will have naked bodies;
~~ C. S. Lewis
February 21, 2015
Andrew and JenniAnn stood side by side, staring at the closed
door. When the angel reached out to open it, JenniAnn
let out a shuddering breath.
“No... wait. What... what if... if it hurts too
“Laja... It’s time,” Andrew countered. “I really
do think we’re ready for this step.”
“Well, yeah but...”
Before she could say anything more, Andrew threw open the
JenniAnn gasped and backed away a few steps but the angel
reached for her hand and kept her from bolting.
Reluctantly, the woman stepped forward and reached out to
finger the nearest item.
When he saw her draw in and let out a deep breath, Andrew
circled his arms around her waist.
In spite of her unease, JenniAnn relaxed. Andrew really
did give the best hugs... And they’d only gotten better
of late... She should at least do this for him.
JenniAnn swiveled around.
“Okay, fine. I will go through your flannel shirts and
such with you and... and then we’ll donate what doesn’t fit
anymore. But this one’s mine.”
Andrew chuckled as she grabbed the shirt she’d been caressing
when he'd first opened the closet.
“You wore this when you gave me Yonah. The way I figure
it, that’s as good as getting proposed to... better even for
me... and I wanna keep the shirt you wore when you
His laughter growing stronger, Andrew conceded with a
nod. It was going to take longer than he thought to go
through the entire closet of his soon-to-be-former room in
"But... you're right. We need to do this. And
it... it'll mean a lot to have all your stuff in... our
home." JenniAnn sniffled.
Andrew kissed the top of her head. "It already means so
much to me to be there. But, yeah, I think it should be
totally official before Belle's old enough to wonder why some
of Daddy's stuff is in our home and some of it's over here
and... you made a good point on... on Tuesday. So here
we are! And it just makes sense to weed out what doesn't
JenniAnn grinned. "Yeah... Some of those shirts
probably are a bit tight now..."
Blushing, Andrew smiled as she ran her hands over each of his
flannel-covered biceps. The carpentry work had changed
more than his income...
"I do know that some of them have gotten so threadbare that it
would kinda be disrespectful to donate them so... we could
always have those made into a blanket," JenniAnn offered.
"Definitely," Andrew agreed. "And just remember, yes
these clothes may be tied to a lot of memories that are
important to us but..."
"But I still have a much more important part of those
memories. And I get to keep him forever and ever.
Have that on very high authority," JenniAnn interrupted with a
"Forever and ever," Andrew echoed with a bit of surprise as
tears stung his eyes.
"Love..." JenniAnn murmured as she moved back into his
"Laja..." Andrew sighed as he rested his chin on her
JenniAnn felt so at peace as she leaned against the angel and
he stroked her hair that she feared falling asleep.
"Andrew, we better get to work. We only have a couple
hours before Mom and Dad get back with Belle... and the others
get back, too."
Andrew dragged his hand through his hair. "Right.
Okay." He released her.
After another dramatic sigh, JenniAnn reached into the closet.
Andrew moved two empty cardboard boxes nearer to them.
He pointed to the leftmost one. "Blanket
material." He lightly kicked the other box.
"Donations. And we'll just lay what I'm keeping on the
"Okay... ooh, threadbare. Torn sleeve."
JenniAnn tossed two shirts into the "blanket box" then pulled
a third one from the closet. "This one's decent.
Try it on, please."
Andrew yanked his sweater over his head then pulled on the
flannel shirt JenniAnn was holding out to him.
She giggled. "Wow..."
Andrew's eye brow quirked up as he studied himself in the
mirror. "Pretty sure that's not supposed to look like
that..." He touched his upper arm where the line of his
T-shirt sleeve was clearly visible beneath the taut flannel.
JenniAnn moved beside him and hugged his arm.
"No... But for a good reason. You really are,
umm... Well, I just mean you've always looked great but,
well... now... stronger and..."
With a devilish glint in his eyes, Andrew suddenly dipped
JenniAnn laughed as he held the position for several
moments... something she was relatively sure pre-carpentry
Andrew wouldn't have been able to do.
"Yay carpentry," Andrew cheered before pulling JenniAnn back
"Yay carpentry," she echoed before nuzzling his
shoulder. "So, umm, as much as it pains me... that
shirt's gotta go and it's in too good a condition to tear up
for a blanket so... donation box."
Andrew unbuttoned the shirt, folded it, and set it in the
box. He noticed JenniAnn staring at it.
"All right, when did I wear that shirt?" he checked.
JenniAnn bit her lip. "Well, it's not like I remember
the history of every one of your shirts."
"But I'm guessing you do with that one."
JenniAnn nodded. "Yes..."
"So what is it?"
"I know that wasn't the shirt I was wearing when we met."
"No. It was the shirt you were wearing when I first
brought you here. To this house." JenniAnn tapped
the floor. "And I told you that... that we wanted you to
have a home, a place of your own, here in Dyeland."
Andrew clasped JenniAnn's hand and looked around the room as
Andrew knew it was a good thing he had unquestionable
assurance that he was supposed to be here in this Dyeland
place. Otherwise, he would have to decide whether to
bolt and risk devastating the girl or linger and risk... well,
he wasn't really sure what the risk would be. That's
what would have made the decision so difficult. All
Andrew knew was that there was a seventeen year old princess
holding his hands and pulling him across her lawn after she'd
blindfolded him... and Joshua had clearly told him to spend
the day there. With her, presumably, since she seemed to
be the only one around.
Princess JenniAnn Dwynwen Chandler of Dyeland City, Asteri,
It struck Andrew as a bit unseemly to be alone with the young
lady. Again. He'd been so shocked that first night
that he hadn't given it much thought when she'd invited him
into her castle. He considered that maybe he should put
a stop to whatever this plan of hers was. Things hadn't
gone so well when another young girl had taken a shine to him
after he had, foolishly he later realized, offered to give her
solo swimming lessons. Going through life as he did,
striving to love all humans, it simply hadn't occurred to
Andrew that one might favor him. His obliviousness had
hurt Erin. Of course, God had brought a miracle out of
the teen's heartbreak but the angel of death didn't want
anything similar to unfold. And yet he'd been so pleased
to find himself among a group of humans who, far from fearing
him, very much wanted him near... and wanted assurances that
he would return.
"Okay, we're here!" JenniAnn chirped, interrupting the angel's
thoughts. "Blindfold off!"
Andrew removed the cloth and again fought the urge to smile at
her dress. She looked like she'd wandered out of
"Where's here?" he questioned.
JenniAnn pointed to his left.
Andrew turned and found himself facing a house.
"It needs just a few repairs, some fresh paint but the
electricity works and the plumbing, too. And the other
girls and I cleaned it and brought in some dishes, linens,
stuff like that. None of it matches really. Like
at most of our places. When you have to furnish whole
houses and castles on allowance and summer job money, you
learn not to be picky. Come on!"
Andrew dragged his left hand through his hair when JenniAnn
grabbed his right and pulled him towards the house.
"Who, uh, who lives here?" he asked.
JenniAnn's face flushed as she stepped inside the house.
"Well... we, umm, we thought... I mean if you would
want... It was lovely to have you with us on St.
Patrick's Day a-and then again last Sunday and when you said
you'd be back..."
Andrew blushed as he remembered the happiness he'd felt when
they'd invited him to watch Touched with them.
They'd treated him so kindly, like a much honored and wanted
guest. And, more than once, he'd caught JenniAnn looking
at him with something beyond mere politeness. And there
was that song she'd written about him... That one line
in particular: "I shall ne'er cease to love him til my last
day." She had a crush on him... or maybe just the idea
of him. It gave him pause and again he wondered if he
should be there with her in that moment. But it felt so
good to have a bunch of humans truly care about him and
embrace him with no sign of fear... He didn't want to
hurt their princess. And Joshua and the Father had said
he'd be spending more time with the group. Surely they
would have urged caution if...
The angel startled, realizing that JenniAnn was holding
something out to him. He smiled at her and took the
small, flat box and lifted the lid.
"Thank you. Everyone's been so nice since..."
JenniAnn bit her lip as he stared into the box.
A house key. The princess had given him a house key...
presumably to the house he was now standing in.
"We... we thought it'd be nice if you had your own place when
you're here. My castle's just two doors that way."
JenniAnn pointed to the wall. "And... and since you
seemed concerned about my nearest neighbor being a ways
away... Well..." She stared down at the floor and
kicked the corner of a rug into place.
Andrew continued to stare at the key.
"I, umm..." JenniAnn crossed her arms over her
chest. She studied the frozen angel then began to
cry. "I... I'm sorry. I may have just completely
made this weird. Some of the other girls said maybe it
was too soon but... but... I... I should have
listened. I... I just wanted you to... to have a home
here with... with us. B-but that's stupid. It...
it's definitely better in Heaven and... and... I'm not
very good at all with boys and you... you're..."
His compassion winning out over his sense of propriety, Andrew
pulled the girl into his embrace.
"Princess, please... please don't cry. I... I'm
just... This is... Thank you. Thank you to
you and your friends. I'm just stunned that... that
anyone would want me nearby like..."
Peering up at him, JenniAnn could tell that the angel was
honestly and truly moved.
Andrew smiled down at her. After a moment's hesitation,
he stroked some damp hair away from her face. "I'd love
to stay here when I'm in Dyeland and... and I look forward to
building many happy memories here with you and all our
JenniAnn beamed. "Our." He'd said "our."
With a nod, she clasped his hand and then, calmed and
encouraged, she excitedly showed him around the house.
Andrew kissed JenniAnn's right hand.
"I had no idea of the types of memories we'd share
JenniAnn moved closer when she heard the huskiness in his
"You first told me you were in love with me here," Andrew
"We had our first Christmas with Max here," JenniAnn added,
her eyes misting.
"I told you about Joshua's death a-and resurrection..."
Andrew gulped down the lump in his throat.
"I saw you, in the flesh, for the first time after you got
back from Afghanistan and..."
Andrew closed his eyes as JenniAnn softly kissed a spot just
beneath his right eye. He was sure she was remembering
the welt that had once been there.
Suddenly, JenniAnn laughed.
Welcoming the change in mood, Andrew chuckled.
"I... I was just thinking that I'm glad I've gotten
older. You would have freaked if I'd done that when I
was seventeen. You were so careful... Still
are. But in a different way. Thankfully!"
Andrew rested his cheek against her hair as he continued to
laugh. Yes, a lot had changed. Definitely for the
"So you're okay with giving up that shirt?" he checked.
"Oh yeah. Someone else can make good memories in
After one more snuggle, JenniAnn turned back to the closet and
pulled out another shirt: black flannel with gray and white
Andrew dutifully took it and put it on. Finding it to be
roomy enough, he moved onto the next shirt JenniAnn offered to
"I think True Light gets that one," she decided.
Andrew peeked in the mirror. Once again, it made his
arms look like sausages. It was even tighter than the
first shirt and when he tried to tug a sleeve off, the neck of
his T-shirt began to stretch.
JenniAnn laughed and helped pull the sleeves off.
"That's ridiculous! I haven't bulked up that much!" the
"Relax! That was a medium. The other one,
too. I used to buy both although, even before, the
larges fit a bit better. So it's no wonder the mediums
aren't fitting at all now."
"Good to know. I never paid attention to the
sizes. I was just struck by the fact that someone was
buying me clothes. Maybe slightly concerned... in the
"Very glad you got over that." Her eyes twinkling,
JenniAnn folded the too-tight shirt and placed it in the
box. She sighed as she looked down at it.
"So what does it make you remember?" Andrew asked.
"You were wearing it that time I had to call you to pick me up
after a party with Bennie took a bad turn."
Andrew's stomach somersaulted. Seeing JenniAnn's eyes
well, he circled his arms around her.
"You were wearing those jeans you had with the sparkly star
panels in the flares," he recalled. "And a beige top
with little red rose buds on it, a dark green hooded sweater
JenniAnn smiled. "You actually remember what I was
Andrew's face clouded as he remembered why.
Andrew parked his car in the first available spot he could
find and hastened towards the entrance to Bennie's apartment
building. Frantic, he searched the lobby. No
JenniAnn. He approached a security guard.
"Hi, sir. I'm looking for my friend."
Breathlessly, Andrew recited the description he'd had running
through his head during the drive. "Long blonde
hair. Wears glasses. Probably wearing jeans and a
beige top. Flowered. A green sweater, I think."
"Yeah, I saw her. Friend, huh? That girl can't be
past twenty if that. Aren't you a little old to be her
friend?" the man questioned with a disapproving glare.
Andrew felt his cheeks burn. "I... She called
The angel let out a deep breath when he turned and saw
JenniAnn. Her eyes were red and puffy but, otherwise,
she appeared unharmed.
"Thank God," he murmured, as he went to her, not caring what
the guard thought.
JenniAnn hugged him. "Thanks for coming. I
Andrew squeezed her hand. "It's okay. Let's get
settled in the car and then we can talk, okay?"
They'd nearly reached his car when both heard a shout.
"Hey! Where are you going? God, it's not even
"No..." JenniAnn moaned. "Can we just go? Please,
Andrew. I just wanna go home," she begged.
Andrew looked over his shoulder to see Bennie making her way
towards them. He hurried to unlock the passenger side
"You can get in if you want. I'll talk to her."
Grateful, JenniAnn settled inside and closed the door.
"Oh for crying out loud! What's she doing? It's a
perfectly nice party up there!" Bennie protested. She
reached for the door handle but Andrew blocked it.
"Bennie, I'm taking JenniAnn home. You may have a
perfectly nice party going on up there but someone upset
Bennie rolled her eyes. "You know what? JenniAnn
needs to stop acting like an infant. It wasn't a big
"It was to her, Bennie. Now, please, step away from my
car so I..."
"I wouldn't have let anything happen to her! But... damn
it! She needs to start acting like an adult and not
going all weird the moment anything related to sex comes up!"
Peering into the car, Andrew saw that JenniAnn had her head in
"Fine. Whatever. Take your adorable little
princess back to her castle." Bennie smirked. "But
God help her the day you decide to finally make a move.
Have fun with that!"
Angered, Andrew reeled around to face her but Bennie was
already running through the lot and back to her
apartment. Shaking his head, he got into the car then
glanced over at JenniAnn who was crying.
"JenniAnn... Hey, it's okay." Andrew reached over
and took her hand. "Let me get us out of here and then
we'll talk, okay?"
Once they were on their way, Andrew glanced over at his
passenger. "Do you want me to stop somewhere or should
we head to a portal?"
"Okay." Andrew turned towards her parents' house since
it was the closest of the portals in the city. As he
continued to drive, he debated whether to ask anymore.
"No one touched me," JenniAnn offered after a few moments.
Andrew felt his body untense. "Good. I'm
glad. But something was said?"
"Do you have an assignment tonight?"
"No. Nothing until around 6:00 in the morning."
"Okay. So were you, umm, going to stay in Dyeland?"
As he waited at a stoplight, Andrew again looked over to
JenniAnn. He sighed. Such a weird age,
nineteen. Technically an adult.
Emotionally... He shook his head. No, Bennie was
wrong. JenniAnn was not immature. Not emotionally
or otherwise. She was just... different. How he
wasn't quite sure but sometimes he even found himself doubting
if he was truly older than her. Things that he grasped
at seemed to come naturally to her. And, sure, the
reverse happened, too, but...
"Light's changed," she announced.
After he'd driven a few more blocks, Andrew heard a
noise. A stomach growling. He knew it wasn't his.
JenniAnn blushed. "Sorry. I didn't eat much at the
Andrew had the urge to ask why she hadn't but decided against
it. "Seems like we can fix that. I could go for a
blizzard and fries. You?"
JenniAnn smiled and nodded. "Thanks."
"Do you want to eat in or drive-thru?"
Andrew was relieved. He would have done either but
people did tend to stare. He sometimes wished their
apparent age difference was large enough to allow people to
routinely suppose he was her father. As it was, some
made the assumption but others... like that guard...
Well, there was nothing to be done about it. Surely
Joshua or the Father would say something if he was supposed to
"So what are you having?" he asked.
"Fries and an Oreo blizzard but I can pay for..."
"Nope. I offered. My treat. You sure you
don't want actual dinner?"
"No. Thanks, though."
Andrew placed the order, adding a Reese's blizzard and another
order of fries for himself. Once he'd paid, he handed
the bag to JenniAnn and proceeded to the nearby lot of a
church. He knew JenniAnn loved the lighted stained glass
window. She'd occasionally comment on Jesus' paleness
and he always wanted to comment right back about Joshua's
not-paleness but kept mum.
JenniAnn gazed up at the nearly perfect, beautiful,
brilliantly colored image of the Good Shepherd. She
reached over to squeeze Andrew's hand, touched that he'd
brought her there, and then handed him his fries.
For a few moments, the two sat in companionable silence,
"We were playing a Truth or Dare sort of game," JenniAnn
Andrew nodded but kept quiet.
"I tried to get out of it cause it was getting a bit raunchy
but I was sitting by Bennie and she kept pulling me back."
The angel of death hung his head. He tried to not
interfere in the girls' friendships with each other but his
resolve was wearing down.
"They were these questions in a book and, when my turn came
up, this girl asked 'When and where did you lose your
virginity?' Bennie started laughing. I... I was
mortified because... I... Well, I..."
Andrew set down his blizzard and hugged her. "I'm sorry,
"So... so I said I... I hadn't because, you know, it's not
anything to be ashamed of, even if it is personal. And a
lot of the others seemed to just take it in stride b-but this
one guy looked at me... in a way I didn't like... and said he
could help with that. Bennie just laughed even
more. To be fair, some people shushed her and gave the
guy a hard time b-but I was just..."
Andrew's heart broke for the girl. Terribly shy around
people she didn't know, JenniAnn truly must have been
mortified... and probably at least somewhat scared. He
would definitely talk to Bennie. She needed to take more
care with her friend and, besides, he needed to set her
straight on a few points about himself. Clearly... if
she thought he had designs on JenniAnn!
"I think you handled yourself very well," he assured.
"You felt uncomfortable and rather than blowing up, you
removed yourself from the situation and called a friend.
I think that was a very mature way to handle it, JenniAnn."
"Yeah. So how's the blizzard?"
Grateful for the change in topic, JenniAnn smiled.
"Also yummy." Andrew grinned at JenniAnn and arched both
eyes brows upwards twice, first the right and then the left,
causing her to laugh.
The angel rejoiced in the sound.
"A bad night turned into a good one," JenniAnn observed.
"Thanks to you! Although that still doesn't tell me why
you remembered my outfit. It wasn't exactly a highlight
of our nearly fifteen years together..."
Andrew dragged his hand through his hair. "No, it
wasn't. I noticed the jeans that morning when we met for
coffee. I usually did because it was just so... you...
to have them made like that. And I noticed the top
because of the roses. Roses being kind of a big deal."
JenniAnn smiled as she thought of his rose, still brilliantly
red and beautifully whole.
"And I, um, kept running your description through my head
during the ride to Bennie's. I guess it got stuck in my
head... and stayed there even all these years later."
"Why would you have been doing that?"
Andrew stared down at his hands. "I didn't tell you
much, if anything, about my assignments back then. At
least not the ones that didn't make the show."
"No, you didn't."
"I just... I didn't want..."
JenniAnn hugged his arm. "I know. I was a
teenager. I had enough to deal with. I saw enough
trauma on the news. I get it. Maybe still don't
agree with it... but I get it."
Andrew gave her a sad smile. "Thank you. The
weekend before you called me, I had an assignment. This
girl wandered away from a party. No cell phone.
None of her friends noticed. But this... this guy who
had been hanging around outside the apartment did. He
followed her as she tried to make her way to a nearby store so
she could call her parents and... he..."
JenniAnn let out a shuddering breath and gently stroked the
"If someone had just noticed right away... gotten a
description out... I might not have had to take her Home."
"Love... Oh, Andrew..." JenniAnn stroked his
face. For years she'd remembered that night as her being
rattled and uneasy then everything being made better by solid,
reliable, safe, lovely Andrew. She'd had no idea of how
much turmoil he must have felt in the moments between her call
and his arrival. Perhaps she should have guessed there
was something more to his feelings when he'd begged her not to
leave the apartment building.
"I'm sorry," she murmured before embracing him tightly.
"You couldn't have known. And it... it did end up being
a good night, huh?" Andrew smiled through the tears in
"A very good one." JenniAnn's face lit up as she
remembered that they'd returned to Willowveil and Andrew had
tried to teach her how to play poker until they'd both given
up and settled on Go Fish.
After inhaling and exhaling deeply, Andrew stepped away from
JenniAnn and refocused on his closet. With little
interruption, they sent three shirts to the scraps box, four
to the True Light box, and set two aside for Andrew's
Both angel and woman froze when they came to a dark olive,
button down shirt.
"Oh..." JenniAnn whispered.
Andrew took it from her. "I'm sure it fits. I was
a little heavier when..."
Peering into each other's eyes, the two remembered.
JenniAnn decided that if she had to look at one more equation
her textbook was in serious danger of being thrown into the
fire place. As if a Theology student actually needed
advanced math! Maybe it would have been fun if Andrew
were there to tutor her and...
With a sigh, JenniAnn shook her head. Day-dreamy
thoughts certainly weren't going to help her finish her
assignment. But maybe a walk to clear her head would
After pulling on a jacket, JenniAnn stepped outside and began
to amble around Willowveil's yard. Then, as she came
around the back of the castle, she saw him.
Andrew. Sitting in the gazebo. Alone. Maybe
An enthusiastic grin on her face, JenniAnn hurdled towards the
gazebo. She halted while still some yards away.
Andrew was upset. Crying even. For a moment, she
considered letting him be. After all, Andrew wasn't the
most emotionally open person... far from it. However,
something kept her walking towards him. It was only when
she began to climb the gazebo steps that he noticed her.
Andrew hastily swiped at his tears and smiled.
"Hey, JenniAnn. How..."
The angel of death closed his eyes when, silently, she sidled
up beside him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
"What's wrong, Andrew?" she asked in a tone so soft Andrew
knew he wouldn't have been able to hear it if her lips weren't
all of two inches from his left ear.
JenniAnn tensed. She pulled away and studied him
intently. "Did she say something to you about crying
If he'd been in a better mood, Andrew would have
laughed. JenniAnn... all of twenty... looked prepared to
do verbal battle with an angel who was even older than
him. As it was, the reaction only made him sadder.
If only Tess were getting on his case...
With a sigh, Andrew shook his head.
"No. No, JenniAnn. The... the thing is..."
As he struggled for the words, a rare mood struck
Andrew. Suddenly, he forgot that he was eons old and she
was only twenty. He forgot that he'd taken it as his job
to protect her and, as needed, to advise and console
her. Gone was any idea of keeping his distance so as not
to impact her romantic development too much. All he knew
was that God had brought and kept them together and she loved
him and he loved her and he was exhausted and scared.
JenniAnn blinked with surprise when the angel of death began
to sob in her arms. Tears welled in her own eyes and
slid down her cheeks.
"Andrew... oh, Andrew..." she cooed as she brushed her fingers
through his shaggy hair and kissed the bronze and golden
strands... shyly at first and then less so.
"Alzheimer's... Tess has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's
and I... Monica's taking it so hard and..."
Andrew suddenly straightened up and stared at JenniAnn.
His face colored.
"JenniAnn, I... Sorry that..."
JenniAnn bit her lip, rather wishing that he hadn't
"It's okay. Truly. That... that's what friends are
for." She managed a smile and tentatively reached out to
brush some hair behind Andrew's ear. When he didn't pull
away, she did the same with the other ear. "But, please,
tell me more. That... it doesn't make much sense to me."
With a rueful smile, Andrew shook his head. "It doesn't
make much sense to me, either. I... I'm guessing it's
for the sake of an assignment but... but beyond that?
And what that means? How... how bad will this get?
I just... I don't know a-and the Father... He's quiet."
JenniAnn frowned. "So... so maybe it's like that time
Monica went blind. Or got amnesia. Did the Father
tell you when she'd be cured? Monica, I mean."
"Then maybe the not knowing... you and Monica... is part of
this assignment, too. Maybe by next week everything will
be back to normal for Tess a-and both of you and... and..."
For a moment, they both stared into each other's eyes.
They knew what JenniAnn said was true... but they also knew
about Claire who had been lost and confused for decades before
Monica had helped her return Home.
"I miss her," Andrew murmured. "Tess is still there
but... but I miss her. And I don't know what to say to
Monica. Not really."
JenniAnn squeezed his hand. She knew the feeling.
She really didn't know what to say to him.
Once again, she embraced him.
Once again, Andrew surrendered and wept.
"I wish I could have said something more helpful," JenniAnn
mused as she smoothed the shirt after Andrew had placed it on
Andrew hugged her. "You gave me exactly what I needed,
Laja: a safe place to just let it all out."
"And... and you did the same for me not long after when my
parents told me about Aunt Sophia's Alzheimer's... It...
it's kinda funny, isn't it? I mean not
funny-amusing. Funny-weird. You are so much older
"Well, you are!" JenniAnn grinned and stretched up to
peck his check. "And yet we ended up having the same,
sad life event within a few months of each other. I...
well, I'm glad it didn't happen any earlier for either of
us. Not that we were exactly paragons of mutual
affection and emotional intimacy back in 2002/2003... but
better than in 2000."
"Yes. Definitely," Andrew agreed. He wasn't sure
an awkward hug would have cut it that day in the gazebo.
"Actually, though... we've had moments like that
throughout. Like for brief glimmers of time... even way
back then... it's like we acted and maybe even felt like we do
now. Then it'd be gone and we'd go back to kinda...
stilted. But... those moments did happen."
Andrew dragged his hand through his hair as he considered
JenniAnn's words. She was right. Strewn throughout
their early years, there were definitely times when their
reticence and reliance upon propriety faded away.
Generally they were moments of great emotion, often pain and
worry and fear.
"'It was then that I carried you...'" JenniAnn recited before
beaming at Andrew. "I know Joshua is always with us but
sometimes we... humans at least... pay more attention to God
when we're struggling. So... so maybe that was it.
In those moments, we picked up more on his view of us."
Andrew returned her smile as he caressed her cheek.
"Joshua's known who we are to each other during the whole
fifteen years. So, yeah, that makes sense to me!
When we were more aware of his nearness, we acted more like he
meant for us to act."
JenniAnn's face lit up and she nuzzled Andrew's shoulder for a
few moments. Then, suddenly, her heart sank.
"So... do you think that means that we just squandered time
for over a decade? That we weren't acting like he wanted
"No. I don't. Well, not always. I mean,
yeah, there were probably some times when he wanted us closer
but we pushed each other away. My breakdown..."
JenniAnn let out a ragged breath and twisted her ring.
"My disappearing acts..."
Andrew tightened his embrace. "Neither of us is
perfect. Joshua knows that. The Father, too.
But in general? No, I don't think they intended for us
to act as we do now during those entire fifteen years.
First, to be blunt, that might not have gone over so well when
I looked almost twenty years your senior."
"But from His perspective? I still think no. Laja,
just for one example, how much harder do you think Afghanistan
would have been had we gotten used to sleeping beside each
other before that happened?"
JenniAnn shivered. Certainly it would have been
possible... military couples managed, after all. But
could they have? It had been hard enough without having
Andrew in Dyeland as she was used to. What if she'd been
used to his being in her home? In her bed? And how
much worse would it have been for him? He hadn't even
had a home or a bed! Just rocks and sand and...
Andrew softly swayed to calm her.
"Good point," JenniAnn choked out. "I'm sure you're
"Maybe there was a social aspect, too. Up until a few
years ago, Shelby was too young to really pay too much
attention to our interactions beyond knowing we both loved her
and would work together to help raise her. Our friends
were all simply that: our friends. But now we have Max
and Violeta. They're impressionable in ways Yva and C.J.
and Lady Beth never were. And Rose? She wasn't
really looking for anyone to model a healthy relationship
until Max came along. And there was no Belle to want
Mama and Daddy to both sing her to sleep and read stories
while she was snuggled between them."
"Also very true."
"For the most part, I think things happened with us when they
needed to happen, Laja. And even the pitfalls... we
learned from them, huh?" Andrew asked as he cupped her chin.
"Yeah, we did. If I ever decide to run off
again..." JenniAnn beamed up at Andrew. "I'm
taking you with me. And the kids."
Andrew laughed. "Well, thank you." He kissed her
forehead and looked down at the bed. "Would you mind if
we donated that shirt, actually?"
JenniAnn shook her head. "Not at all. It makes me
kinda sad. I mean it's good to know Tess came through
and it was all for a good reason, of course, but..."
"Still sad," Andrew agreed as he moved the shirt.
"Someone else can attach happy memories to it."
The two sorted through more sweaters and shirts with relative
ease and quiet until Andrew pulled out one blue and red
flannel shirt that made him erupt with laughter. He held
it up to his shoulders and grinned at JenniAnn.
"Please, please, please tell me you washed that."
Chuckling, Andrew nodded. "I did. Once that day
and then several more times over the years. I know it
won't fit but... not sure I can part with this one."
JenniAnn looked tenderly at Andrew as he continued to smile at
"Well, JenniAnn, last time you put a blindfold on me, you gave
me this house. I can't imagine I've got anything that
amazing coming my way but... I am intrigued," Andrew teased as
he sat in his favorite chair, unseeing but smiling.
"Definitely not as big," JenniAnn replied from the hall.
"Although I do think this gift will fit in nicely in this
place. Just give me one more minute..." She
fastened a bow. "Okay, I'm coming in now..." She
kissed and cuddled the bundle in her arms.
Andrew's eye brow quirked up when he heard a noise that didn't
sound like JenniAnn.
"No sudden movements, please," she warned.
Heeding her, Andrew only flinched slightly when he felt
something settle onto his lap.
"Okay, I'm gonna take the blindfold off now."
A moment later, JenniAnn had the knot undone and whipped the
bandana away from Andrew's face.
Andrew stared, dumbfounded, at what she'd placed on his lap: a
slightly moving, fluffy pink blanket. After a few
moments, a little nose poked out followed by two huge eyes and
two floppy ears and a pink polka dot bow.
"But... who... whose puppy is this, JenniAnn?"
She squeezed his shoulders. "Yours."
"But I... I can't, JenniAnn. As much as I'm
gone..." In spite of his words, Andrew picked up the dog
and snuggled her against his chest.
"I'll take care of her when you're away. I... I just
can't really explain it. I just knew she had to be
Andrew closed his eyes as he rubbed his cheek against the
dog's silky head.
"So sweet..." he cooed.
JenniAnn blinked back tears as she watched the strong, sturdy
angel of death melt over the tiny puppy who had begun to lick
his face. She smiled, knowing there was no way Andrew
wouldn't be keeping her.
"What's her name?" Andrew asked.
"Dunno. They were just calling her Sweetie at the
pound. So... I think you get to name her."
Andrew held the dog out just a bit and studied her. He
tilted his head.
"Lulu. She looks like a Lulu to me." He kissed her
snout. "Hello, Lulu!"
JenniAnn beamed. "Hello, Lulu," she repeated.
Keeping Lulu carefully tucked against his chest with one hand,
Andrew rose and hugged JenniAnn with his free arm.
"Thank you. She's absolutely perfect. I... I love
her, JenniAnn. And I will treasure her... all the more
JenniAnn heard a dripping noise. She looked down and
noticed a small pool of liquid at Andrew's feet. Her
head shooting up, she saw his shirt and pants were also damp.
"Umm... she's not exactly housebroken..." she offered.
"I, umm, am getting that idea, yeah."
As JenniAnn laughed, Andrew swaddled Lulu in her blanket.
"Since you'll be her babysitter, maybe start bonding while I
go change? Please?" he requested, his nose wrinkled.
Continuing to laugh, JenniAnn nodded. "Sure."
Andrew hurried towards the hall but then backtracked. He
rested his forehead against Lulu's.
"It's okay, Lulu. Accidents happen. I still love
you. And I..." Andrew's smile faltered for a
moment as he looked into JenniAnn's eyes. "I love you,
too," he finished, wishing he felt and sounded less awkward.
After a sharp intake of breath that she tried to camouflage
with a cough, JenniAnn nodded.
"I love you, too."
With another smile, Andrew hurried out of the room and up the
JenniAnn sighed and softly stroked the puppy's back.
"I do love him," she confided as she peered into the dog's
sweet, judgment-less eyes.
JenniAnn took the shirt from Andrew.
"Ya know, I don't think it would be too much trouble to turn
that into a pillow for Lulu. She did mark it as her
territory, after all."
Laughing, Andrew hugged her shoulders. "True. And
thanks. She'll love it."
They both smiled as they thought of the now quite elderly dog
who they'd left dozing in Belle's room with Fawn.
JenniAnn studied the shirt, trying to puzzle out how she'd
make Lulu's pillow. Suddenly, her eyes began to well.
Looking away from his tie rack, Andrew noticed and returned to
"Laja, what's wrong?"
"That tie. The blue one with gold stripes. You
were wearing it when you came back from an assignment on that
All Saint's Day... in 2005... after my three month
With a frown, Andrew sat down on the edge of the bed and
thought back. He dragged his hand through his hair.
"Lady Beth came to Dyeland that same day so..."
"So we never really hashed everything out," JenniAnn
finished. "I still hate that I did that. So
hypocritical! I'd get on you for not being more open but
I actually skipped town for three months!"
Andrew reached for her as she began to pace. "Laja..."
"And it got worse! The whole Eliot thing..."
"I mean who does that? I had a perfectly good thing
going with you and then..."
"Laja, was it really a 'perfectly good thing' at that point?"
"You were 23 when you left for three months, 25 when you dated
Eliot. You were just trying to figure things out...
determine if the sacrifices were... were worth making.
And think about it, Laja: you spent your teenage years being a
princess! Most kids spend those years dating and hanging
out with friends. You were helping restore abandoned
castles and houses so your friends could settle down.
Figuring out portal security, too!" Andrew
chuckled. "So maybe you did things a little out of
order... and in a rather grandiose fashion... but you still
needed to have those years of figuring things out.
And..." He again perched on the bed and stared down at
his hands. "I know I didn't make it any easier."
Stricken by the look on his face, JenniAnn settled onto his
right knee and circled her arms around his neck. She
remained quiet, waiting to see if he'd say more.
"You... you had your breakdown a year after I got back and...
and I was so clingy at points. I always wondered..."
"No! No. That was not your fault. Never,
"But I'm not sure I helped much. That probably just fed
into your 'need to be strong and protective' sentiment."
"No. Laja, there... there's something I never told
you. About then."
JenniAnn's hand ceased drifting through his hair. "Are
you going to tell me now?"
Andrew nodded and began to tell his story.
Andrew stared out the window and at the pouring rain. It
suited him. Cold, dreary. He swiped at a tear as,
once again, he heard Ernest's primal scream as he'd heard
about Susannah's rape and murder at the hands of predator
they'd been trying to take down.
The room was so terribly cold. His legs creaking, Andrew
went to the fireplace and threw another log onto it. As
he stared at the flames, brutal memories flickered in his
mind. And then he felt them...
Fingers lightly caressing his back. Then arms coming
around his middle.
After turning around, Andrew's breath caught in his
She looked like an angel, her hair lit by the flames and her
white dress and the golden cross around her neck and...
"Let's rest. Then you can tell me."
Keeping hold of his hand, she led him to his bed and turned
down the covers. To his surprise, she slid in first then
grabbed a pillow and set it in her lap.
"Rest, Andrew," JenniAnn ordered with a hint of a smile.
Stunned and somehow calmed, Andrew returned the smile and did
as she asked. He let out a weary sigh as she began to
stroke his hair and massage his temples.
"Tell me, my love. You're not alone... you know that."
Suddenly, there was a tapping sound. Andrew raised his
head from her lap just long enough to see a dove sitting on
the windowsill. Despite the weather, the bird was not
waterlogged nor windblown. Smiling, the angel again
Andrew wasn't sure whether he lay there for mere moments or
several minutes. Regardless, his headache began to dull
and his body relaxed.
JenniAnn brushed some hair behind his ears then lightly tapped
The angel of death moved and rested his head on his
pillow. He watched JenniAnn with interest and awe as she
settled beside him. Her head cushioned by the other
pillow, she smiled softly and caressed his cheek.
In a torrent, everything came rushing out. What he'd
seen that terrible night, what he'd felt when Ernest had
learned the horrible news, what he still felt... horrified,
guilty, crushed, angry, fearful.
Then she was in his arms, stroking his back, and he was
beginning to feel some warmth, some peace again.
"You did everything you could, my love. Everything,"
JenniAnn murmured. "And you always will do everything
you can for your assignments. I know that. Don't
Andrew nodded when she rested her forehead against his.
"I love you, Andrew. No matter what."
"I love you, Laja. I... I'm so glad you're here.
Thank God you're here. Laja..."
Andrew buried his face in her hair. He drank in the
familiar scent of lavender and then drew back and opened his
She was gone.
He wasn't even in his room. He was sprawled on his
couch. There was no fire roaring.
There was a book... her book... on the floor.
Andrew sat up and stared straight ahead.
For a moment, he toyed with the idea of running to Willowveil
and trying to make things right with JenniAnn. Then he
would beg forgiveness of the others.
He had to deal with his emotions, his memories on his own...
with God. Not with them. Not with her.
Andrew felt queasy as he thought of the dream. Wrong,
wrong, wrong... JenniAnn was a young woman with her
whole life ahead of her: dating, marriage, sex, kids,
grandkids. Sure, she had feelings for him but she was
only 24 and feelings changed. It was NOT for him to be
relying on her, confiding in her, and clinging to her like he
had in his dream.
Andrew began to rub at his temples and then shuddered,
remembering her light, comforting touch.
"Father..." he murmured.
"Nope. Just me."
Andrew looked up to find Adam standing in the hallway, peering
at him. He forced a smile and then listened obediently
as the elder angel of death filled him in on how the girls
were doing as their "Angel Boy-Cott" continued.
"And Laja?" Andrew prompted.
"Huh?" Adam asked, not recognizing the name.
Andrew blushed. "JenniAnn. I meant JenniAnn."
"How did you get 'Laja' out of JenniAnn? Well, never
mind. She's a mess, buddy." Adam crossed his arms
over his chest. "What do you think?"
Andrew stared down at his hands, wanting to avoid the
disapproval in Adam's usually jovial eyes. "She'll be
fine. Yesterday was just..."
"Bad. It was bad, Andrew."
"I love you,
Andrew. No matter what."
First you weren't talking and now you're not
Andrew roused, blinked, and stared at Adam.
"Sorry, what was that?"
"First, tell me where you just were."
Andrew cheeks flushed. He picked at a throw
pillow and shook his head. He couldn't tell Adam
about the dream. He'd never tell anyone about
it. He would let it remain between him and God
JenniAnn remained as she was for several moments, her
head resting on Andrew's shoulder and her eyes fixed
on his nervous hands. She wondered if he even
realized he was playing with the drawstring of her
skirt. No, likely not.
"It's... it's not that I felt completely out of
control or... or anything. It wasn't, you know,
an umm... fantasy or anything like... like that,"
JenniAnn smiled to herself and resisted the urge to do
a Captain Obvious salute.
"But... but it was the first time I ever thought
exactly that way... about you. Anyone. And
it surprised me and I was already... scrambled."
"Why did you think it was wrong?" JenniAnn questioned.
Andrew sighed. "I don't have a good answer,
Laja. I guess I thought that... that if I
instigated that or... or encouraged that sort of...
behavior then... then maybe you wouldn't feel free
to... umm... leave me."
"It was stupid. I was a lot stupid about a lot
during that period."
JenniAnn laughed and kissed his forehead. "Yours
words, not mine." She sighed. "But it does
make me sad. I guess I thought this sort of need
for physical affection came a lot later for you."
Andrew peered into her eyes and shook his head.
"So... so the Eliot phase was really... really bad for you,"
"It was... necessary, I think. For both of us."
"It was part of what got us here so... yes. I spose,"
"You're not angry, are you? That I didn't tell you about
the dream before now?" Andrew checked.
JenniAnn shook her head. "No... I'd be a hypocrite
if I was. Heck, I had my own dreams of wandering into
your room and snuggling up beside you. But it does make
me think differently about then. Was that dream part of
why you stayed so... avoidant for as long as you did?"
"No, Laja. That was just me being distraught over
Susannah and Ernest and my perceived failings with them.
But... but it did make me a little more stand-offish with you
even after that. And I'm sorry for that. Because I
sometimes wonder if... if that's why you turned to Eliot
then. And even though God worked that into something
good. It was still wrong if I made you feel... neglected
"Andrew... There was wrongness on both sides. But,
yeah, God did work a lot of good from it. For Eliot,
too. We were just talking last week at parent-teacher
conferences... not like I had much to say about lil Galen,
he's a perfect student just like his daddy was... well, umm,
both of them. Eliot and Galen Sr. Anyway, Eliot
and I got to talking about how thinking back on our
relationship really magnifies what works so well in our
current relationships. I mean things Eliot and I were so
awkward about... they just come naturally with Brittony and
you, respectively. And I think it'll help when the kids
are older and have their first break-ups. We'll be able
to relate, ya know?"
Andrew smiled and nodded.
"And... I'm grateful for another reason."
JenniAnn kissed Andrew's cheek then rose and went to his
closet. She pulled a green, beige, and gold flannel
shirt out and hugged it to her chest then smiled at Andrew.
The angel of death stood and went to her, taking the
"It's a medium. Definitely too small for me these
days." He unbuttoned it and settled it around her
shoulders. "I always thought it looked better on you,
anyway. Definitely on that day."
Charmed that he remembered, JenniAnn sunk against Andrew's
Andrew stole occasional glances at JenniAnn as they walked
around the Fields of Gold. In spite of her layered
sweaters, she shivered. He halted and began to unbutton
"Andrew, what are you..."
"You look cold," he explained as he handed her the shirt.
"Andrew... You only have one other layer now. It's
my fault for not bringing a jacket or..."
"It's okay. Really. This shirt's thermal so I'm
With a grateful smile, JenniAnn put the shirt on. A
small sigh escaped her as she caught a whiff of his sandalwood
They walked for a few more moments in companionable silence.
"Is... is there anything you want to know about... about Eliot
and me?" JenniAnn finally asked, her voice quaking slightly.
"Is there anything you want to tell me?" Andrew gently
"I... I don't know. Do... do you think we can go
back? Back to how things were between us, I mean?"
Andrew looked over at her, catching sight of a tear on her
cheek just before she swatted it away. He swallowed the
lump forming in his throat.
"No, I don't think we can go back but I think we can get to
some place better. I... I believe that very much, Laja."
"No matter what happened between Eliot and me?"
Andrew tried to mask the ragged sigh he let out.
"No matter what," he replied. And it was true. He
had his concerns, of course. It was daunting to think of
her as knowing... experiencing... intimate things he never
had. If she had... And maybe that would impact the
way they showed affection to each other. And maybe that
meant there would be a bond between her and Eliot that would
always linger even though their romance had failed. But
she was still Laja and he still felt everything he had before
"I... I didn't sleep with him. Or... or anything, umm,
like that. And he was always a gentleman.
Always. I mean we kissed sometimes. B-but...
kissing in a way that woulda flown even under the Hays Code."
Andrew chuckled. "The Hays Code, Laja? A bit
before your time."
"At least I remember something from my one semester of Film
JenniAnn grinned at Andrew and took his hand.
Andrew squeezed her hand then briefly brought it to his lips.
JenniAnn's cheeks tinged pink and she gaped at him, struck by
how much more she felt that kiss than the objectively more
romantic ones with Eliot.
"It... it means a lot to me that... that you didn't ask.
If I'd slept with Eliot, I mean."
"I figured that you'd tell me if you wanted me to know...
JenniAnn smiled when Andrew kept hold of her hand as they
"And you really wouldn't have cared if I had?" she
"I wouldn't have felt less for you. But that doesn't
mean I wouldn't have cared. I would have cared about how
that made you feel. If... if you could be happy without
that going forward... I mean... if that's what you want.
And I'd care if it hadn't been what you'd hoped. Or if
you regretted it or..." Andrew looked down at JenniAnn,
hoping he'd said enough... and not too much.
"Is that, umm, okay?" he asked after she'd remained silent for
"It's the perfect answer," she murmured.
Andrew could only smile when she grabbed his hand and pulled
his arm around her shoulders.
Yes, they would definitely be all right.
"And, after that, we had a few minorish dust-ups but... but
everything got better," JenniAnn observed.
"Yep." Andrew chuckled as she tied the shirttails around
her waist. "You know, I just never thought to pair my
flannel shirts with hippie skirts."
"I'd let you try but I'm afraid you'd rip the seams," JenniAnn
"I'm sure the ensemble looks much, much better on you,
anyway. Now... we better tackle that bunch of
spring/summer shirts. I have a feeling True Light's
going to make out very well with those."
Eying them, JenniAnn nodded. They were, as a rule,
smaller since they were less likely to be layered over
Andrew only needed to hold some of them up to his shoulders to
know they were too small. He was just about to throw a
sea green button up into the box when JenniAnn grabbed his
"Wait. I mean you can put it in the box but... do you
remember when you wore that one? Well, I mean you
probably have since but the first time I remember it..."
Andrew searched his memories and shook his head.
"Georgia," JenniAnn relayed.
Andrew smiled. He had no recollection of what he'd worn
during their road trip from Nebraska to Georgia but he
definitely remembered the journey itself.
Andrew took his eyes off the road just long enough to glance
at JenniAnn. He smiled as she gaped at their
surroundings. Her expression made him forget all his
doubts and concerns about taking her along on this
excursion. She'd been so sweet with Hank when they'd
delivered the letters to him, even sitting with him as he read
a few of those long ago messages of love that his brother had
kept from him. Andrew's eyes misted as he thought of
their parting. The old man had smiled and patted
JenniAnn's hair when they'd bid adieu. Then, when
JenniAnn was settled into the car, Hank had taken Andrew by
both hands and peered into his eyes.
"You tell that girl every day that you love her. Every
day. Because you never know..."
Andrew had nodded and promised he would. And he would...
though maybe sometimes silently.
"It's just so green... Just so hard to believe that
something so pretty and green could be bad," JenniAnn pondered
Andrew smiled. She was still in awe over the
kudzu. It touched him to know he'd introduced her to a
part of her own world, her own country that she'd never known.
"Not bad, Laja. Just not meant to be here. And,
yes, it is pretty."
"I feel sorry for it. How would you feel if you were
just doing your thing and people posted signs about how you
messed everything up?"
Andrew almost began to laugh but quickly realized JenniAnn was
completely serious... and projecting. He remembered then
why he'd taken her along: JenniAnn was at odds with so many
people. Her family wanted her to get married and, even
better, pregnant. And it wasn't even just her
family. When he was in Dyeland on Sundays, Andrew had
taken to calling Fr. Mike to ensure he was in town before
they'd head to Mass. One more stranger's homily about
being fruitful and multiplying... literally... and Andrew
feared JenniAnn was going to start tacking theses to church
doors. Which, come to think of it, maybe wouldn't be a
bad thing... except for the backlash.
"I would feel very... anxious," he answered.
Pleased at being understood, JenniAnn nodded.
"Are you getting hungry? There's another little town
about five miles ahead where we could stop for lunch if you
want. I think we're due for a real, sit-down meal.
No more drive-thrus and grocery store runs."
After another few minutes, Andrew turned off the highway and
was soon parking the car in front of a quaint diner with a
brightly colored sign reading Morning Glori's.
"Have you ever been here before?" JenniAnn asked as they
headed towards the front door.
"A few times over the years. Great place and the
JenniAnn laughed when Andrew's eyes glazed over. "That
It was only a few moments after they'd settled into their
booth that they had their orders taken and huge glasses of
sweet tea placed in front of them by a waitress whose
beflowered nametag identified her as Christi.
Andrew watched, delighted, as JenniAnn enthusiastically sipped
her tea. When she set the glass down, he reached over
and set his hand on hers.
"What?" she questioned.
"Nothing. Just... glad you're here."
JenniAnn set her other hand over his. "Glad to be
here. It really does mean a lot that you asked me...
wanted me along."
"I like working assignments with you. Sure, it took a
little getting used to but all you ladies were so great with
Raquel back in January and, of course, nothing would have been
the same with Cora if not for the connections you all made
and... well, it's nice to have some company... nice to spend
this time with you, Laja," Andrew confided.
JenniAnn stared down at the table and blinked back
tears. That was what she most wanted to hear: that
Andrew truly wanted her around.
"Laja, you okay?"
Smiling, JenniAnn looked up and nodded. "Just... happy."
"And here we are! Chicken fried steak with mashed
potatoes and greens for the gentleman and a shrimp po'boy with
potato wedges and slaw for the young lady! Lookin'
good?" Christi checked.
JenniAnn's eyes went wide. She thought something called
a po'boy would be less substantive.
Andrew laughed. "It looks delicious, thank you,
"That's a lot of food..." JenniAnn opined once they were
"No skimping around here. Ready to pray?"
"Uh huh... very gratefully."
Andrew kept smiling as he led prayers.
"Amen," JenniAnn echoed after he'd finished.
They both sighed, nearly in unison, when they took their first
"You have to try this gravy."
"Okay. But then you get some shrimp."
They slid their plates together and did a swap.
JenniAnn laughed when she had her own plate back in front of
"If Owen was here, he'd be teasing us."
"Why?" Andrew asked.
"He says that sometimes we act like an old married
couple. What we just did would definitely be
evidence!" JenniAnn dunked a potato wedge in the
gravy. "Mmm. Yeah, that is good! So what do
you think about the shrimp?"
His mouth full, Andrew gave her a thumbs up.
As they enjoyed their meal, they chatted about their time with
Hank, their friends, plans for JenniAnn's upcoming birthday,
and what Andrew could share about his pending assignments.
"Ready for dessert?" Andrew queried.
JenniAnn's eyes went wide. "You're still hungry?"
The angel shrugged. "I could eat a little more.
They have the best red velvet cake. Split a slice with
me? A la mode."
Laughing, JenniAnn nodded. "Sure. Metabolism-wise,
it's probably a good thing I don't work assignments with you
Andrew flashed her a grin. "I'm a terrible influence."
"I know," JenniAnn teased. "But I still love you."
"Aww! Aren't you two just darling?" Christi asked when
she approached the table and began to clear it. "I think
I heard something about our red velvet?"
Blushing, Andrew nodded. "Yes. We'd like one
"A la mode?"
"Great! I'll be right back with that and your ticket."
Andrew flashed a smile at JenniAnn when they were alone.
JenniAnn nodded as she giggled.
"Didn't get a chance to say that I love you, too." The
angel again reached across the table to clasp hands.
"Andrew..." JenniAnn squeezed his hand then stood and
moved to his side of the booth. "Might be easier to
share this way."
"Yeah." Andrew kept smiling as she hugged his arm and
briefly rested her head against his shoulder.
"And here we go! Fresh baked this morning and ice cream
directly from a local dairy."
"So pretty..." JenniAnn complimented.
Christi laughed. "Thank you. I'll pass that along
to Dorothy who bakes it. Enjoy, you two!"
Andrew handed a spoon to JenniAnn. "You first."
"Okay... but if I get carsick, it's on you."
Andrew laughed as she loaded up the spoon.
JenniAnn gave a thumbs up to Andrew as she enjoyed the
"So was I right?"
"You were. We couldn't have passed this up."
Soon the two were so focused on enjoying their cake and ice
cream that they didn't realize that someone was approaching
Looking up to grab a napkin, Andrew was the first to notice
the petite brunette woman who appeared to be around JenniAnn's
"Hi!" he greeted. "Can we help you?"
The woman, wearing a camera on her shoulder and holding a
notepad, smiled shyly.
"Hi. Sorry if I was staring. I was trying to
decide whether I wanted to interrupt you or not."
JenniAnn smiled. "It's okay! We have a whole car
ride back to Nebraska ahead of us so we'll have plenty of time
to talk just the two of us. What can we do for you?"
"Well, I'm with the local paper. Morning Glori's
fiftieth anniversary is next week and we're doing an article
and photo spread about it. Christi mentioned that you're
out of towners. I don't have too many people with that
perspective included yet. Could I maybe get your photo
and a quote or two about your experience here?"
Andrew and JenniAnn glanced at each other.
"Could that get you in trouble?" JenniAnn whispered. "I
mean... we look kinda couply right now."
Andrew shrugged. "I think it'll be fine. You okay
Andrew smiled at the reporter. "Sure! Would you
like the photo or quotes first?"
"Photo would be good. I'd like to take a few quick shots
so we have some options."
Andrew and JenniAnn positioned themselves with the remainder
of their cake in front of them and their heads inclined
towards each other.
"Very nice! So... what do you think about Morning
Glori's? Oh and could I get your names?"
"Oh, sure. I'm JenniAnn and this is Andrew. Do
you, umm, need last names?" JenniAnn asked.
Seeming to sense her unease, the reporter shook her
head. "First names are fine."
"Great! Well, the food is delicious! I guess this
is my first real Southern food and I love it!" JenniAnn
Andrew beamed at her then gave his attention to the
reporter. "I was here about ten years ago and it's just
as good as I remember it."
"Hopefully it won't be another ten years before we return,"
Andrew smiled giddily, taking that to mean she still saw them
together years into the future.
"That's great. I'll let you get back to your dessert
"You're welcome!" JenniAnn replied.
Andrew gave a friendly nod to the reporter. "I hope the
rest of your article goes well."
"Thanks!" After another smile, she moved onto a nearby
group of people.
"So... would you want to do this again sometime in the
future?" Andrew questioned.
"Only if I have to," JenniAnn teased. "Of course!"
Her expression softened and she reached up to briefly caress
Andrew's cheek. The time away and, for the most part, on
their own, had done them good.
Andrew hugged her to him for a moment before they refocused
their attention on the cake.
"We should do that again sometime. Maybe when Belle's a
lil older," JenniAnn suggested. "I really did enjoy
it. I mean... I adore being home but something about
being on vacation together and not even thinking about
housework or schedules... I bet Kemara and Sean would
tag along. I'm not sure if Sean has even seen his
betrothed's home state! Actually, we should ask Kemara
if she's ever been to Morning Glori's."
"We should," Andrew agreed. "And that would be a fun
trip. We should show Kemara that clipping. I bet
she'd get a kick out of it." He stepped into his office
and removed it from a bulletin board.
When Andrew was again beside her, JenniAnn smiled at the
article that Eli had brought them... one of his many gifts
from the Records department. She suddenly gasped.
"The byline... Andrew, look at the byline."
Confused, Andrew did as she asked and then he gasped,
too. There, in black and white, was their friend's name:
"Kemara! She... she took that picture! Interviewed
us!" JenniAnn pulled her cell phone from her pocket and
began texting. "Oh... that's too awesome! I know
she's helping Emma with the dance class at Lily's Loot right
now but... but I'm telling her to come see us as soon as she
Andrew was still gaping at the name.
"This... this just makes it all the more obvious that... that
this was always meant to be, Laja. Eli and your great
aunt Sophia... you and Max knowing each other... Zeke and
Vincent having been friends... Monica having cared for Liam...
now us having met Kemara..."
After finishing her text, JenniAnn hugged Andrew as tightly as
"Kemara will be thrilled. I know she will. And...
and it is perfect. Cause... cause it was during that
trip that I really and truly knew... I mean I still sometimes
worried about the two of us drifting somehow... but spending
that time with you and feeling so happy... I knew there was no
one else in the world... or any world... who I... I would want
to share my life with. And, unwittingly, one of our
friends was there to witness that... and take a photo."
Too moved to speak, Andrew nodded as he held her close and
peered down at the photograph he'd set on the
nightstand. They did look ridiculously happy... far
happier than any dessert could be credited for.
JenniAnn inhaled and exhaled deeply when they moved
apart. She eyed the closet, boxes, and bed.
"Joshua help us if we ever have to actually move entirely...
at the rate it's taking us to go through your closet, we'd
never get done packing up entirely."
Andrew chuckled. "Good point. But we're getting
closer. You don't have any special attachment to any of
these, do you?" He waved to a section of lightweight
"Oh... let's keep this one for the blanket." JenniAnn
removed a tan and blue shirt. "Otherwise, I'm fine with
"Sounds good. But now you gotta tell me, why are we
keeping that one?"
JenniAnn dreamily hummed a few bars of a song then smiled at
"It wasn't the best day in Nebraska... but it was a good night
in Dyeland," she hinted.
Andrew smiled tenderly when he remembered.
Andrew followed JenniAnn into the Willowveil kitchen, carrying
his dirty dishes.
He kept a close eye on her as she rinsed her own then placed
them in the dishwasher. When she was finished, he did
"You can go home now, ya know," she told him.
"I know. And I will... if you want me to," he responded.
"I..." JenniAnn shook her head in annoyance when her
Andrew noticed that she was beginning to blink rapidly.
JenniAnn cried in earnest when he circled his arms around her
and began to softly sway.
"What a mess..." she muttered.
"I'm sure with a little more time..."
"What if it just gets worse?" JenniAnn interrupted.
"A-and you have enough to... to deal with without my family
griping a-about us and..."
Andrew rested his cheek against her hair. "Laja, your
mom's just stressed after talking to your grandma. I
actually think your parents have been a lot more... well, okay
with us lately."
"But that doesn't really excuse asking... again... 'Are you
really sure this is what you want out of your life?' How
many times do I have to answer that? Yes! Yes,
In spite of his concern for his friend, Andrew smiled.
"I mean the irony of it is we don't even know if I can have
kids!" JenniAnn pointed out, beginning to pace. "I mean
Grandma was right about one thing earlier: my parents did
struggle until I came along. And I don't know that it's
by design that I don't have siblings. So what if I did
leave you and marry some guy? Then I might just end up
with a husband I didn't truly love, frustrated in, at best, an
awkward friendship with you... the one I actually love... and
still no kids!"
JenniAnn paused in her anxious pacing and hugged him.
"And I would be emotionally devastated," she murmured as she
laced her fingers through his.
"Me too, Laja." Andrew brushed his hand over her
hair. "It's so beautiful tonight. Let's go
outside, huh? Maybe imagine some more pleasant
Swiping at her tears and smiling, JenniAnn took his hand and
followed him into the backyard. Andrew turned on the
radio they kept on the patio during the warmer months.
After making herself comfortable on a loveseat, JenniAnn
motioned for Andrew to join her.
"Good choice," she complimented once he was beside her.
"For the second time today, you've known that a bit of nature
"I wish things were easier for you with your family. I
wish there was something I could do," Andrew hoped aloud.
JenniAnn shook her head. "I don't. The only thing
you could do that would make them truly content would be
become human, marry me, and... and... well, then it wouldn't
be you and we'd circle back around to me being emotionally
devastated. Not to mention... that wouldn't change who I
am and I can't imagine even a human you being okay with... I
mean... well, I'd still be asexual and... and... I mean... not
that that never works cause I've read about some married
couples with one being asexual but..."
Andrew couldn't help but smile. The conversations he got
into with her...
"But it's best we are how we are and who we are. Makes
sense. God doesn't make mistakes," he pointed out.
JenniAnn grinned. "Exactly." She sobered as she
peered out at the stars. "There was something I told
Grandma when she pulled me into her room. I told her
about how safe and hopeful I felt when I'd see her and Grandpa
and my mom and my dad look at each other with such love.
I said that I wanted my children to see that, too. Have
those same feelings. And I can only have that with...
with you. I hope I can adopt some day and that they can
Andrew rested his arm around her shoulders. "I hope you
can adopt some day, too, Laja. I hope that so much...
and pray for it."
JenniAnn slid nearer. "Thank you. Sometimes I
wonder about whether it would be cuter to see you with a lil
girl or a lil boy. Of course, you were so adorable with
Shelby when she was tiny. I mean you still are!
So... that may be hard to beat."
"I would love any child who came into our lives," Andrew
Beaming, JenniAnn hugged him.
"Oh... I love this song," she cooed.
"Seems like a good dancing song," Andrew hinted.
"It does, doesn't it?"
Andrew got to his feet and offered JenniAnn his hand which she
happily accepted. Beneath the moonlight and the stars,
they danced and let the day's troubles melt away as 3 Doors
Down serenaded them.
a life inside of me that I can feel again.
It's the only
thing that takes me where I've never been.
I don't care if I
lost everything that I have known.
It don't matter
where I lay my head tonight.
Your arms feel
like home... Feel like home."
JenniAnn hugged the shirt to her chest.
"Maybe the blanket should be for Belle. And we can tell
her the story behind each piece," she suggested. "And
this piece... this will represent the first time we ever
really talked about her, even though we didn't know it was her
we were talking about."
Andrew's face shone. "I love that idea. And it
was, wasn't it? Our hypothetical turned out to be a
beautiful, smiley, loving baby girl."
"Yeah..." JenniAnn carefully folded the shirt, wishing
Belle was there to kiss and cuddle.
"She'll be home soon," Andrew reminded.
"Yeah... and Max, Rose, and Violeta, too. Then Sean and
Kemara. And Arthur, Monica, and Liam. And Shelby
and Jacob... who I'm sure are having a lovely time at Liam's
first ever hosted play-date! And then family dinner
Andrew hugged the woman. "I love those nights."
"Speaking of them..." JenniAnn removed a gray and white
striped sweater from Andrew's closet. "I really hope
this still fits. It's one of my favorites."
Andrew tried it on.
"Actually... I think it fits even better than it used to!"
JenniAnn gushed. "And I'm sure Max's still fits, too!"
Andrew laughed. "Right! I almost completely forgot
"You were already so father and son-ish even before he started
calling you Dad..."
JenniAnn let out a happy sigh and embraced Andrew as they
recalled a very special day in their time as a family.
December 26th, 2012
JenniAnn could tell Max was growing anxious the closer Andrew
drove them to his father's house. Still, he looked
pretty adorable as he rode shotgun and gave Andrew
directions. Without meaning to, the two had dressed
almost identically. JenniAnn hoped the growing closeness
between them would help Max as he entered his former home and
packed up his things.
"A right turn up ahead. Then just a block and a left,"
Andrew steered as indicated. "All right..."
"That one. Right there."
As Andrew pulled into the driveway, JenniAnn reached up to
squeeze Max's shoulder.
"Are you ready to go in?" she asked. "If not, we could
go somewhere else for a little bit. Drive around and
look at decorations, maybe?"
"We definitely could," Andrew agreed.
Max smiled at them both but shook his head. "No.
Thanks, though. I'd rather just get this over
with. Although... maybe I should have called
first. Just to check. What if my dad is
here? I mean he could have left Vegas and... and..."
"Has Eli said anything more, Andrew?" JenniAnn asked.
"No. How about I go in first and look around?" Andrew
"Andrew, you don't have to..."
"It's okay. Really," the angel assured.
Max nodded. "Okay. But it's pretty cold so maybe
JenniAnn and I could just wait in the living room while you,
umm, look around?"
"Sounds like a plan!" Andrew smiled at his two
passengers and then unlocked the van.
Once they'd reached the front door, Max found that his hands
were shaking so badly that he struggled to open it.
"Max, how about you let me try?"
Sniffling, the young man handed the keys to Andrew. He
gave a wan smile when JenniAnn hugged him.
Once the front door was open, Andrew poked his head inside and
"Coast is clear thus far."
He waved JenniAnn and Max in.
Max led JenniAnn to a couch, his cheeks flushing as he hurried
to pick up beer cans.
"Max, honey, just sit. Please," JenniAnn
requested. "I know those aren't yours. Well, at
least not all of them."
"None of them," Max replied. "First, I prefer butterbeer
and, second, if I'm actually going to have a beer... I want a
JenniAnn smiled then patted his back when he sat down.
"I don't know why I'm acting like this," Max admitted as he
held out his still visibly shaking hand. "It's not like
my dad was really abusive or anything. I mean, yeah, I
got swatted a few times but... but it never broke the skin
"Even swatted a few times isn't right, Max. And I think
sometimes emotional abuse and neglect hurt even worse,"
Max nodded. "Is... is it bad that I think part of why
I'm so nervous is... is that he might be here? Am... am
I a terrible son that... that I don't want to see him?"
JenniAnn wrapped her arms around the boy's shoulders as he
began to cry. "No... no you're not a terrible son at
"Andrew... he... he taught me a lot about God a-and now... now
that I know he's an angel, I'm going to take every word
even... even more seriously. Not just what Andrew said
b-but what's in the Bible, too, a-and... 'Honor your father
a-and your mother.'"
"Oh Max... You did that. You tried so hard with
your dad and you even... you helped financially support him at
an age when a lot of kids are still getting help from their
"Yeah... I just wish I didn't feel so much anger.
I feel that even more than sadness now. But I can't
After finishing his search of the house, Andrew returned to
the living room. Seeing the state Max was in, he quietly
settled into a recliner.
"What can't you help, Max?" JenniAnn encouraged.
Through his tears, Max smiled at both Andrew and
JenniAnn. "I'm really thrilled to be with all of you now
and... and to feel a part of a group of friends, of... of a
family even. But it's bittersweet because I realize how
many years of that I missed out on. I mean I had some
friends growing up. But I'd start to feel weird because
I'd go over to their houses but I never felt right inviting
them to mine. In... in high school I tried. We had
study group and took turns hosting after school and... and I
really enjoyed it b-but then one of the girls said my dad made
her feel really weird and uncomfortable. And after
that... a lot of people didn't want to have much to do with
me. I... I can't help worrying that ol' Rex is going to
come tearing back into my life a-and drive you all away, too."
Andrew stood and sat to Max's other side, squeezing his
"Max, there is nothing your dad could do that would drive us
away from you. We care about you too much for that," the
Max looked up at Andrew, remembering everything he had went
through for him. Yes, Andrew could stand up to his
father. And, though she'd not been tested in the same
way, Max was confident that JenniAnn could, too.
"Of... of course," he replied before drawing in and letting
out a deep breath. "Of course."
The three stood and hugged each other then, over the next two
hours, they packed up and hauled out each and every one of
Max's belongings. After returning to Serendipity, the
trio worked together to get Max fully settled into his
room. While the young man worked out how he wanted to
display his comic books, Andrew and JenniAnn started dinner.
"I think this will be really, really good for him," Andrew
mused as he started a pot of spaghetti.
JenniAnn wrapped her arms around his middle. "Me
too. And it does feel so... right. You, me, a
kid... It doesn't matter that he's past drinking age!"
Andrew laughed and kissed her hair. "I could tell it
meant a lot to Max to have you helping out, Laja. I know
his grandma was really good to him but she's been gone for
years. He hasn't had any motherly guidance in a very
"He's just such a sweet boy... I... I can't imagine
leaving him or... or neglecting him or hurting him."
Andrew turned the stove burner on then stepped away and pulled
JenniAnn to him.
"Laja, all we can do is listen when Max needs to talk and heap
all the love on him that we can," he consoled. "But we
can't change the past."
"I know..." JenniAnn snuggled against his
shoulder. She gave a reluctant sigh. "I should
start the sauce."
"Yeah, dry spaghetti doesn't taste that good," Andrew
Laughing, JenniAnn stepped away and they continued their meal
preparations. Once they were done, JenniAnn moved to the
"Max, come on. Dinner's ready!" she called.
Max was all smiles as he hurried down the stairs.
"I feel like an actual kid," he announced before
blushing. "I just mean... we didn't do proper meals very
often so... so no reason to call me to dinner."
JenniAnn patted his arm. "Well, we'll be doing proper
meals as often as we can now."
Max continued to beam as the three sat down, said grace, and
enjoyed their meal together.
In between bites, Andrew looked to JenniAnn and to Max.
Silently, he reached for each of their hands and squeezed
"I like this," he choked out.
Misty eyed, JenniAnn nodded. "Me too."
Knowing he wouldn't be able to speak, Max gave them both a
tearful smile and then raised his eyes to the ceiling.
JenniAnn clasped her birthstone cross, admiring it anew.
Andrew's eyes welled as he watched her.
"Shelby, Violeta, Max, and Belle," she murmured. "Maybe
not the children my... my family had in mind but they're ours
a-and I love them. Love..." JenniAnn released her
own cross and fingered Andrew's as she rested her cheek
against his shoulder.
"I love them, too. And you. So much."
"They make me realize how true it is... what people say about
how God answers prayers sometimes in ways we could never
expect. I... I never thought I'd have a little girl who
didn't live with me but who I nonetheless love as my
own. Our sweet Shel... I never thought I'd feel so
much like a mother to an AOD-in-training. But that's our
Andrew smiled. "And I never thought an assignment would
become a son. Never thought you'd have a son seven years
your junior like our Max."
JenniAnn laughed as she batted at a tear.
"And I can still remember sitting in that alley, feeling like
my heart would break for the poor, innocent baby in my arms
and praying and praying that her mother would come and then...
you. You, Laja. And she was ours... our baby...
our Annabelle Luna... our Belle." Andrew's embrace
tightened as he looked around the room, knowing his moving out
was owed in such a large part to his daughter.
"I... I think Belle saved us as much as we saved her,"
JenniAnn murmured. "Of course, Joshua helped a ton."
Andrew chuckled. "He did."
"As always. Oh..." JenniAnn sighed. "We
better hurry and finish up. Mom and Dad will be back
soon with our lil cuddlebug."
Releasing her, Andrew checked his pocket watch.
"Yeah. We better. Let's leave the True Light
donations here. I'll bring them to the shelter
They swiftly went through a few remaining items and then
Andrew carried the clothes he would keep to his room at
Willowveil. JenniAnn stashed the items they'd be turning
into a blanket for Belle in her nursery closet.
Just before leaving the room, JenniAnn stopped by Belle's
dresser. She caressed the statue from Joshua and then
picked up a framed photograph of Belle on her birthday.
Her face was covered in frosting as were both her hands.
She was holding them out and laughing as Fawn and Lulu licked
them. It was this picture that JenniAnn felt best
captured her little girl's spirit.
Passing the doorway, Andrew spotted JenniAnn and joined her.
"That picture is totally Belle," he asserted.
JenniAnn grinned. "I was just thinking the same
thing. Such a wonderful day..."
Smiling at the image, the two remembered Belle's first
JenniAnn giggled as she held Belle's head and shoulders while
Andrew bathed her. The poor kid looked like she wanted
to doze off at that very moment.
"Almost done, baby girl," Andrew cooed.
"I know." JenniAnn kissed Belle's curls. "Almost
"Yep. I think I've gotten the last of the frosting off."
"Ay... Ay... Dada..." Belle yawned and rubbed at her
eyes as Andrew set down the washcloth.
JenniAnn lifted the one-year-old out of the tub then Andrew
swaddled her in a downy towel.
Belle gave him a sleepy smile.
As swiftly as possible, they got her into her diaper and
"Let's just keep her with us for a little bit, don't you
think?" JenniAnn asked as she cradled Belle.
Andrew noted how content Belle looked as she snuggled against
her mother's breast.
"Sure," he agreed.
Belle's parents took turns holding her and getting ready for
the night then they laid down with her resting between them.
Andrew listened as JenniAnn sang to their daughter.
"'Although you see the world different than me,
sometimes I can touch upon the wonders that you see. All
the new colors and pictures you've designed, oh yes, sweet
darling, so glad you are a child of mine.'"
As the lullaby proceeded, Andrew joined in on the
choruses. Both parents smiled as Belle's blinks
diminished in number until, finally, her eyes remained closed.
"'Child of mine, child of mine. Oh yes, sweet darling,
so glad you are a child of mine.'"
When they stopped singing, Belle didn't respond, indicating
that she was asleep.
For several moments, Andrew and JenniAnn gazed at her in
thrall. Their beautiful infant had grown into a
"Sometimes I can't get over her lashes," JenniAnn
whispered. "Mine are so pale that you can hardly see
them but hers..."
"I worry about the boys." Andrew gave a dramatic frown.
JenniAnn laughed quietly. "Relax. For right now,
the only boys who matter to her are her Daddy, her Ah-ah, and
her grandpas, uncles, and cousins."
"True. I still don't think she fully understood what
today was about but you could tell she knows she's
loved. I hope she never loses that, Laja."
"I don't think she will. Oh, sure, we'll have angsty
teenage moments... just like we do with Violeta and likely
will with Shel eventually... but Belle will know she's loved
just as they do."
Andrew nodded. "I... I think I'm going to cry the first
time she yells at me."
With a tender smile, JenniAnn stroked his cheek. "I'll
cry with you. And then it'll get better. I yelled
at my Mom and Dad. Even Vincent sometimes. And
they yelled back. But then we'd settle down and talk it
over and hug it out. Come to think of it... isn't that
how our old fights tended to get resolved, too?"
Andrew bestowed a sheepish smile on her. "That does
"Thought so." JenniAnn yawned. "Mmm... So
drowsy all of a sudden."
"Laja, you've been up since 5:00 trying to get everything in
order for Belle's party. Why don't you try to get some
sleep? I want to write in my journal so I'll stay up for
a while yet."
"Okay... Thanks." JenniAnn leaned over to kiss
Andrew's cheek. "G'night, love."
Andrew retrieved his journal from his nightstand and began to
write. He wrote five pages to Belle but, though his
heart was still full of things he wanted to say to his future
little girl about her first birthday, the angel's attention
kept drifting to the child and her mother.
At some point during Andrew's writing, Belle had inched closer
to JenniAnn and her tiny left hand clutched her mother's
nightgown. JenniAnn's right hand rested gently on the
baby's back. They looked lost in their own world and yet
Andrew knew and felt how much a part of his world the two
were. He picked his journal back up again.
"You are so beautiful," he wrote. "Both of you. I
could tell you 'I love you' in every language I know and still
I wouldn't be able to say it enough."
Nonetheless, Andrew decided he would try and, while
continuously sneaking glances at the two, he began to write 'I
love you' over and over in every language he had ever spoken
JenniAnn hugged Andrew's arm. "And now we have Belle's
2nd birthday to look forward to! I think she'll really
understand it then... know we're celebrating her."
"I think so, too. She's so smart." Andrew's face
shone with pride.
"Makes sense. Her Daddy's multilingual." JenniAnn
stretched up to kiss Andrew's cheek, smiling as she thought of
the journal page he'd shown her.
"Her Mama's awfully smart, too. You had a lot figured
out before I did... about us."
"Sometimes," JenniAnn corrected. "Sometimes you got
things before I did."
Andrew bowed his head.
"You figured things out most recently," he confessed, his
voice soft and with a tremble.
"Love..." JenniAnn briefly closed her eyes as she
thought back to only a few nights before... the night she had
decided Andrew had to completely move out of Serendipity.
"Laja..." Andrew wrapped his arm around her waist,
pulling her closer as he remembered his long ago dream coming
true... and the heartache that had proceeded it.
February 17th, 2015
"I'm going over there. To Serendipity," JenniAnn
Violeta looked up from where she was huddled on the settee in
"Joshua said the assignment would be done by 1:13 AM our time,
Violeta nodded as she hugged her knees to her chest.
"And it's 1:30. So Andrew must be back and... and I
happen to disagree with him about whether or not he should be
alone right now. I think not."
Violeta began to cry. "It... it musta been really,
really bad. He... he'd have to know we were waiting up
a-and... to not come see us..."
JenniAnn sat beside the teenager and hugged her. "I'm
sure he's really emotional right now. And he probably
doesn't want us to see him like that but..."
Violeta forced a smile. "I think you should go. He
may not say much to you b-but it's more than he'll say to
me. And... and he might let you stay with him."
"Maybe. I hope so."
"If you don't come back til morning, I can take care of
Belle," Violeta offered.
JenniAnn was glad the task of caring for Belle seemed to give
the young angel some peace. "Thank you."
JenniAnn escorted Violeta to Belle's nursery and saw that the
teen got comfortably settled into the bed where Fawn and Lulu
were already sleeping. Violeta smiled as JenniAnn kissed
her forehead before she crept to Belle's crib, kissed her own
hand, and then gently rested it on her daughter's brow.
"I love you all so much," JenniAnn whispered.
"Love you," Violeta replied on behalf of herself, Belle, and
the dogs. "Please tell Andrew that... that I love him,
"I promise I will, hon. Try to rest, okay?"
JenniAnn hesitated in the doorway for a moment more then
returned to her room. After grabbing her robe, she
headed to the basement and then sped through the tunnel to
Serendipity. On the main floor, she saw that a hallway
light had been left on. So Andrew had been there...
likely was still there. She climbed the stairs towards
his bedroom, overcome by memories of running up them on the
night he'd returned from Afghanistan. At the top of the
steps, JenniAnn saw flickering light coming from the open door
of his room. Silent, she entered his bedroom.
Andrew stood in front of the fireplace. His shoulders
heaved with sobs.
After approaching, JenniAnn lightly caressed his back.
"Oh, my love..."
Andrew turned around. Wordless, he stared at her for
several moments. So like his dream... She was why
he hadn't stayed Home. He wouldn't go to her, couldn't
subject her to himself in such a state, but if she came
looking for him...
JenniAnn let Andrew cling to her for a few moments then, when
she felt him begin to teeter, she took his hand and led him to
"Rest. Then you can tell me... or not. Just...
just let me stay with you. Please," JenniAnn pleaded.
Andrew nodded. "Yes." He slid beneath the sheets
first. He didn't want her to massage his temples.
He just wanted to hold her.
JenniAnn lay down beside the angel and moved into his waiting
arms. She burrowed her face into his shoulder as his
arms closed around her. It was an embrace rivaled in
strength only by the one they'd shared the night they'd talked
about Joshua's death.
As Andrew wept into her hair, JenniAnn cried. She
thought of all he might have seen: beheadings, crucifixions,
heinous child abuse, forced marriages, rapes. Even if
Violeta hadn't told her as much, she knew Joshua would never
have asked Andrew to go there. But JenniAnn also knew
Andrew would not hesitate to volunteer and then... then Joshua
would send him because he knew best of all what the rest of
them had only surmised: Andrew would be devastated by what he
saw but, as a father, he would be the most comforting, gentle,
and compassionate among the angels sent there.
"I... I just kept thinking of Badriya a-and then of Belle,"
the angel of death began.
Shuddering, JenniAnn buried her left hand in Andrew's hair and
caressed his cheek with her thumb.
"Some... some of them were... were forced to 'marry' to save
family members a-and... and... some barely older than... than
our Shel. And others... sold. Sold like...
like.... things! How... how does..."
Andrew let the unanswerable question go unspoken. There
was no way to explain something so inhumane.
He had been staring at the birthstone cross around JenniAnn's
neck but looked up into her eyes. The tears came more
How could any man look into a woman's... a girl's... eyes and
hurt her like that? How could anyone do any of the
monstrous things they were doing?
Gasping for breath, Andrew sat up.
JenniAnn knelt beside him and enclosed him in her arms.
There was nothing she could say that would allow the angel to
make sense... and certainly not peace... with what he had
seen. There were only the same words that always brought
"God loves you. I...I love you, Andrew. Violeta
wants you to know that she... she loves you. And so does
Fawn and Lulu and, of course, our... our Belle. And Max
and Shel a-and so many other people. And we all know you
love us so... so much. And, my love, I... I know that...
that even at the scenes of... of such brutality a-and
indifference to... to suffering... you brought that love
Andrew closed his eyes when her hand rested over his heart.
"I... I don't know how long this... this awfulness will go
on. But I know that you... you will go on forever.
And so will the love you carry inside you... the love you
brought to every person you could. God's real and true
love... A-and whatever else they saw and felt... which
I... I know is unimaginable for me... your assignments saw and
felt that love last of all be-before you took them Home.
That matters. More than anything. And I pray to
God that those who are causing all this pain have no legacy...
that... that their hatred dies with them. But... but
there will be a legacy of what you've done. I know it,
my love. Maybe sometimes it... it seems like only a drop
in a sea of... of evil... but it's not. I know it's
Andrew let JenniAnn's words sink in then exhaled deeply.
He clasped her hand and brought it to his lips.
"Thank you. I... I needed to hear that, Laja. And
I love you, too. And Violeta and Belle and Fawn and Lulu
and Max and Shelby and all our friends and family and... and
God who brought us all together."
After another soothing breath, Andrew settled back onto the
pillows. When JenniAnn laid down, too, he turned to his
side and peered into her eyes.
"Tell me," she prompted.
Andrew started to shake his head but stopped when she reached
over and clasped the chain around his neck, removing his cross
from beneath his shirt. She cupped the dog tag in her
"We're in this together, my love," she reminded.
The angel knew she was right. With God's help and
guidance, they had made each other parents and whatever they
experienced as parents, they had to share in it together.
"Laja, I keep thinking about the... the parents. Feeling
so... so helpless. I... I'd rather die a million times
over than... than let something like that happen to... to you
or any of the kids a-and they probably would, too, b-but
there's nothing... nothing they could do," Andrew
lamented. He rubbed at his eyes. "I... I see their
faces... the horror a-and grief and muted rage because...
cause they know that if they put up a fight then they'll be
killed and any hope of... of protecting the littler ones...
dead with them b-but..."
Finding no words, JenniAnn held her beloved as he wept.
After nestling her dampened face against his shoulder, she
prayed, over and over, the only word that would come to her.
She began to say his name out loud and felt Andrew start to
calm again. He rolled to his back and stared up at the
ceiling. JenniAnn rested her head in the crook of his
arm and did the same. Neither could see Joshua and yet
their sense of him was so powerful that they felt as if they
could reach out and touch him.
"'Where two or three are gathered in my name...'" JenniAnn
Andrew inclined his head towards hers and held fast to her
hand as she continued to speak.
"Love, I think... when your assignments are so difficult...
you either need to stay Home or... or come home. And
this house... this room... it's not home any more."
Andrew knew JenniAnn's words were true. He'd kept his
room at Serendipity thinking that he would go there on nights
like this one when he felt too shattered to be near JenniAnn
without hurting her. But they'd simply grown too close
for that. His staying away was painful for them
both. At least, together, they could help each other
"You're right," he agreed. "Laja..."
JenniAnn cuddled nearer. "Just one more night here
maybe? Violeta is watching Belle."
With a soft smile, Andrew nodded. "One more night."
JenniAnn tried to stifle a yawn and, noticing, Andrew kissed
"I'm okay. Better now thanks to you... and Joshua," he
reassured. "It's okay to go to sleep, Laja. I'll
With a drowsy smile, JenniAnn kissed the angel's cheek and
fell asleep soon after.
The memories were still with Andrew but were becoming
overpowered by other remembrances... later ones of
His mind filled with the sound of laughter and singing and the
sight of soothing, enlivening light and God with His welcoming
arms outstretched. Andrew's senses were overwhelmed by
the scent of lavender and the quiet, steady rhythm of
JenniAnn's breaths and the warmth of her closeness.
Lulled by both experiences, the angel of death at last found
"You were right about so much, Laja. And definitely
about my home and my room. So... now I'm officially
moved," Andrew announced in a gravelly voice, taking
JenniAnn's hand and leading her to his room.
JenniAnn smiled as she went to his closet which was filled
with the clothes they had decided to save.
"I was right," she agreed with a grin.
Andrew chuckled and hugged her. He released her when the
"Belle!" JenniAnn cried.
By the time the two had gotten downstairs, the Chandlers were
already inside and Andrew and JenniAnn followed the sound of
Belle's babbling to the ballroom. She shrieked with glee
as soon as she saw her parents and ran towards them.
Belle started to stumble but Andrew reacted quickly and swept
her up into his arms.
"Hello, sweetheart! Mama and Daddy missed you!" JenniAnn
greeted as she kissed the little one before hugging her
parents. "How was she?"
"Loud," Robert remarked, smiling with enchantment at his
Allison laughed. "The lady at the petting zoo was
convinced she had a little zookeeper-in-training on her
hands. We told her that Belle has lots of pets.
And listen to this. Belle, honey, what does a cow say?"
"Moo!" Belle showed off before angling for her Grandpa.
Robert continued to smile as he stepped forward. "I'd
flatter myself by saying she wants me but... I think it's
this." He reached into her diaper bag and pulled out a
"Moo!" Belle repeated as she accepted the toy.
"She was loud," Allison asserted. "But so good. So
I just had to!" She turned to JenniAnn. "And you
can't say anything about us spoiling her because you had quite
a collection of stuffed animals from the zoo yourself!"
As Andrew chuckled, JenniAnn held up her hands in surrender.
"Well, thank you," the angel responded. "It's obvious
Belle had a wonderful time with her Grandma and Grandpa.
You're sure you won't stay for dinner?"
"You're more than welcome," JenniAnn added.
Robert hugged her and kissed her cheek. "We'd love to
but I've got some stupid dinner function for work so we better
get going. But I hope you all have a nice night."
He kissed Belle next. "Night, night, Belle."
"Ay-ay," Belle replied before giving her grandma a
"G'night, sweetie!" Allison cooed.
The four adults exchanged hugs before the Chandlers departed,
leaving Andrew and JenniAnn to begin dinner preparation.
They became so engrossed in preparing stir-fry and listening
to Belle "talk" with her cow and the two dogs who had roused
that neither Andrew nor JenniAnn heard when the front door
Max and Rose exchanged a look as Violeta, still sniffling,
entered in front of them.
Before they could say anything, the angel backed up and exited
the castle again.
"I'm going to go check on Mary and Silly," she announced
before running off.
Max tilted his head all the way back and stared at the
ceiling. "Oooh boy... Now I get to go tell Andrew
that I broke his trainee... and my own sister, in a manner of
Rose patted him on the back. "It wasn't your
fault. I was the one with Violeta. I wish I could
have gotten to her quicker but, well..." She
blushed. "That was a really big Coke you bought for me
and I drank it all during the movie..."
"Totally understandable. But geez... Who would
have thought taking the girl to see Paddington would
be such a problem? What exactly happened again?" Max
asked. Since Violeta had been in the car with them, Rose
hadn't had a chance to explain exactly what had occurred when
the two girls had gone into the movie theater restroom after Paddington
Rose groaned. "I was, you know, doing my thing and
Violeta was washing her hands and I heard this woman approach
her and ask 'So did you see Fifty Shades?' and
Violeta, of course, answered no but her voice was... well, you
know how she gets when she's embarrassed and
uncomfortable. Mumbly. So the woman must have
thought Violeta said yes and proceeded to ask what she thought
of a particular scene and described it... in detail."
Max rubbed at his eyes.
"I kept praying my bladder would suddenly get bigger so I
could get to her!"
"That must have been when she ran out of the bathroom and into
me..." Max sighed as he recalled the hysterical angel
flinging herself against him.
"Should we go get Andrew and JenniAnn and tell them to go out
back and talk to her? Max, she's only seventeen and...
and such a naive seventeen when it comes to this kind of
stuff! And now she's got that nonsense in her head!"
Max nodded. "Yeah. I guess we should.
They're probably in the kitchen. I can smell dinner."
The couple followed their noses but caught themselves before
entering the room. Rice, vegetables, and meat were
simmering on the stove but what caught their eyes were the
three figures in front of the refrigerator.
Andrew and JenniAnn were dancing with Belle balanced on the
latter's left hip. Only the toddler noticed their
audience of two and silently grinned at Max and Rose.
"Stay here," Rose whispered. "I'm going to get
Violeta. She needs to see this."
Surprised at the tears in his eyes, Max nodded.
Only a couple minutes later, Rose returned with her arm linked
through Violeta's. The woman smiled when she saw that
the scene inside the kitchen hadn't changed.
Violeta let out a muted sigh.
"That's real, Violeta," Rose counseled. "Not a
movie. Not someone's fantasy. Real. Real
love. Hold onto this image and never let it go.
Let it drive the other one out, okay?"
"They're so pretty..." Violeta praised in a hushed, reverent
Unable to stop himself, Max chuckled which alerted Andrew and
JenniAnn to the trio's presence.
"Ah, spies!" Andrew greeted. "How was your mov..."
His face fell when he saw his protege's puffy eyes.
"Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
Alarmed, JenniAnn moved closer.
Violeta rounded the table and went to them.
"So pretty..." she repeated before resting her cheek against
Andrew's shoulder and clasping JenniAnn's hand.
Andrew and JenniAnn looked at each other and then to Max and
Rose in confusion before focusing again on Violeta. They
both hugged her while Belle played with her hair.
"Should we tell them what happened?" Rose asked her fiance.
"Later. They should probably talk to her about it.
I mean I know they have in general about that junk. But
now that she knows what she knows... they'll want to say
more. But for now? Violeta has what she needs,"
"Funny, isn't it, how much people... angels and humans... need
love stories even if they don't intend to have their own?"
"Funny and cool. And while we can't fully protect
Violeta from the deranged fictional ones... at least we can
give her this one." Max smiled proudly at his chosen
parents, niece, and the angel he loved as a sister.
"These ones," Rose corrected, clasping his hand and stealing a
"These ones," Max repeated with a dopey grin.
"Hey, what's going on?" Sean asked as he approached with
Kemara at his side.
"Poor Violeta had some inadvertent exposure to Fifty
Shades," Rose explained.
Kemara frowned. "Poor girl!"
"But tonight will help," Rose allayed.
"It already is." Sean smiled as JenniAnn
smoothed some hair behind Violeta's ears and Andrew kept an
arm around her shoulders.
Violeta glanced at the crowd in the door just in time to catch
Arthur, Liam, Jacob, Shelby, and Monica arriving. She
"Hi!" the others responded in chorus.
"Come in, come in!" JenniAnn invited. "Why don't we just
go really casual tonight?"
Andrew nodded. "Let's just do a buffet line in here and
we'll carry our plates to the dining room?"
"Sounds good to me!" Monica agreed, setting the egg rolls she
had brought on the counter.
Sean placed a kettle of sweet and sour soup beside it as Max
uncovered a bowl of rice pudding.
Soon everyone had their food dished up and were gathered
around the dining room table.
"Would it be okay if I led grace?" Max requested.
"Of course!" JenniAnn replied as everyone bowed their heads
except Belle who stared at an empty seat at the table and
"God, this food looks and smells delicious and we thank You
for it and for the care that went into preparing it.
But, even more than that, we thank You for these family
dinners which draw us closer and bring us comfort and
joy. You told us that, in the world, we'll know trouble
and You were, of course, totally right. As always.
But through each other, You give us glimpses of Your love and
Your truth and a safe place to live and thrive and call home
until we're with You forever. Thank You. We love
"Amen," the others echoed.
"Such a beautiful prayer!" Rose cried.
Violeta nodded and smiled at Max, reaching across the table to
squeeze his hand.
Andrew and JenniAnn looked at each other and smiled.
Yes, they were definitely ready to have their family living
Joshua smiled at Belle then sat his hand on the table.
"Hey, what is that? Who brought that?" Arthur asked,
pointing to the "empty" chair.
Nearest to the seat, Kemara picked it up and smiled.
"Yummy!" Jacob exulted as Shelby licked her lips.
"For the rice pudding!" Max exclaimed. "Rose and I
wanted to bring some along and thought we had some
but..." He was suddenly choked up. "That... that
just appeared, didn't it?"
Still smiling but with tears in her eyes, Kemara nodded.
"Ah-ah," Belle chirped.
"Joshua," Liam murmured.
"He brings sweetness even outta yuckiness," Violeta commented
in a dreamy tone.
"He does... all the time," JenniAnn agreed as she thought of
all the trials that had brought her and Andrew closer.
She peered at him and took his hand.
"Amen," the angel of death added, squeezing his soul mate's
Joshua beamed at them all.
So I've been turning my nose up at Fifty Shades from
clear back to "Ivy." However, once the movie actually
came out, I felt compelled to write a more direct and
sustained response. For the record, I've never read the
books nor seen the movie. I don't think there's
something wrong with someone who has. I do have a
problem with being inundated with its ads whenever I want to
check the news or read an article on an online magazine.
I began to wish someone would make a Firefox extension called
"Fifty Shades of Blocking." I'm not going to go on at
length about how disturbing I think the whole thing is.
In short, the blending of violence and sex strikes me as
pretty much the opposite of agape. I'm confident most
adults can take it all as fantasy and carry on with their
lives. I know people who have read it and I haven't
noticed any dubious remodeling projects happening at their
homes. But, holy cow, what could this do to
impressionable kids? I myself still struggle with what's
the right balance between sticking with a problem person in
hopes of helping them versus bailing because they're causing
distress or even danger. I don't know what it might have
done to my psyche as a teen to have this idea of "let him hurt
you and eventually he'll turn into a real gem" jammed down my
throat whether I sought it out or not.
So I guess I wrote "Friend" out of some desire to tell a
hypothetical teen (aka Violeta) a different kind of love
story. Andrew and JenniAnn both screwed up numerous
times over the years but neither deliberately set out to cause
the other pain. Sometimes they hurt each other due to
panic or worry or misdirected attempts to shield the other
from pain. But there's no real meanness to them.
And that's how it should be, I think. If you read this,
I hope you enjoyed my catharsis. ;-)
"Footprints in the Sand" by Mary Stevenson
"Your Arms Feel Like Home" by 3 Doors Down
Exodus 20:12- "Honor your father and your mother."
"Child of Mine" by Carole King
Matthew 18:20- "Where two or three are gathered"
Fifty Shades of Grey
John 16:33-"In the world..."
to the Author's Cut