Broken Hallelujahs

Javert        Exile        For a Noble Purpose        Disgrace        Kyle

The Report        Disillusioned        True Grace        Jack Pearson        Reunion

Among Other Things        On Fire        Valentine's Day        Confrontation       

Aftermath        A New Home        Reconciliation        Easter       

Shine a Light        Epilogue        What is a Church?



Friday, February 2nd, 2018




Fr. Mike nervously referenced the clock on his computer.  Of course, he would be late. 

Slow, agonizing minutes ticked by.




Finally, at 10:21, the foreboding figure filled his study door.

"Michael, so sorry to keep you waiting.  Traffic."

Fr. Mike jumped to his feet and held his hand out.

"I understand, Archbishop Wesson.  And, please, call me Mike.  Only my mother uses Michael... and only when I'm in trouble," the priest explained with a self-deprecating smile. 

"Hmm."  The man briefly shook Fr. Mike's hand then closed his study door.

"Umm... please sit down," the priest invited.  "Can I get you any..."

"I'm fine.  I don't have long.  But I'm afraid some things have come to my attention, Michael."

Fr. Mike's heart sank.  He'd been nervous ever since Archbishop Francis Wesson had first shown up two Fridays before, claiming he wanted to speak to that year's Confirmation class.  His talk with the children had been perfunctory and, Fr. Mike believed, a put-on.  He'd hung around through that weekend, observing several Masses.  The optimistic part of Fr. Mike hoped, perhaps, he was there to judge whether St. Mary Magdalene's would be well-served by the addition of an assistant pastor.  Fr. Mike had petitioned for one several times but had always been denied with the parish's middling population and the declining number of priests being cited.

Now the priest knew he had been wrong to be optimistic.

"My office has received several reports of... unfortunate behavior."

Fr. Mike blanched.

"Of... of mine?"

The archbishop nodded.

"Nothing of the... news-making sort.  Yet."

The priest's cheeks burned.

"I have never acted inappropriately towards a single member of this congregation and if..."

"Not in that sense, no.  But I'm beginning to wonder if your loyalties are divided.  I understand you have an inner circle of friends among the parishioners and others."

"I'm not allowed to have friends?"

"I did not say that, Michael," the older man sniped.  "But these friends... they may not suit a Catholic priest."

Fr. Mike became aware of movement in the hallway.  His heart leaped.  He remembered, several years before, during another period of crisis, when Joshua had first appeared to him.  Maybe...

"For one, it's come to my attention that you take ballroom dancing lessons.  Is this true?"

"Well, yes.  But how..."

"And you have a regular partner.  The wife of a local rabbi?"

Rabbi.  It hit Fr. Mike that in his angst over this meeting, he had forgotten to cancel coffee with Rabbi Yakov.  It was him in the hallway...

"I'm sure you can imagine the potential scandal of..."

The study door flung open to reveal a fuming rabbi.

Archbishop Wesson startled and turned to face the intruder. 

"What is the meaning of this incredibly rude interruption?" he spat out.  "This is church business and you have no..."

Unflinching, Rabbi Yakov entered the study and peered down at the accuser.

"I believe I've committed the lesser offense.  I merely stopped by to visit my dear friend and arrived just in time to hear you defaming him and my beloved wife.  What is the meaning of this?"

"Yakov, I..." Fr. Mike began.

The rabbi patted his shoulder.

"You're fine, Mike."  He turned back to the archbishop.  "Answer me."

The archbishop rose to his feet.

"And who are you to make demands of me?" he seethed.

"A man of God.  Asking a fellow man of God to explain why he has spoken against my wife."

Through gritted teeth, Wesson replied.

"I didn't intend to besmirch your wife, Rabbi.  But I do admit to some surprise that you allow another man to routinely take your wife out for activities of a... sensual nature."

Rabbi Yakov burst out laughing.

"My God, man.  It's dancing.  Fr. Mike is one of my dearest friends.  More... younger brother than friend, truthfully.  My trust in him knows no bounds.  And my Tiva loves dancing.  She shouldn't be denied the pleasure just because the Good Lord saw fit to give her husband two left feet."

"Still... the optics of it..."

"The optics of it!" Rabbi Yakov cried.  "Ballroom dancing!  Oh, no, we can't have a ballroom dancing priest!  I mean look what happened with that Jorge  Bergoglio fellow...  Such a shame."

Fr. Mike tried to contain his laughter but his friend's sarcasm was too much.  He couldn't stop laughing even when his superior glared at him.

"It's not as if the dancing is Fr. Michael's only indiscretion," the archbishop taunted.

Both the priest and rabbi immediately sobered.

"Excuse me?" Yakov challenged, protectively moving himself between his friend and the accuser.

"As I was telling Michael before we were interrupted, he's been known to associate himself with friends of dubious morality... including some parishioners who are blatantly defying Catholic teaching."

Confused, Fr. Mike and Rabbi Yakov exchanged a look.

"Archbishop Wesson, I'm not going to pretend to know who you mean," Fr. Mike responded.  "But it seems to me that our calling as priests is to minister to sinners and saints alike.  As I know you're well aware, Jesus Himself dined with sinners and..."

"Ministering to and making yourselves familiar with are two entirely different things.  You know the Church's teaching on premarital sex.  But do you not give the Eucharist to parishioners who you know are living in sin?"

"I give the Eucharist to all who come to commemorate the Lord's Last Supper... as we are instructed to do.  It's up to each individual to hold themselves accountable.  We can't do that because we don't know what in their hearts.  We represent God.  But we aren't God," Fr. Mike stressed.

"A fair enough point if you're talking about mere parishioners."

"Mere parishioners?" the rabbi repeated under his breath.

The archbishop ignored him.

"But when you are known to be personal friends with those people it calls into question your own judgment, Michael.  And at a time when the Church's credibility is already under attack... we cannot have that!"

"I don't even know what or who you're talking about!" Fr. Mike yelled, no longer able to keep his temper under control.

"Well, I can hardly say when he's here!" Wesson shot back, waving to Yakov.  "But it's moot.  The fact that you won't own your own mistakes confirms for me what I already thought I would need to do.  Michael, you're being removed as pastor of St. Mary Magdalene's effective immediately.  I have arranged for you to take a sabbatical.  I have a fellow bishop and friend in Albany who will host you.  I expect you to be on your way by tomorrow morning.  I'll send someone by at 9:00 sharp to escort you to Albany."

Seething, Rabbi Yakov didn't take his eyes off the archbishop even as he reached for Fr. Mike's now shaking shoulder.

"That won't be necessary, Archbishop.  Fr. Mike will stay with my wife and me this evening and we will escort him to Albany in the morning."

Wesson stepped closer, nearly nose to nose with the other man.

"And who are you to be involving yourself in this matter, Rabbi?" he sneered.

Unblinking, the rabbi replied.

"Someone who knows the heart of Yeshua ben Yosef better than you seem to... Father.  Go.  Now."

Half-shielded by his friend, Fr. Mike thought he saw his tormentor flinch.

"Very well.  As long as you're gone, Michael."

With that, the archbishop exited the room, slamming the door behind him.

Rabbi Yakov sat down beside the priest and rested an arm around his shoulders.

"Mike... I am so very sorry.  I hope I didn't make things worse.  My temper... I'm afraid it got the better of me." 

Fr. Mike shook his head as he reached for a tissue.

"No... no, Yakov.  I... I'm glad you were here.  I just wish I... I understood.  This... this all just seems to have come out of... of no where.  I mean... Tiva and I have been dancing for what?  Two or three years now?  Why... why now?  And what friends do I have who are blatantly defying the Church?  I mean... there's the Friends, of course.  And... and I suppose our communion together at Bible study isn't strictly... well, Catholic kosher.  But how would he know about that?  He can't."

"He knows nothing," the rabbi insisted.  "He's lying.  I can't pretend to know his reasons.  But that man... he's not a shepherd.  He's a snake.  His reasons for this attack are beyond me but I know this.  The truth will win out, my friend.  I don't know when or how but you and I... we've met the Truth Incarnate.  And He will prevail.  He always does."

Fr. Mike nodded.

"Yes... he does."  He heaved a sigh.  "I... I need to start packing.  Not much.  A few books, my mom's recipes, some clothes, everything Joshua has given me...  It won't take long."

Rabbi Yakov shook his head.

"No.  We're taking everything that's yours.  We're leaving nothing for that man to look through.  I could call the Friends to help if..."

Fr. Mike considered for a long moment before nodding.

"Yeah.  Okay.  I'd rather they hear it from me than through the grapevine."

"I agree.  I'll send word out right now."

As Rabbi Yakov made the call to JenniAnn that would set the impromptu packing party rolling, Fr. Mike sadly looked around his office and wondered what Joshua had in store for him.


By 3:00 that afternoon, the last of Fr. Mike's things had been packed up and transported to the Levines' house.  Having finished that task, several of the Friends were crowded into Yakov's and Tiva's living room, commiserating with their friend.

"I just don't understand it!" Peter exclaimed.  "It just... it seems like it came out of no where."

"And they wonder why some of us never came back," his wife mumbled as she rubbed her pregnant belly.

"I think you need to request a formal, written complaint," Kemara insisted.  "I realize he's the archbishop but that shouldn't mean he can do whatever he wants.  He has to have solid reasons to remove you."

"But he clearly doesn't!" Sibyll interrupted.  "I know my son and... and..."  She began to weep.

Kemara gently patted the woman's arm.

"I know.  We all know Fr. Mike too well to believe he did anything wrong."  She smiled at the priest who had approached and embraced his mother.  "I only meant that he would have had to document whatever he thinks Fr. Mike has done wrong.  And it would be easier to fight back against those claims if we could see them laid out in writing."

"That's a good point, Kemara.  Thank you for the idea.  Mike, make sure you do that," Lewellyn counseled.

"I will, Dad.  Once I get settled in Albany..."  Fr. Mike sighed then managed a smile.  "I'm very grateful for the portal.  That way... I can still see you, Mom and Dad.  And... all of you."

Dot stepped behind the loveseat where the priest and Sibyll sat.  She squeezed Fr. Mike's shoulders.

"And we're not far at all from where you'll be.  You can come over for breakfast, lunch, dinner... coffee, snacks, just to talk.  Whatever you need."

"We'll introduce you around!" Caleb promised.  "There are so many great people there.  And I think you'll really like our pastor.  Maybe you could get one of those ecumenical groups going there, too."

JenniAnn, who had been quiet for much of the afternoon, startled.  Andrew caught her when she nearly fell from the arm of his chair.

"I... I know Albany will be very lucky to have you, Fr. Mike.  But..."  She shook her head.

"We need you," Kemara finished glumly.  "I really hope this is only a temporary move... very temporary.  Sean called me after he saw JenniAnn's text.  He asked me if I thought he could tell the guys at the station and... well, some of them go to Mary Mag's so I knew it would only be a matter of time.  I said I thought it would be fine.  They're fuming.  One of them has an uncle who is a cardinal.  He said if this doesn't get cleared up within a week, he's calling him."

Fr. Mike chuckled at this.

"I think I know exactly who you mean.  Uncle and nephew are both stubborn as all get out.  I'll be glad to have them on my team but..."  His face clouded.  "I'm not sure how much it will matter, in the end."

"What do you mean?" Emma prodded.  "If we get enough people to speak up for you... and a cardinal at that!... then Archbishop Javert will have to listen."

Several of the friends snickered at the apt "nickname" for their new adversary.

Rabbi Yakov, always happy for a good laugh, only smiled.  He knew exactly what his friend feared.

Tiva, however, was the first to voice it.

"I think what Mike means is that... especially in the current climate... once any sort of accusation is made, some people form a judgment very quickly.  It's hard to come back from that."

"Exactly," the priest agreed.  "Even if I am restored as pastor of St. Mary Magdalene's, will the parishioners trust me like they have?"

"Of course we will!" JenniAnn cried.

"Without a doubt," Kemara agreed.

Fr. Mike smiled warmly at the two but his eyes remained sad.

"I know you trust me.  But you also know about Joshua.  You know that I know Joshua.  What if you didn't?"

The two women were quiet.

"I... I'm just so sorry that our dancing played a part in..."

"No!" the priest cut Tiva off.  He rose from the couch and embraced her.  "I don't feel bad about that and I don't want you to, either.  We did nothing wrong.  Your husband even reminded the archbishop that the Pope himself enjoys ballroom dancing.  Tango, I think."

"Tango..." Tiva repeated with a fond smile.

Returning her smile, the priest spun her away from him and then back.

Rabbi Yakov approached and hugged them both.

"God knows neither of you did anything wrong.  The fact that he brought it up smacks of desperation.  Why now after years?"

"Do you think it had anything to do with me?"

The group turned to Owen who was leaning against the fireplace looking troubled.

"Owen... no.  Why?" Fr. Mike questioned.

"Well, you said he mentioned something about your friends.  So maybe Graham and I...  You said he was at Mass a couple weeks ago.  So were we."

"Owen, you came with JenniAnn, the kids, and me.  Ivy and Sy were there, too," Andrew reminded.  "And we sat with Kemara, Sean, and the twins and Arthur, Monica, and Liam.  I can't imagine the archbishop had any idea what the configuration of who was with who was."

"Andrew's right," Fr. Mike consoled.  "Besides, he said something about permitting premarital sex.  Owen, well..."

"If it had been me he would have said homosexual sex.  Because, according to the Church, it's not okay even within marriage... which doesn't exist for gay people," Owen reported, his voice terse.

JenniAnn rose from the arm of Andrew's chair and hugged her friend.

"It's Joshua's view of your and Graham's relationship that matters, O.  Not the Church's.  And, not that my view matters, but I happen to think you're a very cute couple.  I ship you."

Owen laughed and returned JenniAnn's hug.

"JenniAnn's exactly right," Fr. Mike agreed.  "And so is Andrew.  My guess is the comment was as half-baked as the dancing allegation.  He probably threw it out there just because, in his view, it's the most likely sin.  And I'm not stupid.  I know I've given Communion to people who are having premarital sex.  Statistics alone tell me that.  But I'm not going to stand in judgment of people who come to the Church for comfort and guidance.  I refuse to believe that's my job."

"Hear, hear!" Rabbi Yakov cheered.  "And that's what makes you a far better shepherd than Inspector... I mean Archbishop Javert." 

"Most assuredly."  Tiva patted the priest's shoulders.  "It may take time but I believe you'll find yourself back at St. Mary Magdalene's, Mike.  In fact, if you don't want to take everything to Albany, you can leave whatever you'd like here so we can get it back to the rectory more easily.  Just don't put anything in Yakov's office.  It's such a pit in there that you'd never find it."

"Hey!" the rabbi protested.

Tiva cupped his chin.

"You have many wonderful qualities, husband.  But cleanliness is not one of them.  We'll find Mike a spot in the basement."

"Probably a good idea," Yakov agreed.  He kissed his wife's forehead and then the friends helped Fr. Mike divvy up his belongings and prepare for Albany.



Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

Fr. Mike stared at the front door of the rectory at St. Bregwin's in Albany.  He glanced back at the truck on the curb, smiling and waving to Randall Romano who had dropped him off.  He felt a bit like a Kindergartener on his first day of school.  Just as nervous, at least...

After a calming breath and wave back from Randall, the priest rapped on the door.

He waited for a few moments.


He knocked again.

Finally, he heard a chain slide and the deadbolt unlock.  The door opened to reveal a man in slacks and a variegated sweater with a cell phone held between his chin and ear.  Without a word, he waved Fr. Mike in.

"Do you think I should go over there?  Okay, well, think about it.  My new assistant pastor just arrived and I'd like some time to...  Gladdy, please calm down.  No... no.  I'm not angry.  I'm just...  Hold on."

The man, who Fr. Mike took to be Bishop Anthony Merriman, pressed his palm over the phone's speaker and made eye contact.

"I'm sorry.  Family crisis... I think.  The parlor's just through there.  Please, make yourself comfortable and I'll show you to your room after I'm done with... whatever this is.  My apologies.  Our receptionist, Marie, is usually here but she's home with a sick little one so... you get my hospitality, unfortunately."

Fr. Mike smiled and shook his head.

"Please, no worries.  Take all the time you need, Bishop Merriman."

"Just Tony.  Back in a bit."


Fr. Mike rolled his suitcases into the parlor as the bishop headed in the opposite direction, closing a door behind him.

While he waited, and in a continued effort to calm his nerves, Fr. Mike perused the room.  It was the epitome of organized chaos.  Books were strewn every where but those still on shelves were separated out into very specifically labelled areas: Church Fathers, Mysticism, Protestantism, Christian Fiction, Lenten Reflections, Advent Reflections, Our Lady, The Saints, Christian Fiction Featuring Jesus as Character, Works of C.S. Lewis, and Harry Potter. 

The latter made Fr. Mike snort and he made a mental note to tell Max and Rose about it.  He recognized the familiar seven books of the series but was amused and impressed by other additions.  The Gospel According to Harry Potter, Morality for Muggles, Into the Pensieve: The Philosophy and Mythology of Harry Potter and other similarly named volumes followed the canonical seven.  Curious, he picked one up, took it back to an overstuffed chair, and began to read. 

"Ah, a fellow Potterphile, eh?"

Fr. Mike startled and turned to see his host had returned.

"Oh, umm, yeah.  Kinda.  I mean... I have some friends who are true fans.  But I enjoy the movies when I catch them.  This is great."  He held the book up.

"It is.  You're welcome to take it back to your room and continue reading.  Vow of poverty and all.  What's mine is yours."

"Thanks.  I'll do that."

"If you don't mind, I'll show you to your room now so you can get settled in.  Then I'm afraid I have to again be a bad host as I'll need to leave.  Would you mind covering the evening Mass?  I'll introduce you at the start, before I leave.  Again, I'm very sorry to throw all this at you when you've only just arrived but..."

In spite of Merriman's cheery, apologetic demeanor, Mike could tell he was deeply disturbed about something, likely something related to his recent phone call.

"No, no.  That's okay.  Sure, I'll give Mass."

"Thank you.  And tomorrow we can become properly acquainted.  I'm sorry.  Is it Mike or Michael?  The Archbishop said Michael but I know he can sometimes be... overly formal."

Fr. Mike thought he sensed a note of distaste in the bishop's voice but wasn't positive.

"Mike.  Please call me Mike."

"Very well, Mike!  Let's go see about your room and then I'll show you where the kitchen is in case you'd like to make something before Mass."

"Thanks.  I'd appreciate that."

Bishop Merriman took one of Fr. Mike's suitcases and rolled it out of the room.  He lead his fellow priest down a hallway lined with photographs that Fr. Mike took to be the bishop's family members.  He wondered which one was the mysteriously troubled "Gladdy."

"All right, there you are.  It gets good sun in the mornings.  I hope you'll like it.  That door right there is your own bathroom.  And just down this way... the kitchen.  And, well, we'll save the full tour for tomorrow.  How about we reconvene in the parlor in half an hour and I'll show you around the church?"

"Sounds good.  I'd appreciate that.  Thanks, Bishop...  Thanks, Tony."

"You're very welcome, Mike.  And, again, I'm sorry that your arrival has coincided with a bit of chaos in my own life.  I promise that tomorrow will be better." 

The bishop held out his hand which Fr. Mike warmly shook.

"Please, no more apologies.  I truly understand.  I care a lot about my own family and would do anything for them."

"Good man."  Tony patted the younger priest's hand.  "I'll see you in a bit."

Fr. Mike stared after the departing figure for a brief moment before ducking into his new room.  With a sigh, he sat down on the bed and looked up at the crucifix hanging above the door.

"Joshua, I don't know what you have planned for me here.  Truthfully, my mind and heart are reeling.  But I know you have a plan.  So, please, help me to do my part to fulfill it.  Thanks.  I love you."

Trying to distract himself from his own heartache and his curiosity about Bishop Tony, Fr. Mike began to unpack, taking special care to unload his treasures from Joshua.


Sunday, February 4th, 2018

Fr. Mike struggled to sleep that night.  As if his own inner turmoil and the newness of his room weren't enough of a deterrent from good sleep, midnight arrived with Bishop Tony still absent.

Mike may only have just met the man but he'd felt a warmth and kindness emanating from him.  Further exploration of the rectory had shown a man of great faith and love of family.  Cards and drawings from great nieces and nephews covered the refrigerator.  Prints of Jesus and the Holy Family were nearly as numerous as the family portraits.  He'd even noticed a couple of Owen's paintings and made a note to tell the bishop that he was friends with the artist. 

Further, after Mass, several of the parishioners had told Fr. Mike how lucky he was to be paired with the bishop. 

"A wonderful, sweet man."

"So good with the kids!  They adore it when he comes to school."

"He's been alone too long.  He's not getting any younger, you know.  Pushing 75, I think.  Glad he's got some help now."

"He came to the hospital every day when my mother was dying.  We adore him."

In truth, Fr. Mike was trying to square how such a man could be good friends with Archbishop Wesson.  Beyond a job title, they seemed to have nothing in common.

All of this made Fr. Mike even more alarmed by the man's absence.  They had three Masses come morning.  That Tony was still gone seemed to signify a major problem with his family.

Feeling his stomach began to churn with nerves, the priest grabbed his rosary from off his dresser.

"Maryam, please be with me," he began.  "'I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son...'"

Only a decade into the rosary, the priest was roused from his meditation by the sound of the front door unlocking.  He debated whether or not to go check on Bishop Tony.  He'd been quite evasive earlier.  Maybe he wouldn't appreciate the intrusion.

Fr. Mike resumed his prayers but found himself stumbling over the words and unable to concentrate.  He took it as a sign that he wasn't meant to remain in prayer.  After pulling on his robe and slippers, he stepped out into the hallway and made his way to the front room.  Inside, he found the bishop hunched over a side table.  Worried the man might be having a heart attack, Fr. Mike dashed towards him and rested a hand on his shoulder.

"Tony?  Everything okay?"

Startled, the older man gave a slight jump before turning around.

"I'm sorry if I scared you," Fr. Mike apologized.  "I was worried..."  His voice trailed off when he saw the bishop's red-rimmed eyes.

"I'm sure I scared you.  So all's fair.  I'm fine.  Personally.  I... I think I'm going to make myself a cup of coffee.  Contrary to popular wisdom, it always calms me down.  Care to join me?  I have some chamomile if that's more to your liking."

Welcoming the opportunity to spend time with his new superior, Fr. Mike nodded.

"I would, thanks.  Coffee is fine."


The two men made their way to the kitchen where Tony wasted no time in starting a pot of coffee. 

"How's your bed?  Comfortable, I hope?"

"Yes, very.  Thank you."

"I'm sure it's difficult being in a new place for the first night, though."

"Yeah.  It is.  Strangely, I think part of it is the lack of noise.  A quiet night is nearly unheard of where I come from."

Tony chuckled.

"I can imagine."

"If you don't mind my asking... how is your family?" Fr. Mike inquired.

The bishop sighed.

"I hate to burden you when your own life is in a tumult."

Fr. Mike shrugged.

"It might distract me.  But only if you want..."

"You should know.  Especially if I have to take some extra time off.  But first..."  He handed Fr. Mike a mug.  "Cream's in the fridge.  Sugar in the pot here."

"Thank you."  Fr. Mike helped himself to a little sugar, noting that Tony took his coffee black. 

The two seated themselves across from each other at the table and the elder priest began.

"Before I begin my story, I hope you'll answer a few questions for me."


"How well do you know Archbishop Wesson?"

"Oh, umm, not well, come to think of it.  I mean, of course, I'd see him every year for Confirmation celebrations.  And at meetings sometimes.  But, well, yesterday... or I guess Friday it was... was the first time we've had any real conversation."

"So you're not close to him?"

Fr. Mike shook his head.

"I'm not.  But he said you were friends."

Tony chuckled, a harsh edge to his laughter.

"Is that what he calls it?"

"So... you're not?" Fr. Mike ventured.

"We went to seminary together so we go way back.  But to say we're on friendly terms?  That's a stretch."

While the revelation explained away his confusion over how such opposites could be friends, Fr. Mike was nonetheless surprised.

"But he specifically said he was sending me to his friend in Albany."

"Poor boy."  Tony shook his head.  "I daresay good ol' Frank sent you here because his refined, citified self can't stand Albany.  While we're certainly no backwater town, we're too rural for his liking.  This," he waved his hand around, "is your punishment.  I was merely conveniently placed."

"So... why did you agree to take me in?  And, for the record, while I miss my parish, I've always loved Albany.  It's beautiful."

"I think so, too.  And I agreed to take you in because I've been desperate for an associate pastor.  However, I couldn't justify removing a priest from one of my other parishes.  Also, I'm notoriously picky."

Fr. Mike wondered at the air quotes the bishop placed around the last word.


"You're not the first associate I've been asked to take in.  But others were... problematic.  I refused to subject my flock to danger."

Fr. Mike's brows arched.

"You mean... abusers?"

Tony nodded.

"Not for a while.  Thank God for the press.  Church leadership is far less apt to shuffle 'problem priests' around.  That's my hopeful view.  My less hopeful view is that it's still happening but they've learned not to involve me."

"So... why risk taking me in?"

"I read your blog.  And while all manner of evils can certainly be hidden from the online world, I sensed you were a good, faithful, if sometimes frustrated, shepherd.  And I think any priest who isn't frustrated with leadership right now is in the wrong field.  I also did some calling around.  I know a handful of families who moved from Albany and landed in St. Mary Magdalene's parish.  All glowing reports.  And let me blunt?"

Fr. Mike nodded, somewhat stunned by the idea that this bishop had been following him online.

"Archbishop Wesson's primary complaint appears to be that you gave Communion to a friend who is engaging in premarital sex.  Is he serious?"

The younger priest couldn't resist chuckling as his elder dramatically rolled his eyes.

"To be charitable, his broader concern is likely that you allowed personal attachment to cause you to neglect your responsibility to guide your flock in living moral lives in accordance with the Church's teachings.  However... unless said individual, assuming they even exist, confessed this to you during the sacrament of Reconciliation, it is most assuredly not your place to call them out.  We offer correction when warranted, yes, but our main job is offering grace, compassion, and God's love.  You seem to do that beautifully."

"Thank you.  I hope so."  Moved, Fr. Mike gave Tony a grateful smile. 

"You're very welcome.  And now we come to my story...  I'm the oldest of seven children.  My parents were very Catholic, if you catch my drift."

Fr. Mike chuckled.

"Next after me is my brother Virgil who, well-named fellow that he is, teaches literature at the high school just down the street.  Well, at least until May when my sister-in-law is, wisely, making him retire.  Then there's Agnes who also teaches.  History, for her.  Next came Mercy who, sadly, we lost a couple years ago to breast cancer."

"I'm so sorry."

"Thank you.  She was a daddy's girl through and through, though, so I feel selfish mourning too much when I know she went to be with our dad and mom.  After Mercy is Thomas who is our black sheep.  Much loved, though.  Just never quite found his niche.  He lives with Agnes and her husband, going from odd job to odd job.  Next up was Gladys... better known as Gladdy... who carried on the family tradition by having seven children of her own.  Finally, there's the surprise baby: my little brother, Elvis."

Fr. Mike begun to sputter, just barely keeping his last sip of coffee in his mouth.

"Your brother is named Elvis?"

"Yes.  And he curses that fact every day of his life... even moreso since he can't sing a lick.  But my mother adored 'The King' nearly as much as she loved the King of Kings.  As for my brother, we usually just call him El.  Anyway, between the lot of them, they've given me fifteen nieces and nephews and, from there, a couple dozen great-nieces and nephews.  The reason I was on the phone with Gladdy was her grandson, Kyle, is having a difficult time.  I know I shouldn't have favorites and I truly do adore the lot of them but... I've always had a special spot in my heart for Kyle.  Maybe because he's a sort of mini-me.  He entered the seminary last year."

"That first year is so hard," Fr. Mike commiserated.

"Yes...  But I'm afraid it's more than that.  He ran away last week, showed up at his parents' house, and has essentially locked himself away in his room.  He comes out only when absolutely necessary and won't say more than a few words to anyone.  He even refused to go visit Gladdy and her husband, Mac.  And this boy loves his grandparents!" 

Fr. Mike's brow furrowed.

"That's troubling."

Tony nodded.

"Very.  So I went over there myself, hoping I could encourage the boy to speak of what's troubling him.  Instead, I spent most of the night praying with my niece, her husband, Gladdy, and Mac.  Kyle wouldn't budge.  Not even when I told him I was going to force my way in if he didn't open the door.  So I went in and it was obvious he was pretending to be asleep.  I told him that if he didn't give me a sign that he was alive, I was going to call 911.  So... he flipped me the bird.  Still unmoving otherwise.  Very unlike him.  But it was proof of life!" 

The old priest rubbed at his temples then took a sip of his coffee.  After setting the mug down, Tony stared ahead, at nothing in particular, for several moments.

Fr. Mike was just about to give the man a light shake to ensure he was okay when Tony came back to life.

"Something happened at that seminary...  Something awful.  Kyle... he was so set on his vocation.  He had the sweetest little girlfriend.  He was so steadfast that he gave her up.  That's when I knew he was serious and committed.  So to walk away from it..."

"I'm so sorry."

"Me too..."

"If there's anything I can do then..."

For the first time since they'd sat down, the bishop brightened.

"Actually...  Kyle was a fan of your blog, too.  If you'd be willing... maybe you could go with me when I make another attempt with him after Masses are finished.  Maybe he'll tell you what he won't tell his old uncle."

Unable to resist the hope in his new friend's face, Fr. Mike nodded consent.

"Sure.  I'd be happy to speak with Kyle and I'd love to meet members of your family."

Tony beamed.

"Then we're set!  Thank you so much, Mike.  You're a trooper.  Though you may live to regret getting involved with my crazy family."

Fr. Mike smirked.

"Not as much as I'd regret staying in New York City and being under the ever-present gaze of Archbishop Wesson," he teased.

Tony laughed heartily and plopped a hand on his fellow priest's back.

"Well played."  He took another gulp of his coffee.  "Now... the sky is fall of stars tonight.  I think I'd like to go to the grotto and spend some time with our Mary.  You're welcome to join me or, of course, go back to bed."

"Spending some time with Mary sounds great.  Thank you."


The two men rinsed their mugs, donned their coats, and spent the next hour in quiet, companionable prayer with Maryam.


For a Noble Purpose

JenniAnn awoke shivering.  She pulled her blankets more tightly around her then frowned at the lack of resistance.

Andrew hadn't come home.  Or, at least, he hadn't come to her.

Disregarding the chill, JenniAnn got to her feet and crept towards the balcony.  Peering out the window, she could see a faint light.  She soon realized that it was emanating from Andrew's workshop.  Perhaps he was busying himself with filling orders?  Releasing some of the frustration leftover from the Fr. Mike debacle?

No...  There was a sinking, sick feeling in the woman's stomach.  Something wasn't right.  She considered that she should, perhaps, leave her beloved alone.  If he wanted to be with her, he would have come to their room.  Or not...  She hadn't slept well during the past few nights and, knowing that, Andrew might have stayed away to allow her rest... especially if he was in an emotional state.  He well knew that she couldn't rest easy when he was upset.

JenniAnn shuddered from both the cold and the knowledge that she had to be with Andrew.  Immediately.

After hastily drafting a couple of notes for Shelby, Rose, and Max who were, blessedly, staying over; JenniAnn shrugged on her heaviest robe, pulled on a pair of slippers, and grabbed the lantern she kept at her bedside.  She slid one note beneath Max's and Rose's bedroom door and left another, for Shelby, taped to her own door.
"Went to check on Andrew in his workshop.  Might stay there tonight.  Will be back for breakfast.  Love, Psyche."

She hoped she'd be back in time to grab the note, leaving the girl none the wiser.  But if not... better that than leaving Shel and Belle to worry that she and Andrew had disappeared to who knows where.  While Belle was oblivious to the recent drama, Shelby was old enough to understand at least something of what had happened to Fr. Mike.  JenniAnn didn't want her fretting that matters had taken a more serious turn, calling her and Andrew away.

Once outside, JenniAnn shrank from the damp cold.  She wished there was a tunnel connecting Willowveil to Andrew's workshop.  Maybe something to consider later...  She pressed on through the snow, eager to reach the hazy light of the workshop and, more importantly, the carpenter inside.


Andrew was pounding on a chair when he saw it: light flickering some distance from his window.

He set down his hammer and drew nearer to the glass, trying to make out what was casting the light.  He noticed it was growing closer and, after another moment, he made out a familiar silhouette.

"Laja..." he murmured before fleeing the workshop.

Not bothering with a coat himself, Andrew sped towards the approaching woman and wrapped his arms around her.

"Laja, what are you doing?  It's below freezing out here!" he exclaimed as he guided her towards the shop.

"I... I saw your light and then I heard the pounding and..."

Andrew kissed her hair, moved by the sight of her and her chattering teeth.  His heart softened.  Gone was the impulse to pound hard wood to his will.  He only wanted to take care of her, to show her how much he loved her.

Thankfully, it was only another few feet before they were inside the shop.  Andrew flung the door closed then hurried to the cot he kept there.  He pulled the comforter off and wrapped it around JenniAnn.

"Laja...  You could catch pneumonia out there!"

JenniAnn briefly bowed her head.  She knew that was a particular fear of Andrew's.  Between her bouts in high school and the damage leftover from her gunshot wound, she was more than usually susceptible.  Still... laying sleepless with worry for him wasn't healthy, either.

"I'm fine.  I just..."  JenniAnn met the angel's gaze.  In the bright light of the shop, she could truly study him.  While he was clean, his hair was disheveled, likely from his habit of running his hand through it when troubled.  His eyes were puffy and bloodshot.

JenniAnn knew at once that this was beyond the Fr. Mike debacle.

"Love," she murmured before stretching up to kiss him.

Though still pained from recent trials and his worries for JenniAnn, Andrew surrendered to her kiss.  He buried his hands in her hair and returned the kiss, following it up with another on her jawline and one at the nape of her neck.

The thought flitted through JenniAnn's mind that she should stop this.  Andrew was clearly in pain and this was only a distraction from it.  But she was weak-kneed and found her left hand sliding up his shirt.  She just wanted to hold him and be held by him and know that she was his and he was hers and nothing... nothing his work exposed him to could end that.

"Laja... my Laja," Andrew whispered, his voice husky.  He wanted to think only of her, to feel only her, to see only her... not what he'd come from, nor what he'd left behind, not what had broken his heart and so many others.  She was his heart.  Her heartbeat... he wanted to listen to her heartbeat.  He wanted to caress and cradle her beautiful, unbroken body... to let her know with every touch and whisper and kiss that he loved her.

"Laja...  just... just a moment," he excused before releasing her.

Dazed and feeling bereft of his touch, JenniAnn watched as Andrew dragged the mattress off his cot and settled it in front of his fireplace.

As soon as he'd set down the pillow, JenniAnn laid down. Once he'd joined her, she spread the comforter over them.

Andrew groaned softly as he stretched out.  He hadn't realized how hard he had been working before JenniAnn had disrupted him.

"My love," she cooed.  "My love..." she repeated, softer still as he picked up where he'd left off.  Kissing her neck... then her shoulder... her upper chest.

"I love you...  I will always love you...  I will always protect..."  Andrew's voice cracked.  He let out a ragged sigh and sunk against his beloved, resting his head atop her breasts... listening.

JenniAnn kissed his hair and stroked his back.  She felt like she should say something, try to get to the bottom of whatever was troubling Andrew.  But she resisted.  How often had she listened to his heartbeat, lulled by its rhythmic constancy?  Now he needed the same.  And it felt good to have him so close.  So... uninhibited.

After a few moments, Andrew sat up and peered down at her.

"Laja...  Laja, you look..."  He set a hand against her forehead.  She looked feverish and he cursed himself for being so fixated on his own need that he hadn't realized she was in distress.  "Wait here.  I'll get you some wat..."

JenniAnn reached up and cupped his chin.

"No.  I don't want water.  I'm fine, Andrew.  It's just... closer.  I... I want you... closer." She pushed some hair behind Andrew's ear then let her hand drift down to the collar of his shirt.

"Closer," Andrew echoed and nodded.  He began to unbutton his shirt.  He was keenly aware that JenniAnn had sat up and was untying her robe.  He had to smile when she carefully folded it and placed it beneath their subpar pillow.  Practical even in... whatever mood she was in now.  The smile melted from the angel's face when she lifted her top over her head, exposing her scar.

Glimpsing the expression, JenniAnn self-consciously sank down, hiding the scar beneath the covers.

"Laja, no..." Andrew shook his head.  "It just... it reminded me of something else but..."  He closed the distance between them and gently traced her scar.  "You're beautiful and strong and it... it reminds me of that most of all.  Of... of the choice you made to... to come back to us.  My Laja..."


They peered into each other's eyes before beginning to kiss.

"I...I don't know why but I missed you so much when I woke up," JenniAnn confessed. "I mean... more than usual.  Physically..."

Andrew raised his head from where he'd been delicately tracing her collarbone with his lips.

"It was stupid to not come to you, Laja.  I'm sorry.  Obviously, I... I need you tonight. I mean I always need you but..."

"Come here, beloved."

Andrew again rested his head on her chest.  This time, unbidden, tears came.

"My love..." JenniAnn cooed, softly stroking his back as she held him.  She peered up at the ceiling, praying for the words he needed... then realizing that some pain was beyond words.  There was a reason God had made her as she was: asexual but so very hopelessly romantic.  That reason was weeping in her arms.


The angel raised his head to meet her teary gaze.

"I love you.  So much."

Smiling through his tears, Andrew caressed her face.

"I love you, too, Laja.  Utterly."

The husky note in his voice made JenniAnn feel dizzy.  The feeling increased when Andrew began to softly massage the length of her scar.

She moved onto her other side so he could better see the fine, white line.

Andrew kissed the center of it.

"Thank you for coming back to me," he whispered after resting his head next to hers on the pillow.

"I... I had to...  I still needed... still need... you."

Andrew met her lips then gently nudged her onto her stomach.

JenniAnn groaned quietly.  She hadn't realized how tense she was until he'd begun to knead her shoulders and back, placing kisses along her spine as he did.  Her heart sped at first and then she began to feel all at once heavy and like she was floating.  After several minutes, her eyes began to flutter and sleep threatened to overtake her.  With a final bit of strength, she rolled onto her back and tugged Andrew to her.

"Hold me," she sighed.


Andrew eagerly complied and they laid together, feeling their hearts beat against each other until drowsiness overcame them and, simultaneously, they drifted to sleep.


Upon awaking, it took Andrew a few moments to remember why he and JenniAnn were sleeping on the floor of his workshop.  Soon, memories of the previous day and night flooded back with all their brutality and beauty, hatred and love.  His concerns for JenniAnn came back, too, but were soon put to rest.  She looked peaceful and comfortable in her sleep.  There was no sign of fever or chill.  Andrew smiled at the realization that her face had likely been flushed for other reasons.

He began to consider that, perhaps, he'd taken things too far.  He'd never touched her quite like he had then... so freely.  But he quickly dismissed the thought.  If Laja were awake, she'd be lecturing him about how she was perfectly able to use the words "no" and "stop" but heck if she was going to use either last night because it had all felt so incredibly, wonderfully good.  Well, except for the fact that he was obviously in distress and did he want to talk about it?

Did he?

Andrew buried his face in JenniAnn's hair as he thought.

Yes, he would have to tell her something.  But he would keep the specifics to himself.  He wouldn't tell her about the brutality of the murder... a Jack-the-Ripper level of violence that had chilled his human form to the bone.  Nothing about his assignment's pleas for mercy... for herself and her unborn baby.  JenniAnn was already feeling vulnerable after what had happened to Fr. Mike.  He had to protect her.

Would he tell her about his anger at God for sending him on that assignment?  Surely another angel of death could have been just as compassionate, just as comforting... all while free of the soul-deep connection he had with a woman.

But now Andrew realized that had been the point.  That's why it had to be him.  It would have been cruel to send Eli who would only be reminded of Sophia's far less traumatic but still heart-wrenching death.  Adam would only have thought of Kylie and, no doubt, she would have comforted him in that but she was herself pregnant and the echoes would have been unbearable.  And Henry... who would he have turned to?  Beyond that, Andrew had no idea what his fellow angels of death might have experienced or how they would have coped.  But he had been able to seek succor in JenniAnn's arms and in her words of love.  Of course God had been right to send him.

JenniAnn began to stir and Andrew returned his attention to her.  He smiled when she wearily blinked her eyes.

"Good morning, Laja."

"Morning..."  JenniAnn caressed his cheek.  "What time is it?"

"My pocket watch is over on the work bench.  Let me..."

"Mmm...  No.  Never mind."

Andrew sunk against JenniAnn when she reached out and pulled him towards her.

They kissed and then she nuzzled into the crook between his chin and neck.

"This is surprisingly comfy," she observed.

The angel chuckled.

"You may not feel the same way later.  This really isn't the best mattress.  I never intended it for more than brief naps."

"Won't care..."

"No... me neither.  Laja..."

JenniAnn could tell he was struggling to speak.  She shifted so she could see his face.

"Andrew... tell me."

The angel shook his head as tears formed in his eyes.

"It... it's too much."

"Too much for me to hear... or for you to say?" JenniAnn gently prodded.

Andrew struggled to discern which it was... and why this particular case was so hard for him to tell her about.  After all, he had eventually told her about his work during the Holocaust.  But this was different.  He had experienced this as her Andrew and as Belle's Daddy.

JenniAnn leaned into her beloved's hand as he caressed her cheek.  The action was enough to encourage Andrew.

"My assignment was a pregnant woman and... and she was murdered.  Brutally.  The baby... she... she didn't survive, either," he choked out.

Andrew watched the horror wash over JenniAnn's face and instantly regretted telling her.

For her part, JenniAnn was warring with her feelings of rage towards the unnamed murderer, grief for the woman and her child, and tenderness for the angel.  But only one of them was there with her.  Only one of them was hers to tend to.


Andrew showed no resistance when JenniAnn again pulled him to her. 

"My love..." she cooed as he began to relax.

"I... I just don't under...understand."

JenniAnn kissed Andrew's hair and gently kneaded his back.

"I know.  You can't, my love."

Andrew peered down at her, searching her face.

"It's okay.  I'm okay," JenniAnn assured.  "I... I just want you to feel better, Andrew."  She gently brushed a tear from his face, prompting others to follow.

The angel of death let out a shuddering sigh before again collapsing against her.

"There now...  Sweet love," JenniAnn quietly encouraged as Andrew wept into her hair and shoulders.

After several minutes passed, Andrew regained control of his emotions.  He let out a deep breath as he settled at JenniAnn's side.

"I'm sorry, Laja," he croaked out.  "To tell you that and then just... collapse."

JenniAnn snuggled against his side.

"You shouldn't be sorry."

"But... it can't have been easy to hear."

"It wasn't.  But... I imagine it's kinda like when you're with your assignments.  You know there's a ripple effect.  You feel for all the others involved.  But you have to focus on your assignment... on the person you can truly help.  I... I'll pray for the lady and her baby, her family and friends.  And eventually... after a little time has passed, I'll pray for her murderer, too.  But right now... you're the one God gave me to care for."

"Your assignment," Andrew added, the beginnings of a smile playing on his lips.

"In a manner, I spose."  JenniAnn kissed his temples before returning his smile.  "But please don't copy my angelic strategies.  I'd really prefer you not do this with your own assignments."

Andrew, at last, chuckled after she'd brushed her lips against his.

"I wouldn't dream of it."  He traced the contours of her face.  "I'm a one anam cara kinda guy."


"I love you... my angel," Andrew murmured as he toyed with JenniAnn's hair.

"I love you, too.  Always."  JenniAnn embraced him tightly once more before sitting up.  "I can see the sun peeking in."

"Yeah.  It's probably getting close to 8:00.  Are we, umm, still going to Mass?"

JenniAnn groaned.

"We should.  I know we go for Joshua... not the priest.  But I hate the idea of Archbishop Power Trip standing where Fr. Mike should be standing.  Giving a definitely less inspirational homily...  Still... it's still our church.  Still the same rituals and songs that have calmed us before.  And... we need that, I think.  Today especially."

JenniAnn gently pushed a lock of hair behind Andrew's ear.  She let out a sigh and began to tug on her pajama top.

"So, yes, let's go.  If that's okay with you?"

"Sure," Andrew agreed.  "And maybe we can go see Fr. Mike later today.  But for right now...  We better get back to the castle before the kids start wondering."

"Yes.  We should."

Once JenniAnn was dressed, Andrew helped her to her feet and held her close.

"Thank you for coming to find me," he murmured.

"Thank you for letting me stay," she replied, reaching up to brush more stray hair behind his ear.

Andrew brought her hand to his lips.

"At this point, I don't think I have it in me to send you away any more, my Laja."

"Sweet victory that."

Andrew returned JenniAnn's smile then kissed her once more before they made the trek back to Willowveil.



Having decided there was safety and comfort in numbers, several of the Friends met up outside St. Mary Magdalene's and entered the church together.  Among them were Andrew and JenniAnn and their brood, Isolde and Marco, Owen and Graham, Kemara and Sean with the twins, Ivy and Sy, and Monica, Arthur, and Liam.  They were all somewhat surprised to spot Rabbi Yakov and Tiva among the pews.  With a wave from the former, the Friends filled in around the couple.

"Good morning," the rabbi greeted.  "Tiva and I couldn't resist some Sunday morning spying," he explained in a hushed voice.

"Has he made an appearance yet?" Sean asked.

Tiva shook her head.

"No.  But the crowd's been very subdued.  When we've visited before, there was a lot of chatter and laughing.  Today... mostly whispering."

"It's just so sad and unfair," Ivy complained.  "I couldn't believe it when I got the text."  She left off reporting that Violeta had cried for the next half-hour, nearly making them late for their next class.

As for the angel, she sat between Ivy and Shelby, holding Belle who was only too happy to surrender to her aunt's cuddles.

"I don't like it," was Violeta's only reply.

"Nobody does, Violeta."  Andrew stretched to pat her shoulder.  "But let's all remember why we're here.  And for Whom."

Seated behind Violeta, Owen gave her braid a playful tug.

"Chin up, V.  If it's really bad, we can all pan him together later."

"Owen!" Graham hissed.  "Can we please not be a bad influence on young, impressionable angels?"

"I'll bring the beer," Sean offered with a grin.

Kemara shot her husband a look but couldn't keep from snickering.

"Could we have coffee, too?" Monica requested.

"And chai!" JenniAnn chirped.

"And a big ol' pot of spaghetti," Marco added with gleaming eyes.

"Mama wants some biscotti, too," Rose ventured as she rubbed her belly.

"Ooh!  We have some!  I made a fresh batch last night.  I'll bring it," Isolde offered.  "Where?"

"The ballroom?" Andrew suggested.  "There's plenty of room."

"I like it!" Owen beamed.  "Teamwork!"

"Oh, sure.  Everyone just encourage him," Graham teased.  "What time?"

"You can all come as soon as we leave here.  Let me send a quick text to the others in case they want to drop in."

JenniAnn withdrew her phone from her purse and sent the text. 

In the remaining five minutes before Mass, the group put themselves in a more contemplative mindset.  They all felt a momentary pain when Archbishop Wesson, not Fr. Mike, proceeded up the nave. 

The Liturgy of the Word passed without a single misstep.  Archbishop Wesson's homily was a faithful if not entirely inspiring rehash of the day's Gospel.  A few of the Friends found themselves thinking that, were he there, Fr. Mike would have made some comment about Mark's reference to the wife and mother-in-law of St. Peter.  Their friend wouldn't have glossed over the seeming contradiction of an unmarried priesthood and the Biblical reality of the first Pope having had a wife.  But Wesson said nothing about either the wife or the mother-in-law, instead focusing on Jesus' healings. 

The Liturgy of the Eucharist was harder for the Friends to witness.  The story of Joshua's Last Supper could never feel hollow but they struggled to square the holy words Wesson spoke with the idea that he had sacrificed the well-being of their friend. 

When it came time for Communion, the Catholic Friends rose and made their way towards the altar, hands folded.

It was when JenniAnn approached the archbishop that the reality of the "new order" hit the Friends full force.

JenniAnn stood in front of the priest, hands cupped and head bowed.  She was shocked when, instead of placing the Eucharist in her hands, Wesson laid his own hands on her head and recited a "blessing."

The reality of what was happening only fully hit her when she heard Owen gasp from behind her.

"Grant her Your gift of discretion and lead her away from sin, oh God.  Amen," Wesson finished.

JenniAnn gaped and then her face flushed.

Owen grabbed her shoulder and gently turned her, nudging her back towards their friends and bypassing the archbishop himself.

As she approached their pews, JenniAnn noticed that the Friends were silently fuming and Andrew looked to be on the verge of tears.

"He should be ashamed of himself," Owen hissed.  "What a sorry excuse for a priest... for a human being.  I could..."

"Owen," Graham warned, gently patting his back.  "Not the time or place."  He motioned to the younger set in front of them.  Violeta was nearly vibrating with rage.  Sy was attempting to calm her and his clenched right fist showed he was struggling with his own anger.  Ivy was quietly weeping as she settled back into her seat. 

"It's me..." JenniAnn murmured.  "I'm the friend living in sin..."

"Laja, no..."

"It's what he thinks!  I... I'm why Fr. Mike..."

"Psyche, no.  You're not.  Fr. Mike was sent away because that man is a pig," Tiva consoled. 

"No, that's wrong.  It's a dishonor to pigs to compare him," her husband seethed.

Sensing the group's mood, Belle wailed.


JenniAnn slipped out of Andrew's embrace and scooped Belle up, snuggling her close and focusing on subduing her daughter.

The rest of Mass passed in a haze.  When it came time to leave, JenniAnn was shaking.

"I... I feel like everyone's staring at me."

Isolde looked around.  For the most part, people were busying themselves gathering up coats and gloves.  She spotted a couple people staring and whispering and gave them the evil eye.

"They're not for the most part, JenniAnn.  And those that are... they're being j-e-r-k-s.  Ignore em.  Those that matter know the truth."

"I know but..."

"I know."  Isolde squeezed the younger woman's hand.  "Hey, how about we swap cars?  Marco and I can take the kids back to Willowveil.  You and Andrew can take our car and have a bit of a chat on the way?"

"I think that's a great idea," Marco replied.  "Andrew?"

"Yeah, sure.  Thanks."  Andrew turned over the keys. "Laja, do you want to go or wait or..."

"Yeah... let's go."

The group kept JenniAnn towards the middle, giving her a buffer.  Rabbi Yakov took the lead.  As they exited the church, the archbishop turned away from another parishioner he'd been speaking to and gave them a phony smile.

"May you all have a blessed day."

The rabbi waved for the rest of the group to go on ahead then stared at the priest.

"You're an embarrassment to our ministry," he rebuked.

"Our ministry?" Wesson questioned, feigning confusion.

The implication was clear to the rabbi.  He was a lesser servant of God...

"Yakov, come on."  Tiva yanked on her husband's arm and pulled him away.  "He's not worth the time or trouble."

Despite his anger, Rabbi Yakov saw the wisdom in his wife's words and followed her to the parking lot.  They watched as Andrew and JenniAnn got into the Crocettis' car then made their way to their own where Owen and Graham were waiting.

"Boys, you riding with us?" Tiva asked.

"If we can.  Are you going to Willowveil?" Owen checked.

"Oh yes.  Definitely," the rabbi averred.  "And of course you can ride with us."

"We planned to go for brunch first but... in light of what happened, we'd rather be with everyone," Graham explained.

"Ooh boy...  Geez, Psyche."  Owen stared at the Crocettis' car, wincing slightly.

The rabbi chuckled.

"Is she in his lap?"

"Sure looks like it," Owen replied.  "Well, at least we know Archbishop Javert hasn't put a damper on their... wow."

Graham turned his boyfriend to face another direction.

"Stop spying, will you?" 

"Okay, okay.  But I am wondering if we should go stand over there and, I don't know, block people's view?"

"Owen!  I never took you for such a prude," Tiva chastised.  "It's perfectly innocent.  I'm quite sure I've seen Victorian valentines that are more risque."

"I'm not.  Not really.  But... I just don't want them getting any more ammunition against Psyche."

Graham raised an eye brow.


Owen gave a grave nod then waved towards the car.  Once the rabbi had unlocked it and they were inside, Owen spoke again.

"Don't you think someone must have said something to the archbishop?  I highly doubt he has time to personally check which members of the parish are married and which aren't and then cross check that against who shows up for Mass with whom.  This is all starting to feel like some sort of trap.  Like he had it out for Fr. Mike and then had someone spy on him, looking for reasons to boot him.  They probably noticed our group seemed especially close to him.  So they zeroed in on us.  Isolde and Marco both wear wedding rings so they're out.  Monica and Arthur don't take Communion so that wouldn't work.  Kemara and Sean are married.  Max and Rose aren't Catholic.  Violeta's on her own so that left you and me," Owen gestured to Graham.  "Ivy and Sy and Andrew and JenniAnn.  Ivy and Sy are kids.  Bringing up their alleged sex lives would be..."  He made a disgusted face.  "Gross."

"Which left you and me and Andrew and JenniAnn.  Owen, I gotta say... if this theory of yours was true... I would think building a case around the two gay guys would make more sense," Graham pointed out.

"Maybe.  But there's no proof we're having sex."

"There's no proof Andrew and JenniAnn are because they're not, either!" Graham countered.

"Of course.  But they're the ones showing up with kids.  Including one who is a ringer for JenniAnn."

"Shel does look a lot like Psyche," Tiva admitted.  "They even have some of the same mannerisms.  And with her coloring... Andrew could be her daddy."

"And one wouldn't need to pay attention for very long to hear Belle beckon for her Mama or Daddy," Yakov added.  "And, I'll admit, I would assume that a couple with children, whether they're adopted or not, is having sex... I wouldn't make it the backbone of an accusation and I know it's not always the case.  But chances are..."  He shrugged.  "It was a wrong conclusion... but a seemingly obvious one."

"If you bring this up at lunch, just try to leave Shelby out of it, okay?" Graham requested.

"Of course.  She'd be crushed."  Owen sighed.  "What a mess..."

"Yes.  But a man-made mess... by one man.  God will make it right," Rabbi Yakov reminded.  "Who knows... he may even show up."  He winked into the rearview mirror.

Owen and Graham both smiled as did Tiva.

"One can hope," Owen replied, silently praying that Joshua would, indeed, show up.


Soon after they'd reached the Crocettis' car, Andrew realized he and JenniAnn wouldn't be making a quick escape.  The lot was full... fuller than most Sundays.  Fr. Mike's dismissal had no doubt brought people in, eager to see the fall-out.  They would just have to sit and wait.

"I'm sorry, Laja."  He reached across the seat and squeezed her hand.

"Oh, love...  Nothing you could do to..."

"But it wouldn't have happened if not for me."


"You can't have premarital sex on your own."

JenniAnn thought of making a smart comment about how you kind of could and the Church frowned on that, too, but she wasn't in the mood... even if it would have made Andrew blush and then, adorably, roll his eyes.

"I should have said something to the Archbishop," Andrew continued.

"I think the rabbi handled that for us."


"And what would you have said?  'I know she's a virgin because I'm an angel.'  Unless you'd started glowing right there on the church steps, he just would have figured we were having unsanctioned sex AND you're mentally unstable.  Besides, I don't want that reprobate knowing anything about my sexuality."

"Good points."

Andrew looked so crestfallen that JenniAnn couldn't stand it.  She unbuckled her seatbelt and slid onto his lap, kissing his cheek.

"I am most assuredly not ashamed of you or of anything we've done together.  So I absolutely refuse to let you carry around some sort of blame.  I... I am angry.  And, yes, mortified.  But I am not ashamed.  Not about you.  Never about you, Andrew.  You know that, right?"  She gripped his chin and searched his face.

In spite of his sadness, Andrew smiled and nodded.

"I do, Laja.  And I'm not ashamed, either."

JenniAnn gave him an impish grin.

"Prove it?"

Andrew chuckled and kissed her.

"Thank you."  JenniAnn shifted to the middle seat and hugged his arm.  "I am angry.  Livid, really.  Because even if Wesson had been right about us, that is a horrible thing to do.  A priest isn't supposed to stand in judgment like that... publicly shaming people.  And poor Liam looked so confused when we got back.  It's hard enough for him to understand why his Monny and Daddy can't take Communion with us.  Now this...  I'm glad Belle is too young to understand.  The older kids, though..."

Max's face flashed in Andrew's mind.  It had likely only been Rose's intervention that had kept her husband from lashing out at Wesson. 

"And Fr. Mike... he's going to be so upset when he hears about it.  He'll think that he should have put together that it was me who Wesson was talking about.  But how could he?  It wouldn't even enter his mind."

"No, it wouldn't," the angel of death agreed.  "It didn't occur to me when Fr. Mike told us about it.  I figured it was someone else... someone we didn't even know."

"Yeah, me too... if it was even based in reality.  I had my doubts on that."  JenniAnn sighed.  "Look, that car is going to let us in."  She moved back to her seat and buckled up.

Andrew waved to the other car and began to make his way out of the parking lot.  At a turn, they were again at a standstill.

"I'm glad we're having everyone over for lunch," he stated.  "That'll be a good way to unwind, huh?"

When he looked over at JenniAnn, Andrew noticed that the passengers in the car outside her window were staring.  They quickly looked away when he met their eyes.

Andrew knew that, realistically, only a small handful of people could have seen that JenniAnn had been denied the Eucharist.  Fewer still would have heard Wesson's passive-aggressive blessing.  But from there it could have moved through the parish like wildfire.  Knowing that, it was difficult for Andrew to dismiss the idea that those in the car were gossiping about him and JenniAnn.

JenniAnn sniffling brought Andrew out of his ponderings.  When he saw her damp cheeks, he knew she'd noticed the neighboring car, too.

"Laja..."  He reached over and stroked her neck.

"It... it is really embarrassing."

"I know."

"I... I don't want to go back."


"Will... do you think... Joshua will be mad?"

"Oh, Laja.  No...  I know he won't."

"O-okay.  Good."

JenniAnn leaned into Andrew's shoulder and began to sob.

Keeping his left hand on the wheel, Andrew wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed her hair.

"Sweet Laja," he murmured softly even as, inside, he was battling feelings of rage.


While the Friends were preparing for their lunch/commiseration, a very different sort of meal was about to begin in a crumbling Manhattan apartment building. 

Joshua jogged up four flights of steps, preferring them to the rickety elevator.  In one hand, he carried a burgeoning sack of sandwiches and chips and, in the other, a cardboard carrier of cups of coffee.  His roommate, Mason, had fried their coffeemaker in a drunken stupor two nights before. 

Stepping into the apartment, the quietness told Joshua that the other two were still asleep.  He wished he knew who Mason had brought home the previous night.  He would have tailored his choices for lunch to her.  But omnipotence was one thing he gave up during these stays... that and bodily incorruptibility.  He kneaded at the crick in his back.  His mattress really was awful...  He was glad his parents hadn't seen this apartment.  They would have insisted on staying... or at least finding a nearby place where he could seek refuge.  But that wasn't the point of this return to New York.  His parents and his Father were always with him.  His mission was to lead Mason back to his own parents, to a life he'd long abandoned... and there were matters with the Friends to attend to.  Eventually.

Mason's door opened and a young woman groggily stepped out.  Joshua averted his eyes when he noticed she was only wearing a T-shirt that barely reached her mid-thigh.  He knew every cell of her body... but she... Renee... didn't know that.

"Oh!" she yelped, grabbing a throw off the beat-up couch and wrapping it around her waist as a makeshift skirt.  "Sorry.  I forgot that Mason said he had a roommate now.  I'm, uh, Renee."  She held out a hand.

Joshua smiled warmly, stepped out of the kitchenette, and shook her hand.

"No worries. I'm Joshua.  Or Josh.  Whichever you prefer."

Renee giggled.

"You really let people decide what to call you?"

Joshua shrugged, still smiling.

"A lot of people call me lots of different things.  Most of them I like."

"Well... then I think I'll go with Josh.  It reminds me of Clueless.  I had the biggest crush on Paul Rudd in that when I was younger."

Joshua laughed.

"Alas, I'm no Paul Rudd."  Joshua smiled to himself, recounting the many times he'd heard "Dear God... please let me meet and marry Paul Rudd."

"No.  But..."  Renee tilted her head, studying Joshua.  "I do believe you have the most beautiful eyes that I've ever seen.  Contacts?"

Joshua shook his head.

"Nope.  All natural."


"Thank you.  Hey, I picked up some lunch.  You're welcome to it or if you want to wait until Mason..."

"Aww, you're so sweet!  I guess I should wait until Mason wakes up but... that could be a while yet."

Joshua frowned.

"Is he okay?"

"Hung over.  A lot.  But breathing."

"Maybe I should go check on him."


Joshua waved to the bag on the counter. 

"Take whatever you want out of there.  Coffee, too.  Cream and sugar are tucked into the bottom of the carrier."

"Great!  You're a lifesaver."

"Not a problem.  Actually, maybe I'll take Mason's coffee in with me."

"Good idea.  Oh God... these sandwiches look delicious."

Joshua smiled at Renee as she dug through the bag then knocked on Mason's door.

"Mason, it's Josh.  How ya doing?"

The man groaned from inside.

"I brought you some coffee.  Can I come in?"

Mason replied with a second groan that sounded vaguely like a yes.

"Okay, I'm coming in."

Joshua pushed open the door to reveal Mason sprawled across his bed, nearly hiding beneath his quilt. 

"Here's the coffee."

Joshua set it down on a crate that Mason used as a bedstand then approached the window.  He adjusted the shade so less light came in.

Mason rolled over and squinted at Joshua.



Mason sipped his coffee.


"Good?" Joshua checked.

Mason nodded then stopped when he realized it made his headache worsen.

"Let me go get you some water.  You need to hydrate."

"Is Renee out there?"

"Yeah.  I brought lunch.  Sandwiches and chips.  You up for food yet?"

Mason wrinkled his nose.

"Okay.  Be right back."

Joshua returned to the living room/kitchen area and grabbed a glass.  He smiled at Renee while it filled with water.

"How's the sandwich?"

Mouth full, she gave him a thumbs up.

"Good.  Maybe we can get one into Mason soon," Joshua hoped.  He returned to the man's side and handed him the glass of water.

"Thanks, Dad," Mason teased.

"Sure thing, son," Joshua replied with complete sincerity.

Mason lowered his voice.

"She's pretty, isn't she?  Renee, I mean."

"Very pretty."

"She's good in the sack, too."

Joshua winced slightly.

Mason playfully punched his arm.

"You need to have more fun, man.  Renee's got all sorts of friends.  Maybe she can hook you up.  What are you into?  Blondes?  Redheads?  Heck, I don't even know...  Girls?  Guys?"

"I'm not looking for a date but thank you for thinking of me."

Mason reached up and brushed a hand over the Star of David that Joshua was wearing around his neck. 

"Are Jews as hung up about sex as Christians are?"

"Deep question for hangover talk," Joshua mused.

Mason shrugged.

"Just curious."

"A lot of people are hung up about sex... Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and everything else.  And Judaism isn't a monolith.  It runs the gamut from very orthodox and traditional to very... not."

"Huh.  I like it.  The necklace, I mean."

"Thank you.  A friend gave it to me."

"A friend-friend or a, you know, friend?"

Joshua rolled his eyes and shoved the water glass back at Mason.


Mason obeyed.

"A friend... and sort of little sister.  I knew her when she was a girl, practically watched her grow up."  Joshua smiled fondly as he remembered little Mary, running around her yard in Bethany and pretending to be Queen Esther.

"Do you have actual brothers and sisters?" 

"Full siblings?  No.  But my parents raised some of my cousins after my aunt and uncle died."


"Yeah.  I liked being an only child... but that was pretty great."

"I bet you were a pretty great big brother," Mason opined. 

Joshua peered tenderly at the man as his mind reeled back in time... back to the who, what, and where he was trying to forget.

Mason coughed.

"Anyway...  Let me get dressed and I'll be right out.  Get me one of those sandwiches before Renee eats them all."

"Okay."  Joshua excused himself, shutting Mason's door behind him.

Renee smiled at him. 

"How's he doing?"

"He's coming out soon."

"Good!  You must have the magic touch.  Usually he stays in bed til nearly 3:00 on the weekends."

"Yeah..." Joshua wearily assented.

"So when did you move in?"

"This past Monday."

"Ah... so this has been your first glimpse of weekend Mason."

Joshua made no reply.  It wasn't, of course.

Renee set a hand on Joshua's arm.

"He really is a great guy, Josh.  And I think you'll like him as a roommate.  He just... has some issues.  But then don't we all?"

Joshua stared at the girl as she chugged some coffee.  He saw her at five, hiding while her parents fought.  There she was at seven, crying as the police took her father away while a female officer questioned her mother who had a bag of frozen peas pressed to her face.  Renee had been trying to mend her broken heart in a series of problematic ways ever since.  And she could, truly and beautifully, with Mason... if, first, he could heal the man's wounds.

But Joshua did nothing by force... and, thus far, Mason hadn't let him into his life.  Not really.

The door reopened and Mason ambled out.

"Mmm...  Doritos."  He picked up a bag and slunk into the chair between Renee and Joshua, clapping the latter on the back.  "Good man."

"Eat a sandwich, too.  Tuna salad or turkey swiss?"

"You don't care?"


"Turkey swiss it is.  Thanks, man."

Joshua paused to offer a prayer then unwrapped the tuna salad sandwich for himself.  Lunch proceeded with Mason largely quiet and Renee chirping out questions for Joshua.  He carefully selected his answers, hoping that they would make Mason's trust in him increase.


The Willowveil ballroom was nearly as full as it was on holidays... and with nearly as much food and drink.  Once word had spread, the Friends had departed from their assorted houses of worship and descended upon Dyeland with salads, soups, and sandwiches to go along with the spaghetti that Marco had brought.  Once the children were settled into the TV room with Violeta, Joccy, and Josef watching over them; it fell to Owen and Rabbi Yakov to fill the others in.  JenniAnn sat between Andrew and Vincent, face still flushed even though she knew her friends were on her side.

"I think I should tell my buddy at work about this and get his cardinal uncle to go after Wesson!" Sean declared.

Emma scoffed.

"Sean, that's sweet.  But let's be honest... there are still priests and even cardinals floating around who were implicated in covering up for pedophile priests.  If that's not going to take them out... this definitely won't."

Sean's face fell and Kemara gave him an affectionate squeeze.

"But it can't hurt," she encouraged.  "Just to get another person in the hierarchy's viewpoint."

"That's true," Emma agreed.  "Sorry, Sean."

"It's okay.  You made a good point.  Just... a very hard one."  Sean sighed and rubbed at his eyes.  "I feel like it shouldn't be this hard to be part of a church."

"It shouldn't," Zeke affirmed.  "But churches are built and sustained by humans.  They're for God... absolutely.  But when you have that human element... bad things happen."

"It's not just Catholicism," Randall pointed out.  "When I was in high school, there was a big scandal when one of the pastors left his wife for one of my classmates.  Still disgusts me to think about it."

"But why does it seem so common in the Catholic Church?" JenniAnn asked quietly.  "I feel like... like every few years I come back to this same place of being disgusted with it all.  And, yes, this time it hit too close to home.  But, honestly, I feel less angry now than I did when the first big round of abuse allegations started."  She squeezed Andrew's hand, remembering how he'd helped her through that.  "More embarrassed this time... but not nearly as angry.  Fr. Mike and I... we're adults.  We can handle a little public shaming.  But on the way back here..."  Tears filled her eyes.  "I... I started thinking about how small I felt up there... in front of the archbishop.  And... and then..."

Andrew briefly closed his eyes.  They'd been halfway to the alley portal when JenniAnn had broken down into sobs so fierce that, in a panic, he'd pulled over as soon as he could.  He'd hustled her to the nearest Tunnel entrance where she'd begun screaming.  Vincent had found the two, huddled together on the stone floor. 

Just as she had confided in Andrew and Vincent earlier, JenniAnn shared her thoughts with the Friends.

"Then I thought about what it would have been like as... as a child.  Or even as a vulnerable adult who didn't have..."  She waved around the room.  "This.  I will be sad to leave St. Mary Magdalene's.  But I still have a church with all of you.  Not everyone does.  So to think of someone isolated like that or... or a little kid... in the grasp of someone like Wesson...  I... I'm not saying he's an abuser.  But for one flash of a moment, I felt how someone like him can make you feel small and powerless.  And how they could step in... and take control... and keep you in their grasp.  And it happened... over and over."

"I... I need to step away for a bit," Emma announced before hurrying out of the room with Peter trailing her.

Owen rubbed at his temples.

"Emma..." JenniAnn moved to stand up, concerned.

Andrew kept hold of her hand.

"Let her be.  Peter's taking care of her."

"I shouldn't have taken it so far, though..."

"You spoke the truth, Psyche.   That's what upset Emma.  Not you," Vincent counseled.

"Vincent's right," Isolde agreed.  "And I think..."  She drew in and let out a shuddering breath.  "I think, with Fr. Mike, we were allowed to live in a bubble.  We trust him.  We love him.  We know he loves Joshua... so much.  And so... we felt safe in his church.  Before coming here, Marco and I... we've never missed Mass.  But our lives allowed us to float from church to church, diocese to diocese.  We... we never saw the issues.  Now, with Fr. Mike gone and that bubble burst... I think we're all being reminded of the flaws."

Marco wrapped an arm around his wife and kissed her hair.

"Priests are like all people... some good and some bad.  I like to think more good than bad.  But what makes the Church so problematic is that, when you get a bad one in there, he can go unchecked for far too long.  And what can we do about it?" Marco asked. 

"Leave?" Owen suggested.

"But I don't want to leave," Ivy murmured.  "I want to leave St. Mary Magdalene's... at least until Fr. Mike is back.  But I don't want to leave the Church.  Violeta, Sy, and I... we have so many professors who are priests.  And they're wonderful!  And... and... yes.  There's some stuff I was taught by the Church that is just downright backward.  But there's also so much...  Would I know what I do about Yeshua if not for the Church?" she inquired, eyes brimming.

"That's why I struggle, too," Kemara admitted.  "It's not like breaking up with a toxic friend who only brings you pain.  JenniAnn's right.  We're blessed to have the Friends.  All of our churches could be shuttered and we'd still have us.  But I'd miss the stained glass windows and the incense and the Mass itself."

"And that's perfectly understandable," Rabbi Yakov assured.  "I adore my time with all of you.  But a part of my heart would break without the traditions, the songs, the ceremonies that I've known since I was a boy.  And I believe with all my heart that Joshua means for me to have those things... and for all of you, too.  He could have asked me to leave my temple behind and become a minister... but he didn't."

"Maybe we were never meant to stop being Jewish," JenniAnn mused.  "Maybe that's where it all went wrong..."

Tiva smiled gently but shook her head.

"No, sweetheart.  Judaism isn't without its flaws and abuses.  I love my religion.  But it's not devoid of egos, misogyny, and a host of other issues.  No institution is.  I will say that I think Catholicism needs to seriously rethink its insistence upon celibacy.  Yakov, would you have become a rabbi if you'd been required to stay celibate?"

The rabbi, who had taken a sip of cider, struggled to swallow it before answering.

"Hell no."

The Friends, at last, erupted into laughter.

When they'd quieted, Tiva resumed speaking.

"I'm glad you're so fond of marriage, Yakov.  Now... think of how many Yakovs the Catholic Church has missed out on in favor of men who were far less suited to the priesthood but willing to, at least in theory, remain celibate?"

"Not to mention women," Emma added as she and Peter returned.

"Good point, dear.  How are you doing?" Tiva checked.

Emma smiled.

"Better.  Just needed a breather."  She turned to JenniAnn.  "I hope I didn't upset you.  It's just... what happened to you reminded me of what happened to me."

"Oh, Emma, no...  What happened to you was so much..." JenniAnn began to protest.

"Worse?" Emma guessed.

JenniAnn nodded.

"I mean... you were a child."

"Yes.  And what happened to you just shows me how little has changed... at least in some quarters.  My old priest didn't listen to me.  He just assumed that what Derek said was true.  The archbishop didn't even give you a chance to speak.  The Madonna/whore complex is alive and well," Emma concluded bitterly before drawing in and letting out a deep breath.  "But not here.  And not in El-Chanan.  You know, when I get to feeling nostalgic, Peter and I sometimes go for there for Mass."

"It's really beautiful.  In some ways, more old-fashioned and, in others, far more progressive.  We've even brought my abuela a couple of times and she loves it," Peter informed.

"I know Salma's found it to be very healing."  Isra beamed as she thought of her sister.  "And the change in her... it has been miraculous.  Her sisters there take good care of her."

"As does her sister here," Behnam added, patting his wife's knee.  "But I do think it's especially powerful for her to be so embraced by a church since we came from such a religious society.  You might try it out."

"I think that's a great idea!" Graham cheered.  "At least until we've had time to cool down and see how things go for Fr. Mike."

"I want to...  And I do love the El-Chananite Church.  But it just feels like... he's won."  Kemara snuggled a napping Joy closer.  "And I don't like feeling like I've surrendered the church I baptized my children into."

"We don't all have to choose the same path," Monica offered.  "Arthur and I won't be going back.  Liam was terribly upset.  But that doesn't mean it's wrong if you and Sean want to, Kemara."

"But it won't be the same without all of you," Sean countered. 

"It may never be the same," Andrew mumbled.

Surprised by the defeated note in his voice, JenniAnn studied her beloved for a long moment.  When he caught her, the angel caressed her cheek.

"For what it's worth, I vote we either start going to El-Chanan or make the rounds of the other churches.  It's been too long since I heard you preach, Zeke."  Owen smiled at the man.  "And I need my gossip fix from Miss Maddy."

Arthur chuckled as he thought of his pastor's busy-body wife.

"I'm sure she'd be thrilled to fill you in.  And I like that idea."

"Don't think of it as surrendering.  Think of it as retreating until you're ready with a full-blown plan," Diana suggested.  "Pray about it.  Give Joshua some time to weigh in."

Kemara smiled at the older woman.

"Good idea.  I like that."

"Me too," JenniAnn agreed.

"Me three," Owen echoed.

"And maybe we could try Mass at Fordham sometime?" Ivy suggested.

Graham nodded.  "Sounds like a plan to me."

With the matter settled, the Friends turned to cheerier subjects like Valentine's plans and reminiscences of times spent with Joshua.


That afternoon, Sibyll and Lewellyn paid their son a visit in Albany.  It had been decided that it was better they tell him in person about what had occurred at St. Mary Magdalene's.

While Bishop Tony had offered the family the privacy of the study, Fr. Mike had asked him to stay.  They were only a couple of hours away from Fr. Mike being introduced to the Merriman family and it seemed only fair to allow him a glimpse of Fr. Mike's nearest and dearest.

"Owen said the 'blessing' was particularly snide... talking about turning away from sin.  He was so angry that he didn't even take Communion.  Just steered JenniAnn, who was understandably stunned, back to their pew," Lewellyn related.

Fr. Mike rubbed at his temples. 

"The group convened at Andrew's and JenniAnn's to talk it over.  They're probably still there," Sibyll added.

"So the mystery is solved.  And JenniAnn is the 'sinner,'" he scoffed.  "It would be funny if it weren't so aggravating and embarrassing." 

"I have to ask... is JenniAnn unmarried and..."

"Unmarried, yes," Sibyll answered the bishop.  "But no 'and...' about it.  She's in a long-term relationship with Andrew but think more... Mary and Joseph.  A very Catholic understanding of Mary and Joseph."

Bishop Tony looked with interest at Fr. Mike.


Fr. Mike nodded.

"Truly.  They've adopted some children together.  And they are very affectionate and loving towards each other.  But they're celibates."

Bishop Tony responded with a bitter laugh.

"Wonderful...  Wesson's hacking away at our own mythology."

"Mythology?" Sibyll questioned, aghast.

"My apologies.  I don't mean mythology in the sense of fictional, fantastic stories.  It's also a sociological term that means the central story behind a religion.  It's a neutral word making no statement on veracity.  Obviously, in this case, I believe the mythology is true.  Your friends have made a very rare choice, Mike.  But not one without precedent.  It is, however, beside the point.  Wesson had no business doing that even if your friend and her man were having relations."

"I know.  But he did do it...  Poor JenniAnn."  Fr. Mike shook his head.  "I should have realized..."

"How?" Tony prodded.  "If you knew for a fact that your friends weren't having premarital sex then why should it have occurred to you that Wesson was implicating them?  I wouldn't have put it past him to outright lie.  How Catholic are your friends?  If you think it would help, as another bishop, I can apologize."

Fr. Mike smiled kindly at his new friend but shook his head.

"Thank you but I don't think that's necessary.  I'd love to have them come visit and meet you sometime but I think an apology would just make Andrew and JenniAnn feel worse since you didn't do anything wrong."

"Got it.  Selfishly... I'd be interested in meeting them.  Perhaps they have some insight into Our Lady and St. Joseph.  Fascinating... but I'd never want to pry."

Sibyll laughed.

"Oh, I think when the time is right, JenniAnn would be only too happy to share her insights with you, Bishop Tony.  She has a theology degree... so she has many thoughts on the matter of the Church and sexuality."

"I'd be eager to hear them.  We have far too little feminine insight into Church matters as I'm sure you'll all agree."

Fr. Mike and his parents all nodded eagerly.

"Mike, if you need to take some time to check in on your friends, I can go alone tonight," Tony offered.

As anxious as he was to speak with Andrew and JenniAnn, Fr. Mike shook his head.

"No, no.  It's fine.  I'll call them later.  I'd still like to go."

"Where are you going?" Lewellyn questioned.  "If you don't mind my asking, that is?"

"No, no.  I've asked Mike to visit with my grand-nephew, a seminarian who is an avid reader of your son's blog.  He, well... he's hit a rough patch.  He's left the seminary and hasn't been himself.  I was hoping Mike might get through to him where the rest of us have failed," the bishop explained.

"Poor lad," Sibyll lamented.  "I can remember when Mike started seminary.  He was so devoted to the idea of becoming a priest but... it was difficult to be apart from us.  And such a momentous step to take..."  She squeezed her son's hand.  "I'll pray for your nephew, Bishop Tony."

"Thank you, Sibyll.  I truly appreciate it.  Now... speaking of a younger Mike... perhaps you could tell me more about my new housemate?  You never know when one might need blackmail material."  Tony gave Sibyll and Lewellyn a sly grin.

"Hey!  No!" Fr. Mike protested, chuckling as he did.

"Oh hush.  Gladdy will supply you with several embarrassing stories about me without your even asking.  Fair's fair."

"Where to begin..." Lewellyn mused.  "Well, we could start with the time Mike stole from nuns."


"Sounds promising!  Do tell!"

"Well, my aunt was a nun.  She was getting on in years and we'd sometimes take the children to her convent to sing and bring some cheer.  Mike was about three at this particular instance.  Too young to do much besides toddle around and look cute.  Sibyll and I got distracted speaking to some of the sisters and, next thing we knew, Mike was no where to be seen.  And then we heard a clattering...  We followed it to the convent's bakery where we found little Mike, scaling a cooling rack.  He'd already devoured an entire lower tray of cookies!  The nuns didn't think he was so cute after that!"

As Fr. Mike feigned pouting, the other three laughed and continued their walk down memory lane.  By the time the couple left, both Sibyll and Lewellyn felt greater peace about their son's predicament.  As much as they knew his separation from his parish pained him, they'd found a kindred spirit in Bishop Tony and were glad he was there to guide Mike through his time of trial.



That evening, as he followed Bishop Tony into his niece's house, Fr. Mike had a sudden flash of The Exorcist.

Inside, a young man was thrashing as two other men tried to control him.  Nearby, two women held each other and wept.

"I'm not a child!" the man Fr. Mike took to be Kyle shouted.  "You can't make me!"

"Son, we only want..."

"You can't make me!"

"But you need to eat!" the older woman shrieked.

"No, I don't!"

"For God's sake, Kyle!  Stop it!" the middle-aged man wrestling with the boy yelled. 

Suddenly, the older man hissed.


"Mac!  Mac, you're bleeding!"

Kyle froze and gaped at his grandfather. 

"Look at what you've done!" the other man bellowed.

"I'm fine... I'm fine, Leo.  Let's just... settle down."

"Come here, Mac."

As the two priests continued to silently look on, the older woman, Gladdy, guided her husband into the kitchen.

"Kyle, you've got to get yourself under control!" his father ordered.

"Leo... shh.  You're not helping."

"That's Becca.  Kyle's mother," Bishop Tony whispered.  "And his dad, Leo."

Becca crouched down in front of her son who had crumpled to the ground.

"Baby Boy, I know it was just an accident.  Grandpa's fine.  Why don't you come into the kitchen, we'll check on him, and then try to eat?  Just a few bites?  For me?"

Kyle looked around wearily, finally noticing the two visitors.  Doing so, he burst into tears and ran from the room.

"Kyle!" Becca shouted, running after him.

A door slamming rattled the walls.

Leo rubbed at his eyes before approaching the priests.

"Hey, Uncle Tony.  I'm afraid we subjected your friend to quite the sight."

"This is Fr. Mike Solas."

Leo and Fr. Mike briefly shook hands.

"What brought that on?" Tony inquired.  "And how did you get him out of his room?"

"Mac and I finally dragged him out.  We just wanted him to eat... and bathe, to be honest.  You saw how that went."

"He is looking very haggard.  He hasn't eaten at all?"

"Not much.  Becca got some soup into him a couple days ago but we think he threw it all up.  I... I don't know what we're going to... to do."  Leo's shoulders began to shake.  "Are... are we going to have to have him committed?  What... what's wrong with my boy, Uncle Tony?"

Fr. Mike watched, tears welling in his own eyes, as the bishop pulled his nephew into a bear hug. 

"I... I don't know, Leo.  But I'm hoping we can discover the truth and help Kyle."

After a few more silent, comforting moments, Bishop Tony stepped away from Leo and gestured to Fr. Mike.

"Fr. Mike here is the author of a blog that I know Kyle was especially fond of.  He's kindly offered to try to speak to Kyle.  Although maybe tonight isn't the best night to try..."

"I can always come back," Fr. Mike offered.  "I have no other obligations currently," he noted, a wistful tone in his voice.

"We'd appreciate that.  Since you're here now..."  Leo brushed the tears from his eyes.  "I hope you'll at least join us for dinner.  My mother-in-law, Gladdy, made her world-famous pot pie.  Well... maybe just citywide-famous.  But it should be world-famous."

"It should," Tony agreed.  "Mike, you ready for a taste heaven?"

"How could I turn that down?"

The bishop patted him on the back.

"Good.  I think it'll do everyone good to have you join us.  Something about you... there's a real light to you, my friend."

"Well... thank you, Bishop Tony."

The man laughed.

"No need to impress the family with honorifics.  Stick with just Tony."

"All right, just Tony," Fr. Mike teased.

Leo smiled at the newcomer. 

"I like you.  Come on.  I'll introduce you properly."

Leo led the way to an immaculate, cozy kitchen.  Gladdy was putting the finishing touches on a butterfly beneath Mac's eye.

"Mom, Dad... this is Fr. Mike Solas.  Uncle Tony brought him along to speak to Kyle... sometime."

Gladdy hastily washed her hands then warmly took the priest's in her own.

"Welcome, Fr. Solas!  I'm so glad that you've come.  Tony needs someone watching over him."

"Well, I don't know about that..." Bishop Tony countered with mock pride. 

Gladdy swatted at him.

"You do."  She turned her attention back to Fr. Mike.  "And such a nice looking fellow, too!"

"Sure, flirt with the priest right in front of me," Mac deadpanned.

Blushing but amused, Fr. Mike turned to the old man.

"Mike.  You must be Mac?"

"Yup, that's me.  Sorry you had to see..."  He waved towards the living room. "That.  Our Kyle's normally not like that."

"I understand.  And, please, don't think any more about it.  I'm just honored to be welcomed here.  I've already been told about a heavenly pot pie."

"Oh now...  I don't know that it's all that," Gladdy downplayed though she flushed with pleasure.

"It's why I married her!" Mac chirped.

"The only reason?" his wife teased.

"No...  I'm quite fond of your pound cake, too, woman."


Gladdy turned her back and stomped over to the oven but looked back to her husband with a coquettish smile. 

Fr. Mike beamed.  They reminded him of his own parents.  Their love for each other, ornery as it sometimes was, felt palpable. 

Sniffling, Becca joined them in the kitchen.

"He's back in his room.  He... he promised me he'd try to eat so..."  She joined her mother at the oven and loaded a slice of pie into a bowl.  "I'll be right back."

A somber silence settled over the group for a moment before Mac spoke.

"Gladdy, let me help you."

He joined his wife and they began to dish up portions for everyone and set the table.

Fr. Mike protested when he was led to the head of the table but gave up when Leo let him know there was little point in arguing with Gladdy.

By the time they were all sitting down, Becca again joined them.

"He ate three bites in front of me!" she cheered.  "It's a start."

"That's wonderful, sweetheart," the bishop congratulated.  "Come sit by me, will you?"

Becca assented, briefly resting her head on her uncle's shoulder when he embraced her. 

"Who wants to say grace?" Leo asked.

"I vote our guest does.  Mike?" Tony requested.

"Oh.  Sure."  Fr. Mike nodded and took Mac's and Leo's hands.  "Lord, thank You for bringing us together this evening.  Thank You for the glorious food You've provided us with.  Please, allow this time together to heal and inspire, to comfort and console.  In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..."

"Amen," the others said in unison.

Gladdy reached over to pat Fr. Mike's hand.

"Thank you for the lovely prayer, Father."

"My pleasure.  And I'll thank you in advance for this."  He stuck a fork into the flaky crust of his pie.  "It truly smells glorious and..."  He took a bite.  "Mmm..."

"Tastes glorious, too?" Tony checked.

"Most definitely.  It's superb."

Gladdy beamed.

"I'm so glad you're enjoying it.  I'm sure I'll be making it again soon... especially if it does get our Kyle eating again.  I... I do hope you'll be able to reach him, Fr. Mike.  We've all tried but..."  She looked down at her plate and shook her head.

"I remember one time he was so inspired by one of your blog posts that he made me stop cooking and read it," Becca recalled with misty eyes.  "I think it was the one about how the Church should make more of St. Joseph.  You said something about how, at times, it's almost like they're embarrassed by him."

Fr. Mike nodded.

"Yeah.  I mean, obviously, we esteem and honor Yo...  Joseph.  But it hit me when I was officiating a wedding and the bride laid her roses at Mary's feet.  We don't have anything written into the ceremony to honor St. Joseph.  And Mary certainly wasn't in a marriage by herself."

"Hmm...  I'd never thought about that," Gladdy mused.  "I've always thought that was lovely when brides did that.  But it is unfair, isn't it?"

"What would we leave at St. Joseph's feet?" Leo asked.

Becca looked to Fr. Mike.

"You had suggestions for that, didn't you?"

"I did, yeah.  I thought it would be nice to make an offering of food to be delivered to a shelter.  After all, it was Joseph who had to provide for his family.  Or a donation to Habitat for Humanity?  Or even lilies."

"Why do you think some folks are embarrassed by him?" the bishop inquired.

"I think there are several reasons.  For one, some people believe he was a much older man.  And, in this day and age, who wants to think about an old man with a fourteen year old even if they're not having sex?  I also think the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary is much easier for people to believe if Joseph is downplayed and pushed to the side.  Even with an unmarried clergy, the belief persists that men are more sexual than women. So a celibate Joseph is harder for some to believe than a virginal Mary.  Speaking of...  I think the Church has a sometimes unhealthy obsession with female virginity.  Think of it.  Are any of the virgin martyrs male?  No.  And she's the Virgin Mary.  As if her virginity was the most important thing about her... it even supercedes her given name."  Fr. Mike cleared his throat.  "Sorry.  I can get long-winded.  And this isn't really appropriate dinner talk."

"No, no!" Becca assured.  "I find this fascinating.  I always wondered why there was such focus on Mary's virginity post-birth and so little on Jesus'.  I mean... doesn't His matter more?  Think of it... leaving behind the glories and comfort of Heaven to become human and then deny yourself something that can bring such bliss?"

"People don't want to think about God having urges, dear," Leo pointed out.

"But why not?" Becca prodded.  "Especially when... when we ask the same of our priests."  She cast a glance towards the direction of Kyle's room.

"A very valid question, Becca," Bishop Tony agreed, patting her hand.  "I think there's a difference, though.  I believe Jesus remained a virgin at least in part because, well, He would have created his partner and that's a little... awkward.  I don't believe He meant for the same sacrifice to be made by those following Him."

"I don't either.  Personally, celibacy is a good choice for me.  But I knew so many men in seminary who could have made such wonderful priests.  But they dropped out because they realized they just couldn't give the dream of marriage up."  Fr. Mike shook his head.  "And I'm glad they did.  I've met many of their wives and children.  But I grieve for what the Church lost."

"Do you think maybe that's what's wrong with Kyle?" Mac asked.  "Maybe he's decided he doesn't want to be apart from Ana-Maria and thinks he'll disappoint us?"

Leo shook his head.

"I don't think so.  For one, would any of us be that disappointed?"  He looked apologetically at the two priests.  "Sorry.  It's not that I don't want Kyle to be a priest.  But I also can't say I ever dreamed of it."

"And I love Ana-Maria...  They were so adorable together," Becca lamented. 

"They truly were."  Tony smiled fondly before his expression faltered.  "But I don't see this as Kyle acting out simply because he's afraid any of us would be disappointed.  I... I fear there's something deeper.  Have you been able to get him to a doctor at all?"

"We tried but he refused to go.  And since he's over eighteen... Becca and Leo can't make him," Gladdy explained.

"But he's eating.  So maybe... baby steps," Becca hoped. 

"Yes, baby steps," the bishop repeated hopefully.

The rest of the meal was spent in friendly conversation as Fr. Mike was told about the rest of the family.  The two priests prayed with the parents and grandparents and made an attempt to speak to Kyle.  They were rebuffed but the bishop found an empty bowl in his grand-nephew's room and that gave them all hope that, at last, Kyle was on the mend.


Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Fr. Mike tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable.  Perhaps he'd eaten too much at dinner...

For the third night in a row, he and Bishop Tony had descended upon the home of Becca and Leo McIntyre.  While Gladdy's pot pie was unbeatable, Leo and Mac had proven to be masters at the grill and put on a splendid steak dinner.  Unfortunately, Kyle had remained elusive.  Fr. Mike had thought he'd seen the boy peering out from his bedroom window when he and Tony had gone outside to keep the two men company.  Once, he'd even thought they'd made eye contact but he couldn't be positive in the gloom of dusk.

Unable to rest, Fr. Mike pulled his Kindle out from the drawer beside him.  Perhaps one of the Friends were awake and they could catch up. 

Fr. Mike opened Facebook and, since no one appeared to be online, he left it to run in the background while he checked his email.  To his surprise, there were several notifications informing him that someone had messaged him on his blog.  Anxious, he logged in.  He'd received a flurry of notifications before.  Almost always they were someone targeting him as a pervert, abuser, or woman-hater.  He dealt with the trolls as gently as possible.  After all, he never knew if they might have been harmed by a fellow priest.  But it was always hurtful.

Fingers shaking, Fr. Mike accessed his messages and began to read.  To his surprise, the messages were all time-stamped within the past ten minutes.

How did you like the steak?

The priest's felt his heart skip a beat.

I think my grandma has a crush on you.  But that's okay.  My grandpa's cool with it.

What do you think of my uncle?

I'm not crazy.  I just want someone to know that.

I know I sound crazy.

I bet I looked crazy too.

Look crazy.

Noticing that only three minutes had passed since the last remark, Fr. Mike typed a response.

Kyle, is that you?

A long minute passed.  Then another.


Good!  I'm so happy to speak with you.  The steak was delicious.  You have a wonderful family.  I think your uncle is great.  I've only just met him but already consider him a very good friend.  And I don't think you're crazy.

During the lull before a response, Fr. Mike hurried to his desk and started his laptop.  It would be much easier to communicate with the young man from there.


Fr. Mike sent a smiley back in response.

I've been rereading some of your blog entries.

Oh?  I hope you like what you've read.  But it's okay if not.

There was a lull of several minutes and the priest began to think that Kyle had signed off.  Nonetheless, he logged onto his site via the laptop and continued to wait.  When the response came, it made Fr. Mike shudder.

Are you a virgin?

He started his response several times before finally decided simple was best.

Yes.  Why?

There was another pause.  Two minutes and then...

I'm not.

That's okay, Kyle.  Not everyone who enters the seminary is.

I was.

Fr. Mike felt the contents of his stomach begin to roil.  Nonetheless, he focused on the screen.

What are you saying, Kyle?

What do you think?

Kyle, did someone hurt you?

Fr. Mike stood up and began to pace when no response immediately came.  He hurried back to the computer when it pinged.


Hot tears stung the priest's eyes.  He hurriedly brushed them away and made his response.

Kyle, I am so very, very sorry. 

It's easier to talk about like this.  I can't say it out loud.  Too real. 

Seeing the statement as an apology for his behavior, Fr. Mike's heart broke. 

Talk about it however you need to, Kyle.  I'm here.  I don't want to ask any questions.  I want you to only tell what you feel comfortable telling.  Okay?


The priest blotted at his eyes with a tissue as he stared at the text indicating that Kyle was typing.

Im embarrassed.

Kyle, YOU did nothing wrong. 

I should have known.

Kyle, none of this is your fault.

That's not what he said.

He's wrong, Kyle.

He caught me looking at photos of my gf.  They weren't trashy or anything.  But... she's really cute.  I miss her and I just wanted to see her.  I wasn't going to leave.

I know.  That's fine.

He made me scrub the bathroom.

I'm sorry.

I was almost done and then he came in. 

Not taking his eyes off the screen, Fr. Mike blindly fumbled for his trashcan.

I was mad so I didn't turn around to acknowledge him.  Next thing I knew, he pushed me to the ground.  And then it happened.  He said it was my penance for being lustful.

Fr. Mike's fists had clenched but he released them so he could respond.

Kyle, that's wrong.  That's so very, very wrong.  Please tell me you know that what he did was wrong.  It wasn't penance.  It was a crime.

It was a crime.

The priest breathed a sigh of relief.  The feeling was short-lived.

I hate myself.

Kyle, no...  God loves you.  Your family loves you.  You deserve to be loved.

I should have known...  Bad vibes.  I should have been smarter.  I should have fought more.

Kyle, you were caught off-guard.  And you shouldn't have had to fight because it shouldn't have happened.  Period. 

Why did God let it happen?

Fr. Mike could hear the pain in Kyle's voice.  At last, he retched into his trash can.  As soon as possible, he refocused on the conversation.

Kyle, I believe God wept as that happened to you.  And He weeps still, knowing the pain you feel.  He didn't want that to happen.  It breaks His heart when people use His gift of free will to hurt others.  But you know what, Kyle?  Even believing that, I also believe you have a right to be angry at Him.  He understands that anger.

Another two minutes ticked by.

I hate Him right now.

Fr. Mike peered up at a photograph of Joshua.  He felt like his heart was being ripped in two but he knew what his response needed to be.

And that's okay.

It was a full five minutes before Kyle said any more and, during that time, the priest sobbed.

Are you going to tell my uncle?

Do you want me to?


Okay.  Do you want us to know who it was?


Fr. Mike waited, as patient as he was enraged.

My Sacraments professor.  Fr. Blaine Wesson

Fr. Mike was so shocked that he leaped up from his desk.  Wesson...  The man had to be related.  But that didn't matter to Kyle right now.  He sat back down to reply.

Okay.  Thank you for trusting me with this, Kyle.  I'll talk to your uncle.  Would you like us to come see you tomorrow?

Yes.  Please

We'll do that. 

Thanks.  I'm going to go to bed now.

Okay.  I'll keep this open.  If you need anything, let me know.

Okay.  Thanks Fr. Mike.

You're welcome.  You're very brave, Kyle.  I hope you get some rest.

Thanks.  Good night

Good night, Kyle.

For several minutes, Fr. Mike stared at the screen.  When a half hour had passed, he allowed himself to slip back into bed though he kept the laptop open and visible.  He thought about Kyle, about how terrified he must have been.  The betrayal he must have felt...  He began to feel sick again.  The feeling worsened when he thought about having to tell Tony.  The man would be heartbroken.  The whole family would.

"Joshua... Joshua, you... you'll have to help me," he prayed aloud.  "Give me the words.  The strength...  Joshua... I miss you."

Fr. Mike turned into his pillow and wept until he fell into a fitful, uneasy sleep.


"Mason... Mason, you need to get up.  You're going to be late for work," Joshua called through his roommate's closed door. 

The only response was what sounded like something being thrown at the door.


"Shut up!  I'm not going!"

"But yesterday you said you had an important meeting at..."

The door burst open and Joshua found himself nearly nose-to-nose with a red-eyed, puffy-faced Mason.  He reeked of alcohol and pot.

"I said I'm not going," Mason growled through gritted teeth.

Joshua stepped back.

"Okay.  Sorry.  I was just worried.  Since you're up, can I get you anything?  I was just going to pop downstairs for a bagel so..."

Mason stepped back into his room and slammed the door shut.

"All right," Joshua murmured.

He'd been concerned when Mason hadn't returned home by ten the previous night.  His weekend debauchery aside, he was a good worker who normally didn't let his partying get in the way of his job.  But it had been after 3:00 when Joshua had finally heard him return.  Even if he hadn't been listening, he would have heard.  Mason had announced his arrival by stumbling over the coffee table and crashing onto the floor.  He'd been so intoxicated that he hadn't even noticed he'd broken his ankle... a break Joshua had promptly healed. 

Joshua ignored his growling stomach and pulled a chair in front of the window.  He peered out at the rising sun and prayed.

"Dad, please help me to understand what's going on...  We both know that Mason's been struggling for a long time.  But I don't know what's caused this setback.  He's never missed work because of the drinking.  And it seems he's started up with the pot again.  I hope it's no more than that but I don't know."

Joshua yanked his hand through his hair and sighed.

"Renee hasn't been around since Sunday.  At least not that I've seen.  I think something happened that afternoon.  She was fighting tears when she left.  Mason won't talk about that, either."

Mason's door creaked and Joshua looked up hopefully but the man failed to appear.  Perhaps it had only been the apartment settling.

Joshua resumed his prayer.

"I should head downstairs.  Grab some breakfast in case he gets up.  Thanks for the talk, Dad.  I love you."

The carpenter rose to his feet and started towards the door.  However, his attention was caught by something bright yellow on the kitchen table.  Joshua realized it was a piece of paper sticking out from the binder Mason kept his business paperwork in.  Joshua wouldn't pry but half of the sheet was sticking out.  Stepping closer, he recognized the logo at the top and his gaze shot back towards Mason's door.

"Dad..." he whispered.  "So... so this is it?  Oh, Mason..."

The offending piece of paper was a fundraising form for St. Richard's Preparatory School for Young Men in New Lebanon... Mason's alma mater.  Joshua knew that one of Mason's co-workers had a son attending there.  No doubt the helpful father had brought the form to work... maybe even distributed it. 

Joshua had a vision of Mason checking his mailbox before leaving the office.  He'd absent-mindedly pulled the material from it but, as he was stuffing it into his binder, that logo had caught his eye.  His face had flushed and then gone pale.  He'd hurried out of the office, uncharacteristically ignoring a co-worker's farewell.  Then he'd stumbled into the nearest bar... and there he'd remained until they'd refused to serve him anymore.  And so he'd moved onto a different, less discerning establishment.

Blinded by his tears, Joshua sunk into one of the chairs.

He held his head in his hands and remembered each excruciating, humiliating, soul-scarring moment of the abuse Mason had suffered at St. Richard's... all at the hands of one man but denied and hidden away by so many more. 

Joshua's mind took him back further...

"'Whoever therefore humbles himself like this boy, he will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And whoever will receive one such as this boy, in my name, receives me.  And everyone who commits an offense against one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him that a donkey's millstone would be hung around his neck and he be sunk in the depths of the sea.'"

He hadn't meant it literally... no more than a person using the phrase "deserves to be dragged into the street and shot" intends for the offender to be killed.  But the idea of one of his little ones being harmed filled Yeshua with righteous anger then.  Sitting at the kitchen table, Joshua felt it even more keenly.  Yeshua hadn't remembered forming tiny hands, knitting together nerves, and sculpting sweet snub noses and kissable cheeks.  Joshua remembered every moment. 

He had placed the tiny birthmark that looked like a heart on Mason's shoulder. 

He had chosen the exact shade of green for his eyes.

He had put a little of himself into the boy's smile, a certain way the right corner of his mouth quirked up higher than the left when he smiled.

Every choice made with love for his precious creation.

And he had done the same for the one who had hurt his Mason...

The one who had betrayed him in a way far worse, far more hurtful than Yehuda ever had...

Blaine Wesson.

Joshua thought of the son who had turned against him and wept hot, stinging tears.


The Report

Fr. Mike nervously dressed and readied himself for the day.  He waited to leave his room until he heard Tony moving around, seemingly in the kitchen.  He wanted to give the man time to drink at least some coffee before he shared the night's sobering revelation.

When Fr. Mike heard the microwave beep, a sign that the bishop had finished half his mug and was preparing his customary oatmeal, he gathered up his laptop.  Before leaving the room, he took a cross that Joshua had carved for him and placed it in his pocket for comfort.

"Well, good morning, sleepyhead!" Bishop Tony greeted.  His smile began to falter when he got a good look at his new protege's face.  "Mike, are you all right?"

Fr. Mike nodded and set his laptop down on the kitchen table.

"I'm fine, Tony.  But... I've received some news."

"Your friends?  Has Wesson..."

"No," Fr. Mike interrupted.  "It doesn't involve my friends.  Or... not directly.  Tony... Kyle messaged me on my blog late last night."

"He... he did?" the boy's uncle checked, incredulous.

"Yes.  He... Tony, he told me about what's been going on with him."

Tony settled back into his chair across from Fr. Mike.

"And... can you tell me?"

"Yes.  He asked me to."


Fr. Mike had considered just letting Tony read the messages.  He wasn't against it but seeing the agitation and worry on the man's face, he decided it would be better coming from him first.

"When Kyle was at the seminary, one of his instructors caught him looking at photos of his girlfriend."


"I assume so.  He didn't say her name.  He said they weren't 'trashy.'  He just missed her."


"Yes.  The priest ordered him to clean the restroom."  Fr. Mike's eyes pooled with tears.

Seeing this, Tony cried out.  "Oh God...  Oh God..."

Fr. Mike reached across the table and clasped his friend's hand. 

"Tony, he attacked Kyle.  Kyle... he didn't explain how far it went but..."

Tony slumped over in his chair and began to sob into the tablecloth.

"You... you think he was raped?" the muffled voice questioned.

"Yes... I do.  Tony, I'm so sorry."

Fr. Mike waited patiently as Tony continued to weep and process his words. 

"Did he say who it was?" the bishop's cracked voice asked.

Fr. Mike nodded, worried over the reaction to his next words.


"Blaine Wesson."

Tony pounded his fists into the table, causing his bowl of oatmeal to fall and shatter.

"Damn it!" he shouted.  "Damn him!  And damn his uncle!  He knows... he had to know..."

Fr. Mike allowed the man his rage.

Suddenly, Tony burst up from his chair and scrambled for the phone.

"Tony, what are you doing?"

"I'm calling that bastard!  And then I'm calling the police."

Fr. Mike wrested the phone away from the bishop and shook his head.

"No.  You're not.  Not yet.  Kyle gave me permission to tell you... but no more."

"But he could do it to another kid!"

"I know.  I spent all night thinking about that.  But Kyle would like to see us.  We'll ask him if he wants to go to the police.  It would be better if he did.  If he doesn't, then we'll go on our own.  But Kyle has to have a say."

Bishop Tony's body relaxed though his expression remained strained.

"Yes.  You're right.  Of course.  I just..."  He pounded his fist onto the counter.  "That poor boy..."

Fr. Mike gently patted the man's back as he began to sob again.  After a few minutes, he spoke.

"I'll handle morning Mass.  You can stay here and let whomever is at the house know that we'll be over as soon as I'm finished."

"Okay.  Yes.  Good plan.  Thank you."

"Of course.  Now... I'm going to go get ready but is there anything I can do for you first?"

"No... no.  I just need... to pull myself together."  Tony rolled his neck and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

Fr. Mike remembered the cross in his pocket.  He gave it a squeeze and then withdrew it, holding it out to the bishop.

"Here.  I'd like you to have this.  A very special Friend made it for me."

"It... it's beautiful, Mike.  But you keep it.  It's from your friend."

Fr. Mike shook his head.

"I think he'd want you to have it.  Please."

Touched, Tony accepted the gift and embraced his fellow priest. 

"Thank you.  I truly appreciate it, my friend."

"You're very welcome.  I'll check back before I head over to the church."

"Thank you."

Fr. Mike clapped the bishop on the back and left the room.  In the hallway, he glanced back to see Tony standing beside the window, staring outside and running his thumb over the smooth spot at the center of Joshua's cross.

After saying a prayer for healing, Fr. Mike continued onto his room and prepared to give Mass, hoping he could recite the sacred words without weeping. 


The two priests arrived at the McIntyre home shortly before 10:00.  They were greeted by a beaming Gladdy.

"Kyle actually ate a full breakfast this morning!  And showered and changed clothes!  Thank God!"

Fr. Mike and Bishop Tony smiled in response but couldn't fool the woman.

"What's wrong?  You both look... a little lost, to be honest."

Tony hugged his sister.

"We'll talk later, Gladdy.  I promise.  Right now, Mike and I need to speak with Kyle.  He's expecting us."

"Oh... okay." 

Alarmed but trusting her brother, Gladdy led the two men towards Kyle's room.

"Becca and Leo are both at work.  Should I call them?  Or Mac?"

"We'll ask Kyle when we speak to him and let you know," Tony promised.


Gladdy paused in front of her grandson's room and knocked.

"Kyle, sweetie, your Uncle Tony's here with Fr. Mike."

In only a moment, Kyle opened the door. 

To Tony and Mike, the boy still looked haggard and disheveled.  However, as his grandmother had reported, he had washed and was donning a crisp, new set of pajamas.

"Hi," he greeted shyly.  "Come in."

The two priests, wearing "street clothes" lest they trigger the boy, stepped inside.

Hopeful, Gladdy remained just outside the door. 

Kyle squeezed her hands.

"I'm okay, Gramma.  I'll... explain later."

Her eyes filling, Gladdy nodded.

"Okay."  She brushed at her eyes and smiled.  "Can I get any of you boys anything?  Tea?  Coffee?"

"Perhaps later, Gladdy," her brother replied.

Fr. Mike nodded.

"I'm fine for now.  But some tea later might be nice," he suggested, hoping it would give the woman something to focus on.

"Yeah.  Tea would be nice after we talk," Kyle echoed.

"Then I'll start getting some ready.  See you in a bit?"

"See you in a bit, Gramma."

Once Gladdy had reluctantly left, Kyle closed the door.

The three stood in silence for a few moments.

Bishop Tony began to cry.

"Kyle...  My... my poor Kyle."

The old man sunk onto a futon.

Weeping softly, Kyle sat beside his uncle who gently embraced him.

Looking on, Fr. Mike thought of his own nieces and nephews and of the Friends' children.  He relived the surge of pride and protectiveness he felt every time a sweet, helpless baby was placed in his arms.  He imagined Tony in the hospital, Becca handing him her newborn son.  No doubt Tony had made the same promise that Mike always found himself making: "I will do everything I can to protect you, little one."

But Tony hadn't been able to protect Kyle... not even in what should have been among the safest of places.

"I'm so sorry, my boy.  So very sorry," the bishop bemoaned.

"You didn't know..."

"I should have look... looked into it more.  Looked into every... every single priest who was there."

"He... he was new.  Hadn't... hadn't been there long."

"Just... so sorry."  Tony kissed the boy's mess of hair.  "I love you.  You know that, right?"

Head bowed, Kyle nodded.

"I love you, too, Uncle Tony."

"And I am so... so proud of you for... for telling Mike about what... what happened."

Kyle shrugged.

"I just... couldn't hold it in any more.  And... it was easier to write than... than say out loud."

Fr. Mike pulled a bean bag chair in front of the futon.

"I can understand that.  I'm very glad you felt you could tell me, Kyle."

"You seemed like... like you hadn't drunk the Kool-Aid, I guess," the youth explained.

"How do you mean?"

"I guess just that, on your blog, you admitted the Church isn't perfect.  You don't make excuses."  Kyle turned to his uncle.  "You don't, either.  But... it was easier telling a non-relative first."

Tony squeezed the boy's hand.

"I understand."

"So now... now what?" Kyle questioned.

"Well, that's part of why we wanted to see you, Kyle.  You get to choose what happens next.  Your uncle and I plan to go to the police.  If you'd like, you can come with us.  If you'd rather not, we can tell them that we've received a tip from an anonymous but reliable source," Fr. Mike offered.

"It... it would be better if I went, wouldn't it?"  Kyle looked back and forth between the two men.

"It's best to do what would be most healing for you, Kyle," Tony replied.

"But... he could do this to... to someone else."

Neither Tony nor Mike replied.  The answer was obvious.

"I'd... I'd have to go into detail.  About what happened..."  Kyle shuddered. 

"You don't have to," Fr. Mike assured.

"But it would be best if I did... best for the case."

"Yes," Fr. Mike answered as dispassionately as possible.  He didn't want to influence the kid.

"Do you think I could write it out first?"

"Yes, Kyle.  You could write it out first."  Tony sighed.  "I think... before you go... if you go... we need to talk to your parents and grandparents first."

Kyle's face flushed and he shook his head.

"I... I... not yet.  I don't... don't want them to... to know," he protested.

Fr. Mike patted his hand.

"I understand that, Kyle.  Then I think we should wait.  Once it's with the police, we won't know when it could make the news.  They'd keep your name out of it.  But your family..."

"They'd put it together.  Especially after my behavior..."  Tears slid down Kyle's cheeks.  "I... I didn't mean to hit Grandpa.  I was just so... so a-angry.  I'm still angry but..."

"You seem calmer.  Why do you think that is?" Fr. Mike gently coaxed.

Kyle was silent for a few moments.

"I think... because I told you.  And... I knew you were telling Uncle Tony.  So... so I knew I wasn't alone... knowing what happened.  Thinking about it.  Feeling... so... so angry a-and hurt."

"Do you think, maybe, you'll feel even better when your parents and grandparents know?"

Kyle met Fr. Mike's gaze.

"Maybe.  But I..."  He began to cry again.  "I... I don't want... my... my brother a-and sis-sisters to... to... know."

"Oh, Kyle..."

The bishop again embraced his nephew and began to softly sway.

"It... it's bad e-enough that... that... they got sent... sent to Aunt Karen's cause I... I was out... out of control.  I don't want them to... to know.  I don't want them to... to think I... I'm weak.  I... I'm their big br-brother.  Not... not supposed to... to be weak."

"Kyle, you are NOT weak.  Your uncle and I both meant what we said.  It was very, very brave of you to tell us about what that man did to you.  And the fact that you're even considering going to the police so others aren't harmed?  That's true strength, Kyle.  That's selflessness," Fr. Mike insisted.  "I haven't met your brother and sisters but your mom and grandma showed me a couple of the family photo albums and you know what I saw?  I saw a boy and two girls who idolize and love their big brother.  You know them.  I'm sure you know they're good kids.  They wouldn't let this change how they view you.  Because you did nothing... nothing wrong, Kyle.  You're not the one who deserves to feel shame.  He is.  He is the only one who did wrong."

Kyle wept quietly for several minutes, processing Fr. Mike's words.  When he spoke, both priests were startled by his wisdom.

"I... I didn't go to sleep right away after we... we chatted.  I... I got to thinking about... about God.  And... and how angry with Him I was.  I didn't know why... why He didn't stop it.  Why... why did he let that man... rape me?"

Bishop Tony clasped his eyes shut at the confirmation of what he already knew.

"Be with us, Lord," he prayed silently.  "Give us strength."

"Then... it hit me.  Maybe... maybe He had tried to stop him.  Maybe He'd urged a witness to come forward earlier.  Maybe He'd told another priest to... to not just pass what he heard off as rumor.  And... and they didn't listen.  And so... so it happened.  But now... now He's urging me... no... asking me to... to come forward.  And I... I don't want to.  But I also don't... don't want a-another person... to... to be... be laying there won-wondering why... why God is letting this happen to... to them?  And me... me knowing I... I could have stopped it.  I know it's... it's not my responsibility.  And I know... I know God wouldn't blame me if... if I didn't go.  But... He's asking me... me to.  And so..."

Kyle let out a deep breath.

"I'll go.  I... I have a great support system.  The next kid... he might not."

Tony looked with pride and love upon his nephew.

"Brave, brave boy," he praised.  "Thank you."

"Thanks for going with me.  You'll both go?" Kyle checked.

Mike and Tony both nodded.

"Good.  I... I'm going to start writing.  Can you see if my parents can come home for lunch?" Kyle requested.  "I'd like to... to get this over with as soon as possible."

"We will absolutely do that," Fr. Mike vowed. "Do you want one of us to stay with you while you write or..."

"I'd like to be by myself, please."

Tony patted Kyle on the back. 

"Then we'll go check on your grandma."

"She'll ask..."

"I can handle her.  Are you telling your parents at lunch?"


"She can wait until then," Tony assured.

"Okay.  Can you see if Grandpa can come?"

"I'm sure he can."  Tony bowed and kissed the boy's hair again.  "Come into the kitchen when you're ready?"


"We'll see you in a little bit, Kyle.  Yell if you need anything, okay?" Fr. Mike urged.


With that, the two priests left the young man to his statement.  Once the door was closed behind them, Tony sunk against a wall in the hall.

"My God..." he murmured. 

Fr. Mike rested a hand on his shoulder.

"He's an amazing kid.  But... how?  How could someone..."  For the first time since they'd entered Kyle's room, Fr. Mike felt he was losing control of his emotions.

"Evil.  Pure evil.  And, no, I don't mean some possessing demon.  I mean evil in the man's heart," the bishop growled under his breath.  "And that evil... I won't rest until it's plucked out of the priesthood and behind bars."

"I'll do everything I can to help you in that," Fr. Mike promised.

The bishop took the younger priest's hand in both of his. 

"Thank you, Mike.  I... I have a feeling that... that you'll be able to do what I can't."

Fr. Mike wondered at the man's enigmatic words but said nothing.  He followed Tony to the kitchen where they spent just over an hour trying to calm an agitated Gladdy.


It was well after 7:00 by the time Fr. Mike and Bishop Tony returned to the rectory.  The latter had been exhausted and, after a shower and quick sandwich, had collapsed into his bed.  Fr. Mike, however, had one more important task to carry out.  As he waited for the appointed time, he mentally reviewed the day.

Mac, Becca, and Leo had returned to the McIntyre residence for lunch with speed and without question.  Haltingly, Kyle had confided in them about being raped at his seminary.  Parents and grandparents had wept and clung to their son and grandson.  They'd promised him support and repeated how proud they were and how much they loved him. Only when Kyle had excused himself to get ready for the police station had the anger come out. 

Fr. Mike doubted the family's relationship with their Church would ever be fully repaired.  But he worried over Tony, especially.  The man had devoted his entire life to the Church and now it had harmed one of his own.  Yes, there was a chance that Blaine Wesson had never harmed anyone before.  But the reality of past revelations of Church cover-ups and hastily transferred problem priests made that doubtful.  But there would be time for finger-pointing later.

After the visit with his family, Kyle had gone with Mike and Tony to the police.  Becca and Gladdy had wanted to go but conceded when Kyle has assured them he was fine and preferred only the two priests go with him.  As soon as they'd gotten in Tony's car, the two men had realized Kyle had done this to protect his mother and grandmother.  The boy was a bundle of nerves.  Twice Tony had been forced to pull over so Kyle could vomit.  But he'd been determined to speak to the police. 

After three hours of waiting, Kyle had been returned to his uncle and Fr. Mike.  An officer had informed them that a couple of detectives had been dispatched to the seminary.  With a promise to keep them informed, the three had been dismissed. 

Kyle had requested they stop at a park before returning home.  For an hour, the three had shared in a quiet, peaceful walk.  He'd said little but seemed calmer.  The same could not be said for Tony.

After a dinner which Tony didn't eat much of, Fr. Mike had driven them both back home. 

And now it was 7:30.

Fr. Mike started up his laptop and soon found himself staring at JenniAnn and Andrew.

"Oh good!  You're there!  Hi, Fr. Mike!" JenniAnn greeted.

"Hey there.  It's so good to see you both.  Oh and... wow.  Lots of people there tonight."

"Hi, Fr. Mike!" a chorus of Friends shouted.

Fr. Mike waved back at them.

"How's Bible study going?" he checked.

"Pretty good," Andrew replied.  "But I think we've all been a little distracted... waiting to connect with you."

"I've been looking forward to it, too.  And I have some news but first..."  Fr. Mike motioned for Andrew to turn down the volume.

The angel of death nodded and did so.

"Are any of the kids in there?  I mean can they hear me?" the priest asked.

"Sy's the youngest person here," Andrew replied.  "Vincent and Isra are watching the kids.  Violeta's here."

"Okay.  Just... maybe someone should sit with Violeta," Fr. Mike suggested.

JenniAnn frowned.

"I'll go do that."

"Thanks.  Then you can turn the volume up, Andrew.  This could be difficult but I think you all need to know."

On the screen, Fr. Mike could make out JenniAnn approaching the young angel.  The girl had been sitting on a loveseat with Ivy and Sy.  JenniAnn seemed to easily coax her to a settee which they could share.

"Thanks, everyone, for letting me interrupt your Bible study."

"No interruption!" Shane called.  "We've all been anxious to hear how you're doing."

"We've been a little worried," Edward confided.  "We thought you might come around the farm more than you have."

"I'd hoped to.  And I'm fine.  Really.  In truth, if not for the circumstances behind my move, I might have thought of it as an actual sabbatical.  Bishop Tony is a great guy.  It's been wonderful being around him.  And the parish folks are great.  I miss everyone at St. Mary Magdalene's, of course.  But I've felt very welcomed.  There's been some... difficulty, though."

"What's wrong, Fr. Mike?" Ivy questioned, concern obvious on her face.  "Has the archbishop said anything more to you?"

"No.  No, I've not heard a word from him but...  I was recently messaged by someone on my blog.  A very credible person.  This young man... a seminarian... shared with me that... that he was assaulted while there."

"At... at the seminary?" Andrew cried.

Fr. Mike nodded.

"Yes.  The bishop and I have since spoken with this young man and gone to the police.  As I said, he's very credible.  I... I believe the assault happened."

"That poor boy..." Diana murmured.  "Is... is he okay?"

"He's very strong.  But, as you all know, the emotional scars don't just go away.  He's very nervous about next steps... hopefully an arrest and then a trial.  But he has a wonderful family for support.  The reason I felt I needed to tell you, though... and I ask you all to please keep this in confidence... is the accused priest is Archbishop Wesson's nephew."

Exclamations and whisperings erupted from Fr. Mike's laptop speaker. 

"I don't know when news might break.  I think it's safe to assume the archbishop will be notified when his nephew is arrested.  I don't know if my part in this will be exposed.  But if it is... I think it's also safe to assume that the archbishop's anger with me will only increase.  And since I'm no longer there... I was concerned he might lash out at anyone connected to me.  So... as much as it breaks my heart... I don't think St. Mary Magdalene's is a safe place for any of you right now.  I'm not suggesting the archbishop would do anything truly drastic.  But I think he's already proven he can be petty and hurtful."

"Yeah, he has," Violeta grumbled.  "He probably knew about this!  He's probably one of those guys that... that covers stuff like this up!"

"We don't know that," Fr. Mike reminded.  "But... it's possible, yes."

Andrew made eye contact with the priest via the screen.

"Thanks for the warning, Fr. Mike.  We'd all pretty well decided to stay away from St. Mary Mag's for a while... until you're back.  But I think this has eliminated any remaining doubts."

"Fr. Mike, do you think Violeta, Sy, and I have any reason to worry being at Fordham?" Ivy queried, worry still evident on her face.

The priest shook his head.

"No.  I don't think so.  Wesson's never been overly fond of Jesuits.  I doubt his influence is very strong there."

"Okay, thanks.  How... how are you doing with all of this?"

Fr. Mike sighed.

"It's always difficult to hear reports like this.  But it's not the first time I have.  Some of you might remember that St. Mary Magdalene's had a priest some time before me who... who abused children.  When the news broke, I was visited by some of those now-grown children.  I still have nightmares sometimes.  But that... that was also when I first met Joshua.  I've been revisiting memories of him a lot.  As always, he gives me comfort."

"I wish he was here now."  Emma looked up at the ceiling.  "Please..."

"He is here... and there.  But yes... I wish he was physically here, Emma," Fr. Mike agreed.  "In the meantime... I think praying together would really help me.  Could we do that?  Joshua's prayer?"

The Friends assented and began to join hands.  Nearest to the computer, Andrew and Shane rested their hands on the screen.  Smiling through tears, Fr. Mike pressed his hands over theirs and began to pray.

"'Our Father, who art in Heaven...'"



Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Joshua took another sip of his ginger ale and rubbed at his brow. 

"One more for the road," Mason requested, sliding his tumbler towards the bartender.

"I think you've had enough, buddy," the beleaguered, exhausted man replied. 

"You're not closing for another hour," Mason countered.  "Not like I'm driving.  Live right up the street."

Joshua shook his head when he realized Mason was pointing in the wrong direction.

"Mason, how about some orange juice or..."

The man laughed riotously and clapped Joshua hard on the back.

"Fine, fine.  Guess I'll listen to my roomie.  Make it a screwdriver."

"Not what I meant..." Joshua mumbled.  "Maybe without the vodka."

Mason grabbed Joshua's glass and took a sip then spit it out.

"Ginger ale?  Are you for real?"

Joshua took the glass back.  The last thing Rick, the bartender, needed was to have to mop up Mason's spittle. 

"Mason, I think we should head home.  You don't want to miss work again.  Won't your boss..."

"Get me my drink, man!" Mason shouted at Rick.

Rick hurriedly supplied it.

Mason took a sip then reeled around to face Joshua.

"You need to lay off.  You're not my mother.  And what do you care about my job?"

"I care about you, Mason."

A wicked gleam flickered in the drunk man's eyes.

"So you are into guys.  Sorry, man.  I'm only into chicks."

Joshua sighed. 

"It's not like that, Mason.  I mean that you're my friend and I care.  I wish you'd talk about..."

Mason glared at Joshua, gulped down the remainder of his drink, and stalked off towards a group of women.

Rick looked sympathetically at Joshua.

"Sorry, man.  People got to want to be helped."

"Yeah..."  Joshua watched Mason strike out with the women and was relieved when he ambled back.

"Let's head out.  What do I owe, Rick?"

After settling their tabs, Joshua and Mason left the bar, the former praying that they were headed home.  He followed Mason when he began to wander, thankfully in the right direction.

"So you born Jewish?" the drunken man asked after a few moments of silence.


"Cool.  Wish I'd been."

Joshua felt his chest tighten.  He knew Mason wasn't thinking of the rich culture or storied traditions.

"Catholic.  What a joke."

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Mason."

The man laughed darkly.

"You'd feel the same if you knew what I knew.  The whole thing's pretty twisted, anyway, when you really think about it.  God knocks up a fourteen year old.  Decades later, He just watches as that kid is brutalized.  God is great... right..."

Joshua's face flushed but he kept his cool.

"That's not the belief at all.  Mary consented to carrying Jesus.  She wanted him.  And he... he consented to his mission.  All of it.  Even the Crucifixion.  It was his plan."

Mason paused and stared at Joshua for a long moment.

Joshua prayed and willed all his love to Mason, hoping he would recognize him.

The man shrugged.

"What do you know?  You're Jewish."

Mason didn't say another word as the two continued towards their apartment. 

Joshua followed, tears trailing down his cheeks.


Roused from his sleep, Andrew felt the sheets rustle around him.  A moment later, he was shocked into full alertness by a sudden chill as JenniAnn sat up then left the bed.  Thinking she was only going to the bathroom, the angel remained as he was.  However, the squeak of a door wasn't followed by the usual click of the light switch or the closing of the door.

Sitting up, Andrew saw that the bathroom door was closed and there was no hint of light beneath it.  Rather, the door to Belle's nursery was open.  He stepped into his slippers and made his way to his daughter's room.  Leaning through the doorway, he was touched to see JenniAnn kneeling beside Belle's bed.  She was softly stroking the sleeping child's back and peering down at her. 

Andrew watched the tender scene for several moments before tip-toeing closer.  Once he was beside JenniAnn, he saw that silent tears were rolling down her cheeks.

JenniAnn wrapped her arms around him and, while still keeping her silent vigil, rested her cheek against his chest.

The two remained at Belle's side for a while longer before JenniAnn rose, took Andrew's hand, and escorted him back to their bedroom.  She quietly closed the door behind them.

"I'm sorry if I woke you up."

"It's okay, Laja.  Did Belle wake you up?"

JenniAnn shook her head as she got back into bed.

"No.  I... couldn't sleep.  And then I just wanted to see her.  She's so sweet... especially when she's sleeping."

Andrew chuckled.

"Yeah.  She's definitely developing a bit of a sassy side when she's awake, huh?"

JenniAnn gave him a half-hearted smile and nodded.

"Yeah.  That's a good thing, though.  She... she won't take anything from anyone.  Maybe... maybe it'll... it'll keep her... safe." 

When she bent forward with a sob, Andrew pulled her to him and softly rocked.

"Laja...  Hey, now..." 

"This... this is all just so... so mucked up."

"I know, Laja.  I know..."  Andrew buried his face in her hair.

"Did we make a mistake?  Maybe... maybe we shouldn't... shouldn't have baptized Belle Cath-Catholic?"

"Sweet Laja...  We didn't know."

JenniAnn pulled away and peered into the angel's eyes.

"Didn't we?  We... we knew about the scandals.  We knew... knew that we didn't agree with some of... of the teachings but... but..."

"But we did the best we could.  Laja, there's not a religion out there that we'd both completely agree with.  And, yes, the scandals are... are horrible and heart-breaking and... and devastating!  But we love Fr. Mike and..."

"And look what they did to Fr. Mike!  They allowed a crooked archbishop to cover up his nephew's crimes and remain in power only to throw an innocent under the bus!"

"Laja, we don't know that."

"Don't we?  Haven't we read the same story over and over?  I... I'm not sure I want my... our baby..."

"Laja..."  Andrew again held her close as renewed sobs wracked JenniAnn's body.  "We can leave if you want.  Or just take a break for a while, like we planned.  We could just be... Joshuan.  We have the Friends as our community of faith.  Or we could try somewhere else.  Even another Catholic Church.  Maybe Fordham's like Ivy..."

"I... I'm just so... so tired."

The note in JenniAnn's voice made Andrew feel queasy.  He'd seldom heard her sound like that: resigned, hopeless.

Andrew gently laid her down on her side of the bed then took his place beside her.  He brushed damp hair from her face.

"Tell me more about that?" he requested, willing all his love to her as he spoke.

JenniAnn drew in and let out a shuddering breath.

"I'm just so exhausted by... by it all.  It's been years of... of horror and then hope... thinking... thinking they'll make things better.  They'll wake up.  They'll make sweeping changes like... like allowing married priests and then there'd be a greater pool of candidates and more diverse viewpoints and women in the rectories...  But then it never, ever happens.  And we end up right... right back here.  And more children are hurt.  More people spiritually maimed...  And the rest of us just... feeling bad about our-ourselves and... and getting judged for... for our choices when we're... we're not hurting anyone!"

Tears pricked Andrew's own eyes as he listened to and saw his soul mate's anguish.  He ran a hand up and down her arm, hoping to soothe her even a little bit.

"But... but so much of... of me is so... Catholic.  The way I think about some things.  The books I read...  The music I listen to.  Would... would I have even imagined we were possible without their teaching about Mary and Joseph?  Whether they're right or wrong about the real Maryam and Yosef and their marriage... it... it did make me believe that you and I... we could have... have a life together.  And if I didn't have you..."

JenniAnn closed the space between them and kissed her beloved. 

"I wouldn't be here.  I... I don't know where I'd be.  But not here."

Andrew closed his eyes as she traced the outline of his face.

"They taught me to believe in angels."

Andrew opened his eyes and peered into JenniAnn's glistening ones.  He looked away only to follow her hand as she cupped the cross that hung around her neck.

"They taught me to love Jo-Joshua."

Andrew cradled JenniAnn as her sobs were renewed.  He whispered and hummed, trying to calm her.  Inside, however, he was constructing his own litany.

They had given her doubts... doubts about her feelings for him, doubts about her own worth as an asexual, as a woman.  They had spun her a myth of virginity that had left her feeling ashamed of her body for so long.  No, not all of them.  But enough of them that it had left a mark on her psyche.

JenniAnn wrested away just enough to look up at Andrew.

"I... I just hate this feeling of... of being in limbo."  She caressed his face.  "You're the head of the family.  Tell... tell me what to do?"

Andrew shook his head and brought her hand to his lips.

"No...  No, Laja.  We are the head of this family.  I... I'm not... I won't... tell you what to do.  And... and it breaks my heart that... that you're asking me."  Tears flooded down his cheeks and his pressed his forehead against hers.  "Please... please don't let the fight go out of you.  I love that about you.  I love you..."

"I love you, too."  JenniAnn brushed her lips against Andrew's then tucked her head beneath his chin and listened to his heartbeat.  She closed her eyes, letting the thump-thump-thump drown out the voices in her head.

But then the memory of the archbishop resurfaced.  The judgment in his eyes...  The snide tone in his voice...  His disingenuous prayer...

Then the image was replaced with one of Andrew.  He was wading through a crowd of people in her college's Commons... looking for her.  Around him, TV screens showed images of falling towers, the battered Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. 

In the wake of that day, Andrew, angel of death, had come looking for her.  That meant something.



"If you were human... do you think you could be a Catholic priest?"

As Andrew contemplated his reply, he found himself focusing on the silky feeling of JenniAnn's hair beneath his chin and the warmth of her body against his.  He remembered the night before her encounter with the archbishop... the night in his workshop.  There'd been nothing of lust about it... but there had been need.

"No... Laja..."  Andrew carefully pushed her away from him so they could make eye contact.  "I spent eons going back and forth between Heaven and Earth.  And I... I was happy, mostly, and I did well, mostly, for a long, long time.  But then... then I just... couldn't do it... not alone... any more.  And so God... He sent me you.  I believe that.  And if God doesn't expect His angels... who know Paradise... to embrace solitary lives en masse... I don't see why He'd expect it of humans... of priests.  There's a flaw in that, I think.  Not all priests should be married.  Not all angels should have anam caras.  But to say none should?"  He shook his head.  "No.  It's not a weakness to need someone else to help us through the rough times... and to celebrate the good times with us.  I think... I know... I would have still wanted that as a human... needed that."

JenniAnn nodded.

"I thought so."  She traced the collar of his T-shirt as she contemplated her next words.  "Andrew?"

"Yes, Laja?"

"I... I want to leave."

Andrew once again pulled her to him as she began to cry softly.

"Okay, Laja."

"Do you think Joshua will be upset?"

"Joshua would get upset if you stopped talking to him.  But I doubt you're planning that," he teased.

JenniAnn smiled.

"I don't think I would know how to.  Sometimes it's just, like, some weird running monologue to him."

Andrew chuckled.

"Something tells me he enjoys that."

"Hope so."

Andrew kissed her hair.

"Joshua will be fine, Laja."

"Good."  JenniAnn yawned.

"Try to get a little more sleep, okay?"


As JenniAnn dozed off again, Andrew remained awake, thinking about the days of Joshua's ministry. 

He had never intended for believing to be so hard...


True Grace

After breakfast, Fr. Mike and Bishop Tony made a return trip to see Kyle.  Their visit gave Gladdy a much needed break at her own home.

The three men sat in the McIntyres' living room, playing card games in companionable silence. 

Kyle had just won the first round of Go Fish when, instead of reshuffling the cards, he kept them in a neat stack and looked at the two priests.

"Could I ask you both something?"


"Of course."

"Do you... do you think God will be upset if I don't go back to seminary?  I thought maybe I could... to a different one... but I just..."  Kyle's voice cracked.  "I can't.  I... I think I'd always be looking over my shoulder.  Even... even setting foot in a church right now..."  He shook his head.

"No, Kyle.  I don't think God is the least bit upset with you," his uncle assured.  "The Church doesn't deserve you," he grumbled under his breath.

Fr. Mike's eyebrow arched slightly but he focused on the young man.

"God understands completely, Kyle.  I'm sure of that.  And you take your time.  You don't need to be in a church to be with God.  You also don't need to be in a church or even affiliated with a church to serve Him.  If that's something you still want to do eventually, you'll find a way."

"You think?"

"Sure.  I have some friends who, for various reasons, left the church or their family did before them.  They own a theatre and they use the shows there to reach out to people, to share God's love.  To me, that's priestly in the best sense of the word.  And actually..."  Fr. Mike turned to the bishop.  "I've been meaning to tell you...  Some of the paintings of Jesus that you have back at the rectory?  The one on the mountaintop with all the colors and the one by the willow tree?  Another friend of mine painted those.  His name is Owen.  He's gay.  He and his boyfriend struggle with the Church's stance on homosexuality but he hasn't let that keep him from sharing his faith, from helping others to visualize a God full of love for them."

Kyle smiled.

"Sounds like you have some pretty cool friends.  And the more... liberal leanings on your blog are starting to make even more sense."

Fr. Mike laughed.

"Yeah, you can't help becoming a little more expansive in your beliefs around them."

"I'd like to meet them sometime," Kyle ventured.

"I'm sure they'd love to meet you.  They probably have rehearsals underway for a show...  Jesus Christ Superstar, actually.  It's a tradition.  Maybe we can take a trip to Manhattan and pop in and say hi," Fr. Mike offered.  "I'll try to set something..."

The priest was interrupted by frantic knocking on the front door.

"I wonder who that could be?" Bishop Tony asked.

The color drained from Kyle's face.

"Do you think... the press?  Could someone have figured out that... that I'm the victim?"

Fr. Mike rose from his chair.

"I'll see who it is."

Peeking out the door's small window, Fr. Mike at first thought they'd fallen prey to a ring-and-run.  But then a slight figure stepped back from where she'd been pressed against the door.  In spite of her tear-streaked face and reddened eyes, Fr. Mike thought he recognized her from a photo resting on the McIntyres' mantle... a prom photo.


Fr. Mike unlocked and opened the door.

"Hi, can I help you?"

"Who are you?" the girl shot back.

"My name is Fr. Mike Solas.  I'm..."

Ana-Maria shouted and pushed Fr. Mike out of the way.

"Where is he?" she cried, grabbing the front of the priest's shirt.  "If you..."


The girl halted in her inquisition and turned to Kyle who was peeking out of the living room. 


From either side of the teenagers, Mike and Tony watched as they flew to each other.

"Ana-Maria... what... what are you doing here?"

"I... I heard... I...  Kyle..."

As Ana-Maria began to kiss her ex-boyfriend, the bishop waved Fr. Mike back into the living room, surrendering the entry to the teens.

"Well, I think that was about the best case scenario of who could have been at the door," he mused.

"I... yeah.  I guess.  But... why?  I thought Becca said Ana-Maria was going to NYU?"

"She is... or was.  I don't know.  If you could have seen the look on Kyle's face when he heard her, though..."  Tony smiled and shook his head before his aspect darkened.  "He... he gave her up.  He loved her and he gave her up.  A-and for what?"

Fr. Mike squeezed the older man's shoulder.  He didn't know how else to reply. 

Hand-in-hand, Kyle and Ana-Maria entered the living room.

"Fr. Mike, this is Ana-Maria Brughetti, my girlfriend.  Ana-Maria, remember that blog I used to tell you to read?  This is that Fr. Mike," Kyle introduced.

Blushing, Ana-Maria held her hand out to Fr. Mike.

"Hi, Father.  I'm sorry about before.  I just..."

"Turns out Ana-Maria has a cousin at the police station," Kyle explained, his voice tense.  "She told her about my report."

"She didn't mention any names.  I think she'd even forgotten that Kyle had gone into the seminary.  She was just freaked out because, well, cause her part of the family is uber-Catholic.  B-but when she said first year seminarian..."  Fresh tears welled in Ana-Maria's eyes.  "I... I just knew and when... when I saw you and you identified yourself as a priest and I... I didn't know you..."

Fr. Mike squeezed the girl's hand.

"I understand.  Don't give it another thought."

"Uncle Tony and Fr. Mike have been helping me.  Fr. Mike was actually the first person I told about... about..."  Kyle's voice trembled.  "What exactly did your cousin tell you?"

Ana-Maria choked back a sob.

"That a... a seminarian had come to the police station and... and reported that he'd been raped by... by a priest.  Is that..."

Kyle bowed his head and nodded then began to cry.

Ana-Maria took his hand and led him to the couch. 

"She shouldn't have told you," Kyle lamented.

"I know... but she did.  A-and I'm not sorry.  That's why I came here.  I just... I want to be here if... if you want me here."

"Your classes..."

"I can take a semester off.  Some kids take a whole year off."


"If you don't want me here, then just tell me that," Ana-Maria pressed.  "I... I can leave.  I've seen that you're being taken care of."  She waved to the two priests. 

Kyle was silent for a long moment.

"I... I don't want you to leave," he murmured.

"And I don't want to leave."

Kyle rested his head atop Ana-Maria's. 


The boy yawned.

"Are you tired?" Ana-Maria checked.  "Maybe you should take a nap?"

Kyle nodded.

"Yeah...  I didn't sleep very well last night."

"Okay.  Let's get you to bed."

Ana-Maria helped her boyfriend off the couch and Kyle turned to the two priests.

"Sorry.  But I'm suddenly really exhausted.  Can we talk more later?  Or tomorrow?"

"Of course.  You get some rest."  Tony affectionately mussed his nephew's hair. 

"Would you like us to wait around, Ana-Maria?" Fr. Mike offered.

Surprised by the question, the girl nodded.

"Yes, please.  I'll be back soon."

Silent, the bishop and priest watched the two leave, Ana-Maria's arm protectively around Kyle's waist.

"Now that... that is grace," Bishop Tony admired, his eyes welling. 

"She seems like a very strong young lady."

"Yes... and undoubtedly a very angry one."  Tony headed towards the kitchen.  "She's fond of chai.  I'm going to start some."

As he waited for either Ana-Maria or Tony to reappear, Fr. Mike re-examined the photographs around the room.  He found himself studying one image of the young couple in their graduation gowns.

"He's asleep."

Fr. Mike turned around to see Ana-Maria standing in the doorway.

"Where's Uncle Tony?"

"Fixing tea.  Chai."

Ana-Maria beamed.

"He remembered."

Fr. Mike nodded.

The teenager reclaimed her spot on the couch.

"He must be heartbroken... Uncle Tony, I mean.  I know Kyle is.  He... he always wanted to be just like his uncle.  And I... I knew that.  We've been friends since grade school.  And I've had a crush on Kyle since fifth grade.  I kept telling myself that, by the time it mattered, the Church would allow married priests.  A-and so... Kyle could be mine.  And God's."

The bishop returned with a tray. 

"Hey there, kiddo.  How's our boy?"

"Sleeping.  Out cold."

"Good.  Chai for you, my dear."  Tony handed Ana-Maria a cup.  "Mike, I wasn't sure what you'd want so brought out an assortment."

"Thanks, Tony."

Ana-Maria sipped her tea.

"Mmm...  You make a better chai latte than Starbucks, Uncle Tony."

The elder priest laughed.

"I'm not sure what makes it so special.  Just a little milk, a little sugar.  But I'm glad you like it."  He sat down across from the girl.  "How ya holding up, Ana-Maria?"

The girl shrugged.

"My head is still spinning.  My cousin actually messaged me last night but I didn't see it til this morning.  I got in my car as soon as I could and just... came here.  I still can't believe..."  She began to sob.

Grabbing a box of tissues, the bishop moved to sit beside her.

"I can't... just can't understand it.  Kyle... he... he's so good.  He loves me.  I... I know he loves me.  But he... he... wanted to be a priest... to... to serve God.  And because of that... this hap-happened to him.  Why... why didn't God protect him, Uncle Tony?"

"I don't know, sweetheart... I really don't.  I've been asking myself the same thing.  And going back... wondering if I should have done more to... to dissuade Kyle.  I told him the life of a priest... it's not easy.  And I told him about how truly ugly it can get.  But also... the beauty of... of giving your life to God, of teaching others about God, being with them in their most sacred moments.  Maybe if... if I'd left more of that out."

"Did you know that he... he told me that if I really didn't want him to go then... then I only had to say so?  But I... I didn't want to hold him back... keep him from... from his dream.  And now... now I wish I had.  Now I wish I'd screamed for him to... to stay with me.  I would never... never have hurt him like... like that," Ana-Maria cried.

Fr. Mike shook his head, troubled by the injustice of it all.  One man had committed evil... and three innocents blamed themselves.  No.  Not just one man...

"It's wrong... it's all wrong."


The younger priest looked to his elder.

"I... sorry.  I don't think I meant to say that out loud."

"But you did.  I'd love to hear what you mean," Tony prompted.

"It's just... listening to you both...  You shouldn't blame yourselves, second-guess yourselves.  All of it... it should be moot.  Kyle... he shouldn't have had to choose between the love of a woman and the love of his Church.  And Tony... you shouldn't have had to worry about Kyle being away.  Why... why do we send our would-be priests away?  Doctors, lawyers, teachers... if they want to be, they're educated in their communities, with their friends and family around.  Why are we educating priests in a place largely devoid of women when half the people they'll be ministering to are women?"

"Because crazy things happen when you leave women out of the decision-making process," Ana-Maria retorted, grimacing.  Then her expression softened.  "I can tell why Kyle liked to read your blog so much.  I should have.  And, I mean, I did every so often when he asked me to.  But it was... hard.  It just reminded me how much closer we were getting to... to good bye.  I... I think I could have been a really good priest's wife.  I would have led Bible studies and... and potlucks!  And volunteered at the school.  But... no."

Tony squeezed the girl's hand.

"You would have made a lovely priest's wife, my dear.  The Church would have been blessed to have you.  And if it works out... Kyle will still be blessed to have you.  Our loss, not his."

Ana-Maria blushed but was clearly pleased.

"I was kind of surprised you'd both asked about sticking around.  I just assumed you wouldn't leave a couple of teenagers alone in a house."

The bishop sighed.

"Ana-Maria, you're good kids.  At this point... I give you my blessing for whatever you want to do.  Go with God."

"Thank you, Uncle Tony."  Ana-Maria embraced him tightly.  "Do you think Becca and Leo might let me stay here?  I... I don't mean with Kyle.  I was thinking maybe I could bunk with little Mandy.  I've missed her so much.  And... I think my parents will be pretty angry once they know I'm not going back to NYU."

"You aren't?" Tony inquired.

Ana-Maria shook her head.

"No.  I just... I know I'd be distracted.  And I want to be with Kyle.  Especially if his case goes to trial.  But even when the news breaks.  That'll be hard for him."

"It will," his uncle agreed.  "I'll put in a good word for you with Becca and Leo."

"Thanks."  Ana-Maria briefly rested her head on the old man's shoulder then looked to Fr. Mike.  "Kyle mentioned that you're maybe taking him to Manhattan to meet some of your friends?"

Fr. Mike nodded.

"Well, as long as my superior grants me permission."

"Ha!" Tony scoffed.  "I'm so superior.  Of course you can go.  It'll give me a chance to catch up on some official business which I'm afraid I've let slide of late."

"Could I maybe go?" Ana-Maria requested.  "I'd love to meet the guy who does the art prints.  I'd admire them every time we went to visit Uncle Tony."

"Owen would love that.  Actually... let me go make arrangements right now while it's top of mind.  Any particular dates good or bad for you?"

"Not any more!"

"Then I'll see what I can come up with.  I'll be right back."

Fr. Mike moved to the kitchen where he could privately call JenniAnn.  To his relief, he heard gentle laughter trailing out from the room he'd left behind.


Friday, February 9th, 2018

The following evening, after Belle and Shelby had gone to bed, Andrew and JenniAnn congregated in Willowveil's TV room with Violeta, Max, and Rose.  They chatted as they drank warm butterbeer and watched the snow outside gently fall.

"Baby takes after their Daddy," Rose commented, her hands on her belly.  "Loves their butterbeer!"

"You can already feel them move?" Violeta excitedly asked.

Rose chuckled.

"Well... maybe not.  It's a little early according to what I've read.  But I like to think so."

"Well, if he or she does take to butterbeer, I'm sure Gramps over here will makes it whenever they like.  I predict it'll take no time at all before he or she has Andrew wrapped around their tiny finger," JenniAnn teased.  She set down the brush she'd been using on Violeta and patted the angel of death's cheek.

Andrew squeezed her hand.

"I seem to be easily wrap aroundable," he kidded.  "And not just by children."

JenniAnn blushed when he winked at her.

Laughing, Max shook his head then sighed.

"It's good to see you two like this.  You seem lighter than you have since..."

"Since that jerk archbishop," Violeta grumbled. 

JenniAnn refocused on the young angel and resumed speaking.

"I feel better just knowing that Fr. Mike will be back, even just for a visit.  It'll be so good to see him Monday.  And I'm anxious to meet the couple he's bringing along."

"Me too.  Do you, umm, think the guy is the one Fr. Mike called into Bible study about?" Max asked.

JenniAnn shrugged.

"I dunno.  The thought crossed my mind.  It would make sense to bring him to a JCS rehearsal, let him hang around with us.  And Fr. Mike specifically said the girl wants to meet Owen because she admires his work.  I do kinda wonder...  Maybe Fr. Mike has the Friends in mind as a sort of..."

"Back-up church?" Rose suggested.

JenniAnn nodded.

"Yeah.  I mean... it's kinda been that the whole time if you think about it," she pointed out.

"I'm not sure I even think of it as back-up," Max opined.  "It's more church to me than going to church.  I just... I feel like one in a sea of faces at church.  Except for Fr. Mike and Zeke, none of the preachers seem to know anything about me.  And, outside of our group, none of the churchgoers do, either.  And maybe that's my fault.  It's not like I put myself out there."

"We've gotten used to speaking our minds.  Everywhere else, I'm not sure what the reaction will be if I say something like 'Hey, I think non-Christians can go to Heaven' or even just the Jesus-this and Jesus-that.  He's not Jesus.  He's Joshua.  Or Yeshua.  He's not Greek."  Rose momentarily clutched her cross pendant.  "Even the paintings and stained glass windows weird me out sometimes.  I mean when did Thor die for our sins?"

"Before he got a contract with Marvel, I guess," Max joked, hugging his wife.

Rose laughed. 

"I remember the first time I saw a painting of Jesus, I had to ask who it was," Violeta recalled, scrunching up her nose.  "Joshua is much better looking than they make him out to be."

JenniAnn bowed her head and smiled.  Violeta remained convinced that Joshua was the most handsome man to ever walk the Earth... possibly excepting Hugh Jackman.

"I imagine the Apostles felt something like you all do," Andrew mused.  "Still tied to their old beliefs and their communities... but also apart.  And wanting others to join them but having to be patient."

"I think maybe that's the hardest part about walking away."  JenniAnn began to braid Violeta's long tresses, calmed by the repetition.  "What if we do all just end up in our cozy little circle of Friends?  Not much point in preaching to the choir.  It's not like I thought we'd run around yelling about how Jesus... who goes by Joshua... visited us and here's what he's been saying.  But when things did come up like, say, someone saying something homophobic, it was nice to be able to make an informed, hopefully powerful reply.  Maybe it didn't necessarily convince the person... but I like to think it gave them pause."

"Remember how Joshua sometimes asked the Apostles and other followers to remain quiet?" Andrew queried.

The others nodded.

"Maybe that's what he wants from us sometimes.  And then he'll send people who need to hear the truth to us.  Or put us in the path of those people... like with our time at the Chrysalis.  And the times in between... maybe he means for us to recharge, together.  Until he brings us to the next person or group of people in need.  I mean, when you think about it, that's what we angels have almost always done.  Barring a few cases in the Annunciations department, we don't typically go around telling random people about God.  We wait for those He tells us to speak to."

"That makes sense, Dad.  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense," Max averred.

JenniAnn beamed at Andrew.

"It does.  I'm so glad I non-married you."

Andrew laughed.

"I'm glad you non-married me, too."

"And I'm glad you non-married each other cause..."  Violeta hugged them both.  "I'd probably still be wandering around all stuffy-like otherwise."

"And on that note...  I think you two deserve some time alone together.  Violeta, you can hang out in our room.  Maybe watch Prisoner of Azkaban until Ivy gets back from her date?" Rose offered.

"Oooh!  Yes, please."

"Thanks, Rose.  Andrew and I have been looking for a chance to catch up with the Pearsons." 

Max tossed a tissue box at JenniAnn.

"Well, then you'll need those, Maja."

Laughing, JenniAnn sat the box on the couch.  "Definitely.  Well... g'night then."

A round of good nights and hugs commenced until Andrew and JenniAnn were left alone.

"Ice cream?" Andrew suggested hopefully.

JenniAnn grinned.

"Sure.  You get that and I'll get the show ready?"


With that, the two parted to prepare for their weekly-when-possible cry together.


Joshua divided his attention between Mason at the bar and the broken stool he was trying to mend for Rick.  It felt good to focus on a little carpentry work.  It took his mind off the fact that Mason was treating him like a pesky ghost. 

The man had spent most of the day sleeping off his previous night's hangover.  When he roused, Joshua had tried to get food and water into him only to be greeted with a grunt and rude gesture.  At least Mason hadn't protested when Joshua had accompanied him for the evening's carousal. 

The screech of metal against tile made Joshua cease in his efforts to remove a stripped screw from the bar stool.  Mason had pushed away from the bar and was staring at someone, fists clenched. 

The carpenter quickly assessed the situation: Renee was there and she wasn't alone.  Stepping away from his tools, Joshua moved towards Mason.

"Hey there, Mason.  How about you sit back down and I order us some onion rings?" Joshua offered hopefully.

Mason shook Joshua's hand from off his right arm.

"Whore," he spat out, still staring at Renee.

"Mason..."  Joshua sighed.  "Please don't use that word.  It's hurtful."

Mason finally faced Joshua and laughed.

"I didn't mean you."

"I know that but..."

Mason whipped back around in time to see the mystery man wrap his arm around Renee's waist.

With a speed that should have been impossible given his drunkenness, the man ran at Renee's guest and instantly had him pinned against a wall.

"Mason!  No!" Joshua shouted as the first punch landed on the left side of the man's face.

Renee screamed and, almost instantly, other patrons were in on the brawl. 

Mason kept pounding on the man despite the efforts of others to pull him away.

Joshua pressed through the group, trying to reach Mason.  When he finally did, he succeeded in yanking Mason away from the unfortunate man. 

Freed, the man took a shot at Mason, causing blood to spurt from his nose. 

Half-blinded, Mason yelled and moved to punch back at the man.  Joshua shifted, blocking the blow and taking it himself.

At once, Joshua felt woozy.  He began to fall.

"No!" Renee screamed.

Joshua could hear Rick in the background, yelling into the phone.  911 probably.

Arms locked around his chest.


"Jesus..." her companion... who Joshua knew to be her cousin... exclaimed. 

Renee sunk into a seated position, Joshua's head in her lap.

"Hey, hey there, Josh.  Are you okay?  Can you say something?" she begged.

Though his vision was blurry, Joshua saw Mason staring down at them, his face pale.

He also saw someone else standing behind Mason, grinning.  It was the same grin that Joshua had seen in the desert when he'd been exhausted and famished.

Painfully, Joshua shook his head.

"No... no.  Be still, Josh.  Be still," Renee cooed.

Sirens sounded and Joshua felt his eyes begin to flutter.  He wanted to go to sleep but he couldn't.  Not while he was there. 

Carefully, Joshua rose.  He stared down the figure behind Mason.

"Be gone, Satan!" he ordered in Aramaic.

The figure scowled then began to fade.

"What was that?" Renee's cousin questioned.

"I... I think you messed up his head!" Renee screamed at Mason.

Before anything more could be said, police officers trooped in and the brawlers were separated.  Joshua made no protest as he was led to a squad car, trusting in the Father to keep all of them safe.


Jack Pearson

Sitting together on a couch in Willowveil's TV room, Andrew and JenniAnn brushed away tears as the latest This Is Us episode ended. 

"I... I think they handled that..." JenniAnn paused to draw in a shaky breath.

"Well," Andrew finished for her.

JenniAnn squeezed his hand and nodded.

"Yeah.  I'm glad they didn't drag out Jack's death.  And I think it helped to watch these two episodes one right after the other."

Andrew chuckled.

"Being busy parents does have its perks beyond the obvious children, binge-watching being one of them."

"Yep.  It was hard, though.  I mean it's funny but..."

"But what?" the angel of death prompted.

"Well, okay, so... taken together, Jack and Rebecca kinda remind me of me and you.  I just mean... focused on their kids but still very connected.  And they don't get into drama for drama's sake.  When they're upset with each other, there are really good reasons.  And unlike so many of the couples on TV dramas today, there's not this constant teasing of adultery or abandonment.  They just seem like a real couple with a real level of good and bad in their relationship."

"Sure, I can see that," Andrew agreed.

"Cool.  But taken alone...  Jack reminds me a lot of..."

"Joshua," the two said at once.

JenniAnn giggled.

"So it's not just me...  I mean obviously Joshua doesn't have a drinking problem."

"And that's a good thing since he can turn water into wine."

JenniAnn giggled.

"Ack.  I hadn't even thought of that.  And Joshua doesn't, ya know..."

"Have sex?"

"Right.  And while Jack Pearson is only near-perfect and Joshua actually is perfect...  I dunno.  Between the carpentry and always knowing what to say and knowing just what those he loves need and the whole putting others before himself... even in the face of death..."  JenniAnn sighed.  "Gosh darn it.  I can't even properly crush on Milo Ventimiglia like the rest of the This Is Us viewing audience without you and Joshua intruding into my thoughts!"

Andrew laughed and pulled her to him.

"Well, for that I'm heartily sorry.  He is a fine looking man."

Smiling, JenniAnn snuggled nearer.

"He is but I'm not sorry.  You're pretty darn near perfect yourself... and quite nice to look at.  And Joshua... Joshua is everything."

"Yes.  He is."  Andrew kissed the top of the woman's head before resting his cheek against her hair and closing his eyes. 

JenniAnn yawned. 

"Remember when we used to stay up at all hours... waxing philosophical and discussing the cosmos?"

The weary angel smirked.

"I do.  I believe that was four kids ago."

"Well, three.  We managed with just Shelby."


"But now..."

"Now, I'm feeling very comfortable and sleeping on this couch is very tempting."

"Well, I'll leave you to it then," JenniAnn teased, making a move to stand.

"Uh uh.  You are not making me sleep alone after... that."  Andrew waved to the TV.

Even though JenniAnn knew Andrew was kidding, she shuddered at the thought.  This was a night to cuddle close and thank God no fire or accident or ailment could take her angel away from her.

"I don't think I could if I wanted to.  But let me run upstairs to tell Max and Rose that we're staying down here... if they're still awake.  And I forgot my phone."

"I can go if..."

JenniAnn cut Andrew off with a kiss.

"No, it's okay.  Really.  I'll be right back."

True to her word, JenniAnn returned within five minutes.  She placed her cell phone on the rug beneath the couch then settled beside Andrew.

"They were up.  I think they're in nesting mode.  They were on Amazon.  Anyway, they'll listen for Belle and Shelby."

"Good."  Andrew nuzzled JenniAnn's hair.  "G'night, Laja."

"G'night, my love."


Saturday, February 10th, 2018

JenniAnn felt like she'd only just fallen asleep when her cell phone rang.  Her eyes barely open, she groped for her phone and then winced at its bright screen with 3:33 AM emblazoned over a photo of Belle.

Startled awake by the possibility that an emergency waited on the other line, JenniAnn sat up and answered.  Behind her, Andrew stirred.


Andrew frowned when he looked over JenniAnn's shoulder and saw the unknown number.

"Hello.  This is the New York City Department of Corrections.  Will you accept a call from Jack Pearson?"

"Jack Pearson?" JenniAnn repeated, incredulous.  Why was a fictional TV character calling her?!  And a dead one at that!

"Yes, he's wanting to speak..."

JenniAnn didn't hear the rest of the words.  She was overcome as she recalled her conversion with Andrew.  Jack reminded her of Joshua...  Joshua who sometimes went by Jack.  He'd been Jack at the Panera, with Monica, all those years ago.

Worried, Andrew took the phone from a still frozen JenniAnn and put it on speaker.

"I'm sorry, who is this again?" the angel asked.

"I'm calling from the New York City Department of Corrections," the annoyed and tired sounding woman repeated.  "Will you accept a call from Jack Pearson or not?"

"Yes!" Andrew and JenniAnn cried at once.

"One moment."

It was a tense moment for the two as they listened to muted background noise until a clear voice spoke to them.

"Hi.  It's me."

Tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes as she heard the familiar, much-loved voice.

"Josh...  Jack, what... what are you doing there?" she questioned.  "Can... can we come get you?"

On the other side of the line, Joshua sighed.

"Actually, I was hoping you would.  Is Andrew..."

"I'm here."

"Great.  I'm at..."

JenniAnn again lost focus as Joshua rattled off the name of a Manhattan precinct and address to Andrew.  Joshua was at a jail...  Joshua was calling them in the middle of the night... not something selfless, thoughtful Joshua would do... unless he really needed to.

"Okay, we'll be there as soon as..."

"Don't rush, Andrew.  Be safe."

"Of course.  We'll, umm, see you soon."

"I love you!" JenniAnn cried upon rousing from her stupor.

"I love you, too, my girl.  And my boy, too."

Fresh tears welled in both Andrew's and JenniAnn's eyes when they heard the emotion in Joshua's choked voice.

"I... I love you," Andrew replied.  "We're coming."

"Thank you."

When the call was ended, the couple sprang into action.

"I'll start the car and meet you in the garage."  Andrew eyed JenniAnn's nightgown.  His flannel pants and T-shirt would suffice for the police station visit... but not her gown.  "You should go change. And wake up Max.  He should come with us."

"O-okay."  JenniAnn nodded then ran up the stairs.  She pounded on Max's and Rose's door.

"Maja..." a blinking, bed-headed Max greeted.  "What's wrong?"

"Joshua...  He... he called from a jail in Manhattan."

"What?!" Rose bellowed from the bed.

"We... we need to go get him.  Andrew wants you to come with, Max."

Rose joined her husband in the doorway.

"I'll stay and watch Belle and Shelby.  Are you bringing Joshua here?"

"I hope so.  I have to hurry and change.  I'll see you in the garage, Max."

With that, JenniAnn flew to her and Andrew's bedroom, stripping before she'd even fully closed the door.  She hurried into a pair of jeans and, not wanting to bother with fastening a bra, threw on one of Andrew's sweatshirts, slipped on some flats, and bolted to the garage with Max only a few paces ahead of her.

No sooner had the two jumped into the van and buckled their belts than Andrew drove to the portal... hoping the NYC traffic wouldn't keep them from Joshua.


Miraculously, the Jolly Green and its occupants had reached the precinct in only a few minutes.  Upon approaching, they realized parking was going to be another issue altogether.

"You two go in," Andrew directed as he pulled in front of the building.  "I'll come in after I find a parking spot."

"Okay!" JenniAnn readily agreed, already half out of the car.

Before Max slid out of the back seat, Andrew grabbed his hand.

"Don't let your mother out of your sight.  At least not til she's with Joshua."

"Got it." 

Max nodded and rushed after JenniAnn, taking her arm when she began to stumble up the steps.  He understood why his Dad had given him such an order.  His Maja was practically pulling him towards a desk, completely oblivious to the unsavory characters surrounding them.

"I...  I'm here.  We're here.  We received a call from Jack Pearson.  We're here to bring him home."

The man clucked his tongue.

"I've never understood it.  Cute little thing like you falls in with troublemakers like..."

JenniAnn blinked, too tired and worried to be offended.

"He... he's my father."

The man eyed the petite, light-skinned, blonde and cocked an eye brow.


Max shifted into his best soldier's posture and glared at the man.

"That's what my mother said.  Now where is Jack?"

Further flummoxed by the seemingly impossible pair in front of him, the guard sighed.

"Frank, bring them to interrogation room 3."

JenniAnn and Max bristled at the word "interrogation" but silently followed an elderly man down a dingy hall.

"Here you are," Frank mumbled, opening a door and waving them in.

JenniAnn broke down as soon as she caught sight of Joshua, sitting in a plastic chair and holding a bag of frozen peas to his brow.

"Wha... what happened?" she bawled as she knelt beside Joshua's chair.

Max moved to the carpenter's other side and took his free hand, giving it an affectionate squeeze.

Joshua sighed.

"I tried to break up a bar fight.  It didn't go so well," he confessed with a grin.

Joshua's attempt at humor only made JenniAnn feel more wretched.  The fact that she'd noticed blood around the rim of his nose and gotten a good look at the knot forming on his forehead didn't help.

Joshua rested a hand on the woman's head when she began to weep.

"There now.  I'm okay. You can take me home, if you'd like, and get me all patched up."

"Home?  To Willowveil?" Max checked.

Joshua nodded.

"I need somewhere to stay... for a while.  And I'd like to stay with you all."

"Of course," Max answered for JenniAnn who was still overcome.

"Where's Andrew?" Joshua asked, deliberately changing the subject.

"Looking for parking," Max explained.  "But if you're free to go, I can text him and tell him we'll be out front."

"I am.  Two of the other guys they dragged in convinced them I was only trying to settle things down.  I might have to come back and testify.  But, yes, I'm free to go."

"Then let's go," Max decided, wanting to get both Joshua and his Maja out of their grim surroundings. 

JenniAnn clung to Joshua's arm as they exited the room, her voice returning.

"I just put fresh sheets on your bed this morning.  And I found some really comfy seeming pajamas when I was out shopping last week.  I couldn't resist getting them.  I... I hope you like them."

"I know I will.  Thank you, JenniAnn.  Truly."

In the brighter light of the station's lobby, JenniAnn and Max could see how utterly haggard and sleepy Joshua looked.  The former had to stifle another sob.  She didn't want him to expend any more energy coddling her.  She'd never seen Joshua look quite so depleted.

The trio were only outside for a few moments when Andrew honked and pulled in front of the building.  Max moved to the passenger seat, leaving JenniAnn to sit with Joshua in the backseat.

The angel of death fought to mask his surprise and horror when he glimpsed his battered Boss.

"Joshua...  I'm so glad you called.  I'll get you home as soon as I can... safely."

Joshua smiled and reached forward to clasp Andrew's hand.

"Thank you.  I appreciate you coming to get me.  I... wanted to be with all of you."

"I'm sure you won't have to wait long!" Max replied with forced cheer.  "As soon as word gets out, you'll be inundated with Friends."

"I look..."  Joshua yawned.  "Forward to it."

JenniAnn leaned her head on his shoulder, letting out a ragged sigh when Joshua rested his own head on hers.

Andrew glanced in the rearview mirror, noting that Joshua had closed his eyes.  He'd likely be asleep by the time they reached Willowveil. 

Passing a storefront decked out with Valentine's decor, the angel of death smiled in spite of the night's worry and grief. 

He didn't know what Joshua was doing back among them and he didn't know what had brought him to such an exhausted, abused state.  But Andrew knew one thing: in the lead-up to Valentine's Day and beyond, Joshua would be showered with love, affection, tender care and, no doubt, an abundance of Froot Loops prepared by adoring little hands.  Whatever Joshua was facing, he wouldn't face it alone.

All would be well.



Upon their return to Willowveil, the four were greeted by Rose.  Gently but eagerly, she embraced Joshua.

"I'm so glad you're here, Joshua!  We've missed you so much but... we need to get you to bed!"

Joshua rewarded her kindness with a weary smile and kiss on the cheek.

"I've missed you all, too, Rose.  And, yes, bed sounds good... but after a quick shower."

"Of course.  Are you hungry?  Do you want a bite to eat?" JenniAnn offered as they headed towards the elevator.

Joshua shook his head.

"No food.  Maybe some ice water?"

"I'll go get it and bring it up!" Max shouted before running towards the kitchen.

The two women and Andrew escorted Joshua to his room.  As he started his shower, JenniAnn and Rose loaded up Andrew's arms with a towel, the promised comfy pajamas, a fluffy beige robe and more which he dutifully deposited in the bathroom. 

While Joshua was in the shower, a flurry of text messages were sent to the other Friends.  There were promises to get to Willowveil as soon as possible, a potluck breakfast was arranged, and Portia was on call to check in on Joshua when he awoke.

When Joshua emerged from his shower, he smiled at the four Friends gathered around.

"I'm fine.  Really.  You should all try to get some sleep.  I'm sure, by now, everyone's been summoned.  You should get some rest before everyone starts showing up.  Thank you, all of you, for taking care of me but..."

"But you got hit in the head," Andrew interrupted.  "So Rose has agreed to go back to bed for the baby's sake but..."

"You're stuck with the rest of us," JenniAnn added.

Joshua chuckled and nodded.

"Good point.  All right."  He embraced Rose.  "I'll see you in the morning... well, later this morning."

"I'm counting on it.  We've got quite a breakfast arranged.  But don't make yourself get up before you're ready.  It'll keep."

"I won't.  I promise.  G'night, Rose.  I love you."  Joshua set a hand on her stomach.  "And you, too."

"And we love you, Joshua."  Rose patted his hand then took Max's arm.

"I'm just gonna get little mama here settled in then I'll be right back," he promised.

"Okay.  Thanks, Max." 

When the younger couple were gone, Andrew and JenniAnn focused on Joshua.

"Let's get you settled in for what remains of the night," the latter prodded, taking his arm.

Andrew turned down the bed. 

"What made you change the bedding today, Laja?"

"Wishful thinking, I guess.  So glad it panned out." 

"Me too," Joshua murmured.  He groaned slightly as he stretched out.

Andrew and JenniAnn frowned.

"We asked Portia to come by tomorrow.  Check in on you," Andrew informed.

"I'm sure it's just exhaustion... but I appreciate that.  And I'll look forward to seeing her.  Everyone."  Joshua took the glass of water that JenniAnn held out to him and drank. 

"Better?" she checked.


"Do you need anything else?" Andrew offered.

"And don't pull the selfless card," JenniAnn warned.  "Please let us know."

Joshua took each of their hands and shook his head.

"No.  Just you."

"Okay.  We'll be right here," JenniAnn vowed.

"I'm sure you have lots of questions."

Andrew nodded. 

"But we can deal with those later.  Rest, Joshua."

"Okay.  Love you both.  G'night."

"Love you, too.  G'night," Andrew and JenniAnn echoed.

In no time at all, Joshua was sleeping deeply.

When Max returned, he found JenniAnn perched on the side of the bed while Andrew had pulled up a chair.  Quietly, he pulled another chair next to his dad's.

Soon, the two men realized that JenniAnn was softly crying.

"Laja?"  Andrew reached over to stroke her cheek.

"I... I just don't like seeing him like this is all," she whispered.  "And... and I can't help but think..."

"What is it, Maja?" Max encouraged.

"Everything going on with Fr. Mike and that poor young man... a-and now Joshua shows up with a literal black eye?  It... it has to be connected."  She gently brushed a lock of hair away from Joshua's injured eye.  "Do you know anything about why he's here?"

Andrew shook his head.

"No.  Nothing.  I was as shocked as you were when we got the call.  But the timing is... something."

"A coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous," Max quoted then peered at Joshua.  "Or maybe not quite so anonymous." 

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn smiled shakily at her son.  "I'm just glad he's here.  And maybe... maybe he'll stick around for a while.  Maybe Fr. Mike can even see him on Monday if he can't get away before.  That'd do them both a lot of good."

Andrew perked up.

"And the boy... if he is who we think he is, then hopefully meeting Joshua, even if he doesn't know who he is..."

"There's knowing without knowing," Max proffered.  "It could help even if he doesn't consciously recognize who is being kind to him."

"Yes, exactly."  JenniAnn smiled and brushed away her tears while trying to hide her yawn.

"Maybe you should try to get some rest, Laja," Andrew suggested.

"No, I'm fine."

Andrew smiled and squeezed her hand.

"I figured as much.  But thought I'd try."

"I know."  JenniAnn returned his smile before the three quietly resumed their watch.


Joshua awoke to find Diana and Zeke had replaced Andrew and Max.  JenniAnn, too, was gone.

"Lord!  You're up!  How are you feeling?" Zeke greeted.

Joshua sat up and smiled.

"Pretty good.  Better seeing you two."

"We were so thrilled when we got JenniAnn's text.  Well... not about the circumstances.  But glad you were here.  I missed you!"  Diana hugged Joshua tightly.

Joshua's patted her back and sighed.

"I missed you both, too.  Your turn, Zeke."

When his wife sat back down, Zeke eagerly accepted an embrace.

"What time is it?" Joshua asked.  "I can't tell at all."

Zeke briefly looked over to the windows.

"10:34.  It is hard to tell.  Dreary day."

"Wow.  I really did sleep in!"  Joshua moved to get up.

"And you can sleep some more if you want," Diana insisted, moving to push him back. 

Joshua shook his head.

"No, no.  I'm fine.  I'm sure others are waiting on me and I'm eager to see them.  And... I am feeling a little hungry."

Zeke chuckled.

"Good.  Because we have enough to feed an army down there.  We ended up with so much that I think it's lunch, too."

"The kids frosted doughnuts and dunked them in Froot Loops for you," Diana tantalized.

Joshua laughed.

"Well then how can I wait any longer?  Give me five minutes to get dressed and cleaned up?" he requested.

"Of course," Zeke agreed.  "We'll wait for you."

"Thank you."

Once Joshua was on his feet, he embraced the couple again.

"I really am so glad to be back here with all of you," he murmured, his eyes filling.

"The feeling is mutual," Zeke assured.

"A hundred times over," Diana added before stepping outside to give Joshua some privacy.

Joshua approached the windows and pushed back the curtains.  Zeke had been right.  It was dreary... but the pleasant sort of dreary that made one want to stay home, content to be tucked away with family and good food. 

"Thanks, Dad.  It feels so good to be back here but please... let me know when the time is right to go see Mason again.  I don't want him to feel abandoned... and... and I definitely don't want him to be influenced by our enemy.  But I also know that seeing me right now might bring him pain and embarrassment.  I don't want that.  Guide me, Dad.  Thank You, I love You.  Amen."

After entrusting Mason to his Father's care, Joshua went about his preparations, eager to soak up the love of all the assembled Friends and to share his love with them.


Enjoying his first full night's sleep since leaving St. Mary Magdalene's, Fr. Mike didn't see notice of Joshua's arrival until he woke shortly after 7:00.  He'd been prepared to make a dash to the Romanos' farm only to be told that Joshua was still asleep and, given he'd slept fitfully, there was reason to believe he'd be out for at least another hour or two.

It was for the best, Fr. Mike reckoned.  He was desperate to see Joshua but he'd made plans with Kyle.  The young man was heading over to the rectory, with Ana-Maria, to plan for Monday's trip into New York City. 

When Kyle and Ana-Maria arrived at 9:00 AM sharp, Bishop Tony escorted the two into the study where Fr. Mike was waiting with some tea and an array of treats that Dot and Randall had delivered from Willowveil.

"We weren't sure if you two would have had time to eat," Tony explained.  "And Mike's friends were very generous with us this morning.  Are they having a party at the farm, Mike?"

"Something like that," Fr. Mike replied, smiling as he imagined what the bishop would make of Willowveil... of all of Asteriana... or even the knowledge that he wasn't, strictly speaking, an earthling.  Setting aside his amusement, he turned his attention to their guests.  "Please sit down and help yourselves.  My friends didn't even know you two were coming.  I'm not sure how they thought just Tony and I were going to eat all of this."

"Those scones look amazing!" Ana-Maria chirped as she helped herself to one.  "Mmm... taste amazing, too."

"Now I'm regretting my bowl of Rice Chex," Kyle lamented.  "But maybe I can snack a bit."

"Or a lot," Tony invited. 

Once everyone had loaded up a plate, Fr. Mike turned towards Kyle.

"Kyle, there's something I feel like I need to tell you before we go on Monday."

"Oh?" the boy asked after taking a bite of cinnamon roll.

"Yeah.  You see..." Fr. Mike glanced at the bishop who nodded.  "I didn't choose to come here to Albany.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm very glad to be here and I thank God for allowing me to meet all three of you and the rest of your family.  But... I was removed from my parish."

Both Kyle and Ana-Maria visibly tensed.

"Fr. Mike did nothing wrong!" the older man hurried to explain, relieved when his pronouncement calmed the teens.  "Nothing at all.  Mike, please continue."

"Thanks.  Kyle, I was removed by Archbishop Francis Wesson," Fr. Mike gently related.

"Wesson..."  Kyle shook his head.  "He... how?"

"The archbishop is the uncle of the man who abused you, Kyle."  Tony sat down by his nephew and squeezed his hand.

"Does... does he know?" Kyle pressed.

"That's what we don't know," Fr. Mike answered.

"So... how did he justify booting you?" Ana-Maria queried.

Fr. Mike sighed.

"He didn't make too much of an effort.  But he accused me of violating Church law by giving Communion to a friend who, he believed, was having sex outside of marriage."

Kyle nearly choked on his tea.

"What!?  I'm sure that happens every day."

"It does," Tony verified.

"So then why..."  Kyle shook his head.

"He's my archbishop.  What he says goes.  I can challenge him, raise a defense.  And I would have but...  Because my friend isn't actually having sex outside of wedlock, it didn't even occur to me that she was who the archbishop meant.  So I couldn't warn her.  She went to Mass and... the archbishop refused to gives her the Eucharist.  He made a snide blessing over her, upsetting her and others of my friends."

Kyle scoffed. 

"Meanwhile, you know who is probably taking Communion, no questions asked?  The guy who raped me!"

Fr. Mike nodded sadly.

"I'm afraid that's all too possible.  I know this is upsetting, Kyle, and I wouldn't have told you except... I had to call my friends and tell them to stay away from St. Mary Magdalene's, my parish where the archbishop has taken over.  I'm sure that, by now, he knows that an accusation was made against his nephew.  I was afraid that if it got out that I was involved in your coming forward... the archbishop might lash out further against my friends.  So I had to tell them that I was present when a young man came forward with his story.  I didn't identify you, Kyle.  I wouldn't do that.  And I would have figured out another way to warn them entirely but it didn't even occur to me that you might want to visit them."

"I do want to visit them," Kyle insisted.  "Even more now.  They've been wronged, too.  Not in the same way... but maybe we can figure some things out together."

Fr. Mike beamed at the mature youth.

"I really hope so.  I just want you to be aware that they may make the connection between you and the accuser."

Kyle nodded, considering the likelihood.  He conferred with Ana-Maria in whispers for a few moments before turning back to Fr. Mike.

"Could you tell them?  I think I would feel more comfortable knowing they know as opposed to wondering if they assume it.  If they're as cool as you say they are, I know they won't ask stupid questions or make assumptions."

"Are you sure, Kyle?" the bishop checked.

"Yeah.  Besides, I've been thinking... I have a pretty good reputation around here."  Kyle smiled.  "At least I hope I do."

Ana-Maria squeezed him.

"You do.  Remember, you were dubbed 'Most Likely to Save the World' by our high school class."

Kyle chuckled. 

"I remember.  But I don't know about that..."

"But you were the one who stood up against the bullies when Carly transitioned during sophomore year and nearly everyone was giving her a hard time."  Ana-Maria blushed.  "I felt so sorry for her but I didn't have the guts.  You did.  And you spoke up when you found out that our leftover school lunches were getting tossed and not donated.  People remember those things.  Everyone loves you."

"I agree.  I'm always so proud when people stop me after Mass to tell me what a fine gentleman you are, Kyle."  Tony swiped at some tears and smiled.  "So proud."

"Thank you.  Both of you.  Then... that's all the more reason to do what I've been thinking about.  Once my report is made public a-and once Wesson is, hopefully, arrested... I want to go public.  I want to make this as real, as impossible to push under a rug as possible.  If... if people want to discredit the accuser, I want them to do it to my face.  So... telling your friends won't make much difference, Fr. Mike.  They could find out eventually, anyway," Kyle concluded.

"If you're sure..."

Kyle took Ana-Maria's right hand in both of his and nodded.

"I'm very sure."

The bishop put his arm around his nephew's shoulders.

"You're a braver man than I am, Kyle.  And, once again, you make me so very proud."

"Thanks, Uncle Tony.  It's like I said before... I have a great support system.  It'll be easier for me than others.  And I... I have a feeling that there are others.  I want to do this for them... for myself, yes... but for them, too."  Kyle frowned.  "My only regret is that I know it'll make things harder for you, Uncle Tony.  People will call here... reporters, concerned parishioners, maybe even people who are blindly obedient to the Church and will be angered by what I have to say."

"I'll deal with it, Kyle.  Don't you worry about..."

"I know you'll deal with it.  And I know you wanted to catch up on some work but... I think you should come with us on Monday.  I think it'll be good for us all... get us in the right headspace before all hell breaks loose."

Fr. Mike seized upon the idea, realizing that would likely mean not only Kyle and Ana-Maria but also Tony could meet Joshua.

"Tony, I think that's a great idea.  Think of it as a one day sabbatical.  God knows you deserve that."

"Peer pressure, Uncle Tony!  You can't resist us!" Ana-Maria teased.

"Ha!"  The old man crossed his hands over his chest and stared the girl down.  "In what reality are we peers, my dear?"

Ana-Maria giggled.

"Okay, so maybe we'll call it 'people pressure.'  Just... c'mon, Uncle Tony.  Please!"

"Please!" Kyle echoed.

"Please!" a grinning Fr. Mike added to the chorus.

"Oh, fine.  You all win.  The paperwork can wait.  I'd love to accompany you all to Manhattan."

Fr. Mike beamed.

"I'm so glad, Tony.  Trust me, you won't regret it.  I'm going to tell my friends now."

Fr. Mike withdrew his phone and typed out a message to JenniAnn, asking her to pass the update along to Joshua.  He hoped the news of Tony's visit would give Joshua some added cheer.

Once the message was sent, the quartet resumed their plans for their visit.


After enjoying a delicious breakfast and being swarmed by giddy, effusively affectionate Friends; Joshua returned to his room where Portia was determined to do a brief exam.  For the sake of lowering the group's anxiety, Joshua happily complied.

"Okay, one more deep breath, please," the doctor requested as she moved her stethoscope.

Joshua inhaled and exhaled deeply.

"Good.  Well, your lungs sound good.  And you don't have a temperature...  But JenniAnn mentioned that you were restless at points during the night.  Are you in any pain?"

"Around my eye is still a little tender.  And a little bit of the every day aches and pains.  I mean I am quite old," Joshua kidded.

Portia laughed.

"Of course.  So nothing out of the ordinary?"

Joshua shook his head.

"I really think it's only that I haven't been sleeping.  My roommate... he required a lot of supervision."

"Ah...  And this is the roommate who..."  Portia gestured at Joshua's eye.

"Yeah.  But he didn't mean to.  I mean... he meant to hit."  Joshua frowned.  "But not me."

"You know, if you were just a normal patient, we'd be having a talk about toxic relationships right now."  Portia sighed.  "But I can't very well tell God Himself to stay away from harmful people, huh?"

Joshua smiled and squeezed her hand.

"You can.  I just won't listen."

"And I suppose I wouldn't have you listen.  Nonetheless, I'm glad you're here now.  You're fully God, sure.  But seems to me the other part of that is 'fully human.'  You can't let your human body get rundown."

"I know.  That's why I called JenniAnn."

Portia handed Joshua his shirt and beamed.

"And we're all very glad you did.  Vincent was even going to cancel classes so we could be here... until he realized it was Saturday."

Joshua chuckled.

"I appreciate the thought in any case.  So what's the verdict, doc?"

"Exhaustion.  Just like you said.  So I'm prescribing lots of rest and relaxation, plenty of fluids and good food... and I don't have any doubt you'll be well fed and hydrated while here."

"Definitely.  Well, if we're done here then I think I'm going to go see Andrew in his workshop."

Portia shot the carpenter a look.

Joshua held up his arms in surrender.

"Just to talk!  I promise I won't do any work... today at least."

Portia smiled and hugged him.

"Good.  I can understand the work being therapeutic but, yeah, not today.  Andrew could use a talk, though."

"It'll do us both good.  And after that... it's storytime with the kids.  Is Persephone sticking around?"

"Not even a question.  I think she might be spending the night actually.  I would, too, but..."

Joshua's face softened.


Portia nodded, her eyes misting.

"He's been talking to your mom... a lot.  Especially since that mini-stroke last month.  We're all... preparing."

Joshua again embraced the doctor.

Portia let out a deep breath and rested her head on Joshua's shoulder.

"I'm not sure I'm ready... not ready to be without Father just because he's, ya know, Father.  But also... to be the doctor."

"When the time comes, you'll fulfill the role beautifully, Portia.  I have faith in you."

Portia pulled away and smiled.

"Faith?  Or knowledge?"

"Faith.  Live feed is down as always.  But my faith tends not to be misplaced.  I'm kinda, ya know, infallible."

Portia laughed and brushed away her tears.

"Thanks.  I needed that... the laugh and the faith."

"You're welcome.  And thank you for checking in on me, Portia.  Now you go get yourself some food.  As a wise woman recently imparted to me, us caregivers have to take care of ourselves."  Joshua winked.

Again laughing, Portia nodded.

"I'll do that.  Bundle up.  It's cold out there.  I'm not leaving quite yet so hopefully I'll see you when you get back from talking with Andrew?"

"Sure thing."  Joshua kissed her cheek.  "Have some fun, Portia."

"That I definitely will.  When I came in, Owen and Graham were down there bickering like an old married couple about whether a throw pillow JenniAnn bought was more green or more blue.  The debate was getting pretty animated.  They were going to ask you but Vincent told them that was cheating."

Joshua erupted with laughter.

"It is.  And I'm not telling."

"Why do they bicker so much, anyway?" Portia questioned.  "I mean... if you can tell."

"They bicker because they can.  They're both ornery as they come.  Others might find that exhausting or grating.  But not them.  To them it's fun and they know that, no matter if they never reach a consensus, at the end of the day they still love each other and always will."


"Yep.  Now you better go weigh in."

"Maybe I'll tell them it's purple just to see how they react."

Joshua chuckled.

"You do that.  And now..."  Joshua donned the coat that JenniAnn kept there for him.  "I'm off to see an AOD."

"And I'm off to participate in the turquoise war."

Both laughing, Joshua escorted Portia down to the main floor of Willowveil where they parted.


Among Other Things

"Come in!" Andrew shouted in response to the knock on his shop door.

"Hey there," Joshua greeted as he showed himself in.

"Joshua!  Are you okay to..."

"I have a clean bill of health from Portia.  It was just exhaustion and I've promised to eat, drink, and be calmly merry."

"Good!"  Andrew smiled and hugged the man.  "I'm sure that's a relief to everyone.  Sure is to me."

"Thanks.  So what are you up to in here?"  Joshua surveyed the shop.

Andrew shrugged.

"Just finishing up a few orders.  Nothing too strenuous.  Really I just..."

"Needed some quiet?" Joshua suggested.

Andrew blushed.

"There's no shame in that, Andrew.  I need some quiet time myself, sometimes.  As much as you love your friends, it's a lot when they all show up.  Especially when you and JenniAnn could really do with some alone time.  I hope you know that, just because I'm here, that doesn't mean you need to be here."

The angel nodded.

"Yeah, I do.  JenniAnn, Max, and I would have stayed in your room longer... watching over you.  But when everyone showed up... taking turns seemed the most fair.  So I know we could take some time... but I also know JenniAnn loves having you with us.  She gets to have me around week in and week out."

"And she wouldn't have it any other way," Joshua reminded.

"Yeah..."  Andrew smiled fondly as he thought of her.

"You know... I know about what happened here last weekend.  With you and JenniAnn.  My live feed was already down but Dad told me."

Andrew's face again flushed.

Joshua laughed and patted him on the back.

"He told me because He knew I needed some cheer.  Andrew, you know that it brings me joy when you and JenniAnn... when all those who I've joined together... find solace in each other.  And you needed solace.  I'm sorry that the assignment was so difficult for you.  Truly.  But you were the best angel for the job."

"Because of her?"

Joshua nodded.

Andrew sighed.

"And I know that.  It was just... wrenching at the time.  And it seemed especially cruel that, right after that, the archbishop did what he did to Laja."

"I know, Andrew.  I know."  Joshua led the angel to a bench and sat down beside him, a hand on his back.  "That wasn't my will or Dad's will."

"I know but..."

"Go on, Andrew.  Please."

"Even knowing that you're on our side... it's hard whenever there's this reminder that I... I set JenniAnn apart... from some of her friends, some of her family... and now from her religion."

"Andrew...  JenniAnn was questioning aspects of Catholicism before she even met you.  And you and I both know that when the reports came out of Boston, her faith in the Catholic Church was shaken.  Deeply.  If not for her love for Fr. Mike... she wouldn't have kept going to Mass."

"But... she goes for you," Andrew protested.

"She worships because of me.  And she can worship me anywhere."

"And the traditions..."

"Many of which you both have already incorporated into your services with the Friends and in Willowveil's chapel."

"True."  Andrew nodded.  "And she does sometimes say she's 'Catholic among other things.'"

Joshua laughed.

"Which she took from Hellboy."

Andrew cocked his head.

"Really?  I don't remember that line."

"She certainly does.  And, yes, Professor Broom says it.  I've always liked it because, if asked, I might very truthfully say that I'm Jewish... among other things." 

Andrew smiled.

"It does make sense.  Seems like a lot of humans have an aspect of 'among other things' about them.  And, I suppose, the Friends will always have that."

"Yep," Joshua assented.  "Belle among them."

"Yeah...  JenniAnn's second-guessing if we should have baptized her Catholic."

"Belle's baptism is a prime example of what I'm getting at actually.  Fr. Mike was the presider and there were certainly lots of Roman Catholic elements... but you also added some elements of your own, had some Jewish influence, and it didn't even take place in a Catholic church.  JenniAnn was never going to fit neatly into Roman Catholicism.  You didn't set her apart from it, Andrew.  You helped her adapt it... to take what helps her deepen her faith and her relationship with Dad, the Spirit, and me.  Don't get me wrong.  It bothers me when people ignore the parts of my teaching that are just plain difficult.  But that's not what you're doing.  Andrew, there are aspects of Church teaching that are, however unintentionally, hostile towards JenniAnn.  That grieves me deeply because the same can be said for so many, many people.  Like here's a prime example...  In a pastoral letter on marriage, the U.S. bishops quoted the Book of Tobias: 'You said, ―It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like himself.  Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose.  Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.'  Now, barring the reference to 'wife,' that sounds kind of like a prayer you and JenniAnn might pray, right?"

"Sure," Andrew agreed.

"Yet if our JenniAnn would go onto read that letter, she would struggle to find herself anywhere else.  And, to some extent, that's to be expected.  Because it's about marriage and JenniAnn is unmarried.  But it's deeper than that.  The Catholic Church has great empathy for those who have sex within marriage and yet are unable to conceive.  But it has a real blind spot regarding people who are asexual.  For them, the only union that counts is one that is open to the conception of children.  And JenniAnn isn't.  Not because she doesn't want children.  That's clearly not the case."  Joshua smiled as he waved towards a family portrait on Andrew's work bench.  "But for someone like her, it would be an unwanted experience."

Andrew shuddered.

Joshua patted his back.

"It's not the same for all asexuals.  There are some who are married and freely decide to make love with their spouses and I rejoice in that.  But that's not all of them."

"When JenniAnn was in college...  it was before... well, the bird talk."

Andrew and Joshua both smiled as they recalled a younger JenniAnn's impassioned, avian-themed coming out on Valentine's 2010.

"Anyway, I wondered.  I wasn't positive until she told me.  And I'd worry... she was surrounded by all that Catholic teaching and I knew she felt some of it was wrong about things like divorce, homosexuality, and other stuff.  But there was a lot she agreed with.  Deeply.  And sometimes I wasn't entirely sure where she fell on some issues.  So..."

"So you worried?" Joshua encouraged.

The angel of death nodded.

"What if... if she met someone?  And even if he understood her and accepted her... there's her Church telling her that marriage needs to be procreative.  And what if she had... just because she felt she was obligated?  How much could that have screwed her up?" a rueful Andrew questioned.

Joshua hugged him.

"Thankfully, we never had to find out.  Because you were there.  But that was frightening, wasn't it?  You've watched the Catholic Church grow from my earliest followers, believing despite the threat of death, to this world-wide power.  And for all its dedication to showing my love to the world, you knew that darker elements had snuck in.  And you were worried that those elements... they might snare the woman you loved."

Andrew brushed at his tears and nodded.

Joshua sighed.

"You were right to worry.  She wouldn't have been the first to sacrifice her well-being to adherence to Church law."  He shook his head.  "And that's not unique to Catholicism.  We only have to think of what Kylie went through during her first marriage."

"I... I see it a lot."

Joshua kissed the angel's bowed head.

"I know you do, Andrew.  And I thank you for your dedication and compassion... even when your heart is breaking."

Andrew squeezed Joshua's hand.

"You're welcome.  As difficult as it is... it's an honor."

Joshua beamed at his angel then gazed out the nearest window.  A ray of sun was beginning to peek through the clouds.  As he continued to admire it, he heard his Father's voice.  A smile broke across his face.

"Andrew... a church is meant to be a place to hear my teachings, to bask in my and the Father's love and share it with others, to draw sustenance and encouragement so you can go out and share my love with others both in and outside the church.  It shouldn't make people anxious or distrustful.  When it becomes that... maybe it's time to try something new."

The angel perked up.


Joshua chuckled.

"Well, new and very old.  Could I borrow your sketchbook and pencil?"

"Umm, sure."

Andrew retrieved the items from his work table and brought them to Joshua.


"Thanks!  I need to write a letter to Reuel... and then I'm going to ask you to deliver it, please."



Joshua squeezed Andrew's hand and grinned up at him before beginning to write.


Sunday, February 11th, 2018

After a day filled with joyful reunions and contented companionship, the Friends had retired for the night.  While some had returned home, others crashed at Willowveil, wherever they could find space.

Despite Portia's good report, a handful of the Friends had insisted on keeping close watch over their injured savior.  Knowing space was at a premium, Joshua had made no argument.

Scattered around the room in sleeping bags and on air mattresses; Edward and Zadie, Caleb and Lacey, and Peter and Emma slept.  The latter had snuck into the room after Joshua had gone to sleep, knowing that he would have surrendered his bed if he'd known she was there. 

It was Emma, sleeping lightly in her third trimester, who awoke to the sounds of Joshua tossing and turning.  Carefully, she wiggled away from Peter and approached the bed.

"Shh...  It's okay," she cooed to the still sleeping carpenter. 

Joshua grimaced in his sleep.

With a frown, Emma sat on the edge of his bed and began to softly sing.

"'My soul and my spirit rejoice for now, my own, you are here.
The Mighty One has done great things, best of all brought you near.
My little one, my precious one, to you these promises I make:
I will love you in the daytime, in the nighttime, in the morn as you wake.'"

Joshua calmed for a few moments, his body still.

Relieved, Emma smiled and began to lift herself off the bed when Joshua gasped.

Turning back around, Emma saw that he was awake.  For a moment, he seemed confused then relief washed over his face.


Emma sunk back onto the bed and hugged Joshua.

"It sounded like you were having quite the nightmare," she whispered.  "I wanted to check on you."

"But how..."

Joshua looked over her shoulder and saw Peter on the half-empty air mattress.

"Emma...  Were you sleeping on that?"

The woman smiled and shrugged.


"I could have taken the air mattress!  I'm not seven months pregnant."

"It's perfectly comfortable."

"Yeah, but getting up from it..."

"Okay, you have a point.  But what's done is done.  I'm more concerned about you."  Emma rested a hand on Joshua's forehead.  "You're not feverish, thank God."

Joshua chuckled quietly.

"Yes, thank me."

Emma rolled her eyes and pressed on.

"Were you having a nightmare?"

"I think so... but I can't remember what it was about.  Still..."  Joshua raised his hand.

Emma's concern grew when she saw it was shaking.

"I think some spiced milk would help," Joshua decided.  "You can take my bed... unless you'd care to join me?"

"I would love some spiced milk.  Should we leave a note if anyone wakes up?"

Joshua shook his head.

"They'll just figure you got up to satisfy a craving and I went with you."

Emma stifled a laugh.

"Good point.  Peter's gotten used to that."

Quietly, the two exited the room and made their way to the kitchen.  They halted when they found Andrew and JenniAnn were already there.

"Hey there," Joshua greeted.  "Seems Emma and I aren't the only ones up and about for a midnight..."  Stepping further into the kitchen, Joshua could better see the couple and noticed that JenniAnn had been crying.  "What's going on?  JenniAnn, are you all right?"

JenniAnn walked over to Joshua and hugged him.

"Andrew... I'm getting freaked out," Emma admitted.

The angel of death held up his cell phone. 

"Laja and I got texts from Fr. Mike.  We were trying to decide what to do about them."

"Is Mike all right?  Has something happened in Albany?" Joshua questioned as he escorted JenniAnn back to her chair.

"Fr. Mike is safe.  And... and nothing happened in Albany but..."  JenniAnn was cut off by a sob.

"Bishop Tony was visited by a couple of the police officers in the parish, just a few minutes ago," Andrew informed.  "It was a courtesy visit.  They'd learned that when officers went to arrest Blaine Wesson, they were told he was at a retreat in New Hampshire.  So a couple more officers were sent to collect him there... except he wasn't there.  The police kept it quiet for a few days, not wanting to tip Wesson off.  But since they haven't had any success in finding him, tomorrow they're putting word out.  Kyle doesn't know yet."

"But he will by morning," JenniAnn lamented.  "That poor boy..."

With Andrew's words, flashes of Joshua's nightmare had returned to him... Blaine looming over Kyle, the police bursting into the disgraceful priest's room only to find it empty, the frantic search of the retreat center, Tony collapsing onto a couch in his living room as he'd been told the news.

"Your nightmare..." Emma realized.

Joshua nodded and gratefully sat in the chair Andrew had pulled out for him.

"I'm going to start the spiced milk," Emma murmured.

"Thank you, dear one."  Joshua gave the pregnant woman a wan smile before turning back to Andrew.  "Did Mike say any more about how Tony is handling it?"

"Not well.  He's very angry.  And he's worried that Kyle will blame himself.  But it seems like Wesson left for his retreat the same day Kyle ran away.  So he was likely in the wind before Kyle had even had a chance to tell anyone trustworthy."

"Do you think the archbishop will know where his nephew is?" JenniAnn asked hopefully. 

Joshua shrugged.

"It's hard to say and Dad isn't telling me either way.  But he'll definitely be questioned.  The hard truth is the Wesson family is very wealthy.  Blaine has the means to disappear and stay disappeared."

"But lots of other very well-off criminals have been found out," Emma encouraged.  "And now that his disappearance will be public, maybe someone will spot him."

"I hope so."  Joshua bowed his head, silently praying that between humans and angels, the man's escape from justice wouldn't last long.  The publicity would help... but there was one person it could send into a spiral. 

Andrew, who had also been praying, looked up when Joshua gripped his hand.

"Andrew, will you please go with me later?  I need to go back to the apartment where I was staying.  If he'll see me, I need to talk to my roommate."

"Of course," the angel vowed.  "I'll go whenever you're ready."

"Thank you."

"I hope that helps you," JenniAnn wished.  "And just remember, you'll get to see both Bishop Tony and Kyle on Monday.  And Kyle's girlfriend, too."

"Ana-Maria," Joshua filled in, smiling as he thought of her.

"Right.  Pretty name.  Maria and Marie go well with so many names," JenniAnn mused.  "Amber-Marie, Ada-Marie, Ana-Maria..."

"Ana-Maria is named for my Ama and Amma," Joshua related.

Seizing the opportunity to keep Joshua focused on happier topics, the three friends peppered him with questions about the trio they were soon to meet.  By the time Emma had served up the spiced milk, Joshua's mood had brightened.


Nestled between his mother and Ana-Maria, Kyle sat in stunned silence as his uncle passed along the unfortunate news of Blaine Wesson's escape.

Tears pooled in the young man's eyes and he shook his head.

"But how... how does a person just... disappear?"

"I don't know, Kyle.  I'm so sorry," Tony apologized.

"I... I should have spoken up sooner," Kyle muttered.

Tony shook his head.

"It likely wouldn't have mattered, my boy.  He left the seminary the same day you did.  You wouldn't have even gotten home by the time he was gone.  And... and you couldn't have been expected to tell someone at the seminary.  How could you trust them?"

"I could have gone to the police there."

"Kyle..." Becca cooed.  "You went to the police when you were able to.  Your recovery is more important than..."

"But what if he hurts someone else, Mom?  What if... if they never find him and he... he spends decades hurting..."  Kyle began to sob.

Ana-Maria and Becca enfolded him in their arms, weeping with him.

"There are a bunch of woods around there," Mac recalled.  "He could be hiding out there.  I say we gather a group and, if he's there, we root him out."

"Good idea," Leo agreed, rising to his feet.

Tony held a hand out, halting him.

"The police are out there.  Right now, we all need to stay here and support Kyle."

"But I feel so useless," Leo confessed under his breath.

Tony hugged his nephew-in-law.

"So do I.  But we're not."

Mac drew nearer with Gladdy just behind him.

Tony pulled all three into a group hug.

"If Kyle is still determined to go public, we all need to be here for him... not out running through the woods in search of a man who probably isn't there.  If this man is anything like his uncle, he wouldn't last a day in those woods before he'd be wandering back into town, whining for prime rib and red wine."

In spite of their anger, the others smirked.

"I think we might be pleasantly surprised by how soon he's found.  This will be all over the media.  These stories always are.  We need to use that to our advantage.  The cops certainly will be.  And the interview Kyle has scheduled for tomorrow evening will help immensely."

"And you're still going to be there for that?" Mac checked.

The bishop gave a ready nod.


"Tony... are you prepared for the potential backlash?" Gladdy questioned.  "I mean... there are still plenty 'my Church, right or wrong' people out there."

"They're a dwindling minority.  I can handle them."  Tony looked over at Kyle, still in the embrace of his mother and girlfriend.  "I'd want to do this even if Kyle wasn't my nephew.  This... it's bigger than Kyle.  All of this... it has to stop.  We're in a battle for the continued existence of the Catholic Church.  I truly believe that.  And as ashamed of it as I am right now... it still means a great deal to a great many people.  And I believe God still has a plan for it.  People need to see that not every bishop is turning a blind eye.  Some of us will bring the whole thing crashing down around us if that's the only way to bring it back to the home that Christ meant it to be."

Gladdy cupped her brother's face.

"I understand that, Tony.  Just... don't let it crush you."

Tony smiled tenderly at his sister.

"I won't.  It's a funny thing, Gladdy.  Like all of you... when I heard what happened to Kyle... I was angry at God.  For letting it happen... for not letting me prevent it... for not telling me earlier.  But, gradually, that anger gave way to a sort of... sympathy.  As upset as we all are, God must feel it more.  It's His Church more than it is ours.  And Kyle... he's His boy even more than he is ours.  And that sorry excuse for a man... he's God's son, too.  We feel no love for him.  But God does.  And so... how much more difficult must this be for him?"  Tony reached into his pocket and withdrew the cross that Fr. Mike had given him.  "Mike gave this to me the morning he told me about Kyle.  I've been carrying it with me ever since.  It reminds me that... that as brutal and humiliating and awful as the Crucifixion was... God brought something beautiful from it.  I feel like... like He can do that again.  For us.  For Kyle."

"I truly hope so," Mac prayed.

"I believe He will.  I slept pretty fitfully after the police left the rectory.  But I had a dream...  It was the darnedest thing.  I... I think I saw Jesus Christ Himself."  Tony chuckled quietly.  "He was wearing modern clothes.  A sweater and jeans.  He looked... he actually looked a lot like the fellow in those paintings I'm so fond of.  I was sitting with him and he smiled at me and I felt so... loved.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out this perfect little wooden praying mantis.  You remember why I've always been fond of those, Gladdy?"

The old woman smiled and nodded.

"When Tony was just a boy, he was heartbroken when our old hound died.  He shared the sad news at school and some batty old nun told him that animals don't go to Heaven.  Poor kid was crushed and went running out of the school.  And what do you suppose he saw, first thing, on the sidewalk outside?"

Mac grinned.

"A praying mantis."

Tony beamed.

"They're actually pretty horrid little things, decapitating their mates.  But imagine...  I'd never seen one just out and about like that.  And here I am, mourning my dog and of all the things... all the creatures I might have seen... a praying mantis.  That nun was only repeating what was Church teaching at the time.  But I feel like God was telling me that Church teaching isn't everything.  He is.  And my dream... it reminded me of that.  God was there for me when the Church wasn't.  And He'll be here for us now."

Kyle, who had been listening to the story, rose from the couch and rested a hand on his uncle's shoulder.

Turning around, Tony embraced his nephew.

"We'll get through this, my boy.  You'll get through this.  He'll see us through."

"I... I believe that, Uncle Tony.  I do."

Encouraged by the young man's faith and hope, the rest of the family gathered in close for another group hug.


"Lovely Mass, Father.  I adored the homily."

"Thank you so much.  I'm glad you liked it."

"Give our best to the bishop, please!"

"Of course.  He's sorry he couldn't be here today."

"Fr. Mike, can we sing that last song more often?  It's my favorite."

"I'll put in a good word for it!  It's one of my favorites, too."

One by one and huddled together in groups, the parishioners exited St. Bregwin's with high praise for their new associate pastor. 

Despite his growing fondness for them, Fr. Mike was beginning to tire.  It had been obvious that he should cover all the morning Masses.  Tony was needed by his family.  But ever since St. Mary Magdalene's had gone to only two Sunday morning Masses five years back, Mike had fallen out of practice with three Masses.  He also hadn't slept very well after the officers' late night visit.  Thankfully, when Fr. Mike surveyed the line coming out of the church, he noted that it was only around twenty people deep.  One of those people caught his attention...

At the very end of the line, a man in a dark blue hoodie and torn jeans shuffled along.  His face was almost entirely obscured by the hood.  Putting his curiosity aside, Fr. Mike refocused on the parishioners in front of him.

"We're so glad you came to Albany!  You just have to come over for dinner some night."

"Of course, I'd love to.  Thank you!"

"The kids loved your visit to the school with Bishop Tony.  He may need to watch out!  They might have a new favorite."

"Oh... I don't know about that.  But it was wonderful to see them.  I'm looking forward to visiting again this week."

"Hey, Fr. Mike!  Settle a bet for us.  Your last name.  Solas...  What is that?  Italian?  Greek?"

Fr. Mike chuckled.

"It's... Irish?"

"Huh.  Irish..."

After several more lighthearted exchanges and offers of dinner, the line had at last come to an end and only the hooded man remained.

"Hello there!" Fr. Mike greeted.  "Thanks for joining us this morning."

"My pleasure," the man answered.

Fr. Mike cocked his head with interest.  The voice sounded familiar but somehow not...

"So... have you been to St. Bregwin's before?"

"In a manner of speaking.  I tend to come on All Saint's Day."

"Ah.  Well... that sounds like an interesting tradition."

"I think so."

"Great.  So..."

"Could you go to the confessional, Father?" the man requested.  "I'd like to make a confession."

"Oh...  Umm... sure.  I'll just..."  Fr. Mike waved towards the church doors.  "Please step back inside."

The mystery man did so and scurried into the parishioner's side of the confessional.

Curious and growing more than a little alarmed, Fr. Mike took his seat on the other side.  He said the usual blessing and then waited.

"And... what would you like to confess?" he gently prodded after several moments of silence.

"Well... it's not a sin.  I know I was right.  But there was this one time that I got really angry and said some harsh things about a local politician and his wife."

Fr. Mike gaped at the screened window.  The vaguely Middle-Eastern accent had fallen away from the man's voice.  He sounded very familiar.

"I might have called them vipers..." the visitor continued.  "I guess you could say I really lost my head."

The priest groaned.

"John... Is that you?"


"That's not funny, John."

The immediate response was a round of chuckling followed by a typically ornery response.

"Well, it's my head so I think I get to be the judge of that."

"Okay...  It's kind of funny."

Fr. Mike threw open the confessional door and stepped outside to find himself face to face with the Baptist.


Fr. Mike instantly pulled the man towards him.

"Hey there, Mike.  So did I have you fooled?"

The priest laughed and nodded.

"I couldn't figure out what you were angling for out there."  He waved to the vestibule and churchyard beyond.  "You looked a little ominous in that hood."

"Yeah.  Originally, I had another idea.  I was going to grab your arm and hiss 'Mike... I am your Everlasting Father's cousin' in my best Darth Vader voice but I just couldn't keep it together.  That's when I decided I needed the confessional to hide behind."

"Well, I'm just glad you're here.  But what was that voice?"

"My old voice... in English, of course."

"Ah...  That makes sense.  I thought I heard some Middle Eastern influence."  Fr. Mike sighed happily and squeezed the man's hands.  "Can you stay for a while?  I was just about to make some lunch over at the rectory."

"Sure.  I'm staying on for... a longish while.  After we catch up, I'm going to see if Dot and Randall can put me up."

"I'm sure they'll jump at the chance.  I wish you could stay at the rectory but..."

John shook his head.

"No worries.  You'll have enough going on without worrying about a houseguest."

"You know about... everything?"

John's face clouded and he nodded.

"I do."

"Does Joshua know you're here?"

"Define 'know.'"

"Ah.  So he knows you're here... he just doesn't know he knows."

"Right.  But... I was hoping maybe I could tag-along for your trip into Manhattan tomorrow?"

Fr. Mike grinned.

"Of course!  That would be great."

"If you want, I'd be more than happy to swing by St. Mary Magdalene's.  I don't know... maybe appear to the archbishop with my head in my hands... scream 'Viper!' a few times..."  John playfully bumped into the priest.

Fr. Mike broke out into laughter.

"Yikes.  You know I'm not fond of the man... especially not now... but that's a step too far.  He'd probably call in an exorcist to boot."

"True... But a man can dream."

Fr. Mike chuckled and shook his head before clapping his visitor on the back.

"I really am so glad you're here.  The bishop... Tony... he's a great guy."

"But he has a lot on his plate.  You're devoting a lot of energy to supporting him.  Someone needs to be around to support you, Mike.  I know this hasn't been easy."

"No... it's not.  It... it'll be good to have an old friend with me."

"A very old friend," John jested.

Fr. Mike smiled.

"Old enough that I think I might just make my famous boxty for him."

John's eyes lit up as he eagerly followed the priest into the rectory.


Since Zeke was scheduled to preach, most of the Friends had turned up at First Baptist Church for Sunday worship.  Afterwards, they made their way back to Willowveil for lunch.

"So any chance we can get a transcript of that sermon and, I dunno, shove it under the rectory door at St. Mary Mag's?" Owen asked with a grin as he passed a salad bowl to Zeke.

"I could make that happen," the man replied with a chuckle.  "Although I'm afraid, from your reports, the archbishop might just try to use it himself... completely oblivious to the fact that he's one of the modern-day Pharisees I wrote it about."

"I'm very glad I wasn't there last Sunday," Salma interjected.  "I'm not sure I would have been able to control myself."

"I've been wondering if those of us who were there would have been able to had the kids not been there," Arthur mused.

"I think the archbishop should count himself lucky that Andrew's an angel.  I have to wonder what his reaction may have been were he one of us mere mortals."  Owen sighed.  "It was all I could do not to get into it with him.  Poor Psyche was mortified enough without being the impetus of a brawl."

Salma craned her neck to look over to where JenniAnn was helping Kemara with the twins... and keeping Belle from being overly helpful.

"Where is Andrew, anyway?  Did he go with Joshua to... wherever Joshua went?"

"Yes," Zeke answered.  "After we left church, Joshua told me he and Andrew were going to check in on the guy Joshua was staying with before..."

"Before he gave him a black eye?" Salma asked, shocked.  "But... is that safe?"

"I'm sure Joshua and Andrew can keep each other safe.  And I don't think Joshua would have brought Andrew if he thought it would be dangerous for him," Arthur counseled.

"True..."  Salma frowned, still unsure. 

Owen hugged her shoulders.

"They'll be fine.  So how goes it in El-Chanan?"

Brightening at the change in topic, Salma happily reported on goings-on in her adopted home... including the prior day's arrival of Andrew and a mysterious message from Joshua to Reuel.


Loaded down with samples from the Friends' smorgasbord, Joshua and Andrew made their way to Mason's apartment.  When they arrived, Andrew could tell his boss was nervous.

"Are you afraid this could go badly?" the angel of death asked.

Joshua shook his head.

"No.  I'm afraid he won't be here.  And then we'll have to start searching bars."

"You're sure he's not still in jail?"

"Not absolutely sure.  But mostly sure."

Joshua set the box he was carrying down on the hallway carpet and knocked.

"Who is it?" a male voice called.

"Hi.  My name is Josh and..."

Andrew and Joshua could hear the deadbolt unlocking and the chain slide.  A moment later, Renee flung open the door.

"Josh!" she cried, throwing her arms around him.  When she pulled back, she gently touched his temple.  "It... it looks a little better.  Did you get that checked out?"

Joshua nodded and squeezed her hand.

"Hi, Renee.  I did, yes.  A doctor gave me a clean bill of health.  In a day or two, you won't even be able to tell anything happened."  Joshua smiled then directed his attention to the man standing behind Renee.  "Hi there."

"Hey.  Roger.  I'm Renee's cousin.  I, uh, think that was meant for me."  He waved to Joshua's eye then held out his hand. 

Joshua shook Roger's hand and shrugged.

"Well, looks like you have more than your share of bruises.  I'll go ahead and keep this one," he joked before gesturing to Andrew.  "This is my friend and colleague, Andrew."

After another round of greetings, Andrew and Joshua set their parcels down on the table.

"I wanted to check in on Mason and thought I'd bring some lunch while I was at it," Joshua explained.

Renee and Roger exchanged a look.

"So... how's he doing?" Joshua prodded.

"He, umm...  He's sleeping," Renee answered.

Roger scoffed.

"More like passed out," he mumbled. 

Joshua frowned.

"Still drinking?"

"Yeah..."  Renee's eyes filled.  "I was really hoping that the night in jail would be a wake-up call."

"Shoulda been longer.  I wish you hadn't talked me into dropping the charges," Roger lamented.

"Being stuck there wasn't doing him any good!" Renee protested.

"And being here is?  At least I wouldn't have had to worry about you if he was still locked up!"

"He's never hurt me!"

"No... just attacked your cousin... and his own roommate!"  Roger gesticulated to Joshua.

Renee began to cry.

Joshua set a hand on the man's shoulder.

"I can sympathize.  I have cousins who I'm very protective of.  They're more like siblings than cousins."

Roger nodded.

"Yeah.  Renee was over a lot when we were kids.  So she's definitely more like a little sister than anything."  He approached his cousin and hugged her.  "I'm sorry.  I just... I worry."

"I... I know."

Andrew looked up from the food he was unloading.

"Have either of you had lunch yet?"

Roger shook his head.

"No.  Not much to eat around here.  I wanted Renee to do a food run but she wouldn't leave Mason... and I wasn't about to leave her alone with him."

"Well then... how about we have some lunch together?" Joshua suggested.  "Things will seem at least a bit better with a full stomach, huh?"

The cousins readily agreed and, once lunch was delved out, were silent for a few minutes, focused on their food.

Andrew shot Joshua a questioning look.  While he hadn't opened the refrigerator, a quick perusal of the counter and opened cupboards revealed a scarcity of food.

"Maybe before Andrew and I leave, Roger could do a grocery run?" Joshua suggested. 

"Sounds like a good idea," Roger agreed.

Renee looked doubtful.

"So... are you coming back?" she asked, eying Joshua.

"I'm staying with Andrew and his family right now and..."  Joshua glanced at Mason's closed bedroom door.  "I think I should stay with them.  But I want to keep up on my half of the rent so he doesn't have to scramble to find a new roommate.  And I would like to speak with Mason... when he's ready."

Renee took another bite of her pasta salad and nodded.

"I think he'd like that.  He does feel really bad... about what happened, I mean.  At the bar.  He said he didn't mean to hit you.  And he only hit Roger because, well, he thought I was hooking up with him."  Renee's nose wrinkled.  "But I'd only brought him because I wanted to keep an eye on Mason and... well, I didn't want to get hit on."

"I don't care what he thought," Roger protested.  "The guy clearly has anger issues and that's why I wish you would leave.  You deserve better, Renee."

"But I..."

"Love him.  I know, I know..."  Roger opened his mouth to continue but thought better of it.  He turned his attention to Joshua.  "I'll check on him before you leave.  Maybe he'll be in a state to see you."

"Thanks, I appreciate that."  Joshua reached into his pocket and withdrew a card.  "Either way, I'll be spending a lot of time here.  Feel free to stop by.  Call ahead and, if someone answers, they'll let you know if I'm there or not.  And they can get me a message, too."

Andrew spied the St. Genesius logo on the card Joshua was offering to Renee.

"Thanks!  Ooh... a theatre!  You're an actor?"

Joshua chuckled.

"Only sometimes.  This time around, I'm just assisting with odd jobs."

"Wait... isn't that the theatre that does Jesus Christ Superstar every year?" Roger questioned.

"Yep," Joshua assented.

"Cool!  Were you ever in that?" Renee pressed, now much more interested in Joshua than in her lunch.

"I was, yeah."

"Who did you play?"

Andrew smiled to himself.

"I was Jesus.  Andrew here directed."

"Jesus!" Renee exclaimed.  "That's so cool!  But... wasn't that weird for you?  I mean... you're Jewish."

Joshua grinned.

"Jesus was Jewish."

"Well, yeah...  I guess I just mean that Jewish people don't believe in Jesus," Renee continued.

"For the most part, no.  But some people hold to the Jewish traditions and believe Jesus was the Messiah," Joshua pointed out.  "Like my parents."

"Interesting.  So you were raised to believe both?"  Roger asked with interest.

"More or less."

"I was raised Catholic.  Roger, too.  He's stuck with it."  Renee sighed.  "I just..."  She shrugged.  "I still believe in most of it.  But I stopped going to Mass."

"After she met Mason," Roger grumbled.

Renee glared at him.

"I have my reasons.  And so does he.  Very good ones.  Actually, just this morning I saw on the news that a priest accused of rape flew the coop."

Andrew and Joshua exchanged a quick glance.

Roger looked at her in surprise.

"Really?  Here in the city?"

"No.  He ran off from somewhere in New Hampshire.  But he was accused by a kid in Albany.  I can't remember the creep's name.  Westin?  Westley?"

Suddenly, Mason's bedroom door flew open, affirming what the carpenter had suspected: Mason was awake and listening.

"Wesson?" he asked, his voice cracking.

Renee gaped at him.

"Y-yeah...  I... I think maybe.  Is that..."

Mason ran back into his room.  Joshua could see him clamoring for his phone.  He rose from the table and stood in Mason's doorway.

After a few moments, a dazed Mason set his phone down.

"He... he did it again," he murmured. 

"I'm sorry, Mason," Joshua apologized, taking a step closer.

Mason stared at his former roommate with blurry eyes.

"You know?"

Joshua chose his words carefully.

"After you came home from work so upset... I saw the flyer from St. Richard's.  I knew Wesson had been there.  I know... about him."

Mason cocked his head.

"Did he... hurt you?"

Joshua bowed his head, unsure how to reply.  Yes, Wesson had.  Deeply.  But not in the way Mason was thinking of.

"Not directly," Joshua replied.  "But he hurt people who I care about very, very much."

"He's a monster," Mason spat out.

Renee moved to stand beside Joshua.

"Mason, I'm so sorry.  I had no idea he was the one who..."

The man interrupted with a hoarse laugh.

"There are certainly enough of them out there that you wouldn't know it was him."

"Mason, why don't you come out into the other room and have some lunch?  We can talk more after you've gotten some food into you," Joshua suggested.  "Or we don't have to talk about it."

Mason shrugged.

"Whatever.  Cat's out of the bag now."  He shuffled into the main room and stared at Andrew.  "Who are you?"

"This is my friend, Andrew," Joshua explained.  "I'm staying with him and his family right now."

Mason gave a slight wince.

"I'm glad you had a place to go.  I'm sorry about your eye and... everything."

"I know."  Joshua pulled a chair out for Mason.


Roger looked to the other man with new sympathy.

"Mason, I'm sorry.  I never realized..."

"I told Renee not to tell."

"She didn't.  She kept her word," Roger averred.

"Well, thanks to my outburst, now we all know.  I was raped by a priest!" Mason proclaimed, his voice harsh.  "Praise to Jesus!"

"Mason..."  Renee set a hand on his arm.  "Please don't..."

Her paramour sighed and fresh tears welled in his eyes.

"I'm sorry.  I don't mean to be cruel."  He looked from Renee to Roger.  "I just... I can't believe in a loving God who allows that to happen in his alleged house.  I can't."

"It's okay, Mason.  Here, try this soup," Joshua offered.  "It's really good.  And homemade bread."

Andrew watched, his eyes wet, as Joshua broke a chunk of bread off a loaf and handed it to the distressed man.

Mason hungrily took a bite.  For a moment, pure pleasure replaced his weary scowl.

"That's petty good," he mumbled, mouth full.

"Andrew and Joshua brought us enough for leftovers tonight," Roger explained.  "But I think, now that you're up and around, I'll do a grocery run.  Be back soon."

"Thanks, Roger."  Renee rose and hugged her cousin.

"Thanks, Roger," Mason echoed, giving the man a wave.

"I'll see you out."  Joshua rose and followed Roger into the hallway then handed him a wad of cash.  "It's a full month's rent... and a little extra for groceries."

Roger opened his mouth to protest but Joshua continued.

"Take it.  But please keep it on your person.  I don't want Mason getting it and..."

"Drinking it?"

Joshua nodded.

"I will.  I'd, uh, pitch in more myself but... money's a little tight right now," Roger confessed.

Joshua patted the man's shoulder, knowing he'd been laid off a month before.  While he didn't doubt that Roger would have moved in simply to protect his cousin, Joshua also knew it was keeping Roger off Renee's or his mother's couch.

"You're giving your time.  That's much more valuable than money, Roger.  I'm sure Renee appreciates having you here."

"Hope so.  Well, I better go.  I'll see you when I get back?"

"Definitely.  I promise Andrew and I won't leave until you're back."

"Thanks.  He seems less... volatile today.  Even with everything going on.  But still..."

"I know."

"Yeah.  Well, see you soon then."  Roger held up the cash.  "Thanks again."

"No problem."  Joshua waved after the retreating man then stepped back into the apartment.

"You really want to go, don't you?" Mason was asking Renee.

"I just... I think it would be fun."

"No one's going to preach at you, Mason.  God may come up... probably will come up," Andrew clarified.  "But we aren't pushy people."

"Well... maybe."

"You talking about St. G's?" Joshua asked as he sat back down.

"Uh huh.  I was just telling Mason that I think it would be fun to visit.  I used to be in musicals in high school.  I just love the energy of rehearsals and then the show itself..."  Renee's eyes glazed over as she silently reminisced.

"The biblical plot aside, it's great music," Joshua shared.

"Yeah.  I did used to love it when I was younger.  Speaking of music..."  Mason waved to a corner of the room.  "Don't forget your guitar."

"Thanks!  I'll grab my other stuff, too.  Get it out of your way."

Mason nodded as he stared into his soup bowl, slowly stirring the contents.

"I really am sorry that I scared you away.  I liked having you here, Josh."

Joshua reached across the table and squeezed Mason's free hand.

"You didn't scare me away.  I just... thought we could use the time apart.  But I'd love to hang out.  Even if you don't stop by the theatre, maybe we could meet up for breakfast or coffee or something?  Are you... going back to work?"

"Yeah... if I didn't get fired."

"Well, I hope not.  I'll be at the theatre tomorrow.  But maybe I could stop over with breakfast on Tuesday morning or meet up some place?  Maybe that cafe you like.  Hear how things went?"

Mason looked up and smiled.

"Yeah.  Sounds good.  I'd like that."


"And Joshua told Roger and me how to contact him," Renee reported, smiling at the carpenter. 

"You don't have a cell phone.  I remember because I teased you about it for a solid two days after you moved in," Mason recalled with a chuckle.

Joshua smiled.

"I have my ways."

Renee beamed at Joshua.

"I'm so glad you came back to visit, Josh.  I was so worried after... well... I mean you shouted something after, umm, you got hit and... I was worried..."  She touched her hair.

"No reason to worry.  I was... venting," Joshua carefully explained.

Andrew looked curiously at him, eye brow cocked.

Joshua gave him a look that said "I'll explain later."

"Oh, okay.  That makes sense.  I feel much better!" Renee cheered before launching into a series of questions directed at Andrew and Joshua about the former's family and where Joshua was staying.

While he and the angel of death took turns answering as honestly as possible, Joshua kept glancing over at Mason.  Though he looked exhausted, he also looked much more like himself than he had since the previous Tuesday. 

And for that, Joshua was very grateful.


"So do you think they'll stop by tomorrow?" Andrew asked as he and Joshua walked to the nearest portal after bidding Mason, Renee, and Roger adieu.

Joshua shook his head.

"No.  I don't.  And I think that's for the best.  As you could see, Mason is in a very different place from Kyle... especially in regards to me."

Andrew nodded and looked sympathetically at Joshua.

"I want both of them to be able to speak honestly and I think Kyle would have a hard time with that, right off the bat, with Mason there."


"But I do feel hopeful about breakfast on Tuesday."  Joshua smiled.  "And I think it's good that Roger knows.  That was a big burden for Renee to carry."

"And they know you know."


"You know...  We would hate to have you leave Willowveil.  But if you feel like you need to be with Mason..."  Andrew bit his lip.  He hated the idea of Joshua returning to that apartment on a regular basis.

Joshua shook his head.

"Thank you.  But I think it's better for me to stay at Willowveil.  Mason needs a friend... a friend who can be around, in the flesh, longer than I can.  Once they get past their rival angst regarding Renee, there's potential for a really great friendship between Roger and Mason."

"And it will all have started with a bar fight," Andrew mused, chuckling.

Joshua laughed.

"Friendships have been forged over stranger things."

"Very true."

"And romances.  Like, I don't know, one party overhearing a love song written about them by another party... on St. Patrick's Day."

"While one was seventeen and the other... really, really old," Andrew added, a flush to his cheeks.

"Yeah.  Exactly like that."  Joshua grinned.  "Speaking of...  Wednesday is Valentine's Day."

"And Ash Wednesday."

"Let's focus on the former."

Andrew looked at Joshua in surprise.

"But... it's the beginning of Lent."

"I know.  And I know all of you will be appropriately reflective... and probably spoil me rotten."

"Impossible," Andrew countered.  "But we'll try in vain."

Joshua laughed.

"So... you're staying?  For all of Lent, I mean?" Andrew inquired, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice lest he'd misunderstood.

"I don't know."  Joshua shrugged.  "But I don't feel like this will be wrapped up neatly and quickly.  Don't tell anyone.  I don't want to get their hearts set on me being around for that long.  Just in case."

"I won't."

"Good.  Thank you.  Anyway... I want to watch the kids on Valentine's night.  And I want you and JenniAnn to go out... live it up.  I got you a hotel room in Omaha, overlooking the Old Market."

Andrew halted and moved onto the refuge of a nearby building's stoop.

"Wait... what?"

Joshua laughed as he joined the angel.

"Your names are attached to the reservation... but Jack Pearson made it."  He winked then rested a hand on Andrew's arm.  "I just... you need this time together, okay?  I'm not sure the two of you have been able to fully process what's going on.  And I need you to.  I'm not letting Francis fracture another relationship I care about."

Andrew heaved a sigh.

"What else has he done?"

Joshua lowered his voice.

"He's refused to marry couples who were living together before marriage.  Is that my most favorite behavior ever?  No.  But that doesn't mean those couples are doomed.  And it certainly doesn't mean I don't want them in my church.  They're my children.  Of course I want them in my church!" 

Andrew shook his head.

"What a mess..."

"It is.  And, listen, I don't think...  I know that this isn't a threat to you and JenniAnn.  Not really.  But it is one of those things that can fester and lead to discord later.  It brought a lot up for you, Andrew.  And I'm so pleased that you shared that with me.  But you need to share it with her, too."

Andrew hugged Joshua.

"I will.  And we'll go.  Happily.  Laja will love that."

"And you have to order whatever you want.  Don't give up chocolate on my account."

Laughing, the angel of death nodded.

"Got it.  My thanks to Mr. Pearson.  Actually... that reminds me." 

The two stepped off the stoop and resumed their walk.


"Why the alias?  Why not just use your name when you called JenniAnn?"

"I knew she'd figure Jack Pearson out.  The lady who connected us is a fan of St. G's.  She'd actually seen me in Superstar several times.  Thankfully, the eye issue prevented her from recognizing me.  But she would have remembered the name Joshua Davidson.  I didn't want her memories tarnished thinking Joshua Davidson got into a bar fight."

Amazed, Andrew shook his head.

"I will never understand how you manage to be you.  I mean... I can understand it when you're... you know."  He glanced up at the sky.  "But when you're vulnerable... to still be able to think of all the myriad ways you impact people and to make decisions based on all those pieces of information... so everyone gets what they need and no one is hurt."

"You do it, too, Andrew.  All parents of multiple children do."

"I only have four!  It's not quite the same!"

"Still... it gives you an idea."

"I suppose...  And another thing!"


"Back at the apartment... what did Renee mean about you shouting after Mason hit you?"

Joshua's face clouded.

"I was venting... at our enemy," he explained.

Andrew gaped.

"You... saw him?"

Joshua nodded.

"Did you see him earlier?  At the apartment?"

"No.  I don't think he's attached himself to Mason or anything like that. 
Thankfully.  And that's another reason I'm glad Roger and Renee are there.  And why I want them to stay there.  They'll pray for Mason... and keep any negative forces away.  The bar was the only time I saw him.  I think he was only there to taunt me.  It didn't work."

"Obviously.  But still..."  Andrew shuddered.  "I don't like that."

"Me neither.  But I'm not worried.  I've got Friends on my side," Joshua declared, beaming.

"That you do.  Forever." 

"And let's go see them now!"  Joshua waved Andrew into an alley.

Only a few moments later, the two entered Willowveil where they were warmly welcomed home by their loved ones.


On Fire

Monday, February 12th, 2018

The following morning, Fr. Mike, Kyle, Ana-Maria, and Bishop Tony loaded into the latter's car.  Having met John the previous day, the bishop had readily agreed to swing by the Romano Family Farm and pick him up so he could travel with them to Manhattan and see his cousin.  By 9:00, they were on their way. 

Following a pleasant, sociable three hour car ride, Fr. Mike directed the bishop to St. Genesius'.  As they pulled into the lot, they could see Andrew and Peter waiting for them.

"Good afternoon!" Peter shouted as the visitors exited the car.  "Welcome to... John!"

Laughing, the Baptist approached and hugged Peter.

"Hey, Peter.  Don't be mad.  I swore Fr. Mike and the Romanos to secrecy.  I couldn't resist surprising my baby cousin."

Andrew laughed and shook his head, smiling at the newcomers.

"John is six months older than Joshua... and he doesn't let him forget it," he explained.  "Anyway, welcome to St. Genesius'."

"Yes, welcome," Peter repeated.  "Sorry I got distracted with this one."  He playfully elbowed John.  "We're so glad you could come."

"Thank you.  We're very glad to be here," the bishop replied, accepting first Peter's and then Andrew's hands.

"We're looking forward to meeting everyone!" Ana-Maria gushed.

"If John here is any indication, your circle of friends must be very spirited," Tony added.

John beamed.

"They mean I talk a lot."

"That you do," Fr. Mike confirmed, clapping John on the back.  "Hey, why don't you go in and say hi to Joshua?  I'd like to show them the grotto."

"Sure thing."

While Andrew, Peter, and Fr. Mike showed off Maryam's grotto to Tony, Kyle, and Ana-Maria; John made his way into the theatre.  He was unsurprised to find Friends everywhere, focused on assorted tasks or simply chatting.  Whenever one saw him, he held a finger to his lips, requesting their silence.  Eventually, he made his way to the office where Joshua was confirming a lunch order with Moishe.

"Sure, yeah, let's throw in a few dozen of Betty's famous macaroons.  No, I'm paying for it all.  Moishe...  'Reunification discount...'  Moishe, that isn't a real thing.  Yes, I know having Samson back is a very...  Well, if Betty insists, too, then I guess I'm outnumbered.  Thank you.  God bless you, too.  I'll see you in an hour."

Joshua hung up the phone, smiling and shaking his head.

"I hope you ordered a reuben or two.  You know I love those."

Joshua spun towards the doorway where John stood with a wide grin on his face.


Joshua hurried to his cousin and embraced him tightly before pulling back and cupping his face in his hands.

"John...  I'm so glad to see you.  So glad."

John studied Joshua's face, his smile fading.

"I'm glad I'm here.  I know you told your parents not to come.  But we agreed that someone from the family should be with you, Joshua.  This... it's a tough one."  He gently brushed at the faded mark near Joshua eye.  Fr. Mike had filled him in about the bar brawl.

"Yes... it is," Joshua admitted.  "So... did you just materialize in the lobby or..."

"I rode here with Fr. Mike and the others.  I'm staying with the Romanos."

"Since when?"

"Since last night.  I told them not to tell you."  John smiled.  "I couldn't resist pulling one over on you when you're like this.  And I pranked Mike which was great fun." 

Joshua chuckled.

"I'm sure he'll tell me all about it.  So... how is everyone?"

"That Ana-Maria is a bundle of energy!  And I very much like the bishop.  Mike is very happy with him."

"And Kyle?" Joshua asked, a note of anxiety in his voice.

"Kyle seems to be doing really well.  He got pretty quiet as we got closer but he seems happy to be here."

"Good...  I'm so glad.  I..."  Joshua looked out the window where the group was leaving the grotto.  "I'm so looking forward to being with them."  He wiped at his glistening eyes then gave John another hug before picking a box up from the nearby desk.

"Gifts?" John guessed.

Joshua nodded.

"They'll treasure them."

"I hope so."

John noticed that his cousin seemed uncharacteristically nervous.  He placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Joshua... they're going to love you.  They already do."

"I know but... they have reason to be angry at me."

"You think they'll know it's you?  So soon?"

"I think Tony might.  And from there..."  Joshua patted his pocket, ensuring the item he'd placed there was still present.  He'd debated bringing it and prayed about it.  In the end, it had seemed like the right decision.  He felt it was what his Father was guiding him to do.

Emma poked her head into the room.

"Joshua, they've come in," she announced.  "Hey John!"

"Hey!"  John left his cousin's side and hugged Emma.  "Look at you!"

Emma chuckled.

"Yes, look at us."  She patted her belly and, sensing John wanted to but was too polite, she brought his hands to a particular spot.  "Can you feel it?  He's been kicking up a storm today."

"Wow..."  John stared in awe.  "I... I do."

Joshua looked on, misty-eyed as he recalled his Ama's meeting with a pregnant Elizabeth.  His mother had felt John himself kick against her hands.  The pleasant memory took the edge off his nervousness.

A sudden flash shook the three from their shared reverie.

"Sorry.  I just have to paint that later and a photo will help," Owen explained.  "Joshua, they're here."

"Yes, Emma told me.  I'm coming.  And good idea about the painting," Joshua encouraged as they left the office and made their way to the theatre proper.

"Oh!  We can hang it in the nursery," Emma enthused. 

"You'll do that?" John asked with surprise.

"Of course!"

John smiled, pleased with the idea.

"I'll make sure you get one, too, John," Owen promised.  "And now..."

Owen, Emma, and John hung back after they'd walked onto the stage, allowing Joshua to go on ahead.

"And, of course, this is the theatre.  And... well, not everyone.  A lot of people won't be coming around until after 5:00 due to work," Peter explained.  He looked up to the stage and smiled at Joshua.  "And this... is Joshua, our fearless leader."

Fr. Mike hurried forward.


Joshua set his box down and pulled the priest into an embrace.

"Mike...  I'm so glad you're here.  So glad."

"I... I'm so glad to see you.  I've been hoping you'd come since..."

Joshua nodded.

"I know.  I know.  Dad and I are so proud of how you've handled yourself, Mike.  I know it's been so hard but... I'm so proud."  Joshua kissed the man's cheeks.

Ana-Maria and Kyle exchanged a brief, surprised glance. 

Bishop Tony only gawked, not at the affectionate display but at the entirety of Joshua's appearance.  He was wearing jeans... and the same sweater as the man in his recent dream.  He was also identical.  During the ride there, Fr. Mike had explained that Joshua was the model for Owen's Jesus paintings.  So that made sense.  But it didn't explain how his unconscious mind had so perfectly animated the man... 

"Come on, let me introduce you."  Fr. Mike waved Joshua off the stage and towards their visitors.  "Joshua, this is Ana-Maria Brughetti, Kyle McIntyre, and Bishop Tony Merriman.  Everyone, this is Joshua Davidson."

"Davidson..." the bishop murmured.  Perhaps Mike had mentioned the man's surname but, if so, he had missed it.  Davidson...  How uncanny.

"Hello, Ana-Maria!" Joshua greeted.  "Kyle, so good to have you with us.  Bishop Tony... it's an honor to have you at our theatre."

"Tony... please.  Just Tony," the man requested.

"Sure thing, Tony."

"I already love it here!" Ana-Maria praised.  "I can just feel the energy!  So who is everyone playing?"

One by one, those Friends who were present shared what role, on or off stage, they were filling.  Zeke came last.

"My name is Zeke Wilson. And I've been playing Judas for the last few years, first with Joshua and now with Peter."

"It must be hard to play at betraying your real friend," Ana-Maria mused.

Zeke nodded, glancing at Joshua.  It had been especially difficult to betray him... even for show.

"It is.  But the anger and regret in the music helps me get into the mood."

"Zeke, why don't you give us a sample of 'Heaven On Their Minds,'" Joshua suggested.

Beaming, Zeke moved to center stage. 

"Sure thing."

Andrew cued up their backing CD and soon Zeke was in "Judas mode" and wowing his audience.

"'Listen Jesus I don't like what I see.  All I ask is that you listen to me.  And remember, I've been your right hand man all along.  You have set them all on fire...'"

As the man continued his lyrical protest, Tony brought his hands to his heart.  He felt a stirring there... a warmth like he hadn't felt for a long time... before his bishop duties had begun to sap his energies... a time when he'd been able to focus solely on his parishioners and his faith.

As for Ana-Maria, she was rapt.  She was so intent on Zeke and on the music that she didn't notice the tears pooling in her boyfriend's eyes.

Never a biblical figure he'd felt much warmth for, Kyle found himself drawn to Zeke's Judas.  He understood the man, warring with his own God... and yet loving Him so deeply.

"'He won't listen to me.  C'mon... C'mon...  He won't listen to me...'"

When Zeke finished, the Friends and their three guests all applauded with enthusiasm. 

"You're wonderful!" Ana-Maria shouted.  "I'm so jealous!  I miss my high school's musicals so much."

"You sing?" Emma inquired.

Ana-Maria blushed and nodded.

"I was actually attending NYU for music but..."  She shrugged.  "I can sing anywhere!"  Smiling over at Kyle to assure him that she wasn't regretting her decision to leave NYU, she noticed his reddened eyes.  "Kyle?"

The young man wiped at his eyes then smiled.

"Sorry.  I'm fine.  That was just very moving."

"Thank you."  Zeke smiled then left the stage to rejoin the others.  "The whole show is very moving.  Especially now.  We have so many memories wrapped up in it."

"You do this every year?" Tony checked.

"We do," Peter affirmed. "Always during the few weeks before Lent."

"And the crowds haven't waned?"

"Not even close!  Most nights, we have sold-out crowds.  Sometimes, we even have to add performances.  Of course, we always have people ask if there's any chance of Joshua retaking the stage."  Peter proudly smiled at the carpenter.  "His Jesus is the best."

"Peter is too humble," Joshua demurred.  "He's remarkable in the role."

Peter shrugged.  "Still... there's no beating the best."

"Could you maybe give us an example, Joshua?" Ana-Maria requested.  "A favor for one musical theatre lover from another?" she added sweetly.

Bishop Tony laughed.

"Now how can the man resist that?"

Joshua chuckled.

"I can't.  Any requests?"

"Has to be 'Gethsemane,'" Ana-Maria replied.

"All right..." 

As Joshua ascended the steps to the stage, the Friends all took seats.  It had been a long time since they'd seen Joshua perform "Gethsemane" and they wanted the full experience.  Following their cues, Tony, Ana-Maria, and Kyle also sat down.

Once Andrew started the CD, Joshua was transformed.  His pleasant, friendly demeanor shifted.  He was agonized, stressed, and broken.

"'I only want to say, if there is a way, take this cup away from me...  For I don't want to taste its poison...  Feel it burn me.  I have changed.  I'm not as sure, as when we started.'"

Watching the man on stage, Kyle felt his remaining anger at God begin to dissipate.  The mystery of why God intervened to prevent some abuses and crises remained.  Kyle sensed that it always would.  But he began to see God as not a target for his anger but a fellow victim.  He, too, had known the pain of being hurt by someone who should have cared for him.  He had been abused... stripped, slapped, whipped, and God knows what else... before dying an excruciating, humiliating death. 

"'God, Thy will is hard but You hold every card,'" Joshua sang, his voice trembling but still powerful.  "'I will drink my cup of poison.  Nail me to my cross and break me.  Bleed me, beat me, kill me, take me now before I change my mind...'"

The group was quiet for a few seconds as the final notes died away.  Then a smattering of applause started but most of the Friends had opted for storming the stage.

Ana-Maria was the loudest among the clappers.

"He's extraordinary!" she gushed before throwing her arms around Kyle's neck.  "Oh... my Kyle..."

"He... he just made Him sound so... so much like me," the teen confided. "The whys... the doubt..."

Ana-Maria stroked his wet cheek.

"I always told you that you reminded me of Jesus... in as uncreepy of a way as possible."

Through his tears, Kyle laughed.  He could remember the first time she'd told him that and how beautifully rosy her cheeks had been.

"Thank you."

"Let's go up there."  Ana-Maria took her boyfriend's hand and led him onto the stage to join those who were praising Joshua.

Still seated, Bishop Tony didn't notice when Fr. Mike took a seat beside him.

"He's something else, isn't he?"

The bishop nodded.

"Yes...  He's...  I've just met the man and I can already tell... I've never met anyone like him."

Fr. Mike squeezed the man's shoulder.

"There is no one like him."

Tony watched as Ana-Maria and Kyle approached Joshua.  He noted how, as Ana-Maria began to gush, Joshua took one of her hands in both of his.  He was intent on her, as diligent as a parent listening to their child.  When Kyle spoke, he also received Joshua's full attention.  And there was such compassion in his gaze...

After a few moments, Kyle smiled and made his way back to his uncle.

"Come on stage, Uncle Tony.  Joshua brought us presents!"


Kyle nodded.

"I guess it's something he does.  He's a carpenter.  Andrew and JenniAnn said he's made things for all of them."

"A carpenter?"

The bishop began to feel light-headed.  Had Mike mentioned that Joshua was a carpenter?  Maybe he had.  It just hadn't seemed relevant at the time.  But now...

"Are you okay, Uncle Tony?"

Looking up, he saw the concern in Kyle's eyes.

"Yes, yes.  Sorry.  My mind was wandering.  Up we go." 

Tony followed Kyle up the steps to where Joshua was waiting with a box.  He was surprised to realize that the others had all moved away and were focusing on their assorted tasks.

"I hope it doesn't seem too forward but I can sense that the three of you are going to make a mark here at St. G's," Joshua relayed.  "So... I wanted to make a little something for each of you."  He reached into the box and handed a gift bag to Kyle, Ana-Maria, and Fr. Mike.

"Joshua... you've already made me so many gifts," Fr. Mike pointed out.

"I know.  But I wanted you to have this.  And..."  He reached into his pocket.  "This one's smaller.  I didn't want it to fall out of the box.  Here you go, Tony."

Tony gaped as Joshua held a small, wooden box out to him.  This was his dream...  With a shaking hand, he took the box.

"Oh... oh my gosh...  Oh, Joshua...  It's so beautiful."  Clutching her treasure, Ana-Maria hugged the near-stranger. 

"I'm so pleased you like it, Ana-Maria."

"What is it?" Kyle asked.

Ana-Maria held the olive wood statue out for her boyfriend to examine.

"It's Mary with St. Anne.  Right?"

Joshua nodded.

"My namesakes!"  Ana-Maria caressed the figures of a small, haloed girl sitting on the lap of her similarly crowned mother.  "Look at how sweet they are...  Like they really love each other.  Not that serious, saintly, blank expression you see in so many paintings.  They look like a real little girl and her mommy."

"That's who they were," Joshua averred.

"I'll treasure it always," Ana-Maria cooed, hugging the statue to her chest.  She sighed contently then turned to Kyle.  "What did you get?"

"I actually hadn't finished unwrapping it."  Kyle sat back down on the floor with his bag and resumed unwinding the sheets of tissue paper.  His breath caught in his throat when he pulled the last bit of tissue away.  In his hand was a crucifix but no ordinary one.  Jesus' right arm was free and unbound.  In his hand was a beautiful white dove, preparing to take flight.  The symbolism was not lost on Kyle.  The same image of sorrow and pain contained peace and freedom.  He felt as if he were the dove being released into a changed but ultimately good world.

"It's beautiful," he murmured.  "I... I really love it."

Tony watched in surprise as Kyle stood and embraced the carpenter.  It had been strange enough that Ana-Maria had.  But she'd always been an affectionate, outgoing girl.  For Kyle to do the same when he had every reason to be wary of strangers...

Joshua patted the young man on the back.

"I'm glad, Kyle.  Very glad."

Kyle smiled shyly then turned to Fr. Mike.

"You got a cross, too."

Fr. Mike nodded and held it up.

"Yes, I did.  Thank you, Joshua."  Fr. Mike embraced him.  "I'm very glad to have it."

Tony realized the cross was nearly identical to the one that Mike had given him.  Undoubtedly, it was also a creation of Joshua. 

"So what about you, Uncle Tony?" Ana-Maria questioned. 

"Oh... yes."  Tony carefully lifted the lid from he box.  He staggered slightly when he saw what was inside.

A perfect, precise wooden praying mantis...

Stunned, the bishop looked to Fr. Mike.  He must have told Joshua the story.  But no... he hadn't been there.  Maybe Gladdy had relayed the story to Mike...  Or Kyle had.  Or...  Or maybe the most obvious explanation for everything he'd felt since meeting this Joshua was the right one.

Tony's glance traveled to Joshua.

"Are you... Him?" he silently beseeched.

Joshua simply nodded.

Tears streamed down the bishop's face. 

"Uncle Tony!" Kyle cried, hurrying to grab the man's arm when he began to teeter.

Joshua grabbed the bishop's other arm, buoying him.


"It's all right, Tony," Joshua encouraged. 

Tony patted Kyle's hand then pushed it away.  He sunk to his knees in front of Joshua, his head lolling forward and resting against his abdomen.

Joshua gently rested a hand on the man's balding head.


Kyle thought he heard his uncle saying something.  He crouched down in an attempt to hear it.

"My Lord and my God... have mercy on me.  My Lord and my God... have mercy on me."

Shocked, Kyle peered up at Joshua who was focused on his uncle.

"Tony...  Tony...  You have always had my mercy.  And my love.  Always."

Ana-Maria gave a little squeak of surprise when she heard.

Joshua sunk down to his own knees and embraced the old man.

It was upon seeing the carpenter's face as he rested his head on Tony's shoulder that Kyle felt his heart leap.  There was such love, gentleness, and compassion in that face...

And then Kyle saw what he was sure had sent his uncle to his knees: the ugly, vicious welts on Joshua's wrists.  Tears sliding down his own cheeks, Kyle crawled towards Joshua.  He knew what he had to do... he had to touch him.

In spite of the power he felt go out of him, Joshua smiled when Kyle's hand brushed against the hem of his sweater.

Kyle let out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding.  The knot in his stomach began to untangle.  For the first time in weeks, he felt his shoulders and back relax. 

His memories remained... as did the feelings attached to them.  But the resulting, constant anxiety was gone.

Ana-Maria knelt behind Kyle, wrapping her arms around him.

"Kyle...  Kyle... what... what's going on?"

Kyle turned around and rested his forehead against the girl's.

"Look at him, Ana-Maria.  Really look at Joshua," he pleaded.

Ana-Maria devoted her attention to the carpenter who was, once again, focused on the bishop.  He was murmuring something to him.  Ana-Maria couldn't make out the words he was saying but she could see the tenderness and love with which he spoke.  She recalled the stirring in her spirit as he'd sung.

"'Would you ask as much from any other man?'"

She gasped when she saw the marks appear, marks that she knew hadn't been there before... at least not visibly.

"He... he's really Jesus," she murmured.

Kyle nodded and brought her hand to his lips.

Ana-Maria stared at Joshua... her savior... and her rival.  Tears of joy and pain slid down her cheeks.

Joshua pulled the bishop to his feet and embraced him once more.

"We have much to talk about, Tony.  And we will...  But for now..."  Joshua approached Ana-Maria who had begun to sob wretchedly.  "Darling girl, why are you weeping so?"

Ana-Maria raised her tear-filled eyes up to meet Joshua's.

"Because I... I'm so happy to... to absolutely know that... that you're... real."

Joshua smiled and stroked her hair.

"Very real," he affirmed.

"B-but now... now Kyle is... is... going to want to... to be a priest a-again a-and..."

Kyle gawked at his girlfriend.

"We... we just met Jesus and... and that's your reaction?"

Ana-Maria nodded then bowed her head in shame.

Laughing gently, Joshua crouched down and took Ana-Maria's hands in both of his, now unmarred.

"Hey there, it's okay.  I take no offense because I know none was meant."  Joshua released one of the girl's hands and cupped her chin, raising her head.  "But let's not jump to any conclusions, okay?"


Recovered from his shock, Kyle wrapped an arm around Ana-Maria's shoulders.  He looked to Joshua who nodded.

"I'm not leaving you, Ana-Maria.  Not again.  I promise."

"But..."  Ana-Maria looked to Joshua.  "He... he's so... wonderful."

Kyle nodded. 

"He is.  But..."  Kyle waved towards the Friends who were politely pretending not to notice what was going on.  "Are any of them priests?" he asked Joshua.

"Your uncle and Fr. Mike are the only priests here."

"But they serve you?  In their own ways?"

"They do.  And very well."

"Then... I'll do that, too," Kyle vowed.  "With you."  He hugged Ana-Maria.

The girl sighed and instantly calmed.  With that matter settled, she could look at Joshua with a full, sincere smile.

"Thanks for answering my prayer.  This isn't what I meant.  It's... more.  But thank you." 

"You're very, very welcome.  Thank you for praying.  I always love hearing from you, Ana-Maria."  Joshua held his arms aloft and the girl eagerly moved into his embrace.

"Your prayer?" Kyle inquired.

Still ensconced in Joshua's arms, Ana-Maria nodded.

"I could tell that Uncle Tony was carrying a lot.  I mean... I was worried about you, of course.  But, well, you have me.  And I know I'm not God... but I'm someone who knows you and loves you lots.  I just... I felt like Uncle Tony needed someone to hold him and tell him that everything was gonna be all right.  So I asked God to send him someone.  And I guess He came Himself."

"I did," Joshua assented. 

Tony approached and rested a hand on Ana-Maria's back.

"Dear girl...  You prayed for me?"

"Of course.  I love you.  And I could tell that Fr. Mike was helping a lot but... not like the Person you devoted your whole life to could."

"No one can help like Joshua can help," Fr. Mike, brushing tears from his own eyes, confirmed.

"No... no one," Tony agreed, reaching a hand out and resting it on Joshua's arm.  "I... I have so many questions..."

"And I'm eager to discuss them and we have plenty of time," Joshua assured.  "But right now... I have a lunch order to pick up.  I will not have my children go hungry."

"You can't just make some fish and loaves materialize?" Ana-Maria teased.

Joshua winked at her.

"I could... but there's a deli nearby who can do much better than fish and loaves and I happen to have an in there.  His name is Moishe and he's delightful.  Also, his wife makes macaroons that are out of this world."

Hearing the Messiah go on about something as mundane as food made both Kyle and Tony giggle like children. 

"I can fit three in my car, though.  You're welcome to come along," Joshua offered.

The three leaped at the chance and were soon excitedly following Joshua out to his car.

Once they were gone, the Friends all crowded around Fr. Mike.

"That looked awfully emotional.  Do they know?" Emma ventured.

Beaming, Fr. Mike nodded.

"All of them."

The Friends cheered and excitedly awaited the return of the trio.  There was so much to tell them...


Joshua was driving back to St. Genesius' when Ana-Maria shrieked from the back seat.

"Oh my God!"

Joshua grinned into the dashboard mirror.


Ana-Maria giggled before replying.

"It's just... I was so in awe of you... probably we all were... that it didn't even hit me until now.  John... your cousin.  So he's..."

"John the Baptist!" Kyle blurted.

"That he is," Joshua confirmed.

From the passenger seat, Bishop Tony shook his head in wonder.

"You... you are greater than I could ever imagine, Joshua... but still, somehow, exactly who I imagined.  John though...  The whole ride from Albany, he ate cheese curds and drank from the biggest coffee mug I've ever seen.  I mean he was very good about sharing but..."

"Not exactly the fasting wild man you imagined?"


Joshua laughed.

"You wouldn't be surprised if you'd known him as a boy.  But, yes, he was a very intense young man who grew into the firebrand you read about in the Gospels.  And... I won't be surprised if we see the firebrand at some point over the next weeks.  But John, at heart, is a man of great faith and great joy.  And... since I've come into the world... he no longer feels the need to fast.  Although I am going to have to speak to him.  He can't be eating cheese curds every morning even if Dot is more than happy to give them to him."

"You won't be surprised?" Kyle repeated.  "How could you be surprised?  You're... God."

Joshua nodded.

"I am... but when I'm here on Earth or in any of the mortal realms... I'm usually just as I was during the Incarnation.  Well, with one major difference.  Back then, I didn't know what people were thinking.  I didn't know exactly what was going to happen and when.  I had ideas... I was more sure of some things than another mortal may have been.  But I didn't absolutely know.  Part of being human is taking things on faith... or not.  So I took a lot on faith.  Now... I remember what came before.  I remember the precise moment each of you took your first breaths.  I remember your first words, first steps, first dates."

Kyle and Ana-Maria smiled at each other.

"But... when I came here, my 'live feed' so to speak was switched off.  You have to go through life not knowing exactly how I or anyone will react, what we'll say...  It's only fair that I do the same... as a fellow human."

"So then... do you know about..."

"Yes, Kyle.  I do.  And I am so sorry.  That should never have happened to you... to... to anyone."

Hearing the crack in Joshua's voice and seeing the tears in his eyes did more for Kyle than any kind word or loving touch yet.

Welcoming a traffic-induced stop, Joshua reached back and squeezed Kyle's hand.

"I love you, Kyle.  And I'm so proud of you."

Silently weeping, Kyle nodded and squeezed Joshua's hand back.

"Kyle is doing an interview this evening for the local news," the bishop informed.

"That's very brave.  Would you like me to go back to Albany with you, Kyle, and be there during the interview?"

Kyle raised his bowed head and met Joshua's eyes.

"You... you'll do that?"

"Of course."

"Yes... please..."

"Then it's a plan."

Kyle let out a sigh of relief.

"Thank you, Joshua."

"You're very welcome.  After we have lunch, I'd like to meet with each of you.  Or you can come together, Ana-Maria and Kyle.  Emma and Peter have agreed to let me use their office.  I'd like for us to be able to talk freely, without the others around."

"I'd like that a lot," Kyle agreed.  "Maybe... maybe just the two of us and then..."  He turned to his girlfriend.  "Will you..."

"Of course, Kyle.  I'll be there," Ana-Maria vowed.

"And then we'll visit.  Okay, Tony?"

The bishop nodded with enthusiasm.

"Yes, yes.  I would love that."

"Then it's settled.  And... we're moving again.  Shouldn't be long now.  Good thing, too.  My stomach is starting to rumble," Joshua admitted with a grin. 

Just as he predicted, the quartet were soon back at St. Genesius' and breaking bread with the Friends.


While Kyle met with Joshua, Ana-Maria busied herself with collecting information on the JCS production from the gathered Friends.  Bishop Tony, however, had a different agenda.  He went in search of Andrew and JenniAnn, finding the couple in the lobby where they were creating rehearsal schedules for the next few weeks.

"I don't know that Adam and Kylie need much rehearsal time at this point.  Plus, we don't know how Kylie will be feeling," JenniAnn relayed.  "Zadie mentioned that she's been a little woozy."

"Then maybe just Adam and an understudy?" Andrew suggested.  "Maybe we could ask Ana-Maria?"

"She would love that," the bishop replied, announcing his presence.

Andrew and JenniAnn looked up from their papers and smiled.

"Hi, Bishop Tony," the latter greeted.

The man shook his head.

"Please, just Tony.  It doesn't seem right using an honorific when Joshua doesn't... and he's infinitely more deserving of one."

Andrew shrugged.

"We're happy to call you Tony.  But we call Fr. Mike just that most of the time."

"Of course, part of that could be because we have another friend named Mick.  So, when the whole lot of us are together, it can get confusing without the 'Father,'" JenniAnn explained.

The bishop smiled and, when Andrew indicated to, sat down beside them.

"Then, please, call me whatever feels most comfortable to you both.  And... I hope you will indulge me for a moment."

"Sure.  What do ya got?" Andrew asked.

"Well... Mike told me about the... incident with Archbishop Wesson."

JenniAnn's cheeks flushed.

"I hope you know... and I trust you do given your closeness with Joshua... that he was gravely wrong."

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's hand and nodded.

"We do."

"Good.  I do have to admit... when Mike relayed the encounter to me and explained how the accusation was misguided... I became very interested.  And, please, feel free to tell me to butt out but... I couldn't help but think your relationship sounded not unlike Our Lady's and St. Joseph's."

Glad to have the conversation shift, JenniAnn laughed.

"Well, they are the epitome of our 'couple's goals,'" she confessed.  "They are so... inspiring."

"You've met them?"

"Yeah.  They come around sometimes when Joshua does.  Actually, I've been wondering why they're not around now."  JenniAnn frowned.  "We've all missed them... and there... well, I don't want to speak out of turn... but Joshua's been very... grieved... at points.  It would have been nice for Maryam and Yosef to have been around but I know they... and Joshua... have their reasons."

"On the way to the deli, Joshua explained to us that he's been staying in your home," Tony relayed.  "And that it's been four years since he was cast as himself... here.  Do you think, perhaps, that Mary's and... Maryam's and Yosef's absence is meant to signify another step in your evolution as a group?  Without his parents around, it falls to all of you to comfort Joshua, to ensure he takes time to re-energize."

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged a surprised glance before the angel smiled at the priest.

"That makes a lot of a sense.  I'm sure that's right.  After all, Maryam wasn't constantly with Joshua when he preached.  At some point, the disciples had to step in.  They weren't always perfect at it, of course...  But they learned."

"One hopes!" Bishop Tony exclaimed.  "Anyway, my reason in bringing Joshua's parents up is I felt badly that a fellow bishop had chastised you for, seemingly, living a life not unlike what the Church teaches as the reality of Maryam's and Yosef's marriage."

Andrew nudged JenniAnn, indicating for her to take the lead.

"In some ways, yes.  I mean... we're not sexually active."

"I really don't mean to pry," Tony interjected.

JenniAnn shrugged.

"I'd rather people pry than assume, actually.  And it's not even really prying.  Anyway, even having met them, I can't tell you for sure that Maryam and Yosef are both straight.  My guess would be they are just because that's the odds.  But... I suppose there's a chance one or both are asexual.  Which is what Andrew and I are.  So I don't want people ever getting too excited about us as paragons of virtue when the temptation simply doesn't exist for us.  I mean we have a romantic relationship."  JenniAnn grinned at Andrew then laughed when he winked at her.  "But, no, not sexual.  And... despite my having an insane crush on him for well over a decade, we didn't really figure things out and become, well, a couple until we adopted our daughter, Belle, and Joshua showed up and definitely clarified some things for us!"

Andrew nodded.

"Maryam and Yosef definitely had themselves figured out at a much younger age.  And... there's a big difference between Yosef and me."


"I assume Joshua is okay with my telling you since he didn't say to not tell you.  But... I'm not human, Tony.  I'm an angel.  An angel of death, to be specific."

The bishop's eyes went wide.

"So... given he's my boss and, ya know, the King of Angels... I've always known who Joshua is.  It was quite a task keeping the secret when he came here.  But... wow...  Those months..."  Andrew's eyes misted.  "To see so many people I cared about come to know their God... in the flesh, as He truly is... it was a highlight in my very, very long life."  He embraced JenniAnn and kissed her hair.

Tony watched the two, touched and intrigued.  When the couple drew apart, he spoke again.

"I don't doubt anything you've said, Andrew.  Nor you, JenniAnn.  But Joshua said that angels... they don't marry.  So how..."

"We don't marry," Andrew affirmed.  "The best human term to describe what JenniAnn and I share is an Irish one: anam cara.  Soul friend.  Marriages... even the best ones... end.  'Til death do us part.'  Anam cara relationships... they last forever.  Which is why they're possible for angels.  I can't imagine living the next, hopefully, several decades with JenniAnn and then, suddenly, it's over.  She... she's gone, nothing binds her to me any longer, and I just have to go back to the way things were before?"  The angel shook his head.  "I... I couldn't.  It would break my heart."

"And mine," JenniAnn murmured.

"So somehow, in a way we won't understand until JenniAnn's life on Earth has ended, our relationship, our love, will continue.  She'll be with me, somehow, even as I continue to come to Earth, to spread the message of God's love."

The bishop contemplated this silently for some moments before speaking again.

"I suppose it makes sense.  In the book of Tobit, a demon seems to be obsessed with a mortal woman.  For that perversity to exist in a demon, it would only make sense that some purer, God-given attachment could exist for angels."

For a moment, JenniAnn's face clouded.  She, too, had thought that and, thus, drawn comfort from the Book of Tobit... a book that only Catholics put in their Bibles.

Sensing her discomfort, Andrew gently stroked her back while continuing to speak with the bishop.

"Exactly.  And we're not the only ones among our group to have such a relationship.  There's Monica and Arthur.  Monica is an angel.  And not all of them are romantic.  Our friend Adam, also an angel of death, is anam cara to both Kylie and her husband, Clay."

"I think I saw them this morning.  Briefly.  At the Romanos'?"

"Yeah.  Kylie and Clay live on the farm.  He works there.  And Adam has a room at their place."


"Yes.  And it's important to note that anam caras don't always involve angels.  A lot of human spouses are also anam caras to each other."

"Yep.  My aunt... great-aunt... also has an angel of death, Eli, as her anam cara.  I didn't know until... til Aunt Sophia was on her deathbed.  I hope you can meet Eli.  He's really special." 

"I'm sure you will," Andrew assured.  "Eli is our Caiaphas."

"An angel playing the man who wants Jesus dead?" Tony balked.

"Trust me... it was and continues to be an emotional experience for all of us putting Superstar on every year, especially that first year.  But Eli and everyone else knew that Joshua was using the show and his role to reach others.  So everyone fulfilled their roles, on and offstage, knowing that," Andrew explained.

"But poor Andrew having to direct the Crucifixion..."  JenniAnn squeezed his hand. 

Andrew smiled sadly.

"Easier for me than for the Father.  Mine was fake."

All three sighed at the stark truth of that.

"To think of Joshua reliving that... night after night...  Not surprising.  But... so very stirring," the bishop mused.

"'Would you ask us much from any other man?'" JenniAnn quietly sang.

The three quieted and Andrew and JenniAnn allowed their visitor to bask in the wonder that was Joshua.


While Tony was hearing from Andrew and JenniAnn, Joshua and Kyle were secluded in the theatre's office. 

"Kyle, I want you to ask me anything... say anything to me... that you need to or want to," Joshua instructed.  "Nothing held back.  I can take it."

For a few moments, the young man could only stare at Joshua.  Finally, he spoke.

"Were you... there?"

Joshua's eyes filled and he nodded.

"Yes. I'm never apart from you, Kyle.  And I was with you then."

Kyle began to weep.

"Why... why..."

"I wanted to, Kyle.  But... I... I can't take back the gift of free will because I don't like how it's being used.  And I... I hated... still hate... how he used it against you.  But where would... would I stop?"

"Did you... try?  Through oth-others?"

Joshua nodded.

"I did.  Multiple times."

Kyle let out a ragged sigh.  He had guessed as much himself... but to hear it...

"The Spirit spoke to so many people and some... some of them did speak up.  But then the people they went to..."  Joshua rubbed his temples, his gaze downcast as he remembered.  "They covered up for him... they sent him away... for 'treatment'... to places with less 'temptation'... when what they should have done was remove him and report him to the police.  Which is exactly what you did, Kyle.  You did something that men twice your age and more couldn't bring themselves to do.  You truly are so brave, Kyle."

Kyle squeezed back when Joshua took his hand.

His next question caught Joshua off-guard even though it wasn't truly surprising coming from the observant, compassionate boy.

"What happened to your eye?"

Joshua briefly reached up to touch the fading bruise.

"Well... would you believe it was a bar fight?"

The unexpected response prompted Kyle to laugh, just as Joshua had wished.

"It was.  Albeit not one I instigated.  Kyle, I've been trying to help another man who's a few years older than you.  He, too, was assaulted by Blaine Wesson."

"Before me?" Kyle asked, anxious.

"Yes.  Several years before you.  And when he heard about you... he felt considerable guilt for not coming forward."

"He... he was scared."

Joshua nodded.

"Very much. And, unlike your family, his didn't believe him.  It caused him great pain.  He's had a very difficult time ever since.  He struggles with anger, trust, relationships, friendships.  One night last week, he was very angry and he turned that anger on an innocent man at a bar.  I got in between the two and, well..."  Joshua indicated his eye.

Kyle's face flushed with anger.

"Please, Kyle, don't be angry with him.  He didn't know... still doesn't know... who I am.  And he's angry enough at himself.  I hope that you'll get a chance to meet him.  I think you two could help each other.  But we'll talk more about that later.  What else do you have?"

"Are you... disappointed in me?  I... I don't want to go back to a seminary.."

"No, Kyle.  I'm not disappointed.  Not at all."

"And... I... I want to marry Ana-Maria.  I... I can't leave her again.  Not after... I loved her before but now... she... she's been so good and I... I can't imagine my life without her now."

Joshua smiled.

"Kyle, Cephas... Peter...... the first Pope... was married.  All of my Apostles were.  And my Abi... Yosef... St. Joseph... he remains the best man I've ever known.  Priests have done a great many wonderful, life-giving and life-sustaining things.  But none has changed the course of history so much as my Abi... a married man.  Not to mention... priests weren't always required to be unmarried.  A lot of married priests did great things... and still do."

Kyle relaxed, even returning Joshua's smile.

"Could we bring Ana-Maria in?" he requested.

"Of course.  You sit.  I'll go get her."

When Joshua returned with Ana-Maria, Kyle could at once tell that she was nervous.  He leaped up and embraced her.

"Ana-Maria... come sit down, please," he requested.


Joshua reclaimed his seat, perched across from the young couple.  He beamed at them both.

"Joshua and I talked about... what happened.  And it helped.  A lot," Kyle relayed. 

"Good.  I... had a really good time learning more about the show from everyone but..."

"But?" Joshua and Kyle prompted in unison.

Ana-Maria bit her lip nervously.

"I guess... I was nervous.  Knowing the two of you were talking and... and thinking that... that maybe... you'd change your mind, Kyle.  About being a priest, I mean.  Because, well..."  She waved to Joshua.

Kyle smiled gently.

"Ana-Maria, are you considering becoming a nun?"

"No!"  Ana-Maria cringed at her own adamancy and looked guiltily at Joshua.  She calmed when she saw he was laughing.

"Well, then you know that it's possible to be completely enamored with Joshua and yet not decide you want to marry the Church."

"That's true..."

"So you and me... we're the same with that now."

"Okay..."  Ana-Maria let out the breath she'd been holding then peered at Joshua.  "Were you ever upset with me... for praying that Kyle would decide against becoming a priest?"

Joshua took the hand that Kyle wasn't holding and held it in his.

"No, Ana-Maria.  I knew the love and the spirit behind your prayer.  I knew that you weren't praying that Kyle live a life apart from me... only that he include you in that life.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to share your life with someone, to love them and be loved by them.  I'm sorry that you were placed in a position that made you feel like our wishes were in opposition.  That was never, ever the case.  I want you to be happy.  Both of you.  I want that for all of my children."

Sniffling, Ana-Maria bowed and gently kissed Joshua's hands.

When she was finished, Joshua pulled one away and gently stroked her hair.

"My little girl...  I was there when you used to play house, with your dolls as your babies and an imaginary husband.  I was there when you'd fasten a curtain to your head and pretend to be a bride."

Kyle couldn't help but giggle at the mental images.

"Oh, Ana-Maria..."

The girl sat up and feigned pouting.

"So I'm a romantic..."

"That's okay.  I'm one, too," Joshua shared.  "I've been match-making for a very, very long time, after all."

The young couple both laughed when he winked.  After a few moments, Ana-Maria's expression grew more serious.

"Ana-Maria, what is it?" Joshua encouraged.

"I just... I was wondering... will... will they catch him?  The priest who... who raped Kyle?"

Joshua heaved a sigh, briefly raising his eyes to the ceiling.

"I don't know.  When I'm like this... I don't know the future like I otherwise do.  But I do know that Kyle's interview will help.  And I know that man will face justice and will have to reckon with how many people he has hurt... one way or the other."

"Good," Kyle murmured.

The three remained in the office for several minutes more with Joshua answering Kyle's and Ana-Maria's questions and encouraging them to come to him as more arose in the coming days.


By the time Ana-Maria and Kyle were through, Bishop Tony was convinced that his visit with Joshua would have to wait.  However, John assured him otherwise.

"I wouldn't fret over the time.  I imagine we won't be taking the car back to Albany," he counseled.  "At least... not the way we came."

"I suppose space and time don't apply to Joshua... or you... but... not to us?" the bishop questioned.

"Oh, they do.  But space is a funny thing...  What would you say if I told you that your good friend Mike is not, in fact, an earthling?"

"Wh-what?  Is he... an... an angel?  But I met..."

John chuckled.

"His parents?  Yes, you did.  And, no, he's not an alien.  Well, at least not like people think.  Mike is definitely human.  He's just..."

"Revealing my secrets, John?" Fr. Mike asked.  He'd approached after seeing Tony's aghast expression.

"I figured we might as well.  I don't think Joshua intends for us to drive back to Albany.  If he did, we'd need to be leaving now but..."  John waved to the still closed office door.

"You're probably right."  Fr. Mike devoted his attention to the confused bishop.  "Tony, I think the easiest way to conceive of it is to think about C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.  In that, Earth exists but so does Narnia.  And they're connected by a portal, the wardrobe.  Well, it turns out our Joshua created several worlds.  And I'm from another one, albeit one populated by a people who started on Earth.  I'm from a place called Asteriana.  My people discovered a portal in Ireland, their home, many, many years ago.  When they walked through it, they discovered Asteriana and started lives there.  I lived there until I went to college and then to seminary.  My parents still live there.  It's actually where Andrew and JenniAnn live, too."

"And Joshua..."

"He's been staying there," Fr. Mike confirmed.

"He has his own room in their castle," John boasted proudly.

"Castle?"  Tony looked over at the unassuming couple... apparently castle owners... who were helping move set pieces.

Fr. Mike chuckled.

"Possibly left by one of my ancestors.  A lot of the homes in Asteriana are large.  The first inhabitants were very poor.  Once they came to this place with an abundance of timber and stone and farmland... why not get creative?  And it worked out well.  As large as Willowveil is... that's Andrew's and JenniAnn's castle... they need the space when Joshua comes back and everyone wants to be near him."

"Amazing...  His wonders never cease."  The bishop shook his head, astounded.

"I know it's a lot to take in over just a few hours," Fr. Mike commiserated, resting a hand on Tony's shoulder. 

"It is... but all of it a blessing.  Am I to assume we're near a portal to this... Asteriana?"

"Very near."  John waved in the direction of the blue room.  "There's one just inside there.  Although, to take the car, we'll have to drive to an alley not too far from here.  The portal there is large enough to take a car through."

"And then the portal leads to somewhere in Albany?"

"The portals can lead to several places.  But, yes, it can lead to Albany, the Romanos' farm to be precise," Fr. Mike clarified.

"But then... you could have saved yourself the three hour car ride?" Tony checked with John.

The Baptist nodded.

"Yes.  But I enjoyed spending the time with the four of you.  Very much."  John beamed at the bishop.

Moved, the bishop began to tear up.  Then the door to the office opened and Ana-Maria and Kyle stepped out.  They hurried to Tony and embraced him.

"Uncle Tony... you have to go in there," Kyle insisted.  "Talking with Joshua... I feel so much better."

"We both do," Ana-Maria added.  She kissed the bishop's cheek.  "I think you will, too.  Go on.  He's ready for you."

Feeling suddenly overwhelmed, Tony looked to each of the four faces gathered around him.

Fr. Mike squeezed his hands.

"Go on, Tony.  It'll do you good."

With a silent nod, the bishop made his way towards the office.  He stepped inside and, briefly, rested his head against the wood as he closed the door.  When he turned back to Joshua, the man was beaming.

Joshua rose from his chair and approached the bishop, arms extended.

Tony stepped forward, into Joshua's embrace.

"Tony...  Tony, I'm so grateful for the many years of service you've given to me and to my Church," Joshua praised.  "You have been a wonderful pastor and bishop and an amazing son, brother, and uncle.  I am so pleased."

The old man wept as he clung to Joshua.

"But my... my anger..."

"Understandable anger.  You would have been wrong to not feel anger.  Being angry at your religion doesn't mean you don't love it.  Take it from the man who ran through a temple with a whip."

Tony couldn't help but chuckle at Joshua's logic.

"That's true...  Even the most skeptical scholars agree that you did that."

"They're right," Joshua admitted with a gleam in his eye.  "I saw God's house being used in dishonorable ways and I was angry.  There's no sin in that.  The sin comes from feeling the anger and doing nothing.  But you've done things, Tony.  You've reported crimes against my children when you heard of them.  You refused to subject your flock to potential abusers when others encouraged you to 'forgive and forget.'  And you stood by Kyle, without any doubt and without any recrimination... which is exactly what he deserved."

"But... was it enough, Lord...  Joshua?"

Joshua sighed and led the man to a couch.

"You did what you could, Tony.  I know that.  This epidemic wasn't created by one man and it can't be stopped by one man.  It's going to take humility, openness, and bravery from every single priest, bishop, cardinal, and the Pope.  And, I know this comes as no surprise to you, but it's going to take the welcomed, encouraged involvement of laypeople from all walks of life... including an openness to listen to those who have left the Church."

Tony nodded.

"I... I think Kyle may be among them.  He hasn't gone to Mass since..."

"I know."

"I don't blame him."

"Neither do I.  But I think, now that he's here, he can begin to build a new community of faith around him."

"Yes..."  Tony smiled.  "I can feel that, too.  I wish..."  He sighed and shook his head.

"You can be part of it, too, Tony."

"But I have my obligations..."

"I know.  And I know you'll honor them.  But know that, when you need to renew your spirit, the Friends will be here for you.  Just as they've been here for Fr. Mike before.  Some among them still belong to churches of various Christian denominations.  Some of them only have each other.  Either way, they worship together and they support each other.  I want you to have that."  Joshua patted the man's back.  "You can't carry it all on your own, Tony.  There are other people who I'll introduce you to.  They'll help you, too."

"Thank you.  You... you've never failed me... even sometimes when I thought you did."  Tony bowed his head, remembering the pain of betrayal he'd felt when Mike had told him of Kyle's rape.  He'd wondered how God could have let it happen to his nephew when he had given his life to the Church.

"My heart broke when Kyle was suffering, Tony.  He... he wasn't alone."

"I... I know."

Joshua wrapped an arm around the man's quaking shoulders.

"And he'll never be alone.  I'll be with him.  And someone else will be, too."

Tony smiled, thinking of Ana-Maria.

"I... I hate the reason he left the priesthood behind.  But I'm glad he's reunited with her.  Dear girl.  She prayed for me..."

"Yes.  She did.  She's a very special young woman.  I have great plans for them both."  

Tony wondered at Joshua's smile, a smile which held great hope, pride, and promise. 

"I hope I get to see them unfold," Tony wished.

Joshua beamed at him and clapped him on the back.

"You will, Tony.  You will."


Around 6:00, Tony, Kyle, and Ana-Maria had to reluctantly pry themselves away from their new friends and the excitement of hearing stories about Joshua's previous comings and goings.  However, with a promise of further visits, they followed Fr. Mike, Andrew, JenniAnn, and Joshua into the blue room.  It was decided that John would follow later with the bishop's car. 

"I'll make sure you each get one of these 'coins,'" Joshua promised.  "You just use it like this..."

"Whoa..." Kyle murmured as the wall began to shimmer. 

"And then in we go..."

The group followed Joshua through the portal, appearing in the gazebo in Asteriana.

"It's so beautiful!" Ana-Maria shouted as she took in her surroundings.

"And we promise to give you the proper tour some other time," Andrew responded.

"For right now, just know that Andrew and I live there."  JenniAnn pointed to the castle.  "And Joshua is staying with us.  So don't hesitate if you want to stop in."

"Thank you.  That's very kind of you."  Tony squeezed JenniAnn's hand.  "This means so much."

"It's our pleasure.  We're going to head back to the theatre now but..."  JenniAnn turned to Kyle.  "We'll watch your interview later."

"I'm sure you'll do very well," Andrew assured.

Kyle smiled and tilted his head towards Joshua.

"Now I'm sure I will.  Thank you.  I'll look forward to the next time we meet."

After hugs and handshakes all around, Joshua directed the portal back to Albany. 

"Well, what do you think?" Randall asked when the group reappeared in his house.

"It's... incredible!" Ana-Maria gushed.  "But most importantly..."  She hugged Joshua's arm.

"I know the feeling.  Had myself a regular ol' Lazarus moment with him.  Nearly killed myself with a farm equipment accident four years back when the twins brought everyone here for Superstar," Randall relayed.

Dot shuddered at the memory.

"Thank God that Joshua was here.  Laid his hands on Randall's broken body and..."

"Good as new," her husband finished.

Joshua hugged the two.

"He... he healed me, too," Kyle reported.

Dot gently patted the boy's cheek.

"I'm so glad, darling.  Now... we won't keep you.  We know you've got to get home.  But you come back any time... night or day.  We'll get you back to Asteriana."

"Thank you.  We appreciate it.  We... we've met so many kind people today."

"And more to come," Fr. Mike assured.  "Not everyone could make it today.  But Dot's right.  We better get going."

Kyle nodded.

"Mom wants us to have dinner together before..."

"Come with me.  I'll drive you," Randall offered. 

"Thank you, Randall.  John should be coming by soon with Tony's car but, until then, we'd appreciate the lift," Joshua accepted.

With Dot shouting good wishes, the six climbed into the Romanos' van and headed to the McIntyres'.


With Joshua explained as a "friend from church," he was warmly welcomed into the McIntyres' home and to their dinner table.  Joshua was pleased to see that Kyle's siblings were back home.  While his sister, Theodora, who was thirteen, appeared to share a case of nerves with her parents and grandparents, the two younger children were oblivious.  Ten year old Patrick excitedly told his grandfather about a science experiment at school while Mandy, the youngest at six, chattered at Ana-Maria.  In spite of some anxiety, it was a pleasant meal and Joshua could tell that Kyle felt buoyed by his family's nearness. 

At a quarter til 8:00, Becca's sister Karen arrived to keep Patrick and Mandy distracted and restricted to their playroom.  At 8:00 on the dot, a news van pulled up in front of the McIntyre residence.

Ana-Maria squeezed Kyle's hand tightly as Becca and Leo went to greet the reporter and her crew.

"You ready?"

Kyle nodded.

"I just want to get this over with."

"I can understand that.  Just remember... you don't have to answer everything.  Not if you don't want to."

"I know.  Ana-Maria?"


"If you can... I... I want you and Joshua to stand right across from me.  So... so I can see you."

"Of course we will."

Ana-Maria kissed Kyle then, not wanting to capture the attention of the approaching reporter, stepped away.

Theodora approached and hugged her brother.

"I... I just don't think I can watch, Kyle."

"It's okay, Dora.  Really."

"But... but I'll be praying for you.  And I'm really proud of you."

"Thank you, Dora.  That means a lot.  I'll check in on you when I'm done."

"Okay.  Good luck, I guess?"

Kyle smiled at his sister.

"Thanks.  See you soon."

Becca was the next to approach and hug her son.

"They're going to set up in the living room.  Now you remember..."

"I don't have to answer everything.  I know.  Ana-Maria already reminded me."

Becca smiled as she smoothed some hair behind her son's ears.

"I really have always loved her."

"I know, Mom.  Me too.  And I love you, too.  And... Dad."  Kyle embraced his father.

"I'm so proud of you, Kyle," Leo, his voice hoarse with emotion, told his son.

"Thanks, Dad.  Now... let's do this."

Leo and Becca walked with their son to the living room where Tony, Fr. Mike, Mac, and Gladdy were already gathered around.  Just as Ana-Maria had promised, she and Joshua were placed directly across from the chair where Kyle would be sitting.

"Kyle, thank you so much for doing this!" the reporter greeted.  "Please, take a seat."

Kyle did so.  He stared at Joshua and Ana-Maria as the camera crew did a lighting test.

While Ana-Maria sometimes turned away and wept, Joshua never took his gaze away from Kyle during the whole of the interview.


Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

"I guess I would just say to him, wherever he is, that if he believes anything of what he taught over the past couple of decades... he needs to turn himself in.  It would give me... and any other victims out there... a lot of peace.  And he owes us that.  And he owes the Church that."

"Bishop Anthony Merriman, Kyle's uncle, was also present for the interview.  Our cameras were rolling when I asked him for comment."

"My heart breaks for my nephew... for any other victims of this man... and for their families.  The secrecy and cover-ups within the Church have to stop.  We claim to worship a Man who called Himself the Truth.  And that's what we need.  The truth.  All of it."

"Unfortunately, the whereabouts of Fr. Blaine Wesson remain unknown.  We have learned that he is the nephew of Archbishop Francis Wesson of New York City.  We'll keep you updated as further details on this heartbreaking case become available.  I'm Charity Risling, Channel 7 KPTV."

Mason closed out of the news app on his phone and shook his head.

"The poor kid.  I can't help but think that if I'd just persisted..."

Joshua patted Mason's hand.

"You did what you could, Mason.  I'm sure of that."

"Still..."  Mason sighed and took a sip of his coffee.  "I hope they find that piece of..."  He noticed a woman with her young daughter at the next table and drifted off.  "Anyway, if that Archbishop knows anything... he better speak up."

"I'm not sure if he does.  But, either way, there are some rough waters ahead for him.  He's currently at St. Mary Magdalene's, a few blocks away.  One of my friends got an email this morning saying there would be a special meeting with the Archbishop on Thursday evening," Joshua reported.




"Were you... wanting to go?" Joshua checked.

"Maybe.  I'll have to think about it.  Part of me wants to.  But another part of me... I don't want another relapse."

"I understand that.  How was work about... last week?"

Mason smiled.

"Better than I deserve.  It turns out that Renee called me in sick.  So at least I wasn't a no-show.  She really is..."  He took another sip of his coffee.  "I know I've said some things about her that weren't... gentlemanly.  But she really is a great girl.  Better than I deserve."

"I can tell she cares about you very, very much, Mason."

"Yeah...  And Roger's a pretty great guy, too.  Anyway, my boss was understanding.  I told him that I...  See, I actually was diagnosed with PTSD a while back.  So I told him that I'd had a bad relapse.  He actually asked if I needed more time off.  But I think I'm fine.  I need structure more than anything right now."

Joshua knew structure was helpful... but hardly what Mason needed most.  However, he didn't push.

"Hey, you'd mentioned that Wesson had hurt other people you know.  So do you know that kid... Kyle?" Mason questioned.

Joshua nodded.

"I do, yeah."

"So... how's he doing?"

"As well as can be expected.  Actually... he's going to be hanging around St. G's some.  Maybe one day you can stop by.  Might be good for you two to meet."

Mason's face went ashen.

"But... wouldn't he be mad at me?"

Joshua shook his head.  What anger Kyle had felt had been owing to his black eye but that had faded away.  Compassion for a fellow survivor was all that remained.

"No, Mason.  He's not.  He understands how you felt.  Better than anyone."

"Yeah...  I guess he would.  Not tomorrow.  I'd like to do something for Renee for Valentine's.  But maybe Thursday?  Do you... think he wants to go to that meeting?"

Joshua shrugged.

"I don't think he knows about it yet.  But I can check.  I'll get someone to text you when I know.  But, regardless, just stop in on Thursday if you want.  We'll be there probably from 9:00 in the morning to around 6:00."

"I think I'll do that.  I know Renee was wanting to see the theatre.  And you."  Mason chuckled.  "I think she has a little crush on you."

Joshua smiled.

"I don't think so.  We just hit it off... platonically.  She cares about you a lot, Mason."

"Yeah... she does.  I... I need to do better by her."  Mason's eyes misted then he noticed the time on his phone.  "But I better be going.  I don't want to be late and test the boss man's compassion.  But I'm glad we could do this, Josh.  It means a lot... you checking in on me.  I promise, I can be a better friend than I was a roommate."

"I know, Mason.  And I'm looking forward to that."

Joshua was pleasantly surprised when, for the first time, Mason hugged him.

"I'll probably see you sometime on Thursday.  Have a happy Valentine's, Josh.  However you celebrate."

"You, too, Mason!  Give my best to Renee and Roger, please!"

"You bet."

Mason smiled brightly at Joshua then gathered up his bag.  Once outside the shop, he waved at Joshua through the window.

No sooner was Mason out of sight, than his former chair was occupied.

"That seemed to go well!" Emma cheered.

"It really did," Joshua agreed, encouraged.

Peter pulled another chair to the table and grinned.

"You're easy to like, ya know."

"You just say that because you spend nearly a quarter of a year pretending to be me," Joshua teased.

"Naw," Peter countered.  "Besides, I'm quite likable as my own self."

Emma and Joshua laughed as Peter puffed his chest up with mock pride.  Then Emma ordered another scone... "for the baby"... and they continued their conversation, excitedly planning all they still had to introduce Kyle, Tony, and Ana-Maria to and hoping that, one day, their fold would include Mason.


Valentine's Day

Wednesday, February 14th, 201

Kyle was surprised to find himself smiling as he awoke.  He and Ana-Maria had spent much of the previous day at St. Genesius', meeting with Friend after Friend and hearing countless stories about Joshua.  They could also boast of having met actual vampires... former vampires, to be precise.  Isolde and Marco had stopped in with lunch and regaled the young couple with their story.  It had been an incredible, inspiring day that made Kyle regret that there was no rehearsal that day.  The Friends were taking it off in observance of Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day. 

Kyle had barely had time to mourn the fact that there would be no ashes, no Mass for him when he noticed an envelope on his nightstand.  Swooping it up, he was instantly impressed.  The envelope was crafted from a fine, linen paper and featured a wax seal embossed with the letter R.

Curious, the young man carefully peeled away the seal and read.

"Dear Mr. McIntyre,

My name is Reuel and I am a principality assigned to El-Chanan, another of Joshua's realms.  To make a very long story short, our people left Earth shortly before the Flood.  (Yes, that one.)  Guided by God, we built a home for ourselves, angels and humans both, in our new land.  Over the past several years, we have grown separately from but in communion with Earth.  We have our own El-Chananite Christian Church that I believe you will find much like the earthly Roman Catholic Church but different in some key ways.  Joshua thought you might find an introduction to our world and our Church to be of comfort. 

You and Ms. Ana-Maria Brughetti are warmly invited to attend an Ash Wednesday service at St. Rafiq's Church in El-Chanan.  If you would like to join us, please meet at the Romanos' at 2:30 PM.  They will escort you to Asteriana where some of the Friends will be joining you should you accept this invitation.

Whether today or at some other time, I look forward to meeting you.

May God's blessings be upon you,

Kyle read the letter three times over, ensuring he understood the full import of it.  He recalled that Joshua had mentioned other realms... plural, meaning more than Asteriana.  His curiosity was piqued and he knew he would have to accept the invitation.  Noting that it was shortly before 6:00, Kyle wondered if Ana-Maria would be awake.  Like him, she was an earlier riser so there was hope...

After donning his slippers and robe, with the invitation in his right pocket, Kyle made his way to the kitchen.  He was glad to find that Ana-Maria was indeed up and preparing a cup of tea.

"Hey," he whispered.

Ana-Maria startled but smiled when she saw her boyfriend.

"Hey!  Want some tea?"


"I'm having Irish Breakfast.  How 'bout you?"

"The same, please.  But I'll get it.  I found something on my nightstand.  You need to read it."
Surprised, Ana-Maria accepted the beautiful envelope from Kyle and sat down at the table to read.

Kyle smiled when he heard her gasp.  Once he'd poured the hot water into two mugs, he sat beside her.


"So... that's incredible!  We're going, aren't we?  I mean..."  Ana-Maria calmed herself.  "If you think it would be too triggering then, of course, we..."

Kyle squeezed her hand.

"No, I'd like to go.  I think it'll be fascinating.  And this Reuel, he's an angel so..."

"An angel?"

"Yeah.  A principality is one of the nine choirs of angels.  I think they're like guardian angels except for whole cities or countries or, apparently, worlds."

"Huh...  Didn't know that!"

"Yep.  Anyway, I don't think an angel would be careless in extending such an invitation.  Plus, he makes it sound like Joshua knows about this."

"That's true.  I wonder what these differences are?"

"I'm not sure.  But I'm excited to see.  I bet it's married priests."

"Married priests..."  Ana-Maria smiled at the idea then cocked her head.  "Kyle, if married priests were allowed then... would you?"

Kyle took a sip of his tea then began to caress his girlfriend's hair.

"With the Catholic Church?  No.  I... my trust is too shaken.  But... if we like this..."  He glanced at the letter.  "El-Chananite Church and they would be open to it... maybe.  Would you... be okay with that?"

Ana-Maria smiled.

"I always thought I'd make a good priest's wife."

"You'd make anyone a good wife, babe."

Ana-Maria blushed.

"It's been a long time since you called me that... babe."

It was Kyle's turn to blush. 

"Sorry, I didn't even realize..."

"It's okay...  So long as you mean it.  I just..."  A tear slid down Ana-Maria's cheek.

"Hey... hey there..."  Kyle wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close.  "What's wrong?  Of course I mean it, Ana-Maria."

"I just...  Kyle...  It... it broke my heart when you left and I... I've not said anything because... well..."

"Because of what happened to me?"

Ana-Maria nodded.

"What happened to me doesn't invalidate your feelings."


"I... I'm so sorry I broke your heart, Ana-Maria.  I would never... ever have done it except... I... I wanted to... to give God... everything I had to give a-and.. becoming a priest was the most absolute gift I could think of.  If I could have kept you and pursued that... Ana-Maria, I would never, ever have broken up with you," Kyle explained, tears rimming his own eyes.  "Never.  And... and I'm sorry that I was so focused on trying to give God a gift that... that I took the greatest gift He ever gave me for granted.  I... I wanted to sacrifice.  For Him.  But... I.. I wasn't the one making a sacrifice.  Not really.  Because I was pursuing my dream.  You... Ana-Maria, you were the one whose dreams I crushed.  And I... I am so, so sorry for that."

"But I don't want you to be sorry!  And I... I don't want to think I... that we... are only together because..."  Ana-Maria began to sob.

Kyle stroked her back and rested his chin on her hair.

"Babe, we're not together just because I was raped.  I think, if not for that, I would still be in the seminary.  But would I be there next year?  The year after that?  I have my doubts.  Ana-Maria, I missed you more than I've ever missed anyone.  That last night... before it happened... I... I was looking at photos of you.  A-and thinking about how... how I missed your hands in mine.  I thought about everything from the first moment I saw you on the playground in Kindergarten to sixth grade when our moms made us dress up as Sonny and Cher for the school talent show."

Through her tears, Ana-Maria giggled at the memory.

Kyle pulled her to her feet and began to dance.

"'They say we're young and we don't know.  We won't find out until we grow.  Well, I don't know if all that's true cause you got me and, baby, I got you.  Babe...'"

"'I got you, babe,'" Ana-Maria quietly sang.

"'I got you, babe,'" Kyle echoed before softly kissing his girlfriend.  "If we go today and we find out this El-Chananite Church... or however it's pronounced... allows for married priests and we like it there... maybe I'll pursue that.  But only if we both decide that works.  Because... a part of me still really wants to be a priest.  Especially after meeting Joshua.  But all of me... heart, mind, body, soul... wants to be with you, Ana-Maria.  I love you."

Ana-Maria returned Kyle's kiss then nestled against his chest.

"I love you, too.  And... if you... we... decide it's a good idea... I think anyone would be lucky... no... blessed to have you for a priest."

Kyle smiled and brushed his lips against Ana-Maria's forehead.

"Thank you."

With Ana-Maria's concerns put behind her, the couple sat down, drank their tea, and imagined together what El-Chanan would be like.


Nothing that Kyle and Ana-Maria dreamed up could prepare them... or Bishop Tony who joined them... for the mish-mash of architecture and cultures that was El-Chanan.

Reuel, who greeted them at the portal entry, laughed when he saw the visitors' faces. 

"I imagine I looked something like that when we first came here," JenniAnn mused, smiling as she recalled her own shock.

"Probably all of us did," Kemara agreed.  "Dyeland is astounding enough but this place... it's so vast."

"Kylie and Clay spent part of their honeymoon here," Adam explained.  "It was like having a honeymoon to Paris, Ireland, Rome, Morocco, and more all rolled into one." 

"Randall and I came here for our last anniversary.  We spent a week and I feel like we saw only a tiny portion of El-Chanan," Dot added.

"How big is it?" Kyle questioned.

"About the size of Europe," Reuel replied.  "Maybe a little larger.  Yeshua?"

"A little larger," Joshua confirmed. 

Vincent, who had come at Belle's request, smiled fondly.

"It's been a blessing... since I'll never see Paris, Ireland, Rome, or Morocco.  The people here are very kind... and very patient with questions.  I feel like I must have asked a hundred in my first hour here."

Reuel chuckled and clapped Vincent on the back.

"I think no more than sixty.  One a minute, perhaps."

"And you've been here since the beginning, Reuel?" Tony queried.

"Since it was first inhabited by humans, yes.  I go Home sometimes, of course."

"And the Church... you said it's different from the Catholic Church.  How?" Ana-Maria asked as they proceeded to a grand stone building dotted with vibrant stained glass windows.

"Well, for starters, we've never required celibacy for our priests.  St. Cephas wasn't celibate and so... why require it?  And... for the last several hundred years, we've also allowed women to become priests."

"Really!" Ana-Maria gawked, grinning.

"Yes.  Sometimes I'm bothered that it took that long but..."  Reuel shrugged.  "My role isn't to give orders, only to guide.  Anyway, our celebrants today are actually a married couple: Fr. Gabriel and Mother Eunice St. Croix."

Joshua beamed.

"They'll do a wonderful job.  It'll be a great first experience of the El-Chananite Church."

"I'll sit by you three so I can answer any questions.  Of course, Yeshua can answer anything, too."  Reuel smiled at the carpenter.  "And that goes for all of you.  I know the rest of you have been here before but I know... well..."

"That we might be in the market for a new religion?" Owen offered. 

Reuel frowned.

"Unfortunately, yes."

Fr. Mike who had, up until that moment been very quiet, spoke.

"Reuel, I have a question."


"Do you have any history of people who were priests in the Catholic Church or even Episcopalian or Orthodox coming here and wishing to remain priests?"

"Oh, yes.  Generally, we have no problem welcoming them as priests of the El-Chananite Church.  On occasion, we have had to do a little... retraining, I suppose is the way to put it.  If a priest were to come here and be against female priests well then, of course, we'd need them to reassess their position.  We can't have one priest belittling another."

"Novel idea," Tony muttered under his breath, thinking of the Archbishop's treatment of Mike.

"I'm afraid it would seem that way in some corners," Reuel replied.  "Another important difference is we, not unlike at the Friends' Bible studies, invite everyone who accepts the Nicene Creed as truth to partake in Holy Communion."

"Which, I'd like noted, I am more than okay with.  I never meant for the word 'is' to cause such division."  Joshua sighed.  "Strange how some can take it so literally when I say 'This is my body' and yet see all sorts of nuance when I say 'Judge not lest you be judged.'"

Owen snorted, causing everyone to look at him.

"Sorry.  It just reminded me of a meme I saw once and loved.  It was one of those classical paintings of you preaching, Joshua.  And it had you saying 'Judge not lest ye be judged' and then the word bubbles above everyone else say 'But what about gay people?'  'But what about immigrants?'  'But what about drug users?'  And then you replied with 'Did I stutter?'  Although with an F bomb thrown in there."

Joshua laughed.

"My Ama would have given me the queen of all evil eyes if I'd used that word.  But otherwise... accurate." 

"So pretty..."

JenniAnn smiled at Belle, resting atop Vincent's shoulders.

"Yes, very pretty.  That's the church, remember?"

"Church?"  Belle looked curiously at JenniAnn.  "Different church," she concluded.

"Yes, sweetheart.  It's a different church.  But why don't we see how we like it?  Then we can tell Daddy all about it when he's back."

"Where is Andrew?" Owen whispered to Joshua.

"On assignment.  A brief one.  He wants JenniAnn to make this decision for herself so..."

"So he's not here for her to study and base her own decision off his perceived reactions?"

Joshua nodded.

"Although her godfather is here to lend his own wisdom."  He smiled at Vincent's back.

"Sly as a fox," Owen whispered with a knowing smile.

Joshua returned the smile then stepped in front of the group.

"Joshua!" the robed man at the front of the church shouted.  "Look, Eunie!  It's Joshua!"

Joshua hurried up the steps and embraced the two priests.

"Gabriel, Eunie... so glad to see you."  He kissed their cheeks then peeked past them.  "Quite the crowd inside."

"Oh, yes.  And there will be quite the hubbub when everyone finds out you're back.  Although I'll admit it gives me a bit of stage fright.  I don't want to mess up the Eucharistic rite with the man himself watching."

Joshua chuckled.

"Oh, Gabriel...  I'm always watching."

"Too true!  Of course!  I see you've brought company.  Reuel mentioned..."

Eunice sighed.

"More refugees from the RCC?"

Joshua nodded.

"Poor loves.  Well, we're thrilled to have them join us.  Is that two priests?  Fr. Mike and..."

"Bishop Tony Merriman of Albany, New York.  We'll fill you in later but, rest assured, Tony will be very fond of Mass as it's prayed here."

"Very good.  We're excited to meet them!" Gabriel cheered.

"I'll make introductions."

Joshua returned to the visiting contingent and escorted them up the steps to Gabriel and Eunice.  After a series of warm greetings, the group entered St. Rafiq's, filled two pews, and prepared for their first Ash Wednesday Mass in El-Chanan.


Bishop Tony could tell at once that his nephew was smitten with El-Chanan and its Church.  Ana-Maria, too, seemed enchanted and had eagerly accepted Mother Eunice's invitation back to the rectory for a chat.  Tony regretted that an Ash Wednesday Mass back at St. Bregwin's prevented Mike and him from remaining in El-Chanan but Joshua promised a return visit.  He'd made good on it by presenting Tony, Kyle, and Ana-Maria with their own portal coins.

"Dot and Randall will be sticking around El-Chanan for their Valentine's Day dinner tonight," Joshua related.  "They plan to leave here around 9:00 so, Kyle and Ana-Maria, if you'd like to remain, you could meet them then.  Just in case you run into any trouble getting back.  The coins will work but..."

"User error?" Kyle interrupted with a self-deprecating grin. 

"Yeah, well, I remember you having some trouble with the garage code when your dad first installed it," Joshua recalled, a glint in his eyes.

"Oh my gosh!  I almost completely forgot about that."  Ana-Maria giggled.  "He totally mangled it after our junior prom and Leo had to get up at 1:00 AM and reset the thing because it just kept flashing and beeping at Kyle."

"It's a good thing I was a good kid.  I would have totally failed at sneaking around," Kyle jested.  "So thank you, Dot and Randall.  Have a good time!"

"You too!  There are all sorts of romantic restaurants and sites around here," Randall advised.

"When you're through with Gabriel and Eunice, feel free to stop by my place for some recommendations," Reuel offered.  "I may not be an expert on romance but my granddaughter and her husband keep me in the loop."

"We'll do that!  Thank you!" Ana-Maria enthused.  "For now...  I guess we better head over to the rectory.  Have a happy Valentine's Day, everyone!"  She hugged Joshua and Bishop Tony then, after Kyle had done the same, hurried off with him to meet with the priestly couple.

"Well, I'm going to head back to Willowveil to check in on John and Violeta... see how they're getting along with our Valentine's plans for the little ones."  Joshua tweaked Belle's nose, causing her to shriek with delight.  "So if anyone's headed back, feel free to walk with me."

"I'll go and do my part since I'm helping out tonight," Adam volunteered.

"I'll head back.  Kemara?" Owen checked.

"Yeah, I still need to wrap Sean's present... and get the twins' things packed up for their night with the best babysitter ever."  Kemara, balancing Joy on her hip, beamed at Joshua who had scooped up Ian. 

"Psyche, Vincent... how about you?"

"I wouldn't mind a walk... take in a little more of this beautiful, brisk winter afternoon.  Psyche and Belle, would you care to join me?" Vincent offered.

"Yes, that'd be nice.  Joshua, call if you need anything... although I suppose you know where things are at Willowveil better than I do."

Joshua returned JenniAnn's smile and nodded.

"I think so... unless you and Andrew have done any major reorganizing over the past couple of weeks."

"Nope!  I'll see ya soon then."

JenniAnn hugged Joshua, kissed Ian's chubby cheek, and moved to Vincent's side.

"Bye bye!" Belle called, waving at the others as they departed.

"See ya soon, Belle!" Joshua shouted, blowing her a kiss and catching the one she sent back.

Once the others were out of sight, JenniAnn and Vincent made their way to a nearby park.  After ensuring Belle was properly bundled, they settled onto a bench and watched as the little girl burned off some energy.

"It was a beautiful service," Vincent opined.  "I loved watching the two priests.  That little smile Mother Eunice gave when her husband stumbled over those biblical city names..."

JenniAnn smiled at the memory and nodded.

"It was nice.  Even though the cathedral is pretty big, it made me think about what I've read regarding the Church's early days.  Because their lives were in danger, they'd celebrate Mass in homes.  It must have been so intimate, so... well, homey."

"A church is meant to be a home."

"Right.  And I do like their stance on Communion very much.  It kind of breaks my heart that, if you could go to St. Mary Mag's, you couldn't take Communion.  I mean... I've no doubt Fr. Mike would have let you but..."

"I'm not Catholic... only half."

"You're Protestolic."

Vincent laughed.

"That sounds like a type of blood pressure, Psyche."

"It does, doesn't it?  Well, anyway... I liked that a lot.  And... back when we were working at the Chrysalis, I was talking with Reuel one night and the virgin martyrs came up.  Reuel told me that while those girls are recognized as saints here, the phrase 'virgin martyrs' doesn't exist.  He said that for a place whose first citizens were survivors of sexual slavery, the phrase was just too... I believe he used the word 'demented.'  Anyway, I liked that.  At the time I even thought..."  JenniAnn shrugged.

"You thought of converting?" Vincent gently pressed.

Belle came running at them with something in her hands.

"Mama!  Appa!  Look!  Flower!"

"It's beautiful, Belle," Vincent complimented.  "Just like you."

Belle beamed.

JenniAnn smiled and admired the bloom in Belle's hands.

"So pretty!  That's a daffodil.  It's one of my favorites."

Belle smiled and pushed the flower behind her mother's right ear.

"Pretty Mama."

"Thank you, baby."  JenniAnn hugged Belle and watched as she ran back to a swing set.  She let out a melancholy sigh as the little girl began to pump her legs.  "I used to have to help her with that..."

Vincent gently patted his godchild's back.

"She's still a very little girl, Psyche.  There's so much she still needs your help with."

"Yeah...  And it's not like our family isn't still cuddly and even needy when we're older," JenniAnn commented, pointedly snuggling closer.

Vincent wrapped an arm around her and smiled.

"And I will never complain about that."

"I'm glad.  As for your question...  Yes, I did think about converting.  But...  I didn't want to leave St. Mary Mag's or Fr. Mike.  And, I suppose, it can be hard to pull away from something that seems like it's always been with you.  The El-Chananite Church really does seem like a much better match but... it's not the Church that I was baptized into.  It's not the Church that educated me for seventeen years.  I just... I want to feel like I did in there..."  JenniAnn waved towards the cathedral.  "But I want to feel like that in my Church."

Vincent kissed the top of her head and said nothing.

"B-but that's not going to happen, is it?"

Vincent sighed and tightened his hold of his Psyche.  He remembered the pained, lost look on her face when he'd found her and Andrew in the Tunnels after the altercation with the Archbishop.  He didn't ever want to see her like that again.

"No, Psyche... I don't think so.  And I hate saying that because I know it hurts you.  But... you are my child and that doesn't change just because you're a woman with a family of her own.  It's my job to protect you.  If it were a man making you feel like this... I would do everything in my power to break you away from him.  It's not healthy, Psyche.  You deserve better.  And I know it's easy for me to say.  I can imagine what it would feel like if the Tunnel community caused me such pain.  But that's all it is... imagining.  What you're experiencing is similar... and real.  It means breaking away from something that's been with you all your life, something that, at times, gave your life meaning.  But all that meaning... it never belonged to one church.  It belongs to One Man.  And I think that if you can experience Him in the El-Chananite Church... without the pain, without the guilt, without the worry... I think that means something."

JenniAnn thought of Joshua as he'd looked, sitting in St. Rafiq's... beatific and joyful.  And, yes, she'd seen him look that way at St. Mary Magdalene's...  And also at First Baptist... and at Cornerstone... and Calvary Lutheran... at Beth El... at her kitchen table... at St. G's... in his room... so many places.  Did it really matter where she worshiped and adored him? 

"I think you're right.  And I know that, thirty odd years from now, I don't want to find myself here, having this conversation with Belle.  So... I think I'll setup a time to visit with Reuel.  I can't imagine that in thousands of years, they've never had a 'problem priest.'  So I want to know how they handled that.  And, so long as it's been handled well, I... yes, I'll probably convert.  And Belle with me, I guess."

"I think a visit with Reuel is a very good idea.  Until then... I hope you feel some peace, Psyche.  I don't want this to put a damper on your plans with Andrew for this evening."

JenniAnn's cheeks flushed pink.

"Joshua got us a hotel room in the Old Market."

Vincent smirked.

"So I've heard."

"Who told you?"


"That boy can't keep a secret for anything..."

With a chuckle, Vincent nodded in agreement.

"Well then... I presume you have plans with Catherine?  Playing chess?" JenniAnn teased, a knowing look in her eyes.

"I thought a candlelit dinner in our chamber.  Some chocolate cherry cheesecake and then, yes, some chess."

JenniAnn giggled and hugged Vincent.

"Well, let's collect our little elf and get on our way then."  JenniAnn rose from the bench and headed towards Belle.  "Belle, sweetie, let's go home.  Maybe Daddy will be there."


Belle came running and wrapped herself around JenniAnn's legs.

"Carry me, Mama.  Please."

"How can I resist that little face?"

JenniAnn swooped Belle up and, with Vincent, they headed back home.


That evening, after checking into their hotel, Andrew and JenniAnn made their way to a quaint, candle-lit cafe in the Old Market's underground passageway.  Once they were seated and had ordered their drinks, JenniAnn looked around the restaurant in awe.  Andrew chuckled.

"You do know you lived here for the first couple decades of you life, right?" he teased.

JenniAnn returned her attention to her "date" and smiled.

"Yeah...  But I've never been to this cafe.  I passed it, of course, every time we visited the Old Market and I always thought it looked so beautiful but... somewhere someone went on a date.  And, well, it's not like I was having lots of those."

Andrew reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

"I'm glad that I'm the one who got you here.  Well, Joshua really but..."

"But you're here with me... and looking exceptionally handsome, I might add.  My younger self would be thoroughly jealous."

"So would mine," Andrew murmured.

JenniAnn looked at him curiously but, before she could say anything, their waiter reappeared with their cappuccinos and took their dinner orders. 

"I feel kinda goofy coming to a place like this and ordering mac and cheese," JenniAnn confessed.  "But... I'm just in the mood for comfort food."

"There's nothing fancy about lasagna, either.  But yeah... comfort food feels right.  So... how was Mass?"

"Really lovely."  JenniAnn reached up to where her ashes had been.  "A couple presided.  Husband and wife, I mean."

"And how was that?  Quite a change."

"Uh huh.  But I really liked it.  Kyle and Ana-Maria stayed behind to visit with them."

"What else?"

"Well... they're much more open about Communion.  Anyone who believes in the Nicene Creed can partake so Vincent did.  Adam and Reuel, too, come to think of it."

"Just like at our Bible studies."

"Yep.  And the church itself... so beautiful.  And everyone was so friendly."

"What did Belle think?"

"She seemed a little caught off-guard at first.  And I took it to mean maybe she missed St. Mary Mag's.  But I guess it was probably just that this was a completely new church.  To her, anyway.  She's never seemed surprised when we've gone to Cornerstone or Calvary."

"To be honest, I doubt she notices anything different except the decor, Laja.  She's too young to understand the differences between denominations.  Frankly, I think she prefers Beth El to them all."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Because Tiva feeds her all sorts of sweets afterwards... on china.  Belle thinks she's a princess there."

Andrew smiled.

"Probably so."

"Which actually... isn't a bad way to feel in a house of God.  She's the daughter of a King, after all."

"As are you," Andrew pointed out, reaching across the table to squeeze JenniAnn's hand.

"And you... well, son." 

The angel nodded.

"And what did everyone else think?"

JenniAnn relayed the assorted reactions to Andrew then cocked her head at a sudden thought.

"I just remembered... Fr. Mike asked Reuel how they handled priests from other denominations, including Catholic, coming in... like if they wanted to remain priests."


"And Reuel said it's happened before and, generally, they welcome them as priests.  Do you think Fr. Mike is considering converting?"

"I'm not sure.  I can't say I'd blame him if..."

"Me neither.  Andrew... I want to go to the meeting tomorrow night.  With the archbishop."

Andrew peered over the rim of his mug in surprise.

"You do?"

JenniAnn nodded.

"Kyle and Ana-Maria are going.  So I'd like to go to support him... and Fr. Mike.  Even though he won't be there.  I think Joshua is going... and I know John is."

"John..." Andrew repeated.

A smile played at JenniAnn's lips.

"He actually offered to be my spokesperson.  Any of ours.  You know, if we had anything we wanted to say or ask but didn't feel up to it ourselves."

"That could get... colorful."

"Uh huh.  I have to admit... Joshua, forgive me... that I like the idea of watching the archbishop squirm."

"I think that's understandable, Psyche.  I wouldn't mind that myself.  He made several of us uncomfortable so... only fair."

JenniAnn sensed an almost vicious tone in Andrew's voice that surprised her.  However, before she could comment, their waiter had returned with their entrees.  The archbishop was forgotten in the couple's delight.

"Dessert?" Andrew asked several minutes later.

JenniAnn, who still had half of a heaping bowl of macaroni, stared at him and his empty plate.

"You have room?!"

The angel grinned and waved to a passing dessert cart.

"For that... yup."

"Well, we have a refrigerator in the room so... I spose I could stop now.  That tiramisu did look awfully tempting..."

Only a few minutes after ordering, the two had their desserts.  They readily split their creme brulee and tiramisu and conversation turned to the latest happenings with their kids.  When they were finished, they and their leftovers took a long, leisurely walk back to their hotel room. 

After locking the door, Andrew helped JenniAnn out of her coat.

"Are you ready for bed, Laja, or..."

"Or?" she prompted as she stashed their leftovers.

The angel turned around and clasped JenniAnn's hands.

"I could do with a dance or two?  Burn off a few more calories."

JenniAnn smiled.

"Sounds like a plan to me."

Andrew guided her to a spot in front of a picture window looking out onto the courtyard below.  After fiddling with his cell phone for a few moments, his chosen song started.

"'Will you stay with me?  Will you be my love among the fields of barley?"

"An old favorite... but a good one," JenniAnn commented.

"It seemed appropriate tonight, back in Nebraska.  Although more fitting if it was about corn fields, I guess."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Yeah.  I don't even know if barley can be grown around here.  But I do love this song.  It's so... I dunno.  Just makes me think about courtly love and knights and ladies.  Actually... it wasn't very far from here that you acted like my very own knight in shining armor.  That time with Bennie..."

Andrew cringed at the memory of an unknowingly intoxicated JenniAnn.  He pulled her closer.

"I remember," he whispered into her hair.

"Andrew..."  JenniAnn snuggled against his chest.

The angel stopped dancing and, for a long minute, simply held the woman to him.



"There's something I need to talk to you about."

JenniAnn stepped back so she could look into his eyes.  She couldn't quite read his expression.  Maybe worried, maybe sad, maybe just intensely moved.

"Okay.  Let's sit down."

She guided them to a couch then sat beside Andrew, their knees touching.

"Laja..."  Andrew took her hands in his.  "Everything happening now... what happened when we last went to Mass... it's brought a lot up for me and... Joshua says I need to talk to you about that."

"Then I'm glad he gave us this opportunity.  I've been worried you were holding onto guilt or..."

The angel of death shook his head.

"No.  I'm not.  I mean...  Not like that but...  It's just made me realize how... how this isn't the first time I've worried about you and the Church."

JenniAnn nodded.

"I know.  You were very good with me when the first round of news came out."

Andrew smiled softly.

"I'm glad I could be there for you but I mean even before that.  When you started college... I was thrilled that you were going to a Catholic university because I knew how important your faith was to you.  And I knew you wanted a theology degree.  I really believed it would bring you closer to Joshua and I still think it did but..."


"Sometimes... well, sometimes I worried.  You were just so... earnest, at points, about wanting to be a good Catholic."

"Once upon a time..." JenniAnn scoffed.

"Yes.  And especially when you got into your sacraments class and the one about marriage in particular.  I... Laja, I always wanted you to be happy."

"I know that, Andrew.  I do."

"And if you'd wanted to get married..."

"Then I would have gotten married," JenniAnn interrupted.  "But I didn't want that.  I wanted you."

Andrew rang his fingers through her hair as she kissed him.

JenniAnn smiled after a final kiss but it faded when she saw Andrew still appeared to be holding something back.

"What is it, my love?" she prompted. 

"Laja...  I... I've come to realize that while I did have some concern that your desire to be a good Catholic would nudge you into marriage when maybe it wasn't right, I also... I wasn't just concerned for you.  Because the truth is... I wanted you.  I mean... I... Laja, I never imagined we'd be like... this."  Andrew indicated how closely they were sitting.  "Or... or that we'd have kids... share a home...a bed even.  But, deep down, I would have been hurt if you'd gotten married.  Because then... then we wouldn't have had the talks we did.  We wouldn't have had the moments when... when we just clicked and could comfort each other.  I... I wouldn't have been your... well, your 'one.'"

"Andrew..."  JenniAnn cupped his face.  "Since when?"

"Since you were nineteen," the angel admitted, cringing slightly.

It took JenniAnn a few moments to recollect what had happened during her nineteenth year.  One event stood out above all: 9/11.  Because of the trauma and heartache of that day and its resulting wars, she likely had dismissed any sort of increased tenderness on Andrew's part as the emotional aftermath everyone had faced.  She had assumed he'd sought her out in those early days from concern about the Tunnel community and their Helpers in New York City but... maybe she'd been wrong.

"But..." she began before drifting off.

"Go on, Laja."

"But when I was with Eliot... you... you said nothing."

"You seemed so happy."

"A-and my happiness outranked yours?"

Andrew said nothing.

"But I... I wasn't happy.  Not really.  I just... wanted to believe I was happy.  That I was on my way to a... normal life," JenniAnn finished, ending on a sigh.  "Oh, Andrew...  That wasn't just the Church.  Society as a whole sold... still sells... that happily ever after story of a magical romance, marriage, babies on the way.  But... I do think it's fair to say that I found the Church's voice more persuasive than rom-coms or, God forbid, Cosmopolitan and the like."

"I... I guess that when the archbishop did what he did... it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.  I thought that we'd come to a place where we could live our life and be a part of the Church.  And he just..."

"Ruined that," JenniAnn concluded.

"But it wasn't even the Church, Laja.  It was just one man.  I shouldn't have been so angry... shouldn't still be so angry."

JenniAnn bowed her head.

"But maybe you should.  Because the truth is, if our relationship was known, the archbishop wouldn't be the only priest to not accept us.  We exist outside of most people's expectations.  We... we only made it this far without drama because Fr. Mike knows us, knows that Joshua wants us together.  But let's be honest... the Church doesn't accept all unions based on love.  And... and maybe... maybe it's not right for us to be there and pretend otherwise.  Because this time it was us who... who got disgraced.  But next time?  Next time it could be Owen and Graham.  And I just... I'm not okay with that.  I'm not okay with them treating their relationship as lesser when... when they're covering up for something heinous and cruel.  They're the ones being disordered!  You... you were right to worry for me, my love.  Because the Church..."  JenniAnn wiped at her eyes.  "It did make me think there was something wrong with me... something lesser...  A-and if one of our girls turns out to be like me... or like Owen... I don't want them feeling that way.  Whether we end up as part of the El-Chananite Church or simply Friends... we need to leave."

"Laja... you're sure?  I... I don't want my anger to..."  Andrew shook his head.

"This isn't about your anger, Andrew.  It's about mine.  I... I want out.  I'm sure of it," JenniAnn concluded, her eyes flaring.


"Okay," JenniAnn echoed.  "And as for you..."  She slid onto his knee and caressed his face.  "Since I was nineteen?"

"Yeah..."  Andrew bowed his head. 

JenniAnn sighed.

"I can't pretend I'm not feeling a little bereft.  We could have had so much fun... and could have been of so much comfort to each other during those years.  But... we also weren't the people then that we are now.  And... I'm not entirely sure it would have worked out.  I mean... I was awfully immature about some things and you..."

"Awfully proud still.  Too much of a loner.  Sometimes still wore bad shoes with tassels," Andrew admitted with a rakish smile.

JenniAnn laughed and shook her head.

"Too much to bear really..."  She sobered.  "And you were on assignments an awful lot.  If we'd been as close then as now... I would have gone mad with longing.  Definitely wouldn't have passed my classes.  I was so chubby then, too..."

Andrew cupped her chin and made her look into his eyes.

"Laja, you know that wouldn't have mattered to me.  Not at all."

Fresh tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes as she nodded.

"Yes, I do.  But it would have mattered to me... as much as it shouldn't have."

"Laja..."  Andrew wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her forehead when she rested her head on his shoulder.

"I think we both had some things to work through first."


"But still...  I didn't kiss you until 2011.  Summer.  And then only on the hair.  Ten years past nineteen..."

Andrew smiled at the memory.

"It was worth the wait."

"Glad you think so.  But I still feel like I've got ten years to make up to you..."

"Laja... you don't.  It was..."

"Maybe I want to," JenniAnn simpered.

Andrew chuckled.

"Then I won't argue with you."

"Good. So... how about one more dance and then..."  JenniAnn peered over at the bed.  "That bed looks awfully comfy..."

"It does," Andrew agreed with eagerness.

"And I got a new nightgown...  Dark blue... kinda shimmery...  Very soft.  Ooh but we should see what movies they have to watch."  JenniAnn flitted away from Andrew and headed towards the TV.

"You, umm, want to watch a movie?"

Laughing at his attempt to mask the disappointment in his voice, JenniAnn turned back.

"No, I don't... but something tells me you would have let me, not saying a peep."  She stretched up to kiss him.  "It's okay to say what you want, my love."

Andrew returned her smile and nodded.

"Okay... then I would like to dance with you... in your nightgown."

"Then that is what we shall do," JenniAnn replied before dashing off to change.

Before slipping into his own pajamas and just before drawing the curtains, Andrew smiled out at the starry sky.

"Thank You.  It's been the perfect Valentine's, Joshua.  I hope yours has been good, too."


Violeta stirred in her sleeping bag.  She attempted to get comfortable but, deciding her throat was too dry to allow that, she rose from the ballroom floor.  Smiling in the moonlight, she took in the numerous sleeping bags surrounding her.  Then she glimpsed something that made her eyes well.

Near a window, Joshua slept in his own sleeping bag.  He was surrounded by little ones: Belle, Ian, Joy, Manny, Ada-Marie, Omar, Edison, and Eleanor.  Violeta remembered settling the toddlers into their sleeping bags near Joshua's... but not so near.  She smiled, imagining how first one and then the other must have moved closer.  They looked like furless puppies gathered around their mother.  And Joshua... he looked content and peaceful.

Forgetting her intention to get a drink, Violeta moved her own sleeping bag and spread it horizontally near Joshua's head.  Settling down, she tenderly kissed her Creator's forehead.

"Let the children come unto me," she whispered before snuggling down and drifting back to sleep.


Thursday, February 15th, 2018

"And it was, literally, the cutest thing I'd ever seen!" Violeta reported the next day to those gathered at St. Genesius'.  "They looked like little puppies around their mama!"

"How sweet!  But poor Joshua...  I bet you got kicked quite a few times.  Those toddlers can be unintentionally vicious in their sleep."  Eliot rubbed his side, thinking of the many bruises he'd received when snuggling with a sleeping Eleanor and Edison.

Joshua shrugged.

"I don't think I got kicked.  Definitely didn't notice any bruises this morning.  Your twins started it, I think.  I remember them toddling over to me.  I think they were scared of the dark.  So I snuggled one on either side and we all fell asleep pretty quickly.  I didn't realize they were all there until I woke up around 4:00 and saw them... and the bigger kid up near my head."  He playfully tugged on one of Violeta's braids.

"It just looked so cozy..." Violeta explained.

"I wish I'd been there to take a photo.  Although... I was glad to be where I was."  JenniAnn bumped her shoulder against Andrew's.

"I can't wait til our little guy is out here...  Not that I don't love having him here."  Emma patted her stomach.  "But I want to cuddle with him."

"It'd be worth getting kicked a few times, I think," Peter opined.

Eliot squeezed his shoulder.

"It is.  Trust me."  He took another sip of his coffee then stood up and stretched.  "Well, I think I'm ready to get back to work.  This was a great idea, by the way.  Not sure if I said that before.  Who wouldn't want some decorative boxes thrashed around by Jesus in the Temple?"

Peter laughed.

"Thanks.  Emma and I got the idea last year.  We always have people approach us and ask to buy particular props...  We've had to explain that the cross and Herod's throne are off-limits... although Andrew is good about getting us duplicates to sell.  So we decided to get ahead of the game this year and, with Joshua's approval, of course, sell some stuff after the show with proceeds divided up between the Phoenix Inn, the Chrysalis, and True Light."

"Not FS?" Eliot questioned.

Emma shook her head.

"We offered but Josef said they're doing good.  Centuries' worth of wise investing and all."


Joshua looked up from the box he was carving.

"I think it's a beautiful idea.  Although I do have to laugh at the irony.  I was so mad about things being sold in the Temple... now here I am, carving things to be sold from the Temple.  It makes a big difference when it's a fake Temple, of course... and going to charity."

"Good.  Because your whip is still in storage," Peter teased.

"Although I could offer you a jump rope in its stead if you'd like," JenniAnn playfully offered.

Joshua laughed.

"I'll pass but thank you."

"Do you think Mason will be stopping in today, Joshua?" Andrew asked as he began to sand a vase.

"I hope so.  I think so.  He was planning on it.  He's also still planning on going to the meeting tonight."

"This is the one with the archbishop?" Eliot checked.


"Do you... think you'll say much?" Violeta queried, setting a hand on Joshua's arm.

He shook his head.

"Not tonight.  I'll have my chance.  I'm going to listen and to be with my people.  John, on the other hand..."

"I didn't plan on going.  But... I have to admit seeing John in all his glory has me tempted," Emma contemplated aloud.

"We could go and leave early if you need to," Peter offered.

"Yes, let's plan on that.  I wonder if we'll get a 'viper' out of him..."

"Probably not.  John's of the opinion that the comparison is unfair to vipers," Joshua relayed.

"Ouch."  Andrew winced.

Joshua sighed.

"Francis was such a nice boy..."

Hearing the melancholy note in Joshua's voice, the others' bravado faltered.

Sniffling, Violeta took the carving knife and box away from the carpenter and hugged him tightly.

"I love you, Joshua."

"I love you, too, sweet Duckling," he murmured in reply.

JenniAnn and Emma exchanged a look, silently vowing to each other that no matter how angry or how upset they were that night, they would sit in that church.  If Joshua was going to be there for his people, they would be there for him... and they wouldn't be alone.


By noon, Joshua's mood had lightened and a jovial air once again filled St. G's.  Over plates of pizza and salad, the group reminisced and joked.

"I'll never get over how cute your Abi was about washing machines," JenniAnn recalled.  "He so badly wished Maryam had had one!"

Joshua smiled.

"You should see him walking around Home Depot.  He's like a kid in a candy store.  'Look, Yeshu, if we had only had one of these...'"

The others laughed at Joshua's spot-on impression.

Peter's cell phone chimed.

"Ooh, maybe this is Mason!" Emma cheered.

"St. Genesius' Community Theatre.  Peter speaking," he greeted.  "Sure, Josh is here.  Are you at the front door?  Great!  We'll come around to let you in.  Look forward to meeting you!"

Joshua jumped to his feet and, with Peter, made his way to the main lobby door.  He was pleased when he saw both Mason and Renee waiting.

"Hey!  So glad you could both come!" he welcomed after throwing open the door.  "Hey, Renee."  Joshua's voice softened as she hugged him.

"So glad Mason asked me to come!" she chirped.  "Wow... look at you two.  Twinning."

Joshua and Peter glanced at each other and laughed.  Peter had grown out his beard and let his hair grow shaggy in preparation for Superstar.  Coincidentally, he and Joshua had both chosen to wear jeans and blue button-down shirts.

"Probably won't be the only time it happens this season," Joshua commented.  He held his hand out to Mason.  "Mason... so great to see you again.  Welcome to St. G's."

To Joshua's delight, Mason moved in for a hug.

"Thanks.  I can't stay too long.  Lunch break is just an hour but since my office is so close..."  Mason shrugged.  "Figured I'd come check up on you," he teased.

Joshua chuckled.

"Well, I hope you get only good reports from my friends.  Speaking of...  Peter, Mason and Renee.  Mason and Renee, Peter."

The three shook hands and then Joshua gestured to the theatre entrance.

"Come on in.  We're having lunch on the stage.  Small group today.  You'll probably meet more of them tonight... I mean if you're still planning to go to St. Mary Magdalene's for the meeting?" he checked.

Mason sighed and nodded.

"Yeah.  Renee thinks it'll be good for me."

"A fairly large group of our friends are going," Peter explained. "If you want, maybe we could meet up some place first and go together?  Safety in numbers, I guess."

"Maybe that doughnut shop right across the street?" Joshua suggested.

Mason nodded.

"Yeah, I'd like that.  It'd be good to sit with people we know, huh?"

Renee nodded.


"Then we'll do that," Joshua confirmed.  "How about 6:30?"

"6:30 works for us.  I think Roger wants to go, too," Renee shared.

"Great.  I'll be glad to see him."  Joshua smiled encouragingly at the two then opened the door.  "And here we are."

Peter led the group up to the stage and made introductions.

"Everyone, these are Joshua's friends: Renee and Mason.  This is my wife, Emma.  Our friend, Eliot, who is also one of our set carpenters.  Andrew... also a carpenter.  And friend, of course."

"Hi Andrew!  Good to see you again!"

"Good to see you, Renee!  And you, too, Mason."

Mason smiled shyly at Andrew, recalling that he'd not been at his best when the man had visited.

"Hey, Andrew."

"This is my better half, JenniAnn," Andrew introduced.

"Better half..." JenniAnn echoed, amused.  "Good to meet you, Mason and Renee!"

"Thank you," the couple replied in unison.

"And this is Violeta," Joshua finished.    "Please, sit down.  Have some pizza and salad.  We have drinks in the cooler over there."

"Oh, I was just planning to eat at my desk when I get back," Mason deflected.

Joshua shook his head.

"Please.  We have plenty."

"Definitely," Emma seconded, handing each of them a plate.

Mason laughed.

"I swear, Josh, you make me eat every time I see you."

"Eating is important," Joshua defended with a grin.

"Yeah, it is.  Well, thanks.  This is great."

"Yes, thank you!  It smells so good.  Where's it from?" Renee asked.

"A friend's place," Eliot answered.  "Crocetti's Cucina.  It's the best."

Mason took a bite of pepperoni pizza.

"Mmm...  mmm hmm," he agreed.

Joshua laughed.

"We'll be sure to pass that feedback along.  Renee, there's some veggie with pineapple in that box."

"Awesome!  Thanks!"

Mason shot Joshua a questioning look.  How did he know Renee's favorite pizza?  But then he had no idea what they'd discussed when he'd been in a stupor...

"So what are you all doing?" Renee asked after sitting down with her lunch.  "Making props?"

Andrew nodded.

"Mostly for the Temple scene right now.  And Emma and Peter decided to sell the stuff after the show closes.  Make some money for charity."

"That's so cool!  And how great that you have three carpenters in your group!" Renee complimented.

"Joshua's definitely the superior of us three," Eliot informed.

"Oh yeah," Andrew averred.  "Learned everything I know from him."

"For which I'm very grateful.  Our house has never looked so good.  No more busted railings for us!" JenniAnn jested.

"And Josh is staying with you?" Renee checked.

JenniAnn nodded.

"That's so great," the other woman replied though her tone of voice conveyed some envy.  "And you have kids?"

"We do.  Four," Andrew replied.  "Our youngest, Belle, just turned four a couple of weeks ago.  We also have a thirteen year old named Shelby.  Violeta here.  And our oldest, a boy, is turning 29 next month."

Mason swallowed a bite of pizza and gaped.

"Wait... how..."  He eyed Andrew and JenniAnn.  Neither looked like they could have a near thirty year old son.

The angel of death laughed.

"They're all adopted.  I served with Max, our son, in Afghanistan and we developed a father/son sort of relationship and so... we decided to make it official.  Actually... he and his wife, Rose, are going to be making us grandparents soon."

JenniAnn beamed.

"We're so thrilled!  And he or she will have a playmate around the same age!"  She gestured towards Emma.

"That's so wonderful about your Max.  And congratulations!"  Renee turned to Emma.  "I figured you were pregnant but..."  She drifted off.

Emma laughed.

"Yeah, people can get into trouble assuming but..."  She patted her belly.  "This is definitely a baby.  He's due in mid-April.  Which means things could get a little dicey during this JCS run."

"Emma is playing Mary Magdalene and Peter is playing Jesus," Joshua explained.

"Whoa!  Do you have understudies?"

Emma nodded to Renee.

"We do.  Our friend Ivy will take over for me if needed and..."  She stretched to tap Joshua's foot with her own.  "We're hoping Joshua would reclaim his role if needed."

Joshua bowed his head and laughed.

"Something tells me that won't be necessary but... sure."

"Well, I hope nothing happens but... I would like to see you perform sometime, Josh.  Actually... I think I saw your guitar over by the cooler.  Do you think..." Renee prodded with a pleading smile.

"Baby wants to hear you sing, too, Joshua," Emma added.

Joshua burst into laughter.

"Manipulative Emma!" he jested.  "Using that innocent baby..."

Emma grinned.

"I regret nothing."

"Well, then... any requests?" Joshua asked as he rose to retrieve his guitar.

"You pick," Renee replied.

"Okay..."  Joshua reclaimed his seat and strummed at the guitar.

"Oh..." Violeta cooed when she recognized the chords that he was playing.

"'Now I've heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord, but you don't really care for music, do you?'" Joshua crooned.

JenniAnn moved closer to Andrew and rested her head on his shoulder.  Peter squeezed Emma's hand after she swiped away a tear.

Mason stared at Joshua.

"'You say I took the name in vain. I don't even know the name. But if I did, well really, what's it to you?  There's a blaze of light in every word. It doesn't matter which ya heard. The holy or the broken hallelujah...'"

Joshua motioned for the others to join in.

"'Hallelujah...  Hallelujah...'"

"'I did my best, it wasn't much.  I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.  I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you.'"

Sitting nearest to Joshua, Eliot saw that his eyes were glistening and he set a hand on his back. 

"'And even though it all went wrong,'" Joshua continued, his voice filled with emotion.  "'I'll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah...'"

"'Hallelujah...  Hallelujah...'"

Mason felt tears creeping down his face.  He'd seen something in Joshua's eyes, in the defiant set of his jaw, and heard it in his voice.  He recognized it all.  At some point, someone had wounded the man terribly.  But Joshua hadn't surrendered to the pain, to the heartbreak.  And when he'd cared for him, when he'd try to dissuade him from getting wasted... Joshua hadn't been acting as a simple do-gooder.  He was someone who knew Mason's own pain, who understood it.

"'Hallelujah...  Hallelujah...'"

Joshua strummed the final chords then set the guitar down.

"Sorry.  I didn't mean to bring the mood crashing down.  I just... felt that one."

"We could tell..."  Renee had remained at Mason's side, stroking his back, but smiled tenderly at Joshua.  "That was one of the most beautiful, haunting renditions I've ever heard.  You should have a record deal.  Or five."

Through his tears, Joshua laughed.

"Thanks, Renee.  That means a lot."

"It was beautiful, Joshua.  I... I think God treasures the broken hallelujahs the most," Violeta ventured.

Joshua nodded and gently tweaked her chin.

"I think so, too, Duckling."

"I hope Leonard Cohen could hear that," JenniAnn mused.

"Me too.  I've always loved that song."  Renee sighed.  "It's just so... everything."

Andrew nodded.

"I've heard that song played at some of life's most serious moments... and during some of its goofiest."  He cast JenniAnn a look that made her burst into laughter.

"What's this about?" Peter questioned.  "I sense a story."

"Oh, it's not much really.  It's just one time Andrew needed an emergency haircut and I was the only one available to do it... so I did.  And our friend Adam serenaded us with 'Hallelujah.'  But I'd like it noted I had not tied Andrew to a kitchen chair at any point that day."

"But you have on other days?" Eliot teased, smiling devilishly.


Joshua laughed then directed his attention to Mason who was smiling but quiet.

"Doing okay, Mason?"

The man nodded.

"Yeah...  Just...  That was really great, Josh.  It... it reminded me of when I used to go to church.  And liked it.  Except... more."

Joshua reached over to squeeze the man's hand.

"I'm glad.  So tell me about how things are going at work?"

As Mason filled Joshua in, the group continued to enjoy their lunch together.  When the hour was nearing its end, they finalized their plans to gather for the meeting at St. Mary Magdalene's.  Then, after bidding Mason and Renee adieu, the others prayed that the evening would bring them closer to Joshua.



Joshua stood near the window of the doughnut shop, watching the people go into St. Mary Magdalene's and looking for Renee, Mason, and Roger.


Joshua turned to see John holding a doughnut out to him.

"Sure.  Thanks."

Joshua nibbled on the doughnut, still staring.

"I'm sure they'll come.  Probably just got delayed on the subway or parking or something.  It's only 6:35."

"Yes, you're probably right."

John peered out the window.

"The church is going to be packed."


"Should some of us go over and save..."

"There they are!"

Joshua bolted for the door but Tiva grabbed him.

"Hold on."

Tiva brushed some flakes of glaze off of Joshua's beard.

"Thanks."  He smiled appreciatively at the woman.

"I've had practice."  Tiva tilted her head towards Yakov.  "Speaking of...  Yakov!  How did you get that much powdered sugar on your sweater!"

Joshua chuckled before going out to meet the three newcomers.

"Sorry!" Renee called.  "Missed the subway we wanted and had to wait."  She hurried forward and hugged Joshua.  "Is everyone else here?"

Joshua nodded.

"But no worries.  We still have plenty of time.  Did you want to grab something or head on over?"

Mason glanced over to the church with people bustling inside.

"I think we should probably head over."

"Okay.  I'll tell the others."

Joshua stuck his head back into the shop and called to the others who hurried outside.  As the group crossed the street, Joshua made introductions.

"Roger, this is Emma and Peter and Andrew and JenniAnn who Renee and Mason met earlier.  Then this is Rabbi Yakov and Tiva.  Kemara and Sean.  Owen and Graham.  Owen's grandma, Olivia.  My cousin, John.  Kyle and Ana-Maria.  Reuel.  And Dr. Amber-Marie Sayer.  Everyone, Roger, Renee, and Mason."

There were giddy, anxious shouts of "Hello!" and "Nice to meet you!" as the group entered St. Mary's vestibule.  There were still several pews open but it seemed likely they would fill by the time the meeting started at 7:00.

Joshua led the group to the nearest available pews and they settled in. 

Renee found herself seated between Mason and Amber-Marie.

"Hi again!" the younger woman greeted.  "Joshua said you're a doctor?"

Amber-Marie smiled and nodded.

"I am, yes.  A psychiatrist.  I run a shelter for survivors of human trafficking and abuse, particularly sexual abuse.  Joshua invited me along in case...  Well, I might have someone come to the shelter who..."  She frowned.

"I understand."  Renee cast a glance at Mason who was listening but unresponsive.  "Do you think you'll get up and say anything?"

Amber-Marie nodded.

"I do.  If anyone says anything to try to downplay the effects of clerical abuse...  I will definitely have something to say."


Behind them, Andrew and JenniAnn sat beside John. 

"Who ya looking for?" Andrew asked when he saw JenniAnn craning her neck and looking around.

"Well, just look at how many police officers are here...  I see at least four.  So I wondered if maybe Matthew or Tyron..."

"They're not here," Joshua called from John's other side.  "I asked Tyron when he dropped the kids off last night.  Neither of them were assigned... but Tyron was going to try to stop in if he had time."

"Why are there police here?" JenniAnn asked in a whisper.

"To keep John in line," Joshua teased.


Joshua squeezed his cousin's shoulder then continued.

"I imagine they are here to keep people in line... if needed.  This is going to get very heated."

"Do you think you might say something?" Ana-Maria murmured to Kyle from where they were seated to Joshua's left.

"Maybe.  I don't know that I want to confront the archbishop about his nephew.  But if it comes up... I won't let him downplay what happened."

"Good."  Ana-Maria gave her boyfriend a squeeze.


JenniAnn was oblivious to Owen calling her.  She'd caught someone staring at her and was pretending to be entranced by a hymnal.


"JenniAnn, Owen is calling you," Sean informed.

"Oh!" JenniAnn leaned forward to better see Owen who was at the end of her pew, sandwiched between Graham and Olivia.

"Do you know if Joe is here?"

JenniAnn shrugged.

"Dunno.  Catherine said he was on vacation.  But I wouldn't put it past him to have returned early and be here in cognito."

"He's here," Joshua shared, his voice hushed.  "Second to last row.  Beard and glasses."

"Don't everyone look at once!" Kemara warned. 

"Who is Joe?" Mason inquired.

"Joe Maxwell," Amber-Marie replied.  "District attorney.  JenniAnn's known him since she was little."

"Handy friend to have," Mason remarked.

"Yup," JenniAnn replied from behind them.  "He looks good kinda scraggly."

For the next twenty minutes, the group tried to distract each other with some lighthearted banter.  Then, at 7:00 precisely, the archbishop appeared.

"There he is," Rabbi Yakov announced, tilting his head towards where the archbishop was exiting a vestibule. 

The group watched as he took a seat in his usual chair.

Owen groaned.

"He can't even sit with the rest of the panel?"

"That's... not good," Joshua agreed.

They watched two women, one in a police officer's uniform, and a professorial looking man approach folding chairs.  Once the two women were seated, the man moved behind a microphone at the center of the nave.

"Good evening.  My name is Dr. Patrick Ewing.  I'm a child psychologist and thirty year member of this parish.  I've been asked to mediate our discussion tonight.  A few announcements first.  I'd like to welcome Jenna Levy, a representative of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.  Also with us is Officer Rita Calhoun with the NYPD.  And, of course, Archbishop Francis Wesson."

There was a mixture of applause and booing as Dr. Ewing finished the introductions.

"As for this meeting, it will be in a question and answer format.  If you wish to ask a question or make a statement, please approach this microphone.  If a line begins to form, let's have it in the west aisle, starting near the piano.  If you would prefer, please raise your hand and I will bring a microphone to you.  Now, we'll start with a statement from the archbishop."

Archbishop Wesson rose from his chair and began to read from a piece of paper in his hands.

"Ladies and gentlemen of St. Mary Magdalene's parish and others of goodwill, thank you for joining us tonight.  I ask that we enter into our discussion in a spirit of understanding, reconciliation, and humility."

"What do the rest of us have to reconcile?" Owen muttered.

"And he's a fine one to talk about humility up on his throne," Graham added.

"While I trust you understand the need for some restraint due to legal matters..."

"Nope," Kemara grumbled.

"I will endeavor to be as transparent as possible in addressing your questions this evening regarding the history of abusive priests at this church."

John's face flushed.

"That makes it sound like Mike..."

"I know," Joshua agreed, his voice icy.

"I am also aware that some allegations have been made against my own nephew and I am prepared to discuss that with you... as best as I can given the allegations were made outside of my diocese."

"He's flaking already."  Kyle shook his head.

"We won't let him," John consoled.

"I do ask that you be sensitive to the fact that we have some children with us.  Thank you," the archbishop finished.

"Oh, sure, now he'll protect kids..." Mason spat out, louder than he intended.  A few people turned to look at him but he calmed when Joshua patted his shoulder.

"Thank you, Archbishop Wesson.  Now, I'll turn the mic over to all of you."  Dr. Ewing handed the microphone to a woman who had approached.

"Hi.  My name is Ellen and I've been a member of this parish since my family moved here when I was sixteen.  I was here when Fr. Gregory Smith was pastor.  I had some classmates who... who he abused.  Is that what you mean when you say past abuse here?"

"I am aware of Gregory Smith's abuses.  His are the only abuses of a sexual nature of which I am aware," the archbishop replied.

"Okay.  So can you tell us why Fr. Mike Solas was dismissed so suddenly?" Ellen pressed.  "I think I speak for everyone when I say that was very distressing and in this climate... one can't help but assume... even though I knew and loved Fr. Mike."

"As I said at the time, Fr. Michael is on sabbatical."

"But why?" a man shouted.

"Because he was found wanting in regards to adherence to important doctrinal matters."

"And that's my cue..."  John rose and made his way to the line of questioners that was forming.

"What matters?" Ellen asked.

"Fr. Michael is aware of those matters.  Rest assured, none of you were at physical risk while he was here," the archbishop affirmed.

Kyle sighed.

"Well, I'm glad he said that at least.  I don't want people thinking Fr. Mike abused people."

Another questioner approached the microphone.

"Hi.  I'm Timothy Sorensen.  I actually went to school with Ellen.  And I was abused by Fr. Smith.  When I confided in your predecessor, Archbishop, I was told I must be mistaken.  So why should I believe anything the Church hierarchy says now?"

Joshua winced.  Timothy's comment could cast doubt on Mike... but Joshua completely understood why he'd said it.

"I am heartily sorry for what happened to you," the archbishop began.  "The Church has learned much since those earlier accusations.  I regret that you were not believed but, rest assured, accusations made now are thoroughly investigated."

"Did you know anything about what they're saying about your nephew?" Timothy shot back.

"As I said before, my nephew was not assigned to my dioceses so..."

"He was still your nephew!  I know that my nephew had baseball practice yesterday and got a B on his Calculus test.  People know things about their nieces and nephews!"

"With all due respect, my nephew is an adult and..."

"Bull crap!" Timothy shouted.

Dr. Ewing approached and took the microphone from the man who stormed away.

Jenna Levy switched on the microphone she and Officer Rita were sharing.

"I just wanted to say that among survivors of abuse, trust can be a real issue.  To Timothy and any other survivors out there, I just want you to know that your doubt... it's understandable.  It's valid.  The Church has a long, long way to go in regaining the trust that so many of its leaders destroyed.  Thank you.  And thank you, Timothy, for your candor."

"Thanks, Jenna.  Next..."

A woman accepted the microphone from Dr. Ewing.

"I just have to ask... what's it going to take for the Church to get a clue?  A celibate priesthood is NOT working.  And I know.  I know.  Celibacy doesn't turn a person into an abuser.  I think all of us have been celibate for certain seasons in our lives.  But if we had more candidates... we could be more selective and these problem priests wouldn't keep getting shuffled around."

"We need to stop letting so many gays in!" someone shouted.

Joshua shook his head and peered over at Owen and Graham.  He mouthed the word 'sorry' as they smiled sadly at him.

"Gay priests are not the issue!" Jenna defended.  "Homosexuality doesn't make a person abusive.  Unchecked power... that can."

"But it seems like it's always priests preying on boys," another voice in the crowd countered.

Amber-Marie stood up.

"It's not!  Watch The Keepers on Netflix if you need proof.  The Church has real issues and homophobic remarks and accusations are definitely not going to fix any of them.  I work with survivors of sexual abuse and, trust me, there are plenty of heterosexual abusers out there."

JenniAnn noticed that Joshua was peering tenderly across the nave at a nervous woman who was twirling her hair around her finger.  After a moment the woman stood up.

"That lady is right.  And... I know.  I know because starting when I was thirteen, my parish priest began to groom me.  By the time I was sixteen, I was pregnant with his child.  And he... he wanted me to get an abortion."

Emma's eyes filled, seeing an echo of her own situation in the woman's.  Peter wrapped an arm around her and held her tightly.

"A Catholic priest raped me and then talked me into getting an abortion!  And I did!  Because I thought he loved me and I... I thought he represented God," the woman screamed.  "So don't tell me... don't tell anyone... that this is about gay priests."

Jenna came running down the nave and embraced the weeping woman.

For a few moments, the church was silent except for the woman's sobs and Jenna's gentle murmurings.  Those closest to Joshua saw that there were tears streaming down his face.

"I, umm...  We, uh...  I'm sorry," Dr. Ewing awkwardly apologize.  "Maybe... umm.  You sir?"

John took the microphone.

"Firstly, I would just like to say, that my heart is broken by what I've heard here, what I've read, and what's been told to me.  This abuse... the cover-ups... they are a betrayal of Jesus Christ that, I know, wound him more deeply than the betrayals of Peter and Judas ever did.  Because these crimes... this complicity... it hurts His children.  He weeps for them.  And many of us do, too."

Nearly everyone applauded.  When the noise died down, John continued.

"Archbishop, I would like to briefly turn the attention back to Fr. Mike and I hope and pray you will answer my questions honestly.  First, is it true that you dismissed Fr. Mike because you believed he had given the Eucharist to an unmarried woman you assumed was having extramarital relations?"

The archbishop glared at John, wondering how he knew. 

"Is it true?" John repeated.

Wesson sighed and nodded.

"Yes.  That was chief among my concerns."

Several members of the congregation began to scoff and even laugh.

"Your chief concern was that Fr. Mike gave Communion to someone who was having sex outside of wedlock?  Are you for real?" a woman taunted.

"Presumed to be!" John interjected.  "I contend the archbishop has no such proof of the young lady's romantic activities."

Andrew turned to JenniAnn.

"Did he run this by you or..."

"Of course he did.  And of course I agreed.  Not every day a lady gets her honor defended by a saint.  And, really, it's about Fr. Mike's honor."

Joshua smiled.

Red-faced, the archbishop continued to glare at John.

"My interactions with my employees..."

"Your employees?" John interrupted.  "You, sir, are a servant of the Holy Catholic Church... not a manager at Burger King."

The church roared with laughter.  The archbishop looked like he might explode with rage.

"I misspoke!" he shouted. 

"Yes, he meant to say 'my underlings,'" Kemara jested under her breath, causing Sean to erupt with laughter again.

"I meant my charges.  And, yes, I chastised Fr. Mike for disobeying Church Law."

"But you don't know the young lady in question!  You don't know her life.  I do!  You bore false witness!  You broke a commandment!" John accused.  "And by doing that, you allowed speculation to run wild.  In this climate, you had to know people would assume Fr. Mike had been accused of abuse.  And you said and did nothing... nothing to stem that.  You sullied a good priest's reputation."

Kyle, who had begun recording the meeting on his phone as soon as John had started speaking, beamed.  He would be able to show Fr. Mike the video of the majority of his parish applauding John, applauding him... as the archbishop looked on, enraged and impotent.

Timothy, recovered from his earlier statement, joined John at the microphone.

"I would just like to say that I hope my earlier statement didn't add to anyone's doubts about Fr. Mike.  I actually spoke to him shortly after the reports of Fr. Smith's abuse went public.  Fr. Mike was nothing but kind, supportive, and receptive.  I could tell that... as much as it pained him... he didn't doubt a thing I said.  And he didn't make excuses.  He sat there, crying, as I raged and spoke my truth.  I trusted him... and I trust him still.  And when I spoke to others who suffered at Smith's hands and later went to Fr. Mike... I heard the same thing.  Over and over.  I trust him far more than I trust you, Archbishop."

John patted the man on the back then walked with him back to his seat.  Once Timothy was settled down beside his wife, John moved to the back of the line.

The archbishop stood.

"I will concede that I didn't handle Fr. Solas' dismissal as I should have.  In my defense, I have found that those priests who reject some of the Church's laws come to reject even more important laws.  I feared for this parish and..."

The first man in line rushed for the microphone.

"Whoa.  Wait.  First you tell us that, with Fr. Mike, we weren't at risk of physical harm.  Now that guy calls you out and all of a sudden you feared for us?  Pick a lane, Wesson!"

"Shame on you!" a woman shouted to the questioner.  "That's no way to address our archbishop!"

Her comment was met with a smattering of applause.

"When he starts acting like a leader, I'll treat him like a leader!"

"In my day, we showed respect to our elders and especially in a house of God!"

Olivia Olsen rose to her feet.

"Ma'am, I'm going to guess that your day and my day are the same.  And maybe if we hadn't been so quick to show respect just because of someone's title and position... just maybe this wouldn't have gone on for so long.  Respect needs to be earned!"

"Go Grandma!" Owen encouraged as Olivia's comment was met with thunderous applause.

At his earliest opportunity, Dr. Ewing regained control of the microphone.

"Thank you, everyone, for your... spirited comments.  Now, perhaps, we can let the archbishop clarify what he meant."

"Thank you, Dr. Ewing.  As I said, I wish I had handled Fr. Solas' re-assignment in a better way.  But, as you can imagine, I have many obligations.  It's not an excuse, simply the truth.  Know that I would never willingly put this parish or any other in danger and I would not assign a priest credibly accused of abuse to another parish or..."


All eyes were on Mason who had stood up and was glaring at the archbishop.

"You are a liar!" he reiterated.  "Your nephew raped me!  And you knew!  I know you knew because I told you!"

All those gathered around Mason, except Joshua, looked at him in shock.  The church went quiet save for nervous whispering.

"I was at St. Richard's in New Lebanon when it happened.  You were filling in for my Church History teacher who was on maternity leave.  I liked your class.  I liked you.  And so... so I told you.  And you... you told me that I must have misunderstood.  Had I been drinking? you asked.  I'd never had anything more than Communion wine at the time.  You didn't believe me!  I doubt you even looked into it!  All I know was that, within a week, your nephew was gone and so were you.  So don't tell us that you would never put anyone in danger.  You're as good as a rapist yourself!" Mason howled, tears streaming down his face.  "If you'd only done your job then... others... others wouldn't have..."

Kyle stood and rested a hand on Mason's shaking shoulder.  Steady and determined, he looked around the church then turned his unflinching gaze onto the archbishop.

"Others wouldn't have been abused by your nephew.  I wouldn't have been raped.  My name is Kyle McIntyre.  I'm the one from the news interview, from the article.  I'm the seminarian who your nephew raped.  I'm also the nephew of a bishop...  Bishop Tony Merriman of Albany.  And I know the love that exists between uncle and nephew.  But I also know that if I'd done what your nephew did... Uncle Tony would have done whatever he needed to do to protect children and young people.  Familial love is not an excuse.  You, sir, stand accused of covering up for a rapist.  We're gathered here... in God's house... in the presence of our Christ...  in His name... in the name of the Truth... tell us.  Is the accusation true?"

All eyes were on the archbishop.  For a long while, not a sound was heard following Kyle's demand.

Then came one defeated word.


Knowing nothing he could say would improve upon the brutal eloquence of Kyle and Mason, John had come rushing back to the group.

A cacophony of shouts and boos erupted.

The archbishop tried to say more but people began leaving their pews.

A couple of police officers rushed forward and escorted the archbishop back into the vestibule and away, causing the shouts to grow louder. 

Mason was frozen, transfixed by the mayhem.

"We need to get out of here!" Joshua bellowed.  "Go somewhere else."

"Our place!  Everyone can come to our place!" Tiva invited.

"Thank you!  We're gathering at the Levines," Joshua relayed.  "Everyone, stick together!"

Clutching hands and shoulders, the group managed to get out of the church together.  They were quickly divided up into cars and then on their way, leaving the agitated crowd behind them.


As if she'd been expecting the company, Tiva welcomed her and the rabbi's visitors with a spread of sweets and snacks, coffee and cocoa.

"They believed me..." Mason mused aloud.  "All of those people... they don't even know me and... they believed me." 

"And Kyle made the archbishop admit that he knew!" Roger remarked, shaking his head in continued surprise.

"Mason and I did.  I doubt he would have answered me without Mason's testimony," Kyle stressed.

"You were both tremendously brave," Tiva praised.

Joshua nodded.

"Very.  I'm so proud to count you both as among my friends."

Kyle flushed with pride while Mason gave Joshua a trembling smile.

"Thanks, Josh.  I still... I can't believe I did that.  And you..."  Mason turned to John.  "You're Josh's cousin, right?"

John nodded.

"Well, you missed your calling.  You should be a lawyer.  I mean... unless you are a lawyer?"

John chuckled and shook his head.

"No, I'm a... public speaker."

Mason, Renee, and Roger wondered why this made some of the others snicker but let it go.

"But thank you.  Fr. Mike is a good friend of mine.  While I think hearing from survivors was the most important part of that meeting... I wanted his name cleared."

"I think you succeeded in that, John," Sean assured.  "And you cleared someone's else, too."

JenniAnn smiled.

"Thanks for that.  It was definitely a very minor concern all things considered but..."

"It's not minor," Joshua protested.  "The archbishop accused you of something of which you were innocent.  Worse than that, he judged you and publicly acted on that judgment.  He broke a commandment, as John said."

"Wait...  I'm confused," Roger interjected.

"Wesson sent Fr. Mike to Albany citing the 'fact' that he'd given JenniAnn, his friend, Communion despite knowing she was having sex outside of wedlock," Andrew explained, anger seeping into his tone even as he tried to control it.  "The following Sunday, Wesson refused to give JenniAnn Communion."

"He also threw in there that Tiva and Mike took ballroom dancing classes together... with my blessing, mind you.  All completely above board," the rabbi added.

"Which was ridiculous.  But the truth is..."  JenniAnn glanced at Andrew who nodded.  "Andrew and I are asexuals.  Which means I was not and have never had sex outside of wedlock."

"Hence breaking the commandment.  Bearing false witness," Renee put together.

"Right.  And I'm not naive.  I'm sure most people assume Andrew and I have consummated our relationship.  But that's beside the point."

"It is.  Jesus welcomed everyone to his table.  Saints and sinners alike," Joshua recounted.  "It's not for the archbishop or any priest to decide who gets Communion.  So even if JenniAnn had been doing what he thought..."  He shook his head.  "Wrong.  Very wrong.  It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that those who have sinned and not made confession and been absolved shouldn't take Communion.  But it's up to them to make that decision.  Not the clergy."

"Do you think..." Kyle started before his voice dwindled.

"Go on, Kyle," Joshua prompted.

"It just occurred to me...  The archbishop more or less admitted that he was grasping at straws to get Fr. Mike out.  It seems so stupid.  I feel like there had to have been more to his plan.  It's just a theory but... do you think he wanted that spot for his nephew?"

The group, sans Mason, Renee, and Roger, all looked to Joshua.

"I think..." Joshua began carefully.  "That it's a very plausible theory."

"Jesus..." Roger muttered.

"It makes sense," Peter agreed.  "We know now that he absolutely knew that his nephew had a history of abuse.  Maybe he thought that if he had him close by, he could keep an eye on him.  Control him."

"Shuffling him around hadn't worked.  So, yeah, why not try the opposite?" Mason supposed.

JenniAnn's phone gave off a twinkling melody.

"Ooh, sorry..."  Her face pink, she glanced at the phone.  "Joe!  Hi, Joe!  You are!"  She rose to her feet.  "Okay, we'll let you in.  See ya in a sec."  She hung up and looked to Tiva and the rabbi.  "Joe's just outside!"

"Well, we best let the D.A. in."  Yakov got to his feet and went with JenniAnn to the door.  A few moments later, they reappeared with the disheveled Joe.

Joshua stood and embraced the newcomer.

"Joe... so glad you're here."

Joe thumped Joshua on the back before releasing him.

"I'm glad I could be here.  Angie and I were in Hawaii for a long Valentine's celebration but... when we heard about the meeting, we decided to leave early.  And I'm glad we did.  Whew..."  Joe noticed then that Kyle and Mason were present.  "Oh, hey."

"Joe, this is Kyle McIntyre and his girlfriend, Ana-Maria Brughetti.  And Mason Edwards, Renee Colson, and her cousin, Roger Colson," Joshua introduced.  "This is Joe Maxwell, Manhattan district attorney."

After an exchange of greetings, Joe sat down.

"As soon as I left the meeting, I called some of my counterparts in nearby cities.  We're going to be subpoenaing some records from the archbishop, St. Richard's, and everywhere Blaine Wesson has been assigned.  After tonight, I have no doubt our orders will be met with compliance.  I hope you boys are ready..."  Joe turned to Kyle and Mason.  "As dramatic as tonight was, it's going to go viral.  I've no doubt someone was there with their phone's camera on."

Kyle nodded.

"I don't doubt it either.  I filmed some of it myself.  I wanted Fr. Mike to see John defend him."

"I... I'm not sure I'm ready for the attention," Mason admitted.  "I don't regret what I said but..."

Renee squeezed his arm.

"I'll be there with you, Mason."

"So will I," Roger vowed.

"I'll be there whenever you need me, Mason," Joshua assured.

"You can't be with me all of the time.  You all want to go into work with me tomorrow?" Mason asked with a forced smile. 

"I'll go," Joshua offered. 

"I was just kidding, Josh."

"But I could.  If you want.  Let's see what tomorrow brings.  You didn't identify yourself at the church so you may have some time.  But I fear that, if Joe is right and there is video, it's only a matter of time before a co-worker sees it and recognizes you."

"Or even someone in our family."  Roger frowned.  "I'd like to think they wouldn't out you but..."

Ana-Maria grimaced.

"I first found out about what happened to Kyle because of a loudmouth family member so..."

"It's only a matter of time," Mason concluded.  He turned back to Joshua.  "You would come to work with me?  Just as a sort of... buffer?"

"I would do that.  Absolutely."

Kyle rested a hand on Mason's arm.

"Joshua's a man of his word.  Trust me on that."

Mason nodded.

"Yeah...  I... I've seen that.  Kyle, I..."  Mason's eyes welled.  "I feel like I need to..."  His voice broke.  "If I had been more... more persistent.  If I'd told more people then..."

Kyle shook his head.

"No.  Mason, you... you were just a kid.  Even younger than me and I... I barely kept it together.  I... I hurt people I love..."  He glanced at Joshua before turning back to his fellow survivor.  "Because... cause I was so... so angry.  If it wasn't for my uncle... for Fr. Mike... the rest of my family... I might not have had the strength to go to the police.  I'm sure I wouldn't have.  So please... don't apologize.  You are not the one who needs to apologize.  Please tell me you know that, Mason."

Mason stared into the younger man's beseeching, kind eyes and nodded.

"I... I know that.  Thank you...  You...  you don't know what your compassion means to me, Kyle."

"I might know at least something of it.  I... I've felt a lot of compassion myself during these past couple of weeks.  I hope we can spend some more time together, Mason.  I think we can help each other."  Kyle looked around the room.  "All of us.  This tragedy has touched us all.  More than anything I miss the community I used to have in the Catholic Church but... God is great.  And He's given me this new community.  Our community."

Joshua embraced the two men, starting off a series of hugs and kind words.

The goodwill continued until well after 10:00 when the group finally parted, with Mason and Kyle feeling buoyed, loved, and ready to meet the new reality that awaited them.



A Month Later

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

In between the Sunday performances of Jesus Christ Superstar, many of the Friends had gathered in St. Genesius' office, watching a local news report.

"It's been just over a month since the Catholic Church's ongoing sexual abuse scandal rocked Manhattan when it was revealed that former Archbishop Francis Wesson knowingly covered up a rape perpetrated by his nephew, Fr. Blaine Wesson," a smartly dressed female reporter recounted from St. Mary Magdalene's steps.  "The younger Wesson, who has been missing since mid-February, was publicly accused of rape by two young men during a meeting right here at St. Mary Magdalene's Church on February 15th.  Since then, others have come forward with accusations against Blaine Wesson.  Now, I'm here with District Attorney Joe Maxwell who has an update for us.  District Attorney, thank you for joining us."

"Thank you, Mindy.  I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you," Joe replied.

"Mr. Maxwell, what can you tell us about the cases against Blaine Wesson?"

"Since the crimes were committed outside of Manhattan, I'm not privy to them.  That being said, I have been in touch with both Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Edwards.  I have every confidence that they're cooperating with their local authorities."

"Mr. McIntyre and Mr. Edwards being the two young men who accused Fr. Wesson, correct?"

"Yes, that's correct."

"But it was your office that subpoenaed the former archbishop's office, yes?"

"It was," Joe verified.  "Since the accusations were made in Manhattan and since the archbishop acknowledged his part in the cover-up while here," he motioned to the church.  "We were concerned that the archbishop might have knowledge of other abuses, both within and outside of Manhattan."

"And were your concerns validated by anything you found?" Mindy questioned.

"They were.  Because of our findings, we've decided to begin legal proceedings against the archdiocese and the former archbishop."

"So does that mean you have reason to believe the former archbishop covered up for priests within Manhattan?"

"We have reason to believe the archdiocese and Francis Wesson knowingly moved abusive priests around, failing to protect those they claimed to serve," Joe answered carefully.

"District attorney, is it true that evidence was found that the former archbishop sought to place his nephew at this church... to make him the pastor of St. Mary Magdalene's?"

"Mindy, I hope you and your viewers will understand that this is an active investigation and, as such, I can only speak about it at a very high level.  I can't answer that question," Joe deflected.

Back at St. Genesius', Owen pointed at the screen.

"Look!  His ears are turning red.  He's ticked.  I think that means he knows it's true and is mad it got out."

"Unbelievable..." Shane grumbled.  "So it wasn't just his nephew that Wesson protected..."

"And did you read the article in the Times yesterday?" Kemara asked.  "The earliest accusations against Wesson were made by a couple of students at an all-girls high school."

"His first assignment," Emma added, shaking her head.  "I wonder what those people who were accusing gay people at the meeting think now?"

"One thing I still don't get..." Eric began.  "You said that the archbishop... former archbishop, I mean... copped to the cover-up within a minute of Kyle pressing him.  Why?  Why after decades... assuming he knew about the earliest cases... does he just drop the act right there?  Why resign the very next day?"

"I've thought about that," Andrew replied.  "It's strange.  But then it occurred to me... Joshua was standing right behind Mason and Kyle."

"You think he saw something?  In Joshua, I mean?" JenniAnn questioned.

The angel of death shrugged.

"I'm not sure.  But maybe.  Or maybe not...  It's not like he didn't try to weasel his way out of it later."  Andrew dragged his hand through his hair in frustration.

"Right.  He did that interview with some sympathetic right-wing Catholic rag saying, yes, he knew about Mason's accusation and he knew his nephew had 'crossed a boundary.'  But Mason was a troubled kid who made more of it than he should have.  And Francis was shocked... just shocked!... when he read about Kyle," Owen recounted, eyes rolling.

"And he thought his nephew had been the perfect angel before and after St. Richard's, I suppose?"  Kylie shook her head and patted her tummy.  "It just makes me so sick and sad."

Adam stroked her back.

"It is sick and sad.  And so tragic."

"I'm just glad that Joshua is still around.  Not only for Mason and Kyle but..."  Monica played with the sleeve of her angel dress.  "It's been very helpful having Joshua there as Arthur and I explain to Liam why we don't go to St. Mary's anymore."

"I know it's been hard for Ivy.  She's dismayed, angry... but the Catholic Church is her mother's church.  She can't bring herself to switch to El-Chanan no matter how similar it is," Zeke reported.  "And I can understand how she feels."

"And I'm proud of her for standing strong.  For fighting from within the Church," JenniAnn replied.  "I just... can't.  But you better believe that if Ivy and Sy get married in a Catholic Church... I will be there.  Beaming."

Diana smiled at the thought.

"Me too.  And I think they will.  With Zeke as a co-celebrant."

"Aww!" Kemara brightened at the idea.  "It'll be a beautiful, wonderful day no matter where it happens."

"And you'll have the most adorable grandkids, Zeke and Diana!" Emma gushed.

With their imaginations turned towards the future and babies, the Friends' moods lifted as they prepared themselves for their evening show.


Feeling somewhat nervous, Bishop Tony knocked on the rectory door outside of St. Rafiq's.  He smiled when the door opened without the bolt sliding and multiple unlocking noises he was used to.

"Bishop Tony!" Eunice greeted with a warm smile.  "Come in!  Come in!"

"Thank you, Mother Eunice, I..."

"Eunie, please.  And go on."

"Only if you stick to Tony."

Eunie chuckled.

"It's agreed.  Eunie and Tony."

"Thank you."  Tony smiled as the other priest ushered him into her home.  "I'm sorry for just showing up.  I intended to make an appointment but..."

"Nonsense!  Gabriel and I appreciate the company.  How were your Masses in Albany?"

"Very good.  Fr. Mike celebrated two of them.  It's nice to sit back and enjoy the Mass as a parishioner sometimes."

"Most definitely.  Gabriel and I switch off sometimes for just that reason.  He's in the study.  Come on back."

Bishop Tony followed Eunie through the couple's quaint, warm home.  He could understand why Kyle and Ana-Maria had visited the pair so often during the past month.

"Honey, Tony from Albany is here!" Eunie called before entering the study.

Gabriel set down a book he was reading and held a hand out to their visitor.

"Tony!  Welcome!  I was hoping you'd make it back to El-Chanan soon."

"I'd hoped to come so many times but, umm, I've been busy and..."

Gabriel waved to a comfortable chair.

"We understand.  Please sit."

"Thank you."

"Reuel has kept us informed," Gabriel shared.  "We've seen many of your media appearances since Kyle's statement at St. Mary's."

Tony smiled wearily.

"There have been so many of them...  But I've felt the need to speak up.  So many of my fellow bishops and priests are offering half-baked apologies with no real solutions.  Enough is enough."

Eunie, who had stepped into a nearby kitchenette, returned with a cup of tea.

"Yes, you're very much correct in that, Tony.  But you also need to take care of yourself."

Tony laughed.

"Have you been talking with Joshua?"

"Yes though he hasn't said anything of his concerns for you.  But if he has spoken to you about your health... I think you know he knows best."

Tony sighed and took a long, slow sip of the tea.

"Chamomile... and something else?"

"A touch of lavender."

"Delicious.  Thank you.  It's just what I need."

"That and more food," Eunie pressed.  "You look like you've lost a good ten... maybe even twenty pounds?"

The bishop only bowed his head giving silent assent.

"Let me get you something to eat," Gabriel offered.

"No, no.  I'm fine.  My family has a huge feast planned for this evening.  I promise I'll eat.  Greedily even.  I just..."  Tony peered at the two priests.  "I have a reason for coming here.  And it will help my health, I think.  I'd like to know... would you be willing to accept Kyle into your priesthood?  Not right away, of course.  I know there will be lots of training but...  I know it's still the desire of his heart.  And... I would feel he was safe here."

Gabriel and Eunie exchanged a quick glance, the latter nodding at the former.

"Of course we would welcome Kyle!  He's expressed interest but we haven't wanted to push," Gabriel explained.  "As far as training... we utilize an apprenticeship model.  He'd be paired with an older, experienced priest.  It would be up to Kyle whether he'd want to reside with that priest, remain at home, or we've even had parishioners sponsor candidates.  And Reuel has, too."

"That's very wise... to have those options," Tony opined.  "But about the older priest...  If he was interested... even though he's not from your tradition... could Fr. Mike be Kyle's... adviser priest?"

"Does Fr. Mike want to be a priest in the El-Chananite Church?" Eunie checked.

The bishop's eyes filled.

"I think so.  Yes.  He comes back glowing after he tags along with Kyle to visit you.  I think he only remains with the Catholic Church because of, well, me.  He's seen what this past month and a half has done to me and he's reluctant to leave Albany... the Catholic Church... because of it.  But I don't want to hold him or Kyle back."

"Selfishly, I'd like to count so noble and selfless a man among our priesthood," Gabriel replied.  "And we would be willing to.  Eunie and I have read his blog.  His heart seems to be aligned with us in every way in which we differ from the Catholic Church.  His training would be minimal.  I'd like to consult with other priests but..."

"I imagine they'll agree with us," Eunie finished.  "But it would have to be Fr. Mike himself who asked to enter into our priesthood."

"Of course," Tony agreed.

"And I do wonder..."

"Yes, my dear?" Gabriel encouraged.

"Based on our visit last week and from what Reuel has told us, Asteriana seems to have a fair share of Catholics... some of which have begun attending Mass here," Eunie pointed out.  "So, perhaps, Fr. Mike and Kyle would be interested in ministering as part of the El-Chananite Church in Asteriana."

"To Fr. Mike's own people..."  Gabriel nodded.  "I like that idea very much.  And I believe Joshua would, as well.  Nothing can restore what they've lost, of course.  But to be able to retain a piece of their former Church... Fr. Mike... as they enter into communion with a new one...  I like it very much."

Bishop Tony beamed, his tears now joyful.

"Thank you.  I appreciate this so very much."

Eunie hugged him first, then Gabriel.

"Of course!  Now... I would be remiss if I didn't ask... are you interested in joining us?" the man inquired.

Tony let out a deep, ragged breath.

"Oh, Gabriel...  I would love to.  But I need to remain where I am.  I... I haven't told anyone yet but I've been asked to help with the Archdiocese of New York in the wake of Francis Wesson's resignation.  Which means... it'll fall to me to find a permanent pastor for St. Mary Magdalene's.  I owe that much to Mike.  And to Joshua, of course.  But maybe some day..."

Moved by the man's selflessness, Eunie kissed his cheeks.

"God bless you, Tony.  And just remember... we're all part of the same Great Church, serving the same Wonderful Creator.  You're our brother."

"Thank you..." Tony murmured.  "Thank you... my brother and my sister in Christ... in Joshua."

"Always, Tony.  Always," Gabriel vowed.


Joshua sat between Renee and Ana-Maria in the Levines' living room, watching a magazine photographer take shots of Kyle and Mason.  Since the latter still didn't know about Dyeland, the Levines' home and St. Genesius' had become the de facto headquarters for the Friends as they sought to include Mason, Renee, and Roger whenever possible.

"Roger, I have some of those little pastries you loved so much last time," Tiva enticed.  "Rugelach."

"Rugelach," Roger repeated from where he sat with the rabbi on a couch across from Joshua and the girls.  "I know I've heard of it before.  I don't know why I have such a hard time remembering the word."

"You'll get it eventually," Tiva assured.

"Because she'll keep jamming it down your throat," the rabbi whispered.

"What was that, dear?" Tiva asked with exaggerated sweetness.

"Nothing, my precious buttercup."

Ana-Maria laughed with delight.

"I want to be like you two when I'm old and married."  Her face flushed.  "Umm, I mean..."

The rabbi chuckled.

"Relax, dear girl.  We are old."

"And married!" Tiva chortled.  "Joshua, can I refill your spiced milk?"

"No, no.  Still working on this one.  Thank you, though."  Joshua smiled up at their courteous hostess.  "I appreciate this.  Things are just a little crazy over at St. G's right now."

"You don't think Ilana wanted to shout questions above 'Hey-sanna, Hosanna.  Hey, JC, JC?'" Yakov teased.

"Probably not..."

"Well, in any case, it's our honor.  What the boys are doing is very important."

Tiva sat down beside her husband and nodded.

"They've come a long way in a month.  Especially your Mason."  She smiled at Renee whose face shone with pride.

"He really has changed...  He even..."  She lowered her voice.  "Roger and I have started going to an Episcopal Church and... Mason actually went with us this morning.  He says he's still an atheist but... I wonder sometimes."

"He asked to borrow my Bible," Roger shared.  "I thought that was interesting."

"Very..." a pleased Joshua replied. 

Kyle approached with Mason a few steps behind him.

"They're done with the photos, thankfully.  Now..."

Tiva handed him a plate of rugelach.

"Thank you..."  Kyle eagerly popped a bite into his mouth and held the plate out towards Mason.  "I wanted some so badly but my mom would kill me if there were photos of me in Time Magazine with gooey goodness all over my shirt."

"It is gooey... and good," Mason agreed.  "Thank you, Tiva."

"You're very welcome, Mason.  Are they starting your interview soon?"

"Yeah.  We have a quick break first."  Slightly panicked, Mason looked over at the reporter.

Yakov squeezed his hand.

"You'll be okay.  Ilana is a member of our synagogue.  She's a good girl.  She won't press too hard."

"Thanks...  Speaking of... I keep meaning to ask.  Are you Joshua's rabbi?" Mason looked back and forth between Yakov and Joshua.

Yakov spoke first.

"Actually... I feel it's more accurate to say that Joshua is my rabbi."

Joshua beamed at the other man.

"Thank you, Yakov.  I appreciate that.  Truly.  But, Mason, I do usually attend Yakov's synagogue, Beth El, when I'm in town."

Visibly confused, Mason nodded.

"Okay... gotcha..."

Kyle clapped him on the back.

"Just one of the many mysteries of Joshua, right?"

"Guess so!"

"Fellows, are you ready?" Ilana asked upon approaching. 

"Yeah, I think so," Kyle answered.

"Sure," Mason agreed.

Joshua and their respective girlfriends gave the two men hugs.

"So proud of you," Joshua applauded.  "This is going to do a lot of good for other survivors."

"Thanks, Josh."

"Thank you, Joshua."

Mason and Kyle gave brave smiles to their audience before joining Ilana on the other side of the room where she promptly started the interview.

"To start, in only as much detail as you feel comfortable sharing, could you please tell me about the abuse you suffered at the hands of Blaine Wesson?" Ilana asked gently.

Joshua and the others, teary-eyed despite the fact that they'd witnessed many such interviews during the past month, listened as Kyle told the reporter about cleaning the bathroom, Wesson's surprise intrusion, and the rape.  They grew more tense when Kyle finished speaking and Ilana turned to Mason.  He had yet to reveal the full extent of his abuse.

Mason looked over at Renee and Joshua who offered him loving, encouraging smiles.  He managed a small smile in return and turned back to Ilana.

"He was my math teacher.  I wasn't very good at math so he asked me to come by after school for tutoring.  I... I was hoping to go to college on a basketball scholarship and I knew I needed to raise my GPA.  So I went.  And at first it started out with innocuous stuff.  Setting a hand on my back as he gave me instructions.  Then it got... weird.  His hand would drift a little too far down.  But I thought maybe it was just... he zoned out, you know?  I stopped showing up for tutoring, in any case.  Sometimes, during the weekends, I'd bike over to the school to practice dunking, three point shots, that sort of thing.  And this was before schools were locked up all the time.  At least a handful of teachers were usually around so the side door would be open.  I'd go in, play, shower, go about my day.  One Saturday, I came out of the shower and Wesson was there.  He started talking.  Just normal stuff.  About my classes.  The team.  Except he kept getting closer and closer.  We'd been sitting on a bench but I stood up when I started to feel uncomfortable.  I said I'd forgotten my necklace in the shower and I'd see him later.  I thought he'd leave but... he followed me into the shower, threw me against the wall, and... did it.  And I just... I went somewhere else.  In my head I mean.  It was like I was watching this horrible movie from outside my body.  Then he just walked away.  I picked up my stuff and... left.  That night, I woke up screaming.  My parents came running into my room and... I told them.  Everything."

Kyle clasped Mason's trembling right hand.

"Did your parents believe you?" Ilana softly inquired.

Mason shook his head.

"They aren't bad people.  They just...  Like... like I said... he was my math teacher.  And... and my parents knew I hated math.  And they were also very Catholic.  Like Mass every Sunday, sometimes on week days Catholic.  They said it had just been a nightmare..."

Across the room, Renee wept in Joshua's arms.

"I'm so sorry," Ilana murmured.  "How... how did that impact the rest of your life?"

Mason laughed darkly.

"It destroyed it... at least for several years.  I barely graduated from high school.  Forget about getting a scholarship.  I moved out, bounced from buddy's couch to buddy's couch.  Didn't go to college... at least not until nearly a decade later when I started at a community college.  I got a pretty good job.  Enough to make ends meet, anyway.  I... I have a serious girlfriend for the first time in my life."  Mason turned to Kyle.  "I... I'm just so glad that you had the support you needed.  Right from the start."

"Me too," Kyle agreed.  "I... I only wish you could have had the same, Mason."

Mason sighed and nodded.

"At least I have it now." 

Both men looked over to the couches, to those who loved and supported them.

"I'm very glad for that, too, Kyle and Mason.  Now, I'm wondering if you could tell me how those experiences have impacted your faith?" Ilana asked.

As before, Mason turned to Kyle to go first.

"My feelings about the Catholic Church are... complicated," he addressed.  "I will never forget everything it taught me.  And I have great respect for men like my uncle, Bishop Tony Merriman, who have selflessly served the Church and done so without trying to cover up its ugly flaws.  But... I don't feel comfortable in the Catholic Church any more.  I don't trust it.  So my girlfriend and I have been going to a different, still Christian but non-Catholic Church."

Ilana smiled.

"Your girlfriend.  Can we talk about that for a moment?"

Kyle blushed as he smiled over at Ana-Maria who nodded.


"I trust this is a new development?"

Kyle chuckled.

"New and old.  Ana-Maria and I were dating for years before I joined the seminary.  I, uh, broke up with her when I entered it.  Thankfully, she was still there for me when I left... through all of this... and, for that, I'm eternally grateful.  I still hope to serve God, with her at my side, but... outside the Catholic Church."

"I'm so glad you have each other," Ilana replied before turning to Mason.  "Do you have anything to add, Mason?"

"Uh...  Yeah, I guess so.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to hold onto my faith like Kyle has.  He's still very... Jesus-y.  Sorry.  I don't mean you're obnoxious or preachy, man.  I just mean... you still believe.  In Jesus," Mason rambled.

Kyle nodded, sneaking a look at Joshua.

"I do, yeah.  Very much."

Mason nodded.

"And, umm, I have I guess... started contemplating Jesus more, I guess you could say?" he continued.  "I've been hanging around St. Genesius' Theatre where they do Jesus Christ Superstar every year.  And it hits me, you know, that Jesus... he was abused.  So I feel like... even just as a historical person... he would... get me?"

Back on the couch, Ana-Maria laced her fingers through Joshua's as he peered at Mason, misty-eyed.  The girl could just hear Joshua murmuring.

"I do..." he whispered.

"And I have been going to an Episcopal Church with my girlfriend and best buddy," Mason continued.

Roger perked up then his face softened.  He hadn't realized until that moment just how highly Mason had come to value him.

"I don't really get into it like they do... but I also don't hate it," Mason finished. 

"Thank you.  So you both mentioned girlfriends, friends.  And maybe I can chat with them quickly... but how would you say this has impacted them?"

This time, Mason spoke first.

"My girlfriend and buddy were both Catholic.  Regular Mass attendance sort of Catholics.  And, like I said, we're all going to an Episcopal church now.  So... I think that says everything.  It wasn't just the rape.  Bad people are everywhere.  I think it was more the archbishop not believing me... not looking into my accusation... and now knowing that happened over and over.  He disregarded and covered up and denied over and over.  And he wasn't the only one."

Kyle nodded.

"That's so hard for me to fathom, too.  Except for my uncle, of course, none of my close family members have attended Mass since it happened.  I know we will again some day.  Uncle Tony is celebrating his fiftieth anniversary as a priest next year and I'll be there for his jubilee Mass.  We all will be.  Because he deserves that.  I can't imagine what it feels like to devote your entire adult life to the Church and then watch it hurt a child you love.  I... I look at him sometimes and I just... I want to cry.  He's trapped in this impossible, middle place.  But... he has his faith.  And... and I know God is with him.  In the middle."

On the couch, Joshua thought of Tony with immense love and nodded.

As Ilana's interview turned to Mason's and Kyle's suggestions for how the Church could make amends and prevent further abuses, the men and their supporters began to relax.  Once Ilana and her photographer had packed up, the group moved the Levines' living room back into its normal arrangement and visited together.

Joshua smiled as he gazed at them... Kyle and Ana-Maria seated together, hands clasped... Mason sitting on the floor in front of Renee, her lightly stroking his back... and Roger... staring at Joshua.

Joshua cocked his head and smiled at the man.

"Doing okay, Roger?"

Roger snapped out of his reverie and nodded.

"Oh, uh, yeah.  Actually... I could use the restroom.  Josh, could you remind me where it is?"

Sensing something was up, Joshua hastened to his feet.

"Sure thing.  Be right back."

Roger followed Joshua into the hallway.

"So it's just right..."

"I don't really need the bathroom... Josh."

Joshua's eyebrow crooked upward upon hearing the odd tone in Roger's voice as he said his name.

"Roger, what's..."

"Where were you born?" Roger pressed, his voice gone husky.

"I was born in Bethlehem," Joshua answered honestly.

"And I... I'm guessing not Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?"

Joshua shook his head.

"A-and what's your mother's name?"


"Mary..." Roger murmured.  "And the name of... of the man who raised you?"

Joshua knew with absolutely certainty, in that moment, that Roger knew.  He hadn't said "dad's name" or "father's name."

"Roger..."  Joshua reached out to set a hand on his arm.  "The name of the man who raised me is Yosef.  Yosef of Nazareth."

Roger's face crumpled and he began to weep.

Joshua pulled the man to him, embracing him tightly.

"I'm so glad you know, Roger.  So very glad."  Joshua pulled away just enough to beam at the man.

"I... I can't believe you're here... really here."

"I am, Roger."

Roger nodded against Joshua's shoulder.

"Ever since I... I met you...  Little things...  Even... what you yelled at the bar.  I Googled it... posted on message boards about it.  Someone... they said it was Aramaic.  'Be gone, Satan.'"

Joshua nodded.

"He was there... in the bar?"

"Yes.  But you don't need to worry about that."

"Because you sent him away?"

"Yes.  And your prayers...  Renee's prayers... they've keep him away from Mason."

"Good...  I'm glad.  This evening... whenever God came up.  It was like... you were answering," Roger continued.

"I was.  Even though Mason's not ready to hear it from me, his soul is listening to me... for me.  I wanted him to know that I do understand him, that I'm with him. I'm here for all of you... my beautiful children."  An amused smile lit up Joshua's face.

"What is it?" Roger questioned.

Joshua chuckled.

"I was just remembering... back in junior high, you were so worried that your face wasn't going to clear up.  You even looked to see if there was a patron saint of acne."

Roger, too, laughed at the memory.

"I decided that St. Anthony of Egypt was as close as I was going to get."

"Good choice...  Anthony..." Joshua smiled fondly.  "Roger, you were always beautiful to me... but it did clear up very nicely, huh?"

Still laughing, Roger nodded.  He smiled as Joshua held his face in his hands.  He felt the same sort of pride as he did when his mother bragged about him to her friends... but more.

"Do the others know?  Does Renee know?" he asked.

"Not yet.  All of the St. Genesius crowd knows.  Kyle, Ana-Maria, Tony, Mike..."

"The Levines?"


"But... they're Jewish so..."

"So I'm Jewish, too," Joshua reminded.  "They're like my earliest followers."

"So... that's what Rabbi Yakov meant when he said that you were his rabbi."


Roger sighed happily.

"I... I hope Renee does come to know.  And Mason.  Definitely Mason."

"I do, too.  Very much.  But it has to happen in their time.  It needs to be that way for everyone... well, almost everyone."

"Otherwise they'll think the person trying to persuade them... or you... or both are crazy?"

"Exactly.  On rare occasion, I need to make myself known... like with Paul on the road to Damascus.  But otherwise... patience is the best option."

"It must be hard," Roger suggested with a frown.  "Like... having a kid and knowing they're your kid but... they don't know that.  And if you get too close... too soon..."

"They'd be afraid... annoyed... intimidated," Joshua finished.

"Especially..." Roger trailed off.

"Especially in this case... when Mason has been betrayed so completely."  Tears filled Joshua's eyes.

"Your heart must be broken by all of this," Roger murmured.

Joshua nodded but forced a smile.

"Broken... but still hopeful, still touched by all the goodness I see.  What the Wessons did is like... like a nail...  But then when I see how Ana-Maria and Renee have supported their guys...  And how you've stepped up for Mason despite your initial misgivings...  To feel that warmth, that love... it's... everything."

His smile relaxed, the tenseness in his face easing away, too.

"Now..."  Joshua clapped a hand on Roger's shoulder.  "We'll find more time to talk soon but we better head back lest they all think you have a bladder issue."

Roger burst into laughter.

"Good idea.  Thank you... for this."

"Thank you.  This did me so much good, Roger."  Joshua squeezed his shoulder and then the two returned to the others.

"Did you get lost?" Mason teased.

Roger shook his head.

"No... just got to talking."

"More rugelach?" Tiva offered.

Roger smiled and nodded.

"Yes, please.  Thank you."

Yakov eyed the younger man with some interest then looked over at Joshua who was still smiling. 

"Roger knows," he whispered to Tiva when she sat back down beside him.

"About Joshua?"

The rabbi nodded.

"I'm so glad..."

"Me too."

The couple joined hands and admired their visitors, praying that, very soon, Renee and Mason would learn what the rest of them had.


A New Home

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

"Mason, are you ready?" Amber-Marie asked as she stepped into the lobby of her office. 

Mason set down the magazine he'd been perusing and nodded.

"Yeah.  Thanks."

Amber-Marie ushered the man into her consultation room and sat across from him.

"So how have things been since we last spoke?"

"Pretty good.  It's been weird, you know, with the press and everything but... Josh, especially, has been really great.  He's been coming to work with me whenever there's a big story.  Just a... human buffer, I guess.  I mean my co-workers are all great but... people are people.  They're curious.  They gossip.  The first time was a little weird.  Josh and I overheard someone refer to him as my 'emotional support human.'  You know... like an emotional support animal."

"I do, yeah."  Amber-Marie grimaced.

Mason laughed.

"So Josh just shrugged and said 'I guess that's fair.  I had a donkey for emotional support once.'  And it was just so weird and quirky that this co-worker just kind of nodded and ran back to his office."

Amber-Marie smirked, thinking of Yoktan. 

"My boss absolutely loves him.  And I can see why.  The office morale is just so much better with Josh around.  He remembers everyone's kids' names, always seems to say just the right thing to calm down an intense meeting...  My boss, Doug, actually offered Josh a position in our HR department but he turned it down.  He has his carpentry and stuff, ya know."

"Right.  So I can understand not wanting to go into things with your co-workers... and I think it's great that Joshua is helping to diffuse tense or awkward situations.  But how are you doing with opening up with Renee and Roger?"

"Well... they were both there when a Time Magazine reporter interviewed Kyle and me this past Monday.  So they've heard the story.  I haven't said much more about it to Roger.  But that night... Renee and I had a long talk.  I, umm, I was... pretty crass when we first started dating.  About sex and stuff, I mean."  Mason hung his head.  "Said things that I shouldn't have.  I apologized to her for that.  I think I just did it because... well, I was trying to convince myself that I was okay... sexually, I mean.  As a guy, it's like you're supposed to love sex and think about sex all the time.  And I never felt... totally there.  Like a part of me would check out when Renee... and the girls before... were, umm, intimate."

"That's very normal with survivors of sexual assault, Mason."

"Yeah.  So we're, umm, taking a break.  I mean... we're still dating.  Just not... having sex.  Until I work some more things out and can really be there with her."

"I think that's a good idea," Amber-Marie agreed. 

"I... uh... I told her I loved her," Mason admitted, blushing as he smiled.

Amber-Marie returned his smile.

"That's great!"

Mason nodded.

"I'd never said it before.  To any girl.  I mean... to my mom before... you know."

Amber-Marie reached over to pat his hand.  During their first Joshua-suggested session, Mason had told her about his parents' disbelief.

"But it felt... safe to say it to Renee.  I feel like anyone who stuck with me during the past couple of months... well, she's not going to run out.  And I do... love her."

"I'm so glad that you've made that progress, Mason.  I'd also like to check in about the guilt you expressed feeling... about Kyle and the other victims."

"It's still there... in the back of my mind," Mason admitted.  "Kyle says I shouldn't blame myself... I was just a kid.  But he's barely older than I was.  And he did tell."

"You told, too, Mason.  The difference is the first person who Kyle told believed him without a moment's hesitation.  You... you didn't have the same experience."

"No...  I didn't."

"Have you heard from your parents at all?" Amber-Marie gently inquired.

Mason let out a heavy sigh.

"A letter showed up yesterday...  From them."

"And... you haven't opened it?" Amber-Marie guessed.

Mason shook his head.

"Do you want to?"

The man shrugged.

"What are you most afraid will happen if you read the letter?"

"I guess that it'll just be the same old thing again... denial.  Maybe even anger for daring to attack the Church."

"And, if it was, what would you do?"

Mason considered the question.

"I guess... I mean I'd be hurt.  But nothing.  Because it really wouldn't be any different than before."

"And what if that's not what was in the letter?  What if it was an apology?  How would that make you feel?"

Mason was silent for several moments.

"A lot of different things, I guess.  Relief.  But also anger.  Because it would still mean my word wasn't good enough.  It took Kyle and others to speak up before they'd believe."

"That's fair.  Anger would be an extremely understandable reaction."

"Yeah, I guess.  I'd also be sad.  Because... as angry as I am... I imagine they'd feel tremendous guilt.  And I know what that feels like.  How... heavy it is.  They're still my parents.  I... wouldn't want that for them but..."

"But?" Amber-Marie encouraged.

"But I guess I'd also be happy.  Because maybe... if I could get past the anger and they could get past the guilt... maybe we could be a family again."

"Do you want that?"

"Yeah," Mason murmured.

"Have you considered... and this is only an idea... having someone you trust read the letter first?  Maybe, whatever it says, it would be easier if they relayed it to you first."

"That actually..."  Mason gave a nod.  "It sounds like a good idea.  Do you think... since you've known him longer... do you think Josh would, uh, do the honors?"

"I think if you asked him to, Joshua would definitely do that for you, Mason.  He wants what's best for you."

"Yeah..."  Mason smiled.  "I've got that.  I'll, umm, make arrangements with him for that."

"Good idea.  Now, is there anything else you'd like to discuss?"

As the two discussed strategies for coping with stress and anxiety, Amber-Marie prayed... prayed that she hadn't put Joshua in a heart-breaking position... and prayed that Mason's letter would give him the peace he needed.


"King me!"

Fr. Mike sighed and put a checker atop one of John's as they played in the St. Bregwin's rectory.

"You're going to win again.  I just know it."

John grinned.

"Don't feel bad, Mike.  It was bound to happen.  After all, I have kingly blood in me."

"Ha ha..." Fr. Mike replied as he made his next move.

John paused before proceeding and rested a hand on the priest's.

"In all fairness, I think my winning streak is only because you're distracted.  What's going on?"

"Yeah...  I guess I am.  Just... worried about Tony."

"I thought so."

"He's looking pretty ragged."

"I've noticed.  Joshua has noticed.  People on message boards have noticed."

"Really?  I've been trying to stay away from those."

John nodded.

"I've read a few.  And, yes, people are commenting about how much thinner and more haggard Tony looks from his first interview right after Wesson resigned to yesterday's interview with Good Morning America.  People genuinely feel for him."

"That's good.  Gladdy's over every day, cooking and fussing over him.  And he is eating.  But it's just all... too much.  And I feel badly that now he's in charge of NYC... and St. Mary Mag's.  I offered to go back but..."

"But?" John prodded.

"I miss my parishioners.  And I do want to go back... to visit them, to pray with them.  But I just... John, I can't do it anymore," Fr. Mike confessed, tears pooling and beginning to trace down his cheeks.  "I can't get in front of them and pretend like everything's all right.  I don't trust the Church.  I don't trust the Pope."

John moved to sit beside Fr. Mike and rested an arm across his shoulders.

"Mike, take it from a man who knows distrust of religious leaders very, very well...  It can be tremendously hard to mend that trust... especially when you feel like the attempts at mending are all happening from your side.  And when that mistrust looms so large, it can become a distraction.  And you can't see what it is you're truly meant to do: serve God and share His love with others.  If you've reached that place... maybe it's time to move on."

"But then Tony is left..."

"No.  You will still be his friend.  You'll still be around to help him, Mike.  But if you... and Kyle... were in a better place... maybe that would be just the relief that Tony needs.  Maybe, right now, dealing with his church duties, the media, AND knowing how dissatisfied and frustrated you and Kyle are is just too much.  There's only one part of that which you can help with."

"But how John?"

"How about you, Kyle, and Tony meet me at the Romanos' tomorrow?  Around 4:00 PM?" John suggested. 

"Okay...  I'm sure Kyle's available.  I'll have to check with Tony."

"Tony's available, too."

Fr. Mike smiled. 

"Joshua knows about this?"

John grinned.

"His idea."

The priest laughed.

"Then I guess that settles that.  Okay."

"Okay!" John beamed.  "Now... dry your eyes and focus on our game, man!"

With a chuckle, Fr. Mike nodded.

"Okay, okay..."

After a few moves, he grinned at John.

"King me!"

"Blast it!" John jested before placing a checker on Fr. Mike's.

For the next hour, the two played checkers with Fr. Mike making an admirable comeback.


Andrew and JenniAnn walked the familiar path to Reuel's house.

"It's so beautiful... all the flowers..." JenniAnn admired.

Andrew squeezed her hand.

"We'll have flowers in Dyeland soon.  I definitely saw crocuses and daffodils peeking up out of the ground."

"Oh good!  Although... I suppose if we were going to have an unusually cold winter, this was a good one.  With Joshua around and so much going on, I hardly noticed."

"Same here.  It has been nice.  Especially since it means Rose and Max have been staying over more than usual."

"Mmm hmm...  It's been nice to have all the kids under one roof.  Well, I guess Violeta is under a different roof.  But with the tunnel, Serendipity seems like it's the same roof."

"You didn't used to think that," Andrew recalled with a rakish smile.  "If you did, maybe I'd still be over there."

JenniAnn halted and wrapped her arms around him.

"Distance is relative, I suppose.  It did seem like a way's away when you lived there.  Musta just been psychological distance.  And also... I didn't just want you under the same roof.  I wanted the same ceiling, too."

Andrew grinned back at her.

"One wonders why you even gave me my own room in the castle..."

"In case you start snoring when you get older," JenniAnn teased.

The angel of death laughed and nuzzled her hair.

"I hope that doesn't happen, Laja."

"I don't think I could send you away even if it...  And I definitely think someone just took our picture."

Andrew pulled away and looked in the direction of JenniAnn's tilted head.  There were two teen girls, giggling and staring down at one's phone.

"Excuse them," Reuel called as he approached with Val Jean trotting beside him.  "You two have a bit of a... fan following, let's say, around here.

"Because of the anam cara thing?" Andrew checked.

Reuel nodded.

"Monica and Arthur get the same treatment."  He paused to hug first JenniAnn and then Andrew in greeting.  "History come alive!"

"You don't have any human/angel pairings here now?" JenniAnn questioned, picking Val Jean up after he started scratching at her leg.

"Not nearby, no.  Nearest couple is a little over a hundred miles from here."

"Maybe we can meet them someday," Andrew suggested.

"I'll put in a good word," Reuel agreed.  "But for now... we have much to discuss.  I thought we might visit on the porch since the weather's so pleasant."

"Sounds like a plan to me!" JenniAnn agreed.

She and Andrew followed the principality to his screened in porch where they found a pot of tea and scones waiting.

"You really don't have to feed us every time we visit," Andrew protested.

"Yes, I do," Reuel countered with a grin.  "Hospitality code, remember?  I do think it's only fair to warn you, though, that this little one is a horrible beggar when it comes to sweets."  He stroked Val Jean beneath his snout as JenniAnn continued to hold him.  "If you feel so compelled... he can have a little.  Just not any of the chocolate ones."

"Got it," JenniAnn replied with a giggle as the fox began to squirm upon glimpsing the laden table.

The three sat down, with Val Jean moving to Reuel's lap and eagerly eying the two guests.

"So you have some questions about the El-Chananite Church?" Reuel began.

JenniAnn nodded as she poured some tea.

"Just a couple, I think.  Firstly... is there anything you can think of that I would miss from Catholicism?  Like tradition-wise?"

"Are you fond of the sacrament of Reconciliation?"

JenniAnn blushed.

"No, not really.  I, umm, haven't been in a long while."

Reuel patted her hand before responding.

"It's not that we don't have the sacrament.  It's just... different.  Optional.  In all fairness, this is a Church that grew up in a world that Yeshua... Joshua... occasionally visits.  Who needs an intercessor when you can go to the Source of mercy?"

"I felt that way even before I met Joshua.  Like... I could go to him even if I couldn't see him or directly hear him," JenniAnn shared.

"And many Christian denominations will agree with you there.  Still... some people find the practice of confessing to another therapeutic.  Even in less religious settings you find that.  AA, for one.  So it's an option.  But only an option.  Thus, our children don't have a First Reconciliation... event... for lack of a better word."

JenniAnn looked to Andrew who shrugged.

"Don't just shrug, please," JenniAnn encouraged.  "This isn't just about me.  This is about Belle, too.  Are you okay with losing that?"

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.

"Laja, I feel like I've already said too much about the Catholic Church and..."

JenniAnn sighed and clasped his hands.

"Andrew, you're not infallible.  I know that.  Think about Halloween.  You hated it.  Did that dissuade me from celebrating?  No.  It didn't.  Maybe it changed how I celebrated just a bit.  But barely so.  I'd like to hear your opinion and then I can weigh it against my own, if different.  I promise I won't just automatically agree with you because you're, you know, an angel and watched Christianity develop."

Smiling, Andrew nodded and squeezed JenniAnn's hands.

"All right.  Yes, I'm okay with losing Belle's First Reconciliation.  I wasn't entirely comfortable with it, either.  I know it's not the same but when I make a mistake... I take it to God.  I feel like everyone should be free to do the same without being penalized."

"Good, thank you.  I'm more than okay with scuttling it, too.  So... the rosary?" JenniAnn questioned.  "Do you have that?"

Reuel nodded.

"The prayers would be slightly different.  We use the Aramaic names in all our prayers.  But, yes, the rosary is part of the ECC tradition.  But please keep in mind that even if a given prayer wasn't, it's not as if it were banned."

"Good point, thanks.  So now a big one..."  JenniAnn bit her lip.  "Obviously, things aren't perfect here."

Reuel shook his head.

"We have our problems, yes."

"So probably in the history of the ECC, there have been cases of abuse by priests?" JenniAnn ventured.

Reuel nodded sadly.

"There have been."

"And how are those cases handled?"

"First, the accused priest is sent to a monastery.  Second, an investigation is begun.  If the allegations are found to be credible, the priest is defrocked in more severe cases.  In less severe cases, he or she is charged with living the life of a contemplative," Reuel explained.  "We have a zero tolerance policy, you might say."

JenniAnn and Andrew both relaxed.

"That... that sounds really good."  The angel of death gave Reuel a small smile.

"It's necessary," Reuel affirmed.  "This is a world that was founded, in large part, by survivors of systematic sexual abuse.  Our collective psyche won't allow us to be anything but vigilant and decisive when it comes to combating the same."

"I... I can understand that," JenniAnn murmured, thinking back on the story of El-Chanan's founding and the misery that had preceded it.

"Do you have someone like the Pope?" Andrew asked.

Reuel chuckled, welcoming a lighter question.


"You're him?" JenniAnn guessed with a grin.

"Not exactly...  But I am the second-to-final word when it comes to making a decision on doctrinal matters.  After all, I have the greatest breadth of experience.  But before that, the priests gather and see if they can't come to a consensus on their own."

"And the final word is... God?" Andrew guessed.

Reuel nodded.

"I'm just an angel.  I don't know everything.  As you well know, sometimes even we need counsel from our Father."

"We do," Andrew agreed, his tone tender and reverent.

"You might be interested to know that we have a sacrament for angel/human anam caras," Reuel pointed out.  "Of course, your own blessing with Joshua was unique and special to the both of you and can't be improved upon.  But I know it can sometimes be important to have one's religion validate one's relationship so... yours would be within the El-Chananite Church, whether you join us or not."

JenniAnn was so taken with this news that she didn't notice Andrew's eyes well nor him hastily brushing the tears away.

"Tell me more about this sacrament, please?" the woman requested.

As Reuel explained its history, dating back to his own time with Rafiq and the others, JenniAnn grew more and more enchanted while Andrew became increasingly hopeful.


Wednesday, March 20th, 2018

JenniAnn awoke to a half-empty bed and an alarm clock reading 5:16 AM.  She stretched her legs then turned towards the sound of the fireplace crackling.  With a dreamy smile, she watched Andrew whittle away at something as he sat in front of the fire.  She wondered for how long he'd been up.  Pulling on her glasses, she could just make out the tiny form in his hands.  A fox... surely a thank you gift for Reuel. 

The previous night, he'd commented on how much more relaxed she'd seemed.  And JenniAnn felt relaxed... mostly.  The El-Chananite Church truly seemed to be everything she'd hoped it would be.  But she still felt a pang of regret as she thought about signing her name into a membership book, officially leaving behind the Church into which she'd been born.


JenniAnn watched Andrew's strong but gentle hands bring the semblance of life to the fox.  She thought of those hands, joined to hers, in their chapel as Joshua prayed over them.  Holding their baby girl... later clasping her hands as he coaxed Belle to take her first steps.  JenniAnn thought of them holding her close after the archbishop's rudeness. 

Andrew deserved to be recognized and celebrated.

JenniAnn stepped out of bed and made her way towards the angel. 

Smiling when he saw her, Andrew sat down his knife and the fox.

"Good morning.  I hope I didn't wake you."

"Morning," JenniAnn replied.  "And no.  How long have you been up?"

"Since a little after 4:00."

JenniAnn perched on his right knee and nuzzled into his neck.

"Couldn't sleep?"

Andrew shrugged.

JenniAnn sat up and traced the contours of his face, paying special attention to the subtly deepening lines near his eyes.

"Laja?" a quizzical Andrew asked.


"This is nice but... what's going on?"

"Just thinking...  Thinking about what it would be like to go to Mass with you and be recognized for who we truly are... in a church founded by angels and humans.  To raise our daughter in a church that doesn't look at her parents with suspicion.  Somewhere that we can say... I'm yours and you are mine... forever and ever.  A... a church that... that will support you when... when I'm gone..."

"Laja..."  Andrew shook his head.  "Don't think about..."

"No.  I want to think about it.  Because that matters.  Andrew..."  JenniAnn rested her forehead against his.  "I don't want to hide any more...  I don't necessarily want teenagers taking our photo but..."

Eyes filled, Andrew laughed.

"But I'd prefer that to living under a cloud of suspicion.  Because I can't imagine the archbishop was the only one to make that assumption about us... he was just the only one prideful and rude enough to say it aloud to my face.  And I don't blame them.  I'd assume the same.  But... I also know that if I stood in front of St. Mary Magdalene's and declared that my true love was an angel of God... no one would believe me.  And I can't blame them for that, either.  But I... I want the religion we're raising Belle in to recognize us, to validate us.  And I... I don't want to have to worry over her being in that church... for other reasons.  Andrew, my love, I want to convert."

"You're sure?" the angel checked.

JenniAnn nodded.

"Maybe... with our twentieth anniversary in a couple years... maybe we could even celebrate it in the Church."

Andrew beamed.

"I'd like that."

"Me too."

The pair kissed then continued to smile at each other.

"Maybe a special breakfast to celebrate?" JenniAnn suggested.

"What did you have in mind?"

"Maybe... red velvet pancakes?"

Andrew smiled and nodded.

"Yeah, I could definitely go for that."

Together, the two made their way to the kitchen where they prepared enough pancake batter to feed their burgeoning household then, in the precious minutes before the others roused, they shared a dance in the ballroom.


Just before 4:00 that afternoon; Fr. Mike, Kyle, and Ana-Maria met with John outside of Randall's and Dot's house.

"Thanks for coming!" the saint greeted.  "Let's head on inside so we're not late."

"Are Joshua and Uncle Tony inside?" Kyle questioned.

"They went on ahead.  I told them we'd meet them there."

"Where exactly is there?" Ana-Maria asked.

John grinned.

"You'll see!"

The three followed John into the house and to the portal.  They briefly appeared in the gazebo in Dyeland and then watched as John tapped the symbol for El-Chanan.

"Are we visiting with Reuel?  Or Eunie and Gabriel?" the priest guessed.

"You'll see!" John repeated.

"Not gonna get anything out of you, are we, John?" Fr. Mike needled.

"Nope!  This way."

The group headed towards St. Rafiq's were they were surprised to find a variety of cars, carriages, horses, and donkeys in the parking lot and stable.

"Looks like something's going on," Ana-Maria commented.  "And something big!"

John had grown increasingly solemn as they approached the church.  When he opened the door, soft music drifted out.

Stepping inside; Fr. Mike and the teenagers were surprised to find dozens of men and women of myriad ethnicities lining the nave.  All of them wore priestly robes and were beaming.

At the end of the aisle, Joshua sat between Reuel and Bishop Tony, robed, crowned, and smiling.

When the trio turned to John to question him, they found that he, too, was now robed.

"What... is... this?" a stunned Fr. Mike questioned.

"Just head towards Joshua.  He'll tell you."

The Baptist nudged the priest and he moved forward.

"Now you two..."  John indicated for Kyle and Ana-Maria to follow.

Confused but excited, the couple joined hands and followed Fr. Mike with John trailing them.

As the quartet approached Joshua stood and raised his arms to either side.

Fr. Mike was so focused on Joshua that he didn't notice his parents and several of the Friends filling the first pews.  Nor did Kyle notice his family on the other side of the aisle.

"Welcome, Mike.  Welcome, Ana-Maria and Kyle," Joshua greeted.

"Thanks.  Umm..." Fr. Mike replied.

Joshua chuckled and embraced him then did the same with the teens before moving back to the center of the nave and taking in the crowd.

"Thank you, everyone, for coming this afternoon.  My special thanks to Reuel and to Tony and to John for getting Mike, Kyle, and Ana-Maria here."  He smiled at the person as he said each name.  "This has been a difficult time for the Christian Church.  The pain... it's touched some much more deeply than others... including some here.  Regardless of one's denomination, as Christians, as my children, you must never turn your back on another who is suffering.  However, as I well know, sometimes you need to step away from a place you love in order to better serve God.  For me, that meant leaving Nazareth... my hometown... which I loved.  I never gave up on Nazareth.  I never stopped loving Nazareth or its people.  But I needed to leave it in order to save it.  Some among you have found yourselves in a similar situation.  You have struggled... intensely... weighing your devotion to the Catholic Church against the yearning of your hearts to be somewhere you felt safer... freer...  And that struggle is especially difficult for those who devoted their lives to the Church."

Joshua stood in front of a now weeping Fr. Mike and took his hands.

"Mike, I know the desires of your heart.  I always have.  You have a noble, good heart, Mike.  Don't be afraid to say what it is you want," he gently coaxed.

Fr. Mike peered into Joshua's soft eyes and nodded.

"I... I want to be a... a priest.  But I... Joshua... I want to be a priest in... in this Church."

Joshua rested a hand against Fr. Mike's right cheek and nodded.

"Dearest ones, Fr. Mike has asked to become a priest in the El-Chananite Church," Joshua declared.  "I ask that you please stand with me as we welcome him."

The sound of several people getting to their feet caused Fr. Mike and Kyle to turn around and see their family and friends.  The former barely had time to process this when Tony and Reuel approached him.

"Tony..." Fr. Mike murmured.

The bishop grinned, looking like his old self.

"Don't worry, Mike.  As I was recently reminded, we're all part of the same Great Church, all brothers and sisters.  You will remain my brother.  Always."

Fr. Mike nodded.

"Yes, Tony...  Always..."

"Fr. Mike, this book contains the name of every priest to ever serve the El-Chananite Church," Reuel explained as he held out a massive tome.  "As it's your will to become an El-Chananite priest, I ask that you please add your name."

Joshua handed Mike a quill.

As the priest signed his name, the bishop stood behind him, a hand on his shoulder.

"Fr. Mike," the principality continued, "please kneel.  As a sign of your pledge today, we ask that you reaffirm the promises made at your Baptism and Confirmation."

Fr. Mike knelt in front of Joshua.

"Do you reject Satan and all his works, all his empty promises?" Gabriel called from the nave. 

"I do," Fr. Mike vowed.

"Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?" Eunice asked.

"I do."

"Do you believe in Yeshua ben Yosef, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Maryam was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?" a third priest questioned.

"I do."

"Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?"

"I do."

John moved behind Fr. Mike and with ill-concealed glee, dumped a cup of water over his head.

"God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Yeshua has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins.  May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Yeshua forever and ever," the Baptist prayed.

"Amen," the crowd replied.

Joshua helped Fr. Mike to his feet and handed him a towel.

"I told you a sprinkling was fine, John," he reminded in a hushed but amused tone.

Fr. Mike laughed.

"I'm okay... definitely okay."  He sighed happily then noticed the bishop standing with a white chasuble and a familiar stole... it was one of the ones Fr. Mike had been given during his anniversary celebration at St. Mary Magdalene's.

Tony approached and smiled.

"Eunie made you this chasuble.  Joshua suggested the stole," he informed.  "I think it's right.  You're not leaving us behind, Mike.  You're carrying us with you."

"Yes...  I always will," Fr. Mike agreed. 

Bishop Tony helped him into the garments and the congregation cheered as Fr. Mike faced them in his priestly garb.

After the applause had died down, Joshua again spoke.

"Fr. Mike's union with the El-Chananite Church is reason enough to be glad.  But we're also here for another reason.  We're here to celebrate a young man who, years ago, chose to give his life to me and to my Church.  During recent visits with Fr. Gabriel and Mother Eunice, he's made known his desire to become a priest in the El-Chananite Church... with his beloved Ana-Maria at his side.  Kyle, is that still your wish?"

"Yes... very much," the young man replied as Ana-Maria nodded eagerly beside him.  "Please."

"Kyle and Ana-Maria, please kneel," Reuel requested.

As with Fr. Mike, the two were led through the baptismal promises.  Also like Fr. Mike, Kyle had a cup of water dumped over his head while Ana-Maria received a gentle sprinkling.

Joshua shot John a look as Ana-Maria giggled.

"I'm a buffoon," John confessed.  "But I'm not ungentlemanly." 

Joshua chuckled as he helped the teenagers to their feet.

Tony approached his nephew and hugged him tightly then did the same with Ana-Maria before turning to the crowd.

"I've been informed that the El-Chananite Church apprentices its seminarians to an older, more experienced priest.  As Kyle's uncle, I would like to request that Fr. Mike be his mentor.  Fr. Mike, do you accept?"

Stunned but utterly pleased, Fr. Mike nodded.

"Absolutely.  Thank you, Tony, for your trust in me."

Kyle hugged his new mentor then pulled Ana-Maria into their embrace.

"Thank you, everyone, for celebrating with us today.  We'll be having a reception downstairs to further welcome Fr. Mike, Kyle, and their friends and family.  I hope you'll join us.  Now... go in peace to love and serve... me," Joshua finished with a cheeky grin that caused everyone to burst into laughter.


"So... how?" Kyle asked as he sat down with his family. 

Leo laughed and shook his head.

"It was pretty incredible.  I was just leaving work when Tony rolls up in a van with Romano Family Farm on the side.  I joked and asked if he'd gotten a second job.  He just told me to get in.  And there's Joshua just sitting there.  Then we're off and we picked up Becca next.  Then the kids."

"I thought Uncle Tony had lost his mind," Theodora reported with a grin. 

"Probably have," he joked.  "But not like you were thinking."

"Gladdy and I were next," Mac added.  "Joshua told us that it was a surprise for Kyle..."

"Then he glowed real, real bright!" Mandy chirped.  She leaned over and hugged Joshua's arm.  "I like you better than the Jesus in the pictures at church.  You smile more."

Joshua wrapped an arm around the little girl and kissed her hair.

"Thank you, Mandy.  You make me smile."

"Grandma screamed," Patrick revealed.

"Well, now...  One doesn't expect to meet the Son of God in the back of a van," Gladdy defended.  "But I'm so glad we did."  She smiled at Joshua.

"Then we went to the farm and then to a place with a purple castle!" Mandy shared.  "It was so pretty."

"You can come visit whenever you like, sweetheart," JenniAnn called from the next table over.

"Okay!  Thanks!"

"And then we came here," Becca explained.  "And Joshua told us all what was going to happen and we... Kyle, we were all so proud.  Are so proud..."  She hugged her son.

"It... it's so amazing.  And I'm so glad you all know.  Now... now you know that I really have been in good hands these past couple of months."  Kyle beamed at Joshua and reached across the table to squeeze his hand.  "I just wish..."

"What is it?" Tony encouraged.

"Well, I wish I hadn't been wearing jeans and a ratty flannel shirt for all that."

Joshua laughed and waved away the boy's concern.

"You were just fine.  This is the same robe I wore when in my workshop back in Nazareth."

"The crown really spruces it up, though," Kyle teased.

"Pretty crown..." Mandy cooed.

Joshua took it off and placed it on her head.

"Prettier on you."  He chuckled at its lopsidedness.  "You'll grow into it, kiddo."

"I... I get to keep it?" Mandy asked, eyes huge.


"Thank you, Joshua," Becca smiled at him.  "For..."  Tears welled in her eyes and began to fall.  "For the crown but also for... for being with my... my boy."

Joshua stood and encircled his arms around the weeping mother, comforting her as her family looked on. 

Kyle rose and placed a hand on his mother's shaking shoulders.

Ana-Maria clasped Tony's hand tightly.

"We'll be fine now, Uncle Tony.  We'll all be fine," she assured. 

Tony heaved a sigh, letting go of all his lingering worries for his family and nodded.

"I know, my girl.  I know."


"I'm just so glad that so many of you are here!" Fr. Mike gushed from a nearby table.  "How long have you known about this?"

"JenniAnn and I came here shortly after noon," Andrew replied.

"I'd decided to convert and I wanted to make it official.  Joshua had left earlier and I thought he was with Mason but..."

"He'd actually gone to pick up Tony from St. Bregwin's," John shared.  "They'd come here, Joshua had filled the bishop in and they'd run through the ceremony.  So they were here when Andrew and JenniAnn showed up."

"We were curious, obviously," the angel of death interjected.

"So Joshua filled us in and told us to contact everyone and see who was available for 4:00.  Which was just about everyone, thankfully," JenniAnn added.

"Then Joshua left to come talk to your dad and me in person."  Sibyll smiled proudly at her son.  "Of course we had to come!"

"Ivy and I skipped a class to be here!" Violeta exclaimed.

"Which was totally worth it," Ivy opined.  "I'm so happy for you, Fr. Mike!"

"Thank you, Ivy.  I know you're sticking with the Catholic Church and I think that's wonderful.  I just hope you know..."

"Oh, I'll still be coming to you with questions all the time, Fr. Mike," Ivy assured with a grin.


"Marco and I will still come to Mass with you, once you're settled in, Fr. Mike.  You tell some of the most poignant, delightful homilies... and one hears a lot of homilies over a few hundred years!" Isolde complimented.  "Marco's sorry to have missed out on being here but he's training some new hires from the Chrysalis."

Kemara nodded.

"Sean wishes he could have been here, too.  Thankfully, Owen recorded everything."

Owen held up his phone. 

"I can't vouch for the quality but... yes, I got it all."

"Good.  Thank you for that."  Fr. Mike's smile remained as his gaze traveled around the table, taking in all the beloved faces. "I can't wait to see where this new chapter brings us all."

John tapped his water glass and raised it.

"To Fr. Mike and to Kyle... may your ministries be long, fruitful, and filled with joy," he toasted.  "May you always remember that, whether you see him or not, Joshua is always with you..."

As everyone else called out in agreement and added to the toast, only Fr. Mike and Joshua heard what John had added at the end of his toast.

"...and may you also remember that I'm six months older."

The priest laughed happily while Joshua shook his head and did the same.



Saturday, March 24th, 2018

At Mason's request, Joshua arrived at his apartment a little after 10:00 on Saturday morning. 

"Good morning!" Joshua greeted once Mason had opened the door.  "How are you doing?"

"Good... nervous but good.  How about you?"

"Doing good.  The kids made me Froot Loops encrusted waffles this morning so... I have a little bit of a sugar high," Joshua joked.

Mason wrinkled his nose.

"I love sugar but... yikes."


Renee rose from the kitchen table and dashed towards Joshua, embracing him.

"I'm so glad you're here."

"Glad to be here.  Hey, Roger."

"Josh..."  The man rose and also hugged Joshua.

"So... the letter..."  Joshua eyed the piece of mail on the table.

Mason nodded.

"Yeah.  Thanks for agreeing to come read it... and for your patience.  I decided today would be good because, if it's bad, I have the rest of today and all of tomorrow to recuperate before work on Monday."

"Good thinking," Joshua affirmed.

Mason waved him over to the table.  Once Joshua had taken a seat, he handed him the letter.

Joshua himself felt a bit nervous as he unsealed it.  He well knew how much Mason's parents regretted dismissing their son's accusation.  But what they felt after news of Blaine Wesson's repeated abuses had reached them?  He could only guess.

"Can I get you some tea first, Josh?  Or water?  Anything?" Renee offered.

Joshua smiled at her and shook his head.

"No.  I'm fine.  Thank you, though.  I'll start reading now."

With a nod from Mason, Joshua took in the familiar handwriting of Virginia Edwards.

My sweet Mason,

I hope this letter reaches you.  Your dad and I found your name on your company's web site and then picked the Mason Edwards nearest to your office building.  I pray it's you reading this, my son.

Earliest this week, your dad was watching the local news and saw a report about that young man who was raped at his seminary.  We were devastated when we realized the priest he named was the same one you had named so many years ago.  Our heartbreak and regret increased when we read about your very brave declaration at that church meeting.

Mason, you can't know how many nights we've laid awake thinking of the night you told us you'd been raped by that awful man.  And we don't want you to know.  We don't want you to pity us or feel sad for us.  We committed one of the gravest sins that parents can commit: we failed to believe our boy when he needed us most.  We put our church above our son.  For that, we are tremendously sorry. 

We'd love to hear from you, Mason... to apologize in person, to hug you, to truly listen.  But if that's not what you want, please know that we believe you now.  We love you.  And we are so very proud of you.

We're still at home and we'll stay here as long as we can... hoping. 

Take care, Mason.

Mom and Dad

Joshua wiped a tear from his face and held the letter out to Mason.

"You need to read it, Mason."

"Oh... okay..."

As Renee stroked his back, Mason read the repentant words from his parents.  Tears streamed down his face.  When he was through, he continued to weep in Renee's arms for several minutes.

Roger stared across the table at Joshua who gave him a trembling smile and a nod.  Roger let out the breath he was holding, grateful that his friend had been given some measure of peace.


Monday, March 26th, 2018

Rabbi Yakov sat in his study, making notes for a discussion he was holding at the ecumenical meeting the following day.  It would be a special one... the last with Fr. Mike representing the Catholic Church. 

"Yakov?" Tiva called from the hallway.


Tiva poked her head through the doorway.

"You have a visitor."

The rabbi frowned when he saw the alarm and confusion on his wife's face.  He rose and rested his hand at the small of her back.

"Tiva, what's wrong?"

"It's... the archbishop.  I mean... the former archbishop."

"Was he rude to you?"

Tiva shook her head.

"Only curt.  He's in the parlor."

Yakov nodded, gave his wife an affectionate squeeze, and went to greet his guest. 

Francis Wesson stood, examining a Marc Chagall print on the wall.  He stepped back when he saw the rabbi had entered the room.

"Rabbi Levine," he greeted.

"Fr. Wesson," Yakov responded.  "What brings you here?"

"I came... seeking information," Wesson replied.

Rabbi Yakov motioned for him to take a seat.

Tiva entered with a tray that contained a tea pot, two cups, and some cookies.

"Thank you, my dear."

"Thank you," the priest added without meeting Tiva's gaze.

"You're welcome.  Call if you need anything else."  Tiva gave her husband a pointed look.

"Of course."  The rabbi smiled at her then poured a cup of tea for Wesson and another for himself.  "Information about?"

"Last month...   At the meeting...  There was a man with you."

"I had several men among my group of friends."

"This one...  He looked...  Well, there were two of them who appeared..."  Wesson's hand waved in front of his face.

"Jewish?" the rabbi suggested, both amused and annoyed.

"Well, yes...  The one spoke.  But the other... he was silent.  I want to know who that man was."


"There was something about him... it unsettled me."

Yakov laughed darkly.

"Everything that's happened and Joshua unsettles you?"

"Joshua..." the priest echoed.

The rabbi frowned.  He hadn't meant to say Joshua's name.  But then what harm was there in it?  Joshua was more than capable of protecting himself and it wasn't as if Wesson could look him up in a phone book and hunt him down.

"Yes.  That was my friend, Joshua Davidson."

"Is he a friend of Fr. Michael's?"

"Yes, he's a friend of Fr. Mike's."

"I see.  He seemed very supportive of the two young men who spoke up."

"Someone needs to support them.  Their Church hasn't," the rabbi rebuked.

Wesson's fist clenched.  Noticing, he unfolded it.

"I find it interesting that your... group... managed to connect with two of my nephew's alleged victims."

"They are his victims," Yakov growled.

"I find the timing interesting... This Joshua... your group... they befriended them shortly after I dismissed Michael... your friend."

The rabbi rose to his feet and stared down at the priest.

"What else do you find interesting, Francis?  Do you think my little group ran all over the world, encouraging people to make accusations against priests?  You think we hopped into a time machine and planted the earliest accusations?  Your Church has a problem!  My group has nothing to do with it beyond supporting those survivors who come to us."

"I saw the paintings!" Francis shouted.

"Paintings?"  The rabbi sat back down.  "What are you talking about?"

"I saw the paintings that Michael kept in the rectory... paintings of this Joshua... dressed up to look like Christ."

Yakov sighed.

"Joshua played Jesus in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  He did a superb job and a friend, who is an artist, did a series of paintings."

"That's all?"

The rabbi was stumped.  Of course it wasn't all.  But the priest was quite obviously not ready for the truth.

"That's all I feel the need to tell you."

"I see.  Well... I have a theory.  I think this Joshua Davidson is responsible for Fr. Michael's... indiscretions.  I think he has undue influence over your group and, as a professed man of God, I'm shocked that you've allowed a pretender to have so much sway over your friends."

Rabbi Yakov's ears tingled with rage.  But then he thought of Peter in the Garden... Joshua hadn't liked violence then and he wouldn't like it now.

"You are wrong.  And I won't have you defame my friends in my house.  I've not forgotten your insinuation about my wife, Francis.  I won't hear any more," he shouted.  "Get out!  Now!"

The rabbi grabbed the priest's coat from a nearby rack and flung it at him.

"Out!  Now!" he repeated.

With a silent glare, Francis Wesson left the house.

Tiva returned from where she'd been lurking in the hall.

"Horrid man!" Yakov bellowed. 

"Awful," Tiva agreed.  "Should I call Joshua?"

Her husband nodded.

"Yes, please.  If for no other reason than I need to confess for the revenge scenarios running through my head right now..."

Tiva patted Yakov's back and left to place a call into Willowveil.


Joshua arrived soon after with Andrew in tow.

In a furious tumble of words and pacing, Rabbi Yakov relayed what had occurred to the two.  Andrew dragged his hand through his hair while Joshua rested his head in his hands.

"It angers me to no end that he hasn't accepted responsibility for his nephew's crimes and his part in covering them up!  But now to turn on Joshua!"

"Yakov, sit down before you hurt yourself," Tiva ordered.

The rabbi complied.

Joshua looked up.

"Francis lost sight of me long ago...  I'm not surprised.  And, right now, he's grasping at anything he feels can help him.  A conspiracy led by a strange Jewish man?  Why not?"

Andrew frowned upon hearing Joshua's bitter tone and rested a hand on his back.

"On the plus side, he no longer has a pulpit.  So there's no way he can publicly decry you."

Joshua nodded.

"And that's something to be grateful for.  But he still has his partisans.  And some of them have powerful media ties.  I don't want to think of any St. G familiars having their memories tarnished... not to mention any impact it might have on current attendance.  Although... the people who show up at St. G's don't tend to be the ones watching programs or reading articles sympathetic to Francis and his ilk.  But his continued denial..."

Tiva reached over to squeeze Joshua's hand.

"Did you make eye contact with him at all during the meeting?"

Joshua nodded.

"Once.  Only briefly.  He looked away."

Tiva shook her head.

"I'm so sorry, Joshua."

"Thank you, Tiva."  Joshua brought her hand to his lips.  "Thankfully, Francis can't hurt Mike any more.  And, come to think of it, Tony is his bishop now.  So he may very well order him to stop speaking to the media.  It's just sad.  He held such promise once..."

The other three were quiet, leaving Joshua to his memories.


Thursday, March 29th, 2018

The baby kicking stirred Emma from her sleep.  Smiling, she roused and caressed her belly.

"Hey there, it's okay.  It'd bedtime now.  Shhh..." she cooed.

Turning to her other side, Emma realized that Peter was gone.

"Hmm...  Are you awake because Daddy's awake?" she mused.  "Let's go find him."

Emma slid on her slippers and stepped into the living room.  She cocked her head in confusion when she heard singing.

"'Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?'"

It was Joshua singing.

"'Nothing can be done to stop the shouting...'"

Emma glimpsed her husband sprawled on the couch, his face tinged by the TV.

"Peter?  What are you doing?" she called as she approached.

Peter paused the TV and sat up.

"Sorry.  I hope I didn't wake you."

"No, baby did.  He's kicking a lot.  I think he missed you."

Peter smiled and patted Emma's belly once she was seated beside him.

"I'm here, baby boy," he assured.

"So why are you watching the show?  You didn't get enough of it earlier?  The show only ended what..."  Emma checked the clock.  "Not even quite two hours ago?"

Peter chuckled and nodded.

"I guess I just wanted to see Joshua do it.  Emma, I've been thinking..."

"Uh oh..."

Peter smiled.

"It's a good thing, I think.  I think... Joshua should go on tomorrow."

Emma gaped.

"Have you told him this?"

"No... I just thought of it tonight.  I couldn't sleep and I got to thinking about how you... you had that experience while watching Joshua re-enact the Crucifixion.  It's how you came to believe he was... him.  Mason's coming tomorrow night so maybe..."

Emma stroked her husband's face.

"Sweetie...  I love that you had this idea.  I love that you want to do this for Mason and Joshua.  But... I also watched Joshua perform night after night and had all sorts of other experiences.  It... it's not like I saw him act once and was like 'He's Jesus!  I believe again!'"

Peter frowned.

"I know but..."

"But it's worth a chance.  I just don't want you being heartbroken if it doesn't work.  Because it's not the same situation."

"I won't be!" Peter assured. "If nothing else... we get to watch Joshua perform again!  Wouldn't that be great?"

Emma smiled dreamily.

"It would be pretty great...  But how are you going to convince Joshua to do it?  You can't pretend to be sick."

"I know.  I just figured I'd ask him... tell him it would do my soul good to see it.  That's completely true."

"I think..." Emma began, "that you should do it!"

"Great!" Peter hugged and kissed her.  "I can't wait!"

"Me neither."

"But for now... we better get you back to bed."

"In a little bit.  Just let him finish this song."


Snuggled together, the two watched Joshua face-off against the Pharisees.


Good Friday- March 30th, 2018

Joshua stared across the breakfast table in Willowveil's ballroom while Emma and Peter sat on the other side, anxiously returning his gaze.

"Please, please, please do it..." Violeta pleaded. 

"Oh Joshua...  How can you resist that face?" JenniAnn teased.

"JenniAnn certainly never can," Andrew quipped before kissing her cheek.

Joshua chuckled.

"You're all gaining up on me.  And on today of all days..."  He gave them an exaggerated, disappointed scowl.

Peter took up his fork and spoon and banged them on the table.

"Joshua!  Joshua!" he hooted.

Soon, everyone in the ballroom was going the same thing, including those who had no idea why they were doing it.

"You're setting a bad example for the children!" Joshua shouted over the din.

"Joshua!  Joshua!" the crowd continued, uncowed.

Joshua laughed. 

"Oh fine!" he bellowed. 

There was an immediate silence.

"I'll do it."

The ballroom erupted in applause and shrieks of joy.


That evening, Peter met Mason, Renee, and Roger at the ticket booth.

"Hey Peter!" Roger greeted.  "What are you doing out here?  I figured you'd be in make-up already."

"Usually I would be but... change of plans.  Joshua's going on for me."

"Oh no!" Renee lamented.  "Are you sick?"

"No, no.  I just... wanted to watch Joshua do it again.  So I told him that I'd show you to your box since he is in make-up."

"Wow...  That'll be something to see.  And thanks again for the box.  It'll be nice to have some privacy.  I might need Renee and Roger to fill me in since my Gospel knowledge is a little rusty," Mason joked.

"Sure.  No problem.  Right this way.  Show will start in..." Peter checked his phone.  "Twenty minutes!  I'll see you afterwards."

"Thanks, Peter!"

"Thank you!"


Peter made his way back down to the main floor then backstage where JenniAnn was fussing over Joshua.

"Mason, Renee, and Roger are here," he reported. 

"I'm glad.  Peter?"


"Is that why you really asked me to do this?" Joshua inquired knowingly.

"Yeah..." Peter admitted.  "I didn't want to tell you in case it doesn't work out.  And I really did just long to see you do this again.  You... you are the best Jesus, after all."

Joshua smiled and squeezed Peter's hand.

"Thanks.  I appreciate this."

"You're welcome, Joshua!"  Peter bent to kiss his cheek.  "I need to go see Zeke, ask him to announce the casting change.  Break a leg!"

"Thank you!" Joshua smiled as Peter dashed away.

"I'll pray it works."  JenniAnn set down her make-up brush and squeezed Joshua's shoulder.

Joshua took her hand in his.

"Thank you...  I'll be praying, too."


Outside the theatre, John watched the last of the crowd pour in at five minutes til showtime.  He planned to stand in the back of the theatre with Peter, taking it all in.  It gave him a thrill to watch people fall in love with his cousin.

John was just about to step inside when a man came running towards him.  Politely, he held the door.

"Thank you," the man responded.

"You're welcome.  Better hurry.  Show's starting soon."

"Noted."  The man fished a ticket out of his pocket and looked up at John for the first time.

There was a moment of mutual recognition as John and Francis Wesson stared at each other.


To thunderous applause, Zeke walked onto the still-curtained stage.

"Thank you!" he called.  "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen!  Before we begin our show, I have an announcement to make.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have an understudy stepping into the role of Jesus Christ."

Disappointed murmurs and even some boos sounded throughout the theatre.

"Please, please...  Rest assured, our understudy will not disappoint.  Those of you who have been attending our Superstar productions may remember him....  Ladies and gentlemen, tonight only, Joshua Davidson will be reprising his role as Jesus!"

The "repeat-offenders" immediately outted themselves by screaming and shouting with glee.  Their enthusiasm put the kibosh on any of the newcomers' lingering concerns. 

Zeke grinned over at Joshua who stood just off-stage then turned back to the crowd.

"And now... Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar!"

The instrumentation began and Joshua spoke.

"'Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.'"

"'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.'"


"'Thirty!'" Adam bellowed.  "'Thirty one!'"

Up in the box, tears filled Mason's eyes.  Joshua looked so horribly anguished... he had to remind himself that it was all pretend.  Joshua was his friend.  Adam was Joshua's friend.  The blood was paint.  The whip was a trick.

"'Thirty two!  Thirty three...'"

Roger clasped the arms of his seat.  It was all at once terrible and wonderful to behold... Joshua pretending to be Joshua...  He peered over at his cousin and Mason.

Renee was hugging Mason's arm, sometimes turning into his shoulder to hide her tear-streaked face.

"'Thirty four...  Thirty five!  Thirty six...  Thirty sev-ven...  Thirty... eight...  Thirty nine!'"

Joshua collapsed and Adam held him by the shoulders like a rag doll before the two crumpled to the ground together.

"'Where are you from, Jesus?  What do you want, Jesus?  Tell me...  You've got to be careful... you could be dead soon.  Could well be.'"  Adam shook Joshua.  "'Why do you not speak when I hold your life in my hands?  How can you stay quiet?  I don't believe you understand!'"

Mason stared at Joshua... weak, abused, nearly naked, powerless...  But even from a distance, he could see a tenderness in Joshua's gaze as he looked at Adam.  Was it bad acting?  Joshua letting his fondness for his friend sneak through? 


Mason realized it was exquisite acting.  Because if Jesus truly was who he'd said he was... he would have loved that man... that awful, bigoted, war-hungry Roman.

And if Jesus was who he'd said he was... he would still love him... for all his denial, his anger, his crassness... Jesus would still love him.

Mason's thoughts turned to that horrible night in the bar.  Most of it was blurry.  But one image was burned into his memory... Joshua, on the floor, bleeding and in pain...

But he'd come back.  He'd embraced Mason and welcomed him into his makeshift family.

If a mere mortal could do that... surely God could.


Following the Resurrection scene, Joshua walked backstage to the sound of the Friends applauding wildly.  Most of them had tears in their eyes as they launched themselves at him for a huge group hug.

"You still got it, Boss!" Adam complimented.

"That's my baby boy!" Violeta kidded as she pulled off her Maryam veil. 

Andrew beamed.

"Amazing show, everyone!  Joshua..."  He hugged him tightly.  "Absolutely amazing."

"Thanks, Andrew.  The energy out there was really great, wasn't it?  I can't wait to go out and visit with everyone."

"We might have to tie you down.  I have a feeling some of those people would like to take you home," Emma teased.

Joshua grinned.

"They can... just not quite in that way."

JenniAnn took his hand.

"C'mon.  Let's get the rest of that make-up off you.  And... Peter was going to bring our three friends backstage."

"Oh... great," Joshua replied, a touch nervous.

Violeta took his other hand.

"They had to have felt something, Joshua...  It's impossible not to."

Joshua smiled and went with the two to the blue room.

JenniAnn was still wiping red paint off his back and Violeta from his arms when Peter entered with Mason, Roger, and Renee.

Joshua grinned.

"The life of a sometimes-actor... isn't it glamorous?" he joked to ease the awkwardness.

JenniAnn smiled.

"We're almost done.  Just a couple more dabs and... spin."

Joshua did so.

"You're all good!  Violeta, come... umm... help me fold programs for tomorrow."


JenniAnn grabbed the angel's hand and pulled her out of the room.  Peter followed them.

Joshua pulled a sweater over his head and again smiled at his guests.

"So what did you think?"

Renee approached first and clung to Joshua.

"You were so... so... great.  I... I...  Aww, Josh..."

Joshua held her close and gently swayed.

"There, there...  It's all right.  I'm all right."

Mason's eyes welled again as he watched Joshua tend to Renee.  Roger rested a hand on his friend's back.

"It... it was pretty unbelievable, huh?" Mason asked.

"In a believable way... sure," Roger replied with a smile.

Mason returned the smile.

"Okay... okay...  I can't hog you.  Mason, come talk to Josh."

Renee swiped at her tears and returned to Roger's side.

Mason shuffled forward and hugged Joshua.

"You really were amazing, Josh.  I remember you singing at the apartment, of course but... man, you've got some pipes."

Joshua chuckled.

"Thanks, Mason.  Means a lot to have you say that."

Mason nodded.

"And you're a great actor, too.  I..."  He sighed.  "Josh... after that happened to me... I lost my ability to believe that someone that good... that holy... that kind could have ever lived.  But now that I've seen you do that...  met you, even...  I think I can believe in Him again.  In Jesus.  I want to...  I..."  Mason met Joshua's loving gaze.  "I... do.  Believe.  In Him."

Joshua threw his arms around Mason.

"I'm so glad, Mason... so glad.  And he... he believes in you, too."

It wasn't the reaction that Peter had hoped for nor the one that JenniAnn and so many of the others had prayed for... but, for Joshua, it was perfect.


Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Maryam pulled a batch of cookies from the oven of a shelter for refugees in Canada where she, Yosef, and Eben were posted.

"Cookies are done, Yosef!" the angel called outside.

Pausing to brush away some sawdust, the carpenter entered.

"Very good.  Now to read Yeshu's letter..." 

Maryam plated the cookies and, once Eben had passed out milk, Yosef picked up a letter and began to read.

Dear Ama, Abi, and Eben.  I hope this letter finds you well.  And Yoktan, too!  I know he must be loving spending time with the little ones.  Things are great here.  Last night, Mason, Renee, and Roger attended JCS and... Renee and Mason still don't know who I am but he found his faith again!  He believes in me!  He believes that I'm with him always!  I'm thrilled.  Abba is thrilled.  John, however, is... strange.  I mean, of course, he is.

Maryam laughed.

But... strange for John strange.  Ever since after the show last night.  He's being very secretive.  I don't know whether to be concerned for him... or myself.  I'm half-expecting a large water gun to materialize at the most inopportune time and drench me.  Anyway, the Friends are well.  They miss you very much, Ama and Abi.  And...

Yosef cut off his recitation when the kitchen door flew open. 

"Yolanda!" Maryam cried as a sobbing young woman came careening towards them.

Yosef rose from the table and caught Yolanda in his arms.

"Yolanda..." Maryam repeated, softly as she stroked her quaking back.

"Yolanda, what's happened?" Eben asked in Spanish.

For several moments, the woman only wept in Yosef's arms.  Then, still shaking, she stepped back and told her story. 

"I... I was cleaning my hotel rooms.  Then one of the doors on the other side of the hall opened.  A man asked me to restock his bathroom.  It... it wasn't my side of the hall but I gave him the things.  Shampoo, towels... But he shook his head and said I needed to come in and replace them myself.  So... so I did.  And while I was in the bathroom...  I... I heard the room door close.  He... he grabbed me and threw me on... on the bed a-and tried..."

The men's faces darkened while Maryam's grew more tender. 

Yolanda gestured towards the front of her blouse which was mangled.

"I... I fought.  And bit.  I... I got away.  He screamed after me but... I ran... ran here."

Maryam cradled the woman's face.

"Yolanda... dear Yolanda... I am so very sorry that happened to you.  Precious girl..."  She wrapped her arms around the still shaking woman and rocked her.

"Would you like us to call the police?" Yosef offered.

"You would not be in any danger," Maryam hastened to add.  "You're safe here."

Yolanda looked back and forth between the three faces.  She trusted them to keep her safe.  She nodded.

"Brave girl," Yosef praised before turning to Eben.  "Call the police, please.  And tell them..."  He lowered his voice.  "Tell them to send someone who can be gentle.  Yolanda cannot be further rattled right now."

Eben nodded.

"Of course, I'll go do that now."

While the angel made the phone call, Maryam and Yosef continued to comfort their charge.


"Okay... just sit right here," John coaxed, leading Joshua to a chair in Willowveil's TV room.  "Are you comfortable?"

"Honestly, a little creeped out," Joshua confessed.  "John, what is this?"

"I just... I want you to watch a video."


John rested the laptop he'd borrowed from Fr. Mike in Joshua's lap.

"And then click on that video file."

Joshua obeyed.


"Good morning, viewers!  On this week's edition of Faith of Our Fathers, I'd like to welcome back Fr. Francis Wesson, former archbishop of our great city," the host introduced.  "Fr. Wesson, how are you doing?"

The camera zoomed in on the priest, revealing a disheveled man who had clearly begged off shaving that morning.

"Hello," he replied.

"And how are you this morning, Father?" the host repeated.


"He looks... drugged?" Joshua commented.

"Drugged on the truth!" John cheered.

Confused, Joshua returned his attention to the screen.

"Folks, Fr. Wesson is here to talk to us about a disturbing theatrical production taking place right here in our city.  Fr. Wesson, would you please tell us why you think the production of Jesus..."

"No," the priest interrupted, shaking his head.  "No...  I...  No.  There... there's no problem.  It's... it's glorious.  He...  He..."

Joshua watched, in sympathy and surprise, as the man began to cry.

"Folks, we're going to cut to commercial.  As I'm sure you can understand, Fr. Wesson has been under a great deal of strain following the misleading accusations being level..."

"No!" Wesson interrupted again.  "They're... they're true.  All true...  I... I covered up for... for my nephew.  For other... other priests.  It... it's all true.  I didn't... didn't honor my vows...  I... I betrayed the... the God I claimed to serve...  A-and for... for what?" 

"Okay, we need to wrap this up and..."

"I'm sorry!" Wesson bellowed.  "I'm sorry...  I'm so, so sorry...  My God... my God... I'm sorry."

The video abruptly ended. 

Joshua turned to John, his face glistening with tears.

"How...  John, did you..."

Joshua mimed his head being lifted off.

John smiled gently and shook his head.

"You told me not to so I didn't... as sorely tempted as I was.  That..."  He gestured to the computer screen.  "Was all you, my cousin.  He came to the show last night.  I bumped into him outside.  I think he came to gather evidence for his rant on the show.  But then I found him afterwards... weeping in the grotto."

"Do you... think he knows about me?" Joshua questioned.

"I'm not sure.  Here, I'll show you."

John offered Joshua his hand.

Taking it, Joshua closed his eyes.

"Memory, show Joshua last night!" John directed, mimicking a game show host.

Joshua smiled at his cousin's antics then found himself standing in the grotto at St. Genesius'.


"Who's there?" John called as he approached.

Francis Wesson shifted into view.

Shock was evident on John's face as he took in the man's expression.

"Hello again," John greeted.

"Good evening," Wesson replied, his voice hoarse.

"Why are you weeping?"

"The show... it was very moving.  The man playing Jesus..."

"He's my cousin," John proudly interrupted.

"He...  I've seen many passion plays in my life but he..."

"Joshua is the best," John boasted.

"Yes...  I see that now." 

Wesson sat down on a bench and John did the same.

"You were at the meeting.  At St. Mary Magdalene's," the priest recalled.  "Both of you.  You spoke."

"I did, yes.  And Joshua was there."


"Fr. Mike is my friend.  I needed to speak up for him.  And... I was born to testify to the truth.  You needed to hear some truth that night."

"The way you speak..."  Wesson shook his head.  "What's your name?"


"John who?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I said.  Would you like to meet Joshua?" John offered.

Wesson shuddered and shook his head.

"No... no...  I... can't."

"You could," John pressed. 

The priest shook his head.

"Why did you come here tonight?" John questioned.

Wesson hung his head.

"My reasons... weren't good."

John nodded.

"'And the Pharisees went, and they took counsel how they might catch him in discourse,'" he quoted, causing the priest to flush.  "And now?"

"I... have nothing to say against your cousin... or anyone here."

"Good.  Because these are good people who love and serve God.  And... they've done something that you haven't been able to bring yourself to do.  They've loved and supported two of your nephew's victims."

Wesson began to weep again.

"I... I truly don't know where he is right now.  If I did... I would tell.  I know now... as I should have known long ago... that he... he is a scourge on the Church.  And I... I'm an even greater scourge because I allowed it to go on."

"Why now... why do you only see this now?" John pressed.

"I... I lost my way.  I wanted to serve God... to teach others to serve and love Him.  But then... the promotions started.  I began to care more about power... esteem... than... than faith... love.  I was so very proud when Blaine followed me into the ministry.  And... and then the whispers started.  And that boy... Mason... he... he told me what Blaine had... had done to him.  But I couldn't... it would ruin me.  Ruin everything I'd built..."

"For yourself," John interjected, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

"Yes... everything I'd built for myself."  Wesson sighed.  "But tonight... there was something so... kingly, so magnificent about your cousin.  And to watch him... diminish... willingly... purposefully... for the good of all mankind..."

"Yes..." John affirmed, his eyes sparkling with tears. 

"What... what do I do now?" Wesson pleaded.

John rose to his feet and stood before the priest.

"Francis John Wesson...  You were named for two saints...  St. Francis who put aside his wealth to help those in need... and St. John the Baptist... who spoke the truth, even when it meant surrendering my...  his life.  You have a choice now... be like them, surrender your life to God... or continue to walk apart from Him.  Which will you choose, Francis?"

Wesson clasped his hands together and rested his forehead against them as he wept.  When he raised his head to answer, John was gone.


Back at Willowveil, John looked expectantly at his cousin.

"Well... did I do all right?"

Before Joshua could answer, Andrew entered the room.

"Sorry to interrupt!" he apologized.  "But Joe's on the phone.  He said he really needs to speak to you, Joshua."

Joshua brushed away his tears and held out his hand.

"I'll talk to Joe."

Andrew handed over his phone and left the room.

"Hey, Joe."

"Hi, Joshua.  I... have some news."

"John's here with me.  Can he hear?"


Joshua put the phone on speaker.

"Okay, Joe.  Let's hear it."

"Well...  I just wanted to let you know that Fr. Wesson... Francis Wesson... just turned himself into the police.  Further... he informed them that he's the primary account holder on many of his families' bank accounts... presumably the ones that Blaine has been using to fund his flight from justice.  Francis froze them all."

Joshua heaved a sigh and lifted his eyes.

"Thank you, Abba," he murmured.

"There's more," Joe continued.  "This part is difficult...  Because we're so near to the Canadian border, we shared Blaine Wesson's photo with the RCMP.  They just contacted one of my colleagues in New Hampshire.  They received a report of an attempted rape and when they showed the young lady photographs of known rapists... she IDed Wesson.  They did the same with the front desk clerk at the hotel where the attempted rape occurred and... he also IDed Wesson.  Unfortunately, he'd already checked out.  So the Mounties have launched a manhunt for Blaine.  I'm hopeful that, without his wealth, he'll run out of places to hide and... we'll get him, Joshua."

"And the girl?" Joshua asked.

"Funny thing about that...  She's staying at a shelter for refugees.  And the police report lists the outcry witnesses as a Mr. and Mrs. Yosef Davidson and Eben Angeli.  Happen to know them?" Joe questioned, a note of amusement in his voice.

"Ha!" John barked.

Joshua smiled.

"Yeah... yeah, I do."

"So you know she's in good hands.  Listen, I have to go.  They want me to do a press briefing.  But call if you want to talk about any of this.  Angie and I are hoping to stop by Willowveil tomorrow to celebrate with you."

"Thank you, Joe.  Thank you so much and I... I look forward to seeing you and Angie.  I want to hug you both."

Joe sniffled.

"I look forward to that hug.  Talk to you soon, Josh.  See you, John."

"Until tomorrow, Joe," Joshua replied.

When he ended the call, Joshua pulled John to him.

"You're magnificent, John... my magnificent buffoon," he praised.

With tears drifting down his cheeks, John smiled back at Joshua.

"Anything for my baby cousin."



Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Easter Sunday dawned breezy and warm in Dyeland City.  It brought with it not only the usual promise of hope and everlasting love but also a much welcome respite and retreat for the Friends.  Beyond the usual busyness of Jesus Christ Superstar season at St. Genesius', their time and emotions had also been wrapped up in Joshua's current "assignment."  It had been nearly two months since they'd all been roused from their warm beds by a text from JenniAnn.

Have Joshua at Willowveil.  Something's up.  Come ASAP.

That was quickly followed up by a text from Andrew.

Do NOT panic.  He's fine.  Not great but fine.  Just get here as quickly as you *safely* can.

Within the hour, they'd all arrived at Willowveil where they'd taken turns mopping the sleeping, feverish brow of their beloved Master.

Thankfully, there had been no similar threats to Joshua's physical health since then.  He'd waved it off as too many nights outside in the early February cold and, since then, the haggardness had fallen away and he'd regained his usual appearance, give or take a few wrinkles or sprigs of gray.

That was why, on Easter morning, JenniAnn, Kemara, and Emma were so shocked when a breezy Joshua entered the kitchen in search of a mug of coffee.

"Good morning, my girls!" he chirped as he grabbed his mug from the strainer.

"Good... morning?" JenniAnn gulped out as she accepted a kiss on her cheek.

"Yeah... uh... happy Easter!" Kemara greeted with forced cheer as she, too, was kissed.

"And to all of you, as well!"  Joshua took a deep, relaxing breath and smiled.

Emma approached, coffee pot in hand.  After receiving her own kiss, she began to pour.

"So... how are you feeling?" she ventured, struggling to meet Joshua's gaze.

"Great!  Like an all-new me," Joshua replied with a grin.  "Are you the only ones up?"

"No.  Andrew, Zeke, and Shane are out back... by the shop.  Grilling sausages," JenniAnn explained.

"Well, then, I'll go outside and wish them a good morning.  Back soon.  The pancakes smell great!"

With that, Joshua hugged each of the women and left the kitchen.

JenniAnn, Kemara, and Emma remained silently shocked for a few moments.

"Umm... so are we going to talk about that?" Kemara eventually queried.

"Maybe it's for his assignment?  I mean..."  Emma sighed.

"Joshua wouldn't give into racism," JenniAnn averred.  "I can't imagine he'd change his appearance just to fit in."

"Of course not," Emma agreed.  "But he does change his appearance if it'll help get people to listen.  I mean isn't that the whole point of the Incarnation?"

"True."  JenniAnn nodded.  "But... but..."

Kemara chuckled and squeezed her friend's shoulders.

"I'm sure it's not permanent."

"No, probably not... but it looks like he skinned a Shih-Tzu and put it on his head!" JenniAnn whined.

Emma giggled at the idea.

"My mind went more to a L'Oreal commercial but... sure."

"And the dishwater blonde does bring out the gold in his eyes," Kemara pointed out.

"But it's so silky and... and... pretty!" JenniAnn continued.

"Honestly, it reminds me a lot of Andrew's hair when it's long," Emma offered.

JenniAnn adamantly shook her head.

"No way.  And it's not nearly so lovely as Joshua's normal... REAL... hair.  The way it's all dark and thick and the curls kinda wrap around your fingers..."

Emma and Kemara looked at each other with raised eye brows.

"Hey!  You didn't spend months doing his hair and make-up!" JenniAnn defended.

"No, we didn't," Kemara admitted before grinning.  "But I do still think you should maybe talk to someone about your attachment to Joshua's hair."

As Emma laughed, JenniAnn rolled her eyes.

"Okay, okay.  So maybe I'm a little bit obsessive.  And, after all, he's still the same Joshua underneath..."  JenniAnn gulped.  "That."

"Right.  Though shalt love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and might," Emma recited.  "Even when he has a really, really bad hair day."

In spite of herself, JenniAnn laughed.

"Where is that written?"

"The Book of St. Vidal of Sassoon," Emma joked.

Kemara erupted with laughter, nearly pouring an entire bowl of pancake batter onto a skillet.


"That's okay.  We'll just cut it into multiple pieces."  JenniAnn checked on the various fruit toppings they'd concocted and were warming.  "I wish Maryam was here.  She'd know if we should be concerned."

Emma's eyes watered.

"I wish she was, too.  For multiple reasons."

The comment caused all the women to think back on the weeks before, of all the trials and disappointments.

Emma shook her head, rousing herself from her melancholia.

"But today is Easter.  It's Joshua's day.  And so we'll celebrate him as best and as fully as we can.  Just like we all agreed."

"Hear, hear."  Kemara clinked her mug against Emma's.

JenniAnn nodded.

"Of course.  To Joshua."

"To Joshua," Kemara and Emma echoed.


Within the hour, Willowveil Castle came alive as everyone congregated in the ballroom, awaiting Easter brunch.

"How ya doing?" Andrew asked as he stood by JenniAnn, filling cups with juice and milk.

"I'm good.  It's such a lovely day and nearly everyone we hold dear is here and..."

"I meant about, ya know, the hair..." Andrew prompted with concern.

JenniAnn looked across the room to where Joshua was spinning and dancing with the children.  Now it was in a ponytail.

"It's becoming... a bit less shocking, I guess.  I just wish I knew why he'd done it.  Do you think we should be concerned?"

Andrew shrugged.

"Curious, maybe.  But not concerned.  Joshua's not shy about asking for help when he wants it."

"True."  JenniAnn again peered at where the carpenter was romping around with the children.  She was struck by a sudden thought.

"Don't you think it's odd that none of the kids seemed at all shocked?  I mean Belle was all questions and curiosity when I put my hair in a bun last month.  And yet... Joshua goes blonde surfer and nothing?"

"Would you really call that 'blonde surfer'?" Andrew checked, dragging a hand through his own long locks.

JenniAnn hugged his middle.

"No, not really.  On you it looks perfectly natural... and lovely."  She reached up to give Andrew's hair a playful tug.

"It's a good point about Belle and the other kids, though.  And she did seem especially giggly last night.  I just chalked it up to anticipation of the Easter egg hunt but..."

"Maybe she knows something we don't?"


"Hot pancakes!  Come and get em... after we pray!" Caleb announced as he, Sean, and Peter rolled in several bowl and platter-laden carts.

The group needed no further encouragement.  They each took their places at the assorted tables then looked expectantly at Joshua.

After the traditional prayer before meals in Aramaic, Joshua offered his own blessing.

"Dad, we thank You for this food You've given us to sustain us.  Thank You for the creativity and generosity of those who so lovingly prepared it.  I'm filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be here among our beloved children, celebrating with them.  You know that their care and love for me means everything to me.  You also know that sometimes that care and love weighs heavily on them and, in seeking to help me, they sometimes needlessly put away things that would bring them joy."

As Joshua continued, many of the adults opened their eyes and peered at each other.  Of course they knew Joshua knew about their little sacrifices and plots to do the best by him.  It was a little odd, however, hearing it declared out loud.

"I also thank You for the cooperation of our little ones here who kept my secret.  I know You will bless us with a beautiful day filled with each other's companionship and love.  Amen.  And, oh yeah, happy April Fool's Day!"

All eyes turned to Joshua at the abrupt change in tone.  Gone were his flowing, blonde locks... back were his ebony curls... and a headband sporting two pastel bunny ears.

Joshua winked and broke into laughter.

"It was a prank!" JenniAnn shouted with obvious relief.

"And we kept it quiet!" Liam cheered.

Daisy nodded.

"Joshua told us last night."

In the midst of embracing the crowd of Friends that had closed in around him, Joshua looked up and nodded.

"I appreciate the thought behind what all of you decided," he explained.  "Truly.  I know you 'banned' April Fool's Day because you didn't want anything to detract from my day.  But I adore your laughter and your creativity.  So, by order of yours truly, the Lord God Incarnate, consider the ban struck," he proclaimed with a playful glint in his eyes and a hearty laugh.  "Happy Easter Fool's Day!  And now... some music while we dine."

From out of no where, a song rang out... perfectly blending the two holidays as the Friends celebrated and loved on God's Own Fool.

"So come lose your life for a carpenter's son,
For a madman who died for a dream
And you'll have the faith His first followers had
And you'll feel the weight of the beam.
So surrender the hunger to say you must know,
Have the courage to say 'I believe'
For the power of paradox opens your eyes
And blinds those who say they can see.
So we follow God's own Fool,
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable,
And come be a fool as well."
~~"God's Own Fool" by Michael Card


Following brunch, the group trekked to St. Bregwin's for Mass.  It was a bittersweet experience as it was the final Sunday on which Fr. Mike celebrated Mass in a Catholic Church.  At points, his voice quaked with emotion but, each time, he sought out Joshua's face and his pain would turn to excitement.  It wasn't the ending of anything, only the beginning of a new journey with Joshua and his Father.

After Mass, the group parted only long enough to gather their contributions for a potluck at St. Genesius' where they reunited with Roger, Renee, and Mason.  By 1:00, everyone was gathered there for lunch.  They'd been enjoying each others' culinary efforts for an hour when Andrew drained a bottle of ginger ale and held it up into the air.  Adam whistled sharply causing everyone to go silent.

"Thank you, Adam.  Since this Easter celebration is also doubling as the cast party for JCS and as I'm the director... I would like to challenge my cast and crew and all our guests to... a game of Spin-the-Bottle!" Andrew shouted.

Most of the crowd erupted into cheers and hurried into a circle on stage.

"Is he for real?" a hesitant Mason asked Joshua.  "Umm, Spin-the-Bottle?"

Joshua laughed and waved Mason, Renee, and Roger towards the circle.

"It's not what you think.  It's a karaoke game for them.  Everyone sits in a circle, we take turns spinning the bottle, and whomever it points to... you have to do a duet with that person."

"Oh fun!" Renee cheered.  "Except some of us can't sing..."

"And that's part of the fun.  Even those of us who can sing usually end up with songs waaay out of our range.  Last time, I ended up singing 'Man!  I Feel Like a Woman!' by Shania Twain... with Rabbi Yakov."

The trio burst out laughing as they sat down in the circle.

"Okay... so the rules are you have to sing with the person the bottle points to... but you can bring in others if you so choose," Andrew explained.  "We'll use the random feature here on my laptop to choose a song.  You get three vetoes, if needed.  After you're finished, you or your partner spin to determine who goes next then they spin to find their partner.  Most important rule... have fun!  So I'll start..."  The angel spun the bottle which, when it came to rest, was pointing at Eli.  "It's you and me Eli and we're singing..."

JenniAnn took the laptop from Andrew and hit a button.  She began to giggle uncontrollably.

Owen read over her shoulder and grinned.

"'I Feel Pretty' from West Side Story!" he shouted, causing everyone to burst into laughter.

Andrew shook his head.


"You're doing it!" JenniAnn countered.

"Uh uh."

Eli put an arm around Andrew's shoulders.

"We're stuck with it, buddy... and since you're prettier: you're Maria.  I'm the chorus."

JenniAnn started the music and after a feigned glare at her, Andrew began to sing.

"'I feel pretty.  Oh, so pretty.  I feel pretty and witty and bright!  And I pity any girl who isn't me tonight.'"

Andrew scooped Belle up and began to twirl around with her as she let out shrieks of delight, sometimes attempting to sing along with her Daddy.

When Eli's turn was nearing, he pulled Adam and Henry to their feet, compelling them to join him.

"'Have you met my good friend Maria?" they sang, pointing at Andrew.  "The craziest girl on the block?  You'll know her the minute you see her.  She's the one who is in an advanced state of shock!"

As the four men and little girl continued through the song, their audience grew increasingly amused.

"'I feel stunning and entrancing,'" Andrew trilled.  "Feel like running and dancing for joy..."  He placed Belle on his shoulders then knelt in front of JenniAnn.  "'For I'm loved by a pretty wonderful boy!'"

As the group whooped and hollered, the angel of death kissed his soul mate who was herself in a fit of laughter.

The newcomers, especially, found the entire spectacle to be hilarious.  Mason even stood, starting a standing ovation.

Andrew grinned and curtsied then waved to the other angels of death who did the same.

"Well!  That was quite the start!  And I think we can all agree... you're very pretty, Andrew," Peter teased.  "But now... Eli, please spin the bottle again."

Eli did so and Bishop Tony cringed when it pointed at him. 

"Now, Bishop Tony, you spin to find out your duet partner," Andrew instructed.

"Oh boy..."

Tony spun the bottle and was somewhat relieved when it pointed to Sibyll.  At least he had some familiarity with her.

"And your song is..."  Andrew smiled when the song came up.  "This is too perfect...  'Hail Holy Queen.'  The Sister Act version."

Sibyll clapped happily as she rose and joined the priest.

After a brief consultation, they began to sing, reverent and sweet.

"'Hail, Holy Queen, enthroned above, oh Maria!  Hail, Mother of Mercy and of love, oh Maria!'"

As the music surged, they waved for the others to join them.  Clapping along, the Friends did so.

"'Triumph all, ye Cherubim!  Sing with us, sweet Seraphim.  Heaven and earth resound our hymn.  Salve, Salve, Salve Regina.'"

Bishop Tony beamed as he belted out the Latin portion.

"'Mater amta intemerata.  Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus!  Virgo respice, Mater adspice.  Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus!'"

"'Alleluia!'" Sibyll and the others added.

The entire group was so enthralled that no one noticed the doors to the theatre open and close.  They only became aware of their visitors when the song ended and, from behind them, came the sound of clapping.

At the end of the aisle, a beatific Maryam stood with Yosef proudly smiling behind her.

"Ama!  Abi!" Joshua shouted before jumping off the stage and towards them.

"It... it was like the Bat Signal!" Logan exclaimed.

"Is... is that..."  Bishop Tony reached out to Sibyll for support.

"Sure is!" she responded as she steadied the priest.

Joshua hugged and kissed his parents in greeting and then, with an arm around each of them, escorted them to the stage.

"Maryam!" Emma struggled to get up from her chair but, with a boost from Peter, was soon in front of Maryam.

"Oh Emma...  Look at you, beautiful girl!"

Emma's face shone as Maryam gently rested a hand on her belly.

"I'm so glad you're here...  We all are.  For so many reasons."  Emma kissed Maryam's cheek then reached for Yosef's hand.  "Both of you."

"We are pleased to be here," Yosef replied.  "We cannot stay long but... we wanted to see all of you and spend some time with Yeshu on this day.  And meet your new friends."

The elder carpenter smiled at the newcomers.

"Ama, Abi, I'd like you to meet Bishop Tony, Ana-Maria, Kyle, Renee, Mason, and Roger," Joshua introduced.  "Everyone, these are my parents: Maryam and Yosef."

Ana-Maria was the first to approach.  Mindful of Renee and Mason, her greeting was more subdued than it might otherwise have been. 

"I... I'm so glad you could come spend some time with us.  Could I... hug you?"

"We would like that very much," Maryam responded, holding her hand out to her and her mother's namesake.

Ana-Maria clung to her, sighing happily when Yosef wrapped his arms around them both.

Kyle was the next to greet the couple.

"Hi.  I... I..."  He blinked back tears.  "I've wanted to meet you for... for a long time."

Yosef rested a hand on his back.

"And I am so pleased we have met, Kyle."

"Sweet, brave boy," Maryam cooed as she embraced him.  "And your sweet, brave uncle."  She beckoned to Tony who quickly joined them.  "Thank you for the time you have spent with me, Tony."

Tony's eyes filled and he nodded.

"Thank you for being there.  When I was angry... sometimes the words of the rosary were all I could get out," he confessed, his voice hushed. 

"Maryam is very good at listening," Yosef boasted.

Tony smiled at Yosef and nodded before embracing him.

"I have had so many blessings that it felt wrong to ask for more... but I did hope we would meet you both and now we have."

Joshua waved Roger, Renee, and Mason nearer. 

While Roger eagerly accepted hugs from both Maryam and Yosef, the other two were more reserved.  Sympathetic to this, Maryam and Yosef greeted them with warm hand shakes.

"Yeshu has spoken so often of all of you," Maryam explained.  "I am delighted to be meeting with you."

"It's really great to meet you!" Renee chirped.  "You and Josh totally have the same gorgeous eyes!"

Maryam smiled.

"Thank you."

"Do you two live near here?" Mason inquired.

"We are working at a shelter for refugees in Canada," Yosef explained.  "We will return there soon but we wanted to spend Easter with our boy."

"Aww.  I'm sure Josh is thrilled!" Renee replied.  "And now we know where he gets his compassion from!"

Yosef looked proudly at his son.

"Yeshu was born compassionate.  We cannot take credit for that."

"Yes, you can.  You encouraged that in me, Abi.  Anyway... we were playing spin-the-bottle," Joshua related.  "Would you like to join us?"

Yosef chuckled and nodded then took Maryam's hand.

"We would enjoy that very much."

"Then back to it!  Tony or Sibyll, you spin," Joshua directed.

The bishop spun the bottle which rotated to face Mason.

"Oh boy..."  Mason moved to the center of the circle and spun.  He smiled when it pointed Joshua.  "You and me, Josh!"

Andrew consulted his laptop.

"And the winning song is... 'The River of Dreams' by Billy Joel.  That's a great one!"

Mason smiled with relief and nodded.

"I can handle that one.  Josh?"

"Sure.  But everyone has to help us with the echo part."

The group shouted in assent and then, at Mason's request, Joshua began the song.

"'In the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep, from the mountains of faith to a river so deep...'"

"'I must be looking for something, something sacred I lost,'" Mason sang out.  "'But the river is wide and it's too hard to cross...'"

Noticing the tears beginning to well, Joshua clasped Mason's hand as he continued.

"'And even though I know the river is wide, I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore and try to cross to the opposite side so I can finally find out what I've been looking for... In the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep, through the valley of fear, to a river so deep...'"

Mason squeezed Joshua's hand and took a deep breath.

"'And I've been searching for something... taken out of my soul.  Something I would never lose... Something somebody stole.'"

The tears began to stream down Mason's face. 

"'I don't know why...'"  His voiced cracked.  "'I go walking at night...'"

Concerned, Andrew cut the music. 

Mason thought about those nights, prowling around Manhattan with Joshua, devoted and protective, following him. 

"'But now I'm tired and I don't want to walk anymore...'" he murmured. 

"Mason... Mason, let's sit down," Joshua coaxed.

Mason's eyes grew bright.

"'Something sacred I lost...'" he repeated.  "'Something taken out of... of my soul...'"

"It's okay, Mason.  We don't need to keep..."

Mason peered at Joshua.


Joshua smiled.

"I'm here, Mason.  Maybe let's get you a drink of..."

"It's... you."  Mason reached out and clasped the Star of David that rested against Joshua's shirt.  He gazed around the group.  John, the cousin...  Maryam and Yosef, the parents...  Mason turned to look at the cross, leaning against the back of the stage.  He'd seen Joshua on that cross.  It had all seemed so real... because it had been real.  Once.

Joshua reached up to clasp Mason's hand.  As he did, the man's eyes grew wide.

"Josh..." Mason whispered as he reverently cradled Joshua's scarred wrist.  "Josh..." he repeated as he raised the other wounded hand.

Renee gasped.

"How did that happen?" she screeched.  And then, seeing the way Joshua and Mason were looking at each other, she knew.  "Oh... oh... oh."

Roger approached his cousin and wrapped an arm around her waist.

"It's okay, Mason," Joshua consoled.  "I... I'm better now."

Mason nodded and gave him a trembling smile.

"Me too."


Shine a Light

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

"I told you the flowers would be up soon."

JenniAnn turned away from the fruit salad she was mixing and smiled at Andrew.

"Ya did.  And it's such a beautiful day..."

Andrew wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her hair. 

"A beautiful day filled with old friends and new friends," he agreed, smiling at Owen who was sketching Mason and Joshua as they sat near the lake in the Fields of Gold.  Not far from them, Renee, Roger, Bishop Tony, and the McIntyre family were listening intently as John regaled them with stories of his and Joshua's shared youth. 

"Break it up, you two," Adam teased as he approached with a giggling Ada-Marie in his arms.

"We don't wanna," JenniAnn protested.  "How's the TLS coming?"

A tray of sliced turkey-like substance suddenly appeared on the table.

"Well," Adam replied with a grin.

Andrew took a bite and nodded.

"Very good."

Rolling along a large cooler, Clay approached with Kylie.

"Here are the sandwich fixings.  And some sides.  Dot's potato salad, Kylie's graham cracker sandwiches, of course..."

"Most people aren't here yet and we already have quite the spread!" Kylie pointed out.

"And that surprises you?" Andrew kidded.

Kylie laughed.

"No, I suppose not.  How's everything going?"

"Really good.  It was fun giving Kyle's family a proper tour of Willowveil."

"And Mason?" Adam checked.

"This is the third night he's come by after finishing work... to spend time with Joshua."  JenniAnn smiled over at the two.  "Owen's almost finished with that painting.  He's already made one for Kyle and Ana-Maria but no one's seen it yet.  I think he brought it, though.  I saw him stash a covered canvas in that cabin."

"Hmm...  Mysterious," Clay mused.  "I'm glad Mason's been coming around."

"Us too.  And it'll be great to have all of them here for Bible study," Andrew observed.

"And we get to have it outside again!" Kylie cheered.  "I've missed this."

Adam cocked his head and peered at something past Andrew.  Everyone else turned to follow his gaze.

"Who is that?" Clay queried.

"No idea.  But they sure are running fast!"  JenniAnn stepped away from Andrew.  "I'm going to go meet them."

"I'll go with you."  Andrew waved towards where Belle was playing with Liam.  "Could you keep an eye on them, please?  Monica and Arthur will be here soon.  Rose and Max are somewhere nearby... taking a walk."

"Sure, Uncle Adam will watch them," Adam agreed as the other two nodded.


Andrew and JenniAnn dashed off, the former slowing to keep pace with her.  In only a few moments, they were close enough to make out the identity of the running figure.

"Joe!" JenniAnn shouted.

The man raised his hand in a wave and continued towards them.

"Joshua...  I need to talk... to Joshua," he choked out.

Andrew rested a hand on the man's back.

"He's just down there.  But let's slow down.  You're not going to be able to talk to him if you pass out."

Joe nodded and took the hill more slowly.  By the time they reached the Fields, he was able to speak clearly.

"Joshua!" Joe shouted when he was in sight.

Joshua rested a hand on Mason's shoulder then rose and walked towards Joe.

"Joe!  Your face..."

Joe smiled as Joshua rested his hand against his cheek, drawing the redness out.

"Thanks.  I... I have news, Joshua.  I wanted you to hear it from me first unless..."  Joe waved towards the sky.

Joshua shook his head.

"Dad hasn't told me anything.  I mean... the usual but..."

"They found him, Joshua.  They found Blaine Wesson."

Hearing the despised name, Mason hurried forward.

"Did I hear..."

Joshua turned to the young man and embraced him.

"They found Blaine Wesson," Joe reiterated.  "In Ontario.  The Mounties have him now but they're extraditing him tomorrow."

"Kyle, come over here, please," Joshua called.

Hurrying over, Kyle at once noticed that Mason was on the verge of tears.


Mason gripped his hand.

"They arrested him, Kyle."

"Fr... Blaine Wesson?" Kyle checked.

Joshua rested a hand on his back and nodded.

"It... it's over.  I mean... there will be the trials, of course, but..."  Mason let out a ragged sigh.  "It's over...  He... he can't hurt anyone again."

With tears in his own eyes, Kyle embraced Mason.

"I hope you know that this is owing a lot to the two of you," Joe pointed out.  "You kept this in the headlines.  You kept the spotlight on him... and I know that wasn't easy."

Stepping apart, Kyle and Mason hugged their girlfriends.

"It was easier than it might have been with all the support."  Kyle smiled at those now gathered around them, his gaze locking with Joshua's.  "And having you here with us, Joshua..."

Mason nodded.

"It... it made all the difference, Josh.  Truly.  Knowing not only that... that you died for us but that you came back... to share in all of this with us...  I love you."

"I love you, too, Mason.  And you, Kyle.  And... all of you.  And I... I am so glad you have this peace now."  Joshua hugged both men again.

Standing together, Fr. Mike and Bishop Tony also embraced.

"Thank you so much for being with me through this, Mike.  For introducing me to Joshua..."  Tony rested a hand on Fr. Mike's cheek.  "If... if I could have had a son...  I would have wanted him to be just like you."

Fr. Mike beamed at Tony.

"Thank you.  That means a lot, Tony.  And know this... you will always, always be a part of my family."  Fr. Mike looked to the others.  "Our families, our friends... we're all joined now... to be there for each other... no matter what comes."

Joshua nodded proudly and smiled at them all.

"This... this is a church," he declared.  "My church...  Even... even when I'm not here among you like this... look to each other.  You'll find me there."

Smiling at each other, the group joined hands, knowing that, as always, Joshua spoke the truth.


"It's just right in here...  I didn't want anything to happen to it with the kids rough-housing so..."  Owen stepped into a cabin and turned on the lights.

Kyle and Ana-Maria followed him inside.

"Ya ready?" the painter asked.

The young couple nodded.

"And here it is!"

Owen removed the covering from the painting with a flourish.

"Oh, Owen...  It's wonderful!" Kyle complimented.

"It... it is.  I... I love it.  Joshua..."  Ana-Maria's hand hovered over the painting.

"It's okay.  The paint's all dry," Owen assured.

Ana-Maria traced Joshua's face as he stood between her and Kyle, his smile lighting up his face and an arm around each of their shoulders.  The couple's hands were linked in front of him.

Owen and Kyle exchanged a look as Ana-Maria cocked her head. 

"But why..."

Turning around, Ana-Maria found Kyle on one knee, holding a ring... the same sapphire ring that was on her finger in the painting.

"Ana-Maria...  I... I know we're very young.  And I also know... I know this has been a crazy time but... but through it all... you've stood by me.  And every... every morning and every evening since we got back together... I've thanked God for you."

"Kyle...  Oh..."

"I... I made a mistake in... in thinking I could make a life apart from... from you.  And I... I won't ever... can't ever... make that mistake again because..."  Kyle shook his head.  "I love you.  With all I am... I love you...  And..."

"Yes!" Ana-Maria shrieked.  "Yes!"

Kyle laughed.

"I didn't even get to ask."

Ana-Maria grinned and knelt in front of him.

"Then hurry and ask!"

"Marry me?"


Owen clapped wildly.

"I love you, too," Ana-Maria murmured as Kyle slipped the engagement ring onto her finger.

Kyle rested his forehead against hers.

"And for that... I'm eternally grateful."

Ana-Maria kissed him then looked from the painting to Owen.

"It's probably a good thing I said yes.  That painting would be super awkward if not."

Kyle and Owen laughed.

"I suppose I could have painted over the ring but... something told me that wouldn't be necessary."  Owen winked at the two.

"How long have you known that Kyle was going to propose?"

"Since Easter.  This was one of the quickest turn-around times I've ever had but seeing you two crazy kids... worth it.  Now... I think you have some news to share with the others."

Owen opened the door to reveal a grinning Joshua.

"Congratulations!" he cried.

Ana-Maria and Kyle hurried forward and embraced him.

"Thanks!  And it makes it even more wonderful having you here to celebrate it!" Kyle cheered.

"You knew?" Ana-Maria questioned as she threw her arms around Joshua's neck.

Joshua nodded.

"Kyle wanted help picking out the ring and I guess he thought I was the expert on, well, you."

Ana-Maria giggled and nodded.

"You would be."  She held the ring out to admire it.  "I love it..."

"She has a ring!" someone shrieked from the field.

Joshua laughed.

"It must have caught the sun.  I'm afraid the ring did the announcing for you."

"That's okay."  Kyle wrapped an arm around his fiancee's waist.  "Shine a little light on something and the truth comes out."

Joshua clapped him on the back.

"That's exactly right."

As their friends and family surged forward, Ana-Maria and Kyle prepared themselves for a second, far purer celebration of the day's good news.


Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Mason sat nervously at a table in Adrian's Coffeehouse. A few feet away, Roger, Renee, and Joshua waited at another table. They smiled encouragingly at their friend.

Mason smiled back then checked his phone. 6:57. It wasn't quite time. They weren't late. They hadn't stood him up.


Looking up from his phone, Mason met the gaze of his mother. Beside her, his father stood, teary-eyed and nervously twisting the cap he held.

Mason rose and went to his parents.

"M-mom... Dad..." he greeted.

"Mason..." his mother repeated before lurching forward and sobbing into her son's chest.

Awkwardly, Mason wrapped his arms around her. Then he let out a deep breath and tightened his embrace.

“Mom... I... I'm glad you're here, Mom." He looked over her shoulder. "A-and Dad...”

The man rested a shaky hand on his son's back.

"Son... oh, Mason... We... we're so... so sorry," he choked out.

“I... I know, Dad.  We... we have a lot to talk about.”

His mother pulled away and nodded.

“We do. And... we... we have a lot of listening to do. A lot of... of time to make up for.”

Mason gave her a teary smile and nodded.

"Yeah..."  Feeling awkward, he turned away from his parents and to the others briefly.

"Do you, umm, do you want to meet my girlfriend?" Mason suggested.

His parents nodded eagerly and followed their son to the other table.

"Mom and Dad, this is my girlfriend, Renee, and her cousin, my buddy, Roger, and this is our friend, Josh Davidson.  Everyone... my parents, Virginia and Clement."

Renee smiled at the two.

"Hi, Virginia and Clement!  I'm so glad to meet you."

"Likewise..."  Still nervous, Clement offered his hand which Renee squeezed.

"I'm really glad that you and Mason have reconnected.  He's a great guy."  Roger clapped Mason on the back.

"He... he was a great boy," Virginia murmured.  "I... I'm looking forward to... to meeting the man he... he became."

Joshua, picking up on the panic rising up in Mason, smiled and pulled out two chairs.

"Please sit, Virginia and Clement.  I'll get us some drinks and something to eat."

Mason started to protest but thought better of it.  Instead, he returned Joshua's smile.

"Josh has a thing about feeding people," he explained to his parents.

Roger chuckled.

"That he does.  You'd think he'd created food or something," he teased.

Joshua simply grinned and left to put in an order.

"So... how are Greg and Toby?" Mason inquired, tracing the tablecloth pattern in an attempt to control his nerves.

Virginia smiled sadly.

"They were so happy when we told them that you'd responded to our letter and... and agreed to meet."

Mason returned her smile.

"I'm glad."

"Your brothers are looking forward to reconnecting once you're ready," Clement added.

"And... they're doing well?"

"Greg's married.  Happily.  He has a little boy named Joshua, goes by Josh.  Like your friend."  Clement waved towards where Joshua was standing in line.

"Good name," Mason commented with a fond smile.  "How old?"

"Sixteen months.  And Toby..." Virginia drifted off.

Mason's face darkened with worry for his youngest brother.

"Is... is he..."

"Toby's married, too... to Paul," Clement informed.

Mason burst out laughing then looked apologetically at his parents.

"Sorry...  I'm really happy for him.  And this is... next door neighbor Paul?"

Virginia nodded.

"I always wondered..." Mason mused.  "So that had to be... interesting for you." 

"We've learned a lot since you left," Virginia assured. 

"I guess so."

There was an awkward silence which Renee hastened to fill.

"Do Toby and Paul have kids?"

Virginia pulled out her phone and displayed a photograph of two beaming men holding two babies swathed in pink and green. 

"That's Alexandria and that's Mateo.  They adopted them about six months ago.  And here's Josh with his Mommy and Daddy.  Greg's wife is named Cassie."

"Alexandria, Mateo, Josh, Cassie..." Mason repeated, committing their names to memory.

"The kids are so cute!" Renee gushed.

Roger chuckled and pointed at Josh.

"That grin looks very familiar..."

Virginia smiled and nodded.

"We... we've commented that he takes after his Uncle Mason."

"Uncle Mason..."

Just as Mason was about to be overpowered by his emotions and the enormity of all he'd missed, Joshua returned and set a hand on his back.  Mason immediately felt calmer.

"Artichoke and spinach flatbread... hummus and chips... and, of course, some sweets," Adrian introduced as she sat down a large tray.  "And... some tea."

"Seemed like a good night for tea," Joshua offered.  "But speak up if you'd prefer..."

"This is great.  Thanks, Josh.  My parents were just telling me that I have a nephew who shares your name."

Joshua beamed and nodded.

"Good name.  I think it'll serve him well."

Joshua sat and waved to the food.

"Please, dig in."

At Joshua's invitation, the little group began to eat.  Conversation was light and the crime which had brought them together was discussed no further.  But looking around the table, Joshua knew that all would be well.  There would be numerous counseling sessions, trying moments, and heartbreaking reminders of lost time.  But Virginia and Clement had their son back and Mason had his family back.  And, most importantly, he had his faith again.


Monday, April 16th, 2018

Tony made his way to the lectern at St. Mary Magdalene's Church.  He stared out at the crowd of parishioners, other area Catholics, and reporters.  His gaze drifted to the first few pews which contained a contingent of the now more numerous Friends.  In the midst of them sat Joshua who smiled encouragingly, calming the newly appointed archbishop's nerves.

"Brothers and sisters in Christ, people of goodwill, thank you for joining me tonight.  My special thanks to our district attorney, Joe Maxwell, for being with us."

The congregation applauded.

"Friends...  This has been a trying time for our Church... and it continues to be.  I know this parish, in particular, has been heavily impacted by the ongoing abuse scandal.  Two months ago, you gathered here to meet with my predecessor and were among the first to learn of his betrayal, of his failure to report abusive priests.  Prior to that revelation, he ripped a dedicated, wonderful priest from you.  Understandably, that betrayal and his own friendship with my nephew, caused Fr. Mike to, very understandably, reconsider his role with the Catholic Church.  He saw, firsthand, the damage wrought by predatory priests."

In the first pew, Ana-Maria clasped Kyle's hand as he bowed his head and remembered the first, horrible days after he'd left the seminary.

"And I saw... firsthand... the compassion and faith of your pastor," Tony continued.  "He has become one of my most valued friends and, because of that and because I'm a servant of the Truth, I want to quash any lingering doubts there may be.  Fr. Mike did nothing wrong.  He was expelled from your parish solely because of the former archbishop's self-serving motives.  That Fr. Mike has left the Catholic priesthood should not cause you concern.  I beg of you... please don't let it lead you to doubt his goodness.  Because the truth is... while it was ultimately his decision, it was my will that he leave.  You're no doubt asking yourselves why I asked him to leave the Catholic priesthood and my answer is this...  It was a selfish decision on my part.  I saw how his compassion and grace reached out to my precious... precious nephew... reached him when none... none of the rest of us could."

Struggling to continue, Archbishop Tony looked back and forth from Kyle to Joshua until his voice was steadied.

"Thanks to him, I have my nephew back... strong, healthy, and, yes, happy.  Other survivors deserve that same care.  But they are, understandably, distrustful of the Church.  And so... they need a shepherd who stands outside the Church.  Fr. Mike will be that. 
His ministry will continue and I can't pretend to imagine how many lives will be made better by crossing paths with him.  So, please, join me now in wishing our brother well as he embarks on his new work."

With a shove from John, a tearful Fr. Mike was on his feet.  He humbly bowed his head as the congregation applauded and shouted encouragement to him.  From behind him, a beaming Joshua squeezed his hand.

When the cacophony had quieted, Tony spoke again.

"Fr. Mike has asked me to let everyone know to, please, not be strangers.  Starting next Monday, he'll be partnering with St. Genesius' Community Theatre for a special outreach ministry.  More details to come.  I'll be sure they're in the bulletin once available.  Now..."  Tony waved towards Joe.  "I wanted Mr. Maxwell to be with us tonight because I am making a solemn vow to you all that, from this moment on, there will be no more secrets in this archdiocese.  I have given Mr. Maxwell and his team full access to personnel files and the like.  If I hear reports of abuse, my first call will be to the police.  My second call will be to Joe."

Once again, the crowd applauded.

"I urge all of you to operate in the same manner.  Yes, abuse is a sin.  But it's also a crime.  We will certainly cooperate in all investigations but it is not our job to be doing investigations.  That is the job of the legal system and they must be allowed to do it unimpeded, uncontested."

Tony paused until the cheering died down.

"To those of you who have suffered either directly or indirectly at the hands of a priest or other Church personnel... I am heartily sorry that you were sinned against.  I am sorry that your bodies and psyches were mistreated.  I am sorry that your faith was used against you.  I am sorry that you found wolves where you should have only found good, loving shepherds.  If there is anything I can do for you... please reach out.  And... I know I have no right to ask anything of you.  But if I could be so bold... please, please try not to let what was done to you shake your faith in a loving God."

In the second pew, Mason sat between Renee and Joshua.  Hearing Tony's words, he clasped Joshua's right hand.

"But even if... if it does, please know that He loves you.  In your anger, in your grief...  He loves you.  He... He knows abuse and shame and betrayal.  Wherever you are, He can meet you there.  And He can lift you up if you'll just take His strong, pierced hand.  You are His child and He loves you.  Always."

Joshua smiled at Tony, the gold in his eyes made especially bright with his tears, and nodded.

"Always," he mouthed back.

Tony returned the smile then gave his attention back to the crowd.

"Now, I would like to invite Mr. Maxwell to take my place and share the report his office has compiled.  There will be time for questions and answers after he's revealed his findings.  Thank you."

Joe approached and embraced the archbishop.

"You're doing a good thing, Tony.  I hope it becomes a model for other dioceses all over the world."

"I hope so, Joe.  I truly hope so."

After another embrace, Tony joined his family and friends in the pews.

As Joe spoke, he shared stories of heartbreak and broken trust.

Joshua wept quietly as he listened, remembering the suffering of his children.  But he also felt great hope.  The light of truth was shining now and, eventually, it would drive the darkness away.



Two Weeks Later

For the second time in less than three months, Fr. Mike found himself packing up his things.  This time, however, there were two major differences.  For one, John and Joshua were among his helpers.  For another, he wasn't the only one packing up belongings.

Tony sighed as he removed the painting of Joshua among the colors from the wall.

"I'm going to miss this place.  My parish...  Albany..."

Fr. Mike patted him on the back.

"Just remember, you can always visit... when you have time."

"Ha!" Tony smirked.  "Time..."

The last two weeks truly had been a whirlwind for Tony.  Beyond simply adjusting to being responsible for a larger area, he'd also become the most wanted man in New York... wanted by newspapers, by magazines, by networks, by survivors' groups, by college campuses looking for speakers...  And he was the subject of conversation and innumerable think-pieces.  Would he start a trend of absolute cooperation and transparency in dioceses?  Could he be the next Pope?  Was he evidence of the need for married priests?  After all, it had been family ties that had turned a good bishop into the radical archbishop the Church needed.

But, through all the attention and the increased demands, Tony had still made time for his nephew and for Mason... with the help of his new assistant.

Roger strode purposefully into the hallway with a clipboard.

"All right, Andrew's ready to go with the van carrying the furniture.  I think we can fit a couple more boxes into Randall's truck.  Tony, don't forget that you have that phone interview with America Magazine in..."  Roger checked his phone.  "Twenty two minutes."

"Yes, boss," Tony teased.

Roger grinned.

Coming in from outside, Renee shook her head and playfully punched her cousin's arm.

"Don't encourage him," she warned the archbishop.  "He can get downright tyrannical if you let him.  He used to organize Christmas programs among us cousins and he totally made me cry once."

"Okay, first of all, I was seven.  And, second of all, you wanted to sing 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer'... with our grandma right there!  And she'd just broken a hip!"

The two priests cringed.

"Okay, so bad example..."  Renee giggled and turned back to Tony.  "A bunch of the others are out back.  They want to know if you want the Mary statue wrapped up for the move.  Gladdy said you bought it."

"I did," the archbishop confirmed.  "But as a gift to the parish.  I want to leave it for Fr. Joaquin and whomever comes after him but..."  He reached for Fr. Mike's hand.  "Shall we go out there once more?"

Fr. Mike nodded.

"I'd like that."

The two priests led the others to the backyard where several of the Friends were milling around the grotto.

"I'm going to leave the grotto as is," Tony declared.  He approached and rested a hand on Mary's outstretched one.  "I'll miss it...  But I know the real Maryam is going with me."

Joshua beamed and nodded before resting a hand on the archbishop's shoulder.

"She is.  We all are."  His gaze traveled around the assembled group.  "With all of you.  Even when you can't see us.  We're here in Albany, in Manhattan, in Asteriana, in El-Chanan... wherever you go."

"Are... are you leaving, Josh?" Mason asked, his voice wavering.

Joshua turned to the man and shook his head.

"Not leaving.  Never leaving.  But it's time for John and me to go back Home.  You all... you've built a strong, faithful group.  You'll help each other through whatever trials come.  And you'll be there for the good times, too.  The new jobs..."  Joshua smiled at Roger, Fr. Mike, Tony, and Kyle.  "The weddings..."

Ana-Maria and Kyle and Renee and Mason clasped hands and tearfully smiled at each other.

"The children who will follow...  So many blessings.  And this won't be the last you see of me or of John.  And my parents will be back someday, too.  We're pesky like that."

Brushing away a tear, JenniAnn laughed.

"They are," she affirmed for the new Friends.

"Dad and I are so proud of each and every one of you.  And I'm so grateful for the care you showed to me during this difficult time... but even more grateful for the care and kindness you showed to each other.  I'm grateful for your bravery in speaking difficult truths, in refusing to accept lies and cover-ups, and in making decisions in your own lives that, while challenging, will help you to live fuller, more vibrant lives."  Joshua sighed deeply as a shaft of brilliant light pierced the overcast sky.  He moved towards the Asterians and began to embrace them.

"Save a place for me on Christmas Eve?" he requested.

"And me too!" John added as he began his own round of hugs.

"You know we will," Kemara replied, brushing at her tears.

"With clean sheets," JenniAnn added.

"And comfy pajamas," Andrew promised.

"And all the Froot Loops you can eat... maybe more than you want to eat if the kids have their way."

Joshua chuckled at Owen's remark as he pulled him close.

"You can never have too many Froot Loops."

Joshua turned his attention to Fr. Mike.

"Your parents are so happy to have you staying with them again, Mike.  Although I'm sure you know that."

The priest laughed and nodded.

"I got the idea when my mom made me heart-shaped pancakes this morning."

"Good.  And, in time, I know you and Kyle will find the perfect place to settle in Asteriana.  And your ministry there and in Manhattan will touch many hearts, Mike, and heal many spirits.  You are a wonderful shepherd.  Don't let anyone ever make you doubt that."

"I won't, Joshua.  And... thank you.  I...  Well, I was so upset when Wesson confronted me but I... I trusted that you could turn it into something good.  I just... I had no idea..."  Fr. Mike sighed happily.  "I had no idea it would be something I'd be so excited about."

Joshua rested a hand on Fr. Mike's face and beamed.

"I'm so happy to hear that, Mike.  It'll be a joy to watch it all enfold."  Joshua reached out and set a hand on Kyle's shoulder.  "You two will work beautifully together."

Kyle smiled at the two and nodded.

"I'm looking forward to it!  I feel very, very blessed to have Fr. Mike as a mentor."

"And I feel blessed to be your mentor, Kyle.  And I have to admit... I'm looking forward to working with an engaged priest.  Always good to have more female input."

"Which I will more than happily dispense," Ana-Maria promised with a grin.  "And I'm looking forward to being married to my very own priest."

Kyle blushed but couldn't contain his joy as she kissed his cheek.

Joshua pulled all three into a hug.

"You'll make a great team.  And Kyle..."  Joshua clasped his hand.  "Thank you for not giving up on your dream to serve Dad and me."

"You don't give up on us... so I couldn't give up on you."  Kyle hugged Joshua then stepped back and looped an arm around Ana-Maria's waist.  "I just needed to... have some more female input."

"Wise man," Joshua complimented with a grin.  He gave each of them another hug before turning towards Mason, Renee, and Roger.

Mason's head was bowed, tears already leaking.


Joshua wrapped his arms tightly around him.

"I... I'm not sure I'm ready for you to... to go, Josh..."

"I'm not going, Mason.  Not really."

"I know but..."

Joshua gently lifted his chin.

"You'll see me again."

"At Christmas?"

Joshua nodded.

"And you'll tell me all about how well things are going with your family, how madly in love with Renee you are, and how you and Roger sometimes meet over lunch to play basketball."

"You play basketball?" Mason questioned Roger.

"Yup.  I was the shooting guard on my high school's team.  Went to state twice."

Mason smiled.

"Good to know."  He turned back to Joshua.  "You'll already know all of that."

Joshua nodded.

"But I'll still enjoy hearing about it from you."

"Okay...  Good.  And Josh?"


"I... I'm sorry about the stuff I said to you.  In the early days.  Before..."  Mason began to sob.

Joshua again pulled him close and gently rocked.

"It's all forgotten, Mason.  All forgiven.  You're my friend, my child.  I remember that."

Mason let out a ragged sigh, stepped back, and gave Joshua a teary smile.

"I... I'll remember it, too."


Joshua squeezed his hand then pulled Renee and Roger to him.

"I'm so glad I got to spend time with you both.  You bring me such joy.  Cousins are important."  Joshua smiled over Roger's shoulder at John.

"Darn straight!" the Baptist assented.

Roger laughed.

"They are pretty special," he agreed, resting a hand on Renee's back.

"Very.  And I promise... we'll keep an eye on Mason," Renee vowed.

Roger nodded.

"And Tony." 

"Thank you.  Tony needs an eye kept on him." 

"What'd I do now?" the archbishop asked playfully.

Joshua moved to stand behind him and took his hands.

"You do so much, Tony.  But I want you to take care of yourself.  You have very important work to do.  But you need to be healthy to do it.  Even I rest sometimes."

"On Sundays.  But that's my busiest day," Tony kidded.

Joshua chuckled. 

"Noted.  But I'm serious, Tony."

"I know..."

"If you don't listen, I'll send a plague of mantises your way," Joshua threatened with a playful glare.

Tony burst out laughing but soon his laughter turned to tears.

"I... I wish I could go with you, Lord," he murmured. 

Joshua embraced him tightly and rested a hand on his head.

"Oh Tony...  I'm always with you.  And, in time, you will be with me for all eternity.  But before then... you have a wedding to officiate... great-great nephews and nieces to baptize...  And so much more."

Tony nodded, smiling as he thought of all Kyle had to look forward to.

"When you are tired... when your heart is made heavy by all the stories you're told... when you struggle to sleep because you're remembering those first few days with Kyle... remember that I'm with you through it all."

"I... I will, Joshua.  I will."

"Good."  Joshua kissed the man's forehead then stepped back and surveyed all the loving faces surrounding him.  "I love you all so much.  Forever and always."

John doled out a few final hugs then hurried to Joshua's side, resting a hand on his shoulder.

Amid shouts of love, the two disappeared into the radiating light.

For a few moments, the Friends tearfully stared at the spot where Joshua and John had been.  Finally, Roger spoke.

"So... it's almost 3:00.  We better get moving if we're all going to get back to St. Genesius' in time for the ecumenical meeting," he informed.  "And, Tony, you have that interview.

"Roger..." Renee hissed.  "We're kinda going through a thing right now..."

Tony chuckled.

"Actually... I think Roger is exactly who this group needs.  He'll keep us on track."  He squeezed his assistant's shoulder.  "And he's right.  Joshua would want us to be there... and on time.  So..."

Roger beamed.

"Group going to Asteriana, congregate around Fr. Mike, please.  Manhattan group, stick with Andrew and Tony.  And the few of you headed to El-Chanan, why don't you form a group around Kyle?  Now let's get moving!"

Over the next few minutes, the Friends went their separate ways, delivering items to Fr. Mike's and Archbishop Tony's new homes and offices.  But that evening they gathered at St. G's, demonstrating that no matter where life took them, they were all on the same path, all following Joshua together.

The End

What is a Church?
by Fr. Mike Solas
(posted to his blog on 4-2-18)

A church isn't bricks or mortar.  It isn't a building.

A church isn't priests or bishops.  It isn't a hierarchy.

A church isn't even creeds, printed and reprinted on laminated cards.

A church is a mother, smiling over her child's first garbled "Our Father."

A church is friends, remembering... laughing... comforting.

A church is a widow, hopefully waiting to reunite with her beloved.

A church is a lover, pledging their life to another.

A church is the everlasting longing of creature for Creator.

A church is the memory of a stable, a garden, a hill, a tomb.

A church is trust.

A church is faith.

A church is hope.

A church is love.

Our church lives on in a place no scandal can touch.

It lives on in a Heart that beats strongly, that stopped once and never again.

We are the church.

Male and female, black, brown, white, gay and straight, young and old, saint and sinner.

We are the church... holy, immortal, catholic.

We are here still.

We are His.

We are the church.

Author's notes: First, I'd just like to make it clear that this story is not meant to be commentary on the actual men who serve as the Archbishop of New York and Bishop of Albany.  I chose Manhattan and Albany solely because those cities were already represented in the Dyeland stories.  I deliberately avoided reading any news regarding the Church sex abuse scandal and New York because I didn't want to seem to be addressing any exact case or cases there.  Secondly, in what reporting I have read, the government authorities involved in investigations ranged from police officers, district attorneys, attorney generals, and more.  I have no idea how involved the Manhattan district attorney would be in legal proceedings of this nature but involving Joe Maxwell just made sense since he's an existing character.  I didn't really want to make up an AG or other that we'd never hear from again.

On a more personal note, there was a lot I wanted to do with this story and just didn't get around to.  I think it's very possible that, via flashbacks in later stories, I'll revisit these few months in the lives of the Friends and try to cover some issues I didn't get around to.  This isn't my ideal way of covering a topic but, with this one, it was necessary.  I obviously knew this would be a difficult story to write but then a local news story broke with what I felt were eerie parallels to what I was writing.  At that point, I just really wanted to be done and moving onto lighter topics.  So if you read this... First of all, thank you.  Second, please let me know if you feel something got glossed over, didn't come out quite right, or have any other feedback.  Among those things I wish I'd had the time and energy for:

- I wanted a scene in which Shane talks to Joshua about how upset he is to have the scandal often framed as a "gay priest" problem.  Even though Shane is not Catholic, I think that would be very upsetting to him as a gay man who works with children and takes his faith very seriously.

- Along those lines, I wanted JenniAnn to reckon with the fact that even though she disagreed with the Catholic Church regarding gay marriage, she kinda just coasted along with it and only left when her and Andrew's relationship was targeted.  That's... kind of not great.

- Originally, I planned for the epilogue to be much further in the future and to show that, despite being happily married with kids, both Kyle and Mason continued to feel the effects of their abuse.  But when I decided to make them part of the Friends, that no longer felt necessary.  Instead, the lasting effects of their trauma will play out in something approaching real time in later stories.  While I think a fantastic support system and especially meeting Joshua would have put them on the road to healing, sexual abuse isn't something one gets over in a couple of months' time.

Finally, if you or someone you know is dealing with sexual abuse and its aftermath, please reach out to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network at 1-800-656-4673 or  Thank you.

Works Cited:
Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
The Gospel According to Harry Potter by Connie Neal
Morality for Muggles by Moshe Rosenberg
Into the Pensieve: The Philosophy and Mythology of Harry Potter by Patrick McCauley
The Apostles' Creed
Mark 1: 29-39- Jesus heals Peter's MIL
The Exorcist
Matthew 18:4-6- "Whoever humbles himself like this child..."
Our Father
Marvel's Thor
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This Is Us
Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:11-13, Luke 4:1-14- Jesus tempted in the desert
Book of Tobias/Tobit
Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan - A Pastoral Letter of the USCCB
Mark 6:17-18- John speaks against Herod and Herodias
Star Wars
Isaiah 9:6- Everlasting Father
Luke 1:39-45- Mary visits Elizabeth
Matthew 14:13-21/John 6:1-15- fish and loaves miracle
Matthew 22:30/Mark 12:25- neither marry nor be given in marriage
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48, John 2:13–16)- Cleansing of the Temple
John 11:1-44- Lazarus is raised
John 14:6-7- I am the way, the truth, and the life
Genesis 6-9- the Great Flood
"I Got You Babe" composed by Sonny Bono
Nicene Creed
Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 4:12–26, Luke 22:7–39 and John 13:1–17:26- the Last Supper
Matthew 7:1-3
"Fields of Gold" by Sting
Luke 18:16/Matthew 19:14/Mark 10:4- "Let the little children come"
Matthew 3:7, 12:34, and 23:33- brood of vipers
"Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen
The Keepers
Exodus 20:16-  You shall not bear false witness...
Acts 9:3–9- Conversion of Paul
Luke 4:28-30- Jesus rejected at Nazareth
Catholic Baptism Rite (adapted)
John 18:10-11- Peter in Gethsemane
Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema)
Matthew 22:15- And the Pharisees went...
Mark 12:30/Luke 10:27/Matthew 22:37/Deuteronomy 6:5- Love the Lord, your God
"God's Own Fool" by Michael Card
"Man!  I Feel Like a Woman!" by Shania Twain
"I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story
"Hail Holy Queen"- lyrics traditional, with O Sanctissima
Sister Act
"The River of Dreams" by Billy Joel
"Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" composed by Randy Brooks

Back to the Author's Cut