Carry On

With it already the second Sunday of November, Lady JenniAnn had decided it was time to see to it that Andrew's wardrobe was properly arranged for the winter months.  There was, of course, a very real chance that Andrew didn't actually use his closet in the typical way.  While it never seemed appropriate to ask Andrew how he got dressed, there had been giggly discussion of it amongst some of his female friends and admirers.  Even though some believed he simply bounded out of bed, impeccably dressed and ready to go, no one could be sure.  If pushing his light T-shirts to the back of the closet and bringing his sweaters and heavy shirts to the front was useful to him then it was all the more reason to proceed.  If not then it didn't matter because no one was likely to turn down the chance to spend quality time with the angel and his clothes.  And so JenniAnn, Lady Beth, Rose, Yva, and Andrew had spent a good hour winterizing his closet.
"I think I owe everyone coffee or something after all that work," Andrew announced as he surveyed his newly organized closet with a smile.
Yva shook her head.  "You don't owe us anything, Andrew.  Like we need reward for going through your clothes."  She grinned as she touched the sleeve of a particularly well-appreciated flannel shirt.
"But I'd like to nonetheless," Andrew protested.  "And since I go back to assignments next Monday...  I'd like to do this while we can."
"If you're offering, I'm going!" Lady Beth agreed, heading to the hallway.
"Laja?  Rose?"  Andrew looked to the chair the older of the two was sitting in, one of his coats spread across her lap.  Rose sat near JenniAnn digging through a tin.
"Found one!" Rose declared, pulling a button out of the tin and handing it to JenniAnn.
"Thanks, Rose."  JenniAnn took the button and then picked up the needle beside her and glanced up at the angel.  "Aww, thanks, Andrew.  I'll be right there.  Just wanna get this button replaced.  You all go on ahead."
"We can wait," Andrew suggested.
"If you want but, really, it's okay.  Andrew, I promise I won't go looking for your journal," JenniAnn teased as she began to attach the button.
Andrew chuckled.  "I trust you.  You'd be bored by it, anyway."
"I don't see that happening."  Rose laughed at the very idea of any of them finding anything about their friend boring.
"Why don't you go on ahead and save us a table," Lady Beth suggested.
Andrew raised an eye brow.  Leaving JenniAnn alone in his room to mend his coat seemed reasonable enough but all four of them?  Something was up...
Yva immediately noticed Andrew's skepticism.  "Let's all go, let JenniAnn work in peace while we save her a seat, and then she'll be right with us."
Andrew shrugged.  "If we keep discussing it I figure JenniAnn'll be done before any of us make it out of here."
JenniAnn smiled, intent on her work.  "You know I tend to get perfectionist about this kinda stuff, really, go ahead."
At last Andrew agreed and the four left the room, Yva giving JenniAnn a wink before stepping into the hallway.  Once the coast was clear, JenniAnn tied off her knot and dashed to her purse.  She pulled out a number of folded bits of paper.  After checking the hallway she approached Andrew's closet and began sticking the notes in the pockets of his pants and coats and sweatshirts.
"Dear God, if You could see to it that Andrew leaves here next Monday with some of these clothes... we'd really appreciate it," she prayed as she worked.  "We know that sometimes his assignments are difficult and even, well, mean so if You could just make sure he gets our notes when he needs em...  Thanks.  Amen."  She crossed herself, then deposited the last of the notes, and hung up Andrew's newly mended coat.  Lastly, she picked up the tin of buttons and moved to replace it on the closet shelf.  To her annoyance, the shelf was much too high.  After rolling her eyes she jumped in an attempt to reach the shelf.  She tried again and got the tin onto the shelf but the force of the toss dislodged something else.  JenniAnn ducked out of the way as another box flew off the shelf and onto the floor.
Wincing, for fear she'd find something broken, she glanced down at the floor.
"My God..."
Andrew glanced at his pocket watch, nervous.  "I don't care how much of a perfectionist a person is.  It does NOT take this long to sew on a button.  I better go check on her."
Yva, Rose, and Lady Beth looked at each other.  Andrew caught the silent exchange.
"She's not just sewing on a button is she?" he questioned.
"Umm, well..." Rose began, anxiously looking to the door.
"I'll go check on JenniAnn," Yva offered.
Andrew shook his head.  "No, no I really think I should go.  Order whatever you'd like.  I'll be right back."
The three women watched as he left the Cafe.
"Well, I guess he's going to find out about those notes.  Oh well."  Lady Beth shrugged. 
Rose frowned.  "I think something's going on.  JenniAnn had that button practically sewed on by the time we left.  I noticed.  It doesn't take ten minutes to shove some notes in pockets."
"What else would she be doing?" Yva pondered.
Andrew took the stairs two at a time.  "Laja, we were getting worried.  What are you..."  His voice trailed off when he stepped into his room and saw her sitting on the floor.
JenniAnn looked up at him, tears in her eyes.  "I... I didn't mean to pry.  I put the button tin back and... and this fell to the floor and...  I didn't open the journal."
Andrew surveyed the items cast onto the floor.  A tin type photo, a small book, a battered Red Cross badge, a broken compass, muddied dog tags, and other items.  He sat down beside them and JenniAnn.
"It's not a journal," he corrected, his voice almost too soft to hear.  Andrew picked up the book, opened it, and handed it back to the woman.  "Bless those who are dear to me, and may we find ourselves joyful together when my service shall be finished," he recited from memory.
JenniAnn stared at the prayer book and the familiar signature, dated 1968, inside it's cover.  She traced the "A" with her finger.  "So it wasn't just during World War II that you were a chaplain?"
Andrew shook his head.  "I was a military chaplain a few times."  He picked up the dog tags, running the chain through his fingers before closing his fist around the tags.
JenniAnn stared at the angel clasping the tags, his eyes focused on his own fist.  "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Andrew smiled sadly at her.  "You have nothing to be sorry for.  I know you weren't digging around for this."
"I didn't even know this stuff existed.  I suppose a part of me didn't want it to.  I don't like thinking about you out..."  JenniAnn caught herself.  She didn't want to risk silencing Andrew if he wished to speak.  "Do you want to talk about it?  Or we can put everything away and pretend this didn't..."
"Are you two okay?" Yva called from the hallway.  "I'm starting to think this room is some sort of black hole that people get sucked in..."  She, Rose, and Lady Beth paused when they entered the room and saw Andrew and JenniAnn sitting on the floor, the wartime paraphernalia spread out between them.
Andrew at last let go of the dog tags and looked up at the three women.  "Hi," he greeted lamely.
"Are you okay?" Rose echoed Yva's unanswered question as the newcomers all sat down, eyeing the items on the ground.
"I'm okay just... contemplative."  The angel drew his hand through his hair and then forced a smile.
"This, umm, box fell when I was trying to put the buttons away," JenniAnn explained. 
"It's usually not here," Andrew explained.  "I had it because Mick and I got to talking about World War II one night and I'd brought this box here and I guess never brought it Home."
Lady Beth eyed each item, able to place many of them within their appropriate time frame.  The Civil War photo, the Red Cross badge from the First World War, the World War II dog tags, the Vietnam era prayer book.  "You... you were in all these wars?"
Andrew nodded.  "And others.  Most angels of death and many caseworkers spend some time on the battlefields.  Usually as Red Cross workers or chaplains."
"That must be very difficult."  Rose gently lifted the photograph for a better look, noting a bearded Andrew clustered among a group of chaplains.
Andrew took in a deep breath, struggling to maintain an even tone.  "It is but it's rewarding, too.  I witnessed a lot of bravery and... and compassion.  It wasn't just... I don't only remember the violence."
JenniAnn squeezed his hand, sensing that while the horrors of war may not be Andrew's only memories, at that moment they had risen to the surface. 
The angel stared at one item no one had yet touched.  Tentatively, he reached for the aged paper.  Carefully he unfolded it and smoothed it out against his knee.  For a moment he was unaware of his friends and his bedroom.  He was back in the "hootch" where he'd first read the note.
"Dear Rev,
Sorry about the times I poked fun at you about the God thing.  I guess if you're reading this then I'm finding out if the Big Guy's real or not.  Damned thing is lately you got me thinking he is.  And right now I'm real glad about that. 
I hope you get out of this place soon, Andrew.  When you get home have a ginger ale for me.  Enjoy your life, remember the good, try to let go of the bad and carry on."
Andrew stared at the note, moved once again by Jack's words and the memory of the day he'd gone Home, another victim of Bouncing Betty. 
A soft jingling shook Andrew out of his flashback.  He noticed then that JenniAnn had left the room.  When he turned around he saw that she was returning with Lulu in her arms.  She knelt beside Andrew and set the basset hound in his lap. 
"I had to wake her up but we thought she'd want to be with you," she explained.
Andrew rested his forehead against the dog's and rubbed behind her ears.  "There's my girl," he whispered adding a "thank you" after a sloppy kiss.
That accomplished, Lulu curled up in the angel's lap as he continued to stroke her head. 
"Are you going to be okay, Andrew?"  Lady Beth studied him.
Andrew nodded.  "That note I was reading was from a soldier I met in Vietnam.  He must have known his time was coming because he wrote everyone in the platoon a note.  They found them when they packed up his bunk.  His final message to me was 'Enjoy your life, remember the good, try to let go of the bad and carry on.'  So that's what I'm going to do," he affirmed. 
"Do you want some help putting things away?" Yva offered.
"I'd like that, thank you."
The four women reverently picked up the assorted items and gave them to Andrew to secure in the box.  Once packed, he stared at the contents for a moment and then closed the box.  Handing Lulu off to Rose, the angel stood up and slid the box back onto the shelf from which it had come.  Andrew knew that he could close and put away the box but he would never fully shut out the memories of his assignments.  Nor would he ever want to.  The recollections of the friendships built under the most difficult of circumstances would sustain him and help him to carry on just as Jack had wished all those years before
It was brisk but sunny as Tuesday began in Dyeland.  While making his morning coffee, Andrew noticed his calendar.  Veteran's Day.  This year would be especially poignant for Andrew, coming only two days after the incident with his memory box.  The angel of death closed his eyes and prayed for those currently away from their families and serving their countries.  He prayed, too, for the families whose loved ones had never come back home.  Yet again he thought back on his own memories. 
Andrew was getting ready to pour his coffee when the doorbell rang.  A visitor at 8:00 was uncommon but not unheard of in Dyeland.  However, Andrew did grow curious when he glanced out the window and saw nothing.  Confused, he opened the door and stared down at his stoop.  A vase of white carnations, like those he sometimes left on the graves of men and women he'd served with, sat there.
Moved, Andrew stooped the pick up the vase.  A card poked out from amid the blossoms.  Andrew plucked it out and read:
"In moments of terror, yours was a voice of love.  When violence was all around, you were gentle and consoling.  You left eternal peace to face war and in doing that brought God's peace to those you met.  Some gave their lives, you gave your heart, Andrew.  Thank you. 
Love always,  
Your friends"
Andrew choked up as he surveyed the signatures that filled the card.  Almost everyone in Dyeland had signed it.  The only names that were missing were his fellow angels.  Andrew took that to mean they, too, would be waking up to the same loving token of appreciation.
The snap of a twig made Andrew look up.  A few yards away there was a cluster of his friends, watching.  When his gaze met theirs, they approached.
"Good morning, Andrew.  We weren't sure if you'd want to be alone for a while or not," Rose explained.
"If you'd gone right back inside we were just going to leave and not let you know we'd been waiting," Yva added.
Andrew sat down the vase and hugged each of them.  "Of course I want to see you.  Thank you.  This is... it's beautiful and means so much to me."
"We just want you to know that all you've done... it's not forgotten, Andrew, and it never will be," JenniAnn vowed as he hugged her.
Andrew knew she spoke truthfully.  Just as the sacrifices of those who had served their countries would never be forgotten by those who came after them, neither would the sacrifices of those created to serve God be forgotten among the Dyelanders or those blessed to know the angels.  Andrew prayed that one day he would be working in a world without war, but until then he and those like him would continue to bring peace and the message of God's love to a world desperately in need of both.
The End

A full version of the prayer Andrew reads an excerpt from can be found here.  It's referred to as "Night Prayer" there.

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