"The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people."
~~Vincent van Gogh

Hi all,

Happy belated Valentine's Day!!!

Per tradition, below are three vignettes.  The first exists because I'm clearly
not over some elements of TBAA.  The third was written just because I thought the idea was cute.  And the second... well, it really has nothing to do with Valentine's Day or romantic love but it's the setup for the introduction of a character who will eventually have a pretty romantic (at least in my opinion) character arc.  They're in this order purely because it's chronological.  I hope you enjoy!

God bless,

Checking In        Sacred        Beautiful Boy


Checking In

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

JenniAnn awoke to a strange sound.  It had been so many months since she'd last heard it that it took her a few groggy moments to recognize it.  When she did, she snapped to attention.

Andrew had rolled away from her and was twitching as he made short, gasping sounds.

JenniAnn stroked his back and spoke softly.

"It's all right, Andrew.  You're safe.  Open your eyes, love."

The angel groaned softly.

"C'mon, my love."

When his shoulder stopped seizing, JenniAnn kissed it.

Andrew let out a deep breath and squeezed one of JenniAnn's hands.  After a few more moments, he sat up.

"Sorry.  I..."  He dragged a hand through his hair and rubbed at his eyes.

JenniAnn watched his gaze drift to the balcony.

"It's supposed to be a mild night.  Would you like to go sit out there for a while?"

The angel of death nodded.

"Okay.  Maybe some tea would do us good.  Chamomile?"

"Yes.  Please."

JenniAnn kissed Andrew's forehead then made her way to the kitchen. 

Once there, she started the water boiling and prepared two cups then closed her eyes and prayed.

"Oh, Joshua...  It's happening again.  Every time, I hope and pray it's the last time but..."  JenniAnn swiped at a tear.  "Not yet, I guess.  It... it just doesn't seem fair.  He... he's so good and..."  She bowed her head.  "But... but I guess you were even better and still... still got hurt.  Badly."

JenniAnn sighed.  She reached for Joshua's gold-colored mug and cradled it in her hands.

"I wish you were here."

Joshua did not appear.

JenniAnn replaced the mug.

"I know you're always here.  But... you know what I mean.  And I guess... I know you have your reasons for when you come and when you don't and I suppose right now..."

The kettle began to sing.

"This is on me," JenniAnn finished as she poured the boiling water into the mugs.

With one final, longing glance at Joshua's mug, JenniAnn left the kitchen and headed back to her bedroom. 

On the balcony, she found Andrew settled amongst a pile of cushions and pillows, Avi's baby monitor at his side.  His eyes were closed, his head was tilted up towards the moon, and a soft breeze played with his hair. 

It was one of those moments when JenniAnn found it nearly impossible to believe that he was any older than she was.  He looked so young and vulnerable. 

JenniAnn set the mugs down on a bistro table.  Hearing the tap of ceramic against metal, the angel of death opened his eyes.


The huskiness in his voice made JenniAnn feel weak-kneed.

"Andrew," she replied as she knelt beside him.

He embraced her tightly, burying his face in her hair.

"Was... was it Afghanistan again?" JenniAnn quietly asked though she already knew the answer.  Andrew had witnessed and experienced an unimaginable amount of trauma in his life... but the pain of what he'd experienced there was etched into his body and brain.

Andrew nodded.

"I'm so sorry."

"Thank you for waking me up."

"Of course." 

When Andrew released her, JenniAnn handed him his cup of tea.

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked as he sipped.

Andrew peered out at the stars as he spoke.

"It's starting to blur.  It was just... the darkness.  Not knowing what would come next.  Not knowing if I'd be able to keep protecting Max.  And... and the... pain."

JenniAnn bowed her head.  Andrew seldom talked about the abuse he'd been personally subjected to.  Comments from Max, the consultations with Dr. Talson, and the wounds that had still been visible upon Andrew's return had helped JenniAnn glean some information... but none of it could account for the three and a half months Andrew had been held captive.  Their shared dreams during that time had offered few hints... God had only allowed her to see Andrew as she expected him to be.  JenniAnn had long believed He'd done that to spare her.  But after meeting Joshua... she felt it was just as likely He'd done it to spare Andrew.  Joshua knew the shame and grief of loved ones seeing Him so abused.  And if Joshua had kept that information away from her out of respect for Andrew and his pride... she had no right to pry.

"I'm so sorry.  You... you know that I'm here to listen if..."

Andrew nodded then wrapped an arm around the woman.

"I know, Laja.  I do.  I just... I don't think it would help."

"Okay.  Is there anything I can do that would help?"

"Just what you're doing now."


JenniAnn grabbed her own cup of tea and began to drink.  As she did, Andrew studied her.

Though little about her had physically changed since 2012, there were some telling alterations. 

The angel smiled as her ring caught the moonlight.  He had put that ring there... in the hospital after she'd woken from her coma.  And the mother's birthstone cross around her neck... newly altered to include little Avi.  And then there was the simple fact that they were sitting on their balcony outside their bedroom.

Andrew sighed when JenniAnn rested her head on his shoulder.

"What are you thinking about?" he inquired, gently patting her knee.

JenniAnn interlaced her fingers with his.

"Actually... I was remembering that night that... that you had the panic attack.  And I stayed in your room.  And Adam chaperoned... and I was thinking that... as much as I love Adam... I'm very glad he's not doing that any more."

Andrew chuckled.

"I'm glad for that, too.  Although... you know he was only there to protect you in case I..."

"I know."

"He did trust us to not... get up to anything we shouldn't."  The angel smirked.

"Not sure Tess felt the same," JenniAnn recalled with a smile.

With a laugh, Andrew shrugged.

"I'm not sure about that, either."  He shook his head in wonder.  "I always admired how you stood up to her... more than I ever could."

"Well, when a person's wrong they're wrong.  I don't care if they're an angel.  But..."  JenniAnn sighed.  "I probably also wasn't as compassionate with her as I should have been.  I think I understand her better now as a parent.  You were... and are... her Angel Boy.  She loves and adores you.  And here comes this little girl who insists she knows just what you need and there's no telling her differently."

"Except... you often did know."

"Kind of.  But I was pushier than I should have been.  Took me longer than it should have to realize that you didn't need to tell me everything."

"But you knew I needed someone there... someone checking up on me."

"I just... I never understood why Tess and Monica didn't check up on you more.  Sometimes I still struggle with that," JenniAnn confessed.

Andrew took another sip of his tea then shrugged.

"We all have blind spots... things we don't want to see.  I was as guilty of it as they were."

"How so?" JenniAnn challenged.

"Your hypothesis is that Monica liked seeing me as the strong, protective, unshakable older brother, right?  And Tess saw me as the easy, less dramatic firstborn?"

"Yeah.  In a lot of ways, at least."

"Well, I saw you as the sweet, innocent, naive girl who had a crush on me... a crush she would definitely outgrow.  I saw what I wanted to see.  I know that hurt you at times."

"Hate to break it to you but... I don't think that's the same thing at all, Andrew," JenniAnn countered.

"How is it not?"

"Well, for starters, I can appreciate now... in a way I couldn't as a teenager... how totally awkward that must have been for you.  I mean... you looked basically like you do now."

"Give or take some gray hairs and fine lines," Andrew jested.

JenniAnn stroked his temples where there was, indeed, some gray hair.

"Barely.  And I was a seventeen year old who sometimes still got asked what grade school I went to.  To put it in perspective, Kendra is two years older than I was when we met.  How thrilled do you think Zeke and Diana would be if she turned up with a thirty five year old man?"

Andrew's nose scrunched up.

"That's just... no..."  He shook his head.

"And yet I seemed to think everyone... you especially... should be totally cool with the same.  I mean, yes, you're an angel so that makes everything different... but it's not like everyone knew that.  So even if you had known there was more to it... you really think you would have acted any differently?  You think you woulda been like 'Sure, Laja, let me tell you all about my day in an oncology ward followed by a brief stint on death row.  Just finish your homework first!'  No.  Because that would have been insane.  Further... you continued to act like it was all a crush well past the point when it would have benefited you to believe and behave otherwise.  Because you wanted to give me my best chance... every opportunity to live a 'normal life.'  You even tried to give me a free pass before... before you left for Afghanistan."

"Which I took back!" Andrew interjected.

"You did...  But only after I told you that was an awful idea.  But it just goes to show that your motivation was anything but self-serving.  You were afraid I would get lonely... but you had to know that you would get lonely."

Andrew nodded.

"So... all this just to say that your perception of me was much less about protecting yourself and much more about protecting me.  Hence... not the same as Monica and Tess.  Then.  I think they just didn't quite get you then.  I think now... with so much more out in the open... they'd drop everything to check in on you if you needed it.  I know that... when the time comes... I can count on them to do that when I can't."

"Laja..."  Andrew pulled her close and kissed her hair.  "I know you can, too.  But not for a long, long time."

JenniAnn nuzzled his shoulder and nodded.

"I get to be your main check in on-er for years to come."

Andrew chuckled and let out a contented sigh.

"And I am very, very grateful for that."

"Good."  JenniAnn lifted her head from his shoulder and met the angel's gaze.  "Feeling better?"

"Much better."  Andrew cupped her chin.  "Thanks for that, Laja."

JenniAnn stretched up to kiss him.

"Welcome.  You're... not mad about what I said about Monica and Tess, are you?"

Andrew shook his head.

"No.  It was the truth.  I know it and they know it.  And they've both apologized to me since.  But it's like I told them...  I think God used it so... so I'd be more grateful when someone came along who wanted to check in on me."

Andrew smiled tenderly at JenniAnn and brought her hand to his lips.

"Love..." she cooed.

"Now... you've helped me through another bad night.  What can I do for you?" Andrew asked.

"I don't need..."

"I want to do something for you."

"All right..."  JenniAnn thought and, as she looked around, she spied the colors beginning to form at the horizon.  "Watch the sunrise with me?" she requested.


As they watched the dawn breaking from the comfort of their embrace, Andrew and JenniAnn both prayed.  She prayed that her beloved would be spared further nightmarish returns to Afghanistan... but, if that wasn't possible, she asked that she would always be there to comfort him in the aftermath. 

Andrew's was a prayer of thanksgiving... thanking God for seeing them through the tumultuous start of their relationship, for keeping them together even during those dark days of 2012, for using that time to bring their son, their Max, into their lives, and for blessing them so richly since. 

The glow of the sunrise's vibrant colors shone through the curtains in Avi's nursery, waking the six-month-old.  He began to struggle, wanting to better see the magnificent display.  Thankfully, two strong arms lifted him from his crib before he could cry out, taking his parents out of their shared reverie.

Joshua returned the boy's smile with one of his own.  He pulled the curtain back and held the baby so he could take in the sunrise.  As Avi admired, Joshua listened to his parents' prayers. 

No, it wouldn't be the last of Andrew's nightmares.  But, yes, Joshua would ensure that JenniAnn was always there when the angel most needed her.  And there would be many, many more blessings... 

Joshua took a sip of his coffee and smiled as he envisioned the next blessed moment to arrive.

JenniAnn would return to the kitchen, planning to refill her and Andrew's mugs with coffee.  She would notice the half-filled pot resting on the coffeemaker and the missing gold mug.  She would dash up the stairs, headed for Joshua's bedroom.  But she would be stopped by the sound of Andrew chuckling and Belle screeching from the direction of Avi's nursery.  And then they would be together... the perfect start to Valentine's week.  Friends would stop in, cookies would be baked, valentines would be delivered to wounded warriors.  And JenniAnn would watch Andrew, visiting and laughing and listening solemnly to those he met at the veterans' hospital.  And she would reflect on how far he had come since Afghanistan... how far they had come together.  And Joshua would squeeze her hand and smile proudly, silently reminding her that they made a good team and that they would never leave Andrew to face his troubles alone. 


Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

(A story in which I optimistically pretend that my hometown is going to have beautiful weather come early March... and not look like a winter wasteland.)

When Raquel and Nico had offered to babysit Avi so Andrew and JenniAnn could spend some alone time with Belle, it had taken the little girl approximately two seconds to decide where she wanted to go: the Omaha Zoo.  And so, armed with bottles of water and their membership card, the trio had set off to see the lions, elephants, penguins, and more.

Unfortunately, for JenniAnn the excursion had been less relaxing and amusing and more... anxiety-inducing.  Nearly from the moment they'd entered the gates, JenniAnn had repeatedly spotted the same man, seeming to follow them.  He was there even when they visited the less popular exhibits.  Always a few feet off... always alone.

The children's adventure area was the final straw.  Prior to that, JenniAnn could have explained away the various sightings of the man as coincidence.  After all, the Omaha Zoo was open to the public and who wouldn't want to see the meerkats, sharks, orangutans, and so on?  But a lone, grown man in the children's area?  For years now, JenniAnn had worked with Reuel, Portia, and Andrew to reign in her lingering paranoia and thought she'd done so with success.  Today was the first day she'd felt it return with its old, immediately post-Rex fervor.

After glancing over to where Andrew was pointing out monkeys to Belle, JenniAnn turned back towards the man.  She wasn't going to look away.  So what if he caught her staring?  He deserved it for trailing her family around the zoo for two hours!  She crossed her arms over her chest and glared.

But in that moment, he wasn't looking at them.  Instead, he was staring at some prairie dogs.  JenniAnn was caught off-guard when she thought she saw his eyes well.  This evidence of humanity startled her out of her paranoia and she found herself studying the stranger with more compassion.  Native American, she thought.  He was old, that much was evidenced by his wrinkles and chest-length gray hair which hung loose.  It might even have been correct to call him elderly but, somehow, that seemed rude.  There was nothing feeble about this man... and that's what had frightened her.  There was an aura of restrained power surrounding him.  JenniAnn's gaze turned to his clothing.  Slim jeans which seemed aged despite the lack of frays and tears, a blue and gray plaid shirt that wouldn't have looked out of place in Andrew's closet, and brown, nondescript boots.  Something hung around his neck.  Oblivious to the irony, JenniAnn withdrew her phone and used the zoom function of her camera in hopes of determining what the charm was.  She was just starting to focus in when the man abruptly moved.  JenniAnn looked up to see that he was looking at her... her with her phone still angled directly at him.  Alarmed, she dropped the phone and the crash of it hitting the pavement drew Andrew's attention.  He swooped Belle up and headed towards JenniAnn.

"Laja, what's..."

Andrew halted as he approached, noticing the other man headed towards his anam cara from the opposite direction.  His face softened.

"Wahkan!" he cried.

After picking up her phone, JenniAnn twirled around to follow Andrew's gaze.  The stranger was only a foot or so behind her now.

"Wahkan?" she repeated, trying to puzzle out why the word sounded vaguely familiar.

"Andrew," the man greeted with a smile without drawing any closer.

Stepping to the side, JenniAnn looked back and forth between Andrew, with Belle on his hip, and the man.

"Umm... so..." she mumbled.

Belle began to squirm in her father's arms.

"Pretty!  Like Reuel's!"

Andrew set the little girl down.  As the stranger chuckled, JenniAnn stared in shock as Belle ambled up to him and clamored for his necklace.

Obliging, Wahkan crouched down.

"You've seen this before, haven't you, little one?"

Belle grinned and nodded.

"Reuel has one."

"Yes, Reuel does.  Almost identical except for this right here."  Wahkan pointed to a stone at the center of the medal.

"Reuel has a brownish red one, too.  But it's shinier."

"That's right.  His is jacinth.  Mine is red pipestone."

JenniAnn continued to gawk.

"A principality..." she murmured.

Andrew nodded.

"Of the Sioux Nation."

JenniAnn's face colored.

"I'm so... so sorry," she blurted out. 

Wahkan rose and shook his head.

"No.  I should apologize.  I didn't realize you'd seen me until..."  The angel waved to JenniAnn's phone.  "I hope it's not broken."

"No, no.  It's fine.  The cover protected it," JenniAnn assured.

"Good.  Well...  I was hoping to visit, briefly, with you, Andrew.  I'd been looking for an opportunity to catch you alone... to not interrupt your time with Belle and JenniAnn.  A bathroom break, perhaps.  But, alas..."  Wahkan lowed his voice.  "Your human form's bladder didn't cooperate."

Andrew chuckled.

"Sorry.  But maybe..."  He looked around for a secluded spot.

"The sea lion tank is being worked on," JenniAnn reported, pointing a few feet away.  "There may be some construction noise but no crowds.  We're about due for some snacks, anyway.  Belle, let's go get some food while Daddy and his friend talk, okay?"

Belle looked reluctantly from Wahkan and her father to her mother.

The principality again crouched down.

"I'll still be here when you come back, little one.  I'd love to talk with the famous Miss Belle."

Belle beamed.

"Okay!  Do you like nachos?"

Wahkan laughed.

"I do."

JenniAnn grinned.

"Then nachos it is.  C'mon, Belle."

Belle took her mother's hand and walked away with her, chattering about their new friend.

"She's precious," Wahkan complimented.  "They both are."  He clapped Andrew on the back.  "You've done well, Andrew."

Blushing, Andrew smiled.

"Thanks, Wahkan.  It's... amazing.  Sometimes I can't believe..."  He shook his head in wonder as he began to lead the other angel to where JenniAnn had directed. 

"When last we met, you'd just finished working with Monica, Tess, and Gloria."

Andrew nodded, recalling his stint on a reservation with Wahkan. 

"You were... troubled.  I'm glad to see you so happy now."  The elder angel smiled at the younger.

"Very.  And how about you, Wahkan?"

Wahkan waved towards a bench and, when they'd both taken a seat, he spoke.

"I'm well.  But... I did have a reason in coming to see you."  He sighed and stared into the horizon. 

Andrew rested a hand on his fellow angel's arm.

"What is it?  If there's anything I can help you with, you know I will."

Wahkan nodded and smiled at Andrew.

"I do.  I have a protege... Takoda.  He... experienced something very traumatic." 

Wahkan went silent when a construction worker walked by.

"Maybe you can come back to Asteriana with us and save the details until then?" Andrew suggested.

"Thank you.  I would like that.  In short... he's refusing to go Home.  He's on a reservation currently... but I don't think that's an ideal place for him to begin to heal."

Andrew frowned.

"I was hoping...  I've never had the honor of meeting Adam but I know he's a friend of yours.  I know Joshua gave him a mission in addition to his AOD work.  A sort of... recreational therapy program for angels that he operates out of Asteriana?"

The angel of death nodded eagerly.

"Yes!  I mean sometimes they go to El-Chanan or some friends' farm or some of our friends' shelters, etc.  But, yes, it's mostly out of Asteriana."

"Perhaps he would take Takoda under his wing?" Wahkan asked hopefully.  "I would still check up on him, of course."

"I think Adam would be more than willing to do that.  And, I'll double-check with JenniAnn, but I can't imagine she'd object to us hosting Takoda at the castle.  We have several guest bedrooms that, outside of Christmas, just sit.  Does he like kids?"

Wahkan chuckled.

"Very much.  And even if he didn't... I think your Belle would convert him."

Andrew grinned.

"She's a charmer, all right." 

"And you have... four other children?" Wahkan questioned.

Andrew was still explaining his unique family situation when JenniAnn and Belle returned carrying nachos and pretzels.  They settled onto a nearby picnic table where the two men joined them.

"All right, dig in!  Family-style," JenniAnn invited. 

Wahkan squeezed her hand.

"Thank you."

Touched, JenniAnn returned his smile.

"Our pleasure.  We're always happy to meet new friends.  Especially from..."  She lifted her gaze to the clouds.  "And I'm always eager to know people who can give me dirt on Andrew."

Wahkan laughed. 

"We'll talk later," he promised with a conspiratorial grin.

"Very funny, Laja.  Just remember... I'm invited to all of your family gatherings," Andrew teased. 

Belle giggled, not quite understanding but nonetheless amused.

"You coming back home with us?" she asked Wahkan in between mouthfuls of pretzel.

"I hope you will," JenniAnn added.

The principality nodded.

"I'd like that very much, thank you."

"Laja, Wahkan has a protege that he'd like to have join Adam's program," Andrew shared.  "I thought maybe we could host him."

"Someone's gonna stay with us?" Belle excitedly asked.

"Sure!  It'd be nice to have someone new around," JenniAnn agreed.  "Will you be staying, too, Wahkan?  You'd be more than welcome."

The principality shook his head.

"I appreciate the hospitality but I don't think so.  At least... not often.  I have a lot of communities... and proteges... who I need to check in on but it'll be nice to know I have a place to rest my head if I need it."

"We'll be there," JenniAnn assured.

"What does Wahkan mean?" Belle questioned.  "My name means beautiful."

Wahkan beamed at the child.

"And it's very fitting.  My name means 'sacred.'"

"Also fitting," Andrew opined.


"It's like holy, Belle," JenniAnn explained.

"Joshua is holy," Belle informed.

"Very holy," Wahkan agreed. 

As the four continued their meal, an unseen Joshua looked on.  He was glad that Wahkan had made contact.  Unbeknownst to them, it wasn't only Takoda's fate that hung in the balance.

Joshua's eyes filled as he thought of Takoda, his angel, paralyzed with grief and anger after his assignment had been brutally murdered in a hate crime.  He called out his love, again and again, but still Takoda would not come Home.  But now he would find a second home, an opportunity to soothe his spirit.

Joshua's heart was also filled with compassion for his little Joccy...  Now she was happy and in love.  But he knew what awaited her, he knew what desperate decision she would make.  But from that darkness, she would come into the light again, into love.

They both would.

And they would never walk alone.


Beautiful Boy

Saturday, February 11th, 2023

JenniAnn was plating cookies in Willowveil's kitchen when Violeta entered.

"JenniAnn... they did it again.  Rose found them in the storage room.  They were hiding behind a crate of Christmas dishes."

Frowning, JenniAnn looked up from the treats.

"And what did they say when Rose told them to come back out with the others?"

"Well, Evie was all sniffly and weepy so she didn't say anything.  Avi said..."  Violeta bit her lip.

"Go on," JenniAnn encouraged.

"He said... the voices were too loud."

JenniAnn sighed and fought back tears.  She desperately wished that Andrew wasn't currently away on an assignment.  Something seemed to be very wrong with their four-year-old and she wanted him there with her as she faced it.  But this couldn't wait any longer.

"Okay.  I'll talk to him," she responded.

"Mallory took Evie back to the Tunnels," Violeta reported.  "Avi got upset and wanted to go to his room.  Max is with him."

"Okay.  Thanks.  Can you please bring these cookies to the other kids?"

"Uh huh."

Violeta hugged JenniAnn.

"Maybe it's just a game.  I mean they are really little with really big imaginations."

JenniAnn kissed the angel's hair.

"Maybe...  I just don't know what sort of game would consistently leave Evie in tears."


Violeta let out her own sigh and picked up the platter.

"If you want to talk about it afterwards, I'll be sticking around the playroom."

"Thanks, sweetie.  Will do."

After the two had parted and JenniAnn was headed to her little boy's room, a thousand scenarios filled her head... again.  They'd first started nagging at her a few months before following the first incident.  During a Bible study play-date, Avi and Evie had snuck off.  Emma had found them sitting quietly in a closet... alone, Evie's head resting in Avi's lap.  It had been cute then.  There'd been joking about it foretelling teenage romantic escapades. 

And then, two weeks later, it had happened again.  That time, when the pint-size couple had been found, Evie had been softly crying.  When questioned, she'd remained mute.  Avi had only said "It was too loud, Mama."  Now he was talking about actual voices...

In the weeks that had followed, the strange behavior had become the topic of JenniAnn's and Andrew's pre-bedtime talk.  Andrew was more optimistic and mundane in his reasoning.  They were probably playing a game that only the two of them understood.  After all, they'd practically been raised as twins.  Twins made stuff up for themselves all the time.  Or maybe they just wanted time alone.  After all, they'd seemed strangely bound up to each other since shortly after Evie's birth.  Or... maybe Avi had super-sensitive hearing.  Maybe Evie did.  Maybe they just needed longer naptimes.

JenniAnn's mind went more towards the possibility of a folie à deux... a shared delusion.  Or... worse still... maybe one of the children was schizophrenic.  Or both were.  Or maybe...  JenniAnn brushed away a tear as she thought of it.  Maybe Avi was hurting Evie.  She'd known nothing of sweetness and gentleness from her little boy.  But it was hard to explain why Evie was often crying when the two were found out.  Of course, that would have made it hard to explain why the little girl would run to Avi and cling to him whenever she came to Willowveil or Avi came Below... 

Reaching Avi's door, JenniAnn paused outside for a few moments and listened.

"So why do you and Evie keep sneaking off, bub?" his Uncle Max inquired.


"It's okay, Avi.  I'm not mad.  Just... curious."

More silence and then, finally, a soft, sad voice.

"It hurts her."

"What hurts her?"

JenniAnn stepped into the room.

Avi spotted his mother and ran towards her, throwing his arms around her knees.

"Hey there, sweet boy."

Max approached and set a hand on his mother's arm.

"I'll let you two talk.  Avi, I'm gonna go back to the Valentine's party.  I'll save you some cookies, okay?"

"Okay.  Thanks, Uncle Max."

Max ruffled the boy's hair.

"You're welcome."

JenniAnn scooped Avi up and kissed his brow.

"What's going on, Avi?  Aunt Violeta told me that Aunt Rose found you and Evie in the storage room.  You know you're not supposed to go in there, baby.  You could break something and hurt yourself."

"It was the closest."

"The closest what?"

Avi bit his lip and thought.

"The closest alone place."

JenniAnn grimaced.  Avi's language skills were well above those of other children his age.  He'd gone from baby-speake to full-on, perfectly enunciated sentences at an alarming rate.  But sometimes his turns of phrase took a little guessing.

"An alone place?"

Avi nodded.

"Do you mean a place to go to be alone?"

"Uh huh.  Alone with Evie."

JenniAnn settled into a rocking chair and rested Avi on her lap, facing her.

"Sweetie, why do you always want to be alone with Evie?"

"Not always!"

JenniAnn smiled.  Avi could be very literal.  His speech was so precise that he seemed confused when others' diction wasn't.

"I'm sorry.  Not always.  I meant often.  Why do you often want to be alone with Evie when the other kids are around?  I thought you wanted everyone to come over for a Valentine's party?"

"I did.  I do!  I love the other kids.  And Belle loves parties."

JenniAnn chuckled.  Her daughter was quite the social butterfly.

"Yeah, she does.  Were you having fun at the party?"

Avi gave an enthusiastic nod.

"Good!  I'm glad.  Was Evie?"

Avi's face fell.

"She was til it got too loud."

"The kids got too loud?"

Avi tilted his head, deep in thought.

"Not really.  The other voices."

"The... the other voices?" JenniAnn repeated with a lump in her throat.  "You hear... other voices?"

Avi shook his head.

"No.  Evie hears them."

JenniAnn felt relief wash over her... immediately followed by guilt.  This didn't sound good for Evie... or Mallory.

"Does she tell you what the voices are like, Avi?"

The boy nodded.

"Are they... scary sounding?"  A new thought had occurred to JenniAnn... demons.

"Not scary.  Sometimes sad."

JenniAnn looked around.  Ghosts... maybe they had ghosts?

"Does Evie tell you what the voices say?"

"They don't... say.  They feel."

JenniAnn was baffled.  What did that mean?!  She decided to try a different tactic.

"When you and Evie go off alone, what do you do?"

"Sit with her.  Hug her.  She can hear me."

"Because you talk to her?"

Avi shrugged.

"Sometimes.  But she can hear my feelings, too.  And I can hear hers."

The child smiled proudly.

JenniAnn tried to mask the torrent of emotions those words brought up for her.  It wasn't as if the idea had never occurred to her.  It seemed only logical that Avi might have something of the empathetic connection that both Lor and Vincent had.  But he was just a baby...  Lor and Vincent had been grown men...  It was hard enough going through adolescence with one's own feelings... would her boy go through it experiencing Evie's, too?  And others?!

"Can... can you hear other people's feelings, Avi?"

"Just Evie's.  Can you hear Daddy's?"

"No.  Not usually."

"Can he hear yours?"

"No.  Maybe a few times.  But not usually."


JenniAnn was sorry that this seemed to disappoint her son.

"But that doesn't mean we don't sometimes know what the other is feeling.  We just don't... hear it.  But lots of times Daddy knows when I'm sad even if I don't say it.  And I'll know when he's sad.  Or excited.  Or anxious."

"Oh.  Okay!"  Avi smiled.

JenniAnn returned his smile but then resumed her questions.

"So... what happens right before you and Evie go to an alone place?"

Avi studied his fingers.

"Do you not want to tell Mama?"

"I do.  But...  Maybe it's not for me to tell?"

JenniAnn gulped.  Sometimes, when talking to Avi, she felt like she was talking to an old man.  The kid had more emotional intelligence at age four than she'd had at twenty four... prying into Andrew's psyche!

"I see.  I'm only asking because if Evie is suffering, maybe there's something us grown-ups can do to make things easier for her.  But we can ask Evie if you think that would be better?"

Avi considered this option.  He glanced over at a photo of himself and the little girl then looked back to his mother.

"You'll help her?"

"I will do everything I can to help her," JenniAnn vowed.

Avi let out a deep breath then confided in her.

"The feelings get very loud.  There's so many of them!  Some are happy but some are sad and some are anxious.  Sometimes they're angry but not usually.  Evie starts to feel..."  Avi put a hand on either side of his head and grimaced as he pushed. 

"Like she has a headache?"

"I don't think so.  She said it feels like... like when someone pushes you in line at the park to take your spot."

Baffled, JenniAnn considered Avi's words.  Then she had a sudden flash of inspiration.  She thought of the days after Andrew had returned from Afghanistan.  Sometimes his pain and turmoil had been so immense that she'd felt as if every other thought and concern had been driven from her mind.  There was only an all-consuming desire to fix him.

"Do you think when Evie is around a lot of people, their feelings come into her mind and push her feelings and thoughts out?"

Avi's eyes lit up.

"Yes!  That's it, Mama!  So we go to an alone place so she can only hear her feelings and mine."

JenniAnn shook her head in astonishment.  She had been so focused on what she saw as Avi's inevitable development of a empathetic connection with his one true love that she had completely missed that Evie was a true empath.  But it made perfect sense.  The poor girl's earliest days had been filled with crying and fussiness... at a time when Mallory had been dealing with abandonment and post-partem depression.  If Evie had been picking up on that, how could she have been anything but distraught?  Even then, Avi had been able to calm her.  He'd had such a serenity to him even as an infant.  And that had stuck with him through toddlerhood and now as a pre-schooler.  As for Evie, all of this had started when she'd begun to be treated as less of a baby and more of a kid.  Prior to that, both she and Avi had been kept with their parents during Bible study.  Perhaps there had been an element of protection in that.  And then once they were dropped off with the other children during Bible study...  Poor Evie had been overwhelmed.  As much as she loved the other children... they were simply too "loud." 

And her little boy had been the only one who knew.

"Why does Evie cry when people find you, Avi?" JenniAnn inquired, still feeling a bit anxious.

"Because I can't protect her when people separate us."  Avi's lower lip trembled.

"Oh baby..."  JenniAnn snuggled her son close and stroked and kissed his shoulder-length mop of hair.  She felt tremendously guilty.  All of the adults had been so baffled that, for months, her son had been left alone, managing Evie all by himself and then watching helplessly as she was pulled away from him.  "I'm so sorry, Avi.  We didn't know.  We should have asked better questions." 

"It's okay, Mama.  Can you help Evie now?"  Avi sat up and looked into his mother's eyes, imploring her.

Peering back into her son's beautiful golden brown eyes, all the nightmare scenarios evaporated from JenniAnn's mind.  In their place were potential solutions.  She'd read about tents being used to calm autistic children with sensory problems.  Maybe Evie would benefit from that?  Or maybe simply letting Avi know that he could alert an adult and they'd find a safe "alone place" for him and Evie?  Maybe they could teach Evie some basic meditation strategies? 

"We'll help Evie," JenniAnn promised.  "I already have some ideas that I'll talk to Mallory about, okay?"

Smiling, Avi nodded his head eagerly.

"Oh Avi..."  JenniAnn hugged him.  "You've been such a good boy.  I'm so proud of you and Daddy will be, too.  But I want you to know... if something like this ever happens again, you can tell us.  I know it can be hard because you don't want to tell anyone's secrets.  But it's okay to tell if that person is hurting, okay?"

"Okay.  But..."

"But what, peanut?"

"But it's my job to help Evie."

"Avi, you're a little boy.  Little boys and girls shouldn't have jobs."

Avi gave his mother a skeptical look.

"But isn't it your job to take care of Daddy?  And his job to take care of you?"

"Well, yes but..."  JenniAnn felt the color drain from her face.

"Can I tell you a secret?  My secret?"


Avi leaned in and whispered.

"Evie and I are gonna get married, Mama."

The boy beamed.

And JenniAnn knew it was true.  In his revelation about Evie, Avi had very casually revealed that he could feel Evie's feelings.  She was his Cora, his Catherine.

In spite of her unease, JenniAnn smiled.

"That's wonderful, sweetie.  And I will dance with you on your wedding day... feeling so, so proud of my boy.  But I think both you and Evie have some growing up to do first, okay?"

Avi giggled as JenniAnn tickled him.

"Okay," he agreed.

"Now... how about we go downstairs and get some of those cookies that Uncle Max saved?" JenniAnn tantalized.

"Yes, please!  Can we bring some to Evie?" 

"Of course."

Avi slid off his mother's lap then held his hand out to her.

Smiling, JenniAnn let him "help" her up.

"Such a little gentleman!" she praised.

Still beaming, Avi led his mother out of his room and back to the waiting party.


That evening, after they'd settled into bed, JenniAnn told Andrew everything.

"And it was so sweet.  I swear I caught Avi brushing milk and crumbs off of Evie's face as they sat in Mallory's chamber... sharing cookies.  It was like watching a little, old couple... but they're four."

Andrew chuckled.

"I'm just glad you got to the bottom of their disappearing acts."

JenniAnn nodded.

"Yeah... but..."

"But what?"

"I feel bad that, for a few moments, I suspected that... that maybe Avi had hurt Evie.  I didn't think he would intentionally but... but maybe he'd hug her too tight or... or scratch her."

Andrew wrapped an arm around JenniAnn's shoulders and gave her a squeeze.

"You know too well what Vincent went through... how he struggled with his own strength and his emotions.  But Avi has it so much easier.  I don't think things like that will happen to him."

"No... probably not."

"And... it really did seem pretty eerie.  I was trying to think up the most hopeful scenarios but even I..."  Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.  "I can't say mental illness didn't occur to me.  On one or even both sides.  And we would have dealt with that.  I know we would have.  But... I'm glad that's not the case."

JenniAnn rested her head on Andrew's shoulder and sighed.

"Me too."

"But we are going to have to help Evie.  Did you and Mallory talk about that?"

JenniAnn sat up and nodded. 

"We did.  I ended up ordering a tent to keep here since here seems to be where a lot of the problems arise.  We'll test it out and, if it works, Mallory will get one for the Tunnels."



JenniAnn was silent for several moments.

Andrew gave her a peck on the cheek and squeezed her hand.

"What is it?  Something else is on your mind."

"Well... yeah...  A couple things, I suppose.  I feel badly that, for months, our poor Avi-Boy was dealing with all that alone.  That's some big stuff that Catherine struggled with... in her thirties!"

Andrew nodded.

"It does seem like a big deal to us... but it also seems to be the only thing Avi's ever known.  Taking care of Evie is second nature to him.  And, yes, that seems like a huge responsibility.  But we also have no reason to believe that it's one he's looking to hand over, Laja.  Did he seem overwhelmed?"

JenniAnn cocked her head as she mentally replayed the afternoon.

"No.  More... proud."

"Then let him feel that.  He should be proud.  And... he wasn't dealing with it alone, Laja.  You know that," Andrew reminded, a finger brushing against the cross pendant laying on her chest.

"Yeah...  True.  They probably even talked about it at Christmas."

"Probably so."

"I do wish Joshua had mentioned it..."

Andrew shrugged.

"To me, the fact that he didn't pretty much reassures us that Avi was managing quite well, thank you very much.  Ya know... the phrase 'like mother, like son' is coming to mind for me."

JenniAnn looked at Andrew in surprise.

"How so?"

For a moment, a distant look came into the angel of death's eyes but it evaporated when he met JenniAnn's.

"When I was in Afghanistan... our shared dreams... if you could have handed that gift off to one of the other girls, would you have?"

JenniAnn thought back.  The dreams... especially the last one... had been painful.  But, no, she couldn't have given them up.  They'd been her only chance to see Andrew, to be with him.


Andrew hugged her and kissed her hair.

"Good.  I'm glad.  But just like that's become an important part of our history... something we find meaning in... these past few months could be that for Avi and Evie.  Something they remember, years from now, when they have rough patches.  Proof that they were always meant to be."

JenniAnn let out a ragged sigh.

"Good points...  Avi did inform me that they're getting married."

Andrew chuckled.

"He didn't happen to give you a date, did he?"

JenniAnn, too, laughed.

"No... thank God.  Hopefully we can put them off for a couple decades."

"Hopefully.  Try not to worry too much about it, Laja.  But if you must... just remember that Vincent and Tess and your parents worried about us," Andrew reminded with a rakish smile as he traced the tattoo of his name on her shoulder.  "And I think we turned out okay."

"Do you now?" JenniAnn teased.


He kissed her forehead and then her lips.

"Don't you agree?" Andrew asked.

JenniAnn buried a hand in his hair and peered up at him.

"Very much so," she murmured.

They were just about to kiss for a second time when childish wailing interrupted them.  A moment later, Belle came running into their bedroom.

"I... I threw up!" the nine-year-old bellowed. 

"Oh, poor baby!" JenniAnn exclaimed as she pulled her daughter to her, noticing too late that the vomit on Belle's nightgown was now on her own.

"It... it got on Mr. Bobo!" Belle shrieked.

"How do you feel now, baby girl?" Andrew asked as he rested a hand on her forehead.

"O-okay but... it's gross!"

Over Belle's head, JenniAnn shot Andrew a crooked smile.

"Probably just had one too many Valentine's cookies," JenniAnn consoled.  "C'mon. I'll help ya get cleaned up... and Mr. Bobo, too.  Trust me, this isn't the first time Mr. Bobo's been thrown up on... and worse.  He'll be fine, sweetheart."

"Do you need help?" Andrew offered.

Belle's face was buried in her mother's shoulder but JenniAnn shook her head.

"I think we're fine.  You were out and about all day.  Get some rest.  I'll be back soon."

Andrew kissed Belle's hair. 

"I'm sorry you're feeling bad, my Belle.  I'm sure you'll feel all better once Mama gets you all fixed up."

"Uh huh...  Night, night, Daddy."

"Night, night, Belle."

JenniAnn led the forlorn little girl back to her room.

Only a few moments later, just as he was settling back into bed, Andrew had another visitor.

"Is Belle sick?" Avi asked as he poked his head into the room.

Andrew smiled at his son and beckoned for him.

"Just a tummy ache.  Probably from too many cookies.  Mama's getting her settled back in."  Andrew masked a sigh.  At least it wasn't actually Valentine's Day...  He and Laja would make up for their interrupted evening then. 

"You doing okay, bud?" Andrew checked, patting the spot beside him.. 

Avi hopped onto his parents' bed and snuggled against his father.

"Yeah.  How are you, Daddy?  Did you have a good assignment?"

Andrew wondered when exactly Avi had stopped saying 'sigh-ment.'  Tears pricked his eyes as he realized anew that his baby was four years old.

"I'm doing good.  And, yes, I had a very nice assignment.  Thank you for asking."

"You're welcome.  Daddy?"


"Mama said you're getting a tent for Evie and me."

"That's right.  We thought it might help Evie when the feelings get too loud.  What do you think?"

"I think it's a very good idea.  Daddy?"


"You and Mama can use it when Evie doesn't need it."

Andrew looked with surprise at the little boy.

"So you can be alone," Avi explained.

Andrew chuckled, realizing that Avi must have picked up on his or JenniAnn's frustration.  He tousled the boy's hair.

"Thank you very much, my boy.  And I'll keep that in mind.  But Mama and I don't ever want to miss out on taking care of you or Belle or Shelby or Aunt Violeta or Uncle Max.  We'll make sure we have alone time when we need it.  Don't you worry about that.  Okay?"


Avi bit his lip.

Andrew figured it must have been an emotional day for his son.  He wouldn't have blamed the little fellow if he was feeling a bit out of sorts.

"Do you want to stay with Mama and Daddy tonight?" Andrew offered.

Avi smiled and nodded.

"All right then.  Let's get you tucked in properly."

"Thank you, Daddy."

Andrew rubbed his nose against Avi's and beamed.

"You're very welcome.  Do you want a story or..."

"My song?"

"Your song," Andrew agreed with a nod before beginning to sing.  "'Close your eyes.  Have no fear!  The monster's gone.  He's on the run and your daddy's here...  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy...'"


When JenniAnn returned, she found Andrew peering at their little boy who was peacefully sleeping in the center of their bed.

"Is he okay?" JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew looked up and nodded.

"Just fine.  I think he just didn't want to be alone.  Belle?"

"Out cold.  And Mr. Bobo will live to light up another day.  I really do think it was just an excess of sweets."


"I'm just going to change into some clean jammies and then... join two of my favorite boys."  JenniAnn smiled fondly at the pair before grabbing a pair of pajamas and disappearing into the bathroom.

When she'd returned and was settling back into bed, JenniAnn let out a contented sigh.  She gently stroked Avi's back and drank in the scent of his freshly washed hair.  Tucked into their big bed, he looked a little like the baby they'd first loved. 

"We are so blessed," she whispered, squeezing Andrew's hand.

"Beyond my wildest imaginings," he agreed.

As she smiled tenderly at Avi, JenniAnn prayed that one day he... and his Evie... would feel all the pride and love that she and Andrew did.

("Beautiful Boy" was written by John Lennon)


This newsletter is dedicated to John Dye for bringing so much heart and dedication to the role of Andrew. 

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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.)