Besides, I think you like my
scars," he teased.
"I love everything about you," Kylie replied. "But I would
get used to it if you wanted..."
"I don't. I mean it. Although it does worry me that
Ada-Marie is going to get teased. No one wants to be the
monster's or freak's daughter."
"She would never be that, Clay. You know that. And
if anyone said that to her... well, they would be hearing from
Clay chuckled. Small and sweet as she was, Kylie had also
picked up on Dot's feistiness and Adam's biting wit during the
past couple of years. He had no doubt she could aptly
defend him and Ada-Marie.
"Point taken," he admitted. "And I suppose she'll have
siblings, in time. They'll brave it together."
Kylie's face flushed.
"What is it?" Clay checked. "You still want more kids,
"I'm pregnant," Kylie blurted out.
"I figured I couldn't be since I'm still nursing Ada-Marie but
when I felt sick a couple weeks ago... it felt an awful lot like
when I first found out we were expecting her. But I didn't
want to disappoint you since I still thought it so
unlikely. But I took a pregnancy test yesterday... and
then another today and... Both positive. It... it's
not too soon, is it?"
Clay let out a yelp then pulled Kylie to him.
"Another baby..." He kissed his wife's brow. "Of
course it's not too soon!"
"And... and it's still so early. Something could... it
could go wrong," Kylie reminded with a shaky voice.
Clay stroked her back.
"I know, darling. I do. But we'll pray it
Kylie smiled up at her beaming husband.
"You're a miracle," Clay murmured.
With a giggle, Kylie stroked his chest.
"Well, I didn't exactly do it alone, ya know..."
"Coach? Are you in there?" a voice called.
"Yeah, just a second." He lowered his voice. "Does
anyone else know?"
"Not yet. I thought we'd tell Adam together. And
then wait a bit before telling the others."
"Sounds good. Oh, Kylie..."
The couple shared a passionate kiss then pulled apart when they
heard someone twisting the doorknob.
"Oh! I'm sorry! I thought you were alone," a
teenaged boy apologized after poking his head into the
closet. "I thought maybe you needed to talk but,
umm... I see you already have company. Sorry, Mrs.
Kylie laughed and shook her head.
"It's okay, Taylor. We're finished... and ready to go back
upstairs?" she asked, looking to Clay.
"Yep. Ready to go back upstairs. Thanks for coming
to get us, Tay."
"Sure thing. Mr. Garcia asked me to. That was his
nephew who, umm, you know. They feel real bad about not
thinking to tell him about you."
Clay squeezed the young man's shoulder.
"It's okay. I'll talk to Louie about it. He
shouldn't feel bad. None of them should."
"I'm glad you're okay, Coach."
Clay beamed at the boy and then again at Kylie.
"Taylor, I'm feeling wonderful."
"Oh. Well, okay! I'll run ahead and tell everyone
you're on your way back up."
Once the teen was gone, Clay and Kylie turned to each other and
resumed their interrupted kiss. Then Clay rested his hand
on his wife's stomach and gazed at her in loving awe.
For a moment, the second stunned silence of the night fell over
the crowd at Willowveil. Then came the cacophony.
"You're pregnant!" Dot shouted, dashing towards Kylie and
embracing her and then Clay.
Caleb clapped Clay on the back.
"You could have let the poor girl wait at least a year, you
know," he teased.
Edward whacked his twin on the back of the head.
"What!? He knows I'm joking. Clay, that's
great. Really awesome."
"Congrats, my friend!" Edward gushed.
"Another little one to introduce to the farmer's life!" Randall
Andrew grinned and shook his head in amazement. He turned
to Adam who was nearby.
"Did you know?"
A beaming Adam nodded.
"They told me the day after the decorating party."
"Thank Joshua for, uh, Joshua. It helped to have someone
to talk to about it while it was still a secret."
"I was very glad to be your confidante, Adam." He turned
to the happy couple and clasped Clay's hand. Since Kylie
was still holding Ada-Marie who had, amazingly, stayed asleep
during the excitement, Joshua placed his other hand on her
"I'm so very pleased that you two will be welcoming another
little one into your lives and your hearts. Thank you for
being open to his or her coming."
"You're welcome," Clay replied, rising to hug Joshua.
"And thank you... so much," Kylie added.
As most of the Friends crowded nearer to speak to the expectant
couple, Arthur gently steered Monica towards the castle's
kitchen with the excuse of doing a coffee run.
No sooner had they crossed over the threshold into the kitchen
than the angel burst into tears.
"Monica... There now..." Arthur soothed as he held her
Monica sunk against the man, resting her head
on his shoulder.
"I... I'm so happy for Clay and Kylie but... but..."
Arthur smoothed her hair.
"I know... I know, Monica."
"I... I never thought I'd have a child at... at all. B-but
we have Liam and I love him so much. He's getting so big
a-and he's such a sweet little fellow but..."
"But we never got to raise a baby together?" Arthur surmised.
Monica sniffled and responded with a nod. For a brief
moment, her face clouded. A flicker of a memory... a false
memory... of herself pregnant with Arthur's child.
Guessing where the angel's thoughts had gone, Arthur cupped her
chin and tilted her face up to look at him.
"No, Monica. Don't go there. It
won't help," he stressed.
Monica drew in and let out a deep breath.
"Good. Monica, if you really want to pursue adoption then
you know I'd support that," Arthur encouraged.
"But..." the angel murmured.
"I don't know... I just have a feeling that Liam's going
to keep us busy. You're right. He's a sweet, good,
smart little guy. But... he has some troubles still
Monica found herself nodding. The truth was Liam did take
up a lot of their energy and time... both of which they were
happy to give him. But how would they manage a baby?
At eight years old, Liam lagged behind his peers in terms of
independence. There were the times, in finer weather, when
he would happily pal around the wilderness surrounding their
home with only Conan for company. He could keep himself
amused inside their home, too, but never for very long.
Inevitably he would come in search of his parents, sometimes
remaining with them and sometimes seeming only to check that
they were still there. It was as if he thought they'd
disappear or, worse yet, abandon him.
"You're right," Monica conceded. "I wouldn't want to do
anything that could potentially hurt Liam. And speaking
of... What I started to tell you before your parents
"Oh, right. C'mon, let's sit down."
Arthur pulled a kitchen chair out for Monica then sat down
"It was this morning... when we were still at the food truck,"
the angel began.
Earlier in the Day
New York City
"Enjoy! Merry Christmas! Keep warm!" Monica shouted
after her departing customers. When they waved back, she
smiled then lowered the ordering window. As cold as it
was, customers were few and far between. She checked the
service bell and then moved to the back to check on Liam.
As soon as the little boy noticed his mother had approached, he
hastily hid the piece of paper he'd been writing on.
Monica grinned and raised an eye brow as she noted his somewhat
"A last minute letter to Santa?" she guessed. "Or maybe a
Liam blushed and shook his head.
Monica's smile dropped when she noticed there were tears in the
"Liam, baby, what's wrong?" she gently asked as she sat beside
Liam snuggled closer.
"I... I was writing a letter. But not to Santa."
"Oh? Well, you don't have to tell me about it if you
"To my mom in Heaven," Liam interrupted, the guilty expression
"Oh, sweetheart..." Monica hugged him. "There's
nothing wrong with that. I think it's lovely to want to
wish your mom a merry Christmas."
"Will you read it and tell me if it's okay?"
"If you want me to."
Liam nodded and pulled the sheet of paper out from under the
book where he'd stashed it.
Monica smiled at him and silently began to read. It didn't
take long for tears to well.
I hope you have a merry Christmas. It must be nice to be
in Heaven for Christmas. You can see Joshua even if we
I'm doing good. Grandma and Grandpa live with us
now. I love that.
Monny and Dad are taking really good care of me. I love
them very much. I'm glad I live with them."
Monica noted that this last line had been struck through only to
be rewritten. Giving Liam a tender squeeze, she continued.
"I hope that doesn't hurt your
feelings. I don't mean to. But I feel safe with
them. And no one hits me. And they don't tell me
to go back to my room because they're too busy. And we
have lots of food.
I guess that's all I've got to say. Except merry
Monica wiped at a few tears before smiling down at her boy.
"I think it's a beautiful letter and I can tell it came straight
from the heart. Your mummy will know that, too."
"Do you think it'll hurt her feelings?"
Monica sighed and patted her lap.
Despite the fact that he was nearly too big, Liam wasted no time
in climbing onto his Monny's lap.
"Liam, in Heaven there is no sadness, no anger, no hurt
feelings. But there is honesty. Your mummy knows
that you had a hard time when you were living with her and that
she didn't... couldn't... do the best job caring for you.
So you can be honest with her. I think she would like that
better than you writing a letter that didn't come from your
"I do. She loves this little heart."
Liam smiled when his Monny patted his chest.
"And so do I. And so does Daddy. And so does
God. And so do your aunts and uncles and cousins and Conan
Liam giggled and wrapped his arms around Monica's neck.
"I get it, Mom."
Monica rubbed her nose against his.
"Good. Now how about we make ourselves some cocoa?
His mood lightened, Liam slid off Monica's lap and hurried to
where the cocoa and fixings were waiting.
For a moment, Monica remained and smiled after him, new tears
forming... tears of sadness for the burdens Liam still bore and
tears of joy for all the strides he had made.
The angel lifted her eyes and sent her own message Home.
"So, yes... I do think we need to focus on
Liam," Monica concluded.
Arthur hugged her.
"But I think maybe we should take up Vincent's suggestion to
foster some of the Tunnel orphans. He and Father made a
good point about it boosting their immune systems. Not to
mention taking away some of the shock if they ever did decide to
live here or Above."
"True... And I would enjoy that. And I think it
would be good for Liam, too." Monica smiled as she
imagined opening their home to several little ones.
"Let's talk to Vincent after the holidays, okay?"
"Yep!" Monica turned to the coffee station. "And now
to avoid making a liar of you... I'm going to make more coffee."
"Sounds like a..."
"Can we come in?"
Arthur and Monica turned to see Isolde and Mick standing in the
"Sure!" Arthur invited. "Monica's making more coffee if
you've come in search of that."
"Actually, we've come for the second meat and cheese tray.
JenniAnn said it was in the fridge," Isolde explained.
"She said she hadn't appropriately calculated for the increased
demand stemming from four former vampires enjoying their first
edible Christmas in ages."
Laughing, Arthur pulled the tray from the fridge.
"Here you go. It's too bad that Josef's not here...
although I'm glad he and Amber-Marie let Daisy stay over."
"Ah, yes!" Isolde gushed. "She was so precious with
Joshua. And at least they'll be with us tomorrow
morning. But someone had to mind the Chrysalis and...
they're not completely without heavenly company. Joshua
just told us that Nick, Elazer, and Zaila are there."
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Monica cried as she set the coffee to
"They certainly seem to think so." Mick turned his phone
to show off a photo of Josef and Amber-Marie standing with their
guests near the CC's Christmas tree. All five had gleeful
smiles and Nick appeared to be mid-laugh with a barely visible
child perched on his broad shoulders.
Isolde and Monica exchanged a fleeting look. They'd
noticed something the boys had not. A certain wistful look
in Amber-Marie's eyes as she stood near Josef, one of his arms
around her shoulders.
"Well, let's get this tray out there," Mick pressed.
"Before Logan and your husband start scavenging."
"Ha! You've been just as much of a glutton tonight and
don't deny it, Mr. St. John," Isolde teased.
"What can I say? I love pepperoni... or pepperoni-like
"We'll be right behind you," Monica promised. "Coffee just
needs a bit longer."
"Sounds good!" Isolde called over her shoulder as she grabbed a
box of crackers and followed Mick out.
Once they were alone again, Arthur gave the angel an
affectionate squeeze followed by a tender kiss.
"You always make me feel better," she murmured.
"Good. Because I hate to see my lady cry on Christmas."
"No more crying... unless they're happy tears. We have new
adventures awaiting us and whatever they are... I know they're
the ones God means for us to embark on."
Monica nuzzled Arthur's shoulder for a moment before loading up
a tray and heading back to the ballroom to rejoin the others.
Following a spirited caroling and desserts party
with the Chrysalis Court's clientele, Amber-Marie retired to the
kitchen to begin preparations for the morning's breakfast.
She'd only been there a short while when she heard the door open
and close. Turning around, she saw that Nick and Gayle had
"Hi there!" she greeted. "Nick, I thought Josef was giving
you a tour of the improvements we've made since you were last
"He was. And a very good tour at that. But then he,
Zaila, and Elazer began to talk about an assignment in Portugal
that they'd shared. I thought it provided a good
opportunity for you, Gayle, and me to catch up."
Amber-Marie glanced at her assistant who looked a bit hesitant.
"Why do I feel like this is some sort of intervention?" the
psychiatrist asked nervously.
"Because I suppose it is, in a manner," Gayle replied.
"Sweetheart, come sit down with Nick and me."
"All right... I hope I haven't done anything wrong.
I don't want to get bopped in the nose."
Nick laughed and playfully tweaked Amber-Marie's nose.
"My dear, I can't imagine anything you could do that would
provoke me to such a response. No, this is because Gayle
has shared some concerns with me. And you fall under my
It was Amber-Marie's turn to laugh.
"You're the patron saint of so much that it'd be a wonder to
find someone you're not patron of."
"Very true. But that doesn't mean any of you are less
special to me. And you're especially special,
Something in Amber-Marie broke at hearing the tenderness and
kindness in the old fellow's words. She found herself in
Nick's arms, crying into his shoulder while Gayle stroked her
"I... I think I love him," the woman choked out.
"I know you do," Gayle murmured back.
Amber-Marie peeled away from Nick just enough to see both his
and Gayle's faces.
"I didn't mean to... or want to... fall for Josef. I don't
want to do anything that could further complicate Daisy's
life. She... she's everything to me but..."
"As cliche as it is, the heart wants what it wants," Nick
"Yes... it does. But I think... I think Sarah may have
been his one and only. On nights when Daisy struggles to
sleep and ends up dozing between us on the couch... we
talk. About life, about what's happened to us in the past
few years, about our work... about Joshua and, yes, about
Sarah. I can tell he still loves her deeply. And...
and I'm a busy, practical, thirty nine year old divorcee who
can't possibly compare to a beautiful, ethereal, eternally
young, first love."
"But you don't have to compare, Amber-Marie!" Gayle insisted.
"She's right. Think of Peter. He loves and adores
Emma. But that doesn't mean he's forgotten or no longer
cares for Jaz."
"True. But Josef's given me no indication that he thinks
of me that way. Do... do you know if he does?" Amber-Marie
Both Nick and Gayle shook their heads.
"I don't know," the saint confirmed. "But I do know that
these past few months have given Josef a lot to think
about. And I also know that he's coming to some
resolutions to the emotional turmoil that he's felt for so
"Yes... I've sensed that," the doctor agreed.
"Especially since May when... well, whatever happened between
him and Joshua."
"Has he ever told you about what transpired?" Nick checked.
Amber-Marie shook her head.
"All I know is that now he has no appetite for... you
know. He subsists on, well, nothing. A sort of
half-cure, I guess."
"Ask him about it," Nick urged.
Before Amber-Marie could protest, Gayle spoke.
"The Al-Mitras are having Daisy over for New Year's Eve, aren't
they? Perhaps then? Nick's agreed to return and help
me hold down the fort. You two could have some time to
yourselves. To talk."
"Get some answers about what happened between Josef and Joshua,"
the saint encouraged. "I think, once you know that, you
might find it easier to tell Josef your own truth."
As Nick gazed into her eyes, Amber-Marie felt a peace wash over
"Okay. I'll talk to Josef on New Year's Eve," she
"Very good! Now... where might one get some milk and
cookies?" the toymaker questioned.
Laughing, Amber-Marie took his hand and, with Gayle, led Santa
to where the CC's children had left treats for him.
The talk around the fireplace at Willowveil had
become more subdued as midnight neared. Sleepy smiles had
replaced laughter and yawns were growing more frequent.
After catching JenniAnn nudging a drifting Andrew, Joshua spoke.
"Well, since I brought you all into this world, I think a
certain paternal duty falls to me," he kidded. "Bedtime,
"You'll still be here in the morning?" Sy checked.
"Yes. And Ama and Abi, too. Maybe John."
Joshua playfully elbowed his cousin.
"Of course John will still be here," he assured. "I'll
walk those of you leaving out to the portal. Maybe I can
do something about that ice that's formed on the pathway..."
After a series of hugs and kisses, the group began to disperse
until only those staying at Willowveil remained.
When Joshua returned from leading the others to
the portal, Andrew and JenniAnn alone remained to greet him at
"Hey there!" he said as he stepped inside and stomped the snow
from his boots. "What are you still doing up?"
"We just wanted to see if you needed anything," JenniAnn
explained. "We've kept your room pretty well and..."
Joshua squeezed her shoulders.
"You've done more than that. It's immaculate. I have
everything I need. You just get this one to bed." He
waved towards Andrew who was hiding a yawn behind his hand.
Andrew gave a weary smile.
"Sorry, I don't know why I'm so exhausted."
"Repeatedly shoveling and sanding the walkway would do that,"
JenniAnn reminded him. "C'mon, let's not disobey the Great
Chuckling, Joshua embraced them both then waved them up the
"You go on up. I'm going to stay in the ballroom for just
a little bit longer. Go get some sleep and I'll see you in
"Sleep well, Joshua."
"Good night to you both!"
As she tugged a sluggish Andrew towards the stairs, JenniAnn
peered back towards the ballroom. She could just make out
Joshua standing near a window, gazing affectionately up at the
Christmas Morning 2017
Andrew smiled as he awoke, thinking of the remnants of his
dream. He and JenniAnn were on the lake in the Fields of
Gold, trying to teach Belle how to ice skate. Once she was
tuckered out, they'd settled into one of the cabins and the
little elf had drifted off mid-cup of cocoa. Then he and
JenniAnn had danced and gone to bed themselves where she'd
massaged his arms and shoulders and then...
The angel's right eye brow quirked up.
Real hands were beneath his shirt, gently caressing him.
"Well, this is a nice way to wake up."
Startled, JenniAnn lifted her head from his chest. When
she saw Andrew's grin, she batted her eye lashes.
"My hands were cold," she simpered.
"Quite warm, thank you."
Chuckling, Andrew pulled her against him and kissed her hair.
"Merry Christmas, Laja."
"Merry Christmas, Andrew."
"What time is it?"
"Not quite 5:00. You can go back to sleep. I just...
I don't know. Christmas excitement, I guess."
"Well... we could do our gift exchange," Andrew suggested.
"We can wait. You're probably still exhausted from all
that shoveling and..."
"I'm fine," the angel of death assured. "I have a really
JenniAnn kissed him.
"I bet you're her favorite client," she murmured.
"Sure hope so..." Andrew replied. Then, with a kiss to her
brow, he leaped from their bed and went to his drawer, returning
with a small box.
JenniAnn pulled a larger present from beneath her side of the
"Both of us go at once?" Andrew suggested.
They both eagerly unwrapped their gift.
"Oh, it's so beautiful!"
"A first edition... How did you ever..."
"I had bunches of angelic spies searching all over the world for
it. Read me something?"
Andrew carefully turned the pages of the aged Wordsworth tome
before finding an old favorite which had become still dearer to
him in recent years.
"'She was a phantom of delight
she gleamed upon my sight;
To be a
Her eyes as
stars of Twilight fair;
Twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
things else about her drawn
and the cheerful Dawn;
Shape, an Image gay,
To haunt, to
startle, and way-lay.'"
The angel closed the book and gently cradled the woman's face.
"Thank you." He planted a kiss on her brow. "I love
it and will treasure it... always."
Briefly, JenniAnn lowered her gaze, imagining centuries ahead
when Andrew would roam a world she was no longer part of.
Sensing her melancholy, Andrew took the jewelry box from
JenniAnn and withdrew the necklace he'd given her.
"There now, I've lassoed the moon for you. You can't be
sad," he jested as he clasped the chain behind her neck.
Smiling, JenniAnn fingered the moonstone.
"I love it, Andrew. Thank you." She brushed some
hair behind his ear and traced his jaw line with kisses.
"Now... lassoing the moon is hard work. I think your
masseuse may want to check your back and shoulders out."
Andrew was just beginning to relax into JenniAnn's ministrations
when they heard a light knocking on their door.
"Hmm... Belle must have gotten up early," JenniAnn
mused. "You stay comfy. I'll let her..."
"Maja? Dad?" a soft, male voice called.
"Max?" Andrew and JenniAnn responded in surprised unison.
"And Rose," their son replied. "Can we come in?"
Andrew cast JenniAnn a curious look.
"Sure," they both said.
Max opened the door and waved his wife inside before him.
"Good morning!" Rose greeted. "Sorry for the early
interruption. I hope we didn't wake..." The young
woman noticed the torn wrapping paper strewn on her
"No, we've been up," JenniAnn assured. "But why are you
two up and about so early? Is something wrong?"
Rose glanced over at Max who had become fidgety.
"No. Not at all! Rose and I just couldn't wait any
longer to give you your Christmas present."
"I can relate. And I'm sure we'll love it."
JenniAnn patted the foot of their bed and Rose readily sat
down. Max paused only long enough to retrieve a flat
package he'd left in the hallway. He handed it to Andrew
and then sat beside his wife.
"Laja, you want to help me out?" Andrew requested.
After smiling at the younger couple, JenniAnn nodded and helped
the angel to unwrap their gift.
Inside was a beautiful tiled photo frame containing a portrait
of Max and Rose positioned in front of their Christmas
tree. It was a wonderful photo that perfectly captured
their personalities and love for each other.
"Aww... This is perfect! And just what I wanted."
Andrew was transfixed by the photo.
"I mean I love your wedding photos but this is so much more
"You both look so sweet and so... you... and..."
"Laja!" Andrew cried. "Look at the ornament right between
Rose began to giggle.
JenniAnn gaped. The ornament that Andrew had indicated was
black and white and could be mistaken for some sort of modern
art. However, she'd seen such images often enough to
"Seems Kylie isn't the only one who was buying pregnancy tests
this month," Rose chimed, her voice sing-songy.
"A... a baby..." JenniAnn stuttered.
"A grandbaby," Max assured, pride evident in his voice and
face. "You're going to be grandparents, Maja and Dad."
JenniAnn shrieked and launched herself at the two, crying and
laughing at once.
Andrew had begun to sniffle and tears welled in his eyes as he
traced the tiny white form on the sonogram image.
"Dad?" Max checked.
Beaming, Andrew looked up and clasped Max to him.
"I'm so happy... You're going to be wonderful parents!" he
"I learned from the best," Max replied, giving Andrew a
The four fell into a group hug which turned into excited
planning and dreaming as the Christmas sun dawned.
Maryam and Yosef surveyed the Willowveil ballroom. With
the addition of Fr. Mike and his parents and contingents from
the Chrysalis, Tunnels, and El-Chanan; the room was even more
packed than it had been at the height of activity the previous
night. Nonetheless, there was plenty of food and drink and
more than enough Christmas spirit to keep everyone smiling and
It was Yosef who first spotted his son, a serious look on his
face, headed towards the hall.
"Maryam, look at Yeshu," the carpenter directed.
Joshua's mother peered after his retreating form. She was
about to go after him when she thought better of it.
"I think you should check on him, Yosef," she urged.
"Will you come along?"
Maryam shook her head and squeezed her husband's hand.
"You can handle this."
Encouraged by his wife's confidence in him, Yosef embraced her
and went after Joshua. He found him sitting on the steps
leading up to Willowveil's second floor.
Yosef sat down beside his son.
"Yeshu, what troubles you?"
Joshua smiled at Yosef and clasped his hand.
"I'm not troubled. Only... thoughtful." He waved his
free hand towards the ballroom. "When I'm with them, I see
all the Christmases that were, I see this Christmas, and I see
the Christmases to come... a little blurry but there... and who
is to come with them."
"Many babies, it seems," Yosef commented.
Chuckling, Joshua nodded.
"Yes, lots of babies. One baby, in particular... his road
here will be more difficult... and it could be made even more
difficult if certain choices are made. It was him I was
thinking of when I stepped away."
Joshua knew the old carpenter was very intrigued but didn't want
to be nosy. Still... Yosef's prayers would be needed.
"Come with me, Abi?" Joshua requested.
"I will go wherever you lead, my boy."
Joshua squeezed Yosef's hand and then the stairs were empty.
Oblivious to the other two figures in the room, Siobhan jolted
when the timer sounded. Groaning, she raised her head from
her pillow and sat on the edge of her bed.
This was the moment of truth.
Then again... She considered not looking. She could
just trash the thing and try some other time. But she had
promised herself she would take the test that day. She
didn't want to have gone to the trouble of feigning sick for
nothing. Her grandmother had called bemoaning her absence
at Christmas Mass and the family celebration that
followed. She had to take advantage of the ill-won time
"Is the girl ill?" Yosef asked Joshua, whispering unnecessarily.
Joshua shook his head, keeping his gaze trained on
Siobhan. He willed her some of his strength.
Drawing in and letting out a deep breath, Siobhan rose to her
feet. Slowly, she walked towards the bathroom.
Waiting in her room, the two men heard clattering and then a
"Yeshu... What is..."
With red, streaming eyes; Siobhan returned to her bedroom,
clutching a white stick in one hand.
"It... it can't be," she moaned.
When she sat the stick down on her bedstand, Yosef got a better
look and his eyes widened.
"She is with child?"
"Her name is Siobhan and, yes. She's only a few weeks
along and I'm afraid the news isn't welcome."
Back on her bed, Siobhan referred to the small manual that had
come with the pregnancy test. She groaned again when she
confirmed that, yes, the reading meant exactly what she feared.
With a trembling hand, the teenager picked up her cell phone and
"Did you take the test?" a voice blurted out, foregoing a
"I... I'm pregnant, Mol."
Siobhan heard the hubbub going on around her friend die down.
"Damn..." Molly replied. "I'm sorry. What a rotten
Joshua and Yosef winced.
"Do you know who the father is?"
"Yes..." Siobhan sighed. "A few weeks ago, after we
went to the movies, Neil Blake and I... you know. It's got
to be his."
"Neil Blake's!" Molly hissed. "Don't you know what they
say about his family?"
"Of course, I do, but that's all fairy stories and can't be..."
"I don't think so. My grandma swears that her mother told
her that Neil's great-grandmother got pregnant when she was
fourteen or so. She said she gave birth to a monstrous
baby, all deformed and covered with fur and..."
Yosef's eye brow raised.
"Molly, shut it!" Siobhan ordered. "I... I don't need that
right... right now."
"Of course... of course. I'm sorry. Poor,
Vonnie... Listen, I'll try to get out of here and come..."
"No, no. There's no use ruining your Christmas, too.
Besides, my parents and brother will be home in a couple of
hours. I... I'm just going to take a nap."
"Siobhan, what are you going to do?"
"I just said! I'm going to take..."
"No. I mean... about the baby?"
Fresh tears formed in Siobhan's eyes.
"I don't know. Right now... I need to sleep.
"Good night, Vonnie. Call me tomorrow?"
Siobhan ended the call.
She curled back up into bed and began to shake.
She'd heard the rumors about the Blakes. But she'd always
thought they were only that: rumors. But what if they
weren't? It was bad enough being an unwed mother at
eighteen. But an unwed mother of a deformed child?
Joshua approached and laid a gentle hand on the girl's back.
"Be at peace, Siobhan. Don't lose hope. I'm with
you. I love you," he whispered.
Yosef's eyes filled as he imagined Joshua whispering the same to
Maryam all those years before.
Siobhan's eyes began to droop. She calmed.
Maybe it would all work out...
As the girl drifted to sleep, she thought she felt someone kiss
her forehead as her father used to do when she was small.
She soaked in the warmth of the moment and set aside her worries
to fall into a much needed rest.
Once they'd materialized back on the steps at Willowveil, Yosef
grabbed Joshua's arm.
"The girl... her child... is he or she related to Vincent?"
"His father... Lor... died saving a young boy and his mother
from their abusive father and husband."
"Yes, I remember."
"What Lor didn't know then was that it was his own birth mother
and half-brother who he saved. That half-brother carried
the same gene that caused Lor's and Vincent's condition.
It's a recessive gene and has remained dormant for many years
"Siobhan's baby... he or she will be like Lor and Vincent?"
Joshua again nodded.
"The baby's father, Neil Blake, carries the gene and it will be
fully expressed in his and Siobhan's child."
"But... but Siobhan... Will she be able to care for such a
Gravely, Joshua shook his head.
"No. And that's why I need you to pray that she makes the
right decisions for herself and for her unborn child.
Because I have plans for him. He belongs here, Abi."
Stunned, Yosef searched for a response. Before he found
one, someone else left the ballroom and headed towards father
"There you both are! Everything okay?" Andrew
checked. "Laja was worried when she noticed you were both
Joshua smiled at Andrew.
"We're just fine, thank you. Just stealing a little
father/son time." He rested an arm around Yosef's
When he met the angel's eyes, Yosef realized what the rest of
his son's plan was. The child belonged not just in Dyeland
but in the very castle they were standing in. He belonged
with Andrew and JenniAnn.
"Yes... yes. Father and son time," Yosef affirmed.
"It... it is very important."
"So it is," Andrew agreed. "I'll leave you to it
then. When you're ready to come back in, the kids want to
give you your birthday cake, Joshua."
"Sounds great. We'll be right in."
Once Andrew had returned to the ballroom, Joshua returned his
attention to Yosef.
"Tell Ama, please. The prayers of you both... they're very
dear to me and to Abba." Joshua embraced his father.
"I will do that. Happily. I will pray that Andrew
and JenniAnn get to the experience all the joys your Ama and I
did with our own miracle child."
"Abi..." Joshua's face flushed with joy as Yosef pulled
him into an embrace. "Thank you."
Yosef smoothed some hair behind Joshua's ears.
"And thank you, Yeshu. For choosing me. Of all the
"I chose the best." Joshua kissed the carpenter's
cheeks. "Now, come. Celebrate my birthday with me as
you always have."
"With pleasure!" Yosef agreed with gusto, beaming at his boy.
Once they were back inside the ballroom, Joshua was led to a
specially decorated chair and presented with a Froot Loops laden
cake as his children, young and old, sang to him.
As he bent to blow out his candles, in the haze above the
flames, Joshua saw a vision sent by his Father. It was a
future Christmas, no longer blurry but crystal clear. He
saw a squirming, babbling group of babies and toddlers being
posed for a Christmas photo. He surveyed each face... yes,
they were all there.
Grateful for the gift of assurance, Joshua blew out his
candles. As the others clapped and cheered, he picked up
the children who were closest to him and hugged and kissed
them. As the other kids clamored for him, Joshua happily
Misty eyed, his cousin John took in the scene.
His cousin would never marry... for he would be the soulmate of
His cousin would never have children... for all children were
"It's good," John murmured. "It's good."
"Amen, amen," Yosef added.
"Hallelujah," Maryam praised.
In the hours that followed, the Friends rejoiced in each other's
company and treasured the time with their Messiah who, many
centuries before, had become a tiny, vulnerable baby so they
could be reminded that they were immortal, beloved children of
Genesis 15:5- count the stars
Matthew 9:14-15, Mark 2:18-20, Luke 5:34-35- Jesus as
"She was a Phantom of Delight" by William Wordsworth
It's a Wonderful Life
(AN 1-6-18: Due to
unforeseen circumstances, including a random fireworks show
that has freaked out my dogs, I have to delay the final,
Jan. 6th installment until tomorrow. Check back some
time tomorrow evening. Thanks!)
(AN 1-5-18: I'll finish this out this
weekend. I wanted today's installment to be longer but Leo
and a cold made that not a great idea.)
1-4-18: Another short one... My Internet crashed and then,
once it came back, my puter was really slow. So... better
luck tomorrow! That being said, if I don't update
tomorrow, just assume my Internet went down again. I'll
have more time to get to the bottom of the issues this weekend.)
(AN 12-31-17: Ugh. Sorry. I thought I'd get a jump
on my New Year's resolution to get organized and wound up
exhausting myself, hence the uber short addition. I'll
hopefully be back at full-force tomorrow!)
(Author's Note 12-30-17: Turns out I kind of like stopping
mid-scene. Sorry! :-)
(Author's Note 12-29-17: I intended to finish
this chapter about Kylie and Clay tonight but with a cold, ear
ache, and a dog who decided to dumpster dive; I'm making it an
early night. So tomorrow's installment should be
double-length. Thanks for your understanding!)
This newsletter is dedicated to John Dye
and all the actors, writers, musicians, artists, etc. whose
art makes Christmas even more meaningful.
(Photo Credits: The photographs
used on this page are from Touched by an Angel
and owned by CBS Productions, Caroline Productions,
and Moon Water Productions. They are not being used
to seek profit.)