A Stór Mo Chroi
(Darling of My Heart)


Good Ol' Liam        The Arrival        A New Life        The Truth, Take Two

And Then There Were Three        Monny        Grandma and Grandpa        Among Family

Daddy        A Nest and a Blessing        Andrzejki        The Love That is Never Olden


Good Ol' Liam

Sunday, November 29th, 2037 


The sleeping man stirred.

"Liam... please... please answer.  It's me."

"Belle..." he murmured.  

"I... I just really need you right now.  I can't call Mama or... or Daddy cause... just cause.  And, of course, Avi can't..."

Liam's eyes shot open.  "Belle!" he cried.

This wasn't a dream.  Belle needed him!

Liam scrambled to accept her call then sighed with relief when her image appeared.  The feeling was short lived.  Eye makeup was streaking down her face and she looked shaken.  He reached out to the screen as if it would allow him to touch the young woman it showed.  "Belle, I'm here.  What's going on?"

"Can... can you come get me?  I'm at Adrian's."

"Sure.  Belle, I'm gonna shut down the camera but I'm still here.  Keeping talking to me."  Liam hurried into some clothes once he'd shut down the visual connection.  "Do you need me to bring you anything?"

"I just wanna come home."

"Okay."  Liam drew in a deep breath and prayed.  "Belle, are you hurt?"

"Not really..."

The answer was unconvincing.  "Do you feel safe right now, where you are?"


"Okay.  I'm going to leave right now.  Don't go anywhere.  If it's open, why don't you go wait in that snug you like so much?"


"Belle, I'm keeping the audio connection open while I drive.  If I cut out or just stay quiet, don't worry.  I'm still here."

"No talking while driving," the woman reminded.  "Daddy says so."

Liam smiled.  "He does.  I'll be there very soon."

Grabbing his phone and his car keys, Liam ran to his garage then drove as quickly as possible to the portal.  "I'm in Manhattan now," he informed.


"Just give me five minutes.  Belle, is anyone else in the snug?"

"No.  The whole place is pretty much dead."

"Sing me something?"  Liam knew it was a silly request but he needed to hear her voice. 


"Yes, please."

"Umm..."  Belle cleared her throat.  "'Tale as old as time, true as it can be.  Barely even friends then somebody bends unexpectedly.'"

Tears welled in Liam's eyes as he joined in.  "'Just a little change, small to say the least.  Both a little scared, neither one prepared: Beauty and the Beast.'"

When the song ended, Adrian's Coffeehouse was in view. 

"Belle, I'm here and ending the call now.  Be right in."

Liam hurriedly parked then ran inside.  He nodded to the owner.  Adrian bit her lip as she tilted her head towards the snug.  Liam froze when he saw Belle pacing back and forth, her long black hair sweeping behind her.  He entered the small room. 

Belle halted, her head hanging.  She kicked at the rug.

"Belle, what's wrong?" Liam gently prodded.  He stepped closer and set his hands on her shoulders.  "Talk to me, Lunabelle."

Hearing her nickname, the one only Liam used, Belle began to cry and sunk against her friend.

Liam wrapped his arms around her.  It had been so long since he'd hugged her.  Too long.  "I have you now.  Everything's all right."

"I... I can't remember the last time you hugged me."

Liam winced.  He couldn't tell her why he'd stopped.  "I'm sorry," he choked out.

Belle shrugged.  Finally, she stepped back.  "Can we go back to your place?"

Inwardly, Liam groaned but he responded with a nod.  "C'mon."  He took her hand and led her out to the car. 

Belle smiled when he opened the door for her.  Good ol' Liam.

The ride back to Dyeland was quiet as was the brief walk to Liam's house. 

"Sorry, it's a bit of a mess."  Liam hastily began to tidy the living room.  "I've been helping Avi with the harvest and just not around here as much."

Belle picked up a photo of the two of them and her brother at Liam's college graduation party at Willowveil.  "I was always glad we had you.  I think Avi needed a big brother type along with a big sister... probably the brother more."

"Belle, Avi loves you dearly."

"I... I know.  I didn't mean he didn't... doesn't.  And I love him, too.  Very much.  Just, ya know, guy stuff."  Belle grinned.  "Speaking of that, got a girlfriend yet?"

Liam turned away to start some tea.  "No."

Belle frowned.  "Do you... I mean not that I don't love our parents b-but... do you ever think they set us up a bit?  We... we basically grew up in a fairy tale.  True love prevails a-and everyone is honorable and noble a-and... do your parents ever sleep together?"

Liam choked and spun around.  "Excuse me?"

"I mean literally sleep together.  Not... you know."

"It wouldn't really be my business if they did."

Belle shrugged.  "Mine do.  I don't think very often.  Or maybe...  But definitely sometimes.  I can remember one time when Grandpa Robert was sick, I got scared in the middle of the night so I went to Mama's room.  Daddy was already there.  Just holding Mama and talking softly to her.  And suddenly I felt better, seeing that.  Like no matter what, our family would be okay.  And I... I decided I wanted that.  Someone I could curl up with and feel safe with.  B-but... most men aren't like Daddy."

Liam stepped closer to the woman.  "Belle, please tell me what happened tonight."

"I... I went out with... with this guy I met.  Actually... it... it was our fifth date."  Belle bit her lip for a moment.  "Mama met him, too.  He kept dropping by the book shop during my shifts.  She didn't like him.  She said... said she didn't like the way he looked at me."

Liam began to feel nauseated.  He turned off the kettle and led Belle to the couch. 

"Stupidly, that made me want to go out with him more.  A-and it was fun.  We went to clubs and places that... that weren't very... Dyeland-like.  And he was so handsome..."  Belle laughed bitterly.  "I'm twenty three years old.  Way too old for teenage rebellion!  B-but...  lately I've just wanted to... to see what it was like, what it felt like to not... not be cute, little Belle but instead... sexy and pretty a-and...  But that didn't mean I wanted to... I mean I do... but not yet.  Not like... like that."

Liam felt his face flush and his heart begin to speed.  If this man had hurt Belle... there would be no mercy.  He would track him down and he would...

"He didn't rape me!" Belle cried when she noticed the man's intense, enraged expression.  She bowed her head.  "He just... he made it very clear that he thought it was time and that... that I owed him and when... when I disagreed... he said some stuff a-and left the party with some other girl.  A-and he'd driven.  I know I shoulda called a cab but I was so embarrassed that I just started walking a-and... made my way to Adrian's.  Then I called you."

"I'm so sorry, Lunabelle."  Liam again hugged her.  "That man was very wrong.  You didn't owe him anything.  Thank God you got to the Coffeehouse safely."

"Thank you for coming to get me.  I just... I know Mama and Daddy wouldn't have said anything but I woulda seen it in their faces...  The disappointment and the grief.  They warned me and I just..."  She pulled out of Liam's embrace and began to pace.  "I don't even know what I want!  I love it here b-but... I-I want my own life.  One day I wanna get married and have kids... the 'old-fashioned way.'  Maybe adopt, too, b-but... I'm not my mother.  I mean I do want what she and Daddy have b-but more, too.  I feel differently than she does a-and..."  She wiped at her face.  "But it's so hard and after tonight even more so.  Don't you think it's hard?  I mean our lives... there's so much about them that's so...  beyond!  So not only do we have to find someone we're attracted to and who has some hope of living up to... to near perfection..."  Belle waved to a photo of her parents.  "But also someone we can trust to not swarm Dyeland or reveal the Tunnels or... or turn our whole family into some sorta freak show!"

Liam pulled her back to the couch when she began to teeter.

"He seemed... trustworthy a-and kind b-but..."  Belle buried her face in her hands.  "Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see.  It's all impossible...  My parents ruined me!" 

"Don't say that!" Liam snapped.

The harshness in his usually gentle voice caused Belle to look up in alarm.

When he saw the look on her face, Liam felt as if he'd been punched in the gut.  He squeezed Belle's hand.  "I... I'm sorry.  But I can't be sorry for the way we grew up, Belle.  Yes, we may have high expectations.  No, our parents aren't standard.  But I'm glad we had them and have them still.  Because... cause I've seen the other side.  I lived the other side.  And even if I remain single, I will be forever grateful that I eventually got to see true, committed love.  Because whether I ever find it for myself or not, I'm just happy to know it exists.  I'm happy to have grown up in its light.  I'm happy that you and Avi and the other kids did, too.  Not every kid has that."

Belle kept hold of Liam's hand.  "Are... are you talking about before you came here?"

He nodded.

"You never really told me much about that.  All I really know is about how one day, when you were five, you showed up at Uncle Arthur's door a-and then... you've always been here for as long as I can remember."

"You weren't even a year old when I came." 

"I know.  Mama has a photo of you feeding me cereal."  Belle smiled.  "So... what was it like for you, Liam?"

Liam stared at her for a few moments.  He had thought about how he would tell her many times.  Not like this...  He yawned.  "Actually, Belle, I'm really zapped.  So, umm..."

Belle rose from the couch.  "Oh!  Of course...  I'm sorry.  I... well, Uncle Henry's nearby.  I'll just go see if he's home a-and can put me up.  Feeling tired myself.  Thank you for..."

Liam rested his hand on her arm and shook his head.  "Belle, it's late and chilly.  Maybe... maybe you could just stay in the guest room here?" he invited.

Belle's face lit up.  "Thanks!  Yeah, that would be really good.  Not really feeling up to another walk... even a short one."  She grinned.  "I'll text Mama and Daddy and Aunt Violeta and Avi and tell them I'm staying with a friend.  I won't name names!  Don't want them to think we're up to anything!"

Liam forced a smile.  "Sounds good.  I'll just, umm... you may need an extra blanket so let me get that for you."

As he passed, Belle embraced Liam.  "Thank you.  I... I really do appreciate this.  I just... I can't explain it all to them tonight."  She stretched up to kiss his cheek.

"Belle..." Liam sighed. 

Belle giggled.  "Oops, sorry."  She rubbed off the lipstick smudge on his cheek.  "All better!"

With another tight-lipped smile, Liam stepped away.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome!  Now... to keep Mama and Daddy and Aunt Violeta and my brother from panicking!"  Belle sat back down and began her message.

Liam slipped into the guest bedroom and let out the breath he'd been holding.  He rested his forehead against the cool surface of the window then stared up at the stars.  "Joshua...  I... I..."  He set his hand over his heart and rubbed as he silently prayed.  "Please... take these feelings away.  I... I want to be able to be there for Belle, to be a friend to her.  I do!  But..."

"All done!"

When Liam turned around, he saw that Belle was standing in the doorway.

"Are you all right?" she asked, hastened towards him when she saw the lines in his face.

Liam stepped back when she raised her hand, seeming to want to check his temperature.  "I'm fine.  Just... the stars are so beautiful tonight.  They made me think of Joshua so... I had to talk to him."

Belle smiled as she looked out the window.  "They are beautiful.  Thank you, Joshua.  And... I... I'm sorry about tonight."

Liam's heart ached when he saw her eyes fill. 

Belle let out a ragged sigh when Liam gave her the hug she desperately needed.

"Belle... he understands," Liam softly counseled.  "And I'm sure he's very proud of you for standing up for yourself and what you know is right."

"Yeah...  Thanks.  I... I miss him.  I hope he visits soon."

"Me too."  Liam patted her back then went to the closet to get the extra blanket out.  He handed it to Belle.  "You know where I am if you need anything else.  Oh..." 

Belle watched curiously as Liam left the room.  He returned a few moments later with some clothes.

"Just a pair of my flannel pants and a T-shirt.  Freshly washed.  Pants have a drawstring... you're gonna need it." 

Belle smiled and accepted the pajamas.  "Aww, thanks.  You're the best, Liam.  Well, I mean... Joshua is but..."

Liam chuckled.  "I understand.  Sleep well, Belle."

"Thanks!  Sweet dreams, Liam!"

After another smile, Liam stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.  He hastened to his room and collapsed onto the bed, praying he would wake up with his troubles gone.



Arthur smiled sleepily.  "Monica..."

"Arthur, get up now!"

The tone of her voice caused Arthur to immediately sober and sit up.  He saw the tears in Monica's eyes.  "What?  What's wrong?  Where's Liam?"

Monica hugged him.  "At his house, I'm sure.  But...  Andrew just called.  He and JenniAnn are beside themselves.  Belle went out on a date last night a-and she didn't come home and... and she's not answering her phone or... or responding to texts or..."

Arthur sighed.  "Monica, she's twenty three.  We all tried to raise the kids as best we could but if Belle has decided to..."

"Oh, Arthur, it's not that!  JenniAnn met the guy and said the way he looked at Belle made her uncomfortable.  Of course, Andrew's thinking of... of all the assignments he's had when..."  Monica began to cry again, thinking of how distraught hers friends must be... and Belle...  Where was her niece?  "I'm going to Willowveil to... to help them search.  I thought maybe you..."

Arthur hopped out of bed and yanked some clothes out of his dresser before making his way to the bathroom.  "I'll go with you," he called as he dressed.  "But first..."


Arthur poked his head out and nodded.  "I want to be the one to tell him.  I'm sure he'll..."

"He'll want to help search," Monica finished.  "I'll go with you." 

As Arthur finished getting dressed, Monica sat on the edge of his bed and prayed that Belle would be safely recovered... hopefully before they reached their lovesick boy's house.


Liam awoke feeling rested and content.  The sense of peace he felt increased as an enticing scent wafted into his room.  It was the perfect blend of eggs, sausage, and something sweet.  He smiled.  No doubt his Mom had come over and started preparing breakfast for him.  He'd been on his own for over five years but he suspected she'd never truly adjusted to having an empty nest.

And then he heard singing...  It was definitely not his Mom's!

"Belle..." Liam whispered.  He pulled on his robe and ambled towards the kitchen.  For a moment, he hung back and admired the scene before him. 

"'Day by day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day...'" Belle sang as she slid some French toast onto a platter.

Liam knew that, somewhere and everywhere, Joshua was smiling. 

"'Day by day, oh...'"  Belle ceased singing and smiled at Liam when she noticed him.  "Hi!  Good morning!  I hope I didn't wake you up but I figured you'd be up soon, anyway.  I wanted to thank you for coming to get me last night so... breakfast!"

"Belle, you didn't have to..."

"I wanted to!  Sit!"

Liam knew he could do nothing but laugh and obey.  "All right..."

Belle ladled scrambled eggs onto two plates and followed them up with sausage links and French toast slices.

"I'm at least pouring drinks," Liam insisted.  "What can I get for you?"

Belle smiled.  "I thought I saw orange juice and ginger ale in the fridge..."

Grinning, Liam nodded.  "I always keep both on hand for when your dad's around.  I'll have some of that, too."  He poured two glasses and brought them to the table at the same time Belle was setting their plates down.

"Your house.  You wanna lead prayer?" Belle asked once they were seated.

"Sure," Liam agreed.  He smiled when she took his hands in hers.  "Father, Joshua, we thank you for this meal that I'm sure is delicious.  And I... I thank you for Belle's safety and for her strength.  And... for this time together, too.  Amen."

"Amen," Belle echoed.  "And thanks... for that.  I don't feel very strong, though..."  She blushed.  "Actually... I feel pretty stupid.  Mama knew he was bad news but I..."  With a shrug, Belle went silent.

"Sometimes you can't help being attracted to someone," Liam finished.

"Yeah... exactly.  Oh and... I thought more about what I said last night.  About my parents ruining me.  You were right.  I was just..."  Belle took a bite of French toast as she contemplated her next words.  "Projecting, I guess.  Mad at myself."

"I can see that."

"But...  I would... sometime... like to hear about your life before us if... I mean only if... you would want to share."  Belle took a sip of her drink and then reached over for Liam's free hand.  "Liam, I'm sorry if I've done something that... that upset you.  I just feel like these last few years we... we've been a bit distant and... I've missed you."

Liam felt like his stomach was tying up in knots.  He opened his mouth to reassure her but no words came. 

And then there was a knock at the front door.

Liam rose from his chair.  "I'll go see who that is.  Be right back, Belle."

Belle let out a sigh and nodded. 

Trying to calm himself, Liam made his way to the door.  He peeked out and saw his parents.  He wasn't sure if he was grateful for their intrusion or not.

"G'morning, Mom and Dad," he greeted once he'd opened the door.

"Son..."  Arthur pulled Liam to him.  "Let's go inside.  Mom and I need to talk to you."

"Oh...  Okay.  It's just umm..."  Liam noticed the tears pooling in his mother's eyes.  "Mom, are you..."  He released his father and hugged her.  "What's going on?"

Monica stroked her son's hair.  "Sweet boy..." she murmured.

Arthur closed the door and gently nudged Monica and Liam.  "Let's go sit down in the living... Belle!"

Monica startled and pulled away from Liam.  "Belle!" she echoed upon seeing the young woman peeking into the room.  "Oh, sweetheart!"  She hastened to her niece and embraced her.

"Hi, Aunt Monica..."  Belle peeked over her shoulder and gave Liam a wide-eyed stare.  She blushed when she caught her uncle's gaze.  "I... we... nothing..." she stuttered.

Arthur approached.  "Belle, honey, your parents are scared to death and wondering where you are!  Why didn't you tell..."

"I... I did!  It was late so I didn't call but I sent them a text... Aunt Violeta, too... and..."  Belle hurried back to the guest room and returned with her phone.  "See!  I...  Oh no..."  She scrolled through a number of messages from her parents and aunt.  "B-but...  Oh no..."  She held the phone out for them to see.  "I hit 'Save' instead of 'Send'!  They never got my message!  It just sat there on my phone and then this morning I was so focused on making breakfast that I left my phone on the dresser and... and...  Oh... poor Mama and Daddy and Avi and Aunt Violeta!"

Arthur patted her back then turned to his son.  "Liam, call your aunt and uncle."

"Sure."  Liam went to the phone and screen, turning both on.  "Call Willowveil," he directed. 

After a few moments, the screen came to life and showed the Willowveil living room.  Adam was pacing around the room.

"Uncle Adam," Liam called.

Adam's head jerked up and he stared into the screen.  "Liam!  You've got to get over here.  Belle..."  The angel of death's eyes narrowed.  "Belle?  Belle!"

Belle winced.  "Hi, Uncle Adam.  So..."

"Andrew!  JenniAnn!  Get over here!" Adam shouted, stepping out of the frame.

Arthur, Monica, Liam, and Belle watched as Andrew and JenniAnn came into view. 

"Mama...  Daddy..."  Belle's eyes welled when she saw how wretched they looked. 

"Sweetheart!" JenniAnn cried, rushing to the screen and setting her hand on it.

Belle crept forward and rested her hand on her mother's.  "I... I'm sorry.  You were right, Mama.  Tannison was a total jerk.  Nothing happened!  B-but I had to ditch him a-and I didn't want to...  I was embarrassed...  So I called Liam to come get me a-and... he did."  She smiled at her cousin.  "And I sent you and Daddy a message b-but I was too tired, I guess, and I... I just sent it to Drafts, apparently.  Then this morning I wanted to make breakfast for Liam and left my phone on the dresser so I didn't hear and... and... oh Daddy...  Daddy..." Belle began to sob when she saw her father crumple against her mother and bury his face in her hair.

"Love... my love..." JenniAnn cooed.

Arthur and Monica wrapped their arms around each other as they watched their friends.

Liam reached for Belle's hand.

Adam returned with Avi at his side, both carrying chairs which they pushed Andrew and JenniAnn into.

"My... my baby girl..." Andrew choked out.

"I'm here, Daddy.  I'm so, so sorry.  Mama, Avi..."  Belle pulled away from Liam.  "I'll be right there.  I'll run as fast as I can and..."

Andrew took in a deep breath, calming himself.  "Belle, we'll talk more about this later.  But right now, I think... I think the last thing we need is you running over here and making yourself sick.  We... we know you're safe now so finish your breakfast and then... then come home?"

Belle nodded eagerly.  "O-okay.  I really am so sorry..."

"Sweetheart, we know," JenniAnn assured.

"B-but I worried everyone a-and..."  Belle looked to her brother and uncle.  "How many people are over there a-and know?"

Recovered, Adam smirked.  "Might be easier to list who isn't here..."

Belle groaned. 

"Belle, it's okay," Avi assured.  "We'll just... turn it into a party.  I'll go start pancakes!"

Managing a laugh, JenniAnn kissed her son's hair.  "That's my boy." 

Adam slung his arm around Avi's shoulders.  "And I'll get going with some freshly squeezed orange juice."  He winked at the screen.  "We'll see you soon, honey.   Arthur, Monica, Liam... thanks."

"Yes, thanks!  Love to you all!" JenniAnn added.

"Will we see the three of you?" Andrew asked.

Arthur nodded.  "Sounds good.  We'll walk over with Belle." 

"Good!"  JenniAnn smiled tenderly at her daughter.  "We love you, baby."

"Love you... so much," Belle squeaked out. 

Andrew looked to Liam. 

Liam's eyes welled when he saw the understanding in his uncle's eyes. 

"Thank you, Liam.  So much.  We love you."

"L-love you, too, Uncle Andrew," Liam responded as his mother gently rubbed his back.

"I... I can't wait to hug you, baby girl," Andrew continued.  He blew Belle a kiss.

Belle blew back a kiss.  "See you soon, Daddy, Mama, everyone..."

After another smile from her parents, Avi, and Adam; the call ended.

Belle sighed.  "I feel so terrible..."

Arthur hugged her.  "It was an honest mistake, Belle.  Everyone understands that.  Just might be best to insist on actual phone calls from here on out."

"Yeah... definitely," Belle agreed.  "Well... there's plenty of eggs, French toast, and sausages.  It might be a little cold but... would you want to join us, Aunt Monica and Uncle Arthur?" 

Monica snuck a glance at Liam, trying to gauge whether he wanted them there or not. 

Liam gripped her hand.

"We'd love that.  Thank you, Belle," Monica responded. 

Liam smiled.  "I'll go start the coffee, Mom."

Arthur chuckled.  "You better.  Mom's done without until now.  Make her wait much longer and she's going to get crabby."

"I do not get crabby!" Monica countered with a grin, stretching up to rest her forehead against Arthur's.  "Take it back!"

Arthur brought her hand to his lips and shook his head.  "I can't lie, milady.  There's an angel present."

"Well, yes, that is true, I suppose," Monica admitted, caressing his hair.

Belle giggled.  There had been a camping trip once... years before... with a broken coffee maker in the cabin.  It had not been pleasant.  She caught Liam's gaze and knew he was thinking of the same thing.  After a moment, it made her feel sad.  They had so much shared history and she had just been on the cusp of trying to reclaim it when the chance had been lost. 

Seeing Belle's distress, Monica stepped away from Arthur and hugged her.  "Everything's all right, sweet Belle.  Let's have our breakfast... which I'm sure is delicious... and then we'll get you home."

Liam nodded.  "I'll make enough coffee for us all to bring with us.  I noticed a chill when I opened the door."

"Sounds like a plan," Arthur assented. 

The four made their way to the kitchen and, after another prayer, enjoyed the meal together.


"Laja, can I some in?"

JenniAnn set down her rosary and went to her bedroom door.  Once it was open, she flung herself at Andrew.

The angel of death sighed contently as he held her.  "I don't ever, ever want to feel that again..."

JenniAnn nuzzled his shoulder.  "Me neither."

"Thank God..."


For a few moments, they silently lingered in each other's embrace. 

Finally, JenniAnn pulled away.  "Has Violeta recovered?"

Andrew nodded.  "She's out with the sheep and Yonah.  Thanking God and calming down in her own way.  Our little shepherdess..."

JenniAnn smiled.  "I'll go talk to her later.  I hate that she felt so guilty.  What a strange combination of snafus..."  She shook her head as she counted them off.  "Violeta fell asleep in the stable after your assignment so didn't realize Belle never came home.  Belle never actually sent her messages out.  Avi lost his phone so didn't think anything of not hearing from his sister.  And we actually managed to sleep through a whole night!  Crazy...  Poor Liam, though..."  Her smile faded. 

Andrew embraced her again.  "I know.  I've been thinking the same thing.  But maybe that's why last night happened the way it did.  Maybe... maybe it gave them a chance to talk."

"Maybe."  JenniAnn reached up to run her fingers through Andrew's hair, trying to let the sensation of the silken strands of gold and silver soothe her.  She sighed when it didn't work.  "I just don't want Belle unwittingly making things harder for him.  B-but... I can't regret last night.  If she hadn't called him...  What... what if she'd tried to walk to the portal and in a sad, distracted state who knows what..."

Tears formed in Andrew's eyes and he tightened his hold of JenniAnn.  "But she did call him.  And she's safe.  The rest... we can deal with the rest."

"Yes."  JenniAnn squeezed his hand and led him to where she'd been praying.  "I was praying the rosary... guess I felt like Maryam would get my angst... and I was looking at this as I did.  Christmas 2014.  How simple everything was..."

Andrew smiled at the photograph of Liam, Belle, and Joshua.  It had been snapped not long after the former's arrival.  The kids were settled on Joshua's lap and he was reading The Small One.  Andrew kissed JenniAnn's forehead.  "It was... but only a couple months before, a few things were in shambles... or so it seemed."

"This is true..."

"So... look at how that situation was resolved."

A smile spread across JenniAnn's face.  "Things got even better."

"They did.  So... maybe this is just another brief rough patch before something even better comes."

"I hope so."

"Me too.  And something's going to get better right now: our son has pancakes waiting for us."  Andrew grinned and took JenniAnn's hand.

Laughing, JenniAnn followed him out of the room and into the hall.

The two paused for a moment beside the family tree.  They looked at their nest and Arthur's and Monica's.  Both nests still held their respective baby birds.  The sight of them reassured Andrew and JenniAnn as they headed to the ballroom where an impromptu breakfast party awaited them.


As soon as Willowveil was in sight, Belle set off at a run. 

Liam smiled after her then turned to his mother and took her hand.  "Thanks for lending her that outfit.  I know she would have been embarrassed showing up in my pajamas and what she was wearing last night definitely wasn't warm enough!"

Monica hugged him.  "I'm sure not.  Liam, my own, Dad and I are so proud of you."  She smoothed some hair behind his ear and kissed his temple.

Arthur nodded and clapped his son on the back.  "I know last night and this morning couldn't have been easy for you but you handled yourself like a true gentleman."

Liam blushed.  "Thank you.  But... how do you know I, umm, was gentlemanly?"

"Belle was in a vulnerable spot.  We know you'd never take advantage of that," Monica replied. 

"I... I wouldn't.  But I also..."  Liam sighed.  "Last night, I prayed to Joshua and I... well, I asked him to take my feelings for Belle away.  And this morning, I feel more peaceful.  Controlled.  So... maybe he is."

Arthur and Monica shared a quick glance.  It didn't exactly sound like Joshua...

"And, in any case, little things Belle said just drove home for me that she doesn't see me that way and she'll never see me that way so... I'm Liam, her cousin and her friend.  And that's fine.  That's really good, actually.  Because I love our family.  Although..."  Liam frowned then took a gulp of coffee.

"Although?" Arthur prodded.

"Well... she started to ask me about the distance that's grown between us and... and she thinks maybe she did something wrong to cause it so... I feel bad about that.  But maybe, once my feelings lessen, everything can go back to normal.  But if she brings it back up, what do I say?" Liam questioned.

Unsure how to answer, Arthur looked to Monica.

"Mom, I can't," Liam answered, already knowing what she would say.

Monica sighed.  "Liam, I truly believe the most truthful words are the best ones."

"I just... I don't want to make things awkward for everyone and... and I don't want their pity.  It's enough that you, Uncle Andrew, Aunt JenniAnn, and Avi know."

"Avi knows?" Arthur checked.

Liam laughed.  "Avi knows all.  If he has kids, they're gonna have a hard time ever pulling one over on their old man."

"Know much about that, do you?" Arthur asked with a grin.

"Maybe..."  Liam playfully elbowed his father.  "But, yeah, Avi's known for a while.  Actually, he told me he knew the moment he saw me seeing Belle when she got back from her graduation cruise with Grandpa Nico and Grandma Raquel.  Smart kid even then."

Monica stared ahead as she remembered that day five years before.  Nico and Raquel had taken Belle on a summer-long cruise to celebrate her high school graduation.  While the cruise had featured the staples of good food, entertainment, and sightseeing; Belle had also been exposed to a type of poverty that she'd never seen before.  During the entire return route, she had shunned the more lighthearted excursions and instead zeroed in on the ones that involved contributing to the communities they visited.  When Belle had returned home, they'd all been shocked to find the girl they'd seen off three months before had become a woman.  However, none of them had been as deeply impacted as Liam.  But with his twenty three years to Belle's eighteen, he hadn't said a word.  It wasn't until the following Spring, when Liam had begged Monica and Arthur to let him go on a relief mission with them, that he'd confided in them.  In the years since, Andrew and JenniAnn had clued in.  And, apparently, Avi had always known.  Belle, meanwhile, remained oblivious.  She'd had a number of crushes and even a few brief romances but never had Belle expressed any interest in Liam.  And Liam had forbidden them all from uttering a word to her about his feelings.

Rousing from her memories when she felt Arthur's arm come around her waist, Monica smiled and inhaled and exhaled slowly.

Liam abruptly stopped walking.  "Look at her... them."

The three halted a few feet away from Willowveil's front door.  Andrew and JenniAnn had Belle in their arms while Avi and Violeta stood nearby.  Soon all five of them were hugging.

Arthur and Monica moved apart and stood behind their son.  Arthur placed his hand on Liam's right shoulder while Monica's hand rested on his left.

Liam sighed and tears welled in his eyes.  The feelings weren't gone.  Joshua hadn't taken them away.  What peace he'd felt that morning was owing only to Belle having been there with him.  But his house would be empty again and he'd have to keep away from her again and... 

"My own..."  Monica wrapped her arms around her son when he hunched over and rested his head on her shoulder.

"I... I still love her.  Mom, Dad... I... I can't go... can't go in there and pretend..."

Arthur patted his son's shaking back.  "Liam... son... c'mon, I'll walk back to the house with you.  Mom can take care of..." 

Avi broke away from his family and hurried towards his cousin.  "Liam... let's go out in the fields.  Just the two of us.  And God.  And corn."

In spite of his aching heart, Liam managed a laugh.  "Yeah... corn... God.  That'd be good."

"But..." Monica kept hold of him.

Liam pulled away and kissed her forehead.  "I'll be fine, Mom.  Actually... the work will be good.  I... I need the distraction."

"No machinery," Arthur insisted.

Avi nodded.  "Just our own four hands," he agreed. 

"Come see us later?" Monica requested of Liam.

"I will," he promised.  "See you later, Mom and Dad."

"Sounds good."  Arthur tried to offer his son the best reassuring smile he could muster.

Liam responded with a silent, soft smile of his own and walked off with Avi.

Arthur and Monica watched the two retreat.

"Oh Arthur...  It... it hurts so badly to... to see him like this!" Monica lamented, turning into his shoulder.

Arthur rested his chin on her hair and nodded.  "I just hope and pray he bears the longing better than... than I did."

Hearing the old note of regret in his voice, Monica reached up and cupped his chin.  "None of that."

"It's just hard not to wonder..."  Arthur stopped speaking when Andrew approached.

"How's Liam?" he asked.  He dragged his hand through his hair as he watched the two young men walk away.

"Not good," Arthur replied. 

"I'm sorry," Andrew apologized.  "I was hoping and praying that maybe, with their time together, they might have talked."

Not taking her eyes off Liam, Monica shook her head.  "No.  They didn't."

Andrew squeezed her shoulder.  "C'mon.  Let's get out of the cold."

In silent agreement, Arthur and Monica followed Andrew into the castle.


The late night and her early morning caught up to Belle nearly the moment she stepped into Willowveil.  She knew she needed a shower and a nap.  And, right then, her childhood room seemed more inviting than her grown-up room next to Violeta's at Serendipity.  As soon as she was out of the shower, she sunk onto her bed where her mother waited, hairbrush in hand.

JenniAnn sniffled as she unwound the towel wrapped around Belle's hair.  "I... I can still remember the first time we washed your hair... all those sweet, little curls.  Even... even when you were a tiny baby."

Belle snuggled her face into the neck of her robe.  "Mama..."

JenniAnn began to brush her hair.  "Sweetheart, why didn't you call Daddy and me?"

Belle stared down at her fingers.  "I was embarrassed.  I... I didn't listen to you.  And you were right.  Tannison was a world-classless jerk."

JenniAnn stopped brushing and hugged the girl.  "Do you want to tell me what happened?"

With a nod, Belle began to recount the evening.  "At first it was nice... like the other dates.  B-but then we were dancing a-and he asked if I wanted to go up to his buddy's room.  And, stupidly, I asked 'For what?'  So... then he told me... and he said he'd been very patient but his patience had run out and I owed... that... to him and our relationship."

JenniAnn resumed brushing Belle's hair but began to cry.  "My Belle..."

Belle reached back to squeeze her hand.  "I told him that I owed him diddly squat and that I wanted a relationship based on more than just sex and five dates was hardly enough time to... to have the sort of connection I'd need to have before having sex.  And I definitely needed to know the guy loved me and I needed to love him.  So then he called me a bitch and some other words before stalking off."

"Baby..."  JenniAnn kissed her daughter's hair.  "I'm so sorry but so proud of you for standing up for yourself."

"Thank you, Mama."  Belle swiveled around and kissed her cheek.  "So... I hurried into the bathroom and cried for a little bit a-and then when I came out I saw him leaving with some other girl who, actually, I... I think was an ex and so, I waited a little bit, and then I left and went to Adrian's a-and I thought about calling Aunt Violeta but... well..."

"You called Liam instead."

Belle nodded.  "It had been such a terrible night b-but... I thought maybe I could bring something good out of it.  Maybe if... if Liam and I were alone... maybe we could talk a-and I could ask him..."  Her eyes filled.  "Mama, do you know if... if there's something I said or did that hurt his feelings?  It's just... these past few years he's just gotten more and more distant a-and I... I miss him.  I miss our friendship.  For a while I explained it away as his knowing I was busy and sometimes stressed with college.  A-and I know he's had a lot going on with helping Aunt Monica and Uncle Arthur at True Light and Avi with the crops.  B-but I've been out of college for two years a-and Aunt Monica and Uncle Arthur still talk to me even when... when they have a lot going on so...  And Liam's got plenty of time for Avi!  Not that I'm jealous.  I don't mean that...   Just that... I mean I must have done something wrong, right?" she implored.

JenniAnn hung her head, unable to meet her girl's tearful gaze.  She loved her nephew and had made him a promise.  But her daughter was in pain...


JenniAnn looked up and cupped Belle's chin.  "I'm not sure what to say, sweetheart.  But how about I finish brushing out your hair and, while you nap, I'll talk with Daddy, Aunt Monica, and Uncle Arthur.  Okay?"

Belle bit her lip.  "I... I feel like such a child.  I was trying to be so grown-up b-but now I... I just want to curl up in my bed with... with Mr. Bobo."  She patted the frog her father had bought for her the day she was born.  "A-and nap while my Mama and Daddy figure my life out."

"Oh, sweetheart, we all have days like that," JenniAnn consoled.  "After you were born and I was so happy but a lil overwhelmed, I went through a good, long phase where I routinely wanted to snuggle up with Grandpa Vincent and let him read to me.  And guess what?"

"He liked that, too?"

"He did.  He recognized that even though I was a grown woman with a baby of my own, I was still his baby.  And I still am.  And Grandma Catherine's and Grandma Allison's and Grandpa Robert's..."

Belle smiled.  "That's true."

JenniAnn patted her back when she turned around.  "Daddy and I are so proud of you, Belle.  You're a strong, compassionate, lovely young woman and we are so, so glad you're our daughter... our baby girl.  Always."

"Always..." Belle echoed.  She let out a contented sigh as her mother resumed brushing her hair.  "I love you, Mama."

"And I love you, Belle."

"Sing to me?"

JenniAnn smiled and began to sing.  "'Yesterday a child came out to wonder, caught a dragonfly inside a jar.  Fearful when the sky was full of thunder and tearful at the falling of a star.  Then the child moved ten times round the seasons, skated over ten clear frozen streams.  Words like 'When you're older', must appease her and promises of someday make her dreams.'"

Belle grew more and more drowsy and leaned back against her mother.  When the song was finished, JenniAnn gently laid her sleeping daughter down and tucked her into bed.  She patted Mr. Bobo on the head then kissed Belle's cheek and slipped out of the room.

When the door was closed, JenniAnn rested her back against it and closed her eyes.  "Thank You...  Thank You for bringing our girl back to us.  But Joshua... we... we're gonna need some guidance.  Please, help us.  Love you.  Always."


Andrew rose from one of the library chairs when JenniAnn entered the room. 

"How is she?"

"Napping."  With misty eyes, JenniAnn smiled.  "It... it felt nice to tuck my baby into bed again.  I... I can't remember the last time I did that.  But... we really do have to talk.  Belle was in tears because she thinks she did something wrong that caused Liam to grow distant.  I... I hate that she feels so guilty b-but..."  She looked to Arthur and Monica.  "I didn't tell her the reason.  I kept my promise to Liam.  But could one of you, please, ask him if he might reconsider?  I mean... I thought it was so darling and admirable when he first asked us to keep it to ourselves.  And how... how he realized that our family matters so much to Belle and he knew she might... might consent to the romance only because she thought it would make everyone happy.  And she was still so young...  But she's a strong girl... woman.  She really liked that Tannison jerk and yet she stood up to him.  I really, really don't think she'd start a romance with Liam just to appease everyone.  But maybe if she knew how he felt..."

"Do you have any inkling that Belle might return Liam's affections?" Arthur questioned.

"Well... I know she misses his friendship," JenniAnn replied.

Monica reached for Arthur's hand.  "I think we all know that, as beautiful as friendship is... a friend is not necessarily the same as a soul mate."

JenniAnn twisted her ring and nodded.  "I... I do know..."  She glanced up at Andrew, remembering the years she had loved him and yet felt herself to be only one among his many friends.

For his part, Andrew recalled JenniAnn's fleeting romance with Eliot.  Even without feelings of sexual desire, he had still experienced a real and deep ache of longing for what they'd once shared.  He could only imagine the compounded feelings that Liam was dealing with.

Arthur's and Monica's minds both turned to the very same time period... the same space of time that had brought their Liam to them.

Arthur sunk into a chair and held his head in his hands.  "I wish I could even be sure that uncertainty about Belle's affections is what keeps Liam from speaking up.  But I'm not certain a-and I'm afraid it's even deeper than that.  I'm afraid it... it just goes back to... to those first five years..."

Monica squeezed beside him in the chair, tears trailing down her cheeks.  "Sweet, little Liam..."

Andrew and JenniAnn settled into the loveseat across from them.

"What do you mean, Arthur?" the angel of death asked.

"I mean... he's my son.  I was raised by parents who loved me from the moment I was born... before that even.  I was the treasured only child.  And yet... I still had a time when I... I felt unworthy of the girl I loved."  Arthur smiled sadly at Monica.

"Poor love," Monica cooed, softly caressing the wrinkles that surrounded his eyes.

Arthur lightly kissed her forehead before continuing.  "The difference is, I felt unworthy because I had made my own mistakes.  Liam... Liam spent the first five years of his life hearing that he was a mistake.  A-and even though Monica and I... all of us... even Joshua... have tried so hard to banish those thoughts... I think they're still there, deep inside of him."  Arthur forced a smile as he looked at Andrew and JenniAnn.  "He adores your Belle.  But, honestly, I'm not sure he... he would even accept her love if she offered it to him.  He... he wants better for her."

The sobering truth hit each of them and, all at once, they remembered the day they'd met Liam. 

But they hadn't been the first to meet him...


The Arrival

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

No one paid any attention to the little boy carrying a backpack through the subway station...  No one except one man whose eyes never left the child. 

He watched the little one size up the other people in the station, trying to figure out who might help him board.

Finally, the boy's eyes met his.  He smiled shyly and approached. 

"Sir, could you please help me?  I need to go see my daddy but my mommy had to go to work early and can't ride with me and I know they won't let me on without a grown-up."

A lie.  Partly.

"So you'd like me to be your grown-up?" the man asked with a smile.

The boy nodded nervously.

"Well, I think I could manage that.  I've been a grown-up for a very long time."  He held out his hand.  "My name's Joshua."

The child stared at his hand for a moment then took it.  "Liam."

"Well, let's get on our way, Liam."  Joshua rose from the bench he'd been occupying.

Liam's cheeks burned red.  "I, umm, don't have a ticket yet."

"Well, as it happens, I have a spare.  You ready?  You need help with your bag?"

Liam's grip on the straps of his bag tightened.  "No."

Joshua smiled reassuringly as they walked towards the train.  "Okay."

The subway car was packed but Joshua found a free seat and waved Liam into it before grabbing the nearest pole. 

"I can stand," Liam offered.

"Thanks but I've been sitting for a while now.  It feels good to stand."  Joshua forced himself to not look down at the boy's tattered, ill-fitting shoes.  He knew where every blister was.  He stared down at his own feet until he'd controlled his emotions.  "So where you headed, Liam?"

Liam reached into his pocket and pulled out a page torn out of a phone book.  One address was circled in red ink.  "Here.  Could you tell me when I need to get off, Joshua?"

Joshua nodded.  "Absolutely.  Shouldn't be long."


"So you're going to see your daddy?"

Liam stared down at his hands.  "Yeah."



Joshua smiled tenderly at the boy's bowed head.  If only he knew how loved he was...

The subway car stopped, allowing more people in and others out.  A man entered with his young son on his shoulders.  The two laughed as the father set the boy down and made faces at him.

Liam stared at them.

Joshua stared at Liam.



"Do you have kids?"

Joshua nodded.  "I do."

"Do you love them?"

"Very much."

"Would... you be glad if one showed up that you didn't know about?" Liam implored.

Joshua crouched down as best he could in the cramped space.  "No matter how they came to me, I would love them, Liam."

"Okay."  Liam smiled slightly when Joshua ruffled his hair.


Monica beamed as Arthur gave Andrew and JenniAnn the final rundown of housekeeping help he'd need while they were away. 

"And then if you could just sprinkle a few flakes of food in the fish tank every day, I would appreciate it... and so would the fish.  Probably more the fish."

Andrew chuckled.  "Got it.  So collect the mail, alter the lights timer, and feed the fish.  Is that it?"

Arthur nodded.  "That's it!  So..."  He turned to Monica and smiled.  "Are we off?"

"We're off!" Monica agreed.

"I'm so happy for you both!  Your first trip together!" JenniAnn gushed.  "And I'm sure the Irish Festival will be so much fun!"

"Ah. Wah, wah, wah.  Oooh," Belle chimed in as she bounced on her mother's hip.

Monica laughed and toyed with the baby's curls.  "Is that so?"  She smiled at JenniAnn.  "Thank you.  Very much, JenniAnn."

Knowing Monica was thinking of the weeks of preparation for this trip and the counsel she'd lent, JenniAnn reached over to squeeze her hand.  "You're welcome.  Now, we have everything under control here so..."

She was interrupted by a soft knock on the apartment door.

Arthur frowned.  "Strange...  I'm not expecting anyone.  Maybe a neighbor just needs to borrow an egg or..."  He looked out the peephole.  "Huh.  No one's there.  Maybe they realized they were at the wrong door."  He shrugged and reached for Monica's hand.  "Well, milady, shall we..."

The knocking continued.

"Maybe it's one of the little ones who live down the hall?" Monica suggested, going to the door.  She peeked out and, again, saw no one.  Nonetheless, she opened the door. 

"Well, hello!" she greeted.

The little boy gaped at her.

"Sweetheart, do you need help?" Monica asked, moving to her knees. 

The child said nothing.

JenniAnn stepped nearer, thinking the little one might feel better if he saw another child.  "Hi there!  What's your name, honey?"


"Oh, I've always loved that name!" Monica enthused.  "Liam, do you need help?"

"I... I'm looking for my daddy." 

"What's your daddy's name, Liam?"

"Ar-arthur.  Arthur Reese."

Arthur dropped the bottle of fish food he was holding.  "Wh-what?"

All the color drained from Monica's face.  In a flash she recognized the boy as a near copy of the childhood photographs Arthur's mother and father had proudly shown off to her during their visit to New York.  Only Liam's hair was different.  It was the same auburn shade as her own.

JenniAnn hurried over to Andrew.

Liam began to sniffle.  "I... I...  My mommy said..."

Trying to pull himself from his stupor, Arthur stumbled towards the boy.  "What did your mommy say, Liam?"

"She... she said you were my daddy a-and..."  Liam slung his book bag around and reached into it. 

Arthur glanced over at Monica who had slumped against his couch.  "Monica..."

Liam held a photograph out to Arthur.  "My... my mommy."

"Oh... oh God..." Arthur moaned when he took the photo.

Monica reached for the image.  "Let me see."

Arthur pulled away.  "Monica, I don't..."

"Let me see!" Monica demanded.

Tears pooled in Liam's eyes.

"Oh no...  Here."  JenniAnn handed Belle to Andrew and crossed over to the little boy.  "Liam, sweetheart, I am so, so happy to meet you.  I bet you've come a long way, huh?"

Liam nodded.

"And you're probably hungry?"


"Good.  Well, that's my little girl over there.  Belle.  And I was just about to get Belle settled down to a snack.  Would you want to come get a snack in the kitchen with us?" JenniAnn offered.

Liam wiped his nose on his sleeve and nodded.

"Awesome!"  JenniAnn took his hand in hers and led him towards the kitchen.  "There's a bunch of cereal on the counter, Liam.  Why don't you take a look and see if there's one you'd really like to have, okay?"


Once Liam was in the kitchen, JenniAnn turned around to face Arthur and Monica.  Her heart broke when she saw Monica staring at the photograph she was holding with shaking hands.

"Monica..."  Arthur reached out to her.

Monica moved away.  "Don't touch me!"

Overhearing, Liam turned around and peered out the doorway.

Andrew returned Belle to JenniAnn.  "Go in the kitchen, please.  I'll be in as soon as I can.  They can't be in here like this where he can see.  I have no idea what's going on but that little guy doesn't need this."

JenniAnn nodded, squeezed his hand, and rejoined Liam.

Andrew approached his two friends.  "How about you two step into the bedroom or the office to have your discussion?  Little eyes and ears can see and hear you in here," he reminded, a slight edge in his soft voice as he motioned towards the mere half wall that separated the kitchen from the living room.

"But I..." Arthur began before Andrew glared at him.

Monica stalked off into Arthur's office.  "Andrew, you come, too.  Please," she hastily added.

Andrew peered over at JenniAnn who shrugged.  "All right," he agreed.  "Arthur, come on."

Arthur looked once more at the little boy then followed the two angels into his office.

The three stood in uncomfortable silence.

Andrew looked back and forth between the two.  Finally, he spoke.  "All right, I know there's a lot of confusion and hurt feelings right now.  And I feel for both of you.  I really do.  But we're all adults.  Meanwhile, there's a little boy out there and, whomever's son he is, he clearly needs some help.  So... my recommendation is that we call Kelly and see what she can find out about Liam.  We may even need her to come over here.  Agreed?"

Arthur and Monica nodded.

"Okay.  I'm going to do that."  Andrew took out his cell phone and dialed.  After a few moments he spoke.  "Hi Kelly!  How are you?  That's great.  Hey... so I'm at Arthur's apartment right now and we have a situation.  No, no.  Belle's just fine.  See, a little boy showed up.  And, well...  Any chance you could come here?  Good.  That's...  His name?  Liam.  Umm..."  Andrew glanced at Arthur.  "Can you make a guess on last name?  I know we don't know but..."

"Tierney," Arthur suggested, rubbing at his temples.

Monica let out a sob.

"Liam Tierney, maybe?" Andrew relayed to Kelly.  "Yeah, we'll be here. Thank you, Kelly.  See you soon."  He ended the call and redirected his attention to Arthur and Monica.  "Would you two like me to stay with you or..."

Arthur shook his head and Monica nodded.

Arthur sighed.  "Stay.  Please."

Andrew took a seat on the floor, resting his back against the wall. 

"Who... who was she to you?" Monica questioned.  "A-and what's her first name?"

"Nessa," Arthur replied.  "I... we... were part of a group sent to China to help with rescue and recovery efforts after an earthquake.  We were there for several weeks and...  Monica, it... it was devastating.  I'm sure Andrew..."

"It was," Andrew verified.

"Everywhere we looked... heartbreak.  And Nessa...  Monica, she reminded me so much of... of you.  She was Irish but from Philly so... no accent but her hair and her eyes..."

Monica shuddered.  "You... you think that's supposed to make me feel better?  So... wh-what?  You slept with her because... cause she looked like me?"

Arthur was silent.

"Did... did you love her?"

"I... cared for her."

"That's not the same!" Monica shouted.

"I know...  I do.  But one night... we finally had some time away a-and we both had too much to drink a-and I ended up in her hotel room and..."  Arthur rubbed at his eyes.  "For the first time since I'd gotten to China, I felt... something other than despair."

"It... it was only that once?"

"Monica... I...  No...  It wasn't only that once.  There... a few times."

Monica shook her head, fresh tears welling in her eyes. 

"I... I used protection.  I... I did, Monica, but... well... it broke once and I guess maybe..."  Arthur stared at the closed door beyond which there was a child who could be his.

"So... so you knew there was a chance you might have gotten a woman pregnant but you didn't bother to stay in touch?" Monica accused.

Arthur looked to Andrew for help but, of course, Andrew didn't know anything about it. 

"Well?" Monica prodded.

"Monica, I gave her my phone number and address when the mission ended.  And she gave me hers.  I... I did try to call her a few times after we got back but... but she never returned my calls so...  It happens a lot.  People come together for comfort and then... then they go back to their lives and try to... to forget everything.  Sometimes even each other."

Andrew sighed.  "Monica, it does happen.  I've heard about it a lot when I've worked disaster cases."

"That doesn't make it right!" the caseworker countered.

"I know, Monica.  I know," Andrew assured.  "But..."  He looked to Arthur.  "I believe that Arthur did try his best to keep in touch with Nessa.  It could be, though, that she just wanted to forget about everything she saw and did in China."

"It would have been difficult to forget if she were pregnant..." Monica muttered.  "I... I need to go."

"Monica..."  Andrew stood and reached for her hand but she ignored him and shut the door behind her.

Arthur buried his face in his hands.  He badly wanted to run after Monica, pull her to him, and comfort her. 

"I'll go see if I can get her to stay," Andrew offered.

"Okay," Arthur answered, not budging.

Andrew opened the door then turned back around.  For a moment, he rested his hand on Arthur's hair.  "Sometimes the walls that come up between us and those we love seem impenetrable.  But they're not, Arthur.  There's always hope."

Arthur nodded and began to weep when Andrew left the room.


JenniAnn stepped into the living room when she heard the office door open and close.  After a few moments, Monica appeared and made a beeline for the door.

"Monica..."  JenniAnn hurried towards her.  "I... I know this has to be very shocking a-and I can't imagine how you feel but I have to..."

A clattering from the kitchen interrupted her.

"Hold on.  Please." 

Returning to the kitchen, JenniAnn found Belle gleefully banging her cereal bowl on the tray of her bouncy seat.  Liam was crouched on the floor, trying to clean up all the Cheerios that Belle had scattered.

The little boy gasped and shrank away when he saw JenniAnn.  "I... I'm sorry.  I... I'll get it cleaned up."

JenniAnn blinked.  "But... why..."

Liam began to shake.

Gasping, JenniAnn knelt down beside the boy.  "Liam, do you think you need to pick this up?"

His head hanging, Liam nodded.

"Oh, honey, no.  Belle's my baby.  Mine and Andrew's.  We're responsible for picking up after her.  All you need to do is enjoy your own cereal."  JenniAnn kissed the boy's hair and then lifted him back up into a kitchen chair.  "Okay?"

Liam snuck a look at JenniAnn.  A smile played at his lips when he saw her smile.  "Okay."

"Good.  Now as for you, missy..."  JenniAnn laughed at Belle.  "No more bowl for you."  She poured some cereal onto Belle's tray then kissed her cheek before rejoining Monica who had watched from the living room.

JenniAnn sighed when she reached the angel.  "That... that was heartbreaking.  I... I think that little guy thought I... I was going to hit him or... or at least yell at him."

Andrew stepped into the room.  He immediately embraced Monica.

Monica closed her eyes and remained in her friend's arms for a few moments. 

"Monica, I really don't think leaving right now is the answer," Andrew whispered.  "It's completely up to you but... I think you should at least stick around long enough to hear what Kelly may have found out."

Opening her eyes and peering at the little boy eating his cereal, Monica nodded.  "I... I know.  I will."

Andrew kissed her hair.  "Good."

Monica stepped out of his embrace and went to the kitchen. 

Andrew and JenniAnn watched as she pulled out a chair and sat beside Liam.

Monica smiled at him.  "What's your favorite color, Liam?"


"Ah.  I like green, too.  Do you have a favorite book?"

Liam shook his head.

As the stilted conversation continued, JenniAnn wrapped her arms around Andrew's middle.

"Love..." she whispered.


"There... there's something not right with Liam.  I mean... not that I think there's anything wrong with him.  B-but I... I think he was abused or... or neglected at the very least.  Belle spilled her cereal and he rushed to clean it up a-and then he acted like he thought I was going to be angry at him.  He... he's what?  Four?  Maybe five years old and he thought I'd be mad at him for what a baby did?"

Andrew sighed and rested his chin on her hair.  "I wish I didn't believe it was possible... but I do.  I've seen it too often."

JenniAnn kissed his shoulder and rested her hand over his heart.  "I know, my love.  How's Arthur?"

"Devastated.  I can understand why Monica's so upset but...  Imagine possibly losing someone you love over something you did five or so years ago?"  Andrew shook his head.

JenniAnn's embrace tightened.  "I don't want to imagine."

Andrew ran his hand over her hair.  "Laja..."

"They... they'll be fine.  They have to get through this even... even if it is what it looks to be.  Andrew, look at his nose and his eyes and..."  JenniAnn shook her head.  "Actually, he... he looks like he could be their biological son.  Arthur's and Monica's, I mean."

"He does," Andrew agreed.

After several minutes, Arthur stepped out of his office.  Without saying anything, he leaned against the living room wall and took in the scene in the kitchen.

Monica glanced at him for a moment then hastily away.

When another few minutes had passed, Arthur entered the kitchen.

Liam looked up from the piece of paper JenniAnn had given him to draw on.

Arthur smiled.  "Hi Liam."


While trying to give Monica space, Arthur crouched beside Liam's chair. 

Arthur held out his hand.  "Pleased to meet you, Liam.  I'm glad you're here."

Liam shook his hand but said nothing.

"So, Liam, what's your mommy's name?" Arthur asked.

Liam shrugged.

"Well... where is your mommy?"

Liam remained silent.

"Liam, do you live near here?" Monica tried.

"No.  I took the subway."

Monica gasped.  "All by yourself?"


"Well, sweetheart, who was with you?"

"I walked to the subway by myself.  Then a man gave me a ticket and helped me.  Then he walked with me to here," Liam explained, not taking his eyes off his scribbling.

"Did you know this man before the subway?" Monica questioned.


"Was he a nice man?" Arthur hurriedly asked.

Liam nodded.

"So he didn't hurt you or... or make you uncomfortable?"

Liam finally looked up.  "No.  Joshua was very nice."

Andrew and JenniAnn drew closer.

"Ah!  Ah!  Ah!" Belle screeched.

"J-Joshua?" Monica choked out.


Andrew reached into his pocket.  "Hey, Liam!  My name's Andrew.  And I was just wondering..."  He scrolled through some photos.  "Is this Joshua who helped you?"

Liam looked at the screen and, for the first time since his arrival at the apartment, truly smiled.  "Yeah!  That's Joshua."

Arthur stood and began to pace.  "Why... why would Joshua... he... he would know if..."  Mindful of Liam and remembering Andrew's appeal to "little ears," Arthur crossed over to the angel of death.  "So then... then Liam... he has to be mine, right?  Joshua would... he would know.  And if... if he walked Liam here then that has to mean that he knew Liam... belonged here, right?"

Andrew shrugged and set a hand on Arthur's arm.  "I don't know, Arthur.  He hasn't said anything to me about any of this."

"Maybe Kelly will have something to go off of and... and, if not, and we can't find Nessa then... then there's always a DNA test," Arthur rambled.

Liam slid out of his chair and made his way to JenniAnn. 

Sensing he needed to say something, JenniAnn stooped down and smiled.  "What can I do for you, Liam?"

The little boy whispered in her ear.

"I'll show you.  C'mon, honey."  JenniAnn took his hand and headed into the hallway, mouthing "bathroom" to Andrew.

When they were gone, Arthur returned to Monica's side.  "Monica, I... I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry that I've hurt you.  If... if there's anything..."

Monica teared up and forced herself to look into Arthur's eyes.  "I... I just... I don't know right now, Arthur.  I... I knew you had... relationships and I... I truly thought I... I could not... not let that get to me b-but to have a reminder that... that you..."  She rested her hands over her belly, remembering the sensation of a baby kicking.  Her face flushed red as she struggled to pull herself back.

Arthur let out a shuddering sigh. 

Before any more could be said, there was another knock at the door.

"I bet that's Kelly."  Andrew peeked out and nodded then opened the door.  "Hi Kelly."

"Andrew."  Kelly hugged him.  "How are things here?" she whispered.

"Tense," Andrew replied.

Kelly nodded then pulled away and stepped into the apartment.  She smiled gently at Arthur and Monica.  "Hello."

"Hi Kelly," they replied in unison.

Monica sniffled.

"And hello, Belle."  Kelly crouched down to kiss Belle once she'd stepped into the kitchen.


Kelly laughed, glad to see that someone in the apartment was without a care.  She straightened up and looked around.  "Where are JenniAnn and Liam?"

"Liam needed to use the restroom," Andrew explained.  He poked his head into the hall and waved to JenniAnn who was standing outside the closed door.

"He's washing his hands," JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew nodded and moved closer to the others.  "Liam's washing his hands so he should be out soon.  Kelly, do you want to talk to him right now or, maybe, should JenniAnn and I take him somewhere?"

"I'd like to talk to him briefly but, Arthur, I do have some information for you and I think it's best if Liam not hear," Kelly explained.

"O-okay..."  Arthur nodded and looked to Andrew.

"JenniAnn and I can take him to the park or... or maybe shopping?  His clothes are looking pretty worn.  We could do both," Andrew offered.

Arthur's gaze turned to Kelly.  "You think that's okay?"

Kelly nodded.  "I do."  She reached into the purse and handed Andrew a few bills.  "For the clothes and other necessities."

"Kelly, we can handle it," Andrew protested.

Arthur shook his head.  "No.  I should be the one to..."

Kelly raised her hands to silence them.  "Right now Liam is a ward of the state.  That's state money.  If you want to get technical, any of us paying any taxes are paying for those clothes so let's just let it rest at that, okay?"

Arthur and Andrew nodded.

Monica laid her head down on the table.

Andrew and Kelly shot each other pained looks when Arthur's hand hovered above her hair before he pulled it back and jammed his hand into his pocket.

JenniAnn returned with Liam.  She smiled when she saw Kelly.

"Hi!" she greeted.  "Liam, this is our friend, Kelly.  Kelly, this is Liam."

Liam hesitated and partially hid behind JenniAnn's leg.

Kelly crouched down and smiled.  "Hi, Liam!  How are you?"

"Good," Liam replied.

"Liam, how would you like to go to the park and get some new clothes?" Kelly asked.

Liam shrugged and slid further behind JenniAnn.

"Andrew, JenniAnn, and Belle would go with you," Kelly continued.  "I just need to talk to Arthur and Monica and it might be boring so shopping and going to the park sounds more fun, don't you think?"


"Good!  And then how about you all come back here for lunch?" Kelly suggested.

"That sounds like a good plan to me!" JenniAnn cheerfully agreed.

Andrew smiled at Liam.  "There's a really nice park near here.  So let's do some quick shopping and then head over there, okay?"  He had noticed the boy's ill-fitting shoes and knew he wouldn't enjoy the park until he was out of them.

Liam nodded.

"Very cool!" JenniAnn enthused as she grabbed Belle's diaper bag.  "So, Arthur, Monica, Kelly... we'll see you three for lunch."

"Have... have fun," Arthur choked out.

"We'll see you soon," Monica added with a pasted on smile.

Andrew scooped up Belle.  "Call if anything changes," he whispered.

"We will," Kelly replied.

JenniAnn silently waved to the three as she stepped into the hallway with Liam.  Andrew smiled encouragingly before he followed her and closed the door behind them.

Kelly sighed and turned to Arthur and Monica.  "Arthur, it's up to you whether you want Monica to stay or..."

"Do you want to stay?" Arthur asked her.

Monica silently nodded. 

"Good."  Kelly reached into her bag and pulled out a file.  She looked to the solemn, tear-stained faces before her.  When Joshua had said, months before, that she would help Arthur and Monica welcome a child, this wasn't what she'd imagined...  Then again, he had told her and Eli both that it wouldn't happen as Arthur and Monica hoped it would.  Still, she was confident Joshua would bring something beautiful out of Arthur's and Monica's pain.  After all, only a few minutes before, she had heard joy in Joshua's voice, even as his compassion for Arthur, Monica, and Liam had been so evident.

"Is... is he mine?" Arthur asked.  "Did... Joshua tell you?"

"He did.  I heard from him just after Andrew called me and... yes, Arthur.  Liam is your son," Kelly affirmed.

Monica began to softly cry again. 

Arthur rubbed at his eyes and face.  "But why... why wouldn't Nessa tell me?  Where is she, anyway?"

Kelly frowned. 

"She's dead, Arthur."

The three looked up to find Eli standing in the living room.  He moved into the kitchen.

"D-dead?"  Tears welled in Arthur's eyes.  "B-but how..."

Eli looked to Kelly who nodded.  He settled into a chair beside the man and set his hand on his back.  "Nessa had struggled with addiction for a long time, Arthur.  She'd beat it when she was younger, long before you knew her.  And... and she kept clean for a couple years after Liam was born.  But then her parents were killed in a car accident and... she started drinking again.  Then she began to use weed.  Then crack.  Then meth.  Eventually, she lost her job.  She moved here to live with a cousin but the cousin couldn't handle her destructive behavior."

"A-and Liam?" Monica asked.

"He's been in and out of foster homes," Kelly answered.  "I counted six stays in three years.  Nessa kept pulling herself together, getting him back, and then... a vicious cycle.  Three months ago, she got Liam back again and things were good until last month.  She met a guy who used and..."

Eli resumed the sad tale.  "I got called to their apartment.  It... it was terrible.  Liam had had a nightmare and... and he walked in on Nessa and her boyfriend.  The boyfriend went ballistic a-and... started beating on Liam.  Nessa tried to intervene but... her heart gave out.  All those drugs just... just destroyed it.  She died of a massive heart attack.  The boyfriend fled.  Liam called 911 and, after I'd taken Nessa Home, I sat with the little guy until they arrived.  Poor kid was convinced his mommy was just sleeping but..."

Monica pushed away from the table and hunched over the sink, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed.

Eli went to her and pulled her into his embrace.

Arthur only stared, shocked about Nessa's death... shocked that he couldn't comfort Monica... shocked that he had a son who had suffered so terribly.

After a few moments, Kelly spoke.  "At the hospital, a police officer told Liam that his mother had died but he still didn't believe it.  A colleague of mine placed him in a foster home.  It was a good one.  I spoke to the mother before I came here and she was beside herself with worry.  Liam slipped out just before dawn, apparently.  She said last night was the first time he acknowledged his mother's death.  I... I think once he accepted that, he felt he needed to find you, Arthur.  His daddy."

"B-but how did he know?" Arthur questioned.

Eli gently stroked Monica's back.  "I was wondering the same thing myself so I asked Violeta to pull his and Nessa's files for me."

Monica blanched.  "Violeta knows?"  If Violeta knew then soon everyone would thanks to her incessant questioning...

Eli shook his head.  "No.  Not yet.  She knows I needed a couple files and Joshua told her that she could give them to me.  When she brought them to me, she gave no indication that she'd actually read them.  I'm going to guess she didn't because all she talked about was her Halloween plans with Ivy."  He smiled and shook his head.  Then his expression became grave.  "In any case, a few months ago Nessa saw you on a TV interview about True Light, Arthur.  It was during a rough patch and she told Liam that you were his father.  She said a few choice words and then..."

Arthur closed his eyes and drew in and let out a few breaths.  "Then what, Eli?"

"She was pretty wasted.  She was good to Liam when she was sobered up but...  Not then.  She told Liam that if he acted up any more, maybe she'd just drop him off with you and be done with him.  She even looked you up in the phone book and put the page on the refrigerator... in case she needed it.  She apologized to Liam days later but... that page stayed up there.  And Liam..."

"Liam internalized the... the message that his mommy didn't want him."  Monica shook her head and then her cheeks burned.  Had her initial reaction to the boy suggested the same to him?  What, if anything, did he think about her and her place in his daddy's life?

Kelly blinked back tears.  "I know this is a lot to take in and so suddenly.  But this little boy needs as much stability as possible, as soon as possible.  Arthur, we know he's yours.  However, I can't write in my files that I know this because Jesus told me so.  And all we have beyond that is circumstantial clues.  So we'll need to do a paternity test... for appearance's sake.  It usually takes three to four days to get those back but I can call in favors.  I need to know, though... do you intend to take Liam in?"

Arthur readily nodded.  "Of... of course.  He's my son.  He belongs with me.  If... if I'd known earlier I would have..." 

Kelly patted his hand.  "I know.  So here's my suggestion: Andrew's still in the system with foster parent credentials.  Since Liam is going to be part of the Dyeland community, why don't we have Andrew and JenniAnn take him to Willowveil for a day or two?  Eli, he knows you so maybe you could stick around there?"

Eli nodded.  "Absolutely."

"Good.  I think it would be best to spring Dyeland on him as soon as possible... not let him get settled and then do it.  Plus, despite the fact that his upbringing has forced him to grow up long before his time, Liam's still a little boy.  And what little boy wouldn't love spending a night or two in a castle?"  Kelly smiled then looked to Arthur and Monica. "That will also give you two a chance to talk about... things.  Whatever you decide is up to you.  But what you absolutely cannot do is decide you're going to raise this little one together and then split.  I know this has come as a shock to you both and, no doubt, made you uncertain about your feelings for each other.  That's understandable.  But Liam has had enough people coming and going in his life.  He doesn't need anymore of that."

For the first time since Liam's appearance, Arthur and Monica took a long look at each other.  They nodded.

"I understand," Arthur assured Kelly.

"Me too," Monica agreed.

Kelly let out the breath she'd been holding.  "Good."  She reached into her bag and pulled out a sealed packet.  "Arthur, I'm going to need a cheek swab and then we have some paperwork to look through."

Monica pulled away from Eli.  "I'm going to go to the market.  Buy some groceries for... for Liam.  Andrew and JenniAnn have grown-up food and baby food but... does Liam have any allergies or... or anything that we know of?" she asked Kelly.

Kelly shook her head.  "None."

Monica nodded.  "Good.  I'll be back before lunch.  Actually, I... I'll bring lunch since... since we cleaned the fridge out for... for our trip."

Arthur winced.

Without another word, Monica left the apartment.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid..." Arthur muttered.  "What was I think..."

Eli grabbed his shoulder.  "Knock it off, Arthur.  Right now!"

Arthur jolted.

"You watch yourself.  You keep that up and what if Liam hears you?" the angel of death questioned.  "It's bad enough he thinks his mother didn't want him.  He doesn't need a father who thinks it's stupid that he was born."

"I didn't mean..." Arthur began to protest.

"I know.  But neither of us is a five year old.  He's not going to hear what you really mean," Eli pointed out.

With a sigh, Arthur nodded.  "Right.  Yeah.  You're right."  He clapped the angel on the back.  "Thanks, Eli.  And thanks, Kelly.  So... let's get this test done."

"Okay."  Kelly smiled at him and then proceeded.


A New Life

JenniAnn led Andrew, Liam, and Belle around her favorite children's second hand store.  At least half of Belle's wardrobe had come from the place and, despite the sobering circumstances, JenniAnn was thrilled with the chance to venture into the boys' section.

"So, Liam, I overheard you tell Monica that you like green.  What else do you like?" JenniAnn asked as they moved through the racks.

Liam shrugged.

"Well... do you like dinosaurs?  Or do you like sports?  Animals?  Oh!"  JenniAnn paused.  "Look at this adorable frog shirt!"

"I like frogs," Liam offered.

Andrew frowned, wondering if Liam really liked frogs or was just trying to please JenniAnn.  He kissed Belle who seemed to be intensely interested in Liam and his clothing quest.

"Can I just look at the tag on your shirt and see what size it is?" JenniAnn asked. 

Liam nodded.

JenniAnn knelt down and checked the tag behind his neck.  "Four.  And does the shirt you're wearing feel comfy, Liam?"


"Okay, let's find a few more things and then Andrew can take you into the dressing room to..."

Liam grabbed JenniAnn's skirt and shook his head.

"Well, honey..."

Andrew stepped to JenniAnn's other side.  "Don't push him.  He's little enough.  You can take him into the changing room."

JenniAnn nodded.  "Okay, how about I go with you?"

Liam nodded.

"Great.  So... let's get a couple pairs of pants to try, too.  Do you see anything you like, Liam?"

Liam pointed to a flannel shirt in shades of blue, green, and black.  "Do you like this?"

"Well, yes, but these are your clothes.  It's more important that you like them."  JenniAnn smiled and lightly tousled his hair.

"I like this."

It was not lost on Andrew that he was himself wearing a blue, green, and black flannel shirt.

"Good.  What else?  Let's try to get at least two more shirts and then some pants.  And pajamas, too."

Liam walked around the racks, carefully studying the offerings.  He paused in front of one shirt.

JenniAnn checked the tag.  "Size four!  Do you like this one?"

"Uh huh."

JenniAnn removed it.  "That's a very cool car.  Do you like cars?"

Liam responded with another silent nod.

Andrew smiled, remembering Arthur playing with the Matchbox cars he and JenniAnn had gifted him the previous Christmas. 

After some hesitation, Liam chose two more shirts and a set of pajamas.  JenniAnn helped him select one pair of jeans and a pair of khakis.  Then she spotted something three racks away and made a beeline to it.

"It's going to be getting cold soon.  Look at this coat, Liam.  Would you like to have it?" she offered.

Liam stared at the fleece coat covered in cars of several different types and colors.  He reached out to touch it. 

JenniAnn watched, with tears forming in her eyes, when he closed his eyes and rested his cheek against the soft material. 

"Please," Liam quietly responded.

"Then we'll get that.  Ready to go try everything on?"


"We'll be waiting right out here," Andrew promised.

"Sounds good!" JenniAnn replied before steering Liam towards the changing room.

Once they were inside, JenniAnn set Liam's selections on a bench inside one of the stalls.  Then she crouched down to be level with the boy.  "Would you like me to go into the stall with you or do you want to try the clothes on by yourself?"

"I can go by myself."

"Okay.  I'll wait just outside the door in case you need help.  Could you let me see each shirt and pair of pants when you have them on?" JenniAnn requested.

Liam nodded.

To JenniAnn's delight, trying on the clothes seemed to diminish some of the boy's solemness.  With each outfit she approved, his smile grew a bit more.  And, to her relief, the coat fit perfectly.

"Wait to go us!  We went eight for eight!  Go change back into your own clothes and then we'll look at shoes.  Or do you want to wear one of your new outfits?"

"Can I wear the car shirt?" 


With a grin, Liam returned to the stall.

JenniAnn poked her head out into the main part of the store and caught the eye of the owner who had helped her out during previous visits with Belle.

The woman hurried over.  "Hey, JenniAnn!  What are you doing in there?  I saw Andrew over by the window with Belle."

"Well... it's kind of complicated," JenniAnn whispered.  "But I'm here with a friend's little boy.  Andrew and I are... babysitting.  Anyway, he's fallen in love with a shirt and wants to wear it out.  Is that okay?"

"You bet.  It happens all the time.  Just pull off the tag and we'll ring that up."

"Thank you, Sarah!  I appreciate it.  He..."


Hearing the little voice, JenniAnn hurried back over to the stall.  "I'm right here, Liam.  What do you need, honey?"

"My shirt is stuck."

"Okay, no problem.  I'm gonna come in, okay?"


JenniAnn waved to Sarah then stepped into the stall.  Liam had his arms out of the flannel shirt but it was stuck around his neck.  She knelt down beside him.  "Ah, looks like a button just didn't get un..."  Her stomach somersaulted as she caught sight of Liam's upper right arm.  "H-honey... what happened?"  She lightly set her finger near what looked like a trail of cigarette burn scars. 

Liam hung his head.  "I... I was bad.  I'm a bad boy.  Rodney said so."

JenniAnn hurriedly got the flannel shirt off of him and the car shirt on then she pulled the little boy to her.  "Liam... honey... you are not bad.  I know you're not.  Rodney was very, very wrong.  Sweet baby... I am so, so sorry that happened to you.  That will never, ever happen to you again.  I promise you."

Liam peered into her eyes, tears pooling in his own.  "Does... does daddy not want me?"

JenniAnn kissed his hair.  "Daddy's just confused right now.  But I know he wants you.  I've been your daddy's friend for a while now and I know how much he'd really, really like to have a little boy.  And you wanna know something about your daddy?"

Liam nodded against her shoulder.

"He loves cars, too.  He has some little, really cool toy cars and he still plays with them.  I bet he's looking forward to playing cars with you, Liam."

A smile played on the boy's lips then quickly disappeared.  "A-and the lady...  Monica.  Does she want me?"

JenniAnn closed her eyes.  "I... I think she wants you more than she knows, honey."

Liam let out a little sigh.

In the last few moments before he pulled away, JenniAnn prayed that Arthur and Monica could come together enough to give Liam the family he needed and deserved.  Then she sucked in a deep breath, trying to steady herself and keep her tears at bay.

"Ready to go get some shoes?"

Liam shook his head.  "Mommy gave me these shoes."

"Okay, well, you can have more than one pair of shoes.  How about we get an extra pair?" JenniAnn suggested.

"I don't have to get rid of my shoes?"

"No, honey.  You can keep them."


"Good!"  JenniAnn gathered up his clothes and plucked the tag from the car shirt then brought the items to where Sarah waited at the counter.  "We just need some shoes a-and then... we'll be back." 

"Well, okay.  JenniAnn, are you..."

JenniAnn forced a smile.  "I'm fine, thank you." 

Andrew made his way to them.  "So how'd it go?  Everything fit?"

"Yes," Liam replied. 

Belle gurgled.

Liam smiled at her.

"Liam, honey, would it be okay if Andrew helped you pick out shoes?  I'll stay right here," JenniAnn vowed.

Liam sized Andrew up then nodded.

"Awesome!"  JenniAnn reached for Belle. 

Andrew leaned in as he transferred Belle.  "Are you all right?"

"He... he's been abused, Andrew.  I... I saw cigarette burns."

Andrew sighed and dragged his hand through his hair.  "Poor, little guy."  He kissed her cheek.  "We'll talk later."

JenniAnn nodded and managed a smile for Liam.  She waved as the two walked a few feet away.

"So, Liam, how about we take your other shoes off first so we can try to figure out a size?" Andrew ventured.

"Okay."  Liam sat down on the floor and un-Velcroed his shoes. 

Seeing the blood stains on the boy's socks, Andrew grabbed a package of new socks and tore a pair out.  "How about let's get some new socks, too, huh?"

Liam nodded.

Andrew picked up his old shoes and saw that they were size 10.  "Okay, how about we start with trying a size 12?"  He led the boy to a section of shelves.  "See any you want to try on?"

Liam zeroed in on a green pair. 

"You wanna try those on?"

Liam nodded.

"Okay... up we go."  Andrew picked the boy up, spun around once, and set him on a stool.

Liam let out a sound that Andrew hoped was a laugh.  He was relieved to see the boy was smiling.

"Socks first..."  Andrew gently peeled the others off, careful of the blisters.  He made a mental note to make sure someone got some ointment on them later.  He loosened up the other shoes and slid them onto Liam's feet then put the Velcro in place.  "How do those feel?"


Andrew carefully pinched the toes.  "Not too tight there?"

Liam shook his head.

"Good.  How about you walk around for a little bit in them?"


Andrew lifted him from the stool and spun again before sitting the boy down.  He smiled, sure he'd heard a laugh that time.

Liam walked up and down the aisle.

"Feel good or bad?"

"Good.  Can I go show JenniAnn?"

Hoping she'd had enough time to collect herself, Andrew nodded.  "You bet."

Liam made his way to JenniAnn and Belle.

"Very cool!  You're stylin', Liam!" JenniAnn praised as the boy came towards her.

Liam stared down at the shoes.  "I like them."

"Me too!"

"Ooh!  Ooh!" Belle offered.

Andrew laughed.  "I think Belle approves."

Liam grinned.

After grabbing a package of undies, Andrew scooped up the empty shoe box, set Liam's old shoes and socks inside, and brought them and the new socks to Sarah.  "He's wearing the shoes out.  And we needed socks... stat," he explained to her.

Sarah smiled gently and patted his hand.  "Sure thing.  So is this it?"

Andrew looked to JenniAnn who nodded.

"That's it."

As Sarah rang up their purchases, JenniAnn kept an eye on Liam.  She thought of Max who had been so touched by a few pairs of socks.  She desperately hoped that Liam would come to feel as secure and loved as Max did.


Everyone tried not to stare as Liam scarfed down the chicken tenders and potato salad that Monica had brought for lunch.

"I thought you said he'd been in a good foster home," Eli whispered to Kelly who was eating in the living room with him.

"He was.  But that doesn't mean they all were.  Nor does it mean all the kids who were there were nice to him.  I only meant that the foster parents are caring people."  Kelly sighed.  "Lots of times these kids need a while before they realize that no one's going to steal their food."

"Meanwhile, Monica's not had a bite," Eli pointed out.  He shook his head.  "Poor girl.  Still... she needs to pull herself together."

"She will.  I know she will," Kelly affirmed.  "It just might take a day or two.  And that's fine.  Liam seems comfortable with Andrew and JenniAnn.  And you."

Eli smiled as he remembered the boy's arrival.  In a display that gave all of them hope, Liam had hurried to him and hugged him.

"If everything works out, you'll be uncles and aunt to him.  It'll be good for Liam to bond with all of you some more," Kelly continued.

"Liam, would you like some more?" Monica asked when she saw the boy's plate was empty.

Liam bit his lip.

"There's plenty if you'd like more," Monica assured.

Liam nodded.

The angel set another chicken tender and more salad on his plate then smiled as she returned it to him. 

"Thank you, Mom... Monica."

Andrew rested his hand on his friend's back when he saw her begin to quake.

"You... you're welcome," she quietly replied.

Arthur studied Monica as she settled back into her chair.  He looked away when she caught him.  "So do you have a favorite food, Liam?" he asked.

Liam shook his head.

Arthur frowned.  Every question he asked was met by silence.

"Cars.  Tell him about your Matchbox cars," JenniAnn whispered to the man.

Glad to have a glimmer of hope, Arthur smiled.  "Do you like playing with cars, Liam?"

Liam looked up from his plate and nodded.

"Me too.  Maybe after we're done eating, I could show you my Matchbox car collection.  Would you want to see it?"


Arthur grinned.  "Cool!"

Monica let out a choked sob.  They had the same grin...

On impulse, Arthur reached for her hand.  When he realized, he pulled it back.

"Liam," he began, "we've been talking and, as you can see, this apartment's pretty small.  I'm going to need a little time to get you your own space here and your own bed.  So Andrew and JenniAnn have offered to let you stay with them and Belle for a little bit while I do that.  Eli would go, too.  Would you be okay with that?"

Liam looked from Andrew to JenniAnn and then craned his neck to see Eli who waved and smiled.  "Okay," he agreed.  "So I won't see you and Monica for a while?"

Unsure how to respond, Arthur looked to Kelly.

"Liam, would you like for your daddy and Monica to go with you to Andrew's and JenniAnn's to get you settled?  And then visit you tomorrow?  Maybe for lunch?" Kelly suggested.


Touched that he wanted to see her, Monica reached out for the little boy's hand and gently squeezed it.  "I... I'm going to look forward to that, Liam."

Liam smiled shyly at her before returning his attention to his lunch.


Deciding that it would be best to drive through the alley portal for Liam's first visit to Dyeland, Andrew loaded everyone into the Jolly Green.

"Okay, Liam, where we're going is gonna look a lot different from here," JenniAnn explained as Andrew drove.  "But I promise you it's a really, really nice place.  All of us love it.  And we can't wait to show it off to you!"

"Is there really a castle?" Liam questioned. 

Eli smiled and nodded.  "You better believe it!"

Monica reached into one of the grocery bags.  "Liam, I got you a little friend to keep by you."

As she handed over a plush dog to Liam, distracting him, Andrew drove into the brick wall.

Arthur let out the breath he'd been holding when they came through the portal without Liam even noticing.  He smiled as the boy cuddled the dog then Arthur looked to Monica.

"Thank you," he murmured.

Monica nodded.

"So here we are."  Andrew parked the car and turned around to smile at Liam.  "Ready to go check out the castle?"

Liam looked out of the van window and gaped.  Without taking his eyes off the looming structure, he nodded.

"Liam, Andrew and I have a couple dogs.  Do you want us to put them away in a room for a little bit?" JenniAnn offered.  "They can get very excited and I know sometimes that can be a little scary."

As Arthur unbuckled him and set him on the lawn,
Liam clung to the one Monica had given him.  "No.  I like dogs," he replied.

"Well, how about let's head in and get you settled, Liam, and then maybe later Andrew and JenniAnn can show you the sheep and donkey," Kelly suggested with a smile.

Liam's eyes grew wide.  "Real sheep and donkey?"

Andrew chuckled.  "Definitely real.  And kinda smelly.  But we love them.  Our friends also have pet cats and pet turkeys.  And sometimes my horse visits."

"Where's your horse?"

"Umm..."  Realizing his mistake, Andrew looked to Monica for help.

It was Eli who responded, kneeling beside Liam.  "Kiddo, remember when we met and I told you that I was an angel?"


"Well, Andrew, Monica, and Kelly are angels, too.  And you'll meet even more angels, too.  So Andrew's horse is in Heaven where we go when we're not here." 

Liam frowned and stared down at his new shoes.  "Then you'll be gone a lot."

Monica knelt down and shook her head.  She found herself lightly brushing her fingers through Liam's hair.  "Baby..."  She froze, wondering where that had come from.  Tess.  Clearly just an echo of Tess.  She smiled for the boy.  "Andrew and I spend a lot of time here.  You'll see us very, very often.  And Kelly and Eli visit us here quite often, too.  Okay?"

"Okay," Liam repeated.

The group headed to Willowveil with Andrew hurrying ahead to unlock the front door.  To his surprise, it opened before he reached it.

"Hi!" Violeta chirped.  "I just came in from checking on Mary and Silly and Yonah and saw the van show up and..."  She cocked her head.  "Andrew, who's that little boy?"

Andrew hugged his protege.  "His name's Liam.  We'll explain later."

"Did you and JenniAnn adopt again?" Violeta excitedly asked.

"No, sweetheart.  He's not ours.  Let's just..."

"Wow!  His hair looks so much like Monica's and...  Wait..."  Violeta's brow wrinkled as she zeroed in on Arthur who was gazing at Liam.

"Violeta, later," Andrew repeated, aware that the others were closing in.

"O-okay...  I can go if..."

"No, you can stay just... we'll answer your questions later," Andrew promised.

Continuing to stare at the visitors, Violeta nodded.  "I... I'm going to go make some coffee and cocoa."

"Sounds good."

Andrew sighed when the young angel scampered away.  He and JenniAnn were in for a long day...

JenniAnn reached the door first.  "All right!  Welcome to Willowveil, Liam!"

Liam looked around in stunned silence as he stepped into the castle. 

"Pretty neat, isn't it?" Arthur asked.

Liam rubbed at his eyes.

Monica recognized the gesture.  Arthur rubbed at his eyes when he was weary or upset.  "Liam, do you think maybe it's time for a nap?" she suggested.

Liam nodded.  "I'm sleepy."

"I bet you are!  I'll go get your bed ready, okay?"  JenniAnn crouched down and squeezed the boy's hand.

Liam gave her a little smile and another nod.  "Thank you."

Andrew motioned for Arthur.  "I think someone should bathe him first.  Or at least wash his feet.  He's got a bunch of blisters and we don't want them getting infected."

With a wince, Arthur nodded.  "Thanks."  He approached Liam.  "How about we get you a nice, warm bubble bath before your nap?"


"I'm sure JenniAnn's picking a room just upstairs so let's head on up," Andrew directed.  "We'll probably run into the dogs soon.  Liam, their names are Lulu and Fawn."

"Lulu and Fawn," Liam repeated.

At the landing, they were greeted by the sight of two tails wagging outside the guestroom next to Andrew's.  After only a moment, Lulu and Fawn stepped out of the doorway.  Fawn rushed towards the newcomers while Lulu ambled behind her.

Eli knelt down to intercept them.  "Whoa there!  We're excited to see you girls, too."  He pet them both. 

Liam smiled when Fawn rolled over, exposing her belly which Eli dutifully rubbed.

Kelly laughed.  "She's got you trained, Eli."

Grinning, the angel nodded.  "She's got us all trained.  Your turn."

Kelly stooped down and played with the dogs.

Arthur and Monica nervously watched as the two drew closer to Liam.

The dogs seemed to understand the boy's vulnerability and calmed.  They both halted before him, heads slightly bowed.

Liam kept hold of his dog but reached out with his free hand and caressed the two.  "Good puppies," he murmured.

Andrew rested his brow against Belle's hair to mask the tears forming in his eyes. 

JenniAnn poked her head out of the guestroom and smiled tenderly.  After a moment, she approached Arthur and set her hand on his arm.  "Bed's all set."

"Thank you."  Arthur smiled gratefully at her.  "Andrew suggested a bath first."

"You bet.  I'll go run the water.  Monica, would you like to help?" JenniAnn suggested.

Nodding, the angel followed her.

"What... what do you need me to do?" Monica asked when they were in the bathroom.

Wordlessly, JenniAnn handed her a box of tissues.

With a wavering smile, Monica accepted them.  "I... I'm so confused."

"I'm sure you are.  It had to come as a shock."

"I... I knew that... that... Arthur was honest with me.  I... I mean he never went into specifics b-but I knew he'd had relationships so... so why..."  Monica leaned against the sink and wept.

JenniAnn started the water, welcoming the noise.  "I think you need to talk to Arthur about how you feel, Monica.  My theorizing isn't gonna be very helpful.  Do you feel okay going back to his apartment?  Or your place?" she asked as she poured in some bubble bath.  "If you want, you can stay here and the rest of us will keep away.  Maybe you could go up to the conservatory.  No one would bother you there."

"I... I would feel better here," Monica admitted.

"Okay."  JenniAnn stopped her preparations and squeezed the angel's shoulder. 

"He's just a little boy...  I wish... I wish I could make my heartache go away so... so I could focus on him.  Everything else pales compared to... to what he's gone through," Monica continued.  "I feel so... so selfish."

JenniAnn frowned.  She had been put off by Monica's earlier behavior but she also couldn't imagine how she'd feel if she discovered Andrew had a child other than Belle.  Surely she'd need some time to process that and speak with him. 

"Maybe, for these next couple days, you and Arthur need to focus on yourselves, though," she countered.  "Because if there's a chance of you and Arthur raising Liam together...  Monica, you need to focus on building... rebuilding that foundation.  I think it's better to do that now rather than try to work it out later.  Liam's probably a very observant little guy.  He... he likely had to be to keep himself safe.  He'd pick up on unresolved anger.  Kids are smart."

Monica managed a smile.  "They are..."

JenniAnn shut off the water.  "Let's just get Liam settled and then you and Arthur can talk."

"Thank you.  For this...  You and Andrew..."  Fresh tears welled in Monica's eyes.  For a moment, she felt envy.  Andrew and JenniAnn weren't at odds with each other.  They didn't have to question their feelings for each other. 

JenniAnn hugged her.  "You're welcome.  Maybe a few moments in the chapel would be good?"



JenniAnn opened the bathroom door and waved Monica out. 

As the angel passed, she lightly brushed her hand over Liam's hair then stepped into the hall and headed into the chapel.

Arthur watched her go.

"Liam, kiddo, do you need help with your bath or you want to be by yourself?" Eli asked.

"I can be by myself," the boy replied. 

Andrew smiled at him.  "Sounds good.  We'll keep the door cracked so you holler if you need help.  Okay?"


Kelly set his pajamas and underwear on the counter, next to the bright green towel JenniAnn had chosen.  "All set!"

Liam smiled at her and slipped into the bathroom.

Arthur pulled the door closed, leaving it ajar.  Then he moved to the bed and reached into the bag he was carrying.

JenniAnn, Belle, and the three angels watched as he unloaded a few toy cars and set them on the bedstand.  Next to that, he propped up a well-worn picture book. 

Arthur smiled at each of them.  "Swimmy.  It was my favorite when... when I was Liam's age.  My dad gave it to me."  His face crumpled.  "My... my son was... was without a dad for fi-five years...  A-and he was hurt a-and scared and I... I was no where."

Eli hurried to the man and embraced him.  "But you're here now, Arthur.  Liam needs you now."

Kelly took Belle and cuddled her as Andrew and JenniAnn embraced, tears in their own eyes as their friend wept.


By the time Monica had felt calm enough to leave the chapel, Liam had finished with his bath and was sitting on the edge of the bed.  Hidden in the hallway, Monica watched as Arthur tended to him.

"I see you have some owies on your feet there, Liam.  I'm going to put a little medicine on them so they'll go away soon, okay?"


Monica noted how Liam stared at his father as he dabbed
some ointment onto each of the blisters.

"Doing okay?" Arthur checked.


Arthur finished and wiped his hands on a wash rag.  "There now.  We'll get those healed right up!  Ready to lay down?"

Liam responded with a yawn.

Arthur smiled.  "I'll take that as a yes."  He held up the blankets so the boy could slide under and then he tucked him in.

"Your cars."  Liam pointed to the bedstand.

"I think they should be your cars now, Liam.  And your book.  Would you, umm, want me to read to you?" 

The shy smile on Arthur's face brought Monica's hand to her heart.


"Well, sure."

"Don't you have grown-up things to do?"

Arthur bit his lip as he recognized parroting.  He wondered how often Liam had been neglected because there were "grown-up things to do."  He reached for the book and shook his head.

"Nothing more important than reading to you if you'd like me to."


"Great!"  Beaming, Arthur settled onto the bed beside his son and began to read.  "'A happy school of little fish lived in a corner of the sea somewhere.  They were all red.  Only one of them was as black as a mussel shell.  He swam faster than his brothers and sisters.  His name was Swimmy.'"

Monica sat in the hallway and listened until the story was finished.  When she peeked around the door jamb, she saw Arthur lean down to kiss Liam's hair.

"I'm going to go now so you can get some rest but you see that box right there?"  Arthur pointed to a baby monitor. 


"If you talk into that, Andrew and JenniAnn will be able to hear you and they can come help you or get me and I'll come, okay?"

"Okay," Liam sleepily responded.

"Sleep tight, Liam."


Arthur smiled as the boy snuggled his dog beneath his chin then shut his eyes.

After a few moments, Arthur stepped into the hall and jumped when he saw Monica.

"I... I'm sorry," Monica apologized.

Arthur held his hand out to her.  "It's okay."

Monica took his hand and let him help her to her feet.  For a moment, she remained near him before stepping back.  "I... I thought maybe we could talk in the conservatory?"

"I'd like that.  Umm... Andrew mentioned that Violeta was making coffee.  If you wanted, maybe we could get some of that first?"

Monica knew Arthur couldn't be looking forward to a confrontation with Violeta.  They both knew the young angel still sometimes saw the world in a stark contrast of right and wrong.  That Arthur was willing to risk Violeta's attitude just so she could have her coffee meant something.

"Yes, please," she answered.

Arthur nodded and waved her ahead of him.

Neither said anything as they headed to the kitchen.  Soon Violeta's voice met their ears.

"B-but I... I just don't get it!  He loves Monica!"

"Sweetheart, he didn't even really know Monica when..."

"But JenniAnn didn't have any boyfriends before she met you!"

"Violeta, I was seventeen.  It's much easier to go seventeen years without a boyfriend than thirty odd years.  Besides, I dated Eliot for a little bit."

"But you didn't have sex with him!"

"Violeta!" Andrew cried.

"Well, she didn't..."

"Hon, take a deep breath.  Please."

"I can do without coffee," Monica decided as the disagreement quieted.

Arthur shook his head.  "No.  I can't hide from this."  He headed into the kitchen.

Monica followed, bracing herself.

Andrew and JenniAnn looked apologetically at the two when they entered.  Violeta glared at Arthur until JenniAnn nudged her.

"Stop it," she ordered.

Violeta took a big gulp of cocoa then stared into her mug.

From her bouncy seat, Belle grinned up at Arthur and Monica, bringing them a moment's break from the angst and anger.

"Where are Eli and Kelly?" Arthur asked as Monica poured coffee for herself.

"Kelly left to take your and Liam's DNA samples to a lab.  Eli went with her," Andrew answered.  He glanced over at Violeta.  "Listen, I'm sorry if..."

Arthur shrugged.  "I deserve it.  I don't have any intention of anyone covering for me.  We're a close-knit group.  The truth will get around sooner rather than later.  I know that.  I... I just know that, whatever anyone's personal feelings, they'll take care to... to not let it harm Liam."

"Of course, we will," JenniAnn assured.

Still staring into her cocoa, Violeta nodded.

"Thank you.  And thank you for the coffee."  Arthur managed a smile for the three then turned to Monica.  "Are... are you ready?"



Silently, the two left the kitchen and began their walk up the many stairs leading to Willowveil's conservatory.


The Truth, Take Two

For several moments, Monica stood in silence.  She asked herself whether she really wanted to know the answer to the question weighing on her.  She decided she did.

"Could you tell me more about her... about Nessa?"

Arthur turned away from the window he'd been staring out of since he and Monica had entered the room.  "What would you like to know about her?"

"What was she like?  I... I mean other than physically resembling me."

Arthur settled onto a bench and stared at one of the rose bushes as he spoke.  "When I knew her, she was very gentle.  Kind of quiet.  But talkative when you got to know her.  She, umm...  Well, sometimes after disasters... people... maybe it's because they're stressed or... or maybe it's because the social systems that kept them in line are gone.  Or that everyone's so vulnerable when houses are just gone.  I don't know.  But instances of rape and sexual abuse escalate."

Monica stared down at her folded hands.  "I know.  I've seen..."

"Of course.  I'm sorry."  Arthur sighed.  "Nessa's particular focus was on those survivors.  I mean we were all doing a little bit of everything.  But that was her specialty.  And she was really, really good at it.  I could tell it weighed on her but I can remember her saying that the only way she could deal with such ugliness was to find beauty and adventure and joy wherever she could.  So that... that was how we found ourselves at a bar."

"So you liked her company?  It wasn't just because... of how she looked?" Monica inquired, taking a seat on a bench across from Arthur's.

"Monica, I won't lie to you.  Her resemblance to you was why I initially started trying to get to know her.  For... for years I'd dreamed about you... hoped you'd come back.  But... but you didn't.  And when I first saw her... for just a moment..."

Monica began to feel queasy.  "You... thought she was me?"

Arthur nodded.

"Did you talk to her much before... before you slept with her?" she pressed.

"We saw each other often on the field and when we'd grab meals in between shifts.  Yes, Monica, we talked quite a bit... before.  I can't tell you that I was in love with her but... but I thought I could be.  I did care for her and I thought it could be more.  That's why I tried to keep in touch.  I'd had other relationships fail because the ladies just didn't understand my lifestyle.  But Nessa did.  So I hoped..."

"Why... why do you suppose she wouldn't make contact with you?  Surely it didn't take long before she realized she was pregnant."

Arthur heard the unasked question: what did you do wrong?  He gulped down some coffee and then rubbed at his temples. 

"I... I don't know.  Maybe it was like I said... maybe she just wanted to forget everything that happened in China, including our time together.  Or maybe... Eli said things were good for a couple years.  Maybe she was afraid I'd take Liam.  I wouldn't have taken him but... yeah, I would have wanted to be in his life.  Or..."


"Or maybe she knew... on some level... that I was never really going to... to be hers.  I still... Monica, I... I had gotten to a point where I stopped thinking about you quite as much.  But when I saw Nessa and for just a moment thought... everything came flooding back.  All... all those hopes and dreams that I... I'd built around the memory of you.  I tried to push them away.  I did!  But... but maybe she saw past that.  She... she was so empathetic."  Arthur began to sob.  "I... I should have tried harder.  Maybe I... I should have gone to Philly b-but I didn't want to... to be a stalker and if... if I couldn't really love her as truly as a man should love the mother of his child then...  But maybe she would still be alive... maybe Liam wouldn't have... have been hurt a-and..."

Tears trailed down Monica's cheeks.  She knew that, if Arthur had gone after Nessa, their life of the past year would not have existed.  She was torn between admiration for Arthur's wistful desire to do right and feeling betrayed and cast off.

Arthur gasped.  "Mon-monica..."  He knelt in front of her and took her hand.  "It... it's not that I want to wish away our... our time together.  This has... has been the happiest year of my life but... my... my son needed me a-and his mother needed me but...  I love you.  I... I still love you... so much."

Monica fought the urge to crumple on the floor beside
the weeping man and hold him.  But she couldn't.  Not until she knew.  "How... how do you love me?"

Arthur clung to her hand and rested his forehead against her knee.  "With all of my heart, mind, body, and soul."

Monica shuddered.  "A-and when you dreamed of our life together... what did you dream of?"

"Monica..."  Arthur shook his head.

"Tell me," Monica insisted.

Arthur crawled back a few feet and sat, his head lowered.  "I... I didn't know you were an angel.  I wanted... a happy life.  Marriage... sex... kids... grandkids..."

Monica rose from her bench and went to one of the windows.  She stared up at the heavens.  "I can't give you any... any of that."

"Monica, I know."

"So... so what if you meet another doppelganger who... who could?"  Monica felt a resurgence of her initial anger.  "You couldn't control yourself before!  What makes you think you could in the future?  Nessa and I are hardly the only redheads in the world."

"It... it's more than that!  I swear it is!  I... I know you now.  I... Monica, I was too weak to... to resist temptation when... when all I had was a few memories of a phantom.  B-but you're more than that to me now.  So much more.  A-and I thank Joshua and his Father every... every day for bringing us back together."

Arthur got to his feet and went to her.  He stood beside her and gently cupped her chin.  "Monica, please.  Look at me."

With a ragged sigh, Monica peered into his eyes.  How well she knew and loved that face...  She leaned in to softly kiss Arthur's cheek.

"Monica..."  Arthur wrapped his arms around her waist.

Monica closed her eyes and rested her cheek against his shirt.

Then she saw herself, pregnant and standing beside Arthur.  She smiled as his hand rested on her belly, feeling for the faint kick.  She remembered craving his kiss and then feeling delight as his lips met hers.

"No!" Monica gasped, stumbling away.  "I... I... no."  She aggressively shook her head.

Arthur's face crumpled.  "No... no what?"

"I... Arthur, I need to go home and..."

Arthur took Monica's hands in his.  "I understand.  I'm sure seeing Joshua, speaking to him will..."

"No.  Just... home.  My cottage.  I... I need some time to myself," Monica explained, withdrawing her hands.

With a sad smile, Arthur nodded.  "Of course.  Will you still come tomorrow... for lunch with Liam?  It... well, it'd be okay if not but I want to prepare him if..."

"I'll be there," Monica promised.

Arthur gently set his right hand on her arm.  "Thank you.  I... we'll see you then.  But if... if you want to talk again before... I... I'll be there.  Whenever you want, Monica.  I can understand if... if you don't want to be part of this but... but if there's any chance you do, I will do whatever I can to... to make you feel good a-about that decision and secure in knowing that I love you."

Moved, Monica gently caressed Arthur's face before fleeing the room.


Violeta knew she was in trouble when Andrew and JenniAnn called her into the library.  After Arthur and Monica had gone to the conservatory, she'd escaped to the stable.  But now there was no escaping them.

Stepping into the room, Violeta found the two staring out of one of windows.  Andrew's right hand was gently drifting over JenniAnn's hair.

Violeta sighed.

JenniAnn turned around and smiled at her.  "Hi.  Let's all sit down, okay?"  She waved to a couple of couches.  In between them was a table on which two baby monitors rested.

"Are Belle and Liam both napping?" the young angel asked.

Andrew nodded.  "We just laid Belle down and, when I checked on Liam, he was still asleep.  Poor kid's probably exhausted.  I imagine he didn't get much sleep last night knowing what was ahead of him."

JenniAnn dabbed at her eyes.  "I can only imagine...  For all he knew, he'd get to the apartment only to have Arthur slam the door in his face.  It... it's good that Arthur's already stepping into his role.  He liked to have broken my heart with those cars and the book."

Violeta bit her lip.

Andrew studied her for a few moments then reached out to take her hand.  "Sweetheart, we need to talk about earlier.  In the kitchen.  I know this is all a shock but that... it wasn't right."

Tears pooled in Violeta's eyes.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean for him to hear."

"We know that," JenniAnn assured.  "But he did.  And, even if he hadn't, your attitude was pretty obvious."

"B-but... what Arthur did was wrong!" Violeta protested.

"It was," Andrew agreed.  "But Joshua forgave him for that a long time ago.  And you know what Joshua says about judging people."

The tears began to streak down Violeta's cheeks.  "I... I know.  B-but... I just don't understand!  If... if he truly loved that lady then why wasn't he with her?  And if he didn't truly love her then why... why did he have sex with her?"

Andrew and JenniAnn glanced at each other and the latter subtly nodded. 

"I know this is really hard to understand," JenniAnn began.  "But sometimes sexual temptation can be really, really hard to resist.  Violeta, you don't feel that at all so I can understand why you're having a hard time getting why Arthur would do something that he knew was wrong.  I sometimes struggle with understanding that, too.  But I guess I have just enough of it to understand a bit.  Like... okay...  You know how much Andrew and I love dancing together?"


"Well, part of why I love it so much is because I feel calm and secure and happy when Andrew's near.  And I like helping him feel that, too.  And I love Andrew and want to feel those things with him.  Because I'm asexual, that's enough for me.  I don't want anymore than to be affectionate with Andrew.  But for most humans, they want even more of a physical connection with someone.  They want to have sex.  And that's definitely not a bad thing.  If everyone stopped feeling that... no more babies, possibly far less marriage.  Now, ideally, everyone would find one person and stay with that person for their whole life and only have sex with them.  But that doesn't always happen."

"But why can't they wait?" Violeta implored.  "Wait for the one?"

Unsure how to reply, JenniAnn shot Andrew a questioning look.

"Well..." he stalled.  Then his face lit up.  "Okay, Violeta, you know how much you like Hugh Jackman?"

"But I don't want to have..."

"I know, I know," Andrew averred.  "But just hear me out.  Let's say Joshua comes to you and he tells you that he's arranged for you to attend one of Mr. Jackman's theatre performances.  And he's got you a backstage pass and he's going to introduce you to Mr. Jackman and it's going to be amazing.  Okay?"

Violeta gave Andrew a sidelong glance.  "Okay..."

"Let's say that's all going to happen next June.  And Joshua is very excited that you're going to get to have this dream come true in June.  But now let's say tomorrow you're walking around the city and a guy offers to let you into Mr. Jackman's show... that night.  No backstage pass.  You won't get to meet him.  But still... you'd get to see him and hear him sing.  And you'd barely have to wait.  How would you feel?"

Violeta bit her lip as she thought.  "It would be really hard to turn that down and keep waiting until June," she admitted.

"Huh," Andrew simply replied.

A slight smile formed on Violeta's lips.  "I still think I would wait until June, as Joshua planned.  But it would be very, very hard."

"And if another Hugh Jackman-loving angel was in your place, would you blame them very much if they went to the show that night?" JenniAnn checked.

"I... I guess I'd be disappointed in them but... I would understand.  And... and I wouldn't be mean.  I shouldn't have been mean to Arthur..."  Violeta hung her head and began to cry again.

JenniAnn moved to sit beside her and wrapped her arms around her shoulders.  "The good thing is, you have time to ask for his forgiveness.  And God's."

"Yeah..."  Violeta sighed.  "There... there's no excuse b-but... it scared me."

Andrew's eye brow crooked upward.  "Sweetheart, why did it scare you?"

"If... if Arthur met someone who looked like Monica a-and started something with her then... then..."  She looked guiltily at JenniAnn and whispered in her ear.

"Oh, hon!  No.  That just wouldn't happen.  Violeta, Arthur and Monica barely met before they were separated.  I've been consistently near Andrew since I was seventeen.  Even if I met a human Andrew look-alike, I couldn't feel for him what I feel for Andrew.  I know and love too much about our Andrew."  JenniAnn smiled tenderly at him.  "A human who looks like Andrew would be only that.  But he wouldn't be Andrew and Andrew is who I'm in love with.  And nothing is going to tear us apart."

Andrew rose and sat to Violeta's other side then took JenniAnn's hand in both of his.  He kissed Violeta's temple.  "We'll all get through this.  And, personally, I believe Arthur and Monica will get through this.  It's not going to tear this family of ours apart, Violeta.  But you know what has happened today?"


"We've been blessed with one more member of our family.  And Liam's going to need us... all of us.  Because that little boy's been through a lot in his life and it's going to take a while before he feels really safe and secure and loved.  We all need to work together to help with that.  So we can't have fractures among us.  Got it?"

"Got it."  Violeta smiled at each of them.  "Can I go to my room now?  I want to write Arthur an apology letter... and I need to talk to Joshua."

"I think that's a wonderful idea," Andrew encouraged.

"Me too," JenniAnn agreed. 

"Good."  Violeta stood and hugged both of them.  "Thank you.  I... I'm sorry I put you both in a weird position."

Andrew chuckled.  "It's okay.  We'd much rather feel a little weird and awkward than have you be confused."

JenniAnn nodded.  "Very, very true."

Violeta smiled.  "Okay."

Andrew and JenniAnn watched her leave then turned to each other.

"Well, I think we handled that really well!" JenniAnn cheered.

Andrew grinned.  "So we're totally ready for the day when Belle needs the birds and the bees talk, right?"

"Whoa!  Let's not go crazy.  At least we have a few years..."  JenniAnn sighed.  "We need a book..."

"Don't let Violeta pick it!"  Andrew cringed.

Laughing, JenniAnn hugged him.  "Noted."


Monica sat on her couch, staring at nothing in particular.

She was roused by a knock on her door.

Monica groaned and got to her feet.  She peeked out and hurried to answer.


Sinking against her former supervisor, Monica began to weep again.

Tess shuffled inside and kicked the door closed.  "My sweet Angel Girl..."  She rested her cheek on her one-time protege's hair.  "Let's get you comfortable and then you let me make you a nice, soothing cup of tea.  I know you'd probably rather have coffee but I think right now a sweet chamomile will suit you better."

"Y-yes, Tess."

Monica fell back onto the couch and pulled a blanket around her. 


"You all right, baby?" Tess called from the kitchen.

Monica didn't answer at first and buried her face in the blanket.  Arthur had slept on the couch the night before after Adam's birthday party had run late into the night.  She could smell his cologne.  After folding the blanket back up, she set it on the far side of the couch.  She didn't need that impacting her decision...

"How did... did you know?" Monica called.

Tess poked her head out.  "Ronald told me.  He just happened to have your file when everything happened.  That instantaneous updating..."

"Do... do many angels know?" 

"Not many."


Tess brought two mugs out and handed one to Monica.  "So how are you feeling, Miss Wings?"

"Confused.  Nothing we did in our years together prepared me for this."  Monica attempted a wry smile.

Tess frowned and shook her head.  "Nothing..."

"I... I suppose everything with Andrew maybe should have.  JenniAnn...  They had rough patches b-but nothing like..."  Monica blinked back tears.  Andrew and JenniAnn had become parents together...

"Sometimes I'm still surprised that's worked out as well as it has," Tess admitted.  "I used to look at Angel Boy and think about how she might eventually hurt him.  A-and now my Angel Girl..."

Monica scooted into Tess' embrace.  "It... it hurts so badly, Tess.  To... to know someone else made Arthur happy in... in ways I never can."

"You weren't made to make anyone happy in that way," Tess reminded.

"I know.  I do.  A-and I could live with that but... but to be reminded of that every day?  That precious little boy..."  More tears welled in Monica's eyes and she burrowed her face against Tess' shoulder.

"Baby, I like Arthur.  I do.  But that's who he is... who he'll always be.    And you owe it to that little one to not get too involved if you don't think..."

"I don't want to let Arthur go!" Monica protested.  "I... I love him, Tess.  I'm not in love with him.  I know that b-but... Joshua... before he left the Fields of Gold, he told us that sometimes we would need to focus on healing hearts closer to home.  I think... I want... to heal Arthur's heart.  And even before that... Joshua told us that... that he'd keep us together if... if we'd let him.  And..."

Tess watched as Monica went to her mantle and retrieved the statue Joshua had made for her and Arthur. 

"He made us this...  Why would he make us this if... if we didn't have a future?" Monica questioned.

Tess could tell by the spark in the younger angel's eyes that she was hoping for some encouragement.  However, Tess struggled to offer it.  Those years spent fretting over her Angel Boy and the hurt JenniAnn might cause him were still fresh in her memory.  And certainly the girl had hurt him... although, to be fair, the hurting was not always one-sided.  Still, they had made it work.  It had taken Tess years to admit that but it was undeniably true.  However, JenniAnn was different from Arthur.  Perhaps Joshua had been pointing to some future time... maybe when Arthur was in Heaven.  Then he and Monica could, together, enjoy a blissful friendship with all the ugliness behind them.  And Arthur wouldn't be able to hurt her Angel Girl in Heaven...  He wouldn't want anything from her that she couldn't give him...  How could it possibly be healthy for Monica to spend so much time around a man who would always be disappointed?  Yes, surely Joshua was talking about Eternity when he'd said those things to them.  And this little boy... Liam... he would still have a loving father.  And, perhaps, Arthur could find someone and, eventually, Monica would be at peace with that.

Tess sipped her tea.

Monica bowed her head and quietly replaced the statue. 

"I think I want to take a nap," she murmured.

Tess got to her feet.  "Of course, baby.  Let ol' Tess tuck you in.  You've had such a shock today..."

Monica nodded and headed to her room.  She smiled drowsily as Tess smoothed the quilt then bent to kiss her forehead.

"I love you, Monica," Tess murmured.

"Love you, too, Tess."

For a moment, Tess remained in the room and remembered Monica's many milestones.  She recalled that horrible day... the day Monica had met Arthur.  And Satan.  She remembered Monica whispering into Arthur's unhearing ear.  And she remembered embracing her and feeling so grateful to have her Angel Girl restored to her.  Tess couldn't bear to ever see Monica so vulnerable again... and Arthur and the child would certainly make her vulnerable.

Then, unbidden, Tess' mind traveled back... much further back.

Joshua... Yeshua then... rose on shaky, chubby legs.  He teetered for a bit then he bit his little lip and moved his right leg forward.  Next came his left.  He giggled.  And then, after another few steps, he collapsed into Yosef's waiting arms.

A tear trickled down Tess' cheek as she envisioned the two: the toddler God and his doting, beloved Abi.

Joshua would have always had a loving mother... but he still loved Yosef and delighted in having him near.

Did this little Liam deserve any less than two parents who would adore him?


When Monica awoke, she saw that it was a little after 6:00.  She was surprised to find herself extraordinarily hungry.  Then again, maybe it wasn't surprising.  She hadn't had much lunch.  And she'd been so excited for her trip with Arthur that breakfast had been minimal.

She sighed as she thought about the trip that would no longer happen.

"Tess?" she called.

No answer.

"Tess!" she repeated.

Again there was no answer.

So Tess had left.  Surely there would be a note.  But she would have to get up to look and, despite her hunger, Monica didn't want to get up.

Then came the knock on her door...  And it wasn't a Tess knock.

"Shave and a haircut... two bits," Monica sang, smiling in spite of how she felt.  She got to her feet and went to the door.

Adam stood before her, holding two grocery bags.

"Good evening, Monica!" he greeted.  "You're looking... lovely."

Monica rolled her eyes.  "I'm sure."  She tried to tame her bedhead as she waved the angel of death inside.  "Adam, ah... what's in the bags?"

Adam proceeded into the kitchen and began to unload.  "Let's see... I have a delicious pasta salad with chicken breast like substance.  Some bread.  Maryam's recipe, I might add.  A bottle of wine.  Guess Who supplied that?  Some leftover birthday cake.  Two pints of ridiculously loaded ice cream.  Knitting supplies.  Oh and two copies of O Magazine.  We're going to master the 'Seven Secrets for Overcoming Heartache' and get makeup tips or something.  I don't know!  It just seemed like the sort of thing to bring to this... sort of thing."

Monica gaped at him.  Then she was filled with so much affection and love for her old friend that she wrapped her arms around him and rested her cheek against his breast pocket.

And then she began to sob... more than she had at any point during the day.

Adam closed his arms around her and softly swayed.  After a few moments, he spoke.

"Monica, I'm glad to be here for you like this but... pretty soon there's going to be melted ice cream on your counter if..."

Pulling away, Monica let out a soft laugh.  "We can't have that..." 

Turning to his offerings, Monica noticed a note propped against the coffee maker.  She smiled at Tess' promise to check in on her again then she put the ice cream into the freezer. 

"I am pretty hungry," the caseworker admitted as she eyed the other food.

Adam smiled.  "You sit.  I'll fix up a couple plates for us."

"Thank you.  Adam... I... I'm so glad to have you here.  This has... it's been an unbelievable day."

"I'm sure it has, Monica.  And I hope we can talk about that."

Monica nodded.

After a few moments of companionable silence, Adam placed two plates on the table then filled two glasses with the wine.

"Do you want to say the blessing or do you want me to?" he asked.

Monica blushed.  She hadn't done much blessing during the day...  "You can."

Adam took her hands then bowed his head.  "Dear Boss, thank You for this meal and for the wine.  Thanks for this time together to talk, to plan, and to pray.  Give us the wisdom and grace we need.  Strengthen Monica and Arthur and, please, help little Liam to know Your love and that of his family.  Amen."

"Amen," Monica echoed.  She squeezed Adam's hands before releasing them.  "Thank you for that."

"You bet.  Now dig in."

Monica took a couple bites of the pasta and savored a chunk of the bread.

"How, umm, did you hear about Liam?" she asked.

"Joshua told me," Adam answered simply.  There was no point in telling her right then that Joshua had first alluded to the boy months before.

"Oh.  Did he say anything about what I should do?  I... I've been asking him and the Father and I do feel their love but... no answer."  Monica frowned.

"Did you really expect him to answer directly?  Monica, this isn't an assignment... and even on assignments we don't always get direct, step-by-step orders.  In fact, we usually don't.  But this... it's personal.  Joshua doesn't want to tell you what to do.  Kinda defeats the purpose of free will, ya know?"

"I know..."

"And are you really sure... even if not right now, even if not directly... that he hasn't told you what you should do?"

Monica thought again of Joshua's counsel to Arthur and her.  She responded, first, with a nod.  Then, after taking a few more bites, she spoke.

"I think Joshua means for us to stay together."

"And how do you feel about that?"

"I... I want to stay with Arthur.  But..."  Monica set down her fork and her cheeks colored.  "I never told you much about what happened in the desert all those years ago... with him."

The wrinkle of Monica's nose told Adam who she was speaking about.  He shook his head.  "Not really."

"He... he made me feel... human.  As... as if I was pregnant with Arthur's child.  And... as if I wanted Arthur in... in a human way."

"I see."

Monica looked up from her plate, touched by the lack of judgment in Adam's voice.  "I... I mean I felt... desire."

"I bet that was trippy."

Monica smiled.  "To say the least.  And it... it was a good feeling.  I mean... it would have been had it been real.  How can I deny Arthur that for the rest of his life?  And I couldn't... it would have to be that way.  I couldn't cope if... if he had someone else."

"I'd have to have words with Arthur myself in that case.  That wouldn't be any way to raise a child to feel secure and safe.  But yesterday that didn't stop you from wanting to pursue a life with Arthur.  What changed?  I know Liam came.  But Liam was alive yesterday, too.  Liam's lived the entire time you've been with Arthur," Adam reasoned.  "It's just that now you know about him.  But, Monica, didn't you know that Arthur..."

"I knew he'd been with women, yes."


With a sigh, Monica shrugged.  "I suppose you're right.  He... he told me that he could give that all up... that he wanted to... for us.  It's just... I didn't have a constant reminder that he... he had once enjoyed sex."

"Liam is a child, Monica.  Not a reminder of a tryst," Adam countered.

Tears welled in the caseworker's eyes.  "Of... of course."

Adam patted her hand.  "It's not as if you have some guarantee that, without you, Arthur could go on to have some sort of ideal marriage.  That dream simply doesn't happen for everyone.  And marriages... they're not always good."

Monica noticed when the angel of death's eyes misted.  She knew he was thinking of Kylie.  To cheer him, Monica squeezed his hand.  "It was delightful to see Clay and Kylie dancing at your party last night."

Adam smiled.  "It was, wasn't it?  They've gotten a lot more comfortable about things like that since her divorce was finalized.  And they talk openly and honestly about their past, fractured relationships.  I thank God every day that they found each other.  But I still remember finding Kylie that evening Jett attacked her.  She belongs with Clay.  I know that.  And if, for some reason, Clay was unable to eventually consummate their union... I'd still want her to be with Clay and I know she'd feel the same way.  It's great if a couple can be perfect matches in every way... like Diana and Zeke, for instance.  But if that's not possible...  I think it's best to focus on emotional and spiritual harmony between two people.  If Arthur thinks he's found that with you... Monica, he's never going to be happy with anyone else."


"And look at Andrew and JenniAnn."

"But JenniAnn doesn't..."

"Yes, I know.  She doesn't feel what Arthur does.  But you can't tell me that she wouldn't have wanted to get married and have babies.  But if that meant being apart from Andrew...  Even with a half dozen babies, she would have been unhappy, always, on some level.  Besides, she has four now.  That's an impressive brood."  Adam grinned. 

"Four?  Max, Shelby, Belle... and?"

"Trust me, Violeta counts.  Imagine how much time Andrew and JenniAnn probably spend trying to clue the girl in!"  Adam chuckled and shook his head. 

Monica smiled but then it faltered.  "She was very unhappy with Arthur..."

"And I'm sure Andrew and JenniAnn have spoken to Violeta about that."

"I'm sure..."

Adam noticed his friend pushing pasta around her plate.  "Eat, Monica.  I'm not giving out awards for pasta arrangements."

After a sheepish smile, Monica took another bite.  The angel of death waited patiently for her to speak again.



"I... I think maybe it wasn't so much that I saw Liam as a reminder of what Arthur's experienced as it was... he's a reminder of... of what I can never... never give Arthur.  Or... or myself.  A baby..."  Monica set down her fork and began to weep again.

Adam held her hand for a few moments then patted it softly.  "Monica, listen to me.  I heard the same sort of thing from Andrew every time JenniAnn would get a little upset over a baby shower invitation or a birth announcement.  He just knew he could never make her a mother.  But... I believe you've met Belle."

Monica looked to him with a wavering smile and nodded.

"I know Liam's not a baby and he didn't come to you and Arthur in the way you wanted.  But I can also tell you that neither Andrew nor JenniAnn dreamed of spending their baby's first days in a hospital, waiting for her to come off the drugs she was addicted to.  And I also know that Yosef never dreamed of his wife giving birth to a baby who wasn't his in a stable.  But none of them could love their children any more than if they'd gotten their ideal baby stories.  So you didn't bring Liam into the world?  You and Arthur can still love that little boy and help him find his place in this world... worlds.  He deserves to have a father... and a mother.  And, while the decision's completely up to you... I'd love to have a nephew."

Glancing into Adam's twinkling eyes, Monica saw more than amusement there.  She saw understanding, too.  Tess had understood her pain and her confusion.  But Adam had surmised what she most wanted.  She wanted to keep Arthur at her side.  And, beyond simply wanting Liam in her life, too, she longed to be a second mother to him.

Monica moved to Adam's side and stooped to hug him.  "I'd love for you to have a nephew, too." 

Adam beamed at her.  "So you feel better?"

"I do.  I think I still need a little time before I see Arthur.  But maybe it would be good to invite him over for breakfast?"

"I think he'd like that.  But you're not going to kick me out early, are you?  I was counting on sharing that cake and ice cream with you," Adam teased.

Laughing, Monica shook her head.  "I won't kick you out.  I'd like that.  And... and maybe we could knit a hat or scarf or something for Liam?"

"I think Liam would love that."  Adam smiled proudly at his friend then raised his glass.  "To you, Arthur, and Liam."

With a shy smile, Monica clinked her glass against his.


Tess trudged up the stairs to Arthur's apartment.  She wasn't sure why she'd been directed there.  Certainly she had a few things she wanted to say to Mr. Reese.  However, she doubted either Joshua or the Father intended for her to give voice to them.

Heaving a sigh and attempting to hide the anger she felt, Tess knocked on the door.  She tapped her foot as she waited and then folded her arms over her chest. 

Finally, she heard the locks clicking and the door opened.

Tess came eye to eye with the man she badly wanted to give a verbal mauling to.

Instead, Tess found herself pulling the red-eyed, puffy-faced man into her arms.

"I... I..." Arthur choked out.

Tess stepped into the apartment and closed the door behind her.  She looked around and saw Styrofoam and bits of cardboard and plastic wrapping everywhere she turned.  In the center of the living room was a scrapbook and a line of glass bottles sat at the edge of the coffee table.  Tess hurried to them and picked one up.

"Cream soda," Arthur explained.  "I knew better than to go for any hard stuff but I thought I could at least have sugar."  He forced a smile but couldn't maintain it.  "So... did Monica send you to... to tell me that it's over?"

Tess noticed how the man gripped the back of the couch as if he needed it to steady himself.  "Arthur, no.  I have no idea what, if anything, Monica has decided.  I'm here because God told me to be here... and I wish I knew why because honestly..."

"You're angry at me.  I understand.  I... I've hurt Monica and... and I know how much you care for her, Tess.  I do.  And I am so very sorry that... that my past has caused her pain.  I... I can't wish Liam... my son... away, Tess.  I can't.  But if there was a way to have him and spare Monica pain... I would do that.  But I can't."  He buried his head in his hands.  "I can't even get Liam's bed together.  Really wish Joshua was here... for so many reasons."

Moved, Tess set a hand on his shoulder.  "Arthur, when did you last eat, baby?"

"I had a chicken tender and a few bites of potato salad at lunch.  Monica brought it.  Liam loved it but I just... I feel nauseated whenever I remember...  Tess, she looked so..."  Arthur's eyes filled as he remembered Monica holding the photo of him and Nessa.  "I love her and I hurt her and... God forgive me for... for that."

"He has, Arthur.  You know He has."  Tess sighed.  "Listen, you let me fix you a little something.  You get some food into you and that building might go a lot easier.  For right now, why don't you sit down and take a little break?"

"Thank you," Arthur answered in a whisper.  Grateful, he squeezed Tess' hand.

Tess watched as he grabbed the scrapbook from the floor and began to flip through it.  As she began to assemble the fixings for macaroni and cheese, Tess kept glancing over at Arthur.  She frowned as she caught him looking at a photograph of Monica gazing out at Dyeland's ocean.  He was brushing his fingers over her hair.  Once she had the noodles boiling, Tess returned to the living room and took a seat across from Arthur.

"Baby, can I ask you something?"

Arthur tore his gaze from the book and nodded.

"What do you feel for her?"

"I love her, Tess.  I'm in love with Monica," Arthur asserted.  "And only Monica."

"But do you feel..."

"Yes.  But I would never...  Tess, I didn't mean to hurt her.  I... I had no indication that I'd ever see her again when I slept with Nessa... Liam's mother.  Or... or any of the others.  But I would never knowingly and purposefully hurt her," Arthur insisted.

"But you can't control yourself entirely, Arthur," Tess pointed out.

Arthur's eyes flashed.  "I can't control my feelings and, true, I can't control some... physical reactions.  But any man who says he can't control himself is no man at all because we damn well can."  His face flushed.  "Sorry.  But I mean it."

Tess smiled.  "I know you do, Arthur.  I know.  And I agree.  I didn't mean to imply..."

"I know.  But I can do this, Tess.  If... if Monica wants to continue on with me.  I know I can," Arthur vowed.  "Yosef and I talked this past Spring and... and while I don't know what happened after Joshua was born, I know what definitely did not happen before he was born.  And Yosef told me that his wedding night was a far cry from what he'd been wanting.  B-but his bride... she was everything he wanted.  He told me that, before he and Maryam were married, he made himself consider what he'd be giving up.  And he decided that, though not easily, he could gladly give sex up because that was the only way he could be with Maryam.  Because giving up hearing her laughter and feeling her caress and the scent of her hair and her beautiful mind and the cadence of her voice and the reassurance of her faith a-and everything that made Maryam Maryam... that was the sacrifice he couldn't face.  And I feel that way about Monica.  If... if she's done with me then... then I'll stay away because I don't want to cause her any more pain but if I am blessed by... by her continued presence in my life... and Liam's... then... then I'll thank God daily... hourly for that."

Tess brushed at the corners of her eyes.  So that was why God had sent her... to hear that.  To know that her Angel Girl would be safe with this man.  She reached across the coffee table for Arthur's hands. 

"I trust you, Arthur."

The sincerity of the words caused Arthur to sob.  He hunched forward and rested his forehead against Tess' hands.

"Th-thank you."

Tess kissed his hair then smiled when he leaned up. 

"I don't suppose you have a photo of your boy that you could show me?" she requested.

Arthur grinned and nodded.  "Actually, Andrew sent me a few from when they introduced Liam to Yonah, Mary, and Silly."

After retrieving his laptop, Arthur sat beside Tess and pulled up his email.

"Oh... look at him!"  Tess peered at the little boy on the screen. 

"That... that's the biggest smile I... I've seen on him yet."  Arthur smiled proudly at the screen.  "He loves animals."

The angel couldn't stop staring as Arthur clicked through the photos.  The boy was adorable and sweet looking but there was something else.  He looked every bit Arthur's and Monica's son if such a thing were possible.  After a few moments, Tess recognized it for the blessing it was.  If Monica was to accept this child as her own, no one would question his parentage.  Her Miss Wings wouldn't face repeated, painful questions about if Liam was adopted. 

"He's beautiful, Arthur baby."

Beaming, Arthur nodded.  "And you should hear him talk, Tess.  Very polite.  We, well, we're a little concerned that he's maybe too polite b-but we'll get him to a good place."

Feeling all her anger drain away, Tess hugged the man.  "I know you will.  And... I hope you'll let me help however I can."

"Of course!  I'd wel..."

They both stared at Arthur's phone which was playing "Brown Eyed Girl."


Arthur hurried to answer.  "Monica!  Hi.  How are...  I... I miss you, too."

Tess shook her head but smiled.

"Breakfast?  Yeah... sure!  Your place?  I... yeah.  Talk... talk to you then.  I... I love you, too.  Bye."

Arthur hugged the phone to his chest and felt every muscle in his body relax.

"I... I think we're gonna be okay," he told Tess.

Tess returned his smile and nodded.  "I think so, too."

She returned to the kitchen to the stir the noodles and continued to smile as Arthur returned his attention to the photographs of his son.


And Then There Were Three

Sunday, October 12, 2014

After the Willowveil household shared a dinner of sloppy joes and french fries with some pudding for dessert, Eli tucked Liam into bed and read him to sleep.  After such an emotional day, it wasn't long after Belle drifted off that the four adults in the house followed suit.

Then, shortly after 3:00, Andrew was roused by the baby monitor.  Except it wasn't Belle's cries he heard. 

"Hi Belle.  I couldn't sleep any more."

Andrew bolted out of his bed and headed towards Belle's nursery.  He nearly collided with JenniAnn in the hall.

"Liam's in there with Belle!" JenniAnn whispered.

Andrew took her hand and continued in that direction.  When they peeked into the nursery, they saw Liam standing near Belle's crib.  The baby was sitting up, looking at him, and smiling.  Then her hand poked through the rails and grabbed a fistful of Liam's hair.

JenniAnn lurched forward, afraid the boy would lash out.

Liam merely stood there until Belle loosened her grip.

"Bababababa.  Ooot!" she babbled.

The little boy laughed.

Andrew gently pulled JenniAnn back.

"Let's just listen for a little bit," he suggested, his voice hushed.

Moved by the scene in front of them, JenniAnn nodded.

"I like your room.  I like the room I'm in, too.  And the whole castle.  Your mommy and daddy are really nice."


"My mommy was nice."

In the hall, JenniAnn rested her head on Andrew's shoulder and clasped his hand.

"Sometimes she was scary.  And loud.  If... if your mommy and daddy ever get scary and loud, I hope you'd be able to tell me.  I could keep you safe so they couldn't hurt you or let anyone else hurt you."

Andrew stared up at the ceiling and kept hold of JenniAnn as tears trickled down his cheeks.

"But you're a good baby so maybe your parents will stay nice.  I hope."

Belle yawned and laid back down.

Andrew and JenniAnn watched as Liam tried his best to reach through the bars and cover her with a blanket.  They strained to hear what he said to her.

"You have a pretty name, Belle.  Like in Beauty and the Beast.  I watched that with my mommy."

Liam hummed the title song for a while as Andrew and JenniAnn looked on, teary-eyed, from the hallway. 

When he finished, they scrambled out of view and watched as Liam returned to his own room and crawled into bed.

After waiting a few moments, they checked on Belle who was already asleep then Andrew walked JenniAnn back to her room.

"Why... why do you spose he went in there?" JenniAnn questioned.

"Maybe he heard Belle stirring or maybe he just... just wanted to talk to her.  The sad truth is he probably trusts Belle more than any of us."  Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.  "She's just a baby who can't hurt anyone.  Well, wouldn't mean to hurt anyone."

"It's just so sad that he thinks we could change so drastically b-but I guess..."  JenniAnn shook her head.

"It's what he knows," Andrew finished.  "It happened with his mommy."

"A-and that 'you're a good baby.'  As if... he thinks he wasn't a good baby and it's just like I told you about in the changing room... Liam thinks he's a bad boy.  B-but... he was so gentle with Belle!  Even when she pulled his hair!"

"He was..."  Andrew let out a ragged sigh. 

"So much for a little boy to carry..." JenniAnn lamented.

Andrew hugged her.  "Now we'll all help him carry it."

"Yes...  I hope Arthur and Monica can pull together because... cause Liam needs someone to... to be his mom."

Andrew nodded.  "Monica will be.  I just know she will."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn smiled, imagining how thrilled her friend would be in time.

Liam would know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was a good and much-loved boy.


Monica sat on her couch, staring out the window.  Her heart leapt when Arthur's form came into view.  He looked so nervous...  She didn't want him to be ill-at-ease a moment longer.  Throwing open the door, Monica ran to Arthur, giving him just enough time to set down the bag he was holding before she threw her arms around his neck.

Arthur gaped.  While he'd felt optimistic, he hadn't expected this warm of a reception!

"Monica...  Good morning."

The hoarseness of Arthur's voice only further endeared him to Monica.

"A stór..."

As he recognized the Gaelic term for darling, tears of happiness welled in Arthur's eyes.

Monica smiled up at him.  "I need you to come see something and... and then we can talk."

Clasping her hand and picking up his bag with the other, Arthur happily followed Monica into her cottage.

Monica motioned for Arthur to take a seat on the coach and then she plopped down beside him.  "I couldn't sleep very well last night.  I mean... I was feeling better but... nerves, I guess.  So after Adam and Tess left... oh and it was so nice to know that your visit with her went well."

Arthur chuckled.  "Surprisingly well.  She made me dinner."

Monica stroked his cheek and smiled.  "Good.  So after they left I tried to sleep but I couldn't and so I got up to do some spritzing up."

Arthur's smile grew when he heard the malapropism.

"And so I was dusting and... and I came to our statue from Joshua b-but I nudged it and..."

Arthur embraced her.  "Oh Monica, I'm sure it can be fixed.  Maybe Joshua will even..."  He eyed the statue sitting on the coffee table and tried to figure out what had broken off.

Monica shook her head.  "It's not broken.  It's just... different.  This... it came off."

Arthur watched with interest as Monica reached for the lilac bush.  His eyes grew wide when it easily slid off to reveal the small form of his son.

"Liam..."  Monica briefly placed the statue on her lap and brushed her thumb over the boy's hair.

Arthur's shoulders shook as he thought of Joshua crafting the statue, already knowing about his dalliances, and about Liam.

Monica held him close.  "Arthur, I... I had already decided that... that I wanted to remain a part of your life a-and become a part of Liam's.  But when I saw this... then... then I knew that's what God means for me to do.  And I also knew... I... I shouldn't have acted as I did yesterday.  You... you owed me no loyalty before we met again at Panera a-and I can't imagine what you must have been feeling knowing you... you'd missed out on five years with... with your boy b-but all I could focus on was... my pain and..."

Shaking his head, Arthur wrapped his arms around the angel.  "No, Monica, don't..."

Monica rested her forehead against his.  "I was wrong.  Adam... he helped me see that.  The promises you've made to me... they were still all... all true.  And though you spared me the specifics, you never lied about your past."

Arthur kissed her temple.  "I will always be honest with you, milady.""

Monica smiled.  "I know.  But... I do think we need to have an honest discussion about where... and how we go from here."

"I agree."

"Over coffee and scones."

"I agree all the more."

Monica giggled and then got up to fetch the coffee and scones.

When he was alone, Arthur reached into his bag and set the contents beside the statue.

Returning, Monica's face lit up.  "Oh Arthur..."

"I really am sorry that we couldn't get to the Irish festival so... I thought I'd bring at least a little something of Ireland to you."

Setting down the breakfast tray, Monica gently caressed the clovers in a beautiful pot.  She squeezed Arthur's hand.

"Thank you.  And maybe we can go to the festival next year.  They have children's activities."

Arthur kissed her hand.  "They do."

Monica poured the coffee and doled out the scones then took Arthur's hands in hers while she said the blessing. 

"Dear Father and Joshua, thank You for this beautiful day and for this shared meal.  Thank You for wee Liam.  Thank You for Andrew and JenniAnn and Adam and Tess and Eli and Kelly and all of our friends who have helped us and who I know will help us.  Thank You for our statue a-and what You've said to us through it.  Please bless us with Your wisdom and understanding.  Amen."

"Amen," Arthur echoed.  "That was beautiful."

"Thank you.  I wish I had been more thankful yesterday but... I suppose I just needed a bit of time.  So have you heard from Andrew and JenniAnn yet today?"

Smiling, Arthur nodded.  "They said Liam was thoroughly enjoying his waffles and has made fast friends with Belle and the dogs.  They've promised him a ride on Yonah after he's finished eating."

"And he slept well?"

Arthur's smile faltered.  "Yes and no.  Near as they could tell, he did sleep most of the night but Andrew said they know he woke up at least once and went into Belle's nursery."

Monica looked over her mug in surprise.  "Why?"

"To tell her that if her mommy and daddy ever turn scary that he'd protect her...  They... they said it made it all the more obvious he... he's been through a lot." 

"Arthur..."  Monica gently stroked his back.  "You didn't know..."

"I... I know...  But he's so little and helpless and to think..."

"We'll get him all the help he needs, Arthur.  I spoke to Emma last week at Bible Study and she brought up how much she loves her psychiatrist.  Maybe she takes little ones.  I wouldn't be surprised since she specializes in abuse recovery.  I could call Emma later and see if she knows.  Or Catherine," Monica offered.

"Yes, let's do that," Arthur agreed.  "I'd like to meet with her first if she is a possibility.  Would you... go with me?"

"Of course."

"Thank you."  After smiling at Monica, Arthur took a bite of scone.  "Mmm...  Delicious as always."

"I'm glad.  I wanted to do something special after..."  Monica frowned and her face fell.

Arthur caressed her hair.  "Monica, we were both shocked and neither of us were our best selves yesterday."

"I... I know that but I would like to tell you at least part of why... why I acted as I did."

"Okay.  I'm listening," Arthur assured.

"I... I didn't tell you everything about what happened... in the desert.  What I felt..."

Arthur set down his coffee and gave the angel his full attention.  "What did you feel?"

Monica's cheeks flushed.  "We kissed... far more intimately than... than we do now.  And I... I felt... desire.  For you.  And it... it was powerful and yesterday... I suppose I began to doubt that... that you could resist such a feeling.  I worried that you would find someone else.  I... I doubted you even when... when you've given me no reason to doubt you at any point this past year."

"Monica..."  Arthur embraced her.  He hated that the "memories" of that day in the desert still impacted her.  "I suspect that what you felt that day... it's stuck with you because it was such a foreign feeling.  And sexual attraction... it is powerful.  But when it's always been part of your life... after a while it ceases to be so extraordinarily powerful.  No more powerful than the joy of finding someone you connect with deeply on an intellectual and emotional and spiritual level.  And that's what we have.  And I wouldn't risk that for just the other.  And now, with Liam, I couldn't... and I couldn't even when it was just us.  Please believe that."

With tears of relief in her eyes, Monica nodded.  "I... I do."

"Good."  Arthur cupped her chin and kissed her forehead.



"What role do you..."  Monica bit her lip and looked down at her hands.  "It's just... I... I'd like to know who you'd like me to... to be to Liam."

"Well... I... if at all possible... I think he needs a mother, Monica.  If... if that would be okay with you..."

Monica eagerly nodded, unable to speak.

Arthur smiled.  "Good.  And we'll take care to tell him that... that you're not replacing his mommy.  Because I know that... that sometimes even in cases of abuse and neglect there's still a lot of loyalty and love there.  I think we'll just have to let Liam lead on what he calls you and how he feels... about both of us."

"A-and... would... would we live together?"

With a sigh, Arthur frowned.  When he'd bought Liam's bed, he'd been so down on himself that he hadn't imagined Monica would remain in their lives.  As it was, the apartment would be a tight fit just with him and Liam.  Still... it would be difficult to explain to Liam why his parents lived apart when Andrew and JenniAnn didn't. 

"I... I only ask because I was thinking... if you would want... we could live here," Monica suggested.  "Maybe we could temporarily convert my sewing room into Liam's room and... well, if you wouldn't mind staying out here just for a few months... or... I hate to send you to the loft but... it wouldn't be for long either way.  I'm sure the others would help us build a couple rooms on come Spring a-and... that way we could get Liam a dog and... he'd be near the extended family and..."

Arthur hugged Monica tightly.  "You... you're sure, Monica?"

Monica nodded.  "Very."

"I would still keep my apartment for appearances' sake and... and late nights or early mornings at True Light b-but..."  Arthur rested his cheek on the angel's hair.  "I would love that.  Monica...  Thank you."

"You're welcome.  There is, umm, one condition."

Arthur smiled.  "I think you're owed several conditions, milady."

With a soft smile, Monica shook her head.  "I only want the one.  Arthur, if we do this, I... I need to make the same choice Andrew has.  I... I don't want to suddenly find myself looking the same age as Liam.  I need to... to age."

Arthur closed his eyes.  "What would that feel like?"

"Well, like aging, I suppose."  Monica grinned.

In spite of the seriousness of the discussion, Arthur chuckled.  "I guess that makes sense.  So... aches and pains and failing eye sight..."

"And wrinkles and gray hairs."

"I don't care about either of those.  You will always, always be beautiful to me but... but the discomfort..."  Arthur sighed. 

"It would hurt worse to have to hide away or make Liam feel strange," Monica countered.  "I spent part of the night praying about this, Arthur.  I think it's what Joshua means for me to do."

"Then I can't argue with that.  But you could wait a while..."

"No.  Andrew wanted Belle to know, in time, that he made the decision for her.  I want the same for Liam.  Not that we'll tell him any time soon.  But I want to be able to tell him that some day."

"Okay.  When?  Today?  Now?  How... how does that happen?" Arthur questioned.

"It will happen when and how Joshua decides."

"Does it hurt?"

"Oh no.  Andrew said it was rather exhilarating."

"Good."  Arthur smiled again and stroked Monica's hair.  "You are extraordinary."

Smiling, Monica kissed his cheek.  "Our life will be extraordinary."

Together, the two stared at Joshua's statue for a few moments.



"Do you think it would be okay to call Andrew and JenniAnn and ask them to wait on the donkey ride?  Just long enough for us to get there?  I'd like to be there for that."

Beaming, Arthur nodded.  "So would I.  I'll call them."

As Arthur made the call, Monica put the scones into a paper lunch sack and transferred the coffee into thermal mugs so they could finish their breakfast as they walked.  She smiled as she thought of seeing Liam again.  Though she couldn't fully explain it, she felt a pull to the boy unlike anything she'd felt before.


Liam looked up from his coloring when he heard Andrew greeting someone in the hall.

JenniAnn settled Belle onto her hip and patted the boy's back.  "That's your daddy and Monica.  They wanted to be here for your first donkey ride.  Is that okay?"

"Yes.  Will you and Belle be there?"

"Ah!  Bah!"

JenniAnn laughed.  "I think that means 'of course.'"

Liam smiled at the baby.  "And Andrew?"

"Andrew, too."

"And Eli and Vi..."  Liam frowned, unable to remember the name of the lady with black hair.

"Violeta and Eli will be there."

Liam smiled.  "Good."  Though he knew things could change at any moment, he liked the people he had met.  They smiled and hugged a lot.  And he hadn't heard any of them yelling. 

Arthur and Monica stepped into the living room, all smiles.

Liam eyed them up and down.  They looked much happier and they were holding hands.

"Good morning, Liam.  How did you sleep?" Arthur asked.


"And how was breakfast?" Monica followed up with.

"Yummy.  My tummy's full.  Andrew let me drink beer.  It was good."

Andrew chuckled and tousled the boy's hair.  "Butterbeer.  And I'm glad you thought so, Liam.  I'll make it for you again sometime."

"Thank you."

"You're very welcome.  So you ready to go for a ride on Yonah?" Andrew checked.

With a grin, Liam nodded.

They all walked to the stable where Eli and Violeta were already playing with the animals.  Having fully recovered from his trust issues, Yonah was playing a game of keep away with Eli.  Seeing the others approaching, the angel of death cornered the ball.

Yonah brayed in protest but then saw JenniAnn and Belle and made a beeline for them.

"Good morning, baby boy," JenniAnn greeted, using her free hand to give the donkey a good scratch.  "Having fun with Eli?"

Yonah nuzzled her and then did the same to Belle who, as usual, shrieked with delight.

Violeta giggled.  "I love it when she does that."  She knelt down to be level with Liam.  "So you're going for a ride today!  Fun!"

"Uh huh."  Liam stepped closer to the donkey.  Though he'd met Yonah the previous day, he had been a little nervous and kept his distance.  He hadn't noticed the faded scars on the animal's back.  "Owies..."

The adults all exchanged uncertain looks.

"Was he a bad donkey?" Liam asked.

Alarmed, Violeta fervently shook her head.  "Why would you..."

Arthur touched her shoulder and then crouched down.  "No, Liam.  Yonah was never a bad donkey.  There was someone before Andrew and JenniAnn who was supposed to take good care of Yonah but they behaved very badly.  They hurt Yonah.  Not because he was bad but because the person who did the hurting was being bad.  Yonah was innocent.  Do you know what that means?"

Liam shook his head.

"That means he hadn't done anything wrong.  Sometimes people are mean and hurt other people... or animals... even when they did nothing wrong."

Monica knelt beside Arthur.  "When Yonah first came to Andrew and JenniAnn, he was sometimes scared.  Because he thought maybe they would hurt him, too.  But Andrew and JenniAnn... and all of us... love Yonah very, very much.  So we had to help him learn that he was a good donkey and that we'd never hurt him."  She smiled as Yonah nudged Andrew. 

Laughing, Andrew withdrew the apple he was hiding in his coat pocket. 

With a happy bray, Yonah gobbled the treat.

"Good donkey," Liam cooed when Yonah came near him.  He giggled as the donkey licked his hair.

JenniAnn laughed.  "He likes you, Liam!  You ready for your ride?"

Liam readily nodded.

"I'll give you a boost," Arthur offered before hoisting Liam onto Yonah's back.  "How about Monica and I walk alongside you?"

Liam patted Yonah's neck and smiled at his father.  "Okay."

The remaining five watched, some with tears in their eyes, as Yonah and the newly formed family walked around the yard.


After lunch, Liam and Belle were tucked in for their naps while the adults converged in the library.  Kelly had arrived in time to share lunch with them and brought Catherine with her.  The reason was soon obvious as Kelly withdrew some papers from her bag.

"Arthur, I got your DNA test run and, of course, it's a match.  So the next step is for you to file an acknowledgement of paternity form.  That's why Catherine is here."  Kelly smiled at the woman.

"With my notary stamp!"  Beaming, Catherine removed it from her purse.

"Arthur, I'll need you to fill in the section about Liam.  I've brought you a copy of his birth certificate for help."  Kelly laid the piece of paper before him.

With Monica sitting next to him, Arthur picked up the certificate.  The angel rested her chin on his shoulder and hugged his arm as he read.

"B-born at 7:43 AM on August 12th, 2009 at seven pounds, eight ounces at Penn Presbyterian."

"Oh, I've had assignments there.  The nursery is lovely and the nurses so kind and caring," Monica offered, hoping to cheer Arthur.  "In fact, I was one some years..."

"Monica?" Arthur gently prodded.  "What... what's wrong?"

Monica shook her head.  "N-nothing but...  I... I think I was... was there... then."

Kelly smiled and reached for Monica's hand.  "You were.  I wanted to tell you but... but it couldn't be the reason for you making your decision."

"You were there... with Liam?" Arthur checked, wanting to be absolutely sure he understood.

Smiling through her tears, Monica nodded and told her story.


August 12th, 2009

Monica softy hummed as she took the baby blankets out of the dryer.  She breathed in the sweet smell of the baby-safe detergent and fabric softener and imagined all the little ones waiting to be wrapped up and snuggled in their blankets.  She was grateful God had sent her to a nursery.  She needed the warmth and hope of the place after a lengthy assignment involving a feuding family.


"I'm in here, folding blankets," she answered, looking up to see Theresa, the head nurse, standing in the doorway.

"The blankets can wait.  We have a new little one and Mom hasn't decided whether to keep him or not.  She won't hold him until she does.  I'd stay late to tend to him myself but it's my Mariah's 7th birthday and..."

"I can take care of him!" Monica volunteered, pushing past Theresa. 

Theresa escorted her to a bassinet labeled Boy Tierney.  "No name yet but we'll make due.  Won't we, sweetheart?"  She smiled down at the newborn. 

Monica's eyes welled as she peered at the baby.  Without further hesitation, she gently picked him up and settled into the rocking chair.  "Well, hello there, sweet boy," she greeted. 

For a moment, the baby opened his eyes and looked up at her. 

"I'll fix a bottle before I head out," Theresa whispered.

Monica only nodded in response.  She softly kissed the peach fuzz on the little one's head and resumed humming.

She lost all track of time as the newborn dozed and she rocked.  After some time, he stirred and turned into her breast.

"Oh, hold on just a moment."  Monica reached for the bottle sitting in the warmer.  Removing the cap and testing it, she deemed it suitable and offered it to the child.

After a few moments' of seeming confusion, the baby accepted the bottle and began to drink.

Monica smiled.  "Sweet baby," she cooed.  "I'm sure your mommy will want you and love you.  She's probably just a little nervous.  But oh... how could she not want you?"

As she watched the baby feed, Monica tried to push away the thoughts in her mind.  If this little fellow were hers, she would never let him go.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

"He... he was there for a couple of days because he was a bit jaundiced.  A-and then on the third morning... he was gone.  Theresa told me the mother... Nessa... had made her decision.  I was happy for the baby... Liam... but I missed him so."  Monica gratefully accepted a tissue from JenniAnn.

"So you... you were the first to... to rock and feed and care for... for Liam?" Arthur asked.

"I... I suppose I was.  Oh, Arthur, he was adorable.  I wish... I wish I had a photo."

Violeta startled.  "Maybe..."  Blushing, she jumped to her feet and tore out of the room.

"What is she doing?" JenniAnn asked, looking to Andrew.

He shrugged.  "I have no idea."

A few moments later, Violeta returned carrying two envelopes.  She held one out to Arthur.  "I... I am very sorry for the things I said yesterday, Arthur.  I wrote you an apology letter."

Arthur squeezed her hand.  "Thank you, Violeta, but you didn't have to do that."

"I did," Violeta insisted.  "I finished it last night and left it on my bedstand.  When I woke up this morning, there was another envelope sitting on top of it.  It wasn't sealed so I opened it thinking maybe Andrew or JenniAnn had left a note.  But it wasn't a note.  It was this."  She reached into the envelope and removed a photograph.

They all stared at the image of Monica, beaming up at the camera and holding a baby.

"That's him!  Theresa took that!  I never realized..."  Monica took the photo and, with brimming eyes, studied it.  "Theresa was putting together a PowerPoint for... for some training a-and she asked if she could use a photo of me because I looked 'nursely'... whatever that means.  I didn't know we had a copy...  It must have come from my file.  Or... or Liam's."

Catherine beamed.  "I bet I know Who left it in your room, Violeta."

Grinning, the young angel nodded.  "Joshua."

Arthur gazed at the photo, emotions warring in him.  He was thrilled to see his newborn son and exultant about the tie to Monica.  Still, it hurt to know he hadn't been there to soothe and welcome his son.  But at least Monica had...  And he had now... that very moment... to begin doing everything he could for his Liam.

With a shaking hand, Arthur reached for Kelly's.  "I... I'd like to sign that acknowledgement now."

"Of course."  Kelly gave Arthur a pen.

As steadily as possible, Arthur began to fill the form out.  He sighed when he was finished.

With a smile, Kelly held the pen out.  "Andrew and JenniAnn, you'll do as witnesses." 

Nodding, the two signed and dated on the appropriate lines.

"Now your turn, Catherine."  Kelly slid the papers to her.

With a contented sigh, Catherine signed, dated, and stamped. 

Briefly, they all stared at the document.

Eli broke the silence first.  "Congratulations!"

The others quickly echoed his sentiments and many hugs were exchanged.  Then it was back to planning mode.

Arthur hugged Monica's shoulders and looked out at the others.  "Monica and I have talked and... we've decided that we're going to live in Monica's cottage with Liam.  We'll stay in my apartment when work requires it but we both feel that it's important for Liam to be near family.  Not to mention the obvious perks of lots of natural spaces, no crime, and so on."

"And he can have a pet dog here," Monica added.

"Oh, he'll love that!" JenniAnn gushed.  "That's so wonderful.  I... I really believed you two would come to this sort of agreement but, I have to admit, I wasn't sure it would be so soon!"

"About that..."  Monica withdrew her cell phone from her pocket.  "Talking with so many friends helped but beyond that... I discovered this during the night while I was cleaning."

The others studied the screen which displayed Monica's and Arthur's statue from Joshua.

Violeta noticed the changed first.  "The lilac bush is gone and that's Liam!"

"Well, I'll be!" Eli exclaimed.

Kelly smiled.  "Joshua is a wily one..."

"I already knew what I wanted but... but that sealed it."  Monica smiled at the photo then tucked her phone away. 

"In time, if Joshua allows and Liam is on board with it, we'd like for Monica to adopt Liam," Arthur continued.  "And..."

"And I'm going to ask Joshua to let me age.  Like Andrew."  Monica looked tenderly at her friend and reached for his hand.

Andrew gave her an affectionate squeeze.  "I think Joshua will support both of those things and be very happy about it."

Misty eyed, JenniAnn nodded and beamed at the two.  "I... I'm so happy for you and Liam."

"Thank you."  Arthur smiled at her then grew serious again.  "We also plan to get Liam into counseling as soon as possible.  We're going to ask Emma if her counselor takes children as patients."

"No need," Catherine interjected.  "I've referred kids to Dr. Sayer.  I think that's an excellent idea."

"I'm glad you think so.  Thanks, Cathy."  Arthur let out a deep breath.  "But even though we don't need to contact Emma now... it's only a matter of time before word gets out."

"That's true," Andrew agreed.  "It's only by chance that no one's stopped over here.  But it's not going to be long before Max or Kemara or someone stops by.  And we have Bible Study on Wednesday.  Everyone will be over here then."

"I know.  So... how do you suggest we tell everyone?" Arthur asked.

"Based on the sheer number of people, I think email," JenniAnn offered.  "You don't have to give everyone all the details, of course.  And maybe, if you think Liam would be okay with it, put something in there about looking forward to introducing him to everyone on Wednesday.  That might prevent well-wishers from dropping in randomly when you'll all be busy getting settled."

"You think everyone will be... wishing well?" Arthur questioned.  "I mean... I know they'll welcome Liam regardless but... they'll also know I... I screwed up."

"Every person getting the email will have screwed up somehow at some point," Andrew counseled.  "Besides, they know Joshua loves you, Arthur.  They saw how affectionate he was with you... as he was with all of us.  And they'll know, the whole time, that he knew everything.  They'll just be happy that a little boy is getting the loving family he needs."

Catherine nodded.  "I agree completely.  Arthur, Kelly had to make some explanation to get me here.  I was sorry to hear about your separation from Liam but I didn't waste a moment thinking about how he came to be here.  I was just excited for you and Monica and him.  Everyone's very much aware that being judgmental is going to be a disservice to that little boy.  And, after all, the Head of this family was conceived out of wedlock so... we know better."

Monica blushed slightly, remembering her behavior the day before but her unease quieted when Arthur clasped her right hand in both of his.

"Thank you, Catherine."  Arthur's eyes glistened as he smiled at his friend and colleague.  "Well... I don't have my laptop so if I could borrow someone's computer..."

"I'll get mine for you!" Violeta offered before bolting from the room.

Arthur chuckled then reached for her unopened letter.  He smiled as he read.  "Very sweet.  Although I'm confused about what Hugh Jackman has to do with this."

JenniAnn burst out laughing.  "Ask Andrew."

The others listened in amusement as Andrew shared his Jackman-starring parable with them all.


After Liam awoke, Arthur and Monica sat with him in Willowveil's comfy living room.

"So you've been liking it here, Liam?" Arthur asked after they'd finished a couple of books the boy had chosen from the library.

Liam nodded.  "Everyone's nice to me."

"Everyone here cares a lot about you, Liam," Monica assured.  "We're all very good friends... family really.  That's why your daddy and me are Belle's uncle and aunt."

Liam contemplated this.  "Are Andrew and JenniAnn my uncle and aunt?"

Arthur smiled.  "If you'd like them to be.  Violeta and Eli and Kelly can be your aunts and uncle, too.  Actually, they're are a lot of people who would love to be your aunts and uncles if you want them to be."

"I never had an aunt or uncle.  Lots of aunts and uncles?" Liam checked.

Arthur and Monica nodded.

"Only if you'd feel comfortable with that," Arthur assured.

"Yeah.  Is Catherine my grandma?"

"Well..."  Arthur thought for a moment.  Liam must have overheard Andrew or JenniAnn referring to her as such when Belle was near.

Monica knew Catherine was on board with whatever it took to make Liam feel comfortable.  "She can be," she answered.  "But you also have other grandparents.  Your daddy's mom and dad."

Arthur rested the scrapbook he'd been looking through the day before on his lap.  He flipped through a few pages and pointed to a photograph Monica had taken of him and his parents at Central Park. 

"That's your Grandma Molly and your Grandpa Grant," he introduced.

More tears threatened as Arthur stared at the image of his mom and dad.  He'd yet to tell them about Liam.  He knew they'd immediately want to drive up to meet the boy and he'd wanted to know what the situation was with Monica first.  He'd call them that evening.

Liam smiled at the photo.  "Are they here?"

Arthur shook his head.  "No, they live in Colorado.  That's a way's away.  But I know they'd love to come meet you.  Would that be okay?"

Liam nodded.  "So... I get to stay with you?"

Arthur hugged him.  "Of course, s-son.  You can stay with me as long as you want.  And I hope that's for a long time... until you're a grown-up."

Liam bowed his head but his smile was unmistakable.  "So are we going back to your apartment?"

"Well, we'll probably spend some time there but we thought it might be nice for you to be closer to Belle and JenniAnn and Andrew and..."

"Aunt JenniAnn and Uncle Andrew?" Liam interrupted.

Beaming, Arthur nodded.  "Exactly.  So...  Monica and I thought maybe you'd like for us to live at her cottage not far from here.  What do you think?"

Liam looked to Monica.  "What's a cottage?"

"It's a small, cozy house," Monica replied.  "In the spring, when it's warmer, we can build so it'll be bigger but it's big enough for right now.  You would have your own room."

"Would you still live there?" Liam questioned.

"Would that be okay if I did?"

Arthur held his breath, knowing Monica would be crushed if Liam said no.

Liam peered into Monica's eyes.

The angel blinked back tears, remembering the tiny baby who had looked up at her.

Then, to Arthur's and Monica's surprise, the little boy reached out to touch her face. 

Seemingly surprised by his own actions, Liam hastily drew his hand back but Monica reached for it.  She gave it a light squeeze and then kissed it.

Arthur studied his son's face, trying to guess at what he was feeling. 

Finally, Liam smiled.  "It would be good."

A smile lit up Monica's whole face.  "Good!  So would you like to go there tonight or do you want to stay at the castle again?"

"If I go to the cot... cot..."

"Cottage," Arthur clarified.

"Cottage.  Do I get to come back to the castle?" Liam asked.

"Of course!" Monica reassured.  "Daddy and I come visit everyone at the castle at least once a week but usually more often.  I'm sure Aunt JenniAnn and Uncle Andrew would love having you visit."

"Can I go tell them that I'm going to your... cottage?"

"Sure!" Arthur responded.  "Let's go see them."

The three trooped to the kitchen where Andrew and JenniAnn were fixing a snack of peanut butter crackers, cheese squares, and apple bites.

Andrew smiled at them.  "Hey there!  Just in time!"  He laid the platter on the table. 

"What can we get you all to drink?" JenniAnn asked after putting some shredded cheese onto Belle's tray. 

Liam laughed when the baby leaned forward and began to eat directly from the tray.

Chuckling, Andrew shook his head.  "I think maybe she's watched the dogs eat a little to often."

Smiling, Monica went to the refrigerator.  "You two have done enough.  I'll get drinks.  Looks like we have milk and orange juice and..."

"Butterbeer," Andrew finished.

"Liam, what would you like?" Monica asked.

Liam glanced at Andrew who smiled at him.

"Would you like more butterbeer, Liam?" he offered.

"Yes, please, Uncle Andrew."

Touched, Andrew patted the boy's hand.  "Coming right up."

Once all the drinks had been doled out and Liam had inhaled a few bites of his snack, he looked to his new aunt and uncle.

"Mom-Monica and daddy said we can go to the cottage tonight but that we'll be back to see you soon," he told them.

"That's wonderful!" JenniAnn replied.

"Maybe we could meet for church since we didn't get there today?" Arthur suggested.  "Liam, would you be okay with going to church?"

The boy nodded.  "I like church.  I like the singing."

Monica smiled.  "Me too."

"I think for tomorrow St. Mary Mag's may be the best choice, you all think?" Arthur checked.

Andrew, JenniAnn, and Monica readily nodded.  While they all liked Pastor Walter at Arthur's church, they also shared the same vision of Maddy Morris and her cohorts going a little wild over Liam if they were there.  Fr. Mike would be much more shy child-friendly.

"Then we have a plan!" Arthur announced. 

Liam smiled and refocused his attention on his snack.


Arthur was grateful that he hadn't finished assembling Liam's bed.  It made it much easier for Andrew and him to load it into the van and bring it to Veritas.  By dinner time, they had the bed assembled and Monica made it up with the freshly washed, bright green bedding Arthur had bought the previous afternoon.  Arthur's fish tank was relocated to the top of a bookshelf Andrew had supplied.  Then, as the angel of death and Arthur hung some vibrantly colored frames with plain paper inside them at Liam's eye level, Monica helped him wash his hair.  After she'd gotten Liam into his pajamas, the two made their way to his new room.

Liam smiled when he saw his very own bed with his puppy sitting on the pillows.

"Joshua," Liam murmured as he snuggled the plush dog.

Andrew, Arthur, and Monica all looked at each other.

Monica smiled.  "I think Joshua would be honored," she whispered.

"When are we going to tell him about Joshua, by the way?" Arthur queried.

Monica tried to puzzle that out.

"I'd give it a few days," Andrew suggested.  "I would suspect Joshua may pay you a visit.  After all, he'll need to see you, Monica.  Might be best to have that talk with Joshua present."

With hopeful smiles, Arthur and Monica nodded. 

"I'll head back to Willowveil so you three can settle in for the night." 

Monica hugged Andrew.  "Thank you.  You've been so wonderful, Andrew.  You and JenniAnn and everyone..."

Andrew patted her back.  "It was our pleasure.  I'm thrilled for both of you.  Parenthood... it... it's a blessing."  He turned to Arthur and hugged him.  "Blessings after blessings... with some drama thrown in."

Arthur laughed as he returned Andrew's hug.  "I can't wait.  Thank you, Andrew.  We'll see you tomorrow."

"You bet!" 

Liam set down his dog and approached his uncle.  "Are you leaving?"

Andrew knelt down and nodded.  "I gotta get back to Aunt JenniAnn and Belle and Aunt Violeta.  But we'll see you tomorrow.  And you can meet our friend, Fr. Mike."

"Whose father is he?" Liam asked.

Monica smiled.  "He's a priest, Liam.  They get called 'Father' even when they don't have kids."

"Oh."  Liam hugged Andrew.  "Good night, Uncle Andrew."

"Good night, Liam."

Before he left, Andrew smiled at the three.  They were a beautiful family.  When he was outside, he gazed up at the star-filled sky.

"Thank You for making this happen," he prayed.

Andrew continued to smile throughout the brief ride to Willowveil.


Liam sat between Arthur and Monica as they read Swimmy to him.  Though he loved the book, he yawned several times and leaned heavily first on Arthur's arm and then on Monica's.  The two adults smiled at each other over his head.

"The end," Arthur finished.  "And I think just in the nick of time, too.  You look pretty sleepy, Liam."

Liam nodded. 

"Let's get you tucked in then," Arthur suggested.

He and Monica stood and turned down the covers.  When Liam was laying down, they tucked him in.

Arthur bent to kiss Liam's forehead and, when the boy smiled, Monica followed suit.

"May God watch over and protect you, Liam," Monica prayed.  "I know He does and I know He loves you.  And so do Daddy and I."

With another sleepy smile, Liam patted her hand then cuddled Joshua the dog to him and closed his eyes. 

"We'll leave a night light on for you," Arthur whispered.  "You let us know if you need anything.  Sweet dreams, son."

"'Kay.  Night, Daddy.  Night, Monica."

"G'night, Liam," Monica replied, smoothing his hair before she and Arthur left the room.

They both sighed and embraced when they were in the hall.

"I... I'm very happy," Monica murmured.

Arthur kissed her forehead.  "Me too.  And I love you so."

"I love you, too, a stór."  Monica snuggled against his shoulder and remained so for a few moments before she pulled away.  "I'll make you up a bed on the couch."

Arthur squeezed her hand.  "Thank you."  Though he planned to move to the loft, they'd decided it would be best if he stayed on the main floor for Liam's first few nights.  "I'll start some tea?" he offered.

Monica nodded.  "Please."

When they were both ready, they reconvened in the living room and sat together on the couch.

After sipping his tea, Arthur withdrew his cell phone from his pocket.  "So here I go..."

Monica hugged his arm as he called his parents.

"Hey, Mom and Dad!  How are you?  Oh.  I told you that you need to take it easy...  Dad, you're seventy years old.  Yes, I think you should listen to Mom.  And I'm sure they were very grateful for the help but maybe do a little less heavy lifting and...  Okay, okay!  Listen, Monica's here and she's looking concerned so...  Sure." 

Arthur pressed his palm against the phone.  "It's not a big deal.  Dad was volunteering at the shelter there and lifted a box of donated goods wrong and now his back hurts.  The doctor says it's fine but... they want you on speaker phone."

"Okay but maybe we should go to my room and close the door so, well... they might wake Liam."

"Good idea."  Arthur raised the phone to his ear again.  "Yeah, we'll put you on speaker phone, Mom and Dad.  Just give us a second."

They moved to Monica's room and closed the door, leaving it slightly ajar in case Liam awoke and was scared.

"Okay, Mom and Dad.  We're here."

"Monica!  How are you, darling?" Arthur's mother asked.

"I'm very well, Molly.  How about yourself?"

"Just peachy!"

"Oh good!  Grant, I'm sorry to hear about your back."

The man on the phone grunted.  "Molly makes it sound worse than it is.  How's my boy treating you, Monica?"

Monica smiled at Arthur.  "Well, thank you."

"As he should.  A real life angel..."

Arthur and Monica could just see Grant shaking his head.  They'd told the couple the truth about Monica and Dyeland during their visit to New York that August.  Grant had scarcely been able to believe it although a trip through the portal had quickly brought him around.

"She is," Arthur averred, beaming at Monica.  "Mom and Dad, there's a reason we're calling you tonight.  There's something we need to tell you."

"You're both all right, aren't you?" Molly asked, worry evident in her voice.

"We're fine, Mom.  We've just had a pretty surprising day and a half.  See... well, I just found out that I have a son.  He's five and... and his name is Liam and he's living with us now," Arthur got out in a rush.

There was silence on the other end of the line.

"Liam's adorable and so sweet, Molly and Grant.  I just know you'll both love him," Monica encouraged.

"B-but... how..." Grant choked out.

"Remember when I got back from China and kept trying to make contact with that girl... Nessa?" Arthur questioned.

"You knew she was pregnant and you didn't tell..."

"No, Mom.  I had no idea," Arthur corrected.  "I had no idea until yesterday.  Remember how she'd never get back to me?  Well, now maybe we know why."

"Son, how can you even be sure..."

"We got the DNA results back and he's mine, Dad.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt."

"Monica, what do you think about this?" Grant asked.

"Well, I... I was shocked yesterday and not... not really thinking straight but... I love this little boy.  And Arthur and I both know... people make mistakes.  But Liam... he's not a mistake.  He's never been a mistake." 

Arthur hugged Monica's shoulders when she began to cry.  "We've had a couple good, long talks, Mom and Dad.  We're okay and, while Liam's been through a lot... too much... he seems happy now."

"Where's the mother?  This Nessa woman?"

"She passed away, Mom.  Liam's been in foster care but he ran away to... to find me."

"I'm sorry to hear that it came to pass that way but... when can we see our grandson?"

Hearing Molly's question, Arthur and Monica at last smiled with relief.

"JenniAnn said she could meet you at her parents' any time this week.  It'd only be an eight or nine hour drive from Denver and then you could take the portal a-and come meet Liam," Arthur invited. 

The two listened as they heard shuffling and then crying.

"Mom... Dad..."  Arthur's own eyes filled.

"We'll be at the Chandlers' tomorrow around 4:00," Grant replied, his voice husky.

"You... you think he'll want to see us so soon?"

Monica's heart broke for Arthur's mother.  "Yes, Molly.  We showed Liam your pictures and he's looking forward to meeting you."


"This... it... it's just very unexpected, Arthur."

Arthur frowned, hearing a trace of judgment in his father's voice.  "I know, Dad."

"Well, we'll see you tomorrow.  Good night, son, Monica."

"Wait!" Molly bellowed.

"Mom, what is it?"

"Could you send us a picture?"

Arthur smiled.  "Of course.  I'll text you one as soon as we hang up."

"O-okay.  Thank you.  I... I can't wait to meet Liam.  I love you, Arthur.  You too, Monica."

"Love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, Molly.  And you, Grant."

"Yes.  Love to you both.  Good night."

After Grant's gruff voice quieted, the line went dead.

"He's disappointed.  I knew he would be."  Arthur rested his head in his hands.  "Mom probably is, too, but she's long wanted a grandbaby so..."

Monica hugged him.  "Wait until tomorrow, Arthur.  I have a feeling that one look at his grandson will soften your dad's heart.  You'll see."

Arthur smiled as she kissed his temple.  "I hope so.  Well... I'll go peek in on Liam and then I think I'm going to turn in.  Tomorrow could be interesting and we'll both need our sleep."

"We will.  And coffee."

Chuckling, Arthur nodded.  "And coffee."  He embraced Monica.  "Good night.  A-and thank you for today.  It could have been terrible but... but, instead, it was beautiful.  Sweet dreams, milady."

Monica brushed some hair behind his ear and kissed Arthur's brow.  "G'night.  Sweet dreams to you, a stór."

After one last smile, Arthur rose and moved to close the door.

"Please leave it open a crack... just in case," Monica requested.

"Of course." 

Arthur crept into Liam's room and peered at the boy.  He smiled when he saw the gentle rise and fall of his chest.  Silently, he willed his love onto Liam and then settled onto the couch and, after praying, drifted into a deep, easy sleep.



Liam sat on the edge of his mattress and rocked back and forth.  He felt sick and he wanted his mommy but Rodney was there and he knew better than to get near him.  But his nose and his throat hurt and he could hardly breathe.  Finally, he mustered his courage, crept out of his room, and headed to his mommy's room. 


Liam pushed open the door and stared in confusion at his mommy and Rodney.

"What the hell!"

Liam jumped.


Liam turned to run but Rodney grabbed him by the back of his T-shirt.

"What do you think you were doing, you little pervert?"

Liam began to whimper and struggled to get away.

"Rod, he doesn't know!  He's just..."

"I'll show you what happens when you creep around you piece of..."


Liam gasped as Rodney tossed him into the wall.  Then the man's foot made contact with his rib cage.

"Don't hurt him!"

Liam began to cry as his mommy shrieked.

Rodney slapped him hard across his backside and then the two adults began to struggle.

"Don't touch him a..."

Through his tears, Liam saw his mother's face contort.  Then she crumpled to the ground.

Rodney unleashed a string of obscenities.

"Nessa, quit playing around!  I didn't hit you that hard.  Go get back in bed, bitch."

Liam crawled towards his mother.  "Mommy..."

She reached up and touched his cheek then her hand fell to the ground.


Liam's tears came quicker as he wondered why his mommy looked funny and was making weird noises.  Then she became very still.

"Nessa, get up off the damn floor and..."

Rodney knelt beside her.

Liam watched as the man's hand went to his mommy's neck.  He flinched and tried to bat Rodney's hand away.  "No!  Don't hurt her!"

Rodney stared at him for a moment, his eyes cold.  Then he jumped up, grabbed his belongings, and fled the apartment.





Liam awoke in tears and with his heart pounding in his chest.  He looked around the room, taking in the dimly illuminated blank canvases on the wall.  He pet his dog.

He was in Monica's cottage with her and his daddy and he was safe.

But Mommy was dead and Uncle Eli had taken her to Heaven and he couldn't see her.

He trembled as he remembered that night and other bad nights when Mommy herself had scared him and hurt him.  He felt very, very alone and cold.

Sliding out of his bed, Liam grabbed Joshua and crept out of his room.  He stepped into the hallway and stood between Monica's door and the living room.  He looked to his sleeping daddy and then back to the door.  After a few moments, he pushed it open.  After tiptoeing to the side of the bed, Liam stared at Monica.  She looked a lot like his Mommy but she smiled more... even in her sleep she was smiling.  He closed his eyes and remembered her eyes, more gentle and more clear than his Mommy's.  He bit his lip, feeling badly for wanting her more than his Mommy.

Then terror struck Liam.

Monica was so still, so quiet. 

Whimpering, Liam reached out to touch her.

Suddenly Monica's eyes shot open and she gasped.

Liam slunk away and cowered near the door.

Monica flipped on her bedside lamp.  "Baby...  It's okay.  I was just startled.  Oh... you've been crying.  Liam, come here."

When the boy returned to the bedside, Monica lifted him up onto the bed and hugged him.

"What's wrong, sweet boy?" she murmured.

"I... I had a bad dream a-about Mommy a-and then I... I thought..."  Liam began to cry.

Monica settled him into her lap and softly rocked back and forth until he had calmed.

"I th-thought you w-were d-dead," Liam stuttered after several moments.

With tears in her eyes, Monica kissed the boy's forehead.  "Oh, Liam, you don't have to worry about that any more.  Remember what Uncle Eli said about Uncle Andrew, Aunt Kelly, and me being angels?"

Liam nodded against her shoulder.

"Well, that means we'll never, ever die.  I promise you that."


"Never," Monica vowed. 

Liam let out a little sigh.  "Good."

Monica smiled and softly stroked his hair.  "Do you want to talk about your bad dream?"

"It... it was about Mommy being dead."

"Poor baby..."  Monica tightened her embrace.  "I am so, so sorry you saw that and that you had a bad dream about it."

"Mom-mommy's for sure in Heaven now?"

Monica nodded.  "Yes, she's in Heaven with her Mommy and Daddy and with God and she will always be happy and safe there."

Liam snuggled closer.  "Is she still my Mommy?"

"She will always be your mommy, baby.  I know she watches over you and loves you still."

Liam was quiet for a few moments.  "Monica?"


"You're going to help Daddy take care of me?"

"Oh yes.  And I'm very much looking forward to that."  After another smile, Monica kissed Liam's hair.

"Do... do you think it would be okay with Mommy if... if I called you Monny?  It... it's not the same so I thought she'd be okay if..."

Monica's eyes brimmed.  "I think that would be okay with your Mommy."

"Would it be okay with you?"

"I... I would like that very much."

Liam smiled and sat up.  He planted a kiss on Monica's cheek.  "Monny..."

Monica rested her forehead against his and smiled.  "Liam."

Liam yawned and sunk against her.  "Can I stay with you?"

"Yes," Monica agreed.  She told herself that she didn't want to shake Liam's trust in her or hurt his tender heart but, in truth, she knew that she loved having the little one cuddled near her.  She was reminded so strongly of those first two days of his life.

Monica laid back down and, once Liam was snuggled against her with his dog, she turned off the light.

"Night, night, Liam."

"Night, night, Monny."

Monica wrapped her arm around the boy and sighed.  She smiled when Liam sighed, too.

The angel's last thoughts before she had drifted back to sleep were that, once again, God had given her moments more precious than any Satan had counterfeited.

She had a son to love and adore and protect.  Always.


Monday, October 13th, 2014

Arthur stirred when the light began creeping into the front window.  He groaned in protest before remembering why he was sleeping on Monica's couch. 

After pulling on his robe, Arthur headed towards Liam's room but then noticed the door to Monica's bedroom was open.  He poked his head inside and instantly smiled.

Monica was still asleep but smiling beautifully as she held Liam whose face was obscured by his toy.

Inching closer, Arthur was able to see his boy and noted how peaceful and sweet Liam looked.  His little fingers were entwined with Monica's.

The image was so endearing and beautiful that Arthur prayed he would be able to hold onto it forever. 

He quietly left the room and made his way to the kitchen.  Since Monica had fixed him breakfast the previous morning, he was determined to return the favor... and leave Liam and Monica to their rest as long as possible.

It turned out to not be long at all.  Arthur had just finished mixing pancake batter when Monica and Liam stepped into the room, both wearing sleepy smiles.

"Well, good morning, milady and my boy!" Arthur greeted.

"Morning, Daddy," Liam replied.

Monica kissed Arthur's cheek.  "G'morning."

"How'd you both sleep?"

Liam looked to Monica and grabbed her hand.

"Liam had a nightmare but then we talked and went back to sleep," Monica answered.

Arthur crouched down and hugged Liam then kissed his forehead.  "I'm sorry, son.  You feel okay now?"

"Yes, Daddy.  Monny let me stay with her.  I sleeped better after that."

Arthur decided to not comment on the new pet name.  He smiled and tousled Liam's hair.  "Good.  I'm glad.  Feel up for pancakes?"

Liam's eyes grew wide.  "I love pancakes."

Arthur chuckled.  "Monica and I have a friend who loves pancakes, too.  His name is Yosef.  I hope you meet him some day."

"Is he my uncle?"

Monica laughed.  "No, sweetheart.  Yosef... he's even more than an uncle.  He's so important to us that we really have no title for him cause none would do.  He's only Yosef."

"Oh.  Okay."

"How about some orange juice?" Monica offered.

"Yes, please."

Monica poured three glasses of juice and set them on the table. 

Liam reached for his glass and took a sip.  When he was done, he just missed the edge of the table and the glass plummeted to the floor. 

The little boy burst into tears and scrambled to get off his chair, falling in the process.

"Liam!" Monica cried.

She scooped the bawling child up and cradled him. 

Arthur knelt beside them.  "Liam, does anything hurt?  Is your arm okay?  What about your head?  Did you hit your head?"

"Sweet boy, good baby," Monica cooed, over and over.

After several minutes, Liam calmed.  Jerking with the remnants of sobs, he looked from Monica to Arthur and back again.

Monica gently transferred him to his father's arms then went to grab a tissue and dabbed the tears and snot from Liam's face.

"Liam, are you hurt?" Arthur quietly asked.

"N-no, Daddy."

"Good.  Liam, it's just juice.  It'll only take a minute to clean up and, look, the glass was plastic.  It didn't break.  But even if it had... it was just an accident.  We wouldn't yell at you or hurt you over an accident.  Son, we have rules in this family and you know what one is?"

Monica looked curiously at Arthur, wondering herself.

Liam shook his head.

"We never, ever hit or kick.  The only, only time doing that would ever, ever be okay was if you had to in order to protect someone.  So Monny and I will never hit or kick you or each other.  Never.  Got it?"

Liam nodded.  "Do... do you still love me?"

Arthur tightened his embrace.  "Liam, I will always love you.  No matter what you say or do."

"Or what you don't say or don't do," Monica added.  "We'll always love you."

Arthur settled the boy on his knee so he and Monica could look into his eyes.  "Liam, I'm very sorry that I wasn't with you before."

"Why... why weren't you?" Liam questioned, his voice barely audible.

Arthur sighed.  "I wish I had a good answer for you, my boy, but I don't know.  Your mommy didn't tell me about you and so... so I had no idea you were out there.  Please know that, if I had, I would have wanted to be with you, Liam, from... from the time you were born."

Monica nodded as tears filled her eyes.  "Me... me too."

Arthur reached for her hand.  "Tell him," he mouthed.

Monica went to her room and returned with the envelope Violeta had given her.  "Liam, five years ago, God gave me a very special assignment... that's when He sends angels to help someone.  Well, that time He sent me to a hospital to help care for all the newborn babies.  I loved my time there and I loved all the babies.  B-but there was one baby in particular who... who I especially loved.  He didn't have a name yet so I... I called him 'sweet boy.'"

"You called me that," Liam murmured.

The angel nodded.  "God... He keeps some photographs of us angels at work with our assignments.  And He... He gave me this one yesterday."  Monica handed the photograph to the boy.

Liam smiled at the joyful image of his Monny. 

Monica knelt beside Arthur and wrapped her arms around Liam's shoulders.  "That little baby is you, Liam.  I... I loved taking care of you until... til your Mommy took you home."

Liam stared at the tiny baby, hardly believing that was him.  But he liked thinking Monny had held him when he was a baby.  And he didn't think an angel would lie.


Arthur relinquished his hold and let Liam slip onto Monica's lap.

As she cuddled the little one, Arthur tore some paper towels off of the dispenser and stooped to wipe up the spilled juice.

"I want to help."

Arthur smiled as Liam came towards him.  "Thank you, Liam."

Accepting the paper towels from his father, Liam stooped down and wiped up some of the juice.

"All better!" Monica cheered. 

Liam was all smiles as they resumed their breakfast preparations.


Arthur and Monica were grateful that the congregation at St. Mary Magdalene's was spirited but small.  There were no more than fifty people attending Monday Mass and Liam seemed comfortable and content throughout the proceedings.  He proved a quick study with the music and after hearing the choruses once, he would sing along.  He was particularly amused by Belle's attempts to do the same.

After the service had ended, the Dyeland crew waited until Fr. Mike had bid the other worshipers adieu at the main door.  When he was finished, he came towards them with a smile stretching from ear to ear.

"I'm so glad you all came!  I was hoping I'd get to meet Mr. Liam soon."

The priest crouched down and smiled at the boy who was peeking around Monica's skirt.

"Hi there, Liam.  I hope you enjoyed your time here today."

Liam nodded.  "The music was pretty."

"Wasn't it?  Listen, it just so happens that my mom brought me a big box of homemade cookies after Masses yesterday.  Would you all maybe want to join me at the rectory for some?"

Liam tugged on Monica's hand.

"What is it, baby?"

"What's rectory?"

Monica smiled.  "The rectory is where Fr. Mike lives.  It's just a house except it's connected to the church."


"Would you like to go?"

Liam sized up Fr. Mike.  He decided he liked him. 


"Awesome!" the priest responded. 

Belle squealed and angled away from Andrew who was holding her.

The angel of death laughed.  "Fr. Mike, I think it's your turn to hold her."

"Well, I'd be delighted."  Fr. Mike beamed as he took the baby into his arms.

Belle studied his stole with interest.

"I think she likes the colors, Fr. Mike," JenniAnn guessed.

Fr. Mike kissed the baby's hair.  "I like them myself this time of year.  So... cookies and milk await!"

The four adults and Liam followed the priest and baby over to the rectory.  Liam gazed around, taking everything in.

"I think the study would be most comfortable," Fr. Mike decided.  "And I have some toys in there."

While Monica, Andrew, and JenniAnn got Liam and Belle focused on the toys the priest kept for when his nieces, nephews, and parishioners' children visited; Arthur went with Fr. Mike to the kitchen.

"If you'll excuse me just one moment, I'm going to get out of my alb and stole.  I don't want them covered with cookie crumbs and chocolate smears which knowing me... would happen."

Arthur chuckled.  "Sure.  Anything I can do?"

"You can start pouring milk if you'd like.  I got a couple gallons.  I really was hoping you all might pay me a visit."

"Yeah...  I can't speak for everyone else but I definitely need some spiritual guidance." 

Fr. Mike squeezed Arthur's shoulder.  "I'll be right back and then we'll talk."


No sooner had Arthur finished pouring the milk than the priest returned.

"Much better!  So... how are you doing?"

Arthur sighed.  "Still overwhelmed.  But much better than Saturday and even better than yesterday.  I... I'm just glad Liam's here but... but it's hard to think of those five lost years.  He, umm, there was some abuse and neglect a-and..."

Fr. Mike waved Arthur to a chair.  "I'm so sorry to hear that.  Do you know much about what Liam went through?"

Arthur shrugged.  "Just pieces.  I think from his mother's side it was mostly neglect... although some verbal abuse.  But we know she had at least one boyfriend who... who beat him.  My boy...  A-and he has some cigarette burns.  We don't know who was responsible for... for those."

The priest shook his head.  "That's terrible.  I just can't understand..."

"Me neither.  There is a bright spot.  Liam ran away from his foster home Saturday morning in order to come find me and, well, guess who helped him to get on the subway and find my apartment?"  Arthur smiled.

Fr. Mike's eyes list up.  "Joshua?"

"Yeah.  We didn't see him but Andrew showed Liam a picture and he IDed him.  And clearly Joshua made an impression because... did you see that little plush dog that Liam's carrying?"

The priest nodded.

"He named it Joshua."

"Seems fitting to give the name to something he finds comforting."

"I... I thought so.  Fr. Mike?"


"Is there a way to find out if Liam's been baptized?" Arthur queried.  "Nessa, his mother, was Catholic so he may have been baptized Catholic.  And that's completely fine with me if he has been and Monica and I will see to it that he gets to Mass and everything.  But if he's not baptized... I'd like to get him baptized and whether that's as a Catholic or a Lutheran... to be honest, I really don't care.  I'd just like him to have that connection to Joshua."

"Of course.  I'm sorry, I can't remember your email exactly.  Where did you say his mother was from?"

"Philadelphia.  And we know Liam was born there."

"Okay.  Well, one of my seminary buddies is a priest in Philly.  I'll ask him to check around.  You said Liam's grandparents passed on when he was two?"

Arthur nodded.

"Maybe we can find their obituaries and see if they had a funeral Mass.  That might help narrow it down to a church.  But, one way or another, we'll figure it out," Fr. Mike promised.

Arthur heaved a sigh of relief.  "Thank you.  And... thank you for... for treating me so kindly even with knowing..."

"That you're a sinner like the rest of us?  Already knew that.  Nothing's changed, Arthur.  Nothing except for the fact that you and Monica have a little boy now to love and protect and care for.  And that's a beautiful thing as far as I'm concerned," the priest assured.  "And I know Joshua is rejoicing in the family you three are making."

With tears in his eyes, Arthur got to his feet and hugged the priest.  "Th-thank you."

"It's only the truth.  Now, let's get these cookies and milk out to the others."

Arthur grinned.  "Yeah.  My boy's got a sweet tooth for sure."

"He'll fit in well," Fr. Mike opined with a laugh.

When they carried the trays into the study, they found the others clustered near a book shelf.

"Hey, what are you all looking at?" Fr. Mike asked as they set the treats down on a table.

Liam turned away from the shelf and looked to the priest.  "You know Joshua."  He pointed to a framed photograph of Fr. Mike, John, and Joshua.

"I do!" Fr. Mike replied.  "He's a wonderful friend.  I understand you got to meet him?"

Liam nodded.  "He was nice.  He helped me.  Will I see him again?"

"Oh, I have a feeling that you'll definitely be seeing Joshua again, Liam," Fr. Mike assured. 

Smiling once more at the image, Liam turned away and went to his father.

"Wow..." he whispered as he looked at all the cookies.

"Fr. Mike's mom is a very, very good cookiemaker," JenniAnn related.  "We'll have to make sure you meet her."

"Oh, yes," Monica agreed.  "Fr. Mike, will your parents be at Bible study on Wednesday?"

"Definitely.  And with more cookies, I'm sure."  Fr. Mike laughed at Liam's wide-eyed smile.  "Well, go ahead.  Help yourselves, everyone!  Liam, I'd like to hear all about your new room."

Arthur and Monica smiled at each other as Liam took a couple cookies and plopped down beside Fr. Mike on the couch and began to describe his room.  They were grateful that their boy's circle of friends was growing.


Grandma and Grandpa

That afternoon, Arthur, Monica, and Liam waited at the cottage for Molly and Grant.  While Liam focused on drawing on the blank canvases in his room, Arthur and Monica kept watch in the living room.  Arthur nervously looking at the clock several times.

Monica wrapped her arms around his middle.  "It will all go well.  I know it will."

"Dad just sounded so... disappointed," Arthur whispered.

"He was shocked, Arthur.  You can't hold that against him.  We were both..."  Monica hung her head as she thought of that first day.

Arthur rested his chin on her hair.  "I know.  I suppose part of it is... well, Mom's always been very vocal about her desire for grandchildren."

Monica's face flushed as she remembered her first visit with Molly and Grant, before either had known she was an angel.  Molly had asked if she wanted to have kids.  Unthinkingly, and because it was the truth, she had answered "yes" and sent Molly into an excited tizzy. 

Arthur stroked Monica's hair, trying to soothe her.  "I feel like I cheated Mom out of those five years, too."

"You did all you could, Arthur."

"Did I?  After Mass, I got to wondering what might have happened had I gone to Philly to check on Nessa."

Monica shrugged.  "Maybe it could have gone well...  Or maybe she would have felt threatened and God only knows how that may have turned out.  If it had come to a custody dispute, she might have said all manner of terrible things to Liam about you a-and now... we might have even more emotional issues to help him with.  As hard as it is, maybe it's best that you were a non-entity for much of his life.  You get a nearly clean slate."

"True."  Arthur smiled at her and kissed her forehead.  "You're very wise."

"I'm very old," Monica countered with a smile.

"You don't look a day over thirty."

"But some day..."

"That won't change anything about how I feel about you, Monica.  No... actually, it probably will.  Everything will deepen and grow," Arthur assured.

Monica rested her cheek against his shoulder as grateful tears welled in her eyes.  As she was looking out the window, she saw movement.

"Andrew...  Your parents."

Arthur turned towards the window.

"I'll go sit with Liam and give you a chance to talk with them first," Monica offered.

Arthur nodded.  "Thank you."

After Monica had gone, Arthur stepped outside and hastened to his parents.  Despite his concerns, he found he longed for their embrace. 

"Arthur..." Molly murmured when she saw her son.

"Molly, Grant, why don't you let me take your bags on over to Henry's?" Andrew suggested, knowing the family needed some alone time.

Grant managed a smile.  "Thank you, Andrew."

Molly released her bags but kept tight hold of one.  "It... it's for Liam."

Andrew patted her arm.  "Got it.  I'll see you two tomorrow if not before."

"Th-thank you."

"You're very welcome."  Andrew waved to Arthur as he approached then turned away with the Reeses' luggage.

"Mom... Dad," Arthur greeted.  "I... I'm so glad..."  He hugged his father and then his mother.  As he began to pull away from her, he felt stricken and instead buried his face in her shoulder.

"Oh Arthur..."  Molly began to cry when she felt her son's body begin to heave with sobs.  "Sweetheart, let's go sit down."

Grant led the way to a nearby picnic table.  He sat across from his wife and son.

"How's the boy?" Grant asked.

Arthur swiped at some tears and smiled.  "He... he's beautiful and so smart and he did so well at Mass today."


"Nessa was Catholic, Dad.  I think she may have baptized Liam Catholic.  I have a priest friend, Fr. Mike, looking into it.  Monica and I love Fr. Mike and thought it would be good for Liam to meet him regardless."

"I see."

"So... so he knows about God?" Molly asked.

Arthur nodded.  "He has a very basic understanding, I think.  And Monica and I have been telling him God loves him.  Fr. Mike has this wooden statue of the Holy Family and Liam knew who the three people were."

Molly smiled, glad the boy had that comfort.  "Good."

Arthur wished that he could tell his parents that Liam had met Joshua... Jesus... but he and Monica hadn't told them anything about that.  They'd been on a mission trip all during the Superstar run and, after that, it had just seemed cruel to tell them.  One day... they hoped.

"Arthur, I'm only going to ask this once but... how did this happen?  I thought you knew better than to have unprotected..."

"Grant!" Molly cried.

"Molly, I'm glad Liam is here.  Don't get me wrong but Arthur... are... are you sure he's the only one?" Grant pressed.  "A-and have... have you been tested?"

His face flushed, Arthur nodded.  "Yes, after I got back from China.  I did use protection, Dad, but it failed.  Only that once."

Grant buried his head in his hands and let out the breath he'd been holding.  "G-good.  That... it's a load off my mind."  He smiled at his son.

Arthur realized then why his dad had been so standoffish.  They'd all spent time in Africa, face to face with the AIDS epidemic.  He took his father's right hand in both of his. 

"I'm healthy, Dad.  I just had a physical last month and I'm healthy as a horse.  And... I think I'm going to take myself off the list for the more risky trips... at least for these next few months.  Liam... he has a lot to cope with so I want to be near him as much as possible."

"Poor, sweet baby..." Molly whispered.  "Where is he?"

Arthur smiled.  "Monica's with him at the cottage.  Would you like to go meet him now?"

"Yes... I would," Grant replied.

"Very much!" his wife added.

Beaming, Arthur helped his mother from the bench.  "Then let's go!"

The three headed towards the cottage and made their way to Liam's room.

Peeking inside, they saw Liam settled onto Monica's lap as she read to him.

Molly gasped.  "My God...  He looks like he could be hers, too," she whispered.

Arthur nodded.  "He is hers... but I know what you mean.  He's taken to calling her Monny."  Knowing that the two were near the end of the story, he waited until they were finished then motioned for his parents to step inside.

"That's Belle's favorite book?" Liam asked.

Monica nodded.  "Oh, yes.  It was the very first book Uncle Andrew and Aunt JenniAnn read to her.  Aunt Kelly gave it to her just like she gave you this copy."

Liam smiled, liking the idea of sharing a favorite book with Belle.  "I like the pictures."

Monica kissed his hair.  "Me too, baby."  She looked up and smiled at the new arrivals.  "Hello, there!"

Molly's eyes filled as she stared at the little boy who, barring his hair color, looked so much like her son.

Arthur knelt down beside the two.  "Liam, these are my parents, your Grandpa Grant and Grandma Molly."

Grant smiled at the boy and held out his hand.  "Pleased to meet you, Liam!" 

Liam took his grandfather's hand.  "Hi... Grandpa."

Grant visibly puffed up.  "Now I like the sounds of that."

Liam smiled.

"Mom?" Arthur checked, glancing at her.

Still stunned, Molly held out her own hand.  "Liam..."

Liam shook her hand and cocked his head.  "Are you okay, Grandma?"

Hearing the treasured name, Molly began to cry.

"I... I'm sorry," Liam stuttered, beginning to back away towards Monica.

Molly swept him into her arms.  "Oh, Liam, don't you think any... anything thing of it!  I'm just crying because I am so... so glad you're here."  She kissed his cheek and beamed at him.  "You are a very handsome little boy, you know that?"

Blushing but with a smile that betrayed some pleasure, Liam giggled and shook his head.

"Well, you are!  And when your daddy called to tell us about you, I could just hear in his voice how happy he is to have you here.  And Monic... Monny, too," Molly gushed.  She stroked the boy's hair, marveling anew at how much he resembled Arthur.  "You look so much like your daddy..."

Liam smiled at Arthur. 

Molly sighed contently then released the boy.  "Liam, Grandpa and I bought you a few presents.  Would you like to open them now?"

Liam looked to Arthur and Monica.

"Your call, son," Arthur answered. 

"I think I'd say yes if I were you, though," Monica added with a wink.

Beaming Liam nodded at his grandparents.  "Yes, please."

Grant reached into the bag.  "First, we bought you a few of your daddy's books.  I see you have Swimmy there but he had a few other favorites, too."

"And then this fellow is your very own."  Molly pulled a tissue wrapped package from the bag.

Liam tore away the paper to reveal a teddy bear.  He immediately hugged his new friend.  "Thank you..."  He gaped at the books then looked at Arthur.  "These are your books?"

Arthur nodded.  "Ours now.  And I can't wait until we can read them all."

Liam smiled as he brushed his hands over the spines of the books.

Monica blinked back tears as she watched Liam admire his gifts.  Earlier in the afternoon, Liam had emptied his book bag.  Instead of the toys Monica had been expecting a little boy to carry, he'd unloaded some worn clothes, an even rattier blanket, and two scratched Disney DVDs that, when she'd put them on for him, were nearly unwatchable.  His only "toy" was a small box of crayons that were nearly down to nubs.   

"I think I see a couple more presents..." Grant tantalized.

Bright eyed, Liam watched as his grandfather lifted two more wrapped gifts from the bag.

"Go ahead and open them," Molly encouraged.

"So many colors..." Liam mused as he opened a set of blocks.  "And what's this?  It's pretty."

Arthur chuckled.  "It is, isn't it?  And I always liked the smell of it.  It's called Play Doh.  You mold things with it."

"Show me?" Liam requested.

"Sure."  Arthur opened the white can and rolled three balls which he stacked together.  Then he fashioned a little nose of orange and followed it up with black eyes.

"Snow man!  Olaf!" Liam exclaimed.

Monica laughed.  "Olaf, huh?  We have to introduce you to Shelby.  She loves Frozen."

"We watched it a lot at the last house I stayed at," Liam exclaimed.  "Can I keep the snow man, Daddy?"

"Sure.  We'll put him up here so he doesn't crumble... or melt, I mean."  Arthur smiled as he set his creation on the dresser.

Monica cocked her head.  "You know... Shelby's being Elsa for Halloween and Belle's being Anna.  Would you want to be Olaf, Liam?  I could make you a costume."

Liam gaped at her.  "Really?"

"Well, sure.  That's my sewing machine right there."  Monica pointed to where it sat in the corner with its cover.

Liam hugged her.  "Yes, please, Monny."  He next hugged Grant and Molly.  "Thank you for the nice toys."

Grant and Molly both kissed him.

"We're so glad you like them, kiddo!" Grant replied. 

"I hope it's okay if we come back for Halloween.  I don't want to miss out on seeing my little snowman."  Molly looked hopefully at Arthur.

Chuckling, Arthur nodded.  "Of course, Mom."  He smiled tenderly at Liam.  "This is going to be a wonderful holiday season."

Liam returned his father's smile and clung to his hand.


That evening, Arthur insisted on cleaning up and doing the dishes while his parents, Monica, and Liam enjoyed one of the movies JenniAnn and Violeta had brought over after Monica had mentioned the damaged DVDs.

After a few minutes of Toy Story, Molly joined Arthur in the kitchen.

"You need more popcorn out there?" Arthur asked.

Molly shook her head.  "Oh no.  There's still plenty.  I just wanted to spend a little time with you."  She hugged her son then stood beside him at the sink and began to rinse the dishes he'd washed.  "Today... it's been a dream.  Such a sweet boy... so polite."

Arthur's lips smiled but his eyes didn't.  "Yeah..."

"You're not happy?"

"Oh, no.  I'm incredibly happy.  It's just... don't you think maybe Liam's a little too polite?  He just agrees with us on everything and while he's voiced his preferences a handful of times, he seems to have trouble choosing between options and I feel like he's always trying to guess at what we want."

"Well, he might come by that honestly.  You were such an agreeable little guy yourself.  Which was very much not your Dad and me!  So there was one time..."  Molly blushed.  "We may have staged a disagreement over what to have for dinner just to see what you'd do."

Arthur laughed.  "So glad I could be your guinea pig in a psychological experiment."

Molly smiled and rolled her eyes.  "It wasn't like that... I mean not exactly.  We wanted you to see that two people could disagree without it getting nasty.  So... your dad advocated for spaghetti and I argued for grilled cheese.  Then we agreed that we'd have spaghetti that night but I got to choose dessert and then the next night we'd have grilled cheese and Dad would choose dessert.  Then, on the third night, we asked you what you wanted.  You said pizza and so we had pizza.  After that, you never had trouble telling us what you wanted and I like to think it was because you saw eventually all three of us would be happy... even if not immediately.  Maybe you and Monica can do the same."

"Not a bad idea, actually.  Thanks."

Molly patted his shoulder.  "You're welcome.  And if it doesn't work at first, just keep trying in different ways.  As sad as it is to think about, Liam probably learned to be as accommodating as possible and to lay low and cause as little trouble as possible.  It may take a while but I can just tell that there's a spirited little boy just waiting to get out."

"I... I hope so.  I also can't shake the feeling that... that he's like a little sponge.  Soaking up all our love and then storing it away for one day when he might... might need to do without."  Arthur's eyes filled with tears.  "I... I've seen that haunted look in so many children, Mom, but I never thought... my son..."

Molly dried her hands and wrapped her arms around her son.  "Sweetheart, it's Monday.  You've only had Liam since Saturday.  I know you have it in you to be a wonderful father but you're not a miracle-worker.  It's going to take time.  You have that.  And you have Monica.  The way I think of angels may have been shaken up a bit since August but I know they love children.  And clearly your Monica loves that little boy.  She told me about after he was born.  Arthur, that means something.  God knows what He's doing."

"I... I know.  I just hope I know what I'm doing."

"Well, for what it's worth, I think you and Monica are both handling this all so much better than a lot of people would.  And there is no doubting that Liam feels very loved.  And eventually he'll learn that the love... it's not going to be taken away."

"Yeah...  I love you, Mom.  And I'm glad you and Dad can be here."

"Oh, me too!  I just wish we could stay longer than Wednesday...  I thought about rescheduling the training but..."

Arthur shook his head.  "They need you and Dad back home, Mom, to get the next generation prepared and confident.  With this Ebola epidemic, True Light needs as much staff ready and waiting as possible.  I'd go myself if..."

"You're staying right here... and in New York," Molly interjected.

"I know.  Definitely.  And, as for Liam, Halloween isn't very far off, we can always connect virtually, and if you really go into withdrawals, we can figure out a halfway point between Denver and Omaha."

"True.  We saw a Children's Museum in North Platte."

"Well, there you go."  Arthur kissed his mother's cheek. 

"I... I really am so happy.  Your dad is, too."

"He... he's a special little guy, isn't he?  Our Liam..."

"So special..." Molly cooed.  "Now, let's get out there with him, okay?"

Arthur hastily washed the last dish and then nodded.  "Okay!"

When they returned to the living room, they found Liam enthralled by the movie as he watched while sandwiched between Grant and Monica.  He smiled up at Molly and Arthur as they returned to the room.

Soon all five were focused on the film although, at random moments, all four of the adults found themselves gazing at the little boy and thanking God that he was with them.


Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Monica awoke to the sound of little feet on the floor.  She turned to her other side and saw Liam standing in the doorway.  Though he looked no where near as terrified as he had the previous night, there were tear stains on his cheeks.

With a gentle smile, Monica beckoned to him. 

Liam climbed onto the bed with his dog and bear.

"Did you have another nightmare, Liam?" Monica asked as she tucked the blankets around him once he'd laid down.

Liam nodded. 

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"You won't be mad?"

Monica bit her lip.  "I wouldn't be mad at you, sweet boy."


Monica laid her head down on her pillow so she was looking directly into the boy's eyes.  "What happened in your nightmare?"

"My arm got hurt."

The angel thought of the burns on his arms.  "How did that happen, baby?"

"A man lived with us before Rodney and he got mad because I took some food.  I didn't mean to be bad.  My tummy was hungry."

Monica smoothed some hair behind his ear.  "I know.  He should never have done that to you.  Are you hungry now?"

"I'm okay..."

Monica could tell by the look on his face that he was only trying to be polite.  "Well, I'm a little hungry.  Would you want to get a midnight snack with me?"

Smiling, Liam nodded. 

Hand in hand, the two padded to the kitchen were they were surprised to find Arthur with a guilty look on his face and a spoon of cereal halfway to his mouth.


Arthur chuckled and sat down his spoon.  "You got me.  You two on the hunt for a snack, too?" he asked as he hugged Liam.

"We are," Monica replied with a smile.  "Cereal sounds good to me.  What do you think, Liam?"

"Yes, please."

"Okay, pick out what kind you'd like to have."

Arthur and Monica both smiled when Liam pointed to the Froot Loops.

"That sounds good.  I think I'll have some of that, too," Monica agreed.  She filled two bowls and then put them on the table.

"Do we pray?" Liam asked.

Arthur smiled sheepishly when he realized he hadn't even prayed.  "Sure.  Do you want to?"

"Okay."  Liam bowed his head.  "Thank you, God, for the yummy and pretty cereal."

"Amen," Arthur and Monica finished, smiling at the short but sincere prayer.

Liam ate a few bites of cereal before speaking.  "When will Grandma and Grandpa come back?"

"Actually, your Uncle Henry suggested we could go over there for breakfast.  That way you could meet him and we could be with Grandma and Grandpa.  What do you think?" Monica asked.

"That sounds good.  How many aunts and uncles do I have?"

Arthur laughed.  "Well, here's the deal, son.  Monny and I have lots of friends and we all consider each other family.  So when Aunt JenniAnn and Uncle Andrew adopted Belle, they decided we would all be aunts and uncles to her and we were very happy about that.  We just want her to know that she has lots and lots of people who love her and will help her in case, maybe, her Mama and Daddy were on vacation or at work.  And Monny and I would like you to have that, too.  So... you probably have at least thirty or so aunts and uncles."

Liam grinned.  "Wow..."

Monica lightly tousled his hair.  "And they all love you very much, even the ones who haven't met you.  And they're looking forward to meeting you.  Daddy and I are getting together with them Wednesday and, if you'd like, you can meet them then.  But if you want to wait a little bit, that's fine, too."

Liam considered as he chewed his cereal then nodded.  "It would be nice to meet them.  Where?"

"Well, there's a very special room at the castle where Uncle Andrew and Aunt JenniAnn live.  We have snacks in the ballroom and then we go there to talk.  And there's a playroom just across the hall so you can get to know the other kids," Monica continued.

"Other kids?  Nice kids?"

Arthur could tell that Liam was torn between excitement and wariness.  "Very nice.  One of them is Grandma Catherine's little boy.  His name is Jacob.  He's not much older than you and a very kind little boy.  Then there's Shelby.  She's a few years older but I think you'll have a good time playing with her.  Aunt JenniAnn's a teacher so sometimes other kids she teaches come, too."

"And Belle?"

Monica nodded.  "And definitely Belle."

Liam smiled.  "I like it here."

Beaming, Arthur reached for his hand.  "I'm so glad, Liam."

Monica took the boy's other hand.  "This is your home now, Liam.  After the winter, we're going to make it bigger so it'll look different but it will always, always be your home."

"Home..."  Liam echoed.  A little smile lit up his face and lingered until he finished his cereal.  He was so sleepy by then that Arthur carried him back to his bed.

The man began to hum as he tucked the boy in while Monica went to retrieve the dog and bear from her room.  When she returned, her eyes welled as she recognized the tune.

"Pretty..."  Liam whispered.  "Words?"

Arthur smiled and nodded.  He sat beside Liam as he sang.

"'Oh once I had a little dog, his color it was brown. I taught him for to whistle, to sing and dance and run.  His legs they were fourteen yards long, his ears so very wide.  Around the world in half a day, upon him I could ride.  Sing Tarry-O Day, Sing, Autumn to May.'"

Monica remembered watching Arthur sing to Belle at the hospital and wishing they could have a child of their own... now they did.  She bent to kiss Liam's forehead as Arthur continued to sing.

"'Oh, once I had a little frog, he wore a vest of red.  He'd lean upon his silver cane, a top hat on his head.  He'd speak of far off places, of things to see and do.  And all the kings and queens, he'd met while sailing in a shoe.  Sing Tarry-O Day, Sing, Autumn to May.'"

After Arthur had finished the song and they were sure the boy was asleep, the two crept towards the hall.  They stalled in the doorway, watching over Liam.  Arthur wrapped his arms around Monica's waist and rested his chin on her hair as they silently prayed for the little one.


The next morning, after breakfast, Henry was determined to put on a good show for his new nephew.  As they sat with the others in the living room, Liam clapped with delight as the angel transformed balloons into a dog, a giraffe, an elephant, and more.

"Will they stay?" Liam asked.

Henry shook his head.  "I'm afraid not but... you always have me around to make you more."

Liam smiled as he accepted a horse from his new uncle.  "Cool...  Where did you learn to do that?"

"Would you believe I had an assignment as a clown, big red nose and huge shoes and all?"

Liam giggled and shook his head. 

"Well, I did!  And I liked the way these little animals made the kids smile so I asked another clown to teach me.  Your Monny's been a clown, too.  Did you know that?" Henry questioned with a wink at his fellow angel.

Monica laughed when Liam stared at her.

"I was.  I liked it very much," she told him.

"Have you had lots of jobs?" Liam queried.

Monica nodded.  "Oh, yes.  I've been a teacher, a police officer, a mail person, a doctor, a seamstress, a wedding planner, a newspaper reporter... lots of jobs."

Liam stared down at the balloon horse.  "So when do you get to be at our house?"

Monica was caught off guard by the question.  She had an answer but hadn't even been able to tell Arthur yet.  But stalling would only concern Liam.  "Well... you see, I was wondering that myself.  After our midnight snack, I prayed and asked God about that."

Arthur left his parents' side and drew closer, eager to hear Monica's response.

Monica took the man's hand when he drew near.  "God told me that I'll be on leave for a few months.  That means I won't really have assignments.  At least not assignments that would take me away from our cottage.  But He did say He has work for me to do... and that you'll be able to be with me when I work, Liam.  We'll come back to the cottage every evening and be there to greet Daddy when he comes home."

Arthur closed his eyes and sent up a private prayer of thanksgiving.  On Thursday he would have to return to work and while he could certainly take Liam with him at times, it wasn't a constant.  Sometimes the newcomers to True Light were angry and even frightening until they began to feel more secure.  However, Arthur hadn't wanted to look into daycare for fear it would only remind the boy of his foster homes.  He had no doubt that JenniAnn would watch Liam if asked but Arthur didn't want to horn in on her mama-baby time with Belle.  But if Liam could be with Monica... that would be ideal.  And if it was for a few months then, hopefully, that meant until they were ready to enroll Liam in school.

"Oh, that's so wonderful!  God is good!" Molly praised.

"You're all right with this, Monica?" Grant checked.

Monica smiled at him and nodded then turned to Liam.  "I will be delighted to spend my days working alongside my sweet boy."

Grinning, Liam wiggled into her lap.  "Me too, Monny.  So I'll work for God?"

Enchanted by his hopeful question, Monica nodded.  She knew neither the Father nor Joshua would actually put Liam to work but, whatever they had planned, she knew they'd find some way to let him feel helpful.

"Yes, baby.  And working for God is a wonderful thing."

Liam smiled and kissed Monica's cheek.


Max finished blending a pitcher of butterbeer and turned to Andrew and JenniAnn.  "Maja, Dad, is there anything else I can do?"

Andrew shook his head.  "I think we're good.  No, actually... come here, please."

"Ooh, I think I'll like this," Max replied as Andrew ladled some chicken and dumplings into a bowl. 

"Does it taste okay or does it need something else?"

Max took a bite and sighed, giving the thumbs up.  "Heavenly..."

JenniAnn laughed as she chopped celery for a sauerkraut salad.  "As it should be considering its maker."  She kissed Andrew's cheek.  "I told you it was delicious."

"You did..." Andrew admitted.

"You're a good cook these days, Dad.  Just go with it," Max encouraged.  "So when are Monica and Co. arriving?"

Andrew referred to his pocket watch.  "In about twenty minutes."  He set the dumplings to simmer. 

"Well, I'm looking forward to meeting Liam.  Anyone who loves butterbeer as much as I do must be a good kid.  I wonder if he's seen Harry Potter or had it read to him?"  Max frowned.  "Probably not, huh?"

JenniAnn squeezed his shoulders.  "I doubt it.  Maybe that can be Uncle Max's and Aunt Rose's job when he's a bit older."

Max smiled.  "We'll take it.  But wow... I still can't quite believe it.  Imagine finding out you have a kid!  That always terrified me when some of the guys would leave the base and go out for a night on the town and come back talking about their... escapades.  I mean not that I'm saying Arthur was reckless like that or anything.  But it just always made me wonder if those guys maybe ended up with sons or daughters they didn't even know about."  He shivered.  "It was enough to keep me in my bunk with my book."

JenniAnn hugged him.  "And that considerate nature is only one of many reasons why we love you.  And, unfortunately, now we know that even trying to be responsible and considerate after the fact doesn't prevent a person from not knowing."  She sniffled.  "I... I've been thinking about how I'd feel if we missed out on Belle's first five years a-and sometimes I wish there was a way... we... we coulda been with you, Max, when you were younger."

Max smiled and patted her cheek.  "Thank you, Maja, but considering you were seven when I was a baby, I'm not sure how that would have worked.  I appreciate the sentiment very, very much, though."

Andrew chuckled and hugged the two.  "The important thing is we've had these past couple of years and we have a whole future together.  And Arthur and Liam and Monica have that now, too."

"True," JenniAnn agreed.  "I'm glad we're doing this tonight.  I think it'll be good for Liam to meet a few more people before the whole group gets sprung on him tomorrow and... when Monica called she suggested that, maybe after Grant and Molly leave tomorrow, she and Arthur come Below and we can introduce Liam to Vincent then.  I mean given he's taken to referring to Catherine as 'Grandma,' he should probably meet the corresponding 'Grandpa' and we think that's best done before Bible study."

"Definitely," Max agreed.  "Besides, the Tunnels are cool.  I'm not even little and it made me feel like I'd slipped away to some magical place.  Of course, getting pushed through a brick wall and into Dyeland did that, too."

Andrew laughed.  "I wish I'd been there to see that the first time.  I'm glad Liam's handling that so well.  The first time we snuck him through but when we went to Mass, he just stepped on through the gazebo like it was a totally normal thing."

JenniAnn smiled thoughtfully.  "In a matter of days, he's gone from being an orphan to having a pretty extensive family.  I'm thinking the portals probably pale in comparison to the wonder of that."

Andrew hugged her.  "You're probably right."

"Kemara and Sean are here!" Violeta cried as she ran into the kitchen with Belle on her hip.  "And they brought a huge thing of mashed potatoes!"

"We're Irish.  Got to have our potatoes!" Sean joked as he stepped into the kitchen.  "Besides, mashed potatoes are fun to sculpt with."

Kemara laughed and shook her head.  "Typical."  She turned to JenniAnn.  "Got a free outlet?"

"Sure!"  JenniAnn pushed a canister of tea out of the way so Sean could plug the crock pot in.

"So... when's the little fellow coming?" he asked.

"Soon," Max answered.  "Any sign of the other angels?"

Kemara nodded.  "We passed Adam and Eli on the way in.  They were raking."

"Raking?" Andrew questioned, his eye brow raising.  "I thought we'd just let the leaves lay there.  They don't need to..."

"Oh, I don't think they were trying to be helpful.  They were making piles so I'm pretty sure they're planning to jump in them," Sean explained.

"Ah... that makes much more sense," Andrew deadpanned.  "And Henry's coming with Monica and the Reeses.  So that leaves Kelly."

"What about Rose?" Kemara asked.

Max smiled, still proud that his girlfriend had decided to go back to college with him.  "Upstairs in the library, finishing homework.  Something about The Canterbury Tales."

"Are those good?" Violeta asked.  "Maybe I should read them."

"No!" Andrew, JenniAnn, and Kemara all responded at once.

"Geez, okay..."

JenniAnn hugged her.  "Sorry.  It's just a little... well, let's put it this way.  Andrew's still not recovered from when I had to read them in college and was... confused."

Andrew blushed.  "Special memories..."

JenniAnn giggled.  "Well, it would have been awkward to ask Vincent..."

"And it wasn't awkward to ask me!?"

"Well, yeah.  But you're just so cute when you blush..."

"Ooh, Maja was a lil hellion," Max teased.

JenniAnn faked a stern look and covered Belle's ear.  "Please, not around my baby."

"Bah!  Bah!  Eee.  Ooo," Belle protested.

JenniAnn giggled and kissed her. 

Violeta shrugged.  "Well, maybe I should stick with Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Ivy wants me to finish the Anne series pronto so we can read Emily together."

"Good plan!" Andrew encouraged.  "Now, maybe we should start setting out..."

"I'm here!  I'm not late, am I?" Kelly asked as she hurried into the kitchen.

"Not at all," Sean assured.  "Ooh..."  He eyed the tray Kelly was holding.

"Zebra brownies.  That's why I was afraid I was running late.  I had a meeting that went over so I started these late and then they took longer than I anticipated but... look pretty good, huh?"

"Sample?" Sean begged.

Kelly laughed and set the tray down.  "Have at it."

Kemara rolled her eyes. 

"Ooh, brownies!" Rose exclaimed as she stepped into the kitchen.

Kelly laughed.  "Maybe I should have arrived a little later..."

Andrew smiled.  "You brought the most important part of dinner, Kelly... dessert."

After carving out small bites to tide them over, the group dispersed to prepare the ballroom for an extended family dinner.


After surveying their guests, Andrew smiled and nudged JenniAnn.

She gulped down a bite of brownie.  "Hmm?" 

"Look."  Andrew nodded towards Liam.

JenniAnn smiled at where Liam was carefully watching Kemara, Violeta, and Sean as they demonstrated a simple Irish dancing step.  "It's sweet, isn't it?  Even when they're adopted, it's almost like there's still some sort of preexisting connection between parent and child.  I can see Monica in him.  And, I swear, Belle does your eye brow thing."

Andrew chuckled.  "So you've seen it, too?  I thought I was just flattering myself," he admitted with a blush.

"Nope, it's there, my love."

Andrew sighed and hugged her. 

"Look at Monica..." JenniAnn murmured.  "I couldn't help gazing over at them all throughout dinner.  A-and I kept thinking of that first coffee summit...  She so badly wanted a child...  Arthur's child.  And now..."

Andrew's embrace tightened.  "Now they have Liam.  We have all been so blessed this year."

JenniAnn nodded.  "And it... it'll just be so nice to be parenting together.  And maybe eventually Kemara and Sean and Max and Rose..."

Andrew grinned and whispered in her ear.  "You realize the latter would make us grandparents?"

"Yeah... wow..."  JenniAnn giggled.  Her gaze turned to Molly and Grant.  "I'll enjoy being a Grandma, whenever it happens."

"Grandpa Andrew has a nice ring to it."

"Geez, put on the brakes, kids.  Belle's not even a year old," Adam reminded as he came towards them, holding the baby.

"Oh, trust me, we are in no hurry for her to grow up," Andrew assured.  "But Max and Rose..."

"Right!"  Adam turned and smiled at the two.  "That may not be too far off...  But right now I come with news of a more pressing development."

"And that is?" Andrew prompted.

"Eli and I want to get those leaves scattered before it gets too dark.  Can we head out?"

"Go right ahead but I think it's a bit chilly for Belle.  I'll take her and get some cocoa going," JenniAnn volunteered.  "And coffee.  You all might want it."

"I'll stay and help, Laja."

"Andrew, you can go out and have fun.  I'll be..."

"He's looking a little drippy, JenniAnn.  Better keep him with you," Adam teased. 

Andrew playfully glared at his friend but didn't argue.  Though Violeta had recovered from her initial dismay, he and JenniAnn had been exposed to a barrage of questions at all hours that, between his assignments and carpentry orders and their chores and familial obligations, had left them with precious little alone time.

"Then I will.  Gladly."  JenniAnn smiled at first Adam and then Andrew.  "Let's head to the kitchen."

Adam smiled as they walked away and guessed that, as soon as the coffee pot was going, they'd be dancing.  Turning back to the crowd, he was pleased to see Monica helping Liam to follow the Irish dancers' directions.  He waited until they were finished then tapped a fork against a glass.

"Ladies and gentlemen, our hosts have gone to kitchen to prepare hot beverages for us to enjoy after we take to the piles of leaves outside that Eli and I so diligently crafted for optimal jumping conditions," he announced.

"We painstakingly removed every branch, twig, and stone so no need to fear injury," Eli added with a bow.

Kelly laughed.  "So that's what you were doing out there!"

His eyes alight, Henry smiled and shook his head.  "And here I thought you were helping Andrew out."

"The big lug can handle his own yard work.  Have you seen those biceps since he took up carpentry?" Eli kidded.  "Now let's go!"

Everyone hurried into coats and made their way to the front yard.  Though Molly and Grant decided it best that they stay on their own two feet, the others' excitement was contagious and they dug their cell phones out of their pockets for picture taking.

Arthur stooped down to be level with Liam and grinned.  "Okay, I always felt like the best way to do this was to get a running start and open your arms wide and then just let yourself fall right into the leaves!"

Liam looked curiously at him.  "Why?"

"Well, because it's fun.  Oh and you'll want to close your mouth.  Leaves taste yucky."  Arthur wrinkled his nose at a long ago memory.

"But... what if I get dirty?"

Monica knelt beside the two.  "Liam, that would be okay.  We can wash all your clothes and you'll have your bubble bath tonight."

"I won't get in trouble?" he checked.

Arthur kissed his temple.  "No.  Trust me, Monny and I are going to get pretty dirty, too, with bits of leaves all over our hair and clothes and maybe a little mud, too.  So how could we get mad at you?"

Liam watched as Max and Rose shrieked as they ran into two piles and sent leaves flying every which way.  He smiled.

"Do you want Daddy and me to go first?" Monica suggested.

Liam nodded.

"Okay..."  Arthur smiled and took Monica's hand.  "Ready, Monny?"


The two ran at the same huge pile, laughing as they fell and then rolled around.

"Oh, watch it.  Incoming," Arthur warned as Liam came running at them.

They scooted apart enough so that the boy landed in the softness of the leaves.

Liam giggled as he wriggled onto his back.

"We need a picture of that!" Molly cried, rushing forward.

Arthur, Liam, and Monica all smiled at her and, when Molly looked at the image, it nearly took her breath away. 

Grant peered over his wife's shoulder and tears stung his eyes as he looked at the beautiful, joyful family it portrayed.

Oblivious, Arthur, Monica, and Liam laughed and played in the leaves.

Some feet away, Adam and Eli looked at each other and proudly smiled.


Among Family

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

After sharing lunch at Veritas, the Reeses and Monica made their way to the gazebo portal.  Noting his grandparents' distress, Liam held their hands during the entire walk while Arthur and Monica followed, their own hands linked. 

"Well... here we are," Grant observed, looking up at the gazebo. 

Molly swiped at her eyes but smiled for Liam.  "Now, remember, Grandpa and I will come see you in a couple of weeks for Halloween.  And we can visit on the computer before that."

"Okay.  I... I will miss you, Grandma."  Liam hugged her.  "And you, Grandpa."

Grant warmly returned the boy's embrace.  "We're gonna miss you, kid.  But it won't be long before we'll be in your hair again."

Liam giggled as his grandfather mussed his hair.  "Okay." 

Molly took his little hands in hers and kissed them.  "I love you, Liam."

"Love you, Grandma." 

Molly smiled as Liam kissed her hands.

Not wanting to strain the woman's emotions any more, Arthur and Monica hugged the two and made hasty good byes.

"Have a safe journey back," Monica wished.  "Love to you both."

"Love you, too," Grant echoed.  "All of you all."  He embraced Arthur.

"Bye, Dad.  Thanks so much for coming."

"So glad we did, sweetheart," Molly replied, kissing Arthur's cheek and clinging to him.  "You... you have a good afternoon.  We'll check in during the drive."

"Thank you."  Arthur's embrace tightened for a moment then he let his mother go and went to the back of the gazebo.  He used his wooden coin to open the portal to the Chandlers'.

Grant took his wife's hand and led her up the steps.  At the threshold, they smiled lovingly at their boy then turned back to Monica and Liam and blew kisses before disappearing.

"Where are the now?" Liam quietly asked.

"Nebraska.  That's where Aunt JenniAnn was born.  They'll have shown up in her parents' house and then they'll drive to Colorado where they live," Monica explained.

"One day we'll take you to both Nebraska and Colorado... that's where I was born," Arthur informed.  "I'm sure we'll make it to both states many, many times."

Liam turned away from the gazebo and smiled.  "Good.  I love Grandma and Grandpa.  They're nice."

"They are," Arthur agreed.  "And they love you very much, too.  Now...  Aunt JenniAnn said she'd introduce you to Grandma Catherine's husband, Vincent, and show you where they live.  Are you still up for that or do you want to go home for a little bit?"

Arthur and Monica studied Liam right back as he seemed to be studying them and trying to discover their preference.

Monica hugged the boy.  "Baby, it's completely up to you.  Daddy and I will be fine either way."

"You'll go with me to to this other place?" Liam checked.

"Absolutely," Arthur agreed.  "Wouldn't miss it!"

"Let's go there," Liam decided.

"Okay!"  Monica entered the gazebo and pulled her coin and its chain from beneath her coat.  She opened the portal and then smiled down at Liam and Arthur.  "Ready?"

Liam nodded.  Arthur took his hand and led him up the steps.  The little boy was wide eyed but calm as they stepped through the portal.

"Hello there!" a familiar voice greeted.

Liam looked up to see his Uncle Andrew waiting.  He smiled then looked around.  "Is this a cave?"

"Sort of," Andrew answered.  "But much nicer than most caves.  And the people here are very nice.  Aunt JenniAnn's in the classroom.  I'll lead you to her."

Liam kept hold of his parents' hands as they followed Andrew through the maze of tunnels.  They passed the occasional person who smiled kindly and greeted Monica and Arthur.

When they reached the classroom, Andrew poked his head inside and tapped JenniAnn's shoulder as she waited at the back of the room.

Stepping into the corridor, JenniAnn smiled brightly at her nephew.  "Good afternoon, Liam!  How's your day been going?"

"Good.  Grandma and Grandpa left, though."

Seeing the little pout, JenniAnn hugged the child.  "It's always sad when visits from family end but I bet they're already counting down the hours til they're back.  And it won't be long!"

Liam smiled and nodded.

"Well, Liam, the reason we brought you here is I have a family member who I love very much.  Belle's Grandpa Vincent.  So we'd like you to meet him but first..."  JenniAnn settled more comfortably onto the stone floor.  "Have you noticed how you and Monny were born with reddish hair and Daddy and Belle were born with dark hair and Uncle Andrew and I were born with lighter hair?"


"Well, that's because God is so creative that He likes everyone to look a little bit different.  So we all know we're special.  Even identical twins aren't exactly the same.  With Vincent, God made him look especially different.  And sometimes people think he looks so different that they're scared.  But we don't want you to be scared because he is very, very nice.  Would you like to see a photo of him before you meet him?"

Liam looked to Arthur and Monica for guidance.

Arthur stooped down.  "Son, if you think it would make you feel better then you can look at the photo.  There's no right or wrong answer.  No one will be upset either way."

With a small smile, Liam nodded.  "Photo?"

"Sure."  JenniAnn plucked one from the pocket of her sweater coat and held it out to Liam.

Though alarmed, Liam kept hold of the image and studied it with some interest.  "He looks kinda like a lion."

"He does, doesn't he?  You wanna know a secret?" JenniAnn asked.

Liam nodded.

"Vincent used to bathe me and dress me and feed me and get up with me at all hours when I cried during the night when I was even littler than you are now.  Nearly as little as Belle.  And he was always very, very gentle... even when I wasn't so much!"

Grinning at the idea of his aunt as a tiny, crying baby; Liam handed the photo back.  "Now do I meet him?"

"Do you want to?" JenniAnn checked.


"Okay then!"  JenniAnn took his hand and lead him into the classroom with Andrew, Arthur, and Monica trailing them.

Liam stared at the man with all the children gathered around him.  Belle was in his lap and though she had her fingers wound up in his mane and was yanking on it, her grandpa was very still and calm.

"'How did they all just come to be you?  God thought about me, and so I grew.  But how did you come to us, you dear?  God thought about you, and so I am here,'" Vincent finished reading.

"I like that one!  It makes me think of Belle... although her eyes aren't blue like in the poem.  They're so pretty, though!"  Shelby stood up from where she'd been sitting on the floor and planted a kiss on the baby's forehead.

Belle shrieked happily.

"Oooh...  Poor Grandpa needs some help.  I don't want to have to explain a sudden bald spot to Grandma Catherine!" JenniAnn exclaimed before rushing towards Vincent and his listeners.  She quickly extricated Belle's fingers.

Vincent smiled at his godddaughter.  "Many thanks."

JenniAnn kissed his cheek.  "You're very welcome.  Sorry about that.  I know how it feels..."

Chuckling, Vincent nodded.  "I imagine you do."  He lightly tugged a lock of her hair then looked to the doorway.  He smiled at the little boy.  "Welcome, Liam."

Liam smiled shyly.

Little Jacob grinned at the newcomer.  "Hi!"  He hurried to the boy.  "My name is Jacob.  That's my Papa."  He pointed to Vincent with a proud smile.  "C'mon."

Jacob took the other boy's hand and brought him closer, making introductions.  Liam was in awe as all the other children gleefully greeted him.

At the back of the classroom, Arthur squeezed Monica's hand.  "I think we should wait until he's six but... maybe we should consider educating Liam here?"

Not taking her eyes off Vincent and the children, Monica nodded.  "I think that would be a very good idea.  I... I like the idea of Liam being around family even at school."

Arthur kissed her temple.  "Me too."

Andrew smiled at the two.  "JenniAnn and I have already decided Belle will come here.  At least until high school."

"Then our children will be classmates."  Arthur returned Andrew's smile.  "I like that."

The angel of death clapped the man on the back.  "Me too."

The three watched as, at the children's prodding, Vincent again picked up his book.  JenniAnn settled down amongst the children and peered up, expectantly, at her godfather.

Andrew chuckled.  "I hope Belle is as eager to spend time with me when she's grown as Laja is with Vincent."

Monica patted his arm.  "I think she will be.  Shall we?"  She waved towards the group.

Following her direction, Arthur and Andrew joined Vincent's throng of listeners.

Liam looked back at his parents with a smile but remained where he was, sitting between Jacob and Shelby.

Vincent smiled at his expanded audience and then resumed reading to the accompaniment of his granddaughter's coos.


That evening, Arthur and Monica brought Liam back to Willowveil for his very first Bible study night.  Passing the ballroom windows, they could tell that most of the others had arrived.  Vincent, Catherine, Jacob, and Shelby were just a few yards ahead and Liam ran to join his new friends.

Monica looked over at Arthur.  She could tell he was pensive and squeezed his hand in an attempt to calm him.

"It'll be all right," she whispered.  "Everyone will be enchanted with Liam and then we'll all have a nice talk."

Arthur smiled and nodded.  "It's just awkward to think of them all knowing that I..."

Monica lowered her voice even more.  "Had relations?  You're hardly the only one.  Hailey, Sy, Kendra, and the wee one who is coming are proof enough of that."

Arthur chuckled when he saw her sly grin.  "True.  But Diana and Zeke are married."

"Yes.  But we've all fallen in one way or another at times.  Everyone understands that and knows the value of getting back up."

Arthur hugged the angel close.  "True."

Monica smiled as she looked to the little boy.  "I'm glad he's hit it off with Jacob and Shelby."

"Me too.  But I forgot to ask... do they know not to, well, out Joshua?"

"Yes.  JenniAnn talked to them about it.  They understood."

Arthur sighed.  "Good.  I... do hope he visits soon."

Monica clung to his arm.  "Me too."

When Vincent hovered near the front door, the two hastened to it.  He smiled as he held it open for them.

"Good evening, Arthur and Monica."

"Thank you, Vincent!  It's a wee bit chilly, isn't it?" Monica asked.

"It makes me grateful that I'm used to wearing layers," he replied.  "Arthur, how are you this evening?"

"Nervous," he admitted.

Vincent squeezed his shoulder.  "Don't be.  You're among friends."

Arthur patted his hand.  "Thanks.  Yeah.  I am."

Liam was waiting inside the entryway, suddenly shy upon hearing all the voices.  He went to Monica and took her free hand.

"Lots of people, Monny," he murmured.

"All friends, baby," Monica assured.  "Daddy and I will introduce you."

"And have some yummy snacks," Arthur added with an encouraging smile.

Liam returned it and nodded.

As the three entered the room, everyone tried to keep their cool.  They didn't want to scare the little boy.  However, for one person, it was too much.

Tess gazed at her Angel Girl holding the little boy's hand.  She had never, outside of Heaven, seen her Monica looking so happy.  This was beyond double espresso happy... beyond endless mocha lattes happy.  Monica was peacefully, wonderfully happy.

Tears filled Tess' eyes as she made her way to the three.  "Baby... my baby..."  She held her arms out.

Liam clung to Monica.

Monica smiled reassuringly at him before moving into Tess' waiting embrace.

"Hullo, Tess.  I... I'm glad you're here.  I want you to meet Liam."  Keeping one arm around her former supervisor, Monica held her other hand out to Liam.

The child took it and stepped nearer.  "Hi."

"Oh...  Aren't you just the most adorable little fellow!" Tess gushed.

Liam blushed.

Tess knelt down and pulled the boy into her embrace.  A moment too late, she wondered if she might be frightening the poor child.  She released him but was relieved to see he was smiling.  She smiled back.

"Liam, I am so very happy to meet you.  Have you been having a good time with your Monny and Daddy?"

Liam readily nodded.  "Very good.  They're nice to me.  We don't hit."

Monica stared down at the floor, blinking back tears.

Arthur winced slightly.

Tess' smile faltered for a moment but she quickly recovered.  "That's a very good thing.  Say, why don't we get you some snacks and you can warm up by the fireplace?"


The four made their way to a couch where Liam sat between Arthur and Monica while Tess went to get him some snacks.

"So... what do we do?" Caleb asked, looking to the others who were gathered near him across the room.

Diana smiled as she tore her gaze away from the little boy.  "We should go meet Liam in small groups.  We don't want to overwhelm him.  And it's probably best to speak to Arthur and Monica first.  Let them introduce you."

"You have such a calming presence, Diana.  I think your family should go first," Emma suggested.

Diana laughed.  "Well, then I better get a head start."

Chuckling, Zeke helped hoist his very pregnant wife to her feet.  "Kids, c'mon.  We're going to meet Arthur's and Monica's boy."

"He's so cute!" Kendra cried.

Observing, Brittony rested her hands over her still quite small baby bump.

Eliot hugged her.  "You've done it once before.  I know you can do it again."

The woman smiled and nodded but watched, wincing slightly, as Diana slowly made her way to Liam and his parents with Zeke and their children.

Standing near Adam, Kylie and Clay kept glancing over at the boy.  The latter seemed upset.

The angel of death set his hand on the man's arm.  "Clay, looks like we're running low on TLS for the sandwich tray.  Come help me carve some more?"

"Yeah.  Sure."  Clay smiled and kissed Kylie's cheek before following Adam into the kitchen.

"You seem a little... stricken," Adam observed.

Clay nodded.  "Just can't help feeling badly for Arthur and Monica, I suppose.  I mean I'm thrilled for them.  They'll make great parents.  Liam will be really blessed in that.  But to know someone you care about suffered so much before..."  He swiped at his eyes.

Adam squeezed his shoulder.  "Only three things can wipe away the pain of the past.  The first is time... and that only sometimes.  The second is love... usually combined with time.  The third is God who is love... and sometimes free will keeps His healing from happening in this life.  But, Clay, people usually know... even if the scars linger... they know about all the love being poured on them.  Liam will know that, even when he still struggles.  Arthur and Monica... and all of us... will make sure of that.  And... Kylie knows."

"Did she, umm, tell you about last night after she made me dinner at Cora's?"

Adam nodded as he carved more "meat" from the "carcass."  Vincent had offered to let Kylie stay at his mother's house until... well, Adam suspected the fellow knew where Kylie and Clay were headed though, if he did, he kept that to himself.  Kylie had gratefully accepted and had been living there for months though Adam guessed the previous night had been the first time she had invited Clay there without others included.

"I wasn't thinking...  She... she just looked so... so cute washing the dishes and singing.  I wanted to help rinse and dry but first... I came up behind her and hugged her and... I felt her tense up.  It didn't even occur to me that... that since she couldn't see me... she might think..."

"But what happened when she did see you?"

Clay smiled sadly.  "She asked me to hold her for a while."

"And did you?"

Clay nodded.

"Then I'd say you handled it very, very well.  We all wish Kylie hadn't been married to that..."  Adam bit his tongue, remembering that Joshua loved the cretin.  "Jett.  But she was.  And I think the fall-out from that... it's going to strengthen what you two share.  Maybe it'll be the same with Liam.  Maybe his past... it's going to make him closer to Arthur and Monica than he might have been even if he'd been born to them.  He knows how bad the parent-child relationship can be.  And they know childlessness.  I don't think any of them will be taking the others for granted any time soon.  And I don't foresee you or Kylie taking each other for granted, either."

With another, more relaxed, smile, Clay nodded.  "No, sir."

Adam grinned.  "So do you feel better?"

"Yes, sir."  Clay laughed.  "Sometimes I feel like you're my CO of life, Adam."

The angel of death chuckled.  "Frightening thought.  But you can talk to me about anything.  Now... let's get this out there."  He lifted the platter of TLS.

"Sorry.  I didn't end up helping you at all."

Adam shook his head.  "You did.  Talking to you gave me even more assurance that you'll watch out for Kylie.  Not that I needed it but... still good to hear."

"Always and forever."


The two returned to the ballroom where they saw that Liam was still visiting with the Wilsons.  Sy appeared to be teaching the boy how to shoot a basket... using a trash can and a crumpled napkin for practice.

"Oh good!  You're back!  Monica would like us to go over there next," Kylie informed Adam and Clay.  She beamed at the angel.  "She says our little group should be one of the first, Adam, since you helped her."

Blushing but clearly pleased, Adam nodded.  "I'd like that.  So..."

Before he could finish his sentence, Zeke approached.  "You three are up!  Sweet kid.  Smitten parents.  As it should be."

Clay hesitated.  "I don't want to scare..."

Zeke shook his head.  "Don't worry about that.  For what it's worth, Clay, I think you may be one of the better people for Liam to meet.  That poor boy has his own scars.  You can be living proof that things can and do get better."  He smiled at Kylie.

Kylie returned his smile and hugged her boyfriend's arm.  "I think Zeke makes a good point.  C'mon."

As the three approached, Monica stood up and greeted them with hugs.  She lingered in front of Adam for a moment.  She'd been so focused on Liam the evening before that she'd barely spoken to her confidante.

"Thank you," she murmured.

The angel of death patted her cheek.  "Any time.  Now, re-introduce me to my nephew?"

Beaming, Monica nodded and led them to Arthur and the boy.  "Liam, remember, this is your Uncle..."

"Adam," Liam finished.  He grinned at the angel of death.  "You made us leaf piles.  That was fun!"

Touched that Liam had remembered his name, Adam crouched down and hugged the boy.  "Glad to hear you enjoyed it!"  He released Liam and swiveled around.  "Liam, this is your Aunt Kylie and Uncle Clay."

Liam smiled at the two though it faltered a bit when he got a good look at Clay.  "Owies..."

Clay knelt down in front of him and nodded.  "Yeah but they've healed up and don't hurt any more."

"Did Rodney do that to you?"

Confused, Clay looked to Arthur whose eyes had misted.

Monica crouched beside Clay.  "His mother's abusive boyfriend," she whispered.

Clay managed a reassuring smile for Liam and shook his head.  "No.  I fought in a war and got hurt then."

"Oh.  Sorry."

Clay patted Liam's arm.  "It's okay.  But now I know I'm among friends and family who would never hurt me," he added before smiling at those around him.

Liam smiled at Clay then peered up at Adam.  "Are you my uncle with the turkeys?"

Chuckling, Adam crouched down.  "That's me."

"Are they nice?"

"A little ornery sometimes but yes.  We'll make sure you get to meet them sometime."

"Do you like animals, Liam?" Kylie asked.

Liam nodded.  "Yep."

"Uncle Clay lives on a farm with Uncle Caleb and Uncle Edward who you'll meet soon.  Maybe we could take you there sometime," Kylie suggested.

"Definitely," Arthur agreed.  "How about that, son?"

Liam's eyes lit up.  "Cool."

The six continued talking with Liam becoming more and more at ease.  The parade of visitors continued for several minutes until the entire group headed upstairs.  While the adults took to Joshua's room, Shelby and Jacob each took one of Liam's hands and raced into the playroom to begin an evening of fun.


Arthur sat quietly for a few moments after telling the group how Liam had come to be.

Owen spoke first.  "The way I look at it, Joshua knew about everything, Arthur.  And he treated you with love and compassion and encouraged you and Monica.  So that didn't change anything for him.  So it doesn't change anything for me."

Emma nodded.  "Not for me, either.  And if we were honest... there are several of us in this room who could have had children out of wedlock.  It just didn't happen."

Peter squeezed her shoulders.  "Emma's right.  I could have wound up a teen dad."

Taking Monica's hand, Arthur smiled at the three.  "Thank you.  There... there's something else, though.  A-and, Monica, I... I'm sorry that I haven't told you this part yet b-but... I didn't even want to tell myself."

Though worried, Monica kept tight hold of Arthur's hand.  "It's okay.  Tell us."

"I... I'm a little angry with Joshua.  If he knew... and he had to have as Owen said... then why didn't he tell me?  I could have saved my boy a... a few months of... of pain."

Eli looked up from his folded hands and shook his head.  "You don't know that, Arthur.  I was there the night Nessa died.  I know how terrible it was for Liam.  But I also know... Nessa wasn't in her right mind a lot of that time.  If you had come and she'd felt threatened..."

Freya shivered.  "I... and I know I'm not the only one... have seen what emotionally disturbed parents sometimes do when they feel they or their child are threatened.  Sometimes they think they need to take the children to the only place they will always be safe..."

Arthur closed his eyes.  "You're right.  I hadn't thought of that."

"Even if that hadn't happened, Nessa likely would have still died, Arthur.  And what if you had gone to her and gotten custody of Liam?  He might have resented you for the rest of his life for stealing away the time he might have had with his mother," Andrew reasoned.

"Good point.  That happened with a young man in my class," Shane offered.  "Things still aren't right between him and his father.  I know the dad absolutely needed to get custody.  But all his son knows is that he took him away from his mom and now it's too late."

"We also don't know that Joshua and the Father and the Spirit weren't trying to work in Nessa's life in those past few months," Kelly reminded.  "I'm sure they were.  Maybe they wanted Nessa to become the mother she surely longed to be, deep down.  And to welcome you into Liam's life, Arthur.  They had to give her every chance."

Arthur nodded.  "You said things had been good for a while?  Before they weren't..."

"Yes," Kelly affirmed.  "Liam has some good memories from those last months, too, Arthur."

Arthur inhaled and exhaled deeply then smiled.  "Then... then I understand."  He squeezed Monica's hand then released her and went to Joshua's bureau.  He ran his fingers over the tools that had been left there.  "I'm sorry, Josh.  And I... I'm just grateful that you did bring Liam to Monica and me... in Your time.  I... I love him so much."

As Arthur's shoulders began to shake, Monica went to him and embraced him.  "Help us to be the best parents we can be," she prayed.

Rabbi Yakov and Fr. Mike moved to stand behind the two, each resting a hand on their shoulders.

"Give us all the strength to support Arthur, Monica, and Liam however they need," the priest prayed.

"Amen," the rabbi added.

Arthur turned to smile at them.  "Could... could we pray together?  A psalm maybe?"

The others all responded affirmatively and Andrew went to retrieve the Bible they kept in the room.  He smiled as he touched the cover and remembered its origins.  The Bible had been found in Aggie Everly's lap when Dylan had broken into her apartment after the Delgados had reported that she wasn't answering.  The old woman had died with a peaceful smile on her face.  When Dylan had called Andrew, Peter, and Emma to the apartment; they had all broken into joyful tears.  On the table were two empty cereal bowls and an opened box of Froot Loops.  By that, Andrew had known it was no angel of death who had taken Aggie Home.  With no next of kin to call, Dylan had insisted they take the Bible and so they had brought it to Joshua's room.

"Is there a particular psalm you'd like to recite, Arthur?" Andrew asked.

Arthur shook his head.  "No.  And I... I'm not sure I'm up to reciting.  Frog in... in my throat."  He looked to the others with a sheepish smile while swiping away tears.

"I know one that's always meant a lot to me as a parent," Tiva offered.

Andrew brought the Bible to her.  "Then I think you should recite it, Tiva."

As the others joined hands, Tiva took the Bible and read.  "'You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.  You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God!  How vast is the sum of them!  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.'"

Arthur and Monica felt the words and their promises and the love of God and their friends surround and uplift them.  They smiled at each other and Monica brushed away the last of Arthur's tears.

They knew all was well.


Across the hall, as they colored, Shelby and Jacob were excitedly telling Liam about all the adventures awaiting him.

"And you have to see the Fields of Gold!  We'll probably go there for Halloween," Shelby relayed.  "Hey, are you going to have a costume?"

Liam grinned.  "Monny said she'd make me an Olaf costume."

Shelby squealed.  "That's so cool!  Belle and I are being Anna and Elsa.  Jacob, what did you decide to be?"

"Vincent Van Gogh."

Liam and Shelby looked to him with cocked heads.

"Your Papa?" Liam asked.

Jacob giggled and shook his head.  "A different Vincent.  He was a painter a long time ago."

"Bah!" Belle yelled, protesting the lack of attention they were giving her.

JenniAnn, seated a few feet away with Vincent, moved to get up but her godfather stayed her.

"Let her be.  She may just want the other children to play with her," he advised.

"Yes, probably."  JenniAnn sighed.  "In not too long, she'll be toddling away from Andrew and me..."

Vincent smiled and hugged her.  "I think your Belle will always be a Mama's and Daddy's girl."

Returning his smile, JenniAnn relaxed.

Liam sat by the baby's seat and smiled.  "Hi Belle.  Sorry.  I wish you could play with crayons but Daddy and Monny say you're not big enough."

"Bah..."  Belle shoved her hand in her mouth.

"Belle's my cousin," Liam proudly told the others.  "Are you my cousins?"

Shelby considered the question then nodded.  "I think so.  Andrew and JenniAnn are kind of like my Mom and Dad.  And Belle's my sister."

With a grin, Jacob shook his head.  "Papa is JenniAnn's godfather so he's kind of like her father.  So she's kind of like my sister.  I think I'm your uncle, Liam."

Liam laughed.  "Uncle Jacob?"

Jacob wrinkled his nose.  "Maybe we could just pretend we're cousins, too?"

"Okay," Liam happily agreed.

Overhearing, JenniAnn and Vincent chuckled.

"Seems reasonable," Vincent opined.

"Yeah... I think we just need to go with that.  Let's not even bring up the added complications that we're cousins and I'm Jacob's godmother."  JenniAnn laughed.

Vincent hugged her.  "Wise decision."

They watched over the four children as the older three made faces at Belle until the room resounded with childish laughter.



Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Arthur fought tears as he slid his laptop into his bag while Monica and Liam watched.

"Could I get a hug before I go?" he requested.

Liam ambled forward and hugged his father.  "I'll miss you, Daddy.  But Monny and I can come at lunch?"

Arthur kissed the boy's forehead and nodded.  "Trust me, I'll be counting down the hours and minutes."

Liam smiled.  "Okay."

Monica stepped forward and hugged Arthur tightly.  "We'll be fine.  A-and you'll probably be so busy catching up this morning that lunchtime will be here before you know it."

Arthur forced a smile and nodded.  "I hope so.  I... I'm so glad you two will be together."

Monica kissed his temple.  "Me too."

With a sigh, Arthur pulled away.  "Okay... well, time for me to head to work.  You two have a great morning together and... and know that I love you."

"I love you, too, Arthur," Monica replied.

"Love you, Daddy."

Arthur beamed at the boy then headed to the cottage door.  "I'll see you both soon."

"Bye, bye, Daddy."

The tears welling, Arthur waved to Liam and Monica then stepped outside.  He was grateful for the walk to the portal which would give him time to calm himself.

Back inside the cottage, Liam and Monica sat on the couch and peered out the window.  They waved when Arthur turned back and, when he was out of sight, Monica turned to the boy. 

"So what should we do now, baby?"

"What do you want to do, Monny?"

Monica smiled and softly stroked his hair.  "Liam, it's okay to tell Daddy and me when you'd like something.  If we don't think it's a good idea to do right then, we'll tell you without being mad.  But maybe your idea would be the very best idea and we'd like to hear it."

Liam considered this then spoke.  "I would like it if you would read to me."

"I think that's a very, very good idea.  Why don't you go pick a book?"

Liam went to his room and perused his burgeoning collection.  Uncle Shane and Aunt Diana had brought him more books the night before. 

Monica was not surprised when Liam returned with a book entitled Little Santa.  It seemed Jacob and Shelby had gotten him quite excited about an upcoming visit by "the real Santa."  Adam had been very pleased.

"Okay!"  Monica tucked a quilt around herself and the boy before she began to read about the adventures of a pint-sized Santa Claus and his family. 

Liam listened, enthralled, although the angel noticed that at times he stared more at her than at the book.  As the story reached its conclusion, the boy's eyelids began to droop.

"Good story," he sleepily murmured when she finished.

"Yes, it was.  I'm glad we could read it together for the first time." 

"Monny..."  Liam yawned and nestled closer.

"It's okay to go back to sleep.  We got up pretty early to see Daddy off," Monica whispered as she gently patted Liam's back.


A few moments later, Monica was surprised to realize she was humming Joshua's lullaby.  She smiled as she thought of Maryam rocking her own son to sleep.  For nearly half an hour, Monica held Liam.  She admired his perfect little hand which was clutching her shoulder and his soft, sweet smelling hair beneath her chin.  She smiled over his quiet, steady snoring.  She wondered what darkness Nessa must have been experiencing that she would allow it to keep her from such gentle bliss.  Then she remembered those horrible hours in the desert and thought she knew something of it.  Monica found herself silently speaking to the woman.

"I'll love him, Nessa.  As if he were my own... I feel like he is my own.  I'll care for Liam for both of us.  I am so grateful to you for choosing to bring him into this world.  I am sorry that you struggled so in it.  I wish we could have been friends.  I wish I could have helped you.  But I know you're at peace now.  Arthur and I will give Liam as much peace and comfort as we can.  And so much love...  He is so precious."

Monica kissed Liam's hair then sighed and carried him to his room.  She didn't want to put him down but there was laundry to be done and she wanted to finish the hat she was making for him so he could wear it that afternoon.  For a few moments she softly stroked his back and then she crept out of the room.  Pausing for a moment in the doorway, Monica smiled lovingly at Liam then went about her work.


Monica smiled as she sorted the laundry into three piles.  Liam's pile was the largest thanks to offerings from their friends.  She bundled the clothing into her arms then crept to the boy's room, hoping to set them on his dresser without being noticed.  However, when she entered the room, Monica discovered that Liam was already up.

The boy looked panicked and slid something under his pillow.

Monica smiled, set down the clothes, and sat beside Liam on the bed.  "Baby, is something wrong?"

His head hanging, Liam shook his head.  "No, Monny."

Monica bit her lip, wondering how to reply.  He was obviously hiding something but she wandered if it was right to press him on it.

Liam peered at Monica then let out a ragged sigh and reached under his pillow.  He held his treasure out to her.  "I'm sorry."

The angel looked down to see that the child was holding a creased photograph of himself in the arms of his mother.  Liam looked to be about two.  Monica wondered if the photo had been taken before Nessa's troubles had resumed.  She smiled and patted Liam's back.

"Liam, you have nothing to be sorry for.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to have a picture of your Mommy."

"But... but now you..."

Monica settled the boy onto her lap and kissed his forehead.  "Daddy and I are your parents now but that doesn't mean your Mommy isn't still your Mommy.  We know that and it's important for you to know that, too."

"I... I love you, Monny."

Monica's heart soared at hearing his words but she also ached for the sadness she saw in Liam's eyes.  "And I love you, too, Liam.  So much.  It's possible to love more than one person, you know.  I love you and I love Daddy and I love your aunts and uncles and cousins and I love God.  All in different, special ways.  But I love them all.  Do you understand that you can love Mommy and Daddy and me all at the same time?"

Liam hesitated and then nodded.  "Monny?"

"Yes, baby?"

"Did... did Mommy really love me?"

"Oh yes."

"Why... why was... was..."  Liam began to sob.  "Mean... me..."  He rubbed his upper arm.  "She... let... him... hurt my... my arm."

Tears slid down Monica's cheeks.  "Sweet boy..."  She cradled him close.  "Liam, your Mommy was very, very sick.  And... and sometimes that sickness made her act in ways she didn't really want to act.  I don't think she ever wanted to be mean to you or... or not protect you but... but sometimes the sickness was too... loud.  And it came out in the things she said to you.  But, baby, those things she said... they had nothing to do with you.  You are a very nice little boy and nothing you said or did caused her to act that way.  Do you understand?"

"Will... will you get sick?" Liam questioned.

"Not like that, Liam.  No.  What made your mommy sick... it wasn't like a stuffy nose or a tummy ache.  It was much different and I don't have that sort of sickness."

"D-does Daddy?"

"No, baby."

"Do I?"


 Liam heaved a sigh.  "Good.  Mommy... she was nice to me a lot."

Monica smiled.  "I'm glad.  How would you like it if we found a frame for your picture with your Mommy?  It would protect it so it doesn't get scratched or bent."

Liam nodded.  "Please."


Monica took his hand and led him to her room.  She pulled out a box from her closet where she keeps various odds and ends of things she'd collected during assignments and didn't have a current use for.  She smiled when she found a plain white picture frame.

"How about this?  You could paint it first if you'd like."

Liam smiled.  "Yes, please.  Monny?"


"Could I have one of those?"

Monica looked to where he was pointing.  It was a print Molly had given her of the three of them in the leaf pile. 

"Of course!  I'll ask Aunt JenniAnn to print another one but, for right now, you can have this one." 

Liam beamed as he accepted the framed image. 

"How about we go to the kitchen to paint?"


Once they were there, Monica rummaged through a bag Catherine had brought the previous night.  She pulled out a little art set then laid out some paper towels on the table and placed the empty frame over them. 

"All set?"

With an eager nod, Liam scrambled into the chair.  He stared at the paints and brushes.  "What do I do, Monny?"

Monica sat beside him and picked up the brush.  "What color do you want first?"


Monica nuzzled his hair.  "I should have guessed."

Liam laughed.

Monica dipped the brush in the paint and laid a few strokes onto the frame.  "You want to try now?"

Nodding, Liam accepted the brush and began to paint. 

As he covered the frame in all six colors, Monica watched.  She loved the way his tongue stuck out just a bit from the right side of his mouth.  He was so serious about it and yet seemed to be enjoying himself.

Once the frame was covered, Liam looked up.

"Let's set it on the counter to dry.  If I get you some paper, would you want to paint something for Daddy's office?"


Monica retrieved some cardstock from Catherine's gift bag and placed a piece in front of Liam.  She watched, touched, as three figures appeared on the canvas.  Only Liam's studiousness kept her from hugging him as she saw their little family come to life in his painting.


Monica kept tight hold of Liam's hand as they entered True Light.  Though she loved the shelter, she knew it could be overwhelming and sometimes the patrons could be out of sorts.  She didn't want Liam to be frightened.

"Where's Daddy?"

"His office is just a little ways back but, look, there's Uncle Tim.  Let's ask him."

Monica made her way to the front desk and smiled.

"Well, look who's here!" Tim greeted with a wide smile.  "Arthur's been bragging all morning about how you two were coming.  He's been running around so let me page him."

Monica glanced down at Liam who was smiling and clutching the painting for Arthur.  She saw when he noticed the play area.  Monica laughed when he looked up at her. 

"You can go over there.  I'll wait right here.  I just want to talk to Uncle Tim for a couple minutes."

Liam grinned, handed Monica the painting, and went to check out the toys.

Monica sighed happily and turned to Tim who was shaking his head as he watched Liam.

"I hope you don't mind my saying, Monica, but if I didn't know better... I'd swear that kid was born to you and Arthur.  I heard a few people saying as much last night, too."

Monica smiled.  "I don't mind.  I... I think maybe Joshua meant for it to be that way.  Liam's been through a lot and the last thing he needs is strangers wondering where he came from."  She frowned as she thought of a few choice comments Andrew and JenniAnn had already received from strangers about Belle.  "So I'm hoping most people we meet will simply make that assumption and let it go uncommented upon."

"I really hope so."

"How, umm, have the men reacted when Arthur's told them?  I know he was nervous."

Tim shrugged.  "Most have taken it in stride.  A lot of guys here have kids out of wedlock.  A handful were surprised but they didn't make a big deal about it.  A lot of us owe Arthur big time so it'd be pretty lame to get judgmental."

"Good.  I'm glad.  Everyone here means so much to Arthur and..."


She turned and smiled as Arthur hurried towards her.

"Daddy!"  Liam set down the truck he was playing with and dashed to his father.

Arthur hugged Monica and ruffled Liam's hair before picking the boy up and kissing his cheek.

"How was your morning?" he asked.

"Good!  We painted."  Liam pointed up to the counter where Monica had laid his painting.  "I painted for you."

Arthur's eyes welled as he looked at the offering.  "I love it, Liam.  Let's go find a place for this in my office, okay?"


Tim smiled and waved.  "Have fun!"

Monica set her hand on the man's arm.  "Thank you."

Tim patted her hand.  "You're very welcome."

"See you at lunch, Tim?" Arthur checked.

The man nodded.  "Tyson's coming up to relieve me so I'll be there."

"Good!"  Arthur smiled at his friend and then led Monica and Liam to his office.

Tim watched them go then peered up at the ceiling and thought of the carpenter.  "Good job," he murmured with a smile.


A Nest and a Blessing

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Andrew stepped out of his bedroom and noticed that JenniAnn was already up and about, studying the family tree.  He approached and circled his arms around her.

"Good morning."

JenniAnn smiled at him then stretched up to kiss his cheek.  "G'morning."

"Have you checked on Belle, yet?"

"Mmm hmm.  Sleeping soundly."




"Don't you think it's kind of weird that Liam's bird hasn't shown up yet?  Sean's bird appeared the very next morning after he proposed.  But it's been a week."

"Huh.  Did you check Arthur's and Monica's nest?  Maybe the bird appeared right in...  Where's Arthur's and Monica's nest?"

Alarmed, JenniAnn looked up at where it was usually situated.  "But that doesn't make sense...  I know it was here last night because when Belle was fussing, I brought her here to look at the birds and we named them off and I know I said Uncle Arthur and Aunt Monica..."  JenniAnn frowned then her eyes went wide.  "Unless..."

Andrew grinned.  "Personal delivery?"

JenniAnn smiled and nuzzled his shoulder.  "Likely.  How wonderful for them...  Joshua will do a blessing surely?"

"I'm sure."

"Oh and... Monica... the change."

Andrew nodded.

"Tell me again what that was like?"

Andrew took JenniAnn's hand and led her to the library where he relived those miraculous moments with Joshua in the hospital chapel.


Monica gazed at Liam as he slept beside her.  In spite of a wonderful day filled with a visit to Adam's island, time spent in the Tunnels, and a run through the hedge maze outside Willowveil; Liam had ended Friday with a nightmare.  Of what he wouldn't say but the terror in his eyes had been real... as real as the warmth Monica had seen there after she'd rocked and cuddled the boy.

Monica became aware of a sweet smell wafting into her room.  Pancakes, she thought.  She smiled, guessing that Arthur was already up and preparing breakfast.  After ensuring that Liam was tucked in, Monica carefully rose from the bed, pulled on her robe and slippers, and stepped into the hallway.  Moving into the living room, she saw that Arthur was still asleep on the couch.  She was confused for a moment then gasped and hurried to the kitchen.

A familiar form stood in front of the kitchen window, looking into the yard as he stirred some batter.


Joshua turned around and smiled at Monica.  He set down the batter then held his arms aloft.

The angel flew into them and buried her face in his shoulder. 

Joshua lightly swayed as he held her close.  "I'm so proud of you, Monica.  What you and Arthur have done in only a week's time..."

Monica wept and clung to her Maker.  "Th-thank you.  I... I love them both so... so much, J-Joshua."

Joshua smiled and kissed her hair.  "I know.  And you've made a wonderful, love-filled family.  Dad, Abi, Ama, John, and me are so looking forward to watching you three grow even closer!"

Monica kissed his cheek.  "I'm glad you'll be watching over us and I wanted to thank you again for allowing me this time with Liam, giving me leave."

"You're very welcome.  Liam's still going to need a lot of help, Monica.  I'm glad you and Arthur are meeting with Amber-Marie next week.  She's working wonders with Emma."

Monica smiled.  "So Emma told us.  You said you had work for me, though?"

Joshua grinned and reached into his pocket.  He pulled out some car keys and handed them to Monica.  "For you."

Monica giggled.  "You're giving me another car?"

"No.  A truck.  A food truck, to be more precise," Joshua explained.  "Ruth had been using it for an assignment but it's yours now.  I'll have it brought to True Light next week.  I've also asked Mattay to put the money you've made during recent assignments into a savings account.  You can use that for start-up money.  The way Ruth did it was she offered meals on a 'pay what you can' basis.  Some people could only pay a few cents but others, liking the idea, paid several dollars over what the sandwich, beverage, and sides cost.  If things keep up as they have been... and I have a feeling they will... you'll make a few hundred dollars above operations costs each month.  I want you to use that to help Arthur with whatever Liam needs.  Okay?"

With grateful tears in her eyes, Monica nodded.

"The best part is, it's kind of like a mobile home.  There's a space where Liam can sit and draw and play and look at books or whatever he'd like to do.  Help you out."  Joshua beamed.  "I'm glad he wants to work for God."

"Oh, Joshua... it's so wonderful!"  Monica hugged him again.  Then she stepped back, set the keys on the table, and took both of his hands in hers.  "Joshua, if it would be your will... I'd like to make the same change Andrew did.  I want to age."

"I know.  And it is my will.  Are you ready?" Joshua checked.

Monica nodded and knelt in front of her Lord.

Joshua rested his hands on the angel's hair.  He tilted his face towards the sun's rays as they came in the window and felt the Father's and Spirit's power join with his.

Tears trickled down Monica's face as Joshua spoke the ancient words.  She saw herself and Satan in the desert but saw, too, that Joshua had been holding her the entire time.  She saw Arthur searching the hospital for her.  Light and love blazed through every inch of her body as the scene shifted to another hospital where she cradled little Liam.  Then she was sitting at Panera with JenniAnn... and then with Arthur, all while Joshua looked on with a proud and pleased smile.  Moments from the past year flitted through Monica's mind, giving her another chance to relive each one and marvel at it.

In the living room, Arthur was awoken by a bright light pouring out of the kitchen doorway.  Curious, he rose from the couch and headed that way.  He stopped before entering the room and gaped at the beautiful sight of Joshua and Monica bathed in golden light.

Joshua stopped speaking and helped Monica to stand.  He smiled at her then kissed her cheeks.  "Enjoy your new life, my daughter."

Speechless, Monica nodded and returned to his embrace. 

Joshua held her close and smiled over her shoulder.  "Good morning, Arthur."

Monica startled and spun around.  "Arthur..." 

Arthur stumbled towards them and flung his arms around them both.  "Joshua...  I... we hoped...  Josh..."

Joshua chuckled.  "I'm here."  He hugged the man tightly.  "And I'll be here for a couple of hours, if that's okay."

"Yes!" Arthur and Monica replied in unison.

Joshua grinned.  "Good.  Let me get back to these pancakes and I'll tell you what I have in mind.  Why don't you two sit down?"  He waved to the table.

Arthur pulled a chair out for Monica then sat beside her.

Joshua resumed his stirring.  "We'll have breakfast together and, after that, I'd like to speak to Liam.  Then, if you would be interested, I'd like to officially give you my blessing."

Arthur took Monica's hand and nodded with tears in his eyes.  "I... I'd like that." 

"Me too," Monica agreed.

"Good.  Arthur, I was telling Monica how proud I am of both of you.  I know the circumstances of Liam's arrival were shocking but it's how it needed to happen."

Arthur bowed his head.  "I'm so sorry for my anger."

"And I... I'm sorry for my selfishness," Monica added.

Joshua smiled gently at them both.  "I know and I forgive you.  Arthur, you did a good thing in sharing with the Bible study about that.  Just because you've all met me doesn't mean you'll never be angry at me.  Now others will know that and not bury themselves in shame over it.  And, Monica... I saw what you did with Nessa's photo.  I know it was hard for you but you were utterly selfless in that moment.  When Liam is older, he will understand how much love for him that took."

Arthur smiled proudly at Monica and brought her hand to his lips.

"Monny?  Daddy?"

"Oh!"  Monica leapt from her chair and followed Liam's voice, finding him in the living room.  "Good morning, sweet boy!  Let's go into the kitchen.  There's someone who wants to see you."

Curious, Liam tilted his head then took Monica's hand and went to the kitchen with her.


Joshua smiled at the little boy and crouched down.  "Hello there, Liam!  I am so glad you're settled in with your Daddy and Monny."

Liam returned his smile.  "When you walked with me, you told me it would be good.  You were right, Joshua."  He stepped nearer and held his arms out.

Beaming, Joshua pulled the boy into a bear hug.



"Why do Aunt JenniAnn and Uncle Andrew have a picture of you in their church?"

Arthur and Monica looked to each other in surprise.  Then they remembered that Liam had taken an unusually long time when he'd had to use the restroom the previous day when they'd been at the castle.  Clearly he had gone wandering...  The hint of mischievousness pleased them both.

Joshua smiled.  "Why do you think?"

"I think maybe that you're God?" Liam ventured.

Joshua rested his forehead against the boy's and smiled.  "I think you're right."

Liam grinned.  "That's good."

Laughing, Joshua nodded.  "I think so.  Hey, you wanna help me make pancakes?"

The little boy responded with an eager nod. 

Joshua got him situated mixing ingredients for homemade syrup.

After a few minutes, Joshua loaded up a platter with pancakes and brought it to the table.

"Breakfast a la Liam and Joshua is ready!" he proudly declared as the little boy beamed.

Arthur and Monica smiled across the table at each other, noting how Liam lit up with Joshua near. 

"Liam, could you say the blessing?" Joshua requested.  "I really liked the one you gave on Tuesday."

Liam nodded then bowed his head.  "Dear God, thank you for the pancakes you made.  I hope the syrup is good.  Amen."

"Amen," Joshua echoed as the two parents fought giggles.  "I'm sure the syrup will be delicious.  Now... dig in!"

With that, the four dug into their pancakes doused in syrup that was, as Joshua guessed, delicious.


When Arthur and Monica insisted on tending to the breakfast dishes, Liam showed Joshua his room.

"I love it!  I like all your drawings.  And your bed looks very comfy."

Liam blushed.  "It is.  But sometimes I get scared and go sleep with Monny."

Joshua hugged him.  "That's okay.  When I was your age, I used to get in my Abi's and Ama's... that's what I call my mommy and daddy... bed when I was scared."

"You got scared?"

"When I was little, yes.  And even sometimes when I was grown."


Joshua took the little boy's hands in his.  "Liam, sometimes things in life are scary and sometimes it takes a while to stop being scared.  When you think about those things, I want you to tell your Monny and Daddy, okay?"


"And pretty soon, they're going to introduce you to a nice lady named Dr. Sayer.  You can tell her about things that scare you and make you feel bad, too.  And you can always talk to me.  Even when you can't see me, I'll still be with you," Joshua vowed.

Liam frowned.  "But I like it when I can see you."

"I know.  I like it, too.  And you will see me sometimes, I promise you that.  But I want you to have as much fun as you can with your Monny and Daddy and aunts and uncles and new friends.  They all know all about me."

"Shelby and Jacob, too?"

Joshua nodded. 


With a smile, Joshua nodded again.  "She knows who I am."

"And the doggies?"

Joshua chuckled.  "Even the doggies."

Liam smiled.  "Good.  Joshua?"


"Monny said she's an angel and won't ever die."

"That's right."

"Will... will Daddy die?"

Joshua settled the child onto his lap.  "Liam, all humans die.  You know that I lived here on earth once, right?  That my name was Jesus?"


"Even I died.  But then I lived again so that when people died after that, they could live again in Heaven.  That's where your Mommy is and she lives forever there.  And a long, long time from now, your Daddy will go to live in Heaven, too.  And then, a while after that, you will, too.  But you both have so much living to do here first!"

Liam rested his head against Joshua's chest and listened to his heartbeat.

Knowing his thoughts, Joshua kissed the boy's hair.  "Your Mommy's all healed now, Liam.  She'll never hurt or be confused or be angry again.  She wants you to live a happy life with your Monny and Daddy and all your family and all the people you'll meet and come to love in the future."  His eyes filled.  "And, Liam, she asked me to tell you that she is so sorry that Rodney and the others hurt you.  She never wanted that to happen.  She loves you."

Liam sniffled and buried his face against Joshua's shirt.

Joshua softly rocked.  "I love you, Liam.  I created you and have always, always loved you.  Don't you ever, ever forget that, okay?"

"Okay," came Liam's muffled reply.  He squirmed around and looked up at Joshua.  "I love you, too, Joshua."

Joshua smiled down at him.  "Thank you, Liam.  Now... I have a favor to ask of you."

Liam sat up and listened intently as Joshua revealed his plan.


Monica peeked into the mirror after she slid her earrings in.  She began to second guess her dress: a beige calf-length sweater dress.  Perhaps it was too informal but it was the dress she'd been wearing when she and Arthur had reconnected.  It seemed appropriate to wear it then.  She added a pashmina then smiled and nodded at her reflection.

There was a tap on her door.

"Come in!"

Liam stepped into the room.  "Pretty, Monny!  Are you ready?"

Monica smiled and knelt down to hug him.  "Thank you.  Yes, I'm ready."

Liam took her hand and led her into the living room.

Upon the angel's entry into the room, Arthur and Joshua rose from the couch.

Liam escorted Monica towards them.

Arthur and Monica both teared up as they clasped hands and knelt in front of Joshua who motioned for Liam to stand beside him.

"Daughter of God, Son of Adam... my beloved children," Joshua began, resting his hands on each of their heads.  "May your lives together be filled with faith, hope, and, most of all, love.  May you enjoy each new adventure that comes your way.  May you find in each other, always, understanding, compassion, and affection.  May you, together, guide Liam in his ways and make for him a happy and love-filled home.  May the love you share be carried beyond the walls of this cottage, beyond even this world, and go onto touch the hearts of those you meet and work with.  Remember, always, that I am with you and that my love constantly surrounds you... all three of you."

Joshua knelt and settled his right arm around Liam's shoulders.  He waved Arthur and Monica closer and wrapped his left arm around them.

"We, the Father, Son, and Spirit, bless your family.  Monica and Arthur, we will guide you as you seek to counsel and comfort your son.  Liam, we give to you your Daddy and your Monny, who will always love you, their son.  Love and be loved, Liam, Monica, and Arthur."

When Joshua finished, he hugged all three and then kept hold of Liam.  The two smiled as Arthur and Monica embraced and exchanged pecks on the cheek.

Liam enthusiastically clapped.  "Present time!" he declared.

Her head resting on Arthur's shoulder, Monica laughed.  "Presents?"

Joshua smiled as Liam ran to his room.  "I asked him to hide something for me."  He motioned to the couch.  "Sit, please."

Before they did, Arthur and Monica both hugged Joshua again.

"Th-thank you," Arthur choked out.  "That... it was beautiful, Josh."

Monica kissed his cheek.  "It... means so much to us, Joshua."

"And that means so much to me," Joshua replied with a lump in his throat.

Liam returned holding a parchment wrapped box which he placed in Monica's lap.

After looking to Joshua who nodded, Monica undid the twine bow and began to unwrap the box.  Unsurprisingly, it was wooden.

"Oh..."  She traced the three names on it.

"I thought it could be a family memory box," Joshua suggested.

Arthur squeezed his hand.  "I love it."

"There's more, Monny," Liam encouraged.

Monica lifted the lid from the box and smiled.  She handed a card to Arthur.

He smiled at the driver's license.  "Monica MacArthur... officially."

"And permanently... well, at least for many, many years," Joshua told them with a grin.

Monica hugged him.  "Thank you."

'You're welcome."

Monica lifted some tissue paper and began to cry softly when she saw the remaining items in the box: two adult birds, a baby bird, and a nest.

Liam pointed to the smallest bird.  "Joshua says that's my bird."

Arthur hugged him.  "It... it sure is.  You know where this goes, Liam?"

The boy nodded.  "On Uncle Andrew's family tree.  Cause we're all family.  We have our little family and a big family... big, big family."

Joshua chuckled.  "A big, beautiful family."

"Joshua..."  Monica leaned forward and hugged him.  "I... it's all... so perfect.  Thank you."

"You're welcome."  Joshua beamed at the three of them.  "I look at the three of you and I am so pleased."

Arthur kissed Monica's hair.  "I'm so glad, Josh."

Joshua clapped him on the shoulder.  "Now... I'm going to need to borrow someone's phone or camera because we definitely have to get some photos of you three."

"Oh yes!"  Monica rose and retrieved her phone from her room and gave it to Joshua.

"Thank you!  Okay, let's get the three of you on the couch."

Liam scooted onto the couch and then Arthur and Monica settled on either side of him.  They each took one of the boy's hands and smiled at Joshua.

Joshua snapped the photograph and checked it on the screen.  His eyes welled and he smiled proudly.

"Perfect," he declared as his gaze turned to the family he so loved.



Sunday, November 29th, 2

"Perfect..." Monica murmured.  "That... that's what Joshua said the... the day he blessed us.  I wish Liam could remember that... hold that close.  The One who created him sees such goodness in him."

Arthur pulled her close.  "I think he does remember that... and believes it.  But it's almost like he feels worthy of Joshua and not of Belle but that doesn't even make sense."

Andrew startled.  "Except maybe it does.  Liam knows he can't hurt Joshua.  I mean he can hurt his feelings, of course.  We all know that.  But Liam would never be a danger to Joshua."

"He wouldn't be a danger to Belle, either!" Monica defended.

"Monica, I'm sure Andrew didn't mean that," JenniAnn soothed.

Andrew squeezed his fellow angel's arm.  "I didn't.  And I know that Liam would never be a danger to Belle.  Of course, I know that.  I know my nephew, Monica.  But does he know that?  Arthur, you said that you feel like those first five years are behind this.  Maybe they are.  But not in the way you think.  I truly believe that all the love you and Monica have surrounded Liam with... that's banished any belief he ever had that he was a mistake.  He knows Joshua created him and always meant for him to be.  And Liam grew up in a house filled with love.  He saw, daily, how much you two love each other.  But... we all know that the type of relationship JenniAnn and I share and that you two share... it's not typical among humans.  Think back to what we know of the months before Liam came.  Nessa had been doing well, right?"

Arthur nodded.  "That's what Kelly told us way back when."

"Then she met someone... the man who was there when she died, the one who hit Liam," Andrew continued. 

"Rodney," Arthur grunted.

"Right.  Rodney dragged Nessa back into the drugs, back into neglecting her son.  And... it seems like that wasn't the only time, the only guy that happened with.  It pains me to say this but... JenniAnn noticed the cigarette burns the first day she met Liam.  How could Nessa have never noticed them?"

Arthur and Monica glanced at each other. 

Sighing deeply, Monica responded.  "She knew.  Liam didn't say so until-til he'd been with us for weeks.  One night I woke up and he was sitting on my bedroom floor just... wracked with sobs.  He'd tried to climb up but he was so beside himself that... that he fell.  Eventually I got him soothed enough to talk and that's when he... he told me."

JenniAnn handed Monica a tissue.

"Thank you...  He told me his Mommy was there when the man burned him.  I have to believe Nessa was too stoned to realize what was going on.  But all Liam knew was that she watched that man hurt him and did nothing."  Monica rested her head on Arthur's shoulder.

Andrew shook his head and dragged his hand through his hair.  "That's terrible.  But... but I wonder if that's not our answer right there.  Liam's internalized that when his mother became sexually involved with someone... she could turn into someone who was mean and negligent.  We all know it was the drugs and drinking and, on an intellectual level, I'm sure Liam does, too.  But ideas... they lurk in people's psyches."

Arthur grimaced.  "When Liam got older...  Monica and I...  We always urged him to be cautious with alcohol because with Nessa's addictions... it was a risk factor, you know?  But I wonder if we unwittingly made him think more of her... traits... lived on in him."

JenniAnn shook her head.  "I really don't think that was it, Arthur.  Any kid who's taken a high school biology class starts to wonder what's in their genes.  You're talking to the person who, for a time, was convinced she was genetically predisposed to fall in love with an angel of death just because my great aunt did!  My parents certainly didn't implant that idea.  Reading about telomeres and alleles and whatnot did, though!"

Monica smiled appreciatively at JenniAnn.  "That's true..."

"And think about Vincent... all the peace he felt when he learned about Lor, when he learned that his genes came from two utterly lovely people," JenniAnn continued.  "People do all sorts of things to themselves in their own minds..."

"So what if you're right?  What do we do?" Arthur questioned.  "We've raised the kids to be open and honest and, sometimes, very frank.  But I don't know how Liam's going to react if one or all of us spring 'Hey, Liam, just so you know... we don't think sex will make you selfish and cruel' on him."

"I don't think anyone should do that," Andrew assured.  "But maybe..."  He paused to think.

Monica's eyes lit up.  "'Avi knows all...'" she quoted.

JenniAnn laughed.  "What?  I have an omnipotent son?  Don't think so.  Avi doesn't know how to do his own laundry."

Monica smiled.  "But he knows Liam.  It was Liam who said that.  'Avi knows all.'  Maybe Avi could talk to him.  Or... or maybe Avi already knows and plans to."

"Do you want me to go check in on the boys?" Andrew offered.

Arthur shook his head.  "Let's let them be.  I got the feeling Avi intended to talk to Liam."

"Well... whatever Avi knows, we know one person who really does know all.  Let's pray?" JenniAnn suggested.

The other three nodded.  They joined hands and prayed for Liam.


Liam filled the last bushel basket with corn then wiped his brow.  His stomach voiced its protest.

Avi laughed.  "It is lunchtime... past that, even."  He glanced at his phone and smiled.  "But we're in luck.  Lunch will be served shortly."

A few moments later, there was a knock on the barn door.  Avi went to answer.

Liam watched as Avi greeted Evangeline, a girl from the Tunnels with whom Avi was mutually smitten.  With her long blonde locks which rivaled his, they were a handsome pair.  Liam swallowed a sigh.

"Good afternoon, Liam!" Evangeline greeted.

Liam smiled at the teenager.  "Good afternoon, Evangeline."

"Evie brought lunch for us, Liam," Avi informed him.  "What has Will Jr. made for us?"

The girl blushed.  "Actually... I made it myself.  It's not much but..."

Avi squeezed her hand.  "I'm sure it'll be delicious.  You'll stay with us?"

"Oh... no.  I promised my mother that I'd help her with the mending over some tea with my grandma but..."  She cast a self conscious look at Liam.

"Thank you, Evangeline, for lunch.  I'll go wash my hands so I can properly enjoy it."  Liam smiled at the two then left them.

Once they were alone, Avi and Evie embraced.

"Your sister's come Below to visit with Shelby," Evie informed.  "So... we've gathered that Liam might be in a bad state.  I think you should talk with him and I'd only hinder that but..."  She smiled hopefully.  "Maybe you'll come for dinner tonight?"

Avi returned her smile then bowed to her.  "It would be my honor."

Evie giggled and kissed him.  "Good."

A dopey smile filled Avi's face as she walked away. 

"Evangeline's left already?"

Avi turned to Liam and nodded. 

Liam chuckled.  "That's a nice shade on you, Avi."


"Your lips look a bit glossy is all," Liam teased.

"Oh!"  Avi's face flushed and he hurried to the restroom.  After blotting his lips and washing his hands, he returned.

They said a blessing and then shared the tomato bisque and cheese biscuits that Evangeline had brought.

"I'm happy for you, you know," Liam spoke.  "She's a lovely girl.  And you just seem... suited to each other.  Even your names... Avi and Evie.  Cute."

Avi gave his friend a grateful smile.  "Thank you."

"Avi, we've always been close and I don't want to drift apart because you think it'll make me sad to see you with someone.  I... I guess I'm a touch jealous.  But only a touch," Liam confessed.  "Much more of me is happy."

"I'm glad.  But..."  Avi hesitated.

"But what?"

"I want you to be happy for you, Liam.  From my earliest memories, you've always been looking out for everyone else and so careful of everyone else.  And yet you won't even speak up for yourself.  You won't even tell Belle how you feel and give yourself some chance at happiness!" Avi protested.

Liam's face burned red.  "Belle does not owe me my happiness!"

"I am aware," Avi countered.  "Trust me.  I grew up with my Mama.  Neither of us is entitled to a woman.  No one is.  But it's not wrong to ask a lady to consider you.  I'm the one who first approached Evangeline to ask if she might like to go on a date.  If she'd turned me down then I would have accepted that but she didn't.  And then a couple days later... she asked me out.  Liam, you're right.  You're not owed Belle.  But you are owed consideration.  Belle would not have done what she did last night if she realized the strain it would be for you."

Liam knew this was true.  Belle would not be so callous.  Things might be easier if she knew and yet...  "But it could be so awkward for all of us if..."

Avi grinned.  "The way I hear it, Dyeland was a hotbed of awkwardness back in the day.  Imagine a seventeen year old girl making googly eyes at an angel of death!"

Liam chuckled. 

"And let's not forget the time my mom thought Aunt Violeta had a thing for Joshua.  I could keep going.  But they made it through and here we are.  We'd deal with whatever fallout there was, Liam.  We'd still be a family," Avi assured.

Liam weighed the younger man's words.  It had always seemed to him that Avi had been born an adult, wise beyond his years.  He was also seldom wrong.

Avi patted his cousin on the shoulder.  "Just think about it, okay?"

Liam nodded then reached up to set his hand over Avi's.  "What... what if Belle said... said yes?"

Avi smiled.  "Well, that would be great!  I know you love Belle and aren't just into her because of how she looks.  And you'd never mistreat her and you'd be good to her and, well, understanding when she gets into one of her more... dreamy moods." 

"How do you know that?" Liam quietly asked.

"Because I know you, Liam!"

"B-but what if I... I wasn't me?  Like if... if I changed?"

Avi crossed his arms over his chest.  "What do you mean?  All people change a little over time but..."

"I don't mean that.  I mean what if... if I'm like my mother?"

"An angel, you mean?  Well, yes, that would be a problem given my sister's very vocal about not being like Mama but you're not so..."

"No, no.  I mean like my birth mother."

"I don't really know much about her, Liam.  Do you want to tell me?"

Before he realized it, words were flooding out of Liam's mouth.  He found himself telling his cousin everything... about the abuse, about his mother witnessing it, about the men who came and went, and the times his mother sent him to bed and told him not to come to her room.  By the time he was finished, he was sobbing.

Avi also wept with sorrow for all his cousin had went through.  Liam's monk-like existence began to make sense... a very sad sense.

"What if... if that's in... in me?  That I'd get so... consumed with... that... and I... I'd hurt..." Liam choked out. 

Avi sat cross legged in front of his friend and shook his head.  "That's not you, Liam.  And I don't think that was even your mother's natural state.  She did the same kind of work as your dad does, right?  Disaster response?"

Liam nodded.

"I thought so.  I've read about substance abuse.  Evangeline's father had a big alcohol problem and I just wanted to understand what she was going through so... so I read.  And for some people, it does start with trauma.  Maybe your birth mom was traumatized by what she'd seen.  Sometimes people... they use various substances to self-medicate.  And, sometimes, they use sex.  I think that's probably what your mother was doing, Liam.  She likely wasn't in love with those men any more than she was in love with the drugs.  She was using all of them to escape, to black out.  You wouldn't be doing that.  I know you wouldn't.  I know you'd only have relations with someone you loved deeply because you know that anything less than that... it takes a toll and people get hurt.  And you're Liam!  One of the kindest guys I know!" Avi cheered.  "If anything did ever happen between you and my sister, I know you would never use her and you would never be insensitive to her.  I think last night proves that.  You made things way more difficult for yourself than they needed to be just to make Belle feel better.  Don't you see that, Liam?  That's who you are!  If you need to compare yourself to your parents: think of your dad.  He's sacrificed a lot for your mom and for you.  I never knew your mother but I have to believe you're much more like your dad."

Liam ceased staring at his hands and looked up at his cousin.  He smiled.  "Sometimes you sound an awful lot like your Daddy."

Avi grinned.  "Thank you!  So?"

"Just... let me think on it today and tonight and... and then maybe I'll talk to Belle tomorrow.  Okay?"

"Okay," Avi responded with a resolute nod.

Liam smiled and then the two resumed enjoying their meal.


Belle turned away from Shelby's screen where she'd been reading the draft of her next novel and sighed.  "Emma and Peter... oops, I mean Aurora and Pete... are so lovely..."

Shelby laughed.  "I just couldn't completely lose the St. Peter/Peter connection.  But, you're right, Emma and Peter are lovely.  And I feel really blessed that they've approved of everything I've written so far."

"I approve, too.  And Amy is a very sweet baby."

Shelby swatted at her sister.  "Not that you're biased or anything... Amy."

Belle giggled then turned a serious gaze on Shelby.  "I... I want to feel that... what Emma and Peter felt... what they still feel."

Shelby hugged her.  "I know."  She lowered her voice and smiled playfully.  "Just be quiet about that around here tonight.  Our Polish friends are celebrating
Andrzejki.  You might get talked into throwing apple peels over your shoulder or something."

"St. Andrew's Eve!  I forgot!"  Belle laughed and shook her head.  "I think it's kinda fun, actually.  But just in a goofy way.  I don't think Joshua speaks through apple peels... or candle wax.  I mean I spose he could if he wanted but... probly wouldn't.  Last year Irena told me that if I prayed to St. Andrew, I would dream about the man I would marry.  I dreamed about ice cream."

Shelby burst out laughing.  "Well... maybe you'll marry an ice cream truck driver."

With a grin, Belle shook her head.  "Doubt it.  And maybe I just need to lay off the whole dating thing right now, anyway, and focus on mending relationships within the family.  For one, I seriously owe my parents, Aunt Violeta, and my brother some sort of massive dessert or something for the panic I caused them.  And... I do wish things would get better between Liam and me."

Shelby rose and began to tidy up some things around her chamber.  She was afraid that if she looked into Belle's face, everything would come pouring out and Liam might be upset.

"I wish they would, too," she agreed.

Belle sighed.  "Well, I should head back home and getting going on that dessert.  Do you want to come?"

Shelby shook her head.  "I'm sure it'll be delicious and lots of fun but I feel like tonight will be a good writing night.  And it's a Joshua scene."

With an understanding smile, Belle nodded.  "Then I'll leave you with Joshua."  She kissed her sister's cheek then left her chamber and headed towards the portal.  She briefly considered detouring to her grandparents' chamber but decided against it.  She was half afraid she'd curl up in her Grandpa's lap and she was far too old for that.  Not to mention the pain it would cause him now that arthritis had set in full force.  Not that he'd complain.  Belle sighed as she thought of her ever-loving, seldom-complaining Grandpa Vincent.  Liam reminded her of him in that.  Not once had Liam so much as rolled his eyes over the trouble she'd caused him that day.  She wondered if she should invite him over for dessert.  No...  He'd probably had enough of her for one day.

Sighing, Belle stepped through the portal and went home.


Belle's stomach was filled with butterflies.  But good butterflies!  She looked to her left and beamed up at her Daddy who looked so handsome in spite of his red, puffy eyes... eyes that matched those of her beautiful mother. 

Belle blinked a few times to keep her own tears at bay but all efforts failed as Tess started up with the "Te Deum" processional.

"You ready, baby girl?" her father checked.

Belle stretched up to kiss his cheek and then her mother's and nodded.

Arm in arm, the three stepped into the chapel proper and headed down the aisle.

Belle suddenly realized she had absolutely no idea who she was marrying!  She could see her brother off to the side and Shelby to her right with several of their cousins to either side.  But the man standing in front of Fr. Mike...  His back was to her and she could hardly make anything out... nothing except...  Her heart sped when she recognized the familiar shock of auburn hair.


She was marrying Liam! 

Belle giggled. 

Her parents smiled at her.

They reached the end of the aisle and Belle's parents kissed her then stepped away.

Giddy, Belle reached for her groom.

In an instant, all the joy and excitement she felt evaporated.

Gone was the auburn hair and instead of the sweet, gentle face she'd expected to see, there was Tannison leering at her.

"Liam!" Belle screamed as she tore away from the simpering man.  She spun around and there, near the back door, was Liam.

"Liam!" she cried again as she ran towards him.

Liam gave her a sad smile and then slipped out the door.


Belle ran towards the door but it seemed nailed shut.  She rattled it and kicked it and pounded on it until, finally, it flew open.  She dashed into the yard then all around the chapel but Liam was no where to be seen.

Belle fell to her knees, her dress crumpling around her, and wept.


Monday, November 30th, 2037 

Belle woke up to find her pillow wet and tears streaming down her face.  She couldn't remember ever being so shaken by a dream in her entire adult life.


Belle clamped her eyes shut and conjured his face as it had appeared to her in the dream.  She had felt such love in that moment... longing.

Belle let out a strangled cry as she realized the feelings lingered.

Or had they been there for quite a while?  Even before the dream?

Belle laid back down and stared at the ceiling.  She was glad that she'd decided to stay in her old room that night.  She reached for Mr. Bobo who, by some miracle, still worked.  After turning him on, she stared up at the projections on the ceiling and thought.

She was often missing people.  Jacob could be gone for months at a time with various art exhibits.  Uncle Owen's own artwork often called him away for spans of time, too.  Uncle Max was routinely traveling the world, treating patients and training other psychiatrists.  Her beloved sister had been gone for whole seasons on book tours.  And then there were the weeks with her Daddy gone all over the world.  She longed for them all when they were away but what she'd felt in recent months when she thought of the chasm that had formed between her and Liam... it had been different.  Deeper somehow.  Belle had told herself it was because she could come up with no good reason for their separation.  It wasn't work-related.  Liam simply wasn't there.  But maybe there was another reason she felt that loss of connection so deeply.

Belle sighed and let herself remember Liam's hugs.  She hadn't felt the sort of soaring, heart-pounding excitement she'd expected to feel with the man she'd love.  But there was no denying she'd felt something especially comforting and warm and... inviting?  She hadn't wanted the hugs to end.

Unbidden, her mind conjured an image of what might have been had their embraces not ended so swiftly.  Belle saw herself tilting her head up and Liam lowering his head and his lips brushing her forehead and then...

Belle began to cry again.

She was in love... with her cousin.

And she wasn't even sure he liked her.

Belle fumbled to turn Mr. Bobo off then buried her face in her pillow and cried herself to sleep.


When morning came, Belle grimaced at the daylight.  She shuffled down to the kitchen for some tea, hoping it would soothe her.  When she entered the kitchen, she found her brother seated at the table.

Avi smiled and gave her a thumbs up before swallowing the cherry cobbler he was eating.  "Hey, sis.  Sorry I wasn't here last night but Evangeline invited me for dinner Below so... I went.  This is awesome, though.  Thank you for saving me some."

Belle started the water boiling then collapsed into a chair and rested her head on the table.  "Glad you like it."

Avi's eye brow crooked upwards.  "Bad night?"

Belle wordlessly nodded.

"You want to talk about it?  Or I could get Mama or Daddy or both?  They're up.  I think they're... well, I heard music coming from Mama's room so my money's on dancing."

"So lovely..."  Belle murmured.

Avi patted her hair.  "Belle, seriously, you're starting to freak me out a little."

Belle sat up.  "Sorry.  What time are you and Liam going to start in the fields?"

"I don't know.  Around 9:00 or so, I guess?  Why?"

"I need to talk to him."

Avi felt his throat suddenly go dry.  Maybe Liam had called Belle and things had not gone well and now she felt bad...  He took a sip of milk.  "Why?"

Belle got up when the kettle began to sing.  She prepared her tea and then settled back down at the table.  "I just need to talk to him is all."

"Did you talk to him last night?"

"No.  Why?  Did something happen last night?" Belle anxiously questioned.

Avi shook his head.  "No.  I just...  I was confused."

"I haven't talked to him since he and Aunt Monica and Uncle Arthur walked me home."

Avi's face brightened.  "Oh.  Good."


"Well..."  Avi was rescued from making a response when his parents entered the kitchen.

"Well, isn't this a wonderful sight!  I can't remember the last time we came in here and found both you kids at the kitchen table."  Andrew beamed at them and bent to kiss their cheeks.  "Good morning."

"Morning, Daddy," they replied.

JenniAnn kissed their other cheeks.  "I see you're having some leftovers, Avi, but what can I get for you, Belle?"

"I'm not hungry, Mama."

JenniAnn frowned.  "Well, let me know and I can fix you something when you decide you're hungry."

"Yes, Mama."

Andrew sat down and gently stroked Belle's back.  "Are you all right, baby girl?"

Belle shivered as she remembered her dream... nightmare really.  She inched her chair closer to her father's.  "H-hold me, Daddy?"

Andrew gazed up at JenniAnn with a stricken look as he wrapped his arms around their daughter.  He kissed her hair.  "Sweet Belle... tell us what's wrong?  We love you so and..."

"I'm in love with Liam!" Belle sobbed.

Avi dropped his spoon onto the table.

JenniAnn began to cry.

Andrew kept tight hold of his girl as he spoke.  "Avi, call your cousin."

"No!" Belle shrieked, pulling away.

Andrew kissed her forehead.  "Just trust me on this, my Belle.  You need to talk to Liam... and he needs to talk to you."

Belle pouted as her brother went to make the phone call.


The Love That is Never Olden

An hour later, Belle was back in the living room of her own house with her Aunt Violeta.  Whatever embarrassment awaited her, she'd at least wanted to be dressed, with her hair brushed, when her cousin arrived.

She sat miserably on the old couch that she and Violeta couldn't bear to part with because her Daddy hadn't been able to part with it. 

"He's my cousin..." Belle murmured.

Violeta laughed.  "I really don't think that counts with this.  I mean the way everyone was dubbing everyone 'uncle' and 'aunt' when you kids started coming... there was bound to be some 'cousins' with beyond cousinly feelings.  I mean you share absolutely zero genetic connection with Liam so..."  She shrugged.

"But I... I'm not sure Liam even likes me anymore, let alone loves me."

Violeta eyed Belle.  "So you think your Daddy... my supervisor... had Liam called over here just to reject you?  Why would he do that?"

Belle realized that would be decidedly un-Daddylike.  "So do you think Daddy knows something?"

Violeta recognized that she'd gotten herself into a tight spot.  "Well... I just think Andrew has a lot of respect for the truth and thinks it worth speaking.  And you truly love Liam?"

Belle nodded.

"Well, then, I think it would be good for Liam to hear that and apparently your Daddy agrees."

"Yeah..."  Belle supposed that was true.  Regardless of how someone felt about the other person, she figured it would be nice to hear that someone was in love with you.

The door bell rang.

Violeta smiled and patted her niece's hand.  "I'll go get that."

A few moments later, Liam stepped into the living room.

"Belle?  Are you okay?"

Belle peered up into the man's eyes and nodded.  Then she shook her head.

Liam hurried to sit beside her.  "Lunabelle, what's wrong?"

"I... I had a nightmare."

Liam relaxed, relieved that nothing real had happened.  "Do you want to talk about it?"

Belle bit her lip and was silent for a few moments.  Then she nodded.

"Well, let's hear it then," Liam encouraged.  He smiled and softly stroked her back, suppressing the urge to take her into his arms.

"I... I was getting married.  And everyone was there.  And I was really, really happy.  B-but then when... when we got to the altar and Mama and Daddy let go of me a-and I reached for my groom... he... he wasn't who I wanted him to be."

Liam fought tears.  It was probably him.  And she didn't want him.  "So... what happened?" he choked out.

"It... he was stupid Tannison and not... not you."

Liam jolted.

"I spun around a-and you were at the back of the church a-and I ran after you b-but you left and then... then you disappeared and I start... started bawling a-and I woke up crying and... I... I realized that I... I've had all these crazy, half-baked, fantastical ideas about... about love.  When... when really... I... Liam... I... I don't think that real love is... is reckless and unceasingly, heart-poundingly exciting.  Maybe... maybe love is more about who... who makes you feel at home and I..."  Belle buried her face in a couch cushion.  "I love you, Liam.  I... I'm really pretty sure I... I'm in love with... you."

Liam gaped.

Then he noticed Belle was peeking through her hair and watching him.

Liam laid his head on the couch cushion next to hers and looked into her eyes.  He pushed some hair away from her face and lightly caressed her cheek.

Belle sighed and closed her eyes. 


She opened her eyes.

"I... I love you, too... and I... I've been in love with you for... for a long time," Liam admitted with a wavering smile.  "I've loved you since the moment I first saw you and I... I've been in love with you since... since Grandma Raquel and Grandpa Nico took you on that cruise and you came back so... so grown-up.  A-and I... I just fell further when I saw how... how gentle you were with everyone at True Light and the Phoenix and when... when you'd get going a-about a cause you feel passionate about and..."

"Why... why didn't you tell me?"

"You were only eighteen."

"B-but for five years..."

Liam sat up and turned away. 

"I... I wasn't even sure you liked me...  You... stopped hugging me and..."  More tears welled in Belle's eyes.

"I... Belle, I was afraid that... that you'd be able to tell how I felt a-and things would be awkward or, worse, you'd feel obligated to... to settle for... for me.  Or... worse still... that... that I couldn't be the sort of man who you deserve to..."

"Liam..."  Belle shook her head.  "I... I would be very blessed if... if you were mine and I... I was yours."  She took his chin in her hand and gently turned his head so they were making eye contact. 

Liam reached out to wipe the tears from her face.

They laughed when their hands collided as Belle attempted to do the same.  Then she moved into his arms.


Belle tilted her face upward at the same time Liam bowed his head.  She sighed as his lips brushed her forehead and then... Belle moved so their lips met.

Liam smiled adoringly at her when they moved apart.

Belle giggled.  Butterflies... good butterflies.  Then her face grew stern and she clasped Liam's hands.  "We're going to talk more about this 'couldn't be the sort of man who you deserve' nonsense in the coming days but for now..."  She grinned and kissed him again then rose and pulled Liam from the couch.  "Dance with me?"

"I would be delighted, my Lunabelle," Liam accepted, beaming at her.

Keeping hold of his hand, Belle searched for a song.  After finding one, she clasped her hands behind Liam's neck and their dance began.

Liam rested his cheek against her hair and marveled at how light and happy he felt with Belle in his arms.

Belle listened to the words and moved closer to her beloved Liam as the final verse began.

"A Stór Mo Chroi, when the evening's mist
in the mountain and meadow is falling.
Oh turn, a Stór, from the throng and list
and maybe you'll hear me calling.
For the sound of a voice that you seldom hear,
for somebody's speedy returning.
A rún, a rún, oh, won't you come back soon
to the one who really loves you?"

Belle reached up to bury her hand in Liam's hair.  "I... I'm back, my darling, a-and I'll never leave again," she vowed.

Liam kissed her and soaked in the promise of her words and the love that shone on Belle's face.


Four anxious parents sat around the kitchen table at Willowveil.  An equally anxious brother, cousin, and friend leaned again the counter.

They all jumped when they heard footsteps hurrying towards them.

Violeta burst into the room.

JenniAnn jumped to her feet.  "So... so what's going on?"

The angel grinned.  "Definitely dancing.  A lady and gentleman wouldn't dance to '
A Stór Mo Chroi' just casually, would they?  I mean that's a pretty lovey-dovey, clingy sort of song, isn't it?"

Avi chuckled.  "Yes, Aunt Violeta.  I'd say it is!"

Violeta clapped.  "I was so, so tempted to peek into the room but I was good and resisted the urge.  But... that song was definitely playing and floorboards were definitely creaking."

Andrew, Arthur, and Monica all stood and the six began embracing each other.

"This calls for a toast!" Arthur declared. 

With a smile stretching across his face, Andrew nodded.  "What's everyone having?"

"I'll stick with my coffee," Monica replied as she continued to embrace JenniAnn.

"And I've got my chai," JenniAnn answered.

"Ginger ale for me, please," Arthur requested.

"Same here.  I'll help you, Daddy," Avi offered, moving towards the refrigerator.

"Any chance there'd be some butterbeer for us?"

The six all turned to find a beaming, hand-holding Liam and Belle standing in the doorway.

"Baby!  Sweet Belle!" Monica cried, the first to rush towards them.

Laughing, the new couple embraced her and then each of their parents, their aunt, and Avi.

Andrew brushed away tears as he released his daughter.  He smiled at her and Liam.  "Butterbeer coming right up," he promised.

While Avi and Violeta led the happy couple to the parlor where there'd be more room for all of them to sit; Andrew, Arthur, JenniAnn, and Monica all paused for a moment.

They remembered the tiny baby in an alley, wrapped in a red scarf.  They remembered, too, the little boy with too-tight shoes and worn clothes standing in the doorway of his stranger-father's apartment.

The four thanked God for the children He had brought into their lives and then brought together.

And, as for God, He stood in His heavenly carpentry shop and beamed.  Then Joshua set to work carving a bird's nest.

The End

Credits and sources:
"A Stór Mo Chroi" by Brian O'Higgins
"Beauty and the Beast" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast
"Day by Day" from Godspell
The Small One by Charles Tazewell
"The Circle Game" by Joni Mitchell
Swimmy by Leo Lionni
"Shave and a Haircut – Shampoo" by Dan Shapiro, Lestor Lee and Milton Berle
"Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Toy Story
"Autumn to May" by Pete Yarrow and Noel (Paul) Stookey
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Anne Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Emily Series by Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Where Did You Come From, Baby Dear?" by George MacDonald
Psalm 139:1-18
Little Santa by Jon Agee
Te Deum composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Special thanks to Kim for suggesting the "Hugh Jackman parable."  I could NOT figure out how to clue Violeta in so that worked!

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