"His heart was full of love... love... love...
Love... love... love..."
~~Dave Matthews' Band's "Christmas Song"

Hi all,

Merry Christmas!  As with the previous two years, I'll be adding to this story every day through the Epiphany (January 6th).  While I'd like to set a standard time for the daily upload, I know that's not going to happen!  So just check back as you see fit.

I hope everyone has a blessed Christmas and holiday season!

God bless,

December 23rd
        December 24th        December 25th        December 26th

December 27th        December 28th        December 29th        December 30th

December 31st        January 1st        January 2nd        January 3rd

January 4th        January 5th        January 6th


Joshua entered the Hall of Memories, marveling at the shining orbs that encapsulated the whole of Creation's history.  They reminded him of the constellation of souls that had existed before his Father's first "Let there be..."  The memories also called to mind glittering, iridescent Christmas bulbs.  And there was one particular "bulb" that Joshua wished to see...

Joshua held his hand aloft, drawing an orb to him.  He was just about to peer inside when he heard one of the doors open.


The carpenter dropped his hand, leaving the memory still floating aloft.

"Metatron... also known as Marty," he greeted, smiling as he turned to the angel.

The scribe returned Joshua's smile and approached.

"I didn't expect to find you here.  I mean... it's not as if you need to be here.  The whole of history exists... well... in you."  Marty waved towards Joshua's head.

Joshua shrugged.

"True.  But this is beautiful.  Sometimes I can't resist taking a walk down memory lane with a little added aesthetic pleasure."

Marty smirked.

"I have to wonder how one so appreciative of aesthetics wound up creating the blobfish."

"There's nothing wrong with blobfish!" Joshua defended.  "Don't you think they're kind of cute with those big, ol' bulbous noses and perpetual grimaces?"

"A face only a father could love," Marty deadpanned.

Joshua chuckled and patted the angel on the back.

"Fair enough.  Humans did vote it the ugliest animal."

Marty was about to say something in reply but thought better of it.  Joshua, of course, already knew and frowned.

"Most of them do their best, Marty.  You know that."

The angel studied an ink blot on his hand and nodded.

"Of course, my Lord."

Joshua again rested a hand on Marty's back.

"You should come to Earth with John, my parents, and me," he invited.  "We're spending Christmas with the Friends.  It's been a while since you've seen them.  I think it would be good for you."

"I'm so behind on my records..."

"You have an eternity..."

"There's just... so many of them..."

"It could be my Christmas present!"

Marty sighed.

"Now how can I deny you that?"

Joshua grinned.

"But JenniAnn isn't expecting me," Marty pointed out in a last ditch effort to escape the hubbub.

"She'll make room.  She always does.  If nothing else, you can be my roomie!"

Joshua took both of the angel's hands in his.

"You really don't have to go, Marty.  You know I would never make you.  But..."

"You know best," the scribe affirmed.

"A perk of being God," Joshua teased.  "So?"

"I'll go.  Of course, I'll go.  And... it will be pleasant to see the children again.  I would like to meet that little Avi.  I mean... all the children, of course, but..."

"I know."  Joshua squeezed Marty's hands.  In spite of his gruff exterior, he'd always had a soft spot for those that segments of society looked down upon.

"They do set out a fantastic spread," the angel recalled with a note of dreaminess.

Joshua chuckled.

"That they do.  Cookies galore!  And real food, too, of course."

Marty nodded, recalling the menus of Christmases past.

"We'll leave soon," Joshua promised.  "But first... care to go visiting the past with me?"

"With pleasure... I think..."  Marty studied the orb but couldn't make it out.

"Bittersweet, at first.  But it ends on a very good note," Joshua assured. 

"Then let's see it."

The memory floated between the two, its glow brightening, as the carpenter and scribe peered back into time.


Circa 4 BC

Through a haze of tears, Maryam spied a familiar figure peeking out from his father's stable.


Even from some distance, she could tell that he, too, had been weeping.


Hannah turned away from the neighbor woman she'd been comforting and patted her daughter's hair.

"Yes, Maryam?"

"Could I... go see Samiya?"

Following her eleven-year-old daughter's gaze, Hannah also spied the young man in the stable.  While she had no doubt that Maryam would check in on Samiya and her ailing daughter, Danya, Hannah guessed that was not her primary intent.  But it was a kind, compassionate intent, nonetheless.

"Yes.  You may.  Please be home in time for supper."

"I will, Ama.  I promise." 

Maryam kissed her mother's cheek then headed towards Yaqob's stable.

"Hello, Yosef," she greeted.

"Greetings, Maryam," the boy replied, hastily swiping at his eyes.

"How is your sister?"

"Danya is much improved, thank you.  You can go in and see her if you would like."

Maryam nodded and smiled.

"I would, thank you."

Maryam remained where she was, standing in the entry of the stable.

"And you are well?" she inquired after several moments of silence.

Yosef gave a nod and continued to work on something he was carving.

After another prolonged period of silence, he spoke.

"Were you and your mother with Rahab when... when she died?"

"Yes, we were.  Other women of the village, as well.  We were just now checking in on Aaron and the children."

"And... her baby?  He is still well?"

"Yes, Noah is strong and well."

"And motherless," Yosef added bitterly.

Fresh tears welled in Maryam's eyes.

"Yes.  It is very sad.  But God..."

"God..." Yosef scoffed.

Maryam looked at the young carpenter in shock.

"God is with Rahab.  He was with her when she died and He is with her now.  And with her little ones.  And with Aaron."

Yosef set down his carving knife and met the girl's eyes.

"I... I know.  I did not mean to mock God.  I merely meant... this is not the work of God.  Rahab was fifteen... my age... and this was her second child.  It is not right.  And I blame Aaron!  And I blame her parents!" he spat out. 

Seeing that Maryam remained rattled, Yosef took a step closer.

"Listen to me, Maryam... if your parents try to force you to marry before you are ready... you... you..."

"I must honor my parents.  It is a commandment," Maryam insisted.  "But... my parents would never force me to marry a man I did not love... nor any man before I gave consent.  They have promised me that."

"But even if you love him... you... do not let him... hurt you," Yosef continued.

"I do not believe he would," Maryam countered.  She knew exactly who her parents wished for her to marry... who she wished to marry... and she knew he would never harm her.

"But men..."  Yosef sighed and dragged a hand through his hair.  "They... do not always think with their hearts."

"He would!" Maryam shot back defiantly.

Yosef chuckled and shook his head.  Why was he having this conversation with a little girl?  Better to leave her to her dreams.

"Do you... wish to marry, Yosef?" Maryam asked, a slight tremor in her voice.

Yosef looked past her, to Aaron's and Rahab's house and the crowd of mourning women.

"I have been considering becoming an Essene," he answered.

Maryam felt the color drain from her face.  She knew many Essenes remained celibate.

"But... your family...  If your father should... should pass..."

"Matthan is already showing skill as a carpenter.  And, of course, I would do nothing unless I was sure my family would be provided for."

A hopeful thought came to Maryam.

"Some Essenes marry."

"I would be one who would not.  I... I do not want to be responsible for that."  Yosef waved towards the bereaved household.

"That is not the fate of all women, Yosef.  Your mother... my mother...  They both survived."

Yosef took in a deep breath and nodded.

"Yes.  You are right, Maryam."

"I... I believe you would be a wonderful father and husband, Yosef.  It makes me sad to think of... of you not being one," Maryam confessed.

Yosef was struck by the emotion in the girl's voice.  It made him think of his own childhood, of his father.  He could recall being lifted up onto Yaqob's shoulders, reaching for the starry sky.  And Yaqob's laughter upon observing his and his siblings' antics.  That joy and pride still remained in his father's eyes when he gazed upon his three children. 

Yes, it would be difficult to turn his back on all those possibilities.

Yosef sighed and, again, tears welled in his eyes.

"I... I am only troubled, Maryam.  Pay me no mind.  Go inside and see Danya.  Do not worry over me."

Maryam rested a hand on Yosef's shoulder.

"I am sorry that your cousin died, Yosef.  Rahab was a very good, very faithful girl.  We will all miss her."

Overcome with a fresh pang of grief, Yosef only nodded and patted the girl's hand.  When she entered the house, he let a new wave of tears fall.

He would miss Rahab.  And he could not yet bring himself to think kindly of Aaron or her parents, his aunt and uncle.  The marriage had been arranged too soon and had doomed her to an early grave.

But Yosef also knew that Rahab would not want him to make bitterness, anger, and denial the legacy of their friendship.  And he also knew that they were not good reasons to become an Essene...

From inside the house, Yosef could hear Maryam cooing over Danya.  He brushed at his tears and smiled.  She was a wise girl... "older than her years," his mother always said.  Wiser than him, certainly.  And if she saw the makings of a good husband and father in him, she was likely right. 

And it would be nice to have a wife to love and be loved by.  To have a son he could train up to love her, too.  To provide for her when he could not.  Just because very few others seemed content with one child did not mean he could not be.  It seemed to him that it was the repeated, hurried pregnancies that put women at such risk.  Surely one pregnancy... maybe even two... the second after a good space of time... would spare her. 

In spite of the ache in his heart, Yosef found himself smiling at the idea of one day having a child to love and to teach to love others and God.

He had always been fond of the name Yeshua...


Circa 1 AD

Maryam and Yosef watched the sunrise from the shelter of the stable.  In Maryam's arms, Yeshua nursed.



The carpenter looked up from the newborn.

"I have a question."

"Yes, my love?"

Maryam grinned.

"Do you regret that you did not become an Essene?"

Yosef chuckled.  He cupped her chin and shook his head.

"I do not.  And I did not think you would remember that."

"You nearly broke my heart the day you told me you were considering it," Maryam confessed with a pout.

Yosef laughed again and kissed her brow.

"And, for that, I am very sorry.  But you were a girl.  Eleven, I think?  It never occurred to me that you might, well..." 

"I was always wise beyond my years," Maryam playfully bragged.

Yosef smiled fondly at her.

"So you were... so you are... and so you will always be, I believe."

His words lingered as they both peered at the drowsy baby. 

As Yosef studied the child, Maryam could see the creases forming on his forehead.  She rested a hand on his.

"You will be a wonderful father, Yosef."

The carpenter gave her a forced smile.

"I pray so.  I fear the consequences if not."

"I do not fear.  I know you will give Yeshua everything he needs from a father, Yosef.  I know it," Maryam pressed.

Tears welled in Yosef's eyes.

"You found us a safe place in spite of great difficulty," his wife reminded.

Yosef laughed.

"Amid livestock."

"I think I prefer their company to that of strangers," Maryam confided with a grin.

Yosef had to admit she had a point...

"Although the shepherds were very kind."

"They were," Yosef agreed.

Maryam gave him a beatific smile as she recalled their visitors.

"I do not believe an inn would have let them inside."

"No, I think not."

"So you did very well, sweet Yosef.  Remember what the angels told them?  'Fear not!'"

"'Fear not...'" Yosef echoed.  He drew in a deep breath and peered up at the sky, so recently filled with angels.  He felt a calmness settle over him.  He moved to Maryam's side and sighed when she rested her head on his shoulder.

Yosef kissed her ebony hair.

Yes, he was very glad he had not become an Essene.



"A very good note to end on," Marty agreed as the memory shrunk back into the orb.

Joshua beamed.

"And they all lived happily ever after... well, after some really tough times."

"I should say so!" Marty averred, trying not to shudder as he thought of some particularly stark moments from Joshua's life.  "And so are we off now?"

"Not quite."  Joshua again held his hand out, summoning another sphere.  "I want to revisit another pair whose future didn't quite turn out like they'd imagined...  Then we'll go."

"Lead on," the scribe agreed as the second memory, this one far more recent, came into focus.


December 2001

Monica beamed as she left the church with Andrew, Gloria, and Tess.  Another successful assignment!  More hearts mended!  More souls going through life with the knowledge that God loves them!

But there was one last thing she wanted to do...

"Tess, I'd like to pop by the Christmas shop one more time.  Finish up some business.  Won't take more than five minutes."

"All right then, Angel Girl.  Gloria, baby, let's get the caddy warmed up.  Angel Boy, you coming with us or with Miss Wings?"

Andrew was peering at the church, praying that Benny would continue to heal from the loss of his beloved teacher.  Hearing his nickname, he turned towards Tess.

"Sorry.  Who's going where?"

Tess rolled her eyes and was about to say something until she noticed Gloria mindlessly fidgeting with the caddy's dashboard ornament.  She made a beeline towards the oblivious young angel, Andrew's spaciness forgotten.

Laughing, Monica looped an arm through one of Andrew's.

"I'm going back to my Christmas shop for one last visit.  Come with me?"

"Oh.  Sure."  Andrew nodded.  "Yeah, sounds good."

The two angels made their way to the festive shop where Monica had spent much of their assignment.  She sighed happily as she let them both in.

"It is so lovely...  A bit hard to leave it, you know?"

"It's definitely cozy and... Christmasy!" Andrew agreed.  "So why are we back here?"

Monica's face flushed.

"Well... I... wanted an ornament."

Andrew's brow quirked up.

"An ornament?  Why?"

"Don't you ever wish you had a Christmas tree, Andrew?"

The angel of death shrugged.

"I guess I've never really thought of it.  I mean there's no reason we can't have Christmas trees.  Joshua certainly wouldn't mind."

"I know.  And I like the ones we have all about, of course.  But it's not the same.  You know, a real family Christmas tree with ornaments from vacations, new babies, cute little things made by tiny hands using macaroni and cardboard...  Gathering around on Christmas morning...  Sipping cocoa and opening presents..."

Andrew frowned as his friend continued with her reverie.  He wondered if she was remembering him.  Aaron, was it?  No...  Arthur!  The man Monica had been oddly pulled towards... the one Satan had used to tempt her.

"You pick one, too!  My treat!"

Monica's eager smile and chirpy voice dispelled Andrew's concerns.

He returned her smile.

"Thanks, Monica, but I don't need..."

"Of course you don't need one!" Monica interrupted.  "But... for fun?  Or... Oh!  You could get one for JenniAnn."


Monica rolled her eyes.

"Yes, JenniAnn.  Blonde, glasses, Iowan."

"Nebraskan," Andrew corrected, surprised by how quickly it had come out.

Monica shrugged.

"Madly in love with you..." she continued.

"Monica..." Andrew interrupted with a warning tone.

"Oh, calm down!"

"She's nineteen, Monica.  I don't exactly want to encourage..."

"I don't think she needs much encouragement," Monica interjected in a sing-song voice.

Andrew's face flushed.

Afraid she may have taken her teasing too far, the caseworker set a hand on the angel of death's arm.

"I'm sorry, Andrew.  I shouldn't have teased you so.  It's just... you've been mentioning her fairly often over the last couple of months and so..."

Andrew's blush deepened.  He supposed Monica was probably right.  And he had been showing up in Dyeland more and more frequently... but that was only concern.  With family and friends in Manhattan, JenniAnn had been deeply rattled by 9/11.  It was nice to be able to comfort her, knowing he'd see her again soon.

The angel pulled himself out of his funk and began to survey the contents of Monica's store.  Eventually, his gaze alighted on a metallic, rainbow-colored butterfly ornament.  He smiled.  It was very JenniAnn-ish.  He carefully plucked it from the tree it hung on.

"I'll get her this one," he announced.  "But I'm going to pay for it.  Thank you for the offer, though... and the idea."

Holding the Celtic cross she'd chosen for herself, Monica beamed.

"You're very welcome!  I'll just get us rung up and then you can get this to JenniAnn and I... well, I can hold onto this one until I have my very own tree."

Andrew returned his friend's smile.

"I hope that's soon, Monica."

"Me too.  And I hope JenniAnn enjoys the butterfly.  I'm sure she will."

Andrew continued to smile as he thought of the butterfly, nestled among the branches of Willowveil's giant Christmas tree.

"Thanks, Monica."

Soon the two angels were on their way back to Tess, Gloria, and the caddy.  Their treasures were carefully wrapped and bagged, waiting to be proudly and thoughtfully displayed.



"I don't know which surprised me more," Marty mused.  "Monica reuniting with Arthur... or Andrew winding up with five kids."

Joshua chuckled.

"I think it's fair to say that Andrew of 2001 would be more surprised than Monica of 2001.  She wished for the life she has now.  Andrew hadn't yet brought himself to the point of wishing for any of it."

"Good point.  Well, I am very happy for them both.  And now is there more you wish to revisit or..."

"No, now I'd like to visit them in the present."  Joshua beamed and squeezed Marty's shoulder.  "Let's go get Ama, Abi, and John and then be on our way.  Sound good?"

Marty gazed at the memory they'd just witnessed and nodded.  He felt better about rejoining the Friends now.  Even Andrew had been overwhelmed at one point.

"Sounds good," he agreed, allowing Joshua to lead him away in search of his parents and cousin.  


Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

The sound of a belch interrupted the silence of Andrew's and JenniAnn's bedroom in Willowveil Castle.

"Oof!  I bet now you feel lots better!" JenniAnn remarked as she patted Avi's back.

"Sure sounded like he should!"  Andrew gently ruffled the baby's tufts of hair.

In spite of his parents' hopes, little Avi continued to fuss.

"Oh there now, sweet pea..." JenniAnn cooed.  "You have to be full.  I think you about drained Mama."

"Maybe he's missing his sister?" Andrew guessed.  He bent nearer to Avi's face.  "You missin' Belle, buddy?"

Avi's lower lip trembled in a pathetic display.

"Oh!  It kills me when he does that," JenniAnn lamented.  "There now, Avi-Boy.  Belle will be back soon.  And with Liam and Aunt Monica.  Here, let's look at the Christmas tree."

Andrew helped JenniAnn to her feet and they crossed the room over to their family Christmas tree. 

"Look, there's your 'Baby's First Christmas' ornament," Andrew pointed out.  "Amma Catherine picked it out just for you, bud."

"And here's Belle's!"

"And this one..." Andrew pointed to two tiny broomsticks tied together by crimson and gold ribbon.  "Is from Uncle Max's and Aunt Rose's wedding."

"And this is Mama's and Daddy's first ever grandparents ornament."

"And this one... is yours!"  Andrew smiled at Avi as he carefully removed a wooden shamrock from the tree.

"Made by Daddy and painted by Mama... just for our sweet, little Irish lad," JenniAnn informed before kissing the baby's forehead.

"And we made three.  One for this tree."

"One for the Friends' tree downstairs."

"And one for you to have when you're all grown-up and have your own tree."

"But that won't be for a very, very long time!" JenniAnn exclaimed, unconsciously snuggling the infant closer. 

"Decades, at least," Andrew affirmed.  "Because we're in no hurry for you to grow up."

"Our baby..." JenniAnn murmured.

A ringtone of "Carrickfergus" resounded from Andrew's phone.

"That'd be Aunt Monica," he announced before withdrawing the phone from his pocket and answering.

A mysterious gleam alighted in JenniAnn's eyes.

"Please tell her they can come on up," she requested.

"Come on up, Monica," Andrew relayed.  "We're in our room... telling Avi all about our family Christmas tree.  Okay.  Great.  See you in a few seconds."

In no time at all, Andrew and JenniAnn could hear scampering on the stairs... and jingle bells.

"Sounds like Aunt Monica must have bought our Belle some bells," the angel of death mused.  "That... could get old."

"We'll see," JenniAnn replied, hiding a sly smile behind Avi's head.

The bedroom door burst open and Belle flung herself at her father's legs.

"Merry Christmas, Daddy!" she exclaimed.

"Well, merry Christmas to you, too, sweetheart.  Did you have fun with Aunt Monica and Li..."

Andrew stopped speaking.  Monica and Liam stood in the doorway, both grinning.  A gangly puppy peeked out from between them, a jingle bell affixed to his collar.

"Did you get another dog?" Andrew asked, head cocked. 

"Nope," Monica replied.

"But there's..."  Andrew pointed at the pup.

Belle giggled.

"Daddy's Christmas present from Mama!" she shrieked.

Andrew looked quickly from his daughter to JenniAnn, tears filling his eyes.

Monica hurried forth to take Avi so JenniAnn could wrap her arms around Andrew.

"I know you've been missing Lulu.  And even though you can still see her when you go Home, I thought you needed a furry friend here.  And Fawn was getting lonesome, I think."

Seemingly hearing her name, a sleepy Fawn stumbled out of Avi's nursery and approached the newcomer.  They greeted each other in the customary, doggy fashion.

Andrew chuckled and kissed JenniAnn's hair.

"Thank you, Laja.  He's adorable.  I love him."

Once Fawn had sauntered over to Belle, Andrew approached the new pup.

"Hi there.  Do you have a name?"

"Not yet," JenniAnn answered.  "I thought we'd leave that to you."

"Where'd you come from, little guy?" Andrew questioned.

"Randall has a friend who breeds coonhounds for hunting.  This little fellow.. sweet as he is... apparently doesn't have the makings of a good hunting dog.  The breeder actually called the poor thing a 'flunkie.'  He was going to surrender him to the Albany Humane Society but... Randall thought I might want to come take a look.  So I went yesterday and... I could just tell he was meant to be yours, my love," JenniAnn explained.  "Since we were with my family most of yesterday, Dot and Randall agreed to keep him for the night and Monica kindly offered to pick him up this morning since she and Liam were swinging by to get supplies for the food truck."

"Well, thank you all for..."

Andrew laughed when the dog reared up and flung his front paws around him, seemingly hugging him. 

"He gives hugs, Daddy!" Belle chirped.

"I see that."

"A lot," Liam added.  "And he really likes cheese.  He stole my cheese curds."

Monica laughed as she swayed with Avi.

"That he did.  And very unapologetically."

"Dot gave me some more, though," Liam reported.

"That's good.  Are you a thief?" Andrew rested his head against the dog's.  "Huh?  Did you steal yummy cheese?"

In response, the dog collapsed onto the angel's lap.

Andrew sighed happily as he played with the dog's silky ears.

"I think he knows he's home now," JenniAnn mused, her eyes full.

"Yep, you're home," Andrew concurred as he continued to pet the dog with his left hand while reaching for JenniAnn with his right.  When she took his hand, he brought hers to his lips.  "Thank you, Laja.  He really is a wonderful Christmas present.  Lulu will never be replaced... but I'm always glad to have a new friend."

"You're welcome."  JenniAnn knelt beside the two, stroking the dog and kissing Andrew's cheek.  "Your new friend still needs a name, though.  He should have a name for Christmas."

"Hmm..." Andrew studied the contented creature in his lap.  "Well... since he's a thief, Val Jean would be appropriate.  But I don't want him getting confused with Reuel's Val Jean.  Hmm...  He's awfully... awkward."

The group chuckled as the dog clumsily turned over onto his back, his legs stuck out at odd angles while Andrew rubbed his tummy.

"And a little skittish, too," Monica relayed.  "One of Dot's chickens came at him and he nearly wrapped himself around my legs.  Poor thing was trembling, too!"

"Awkward and skittish...."  Andrew bit his lip in thought.  "I think I'll call you... Ichabod."  He leaned forward so his face was nearer to the dog's.  "Are you Ichabod?"

The newly christened dog rewarded his namer with a sloppy, affectionate kiss.

"I think that's a yes," JenniAnn concluded.

From downstairs, the doorbell sounded.

"Are you expecting anyone else?" Andrew checked with JenniAnn.

"No...  Well, I mean...  Joshua at some point but..."

A hush went over the room, soon followed by a cacophony as, all at once, humans, angel, and dogs fled the room. 

Not wanting to startle her little nephew, only Monica took her time.

"Well, little one, should we go see if that truly is Joshua?" she asked aloud, smiling when the baby gave a squeak.

Just before leaving the room, a familiar object captured Monica's attention: the rainbow butterfly hanging from Andrew's and JenniAnn's tree.

She smiled in fond remembrance as she lightly caressed the glittering wings.

Joshua had indeed seen to it that both she and Andrew had gotten their Christmas trees... in ways more perfect than they could ever have imagined.


Andrew didn't even bother to peek out the window before throwing Willowveil's front door open. 

Belle was the first to shriek with delight and careen towards Joshua who wasted no time in sweeping the little girl up into his arms.

"Well, hello there, my little Belle," he greeted.  "How are you doing?"

"Good!  Glad you're here!  You gonna stay for your birfday?"

"You bet.  I mean... as long as your Mama and Daddy are okay with that."

JenniAnn laughed and threw her arms around the carpenter.

"More than okay!  This is a real blessing!  We knew you were coming, of course, but figured you might hold off til Christmas Eve.  So to have you for this weekend, too!" 

"Did you come alone?" Andrew checked as he embraced their divine guest.

Joshua shook his head.

"Ama and Abi are settling Yoktan into the stable."

"Yay!  So glad they came.  And I'm sure Yonah is thrilled to have some donkey company!" JenniAnn cheered.

Joshua passed Belle off to her father and bent to hug Liam.

"How you doing, Liam?"

"Good!  Mom, Belle, and me went to pick-up Uncle Andrew's new dog this morning!"

"So I see."  Joshua crouched down further, giving Fawn an affectionate rub and then whistling at the newcomer.

Ichabod lunged forward, whining happily as he hugged Joshua.

"Oh, yes...  I'm so excited to see you, too, my boy.  You're home now!"  Joshua grinned up at Andrew.  "And I think your Daddy's already smitten."

Andrew stroked the dog's head.

"Very."  He beamed at JenniAnn.  "Christmas isn't even here yet and I've been spoiled."

"I'm sure Mr. Ichabod here is only the first of many surprises.  Speaking of... John's at Tony's office, making our arrival known to him, Mike, Kyle, Ana-Maria, Tiva, and Yakov.  And... I hope you don't mind that I brought an extra guest." 

Joshua stepped out of the doorway and waved towards where Marty was playing with a wandering goat in the yard.

"Marty!  But... oh boy..."  JenniAnn frowned.  "That's Gruffy.  He can be a bit pushy.  I hope Marty doesn't mind."

"He's having more fun than he's letting on," Joshua assured. 

"Well, we're glad he came!  It's been a long time since most of us have seen Marty.  I'm glad to have him back."  Andrew chuckled as Gruffy began to rifle through the scribe's pockets.  "Maybe I should go lend a hand..."

The others laughed as the goat made off with a pen, only to soon have it confiscated by Andrew.


The carpenter turned to see Monica descending the stairs, Avi still in her arms.

"Monica!  And our little Avi!"

Joshua approached and hugged them both.

"I hope you're ready for your first Christmas, little one," he murmured to Avi who peered up at him.

"You want to hold him?" Monica offered.

"Very much."

Joshua smiled beatifically as he held the baby.

"So precious..."

"My turn next, please," Maryam requested as she and Yosef entered the castle, both quickly swarmed.

"Of course!" JenniAnn encouraged.  "I'm so glad you're both here and..."  She turned to face Marty who was approaching with Andrew.  Knowing the elder angel could be a bit prickly, she extended both hands towards him in lieu of a hug.  "Marty...  It's so wonderful to have you join us this year!  Everyone will be so pleased!"

The scribe gave a slight blush as he squeezed JenniAnn's hands.

"Thank you, JenniAnn.  I regret that I haven't accepted your gracious invitations more often but..."  Realizing he didn't have much of an excuse, Marty let his voice trail off.

"Well, you're here now!" Monica encouraged.  "And that's what matters."

"Absolutely," Andrew confirmed.  "Now... Monica, would you mind notifying the others?"


"Maryam, Yosef, and, of course, Joshua, you'll be in your usual rooms if that's okay?" Andrew checked.

"We appreciate that very much," Yosef accepted.  "Your hospitality is always delightful."

"Well, you're delightful guests to have.  And..." JenniAnn grinned.  "You'll be happy to note that we made up your bed with flannel sheets.  Not silk."

Maryam laughed at the memory of her husband sliding off their bed.

"Wonderful, JenniAnn.  That is very thoughtful of you."

Yosef chuckled.

"Very much so," he agreed.

"Happy to do it.  And Marty..." Andrew turned to the scribe.  "We recently converted the attic into some apartments."

"It's very nice that Someone has let Andrew retain what plumbing and electrical skills he's picked up during assignments," JenniAnn interjected, winking at Joshua.

"Only too happy to...  It's a bit self-serving, after all, since it makes it easier for more Friends to spend my birthday here," he replied.

"Regardless of your reasoning,  I've appreciated it."  Andrew clapped Joshua on the back before redirecting his attention to Marty.  "Since you're the first here... you get your pick."

"Oh, I don't need my own..."

"It's fine!" JenniAnn insisted.  "And especially since it's your first Christmas with us, you might appreciate having a quiet spot to retreat to.  We can get a bit... rowdy."

"Well, if you insist... Thank you."  Marty smiled at his hosts.

"Let's go look then!" JenniAnn waved him towards the stairs with Andrew accompanying them.

Once they were out of earshot, Joshua sat down on the bottom stair and waved Liam and Belle nearer.

"Wanna help me on a surprise for Uncle Marty?" he asked in a conspiratorial tone.

"Yes!" Liam cheered.

"Uh huh!" Belle chimed.

Joshua kissed Avi's hand.

"And you have a part to play, too, little fellow."

With that, the plans began in earnest.


By lunch time, the Friends had descended upon Willowveil en masse, bringing the makings of an amazing potluck with them.

Thankfully, the weather was fair enough to allow for post-feast walks.  Some how, despite the hubbub over their reappearances, Joshua and John found themselves in the stable with only each other and the animals for company.

"I can't believe you had yourself wheeled into Tony's office!" Joshua exclaimed as he and his cousin pet the donkeys, goats, and sheep.

John laughed.

"You should have seen Tony's face when he pulled off the cloth and discovered that the 'statue' which had been delivered was very much alive."

"Mike said Tiva screamed like a banshee.  It's a wonder you didn't get socked in the face."

"Still woulda been worth it to see their expressions," John insisted with a grin.

"Glad you think so.  Just remember for next time: I'm not healing a nose that only got broken because of your shenanigans," Joshua teased.

John simply shrugged.

Joshua crouched down near a food trough to pet a particularly shy goat.  When he looked up, his cousin was peering at him with a cocked head.

"What?" Joshua questioned.

"Just wondering if you could still fit into one of those."

Joshua eyed the trough.  It was considerably larger than the one he'd lain in as a newborn.  But it would still be tight.

"Bet I could."

"I dunno..."

A devilish glint flashed in Joshua's eyes. 

"Watch me!"

Giggling, John pulled out his phone, intent on documenting his cousin's struggles. 

First, Joshua attempted to fit in via fetal position but to no avail.

John's laughter grew heartier when the little goat jumped onto Joshua's side.

"I don't think you can push him in there any more," the Baptist counseled, carefully lifting the goat off.

"Maybe if..."  Joshua twisted so that his legs were bent behind him and his arms wrapped around as if he was hugging himself.  "Ha!  I'm in!"

"Good job!" John cheered as he bent over to get a good photo.

Just as John was stepping back, the stable door opened and Yosef appeared.

The old carpenter's gaze traveled from John to the bewildered goat to his son.

Heaving a sigh, Yosef shook his head. 

"It was much cuter the first time, Yeshu," he observed before stepping back out and closing the door.

John burst out laughing.

"He's going to tell Ama..."

"Afraid so."  John offered his cousin a hand up from the trough.  His nose wrinkled when Joshua was back up on his feet.

"I should probably go shower..."

"Ya think?"

Joshua shot John an accusing look.

"You're a bad influence," he kidded.

"Take it up with my Maker, cousin," John retorted before again bursting into a fit of laughter.

Joshua only sighed and grinned.

After assuring the animals were secured, the two headed back to the castle.  Maryam met them at the door.

"Yeshu...  Why?"

"He bet me I couldn't!" Joshua responded, pointing at John who still couldn't stop laughing.

"You boys..."  Maryam pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, spit on it, and began to clean Joshua's face which only increased his cousin's mirth.

Some feet away, Emma and Kylie looked on with their babies in their arms.

"Huh...  I guess the spit thing is universal," Emma observed.

Kylie giggled.

"And if Maryam does it, it must be okay," she affirmed.

"Definitely!" Emma agreed.

Then the two women watched, with amusement, as Maryam took her son's hand and led him to his room while John bent over with continued laughter.


By the time Joshua had gotten himself cleaned up, the Friends had re-congregated in the Willowveil ballroom.  Soon they'd be heading to St. Genesius' for their annual Christmas concert.  But first there was planning to do.

"So what did you have in mind for tomorrow, Joshua?" Peter inquired.

"Well... I was thinking it might be fun to go caroling," he suggested.  "There are some people I'd like to check-in on who won't be making it to the show tonight."

"I love that idea!" Salma cheered.

Joshua rested a hand on her back and smiled.

"I'm glad and I hope you'll come along, Salma. As for Monday, I was hoping to stop into the Phoenix, Chrysalis, True Light, and FS."

Overhearing the remark, Josef approached the crowd around Joshua.

"You want to come visit us at FS?" he excitedly asked.

Joshua nodded.

"Absolutely.  Are you still having a Christmas tea?"

Josef beamed and nodded.

"We are!  2:00 PM at our Manhattan HQ.  Jolie and her husband are organizing everything.  They'll be thrilled to have you!  I know I can't tell them who you are but... can I at least tell them that you're the reason we were cured?"

"Sure," Joshua agreed.  "But I wasn't the only reason.  Andrew, Marty!" he called.

The two angels made their way to Joshua's side.

"Josef and his people are having a Christmas tea on Monday at 2 PM.  I'd like you both to be there," the carpenter requested.

"Any of you can come," Josef invited.  "But the three of you especially."  He shook his head and chuckled.  "You'll get mobbed!"

Marty went ashen,

"Oh c'mon, Marty.  I think it'll be fun," Andrew encouraged.  "You'll get to meet a bunch of the people you've been writing about.  And maybe meet some of the little ones you helped make possible."

"Absolutely," Josef confirmed.  "It's a family event.  I know Jolie's baby will be there."

"Well, I..."  Marty looked at the excited, happy faces around him... none more joyful than Joshua.  "Sure.  I would love to meet them," he accepted.

"Awesome!  I'm gonna call Jolie right now and let her know so she can get properly excited."  Grinning, Josef stepped away to make the call.

"As for tonight..."  Kemara pushed closer, an eager smile on her face.  "Can we expect your return to the Ugly Christmas Suit Band, Joshua?"

A sly smile spread across Joshua's face.

"Maybe... just maybe," he teased.


That evening, all of the Friends and several of St. Genesius' most loyal patrons gathered into the theatre for the Christmas show.  Even Vincent and Avi were in attendance, sequestered in the private box with Catherine and Devin. 

The show was equal parts amusing and touching.  To start, Fr. Mike read the account of the Nativity from the Gospels while a video of footage shot at the Romano Family Farm during that first year of Superstar played.  Then the Friends took turns leading assorted favorites like "Silent Night," "Balulalow," "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," "In the First Light," and others.  The audience was both moved and entertained when the little Friends took the stage and joyfully sang "Away in a Manger" and "The Friendly Beasts."  As the show drew to a close, Emma and Kylie performed "Breath of Heaven" in honor of Maryam while Joshua accompanied them on his guitar.

"'Do You wonder as You watch my face,
if a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am,
for the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong...
Help me be...
Help me...'"

Seated in the front row, Yosef clasped his wife's hand.  He knew she'd had such doubts all those years ago... but he never had.  Not about her.

Maryam smiled at her husband and squeezed his hand back.  She rested her head on his shoulder as Emma, Kylie, and Joshua continued their serenade.

"'Breath of heaven,
hold me together.
Be forever near me.
Breath of heaven...
Breath of heaven...
Lighten my darkness,
pour over me Your holiness,
for You are holy.
Breath of heaven...
Breath of heaven...
Breath of heaven...'"

When the song ended and the applause had died down, Kylie and Emma blew Maryam a kiss which she warmly returned before they stepped off-stage.  Joshua remained, tuning his guitar, as Peter and Zeke settled onto the stools the women had left behind.

"Our next song isn't as well known but we thought it only right that we honor Joseph with a song, too," Peter explained.  "I first heard this one a few years ago but now, with this being my first Christmas as a father, it's become even more special to me."

"While we can't fully know what was in Joseph's mind and heart in the months leading up to Christ's birth, we know one thing: he was a man of mercy," Zeke continued.  "And so we present 'Song for Joseph/Man of Mercy' by Jason Gray and Andy Gullahorn.'"

Tears welled in Yosef's eyes as Zeke and Peter sang of his fear, heartache, and anger while Joshua peered tenderly at him.

"'An angel in a dream spoke into your darkest night.
So you trusted in the Lord and you took her as your wife.
But the forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you.
Because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb...'"

A breath caught in Maryam's throat.  That one line perfectly encapsulated what she knew of her son's and husband's relationship.

"'Love was in a crowded barn.
There you were beside her, kneeling.
You held him in your arms...
as the miracle started breathing.'"

Yosef let his tears fall freely as he remembered the blessed night when he'd first held his little boy...

"'Blessed Joseph, your heart is proven,
and through you the Kingdom has come.
For God delights in a man of mercy,
and has found an earthly father for his son.'"

As soon as the song concluded, Joshua set down his guitar and dashed to his parents.

"Ama... Abi..." he murmured as he embraced them.  "I love you both so much!"

"Yeshu..." Maryam cooed as she cradled his face.

Yosef brought his son's right hand to his heart, tears still falling.

"You... you were in my heart," he confirmed.

"And you in mine, Abi," Joshua echoed.  "Both of you.  Always."  He sighed contently as they embraced again.

They remained huddled together in their loving embrace until the screech of the stools being moved on stage roused Joshua.

"Want to help me with something?" he asked his parents with a grin.

Drying his eyes, Yosef chuckled.

"I do... very much.  Maryam?"

"As always."

Chuckling, Joshua took the couple's hands and hurried backstage.

On the stage, Diana smiled out at the excited crowd. 

"And now... for our finale... I am pleased to announce the return of the Ugly Christmas Suit Band!" she cheered.

The audience shrieked with delight as the lights dimmed.

After a brief musical interlude, a very solemn looking Eric strode onto the stage, decked out from neck to ankle in a suit covered with sparkling Christmas light print.

"'Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus.  Ex Maria virgine, gaudete,'" he sang.

The juxtaposition of the man's eccentric dress and dignified Latin made the audience burst into laughter.

"'Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus.  Ex Maria virgine, gaudete,'" Shane repeated as he stepped onto the stage.  His suit was covered in elves with garish faces.

"'Tempus adest gratiae, hoc quod optabamus,'" Kyle belted out as he made his St. Genesius stage premiere sporting a gingerbread-themed suit.

The crowd howled when his uncle, Archbishop Tony, followed him out wearing a Santa-infested red suit.

"'Carmina laetitiae devote redamus.'"

As the carol continued, more and more of the male Friends joined the chorus wearing suits that ranged from reindeer to presents to snowflake print and beyond. 

The Ugly Christmas Suit Band finished "Gaudete" and had just begun "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" when suddenly the sound system crackled and the lights went out.

The confused murmuring that resulted was soon interrupted by the booming opening notes of "Superstar."

A bright light shone on the back of the stage where Joshua emerged donning a robe that was covered in all manner of festive iconography.  On his head he wore a halo made of red and green garland.  On either side of him stood Maryam and Yosef in their own Christmasy robes, hers in blues and his in reds. 

Both the audience and the men on-stage hooted and laughed in appreciation. 

"Ugly Christmas robes!" Andrew exclaimed.  "Even better than a suit."

"So much more you, Joshua," Tony assented. 

"Thank you.  I'm glad you think so."  Joshua beamed at them all.  "But now... back on track!  'God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay...'" he sang.

Following his lead, Maryam and the men joined in.

"'Remember Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas Day.'"

With a wave from Joshua, the Friends who were waiting in the wings, young and old, hurried onto the stage in their ugly Christmas sweaters, skirts, dresses, and more and joined in on the song.

"'To save us all from Satan's pow'r
when we were gone astray.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!
Comfort and joy!
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!'"


In the lobby after the show, the cast and crew mingled with the audience over cocoa, cider, and cookies. 

"So how many of you knew about Josh's big surprise there at the end?" Mason questioned.

"I had no idea!" Peter exclaimed. 

"I was starting to get disappointed thinking he was skipping out on the Ugly Christmas Sweater Band," JenniAnn admitted.

"I knew.  And Gloria knew."  Logan waved to the angel who was some feet away, serving up cider. 

"Someone had to help me with the lighting and sound system," Joshua explained.  "And I knew Logan and Gloria would keep it quiet."

"He didn't even tell me!"  Zelda smiled and shook her head at her husband. 

"I wasn't about to ruin the surprise.  And I didn't even know that Maryam and Yosef were joining in."  Logan smiled at the two.  "Those robes suit you both."

Maryam laughed.

"I think I would have been run out of Nazareth if I had dared to wear anything so bold."

"And I would have been running after her," Yosef added. 

"Aww!" several of the Friends cooed.

"Mr. Davidson..."

Joshua turned to find one of the theatre patrons standing behind him, a starstruck middle-aged woman on his arm.

"Hello there!" Joshua greeted.

"George!  Theresa!"  Emma hugged them both.  "Joshua, these two are among our most devoted patrons," she needlessly introduced, giving Joshua cover.  

"Of course!  The Baileys!  Emma and Peter have told me so much about you."  Joshua warmly shook their hands then grinned at the man.  "This is a very special time of year for you, George Bailey."

George chuckled and nodded.

"My mom wanted to name me George after her father.  My own father pointed out that it would make me George Bailey... thinking that would dissuade my mom.  But it only made her love the name even more.  And I'm afraid it made me overly enthusiastic about Christmas."

"No such thing as being too enthusiastic about Christmas," John insisted.

"My thoughts exactly!  Anyway... Theresa and I attended a show when you were playing Jesus, Mr. Davidson."

"Joshua, please," he requested.  "We're all friends here."

"Joshua..."  George beamed at him. 

"We thought you were amazing," Theresa gushed.  "Of course, Peter is, as well, but..."

"No one does it like Joshua."  Peter smiled proudly at the carpenter and clapped him on the back.  "I understand completely and couldn't agree more, Theresa."

"Thanks.  So... Theresa and I were hoping... if you don't mind... could we get a photo with you, Joshua?"

"Absolutely!"  Joshua looked down at his robe.  "I hope you don't mind the ridiculous get-up."

Theresa adamantly shook her head.

"Not at all!  It's perfect!  Honey, we should use the photo as our Christmas card next year!  I mean... Jesus belongs on Christmas cards," she teased.

Joshua chuckled.

"Very true.  Let's step over there by the ticket counter where it's a little less congested.  John, would you take the photo?"


While Joshua took photos with the Baileys, the others dispersed to visit with their guests.

"Where's Marty?" JenniAnn asked as she and Andrew headed towards where Ivy, Sy, Shelby, and Violeta were entertaining the little kids with crafts and face-painting. 

"I know he said he was bringing some treats up to the private box.  But that was..." Andrew checked his pocket watch.  "Over twenty minutes ago."

JenniAnn frowned.

"He probably doesn't like how crowded it is.  And that's a shame.  I think it would do him good to see how people fawn all over Joshua."

The angel of death nodded.

"It really would.  Maybe I should go check in on him.  And Avi, too, while I'm at it."

"Good idea."  JenniAnn kissed Andrew on the cheek before going to join her daughters.

Andrew smiled after her, chuckling when Belle ran up to her mother with pink and purple sparkling paint on her face.

"A little elf, for sure..." he murmured to himself before heading to the private box.

Once inside, Andrew found Avi being doted on by his grandparents and great-uncle... but no Marty.  There was evidence that he'd been there, however, as Devin was munching on a gingerbread cookie.

"How's it going in here?" the angel checked.

"Perfect!" Catherine replied.  "Avi was a dream.  Didn't make a peep during the entire show."

"I think he enjoyed the music," Vincent added as he stroked the baby's hair.  "We certainly did."

"Nice suit," Devin cracked.

Andrew blushed.

"The sequins were Violeta's idea."

"Of course."  Catherine laughed.  "I think you look smashing."

"Well, thank you.  So... I take it Marty was here?"

Vincent nodded.

"Yes.  He kindly delivered an array of treats to us about... fifteen minutes ago?"

Devin and Catherine nodded in concurrence.

"Fifteen minutes..." Andrew frowned.

"Is something wrong?" Vincent inquired.

"We're just not sure where he is.  Did he seem fine to you?"

"A touch overwhelmed.  But, yes, fine.  He enjoyed your show very much," Catherine relayed.

"Hmm...  Well, maybe he's in the theatre."  Andrew peeked out.  He didn't see anyone but then the private box didn't offer a very good view of the back seats.

"Let me know if you need help.  I can come down and help look for him," Devin offered.

"I will, thanks.  But I'm sure he'll turn up.  See you later."

"Later!" Catherine repeated without looking up from her grandson's face.

"Good luck!" Vincent and Devin wished in unison as Andrew stepped back into the hall.

After making his way back down to the main level, Andrew slipped into the theatre proper.  Sure enough, there were two figures sitting in the back row of seats.  He could make out Marty's features but couldn't tell who was with him.

Stepping closer, the angel of death couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Seated beside Marty was Beatrice, the woman who had once targeted Joshua with vicious hate speech and threatening phone calls.

To Andrew's great surprise, Marty was holding the woman's hand as she tearfully told him the story of her meeting with Michael and her resulting conversion.

"I've spoken with Joshua once since... since then," Beatrice relayed.  "Face-to-face, I mean.  I pray, of course.  And... and I've suspected he returned here on occasion.  I... I've seen him on the theatre's social media accounts.  I just never felt... worthy to come see him again."

"No one is worthy to be in Joshua's presence," Marty replied.  He cringed when he realized how harsh he sounded.  "I only mean...  We are all imperfect.  But he... he is perfect... and he wants us in his presence.  No matter what we've said or done.  He loves us.  Utterly.  Always."

Beatrice smiled and swiped at her tears.

"Yes...  I believe that now.  And I... I made him something.  For his birthday.  I was just... trying to work up the courage to approach him."

Andrew slipped out, unnoticed, and returned to the lobby.  He found Joshua helping some of the children with their crafts.

"Joshua, can I borrow you for just a few minutes?" the angel of death requested.

"Sure.  What's up?"  Joshua squeezed Omar's and Daisy's hands.  "I'll be back in just a bit."


Andrew led Joshua back to the theatre door, halting just outside.

"I wasn't sure where Marty was.  I ended up finding him inside the theatre... with Beatrice."

"Beatrice..."  Joshua murmured her name.

"She wants to see you," Andrew shared, his eyes filling when he saw how moved Joshua was. 

Joshua hugged the angel.

"Thank you for letting me know.  I'll go in and see her.  I won't be long."

"Take your time," Andrew replied, patting Joshua on the back.

Joshua nodded then entered the theatre.

"Beatrice?  Marty?" he called.

Surprised, both turned towards the approaching man.  When they started to rise, Joshua waved for them to stay seated.

"Andrew heard you talking... only briefly, I'm sure.  He told me you wanted to see me, Beatrice?" Joshua checked.

With a trembling smile, Beatrice nodded.

"I... made something for you, for your birthday."

Joshua's face softened even more as he took a seat beside the woman.

"Beatrice...  Thank you." 

Marty looked on curiously as Joshua carefully unwrapped the small parcel that Beatrice had given him.

"I know it's not much... and pretty amateurish but... I spoke at a PFLAG meeting last week and, afterwards, we made these ornaments and I wanted you to have mine."

Joshua peered at a small, heart-shaped ornament comprised of a rainbow of puzzle pieces glued together.  It definitely wasn't something the Beatrice of old would have made.

"It's wonderful, Beatrice.  I'll treasure it always."

Marty sniffled as the two embraced with Beatrice weeping into Joshua's shoulder.  He remembered the rage and indignation he'd felt when Beatrice had first attacked Joshua and JenniAnn.  Later, when Michael had confronted Beatrice and her cronies, Marty had thought the archangel had been too gentle.  But, in that moment, Marty saw Beatrice as God had: as the little girl He loved in spite of the disappointment she'd caused Him.  And that gentle love had brought her back into the Light and into the arms of her Savior.


While Joshua introduced Beatrice around, Andrew found Marty at the cocoa table.

"Hey... so that was interesting," the angel of death observed.


"With Beatrice, I mean.  And you."

"Oh... yes.  Did you hear much?"

"Very little.  Only that she wanted to give Joshua a birthday gift.  That's why I went out to get him.  I was just surprised that you were, umm, talking to her."

Marty gave a wry smile.

"Even I can be social at times."

Andrew's face flushed.

"Oh, I know that.  It's just..."

Marty laughed and briefly touched Andrew's arm.

"Relax.  I was only giving you a hard time, Andrew.  You're correct in thinking I'm not the warmest of angels.  But... I saw Beatrice in the audience.  At first, I was appalled that she would return here.  And then, after the show, I saw her and her little present.  I watched as she'd begin to approach Joshua then lose her nerve... finally escaping into the theatre.  I followed her and... I was touched by her demeanor, by her simple wish to give Joshua a gift.  I do value connection, Andrew... enough that I was very pleased to be the one chosen to call you and JenniAnn out for that separate bedrooms charade you had going on."

Andrew, once again, blushed but couldn't resist smiling over at JenniAnn who was still with the children.

"I felt something... listening to her story in her own words," Marty continued.  "I felt..."

"Connected?" Andrew suggested.

Marty nodded.

"I can be judgmental.  I seldom act on it, of course.  But the sentiment is there."

"I know how that can be," Andrew commiserated.

"But you're so good with them," Marty countered.  "I think were I around them so often..."  He shook his head, his eyes misting.  "They hurt him."

Andrew sighed, his own memories of 2,000 years ago momentarily feeling very heavy.

"I know..." he choked out.  "But they also love him."

Andrew and Marty watched as Joshua approached Basil, Azalea, and Lily.  The little girl threw her arms around the carpenter and didn't let go.  Both angels smiled.

"And that is what I'm seeing now," Marty responded.  "Or I suppose... I saw it before.  But I'm... feeling it now."

Andrew clapped him on the back.

"Good.  That's really, really good, Marty."

With a nod, the scribe finished preparing his mug of cocoa then continued to gaze fondly at Joshua and his clamoring entourage.


Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

The following morning, most of the Friends remained at Willowveil where they enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.  Andrew, JenniAnn, Catherine, and Vincent gathered in the library for a video chat with Darian in Ireland.  Thanks to Logan and Josef, they were able to utilize a secure, private connection so Vincent and Avi could appear without worry.

"Good morning!" Darian greeted once the connection was made.

"And good evening to you!" Andrew replied. 

"Who's all there?"  Darian squinted at his screen.  "Ah...  Catherine, Vincent, JenniAnn, and yourself."

"Avi's on his way," JenniAnn assured.  "Our friend Joshua was just spending some time with... and here they are!"

Joshua approached the laptop with Avi in his arms.

"Darian, this is Joshua.  Joshua, Darian," Andrew introduced.

"Hello there, Darian!" Joshua greeted.

"G'morning, Joshua.  Are you spending Christmas with Andrew and JenniAnn?" the Irishman asked.

Joshua nodded.

"One of many house guests.  They've got a full castle this Christmas.  They're very good to host us all."

"We're sort of the gathering spot for our friends and family," JenniAnn explained.  "Hopefully, one year you can join us, too, Darian!"

"Oh, I'd like that.  I'd love to meet you in person, Catherine and Vincent.  And hold wee Avi again, of course."

"Well, you're welcome any time."  Andrew took the baby from Joshua and held him up so Darian could see.

The man chuckled.

"He's a bit of a butter ball now, isn't he?  Look at those chubby, little cheeks!"

Catherine smiled proudly.

"JenniAnn's done very well with fattening him up.  Our doctor friend says he's doing wonderfully!"

"Ah, that's good news!  Very good news!"

"So what are you doing for Christmas, Darian?" Vincent inquired.

"Pretty low-key.  I'll be spending tomorrow wrapping presents for the nieces and nephews then headin' to my sister's for Christmas Day.  Yourselves?"

"Well... since Joshua's back in town, he'd like to go caroling and check in on some old friends.  So that's our plan for today," JenniAnn replied. 

"I definitely want to spend some time in the Tunnels," Joshua added.

"Everyone there would adore seeing you, Joshua.  Especially..."  Vincent's voice trailed off.

Joshua rested a hand on the man's back as Darian frowned into the camera.

"I remember the first Christmas without me da.  It's tough.  You'll be in my prayers, Vincent.  You and your family."

Vincent smiled tearfully at Darian.

"Thank you, Darian.  I appreciate that... truly.  When you come visit, we'll have to introduce you to the Tunnels."

Catherine nodded.

"They're truly extraordinary and..."

She was cut off by a pounding on Darian's side of the call.

"What in the name..."  Darian turned in the direction of his door.  More pounding ensued.  "Hold on, hold on!" he shouted before turning back to his computer.  "I'll call right back.  Best go see who that is."

Andrew shook his head, alarmed by the visitor's seemingly angry persistence. 

"No, keep the call going.  Just in case," he urged as he handed Avi to Vincent who moved out of view of the camera.

"What's going on?" JenniAnn asked Joshua who didn't answer.  He simply remained transfixed by the unfolding scene.

"Well, whatever are you doing out here after sunset?" Darian asked as he ushered a young woman into his cabin.  "And when it's so cold!  Here, let me get you a cup of tea.  Go sit by the fireplace."

The visitor did as she was told.

"What brings you here, young lady?" Darian questioned as he prepared some tea for his guest.

"I... I..."  The young woman hunched forward and began weeping into her hands.

"Who is that, Joshua?" Catherine whispered.

"Just watch," he urged with tears in his eyes.

"Young lady, are you in trouble?  Do I need to call the police?  Do..."

The girl looked up at Darian and shook her head.

"N-no...  Please... please don't call the police.  I... I..."  She quaked with another sob before continuing.  "I... I left a... a baby here.  Last Au-august..."

JenniAnn let out a gasp.

Andrew looped an arm around her waist and held her tightly.

"A baby..." Darian repeated.

"I... I watched.  I saw you... you take him.  But..."  The girl looked around the cabin.  There was no sign of a baby.

"Ah..."  Darian glanced back over at the computer.

JenniAnn began to cry and peered over at a stricken Vincent who was holding Avi.

"Don't cry," Joshua gently counseled.  "No one is going to take Avi from you."  He looked from JenniAnn to Andrew.  "You're his parents."  His gaze traveled to Catherine and Vincent.  "And you're his grandparents.  Just watch and listen."

"I... I just need to know that... that he's... all... all right," the girl beseeched.

Darian again looked at the computer screen.  Joshua nodded and, though Darian didn't understand why, it was all the direction he needed.

"What's your name, young lady?"

"Siobhan... my f-friends call me V-Vonnie."

"All right then.  Vonnie, my name is Darian.  And I did take in your baby when you left him on the stoop of the other cabin.  And your baby is well."

Vonnie noticeably relaxed.

"Why did you leave your baby there specifically, Vonnie?" Darian carefully asked.

"I... I'd heard stories.  Of... of a man who... who looked like my baby.  A man who had once lived there."

Darian nodded.

"Such a man did live there.  His name was Lor.  His adoptive parents lived here in this cabin.  When Lor was older, he married a lovely, kind American woman named Cora."

Vincent neared as Darian told his parents' story.

"Sadly, Lor was killed... protecting his birth mother and brother, as it turns out.  But Cora was pregnant.  She returned to America and had her baby... a little boy named Vincent.  Cora passed away a few years back but Vincent remains in New York.  He has a wife, a son, and he's a grandfather several times over.  Later, we can get into how I know all this.  Right now, you just need to know the story.  Vincent looks like his father, like Lor.  And like your baby."

Vincent, snuggling Avi, drew even closer to the camera. 

"Vincent's wife, Catherine, returned here with Cora's ashes after she passed.  I met her then.  We exchanged information.  And I told myself that if I ever learned of another baby like Lor, like Vincent... then I would tell Catherine.  So Vincent could know that he had family here... and so we could help that baby however was needed.  So when I found your baby, I called Catherine.  Sadly, Vincent's adoptive father was dying at the same time.  So instead of coming herself and leaving her grieving husband and son, Catherine sent Vincent's god-daughter and her... man.  They're good people, Vonnie.  The very best.  They were immediately in love with your little boy and they adopted him.  They're raising him in a place where, when he's older, he'll be able to move about freely without any fear of people staring or judging him.  And Catherine and Vincent are with him.  They're his grandparents."

"He... he's safe...  And loved," Vonnie murmured, a smile forming on her face.

"Very safe, very loved," Vincent assured.

For the first time, Vonnie noticed the computer.  She crept closer, gasping slightly.

"My name is Vincent, Siobhan.  And this is my grandson... this is Avi."  Vincent smiled and tilted the boy up.

"Oh...  Oh... look at him!"  Vonnie laughed through her tears.  "He... he's looks so healthy!"

Vincent rested a hand on JenniAnn's shoulder.

"This is my god-daughter, JenniAnn, and her partner, Andrew.  They're Avi's parents.  And this is my wife, Catherine, Avi's grandmother."

"Hello," JenniAnn squeaked out as Catherine waved.

"Hello, Vonnie," Andrew greeted.

"Hi...  Hi, Andrew and JenniAnn.  And Catherine."  Vonnie directed her attention to JenniAnn and noted the tension in her face and the tears in her eyes.  "Oh...  I... please don't think that... that I mean to take Avi away from you.  I... I'm only nineteen.  Even in the best of circumstances..."  She shook her head.  "I couldn't raise a child.  Not now.  And... and one like Avi?  Beautiful as he is...  I just... I... I found out that I was pregnant with him last Christmas a-and when I returned from college and saw my parents' house all decorated... I... I couldn't stop thinking about then... about him.  And I... I... didn't want anything bad to happen to him.  That... that's why I watched to make sure someone found him.  A-and I... I didn't think I needed anything more but... I had to know he... he was okay.  That he... he was loved."

"So very, very loved," JenniAnn assured.  "Andrew and I wanted another baby so badly but..."

"Avi was and is a blessing to us," Andrew continued.  "Everyone in the family absolutely adores him, Vonnie."

"I'm glad... so glad..."  Vonnie let out a deep breath.  "This... this is the only Christmas present I needed."  She beamed then tilted her head when she spied Joshua.  "Who are you, if you don't mind me askin'?"

Joshua chuckled.

"Not at all.  I'm a friend of the family.  And a big fan of Avi here.  We're all so excited to celebrate his first Christmas with him."

"Oh... that's so wonderful..."  Unable to hold her joy in any longer, Vonnie hugged a surprised Darian.  "So wonderful..."

Darian awkwardly patted the girl on her back.

"I'm glad we could help you."

"So much.  A-and thank you all... for caring for Avi... for loving him... for giving me this peace.  I... I do have so many questions but..."  Vonnie frowned.  "Me mom will be missing me soon and..."

"We have these chats every couple of weeks," Darian informed.  "Perhaps you could join us again?"  He looked to the others.

"I think that's a great idea," Andrew urged.  "We'll look forward to it, Vonnie."

"Me too!"  After another contented sigh, Vonnie beamed at the screen.  "Merry Christmas to all of you!  Especially you, sweet Avi.  And thank you again for... for everything you're doing for him.  God bless you all."

"Merry Christmas!" the group in Dyeland shouted back.

"And God bless you, Vonnie," Joshua added.

"Thank you!  Oh... thank you so much!"  With another smile and hug for Darian, Vonnie left.

Darian peered out the window, chuckling as the young woman practically skipped away.

"Well... that was something," he mused as he sat back down in front of the screen. 

Vincent passed Avi off to JenniAnn who kissed his brow and nuzzled his nose.

"I... I feel... good.  I... I was terribly nervous..."  She smiled apologetically at Joshua.  "But... I like that we have a connection to Avi's birth mother.  It makes me feel less... guilty somehow."

Andrew nodded.

"I'd wondered if she was carrying regret and grief with her... all while we are so happy.  And it sounds like she was but... not now."

"You've given her an amazing gift," Joshua concurred.   "Now she can celebrate Christmas with true joy."

"I feel peace, too.  I... it had caused me some pain to think of Avi being abandoned just because of how he looks... how we look," Vincent confessed.  "But to know Siobhan watched over him until she knew he was in good hands...  She did love him."

"There's no doubting that," Darian affirmed.  "I'm not sure how much the camera picked up but she was one stricken lass when she first arrived."

Andrew stroked Avi's air.

"Maybe one day you can even meet her, bud.  I think that would be good for you both."

"I think so, too," JenniAnn agreed.

"One day," Joshua confirmed with a knowing smile.

"And I'll be making a trip to America myself one day," Darian responded.  "But for now... I think I best start washing up and preparing for bed.  I'll be sure to let you know if anything else arises on the Vonnie front."

"Thank you, Darian!"  Andrew smiled at the man.

After a chorus of "Merry Christmases!" and well-wishes, Darian ended the call.

JenniAnn squeezed Joshua's hand.

"Thank you for that.  While there were definitely some rocky moments... I'm so glad that now we're connected with Avi's birth mother."

Joshua squeezed her shoulders.

"And I'm glad for it.  I think you'll all be great friends to each other in the years to come.  And it'll mean a lot to Avi to have his birth mother in his life."

"I know it meant a great deal to me," Vincent murmured.

Catherine stroked his back as he remembered Cora.

"As it did to Cora," Joshua consoled.  "She's so proud of you, Vincent.  One day, you'll be able to see how excited she was to tell Lor all about their magnificent son.  And when Jacob arrived... well, let's just say they need eternity to sing your praises."

Vincent laughed as tears cascaded down his face.

"Well, why don't we start our caroling Below?" Joshua suggested.  "Then you can share the happy news about Vonnie."

"Sounds like a plan to me!" JenniAnn cheered.  "And... I happen to know there's someone there who will be very happy to see our little fellow!"

"Many happy people!" Catherine clarified.  "But I think I know who you have in mind."

"His future wife," Andrew jested.

JenniAnn playfully elbowed him.

"Don't say that!  Avi is never getting married.  He's staying with his Mama forever."

Joshua only laughed, keeping himself from revealing the truth.


Later that morning, Joshua led a contingent of Friends through the winding Tunnels, singing carols and bringing treats to the inhabitants.   By the time they'd reached a final corridor, their group had dwindled to only Andrew, Owen, Avi, Violeta, JenniAnn, and Joshua.  The others had gone to the classroom to help prepare for the children's Christmas pageant.

"I think maybe some of us should head back," Owen suggested.  "We don't want to overwhelm Mallory."

"Probably a good idea," JenniAnn agreed.  "Just let me run down there and check on her.  I'll come back and let you know whether to come further or not."

Joshua nodded.

"Good plan.  I'll go with you."

While the others waited, the two headed towards the distant chamber.

"I really wish she would have picked a chamber closer to the main hub," JenniAnn whispered.

"Me too.  But she was worried the crying would upset other folks."  Joshua frowned.  "The girl's had a lot of anger and negativity in her life of late."

"I've gathered...  And I think she's only secluded herself more since Evie was born and Hector absconded."

JenniAnn shook her head as she recalled the young couple's arrival some months before.  Hector and Mallory were the children of Helpers.  Despite both sets of parents' numerous attempts to launch Hector into the adult world, he'd gone from job to job, quitting each one when any amount of sacrifice was needed.  He and his young, pregnant bride had couch-surfed through several family members' households until his obnoxious behavior had gotten them cast out of each one.  Finally, they'd ended up Below.  Loyalty to their parents and Mallory's delicate condition had made Vincent relent and take the couple into the fold.  While Mallory had proved a model, if morose, Tunnel-dweller, Hector had shirked off every bit of responsibility assigned to him.  Everyone had hoped and prayed that when his daughter, Evangeline, was born on Halloween, he might have grown up.  Instead, he'd turned to drinking.  By Thanksgiving, he'd returned Above, abandoning his wife and baby daughter.  Mallory had slipped deeper into a depression that still loomed.

Joshua clasped JenniAnn's hand.

"You all do a good job with her.  I hope you know how proud I am of that."

JenniAnn squeezed the carpenter's hand.

"We do know.  And we appreciate that.  But..."

"But it doesn't make watching a friend struggle any easier.  I know."  With a gentle smile, Joshua kissed JenniAnn's hair then turned the final corner before Mallory's and Evie's chamber.  They were immediately greeted by the sound of a baby wailing and a woman attempting to soothe her.

"Oh... my poor girl... poor girl.  I'm here... I'm here..."

JenniAnn and Joshua peered into the chamber.

"Mallory..." JenniAnn called.

With tear-filled eyes, the young woman looked up.

"Oh... JenniAnn...  And... and..."

JenniAnn hurried forward to take Evie from her mother, freeing Mallory to go to Joshua.

"Joccy mentioned you were around but... I didn't know if you'd come this way."

Joshua cupped Mallory's trembling chin.

"Of course I'd come by to see you, sweet girl!"  He kissed her brow.

"She... she just won't stop crying.  Portia can't find anything wrong with her.  I... I just think she... she knows I'm miserable and her Daddy left and..."  Mallory began to sob in Joshua's arms.

JenniAnn peered down at the squalling infant.  No matter how she held her, she wouldn't be consoled.

"Let's just get you tucked into bed," Joshua suggested to the young mother.  "You look exhausted."

Mallory nodded and meekly followed Joshua back to her bed.

As he tucked the woman in, Joshua met JenniAnn's gaze.  She approached.

"Please go get Avi, Violeta... and cookies
," he whispered.  "Tell the boys we'll meet them in the classroom later."

JenniAnn nodded and, after settling Evie into her crib, left to follow Joshua's command.

"How are they doing?" Andrew asked when she returned to the group.

"Not good.  Evie's in a state and Mallory... she just looks like an exhausted, beaten-down rag doll.  Joshua's tending to her.  He said to come back with Avi, Violeta, and some treats."

Andrew responded with a sympathetic frown.

"Sorry to hear that."  He kissed Avi's hair.  "You're gonna go with Mama now, baby boy.  Violeta?"

"Yup!?" his protege asked.

"Joshua wants you to go back to Mallory's chamber with JenniAnn.  Owen and I will head to the classroom to help Vincent prepare for the kids' pageant.  We'll meet you there later."

"Oh... okay."

JenniAnn smiled at Violeta.

"You always cheer Mallory up.  Our sweet Violeta..."

Beaming, Violeta sidled up to JenniAnn's side.

Owen removed a box of cookies and a thermos from the cart he'd been pulling.

"Violeta, take these with you, please."

"Will do!"

"Catch up with you all later!" JenniAnn called.  "Maybe, with some luck... or rather some Joshuan support... we can get Mallory to the kids' show."

"Hope so!  Later!" Owen agreed.

"Give Mallory our best!" Andrew requested.

"And Evie, too!"

"Will do!" JenniAnn promised, smiling back at Andrew and Owen.

After a few moments, Violeta whispered.

"I just don't understand Hector.  I mean, yeah, Evie cries a lot but... who could leave their baby?" Violeta questioned.

"It happens sometimes, sweetie."

"I... I know but..." Violeta peered at Avi.  "Some people at least have decent reasons.  Not him."

"We'll talk about it later.  Right now we need to be positive and sunny and bring Mallory and Evie some Christmas joy," JenniAnn encouraged.

"I know...  Just sayin'..."  Violeta sighed then smiled cheesily.

JenniAnn giggled.

"Maybe tone it down just a tad."

Violeta's smile became much more natural.

"That's my girl!" JenniAnn applauded.

When they entered the chamber, Joshua was still at Mallory's side, holding Evie.  She was, at last, quiet.

"I wish you could stay here forever... like this," Mallory murmured.

Joshua stroked her hair.

"I'm always with you.  And you have so many people willing and wanting to help you out, Mal."


"We come bearing cookies!" JenniAnn announced.

"And Avi!" Violeta added.

"Oh... now Evie will really be happy."  Mallory smiled sleepily from her bed.

Joshua set the baby girl down in her crib and she immediately began to fuss.

"There now..." JenniAnn soothed as she laid her much more serene baby boy down.

Almost immediately, Evie quieted.

"I... I think she's lonely," Mallory whimpered.  "I... I don't think she likes me."

"That's not true," Joshua assured.  "Evie loves you.  You're her mommy.  But, sometimes, we all need friends."  He smiled over at the babies.  "And Evie's very blessed to have found a friend so soon."

Violeta poured a mug of cocoa and brought the cookies to Mallory.

"We made cookies!  Have some!" she chirped.

"Oh... spritz cookies."  Mallory stared wistfully at the treats.  "My mom makes these every year.  I usually help her but... I just didn't feel up to it this year."

"Maybe for Valentine's?" Violeta suggested.


JenniAnn caught Joshua's eye and he joined her near the babies.

"Could you... heal her?" she petitioned.  "It's obvious she's got post-partum depression."

Joshua dragged a hand through his hair.

"Could I balance out her hormones?  Alter her brain chemistry?  Yes...  But so could the meds that Portia's been asking her to take.  What she really needs is to let people help her.  That's going to be the lasting 'cure.'"  Joshua sighed.  "Hector never raised a hand to Mallory.  But he's left her feeling so emotionally beaten down that she doesn't think she deserves anyone's attention.  We can help convince her that's not the case."

"Okay," JenniAnn agreed.  "That makes sense... and I do want to help her."  She peered over at the ailing girl, her eyes misty.  "I can still remember when she was a little girl... so excited to come for Winterfest..."

Joshua patted her back.

"And you'll see that excitement and joy again," he reassured her.  "It's just gonna take a little time, a lot of love, and... maybe... an interesting plot twist or two."

"Plot twist?" JenniAnn asked with amusement.

Joshua shrugged and grinned.

"I'm the Author of Life.  You can't deny me some plot twists."

Laughing, JenniAnn hugged him.

"Never, Joshua..."


After Mallory had rested and basked in JenniAnn's, Joshua's, and Violeta's attentions, the trio succeeded in convincing her to attend the children's pageant.  Snuggled beside Avi in a bassinet, little Evie was a perfect, serene angel during the show.

Following a round of carols, a festive step-dance, and a Nativity play; the Tunnel children were greeted by thunderous applause from the adults.

"Well done!" Joshua praised as he hugged them.  "Natalie, you were wonderful as my Ama."

Maryam stooped and hugged the small, blushing girl.

"I was truly honored by your performance, dear."

"And Stephen... awesome job as Abi.  Your face when Gabriel appeared was very realistic!" Joshua congratulated.

Yosef laughed and nodded.

"More than I care to admit.  Wonderful job, son."

The little boy beamed from ear to ear.

"And such amazing shepherds and wisemen and angels and animals!  And the singing and dancing...  You were all fantastic!" Joshua enthused.  "And...  I truly loved your performance of 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.'  I know that was Father's favorite Christmas carol and you turned it into a beautiful tribute.  I can just see him smiling down at you all... very proud and very touched."

With tears in his eyes, Vincent nodded.

"It was beautiful, children.  Thank you for your hard work and for sharing your talents with all of us."

Another round of applause followed Vincent's words.  As it quieted, Manny tugged on Joshua's sweater.

"You tell story now?" he requested with huge, beseeching eyes.

Joshua looked to his parents.

"Ama, Abi, what do you say?" he checked.

"I think that sounds like a very good idea," Maryam agreed as Yosef nodded beside her.

Manny took Joshua's hand and led him to the elevated portion of the classroom.  Their pint-size portrayers did the same with Yosef and Maryam.  Once they were comfortably seated, Maryam began.

"Once, when I was a girl about Shelby's age, an angel came to me with the most wonderful news..."


After the children's concert, it was decided that Mallory and Evie would spend Christmas at Willowveil so the former could be nearer to Joshua and the latter to Avi.

While Andrew and JenniAnn busied themselves getting their new guests settled in, Joshua and a handful of the Friends resumed their caroling.  The group, comprised of Violeta, Ivy, Sy, Kemara, Sean, Marty, Shane, Mason, Renee, Kyle, Ana-Maria, and Joshua arrived at an apartment building where Kelly greeted them at the door.

"Merry Christmas!" she cheered as she embraced Joshua.

"Merry Christmas to you, too!  And thanks for getting us inside," Joshua replied.

"Of course!  I know I can trust my neighbors with you."  Kelly beamed at Joshua then turned her gaze to the others.  "Quite the crowd!  Welcome!  Do you wanna come on up to my apartment and stash your coats and bags?"

"That'd be great!" Kemara accepted.

"And we can sing for you first!" Kyle suggested.

As they made their way up to the angel's apartment, she wrapped an arm around Marty's waist.

"How are you doing Marty?  Enjoying your time at Willowveil?"

The others, save Joshua, looked on in surprise as Marty looped his arm around Kelly.

"It's been... very pleasant.  As was the visit to the Tunnels."


"And how has your Christmas season been, Kelly?"

"Oh... good.  Well, bittersweet.  It can be a difficult time for a lot of foster kids.  But it always helps to remember our Birthday Boy."

Kelly smiled back at Joshua who touched her shoulder.

"And I always remember you, Kelly."

The angel unlocked her apartment and ushered the others in before embracing Joshua again.

"Throw your things wherever you can find room," she directed.

"Aww!  Your tree is adorable, Kelly!" Violeta complimented.

"Thanks!  Most of the ornaments were made by the kids I work with.  A few from Jesse."  Kelly smiled tenderly as she touched a plaster hand print painted red and green.

"Will you be spending time with him this Christmas?" Mason carefully asked.

Kelly gave an enthusiastic nod.

"Oh, yes.  Joshua and the Father always let me go Home for Christmas Eve and Day.  So, of course, we have an eternal Christmas together."

"That's really great."  Renee squeezed the angel's hand.  Of all the life stories she, Mason, and Roger had learned since meeting the Friends, Kelly's story had been among the most moving for the young woman.  "I'm sure your Jesse is looking forward to it."

"I know he is.  Speaking of..."  Kelly moved into her kitchenette and retrieved a large, covered tray.  "We used to make Christmas Rice Krispie treats every year.  And I still do in his honor.  Help yourselves!"

After munching on the treats, the group serenaded Kelly with her favorite carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."  Then she excitedly joined them in caroling throughout her apartment building.  Naturally, Joshua knew just whose doors to knock on and who preferred to be left in peace.

Only Marty noticed that Joshua became increasingly anxious as they made their way through the top floor of the building.

"Last one!" Shane realized as Ivy knocked on the final door.

After a few moments, a smiling face appeared in the doorway.  The woman waved at Kelly then surveyed the group.  When she spotted Joshua, her eyes welled.

"Joshua..." she murmured.

Violeta gasped.  She knew this woman.  Her face was fuller now... she looked much healthier.

Kemara cocked her head, wondering why the stranger seemed so familiar.  And then she remembered... going to Wicked with Joshua, Ivy, and Violeta...  Joshua meeting a patron of St. Genesius' in the lobby... and then the cure.

"Merry Christmas, Talita," Joshua whispered into the weeping woman's ear.  "We were just, umm, caroling and..."

"Milo!" Talita shouted, briefly releasing Joshua.

Her husband appeared behind her, a toddler balanced on his hip.  The man's eyes went wide.

"Come... come in...  Your friends, too," he choked out.

"Who are these people?" Sy whispered to his girlfriend.

Eyes brimming, Ivy smiled.  She'd made the connection when Milo had appeared.

"Remember how I told you that Joshua healed a woman when we went to see Wicked?  That's her."

"The hemorrhaging woman?"

Ivy nodded.


The group milled into the couple's living room.  

"I just... I can't believe this..." Talita marveled.  "I... I never thought to see you again in... in this life, Joshua.  Please, sit down."

Joshua made no protest as he was ushered into a chair.

Marty watched the encounter with great interest.

"Josh..." Joshua cooed, smiling up at the toddler.

"Would you like to hold him?" Milo offered.

"Very much."

Milo settled his giggling son into his namesake's lap.

"I never made the connection..." Kelly whispered to Marty.  "I knew their boy was named Joshua but not why.  There are so many Joshuas out there."

The scribe nodded.  

Kemara, who had been studying their surroundings, noted photographs featuring two babies then two toddlers.

"Twins," she remarked to Sean.

At that moment, a babyish shout resounded from another room.

Talita laughed.

"Naptime is over, I guess!"

A few moments later, the woman returned with a little girl wobbling beside her.  She clapped her hands and smiled when she saw her crowd of visitors.

"This is Hope," Talita introduced.  "Say 'hi,' sweetie."

"Hi!" Hope chirped.  She made a beeline to Joshua who pulled her up beside her brother.

"They're so adorable!"  Ana-Maria grinned at the two.  "And I love their names."

"We decided on their names as soon as we learned we were expecting a boy and a girl."  Talita studied her visitors.  "You were there..."  She pointed to Kemara, Ivy, and Violeta who all nodded.  "So..."  She turned to Joshua.  "They know?"

"They know," Joshua confirmed.

"And... you both know?" Violeta checked.  "I couldn't tell that day at the theatre."

Milo shook his head.

"We didn't know then.  We'd seen Joshua when he was in Jesus Christ Superstar," he recounted.  "We thought he was fantastic... a wonderful actor.  But nothing more.  And then Talita saw him at Wicked.  He was so kind and gracious when we approached him.  All four of you were.  So then... then we thought he was just a wonderful and kind actor.  But..."

"I'd been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer," his wife shared.  "It was... awful.  We'd found out the very day we went to your theatre.  It was very aggressive and I... I didn't think I had much time left.  At the very least, I knew my dream of having children was gone.  They'd already scheduled me for surgery.  But that evening at Wicked... when Joshua touched me... I felt... something.  I thought it was just psychosomatic, you know.  I met 'Jesus' and had an emotional experience.  That's all.  But at my next doctor's appointment... the cancer was gone.  Totally gone."

"We knew then," Milo continued, beaming at Joshua.  "We thought about going back to St. Genesius' and asking leading questions.  And we have been back.  But just to watch.  We didn't need to ask questions.  We knew."  

Joshua smiled up at the two.

"And I appreciated that.  Very much.  I always love hearing from you.  And from your precious little ones."

Talita set a hand on each of the twins' backs.

"Josh, Hope, say your prayers."

Joshua and the others looked on, overwhelmed by the cuteness, as the toddlers lisped their prayer.

"Gah bess Mama.  Gah bess Dada.  Gah bess me.  Tank ooh, Gah."

They ended their prayer by blowing kisses into the air.

Marty turned away, not wanting the others to see the tears spilling down his cheeks.  It was one thing to write about the toddlers' prayer.  Seeing it was much more moving.  He collected himself and turned around.

"Josh, Hope... this is Joshua," Milo introduced.  "This is God."

The twins looking curiously at their father then back to Joshua.

Talita bent down and whispered to them.

In unison, the boy and girl kissed Joshua's cheeks.

"Aww!" Joshua hugged them.  "Thank you!  I love you very, very much!"

"How wonderful..." Renee murmured.

"Very," Talita agreed, her eyes full as she clasped Joshua's hand.  "Thank you... for that night... for my life... for them."  She used her free hand to smooth back the babies' hair.

Joshua brought her hand to his lips.

"You're very, very welcome.  I'm so pleased with how you're using the life that was restored to you...  Both of you."

Milo squeezed Joshua's shoulder.

Knowing the family would later want it, Kyle snapped a photo.

"Well... we came here to sing for you," Joshua reminded.  "So... we best get to that.  And I happen to know these little ones' favorite carol."  He gently set the children down then began to sing.  "Jingle bells, jingle bells...'"

As the adults joined in, the excited toddlers shimmied and swung bells their mother gave to them, delighting their parents, visitors, and, especially, the Birthday Boy Himself.


Monday, December 24th, 2018

It was well after midnight when Mallory awoke.  Briefly, she panicked.  She'd gone up to the room that JenniAnn had prepared for her at 9:00 and had fallen asleep shortly thereafter.  Evie never let her sleep for three full hours.

Then Mallory remembered that, on top of welcoming her into their home, Andrew and JenniAnn had also agreed to watch her baby girl through the night.  She prayed Evie hadn't kept them up...

Nervously, Mallory made her way down to the couple's room.  She hovered outside their door... listening.  And she heard nothing.  Maybe Evie was actually sleeping!  Or maybe Joshua had taken her.  He'd offered to if Andrew and JenniAnn needed help.

Mallory was about to head back up the stairs to check on Joshua when she felt a pang in her belly.  She hadn't eaten much at dinner.  There'd been so much food but she'd been too nervous and overwhelmed.  But JenniAnn had told her that everyone had free reign of the kitchen, no matter the hour.

As quietly as possible, the young woman descended the final set of stairs and crept to the kitchen.

She halted as soon as she entered.  Someone was already there... Marty.  She was shrinking back into the darkness of the hallway when he spotted her.

"Hello," Marty greeted.

Mallory forced herself to re-enter the kitchen.

"Hi...  I, umm...  JenniAnn told me I could get a snack if..."

"She told me the same."  Marty held a plate of cheese and crackers out towards the woman.  "These were calling my name.  Care to join me?"

In spite of her unfamiliarity with the rather imposing angel, Mallory joined him at the table.

"Can I get you anything else?" Marty offered.  "There's a lot of fruit and vegetables and dip in there."  He waved to the refrigerator.  "And cookies in there."  He indicated the pantry.  "Leftover sandwiches... pastries..."

Mallory smiled and shook her head.

"No, this is fine.  I just wanted a little something."

"Very good then."

The two sat quietly, nibbling on the cheese and crackers for several moments before Marty spoke.

"Your little one is precious."

Mallory was momentarily startled by his voice but quickly recovered and smiled.

"Thank you.  I... I love her so much but... sometimes I'm not sure I'm cracked up to be her mom."

"Why would you say that?"

"I'm just... sad.  I... I'm not like JenniAnn or Emma or Kylie.  Their faces light up when they're holding their babies.  I... I just feel bad for Evie.  Fatherless, living off the kindness of others, lonely..."

Marty's face softened.

"She is not fatherless.  Her father may come back.  And even if not... she has the same Father as all of us.  He will never leave."

Mallory smiled sadly and nodded.

"I know.  And I feel very blessed to have actually met Joshua.  When I came to the Tunnels for that first Winterfest after he made himself known...  I... I thought everyone had lost their minds.  But then the first time I met him... I knew they were right. I knew who he was.  But... he's not here all the time.  Not... physically.  He... he probably won't be there to catch Evie when she take her first step.  He's not going to be here for all the Father's Days so many of the other children will celebrate.  He... he won't walk her down the aisle."

Marty raised an eye brow.

"She's not even two months old.  I think it's a touch early to fret over her wedding, don't you agree?"

In spite of her grief, Mallory laughed.

"Yes, I suppose you're right."

"Further, maybe he will be there.  He walked Emma down the aisle.  And others since."

"Yes...  I had heard that."

"As for the other things... no, maybe Joshua won't be here in the flesh.  But so many other people will be.  And as for the loneliness..."  Marty frowned.  "Sometimes we choose to be lonely."

Mallory looked at the scribe in surprise.

"You get lonely?"

Marty considered.

"Perhaps lonely isn't the best word.  I'm never alone.  God is always with me.  But... wistful, I suppose.  I record everything... and experience very little outside of my interactions with the Father, Joshua, and the Spirit.  I have others in my department, of course.  I once counted Violeta among them, in fact."

"Aww.  I love Violeta.  She... she just makes me happy to look at her."

Marty's cheeks flushed.  He found Violeta exhausting.  She was so... very nearly human.  And yet there was nothing he could say against her.  She was a sweet girl whose abject love for Joshua was obvious.  He shouldn't be so put-off by her.

"Why don't you come visit more often?" Mallory inquired.  "I'm sure Andrew and JenniAnn would always find a place for you."

Marty considered as he stacked up crackers.

"I... don't know."

"Do you... not like us?  Humans, I mean?  I... I wouldn't blame you if you didn't.  The things I read in newspapers...  It... it makes me scared to think I'm raising a child among such... awfulness."

Hearing those words coming from such a bright, young woman hit Marty hard.  The sentiment was embarrassingly close to what he sometimes felt.  And he knew that was wrong...

Marty adamantly shook his head.

"No... no, Mallory.  You... you can't live like that.  Yes, terrible... hateful things happen in this world.  But... there's so much that doesn't make the papers.  So much that doesn't get passed around online on all those social media platforms you humans spend so much time with.  It doesn't make the cover of the New York Times when someone buys a meal for a homeless person.  You see endless news coverage of mass shootings but don't hear about it when a child leaves his lunch table to sit with the girl everyone teases.  You read about men who murder their wives but not about the ones who eat ramen noodles for lunch for a year to buy engagement rings."

Mallory looked across the table in awe.  The angel had tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Today... today I met a beautiful little boy and girl who are only alive because Joshua healed their mother," Marty continued.  "And... they danced along to 'Jingle Bells' and Joshua's face... it was lit up as if they were singing the most beautiful canticle to him.  Joshua did that.  And he... he's human, too.  So when we find ourselves feeling disgusted with humanity... we need to remember that.  No evil can ever diminish the good that he's done.  And there are people who follow him... truly follow him... who try to bring peace and joy to others.  They don't make the news, either.  Not often enough.  But they're there, Mallory.  All... all around you.  Around... us.  You just have to let yourself see them... let yourself allow them into your life, into your heart."

Mallory's own eyes were brimming.

"B-but... what if they leave me, too?"

"They won't leave you... not like Hector has.  I... I haven't allowed myself to get to know them as I should.  But I've recorded their lives and I know, Mallory.  They won't leave you," Marty reiterated.

"Will... will you be my friend?" Mallory beseeched.

Marty drew in and let out a deep breath.  He smiled through his tears and nodded.

"Yes.  Yes... I will be your friend."

Mallory leaped up and embraced Marty... who found he enjoyed the hug very much.


While Mallory and Marty were sharing in their mutual revelation in the kitchen, above them JenniAnn had made a realization of her own.

"She's going to steal my son...  That girl is going to steal my baby..." she whispered to Andrew as they peered down at the infants, snuggled together in Avi's crib.

Andrew chuckled softly.

"That's a bit dramatic, don't you think, Laja?"

JenniAnn shook her head.

"Uh uh...  That's some Catherine and Vincent level mojo going on there.  How else do you explain how Evie cries incessantly... but never when she's beside Avi?"

"You said she stopped crying when Joshua held her," Andrew reminded.

"Well, yeah... but that's Joshua!"

"If it was a Vincent/Catherine thing... wouldn't Avi be upset when separated from Evie?"

JenniAnn considered then shook her head.

"No.  Because maybe he can feel her wherever she is.  Like Vincent can with Catherine.  But she can't in return.  At least... not as well.  Like... like Evie sends out a signal that Avi always hears.  But the signal he sends out is... patchy coming in.  So it frustrates her.  So she cries.  A lot."

"All right...  I think someone needs to get some sleep..."  Grinning and shaking his head, Andrew wrapped his arm around JenniAnn's waist and tried to lead her towards their room.

"Just one second..."  JenniAnn cocked her head and gently stroked the babies' hair.  "They are both so adorable..."

"They are," Andrew agreed.  "Absolutely precious."  He sighed happily and kissed JenniAnn's hair.

"Maybe it's okay," JenniAnn mused as they settled into bed.  "I mean... I was pint-size when I started fixating on you.  I turned out okay."

Andrew kissed her brow.

"Totally okay," he agreed prompting a smile and a kiss.

Calmed, JenniAnn snuggled against Andrew and, soon, the two drifted into an easy, restful sleep.


Still further above, Joshua stared up at his ceiling and smiled as his Dad told him of the goings on elsewhere in the castle.  He was pleased that both Marty and Mallory had realized they needed to let others into their hearts and lives.  It would bring Marty far greater joy in his work and set Mallory on the path to recovery.

As for JenniAnn... she was closer to the truth than Andrew would have guessed.  Their little Avi could sense Evie and would grow to love her dearly and she him.  Evie couldn't sense Avi when he was apart from her, nor did she mourn his absence when they were separated... not yet, at least.  But the girl was exceedingly empathetic and, small as she was, felt for her mother.  Avi's tranquil, jolly spirit gave her respite when they were near.  In the years to come, Avi would learn how to protect and shelter Evie.  But, in the meantime, she and her mother would embark on a new life, filled with the warmth and love of family and friends, buoyed by the generous spirit of the Tunnel community.

Joshua sighed contently.

"Thanks, Dad.  G'night.  I love you," he murmured before snuggling into his pillow.  He drifted off and dreamed of the day to come.


After catching up with everyone at True Light, the Chrysalis, and the Phoenix Inn; a cohort of Friends made their way to the FS headquarters. 

"Ho!  Ho!  Ho!" Adam greeted as they entered.

"Merry Christmas!" Kylie added.

Andrew chuckled.

"I didn't know you two were going to be here.  You didn't say anything."

"We wanted it to be a surprise," Adam explained.  "Jolie wanted to hire a Santa.  Kylie and I were available and so... here we are!"

"You make such a wonderful Santa!" Zelda applauded.  "Can Logan and I get a photo with you both?"

"Of course, little girl!" Adam agreed.  "Right this way!"

Joshua shook his head in wonderment as they walked further into the room.  He'd known of Jolie's plans before he'd left Heaven but the way they'd come together...  The offices had truly become a winter wonderland.

Salma took several snaps as Logan and Zelda posed with Adam and Kylie in front of Santa's Workshop. 

"You're here!" Isolde shrieked as she dashed across the room with Marco behind her.  She handed him her drink and hugged Joshua.  "Everyone is so excited to meet you.  All three of you!"  She beamed at Joshua, Marty, and Andrew.

Marco took a sip of his wife's drink and wrinkled his nose.

"What is this, anyway?"

Isolde giggled.

"It's called the Three Wisemen.  One part peppermint schnapps, one part Kahlua, one part Bailey's Irish Cream.  All parts yummy!"

Joshua laughed. 

"As delightful as that sounds, I think I'll pass.  But thank you.  Anyone else?"

"I'm not so afraid of getting tipsy," Andrew confessed.  "More that I'd go into sugar shock."

"Well, let's get you all something to eat and drink!  C'mon!"  Isolde indicated for the new arrivals to follow her towards where most of the guests were congregated.

As the group drew closer, a hush went through the crowd.

"Joshua!"  Josef approached and embraced him.  "I'm so glad you're here!  And now... can I introduce you?  Can I?  Can I?  Can I?"

Joshua suspected Josef's giddiness had nothing to do with the Three Wisemen.  In fact, the overall atmosphere was that of absolute joy on the cusp of bubbling over.  He looked to Andrew who nodded agreeably and to Marty who braced himself before also giving silent assent.

"Of course, Josef.  Thank you."

Josef clapped Joshua on the back then grinned out at his employees, friends, wife, and daughter.

"Everyone, it's my honor to introduce to you the three men responsible for finding and delivering the cure to all of us.  Everyone, please meet Joshua, Andrew, and Marty."

A throng of people pushed forward, several with babies in their arms.

Josef laughed.

"Wait, wait, wait!  I know everyone's anxious to speak with them but maybe we should have some sense of order."

Adam pressed closer and whispered in Josef's ear.

"All right.  Good idea.  Friends, Santa and Mrs. Claus have graciously offered use of their workshop for personal visits with Joshua, Andrew, and..."

Josef turned back around to his guests.  He knew Joshua would be thrilled with the chance to connect with his children.  And Andrew was always game for meeting new people.  But Marty...

"Marty, would you rather not?" Josef quietly asked.  "I know it could get overwhelming and..."

Marty shook his head. 

"No... no.  I would like to meet them."

"Awesome!"  Josef turned back to the crowd.  "And Marty!  So let's give them a chance to grab some food and drinks and maybe start a line over there by the, umm... sorry what is that again?" he inquired as he waved over to a structure.

"It's a Christmas wishing well," Jolie explained as if it were obvious.

"By the... Christmas wishing well," Josef relayed.  "But first..."

Amber-Marie handed out glasses of cider to Joshua and the others.

"A toast to our heroes.  Glasses up, everyone." 

The assembled crowd raised their glasses.

"To Joshua, Andrew, and Marty... for restoring to us the lives that God gave us, for giving us hope, and... and for our little ones."

During the resulting cacophony, Joshua, Andrew, and Marty looked upon the crowd with teary eyes and proud smiles.

Marty let out a shuddering breath... remembering the pain that had led to the flowers which had become the cure for vampirism.  He looked over at Joshua and remembered a tiny baby in a manger, a passionate man teaching about God's love, and a dying man upon a cross.

It had all been worth it.  Marty saw and felt it in that moment.

All worth it...


Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Joshua smiled as he gazed around the Willowveil ballroom.  All around, the Friends were unwrapping presents and making excited, pleased exultations over them.  Because buying for everyone was out of the question, they'd done a Secret Santa and now laughed and chatted with their gifters and recipients.

But there was one present still left to be opened.

"For you!" Jacob declared as he set a tissue paper filled bag in front of Marty.

"For me?  But... I wasn't here when names were drawn," he protested.

"Everyone gets a present," Shelby insisted. 

"Open!" Belle cheered.

"Well, all right then..." 

The children and Joshua gathered around as Marty pulled various items out of his bag.  There were paper weights with their hand prints in them, brightly painted desk organizers, file folders covered in crayon drawings, and more.

Marty beamed.

"Children... this... it's all wonderful!  I love my presents very much!  Thank you!  I can't wait to bring them to Heaven and put them in my office."

"Not for Heaven," Omar protested.

Marty cocked his head.

"Check the bottom of the bag," Joshua encouraged.

Marty pulled out more tissue paper and noticed an envelope.  His name was written on it in Joshua's familiar hand.  After carefully opening the envelope, the scribe read.

Dear Marty,

I'm so pleased that you chose to spend Christmas here.  I think being among the Friends suits you.  I know you love Heaven and, trust me, you'll have plenty of time there.  But I have a new task for you.

Our friend Logan has set up a blog for you.  You'll remain anonymous.  Don't worry about that.  But every day, I want you to share one good thing with the world.  There's so much bad news out there... but so much that's beautiful and inspiring and true and good.  Share those stories. 

And I think it'll help you write them if you're a little less closed off from our human friends.  So... Andrew and JenniAnn have agreed to dedicate the room you're using to you.  Think of it as a sort of writer's garret. 

Enjoy, my son!

Merry Christmas!

Love always,

Marty let the note fall to his lap and looked up at Joshua with tear-filled eyes.  He clasped his hand and brought it to his lips.

"Thank you...  It... it's the perfect gift."  He searched for Andrew and JenniAnn and found them standing near by, with Ichabod sprawled across their feet.  "Thank you."

"Of course!  You've always been welcome here!" Andrew reminded.

"And now you know it!"  JenniAnn handed him a wooden plaque bearing the words "Marty's Room" which Andrew had made.

Smiling, the angel accepted the plaque.

"Thank you..." he repeated.  Then he held his arms aloft.  "And thank you all for the wonderful writing supplies!" 

The children rushed forward, crushing Marty in a group hug that made him laugh heartily.  It was the loudest, happiest laugh the Friends had ever heard come out of him.

Maryam moved to stand beside her son and wrapped an arm around him.

"Well done, my boy."

"Thanks, Ama."  Joshua rested his head on hers.  "He looks so happy."

"The happiest I have ever seen him," Yosef agreed.  "Well, excepting one time..."  His face glowed as he remembered his boy's triumphant return to Heaven.

"Happy birthday, my own," Maryam murmured.

"Happy birthday, Yeshu," Yosef echoed.

Joshua linked his arms around both his parents and let out a contented sigh.

"Thank you.  And thank you for being my Ama and Abi."

Maryam and Yosef kissed their son on his cheeks then peered happily at the angel surrounded by giggling, giddy children.

Unprompted and merely inspired, Mason began to sing a song he remembered from his childhood.  His voice wasn't strong but the emotion was obvious.

"Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me."

Beaming, Mallory joined in.

"Let there be peace on earth,
the peace that was meant to be."

Soon, all the Friends were singing.

"With God as our Father,
brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
in perfect harmony.

With ev'ry step I take,
Let this be my solemn vow,
To take each moment and live
Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me."

 The End

Work Cited:
"Carrickfergus"- traditional
Luke 2:10- "Fear not!"!
"Silent Night" composed by Franz Xaver Gruber and Fr. Joseph Mohr
"Balulalow" by the Wedderburn Brothers
"Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"  composed by Charles Wesley
"In the First Light"  by Robert John Kauflin
"Away in a Manger" by unknown
"The Friendly Beasts" by Robert Davis
"Breath of Heaven" by Amy Grant
"Forgiveness Is a Miracle (A Song for Joseph) / Man of Mercy" by Jason Gray & Andy Gullahorn
"Gaudete"- traditional
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by unknown
Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber
It's a Wonderful Life
Acts 3:15- "Author of Life"
"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" by  by Edmund Sears
"O Little Town of Bethlehem" by Phillips Brooks
"Jingle Bells" by James Lord Pierpont
"Let There Be Peace on Earth" by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson

This newsletter is dedicated to John Dye for inspiring yet another year of JABB!  I can't believe we've been at this for over two decades!

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(Photo Credits: The photographs used on this page are from Touched by an Angel and owned by CBS Productions, Caroline Productions, and Moon Water Productions.  They are not being used to seek profit.)