"But if a man does know he's about to die and dies anyway...
Dies- dies willingly, knowing that he could stop it, then-
I mean, isn't that the type of man who you want to keep alive?"
~~from Stranger than Fiction

The Carpenter

Doug and Lucy        Starting Again        First Rehearsal        Just One Day        Morning Has Broken        "Perfect"

Meeting the Maker        The Cry Room        "I Only Want to Say"        First Rehearsal, Take Two        The Interview

Fish and Loaves        Acquainted with Grief        Good Out of Evil        Plotting        The Invitation        Moving Day

Sons and Daughters        Duckling        The Soldier        The Twelve        The Ten        Family        The Lord of the Dance       

Ripples        Breaking Free        The Queendom        The White Stag       
Confrontation        The Child of Falling Leaves       

"I Only Wanna Know"
        In the Country        The Bridge Builder        Remembering        Lost and Found       

Reluctant Daughter
        Scars        The Word        Abi and Ama        Awakening        Healing        Dress Rehearsal       

To Serve and Protect
        Opening Night        In the Garden        The Birthday Party        Fighting the Past       

The Good Shepherd
        Gethsemane        Home        Reunions        Fathers and Daughters         Restoration       

Maundy Thursday
        Good Friday        From Death to Life        Holy Saturday        Living to See You        Always

Author's Notes and Credits

------------------------------------------------------------

Doug and Lucy

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014


Andrew's gaze kept drifting back and forth from the slideshow on the computer to the couple on the bed.  To a stranger, it would have been hard to believe that the aging man and the emaciated woman were the vibrant, youthful people on the screen.  Yet the angel of death saw the same love and devotion in both the younger and older couple.  Gently, he lifted the woman's hand and felt for her slowing pulse.

The man's cracking voice broke the silence.  "I... I hope Toby gets here soon.  I think that's what she's waiting for... our boy."

"He'll get here in time, Doug," Andrew assured.

Doug sighed and paused the video.  "Our first production together."  He smiled.  "My first production ever.  That's why..."

Andrew reached over to squeeze the man's hand.  "I know, Doug.  I know."

"I just wanted her to be able to see it once more... once more before..."  Doug pressed his lips to his sleeping wife's forehead.  "I always thought it was ironic, really.  I played Jesus but Lucy... she was my savior."  With tears in his eyes, he smiled up at the hospice aide.  "Did she tell you how we met?"

Andrew shook his head.  He thought back to only a few days before when he had arrived at St. Genesius' Community Theatre.  Though the pain was writ across her face and her frail body was wrapped in layers of clothing, Lucy had insisted on going to the theatre.  Andrew had watched in awe as the woman gently directed Emma, the actress playing Mary Magdalene, through a performance of "I Don't Know How to Love Him."  Through out the day, as Lucy proudly showed him around, the angel had smiled at her gentle fierceness.  And he remembered her voice, so filled with love, as she'd told him of the theatre's history, a history that intertwined completely with that of her marriage. 
But no.  Lucy hadn't told him how she'd met Doug. 

"She only told me that it was love at first sight," he responded.

"Silly girl..." Doug teased gently.  "Genesius' was her father's, you know."

"She mentioned that."  Andrew chuckled.  "She said he was a Knight of Columbus and thoroughly distressed by what 'those hippies' were classifying as theatre."

"He was.  So Eugene bought a theatre and was trying for what we'd call counter-programming today.  He was livid when Jesus Christ Superstar first came out.  But when it started getting produced by community theatres, Lucy talked him into going to a production.  She said he sobbed from 'Gethsemane' on... and then he allowed her to do a production at Genesius'... as long as she found a suitable Jesus because he wasn't going to 'let some clown play the Lord.'"  Doug laughed.  "I've always wondered what Eugene would have thought of Godspell...  Anyway, Lucy got her cast together, minus one.  She auditioned several guys for Jesus but didn't take to any of them.  Too weak, too much bravado, too whiny, too disaffected...  And then one day, and she swears this is true, she was backstage... kneeling and praying for Jesus to send her, well, a Jesus.  Then she heard her father yelling from the ticket office.  So she ran in there and found her dad pointing a gun at some miserable wretch cowering on the floor."

Andrew's eye brows arched. 

"See, he'd walked in to find the kid emptying out the register.  He saw a thief.  Lucy saw a bearded guy with long, straggly brown hair and a haunted, hunted look in his eyes... an answer to her prayer.  And I... well, I just saw the end of the gun."

Andrew blinked and laughed in disbelief.  "You... you were the thief?" 

Doug nodded.  "Long story short: bad home life, got into drugs... not an excuse, mind you.  Money ran short... then out.  I'd went into the theatre to see if they could give me a job.  Maybe let me clean up after shows.  Anything.  But when I saw the office empty and the register, I... well, I would have taken the money if Eugene hadn't caught me but I'm glad he did.  He said he was calling the cops, Lucy begged him not to.  He thought she'd lost her mind.  So she presented her father with a deal: if I could sing, he couldn't call the cops.  If I couldn't sing, then she would call the cops herself.  And at that point, I thought she'd lost her mind!  So she took my hand and led me into the theatre and onto the stage.  She told me to sing something, anything.  If I'd thought more about it, I might have chosen a song that Eugene would have been a little more appreciative of.  But I ended up singing 'Stairway to Heaven.'  And I guess I sang it well because no one called the cops... and a week later I was onstage again, making my way through 'Gethsemane' for the first time.  Lucy played Mary Magdalene and I can still remember the first time we rehearsed together."  The man blushed.  "Eugene yelled at me to stop looking like I was going to kiss 'Mary.'  But she was so beautiful and so kind and... she is so beautiful, so kind."  Doug again kissed Lucy's brow.

Andrew watched, smiling tenderly, as Doug advanced the slideshow to a shot of him, Lucy, and her father.

Doug smoothed Lucy's quilt after she shifted in her sleep then continued.  "A
fter awhile, Eugene even took to me.  At the same time Lucy was teaching me the finer points of acting, Eugene was teaching me how to operate the theatre.  I think...  See, Lucy's mother died when she was only four.  It was breast cancer, too.  So Eugene was father and mother both and he really knew his little girl.  I suspect he knew she was in love with me long before I did and if I was going to be with his daughter, well, he was going to do everything he could to make me a man worthy of her.  Between the two of them, they kept me so busy that... that I just didn't have time to be tempted away by my old life.  And they made me go to Mass with them every Sunday, every Holy Day, and then some.  At first I only went because it was a prime opportunity to admire Lucy in her Sunday best.  But after a while... Between pretending to be Jesus and hearing His story so often... I longed to be one of those chicks He wanted to gather under His wings.  I felt like... like I was the lamb He came searching for through these two people."  Doug moved onto another photo, this one showing him and Lucy greeting audience members after a performance.  "When our production opened, I was a new man.  I had faith, I had a family, I'd found something I was good at, and... Lucy had proposed the night before."

The angel of death smiled.  "Somehow that doesn't surprise me."

Doug chuckled.  "Lucy always made things happen when she felt they needed to happen.  The show had been such a success for St. Genesius' that we did it again the following year... as husband and wife.  And then the third year..."  Grinning, he shook his head.  "See, we knew Lucy was pregnant but the show was set to wrap in April and she wasn't due until the end of May.  We figured we'd be fine and with Mary's flowing robe for a costume, no one could even tell Lucy was pregnant unless they knew.  Everything went great until closing night.  It was intermission and I was making sure everything was ready for the Crucifixion when I heard my wife scream my name.  Of course, I came running and there was Lucy... half-laughing and half-crying.  Her water had broken.  So I scooped her up and screamed for Eugene... who happened to be playing Caiaphas that year.  He drove us to the hospital and boy... you should have seen the looks on people's faces when I came running into the ER with Lucy in my arms and her dazed father behind us and me screaming that my wife was in labor and Lucy at this point laughing hysterically...  Remember that we were all in full costume!"

Laughing along with the man, Andrew shook his head.  "I think even for an emergency room in Manhattan, that had to rank as alarmingly bizarre."

After regaining control of himself, Doug nodded.  "You bet.  But after the initial shock wore off, everyone was very professional and despite his early arrival, our boy was born healthy... our Tobiah... Toby.  It means 'God is good.'"  He looked from the photograph on the screen to his wife.  "That show meant everything to us.  It brought us together, it saw us as newlyweds, as expectant parents, as new parents...  Through so many transitions.  I think that's why my Lucy was so... so set on it getting us through this... this final one.  But she... she thought we had longer.  This last turn just came so.... so quickly."  Doug began to cry.  "I... I want to finish this for her.  And because... it means so much to so many of them.  Zeke told me how important it is to him.  He's a deacon at his church, you know, and even though it's been a stretch for him to play Judas; he and Diana felt like maybe this would be a way for their kids and the kids at his church to see the story in a way that would make it more vibrant, more real for them... to really see how much the Lord loves them.  And Peter... our Peter... he reminds me of me.  Not because he's gotten himself into trouble but... but Lucy saw it, too.  There's a little lost boy inside of him and if we can build him up then maybe... maybe he'll grow into the strong, motivated man we can both see in him.  And Kylie...  I'm worried about her, Andrew.  Lucy was, too.  There's something not right there.  We could never prove it but... I think her husband's beating her.  I'm afraid that if she loses this show then... then no one's going to be around to help her leave when..."

"She won't lose the show, Doug.  I promise you she won't.  None of them will.  And I will do everything I can to help and protect Kylie," Andrew vowed.

Doug squeezed his hand.  "Good man."

Andrew smiled.

"Please watch over Emma, too," Doug requested.  "She's a good girl, Andrew.  She just doesn't know it and she loves Lucy so and I'm afraid...  She's had problems in the past and when... when Lucy isn't there... if she doesn't have this show to keep her focused...  I named her as my AD because I wanted to keep a close eye on her.  I'm scared for her, Andrew.  But I also... I don't know if I can do this when my wife is in every note and every lyric and..."

Andrew took one of the man's hands in his own.  "When it's time, go be with your boy.  Lucy wants that for you.  I'll stay here.  I can keep the production going.  I've directed shows before and I have a whole team of friends with assorted theatre backgrounds."

Astounded, Doug shook his head.  "B-but... I can barely pay..."

"Pro bono," Andrew insisted.  "Lucy told me the theatre's fallen on hard times.  But I really believe that this production could turn it all around."

"I can't let you spend all that time without pay, Andrew.  Not to mention your friends."

Andrew smiled gently.  "I don't need money, Doug.  You know that.  You've trusted your wife with so much.  Now trust her when it comes to one of the last things she told you."

Doug's eyes filled.  He remembered waking up two days before to his wife struggling for breath.  Before she had lost consciousness, she'd said two things: "I love you" and "Andrew's an angel.  He's here now."  Doug buried his face in Lucy's shoulder for a moment then looked up at Andrew.  "You're an angel.  A real angel."

"Yes.  God sent me to help you both through your final days together and He sent me to help carry on the mission your father-in-law and your wife started and that you've spent so many years helping to continue.  Take care of yourself, Doug.  When the time comes, go home with Toby.  Care for your son and daughter-in-law and your grandchildren, let them care for you, and know that I'll be here and that once again people will come to St. Genesius' to remember what was asked of One Man and what He gave... for them, for you.  All He asks is that, for one performance, you come back."

"Of course.  I-I am... grateful."  Doug looked down at his wife and remembered the young woman cradling their son.  He echoed her words.  "God is good."

"D-dad?"

Andrew and Doug turned to the hall to find a visitor.

"Toby!" his father greeted.  "You... you made it.  There isn't... I don't think there's much time."  Doug looked to Andrew whose eyes confirmed this.  "Toby, this is Andrew.  He's been helping your mom and me.  And he... he's going to help us all now.  Come, sit by... by Mom and me."

Andrew watched as the grown man, his father's double, curled up beside his mother.

"Is... is she in pain?" Toby asked.

Andrew shook his head.  "No.  She's already beginning to feel the peace that will be her Home now and forever."

Toby managed a smile and stroked his mother's pale face.  "I l-love you, mommy."

Doug gripped his son's hand.

Andrew's eyes glistened as he looked at the joined hands resting gently on Lucy's chest. 

"I love you, my darling," Doug murmured. 

They sat quietly, simply being together in the last moments of Lucy's life.  Husband and son listened as her breathing grew more shallow.  They covered her face in kisses and whispered their love to her over and over.

Then Lucy let out a raspy, wavering breath.

Holding tightly to her, Doug recited words so similar to ones he'd said night after night but never with as much agony.  "Into Your hands... I commend her spirit."

Andrew saw the woman rise and bend to kiss first Toby's hair then Doug's as they wept.  "I love you both so much.  So, so much."  Her form now as radiant as her spirit, Lucy turned to Andrew and held out her hand.  "I'm ready, Andrew."  She smiled.  "Final curtain."

The angel hugged her when she glanced back at her husband and son.  "They will miss you very much but Doug was more right than he realized.  You are in every word, in every act of their lives.  And those memories will comfort them along with the faith you kindled in Doug and passed along together to Toby.  And they will have something more...  But that's for Someone Else to tell you about... once you're Home.  Let's go."  Beaming, Andrew walked with Lucy into a blinding, beautiful light.

*~*~*

Starting Again

Tuesday, February 25th


"I love it here.  In the spring, little birds will line up all along the edge of that fountain and sing!  And court!"  An elderly woman bundled up in a sweater smiled over at her companion as they sat on a bench.  "Speaking of which... what are you doing here, young man?  A nice evening like this and you choose to spend it strolling the park with an old biddy?  We should find you a nice young lady, Joshua."

Joshua chuckled.  "Olivia, you are not an 'old biddy.'  And I..."

"Or a nice young man."  Olivia grimaced.  "Unlike some people, I don't judge."

Joshua frowned.  He knew where the edge in Olivia's voice came from.  "I'm glad you don't judge.  Thank you for that.  But I'm not looking for a romance.  I'm just here to help.  And..."

"And?"

"To see my kids."

Olivia looked to Joshua in surprise.  "Your kids?  Well, Joshua Davidson!  Here you have me wanting to set you up and you already have a family!  So how many kids have you got?"

"Well..."

"And how did you come to be separated from them?  I hope you didn't get yourself pulled into one of those nasty custody battles."

Joshua shook his head.  "No."

Olivia sighed and decided not to press the matter.  "So maybe we can talk... parent to parent.  Joshua, there was a reason I asked you to come for this walk.  I needed to get away from the prying ears back at Abundant Living.  Nosy old fusses some of them..."

In spite of her attempt at humor, the woman's distress was obvious to Joshua.  He took her hands in his.  "Tell me."

"I... I tried to raise my boy right, Joshua.  In a home full of love and faith.  But my husband... he was always... I loved him.  Truly I did.  But he had his judgmental streak.  And my boy, my Calvin, he grew to be that way.  God forgive him but I... I don't think he'd much like you, my dear."

Joshua hugged her close.  "Olivia, parents can only do so much.  In the end, the choice is the child's whether to live in love or judgment.  Please, don't blame yourself.  You don't deserve that burden." 

"Thank you b-but neither does my grandson deserve what's been done to him..."  Olivia took the handkerchief Joshua held out and, after drying her eyes, continued.  "Calvin married a girl who believed as he did.  They had a son.  My first grandson.  And I adored him.  Owen.  When Owen got to be around eleven or twelve... Joshua, I just knew he was gay.  And I suspect his parents knew, too.  Orville and I... Orville being my husband... lived in Arizona at the time.  We visited a few times a year and every time, I saw my Owen less and less.  He spent more and more time in his room.  Calvin and Dalia, my daughter-in-law, didn't seem to mind.  As horrible as it is, I think they felt better with him 'out of sight, out of mind.'  One year, when Owen was eighteen, we visited Calvin and Dalia and they told me Owen had moved out.  I demanded to know where my grandson had moved to and they wouldn't tell me.  That's when I found out he'd run away and they had no idea where he was.  They'd been telling their friends that he'd left to start college early!  Once the truth came out one of Owen's cousins, my granddaughter Shannon, and I looked for him.  But we didn't find him.  Orville dragged me back to Arizona where I prayed so many rosaries and novenas..."

Joshua patted her back.  He knew they hadn't found Owen because by the time they knew to begin their search, he was already safely sequestered Below.

Olivia sighed deeply before continuing.  "Thank the Lord in Heaven and His blessed mother, in autumn of 2004, Owen sent me a letter.  He wouldn't say where he was, only that he was safe and happy and accepted.  Orville forbid me from writing back.  But I did, suggesting Owen and I email.  So we did.  Orville never did have any interest in computers.  He thought I was spending all that time researching for my garden.  After my husband died, Calvin and Dalia convinced me to move back here to be near the rest of the family.  I refused to move in with them so that's how I ended up at Abundant Living.  And I have enjoyed being near them.  But then Calvin found out Owen was visiting me.  They had a huge fight right outside the building.  Calvin said some ugly, horrible words.  Owen never came back.  Shannon and her family have us both over for holidays so I see my Owen then.  And he knows I love him and accept him.  But sometimes I feel like seeing me... and Shannon, too... it just reminds him of his parents and their abandonment.  And worse yet... my beautiful boy who sang in the church choir feels rejected by his church and unworthy of his God." 

Joshua closed his eyes, remembering the little boy giving his all to "This Little Light of Mine."  Even worse than Owen feeling cast out by his church, the boy wondered if maybe they were right and he was an abomination. 

"Do you think you could talk to him, Joshua?  You have such a beautiful way of speaking about God.  And you speak with... with a sense of authority.  Please?" Olivia requested, peering into his eyes.

Joshua nodded.  "I promise you.  I'll speak to Owen."

Relieved, the woman beamed.  "Thank you!  I'll get a hold of him and get some times then run them by you.  I don't want to cut in on your time with your kids."

Joshua smiled.  "Don't worry about that, Olivia.  I'll make due."  If only she knew her Owen was one of the kids he'd come seeking... and so was she.

"I feel better.  Thank you.  Now... let's head back.  I don't want to miss out on dinner.  Chicken and dumplings tonight, you know.  You'll join me?"

"Wouldn't miss it."  After helping Olivia to her feet, Joshua took her arm and together they headed back to the retirement home.  On the way, they passed a theatre that had seen better days.  Joshua smiled as he noticed a green mini-van pull into the lot behind St. Genesius'. 

"Shame about this place," Olivia commented.  "I just read that one of the owners died.  Bet it won't be here much longer."

"You never know.  Might just get some new life breathed into it yet," Joshua countered.

"Hmm...  Yes, maybe."

Joshua's smile grew.  The show would most definitely go on.

*~*~*

Andrew sat on the stage, glancing at his pocket watch.  He mentally revisited the events of the past three days.  Amazingly, Doug had found the strength to gather the cast and crew together the day after Lucy's death to explain his plan to have Andrew take over.  The angel of death had tried not to read too much into the looks of dismay on many of their faces, knowing much of it could have been grief.  But the day before, at Lucy's funeral, he had heard whisperings.  Some were opposed to even trying to continue.  Andrew cringed as he thought of a conversation he'd overheard.

"I know this is a terrible thing to say at a funeral but... Lucy's death was the final nail in the coffin for me.  You know the theatre's going under!  What little money they had is going to have to go to medical bills and funeral expenses.  And that stage!  One of these days, someone is going to fall through."

"I have to admit, a similar thought crossed my mind.  This production is doomed and Doug's just upset and grasping for some relic of his old life to cling to.  And what does a hospice worker know about directing!"

"Not to mention... and I tried to keep optimistic but... Eric is a punk.  That's all there is to it.  That boy doesn't deserve anywhere near that white robe and, honestly, if I had him up on that cross... I'd be tempted to leave him there!"

Andrew frowned.  The threat of violence aside, they'd had a point there.  He knew Doug had hired Eric because he hoped he might find the role as edifying as he himself had.  But Eric was no Doug.  Doug himself had reluctantly admitted as much before leaving town that morning.  Andrew cringed when he thought of the man tightly clasping his hands, begging him to keep a close eye on Eric and not let him hassle any of the girls.

"We shouldn't have kept him," the man had lamented.  "But by the time we realized he wasn't open to... to changing..."  Doug had sighed wearily.  "I'm sorry."  He'd smiled bitterly.  "I'm sure Eugene wants to have words with me... I hired a clown to play Jesus."

Andrew had hugged the man and assured him all would be well and not to worry.  He knew Joshua would arrive, mitigating all those worries, but, in the meantime, Eric would just have to be dealt with.  At least Andrew wouldn't have to deal with him alone.  The angel smiled when he recalled a remark he'd heard Zeke mutter the previous week.

"Does that boy have to buy two seats when he flies?  One for his body and one for his ego?"

Andrew chuckled to himself.  He knew at least Zeke would return along with his wife, Diana, who was in the company.  They'd both promised at the funeral luncheon.  But what of the others?

"All clean!" 

Andrew turned to stage right where JenniAnn was entering with the newly changed Annabelle.  Violeta was trailing behind her with the diaper bag.

JenniAnn bit her lip when she saw Andrew was still alone.  "No one yet?"  She handed him the baby then sat down beside him while Violeta settled at his other side.

"No."

"Well, it's only 6:50 and you told them all 7:00," Violeta reminded.

"Not everyone lives on Andrew Time," JenniAnn teased.

"True..."

"Thanks for asking us along!"  JenniAnn rested her chin on his shoulder and peered down at Belle.  "I absolutely adore the mom thing but... I was getting just a bit stir crazy."

Andrew grinned.  "So I gathered when a certain someone told me you alphabetized my canned goods."

JenniAnn looked with mock indignation at Violeta who feigned complete innocence.  "Guilty as charged," she admitted.  "But sometimes it's a lil boring when Belle naps.  I guess I should nap then, too, but..."  She shrugged.

Violeta cast a quick look at her supervisor.

The angel kissed JenniAnn's hand.  Violeta had also mentioned that she was reluctant to ever lay her daughter down, always wanting someone to hold her.  Andrew knew the anxiety would pass in time.  Soon enough JenniAnn would realize that their girl knew she was loved and protected even if she wasn't spending every moment in someone's arms.  "Maybe it'll help to get into a routine again.  I just hope..." 

"They'll come!" Violeta encouraged. 

Andrew nodded.  Like his protege, he knew the production would happen.  Joshua had made that abundantly clear.  He just wished he knew more about how many roles, onstage and off, he might need to fill before then.

"So what's the guy playing Jesus like?  I guess I'll be spending most of my time with him, won't I?" JenniAnn asked.

Violeta bit her lip to keep from responding.  Andrew had mentioned the current fellow was something of a miscreant and she badly wanted to tell JenniAnn about who was coming.  With a sigh, she reminded herself that it wasn't yet time.

Andrew tilted his head as he considered how to respond.  "He's... ummm...  You know, let's think about the makeup a little later on.  Right now could you just help me with, well, morale, I guess?"

"He's a creep, isn't he?"

"No comment... just don't go anywhere alone with him."

JenniAnn gasped.  "Like you really think he's danger..."  She looked hesitantly at Violeta.

"No.  Just... unpleasant."  Andrew really wished he knew how it was they'd manage to lose Eric... and when.

"Oh okay.  Well, if he ticks me off, I'll just come find you and you can overwrite him with your lovely awesomeness and Belle can back you up with her lovely cuteness."  JenniAnn bent down to kiss her daughter. 

Andrew sighed happily.  Whatever else happened that evening, he had them. 

JenniAnn leaned forward to speak to Violeta.  "And you... if he makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable..."

Violeta smiled softly.  "Yell for Andrew.  I know."  Try as she might, the young angel hadn't yet mastered how to handle men who expressed interest in her.

"Good."  JenniAnn reached over to squeeze her hand.  "No one messes with Aunt Violeta and gets away with it!"

Violeta beamed, still loving her new title.  She took Belle's tiny hand in her own.  "Best niece ever," she cooed.

Andrew chuckled when Belle sighed.  "And she knows it.  Don't ya?  Yes, ya do!" 

JenniAnn and Violeta giggled as Andrew's words gradually became less and less coherent.  All three were so intently focused on the baby that they didn't hear the approaching footsteps.

"I didn't know you had a baby!" a woman cried.

Andrew, JenniAnn, and Violeta both turned to see an African American couple stepping onto the stage. 

"Umm..."  JenniAnn gaped at Andrew, hoping he'd figured out some way to explain their situation. 

With a reassuring smile, Andrew handed Belle back to JenniAnn and stood to greet the couple with a hug.  "Hi there, Zeke and Diana!  I'm so glad to see you and... yeah!  This is JenniAnn and that little bundle of joy she has is Annabelle.  We call her Belle mostly.  JenniAnn's a longtime friend and recently adopted Belle and so I'm Uncle Andrew.  And..."  He returned to Violeta and put his arm around her shoulders.  "This is our friend, Violeta.  I thought maybe they could both help us out with..."

Diana had zeroed in on Belle and approached JenniAnn.  "She is an absolute doll!"

JenniAnn smiled proudly.  "Thank you."  She noticed the woman biting her lip and looking intently at Belle.  It was quickly becoming a familiar look.  "Would you like to hold her?"

"Oh, yes, please!  My own baby is fourteen and... oh."  Diana began to sway as she cradled Belle.

Zeke laughed.  "Well, the rest of us have ceased to exist now."

"Shush up," his wife whispered.

Andrew grinned.  "So how you both doing?" he asked.

Zeke sighed.  "What a ride...  Poor Doug.  I can't imagine..."  He glanced over at Diana and shook his head.  "Lucy was a good woman... and so strong in her faith.  Encouraged me more than a few times.  I hope we can do this right for her and for the Lord.  Has anyone else..."

"I'm here."

Diana looked towards the back of the theatre and beamed.  "Emma!  I'm so glad you came."

A young woman with her lengthy, chestnut hair pulled into a hasty ponytail made her way through the main aisle then stepped onto the stage.  "Am I late?  Sorry if I am.  It was just..."

Andrew noticed that her eyes were bloodshot.  She'd obviously been crying recently.  He wanted to hug her but knew Emma was touchy about her personal space.  "No, Emma.  You're not.  I'm very glad to see you.  How are you holding up?  I know Lucy was..."

"I'm fine.  Stuff happens.  Besides, now she's in Heaven with Jesus and all that jazz."

Zeke opened his mouth to comment on the flippant remark but Diana tut-tutted him.

"She's upset.  Let her be."

Emma's wary gaze settled on JenniAnn.  "Who are you?"

JenniAnn held out her hand.  "Hi!  My name is JenniAnn Chandler."

"Who has graciously let me borrow her daughter for a little while," Diana interjected.

JenniAnn laughed.  "I'm getting used to it.  She's a popular lil girl."  She redirected her attention to Emma.  "Anyhow, I'm a friend of Andrew's and I have some experience with stage makeup.  Andrew told me that Lucy usually handled that so... so I hope I can do right by your friend.  And help however else I can.  I'm very sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," Emma murmured, managing a half smile.  She turned to Violeta next.  "And you are?"

Violeta stuck out her hand and smiled when Emma shook it.  "I'm Violeta.  I'm a friend of Andrew's, too, and I think this show will be amazing and I can't wait to help!  I... I think I can act.  And I can sing... I mean not like leading role sing but..."  She blushed.  "Well, Andrew says you're all wonderful!"

Emma shrugged then glanced at a clock.  "6:59 and we have a newbie director... a makeup artist... the prostitute... and the traitor, with his wife.  A maybe actress who can sort of sing.  And an infant.  Wow."

"And... Jesus Christ... superstar!" a voice boomed.

Zeke rubbed at his temples.  "Dear, sweet Lord Jesus, please deliver us from this 'Jesus,'" he prayed under his breath.

A man sauntered down the aisle, his arms outstretched. 

JenniAnn gaped.  In skinny jeans and a tiny T-shirt with spiked blonde hair, a goatee, and flawless skin; the fellow looked like he belonged more in an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog than on a cross. 

"Well, I'm here.  The show can go on!"  Eric kissed Emma's hand, oblivious to the fact that she promptly wiped it on her jeans.  He stopped in front of JenniAnn.  "And who's this?"

"Andrew's friend," Diana hastily replied.  "His very good friend."

Eric flashed a smile at JenniAnn.  "And do you have a name or do I just call you 'Andrew's Very Good Friend'?" 

"JenniAnn," she replied.  "And you are?  And who do you play?"

Eric deflated.  "I... well, I'm...  I mean isn't it obvious that I'd be..." 

JenniAnn smiled.  "Nope.  Not obvious."
  
"My name is Eric Hansom."  He paused and flashed a bright smile, waiting for someone to comment on the appropriateness of his name.

No one did.

Eric trudged on.  "I'm playing Jesus, of course.  The lead."  He turned to Violeta.  "And who is this enchanting..."

Andrew scowled.

Despite his bravado, Eric self-corrected when he noticed Andrew.  "What's your name?" he asked.

"Violeta."  She tilted her head, considering him.  "Wow... playing Jesus.  That must be a very humbling experience."

"Yeah, well, usually I go for the sexier roles but what can I say?  I felt for this little, crummy theatre.  It's my... wait for it... sacrifice."  His arms flew out to his sides.

Andrew grabbed JenniAnn and buried his face in her hair to mask his laughter when Zeke, standing behind Eric, began to mime retching.

Diana made no show of hiding her own laughter and handed Annabelle to Violeta, hoping it would help get Eric's attention off of the beautiful girl.

Violeta happily accepted her niece and snuggled her close. 

Just as Andrew was beginning to wonder if anyone else would arrive, two young men, their matching mops of ash blonde hair and round, bespectacled faces instantly betraying them as twins, jogged onto the stage. 

"Sorry we're late.  Car trouble."

"More like gas trouble...  Dad told you to fill the tank yesterday!"

"You're the one who emptied it!"

Andrew chuckled.  "JenniAnn and Violeta, this is Caleb and Edward... our own Sons of Thunder."

The two blushed when they realized strangers, and women at that, had overheard their bickering.  "Sorry," they mumbled in unison.

"No problem.  Caleb and Edward, this is JenniAnn and Violeta.  They're a couple of the friends I said I'd bring along to help.  Ladies, these two are our priests/apostles/Roman guards."

"Also college flunkies."  Caleb grinned.  "Our mom thought a stint here might help us find direction."

"Wise woman," Andrew replied.  "Theatre can do amazing things... transport you to different worlds, help you realize what's truly important... and who."

Emma smiled softly.  "Lucy used to say that each new show reminded her of when she was pregnant.  It was a chance to breath life into someone and into their story."

Zeke squeezed her shoulder. 

Emma smiled appreciatively at him then bit her lip as her gaze traveled around the stage.  She checked her cell phone.  "What if no one else comes?  We can't do this with just..."

"Oh good!  People!  So sorry for the lateness," a preppy looking young man apologized as he entered from backstage.  "One of my students is having a hard time and, well, long story short, it made for a late night at school."  He absently stroked his copper beard when he saw JenniAnn, Belle, and Violeta and tried to place them.  Soon his face cleared and he smiled.  "Oh right!  You must be Andrew's friends!"

Andrew's face lit up.  "That they are.  This is JenniAnn and Violeta and Belle there is the one sucking away at her pacifier.  This is Shane... our King Herod and also a disciple."

"So pleased to meet you both.  And glad you're here because it... well... it looks like we can use all the help we can get."  Shane frowned and turned to Andrew.  "I heard from Terrence.  He says that this just all got 'too real for him and he's out.'  Sorry.  Looks like we need a new Pilate."

Diana shook her head.  "And a new Mary, mother of Jesus."  She scowled.  "Apparently it got too real for Carolina, too."

Unsurprised, Andrew nodded.  She'd been one of the women he'd overheard predicting failure at Lucy's funeral. 

Zeke shrugged.  "If she doesn't have enough faith to think we can do this, she shouldn't be playing the mother of our Lord, anyway."

Eric rolled his eyes.  "This isn't a church play, Zeke.  This is theatre!"

Zeke opened his mouth to make a reply but decided it wasn't worth the trouble.  He sighed.  "Well, some productions do without her.  I guess we could go that route if we need to."

Andrew already had an idea on who could fill the role but wasn't about to say anything to her until Joshua had taken over his part.  "Well, let's go through the list and see who all we've heard from."

JenniAnn and Violeta listened patiently but with growing concern as Andrew ran through several names and received responses of "not coming," "backed out," and the like.

"Kylie?" Andrew questioned.  He looked towards Diana who had most closely befriended the timid woman.

Diana grimaced.  "I didn't hear from her.  Let me give her a call.  I hope she keeps coming.  I think it was really good for her."  She stepped offstage.

"Anyone heard from Peter today?" Andrew asked.  "Yesterday he told me that he'd be here but..."  He remembered Doug's words about wanting to help the "lost boy." 

Shane shook his head.  "He might have gotten waylaid at work, too.  He mentioned having a 'killer schedule' today.  I hope that's all it is."

"I don't know Peter's number off the top of my head but I know Doug kept a contact list.  It's got to be somewhere.  Have you had a chance to look around his office?" Emma asked.

"Not yet but I'm sure I can find it.  Let's finish the list and then I'll call him."  Andrew looked back down to the list in his hand.  "Got Edward, got Caleb... thankfully."  He checked off their names and smiled at the brothers.  "Okay, how about Gabrielle?"

"Not coming."  Emma frowned.  "She said it was too much effort for... for a failing theatre." 

As Andrew listed off other names and received the now typical responses, Diana returned wearing her coat.  She whispered something to him and Zeke then turned to the others.  "I'm going to go pick up Kylie.  Be back soon."

JenniAnn looked to Violeta, wondering what was going on but the angel was equally confused.  She looked to her supervisor who only smiled reassuringly. 

"Well, I guess I'll go try to get a hold of Peter.  Everyone else, please just, umm, hang out for a little while."  Andrew approached his friends before leaving.  "If Eric causes trouble... actually, I don't think Zeke will let him."  He chuckled then looked over to where Emma was absently going through a costume rack.  "Why don't you see if you can strike up a conversation with Emma?  I get the impression she doesn't have too many friends."

"Sure!" Violeta readily agreed as JenniAnn nodded.  The latter smiled when she saw Zeke cut Eric off as he headed towards them.

"So... I guess we have a few moments to chat." JenniAnn began, smiling at Emma.  "I'm very sorry about the circumstances but I'm glad I can be here for this.  I've always loved this show and Andrew told me your rendition of 'I Don't Know How to Love Him' is stunning."

Emma blushed, smiling slightly.  "Andrew's overly kind."

Violeta, who had been resting her cheek lightly against Belle's hair, looked up.  "But always honest," she countered.  "I'm sure you do a wonderful job!  So have you acted much?"

"I've done a couple shows here with Doug and Lucy.  Either of you?"

Violeta shook her head.  "But JenniAnn has."

"Oh, just a few lil things in school and among friends.  Nothing professional," JenniAnn clarified.  "I'm more of a backstage person."

"Well... that's probably a good thing here.  I think we lost even more crew than we did cast.  Makes sense, I guess.  I think a lot of them only hung around out of loyalty to Doug and Lucy but I guess they decided that loyalty ended when... when..."  Emma's eyes filled.

Violeta set a hand on her arm.  "I bet you got really close to them."

"Yeah.  They were like the parents I wished I had but..."  Emma swiped at her eyes and forced a smile.  "Everyone's gotta grow up sometime."  She looked wistfully at Annabelle.  "What's your baby's name?"

"Annabelle.  Or just Belle."

Emma reached out to pat the baby's back then halted.

"It's okay," JenniAnn encouraged.  "Andrew and I aren't those psycho germ-phobic pare..."

Emma caressed Belle and looked curiously at her mother.  "I didn't realize she was Andrew's, too." 

JenniAnn could tell that Emma was trying to puzzle the situation out.  "Well, actually, Andrew's her foster dad.  But I'm in the process of adopting her.  And... Andrew and I have been friends for fourteen years so we're planning on raising her together but not, umm... together.  And with lots of support from our friends.  Like Violeta who has been a godsend."

The angel beamed.  "I love her.  It's been a pleasure."

JenniAnn thought she saw Emma's eyes well and she remembered what Andrew had said about her supposed lack of friends.  "I'm really looking forward to spending time with all of you," she stressed.  "Always good to make new friends!"

Her eyes clearing, Emma grinned.  "All of us?  You're sure about that?"  She looked pointedly towards where Eric was doing squats while Zeke glared and Shane shook his head.

JenniAnn gasped.  "Is that the crossbeam?" she hissed.

"Probably.  I may not be the most reverent person around but I grew up Christian and Eric rubs even me the wrong way in this role.  You don't even want to know how he wanted to do the blocking for 'Everything's Alright.'"  Emma cringed then laughed.  "Doug and Zeke went off on him...  It was actually pretty hilarious."

"Andrew won't let him get away with anything, either," Violeta insisted proudly. 

"I hope not.  Andrew seems like a really great guy.  Even though she'd only met him right before the... the end, Lucy thought the world of him.  I just don't know..."  Emma's voice drifted off.

"What is it?" Violeta gently prodded.

"Here's the honest truth: the theatre has basically no money.  Zeke and Diana are here out of the goodness of their hearts.  Same with Shane.  Peter, too.  The rest of us..."  Emma smiled bitterly.  "Well, New York is an expensive place to live.  I work at a diner during the day but it's not enough and so... Doug and Lucy always insisted on paying those of us who needed it a-and we do need it.  Or else we need to look elsewhere.  And then that stage is in desperate need of repairs not to mention so many other odd jobs around the place and now they're gone a-and..."  She sighed.  "Does Andrew actually have any theatre experience?"

Violeta nodded eagerly.  "He's been involved with the theatre even back to when Shake..."  Her cheeks colored when she cut herself off.

JenniAnn jumped in.  "When he was doing Shakespeare plays back in the 90s.  Andrew's something of a... well, he's... multifaceted.  I mean he could never just do theatre cause his interests are so varied.  But he definitely has done it.  And financial stuff, too.  And also some building and painting and..."

Emma laughed.  "I suppose he's also been a doctor and a lawyer?"

JenniAnn only smiled in response then tried to redirect the conversation.  "Anyway, I really believe things will come together.  Miracles do happen."

Emma frowned.  "Maybe onstage they do.  But in real life..."

JenniAnn and Violeta glanced at each other.  It was becoming obvious what at least part of this assignment would be about: helping Emma find faith and hope.

"I believe with all my heart that they happen in real life, too," Violeta offered.  "I mean..."  She shifted Belle so Emma could more easily see her face.  "Babies are miracles."

Emma smiled tentatively.  "Yeah.  I guess you're right.  So tell me more about how you came to know Andrew?"

Happily, JenniAnn and Violeta started in on very edited versions of their "how I met Andrew" stories while Emma listened with interest, gathering information about this fellow she'd be working with.

*~*~*

Andrew stepped into Doug's office and, after locating the contact list, fished his cell phone out of his pocket.  He was just about to place his call when, glancing out the window, he saw movement beneath a street light in the parking lot. 

"Peter..." he murmured.  He stepped outside and approached the man.  He hung back when he realized he was talking on his cell phone.

"Si."

Peter began to pace. 

"Si, si, Mama.  Estoy bien.  Buenas noches.  Te amo."  After ending the call, Peter slid the phone back into his pocket.  He startled when he saw Andrew.

"Sorry!" the angel apologized.

Peter shook his head.  "No, it's okay.  I was just... that was my mom.  She worries.  She doesn't like me being here in the big, evil city."  He grinned.  "Or maybe she just doesn't trust me to behave myself."

Andrew smiled.  "Moms just plain worry sometimes, I guess.  So is everything okay?"

Peter nodded, peering at the door to the theatre.

"You coming inside?"

The man shrugged.  "Is it worth coming inside?"

"Well... I think so.  For one, you've put what?  Three weeks into this?  Why throw that away?  For another, it's at least warmer inside.  Zeke's there.  Eric, Edward, Caleb, and Shane.  Diana left to go get Kylie.  A couple of my friends are there.  And my foster-daughter.  But I promise you that we won't lasso you into diaper duty."

Peter smiled then looked to Andrew with concern.  "Emma?"

Andrew smiled.  He'd sensed a definite crush forming in Peter and, thus, had saved the best for last.  "Emma's inside, too."

Peter visibly relaxed.  "That's it, though?"

The angel nodded.

Peter looked down to the ground and kicked at the base of the streetlight.  "That's not enough people.  Not even close.  We can't go on with only..."

"I'll call in some favors and we'll get whatever roles that need filled, onstage and off, filled.  Now... am I going to have to appeal to my friends for a Peter or do we have a Peter... Peter?"

The man chuckled.  "Lucy did say my name was a sign that I was born for the role."

"Lucy was a very wise woman.  I think I'd listen to her if I were you."

Peter nodded solemnly.  "You're sure we can make this happen?"

"Totally sure."

Peter let out a sigh.

Andrew reached out to set a hand on his shoulder.  "Were you afraid to come inside because you thought you might discover everyone had bailed?"

Blushing, Peter nodded.  "Working on this... it was the first time in a long time that I felt part of something, Andrew.  I... I don't want to lose that."

"You haven't lost it, Peter.  It's just right through that door."  Andrew pointed to the back entrance. 

Peter smiled.  "Yes.  Let's go in." 

A car honked and the gleam from headlights flooded the lot before either of them could make a move.

Beaming, Andrew realized it was Diana's car turning into the lot.  He could make out the silhouette of a passenger.  "Looks like Diana and Kylie are back!"  He hurried over with Peter and, when Diana had parked, opened the doors for the women.

"Well, now!  Who says chivalry is dead?  Thank you, boys!"  Diana hugged Peter.  "I'm glad you came!"

"Thanks.  I'm glad you're here, too.  And the others."  Peter smiled at Kylie.  "Hi Kylie.  How you doing?"

The young woman gave a wavering, tight-lipped smile. 

Andrew noticed that Diana was pointedly staring at him. 

"Andrew, I have some material in the trunk.  Do you think you could help me haul it in?" she requested.

"Sure thing.  Peter, Kylie, why don't you head in so the others know you're here?"

Peter nodded and gently took Kylie's arm to help her as they navigated some icy patches in the lot.

"What's going on?" Andrew questioned once they were inside.

Diana piled bolts of fabric into his arms.  "Kylie's lip is busted.  She says she slipped on some ice and hit the pavement.  But you saw her.  No scrapes, no scratches anywhere else on her face."

Andrew grimaced.   

"I swear it's that husband of hers.  That first week, she had a black eye.  She said she walked into a door.  Then two weeks ago, she shows up with her wrist in a wrap.  That time she fell down the stairs while bringing laundry up."  Diana shook her head.  "Lucy and Doug both tried to talk to her.  We didn't tell the others because we didn't want to embarrass her.  I... I didn't even tell Zeke.  But since Lucy and Doug aren't here...  I mean if the girl was that clumsy, how come she's never having these accidents when she's with us?"  She sighed.  "I'm sorry.  I know you're already taking a lot on just with the show and operating the theatre and I know... there's no way Doug could be paying you.  And with your new baby and... you shouldn't have to be dealing with personal drama on top of..."

Andrew shook his head.  "Diana, helping people is what I do.  And if that means giving direction and casting and working on blocking then that's what I'll do.  And if it means helping keep someone safe... I want to help you with that, too."

Diana hugged him.  "Thank you.  You're an angel.  Just please... don't say anything to Kylie.  I'm afraid that if she thinks I told you my suspicions, she'll leave and then..."

"Not a word."

"Thanks.  I keep thinking that if we can just build her up... maybe she'll cut him loose.  Thankfully, she told me he'll be gone for three weeks on a business trip now so..."

"We have three weeks to figure something out."

"Yes."

"Then we work on building Kylie up in that time... and we pray."

Diana beamed.  "Yes, a whole lot of praying.  Well, let's get inside."  They headed towards the door.  "Did anyone else show up while I was gone other than Peter?"

"No."

"You really think we can still do this?  I know you said you thought you could bring in more friends but... we're missing a lot of people, Andrew, and I don't think the theatre's finances can stretch to pay anyone else," Diana fretted.

Once they were backstage, Andrew set the bolts down.  "No one else will need to get paid.  See, I'm sort of a... I go where I'm needed.  Like a sort of... aide worker.  And sometimes that means I'm sent pretty far away.  So whenever I have a job near my family and friends, we like to spend as much of that time together as possible.  So working together will be payment enough for all of us."

Diana smiled.  "Okay.  You know, you're a very interesting person, Andrew.  You strike me as... Well, I heard this phrase once: a feather on the breath of God.  You remind me of that.  Just effortlessly going from hospice worker to theatre director and who knows what before that!"

Touched, Andrew hugged her.  "I'm happy to be that feather.  Now... let's head back in there before Eric wears down Zeke's patience."

Diana laughed.  "He's been praying for patience nightly.  I was relieved to see that your friends seem to be immune to Eric's, uh, charms," she whispered.

Andrew chuckled.  "Yeah.  They can hold their own.  Well, Violeta... she's very young for her age.  But JenniAnn's old for her age so... they'll be fine."

"Good."  Smiling once more at Andrew, Diana stepped onto the stage with him following.  They were relieved to find that while Eric was sharing quality time with a mirror, the others were all visiting with each other. 

"So..." Andrew began.  "It seems like this is everyone who is showing up.  So of the named parts, we need to find Pilate, Caiaphas, Annas, Simon, and Mary.  I'm confident I can get more friends to help but is everyone here happy with the roles they have?  Kylie and Diana, would either of you want Mary's role?"

Kylie blushed and shook her head.  "I'd rather not.  Thank you, though."

Diana also declined.  "I think it'd be too difficult, timing-wise, for me to be onstage for the Crucifixion and do Zeke's 'Superstar' makeup.  But even more than that... I don't think I can emotionally.  I'd think too much about my own kids."

"I understand," Andrew assured.  "Guys, you all good or does anyone want to make a switch?"

"Zeke, I hope you want to stay Judas," Peter urged.  "I can't imagine anyone else doing 'Heaven On Their Minds.'"

Zeke beamed.  "Well, thank you!  And you have to stay Peter... I hope?"

Peter grinned.  "All in the name."

Shane shrugged.  "I like Pilate's role so I can take it if you think it'd be easier to fill Herod's role.  But I have to admit I've been having a lot of fun with Herod."  He did a little jig that Emma had taught him.

Andrew chuckled and shook his head.  "No, if you're happy then stay with Herod.  Besides, I think Herod would be harder to recast.  That mix of comedic and sinister is hard to pull off but you were so great singing it last Wednesday, Shane.  So... Caleb and Edward, what do you think?"

"I'm not much of a singer," Caleb admitted.  "I don't think I could do a whole solo."

Edward nodded.  "Same here.  And with my other job, I don't think I can make any extra rehearsals which I'd probably need.  I mean I'm all in for our group rehearsals.  Even though Mom talked me into this... it's been fun.  But just not enough time for more, unfortunately."

"Totally understandable."  Andrew turned to the assistant director.  "Emma, I'll bring more of my friends around tomorrow and we can make casting decisions then, okay?"

"Sure," Emma agreed.

"Great!"  Andrew smiled at each of them, hoping to diminish any lingering concerns.  "So I think maybe we should take the night off from rehearsing.  What does everyone think about just sitting around and talking?  I know you've all been through so much together so I thought it might be good."

The cast murmured agreement and began grabbing chairs and arranging them in a circle.

"I, umm, can go somewhere else if you'd all like some privacy," JenniAnn offered.

"Me too," Violeta added.

Zeke shrugged.  "I don't see any reason either of you would need to do that.  I mean you're in this with us now, aren't you?"

The two smiled and nodded.

"And, personally, I don't want that little one going anywhere," Diana added, smiling at Belle.  "She makes me happy.  Even as we mourn, there's always new life."

JenniAnn beamed and took the chair Peter offered her.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome."  He pulled another chair into the circle for Violeta.

"Thanks, Peter!"

Andrew smiled, glad that they were staying and being welcomed by the others.  Once everyone was seated, he gazed around the circle at them all.  He paused for a moment when he came to Eric... tapping away on his cell phone... but decided to let it go.  "Even though I only met them a week ago, I was struck by the love Doug and Lucy had not just for each other but for all of the people who came into their lives here.  I... I want you all to know that Doug was thinking of you even in those last minutes with Lucy.  And she was, too.  I know that.  They are so proud of what you've accomplished together.  And I am very proud that Doug trusted me to help it continue.  So I want to thank you all for welcoming me and now my friends, too.  I know this production is going to be one that we... we'll all look back on it for years to come."

Zeke clapped him on the back.  "I believe that myself and thank you, Andrew, for helping our friends through their time of trial and sticking around to help us bring this wondrous story to life.  Personally, this is a story I believe in with all my heart, a story that's been on my heart since I was a very little boy.  But I also feel like it's been a blessing to me to spend so much time with my wife."  He rested his hand on Diana's.  "And it's been a blessing, too, to spend time with all of you.  I'll be 45 in a couple of months and I spend a lot of time around my peers and around teenagers because of my youth ministry at our church but I haven't spent too much time around young adults since, well, I was a young adult.  I have to admit that I've sometimes fallen into the trap of decrying the generation just younger than my own but my bias has been challenged so many times since I came here."  He grimaced when he saw Eric glued to his phone but smiled at the others.

Emma returned the smile.  "Thanks, Zeke.  That means a lot.  I... well, I...  I guess I'm the flip side of you.  I've always had a hard time trusting people.  Especially people older than me.  Doug and Lucy were really the first older people I trusted.  But I... I trust you.  And you, too, Diana... although you're not an older person."  She grinned.

Diana laughed.  "Bless you!  But the big 4-0 is approaching come fall!"  She shrugged.  "But every year is a blessing.  Being around here as Lucy... as Lucy's body broke down even... even as her spirit soared as high as ever, it made me believe that even more.  Lucy and I met years ago.  I was a new teacher at the school Toby, their son, had attended.  Even though Toby had graduated, Lucy kept up volunteering there.  And I loved her.  She seemed to have it all together.  Married, mother, career-woman.  I was still living with my parents and... in a really bad relationship."

Andrew noticed when Kylie's head bobbed up.  She peered intently at Diana.

"One morning, as I was waiting for my kids, Lucy stopped into my room to visit.  We were talking about the usual things: the weather, what projects I had planned for my students, and so on.  Suddenly, I just started sobbing.  To this day I can't even tell you why I broke down at that very minute.  Lucy just hugged me, not saying anything, until I'd stopped crying.  Then she asked me what was going on and it all came pouring out.  She took my hands in hers and started to pray.  My family was Christian, church-going, but fairly private about our faith.  No one had ever prayed with me like that!  But as she prayed, I started to calm down.  And then she told me that God had taken great care in creating me and that He loved me.  She said that no one had any right to mistreat one of God's daughters."

Wordlessly, Violeta fished a tissue out of her purse and handed it to Kylie who was seated to her right.  The woman gave a wavering smile as she accepted it.

"Hearing that changed my life.  I broke up with my boyfriend, got more involved with my church, met some great people... and then also Zeke."

He laughed and hugged her.

"So that's why I think it's so important that we continue this show.  I know for some people it is just going to be a dramatic, thrilling story about betrayal and politics and cowardice and unrequited love and destiny.  But for others... maybe they'll see Jesus' story and think about what He did... think about how loved they are.  And realize that if Someone like Him loves them so much... they deserve only love here, too."  Diana let out a deep breath.  "I'm glad we'll still be able to make this happen together."

Shane nodded.  "Me too.  And I am committed to this.  I really am.  But especially after losing Lucy... I have an issue with the show itself but maybe this is too technical for tonight."

Andrew shook his head.  "Shane, if something's weighing on you then let's talk about it."

"Okay, well, we've all been through so much and while I absolutely love this show and have ever since I was a kid, the ending in many productions... well, to put it bluntly, it sucks."

Violeta looked at him in alarm.  "What do you mean?"

"I mean it's great from a dramatic perspective.  Shakespeare would be proud.  But to end with Jesus' burial?  If everyone else is fine with that then I'll cope but, emotionally, are we really sure we're going to be fine with that?"

Violeta gasped and her eyes welled.  She had assumed there would be a Resurrection scene.  She couldn't imagine ending the show with Joshua dead!

Shifting so Belle was in her right arm, JenniAnn gently stroked Violeta's back, wondering what exactly was going on. 

Andrew mentally kicked himself for not warning Violeta.  It had been so obvious to him that Joshua would never let the show end that way.  However, he hadn't thought about how it might take a while before they decided exactly how it would end.  He smiled encouragingly at his trainee then turned to Shane.  "We could definitely work on the ending.  I completely agree with you, Shane."

"Bonus scene for me!" Eric cheered.

Zeke frowned and disregarded the comment.  "Doug told me that bothered him, too.  And, actually, he and Lucy added a sort of post-script.  He said they usually ended with a bright flash of light and then the actor playing Jesus would be center stage, dressed in an immaculate white robe and then the curtain call would begin."

A smug smile formed on Eric's face.

"I like that, too, but... to me it just says 'Look!  We actually didn't crucify this actor!'" Shane explained.  "The curtain call is for actors, not the characters.  The story has ended by that time.  Some of my kids know about the show and have already asked me if they can come see it.  All day I try to teach them to have hope and then to have them come here and say 'Sorry kids, sometimes the hero is just plain dead... but enjoy this instrumental mega-mix!'  I can't do it.  I understand that sometimes we do lose heroes in tragic, irreversible ways but this... I mean let's be honest: most of the audience is probably going to be Christian and for them... for us... this Man is the one whose Resurrection helps us cope with all those other deaths.  He can't stay dead."

Noticing Violeta's continued distress, JenniAnn piped up.  "It wouldn't be too hard to fix.  And, honestly, I think God Himself agrees with you, Shane.  Have you ever really paid attention to the end of the film version?"

Peter smiled.  "The shepherd.  My aunt used to make us watch the movie every Easter.  She pointed him out to me."

"Shepherd?" Emma asked.

"At the very end of the movie, they pan to the empty cross and at the bottom you can see the silhouettes of a shepherd leading his sheep," Peter explained. 

"The director swore the guy came out of no where," JenniAnn added.  "I always thought it was God's way of getting the Resurrection in there."

Violeta visibly calmed.  "That's really cool.  That sounds like Him."

Shane smiled.  "I like that.  Although maybe we can find a way to do something like that minus a herd of sheep.  They'd probably try to graze on our costumes."

Andrew chuckled.  "Yeah, I'm not sure we can handle them.  But does everyone agree that we need to work on the ending?"

"Absolutely," Diana agreed.

"I... I think we can always use more hope," Kylie murmured.

The others nodded in agreement.

Andrew's face lit up.  "Great!  Then once we have our cast totally in place, we'll figure something out."  He turned to Shane.  "Something inside the show."

The teacher let out a sigh of relief.  "Thanks!"

JenniAnn smiled to herself.  It struck her as ironic that "Judas" and "Herod" were so religiously minded but she found it touching.  "I really think this is going to be an amazing production."

Emma brightened.  "Me too.  And I was just thinking about something."

"What's that?" Andrew prompted.

"Well, I know we're missing a lot of people.  But we're not nearly in such dire straits as they were one of the first years they did this show and had to do the whole second act with understudies."  Emma laughed.  "Did Lucy and Doug tell you all that story?"

Andrew smiled.  "I think I heard it.  It's a great one.  Why don't you share it with everyone, Emma?"

Beaming, Emma began the story of how "Jesus," "Mary," and "Caiaphas" had made a trip to the emergency room and left with a baby.

After laughing and crying and sharing more stories, the group finally broke up at 9:00, planning to meet up at 6:00 the next evening to resume rehearsals.

*~*~*

Prior to leaving for Manhattan, Andrew and JenniAnn had arranged to meet up with several of their friends in the ballroom at Willowveil at 9:30.  Arthur and Monica had agreed to help get some snacks and drinks set out so arrived at a little after 9:00.

"So...  Any idea what's going on?" Arthur questioned as he hauled in a cooler of ice while Monica started brewing coffee. 

Monica shook her head.  "Not really.  I suspect it's a group assignment."

"Group assignment?"

Monica smiled.  "It happens every so often.  Andrew gets an assignment and a bunch of us go with him or at least end up involved somehow.  For example, a few years ago, Andrew was a police officer in a small town being terrorized by a serial rapist."

Arthur frowned.  He didn't like the sound of that.

"So he was there and then Eli brought JenniAnn and once she'd talked to Andrew; Rose, Lady Beth, Yva, C.J., Logan, and the dogs came to join them.  They all stayed together in this big house, keeping Andrew calm and befriending one of the young survivors.  Tess then came along to help redecorate because the house was going to become a counseling center for women.  And then a while later, I came along because I was going to start up the center.  Vincent, Catherine, Mick, Beth, Adam, Henry... so many people came and went to each do their part.  It was a difficult assignment but very rewarding... and we got to share in it together."  Monica smiled proudly.  "We make a good team, I think."

Arthur hugged her.  "You do.  So you think I'm involved in this one?"

"If you want to be.  It's always up to you.  God would never force..."

"I'll help however I can."

Monica returned the hug and smiled up at him.  "I know."

"So I guess we'll get the scoop at 9:30?"

"We should.  I wonder who else Andrew told?  It must be quite a few people if we're meeting in the ballroom...  Although I suppose it may just be because JenniAnn's involved and probably needs to be here to get Annabelle to bed."  Monica smiled.  She'd never seen JenniAnn happier and suspected Andrew had never been happier outside of Heaven. 

"Anyone here?" a voice called.

"In the ballroom," Arthur shouted back. 

Max and Rose entered the room.  "Hey!  So any clue on what's happening?" Max questioned.

"Monica thinks it's a group assignment," Arthur explained. 

"Really?"  Excited, Max turned to Monica.  "I hope so!  Rose told me about some others and I'd love to be with Andrew on an assignment... without being the assignment.  I mean not that I wish I hadn't been his assignment but..."

Rose squeezed his hand.  "We understand.  It's pretty cool to actually work with Andrew."  She gasped as a thought came to her.  "Do you think it involves that Jesus Christ Superstar production?  Maybe Andrew took over!"

Arthur laughed.  "What?"

"What!?" Kemara echoed.  She had just stepped in the front door in time to hear Rose's exclamation and hurried into the ballroom.  "Andrew's doing a production of Jesus Christ Superstar?"

Monica hugged Kemara in greeting then tilted her head, wondering.  "Possibly...  Andrew was assigned to a woman dying of cancer.  She and her husband were putting on that show when she passed away.  I know Andrew was at her funeral yesterday."

"That would explain his taking JenniAnn with him tonight," Rose reasoned.  "She's watched that movie a crazy amount of times and seen several live versions."

Still puzzled, Arthur shook his head.  "Something about an angel being involved with that seems very strange to me... although I don't know why.  Maybe just... hitting too close to home?"

"Angels tell people God loves them.  Maybe the musical's just another way for Andrew to do that?" Max posited.

Monica noticed the other three were all looking at her.  She wasn't sure what to think.  And Arthur had a point.  She couldn't imagine seeing that story play out again night after night...  And to be a part of it?  Involuntarily, she shivered.

Arthur frowned and reached for her hand.  "Well, let's not get too excited about anything until..."

They heard the front door open again. 

"Monica!"

Gloria came running into the room and enthusiastically hugged her friend. 

"Hullo, Gloria!  I'm glad you're here.  I was hoping you would be.  And... Tess!"

After hanging up her coat, the supervisor approached.  "Well, hello, baby!"  She hugged Monica and then the others in quick succession.  "Does anyone know why we're here?  I got the message from Angel Boy saying he wanted to meet and the Father told me to come but nothing more than that."

Monica shrugged.  "None of us are sure but I was thinking that, perhaps, it's another group assignment."

Tess tilted her head.  "Possibly.  Does anyone know who else got invited?"

"I did.  What's up?" Owen asked as he entered. 

"That's the big question," Rose replied.

Owen grinned.  "Maybe Andrew and JenniAnn found another kid."

"I can't imagine that's it!" Tess protested. 

Max frowned.  "What if it's bad news?  From what I hear, there was an impromptu party thrown together right before Andrew was stuck with me."

"Andrew was never stuck with you, Max," Monica gently clarified.  "He wanted to be with you.  And I don't think it's that.  When JenniAnn asked if I'd mind making the coffee, her text had a smiley in it.  I don't think she'd use a smiley if it was something like that."

"We'd hear her screaming if it was something like that," Owen joked to calm himself.

Once again, the front door opened.  Eli sauntered in first with Adam and Henry soon following.

"Eli!"  Rose hurried over to him.  "Do you know what's going on?"

"No idea.  But I see JenniAnn made cherry brownies so it can't be all bad."  He moved to grab one then halted.  "Are we supposed to wait?"

Monica shrugged.  "I don't really think so."

"I'd say go for it," Rose agreed.  "So JenniAnn really didn't say anything to you about this?" she pressed.

"Uh uh," Eli got out, shaking his head as he downed a brownie.

Tess clucked her tongue and handed him a napkin.

"Wait... so this is a JenniAnn thing?" Adam questioned.  "I thought this was an Andrew deal."

Monica nodded.  "I think it is.  I think we're only here so they can get Annabelle settled in before whatever this is happens.  But JenniAnn is with Andrew."

"Where's Violeta?" Henry asked.

"With them, too, I take it.  She sent me a photo of Belle a few minutes ago."  Max held up his phone.

Gloria smiled at the image then tilted her head.  "Look."  She pointed at something past the baby's head.  "Fresnels."

Max blinked.  "Huh?"

"Fresnel lanterns," Gloria explained.  "They're common in theatres and concert venues.  Stage lighting."

"Maybe it does involve Jesus Christ Superstar!"  Kemara beamed.  "Wouldn't that be amazing?" 

Eli nearly choked on his second brownie.  "Wait... what?"

Monica once again gave a brief rundown of what she knew about Andrew's recent activities.

Tess pondered this.  "Well, we've helped out with Christmas pageants..."

Adam shook his head.  "This would be a little different... a lot different."  He caught Henry's and Eli's gaze.  Monica's was averted.

"I think it would be cool!" Gloria chirped.  "Although it's not exactly accurate and I'm not even talking about the anachronisms that most productions use.  Guns, T-shirts, electronics...  I mean Mary of Magdala wasn't even a prostitute!  It clearly says in the Bible that seven demons had been driven from her but it doesn't say anything about her being a prostitute.  I mean where do people get these ideas?!"

Owen chuckled.  "So, Gloria, what are your thoughts on The DaVinci Code?"

"Owen!" Monica cried.

Gloria pushed her glasses up.  "Oh, Monica didn't think I should read that.  But from what I heard..."

Before she could answer further, the front door opened and Andrew poked his head into the ballroom.  "Oh good!  Great!  You're all here.  Just let JenniAnn and me get Belle laid down and then we'll get started."

JenniAnn smiled and waved as she passed the entry before heading up the stairs. 

After closing the door, Violeta entered the ballroom.  "Hi, everyone!"

All of them began asking questions at once, prompting the angel-in-training to laugh.

"Be patient!  It'll only take Andrew a minute or two.  Belle fell asleep in the van so they'll be right down and then... you get to hear the good news!"  Violeta beamed.

Max let out a sigh.  "So it is good news!"

"Definitely.  I mean... a lot of work... but good work!"

"Is it Jesus Christ Superstar?" Rose pressed.

With merry eyes, Violeta gave a slight nod.

"That explains why Andrew had the soundtrack in his van!  He kept playing it while we were in Omaha over the summer."  Kemara smiled.  "That's really cool."  Her smile faded.  "Wait... you don't think he's playing Jesus, do you?  Is that why he grew out his beard?"

Henry frowned.  "He told me it was just because it made for one less thing to worry about in the mornings."

Owen shook his head.  "No way.  We'd have to sedate Psyche if so."

Tess wasn't sure she'd handle that very well herself.  "I don't think that can be it.  Andrew has a wonderful voice but it doesn't suit that part."

"Andrew's not playing Jesus," Violeta verified. 

Andrew entered the room chuckling.  "I am definitely not playing Jesus... but I am directing him and 'Peter' and some high priests, Romans..." 

Tess smiled with relief.  "Good for you, Angel Boy!  I'm sure you'll make a superb director!"

Andrew blushed.  "Thank you.  But before we can really get into rehearsals..."  He glanced to the hall and frowned.  "Sorry, I'll be right back.  JenniAnn said she'd be right behind me but I better go check."

He trooped up the stairs and immediately spotted his friend... standing in the hallway, peering into the nursery.  "Laja..." he murmured.

JenniAnn turned a blurry-eyed gaze upon him.  "I... I know it's stupid cause... cause we'll only be downstairs but it's so far and..."

As Andrew hugged her, his eyes welled.  He knew most new mothers experienced this but he wasn't used to it coming from someone he knew so well.  He also knew that while the symptoms of withdrawal had faded for Belle, the memories of them hadn't for JenniAnn.  He stepped into the room and patted the sleeping baby's belly.  "Pick her up.  I'll carry her cradle to the TV room so we can be closer."

"I'm sorry..."

Andrew kissed her hair.  "Don't be.  I'll be happier having her there, too."

JenniAnn smiled sheepishly.  "Thank you.  Whatever did I do to deserve you?"

Andrew grinned.  "Nothing.  I just showed up and you were too polite to ask me to leave."

JenniAnn giggled and, her mood improved, gently scooped Belle up.  They resettled her in the living room then, taking the baby monitor with them, returned to the ballroom.

Andrew quickly picked up where he left off.  "So...  JenniAnn, Violeta, and I had a meeting just a while ago with some of the people who were working on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  Unfortunately, the production lost a lot of people, both cast and crew, after my assignment passed away and her husband took an extended leave to spend time with their son.  I promised them that I'd keep both the show and theatre afloat... no matter how many roles needed to be filled.  And the three of us...  Well, we think there's a lot of potential right here in this room.  So who wants to help?"

Adam laughed.  "Andrew, I feel for you.  I'm a sucker for good live theatre myself.  But are you forgetting that some of us... well, we don't exactly keep our own schedules?"

Tess' brow creased and she looked up at the ceiling then smiled.  "No we don't, baby.  But the One who does keep our schedules says He'll schedule us around this if we're willing."

Monica blushed.  "And if we're willing but not... well... able?"

Andrew hugged her.  "The production needs a lot of help, Monica.  Not just onstage.  Although if you wanted to be onstage, there are... a few crowd scenes," he offered delicately.

Monica smiled.  "No.  I'm perfectly content to remain behind the scenes if you could use me there.  I always have rather fancied being a seamstress."

Andrew's eyes glowed with happiness.  "Diana, one of the chorus members, just bought a bunch of fabric for costumes but the costumer left so... it's yours, Monica!"

"I'm not much of an actor but I can haul and build so if you need help with sets, I'm there," Arthur offered.

"Awesome!"  Andrew took a pad of paper JenniAnn handed him and began jotting everything down.

"Speaking of sets, I'll paint anything you need.  I love painting scenery for the plays we produce in the Tunnels so I've had some practice with it," Owen explained.

"Thanks, Owen!"  Andrew smiled at him, secretly relieved.  He knew Joshua was counting on Owen being around.  "We definitely need a painter."

"Can I do lights?" Gloria asked.

"Sure!"

"I can do sound, too.  Microphones and all of that."

"Gloria... lights and sound," Andrew recited as he wrote before smiling up at Tess.  "We'll practice with a soundtrack but it'd be great if we could have you play along on piano sometimes, Tess," Andrew requested.

Tess beamed.  "You got it, Angel Boy.  And do you have a band for the actual performances?"

Andrew frowned.  "No..."

"I'll get you a band!"

The angel of death smiled at her enthusiasm.  "Tess... piano and band."  Andrew sighed happily.  He'd known everything would work out but felt better seeing his friends' names written down.  It made it all seem more real and like they were closer to Joshua's entrance.

"So what about the cast?" Eli asked. 

"Well... I'd really like to hold off on officially casting anyone until you can all meet Emma, the assistant director who's also playing Mary Magdalene.  But we have to find Simon, Caiaphas, Annas, and Pilate still.  And we need more chorus people pretty desperately."

Arthur considered this.  "Andrew, I don't know how often I'll be able to get away from True Light but if you're open to being lenient with attendance, I can lend a hand or rather voice with the chorus.  And this is plenty of notice for me to schedule myself around the actual shows."

"I'd love to be in the chorus, too," Kemara piped up.  "And I could help with promo materials if you want."

Andrew smiled appreciatively at them both.  "Thank you very much.  We really do need all the help we can get and, Arthur, just do what you can.  I can give you a copy of the CD to practice with."

"Cool."  Arthur blushed when he caught Monica smiling at him.

"I can manage being in the chorus," Owen agreed.

"Me too," Gloria added. 

"I think it sounds like fun!  Count me in!" Rose volunteered.  "I can be a leper!"

Max laughed and hugged her.  "That's just not a sentence you ever expect to hear your girlfriend say.  But I think you'll make a beautiful leper."

Andrew smirked.  "And we're on our way to an actual chorus!  This is really, really great."

"I can probably pull in a few people from Below, too," Owen offered. 

"The more the merrier!" Violeta cheered.

JenniAnn noticed that the other three angels of death seemed unusually subdued.  She moved to be closer to them and linked her arm through Eli's.  "What ya thinking?"

The three exchanged glances, all sure they'd heard the same thing from the Father. 

"Kiddo, I think you're looking at two high priests," Eli whispered, indicating himself and Henry.

"And a prefect of Rome."  Adam forced a smile.

JenniAnn frowned. 

"Oh babies..." Tess murmured.

Andrew bowed his head.  "He said everyone has a choice.  You know He would never make..."

Adam nodded.  "He asked.  He didn't order."  He cleared his throat and smiled.  "This assignment is important to Him, as they all are.  We'll do it for Him."

Henry smiled, too.  "Hard to tell the story without Caiaphas, Annas, and Pilate and the story's important."

"It is," Andrew agreed.  He wondered to himself how they would feel when they knew it was Joshua they'd be performing with.  He let out a sigh.  They'd be fine.  Joshua wouldn't ask more of them than they could give.

Realizing he was the only one who hadn't spoken up, Max approached Andrew.  "I guess that leaves me as Simon if this Emma lady approves?"

Andrew nodded and squeezed his shoulder.  "Thank you." 

"Violeta, what are you doing?" Rose asked. 

The young angel shrugged.  "Whatever needs to be done!"  She smiled but inside she was confused.  She didn't actually know what she'd be doing.  And she didn't know what she would feel.  She eyed the other angels.  All of them, except for Gloria, had been created then.  They'd seen it happen.  She was sure they would handle it better than she would... be stronger...

Andrew wrapped an arm around Violeta's shoulders.  "I think let's just see what tomorrow evening brings.  Get everyone together.  Give Emma a chance to hear everyone and then... then we'll see what else we need to do.  I just want to say that it means a lot to me to know we'll all be working on this together.  I was pretty excited when I first heard about this assignment and now knowing that I'm gonna be working it with so many people who I care so much about and a group of people who I'm really looking forward to getting to know... I... I think we'll all remember this for a very long time and I think... I think it's going to be really good for us all."

"I hope it's everything you're hoping it'll be and more, baby!"  Tess was aglow, sensing more was going on than she knew and happy to see where this assignment was leading.  More than anything, she was glad to have so many of her friends working together... now with several new friends.

"Amen to that," Eli agreed. 

"This is going to be so cool!" Kemara gushed, her face flushed with excitement.

"What do you think of the rest of the actors?" Max asked.

"When's the show open?" Rose questioned.

Owen grinned.  "And the million dollar question... does Psyche approve of the fellow playing Jesus?"

Andrew chuckled as JenniAnn rolled her eyes.  She would approve... soon.  Happily, he fielded the questions and then the group spent the next two hours chatting and making plans.

*~*~*

First Rehearsal

Wednesday, February 26th


Emma pulled her hair into a ponytail and briefly checked herself in the mirror before leaving her apartment.  She made her way to the nearest subway entrance then let her mind wander during the ride.

Andrew seemed nice enough.  But Emma couldn't shake the feeling that he was overly optimistic.  Even if he could pull together enough cast and crew, it would be a miracle if everyone could learn their roles in time.  Then again, Jesus Christ Superstar was far from obscure.  JenniAnn seemed quite familiar with it so likely others of Andrew's friends were as well. 

And JenniAnn and Violeta had been quite pleasant.  Maybe it would do her good to spend more time with them and less time holed up in her apartment or...  elsewhere.  Plus, the show meant a lot to Zeke, Diana, and Shane.  It wasn't just theatre for them.  It was a matter of faith.  She could still value that even though she'd lost her own.

Emma remembered when Doug and Lucy had approached her about the show.  She'd scoffed, taking their offer of the role of Mary Magdalene as an ill-concealed attempt to bring her back into the fold.  However, they hadn't pushed her.  They'd waited patiently for her response as she wavered.  And then she'd seen Eric...

Emma cringed at the memory.  She had thought he was so gorgeous.  Embarrassingly, she'd taken the part mostly because she'd wanted to get to know him.  That sentiment hadn't lasted long!  She wished Eric would have been one of the people to bail.  The role had only fed into his burgeoning ego and would continue to do so.  She hoped Andrew's female friends knew enough to keep away.  But maybe it was safer for her that Eric keep the role.  He was a wholly unappealing Christ.  He didn't remind her of what she had lost.

When the train arrived at her destination, Emma stepped off and rushed to the diner.  Knowing she was a couple minutes late, she snuck into the backroom and hurried into her apron.  Grabbing her notepad, she casually sauntered into the dining area. 

"I'd start with Table 8," Samson, the new busboy, whispered.  "Nice couple.  Table 12 is grouchy."

"Thanks."  Emma smiled at him and made her way to Table 8.  "Good morning!  Can I start you off with drinks?"

"Yes, please."  The man peered at her name tag.  "Emma!  Yes, please, Emma.  I would like coffee and my wife, Maryam, would like..."  Yosef paused.  Was he supposed to order for her or would that be considered wrong?

Maryam smiled.  "Hot tea, please.  Thank you, Emma."

Emma felt as if her heart stopped when the woman looked up at her.  Only once had she seen eyes so beautiful but that had been in dreams.  The shade of brown was so dark that, with gold flecks in the iris, they called to mind the night sky.  As kindly as the woman looked at her, it hurt to maintain eye contact.  Emma jotted the order on her notepad, staring at the paper.  "I... I will be right back with your drinks."

Maryam and Yosef watched the young woman flee.  Yosef reached across the table and took one of Maryam's hands in both of his own. 

"Does she know you?"

Maryam shook her head.  "No.  But she knows my eyes.  His eyes.  And now she needs to begin to remember."

Yosef nodded solemnly then smiled.  "I was going to order you hot tea."

"I know."

"Should I have?"

Maryam laughed again and kissed his hand.  "You could have.  Emma might have found it quite old-fashioned but I would not have minded."

Yosef beamed then glanced towards the counter.  "She's returning."

"Here you are."  Emma set their mugs down then a small tray.  "Sweetener, sugar, and cream.  Are you ready to order?" she asked Maryam.  She wondered if she had only imagined her eyes.  No.

"Yes, please.  I would like the blueberry pancakes.  Yosef, have you decided?"

"The Greek omelet with pancakes, please."

"Got it.  I'll get that out to you as soon as possible."  Emma smiled then turned around.

Maryam lightly touched her elbow.  "Emma?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"I just wanted to say that you have a lovely smile."

Taken aback, Emma bowed her head.  Still, another smile lit up her face.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

The smile lingered on Emma's face as she put in the couple's order.  She noticed someone at Table 12 was scowling and waving her over since Holly, the waitress who had taken their order while she tended to Maryam and Yosef, was in kitchen.  Emma braced herself but felt as if nothing they whined about could dampen what she felt.  Someone thought she had a lovely smile!

*~*~*

That afternoon, Andrew watched as JenniAnn softly rocked Belle's cradle.  Finally, she stopped, stood, and gazed down at the baby.  The angel approached and wrapped his arms around her, setting his chin on her hair.  They watched over Belle for a few moments more then left the room.

"Sometimes I think I'll wake up and find this has all been a dream a-and..." JenniAnn turned to peer back at the nursery door.  She closed her eyes for a moment, reminding herself it was okay to leave Belle there.

"This is very real.  Wonderfully real," Andrew assured as he led her to the kitchen.  "So real, in fact, that we have to wash bottles."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Good point."  Once they had the sink filled, she spoke again.  "I'm glad you got Violeta to go to the movies with Rose, Max, and Kemara.  I felt kinda bad about her being stuck around here all the time but then I was afraid to say anything in case she'd think I didn't want her around."

Andrew smiled, recalling how torn Violeta had seemed when he'd suggested she take a break and join the others.  "I'm glad she went, too.  But I also think it was good for her to stick around here for a while."

JenniAnn nodded.  "She did say a few times how blessed she felt to be here, caring for Belle in our home, with everything we need..."  Tears welled in her eyes.  "She said it was a lot different from what she saw in November."

Andrew found her hand in the water and squeezed it.  "I think that's probably why God had Violeta stay with you two: to renew and restrengthen her spirit."

"Yeah, that makes sense.  But now... assignment time."

Andrew grinned.  "Yeah.  For all of us."

"So... I have to ask... did you know this one was coming?  I mean clear back to the summer and maybe even a bit before that, I'd randomly hear you humming 'Superstar' and other songs and you were even listening to the soundtrack."

Andrew rinsed out a bottle and set it in the strainer.  "I... well, I've known since April."

"Nearly a year!" JenniAnn exclaimed.  "Do you usually know about assignments so far in advance?"

The angel of death shook his head.  "No.  I think He wanted to make sure I had enough time to prepare mentally and..."  He smiled again.  "It was fun to spend so many months looking forward to it and planning.  I kept imagining what it would be like when I told you, knowing how you feel about the show."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Did the reality live up to your vision?"

Andrew chuckled.  "Better.  Belle was there."  He smiled as he remembered how JenniAnn had cheered upon hearing that he was helping with a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  It had definitely taken away some of the sting of his leaving her for the first time since they'd found Belle.  She'd excitedly shared the news with the girl who had responded with her customary sigh and what her mother swore was a genuine smile. 

"And, umm, the situation now...  Are you... comfortable with it?"  JenniAnn frowned as she scrubbed.  After a year of anticipation, she feared Andrew might be disappointed by the uncertainties surrounding the production.  And then there was Eric...

"I think I'll feel better tonight once we get everyone together.  Ya know, I think Max will be a great Simon.  I'm sure Emma will go for it."

JenniAnn considered this.  It would be difficult to see their boy sing words of war but he certainly had the necessary energy.  "He will be.  I'm struggling with Adam as Pilate, though."  She wrinkled her nose.  "I mean the show goes to pains to make him seem almost decent... though still not near so good as Adam... but... as much as I love the show, he really shouldn't even have his biggest song.  Pilate's wife had the dream, not him."

Andrew's eye brows rose.  "That's true.  Huh..."

"That's your plotting face..."

"I am plotting...  What do you think about giving the song to his wife?  I mean all it would take is changing the key some and a few words.  'I dreamed YOU met a Galilean' and so on.  Adam wouldn't mind.  I know he wouldn't.  In fact, I think he'd be thrilled.  It really..."  Andrew sighed.  "It's hard for Adam to play such a man, anyway.  And then to be asked to play him dishonestly?"

"Good point... but that means you still have to find an, umm, Mrs. Pilate then.  Claudia?  Was that her name?  So... who?"

"Kylie."

JenniAnn bit her lip.  "Diana mentioned that she has a gorgeous voice but... she seemed so shy.  Like even being in the chorus is a huge stretch."

Andrew knew that the role absolutely had to go to Kylie.  He didn't know why but it was important.  "Then we build her up so that she feels she can do it."

JenniAnn watched him as he smiled and wiped off the bottle nipples.  If God had brought an angel to a place where he was cleansing his baby's bottles... a shy girl taking on an unprecedented role was certainly possible.  And maybe that was why so many of them were involved.  They certainly weren't strangers to fostering others' self esteem.  They'd helped Andrew's assignments in such a way during other cases.  She nodded.  "Sounds good.  So let's see... Caiaphas and Annas... Eli and Henry.  I think they have it even worse.  I... I can't imagine singing those lyrics..."

Andrew bowed his head.  He dried his hands and embraced her.  That sentiment was exactly why it had to be Eli and Henry.  If a human tried to sing their songs after learning who Joshua was it would be torture.  "They'll manage.  God will give them the strength.  And they'll know they're doing it for Him.

JenniAnn rinsed the last bottle then, after drying off, turned and snuggled against his shoulder for a moment.  "Okay.  You never really answered about Mary.  What ya thinking there?"

"Well...  Actually... I wanted to ask you about that.  I was thinking of asking Violeta but..."

JenniAnn stiffened.  "She's your trainee and I know that.  And I know she's not... not mine.  But... I love her.  And I don't want her near Eric.  Andrew, you know he'd say something cruddy when she's holding him after the Crucifixion.  I just... I get a very bad vibe from him.  I trust you when you say he's not dangerous but... just the way he looks at women..."

Andrew sighed.  "I know but..."  He prayed.  He knew he couldn't tell her about Joshua but he wanted to know if it was possible to tell her that somehow, some time soon, Eric would be departing the production.  He smiled when he got the answer.  "Listen, I don't know when or why this is going to happen, Laja, but Eric... he's not going to end up playing Jesus.  Actually, he's going to end up leaving the production entirely.  So... someone else will take over."

"Someone else?  Andrew, we... I mean all that would be left of guys in our group are Arthur and Owen, and... and you.  And I know Arthur wouldn't take that sorta time away from his work and Owen... he... well, I mean he has a good voice but not star of the show good.  And you..."  JenniAnn cringed.  The idea of any of them on that cross made her feel sick... but him?  Was that why Andrew still had his beard?  "No..." she moaned.

Remembering that she hadn't been in the room when he'd shot down that idea before, Andrew's embrace tightened.  "Not me, Laja.  It won't be any of us," he assured.  He closed his eyes.  As if it would be any easier for her, or any of them, when they realized who would have the role...  He kissed her hair.  "God will provide," he assured.  "It'll be good.  I know it will be."

Relieved, JenniAnn peered up at him and smiled.  "How can it not be?  You're in charge... well, and God beyond that.  So... Mr. Director, how much am I sposed to be around since I'm just doing makeup?"

"You're not 'just' doing makeup.  That's a big deal, Laja.  And you can be around as much as you want.  They've been doing nightly rehearsals at 6:00 and then a good chunk of the day on Saturday and also Sunday afternoons.  The makeup will figure in more towards the end but we'll need moral support from the start... restart," Andrew explained.

JenniAnn nodded.  She wanted to be there as much as possible, if only to keep an eye on Andrew and the other angels.  If they truly had been there for real...  She rested her head against his shoulder again.  "I'd like to start back with my class Below next week but that'd be during the day, anyhow.  So... so long as I can bring Belle..."

Andrew smiled.  "Definitely bring Belle.  The office is pretty quiet.  We can use it as a nursery.  I think it'd be good for everyone to have a baby around."  He was already imagining all the times he'd feel the need to sneak away and cradle her...  He could so easily envision Joshua doing the same.

"Our first assignment together," JenniAnn murmured.  "And so much of the family, too!"

Andrew sighed with contentment.  If only she knew which member was waiting anxiously to join them...

Reluctantly, JenniAnn pulled away.  "Well... if we're headed there at 6:00, I best start getting my makeup stuff together.  Just so I can see what we have between my stash and the theatre's and I can get an order in for..."  She blushed.  "So... I won't have to do Eric's makeup?"

Andrew chuckled.  "I guess if he asks you, you can give it a try if you want.  But if he even makes a move to take off his shirt..."

JenniAnn grinned.  "I'm running."

Andrew smiled when she did run off in pursuit of her supplies.  A moment later he sobered and stared up at the ceiling.  "I hope you get there soon," he murmured. 

No reassuring voice answered but the angel had a vision of Joshua, tucked away in his apartment whittling.  His store of gifts had grown and he was humming... "Gethsemane."

Andrew sighed and went to gather up his notes, anxious for the evening's rehearsal to begin.

*~*~*

Joshua sat on a wrought iron bench nestled beneath a barren tree in a cemetery.  He peered out at the horizon as he prayed for the people spread through out the graves.  Some were angry and had been so for years.  Some were still wretched from recent losses.  Some, thankfully, had found peace and visited merely out of habit or loyalty.  Though Joshua couldn't hear their thoughts, their habits were familiar enough to him that he knew what brought each person there.  He prayed for each of them, spoke to each of them. 

Joshua spotted him walking up the hill, head bowed and shoulders slumped.  Peter.  He carried a pink bag.  Her favorite color.

Peter knelt in front of the grave.  He reached into the bag and pulled out some flowers which he settled into the vase attached to the headstone.  Next came a small stone dog.

"Hola, mi querida.  I've brought you a friend."  Peter patted the dog.  "He reminded me of our first date.  Do you remember?  I won you that big, old dog at Coney Island?  Then we had to lug that sucker around the whole night."  He chuckled.

Joshua smiled at the memory.

"So I've decided not to quit the show.  Maybe it's good for me to be accountable to someone.  Keep me out of trouble.  Plus, I kept hearing you when I wanted to quit college.  'Will you be able to live with yourself ten years from now... knowing you walked away and threw away all that work?'  I wish you were part of it, Jaz.  You would love it.  Sometimes I think I see you dancing out of the corner of my eye."

Joshua longed to go over to Peter when he began to cry.

"There's something... someone.  A girl at the theatre.  Emma.  I, umm...  I think you would have liked her.  I... like her.  But I... I'm not sure I'm ready.  Mama reminds me that it's been five years but..."  Peter peered up at the sky.  "Please, Jaz, give me some sort of sign or... or something.  I love you so much b-but I know you're not... not coming back and it's so... so lonely... here... without... you." 

Tears spilled down Joshua's cheeks. 

Peter brushed his fingers across the name on the tombstone then stood.  "I need to head to the theatre now.  I love you, Jaz.  See you next week."

Joshua watched Peter make his way down the hill.  When he was out of sight, Joshua approached the grave.  He, too, ran his hand over the engraved surface reading "Jasmine Garcia-Campbell-~Beloved wife and daughter~1983-2009."  Then he reached into his pocket and removed a smile item.  Beside the little dog, Joshua placed a simple stone heart.  Engraved into it was the phrase "Live and love."

"Message delivered, Jaz," Joshua whispered as he smiled up at the clouds. 

When next Peter returned, he would have his sign.

*~*~*

Shortly before 6:00 that night, Andrew led the same group that had met at Willowveil into St. Genesius'.

Emma, Diana, Kylie, and Zeke were already there when the group trooped in.

Diana's eyes went wide.  "Oh my..."  She linked her arm through Kylie's when the younger woman began to creep away.  "Honey, it's okay.  They're friends of Andrew's.  They must be nice people," she whispered in assurance.

With a wan smile, Kylie nodded but kept tight hold of Diana.

Zeke, shaking his head in amazement as he eyed the newcomers, laughed.  "Well, he said he'd get roles filled!"

Emma ran to Andrew.  "All these people... they're here to help?"

The angel grinned.  "Every one of them.  We even have a director of adorableness."  He proudly motioned to where JenniAnn was removing Belle's coat.

Emma laughed.  "And dressed for the part!"  She tickled the baby's tie-dyed onesie clad toes.  "This is... amazing!"

JenniAnn beamed.  "Very.  I can't wait for everyone to get to know each other!"

Andrew nodded enthusiastically.  "Once everyone's here, I'll make introductions.  And I have some casting in mind but, Emma, I want you to hear them all before..."

Dazed, Emma shook her head.  "I mean I'll listen but... but we have no room to be picky and I'm..."  She looked to the floor.  "To be honest, I didn't really think you'd follow through."

Andrew squeezed her hand.  "I made a promise, Emma.  And I keep my promises."

Tears welled in Emma's eyes.  It was too much.  All day, ever since serving that couple at the diner, she'd felt uplifted and protected.  Now to find out that Andrew was no starry-eyed dreamer but truly had made good on his promise.  He'd given them back their show.  "I'm sorry.  It's just... so much has fallen apart so it was hard to believe this... this wouldn't.  But now..."

"It won't fall apart," Andrew vowed.  "I promise."

Thus assured, the woman nodded.  "Thank you."  Emma smiled and turned to the newcomers.  "Hi!  I'm Emma Dawes.  I'm the assistant director and playing Mary Magdalene.  Thank you all for coming!" she greeted.

"Thank you.  We're all very glad to be here," Adam replied.  He surveyed the four new faces, his gaze lingering for a moment longer on Kylie's.  She blushed when he smiled gently at her.

Zeke beamed.  "This is truly amazing.  A real miracle to have you all here!"

"Holy cow!  Am I in the right place?" Shane asked with a grin as he entered.  "So many people!"

"Definitely the right place!  We got ourselves a real chance now!" Diana cheered.

Within the next few minutes; Eric, Peter, Edward, and Caleb arrived. 

After introductions were made and everyone else had settled into audience seats; Adam, Eli, Henry, and Max took to the stage.  Andrew stood in front of the others. 

"So we're thinking Adam will play Pilate, Eli as Caiaphas, Henry as Annas, and Max as Simon," Andrew explained.  "But let's listen and, Emma, if you have opinions otherwise..."

"We're in this for the long haul," Eli assured.  "No matter who we play."

Emma rewarded him with a smile.  "Thank you."

"So do we have to sing something from the show?" Henry questioned.  He'd reviewed the high priests' songs the night before and while he knew he would sing them when he had to, he wasn't particularly eager to begin.

Andrew looked to Emma who shook her head.  "No, sing whatever you want.  Together or separately," he answered.

"If you could figure in some solo parts, though, that would be good," Emma added.

"Sure thing," Max agreed.

The four conferred for a few moments then broke apart.

"Tess, could you accompany us?" Adam requested.

"Of course, baby."  Tess stepped into the orchestral pit.  "So what song are you planning to sing?"

Max smiled down at Kemara and then whispered in the angel's ear.

"I can do that!" Tess promised before eagerly taking her seat at the piano.

Adam was the first to approach the microphone.  He began to sing a capella.  "'Do you hear the people sing?  Singing a song of angry men?  It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!  When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!'"

In the audience, Kemara and Violeta both grinned from ear to ear. 

Once Adam had finished his solo, Tess began to play along as Max sang.

"'Will you join in our crusade?  Who will be strong and stand with me?  Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?'"

Smiling proudly, Andrew glanced over at Emma who was visibly impressed.

"'Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!'" Henry belted out.

All four sang the chorus together, their voices swelling and making it nearly impossible for those watching them to not join in.  As it was, a few in the crowd couldn't keep from clapping. 

Eli beamed as he stepped up to the microphone.  "'Will you give all you can give so that our banner may advance?  Some will fall and some will live.  Will you stand up and take your chance?  The blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France!'"

Once again, the four sang together.  Adam lifted his hands, beckoning the others to join in if they wanted.  Several other voices rose and blended with theirs. 

When the song ended, Zeke jumped to his feet and clapped.  "Amazing, amazing, amazing!"

"Almost makes it a shame to see you cast as Andrew suggested," Shane lamented.  "But... all too appropriate.  Charisma isn't always used for good.  And, Adam, you just plain look like you should be Pilate.  I mean... sorry... that probably sounded wrong."

The angel of death laughed.  "No offense taken.  My fault for cutting my hair and shaving last month.  I do look rather... Romanesque."

"You all have beautiful voices," Emma complimented.  "And I'm sure you're all very nice, non-bloodthirsty people but I could see, even in that small amount of time, tiny pieces of your characters... and I do think the suggested casting is right, Andrew.  The desire for power, wanting to hold onto something you fear losing...  It's in all of them.  I'm just... wow.  That was amazing and I can't wait to hear more!"

The four all thanked everyone for listening then looked expectantly at Andrew. 

"So... well... how about we try a crowd number and get the chorus onstage?  Maybe... 'What's the Buzz?' then move into 'Strange Thing'?"  Andrew turned to Emma who nodded her approval then moved to the stage.  He reached into his bag and pulled out some folders.  "I have the libretto for anyone who needs a copy.  Adam, Henry, and Eli; could you please double as apostles just for right now?  We can get a better feel for how much of a chorus we'll need to build."

"Sure thing, Mr. Scorcese," Adam teased.

Andrew rolled his eyes but smiled then turned to Violeta.  "You want to try being in the chorus?" he suggested.

"Uh huh..."

Sensing she was nervous, Andrew hugged his protege.  "Remember, things will be different soon," he whispered.

Violeta smiled and nodded.  Whatever else she'd feel, she knew it would help simply to have Joshua near. 

A few of the Dyelanders grabbed copies of the lyrics then everyone except Andrew, JenniAnn, and Monica moved onto the stage.  Emma briefly explained the staging as they'd imagined it prior to Doug's departure then Tess cued up the soundtrack.

JenniAnn looked on in surprise when Eric began to sing.  His voice was actually quite good.  He even managed to look regal and distressed at the same time.  She smiled at how well the "apostles" sang together for never having done so before.

Then Emma appeared. 

Though he'd seen the number rehearsed many times, Andrew was still transfixed by Emma.  She truly was a good actress.  The same woman who had just moments before comfortably ordered people around the stage now looked beaten down and nervous.

"'Let me try to cool down your face a bit,'" she sang as she gently wiped at Eric's face.

The spell was broken when JenniAnn gasped quietly.

Andrew turned to her.  "What is it?"

She shook her head.  "Nothing... maybe."

The angel of death looked on curiously when JenniAnn leaned forward to get a glimpse of Monica.  The caseworker continued to take in the activity on the stage, oblivious to whatever had troubled JenniAnn.

Zeke sauntered onstage, glaring at Eric.  "It seems to me a strange thing mystifying that a man like you can waste his time on women of her kind,'" he sang.

Andrew had to stifle a chuckle over the line, knowing that in reality Zeke had infinitely more esteem for Emma than he did for Eric. 

"Oh my..." Monica muttered.  She leaned forward and peered at JenniAnn.

"Okay, what is going on?" Andrew demanded quietly.

JenniAnn grimaced and diverted her attention to Belle who seemed oddly subdued by the music.  "Look at where Eric is looking."

Andrew focused on Eric.  While his singing talent was unquestionable, Emma and Zeke were the superior actors and so the angel had been so taken in by them, he hadn't paid Eric much attention.  But then he saw what JenniAnn and Monica had.  Eric was staring at Emma... and not at her face.  Emma clearly noticed.  So had Peter and he looked about ready to burst.  Andrew groaned.  "I see.  I'll talk to him."

Eric's gaze finally traversed the faces around him as he sang.  "'There is not a man among you who knows or cares if I come or go!'"

"'No you're wrong!  You're very wrong!  How can you say that?'" the chorus demanded.

"'Not one... not one of you!'" Eric bellowed.

JenniAnn blushed, feeling awkward about actually wanting "Jesus" to go. 

"Everyone sounded great.  Good job!" Andrew congratulated when the music ended.  "And I think that blocking worked really well.  Zeke, how about we go back to 'Heaven on Their Minds.'  I'd like everyone to have a chance to hear you sing it.  Eric, can we talk backstage?"

"Yeah, whatever," the man agreed, moving beyond the curtain.  He was visibly puffed up, sure Andrew was only calling him away to give him special accolades.

JenniAnn and Monica looked to each other when Andrew followed Eric.  The former let out a sigh.  "I know I've never met the man face to face but I can tell you this much... that guy ain't no Jack."  She smiled at Monica.

Her words were so unexpected that Monica began to giggle.  "No... no he's not," she eventually got out. 

Arthur approached.  "What are you two ladies giggling about?  Did I look totally clueless up there?" he asked with a smile.

Monica, still laughing, hugged him.  "Ah no.  It was just... remembering something that happened with an old friend."  As she said the words, a bittersweet feeling settled upon her.  She thought of the photo from Christmas... of Joshua at Mass with them.  She wondered what it would be like if it was him and not Eric on that stage.  She pondered, too, where Joshua had gone.  Was he still there?  Would she see him in Manhattan soon?  Was it possible he might come to see the show?

"You okay?" JenniAnn asked when she noticed the sudden change in the angel's demeanor.

Monica smiled and nodded.  "Yes."  She looked back to the stage.  "It looks like Zeke is almost ready."

Everyone hurried into seats and watched in awe as the friendly, easygoing deacon was transformed into the conflicted, tortured apostle. 

Zeke closed his eyes for a moment as Tess began to play.  After his prayer, he began to sing.  "'My mind is clearer now, at last all too well I can see where we all soon will be.  If you strip away the myth from the man, you will see where we all soon will be.  Jesus!'"

*~*~*

Once they were far enough away from the stage to avoid being heard, Andrew turned to face Eric.  "Listen Eric, you sounded great out there but..."

"Thank you.  As always, I try to give my best.  Some of the chorus sounded a little flat, though."

Andrew bit his lip.  It wasn't true but arguing over it probably wouldn't help.  "Eric, I..."

"I was watching another production online," Eric interrupted.  "In that one, Jesus started the show in a white tank top.  I think we should try it," he suggested, flexing his right arm.

"No."

"That robe is just so..."

"Jesus wore a robe," Andrew countered.

Eric sighed.  "We'll see."

"Eric, did you realize you were staring at Emma almost constantly through that song?" Andrew questioned.

"Well, yeah.  Jesus is an intense guy.  And she was wiping my face.  Wouldn't you look at the person in that case?"

"Yes.  But I would look at their face.  Eric, that wasn't where you were looking.  It's not right to..."

"Dude, Jesus was still a man.  And I mean..." Eric chuckled.  "They were right there!  Kind of hard to ignore."

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.  "Eric, what's your deal?" he demanded.  "I get the impression you don't have a whole lot of respect for the other people in this production.  That's not right.  It's not okay.  And I'm not going to allow you to make others feel uncomfort..."

Eric glared at the director.  "Think you can do this show without me, huh?"  He laughed.  "Jesus Christ Superstar without Jesus Christ?"

"I would do what I had to do to keep the show afloat... but not when it means making people feel disrespected and treated like..."

Eric smirked.  "Adorable.  What is it, Andrew?  You have a crush on sweet, widdle Emma?  Well, let me tell you something, buddy.  You watch it with her.  She says she's turned over a new leaf but she was a slut when I met her and..."

Andrew moved closer, his face set in a stark grimace.  "If I hear you call any member of this cast or crew or anyone for that matter that word again or any word like it, that'll be it, Eric.  Doug left me in charge.  You may not like that but he did.  And I will not allow that sort of language and the sort of behavior you displayed earlier.  Everyone deserves to be treated decently and the way you're treating Emma... it's not decent."

For a moment, Eric said nothing and Andrew felt a surge of hope that maybe he'd seen the light.  Then Eric folded his arms over his chest and snickered.  "I don't need this crap.  Besides, I got some better plans for tonight.  Her name is Alexi.  So I'm out of here.  Good luck practicing without your lead tonight!"

Andrew watched as Eric stormed off.  "Tonight..." he murmured.  Once he heard the side door slam, he looked up at the ceiling.  "So... is that it?  Are you coming or..."

Emma poked her head through the curtain.  "What was that?  I heard a loud bang.  Like a door slamming.  Where is..."

"He had better plans," Andrew explained, tight-lipped.

Emma bit her lip, realizing what had transpired.  Andrew had called Eric out and the actor had not taken the criticism well.  She smiled.  "Thank you."

Andrew's eye brow crooked upwards.  "For what?  I think I just chased off our lead."

"Yes.  But I know why.  Violeta said you wouldn't let Eric get away with anything.  And I'm thankful.  Don't worry.  He'll be back tomorrow once his ego has rebounded.  This isn't... it's not the first time he's walked out." 

The angel approached and briefly set a hand on Emma's shoulder.  "You're welcome.  Now c'mon, we're missing Zeke!"

Smiling, they both stepped back into the audience and marveled as Zeke reached out to an unseen man.  "'Listen, Jesus, to the warning I give.  Please remember that I want us to live but it's sad to see our chances weakening with every hour...  All your followers are blind!  Too much heaven on their minds!  It was beautiful but now it's sour...  Yes, it's all gone sour.'"

The rest of the cast and crew all applauded as Zeke beamed. 

Andrew smiled at the man then at the others.  Their enthusiasm and passion would be enough to encourage him until Joshua arrived.

*~*~*

Just One Day

Thursday, February 27th


"I've scheduled a landscaping job at 10:00 and..."

Joshua looked up from the bread dough he was mixing.  "I do landscaping now?  I don't recall that being on the flier," he teased.

Yohannan nodded.  "They need a few retaining walls.  You don't know how to move stones around?  Is that not one of your claims to fame, cousin?"

Joshua smirked.  "Point taken."

"Then Dylan asked if you could check in with the family in 212.  He says they told him their door doesn't close properly."  Yohannan scowled.  "Has he paid you anything?"

"You know I don't need money."

"It's the principle of it."

"I know.  But if I demand to be paid, he may just not do anything for them.  And Lorenzo and Simona have two little ones.  They need a door that closes and locks."

"Yes, you are right.  Of course.  But you won't always..."

"Be here like this?  No.  But that means I have time to help Dylan recognize and take on his responsibilities."  Joshua set the dough in a pan and slid it into the oven to bake.  "So what have you scheduled for tomorrow."

"Nothing yet."

Joshua wondered at the meaning of the smile his cousin was trying to keep from forming on his lips.  Clearly Yohannan knew something he didn't.  "Oh.  So just those two for today?"

Yohannan nodded.  He didn't know what was to come, only that the Father had told him not to schedule anything further for Joshua for now.  He had his hopes, of course.  Perhaps tomorrow would be the day that Joshua would find himself at St. Genesius'!  If so, he had a decision to make.  "Joshua?"

After washing his hands, Joshua settled onto the crate across from Yohannan's chair.  "Yes?"

"I was thinking...  Since you use Joshua instead of Yeshua, perhaps I should have a more modern name, too.  I mean in case I meet anyone with the show."

Joshua smiled.  It was obvious Yohannan wished to.  "Sure.  What would you like to be called?"

"John... if you think it would not upset them."  Yohannan peered up at his cousin from beneath his shaggy eye brows, looking as much like a puppy as it was possible for a grown man to look.

"I think it's your name and you should use it," Joshua reassured.  "And if they find out who we are, it will be a reminder that just as we live still, so do others."

"'To conquer death, you only have to die,'" the newly christened John quoted.

"Ah, you've been studying up," Joshua noted with a grin.

"I wanted to know what you'd be doing.  I didn't realize... they count out the lashes.  All 39 of them."

Joshua moved to sit beside John on the couch and hugged his shoulders.  "Yes.  I'll be fine, Yo...  John." 

John laughed.  "I like that.  'Yo, John!'"

Joshua chuckled. 

John's face fell after another few moments.  "This will be hard."

"But worthwhile."

"Yes.  Joshua?"

"Hmm?"

"Could you hurry that bread along, please?  I'm hungry."

Joshua moved to his feet and laughed.  "For you... sure."  He moved to the oven and drew out a perfectly baked loaf of bread then poured two mugs of milk.

After praying, the two slathered their bread in honey and enjoyed breakfast together before parting for the day.

*~*~*

After spending a quiet morning and afternoon in Dyeland; Andrew, JenniAnn, Max, Rose, Kemara, and Violeta all piled into the Jolly Green.  Belle was buckled into her car seat between her mother and Violeta. 

"I think she'll be due for her bottle soon," JenniAnn noted.  "You think it's okay if I steal away to your office for a while once we're there?" she asked Andrew.

The angel nodded to the rear-view mirror.  "Sure.  I'll let everyone know that you'll be out later."

"She's been eating so well!" Violeta gushed.

JenniAnn smiled.  "She really has been.  She's even let us sleep for four hour stretches a few times."

Andrew sighed.  Soon he should probably move back to his own room in his own house.  He'd miss the tiny baby noises and even waking up at insane hours.

"Hey so... Vincent stopped by earlier.  It was to plan my return to classes but he also suggested that, only if we wanted, we might stay at Cora's during the duration of rehearsals and then the show's run," JenniAnn explained.  "It would be convenient.  The house is much closer to the theatre than the portal is... or maybe they're about the same.  But the route is safer from the house, in any case."

Andrew brightened.  "He's sure?  We're talking about weeks.  Through Holy Week."

JenniAnn nodded.  "He knows.  But there aren't any Tunnel kids attending college this year.  Honestly, I think it might make him feel better to know someone's there keeping an eye on things.  I mean he checks several times a week but nothing like someone being there every day."

"I'm game!" Max replied.  "I loved staying at Cora's that first time."

Rose considered the offer.  "I'd like to stay... at least sometimes.  But I don't know about leaving my aunt alone for that long and for her to be away from home for weeks..."

"I could still come pick you up at the portal whenever you needed," Max offered.

Rose smiled.  "Thank you."

"Kemara, would you stay?" Violeta asked.

"Well, sure, if other people are.  I think I'd like to go back home maybe on the weekends or something.  But it would help with getting around to dance class and Catherine's and Arthur's shelters when I'm helping them with their press."

Violeta beamed.  "Good!  Maybe we can be roommates."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Sounds like it's a popular enough plan then.  I was thinking Belle and I would take Cora's room.  Andrew and Max, you can have the same room as last time.  Violeta and Kemara, how does the lilac room sound?"

Kemara smiled.  "I don't think I've seen the lilac room but it sounds pretty!"

"Then, Rose, if and when you stay, you can have the room Adam had last time.  And if we need to put anyone else up, there's always the attic room.  And then the futon in the study," JenniAnn plotted.  "Good!  Vincent will be so happy.  I think he's kinda bummed to not be able to help with the show so... this is his way of doing that."  She smiled down at Belle.  "Then again, I also wouldn't be surprised if he just likes knowing his grandbaby is just one quick jaunt through the Tunnels and up some stairs."

"I certainly won't mind knowing my niece is just across the hall," Max mused happily.

Andrew chuckled.  "You might get to hear her 'feed me now!' cries at 3 AM, Uncle Max."

The young man shrugged.  "That's okay.  I'll just wake you up and tell you to go help Maja with her."

"Seriously?" Rose demanded.

"Ummm... No?" Max replied.

"Settle down," JenniAnn teased.  "I'm sure Max would take care of Belle if he needed to.  I do think it'll be nice to be closer, though.  Andrew?"

"Personally, I'd be thrilled.  Plus, if Vincent's not opposed, it might be nice to have people over.  I'd love to really talk to them away from the theatre."

"Sure.  And we're totally having a cast party," JenniAnn agreed. 

Kemara sighed contently.  She'd enjoyed her stint with JenniAnn and Violeta at the Chandlers' over the summer when they'd been helping Ivy.  "Ivy..." she murmured. 

"Ooh, did she text?" Violeta asked.

"No.  But I was just thinking... when the show is going on, we should really invite Ivy."  Kemara imagined how wonderful it would be to have Ivy there in Manhattan, watching a production of the show she loved so much. 

"Definitely!  And then she can stay with us at Cora's, too!" JenniAnn exclaimed.  "She'll have some time off during Holy Week."

Violeta's knees began bouncing.  Joshua and Ivy.  Joshua and Ivy.  Joshua and Ivy.  The names kept ringing through her mind.  They'd both be around!  And they'd meet!

Andrew chuckled, knowing exactly what his protege was thinking.  "I think that'd be great.  But just wait to say anything until we're further into rehearsals, okay?"  It wasn't that he thought the show would get canceled.  He knew better.  But delayed... possibly. 

Kemara mimed zipping her lips.

For the remainder of the ride, the group planned for their time at Cora's.

*~*~*

"'Sleep my pretty one, rest now my pretty one,'" JenniAnn crooned softly as Belle sucked down her bottle.  She smiled at her then gazed around the office, marveling at all the old playbills and posters on the walls.  After ending her song, she became silent and strained to hear the others practicing.  Max was singing.  JenniAnn was sorry to be missing it but knew the song was far too rowdy for Belle, anyway.

Once the bottle was empty and Belle was cuddled against her and dozing, JenniAnn closed her eyes and let her mind wander.  The next few weeks would be strange... but surely good.  The three angels of death had seemed somewhat more at peace with their roles.  The unease she'd sensed in Violeta seemed to have stilled.  Or maybe she was just distracted by the prospect of moving to Cora's and Ivy's visit.  JenniAnn laughed to herself.  Sometimes she still couldn't believe how greatly Violeta had changed.  She had begun to thaw soon enough after her arrival in Dyeland.  She'd eventually confided that her supervisor in Records was quite prim and proper and Violeta had modeled herself after her.  Andrew's time away, though brutal, had forced Violeta to rely more on the others for support and counsel.  JenniAnn liked to think that spending time around their circle of girl friends, with all their individual styles and personalities, had helped Violeta begin to find herself.

JenniAnn tried to imagine the young angel as Mary.  With a start, she realized that Jesus' mother had likely been just a tad younger than Violeta when He was born.  She looked down at Belle again.  Sometimes she felt barely competent and she was twice that age!  And she had Andrew who was... well, however old Andrew was.

JenniAnn was roused from her musings when she heard a nearby door open.  "Uh oh..." she muttered.  Only one person had yet to arrive: Eric.  Clearly he'd taken his sweet time in showing up.  She prayed he wouldn't notice her but, unfortunately, he soon walked by and stopped.

He paused, seeming to listen for what was happening onstage.  "Simon's song," he recognized.

"Yes."

Eric shrugged and stepped into the room.  "Good.  Then I'm not needed yet.  I wanted to talk to you."

"Oh?"

"Yeah.  About my makeup.  I was thinking we go... minimalist."

"Minimalist?"

"Yeah.  I mean just a couple streaks of blood coming down from the crown."

"You really think that's realistic?  Two streaks of blood?"

"Just on my face.  You can do whatever you want with my back."  The actor grinned.

JenniAnn fought the dual impulses to laugh and gag.  Clearly Eric didn't want his pretty face marred.  She deemed the remark about his back not worth comment.  "So what have you been doing to prepare yourself to play Jesus?  It's such a demanding role.  To get your mind in that place..."

Eric shrugged.  "
Well, since I’m God’s gift to the ladies, it’s not such a stretch to play His gift to us all."

JenniAnn glared at him.  Becoming a mother had changed her.  Caddish remarks that once made her uneasy and fearful now had the effect of making her feel like a raging she-bear.  And if Eric pushed any more, he was going to get a verbal mauling.

"I'm kidding!  Just a joke.  Although... hey, what are you doing after rehearsals?  Maybe we could, like, do something?" 

Now unable to hold it in, JenniAnn burst out laughing.  "What am I doing?  Oh, I dunno, changing diapers, fixing bottles... just generally taking care of my baby... in our home."  She rolled her eyes when Eric's nose wrinkled.  "Listen, I don't know what your deal is and I'd sure like to think there's a decent, thoughtful person under this egotistical crust you're wearing.  But I saw the way you were looking at Emma last night and I know you had yourself a nice little hissy fit when Andrew called you out on it.  And I know you came in here thinking you'd make a pass at me cause you perceive me as Andrew's girl and wouldn't that be some nice payback for you?  Well, I'm sinking your plan.  Now go and rehearse.  You're late and that's rude."

Eric glowered.  He opened his mouth to make a retort but got thrown when the baby wiggled to face him.  "Why's she making that weird..."

Belle let loose with a stream of regurgitated milk.

Eric began to gag.  "Oh... oh... God."  He fled the room.

Once she was done, the little one sighed. 

JenniAnn wiped off her face and, when she was assured Belle wasn't in distress, she kissed her forehead and laughed.  "That's my smart girl!  You showed 'im!"

Belle smiled back at her mother.

*~*~*

Andrew noticed when a pale-faced Eric snuck into the theatre and took a seat near Adam, Henry, and Eli.

"He's just so nice and pleasant and mild-mannered," Henry whispered as he watched Max. 

Eli nodded.  "I wonder if it would help if Rose wasn't here?"

Adam shook his head.  "I don't think so.  He's pretty protective of Violeta.  And what happens once JenniAnn's here to watch?"

"He'll find his edge," Eli asserted.  "Just needs a little time.  Sounds great!  Especially..."  He hushed when Max held an "Amen" for an amazingly long time.

Unable to help himself, Adam hooted when the man finally quieted.  "Go, Max!"

Max was red-faced but clearly pleased.

"Well done, Max!" Andrew cheered as he stepped onto the stage.  "I didn't think you'd hit that last note so soon but... wow."  He approached Max and embraced him.  "I guess I should have known after all that Springsteen we sang."

Max warmly returned the hug, feeling blessed anew over the journey they'd taken since those dark nights in Afghanistan.  "Thanks.  I'm really looking forward to doing this.  I hope at some point Maja can see."

Andrew nodded.  "Now that Eric's here, let's do 'Hosanna' and then I'll go sit with Belle so JenniAnn can come watch you, okay?"

Max beamed.  "Great."

Andrew peered out at the audience.  "Eric, you good for 'Hosanna'?" 

"Sure, yeah, I'll do it," Eric agreed.

Andrew smiled at him as he passed, hoping his presence meant he'd had a change of heart.  "Glad to see you tonight."

"Right..." the man sneered.

"Eric, I..."  Andrew frowned when the actor kept walking, completely ignoring him.  He let out a deep breath and hopped off the stage to speak to Eli.  "Can you do this one yet or would you rather we waited?"

"I'm cool with this one.  Maybe just not quite there with our first and second songs," Eli explained.  He looked to Henry who nodded in agreement.

"You're sure?"

Eli chuckled.  "Buddy, I'll be fine.  Don't worry."  He lowered his voice.  "Joshua's not going to have to swoop down and bring me a juice box and cookies."

Andrew froze, wondering if Eli knew.  No.  He was just joking.  Andrew laughed.  "Right.  I know.  Sorry."  He took a seat near Adam and Henry then motioned for Emma.  Though she was supposed to appear in the scene, she didn't sing alone in it so Andrew thought it best to keep her away from Eric until he got a better feel for his current mindset.

"I thought maybe you could watch this time?" Andrew suggested when Emma reached them.

"Good idea.  I think I might alter some of the choreography since we might have a smaller crowd but this will help me decide."  Emma settled into the seat beside Adam's and nodded to Tess who started the soundtrack.

Despite their small number, the chorus' voices filled the theatre as they sang then all eyes were on Eli as his first official performance began.  Several people did a double take when he let loose with his rich bass.

"'Tell the rabble to be quiet!  We anticipate a riot.  This common crowd is much too loud!'"  The angel sneered at Eric.  "'Tell the mob who sing your song that they are fools and they are wrong.  They are a curse, they should disperse.'"

Eric gaped at Eli.  He nearly missed his cue after the refrain.  "'Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?  Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.'"  He froze then stalked off the stage and made a beeline towards Andrew.  "You planned this, didn't you?" he demanded in a hushed tone.

Andrew blinked.  "Eric, what are you..."

"Bring in your friends and have them show me up!"

Andrew stood up and motioned for Eric to follow him.  Once they were in the lobby, he turned back to the man.  "What are you talking about?  Eric, I don't understand what..."

"I'm the star!  I'm the title character!" Eric bellowed.

Andrew cringed and rubbed at his neck.  He drew in a deep breath then slowly let it out.  "Eric, yes, you are the title character.  But this is an ensemble.  Every character will have their moment.  You happen to have more than others and, you know, I thought you sounded great just now.  I don't think Eli showed you up.  Part of what makes this song interesting is how different Caiaphas and Jesus sound.  And, listen, I'm sorry if you were caught off-guard or hurt last night but... but I take respect for women... respect for everyone... very seriously.  And I know if you'd just..."

"Shut up.  You're the director.  You get to tell me how to sing and what to do onstage.  But you don't get to give me life lessons.  I don't need them!" Eric shouted.

Andrew stared at him for a moment.  "Fine.  Just so long as no one is made to feel uncomfortable.  Now, can we please go finish the song?"

Instead of answering, Eric turned around and headed back into the theatre and onto the stage.

Andrew prayed for patience then followed and sunk back into his chair.

"What was that about?" Emma questioned.

Andrew simply shook his head.

Emma bit her lip then turned to the others who were ambling around in confusion.  "Okay, let's start back at the top of the song."

Once again, Eli gave it his all as he sang.  The chorus celebrated.

"What is he doing?" Emma hissed as she eyed Eric.

Andrew's gaze traveled from Eli to where Eric should have been standing.  A split second later, Andrew realized the man was scaling the scaffolding.  He stood.  "Eric, what..."

"'Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?'" Eric sang as he held onto one of the bars and flung his other arm out, making a half spin.  "'Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.'"  He beamed out at the audience and then...

"Tell me he's not!" Emma cried, wincing.

Eric leapt from the first rung of the scaffolding... and plunged right through the stage. 

"Damn it!" he screeched, visible only from the waist up.

Everyone ran towards him.

"Eric, are you all right?" Eli asked, reaching him first.  He was relieved to see that Eric was at least standing.  "Here, let me help you..."

"I don't need any of your God damn help!" the man screamed.

"Eric, that man is only trying to help you back up," Zeke reprimanded.  "Stop acting like..."

Eric pulled himself back onto the stage. 

"Eric, why did you do that?" Emma questioned softly.  "There wasn't supposed to be any sort of jump.  This poor stage can't handle..."

"Well obviously!" Eric cut in.  He pushed through the crowd.  "You know what, I'm done!  I don't need this sh..."

Zeke cuffed the man and yanked him offstage. 

Andrew quickly followed, catching Eric's fist before it made contact with Zeke's temple.  "Eric, go.  Just go," he demanded.

Muttering obscenities, Eric stomped off.

Andrew and Zeke watched him go then let out sighs in unison. 

"I knew that kid was a ticking time bomb.  One of those 'all about me' types.  We don't need him.  Except... we did."  Zeke frowned.  "So... got any more friends?"

Andrew closed his eyes, trying to decide how to answer.

"God will provide."

Andrew looked up to see JenniAnn's head poking around the corner where the office was.  He smiled.  "Yes, God will provide."

Zeke nodded.  "I believe that.  I do.  But... we've already asked everyone to keep together through so much.  Andrew, this might be it."

Andrew nodded gravely.  He didn't want to think about anyone else leaving.  He was sure his friends would keep the faith but what about the others?  "I'll go talk to them."

Sensing Andrew needed the support, JenniAnn went to retrieve Annabelle then followed him and Zeke back onto the stage.

"Eric left, didn't he?" Caleb questioned.

Andrew nodded.  "Yes, he did."

"Maybe he just needs to blow off some steam again and then he'll be back," Henry suggested.

Zeke shook his head.  "I don't think we should even hope for that.  Not the way he's been treating people and not after his behavior tonight."

Emma nodded then turned to the rent stage.  "The stage...  It... it's right at center stage a-and we can't just move around it.  Andrew, we don't have any money to... to fix this and now we'd have to hire another actor and..."

Peter's eyes welled when the woman knelt beside the hole. 

"I... I just want to go home," Kylie whispered.  She turned to Diana and Zeke.  "Please," she pleaded.

"I'll drive you home," Diana offered.  "Zeke you stay here and... and do what you can."

When the two women had left, Owen approached Emma.  "I know some people.  Maybe I can find another singer."  He mentally ran through the list of those in the Tunnels who were comfortable coming Above.  He couldn't immediately think of anyone suitable for the title role but that didn't mean there wasn't hope.

Edward frowned.  "I'm sorry.  I really was having a good time but... this is too much.  I think I need to get back to real life."

Caleb nodded reluctantly.

Andrew shook his head.  "Please, guys, just..."  He sighed.  Just what?

One more day.  Ask them to give you one more day.

Andrew beamed, so glad to hear the Father's voice.  "Please, just give me a day.  Just one day," he begged.  "If by tomorrow evening I don't have a carpenter and an actor, then everyone has my blessing to throw in the towel.  But I just know that by this time tomorrow... everything will look better.  Okay?"

Violeta stared at Andrew, wondering if this meant he knew Joshua would be there the following day.  She prayed it was so.  It had only been a few days since she'd last seen Joshua but she missed him terribly.

Shane frowned.  "I really want this to happen but I don't know if I can handle any more of these ups and downs but... I can do one more day."  He reached over and shook Andrew's hand. 

"Thank you.  Caleb?  Edward?" Andrew pressed gently.

The twins looked at each other.

"I'll bring cake to the next rehearsal!" JenniAnn offered.

Everyone laughed.

"What kind?" Caleb asked, eyes twinkling.

JenniAnn smiled at Andrew.  "For sure red velvet.  But should probably have some variety..."

"I'll bring carrot cake," Rose added.

"I make a pretty mean vanilla raspberry wedding cake."

Everyone looked to Adam in surprise.

"What?  So I had a brief stint as a wedding cake baker?  I also knit.  I am who I am."  Adam smiled confidently.

Tess laughed.  "And I'm glad you are who you are, baby.  I'd come anyway but... I gotta try me some of that cake of yours.  I'll be here."

Andrew beamed.  "So there you have it.  Please, just hang in there.  We'll be in touch tomorrow... and hopefully eating cake soon.  Okay?"

Caleb and Edward nodded.  

"Yeah, okay," the latter agreed.

"So is this it for tonight?" Caleb asked.

Andrew looked over to the hole in the stage and frowned.  "Yeah.  But... it's not the end."

"Right," Edward nodded though he didn't seem convinced.  "Well, have a good night, everyone."

"See you," Caleb added before following his brother out.

A forlorn Emma finally stopped staring down the hole.  "They won't come back."

"You don't know that," Andrew countered.  He pulled her to her feet.  "Everything will look better in the morning.  You'll see."

Max smiled at Emma.  "Andrew said things like that to me a lot when we first became friends and I didn't believe him... until I saw that he was always right.  Have hope," he encouraged. 

Emma forced a smile then looked to Peter.  "You'll come back?"

The man wouldn't meet her eyes. 

"Please, Peter.  Just one more day," Emma pleaded. 

"Yeah, okay."  He briefly made eye contact with her and smiled.

"Good.  And the rest of you?" Emma checked.

The Dyelanders and angels all nodded.

"You couldn't drag me away," Violeta averred. 

Eli smiled.  "What she said."

"I'll start researching costumes tomorrow," Monica promised.  "That way I can come back with several ideas."

Emma smiled appreciatively.  "Thank you.  So... I guess I'll see you tomorrow, Andrew?  We'll have to search out a carpenter first thing in the morning.  Thankfully, I'm off work tomorrow."

"I'll be here bright and early," Andrew promised.

"Good.  I'm going to head home then."  Emma sighed deeply.  "Everything will look better tomorrow," she echoed.

"Exactly," Andrew reiterated.

"I'll walk you out, Emma," Shane offered. 

"Thanks.  Good night, everyone."

The others shouted good byes to Shane and Emma.

"I, umm, guess I'll head out, too."  Peter smiled shyly at the others.  "I'll see you soon, I hope."

"We will see you soon," Eli stressed.

"Good."  Peter grabbed his coat from a chair in the audience then left.

Zeke shook his head when he turned back to the hole.  Then his whole body began to shake.

"Oh... uh oh," Gloria frowned.  "Sir, are you..."

Zeke burst into hysterical laughter and was unable to speak for a full minute.  "I... I'm sorry.  I know this is bad.  I know that repair won't be cheap but... seeing that boy poking out of that hole like some demented, spiky haired groundhog..."

Andrew smirked.  "He was one angry groundhog..."

"And what did he think he was doing up there?" Zeke questioned, tears pouring down his cheeks.  "The Messiah isn't some sort of aerial gymnast!"

Arthur chuckled.  "I wonder what sort of score that dismount would get at a meet?"

"Big fat zero," Zeke shot back.  Finally, he got control of himself.  "I just pray that young man gets a wake up call... sooner rather than later."  He sighed and turned to Andrew.  "I have some things I need to do at the church office but would it be all right if I stopped in tomorrow to see how things are coming along?"

"You bet, Zeke.  I'll plan to open the place up at 8:00."

The remaining cast and crew cleared the stage so the carpenter would have as much room to work as possible.  They were nearly done when Diana returned.

She approached Andrew, holding a piece of paper.  "You all won't believe this," she started.  "I dropped Kylie off and walked her to her door and then when I got back to the car... this was under my windshield!"  She held out the sheet so everyone could see it.

"'Carpentry.  Stonework.  Woodcarving.  Good Rates.  Honest Work,'" Adam read.  "'Call Joshua Davidson.'"  He laughed and smiled at Andrew.  "Sounds like you have a good candidate for the hole-fixing right there, buddy."  He stopped laughing when he noticed that Andrew looked like he was about to cry.  Then the moment passed and Andrew was smiling again.

"I like this name," Monica mused, smiling fondly.  "Always have liked the name Joshua."

A knowing smile spread across Tess' face.  "Me too, baby.  Me too."

Arthur yawned.  "Glad you have a good lead on that but... I'm beat and have an early shift at True Light so I think I'm going to head out.  But you call me just as soon as we're back on track."

"Will do," Andrew promised.  He noticed then that Violeta was gone.  "Where's Violeta?"

The others looked around. 

JenniAnn's eyes grew wide and she clutched Belle.  "Where could she have..."

Andrew jumped.  "Phone.  Forgot I had it on vibrate."  He pulled it out and smiled thoughtfully.  "It's Violeta.  She's fine.  But I'll be right back.  Good night, Arthur!"

"Good night.  Hey, if something's going on then I can stick around."

Andrew shook his head.  "No, that's okay.  Really fine.  Sleep well!"

"Good night!"

After waving good bye to Arthur, Andrew stepped into the office where Violeta's text indicated she would be.  He found her standing near the window, her body quaking with sobs. 

"Sweetheart..." Andrew murmured, pulling her into his arms.  "What's wrong?"

"I... I j-just s-saw that fl-flier a-and it..."  Violeta shivered.

"Okay, let's just sit for a moment.  Then you can tell me."

Violeta nodded and let Andrew lead her to a couch.  She rested her head on his shoulder and cried for a while longer until her heart had stopped pounding and her throat had eased.

Andrew grabbed a bottle of water from a mini-fridge and offered it to her.  He wiped away some smeared makeup as she drank.  "Better?" he checked.

"S-sorry."

"Aww, no.  You do not need to apologize.  This... it's been a lot and now... now we're nearly to the point we've been waiting for.  But what upset you about the flier?" Andrew asked gently.

"N-nothing about it.  Just seeing it... a-and hearing you talk about just one more day... it's happening a-and what if... if it doesn't go how he wants it t-to a-and his feelings get hur-hurt or... or worse.  Or... or what if I... I just can't b-bear to see him up there on... on..."  Fresh tears pooled in Violeta's eyes. 

Andrew again wrapped his arms around her and gently rocked her.  Tears slid down his own cheeks.  "No matter what happens, you just tell him that you love him.  He'll hold onto that, Violeta, and all that love that so many of us have for Joshua... it'll help him face whatever not so great things come."  Andrew cupped her chin and smiled.  "He's all powerful, you know.  Even now.  Nothing can keep him down.  Some people tried once.  It didn't take."

Violeta laughed softly.  "Yeah... true.  Can I see him tomorrow, you think?"

"I think he would like that very much."  Andrew sighed.  "Treasure these next few weeks.  I know I will."

Violeta nodded.  Then, when she'd recovered, they returned to the others. 

Knowing Andrew had taken care of whatever had happened, the others politely ignored Violeta's reddened eyes. 

Zeke and Diana left first, the former reiterating his plans to swing by in the morning.  They were quickly followed by the rest of cast and crew until only those traveling in the Jolly Green were left. 

While Max held Belle, JenniAnn approached Violeta and hugged her.  "Let's go home, huh?  Settle into the living room and read aloud and drink some chamomile, maybe?  Unless... do you think maybe you should go Home for a little bit?"

Violeta shook her head.  "No, I like your idea."

"Okay.  Andrew, anything else need to be done here?"

The angel of death shook his head.  "I got all the doors locked so let's head out."

After everyone had stepped out of the theatre but before he'd turned off the lights, Andrew looked up on the stage once more.  He smiled, thinking of the warmth and the love that would soon imbue the space when Joshua arrived.

*~*~*

Morning Has Broken

Friday, February 28th


Zeke sat at the kitchen table, his Bible open before him.  He inscribed four verses onto index cards then tucked them into each of the four lunch bags.  Once he was done, he bowed his head and prayed over them.

Diana paused in the hallway, watching her husband.  When he was done, she approached and kissed his hair.  "Thank you.  My card is my favorite part of my lunch."

Zeke smiled.  "I'm glad.  I only wish someone else was reading his."  He stared at the dark blue and silver bag with the name Silas written on it in permanent black marker.

His wife motioned for him to push back his chair.  She settled on his knee, linking her arms around his neck.  "I think he does.  He's just... in his own little world right now."

"Wish I could get a ticket to there."

"I know.  Me too.  But this phase will pass.  You'll see.  In the meantime, you have two adoring daughters and a wife who is still crazy in love with you."

Zeke stroked Diana's cheek.  "I know.  And I thank God every day for all of you.  And... I'm still crazy in love with you, too."

"Ewww."

A teenage girl in a cheerleader uniform entered the room just in time to see her parents lock lips.

Diana laughed and moved to her feet.  "You 'Ewww!' yourself, Miss Hailey.  You better be glad your dad and I got something going on or..."

"I wouldn't be here.  I know, I know!" Hailey smiled as she rolled her eyes.  "Good morning, Dad."  She kissed Zeke's cheek.  "Morning, Mom."  Hailey hugged her mother tightly.

"So what's on the docket for today?" Zeke asked his eldest. 

"I have cheerleading practice until 4:00.  Kendra's going to wait with me and watch.  We'll ride home together.  I don't have a clue about Sy.  I asked him when we passed each other in the bathroom but he just grunted." 

"But you'll be home for dinner?"

Hailey nodded.  "Then you're off to your play rehearsal?"

Zeke shook his head.  "The guy playing Jesus put a hole in the stage floor then jumped ship."

Hailey laughed.  "You're kidding, right?"

"Afraid not."  Diana clucked her tongue.  "But the director promised he'd find a carpenter... and an actor."

"Maybe he can find a carpenter who acts.  It'd be fitting, wouldn't it?" Hailey teased as she set some oatmeal in the microwave.  Once it was started, she hugged her father.  "It'll come together somehow.  God knows this is important to you.  And once things settle down, I promise I'll come.  Kendra, too.  And maybe the troll."

Before either parent could respond, the two remaining members of the family came down the hall.  They bumped against each other as they walked.

"That's a stupid shirt," the boy grumbled.

"Shut up, Sy.  It's retro and cute and I love it!" the girl protested, looking down at the animated deer and rabbit on her shirt. 

"Where'd you get it?"

"The Goodwill."

"Sy, don't even," Diana cut in.  She smiled at her baby.  "Kendra, you look adorable.  You wanna know something?"

"What?"

"During one of my first dates with your daddy, we babysat your cousin Elana and she loved that movie.  Watched it all the time on VHS."

"VHS?" Kendra questioned.

Zeke laughed.  "We're so old..."

"Speak for yourself.  It was something we had before BluRay and DVD.  Well, your cousin insisted we watch Bambi."

"I'd never seen it before," Zeke explained.

"Bawled like a baby.  Elana's parents came home and thought I'd broken up with him!" Diane related.

Zeke smiled.  "I like your shirt, too, Kendra... even if it does bring back highly traumatic memories," he joked.

"Poor Dad!"  Kendra hugged him. 

"Thank you, baby girl."  Zeke returned the hug then looked over to his son who was eating cereal out of the box.  "Sy, your sisters are going to be home tonight for dinner.  Can we..."

"Can't.  Going over to Jared's to study."

"Studying is important but this is the first night in a while that no one has had practice or rehearsal or..."

"I said I can't," Sy snapped.

"Son, you don't talk to me that way.  Or to your mother.  Or to anyone," Zeke corrected, his face set in a stern grimace.

The teenager ignored the comment and moved to the hall.  "I'm practicing early with some of the guys.  Later."

"Sy, get back here," Diana ordered.  "And take your lunch." 

Zeke reached for the bag he had packed.

"I'll buy pizza," Sy called before pulling the door shut.

Hailey rested her hand over her father's which was still clutching the handle of Sy's bag.  "I love you, Daddy."

Blinking back tears, Zeke smiled at her.  "And I love my girls."  He stood and pulled all three of them into a hug.  "And my boy."

Diana kissed his cheek, praying something in the day ahead would bring him joy.

*~*~*

Joshua idly strummed on his guitar then began to sing.  "'If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning.  I'd hammer in the evening, all over this land.  I'd hammer out danger, I'd hammer out warning.  I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.'"

Fr. Mike began to chuckle.  The sight of Joshua lounging on his couch and playing folk music had lost its novelty but not its amusement. 

Joshua stopped and playfully glared.  "What?"

"Well... I was just thinking about all the art out there with you as its subject.  You... in a manger.  You... healing a leper.  You... transfigured.  You... being the Good Shepherd.  But there just aren't any paintings of you playing Pete Seeger."

"And with a half eaten box of doughnuts," Joshua added with a grin.  "Sure you don't want some?  Yohannan... John picked them out.  Sorry, he's decided he wants to go by John right now but... old habits die hard.  So... John thought the rainbow sprinkles were 'delightful and reminiscent of the story of Noah.'  They were also pretty tasty but two's enough for me... and apparently for him, too."

Fr. Mike took one.  "Sure, thanks.  So where is your cousin this fine morning?"

"Educating."

The priest gulped down the bite of doughnut.  "Pardon?"

"He's befriended some street preachers.  He's helping them with their technique."

"I see..."

"'More charisma!  You must be more descriptive!'"

Fr. Mike laughed at Joshua's dead-on impersonation of John.

Joshua grinned.  "I love him.  And I'm very grateful for his..."  He startled when something thudded against his apartment door.

"Open up!  Open now!"

Joshua jumped to his feet and stepped back before his eager cousin bowled him over.  "John, are you..."

The man held his cell phone out to Joshua.  "Emma.  She called.  St. Genesius'..." 

Joshua gaped for a brief moment then reached for John's arm, pulled him further into the apartment, and pushed him onto the futon.  "Just rest.  You look like you've been running for a while."  He took a seat beside John and set his hand at the center of his back.  "Breathe."

Fr. Mike filled a glass of water and handed it to John who drank it greedily.  Finally, John smiled and sunk back into the cushions.

"Thank you."  He was grateful to find the burning in his lungs had ceased.  "Thanks.  Much better."  A grin lit up John's entire face.  "Emma.  She called to request your help at St. Genesius'.  It seems...  Joshua, she said 'Jesus' went through the stage.  There is a hole."

Joshua grimaced.  "I knew Eric would leave but I'd hoped for it to be under better terms.  But I..."  In alarm, he rose to his feet.  "Did you tell them I was on my way?  Am I supposed to be there at a certain time?"

"I said you would be there within the hour.  Was that right to say?"

Joshua hugged the man.  "Absolutely."  He hugged Fr. Mike, too.

The priest smiled happily.  "I'm glad this is finally starting up for you, Josh.  I know how much you've been wanting this."

Joshua nodded and clasped his hand.  "You'll come visit the theatre?"

"All the time," Fr. Mike promised.

"Good.  So, I...  Car keys."  Joshua began to search.

Fr. Mike plucked them up from a spot on the counter.  "Right here.  Would it be easier if I drove you?"  He knew Joshua hadn't done much driving since his arrival.

"No, thank you, though.  I might need the car to get supplies depending on what sort of hole this is."  Joshua took the keys.  "Thank you."

"You're very welcome.  I'll be on my way then."  Fr. Mike hugged Joshua again.  "I hope this is everything you want it to be."

"I... I hope so, too."  Joshua sniffled.  It was finally happening!  All those "soons," all that anticipation and...

"Go!" John shouted. 

Joshua laughed.  "Right."  He stuffed his wallet into his jeans pocket and grabbed his tool box.  Then, after a moment's consideration, he slung his guitar over his shoulder.

"We'll walk you out," the priest offered.

"Thank you."  Joshua beamed as they all exited the apartment.  After he'd locked up, they trooped down the stairs, and waved to the landlord as they passed his desk.  "I wonder where Abi put the..."

"There."  John pointed to a gray car towards the back of the apartment's lot. 

Joshua jogged over to it and quickly got inside.  "I'll let you both know how today goes," he promised.

"Sounds good."  Fr. Mike smiled at him.  "Give Andrew my best."

"Tell him to text me so I can add his number to my contacts," John requested.

Joshua chuckled.  "Will do.  And now... have a great day!  See you both soon!"

"Take care, Josh!"

"Call if you need anything!"

Joshua waved and pulled out of the lot.

Fr. Mike and John stared after his car.

"So do you... do you know how this is all going to turn out?" the priest questioned.

John shook his head.  "No.  And neither does he.  Or... I suppose it's more accurate to say that he doesn't know he knows.  Or... he knows he knows but he just can't reach it."

"'He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself,'" Fr. Mike murmured.

John sighed.  "Yes, I suppose he's pretty impressive."

Fr. Mike glanced over at him, laughing when he saw his enormous grin.  "Yeah, I suppose, too."

They both parted, the priest to tend his flock and the Baptizer to continue to master the wonders of Facebook.

*~*~*

Emma peered out the window.  "He's here!  There's not any signage on his car...  He's not wearing any sort of uniform..."

"Carpenters usually don't.  Especially not freelancers," Andrew explained.  "This isn't like hiring a plumber through a big company."

"Oh."

"You said you did research, right?"

Emma nodded.  "He has a lot of positive reviews on Yelp.  And on Facebook, too."

The angel had to turn away to hide his amused smile.  Yohannan was in deep.

"Let's go."

Andrew followed Emma to the door, willing himself to keep calm.  It would be hard.  Even through the window, the angel could tell that Joshua was in a superb mood.

Emma unlocked the door and peered out.  "Hi, you must be..."  His eyes.  He had eyes like the nice lady at the diner...

Joshua stuck his hand out.  "Joshua Davidson.  So pleased to meet you!"

Rousing, Emma shook his hand.  "Li-likewise.  My name is Emma Dawes and this is my current partner in crime, Andrew..."  Emma blinked.  How was it she'd never managed to catch Andrew's last name?

"Andrew Darcy," the angel introduced.  He took Joshua's hand and held it for just a moment longer than he usually would upon meeting someone.

"Good to see you, Mr. Darcy."  Joshua's lips curled into a sneaky smile.

"Andrew, please," the angel choked out.  Clearly Joshua had chosen his current last name.

"And just Emma."

"Just Joshua.  Or Josh."

Emma smiled.  "Well, come in and we'll show you the, umm, problem."

"Great!  I understand you... well, I was told that... Jesus went through your stage floor?"

Andrew chuckled.  "We're doing a production of Jesus Christ Superstar and the actor...  He decided he needed a dramatic moment during 'Hosanna' and attempted to leap off some scaffolding.  He's fine, uninjured... although no longer in the production.  The stage is still in the production... but not fine."

"Got it.  Well, let's have a look."

Emma and Andrew led Joshua to the stage, the angel unnecessarily waving to the very visible hole.

"Wow.  I'm glad no one was hurt.  That's a good way to get an ankle twisted at the least."  Joshua knelt down and stuck his head in the hole.  "It looks like there was some rotting wood.  Your actor probably hit the girder just right, it gave out, and then the flooring caved in."

Emma frowned.  It sounded more serious than she'd hoped.  "So... how much would it cost to fix?"

Joshua surreptitiously looked to Andrew.  "Actually, an Anonymous Donor reached out after my cousin heard from you.  They'll foot the bill for my hours and any tools or lumber I need."

Emma gaped.  "Sorry... what?"

Andrew hugged her shoulders, sighing happily.  "We won't have to pay.  Someone Else has."

"B-but...  Zeke, it had to be Zeke and Diana b-but with the kids they don't have..."  She stared at Joshua.  "Who?"

"I'm not at liberty to say."  Joshua smiled.  "Just know that Someone really cares about what you're doing here."

Grateful tears filled Emma's eyes.  Casting aside her usual reserve, she buried her face in Andrew's shoulder.  "Thank you, Joshua," she murmured.  "To you a-and them."

"You're very welcome.  Now... thankfully, I don't have any other jobs booked.  So I can give this my all over the next couple of days.  It'll probably take me most of today to get it structurally sound.  Then I'll stain the new wood as soon as possible tomorrow.  You should be able to use it again come Sunday," Joshua informed.

"Sunday?  Really?  So... so soon?"

Joshua grinned.  "I can work slowly if you're hoping for a little more time off."

Emma shook her head.  "No.  Not at all.  I'm just so... so pleased.  I thought we'd get further behind and..."  She looked to Andrew.  "We still don't have a Jesus."

Andrew opened his mouth but no words came.  "He... we'll find him," he reassured. 

Joshua stuck his head back into the hole and let out a deep sigh.

"Joshua, do you need anything?" Andrew checked. 

Sitting up straight again, he shook his head.  "No, thank you.  I'll get started with this.  I probably will need to run to the lumber store but I'll let you both know before I leave to do that."

"Great!  Thank you so... so much for coming," Andrew effused.

"You're welcome.  Very glad to be here."

"Yell if you need anything.  Please," Emma asked.  "We'll just be in the director's office.  It's the one we passed when you came in."

"Got it.  Will do."  Joshua smiled again then began to lay out his tools.

"Let's go call Zeke and tell him we got someone in here," Andrew suggested.

Emma nodded, following him to the office.  "I... I just can't believe we're getting through this crisis so... so easily."

Andrew beamed.  "Miracles happen."

Emma didn't respond. 

"So do you want to call Zeke or should I?"

Emma picked up the phone, feeling giddy.  Miracle or not, she was grateful to be calling with good news.

*~*~*

By lunchtime, Joshua had the wood he needed and was intent on his work.  He'd removed the busted planks and cut the new ones to fit.  The tricky part would be getting the girder just right so that the stage remained level.  He stepped into the hole to measure the nearest whole girder and inspect the others for any sign of wear.  He knew they'd been fine as of Christmas Eve but there was no telling what damage the stage might have sustained since.  He hoped Eric hadn't attempted any other stunts but knew it was fairly likely the actor's attention-seeking ways had left their mark beyond the hole.  Joshua frowned.  Whatever Eric was doing now, he prayed it would set him on the path he needed to be on, the path he and his Father had intended for the young man.  He hoped, too, that Eric's demeanor hadn't upset any of the others too much.  Joshua had wanted to ask Andrew but there hadn't been any time.  Emma was always near.  But then that was a good thing.  If she was growing comfortable with Andrew then that was definitely a step in the right direction.

To still his unquiet mind, Joshua decided to sing.  Smiling at its appropriateness as he crawled around the dim understage, Joshua began the tune.  "'Close every door to me.  Hide all the world from me.  Bar all the windows and shut out the light.'"

The main door of the theatre unlocked and Zeke stepped inside.  He'd been thrilled to hear from Emma and, curious, had come to see how far this Joshua Davidson had gotten with the stage.  He had not planned to hear any music... let along such a rich, emotion-filled tenor.

"'Do what you want with me.  Hate me and laugh at me.  Darken my daytime and torture my night.'"

Zeke blinked back the tears forming in his eyes.  The voice sounded so pure, so clear.  He moved towards the house door, desperate to see who the voice belonged to.  His hand was on the knob when he stopped.  It was a CD.  Of course!  Emma or Andrew were merely listening to a CD.  Or possibly the carpenter was.  Zeke groaned over his own idiocy and misguided excitement then stepped inside.

Neither Emma nor Andrew were on the stage.  The carpenter was absent, too.  They must have run somewhere, possibly to get supplies, and left the CD or Internet radio or whatever it was playing. 

"'If my life were important I would ask "Will I live or die?"  But I know the answers lie far from this world.'"

Zeke jumped when a hand reached out of the hole and set down a piece of rotted, broken wood.

"'Close every door to me!  Keep those I love from me!  Children of Israel are never alone!'"

Zeke held his breath as the voice became even stronger.  It was then he noticed there was no instrumentation... the singing was live and coming from the hole!

"'For I know I shall find my own peace of mind.  For I have been promised a land of my own!'"

Dazed, Zeke crept towards the stage and then climbed onto it.  He approached the hole and looked inside.

"'Close every door to me.  Hide all the world from...'"  Joshua halted and smiled up at the man.  "Hello there!  Sorry, was I being too loud?"

Zeke shook his head, continuing to stare.

Joshua chuckled.  "Hi, I'm Joshua.  Emma and Andrew hired me to..."

"You can sing."  Zeke recalled Hailey's jest.  Maybe they could get a carpenter who could also act and sing...

"Uh... yeah."  Joshua nodded.  "Have since... well, always."

At last coming out of his reverie, Zeke grinned and held out his hand.  "Zeke.  Zeke Wilson.  Pleased to meet you, Joshua.  Very pleased to meet you.  Have Andrew and Emma heard you singing that?"

Joshua stood and shook Zeke's hand.  "No.  They're not here right now.  They ran to grab some lunch."

"I... Joshua, I... I've heard a lot of fine voices in my day but... man, that was the... the finest singing I've ever heard."

Joshua blushed.  "Thank you but..."

"Did they tell you how that hole happened?"

Joshua smiled.  "'Jesus' went clean on through."

"After disrespecting both of our directors and before leaving in a huff, flinging obscenities.  He... he wasn't exactly cast to type." 

"No, doesn't sound like it."

Zeke settled onto the floor.  "Listen, Emma has her pride.  I don't know about Andrew.  But me?  I'm shameless when I want something.  So I'm just going to ask.  Would you be interested in taking over the role?"

Joshua's eyes twinkled as he twirled some wood in his hands.  "You want me to play Jesus?"

Zeke nodded.  "Emma and Andrew would have to approve and... I have to level with you.  It'd mean a lot of hours and not much pay but... but we're desperate."

Joshua moved to pull himself up out of the hole with Zeke scurrying to help him.  "Hey, thanks."

"No problem."

"The money's not really an issue but... do you think Emma would approve?  And Andrew?" Joshua added hastily. 

"I think right now their choices are you or we put a white robe on a TV set with the movie actor on it... and I think that's illegal."

Joshua laughed.  "Yeah, I think so."

"I know you're probably wondering why we don't just throw in the towel between the stage and the missing Jesus but...  See, this show meant so much to the couple who ran this theatre.  They were my friends.  Friends to many of us.  Then Lucy died... breast cancer."

Joshua patted Zeke's hand.  "I'm sorry for your loss... glad for her victory."

Zeke smiled.  "Me too.  Doug and Lucy used this place to give hope... encourage faith.  We promised them we'd keep this show going.  We're realistic.  We know it's probably the last but... Joshua, I want this place to end on a high note.  But we can't do Jesus Christ Superstar without Jesus."

Joshua nodded.  "I'll be your Jesus.  If Emma and Andrew approve."

Zeke beamed.  "That's great!  Thank you, Joshua!"  He smiled.  "Actually, your name fits.  Joshua.  Jesus is Greek, Joshua is Hebrew.  Same name.  You won't be the only one.  Our Peter is named Peter.  And we have a couple Romanos playing Romans."

Joshua laughed.  "I look forward to meeting them and everyone else if it works out.  But for right now... I better get back down there.  I don't want to ruin my chances by not seeming like a hard-worker."  He smiled, shook Zeke's hand again, and returned to the hole.

"Do you mind if I wait here for Emma and Andrew?" Zeke checked.

"No, that's fine," Joshua's voice responded from beneath the stage.

Zeke waited a few moments, hoping Joshua would resume singing.  He longed to hear his voice again.

Joshua smiled when he heard Zeke's fingers tapping on the floorboard.  He stood.  "You want to sing something with me?  Makes the work go faster."

Zeke nodded eagerly.  "I would enjoy that very much.  What do you want to sing?"

"Anything you'd like."

"Do you know many hymns?"

"Several.  Actually, I've always been partial to 'Morning Has Broken.'"

Zeke looked to Joshua with pleasant surprise.  "That... that's always been my favorite.  Ever since I was a little boy."

"Then let's go with it.  You start."

Zeke closed his eyes and began to sing.  "'Morning has broken, like the first morning.  Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird.'"  He stopped, wanting to hear Joshua on his own again.

Joshua's voice swelled up from beneath the stage.  "'Praise for the singing, praise for the morning.  Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.'"

Tears again filled Zeke's eyes as they sang together.  The joy he felt was akin to what had once filled his heart when he would sing with his father.  He hadn't felt that particular joy since the man had died over a decade ago.

"'Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven.  Like the first dewfall, on the first grass.  Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden, sprung in completeness where His feet pass.'"

Andrew entered the house first with Emma directly behind him.  Despite his efforts, a persistent tear rolled down his cheek as he listened to the two.

"Who... who is Zeke singing with?" Emma queried, looking around in confusion.

"Joshua, Emma.  He's singing with Joshua."

Emma realized then that the carpenter was there, just hidden from view beneath the stage.  "Oh..."

Andrew set down the sack of sandwiches and settled into a seat to listen.  Emma plopped down beside him.


"'Praise for the singing, praise for the morning.  Praise for them springing fresh from the Word,'" the two men finished.

Andrew stood, clapping.  Emma rose, too, but only gawked.

Zeke's face was aglow as he jumped off the stage and ran towards them.  "Joshua... the carpenter... you have to hire him to play Jesus.  He said he'll do it if you approve.  Emma, Andrew, I'm not above begging.  You have to let this guy in."

Andrew smiled.  Of course he would.  "I'd really like to."  He looked over to Emma.

Emma blinked as Joshua stood, now visible from the waist up.  He waved to them then grabbed a hammer and stooped back down.  She continued to stare at where he'd been.  "His voice is... it's extraordinary.  But..."

"But?!" Zeke exclaimed.

"He's just not... his looks... he doesn't look like a... a star.  He's so burly a-and... ethnic."  Emma's face turned pink the moment she said it.

Zeke's own face fell.

"Sorry.  I didn't mean it like..."

Zeke sighed.  "Yeah.  I get it.  Jesus is a white man..."

Emma reached for his shoulder.  "Zeke, I..."

"Jesus probably looked, well, a lot like Joshua," Andrew gently explained.  "He probably wasn't as... attractive or graceful as we often see in art and on screen.  I, for one, think it'd really be something to do a production with an actor who might actually resemble the man he's playing."

Soothed, Zeke nodded.  "I agree.  Please, just listen again.  One song.  On his own," he pressed.  When Emma made no immediate response, he continued.  "Listen, if you hire this guy then not only will you have the role filled but I can guarantee that you'll get an even better performance out of me.  I can already tell I... I'll be wrecked over the prospect of turning this guy in."

Andrew looked to his shoes and drew in a deep breath, collecting himself.  "Emma, please.  Just give Joshua a chance," he requested.

"Fine!" Emma relented.  "But I want to hear him sing again.  Alone.  Anyone would sound good with Zeke."

"Then we'll ask him to sing again.  Besides, I'd love to hear more," Andrew replied.  He could listen to Joshua all day... and had many a time.  He badly wanted to run onto the stage, hop into the hole, and hug him.  It was happening... it was starting... everything they'd waited for and longed for and...

"Joshua," Zeke called.  "Do you think you could do a solo for Andrew and Emma?  Andrew's our director, Emma's assistant director."

Joshua got back onto the stage.  "Sure.  Is there anything in particular I should sing?"

Andrew deferred to Emma but prayed she wouldn't choose "I Only Want to Say."  He was definitely not ready for that yet.  He saw something flicker in the woman's eyes and, for a moment, felt panicked.

"Do you know 'One Song Glory' from RENT?"

Zeke balked.  "But that has nothing to do with this show!"

"Jesus is a tenor, Roger is a tenor," Emma defended. 

Unbothered, Joshua nodded.  "Sure.  I know it."  He smiled.  "Actually, I have my guitar in the car.  Would it be okay if I went to get it?"

Surprised by the question and the image of the "burly" carpenter with a guitar, Emma squeaked out assent.

"Cool, thanks.  Be right back."

Zeke smiled proudly when Joshua left.  "Goes with the flow.  Doesn't seem fussy.  That alone is an improvement."

Emma couldn't argue with that so remained mute.

While she picked at the polish on one of her nails, Andrew studied the woman.  He couldn't figure out why she'd changed.  Joshua as the carpenter had instantly met with her approval.  Why did she seem so opposed to Joshua-as-actor?  Frowning, Andrew let it go.

Soon Joshua was back.  He perched on the edge of the stage apron and strummed on his guitar.  When he was ready, he began to sing.  "'One song glory, one song before I go.  Glory, one song to leave behind.  Find one song, one last refrain.'"

Andrew knew better than to even try to hide his tears.  It was too much.  Joshua certainly wasn't "the pretty boy front man" and his body wasn't wasting away from disease.  But he sang the song as a man who knew what it was to stare down death, a man who knew his time was nearly through and was desperate to get his message across.  Briefly, the stage faded away taking the walls and, beyond that, the city with it.  Andrew saw Joshua... Yeshua... making his way through crowds who hung on his words, crouching down to speak with lepers, breaking bread, praying in a garden...  Joshua's voice surged, bringing the angel back to the safety of the present.

"'Find glory in a song that rings true, truth like a blazing fire, an eternal flame.'"

Stunned, Emma stared at the man.  She'd never heard a voice that could alter so from crisp and clear to gravelly and achingly broken.  She bowed her head, ashamed that she'd set out to trap Joshua into singing the song.  Perhaps she had misjudged him.  From the moment he'd greeted her, she'd sensed in him an innate goodness... goodness she knew all too well often came hand-in-hand with judgment and self-righteousness.  She thought he'd find the idea of singing a song written for an AIDS stricken heroin addict appalling.  But there he was... giving it his all.  And his eyes as he sang...  So gentle, so sensitive.

"'Time flies and then... no need to endure anymore.  Time dies.'"

When the last note trailed off, Joshua wiped at his eyes then smiled out at his three person audience.  "So how'd I do?"

Zeke, his approval writ clearly across his damp face, turned to Andrew and Emma.

"I... I think we'd find no better person even with all the... the time and money in this world," Andrew murmured.

"You can tell him he's hired," Emma replied.  "I... I'll be right back."

Andrew stood, torn between going to Joshua or Emma.

"Let her be," Zeke counseled.  "Sometimes she needs a moment or two to herself."

Andrew nodded then made his way to Joshua.  With Zeke beside him, he had to measure his emotions.  "You're hired, Joshua."

Joshua smiled and looked down at his guitar.  All the love Andrew couldn't give voice to was in his eyes.  He looked back to the angel and responded in kind.  "Thank you.  I'm honored to be part of this."

Zeke clapped.  "Hallelujah!"  He laughed.  "Andrew, you said you'd get us a Jesus and a carpenter.  I guess it's fitting we end up with someone who's both.  My eldest joked about it and now here we are!  I think it'll add a note of authenticity."  He set a hand on Joshua's shoulder.  "Welcome!  And... apologies in advance for when I betray you.  It's not personal."

Joshua chuckled.  "Thank you.  Well, I better get back down there or else none of us are going to have a stage to perform on."  He turned to Andrew.  "Maybe later you could go with me to pick out wood stain?"

"Sure," Andrew agreed, relieved that they'd have time to talk.  "But not so fast on returning to work.  It's lunchtime.  We'll eat as soon as Emma's back.  Zeke, we thought you might be here so got you a sandwich, too.  Can you stay?"

"Definitely.  It'll be good to all sit down and talk.  I'd love to hear about your life, Joshua."

Andrew smiled.  That was going to take some careful wording on Joshua's part...

"And I'd love to hear more about all of yours and your plans for the show."

Emma returned, looking and feeling calmer.  "Everyone ready for lunch?"

The three men nodded. 

"Let's eat in the office," she suggested.  "Joshua, what can I get you to drink?  Water, tea, soda?"

"Tea would be great, thank you.  And thank you for lunch, too."

Emma smiled.  "You haven't eaten yet.  You may not like it."

"I will," Joshua assured.

Andrew smiled.  Regardless of the quality of the food, he knew Joshua would enjoy himself... he'd be with them. 

Finally.

*~*~*

Andrew let out a sigh as soon as he settled into the passenger seat of Joshua's car.  He turned to the driver and smiled wearily.  "I thought I'd be used to the whole hiding things... thing.  But it's exhausting pretending not to know you.  But very, very worth it."

Joshua returned the smile then started the car.  "Yeah, it is.  Do you think Emma's okay with this?"

Andrew shrugged.  "I think Emma's just been through a lot of change all at once and hasn't quite gotten her bearings.  Now that things are stable... I think it'll get better.  She, umm, she did say the burly/ethnic thing like you said she would.  It upset Zeke but I think they smoothed it over."

Joshua nodded knowingly.  "I'm glad.  And I am a far cry from Eric."

"Yes.  And that's the funny thing.  I thought Emma would be thrilled to have Eric gone and someone... someone like you there."

Joshua frowned.  "Emma feels like Eric was the Jesus she deserved.  And there was a certain comfort in that for her."

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.  "That's... awful."

"Yes.  It is.  But Emma... she's used to people sizing her up and deeming her unworthy, beneath them.  She doesn't think I'll be any different."

Andrew stared out the window, letting Joshua's words sink in.  His heart ached for his assistant director.  He couldn't imagine feeling so distanced from God.

"But... that's why we're here.  Well, in part."  Joshua beamed.  "We're here for lots of reasons."

Brightening, Andrew nodded. 

"Hey, do you think you could get Gloria, Monica, Tess, Adam, Henry, and Eli together at my place tonight?  I think it would be best if I meet with them before everything starts.  You could just tell them that the actor you hired to play Jesus would like to visit with them first."  Joshua's eyes twinkled mischievously.  "Don't tell them it's me."

Andrew smiled.  "Sure but what about Violeta?"

"Dad's asking her to come by my place a little earlier.  She'll be there when the rest of you arrive."

"Good.  She... she was pretty upset last night."

Joshua nodded.  "I heard.  She'll feel better once we've had a little time together."

"I know she will."  Andrew chuckled, thinking back on earlier in the day.  "I think Zeke's about ready to declare himself president of your fan club."

"Isn't he great?  Him, Diana... the whole family.  I hope they bring the kids around at some point.  Singing with Zeke... that was a great feeling."

"I think it might be tough for him when we get to Act II."

"I'll be there.  We'll get through it together."

"Yeah."  Andrew peered over at Joshua.  "We will... together," he echoed.

"How's everyone else doing?  Has Belle been well?"

Andrew beamed.  "She has some trouble with eczema but she's... she's perfect."

Joshua smiled.

"And JenniAnn... Joshua, I can't wait until you can see her like this.  You know, she has her anxious moments like any new mom but... she's so... thrilled.  And she, umm, well, she's glad she's not going to have to be doing Eric's makeup.  Although..."  Andrew traced a line in the palm of his hand.

Joshua glanced over at the angel of death.  "I can't say it won't be difficult... for both of us.  But I feel like it's important.  And I don't just mean to the show.  I'll be right there to pull her back if she gets too upset."

Andrew nodded.  Of course Joshua would be able to take care of JenniAnn.  He had all her life.  "Thanks.  So... Max and Rose... I hope I don't sound like Laja too much but I can definitely hear wedding bells.  They're really looking forward to spending even more time together with the show.  And Kemara... she seems to be enjoying life in Dyeland and here in New York, dancing and helping Arthur and Catherine out.  I know she's really excited about being in the show and working on the program.  Although... I often feel like she has something weighing on her but when I ask she just smiles and says everything is fine.  I think she does the same thing with Laja.  I hope she trusts us by now... knows she can confide in us."

Joshua peered over at Andrew with his left eye brow arched.

Blushing, the angel laughed.  "Okay, okay.  So it took me years to really let them in and so I shouldn't be surprised that Kemara may need more than a few months.  I get it.  But I do hope she knows that we'll hear her out and support her no matter what she has to say... whenever that is.  I do sometimes get concerned that... and I don't just mean with Kemara... but now with JenniAnn and me having Belle...  I've seen it play out time and again with humans, Joshua.  Someone in the group has a kid and the others figure they have too much on their plates so they stop coming to them with their problems and concerns and communication falters and then friendship and..."

"Then you keep reminding them that you're there.  No matter what.  And people talk, Andrew.  Even if they weren't around at the time, your friends have heard about how upsetting it was for you and JenniAnn when your friends would move on.  And you've made them aunts and uncles to your precious little one.  That means a lot.  It says a lot.  And, trust me, you're all going to have as much togetherness as you could ever want over the next few weeks," Joshua encouraged.

"True.  We have a lot of rehearsing to do..."

"Exactly."  Joshua looked over to his passenger with a bright, encouraging smile. 
While it was still daunting to have to be told about the recent events in the lives of the Dyelanders, Joshua enjoyed hearing word from Andrew.  He was so animated and joyful as he spoke of his loved ones!  "So how's Arthur?" he asked.

"Well.  Really well.  He and Monica... they're so... happy!" Andrew gushed.  "And he told me he helped find jobs for a couple of those guys you got to True Light."

"That's great!" Joshua cheered.  "I'm glad Arthur's making some time for the show.  He deserves to have fun and I think it'll help Monica.  So how about Owen?"

"Owen's been coming around a lot more.  I'm not sure if it's because of Belle or, I'm hoping, it means he's becoming more trusting of us as a whole.  I know he's trusted Laja for a long time.  And me too, I think.  But this is... more.  And, of course, Robert and Allison and Vincent and Catherine are still every bit the proud and ecstatic grandparents.  I think Allison and Robert have always been a little hesitant about the portals but they've completely gotten over that!  Vincent's so happy to have his Psyche back teaching soon... and with his granddaughter right there.  Jacob and Shelby have really taken to looking out for Belle.  And so have my AOD Bandmates!"  Andrew chuckled.  "Eli thinks we should let Belle play the cowbell when she's older.  It's been great seeing the three of them more often.  Actually, Tess and Gloria, too.  And Kelly, of course."  Glancing out the window, Andrew sobered.  "I think everyone's a little... anxious about the show.  How we'll feel, I mean.  Remembering...  But I think dinner with you will help a lot, Joshua.  And... I think that's about it for the Dyeland report," he finished.  "So how do you feel?"

Halting at a stop sign, Joshua turned to Andrew and bestowed on him a smile that could banish all sorrow and worry.  Then he laughed, loud and long. 

Andrew soaked in the utter joy in the sound until he was laughing, too. 

Joshua quieted when the light turned and they had to move but still joy radiated all through the car.  He was only hours away from meeting more of his kids face to face.

*~*~*

"Oh good.  Tess found a parking spot.  Andrew, can you fit in that one?" Henry pointed to a parallel spot a block up from the apartment.

Andrew expertly got the Jolly Green into place.

Eli looked up at the building.  "So who is it up there?  Obviously another angel.  Someone who would know us."

Andrew kept mum as they all got out of the car. 

"You said Violeta is already there so that means it's someone she knows," Adam mused, trying to crack the puzzle.  "So... does she know Michael?  Obviously Ronald doesn't fit the bill."

Andrew only smiled.

"Jacob?  We know Jacob can belt out a tune," Eli suggested.

Henry laughed when Andrew remained silent.  "He's not going to give us even a hint.  Let's just head in."  He hurried his steps, soon entering to find Gloria, Monica, and Tess waiting in the lobby.

"Hello, babies!  So you ready for... whatever this is?" Tess greeted as the other three angels of death filed in.

"Can I help you?" the landlord asked.

Andrew approached.  "We're good, thanks.  Guests of Mr. Davidson."

"Ah, Joshua!  Yes, he said he was having a dinner party.  Head on up.  Oh and if you could please tell him... if he'd be willing... Mrs. Everly said her cabinet door broke off so if Joshua could, perhaps, visit with her tomorrow..."

Andrew bit his lip.  Over the past weeks, it had become obvious to him that the man had grown a little too accustomed to handing his maintenance duties off to Joshua.  But the angel also knew Joshua enjoyed spending the time with the other tenants.  "I will tell him."

"Thank you!"

Andrew turned back to his friends.  He could see them pondering over this exchange.

"Joshua Davidson...  The carpenter," Monica murmured.  The name had interested her the night before but somehow its significance hadn't fully come to her... until that moment.  Her eyes grew wide and she bolted for the stairs before realizing she had no idea what room they were going to.

"333," Andrew relayed, smiling.

Gloria gasped and hurried after Monica.

"Seriously?" Adam whispered.

A second later, the angels of death and Tess were thundering up the stairs.  Monica reached the door first and rapped on it.

Violeta answered, wearing one of Joshua's flannel shirts over her dress.  It was covered in flour.  "Hi!"  She giggled when she saw their faces and hurriedly stepped out of the way. 

All seven of the angels poured into the room, a grinning Andrew entering last.

They all stared at the figure crouched in front of the stove, his back to them. 

Seeing their reflections, Joshua laughed.  He stood and turned to face them.  "You all look like you saw a ghost.  Welcome!  Dinner's almost..."

He was cut off by them all crushing nearer, enveloping him in a massive group hug.  When they'd all come back to themselves enough to give him some space, Joshua greeted them all by name and with their own hugs.

He beamed at the group.  "Thank you for coming.  I thought it would be best if we had this time together before the show gets back underway."

Tess shook her head, still stunned.  "You... you're playing... yourself?"

Joshua nodded. 

Henry laughed.  "Isn't that something?!  Wow...  I..."  He suddenly looked stricken. 

Joshua reached for his hand.  "We'll talk it all over.  But not on empty stomachs.  Violeta and I made crepes.  Lots and lots of crepes."  He opened the oven and removed two trays.  "We've been keeping them warm in here but there's another tray on the counter over there with cool ones.  Fillings are on the table.  I'm afraid we're all just going to have to eat where we can find spots.  This isn't exactly a dinner party friendly apartment but I couldn't resist.  So... help yourselves!"

They all continued to stare, most of them at Joshua while Andrew and Violeta studied the other angels.

Joshua laughed.  "Okay, Violeta and I will start."  He handed her a plate. 

Soon the others roused and filled their plates.  Adam, Joshua, and Andrew pushed what little furniture there was and anything that could double as seating into a tight circle.  Once everyone had sat down, they looked expectantly at Joshua.

Lifting his eyes, Joshua began to pray.  "Father, we thank You for this meal.  We thank you for this time together.  You know that when we created all that is, we did so with immense love.  May we here now, all of us, do our best to share that love with others in the weeks to come.  Give us the strength to overcome any trials and the ability to find joy in every moment, in every scene, in every song.  Each chapter of our story was written with its finale already in mind.  Help us all to keep focused on that moment and to never lose sight of it.  Bless us and those whose lives we seek to touch.  We love You.  Amen."

"Amen," the others echoed.  They all felt calmed by the prayer and Joshua's ever-familiar voice. 

Joshua took a bite of a crepe and smiled at Violeta.  "This chicken artichoke filling is delicious.  Well done!"

The young angel beamed. 

"So, if you don't mind my asking, how long have you been here... like this?" Eli queried.

"Since Christmas," Monica replied, blushing when she realized she'd spoken aloud.  "I... I saw the photo."

"The photo?" Tess questioned.

Joshua smiled.  "It seems my parents and I inadvertently photo-bombed at Christmas Mass.  Arthur took a picture of them and we were a few pews back."

Adam chuckled.  "Fitting.  So... if you just got hired today, what have you been doing?"

"Prep work.  And some carpentry gigs."

"How long have you known about this?" Adam asked Andrew.

"Oh, well... for about a year."

"A year!" Tess exclaimed.

Joshua laughed.  "Yes, Andrew's known for about a year.  I... well, I knew there'd be some tough times ahead on the Dyeland front.  I knew Andrew would bear the brunt of that."

The others nodded solemnly, thinking of everything that had happened with Chava.  They knew, too, that Joshua had played a part in Andrew's assignment with Ivy.  And then there'd been Annabelle and her troubled first few days. 

"I wanted him to know this was on the horizon.  And I told Violeta at Christmas for the same reason.  But I also realized that it would be a struggle for them to keep it to themselves.  They managed that very well... but I didn't see any reason to make all of you deal with that.  I know how hard it can be to not tell your friends about me and especially if you'd known I was coming..."  Joshua shook his head. 

"So... I take it we're still not supposed to tell them?  I mean if it was to be known to everyone... why aren't JenniAnn and Kemara and Arthur and everyone else here?" Gloria questioned.

"Because each of them need to recognize me in their own way, in their own time... or not," Joshua explained. 

Tess froze with her fork midway to her lips.  She sat it back down.  "You don't know?"

Joshua shook his head.  "I am, more or less, as I was back in Nazareth.  Unlike then, I remember all that has passed."  He smiled gently.  "I remember creating each and every one of you... each and every one of them.  But I can't, at this very moment, tell you what you're thinking.  I have a basic outline of what will happen in the next weeks.  But I don't know who will come to believe I am who I am... or if any of them do.  The choice is and must always remain theirs.  And I have to meet them, interact with them... as one of them.  They don't know what's in my heart.  They don't know my thoughts.  So I won't know theirs.  And that's why I won't know yours, either.  If I knew Andrew's thoughts, at times it would be nearly the same as knowing JenniAnn's.  And, Monica, it would be the same with Arthur.  It wouldn't be fair to... to know."

The angels pondered his words and marveled at the sacrifice.  The same thought plagued them all.  Given he remembered the moment of their creation, how much more would it hurt if their human friends didn't come to love him as Joshua Davidson?

"Be at peace," Joshua urged.  "No matter what happens, Dad is with me.  And even if I can't read your minds, I know you all love me."  He smiled when eight heads nodded back with eager assent.  "I've been looking forward to this and I'm happy to be starting.  I really am."

Monica smiled then peered down at her hands.  "When you say you're like how you were back in Nazareth...  Does that mean you're... mortal?"

Joshua nodded.  "Yes.  But I know it is not my will or Dad's will that I die.  But... if I miss a nail when I do repairs and hammer my thumb instead... it will hurt.  And blister, too."  He grinned.

Adam smiled back at him.  "Then I hope you be careful and speaking of repairs... Andrew, what did the guy at the desk tell you?"

Andrew relayed the message about Mrs. Everly's cabinet.

Joshua smirked.  "Dylan is very pleased to have a carpenter around.  I'll visit with Aggie before I head to the theatre tomorrow.  It'll be a pleasure.  I enjoy our chats.  She's always talked to me exactly like she talks to me now... like an old friend."

Tess smiled.  "So you've been enjoying your time here?"

Joshua nodded.  "Very much.  Oh... Fr. Mike knows I'm here.  He's been keeping me company, along with Yohannan and my parents and a few others, when things did get a little... lonesome."

Eli frowned.  "Don't like you feeling that."

"They feel it.  You feel it sometimes.  Why shouldn't I?"

"How very... Joshuan," Gloria improvised.

Andrew chuckled.  "It is."  He squeezed Violeta's hand.  "Feeling better?"

"Oh yes."  Her smile traveled from her supervisor to Joshua.

"What was wrong?" Henry questioned gently.

Violeta blushed.  "Oh, I just..."

Joshua stroked her hair.  "It's a lot to digest, I know.  For some of us, we'll be reliving days that were among the worst of our lives.  For Gloria and Violeta, they're days they've only heard about and read about but are part of them still... because they're part of me.  But remember that every moment, every word led to Sunday."

Adam nodded, tears glinting in his eyes.  "I... I know that.  But how... how am I supposed to even pretend to wash my hands of... of you?"

Joshua stood and knelt in front of Adam, taking his hands in his.  "I created these hands.  And ever since you were placed on this Earth so long ago, you have used them to bring comfort, to help you in sharing my story and my love.  That's all you're doing.  The costume, the part... it doesn't matter.  All our roles, onstage and off, are simply part of the story.  And we need them all to get it told.  And, Adam, there's more to this role than you realize now."  He turned to face Andrew.  "Could you please explain about the song and your plans for it?"

Joshua remained near Adam as Andrew spoke.

"JenniAnn started it, actually.  She's bothered by the fact that Pilate gets the dream song."

"As she should be.  Claudia had that dream!" Adam interjected.  "Not Pontius..." 

"Exactly.  So... I'd really love to return it to Claudia... in the person of Kylie.  I haven't had a chance to speak with Emma about it to see if she'll approve but I think she will.  She was complaining about the lack of female roles.  Kylie... she may take some work but..." Andrew smiled at Joshua.  "I have it on good authority that she'll agree eventually."

"Kylie..." Adam murmured.  "The chorus girl who hides behind those blonde curls of hers?"

Andrew nodded.

"She looked familiar when I first saw her."

Joshua squeezed Adam's hand.  "She should."

Adam searched his memory then frowned.  "Oh."

"We'll talk later," Joshua promised.  He released Adam and turned to Henry and Eli. 

The latter looked into the man's eyes then buried his face in his hands while Henry stared straight ahead.

Joshua squeezed between them and rested an arm around each of their shoulders.  "Here's the deal: when I faced Caiaphas and Annas, all I saw were two men who sure didn't think very highly of me and wished I'd crawl back under the rock they thought I came from.  But when you're onstage, bringing them to life, I'm going to see two angels who I love with all I am and who I know love me with all they are.  Eli, Henry, I know it will be hard to say those words.  I do.  But... it has to be you.  If a human got those roles and then found out who I was..."

Eli straightened up.  "You died for them.  To sing that to someone who died for you..."  He shook his head then let out a sigh.  "I understand."

Henry nodded.  "I do, too.  It... it's going to be an interesting ride."

Joshua laughed.  "To say the least."  He hugged them both then went to Tess.  "Getting a band, huh?"

She smiled.  "I was going to ask you.  I figured you'd agree... but I didn't know you'd be in the show!  Amazing..."

"I'm glad you think so, Tess.  Make sure you ask Jacob and Gabe or else you'll never hear the end of it.  I think it'd be good for Ronald, too."

Tess nodded excitedly.  "I can't wait, Joshua!"

"Me neither."  He kissed her cheek then turned to Gloria.  "My lights and sound girl!"

Gloria beamed.  "I've already been reading up on different lighting techniques.  And I wasn't sure how to do your microphone when... when you're not wearing your robe but I know I'll figure it out."

Smiling proudly, Joshua nodded and hugged her.  "I know you will, too.  And I know you'll be an excellent addition to the chorus."

"I already have my lines memorized."

Joshua chuckled.  "Somehow, even in this state, I'm not surprised."  He straightened her slightly askew glasses then looked across the circle to see that Monica was swiping at tears. 

"Tell me," he requested when he was near her.

Monica smiled sheepishly.  "I... I just wish I could sing for you, too."

Joshua smiled softly.  "Not all of the important roles are singing ones.  Someone needs to come to me in the garden... be my angel."

Her eyes wide, Monica looked to Andrew.

The director nodded.  "Joshua and I discussed it earlier and I even had time to run it by Emma.  She's for anything that gets more women front and center."

Monica hugged Joshua.  "I... I would be honored."

"So would I."  He kissed her hair.  "And I'm really looking forward to spending time with Arthur.  I wonder if he'll recognize me from the storage room at his old store?"

Monica smiled.  "Whether he does or doesn't, I know he'll love getting to know you."

"I hope so.  Oh and... I'm bringing my own costumes," Joshua informed her with a smile.  "Custom-made by my Ama."

Monica's smile grew.  "Good."  She blinked.  "Your mother.  Andrew said the lady who was to play her left."

"Yes."  Joshua returned to his seat next to Violeta.  "Andrew and I talked about something else, too."  He took one of her hands in both of his.  "I know you'll be a wonderful addition to the chorus, Violeta.  But I was wondering if you might also be willing to play my mother?" 

Violeta began to cry.  "I... but I don't deserve...  A-and you're sure I... I can even be there without run-running?"

Joshua enfolded her in his arms.  "I know you can.  And... it would help me to have you near," he whispered.  "My little Duckling."

In spite of her tears, Violeta smiled.  "O-okay.  Yes.  Thank you."  She wiped her tears on her sleeve then tilted her head.  "It will be weird, though... playing mom to the One who created me."

Joshua smiled, thumbing away the tears she'd missed.  "If you get too weirded out and need to talk to someone, I know just the person."

Violeta giggled.  "Right."

Joshua let her go and took in the eight beloved faces surrounding him.  "Thank you.  All of you.  Now, seriously, we're all eating."

Laughing and settling into their usual easygoing conversation, the angels and their Creator enjoyed their cramped yet perfect dinner.

After the last crepe had been devoured, Andrew lifted his cup into the air.  "If it's all right, before we each go our own ways for tonight, I'd like to make a toast."

Everyone scrambled for their own drinks and raised them. 

"Here's to a successful... in many ways... production.  And here's to Joshua."  Andrew's eyes welled as he beamed at him.  "You maybe be playing a superstar but, for us, you've always been our star, our compass, our home.  We love you and always will."

The other seven all echoed their love as Joshua looked proudly and lovingly upon them all.

*~*~*

Max leapt up from the card table when he heard movement in Willowveil's hall.  He turned back to Rose, Kemara, and JenniAnn with a smile.  "Andrew and Violeta are back!"

The two angels entered a few moments later.  Andrew laughed when he saw what they were playing. 

"Ah, Andrewopoly.  I know it well," he teased.

JenniAnn hurried over to hug him.  "Max didn't believe that it existed."

"I don't know why I doubted it," Max mused.  "Obsessiveness runs in the family."

Andrew smiled.  "It does."  He kept hold of JenniAnn's hand and approached Annabelle's cradle.  "How's our girl been today?"

"Pretty active, actually.  I really do think she's starting to sleep a bit less during the day.  Maybe that means she'll start sleeping even more in the nights," JenniAnn suggested hopefully.  "But she'll probably be up soon for her next bottle."

"Good."  Andrew was eager to hold Belle.

"So what news do you bring from Manhattan?" Kemara asked.  "Did you get that carpenter in to look at the stage?  And a new actor?"

Violeta giggled.

Rose smiled.  "I'm taking that as a yes?"

"Well, we got a carpenter... who can also act and sing," Andrew explained.  He settled into an empty chair at the card table as did Violeta.  "Emma called that Joshua Davidson from the flier first thing in the morning and he came right out.  Then Zeke stopped by around noon and heard him singing.  So he auditioned..."

"He has the most beautiful voice," Violeta dreamily interrupted.

Max looked curiously at the angel.

"When did you get to hear him?" JenniAnn asked.  "You were here at noon."

Violeta's face flushed when she realized her mistake.

"Violeta and I met up with Joshua for dinner.  Just to discuss some things about the show," Andrew rescued.  "And she's right, he has a superb voice.  So... we hired him to play Jesus."

JenniAnn's face lit up.  "That's too cool!  A carpenter is playing Jesus!"

"Cool and practical.  I bet he'll be great with helping with sets, too.  So when do we get to meet him?" Max pressed.

"Well, he got the stage fixed and sanded late this afternoon.  He's staining it tomorrow.  He thinks it'll be good to go by Sunday afternoon so... Emma and Zeke have already informed the others that we'll be back on track by then.  The other angels know.  Laja, would you please get word to..."

"Already texting Owen," JenniAnn replied.  "I trust Monica told Arthur?"

Violeta nodded.  "Yep.  Or else is now."

Kemara shook her head.  "Wow...  That's unbelievable.  But great!  I bet the others are thrilled.  To have it look like, once again, things were falling apart and then...  Wow."

JenniAnn looked up from the phone.  "So this guy... he's not at all reminiscent of Eric is he?"

Andrew clasped her hand.  "No, Laja.  He's very courteous and... and..."

"You'll love him," Violeta finished.  "You all will."

The four humans all smiled and happily abandoned their game so they could plan more for the show.

*~*~*

Kylie was curled up on her couch, tears trickling down her cheeks as she spoke on the phone.  "No...  No, not at all.  Jett, I prom...  Mrs. Arendi next door had to leave because her father had... had a stroke and I agreed to watch Kayson while she was at the hospital and I forgot my phone when I went over there and...  Please don't say that.  You know I'd never...  I love you.  I... I wouldn't do that, Jett."

Kylie rested her forehead against a throw pillow as a torrent of accusations were flung at her.  Then, abruptly, the line went dead.

Dazed, she ended the call and stared at the phone.  She couldn't understand how her marriage had come to this point.  She and Jett had been together since high school, married right out of college.  True Jett had always been a little controlling.  But over the past year...  No.  It had been longer than that.  Ever since he'd started traveling for his job, Jett had become more demanding, more critical, and increasingly often he'd accuse her of flirting with other men.  And then one night, during yet another fight, he'd swung at her.  The blow was so unexpected that she'd fallen to the floor.  Jett had looked down at her in horror.  He'd apologized profusely and kissed her and cleaned away the blood where her elbow had scraped against the wall.  She'd written it off, told herself it was only because that day had been so stressful at the office.  He'd surely never do it again.  And she told herself that he meant what he'd said about never hitting her again.  After all, he'd brought her flowers the next day.

But it wasn't the last time.  The following week he had grabbed her arm so hard when she'd tried to flee a fight that he'd left bruises.  She'd called her mother, asking if she could move back home.  Her mother had replied that marriage was for a lifetime, not a mere four years, and suggested they visit with their pastor.  Jett had refused to go but promised to work on his temper. 

Recently, in a bid to show he trusted her, he'd agreed to let her try out for Jesus Christ Superstar at St. Genesius' Theatre.  He'd even taken her out for a celebratory dinner when she'd been hired.  Things were better for a week, maybe two.  Then one night she'd been late in returning from practice.  Out the accusations of adultery had come.  She had denied them and tried to subdue him.  Jett had responded by punching her in the face before stalking off into the night.  By the morning, he'd pretended as if nothing had happened.  He hadn't acknowledged the welt around her eye or the way she flinched whenever he moved. 

Another week passed without incident.  Then she'd dared to ask if she could go to church the following morning with Zeke and Diana as they'd invited her to do.  She had realized her mistake as soon as it was said.  She shouldn't have mentioned Zeke.  Jett had flown into another rage.  A punch to her side had sent her reeling to the floor.  She'd sprained her wrist as she'd tried to catch herself.  Jett had left her weeping in a heap on the floor.  Again she had called her mother, again her pleas were dismissed.

Through it all, Kylie had clung to her newfound community at St. Genesius'.  There she felt loved.  Diana and Lucy doted on her.  She knew if she only said the word, they would help her.

But marriage was for a lifetime, not just four years.

And now she didn't even have that community.  Lucy was dead and, as kind as Andrew seemed, Kylie doubted his ability to pull things together yet again.

Her phone began to ring.

Cringing, Kylie picked it up.  "He-hello?"

"Kylie, this is Diana.  Your voice sounds a little... off.  Are you okay?"

"Yes," she lied, forcing cheer into her tone.

"Oh good!  Listen, I'm sorry to call this late but we just got home and discovered a message from Emma.  They found a new actor!  Actually, he's the carpenter they hired to fix the stage.  Isn't that amazing?"

Kylie felt a grateful sob rise up in her throat.  She knew it would alarm Diana if she let it out.  After calming herself, she squeaked out a "yes."

"Well, Emma asked me to call you so here's your call!  The fellow figures we'll be good to go Sunday.  You call us if you need a ride."

Kylie nodded then realized Diana couldn't very well see her.  "Okay."

"Kylie?"

"Yes?"

"You sure you're okay?"

Diana's gentle voice threatened Kylie's reserve even more.  Still, she clung to her voice and the concern it betrayed.  "I'm better now.  So glad..."

"Good.  Now you get some sleep and we'll see you Sunday.  And you call if you need anything."

"I will.  Thank you.  Please give Zeke my best."

"Will do, darling.  God be with you."

"You... you, too."  When the call ended, Kylie smiled softly to herself.  Maybe her lifeline wasn't gone just yet...

*~*~*

In the courtyard of Kylie's apartment complex, two men sat on the edge of a fountain.  They peered up at the window of her apartment.

"I wish they knew," Adam murmured.  "How much you love them, I mean."

"Thankfully, I have myriad dedicated messengers to tell them that," Joshua replied.  He smiled proudly at Adam.  "Like you."

"I've never been able to speak to her before.  I mean... I have spoken to her."  Grim lines formed on Adam's face as he thought of the times he'd been called to Kylie.  Jett Snyder was a piece of work and the things he said and did to his wife...  Adam shook his head.  "I'm not sure she heard me."

"She will."

Adam studied Joshua as he gazed with love at the woman who appeared briefly, not seeing either of them.  The angel looked up at Kylie with a relieved smile.  Soon she would hear from them both.

*~*~*

"Perfect"

Saturday, March 1st


Andrew left Dyeland early the next morning in order to reach the theatre by 8:00 so he could let Joshua in.  Beyond the theatrics, he had a lot of work to do on the financial side.  Bills were coming due and he needed a couple quiet hours with the others absent so he could focus on those.  By 11:00, Andrew's eyes were burning from staring at the computer screen for so long and his ears were ringing after being repeatedly subjected to hold music. 

He'd plucked off his glasses and was rubbing his eyes when he heard a soft knock at the side door.  He rose from his chair and looked outside.  A smile lit up his face when he saw JenniAnn and a stroller.
 
“Oh good!  You’re here.  Belle and I just came from visiting the Phoenix and we were hoping to spring ya and grab some lunch.”  JenniAnn smiled at Andrew and stooped to lift the baby.  "And I couldn't resist taking advantage of actually having a warm day to take Belle on her first ever Manhattan walk."
 
“Laja and Belle...”  The angel hugged them both then lead them into his office.  
 
JenniAnn frowned.  “You look stressed.  Here, take Belle.  Cuddling babies always helps."  
 
Andrew eagerly cradled the infant, feeling somewhat less frenzied with Annabelle snuggled against him.  
 
“So what’s going on?  I hope you aren't already having issues with the new Jesus guy.”
 
“Oh no.  Not at all.  Although... I did get in to find a touching message from Eric directing me to send his final pay check to an address in L.A.  I guess he's left town in pursuit of an American Idol audition."
 
The woman rolled her eyes.  “As if we needed more proof that his departure wasn't such a big loss.  First of all, he looked about as much like Jesus as I do.  Then..."  JenniAnn cut herself off.  She had intended to tell Andrew about her run-in with Eric but when he'd left it hadn't seemed important.

Andrew's left eye brow quirked upward.  "Then what, Laja?"

"Okay, well, first of all... you have to know that I didn't feel threatened or anything like that but... Thursday night Eric came in here while I was feeding Belle.  He wanted to talk about his makeup so we did a lil and then I asked him how he was preparing to play Jesus and he said, and I quote, ‘Well, since I’m God’s gift to the ladies, it’s not such a stretch to play His gift to us all.’"

Andrew groaned.

"Yeah, exactly.  Then... well, he asked if I had any plans that night and when I informed him that I fully intended to be home with my baby, he... wait for it... wrinkled his nose.  'Let the little children come unto me' indeed!”
 
Andrew kissed Belle's hair then peered at JenniAnn.  “Laja, you should have said something to me.”
 
JenniAnn shrugged.  “What were ya gonna do?  He wasn’t threatening.  Just annoying as all get-out.  And then he left anyway.  But... when he said that I was so tempted to ask him where this particular lady might obtain the gift receipt but I wasn’t sure he’d get it.”
 
Andrew couldn’t help but laugh at her critique.  “Well, hopefully Eric is headed to a humbling, enlightening experience.”
 
“I hope so.”  JenniAnn moved to a rack of costumes and gestured to a white robe.  “I still can't get over that a carpenter is playing Jesus!  So how excited was Emma?  She seemed so distraught Thursday and then to have it all come back together so perfectly!"

"Emma, well...  Actually, she was kind of opposed at first.” 

"Why would she be opposed?" JenniAnn puzzled.  "You said he was great."

"He is."  Andrew shifted Annabelle when she began to fuss.  “Emma's just a little... particular, I guess,” he finished.
 
JenniAnn bit her lip and nodded.  “I can’t figure Emma out.  She’s so nice and she’s doing a great job as Mary Magdalene.  Just the lil bit I heard her sing was achingly beautiful.  I'm sure her 'I Don't Know How to Love Him' will be almost physically painful to hear it's so emotional just as written... but there’s just something...  She seems so negative at times.  And, worse yet, resigned to it.  It makes me sad.”  She shook her head, deciding nothing could be done about that now and Andrew needed a mental break.  “So... tell me about this new guy!  Joshua.  You were pretty vague about him last night.”
 
“Well... he’s not exactly your standard lead actor type...”  Andrew searched for something more to say as JenniAnn looked expectantly at him.  What introduction to Joshua could he possibly give her?  “He’s... uh...  awesome,” he tried, the word instantly seeming inadequate.
 
A knock at the office door saved Andrew from making further comment.  He looked to the hall and beamed.  This was it.  One of the meetings he'd been waiting for!  “Joshua!  I’m so glad you’re here,” he greeted.  "We were just talking about you... all good things!  Come on in."
 
JenniAnn turned around to greet the newbie.  However, when she came face to face with the man, she could only gape silently.
 
“Laja, meet Joshua Davidson.  Our Jesus and desperately needed carpenter.  Joshua, this is JenniAnn Chandler, my friend and our volunteer makeup artist who I was telling you about,” Andrew introduced, carefully choosing his words to cover Joshua in case he said anything overly knowledgeable.  “And this is Annabelle who we call Belle.”  He proudly looked down at the infant who was beginning to nod off.

"Hi JenniAnn.  Hi Belle."  Joshua's gaze alighted on the baby before he looked back to JenniAnn.  "She's beautiful.  Congratulations!  Andrew's told me about your recent adoption."

Andrew shifted to get a better view of his suddenly mute friend.
 
JenniAnn finally nodded as she continued to stare, taking in everything she could about the newcomer who smiled so kindly at her and her daughter.  Thick black curls framed a deeply tan face.  None of the man's features could be described as delicate.  His eye brows were thick and at that moment the right one was arched in bemusement.  He sported a full but relatively short beard that made it difficult to guess his age though JenniAnn would have said mid-thirties if pressed.  He looked to be Andrew’s height though more solidly built.  He was by no means ugly yet JenniAnn supposed him unlikely to be dubbed either handsome or cute.  His eyes, however, were beautiful in shades of dark brown flecked with gold.  The woman found herself staring into them, only to be distracted when Joshua’s hand raised and brushed a few chips of wood from his T-shirt.  JenniAnn had the oddest sense that once she had held that hand in her own.  Unthinkingly, she stepped towards Joshua.  “My God,” she murmured.  “You’re perfect.”
 
Joshua chuckled.  “Thank you.  Andrew’s told me some really wonderful things about you, JenniAnn.”
 
JenniAnn blushed profusely upon realizing she was still gawking.  “I... I’m sorry.  I meant... meant perfect for the role.  We just, uh...  You just look so much like...”  
 
Andrew and Joshua both noticed as the woman clasped the cross around her neck. 
 
Joshua smiled and shook his head.  “No need to apologize.”  He reached for her free hand, shaking it.  “Actually, it’s good to know that you think I’m right for the role.  I’m afraid your friend here had to do a little campaigning on my behalf.”
 
Andrew swallowed the lump in his throat as he glanced at their linked hands.  “All worth it,” he forced out, smiling brightly.  “Emma will come around.  You’ll see.”
 
“I know she will,” JenniAnn agreed.  She stepped back towards Andrew and hugged his arm, needing him to anchor her in reality as she tried to redeem herself.  “Joshua, we were just headed to lunch.  There's this lovely little Mediterranean bistro within walking distance that I was planning to take Andrew to.  I’d really love it if you’d join us.  My treat.  It’d be wonderful to get to know you since we’ll be spending the next few weeks together.  Of course, I totally understand if you have other plans and...”
 
The man beamed.  “Lunch sounds great.  Thank you, JenniAnn.”
 
“Thank you,” JenniAnn replied then blushed again.  “I mean you’re welcome.  I’m sorry.  I, uh, just not...”
 
“New baby,” Joshua offered, looking tenderly at Annabelle.  “Probably not getting much sleep?”
 
The woman laughed, her unease beginning to die away.  “Not nearly enough.  But you’re being very gracious.  I’m really just a bit of a nerd.  See, I’m a theology major and I’ve always, always wanted someone to do a retelling of the Gospels with an actor playing Jesus who, ya know... wasn’t... well, blonde, blue-eyed, and wispy.
 
Joshua laughed.  “I’m definitely not blonde or blue-eyed.  And I don’t think I’ve been wispy since I was a little boy.”
 
Andrew hid his smile behind the baby’s head.  If only JenniAnn knew just how many years had passed since Joshua’s boyhood, he mused.
 
“You’re just... perfect,” JenniAnn repeated solemnly.
 
“He is, Laja,” Andrew silently agreed.
 
Moved, Joshua swiftly dragged his hand through his hair to keep from reaching out to JenniAnn again.  He reminded himself that while he knew the exact millisecond of her birth, the number of strands of hair on her head, and every word in her journals; to her he was a stranger.
 
JenniAnn lightly set a hand on the man's shoulder after noticing his unease.  “I’m sorry.  I’ve embarrassed you.”
 
“No.  Not at all.  I was thinking of something else is all.  That’s very nice to hear actually.”  Joshua patted her hand... the same hand he’d seen fly across a keyboard on numerous occasions when JenniAnn would become obsessed with finding realistic renderings of him.  It felt good to know she was content with the reality.  He wished he could tell her.  It was going to be a challenge keeping so much unsaid but it was a challenge Joshua knew well.
 
Watching the exchange, Andrew could tell that both Joshua and JenniAnn needed a few moments apart to compose themselves.  “Joshua, before we go maybe you should move your car to the back.  You know, off the street.”
 
“Right.  Good idea,” the man readily agreed.  “I’ll be right back.  Meet in the lobby?”

The angel nodded.  "Sure."
 
As soon as Joshua was out of the room, JenniAnn was at Andrew’s side with her forehead buried in his upper arm.  “Gah, I'm such a dork.  I... I don’t know what just happened.  I swear I wasn’t crushing on him or anything like that.  It was just... something...”
 
The angel kissed her hair.  "You aren't a dork.  Hang on.  Let me get Belle settled."  He carefully transferred Annabelle to her stroller then buckled her in without waking her.  Once she was secure, he enfolded his friend in a hug.  “Joshua just has a way about him.  I was more than a little overwhelmed myself when I first met him.”  
 
JenniAnn smiled at the idea of Andrew being flustered by a human... albeit one with 'a way about him'.  “Then maybe he’s used to it,” she offered.
 
“I really think so.” 

"He does look like Jesus.  I mean... what I assume Jesus looks like."  She frowned.

Andrew set his chin on JenniAnn's head to avoid looking at her.  He wasn't sure whether he would be more likely to laugh or cry if he did.  "Yeah."  Once he'd recovered his composure, he grinned at JenniAnn.  "And I don't think we'll lose him to American Idol."

JenniAnn looked thoughtfully towards the door Joshua had recently exited.  "I really hope not.  Hey, I probably should have asked him about the Mediterranean food.  I'd just picked it cause I know you like it and I thought it'd be fun and kinda, well, Jesus-y but maybe..."  She stepped away, poking her head into the hall and searching.

"I'm sure he'll love the Jesus-y food, Laja," Andrew assured.  Smiling to himself, the angel hoped that he'd get to see Joshua react to JenniAnn's adjective form of his Greek name.

The woman smiled brightly.  "Great!  Ya coming?" she asked as she began to push the stroller.

Andrew nodded.  "Wouldn't miss it."  He locked up his office and hummed "Superstar" as he followed JenniAnn.

*~*~*

"Thanks!" JenniAnn smiled at Joshua as he held open the door to allow her and Belle into the bistro.

"You're welcome.  She's awake, by the way.  But content."

JenniAnn leaned over to find the baby was staring... at Joshua.  She laughed.  "Well, I think you've won someone's favor."

Joshua smiled at Belle.

"Aww!" JenniAnn cooed when the girl's arm flung up and her fingers stretched.  "Andrew, look!" 

"What's she doing?" Andrew asked as he stepped through the door.

JenniAnn bent down to lift Belle up.  The baby's eyes remained trained on Joshua.  "Fixating."

Andrew looked from Joshua to the infant and back.  Joshua's hands were linked behind his back.  "Joshua, would you like to hold her?" 

Joshua looked to JenniAnn. 

"Don't feel obligated but if you want to then sure!  I gotta get my card outta my purse, anyhow."

"Yes, please."  Joshua took Annabelle from JenniAnn, hoping she wouldn't cry.  He was, after all, a stranger.  It was one thing to look at him, another to be held by him.  When she was settled into his arms, though, she merely continued to gaze up at him.  "Hello, Belle," he murmured.

JenniAnn smiled then turned back to the menu.  "We for sure need to get the
tabbouleh and spanakopita for apps cause they're amazing but are there any others you guys want?"

The two men shook their heads.

"'Kay.  Well, lemme know when you've decided on your meal and then we'll order.  I wonder if I'd like that turmeric ginger chicken wrap?  I like ginger," JenniAnn pondered.

Joshua's head shot up.  He caught Andrew's eye and began wildly shaking his head. 

Andrew looked curiously at Joshua and stepped nearer.

"Allergic to turmeric.  Doesn't know it," Joshua whispered.

Andrew shook his head.  This could be very strange...  He stepped back towards JenniAnn.  "Have you ever had turmeric before?"

"Dunno."

"Maybe avoid that one.  Remember when it turned out that you were allergic to chickory?"

"Good point.  Well, I know I like the grilled veggie wrap with the cucumber yogurt so I'll go with that."

"Shrimp kabob sounds good," Andrew decided.

"It does," Joshua agreed. 

JenniAnn smiled.  "Great!  Anything else?"

"I'm good," Andrew replied.

"Me too."

"Okay, I'll get the order in.  Why don't you find a table?"

Andrew nodded, grabbed the stroller and pulled it after Joshua.  Once they were settled at a table, the angel grinned.  "Good thing you were here to catch the turmeric thing!"

Joshua smiled. 

Andrew pulled his cell phone from his pocket.  "Picture time.  You and Belle."

Joshua propped her up and smiled then kissed Belle's forehead.  "I've been waiting for this."

Andrew sighed.  "I know.  And that exchange back at the office... it was all I could do to not start shouting who you are."

"Thank you for resisting the urge."  Joshua looked back over at the counter where JenniAnn was finishing up.  He saw she was holding three paper cups.  "Drinks.  We forgot.  I'll go help her if you'll take Belle."

"Sure."  Andrew happily took the baby from him and watched as he approached JenniAnn.  Seeing no harm in confiding in Belle, he talked softly to her.  "Now the real test starts, sweetheart.  Pray your uncle here doesn't blow it.  And you... you just keep loving on Joshua, okay?"

Annabelle set her hand on his finger.

Andrew grinned.  "Yeah, pinky promise."

Over at the beverage counter, Joshua was filling two cups with ice while JenniAnn got iced tea for Andrew.  Joshua handed her the second cup which she also filled with iced tea.

"Yay caffeine," she cheered.  "What are you going for?"

"Let's go three for three on the tea."

JenniAnn took his cup and filled it then grabbed some sugar before they headed back to the table.  She paused.  "Oh.  Just so you're not surprised... Andrew and I usually pray before meals... even when we go out.  I know that's sometimes weird for people so just wanted to give you a heads up.  It's not like we're loud and showy about it or anything, though.  It's just... what we do."

"Cool.  I'm Jewish.  Big fan of praying before meals."

JenniAnn smiled.  "So... a Jewish carpenter is playing Jesus?"

Joshua chuckled.  "Shocking, isn't it?"

"Sadly... yes."  JenniAnn wanted to ask him many questions but quietly slid into her chair beside Andrew.  No sooner was she settled than a waiter sat their appetizers down and rushed off as they echoed their thanks after him.

"Andrew, could you please lead grace?" JenniAnn requested.

"Sure."  He waited for her to cross herself then began.  "Dear Lord, please bless this meal and the hands that prepared it.  Bless those of us gathered around this table.  Help us to savor all the blessings you bring to us.  Amen."

"Amen," JenniAnn and Joshua echoed.

"So..."  JenniAnn stirred some sugar into her tea.  "It's not going to be weird for you playing Jesus and being Jewish?  I mean I think it's great but I'm sure it would be hard for many to not believe and yet..."

"I believe Jesus spoke the truth about being the Messiah, about everything he said and taught," Joshua clarified. 

"Oh.  Cool.  So are you, like, part of Jews for Jesus?"  JenniAnn blushed.  "Sorry.  I'm being nosy."

Joshua smiled.  "No, it's a valid question.  But, no, I'm not.  I was born and raised Jewish so I'm Jewish.  I don't belong to any particular denomination.  I just... am what I am."

"That's way cool," JenniAnn gushed.

Andrew reached over to squeeze her hand when he saw how much the response pleased Joshua.

"Thanks.  So you... you're Christian obviously."  Joshua motioned to her cross.

"Yep.  Born and raised Catholic.  Still am just, umm, it's complicated sometimes."

Joshua nodded.  "More than it should be.  I know."  He smiled sympathetically at her.

"Yeah...  So what part of the show are you most looking forward to?"

"Getting to work with so many great people," Joshua answered readily.  "So you're doing the makeup?"

JenniAnn nodded.  She suddenly felt weird about it. 

Joshua reached over to rest his hand on hers.  "We'll get through it together," he promised quietly.

JenniAnn struggled to produce a smile.  "Thanks.  It... it's almost like I've sorta partitioned off the idea that we'll come to that part eventually."

"Not for a while yet," Joshua reassured.  "Andrew, didn't you say you were going to try to rehearse chronologically as much as possible?"

Andrew nodded, patting Belle's back when she begun to fuss quietly.  "I hope to.  Emma agrees.  We talked about it yesterday and we feel like, especially since this has all been such an ordeal, it makes sense to start lighter, let people get comfortable with the show and even more so with each other and then move on through."

"During that first meeting, there was some talk of ensuring there'll be a Resurrection scene," JenniAnn informed.

"I would love that," Joshua replied. 

"Zeke and Shane were very insistent on it so I'm sure we can figure something out that will be meaningful for everyone."  Andrew smiled.  "And much more fulfilling for the audience, I think."

JenniAnn beamed.  "Andrew's an awesome director.  We're all in good hands with him."

"I can tell."  Joshua smiled at Andrew.

The angel blushed.  "Thanks.  And... it looks like our lunch is headed this way."

Joshua turned to JenniAnn.  "Thank you for your generosity in inviting me."

"Thanks for coming!  Oh!  You should come with us tonight.  We're having a get-together at Adrian's Coffeehouse.  You know it?"

"Sure."

"Crazy good desserts.  If you don't have plans then you really should come," JenniAnn invited.  "It'd give you a chance to meet quite a bit more of the cast and crew."

A server set their food down then again rushed off when they'd all extended their thanks.

"So, you think you might come?" JenniAnn asked.

Joshua looked over to Andrew who looked very pleased.  "I'd love to.  Thank you!  What time should I get there?"

"We've reserved the party room starting at 7:00 so any time after that.  I told everyone to just drift in when they can."  JenniAnn clapped quietly.  "It'll be so much fun!  Everyone will be so thrilled to meet you, Joshua!  And..."  She cocked her head and wrinkled her noise.  "Hmm...  I think Miss Belle and I need to step into the ladies' room."

Andrew laughed.  "Yeah, definitely so."  He handed the baby to JenniAnn then unhooked the diaper bag from the stroller.

"Be right back!"

Andrew and Joshua watched them go.  Andrew chuckled and took a bite of his kabob, grinning at Joshua as he chewed.

"What?" Joshua asked.

Andrew shrugged.  "I think give it a week and she'll be asking you to move in with us."

"I don't know about that...  JenniAnn's more protective of Dyeland than that.  I mean the whole Max thing was different."

Andrew did a double take.  "Oh right.  I forgot you wouldn't just, uh, know.  We're moving to Cora's tomorrow.  At least that's the plan.  Vincent offered it and it'll be more convenient so... Laja, Belle, Max, Kemara, Violeta, and me.  Rose sometimes.  At the very least, I'm sure you'll wind up with an open invitation for meals."

Joshua smiled. 

Andrew reached over to squeeze his hand.  "It is something to see, you know.  I... I know she loves you.  And, of course, you love her.  And it's like... on some level... she knows that.  You know she's not usually so easygoing with men her own age... which is what she thinks you are."

"She's not," Joshua admitted. 

"Remember that night after we visited with Chava and then we went to the chapel Below and she was pondering that painting... wishing it looked more like you?"

"Yes."

"I was longing for this day then."

Tears flooded Joshua's eyes.  "I know.  Me too."

Andrew handed him a tissue.  "She's coming back."

Joshua hastily wiped his eyes and smiled up at Belle and JenniAnn.

"Much better!  Now, I'll get her settled into her stroller so we can..."

Belle cried out her disapproval.

"Or not."

"I can hold her," Joshua offered.

"But you need to eat, too," JenniAnn protested.

Joshua shrugged.  "I can eat with one hand."

"If you're sure..."

"Very sure."

"Well, okay.  I haven't really mastered the one-handed eating yet.  Thank you."

Joshua held out his arms and smiled when Belle snuggled into the crook of his left arm.  "Gives her a good view of her mama and uncle, too."

Andrew waved to her and made a funny face.

Joshua saw when JenniAnn glanced over at Andrew, silently telling him how much she loved him.  He smiled, proud of them both and of the tiny girl gazing up at him.

*~*~*

Meeting the Maker

"Okay, so, Jesus is obviously at the top of the Jesusy pyramid."

Max burst out laughing as he moved tables in the party room at Adrian's.  "God love you, Maja.  I have never heard anyone refer to a 'Jesusy pyramid.'"

"Well, I don't know how else to say it!  I just mean that, obviously, Jesus looks the most like Jesus on account of being Jesus.  And then at the bottom you have, say, Victor Garber in Godspell who I love but... really... does not look like Jesus.  Anyhow, this guy... I'm betting he's, like, right below Jesus on the pyramid looks-wise."

Violeta smiled to herself, soaking it all in.  She'd spent the day helping Kemara finish up some work for Catherine and had been thrilled to learn JenniAnn had met Joshua... and been thoroughly impressed.

Swaying, with Belle in his arms, Andrew grinned and shook his head. 

"You don't agree, Andrew?" Kemara asked.

"Oh no.  I agree very much.  Joshua has the perfect look for the part.  Just... yeah, 'Jesusy pyramid' isn't a phrase one expects to hear."

"Enough about what he looks like.  What's he like really?" Owen pressed.

"Very friendly.  Talkative but not..."  JenniAnn considered how to explain it.  "I dunno.  There's a quietness, a peace about him, too.  I feel like I could just sit with him and not talk and have it not be weird.  I don't feel that way with too many people."  She smiled at Andrew.  He was definitely one of the few.

"He's got a great sense of humor," Andrew added.  "And Belle really took to him.  At one point she hooked these tiny claws of hers into his shirt and wouldn't let go."

Kemara smiled.  "And he was okay with that?"

JenniAnn nodded.  "Just smiled and kept holding her."

Andrew kissed the infant's soft wisps of hair.  He was still pondering what exactly that had been about.  He'd wanted to ask Joshua but hadn't had the chance.  He wondered if Belle knew who Joshua was or if, possibly, in his arms the lingering toll of her birth mother's addiction diminished.  Whatever it meant, she'd been a very happy baby all afternoon.  The mood lingered even after they'd parted from Joshua to get ready for the evening's celebration.

"He sounds promising."  Max withdrew his pocket watch.  "Quarter til 7:00.  Hopefully he'll be here soon so we can all meet him but right now I need to go pick up Rose and Aunt Josephine at the portal.  Do any of you know if anyone else was coming from there?"

"Don't think so.  Monica and Arthur are coming from True Light.  The others are coming from, well, wherever their assignments landed them," Andrew explained.

"I hope Joshua won't be overwhelmed," Kemara fretted.  "Coming to a party where everyone else is friends but you're not?"

Andrew squeezed her shoulder.  "Joshua can hold his own.  I wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of the evening, it seems like he's always been here."

Violeta caught her supervisor's gaze and smiled.  "It was like that for me when I first arrived, just before a Halloween party.  And I would have felt really welcome if I hadn't been acting so snooty and everything."

JenniAnn laughed at the memory.  "You were hardly used to humans.  That was understandable.  I'm pretty sure Joshua's as used to us as a thirtysomething man can be."  She turned to Andrew.  "Actually, I dunno how old he is.  Do you?"

Violeta's eyes went wide as she awaited Andrew's response.

"Couldn't tell you."  Andrew smiled.  He'd practiced that one.

"Well, that's just a guess," JenniAnn explained.  "Anyway..."  She peered out the window.  "Oh good, Arthur and Monica are here!  And that looks like Fr. Mike behind em."

Once the three arrived, Owen waved them inside the party room.  "Welcome!  You missed JenniAnn gushing over the latest addition to the Superstar cast.  Spoiler alert: We won't have to spend the next two months listening to her complain about his WASPy attractiveness."

JenniAnn giggled.  "Shut up.  Although you're right."

Arthur laughed.  "Hey, nothing wrong with wanting some authenticity.  So when do we get to meet this guy?  Tomorrow?"

"JenniAnn invited him tonight."  Violeta caught Monica's eye then Fr. Mike's and smiled. 

"I just told him anytime after 7:00."

"Wonderful!" Monica replied easily.  When not with Arthur or his clients, she'd spent most of the day practicing how to seem calm, cool, collected.

"So you like Joshua?" Fr. Mike asked.

JenniAnn nodded effusively then froze.  "Wait... you know Joshua?"

"Oh yeah.  He comes to Mass at St. Mary Magdalene's sometimes.  Old friend," Fr. Mike replied.  Since it seemed likely JenniAnn would, at some point over the next few weeks, get nostalgic and review the Valentine's video and possibly see Joshua's image, he and the priest had determined it best to reveal they were friends.  "He mentioned he'd gotten cast as Jesus and then I got your text about Andrew casting someone as Jesus... obviously the same guy."

"That's so cool!" JenniAnn gushed.  "Well, good!"  She turned to Kemara.  "Even better now!  Joshua will know someone else here."

Kemara approached and hugged the priest in greeting.  "I'm glad to hear that.  And glad to see you.  So... does Joshua look as much like Jesus as JenniAnn's been telling us?"

Fr. Mike peered at Andrew who only smiled back in response.  "Yeah.  I really think he does.  Actually, I've never met anyone who seemed so much like Christ."

Kemara blinked in surprise.  "Wow.  High praise."

"Deserved," Fr. Mike replied, his voice thick with emotion.

JenniAnn looked curiously at him.  Fr. Mike was not an idle flatterer.  Before she could ask more about his friendship with the carpenter; Eli, Henry, and Adam entered the room.

"Andrew, why didn't you fall in with a crowd like this earlier?" Adam shouted when he saw the food spread.  "We could have been eating like this for centuries, not just the last decade and a half."

Henry rolled his eyes.  "Can't take him anywhere."

Kemara laughed.  "All about the food for you, huh, Adam?"

Adam grinned and shook his head.  "No.  It's all about you lovely people.  But the food is a nice perk."

"What he said," Eli agreed, eying the sandwiches, soups, salads, and array of desserts.

Laughing, Violeta glanced out the window.  "Hey, isn't that Catherine and Jacob?  Shelby, too?"

JenniAnn smiled.  "Yeah.  Actually, Andrew and I invited a few more people than we let on."

Andrew stepped closer to the door, knowing Catherine would immediately want to hold her granddaughter.  As soon as Catherine had Belle, Shelby latched onto Andrew's arm.

"Can I come see your play when you're done?" she asked.

Andrew smiled.  "Sure."  He'd talk it over with JenniAnn and Vincent first but given Shelby had already experienced so much in her young life, he felt sure she could handle it.

"Is it fun working on it?"

The angel let out a contented sigh.  "Now it is."

Shelby smiled up at him.  "I'm glad.  And I'm glad that Psyche's coming back to classes soon.  And bringing Belle!  Andrew?"

Andrew knelt down to be level with her.  "Yes, Shel?"

The girl kissed his cheek and hugged him.  "I'm glad you found her."

His eyes misting, Andrew peered into her earnest eyes.  "Me too.  As glad as I was when I first held you." 

Shelby beamed.  "Really?"

"Really.  Now... let's go get you some dinner."

"And dessert?"

Andrew chuckled.  "And dessert."  As they crossed over to the food table, he waved to Tess and Gloria as they entered.  As soon as he'd finished helping Shelby dish up her food, Max returned with Rose and her aunt.  Andrew rushed over to greet them then looked out at the moonlit street in front of the cafe.  There was no sign of Joshua. 

Five minutes later, JenniAnn made her way over to Andrew who was lingering near the door.  "Do you think maybe he decided not to come after all?" she asked.

"He said he'll come, so he'll come," Andrew responded, sure of his words.  "But we were pretty open ended on the time."

"True," JenniAnn admitted.  "And we're still waiting on..."  She glimpsed a newly familiar form stepping through the main restaurant door.  He stepped back and held the door open when he saw an elderly couple approaching the exit. 

Andrew hid a smile when he heard the woman dub Joshua "such a nice young man."

JenniAnn grabbed Andrew's hand and hurried over to Joshua.  "Welcome, Joshua!  So glad you made it!"

"I'm sorry if I'm late."  Joshua smiled sheepishly.  "I sometimes forget how long parking can take."

"Not at all!" JenniAnn assured.  "We're still waiting on a couple people actually.  But we'll start introducing you around.  Oh and Fr. Mike's over there.  He told us you're friends."  She waved to the priest who smiled when he saw Joshua.

Joshua returned the smile and waved to him.  "Yes, I'm so glad to see him here.  Very glad to be here."

For a moment, Andrew thought back to all the other parties when Joshua had hung back, unseen but often sensed and felt.  Now JenniAnn was looking directly at him.  Andrew could feel the curious gazes of some of the others turned to them.  No longer invisible, no longer intangible; Joshua followed JenniAnn's prompting and stepped into the throng.

Andrew and JenniAnn took turns introducing Joshua to their friends.  The former smiled at all the different ways the angels greeted him.  There was "Good evening, Joshua!" and "Lovely to have you here!" and "So pleased you could join us!" but no hint of the usual "Nice to meet you!"  JenniAnn seemed not to notice.  The whole time, Andrew kept sneaking glances at the door.  There was one guest yet to arrive that he'd have to catch before she saw Joshua.  However, there was no sign of her yet.

Once introductions were made, Andrew and JenniAnn set Joshua loose.  He made a beeline to Fr. Mike who had deliberately taken to a quiet corner, knowing Joshua would need to talk.

The priest hugged him.  "How you doing?" he asked.

Joshua nodded, his smile wide but tears in the corner of his eyes.

"A little overwhelming?" Fr. Mike guessed.

Joshua looked out at the assembled friends.  He laughed when he saw Adam and Eli lip-synching to the duet playing over the cafe's sound system.  Kemara and Owen were nearly doubled over laughing. 
"Overwhelmed in a good way.  A really good way." 

"Good.  JenniAnn was singing your praises earlier.  You certainly made an impression.  I knew you would.  Andrew's handling this incredibly well.  Violeta, too.  All of them."

Joshua nodded proudly.  "It's wonderful...  It's all wonderful."  He sighed, steadying himself.  "I feel better.  Just needed a moment.  Now I'd like to...  Tiva, Yakov.  They're here."

Fr. Mike angled around to see the couple entering.  "I thought they might come."  He grinned.  "The rabbi is still gloating, good-naturedly, of course."

Joshua smiled.  "He has reason."  He fondly recalled the man counseling JenniAnn, using scripture to remind her that there was always hope of having a child no matter the circumstances.  How right he had been!

"Let's go say hello."

Joshua followed the priest to near where the Levines stood, Tiva fussing over JenniAnn.

"You're positively glowing, my dear!"  Tiva kissed the younger woman's cheek.  "Motherhood suits you!"

The rabbi puffed up, his smile stretched across his face.  "Always knew it would.  Told her so."

JenniAnn blushed.  "I stand corrected.  Adorably, perfectly corrected."  She gazed over to where Tess had gotten hold of Annabelle and was crooning to her.

"And you..."  Tiva set her hand on Andrew's cheek.  "She could have no one better at her side."

Andrew blushed and hugged the woman.  "I'm blessed to have the spot."  When Tiva released him, he reached for JenniAnn's hand.  It was then he saw Joshua and Fr. Mike.  "Tiva, Rabbi, there's someone I'd love for you to meet."

"Shalom, Fr. Mike!" Yakov greeted, spotting the priest headed his way.

"Shalom, Rabbi!" Fr. Mike replied, reaching for his hand.

"And who is your friend?" Tiva asked, her gaze traversing over the three men and JenniAnn who was slyly glancing at the stranger.

Andrew beamed at Joshua then looked back to the couple.  "This is Joshua Davidson.  Joshua, this is Rabbi Yakov Levine from Beth El Synagogue and his wife, Tiva."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Davidson."  Tiva held out her hand.

Joshua warmly shook it.  "Joshua, please.  Or Josh."

The rabbi looked curiously at him.  "You look very familiar to me, young man."

Fr. Mike bowed his head, stifling a chuckle.

Joshua took his proffered hand.  "I've attended Shabbat at Beth El a couple of times since I moved here at the end of December.  Perhaps you saw me there?"

"Yes!"  Yakov's eyes lit up.  "So you are Jewish?"

"I am, yes."

"And Joshua will be playing Jesus in the production of Superstar a bunch of us are helping with," JenniAnn explained proudly.

Surprise registered on both the Levines' faces then Yakov laughed.

"Well, I'll be..."  He smiled at Andrew.  "Someone actually hired a Jew to play Jesus!  Remarkable!  Somehow it doesn't surprise me that it was you."

Andrew returned the smile.  "Joshua is right for the part for many reasons.  But I can't take full credit."  He glanced over at Joshua proudly.  "He made quite an impression on Zeke, the man playing Judas.  And my assistant director agreed with the decision to cast him."

Joshua bowed his head, knowing Emma had only agreed with some reluctance. 

Fearing her husband might have embarrassed the man, Tiva set a gentle hand on his arm.  "I'm sure you will bring many wonderful qualities to the role, Joshua.  I think I'll actually want to come see this one."

Joshua smiled at her.  "I hope you will.  Both of you."

Noting the love on Joshua's face, Andrew turned back to the Levines.  "Actually, Joshua and I visited about how, with our production, we'd like to really make note of the fact that Jesus was Jewish.  JenniAnn and I have discussed it, too."

JenniAnn's face flushed.  "I... I do love the show and the music but it has always bothered me that so often they have Caiaphas and Annas in more or less authentic, religious dress and then Jesus and Co. really have nothing tying them to Judaism.  Bad things happen when... when people get the wrong ideas."

Andrew kissed her hair, knowing she was thinking of all those nights listening to Chava.  He saw that Joshua looked pained and, once again, his hands were clasped behind his back.  Andrew embraced JenniAnn for them both.  "They do," he agreed.  "So... actually, since we have the three of you together...  We'd love to have advisers from both the Jewish and Christian traditions.  Fr. Mike, Zeke is a deacon with a Baptist church and weighing in as he sees fit, but do you think you could be our Catholic adviser?"

The priest grinned.  He'd already determined he was going to crash as many rehearsals as possible but having an excuse to be there was even better!  "I'd love to and I'd be honored."

Joshua smiled at him.

"Great.  Glad to hear it."  Andrew turned to Tiva and Yakov.  "Would either or both of you be interested in advising us on matters concerning Jewish faith and practice?"

The couple considered each other for a moment.  Tiva looked back to Andrew first.  "I have always adored the theatre.  I can't say this is a show I ever saw myself being involved in but... your plans intrigue me.  I'm not sure what I can offer, though.  I'm not the scholar my husband is."

JenniAnn reached for her hand.  "But you live your life in accordance with your beliefs, Tiva, touching those around you with your great faith.  And... and... you could help us with... with planning the burial scene.  I... I mean if we're doing that."

Andrew and Fr. Mike stared at Joshua.

"I think we should.  If Andrew and Emma agree," Joshua opined quietly.

Andrew nodded assent.

"I... I remember some of what we did with Chava but..."

Tiva smiled sadly.  She doubted JenniAnn remembered much at all.  She had been in such a daze.  If they were determined to have such a scene, Tiva was determined to not leave JenniAnn to plan it.  The girl would, after all, be planning a fictional burial for her God.  "I will be there," Tiva agreed.

JenniAnn hugged her.  "Thank you."

"You just call when you're ready to have me come."

Rabbi Yakov nodded his agreement.  "Same here.  But now... no more talk of burials, staged or otherwise.  Tonight is about life!  As my Southern and Midwestern brethren say...  L'chaim, ya'll!"

Joshua chuckled. 

The rabbi took both of Joshua's hands in his.  "Joshua, I will look forward to making better acquaintance with you.  You have found yourself in a fine group of people."

"Thank you.  And they most assuredly are.  I look forward to spending more time with you."  Joshua took Tiva's hands.  "And with you, as well.  Thank you both for your willingness to help us."

"You're very welcome.  It'll be nice to spend more time with Andrew and JenniAnn and all their friends.  Will Belle be joining you at rehearsals?" the woman asked pointedly.

JenniAnn laughed.  "Yes, as much as possible." 

"Good.  Well, I'm going to go attempt to steal your baby from Tess." 

Andrew chuckled.  "Good luck with that!" he called as Tiva went in pursuit of Belle.

Rabbi Yakov smiled and shook his head.  "She spends all day with our grandbaby and yet...  Always with the babies.  Still... I wouldn't mind some time with the little one myself."  He turned to Fr. Mike.  "Good to see you again.  I'll look forward to advising with you, my friend."

Fr. Mike smiled and nodded.  "Most definitely."

Yakov shook Joshua's hand again.  "I hope to see you at Beth El as your schedule allows."

"You will," Joshua promised. 

"Excellent."  The rabbi smiled and then embraced Andrew and JenniAnn together.  "So thrilled to have this occasion for celebration."

Andrew beamed.  "Thank you, Rabbi."

"Thank you very much," JenniAnn echoed.  She waved as he hurried off after Tiva.

"They're a lovely couple," Joshua remarked.

"They are," Andrew agreed.  He smiled after them then at Fr. Mike.  "And now we have our advising team!"

"You do.  And I'm thrilled to be on it.  Maybe..."

The priest was interrupted when Violeta came rushing up.  "Hey, where did you two stash the diaper bag?"

"Oh!  I left it in the coatroom.  Let me go grab it."  JenniAnn smiled at Fr. Mike and Joshua.  "Hope to talk more later!"

The two men waved as she dashed away.

Andrew chuckled.  "I better go, too.  My turn for diaper duty." 

Violeta grinned and left with him.

"So... back into the fray?" Fr. Mike suggested.

Joshua smiled, feeling more at ease.  "Definitely." 

Beaming, Fr. Mike mingled back into the crowd with Joshua.

After a few minutes, Max approached with Rose beside him.  "So, Joshua, you still thinking that stage'll be good to go tomorrow afternoon?"

Joshua smiled, glad that Max was so excited to resume rehearsals.  "Definitely.  So you're playing Simon?"

Max nodded.  "Yeah."  He smirked.  "So sorry about when I have to scream-sing at you and say all that junk.  In reality... war's hell."

Knowing Joshua would be okay with the two, Fr. Mike slipped away.

"It is."  Joshua smiled tenderly at the veteran.  "Andrew mentioned you served together.  Afghanistan?"

"Yeah."  Max looked over his shoulder to where Andrew was greeting a newcomer.  "Owe my life to Andrew."

"Max got a purple heart," Rose informed proudly as her boyfriend blushed.

Joshua set a hand on the man's shoulder.  "Thank you for your service, Max."  He turned to Rose.  "And yours.  Loved ones serve, too, in their own way."

The young woman's eyes welled.  "Thank you.  But we weren't together until after..."

Joshua squeezed her hand.  "Sometimes it's the after that's the most difficult.  Bless you both."

"Thank you," Max and Rose murmured together, touched by the recognition and the honesty.  There were few people they told about Max's occasional nightmares and bad days.  They knew Andrew and JenniAnn would never betray their confidence and Aunt Josephine had had no opportunity to speak to Joshua alone.  Yet they both saw in Joshua's eyes something beyond casual understanding. 

Joshua flashed a smile to reassure them.  "I'm really looking forward to spending time with you both at rehearsals.  I hear you're both Harry Potter fans.  Maybe we can talk about that sometime.  I enjoyed the books and movies."

The couple brightened.  "That'd be really cool!" Max enthused.  "Who's your favorite character?"

"I'd have to say a tie between the Boy Who Lived himself and Dumbledore.  I never could decide who had the greater struggle.  It can't be easy to risk the life of a child one loves."  Joshua pondered the question further.  "But then I've always had a soft spot for Snape.  The Weasleys...  Hermione.  She reminds me of a girl I once knew."

Rose laughed.  "So are you saying you can't really pick a favorite?"

Joshua grinned.  "Yeah, I am.  So how about you two?"

As Max and Rose made fast friends with Joshua, Andrew remained near the door.  Kelly stood next to him, one of her hands pressed against her temple.

"So, I just want to make absolutely sure I'm not confused.  It's been a long day at the hospital and maybe I just misconstrued some things.  You're telling me that Yeshua is down here and..."  Kelly went silent when a familiar laugh met her ears.  "He... he is here."

Andrew nodded.  "He is.  He's going by Joshua Davidson and he is... well, you know when you visited us last week and I told you I was helping out with a production of Jesus Christ Superstar?"

"Yes..."

"The actor playing Jesus bailed so we had to recast and... we hired Joshua yesterday.  He'd come to fix the stage but... well, of course he's perfect for the role!"

Kelly blinked.  "I'm sorry but did you just say that you hired Ye... Joshua to... to play himself?"

Back near Rose and Max, Joshua noticed the intense conversation at the door.  He smiled at the young couple.  "Hey, sorry, but I need to check with Andrew about something.  Maybe we can shelve the great Harry-Hermione-Ron debate until later?"

Rose laughed.  "Sure."

"All about Ron!" Max opined with a grin.  "See you later, Josh."

"Definitely."  Joshua waved to them then hastened to Andrew and Kelly.  "Hi, Kelly," he greeted, clasping one of her hands in both of his.  "I didn't realize you'd be here."  He looked to Andrew.  "I'm gathering that this isn't really some sort of 'last night of freedom before rehearsals' thing."

Andrew smiled.  "Yeah... we kinda let on like it was.  Really JenniAnn and I just wanted to have a party to thank people for their support with Annabelle but then JenniAnn invited you and, well... it's not like you don't fit under the banner of 'people who helped us with our Belle.'  I... I really wanted you to be here as soon as we started planning a couple weeks ago but... I didn't know how it would work out timing-wise.  And then if I invited you myself... how to explain that to JenniAnn?  Thankfully, she did it herself.  So..."  He turned back to Kelly.  "That's why I didn't have a chance to warn you.  I sent you a text asking you to call but..."

Kelly frowned.  "I lost my phone.  I think it's just at my office but I didn't have a spare moment to leave and check."  She turned back to Joshua.  "So... you're really doing this show?"

"Yes.  Kelly, it's bigger than the show... and it's important to me."

Kelly managed a smile.  "I... I don't mean to seem like I'm second-guessing you but... it was hard enough the first time."

Joshua hugged her.  "I know."  He held her for a moment, knowing that his death would always carry a poignancy for her beyond what it did for most angels.  She knew what it was to lose a son. 

"Your ways... they are mysterious," Kelly noted with forced cheer.  She sighed and pulled away.  "I don't want to ruin your cover."

"You're a social worker.  We could have met in countless ways.  If anyone says anything, just say I helped you with a few cases."

"More than a few..."

Joshua smiled.  "So you okay?  I'm sorry for the shock.  I was going to come visit you and tell you but..."  He looked back over to where JenniAnn had joined Kemara and Owen in taking in the comic stylings of Adam and Eli.  "I thought I had more time."

"Me too," Andrew reiterated.

Joshua chuckled.  "It's kind of fun not knowing what's coming." 

Kelly shook off the remainder of her shock.  "It's okay.  Really.  And I'm okay.  How could I not be?"  She smiled, now convincingly, at Joshua.  "You're here."  She turned to Andrew.  "And we're celebrating your little girl.  Everything's great.  Oh and Portia will be here soon.  I saw her as I was leaving the hospital.  She said she was just wrapping up..."

"I'm here!"  The doctor ran into the room.  She greeted Andrew and Kelly with a hug then looked curiously at Joshua.  "Hi.  My name is Portia."

Joshua shook her hand.  "Joshua Davidson."

"Oh!  Jesus!"

Joshua smiled. 

Portia laughed.  "Sorry.  That came out funny.   My friend Owen mentioned that Andrew had hired you to play Jesus.  Well, welcome!  Now, if you'll excuse me, I haven't eaten since noon so that food is calling out my name."

"Better go answer then," Andrew teased.

Portia smiled at him then hurried off.

"Sweet girl.  I've really gotten to know her more since..."  Kelly turned to Joshua.  "Have you gotten to hold Belle yet?"

"Through most of lunch," Joshua replied happily. 

"Good!  Well, have you eaten dinner?"

"Not yet."

"Let's go grab something then."

Andrew waved them towards the table.  "That's what it's there for."

JenniAnn approached with Belle, somehow having managed to get her back from her admirers.  "Is Kelly okay?  She looked a little flustered.  And does she know Joshua?"

Andrew nodded.  "Yes to both.  It was a long day for Kel but she's fine and Joshua's helped her with a few cases."

"Ah, okay.  Well, after they get their food, how about we do our thing?  I think everyone's here now."

Andrew smiled.  "Sure."

They waited for Portia, Kelly, and Joshua to find seats then made their way towards the front of the room.  Seeing them, Adam tapped on his glass.  The group quieted.

"Hi everyone," JenniAnn greeted.  "First of all, Andrew's and my apologies to those we got here under false pretenses.  This isn't really a 'pre-Superstar last hurrah before our evenings are taken over' party.  Actually... Andrew and I just wanted to get as many of you together as we could to... to thank you for... for all your generosity and your support a-and love during this..."  She turned to Andrew and shook her head before beginning to cry.

Andrew hugged her and took up the speech.  "You've all been amazingly and wonderfully helpful since Belle came into our lives.  From the gifts to the advice to getting us coffee or babysitting for a couple hours and just being a part of this group... this family that we're so proud to be raising Belle in... thank you.  Eat, drink, enjoy!  We love you."

Their guests clapped and shouted their love back then Andrew and JenniAnn made the rounds, visiting with each guest and thanking them specifically.  They came to where Fr. Mike, Kelly, and Joshua were sitting together.

JenniAnn hugged the priest first.  "Thank you, Fr. Mike, for the rosary for Belle and the book for Shelby but also all your counsel about Belle's baptism.  I'm really looking forward to that next month and...  Oh!  And for bringing that gorgeous carving from your..." 

Andrew knew exactly where her mind had gone... and to who.

JenniAnn twisted around in her chair to face Joshua.  "You're the friend.  You... you made that.  The couple with the baby and the white butterfly."

Joshua bowed his head for a moment, unable to bear her piercing gaze.  She wanted an explanation and he couldn't give it to her yet.  He hadn't expected JenniAnn to make that connection until she knew who he was.  "Yes, I did.  Fr. Mike told me a little of your story and I... I was so touched that I wanted to do something."

"How... how did you know about the white butterfly?" JenniAnn implored, fresh tears welling in her eyes.

Fr. Mike and Kelly both stole glances at Joshua.  Andrew kissed the top of Belle's head and stared down at the table.

"It just... it seemed right to include it," Joshua tried.  He smiled at her.  "I'm glad you liked it."

Blushing when she realized how maniacal she'd probably looked, JenniAnn shyly reached out for his hand.  "I do love it.  Truly.  We have it on Belle's dresser where we see it all the time.  Th-thank you."

Joshua squeezed her hand.  "You're very welcome.  You have a beautiful family."

"Thank you," Andrew replied.

JenniAnn peered for a moment longer at Joshua then turned to Kelly, eager for a change of subject.  "And the book... I've loved curling up with Belle and Stellaluna."

Kelly smiled and began peppering JenniAnn with questions about Belle.

While JenniAnn was distracted, Andrew looked back over at Joshua and mouthed the words he knew the woman would have if only she knew.  "I love you."

Joshua smiled and silently said them back.

*~*~*

"So, Joshua, you from around these parts?" Arthur asked in between bites of cheesecake.

Monica looked over to Joshua, wondering how he'd answer.

"I'm from... well, everywhere."  Joshua laughed casually.  "I move around a lot."

Arthur looked up at him in alarm.  "I hope you're staying here for a while.  I don't think they can handle another disappearing Jesus."

"They won't have to.  I'm here for the long haul.  Through Easter, maybe past that," Joshua assured.  "So where are you from?"

"Transplant from Colorado.  But I move around a lot, too.  I work with the True Light organization and sometimes I go out on their disaster response missions.  When I'm not doing that, I head up one of their men's homeless shelters here."

"True Light...  I follow their work.  It's wonderful what you all do.  Truly wonderful."

Arthur blushed.  It wasn't that he didn't hear such words often.  Most people responded in like terms when he told them what he did.  Somehow the praise seemed different coming from Joshua.  Like he truly knew and wasn't just giving lip service.  "Thank you, Josh... Joshua."

Joshua smiled.  "Josh, Joshua.  Either one's fine.  Whichever you're most comfortable with."

Arthur grinned.  "Cool.  Thanks, Josh.  I know some people are touchy about nicknames."  He leaned closer.  "Whatever you do, don't call Andrew Andy."

Joshua chuckled.  "Noted, thanks."

Monica smirked.  "As if you handle it any better when someone calls you Art."

"Art is a subject in school or something hanging in a museum.  I am a person.  Besides, no one wants to hear stories about 'King Art and the Round Table.'  Arthur's a royal name!  A majestic name!  Art's just... not."

Monica giggled.  "And you view yourself as royal and majestic?" she teased.

His right eye brow arched upwards, Joshua looked on with a wicked smile as he awaited Arthur's retort.

"Only when in your presence and improved by your most heavenly aura, milady."

Joshua burst out laughing when he saw that Arthur's flattery and crooked smile had left the angel speechless. 

Finally, Monica smiled.  "Good response."

"I thought so."

Joshua smiled tenderly at them both while they smiled at each other.  When their gazes drifted apart, he devoted his attention to Monica.  "So, Monica, what do you do for a living?"

Her eyes twinkled when she smiled at him.  "Ah, I have a wonderful job.  Sort of... counseling and nursing and teaching and more all wrapped up into one job.  I have a lovely Boss.  He's a joy to work for."

"He... he must really appreciate your devotion and hard work," Joshua replied, feeling his cheeks flush.

"Seems so.  He's very good to me.  To all of us."

Arthur hugged her then turned back to Joshua.  "Lately He's been giving Monica some extra time to help me out at the shelter.  It's meant a lot to have her near.  I hope to meet Him some day and thank Him."

Joshua looked at him with a gentle smile.  "I'm sure that would mean a lot to him, Arthur."

"Hope so.  Hey, if you don't mind, and as our schedules mesh, I'd love to shadow you with the carpentry stuff when you're up for it.  I'm fairly handy but always pays to know more in my line of work."

"I'd really love that!" Joshua enthused.  "Never really did get used to working jobs alone."

"You used to have a partner, I take it?"

"My Abi.  My dad," he clarified upon seeing Arthur's confusion.  "He taught me the trade.  He's a very skilled carpenter and stonemason."

"Well, from Andrew's report, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Joshua beamed, winking at Monica when Arthur looked down to stab a cherry.  Once she'd smiled back, he noticed movement past her shoulder.  Owen was outside.  He was on the phone and looked agitated. 

Seeing the look of concern on his face, Monica twisted around and saw the young man.  She frowned and turned back to Joshua, comforted by his resolute gaze.

"I think I'm going to step outside to get a little fresh air," he informed.  "I hope we'll have the chance to talk more later.  Arthur, let's be sure to take a look at our schedules."

Arthur smiled brightly.  "Great!  Thanks again, Josh."

"Thanks for asking!  Monica, I heard you're a coffee fan.  Those mocha chip brownies over there are heavenly.  You should try them."  Joshua grinned then headed to the door.

"Wow...  He has you pegged!" Arthur remarked.

Monica only smiled and shrugged her shoulders. 

*~*~*

Owen paced along the front of the building as he listened to his cousin.  "So... so what does that mean?  Well, how long do they think she'll be there?  Do you think I could...  Oh.  No, I understand.  Of course they are...  Just... just please tell her I... I love her and I'm praying for her a-and I know they'll... they'll get her fixed right up.  Thank you.  Love you, too, Shannon.  Bye."

Owen shoved the phone into his coat pocket and looked up at the stars.  He closed his eyes and prayed then turned to head back inside.  Not paying attention to where he was going, he bumped into someone.  "Sorry!  I...  Oh.  Hey.  Sorry, Joshua."

Joshua shrugged.  "No big deal.  Everything okay?  I stepped outside for some air and couldn't help but overhear..."

"That was one of my cousins.  My grandma fell and broke her hip earlier."

Joshua grimaced.  He hadn't been able to see Olivia earlier because of work at the theatre.

"She... she's doing well.  Surgeon's optimistic.  Still... kind of scary."  Owen paused, wondering why he'd revealed so much and why the stranger looked so stricken.

Joshua nodded, relieved to know the woman was in good hands and with a good prognosis.  "It's hard when loved ones are unwell or hurt.  Is there anything I can do?  Do you need a ride to..."

"No.  My parents are with her at the hospital."

Joshua looked down to the sidewalk, hiding his anger.  He knew what Owen couldn't and wouldn't say.  He'd been banned from visiting his grandma.

"They'll see to whatever she needs," Owen hurriedly added.  "Thank you, though."  He forced a smile, ready to change the subject.  "So Andrew and Psy... JenniAnn are pretty psyched about you.  Done much acting?"

"Not really.  But they seem to think I can pull it off."  Joshua smiled.  "How about you?"

"Some.  JenniAnn and I have this, uh, group we belong to.  They put on shows sometimes and I'll take a part on occasion.  But the sets are my first love when it comes to plays."

"So is that what you do for a living?  Paint?"

"I do art shows sometimes and have sold a few pieces but mostly I paint for family and friends.  And I teach art."  Owen's face lit up.  "I really love that.  Kids aren't as critical of themselves as grown-up artists often are.  There's more joy in it for them."

"It's a shame that joy of simply creating gets lost for so many," Joshua opined.  He took a seat on a nearby bench, hoping Owen would join him.  He smiled to himself when he did.  "So what's your favorite thing you ever painted?"

"Haven't painted it yet."

"Oh?"

"You might think I'm just saying this because of, well, your gig but... but it happened.  When I was a teenager, I had this dream.  I..."  Owen cut himself off.  Why would he tell this virtual stranger about something so personal?  It was one thing to tell his friends but he didn't know Joshua beyond the exchange of pleasantries.

Joshua waited patiently, giving Owen time to decide whether to confide in him or not.  He knew what dream he meant and he knew how guarded Owen could be about his faith.  He smiled gently when Owen cleared his throat.

The smile settled the matter for Owen.  "Sorry.  Just lost my train of thought.  So in this dream, I saw Jesus walking up this hill.  He got to the top and outstretched His arms and all these colors... they came from Him.  And they were alive... and they gave life and they were radiant and... so beautiful.  I've tried so many times to capture that but... no such luck."

Joshua looked kindly at him, remembering the hill, the colors, and Owen.  "Sounds like you received a vision, Owen."

Owen scoffed.  "No..."

"Why not?"

"I don't think God would give me a vision like that."

Joshua gripped the arm of the bench to keep himself from reaching for Owen.  He longed to tell him that he wanted to give him everything.  Instead, he only smiled.  "You're His son, aren't you?"

Owen looked to Joshua with surprise.  "Umm...  Prodigal one, at best."

Joshua's smile stretched into a grin.  "Seems to me God has a soft spot for the prodigals.  I think someone told a story about that once..."

Owen laughed.  "I'm not going to argue with 'Jesus.'  Good point.  Yeah, maybe."  He sighed and stood up.  "Well, better head back inside before JenniAnn starts to worry.  Love the girl but she's been a little high-strung... more than usual... since Belle came along.  Gone into full-blown mom mode.  Earlier in the week I went out with some friends and she actually made me call her just so she'd know I got home all right.  Although, to be honest with you, I didn't really mind.  It was kind of nice to have a mom concerned about me.  My own doesn't even know where I..."   He blinked.  What was the deal with this dude that he had him spilling his guts?  He shook his head.  At least he hadn't said too much.

Joshua rose, too.  "I'm sure it's just an adjustment for JenniAnn.  And... it is nice to know someone's thinking of you, praying for your safe return.  I'm glad you have that, Owen."  Before they stepped inside, he set his hand on the young man's forearm.  "I'll pray for your grandma.  I'm sure she'll come out of that surgery dancing."  And he knew Olivia, strong and determined as she was, would.

Owen smiled.  "Thanks.  I really appreciate that, Joshua.  I hope so.  And... thanks for listening to me ramble."

"My pleasure.  I love a good ramble."

The two re-entering the party room caught the attention of Fr. Mike who approached with Kemara tentatively following him.

"Still decent out there?" the priest asked.

Owen nodded.  "Yes.  Thank God.  I know winter's not over but this reprieve has been nice."  He smiled at the woman.  "Kemara, have you had much of a chance to visit with Joshua?"

A bit flustered, Kemara stepped forward.  "Just a little when Andrew and JenniAnn introduced us.  Hi again, Joshua."

"Hi, Kemara," Joshua greeted.  He looked to her with a small smile, knowing he needed to tread lightly and calmly.  Banter with him... a supposed stranger... would be hard for her.  Common ground was a good place to start.  "So chorus and putting together the poster for the show, right?" he checked.

Kemara nodded. 

"I'm excited to see what you come up with for the poster.  I'm sure it'll be great.  And I'm really looking forward to sharing the stage with you... and everyone," he added to avoid alarming her.  "Andrew tells me you're a dancer." 

"Oh... yeah.  But not like...  I do Irish step dancing.  So I'm not sure it'll really help me too much with what Emma has planned."

"You have a dancer's spirit.  Might help you more than you realize."  Joshua smiled reassuringly.

"I hope you're right."  Kemara managed a smile of her own then after looking into Joshua's eyes, quickly turned her gaze towards the window.

Fr. Mike noticed Joshua's smile waver for a moment.  "Joshua, Kemara's also one of our parishioners at St. Mary Magdalene's," he added, hoping to ease conversation along.

"That's great.  Maybe I'll see you at Mass tomorrow, Kemara?" Joshua asked hopefully.

Turning back to him, Kemara nodded.  "I plan to be there.  I think JenniAnn is planning to come, too.  Which must mean Andrew is.  He drives us," she explained.

"Maybe I'll tag along," Owen suggested.  He found himself liking this Joshua fellow.  Smiling to himself, he admitted that he also just liked the idea of being able to joke about going to Mass with 'Jesus'.

Kemara smiled at Owen, glad he would be coming.  "That would be really nice."  She turned back to Joshua.  "So I guess we'll see you then, Joshua.  But right now I need to go talk to Violeta about... something."  She didn't want to be rude but lengthy conversations with people she didn't know had never been easy for her.  She was anxious to be back among only those she'd gotten to know over the past several months.

"I'll look forward to it," Joshua replied with a friendly smile. 

Kemara nodded then walked away.  Owen waved adieu then followed her.

As he watched them retreat, Joshua reached up to rub at his temple but Fr. Mike grabbed his wrist. 

"I promised your mom," the priest whispered.

Chuckling at the reminder, Joshua nodded.  "Oops."

Fr. Mike smiled at him then sighed as they both watched Kemara and Owen make their way towards the back of the room.

*~*~*

"So what do you think?" Owen whispered, grabbing a brownie as they passed the food table.

"He seems nice."

"I think so.  Better than that Eric for sure."

Kemara laughed as Owen stuffed the brownie in his mouth then pantomimed Eric's fateful spin.  "Definitely that.  There's something about him, though..."

"I got that, too.  Something... deep.  Well, he's a carpenter.  And Andrew says he plays the guitar.  And obviously he sings.  So... Joshua is an artiste.  We artistes are generally very deep.  Unfathomable..."  Owen grinned when Kemara rolled her eyes.  "I do like him, though," he added seriously.

Kemara stole a glance back over to where Joshua was chatting with Fr. Mike and Henry.  In spite of her wariness, she found herself agreeing with Owen's conclusion.  "Me too." 

They made their way to a table where Jacob and Shelby were coloring.  Violeta was crouched between them, intent on finishing her own drawing.

"So what's everyone drawing?" Owen asked.

Jacob proudly held up a depiction of his grandpa which was stunningly good for a little boy.

"Father.  Awesome!  Looks just like him," Owen complimented.  "And Shelby has..."

"Elsa from Frozen," she replied without breaking focus.

Kemara smiled.  "Still your favorite movie?"

"Yep."

"Good job!  Very pretty."  Owen's gaze traveled to the angel.  "And Violeta is drawing...  Wow.  I didn't know you could draw so well.  Interesting eyes.  Eyes can be really hard to capture."

Kemara was taken aback by the drawing.  Violeta's lion had human eyes.  "Why did you decide to draw that?" she asked.

Violeta shrugged.  "Just made me happy to draw it.  I like lions.  And ducks.  And dogs.  Oh and unicorns."

"Yes.  I... I remember from the summer.  With the hair sticks."

Violeta smiled.  "Yeah."  She reached up to finger the familiar ornament in her hair.  "So did you talk to Joshua much?"

Owen nodded.  "Actually, we had a really nice chat outside.  I mean it wasn't very long but... cool guy."

Violeta's smile grew.  "Good!  How about you Kemara?"

"Oh, a little bit just now.  You know how I am...  It's a little hard with having just met him.  But I'm sure it'll get easier.  It did with all of you."  She smiled and sat down across from Violeta.  "The drawing's really beautiful."

Violeta signed her name in the corner then handed it to Kemara.  "You can have it."

"Well, thank you!"

"Sure.  And I do think it will get easier with Joshua.  Ya never know when a stranger may turn out to be the best friend you ever had."

"True... that's true," Kemara agreed.

Violeta flashed another smile then stood up.  "Time for more coffee.  Or tea...  No, coffee."

Owen smirked.  "You've been spending too much time around Psyche, you know."

Kemara grinned.  "Then maybe I have been, too.  Or Monica.  Or both.  Because I'm also getting some."

"Well, if you both are..."  Owen headed after them.

"Cocoa?" Shelby called with a smile.

"Cocoa!" Jacob echoed.

Owen smiled.  "Sure.  And the cycle begins anew..."

*~*~*

By 9:30, the party room had mostly emptied out.  Annabelle was sleeping peacefully in her mother's arms but Andrew wanted to get her home and settled into her cradle before it got too late.

"Well, we better head home.  Get Belle to bed," he announced to the few stragglers who included Adam, Eli, Henry, and Joshua along with Violeta and Kemara who were riding back to Dyeland in the Jolly Green.

JenniAnn nodded reluctantly.  "Yes, I spose you're right."

"I'll go get the van warmed up and bring it around front," Andrew offered.  He hugged each of the angels of death and, after deciding it wouldn't appear too strange, hugged Joshua, too.  "See you guys tomorrow."

"I'll be there in my best high priestly form," Eli promised. 

"And I'll be there in second best high priestly form," Henry added.

Andrew chuckled.  "Counting on it.  Have a good night!"  He slung Belle's diaper bag over his shoulder then headed out.

"It was a wonderful night," JenniAnn mused.  "Thank you all for coming.  Adrian said no one else will be needing this room for the night so feel free to linger and close the place down if you boys want."  She smiled, glad that Joshua seemed to have hit it off with the angels of death.  After Violeta took Belle, she hugged the three angels then shook Joshua's hand.  "I'm so pleased you came.  And I hear we might see you at Mass tomorrow?"

"Yes, I'll be there.  10:30 Mass, right?"

"Right."

Joshua placed his other hand over hers.  "Thank you, JenniAnn, for inviting me.  I had a really wonderful time.  Truly."

JenniAnn felt a pang in her chest when she noticed the man's eyes were glistening.  She figured he must be lonely and unused to getting invitations.  "I... I'm so glad.  G'night, Joshua."

"Good night."

Kemara stepped in front of the four and smiled.  "Good night.  I'll see you tomorrow morning, Joshua, and the rest of you at rehearsal!"

Adam smiled.  "Can't wait."

Joshua waved.  "Good night, Kemara."

Violeta approached last, handing over Belle so JenniAnn could get her into her coat.  "So tomorrow afternoon... first rehearsal with all of us!"  She enthusiastically hugged her three fellow angels and then, seeing that JenniAnn and Kemara were focused on Belle, pecked Joshua on the cheek.  "I love you," she whispered.

"I love you, too."  Joshua brushed some flyaway hair behind her ear then, after being rewarded with a smile, watched her dash over to JenniAnn, Belle, and Kemara. 

After waving back to the four guys, the three women and the baby exited the cafe.

Joshua let out a sigh.

Adam clapped him on the back.  "Well, we did it, Boss!  No one cracked up.  No one blew your cover.  And... you're a hit."

Henry grinned.  "I feel much better now.  I was worried I'd say something wrong but now I feel more confident."

"How do you feel?" Eli asked.

Joshua emptied the last of his iced tea then beamed at them.  "Really, really good.  I... I missed them.  But now... I feel good."

"And just think, starting tomorrow through the end of the show, there won't be a day that goes by that you won't see at least some of them," Henry encouraged.

"I know."  Joshua stood and stretched.  "Anyone up for a late night stroll?"

"Definitely," Adam agreed.

"I need to walk off all that food."  Henry stood and began pulling on his coat with Eli following suit.

The four exited the restaurant together and headed out into the night.  They strolled along until after midnight, talking about the show and about the times on which it was based.  When, finally, they returned to Joshua's car, the three angels felt buoyed by the time with him and less troubled by their own parts in the show.

Once back in his apartment, Joshua stood near his window and peered up at the sky.  He willed his love to his Father and to all creation.  Then, wearied, he fell into bed.  In the last few moments of wakefulness, he smiled as he recalled the day that had passed.  He loved them all so much and couldn't wait to be with them again.

*~*~*

The Cry Room

Sunday, March 2nd


Andrew woke to the sound of JenniAnn padding around her room.  Before leaving the nursery, he checked on Belle.  She was sleeping soundly in her cradle, one fist tucked under her chin.  He smiled, wondering what she was contemplating.  Though still drowsy, he ambled over to the door adjoining the two rooms. 

JenniAnn looked up from the pile of clothes on her bed and smiled.  She dropped the sweater she was holding and went to him.  "G'morning."

The angel pulled her into his embrace.  "Good morning.  Already packing for Cora's?"

"Uh huh.  I just figured since the introduction to Joshua went so well... and Zeke and Emma were there when he auditioned...  That only leaves Diana, Kylie, Shane, Peter, Caleb, and Edward to meet him.  And I can't imagine any disastrous personality conflicts there.  So... the show's good to go and, thus, we might as well make the move.  I thought maybe you, me, and Belle could go tonight.  We could get things in order.  Have Max, Kemara, and Violeta join us tomorrow?"

Andrew nuzzled her hair, touched that she was so confident.  "Yeah.  Let's do that."

JenniAnn peered up at him.  "You should go lay back down.  You still seem kinda tired.  Is... I mean... you have since the whole aging thing..."

Andrew chuckled.  "Laja, I've been co-parenting an infant the whole time."  He kissed her forehead.  "Trust me.  I'm not wearing down so quickly.  I just feel what any human thirty five year old would feel after caring for a newborn which is very happy and very grateful but tired.  Don't you feel more worn down at times?"

JenniAnn smiled.  "Yes...  Okay.  Point taken.  It is curious, though...  What happened that made your age go down from thirty six in September to thirty five now?"

"Everyone looks younger when they're happy, Laja.  And I have been happy.  After all, I knew some very goods things were headed our way."

"Your vision of Belle...  Ah and you knew about this assignment."

"Yes to both."  Andrew smiled.  She didn't even know the best part of the assignment yet.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Are you... worried at all?"

"About what?"

"I dunno...  Flashbacks, I guess."  JenniAnn turned back to her packing but kept hold of Andrew's hand, pulling him to a free spot to sit.

Andrew let out a sigh as he took a seat.  "I don't think worried is the right word.  I wonder what it'll be like.  How I'll feel.  But... you'll be there.  So many of our friends.  No one, angel or human, is going to do this alone."  He bowed his head.  That included Joshua.  This time he would never be left alone.

"Yes, that's true." 

Andrew watched her rifle through her jewelry boxes, tucking certain items into a travel case.  He gathered that she didn't know how she'd feel when the time came for Act II.

"As soon as Belle's up, I'll start packing up her things and then maybe you can go to your place and pack.  Oh and we'll need the dogs' stuff, of course."  JenniAnn frowned.  "Maybe, if we have time, we could go to Cora's first, unload, and then pick Kemara and Violeta up at the portal.  Otherwise it might be a bit crammed in the van.  Oh and I'll grab some soup and grilled cheese fixings or something and we can bring them with us this morning and then Kemara, Owen, Violeta, and Joshua can come back to Cora's for lunch before we head to rehearsal."

Andrew's eye brow quirked upwards.  "You invited Joshua to lunch?"

JenniAnn paused.  "Oh.  No.  I..."  She blushed.  "I... I wasn't going to say anything but..."

Andrew moved to stand near her and set his hands on her shoulders.  "What is it?"

"It was just... when I told Joshua good night at Adrian's, I swear he was all teared up when he thanked me for inviting him and said he'd had a wonderful time.  Like... like he wasn't used to being invited places or something."

The angel embraced her when he saw her own eyes were welling.  If only she knew...  Andrew was sure Joshua had teared up because he had been there at every party, every celebration they'd shared and last night had been the first such event during which he was able to interact directly with them.  And it had meant everything to him.  "I think that sounds like a very good plan and I'm sure Joshua will welcome the invitation."

"Thank you."

Andrew sighed when she stretched up to kiss his cheek.

She giggled when his beard tickled her chin. 

Perhaps wanting to know what her mother found so amusing, Annabelle began to squall.  JenniAnn reached her first and lifted her from the cradle.  The baby quieted when JenniAnn cuddled her. 

Smiling, Andrew watched them for a few moments.  It hit him then how perfect Joshua's timing was.  He knew, of course, it always was but often the reasoning escaped him.  But not with this.  Andrew accepted that, always, there would be secrets between him and JenniAnn.  There were things he saw on assignments that he would never tell her.  There were things he knew that she would only come to know when she went Home.  He assumed there were secrets locked away in her own heart.  All of that he could bear.  But the prospect of raising a child with her and not being able to talk openly about Joshua... it would have been doable but painful.  And he was sure that, as the years wore on, that unspokenness would have driven a wedge between them.  Now there was a very real chance that they could avoid it.  Already JenniAnn was connecting dots.  It would only be a matter of time... He sighed happily.

"I'll go start getting a bottle ready," he told her.

"Thank you, love."  JenniAnn smiled up at him then kissed Belle's hair.  "Now... let's get you changed!"

Andrew smiled as he headed towards the stairs, hearing JenniAnn singing "This Little Light of Mine" to their little one. 

*~*~*

The rest of the morning went as planned, with little drama beyond Lulu and Fawn being distressed by the sight of Andrew's and JenniAnn's bags piled near the front door of Willowveil.  Only after several promises that they'd soon be coming along, too, did the mutt and basset hound cease their moping. 

The relative ease of the morning ended when the group arrived at St. Mary Magdalene's.  After they'd found Joshua and settled into a pew, Belle began to fuss.  Just before the first reading, her complaints grew louder.  Much louder.  JenniAnn felt her cheeks burning.  She was sure people were staring at her.  She tried to soothe the baby by rocking her and feeding her but to no avail.  Andrew had no more success cradling her and left to check her diaper. 

"Not that," he informed quietly upon his return.  "But I think the eczema's back.  Do you have her cream?  I couldn't find it in the bag."

"It's in my purse.  Sorry.  I forgot to move it to her bag.  I'm just gonna step out for a bit," JenniAnn replied.  After fishing the bottle of cream out of her purse, she pulled the diaper bag onto her shoulder and took Belle back from Andrew.

"I can go, Laja," Andrew offered.  "You stay and..."

JenniAnn shook her head.  "No, really, it's okay."  Smiling apologetically to the people behind them, she hurried down a side aisle and into the cry room.  She was relieved that no one else was there.  She wanted to cry. 

Holding Belle with one arm, JenniAnn spread a blanket on a changing table then laid her down.  "Oh sweetheart..." she cooed as the little one squirmed.  "Oh my Belle, what's wrong?"  She undressed her, the tears beginning to fall when she saw the angry looking red patches on her arms and legs.  "I'm so sorry, my darling," JenniAnn apologized.  Portia had diagnosed the inflammation as eczema and JenniAnn knew it wasn't serious but that wasn't much comfort when Belle seemed so agonized.  Sniffling, JenniAnn spread some cream over the rash then, when Belle calmed some, she redressed her.  She settled into a rocking chair and went to and fro, leaning her head back so her tears didn't slide onto her baby.  Her head shot up when the door opened. 

Expecting Andrew, she was surprised to find Joshua instead.

JenniAnn blushed.  "Hi.  Sorry, she... we're having a cry."

"You came to the right room for that."

JenniAnn looked quizzically at the man then managed a laugh.  "Right.  Although I think they meant to refer to babies when they dubbed it the 'cry room.'"

Joshua pulled a chair across from her and settled into it.  "Or maybe not.  I think a lot of parents share in their children's pain.  Or at least..."

"They should," JenniAnn finished, thinking of the phantom woman who had brought Belle into being then left her.

"Yes," Joshua agreed.

"Did Andrew send you to check on me?"

Joshua met her questioning gaze and shook his head.  "No.  He was going to come himself but I offered."

"Are you, like, Method or something?  'Let the children come unto me,'" JenniAnn quoted with a smile. 

Joshua returned her smile but said nothing. 

Belle gasped then began to howl again. 

"Oh..."  JenniAnn got to her feet and began to pace around the room.  "Belle, sweet Belle," she cooed.  "'And the seasons, they go round and round a-and the painted ponies they...'" 

Joshua fought the urge to pull them to him and heal them both instantly, the woman of her anxiety and the baby of her ravaged skin.  But one would have to wait.  Tears pricked his eyes.  "JenniAnn, you look tired.  Let me take her.  Sit down.  Please."

JenniAnn gaped at him.  Why was this man she'd met less than twenty four hours before asking for her baby?  And why was she inclined to hand Belle over?  She glanced at the Madonna and Child icon hanging on the wall, whispered a prayer, and then felt some peace settling upon her.  She nodded to Joshua and transferred Belle into his waiting arms.

Joshua looked tenderly down at the baby, swaying gently as he held her. 

The tune he was humming soothed JenniAnn, too, and she settled back into the rocker.  Belle's cries gradually quieted until she was making only the occasional hiccupy sound.

Joshua reclaimed his seat across from JenniAnn. 

"How did you do that?" she asked in awe.

"I've had a lot of practice soothing children," Joshua replied, his gentle smile traversing from Belle to JenniAnn and back again.

"I... I know I probably seemed to be overreacting.  It's just eczema.  I know that.  Portia... you met her... she's my friend and I... I do believe her when she tells me these things but...  I thought we'd got the best of it a week or so ago and now it flares up again and she's so miserable when it does and... she's had... had enough to deal with with... without... that."  JenniAnn sighed.  "Did Andrew tell you about how Annabelle came to us?"

Joshua knew it all but knew, too, that it would help JenniAnn to speak of it, to acknowledge what had happened.  "I know Belle is Andrew's foster daughter and you, his friend, are in the process of adopting her."

"Yes.  But... there's a lot more to it than that.  Andrew, he... he was out walking.  It was one of those really cold nights.  The 4th into the 5th of last month.  He heard her crying a-and he found her in a..."  Tears slipped down JenniAnn's cheeks.  "She was wrapped up in a garbage bag a-and so he... he got her out and kept her warm and sang to her and loved her and then... then we went to the hospital."  She sighed, hoping Joshua wouldn't question how she'd come to be there.  "Portia told us that she... our Belle... was born addicted to heroin and those first few days...  It was so... so scary seeing her like that.  Not eating and crying so hard a-and shaking and... Andrew... he always believed she'd be fine and I... I've always believed him... or at least knew I should.  But it was so hard.  And sometimes... even though I know... and I do know... that rashes and fussiness and everything are normal and expected... a part of me can't help but wonder if this is some lingering damage a-and maybe it... it'll get worse and take her away and...  I couldn't bear that."  She gazed intently at Belle, now completely lulled in the man's arms.

Joshua stood and returned Belle to her mother.  He set a hand on JenniAnn's arm.  "No one could or should fault you for your concerns.  You have seen too much and experienced too much for them to be easily dismissed.  But don't let your fear, your worries steal away the joy of these precious moments that God has given you and your family.  Because they don't come back.  One day, Belle will wiggle out of your arms.  And she will always know that she can return to them and to Andrew's.  But the world beyond will prove too interesting to ignore.  And that's a good thing.  Because she'll need to grow.  But... this period can be hard to let go of.  So treasure it, JenniAnn."

JenniAnn briefly set her hand over his.  "Yes.  You... you're right.  Of course."  She kissed Belle's curls.  Then, smiling, she looked back over to Joshua.  "You are as unlike the previous guy as you could be.  He saw Belle spit up and you woulda thought I'd exposed him to a fatal virus the way he acted."

Joshua laughed.  "Well, thankfully, I don't shock easily."

"Good.  Hey, are you doing anything after Mass?"

"At some point I should go to the theatre early just to give the stage one final check.  But not directly after Mass, no."

"Would you wanna join us for lunch?  It's nothing big.  We're just having tomato soup and grilled cheese at my cousin's house... we're going to start staying there cause it's closer to the theatre than our place... away.  Anyway, we'd love to have you join us, Joshua."  JenniAnn didn't look at him when she made the invitation.  She didn't want him to see how desperately she wanted him to come. 

Joshua swallowed the lump in his throat.  He could hear the pleading in her voice.  She wasn't merely being polite and grateful.  JenniAnn wanted him there... but what of Kemara and Owen?  "Your other friends are okay with this?" he checked.

JenniAnn nodded.  "Oh yeah.  We checked with them on the ride here.  We asked Fr. Mike, too, but he has brunch with family.  Anyhow, might be a nice chance to talk in a lil quieter setting than we had last night.  But we do understand if you can't.  Between fixing the stage and now being in the show, we don't wanna monopolize your time further if..."

Joshua shook his head.  "Not at all.  I'd love to join you all."

JenniAnn beamed.  "Good!  And that way you can see where we'll be staying... just in case you would ever need to know.  It'll be me, Andrew, Belle, of course, Kemara, Max, and Violeta."

Joshua grinned.  "Full house.  I think that's great you and your friends are so close that you can stay together like that for extended periods of time.  I had some buddies like that.  Went everywhere with them.  But there were the occasional scuffles..." 

JenniAnn laughed when he rolled his eyes, the smile never leaving his lips.  "Well, thankfully, we mostly avoid those.  But it helps that the house is quite big so people can always find their own space."  She jolted.  "Oh!  Do you keep kosher?  I didn't even think..."

Touched but not surprised that she'd think to ask, Joshua shook his head.  "No.  Not any more.  Sometimes just for old time's sake.  But not as a rule.  I like tomato soup and grilled cheese."

JenniAnn smiled at him.  "Good.  Well... maybe we can head back out.  Fr. Mike gives wonderful homilies.  It'd be a shame to miss."

"He really does.  I'll get the bag and the door." 

"Aww, thanks!" 

From his vantage point in the pew, Andrew could just make out the three exiting the cry room.  He smiled when he saw that JenniAnn looked calm and happy.  And Joshua...  Andrew's smile grew.  JenniAnn must have made the invitation because Joshua looked thrilled. 

When the Gospel reading had ended, JenniAnn sat back down beside Andrew and beamed at him.  "All better.  I swear...  Joshua's magic or something."

"Or something..." Andrew repeated quietly. 

JenniAnn rested her head against his shoulder as Fr. Mike began to deliver his homily.  Andrew smiled softly and peered down at Belle who was drifting off to sleep.  His gaze traveled to Joshua who was seated next to Owen.  For a moment, their eyes met.  Andrew sighed happily when he saw how brightly Joshua's eyes shone.

*~*~*

"I Only Want to Say"

After the blessing was said and lunch dished up, Joshua smiled at JenniAnn across the table.  "Thank you, again, for inviting me.  Such a lovely home."

"You're welcome!  And it is, isn't it?  I'm so glad my cousin's so willing to let us stay here.  We all love this place."  JenniAnn admired the warm, cozy kitchen that Cora had so loved.

"Whereabouts are you staying, Joshua?" Owen asked.

"Pleasantview Apartments.  You know it?"

"Uh, yeah."  Owen repressed the urge to grimace.  The apartments were far from pleasant.

"Do you like it there?" Kemara asked, oblivious to what Owen knew of the place.

"There are nice people there," Joshua answered.

Andrew smiled at the diplomatic response.

"Always good to like your neighbors," Kemara added, smiling shyly before bowing her head and stirring her soup.

"Yeah, it is," Joshua agreed. 

"And... you live alone?" JenniAnn queried.  She'd done a ring check during lunch the day before.  She knew that repeated invitations, even to family meals, to someone's husband might be unwelcome.  Joshua wore no ring but that didn't mean he wasn't with someone.  She probably should have asked Andrew to hint around...

"I do, yes," Joshua replied.  He grinned.  "Well, except for this cockroach couple that I think I'm really bonding with."

Andrew chuckled.  "Only a couple?"

"Probably not.  Maybe the others are just shy," Joshua jested.  "So you all stay here often?"

"Twice since I showed up," Violeta replied.

"And three times for Andrew and me," JenniAnn added. 

"Cool.  So where are you all from originally?  Andrew?"  Joshua's eyes were alight with amusement over the rim of his glass.

Owen stifled a snicker while JenniAnn and Kemara both waited, wondering how Andrew would answer this time.

"A bit of Paradise," Andrew responded after a moment's thought.  "I like to get back there whenever I can but... I love my life here, too."

Violeta nodded enthusiastically.  "And I come from there also!"

"I'm from Nebraska," JenniAnn answered, eager to get the focus off the two angels' origins. 

"Southern girl, born and raised."  Kemara sighed wistfully.  "But I'm happy to be here, too."

"Manhattan native right here," Owen replied.  "How about you, Joshua?"

Joshua set down his spoon.  "I was born in Bethlehem."  He waited for the reaction. 

There were a few moments of silence around the table then JenniAnn began to laugh, setting off the others.

"Good one!  Well played, Joshua!" she complimented.

As Violeta laughed, she was unsure if she was more amused by Joshua's coy smile or the fact that the others had taken his statement of fact as a joke about his role... who was him. 

Andrew smiled.  "Perhaps one day you could tell us about Bethlehem, Joshua," he teased.

"I'd love to!"Joshua replied through his laughter.  He truly hoped he'd be able to speak of his birthplace with all of them.

"So... what's it like?  Planning to play Jesus, I mean.  Are you nervous?" Owen asked.

"A little," Joshua confessed.  Not for the reasons they thought...  But, yes, he was nervous.

"I'm sure you'll do wonderfully," JenniAnn reassured.  "I just... I have a really good feeling about it." 

Andrew beamed.  "I've learned to listen to JenniAnn's instincts."  He smiled over at her.

"She does have good ones," Kemara agreed, thinking of her own introduction to Dyeland and, most recently, JenniAnn's nighttime trek to find Andrew... and Belle.  She looked over to Andrew.  "Can we talk about the show or do you think we should wait until the others are around?"

Andrew nodded.  "Let's go for it.  After all, we have a lot to cover in a relatively short span of time.  We can fill everyone else in tonight if we come up with some ideas.  What did you have in mind, Kemara?" he asked, hoping to draw her into conversation with Joshua.

"Well, I'm sure we won't get into it for a few days but 'I Only Want to Say' has always been... difficult for me." Kemara cast an apologetic glance at Joshua.  "I know it's your big song and so I don't at all mean we shouldn't have it but... it's just some of the lines.  They seem so 'why me?' and... almost whiny and selfish.  Not that Jesus didn't have a right to feel that way.  He did.  But I don't believe He did.  I... I want to believe He had some understanding a-and wanted to... to do that... for us."  When no immediate response came, she blushed.  "Sorry, I didn't mean to go on like that."

"No."  Joshua looked to her, a gentle smile on his face.  "No, please don't apologize, Kemara.  I understand
and I know..."  Joshua quieted.  He wanted to put to rest any idea she or the others had that he'd been trapped.  He needed to silence any concern that he'd been tricked.  The truth had to be made absolutely clear before any of them found out who he was... if they did.  But he couldn't give them his full account.  Not yet.  He could only offer it to them clothed in words of theory and belief.  With a sigh, Joshua continued.  "I believe Jesus did... want that.  He wanted to redeem, to save humanity.  Because he loved everyone so very much." 

I love you.  All of you
, he silently cried. 

"He loved his children with all his heart... his soul... his body... his spirit.  With every breath, every word.  With everything he had to give," Joshua stressed.

And I would give it all again.  Countless times over


"But I... I think in those moments in that garden, it was a struggle for him.  In being born human, he'd emptied himself.  He no longer remembered creating all that is and was and will be.  He didn't remember that he came to Earth planning to die like that.  So in his grief and his worry and his fear, I think he did feel like the Father was asking more than he wanted to give.  But I also think that by the time Jesus left that garden, he knew it was his plan, too, and always had been.  He went willingly to the cross."  Joshua peered down at his hands, still speaking to the others even though his voice had gone silent. 

And I felt you there, loved you there... even though I didn't remember your names, I loved you so... Owen, Kemara, JenniAnn, Belle, Violeta, Andrew.


Owen felt a shiver go through his body.  He looked over to Kemara who was, uncharacteristically, gaping at Joshua.

JenniAnn had been so taken in by the man's deeply felt answer that it took her a moment to realize that Andrew's head was bowed and his eyes were closed.  Ceasing to rock the sleeping Belle's cradle, she slipped her hand into his.

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's hand then looked over to Violeta.  She was absently stirring her soup but, sensing his eyes on her, she looked up and smiled wanly.  The angel of death let out the breath he'd been holding and turned to Joshua.  "I think we need to incorporate that understanding of what happened in Gethsemane somehow."

Joshua looked up and smiled at the angel. 

Rousing, Kemara nodded.  "I agree.  I... I think Joshua's explanation seems very... real.  But how do we incorporate it?"

"I'm not sure but I've always thought the sleeping apostles should be visible," JenniAnn mused.  "I never understood why they weren't."

"It's Jesus' big song," Owen explained.  "Probably a lot of actors don't want to share their moment."

"Maybe.  But I would like the apostles onstage with me if that's okay.  I think that might help with the 'why me' aspect if I could gesture to them.  Possibly, hopefully make the audience see that, in part, I'm concerned for them and their futures.  Because it wasn't just Jesus who ended up persecuted," Joshua offered.  "He knew that."  He smiled at Kemara.  "I've been thinking about this, too, because I'm not completely comfortable with the song as written myself.  I wonder if maybe we could tweak a few words right at the end?  To show that Jesus realizes that he's fulfilling a plan he and the Father shared."

Andrew nodded.  "I don't see any problem with that.  What did you have in mind?"

Fleetingly, Joshua looked to Andrew and Violeta, checking to see if they were both okay.  They subtly nodded in response.  "Maybe like this." 

The five others around the table all listened as Joshua sang.

"'Then I was inspired, now I'm sad and tired.  After all, I've tried for three years.  Seems like ninety...  Why then am I scared to finish what I started?  What you started... what we started.'"

Violeta clasped her own hand to keep from crying out at the sight of Joshua's wavering, pained smile as he peered up at the ceiling.  Kemara noticed and set her own hand over Violeta's, softly patting them.

Andrew noted the smile, too.  It was not the first time he'd seen it and, for just a moment, the scents and sounds of Gethsemane threatened to suffocate him.  Then JenniAnn pulled her hand away and began to softly rub his back, anchoring him to the present.

"'God, Thy will is hard but You hold every card.  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.'"

While Owen and Kemara looked away, JenniAnn was transfixed.  As Joshua sang, his face clouded and deep lines appeared around his eyes and mouth.  He looked like a much older man.  And he looked agonized.  Then it passed and he peered around the table at them all.

After letting the final note drift away, Joshua took in and let out a deep breath.  He noticed JenniAnn staring at him, seeming to puzzle something out.  It's me, he explained. 

JenniAnn flinched when she noticed Joshua had caught her gaping... again.  Her cheeks flushed and she bowed her head.

Joshua reached for her hand then, catching himself, grabbed his grilled cheese instead.  "Something like that, maybe?" he queried.  He took a bite of his sandwich then sighed contently.  "This is really delicious.  Anyway, I just changed a couple yours to my," he continued casually, trying to put everyone at ease.  "Changed the phrasing on 'what you started' a little.'"

Owen roused enough to nod.  "I... I think that's great."

Kemara swiped at a tear and nodded.

"Very... very affecting a-and gorgeously sad," JenniAnn opined, still staring at her lap.

Andrew gave a solemn nod.

Violeta let out the breath she'd been holding.  "I think it's perfect."  She reached across the table and clasped Joshua's hand.  "You have a beautiful voice."

Joshua squeezed her hand.  "Thank you."

Finally looking up, JenniAnn watched the exchange.  She wondered why Violeta seemed so at ease with Joshua.  Granted, Joshua had shown no undue interest in Violeta but the young angel was often somewhat flustered by men.  But not him.  They looked so natural together.  The thought made JenniAnn remember her discussion with Andrew about casting Mary.  She turned to him.  "So have you thought any further about casting Jesus' mother?"

Andrew nodded.  "Actually... Violeta's been asked and she accepted."

"Congratulations, Violeta!" Owen cheered.

Kemara smiled at her friend.  "Good for you.  You'll make a lovely Mary.  And your hair matches Joshua's so there will be some family resemblance."

Violeta blushed.  If only they knew... 

Joshua smiled gently at her.  "I think you'll do beautifully, Violeta."

"I agree."  JenniAnn beamed at her.  "And I know you can pull off adoring and... and terribly sad."  Though she knew it was no comparison, she'd seen the look on Violeta's face when Belle would become inconsolable. 

"What about that line during the Crucifixion, though?  'Where is my mother?'" Kemara asked.  "I never got that and it would have made some sense if we didn't have a Mary but now we do."

Andrew and Joshua looked briefly at each other before the former spoke.  "I think maybe it's a vestige of the Vietnam era.  Of people dying hundreds of miles from their mothers.  But it doesn't make sense now that the wartime context isn't played up as much.  I think we should borrow from the Bible.  Use the lines about John.  Since those lines aren't really sung, it shouldn't be a problem to make the change.  Joshua?"

Joshua nodded.  "I'd like the biblical lines included."  Truthfully, he couldn't imagine saying the line as written for the show.  Even at the worst, he had always been aware of his mother's nearness, had always felt her there.  And if she showed up, as he suspected she would, he couldn't bear for her to hear him crying out for her as if she was gone.  She had never been gone.

"Then there we have it.  Can't argue with the Big Guy," Owen joked.  "But now to the central question: are we going to have a T-shirt cannon during 'Hosanna'?  Cause I know some people..."

Joshua burst out laughing, welcoming the shift to lighter elements of the show.  "I'm all for the T-shirt cannon... just as long as I get to try it out.  Obviously behind-the-scenes."

Andrew chuckled.  "Yes, I think it best you not be seen with it onstage, Joshua.  Imagine the headlines..."

"Well, Jesus did say God would clothe us...  He didn't nix the possibility of Him clothing us by shooting T-shirts out of a cannon," JenniAnn teased.

Kemara laughed and shook her head.  "Somehow, I suspect that's not what Jesus had in mind."

Unable to resist, Violeta grinned at Joshua.  "You think Jesus saw the T-shirt cannon coming, Joshua?"

Still laughing, Joshua shook his head.  "No.  But I think it's one of the few cannons he would have enjoyed knowing about.  In all seriousness, I like it.  It doesn't take much to print up a few T-shirts does it?  Since licensing could be an issue, maybe we could put something nice on them?  I like 'God loves you.'  Good message."

Andrew smiled proudly at Joshua.  "You and me both... and I think I can safely speak for everyone at this table on that."

The others quickly offered eager assent.

"So we have some tweaked lyrics, a Mary, and a T-shirt cannon.  Pretty good for one lunch."  Owen smiled at the others.

Andrew glanced over at Joshua who was smiling back at Owen.  It was obvious the lunch had been good for more than just theatrical reasons.  Joshua seemed more at ease, more convinced that eventually he would be seen as more than Joshua-the-nice-newbie.  It increased Andrew's hope that, in time, Joshua would be seen for who he truly was.

*~*~*

After lunch, Owen and Kemara returned to the Tunnels with the latter then making her way back to Dyeland for a visit with Monica.  Joshua and Violeta headed to the theatre to check on the stage while Andrew and JenniAnn went to the grocery store with Belle.  After stocking up for what the group would need during their first few days at Cora's, they returned to the house and put away their groceries.  JenniAnn smiled and hummed "I Don't Know How to Love Him."  Andrew noticed, a smile lighting up his own face.  After sliding some canned corn onto a shelf, he went to her and hugged her.

"It was good what ya did.  Inviting Joshua to lunch, I mean."  The angel let out a happy sigh.  He loved her all the more for making Joshua happy.  He'd spent too much time apart and if JenniAnn's behavior up til that moment was any sign, Joshua wouldn't be alone often going forward unless he wished to be.

"I really like him.  I mean even before his mystical baby soothing powers became known.  He's just... there's something soothing about him in general.  And yet..."  JenniAnn's face clouded.

"And yet?" Andrew prompted, cupping her chin. 

"There's something...  I mean when he was singing... I didn't feel like he was acting.  I felt like at some point in his life, he felt all that.  Abandoned, frightened, exhausted, depressed."  JenniAnn bowed her head for a moment and then looked back up at Andrew.  "Are... are you doing a caseworking gig now or might there be some... some angel of death work?  Is that why Violeta's with him?  Is she... preparing him?"

Andrew stared at her for a moment before it dawned on him what she was asking.  She thought Joshua might be his assignment.  He pulled her closer.  "This assignment is an extension of my time with Lucy and Doug.  And Violeta just plain wanted to spend time with Joshua.  She likes him.  Laja, if I'm supposed to take anyone else Home during the duration then I certainly don't know about it.  This show... it's going to bring up a lot about death and life and grief for everyone.  God knew it would help to have angels around as people confront their emotions, their pasts.  Being an angel of death will help me with that aspect of the assignment."

"'Kay.  Yeah, I can see that.  Thanks.  I just..."

Andrew kissed her forehead.  "I know.  He'll be fine, Laja."

JenniAnn laughed uneasily.  "Thank you.  And I'm sorry.  I... I don't know why I feel so paranoid a-and gloomy sometimes.  I'm really not unhappy.  Not at all.  I'm truly, unbelievably happy.  I mean we have a beautiful, sweet baby girl and all this extra family time and on top of everything I've always felt now I love you for being the father figure of my child and... and you actually hired some guy to play Jesus who doesn't look like  a model or surfer and doesn't act either stilted or... or scummy."

Andrew laughed.  "I really can't take credit for Joshua's looks or behavior." 

"I know.  But still..."  JenniAnn drew in a deep breath then let it out.  "So... I will really try to not be so fretful."

"Okay.  But don't go thinking you can't talk to me about it when you feel that way.  We're in this together.  As equals, remember.  And not just on the fun stuff," Andrew gently reminded.

"I know.  And I won't."  JenniAnn snuggled against his shoulder for a moment then sighed and angled around to look at the clock.  "We better hurry and get things put away.  And..."  She looked to the red velvet cake on the counter.  "I have a cake to frost."

The sound of Belle crying softly sounded from the monitor on the table.

Andrew smiled.  "And I have a baby to diaper and feed.  I'll get her, you frost the cake, we have all the fridge stuff put away.  The rest can wait.  Then... off to the theatre!"

JenniAnn beamed.  "Yep!" 

Andrew went to retrieve Belle.  She calmed as soon as she saw him.  "There's my girl!  Oh and you definitely need that diaper changed, huh?"  He kissed her then set to work.  Along with changing her diaper, he decided to put her in warmer clothing.  The temperature had dipped since Mass and the theatre had some drafts.  As Andrew gently pulled off her clothes, he did a double-take.  He knew JenniAnn had put some ointment on the little one's eczema and it usually took away the discomfort.  But the redness didn't usually disappear so quickly.  Now there was no trace.  "Joshua..." Andrew whispered. 

Once she was dressed, Andrew scooped Belle up and cuddled her.  He closed his eyes and whispered thanks which he would repeat to Joshua in person as soon as possible. 

*~*~*

Outside, Veritas was cold and pouring rain, but in Monica's cottage a roaring fire made the living room cozy. Monica sat on the couch, and Kemara  curled up in an easy chair by the window. A pot of tea was set out on the coffee table between them with a plate of sugar cookies.

"Man, it's really coming down out there!" Kemara said, taking another cookie and dunking it in her cup. "I can't believe March is here already, but I wish spring would show up soon."

Monica nodded absently, still caught up in memories of the night before. She was used to Joshua's occasional appearances in human form; but watching him with Arthur and her other friends was amazing.

"Are you OK?" Kemara asked. "You look a little pale."

The angel shook her head. "Sorry. The rain's just making me a wee bit sleepy. And we were out so late last night."

"I know! That's why I'm glad you suggested we have tea. JenniAnn was guzzling coffee all morning. More so than usual even for her." She wrinkled her nose. "I like one cup, but that's enough."

"Ah, you've just never had the right kind of coffee," Monica teased. "I'll have Arthur make you a latte, and then you'll understand."

They both laughed.

"So....did you get a chance to speak to Joshua last night or during lunch?" Monica asked casually.

Kemara suddenly became very interested in the rose pattern on her cup. "Andrew introduced us last night, and we all talked about the show this afternoon. He seems really nice. He's pretty...charismatic...isn't he?"

"Yes, he is." Monica studied her young friend closely, noting the blush creeping into her cheeks.

"He knew I'm a dancer - Andrew's really clued him in on all of us. He said he was looking forward to seeing the posters. That reminds me....I need to bring Andrew some proofs tomorrow. I had this one idea..."

"Kemara." Monica's gentle tone broke into the woman's rambling. "I know you think you have to lock your heart away so you won't get hurt again. But when you do that, you shut out all the love and all the gifts that God wants to give you."

"I know." She shrugged. "I guess I've just gotten a little paranoid. I...I had a friend - much older than me - who thought I wanted to be more than just friends. I have no clue how to flirt, but I guess he thought that's what I was doing." She grimaced. "There's a guy in my dance class - Sean. I really like him, but I'm afraid to say anything."

Monica smiled. "I understand. Really, I do." She sighed. "When I saw Arthur again after all those years. It took all the courage I had to speak to him. And because I did, wonderful things happened."

"Well, Arthur's pretty great." Kemara said. "But not everyone is. And I'm not just talking about guys either." She shook her head, disgusted. "I thought I'd gotten over this when we were helping Ivy. I mean, look at JenniAnn - Bennie's treated her awful time and time again. But she keeps trying to mend things between them."

"Don't be so hard on yourself. And no, maybe everyone isn't great. But that doesn't mean you stop loving and stop letting yourself be loved," Monica pointed out. "Talk to Joshua when you have the chance - really talk. I think he might surprise you."

Kemara sniffled and wiped her eyes on her napkin. "That's what Violeta said. I'll try."

"Good." Monica sat back. "Now, last night you said you had an idea for a get-together?"

"Yeah," Kemara set down her cup. "I'd like to have a St. Patrick's Day ceili for the cast and crew. I thought maybe the 15th. That's a Saturday. I know two weeks isn't much time, but we have been really busy."

"I think that's a wonderful idea! How can I help?"

"I haven't worked out all the details yet...." Kemara got up to rummage through her purse and returned with a notepad and pen. "So let's brainstorm."

"Alright. First, where would we have it?" Monica said.

"I'm sure Fr. Mike would let us use the fellowship hall and the kitchen. We could probably do it for free, but I'd feel better paying a little something." Kemara jotted a note to call the church.

"Umm....What about food?"

Monica thought for a minute. "Well, scones are traditional and easy. And tea, of course."

"And beer. And maybe Irish coffee...." She caught sight of Monica's expression. "Oh, maybe not that. Sorry, I forgot."

"It's OK," Monica said with a grimace. "I just don't think I can drink that again."

"I don't blame you! What about corned beef and cabbage? I know it's not really traditional, but you can put it in a crock pot. We'd need more than one, though."

"I'm sure that wouldn't be a problem." Monica said. "We could do all the cooking at the church to make it easier."

More scribbling in the note pad. "I'll ask some of the folks at my dance class about desserts. I might make some shortbread. And speaking of dancing....What if we had the Tunnel kids come in and do a little drama or a skit? Just to show off what they've been learning?"

One of the first things Kemara had done when she moved to New York was to look for an Irish dancing school that was as supportive of adult students as her old one had been. She found the Inishfree School, and took classes at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan several times a week.

After a few months, she'd approached Vincent and Father about giving lessons to the Tunnel children. With their support, soon almost every child between the ages of 5 and 13 was learning reels and jigs.

"But would Jacob let them come?" Monica asked. "If anyone started asking questions..."

It always surprised Kemara to hear the patriarch of the tunnel community called by his given name.

"Huh." She chewed the end of her pen for a minute, thinking. "Well, if they just show up, do the dance and leave then he might be OK with that. And I could just say that they're some local kids I've been teaching which is totally true."

She leaned forward excitedly. "And I thought of something else too...."

A half hour later, Kemara glanced at her watch and jumped up. "I've gotta go! Rehearsal starts at five, and I wanted to go back through the Tunnels so I can talk to Father about our plans."

Monica stood up too and pulled the woman into a hug. "Have fun! And don't worry."

"Try not to get worried. Try not to hold onto problems that upset you," Kemara sang, laughing. "I'll do my best."

*~*~*

Peter closed his eyes as the subway train started up again.  He felt some guilt for blowing off practice.  But he couldn't handle another catastrophe.  The entire production had been punctuated by deaths and departures.  He'd had enough of both.  Hopefully Andrew could find someone else to play the denier.  This time, Peter was determined to leave before he could be left behind.

While just on the edge of sleep, Peter was drawn in by snippets of a conversation enfolding nearby.

"Balance, my friend.  Balance is key.  Repentance is good.  We should all want to be right with our God.  But you can't scream at everyone.  True, you may meet the occasional viper but no one likes being compared to a snake.  They shut you out after hearing..."

"But John the Baptist..."

"Learned a lot from his cousin.  Besides, John was preaching prior to the Redemption.  He wouldn't speak so harshly to the crowd now.  Not when they've been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God."

"Oh."

"Love...  You must speak of love also.  Think of when the Lord visited with Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Peter who had denied him!  Did He call him dirty names?"   

Peter craned his neck until he spotted the man speaking.  He smiled.  With his unruly hair and unkempt beard, the man could have passed as John the Baptist if not for his modern clothing.

"No," his listener admitted.

"That's right: no!  He gave him a chance to make things right, a chance to be a leader again.  Our God is a God of second chances... countless chances.  He doesn't give up on us."

The train stopped and more people boarded.  The increase in noise prevented Peter from hearing any more.  However, what he had heard weighed on him.  Perhaps he was wrong to give up on the show.  Needing some quiet and peace in which to reflect, Peter got off at the next stop.  Knowing he was near the cemetery where Jasmine was buried, he made his way there.

Peter halted while still a few feet away.  There, beside the dog he had left, was an object he didn't recognize.  As far as he knew, he was the only one to visit Jaz's grave.  Her family, like his, was in Texas.  Peter's stomach did a somersault as he recalled his previous visit.  He had asked his wife for a sign... maybe this was it. 

Kneeling in front of the grave, Peter reached for the foreign object at the base.  He held it in his hands for a few moments before looking down at it.  Tears welled in his eyes as he realized what he held: the sign.

"Live and love," he read.  He laughed.  "You always were very blunt," he mused.  He drew in a deep breath.  "Thank you.  And thank You.  I love you, Jaz.  And... I've really got to run."

With that, Peter scrambled to his feet and raced to the nearest subway station, hoping he could make it to St. Genesius' in time to keep Emma and everyone else from worrying.

*~*~*

First Rehearsal, Take Two

It was a quarter after the appointed 5:00 rehearsal time and most of the cast and crew of St. Genesius' Jesus Christ Superstar were onstage and swarming around "new Jesus."  Zeke proudly introduced Joshua to those he hadn't yet met.

Meanwhile, Andrew and Emma waited in the main office, staring out at the parking lot.  There had been some initial worry when Peter remained absent when 5:00 rolled around.  However, he'd shown up at fives minutes after, out of breath but seemingly happy to be there.  Thus, only one person was unaccounted for...

Emma pointed.  "There's Zeke's and Diana's car coming."

Andrew smiled.  "It looks like she has a passenger!"

They waited anxiously as the car turned into the theatre's lot.

"It's Kylie!" Emma cheered. 

Andrew let out a relieved sigh.  He'd been worried when the young woman hadn't been there at 5:00.  Diana had insisted on going to check on her and he was glad to see her visit had been successful.

Both directors smiled as Diana re-entered the theatre with Kylie in tow. 

"I'm sorry I'm late," Kylie apologized.  "I just, umm..."  She shrugged.

Andrew smiled kindly at her.  "It's okay.  We're just glad you're here now.  And I know everyone else will be, too.  Why don't you go in and say hi to everyone?  They're onstage.  And then we'll get started soon, okay?"

With a nod, Kylie left the room.

Diana peeked out and once Kylie disappeared down the hall, she turned back to Andrew and Emma.  "We have to keep an eye on that one.  When I got to her place, she said she thought her husband might call the landline and she didn't want to leave and possibly miss him.  I absolutely do not think it's because she just can't wait to speak to him.  I think that loser has her under such tight control that even a hundred miles away he wants her at his beck and call.  Well, I'm not having it.  Anyone who has watched her knows Kylie is enjoying herself here!  I'm not letting him take that away from her!"  The woman slowly exhaled.  "Now, rant over."

"Men..." Emma muttered.

Diana looked to Andrew who frowned and dragged his hand through his hair.  "Emma, you can't lump them all together.  That's not right, either," she protested.  "Now, we have a show to rehearse."  Diana smiled and left the room.

"Sorry," Emma mumbled.  "She's right."

Andrew nodded.  "Thank you.  So you ready?  We have a full cast and crew out there waiting..."

Emma smiled. "I can't believe no one bailed!"

Andrew briefly hugged her shoulders.  "No one."

Together, they made their way to the stage and smiled when they saw how happy everyone looked.

"So... you want to start us off?  Say a few words?" the angel asked his assistant director.

Emma nodded and, with Andrew, moved to stand in front of the cluster of people.  Unsurprisingly, they had congregated near the cake-laden table.  "Could everyone please take a break from eying the dessert for just a few moments?  I'd like to say something."

The others all turned to face her and Andrew.

"First, I just really want to thank everyone for coming back.  I know it's been really, really rocky and after this last thing with the Actor Who Shall Not Be Named..."  Emma paused, smirking as her listeners laughed.  "I wouldn't have blamed anyone for leaving," she continued.  "But I'm so glad you didn't and I know Andrew is, too.  And I... I know Lucy and Doug would be glad, too, if... if they were here."

Zeke stepped forward and squeezed her hand.  "They are.  In spirit."

Emma blinked back tears and nodded.  "Yeah.  So...  Second thing: Andrew and I have discussed casting and we have some changes.  First, the most obvious.  Joshua Davidson, who we called on to fix the stage, will be taking over the role of Jesus."

"If he's as good at singing and acting as he is at carpentry, we're set!" Caleb interrupted.  "Look at this stage!  You can't even tell where the hole was."

"The man's got some impressive pipes," Zeke opined, beaming at Joshua.  "Had me in tears."

Diana smiled.  "While I'm sure Joshua is stunning, it's worth noting that Zeke cries over Hallmark commercials."

Blushing, Joshua laughed.  "That's okay, Zeke.  Some of them get to me, too.  And thank you, everyone, for welcoming me.  Emma, I promise you that I'll give this role my all."

Emma looked away when he smiled directly at her but then forced herself to meet his gaze.  "I'm sure you will.  Thank you, Joshua, for being here.  Now... in addition to casting Joshua, Violeta will be taking the role of Mary, Jesus' mom.  Monica will be more or less creating the role of the angel in Gethsemane.  In addition, we're expanding the role of Pilate's wife but more on that later."  She glanced over at Andrew who nodded.  They planned to speak with Kylie alone as soon as they had the opportunity.

"That's great!" Shane exclaimed.  "Good job!  Em, I know the overwhelmingly male cast drove you a little nuts.  Glad you found a way to even things out a little more."

"Me too.  And I'm very glad Andrew has
so many friends."  Emma smiled at the director.  "Now, as for this evening, we're going to try to go in order.  But we'll skip the Overture for now.  Andrew and I still haven't decided what we want to do with that.  So, Zeke, are you okay with starting us off?  And this time let's have Jesus, the chorus, and the followers onstage.  We'll see what that looks like.  Then we'll keep going, breaking after 'Everything's Alright' for dinner."  She turned to Andrew.

"Right.  And because this is our first time all together, Emma and I have ordered some pizzas.  If you already had plans to leave that's fine but if not we'd love to have you stay.  At least come back early for cake."  Andrew waved his hand towards the table.  "Regardless, we'll start back with, umm, with 'This Jesus Must Die' at 7:00 so please be back here by then.  We'll move through 'Hosanna,' 'Simon Zealotes,' and 'Poor Jerusalem' then call it a night.  Sound good?"

There was a chorus of agreement and then everyone moved to the stage except for Andrew, JenniAnn, with Belle in her arms, Monica, and Adam who settled into audience seats.  Tess took her place at the piano. 

"Should Eli and I be in this?" Henry asked.

Andrew considered and looked to Emma.  "Emma, what do you think?"

"Maybe off to the side?  Like they're listening to Jesus... waiting to pounce?"

"Good idea.  Eli and Henry, can you look ready to pounce?"

Eli and Henry looked over to Joshua doubtfully.

"Perhaps it would help if I held one of the cakes?" Joshua offered with a grin, hoping to make the two angels laugh.  He was glad to see his gambit worked.

"Probably.  But it might be hard to explain why Jesus is holding ye olde Nazarene Tupperware," Eli joked. 

"We can just pretend," Henry offered, still chuckling.  He moved to stage right with Eli following.  They stepped far enough back that they were partly obscured by shadow.

"Perfect!" Andrew called.  "Now let's have Joshua at center stage with everyone clustered around him, listening in on his teachings.  Joshua, please just mouth something.  Everyone else, pretend he's speaking.  Also, Judas is supposed to be some distance away so you can't hear him.  None of you can hear him.  So please don't anyone react to him."

Joshua nodded.  "Got it."

"Zeke, let's try downstage left for you, please," Andrew directed.

Zeke sighed and walked to his mark.  "I want to hear the man preach.  Bet he's good at it.  I wish we weren't yards and yards away."  He smiled at Joshua.

Andrew chuckled.  "I'm sure we'll have time for that eventually, Zeke."

Joshua returned Zeke's smile.  "I'd just as soon hear you sing again." 

Diane beamed, knowing the remark would mean a great deal to her husband.  He hadn't stopped talking about Joshua since returning home the day before.  Zeke believed the man was God-sent and being in his presence, Diana found the sentiment difficult to disagree with.

"Thank you, man," Zeke replied before turning to face the audience.  "I'm ready."

Surveying the stage once more to make sure everyone was in place, Andrew nodded to Tess who began playing.

Zeke glared at Joshua as the song began.  He remembered performing it with Eric onstage.  Then the glare had come naturally... unbidden even.  But it seemed forced and unnatural with Joshua.  Zeke felt the weight of the lyrics in a new way.  He would have to betray Joshua... but he didn't want to.

In the audience, JenniAnn let out a quiet gasp as she noticed a change come over Zeke.  Lines on his face that were normally all but invisible deepened.  She wanted to cry just looking at him.

Andrew noted Zeke's demeanor also and, for a moment, it took his breath away.  This Judas would be no caricature.

"'My mind is clearer now.  At last all too well I can see where we all soon will be,'" Zeke began darkly, peering out at the audience.  "'If you strip away the myth from the man, you will see where we all soon will be,'" he continued in a voice as powerful as it was ragged.  He spun to face Joshua.  "'Jesus!'" he cried.  "'You've started to believe the things they say of you!  You really do believe this talk of God is true!'"

Though Zeke's performance was wrenching and intriguing, Adam and Monica couldn't keep their eyes off Joshua.  They wondered what was going through his mind but, seemingly oblivious to Zeke, he kept preaching.  Several members of the chorus repeatedly glanced over at Zeke, however, as did Eli and Henry.

Andrew noticed the problem, too, and jotted it down.  He made a point to focus solely on Zeke, knowing he was about to reach the section of the song that was most difficult for him.  To his surprise, Zeke got through it flawlessly.

"'Nazareth, your famous son should have stayed a great unknown.  Like his father carving wood, he'd have made good!  Tables, chairs and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best.  He'd have caused nobody harm, no one alarm!'" Zeke sang out, feverishly looking over at Joshua several times.  He continued passionately, pleading with Joshua to hear him.

The pleas were so heartfelt that the three angels and JenniAnn all found themselves wishing Joshua would respond to the man.  Andrew noticed that Joshua did break character once, turning to Zeke before righting himself and kneeling down to speak silently to Violeta.

When the song ended, everyone applauded and Joshua hurried to Zeke.  "That was awesome!"

Zeke clapped the man on the back.  "Thanks.  I've always struggled with that part about Jesus remaining a carpenter.  Because I don't wish He had.  I can't wish the Savior hadn't saved.  But... but I thought about it some more last night.  About what a great time I had singing with you yesterday.  I'm looking forward to these next few weeks and I would hate to think of someone taking them away.  And I thought about how Judas had three years of memories of this incredible friend of his.  Maybe part of his problem was he just didn't want someone taking that away.  I could understand wanting you to... wanting Jesus to remain a carpenter in that case," Zeke confessed.

Joshua smiled gently.  "I can understand it, too."

Andrew approached them with JenniAnn beside him.  "Amazing job, Zeke," the angel praised.

"You'd like to have broken my heart!" JenniAnn added.  "Seems like most people play Judas as past the point of love.  Just bitter.  Especially now.  But you... I... I could tell your Judas still loved Jesus.  It was wrenching a-and perfect."

Diana made her way to them and hugged Zeke's arm.  "It truly was, honey.  I couldn't help looking over at you."  She looked apologetically at Andrew.

The director smiled.  "I don't blame you."

"Me neither.  I know I looked over, too," Joshua admitted.  "Hard not to!"

"I think our priests lost focus..." Henry confessed as Eli nodded.

Andrew looked over to the chorus.  "Gloria, would it be possible to mute all the microphones except for Zeke's during this number?"

"Well sure but why?  We were all staying quiet, weren't we?"

"Yes, you were.  But I was thinking that maybe we should have Joshua actually tell a parable or something.  Loud enough for you all to hear but quiet enough that neither the audience nor Zeke would hear," Andrew suggested.

Emma stood and nodded.  "That could work.  Might help us stay focused on Joshua.  It's really hard to not look at Zeke when he's the only one making noise."

"Joshua, what do you think?  Could you memorize a few parables or other teachings?  Or even ad lib something?" Andrew asked, trying not to smile knowingly.

"Shouldn't be a problem.  I have a few memorized."

In the audience, Adam laughed to himself.  He smiled down at Belle who he had taken from JenniAnn.  "No problem at all..." he murmured as Monica chuckled.

Andrew smiled.  "Perfect."  And he knew it would be.  Joshua would have no problem keeping the chorus in thrall.  "Okay, let's try it again.  This time with Joshua actually speaking.  Henry and Eli, umm... just try to pretend Joshua's saying stuff you don't agree with.  Zeke, speak up if you get distracted."

As soon as Andrew and JenniAnn were back in their seats, Tess struck up with the music again. 

Zeke again gave a stirring performance but none of the others looked his way.  To the contrary, their eyes never drifted from Joshua.  Yet, his animated storytelling was just sedate enough to draw only the occasional glance from Andrew, Adam, Monica, and JenniAnn. 

Henry and Eli glared from the shadows, arms folded over their puffed up chests.  It was a bit one-note and Andrew briefly wished that he could pin an image of the grim reaper on Joshua's back to draw out a more natural moral indignation.  By the second half of the song, however, Eli and Henry looked genuinely angry. 

When Zeke finished, Andrew, Monica, and Adam leapt to their feet and clapped while JenniAnn, holding Belle, beamed.

"Excellent job, everyone!" Andrew enthused as he made his way to the stage.  "Zeke, outstanding.  And everyone over here..."  He gestured to Joshua and his listeners.  "Much, much better!  I loved how intent on Joshua you all seemed."  He turned to Eli and Henry.  "And you two... what happened about halfway through?  Suddenly you seemed, well, like Caiaphas and Annas!"

Eli rolled his eyes.  "Took us longer than it should have but we realized that if we looked at Joshua but listened to Zeke... the righteous indignation would just come.  I mean, Judas... dude, be part of the solution... not part of the problem.  No offense, Zeke."

Zeke laughed.  "None taken.  That's my take on the man, too."

Owen raised his hand. 

Andrew smiled at him.  "Yes, Owen?"

"Can Joshua finish his parable?  We only got about halfway through the Prodigal Son."

Zeke's face lit up.  "I know we're rushed but... I wouldn't mind hearing the rest of Joshua's rendition.  Might even add to my portrayal.  At some point Judas was following Jesus.  He should know how he preached."

Andrew chuckled.  It was a stall but a heartfelt one.  And he knew it was important for Owen and possibly a number of the others to hear the remainder of the parable.  "Sure.  Joshua, that okay with you?"

Joshua nodded.  "Definitely.  Okay... so where was I?"

"The prodigal was plotting to go back home," Kemara reminded.

"Right!  Now, that next morning, the father was out in his fields, taking in the sunrise.  He smiled and waved when he saw his older boy set off to work but then he turned back to the horizon.  He did this every morning, all the while praying to God that his missing son be protected and, in God's time, be led back to them.  As he was just about to turn away and return to his work, the man saw a figure approaching.  At first, he thought he was merely dreaming.  But that gait... that form..."  Joy radiated from Joshua as he continued his story.  "The father knew his boy!  He set off at a run... alarming more than a few sheep and workers, not to mention his wife!  He reached the boy in a time far quicker than his age should have allowed.  He pulled him into a massive hug, the kind of hug you still feel even when you've pulled apart.  And he kissed him, as was the custom, first on the right cheek and then on the left.  And he was so thrilled that he did it again!"

Even from some distance away in the audience, JenniAnn could see a tear trickle down Owen's face.  He hurried to brush it away and then looked back to Joshua.

"Now, the son was taken aback by this behavior and even embarrassed by it.  He didn't feel he was worthy of such affection after all he'd done.  Weeping and sometimes quaking with sobs, the son confessed to his father everything that he had done.  And then he said 'So you see, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  For this reason, I'm no longer worthy to be called your son.’  The father was saddened both for those his son had hurt and for the pain such behavior had caused his boy.  But he was so relieved and so happy to have the boy back that he again hugged him, forgiving him for it all.  He called to his servants and that's when the party began!"  Joshua let out a sigh.  "Unfortunately, not everyone was as thrilled as the father.  The older son was downright ticked when he returned from the fields and found a party... and for his miscreant brother!  All that time, all that hard work... and that rascal gets a party?"  Joshua stuck out his lower lip, causing the others to laugh.  He smiled at them.  "Naturally, the father came out to check on his older son.  He begged him to come inside and celebrate but he refused.  He reminded his father of the younger's disobedience and abandonment.  The father listened attentively, nodding at points and patting his son's back when he got really riled.  Then he let out a weary sigh and peered out at the sun which was now setting.  Smiling gently, he turned back to his eldest and said 'My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we gotta rejoice and celebrate!  Your brother was dead and now he's alive again!  He was lost and now he's found!'  And I like to believe that, together, the father and the older son returned to the party, the latter feeling the joy and relief his father had all day."  Joshua surveyed the faces of his listeners, smiling at each of them and hoping they took the message to heart.

Like Owen, Kemara was touched by the emotional rendition.  She was surprised to find herself looking up at Joshua and asking him a question.  "Do you think the father would have acted the same if it had been a daughter who left?"

Emma's head shot up and she stared at Joshua, ready to pounce on the good, ol' boy.

Joshua smiled at Kemara.  "The very same way."

Kemara returned his smile.

Emma gaped.  "B-but the standards put on women back then... patriarchs were allowed affairs and flings b-but the women... ostracized or worse."

Joshua nodded.  "Yes.  But that doesn't mean it was right.  Nor does it mean double standards now are right.  God knows that."

"He's amazing..." JenniAnn murmured.  She kissed Belle's hair.  "Oh, I wish you could understand all this and remember it."

Adam and Monica exchanged smiles over her bowed head.

"Let's move on," Emma called, thrown by Joshua's unexpected response.  And now she'd have to make it through two numbers with him...

"Sounds good," Andrew agreed, stepping down from the stage.  "Henry and Eli, wanna come down here and watch with us?"

The two "high priests" nodded and plopped into seats near the others.  Eli angled around and smiled at JenniAnn.  "So did we look menacing?"

"After a bit... yes, actually.  Great job!"  JenniAnn squeezed his hand, hoping both he and Henry would be able to get through their song.

Andrew tilted his head as he studied the stage.  "Okay, let's have Joshua remain center.  Ladies, let's have you gathered around him.  Let's have it look like a sort of question and answer thing.  Apostles, form an outer circle around them.  But not a perfect circle.  Stagger.  Start wide, pressing in with each question.  Zeke's let's have you offstage... stage right... and you'll bust in just before Emma starts her solo.  Actually let's go with right after Joshua's 'If you knew the path we're riding you'd understand it less than I.'  Okay?"

Zeke nodded.  "Got it."

The others quickly moved into place.

JenniAnn sighed.  "Well, at least we know this time we won't have to deal with the creep factor."

Andrew squeezed her shoulder.  "Exactly.  Tess, you ready?"

"You bet, baby."

"Joshua?"

"Sure."

"Great.  Okay, I know we haven't really gotten into blocking since things changed.  So everyone just do what feels natural to you and we'll tweak what we need to next time.  So... let's go!"  Andrew nodded to Tess who started playing.

"'What's the buzz?  Tell me what's happening,'" the apostles demanded over and over.

At first, Joshua maintained a calm facade, focusing on the women around him.  With each repetition, though, his smile faded more until he looked downright annoyed.  He managed a gentle smile for Kylie who was seated to his right, squeezed her hand, and then got to his feet.  His stern gaze traveled over each of the apostles.

"'Why should you want to know?'" Joshua questioned gravely.  "'Don't you mind about the future.  Don't you try to think ahead.  Save tomorrow for tomorrow. Think about today instead,'" he ordered.

JenniAnn's eyes went wide.  It was shocking to see Joshua in such a state. 

Violeta reached up and clasped Joshua's hand.  He smiled and bent to sit down again but the apostles repeated their question and he straightened back up.  "'I could give you facts and figures.  I could give you plans and forecasts.  Even tell you where I'm going...'"

The men crowded nearer, demanding to know when they'd ride into Jerusalem.  Their imposition made the women visibly uncomfortable which only increased Joshua's unease.  Andrew considered shouting for them to stop but Joshua had warned him off such actions.  He had said Andrew could and should yell cut if someone else seemed overly distressed... but not for his sake.  The director slowly exhaled when JenniAnn gripped his hand.

Zeke sauntered onto the stage soon after, stepping onto one of the risers.  He shook his head as he watched Emma kneel at Joshua's side and wipe at his brow.

"'Let me try to cool down your face a bit.  Let me try to cool down your face a bit,'" she sang. 

In counterpoint to the stress the apostles caused him, Joshua seemed more and more soothed by each utterance from Emma.  He beamed at her and affectionately stroked her hair, never taking his eyes from hers.

Flustered, Emma dropped the cloth then smiled when he handed it back to her.

"'Mary, mmm, that is good.'"  Joshua squeezed her hand, kept hold of it, and then looked back to the apostles.  "'While you prattled through your supper... where and when and who and how... she alone has tried to give me what I need right here and now.'"

As the apostles sang, Emma kept focused on Joshua; a genuine, tender smile on her face.  Andrew noticed and smiled.  Even when he'd been behaving, Emma had never seemed so settled with Eric near. 

Then Judas began his attack.  The change in Emma's demeanor was immediate.  The color rose in her cheeks.  She hung her head, removing her hands from Joshua's hair and face and pulling away from him.  Andrew opened his mouth, knowing something wasn't right.  She wasn't acting.  However, he saw Joshua again reach for her hand and whisper something in her ear.  Emma calmed and, though she wouldn't look at Joshua, she remained seated beside him.  Joshua rested his arm around her shoulders, occasionally looking at Zeke but mostly remaining focused on her.  Finally, she looked at Joshua and gave him a halfhearted smile.

"'It's not that I object to her profession,'" Zeke sneered.  "'But she doesn't fit in well with what you teach and say.  It doesn't help us if you're inconsistent.  They only need a small excuse to put us all away!'" 

Joshua lightly kissed Emma's hair and Violeta's then stood, moving to within inches of Zeke.  Though Zeke was the taller of the two, Joshua seemed far more imposing as he sang.  "'Who are you to criticize her?  Who are you to despise her?'" he spat out.  "'Leave her, leave her!  Let her be now.  Leave her, leave her!  She's with me now.  If your slate is clean then you can throw stones.  If your slate is not then leave her alone!'"  Joshua shook his head, tears pooling in his eyes even as his face remained rigid and stern.  "I'm amazed that a man like you can be so shallow thick and slow!'"  He spun around to face the other apostles.  "'There is not a man among you who knows or cares if I come or go!'" he shouted before making his way past the apostles and stumbling to stage left.  He settled onto the bottom step of a riser and, after peering up at the ceiling, dragged his hand through his hair.

The gesture was so familiar that JenniAnn couldn't help looking at Andrew.  She noted the tense lines in his face and rested her head against his shoulder. 

Andrew rested his chin on her hair for a moment then glanced down at Belle who was, inexplicably, sleeping.  The sight of her so content and comfortable helped him relax.  It was only pretend this time.

The apostles belted out their protests and then all was silent.

For a few moments, there was a heaviness in the air.

Finally, Adam disrupted the silence.  "Damn..."

"Adam!" Tess hissed.

"Adam, please expound upon that," Joshua requested.

The angel of death felt a pang of embarrassment until he noticed the glint in Joshua's eyes.  Adam smiled.  "That was my not so eloquent way of saying 'good job.'  Especially considering it was the first time you've all performed that together... it was impressive.  The tension was staggering."

Andrew nodded and rose.  "It truly was.  Each of you brought so much to it.  Emma and Joshua, the interaction between the two of you was perfect.  Wow.'"

Emma blushed then stole a glance at Joshua.  She smiled when she saw he was smiling, too.  Maybe he wasn't so bad...  And he really wasn't ugly, she decided.  Only plain.  Pleasant-looking even.

"So let's not lose the mood entirely.  We can come back to 'What's the Buzz' later.  And we'll figure out 'Then We are Decided' later, too.  Everyone okay with moving right into 'Everything's Alright' since we're set up for that?"  Andrew checked. 

The cast all nodded. 

"Cool.  I like how Joshua moved outside of the circle.  So let's start there.  Emma, how about you rush over to him and begin the song.  At 'Don't you know everything's alright?  Yes, everything's fine,' let's have the rest of the female followers draw near.  After their first chorus, you'll approach, Zeke.  But hang back a little at first.  Draw closer when your part of the song starts up.  Okay?"

"You bet.  Can we do the hand clasp thing like in the movie?" Zeke requested.  "That always got to me."

Joshua nodded.  "That part hits me hard, too."

"Right.  So let's go with that," Andrew agreed.  He wondered how that would play out as Joshua and Zeke became closer but they could deal with that later.  For right now, he had other matters to deal with.  He knew already that JenniAnn would start crying the second Tess started up with the opening notes.  This was their song... or one of them.  He settled back into his seat and smiled tenderly at her.  "You okay with this one?  If you want to step out..."

JenniAnn shook her head.  "No."

"'Kay."  Andrew patted her arm.

Monica leaned forward.  "Would you like me to take Belle for a wee bit?"

JenniAnn glanced down at her sleeping baby.  "That's probably not a bad idea."  She smiled once Monica was cuddling the girl.  With a sigh, she hugged Andrew's right arm.

The angel of death nodded to Tess.

Sure enough, tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes as the opening notes of the song she'd sang so often to Andrew began.  Her emotions were only compounded by how vulnerable and let down Joshua looked.  Thankfully, Emma pushed through two of the apostles and sat beside him.  Her soothing voice offered some comfort.

"'Try not to get worried.  Try not to turn on to problems that upset you.  Oh, don't you know everything's alright?  Yes, everything's fine,'" she crooned gently, clasping his hand.

A tender smile formed on Joshua's face, driving away some more of the gloom.

Those in the audience and the cast waiting in the wings were all taken aback when the women's chorus sang.  They'd never sung together before and their voices blended perfectly.  Joshua rallied further as they joined him and Emma.

Zeke hated having to step in and disrupt them but he gave it his all.  "'Hey, woman, your fine ointment, brand new and expensive, should have been saved for the poor!  Why has it been wasted?  We could have raised maybe three hundred silver pieces or more!'"

Joshua kept hold of Emma's hand and, instead of looking away ashamedly as she'd once rehearsed the part, "Mary" only stared at "Judas" with ill-concealed anger.  As he continued to rant, she kissed Joshua's hand and then began to wipe at his brow again.  Joshua's eyes flitted back and forth between the two before settling on Emma.  He began to relax again, settling against the back of the riser. 

Zeke bent down and grabbed Emma's upper arm, trying to pull her away from Joshua as the women sang. 

Startled, Joshua sat up and wrapped his fingers around Zeke's wrist, hoping to get him away from Emma.  "'Surely you're not saying we have the resources to save the poor from their lot?  There will be poor always
, pathetically struggling.  Look at the good things you've got!'" 

Zeke released Emma and grabbed Joshua's shoulder, staring into his face with an intensity that equaled that in Joshua's eyes.

"
'Think while you still have me.  Move while you still see me.  You'll be lost!  And you'll be sorry when I'm gone!" Joshua cried, never breaking the gaze as he clasped Zeke's shoulder.

Though he hadn't planned on it, tears streamed down Zeke's face.  He imagined what was to come.  He wondered for how long Jesus had known that Judas would betray him.  He noticed that Joshua no longer looked angry, only very sad... sympathetic even.  Zeke sighed raggedly, sure in that moment that Jesus would have felt the same for Judas.  Joshua's compassion only made the weight of what would come to pass seem heavier.  Instinctively, Zeke began to move back, away from the pain.  His hand slid to Joshua's upper arm then his elbow, his forearm.  Joshua clasped his hand, holding it tightly.

"'Close your eyes, close your eyes, and relax,'" Emma pleaded fruitlessly.

At the final note, Zeke broke away.  He and Joshua were no longer touching.  The connection was severed.

Diana hugged her husband.  "You all right, honey?"

Zeke swiped at his tears and kissed her temple.  "Yeah.  You ladies... you sounded wonderful.  Emma, that was... it was beautiful."

Joshua nodded, smiling at them.  "Incredible.  I wish there were more songs with just the female chorus.  Heavenly.  And..."  He looked to Zeke, reaching for his hand.  "I think we both felt that one."

Zeke pulled him into a hug and nodded.  "You can say that again.  But let's see what the audience thought."  He turned to face Andrew and the others.  "So?  Did we look okay from... JenniAnn, are you okay?"

Deciding she was beyond Kleenex, JenniAnn wiped her eyes on the shoulders of her shirt and flashed the peace sign.  "L-lovely... and sad... and lovely..."

Andrew hugged her.  "What she said."  He smiled proudly at all of them.  "I think you rendered all of us speechless for a while.  Maybe we should break a little early for dinner and come back to this afterwards?"

The crowd onstage all conferred for a moment then Emma turned back to Andrew.  "We'd all rather run through it again and then move on after dinner if that's okay."

"Sure," Andrew agreed.

Owen stepped back onto the stage.  "Where are we supposed to be during 'What's the Buzz?'  I mean inside the show.  Are we in a house?  Where is Joshua leaving from and going to between the two numbers?  I'm just trying to plan for the sets."

"Good question.  Do you think we could have a portion of the set made to look like a house?  Probably no walls.  We don't want to block anyone's view.  Just a few props to signify that it's a house.  Maybe slide some furniture and things in?"

Owen nodded.  "I think I know a place where we can get some simple wood furniture."  He winked at JenniAnn who smiled.

"Great.  Then let's have some trees and dark lighting to the other side of the stage for 'Everything's Alright.'  Gloria, do you think we could pull off a starry sky?" Andrew asked.

The angel nodded effusively.  "Quite easily, actually.  It would look beautiful."

"Great.  Okay, so let's start back at the top of 'What's the Buzz?' and then go straight on through and we'll have dinner... and cake... after 'Everything's Alright.'"

The cast moved back to their places and once they were set, Tess began to play. 

The three songs all meshed perfectly together and the performances were no less engaging than during the first run through.  In fact, both Emma's and Zeke's performances were improved and the two choruses sounded even more attuned to each other.  Belle roused a few moments into "Strange Thing Mystifying" but to Andrew's and JenniAnn's surprise she didn't make any noise and simply took in the action onstage. 

Andrew beamed at the cast when Tess finished off "Everything's Alright."  "You're all doing amazing!  I know that if anyone wandered into here tonight, they'd never believe this was our first rehearsal all together."

"I can't believe Joshua knows all his lines!" Arthur mused.  "That's incredible!"

Joshua smiled over at him.  "Thanks.  I've seen the show many, many times."

Andrew looked over at Monica, both of them amused.  Joshua had, of course, seen every production ever not to mention countless people rocking out to records and cassettes and CDs and iPods and more in their cars, living rooms, dance clubs, and only he knew how many other places.

"Thank God for that," Andrew remarked, grinning at Joshua.  "Now, I'm going to run and get the pizza.  Shouldn't take more than ten minutes.  Could a few of you please push the scaffolding out while I'm gone?"

Several people leapt into action and soon the stage was set for Henry's and Eli's first number.  Then they hauled out a cooler Andrew and Emma had stocked with sodas, water, and juices.  Just as he'd predicted, Andrew returned within ten minutes and everyone was soon scattered around the stage and enjoying the pizza. 

While Andrew was preparing a bottle for Belle back in the office, Emma approached him.  "Hey there!" he greeted with a warm smile.  "You were phenomenal out there!"

Emma couldn't help smiling back.  "Thank you.  Everyone was.  Actually... that's why I'm here.  You and Zeke were right.  About Joshua, I mean.  I know this is going to sound really weird and maybe like I need my head examined but... when I was acting with Eric, I always felt like I was acting with Eric-pretending-to-be-Jesus.  With Joshua... I felt like I was acting with Jesus... remarkable, really, considering I don't even believe in Jesus anymore."  She braced herself, waiting for a strong reaction from Andrew. 

Andrew remained focused on Belle's bottle.  "I don't think that sounds weird at all, Emma.  And I think sometimes, even when we don't believe in people, it can happen that they still believe in us."

Emma smiled, not sure what to make of his remark but warmed by it.  "Yeah, maybe.  Did you notice when Joshua whispered to me during 'Strange Thing?'"

Andrew nodded.  He had wondered what Joshua had said but would never have pried.

"He told me that sometimes people are so insecure and so doubtful of their own worth that they see only sin and ugliness in other people, even when it's not really there, because they've blinded themselves to goodness and beauty.  Or they're so worried about people turning on them that they point at flaws in other people.  But God sees people as they really are and loves them.  He repeated pretty much the same thing the second time, too."  Emma sighed then looked away with a tremulous smile.  "I don't know if he said it because he was sticking in character and thought it seemed like something Jesus would say to Mary Magdalene or..."

Andrew turned to her.  "When Zeke started singing, I could see that you... you went somewhere.  Somewhere real... and sad.  Being so close, I bet Joshua could see it even more.  I think Joshua meant those words for Emma, not 'Jesus' for 'Mary Magdalene.'"

"You think?"

"I do."

"I feel bad about what I said about him...  It really... it wasn't about his race or size.  I mean not really.  I just... people can be shallow and I was worried that if we didn't have a... a really good-looking lead then..."  Emma sighed.  "I... I don't want to lose this theater and so I was worried... but I'm not now.  Joshua may not be very handsome but... he draws you in.  He's compelling.  Audiences respond to that, too.  And I shouldn't have assumed otherwise on the spot like I did," she lamented.  "Always going on about people making judgments and rejecting people and... and then I..."

Andrew hugged her shoulders.  "Obviously you learned from it, Emma.  That's a great thing.  Please don't dwell on it.  Joshua wouldn't want that.  Now..."  He held up the bottle.  "I better head back out there lest I face the wrath of Belle.  You coming?"

Emma smiled.  "Yeah."

The two returned to the stage.  Andrew went to where JenniAnn and Belle sat with Kemara, Diana, Kylie, and Zeke while Emma grabbed some pizza and headed to one of the risers where Peter and Joshua were visiting.

"So I think Andrew said you're my understudy?" Joshua asked the young man.

Peter nodded, swallowing a bite of pizza.  "Yeah.  For lack of options.  So please don't get sick.  I know I don't have what you just did in me."

"I think you'd do better than you think, Peter."  Joshua smiled then noticed Emma approaching.  "Hi, Emma!  Gonna come sit with us?"

"I'd like that."  She returned his smile before taking a seat.

"You were wonderful, Emma," Peter complimented.  "You made me feel really bad for harassing Joshua about going to Jerusalem."

Joshua chuckled.  "Well, it's not as if it was only you doing the haranguing, Peter.  Emma, you really did do a beautiful job." 

"Thank you.  It was just nice to sing with a Jesus who I didn't want to slap," she joked.  "And thank you... for what you said.  I know it was maybe just the part..."

"I meant what I said," Joshua asserted.  "There's a lot of judgment in this world, much of it unjust.  When people start talking like Judas was there, I think it's important to step back and try to see yourself as God does, see yourself with His love."

Peter nodded.  "I believe that.  It reminds me of something my abuela... my grandma said to me once."

"What did she say?" Emma asked with interest.  She'd never heard Peter talk about his family.  In fact, Peter seldom talked about anything personal.

Peter continued with a shy smile.  "See, my mom's family is from Mexico originally and my dad is Scotch Irish.  People can be judgmental sometimes.  Even now.  I'd get upset by comments people would make about our family.  One day, when I was about ten, my abuela found me crying because I'd overheard one of my friend's parents refer to me as a half-Spic."

Joshua briefly set his hand on Peter's arm.  He remembered that day.  He could see the little boy running from his friend's yard, throwing open his front door, and flinging himself on his bed.  Joshua knew that the slur had hurt all the more because Peter had nursed a little boy's crush on the woman who had said it.  But Renata's response to her grandson... it had been sublime.

"So my abuela started asking me questions.  She asked 'Did this person have holes in their hands?'  'No, abuela.'  'Did they have holes in their feet?'  'No, abuela.'  'Did I have any reason to believe that they'd ever hung on a cross for six hours?'  'No, abuela!'  'Then why did you accept their judgment?  They are not God,' she said."  Peter beamed.  "Then she got out this National Geographic or something about the Holy Land and she showed me what people there look like.  She told me Jesus probably had skin not much different from mine but that He came for all people regardless of skin color.  And He'd never call anyone a half-Spic."

"He wouldn't," Joshua agreed.  "I think your abuela is a very wise woman."

Hearing this, Emma's cheeks colored.  She had not been wise.  Despite what Andrew had said, she still felt sorry for discounting Joshua as "too ethnic."  Really that had mostly been her attempt to politely say that he wasn't attractive enough to be the lead.  Obviously she had not succeeded in being polite...  Looking at Peter smiling at him, she knew the casting was just as it should be.

Peter grinned.  "Me too.  I hope my family can come see our show.  They're still in Texas."

"That would be wonderful.  I'd love to meet them."  Joshua smiled at Peter then ate the last of his pizza.  He noticed the man sneaking glances at the woman.  He wondered if Peter had found the heart stone.  "I'm looking forward to 'Could We Start Again, Please?" he announced.  "I've always loved that song and I think hearing the two of you together is going to be something else.  Do you know how you plan to stage that?"

"Oh, umm, Andrew and I have only talked about it really briefly.  He said JenniAnn had mentioned seeing some production that started out just with Mary Magdalene holding a votive and singing.  Then Peter comes out and lights his votive from hers.  Then others step out, more candles.  It sounded really beautiful... and sad.  I... I think I'm more nervous for that than I am 'I Don't Know.'  It's just so... funereal."  Emma pushed some hair behind her ear.  It reminded her of when Joshua had touched her hair.  She blushed.  It had been nice to have someone touch her and not feel like they wanted more.

Hesitantly, Peter reached out then sat his hand on hers.  "We'll muddle through it together, Emma," he vowed.

She smiled at him.  "Yeah."

"I know you'll do more than muddle," Joshua insisted.  "Well... I could do with some cake, I think," he mused.  "Can I get some for you both?"

Peter moved to stand.  "I can come hel..."

"No, no.  I can carry three plates of cake, no problem.  Which one would you like?  Or maybe some of each?"

"I'm still impressed Adam baked that wedding cake so I'll try that, please."  Emma looked over at the table.  Even though Adam had begun slicing the cake, she still thought it looked magazine cover ready.  "Thanks, Joshua!"

"I'll have the same," Peter replied.  "Thank you.  And you're sure you don't need help?"

"Very sure.  Be right back."  Joshua walked away, smiling as he heard the two resume talking.  When he reached the table, Adam smiled at him.

"So what can I get for you, Boss?" he asked in a hushed tone. 

"Two slices of yours for Peter and Emma and I think I'll go for three small pieces of each."

"Wise choice.  JenniAnn and Rose will be glad you tried some of theirs and, of course, I would be heartbroken if you passed mine up."

Joshua chuckled.  "So would I.  It's delicious.  I wish we'd had some at Cana.  Probably would have gone over better than the wine."

"I don't know about that.  But I think they would have paired nicely."  Adam winked and then slid the three plates towards Joshua.  "So how are you doing?  There were a couple points when Andrew, Monica, and I got a little concerned."

Joshua smiled.  "It's an experience... reliving it this way.  But... already I feel like things are happening, hearts are changing... opening.  And..."

"And you're with them."

"With all of you," Joshua gently corrected.  "And this time... this time I realize it."

Adam leaned over the table and hugged him.  "This is really... really great."

"It is."  Joshua patted his back then pulled away.

"Are you going to talk to Henry and Eli before break ends?"

Joshua nodded.  "Just as soon as I deliver this cake.  Thanks, Adam!"  He smiled once more at the angel then returned to Emma and Peter.  They were laughing as he approached.  The sound made him smile.  They both needed more laughter in their lives. 

"Here you go...  Enjoy!  If you both don't mind, I'd like to visit with Henry and Eli quickly before we start back.  That okay?" Joshua checked.

"Oh.  Well, sure.  But I hope we can talk again soon.  Thanks for bringing the cake!" 

"You bet and we will," Joshua promised Peter.  He could tell the man genuinely wanted to talk to him but also didn't mind the time with Emma. 

"Thanks, Joshua!"  Emma smiled up at him.  "And I... I really do appreciate what you said." 

Joshua squeezed her hand.  "Thanks for listening."  His heart swelled when Emma squeezed his hand back.

As Joshua made his way over to Eli and Henry, Zeke called for him.  He detoured to him.  "Hey, Zeke.  Great dinner, huh?"

"It really is," the man agreed.  "We were talking about how maybe we'd do this a few times a week."

"Not takeout all the time.  Maybe potluck or something," Diana explained.  "It's nice having this time together."

"I agree.  Maybe I'll bring some fish and bread," Joshua suggested with a grin.

Andrew chuckled.  

"You do that," Zeke encouraged, laughing as he did.  "And that sort of relates to why I called you over here."  He glanced over at JenniAnn who was blushing. 

"I, umm, was telling Zeke about how the Levines would be coming at some point and I let it slip that you're Jewish.  Sorry."

Joshua reached over and squeezed her shoulder then settled into their circle.  "It's okay.  I wasn't trying to hide it or anything.  It just hadn't come up with Zeke.  But, yeah, I'm Jewish."

"I was just a little taken aback because of your knowing Christian hymns and being so willing to be in this show," Zeke explained.

"Well, like I told JenniAnn, I do believe Jesus is the Messiah and I believe in the Trinity."  Joshua sampled the red velvet cake.  "Delicious, JenniAnn.  I can tell why it's Andrew's favorite."

JenniAnn smiled.  "Thanks.  It's just out of a box."

"But you made it," Andrew and Joshua said in unison.

Kylie giggled.

JenniAnn looked curiously at the two but only smiled in response. 

"But you don't consider yourself Christian?" Zeke questioned after a few moments' reflection.

Joshua shook his head.  "No.  My family's Jewish and has been for generations." 

Andrew hoped Zeke would accept that and not pry further.  Joshua couldn't exactly tell him that he wasn't Christian because Christ can't follow Christ...

"That must have been hard... to come to believe differently from your family."  Diana smiled sympathetically at Joshua.

"It was with some.  But my parents believed the same about Jesus.  Some other family members believed, too."  Joshua smiled to himself.  In a way, his Ama and Abi had believed before he had.  They'd known he was the Messiah back when he was still trying to figure out what his fingers were and his communication skills had been limited to bawling, gurgling, and cooing.  Remembering, Joshua smiled at Belle.

Zeke shook his head and smiled.  "You put me in mind of the first Christians, Joshua.  I often wish we'd retained more of our tie to Judaism.  And you have!  Man, I feel like you must have a really interesting life story.  I think I could spend centuries with you and not get bored."

Joshua beamed.  "Glad you feel that way, Zeke.  And I look forward to many, many more talks with all of you.  But I do want to check in on Henry and Eli before Andrew here calls us back to work."  He winked at the angel of death.

"I'm sure they'd appreciate that."  Kemara looked over at where the two were eating cake.  They looked a little glum.  "I don't envy them."

"Me neither," JenniAnn murmured. 

"It'll be difficult," Andrew asserted.  "But they're up to the challenge.  I think a visit with you will help, though, Joshua."

"Headed that way now!"  Joshua waved, picked his plate back up, and approached the two angels. 

"Eli and Henry!"

"Hey," Eli greeted.

"Hi Joshua."  Henry smiled wanly.

Joshua sat down in front of them.  "Would you both rather wait a little bit?  I can ask Andrew to skip the song tonight.  I'm sure he would."

The two angels looked briefly at each other. 

Eli shook his head.  "No, it's okay.  It's not like it's suddenly going to be easy at some point.  Besides, we haven't forgotten what you said."

"When you look at us, you'll know we love you," Henry repeated.

Joshua smiled.  "Exactly.  And I am grateful to you both for doing this for me.  I..."  He turned around and looked to the others.  When he was facing them again, his face was radiant.  "I'm really having a great time."

Eli returned the smile.  In spite of the angst tied to his role, he was really enjoying himself, too.  "It is fun having us all together like this."

"I like being able to talk to you during an assignment without people staring at me like I'm crazy for talking to empty air," Henry added.

Joshua laughed.  "Oh but it's so fun to see the expressions on their faces!"

Henry chuckled.  "It is.  I've pulled the early disappearing act on Andrew a few times.  Never gets old."

"No, it doesn't."  Joshua smiled and then took one of their hands in each of his. 

Eli and Henry bowed their heads as he prayed.

"Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season."

The two angels felt calmed when Joshua finished the ancient blessing.  They recognized that it truly was a blessing to be there, doing what they were.  They could remember when Joshua was at his lowliest.  Now his story was known the world over, he was celebrated and worshiped all over the world.  Now they had a part in telling a version of that story.  It was enough.

"Thank you," Eli murmured.

"Thanks, Joshua."  Henry sighed contently.

"You're welcome."  Joshua squeezed their hands then released them.  "Since I don't have to be onstage for the song, where would you like me to be?  Do you want to be able to see me or would you rather not?  I don't mind either way."

"We'll have to get used to performing it without seeing you," Eli pointed out.  "During the show's run, you can't be going out into the audience."

"But he could for now at least," Henry countered.  "I think I'd feel better if I could see you.  At least at first."

Eli nodded assent.  "Yeah, at least at first.  JenniAnn's taking Belle to the office during it.  She asked me if that was okay and, of course, I told her it was.  I think Violeta's planning on going with them."

Joshua turned to look over at JenniAnn and Belle.  "I think that's for the best."  He smiled when Violeta approached the two and took Belle into her arms.

"Whoa..."

The three all looked a few yards from Violeta to where Shane was staring at her. 

"Shane, what is it?" Andrew queried as he made his way to the man.

Shane pointed to Violeta and Belle.  "They look like a Nativity painting come to life.  Darn, I wish this show had a Christmas scene."

Violeta blushed as everyone looked at her. 

JenniAnn smiled.  Fittingly, the angel was wearing a blue dress and the image was quite charming.  "Who says we can't have a Nativity scene?"

"There's no time.  Where would we put it?" Emma asked.

Peter perked up.  "The Overture.  Remember, we haven't decided what to do with the Overture.  What if we shoot some footage?  A very brief 'This Is His Life' sort of video.  We play that during the Overture.  I've seen music videos that cover Jesus' whole life in three or four minutes.  We'd have what?  Five minutes?"

"That's perfect!" Shane enthused. 

"Our uncle lives on a farm in Albany.  I'm sure he'd let us come out for a day.  We could get the Nativity, rolling hills, sheep," Edward listed off. 

"There's even a lake.  We could dunk Peter for the storm scene.  Not sure how we'd get you to walk on it, though, Joshua," Caleb joked.

Andrew chuckled.  "I have a video camera we could use.  And editing software," he offered.  He looked over to Joshua.  "I think it would be good to honor the whole story, the whole life... not just the last week of that life."

Joshua smiled at him.  "I really love this idea."

"Then let's do it!" Emma agreed.

Zeke marveled, hugging Diana to him.  "I think this is going to be a Superstar production like no other."

"Definitely," Andrew agreed.  And for One reason more than any other...

*~*~*

Andrew was grateful for Joshua's presence beside him when they resumed rehearsals.  He knew Eli and Henry had the far greater challenge but simply hearing the song they were to perform would be difficult.  It helped to have Joshua there... alive, happy, comfortable.  Monica was seated to Joshua's other side while Adam sat behind them, ready to dole out comforting shoulder squeezes as necessary.

Andrew sighed as he looked up at the stage and dragged his hand through his hair.  "Okay, everyone set in the wings?"

"Yes!" a chorus of voices replied.

"Great.  Okay, Caleb let's have you on the scaffolding downstage right.  Edward, stand across from your brother on the left side.  Do you remember when you leave?"

The two brothers nodded.

"Great.  Eli and Henry, how about you two stand near to each other upstage center.  When the crowd comes out during 'Hosanna,' Eli will take Edward's place and Henry you'll take Caleb's.  And if anything feels at all shaky up there... stop and let the rest of us know.  We don't want any more, umm, tumbles from the scaffolding."

This was met with snickers both onstage and off.

"Okay, priests ready?" Andrew checked.

"As ready as we'll ever be," Eli replied.

Andrew sat back down.  "You ready?" he asked Joshua.

Joshua nodded, already focused on Eli and Henry.

"Tess, get us started, please."

Tess smiled at Andrew then looked to the men onstage.  "Break a leg, babies!"  With that, the stark opening notes began.

Edward turned to Eli.  "'Good Caiaphas, the council waits for you.  The Pharisees and priests are here for you.'"

"'Ah gentlemen, you know why we are here.  We've not much time, and quite a problem here,'" Eli croaked with a grimace.

"'Hosanna!  Superstar!'" the chorus repeatedly cheered from offstage.

"'Listen to that howling mob of blockheads in the street!  A trick or two with lepers and the whole town's on its feet,'" Henry cawed. 

Eli and Henry grew more agitated, even flinching at times, as the unseen crowd grew louder.  Caleb and Edward kept gazing offstage wistfully.  "Caiaphas" and "Annas" voiced their frustrations and fears only to be interrupted by the enthusiastic mob shouting their praises. 

"'Jesus Christ... Superstar!'" the followers chanted.

"'He is dangerous!'" Eli and Henry hissed.

"'Tell us that you're who they say you are!'"

Edward smiled and shrugged.  "'The man is in town right now to whip up some support.'"

"'A rabble rousing mission that I think we must abort,'" Henry shot back.

Caleb rolled his eyes, peering at the source of the exultant voices.

The interaction between the two pairs grew more tense with Henry demanding Caiaphas call in the Romans to silence the dangerous man. 

"'No, wait!  We need a more permanent solution to our problem,'" Eli countered, his face grave.

"'What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth?  Miracle wonderman, hero of fools!'" Henry taunted.

Caleb stalked over to Henry and grabbed his sleeve.  "'No riots, no army, no fighting, no slogans!'" he protested, using his free arm to wave in the direction of the unseen Messiah.

Eli grimaced and yanked Caleb's hand off Henry.  "'One thing I'll say for him: Jesus is cool.'"

Caleb waved his hand dismissively and stepped away from the two.  More intent on the crowd than their priestly brethren, the two brothers remained silent as Henry and Eli plotted back and forth.

"'Where do we start with a man who is bigger than John was when John did his baptism thing?'" Henry demanded of Eli.

Eli gaped out at the audience, missing his cue.  He closed his eyes for a moment then, opening them, met Joshua's steady, warm gaze.  He took in a deep breath then let it out as Tess repeated the last few bars.  The story had to be told... each part of it, he reminded himself.  The angel whacked his fist down on the scaffolding causing a loud, reverberating bang.  Then he sang.  "'Fools, you have no perception!  The stakes we are gambling are frighteningly high!  We must crush him completely!  So like John before him, this Jesus must die.  For the sake of the nation, this Jesus must die.'"

As planned, Caleb and Edward betrayed increasing disgust as Eli sang.  At the second 'must die,' they turned their backs on Eli and Henry then scrambled down the scaffolding and into the wings.

"'Must die, must die, this Jesus must die.  So like John before him, this Jesus must die.  Must die, must die, this Jesus must, Jesus must, Jesus must die!'" Eli and Henry sang together with harrowing determination.

Then the song ended abruptly, ready to lead into "Hosanna" but that would have to wait.

The others shuffled nervously, unsure if they were supposed to clap or not.  Breaking the uneasy silence, Joshua stood and smiled at the two.  "Well done!  I could really pick up on the fact that Caiaphas' and Annas' plans were born of desperation, maybe some jealousy and annoyance... but not bloodlust as too many productions make it seem.  Are Edward and Caleb supposed to be Joseph and Nicodemus?"

Henry nodded and smiled wryly.  "A little bird with a Theology degree suggested they be part of this one."

Joshua chuckled.  "Got it.  I like it.  And I think others will find it meaningful."

"I really hope so," Andrew wished.  "We're trying to be honest." 

"Honest is good," Joshua reflected.  He smiled gently at Andrew, grateful to him and the others.  He hoped he'd be able to share that with them all some day.  That his story... his death... had been used to target Jewish people was a sad truth that still grieved him.  But this... this was a step in the right direction.

"Great job, Eli and Henry.  And you guys were great, too, Caleb and Edward," Andrew shouted.

The brothers peeked out from the wings and beamed.  "Thank you!" they replied in unison.

"You're very welcome.  Now... I think once was enough for tonight on that one.  So I'm going to go get Violeta and then we'll start 'Hosanna,' okay?"  Andrew smiled when enthusiastic assent echoed from offstage.  The whole cast had been looking forward to this one.  They didn't have a T-shirt cannon yet but the angel knew it'd still be something to see and hear.

When he reached the office, he found that Violeta was already peeking around the corner.  "Are they done?" she asked nervously, stepping into the hall.

"Yeah, we're ready for 'Hosanna.'"

"How'd they do?"

Andrew approached and squeezed his protege's hand.  "They did really well.  And I think it'll get easier each time."

"A-and Joshua?"

Andrew pulled Violeta into a hug and kissed her hair.  "He's doing really, really well.  He'll be okay.  You know that, right?"

Violeta nodded.  "Just still... a little weird."

"I know."  Andrew smiled encouragingly at her.  "But look at how many people he's been able to spend time with."

Before Violeta could respond, JenniAnn stepped into the hall with Belle.

"Everything okay?  How are Eli and Henry?"

Andrew chuckled.  "Definitely fine as I was just telling Violeta.  But I'm sure they'll be touched to know you both were concerned for them.  Ready for 'Hosanna'?"

"Definitely.  And then... Max's song."  JenniAnn sighed.  "He'll look so grown up standing up there and singing that..."

Andrew smiled to himself as he walked them back to the stage.  It wasn't worth reminding JenniAnn that Max had been grown up for quite some time.

When they reached the stage, Andrew was immediately inundated with questions.

"Is it true we'll have a T-shirt cannon?" Shane pressed eagerly.

"Can we come in singing through the main aisle?" Kemara asked.

"Can we get a donkey?" Arthur questioned.

"Oh... I wish we could!" Monica added.

Zeke bit his lip in consternation.  "But what if the donkey had to... you know... go?"

"Can we crowd surf Joshua down the aisle?" Owen teased.

"No!" Emma protested.  "We can't lose another Jesus!  What if he got dropped?"

Joshua held his side as he laughed.  "I promise I wouldn't sue.  But given the track record... maybe we better avoid any sort of acrobatics."

The angel of death continued to chuckle as he shook his head.  "I leave for two minutes and this happens?" he kidded.

Joshua grinned.  "It may have been my fault mentioning the T-shirt cannon...  Although, I really could get us a donkey."

Andrew's eye brows quirked upwards.  "Umm, do you want a donkey?"

"Oh, let him have a donkey!  They're so cute!" JenniAnn begged.

"His name is Yoktan.  He's very well-trained," Joshua shared.  "And very tame.  He likes people."

Andrew chuckled.  Why not have an over 2,000 year old donkey?  "Okay, Yoktan can be in the show."

"Can we crowd surf Joshua *and* Yoktan?" Owen joked.

"No!" Emma cried but she couldn't contain her own amusement.  "A donkey would be nice, though...  They really are pretty cute.  But where would the donkey stay in between shows?"

"At Home," Joshua replied nonchalantly.  "I'm in good with the couple who own him.  They'll see to it that he gets to and fro."

Adam snickered then feigned innocence when everyone looked at him curiously.

Andrew shook his head in amusement.  "Okay, well, since Yoktan isn't here tonight, let's just practice with Joshua walking on his own two legs.  I do like the idea of coming down the aisle, Kemara.  Emma, do you think that would work with your choreography?"

Emma nodded.  "I hadn't really worked all of that out for the stage so it's not a problem to change it.  I like that idea, too.  Bring the audience in more.  And it's more dramatic."

"Great!  Let's try that."  Andrew stepped off the stage and studied the set.  "So... Henry and Eli, let's have you back on the scaffolding.  Caleb and Edward, you're Romans now so stand at attention, one of you stage right and the other stage left.  Jesus and disciples, let's try to have you... and eventually Yoktan... onstage by the time Caiaphas has his first line.  Got it?"

Whooping and hollering, the majority of the cast went to the lobby where Emma quickly choreographed their modified entrance.

"All right...  Laja, come sit with me please," Andrew requested.  "Adam and Monica, can you sit on the other side?  We'll see what this looks like as they come down the aisle."

"Got it," Adam agreed as Monica nodded giddily. 

"I'm so excited to see Yoktan.  It's been so long!"  The caseworker blushed.  "Since I've spent time around donkeys!" she added hastily.

Andrew chuckled.  "I know how you feel."

"Belle's never seen a donkey!" JenniAnn smiled down at the baby. 

Andrew smiled at them, glad to see them both so happy.  It reminded him that he needed to ask Joshua about the eczema.  Hopefully he'd have a chance after rehearsal.

"Ready to start, Angel Boy?" Tess asked. 

"Yeah."  Andrew turned towards the lobby doors.  "Ready back there?"

"We are," Joshua replied as the others nodded.

"Let's go then!"

As the song began, Joshua was all smiles with Violeta's arm linked through his right one. 

"'Hosanna!  Hey sanna sanna sanna Hosanna.  Hey sanna Hosanna.  Hey JC, JC won't you smile at me?  Sanna Hosanna.  Hey, Superstar!'" the followers sang as they crowded around, waving imaginary palm branches, and occasionally twirling and dancing in a chaotic but joyful melee.  Zeke lagged behind, as sluggish as the others were energetic.

Onstage, Eli and Henry looked on with increasing trepidation while Edward and Caleb smiled smugly, their standards and swords on full display.

As the crowd reached the stage with Joshua standing at center, Eli glared down at him.

"'Tell the rabble to be quiet, we anticipate a riot.  This common crowd is much too loud!'" he complained.

Joshua cast his gaze upward, studying the man curiously as he continued to bemoan the commotion. 

Violeta tightened her grip of Joshua's arm.

Joshua hugged her then embraced several other followers as their song of praise continued.  Finally, he turned back to Eli.  "'Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?  Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.  If every tongue were stilled, the noise would still continue.  The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing!'"  He smiled gleefully then grabbed Emma's hands and spun around with her. 

For a moment, Emma was caught off-guard then she giggled and spun happily, both of them joining the others in singing their hosannas. 

"'Hey JC, JC won't you fight for me?  Sanna Hosanna. Hey, Superstar.'"

Zeke flinched.  Eli cringed and held his head in his hands.  Joshua and Emma stilled and Violeta hurried over to them.  Joshua squeezed both women's hands before ascending one of the risers.  He shook his head then, brightening, began to sing again.

"'Sing me your songs, but not for me alone!  Sing out for yourselves, for you are blessed.  There is not one of you who cannot win the kingdom: the slow, the suffering, the quick, the dead.'"  Joshua beamed out at the crowd and held his arms aloft.  "'Hosanna, hey sanna sanna sanna Hosanna.  Hey sanna Hosanna!'" he sang along with the assembly.

"'Hey JC, JC won't you die for me?  Sanna Hosanna, hey, Superstar.'"

Joshua deflated and bent over slightly, as if he'd been punched in the gut.

Peter jumped in front of Joshua and shook his head, trying to get the crowd to back off as they clamored to touch their messiah.

Emma and Violeta hurried past Peter to join Joshua on the riser, each of them linking an arm through his.  With Peter leading the way, they walked Joshua offstage.

Adam, Monica, and Andrew leapt to their feet with the latter helping JenniAnn to hers.  She silently marveled as the other three clapped.

"Great job, everyone!" Andrew cheered.

"I love that Jesus' mom is with him here," JenniAnn added, her eyes welling as she snuggled Belle closer. 

Andrew hugged her shoulders.  "Me too.  Joshua and Violeta, you interacted really well in this."

Adam smiled.  "It's almost as if you're really related."

Monica lightly stepped on his foot, causing the angel of death to grin.  "Everyone was lovely," she congratulated.  "Emma and Joshua, I loved your spin."

Emma briefly glanced over at Joshua who smiled at her.  She smiled back before turning to Monica.  "Thanks!  It was unexpected... but I think it's nice for them to have a light moment before... well, the rest."

Andrew nodded.  "I agree.  So let's go through it one more time and then we'll do 'Simon Zealotes' and 'Poor Jerusalem' together a couple times then call it a night... a very good night!"

Excited to give the song another go, everyone hurried back to their places.  The second try proved as good as the first and after soaking in the praises from their small audience, the cast was ready to move on.  Emma took center stage.

"Okay, since we haven't been able to do dance rehearsals yet; tonight just Diana, Shane, and myself will dance.  If everyone else in the chorus could please sit on the edge of the stage and watch us while singing along, maybe you can start to learn some of the moves.  I tried to keep it simple.  Ladies, watch Diana and me.  Gentlemen, keep focused on Shane."

Adam raised his hand.

"Yes, Adam?"

"Why is King Herod following Jesus?"

Shane laughed.  "Because right now I'm not Herod.  Glasses off, follower of Jesus.  Glasses on, Herod.  I'm sort of like a really dysfunctional version of Superman." 

Adam chuckled.  "Got it."

"Adam, do you want to double?" Emma asked.

"Oh no, I think I'm a little on the old side to be..."

"Adam!" JenniAnn reprimanded.  "You're not old!  Well, I mean... you know what I mean."

Joshua's face lit up.  "Jesus could always use another follower," he remarked with a grin.

Adam smiled up at him.  "It would be fun..."

"Adam, get up there," Andrew directed, his eyes twinkling.  "We'll just have to make sure you're close to one of the wings, when the time comes, so you can sneak off when 'Poor Jerusalem' starts and get into your Pilate costume."

Happily, Adam took a spot on the edge of the stage.

"Henry and Eli, let's have you two observing this.  I think your later actions make more sense if you hear this.  And Edward and Caleb, let's have you both onstage, too.  Max and Joshua, front and center.  Zeke, off to the side... observing unhappily.  Everyone about ready?" Andrew asked.

"Umm..."  Max looked from the script he was holding to Andrew and JenniAnn and back to the paper.  "I think?"

Joshua squeezed his shoulder.  "It's our first try together, Max.  It won't be perfect and that's okay!"

"But everything else has gone so well tonight," Max whispered back. 

"Maybe I should leave," JenniAnn reluctantly suggested to Andrew.  "I think maybe I'm making him nervous.  Plus, between the singing and what I imagine will be some leaping... it may be too loud for Belle."

Andrew shook his head.  "Laja, I don't think you make him nervous.  You stay.  I'll take Belle."

Monica approached.  "I'd love some time with Belle.  I could take her.  You both should be here for Max."

Andrew and JenniAnn smiled, knowing Monica loved spending time with their little one.

"Sounds like a plan.  Thank you, Monica!" JenniAnn handed Belle off then watched as the caseworker walked away, already cooing.

Andrew smiled after them then hugged JenniAnn's shoulders when they'd both taken a seat.  "Max, you'll do great!" he encouraged as JenniAnn beamed.

"Hope so..."  Max drew in a deep breath then let it out.  He smiled when Rose blew him a kiss. 

"Joshua, you good?" Andrew called.

Joshua nodded.  "Ready to go."

With that, Andrew nodded to Tess and the performance began.

As the crowd shouted their love, Max looked on proudly.  Joshua smiled, subtly nodding his approval and appreciation.  Then Max half-spun to face him.

"'Christ, what more do you need to convince you that you've made it and you're easily as strong as the filth from Rome who rape our country, and who've terrorized our people for so long?'" he queried, his face still set in a smug smile.

Joshua frowned and shook his head before redirecting his attention to the still adoring, still peaceful crowd. 

Off to the side, Zeke found himself singing along then realized what he was doing and abruptly stopped. 

In the house seats, JenniAnn clasped Andrew's hand as Max's next solo began.

"'Keep them yelling their devotion, but add a touch of hate at Rome,'" the young man prodded.

Joshua flinched upon hearing the word 'hate.'  He shook his head and opened his mouth to reprimand Max but was silenced.

"'You will rise to a greater power!'" Max sang out.  "'We will win ourselves a home.  You'll get the power and the glory, for ever and ever and ever.'"

Joshua reached out and set his hand on Max's upper arm, again shaking his head as he wore a forlorn smile.  However, Max shook him off and, unabated, continued to praise the man he'd just ignored.

Andrew, JenniAnn, and Rose all held their breaths while Max's piercing voice erupted with the final "Amen!"

Unable to contain themselves, everyone applauded for Max then just as quickly quieted.  After a brief, encouraging smile; Joshua took up his part.  He peered up at the ceiling and, smiling sadly, turned back to Max.

"'Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand, nor the Romans, nor the Jews, nor Judas, nor the twelve, nor the priests, nor the scribes, nor doomed Jerusalem itself... understand what power is, understand what glory is, understand at all, understand at all,'" Joshua lamented.  His voice shook with the last few words.

The smile melted from Max's face.

Joshua gazed out at the audience.  "'If you knew all that I knew, my poor Jerusalem, you'd see the truth...'"  For just a moment, Joshua looked past the audience, to something only he could see, something that made him smile.

JenniAnn looked to Andrew but he was transfixed.  She knew that look.  He had that look when he spoke of Heaven.

Joshua turned back to Max, to Zeke, and the others.  "'But you close your eyes...  But you close your eyes.  While you live, your troubles are many, poor Jerusalem.  To conquer death, you only have to die.  You only have to die.'"  He turned around, squeezed Max's shoulder and then walked away.  He approached Zeke, bestowed a wan smile on him and then disappeared offstage.

An eery quiet settled over everyone. 

Joshua stepped back onto the stage, smiling.  "I'm really okay," he assured.

It was the permission they all needed to clap and laugh.

"That was just so sad!" Diana commented.  "But as it should be."

"You'll have to excuse our shock, Joshua.  Your predecessor had turned that song into something of a ham-and-cheese-fest," Caleb explained. 

Andrew let out a low whistle as he and JenniAnn made their way onto the stage.  "That was... wow.  Up and then down...  You both were great!"

"My part still doesn't feel right to me."  Max grimaced.  "It still feels... fake."

Rose hugged him.  "It is fake.  You're nothing like Simon."

"I know...  But I watch Joshua and he just... is."  Max looked with admiration at the man.  "I felt like you were really sad for us, not being able to see what you do.  But attacking Rome?  Hating on them?  I don't feel that."

"Max, I think you were magnificent!" Joshua countered.  "And I, for one, think it's a good thing you don't feel that hate."

"Me too."  JenniAnn wiped at her eyes.  "And it's only... what?  Your second time singing that?"

"Yeah..."

Henry approached.  "You'll find the 'trick' you need to get the edge you want, Max.  Eli and I did.  It's just different for everyone.  But you'll find it."

Max smiled.  "Okay.  So are we doing it once more?"

"If you're both willing to."  Andrew turned to Zeke.  "And Zeke, I noticed that you started singing at..."

"Sorry!  It's just a great song and I didn't mean to but..."

"No, no.  I thought it was great!" Andrew protested.  "Poignant.  It made Judas seem even more torn, like part of him just wants to go back to being part of the group.  Could you do it again?"

Zeke nodded.  "For sure.  Thank you!"

"You bet.  So... everyone back to their places, please."

Once Andrew and JenniAnn were in their seats again, Tess resumed playing.  While Max still hadn't quite found his footing emotionally, he sounded great and Joshua's performance lost none of its pathos the second time around.  Less stunned, everyone roared with applause and shouted praise for both soloists when Joshua finished.

When he reappeared, Joshua had Belle in his arms.  "Look who I found in the wings."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Wow... she got there all by herself?"

Andrew chuckled.  "Amazing!"

Monica appeared a moment later, all smiles.  "Ah no.  But once I heard Max finish, I thought it would be okay to listen in on Joshua."  She set a hand on his shoulder.  "You were wonderful."  She turned to Max.  "And what I could hear of you through the door was very stirring!"

Max blushed.  "Thank you.  I just still..."  His eyes met Joshua's.  "Not feeling it."  He frowned and reached out to pat Belle's back.

Joshua passed the baby off to the young man, glancing over at Andrew and JenniAnn who looked on wistfully as Max kissed Belle's curls and snuggled her close while Rose smiled dreamily.

"But I'll find it.  Won't I, Bellaluna?" Max cooed.

Belle nestled her cheek against Max's chest and began to nod off.

Andrew smiled.  "Well, I think that means it's time to call it a night.  Everyone was amazing.  I hope you all realize that and I hope you all feel a lot of confidence about this.  We're back on track, people!" he cheered.

Emma beamed.  "What he said.  You guys are awesome!  We're going to work on choreography mostly tomorrow so, please, bring comfortable clothes and shoes.  See you at 6:00!"

"And don't forget to take leftovers!" Andrew added.

"Leftovers..." Caleb echoed with a grin.

Zeke laughed.  "Oh for the metabolism of my twenties!"

As the others shouted back thank yous and headed to the food table or else dispersed around the theatre to visit before heading home, Andrew and Emma consulted.

"Do you think tonight's a good time to bring the role up to Kylie?" Andrew asked.

"I figure as good as any.  I hope she takes some food.  She's been looking pretty frail," Emma whispered.  She looked for the young woman.  "She probably snuck right back to the coatroom.  Please watch for her.  I'm going to go make a plate up for her."

Andrew smiled after the woman.  Emma truly was a good person... perhaps a little jaded but clearly she cared about others.  He was looking forward to continued work with her and, hopefully, helping her connect more with Joshua.  At the thought, Andrew wondered where he was.  He smiled when he spotted him just off the stage, helping Kylie into her coat.

"Th-thank you," Kylie stuttered, flustered but not unpleased.  She smiled shyly at Joshua.  "You were really great."

"So were you.  I could really hear you during 'Everything's Alright.'  Your voice is beautiful, Kylie!  Very soothing.  Do you enjoy singing?"

Light coming into her eyes, Kylie nodded.  "Very much.  Ever since I was a little girl."

"Well, it was a blessing to hear you.  I hope you really enjoy working on this.  I know I will."

"Thank you, Joshua.  I will, too."

Emma approached with Andrew trailing her by a couple steps.  "Here, Kylie.  Take some food with you.  Might save you having to cook."

"Oh, thanks, but you can leave it for the boys.  I don't need..."

Emma opened her mouth, ready to snap at Kylie for being so willing to defer to "the boys."

Kylie flinched.

Emma felt immediately chastened and smiled gently.  "Oh, trust me, there's plenty.  Here."  She handed the plate to Kylie then turned to Andrew before the woman had another chance to turn it down.  "Andrew, why don't you tell Kylie what we were discussing?"

"Sure."

Joshua looked to Andrew, wondering if he should step away so they could talk.  He remained when the angel replied with a subtle shake of his head.

"Kylie, you remember how a couple weeks ago Emma was saying she was frustrated by the lack of female parts in this show?" Andrew queried.

"Yes... but Jesus only had male apostles.  And the people in power were male," Kylie reminded.

Emma again bit her tongue.

Joshua nodded.  "That's true.  But I think Jesus was only recognizing that he could only change so much, in a short time, in the culture.  Unfortunately, some simply wouldn't accept a female leader, a female apostle.  But he did genuinely want women to to be good, strong leaders.  Remember the part in the Bible when one of the women says to Jesus 'Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that fed you'?"

Kylie nodded.

Emma studied Joshua curiously.

"Well, Jesus definitely thought his mother was blessed.  He loved her dearly.  But what made her blessed wasn't simply that she carried him and nursed him.  He said that what made people blessed was hearing God's word and heeding it.  Mary definitely did that... and part of heeding that was caring for Jesus but that wasn't all.  So much of what she did made her blessed!"  Joshua gushed.  He hoped his Ama was listening.  But right then, Emma and Kylie most needed to hear him.  "So many of the the things Mary did are things that anyone can do... male or female.  Love one another.  Share God's word.  Pray for and with those who are suffering.  Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the weary...  Leaders should do those things.  And both men and women can do those things.  Both men and women can be leaders."

Kylie blushed.  "I don't know..."

"I do."  Emma smiled at Joshua.  "Maybe I'd still believe if you'd been around."

Joshua's expression betrayed a mixture of sadness and joy.  Maybe Emma would draw closer to him... but it hurt to be reminded of what had once been and was currently lost.  And why.  He wanted to hold her and tell her he'd never left... but it wasn't time for that.

"Well... back to what Andrew was saying!" Emma chirped.

Andrew had been so busy studying the three that it took him a moment to remember what he was supposed to be saying.  "Right!  Well, Emma and I talked and we think we have a way of adding another female part.  You know 'Pilate's Dream'?"

Kylie nodded.

"Well, in the Bible it's not Pontius Pilate who has the dream.  It's his wife," Andrew continued.

"Yeah..."  Kylie began to grow nervous.

"Emma and I would really like to return that song to his wife.  Kylie, we'd very much like for you to play her, for you to sing the song.  Would you, please?" Andrew requested.

Kylie took a couple steps back, shaking her head.  "I... I'm fine in the... the chorus b-but..."

Emma approached and hugged her.  "Kylie, it's not fair.  It... it was a woman who tried to stand up to... to save... him."  She waved to Joshua.  "Why should a man get the credit?"

"I... I don't know...  Adam.  I can't take a song from Adam!" Kylie grasped.  "That wouldn't be fair."

Hearing his name, the elder angel of death approached.  "What's going on?"

"Adam, we asked Kylie about taking the part of Claudia, Pilate's wife, and singing the dream song," Andrew explained.

Adam's face lit up.  "Great!  I think that'll be really something!  We might be the only production to actually get it right!"

"She hasn't agreed," Emma explained.

"Oh."  Adam frowned.  "Well, that's okay.  But I really do think it'd be better if you sang it."  He smiled gently at Kylie. 

"But no one wants to pressure you," Andrew clarified.  "Could you just think about it, Kylie?  Please."

Emma hugged her.  "Please," she echoed.

"You... you all really think I can?  A solo?" Kylie asked, her voice barely above a whisper.  She was asking them all but zeroed in on Joshua.

"I believe you can with all my heart," Joshua replied.  "Truly."

Though she couldn't say why, in that moment Andrew's words from earlier in the evening returned to Emma: "And I think sometimes, even when we don't believe in people, it can happen that they still believe in us."  She let out a ragged sigh.

"Could... could I come early tomorrow... before the others get here... and try it with only the four of you here?"

Andrew and Emma looked to Adam and Joshua who both nodded.

"Definitely," Andrew vowed. 

Finally, Kylie smiled.  "Okay.  But just to try...  I... I may not be able to."

Emma nodded.  "We understand.  Thank you for giving it a chance, Kylie!  How about 5:30?  Will you need a ride?"

"No, I can get here on my own.  5:30 it is."  Kylie agreed then, seeing Zeke and Diana, she stepped away.  "I think they're wanting to leave.  Good night!"

The other four watched, waving to Zeke and Diana, as Kylie hurried off. 

Emma turned back to the three men.  "Honestly, that went better than I thought it might.  I figured we'd need a few more conversations before she'd even agree to try."

"I hope it'll be good for her," Adam added.

Andrew nodded.  "Me too." 

"It will be," Joshua affirmed.  He smiled at Andrew and Emma.  "I had an amazing time!  Thank you for hiring me.  I can't wait until tomorrow night!"

Emma returned his smile.  "I can't either.  And I'm very glad we hired you.  And... the stage is great!  Shane was jumping around quite a bit right on the former hole during Max's song and... no problems!  Thanks again for that!"

Joshua beamed.  "You're very welcome."  He turned to see who else remained.  "I'm going to start saying my good nights.  I'll be sure to be here tomorrow at 5:30.  Good night, Adam, Andrew, and Emma!"

After they'd echoed their good byes, Andrew remembered that he needed to speak to Joshua.  "Hey, Joshua, before you go... I wanted to ask you something."

"Sure.  I left my coat in the lobby.  Walk with me?"

Andrew nodded, following Joshua into the abandoned lobby.

Joshua grabbed his coat off a chair.  "The ticket office counter could use some sanding and re-staining.  Pretty marked up by pens and markers.  Used to drive Eugene crazy when people would get sloppy signing their checks."

Andrew smiled.  He hadn't even noticed. 

"What time are you coming in tomorrow?  I'm doing Bingo at the Abundant Living Home but should be done by lunch.  Maybe I could come after that and start if you're here?"

"Sure.  JenniAnn's resuming her classes tomorrow so I'm coming in as soon as I walk her and Belle to the classroom.  Still a lot of bills and things to go through."

Joshua grinned.  "Want me to ask Mattay to come help?  He's good with money."

Andrew chuckled.  "He'd probably be horrified by how complicated the tax code is these days.  I think I can handle it but I'll let you know if not.  Joshua?"

"Hmm?"

"JenniAnn said you held Belle for a while when they were in the cry room."

"I did."

"Is that all you did?"

Joshua smiled.  "No..."

Andrew hugged him.  "Thank you.  I noticed the marks were gone when I changed her earlier.  I... thank you," he repeated, tearing up.  "I love you."

Joshua patted his back.  "I love you, too.  And I hope all three of you sleep better tonight.  Now... Director, let's get back in there so you can finish saying good night to your cast and crew."

Andrew smiled.  "Okay."  He sighed happily as they both walked back into the house where everyone rushed Joshua, eager to speak to him before they parted for the night.

Tess approached Andrew, beaming as she embraced him.  "You did good, Angel Boy.  Look at him..."

The two angels observed as Joshua soaked in the goodwill and admiration of the others. 

Though neither mentioned it aloud, both Andrew and Tess prayed that, this time, those feelings would last and no one would turn away from Joshua.

*~*~*

Shortly after arriving back at Cora's, Andrew and JenniAnn got Belle fed, changed, and settled into her cradle in Andrew's room.  They'd move the cradle to JenniAnn's room the following afternoon, when Max arrived, but the angel wanted one more night to care for the little one.

Andrew and JenniAnn hovered in the hallway for a few moments, straining to hear any protest from Belle after they'd laid her down.  None came.  After tucking the monitor into his pocket, Andrew took JenniAnn's hand and led her to the living room.  Exhausted, they both collapsed on the couch. 

With a weary smile, JenniAnn rested her head on Andrew's shoulder.  "I was a lil iffy this morning when Belle was so upset but... today ended up being a good day... a very good day.  Actually... I meant to mention this earlier but did you notice that the eczema's gone?  The cream doesn't usually work that well!" 

Andrew kissed her hair and nodded.  "I did notice." 

"Joshua held her for a while in the cry room."  JenniAnn looked up at Andrew, waiting for a reaction to her seeming non sequitur. 

Andrew wished he could tell her what Joshua had done but he only smiled.  "He really loves babies."

JenniAnn nodded, deciding to leave the subject alone.

"Well, I'm very glad you had a a good day and... I think tomorrow will be even better!" Andrew enthused.

"I hope so!  Big day..."

"You ready to start back to classes?"

JenniAnn nodded.  "I've missed the kids.  Hearing their thoughts on God and Heaven and life and angels and spirits and animals and nature and... well, everything!  And... I've missed spending that time with Vincent.  Maybe it's weird but... since becoming a mother, I feel more like a child... their child.  I need them more."

"I don't think it's weird at all," Andrew murmured.  He remembered how often he'd wanted Joshua nearby at the hospital.  And he'd felt better having him around the past few days. 

"Andrew?"

"Hmm?"

"Owen told me something earlier... about Joshua."

"What about him?" Andrew asked.  It was strange... and endearing... how sometimes she seemed to know when he was thinking about Joshua.  Then again, maybe not.  He suspected they both thought about Joshua a lot... by one name or another.

"Owen said that apartment building he's staying at is a wreck.  Not a terribly safe neighborhood, either.  Do you think he's safe there?"

"Joshua can handle himself," Andrew assured. 

"I know.  Still...  I hope he doesn't have any trouble there."

"You really care about him, don't you?"

Afraid that Andrew might be worried... or even jealous... JenniAnn sat up and faced him.  "I just think he's very nice.  And... and something about him...  I realize he looks nothing like you but... somehow Joshua reminds me of you.  So... he's hard not to care about."

Andrew smiled and stroked her hair.  Only the previous month, she'd told him that he reminded her of Joshua.  "Thank you," he replied as he'd been too emotional to do then.

JenniAnn continued.  "But I don't... I won't... feel about him as I feel about you.  I'll never feel this way about anyone else."

Andrew hugged her tightly.  He knew her words were true.  She loved Joshua differently... she loved him more.  She just didn't realize it yet.  And he loved Joshua more, too.  That love was the chiefest thing that had kept them together in the last years.  Even when it would have been easier to bend to the other's whims... for her to leave West Hollow because he'd wanted her safe, for him to avoid Afghanistan because she'd simply wanted him with her... their devotion to God had kept them from it and Andrew knew they were better, closer for it.  "I know," he finally replied.

After enjoying the companionable silence for a few moments, JenniAnn sighed.  "What was it like for you?  Back then, I mean.  And even more recently...  In places and cultures when... when you can't freely hug and touch and..."

"Hard," Andrew answered simply.

JenniAnn laced her fingers through his.  "I bet it was hard for Jesus, too.  Maybe especially for Jesus." 

Andrew nodded.  It still was...  JenniAnn's own generation and culture was a minefield of more subtle, less predictable mores attached to physical affection.

JenniAnn straightened up and stretched.  "Well, this isn't exactly happy pre-bedtime talk.  Sorry.  But... I think I better settle in or else the kids are gonna have one sleep-deprived teacher."

Andrew smiled, stood, and pulled her to her feet.  "Don't want that.  We should both get some rest.  I thought I'd walk you and Belle to the classroom in the morning if that's okay."

JenniAnn beamed.  "I'd love that.  Then are you going to the theatre?"

Andrew nodded.  "Still have some paperwork to sort through, calls to make.  Joshua will be by around lunchtime to do some carpentry work.  So I'll probably be there most of the day but I'll head back to Dyeland at 3:00 to get Violeta, Kemara, and Max and their things.  Then I need to be back at the theatre at 5:30.  Kylie agreed to give playing Pilate's wife a shot."

JenniAnn brightened.  "That's wonderful!"

"But... she feels pretty shy about it.  She only wants Emma, Joshua, Adam, and me there during her first attempts.  So I thought maybe you, Kemara, Violeta, and Max could help Monica take inventory of the costume room.  She told me she plans to get there around 5:30.  Sound good?"

"Yep."  JenniAnn giggled.  "Sometimes it still surprises me how good you can be with schedules and punctuality and yet not so great about making your bed..."

Andrew chuckled.  "I thought you found my faults endearing, Laja."

She smiled and kissed his cheek.  "I do.  Just try not to let it rub off on Max.  Rose will appreciate your restraint there eventually."

Laughing, Andrew hugged her tightly.  "Noted."  He kissed her hair then led her out of the room. 

They said their good nights in the hall then turned into their own rooms.  Andrew crept up to Belle's cradle, stroked her hair and kissed her forehead softly.  He gently ran his fingers over the roses Joshua had carved into the wood.  The angel's eyes welled as he thought of Yeshua, swaddled and tucked into a manger.  Andrew remembered the bittersweet joy he'd felt that long ago night.  He'd rejoiced.  It was impossible not to.  And yet, it had been difficult to fully comprehend and appreciate what it all meant.  He'd been in Search and Rescue at the time and his exposure to humans had been somewhat limited.  Redeeming humanity had sounded wonderful in the abstract but Andrew had struggled with personalizing it.  Not so now.  Joshua had saved his friends, the mother of his child... his child.

For a long time, Andrew rested his head on the side of Belle's cradle and watched her as he contemplated the enormity of that.

*~*~*

The Interview

Monday, March 3rd

It was half past 10:00 and Andrew felt like he'd barely made a dent in all the paperwork.  So many people refused to talk to him since he wasn't on any of the official paperwork.  They'd only speak to Doug or Lucy.  On the plus side, this had necessitated a call to Doug and that had been encouraging.  The man sounded much better than he had the day he'd left town.  The time with Toby and his family was obviously helping.  The two had spent a good chunk of the morning emailing paperwork back and forth so Andrew would be able to sign checks, place orders, and have clearance to speak to everyone from the electric company to the paper supplier.  With the last piece received and a cheery "Call if you need anything else!" from Doug, Andrew could really dig in.  He was just about to retry the bank when the phone rang.

"St. Genesius' Theatre.  This is Andrew," he greeted.

"Could I please speak to Doug?" the caller requested.

"Doug's on leave.  I'm acting director and business manager.  Can I help you?"

"How about Eric?" the woman on the other end pressed.

Andrew grimaced.  "Eric is no longer employed here.  He... left suddenly."

"Crap!  Well, how about Lucy?"

"May I ask who's calling?"

"Oh, sorry.  Terrible manners today!  My name is Bryce Kelley and I'm a reporter for The Manhattan Arts Monitor."

"Ms. Kelley, I'm sorry you have to hear it this way but Lucy recently passed away."

"Oh!  Oh...  I'm so sorry!"

"Were you a friend?"

"Oh no.  I never had the privilege of meeting her actually.  But Lucy and I had arranged an interview at 7:00 this evening with Doug and Eric and I was just calling to confirm that but... is St. Genesius' still putting on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar?"

Andrew brightened.  "We are, yes.  I promised Doug that I'd make sure that still happens."

"Do you have someone cast as Jesus?"

"We do, yes."  Andrew could hear Bryce let out a sigh.

"Good!  So can we keep that interview tonight?"

Andrew blinked.  "Oh...  Umm...  Well, maybe I should check with Joshua..."

"Joshua?"

"Oh sorry.  He's the actor playing Jesus now."

"I see.  Well, Mr..."

"Darcy but Andrew is fine."

"Well, Andrew... we've reserved space for this interview... with photos... in our mid-week edition.  It would be extremely inconvenient to try to come up with another piece at such late notice."

Andrew smirked, realizing Bryce was leaving him with little choice to either comply or appear to be a jerk.  "I'm happy to be interviewed and I'm sure Joshua will feel the same way."

"Wonderful!  See you at 7:00!  Bye!"

With that, the line went dead.  Andrew hung up the phone and looked up at the ceiling.  "I hope he's okay with this..."

A moment later, Andrew smiled.  Whatever Joshua's feelings about the interview would turn out to be, his Father was delighted and his mother wanted a copy for his scrapbook.

*~*~*

Vincent smiled as he watched his Psyche finish up her class.  The children had been overjoyed to have their Religion teacher back and Vincent himself had missed having her assist with his Literature class.  And then there was Belle...  Vincent peered down at the baby in his arms, feeling such love for her, his grandchild.  He thought back to the Christmas when JenniAnn, knowing she would be a single mother, had asked for him and Catherine to take the place of her hypothetical baby's paternal grandparents.  He had agreed.  How could he not?  But he had worried.  What if it would never happen for her?  But it had, for her and Andrew both and the most perfect, precious evidence of that was gazing up into his eyes.  Vincent was so enchanted that he was only vaguely aware that JenniAnn had dismissed the class for lunch.

"Vincent..." JenniAnn said in a singsong voice as Jacob, standing beside her, clasped her hand.  "I'm very hungry... and there's pot pie to be had..."

"Very hungry, Papa..." Jacob echoed, rubbing his belly.

Vincent smiled at them.  "My apologies, Psyche and Jacob."  He rose.  "Let's go."

"Mama's coming," Jacob reminded before speeding ahead of them down the corridor and towards the Dining Hall.

"She is?" JenniAnn asked with surprise. 

"Catherine wanted to come celebrate your return to classes," Vincent explained.

JenniAnn grinned.  "I think maybe Grandma Catherine is mostly coming to wrest my baby away from you."

Vincent smirked.  "An astute observation."  He used his free arm to embrace her.  "I'm glad you're back, Psyche.  I've missed having you there during classes."

JenniAnn nodded.  While Vincent had been a frequent presence at Willowveil since Belle's arrival, it wasn't quite the same.  "Will you read to us... Belle and me... after lunch?  I mean, if you have time?"

Vincent beamed.  "Of course.  What would you like me to read?"

"Guess."

"Does it involve a certain lion?  Perhaps also a witch?  Maybe a wardrobe?"

"Yes..."

"I would be delighted."

Once they reached the Dining Hall, they were swarmed by several of the Tunnel dwellers, each vying for their chance to hold Belle or catch up with JenniAnn or affectionately tease "Gramps."  Catherine arrived soon after they had and, sure enough, managed to get Belle.  However, she showed enough restraint to not hog the child and everyone who wanted a chance to hold her got some time.  When the lunch hour had ended, Catherine walked with Jacob and the other children back to the classroom to commence their time with Owen.  She returned to her chamber to find JenniAnn and Vincent settled on the overstuffed couch.

"'Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,'" Vincent read the familiar rhyme.  "'At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, when he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, and when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.'" 

Catherine smiled as Vincent shook his own mane.  She remembered him doing so when Psyche was small.  Always she would laugh.  She still did but only briefly.  Her cousin could tell she was pondering something.

Before Vincent could continue, JenniAnn spoke.  "Did you ever really think about that?  I mean... do you think Jesus has to go to a buncha different worlds and die in each one?"

Catherine stepped into the room and sunk to Vincent's other side on the couch.  She smiled.  "The things you think of, Psyche!  But now that you mention it... why do you think He'd have to die in each one?  Every world needs a Creator but maybe some don't need a Redeemer."

"True..."  JenniAnn smoothed Belle's blanket and bent to kiss her hair.

Vincent could tell the answer did not appease his godchild.  He could hardly blame her.  No doubt the story was very much weighing on her mind with Andrew's production.  He realized with a start that he hadn't asked her about it.  "The show...  Owen tells me the new actor is quite good.  And Catherine said he seemed very kind.  Joshua, is it?"

JenniAnn beamed.  "Yes and he's... amazing, wonderful, perfect.  Trust Andrew to finally hire a Jesus who I approve of!"

Catherine laughed.  "I immediately reported to Vincent that you thoroughly approved."

Vincent smiled, squeezing her shoulders.  "Yes.  But I must admit that I was more pleased to learn this Joshua is unlikely to... cause offense to you or any of the other ladies."

JenniAnn rolled her eyes.  "I told Owen to keep it quiet about Eric!  I knew you'd just worry.  But worry no more!  Joshua is the antithesis of Eric.  You wanna hear something really crazy?"

"I believe I do," Vincent replied, his eyes alight with amusement. 

"Okay, I do know this sounds crazy.  Really I do but... I think he made Belle's eczema go away!"

Catherine frowned.  "Psyche, I think maybe the show's going to your head just a..."

"I swear!  Yesterday morning at Mass it was terrible and Belle was so upset and when I checked... the red patches were just so awful.  We were in the cry room then.  And Joshua came to check on us.  And I started crying cause I felt so bad and so he held Belle for a while a-and then when Andrew changed her later... no trace of it.  I mean I had put some cream on it but that doesn't make the spots totally go away.  But they were and are gone!" JenniAnn prattled.

Vincent opened his mouth to suggest that, perhaps, it was due to the change in the weather or maybe even the fabric Belle's clothes were made of.  However, no words came.  And he remembered how he and Catherine had been convinced that "Cupid" was a trauma-induced hallucination.  And now "Cupid" was raising a child with Psyche.  And surely Andrew would know to intercede if, by chance, this Joshua proved to be a Svengali.  Vincent reached over to stroke Belle's hair.  "Whatever happened, I am glad and grateful that Belle is comfortable."

Catherine opened her mouth to press the matter further, not wanting her cousin to get fooled.  But JenniAnn looked so happy as she smiled down at Belle while Vincent resumed reading.

Miracles did happen...  Catherine knew she was looking at proof of that.

*~*~*

"So how do you feel about peanut butter, honey, and banana on whole wheat?" Andrew asked as Joshua washed up in preparation for lunch.

Joshua smiled over at him.  "You made lunch?  I thought since it's just the two of us here maybe I'd, you know, provide but if you're offering..."

Andrew chuckled.  "If you'd rather have something else then that's fine.  But... JenniAnn packed my lunch and since she knew you'd be here..."

Joshua dried his hands and, after blinking a few times, took the brown paper bag Andrew was holding out.  "Thank you."

The angel watched as Joshua emptied the bag which contained the sandwich, a banana, a container of applesauce, carrot sticks, pretzels, a bottle of ginger ale, silverware, a napkin, and...  Andrew let go of the breath he'd been holding in when he saw Joshua remove a frog-shaped slip of paper.  JenniAnn always put a note in his bag when she made him lunch and, of course, Joshua knew that.  While Andrew knew Joshua's note would be considerably more restrained than his own, he was glad JenniAnn had sent him one. 

Joshua read the note then slipped it into his pocket.  He looked at Andrew with a wavering smile.  "She says that, even though we just met, she hopes this show will be the beginning of long-lasting friendships for us all...  And I make a great Jesus." 

Andrew smiled and reached over to squeeze Joshua's shoulder.  "You do."

Joshua chuckled as he began to slice the banana.  "You know, I've actually wondered about how I'll feel if reviews come out and read like 'Mr. Davidson, though technically up to snuff, made for an unconvincing Christ.'"

"Not gonna happen."

"I wasn't what everyone was expecting the first time."

Andrew couldn't argue with that.  He debated whether to say what was on his mind.  He didn't want to raise Joshua's hopes only to see them not come to fruition.  Still... honesty was the best policy.  "I think JenniAnn suspects you have something to do with Belle's eczema clearing up."

Joshua's head darted up.  "Really?"

"We were talking about it last night and she suddenly remarked about how you held Belle in the cry room.  And she looked at me like she hoped I'd agree with her connection.  I dodged it... but I don't think it really mattered.  I think she still believes it."

Joshua smiled.  "Good."

"I think so.  So... looking forward to our interview?" Andrew grinned before taking a bite of his sandwich.

Joshua laughed, recalling Andrew's tale of being guilted into keeping the appointment.  "Very much.  But...  I'm looking forward to hearing Kylie even more."  He smiled tenderly as he thought of the woman. 

Andrew wished, as he often did, that he could snap a photo, caption it with the words "This is what God looks like when He thinks of you," and share it with the world. 

*~*~*

While on lunch break from the diner, Emma sat in a nearby park snacking on fries and sucking down a chocolate shake.  It wasn't a very healthy lunch but she'd found herself without much appetite and only a shake and fries appealed. 

She'd had a dream the night before and it had stuck with her all morning.  In it, she'd been a little girl again.  She was sitting with her grandma and grandpa at church.  Her patent leather shoes shined as her legs kicked up and down while she waited for Mass to begin.  Then she'd heard the opening notes of the processional.  Her grandpa had swung her up into his arms so she could see over the heads of the grown-ups surrounding them.  She'd watched the priest, readers, and altar servers enter.  The priest reached the altar then turned and... Joshua.  The priest was Joshua.  Little Emma clamored out of her grandpa's arms and ran up the aisle and into Joshua's waiting arms. 

"I'm here," he'd assured, beaming at her.  "I've always been with you."

She'd stared up at her ceiling for countless minutes after waking up.  Clearly the show was going to her head. 

Or at least the carpenter was...

"Emma?"

With half a fry hanging out of her mouth, Emma looked up to find the woman who had complimented her smile approaching.  Maryam, she recalled.  Embarrassed, Emma held a napkin over her face.  "Sorry, I..."

Maryam laughed gently.  "You're enjoying your lunch.  I think that's a very good thing."

Emma smiled, grateful for the understanding.  "Our breaks aren't very long so I'm afraid me stuffing my face isn't an entirely uncommon sight around here.  How are you, Maryam?  Please, come sit."

Delighted that Emma had remembered her name, Maryam beamed and sat beside her on the bench.  "Very well.  You?"

The young woman responded with an unbidden yawn.

"Sleepy, I think," Maryam guessed in a sympathetic tone.

Emma nodded.  "I had a weird dream is all."

"Dreams can be very important.  Lifesaving even."

Emma laughed.  "I don't think this was that type of dream.  See, I'm in this musical... a rock opera, more properly.  Jesus Christ Superstar."

"Yes.  I know of it."  Maryam smiled, preparing to tell Emma that she was co-starring with her son.

"Well... I think I dreamed that... that my co-star was actually Jesus," Emma continued, her face flushing as she did.

Maryam did her best to mask her surprise over Emma making the connection so soon... too soon.  Certainly she couldn't tell Emma that Joshua was her son now.  The girl would be even more embarrassed.  And was she pleased by the idea?  Upset?  Maryam wasn't sure.  Wearing an even gentler smile, Maryam set her hand on Emma's arm.  "I see.  And how did that make you feel?" she gently encouraged.

Emma opened her mouth to reply but no words came.  Instead, a tear rolled down her cheek. 

Maryam pressed a handkerchief into Emma's hand.

"Good," Emma finally replied.  She realized with a start the dream had been the happiest she'd been in a long time.  She swiped at her eyes.  "Thank you.  Sorry.  I don't know why I'm crying."

"It's an emotional show," Maryam answered simply.

"Yeah... it is.  Thing of it is... I'm not even Christian.  I mean... not any more.  And I... I'm sorry!  I don't know why I'm going on about this.  Do you want to go back to the diner and get something?  My treat for making you listen to this rambling," Emma offered sheepishly.

Maryam shook her head.  "No.  Thank you, though.  I only stopped by to check on you, Emma.  You seemed burdened when we met."

"Just... a lot going on.  And maybe that's all the dream was about.  Regression.  It's a common enough response to stress, right?"

"I would not so easily dismiss a dream that clearly meant a great deal to you."

"Maybe not," Emma agreed.  She stood and pulled out her cell phone, noting the time.  "I better head back.  I hope I see you again soon, Maryam.  Thank you for listening."

Maryam rose and squeezed Emma's hand.  "You're welcome.  And I will come back.  Until then, I will pray you find your answers, Emma."

"Th-thank you.  Oh."  Emma held out the handkerchief.  "Here's this back.  Thanks." 

"You keep it, Emma.  I hope your afternoon shift goes well."  Maryam bestowed an encouraging smile on the girl then turned to leave.

Only when she was back at the diner did Emma notice the letter "E" was embroidered onto the handkerchief.

*~*~*

After sliding a Roman pillar into place, Andrew consulted his pocket watch.  It was nearly 5:30 and he was beginning to worry.


Joshua patted the angel's shoulder once he had a second pillar situated.  "She'll be here.  I know she will."

"Really?"

"I mean I don't absolutely know...  But I know that when Kylie has promised something, she'll do everything she can to keep that promise... even if... if maybe it's a promise she should break."  Joshua frowned.  He brightened when quick footsteps echoed from the wings. 

Kylie rushed onto the stage.  "Sorry if I'm late!  Got off at the wrong stop...  But I'm here now and... and ready.  I think... I hope."

Adam and Emma both approached from the other side of the stage.  Once they'd set down the table they were carrying, Emma hugged Kylie.

"So glad you made it!  I've been looking forward to this all day!"

"Me too."  Kylie was surprised to find herself saying it.  Even more surprising, she felt it.  "So... are we starting now?"

Andrew nodded.  "Sure!"

"Where should I go?" Kylie asked.

"Let's have you start by this pillar to the right.  Partly hiding behind it, maybe.  Like you're surreptitiously watching Pontius."  Andrew turned to his friend.  "Adam, could you go stand behind that table, facing out to the audience?  Pretend you're looking at battle plans or something.  And just... act like Pilate."

Adam wrinkled his noise but obeyed.

Emma cast a sidelong glance at Andrew, wondering what sort of direction "act like Pilate" was.

Andrew smiled encouragingly at his friend.  "Thank you, Adam."

Andrew, Emma, and Joshua all moved to the audience. 

"Whenever you're ready, Kylie," Emma called, reaching for the CD player.

The woman smiled back nervously and moved to stage right where she wound her arm around the pillar.  Kylie stared out at her audience of three, imagining when the seats around them would be full.  She grew pale.  "Maybe... maybe this was a bad idea.  I... I don't think I can do this!"

"Oh no..." Emma muttered.

"Can I go talk to her for a moment?" Joshua checked.

Andrew nodded.

Emma look doubtfully at him.  "If you think it'll help..."

"I do."  With that, Joshua stepped onto the stage and approached Kylie, setting his hand on her arm.  "Earlier in the day, I was thinking about how hard it must have been for Claudia to speak up about something she knew was wrong and then have her words go unheeded.  Can you imagine that feeling?"

Kylie nodded.  She could.  All too well.

"You know this woman, Kylie," Joshua continued gently.  "It's time to return her words, her feelings to her.  I know you can do that.  I believe in you.  Very much.  And... I made you something."  He withdrew a small object from his pocket and placed it in her hand.

Kylie let out a quiet gasp as she looked at the stone cross that fit perfectly in the palm of her hand.  "For God so loved you" was delicately painted onto the horizontal beam. 

"Jesus is with you.  He'll help you through this," Joshua promised.

Kylie nodded.  "Th-thank you, Joshua."

"You're welcome.  I'm going to go back to my seat now."

Kylie shook her head and grabbed his hand.  "Could you stay close?  You... you have a very calming presence."

Joshua smiled and squeezed her hand.  "Sure."  He stepped just offstage, only a couple feet from Kylie.

"I'm ready, Emma," Kylie called. 

Relieved, Emma started the CD.

After a few introductory notes, Kylie began to sing to Adam's back.

"'I dreamed you met a Galilean, a most amazing man.  He had that look you very rarely find... the haunting, hunted kind.  You asked him to say what had happened, how it all began.  You asked again.  He never said a word, as if he hadn't heard.'"

Kylie moved forward, her right hand outstretched towards Adam who paid her no heed.

"'And next the room was full of wild and angry men.  They seemed to hate this man.  They fell on him and then...  They disappeared again.'"

She clasped Adam's shoulder but he shook her off and continued his consultation with the documents in front of him.

Tears welled in Kylie's eyes.  "'Then I... I saw thousands of millions crying for... for this man.'"  Panicked over her stumble, she looked over to Joshua who offered her a comforting smile.  Kylie resumed her song.

"'A-and then I... I heard them mentioning your name and..."  Kylie reached for Adam's hand, briefly holding it in her own before he pulled it away and walked offstage.

"'Leaving you the blame," Kylie finished, her voice drifting off as she sank to her knees.

There was only silence save sniffling and then the creak of the stage. 

Andrew swiped at his eyes and, when he looked up, he found that Joshua was holding Kylie who was weeping in his arms. 

Emma leapt to her feet.  "We shouldn't have pushed her on this!" she exclaimed as she stepped into the aisle.

Andrew stalled her.  "No.  Just wait.  Please."

"I... I'm so... so tired of not being listened to.  So tired..." Kylie choked out.

"I know," Joshua affirmed gently.  "You deserve to be listened to.  And loved tremendously, Kylie."

The woman shook her head.

"Yes," Joshua stressed. 

Watching from offstage, Adam noticed that Joshua's shirt was dangerously close to being used as a tissue.  While the angel knew Joshua wouldn't mind spending the evening with eye makeup smeared on his shoulder, he knew it would embarrass Kylie.  Grabbing some tissues, he approached the two.

Kylie took the tissues from him and wiped at her eyes.  "Th-thank you."

Adam knelt down.  "You're welcome.  Do you want to put this on hold for tonight?  I'm sure Andrew and Emma won't mind." 

Kylie looked from Joshua to Adam and back again.

Joshua shook his head, refusing to make the decision for her.  "Whatever you want to do, Kylie."

Kylie stared down at the cross in her hands, tracing the words.

Back in their seats, Emma was growing antsy and wishing she could hear what was being said.  "I should go up there.  She barely knows those guys!"

"They're good guys, Emma.  Just give them a few more..."

Kylie smiled at Joshua and Adam then stood, looking to Andrew and Emma.  "I'd like to try that again, please."

Surprise registered on Emma's face.  "Are you sure?"

Kylie nodded.  "Yes.  Could you please restart the music?"

"Sure..."  Emma warily studied the woman for a moment and when Kylie smiled, she picked up the CD player.

Joshua squeezed Kylie's hand.  "I'll be where I was last time."

Adam patted her shoulder.  "Go get em... or, I guess, go get me."

Kylie laughed when he winked at her before hurrying back to the table.

"Ready, Kylie?" Andrew called from his seat.

"This is wrong..." Emma muttered under her breath.

"Yes," Kylie replied, stepping back towards the pillar.

The sorrowful notes began again and Kylie performed much as she had the first time.  And then everything changed...

Kylie moved to stand at the right side of Adam's table.  "'Then I saw thousands of millions crying for this man.'"  She rested her hand on his arm but he shook her off.

Determined to get and keep his attention, Kylie grabbed the edges of the table and thumped it on the floor.

Adam was so shocked that he turned and gaped at her.

Kylie pointed accusingly at him.  "'And then I heard them mentioning your name and leaving *you* the blame."

Adam flinched.  Even with tears in her eyes, Kylie looked menacing.

Andrew jumped to his feet and clapped. 

Emma remained in shock for a moment longer then stood to applaud.

Kylie grinned and ran over to Joshua who was beaming at her.

"Beautiful!" he cheered.

"Now that... is how that song should be performed," Adam enthused.

Andrew hurried onto the stage with Emma close behind.  "Kylie, that was really, truly amazing.  So... do we have our Claudia?"

Kylie glanced up at Joshua but, once again, he refused any answer beyond an affectionate smile.  She returned the smile then nodded to Andrew.  "You do."

"Good!" Emma cheered.  "But... but how..."  She glanced over at the askew table.  "How did that happen?"   She couldn't understand how in a matter of minutes, Kylie had gone from forlorn to formidable.  Then she thought of her dream, of how invincible and protected she'd felt in Joshua's arms.  But that was only a dream!  There was nothing special about the man still embracing Kylie! 

Kylie stepped away from Joshua and held her hand out to Emma.  "Could we go backstage and talk?"

"Sure..." 

"Thank you."  Kylie smiled at the three men.  "Thank you, all of you.  We'll be back in a little bit."

After the two women had disappeared behind the curtains, Andrew turned to Joshua.  "So... what did you do, if you can say?"

"I told the truth: God loves her and is with her," Joshua answered simply.

Moved, the two angels of death hugged him.

*~*~*

It was nearly 7:00 and while Emma instructed the rest of the cast on choreography, Andrew and Joshua waited near the front door of the theatre. 

"That's her," Joshua whispered as a woman with a dark bob, loud earrings, and a stylish black dress and coat over art-printed tights and knee-high boots approached.

Andrew chuckled.  "You know, she just plain looks like an arts writer and reporter."

Joshua smiled.  "Bryce definitely found her calling."

Spotting them, the reporter smiled and hastened her steps.  "Well, hello!  My... it's been a long time since I've been here."  Bryce stared up at the peeling marquee.  "My grandma used to take me to shows here."  She stuck out her hand to Andrew.  "Bryce Kelley.  Just Bryce, please.  You must be Joshua!  You look the part!"

Andrew's cheeks colored.  "Actually, I'm Andrew.  The director."  He indicated Joshua.  "This is Joshua Davidson, our Jesus."

Bryce tried to mask her surprise.  "Oh!  Well, greetings, Mr. Davidson."

Unbothered, Joshua warmly shook her hand.  "Joshua, please.  Or Josh.  I'm glad you're here, Bryce.  Why don't we step inside?"  He opened the door and waved the other two in.

"Well, I thought maybe we'd show you the theatre, Bryce," Andrew suggested.  "The rest of the cast is practicing choreography now with our assistant director, Emma.  Then we'll come back out here for the interview so we don't distract them."

"Do you think I'd have some time to mingle... ask the cast and crew a few questions?"

Andrew snuck a look at Joshua who shrugged.

"I think a number of them would be happy to visit with you.  But please don't press those who aren't," Andrew requested.  They'd been pleasantly surprised that evening by the arrival of a handful more people for the chorus.  Arthur had found three interested men, Tyson, Jeff, and Tim, at his shelter, Owen had convinced Eliot and Brittony to give it a try, and Cira and Crystal from the Phoenix Inn had become enthralled when JenniAnn had told them about the show.  Andrew suspected they might want to avoid publicity.

"Gotcha.  And photos?"

Andrew smiled at the idea of people unwittingly looking upon the true face of Jesus of Nazareth.  "I think, again, so long as you accept that some may not want their photos included.  But I know we'll be able to get you some."

"We planned to break for dinner at 7:30," Joshua informed the woman.  "Maybe you could visit with everyone else then?"

"Perfect!" Bryce declared. 

Andrew and Joshua showed her into the theatre proper where Emma was going over the choreography for the leper scene with Peter standing in for Joshua.

"That looks... frightening."  Bryce wrinkled her nose.  "What part is that?"

"The lepers," Andrew replied.

"Oh.  Gross."

Joshua shook his head.  "They just wanted what we all want: to be accepted."

Bryce tilted her head as she looked at him.  "Right.  Of course right.  Well, shall we start the interview?"

Andrew nodded.  "I think that's a great idea."  He ushered the other two back into the lobby then lead Bryce to where they'd arranged three chairs.  "Can we get you anything to drink before we start?"

"Oh no, no.  Thank you, though!"  Bryce smiled and took a seat.  "Andrew, I read through the introductory information you were kind enough to email.  Again, so very sorry to hear of recent hardships here.  I suppose it's fitting you're all doing this show now.  It must be comforting.  Jesus, you know.  If you're into that, anyway."

Andrew blinked.  "Yes..."