Highlight below for (spoilery) trigger warnings:
homophobia and transphobia (including slurs), discussion of child death and infant loss, brief but graphic depictions of crucifixion and other types of torture associated with the deaths of Jesus and the apostles, cult activity, religious abuse, Christofascism, anti-semitism, racism, misogyny and sexual assault and harassment.

"And you cannot imagine all the places you'll see Jesus.
But you'll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn't supposed to go.
So, go, go!"
~~Nichole Nordeman's "Dear Me"


In the Still of the Night        The Girl        The Old Man        Surprise            Sanctuary        Cleaning Up

The Trio        Plots        Balm of Gilead        By the Rivers Dark        Finding Home        Not a Tame Lion

Lauren's Prayer        The Apostle to the Apostles        Start Again        Further Up & Further In        Epilogue

Works Cited, Playlist, Etc.


In the Still of the Night

Sunday, April 3rd, 2022

Shortly after midnight, Joshua stood on Willowveil's top balcony, admiring the full moon and the starry sky.  He tore his gaze away when he heard footsteps approaching.  Smiling, he waved Joccy and Takoda over.

"Here.  You look like you could use a drink... by which I mean spiced milk."  Takoda held a mug out to Joshua.

"Thank you.  I really could," Joshua agreed before taking a sip.

Joccy set her own mug down on a patio table and hugged Joshua.

"So much is happening..."

"It is," Joshua confirmed.

"So... to recap... we have one former demon who can now live peacefully with his human boyfriend.  That's a plus.  The Scribe of Heaven is on hiatus, that's something..." Takoda shook his head.  "The Twelve are back... that's good.  And some rogue church has decided to go full Christofascist.  That's... really bad."  He squeezed Joshua's shoulder.  "So... what can we do for you?"

"Tell me something good?" Joshua requested after kissing Joccy's hair.

"Well..."  Joccy gave Joshua another affectionate squeeze then moved to stand beside Takoda.  "We had an interesting discussion with Adam in between shows."


Takoda looped his arm around Joccy's waist and nodded.

"So...  Since he's basically living full-time in Albany, he's just not been making it back to Tourkia as often as he would want to ensure nothing goes wrong... like with the plumbing or stuff like that.  So... he suggested, and only if you approved, of course, that maybe Joccy and I could... live there.  Together," Takoda explained.

Joshua grinned over the rim of his cup.


"Nothing would really change!" Joccy assured.  "I mean... we wouldn't act differently.  We know what's allowed and what's not and we're both very fine with that.  It... well, it would just be nice to not have to worry about little ones suddenly bursting into our room when we're, well..."

"Canoodling?" Joshua suggested helpfully.

"Yeah... umm... that..." Takoda agreed before letting out a nervous chuckle.  "We're very... extremely... grateful to Andrew and JenniAnn for putting us up for so long.  And we still intend to visit Willowveil regularly!  Definitely once Bible study resumes.  We miss leading the kids' class.  But this would give us a chance to help Adam out and... and just see how we handle ourselves.  On our own."

"I mean the only expense we'd really have is for food.  And I can handle that with what Vincent pays me for helping in the nursery," Joccy assured.

"And what I get from when I help Andrew out with his carpentry," Takoda added.

Joshua nodded.

"Sounds like you've given a lot of thought to this."

The couple nodded.

"Are you wanting a blessing?" Joshua asked.

Joccy and Takoda exchanged another look before the former spoke.

"Eventually.  Yes.  But... we haven't decided how yet.  I... I would prefer something intimate.  Like Andrew's and JenniAnn's first one.  But I know that would crush my mom and sister."

"I would like Wahkan to be there," Takoda requested.  "And I feel like it's only right we invite Andrew and JenniAnn after all the help they've given us."

"And then Vincent, too, by the same token...  And Catherine, of course.  And Kelly.  And Mary, Lucius, Jemima, Serge, and Bach...  Okay, so I'm not sure."  Joccy frowned.  "So we've not figured that out."

"Well, think about it.  And both is always an option," Joshua offered.  "In the meantime...  I think it's a good idea."

Joccy and Takoda beamed.

"Really?!" the former exclaimed.

Joshua laughed.

"Of course.  I mean... I was fine with Ed and Steve living together for these past three years.  Even Andrew and JenniAnn were living together before their first ceremony.  And you've already been sharing a room.  And... you might as well move while I'm here.  Adam's right.  The upkeep on the house has suffered.  There'll be a couple doors to plane.  Probably some squeaky cupboards to oil.  Adam took some of the shelving to Albany so those will need to be replaced.  Abi will be around, too, so..."

Both Joccy and Takoda enthusiastically embraced Joshua. 

"Thank you, Joshua."  Takoda squeezed his hand.  "But we're not putting you to work.  You have enough..."

"I'd like to," Joshua interrupted.  "I really would.  Shelves are easy.  Predictable.  It'll be nice to have that sort of escape.  And I know they'll be appreciated."  He cupped Joccy's cheek.  "We'll figure something nice out for your snow globe collection.  They've been boxed up long enough."

"That would be nice..." Joccy affirmed.

Joshua nodded then turned to look back out at the stars and moon.

"Things...  You're right, Takoda.  Christofascist is the word but... it's even more than that.  'Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves'...  They'd be safer with a wolf.  A wolf can destroy the body... but it can't damage the soul, the spirit."

Joccy and Takoda exchanged concerned looks. 

"Joshua..."  Joccy lightly stroked his back. 

Joshua sucked in a deep breath and slowly let it out then turned around and beamed.

"My Edgar is back.  That's a very, very good thing."

Joccy smiled and nodded.

"It is.  And JenniAnn is no worse for the wear.  Well, maybe with elevated blood sugar.  Did they really eat four boxes of Pop-Tarts between the three of them?"

Joshua chuckled. 

"I don't think they were full boxes... but it appeared to be a lot of Pop-Tarts based on the wrappers."

"Has Edgar always had a sweet tooth?" Takoda asked, glad to have a subject that made Joshua smile.

"Always."  Joshua waved to a bench and the three sat down.  "The way he could eat honey cakes...  Ama said he got it from me."  He beamed.  "The way his eyes would glaze over and his nose would scrunch up just a bit..."

Joccy and Takoda listened, long into the night, as Joshua gushed about his latest prodigal.  They prayed that soon... somehow... his sheep that had strayed into a hate-fueled church would find their way back, too.


Andrew quietly closed Avi's door after he and JenniAnn had checked on the sleeping boy.  When he stepped into the light of the hallway, JenniAnn noticed that Andrew looked absolutely wiped out.  And how could he not be?  There had been this morning's scare followed by a rush to get Ed and Steve situated.  Then two shows, both with emotional audiences who asked lots of questions.  And looming over it all was that dratted church.

JenniAnn wished Andrew would immediately go to bed but the lingering threat of COVID... probably now renewed because of Steve's travail... meant they'd have to shower first.  Separately... as usual.  JenniAnn watched as Andrew entered their room and began to gather his pajamas and things.  She thought she saw him stumble a bit as he headed towards the door, intending to go to his old room.

"No," JenniAnn reached out and grabbed his arm.

Andrew blinked at JenniAnn.


JenniAnn took the bundle from his arms.

"Stay with me?  Please.  Joshua said it was okay."

Andrew's eyes widened.

"Only... I mean... only if you feel comfortable with it," JenniAnn continued, her cheeks reddening. 

"You're sure?" the angel of death checked, gently lifting her chin.

"I am.  Yes.  Definitely.  You?"

Andrew gave a nod he hoped didn't come off as overly eager.  This simply had never been the concern for him that it had for her and he'd understood why but...

JenniAnn stretched up to kiss him.

"Okay."  She nodded.

They stood there awkwardly for a few seconds before JenniAnn handed Andrew back his things.

"Maybe... maybe you could get in first and I'll get my things together and join you?" she suggested.

"Laja... you're sure?" Andrew checked, squeezing her hand.

"Very," she confirmed.  "If you are?"

"Very," Andrew echoed.  He brought her hand to his lips then released it.  "I'll be waiting.  Take your time."

JenniAnn smiled at him and nodded.

It was hilarious, really.  They had five children and two grandchildren.  They'd faced down demons.  Been separated by war, by violence.  They'd spent almost every night of the last seven years sleeping side-by-side.  They knew things about each other that no one else besides God did. 

But now JenniAnn felt like an awkward, hormonal teenager.  And she suspected Andrew felt the same.  Or something close.

Shaking slightly, she gathered up her things then unbound her hair.  She made her way to the bathroom and set her nightgown on the counter.  She could make out Andrew's silhouette through the frosted door.  Hurriedly, afraid that she'd get self-conscious or that Andrew would fall, JenniAnn shed her clothes and jewelry then knocked.

Andrew turned the shower down and opened the door.

Once they were both inside, the two briefly stared at each other.  Then they giggled.

JenniAnn couldn't remember the last time she'd heard Andrew actually giggle.

Then they were embracing and kissing and all was as it should be.


Once they were settled into bed, Andrew focused on brushing out JenniAnn's hair.

"I hope I got all the shampoo out.  Do you know you have a lot of hair?" he teased.

JenniAnn laughed.

"I do.  And I definitely had the easier job... even if yours is longish for you."

Andrew pressed his lips against the back of JenniAnn's head.

"I love your hair," he murmured.  "I love... everything about you."

JenniAnn turned around and cradled the angel's face in her hands.

"Same...  Always."

Andrew's eyes flicked downward.

"I... Laja, I was so scared this morning.  Intellectually, I knew based on the tone of your text and everything Joshua had said that... that you were fine but..."

JenniAnn nuzzled into his neck.

"I'm sorry, love.  I... I was just so thrilled that things were coming together that I was goofy and thoughtless and..."

Andrew shook his head.

"No.  You were right to be happy.  A-and I'm happy.  Now.  For Ed and Steve.  For Joshua.  But I... I guess it made me realize... in some ways... October still isn't over for me."

"And that's okay, Andrew.  It is.  If the roles had been reversed... I would have panicked, too.  I know I would have.  All the progress in the world... all the counseling in the world... it doesn't just make trauma disappear."  JenniAnn's eyes welled.  "Six months ago, demons tried to tear us apart.  A-and they hurt you.  Badly.  That... healing from that... it's going to take stops and starts.  And especially when you're already under stress because of the show and that awful church..."  She rested her forehead against Andrew's.  "I actually think you handled yourself with a remarkable amount of restraint." 

"Thank you.  And... I did, umm, appreciate you... well, taking care of me after," Andrew admitted, his cheeks flushing slightly.

JenniAnn smiled.

"Good.  I enjoyed it myself although..."


"I realized after that there was a mirror behind us so... we may have put on a bit of a show for our new friends."

Andrew laughed and shook his head.

"I would have even been facing it and I just didn't think..."  He pressed his forehead to hers.  "My mind was more pleasantly occupied, I suppose."

JenniAnn shrugged.

"I wouldn't worry too much about it.  Who knows?  Maybe it even gave them some inspiration.  They've definitely been less... inhibited... than we were.  But maybe not entirely.  Mighta been nice to have an example of how... well, it's okay.  To be close.  Really close."

Andrew smiled as JenniAnn clung to him.  He wrapped his own arms around her and nuzzled her hair.

"You should really let me finish brushing.  Don't wanna deal with painful tangles in the morning."

"I know.  But... let's wait just a bit."

The angel nodded and ran his hands up and down her back, feeling their hearts beating together.


JenniAnn kissed Andrew.

"I'm glad... grateful... for earlier."  She tilted her head towards the bathroom.  "It was nice.  Really nice.  But also... after October, it did start to weigh on me that something could happen to either of us.  Something debilitating.  And it wouldn't even have to be something major.  I mean when I broke my right arm in third grade, my mom had to help me bathe and wash my hair.  We may not be married but... for better or for worse, in sickness and in health... it still applies.  And it was weird for me to think we'd have to bring in a third party to help out.  It was just... the stuff with Joshua and, to be honest, my own body image issues..."

Andrew brushed his lips against JenniAnn's forehead.

"Laja...  I know it doesn't just make that all go away but... you are beautiful.  I mean it when I say I love everything about you.  And I'm glad and grateful, too.  And... I noticed something."

Andrew's hand drifted down to JenniAnn's right hip.

"Hmm?" JenniAnn prompted with a dreamy smile.

"We both have birthmarks right here.  Mirror images.  Mine's on my left."

"But that's so cute!"

Andrew chuckled.

"I thought so, too.  Now... your hair."

JenniAnn grabbed the brush and dragged it through her hair a few times.

"I love how gentle you are with it, my love, but... no time for that right now.  You're exhausted and..."

"I definitely got a second wind," Andrew countered.  "Not even sleepy any more."

"Well, in that case..."  JenniAnn laid down and pulled Andrew with her.

The angel let out a contented sigh as JenniAnn nuzzled into his neck.  He didn't know what the days ahead would bring.  But, in that moment, his Laja was safely in his arms and all was well.


Loreena took another sip of her chamomile and smiled wistfully at Roger who was enjoying his own cup of tea.  Or, at least, she thought he was enjoying it.  He looked very pensive.  She gently patted his thigh.

"Are you all right, mi dulce nutria?"

Roger smiled at the pet name, its newness still not having worn off.

"Yeah.  Yeah.  Just thinking.  Listen... maybe... well, maybe... I could stay over?  I mean not... I mean I would stay on the couch, of course.  It's just... I'm still a little on edge and I think it would be safer if..."

"Yes," Loreena interrupted, nodding eagerly.  "Yes, I'd like that.  And, actually, it's a fold-out couch.  It's really very comfortable.  I've slept on it before.  Actually, you should take the bed and..."

"No.  You need a good night's sleep.  In your own bed.  Besides, I wouldn't want to sleep in your bed until... until we both do."  Roger's cheeks flushed.

Loreena giggled nervously.

"I mean... assuming that... that's somewhere down the road.  Not that I'm in any hurry or... or anything.  I just mean I wouldn't want to sleep there alone.  In your bed.  Of course, I'm used to sleeping alone but... in my..."

Loreena kissed Roger.

Once he pulled back, Roger chuckled.

"Sorry.  It's late and I get even more awkward than usual when it's late."

Loreena brushed some hair behind his ear and smiled fondly.

"I thought it was cute.  But it really is late.  So let's go get your overnight stuff and get settled in, hmm?"

"Yeah.  I'd like that."

After another kiss, the two trekked to Roger's apartment.  He filled his overnight bag with speed and the couple returned to Loreena's to set up the guest bed.

"I hope the sheets are okay.  I like jersey knit but if you'd rather..."

Roger squeezed her hand.

"Jersey knit is fine... whatever it is.  Is that the one that's like T-shirt material?"

Loreena laughed and nodded.

"Then it's perfect."

"Good.  Let me go grab the pillows from the closet."

"I'll go change while you do that."

"Sounds good!"

When Roger returned to the living room a few minutes later, he found two fluffy pillows had been added to the bed along with something else.

Loreena smiled expectantly at him.

"And what's..."  Roger plucked up the brown plush laying in the center of the bed.  "Aww!"

"I couldn't resist!  And now you don't have to sleep alone."

Roger beamed at the little otter and then hugged his girlfriend.

"Thank you."

"You're..."  Loreena yawned.  "Very welcome."

Roger rested his forehead against hers.

"I think we better get some sleep."


The two shared a good night kiss.

"Good night, mi dulce nutria."

"G'night, mi mariposa."

After an embrace, Loreena headed to her bedroom.  She paused in the doorway and turned back to smile at Roger who was looking at her with equal amounts of admiration and gratitude.

Whatever else was happening, in that moment all was well.


The Girl

As bizarre as being held captive by a demon the day before had been, JenniAnn felt it was infinitely stranger to now be tucked away in St. G's office with Joshua... and all twelve apostles.

"We caught someone approaching the theatre with some spray cans around 2:00 in the morning," Andreas reported.  "Some kid.  We don't think he was related to the church.  Shimeon growled at him and he left."

JenniAnn choked in surprise.

Joshua smiled and patted her hand, taking a comb from her.

"I think my hair is fine, little bird.  Thank you.  Crowley could use some help.  I believe Miss Amelia got a little syrup in his hair at breakfast."

"Oh no!  Where is he?"

"Lobby with Aziraphale."

"I'll go check in with him.  Should I send Andrew in?  This sounds like stuff he should know."

Joshua squeezed JenniAnn's hands and nodded.

"Yes.  Please and thank you."

"You're welcome."  JenniAnn squeezed Joshua's hands back, smiled shyly at the gathered apostles, and left.

"I hope I didn't frighten her."  Shimeon frowned.

Joshua chuckled and shook his head.

"No, you're fine.  Glad the growling worked.  She was just caught off-guard by the idea of a saint growling but... she's spent time with Nick.  If saints can brawl, they can growl."

Andrew entered the office.

"Hey, you called?"

Joshua nodded and waved for him to take a seat behind Peter's and Emma's desk.

"The boys were just giving me a rundown on what happened after we left last night.  I thought you should hear since you're acting manager with Peter and Emma on leave."

"Right.  Yeah, thanks.  So?" Andrew prompted.

"I growled at a kid trying to deface the property," Shimeon reported.  "He fled.  Unrelated to the church."


"T.J. and I went to one of the church services this morning," Philippus began.

"T.J.?  Oh..."  Andrew smiled at Yehuda Thaddeus.

The apostle shrugged.

"I wanted something more modern sounding.  I threw some options around...  Y.T. sounded too much like 'white' which felt weird but also YouTube.  T.Y. didn't flow.  And then I simply preferred T.J. to J.T."

"Me too.  It suits you.  So... the service?"

"Malachi took to the pulpit again and said your production is trying to pull 'good and decent Christian men, women, and children' into the 'gay, leftist, atheist agenda,'" Phillipus related.

Andrew shook his head.

"I understand we're not talking about logical people here but... that doesn't even make sense.  Atheist?  We have a Resurrection!  Joshua is clearly God in the production and..."

Joshua moved to stand behind the angel of death and squeezed his shoulders.

"It's a buzz word, Andrew.  It gets his congregation riled.  It doesn't have to be true.  None of it's true.  But they have the whole congregation so brainwashed that very few will be able to pull themselves away in order to attend and make their own judgment... at least under the current conditions."

"Very few?  But some?" Andrew asked hopefully.  "I mean I know we had that very small group on Thursday... the ones who, I assume, started the backlash.  But... if someone is able to pull away enough now to come see our show... that would be a good thing, right?"

Joshua gave a ragged sigh.

"It... it'll be challenging.  But, yes, a good thing."  Joshua patted Andrew's shoulders then peered out of the window.  "What else did Malachi say?"

"He went on for a good while about how he prays so hard for guidance and inspiration from Jesus Christ when portraying him... and you clearly don't."

Joshua responded with a joyless chuckle.

"I mean he's right there... I don't pray to myself.  Go on."

"He said something about feeling renewed in his spirit after taking last season off.  He thanked everyone who donated towards his sabbatical."

Mattay shook his head.

"Interesting word choice..."

"Mattay... what do you know?" Cephas prompted.

Mattay looked quickly to Joshua who nodded.

"Last year, someone tried to turn the church in on tax fraud charges... and before that another... she tried to tell them about other things."

"Other things?" Andrew questioned.

Another quick glance passed between Mattay and Joshua.

"Go on, Mattay," Joshua encouraged.

"If Malachi shows up here... don't let any of the women near him.  And especially not any of the girls," Mattay told Andrew.

Andrew shook his head.

"Are... are you saying what I think you are?"

Mattay nodded.

"The witnesses failed to show up for second interviews with the police."

Andrew gaped and dragged his hands through his hair.

"Did he... kill them?"

"No.  The first witness..."  Joshua bowed his head.  "He experienced a family tragedy and had to focus on that.  The girl...  She was likely there with Philippus and T.J. this morning.  Unwillingly.  It's hard to get out of church attendance when your father is the pastor."

"Joshua..."  Andrew's eyes filled and he shook his head.  "That... that poor girl."

Joshua, his head still bowed, nodded as tears slid down his cheeks.

"Quentin blamed her.  Said she 'seduced' Malachi.  She was seventeen when the grooming started!  Half his age!  And she didn't!"

"Her mother?" Bar Tolmay asked.

"She's very much of the mindset that the man is the head of the family and can do no wrong and so went along with Quentin.  Unfortunately, she bought into the purity culture nonsense herself long ago... with a side of greed like her husband.  Quentin is neither the most eloquent nor charismatic preacher.  Attendance at services was waning... and thus so were the weekly tithes... until Malachi, who has decided to use both his eloquence and his charisma for sinful purposes, came along."

"Why does it seem like those accusing others of being perverted are themselves the most perverse?" Bar Tolmay spat out.  "So it was in our day.  So it is now."  He thumped Joshua on the back.  "We'll figure it out, Rabboni.  Perhaps our wives could make an attempt to befriend the young lady?"

"They could invite her here...  Help her to see that what she's been taught... it's wrong.  You are the Truth!  You are the Christ!   Not the chauvinistic, hateful false god that she's grown up believing in.  You'll help her," Yohannan insisted.

"I'd like to help the two pastors," Yaqob grumbled.  "If Malachi's eye has offended him... and clearly it has... I'd be happy to help pluck it out.  Might not stop there..."

Andrew stared at the elder son of Zebedee for a moment then shook his head and turned back to Joshua.

"You said she was seventeen when it happened.  So she's a legal adult.  Her parents couldn't do anything if, say, we took her to the Chrysalis or the Phoenix or..."

Joshua raised a hand, silencing them all.

"The last thing Christina needs is fourteen more men telling her what to believe and where to go... even if aided by their wives.  I appreciate that you all want to help.  I do.  I'm proud of you all and your caring natures.  But this is going to take time.  So much has been taken away from Christina.  But we can give her time."

Andrew and the Twelve quietly nodded in response. 

Joshua wiped at his eyes. 

"We have a show to put on.  Two, in fact.  So we'll do that.  Men, keep your eyes open.  Andrew, please start spreading the word among the ladies that, no matter how tempting it may be to give them a piece of their minds, I would prefer they not have contact with any of the protestors.  Malachi is the biggest threat... but there are several I don't trust in their current states."

The angel of death nodded gravely. 

"I'll do that now."

"Thank you."

"Let's survey the property," Cephas directed.  "Cast and crew will be arriving soon.  I want to make sure there's nothing upsetting out there."

"Thank you, Cephas.  Shimeon, a word, please, before you join the others."

While the office cleared out, Shimeon moved to stand beside Joshua.

"Is this about the growling?  Perhaps it wasn't saintly but..."

Joshua chuckled.

"You're fine.  He was only here to be a nuisance and you did well in sending him away.  But... someone else will come with their own paint.  Don't growl at her."


Joshua nodded.

"Should I even try to stop her?"

"No.  Just let her be.  No matter what."

"Is this... the girl?  Christina?"

Joshua nodded.

"Just let her be," he repeated.

Shimeon nodded.

"I will, Yeshu.  I promise."

"Thank you.  Now you can go join the others.  I'd like a few words with my Abba."

"Of course."

Shimeon patted Joshua on the back.

Once he was alone, Joshua sat down behind the desk, lowered his head into his hands and prayed.


Loreena felt a rush of anxiety as she and Roger approached St. G's.

Sensing this, Roger wrapped an arm around her waist.

"Joshua's friends are already here to keep an eye on things.  They won't let anything happen," he encouraged.

Loreena nodded.

"I hope things eventually calm down enough that we can properly meet them and they don't have to just linger outside."

Roger nodded.  He couldn't tell her that introductions had been kept brief and general because listing off twelve suspiciously familiar names would have given Joshua up.

"Ivy said things were relatively calm yesterday, all things considered.  Something happened with JenniAnn, apparently, but it was unrelated and, according to Ivy, 'all good.'  She sounded kind of giggly when she told me so... musta been."

Roger smiled, thinking of how active the Friends' group text had been the day before.  More than a few of them were hoping they could meet the mysterious Ed and Steve if for no other reason than to hear their Kiwi accents.

"Yeah.  JenniAnn ran into one of Crowley's old friends who had been MIA so she got to help reunite them.  It was very sweet, so I hear."

"Aww!  That's great!  I'm glad Crowley got to experience something good.  He's seemed a bit down."

As Roger held open the theatre door, he frowned.

"I'm sure with this being his first year and having such a history with Joshua, it's been kind of draining."

Loreena let out a sigh.

"It really can be... seeing him like that.  But then also seeing him with all the fans after the shows... that helps."

Roger smiled and nodded.

"It does.  Now... I'd like to check in with Andrew and see if John is around.  You headed to the dressing room?"

"Yeah.  And maybe will try to find Joshua.  I just... I think I'd feel better talking to him."

Roger gave another nod and squeezed Loreena's hand. 

"If I see him first, I'll send him your way."

"Thank you... and thanks.  For everything.  Your support through all of this... it means a lot."

Roger grinned and embraced his girlfriend.

"That's what good boyfriends are supposed to do.  And I do want to be a good boyfriend."

Loreena laughed and rested her forehead against his.

"Well, thus far I'm very impressed.  Definitely not looking to replace you."


After some more laughter and a quick peck, the two separated. 

Loreena made her way to the dressing room where Amala greeted her with a hug.

"I'm so glad to see you!  How are you doing?" the teenager asked.

"Aww, sweetie, I'm glad to see you, too.  And I'm doing really well.  You, umm, haven't had any troubles, have you?"

"Oh no, I usually get here long before the fascists.  I just wish Joshua would..."  Amala startled and stopped speaking.  She couldn't very well give Loreena the idea that she thought Joshua was perfectly capable of striking the hatemongers with lightning bolts... not to kill them.  Just to rattle them.  A lot.

"Joshua would what?" Loreena prompted.

Amala shrugged.

"Nothing.  It was stupid.  I was going to say blow up at them, basically," she covered.  "But that wouldn't help.  Not really." 

"No, I'm afraid not."  Loreena patted Amala's back.  "I'm sure those security guards will help a lot, though."

Amala brightened.

"True!  Anyway, let's get you into costume.  Joshua wanted to see you before the matinee starts."

"Oh good!  I wanted to see him, too."

Loreena took the tunic and stola Amala held out to her and, with another smile, disappeared behind a partition and changed.  When she was finished, Amala affixed a palla over Loreena's hair.

"There, perfect!" Amala praised. 

Loreena checked herself in the mirror and squeezed Amala's hand.

"Thank you.  Now... off to find Joshua."

"He was in the office last I saw him," Amala informed.

"Great, thanks!  See you later, Amala!"

"See ya!"

Loreena stepped out of the dressing room and made her way to the office.  To her relief, Joshua was there.

"Loreena!  How are you?" he greeted, rising from the desk chair.

Loreena moved into Joshua's waiting embrace.

"Good.  You?  Anything happen last night?"

"I'm doing well, thank you.  And not really.  Some random kid showed up with spray paint but we're pretty confident he had nothing to do with our, uh, visitors.  One of my buddies scared him off before he got so much as a particle of paint out."

Joshua smiled to himself.  He'd since heard from his Dad that the young man had returned home to an irate granny and was currently scrubbing the kitchen floor.

"Oh good!  And I hear Crowley had a prodigal friend show up.  Do you know him?  Everything okay there?"

"Everything's going beautifully with Ed.  And, yes, I know him well.  We all got to spend a bit of time with him and his boyfriend, Steve, this morning.  They're staying in Asteriana for a while, on Andrew's and JenniAnn's ship."

"Aww!  I love that.  I'm so glad you all had such a nice surprise happen with everything that's going on."

"It's definitely taken the edge off things," Joshua agreed.  "So did you have a good night?"

Loreena let out a nervous giggle. 

Joshua chuckled.

"That good, huh?"

"Oh, it's just that Roger slept over... on the guest bed... and it was so nice to wake up together and have breakfast and a nice, quiet, companionable morning."

Joshua squeezed Loreena's hands.

"I'm so glad."

"We even went to Mass together.  I don't see myself ever becoming Catholic but I like how Fr. Tony preaches.  No doom and gloom.  He mentioned you.  Just about how truly he feels you show Jesus' unconditional love and compassion.  I have a feeling he's trying to counter-program that other church."

"That sounds like Tony...  I'll have to thank him.  Now... you ready for a two show day?"

Loreena heaved a sigh.

"As ready as I'll ever be!  But..."

"But?" Joshua prompted.

"Is Ivy available?  I mean... just in case things get too wild and it would be better... safer... for me not to proceed?"

Joshua's eyes filled and he hugged Loreena tightly.

"If you feel unsafe and like you can't go on, we will absolutely get Ivy here.  But we're not going to let that happen, okay?  You deserve to do what you love, Loreena."

A few tears slipped down Loreena's cheeks but she smiled gratefully.

"Thanks.  I needed to hear that."

"I needed to say it.  Because it's absolutely true."

Loreena clung to Joshua for a few moments then took a deep breath.

"Okay...  I can do this."

"You can," Joshua averred.  "Now...  Let's go see who else has shown up.  I'd like to say a prayer... maybe sing a couple songs together... before the first show, hmm?"

"I'd love that."

As she and Joshua stepped out of the office hand-in-hand, a thought began to gnaw at the back of Loreena's mind.  No one ever seemed jealous of Joshua.  No one ever questioned how affectionate he was with everyone.  As they moved into the lobby, Roger beamed at them both, completely untroubled.  Loreena was, of course, glad for this.  She felt no attraction to Joshua.  Roger had no reason to be concerned.  But that no one ever was? 

Strange.  Good but strange.


That evening, with only five minutes to curtain before the evening show, Sandy and Yehuda were just about to step away from the ticket office when they heard someone approach.

A young girl wearing what appeared to be her Sunday best stood before them, staring down at the counter.

"Are there any tickets left for tonight?  I... I know it's starting soon."

Sandy gave a regretful frown.  They were sold out.  But before he could tell the visitor, Yehuda piped up.

"No tickets but we do have room in our private box.  No one reserved it this evening.  On the home."

The girl finally made eye contact so she could give Yehuda a quizzical look.

Sandy lit up.  He'd forgotten about the private box.

"Yes!  On the house!" he corrected.

Yehuda chuckled.

"On the house..." he repeated.  "My apologies, miss.  English is not my first language.  Would you like to sit there?"

"Why would you let me see the show for free?" the girl questioned.

"Well, no sense letting a seat sit empty when it could be filled, is there?  And we've already closed the register.  Really, it's no trouble," Sandy urged.

"All right.  Thank you."

"Follow us!" Sandy chirped happily.

The angel and the apostle escorted the girl to the private box.  Yehuda took a moment to reflect, to remember and then smiled at her.

"Please do enjoy the show."

"I, umm, I hope I do.  Thanks.  Again.  For the free ticket."

"Absolutely our pleasure!" Sandy replied. 

The opening notes of the Shema/Overture sounded.

"We'll let you be now.  Excuse us."  Sandy gave a little bow and left the visitor alone.

"May it bless you," Yehuda murmured before following the angel and quietly shutting the door behind him.

"You know her," Sandy whispered.

Yehuda shrugged.

"Not exactly.  Think of it as one formerly lost soul recognizing another soul on the verge.  We need to get word to Yeshua."

"Is she... the girl?"

The apostle nodded.

Sandy rested a hand on the closed door and bowed his head.

"God loves you, wee one.  He truly does."


The two returned to the lobby then made their way backstage, waiting for "Then We Are Decided" when Joshua would finally be off-stage and they'd be able to share their news.


Even though he knew it was incredibly unlikely, there was a tiny part of Joshua that thought Christina would be waiting outside or in the lobby when the show ended.  He knew she was shy.  He knew she was nervous and she'd surely told some manner of a lie in order to get away from her parents.  And he knew the last thing she wanted was to spend time around an actor preening about in a white robe, pretending to be Jesus.

But hope truly does spring eternal.

Unfortunately, he'd only been in the lobby for a few seconds when Yehuda approached and leaned close.

"I'm so sorry, Yeshu.  I saw her leave nearly as soon as the last note sounded.  I thought of trying to stop her but... I remembered what you said.  She does not need a man telling her what to do."

Joshua squeezed his apostle's hand. 

"And you were right to let her leave, Yehuda.  I would have loved to have spoken to Christina but we need to respect her boundaries above all."

Yehuda rested his other hand over Joshua's.

"Yes...  But I'm still sorry.  For you both."  Yehuda's eyes welled, remembering his own pain over being separated from his Rabboni as well as the pain he'd seen in Yeshua's eyes when he'd spied on him during that first production.

Joshua hugged Yehuda.

"Thank you.  I have hope.  We have a good track record here, hmm?"

Yehuda chuckled and nodded.

"We do."

"Joshua!  Joshua, could we please get a photo?"

Joshua looked towards the voice and laughed when he saw a gaggle of women, one wearing a veil with the word BRIDE written in gold marker across the head band.

"Is this a bachelorette party?" he asked as he approached.

"You bet!" the bride replied.  "I want to post on Insta that I spent my bachelorette party with Jesus!"

"Well, all right then!" Joshua happily agreed, following the group outside after giving Yehuda a quick clap on the back.

Yehuda smiled after them.  He knew his master's heart was still aching but the time with his adoring fans... his children... would help.

Now he just needed to find out what Insta was...


The Old Man

Monday, April 4th, 2022

Jamie stared out her window, watching Marty as he perused her garden.  Vonnie was right... the old fellow really was hung up on Eden.  Or at least some version of it rattling around in his ancient head.

Well, thankfully for him, Jamie had come to understand that his Adam and Eve were being, well, especially Adam and Eve-esque.  Or at least that was her interpretation of a text from JenniAnn that had read "Got over my hang-up.  Lovely night with Andrew.  Might go skinny-dipping next.  Thanks for all your help!"  Jamie suspected Marty knew as much.  His temporary relocation aside, he was still the Scribe and was, no doubt, made aware of the fairly momentous development in Andrew's and JenniAnn's relationship.

While there were bits of the whole affair that Jamie found rather ridiculous... namely the idea that an eons old angel of death needed a babysitter... she sympathized with Marty.  His feelings about Andrew and JenniAnn likely weren't that much different from what she'd felt for Liliwen's descendants, clear up to the present day with Rhiannon.  Jamie watched over them, rooted for them, and grieved for them in a way that felt very parental.  Just because Marty's devotion to Andrew and JenniAnn was more random, it was no less real.  And Jamie could imagine how difficult it would be to watch generation after generation slip up and suffer, never able to do anything but record and remember, and then be given a chance to intervene, to truly bond with them only to have tragedy strike.  No wonder Marty had gotten a little obsessive. 

He would have to forgive her for being more than a little interested in this Ed and Steve who had surfaced.  Temporary hostage situation aside, another angel in a queer relationship with a human piqued Jamie's interest.  And it was just like God to drop a couple of adorable weirdos into the Friends' fold right when things were getting tense at the theatre.

Jamie frowned as she removed the squealing kettle from the stove.  She didn't like knowing that Joshua had felt compelled to call on all twelve apostles to keep watch.  But, then again, sometimes Joshua went overboard solely because it was the nice thing to do.  After all, if he'd felt he only needed six apostles then how would the other half feel?  And if the husbands were invited, how could he not allow their wives to come, too, if they wished?  Jamie giggled at the idea of St. Genesius' and Willowveil being overrun by first century martyrs. 

When the oven timer beeped, Jamie removed some scones.  She placed them in a basket on the table along with a bowl of baked beans, another of fresh fruit, and a quiche madarch a chig moch.  She surveyed the selection proudly... it was more than she and Vonnie tended to prepare for themselves... then went to the door.

"Marty, breakfast time."

Jamie moved to Vonnie's door and knocked lightly, grinning as she did.  Her young charge had seemed to enjoy herself at Cynefin the night before.

"Vonnie, dear, breakfast is waiting... if you can keep it down."

There was a slight groan from behind the door but a groggy Vonnie soon appeared.

"Morning, sunshine!"

"Does it have to be, though?  Nighttime is nice...  Dark is nice."

Jamie laughed and steered Vonnie to the kitchen where Marty was waiting.

"I believe I told you not to have that last ale," the scribe reminded.

Vonnie glared at him, causing him to chuckle.

"I imagine Rhiannon is in a similar state.  Perhaps we should check on her later, hmm?" Jamie suggested.  "But for now..."  She sat down and bowed her head.  "Thank you, Father and Joshua, for the grub.  Thank you especially for the hands that made it... alone... because one of her housemates has a hangover and the other is having an existential crisis.  Amen."

"Amen," Marty and Vonnie echoed with pointed glares.

Jamie only smiled and dug in.

"The tea's strong.  But let me know if you need coffee, Von."

"Naw.  This is strong enough.  It's good.  Thank you."

"You're very welcome.  And I was teasing earlier.  I actually enjoyed cooking.  Should do it more often.  It reminds me of happy times.  Marty, what's the report from New York and Asteriana?"

"Quiet night.  Protestors left before the final show even ended.  No overnight visitors.  A young lady came and watched from the private box during the evening show... the one from the hateful church.  She fled before Joshua could speak to her or even see her."

Jamie frowned.

"That's unfortunate.  But at least she came.  Hopefully she'll be back."

"And Steve and Ed spent a peaceful night in Asteriana."

"Good!  See, nothing to worry about there."

"I still don't trust his judgment," Marty muttered.

"Which is fair enough.  But you trust Joshua's judgment?"

Marty nodded.

"Of course."

"He wouldn't let Ed stay in Asteriana if he thought he was a threat.  Same with his Steve.  Will they at some point do something foolish?  Probably.  Most of us do.  But neither Andrew nor JenniAnn nor any member of their family has anything to fear," Jamie assured.  She reached across the table and squeezed Marty's hand.  "You'll see.  And doesn't it feel good to have one of our own back?  I never met Ed but I'm thrilled."

Marty's eyes welled... but just for a moment before he swiped at them with his napkin.

"He was a good sort before," he replied.

"And he's still a good sort now, I'm sure.  I mean he was in Hell for a lot less time than Crowley was and you've come to trust him."

"And he's literally the Serpent," Vonnie chimed in. 

"Crowley never kidnapped JenniAnn," Marty pointed out.

"Well, Crowley's less... messy than this Ed seems to be.  But messy doesn't mean bad.  I mean you know how I was those first couple of years after Gwen... and I would have been even messier if not for Liliwen.  So I wouldn't fault Ed for that.  Besides, the way I see it we all have a lot more to be concerned about when it comes to those who are twisting Joshua's message in order to denigrate and harm others.  If Ed's going to be an ally in the fight against them... I'll take it," Jamie opined.

Marty silently mulled this over.

Jamie redirected her attention to Vonnie.

"How you holding up there?"

"Good.  Food and tea are helping.  Thank you.  I think at next pub quiz night... I'll be switching to soda much earlier."

Jamie laughed.

"Good girl."

"He used to count the stars when he got nervous.  I wonder if he still does that?" an oblivious Marty asked aloud.

Jamie and Vonnie exchanged knowing glances.  They'd suspected it wouldn't take long at all for Marty's anger at the younger angel to thaw.

"Hopefully you can ask him soon," Vonnie volunteered.  "I'd love to visit and see the show again.  I know Rhiannon would, too."

"That sounds like a good idea to me.  I'll see when we can get tickets," Jamie offered.  "Will you go back with us, Marty?"

"If Joshua allows."

"I'm confident Joshua wants you to come back when you're ready."

Marty nodded.

"Probably so.  Yes, I'll go back."

"Then it's settled!  I'll look into it after breakfast and before my first client shows up.  Vonnie, I'll handle check-in myself.  You and Marty can go check on your partner in drunken crime."

Vonnie laughed.

"Thank you.  I appreciate it.  And so will Rhiannon if you let me take her a scone?"

Jamie smiled.

"Of course.  Take one each for Brynn and Evan, too."

"They are quiet good," Marty complimented.  "Maybe you could teach me so I could make them at Willowveil?"

Jamie patted his arm.

"I'd be delighted."

Marty smiled and made a mental note to tell his twin that he'd been right.  Jamie was not a child.


Since it wasn't a show day, St. Genesius' was quiet.  During the day; Andrew, Joshua, John, and the apostles took turns keeping watch.  Come evening, Andrew was sent home while the others remained.  Making themselves invisible, three or four men prowled around the property at a time while the others gathered in the lobby, remembering old times and making plans.

"So when are we going to get to properly meet everyone?" Cephas asked. 

Joshua dragged a hand through his hair.

"Well... I'd like Loreena to know the truth about me first.  I feel like she's getting there.  And I do have something planned.  She mentioned that she took Wednesday off work so JenniAnn invited her and Roger for brunch and... I have a trick up my sleeve."

"Her cousin?" Andreas guessed.

Joshua nodded.

"And a reminder of when we first met.  I know Malachi and Quentin well enough to know that we've not heard the last from them.  When they make their anger known again, I want Loreena to know exactly who is standing beside her.  So pencil in a pre-show, early dinner here for Wednesday."

"Can our wives come?" T.J. requested.

"Absolutely!  I think that would be great.  And we still have tickets for Wednesday so all of you can attend then.  I'll call on a few angels to keep watch.  Yehuda, if you'd rather not then..."

Yehuda shook his head and smiled gently.

"No, rabbi.  I'll be there.  Tirzah will be with me."

Joshua patted his apostle's arm.

"Good.  I'm really glad to hear that.  And if Wednesday doesn't go to plan... well, there's always another plan.  But I have a feel..."

Mattay rushed into the lobby.

"Yeshu!  Yeshu!  She's here!  Christina is here and..."

Joshua jumped to his feet and hurried to Mattay.

"Has anyone spoken to her?"

Mattay shook his head.

"No.  We remained invisible.  She's painting on the back wall.  Shimeon said you said to let her be."

"I did.  Thank you for leaving her alone."  Joshua turned back to the men.  "I'm going out there.  I also won't speak to her.  I only want to keep watch.  I'll send the others in."

A hush fell over the group as Joshua departed.  They remained quiet until Shimeon and Bar Tolmay joined them.

"Is he visible?  Could she see him?"

"He is visible," Shimeon confirmed.  "But he's waiting in the grotto.  She appears to be wearing those ear things so I doubt she heard him."

Cephas frowned.

"Foolish for a young girl to be out at night and not alert to any strange noises."

"All the more reason to be glad Joshua is keeping watch," John pointed out.

"Something about her...  She reminds me of my mother," Mattay murmured. 

Thoma hugged him.

"Come sit, Mattay.  Yohannan, a story about Yeshua's younger days, maybe?"

John beamed.

"Let me tell you about a time when we were, oh, seven, I think?  I may have been eight.  I came to celebrate Yeshua's birthday."

"Is this when you attempted to install a mosaic?" Philippus guessed.

"No...  That had been a couple years before.  No...  This time we decided... and now I wonder if Crowley knows about this?... we decided that old Serpent needed a good talking to.  Except, of course, we didn't know which snake was *the* Serpent.  So we spent an entire afternoon wandering around Nazareth, lecturing random snakes about why it was bad to encourage people to disobey God.  None of them were Crowley... of that I'm sure.  But I'd like to think Nazareth had extremely well behaved snakes for at least a generation or two after us."

The apostles laughed and began to tell their own light-hearted stories of their beloved Yeshua.


In the grotto, Joshua kept a close watch over Christina.  He was determined that she have these few moments of peace.  When a man walked by and opened his mouth to remark on the girl who was furiously sloshing black paint onto the theatre wall, he suddenly found himself tongue-tied. 

Joshua watched, his eyes welling, when Christina took a smaller brush out of her bag along with a small jar of red paint.  From the angle he was at, he couldn't tell what she was writing but his Dad filled him in, whispering every letter to him.














A tear slid down each of Joshua's cheeks.  He longed to stand up and go to Christina and tell her that he was there, that he always had been, that he was sorry that she had experienced such...

Joshua's thoughts were interrupted by someone yanking the back collar of his sweater.

Alarmed, he spun around and came face to face with Perry Samuels, the old man who lived next door to St. G's.

"What are you doing spying on that young girl?" he hissed.

Joshua remained calm and kept his voice low.

"The same thing you're doing."

Perry frowned, taken aback by the response.

"Maybe we could keep watch together?" Joshua suggested.  "You're welcome in the grotto."

Perry peered back over at his porch and then again to the bench next to the one Joshua was occupying.  He nodded.

"You lot seem to have gotten yourselves into some trouble.  I've seen the picketers," Perry informed as he sat down.

Joshua sighed and nodded. 

"Yeah... apparently we're part of the atheistic, leftist, gay agenda now."

Perry rolled his eyes.

"Can't say I'm thrilled to be stuck next to you lot... but you're not atheists, near as I can tell.  Definitely hippies with, sure, a fair amount of the LGBT folks among you.  But... your bosses were good to me when my Hildy died.  Peter always shovels my walk when it snows."

Joshua smiled.  Perry was a disagreeable, bitter soul who truly was none too pleased to find himself next to what had become a very popular community theatre but he was also deeply good at heart.

"So what's the story with the girl?  I saw her running from your theatre last night."

"I'm not exactly sure yet.  We get a lot of people who come looking for answers... for healing from the hurt they've experienced in more traditional religious circles."

Perry said nothing for a few moments.

"You're just letting her do that?" 

Joshua nodded.

"A little white paint costs next to nothing if we need to cover it.  If this is how she needs to express herself, we'll let her."

"Dumb idea to commit a crime while wearing earbuds."

"She's in her own little world.  It's tempting when the real world has hurt you."

Perry's face flushed for a moment.

"But you're right.  It's dangerous.  That's why I came out here.  Great minds think alike, hmm?"

For the first time, Perry smiled.

"Just concerned me.  Once a dad..."  His smile faded and his voice trailed off.

Joshua bowed his head for a moment before speaking again.

"I have a feeling she'll be back.  On our dark nights, at least.  Mondays and Tuesdays.  Probably won't chance graffiti art on the busy nights."

"So tomorrow night?"

Joshua nodded, entranced as Christina filled in a large, disembodied eye with tears pouring from it.  She hadn't completely finished when she withdrew her cell phone from her pocket then began to hastily gather her supplies.

"It'll be chillier," Joshua continued.  "Do you like cocoa?"

"I do, yes."

"I'll bring a thermos.  Keep watch with me?" Joshua requested.

Perry blinked in surprise.

"So what are you?  You play Jesus and double as the security guard?"

"Something like that," Joshua replied with a smile.  "So?"

Perry shrugged.

"Sure.  Got nothing better to do.  Peppermint cocoa, maybe?"

Joshua beamed.

"Peppermint cocoa it is."

Perry returned the smile.

"You know, you're not as weird as I thought you'd be.  At least... not yet."

Joshua smirked.

"What made you think I was weird?"

"Your name is Joshua and you play Jesus.  Your parents are named Maryam and Yosef.  You have a donkey.  I've seen you working on carpentry projects."

Joshua raised an eye brow.

"I, well, I see and hear a lot from my porch," Perry hurriedly explained.

Joshua chuckled quietly.

"I understand.  So you figured I'd have some sort of complex?"

"I suppose.  And maybe you do."  Perry gestured towards Christina.  "Watching over her.  But then I suppose if you do... so do I."

"It's not a complex to want to protect people.  You know, you should come to the show.  I know Emma and Peter have invited you before but I've never seen..."

"Not my sort of thing."

"All right."

The two men frowned as Christina let out a slight groan as she lifted her book bag onto her shoulders.  They watched as she scurried away from the theatre.  Wordlessly, Joshua and Perry hurried down the alley that separated St. G's and Perry's property.  They continued to watch as Christina disappeared into a subway entrance.

Perry shook his head as they made their way back and passed her mural.

"The Y is capitalized.  God.  She's asking where God was...  I ask myself that all the time."

"He's always there... sometimes He's just very hard to see," Joshua replied huskily.

"Maybe.  Maybe not.  I used to believe...  Well, never mind that.  It's past my bedtime.  I'll see you tomorrow.  Don't forget the cocoa."

"I wouldn't dream of it.  Good night, Perry."

"Good night, Joshua."

To Joshua's delight, the old man held out his hand which he warmly shook.

"Sleep well."

"You too."

Joshua watched Perry make his way up his porch steps and disappear behind his door. 

It was nice to have heard from him for the first time in years.


Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

With a baby in each arm, Joshua beamed as Lacey snapped photographs on her phone.

"Careful, Josh!  Gianni's going for your beard," Caleb warned.

Joshua chuckled and gently squeezed the little boy's flailing hand.

"I gotcha.  You don't want to pull my beard, little fellow.  Your sister will never let you live it down.  All your life you'll hear about how you pulled God's beard."

"She would, too!" Lacey affirmed.  "I can already tell she's going to be a little spitfire and I love that for her.  She was so weak when Caleb found her but the way she fought back..."

"You're strong," Joshua whispered to Marissa.  "Both of you are.  And so are your mommy and daddy."

Lacey swiped at a tear.

"Thank you, Joshua.  Are you sure I can't get you another slice of cake before you have to go?"

"No, no.  It was delicious.  Dinner and dessert both.  But I'm afraid I've had my fill.  Although...  I'm meeting up with Perry in an hour or so.  I'm sure he'd love..."

"Perry!" Caleb interjected.  "That grumpy old dude next to the theatre?"

"That's the one!"

"I'd be happy to wrap up some cake for him but... how exactly did that come about?" Lacey asked.

"Well...  We have a new graffiti artist at the theatre."

"Oh no!"  Caleb grimaced.  "I'm sorry that's started up again."

"It's really okay.  Thankfully, this time it's not hate speech.  Just a young lady working out her issues with feeling abandoned by God... but she tends to be inattentive when working on her art which isn't safe.  So... Perry and I independently decided to keep an eye on her and once he realized I wasn't creeping on her, well, we decided to keep watch together.  I promised him peppermint cocoa tonight which JenniAnn is, kindly, supplying."

Caleb rested a hand on Joshua's right shoulder.

"And how are you feeling about that?  You've, umm, dealt with a lot of anger these past few weeks.  First me... then that Ed guy... that alleged church... now this girl."

"Well, the church is something else entirely.  Their anger... it's not founded on anything but spite and a real inability to feel any sort of discomfort, however fleeting.  You... Ed...  You had your reasons.  The girl still does.  So...  All I can do is wait until she's ready to talk."  Joshua nuzzled the babies.  "Because I love talking to my babies," he cooed.

Lacey stooped down to kiss his hair.

"I'm sure this young lady... like us... will come to realize that you never turned away from her.  Sometimes your will is just very hard to see.  But then..."  She smiled at her children.  "Then it becomes very, very obvious."

Caleb, who had gleaned a bit more from his twin than Lacey knew, grimaced.

"And sometimes a person needs to learn that not everything that happens to them was willed by God," he offered.  "But that doesn't mean He can't help them through it."

"Exactly," Joshua replied through a lump in his throat.

"We'll pray for her," Lacey vowed.  "But right now...  I'll get that cake.  And I'm sending some for you, too.  You might get hungry again when Perry has his."

Joshua chuckled.

"Good point.  Thank you.  And thank you both for having me.  This really meant a lot." 

Caleb hugged Joshua as best he could with the babies still in his arms.

"Thank you for coming.  It meant a lot to have you here after... everything."

"It's time to move on from that, Caleb.  I'm not upset with you over it so you shouldn't be upset with yourself."

Caleb's eyes welled and he nodded.

"Just give me one minute to get this cake and then I'll grab the babies and you two can have the proper bro hug of your dreams," Lacey shouted from the kitchen.

Caleb and Joshua laughed and, as soon as Lacey was able to pick up her children, they embraced each other warmly.

"I think I've missed the nightly hugs even more than I've missed the show itself," Caleb murmured.

"I've missed them, too.  But you and Lacey can come see us whenever you want.  The guys and their wives are watching the show tomorrow night but, after that, they'll just be milling around.  Keeping watch.  I happen to know each and every one of them would be happy to take some time off to snuggle babies in the office.  Are you coming to the dinner tomorrow?"

"We'll be there!" Lacey promised.  "I can't wait!"

"Me neither."  Caleb released Joshua then took the twins so Lacey could have her turn to hug the carpenter.

"Wonderful!  I'm hoping we can introduce everyone properly if brunch with Loreena tomorrow goes as planned."

"We'll pray about that, too.  What do you think she's going to be more shocked by?  You or Crowley?  Or, heck, maybe even Andrew?" Caleb mused.  "I hear she's taken a shine to Crowley.  So it would be startling to find out he's the Serpent.  But I don't know...  I totally assumed Andrew and JenniAnn were your standard issue couple and then... he's an angel of death.  You...  I mean finding out you've been hanging out with God is pretty huge... but you're also the closest to your own secret identity because, well, of course you are."

"The Crowley thing still kind of weirds me out," Lacey admitted.  "I mean not Crowley himself.  He's great.  But just that he was built up from my childhood as some evil thing and then... he's a plant dad who is obsessed with Queen and Aziraphale.  So my vote is Crowley."

"I'm going with Andrew.  Loreena has spent the most time with him.  From all appearances he seems to be a totally normal, human dude," Caleb pointed out.

"So no votes for me?"

Caleb and Lacey shook their heads.

"You're just too believable as Jesus."

Lacey nodded in agreement with her husband.

"Just Jesus with a more expansive wardrobe."

His eyes misting, Joshua smiled and hugged them both again and kissed the babies' foreheads.

"Thank you.  That makes me feel even better about tomorrow but for right now..." 

Caleb handed Joshua his cake.

"Have a nice time with Perry."

"I will, thank you.  See you tomorrow.  I love you all!"

Caleb and Lacey shouted their love back and watched Joshua cross the lawn and head to Dot's and Randall's house and the portal.

"Feeling better?" Lacey checked once Joshua disappeared inside.

"Much better.  You?"

Lacey gave her babies a gentle squeeze.

"I feel wonderful."


"Are you sure you don't need gloves?  Zeke said it was chilly there."

Joshua smiled as JenniAnn fussed over him, even going so far as to tie his hoodie for him.

"You put gloves in my pocket earlier."

"Oh right."

"Besides, Laja, if he gets cold then it's his own fault.  He controls the weather," Andrew teased as he scrubbed the dinner dishes.

"Haha," Joshua replied.  "But he makes a good point."

JenniAnn rolled her eyes.

"Are you sure one thermos is enough?"

"I mean... I could make more cocoa if I really needed to," Joshua pointed out.  "But I think one thermos is definitely enough."

"Okay.  Now... the most important thing."  JenniAnn handed Joshua a small, beautifully wrapped package.  "I hope the shades are okay.  I had Violeta and Shelby help me since, well, they're much closer in age to Christina than I am."

Joshua kissed her forehead.

"I'm sure it's perfect.  Thank you for picking it up for me."

"Of course!"  JenniAnn hugged Joshua tightly.  "I hope everything goes well.  Your guys are there, right?"

Joshua nodded. 

"They'll be there the whole night."

"But you're coming back here?"

"Yep.  Do you want me to let you know when I'm back?  Even if it's pretty late?"

"Umm..."  JenniAnn glanced over at Andrew who was laughing.

"Tell you what, I'll knock on your door three times so you know I'm back but you don't need to acknowledge me.  Just in case you're... busy."

Andrew snorted.

"Sound like a plan?"

"It's a plan," JenniAnn agreed before giving Joshua another hug.

Andrew dried his hands then did the same.

"Have a good night, Joshua.  We'll see you tomorrow morning."

Joshua nodded.

"For brunch prep!  Can't wait.  Have a good time tonight.  I know you will."

With a final grin, Joshua left the Willowveil kitchen.

JenniAnn stared after him.

Andrew wrapped his arms around her.

"I was thinking before we settle in for the night... it's been a long time since we did any swing dancing.  Might be a nice way to keep our minds occupied?"

JenniAnn smiled and nodded.

"I'd like that."

"Good!"  Andrew swooped JenniAnn up and hurried towards the ballroom, both of them laughing and unaware of Violeta and Shelby who were making their way up to their room and spied the two from the staircase.

The two girls smiled at each other.

"It's nice to have them back to their old selves... even if it is slightly cringy," Shelby jested.

"Gotta love the olds," Violeta replied causing her sister to burst into laughter.

"I think we should make friends with Steve's crew and compare notes."

"We could start a self-help group for unconventional children of cringy angel-human couples."

"What would we call it?"

"Al-Anam Cara.  Like Al-Anon but for... well... that."  Violeta waved towards the now closed ballroom door from which Glenn Miller and His Orchestra could be heard.

"I love it.  I love them."

Violeta hugged Shelby.

"Me too."

For a moment, they each grabbed the matching crosses that Andrew and JenniAnn had given them the previous Christmas and whispered a prayer before resuming their walk to their room.


"So what's in the box?" Perry asked as Joshua poured his cocoa.  "I saw you set it down by her painting."

"An eye shadow palette."

Perry scoffed.

"Why would you get her something like that?"

"Just a hunch.  Look at the eye she painted last night.  It has blue eye shadow.  But she doesn't wear any.  Probably because she's been told it's a symbol of vanity and the desire to cause a man to sin."

"I mean... it is a symbol of vanity, isn't it?  Can't say eye shadow ever prompted me to lust over a woman, though."

"One would hope not.  And maybe it is... but to no greater extent than clothing is.  It's self-expression.  She's an artist.  Color, shading, lighting... all of that is important to her.  She deserves to be able to express that on a wall, on a canvas, on a computer, and, yes, even her face.  No harm in that."

"No... I suppose not.  Do you have daughters?"

Joshua nodded.

"Good for you."  Perry sipped his cocoa.

"Minty enough?"


"One of my friends sent along chocolate cake if you're interested?"

Perry's eyes widened slightly.

"I've never been known to turn down cake."

"Then let's not break the trend." 

Joshua smiled and produced the cake from the container that Lacey had carefully packed it in.  She'd been right.  He was feeling a little peckish and was grateful for the additional slice.

"You're Jewish, aren't you?"

Joshua nodded.

"There are blessings over particular foods, aren't there?"

"There are."

"Is there one for cake?"

"Not for cake specifically.  But one for miscellaneous food.  Would you like me to say it?"


Joshua bowed his head.

"Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam shehakol niyah bidvaro.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, at whose word all came to be.  Amen."


Companionable silence settled over them both as they enjoyed the first couple bites of the cake. 

"It's delicious.  I can tell it's homemade.  Haven't had homemade sweets since just after Hildy died."

"Well, we'll have to remedy that.  Someone is always baking something in our group."

"I don't want to impose..."

"It wouldn't be an imposition.  Just being neighborly."

Perry was touched and unsure how to reply.  He was saved by Christina's arrival. 

The two men quieted and watched, trying to gauge whether or not she was wearing earbuds again.

Perry spotted them first and a nearby car backfiring with no response from the girl confirmed she was using them.

Joshua's gaze was fixed on Christina's face as she knelt to collect the box he'd left, addressed only to "the artist."  She looked around anxiously but then, seeing no one and unable to resist the temptation, tore away the paper.  One hand alighted briefly on her lips in surprise then dropped down to the palette.  Her fingers drifted over the cover.  Joshua could tell she was taking each color in.  She hugged it to her chest briefly then carefully stowed it away in her bag.

Perry lightly punched Joshua's arm.

"Looks like you did good."

Joshua gave him a tearful smile.

As Joshua kept an eye on the girl, Perry found himself studying his companion.  He was beginning to understand why St. G's was so popular.

There was just something about their leading man...


An hour later, Joshua trudged up the stairs at Willowveil.  It had been a pleasant evening.  Christina had only lingered for about twenty minutes, finishing with the first eye and beginning work on the second.  Joshua had spent the rest of the time chatting with Perry about all sorts of things: the Yankees, whether it would be a hot summer, how the city had changed.  But now Joshua was bone-tired.  Those disembodied eyes and the real ones they represented haunted him.

He smiled as he came to Andrew's and JenniAnn's door.  As promised, he knocked three times.  He chuckled when he could just make out one of them knocking back three times, likely on their headboard. 

After preparing for bed, Joshua collapsed into his.  He closed his eyes and thanked his Dad for the many victories.

Ed returning Home and reuniting with his family.

His dinner with Caleb, Lacey, and their sweet, little twins.

Christina's obvious pleasure over her gift.

The pleasant conversation with Perry.

And tomorrow Loreena could learn the truth about him.

Joshua smiled, thinking of that.

And of Christina's eyes and the brightness that had shone in them for that one blessed moment outside the theatre.

They were the last thing he saw before sleep overtook him.



Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

Joshua awoke bright and early, eager to begin brunch preparations.  Not only would Loreena and Roger be coming but Steve, Ed, and their crew were stopping in, too, and he couldn't wait to see them!

Humming quietly to himself, Joshua made his way to the kitchen, planning to start coffee for everyone.  However, as he approached, a strong aroma told him someone had beat him to it.  To his surprise, he found not Andrew and JenniAnn but Joccy and Takoda bustling about.

"You're both up early!  Good morning!" he greeted.

The couple took turns hugging Joshua before Takoda explained.

"We couldn't sleep.  Too excited about the walk-through with Adam tomorrow."

"Right!  I'm looking forward to that myself.  I'll be sure to bring my clipboard along to take notes."

Joccy laughed.

"Do you really need it?  I mean... forgetful is not something I'd attribute to you."

With a chuckle, Joshua shook his head.

"No, I don't need it.  But it makes me feel all official as a carpenter."

"Well, you definitely don't need any additional credibility for us.  Dark roast or that lavender mocha blend JenniAnn picked out?" the angel checked, his nose wrinkling.

"I'm sure the lavender mocha is delicious but dark roast, please."

Takoda filled Joshua's customary gold mug and handed it over.

"So... while I know we all really hope Loreena sees the light today, how are you going to explain her cousin being here if she doesn't?" Joccy questioned.

"Well...  She knows I created the portal from the theatre to here.  So the idea that I created one from Aotearoa to here can't be that far-fetched, right?"

"I suppose not.  But it's something that always confused me.  Even before I knew you like this.  Just from the gospels.  Why did you sometimes just announce yourself and other times you left it to people to figure out?" Joccy squeezed Joshua's hand.  "I know you have reasons but..."  She grinned.  "I guess curious minds just want to know."

Joshua squeezed Joccy's hand back.

"I understand.  There's a different reason for every individual.  But there are some commonalities.  First off, sometimes I kind of have no choice.  Take, for example, the Romanos.  They saw me heal Randall.  And it was not a subtle healing.  It would have been disrespectful to play coy.  Plus, why would I want to?  At other times, someone needs to know in that moment that God is at their side.  Take, for example, Photina.  Not only was she feeling alone and ostracized but I think she would have been well... ha... within her rights to think I was a stalker without the very crucial knowledge that I was... and am... the Messiah.  Or there's a situation like happened recently with the Aotearoa group.  Ed had basically already told them who I was.  I wasn't going to let them think he was lying or delusional.  And sometimes I don't outright tell people because the journey to that knowledge is meaningful for them.  But other times... well, they've been told by so many people who God is... what He says, how He feels about them.  And those people never think to ask what they believe about God.  The most respectful, loving thing to do in those cases is let them figure me out in their own time... to respect their intelligence, their trust, their time.  That doesn't mean I don't sometimes wish I could hurry things along... I do.  Especially when I see the pain they feel over those malicious interpretations of me.  But the best way to remedy that isn't giving my own lecture about who I am.  The best way is just to be myself and wait."

"And I imagine members of the queer community often fall into that last camp," Takoda mused.  "At least in this society."

"They do."  Joshua frowned.  "If only some people gave as much attention and passion to calling out hypocrites and those who abuse their power and contribute to poverty..."

"The people you actually called out," Joccy murmured.

Joshua nodded then let out a sigh.

"One silver lining...  People tend to go through the 'Oh my God... oh I'm sorry... Oh wow...  You're actually Jesus!' phase a lot quicker when we've established a friendship.  And it's not that I mind that phase.  It's very amusing and cute.  But I like being just Joshua.  Take, for example, JenniAnn.  I like when JenniAnn fusses over me because I know it means she really wants to.  If she'd remained stuck in that dewy-eyed, worshipful phase and was constantly buzzing around, ensuring my pillow was fluffed, ironing my clothes, serving me with only polished silver, and other nonsense like that...  It just wouldn't be the same, you know?"

"Not to mention Andrew would possibly not be thrilled," Takoda jested.

Joshua laughed and shook his head.

"No, probably not.  And very understandably.  And I can only imagine how my Ama would react if I was down here waiting for my pillow to be fluffed."

"She'd tell you in no uncertain terms to fluff your own pillow, I'm sure."  Joccy giggled at the mental image.  "But I suspect she never had to do such a thing."

"Because of ego, no.  But I was just a normal kid who had to be told when it was time to start doing things for myself."

"I bet that was bittersweet for her.  And your Abi."  Takoda looked upward.  "I've seen Andrew and JenniAnn get misty eyed over Avi's and Belle's milestones often enough to know."

"It was, yeah.  Maybe especially since I was an only child... well, at the time, anyway.  And knowing, at least in part, what was in store.  But, yes, it's a pretty common parental feeling."

"Well..."  Joccy leaned over and planted a kiss on Joshua's temple.  "I hope Loreena has a very big milestone today and that it's purely sweet for you both."

Joshua embraced the young woman warmly.

"Thank you, Joc.  I appreciate that.  And to that end... who wants to help me arrange tables?" he asked with an expectant grin.

Joccy and Takoda each took another sip of their coffees then followed Joshua to the ballroom to begin brunch prep.


"I hope Andrew and JenniAnn don't think I'm rude if I check my phone now and again," Loreena fretted as she stepped down the gazebo stairs with Roger behind her.  "I just really need to know what this surprise is that Ant teased me about earlier."

Roger smiled to himself.

"I'm sure they won't mind."

"Maybe he's planning a trip here?  I mean I doubt it.  It's so expensive but... one can hope."


Loreena paused and took a deep breath before turning to Roger.

"Do I look okay?"

"You look beautiful, mi mariposa.  Why all the nerves?" Roger gently questioned as he stroked Loreena's back.

"I don't know really...  I just... I had the oddest dream last night and I haven't quite been able to shake it."

Roger steered his girlfriend to a nearby bench.

"Sounds a bit like art imitating life.  Well, your former role, anyway."

Loreena laughed.

"Claudia?  Yeah... come to think of it.  See, I'm so distracted that I didn't even think of that.  Thankfully, it wasn't a dream like that.  Although Joshua was in it.  But he looked really good.  Like his usual self, I mean.  But he kept saying stuff like 'You know me by another name.'  And the weird part is... sometimes I feel like I do." 

Roger stared ahead for a brief moment, praying.  He sincerely hoped that whatever Joshua had planned would get through to Loreena.  He didn't think he could handle the secret for much longer.

"Well, why don't we go inside?  Maybe you can talk to Joshua about it?  I happen to know he has quite a lot of experience with people having weird dreams about him."

"I imagine so.  Yeah.  Good idea.  Let's head in."

Hand-in-hand, the two made their way up to Willowveil's front door.  They didn't have a chance to knock before Andrew opened it.

"Hey!  Good morning!  So glad you're here.  We had a little last minute excitement... Belle decided to give Joshua a makeover... but everyone else is gathered in the ballroom so.."

Before the angel of death could finish, Joshua stepped into the entryway, his face covered in garish make-up.

"Hi there!  Just give me a moment.  I was amusing Belle while we were waiting for everyone and well..."

Joshua waved a hand over his face.

Roger couldn't hold back his laughter.

Loreena, however, was not laughing.  She wasn't even really there.  Instead, she had traveled back several years... to another man caked in make-up.

"Loreena.  My name is Loreena."

The man shook her hand.


"Pleased to meet you, Vero."

"Likewise.  Anyway...  I'm sorry about what the judges said in there.  I thought you looked great."

Loreena thought, too, of her dream.

"You know me by another name."

Vero's features, once dulled and made hazy by memory, came into focus.

Joshua's features.

But how?  That had been nearly twenty years ago!  Joshua looked exactly the same.

Maybe she was just imagining the resemblance but no... she was sure. 

Vero.  Truth.

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

Joshua.  Jesus.  Yeshua.  Deliverance. 

Loreena blinked back tears. 

Someone thrust a handkerchief into her hand and she hurriedly used it.  When her vision was clear again, Loreena realized only she and Joshua were left in the entryway.

"Vero," she murmured, reaching for Joshua's face.

Joshua stepped nearer, letting Loreena's hand settle on his cheek.



Tears welling, Joshua nodded.

"I am."

Loreena fell to her knees.

Joshua moved to his knees and wrapped her in his embrace.  Softly, he began to hum as he gently rocked Loreena.

After a few moments, she started to sing.

"Shining down some day I know,
brighter than all their streets of gold,
when the burdens that I carry I will lay down,
and the sorrows I have known,
I'll see them all be overthrown...
There'll be a diamond, a diamond in my crown."

With the passing of the years I will grow stronger,
just as sure as this old world keeps spinning round.
Then the closer I will be to my Sweetest Victory.
There'll be a diamond, a diamond in my crown."

"Diamond used to sing that all the time.  She... she'd sing it to me whenever I was feeling down," Loreena recalled.

"I know.  I heard her."

Loreena shivered.

"Why were you there?  Of all the places to be, you chose a ballroom?"

"I go where I'm needed, Loreena.  You needed me that night."

"I... I did.  I was about ready to give up... on everything."

"I know."  Joshua tenderly brushed some hair behind Loreena's ear.  "But it wasn't your time."

"I... I know that now.  I do.  But that night... if you'd not...  You saved me.  Twice."

Joshua beamed.

"And both times I was happy to do it.  And I would again... although if it's all the same to you, I'd really rather just chat.  And eat.  So much good food!"

Loreena laughed.

"Absolutely," she agreed.  "Oh, Josh... can I still call you Joshua?"

"Of course!  It's my name.  Well, one of them.  Truth be told, I like it better than Vero.  It's tied with Yeshua and Jesus... with a bonus point for being less conspicuous."

"Well, you had me fooled!  Now I feel so silly..."

"You shouldn't.  You absolutely shouldn't.  It was important to me that you come to the realization in your own time, when you were ready... although maybe I decided to give you a little assist this morning with the help of an all-too-eager Belle and her little kid palette."

Loreena smiled through her tears, again stroking Joshua's rainbow face.

"I appreciate that... I do.  But oof... I woulda definitely done some things differently with you."

"Really?  You were never unkind to me."

"Well, no, but... I was so... I mean...  You had to deliver my bra to me the first... or I guess second really... day we met!" Loreena squealed.

Joshua chuckled.

"You think I've never seen a bra?  Loreena, I co-created breasts."

It was Loreena's turn to burst out in laughter.  The way he said it... so matter-of-fact.  But of course it was true!

And it was that thought, the knowledge that Joshua had created her body, that sent a sudden chill through Loreena.  She stared down at her hands.

"Are... are you mad at me?  I mean... I'm not as you created me."

"Yes you are."

Loreena's eyes shot up to meet Joshua.

"Loreena, I know everything... well, there's a slight addendum to that but we'll discuss it later.  But I definitely know who I'm creating when I create them.  I know who they'll grow to be.  There was never a reality in which you'd grow to be anyone but Loreena."

Fresh tears, ones of relief, streamed down Loreena's face.

"We have so much to discuss, Loreena, and I promise we will.  But we promised you brunch.  And while I told everyone not to wait on us, I know at least a couple of them have so..."  Joshua stood and held his hand out.  "Would you let me escort you to brunch?"

Beaming, Loreena nodded and took Joshua's hand.

When they entered the ballroom, everyone looked excitedly at them but then, politely, focused on their meals... everyone except two men.

Loreena couldn't help squealing when she saw Ant standing beside her boyfriend.

"Surprise!" he shouted.

Joshua released Loreena's hand and smiled.

"Go on."

Loreena rushed towards Roger and Ant and threw her arms around them.

"I... I can't believe this!  First... Joshua.  A-and now..."  Loreena cradled Ant's face in her hands. 

"I'm hardly as noteworthy as the Messiah but... here I am.  Also, while you two were talking, I got to know Roger a little.  I approve."

Roger chuckled and clapped Ant on the back.

"Well, thank you."

Loreena hugged them both again then turned to Joshua.

"So... everyone knows?"

Joshua nodded.

"Some, like Ant, only for a couple of days.  Others... for eons."

Loreena blinked.

"Wait... eons?"
Nearby, Andrew chuckled.

"I would suggest making up your plate first.  We have a lot of explaining to do."

Loreena's eyes went wide.

"Are you... the apostle Andrew?"

Her host shook his head.

"No.  He's keeping watch at the theatre."

"Right..."  Loreena giggled.  "I never counted those men but... I assume there are twelve?  Or maybe eleven?"

"Twelve," Joshua clarified.  "Yehuda... Judas... came back to us a few years ago."

"Well, that's... wow."

Roger squeezed Loreena's hand.

"There's been so much I've wanted to tell you.  And now I can!  But Andrew's right.  Food first."

In spite of how wild it seemed to go through the buffet as if this was a normal brunch, Loreena did so.  It turned out divine revelations didn't diminish hunger.

Once Loreena, Roger, Ant, and Joshua were seated at their table, the latter said grace.  And then things took another shocking turn for Loreena.

"So to keep this relatively quick...  If you're human and born after 1970, please raise your hands," Joshua requested.

Loreena looked on as the majority of the group raised their hands.

"And if you're human and born before 1970..."

John's hand shot up.

"I was born in year 1."

Loreena nearly spat our her orange juice but managed to swallow it.

"You're... John the Baptizer?"

John grinned and nodded eagerly.

"My beloved cousin."  Joshua beamed at John.  "And now... if you're an angel born in the year 1000 or later..."

Only Ed, Takoda, and Violeta raised their hands.

Loreena shook her head.

"But... how?  Ant, you said Ed was Steve's boyfriend.  And Takoda... Joccy...  And Violeta, aren't Andrew and JenniAnn your parents?" a confused but delighted Loreena asked.

"Am definitely Steve's boyfriend," Ed confirmed.  "But also an angel.  Happens sometimes."

"Yeah, they're called anam cara relationships," Takoda clarified.  "Rare... but we seem to have had a few cluster here."

"Andrew didn't raise his hand..." Loreena realized.

"Cause he's also an angel," Violeta explained.  "And Andrew and JenniAnn aren't literally my parents.  But God entrusted me to them because I'm only twenty four which is really, really young for an angel."

"That's... wow.  I love that but then..."  Loreena's gaze traveled to Andrew.

"I'm an angel of death... created long before 1000 AD."

Loreena let the words sink in.

"I accompany people on their final journey," Andrew continued.  "I don't bring death... I just bring people Home.  To God."

Tears welled in Loreena's eyes. 

"JenniAnn was so worried about you during the height of COVID.  She said you were working so much.  I couldn't understand why a carpenter would be so overwhelmed but now..."

Andrew brought JenniAnn's hands to his lips.

"I'm glad my Laja had someone to confide in.  It was a difficult time."

"Are there any other angels of death?"

"Lots of them.  None here right this moment, though.  But Adam, Henry, and Eli are.  You might meet Azrael at some point.  And Michael sometimes fills in," Shelby explained.

"Michael as in..."

"The archangel," Aziraphale piped up.  "Azrael, too."

"Are you... one too?"

"Principality," Aziraphale answered with pride.  "And Angel of the Eastern Gate."

"And Crowley..."  Loreena looked tenderly at him as he played with a cloth napkin.

"The Angel of Gethsemane," Joshua told her.  "And the Serpent of Eden."

Loreena blinked.

"The Serpent..."

"He didn't fully understand what he was doing!" Aziraphale defended.  "And, besides, that's all in the past now and..."

Loreena set down the scone she'd been holding and made her way to the table Crowley and Aziraphale were sharing with Joccy and Takoda.

Crowley briefly peered up at the woman but then, again, focused on the napkin.  His fidgety hands stilled when Loreena rested her own hands on them.

"When I saw you that first night at auditions...  It gave me hope that I'd be accepted there.  Loved even.  And it wasn't false hope.  Far from it.  I don't care who you are or what you did.  That meant the world to me," Loreena effused.

Crowley let out a shuddering sigh.

"Thank you."

"Of course!  And wow...  The Angel of Gethsemane and the Serpent of Eden!  You must have quite the story!"

"I'm very intriguing."  Crowley gave Loreena a sly smile.

Loreena laughed and the two embraced.

"Now go finish your breakfast," Crowley urged.  "I promise the apples didn't come from me."  He winked.

Loreena laughed again, squeezed his hands, then returned to her table.

"I have so many questions... but this is wonderful!"

"We have lots of time to answer them," Joshua assured.  "And many more people for you to meet properly now.  But to start... Ant has quite the story for you!"

As Loreena enjoyed her brunch, her cousin animatedly told her the saga of Ed and Steve.  She marveled at how it had all come together... how a man and a reformed demon falling in love had eventually led her cousin back to her.

It struck her then that God had used a queer relationship to bring all this wonder and beauty about... and Loreena suspected she only knew the half of it.


"I spoke to Andrew and the Friends are having a dinner before the show tonight," Jamie shared as she and Marty sat in her garden.  "We could go to that, if you'd like.  The timing is a little odd for us.  10:30 PM here.  But we could do it and then attend the show.  But he said there are also tickets available for tomorrow and Saturday.  Friday's sold out.  But even at that, he said we could still have the box if we liked.  So take your pick of shows."

Marty toyed with the leaves on a nearby flower.

"Tonight is too soon, perhaps.  I assume Ed will be there?"

"I didn't specifically ask but, yes, probably.  Everyone's meeting the apostles."

Marty nodded.

"Does Vonnie have a preference?"

"Not really.  She said we can meet them another night.  They're certainly not going any where."

"Tomorrow may be better."

"All right.  I'll let Andrew know to save us four tickets... unless you'd prefer the box?"

"General admission is preferable to me.  I like to watch the audience, too."

"Right.  I'll let Andrew know."  Jamie sent off a quick text then returned her attention to Marty.  "If you don't mind my asking...  Why are you having such a hard time with Ed yet you came around fairly quickly with Crowley?  Sure, Ed held JenniAnn hostage but Crowley trespassed, so to speak.  Andrew and JenniAnn didn't invite him to Asteriana.  He just showed up with Aziraphale."

"But Andrew and JenniAnn were told to expect him."

"You think he knew that?"

Marty said nothing for a few moments.

"No.  Likely not."

"Also, from JenniAnn's perspective, I think the Serpent of Eden and the Angel of the Eastern Gate would be more intimidating than Edgar, a minor principality who is considerably younger than me, and his human boyfriend."

"But I knew Crowley!  He's annoying and I've spent eons wanting to shake some sense into him.  But I knew he was harmless.  His cosmic hissy fit started because he couldn't understand why God allows harm to come to humans... to Earth.  He wasn't going to harm JenniAnn.  Or Andrew.  And especially not the children.  Ed... I've written about him, yes.  But I never met him until this week."

Jamie crossed her arms over her chest.

"But JenniAnn told Andrew she was fine."

"She could have been manipulated."

Jamie scoffed.

"Marty...  A whole pack of demons tried to turn her against Andrew and failed miserably.  You really think some baby angel with poor impulse control was going to manipulate her?"

The scribe frowned.

"I suppose not."

"I wonder if your reactions aren't really related to Crowley or Ed at all.  I wonder if these past few years... even before Andrew and JenniAnn were attacked... took a toll," Jamie gently suggested, resting a hand on Marty's back.  "Think about it.  Crowley and Aziraphale showed up in Asteriana seeking help months before the pandemic began.  Ed...  He showed up after two years spent worrying about JenniAnn or the kids getting exposed to COVID, months after the demonic attack...  An attack you weren't there to protect them from.  And all that after documenting death after death, illness after illness.  I think you've displaced your anger, hurt, and frustration from the past two years onto Ed."

Tears formed in Marty's eyes but he refused to let them fall.

Jamie continued, clasping one of the elder angel's hands. 

"I know how it is.  I know what you feel for Andrew and JenniAnn and their family is different from what I felt for Gwen.  But it's very similar to how I felt for every generation who followed her.  And when something especially tragic happened... it took a while... a good while... to settle back down, to not see everything and everyone as a threat.  And I know... as Vonnie surmised... that it's even deeper than that.  You see in Andrew and JenniAnn a chance to begin again, a chance to walk the mortal realms again, recognized and loved by humans.  Because they are our sisters, brothers, siblings.  The chasm that started in Eden, it didn't just separate God and humanity.  It separated us.  Satan fears Andrew because he sees in him and JenniAnn and the community they've built around themselves an echo of Eden... the start of something that might bring us all back to Eden.  And you... you adore and love them for the same reason.  And they love you!  No wonder it upsets you when you see that threatened... see them threatened... whether by disease or demonic threat.  But don't let the past... your worries... taint your love.  Don't let it lead to control... vindictiveness... bitterness.  Talk to Ed.  If you really think about it, isn't he just another opportunity to get back to Eden?  I mean... are there any other human/angel anam caras in Aotearoa?"

A disobedient tear slid down Marty's left cheek.

"One pair... very different.  But, no, none like Andrew and JenniAnn... except Edgar and Steve.  I... I can see that now."

Jamie hugged Marty tightly.


Marty was silent for several moments before he drew in a deep breath, slowly let it out, and spoke.

"I still think it best to wait until tomorrow to make my return.  And... I want to speak to Edgar.  We may never have spent time together but... I am still his eldest brother.  And I think I should set a good example in apologizing when I've done wrong."

Jamie beamed.

"I think that's a great idea!  And you are an amazing big brother... even if you sometimes have a hard time admitting when us younger siblings know a thing or two."

Marty chuckled and returned Jamie's hug.

"Yes, well, I will work on that.  I still sometimes want to give Crowley a good shake... don't worry, I will resist the impulse.  But you, my dear, are very wise."

"Thank you.  And you are a very pleasant house guest.  Very tidy.  I imagine Andrew and JenniAnn are very happy about that."

Marty shrugged.

"One has to set a good example for the children."  He gave a wistful smile.  "I've missed them.  I'll be glad to get back."

"I'm sure they're looking forward to having their Uncle Marty back.  And... I've no intention of sending you back to them empty handed."

Jamie stood and offered Marty her hand.

"Come on!  Let's bake some cookies to bring back to celebrate your return."

Grinning, Marty took Jamie's hand and followed her.



Late that afternoon, the lobby of St. G's was buzzing as the cast and crew gathered for an early dinner. 

All of the Friends warmly re-welcomed Loreena, relieved that they could now talk freely about Joshua and his friends and family around her.

In order to give the Twelve a break from their security duties, Joshua had called on Azrael, Hahana, Elazer, Zaila, Michael, and Raphael to keep watch.  And so the celebratory group included all twelve apostles along with their nine wives.  Cephas and Rakhyl took it upon themselves to make introductions which included Andreas and his wife, Rahab.  Yaqob ben Zebedee and his wife, Naamah, gently teased Yohannan about being one of only three single apostles.  Philippus had brought along his wife, Tamar, whose sister, Serah, was married to Bar Tolmay.  Yaqob ben Halphi's wife was named Tabitha.  Shimeon was there with his wife, Sophia.  Though single, Thoma and Mattay ate with T.J. who had married Thoma's sister, Rebekah.  Yehuda and his wife, Tirzah, rounded out the group.  While all of the wives were jubilant over being among Joshua and the Friends and only an hour away from watching their Rabbi rock out, none were as happy as Tirzah who was all too aware that had this blessed occasion come only a few years before, her husband wouldn't have been there.  When Cephas called their names, Tirzah beamed at Yehuda.  After the introductions concluded, the group melded in seamlessly with the Friends, eventually abandoning their tables to mingle freely.

After a brief check-in from Yehuda, Ed squeezed Steve's hand.

"Let's step outside, love.  I'd like for you to meet Michael and Raphael," he suggested.  "And I want to check in with Hahana."

"Oh, yes!  That would be lovely," Steve agreed.

Once the couple were outside, they approached Hahana and Azrael who were closest to the building.

"Ed!"  Hahana embraced him tightly.  "I was hoping I'd see you.  How are you doing?"

"Wonderful!  Really great.  Feels like I never left in some ways.  And it was beautiful to see Ant reunite with his cousin."

"I'm not sure they've been apart for more than five minutes at a time since," Steve gushed.  "We came here looking for forgiveness for Ed and... well... we got so much more."

Azrael smiled as Ed looped his arm around Steve's waist.

"He does that frequently... gives us even more than we ask for."  He caught sight of movement up the block.  "I just wish more people recognized their blessings," he added with an edge to his voice.

The four watched, grimacing, as a van pulled up to where Michael and Raphael stood.  Picketers stepped onto the sidewalk, signs at the ready.

"I think maybe we'll wait for introductions..." Ed suggested.

Steve shook his head.  Feeling emboldened, he wasn't going to let the hatemongers intimidate them.

"No.  I want to meet Michael and Raphael.  We have as much right to be over there as they do," Steve protested.  "I want to meet your friends!"

Hahana smiled approvingly.

"Steve, I dunno, mate...  They're not even so much friends as..."

"Well, I'm going."

Steve began to approach and, without hesitation, Ed followed.


Christina huddled against the van door, wishing she could disappear.  Maybe she could run out...  But, no, someone had enabled the child lock. 

"Remember what Pastor Quentin said: hold those signs up proudly!  We're on God's side!  We're on Christ's side!  We stand between the people going into that theatre and the gates of Hell!"

Christina wanted to vomit. 

The others in the van murmured agreement with Malachi.

"This is our story!  It belongs to us!  Not some gay Jew.  Not some perverts."

More cheers.

Inwardly, Christina was screaming.  If anyone knew perversion...

The van door on the other side opened.

"Now...  Go!  Go!  Go!" 

Christina tried her door but it remained locked.  She froze as she realized she was alone in the van with Malachi.

"What's the matter, Christina?"

Christina felt like she was being strangled.  She opened her mouth but no sound came out.

Malachi's hand rested on her knee which he squeezed.

"I won't let them hurt you.  I'll protect you."

Tears welled in Christina's eyes as Malachi's hand slid up her thigh.

"You need to get out of the van, Christina.  You need to do your part to share our message of truth.... or else.  Understand?"

Christina nodded.

Malachi released her thigh.

"Good girl."

He handed her a sign.

"Let's go."

Malachi exited the van and held open the door for Christina.

She grabbed her bag, slid down the seat and hurried onto the sidewalk, raising a sign above her head.


"Oh dear...  Looks like they don't know the difference between it's and its...  Typical."  Raphael rolled his eyes at the assemblage of picketers.  "Anyway...  So you've been Home, Edgar?"

"Aww, yeah.  Joshua took me yesterday.  Got to see my iwi.  Meant a lot."  Ed's eyes misted.  "I tried not to get my hopes up too high before coming here but even if I had... they woulda been exceeded."

Michael squeezed his hand.

"I'm so happy for you.  Both of you!"  He beamed at Steve.  "You've got a one-of-a-kind here, my friend."

Steve was speechless.  The Archangel Michael had called him "friend"...

The idyllic moment was interrupted by shuffling from the picketers.

"Looks like they're having some iss..."

"Ed!" Steve screeched as Michael and Raphael moved to shield the younger angel.  But they were too late.

Christina had launched herself at Ed and her fingernails dug into his back like claws.

"Hey there!  What do you think..."  Ed's bark softened when he realized the girl was shaking.  Rawiri reawakened within him.  Protectively, he wrapped his arms around her.

"You get away from her!" Malachi shouted.  "Get your filthy..."

"Please, hide me...  Please..." Christina pleaded.

"We need to get her inside.  Now," Ed directed.

Malachi stormed towards the five.

Raphael nodded.

"Run.  We'll keep them away."

With Steve alongside him, Ed hurried towards St. G's with Christina. 

"Ed..." Hahana murmured as he approached.

"She needs to get inside."

Azrael opened the door and, once the trio was through, stood protectively in front of it.

"Get ready for trouble..." 

Hahana nodded, waiting as the cluster of enraged church people hurried forward with Michael and Raphael trying to fend them off without creating any more of a scene.

Azrael whistled, gaining the attention of Elazer and Zaila who were in the parking lot.

"We picked a bad night to sub in," Raphael joked as he reached the doors of St. G's. 

"Protect the windows!" Michael shouted as the onslaught began.


Inside the theatre lobby, the Friends all looked on in surprise as Ed and Steve returned with Christina still clinging to the former.  They'd just barely gotten the young woman to a seat before pounding on the windows started.

Detective Matthew Bratton abandoned the table he'd been sitting at with Tyron and his family and approached.

"What's going on?"

"I dunno.  She ran away from the picketers and asked me to hide her."  Ed lowered his voice.  "Hey there, you okay?" he checked with Christina.

She'd begun to bawl.

"I'm sorry...  I'm sorry..."

Andrew joined them and knelt near Christina's chair.

"Miss, did you enter this theatre willingly?"

Christina nodded.

"And if you don't mind my asking... how old are you?"


"Good.  Thank you.  Can someone get her a plate, please?"  Andrew requested.

"I will," Joshua replied.

"So a grown woman willingly entered a building," Matthew reiterated.  "I'll go take care of this."

Tyron hurried over and set a hand on Matthew's arm.

"Do you want me to go with you?  I may have left the force but... I'm still your partner." 

Matthew smiled and shook his head.

"You are.  But I got this.  The angels have got my back... and I have a badge.  I think I can shut them right up."

Purposefully, Matthew strode out of the front door.  He lifted his badge just as Michael was ducking out of the way of Malachi's fist.

"Police!  Everyone freeze!  Right now!" Matthew shouted. 

To his amusement, half of the group looked terrified.  The angels looked slightly miffed but pleased.

"Just because I don't have a shiny piece of metal..." Raphael muttered.

Matthew stifled a chuckle and ignored him.

"It's my understanding that a young lady with your group is inside this theatre?" he questioned.

"Yes!" a woman responded.  "A man grabbed her and..."

"Nonsense!  She grabbed Ed," Michael protested.  "I was standing right..."

"How old is she?" Matthew pressed.

"A child," Malachi replied at the same time as the woman said "nineteen."

"I'm going with nineteen since that's what the young lady herself told me and you seem to all be aware of that."

Malachi glared at the woman.

"And because of her age and because this is a free country, she can be wherever she pleases and, right now, that appears to be inside.  So what's the issue?"

"She's not well," Malachi explained.  "Her judgment can't be trusted."

"But I should trust the judgment of people trying to break windows in violation of New York Penal Law 145... something that, I might point out, is punishable by up to a year in jail plus probation and a fine?"

The churchgoers were silent.

"And I believe I saw you, sir, swinging at my friend, Michael," Matthew continued.  "Assault charges can carry some hefty penalties.  Maybe I should go check out the security footage?"

One of the picketers bolted down the street.

"Coward!" Raphael shouted after him.

"We should go," Malachi announced.

"I really think you should," Matthew agreed.  "Unless any of you would like to make a complaint?"  He surveyed the angels' faces.  They all shook their heads.  "All right then.  Now go."

Hurriedly, the remaining five picketers made their way to their van.

"Thanks, Matthew.  We could have dealt with them swiftly if Joshua had allowed us to use our full powers," Michael pointed out.

Matthew chuckled.

"I know you would have.  And you all did a great job as is.  I don't see so much as a ping in the windows and it sounded like they were really pounding on them."

Hahana smiled.

"Joshua said we couldn't use powers that would attract attention," she whispered.  "He didn't say we couldn't reinforce the windows."

"Gotcha.  You did good.  But now... I better get back in there.  Sounds like we have an interesting situation afoot."

"Did Joshua look surprised?" Elazer asked.

Matthew shrugged.

"I don't know, actually.  I didn't see his initial reaction but... this has to be good, right?"

Michael squeezed his shoulder.

"One less member in that church is definitely a good thing."

The detective nodded. 

"I doubt they'll be back any time soon.  You all coming in?"

"Yes, let's go in," Zaila encouraged.  "So no one worries about us."

"And... I could stand to eat."  Raphael grinned.

Michael laughed and clapped him on the back.

"Okay, everyone inside."

He waved them all ahead of him then, after a quick survey of the surrounding area, Michael followed the group inside.


Christina sat quietly, picking at her food.  It wasn't that she didn't want to eat it.  Somehow, whomever had prepared her plate had picked only things she liked.  However, she still felt nauseated and anxious.  She was also very aware of the fact that she had crashed a party without meaning to.

"Can I get you more soda?" Ed offered.

"No.  Thanks.  I'm fine."  Christina attempted a smile.

Ed returned it.

Panic suddenly seized Christina.  She hadn't planned this out at all!  She'd only run towards Ed to get away from Malachi and now he was going to tell her parents that she'd made a scene... and who knew what else he'd tell them?  She couldn't go home.  Her only "friends" were through the church and...

"Hey there, we'll figure it out, yeah?" Ed encouraged.

"How did you know what I was thinking?"

"I've run away from Home myself.  Once.  The first night was the hardest.  But you're smarter than me.  You ran towards people who can help you.  We'll figure out a place for you to stay."

JenniAnn who had been hovering nearby approached.

"My cousin founded a women's shelter.  She doesn't run it any more but we're all good friends with the ladies who do.  They used to act here.  Or, if you'd rather, I'm sure we could find someone with an extra room."

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

Ed patted Christina's arm.

"Well, you have time to think it over.  I don't think anyone's leaving until the show is over."

"I'm afraid not," Andrew agreed.  "Of course, we could arrange a ride for you if you want to head to the shelter now.  But you're also more than welcome to hang around here.  You don't have to watch the show if you're not comfortable with..."

"I've seen it," Christina surveyed the room then pointed at Yehuda.  "He let me in.  Into the box.  I... I... wasn't comfortable with it but not for the reasons you're thinking."  She looked to Ed with pleading eyes.  "They made me hold that sign and..."

Ed squeezed her hand.

"I know.  I understand."

"It... it just hurt to watch but it was good.  It really was.  But I..."  Christina shook her head.  "I can't again... not yet.  Maybe...  I could help out here?"

"Sweetie, you don't have to help.  You should just relax.  But absolutely you can stay out here in the lobby," JenniAnn promised.  "Let's see...  Owen, Amala, and Fr. Mike will be out here helping with the merchandise.  They can keep you company."

"Tonight's my off night.  I can sit with you... only if you'd like," Loreena offered. 

Christina met the woman's gaze then looked away guiltily.  Fresh tears slid down her cheeks.

Loreena's heart broke for the girl.  She approached and crouched beside Christina's chair.

"The things your church said and did... they hurt me.  They hurt a lot of us," Loreena admitted.  "Deeply.  But... you're here.  You ran away.  That's so, so brave.  I don't know your story.  I don't even know your name.  But I know that what you did was brave.  So let's put that part of the past behind us, hmm?"

Christina slowly looked up and nodded then held out her hand.

"My name is Christina."

"My name is Loreena.  I'm pleased to meet you."

Christina opened her mouth to reply in kind but a sob choked her voice.

Loreena wrapped her arms around her.

"You're okay.  You're safe.  We'll keep you safe," she vowed.

At the back of the room, Joshua watched with tears in his eyes.

"Lord, why don't you speak to her?" Zeke questioned.

"You didn't even bring her plate to her," Cephas pointed out.  "I'm sure you could put her at ease and..."

"He can't," Mattay interrupted.  "Not now."

"But he's the Lord.  How can he..."

Mattay took one of Joshua's hands in both of his.

"He can't," he repeated, peering into Cephas' eyes.  "Not yet."

"What do you know?" Cephas pressed.

"It's not my story to tell.  All I know is that I am my mother's son."

Cephas quieted and bowed his head.

"Mattay..." Joshua murmured before embracing him tightly.

Cephas and Zeke exchanged looks before each set a gentle hand on Joshua's quaking back.


With Joshua's blessing, Loreena spent much of Act I sitting with Christina and a program, explaining to her how everyone was related.

"See, years ago, this theatre was owned by a married couple.  Their names were Doug and Lucy.  After Lucy died, Doug, who had been the director, wanted to go be with his son and his family.  So that's when Andrew, our director, stepped in.  The theatre was then passed down to Emma and Peter.  They usually play Mary Magdalene and Jesus but they just had a baby.  So... that's why Joshua is playing Jesus again... something he first did that year after Doug left... and Ivy and I are splitting Mary Magdalene.  Andrew's partner is JenniAnn, our make-up artist.  And they have five kids, including Max who plays Simon the Zealot, Violeta who plays Mary, Jesus' mom, and Shelby who is in the chorus some nights.  My fellow Mary Magdalene, Ivy, is married to Sy whose parents are Zeke... Judas... and Diana who is in the chorus."

Christina responded with a wistful smile.

"It's like a big family."

Loreena nodded.

"And that's not even the half of it!" 

As Loreena continued to run through the program, Christina marveled.

"So many interconnected people and so... well... diverse."

"We are."

"I like that.  My church... it's just a bunch of white people, most of them my parents' age or older.  A small handful of them have kids my age who haven't totally bailed.  And, obviously, no one is gay... or transgender."

"At least not that they say," Loreena pointed out.

"True.  I hope no one is.  It's awful enough being trapped there without also hearing that garbage about yourself."

"Yes.  If you don't mind my asking... how is it that you managed to escape their beliefs even if you couldn't get out physically until now?"

Christina stared ahead.

"I was home-schooled up until high school.  And back then... I did believe a lot of what they said.  But the church grew a little after... a certain hateful loudmouth became president and emboldened people.  So then my mom got busier with the church... pastor's wife and all... and they sent me to high school.  Nearly everyone either ignored me completely or made fun of me.  I mean... look at me.  Every inch of skin covered  from neck to toe.  No make-up.  No jewelry except a cross necklace.  Only one group of kids were kind to me... a trio of queer kids.  They didn't have to but they answered my questions... helped me to see things differently.  But then one day my dad showed up at school during lunch and saw us together and... back to homeschooling.  But they couldn't control my mind.  Not any more.  The thing is..." Christina began to cry.  "I still love them.  That's why I didn't just up and leave the day I turned eighteen.  But... some things are unforgivable."

Loreena wasn't sure if these "things" were on Christina's part or her parents' but she sensed now was not the time to ask.

"Well, I'm glad you knew to come to us.  But it does make me wonder... why did you?"

"I just... I knew I had to get away.  Tonight.  And... your friend was right there.  And when I saw the show and read the notes in the program and saw how much love everyone seemed to have for each other... it felt safe.  And also... I'm the one who painted the graffiti."

Loreena nodded.

"And someone here... they knew.  A-and they left an eye shadow palette for me.  Was it you?"

Loreena shook her head.  She suspected she knew Who had but also felt it wasn't right to say.

"It wasn't.  But there are any number of kind people here who might have."

"Yeah...  So...  It felt safe.  To come here.  I... I'd avoided having to picket until tonight.  I hated holding that sign.  Hated being out there.  And I'm sorry if it hurt anyone but... it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me."

Loreena smiled.

"Well, I'm glad you're here.  And we'll figure the rest out.  Any ideas on what you'd like to do tonight?"

Christina's face flushed.

"I don't have any right to ask anyone for favors."

"No shame in asking.  People can always say no."

Christina nodded.

"Could I stay with you?  You can say no, of course, and I would understand comp..."

Loreena patted Christina's arm.

"You can absolutely stay with me but... my boyfriend, Roger..."  Loreena pointed to where Roger was chatting with Fr. Mike.  "He's been staying with me.  Not like that... yet.  It's just been stressful and a little scary so... we felt better being close by.  But he can stay in my room.  You'd have the living room to yourself.  Would that be okay?"

"I... I... yes.  Thank you."

"Then it's a plan!  I have to work tomorrow but we could get you to a library to spend the day or a museum or there's always someone hanging out here if you'd like to come back here."

Christina looked around.

"I'd like to come back here.  I feel comfortable here and... I should repaint the back wall, cover up what I did."

"If you really want to.  But I suspect Andrew and Joshua and Emma and Peter would just as soon you finish what you started.  We're all creative sorts here.  We understand that an artist needs an outlet."

"I'm not an artist..."

"I don't know about that.  But we can ask Andrew or Joshua to be sure."

Christina flinched.

"I... It's nothing personal but I just... I'm not really comfortable with Joshua."

Loreena felt as if she'd been stabbed in the heart.  She's certainly had her issues with Christianity... with the Jesus she'd been taught about even.  But never with Joshua.  Still, she was able to keep her emotions in check.

"All right.  That's okay.  Well, we can check with Andrew?"

"Yes, please."

"For now, since you're staying with us, would you like to come meet Roger?" Loreena offered.

"Yeah, sure."  Christina smiled shyly and nodded.

"Great!"  Loreena held her hand out to the younger woman and led her over to Roger.

"Hey there!  Everything going okay?" he checked as they approached.

"Swimmingly.  Christina is staying at my place tonight."

"How nice!" Fr. Mike cheered. 

Roger tried not to hide his disappointment.

"Oh.  Wow.  Great.  I'll get my stuff out of your way and head home so..."

"We'll definitely move your stuff and change the bedding for sure but you can stay with me in my room," Loreena insisted.  "Christina said she doesn't mind."

Nervously, Roger looked to Fr. Mike who burst out laughing.

"Are you wanting my blessing?  Because yeah, sure."

In spite of the guilt she felt for displacing Roger, Christina couldn't help but giggle when the man blushed. 

"Then it's decided!" Loreena chirped.  "And you'll get to use my new sheets!  Peacock feather print!"

"Thank you but I really don't want to cause any trouble..." Christina insisted.

"Peacock sheets are never trouble," Loreena countered with an easy smile before wrapping her arms around Roger's waist.  "We should get donuts for breakfast."

"Absolutely," he agreed.  "Do you have any dietary concerns, Christina?"

Christina shook her head.  The knot in her stomach was beginning to unravel and she suspected she just might actually be hungry come morning.

"Awesome!  Then it's a plan."

Christina smiled and nodded, stunned by the drastic change in direction her life had taken in only a couple of hours.


After curtain call, JenniAnn grabbed Joshua's arm to get his attention.

"Before you head to the lobby, Loreena's waiting in the office.  She needs to talk to you."

"Everything okay?"

"Everything's great.  I'll tell Andrew you'll be out in a bit."


Joshua smiled at JenniAnn then hurried to the office.

"Loreena!" he hugged her.  "How are you?"

"I'm great!  You?"

"Really good but I'm so sorry we didn't get more of a chance to talk this evening.  I wanted to but, well, that addendum to my omnipotence that I mentioned earlier?  I don't know everything that's going to happen when I'm on Earth like this.  Not unless my Dad tells me.  So I honestly had no idea Christina was going to show up like that.  I had an inkling she'd return here but... the how and when was a surprise even to me."

"A good one, I hope?"

Joshua nodded.

"Very.  I'm glad she's away from them."

"Me too.  And I wanted to talk to you about Christina, actually.  She asked to stay with me.  So, of course, I agreed.  But I didn't want to send Roger away so... he's staying in my room.  Is that okay?"

"Sure.  I'd just like you to get a basketball and keep the basketball between you at all times," Joshua requested.  "Leaving room for the Holy Spirit and all."

Shocked, Loreena nodded.

"Oh, umm, all..."

Joshua burst out laughing.

"I'm kidding!"  He hugged Loreena as she began to laugh, too.

"Joshua!  I totally would have done it!"

"I know you would have and I love you for that but I absolutely trust both you and Roger to respect each other's boundaries.  It's fine.  You'll both sleep better that way.  And it would be a good thing for Christina to see a happy couple in their element."

"Well... we can definitely give her that."

Joshua kissed Loreena's forehead.

"I know.  Thank you.  It's no small thing inviting Christina into your home after everything."

"We can't help what family we're born into."

"No...  But we can build beautiful ones for ourselves.  I'm so glad you're a part of this one, Loreena.  Now... I won't keep you any longer.  Please give Roger a hug for me and... are you getting donuts tomorrow?"

"Yes, actually."

"Could you please get one of those big ones with the white frosting and the rainbow sprinkles for Christina?  She always wanted one but her parents..."

Loreena groaned.

"They wouldn't let her have rainbow sprinkles?"

Joshua grimaced.

"We're all getting rainbow sprinkle donuts," Loreena declared with defiance.  She hugged Joshua.  "I wish you could be there but..."

Joshua squeezed her hands.

"I know.  Christina needs some space right now.  But we can chat before the show tomorrow?"

"Absolutely.  Have fun with the meet-and-greet."

"Thank you.  Rest well.  I love you."

Tears of bliss filled Loreena's eyes.

"I love you, too, Joshua.  I hope you get to rest well, too, in time.  See you tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow," Joshua echoed before giving Loreena's hands a final squeeze.  He watched from the back door, smiling after Loreena as she joined Christina and Roger in the parking lot.  He looked up and could just make out Perry's silhouette on his porch. 

It was going to be a long night but a good one Joshua hoped.


"Can I get you anything else?" Loreena checked as Christina stood by the newly made up sofa bed and caressed the sheets.

"No, no.  I'm fine.  Thank you."

"Well, if you get hungry or thirsty during the night, help yourself to anything that's in the kitchen."

"I'll be fine but thank you."

"Knock if you need anything," Roger directed, waving towards Loreena's bedroom door.

Christina smiled and nodded.

"Okay.  But I'm sure I'll be fine.  More than fine."

"Good."  Loreena gently squeezed Christina's shoulder.  "Sleep well."

"You too.  Good night."

"Good night!"

Loreena took Roger's hand and led him into her room, closing the door behind them.

"She seems reasonably happy, doesn't she?"

"She does," Roger affirmed.  "Although I can't help but think..."


"Well, how screwed up does someone's living situation need to be for them to feel safer sleeping in the living room of someone they've only just met?"

"Yeah...  That thought crossed my mind."  Loreena frowned as she turned down the bed.  "And also latching onto Ed like that.  I mean she at least knew I was in the show.  She couldn't have had any idea who Ed was."

"Well, he was wearing an NYC Pride shirt.  So she probably assumed he's gay."

"Actually... is he gay?  I'm still trying to sort so much out!"

Loreena plopped into bed and then patted the spot beside her.  Roger smiled and complied.

"I don't think so properly... at least not yet.  And I don't think Andrew's straight as we would think of it.  And all angels are asexual.  But my understanding is Ed isn't romantically attracted to Steve because he's male.  He's romantically attracted to him because he's Steve.  Same with Andrew.  JenniAnn being female is incidental.  He's attracted to her because she's JenniAnn.  If she had been a he named Jim, Andrew would still feel the same.  I think..."

"So... demi-romantic, in a way?"

"Yeah.  I think that's the closest human term we have for them.  But for an added wrinkle... Joshua is letting Ed become human eventually.  So, at that point, my assumption is that, yes, he'd be a gay man... but still only into Steve."

Loreena blinked.

"Wait... what?  Ant said Joshua said they'd grow old together but somehow I didn't make that connection."

Roger chuckled.

"Yeah, that one really came out of left field.  I'm sure Joshua and his Dad have their reasons.  If I had to guess... Ed's been through a lot.  He lost his entire iwi... tribe, basically... to an epidemic years and years ago.  So then he turned away from God."

"So... Ed was a demon...  I get that.  Ant said as much but... he seems so... non-demonic?"

"Yeah.  He was like a Crowley-style demon.  He didn't do much of anything to really harm anyone.  Then he was assigned to Steve who he was supposed to possess and bring down his sober living house but... oops... he fell in love instead."

Loreena laughed.

"My God...  That's absolutely absurd.  I love it so much."

"Yeah.  So... if I had to guess... I'd say that letting Ed live as a human is part of his healing process.  And also a nice bonus for Steve."

"How do you know all this?  Didn't it just all come out?  Do you all, like, send out newsletters or something?"

Roger chuckled and shook his head.

"No.  I mean we all care about each other.  But we do stay out of each other's romantic business.  This was a special case, though.  I mean... I didn't send out an alert when I brought you to that first rehearsal.  But a former demon and his boyfriend and a whole house full of people showing up?  Yeah, Andrew thought some explanation was owed.  I assume Ed and Steve signed off on the email he sent us all."

"Yes, probably so.  Wow...  I'm going to have to ask Ant a bit more about what he thought about all of that as it was happening..."

Roger hugged Loreena.

"So that was some surprise, huh?"

Loreena beamed.

"The best ever.  How long had you known about Ant being around?"

"Just since yesterday.  Oh... that reminds me.  Ed wants to talk to you."

"To me?!"

"Yeah.  I think he would have tonight but, well, the Christina thing threw everyone for a loop."

"Even Joshua..."

"Yeah...  Sometimes it's kind of weird how that works.  You expect him to know literally everything.  But he likes it this way.  I mean... it can be a double-edged sword.  But mostly it's good.  Like earlier with you.  He got to experience that, fully, in real time.  It wasn't just a foregone conclusion for him that you'd recognize your Vero."

Loreena snuggled against Roger's chest and sighed.

"Happiest moment of my life..."

Roger kissed her hair.

"I'm so glad.  Are you mad at all at me for not just telling you?"

"Absolutely not!  I mean... up until very recently, I would have thought that maybe the show had went to your head and you were losing touch with reality.  But even as I got closer to Joshua and realized there was something about him...  I don't know.  I mean I would have still been thrilled if you'd just told me.  But the... well, magic... of that moment... of Vero and Joshua colliding... of Jesus and Joshua colliding...  I wouldn't have wanted anything else."


Roger yawned causing Loreena to do the same.

"I don't want today to end..." Loreena lamented.

"Me neither.  It was an awesome day but... we'll have more awesome days to come."

"Mmm hmm."

"I love you, mi mariposa," Roger murmured.

Even as the rest of her grew more and more tired, Loreena's heartbeat quickened.

"I love you, too, mi dulce nutria.  Good night, Roger."

"Good night, Loreena."

And soon, snuggled together, the two began to drift off.  Loreena smiled to herself, glad that Joshua hadn't really insisted on a basketball.


When the last of the superfans had left the theatre's lot, Joshua noticed that Perry was still stationed on his porch.  He turned to Andrew and JenniAnn.

"You should head home.  I'll be around later.  I suspect Perry has learned about this evening's excitement."

"Probably so," Andrew agreed.  "If you need anything when you get back, you know where to find us."

"I do.  But I'll be fine."  Joshua hugged them both.  "G'night.  I love you."

"Love you, too, Joshua."  JenniAnn patted his cheek.  "It's been a very good day."

"It has.  Now go, get out of the chill."

"C'mon, Laja.  Good night, Joshua.  Love you."

Joshua watched the couple head back into the theatre then made his way to Perry, pulling his cloak more tightly around him.  To his delight, Perry handed him a mug when he reached the porch.

"I figured it was my turn to supply the cocoa."

"Thank you.  Just what I needed."

"You're welcome.  You're looking very holy."

Joshua grinned.

"Thanks, I think?"

"It's a good look for you.  You look... well, you look a whole lot better than a lot of those movie fellows."

"Thank you.  So... how was your night, Perry?"

"Interesting.  I returned home from grocery shopping just in time for your patrons to start lining up.  They were all abuzz."


"Something about your theatre being attacked by the picketers... after one ran away?  And into your theatre?"

Joshua was not surprised that news had spread so quickly.  He'd noticed a few of their regulars had been enjoying a pre-show dinner at a nearby cafe.  No doubt they'd seen everything from the sidewalk bistro tables.


"Was it our artist?  The one who ran way?"

Joshua smiled at the use of "our" and nodded.

Perry let out a sigh.

"Good girl...  How's she doing?"

"She's staying with one of our Mary Magdalenes."

"The transgender one?"

Joshua nodded.

"You're sure that's safe?  For your Mary, I mean?"

"Loreena will be fine.  More than fine."

"Oh.  Good.  How are you holding up?  I imagine it's a lot.  Being the show lead.  And not just any lead... Jesus.  In high-stress moments, I bet a lot of people look to you."

"They do.  But I don't mind."

Perry studied Joshua as he sipped his cocoa.  He wasn't a particularly good looking man.  But there was a nobility to him.  He was drawn to his hands especially.  They were the hands of a hard worker and yet Joshua held the mug so gently.

"So are you a carpenter full-time outside of the show or do you just dabble?"

"Less than full-time, more than dabbling.  I used to do it full-time when I was younger.  Now it's just one thing among other things.  I work with stone, too, sometimes.  Landscaping.  Furniture building.  But I love woodcarving the most."

Perry sat silently for a few moments.

"A couple of days after my Hildy died, I found a little box on my porch.  Inside was a beautiful wooden dove... soaring into the heavens.  Yours?"

Joshua nodded.

"Why?  I was never kind to you.  Our only interactions were the occasional scowl from my porch."

"'Do unto others as you would have done unto you.'"

"But... but I didn't.  I didn't treat you... any of you... like I'd want to be treated."

"That was never the point.  The point was to be kind for the sake of the other, for the sake of being kind... not just to win brownie points so then the other person would be kind to you.  But... I always liked that.  Because it assumes that a person should want to be treated well... that they should want that for themselves.  Sometimes people punish themselves without realizing it.  And maybe there's a place for that.  True penance can be a beautiful thing.  But not when it turns to self-torture.  Not when it never ends."

Perry hurriedly looked away and down at his hands.

"Besides," Joshua continued, "you were kind to me in time.  You kept me company when we were guarding our artist.  Thank you for that."

Perry nodded.

"You're welcome.  It was my pleasure.  Really.  And... thank you for the dove."

Joshua smiled.

"You're very welcome.  Your Hildy was a good woman."

Perry's eyes widened.

"You spoke with her?"


"I never realized...  But, yes, she was.  A good woman... a good wife... a wonderful mother.  A far better mother than I was a father."

Joshua gently rested a hand over Perry's trembling one.

Perry shook his head.

"But, anyway...  Did your show go well after all the excitement died down?"

"Very well.  I had a slew of old friends in the audience so that was great."

"I'm not sure I'd like seeing my old friend crucified... even for the stage."

Joshua smiled wearily.

"No... I'm sure that was far from their favorite part."

"I have been rethinking..."


"About your show.  I think I would like to see it."

Joshua's face lit up.

"That'd be great!  Just name the date and time.  I'll get you in, comped.  It's the least we can do after years of putting up with the increased traffic on show nights."

"If you insist..."

"I do."

Perry chuckled.  He sensed one didn't squabble with Joshua.

"All right.  I'll look at my very busy calendar and get back to you."

"Sounds good."  Joshua took a final sip of his cocoa.  "I should head home.  Can I help you carry this in first?"

"Oh, umm... well, the house is a bit of a mess."

"I don't mind if you don't."

"Well... I am feeling a little unsteady on my feet.  Nothing a good rest won't fix.  But... yes, thank you.  That would be helpful."

"Of course."

Joshua picked up the tray that held their two mugs and a carafe then followed Perry inside.

The house truly was a mess.  Clearly Perry was struggling with maintaining the upkeep on his own. 

"Don't mind all the dishes.  I swear what we used was clean.  I do wash them.  I just have to use a bucket because the sink's been out for a while... and the dishwasher a while before that.  Don't suppose you do any plumbing?"

Joshua shook his head.

"Not my strong suit.  But our director...  Andrew's really good.  He has to be with all those long-haired hippies in his house," he jested.  "I'll have him stop over."

"Oh no..."

"Seriously, he won't mind.  Frankly, with all the drama lately I think he'd enjoy having a task with an easy fix."

"Well, if you're sure."

"I am.  I'll just sit the tray down here and tomorrow we'll get you fixed up so you don't need to use a bucket.  But for now... g'night, Perry.  Thanks for the cocoa and the company."

"I... I'm thankful, too.  For the company.  Good night, Joshua."

"I'll see you tomorrow.  Early afternoon with Andrew?"

"Yeah... that'd be great.  Thank you."

"You bet.  Sleep well."

"You too."

With a final smile and a wave, Joshua exited the house.  He was exhausted and more than ready to fall over into his bed but it had been a very good night.


Cleaning Up

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

Christina awoke with a start, temporarily confused by her surroundings.  Then it all came flooding back.  The picketing... her escape... the kind man in the T-shirt... Loreena and Roger letting her stay with them.

Ed.  She thought the man's name had been Ed.  And Steve was his boyfriend.

And they were somehow related to Loreena's cousin... a bug name.  Ant!

And Andrew was the man in charge.  And JenniAnn was his wife... no, partner.  Loreena hadn't specifically said wife.

And Joshua played Jesus.

Christina frowned.  She'd caught him glancing at her a few times.  Never unkindly.  Never inappropriately.  But, still, it unnerved her.  Then again, she wasn't sure what she'd expected.  She'd barged in on his friends.  He had reason to be wary.  After all, it had been him, above all, that her church... former church... had targeted.  She cringed at the memories of what her father and Malachi had said about him.

Christina hugged a pillow to her chest as she continued to muse.

These days, she wasn't sure if she believed in Jesus.  Or God in general.  But if They did exist, she wanted to believe they were good... that they were loving.  And she'd been taught that the love between a man and woman should mirror the love of God for His people.  She glanced at Loreena's closed bedroom door and then thought, again, of Ed. 

These were two people that her church thought had no business getting married.  They saw them as evil, degraded, disgusting. 

And yet...  Over the years, Christina had come to acknowledge that her parents were not in love.  She thought they had been at one point.  But they never touched.  Never smiled at each other across the dinner table.  Their marriage functioned as a business partnership more than anything else.  The pastor and the pastor's wife.  She suspected they stuck together only because a divorce would ruin them both in the eyes of the church.

And then there was Malachi.

Christina's eyes filled and she let out a small, involuntary cry.

She wouldn't think about him.

But she thought about Loreena and Roger and the way they looked at each other... the way they had worked together to make up her bed in perfect harmony, giggling when they'd bumped hips.    She thought about gazing across the lobby to where Ed and Steve were eating, amusing each other with their conversation.  She thought about Andrew and JenniAnn.  Whether or not they were "living in sin" or not, she'd seen how proudly JenniAnn had gazed at Andrew while he'd spoken to audience members after the show.  In turn, he'd looked at her as if everything good and wonderful in the world originated with her. 

If relationships were supposed to mirror the love of God, then surely the couples at St. G's had it right. 

A hymn she'd once heard on the radio came to Christina.  She'd loved it and wanted to sing it at church but her father had said it was "for fake leftist Christians."  She still thought it was beautiful.

As she drifted back to sleep, Christina sang the words in her head.

"We Will work with each other, we will work side by side;
We will work with each other, we will work side by side;
And we'll guard each man's dignity and save each man's pride.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
yeah, they'll know we are Christians by our love."


Ed stared at the reflection of the moon in the gently rolling waves.  For three hours he'd been trying to get to sleep and for three hours he'd failed.  He kept seeing the girl's eyes... he could feel her hands trembling as she'd clung to his shirt.

He still wasn't sure why she'd come to him.  Maybe it had been the rainbow T-shirt? 

Or maybe, though she couldn't have known, it was some sort of penance.

Tears filled Ed's eyes and he twisted around, burying his face in the crook of Steve's neck.  Usually, he was the "big spoon."  But Steve always knew when he needed to be comforted, to be held.

"Ed..."  Steve wearily raised an eyelid.

"Fine, Steve.  Just..."

Steve's hand rested at the back of Ed's head and began to gently stroke his hair.

"Just what, darling?"

Ed nuzzled Steve's neck and shoulder as he tried to decide what he wanted to say.

Steve's arms tightened around him.

"I love it when you do that, you know."

Ed smiled against Steve's skin as he spoke.

"It was one of the first things I wanted to do.  Way back before we'd even kissed... when I snuck into your bedroom and you said my name in your sleep, I imagined myself getting into bed with you and snuggling into the crook of your neck."


"I was already so far gone..."

Steve kissed the top of the angel's head.

"You weren't the only one."

Ed nuzzled against Steve once more then shifted so he could meet his concerned gaze.

Steve cupped his cheek.

"You look so tired.  Can't sleep?"

Ed shook his head.

"Just keep thinking about Christina.  She was so terrified, Steve.  A-and she came to me for help and..."

"And you helped her."

"If she knew..."

"She knew she saw someone kind who she should trust."

"But...  Do you think I was placed there to... to make up for... for the daughter of the man I tormented?"

Steve gave an adamant shake of his head.

"No.  I don't.  Ed, would you have done what you did if you'd known what would happen to that girl?"

Fighting more tears, Ed shook his head.

"Then you need to let that go, darling.  What you did to her father... it wasn't your job to punish him.  That was wrong.  But you've apologized.  You've been forgiven by God himself, Ed.  Think of it this way.  Suppose tomorrow, for some reason, I went into a store and stole the last thing of Oreos.  That would be wrong, right?"

Ed nodded.

"Now suppose someone comes in after me needing Oreos for a recipe.  But there aren't any so they need to head to another store.  Tragically, they're in a car accident and killed on the way there.  Would I have killed that person?"

"Course not."


Ed let out a ragged sigh.

"I think that young lady came to you because she saw a kind man who she thought would help her.  And you did.  And maybe the new shirt helped.  You looked very fetching in it, darling."

Ed smiled.

"Thank you."

"It's just the truth."

Steve kissed his forehead.

"We can talk more about it tomorrow but, please, try to get some sleep.  You need it."

"Okay.  Thanks, love."

"You're welcome.  Now come here."

Ed smiled and snuggled against Steve again.

"I love you so much, Ed."

Ed sniffled.

"I love you, too, Steve.  Night, night."

"G'night, darling."


JenniAnn frowned as she made her way to the kitchen with Andrew.  Someone had already started the coffee... at 5:00 AM.  Possibly it was Takoda and Joccy again... eagerly anticipating their house tour... but she feared it was Joshua.  And with his late night, he really needed more sleep.  Truth be told, she and Andrew really could have used more sleep but there was just too much going on.

"Can't say I'm not happy about the coffee already being made," a wearied Andrew remarked.

"No, it's just..."  JenniAnn entered the kitchen first and froze.  The early bird was too tall to be Joshua...

"JenniAnn...  Andrew...  Good morning," Marty greeted.

JenniAnn launched herself at the angel.

Smiling, Andrew withdrew his cell phone from the pocket of his robe and snapped a photo of their embrace.

"We missed you!  How are you?!" JenniAnn queried as Andrew and Marty hugged.

"I'm doing very well, thank you.  My time with Jamesina was very healing.  She'll be around later with the girls so we can attend the show."

"I'm really glad to hear that."  Andrew clapped the elder angel on the back. 

"So... you're back for good?" JenniAnn checked.

Marty nodded.

"For good.  I, uh... well, let's get our coffee first?"

He handed Andrew and JenniAnn their mugs.  Once everyone had their drinks, the trio settled around the kitchen table.

"I want to apologize for the way I acted.  I need to apologize to Ed and Steve, chiefly, but also to you both.  JenniAnn, I should have trusted you when you said everything was fine and, Andrew, I should have realized that if JenniAnn had needed protection from Ed... you were perfectly capable.  But that was just a bad moment.  What I really need to apologize for is being so overbearing for months."  Marty bowed his head.  "I took it too far.  And I'm sorry about that."

"Oh, Marty...  It's okay."  JenniAnn squeezed his hand.  "I mean... I can't say it wasn't a lil... much... at points.  But I understand.  We... we all responded to what happened in October in different ways and, well, being overprotective wasn't the worst thing you might have done."

Marty gave her a wan smile.

"No...  But it was too much.  Jamie has helped me to realize that I was keeping a lot inside.  I think I only lashed out at Edgar like I did because he was a convenient outlet after the years of worry over the COVID pandemic then the heightened concern after the attack."

Andrew nodded.

"I understand that... too well."  He looked over at JenniAnn and sighed.  "We were created to protect humans.  It just... it gets a little more complicated when they becomes your friends... or more."

"Well, for what it's worth, I feel very protected by both of you," JenniAnn affirmed.  "I know that doesn't mean things can't still happen... but I do know it means I'll never be alone in the aftermath.  And that's the most important part."

"Never alone," Andrew echoed, taking one of her hands in his before giving his attention back to Marty.  "I feel like there's something more."

Marty nodded.

"It's... well...  Vonnie helped me first realize it but then Jamie worked through it with me.  In a manner...  I've come to think of you both as... as my Adam and Eve, so to speak."

Andrew blinked while JenniAnn cocked her head.

"I only mean...  I feel a responsibility for you... ever since God first sent me to you.  And being amongst this community that's formed around you...  I began to see it as a sort of... second attempt at Eden.  A chance for us to, once again, walk amongst humans, to be known by humans on a large scale.  But that's a massive burden to place on anyone.  I... I can't help that I want that.  But I shouldn't have placed the two of you at the center of it.  You're my friends.  And I love you.  Even if it was only you... no community... I would still love you.  But it is... there in my mind," Marty confessed.

"Wow..."  Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

JenniAnn was quiet for a few moments.

"I mean... I can see it.  Reuel and his people are wonderful... but they pretty seldom interact with Earth.  Through St. G's especially, we do.  I mean... year after year, angels and humans put on a show.  Together.  And every year, something happens.  Maybe several things.  I mean this year alone, Crowley made some peace with Joshua's death, Loreena learned who Joshua was, Ed came back Home and can now plan his life with Steve, whatever is happening with Christina... and the run isn't even over.  Marty's not really saying anything we didn't know, Andrew.  We've known for a long time that Satan is scared of you... and isn't this why?  Things just tend to coalesce around you."

"Not until I met you," Andrew pointed out.  "There's nothing special about me, Laja."

"There's something special about everyone," Marty countered.  "But... I do think there's something... especially special about the two of you together.  Anam caras have been popping up for eons.  But other than Reuel's group, I can't think of another time when so many of them were clustered together in one friend group.  Maybe there's nothing more to it than God wanting all of you to have support.  Or maybe it means... more.  But whether or not there are wide-reaching implications... it doesn't change how I feel.  I very seldom am directly involved in human affairs... or even the affairs of my fellow angels.  I record.  That's my job.  It has been from the beginning.  But God sent me to you both and so... yes, I feel responsible for you.  Every last person, with the exception of the Trinity, is my younger sibling.  But... I don't usually feel it as strongly as I do with the two of you.  It's... new.  The only other person I feel this way about is Sandy and he can't get himself into too much trouble inspiring creators.  So... I'm learning how to... hold those feelings without imposing the resulting... angst, I suppose... onto you.  If that makes sense."

"Oh, Marty..."  JenniAnn rose from the table and when Marty followed suit, she hugged him tightly.  "I feel really honored... and I do appreciate that you're working on finding a good balance."

Andrew embraced the scribe next.

"I feel the same.  And I'm really glad you're back with us.  I haven't entirely wrapped my brain around this Eden thing but... I know enough to know that what we have here is unique.  And it's worth guarding carefully... we can help each other with the balancing part because Laja knows I can go a bit overboard, too."

"Just a bit," JenniAnn teased.  "For my part, I'll do a better job of speaking up when I'm feeling a lil stifled but for now... have you kept up with your records since you've been in Wales or did someone else cover?"

"I've kept up.  But I'd love to hear about everything that's happened in your words."  Marty smiled at the two.  "Tell me about Christina."

Excitedly, Andrew and JenniAnn filled Marty in on what he'd missed. 

Unbeknownst to them, Joshua stood in the hallway, listening and smiling to himself.  Eden or not, all was well once again between the happy couple and their cheerleader/guardian/long-term house guest.


Christina gaped at the dozen donuts that Roger had just delivered to Loreena's dinette table.

"And so we're at least a little healthy..."

Loreena placed a platter of fruit and cheese down.

"And the donuts won't be nearly as good and fresh by tomorrow so eat as many as you like," Roger encouraged.  "Guest picks first."


Loreena looked on, pleased and unsurprised, as Christina picked up a sprinkled donut before helping herself to some cheese and fruit.

"I'll see how I do with this one before trying another.  It's just... wow."

"Gotta start the morning off right.  What do you usually have for breakfast?" Roger asked as he waved Loreena ahead then served himself.

"Cereal and toast."

"Do you like that?" Loreena asked.

Christina shrugged.

"It's okay.  It's never the good cereal.  Before I lost hot breakfast privileges, I'd get to have pancakes and waffles and stuff like that sometimes."

Loreena shook her head in surprise.

"Hot breakfast privileges?"

Christina blushed.

"I... shouldn't have said that.  My family is so weird.  I didn't make curfew a couple of times and... well... that was one of the punishments my dad came up with."

"Well... we're definitely having pancakes tomorrow.  Or waffles.  Or both," Roger insisted. 

Christina laughed.

"Thank you.  But you don't have to do..."

"I have a killer chocolate chip waffles recipe," Loreena interjected. 

"Well... if you make those then over the weekend just maybe I'll make arepas," Roger tantalized.

Loreena's face lit up.

"You know how to make them?  I wanted to ask when we were watching Encanto but I didn't want to seem insensitive.  Like all Columbians can make arepas."

Roger laughed.

"Well, not all can surely.  But this one can."

"What are arepas?" Christina asked between blissful bites of donut.  "I've never seen Encanto."

"Well, we'll have to remedy that if you want.  And they're little cakes made out of cornmeal that you can fill with different stuff.  I like the cheesy ones best, personally."

"Ooh..." Loreena cooed into anticipation.

"Tony has a meeting with some Jesuits this afternoon.  He said I'm not needed for that... I suspect it's less a meeting and more of a reunion.  So I can go grocery shopping then."  He turned to Christina.  "Did you want to go or..."

"I'm afraid someone I know will see me.  But I also... I didn't plan this out.  I didn't mean to make it a whole job for someone to figure out what to do with me and..." 

As tears threatened to fall, Loreena rested a gentle hand on Christina's arm.

"Shh...  You're okay.  It's okay.  We'll get you to the theatre this morning as planned.  My subway stop is before but Roger's is after so he can ride with you the whole time.  We'll arrange to have someone meet you at the stop.  All of Joshua's friends are lingering around.  I'm sure we can get a couple of them to help, no problem.  Would you be comfortable spending the day with them?  I'm sure Yehuda will be there.  And his wife, Tirzah.  Yehuda was the one who got you seated in the box to watch the show."

Christina nodded eagerly.  She'd gotten a good feeling from him.

Loreena's phone buzzed, followed a second later by Roger's.

"Ah, Andrew with the morning report," Roger observed.  He took a moment to read it.  "Well, there we go!  Yes, Yehuda and Tirzah and several of Joshua's friends will be at the theatre through out the day.  In the afternoon, Andrew and Joshua are helping out the old fellow next door whose kitchen sink is out of commission.  Joshua says that he could use a few helpers willing to do a bit of tidying."

Christina's face lit up.

"I actually really love organizing things..."

"Well, there we go!  You can spend the morning working on your mural then the afternoon helping with organizing.  Andrew's bringing Shelby and Violeta, his and JenniAnn's two older girls, with him.  Shelby would be right around your age.  They're probably bringing lunch in since Joshua's friends need to eat but we can pack you something, just in case," Loreena offered. 

"I..." Christina frowned and considered her words.  "I just don't understand."

"Don't understand what?" Loreena asked in a gentle tone.

"Why does everyone want to help me?  Why are people even bothering to be kind?  I... I was part of a hate group and I vandalized and..."

"Okay, firstly, vandalized is a bit of a strong word.  In the past, someone spray painted racist and anti-Semitic slurs onto the theatre.  That was vandalism.  And that was hate speech.  And, sure, based on the technical definition of the word, I suppose your mural is vandalism.  But you came to a place of art, a place that uses art to spread social messages... and you left art that, admittedly, we may not fully understand but it definitely seems to have a message.  I don't think your art and the actual vandalism is the same," Roger stressed.

"Well, no but... I definitely didn't have permission."

"But you do now.  And before you were shown grace.  Christina, Joshua's friends were watching the theatre.  They have been since the day the first protestor showed up.  They would have stopped you if anyone was really bothered by it.  In fact, I heard they did stop someone who was attempting to tag the building just to create mischief.  They knew you were out there.  But they thought it best to let you say your peace," Loreena explained, deliberately leaving off that Joshua had also been watching.

"You're hardly the first of us to have issues with organized religion... with God even... and in need of an outlet," Roger continued.  "Frankly, I think St. G's is a beacon to people who have been hurt by religion."

Loreena nodded.

"Absolutely.  Just in the short time I've been involved, I've been approached by so many people, the vast majority queer, who badly wanted to hang onto their faith in Jesus but felt rebuffed, ignored, and maligned by Christian churches.  But they feel safe at St. G's.  I'm one of those people... and I feel safe at St. G's," Loreena continued.  "I think, if anything, your mural helps us in that.  Because if people see it, they know that we're okay with tackling tough questions, that we're not just going to shut them up.  So, yes, everyone is kind to you... either because they've struggled, too.  Or because they've already made it their mission to help people who are struggling.  And, plus, everyone's just really nice in general."

"It comes from the top.  Emma, Peter, Andrew, and Joshua are all really, really nice people.  So, of course, they've built a company and crew around them who are also nice," Roger concluded.

Christina mulled this over as she ate her donut.  Then she gave a resolute nod.

"That all makes sense... especially the comes from the top part.  My old church was always pretty conservative.  But then my dad... the pastor... got really right-wing.  If he hadn't been sick that day, I have a bad feeling he would have been involved with the coup attempt, actually.  And then... then... the other pastor showed up and he... well, he seemed promising at first but really he was even crazier.  And then people started either leaving or... or bending themselves more and more to the extreme right."

Roger and Loreena exchanged a look.  Christina's use of "the other pastor" was suspicious.  Surely she knew his name.  And, for a moment, it seemed like she was going to say it but it was too painful.  And they well knew that Malachi had been present when Christina had run to Ed.  Between that and the remembrance of Andrew sending around notice that none of the women or girls were to approach the protestors, they could piece together what poor Christina had been up against, at least in vague terms.

"I'm so sorry.  That must have been very painful to watch," Loreena sympathized. 

"It... it was."  Christina glanced over at her backpack.  "I managed to smuggle out the eye shadow someone left for me.  Maybe I can wear some today?"

"You don't have to ask permission!" Loreena assured.  "But I hadn't even thought... you obviously snuck some PJs in there but do you need some clothes?"

"I have a couple of outfits... three if you count what I wore yesterday."  Christina finished her donut then opened her bag.  She grimaced as she yanked out some screed-filled pamphlets.  "I used these to hide what I was doing.  Do you happen to have a shredder?"

"Afraid not.  But St. G's does.  You can dispose of them there.  Smart idea!" Loreena praised.

"I'm just shocked my parents didn't actually search it... just a quick peek."  Christina pulled out some clothes.

"Amala is one of our costumers and she'll be around this evening.  If you give her your sizes, she can rustle up some more clothes for now.  We sent a bunch to Ukraine but we still have a community closet off-site," Loreena explained.  "And you're welcome to borrow any of my tops or skirts or dresses.  I'm afraid my pants would be a bit too long for you."

"And we can talk to some people about getting more of your stuff.  It wouldn't be the first time the group has done something like that... but probably best to wait a bit and let your folks cool off," Roger suggested. 

Christina chuckled.

"We'll be waiting a while... but thank you!  I really appreciate all of that.  I do have a little money, too.  My maternal grandparents sent me some money at school... right before my parents cut them off."

"Well, you keep that until you need it.  Do you need to contact your grandparents?" Roger asked.

"Eventually, yes.  I just... I want to wait a bit.  I overheard my parents talking and my grandpa had... had a stroke.  I... I think he's making improvements but I'm sure my grandma is helping him every minute of every day and I don't want to put more on her.  They live in Massachusetts and I know she'd drop everything to come get me but... she doesn't need that right now."

"Well, maybe think about it.  It might be a load off her mind to know you got out and are safe," Loreena pointed out.

"That's true...  I'll think about it." 

"Good.  Now... another donut?" Roger offered.

Grinning, Christina selected another.

Loreena smiled at her boyfriend and her guest, feeling very content.


"So, thankfully, the plumbing all seems to be great.  Thanks, Andrew, for checking that.  And structurally everything is solid.  So we've got the shelving units to put into the living room, Abi's going to plane the door leading into the garage so it doesn't drag, I'll get the one in the guest bedroom, we'll oil up the kitchen cabinets and the hinges on the back door, and, otherwise, it's just down to whatever cosmetic changes you want to make," Joshua listed off, referencing his clipboard. 

"And you can keep whatever appliances you want.  Any you don't like, we can donate," Adam added.  "I have what I need in Albany."

Joccy and Takoda beamed at each other then at Joshua, Adam, Yosef, and Andrew.

"Thank you all.  This is a big step and, well, thank you for helping us with it."  Takoda squeezed Joccy's hand. 

"Totally.  It's not lost on me that most people my age are really struggling with housing and yet..."  Joccy hugged Adam.  "You just gave us your house!"

Adam returned her hug and shook his head.

"It's not as if I ever paid for it.  And it'll be a load off my mind.  Even with it being used for guests sometimes, I felt weird about a perfectly good house just sitting most of the time.  And... my second home is in Albany now.  This makes it feel more official."

"Such a special thing... setting up home with the person you love," Yosef mused.  "I remember it well...  So... since the repairs are so minor, you can move in when you please.  Any ideas on a date?"

"I think Monday as our final move in date," Takoda answered.

Andrew chuckled.

"Thanks for that.  It'll give JenniAnn a couple of non-show dates to cope."

"Aww!  We'll visit all the time!" Joccy assured.  "But, yeah, Monday is great."

 "Wonderful!  We can get the boys to help with moving your things.  Yes, Yeshu?" Yosef checked.

"Absolutely.  They're ready and waiting.  I'm going to offer to Perry that some of us can help him get his place in order.  But I think he'd do better with mostly ladies helping him.  Plus Yehuda and Mattay.  Then we'll need a handful to stick around the theatre just in case.  But they can rotate out with whomever wants to help you two.  They'll be glad for it.  I think they're getting a little stir crazy at St. G's."

"And now that Marty's back, I'm sure he'll want to help out at St. G's," Andrew pointed out.

"Undoubtedly," Joshua agreed with a smile.  "So... We'll meet back here tomorrow morning after breakfast to get started.  Would you like help moving your things starting then or wait a bit?"

"Tomorrow is fine!" Joccy gushed.  "So exciting!"

"It is," Takoda agreed, kissing her hair.

Joshua beamed at the two.

"Then it's settled.  I'll talk to the guys.  For right now, let's move the lumber into the living room.  We can oil the hinges and probably even get the doors planed yet today."  Joshua handed his clipboard to Joccy.  "You jot down anything else the two of you would like done.  We'll go over it before lunch and then Andrew and I will head to St. G's and Perry's place.  Sound good?"

"Sounds awesome," Joccy replied as the others murmured agreement.

Joshua sighed happily as the young woman hugged him tightly. 

Politely, Andrew, Adam, and Yosef stepped away as Takoda moved into the embrace.

"I'm so proud of you both.  And I'm so excited to walk the next part of this journey with you.  I love you both so much," Joshua effused.

"We love you, too."  Takoda gave Joshua a wistful smile.  "We... we were both so broken and now..."

Joccy clasped his hand as they gazed at the house.

Joshua squeezed their shoulders.

"Now, you're whole."

Then he also wandered away so the happy couple could share a kiss on the doorstep of their new home.


Christina had enjoyed a quiet morning of working on her mural.  She'd been met at the subway station by Yehuda and Tirzah, as promised.  After that, she'd largely been left alone save regular checks to see if she wanted tea or coffee.  She had noticed that a few of the men were always nearby, always keeping watch.  At first it unnerved her but they were very kind and complimented her art.  The one named Mattay hovered the nearest and seemed the most intrigued by her work.  He'd smile shyly and ask about her color choices.  Christina began to wonder if he'd left the eye shadow palette.

Shortly before noon, Andrew and Joshua showed up with Shelby and Violeta and several trays of lasagna.  Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and flannel, Joshua seemed far less intimidating and, unlike the previous night, Christina allowed herself several moments to study him.  When she caught his eye, he smiled but kept his distance.  The two girls approached.

"Hi there!  I'm Shelby and this is my sister, Violeta."

"Hi!" Violeta greeted.

"You've made a lot of progress.  Looking good," Shelby praised.  "But maybe time for a lasagna break?"

"Oh, umm, Loreena and Roger packed a lunch for me and..."

Shelby nodded.

"Gotcha.  Well, you're welcome to still eat with us if you'd like.  And if you'd rather save what they packed and have some lasagna, you're welcome to.  It's great lasagna.  We picked it up from a shop some friends own, the same people the pizza came from last night."

"We got meat, cheese, and veggie," Violeta listed off.  "And breadsticks!"

Christina smiled.

"That does sound good.  Especially the veggie."

"That's my favorite, too!"  Shelby smiled.  "Come on, you can eat with us."

"Yeah.  I'd like that.  Thanks.  Just give me a moment..."  Christina wrapped her paintbrushes in foil.  When she was finished, she followed the sisters inside.

In the parking lot, Joshua looked away from the apostles he was convening with and smiled after the trio.


"Look, I'm not saying you need to get down on your hands and knees and scrub the floors with a toothbrush.  I just want everything to look nice.  We've only been on this ship for a few days and some of your cabins already look like pits!" Ed proclaimed.

Steve stifled a chuckle.

"Guys, I think what Ed is saying is that he'd like to make a good impression on his big brother and so if we could at least not have clothes strewn everywhere, that would be great," he clarified.

Ed nodded.

"Yeah.  That."

"What I don't understand is why we're trying to impress some guy who wanted to beat you up?" Lucky protested.

"Yeah, well, I kinda kidnapped one of his friends so..."  Ed shrugged.

"Why do we have to impress him if we don't have to impress Joshua?" Lars questioned.

Steve looked to Ed, unsure of the answer himself.

"Because Joshua is Joshua," Ed replied as if that explained it.

"I think what Ed means is Joshua loves people unconditionally.  He doesn't care if yesterday's clothes are piled at the foot of your bed.  But some people do.  And this Marty fellow might be one of them," Ollie offered.

"Right.  Xactly," Ed affirmed.

"So if you could please tidy up a bit, and especially in the common areas, we would appreciate it.  But now... I think lavender chamomile tea would be good for you, darling.  Let's go sit down."

Ed took Steve's hand and let himself be led away.

"So this Marty guy...  He's a scribe of Heaven?" Rocky asked.

"The Scribe of Heaven," Jess answered.  "First created being... so I've heard, anyway."

"That's what Joshua said at brunch with Loreena."  Ant grinned at his friends.  "So he knows all your sins."

"And yours!" Lucky shot back.

"Uh oh..."  Demi-John's face flushed.

Ollie chuckled.

"Let's not get too carried away with that.  We don't know how detailed his records are.  Besides, that means he also records the lives of, say, serial killers and murderous dictators.  I doubt anything we've done carries much weight in comparison."

Karl patted the bird on his shoulder.

"Tawera says we can trust him."

The other shipmates did a double take.

"Karl, how did Tawera get here?" Jess asked.

Karl shrugged and handed the bird some food.

"Okay...  Well, if Tawera says we can trust him..."  Ollie held up his arms in surrender.  "We trust him.  As if a portal-hopping bird is the weirdest thing we've experienced over the last few days..."

With mumbled agreement, the rest of the crew focused on their tidying.


Two hours later, the dinghy carrying Marty and Sandy arrived at the Fleetwood.

Following instructions from Ed, the crew soon had them aboard.

There was awkward silence for a few moments before Marty held out a box.

"I brought cookies."

Ed's left eye brow raised. 

"My... counselor taught me how to bake them while I was... away," Marty explained.  He stepped nearer, still holding the box out.  "I'm so sorry, Edgar."

Ed was surprised when tears filled his eyes.

"I'll just take these.  Thank you so much!" Steve smiled and took the box from Marty. 

"I'm so sorry," Marty repeated.  "I should have listened to JenniAnn.  Given you a chance.  After all you've gone..."

Ed let out a sob then embraced Marty.

Sandy beamed as Marty's arms closed around Ed.

After a few moments, Ed released Marty and smiled at him and then the others.

"Yeah, well, thanks.  You're forgiven, of course.  Shouldn't have done what I did.  Got a bit desperate is all.  No excuse but... well, I'm sorry, too."

Marty chuckled.

"Thank you... but I think you were forgiven before Andrew and I even arrived on scene.  JenniAnn always was a sucker for a good love story."

"We had a good one for her," Steve boasted.

"That you did.  Now... introduce me?  Oh but first... this is my twin, Sandy.  Also known as Sandalphon.  Ed, he took the photo of Loreena and Joshua."

Ed clapped Sandy on the back.

"Then you set everything in motion.  Good on you!"

"Thank you!  So pleased I could."

"Right, well, this is my boyfriend, Steve, of course."

"Hi all!"

"And his right hand man at the house, Ollie.  Ollie's spouse, Jess, our accountant.  Ant, our cook... and Loreena's cousin.  Lucky and Rocky there.  Demi-John and Baptiste.  Lars.  And Karl and his bird friend, Tawera."

Marty smiled at Tawera and gave a little bow to the others.

"Pleased to meet you all."

"Yes, very pleased!" Sandy added.  "Baptiste, I'm so hoping we might hear you play?  I enjoy your music very much."

Baptiste's face lit up.

"You know my..."

Sandy nodded.

"Yeah!  Yeah!  I'd love that."

"Well, let's give you both a tour while Baptiste here plans out his set, hmm?" Steve suggested.

"Sounds great," Marty agreed.

"Then off we go!  Follow me," Ed invited.

As the tour progressed, Steve noted how proud his boyfriend looked, showing everything off to his eldest brothers.  Everything was so much more wonderful than anything he had imagined as they'd planned their trip to see Joshua.


"So... I take it that Crowley and Joshua aren't really in a relationship?  Because Crowley seems way more into Azirfail... Azirapel..."  Christina shook her head.  "Sorry.  I'm still trying to learn all the names and his trips me up some."

"Aziraphale.  And, no, definitely not.  Well, I mean, at least not a romantic one.  At all," Shelby explained.

"Crowley and Aziraphale have been dancing around each other for a very long time," Violeta added.  "And they finally made things official a few years back.  But, yeah, Joshua and Crowley are most definitely not a couple.  Joshua's not with anyone like that."

"Joshua's asexual.  Like me."  Shelby hid a slight frown behind her hand.  She hoped that was okay to say.  She just wanted Christina to feel more comfortable around Joshua.

Christina rubbed her temples.

"Okay...  Let me try to remember.  So that's... it means you don't want to have sex with anyone?"

"Basically.  But there are some nuances.  Like some asexuals have their person that they can enjoy sex with.  Or else they don't get much out of it but love and feel safe with that person so they have sex with them because they know it's important to the other person.  I always compare it to how JenniAnn doesn't like sports at all but she'll sometimes watch a game with Andrew because she knows he enjoys sports and it's not like it'll actually harm her to watch."

Christina laughed.

"That actually helps.  Thanks.  I..."  She shook her head.  "Then that makes me feel even worse about what they're saying at my old church."

Violeta shrugged.

"I wouldn't worry too much about that.  Joshua and Crowley do love each other very much.  Just not like that.  And it's not like either is repulsed by the idea of someone thinking they're together.  I mean... Crowley is in a queer relationship.  And Joshua doesn't find it offensive for someone to think he is even though he's not.  I mean it's a shame they're mean about it but... well, Joshua's used to people being cruddy."

"Afraid so.  A few years back, someone painted hate speech right onto the theatre," Shelby relayed.  "I mean the signs are bad... but they're not on the theatre.  And then back in 2019, someone actually shot Joshua outside a mosque he was helping at.  So... this isn't our first bout with extremists."

"Shot him..." Christina repeated, stunned.

"Yeah...  The shooter is in jail now.  Joshua has actually met with him, trying to help him see the truth.  It's been going pretty well.  But it was really scary."  Violeta's eyes misted.

"It was...  We've been through a lot together.  But that's partly why your painting just didn't really bother anyone.  It's challenging, sure.  But it's not hateful."  Shelby smiled sadly.  "You aren't the first person to be dealing with religious angst around here."

"So I've heard.  Did you?" Christina asked.

Shelby shook her head.

"No.  Not really.  I was raised by Andrew and JenniAnn and some others who have pretty chill views on religion.  I mean... it's not like they're not strong in their beliefs.  They really, really are.  But not in a 'You must believe this.  God forbids this and this and this and you better listen or you're going to Hell' way.  So I never really had anything to rebel against in that department."

"If you don't mind my asking... why do you call them by their names if they're your parents?"

"Oh!  Well, to be honest, I don't usually call JenniAnn that.  I call her Psyche.  It's a long story but to make it reasonably short...  My parents were killed in a car accident when I was little."

"I'm so sorry!"

"Thank you.  My older brother and I survived.  I was really young so don't remember much at all.  JenniAnn was just out of college at the time... not with Andrew... and not really in a position to take on a kid full-time.  So I was taken in by her godfather, Vincent, and his family.  Vincent always called her Psyche so I did, too.  Anyway, JenniAnn would take me on overnights at her place.  And that became more and more frequent.  Especially once Andrew and JenniAnn got together and adopted Belle.  She was a baby and so sweet and I love her so much so... pre-teen me moved in largely full-time.  But by then it felt a little weird to call them Mom and Dad... especially when my brother still remembers our parents pretty clearly," Shelby explained.

"That makes sense.  Are you still close to your brother?"

"Yep!  I see him and my sister-in-law at least a couple times a week."

"That's really nice.  I wish I'd not been an only child.  Then again... it might have made it even harder to leave," Christina mused before looking to Violeta.  "How about you?"

"Oh, well, I was basically an adult when Andrew and JenniAnn took me in so... yeah, Mom and Dad felt weird even though they very much function in those roles," she replied. 

"Did you have to get away from your parents, too?" Christina asked softly.

Violeta's face colored.

"Oh!  No!"  She glanced over at Joshua who appeared to be planning the visit to Perry's house.  "My dad just has a lot of business all over the world and, you know, I'm grown up so it's not like I need parents around all the time but... it's nice to have someone in that role who is always close by.  But my Dad is totally there for me when I really need him."

"That's really good."

Shelby and Violeta exchanged sympathetic looks over Christina's wistful tone.

"It is.  And it looks like they're getting ready to head over to Perry's.  I think the plan is to have Joshua, Andrew, and Tirzah go first and then, if Perry's open to it, we'll join Tirzah in helping with the clean-up.  And just so you know... we are definitely NOT a 'cleaning is for women' type of group.  Joshua just thinks Perry will be a little less embarrassed having women help him versus men.  The only reason Andrew is even going is he's the only one with plumbing know-how," Violeta explained.

"No, no, that totally makes sense," Christina assured.

"Joshua's been over there.  And he said it's not like it's trashy and gross.  I mean dusty, yeah, but not like... half eaten food strewn about.  Perry's been dealing with trash.  It's just really more of a clutter issue... with a backlog of dishes due to the plumbing issues but even those have been scraped.  So we don't have to wear masks or gloves or anything unless you want to," Shelby added.

"So, like, a hoarding situation?"

Violeta nodded.

"His wife died and I think after that things kinda just piled up.  He'll probably have to make some decisions about hanging onto all her things but Tirzah said she'll be the one to broach that when the time comes."  Shelby shook her head sadly.  "I'm glad she's handling that..."

"Me too.  So... do we have any sort of budget for organizational supplies, do you know?" Christina asked.  "Or is it more of a use what we find situation."

"For sure the latter when we can.  But Joshua put a little money aside.  We just have to be careful because we don't want Perry to feel embarrassed."  Violeta glanced over at Joshua, Andrew, and Tirzah who waved.  "Looks like they're headed out so we might hear back in a bit.  So you actually enjoy organizing?"

Christina laughed and nodded.

"My mom was so excited when she realized that because, you know, my church was big into 'women belong in the home.'  So clearly that meant I was going to be a good wife and homemaker... never mind that I hate cooking and have zero skill at it.  Ironing seems ridiculous in all but the most extreme cases.  And while I'm perfectly happy to help with dusting and cleaning floors for your neighbor, I am never gonna be the sort of person who does that on a daily... or maybe even weekly... basis."

Shelby and Violeta both laughed before responding with "Same..." in unison.

"I think that's partly why I still live with Andrew and JenniAnn.  Cooking is NOT my strong suit.  I mean maybe I could do it a couple times a week... but every day, three times a day!?" Violeta exclaimed.

Shelby bumped her shoulder against Violeta's.

"We'd figure it out if we had to... but yeah.  I can't imagine not having a dishwasher... poor guy."  Shelby looked in the direction of Perry's house.  "Anyway, has anyone given you a full tour of the theatre yet?"

Christina shook her head.

"Then let's do that!  Andrew will text when we should head over to Perry's."  Violeta rose from her chair as did the other two.  "So... let's start with the theatre proper!"

As the tour commenced, Christina felt a rush of happiness.  Loreena and Roger were wonderful.  But, for the first time in too long, she felt she might have a chance at having friends her own age.


Tirzah squeezed Perry's hand as they stood in front of his over-flowing closet.

"Hildy was... ah... well, she was a bit of a clothes horse," Perry explained.  "She was very good about weeding things out... but not so much towards the end.  She asked me to help but..."  His eyes filled.  "I kept wanting to think she'd get well and be able to wear them all again but..."  He silently shook his head.

"I understand.  I... lost my husband once," Tirzah shared.  "It was very hard to know what to do in the wake of that."

"But you're happy now?"

Tirzah beamed and nodded.

"I am.  It was another life and I have a new one now.  But that doesn't mean the memories aren't still difficult at times.  And going through things... they can bring up memories.  So... if you really want to do this, it's very important that we go slow and stop if you get overwhelmed.  Yes?"

"Yes.  And I want to.  They make me feel guilty... as guilty as all those dishes stashed in the pantry."

Tirzah frowned.  One discovery she had made was a couple dozen food containers that had once held meals prepared for Perry by concerned friends... but those friends had not visited again past the first week or two after Hildy's death and so Perry had washed the dishes, labeled them, and stashed them.

"Well, we'll have the boys deliver the dishes to their homes.  They'll welcome the chance to venture from the theatre.  Then you can have your pantry back."

"That would be helpful.  I still don't understand why..."

"We're here.  We have the time.  We like to help people," Tirzah interrupted.  "And you were good to our Joshua."

"I only kept him company a couple of times and gave him cocoa," Perry protested.

"Yes.  And that's no small thing.  Now...  Is there anything you know you'll want to keep or that anyone in your family might want?"

"I, well...  Hildy survived all her sisters.  She has an older brother in memory care in New Jersey.  I've been meaning to call a nurse and ask if giving him his mother's shawls would be a good idea."

"So keep shawls.  That's a lovely gesture."

"And...  Her wedding dress.  I... I know it's silly but I don't feel ready to part with it.  At least not entirely.  I wondered if maybe your theatre could take it and put it to use as needed but..."

"But then you could still see it if you wanted to?" Tirzah helped when Perry's voice faltered.

Perry nodded.

"I think that's a wonderful idea," Tirzah agreed.  "And they'd make sure to always handle it with care.  As much care as Joshua's robe... well, the one that doesn't get torn, of course.  The good one."

Perry chuckled.

"I understand.  I was admiring it when he wore it during one of our visits.  I thought it was impressive you all made sure it was seamless... at least that I could see."

"I'll extend your appreciation to Maryam, Joshua's mother.  She made it."

"Talented family."

"Yes.  Very.  So... you ready?"

Perry gulped then nodded.

Tirzah handed him a handkerchief.

"In case you need it.  No shame if you do."

Perry accepted it and admired it.

"It's monogrammed...  With my initials."

Tirzah beamed.

"Another Maryam project.  She's made them for all of us."

"Lovely..."  Perry squeezed it then took in and let out a deep breath.  "I'm ready."


An hour later, Andrew had the kitchen sink running again and focused his efforts on the dishwasher.  Christina, Shelby, and Violeta were called over to help with organization. 

Perry warmly welcomed the trio, Christina especially.

"I'm so glad you're here... and away from them," he quietly told her as they shook hands.

"Oh, yeah... thanks."  Christina smiled at him.  "Me too."

Perry was taken aback.  Her smile was so familiar to him.  Unsure of what else to say, he looked to Tirzah for help.

"So I understand you're passionate about organization, Christina?" Tirzah asked.

"Oh, yeah.  I guess so.  I used to think about maybe becoming a professional organizer at some point," Christina replied, looking around the bedroom.  "Something I realized even when I was pretty young is that if I could make something look aesthetically pleasing, I was more apt to keep it tidy.  So I'd do things that seem goofy to some people like, say, ordering the items in my drawers and closets in ROYGBIV order.  Because then putting everything back is its own reward because I get to see it look nice."

Recovered from his earlier unease, Perry chuckled.

"I admire the idea but I'm afraid my wardrobe is more of a GBBBW situation.  Gray Black Brown Beige White.  Maybe some T-shirts are a little more colorful."

Christina smiled again.

"I understand.  And I still think that exact order, actually, would look really nice.  Shall we try it?"

"Sure," Perry agreed.

"All right then... everyone sort!" Tirzah directed.

It only took twenty minutes for the five to have all of Perry's clothes separated into six piles: Gray, Black, Brown, Beige, White, Other. 

"Now we start hanging everything up," Christina directed.  "Everything except the T-shirts.  We'll figure out a drawer for them."

Soon, Perry's closet was neatly filled.

"Wow...  You're right.  It makes me not want to touch anything."

"No, you should, though!  They're your things!" Christina urged.  "You just put everything back in its spot once it's washed."

"Noted."  Perry smiled at her.  "You're very good at this."

"Well, like I told Shelby and Violeta, I'm selectively tidy.  Dusting and scrubbing are not my favorite things.  But even with that... the aesthetics are better afterwards."

"Truly an artist's eye."

Christina blushed and shrugged.

"It looks really nice," Tirzah complimented.  "Now..."

"We have a dishwasher!" Joshua cheered from downstairs.

"Already?" Perry headed towards the kitchen with the others following.  "A miracle man!"  He clapped Andrew on the back.

Andrew sent an amused smile in Joshua's direction then shrugged.

"It's not my first rodeo.  I've fixed my family's own dishwasher many a time... although that was more owing to small children recklessly pushing buttons.  This was an issue with your water inlet valve but everything's fine now.  Anything else or should Joshua and I get out of your hair?"

Violeta glanced over at Christina who was warily eying Joshua.  She had seemed so empowered and in command in the bedroom but now she was timid.

"Could we get you fellows to bring those boxed dishes over to the theatre to be distributed?" TIrzah requested.  "Addresses are on the tags."

"Absolutely!" Joshua agreed as Andrew nodded.  "I should check in over there, anyway."

"Yeah, me too," Andrew agreed.  "But call if you need anything?"

"We will!" Tirzah agreed.

As Shelby and Violeta hugged the two men good bye, Christina surveyed the kitchen.

"I really love the glass front cupboards."

Perry scoffed.

"They make hiding things a little difficult."

"But why are you hiding things?  You have so many beautiful dishes!" Christina protested.

"Another Hildy collection.  Although I admit I loved the colorfulness, too.  So... what would you recommend?"

"Well, for starters, I think the dishes you're most apt to use should go in a cabinet that's the most accessible.  After that... treat every cabinet like it's a canvas."

The others watched with interest as Christina cleared out a cabinet and then assembled a collection of yellow plates and a set of green and blue mugs.  She placed them in the cabinet and stepped back.

"I mean... maybe it isn't the most practical but it is pretty and you have the space.  And I'm sure someone could help you rotate every season.  I will if I'm around," Christina offered.

"It does look lovely," Perry agreed. 

"Well, then, Shelby and Christina, how about you keep working in the kitchen?" Tirzah suggested to nods.  "Perry, is there anywhere else you'd like Violeta and me to help out?"

"Oh...  Well..." Perry shuffled. 

Tirzah squeezed his hand.

"Show us?"

With a nod, Perry led the two out of the room and upstairs.

Christina and Shelby exchanged curious looks but soon focused on the array of dishes.


Tirzah, Violeta, and Perry stood outside a closed door two rooms away from his own bedroom.

"I'm not ready to get rid of anything.  Still...  But... it hasn't been dusted in... in many months," he explained, apologetic.  "Hildy and I... we lost our daughter many years ago."

"Perry, I'm so sorry."  Tirzah hugged him.

"I'm sorry, too.  And we'll be very, very careful," Violeta vowed.  "Can I ask what her name was?"

"Lauren Grace."  Perry opened the room and stepped inside but only briefly as his eyes welled.  He returned to the hall.  "I would appreciate the help.  I don't want her things ruined."

"We'll be very careful with Lauren's things," Tirzah reiterated.  "A little dust hasn't ruined anything."

Perry patted her hand.

"Thank you.  I'm going to go back to the kitchen now."

"Of course.  We'll be down once we're finished."  Tirzah gave him a gentle smile.

Perry did his best to return it then left.

"Did you know about Lauren?" Violeta asked. 

Tirzah nodded.


"I've met Hildy," Tirzah replied.  "That's why I'm here."

"Oh...  I thought maybe Joshua picked you because you'd understand being widowed."

"That, too.  But many of the ladies understand that.  There's a lot to uncover here, Violeta.  But slowly.  Like with dusting.  Move too quickly and one could break something."

Violeta frowned and looked around the room.

"So much heartbreak for one man... no wonder he turned grouchy."

"Yes.  He protected his heart by keeping people away.  But Perry is changing and that's a good thing.  So... you take left side, I'll take right?"


Before the two began their work, Tirzah approached a teddy bear and squeezed its hand. 

"We'll take care of your Daddy, sweetheart," she whispered. 

Violeta gave a nod to the bear then the two focused on their dusting.


At a quarter til 4:00, Ant arrived at St. Genesius' where he was greeted by Shane.

"Ant!  Come on in!" the teacher warmly greeted.

"Thank you.  Loreena let me know she's still about a half hour from arriving.  Is it okay if I just hang out here?"

"Of course!  It's really good to see you again."

"Same!" Ant smiled, remembering the brief but friendly chat the two had had at the pizza party the previous night. 
"I like your pin," he commented, waving to the rainbow Safe Space design on Shane's lapel.

"Oh, thanks!  Yeah, just want my kids to know I'm safe to talk to."  Shane ushered Ant into the theatre proper and the two sat down after waving to Andrew, Joshua, and Eric who were on stage.

"You have kids?"

Shane chuckled.

"Yes and no.  No, I don't have children of my own.  Yes, I have twenty five... students," he stressed. 

"Ah!" Ant laughed.  "You scared me for a moment.  I mean... no judgment but twenty five offspring is reality TV levels of extreme."

"Agreed.  But, no, no biological kids.  That would be pretty darn impossible since I've only ever been with men," Shane pointed out.

"Oh!  You're gay, too!" Ant cheered.

Shane smiled and nodded.

"It's meant a lot to me... to know Joshua is okay with that.  My family... minus Loreena, of course... not so much."  Ant frowned.

Shane squeezed his shoulder.

"But you have a family now that supports you?"

Ant grinned and nodded, thinking of his house-now-shipmates.

"I do, yeah.  You?"

"Thankfully, my family always supported me.  And then I have the Friends.  My only concern..." Shane's voice drifted off.

Ant rested a hand on his arm.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to.  I know we've only just met.  But... I've been told I'm a good listener if you do want to talk about it."

Shane gave his new friend a grateful smile.

"I think I would, actually.  Like I said, I want my kids to know I'm a safe person to talk to.  And I'm pretty sure most if not all of them know I'm gay.  I don't make my personal life their business, of course.  But you know how kids can piece together bits of information about their teachers."

Ant laughed and nodded.

"I do.  When I was in sixth grade, I think my classmates and I figured out two of our teachers were in love before they did."

"Exactly.  I knew my fifth grade art teacher was pregnant before she announced it.  Kids are perceptive.  I just worry that mine might think my lack of a boyfriend is because of my attachment to this show, to Christianity.  Like maybe I believe that 'being gay is okay so long as you don't act on it' garbage.  But I don't believe that.  At all!  I mean... Owen and Graham got married with Joshua as the guest of honor.  And Ed and Steve?  Holy cow!  He's giving Ed the choice to become human!  These are not the actions of a man... or a God... who thinks gay sex in inherently evil."

"No.  Not at all.  And the way he's so chatty and loving towards Lucky and Rocky.  They aren't even married.  Committed, sure.  But not married."

"Right?!  Anyway, I think I've always been somewhere on the asexuality spectrum.  So I don't have that pull to have a boyfriend."  Shane shrugged.  "It's just how I am.  But also..."

Ant caught Shane's gaze as it traveled towards Joshua.  He turned back to Shane and nodded sagely.

"You're Mary Magdalene.  The show's version.  Not the real one."

Shane's face flushed and he nodded.

"I mean... I don't want him like that.  But... for a while after Joshua showed up, I did try to date.  But... I just wasn't there.  My mind was always drifting, wondering what Joshua was doing.  What he'd think about the museum or restaurant or park or wherever I was.  And it was more engaging... more meaningful... to me to think about Joshua than to actually be present with the guy.  And that's not fair.  So I stopped dating.  And... I'm not lonely.  When I'm home, sometimes I talk to Joshua like he's right there.  And, even when I can't see him, I feel like he is."

"Because he is.  God is everywhere."

Eyes misting, Shane smiled and nodded.

"I'm happy.  I really am... but I'm sure it sounds crazy to others."

Ant gave an adamant shake of his head.

"Not to me.  It's not what I'd want.  But I understand it.  I do.  I started reading the Bible again, for the first time since I was thirteen, after the whole Ed revelation."  He looked admiringly at Joshua.  "He's... perfect.  And, for what it's worth, I think your kids get it, too, on some level.  You radiate happiness, Shane.  Happiness and freedom.  They see that.  I'm sure they do.  You've found someone who makes you happy.  Who cares if it's not the typical sort of relationship?"

Shane beamed.

"Yeah... true.  Thanks!"

"And, I mean, no one can fault your tastes."  Ant grinned.  "You picked the literal best man to ever exist."

Shane chuckled.

Overhearing, Joshua approached.

"And what's going on over here?"

Shane smiled at him.

"Just talking about you."

"Hmm... I am pretty hilarious." 

Shane laughed and hugged Joshua. 

"So you ready for tonight?"

Joshua nodded.

"Looking forward to it.  Marty's coming with Jamie, Vonnie, and Rhiannon so I'm excited to see them.  And... I feel better about the situation outside now that Christina has left them."

"Good!  Me too.  I was about to offer Ant a behind-the-scenes tour if you'd like to take part?" Shane offered.

"Ooh!" Ant cried.

Joshua chuckled and began to nod before he noticed Andrew near the ticket window, waving to him.

"I'd love that but I need to check in with Andrew really quick.  Get started and I'll catch up?" he suggested.

"Sure thing," Shane agreed.  "Ant, let's start over here, actually."

Joshua smiled after the two as they headed towards the private box, sure Ant would be touched by the story of Yehuda.  Then he made his way to Andrew.

"What's up?"

"I stepped outside to collect the mail and we received this.  I didn't open it because it just looks... off."

Joshua took an envelope from Andrew.  He instantly recognized the scrawl and, after a word from his Dad, knew what it contained.

"Let's head to the office."

Gravely, Andrew followed.  Once they were there, Joshua began searching Peter's and Emma's desk.  He looked over at the shredder then shook his head.

"What are you looking for?" the angel asked.

"A place to hide this."

"What is it?"

"Malachi trying to pull something disgusting.  But I don't want to get rid of it because Christina may need it for evidence eventually."

"Christina?  Should I run next door and get her?"

"No.  I don't want her knowing about this as she's just settling in.  We'll tell her later."  Joshua frowned.  "Nothing here is secure enough.  If Emma and Peter stop by, they have every right to open an envelope addressed to their theatre.  I could put a note on it but..."

Crowley chose that moment to saunter into the office.

"Where's JenniAnn?  We have a situation..."

Andrew and Joshua looked up and tried to stifle their laughter.

"Aziraphale and his damn candles everywhere..." Crowley menaced.

Joshua couldn't help chuckling.  Then his face lit up.

"This is perfect, actually..."

"Perfect?!  I have jasmine scented wax in my hair!  Dratted long hair..."

"No, no.  Don't worry about that.  JenniAnn will be here shortly.  She can set some ice cubes on the wax and it'll come out easily.  Your timing is perfect."  Joshua held the envelope out to Crowley.  "Could you please go to your place and stash this somewhere no one will find it?  And don't open it.  I mean it, Crowley."

Thoughts of his hair put aside, Crowley solemnly took the envelope.

"You're going to trust me with another do not touch thing?"

Joshua nodded, peering intently at Crowley.

"I trust you."

Crowley batted back a couple of tears.

"Right.  Yeah.  I'll do that.  Hide it away, no peeking."

"Thank you."

"JenniAnn should be here by the time you get back.  I'll send her a text to let her know to come find you," Andrew offered.

"Thank you.  Be back soon."  Crowley glanced down at the envelope then gave Joshua a trembling smile and disappeared.

"That was kind of a big deal... giving that to the Serpent..." Andrew opined.

"I really do trust him," Joshua stressed.  "And... that's a load off my mind.  Now... I told Shane and Ant I'd join them for a behind-the-scenes tour.  But find me if anything else happens?"

Andrew squeezed Joshua's shoulder.

"Absolutely.  Promise."

"Thank you."  Joshua smiled at Andrew then patted his cheek.  "It's all right, Andrew.  I know this is difficult.  And I don't want you bearing it alone.  Talk to JenniAnn as you need to.  I trust you both to not let it go beyond the two of you."

The angel nodded.  Once he was left alone, he dragged a hand through his hair.  He had a good suspicion that he knew what had been in that envelope.  He'd been able to feel the outline of what seemed to be 4X6 printed photos.  He felt a sick feeling in his stomach that traveled up his body, turning into rage.  He pounded the desk, sending a stapler falling.

Slowly, as he bent to pick the stapler up, Andrew breathed in and out.

They had a show to put on.  They had much-needed messages to send to their audience. 

They had to, in their own way, fight against that monster on the street corner.


Still not ready to watch the show again, with Perry's blessing, Christina had stayed at his house during the performance.  She felt comfortable there... and there was still a lot of work to do.

"I suppose you'll want to organize the books by color, too?" Perry teased.

Christina laughed and shook her head.

"I draw the line there.  Unless you think you'd actually be able to find a book based on the color of its spine?"

"I do not..."

"Then genres it is.  We can still make it look nice and less..."

"Piles stacked everywhere?"

"Yes."  Christina smiled but it began to fade when she picked up a book.  "You seem to have a lot Christian leadership types of books."

"Oh... yeah.  Well, I was pastor a lifetime ago."

"What sort of pastor?"

"Regular old Lutheran pastor.  Not quite as progressive as our friends next door but also... nothing like what you're used to.  Still... I was old-fashioned and... stuck in my ways."  Perry bowed his head.  "Turns out I would have done better to be like Joshua and his crew."

"Why do you say that?  I mean... if you don't mind telling me?  Feel free to tell me to shut up if..."  Christina frowned and shook her head.  "It's just... even though the situation is different... maybe it'll help me understand why my dad and mom... became who they did."

"I would never tell you to shut up.  But... it's a long story.  Maybe over some tea or cocoa?"

Christina smiled and nodded.

"Cocoa sounds great."

"Then let's go prepare that in my sparkling brand new kitchen."

Christina laughed and followed Perry.  The kitchen truly did look amazing.  In no time at all, they had their cocoa and returned to the library.

"My wife, Hildy, and I had a daughter.  A beautiful little thing we named Lauren.  We adored her.  The Lord didn't see fit to give us any more kids, we figured, but that was fine.  Lauren was all we needed.  She was such a kind, sensitive girl.  Loved Jesus.  Loved reading."  Perry waved around the library.  "Loved painting."

Christina smiled when Perry looked to her.

"The summer after she graduated from high school, she took a job at a cafe that used to be a few blocks from here.  One day, some guy strolled in.  An itinerant preacher with all these big ideas about traveling across the country in a van, sharing the good news."  Perry grimaced.  "He became a regular... and wormed his way into Lauren's tender heart.  She brought him home to meet us and I think she thought we'd be pleased with this good, Christian boy.  But I knew something was off.  As early as seminary I'd been able to pick out those who wanted to head a church because they wanted to serve people as Jesus did... and those who wanted to head a church to feel powerful."

Christina nodded.  She knew exactly which camp her father and Malachi fell in.

"I knew that boy was the latter.  But Hildy urged me to be patient, to be hopeful.  I wanted none of it.  I... I wanted the best for my girl.  I wanted her to go to college.  Build a life for herself.  To find a partner who was worthy of her.  Yes, I wanted her to serve God... but not like that!  And I let them both know that.  Loudly."

Perry brushed away a tear.

"The morning after that dinner, Hildy and I woke up to find Lauren's bedroom empty.  She'd left us a note... telling us she'd gone off with him... that she hoped one day we could welcome them both with open arms.  But... we never saw her alive again."

Christina grabbed a nearby tissue as her own eyes filled.

"Did you at least speak to her?"

"Hildy did a few times.  Over the phone.  Lauren never wanted to talk to me.  My suspicions... they were borne out.  He wasn't just a wandering, solitary preacher.  He had a whole group assembled around him.  A cult.  They weren't as bad as many others.  Never killed anyone.  No sexual abuse... at least not coercive... from what we could tell.  But plenty of mind control.  He was in charge and that was that.  And... apparently he didn't believe in monogamy.  Fancied himself a modern-day Abraham or Jacob.  The last time Lauren phoned her mom, she was heartbroken.  He'd cheated on her.  With multiple 'disciples.'  Hildy pleaded with her to come home but... she wouldn't.  I think she was embarrassed.  Embarrassed to face me.  To come back to a church that had loved her and wanted so much for her."

Perry took a long sip of his cocoa then set a hand on Christina's.

"Tell me if you want me to stop.  I know it's a sad story."

"No...  I mean it is but... I want to hear it.  Maybe I need to hear it," Christina replied through her tears.

"Okay.  We only learned the rest from a former cult member who visited us years later.  Our beautiful girl got pregnant by that man but the baby was stillborn.  After that, Lauren was never really herself.  She started using drugs.  One day... she took too much.  Damn cult just left her at a hospital in New Mexico.  Thankfully, she still had her ID on her so a local morgue tracked us down.  We were able to at least bring her body home.  Hildy's buried next to her."

"I'm so sorry," Christina murmured.  "How horrible for you and Hildy.  And your church."

Perry nodded.

"I stepped away after that.  What right did I have leading a congregation when I couldn't even keep my baby girl safe?  And... I was angry.  At God.  Eventually, I saw that He was just as used by that man as my Lauren was.  But I couldn't preach any more.  Stopped praying, actually.  And that's why... in case you've heard... I was so stand-offish with the folks over there."  He waved towards St. G's.  "Hippie Christian types.  But... near as I can tell now, they're as far away from that guy as the Earth is from the Moon."

"They are very kind.  I don't know many of them very well... but I've not caught a whiff of any weird mind game stuff.  I like what you said.  About God being used, too.  I guess I never really thought about it like that but... He is.  If Jesus really is who the Bible says he is... I can't imagine him being okay with what that man did or with what my dad's church is doing."

"No.  I'm glad you're away from that."

"Me too.  I just wish they'd knock it off with the picketing.  No one should have to deal with that.  I hate that people are seeing that when they're just coming to see a show about Jesus," Christina lamented.

"Me too.  Speaking of the show... they're probably wrapping up now.  Did you want to head over there?"

Christina nodded.

"I do.  I like people watching.  But I could come back tomorrow to get going with the library?"

"I'd love that.  Thank you.  But I don't want to be monopolizing your time.  You're a young girl.  You should be living it up," Perry encouraged.

Christina laughed.

"Yeah... maybe.  Eventually.  But right now I'm still too worried about being spotted by people from the church.  I prefer to stick to safe spaces so... Loreena's apartment, the theatre, and here."

"I'm glad you feel safe here and over there.  Now... I'll walk you to the door and watch to make sure you make it to St. G's door."


At the door, Christina was surprised to find herself hugging the old man.  She couldn't explain it but she felt a kinship with him.

"G'night, Perry."

"G'night, Christina.  You take care."

"You too!  See you tomorrow!"


Christina beamed then dashed to the theatre.

Perry smiled when he realized at least two of Joshua's friends were also keeping watch.  Soon, Christina was safely inside St. G's office.

Once he'd locked up for the night, Perry made his way back upstairs.  Rather than turning to his room, he turned left and stood in front of Lauren's door.  After a few moments, he opened it and entered.  He felt sadness... but it didn't overwhelm him like it usually did.  There was even an aspect of peace to it.  He smiled as he approached a doll's cradle and picked up a rag doll.  She'd been his daughter's favorite.  Funnily enough, Lauren had named her Christina.  While he wasn't quite ready to part with her yet, Perry considered that, one day, maybe he could make a gift of her to the real Christina.  He suspected Lauren would like that.  God knew that girl deserved something to snuggle and hold onto.

Perry replaced the doll then left the room and readied himself for bed.  Once he was tucked in, he resurrected a nightly tradition he'd abandoned years ago.  He began to thank God for the day's blessings, leading with all the kindness he had received from the hippies next door.


The Trio

Friday, April 8th, 2022

With Loreena and Roger both having taken the day off from work, they were able to ride with Christina the whole way to St. G's.  Once they'd seen she was happily settled at Perry's, the two re-entered the theatre and took the portal to Asteriana.  Ant was excitedly waiting on the other side.



The cousins greeted each other with warm hugs.


Roger chuckled as Ant embraced him.

"Good morning, Ant.  You're in a chipper mood," Roger observed.

"Just excited to show you both our ship!  We're learning a lot.  Steve says we'll soon be proper sailors!"

Loreena playfully squeezed Ant's bicep.

"You're definitely stronger than the Ant I used to know."

Ant laughed.

"Well... I think the few days of sailing are less responsible for that than lugging pots and pans filled with enough food for a dozen people for years but thank you."

"Do you miss being in Aotearoa?" Roger asked as they walked towards the shore.

"Yes and no.  I miss our house.  Our kitchen.  But I love it here.  And we'll be able to go back and forth once Joshua gives us the all clear.  Right now there's still some danger of demons finding out that Ed's redeemed himself.  Best let them simmer for a bit."

"It's still so hard to believe you've been living with a demon for years."  Loreena shook her head in amazement.  "Even if he was a good one it's still... startling."

"We got used to it pretty quickly.  Ed's a good guy.  And Steve's never been happier.  I don't think I mentioned before that Steve was raised by a pastor and his wife.  They were maybe only a couple rungs down on the crazy ladder from the church you're dealing with at St. G's.  So you can imagine... truly... how huge it is to, first, have found someone who loves him so completely and, second, having Jesus himself affirm their relationship."

Loreena squeezed Roger's hand.

"I truly, truly can.  But how about you?  You have anyone special, Ant?"

Ant shook his head.

"Not yet.  But... that's one nice thing about having a portal at Ed's and Steve's place.  Getting to visit you is the main one.  But... I think my dating odds are better in New York.  I love our close-knit little neighborhood back home but... everyone feels related.  Shane's already offered to be my wingman."

"What a great idea!" Loreena gushed.  "I get the impression Shane knows lots of people and... wow.  Is that it?"  She pointed to a ship looming in the distance.

"Yep!  We'll take this dinghy out there.  I'll row.  Been doing it often enough.  Then again... maybe that is helping with the biceps?"  Ant chuckled and waved his guests into the dinghy. 

The ride was mostly quiet, interrupted only by exclamations of wonder from Loreena and Roger.  Soon, however, they had reached the Fleetwood and were pulled on deck.

"Kia ora!" Ed greeted.  "Welcome aboard the Fleetwood!"

"Delighted to have you join us!" Steve added. 

"Thank you so much!  Oh, this ship is beautiful!" Loreena complimented.  "And you all look very sailory!"

The crew looked proudly at each other.

"Just a gorgeous vessel..." Roger murmured, running his hand over some fine woodwork.

"It truly is.  Joshua has blessed us.  I know you don't have all day but, sometime after the show, you'll have to join us for a full day cruise," Ed invited.  "Nothing like watching the sunrise and sunset from the deck."

"But for now... since it's a trifle windy... please join us in our quarters for some morning tea?" Steve asked.

"Love to!  Thanks so much!"

Beaming and hand-in-hand with Roger, Loreena followed her hosts and Ant below deck.  She and Roger were quickly seated and fussed over.

"You have to try the sandwiches.  And the ladyfingers.  Ant's outdone himself," Steve boasted.

"Ah, it was nothing," the chef demurred.

"Was not," Ed protested as he poured tea for Loreena and Roger.  "Lots of work.  Your cousin's very talented, Loreena.  As are you.  I wanted to invite you here to properly thank you.  I'm sure it took some guts to join the show but... if you'd not... I'd still be a nervous wreck, laying low at Steve's place.  Without the photo you sent Ant, we'd have had no idea that Joshua was here."

"Well... then Roger also deserves credit.  I wouldn't have auditioned if not for his encouragement."  Loreena squeezed her boyfriend's hand.

"I just knew you'd be perfect.  And you are."  Roger smiled lovingly at Loreena then looked to Ed and Steve.  "That really is something about the photo.  Who would have thought?  It's amazing the way he takes little things and makes them into big things."

"Truly," Steve agreed.  "I only met Ed because my college buddies invited me out for a night.  I didn't even want to go.  But I did and one dance to 'The Chain' later... I was in love."

Ed held up his tea cup.

"Likewise, love."

"'The Chain'!  That's why your ship is called the Fleetwood!  Fleetwood Mac."

"Ding, ding, ding!  We thought it suited it," Steve replied.  "So... how is the young lady?  Christina?"

Loreena nodded.

"Yes, Christina.  And, you know, she's doing very well.  She's really hit it off with everyone.  It's kind of shocking, actually.  But it also makes me think of how closed in she must have felt before... and now to finally be free.  When I think of it that way, it makes more sense to me that she's so... eager to be with people."

"Agreed.  I have to admit that I really thought we'd have to be laying low at Loreena's apartment for a while with her.  But she's really taken to St. G's," Roger confirmed.

"She was in hell and she was lonely.  People do stupid things when they're lonely.  I went home with a guy I'd just met.  Christina went home with you two.  Thankfully, our rashness served us both well."  Ed gave the others a wistful smile. 

"It did.  You know, when you're ready, I think Christina would like to properly meet you, Ed.  She's very grateful to you," Loreena relayed.  "Obviously it can't be here.  Not yet.  But if you make your way back to St. G's..."

"Course.  I'd love to properly meet her, too.  We plan to go see the show again, definitely one of your nights on.  I'll talk to Andrew about... tomorrow afternoon?"

"Sounds like a plan!" 

Loreena made a note on her phone then, as advised, dunked a ladyfinger into her tea and took a bite.

"Mmm... oh, Ant...  I forgot how much I missed your baking and cooking!"

Ant made a little bow, chuckling as he did.

Happy for the chance to further talk up their chef, Ed and Steve regaled Loreena and Roger with talk of Ant's culinary prowess.

As she listened and admired the offered photographic proof, Loreena's heart swelled.  As if it wasn't enough that she had found Roger and a loving community, now she knew without any doubt that her cousin was loved and adored. 


As she had the previous night, Christina stationed herself behind the ticket window following the show.  From what she had heard, it had been a rather pathetic showing from her former church members.   She hoped they were losing interest completely and not simply because Loreena had the night off.  After all, Joshua had seemed to be the actual target of their wrath.

As she was thinking this, Christina saw one of Joshua's patrols enter the lobby.  Mattay, specifically.  Christina tensed, worried that he was coming with news.  Instead, Mattay smiled and waved then approached.

"Has something happened?" Christina asked.

"Oh out there?  No."  Mattay gave her a sheepish smile.  "I just got cold so T.J. told me to come inside for a bit."

"Oh.  Okay, good.  Can I get you some tea or cocoa or something from the office?"

"That would be very nice, thank you.  But I'll go with you."

Christina smiled and followed Mattay into the crowd.  They had nearly reached the door to the office when she heard a bit of dialogue that made her pause.

"Oh, Rory...  Look at you!  You look great!  I'm so proud of you!"

Christina turned towards the voice... Joshua's voice.  Her heart sped when she saw who he was talking to.

Raven, Austin, and Rory, the trio who had befriended her in high school... before her father had ripped her away from them.

Mattay set a hand on Christina's shoulder.

"Are you all right, Christina?"

"I... yeah...  Just... saw people I used to know... used to be friends with."

"From your church?" Mattay asked, his voice rising.

Christina adamantly shook her head.

"No... thank God.  Friends from when I went to school."

Mattay smiled, relaxing.

"Then you should go talk to them!  I can find my way to the office from here."

Before Christina could say anything more, Mattay hurried off.  With a sigh, she decided she may as well approach her old friends.  She was still a few feet away when Raven spotted her.

"Oh..."  The young woman clasped her hands together and brought them to her heart.  "Christina..."

Austin and Rory spun around to follow Raven's gaze.

Christina had frozen.

For the first time since her arrival, Joshua approached her.

"Christina, maybe you and your friends could step back into the theatre proper to catch up?" he offered.

"Yes!  Let's do that!" Raven enthused.

Before Christina herself could respond, Raven was pulling her towards the theatre with Austin and Rory behind them.

Once the door had closed, Raven put her hands on Christina's shoulders and studied her.

"Girl... look at you!  You look so good!"  Raven wiped at her eyes.  "We've been so worried about you!  Oh... can I hug you?"

Mutely, Christina nodded.

As Raven embraced her, Christina began to cry. 

"Why don't we all sit down?" Rory suggested as he pressed a handkerchief into Christina's hand. 

Raven led Christina to a seat then plopped down beside her while Austin and Rory sat backwards in the row in front of them.

"Christina... we tried to track you down.  Even had big ideas of bursting into your church on a Sunday morning and making a scene.  But you never told us which one."  Austin shook his head.  "Sadly, there's more than one crazy church around here."

"When this season started... we did start to wonder if the church out there was the one.  We hoped not but..." Rory looked sympathetically at his old friend.  "It was, wasn't it?"

Christina nodded and dabbed at her face with the handkerchief.

"It... it's been really awful.  Oh... Rory, this is beautiful and I'm getting make-up all over and it even has your initial...  I'm sorry."

Rory shrugged.

"It's fine, really.  Josh's mom gave me five of them before my top surgery.  My poor mom's got so much PTSD around hospitals since my sister died that she just couldn't sit with me.  Dad couldn't get off work.  So Josh and his parents came."

"Your sister died?"

Rory nodded.

"Yeah... the leukemia got her.  But we were in a really good place when she went.  She'd accepted me.  It was very peaceful at the end.  But... it was a lot before that so... yeah.  No more hospitals for Mom if it can be helped."

"I'm so sorry."  Christina rested her hand over Rory's.  "But... Joshua and his parents were with you?"

"Austin and Raven, too, of course."

"Of course!" the friends echoed in unison.


"My family and I met Joshua that first year they did JCS here.  We came because Mr. Mur... Shane aka Herod... was my teacher in middle school.  We kept in touch with him and Josh.  Sometimes we'd meet up for meals."

"And we'd tag along cause Josh is cool... for a Millennial," Raven teased.

Christina smiled, completely missing the wink Raven gave to Rory and Austin.

"But how about you?" Rory asked.  "How'd you end up here?"

"And what ended up happening with that new guy you thought might get your church back on..."

Christina let out a shuddering breath then began to quake with sobs.

"I... I'm sorry I brought it up," Austin apologized.

"Christina... what happened?" Raven softly asked as she enveloped the other girl in her arms.

"I... I can't..."

"Then don't.  I'm sorry.  It's okay... it's okay," Raven soothed.  "You're safe now.  Safe with us.  And safe with your friends here, right?"

Christina calmed a little and nodded.

"I... I'm staying with Loreena... the other Mary Magdalene... and her boyfriend, Roger.  They've been so nice."

"We're coming to see the show again to see her!" Austin shared.  "We've heard awesome things."

Christina nodded.

"She's really amazing."

"Is it okay to ask how you ended up here?" Rory checked.

"It's... kind of embarrassing but... my parents made me come... to picket.  I... I didn't want to.  At all.  But..."

The trio all noticed when Christina subconsciously rubbed at her back.

"Jesus..." Austin muttered.

"I... I wasn't out there for long.  Maybe a couple minutes.  Joshua and Andrew had security posted... I mean their friends... not like professional security but they seem to do the job well.  Anyway... they were there and two other guys, a couple, named Ed and Steve.  Ed... I mean... he's gorgeous.  He looks like you'd imagine a biblical angel looking."

"So four faces and, like, eight wings?" Rory kidded.

Christina laughed.

"No.  I mean like in Bible movies.  Just... beautiful and ethereal but like he'd fit in, at the same time.  He was wearing a Pride shirt and so... I knew he must be safe.  Like... he wouldn't do anything to me so... so I ran to him and... and he and Steve hurried me inside."

"Gays for the win!" Austin cheered, throwing his hands in the air.

"Lesbians totally woulda done the same thing had we been there," Raven playfully countered before returning her attention to Christina.  "So what happened then?"

"Well... the cast and crew were having a pizza party so they fed me.  And Loreena was there but it was her off night so during the show she filled me in on who everyone was.  And... that made me feel less like a stranger and... and I felt safe with her.  Since I had no where to go, I asked if I could stay with her and she agreed and so... I've spent the last couple nights with her and Roger.  I spend the days here or next door, helping their neighbor.  He's a really nice old guy who just needs help getting his house in order since his wife died.  He was a former pastor but... not at all like my dad.  We had a really good talk today and he owned up to what mistakes he did make as a pastor... again, nothing like what my dad did... and I dunno...  Even though it didn't really involve me, just hearing that accountability from a pastor felt so... healing."

"That's all really great, Christina!  I'm so glad you got away from your church.  And came here of all places!  St. G's is great!" Rory praised.  "And it led you back to us."

"I... I missed you all so much.  You... you were the only people who were truly kind to me and... and it broke my heart when my dad..."

Panic began to rise up in Christina again.  She had been heartbroken... and vulnerable.  And it had made her easy to manipulate and...

"Group hug!" Raven declared.

The two boys stood as Raven pulled Christina to her feet.  She sighed happily as she was wrapped up in her friends' embrace.

Peeking around the curtain, Mattay smiled. 



Saturday, April 9th, 2022

After a chaotic breakfast that had included the usual crew plus Jamie, Vonnie, and Rhiannon; Andrew and JenniAnn were putting away dishes in the ballroom's storage room.  For easily the dozenth time that morning, JenniAnn caught Andrew checking his cell phone.  He was never so wrapped up in it. 

"Love, is something going on?  I mean... beyond the obvious Christofascists picketing our show thing?"

Andrew shoved his phone in his pocket, unsure what to say.  Then he decided the truth was always best.

"I just... I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Something happened on Thursday, Laja.  But... you can't talk about it.  Not with anyone but me.  And Joshua if you want.  Okay?"

"Okay...  I'm glad Joshua said you could talk to me.  So you don't have to hold it in.  So..."  JenniAnn steered Andrew to a spare couch they kept in there and sat beside him, taking one of his hands in both of hers.

"An envelope arrived at St. G's addressed to 'Theater Owner.'  Joshua said not to open it.  He said it was from Malachi and he had Crowley squirrel it away somewhere.  Joshua seemed to consider shredding it but he said Christina might eventually need it... for evidence."

"Oh..."  JenniAnn's face flushed with anger.  "So... are you thinking this is like a... sextortion thing?"

Andrew nodded.

"It... felt like photos."

"Does Christina know?"

"Joshua wanted to wait to tell her until she was more settled.  I heard she reunited with some school friends last night so... maybe soon."

"Maybe."  JenniAnn shook her head.  "So... I've kinda just been assuming that something deeply untoward happened between Christina and Malachi.  To be honest, I think a lot of us have.  What with the warning Joshua gave to the women and girls.  And Hahana and Zaila both independently told me that he gave them the heebie-jeebies.  And the whole picking the one guy who was wearing a Pride shirt to run to thing... the one guy who she could have easily assumed was gay and, thus, safe."

"That... breaks my heart."

"What part?"

"All of it.  But that men... and those of us who look like men... can be seen as so dangerous that the effect is only lessened when you can make a reasonable assumption he's not into women."

JenniAnn nodded.

"I mean... it's not like we assume all gay men are beacons of morality and goodness.  They're on the same moral/immoral spectrum all humans are.  But yeah... highly unlikely a gay guy is going to molest or rape you.  And... it's not all the time, Andrew.  I always felt safe with you.  And... I think I would have even if you were a man.  Because you're... you."

"Laja...  You say that because you've spent..."

A knock on the door interrupted Andrew.

"Safe to come in?" Crowley called.

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged sheepish smiles.

"Safe to come in," JenniAnn assured.

Crowley stepped into the room.

"I just wanted to report that Aziraphale has your children going with the pirate thing again.  I didn't know if you wanted them riled up like that when Catherine and Vincent are going to be babysitting."

"Tattling on your anam cara..." JenniAnn teased, shaking her finger.  "But thank you.  I think it'll be okay, though.  Maybe I'll give Vincent a heads up to bring Treasure Island or something to read to them."

"He does that and Aziraphale won't be leaving... which is fine.  I can handle the shows without him.  Feeling better about... everything."

JenniAnn hugged him.

"Good!  And I'll be there if you need moral support.  Andrew, too."

The angel of death smiled and nodded. 

Crowley cocked his head for a moment as he looked at Andrew.

"You all right there?"

"Oh, yeah, fine.  Just..."  Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.  "Two show day.  Always a little exhausting."

"Right..." Crowley replied, unconvinced.  "Well, I'm going to go join the mutiny that I'm sure is happening in the ballroom.  Door closed?"

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged looks before the former shook his head.

"I should probably head to the theatre."

"Andrew... the show isn't starting for six hours," JenniAnn protested.

"I know... I just...  I'll feel better after checking in with the guys.  Come with me and we can make a stop at Adrian's for some chai?" Andrew offered.

"Aziraphale and I can watch the kids until Vincent and Catherine get here.  I'm sure Marty and Jamie will help," Crowley offered.  "You deserve some quiet chai time."

JenniAnn smiled appreciatively at Crowley.

"Thank you.  In that case..."  She turned to Andrew and squeezed his hands.  "Yes.  Let's do that."

"Thanks, Laja.  And thanks, Crowley.  Let's go say good bye to the kids and... to Adrian's we go."

Crowley waved the two out and then looked after them with a concerned frown.


Loreena and Roger stood in the doorway to her bedroom, smiling out at the scene in front of them.

"It makes me nostalgic..." Loreena whispered.  "When Diamond first took me in, we had hardly any money and so we all slept in sleeping bags on the floor of our tiny little studio.  It wasn't much... but it was home."

Roger squeezed her hand.

Upon hearing they lived an hour away and wanted to see her perform as Mary, Loreena had arranged for four tickets to the matinee and invited Christina's friends to stay the night.  And so they had... Austin and Rory in sleeping bags, Raven with Christina on the sofa bed.  All four looked very peaceful.

"Still want arepas? Roger asked.

"Very much."

"Let's leave a note and we'll make them at my place so we don't wake them up."

Loreena nodded and the two re-entered her bedroom and closed the door.

"How late do you think they stayed up?" Roger asked.

"Easily past 2 AM.  I woke up briefly and could hear them laughing.  It made me so happy."

"So you think Joshua had this little reunion planned?"

"Of course.  Was he conscious of it last night?  I dunno.  I suspect Mattay was, though.  It's a little convenient...  He chooses right then to come inside, get Christina out of the ticket box, and they walk right into her old friends?"

"There's something going on with Mattay.  I don't know what it is but..."

"You picked up on that, too?  He seems like such a sweetheart but there's something... unsettled about him.  Something I don't pick up from the others.  Not even Yehuda."

Roger nodded as he continued to get dressed.

"I talked to John about the whole saint/spirit thing once.  He said that, in Heaven, obviously they're at perfect peace.  It's Paradise so of course they are.  But when they come back here... sometimes old wounds get re-opened.  It's like they can't quite grasp the peace that was so... ever-present before.  Maybe something about all of this... beyond the subject of the show itself... is bringing stuff up for Mattay," he surmised.

"Maybe...  It's kind of startling, really.  These are people that have meant so much to us, who have impacted us so much.  And yet... we know so little about them.  Heck, I didn't even know the bulk of them were married and had kids." 

"I mean when you think about it... how much did you even really know about Joshua?  People have been debating for centuries about something as basic as whether he had siblings."

Loreena froze.

"You're right!  And I didn't think to ask.  Does he?"

"Yes and no.  Neither Maryam nor Yosef had other children.  But Yosef's sister and her husband died when Joshua was around sixteen.  So they were his cousins, really, but became siblings because Maryam and Yosef adopted them.  We still have no idea what exactly the nature of Maryam's and Yosef's marriage was beyond the fact that they were madly in love.  And, really, I think that's all we need to know.  They loved each other and they loved their boy.  Still do."

"And I love that.  I hope they're having a blast helping Emma and Peter out."

"I'm sure they are.  But I hope we see them again soon.  And Emma and Peter.  Might help calm people down.  Anyway... ready?"

"Ready!  Just let me..."  Loreena hurriedly wrote a note. 

The couple stepped into the living room, taped the note to the door, and then excitedly left for their arepa-making lesson.



At St. Genesius', all twelve apostles, along with Tirzah and Rakhyl, were gathered into the office.  They'd been summoned there by Cephas who, along with Mattay, had found a disturbing voicemail message that morning.

With as much discretion as possible, while still conveying the seriousness of it, Cephas had filled the others in.

It had been a vile, disgusting thing.  And, though the caller had disguised his voice, they all suspected they knew who left it.

"Do we tell Yeshua?" Philippus asked.

"Of course we tell Yeshua!  We don't hide anything from the Rabbi," Bar Tolmay insisted.

"I don't want him to have to hear that," Tirzah countered.  "It's... evil."

"If Cephas and Mattay can manage to listen to it, so can he.  He's faced far more evil than any of us have," Yohannan pointed out.

"But it was about him!" his brother protested.

The sound of a key in the backdoor caused them all to freeze.

A moment later, Andrew and JenniAnn stepped inside carrying cartons of coffee and chai.  They halted when they saw they'd interrupted something.

"What's happened?" Andrew asked.

"Disgusting voicemail," Cephas replied. 

Andrew set down his cartons and sighed.

"About Christina?"

"And Yeshua.  With a couple of comments about Loreena and Crowley," Andreas answered.  "And the whole lot of us are 'disgusting, perverted groomers,' apparently."  He rolled his eyes.

"Oh no..." JenniAnn murmured.

"Well, let me hear it."  Andrew waved to the machine. 

"With all due respect, perhaps JenniAnn should step into the other room?" Thoma suggested.

"If she wants to listen, she can listen."  Rakhyl approached JenniAnn and set a hand on her arm.  "What happens to Andrew happens to her in some respect... and vice versa."  She smiled gently at JenniAnn.  "But it's your choice.  I've not heard it myself but from Cephas' report... it truly is vile."

JenniAnn looked to Andrew.

"It's whatever you want, Laja."

"Please don't," Thoma pleaded.

Mattay, who had been sitting in stony silence, laughed bitterly.

"You act as if it's language she's never heard.  As if she's never been catcalled...  Never gotten a perverted, unsolicited email or text message.  Never had anything vile said to her."

Mattay and JenniAnn exchanged watery glances.

"It's her choice, Thoma." 

Silently, Thoma nodded.

Mattay rose and approached the phone. 

"JenniAnn, what do you want to do?  It's your choice entirely."  Mattay offered her a brave smile.

"Play it.  I want to know what they said about our Joshua and our friends," JenniAnn replied, trying to keep a tremor out of her voice.

Andrew moved behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.

Mattay nodded.

"Let's clear the room, otherwise," Cephas suggested.  "The fewer who hear the actual message, the better."

With limited grumbling, the others followed him out into the hallway.

Once the door was closed, Mattay played the message.

JenniAnn felt Andrew's arms shake with anger as they listened.

When it was over, she brushed at tears and shook her head.

"He tells on himself while making accusations.  I'm sure of it.  He... he forced her to do that?  Poor Christina!"

The look in Mattay's eyes was all the confirmation Andrew and JenniAnn needed.

Andrew heaved a sigh.

"Has Joshua heard?"

"We were actually debating whether to have him listen to it or not.  I vote yea."

"For what it's worth...  So do I," JenniAnn agreed.  "Joshua already knows every last thing that happened to Christina."

Mattay murmured acknowledgement of this fact.

But Andrew was silent and unmoving.  Then, suddenly, he loosed his grip on JenniAnn and stormed out of the office.


JenniAnn hurried after him.  Cephas, still waiting in the hall with the others, moved to follow but Rakhyl grabbed his arm.

"Leave them be.  They'll take care of each other."

"What we need to do is decide how we're going to take care of this guy," Shimeon declared, glaring at the phone.

"What do you mean?" T.J. asked.

"I mean when our rabbi's life was threatened, we all fell asleep on him.  Now his honor is being threatened!  Not this time.  This time... we're doing something."

"Shimeon... what are you thinking?" Cephas asked warily.  "Yeshua specifically told us not to confront Malachi unless we had no choice."

"We won't confront him.  Not exactly.  I mean... not when he's awake, anyway.  He thinks he's the bringer of truth... he thinks he knows what Rabboni really meant, what he really wanted.  And he thinks that because he's doing 'God's work,' he can do whatever he damn well pleases.  Well...  I think we show him what truly following the Way means.  That it's not about scoring brownie points so you can earn the right to menace and abuse some poor girl.  No... it's about sacrifice.  About being willing to sacrifice... everything.  For Him.  For His children.  We'll show him that."

Their interest piqued, the others began to ask questions and, soon, a plan was formed.


JenniAnn caught up to him in the prop room.  She had a feeling that if she'd been only a split second later, she might have witnessed a re-enactment of Joshua's Temple scene.

"Andrew," she repeated as she wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head against his heaving back.  "Love... breath with me, love.  In... and out.  In... and out."

The angel obeyed.  But the peace lasted for only a few moments before Andrew spun around.

"She... she cared for him!  She honestly cared for him!  And he did... that!" he spat out.  "This whole time... I... I thought maybe he just... he attacked her out of the blue.  A-and that was bad enough.  But..."

JenniAnn nodded sadly.  While it was foolish to trust anything Malachi said, his accuasion that Christina had been sweet and attentive had a ring of truth to it.  She was no stranger to crushes on supposed men of God... thankfully, hers had been on a real one.  Poor Christina had been duped. 

"Yes...  I got the impression from what he said that, at least from Christina's perspective, it sounded like an actual crush.  Probably even encouraged by her parents.  And... and that he said things she wanted to hear.  Then... he manipulated her.  And he's so twisted that he thinks Joshua will do the same... has already even."

"She... cared for him..." Andrew repeated. 

"Love..."  JenniAnn withdrew a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped at Andrew's tear-streaked face.  "She did.  And that makes this all so much sadder.  But you can't change the past.  Christina and her friends are coming to today's matinee, though.  So we can give them a wonderful show.  We can show Christina a God who truly loves her... just as she is.  And then we'll get through tonight's show, too.  But then we're going home.  No meet and greet.  If someone has questions for us, someone can get their emails and we'll get in touch.  But you... I'm worried about you, Andrew.  I really am.  So... I think we take a night to ourselves, hmm?"

Andrew brushed at the last of his tears then nodded.

"Yeah... yeah, I'd like that.  Laja, I... I love you so much."

"I know.  And I love you, too."

JenniAnn stretched up to kiss him then her lips moved to his cheek and then his jawline and his neck.

Touched by her tenderness, Andrew began to softly cry again.

Out in the hallway, Crowley leaned against the wall and fought his own tears.

Like hell he was going to let that sicko hurt his friends.


Joshua was on the floor of Randall's and Dot's living room, playing with the Romano and Stanford kids, when Adam approached with a troubled look on his face.

"Boss...  Andrew just called.  Everyone's okay but something happened at the theatre... an... objectionable voicemail."

Joshua grimaced before letting it fade from his face and smiling at the kids. 

"All right, well, I need to head to work but you kids keep working on building that castle.  I'll check back soon, okay?"

"Okay!" Felix cried, hugging Joshua.

Maisy and Etta clamored to do the same then Joshua bid their parents and Randall and Dot good bye before following Adam to the portal.

"Any ideas on what's in the message?"

"No.  But Andrew sounded... not well."

"All right."  Joshua heaved a sigh.  "Let's go figure this out."


Andrew looked expectantly at Joshua after he'd played the message for him and him alone.

"So what do we do?  Do we tell Christina?"

Joshua dragged a hand through his hair then looked out the window.  After a few moments, he nodded.

"Yes.  But we don't play it for her unless she asks... which I don't think she will.  And we assure her that only a handful of us heard.  Since he's not letting up, she needs to know what Malachi is doing and, even more than that, she needs to know that he's failing at it.  He's not actually concerned that I'd do any of that... no more than he actually thinks I'm in a relationship with Crowley.  He doesn't care about me or any of us.  Oh, sure, he says the whole point of that business on the corner is to help us see the error of our sinful, ungodly ways and turn back.  But he's not out there for us.  He's out there for his followers.  This show... us... he's just using us as pawns to make his congregation feel less safe, more angry... more tightly bound to him and to Quentin who, in their minds, can keep them from falling into Satan's grasp.  The point of that message was to get us to feel disgusted enough to cast Christina out.  But we're not like that.  Never have been.  Never will be."

Andrew gave a resolute nod.

"I can't tell Christina about the message.  She's still not sure what to think about me... and who can blame her when the last man she knew who played Jesus raped her?"  Joshua's eyes filled.  "As much as I love my robe from my Ama... it's a real hindrance right now.  But I also can't do the show in jeans and flannel.  So... Mattay can tell her.  About the photos, too... while assuring her none of us saw them.  It'll be good for them both.  She might still feel uneasy... like she's one misstep from being cast out.  But Ed wants to meet with her.  Check in with her.  Other than Crowley and Yehuda, neither of whom she's spoken with much, there's no one better to assure her that we don't hold people's past against them... especially not when they didn't even do anything wrong to begin with."

"I'm sorry, Joshua..."

Joshua looked up from the program he'd been rolling and unrolling as he'd talked.

"Andrew..."  He reached for the angel's right hand and squeezed it.  "What do you have to be sorry for?"

"I didn't really put it together.  I was so hung up on Malachi being a pastor and nearly two decades older than Christina that, even though I knew he'd played Jesus, well... I guess I had a mental block that didn't want to put two and two together.  She cared for him initially because..."

Tears welled in Joshua's eyes.

"He looked like she thought you looked.  And... she loved you."

Joshua nodded and a tear slid down each cheek.

"We... we have a couple hours before curtain.  Maybe you should go back to Asteriana and take a walk or something?" Andrew suggested, his own rage temporarily bottled up as he focused on Joshua's turmoil.

"No.  I... I'd rather not be alone."

A playful knock sounded on the office door.

"Who is it?" Andrew called.

"Shane!  I just heard something awesome from Sandy!  Christina reunited with Rory and..."

Shane quieted when Andrew opened the door and he caught sight of Joshua.

"Josh..."  Shane hurried forward and knelt in front of Joshua.  "Josh, you look... are you okay?"

Joshua's rested his forehead against Shane's.

"Just... sad."

"I suggested he take a walk around Asteriana but he didn't want to be alone," Andrew relayed.  "So maybe you could..."

"Absolutely."  Shane rose and offered Joshua a hand.  "Let's go take in some nature.  You know, I know the guy who created it."

In spite of his heartache, Joshua chuckled.

"Let's just take some tea for the road..."  Shane hurriedly filled a couple of mugs with hot water and dropped in some chamomile bags.  "And off we go..." 

"See you soon!" Andrew called after the two.

"Thank you, Andrew," Joshua responded before he and Shane disappeared into the blue room.

Andrew peered up at the ceiling.

"Father... help us," he prayed.


"Do I look... trustworthy?  Safe?" Ed asked as he looked at himself in the mirror.

Steve looped his arms around the angel's waist and peeked around his shoulder.

"You look positively angelic, darling," Steve murmured as he took in Ed's tan linen pants and beige sweater.  "Just one thing...  Close your eyes.  And hold up your hair, please."

Ed smiled and obeyed.  Clearly he was getting a gift.  He felt a gentle weight settle over his heart.

"You can open your eyes now."

Ed gaped at the rainbow stone hanging from his neck.

"Rainbow tourmaline.  It was my gran's.  I understand better now why she loved it so much.  And I want you to have it."

"Steve...  You sure, mate?"

"Very sure."

"I... I love it."

"It looks beautiful on you."  Steve grinned.  "You wear fine things well."

Ed chuckled.

"Now you're cribbing from a TV show."

"Doesn't make it any less true."

Ed blushed then moved in for a kiss which Steve eagerly reciprocated.

"Blech...  Could you please just start closing the door when you do that?"  Lucky, his nose scrunched, requested as he stood in the doorway to their cabin.

"Don't always know when the mood's gonna hit," Ed replied with a wicked smile. 

"Yes, well, your dinghy's ready.  Karl will row you out.  Text me when you're ready to come back."

Ed nodded.

"Will do."

"I wish I could go with you..." Steve pouted.

"Me too.  But I'll be back soon, yeah?  Thought we might find an island or shore to relax on.  Maybe make some s'mores?" Ed suggested.

"Ooh..." Lucky rushed away to tell the others.

Ed hugged Steve tightly then began to sway.

"Maybe a little dancing on the beach?" he suggested.

Steve beamed.

"I'd love that."

"Me too.  But for now... off I go.  Angel business." 

Steve smiled proudly as he escorted Ed to the deck and watched as he boarded the dinghy with Karl.

As much as he hated being parted from Ed, even for a couple of hours, Steve sent up a prayer of gratitude to God for giving his angel a chance to return to his roots.


Sitting in St. G's office, Christina stared at the wall after Mattay finished speaking.  She'd had such a beautiful morning.  New friends, old friends, arepas...  Now this.

"I... I'm so... embar..."

Mattay clasped Christina's shaking hands.

"Don't be.  You were the victim of a crime.  Crimes, actually.  And... you survived it all.  You got away.  You got yourself away.  That's something to be proud of, Christina.  I'm only telling you this because the few of us who know... we wanted you to be careful.  To protect yourself.  But also to know... we erased the message.  But we made a copy before we did.  It's stashed away with the photos.  When you're ready... if you're ready... we'll turn them over to you and you alone.  You can destroy them.  Or you can hand them over as evidence should you choose to go to the police."

"O... okay.  Does... does Joshua know?"

Mattay nodded.

Christina sniffled.

"Everyone talks about him like... like he's such a good man.  He... he supported my friend when he had surgery a-and Loreena talks like he's Jesus Himself.  What must he think?"

"His heart breaks for you, Christina.  And his feelings for you remain exactly what they were.  Joshua cares for and wants the best for every single person who crosses the threshold of this theatre.  You know, when they first did this, he had some lyrics changed because he didn't want anyone to get the impression that Jesus didn't want to die for his people... for his children.  Joshua wants everyone to know that they're loved so much that God Himself would die for them.  For you."

"I... I've avoided him."

"Yes but he understands why.  I avoided him, too... for a time."  Mattay drew in a deep breath.  "A long time ago... a lifetime ago... but I did."


"Are you up for a sad story?  But one with hope?"

Christina nodded.

"Okay.  When I was seven, my father died.  My family... we were not well off.  My mother tried very hard to keep us fed.  She... she was a good woman.  I... loved her dearly.  Still do."  Mattay managed a teary smile.  "When I was twelve, I... I became very sick.  Pneumonia.  My mother... she was willing to do anything to make me well.  There... there are ways to sacrifice your body that don't mean death."


"He was a wealthy tradesman who had always wanted her.  And so... he agreed to pay for my treatment.  For her.  I got better.  But... that man was married to the daughter of a well-respected rabbi.  She found out and told her dad and... and he had my mother humiliated and killed."


Mattay fought back the memories... the stones... his mother's broken, still body.

"I turned my back on Judaism that very day.  Until I met Ye... Joshua.  Everyone else ignored me as best they could... the traitorous son of a whore in their minds.  But not Joshua.  He always spoke to me with kindness, with respect.  Even when I was rude to him.  Even when I ignored him.  But then one day..." Mattay beamed.  "One day, I just couldn't any more.  He called out to me.  He asked me to fol... to be his friend.  And... suddenly I wanted nothing more than that.  To be his friend.  And so... we were.  And have been friends ever since.  Never once did he make me feel badly about my past.  Never."

"I... I'm so sorry you went through that, Mattay.  But I'm so glad you found a true friend."  Christina smiled through her tears.  Already the gloom of Malachi's message was lifting. 

"And now you have, too.  And re-found others." 

Christina nodded.

"And here... courtesy of Joshua's mom.  Sorry.  I should have handed them over earlier."

Christina laughed as she accepted a neatly tied bundle of handkerchiefs with C in a rainbow of colors embroidered in the corner.

"Does she give these to all of you?"

"Yes.  She knows we're an emotional bunch.  You fit right in."

Giggling with relief, Christina dabbed at her eyes.

There was a polite knock on the door.

"Hey there.  It's Ed."

"Ed..." Christina echoed.  "I... I had wanted to thank Ed.  Does he know?"

Mattay shook his head.

"He just knows that you need a little extra support today and he's been wanting to check in on you, anyway.  You can let him in."

Christina opened the door to grant Ed entry.

"Hey there, kiddo, how are you doing?" Ed asked as he stepped into the office.

"I... You know... it's been a lot.  Today especially but... I'm actually really good."

"Aww, that's wonderful!  Settling in all right?  You look great.  Much less..."

"Muted?" Christina suggested. 

"Well..."  Ed was amazed at how different... how much lighter... Christina looked.  A couple days of unconditional love and kindness had really done wonders.

She laughed.

"Amala found me some clothes that suit me much better than what I'd had and then with the eye shadow... actually..."  Christina turned to face Mattay.  "Was that you... someone left an eye shadow palette by my painting."

Mattay shook his head.

"Quite sure it was Joshua.  He noticed the girl in your mural had eye shadow and so..."

"Oh..."  Christina sniffled.  "That... that was incredibly kind.  I'll have to thank him.  I'm just still..."  Her cheeks began to burn again.  "It's hard for me to wrap my mind around why you're all so kind to me when this all started because I was picketing and then... I bring my mess here and..."

"Oh, trust me.  You are far from the messiest person this group has had to deal with," Ed assured.  "I mean... That could very well be me.  I, umm, kinda sorta held JenniAnn hostage a week ago," he confessed, his face scrunching in embarrassment.

"Wh-what?" Christina spat out.

Mattay snickered.

"Umm... yeah, so... had a falling out with Joshua several years ago.  My fault entirely.  Felt awful about it.  I heard he was here but I was so ashamed that I thought I needed someone to advocate for me so...  Yeah, kinda held JenniAnn here and told her my story so she could go to Joshua and... it was dumb.  Really dumb.  Turned out Joshua had been waiting patiently for me to come back the whole time.  I didn't need anyone to plead my case.  So, yeah, whatever you think you may have done... really doesn't compare to holding the director's partner hostage for a few hours and talking her ear off about how in love you are with your boyfriend."

It was so absolutely absurd that Christina couldn't help but laugh.

"I mean... I barely know JenniAnn and can't speak for her.  But that kind of sounds like an entertaining hostage experience."

"We fed her Pop-Tarts," Ed added.

"Ooh...  Never had those but have heard they're good."

"You... you've never had Pop-Tarts?" the angel gasped. 

"No... my parents were weird about food."

Ed pulled his phone out of his pocket and began frantically texting.

"What are you doing?" Mattay questioned.

"I'm asking Steve to bring her some flipping Pop-Tarts.  Oh and two of my snail forks.  Meant to bring them.  Forgot."

Impulsively, Christina hugged Ed.

"Aww, thanks.  Love that.  Love hugs."

Somewhat awkwardly, Mattay joined in.

Christina sighed happily.

"Never really knew it until recently but... I love hugs, too."

"Well, then you're in a good place.  This is a very huggable bunch," Ed shared, beaming.

Hearing this, Christina was overcome with one thought... next time she saw him, she was hugging Joshua.

"Wait... why is Steve bringing snail forks?" Mattay questioned as he stepped out of the hug.  "We don't have any snails."

"Oh, right.  Yeah, Steve said it was weird but... our friend Lucky gave me a set.  Joke from a TV show.  I don't have much practical use for them.  Blech on snails.  But, ya know, reminded me of the whole 'If your right eye offends you, pluck it out' thing...  Snail fork would work for that.  Thought you could mail one to that wretch you ran away from anonymously with that verse written on a slip of paper," Ed explained to Christina.  "Then maybe keep the other.  As a reminder.  And because it's pretty."

Mattay stared at him.

"You can't be serious."

Christina could only laugh.  Ed really was messy.  But she loved him for it.  And maybe a snail fork or two would come in handy some day.


"So I'm not sure how to ask this but...  Inquiring minds want to know.  Do the two of you know who Joshua really is?" Austin asked while sequestered in the costume shop with Loreena, Roger, Raven, and Rory while Christina met with Mattay.

Loreena burst out laughing.

"Yes!  Roger and I were trying to figure out how to ask the three of you but Christina was always around.  She, unfortunately, doesn't.  Yet."

"Yeah, well... that's going to be touchy."  Raven grimaced.  "I won't... because of Joshua... but I'd really like to strangle that Malachi guy.  He did a number on Christina.  She actually kind of had a crush on him when he first showed up, I think.  I remember her talking about him.  How he seemed less... angry and negative than her dad.  She thought maybe he could turn the church around.  But I think we all realize that was a ploy to get the pastor's daughter.  Also... she's a very pretty girl and he's a very creepy man."

"Thankfully and unfortunately both... this group has had a lot of experience supporting people dealing with the fall-out of clerical abuse."  Roger frowned.  "That's actually how I learned about Joshua.  A family member was abused by a priest and Joshua helped him begin to heal."

"I found out because, when my sister was dying, she kept saying Joshua's name...  And it was like she was reaching out to him.  That was actually the last word she said.  'Joshua.'  Once it was over, I called Shane.  I'd always had a feeling... and he confirmed it.  And then I called Raven and Austin while a complete blubbering mess and blurted it out to them," Rory relayed with misty eyes.

"Mighta thought it was the grief talking... but it made too much sense," Austin added. 

"How did you learn, Loreena?" Raven inquired.

"Well... it actually begins almost twenty years ago," Loreena eagerly started, excited to share the story of "Vero."


Joshua sighed happily as he peered up at the sunlit, late morning sky in Asteriana.

Shane lifted his head from Joshua's shoulder.

"Heard something or just admiring your handiwork?"

Joshua smiled and squeezed Shane's hand.

"Both.  But mostly good news from Dad.  Christina handled everything really well.   Mattay and Ed did a masterful job.  You're all getting so good at supporting each other.  Have been for a long time."

Shane smiled but then it began to fade.

"We... we still need you, Josh.  I mean... of course we do.  But I mean... here.  With us.  Visiting here and there."

Joshua squeezed Shane's hand again.

"I'm not going anywhere, Shane.  I promise.  I just mean...  Andrew and JenniAnn handled almost everything when Aziraphale and Crowley surfaced. 
The way everyone rallied around Andrew and JenniAnn after they were attacked.  And it was JenniAnn again, at the forefront, when Ed and Steve showed up.   And, this time around, everyone but especially Loreena, stepped up to the plate for Christina.  It's a lot different than when, say, Emma had her troubles and I was so much more involved in a hands on way."

"Does that... bother you?"

"Bother me?  Not at all!  I'm so proud, Shane.  Truly.  And... grateful.  Because this time especially... I just couldn't be there for Christina... physically.  So I'm glad others could be."

"But you still set things in motion."

Joshua nodded.

"I'll always... always... work for the good of you and the others."

"I know.  Josh?"

"Hmm?"  Joshua closed his eyes to better enjoy the soft breeze.

"I told Ant.  About how I feel about you.  I... haven't really told any of the others.  But it just made sense with him.  I guess... I wanted him to really, really know that you're not creeped out by gay stuff."

"I'm not.  And I'm glad you told him."

"He'd really like to meet someone.  I offered to be his wingman."

Joshua chuckled.  He opened his eyes and smiled at Shane.

"You will be a fantastic wingman.  After all, you already pushed Owen and Graham together.  Look how well that turned out."

"I did, didn't I?  Maybe I got the matchmaking thing from you."

Joshua laughed again.

"Maybe so."

"So you're feeling better?" Shane checked.

"Much."  Joshua stood up and held his hand out to Shane.  "We better head back, Herod.  We've got a show to put on."

"Guess we should, JC."

The two hugged then, arm in arm, made their way back to the portal.


Along with the rest of the audience, Christina gave a standing ovation to the cast and crew of Jesus Christ Superstar.  It had been so different watching it a second time with her friends, knowing so much more about the people on stage.  She was grateful that Mattay had delivered the handkerchiefs from Joshua's mom... she'd needed them.

After the show, Christina waded through the lobby with Raven, Rory, and Austin.  They all gushed over Loreena and teased Shane for being a big meanie.  And then they made their way to Joshua.

"Hey, you're back!"  Joshua hugged Raven who had stepped right into his arms.  "I was really happy when Loreena told me.  She's amazing, isn't she?  Of course, I love Ivy, too.  Both my Marys are spectacular.  And Emma, too, even though she can't be here this year."

Rory smiled before hugging Joshua.

"You're so nice!  Always remembering everything and everyone.  How is Emma doing?"

"Really well!" Joshua gushed.  "Not even sleep deprived.  She and Peter have my parents helping out and, once they leave, Peter's parents will arrive so they'll have a solid month with some extra hands around.  As it should be.  Takes a village and everything."

"Joshua, Joshua...  I don't see how you do all that what?"  Austin counted on his fingers.  "Seven times a week?  Eesh.  How you holding up?"

"Really well.  All this helps."  Joshua waved to the crowd around them.  "And Shane and I went for a walk earlier to clear my head."  He smiled across the room at Shane who waved back.  Then he turned his attention to Christina, smiling warmly.  "I hope you enjoyed the show, Christina.  I'm sure it was a little different from your first..."

Wordlessly, Christina stepped towards Joshua and wrapped her arms around him.

"Oh..."  Joshua sniffled then enclosed her in his arms.

"I... I loved it.  Loved the way you... brought Him to life.  It... made me miss Him," Christina choked out.

Joshua's eyes filled.

"He's here, Christina.  He's right here," Rory urged.  Then, worried he'd been too on the nose, he continued.  "The... the whole where two or three are gathered in My name thing..."

Joshua lifted his right hand from Christina's back just long enough to squeeze Rory's hand reassuringly.


After they'd finished chatting with everyone, Christina led her friends to Perry's house with Mattay and Yehuda keeping watch.  As the others stood back, Christina politely knocked on the old man's door.

"Christina!  I wasn't sure you were still coming since you said you were taking in the show.  I imagine it can be somewhat exhausting... heavy subject."

"I promised to come so I'm here.  And, besides, I think focusing on some organizational tasks will help clear my head because yeah... today's been a lot between the show and... stuff.  But I was wondering..."  Christina glanced back at her friends.  "I, umm, I reunited with some old friends from when I was in high school.  And their bus isn't due to take them back home for a couple of hours so I was wondering if, maybe, you'd like to meet them and... and we could hang out here for a bit?  They said they'd help."

Perry eyed the trio in the yard. 

"They're, umm, they're queer so..."

"They'd be very welcome," Perry interrupted with a smile.  "I'd love to meet your friends, Christina."

"Oh!  Okay!  Good!"  Beaming, Christina turned around and waved the three forward. 

Once the group was safely inside, Mattay and Yehuda retreated to the theatre.

"So... this is Raven.  Austin.  Rory.  Everyone, this is Perry," Christina introduced.  "I was helping to organize his library so maybe we could head there and..."

"Christina, really, you don't have to do that.  It can be done any time.  You should spend time with your friends," Perry urged.  "Actually, anyone interested in tea and cookies?"

"I could definitely do with some tea and cookies," Austin agreed.  "Thanks!"

Sensing Christina's nervous energy, Rory made a suggestion.

"Maybe we could take the tea and cookies to the library and help Christina and Perry out as we chat?"

"It really would be good for me, Perry," Christina stressed.  "I am just a little... jumpy.  I truly loved the show but..."  Her eyes welled. 

"Christina, what..."

"How about you tell us where the library is and we'll get started there and, Christina, you can help Perry prepare the tea?" Raven directed.

Christina nodded.

"That sounds like a good idea," Perry agreed, eyeing the weepy teenager with concern.  "The library is at the back of the house.  Just through the living room then take a right."

"Got it," Austin nodded and led the other two away.

"Come on, dear."  Perry patted Christina's shoulder and nudged her towards the kitchen.  "I'll boil the water.  You pick out some varieties you think your friends might like.  And if you'd like to tell me about..."

"He... he called and left a really awful, from the sounds of it... I couldn't listen... voicemail at the theatre.  About me.  In-insinuating some things about Joshua, too."

"Who did, Christina?"

"A... a pastor at my dad's church.  The... the one who plays Jesus in their annual passion play.  He... hurt me."

Perry's fist tightened around the kettle handle.

"He... he made me believe things were... were okay even when... when they really, really weren't.  And I... I did things I shouldn't have done... with him."

Perry felt a sick feeling in his stomach.

"Christina, how old is this man?"

"Thirty seven or something like that."

"My God...  Christina, you're what?  Eighteen, nineteen?"

"Nineteen.  I was seventeen... eighteen when..."

Perry abandoned the kettle and took Christina's shaking hands in his. 

"What he did... that was evil, Christina.  It was absolutely, horribly wrong.  Even putting aside the age factor... he was a pastor.  That's a gross abuse of power.  Didn't your father..."

"He knew.  He blamed me.  So did my mom.  Malachi said I... I seduced him.  But I didn't have the foggiest idea of... of how to seduce anyone!  He just... he talked about how he... he wanted the church to be a place where all were welcome.  Said... said he'd counsel my dad on how to be less... fire and brimstone.  But... but I see now that he only said all those things because I... I wanted that and..."

"Christina, you listen to me...  I'm sure, on some level, you still love your father and mother.  You maybe can't help it.  But they failed as your parents.  And that's something..."  Perry eyes filled.  "That's something I know they will have to carry until the day they die.  Whatever they said to you... it was wrong.  All wrong.  A seventeen or eighteen year old girl can't compel a grown ass man to act like that."

In spite of the seriousness, Christina giggled.  She'd not heard Perry cuss before but found it hilarious.

Perry smiled.

"Pardon my French... but it's true."

"I... I'm starting to see that now.  I also... I think there was some mishandling of funds going on, too.  It... it was just such a mess and I wanted to leave it all behind.  And the picketers were bad enough but now he's calling St. G's and sending stuff and..."

"Listen, it's only been recently that I've gotten close to Joshua and spoken much at all with Andrew.  But I was fairly close with Emma and Peter, the owners.  And I picked up bits and pieces about what goes on over there.  And they definitely know how to close ranks when they need to.  This is far from the first time that someone with wacky, harmful religious ideas has tried to start something.  They haven't gotten any where in the past and they're not going to this time."

"I... I just don't want anyone to think less of me."

Perry briefly closed his eyes.  He heard an echo of his beloved Lauren in Christina's words.

"They won't.  I certainly don't."

The kettle began to scream and Perry hurried to remove it from the stove.

"Now... you should go spend time with your friends."  Perry loaded the kettle, the tea bags Christina had picked out, and a container of cookies onto the tray.  "And try not to worry."

Christina brushed at her eyes and face and nodded.

"Will you come sit with us?"

"If you want."

"I do."

"Then I will.  Happily."

Christina beamed and took the tray.

When the two entered the library, they both laughed.  Raven, Rory, and Austin were all intently reading.

Rory looked up first.

"Oh, hey.  I hope you don't mind.  I'm studying church leadership and you have quite the collection."

"Mind!  Not at all!" Perry assured.  "But come.  Fix yourself up some tea.  Nothing like tea and cookies and a good book."

Rory smiled and nodded.

The other two also set their books down and helped themselves.

After a few minutes, Christina began to organize with Perry and the trio helping her.  Several times they had to pause to comment about a given book. 

Perry's eyes misted as he took in the scene.  His and Hildy's home had been a popular destination for study groups when Lauren had been in school.  It had been a regular sight to see teenagers sprawled around their library. 

Perry began to wonder if, just maybe, God was giving him a second chance.


After making a brief appearance at the evening's meet and greet, Crowley retrieved Aziraphale from Willowveil and returned to London.

"You, my dear, look absolutely exhausted," Aziraphale remarked as they made their way to their bedroom.  "Actually..."  He waved his hand upward and, instantly, they were both in their pajamas.  Red silk pajamas for Crowley, a tan and gray plaid nightgown for him.

"Two shows...  On top of everything else going on..."  Crowley plopped onto his side of the bed.  "Also, I think I'm going to shadow Andrew for a bit."

"Oh?  Aren't you a bit concerned that he might balk at that since he and JenniAnn only recently got Marty off their backs?" Aziraphale checked as he fluffed his pillows before joining his anam cara.

"Well, it's not like I'm going to follow them on dates.  Certainly not with them now.  I only mean... theatre stuff.  I'm afraid he's cracking up a bit.  I don't want him to do something stupid and, you know..."  Crowley pointed down.

"Fall!  Crowley, Andrew's not going to fall!"

"Okay, well, maybe not fall.  But, say, go away for a bit.  To the Netherworlds to, you know, think about things.  And then what would JenniAnn do?  And what if he was there a good chunk of her life, time running different and all?  We'd have to support her."

"Well, of course we would support her, Crowley!  She's our friend."

"Right.  But I mean, like, support her support her.  Because we're Andrew's family.  And if she's left without a partner then our family is responsible for her.  It's in the Bible."

Aziraphale blinked.

"Crowley, what part of the Bible?"

"The whole Tamar affair.  Her husbands died and then it was on Judah to support her but he really screwed that up.  Obviously, neither of us would sleep with her but, yeah, we'd be responsible for..."


"I said we would NOT sleep with her.  She wouldn't and we couldn't even if we..."

"I know!  But this...  Oh."

"Oh what?"

"You really think of her as family."

"Of course.  Don't you?"  Crowley gave Aziraphale an incredulous look.

"Well, really as more of a friend and colleague but..."

"She's with our brother, Aziraphale.  So... she's our sister."

"Oh, Crowley."

Aziraphale wrapped his arms around his anam cara.

"Do you... think she doesn't feel the same?" Crowley asked, his voice quiet.

"No, no.  I think you're right.  Right and very adorable."




Aziraphale planted a kiss on his temple.

"I love you.  That's all."

Crowley beamed.

"I love you, too.  So... you think it's okay?  To shadow Andrew?"

"I think it's an excellent idea, my dear."

"Good.  I'm glad.  Judah really was a bit of a tosser, wasn't he?"

Aziraphale nervously chuckled.

"Why, yes, I suppose so." 

"Totally was."  Crowley yawned.

Aziraphale removed Crowley's glasses and carefully set them on the bedstand.

"Now go to sleep, Crowley.  We don't want you following Andrew about and being grumpy."


Aziraphale smiled when he saw Crowley's eye lids already drooping.  It always made him a little sad when he knew it'd be several hours before he'd see those beautiful golden orbs again... but a sleepy Crowley was also an adorable Crowley.

"Nighty, night."  Aziraphale kissed Crowley's forehead.

"Nigh, nigh, angel."  Crowley squeezed his beloved's hand and drifted off.

Aziraphale plucked up a book and began to read, sweetly watching over the Angel of Gethsemane.


"Oh love...  Your back feels like a brick wall," JenniAnn sadly mused as she began to knead.

"I'm fine."

"You're not."

"I mean... all things considered... I'm fine.  I'm... ahhh..." Andrew groaned.

"You're tense.  Because you're stressed.  Very understandably so between the theatre being targeted by picketers, everything with poor Christina, what we know it all does to Joshua...  And waiting for the other shoe to drop, like you said.  But... I know stressed Andrew.  This is something else, too."

Andrew was quiet for a few minutes, save some more groans, as JenniAnn worked.

Jasmine oil this time...  He liked it.  He smiled as he considered that Crowley's recent snafu may have inspired JenniAnn to change things up a bit.

JenniAnn squeezed his shoulders a final time.

"Now flip over please."

Andrew obeyed.

JenniAnn worked on the angel's chest and arms for a few minutes before putting her oil away and drying her hands.

"Feel better, physically at least?"

Andrew nodded.

"Much."  He toyed with a strand of her hair.  As he did, his eyes began to fill.

JenniAnn moved to lay beside him.

"Kiss me.  Now.  Please."

Andrew was surprised at the urgency in her voice.  He moved onto his side and leaned down, gently pressing his lips to hers.

"I... I don't like where you're going in your head."  Tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes.  "I... We... have fought too hard for this to have some... some disgusting loser who hides behind a sign and a phone taint it."


"I... I know you too well."

Andrew smiled sadly and nodded then brought her right hand to his lips.

"It's just...  Hearing that today...  I know it's not the same.  But I... clung to you.  That first time we talked after 9/11."

"After I clung to you!"

"You were nineteen... like Christina."

"And traumatized!  We both were.  It was an awful, horrible, heartbreaking day!  God forbid we do something life affirming...  Honestly, I think it speaks pretty highly for both of us that we didn't end up in the backseat of your car or something."

Andrew choked.

"What?  It's the truth.  At least it was for me.  I... I just wanted to disappear into something for a bit.  Wasn't into drugs or alcohol.  But I was very into you...  Point being, I was in such a vulnerable place that day, you could have asked me to do anything and I would have done it... just for that closeness, that warmth.  But you didn't ask and you sure didn't take.  Malachi took, Andrew.  And, yes, I know that it's simply not in you to want what he does.  But by now I certainly know that you have it in you to want more than a quick side hug."

"I know, Laja, I know.  And... maybe I am drawing parallels.  But not exactly like that.  I don't... I know I'm not like Malachi.  Does the age thing ever still weird me out a little?  Sure.  But I get over it really, really quickly the second you do so much as breathe.  It's just... It's not that I ever understood it... rape, any kind of sexual abuse.  I didn't... at all.  It always made me angry and deeply sad.  But now..."  Andrew peered down at JenniAnn and gently brushed some hair behind her ear.  "I look at you... and... and how you look at me.  How you've always looked at me.  So much trust and love.  And the idea of doing anything to hurt you... to betray you like... like that."  The angel gave an adamant shake of his head.  "I know I'm not the same.  I know I'm not made like him.  But that... that... desire to protect, to treasure, to respect... it should transcend gender and species and biology and..."

JenniAnn pulled Andrew close.

"And it does.  For most people.  But not for all, sadly.  From the moment you first saw me, you looked at me with love, Andrew.  The form... the expression of that love has changed wildly over the years.  Thankfully."

In spite of his turmoil, Andrew chuckled quietly against his anam cara's chest.

"But the goodness of it has never, ever wavered.  I don't think Malachi ever loved Christina, ever respected her.  He's always centered himself.  You can't imagine doing anything to me because you love me.  You actually care to notice how I look... how I move... what I say... when we're together.  I doubt he ever did.  He knew what he wanted and he took it.  Christina's feelings and wishes were non-issues to him.  And, no, you're not made like him but that's beside the point.  Because I know in the depths of my soul that a human you would still be you.  I know you would have never, ever forced me to do anything I didn't want to do.  You have always, always let me take the lead.  Don't for a moment think it's lost on me that every step we've taken... at least since our first blessing... you could have happily gone there earlier.  But you waited for me to make the first move.  Always."

"Because I love you."

"Because you love me... and because you are a gentleman."  JenniAnn ran her fingers through Andrew's hair and sighed.  "None of us can change what happened to Christina.  Not even Joshua.  But now she's able to see, to experience what healthy relationships are like.  It's not going to be easy but I'm confident that she's going to overcome all of this mess.  And she'll have a band of angels and humans alike supporting her."

"Yeah... she will."

JenniAnn leaned up to kiss Andrew.

"And when the show is over... when things are more settled... the two of us should do something.  To relax.  You know... I never actually have made out with someone in the back of a car," she teased with an impish grin.

"Hmm... I suppose it's been a while for me," Andrew quipped.

JenniAnn laughed.

"Uh huh, sure."

Andrew grinned.

"Always nice when we can have a 'first' together, Laja."

"Definitely.  I'll notify my mom after the fact so she can note it in my baby book."

Andrew's face flushed.

JenniAnn giggled and pressed her forehead to his.

"She will absolutely not be notified..."


The two kissed and clung to each other.

Andrew didn't know what the next day would bring... nor the week to come... but, in that moment, he knew peace.


Balm of Gilead

Sunday, April 10th, 2022

At first, the sound that had roused Loreena from her sleep had been so quiet that she thought maybe she'd imagined it.  Or maybe it had been a holdover from a dream.

But no.  This was real.

Loreena quickly got out of bed, trying her best not to jostle Roger.  She pulled on her robe then rushed into the living room to find Christina, sobbing and hugging her knees to her chest.

"Oh... there now...  I'm here, sweet girl.  I'm here."

Loreena sat beside Christina and wrapped her arms around her.

Christina's head lolled onto Loreena's shoulder as she continued to sob. 

"Are you sad about your friends going back..."  Loreena's voice trailed off.  As she'd patted Christina's back, she'd felt something wet.  She drew her hand away and looked at it.  "Christina... you're bleeding."

"I... I... must have picked a scab in... in my..."

Horrified, Loreena looked at the back of Christina's T-shirt.  She could see smears of blood in at least three spots.

"Christina... what happened to your back?"

As Loreena thought back, she realized she'd seen Christina rubbing and scratching at her back at times.  But she hadn't thought anything of it.  She'd noticed Christina slept on her stomach and knew that could cause back pain.  But now... now she knew it was so much worse.

"Did someone hit you?"

Christina nodded.

"Was it Malachi?"


"Your dad?"


"How many times did this happen?"

"A... a lot.  When he first found out about everything.  B-but... he did it again... each time I... I refused to picket a-and..."

Loreena drew in and slowly let out a shaky breath.

"Sweetie, if you're bleeding then that means there's an open wound.  It could get infected."

"I've been washing it every morning when I shower."

"I'm sure you have.  But you need antibiotics.  Christina... would you let me see?"

Christina began to sob heavily again but nodded.

Loreena watched, torn between abject rage and unyielding compassion, as Christina took off her T-shirt. 

Her back was riddled with scars and wounds that were only just beginning to heal.  Loreena recognized them... they looked exactly like what JenniAnn drew onto Joshua's back during every show.  Scourging marks.  And Christina clearly had reopened a couple of them.

"All... all right.  Here's what I think we should do... but only if you want to.  I think we should take pictures to take to the police.  Christina, your dad belongs in jail.  We don't have to do it tomorrow... today, I guess.  Or the day after.  Or even next week.  But you should have proof to hold onto in case you need it.  Then... and, again, only if you're comfortable with it... I'd like to wash your back and put some ointment on.  And I think we should keep applying that, every day, until it clears up.  Maybe even get a doctor to look at it.  We know some really, really nice ones."

After a few moments, Christina nodded.

"Yeah... to all of it.  Thanks."

"All right.  Let me go get my phone."


Blinking back tears, Loreena returned to her bedroom.  Roger stirred.

"What's going on?  What time it is?" he asked between yawns.

"3:13.  Not time to get up.  And... don't leave the room."

"Loreena... what's..."

Though Loreena's voice was hushed, the anger was unmistakable as she spoke.

"Her back is covered in scars and welts!  Her dad's been beating her!  So I'm taking photos for the police and then putting some antibiotic ointment on and, hopefully, getting her to a doctor.  But she's self-conscious, Roger.  So, please, just stay in here.  At least til we're done."

"Of course.  That's..."  Roger dug the heels of his hands into his eyes, forcing himself more awake.  "That's awful.  I'm so glad Christina's alive but... some people really shouldn't procreate if they don't have the capacity to love and care for their kids properly.  I just..."  He shook his head. 

Loreena kissed his hair.

"I know...  We'll talk more about it when I'm done.  Just... pray." 

"Will do."

Roger squeezed Loreena's hand then watched her go.  Once the door closed, he peered up at the ceiling.

"Joshua... Joshua's dad...  Please help that girl.  Please help us to help her in the ways she needs," he prayed.


With the photos safely filed away on her phone, Loreena focused on tending to Christina's wounds.

As gently as possible, she washed them with soap and water.  After drying, she began to apply the ointment.

"I think we should cover these reopened ones with bandages."  Loreena set a couple boxes near Christina.  "We have animal prints and celestial imagery.  I don't do plain.  Pick some out.  Four should do it."

Christina let out a welcome giggle.

"Okay.  And... thank you.  For this.  I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier.  It's not that I don't trust you.  It's just... embarrassing."

"Your dad is the one who should be embarrassed.  But I understand.  My dad raised his hand to me a few times.  Nothing like what you went through but... bad enough."

"I can't imagine you doing anything to deserve that."

Loreena froze.

"Christina, no one deserves to be hit like that.  Not you, not anyone.  Nothing you did could ever warrant what your dad did."

Christina gave a slight nod and began to cry again.

"I... I think you're right.  It scares me but... I should go to the police.  Without me around... who knows who he might go off on.  Maybe my mom.  And I... I'm really angry at her.  But, you're right, no one deserves to be hit.  Especially not at home where they should feel safe."

"When would you like to go?  I don't have a show again until Wednesday.  And I took this week off from work."

"Work...  I don't even know what you do outside of St. G's," Christina realized.

"I guess I never brought it up.  I'm an administrative assistant at a legal aid office.  So... if you end up needing a lawyer, I just might know some."

"Wow...  Yeah...  I guess I will need one eventually.  That's really cool.  Important."

"So is art.  Do you think that's what you might want to do?"

"I'm not sure.  I mean I love it as a hobby.  But it might become a chore as a job.  I'm actually really liking working with Perry.  So maybe a professional home organizer?  I don't think you need a degree for that.  Just, like, a portfolio or something, maybe?"

"I would think.  Do you think you might want to go to college?"

"Maybe eventually.  I kinda missed out on the whole formal education thing.  So it might be nice.  But right now... I just need to find a way to get by.  Get my head on straight."

"Don't worry too much about it.  I have a feeling things will work out.  Now..."  Loreena placed one last bandage.  "I think you're good.  How do you feel?"

"Better.  The itching stopped."


Christina clasped Loreena's hand.

"I... I hope this isn't weird to say but... I think you would have been a really good mom."

Loreena's eyes filled.

"Thank you, sweetie.  That's not weird.  It's actually very nice.  And, who knows, maybe I will be in some way some day.  After I first transitioned, a wonderful, older translady named Diamond took me in.  And she became my mom.  One day... well, one day I hope no kid will get rejected by their family for being who they are.  But until then... I hope one day I can become a mom like Diamond."

"I... I feel like you've been more of a mom to me in a few days than my mother was in my whole life," Christina confessed.

With that, the tears spilled down Loreena's cheeks and she gently hugged Christina.


As he had the morning before, Andrew arrived at St. G's early with JenniAnn, once again, accompanying him.  They both looked expectantly at Cephas and Mattay when they entered the office.

"Shalom," Cephas greeted.  "Good news or bad news first?"

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.

"Bad news.  Soften it with the good.  Thanks."

"You know who called again.  He was slurring this time.  I believe he was drunk," Mattay relayed.

"I'm not sure whether that makes it better or worse.  Sloppy drunks can just be, well, sloppy.  Which is maybe good for us.  But... they can also be even meaner than the normal."

JenniAnn clasped Andrew's right hand in both of hers after he dragged it through his hair.

Cephas chuckled.

"The lady's afraid you're going to go bald."

JenniAnn smirked.

"I mean I do love your hair..."

Andrew smiled before pointing at the answering machine.

"So what did he say?"

"More of the same.  Tried to blame Christina for everything.  He really doubled down on the anti-Semetic tropes this time."  Mattay shook his head.  "It always gets me when people don't realize Yeshua is Jewish.  I mean... Yohannan and I... Loukas, Yohannan Marqus...  I feel like we made that quite clear."

"You did," JenniAnn assured, patting his arm.  "But fascists gonna facist, I guess.  Anything actionable?"

"Not really," Mattay replied, smiling gratefully.

"So... the good?" Andrew prompted.

"Once you add in the ticket orders of those who left messages over night, there are only about a dozen tickets left for each show today.  And... you have an interview request for you and Joshua from a journalist at The Advocate," Cephas reported.

"Ooh...  They're a really big deal!  Imagine how many queer people would get to hear from you and Joshua!" JenniAnn gushed.

"That would be really great," Andrew agreed.  "I'll call them back ASAP.  We'll have to tell Christina about the second message.  And Joshua, too."

"Of course," Cephas agreed.  He was distressed by how downcast the angel looked.  "I think... well, Malachi may be humbled fairly soon."

Andrew's right eye brow quirked upward but Cephas changed the subject.

"Now...  Rakhyl and I would like to discuss an important... much more enjoyable... matter with you both.  She's in the costume room so..."

"I'll stay here.  In case he calls back," Mattay offered.

"Thank you, Mattay!" Cephas called as he steered Andrew and JenniAnn towards the door.  "We would like to have a sort of... post-show celebration."

"A wrap party?" JenniAnn checked.

"Uh... sure.  Yes, wrap party.  And we were thinking..."

Mattay chuckled as the three left.  Poor Andrew and JenniAnn thought they were being consulted.  But once Cephas set his mind to something, it was happening.


Andrew had only been listening to Cephas and Rakhyl for a few minutes when his cell phone chimed.

"Sorry.  It's Loreena asking me to call.  I better do that now."

JenniAnn frowned.

"I hope nothing has happened at her place.  Let us know if she needs any help."

"Will do."

Once Andrew had left the room, JenniAnn stood there awkwardly with the couple.  In spite of being around the apostles and their wives for several days, there had been so much going on that she hadn't had much of a chance to speak with them... and definitely not alone.

"Are you all right, dear?" Rakhyl checked.  "I'm sure Loreena is fine.  Surely she would have contacted you, too, if she needed help.  It probably relates to the show.  Maybe she just needs to switch a performance?"

JenniAnn forced a smile and nodded.

"Right.  True.  Sorry.  It's just... This is all very weird."

Cephas chuckled.

"Yes, I'm afraid we're a weird bunch.  Although I would point out that your bunch includes a couple of ex-demons, some cured vampires, and Metatron."

JenniAnn laughed.

"I mean when you put it that way...  I suppose it's just...  Watching you give that report to Andrew...  I mean... I know it's not like an all-out hierarchy thing but... you're the Rock.  The first pope.  Your brother is the first called.  And, I dunno, I guess I thought...  Andrew doesn't seem at all starstruck by you.  But maybe you do with him.  At least a little.  It's like... I think sometimes, even when I can verbalize 'Andrew is an angel of death and millennia old'... I kind of... dissociate from it.  Sometimes."

Rakhyl hugged JenniAnn.

"Because you have to.  We do look up to Andrew.  Just as we've always looked to angels as messengers of God.  But... your path is different.  It has to be because of the role you're playing in God's plan, JenniAnn.  I married Cephas.  I didn't marry the Rock.  I certainly didn't marry the first pope.  I married Cephas, a humble fisherman.  And, in the later years, sometimes it did feel overwhelming to realize he was so much more... that he would be remembered throughout history as so much more.  But as I lived my life day by day... to me, he was still just my beloved Cephas."

Cephas wiped a tear from his eye before speaking.

"Every group needs someone who can stand outside of history, outside of legacy.  Someone who can keep everyone grounded.  When you look at Marty, you don't see the Scribe of Heaven.  When you look at Crowley, you don't see either the Serpent of Eden or the Angel of Gethsemane.  It's not that you disregard those aspects of their lives.  You're very aware of them.  But, above all, when you look at them, you see your friends.  And you treat them accordingly.  So it is with Andrew.  Andrew most of all.  Yes, he's an angel of death.  Yes, he's ancient.  Yes, he scares Satan more than any other being besides God.  But, above all, he is your anam cara.  He's the father of your children.  So don't feel bad for focusing on that.  It's what he needs... what you need, too.  Let Marty have his theories."

JenniAnn looked at Cephas curiously.

"Sandy is a talker," he explained before continuing.  "Let Satan have his paranoia.  And let Andrew have the life he's chosen with you... not as your idol or the subject of your awe... but as your partner."

"And think of it this way...  Don't you think all the friendships you've all formed have gone more smoothly because people have taken their cues from you?  Before anyone at St. G's knew who and what Andrew was, they saw him interact with you as a loving partner.  Marty, Crowley, Edgar, even Yeshua...  All these people that others might have been intimidated by, they saw how you interacted with them.  They saw how comfortable you are with them.  So they were comfortable," Rakhyl pointed out.

Blinking back tears and then giving up, JenniAnn hugged the two.

"Thanks.  That's exactly what I needed to hear."  She stood back, smiled, and then slowly took in and let out deep breaths.  "All right... so... back to this party.  Shimeon's really set on fireworks, hmm?"

Chuckling, Rakhyl and Cephas resumed telling JenniAnn of their plans.


At Loreena's request, Andrew and Joshua visited her apartment to chat with her and Christina before they headed to church with Roger.

"So, umm, I guess I just wanted you both to know.  I really, really hope it doesn't further rile up the church but... I feel like I have to do it," Christina finished after telling the two of her plans to go to the police and why.

Joshua reached out and softly patted her arm.

"Thank you.  And I know I can speak for Andrew when I say we fully support your decision."

"Absolutely," Andrew insisted.

"Would you like me to have Mattay collect the evidence we've received at St. G's?" Joshua offered.

"If you could.  Please."

"Won't be a problem at all," Joshua assured.  "And if there's anything else we can do, please let us know.  And... if they do get riled, just know that it likely would have happened, anyway.  Andrew and I are going to be doing an interview with The Advocate."

"What's that?"

"It's a LGBT magazine and web site.  The oldest in the U.S.," Loreena replied.  "That's a really big deal."

Joshua gave an excited nod.

"Absolutely.  More than anything, it'll let other queer people know that St. G's is a safe space and that there are affirming people out there who believe in the story of Jesus.  But... there's also a chance it could rile more people, especially if local papers pick up on it.  But we're not going to let that stop us... and you shouldn't let it stop you, Christina.  I'm sorry that you've been through so much.  Truly.  And I admire so much your strength in holding your dad and Malachi to account.  I know it's not easy... but it's right."

Christina gave Joshua a tearful smile.

"Thanks.  That means a lot."

"We'll talk to Mattay," Andrew promised.  "Are you going to be here today or..."

"After church, I'm going to introduce Roger and Loreena to Perry then probably stay there for the rest of the day.  I can stop over to talk to Mattay.  Is he gonna be there for both shows?"

"He will be," Joshua replied.  "And now... unless there's anything else... Andrew and I will head out so you can get to church."

"Thank you for coming."  Loreena rose and hugged the two men. 

Andrew and Joshua were pleased and touched when Christina did the same.

"Remember, we're here for you.  Whatever you need.  St. G's has your back," the angel stressed.

"I... I know.  Thank you.  Probably see you later?"

"Yes, we'll see you later.   Enjoy church!"  Joshua gave both women a warm smile then followed Andrew into the hallway. 

Once Loreena had closed the door, Andrew slumped against a wall and ran a hand through his hair.

"How a father can treat his child that way..."  Andrew shook his head.  "I... I..."

Joshua hugged him when he began to cry.

"It's horrible.  And that he uses the Bible to justify it makes me very, very angry.  But Quentin will see the error of his ways... and Christina will realize how strong and wonderful she truly is.  Try to focus on that, Andrew."

Mutely, Andrew nodded before resting his head on Joshua's shoulder as a sob escaped him.

Softly, Joshua hummed his Ama's lullaby as he comforted his angel.


Christina couldn't keep herself from standing and clapping as she stood in Loreena's church, which happened to also be Shane's church.  She'd heard the hymn many times before at her father's church but never like this.  Never so joyously sung by such an array of people.  And it had never felt so... perfect.

"'If you can't pray like Peter,
if you can't be like Paul,
go home and tell your neighbor
He died to save us all.

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the wounded soul.'"

Once it was finished, the pastor made her way to the pulpit.

Christina looked at her in awe.  She was so different from her father; a large, Black woman with rainbow hoop earrings, shortly cropped hair, and a massive smile.  Pastor Simone, Loreena had told her.

"Brothers, sisters, and siblings...  On this day, we celebrate Palm Sunday.  We remember how Yeshua was cheered on... how He was welcomed as a king.  He rode, proudly, on a donkey.  And people laid out palms before Him... and only five days later, some of those same people called for His death.  In five days, they turned against Him.  Why?  We'll never know all their reasons.  But for many, it was because He wasn't who they wanted Him to be.  He wasn't a military leader.  He wasn't there to strike down the Romans or the religious elite.  He didn't fit their idea of who the Messiah should be.  He existed outside of the mold they had made for Him.  And every one of us here knows how that feels."

The congregation shouted a chorus of "Amens" and "Ain't that the truth?" and "Preach, sister!"

"Maybe you don't look like people think you ought to look.  Maybe you don't think like people want you to think.  Maybe you didn't marry who people think you ought to have married.  And maybe you decided that whole boy/girl, pink/blue thing just wasn't for you.  Well... I tell you this.  That man who rode that donkey... that man who crumpled beneath the weight of that cross... that man who stretched out His arms and died...  He knows you.  And He sees you more perfectly than anyone else can.  And even if no one else existed... no Peter... no Paul... no anyone but you... He still would have done it all.  For you.  Only for you.  Because He loves you.  C.S. Lewis called God the Great Iconoclast.  He shatters the images we have of Him.  The angry father?"  The pastor withdrew a bag of broken objects from behind her pulpit and shook it.  "Broken!  The big man in the sky saying 'You there!  You're too queer, too weird, too much.'"  She shook the bag again.  "Broken!  The vengeful dictator ready to cast you into Hell because you kissed another girl or had sex with another man?"  Again the bag shook.  "Broken!  Because He was never any of those things.  God... He's a God of justice, yes.  He does NOT and never will accept abuse.  And so many of those passages they throw at us...  They're about abuse.  But do you think He's up there saying 'Well, Peter, Todd and Jack have a wedding registry at Macy's so bring on the brimstone!  I hope those his and his Egyptian cotton pillow cases are worth it to them!'"

The congregation roared with laughter.  Christina laughed with them.  It all sounded so outrageously absurd.

"No!  He'd probably love to show up to Todd's and Jack's wedding... with the his and his Egyptian cotton pillow cases.  Because God is love.  And whether He's recognized or not... Love can't exist independently of Him.  I've had many, many couples come to me asking to be married.  Gay, lesbian, bi, trans, non-binary, the entire alphabet.  Even some straight folks.  Yes, we love our allies!  And when they tell me why they want to be married... when I see the way they look at each other... I see the sort of love that stands as strong amidst the Good Friday accusers as it does among the Palm Sunday celebrators.  We are not a degraded people!  We are not mistakes!" Pastor Simone shouted.  "We are the beloved children of a God who sees beyond norms, beyond binaries, beyond molds, beyond societal expectations.  We are the children of a God who rode proudly down the streets of Jerusalem, knowing exactly who He was and determined to live as He was no matter what those around Him wanted.  So when you, my beautiful church family, feel misunderstood, cast out, and betrayed... know that He understands.  Know that He feels your pain in His own body.  And He wants to heal it.  Trust in Him.  And know that His love is more powerful than anything.  Now... sing with me to the Lord!"

Christina wept as the sermon ended and the choir started up again. 

"Broken..." she whispered.

Hearing, Loreena clasped her hand and nodded.


In a very different church, Andrew stood, unseen, against the back wall.  He was glad he was invisible.  It removed the temptation to charge the altar, tear the Bible out of Quentin's hand, and drag him down the aisle.  All that would get him was a reprimand... if not more... and possibly a segment on Paranormal Caught on Camera

And that was why he yelped when someone clasped his shoulder.

"What ya doing?"

"Crowley!  You almost..."

"What?  Scared you to death?"  Crowley laughed.  "What are you doing here and where's the missus?  Marty said you both left for St. G's early this morning."

"JenniAnn is with Rakhyl and Cephas, planning a wrap party."

"Uh huh...  And again I ask... What ya doing?"

"Gathering intel."

"Huh... kinda looked like you were plotting revenge."

Andrew said nothing.

"So... what have we learned?"

"He told them Malachi is sick... heartbroken over the loss of Christina to the gay, leftist atheists."


"It's code for hungover, I'm sure.  He left a drunken sounding message at the office.  It concerns me that Quentin let it be known that Christina flew the coop.  I half expected them to hush up the people who were there and tell everyone she'd been sent on sabbatical."

"Hmm... yeah."

"So... I have to imagine he's hoping to rile them up further.  It's not just about rescuing those 'poor, misguided queers' from hellfire... it's about rescuing one of their own.  Nevermind that she was never really theirs.  But... they are skipping picketing today to 'regroup.'"

Crowley grimaced.

"Don't like the sounds of that."

"Me neither.  Though Palm Sunday without them will be very nice."

At that point, Quentin's sermon shifted from planning their 'demonstrations' to some cockamamie thing about the palms Jesus and his donkey walked on representing sinners.

"And that's enough of Crazytown..." Crowley declared.  "Off we go."

Suddenly, Andrew found himself back at Willowveil.

"Hey!  We're not supposed to do that to each..."

"Watcher privilege.  Let's go bang some stuff together."

"I don't think that's a real thing..."

Shrugging, Crowley headed towards Shelby's and Violeta's room. 

Curious, Andrew followed.

"I dunno...  Still feels weird making you work on Palm Sunday," Violeta mused as Joshua assembled a shelf.

"You're not making me.  I want to," Joshua insisted.  "Sometimes it helps to..."  He pounded a nail.  "Do that."

"See?"  Crowley grinned at Andrew while motioning to Joshua.

"Hey, everything okay at the theatre?" Joshua asked.

Andrew nodded. 

"Pretty much."

"Good."  Joshua smiled, knowing he'd get a fuller report once away from the two girls.  "Hey, do me a favor and attach the brackets to that shelf over there?  I'm done with this one but want to get the ladder shelf bolted before we leave."

"It's so pretty..."  Shelby ran her fingers over the violets and willow branches carved into the rungs.

"I'm glad you like it.  Hold it for me while I bolt it?"

"Of course!"

Violeta squealed and clapped excitedly.

Andrew smiled at the scene before him then grabbed a hammer and set to work.

Crowley looked on with a sense of relief.


After church, Christina headed to Perry's with Loreena and Roger.  She'd been surprised when she'd realized the three had never met and she'd wanted to remedy that.  They'd all become so important to her.  As expected, the three had hit it off.  In no time at all, they'd settled into Perry's living room with some tea and cookies.

"And she was just so passionate!  And so sure!" Christina enthused as she paced around, excitedly telling Perry about Pastor Simone's sermon while Loreena and Roger happily sat together on a loveseat.  "It's just...  I don't think I'm queer.  I know I'm not trans or non-binary.  I like being a girl... especially now when I can dress how I want and wear make-up.  But... I still felt like she was talking to me.  Because I... I do... did... am trying not to any more... have all these messed up ideas about God.  But she's right.  He is... He's breaking them."

"Pastor Simone was speaking to you, sweetie," Loreena assured.  "Our church isn't just for queer people.  There's enough exclusion elsewhere.  Our church is for everyone.  There are several straight members.  We love our allies, just like Pastor said."

Christina beamed.

"She did say that, didn't she?"

"The most important aspect of finding a church home is a feeling of belonging and thinking you could do good there.  If you've found that, Christina, then I think you're good.  And I like the sounds of this pastor."  Perry gave an approving nod.  "I'd like to meet her some day."

"Well, you'd always be welcome to services," Loreena invited.  "I'd invite you on Easter Sunday but I've heard rumors Cephas and his wife are planning something for the cast and crew...  and friends.  So I doubt I'll even be there.  Whatever they're cooking up... I know you'd both be welcome."

Christina nodded eagerly.

"I'll definitely give that some thought," Perry promised.  "And... I did tell Joshua I'd take in a show.  I better get on that.  Last week."

"I'll check with Andrew and see what's available."  Roger sent a text.

"So, young lady, do you think you'll get back to your painting tomorrow?" Perry asked.

"Oh..."  Christina's face colored.  "Actually... no, I don't think so."  She looked over to Loreena who gave her a brave smile.  "I'm going to the police tomorrow.  To file charges against my dad and Malachi."

Perry blinked in surprise.

"Wow...  That's a big step.  But a very important one.  I'm so glad.  I wasn't going to push you but... it needed to happen."

"Loreena and Roger are taking me around 10:00.  Maybe I could stop by after and let you know how things went?"

Perry reached over and squeezed her hand.

"I'd like that.  Thank you.  These past few days... well, it's felt like having the granddaughter I never got to meet around."

"Aww..." Christina's eyes filled.  "Perry... that means so much to me.  Thank you!  And I... I've felt like I have a grandpa again.  I... I have one living set of grandparents... my mom's parents... but my parents aren't on good terms with them.  So... I've not had the day to day experience of having a grandpa for years.  It... it's really nice."

"It is..." Perry agreed before the two embraced.

"Aww!  I love this!" Loreena cheered.  "I'm so happy for you both.  But now..."  She looked to Roger.

"Since it's also his day off from the show, Mason and Renee invited Loreena and I over for lunch.  You're both welcome to tag along but, if you'd rather stay here, Christina, Loreena and I can pick you up on our way back to the apartment?"

"I would rather stay if..." Christina glanced over at Perry.

"Of course you can stay!  Tirzah brought over some delicious looking curry chicken salad and freshly baked bread we can have for lunch."

"Then it's a plan."  Loreena hugged Christina good bye followed by Roger.  "We'll be back in a couple of hours!"

"Okay, thanks!  See you then!"  Christina walked the couple to the door and waved after them.  When she returned to the living room, Perry was smiling.

"They're a lovely couple.  And I don't know what those jokers are on about.  I think Loreena would make for a lovely Mary Magdalene."

"She does!  And I'm excited for you to see!"

"Me too.  Christina, before we have lunch...  There's a room you've not yet seen and... I'd like to show it to you."  Perry shuffled nervously.

"Is... is it Lauren's room?"

Perry nodded.

"If you'd rather not..."

"No, no I would," Christina assured, taking Perry's arm and walking with him up the stairs.

"I just... the more I think about it... Lauren would absolutely hate that all her stuff is just uselessly sitting around.  It's more than time to go through it.  So..." Perry pushed open the door.  "I'm terrible with women's sizes.  Never could buy a single thing for Hildy without having her try it on first.  But... you look like you and Lauren would wear similar if not the same sizes and I've heard 90s/early 2000s fashion is coming back so..."  He waved to the closet.  "Whatever you want is yours."

"Perry...  That's... not going to be weird for you if... if I wear them?"

"Weird is not touching her things for twenty odd years."

"All right..."  Hesitantly, Christina opened the door.  "Oh wow...  She kinda had... I think it's called boho style?"

Perry chuckled.

"I always called it hippie/flower child style but, yeah, I think that's right."

"This... this is beautiful..."  Christina pulled out a purple tunic with yellow, white, and green flowers embroidered on it.

"That was one of her favorites.  She'd be glad to know someone else appreciates  it.  And..."  Perry gently lifted Christina-the-rag doll from her cradle.  "I... maybe this is stupid... I know you're a grown woman.  But... Lauren actually named her Christina.  She always loved that name.  She was mad, actually, that Hildy and I hadn't named her that.  It was in the running but, sorry, we preferred Lauren."

Christina reached out to caress the doll's hair then gathered her to her chest.

"I... love her.  But Perry... you're sure?"

"Very sure.  She was meant to be cuddled."

"I... I'm not too old to cuddle a doll when I sleep."  Christina nuzzled her hair.  "Thank you, Perry," she murmured.

"Thank you for all you've done.  You... you've brought, well, people back into my life.  You and Joshua."

Christina looked up in surprise.

"Did I say something wrong?" Perry fretted.

"No... no.  I just... it's nice to think of myself as doing something good with Joshua."

Perry smiled.

"Well, you have.  Now, let's go fix up lunch, hmm?  Then you can look through the clothes on a full stomach."

"I'd like that!"  Christina carefully propped the doll on the bed.  "I'll come back for you," she vowed.  Then, once again, she took her surrogate grandpa's arm and the two made their way to the kitchen to enjoy lunch together.


After the last of the audience members departed following the afternoon show, a wearied Joshua retreated to the office where he did a debrief with Andrew while JenniAnn combed out his hair.

"Maybe we should call Peter...  You're looking a little winded, Joshua," Andrew observed.

"No, no.  I'm fine.  Just did a little... under the radar healing.  Took a bit out of me is all."

Andrew's eyebrow quirked upwards while JenniAnn set down her brush and hugged Joshua's shoulders.

"You should have said something!  We could have at least gotten you a chair or... or smoothie or something.  I know better than to suggest you should have cut the meet-and-greet short."

"Do you want a smoothie?" Andrew offered, ready to bolt and go get one.

Joshua chuckled and shook his head.

"No, no.  I'm fine.  And I'll be more than fine by the second show.  Being here with the two of you is the best medicine."

"Care to say what happened?" the angel of death asked.

"There was a lady named Beverly.  She had pretty advanced macular degeneration.  She's been coming for years but resigned herself to the fact that this was likely the last time she'd actually see the show.  But, well, old habits die hard.  When she hugged me, I could just hear her say 'If only...'  And so I did it.  But she won't realize until she wakes up tomorrow."

"So lovely..." JenniAnn brushed a tear from her cheek. 

"It is."  Andrew squeezed Joshua's hand. 

Joshua rested his other hand atop the angel's and peered up at him. 

"I need to say something...  To both of you.  JenniAnn, please go stand beside Andrew."


JenniAnn obeyed and hugged Andrew's free arm.

"I am very aware of the unfortunate... but extremely limited... similarities between yourselves and Christina and Malachi.  Yes, both JenniAnn and Christina were teenagers when you met.  And, yes, there was some element of closeness to me involved... Andrew, yours as an angel, and, with Malachi, portraying me.  But that's it.  From there, the two stories diverge entirely.  Okay?"

Andrew, with tears in his eyes, nodded as JenniAnn stroked his back.

"I saw it all.  I saw the years when you longed for closeness, Andrew.  But you gave JenniAnn time... something I know her well enough to know she has reminded you of recently."

JenniAnn smiled lovingly at Joshua and nodded.

"But... here's the thing, Andrew.  It wasn't Malachi you sought out this morning, was it?"

Andrew looked at Joshua in surprise.

"Your Dad told..."

Joshua shook his head.

"Andrew, you live with the Scribe.  And, no, Marty doesn't run to me to tell me every little thing when I'm down here.  But that concerned him.  And Crowley, clearly."

JenniAnn looked at Andrew in surprise.

"Where were you this morning?"

Andrew let out a shaky breath.

"That church..." he confessed.  "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry I didn't tell either of you."

"I don't love it... but I think I understand."  JenniAnn hugged him.

"What she said."  Joshua smiled gently at Andrew.  "But now you've earned yourself a red-headed, golden-eyed shadow... for a few days at least."

In spite of his embarrassment, Andrew chuckled.

"You sought out Quentin because, deep down, it's not the parallel to Malachi that most haunts you, Andrew.  Because you realize there's nothing there except a couple of very surface elements.  But Quentin... he's a father.  He raised a little girl.  And while I don't think I have to point out that you two have extremely different parenting styles, there were similarities.  You fed and clothed and got medical attention for your girls.  You read them bedtime stories.  You bandaged scraped knees.  But Quentin lost his way.  At some point, power and a desire to feel morally superior trumped his desire to be a good, loving father.  And he threw his baby girl to a wolf... apologies to wolves.  And that... that you will never, ever understand, Andrew.  Don't torment yourself trying to understand... it's both beyond and beneath you," Joshua counseled.

Sobbing, Andrew nodded.

"Go home for a little bit," Joshua directed.  "Both of you.  Be with your girls and Avi.  You have an hour before you need to be back for the second show.  It's not much but I think it's what you need."

JenniAnn wrapped her arm around Andrew's waist and began to lead him to the door.

"Perfect idea.  We'll go do that.  C'mon, Andrew.  Let's go get Violeta and head home for a bit."

Still weeping, Andrew nodded and let himself be led away. 

Contented, Joshua rose from his chair and moved to the window.  He smiled at Perry's house.  It made him happy to know that at least two fathers were fully aware of how blessed they were.


By the Rivers Dark

Monday, April 11th, 2022

Loreena smiled just before she shut the door to her bedroom.  Christina was peacefully sleeping on the sofa bed, the doll from Perry snuggled in her arms.

"That's one thing our generation definitely did right..." she mused.

"What's that?" Roger asked as he settled into bed.

"We didn't let go of our plushies and dolls and such."

Grinning, Roger hugged his plush otter.

"Nope, we didn't.  And as much as I love this little guy... it is nicer to cuddle someone real."

Taking the hint, Loreena settled into his arms.


"Mmm hmm..."  Roger nuzzled her hair.

"Christina said something to me... while I was taking care of her back."


"She said I would have been a good mom."

"You would have.  Still could be.  Are you... interested in adopting?"

"I can't say I didn't feel a little something when Mason and Renee were showing off the nursery earlier.  But... I've had a dream for a long time of taking in older kids, young adults even, who need someone to watch over them after they've been cast out from their families... like Diamond did for me.  And like Steve did for Ant."

"That'd be nice.  To be honest, babies always make me nervous.  I mean... they're cute.  I love meeting the Friends' babies.  But... I never really saw myself with some of my own.  I think I could parent older kids, though.  I mean... if you were looking for a co-parent."

Loreena beamed at Roger and nodded.

"I mean... if we put together our rent money, we could find a bigger place.  I have some savings."

"So do I.  Maybe even a bigger place in this building.  I mean... it wouldn't have to be.  But... I am a little attached.  This is where we met Joshua, after all," Loreena pointed out.

"Right.  And it is a nice spot.  Good location with both our jobs."

"Once things are more settled with Christina, maybe we could talk to someone in the office about it?" Loreena suggested.

"I think we should.  Although..."


"Are... are you thinking... like... marriage somewhere down the line or..."  Roger bashfully looked away.

Loreena cupped his chin and turned his head so they made eye contact.

"I think marriage would be really nice, actually."

Roger grinned.


Smiling back at him, Loreena leaned in for a kiss.

Once they drew apart, she sighed.

"For now... we better get some sleep.  Big day tomorrow."

"Yeah... it is.  Good night.  I love you, Loreena."

"I love you, too, Roger.  Sleep well."

"I will."

The two snuggled together and, soon, drifted off.


Marty stood behind the bar that Andrew had installed in the Willowveil ballroom, filling two glasses with wine.  He handed one to Joshua who was seated across the counter.

"So... you're letting them do this?"

Joshua took a sip then nodded.

"I mean... I was thinking a little more Dr. King and a little less Stephen King with all of this, at least at this point, but... I'm not gonna say Malachi doesn't deserve a scare.  And it'll be good for the guys to blow off some steam.  And I appreciate that they're doing this for me."


"But I think it's not going to work out the way they want it to.  I think Malachi needs to be hit with some real world consequences before anything sinks in.  And that will be upsetting for them.  I think... I think things will get worse before they get better with Malachi and Quentin."

Marty shook his head before taking a sip of his wine.

"They have rejected every previous opportunity to better themselves."

Joshua nodded and let out a ragged sigh.

"So... if nothing else... this gives Malachi another chance to see the error of his ways, and Quentin, too, if Malachi speaks of it to him."

Marty rested a hand on Joshua's arm.

"I'm not sure if I ever told you..."


"I wasn't entirely keen on the whole humans idea.  I went along with it, of course.  I knew you were right.  You always are.  But... I didn't... feel it.  But now..."  Marty affectionately ran his fingers over a temporary tattoo Belle had put on his arm while they were playing pirates.  "I understand.  For every Malachi, there are many more JenniAnns and Loreenas and Perrys and Steves and... so on."

Joshua set his hand over Marty's.

"Thank you for telling me that.  And there are.  There really are."  Joshua grinned.  "Wrong musical for the season but... to paraphrase...  'They are one of what we all are, Marty.  Less than a drop in the great, blue motion of the sunlit sea.  But it seems that some of the drops sparkle, Marty.  Some of them do sparkle!'"

With misty eyes, Marty raised his glass.

"To my once, future, and always king."

Touched, Joshua bowed his head then tapped his glass against Marty's.

"To my firstborn, my voice, my scribe, my beloved."

Then Joshua set his glass down, joined Marty behind the bar, and embraced him.


In his apartment not far from the Mission of Christ Christian Church, Malachi took swigs from his bottle while peering at the misbegotten images on his phone.

"Slut...  Nothing but a filthy, ungrateful slut who doesn't know her place..."

The phone slipped out of Malachi's hands and slid across the floor.

Cursing, he stood on wobbly legs and moved to retrieve it.  As he did, his foot caught the edge of a rug.  He lost what little balance he had and thudded to the ground, quickly losing consciousness.


Malachi awoke to find himself on damp ground.  When he looked up, all he could see was trees towering over him.

Panicked, he got to his feet and twirled around.

"Who's there?  How did I get here?" he demanded.

There was no answer.

Faintly, Malachi could hear the sound of running water.  He could vaguely recall his grandparents once telling him that if he was ever lost in the woods, he should follow whatever body of water he could find.  He headed towards the sound.

After what seemed like hours, Malachi at last found a creek.  To his surprise, a man stood on the opposite side, tending a fire.  Malachi looked away in disgust when he saw that the man was not only Middle Eastern in appearance but covered in what looked like burn scars.

The man saw him and smiled.

To Malachi's horror, he recognized the man.  But he hadn't looked like that before... no scars had marred his face as he'd stood outside that damned theatre.

"Welcome, Malachi.  My name is Yohannan, son of Zebedee."

Malachi scoffed.

"Right...  What you are is a criminal.  You know kidnapping is a crime, right?  Home invasion, too."

"I've committed no crime.  But since you brought up the subject...  Having sexual relations with someone without their consent is a crime.  Harassment is a crime.  And I have a sinking suspicion that that's only the beginning for you."

Malachi's face colored.  He ran across the stream and tore towards Yohannan.

"You listen to me you ugly, perverted..."

Malachi pulled back his fist, intending to punch Yohannan but his fist soared through nothing but air.

"Do.  Not.  Threaten.  My.  Brother."

Malachi turned to the angry voice and gaped in horror at the man who was approaching him, his head barely attached to his body.

Behind the beheaded man, stood two more men whose bodies were pierced in several places. 

"'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" Mattay intoned.  "'You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.'"

"'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!'" Thoma continued.  "'You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.'"

Horrified by the sight of them and made paranoid by rustling behind him, Malachi turned and came face to face with a man who was bruised and bloodied as if he'd been hit by something hard over and over again.

"What's the matter, Malachi?  Don't you recognize us?  You talk so often about how you're carrying on in our footsteps," Yaqob ben Halphi taunted.

"Don't you understand, Yaqob?  We know nothing of martyrdom.  This poor man was truly martyred... by getting his account shutdown on Twitter."

The others laughed.

Trying to keep his breath steady and calm and failing at it, a shuddering Malachi turned to face the new voice.

"Hi."  Shimeon grinned at him.  "Don't mind my entrails."

Malachi shrieked when he looked down and saw that the man had been gutted.

"At least you didn't lose your head, Shimeon."

Malachi shook his own head wildly as another man appeared, his severed head tucked under one arm.

"Show some respect, Yehuda Thaddeus.  Being clubbed and axed is nothing compared to having someone say something mean to you about your fancy red hat in the grocery store.  Poor, poor Malachi..."  Shimeon cocked his head.  "What's the matter?  You've been awfully quiet since lashing out at our dear Yohannan."

"I think it's easier for him to scream at women and children," Mattay pointed out.  "Or random people from the safety of a public street corner."

"Maybe so...  Maybe so..."  Shimeon stepped forward so he was nearly nose to nose with the whimpering Malachi.  "White... washed.. tomb..." he sneered.

Terrified, Malachi ran into the woods.

He nearly collided with a beam of wood then screamed in horror as he looked up to see a man, crucified upside down.  To one side of him was another man, crucified on an X.  To the other, another man hung upside down.  And, somehow, there was now a fourth crucified man behind him.  He was trapped within the macabre circle.

Cephas', Andreas',  Bar Tolmay's, and Phillipus' eyes opened.  They stared at Malachi and spoke as one.

"All this we suffered to further our Master's mission and message... a mission and message entrusted to you.  But you made others suffer.  You betrayed them.  You betrayed Him!"

Shrieking, Malachi crumpled to the ground and moved into fetal position, weeping.

"Go away!  Go away!" he whined.

After some time, the woods quieted.  Eventually, Malachi felt brave enough to open his eyes.  The cross beam that had been in front of him was gone.

However, his relief was short-lived as he heard the crunch of dead leaves, trampled beneath approaching footsteps.  Trembling, Malachi looked up to find, at last, someone whose skin and body were unmarred.

"Are... are you... Jesus?"

The man shook his head.

"I am Yehuda... Judas."

Malachi sobbed.

"You... you're here to take me to Hell."

"No.  I have no intention of ever going back there.  In the time you have been here, you have shed many tears... for yourself.  Now you cry because you are afraid you have been consigned to hellfire.  How many people have you instilled that fear in, Malachi?  How many people were denied the message of God's love?  And what you did to that poor girl..."

"She seduc..."

"Liar," Yehuda hissed.  "She was little more than a child."

Mattay reappeared, looking like his usual self.

"'If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,'" he recited.

"How many millstones do you wear, Malachi?" Yehuda asked.  "Know this...  He would remove every one if you genuinely repented.  He is forgiving... even to traitors.  But you have to turn away from your lust... lust of the flesh but also lust for power.  Repent, Malachi."

"You do not know the day or the hour," Mattay reminded.

"Now..."  Yehuda stepped forward and rested a hand on Malachi's head.  "Wake up!"


Malachi sat up with a start. 

He was back in his apartment, his fallen phone only a few inches away. 

A dream... a nightmare.


He laughed darkly.

Then, shifting, he heard a squelching sound.

He stared, eyes wide, at the boots he was wearing.

They were caked in mud.  He hadn't gone anywhere muddy.

Only in that horrific dream...

But no...  It wasn't possible.

He'd been drinking,

Maybe he'd blacked out.  Gone somewhere.

Those twelve faces flickered in his mind's eyes.

Those twisted, evil, fornicating fake Christians and traitorous Jews had gotten in his head.

He grabbed his phone and dialed.


Later that morning, a deflated Cephas slammed the stop button on the answering machine.

"Sometimes you just can't help stupid," Shimeon murmured, his usual fire gone.

"Maybe we planted a seed?" Yehuda hopefully offered.

"You did."

Joshua entered St. G's office with Marty behind him.

"Sympathy bagels, anyone?" he asked as he placed two large bags on the desk.  Marty added several containers of assorted jams and spreads.

"You know..."  Cephas bit his lower lip. 

"Yes, well, I am currently living with Marty so..."  Joshua surveyed the three disappointed, guilty faces.  "Look, I'm not mad.  I'm really not.  I would have preferred hearing about it from one of you but...  I'm not mad.  I understand why you did it.  With someone else, it would have been really effective.  His heart is just so hardened.  But, like Yehuda said, you planted a seed.  In time, Malachi and I will come face to face.  And maybe then the seed will crack open and sprout, hmm?" he cheered.  "Now... have a bagel.  I'll call the others in.  The angels can keep watch though I doubt we'll have any trouble this morning."

Joshua went outside and gathered the other nine apostles up.  Once they were all gathered together, enjoying their bagels and sipping coffee and tea that Marty had made, he spoke to them all.

"As I let Cephas, Shimeon, and Yehuda know... I'm not mad about last night.  As Yehuda pointed out, you all planted a seed.  And that's a good thing.  Listen... I know when we're down here, old wounds can reopen.  So I'm going to make myself abundantly clear.  I'm truly not mad.  And just because it didn't have the immediate effect you wanted doesn't mean it didn't work at all.  Visions can be very effective.  Go ask Paul.  And I also want it known... and remembered... that no one has to make up for Gethsemane.  You gave your lives for me!  Okay?  So let's just have a nice breakfast together and not let Malachi or anyone else bring us down.  Sound good?"

With murmurs of grateful assent, the apostles all began to settle down.  Soon, the office was filled with laughter.  However, as 10:00 neared, the group grew quiet.  They knew Christina would soon arrive at the police station.

"Let's pray," Joshua suggested, taking the hands of Marty and Cephas.  "Our Father who art in Heaven..."

As the others joined in, a dove appeared on the windowsill and looked on.


Finding Home

Roger jumped to his feet the moment Christina and Loreena re-entered the police station's lobby.

"How did it go?" he asked, hugging them both.

"Good, I think.  They had to take their own photos.  I didn't love that but they let Loreena stay with me.  And... they're hoping to make arrests yet today."

"How do you feel about that?"

"Nervous... but glad.  Hopefully that means they won't be able to hurt anyone else and just maybe... the last week of shows can happen without any protestors."

"That would be nice," Loreena agreed.  "But remember what Joshua and Andrew said.  Even if they show up, it's not your fault."

"I know.  Anyway... I've been assigned a social worker and she'll keep me posted on everything that happens.  For now... could we head to Perry's?"

"Absolutely."  Loreena squeezed Christina's hand then they followed Roger outside and made their way to the subway station.


"Listen... I'm not going to start punching out hypocritical preachers in the hardware store," Andrew protested as Crowley followed him around the store, occasionally stopping to fiddle with something.

"No.  Probably not.  But it's time I learn to be handy.  Only a matter of time before Aziraphale needs more bookshelves.  And do you really think he knows how to plane a door?  Or fix a troublesome light switch?  Besides..." Crowley looped an arm around Andrew's waist.  "Is it so wrong to want to spend time with my baby brother?"

Andrew laughed.

"You're insane."

"Probably.  Yeah."  Crowley grinned then his gaze alighted on something.  "Aye...  Look at this."  He flicked on the globe shaped lamp and, faintly, the cosmos appeared on the ceiling and everything around them.  "Ooh...  Gotta have that.  Need to see it in a dark room."

"I'm pretty sure it's for children's rooms," Andrew teased.

"Like you and JenniAnn don't have something similar.  I've seen it!"  Crowley placed the lamp in their cart.

Andrew couldn't argue with that.  JenniAnn had gotten something very similar from her parents a few Christmases ago. 

"Yeah, fair enough.  Now... I need a few white light switch covers.  And then some furniture sliders.  And then we should be good for everything Joccy and Takoda need."

"I'm excited for them.  Such a big step... setting up home with your anam cara."  Crowley smiled at the memory.  "Wish I'd been around when you and JenniAnn did."

Surprised by the tenderness in the former demon's voice, Andrew turned to him.

"I wish you would have been, too.  But you're here now."

Crowley nodded.

The two made their way to the furniture area and grabbed some sliders.

"Can we stop by the candy aisle before we leave?" Crowley requested.

Andrew chuckled.

"It's like shopping with Belle..."

Crowley shrugged and sauntered ahead, making a beeline for the candy.

As Andrew watched him perusing, he smiled.  Maybe it wasn't so bad having a red-headed, golden-eyed shadow.  Truthfully, he'd been a little uneasy about going to hardware stores alone ever since that awful day Eli and Kelly had retrieved him from one after JenniAnn had been shot.

Crowley threw a couple of bags in the cart.

"Ready when you are."

"I'm ready."

Andrew steered their cart to the check-out aisle and the two settled up then headed to the van.

Once Andrew was driving, Crowley began to fiddle with the radio before stopping.

"Ooh...  'Love of my life, don't leave me... You've taken my love and now desert me.  Love of my life, can't you see?'" Crowley sang before elbowing Andrew.  "Sing with me!"

With a chuckle, Andrew obeyed.

"'Please bring it back... bring it back...bring it back.  Don't take it away from me...  Because you don't know... ooh-ooh-ooh, know what it means to me...'"


By mid-afternoon, with help from Joshua, Andrew, Yosef, Crowley, and JenniAnn, with the apostles and their wives rotating in and out, Joccy and Takoda were moved into their new house.   However, before a few finishing touches had been completed, Joshua had ordered the two into the yard so they could have a proper reveal.

With tears in her eyes, JenniAnn presented the couple with a basket filled with freshly baked bread, pretzels, and the candy Crowley had supplied.

"From all of us.  Bread... so you shall never know hunger.  Salt... so your life always has flavor.  Sugar... so your life always has sweetness."

"Aww, JenniAnn..."  Joccy hugged her tightly.  "We're going to miss you."

"And we're so grateful to you for putting us up for so long.  And we won't be strangers," Takoda promised.

"I... I'm glad.  Now..."

Joshua stepped forward, hugged the two, and handed them each a set of keys on handcarved wooden keychains.

"Well... go on now," he excitedly prodded.

With giddy laughter, Joccy and Takoda hurried to the front door.  They unlocked it and paused for a brief conversation after which Takoda lifted a giggling Joccy into his arms before crossing the threshold.

"Thank God Gloria isn't here," Andrew quipped.

JenniAnn laughed and hugged his arm.

"Sometimes you just need to be romantic, history be damned."

"Agreed."  Cephas looped an arm around Rakhyl's waist.

"Although romance looks different through out history," Yosef pointed out.  "Sometimes a donkey is romantic."

"Sure is!" JenniAnn smiled at him then Andrew.

Joccy came rushing back out of the house with Takoda right behind her.  She threw her arms around Joshua.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!  My snow globes look so beautiful!  I love that I can finally see them all at once."

"My favorite thing is the headboard.  It... it means a lot with the Sioux and Algonquin symbols."  Takoda wrapped his arms around both Joccy and Joshua. 

"I'm so glad you like them.  It was an honor to work on the headboard with my Abi.  It's important to remember who we are and where we came from."

Joccy nodded.

"I know it likely can't happen til after the show wraps and maybe you have to head Home right after but if not... Takoda and I would really like for you to be our first house guest, Joshua."

Touched, Joshua took her right hand in both of his.

"Joccy... Takoda... I would love that.  Thank you.  Absolutely.  I'll likely be lingering around for a few weeks, depending on how things go.  So, yeah, name your date after Easter.  I'll be looking forward to it but for now... I'm sure you're wanting some alone time to settle in."  Joshua winked as Joccy giggled and clung to Takoda.  "So for now... good bye.  I love you both."

"I love you, too, Joshua," Joccy gushed.

"So much," Takoda added.

Joshua wrapped them both in his embrace once more and kissed their heads before joining Andrew.

"Now... we have an interview to get to.  Crowley, you coming with?"

"Naw, you're good enough as a chaperone.  I'm gonna stick around with JenniAnn and the kids.  Maybe hassle Marty for a bit."

Joccy and Takoda thanked and bid each of their helpers good bye then watched happily as they made their way to the rowboats that would take them back to Asteri.

"Now that we have our own place, I was thinking..."

Takoda smiled down at Joccy whose cheek was rested against his chest.

"Joc... I will get you as many cats as your heart desires."

Joccy laughed.

"You know me so well."

"I do."

"And I know you.  And I was thinking maybe you'd want to test out the new bed... see what it's like to not have to worry about little kids bursting in on us."

"I mean... I am feeling a little tired.  A nap would be nice," Takoda teased.

Laughing, Joccy took the angel's hand and led him into their new home.


"It's so hard to believe that it's not even been a full five days since you first came here," Perry mused as he admired his newly organized library with Christina standing beside him.  "It looks like a completely different... infinitely better... house!"

Christina beamed.

"I loved working on it.  And working with you.  And Tirzah and Violeta and Shelby and Andrew and Joshua... everyone who helped.  And... thank you for being so welcoming to all of my friends."

"Of course!  I'm just sorry..."  Perry cut himself off, his face crestfallen.

"What is it?" Christina gently asked.

"I'm sorry I don't have another room.  Now that everything's cleaned up and..."

Christina hugged him.

"I'm not going anywhere, Perry!  I mean... you'll need some help maintaining it, won't you?  I know sometimes your arthritis really acts up.  And don't you want to decorate for the holidays?  I could help with that.  I saw all the boxes in the garage but we didn't actually organize them.  I mean... I guess I don't know where I'll be living once everything blows over but so long as I can reach you, I'll be here," she vowed.

"Thank you."  Perry returned her hug.  "I appreciate that... I really do.  I... I'm just not ready to leave here.  But the upkeep is hard.  And... I hope you know... if you ever need a place to stay, you're welcome here.  I mean I know you probably have plenty of options better than living with an old man but I just want you to know... you don't ever have to worry about not having a home if things don't work out otherwise."

"Oh, Perry...  I... that really means so much to me.  It does.  And, who knows, I may need to take you up on it.  I know Loreena won't kick me out... but she also deserves to not have someone always crashing in her living room.  And... I have a feeling her and Roger will get married and who knows where they might settle."

"Do you think, if your dad was out of the picture, you would consider living with your mom?"

Christina thought about it for a moment then shook her head.

"No.  Never.  To some extent, she's under my dad's thumb.  But I've thought about it and... there are so many ways she could have shown me kindness under the radar, so to speak.  But she didn't.  There are some sentimental things I'd like to get from their house whenever I can.  But once I've done that... I don't plan to ever go back.  So we'll see."  She squeezed Perry's hand.  "It's good to know I have at least one solid option.  And... I have good news!  If you're available, Andrew's holding two tickets for us for Wednesday's show.  So what do you think?"

"I think that sounds great.  I'm a little nervous about seeing our Joshua get tormented, though.  We used to do passion plays at my church but... even though I was their pastor... I just never felt about the fellows playing Jesus like I do about Joshua.  I mean they were good guys.  Joshua is just..."

"Different.  I... I've only just started to warm to him.  But... I get it.  I'm actually a little nervous, too.  When I first saw the show, Joshua meant nothing to me.  If anything, I felt antagonistic towards him because, well, Malachi.  And the second time... still iffy.  But now?  It would have been so easy for him and Andrew to be like 'Keep that troublemaking girl away from our theatre!'  But they were the exact opposite, always welcoming.  So, yeah, it'll be hard but then you can see how incredible Loreena is.  So... I can tell Andrew yes?"

"Absolutely.  I'll be looking forward to it."

"Great!"  Christina sent Andrew a text.  "Now... I think we should celebrate finishing the organizing and cleaning.  A movie maybe?  I'm trying to make up for lost time.  My parents were pretty restrictive about media."

"As well you should.  Let's see...  Have you ever seen Clueless?  It was one of Lauren's favorites but Hildy and I got a kick out of it, too.  And... it just might explain the small handful of non-hippie clothing in Lauren's closet."

"I did wonder about a plaid skirt I found.  Did she go to Catholic school?"

Perry laughed and shook his head.

"No.  But you'll see."

"Okay then!"

In no time at all, Perry and Christina were happily settled in front of his TV with bowls of popcorn, laughing at the antics of Cher Horowitz and her friends.


In the lobby of St. G's, Joshua and Andrew sat in neighboring chairs, facing a reporter from The Advocate.

"Have you faced as much backlash during prior productions?" she asked.

Joshua shook his head.

"Not like this.  And not with such consistency.  During our first year, we had some anti-Semitic and anti-Middle Eastern graffiti and related threats.  But the picketing every show?  No.  But it hasn't changed anything."

"We go on every night as planned.  We do our meet-and-greets as planned.  They need to see that we won't be scared into silence, Cait," Andrew added.

"Are either of you Christian?"

"I'm Jewish.  But I believe in Jesus' message and teachings."

"I've believed, all my life, that Jesus is God... that he's the perfect, sinless Messiah," Andrew replied.  "I try to follow his teachings in my own life and am raising my kids to do the same.  Our church attendance has been a little off with the shows but, usually, my family and I attend church weekly."

"And you've never felt that being an LGBTQ+ advocate is in any way counter to your faith?"

"Not at all," Andrew stressed.  "I think it's in keeping with it.  Jesus told us to love one another, to not judge.  And, through out the Bible, God is consistently shown as advocating for and aiding those who are considered the least in society.  And queer people are consistently targeted for discrimination, even violence."

"I also think it's important to remember that Jesus spent three years teaching.  Even accounting for some repetition as he went from city to city, that's a lot of time.  A sinless, perfect Messiah isn't just going to forget to mention that, oh, hey, homosexuality is wrong, always, no matter what.  But he didn't say that, did he?  He said nothing like it.  So we have to assume he didn't believe that.  He talked a lot about giving to the poor.  He spoke out about hypocrisy, especially among the elites.  But lambasting queer people?  No, not once.  Which is why I find it really interesting and, honestly, depressing that so many churches view speaking out against queer people and abortion... another thing Jesus never mentioned... as the core of their social message.  Why aren't they calling out for a tax system that takes more from the rich than the poor?  Why aren't they protesting outside of prisons or courthouses where we know justice isn't meted out equally to people?  If they're so concerned about children, why aren't they asking their politicians to give up their private jets to fund breakfast programs?" Joshua queried.  "Whatever Jesus it is the people who stand down the street with signs are worshiping... I don't recognize him."

Cait's eye brows quirked upwards.

"That's some righteous anger.  Do you need to go push over a few tables there, Josh?"

Joshua chuckled.

"No.  I'm fine.  But, yes, it makes me very angry."

"As it should.  So I have to ask... you had to know that you'd be courting controversy when you hired a transwoman to play Mary Magdalene.  So why did you do it?  Did you want to make a point?"

"We hired a wonderful actress and singer who is well-suited to the role," Andrew defended.  "Were we aware that might anger some people?  Yes.  We're not naive.  But we don't overlook people just because hiring them might rile some members of the public up."

"If that was the case, I wouldn't be here.  Some people really didn't like a Middle Eastern Jewish man playing Jesus.  We can't suit everyone.  And the whole 'But Mary wasn't trans!' argument doesn't hold any weight with me.  She also wasn't blonde.  She wasn't American.  She wasn't English speaking.  But no one complains about any of that," Joshua pointed out.  "I mean if we're really going to go there... Jesus and the apostles also didn't sing rock music."

Andrew chuckled.

"There's your headline.  'Theatre Promotes Idea Jesus Was a Rocker,'" he kidded.  "But, seriously, the most important things about Mary Magdalene... both in real life and in the show... were that she was a strong woman, a woman of great faith, who stood by Jesus through everything.  Both of our actresses really bring those qualities to the role.  They're fantastic.  And so is Emma who has been playing the role for years."

"Absolutely.  And there's a reason we don't fill the roles based solely on who can tick the most identity boxes in common with the character.  Yes, we believe this is a story that really happened.  But it's also a story for and about everyone.  If you believe that Jesus died for the sins of humanity then that's ALL humanity.  If you believe he was just a good moral teacher, then his message is still for everyone.  Black, white, straight, gay, man, woman, non-binary, old, young.  It's important for us that people of all groups see themselves in Jesus' story.  And, yes, that absolutely includes trans folks," Joshua stressed. 

"That's great.  I love that.  But knowing this interview is going to be published on our web site... video and print... are you worried that other groups, groups who may have been completely oblivious, might join in on the protests?" Cait asked.

"They very well could," Andrew admitted.  "Thankfully, we have a very good security team."

"And we also think it's worth the gamble.  Sure, more hate-filled people might find out about us.  But given your audience, it's a certainty that more queer people will find out about us.  And maybe, just maybe, it'll help them to know that not all Christians are against them.  We have queer Christians working on this show.  And they believe very strongly that God loves them just as they are.  And so do I.  In fact, I don't have a single doubt about that," Joshua concluded.

"Nor do I," Andrew agreed.  "So... we're here.  We're not going any where.  And we're going to stand up for what we believe."

Cait smiled at the two.

"Thank you both.  I can't wait to get this out there.  And... I have a feeling I know what my weekend plans are.  Any tickets left for Friday?"

Andrew smiled.

"For sure."

As Andrew and Cait settled up, Joshua prayed.  Things were set in motion now that could complicate matters.  At least for a short while.  But all would be well.


Christina and Perry were halfway through Sense and Sensibility when her phone lit up and pinged with texts.

"Oh...  Oh... it's happening!" she cried.

Perry hurried to pause the movie.

"What's that?"

"My social worker.  She said my dad has just been arrested and they're on their way to nab Malachi."

Perry squeezed Christina's hand.

"And how do you feel about that?"

"I feel... relieved.  There's no going back now.  And that feels good.  I mean... I know I'll have to testify and stuff.  But it's also out of my hands in a lot of ways and that feels really great after carrying it all around, alone, for so long."

Christina hugged Perry.

"I feel... free," she murmured.

"And you deserve so much to feel that," he assured.

Smiling, Christina let out a sigh of relief.

"Thank you.  Now... can we get back to the movie?  I really hope Marianne doesn't end up with Willoughby.  He gives me a bad feeling.  I like Colonel Brandon.  He reminds me a lot of this guy over at St. G's who is working on a memory book for them."

Chuckling, Perry grabbed the remote and resumed the film.

"We shall see..."


After reading her text messages, Loreena let out a happy sigh as she stood on the deck of the Fleetwood with Roger and Ant.

"I'm so happy for Christina!  This has to be such a huge weight off her shoulders."

"I sure hope so.  I do wonder what this means for the remainder of the shows.  Especially with Andrew's and Joshua's interview coming out."  Roger shrugged.  "All we can do is pray, I guess."

"Do you ever think about how our family would react... if they knew about all of this?" Ant asked.

Loreena laughed uneasily.

"You know, I actually thought about printing the interview and sending it to them, no return address."

"The irony of it is so much of what they taught us is true.  Like... the last shall be first.  They're still trying their best to connect to God.  We... the ones they thought were destined for hellfire... have met him."

"And you live with an angel."

Ant chuckled.

"And I live with an angel," he repeated.  "For now."

The three glanced across the ship to where Steve and Ed were gazing out at the sea, arms around each other.

"They're honestly kind of nauseating," Ant joked.  "God only knows how bad it'll get when they're married."

Loreena and Roger exchanged a secret smile.

"I hope you like weddings.  I feel like you may have to put up with at least a couple of them in 2023," Loreena mused.

"Oh, sure.  Once it happens, I doubt Ed and Steve will be engaged for very long and... wait.  A couple?" Ant questioned. 

"We made a stop before we came here..."  Grinning, Roger held up his and Loreena's left hands.  As the two giggled, Ant began shrieking.

"Oye!  What's going on over there?" Ed shouted before he approached with Steve.

"They... they're...  Oh..."  Ant hugged his cousin and her fiance.

"Did you two just get engaged?" Steve asked.

Beaming, Roger nodded.

"Just before we came here.  We wanted Ant to be the first to know."

"And we'll tell Christina when we pick her up and then... we'll let the news fly," Loreena added.

"Well, then...  This deserves a toast.  We don't keep alcohol on the ship for obvious reasons but... can I interest you both in some sparkling cider?" Steve offered as Ed clapped the two on their backs.

"That would be lovely, thank you!" Loreena replied before wrapping her arms around Roger.

"Mi mariposa..." he whispered in her ear.

"Mi dulce nutria," she murmured back.

While Ed and Steve went to retrieve the cider and some glasses, the happy couple gazed lovingly at each other as Ant did a happy dance on the deck of the ship.


Not a Tame Lion

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

JenniAnn happily hummed as she worked some oil into the ends of Joshua's hair as they sat near the window in Willowveil's ballroom.

Sipping his coffee nearby, Andrew chuckled.

"I honestly think this is when you're at your happiest, Laja... working on Joshua's hair."

"I mean... it's definitely among my happiest times," JenniAnn replied.  She hugged Joshua's shoulders.  "I love your mane.  But, mostly, it reminds me of that day in Cora's kitchen when everything became so perfectly, blindingly clear."

Joshua beamed and rested his hands over hers.

"That day remains, and always will remain, very special to me.  And I love these times, too.  Plus... Dad forbid the Messiah has split ends."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Not on my watch!  Although I'm sure you had some back in the day.  I don't imagine there was nearly as much leisure time."

"Not at all.  And I did.  And some grays."

"Probably still looked good, though.  I love when black hair goes gray.  Like Ed's."

"Ed has beautiful hair," Joshua agreed.  "Always has.  As do you, little bird."

"Hard agree over here, Laja."


"So I was thinking...  Once you're done there... Maybe we could ask Christina if she'd like to go to her parents' place and collect her stuff?" Andrew suggested.  "With her dad being in jail, it would be an opportune time."

"Great idea!" Joshua agreed.  "Can you check with Christina?  And maybe Loreena and Perry could come along for moral support?"

"Crowley can come help.  He might as well be a useful shadow," Andrew jested.

"Ha.  Good point.  Yes, invite him along once you've spoken to Christina, please."

"I'm so happy for her.  I know stuff is just stuff... but at the very least she deserves her things."  JenniAnn finished with the oils and kissed the top of Joshua's head.  "And, who knows, soon she might have the best gift of all... knowing exactly who Mr. Joshua Davidson is."

Joshua rose from his chair and hugged JenniAnn, returning her kiss as he did.

"Hope so."


Shortly after lunchtime; Joshua, Andrew, Crowley, Loreena, and Christina gathered at St. G's.  The latter went to retrieve Perry and then the six made their way to a brownstone several blocks from the theatre in Andrew's van.  As they drew nearer, Christina grew more nervous.  Sitting on either side of her, Perry and Loreena clasped her hands.

"I... I just hope I don't fall completely apart," she fretted.

"It'll be fine even if you do.  No one will blame you even a bit.  I'd fall apart, too," Loreena admitted.

"Do you want to speak to your mother or would you prefer the rest of us act as a buffer as much as possible?" Andrew asked.

"Buffer.  Please.  If she even lets us in."

"She'll let us in," Crowley assured.  He couldn't imagine Joshua going along with this just to see Christina rebuffed at the door.

"I'll be right by your side," Loreena promised.

"Me too," Joshua vowed.  "Everything will be all right.  No matter what."

In the shotgun seat, Crowley, who had caught Joshua peering upwards, wondered at those last three words.

Soon, Andrew pulled into the driveway.

"Andrew, Crowley, please grab the boxes.  The rest of us will head inside," Joshua directed.

"Maybe we should all go in together?" Crowley suggested.  "We can come back out for the boxes once we know how much stuff Christina wants."

"We'll be okay," Joshua reassured.

Andrew and Crowley exchanged concerned looks but obeyed.

Christina, Loreena, Perry, and Joshua made their way to the front door.  The latter knocked.

Slowly, the door opened and a woman peeked out.

"Hello, Marjorie," Joshua coolly greeted.  "We're here to collect Christina's things."

Marjorie glared at them.

"I'm not letting it in my home," she sneered, zeroing in on Loreena.

Christina snapped out of her nervous stupor and glared at her mother.

"Loreena is more of a woman and more of a mother than you'll ever be," she seethed.

Taken aback, Marjorie stumbled backwards a few steps.

"Let's get started."  Joshua waved everyone inside.

Suddenly, Christina's cell phone chimed.  She peered at it and her eyes grew wide.

"Bail... they posted bail.  They're... out," she cried.

"Yes.  We are."

Horrified, Christina turned around to find her father standing in the entry to the hallway.  Her terror grew when another man moved to stand beside him.

"How convenient...  They came right to us.  We don't even need to go to their wretched, ungodly theatre," Malachi taunted.

Marjorie hurried to lock the front door which soon rattled as Andrew and Crowley pounded on it.

Quentin moved into the living room and sat down in his armchair.

"Here's how this is going to go.  The three of you are going to leave.  Christina is staying right here."

"She's not," Joshua insisted.  "We won't leave without her... and her things."

"Your choice."  Quentin withdrew a gun and pointed it at Loreena.    "But you may want to reconsider.  I'll give you to the count of three."

"Don't anybody move," Joshua directed.

"Joshua... they're clearly insane!" Perry protested.

Loreena remained still, her steely gaze directed at Quentin.

"One..." Quentin counted.  "Two... three."

Christina cried out as he fired.

Joshua right hand flew up in front of Loreena's face and he clasped the bullet.

Quentin's face went ashen as Joshua playfully tossed the bullet into the air and caught it.

"Hmm...  I think we have about six minutes and thirty seven seconds before the police show up after being alerted to a gun shot," he mused.  "Although I may be able to buy us some time..."

"What... are... you?" Malachi demanded through gritted teeth.

Christina blinked, sure she hadn't seen what she had... but how else to explain why Loreena was totally fine?  Smiling even?

"My God..." Perry murmured.  "You're..."

Joshua smiled at him and nodded before turning back to Quentin.

"He who lives by the gun, dies by the gun," he paraphrased.

"Maybe... maybe there's something wrong with the gun?  The bullet came out without much force and..." Quentin trailed off, ignoring Joshua as he casually strode to the door and told Andrew and Crowley to relax.

Malachi readily nodded.

"Yes, exactly.  Screw the gun."  He towered over Loreena.  "So what have you done to her, you freak?  You dirty, perverted trann..."

"Don't you dare say that to her!" Christina shouted.  "You want to see a freak?  You want to see a pervert?  Look in the mirror!"

Malachi glared and opened his mouth to protest but Christina cut him off, turning to point at her parents.

"You two kept telling me that people like Loreena would sneak into a bathroom stall and rape me... something you had no proof for.  But when your buddy stuck his hand up my shirt after rehearsals... still wearing that damn white robe... and I cried to you both... you did nothing!  When he snuck into my bedroom and pinned me down and raped me... repeatedly... you didn't believe me!  When my period was late... probably because I was so upset and traumatized and stressed but we all thought I might be pregnant... you told me I should marry him.  Because he came crying to you, begging forgiveness... phony tears but still proof that what I'd said was true!  But he wasn't sorry for what he did!  He was sorry he'd been caught!  And you believed him!  You believed that I seduced him!  You sent him away to some phony counselor who just reiterated all his screwed up ideas!  And... and you whipped me.  Again and again and again.  Do you see how twisted that is?  How... how evil that is?!"

Panicked, Quentin looked around the room, sizing up his opponents.  He lurched for Christina, hand raised but, somehow, he struck Joshua's cheek.

Christina froze.  How had Joshua done that?  He'd been by the door and then, a split second later, in front of her.

Joshua moved to push Quentin back into his chair.

"Get your hands off me!" Quentin bellowed before glaring at Christina.  "How dare you... how dare you, you ungrateful, sin-ridden slu..."

Joshua rested a hand on Quentin's left shoulder.

"That's enough," he hissed.  "Sit down.  Now.  You too."  He pointed to Marjorie.  "And..."

Malachi launched himself at Loreena but, again, Joshua ended up tumbling to the floor in her place.  He only stared as Malachi pummeled him.

"Joshua!" Loreena shrieked. 

"What... are... you..." Malachi repeated as he punched Joshua.

Though his face was now bloodied, Joshua grinned.

"I am who I am.  Do you feel better, Malachi?  You've trampled all over my word.  Does it help to get a few physical blows in, too?" he taunted.  "I'd prefer this, actually.  A few punches to the old face hurt a lot less than your blasphemy.  Oh... and I meant to ask earlier... did you ever get your boots cleaned up?"

The color drained from Malachi's face and he hurriedly crawled away from Joshua.

Loreena rushed forward to help Joshua up.  He patted her arm appreciatively then rested a hand on Christina's.

"Dear one, go on.  Say whatever you need to say."

Christina buried her face in Perry's shoulder for a moment.  Dear one...  Joshua... who was clearly more than an actor... had called her 'dear one.'  Emboldened, she looked down at her father and mother.

"I've felt safer staying with Loreena than I ever, ever felt in your house.  I felt more welcomed by these people than I ever felt in your damned church!  I'm not coming back.  Ever.  I am testifying against you.  And I am staying with Loreena.  She and Roger have been better parents to me in a few days than you two were in my entire life!  And here..."  She turned to Malachi.  "A new friend gave this to me.  Since you're so determined to live a good, Christian life... maybe this can help you, Malachi.  'If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.'"

Christina dropped a snail fork onto Malachi's lap.

"Do what you will with it.  I'm getting my stuff... and then I'm going home."

Quentin turned red with rage and Christina turned around, the soles of her shoes facing her parents.  She paused and tapped the toe of her right shoe on the floor and then the toe of her left shoe, shaking the dirt away.

Quentin burst up from his chair and opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out.

Suddenly, a bright, blinding light filled the room.  Only Joshua was able to withstand it, peering into the center of the light with his bruised, blackened eyes.  His cracked lips smiled as the light began to dim and the mortals could see again, first the mere outline of a woman but then her features, her long black hair, her warm brown eyes.  They watched, astounded, as she knelt in front of Joshua and kissed his forehead.  When she drew back, every mark had disappeared from Joshua’s face.

"Are you... the Father?” Perry murmured.

The woman turned to him and smiled gently and shook her head.

"I am not God."  Her gaze hardened as she turned to Malachi, Quentin, and Marjorie who were cowering.  "I am the first Christian preacher.  I am the first to proclaim the message of Easter.  All others, even my brothers, followed after me.  And I have watched every single one down through the generations.  I am in every proclamation of "Rejoice!  He is risen!"  You all echo me… or, at least, you were supposed to."

"Mary…" Loreena murmured, reaching out.

Mary turned away from the trembling preachers.  She squeezed Loreena’s hand.

"I have so much to say to you, my dear, but for now… please take Christina and Perry to her room to start packing."  She glanced back over at Quentin, Marjorie, and Malachi.  "Yeshua and I have much to discuss with these three."

"Yeshua..." Christina murmured, her suspicions borne out.

Joshua made his way to the front door, letting Andrew and Crowley in.

"You could have warned us!" a simmering Crowley told him.

Joshua smiled.

"We'll talk later.  Please go help Christina pack up.  But don't come downstairs until I say so.  Loreena, Perry, and especially Christina don't need to see what's about to happen."

"You're sure you're okay?" Andrew checked.

"I'm perfectly fine.  Besides, I have Mary here to protect me."

Mary nodded to the two before they took their boxes and headed upstairs.

Joshua approached Christina and took her hands in his.

"This isn't the way I wanted you to find out about..."

Christina let out a sob and crumpled into his arms.


Joshua kissed her hair.

"Yes, dear one.  I love you so much.  And there's so much I want to say to you."  He looked over Christina's head at Perry.  "And to you."

"The robe...  Who goes to the trouble to have a seamless robe made when you can't even tell from a distance unless... he already had one."  Perry shook his head in wonder.

Joshua gave him a mischievous smile.

"I knew that robe would get to you.  Now, please, go upstairs.  I'll come get you all in a bit."

"C'mon, sweetie."  Loreena gently took Christina from Joshua and led her away.

At the top of the stairs, Crowley and Andrew looked back once more but, with a wave from Joshua, followed the others.

Quentin continued trying to scream then made a run for the door.

Joshua grabbed him and pulled him back to the chair.

"That's enough, Quentin. 
Zakharia experienced the same for so much less than you have done.  I think you've done enough preaching.  Now it's time for you to listen."

Mary suppressed a laugh as Joshua pushed up his sleeves and pulled a chair in front of Quentin's.  It was... a choice.

Joshua cocked his head, listening.

"All of that and you still think I'm a viper?"

Quentin's eyes grew wide as Joshua seemingly read his mind.

Joshua shrugged.

"I never minded attributing the occasional bit of snake imagery to myself.  'And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes will have eternal life in Him.'  Snakes are like lions.  They symbolize both good and bad in the Bible.  Surely as a man of the cloth you know that?"

Marjorie opened her mouth but discovered that she, too, had been rendered mute.

"You were silent when your daughter needed your support and your help.  Now you will be silent until you are able to speak for her... speak the truth.  The actual truth."

Joshua paused before continuing to speak.

"You're right, Marjorie.  'Honor your mother and your father' is a commandment.  But to expect honor, one must be honorable.  You..."  He stared at the couple.  "Both of you have been dishonorable.  Commandments don't have conditions?  Hmm.  News to me.  We both know you were perfectly happy to apply conditions when it suited you.  When Bethany came to you in distress because her mother was threatening to report Malachi... you applied conditions then, didn't you?  You told her to cut her mother off.  To refuse to let her see her grandchildren.  Isn't that right?"

In a matter of moments, Quentin's face had gone from beet red to ashen.  Malachi had begun to whimper.

"How do I know all this?"  Joshua raised his hands.

Quentin, too, began to whimper as he saw the holes in Joshua's wrists.

"I am the Son of Man.  I am the One who was lifted up."

Quentin's body began to quake.  Malachi appeared to be trying to shrink so he could hide under the loveseat.  Marjorie vomited on the expensive carpet.

"Now... let's really talk.  Malachi, I know every last thing you did to Christina.  Every last thing... how you spiked her lemonade during the post-play receptions.  That's how you took those photos... how you convinced her, at least for a while, that it was her fault... her idea.  I do not appreciate being used to gain trust only to have it abused so viciously."  Joshua's voice shook with anger but tears filled his eyes.  Suddenly, the robe Malachi had worn during the Passion plays appeared in his right hand.  "You will never wear this again." 

The garment went up in flames.

"And I don't appreciate faux respect for me being used as justification for attacking and slandering a good woman," Mary added.  "And... I was raped, too.  And it wasn't my fault.  Any more than what you did to Christina was her fault.  But what you did, Malachi...  It was even worse than what my attackers did.  Because she cared for you.  I didn't know my rapists.  But Christina thought she knew you.  She thought you offered hope.  But Shimeon is right... you are a white washed tomb of the worst sort."

Joshua glared at Malachi for a moment more before turning his gaze upon Quentin and Marjorie.

"And I know everything you said to Christina afterwards... to your own daughter... to the miracle who was entrusted to you.  Every vile, shaming, shameful word.  And I know about each time you beat her.  I felt every single lash in my own skin.  And I know about all the evils each of you visited upon members of your congregation.  I know about Samantha.  I know how she came to you both.  She had been told her baby... her much prayed for, much wanted baby... would be born incompatible with life."  He pointed his finger at Quentin.  "I know how you chastised her for her lack of faith.  Coldly... cruelly.  And you..."  Joshua's eyes filled as he turned to Marjorie.  "You told her that she would go to Hell if she 'murdered' her baby.  You told her she needed to carry that baby to term to demonstrate her faith.  And she did.  And for 77 minutes she watched her baby gasp for breath.  And where were you?  Where were you?" he repeated, pain and anger breaking his voice.  "Where were you when Freddie's parents found his body after you told him he'd go to Hell if he acted on his attraction to other men?  Where were you when he shot himself through the heart?  Where were you when Olive's parents took her off life support because the husband you told her she had to stay with beat her to death?  And where was your support when Helena was struggling to pay for cancer treatment?  Did it go into this fancy coffee table?  And when Andy and Nicole asked you for help affording fertility testing...  You scoffed.  You told them that if they had enough faith, they would have their own child.  Are their dashed hopes worth the designer suits and dresses in your closets?  Speaking of fertility...  Let's talk about the lie at the root of this family.  The lie you kept from your own daughter.  So... convenient how you... Quentin and Marjorie... left for a nine month mission trip abroad.  Funny...  I never considered New Mexico to be abroad."

At this, a tear finally slid down Marjorie's cheek.

Joshua's voice softened but barely.

"Your infertility was never a punishment.  It never is.  But that you hid your own and then told others they were infertile due to lack of faith... that's a sin.  And that you took the miracle that was given to you and abused her...  You've never seen a mother watch her child slowly die.  I have."  Joshua's right fist balled around the hem of the sweater his Ama had given him.  "My own mother... and I was with every mother... every parent... who faced that before and since.  I know their pain.  I share their pain.  You never have... even when you were invited in.  Samantha was looking for someone to walk alongside her and her husband in their pain, their grief.  So were Freddie's parents.  So were Olive's.  But you couldn't do that.  All you could do was sound off with your platitudes and your politics.  Because I know you didn't care about any of them.  You didn't care about that baby.  Do you even know that baby's name?  You'll be able to speak it... if you know it," Joshua challenged.

The three remained silent.  None of them met Joshua's imploring gaze.

"His name was... and is... Jesse Abel.  His parents loved him from the moment they learned of his existence... they love him still.  They should not have been forced to watch him suffer!  Christina should not have suffered.  You have caused so much suffering... all while pretending to be people of God."

Quentin grabbed a nearby book and scrawled "I'm sorry" on a blank page.

Fresh tears welled in Joshua's eyes and he shook his head.

"Except... you're not.  Not really.  Now you're just scared.  I know your heart.  I know all your hearts.  And I know you're only sorry that you were wrong.  You said you were worshiping Jesus of Nazareth and my Father... but you didn't really want us.  You wanted Mammon.  You wanted Moloch.  You wanted a god who would praise you for sacrificing the health and well-being of those around you just so you didn't have to, for a single moment, rethink your hateful, self-promoting views.  I am not Mammon.  I am not Moloch.  I am the God of the outcast.  I am the God of the marginalized.  I am the God of the brokenhearted.  I am the God of the rape victim.  I am the God of the grieving parent.  I am the God of the rejected transgender child."

With those words, Malachi's, Marjorie's, and Quentin's heads shot up to look at Joshua, to protest... but he was gone.

Or so they thought.

A drop of blood fell onto the coffee table.  Then another and another.

Mary bowed her head. 

The three began to quake as they looked further up at the crucified Joshua.

"I AM THE GOD OF LOVE!" he bellowed, peering from beneath the crown of thorns into their eyes.

Then Joshua truly disappeared.

Where the cross has been, a rainbow appeared.

Quentin began to scream.  Malachi could do nothing but thrash around.  Marjorie only silently stared at Mary.

"There's still time to truly repent.  I hope you do."  Mary smiled softly, hopefully and then she, too, disappeared.


Lauren's Prayer

True to his word, Joshua appeared in Christina's room as she and the others were packing.

"Joshua!" Christina rushed at him and hugged him tightly.

"Christina..."  Joshua murmured her name lovingly and kissed her hair.

Police sirens blared. 

"So... how are we going to explain all of that?" Perry asked.

Joshua chuckled.

"We have a friend on the force.  He can smooth some things over.  But... we are going to have to all step outside, make some statements."  Joshua rested a hand on Christina's shoulder.  "We'll be able to finish up here.  But it's for the best that they're charged with all their crimes... including false imprisonment, attempted murder, and assault."

Christina nodded. 

Shouting downstairs revealed that the powers of speech had been returned to the trio... better to incriminate themselves.

Someone knocked on the door.

"Hey... it's Matthew."

Joshua opened the door.

"Front lawn?"

"Yeah, if you could.  They saw the gun and want to search the place so... hands over your heads as you go, please."

"Sure thing."  Joshua raised his hands and led the others out. 

They stood together on the lawn, enjoying the sight of Malachi, Quentin, and Marjorie being led out in handcuffs. 

"Christina!" a voice shouted.

Christina turned to see one of her next door neighbors.

"Oh Christina...  I'm so glad you're okay.  When I heard the shot, I was so afraid your dad had..."

Christina hugged the older woman.

"I'm okay, Beverly.  He tried to shoot at my friend but..."

Beverly lifted her head from Christina's shoulder and looked to the others.  Her eyes locked with Joshua.

"It's you!  You...  My eyes...  I... I was supposed to have surgery today but... I saw your show and..."

Andrew smirked.

"Under the radar healing..." he whispered.

Beverly hugged Joshua who was beaming.

"Glad you're doing better, Beverly."

"So much better.  My doctors say it's a complete miracle.  They can't explain it at all.  I told them I hugged 'Jesus' and the next morning...  Thank God I was home today.  I called the police as soon as I heard the shot."

Joshua patted her back.

"Thank you for that."  He noticed Matthew approaching.  "And now... hopefully we can get back in the house and finish packing Christina's things.  Can you come to the show tomorrow, Beverly?  Our treat.  This time you can see it more clearly."

"Oh yes!  I'd love that.  Thank you!"

"We'll save seats for you and Kevin.  But for now... Christina, you ready?" Joshua checked.

"Very ready." 

Christina hugged Beverly once more then returned with the others to her room.

"There's not that much that I want..." she realized.  "My clothes weren't the clothes I would have chosen."  She squeezed Perry's hand.  "I like Lauren's clothes better.  And what Amala picked out for me.  And the Christian stuff..."  Christina removed her cross from the wall.  "I'll take this.  It's a perfectly fine cross.  But... the books, the movies... that... that's not the Jesus I know now."  She peered into Joshua's loving gaze.  "They're not you."

With tears trailing down his cheeks, Joshua shook his head.

"They're not."

Christina hugged him then resumed looking around her room.

"Even so many of the toys...  They gave them to me and I don't think I want them as remembrances.  I'd rather donate them to someone without the memories.  Except the few from my grandparents."  Christina plucked those up and put them in a box. 

Joshua picked up a plush unicorn.

"Take this.  I know they gave her to you as a baby but she's not really from them.  We'll talk more about it later.  But... you'll want her."

Christina cocked her head curiously but took the unicorn.

"Okay.  A unicorn did always seem like a weird choice for them.  Thanks for telling me."

"Is there anything in other rooms?" Crowley checked.

"Not really.  Well...  My grandma gave my mom a dish that she always used for Thanksgiving but I don't want to cause any trouble since it's not really mine."

"Quentin and Marjorie will be in no position to be quibbling over a dish.  I'll go get it," Joshua offered.

"It's the red crys..."  Christina laughed.  "Sorry.  Of course you'd know."

Joshua grinned.

"I do."

After Joshua had retrieved the bowl along with a few photos that depicted Christina and only Christina, everyone helped pack up her art supplies.  Then the group loaded back into Andrew's van.  Loreena clasped Christina's hand as she peered out the window, looking at the house as it disappeared.

Once Christina turned around, Loreena spoke.

"Thank you.  For sticking up for me with Malachi.  I know that had to have been hard."

Christina rested her head on Loreena's shoulder.

"Yes and no.  It wasn't at all hard defending you.  It... it was scary, at first, standing up to him but... it was more than time.  It felt good, actually.  But now... I'm exhausted."

"Nap if you can," Loreena urged.

"And, if you can't in the van, you can once we get back to my place," Perry offered.  "Personally... I could use a drink.  I have some good wine if anyone's interested.  And cocoa for you, Christina."

Christina smiled appreciatively.

"Sounds good.  Thank you...  All of you... for this."  She yawned.

Joshua reached back and squeezed her hand.

"You're very welcome.  Now rest."

Christina smiled sleepily at him then did.


Once they reached Perry's house, Christina was still asleep so Joshua carefully carried her inside.  While she continued to sleep in Lauren's room, the others gathered in Perry's living room and sipped the wine he'd given them.

"I only have one bottle...  But I'm guessing that's not a problem."

Crowley snorted as Joshua chuckled.

"No.  It's not." 

After a few sips, Perry shook his head.

"This whole time...  I could have come to know you earlier if I'd not been so... grouchy and negative and..."

Joshua rested a hand on Perry's arm.

"You can't change the past, Perry.  You were a friend to me this season.  And I needed one.  It broke my heart watching Christina.  I was right there and yet... I couldn't approach her.  But you kept me company in that.  And you were able to show her kindness when I still had to remain apart."

"How hard it must have been for you," Perry lamented.  "And knowing that vile man used your name... your story... to hurt her."

"And he was starting it up again," Joshua revealed.  "If Christina hadn't spoken up when she did, another young girl could have been harmed."

"I still can't get over her parents..."  Andrew shook his head.  "If one of my girls told me she'd been raped... I'm genuinely worried about what I might do to that man."

"They poisoned their own minds and hearts," Joshua explained.  "They had opportunities to see the light.  But, each time, they rejected it.  They rejected me.  Now... now they'll all have lots of time to think about what they've done."

"What will happen to them?" Loreena asked.  "If you can say, I mean."

"I don't fully know.  My Dad hasn't divulged that to me.  But knowing what I do know...  Marjorie will likely get off easy.  At least in legal terms.  The false imprisonment is the only thing they'll get to stick.  But she'll lose the house to their legal bills.  She'll likely have to move back in with her parents and that will be a much needed humbling experience for her.  But, hopefully, a healing one, eventually.  Between the abuse of Christina and everything that happened today, Quentin is looking at some serious time.  That gun wasn't registered, for starters.  And... that's not counting some tax fraud and embezzlement issues that will come up.  Someone tried to turn him and Malachi in for that last year but..."  Joshua bowed his head for a moment, thinking of Freddie and his parents.  It had been his father who had gone to the police when he'd begun to suspect something fishy at the church.  But he'd abandoned the case when his son had committed suicide.  "Something came up," he finished.  "So Malachi will be facing his part of that, repeated sexual assault charges, and more.  He's unlikely to see freedom again."

"So Christina can be well and truly free of them?"

Joshua met Perry's hopeful gaze and nodded.

The squeaking stairs revealed that Christina had gotten up.

"Hey there..." Loreena greeted.  "How did you sleep?"

"Really well, actually.  Musta been to not even wake up when someone carried me in.  You?" she asked Joshua.

Joshua gave her a smile and a nod.

Christina sat beside him and hugged his arm.


"You're very welcome."

"Well...  I better get back to JenniAnn.  She'll likely have heard about the arrests by now and will be wondering."  Andrew took a final sip of his wine.  "Loreena, do you need a ride back?"

"Actually... someone's going to be meeting Loreena over at the theatre shortly," Joshua cut in, smiling at Loreena.

The woman's face lit up.

"Mary...  Is she..." 

Joshua nodded.

"Oh!  Wow!  Okay!"  Loreena knelt in front of Christina.  "You okay over here, sweetie?"

Christina nodded.

"More than okay.  Go on over.  And... please tell her thanks for me."

"Will do," Loreena promised. 

"And everyone will have a chance to see Mary again tomorrow.  She's coming to the show," Joshua shared.

"Awesome!" Christina smiled brightly.  "I'm really excited... even more now knowing what I do.  But... I have so many questions."

"And we'll get to them all."  Joshua turned to Crowley.  "You headed back with Andrew?"

"Yeah, think so.  Check in on Ed.  See how he's settling in."

"Good plan."

Christina, Perry, and Joshua bid the three good bye with hugs and then settled back in.

"There's something I have to tell you both.  A good thing," Joshua began.

Perry laughed.

"I don't know, Joshua...  I think I might have had my fill of good news for today," he teased.

Joshua smiled.

"I think you'll want to hear this."  He directed his attention to Christina.  "Christina, one of the last things I spoke to Quentin and Marjorie about is a lie they've been hiding for years... for nineteen years."

"My... my whole life?"


"When you were born, they were no where near as far adrift as they became.  But they were already demonstrating some... problematic beliefs.  Among them was an idea that if someone's faith was great enough, they would be cured of any ills... infertility included.  This simply isn't true.  Good people die of diseases every day.  People who would be loving, giving parents can't conceive.  When sin entered the world, so did pollution, disease, stresses on human bodies that weren't meant to exist.  They impact everyone, the good and the bad.  But those two... they refused to acknowledge that.  After years of telling their congregation that prayer could get them anything, they discovered they couldn't conceive."

"So I... I'm adopted?" Christina asked, both shocked and yet comforted by the idea.

"Yes.  But they couldn't just come out and say that.  So... they told everyone that they were going on a mission trip."

"To Uganda.  I remember them talking about it."

"Christina, they've never set foot in Uganda.  It was all a lie."

Christina let out a bitter laugh.

"They even had souvenirs..."

"They bought them online."

"Unbelievable..." Perry scoffed.

"So where were they really?" Christina asked.

"They traveled the country, preaching.  And then they ended up in New Mexico for a while."

Perry perked up and his hands began to shake.

"And it was there they adopted a baby girl who had been put up for adoption."  Joshua reached over and took Perry's hands in his.  "The baby's mother was named Lauren Samuels."

"Oh God..."

Perry lurched forward and rested his forehead against Joshua's hands as he began to sob.

"Samuels..." Christina repeated in a daze.  "Lauren..."  She rubbed the sleeves of the purple tunic she was wearing.  "Mommy...  Oh... oh...  Per... no... Grandpa!"

As Joshua looked on with tears in his eyes, grandfather and granddaughter embraced.

After calming, they continued to cling to each other as Joshua continued.

"Lauren told the cult members that her baby was stillborn because she didn't want them to get a hold of you, Christina.  You were born perfectly healthy.  And your name... Lauren named you.  Quentin and Marjorie kept the name because it suited them.  But it was given to you by your real mother.  And the unicorn I told you to take?  Lauren picked that out for you in the hospital nursery.  She made them promise to let you keep it.  And... and she always prayed that, somehow, you'd find your way back to her parents."

"My baby... my baby..." Perry murmured as he rocked with Christina in his arms.

"He... he led me back...  And I... I'll never leave.  Never, ever, Grandpa," Christina vowed.

Joshua rose and rested a hand on each of their backs.

"And please know that Lauren and Hildy both are looking down on you, rejoicing in this reunion."

Perry cradled Christina's face in his hands.

"I love you...  I love you so much, baby girl."

"I... I love you, too, Grandpa."

Then, as one, the two stood and pulled Joshua into their embrace.


The Apostle to the Apostles

When Loreena entered St. G's lobby, she was surprised to find all twelve apostles were waiting for her.  Each was holding a flower of a different color.

"Umm... hi," she greeted.

"Shalom!" Cephas greeted.  He handed her a rose.  "For showing great bravery in welcoming a stranger in need into your home."

"Oh..." Loreena's eyes filled.

Andreas presented her with an orange lily.

"For helping to tell our story, even when people made it difficult."

"For going to that house today, to support a friend, even when you knew it could be dangerous."  Yohannan added a daffodil.

"For trying to help Joshua when that loser came at him... even if he didn't really need the help, it was still pretty great," Shimeon said as he handed Loreena green dianthus.

Loreena chuckled through her tears.

"For not making fun of Yeshua's make-up the first time you saw him.  I've heard it was pretty bad."

Loreena's laughter increased as Bar Tolmay gave her an iris.  She sobered when Mattay approached with purple allium.

"For listening to Christina... even when it was very hard to do so."

Blinking back more tears, Loreena nodded and squeezed his hand.

"For not letting the world make you bitter," Yaqob added as he handed over a red tulip.

"And not judging others, even as you faced judgment."  Yehuda Thaddeus contributed an orange daisy.

"For showing so many people that they, too, have a place in Yeshua's story," Thoma followed, presenting forsythia.

"And reminding them that he's the Lord of us all and we are each awesomely and wonderfully made."  Yaqob ben Halphi placed a green carnation in Loreena's arms.

Philippus smiled gently as he added blue delphinium to the collection.

"For never giving up, even when the world sometimes makes it so hard."

"And for loving our Yeshua."  Yehuda beamed as he presented hyacinth.

"Thank you...  Thank you all so much.  This... it's all... it means so much.  I..."

Loreena's voice cut off when Philippus and Yehuda opened the theatre doors and she saw Mary standing center stage, looking radiant.

"Go in, Loreena," Cephas urged.

Silently nodding, Loreena made her way down the aisle as the doors quietly closed behind her.

Mary met Loreena halfway down the aisle and hugged her. 

"Finally we meet properly!  I've been watching over you all this whole time, wanting so badly to say something but... my time hadn't come yet.  Oh, here, let me help you with those.  I love those boys but they can be so impractical.  They really could have given you a vase first."

Loreena could only laugh as Mary lead her onto the stage where a beautiful wooden vase had appeared.  She watched as Mary carefully considered the flowers, slightly wrinkling her nose as she did.

"It needs pink..."

A beautiful pink hydrangea appeared in Mary's hand and she quickly had it positioned amongst the others.

"There...  Better.  Free up your hands!  Loreena..."  Mary took both of Loreena's hands in hers.  "I'm so honored by how you've brought me to life here.  You and Ivy both, of course.  And Emma before you.  And Lucy before her.  But... I know it took an extra dose of bravery... several actually... for you."

"I just... I... I wanted to do you justice.  I've always loved your story."

"And you have, Loreena.  You truly have.  I know a lot gets said about me.  And I know you know I was never a prostitute.  But... I was cast out in other ways.  First, as a divorced woman.  After my husband threw me out, I found comfort in the arms of a Roman... my Lucius.  And then... after he died... I was raped and developed a mental illness... that definitely didn't endear anyone to me.  Except Yeshua... Yeshua who never gave up on me.  And some of the people who are cruelly and callously cast out today... they've come here and seen you and seen hope.  They've been reminded that the God who lives... he loves them.  Exactly as they are.  Loves them always.  There are people who could never bring themselves to go to a show about Jesus.  They were too harmed by Christians in their lives.  But you... your presence encouraged them to come... and will encourage still others.  And then they, too, can see our Yeshua... out of his tomb, fully alive, fully himself.  So, yes, you did justice to my story."

Mary kissed Loreena's forehead.

"Thank you, Loreena."

Overcome, Loreena wept joyful tears in Mary's arms.


That night, along with Roger and Ant, Loreena admired the vase of flowers as it rested in the center of her dining table.

"Mary says they'll never fade... always staying just like they are now.  I was thinking...  Maybe I'll carry it as my bridal bouquet?"

With tears in his eyes, Roger wrapped his arms around Loreena's waist.

"I think they'd be a beautiful, meaningful addition to a beautiful bride."

"Thank you."

Loreena sighed as she looked over at the sofa bed... now moved back into couch mode.

"I'm so happy for Christina and for Perry... but I miss her."

"If it'd help, I could stay over?" Ant offered.

"You know... it would actually.  Is that okay?" Loreena asked Roger.

"It's your apartment, mi mariposa.  I'm absolutely okay with it."

Ant clapped happily.

"I'll get my things.  I'd love a chance to get to know you better, Roger."


"Speaking about the wedding earlier..."  Loreena reached out for her cousin's hand.  "When the time comes, will you walk me down the aisle?"

Tears welled in Ant's eyes as he nodded, too overcome to give a vocal reply.  He squeezed Loreena's hand back in assent.

"And I will wear this."  Loreena rested her hand over the St. Mary Magdalene medallion that the archbishop had gifted her.  "In remembrance of her."

Loreena rested her head on Roger's shoulder as she caressed the pink hydrangea.


Start Again

Perry stood in the doorway to Lauren's... now Christina's room... and smiled. 

"You know, you're welcome to paint.  Put in new carpet.  We can get you a new bedspread.  New curtains.  Whatever you want.  It's your room now.  Your mother would want it that way."

Christina looked around the room then smiled at Perry.

"Thanks, Grandpa.  Maybe eventually.  Right now, I'd like to keep it as it is... as Mom left it." 

Christina was surprised at how easy it was to refer to someone else as mom... but she felt closer to Lauren now than she did the woman who had raised her.

"Could you tell me more about her?  Please?  If it's not too painful?"

Perry sat down beside Christina on the bed.

"It's much less painful now... with you here.  So let's see...  She loved The Chronicles of Narnia... but not as much as she loved Jane Austen.  She probably read Pride and Prejudice three dozen times.  And her favorite snacks were cheesy toast for savory, shortbread dipped in cherry pie filling for sweet."

"Ooh, I'd like to try that sometime."

"Definitely.  We can go shopping tomorrow, before the show.  Let's see...  Her favorite TV show was Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.  She also loved Touched by an Angel.  Actually... Andrew reminds me a lot of the fellow from that."

"He does!" Christina exclaimed.  "At least... that I remember.  They let me watch a few episodes... before they decided it was too liberal."

"Honestly..."  Perry shook his head in annoyance then patted his granddaughter's hand.  "We'll get you caught up on everything you want to see.  And we can hit all the museums... go to some Broadway shows..."

Beaming, Christina listened at all her grandpa had in store for her.  She was where she was meant to be and the doors were wide open.


Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

With some trepidation, Andrew and JenniAnn entered St. G's office the following morning.  As before, Cephas was waiting at the desk.

"We have an issue," he announced, foregoing a greeting.

"Again!?" Andrew spat out.  "What?  Did he used his one jail cell call to..."

Cephas laughed.

JenniAnn smiled.

"Andrew...  I think it's a good sort of issue."

"Mailbox is full!" the apostled cried.  "Yes, there were a couple of those... what did you call them?"

T.J. didn't look away from the newspaper he was perusing.


"Yes!  A couple of crackpots.  But otherwise... it's all people wanting tickets.  Many of them mentioned the interview, a few the news reports about the arrest.  Either way... they want to see what the fuss is about.  Andrew, you can't turn them away!  That's one thing I remember very clearly.  When people want to hear the good news... you never turn them away," Cephas enthused.

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"But... we don't have many tickets left."

"Guess you'll have to add more shows.  Orthodox Easter isn't until the 24th," T.J. pointed out.


"I could clear my calendar," Joshua offered with a grin as he entered the office.

JenniAnn immediately hugged him.

"It's such good news!" she gushed.

"It is," Joshua agreed as he returned the hug.  "Got an extra week of doing make-up and hair in you?"


Andrew laughed.

"I guess I better text everyone...  We'll have to take the 23rd off, though.  That's Kyle's and Ana-Maria's wedding."

"Definitely," Joshua agreed.

"And we scheduled the wrap party for Easter Sunday..." Andrew reminded.

Cephas shrugged.

"I guess it's no longer a wrap party.  Now it's purely an Easter party.  I like that better.  I'm sure Rakhyl will agree."

Andrew continued to chuckle as he drafted a text.

"This is wild..."

"And amazing," JenniAnn added.

Andrew kissed her hand.

"So it is," he agreed before focusing on spreading the word.


Later that morning, Christina stood outside St. G's, studying her mural.  She hadn't thought much about it over the past few days.  Now she was considering painting over it.

She was still weighing her options when Mattay approached.

"Are you going to resume work on it?" he asked.

"I don't know, actually."  Christina brushed her fingers over the words she had painted.  "I know where He was now.  He was right there.  With me.  Crying with me... and working to make something good come out of it."

Mattay nodded.

"And... He was with your mom, too, Mattay."

Mattay let out a shuddering sigh.

"He was."

Christina reached for his hand.

With a smile, Mattay took hers.

"I always wondered why you became a tax collector.  I... I never considered it was something like that.  I'm sorry you went through that."

"I'm sorry you went through what you did."

"Thanks.  And thanks for being so gentle and kind in telling me what Malachi was doing.  It helped... knowing it was personal to you.  That you understood how... bad things happen.  But that doesn't mean I'm bad.  Just like you mom wasn't bad.  Not at all.  I can tell because... well, she raised an apostle.  You're, like, in the top two dozen best men to ever live."

Mattay laughed.

"Thank you.  I'm not sure about that... but thank you."

Christina smiled then resumed looking at the mural.

"Maybe it's just... half done."


Mattay watched with interest as Christina began to chalk an outline of what she had planned.

After a few minutes he beamed.

"Oh...  Oh, yes, I like that very much!"

"Do you think Joshua will?"

"I know he will."

With a bright, relaxed smile, Christina continued her work.


A little over an hour before curtain, Andreas came running into the office where JenniAnn was prepping Joshua's back while Andrew looked on protectively.  He had decided there was no way a door was getting between him and either of them for a good while... well, obviously not counting those dictated by privacy.

"You have to come outside!" the apostle cried.

JenniAnn hastily finished applying moisturizer then straightened Joshua's shirt. 

"Is it a good thing?" Andrew warily checked.

Andreas nodded, grinning as he did.

Joshua returned the smile.

"Thank you for letting us know.  Do I look presentable?"

"Absolutely," JenniAnn assured.  "I love that shirt."

Joshua smiled down at the T-shirt Ed had given him that morning featuring a rainbow colored outline of a kiwi bird.

"Me too."

"Well, let's head out and see?"  Andrew held open the door then followed the other three out.

What they saw was a group holding signs and waving flags assembling on their sidewalk... a much larger group than before.  The corner previously occupied by the Mission of Christ Church was empty.

Joshua's face lit up as he read the signs on which were written things like "God loves EVERYONE," "I am fearfully and wonderfully made," "Judge lest not ye be judged," and "Love one another as I have loved you."

"It's beautiful... they're beautiful," he murmured before approaching the crowd who began to cheer as he milled among them.

JenniAnn took her cell phone from her pocket and snapped photos before pushing Andrew forward.

"Go out there!  They're likely brought here by the interview and want to see you, too, Mr. Director in Live Features."

Andrew's face flushed but, smiling, he went to join Joshua as JenniAnn continued to photograph the impromptu meet-and-greet.

Marty and Sandy approached, admiring the scene.

"Send us some of those photos for the book, would you, please?" the latter requested.

"Of course."  JenniAnn spun around and snapped a photo of the brothers.  "That one better be in there, too.  No fair if you're the only ones who don't appear."

"I suppose..." Marty agreed. 

"Just look at them..." JenniAnn cooed as Joshua hugged a crying man and rested a hand on his cheek.  "Look at him..."

"I am."  Marty let out a sigh of relief as he took in the scene.

All was truly well.


A few people milled awkwardly around the Mission of Christ Christian Church's study room.  It was something of a mess, evidence of an earlier police raid.  But there would be time to clean up later.  Maybe.  Some of them would have just as soon seen the place razed.  But mysterious notes left in their mailboxes had drawn the group there.

A young couple sat together at a table, the woman's hands resting protectively over her pregnant belly.

A middle-aged woman looked pensively at her twenty-something daughter.

An older couple, rainbow ribbons pinned to their chests, stood awkwardly near a bookshelf.

A still older couple stared blankly at a cross on the wall.

A lone man sat at a desk, absently twisting his wedding ring around his finger.

Another young couple hurried into the room.

"I'm so sorry.  Are we late?" the woman asked after giving a furtive look to the pregnant woman.

"No idea.  Don't know why we're here," the lone man replied.  "Did you get an invitation in your mailbox?"

"Yes!  No return address, no postmark," the oldest woman answered.  "Beautiful penmanship, though...  Teddy said we shouldn't come... that it was some sort of trap but... I don't know.  I felt like we had to."

"And I wasn't letting Becky go alone," Teddy insisted.

The pregnant woman shuddered.

"I hate it here.  I haven't been here in months and never wanted to come back."

"I recognize you.  Samantha?" Becky guessed.

"Yes.  Sorry.  I don't remember you.  My memories of this place are hazy and..."

"And we like it that way," her husband finished.

Becky's eyes filled and she tentatively reached out to set a hand on Samantha's arm.

"I remember...  My husband and I... we lost our daughter to her abusive husband right around the time you lost..."

"Jesse..." Samantha murmured.  "Our baby."  She rested her hand over Becky's.  "I'm sorry for your loss."

"And I..."  Becky looked to Teddy who was wiping his eyes.  "We're sorry for your loss, too."

"Maybe this is some sort of grief support group," the lone man surmised.  "My name's Greg.  And I lost my wife... Helena.  She gave her life to this church and yet when she needed them most..."

The group all turned when they heard hurried footsteps approaching.

"I am so very, very sorry!  Please know that timeliness is very important to me but I'm still not used to the subway system and... Crowley!  Crowley, where did you go?"

"Coming dear..."

The invitees gaped at the primly dressed, bleach white blonde man and his lanky, head-to-toe dressed in black, flame-headed partner as they set a coffee pot and a tea tray and an assortment of sweet and savory treats down on a table.

"Again, my apologies.  My name is Aziraphale and this is my partner, Crowley.  He'll need to be leaving soon because he's in a show but he wanted to say hello."

Crowley waved.


Still stunned, a few of the others shyly waved back.

"I'm sure you're wondering why you're all here and, well...  In the wake of... recent events... we've been sent by a Benefactor to offer you, if you should wish, counseling in the form of a little support group," Aziraphale continued.  "I understand that you were all treated very cruelly by the pastors here and... and that has greatly displeased our Benefactor.  So if you wish... and please know you can leave at any time... I thought we might... talk?  Oh and please also know that we can relocate in the future.  I know this place is... problematic to say the least.  But I wanted to choose a place that you all knew how to get to and, well, maybe it's appropriate to at least start the healing journey where the wounds were first inflicted?  Oh, please do help yourselves to some food and drink.  I hope you like what I've brought.  I do try to be a good host always..."

Touched by Aziraphale's eagerness to please, Becky smiled and approached.

"The scones do look heavenly."

"Oh they are!" Aziraphale assured with a smile.

"I could do with a cookie... or two," Samantha decided.

With that, the others began to draw closer and selected their beverages and snacks. 

Aziraphale beamed and squeezed Crowley's hand.  He hoped they would succeed at the mission Joshua had given them... healing the hearts of those gathered in this room and wresting the church away from the dark influence of its former pastors.  And, in time, they would know that Joshua knew and loved each of them and that he had walked alongside them even when they had felt most alone.


That evening, Loreena was in the dressing room, preparing for the show, when someone knocked on her door.

"Come in!" she called.

Christina entered, arm-in-arm with Perry.

"Christina!" Loreena jumped up from her chair and hugged her.  "I'm so glad you're here tonight.  Both of you."  She hugged Perry, too.

"We're glad to be here.  And... I know flowers are customary so... a different sort of flowers."  Christina held a wrapped package out to Loreena.

"Oh, sweetie, you didn't have to get me anything."

"I did.  A hostess gift at the very least."

Loreena carefully unwrapped the package.

"Oh, Christina..."  She admired a beautifully painted ceramic tile.  It depicted a brilliant sun hovering above blooming flowers shaped like rainbow hearts. 

"You're the sun," Christina explained.  "And... you helped me blossom.  And... I overhead you and Roger.  I didn't mean to listen but I could hear when you were talking about taking in other kids.  I know you'll help them blossom, too, Loreena."

Loreena gently set the tile down and embraced Christina.

"It's beautiful.  I'll treasure it always.  You are so talented, Christina."

As Loreena lifted her hand to rest it against her friend's face, Christina's eyes went wide and she grabbed Loreena's hand.

"Your ring...  I was so distracted and overwhelmed that I never even asked you how it happened."

"Christina, you had a lot on your mind!"

"I know but... you're engaged!  So... the story?"

Beaming, Loreena explained.

"There wasn't any sort of big proposal or anything.  Roger and I just talked about it... hopped into a lil funky jewelry shop I love... picked out our rings, knelt down in front of each other right then and there... and we were engaged!"

"Congratulations!" Perry cheered.

"I'm so happy for you both.  So, so happy!" Christina gushed.

"Thank you!  No date set yet.  But, whenever it is, I hope you'll both be there.  We do know it'll be at my church, Pastor Simone officiating."

"I can't wait!" Christina squealed.

Loreena's smile grew.  She hadn't ever heard a sound of such unbridled joy from Christina.  But they were both walking a much better, brighter path now and she knew there would be even greater joy ahead.


"'Try not to get worried, try not to turn onto problems that upset you,'" Loreena sang as she took Joshua's arm and led him to the mat.  Once he was seated, she gently brushed a curl from his forehead. 
"'Oh, don't you know everything's alright, yes, everything's fine.'"

Joshua clasped one of Loreena's hands and brought it to his chest.

"'And I think I shall sleep well tonight.  Let the world turn without me tonight.'"

Loreena blinked back tears.  The world would never turn without him... thank God for that.  She lifted his hand to her lips.

"'Close your eyes, close your eyes and forget all about us tonight...'"

He wouldn't... ever.  She knew that now.  Whether he was Yeshua or Jesus or Vero or Joshua... he would never forget a single one of them.

Joshua smiled weakly then laid down, sighing as Loreena tucked a blanket around him.

Loreena knew she was supposed to walk away from him now but she couldn't.  She remained at Joshua's side, memories flickering in her mind.  Vero with his ridiculous make-up but kind, lifesaving words...  Joshua smiling kindly as he returned the bra she'd forgotten in the apartment's dryer... defending her from a transphobe on the street... applauding for her as she'd earned this part... all passion and commitment as he'd advocated for her and so many others in his and Andrew's interview... his righteous fury and undying, limitless love as he'd defended her and Christina.

The feelings were too much and yet, somehow, not enough.  She could never love him as deeply and as truly as he loved her.  But, oh, she would try.

"'I don't know how to love him,'" she began.  "'What to do, how to move him?  I've been changed, yes, really changed.  In these past few days, when I've seen myself, I seem like someone else.'"

Joshua clasped her hand.

"I'm not as you created me."

"Yes you are."

And she was.  Loreena knew that now without a shadow of a doubt.  She squeezed Joshua's hand then stood and peered up at the ceiling, belting out the next words.

"'I don't know how to take this!  I don't see why he moves me.  He's a man.  He's just a man!'"

He was... but he was more.  So much more.

He was everything.

The rest of the song passed in a blur but Loreena knew she must have done well based on the applause and cheers.  When the lights dimmed, Joshua sat up and clasped her to him.

"I love you so, my beautiful child," he murmured.

Loreena felt as if her heart would burst.


After the show, Mason came bounding over to Loreena.

"Hey, Loreena, I was hoping you'd come talk to my boss and his family.  They're dying to meet you!"

"Me?  Okay, sure." 

As Mason escorted Loreena towards Doug and his family, he lowered his voice.

"Doug's daughter, Kasey, let them know last year that she's trans."


Loreena peered over at a little girl of about ten, half hiding between her parents.  She smiled gently as she approached then knelt down.

"Hello there."  She held her hand out.  "My name's Loreena.  What's yours?"

"Kasey..." the girl replied shyly.  "You... you're like me."

Loreena beamed and nodded.

"I am, yes."

Kasey grinned then threw her arms around Loreena.

Doug and his wife, Jackie, shed happy tears as they looked on.


Nearby, Shane and Joshua took a brief reprieve as they stepped behind the ticket counter.

"So what did Mary think?" Shane asked.

"Mary is absolutely thrilled.  Lucius cried.  So did my little Yemimah.  And, if they have their ways, Serge and Bach are gonna end up in the show next year."

Shane laughed.

"Actual Romans as Romans... interesting thought."

"It is.  But we might have to take them up on it.  All our Romans are either getting married or having kids."

"So they are.  Joshua?"  Shane clasped his hand.


"I haven't had a chance to thank you.  For the interview.  For everything this season... and before, of course, but especially this season... what this has done for the people in my community...  I know it doesn't fix everything.  The politics are still what they are.  And one queerphobic church in ruins still leaves many more but...  It is a big deal.  Even though most of them don't know who you are... I don't know.  Maybe they do.  On some level.  Deep down.  And that matters.  So much.  They know they're loved."

"Always."  Joshua rested his other hand over Shane's.  "And thank you.  For being there for me when I needed you."

"It was an honor.  Always is."

The two embraced.

"Now, we better get back out there before..."

Crowley stomped over.

"JOSHUA!  Marty keeps pulling on my wings!"

"Only because they're going to ram into people!  Honestly, they're ridiculously oversized."

"I like them!  They're beautiful!  You're just jealous!"

Joshua sighed. 

"Here we go..."

"Good gravy.  It's not like they're billions of years old or anything," Shane jested. 

"You see what I put up with?  It never ends!"  Joshua feigned frustration, throwing his arms up into the air as he laughed and went to smooth things over between the two watchers.


Further Up & Further In

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

As Holy Thursday dawned, Andrew awoke to the perfect morning: his Laja's cheek resting on his shoulder and her hair tickling his chin... the voices of little ones whispering outside their door... the scent of coffee and syrup wafting into the room.

Andrew gently stirred JenniAnn.

"Laja... Laja, wake up, darlin'.  I think we're being served breakfast in bed."

"Hmm?"  JenniAnn sat up and sniffed the air, hearing the noises outside the door.  "Aww..."

Andrew got up and opened the door.

"You're up!" Belle shouted.  "Yay!"  She launched herself at Andrew who scooped her up and kissed her cheeks.

"That we are, little elf.  Looks like you've all been busy."

"Uncle Marty helped us," Avi explained as he marched into the room and presented his mother with her coffee cup.

"Ooh, thank you, sweet boy."  JenniAnn took a sip.  "Perfect!"  She lifted Avi onto the bed and cuddled him.

"We have pancakes and fruit and scrambled eggs," Violeta listed off as she set down a tray.

"Especially cheesy scrambled eggs," Shelby whispered.  "Belle went a lil overboard."  She placed another tray then poured the contents of a pitcher into two flutes.  "Max told us how to make mimosas.  I hope they turned out okay."

"I'm sure they did, sweetie," JenniAnn assured.  "They look so pretty!"

Andrew set Belle down on the bed then reclaimed his spot.

"Thank you...  It all looks and smells delicious and I'm sure tastes delicious," he praised.  "This was a very, very nice thing to do."

JenniAnn hugged Avi and Belle then stood up to embrace the older girls.

"We appreciate it so much."

"We thought he needed a lil pick-me-up," Violeta whispered to JenniAnn as they hugged.

"Yeah... and this'll definitely do the trick."  JenniAnn beamed at Andrew who was happily feeding Avi and Belle from his plate.

Shelby laughed.

"We loaded the plates up...  Violeta and I had a feeling that would happen.  Anyway, we made breakfast for Joshua, too, so we'll go bring him that."

"Aww, that's nice.  He'll love it."  JenniAnn gave the sisters another hug.  "Thank you again for this.  And Marty, too.  Where is he?"

"You're welcome.  And as soon as we finished with the food he headed to his room with Sandy to work on the memory book," Violeta explained.

"Thank you again, girls," Andrew called from the bed.  Trapped between two hungry little ones, he could only lift his right hand.

Shelby and Violeta approached and squeezed his hand.

"It was fun!"  Shelby lowered her voice.  "Though we were hoping to give you something a little more romantic..."  She eyed her younger siblings.

JenniAnn laughed.

"It's fine.  This is perfect.  Truly."

"Be good!" Violeta called to Avi and Belle before following Shelby into the hall.

"How did we do, Daddy?" Belle asked once Andrew had managed to actually take a bite of pancake for himself.

"So yummy..."

JenniAnn rejoined them on the bed then grabbed her cell phone from her bedstand and snapped a photo of Andrew, Avi, and Belle.

"Three of my favorite people," she murmured. 

Andrew beamed at her.

JenniAnn smiled back, relieved to see him looking so happy and peaceful.

"Scrambled eggs are delicious, Belle," he complimented. 



"Yes, Avi?"

"You are a good daddy," he solemnly told him before turning to JenniAnn.  "Good mama, too."

Andrew choked back a sob but couldn't keep some tears from rolling down his cheeks.

"Thank you, baby," he choked out.  "We love you so much.  All you kids."

"We do.  You make us so happy... we're so blessed."  JenniAnn kissed their hair.

Belle cuddled up against her mother.


JenniAnn smiled into her big, beautiful eyes.

"Yes, baby girl?"

"Can I have more pancake?"

JenniAnn laughed as she loaded up her fork.

"Of course!"

It was Andrew's turn to grab his cell phone and take a photo of two of the most important women in his life. 

Avi settled into his lap and Andrew wrapped his arms around his beautiful, beloved son.

He thought of Christina and how, finally, she had a father figure who would never mistreat her, who loved her as she deserved to be loved.

Content, Andrew let out a happy sigh.


Loreena peeked around the corner of the condo she and Roger were touring along with Ant whose purpose was to chime in from a potential guest's perspective.

"Oh..."  She moved closer to the large windows that made up most of the wall on one side of the room.  "So much light...  This would be such a nice family room," she gushed.

"And this kitchen?  A-maz-ing!" Ant admired.

Roger, though impressed, kept his attention focused on Loreena.  He could just see the images in her mind's eye: the Christmas tree in the corner, them snuggled together on a loveseat, watching as their charges playfully squabbled about the appropriate order in which to open presents.  And he could imagine himself making arepas in the kitchen while casting glances over at their little found family as they watched a movie or played a board game.

"So do you think this is it?" their landlord asked.

Loreena hurried over to Roger and hugged his arm.

"Do you think we can do it?"

"We'll have to watch our spending.  Really limit eating out.  And probably have a very simple wedding."

"I like simple!"

"Me too."  Roger smiled and nodded.  "We can do it."

Ant squealed, feeling tremendous excitement for his cousin.

"Wonderful!  Well, there are a few things I want to fix up.  We could probably have all that wrapped up by the end of May which is when your lease is up, Loreena.  Roger, your lease is expiring at the end of this month but I can forego the annual lease if..."

Loreena shook her head.

"That won't be necessary.  He can stay with me."

Roger beamed.

"That works well, then!  If you're ready, I'll go get the paperwork?"

"We're very ready," Roger replied.

"Great!  I'm just going to run to my office then I'll be back."

Once the landlord was gone, Ant studied the happy couple.

"I'm just going to go check out that bedroom in the back," he excused himself.

When they were left alone, Loreena and Roger embraced, their foreheads resting against each other.

"We're home," Loreena murmured.

Roger swayed and began to sing.

"'Baby, baby, baby...  I'm coming home to your tender, sweet loving.  You're my one and only woman...'"

Loreena smiled and kissed him.


Before that evening's show, Joshua was escorted by Mattay, blindfolded, to St. G's back wall where Christina and Perry were waiting.

"So... I finished the mural and I wanted you to see it," Christina explained as she took Joshua by the shoulders and turned him to face the wall.

"I'm excited to see it."  Joshua smiled.

"Okay..."  Christina untied the blindfold.  "One... two... three..."  She lowered it so Joshua could see.

"Oh, Christina..."  Joshua's heart swelled as he took in what Christina had done.  The original mural was still there... the disembodied, weeping eye and the question: "Where were You?"  But a bright blue line separated it from an additional panel.  In that painting, two brown eyes with golden flecks looked down upon the silhouette of a girl, reaching up.  In a more delicate hand than the previous message, Christina had painted "Right by my side."

"I... I see that now.  I understand that... that people will do what they're gonna do.  But that doesn't mean you're not there... that you don't care.  It just means that we're free... free to do good and to do bad.  And..."  Christina hugged Joshua.  "I want to do good.  I've been talking to Perry and... and preaching is in my blood.  So, when the time comes, I want to meet with my former church.  I want to tell them what I've learned... about what really following you looks like.  A-and how it looks like Loreena and NOT like my parents or... him.  Maybe they'll listen.  Maybe they won't.  Many of them may not even show up.  But I'll have said my truth and then... then I'll come back home and Grandpa and I will live happily ever after.  And I... I hope the last show won't be the last time I see you during my life on Earth.  But even if it is... I'll never forget you, Joshua.  Never forget who you really are...  Never forget..."

"It won't be... it won't be the last," a weeping Joshua cut in when Christina was overcome with her own tears.

Christina's embrace tightened.

"Thank God... oh...  Thank you."

Joshua chuckled as he buried his face in her hair.

"You're welcome.  Christina... I love you so much."

"I... I love you, too, Joshua.  And...  I have a favor to ask."

"What's that?"

"I... well, I think I would like to see your robe.  Per... Grandpa was telling me about it and I... I think it actually might help me."

"We can absolutely do that.  Right now?"

"Yes, please."

"All right.  Let's head inside.  It's actually one my Ama... my mother... made for me.  You'll get to meet her at the wrap... Easter party on Sunday at Andrew's and JenniAnn's place."

"Andrew and JenniAnn have a house big enough for the whole cast and crew and everyone?" Perry asked.

Joshua and Mattay chuckled.

"You'll see..." Joshua replied.  "Soon.  We have so much to tell and show you but for now..."  He held open the door for the others. 

Joshua's robe and cloak hung on the back of the office door.  He stayed beside Christina as she approached it and reached out.

It felt nothing like the one Malachi had worn.  The material wasn't as sleek but it was both softer and sturdier.

"A-and you wore this back when..."

"I did.  I mean... it's been refurbished, so to speak.  But yes.  'I will make all things new'... old robes included."

For a moment, Christina saw Malachi wearing his robe and stole and handing her a drink... lemonade with a hidden, horrible ingredient.  But as her fingers continued to caress the material, the memory gave way to others.  Joshua lifting Loreena up at the end of the show.  Joshua embracing Raven, Rory, and Austin after the show.  Joshua praying in the garden the night before... his anguish matching the anguish she'd once felt.  And then Joshua hugging her and her grandpa, his warmth surrounding Christina and lifting her spirits even higher.

"It's beautiful.  You... you look beautiful in it."  Christina blushed.  Would Joshua want to be called beautiful?  "I mean..."

Joshua squeezed her hand.

"Thank you.  Truly."

Then the two embraced again, happy to be together.


Friday, April 15th, 2022

On Good Friday morning, Roger borrowed the Jolly Green from Andrew.  Loreena, Perry, and Christina loaded into it for the three and half hour drive to Springfield, Massachusetts.

The prior evening, Christina had called her panicked grandmother to let her know that she was safe and okay... but they needed to talk, preferably in person.  Thankfully, she had learned that her grandfather had been released from the hospital and so arrangements had been made for a visit.

When Roger parked in front of a cute, white house complete with a picket fence, Christina remained in the backseat.  Perry rested a hand over her shaking one. 

"It'll be all right, Christina.  You'll see.  I doubt this will change a thing for them if they're as kind as you say," he soothed.

Christina gave him a trembling smile and nodded.

"Yeah... yeah, that's probably true."

In the front passenger seat, Loreena turned around and smiled encouragingly at Christina.

"I agree with Perry.  But if something happens, Roger and I will just be a couple blocks away at that little coffee shop we passed."

"We can get back here in two, three minutes," Roger added.  "Okay?"

"Okay... yeah.  I'm ready."

Perry squeezed his granddaughter's hand.

"Good.  Let's go."

Christina grabbed a container of cookies she and Perry had made for the occasion.  Perry kept a protective, reassuring arm around her waist as they walked up to the door.  They hadn't even reached the porch when a woman came running out.

"Chrissie...  Oh, Chrissie...  Look at you.  You... you're a grown lady!"

"Hi, Grandma.  And, umm, yeah, I guess."  Christina hugged the woman then turned to Perry.  "Grandma, this is my... well, he's my other grandpa, Perry.  Grandpa, this is my Grandma Camilla."

Camilla stared at Perry.

"He's not Quentin's dad!" Christina hastily added.  "I... well, I have some things to explain but I'd rather tell you and Grandpa at once so..."

Camilla's face softened.

"Of course, of course.  I'm pleased to meet you, Perry."

"Likewise, ma'am."

"Oh, just Camilla, please.  And this is my husband, Charles," she introduced, waving to a burly man in an armchair as they stepped inside.

Perry couldn't help laughing.

"So... Charles and Camilla then?"

Charles laughed.

"Yes...  We get that all the time.  It's followed us practically our whole married lives.  Thankfully, I usually go by Chuck which helps... at least a little."  Chuck shook Perry's hand then his eyes filled as he looked at Christina.  "Chrissie...  It... it's been too long.  I... I was worried for a bit there that I'd never see you again."

"I'm here, Grandpa.  I'm here.  How are you feeling?"

"Oh, much, much better.  I just need to take it easy.  Your grandma's been spoiling me and, ah, looks like you've brought cookies?"

Christina smiled and nodded.  Her grandpa had always had a sweet tooth.

"We did, yeah."

As Christina reunited with Chuck, Perry took in the living room.  There were photos of who he assumed to be a young Marjorie on the walls and several of Christina as a little girl... but none of Quentin.  Not even a wedding photo.

"Oh!  They look delicious!" Camilla gushed as Christina handed her the container.  "I have some coffee brewed.   But would anyone like anything else?  Milk?  Tea?"

"Coffee would suit me very well, Camilla.  Thank you," Perry replied.

"Yes, coffee would be really nice," Christina agreed.

"Then I'll be right back out with that."

While Camilla gathered the coffee, Chuck remained where he was, letting out a deep sigh.

"I'm so glad you're here, Chrissie.  Your grandma's been a nervous wreck ever since she heard you'd run away."

"You knew?!"

"Your mother called.  We were shocked she bothered but... she thought you might head here."

"I... I would have.  But..."  Christina glanced over at Perry.  "I ran into some friends close by who helped me out.  Roger and Loreena, who dropped us off, put me up for a few days.  And then I've been staying with Grandpa Perry.  I'll explain when Grandma's back."

"Good... because I have to say I wasn't aware you had other grandparents," Chuck replied, a bit warily.

Perry felt a bit self-conscious.  He completely understood their concerns... and he was getting a better idea of why Marjorie and Quentin had iced them out.  Chuck and Camilla wouldn't have stood for Malachi.

"And here we are..."

Camilla set down a tray.

"I'll let you all prepare your coffee exactly how you'd like it.  And here are some little plates for the cookies."

She showed enough patience to wait until Perry and Christina had their coffees before speaking again.

"So please... Tell us what happened.  We've been trying to follow the news but... you were never mentioned.  And we didn't know if that was good news or bad news or..."

"I... I was mentioned.  Just not by name.  I... I'm the woman who accused Malachi of multiple accounts of rape and... and who my dad tried to hit at the house the day of the second arrest," Christina told them as gently as possible.

Perry patted her back.

"Oh God..."  Chuck began to cry.  "Oh God...  Chrissie..."

"I... I'm okay now.  I really am.  My friends know a good counselor so I plan to start seeing her.  But already I'm working through what happened.  A-and it was horrible but... but I survived."

"Did she know?" Camilla asked, her voice barely audible.  "Did Marjorie know?"

Christina nodded.

"A-and she did nothing?"

Christina sadly shook her head.

Camilla broke down in sobs.

"She's not the girl we raised," Chuck lamented.  "He... that wicked, vile man... he got in her head and he..."

Perry closed his eyes.  His heart broke for them.  He knew what it was to lose his daughter... but his Lauren had never betrayed the values she'd been raised with, never harmed her own child.

"I don't want anything to do with her.  With any of them.  Not for a long time, maybe never.  But... I don't think she's without hope," Christina told them.  "I think once she's away from Quentin... she may come back to herself.  I hope she does.  But... there's something else I have to tell and... and this might be harder in some ways." 

Perry reached over to take Christina's hand when he saw it was shaky.

"I told you Perry is my grandpa... because he is.  My biological grandfather.  I found out this week that I was adopted.  They hid it from me... from you, too, I'm guessing based on your faces."

After a few moments of stunned silence, Camilla spoke.

"I always thought it was fishy that she didn't have a single photo of herself pregnant.  When they showed up with you, I asked her why she wasn't breastfeeding and she just said she didn't like it.  And I... I was just so glad to have a little grandbaby that I didn't question her any more."  Suddenly, her eyes filled with terror.  "Oh God... they didn't kidnap you, did they?"

Christina adamantly shook her head.

"No, no.  It was a legal... though very under the radar... adoption.  My mother... Grandpa Perry's daughter, Lauren... was struggling at the time and wanted me to have a better life than she could give me."

"Poor girl had gotten pulled into a Christian cult," Perry explained.  "It... they... did a number on her.  So... I know something of what you're going through."

Chuck reached out for the other man's hand and squeezed it.

"Suppose you do.  Rotten club to be in, I'm afraid."

"It is.  But we also share something very special... someone much better than all of that."  Perry smiled proudly at Christina.

Christina warmly returned Perry's smile but it faltered when she looked back at Camilla and Chuck.

"I understand if this changes how you feel about me and..."

"Chrissie!  No!"  Camilla patted the spot next to her and when Christina took it, she wrapped her arms around her.  "If your mo... if Marjorie had just told me from that first day that you were adopted, it wouldn't have changed a thing.  I would have loved you just as much.  Grandpa, too."

"Absolutely.  You're our grandbaby.  Our one and only.  No matter what."

Christina sniffled as she clung to her grandma.

"I... I'm so relieved.  When we went to the house to get my stuff, the only heirloom I wanted was the red glass bowl that you always used for cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving and I was going to give it back if you wanted but I loved remembering when I was little and we had Thanksgiving here and..."

Camilla kissed Christina's forehead.

"You are to keep that bowl, dear.  Maybe one day you'll have your own family and you can use it at your Thanksgiving table.  And until then maybe we could go back to celebrating holidays together sometimes?  I mean if you..."  Camilla looked to Perry.

"I would love that!" he replied.  "Christina's close to the only family I have left.  I'm sure we could travel here or you'd be welcome at my place any time."

Chuck had started to cry again.

"We should have tried to get custody... we thought about it.  But every lawyer we talked to said we'd never win.  And we were worried they'd further isolate us if we tried and..."

Christina stood up and sat on the arm of Chuck's chair, hugging him.

"They would have.  The lawyers were right.  There's no sense agonizing over the past, Grandpa.  But we have a future now.  And I... I'm looking forward to it... with three loving grandparents."

"Thank God," Camilla murmured.

"With all my heart," Perry added.

Christina released Chuck and smiled serenely.

"We're gonna be fine," she assured.

Chuck smiled back and nodded.


Sunday, April 17th, 2022

While it probably wasn't true to say all the Friends' secrets had been laid bare over the past two days, Christina felt confident she now knew the biggest ones: Andrew was an angel of death and in a relationship with JenniAnn who was very much human, Crowley was the Serpent who was also the Angel of Gethsemane who was in love with the Angel of the Eastern Gate, Marty and Sandy were the oldest created beings, Yehuda was Judas Iscariot, now made whole, Ed had been a demon who then returned to being an angel but would soon be a human and likely married to Steve, assorted saints and angels had been surrounding them all, and, of course, Joshua was the Son of God... who had apparently not been content to create only one world.

Christina was spending Easter on the banks of Dyeland City, admiring its beauty and that of the Indigo Ocean.  Along with her grandpa, Loreena, Roger, and Ant, she was sitting near Joshua's parents... the real life Mary and Joseph.  Or Maryam and Yosef, rather, as well as Peter, Emma, and their kids.

"And when he caught that bullet... it was like something out of a supernatural action movie!" Loreena gushed.  "I don't think my spine has ever tingled that much."

"I'm sorry we missed all of it," Peter apologized.  "I wish we could have been there to support everyone."

Maryam shook her head and rested a hand on the man's arm.

"You were where you needed to be, with your wife and children."

"Joshua seems to be a big proponent of parental leave," Roger noted.  "I know he gave Andrew and Monica a bunch of time off when they adopted kids."

"As well he should be.  More bosses oughta be like Joshua.  Speaking of... where is he?" Perry asked. 

"He told me he had to go pick up some more guests," Emma answered as she held baby Mercy.  "I've been trying to figure out who's not here but am coming up blank."

"Mary?" Maryam suggested. 

"She's across the way."  Yosef waved in the direction of a nearby island.  "Probably keeping the boys in line."

Ant chuckled.

"Big job.  Shimeon especially seemed all too eager to start lighting off fireworks... and I know my housemates well enough to know they won't hesitate to egg him on."

"Everyone is just so... normal," Christina mused.  "But, like, normal in the best, kindest way.  I always imagined all of you just standing around praying and singing... not setting up fireworks, not building sandcastles..."  She smiled at where Mattay, Yohannan, Serge, and Bach were constructing an intricate one near the shore.  Her gaze traveled to Andrew who was standing behind JenniAnn, his arms around her waist, as they admired their community.  Only a few feet away, Crowley was reclining in Aziraphale's arms beneath a tree... eating an apple of all things.  "Not in love," she finished. 

"All of creation was given so much freedom, so much creativity, so much love, so much joy... it simply can't all be expressed in only one or two ways.  Heaven is so much more vibrant than so many believe," Yosef assured.  "Nothing is ever less there.  Only more."

Christina and Perry reflected on his words, treasuring them in their hearts, and imagining Lauren and Hildy, blissfully enjoying Eternity.

Tirzah and Yehuda approached the group, each holding a box.  Tirzah's was large and flat while Yehuda's fit in the palm of his hand.

"We come bearing Easter gifts," Yehuda announced.  "Not from us."

"We're only the messengers," Tirzah explained.  "Christina and Perry, this is for you."

"And Loreena..." Yehuda handed her the box.  "For you."

"Oh... Should I open it now?" Loreena asked.

Yehuda nodded.

"All right..."  As Loreena opened the box, a folded note dropped into her lap.  Her hands shook when she saw her name was written on it in very familiar handwriting... but a script she hadn't seen in several years.  "Roger..."  Too moved to speak, she handed the note to him.

"Do you want me to read it out loud or..."

Loreena nodded.

"'For my beautiful girl to wear on her wedding day... or any day.  You know what I always said, don't save the good stuff for special occasions only!  You deserve good stuff every day, Loreena.'"  Roger own voice shook as he read the closing.  "'With love always, Diamond.'"

"Mama..." Loreena murmured as she opened the box to reveal two stunning diamond earrings.

'"You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you.  On the day that you were created they were prepared,'" Yehuda recited.  "You were always meant to wear them, Loreena."

Loreena squeezed his hand then gave the box to Roger.

"I want to wear them now but..."  She raised her hands to reveal how much they were shaking.  "Help?"


The others looked on, touched, as Roger gently took out the earrings Loreena had been wearing and replaced them with the diamonds.  When he was finished, he rested his forehead against hers.

"You look stunning, mi mariposa, my bride."

Loreena clung to him and wept joyfully.  Once she'd recovered, she reached over to squeeze Christina's hand.

"Your turn, sweetie."

"Oh... you look so stunning, Loreena.  Oh, okay...  Grandpa?"

"You open.  But I'm right here," Perry assured, resting a hand on Christina's shoulder.

"Here goes..." Christina ripped away the parchment paper and stared in awe at the painting behind it.

"Your mom painted that for you, Christina.  For you and your grandpa.  To remind you that a family who loves each other is never truly apart.  And, one day, you'll all be together again, face to face," Tirzah relayed.

"Look... look at them."  Perry reached out to caress that faces of his wife and daughter, standing behind the images of him and Christina in a beautiful family portrait.

"You can touch it," Tirzah assured.  "The paint's been dry for a long time."

Perry did so as Christina rested her head on his shoulder and smiled at it with tears in her eyes.

"We can put it in the dining room," Christina suggested.  "As a reminder that they're with us, morning, noon, and night.  At holidays.  Every day."

Perry kissed her forehead.

"I love that idea.  Yes, let's do that."

The group was quiet for several moments, giving Christina, Loreena, and Perry a few moments to reflect.

Then Emma exclaimed.

"Shane!  That's who's missing!"

"I wonder why he's not here?" Peter asked with concern.  "It's not like him to be late.  Unless he's with Joshua?"

Yosef waved in the direction of the gazebo portal.

"Ask and ye shall receive."

The others looked to see Joshua and Shane approaching... with three bewildered visitors behind them.

Christina recognized them immediately and ran towards them.

Raven, Rory, and Austin grinned then hurried forward, closing the distance and surrounded their friend in a group hug.

"I didn't know you'd be here!" Christina cried.  "Happy Easter!"

"Happy Easter to you, too!  We had no idea we'd be here, either," Rory replied.

"We were just going to, you know, dye Easter eggs at our apartment and watch Godspell or something," Austin added.

"But then this over achiever over here... he shows up with Shane and is all 'Hey, I made another world.  Want to see it?'  And what sort of weirdo hangs out with movie Jesus when they can hang out with the real deal?" Raven kidded.

Christina beamed at Joshua and hugged him.

"Definitely the better choice."

"Glad you think so."  Joshua kissed her hair.  "Now go.  Have some fun.  And I know you have a lot to catch your friends up on."

"Do I ever...  Just let me go tell Grandpa I'll be back in a bit."

"Grandpa?" Rory questioned.

Christina giggled.

"Like Joshua said... a lot to catch up on."

With that, she hurried away to hug Perry before rejoining her friends who, seeing Violeta and Shelby out walking Yonah, decided to join them.

Joshua and Shane joined the others by the shoreside. 

When they were seated, Shane playfully bumped his shoulder against Ant's and lowered his voice.

"Joshua and I met up for a nice Easter brunch before getting the kids."

"That's lovely!"

"And we made this for you... a list of places to meet nice men."

Shane laughed when Ant went wide-eyed.

"What?  I told you I'd be your wingman.  Only makes sense to get advice from the smartest guy I know.  So pick a couple to start and we'll compare calendars."

Joshua smiled knowingly at Ant and winked, sending him into a giggle fit.  Then he devoted his attention to Loreena, embracing her.

"You look beautiful... but you always were my beautiful child."

"Thank you, Joshua..."  Loreena rested her hand on his cheek and beamed.  "Happy Easter..."  She wrinkled her nose.  "That word seems so small suddenly."

John approached with Archbishop Tony.

"How about 'Happy Day You Got Sprung from That Dusty Old Tomb?'" he teased.

"John, I don't think that will fit on the ecclesiastical calendars," the archbishop quipped.

Joshua laughed.

"Let's just stick with Easter but thank you for the sentiment.  Happy Easter to you all and..."

Suddenly, a bright purple firework exploded in the air.

"Sorry!  Just got excited!" Shimeon shouted from the island.

Another green firework boomed and bloomed.

"Really excited..."

Joshua moved to the edge of the shore.

"Do I need to come over there and heal anyone?" he offered jokingly.

"All good!" Ed shouted back.

Joshua gave him the thumbs up then turned back to the others.

"As I was saying...  Happy Easter!  I'm so glad I could be with you all today and in the past weeks and in the weeks to come."

"Weeks to come?" Perry echoed, his voice hopeful.

"Well, I need to stick around for next week's shows.  And Kyle's and Ana-Maria's wedding.  This little one's baptism."  Joshua crouched down to gently squeeze Mercy's foot.  "And then I'll need to testify during the trials.  And then... then I'll go away for a while... but not really.  I'm never far away.  And eventually I'll come back like this... likely for Ed's and Steve's wedding festivities."  He picked up a glass of iced tea and held it out towards Roger and Loreena.  "For your wedding festivities, too."

The couple beamed at each other then at Joshua who knelt down in front of them, taking their hands in his.

"I have big plans for you."

Loreena's eyes filled with more happy tears.

"Sometimes in this life, what comes so easy to some people has to be fought for... hard won... by others.  It's not fair.  But I think there can be beauty in the journey.  Don't let other people tarnish that for you.  God has big plans for you."

Vero had been right.

He always was.

Loreena squeezed Joshua's hand.

"I'm so excited to see them unfold.  I... I love you, Joshua."

"I love you, too.  High as the sky and back again."



Thanksgiving- Circa 2033

Perry beamed as he gazed around his dining room table.  Loreena and Roger sat across the table with two of their kids, Bertie and Mira.  On his own side sat Chuck and Camilla, the latter smiling at the red dish placed in front of her, brimming with homemade cranberry sauce.

Laughter and screeching from the kitchen made Perry wonder if dinner preparations had gone awry.

"Need help in there?" he called.

Christina giggled.

"No...  Just a little snafu with the gravy.  Be right out!"

"If you're sure..."

"We're sure!"

"Well, while we're waiting...  Bertie, Mira, how are your classes going?  Or is that a forbidden topic on Thanksgiving break?" Chuck checked.

Mira shook her head and laughed.

"It's not.  At least not for me.  Going well!  My grades have really improved since everything..."  She looked over at Loreena and Roger and smiled gratefully.  "Stabilized."

Loreena squeezed her hand.

"And we're so proud of you!  And you, too, Bertie.  They just aced their latest math test," she shared.

"Good for you!" Perry enthused.  "Math was never my subject.  I always admire those who can do well with it."

"Any news on the college front?" Camilla asked.

Bertie smiled.

"I may have something to share once we get to the 'What are you thankful for?' part of our evening."

Roger and Loreena exchanged a proud smile.

"And here we are!"  Christina stepped into the dining room holding the gravy boat.  "Courtesy of Adam and with the culinary talents of my husband... our faux-turkey!"

Rory proudly entered holding a platter brimming with turkey.

"Well done!" Perry cheered.  "It looks and smells amazing!"

"That it does!" Chuck agreed.  "My mouth is watering."

"And I didn't even cut a single finger off while carving!" Rory boasted.

"Good boy!  And, Chrissie, you let me take that and you sit down."  Camilla took the gravy boat from her granddaughter and made room for it on the table.  "You've been on your feet all day and you look flushed."

"Thank you.  I suppose I am getting a bit tired but nothing a good dinner and even better company won't fix."  Christina sat down and, once Rory was seated at the other end of the table, she smiled.  "So who wants to start?"

"I'll go.  I'm thankful for the time off school and with my family," Mira offered.

"I second that.  It's been great having you kids home this week.  I'm thankful for a laughter-filled home," Roger concluded.

"I'm thankful for this opportunity to be with you all."  Chuck's eyes misted.  "Had some health scares this past year but... I'm here and very happy about it."

Camilla squeezed his hand.

"I'm also thankful for my husband's improved health.  Thank God." 

"I hope you stay healthy, Chuck.  And you, too, Camilla.  But I just want you to know that if you need anything next year, I'll probably be the closest... because I got into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," Bertie shared, beaming with pride.

The others cheered and said their congratulations.

"Well... on that note... I'm so thankful both our kiddos are doing so well."  Loreena squeezed Roger's hand.  "And so grateful to have the family together tonight."

Perry nodded. 

"I couldn't be happier to have all of us gathered together.  A little over ten years ago... my Thanksgiving dinners consisted of frozen meals... until I saw a long-haired hippie... watching over my grandbaby."  With tears in his eyes, Perry raised his glass to a photo of Joshua that was hanging on the wall.  "Joshua has blessed us all mightily."

Christina, too, peered lovingly at the photo and then at the painted family portrait.

"He truly has.  And..."  She looked to Rory who smiled and nodded.  "Turns out he's sent us another blessing."

"Oh... oh..."  Camilla began to flap her hands excitedly.

Rory laughed.

"Check under your plates," he directed.  "You each have an envelope."

Excitedly, they all did so.

Perry's hand rested over his heart as he peered at the image... indistinct and blurry but beautiful.

Tears glistened in Christina's eyes as she spoke.

"The last round took.  I'm about eight weeks along."

"Chrissie!  This is amazing!" Camilla cheered, hugging first Christina and then Rory.

"It really is and... and I promise I'll share all the milestones with you, Grandma."  Christina returned Camilla's hug then crouched beside Perry.  "Rory and I have been talking and... we'd like to name the baby either Lauren or Laurent... depending.  If... if that's all right with you?"

Perry placed a gentle kiss on his granddaughter's forehead.

"I... I would love that."

"Good."  Christina kissed his cheek then moved to Loreena whose glowing face had tears streaking down it. 

Loreena bounded up from her chair and embraced Christina then cupped her face in her hands.

"Sweetie... I know you're going to be a great mom."

Christina leaned forward and rested her head on Loreena's shoulder.

"Learned from the best," she murmured back.

The End


Works Cited
Jesus Christ Superstar... of course
Matthew 7:15- "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves"
Matthew 5:29- "If your right eye has offended..."
Jewish blessing over miscellanous food
John 4- the woman at the well
John 14:6-7- "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
Genesis 3:23- expulsion from Eden
Luke 6:31/Matthew 7:12-- "Do unto others as you would have done unto you..."
Disney's Encanto
"The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Our Flag Means Death
Matthew 9:9–13, Mark 2:13–17 and Luke 5:27–28- the calling of Matthew
Matthew 18:2- "where two or three are gathered..."
Genesis 38- Tamar's story
"There Is a Balm in Gilead"- traditional African American spiritual
C.S. Lewis's "The Great Iconoclast" from A Grief Observed
John 12:12-19- Palm Sunday account
Paranormal Caught on Camera
"By the Rivers Dark" by Leonard Cohen
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Matthew 23:13- "You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces..."
Matthew 23:15- "Tou travel over land and sea to win a single convert..."
Matthew 23:27- "white washed tombs"
Matthew 18:6- "If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble..."
Matthew 25:13- "You do not know the day or the hour..."
Acts 9- Paul on the road to Damascus
The Lord's Prayer/Our Father/Matthew 6:9-13
"Love of My Life" by Queen
Sense and Sensibility
Matthew 20:16- "the last shall be first..."
C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- "not a tame lion"
Matthew 26:52- "He who lives by the sword..."
Exodus 3:14- "I am who I am"
C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader- Joshua's use of "dear one"
Matthew 10:14- "shake the dust from your feet"
John 20: 13-15- Mary at the tomb
Luke 1:22- Zakharia's muteness
John 3:!4- "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness..."
Exodus 20:12- "Honor your mother and your father"
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Touched by an Angel
Psalms 139:14- "I am fearfully and wonderfully made"
Matthew 7:1-3- "Judge lest not ye be judged"
John 13:34-35- "Love one another as I have loved you."
"Coming Home" by Leon Bridges
Revelation 21:5- "I will make all things new"
Ezekiel 28:13- "You were in Eden..."
Matthew 7:7- "Ask and ye shall receive"

1. "Dear Me" by Nichole Nordeman- The opening quote is taken from this song.  This is kind of a book end to a song that comes later with both representing Christina's journey.  But I also chose it because, yeah, Joshua does pop up in a lot of places in this story where some people wouldn't expect him to be.
2. "In the Still of the Night" by The Five Satins- So Andrew and JenniAnn take a big step at the start of this story and for inspiration I just wanted something really romantic and classic, not modern.  This is lovely.
3.  "Diamond in My Crown" by Emmylou Harris- It was really important to me to show some queer characters as having pretty unshakeable faith.  I wanted Diamond to have really set that example for Loreena who may have struggled but always had that memory of Diamond's faith that she clung to.  Diamond is assumedly a name she chose for herself and I liked the idea that she'd actually taken it from a hymn she loved.  This really fit the bill.
4.  "Safe & Sound" by Taylor Swift- I thought this suited the scenes with Christina running to Ed and then later being welcomed by Loreena and Roger into their home, protecting her from the insanity of her former church.
5.  "They'll Know We Are Christians" by Jars of Clay- I've just always really loved this song.  I know it's made an appearance before.  I thought it fit really well in this story and would be something Christina woulda grabbed onto while being surrounded by hateful Christians.
6.  "Gnossienne No. 5" by Erik Satie- A lovely piece of classical music that doubles as Ed's and Stede's love theme in OFMD.  So obviously I thought about it during the scene when Edgar and Steve are in bed and Ed's musing over Christina and his past.
7. "You Are Important" by Dan Eschliman- If this was a TV show, there would be a montage of Perry's house getting fixed up and Christina's self esteem growing as she helped out mixed in with rehearsals and such at St. G's.  And this song would play over it.
8.  "Everywhere" by Fleetwood Mac- Actually not a reference to Ed and Steve.  This song started running through my head as I was proofing the Ant and Shane scene.  While I know Shane definitely does NOT think of Joshua as "baby," I otherwise think it fits his feelings about him pretty darn well.
9.  "Balm of Gilead" by Soweto Gospel Choir- I used to go to a church with a gospel choir and I remember how awesome it felt when they'd really get going.  I wanted Christina to have that.  And this song seemed especially poignant sung in Loreena's church after she literally put balm on Christina's back.
10. "By the Rivers Dark" by Leonard Cohen- I feel kinda bad about this.  It's a great, haunting song and really put me in the mood to write the scene with the apostles trying to spook Malachi.  But Malachi really doesn't deserve to be associated with a great piece of music.
11. "Love of My Life" by Queen- I just really needed a light Andrew and Crowley moment at that point in the story.
12.  "God is Alive Magic is Afoot" by Buffy Sainte-Marie- I first heard this on Yellowjackets of all things and immediately loved it.  In my interpretation, Joshua is, of course, the "naked God" and I like to think "magic" is Joshua's true message or the faith of the outcasts or even the Holy Spirit working through them even as the so-called "good" Christians speak against them.  Anyway, I thought it would be cool starting up right as Mary shows up.  ETA: So... Turns out this artist seemingly lied about being indigenous and the story broke right after I finished this.  Obviously, I do not stand by that.  I thought about removing the song from the playlist but it was in mind when I wrote that scene so... it felt dishonest to pretend otherwise. 
13. "I Am Not Ashamed" by Flamy Grant- I think this would be beautiful as all the people show up outside St. G's and meet with Andrew and Joshua.  If this was filmed, might be cool to cut those scenes up with Quentin and Malachi in jail.
14. "This Is Love" by Tarriance- I thought this would be nice with the scene of Christina showing Joshua the finished mural.
15.  "All You Refugees" by Namoli Brennet- Obviously heavily influenced by the Emma Lazarus poem which has patriotic meaning for Americans.  But I think it also just fits well with Joshua's whole vibe.  I'd play it at the end while panning over all the people gathered for Easter in Asteriana.
16. "You Might Not Like Her" by Maddie Zahm- While the biographical details in this lovely song don't fit either Christina or Loreena, I thought the idea of making a journey to self understanding, acceptance, and love fit thematically.
17.  "What Did You Drag Me Into?" by Flamy Grant- I watched the music video for this whenever I  needed a break from the harsher elements of this story so I thought it deserved a place here.

I also spent some of my time whilst writing this listening to this playlist: Rainbow Faith.  Some of the songs from my list were ones I first heard there.  I don't know the person who created it but I'm really glad they did!

Confession of writing sins:
- Well, for starters, I had a lot of neurons just up and decide to throw a party and electrocute themselves between when I finished "The Lost Sheep" and this story.  And then also there was a mild COVID case in there.  Also loads of insomnia.  So... if anything doesn't make sense or I contradict myself, please let me know.  I'm not above editing a story even once it's "published."  ETA: Yeah, so, Doug's wife's/Kacey's mom's name changed from Jackie to Ellie.  I've since changed it back to Jackie but it's unfortunate that Doug seemed like a bigamist for a bit there!

- I'm aware the circumstances around Christina's adoption are sketchy.  But I also think Quentin and Marjorie did a lot of sketchy things.  But, no, I don't think one can normally travel around the country, land in New Mexico, and be handed a baby.  But maybe one of their fellow above-the-law types was in New Mexico and the plan was always to end there with their buddy arranging an adoption and smoothing over legal hurdles.  That's what I'm going with, anyway.

- It also occurred to me far too late into the story that Perry and Hildy might have been given details of Lauren's death including that she had delivered a baby at some point.  Thus, why wouldn't they have tried to find said baby sooner since it wasn't until some time later they heard the false stillbirth story?  But I believe one's protected by HIPAA even after one's death so, no, they very well might not have been given any information about Lauren having ever been pregnant.  The visit from the former cult member probably was the first time they had any inkling and, being told the baby was dead, they wouldn't have searched.

- With the exception of some of their occupations and their manners of death, I made up pretty much everything about the apostles. 
I would like to be especially clear that I have absolutely no reason to believe Matthew's mother was stoned to death.  I didn't even try to figure out if any of the wives have been given names by tradition a la Claudia and Photina.  I just chose names that would have made sense for the time.  Choosing Mattay, Thoma, and Yohannan as the only single ones was also just a storytelling choice.  My thought was Mattay was too wounded by his past and Thoma and Yohannan were under the usual marrying age when they met Yeshua and, thus, never married since they got really busy with, ya know, spreading the gospel.  When it came to how they died, when the tradition was pretty solid, I went with it.  In some cases, there are two or three different traditions regarding the fates of the apostles.  In those cases, I just chose whichever form of martyrdom seemed most fitting to the nightmare scene.  But, even if chosen rather randomly, those deaths are now canonical within the Asteriana stories. 

- I decided to have Yehuda speak a bit more formally because I believe this is possibly his first sojourn back to Earth since the events of "The Carpenter."  English is definitely not his first language and I don't know what people speak in Heaven but I highly doubt it's universally English. Thus, while he can speak English, he hasn't gotten a casual tone and idioms down yet.  For the other eleven, I think they've probably popped up in various places, including English speaking countries, numerous times through the centuries so have a better command of numerous human languages.  But even they probably don't keep on top of slang.  All that being said, I feel like I forgot about the Yehuda thing halfway through the story so... oops.

- I decided NOT to have Joshua directly address why people are trans or non-binary.  At one point, I had considered having a scene where Loreena and Joshua have a Nicodemus-style nighttime talk where they really delve into that.  However, I just don't think that's for me to write.  If at some point a trans or non-binary person gets into these stories and wants to write that scene, I would gladly cede it to them.  I just think that's a conversation that needs to be written by someone who identifies as trans.

- The whole snail fork thing is a reference to Our Flag Means Death where Blackbeard orders someone to be skinned with a snail fork.  My head canon is Edgar was very squicked out by this and Lucky, having a devilish sense of humor, bought him some rainbow titanium snail forks as a joking reference to his doppelganger.  It was probably a set of six and given they were pretty and shiny, Ed kept four but gave Christina two... one of which she, in turn, kept.

- Oh and the "Mr. Director in Live Features" quip from JenniAnn to Andrew is in reference to the story by the same name found here.  Thematically, it felt weird to fold that into this story but it's now clear that vignette was set on the morning of April 13th.

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