“Inhale and exhale this moment, and thank God for the unique beauties and wonders of the day.
We should take advantage of every moment we can to enjoy the simplicity of God’s creation,
whether it be clear skies and sun or clouded over with gloom."

~~ Chadwick Boseman

God In the Gloom

Isolation        A Bigger Love        The "In-Laws"        Ghosts        Touch        Fools

A Favor        Testing        Counsel        The Kite and the Line

Planning        Witnessing        Reunion        A Promise Kept

Author's Note: Despite the majority of these characters having a primary tie to New York, I chose to use a timeline loosely based off of my experiences in Nebraska.  This was done largely because I'm in Nebraska... not New York... and so I'm not as familiar with the day-by-day there until things got really bad.  In my personal experience, the week leading up to March 13th was filled with cancellations and school closings.  By that Monday, my office had gone almost entirely to remote work.  A week later, my office was not officially closed... but basically closed.  So, based off that, my intention is to convey that the Friends were on top of things but also not so quick to jump the gun and overreact.  However, I realize that from a New York perspective, they may seem very reactive but I felt like the writing would be much more honest if I wrote from my own experience.  As I got further into the piece, I did start using the New York Times' daily coronavirus reports for reference. 

Also, in this story, several of the characters watch Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House.  If you've not seen it, I think everything will still make sense at least in terms of what it means to the Dyeland characters.  But there are definitely spoilers.  BIG spoilers.  Like who lives and who dies type of spoilers.  So if you were ever inclined to watch the show, please do so *before* reading this story.  Or you can watch the episodes as they appear in the story which is how I wrote it.  Again, it's not because the story won't make sense... it's just that your viewing of Hill House isn't going to be as impactful as it could be if you read the spoilers here first.  To anyone who is maybe interested but a little leery...  I highly recommend it.  Just have tissues.  Or, better yet, a handkerchief.  It is truly scary at parts but more just upsetting with its real world drama.  However, it is NOT nihilistic.  Honestly, I felt better about its finale than I did TBAA's.  Truly.  So here goes...


Friday, March 13th, 2020

Andrew and JenniAnn sat in front of their laptop, staring at the images of Portia and Graham.  Below the two, several smaller icons, bearing the likenesses of others of their friends, were lined up.

"So, as suggested, Graham and I have been talking about precautions we should all take in light of the spread of COVID-19 aka the coronavirus," Portia began.  "Keep in mind... most of these are only suggestions.  But they are ones made with the current guidance of the CDC and WHO in mind.  So... here goes."

Graham blinked and began to read from a list.

"We're recommending that we no longer have group meetings... weekly Bible study included, I'm afraid.  Bible study could be done via this very virtual chat program.  Logan will remotely install the necessary program on people's computers if needed."

In one the small bubbles at the bottom of the screen, Logan, holding Nova, nodded.

"With people coming to Willowveil from NYC, L.A., Albany, and sometimes other locations, it's just too dangerous in our opinion.  Not to mention the questions it would raise if any of us did get the virus and epidemiologists started looking into our contacts," Portia explained.

Andrew reached over and gently patted JenniAnn's knee when he saw her eyes well.

"That being said, as long as everyone remains healthy, we all know that social interaction is a great benefit," Graham continued.  "So we don't think it needs to be limited entirely.  But... maybe restricted to geographical areas and only in small groups.  For example, Dyeland people can still hang out with Dyeland people.  The Tunnel folks with the Tunnel folks.  Albany people with Albany people.  NYC and L.A... those are riskier.  So, for now at least, we recommend staying isolated within your families.  Obviously, any health measures released by the powers that be in those areas would take precedent over our advice."

The tiny faces at the bottom of the screen all balked.

"We know that's hard.  We do," Portia pressed.  "Because so many of us are deeply rooted to multiple places.  But... it's simply safer.  So we recommend that, after this weekend, everyone settle where they most feel they need to be."

"And... and this is potentially for weeks?" Salma asked.

Soberly, Graham nodded.

"I... I want to be with my family," Salma whispered, barely picked up by her microphone.

"I'm moving to Dyeland," Sy declared.

"Sy, you..."  But Diana's voice drifted off.

"Like we said, these are only suggestions," Portia reiterated.  "Please just let us get through the list and then we can discuss and... and vote or whatever.  Okay?"

Dozens of voices replied with "okays" and "got its."

"Umm...  Travel to/from El Chanan is shutdown starting Monday unless directly addressed with Reuel," Graham continued, prompting another gasp from Salma.  "There aren't any cases there yet and, understandably, Reuel would like it kept that way.  So... we don't have much wiggle room on that one."

Andrew rubbed at his temple then spoke.

"I trust Reuel.  He loves visiting here...  He loves New York.  He wouldn't make that rule if he didn't feel it was absolutely necessary.  And he's led El-Chanan through many, many pandemics."

JenniAnn stroked his back as his eyes gleamed.

"Our feelings exactly," Portia agreed.  "And...  Vincent's asked me to say a few things about the Tunnels.  Again... Vincent and the Tunnel Council are, for lack of a better word, the sovereigns of the Tunnels.  So... this... it just is what it is.  Again starting Monday, all Tunnel teachers who do not live Below will teach via virtual tools, remaining in their home base.  The Tunnel folks are hunkering down.  As needed, Friends and Helpers... including some of you... have volunteered to drop off supplies/food to be collected by Vincent, who thus far has proved immune to respiratory illnesses... possibly at a delay of 3 days since the jury is still out on how long the virus can survive on surfaces.  So obviously fresh food may be out here."

JenniAnn began to softly weep.

Andrew looped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed.  She'd told him as much after the last Council meeting.  But hearing it this way made it seem more real.

"Now to personal matters... I'm going to remain Below so I can help any Tunnelers and Dyelanders if they become sick," Portia reported.  "Graham... and Owen... will no longer come Below so Graham can keep working his residency in the hospital without fear of contaminating the Tunnels.  They've temporarily relocated to Catherine's apartment."

JenniAnn audibly gasped.

Owen appeared next to Graham.

"I... I think it's for the best.  Graham will likely come in contact with several COVID-19 patients and while they, obviously, take great care not to get exposed themselves... there's a chance.  And... and if it happens... I want to be with my husband."

The two men looked to each other and joined hands.

"O..." JenniAnn murmured.

"Laja..."  Andrew pulled her close and rested his chin on her hair.

"God bless you, Owen.  And thank you, Graham and Portia, for all you're doing," Peter said.

The chat erupted with many of the Friends agreeing and adding on their own sentiments of appreciation.

When it quieted, Portia smiled tearfully at her friends.

"Thank you all.  That means a lot.  And now..."  She drew in a deep breath.  "Back to the list.  Sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer will be placed at all the portals.  Before using the portal, please use the hand sanitizer.  For those with panels, before hitting a button, please carefully wipe the panel down.  Then use the wipe to select the button you want.  Discard the wipe responsibly as soon as possible.  Obviously, we want to limit the use of the portals starting Monday but we know some people, particularly in Dyeland, might need them to get to grocery stores."

"Right," Graham agreed.  "And for anyone contemplating a move, we recommend that they take their temperature right after we end this call.  Take it again this evening.  Then again tomorrow morning.  If you have a fever or if you have a dry cough that you didn't have before... knowing that some of us have been coughing for months due to allergies... please don't go.  Contact your health care professional or Portia or myself.  We'll get you a test."

"But I thought people were having a hard time getting tests?" Behnam asked.

Portia nodded.

"They are in many places.  But..."  Her eyes glistened.  "We owe our friends in El-Chanan.  In January, Reuel foresaw that this wasn't going to go away.  As soon as the test was devised, he had a lab there start producing them."

For the first time since the call started, the Friends perked up. 

"But... that's great for us.  And them if it gets into El-Chanan.  But everyone else?" Ivy questioned.

"Josef," Graham prompted.

Josef nodded and took over the screen.

"One perk of living hundreds of years is you have a lot of time to start a lot of businesses.  I own a pharmaceutical and medical testing company.  Up until recently, I... I used it in hopes of finding a cure for.... for Sarah.  And then for vampirism in general.  I wish I'd had the foresight to start working on coronavirus testing.  But I didn't.  However...  We'll be using my company as the public face of what Reuel's people are doing.  That way there are less hoops to jump through since my company exists on the books in the States."

The Friends began to cheer.

After allowing them to celebrate for a few moments, Graham spoke again.

"That being said...  We want as many of those tests as possible to go to people who truly believe they may have COVID-19.  So we don't want to test all of us.  Reuel's people were very productive... but not enough to fulfill the needs even of the Sibling Cities.  So... with that in mind... by all means let us know if you think you need one.  I know it would be a weight off of people's minds if we could all just take one, hopefully pass, and intermingle amongst ourselves.  But that seems..."

"Selfish," Owen finished for him.

Graham and Portia nodded.

"What we recommend is, after Monday, as many of us as possible quarantine ourselves.  If, after fourteen days, no one develops symptoms, we can reconvene to discuss and maybe people can move around a little more," Graham explained. 

"So... what does everyone think?" Portia checked.

There was only silence for a few moments then a chorus of agreement started.

"It makes sense to me."

"It's hard but... necessary."

"Joshua is with us in spirit... we can be with each other in spirit."

"No objections."

"Truly no objections?" Graham checked.

On the screen, the Friends shook their heads.

"Then... that's our plan," Portia concluded.  "Graham and I will be available by phone or text for the next couple of hours if you have any questions.  After that, still reach out. We just may be a bit slower to respond as we make our own arrangements.  If there are lots of questions, we can reconvene tonight so everyone can get the answers.  And with that... God bless you all!"

"Love you all!" Owen cried.

Amid shouts of love back, the call ended.

JenniAnn continued to stare at the screen.

"Laja..."  Andrew stroked her back.

"I just can't believe..."

"I know."  The angel kissed her temple.

"Wait...  Do we have to... socially distance?" she questioned.

Andrew laughed gently and shook his head.

"No.  The only reason we'd have to do that is if one of us got sick.  The other would need to stay healthy to take care of the kids.  But I can't get this.  And there's no indication you have.  So we're fine."


With that, JenniAnn moved onto Andrew's knee and rested her head beneath his chin.

"I hate this," she murmured.

Andrew closed his eyes and rested his cheek against her hair.

"Me too."

JenniAnn let out a ragged sigh then closed her own eyes, allowing herself a few moments to focus on the warmth of her beloved's embrace.  Then she was all business.

"We need to stock up.  And we need to check with Rose and Max and Ivy and Violeta and my parents and Raquel and Nico and see if they need anything.  We could go to the grocery store this evening.  Maybe an hour before close.  And in Omaha.  It'll be less crowded than in New York."

Andrew squeezed her hand.

"We should do that.  But we'll order everything online and then I'll go and pick it up.  Maybe bring Max with me."

"But I..."

Andrew cradled JenniAnn's chin and shook his head.

"I'm going.  You need to stay here.  Laja.... you have lung damage.  You... you're high risk, sweetheart."

JenniAnn went ashen.

"Somehow, I... I hadn't even thought of that.  But... you're right."

Andrew nodded.

"So I need you to take care of yourself."  He smiled with glistening eyes.  "I chose to grow old with you.  I need you to grow old with me."

With a nod, JenniAnn acquiesced.

"I'll stay home.  If you need more help... cause that'll be a lot of groceries and household stuff, maybe Sy..."  Her voice trailed off.  "The wedding...  The wedding might not...  And if he's coming here...  I need to get a room ready and..."

"Laja..."  Andrew shook his head.  "They obviously get to make their own choices but... I think Sy is going to want to stay with Ivy.  Not here."

"But she won't.  She's very Catholic like..."  JenniAnn paused when she noticed Andrew rake his hand through his hair.

"I'll marry them.  Again, the choice is theirs.  But I'm going to make the offer.  If they agree, we can livestream it to the Wilsons and Mark and Doreen and anyone else they want.  And they can still have their big wedding as soon as things are better.  But we need to give them that option.  It won't be a legal marriage... unless they already have the marriage license which, come to think of it, they might... but, regardless, it'll be a marriage in the eyes of God and that's what really matters to both Sy and Ivy."

Andrew could tell JenniAnn was considering this.  He also shared her concerns: he couldn't imagine not being physically present at Max's wedding. 

"Laja...  I don't want to spend this time away from you," Andrew continued.  "At the end of what are going to be some long, weary, dreary days... I want to snuggle up with you, with my anam cara.  Ivy and Sy deserve the same.  If they want."

JenniAnn nodded.

"Of course.  Of course they do."  She kissed Andrew.  "Thank you for thinking of that."

"I'm going to text them now."

"Okay."  JenniAnn watched as he did.  "If they agree, maybe we should have Violeta come over here for a few days... nights."  Her cheeks flushed.  "I mean... they might be shy with her there."

"Good thought.  I have a feeling she's going to be over here a lot regardless.  But, yes, we should invite her over.  Another person to amuse the kids, too.  When she's not studying, of course."

"And... and Shel.  Andrew, we need to figure out where she wants to be."  JenniAnn's eyes welled again.  "With... with us.  Or with Asher."

Andrew set down his phone and stared at JenniAnn.  It hadn't occurred to him that Shelby might not stay with them.  But, of course, she might want to remain in the Tunnels with her brother.

"Yeah... yeah, we do," he choked out.

"A-and Mallory and Evie.  When Evie has her... fits... what will she do without Avi?"

"We can ask.  Mallory gets along well with Marty.  They could stay in one of the rooms near him," Andrew suggested, even as the growing number of house guests began to alarm him.  But then, he consoled himself, Mallory and Evie hardly ever went Above.

JenniAnn nodded and grabbed her own cell phone.

"I'll just..."  She vacated Andrew's lap and began to move away.

Andrew clasped her hand.

"Laja...  This... it's going to be hard.  But we'll be okay.  You'll see," he encouraged.

Eyes still glistening, JenniAnn forced a smile and nodded. 

Andrew watched her begin to pace as she spoke to Mallory.  He let out a sigh then refocused on connecting with Ivy and Sy.


Four hours later, Andrew, Max, and the Jolly Green materialized on a seldom-used highway just outside of Omaha, Nebraska.

"I hope we'll be able to fit everything," Max mused. 

"I'm sure we can."

"Good.  Dad?"

"Hmm?"  Andrew glanced quickly at Max before refocusing on the road.

"How long do you think this will last?"

"I'm not sure.  Could be weeks.  Months.  Could be weeks and then normalcy and then back to hunkering down for a few more weeks."

Max nodded.



"Rose and I were talking and...  So long as everyone's still fine by Sunday...  And knowing we have no intention of leaving Dyeland during this...  Do you think...  I mean... that's a long time.  So... at least until we get the hang of it... do you think we could stay at Willowveil?"

Andrew smiled.  In spite of his earlier concerns about too many people staying at the castle, he had secretly hoped his and JenniAnn's eldest would join them.

"Did you think there was much of a chance that I'd say no?"

Max chuckled.

"No.  Not really.  It just... feels... childish, I guess, to ask."

Andrew clapped his son on the back.

"It's not.  Of course we'd love to have the three of you join us!  Your Maja's going to be thrilled.  And... it'll help even things out."

"Even things out?"

"Shelby, Violeta, Mallory, and Evie will be joining us.  So, without you, that would have left me with Marty, Takoda, and Avi for male companionship and Marty and Takoda aren't always going to be around.  And Avi...  A smile from that boy makes everything better but I can't exactly have heart-to-hearts with him yet."

Max grinned.

"Yeah, I know the feeling."  He let out a sigh of relief.  "Great.  And I can help out any time we need to go out to gather supplies.  I'm in the process of moving all my counseling sessions to Zoom so I won't need to leave for those.  And, of course, Rose will be teaching remotely."

"Another good reason to stay with us: the internet connection is better in Willowveil."

"Right!  Yeah!"

"I was thinking...  If this goes on for more than a couple of weeks which I think it will...  We'll have to go out for supplies again.  So I think I'll rig a hose up coming out of my workshop and construct a sort of makeshift shower.  Army-style, ya know?  So we can wash up and change before going into the castle.  I can't get it.  But I have no reason to believe the virus couldn't exist on my clothes or hair if, ya know, someone sneezed near me," Andrew explained.

Max blinked.

"You think we need that?"

"I don't think it could hurt.  And some people are already saying you should shower immediately after getting home.  Seems safer to have that outside of the home if ya can."

"It does.  Yeah.  Good thinking.  Thanks, Dad."  Max beamed at Andrew.


The two were silent for a few moments as the quiet highway morphed into a busy city street.

"Dad?" Max asked, his voice strained.


"Are... are you especially worried about Maja because... I mean...  He hit her lung."

Andrew was grateful for a red light.  As the van stalled, he reached over and patted the younger man's hand.

"Max, I'd be worried even if that hadn't happened.  She had pneumonia and some other respiratory issues in high school.  There was scarring on her lungs long before Rex.  I'm sure she's gonna be fine.  We just need to keep her home... and all of us need to stay home as much as possible to limit the chances of bringing anything back to her or to anyone."

"If... if I had said that I was still going to go into the city for some appointments, you wouldn't have let us stay at Willowveil, would you?"

Andrew let out a ragged breath.

"No.  I... I think things are going to get really, really bad in New York and... I couldn't risk that.  And I would have tried everything to dissuade you for your sake and Rose's and Landon's."

"I don't blame you.  And... I'm glad you're looking out for Maja.  I will, too."

Andrew smiled proudly at Max.

"Thank you.  I know you will."

The two exchanged smiles then continued their journey to pick up supplies.


As soon as he and Max stepped into Allison and Robert Chandler's house after their grocery run, Andrew knew something was afoot.  The couple were seated together on the couch, looking expectantly at him.

"Hey, Robert.  Hey, Allison.  Good to see you," Andrew greeted.  "We, umm, we have your groceries."  He waved to Max.

"Thank you both.  It was very kind of you to think of us and include us on your grocery run," Allison replied with a smile. 

"Of course.  JenniAnn wouldn't have let me forget it if we'd left you out," Andrew kidded.  "I'd be on the couch for sure." His face flushed.

Robert cleared his throat and turned his attention to Max.

"Max, could we prevail upon you to put the perishables away?  Allison and I would like to speak with And... with your dad."

Max cast Andrew a concerned look.  The angel only nodded.

"Okay...  I'll just...  I'll wash my hands first then I'll get right to that."

After a final, curious look to Andrew, Max grabbed the bags and disappeared into the kitchen.

"So..." Andrew prompted.

"Andrew, Allison and I have been talking and... we're not prepared to be separated from our daughter or our grandchildren for weeks on end," Robert began.

"Or you!" Allison hastened to add.

Andrew bowed his head and smiled.  He was clearly an afterthought.

"Allison hasn't been out of the house in nearly a week.  And I've only been to my office with minimal exposure to other people.  I'm supposed to start working remotely on Monday.  And I'm sure you know that, at least at this point, Omaha only has a very small portion of travel-related cases," Robert relayed. 

"I do." 

"So we doubt either of us has been exposed.  Still... we'll take Portia's and Graham's advice.  We'll take our temperatures over the next couple of days.  But... but if we don't have a fever at any point... we'd like to move to Dyeland for the duration of this." 

Allison peered at Andrew with eyes that were so familiar to him.

He gulped.

"We know that, at points, things have been rocky between us and... you," Robert continued.  "But we see now... have seen for a long while... that... that you've always had JenniAnn's best interests at heart.  And... we... we've never been separated for more than a few months and... and this could be... it could be a year.  Maybe more!"

Andrew's stomach roiled.  He didn't think he'd seen Robert tear up since those awful days in the hospital.

"We wouldn't have to stay at Willowveil!  I mean... that would be nice.  But we'd take a cabin or..."

Andrew cut Allison off.

"I understand.  I do.  I... I can't imagine being away from any of my kids for more than a few days.  Of course you can come... as long as you're still feeling well by Sunday evening.  I'll check with JenniAnn about arrangements.  I think we have room in the castle.  You won't be the only ones joining us.  But... once you're there, you're there.  If you leave... I can't let you come back.  I can run any necessary errands."

"Understood," Robert hastily agreed.

"Absolutely!" Allison affirmed before leaping up and hugging the angel.  "Thank you so much!  We'll help out!  If you and JenniAnn need alone time, we'll happily watch the kids!"

"Thank you.  I'm sure we will."

"And we promise not to butt in.  It's your and JenniAnn's house.  Your rules," Robert insisted before hugging Andrew himself.

"And since we won't be here, you can use our house for any sort of deliveries and there's no need to worry about tracking anything in to us..." Allison suggested.  "If that's even something that can happen."

"I'm not sure but that'd be good.  Thanks."  Andrew smiled at the couple.  "I think this will be good."

"Thank you so much for agreeing."  Allison hugged Andrew again.  "You won't regret it!"

"I'm sure I won't," Andrew agreed, squeezing her hands.  He smiled at Max who was peeking into the room.  "Now... I'll go help Max and then we'll be on our way."

"Sounds good!"

"Thank you, Andrew!"

"You bet."

Andrew chuckled with relief when he entered the kitchen.

"Well... that was... something..." Max opined.

The angel of death nodded.

"It was.  But... I'm relieved.  At first I was afraid maybe they... they wanted JenniAnn and the kids to move here."

Max cringed.

"That would have been awful."

Andrew nodded, tensing at the mere thought.

Max clapped him on the back.

"Well, it's definitely not as bad as that.  It's only that you're going to be living with your, essentially, in-laws now," he teased in a whisper.

Andrew blushed.

"That I am..."


As soon as he'd dropped off the groceries, telling JenniAnn they needed to talk... about something good!... Andrew made a beeline to the shower in his old bedroom.  He smiled when he saw that JenniAnn had already laid out some fresh clothes.

Once he was beneath the cascade of warm water, Andrew exhaled and began to relax.

And then he began to talk.

"I hope I'm doing this right...  I... I don't want her to resent me.  But... this terrifies me."

Andrew felt a gentle peace wash over him.

"I know, Andrew.  But... say it with me..."

The angel smiled.

"Fear not!" he proclaimed with Joshua.

"There ya go.  And JenniAnn isn't going to resent you.  Her health just isn't top of mind for her in the way it is for you.  Same thing with you.  She thinks about your health far more often than you do."


"And stop worrying about how JenniAnn's going to manage everything... and everyone... when you're away on assignments.  You, like so many people, will be working from home now.  And more along the lines of casework than AOD work... the latter only coming up in terms of lending counsel and comfort."

Andrew let out a shaky sigh.

"Thank you.  You don't know how..."  He chuckled.  "Of course you know how much that means to me.  Because that has been weighing on me."

"I know.  And you'll be busy.  I mean think about it... you have two little kids, a grandbaby, Shelby, Violeta's coming back... emotional about her best friend's wedding and being pulled out of classes... and then you've got Evie and Mallory.  Marty will mostly see to them but that's still two more people... one of them extremely sensitive.  Takoda... the separation from Joccy won't be easy for him.  Then you've got Max and Rose who are pretty self-sufficient.  But they'll still need you.  And Kemara and Monica..."

"Kemara and Monica are coming here?"

"No.  They're staying home.  But Arthur and Sean have decided to stay in New York."

Andrew froze.  He'd been worried about them repeatedly coming through the portal.  But he also hadn't wanted that...

"They made the decision, Andrew.  It's nothing you said," Joshua reassured.  "It was a very, very difficult decision but, in their lines of work, they didn't want to risk bringing COVID into Dyeland.  So Kemara and Monica will need your help sometimes."

"I... I understand.  I... I just can't imagine."

"Pray for them, Andrew."

"I will, Joshua.  I will."

"Thank you.  And back to your brimming household..."

"Allison and Robert..."

Andrew could hear Joshua smile.

"I've just given you your own personal sitcom, haven't I?"

Joshua laughed.

"Well, mine and Dad's and the Spirit's... yeah."

Andrew blushed.

"It'll be fine, Andrew.  Trying at times?  Sure.  But it's a good thing.  You'll see.  And, of course, you have one more assignment.  Pretty sure she's a favorite of yours..."

Smiling, Andrew nodded.

"She's going to ask you to watch a TV show with her... something that's well outside of your comfort zone.  But it's important."

"Is this another... I mean is this like the time we read the sex book?"

Joshua burst out laughing.

"It's not about sex.  I mean there is some sex.  Nothing gratuitous.  But that's not why she wants to watch it."

"Mysterious... okay.  I will watch a TV show with Laja."

"Good boy."



"Thanks for this.  I feel calmer."

"Good.  I'm always here.  And I have one more thing..."

"Go for it."

"I'm leaving a note tucked in Ivy's Bible.  John 1.  Can you please tell her tomorrow morning?"

"Of course, Joshua.  You're okay with the wedding thing, I hope?"

"I am.  It's a beautiful gesture, Andrew.  Thank you for thinking of it."

"You're welcome.  I just... I know it's what I'd want if I was them."

"I know.  I love the compassion you have for everyone, Andrew.  I love you!"

Andrew felt a lump form in his throat.

"I... I love you, too, Joshua."

The angel inhaled and exhaled deeply, letting Joshua's peace envelope him.

All would be well...


Andrew wasn't exactly sure what he thought JenniAnn's response to his agreement with her parents would be.  Relief?  Gratitude?  Nervousness?  It turned out to be all of the above.

"Oh good!  Thank you!" she enthused, hugging him.  "I was thinking we could use their house for deliveries and such but then I felt selfish thinking we'd have people traipsing around there, putting them at risk, and yet keeping them away.  And... and I did hate the idea of... of not seeing them for weeks."

Andrew smiled. 

"I'm glad you're on board.  Not that I expected otherwise.  But where do you want them to stay?"

"Well, I think we should have them here.  I mean... seems rude to not.  Although..."  JenniAnn's face colored.


"That could be... interesting."

"How so?"

"I honestly... and maybe this is my fault... I don't think they have any idea of the nature of our relationship.  Not really.  And maybe I should have explained but... who wants to talk about that with their parents?"

Andrew bowed his head.  He talked about everything with his Father.  But then that was different...

"Last month when Mom brought Belle home after a trip to the zoo, I was folding laundry.  And she saw one of my nightgowns.  The little, pink, strappy one, ya know?"

Andrew nodded.  He liked the little, pink, strappy one.

"She gave me the weirdest look.  So I just hid it beneath some of your T-shirts and asked how Belle had done."

Chuckling, Andrew shook his head.

"Well, it's not like we're going to put them up in our room!"

"No.  And I'm not leaving this room without my robe.  But I'm also not yanking on flannel pajama bottoms just to make breakfast... although I suppose maybe I should start getting dressed first, anyway.  All those people..."

Andrew pulled her close and rested his chin on her hair.

"It'll be fine, Laja.  Give them some credit.  It's not like I'd be comfortable having to contemplate what goes on between Rose and Max.  I try not to."


"And we're...different.  It's natural to be curious and a little confused."

"I suppose."

"And maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for them to come out of this experience with a little clarity."

"No... probably not."  JenniAnn sighed.  "But now..."  She reached into Andrew's pocket and checked his watch.  "Portia and Graham are doing a follow-up in fifteen minutes so..."  She gestured towards the computer.

Andrew heaved a sigh.

"All right..." 

A soft knock on their open door caused the two to turn around.  They found Shelby peering at them.

"Hi.  I was just wondering if I could sit with you during the meeting?" she requested.

"Sure, sweetie."  JenniAnn gestured her into the room.  "Where's Belle?"

Shelby smiled.

"Playing with Takoda's hair."

Andrew chuckled. 

"He's a good sport.  We'll fill him in later then."

"I'm just gonna check and make sure Avi's still sleeping.  Can you get us logged in?"

Andrew nodded to JenniAnn.


Once she'd stepped into Avi's nursery, Andrew moved another chair in front of the computer.  He motioned for Shelby to sit.

"How ya doing, kiddo?" he checked.

Shelby shrugged.

"Okay, I guess.  It... it was hard leaving the Tunnels but..."  She sighed.  "I'm glad I'm here."

Andrew gave her a squeeze.

"I am, too."

"I... I just wonder how long it's gonna be?  Do you think we'll find out tonight?"

"We might find out more about the Sibling Cities' plans.  But I don't think anyone but God knows how long this whole situation will last."

"Were you around during previous pandemics, Andrew?  I mean... I know you were alive.  But on Earth?"

Andrew's face clouded.

"I... I have been."

Shelby hugged his arm.

Andrew could tell she didn't want any more information about those experiences.  At least not yet.  He kissed her hair and said no more.

"Out cold," JenniAnn announced as she re-entered the room.  "Anyone on yet?"

"A few."  Andrew pointed to the screen.  "Hi, Isolde.  Hi, Marco.  Zeke, Diana, hi."


"Hi there."

"How you all doing?" Zeke asked.

No one spoke for a few moments.

"This is just... weird," Isolde responded.  "And... and not entirely unfamiliar."

Andrew nodded gravely.  Isolde and Marco, too, had been around for previous pandemics. 

"Where are you two?" Diana questioned.

"We're holed up in our cabin with wee Bram," Isolde replied. 

"I thought maybe you'd stay in New York since restaurants are essential businesses.  But I'm glad you're here!" JenniAnn cheered.

Isolde looked away from the screen.

Marco wrapped an arm around her shoulders and nodded.

"The restaurant is staying open.  We talked about it and..."

"I... I nearly lost him once to TB.  I... I can't risk it," Isolde bleated.

"It's okay, mo cailin.  I understand," Marco assured, nuzzling her hair before looking back into the camera.  "I hated the idea of closing and denying our regulars that comfort with everything going on.  But... I can't argue with that.  Thankfully, Luis and some of the others really stepped up.  Even though I offered to close but continue paying... they wanted to stay open.  Even if it turns out to only be for delivery and take-out.  So they are."

"I think you're doing the right thing, Marco," Andrew assured, trying to conceal his own relief.  He didn't relish the idea of anyone going in and out of Dyeland on a daily basis unless absolutely necessary.

"Thanks, Andrew.  Means a lot.  I feel a little guilty about it but..."  Marco smiled at Isolde.  "I know it's the right decision."

"We're all going to have to make some hard decisions," Diana murmured.

Zeke patted her on the back.

"We are.  We, uh, spoke to Sy and Ivy, Andrew.  Thank you for your kind offer.  I know it gives them a lot of comfort.  I'm just sorry..."

Andrew felt a lump forming in his throat... and he wondered if that was going to become a daily happening now.  He glanced at JenniAnn whose head was bowed.  He could see the tears trailing down her cheeks.  He hoped that wasn't going to become daily, either...

"Maybe... maybe we can figure something out," the angel suggested, desperate to offer some relief.  "Portia and Graham gave us a deadline of Sunday.  Maybe we can have the wedding tomorrow.  In the chapel out back.  Still very limited attendance... but you could come.  And your girls and Manny.  And Doreen and Mark if they want."

Isolde's eyes lit up. 

"Oh... if you could make that work, it would mean so much to the kids!  I... I still wish me own parents coulda been at our wedding.  Marco's too."

Diana and Zeke both smiled through their tears.

"Are... are you sure you're comfortable with that, Andrew?" Zeke checked.

JenniAnn squeezed Andrew's hand tightly.

"I am.  Really."  Andrew smiled at the computer and nodded.

Diana wept into Zeke's shoulder.

"That's wonderful, Andrew.  Thank you.  Truly.  We'll take our own car to St. G's and use the portal there.  That way there's limited possibility of us tracking anything in.  And we'll wash our hands as soon as we get there!"

Andrew chuckled.

"I'm sure we're all going to be very fastidious about our hand washing.  Might be a good time to start selling those hand lotions you make, huh, Laja?" he joked, hoping for a laugh.

JenniAnn smiled.

"I don't think I'm setup for that.  But I'll start making some up for whomever wants some.  It'll keep me busy in any case."

"I'll help you," Shelby offered.

"Thanks, sweetie.  That'd be nice."

Over the next few minutes, the screen populated with more and more images of the Friends.  At exactly 7 PM, Portia and Graham began.

"Thanks, everyone, for coming back.  And for everyone who missed this afternoon, we sent out an email covering everything.  We've since had some questions which is what we'd like to address now," Portia began. 

"And we anticipate more questions as we go through this so keep those coming," Graham added.

"Absolutely.  Now, first question... 'do we anticipate schools closing?'" Portia read.  "Well, as we said earlier, the Tunnels have gone to remote learning.  We certainly hope that schools elsewhere will follow suit... or at least have that as an option... but we just don't know."

"A lot of Omaha has spring break next week," JenniAnn interjected.  "And it sounds like many of them are going straight to remote learning after that.  And we don't even have much of an outbreak at all right now so...  I'm betting others will follow suit."

"I really hope so," Shane replied.  "It's a battle to keep everything disinfected as is.  And Diana's and my school is packed.  Although... I am worried about my kids who don't have internet access.  We all take it for granted but..."  He shook his head.

Portia sighed.

"It's a concern.  And one that, unfortunately, we have very little control over... like so many others.  But, Shane and Diana, if you need help printing packets or anything, speak up.  I'm sure several of us have printers."

Nearly half of the Friends nodded.

"Thanks!" Diana cheered.  "I really appreciate that.  I think they'll probably let Shane and I into the school long enough to do that.  But we'll keep it in mind."

"Buy stamps," Mick encouraged.  "I wasn't born for the Spanish Flu pandemic... shockingly... but my mom used to talk about it.  They had to quarantine then and she used to talk about how much it meant to get letters and cards from loved ones.  You could do that with your kids who are offline."

"Great idea!" Shane applauded.  "Thanks, Mick!" 

"I think it'd be nice to send stuff even amongst ourselves," Portia added.  "So stamps are a good idea for everyone."

"What about the folks in Dyeland?" Peter asked.  "USPS doesn't exactly go there."

"You could send it to our house," Allison offered.  "Just address the outer envelope to us.  Andrew's volunteered to collect deliveries from our place."

"And I can disperse stuff, too," Andrew added.

"Is there any concern about COVID being transmitted via mail, though?" Sean questioned.

"Jury's still out on how long it survives on surfaces.  But I would just avoid opening a letter and then touching your face," Graham counseled.  "Andrew, maybe you could discard the outer envelope at the Chandlers' house."

"Planning on it!"

"Then it should be fine," Graham ventured.  "The bottom line is we can't go into total lockdown.  I don't think any of us are in the position of being completely self-sufficient when it comes to food.  Some stuff is going to have to come in.  But we can be safe about it."

"Exactly," Portia affirmed.  "Now... next question: 'If some of us stay home for two weeks and don't go anywhere else AND remain asymptomatic... could we move about among the portals more freely?'"  She frowned and cocked her head.  "First of all, I'm more comfortable with three weeks.  Second of all... we just don't know how this is going to play out.  I mean it would be great if, after these initial few weeks, we could at least open the portal from the Tunnels to Dyeland.  Because I do have concerns about those who are used to going Topside or to Dyeland not adjusting well to the lack of sunlight.  And, as much as it pains me to say it, Dyeland is going to be safer than Topside.  But for others... how would you get to a portal?  If public transportation was going to be used, that would concern me.  Even walking...  I just don't know.  So... short answer: we'll have to see.  Even if we did do that, I think best practice would be to have the folks from the Tunnels... or elsewhere... stay at least six feet away from the Dyelanders.  And possibly wear masks."

Andrew glanced at JenniAnn and Shelby who both appeared encouraged by this possibility.  He weighed it against his own concern.

"In follow-up to that we have: 'If a bunch of us stay at St. G's and don't leave, can we access the portal after an initial quarantine?'"  Graham dragged a hand through his hair then smiled gratefully at Owen who stroked his back.  "As much as I would love to say yes... I just don't see that as being at all workable.  There's one shower, for starters.  And we also don't know what sort of rules are going to be rolled out.  If there's a stay-at-home order...  St. G's is not a home.  If someone figured out what was going on..."

Emma cleared her throat.

"That... that was my question.  But you're right.  As... as much as I hate the idea of being cut-off and stuck in our own apartments and houses... this is temporary.  Maybe a long temporary.  But temporary.  I'd hate to do permanent damage to St. G's reputation."

"It was a really nice thought, Em," Kylie encouraged.  "But... yeah."

"So...  Superstar is definitely not happening this year, I take it?" Eric asked, wincing as he did.

Peter nodded.

"Afraid so.  But Emma and I talked about it and... we were thinking maybe we could stream it.  Joshua's version.  Sorry, Eric.  That would mean you wouldn't be..."

"No!  No reason to apologize.  I'm all for streaming Joshua's version."

"Great!  Anyway, we thought maybe we could do that on a few of the nights we would have normally had a show.  And maybe, each night, whomever is available could do a Facebook Live thing with patrons.  Or something like that," Peter suggested.  "So... it'll still happen, in a manner."

The others wildly applauded the idea.

Portia grinned.

"I think that settles that.  I love it.  I think everyone's going to have to look into how to adjust traditions.  And that's a perfect solution.  And now... back to the questions.  Let's see... okay, 'What are we supposed to do if we think we might have it?'" she read.  "And, just for the record, this person states they do NOT believe they have it.  Just thinking ahead.  Good.  Well, like we said earlier, we can get tests but we want to make sure there's good reason to use a test.  So call Graham or myself and we'll evaluate.  I think it's safe to say we'll be more willing to test than many officials across the country.  But, again, we don't want to over-do it.  For one thing... the test isn't a very pleasant experience.  But... definitely worthwhile if we have a suspicion someone has COVID."

"Should we start wearing masks?" Raquel asked.

Portia and Graham paused to consider their answers.

Before they could settle on one, Andrew spoke.

"If you're somewhere with reported cases, it can't hurt," he replied.  "Especially for anyone over sixty or with pre-existing conditions.  I know it's not typical in the U.S. but in other countries, it's very common to wear a mask when there's a contagious disease going around."

"But in Dyeland?" Raquel pressed.

Andrew glanced over at JenniAnn who had set a hand on his arm.  He suddenly became aware that his heart was racing.  He'd assumed Raquel meant to leave...

"Oh... Umm, no.  No, I don't think so.  I was thinking more if people went to highly populated places.  Portia?  Graham?" he prompted.

"I think that's right," Portia agreed.  "Some people might see it as premature but, if it makes you more comfortable, I think you should."

"Oh, I'm not planning on going anywhere.  I suppose it's just more top of mind for me because Nico keeps getting all these emails from his old cruise ship buddies and it just sounds... awful," Raquel concluded.

"It does..." an off-screen Nico agreed.

"What would be nice is if the crafty among us could start making masks," Graham suggested.  "We're already seeing some shortages.  I worry that places where, by necessity, people are in close quarters won't be able to buy them.  Places like shelters."

"We're already running into that," Arthur asserted.  "So any help would be appreciated."

"What he said," Amber-Marie agreed.  "Although we do have quite a few people here who are handy with sewing so we might be fine."

"If you think it's okay, I could get to St. G's and the rest of the fabric remnants," Peter suggested.  "We still have a lot even after using so much to make hijabs last year.  I could drop them off at places through the portal.  I wouldn't stick around.  I mean literally drop them and go."

"That'd be really great, Peter.  Thank you!"  Graham smiled.  "If you could use some fabric, please get in touch with Peter.  Once you have it, wash it first.  Wherever you donate them will wash the completed masks, I'm sure."

"We will!  Thanks to any takers!  I know I... I can count of all of you," Arthur praised.

Andrew looked down at his and JenniAnn's linked hands when he saw Monica rest her head on the man's shoulder, knowing his friend would soon be parted from her anam cara.

"It looks like those are all the questions we have for now," Portia informed the group.  "Let's plan to do this again.  Maybe sometime Sunday in case any last minute things come up that need attention?"

A chorus of agreement sounded.

"All right.  Take care, everyone.  We'll talk soon!"  Graham waved to the screen.

The other Friends followed suit and then, one by one, their images disappeared.

Andrew exited the meeting.

JenniAnn heaved a sigh.

Shelby sniffled.

"After that... I think we need an impromptu ice cream party," Andrew announced, wanting to cheer the two.

Shelby and JenniAnn both smiled at him. 

"You really want to give Belle a bunch of sugar right before bed?" JenniAnn checked.

Andrew grinned.

"It'll be fine.  Shelby's the one who has to stay with her, anyway."

"Hey!" the teenager protested.  "But... ice cream does sound really good..."

Andrew pulled her into a hug.

"Then we gotta do it."  He sighed happily.  "I'm glad you're here, Shel."

JenniAnn beamed as Shelby wrapped her arms around Andrew's middle.

"Me too." 

"And me three."  JenniAnn gently smoothed some hair behind the girl's ear.  "Our first baby..."

"Aww..."  Shelby's face flushed as she hugged JenniAnn. 

Together, the trio left the room to rally the others and feast.


Later that night, Andrew looked up from his Kindle and watched as JenniAnn paced their room, brushing her hair.  She looked exhausted.



"Could I do that for you?"

JenniAnn halted and cocked her head.

"Do what?"

Andrew blinked.

"Your hair.  Brush your hair."

Laughing, JenniAnn shook her head.

"Duh.  Sorry.  It's just my mind..."  She sighed.  "Yes, please.  That'd be really nice."

Smiling, Andrew took the brush from her.  Once she was settled in front of him, he began to gently untangle her mane.  After a few strokes, he paused upon hearing a soft noise.


JenniAnn's shoulders quaked.

"Oh, Laja..."

Turning around, JenniAnn buried her face in the angel's chest.

"Beloved..."  Andrew enfolded her in his arms and kissed her hair, tears welling in his own eyes.

"I... I hate this..." she moaned. 

"I know..."  Andrew nuzzled her hair.  "I know, Laja."

"What if... if I can't hug Vincent for... for months?  A... a year even?  What if... if someone dies?  What if we've already seen someone in... in person for... for the last time?  And... and what if, in spite of our efforts, I get it?  Then I won't be able to nurse Avi and... and what if he feels abandoned?  I should have weaned him...  It... it was stupid and selfish not to but... but I know that once I do, I... I never will again and..."

Andrew gently but firmly gripped JenniAnn's shoulders and pulled her away from him when it sounded like she was beginning to hyperventilate.

"Whoa.  Whoa, whoa, whoa, Laja.  Deep breath."

JenniAnn obeyed.

"Another one. Good..."  Andrew smiled encouragingly as he caressed her cheek for a few, silent moments.  His smile faded when he resumed speaking.  "Laja, this is going to be difficult.  There's no way around that.  It'll be very sad if you can't hug Vincent for a long time.  But you can talk to him, you can write to him.  And I truly believe that, one day, you'll be able to hug him as much as you'd like." 

"Yeah...  I... I guess."

"And it'll be very, very sad if someone dies.  Terribly sad.  I... I wish I could say that won't happen but I just... I don't know.  What I do know is that, even if the worst did happen, we will see them again.  We'll have an eternity with them.  That doesn't mean the time apart won't be difficult.  But it's nice to have that hope even in the worst of circumstances."

JenniAnn silently nodded.

"I also think everyone is taking this very, very seriously.  Not a single person scoffed at the restrictions.  No one is going to be reckless which means chances are better that no one will get seriously sick.  And we're gonna do everything we possibly can to keep you well so don't worry about Avi.  And, personally, I'm glad you're still nursing him.  We won't have to worry about stocking up on formula, right?"

"That's true...  Although he could drink regular milk at this point.  I just..."

"Laja, he'll let you know when he wants to quit.  You're fine."

"Yeah, I spose."

Andrew could tell something was still bothering his anam cara.

"What else do you have on your mind?" he gently prompted.

"It... it's just goofy and so... utterly minor compared to what other people are facing," JenniAnn confessed.

"Still, it's bothering you.  So I want to hear about it."

JenniAnn sighed.

"Well, I'm just a lil nervous about having my parents here.  I mean I'm super glad they will be.  But I just keep thinking of all that could go wrong and what they might say and how I'll cope, especially when you're off working assignments and..."

Andrew perked up.

"I never told you!" he blurted out.  "I'm sorry, Laja.  I just got so wrapped up in preparations and then the group meeting that I forgot.  God put me on leave, so to speak.  Joshua told me earlier.  He wants me to focus on things here.  I'm not going to be leaving for assignments."

JenniAnn's face lit up.

"Really?" she exclaimed.

Andrew chuckled and nodded as he stroked some hair behind her ears.


JenniAnn threw her arms around the angel and buried her face in his shoulder.

"That's so wonderful!  Thank God... truly.  That makes me feel so much better."

"I really am sorry I forgot to tell you earlier."

"Don't worry about it.  I'm sure we're all gonna get pretty space cadet-y as this goes on."  JenniAnn beamed at the angel and kissed his forehead.  "All of that time together..."

"Sure you won't get sick of me?" Andrew teased.

"Never!"  JenniAnn giggled and rested her forehead against his.  "Probably should finish getting my hair brushed so it's not a complete rats' nest tomorrow morning but..."

Andrew smiled as she played with the topmost button of his pajamas.

"This is our second-to-last night before my parents arrive so..."

Andrew chuckled at JenniAnn's coquettish grin.

"So we should take advantage of it?" he finished.

"Mmm hmm."

"All right then..."  Andrew motioned for JenniAnn to turn around then, as swiftly yet carefully as possible, finished brushing her hair.

When she heard him set the brush down, JenniAnn turned around and gently pushed Andrew back to the pillows.

As she traced his face with kisses that traveled down his neck and to his chest, Andrew closed his eyes.

They couldn't know what the future would bring but in that blessed moment, the two were happy.


A Bigger Love

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

JenniAnn awoke to find Andrew still beside her although turned away from her.  She could tell he was awake and so she leaned up and peeked over his shoulder.  She recognized a familiar logo on his Kindle: the logo of her hometown newspaper.


Andrew settled onto his back and smiled at JenniAnn.

"Hey, g'morning, Laja."

"G'morning.  Were you reading the World Herald?"

Andrew's face flushed slightly and he nodded.

"Are you worried about my mom and dad coming here?"

"And Mark and Doreen.  Maybe a little...  But there are only three cases in the whole state so..."  Andrew set the Kindle down and dragged a hand through his hair before pulling JenniAnn to him.  "I'm sure it's all fine."

"I'm sure, too."  JenniAnn kissed him.  "Not to change the subject but... I had a dream."


"Yeah.  Maybe it's just cause of Ivy getting married today.  I musta been thinking about Our Lady of Hope and my time there... and then with my parents coming...  Anyway, in my dream, I was graduating.  And I knew you were in the audience.  And I looked out and... my dad was dragging you out.  And my mom was just sitting there in her seat like nothing was happening!"

Andrew chuckled.


"It was!  And I was irate.  So I went tearing off the stage and towards you and my dad, the whole ceremony coming to screeching halt, I'm yelling 'But I love him!' at the top of my lungs, the choir starts singing 'Seasons of Love'... I assume as a poor attempt at distraction... and then you just... disappeared.  Poof!"

"Poof!" Andrew repeated with a smile.  He pulled JenniAnn towards him.  "I promise that I'm not gonna disappear.  Or at least if I disappear from this castle... you're disappearing with me.  Maybe for a night... alone... in my carpentry shop if things get too crowded here."

"I wouldn't protest that...  I guess I'm just a little anxious.  I mean... we are gonna have to tone things down at least a little.  Not when we're here, of course."  JenniAnn waved around to indicate their bedroom.  "But... like..."  She looked to their balcony.  "I like spending nights out there when it warms up.  But... they might hear us."

"I doubt they would but just in case...  Maybe we should put them in the guest room that Maryam and Yosef usually use?  It's on the other side of the castle."

"That could work..."

"And Max and Rose and Landon could have Avi's future room.  I think that would be less awkward for them than my old room."

"Yeah...  Having your dad's stuff spread around doesn't exactly inspire romance," JenniAnn agreed. 

"No...  I'd think not.  And then Evie and Mallory will be in the attic with Marty and Takoda.  They're not going to hear anything from there."

"And Violeta?"

"Oh...  I guess you were nursing Avi when that came up earlier.  Violeta, Shelby, and Belle want to build some sort of pillow fort in Belle's room.  If Violeta wants a break at some point, she can have my room... assuming they don't scavenge it for parts for their fort."

JenniAnn laughed.

"I guess that works... and seems very... on brand for them."

"It does."

"And...  I'm just over-thinking.  I guess it's just that... with all this weirdness and so much out of our control... it's kinda nice to fixate on the fixable," JenniAnn mused.

"I can understand that.  And I feel it, too.  I think some of that will go away come Monday when we're settled into whatever the 'new normal' turns out to be," Andrew hypothesized, rubbing JenniAnn's back as he did.

JenniAnn let out a deep, calming breath.

"I think you're right.  And now..."  JenniAnn turned around to face Andrew.  "I got a text from Kemara last night."


"She's wondering...  Can she, Sean, and the kids come to Ivy's and Sy's wedding?  They would stay completely away from everyone else.  And... I'd like to go, too.  The way I figure it, the Wilsons could be right up front and Doreen and Mark to the other side up front.  Then Kemara, Sean, and the kids could be in the back right and I could be in the back left.  That'd put way more than six feet between us," JenniAnn pointed out hopefully.  "And... it'd give Kemara and Sean something nice to do before... before he reports back to the station on Monday and... and is away for however long..."

Andrew contemplated this request.  It made sense...  Kemara and JenniAnn had known Ivy for nearly as long as he had.  And they'd all met Sy together.  It would mean a lot to the couple to have them near.

"Laja...  It... it's not my wedding.  And I..."  He dragged his hand through his hair.  "I... I'm worried about you.  But it's also never been the case that you need to ask me for permission.  So... if Ivy and Sy are okay with that... of course I'm okay with it."

JenniAnn hugged him.

"Oh good!  I'll text and ask.  Then get back to Kemara and..."

She was interrupted by frantic knocking on the door.

"Andrew!  JenniAnn!  I need to talk to you!  Now!" Violeta called.

Andrew raised an eye brow and looked to JenniAnn.

"I... I have no idea," she replied as she began to get out of bed.

They pulled on their robes then hurried to greet Violeta.

"Violeta, what's..."

The younger angel cut Andrew off.

"Ivy's freaking out!  She just talked to her grandma and... they're not coming.  Mark woke up feeling awful and he has a temperature and..."  Violeta sniffled, tears welling for her best friend.  "It might not be the coronavirus.  The flu was going all around the high school.  But... they don't want to take the risk."

"Oh no..." JenniAnn lamented.

Andrew frowned... and knew it was time to tell Ivy about the note from Joshua.

"I'll go talk to her," he offered.

"O-okay..."  Violeta moved into JenniAnn's waiting hug.  "This just... it sucks."

JenniAnn smoothed her hair as she began to cry.

"I know, baby, I know..."

"I'll be right back," Andrew promised.  He patted Violeta's shoulder as she continued to weep in JenniAnn's arms.

"Let us know if we should come over," JenniAnn called as he walked away.

"Will do."  Andrew offered JenniAnn an encouraging smile then headed towards the stairs.  He made his way to the basement and took the tunnel over to his former home.  Once he was in the basement of Serendipity, he paused to pray.

"Joshua... Father...  I'll tell Ivy about the note.  But... please give me the words I need to bring her some comfort."

After taking in and letting out a deep breath, the angel trooped up the stairs and knocked.

"Ivy, it's Andrew.  If it's okay, I'd like to..."

The door opened to reveal Ivy, also donning her robe.  Her eyes were puffy and red.  She immediately hugged Andrew.

"This... this isn't what... what I wanted at all and... and I'm scared for... my grandma a-and for Mark and..."

"I know...  I know..."  Andrew softly swayed and patted her back.  A few feet away, Leo laid on the floor, his sad eyes fixed on his Ivy. 

After a few moments, Ivy collected herself enough to step away and pour herself a mug of tea.

"Chamomile?" she asked.


After Ivy set both mugs down, the two settled down at the kitchen table.

"I... I'm sure Joshua's not going to come.  I mean... not physically.  So... so he can't walk me down the aisle.  And... I'm not sure I'd want him to, anyway.  Not like this."  Ivy smiled sadly.  "I... Sy and I... we both wanted the big wedding with all the Friends, excited for us but also excited because it'd mean seeing Joshua.  We still want that wedding...  So... so I thought my grandma and Mark could walk me down the aisle but now..."  She let out a ragged sigh and shook her head.

"Ivy, Joshua spoke to me yesterday.  He gave me a message for you," Andrew shared.

The young woman perked up and looked to the angel of death.

"What is it?" she prompted.

"He left you a note in your Bible.  Check John 1."

Andrew smiled as Ivy burst forth from the table.  Leo roused and ambled along behind her.

A few minutes later, Ivy returned.  Her eyes were rimmed with tears but she appeared more peaceful.

"He's promised me that we will have our dream wedding.  And... when the time comes... he'll walk me down the aisle a-and dance with me."  Ivy beamed.  "But... in the meantime... he suggested I ask Zeke.  I mean... it worked for Meghan Markle.  And I'd take Zeke over Prince Charles a hundred times over.  And... and Zeke is going to be my father now.  It... it'll be so nice to have an earthly father."

Andrew reached over and squeezed Ivy's hand.

"Zeke will be so honored, Ivy."

"Do you think Kendra and Hailey will mind, though?  I mean... I guess not if Joshua recommended it."

"I doubt they will but you can check with them if it'd make you feel better."

Ivy nodded.

"I will, thanks."  She smiled at Andrew.  "I would have asked you, you know.  But since you're performing the ceremony..."

"Thank you, Ivy.  That really means a lot.  But I think this job was meant for Zeke."

"Yeah..."  Ivy smiled fondly as she thought of her soon-to-be father-in-law.  But then her voice cracked.  "What if Mark..."

"Ivy, I know it's very scary to think of him possibly having COVID.  Especially knowing your grandma is right there, too.  But even supposing they both had it, they're in the very best possible place.  I know you saw the news.  The medical center in Omaha has so much experience with infectious diseases.  And there are so, so few cases there.  The medical system isn't even close to being overwhelmed.  And they're both in really good shape."

"That's all true...  I'm just... it's all just so much, Andrew."  Ivy began to softly cry again.  She let out a laugh when Leo rested his head on her knee.  "Thank you, baby boy." 

"Ivy, if there's anything I can do..."

"There is actually...  And... and I'm glad you came over here.  Alone.  Andrew, I... I love Violeta so, so much.  And Sy and I are both committed to having her live with us.  But... especially with Sy having been in New York... we've decided that, after the wedding, we'd like to quarantine ourselves for a couple of weeks.  I know Violeta can't get it.  But if either of us do...  Dealing with your new spouse being sick is... well, it would be a lot without... well..."

"Without having an emotional, very sensitive, very energetic angel stuck with you?" Andrew offered.

Giggling, Ivy nodded.

"JenniAnn and I already intended to have Violeta stay with us for a while.  I think two weeks is definitely doable.  And think of it this way:  if not for the virus, you'd be going on a honeymoon.  And Violeta wouldn't be tagging along.  She'd have to make due without you both for a while anyway."

"This is true..."

"I'll pray that neither of you get sick, Ivy.  I think a couple of weeks to yourselves is a great way to start a marriage.  Just keep in touch so we know you're both okay.  If you need anything... food, medication, whatever... just text or call.  I can drop it off in the basement.  Okay?"


"And... if it makes you feel any better... Violeta's already planning to build a pillow fort in Belle's room with her and Shelby.  So... I think she's going to be just fine."

"That sounds so fun!  I'm kinda sorry I'm gonna miss it but..."  Ivy's cheeks flushed.

Andrew smiled.

"I think this is going to be a beautiful time for you and Sy in spite of everything going on.  But now... I better get back over to Willowveil so JenniAnn and Violeta don't worry any more than they already are."

"Okay, thank you."  Ivy rose and hugged Andrew.  "And... I'll see you in a little while."

The angel beamed and nodded.

"Absolutely!  I can't wait!"

With a final swig of his tea and a pat for Leo, Andrew headed back to Willowveil.


While Andrew visited with Ivy, JenniAnn and Violeta had moved to the kitchen to start coffee.

"JenniAnn?" Violeta called as she poured some creamer into her cup.


"How... like how long did you and Andrew mean for me to stay here?"

JenniAnn turned to study the angel.

"I don't know.  We didn't really talk about it timing-wise.  How long do you want to stay?"

Violeta shrugged.

"I'm not sure...  But, like, more than a few days..."

JenniAnn motioned for Violeta to sit down at the table then filled her mug.

"Maybe... until the summer?" the angel suggested.

"That's fine.  But why do you think you want to stay here that long?"

Violeta shrugged.

"I dunno...  I guess part of it is just wanting to give Ivy and Sy their space.  But more of it...  I... I'm not like Andrew.  This... it's new to me.  And weird.  And scary."

JenniAnn sat beside Violeta and stroked her back.

"Do you think maybe you should go Home for a while?  After the wedding, I mean?"

"No!" Violeta exclaimed.  She blushed.  "I mean... I always want to be Home in some way.  But I want to finish the semester, even if it has to be remotely.  And I... I want to be with you.  And with Andrew and Shel and Belle and Avi and..."

JenniAnn thought she saw the young angel's lip quiver.

"What is it, honey?"

"Do you... think your parents will care?  About my being here, I mean?"

"Aww, Violeta..."  JenniAnn hugged her.  "First of all, it wouldn't matter even if they did.  This is Andrew's and my house and we want you here.  But no... I don't think they'll care.  You know that they're sorry about how they acted when I was in the hospital."

"Yeah, I know...  It's just...  I dunno.  I just don't seem to make as much sense as Belle and Avi or even Shelby and Max."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean... you and Andrew adopted Belle, Avi, and Max.  And Shelby, too, basically.  But... I'm not really your kid.  I'm not even human."

JenniAnn's eyes filled when Violeta clasped the butterfly necklace she'd given her.

"Violeta, honey, listen to me...  We don't need a piece of paper to be family.  No, you're not my daughter.  But you're my baby.  And you always, always will be.  Nothing my parents or anyone say or do can change that.  Ever.  You are literally a part of me and a part of Andrew.  Remember what Joshua said: our longing, our compassion, our love... they went into making you, our Violeta, the answer to our prayers."

"Yeah... he did say that," Violeta recalled, smiling through her tears. 

"And I loved you even before I knew that.  Even when you were all... proper and stuffy."  JenniAnn grinned and cupped Violeta's chin.

Laughing, the angel nodded.

"So weird..."

"Yeah...  But maybe you came by that honestly.  When things first started up with Dyeland, I was kinda stuffy, too.  I used to wear princess dresses.  All.  The.  Time.  I took it really seriously.  But it was just because I was so young and wanted people to think I was mature."

"Me too!" 

"And now here we are... the people we were meant to be.  And that's beautiful."

"Yeah..."  Violeta hugged JenniAnn.  "I feel better now."


"So... how's this gonna work with the wedding?  I mean... I'm Ivy's maid of honor!  Do I have to stand six feet away from her?  Can... can I hug her?" the angel questioned.

"Yes.  Since you can't catch it, you can do whatever you want.  Just shower first thing once you get back here.  I'm not even really sure that's necessary...  Just washing your hands may very well be enough.  But I think Andrew would feel better if..."

Violeta nodded.

"I... I think this is gonna be really hard on him.  I mean... he's seen so many pandemics.  He knows how... how this could go very, very badly."

JenniAnn's eyes welled and she squeezed Violeta's hand.

"Yeah... he does.  But he also knows that, even though there was great, great loss, humans have survived every time.  And we will this time, too."


"And today... today we have a wedding to celebrate.  And it's gonna be beautiful.  So let's focus on that, okay?"

Violeta beamed at JenniAnn and nodded.

"Okay!" she cheered.

JenniAnn smiled, relieved that she'd been able to soothe the young angel's fears and worries so she could be truly present for one of the most important days in her best friend's life.


Shortly before 11 AM, Andrew greeted the Wilsons at the portal. 

"Hey everyone!  So glad you could come!"

Zeke smiled and moved in for a hug then froze.

"It's okay," Andrew encouraged.  "Even if one of you has it, I can't catch it.  And I'll shower and everything before I get close to my family so..."

The two men shared a warm embrace.  Sy, Diana, Hailey, Kendra, and Manny claimed their own hugs from Andrew.

"How's Ivy doing?" Sy questioned.

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"She's pretty upset about Doreen and Mark missing the wedding.  But... she's also feeling very blessed to be marrying you, Sy, and marrying into your family."

The young man beamed. 

"And I know it was a great weight off of her shoulders that you agreed to walk her down the aisle, Zeke, and that you girls didn't object."

"Of course we wouldn't!" Hailey insisted.  "She's our sister.  Of course Dad should walk her down the aisle!"

"Still not convinced about her choice of groom but..." Kendra playfully eyed her brother then, when her facade began to crack, she wrapped her arms around him.

"I love you, Kendra," Sy murmured.

"Love you, too..."

Diana rubbed her youngest daughter's back as she released Sy.

"And my best man!"  Sy scooped up his six-year-old brother.

Diana snapped a photo of her two boys.

"So handsome..." she murmured, her tone wistful.

"Thanks, Mom," the two replied in unison.

"So who all is going to be in attendance?" Diana asked.

"Us, Violeta, of course, JenniAnn and Shelby will be sticking to one corner of the church, Kemara and Sean and the twins will be in another corner.  And then we've asked Marty to sit where Doreen and Mark were going to.  He'll record the ceremony so they'll be able to watch it," Andrew explained.

"That's an excellent plan!" Zeke cheered.  "I'm sure that'll mean so much to them."

"And to Ivy," Sy added.

Andrew nodded then turned to Hailey.

"You brought the music?"

"Yes, sir!"


"Andrew... the other thing...  Did it work out?" Sy asked nervously.

"It did!" Andrew replied, excitement in his voice.

"Thank God!" Sy cheered.

"The other thing?" Hailey questioned.

"Archbishop Tony is going to be joining us... virtually.  I'm still performing the ceremony but that way he can say he co-celebrated it and the wedding will be recognized by the Catholic Church.  It came together perfectly."  Andrew smiled up at the heavens. 

"How wonderful!" Diana praised, also peering at the gorgeous, cloudless sky.  "I figured that was weighing on Ivy with wanting to write books about Catholicism.  People can be so harsh." 

"Sy's already proving to be a good husband."  Andrew clapped him on the back.  "He's the one who thought of it."

"I just...  She didn't say anything but I knew it was important to her."

"Ya did good, son," Zeke hugged his boy then turned to Andrew.  "And so..."

"So... let's head to the chapel and get this guy married!"  Andrew grinned at Sy then waved the group in that direction.

Only Zeke diverged from their course, going to wait outside of Serendipity for the bride.


At 11 AM, while standing in front of the altar with Sy, Manny, and a stand on which Archbishop Tony peered out from a tablet, Andrew checked his pocket watch.  Upon looking up from it, the chapel door opened and Violeta smiled and waved. 

At her cue, Hailey pressed play on her phone and Brandon Heath's "Love Never Fails" began to play from the speakers she had strategically placed.

"'Love is not proud.
Love does not boast.
Love after all,
matters the most.'"

Beaming, Violeta started down the aisle. 

"'Love does not run.
Love does not hide.
Love does not keep
locked inside.
Love is the river that flows through.
Love never fails you.'"

Sy's eyes filled as Ivy and Zeke came into view and started down the aisle.

"'Love will sustain.
Love will provide.
Love will not cease
at the end of time.

Love will protect.
Love always hopes.
Love still believes
when you don't.'"

When they reached the end of the aisle, Zeke turned to Ivy and carefully smoothed her veil before kissing her forehead.

"I love you, baby girl," Zeke whispered.

"I... I love you, too... Dad."  Tearfully, Ivy hugged her beaming father-in-law then took a final step towards Sy.

Eagerly, Sy took his bride's hands.

"Thank you for coming," he greeted.

Giggling, Ivy nodded.

"Thank you for being here."

"You look so beautiful, Ivy."

"And you look so hot."  Ivy's cheeks burned and she cast a furtive glance at the archbishop who broke into laughter.  "I meant handsome!"

The group chuckled as Sy embraced Ivy, trying to keep his own mirth under control.

"Thank you," he replied.  "And you also look hot."

Ivy giggled when he winked at her, putting her at ease.

"'Love is the arms that are holding you.
Love never fails you.

When my heart won't make a sound,
when I can't turn back around,
when the sky is falling down...
Nothing is greater than this...
Greater than this...'"

After the song, and after everyone had regained their composure, Andrew spoke.

"Dearly beloved, we're gathered here today to witness the union of Ivy Lee and Silas Wilson, beloved children of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Please pray with me.  Be attentive to our prayers, o Lord, and in your kindness pour out your grace on these your servants, Ivy and Sy, that, coming together before your altar, they may be confirmed in love for one another. Through Joshua our Lord.'"


"And now I ask the groom's mother, Diana, to lead us in our first reading," Andrew introduced.

Remaining where she was, Diana stood and began to recite.

"'A reading from the Song of Songs, chapter 8, verses 6 and 7.  'Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.  It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.  Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.'  The Word of the Lord.'"

"Thanks be to God."

"And now, Kemara and Sean will lead us in the responsorial psalm," Andrew directed.

Together, the McCallums read together.

"'I will bless the Lord at all times; praise of him is always in my mouth.  In the Lord my soul shall makes its boast; the humble shall hear and be glad.'"

"'I will bless the Lord at all times,'" the congregants replied.

"'Glorify the Lord with me, together let us praise his name.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me, from all my terrors he set me free.'"

"'I will bless the Lord at all times.'"

"'Look toward him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed.  This lowly one called; the Lord heard, and rescued them from all their distress.'"

"'I will bless the Lord at all times.'"

"'The angel of the Lord is encamped around those who fear him, to rescue them.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed the one who seeks refuge in him.'"

"'I will bless the Lord at all times,'" they concluded together.

Andrew smiled at Kendra.

"And now, the second reading."

Kendra beamed at her brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law.

"I'm really honored that you asked me to do this reading but... I thought it might be better if someone else read it."

Kendra held up her phone.

Ivy's eyes filled as she heard her grandmother's voice.

"A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians chapter 12, verse 31 through chapter 13, verse 8a.  'Brothers and sisters: Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.  But I shall show you a still more excellent way.  If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.'  The word of the Lord."

Ivy rested her head on Sy's shoulder as Doreen stopped speaking.

"Thanks be to God."

Zeke rose to lead the Alleluia. 

"'Whoever remains in love, remains in God and God in them.'"


"'Whoever remains in love, remains in God and God in them.'"


"'Whoever remains in love, remains in God and God in them.'"


Archbishop Tony smiled and began to proclaim the Gospel.

"A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 10:6-9.  "Jesus said: 'From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.'  The Gospel of the Lord."

"Praise to you, Lord Joshua," Ivy, Sy, and their guests responded.

While the others sat down, Andrew alone remained standing and spoke.

"Ivy and Sy, I'm so glad we're able to gather here today to celebrate your love and the beginning of your marriage... a marriage that I'm sure will be filled with blessings.  I know this isn't the celebration that you had in mind but I think your willingness to come here today demonstrates so many qualities that make for a good and lasting love: perseverance, adaptability, courage, and faith.  You're starting a new life together at a very uncertain time... a time when many are afraid, angry, and anxious.  But you've chosen to begin this time by coming together in love, in hope, in faith.  I know Joshua is so proud of you both!  We're all so proud of you!  And we feel so blessed to have been able to witness first the friendship and then the romance that sprang up between the two of you.  It seems like only yesterday you were both teenagers... good kids with good hearts.  But now you've blossomed into even more wonderful young adults... both studying to make the world a better place, a place more cognizant of the immense love of God and His care for each and every one of us.  I know I speak for everyone here when I say I'm so excited to see what the future brings because, despite current uncertainties, I know that we have a lot to look forward to in seeing how you bring your gifts out into the world... together, with God at your side."

Ivy and Sy beamed as their gathered friends and family gave their assent.

"And, now, let's all stand and get these two great kids married!" Andrew directed.

Once everyone was standing and the bride and groom were facing each other, hands clasped, the angel proceeded.

"Ivy and Sy, Joshua abundantly blesses the love that binds you. Through a special Sacrament, he enriches and strengthens those he has already consecrated by Holy Baptism, that they may be faithful to each other forever and assume all the responsibilities of married life.  And so, in the presence of the Church, I ask you to state your intentions.  Ivy and Sy, have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?'"

"I have," the couple replied, peering into each other's eyes.

"'Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?'"

"'I am.'"

"'Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Joshua and his Church?'"

"I am."

Andrew smiled when the two grinned at each other then he turned to the tablet.

"Can you hear me?" the archbishop questioned.

"We can hear you," Andrew assured.

"Wonderful!"  Tony beamed.  "Ivy and Sy, 
since it is your intention to enter the covenant of Holy Matrimony, declare your consent before God and his Church.  Sy..."

"'I, Sy, take you, Ivy, to be my wife. I promise to be faithful to you, in good times... and in bad, in... in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life... and beyond,'" Sy vowed.

Touched by the addition of the final two words, Ivy's voice trembled with emotion as she responded.

"'I, Ivy, take you, Sy, to be my... my husband. I promise to be faithful to you, in good times and... and in... in bad, in sick... in sickness and in health, to love you and to... to honor you all the days of my life... and beyond.'"

"Wonderful!  And now, Andrew, will you please help me in blessing the rings?" the archbishop requested.


Smiling proudly, Manny held up a small pillow on which the rings rested.

As Andrew sprinkled them with holy water, Tony spoke.

"'Bless and sanctify your servants in their love, O Lord, and let these rings, a sign of their faithfulness, remind them of their love for one another.  Through Joshua our Lord.'"

"Amen!" the congregants responded.

Andrew handed Sy Ivy's ring.

"Ivy, receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," Sy intoned solemnly as he gently slid the ring onto Ivy's finger.

"Sy, receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," Ivy repeated as she placed Sy's ring on his finger.

When they were done, the couple peered at each other and exchanged giddy giggles.

Andrew let the moment linger, not yet wanting to shift the mood.  It was only when Sy turned and nodded at him that he continued.

"At this point in the service, the presider would read some intercessions written by the couple.  In this case, Sy has requested to read them on behalf of himself and Ivy.  Sy..."

Ivy and Sy turned to face those in the pews.  Eyes misty, Ivy rested her head on Sy's shoulder as he spoke.

"For the needs of the world as we face this pandemic, we pray to the Lord."

"Lord, hear our prayer."

"For medical professionals, essential workers, and others on the front lines, we pray to the Lord."

"Lord, hear our prayer."

"For the universal Christian Church, that we may be a beacon of hope and love to those struggling, we pray to the Lord."

"Lord, hear our prayer."

"For... for our friends and family... those here and those... not... may we stay safe and healthy, we pray to the Lord."

"Lord, hear our prayer."

"For those who are sick... for those who are grieving... may they find healing in God's grace and love, we pray to the Lord."

"Lord, hear our prayer."

Sy wrapped an arm around Ivy's waist as she began to cry.

Andrew brushed at the tears in his own eyes then peered at Zeke who rose and began to sing.

"'Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.'"

Recognizing the familiar Michael W. Smith arrangement, the rest of the congregants joined in.

"'Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven...'"

Two minutes into the song, Ivy gasped and pointed to one of the chapel windows. 

Beaming, the group continued to sing as a white dove looked on.

"'Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.'"

As Sy brushed away his wife's tears, Ivy smiled.

"'And lead us not into temptation.  But deliver us... deliver us from evil.'"

"He will..." Sy cooed as he cradled Ivy against him.

"'For Thine is the Kingdom, and all the power and the glory forever.  Amen...'"

"Yes...  He will," Ivy murmured, closing her eyes for just a moment.  She could see Joshua and her mother... proudly and lovingly smiling at her.

"'Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.'"

When the song had ended, Ivy and Sy knelt in front of Andrew who held his hands above them as Archbishop Tony gave a blessing.

"'Now let us humbly invoke God’s blessing upon this bride and groom, that in his kindness he may favor with his help those on whom he has bestowed the Sacrament of Matrimony.'"

"Amen!" Ivy's and Sy's guests cried.

Andrew continued the blessing.

"'May the Lord Joshua, who graced the marriage at Cana by his presence, bless you and your loved ones.'"


"'May he, who loved the Church to the end, unceasingly pour his love into your hearts.'"


"'May the Lord grant that, bearing witness to faith in his Resurrection, you may await with joy the blessed hope to come.'"


Andrew smiled out at those gathered.

"'And may almighty God bless all of you who are gathered here... and those with us in spirit... the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.'"


Andrew helped the couple to their feet and, grinning, spoke the words they had been waiting for.

"And, finally... dear Ivy and Sy... you may now kiss!"

Amidst cheers... Violeta's being almost unbearably loud... the couple exchanged their first wedded kiss.

With help from Hailey, the voice of John Legend echoed through the chapel.

"'I don't wanna think about nothing...
Just watching you dancing.
Feel like the beginning of something.
In the end, in the end,
all I wanna do is just fall in.
I don't wanna think about nothing.
Everybody got so much to say.
Every time we push it away.
Every day, a new reason to stay.'"

Radiating with joy, Ivy and Sy made their way down the aisle and walked into the sunshine and their new life together.

"'Cause we got a bigger love,
won't ever give it up.
We got a one-way ticket love.
We ain't going no place but up.
Nothing can stop this.
No one can top us.
We got a bigger love...'"


Later that afternoon, Andrew, JenniAnn, and their household gathered in the ballroom.  They watched through the windows as Ivy and Sy bid the rest of the Wilsons good bye.

"I... I can't imagine being separated from... from you and Andrew," Violeta bleated as JenniAnn gently brushed her freshly washed hair.  "Or any of you."  She glanced at her siblings.  "Especially not knowing for how long..."

"I know, honey...  I can't imagine it, either."

"It's hard enough thinking about not seeing Ivy in person for two weeks... and that's hopefully just gonna be two weeks.  I really, really hope no one got sick today."

In spite of his own concerns, Andrew was resolved not to let his protege get bogged down with worries.

"I doubt it, Violeta.  Everyone checked their temps and kept their distance."

"And having two weeks just to themselves right at the start of their marriage could be a really, really good thing for Ivy and Sy," Rose suggested.  "I mean... the circumstances behind it... they're not good.  But... that sort of quality one-on-one time is... priceless." 

Max smiled to himself, unable to remember the last time he and Rose had had more than a few minutes alone and not exhausted... the squirming toddler in his arms being something of an attention hog.

"It is..." JenniAnn agreed, wistful.

Andrew smiled as he stood near a window, swaying with Avi.  Alone time was something he and JenniAnn often struggled to find.

"They gonna have babies now?" Belle questioned.

JenniAnn laughed.

"Give them a little time, sweetie!  Firstly, babies don't show up instantly.  It takes nine months to make a baby.  And sometimes people wait before having babies."

"How long is nine months?"

"You know how long it is from one of your birthdays to your next birthday?" Shelby asked.

"Long time..."

"Well, not quite that much time... but close."

"Oh..."  Belle pouted. 

"You still have Avi, Belle.  And Landon's going to be here now, too," Rose pointed out.  "And Evie is coming.  Lots of babies!"

"But they're big babies!  I want a little baby!" Belle protested.

"Sweetie, that's just how it works.  Little babies don't stay little for very long.  Come here, little elf."  JenniAnn handed Violeta her brush then scooped Belle up into her arms and cradled her.  "I can remember when you were so little that when I held you like this, your little toes came just to my hand.  And now look.  Your toes stretch clear past Mama's arm."

Belle snuggled against JenniAnn's chest.

"I'm still your baby, Mama..."

"Yes, you are, sweet Belle.  And Avi is still your baby brother."

Andrew, tears welling, felt like his heart was going to swell right out of his chest. 

After exchanging kisses with JenniAnn, Belle ambled towards her father.

"Can I hold Avi, Daddy?"

"I think he'd like that," Andrew agreed.

Avi grinned and gurgled when he was sat on a couch with his big sister. 

With both their arms unburdened, JenniAnn and Andrew returned to the windows.

"Oh Diana..." JenniAnn murmured as she saw the woman sob while clinging to her son. 

Andrew pulled JenniAnn close and kissed her hair.

"I... I'm so glad we have all of our kids with us," she continued.

"Me too, Laja...  Me too..." 

JenniAnn closed her eyes against the sight of the distraught Wilsons and buried her face in Andrew's chest.

Swaying as he held her, Andrew closed his own eyes and prayed for the wisdom to help his family and friends through the difficult days... weeks... and months ahead.


The "In-Laws"

Sunday, March 15th, 2020

On Sunday evening, Andrew and Max found themselves once again in the Chandler residence, this time helping the couple pack up and move.

"Are we supposed to take those boxes?" Max asked as he stood in his mother's old room.

"Allison said we can take them now... or wait.  They're some of JenniAnn's old clothes.  Allison thought going through them might give Shel and Violeta something to do."

"I'll take them.  That's not a bad idea... especially for Violeta.  She's been a little moody today."

"A lot moody," Andrew corrected with a smile.

"We have to make sure to take these groceries or they'll go bad!" Allison directed as she set down overflowing bags.  "Can you store all this, Andrew?"

"Should be fine.  We have a large fridge and freezer in the basement that we use during the holidays.  I plugged them both in on Friday."

"Wonderful!  So prepared!"

Max chuckled as the woman patted Andrew on the cheek.

"I think they sometimes forget you're older than them," he whispered once Allison was gone.

Andrew shrugged.

"I'd rather that than them fixating on the fact that their daughter is with someone who is older than the pyramids."

"Point taken...  Okay, I'm going through with the first batch," Max announced as he grabbed a box and headed into the closet portal.

Back and forth Andrew and Max went from JenniAnn's bedroom to the gazebo in Dyeland... five times with arms laden.  Finally, only Robert, Allison, and their suitcases remained... and JenniAnn's new "siblings": rat terrier chihuahua mixes named Bert and Delilah. 

"Andrew, please keep a tight hold on their leashes," Allison requested.  "We don't want a repeat of last time when Delilah ran full speed into the woods once she was through the portal."

"I will.  Because no... we definitely don't want that..."  Andrew cringed at the memory of the three hours they'd spent searching for the dog during a visit that January.

"He's not an idiot, Allison," Robert muttered.

"I know that!  I'm just saying!" Allison shouted back.

Max shot Andrew a concerned look but the angel only shrugged.

"Emotions are running high," he whispered.


"All right...  So everything's locked up here?" Andrew checked.

"Yep," Robert confirmed.  "And we have some lights set on a timer.  The neighbors have our numbers just in case."

"Great!  So... here we go."  Andrew waved the others into the closet.  Once they'd disappeared, he took a deep, calming breath then stepped through the portal with Bert and Delilah yapping away.


That evening, the expanded Willowveil household gathered in the ballroom for a pizza party.  Sitting together in a corner, Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged smiles as they took in the scene.

Mallory and Evie were sitting with Marty and Takoda who were very amused by the one-year-old's fascination with the gobs of cheese and vegetables she'd been given.

Robert and Allison were enjoying their own pizza and breadsticks whilst doting on Avi.

Max and Rose were cautiously watching Landon who was determined to befriend both the eager Delilah and the stand-offish Bert.

Violeta and Shelby, already decked out in JenniAnn's cast-offs, were chatting with Belle whose hair was covered with her mother's old butterfly clips.

"Your old stuff was a big hit," Andrew mused in between bites of pizza.

"Apparently!  I'm a little worried Belle's going to develop a headache, though.  That's more butterflies than I ever wore!"

Andrew smiled.

"I remember when you used to wear them."

JenniAnn grinned. 

"Is it weird for you... seeing your daughters in my stuff?"

"A little bit.  Sometimes it weirds me out that Shelby is almost the same age you were when we met.  She doesn't seem nearly old enough to be meeting someone she'd spend the rest of her life with."

Laughing, JenniAnn clasped Andrew's hand.

"Don't be so dramatic.  It's not like we met when I was seventeen and, BOOM!, we were inseparable."

"This is true..."

"But it does seem like I was set on a path at seventeen that would lead to us... to this..."  JenniAnn waved around the room.  "But I like that.  I wouldn't change a thing.  Well, I mean...  I'd rather right now not involve a pandemic but..."  She sighed.  "God can bring good out of anything... and will." 

Andrew caught her glance over at Max and Rose.  Knowing exactly what she was thinking, he laughed.

"Laja...  Belle is truly her mother's child."

"Well!  I don't want them to feel any pressure but... I miss the tiny babies, too.  And people are predicting a baby bump given people are locked up..."

Though he continued to smile, Andrew bowed his head.

"Do you still ever..."

"Wish we could have a baby?" JenniAnn finished.  "Love...  Five is way more kids than I ever, ever thought I would have.  And, no, the way we had kids isn't the way I grew up thinking I'd have kids.  But it's just as beautiful.  I'm happy with our five.  I'm content with our five.  Are you?"

Andrew gave a vigorous nod.

"Very happy... very content... beyond what I ever imagined."

"Good.  And, besides, I'm getting very close to the big 4-0.  Total respect to those having babies at that stage in their life but... not for me.  I mean... I think of the difference in my energy level from when Shelby was little and then to when we adopted Belle... and now with Avi."

"Laja!  You're doing just fine!"

"Oh, I know.  But admit it... it was really, really hard when he was still wanting to be fed during the night."

"This is true...  But it's really not fair to you to compare Belle's and Avi's babyhoods.  For one, we took turns with Belle's nighttime feedings.  With Avi... well, that's all on you.  And... well... your body went through a very significant trauma in between the two."  Andrew let out a shuddering sigh.

"Yes...  That's true."  JenniAnn stroked the angel's back.  "In any case, I'm perfectly happy for Avi to be our last baby... but it won't make me stop wanting another grandbaby... or several.  Eventually."

Chuckling, Andrew wrapped an arm around JenniAnn and kissed her hair.

"Me neither."

"That being said... I'm not gonna say a word of it to Rose and Max.  Speaking of..."  JenniAnn waved to Max who was approaching, looking slightly vexed.

"Hey, Max.  Have a seat," Andrew invited.  "Everything all right?"


"You look a little... concerned."  JenniAnn patted him on the back.  "Delilah and Bert aren't causing trouble are they?"

"Oh no!  I mean...  I don't think Bert is thrilled with Landon's attention but he hasn't snapped or anything.  He did seem placated when Landon gave him part of a breadstick.  Rose and I didn't catch him in time.  I hope your parents..."

"Trust me.  This isn't the first time Bert's gotten people food.  Look at him."

Max glanced over at the little dog and chuckled.  He did have something of a pot belly.

"True.  I'm surprised Fawn and Ichabod are being so lowkey."

JenniAnn reached below the table and stroked Fawn who was hiding.

"They're fine.  Fawn just needs some time to adjust.  Ichabod completely accepts that she's the alpha.  Bert... not so much."

"And Ichabod..."  Andrew pointed to his dog who was sprawled in front of the three girls.  "Ichabod is just lazy."

"Lazy and content.  Good combo.  Anyway... I guess I was just looking around the room and... this is a lot of people.  A lot of people to keep fed...  A lot of toilet paper...  A lot of tissues...  I hope you know that Rose and I fully intend to pitch in... and no arguments about that.  And I hope we're not the only ones.  I don't... I don't want to think that all of us being here is going to be a strain on you both."

"Aww!"  JenniAnn hugged her son.  "Such a good boy."

"Thanks, Max.  We appreciate that.  Robert and Allison have made it clear that they intend to do the same.  So we'll be fine."

"Okay...  I just... I don't want you to feel stressed... I mean not any more than we all are... or put out or..."

Andrew clapped the younger man on the back.

"We don't, Max.  Truly.  I'm actually really looking forward to having everyone together, under one roof.  It'll be fun."

Max responded with a smile.

"Yeah...  It will.  Okay, well, I'm gonna get back to Rose and Landon.  Thanks for the pizza!"

"You bet!"  JenniAnn smiled after him as he left then turned her attention back to Andrew.  "So sweet...  We... we are okay, right?  Financially, I mean?  Even if your carpentry orders start to dry up?"

Andrew nodded.

"We are.  We didn't go on a vacation last year because of Avi.  And... well, I don't foresee us going on vacation this year."

"No... probably not."

"So we saved a few thousand because of that.  And I do foresee my orders declining... but not by a huge margin.  With people spending more time at home, they might be more apt to get around to the redecorating projects they keep putting off."

"True...  If they can afford it..."

Andrew sighed and dragged a hand through his hair.

"Yeah...  Although the people apt to order custom-made furniture are probably going to be fine.  Everyone else...  I need to figure out a way to give back.  I'm not sure what needs carpentry can fill."

JenniAnn let out a shaky breath and peered out the window. 


"You know, love.  You just don't want to think it," she murmured.

"But I don't..."  Andrew cut himself off when his mind suddenly filled with images... the mass graves with a flood of plain, pine boxes that so often accompanied pandemics. 

Disregarding her parents who were a few feet away, JenniAnn settled onto Andrew's right knee and wrapped her arms around him.

"I... I will do that.  If it's needed," he promised. 

"I know."  JenniAnn kissed his cheek.

Andrew heaved a sigh and prayed it wouldn't come to that.


Monday, March 30th, 2020

Andrew smiled and looked away from his Kindle when he heard JenniAnn sigh, announcing she was awake.

"G'morning," he greeted, bending down to kiss her.


"Today's the big day..." Andrew tantalized.

JenniAnn rubbed at her eyes then smiled.

"Ivy and Sy and Raquel and Nico and Kemara and the kids are coming for breakfast because it's been two weeks and no one's gotten sick!" she cheered.


"And... we've survived two weeks living with my parents."

Andrew chuckled.

"We have..."

"And... best of all... no one else has gotten sick."

"Thank God," Andrew murmured.

"Yes... thank God."

JenniAnn glanced at the Kindle still in Andrew's lap.

"And... the news?" she prompted.

"Mixed bag.  The president extended distancing guidelines which is good.  More medical supplies are arriving from China.  Also good.  And they think people were saved from the tornado in Arkansas because so many businesses were closed and people weren't out and about."

"Hmm...  Hadn't thought of that.  But good!  And... the bad?"

"A couple of medical experts predicted that if significant changes aren't made...  200,000 people could die in the States."  Andrew clasped JenniAnn's right hand in both of his.  "But... changes are being made."

JenniAnn's face clouded.

"By some.  Others still think this is a hoax.  So they're not going to change.  And people will die because of it.  Because of them."

"And the only thing we can control is how we react, Laja.  And we're doing that.  And praying."


Andrew snuggled JenniAnn for a few moments until she let out a deep breath.

"I spose we better get up.  Lotsa food to get ready," she observed.


"I just..."


"I feel... guilty, I guess.  Most people aren't able to gather because most people aren't sequestered in a totally different world," JenniAnn confessed.  "Even most of our friends...  Emma and Peter can't get together with friends for brunch.  Zeke and Diana can't even see their son and daughter-in-law... but we can.  And Kemara and Sean can't even be together and yet here we are..."

"It does feel unfair," Andrew admitted.  "But none of this was ever going to be fair, Laja.  Some people are living alone and hating that.  Some people are stuck in their houses with a dozen family members and hating that.  Others in the same situations are actually enjoying it.  But nobody's life is made better by you not embracing whatever chance at happiness you have.  If we told Ivy and Sy to stay home, that doesn't mean Zeke and Diana can visit.  If they were all living in Manhattan but in different places, they still couldn't visit.  And what the McCallums are going through...  It's heartbreaking.  But we can't change it.  What we can do is give Kemara and the kids a good meal that she doesn't have to prepare and maybe a little distraction."

"Yeah...  That's all true."  JenniAnn kissed Andrew's brow.  "I'm glad I have you to keep me sane."

Andrew chuckled.

"You're perfectly sane, Laja.  You just think a lot.  And that's a good thing.  Because a lot of that time... you're thinking about other people."

JenniAnn responded by nuzzling Andrew's shoulder. 

"Right now there's one particular person I'd like to think about... right here... but... I have to go make breakfast with him."

"Well...  Maybe he can work on wearing the kids out today so you can retire early with him and resume... thinking," Andrew teased as he played with a strap on JenniAnn's nightgown.

Giggling, JenniAnn nodded.

"Sounds like a plan..."

Smiling, Andrew planted a kiss on her shoulder then, reluctantly, rose from the bed so they could begin their preparations.


Later that morning, the Willowveil ballroom's hustle and bustle was drowned out by one high-pitched shriek.

Violeta leaped from the chair she'd been sitting in, ignored its crash to the floor, and flew towards the entryway.

Chuckling, Sy moved behind his wife, ready to steady her as Violeta pounced.

"Ivy!!!" Violeta shouted as she embraced her friend and roommate.

"Violeta!!!" Ivy responded, wrapping her arms around the angel.

"I... I missed you so much.  It just wasn't the same seeing you on Zoom!  You look..."  Violeta stepped back and examined Ivy.  "Radiant..."  She peered over Ivy's shoulder at Sy.  "You look good, too."

Sy chuckled at the noticeably decreased emotion in his greeting.

"Thank you, Violeta.  I think I'm just gonna go over there and give you two some privacy..."

"Thank you, Sy."  Ivy squeezed his hand as he passed the two then returned her full attention to Violeta.

Andrew and JenniAnn looked on, amused and moved, as the two young women stood together, their foreheads touching as they caught up.

"Good morning, Sy!" the angel of death greeted.  "Looking good!  Married life is treating you well."

Sy grinned. 

"Yes, thanks.  Very well!  But it's so nice to be here with all of you.  I'm really glad that no one got sick after the wedding.  Really glad..."

"Me too."  JenniAnn gently patted his arm.  "How are you doing with... everything else?"  She waved for Sy to take a seat then poured a cup of coffee for him.

"Thank you.  And... ya know."  Sy shrugged.  "Doing as good as we all are, I guess.  Nightly calls with my family help.  Morning check-ins with Mark and Doreen, too." 

"Mark's still doing okay?" Andrew checked.

"Oh yeah.  Back to 100%.  I'm so glad it was just the flu.  The reports coming out about how it can go..."  Sy's eyes welled and he shook his head.  "Thank God it wasn't COVID."

"Yes... thank God," JenniAnn murmured.

Sy peered around the room, smiling and waving at the others.

"Are Kemara and the kids not here yet?" he asked.

Andrew frowned.

"On their way.  Marty left to help Kemara with the twins.  They had a bit of a meltdown.  They thought their daddy was going to be here and when Kemara told them he was still at work..."

Sy shook his head.

"This is all hard enough to understand as an adult.  But as a kid...  I feel for them.  How are your kids doing?"

"Pretty well," JenniAnn answered.  "I mean... they have more people around them than they're used to.  And now Nico and Raquel are able to visit.  So that's a win for them.  Belle just gets really upset when we have classes and she sees her Appa Vincent.  She doesn't quite understand why she can't go see him and Amma Catherine."

"The Tunnels have stayed COVID-free though, right?  So maybe they can visit soon?" Sy suggested.

"Yeah.  Portia wants to give it at least another week... or maybe longer.  Just to be safe.  
And even when it happens, she may still want us to keep six feet's worth of distance which I understand.  But Belle may be a different story..."

Andrew looked over to where Belle was clinging to Raquel.

"Afraid so," he agreed then drew in and let out a deep breath.  He smiled at Sy.  "How's life with Leo?"

Sy laughed.

"Well... let's just say we have a very dramatic relationship.  He loves me during the day.  And I love him, of course.  But, uh, he's not too crazy about me being in the bed at night."

"He'll get used to it," JenniAnn assured.  "Fawn was the same way when Andrew moved in.  But then she ended up abandoning me for Belle anyway!  Not that I'm suggesting you and Ivy rush into parenthood just for Leo's sake."

Still laughing, Sy shook his head.

"No plans to!  I mean... if God sends us a baby... we'd welcome that baby at any time.  But... we'd like a little time just the two of us first."

"Totally understandable!" Andrew affirmed.

Sy looked over to his wife and Violeta.

"I did want to ask you... Ivy mentioned that Violeta plans to stay here all summer.  I hope that's not because she thinks I..."

"Oh no!  No, no."  JenniAnn shook her head.  "Violeta is just... well, I think she just feels better here right now.  She gets anxious sometimes about the pandemic and... it's just better for her to be here, I think.  I'm sure she'll come visit you now, though!  The girls have just really settled into a routine.  They do their school work together and then free reading time in their fort.  Then, weather permitting, they go for a nature walk after lunch.  On most afternoons we do crafts to send to the Friends.  Honestly, I think this has been a really good time for them as sisters."

Andrew nodded in agreement.

"I think it's been good for Shelby, especially.  I mean they both love Belle, of course.  But Shelby and Violeta can discuss things that Belle doesn't understand yet."

"I could see that.  Well, they'd be welcome to visit any time.  Although I did wonder... I mean I thought maybe we'd be expected to keep a six foot distance between the households," Sy mused.

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"To be honest... I initially wanted to.  But since there isn't a single case here... it seemed like it could cause more distress than it could provide any actual benefit.  Even Portia agreed.  The only reason she's considering it for the Tunnel folks once they can come is because they have a much, much higher population of people over sixty.  That's why Fr. Mike and his parents aren't here.  They're waiting a little longer... just to be safe."

"Makes sense," Sy agreed. 

"It's just all so crazy..." JenniAnn murmured.  "To be making decisions like this...  And they're easy decisions compared to some."  She nodded towards the windows through which they could see Kemara and Marty approaching with the twins. 

Andrew and JenniAnn rose to go greet their guests. 

"Hello, McCallums!  So good to see you!" Andrew cheered as he held open the door for them.  "How ya doing, bud?" he asked Ian as he stepped inside.

The four-year-old shrugged.

"Sorry," Kemara whispered.  "Not... not a good morning."

JenniAnn hugged her warmly.

"No reason at all to apologize.  I'm so glad you're here."

"Thanks for inviting us... and for the grocery deliveries."  Kemara smiled through her tears.  "It does feel really good to get out of the house... and not have to make breakfast."

"It's our pleasure!" Andrew assured.  "Joy, how ya doing, little lady?"

"Good," Joy responded with a smile while clinging to Marty's right leg.

"I'm not sure she's going to let you go.  You may have to tell her to..."

Marty interrupted Kemara with a shake of his head.

"It's all right.  I don't mind.  And she'll move on when she's ready."

"Thank you..."

Marty squeezed Kemara's hand.

"Of course.  Think nothing of it.  Ian, Joy, should we go see what Andrew and JenniAnn have prepared for this scrumptious breakfast?" he asked.

"Yeah," Ian agreed.

"Yeah," Joy echoed.

Andrew peeked into the ballroom.

"Looks like everyone's just waiting around.  Can you please tell them to dig in, Marty?  We'll be right in."

"Happily."  Marty reached for Ian's hand.  "All right then...  Off we go..." 

Andrew, JenniAnn, and Kemara smiled as Marty slowly entered the ballroom with Joy still wrapped around his leg.

"How ya holdin' up?" JenniAnn asked, setting a hand on Kemara's arm.

"Oh... you know... constant state of anxiety.  But Sean's reported he's feeling good.  And he looks good when we Zoom.  The kids are very confused.  They... they don't understand why daddy's not coming home from work.  And I don't want to tell Ian that, at least in part, it's because of his heart condition.  I don't want him to feel responsible.  So I just keep saying there are a lot of sick people daddy needs to help and he needs to stay in New York to do it."  Kemara brushed at some tears.  "I can't imagine this going on for months..."

"I'm so sorry, Kemara.  I wish there was some other way..."  Andrew patted her shoulder.  "I really do.  I've been wracking my mind..."

"Even if Dyeland wasn't on lockdown, it wouldn't change the fact that Ian's a vulnerable person, Andrew.  It's just too dangerous to have Sean come home right now.  I... I don't think there's anything you can do."  Kemara stepped forward and peeked into the ballroom, smiling sadly at the twins who were ogling the breakfast buffet.  "It helps to be here, though.  Just to get their minds... and my mind... on something else."

"Well, now that we're all in the clear, you can come over whenever you want.  Or if you just need a break, we could take the kids for a while," JenniAnn offered. 

"Thank you...  I really appreciate that.  And I think it will help to be able to move around more.  And to go outside more now that the weather is milder." 

"I hope so.  And if you need any help around the house or in the yard... grass mowed, shower unclogged, whatever... you know where I am," Andrew offered.

Kemara chuckled.

"That I do.  Thank you, Andrew.  But you may live to regret that.  Amazing what a couple of four-year-olds can think to put down a drain."

Andrew laughed.

"Oh...  I think I can imagine quite well.  We had loads of fun when Belle's Play Doh got dirty and she tried to wash it in the bathroom sink."

"Not to mention the every day wear and tear of a household filled with long-haired people," JenniAnn added.

"I see your point!  Well... thank you... both of you.  Really."

"You bet.  Now let's get in there and get some food!" Andrew encouraged, waving for the ladies to go ahead of him.

"I'm so excited to eat food I didn't make!" Kemara enthused as the trio joined the others for good food and even better company.


A couple of hours later, the group was still together although they'd moved outside to enjoy the fresh air.

"Ivy and Sy look so happy!" Kemara mused, admiring the young couple as they walked around with Violeta and Shelby.

"It was a good thing Andrew did... getting them married," Raquel added.

JenniAnn smiled proudly.

"He's good at thinking about what needs to be done... and then doing it."

"I wish your father showed that sort of initiative," Allison muttered under her breath.

JenniAnn's cheeks colored as she hoped neither Kemara nor Raquel had heard that.  When they gave no indication they had, she simply gave her mother a curious look then continued the conversation.

"Violeta's been so excited about getting to see Ivy face-to-face again.  And, I have to admit, I didn't realize how much she thrived on being in classes until they went remote.  Actually, I'm not even sure it's really the classes so much as the down-time in between.  Just sitting in a library study room or the campus cafe... chatting, people-watching."

"I remember the days..."  Kemara gave a wistful sigh.  "How's Shel doing being separated from Asher?"

"They talk a lot.  So that's good.  I can tell she misses her big brother's hugs but... as much time as she spends with Belle and Violeta, I can't imagine how it would have worked had she stayed Below."

"Are they still sleeping in their pillow fort?"

JenniAnn laughed at Kemara's question and nodded.

"Unbelievably... yes.  I thought the novelty would have worn off by now but nope!"

"Oh... looks like she has something to tell you, JenniAnn."  Raquel pointed to where Violeta was running towards them, Shelby not far behind.

"JenniAnn...  JenniAnn...  JenniAnn..."  Violeta plopped down and hugged the woman.

"Violeta...  Violeta...  Violeta..."

Giggling, Violeta pulled away.

"So... I've been texting with Miguel..."

"Miguel?" Allison queried.

Violeta nodded.

"He's a boy from Ivy's and my classes.  Anyway...  He thought it would be fun to have a discussion group totally unrelated to our classes.  Ya know, just to keep everyone feeling close."

"Good idea."

"Yep!  He originally thought about a book club but... we have to read so much as is.  So he thought maybe more like a movie club.  Or a TV club.  But not, like, whole seasons long series.  I mean... we still have papers to write and stuff."


"So his first pick is...  The Haunting of Hill House.  The mini-series.  Not the movie.  I really, really wanna participate and watch, too!"

"And I'd like to watch with her," Shelby added.  "I heard it was really good.  Scary... but insightful and moving.  Really well-written."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn nodded.  "I actually wanted to watch it myself when it came out but..."  She glanced over at Andrew who was visiting with Max and Rose. 

"Please..." Violeta pleaded.  "I'm almost twenty three!"

JenniAnn stifled a laugh.  Violeta had a very convenient view of her own age.  She stressed her literal age when she wanted to be seen as grown-up but was equally happy to point out that she'd only been in the mortal realms for a few years when she wanted to be seen as a child.  And JenniAnn knew she'd fed into that very view...

"Let me talk to Andrew.  We can't very well ban you from watching.  But...  I think it might be best if Andrew and I watch it first."

Violeta bit her lip.

"But Miguel wants to have our Zoom visit about it not this coming Saturday but the next!"

"Then I guess we'll have to binge it," JenniAnn replied.  "I'll go talk to him about it now.  Okay?"

"Kay!" Violeta chirped.

JenniAnn looked to Shelby who only smiled and shrugged.  It struck JenniAnn that she felt significantly less concerned about Shelby watching the series than Violeta even though the latter was older.  But then that was something to discuss with Andrew...

As she was walking away, JenniAnn heard her mother speak.

"Violeta, is that one of JenniAnn's old tops that you're wearing?"

JenniAnn froze and began to turn around.

"Umm... uh... yeah."

"It looks adorable on you."

"Oh!  Thanks!"

Smiling, JenniAnn continued to make her way to Andrew.


Andrew studied JenniAnn's face as she approached him.  She looked pensive and yet... amused, he thought.

"Maja!  Come listen to this," Max called.

JenniAnn hurried forward.

"Landon, who's that?" Rose asked, pointing at JenniAnn.


"Aww!  Good boy, Landon!  That G was so clear!" JenniAnn praised as she stroked the boy's curls.

"Who's that, Landon?" Max questioned, indicating Andrew.


Andrew chuckled.

"Very good!  I'll take it!  The -gr is hard to say!"

"It is," JenniAnn agreed.  "And I like Gampy, anyway.  Speaking of... I need to borrow Gampy for a bit."

"Sure thing!"  Max replied.

JenniAnn took Andrew's hand and led him towards the willow tree.

"Our old spot," Andrew mused with a fond smile.

"Mmm hmm..."  JenniAnn stretched up to kiss him.  "But I'm afraid I have parenting business that needs attention."


"Nothing too serious.  It's just that Violeta told me that Miguel..."

"Uh oh..."  Andrew began to feel uneasy.  He sometimes felt Violeta was a little too interested in her classmate.

"Don't worry.  She's not wanting to leave to see him or anything.  But it seems Miguel has come up with the idea of their lil cohort having a movie/TV club.  And... he wants their first show to be The Haunting of Hill House."

Andrew's uneasiness increased.

"And, to be honest, I really have been wanting to watch it ever since I read some reviews.  It sounds like it goes pretty deep.  Not just some surface-y jump scare gorefest.  Like there's a lot of psychology to it.  I really think it might even be a good thing for Violeta to see since she wants to be an AOD.  But... I think we should watch it first.  Shelby wants to watch it too and I just think we should be available and in-the-know if they have questions... or concerns," JenniAnn explained.

Andrew picked up a fallen twig and began to play with it.

"Do you know what it's about, Laja?"

"Well, I've read the book but I've heard it's basically nothing like that.  So... not a whole lot.  Just that a family lives in a haunted house and, years later, the kids... now adults... have to confront what happened there."

Andrew nodded.

"The family has five kids.  And the dad's a carpenter... fixer-upper... something like that.  And... and the mom dies, Laja."

"Yeah...  I figured someone in the family did because I heard it deals a lot with grief but that seems like all the more reason to..."

"Laja...  Five kids.  Dad's a carpenter.  They live in a massive, old house.  And... the mom dies."

It was when Andrew waved to Willowveil that JenniAnn clued in.

"Oh...  Oh love..."  JenniAnn embraced the angel.  "Yeah...  I can see now how that would hit really close to home for you.  I'm sorry.  I just...  I wasn't thinking."  She sighed and stroked Andrew's cheek.  "You know what, I'll just watch it with the girls myself and..."

"She's going to ask you to watch a TV show with her... something that's well outside of your comfort zone.  But it's important."

Joshua's voice sounded in Andrew's mind.

This was the TV show...  Joshua had meant The Haunting of Hill House

JenniAnn clearly didn't remember but that prior Halloween she'd casually brought up wanting to watch it.  Not entirely minding the prospect of snuggling up with her and comforting her over an imagined fright or two, Andrew had looked into the show.  And the more he had learned, the less the idea had appealed to him...  But now it was important.

"No...  I'll watch with you."

"Andrew, I don't want you to be miserable watch..."

Andrew shook his head and brought JenniAnn's hands to his lips.

"No.  I want to watch with you, Laja.  I think... I think it's important.  What's more... Joshua thinks it's important."

JenniAnn perked up.

"He does?"

"Yeah.  He told me that you'd want to watch a show with me... and that it would be important.  I had no idea it would be that one but... it is.  So... we should watch.  Together.  And definitely before Violeta and Shel do.  I think Shel will be fine.  A little shaken but fine.  But Violeta..."  Andrew shook his head.

JenniAnn smiled.

"I figured the same.  Only thing is... we have to start pretty quickly.  Miguel wants the group to meet up... virtually, of course... to discuss a week from Saturday."

"Miguel..." Andrew repeated, his tone rueful.

JenniAnn hugged him.

"Miguel's done nothing wrong.  He's just friendly with a girl from his class who he has no idea is an angel... and Violeta hasn't yet felt the need to share that bit of information with him.  He can't help that.  He was very pleasant when I was at Fordham a few months back for tea with Ivy and Violeta."

Andrew smiled at the memory.

"You said he seemed like a baby Lin-Manuel Miranda."

"Well... he did kinda.  Same sorta energy.  Just... more into liturgical music than hip-hop and rap.  Even had the Hamilton look going for him.  Which, come to think of it, that may be a tad Freudian...  Tan skin, black, curly hair and a beard..."

"So now he's a mini-Joshua?" Andrew teased.

"I mean he is studying theology...  I can see where between his looks and that, Violeta would feel drawn to him and maybe even feel especially safe crushing on him... or whatever it is she's feeling."  JenniAnn beamed up at Andrew.  "Admit it.  You're just being a dad."

"Maybe..."  Andrew smiled down at her.  "I just don't want anyone to be hurt is all.  Definitely not Violeta... but also not Miguel."

"Let's just see where it goes.  Feelings... whatever they may be and whomever has them... may dampen with separation."

"Or grow fonder..."

"Or grow fonder," JenniAnn agreed.  "But Violeta is with us right now so we can keep an eye on things.  But we also...  I don't want us to turn into my parents.  Maybe it's meant to be... the same way we are.  But all of this is moot right now, anyway.  Miguel may just be a nice kid who is friendly with everyone.  We haven't had any indication he feels especially close to Violeta... only that she feels something for him.  This could just be like Hugh Jackman Part II... except if Hugh Jackman went to school with Violeta and looked kinda like a baby Lin-Manuel Miranda."

Chuckling, Andrew pulled JenniAnn into his embrace.

"You're right.  I'll relax."

"You should."  JenniAnn began to gently knead his back.  "I know things are scary right now.  And I know you have a burden of knowledge and experience with pandemics that I can't relate to.  But we're safe here.  I'm safe here.  What you're doing...  It's enough, Andrew."

Andrew rested his chin on JenniAnn's hair and drew in a deep, calming breath.

"Thanks, Laja.  So... let's start the show tonight barring any additional and more pressing parental emergency.  Okay?"

"Kay!  I do have one question, though..."

Andrew peered down at JenniAnn and noticed the mirth in her eyes.

"And that is?" he prompted.

"Well... we're on crush #2 with Violeta.  So... did you ever have a crush?  Like on an assignment or just someone you ran into?  Maybe even another angel?"

Andrew smiled dreamily and nodded.

"Oh..."  JenniAnn attempted to hide her surprise.  "Well... what happened?"

"Well...  It turned into something considerably more than a crush and... I ended up having five kids with her."

JenniAnn beamed then rolled her eyes.

"I meant anyone else..."

Andrew glanced back over at the others then led JenniAnn to the other side of the willow's trunk, out of view.

"No on else," he murmured as he cupped her chin and moved in for a kiss.

JenniAnn eagerly returned it.

After a third kiss, Andrew sighed and tilted his head back, looking at the sunny sky through the willow's branches.   He felt more at peace.  The show might bring up some emotions he struggled to keep control of... but it might also be fun.

"We better head back..." JenniAnn lamented.

"Yeah... we should," Andrew agreed.  He took JenniAnn's hand and began to lead her back.  She paused after a few steps.

"Hey... when you were talking to my dad earlier... did everything seem okay?"

Andrew mentally replayed his conversation with Robert.  They'd discussed the news briefly, the outlook on Andrew's carpentry orders, whether his and Allison's bed was still comfortable for them...  Normal stuff.

"Yeah.  Why?"

JenniAnn shrugged.

"Nothing.  My mom just seemed a little... edgy.  I thought maybe they'd had some sort of disagreement.  Probably nothing."

Andrew nodded.

"Everyone's on edge.  Tempers probably flare up a bit more easily."

"Not ours," JenniAnn pointed out.

Andrew smiled beatifically at her.

"Because you're an angel... got it."  JenniAnn laughed and shook her head. 

"It helps that you're pretty angelic."


"In all seriousness, we're also in our home, Laja.  Sure, we have a few more people around.  But it's still our home, what we're used to.  While I'm sure your parents are still happy to be here, it's a big change and yet the novelty is probably wearing off."

"True..."  JenniAnn shrugged, letting go of her concerns.  "Thanks."

"You bet." 

Hands joined, the two rejoined their friends and family.



That evening, as she sat in bed, comfortably propped up with pillows, JenniAnn smiled down at Avi who was lazily nursing.

"I give him about five more minutes.  He looks so sleepy," Andrew observed, smiling as he stroked the boy's hair.

"Not sure he's even gonna make that.  Really slowing down.  All that running around with Evie tuckered ya out, peanut," JenniAnn cooed.

Andrew studied his son.  A part of him wanted Avi to stay awake... but it would only be stalling the inevitable.

"Sometimes I can't believe how big he's getting...  He used to feel so small and fragile in my arms..." JenniAnn reminisced. 

"I think he's gonna be big and strong, just like his Appa."

"And like his daddy."

Avi shifted, releasing his mother's breast.  He stretched, smiled sleepily at his parents, and closed his eyes.

Andrew began to sing.

"'Close your eyes.  Have no fear!  The monster's gone.  He's on the run and your daddy's here...  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy...'"

JenniAnn kissed Avi's brow then gently transferred him to Andrew's arms.

"'Before you go to sleep...  Say a little prayer...  Every day in every way, it's getting better and better,'" Andrew crooned as he carefully rose and carried the sleeping boy to his nursery.  He sighed... unconvinced by the last line.  But then Andrew placed Avi in his crib and gazed down at his son... and everything did seem better. 

"'Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful... beautiful boy...'"  Andrew smoothed back some of Avi's hair.  "I love you, Avi...my beautiful baby boy.  And now...  I gotta get back to Mama.  Pray I don't embarrass myself, huh?"  With a final, loving smile, the angel crept from the nursery and back to his bedroom.

"Ya ready?" JenniAnn asked, her tone hesitant.

Andrew nodded and rejoined her in the bed.

"I'm ready, Laja."


JenniAnn prepared their Kindle and, in a few moments, The Haunting of Hill House began.


JenniAnn sniffled as the first episode ended.  She lifted her head from Andrew's chest and stared down at his shirt.

"Sorry...  I got you wet."

Andrew glanced at his T-shirt.

"I didn't even notice.  It's okay.  So... what did you think?"

"It's really good.  Really well-acted and the sets... wow.  But... definitely a tough watch. 
It...  It just makes ya think...  You want the best for your kids, to do your best for your kids but... in the end... you have so little control over how the world will treat them."

"Yeah...  I felt that, too," Andrew agreed.

JenniAnn hugged the angel.

"You got really tense during the scene where the dad and his lawyer were talking about custody of the kids."

Andrew closed his eyes for a moment and nodded.

"It just... took me back a little.  When you were in the hospital... before you woke up... during a few bleak moments... I wondered if your parents would try to take Belle."

"Oh love..."

"I... I didn't think they would.  And, more than anything, I... I just wanted you to come back so... so there'd be no reason for them to."

"Andrew... even if I hadn't... there would have been no reason for them to.  You're Belle's daddy.  She should have stayed with you."

"But... it doesn't always work out that way."

JenniAnn brought Andrew's left hand to her lips.

"No... it doesn't.  But I don't think they would have had a case.  I mean... the subtext in the show seems to be that some suspect the dad is either crazy or killed his wife or maybe both.  In our case, neither of those elements were in play."

"True."  Andrew heaved a sigh.  "It's just hard not to think about it... watching that broken family... wondering how well I would have done keeping everyone healthy and together."

"You would have, Andrew," JenniAnn insisted. 

"I thought about Violeta running off.  If you hadn't come back..."

"I wasn't the only one there, Andrew.  Joshua was there, too.  If I hadn't been, Joshua still would have been there."

"True..."  Andrew smiled and kissed JenniAnn's hair.

"The Crane family doesn't seem to have that.  I mean I think it's really great they exposed their kids to various of the world's religions.  Respect and knowledge are important.  But I think it's good our kids are grounded in their faith.  They know God is there for them... even if we can't be."

Andrew sighed, releasing some of his stress.

"Sometimes I think I should just hand off my angel credentials to you, Laja."

"No way!  You're an infinitely better angel than I'd be.  And I know that because if it wasn't true, God would have created me as an angel and you as a human.  But He didn't.  I've just... well, I've had a lot longer to adjust to the idea of losing those I love.  From the moment a kid first understands the concept of death, they have some idea that their parents... anyone... could die.  So... I've had thirty odd years to confront that.  You... I mean of course you've always gotten upset when your assignments have passed on, seemingly before their time or under very tragic circumstances.  But it's only been the past few years that you've had to confront the possibility of death within your family, love."

"Because it's only been these past few years that I've had a family... outside of God, of course."


Andrew smiled proudly at JenniAnn as he ran his fingers through her hair.

"My wise woman..."

"Thank you.  But a wise woman can still have questions.  Maybe some you can answer..."

"And what are those?  I'll sure try to answer."

"Are ghosts... real?"

"Real in different ways in different circumstances.  I mean... Yehuda was a ghost when we saw him, wasn't he?" Andrew queried.

"Hmm...  I guess so!  Dead, unfinished business.  Yeah.  And I spose some would consider Maryam, Yosef, John, and so on to be ghosts.  But I don't.  They're spirits.  They have no unfinished business.  They only come back because they want to and God has a purpose for them to be here."


"But... other than Yehuda?"

"I can't say I've seen one but... I think so.  I mean if you think about it... people have free will.  Free will doesn't just go away when you die.  Sometimes people might feel compelled to stick around."

"It's so sad..."

Andrew nodded.

"But they wouldn't be alone.  God would send them someone to help them.  He'd speak to them Himself.  They'd have help if they were willing to accept it.  Just like Yehuda.  That being said...  I liked what the older brother... Steven?"


"What Steven said about ghosts."

"Me too!  Hold on.  I wrote it down."  JenniAnn picked up a notepad she kept on her bedside table and read.  "'
A ghost can be a lot of things.  A memory.  A daydream.  A secret.  Grief.  Anger.  Guilt.  But in my experience, most times they're just what we want to see...  Most times, a ghost is a wish.'"

"Right.  I mean remember after Lulu died?  How many times we thought we saw or heard her..."  Tears welled in Andrew's eyes as he remembered his dog.

"Aww... yeah." 

"I think part of that was just because our brains were so used to seeing and hearing her.  But also... we wanted to.  But she wasn't here.  She was off chasing butterflies in Heaven..."

"Sweet Lulu..."

"One thing I would never do... unless it was causing some sort of dangerous behavior... is dissuade a person from believing they were visited by a lost loved one if it brought them peace.  Because that does happen.  But in those cases, they're spirits.  Not ghosts."

"Got it.  That makes sense."

"So... having read the book... is the show really different?"

JenniAnn laughed.

"Unrecognizable!  I mean really the only things that are the same are the house and the Dudleys... and even not entirely them.  Mr. Dudley is lovely in this!  He reminds me a bit of Nick, actually.  But younger.  In the book, both of the Dudleys were rather unpleasant.  But in this...  Mrs. Dudley is a bit of a zealot.  But I get the impression she's got a good heart.  And the Cranes... they were all dead in the book.  Basically, the writers just used some of the same names from the book and wove their own story.  But I actually really love that.  We don't need another remake."

"Cool.  Well... do you want to watch the next episode or..."

"Do you?" JenniAnn countered.

Andrew considered the question.  The first episode had been trying...  But it had also ended in such a way that he felt restless at the idea of leaving it there.  And... he definitely hadn't minded having JenniAnn snuggle up to him and nuzzle him during the scarier moments.

"I wouldn't mind it..." he ventured.

"Good!  Then let's watch the next one.  I hope the other kids start to mend fences...  I really hope our kids' relationships aren't so... fraught... in the future."

"I'm sure they won't be, Laja," Andrew assured.  "The dynamics are so different.  I mean... there's an almost thirty year age gap between Max and Avi, for one.  And most importantly... you're here, Laja."


Andrew stroked JenniAnn's cheek as they kissed.


As difficult as the first episode had been for Andrew, he could tell that the second had been more upsetting for JenniAnn.

"I... I don't know that we should let the girls watch this after all," JenniAnn murmured after the episode ended.  "I think... I just think it would be so hard to watch with your sister.  And I know Violeta... I mean it's not like she's going to be responsible for making us presentable after we die like Shirley there.  But she is going to be the one left.  She's going to outlive Shelby... and Max... and Belle... and Avi.  I... I don't think she should watch.  And definitely not with Shelby... her baby sister who she's going to outlive like poor Shirley outlived Nell... whose name I really wish didn't rhyme with Belle and Shel."

Andrew gently brushed away a tear that was trailing down JenniAnn's face.

"Definitely agree about Nell.  But Laja...  I know I was hesitant at first but now...  I actually think it would be good for Violeta to watch. 
And I don't think we can tell Shel no if she wants to watch with her.  She's not a little girl any more.  Yes...  It is difficult.  But I really like the matter-of-fact way Shirley deals with death with her kids... answering their questions, assuring them that all questions are normal.  Being open about just how sad she was.  That's good for Violeta to see.  For both the girls to see.  And... you're right.  But I guess my thinking is... maybe that's not a bad thing for Violeta to reckon with now...  With Shelby here... With you here...  With me here."

JenniAnn closed her eyes as Andrew rubbed her neck.

"You're right.  That makes sense.  I do want to be able to answer questions for both of them.  And we certainly have the time for it now..."  JenniAnn squeezed Andrew's hand and sighed.  "Do you think Shel will be okay, though?  I mean... she lost her parents, Andrew."

"I wondered about that...  Tomorrow, when we're working in the stable, I'll make sure Shel really wants to watch and wasn't swayed by Violeta.  But... I mean she's watched The Lion King and Bambi and so many other movies just in the Disney canon alone that feature parental deaths.  We've never tried to stop her from seeing those."


"The parts with the sick kittens were... rough," Andrew commented after a few moments.

"Yeah...  But I also...  I'm not sure...  I don't think I could have told one of our kids the full truth about that one kitten...  I think I might have... obfuscated the truth a bit, too."

"How so?"

"Well...  I... I couldn't have put it out of its misery myself for one.  Nor would I want you to.  I would have taken it to the vet to be put to sleep.  Which... I guess I would tell the kids that.  But if, for some reason, I had had to do it myself... I couldn't have told them.  I might have said we'd given the cat away, too."

"I can understand that.  But I don't think we'd ever be in that position, Laja.  And, to be honest, I don't see any reason why they would be in the show.  They have a car.  Surely there's a vet in town.  I think that was just for extra drama."

"Probably so...  It was scary when the mom had her migraine.  It kind of reminded me of my seizures.  But I'm also getting the idea she's having some mental health issues.  And that part at the end... when the porch lights blinked.  Her sign for wanting the kids to come home... to come back to her.  I have a bad feeling this is all leading to the mom being a ghost trying to reunite with her kids... by killing them.  And that's... dark.  And really hard to think about as... as a mom.  I also don't want the girls thinking about that," JenniAnn lamented.

Andrew wrapped his arms around her.

"I'm sure they'll find it chilling... just as you did.  And I definitely did.  Those lights gave me the chills, too.  But if she does have mental health issues, they're completely separate from migraines... and both are completely separate from epilepsy.  Shel and Violeta aren't going to read anything into it concerning you.  I mean think about it...  You... you almost died, Laja.  No... you... you did die," Andrew corrected, his voice quaking.  "But... but you came back.  You didn't try to yank us all over there with you."

JenniAnn responded with a slight smile.

"That's true...  I don't think Joshua would have approved of that."

"No..."  Andrew smiled, too, and caressed JenniAnn's temples before smoothing some hair behind her ears.  "If you want, we can try to dissuade Violeta and Shelby... but I do have some concern that Violeta would go ahead and watch it anyway and then be too embarrassed to admit it and hold all her questions in.  And we can't very well confiscate her laptop since she's using it for school."

"No...  And I wouldn't want to do that, anyway.  That's too heavy-handed.  They should be allowed to watch... but I definitely think we need to stay ahead of them."

"No question!  But... I think we should call it good for tonight."

"Agreed..."  JenniAnn put the Kindle away then smiled coquettishly at Andrew.  "I am glad I have a big, strong man here to protect me if I have nightmares after that."

Andrew chuckled as she ran her hands up and down his arms.

"I will happily protect you... but I might need some protection in return."

JenniAnn laughed at the angel's puppy dog eyes.

"I see..."

She draped herself over him and kissed him.


Chuckling, Andrew linked his hands behind her waist and nodded.

"Much better..."

With laughter and kisses, the two dispelled the last of their chills and melancholy and prepared for a peaceful night.


Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

While Violeta took her sheep out to graze the next morning, Andrew and Shelby busied themselves mucking out the stalls, laying fresh hay, and replenishing food and water.  As they worked, Andrew broached the subject of Hill House.

"Shel, were you really wanting to watch The Haunting of Hill House or did Violeta talk you into it?" he asked.

Shelby smiled.

"I mean... it wasn't really on my list of things to do during quarantine.  But I'm not opposed to it.  And one of the main characters is a writer.  I like stuff about writers."

Andrew nodded.

"Yeah.  The eldest brother, Steven.  He writes a book about Hill House."

"And I heard the show itself is really well-written.  So... maybe I can learn from it."

"We're only two episodes in but, yeah, thus far I've been impressed.  It's just... I think the trailers made this pretty clear so I don't think I'm spoiling anything but... the mom dies.  And given..."

"Given my parents died, you're worried?"

"A little," Andrew confessed.  "JenniAnn, too."

Shelby shrugged.

"I mean...  I guess I might feel something.  But since I don't remember them... don't remember losing them...  I think it's more likely that it'll make me think of when Psyche was in the hospital.  I... I was so scared she would die..."

Andrew squeezed her shoulder.

"But she didn't.  And she probably won't for a long, long time," Shelby continued.  "I'll be okay.  And Violeta will, too.  I mean... I definitely think she's going to cry a lot.  But that's not a bad thing."

"No... it's not."

Shelby smiled at Andrew.

"We'll be okay, Andrew.  You raised us well."

"Shel..."  Andrew's eyes misted.  "Sometimes I can't believe how time has flown.  Seems like only yesterday I would lift you up onto my shoulders and carry you around."

Shelby hugged Andrew tightly.

"Maybe I should be worried about you and JenniAnn watching Hill House.  Seems to be a lot about kids growing up..."

Andrew smiled and kissed her hair.

"We'll manage.  And, maybe after we're all done with it, we can relive the old days and watch Frozen together."

"And Frozen II!"

"And Frozen II," Andrew agreed. 

"Yay!" Shelby cheered, beaming.

Andrew chuckled and patted her on the back.

"And how's everything going, otherwise?  Still going okay in the pillow fort?"

Shelby grinned and nodded.

"It's actually more comfortable than I thought it would be!  And Belle looks so little when she sleeps...  I guess I've been a bit nostalgic, too.  I used to be able to carry her..."

"Well, even though you can't carry her, she's still every bit your little sister.  You're still doing okay with being here instead of the Tunnels?"

"Oh yeah.  I mean...  I miss Asher and Vincent and Catherine and everyone.  But at least I still get to see them and talk to them.  And I can't imagine being separated from you and Psyche and Belle and Violeta and Avi and everyone here.  Especially if this goes on for years...  Some people think it might."

Andrew frowned and nodded.

"Hard to say.  It's possible.  I think we'd have to rethink things if it came to that.  We'd still want to be as safe as possible.  But being this closed off probably isn't sustainable if we're looking at years."

"I mean even if there's not a vaccine... the more time that goes by, the more they'll learn about treatments, right?"


"So that's good.  But for now...  It still just kinda seems like an extended vacation for me.  So... don't worry about me, kay?"

Beaming, Andrew hugged Shelby.


Yonah brayed, causing the two to turn and look at him.

Laughing, Shelby released Andrew and wrapped her arms around the donkey's neck.

"Okay, okay...  Sorry...  Didn't mean to leave you out." 

Chuckling, Andrew withdrew his cell phone and snapped a photograph of the two before resuming his work.


After lunch, Andrew and JenniAnn sat Shelby and Violeta down to lay out ground rules for Hill House.

"Firstly, you have to wait for us to watch an episode before you watch it," JenniAnn informed them as they sat in the ballroom.

"We've watched the first two episodes.  We'll try to get the next two in tonight.  But we'll have to see," Andrew continued.

"Okay!" Violeta agreed.

"Secondly, you are absolutely not to watch when Belle is in the room with you.  Not with earbuds, not on a small screen.  Just not at all.  If she even hears you talking about it...  She's way too little for that."

"We can move to the library after she falls asleep?" Shelby suggested.

"Good idea," Andrew agreed.

"Ooh!  It's spookier in the library anyway!" Violeta cheered.

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged a concerned look before the former continued.

"If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to us about them."

"Of course!"  Violeta nodded vigorously.

"Preferably you'll wait until we're awake," JenniAnn clarified.  "But if you absolutely can't... you know where we are."

"Yep!" Violeta chirped.  "Thank you!"  She bounded over to Andrew and JenniAnn and hugged them both before turning back to Shelby.  "We should make spooky snacks for tonight!"

Shelby laughed and cocked her head.

"How are snacks spooky?"

"We'll figure it out!  C'mon!" 

Violeta grabbed Shelby's hand and began to pull her away, towards the kitchen.  Helpless but amused, Shelby waved back to Andrew and JenniAnn.

"Well... I hope this goes okay," JenniAnn mused.

"They'll be fine.  Not sure I feel as confident about the kitchen," Andrew deadpanned.

"True...  But they'll clean up after themselves."

JenniAnn hugged Andrew's arm and rested her head on his shoulder.

"It's okay if you're not up for watching tonight."

"Oh no...  I'm fine.  I actually want to watch.  I need some closure for poor Nell.  It's just..."  JenniAnn sat up when she saw her parents approaching.

"We practically got mowed over by Shelby and Violeta," Robert reported with a chuckle.  "What's going on?"

"Sorry about that.  They're making snacks for tonight.  They're watching Hill House and are quite excited about it," JenniAnn replied.

Allison frowned.

"Isn't that a horror series?  You're sure that's good for them?"

"Allison, they know the girls better than we do," Robert countered.

"Well, I know but I saw clips on the daytime talk shows and those alone gave me the creeps!"

"I'm sure they'll be fine," Andrew assured.  "After all, once she's done with her schooling, Violeta's going to be an AOD.  If she can't handle a TV show..."

"I suppose..."

Robert rolled his eyes.

"Let it go, Allison.  Andrew knows best."

"I was letting it go," Allison snapped. 

Andrew felt JenniAnn jolt beside him.

"Mom... are you okay?" she checked.

Robert shook his head and walked away.

Allison glared after him.

"Sorry about that.  I think we both just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.  And I was just concerned is all.  I'm fine.  Maybe I could do with a snack myself.  My blood sugar might be a little low."

Andrew stood up.

"What can I get for you, Allison?"

"Oh, it's fine.  I have some granola bars.  I think that'll do."

"Okay, well, just speak up if you want anything else.  I think I could do with some ginger ale.  Laja, anything for you?"

"Actually, a glass of milk would be really nice."

"Chocolate?" Andrew offered.

JenniAnn grinned.

"I won't turn that down."


"Actually, I'll take some ginger ale, as well.  Thank you, Andrew."

"Sure thing."

"You're sure you're okay?" JenniAnn asked her mom again once Andrew had left.

Allison nodded.

"I am.  Really.  Your dad's just been getting on my nerves a bit.  You know, he's not helped me make the bed the entire time we've been here.  And I'm sure you've noticed he doesn't help with the laundry."

"Annoying...  But he did help Andrew in the yard last week.  And maybe he's nervous about using our washing machine.  Like he'd feel bad if he accidentally broke it which given his track record with your last washing machine...  Anyway, I could show him how..."

"Honey, he never helps with the laundry.  I guess I just thought he'd be on his best behavior here.  But maybe this is his best behavior..." Allison scoffed.

Unsure how to respond to that, JenniAnn looked out the window, hoping for some sort of distraction.  Happily for her, distraction did come, albeit from the hallway.

"There's your Gamma...  Let's go see Gamma and she'll make it all better," Rose cooed as she carried a sniffling Landon.

"Sweet pea!"  JenniAnn stood and made her way to the two, taking Landon from his mother.  "What happened?"

"He stumbled.  I think his pride is more hurt than anything.  He started calling for you."

"G-gamma..." the toddler cried.

"Aww..."  JenniAnn held him close and swayed with him.  After a few moments, Landon noticed Avi and Evie playing with blocks nearby and clamored to be let down.

"Well, that was quick!"  Rose laughed. 

JenniAnn smiled as Landon plopped down beside the other two toddlers.

"Sometimes you just need a few moments to pull yourself together."

"They're so precious."  Allison smiled fondly at the trio.

JenniAnn glanced over at her mother and felt relieved.  She seemed to have calmed down and all was well again.

When Andrew returned with the beverages, the adults settled down to an agreeable chat.



"You ready?" Andrew asked that evening after he and JenniAnn had settled into bed.

"Should we maybe check on the girls one more time?"

"Laja...  They were fine ten minutes ago.  I'm sure they're fine now.  And if not... I'm sure they can find their way from the library to our room."

"True..."  JenniAnn gave Andrew a sheepish smile then squeezed his hand.  "Ready."

"All right...  Episode 3... 'Touch'... here we go..."

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's shoulder then started the show.


"Well...  I'm very glad we blocked up the dumbwaiters before Shelby was old enough to notice them," Andrew declared after the episode had ended.

JenniAnn smiled at Andrew and nodded.

"Although I'm pretty confident we don't have a secret, scary basement.  Just the laundry machine, dryer, the tunnel, and an empty pool we don't use."

"Yeah...  I sometimes wonder if we should do something with the pool.  Anyway... what did you think?"

"Another tough watch...  It gave me a new respect for Theodora... who, by the way, has a beautiful name.  More people should use it.  The only one I know in real life is Kyle's sister."

"It is very pretty.  And yeah..."  Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.  "That poor little girl... and poor Theo having to experience that.  I'm glad CPS believed her."

"I... I worry about that with you, sometimes.  I mean... you're not empathetic in the same way as Theo... thank God.  But your assignments lodge in your head and..."

"And I have God to help me through.  And you."

"About that...  I also thought of you at the end.  With Theo and her girlfriend... if that's even the right term.  Sometimes... well...  I mean not that we're... sexually active like that... but when you do come home and you're upset and shaken... sometimes I'm not sure if I should try to get you to talk or... distract you," JenniAnn confessed.

"Laja, I will tell you if I want to talk.  I know that's been an issue in the past but..."  Andrew kissed her hand.  "I promise you that now.  One thing I don't want is you feeling like you need to... distract me... if you're not wanting to be... distracting."

JenniAnn smirked.

"I think we've created a new euphemism.  But the language has always been awkward.  'Making out' just sounds crass to me.  And 'messing around' is even worse."

"Canoodling?" Andrew volunteered.

JenniAnn burst out laughing.

"That's like something my grandma would say!"

"Yeah, well, I mean I am considerably older than your grandma..."  Andrew winked at JenniAnn and playfully bumped his shoulder against hers.

"This is true...  And it does sound more pleasant than anything I can think of."

"Well, in that case, I just don't want you to canoodle if you don't want to canoodle."

JenniAnn giggled at Andrew's pronouncement.


"Besides, it's not like it's a binary: talk about my assignment or canoodle.  You could also distract me by sharing anecdotes about your day.  Or we could dance.  Read poetry.  Read the Bible.  Watch video of Joshua.  Pray.  Reorganize our sock drawers.  Any number of things."

"True...  And speaking of Joshua, I thought it was interesting that when Theo saw Nellie's body, she said 'Jesus wept.'  Why do you suppose that is?"

"In some parts of the country, it's common to say that when things have gotten really rocky.  But it could be deeper than that, I think.  You've said it yourself before.  Sometimes when we're grieving, it helps to remember that Joshua's been in that place, too.  He mourned Lazar, Theo was mourning Nellie."

"That's a nice thought.  They don't seem very Christian, though."

"No.  But Olivia said they taught Steven about a number of religions, Christianity included.  I assume they did the same with the other kids.  I mean Joshua raising a man from the dead is pretty dramatic.  Lots of people know that story even if they don't believe it really happened," Andrew pointed out.

"Right.  Well, I liked it in any case.  Another thing I really liked is how chill Steven and Nellie were when they discovered Theo was a lesbian."

"That was very sweet.  And I think it'll be good for Shel to see that.  Do we know if she's told Asher about being asexual?"

JenniAnn shook her head.

"No.  I've wanted to ask but..."  She shrugged.  "In some ways, Shel's our easiest kid, I think.  In others...  It's weird.  In a lot of ways, I feel like she's the kid who is most like me.  But she's also the most inscrutable.  I never want to push her."

"Yeah...  I understand what you mean.  At least Asher isn't the sort to push her on pairing off."

"No...  But he could go to bat for her a bit when the other kids maybe push at her a bit on finding someone.  Of course... who knows when she'll next be staying in the Tunnels." 

Andrew hugged JenniAnn when her face clouded.

"Anyway... in some ways I envy her.  Shel, I mean.  Asexuality awareness still isn't where it should be.  But at least it exists.  She has a word.  An online community, if she wants."

"She has you," Andrew reminded.

"Right.  And you.  You're the one she first told, after all.  You're the one who told her about aromanticism."


"Meanwhile, I was just like 'What is wrong with me?!'  I did wonder..."  JenniAnn's voice trailed off.

"Hmm?" Andrew prompted.

"Well...  I just mean that I wondered if, maybe, I wasn't feeling those feelings because I could only feel them for you.  But then you showed back up and... well, I wanted to do lots of things."

Andrew smiled and stroked JenniAnn's back when her face flushed.

"But I still didn't want to have sex with you.  And I knew it wasn't just because you couldn't have sex but I still couldn't quite get at what was going on.  I did eventually clue in thanks to some internet sleuthing."

"And I'm glad for that... but even more glad Shel has people she can talk to face-to-face about it."

"Yeah...  Anyway, Shel is totally gonna equate Theo with Elsa with the glove thing."

"I thought of that, too!"  Andrew chuckled.  "I hope she never entirely outgrows her love for Frozen.  I... I want her to grow up and become even stronger, even smarter, even more her own person but..."

"I totally get it."  JenniAnn sighed.  "I used to get totally annoyed by my parents trying to keep me a child... as I saw it.  But now I get it."

"Me too..."  Andrew pulled JenniAnn close and kissed her shoulder.  "So..."

"You wanna watch the next one?"

"I'm up for it if you are."

"Yeah, let's go for it."

Andrew pulled up the fourth episode, settled comfortably beside JenniAnn, and the two resumed watching.


"Poor, sweet Luke..." JenniAnn murmured after the episode came to its heartbreaking conclusion.

"Yeah..."  Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

JenniAnn hugged the angel then began to gently stroke his chest.

"What is it, my love?  This one seems to have really gotten to you.  Your heart... it's fast."

Andrew closed his eyes and focused on the pleasing, calming sensation of JenniAnn's caresses.

"The scene with the parents and twins right at the beginning kinda freaked me out," he confessed.

"Really?  That was a pretty tame scene."

"Yeah...  It's just...  Don't you have the same dress Olivia was wearing?  It was a little spooky."

"Hmm...  Let me..."  JenniAnn dragged the video back towards the start. "Oh!  That does look like one of mine.  But I'm sure that one was much more expensive.  And look... mine has smocking over the belly.  Hers doesn't.  But yeah... same color and shape."

"I dunno...  It's silly, I guess.  But it just... got to me.  I mean...  She does remind me a bit of you... when she's not in a bad spot, I mean.  Just the way she is with her kids...  The sensitivity.  The gentleness.  The grace and beauty..."

JenniAnn stared at Andrew.

"In no reality do I have even close to the grace and beauty of Carla Gugino...  She's gorgeous."

"You do in my reality," Andrew quietly insisted.

JenniAnn peered into her beloved's eyes and realized further discussion of the matter would only derail the conversation... and the conversation seemed important.

"Well... thank you," she replied.

Andrew buried a hand in JenniAnn's hair and rested his forehead against hers.

After a few moments, he pulled away and let out a shaky breath.

"I dunno...  I guess between that and Luke talking about waiting for his mom to come home, thinking every headlight was her returning for him...  I thought about how close we came to that reality.  I... I didn't want to be a single father.  I didn't want to watch our kids struggle through life like that."

"Oh, Andrew..."  JenniAnn kissed him.  "I can understand that.  I... also had a moment right at the beginning that had a lot of personal meaning."

"Yeah?  Tell me about it?" Andrew encouraged.

"It was when the Iraqi vet was speaking.  And that was... so horrible.  And I found myself wandering if that was really smart.  I mean... couldn't the already vulnerable people at Luke's NA meeting have gotten secondary trauma which would only make them more likely to turn to their addictions?  I mean not that I don't think that man should have spoken.  I do.  He needed to.  But it just didn't really seem to be properly addressed.  And... and then it hit me.  Our early years... when I'd pester you to tell me what was bothering you and you'd refuse... that's what you were worried about.  At least in part.  Secondary trauma."

"I... yeah... I was," Andrew confirmed.  "Laja, you were so young and..."

"Inexperienced.  Naive.  I know.  I thought because we read about horrible historical events in classes that I could handle it.  I didn't see how hearing about something direct from someone I loved...  It would be harder.  Much harder.  I should have trusted you to know that."

"It's okay."  Andrew smiled.  "We muddled through.  I think we came out of it all right... better than all right."

"Much better," JenniAnn agreed.
  "Are you tired?"

"Not really.  But... I don't think I'm up for another episode."

"No.  Me neither."  JenniAnn nuzzled Andrew's neck.  "Dance with me?"

"I would love to, my Laja."

JenniAnn peered out a window.

"In the ballroom.  So we can see the stars better."

"My pleasure..."  Grinning, Andrew took her hand and led her from the room.

The two paused just outside the library, faintly hearing bits of Hill House as Violeta and Shelby watched.  Andrew poked his head in and, seeing nothing amiss, continued to the ballroom with JenniAnn.

Once there, Andrew took his cell phone from the pocket of his pajamas and started a song.

"'You'll remember me when the west wind moves upon the fields of barley.
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we walk in fields of gold.
So she took her love for to gaze awhile upon the fields of barley.
In his arms she fell as her hair came down among the fields of gold.'"

The two swayed in the moonlight, JenniAnn's hands clasped behind Andrew's neck, his own hands linked behind her back.

Neither noticed the solitary figure in the hallway, silently watching them and weeping.



Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Andrew and JenniAnn awoke to the sound of giggling in the hallway.

And then a shout...

"Bloody heck!"

"Max..."  Andrew sleepily murmured.

JenniAnn yawned and stretched.

"Must have stubbed his...  Uh oh."

"'Uh oh' what?"

"Do you realize what today is?"

"Wednesday?  I think?"

"No.  I mean the date.  Andrew, it's April Fool's Day..."

The angel of death laughed and shook his head.

"I thought I heard some feminine giggling earlier..."

JenniAnn nodded.

"The girls did something..."

"Guess we better go see what's going on."

"Guess so..."

The two donned their robes and slippers and approached their bedroom door.  Andrew held an arm out, blocking JenniAnn.

"I'll go out first."

JenniAnn grinned.

"Such a gentleman."

Andrew made a little bow then cautiously opened the door.  When nothing happened, he stepped forward.

JenniAnn burst out laughing when Andrew became engulfed in a cloud of confetti.

"I have an 8:00 session!" Max exclaimed.  "I don't have time to shower."

JenniAnn stepped, safely, into the hallway where she should see Rose laughing as she brushed confetti off of her husband.

"Oh, calm down.  I'm sure your client needs a laugh... just like the rest of us."

Max spotted Andrew and JenniAnn and began to laugh.

"Oh, Dad...  They got you, too, I see."

"Uh... yeah."

"So... where are the culprits?" JenniAnn asked as she began to brush Andrew off.

"I think I know..."  Andrew headed towards Belle's room.  He poked his head around the corner where he found Belle, Shelby, and Violeta giggling.

"April Fools!" the trio shouted.

Andrew chuckled and shook his head.

"Well played.  Now come out here and apologize to Max.  He now gets to do a counseling session in technicolor."

"Oops..."  Shelby grimaced.

Andrew laughed and patted her on the back.

"I'm sure he'll get over it.  Rose seemed to find it very amusing."

"As did I," JenniAnn added. 

"Daddy, you're pretty!" Belle chirped.

Andrew scooped her up, pulled some confetti from his shoulders and sprinkled it on her.

"There.  Now you're pretty, too.  But then you're always pretty.  And smart.  And, apparently, sneaky."

Belle giggled as she hugged her father's neck.

The pranksters trooped over towards the guest room where they confronted their brother and uncle.

"Sorry, Max..." Shelby apologized.

"Sorry, Max," Violeta echoed, her stifled giggling making her apology less sincere.

"Sorry, Uncle Max," Belle added, her lower lip stuck out.

Max smiled and cupped Belle's chin.

"How could I be mad at that face?"

"You can't be mad at us, either," Violeta pressed.  "We're cute, too!"  She hugged Shelby.

Max rolled his eyes and chuckled.

"Yeah, yeah...  And I should have been more wary given the date."

JenniAnn turned to the girls.

"Did you do anything else?"  She peered at the ceiling.  "Because I'd like to be prepared if my parents..."

Violeta adamantly shook her head.

"No!  Nothing else.  We weren't sure how they'd take it.  And... we didn't want to upset Evie.  And, well, Marty is kinda scary so..."

"And Takoda?" Andrew checked.

"Well... we thought about it," Violeta admitted.  "But he's been kinda outta sorts so we decided not to."

"Probably for the best," JenniAnn agreed.  "Well... let's go get some breakfast made so Max can eat before his appointment."

"Don't worry about that, Maja.  I can tide myself over until after," Max assured.

"It's no problem.  Your sisters can help as penance."

Smiling, the trio of girls nodded.

"Just as long as you're not gonna put hot chili pepper in my eggs or something like that..."

"Good idea!" Shelby exclaimed before hugging Max.  "But we won't."

"Thanks."  Max returned her hug and the family trooped downstairs to share breakfast.


When breakfast was ready and the rest of the household was spread around the ballroom, Andrew and JenniAnn called Shelby and Violeta over to their table.

Violeta giggled when she noticed Andrew still had some confetti in his hair.

"I don't think I have to tell you that Sam would NOT have been amused if I'd done that to him when he was my supervisor," Andrew commented wryly.

"Aww.  But you're definitely more than my supervisor, Andrew.  Aren't you?" Violeta countered, her eyes wide and beseeching. 

JenniAnn laughed.

"Manipulative little thing," she teased.

Violeta smiled.

Andrew shook his head in amusement and patted Violeta's hand.

"Of course I am.  But I am your supervisor and you are both my kids... mine and Laja's... and on that account... we want to know how last night went.  Okay?  Any questions?"

"I really like the show!" Shelby praised.  "It's so interesting how Steven wrote this super famous book about his life... when he doesn't even believe it happened.  Or any of the other hauntings in his other books.  Unless he does but just won't allow himself to face the truth."

"It is interesting," Andrew agreed.  "Violeta?"

"I liked it.  The acting is really, really good.  But... it was really sad that Nell died."  Violeta snuck a glance at Belle and Avi who were eating with Allison and Robert.  "The baby shouldn't die first."

JenniAnn kissed her temple.

"I know.  That was very sad."

"I just... I don't want to imagine not being five," Violeta murmured as she stirred her Froot Loops.  "There needs to be five of us.  Max, me, Shelby, Belle, Avi.  Five."

"It's like I told you last night, Violeta.  There will always, always be five of us," Shelby counseled.  "We just might sometimes be in different worlds.  I mean... we're still five even when you're in Heaven, right?"

Violeta smiled.


"So we'll be five even if, say, I was in Heaven.  Or Max or...  We'd still be five."

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged misty-eyed glances.

"Yeah.  That's true."

"Honey, you don't have to keep watching if you don't want to," JenniAnn reassured.  "Maybe whatever Miguel picks next would be..."

"No, no.  I want to keep watching," Violeta insisted.  "I want to see what happens.  It's weird.  We watched less than two hours and... I dunno.  I just really feel like I need to know what happens to the Crains.  I like them.  Warts and all.  I... I really didn't like the part with the kittens, though.  It made me think about... what if Mary and Silly had lambs and... and they weren't okay?"

Andrew squeezed Violeta's hand.

"We'd take care of them, Violeta.  We'd take them to a vet, see what was wrong, and go from there.  And if it was really bad... we'd let them go peacefully and painlessly."

"You... you wouldn't take care of it yourself?" Violeta questioned.

"Violeta... you know Andrew better than that," JenniAnn answered.

"Told you..." Shelby murmured.

"Yeah.  When... when Olivia said that about kittens not being meant to live without their mothers...  I thought about when you were in the hospital."  Violeta grabbed JenniAnn's hand.  "I... felt that."

"Oh, honey..." 

"I reminded her that I lost my parents when I was little.  And I'm still okay.  And even kittens are okay so long as they find someone else to parent them," Shelby pointed out.

Andrew nodded.

"That's exactly right.  Doesn't mean it won't be hard.  But it's not hopeless, Violeta."

"Exactly," JenniAnn agreed.  "And, hopefully, I'll be around for a long, long time.  And when my time to go Home does come... my kittens will be all grown up."  She gently tweaked Violeta's chin.  "Hmm?"

Violeta gave her a wavering smile and nodded.

"Would you rather watch with Andrew and me?" JenniAnn asked.

Shelby and Violeta conferred quietly for a moment then the latter shook her head.

"No.  We really like watching together.  Just the two of us."

Shelby nodded.

"It's nice to snuggle up and spend time together like that.  Just me and my big sister."

Violeta hugged her.


"Okay then.  Well, JenniAnn and I watched episodes 3 and 4 last night so you can move onto those... if you want."

"We do!" the two girls chimed in unison.

"Sounds good.  We can talk about them tomorrow morning.  But for now... I better get ready for this morning's religion class," JenniAnn announced as she began to gather her dishes.  "Violeta, when your first class?"


"Okay.   And Kemara and the twins are coming over for lunch then sticking around so she can do her dance class here... it's just easier in the ballroom."  JenniAnn turned to Andrew.  "She asked if we could help model the steps."

Andrew smiled.

"Happily!  I'll take care of the dishes so you can start getting ready."

JenniAnn kissed his cheek.

"Thank you.  I'll be in the library."

"Can I come sit with you and do homework?" Shelby requested.

"Of course, sweetie."

"I'll help with the dishes, Andrew," Violeta offered.

"Thanks, kiddo."

After JenniAnn and Shelby left, Andrew and Violeta waited a few minutes for more people to finish breakfast then they wheeled the breakfast cart into the kitchen.

To Andrew's surprise, Violeta closed the door behind them. 

"Violeta, is something wrong?" Andrew asked, alarm evident in his voice.

"I... I don't know." 

"Do you want to talk about it?" Andrew asked rhetorically.  The closed door was answer enough.

"I just... I saw something last night.  The confetti was Shel's idea.  I... I was pretty upset after the show and she thought it would cheer me up."  Violeta smiled.  "It did.  But...  We actually were going to do the same thing to Takoda's door.  I mean we were a little uncertain about it...  We know he's been upset about not being able to see Joccy.  But I thought it would make him laugh."

"I think it would have been okay," Andrew agreed.

"But when I made my way up there...  I stopped in Joshua's room.  Just cause... cause I thought it would make me feel better.  And it did!  But when I left...  I heard hushed voices.  But they sounded angry."

Andrew frowned. 

"So I peeked around the corner of the little library and... I saw Robert leave his and Allison's room with his pillow."

"Robert has a problem with snoring.  JenniAnn's mentioned it before.  Allison probably couldn't sleep.  She was maybe irritated about that and..."

"Maybe...  It just seemed like... like more than that.  Once he'd crossed over into another of the guest rooms, I ran back downstairs.  I didn't say anything to Shelby about it."

"Good...  Did you say anything to JenniAnn?"

"No.  Just you.  And God, of course."

Andrew smiled.

"Of course.  Well, try not to worry about it, Violeta.  Couples have disagreements sometimes.  And this time is stressful for everyone."

"True...  And they're away from home."


"And I bet we're kinda a lot when they're used to it just being the two of them and Bert and Delilah."

Andrew chuckled.

"Probably so.  Try not to worry about it."

"I won't."  Violeta smiled at her fellow angel.  "So... you wanna empty the dishwasher or rinse the dishes?"

"You pick."

"I'll empty."

"Sounds good."

As the two worked, Andrew mulled over Violeta's words combined with some of what he'd witnessed.  He prayed a silent prayer that, whatever Allison and Robert were going through, they'd be able to resolve it... soon... and without upsetting their daughter.


That evening, Andrew was pensive as he got ready for bed.  He couldn't decide whether or not he should tell JenniAnn about Violeta's experience.  He was so deep in thought that he didn't realize JenniAnn was in the bathroom until her arms came around his middle.

He smiled at her reflection peeking around his right shoulder.

"Sorry.  Am I taking too long?"

JenniAnn shook her head.

"No.  You just looked so cute and so lost in your thoughts."

She had to be told, Andrew decided. 

He splashed some water on his face then took JenniAnn's hand and led her to their bed.

Once they were settled in, he spoke.

"Laja, Violeta told me something earlier that I think you should know about."

"Something about the show?"

"No...  It happened after she and Shelby had finished watching.  I guess they had considered pranking Takoda but, on her way up there, Violeta stopped into Joshua's room for some quiet time."


"Yeah...  But the thing is... when she left she heard what she thought sounded like arguing."

JenniAnn frowned.

"Who was...  Oh..." 

Andrew squeezed her shoulders.

"She saw your dad go into one of the other guest rooms.  I told her it may just have been because he was snoring too loud.  You mentioned before that sometimes they need separate rooms so your mom can sleep."


"So it might have just been that."

"Maybe...  But put together with some of the snappishness lately...  Was Violeta upset?"

"I think she was concerned for them.  And probably for you, too.  It's like I told her... everyone is stressed, they're away from home...  And like Violeta pointed out, even though I'm sure they enjoy it here, it's a big difference from their quiet house with just them and the dogs."

"Right...  And they did seem okay when I saw them through out the day."


JenniAnn shook her head.

"I just don't know...  And I don't know if it's really my place to push for answers.  I mean... I'm their kid.  Not their therapist."

"Right.  I think just let it be for right now.  It was probably just a fluke.  A bad night."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn hugged Andrew.  "Thanks for telling me.  But now... let's focus on dysfunction in someone else's family.  I mean... supposing you want to watch?"

"Sure.  But... I think it might be a one episode kind of night."

"Same.  Kinda tired," JenniAnn agreed.

Andrew picked up the Kindle and checked the show's page.

"Next up... 'The Bent-Neck Lady.'"

JenniAnn shivered.

"Creepy.  Maybe we'll get some answers about poor Nellie."

"I hope so.  Ready?"


Andrew kissed JenniAnn's hair, looped an arm around her shoulders, and started the fifth episode.


"So Nellie haunted herself..." JenniAnn whispered as she wiped at her eyes.

"Seems so...  Poor kid."  Andrew blinked back his own tears.

"And that bloody blinking light again..."  JenniAnn shook her head.  "Olivia really is a mess..."

"I'm afraid so.  I wonder what happened to her?"

What I do know is that sleep paralysis scares the heck outta me.  So glad I've never had it."

Andrew hugged JenniAnn.

"You're less likely to.  You sleep on your side, sometimes your stomach.  It's more common with people who sleep on their backs."

"Well, that's comforting at least...  But you sleep on your back.  Have you ever..."

Andrew shook his head.


"Yeah.  You know, the love montage between Nellie and Arthur made me think of the opening of Up."

"Same!  And I did NOT feel good about it...  Now I know why.  I really wonder if they were inspired by the movie?"

"Maybe.  I loved that cup of stars quote."  Andrew smiled at the memory of one of the sweeter scenes.

"Me too.  I think it's from the novel cause it sounded familiar to me.  I jotted it down to investigate later.  'Insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again.'  Solid advice."

"Agreed.  I feel like Violeta's gonna ask us for a starred mug for her birthday."

"It does seem like something she'd latch onto.  We can order one tomorrow."

"Sounds good."

JenniAnn rested her cheek on Andrew's chest.

"I think it's touching and sad how the other siblings could sense when Nellie died.  Shared empathy...  That's what I wanted with you."

"I know."  Andrew kissed her hair.

"I realize that was foolish.  It's better that you tell me what you need to."

"It is."  Andrew closed his eyes for a moment.  "I don't want to imagine our girls ever fighting like that...  Or our boys...  Or the girls with the boys..."

"I hated seeing that, too...  I don't think they ever well.  Squabbles, yes.  But nothing so heated as all of that."

Andrew and JenniAnn yawned in unison without realizing it.

"Ya know, I found my dress moment...  When she opened the pocket watch...  At first I thought it was Arthur's.  But it was her Daddy's...  It made me think of when you went to Afghanistan and left your watch with Shelby."

"Laja..."  Andrew brought her hand to his lips.

"If I'd only known what was waiting for us on the other side of that...  Max and Belle and Joshua and Avi and this..."  JenniAnn snuggled closer to Andrew.

The angel smiled sleepily.

"Blessed..." he murmured before another yawn.

JenniAnn nodded then closed her eyes.

Soon, the two were asleep, peaceful in their embrace.


A Favor

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

Andrew was in his workshop, busying himself with a recent order for bookshelves, when his cell phone rang.  His heart sank when he saw the caller's name and number.


After sucking in and letting out a deep breath, Andrew answered.

"Hi, Sylvester."

"Hey, Andrew.  How's everything going in Dyeland?"

"Well.  We're well, thanks.  How about... about you?"

"I'm fine.  My family's fine... staying safe.  It's just..."

Andrew closed his eyes when he heard the tremor in the usually stolid funeral director's voice.

"It's bad here, Andrew.  We're working eighteen hour days to... to keep up.  And so many of these people weren't prepared.  They hadn't saved up.  I... I'm discounting services and goods as much as I can and trying to order more supplies but..."

"How can I help?  Please, let me help, Sylvester," Andrew pleaded.

"I need coffins.  Plain pine is fine.  I'll pay.  I just..."

"I'll do it, Sylvester.  I'll try to get some help, too.  I'll let you know as soon as I have some done and we can figure out how to get them to you."

"Thank you, Andrew.  I... I truly appreciate this."

"Thank you for what you're doing, Sylvester.  I... I know I have the much easier job," Andrew insisted.  "Is there anything else I can do?"

"Just pray...  I know you already are."

"I am.  We all are.  Sylvester, please take care of yourself."

"I will.  I'm fine.  It's just been a rough day.  A... a father came in to... to make arrangements for his little girl.  The mother is still in the ICU."

"No..."  Andrew's eyes welled.

"My heart broke for him."

"Do you need a coffin for her... for the little girl?"

"No.  Thanks, though.  I had something on hand.  Pink.  The father approved of it.  Said she loved pink..."

Andrew winced when he heard Sylvester's ragged breath.

"I have another appointment soon.  I better go.  Thank you, Andrew."

"Of course, Sylvester.  Thank you.  We'll talk soon."

"Yes.  Good bye."

"Good bye."

When the call was ended, Andrew stared at his phone for a few seconds then peered up at the ceiling.

"Father... Joshua...  Please, help Sylvester to feel Your love surrounding him, Your peace surrounding him.  Let all those who are mourning, all those who are sick, all those who are fearful... know Your peace, feel Your peace and let Your love give them strength.  And... and guide my hands as I begin this work.  Amen."

Andrew stood in contemplative silence for a few moments.  He was interrupted by a knock on his door.  He wondered if it was JenniAnn, perhaps tipped off by Sylvester's wife. 

To his surprise, Andrew found Rose waiting outside.

"Rose!  What brings you here?  Not that I mind the visit no matter the reason."

Rose smiled at Andrew then cocked her head.

"Are you all right?  Your eyes look a little..."

Andrew brushed at his eyes.

"I'm fine.  I was just talking to Sylvester."

"Oh...  He... he must really be having a hard time."

Andrew nodded.

"He is.  And we can all help him.  But we'll talk about that over dinner.  What can I do for you?"

"Well..."  Rose's cheeks flushed.  "JenniAnn mentioned you were doing a grocery run tomorrow?"

Andrew nodded.

"Anything I can get for you?"

"It's kind of embarrassing..."

Andrew smiled and patted her shoulder.

"It's okay.  I already need to get... personal items... for JenniAnn and Shelby."

"It's not pads or anything like that...  I mean... I would need them but..."  Rose needlessly lowered her voice.  "I'm late."

Andrew's eyes widened.

"And not to be TMI but... I'm really regular.  The last time I was late... well, you ended up as Gampy."

"So you need a test?"

Rose nodded.

"Okay.  Not a problem at all.  And I won't say anything to anyone.  Just let me know what brand or model or whatever it is you need."

Rose withdrew a slip of paper from her pocket and handed it to Andrew.

"I'd like that one if they have it.  We used that test with Landon and it was right.  But if it's out... just get whatever.  Please."

"Will do."

"Thanks.  I... I really... I appreciate..."  Rose began to cry.

"Hey... hey there...  Come on, let's get you sat down and comfortable."

"Th-thank you."  Rose laughed through her tears.  "I don't think I even need a test.  I'm all sorts of hormonal.  But... just everything going on could also be throwing me off."

"It really could be," Andrew agreed after handing the young woman a glass of water.

"Thanks.  I... I would love to be pregnant again.  And I know Max will be thrilled if I am.  But... I can't help but be scared.  If I am then... then I'd have to leave for prenatal care.  And what if I got it in a doctor's office?  What if the baby got it?  Or what if I brought it back here?"

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.  He'd been so excited about the prospect of another grandchild that he hadn't thought about that.

"Rose, if you are pregnant then we'll absolutely figure something out.  Maybe we can talk to Reuel about making an exception and getting you into El-Chanan for prenatal care.  Or maybe Portia could come here.  Or maybe you could see a doctor in Omaha where they have far, far fewer cases.  Whatever it ends up being, we will absolutely make sure that both you and the baby get the care you need.  Okay?"

"Okay...  Yeah..."  Rose nodded. 

"Do you want me to go today?" Andrew offered.  "Because I can."

"No, no!  I can wait until tomorrow," Rose assured.  "It'll come soon enough."

"Okay...  If you're sure..."

"I am.  Anyway, I'll let you get back to work.  Thanks again, Andrew... for going tomorrow and for the chat."

Andrew hugged his daughter-in-law.

"You're absolutely welcome.  I'll walk you out."


When the two were outside, Rose pointed a few yards away.

"I swear those weren't there when I walked in!"

Andrew looked to where she was pointing... to stacks of pinewood.  His hand went to his heart.  He couldn't have brought himself to charge Sylvester for the coffins... but paying for that much pine was going to hurt.  Now it was taken care of.  Andrew looked to the sky above.

"Thank You," he whispered.

Rose looked up, too, and smiled.  Though the pine was a mystery, she was grateful.

"Thank You."

The two exchanged a smile when a dove flew from one tree branch to another then soared above them.


During Avi's lunchtime feeding, Andrew joined JenniAnn in the boy's nursery.  For a few moments, he allowed himself to admire the serene scene of JenniAnn nursing their son.

"You said you had something you needed to talk about?" JenniAnn reminded.

Andrew nodded and pulled a chair beside JenniAnn's.

"I heard from Sylvester this morning."


"He's nearly out of coffins.  He asked me if I could make some.  Just plain pine, given the rush."

"And how do you feel about that?"

Andrew sighed and dragged a hand through his hair.

"Sad that it's necessary.  But glad that he asked me.  I do sometimes feel like... like I've been sitting this out."

JenniAnn adamantly shook her head and rested a hand on Andrew's arm.

"Love... no.  You're doing what everyone has been asked to do: stay home.  And... we need you here.  Joshua knew that.  I... I need you here."

"I... I know that, Laja.  I do.  And I don't regret being here.  Not at all.  But when I see the news... I feel so helpless."

JenniAnn bowed her head and kissed Avi's hair.

"Me too..."

"So it was good to be given a task that reaches beyond us."

"I can understand that.  How many do you think he needs?"

"He didn't say.  But I was hoping to get him at least a couple dozen to start."

JenniAnn's eyes welled.

"That's a lot for one man... even if he is an angel."

"I can do it."

"I know you can, Andrew.  It's just... should you?  I think you should ask for help."

"I thought about it.  I just...  I don't want to bring anyone's mood down further."

"But maybe people will feel the same way you do.  It's something to do.  A way to be helpful.  When we made the masks that first week... that felt good.  I want to help.  I know I can't help with the actual carpentry.  But... maybe we could do some simple but elegant edge painting or stenciling.  Something that elevates them above a plain, uniform pine box.  If for no other reason than to restore some semblance of choice to the families," JenniAnn continued.  "Maybe they have to settle for a pine box.  But if they can choose between the pine box with blue fleur de lis and the pine box with lavender flowers... that's something."

Andrew leaned in and kissed JenniAnn's temple.

"It is...  You're right.  And... it would be good to have company."

"We'll ask the adults to stick around after dinner tonight.  You can talk to them about it then."

"Yes.  Sounds good."

JenniAnn smiled at Andrew then handed Avi to him.

"He's finished.  I think some cuddle time would do you good."

Avi grinned at his Daddy and Andrew returned the smile.

"A lot of good," Andrew agreed, nestling Avi close.

"Ove Daddy..."  Avi cooed.

Andrew's eyes twinkled.

"Daddy loves you, too, little bud."

JenniAnn kissed Andrew's cheek and Avi's hair.

"And I love my boys."

"Should we make room for Mama, Avi?" Andrew asked.

Grinning, Avi nodded and scooted to Andrew's right knee so JenniAnn could sit on his left.

"Ove Mama." 

JenniAnn squeezed Avi's hand as he patted her cheek.

Then the little boy burped.  Loudly.

"Scu me!" Avi exclaimed.

Andrew chuckled.

"You're excused.  Daddy and Mama needed a laugh, anyway."

Avi grinned again then rested his head against Andrew's chest.  Within a few moments, he was sleeping.

"So sweet..." JenniAnn admired.  "You two stay here and rest.  I'll spread the word about tonight."

"Thanks, Laja."  Andrew brought her hand to his lips.

"You're welcome."

JenniAnn caressed the angel's face then left father and son alone to rest and relax.


That evening, after the little ones had been tucked into their beds, the adults of the household gathered in the ballroom for drinks... and a few words from Andrew.

The angel of death took a sip of his wine then gazed at the faces of those around him.  They looked content... even a little dreamy... in the firelight.  He hated to ruin the mood... but what he had to say was important.

JenniAnn squeezed Andrew's hand encouragingly.

"Thank you all for meeting up like this.  I know it's been a long day for many of you but... I have something I need to share.  A project I'm hoping as many of you as possible can help with."

"What do you need, Dad?" Max asked.

"Well...  I heard from Sylvester.  For those of you who don't know him, he's a Tunnel Helper.  He's also a funeral director.  He owns his own funeral home and... as you can imagine... he's been very busy lately.  So busy that he's run low on inventory.  And so... he's asked me to make some plain, pine coffins.  Thankfully, God has provided me with the materials I need.  But... I could use some help.  There are several jobs.  Obviously, there's assembly.  Not everyone is going to be able to do that.  But there's sanding.  And JenniAnn suggested we might do some simple, decorative stenciling.  Just... just to make them something a little more than a pine box."

"I can help with assembly," Sy volunteered.  "I haven't forgotten what you taught me."

Andrew smiled at the newlywed. 

"Thank you, Sy.  I do want to clarify...  This isn't meant to override other obligations.  So, Sy, I would definitely welcome your help... but only as you have time outside of your studies."


"I can help out however you need, Andrew," Ivy added.  "I'm not sure if I can help build the coffins.  But maybe if Sy teaches me.  And, if not, I know I can sand and paint a little."

"Thank you.  Both of you."  Andrew beamed at the couple.

"I can help, too," Takoda offered.  "Joshua and I built some flower boxes together.  Seems like the same skills should apply."

"Absolutely.  Thank you, Takoda."

Max raised his hand.

"I'll help however I can in between sessions, Dad."

Rose nodded in agreement with her husband.

"Definitely.  Count us both in."

"Count me in for building, Andrew."  Nico raised his glass to him.  "It's a good thing you're doing."

"Very good," Raquel echoed.  "I'd be happy to help with stenciling.  I've done a little of that before."

"I'd like to paint... or stencil or whatever," Shelby offered.

"And I could help.  And sand, too.  I like the smell of wood.  It reminds me of Joshua."  Violeta smiled.

"I'm afraid my carpentry skills are lacking," Marty confessed.  "But I'm rather talented with illuminated manuscripts.  I think those skills could be transferred to painting."

"Wonderful.  Thank you all!"  Andrew's pride in his friends and family radiated from him.

"I'm not sure I'd be good at any of it..." Mallory lamented.  "But I could watch the kids as needed.  And clean up around the workshop.  Maybe be a runner?  People will need water and snacks."

"That'd all be great!  Thanks, Mallory!"  JenniAnn smiled at the young woman.

"I'm afraid I won't be of much help during work hours.  But I'd be happy to help with sanding in the evenings," Robert volunteered.

"I can sand or paint or help Mallory with the little ones," Allison added.

"Thanks, Mom and Dad."  JenniAnn hugged her parents then turned back to the others.  "I spoke to Fr. Mike this afternoon.  He'll talk to the Asterians about helping."

"And Monica's and Liam's quarantine ends today.  So Monica said she'd like to help," Andrew relayed.

"Did anyone speak to Kemara?  Or Isolde and Marco?" Ivy questioned.

"I was hesitant to ask Kemara...  I wasn't sure how she'd feel... surrounded by coffins and knowing Sean is there in New York," JenniAnn confessed.

Andrew nodded.

"I thought the same about Monica with Arthur and..."  He peered at Ivy and Sy.  "I hesitated about asking you both over tonight but... I knew you'd see us working."

"I'm glad you asked.  I mean... there's no escaping what's going on.  I think it'll help to feel like we're doing something," Sy explained.  "And, yeah, it's a sad thing to have to do but... it's also what Joshua would want us to do."

Ivy nodded.

"I agree with my husband."  She smiled, revealing that the novelty had not yet worn off.  "And I think Kemara should at least be given a choice.  I mean imagine if she found out down the road and would have just enjoyed spending the time with us."

"Good points," JenniAnn agreed.  "We'll ask her.  And Isolde and Marco.  And you're right.  Just because the reason we're doing this is deeply sad... I think we need to commit to not making the process terribly somber.  I'm afraid we'll all lose our minds if we do.  We need to chat, joke, maybe even sing..."

"Definitely," Andrew concurred.  "We need to keep ourselves healthy... mentally as much as physically."

"Sounds like you'll have a good-sized crew, Dad."  Max beamed at Andrew.  "When do we start?"

"Well...  Tomorrow morning, I guess.  Again... just for whomever's schedule that works with.  People can come and go as they please.  I need to run to the store in the afternoon but I'll be back afterwards to keep going."

JenniAnn, who knew Andrew had been hesitant about asking for help, hugged him.

"It'll be good.  You'll see," she encouraged.

Andrew smiled at her and everyone gathered around and nodded.

"It will be."


After bidding the others good night, Andrew and JenniAnn got ready for bed and made themselves comfortable.

"We can skip an episode tonight, if you want," JenniAnn offered.  "I know it was a heavy day for you."

"It was...  But it's going to be heavy days for a while.  I'm okay with watching if you are?"

"I am, actually.  When I was younger, I used to find horror movies kinda comforting.  They put things in perspective, I guess.  Whatever was going on with me, at least I wasn't being stalked by the undead!" JenniAnn relayed.

Andrew chuckled.

"Good point.  So let's see...  'Two Storms.'"

"Ooh.  I heard this one was really good," JenniAnn recalled.  "Something about there being one really long take."

"Well... then let's just see about that..."  Andrew smiled at JenniAnn then started the show.


"Wow..." Andrew exclaimed once the episode had ended.

JenniAnn dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.

"Poor Nellie..."

"Poor everyone..."

"Yeah...  That episode felt almost uncomfortably real.  The awkwardness at the visitation... then the skeletons coming out of the closet...  ALL the closets."

"Believe it or not, I've seen more dramatic."  Andrew frowned.

JenniAnn grimaced.

"I bet...  Didn't a lady steal an urn of ashes one time?"

"Oh, it's happened more than once.  And not always ladies."

"Crikey..."  JenniAnn hugged Andrew's arm tightly.  "That was devastating when Steven was trying to be strong and help Luke see Nellie's body... and then it was Steven who fell apart.  Sometimes it worries me that we'll have our eyes on the wrong kid..."

"How do you mean?"

"Just that, ya know, Violeta is so... I mean she wears her heart on her sleeve.  Everyone can tell when she's upset and when she's maybe gonna need help handling something.  But Shel and Max... they're not as easy to read.  I have a feeling Belle will be more like Violeta.  I'm not sure yet about Avi.  But just the idea that we'd be focused on our Luke while our Steven is five seconds away from a meltdown."

"Laja, we're not mind readers.  And God doesn't expect us to be... nor do the kids.  It's not our job to prevent meltdowns.  It's to be there to help them through those meltdowns and their aftermath," Andrew counseled.

"That's a good point...  True.  Still..."

"I know.  It's hard.  We want to protect the kids from pain before it happens... but we just can't."

"Yeah...  Andrew?"


"I... I had a really dark thought while watching that."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Andrew encouraged, wrapping an arm around JenniAnn and kissing her hair.

With a nod, she proceeded.

"As much as I hate thinking of leaving our kids behind... of them being at my funeral... I hate even more the idea of them being at each other's funerals...  But... but they will be.  Unless some freak The Last Battle type of thing happens...  There... there will be five then four then three then two... then one.  Assuming Violeta even sticks around.  I... I wouldn't blame her if she didn't."

Andrew let out a shaky breath.

"I'm sorry...  I said it was dark," JenniAnn apologized.

Andrew nodded.

"I... I just wish I had something to say to that.  But I guess...  I mean they wouldn't be alone, Laja.  There will be spouses and children and cousins and friends and God."

"True..."  JenniAnn opened her mouth to ask a question then stopped herself.

"That part where Hugh was looking at his grown children but seeing them as little kids..."  Andrew shook his head.  "That about did me in."

"Oh, I know!  It made me wonder if he always sees them like that."

"Don't we all... on some level?"

JenniAnn smiled.

"I suppose so.  Even Max.  Sometimes I see that little boy hiding in the store... just wanting to be part of a magical world."

"When you were holding Belle yesterday, I could just see her hair over your shoulder.  And for just a moment... I thought she was a baby again."  Andrew's eyes misted. 

"She was so tiny.  I remember that first night... tucking her under my shirt to warm up.  If I did that now..."

Andrew chuckled.

"It would have to be one stretchy shirt!" 

"Exactly."  Andrew sighed.  "I thought of her when they couldn't find little Nellie.  That's the worst feeling... not knowing where your kid is.  It reminded me of when Belle went missing in the store..."

"Only to find Behnam... which was an incredible blessing.  But those few seconds..."  JenniAnn shuddered.  "Awful."

"Yup...  So what did you think of the ending?"

"There was something kind of beautiful in it... when their arguing got really ugly and Nellie's coffin fell... they all stopped.  They stopped and helped to right her.  Do you think Nellie did it... knocked over her own coffin?"

Andrew nodded.

"I do.  She didn't like seeing her family like that."

"I like that idea.  I mean... this is about ghosts and all.  But I like the idea that sometimes our spirits come back and get to help our loved ones."

"Like you with Violeta when Nen was antagonizing her."  A tear trickled down Andrew's check.  "That was beautiful, too."

"Sweet baby..."  JenniAnn clutched her birthstone cross and rubbed her finger over Violeta's stone.

Andrew kissed her hair.

"So... we done for the night or..."

"It's up to you."

"I actually wouldn't mind continuing.  The next one is called 'Eulogy.'  I'm guessing Nellie's funeral.  Seems like that and the visitation should be watched together."


"Then here we go..."

Andrew resumed the show and let out a contented sigh as JenniAnn settled back into his arms.


JenniAnn blinked a few times and shook her head once the episode ended.

"Poor Hugh...  So are you in agreement that he most definitely did not kill Olivia?"

"Oh yeah.  No way."

"So... do you think she killed herself?  I can't imagine choosing to leave my babies like that..."  JenniAnn bit her lip and blinked back further tears.

Andrew shook his head as he perused the show's main page.

"Three more episodes left...  And, no, I don't.  Not exactly, anyway.  I don't think she chose to commit suicide, I guess is what I'm saying."

"Poor Olivia...  Do you think the black mold is making her crazy?"

"No...  I think it's more than that."


Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"I think the house is possessed in a sense.  And, maybe, in a manner... it possesses her and she does things that she otherwise wouldn't do."

"Oh...  Can that happen?" JenniAnn asked with alarm.


"Well, I mean I know demonic possession happens.  It's in the Gospels.  But like... can ghosts possess people?"

Andrew shrugged.

"I've heard reports... from humans.  Not from God or other angels or anything like that.  I've definitely never seen it.  But within the world of the show... I think it's possible.  And I don't think it has to mean, like, a ghost jumping into someone's body.  Just... getting into their head.  Psychological abuse, maybe, is a better term than possession here."

"Ah.  Gotcha.  That makes sense.  Anyway... to a brighter moment! 
I'm glad Theo had a bit of a breakthrough with her Daddy."

Andrew hugged JenniAnn.

"Me too.  Poor guy.  Someone needs to be on his side.  At least a little."

"Yeah...  And that poem Shirley read was so beautiful...  I want to look the whole thing up tomorrow."  JenniAnn jotted a note down.

"Luke's eulogy..."  Andrew blinked back tears.  "Just think about it is making me well up again."

"Yes...  Even with the forewarning... I had no idea this show was this emotional!" JenniAnn exclaimed. 

"Yeah.  I wasn't fully prepared, either," Andrew agreed.  "Mr. Dudley's story...  To lose a baby..."  He shook his head.

"And him and Mrs. Dudley hearing a baby crying afterwards...  Do... do you think the baby is still in the house?"

"I think it's possible... but, again, just in the world of the show.  Laja, I've never heard of a baby getting stuck.  People with unfinished business... maybe.  But babies?  No."

"Good..."  JenniAnn nuzzled his shoulder.  "Did you notice, though...  He said that was their first baby.  So do they have other children?"

Andrew sat up and cocked his head.

"He did say that!  It slipped right past me until you said that.  Huh...  I hope so!"

"Me too.  Maybe we'll find out more in the next episode.  But for right now..."  JenniAnn raised her arms to stretch and yawned.  "Bedtime?"

"Bedtime," Andrew agreed with a smile.

"I hope the girls will be okay tonight...  'The Bent-Neck Lady' was tough."

"They'll be shaken... but okay.  They have each other."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn kissed Andrew.  "G'night, love."

"G'night, sweet Laja."

After a few moments, JenniAnn fell asleep. 

Andrew, however, struggled to find the same peace.  His gaze flicked around the room.

Willowveil was nothing like Hill House. 

It might have looked like it... once upon a time before a teenaged JenniAnn and her friends had decided to have it painted lavender and sky blue.  Before austere tables had been covered by tie-dyed tablecloths.  Before flowy, lacy curtains had been hung.  Before dusty shelves had been cleaned and filled with the books of Lucy Maud Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Shakespeare and William Wordsworth, Max Lucado and C.S. Lewis. 

It might once have even been said to be haunted... but not by ghosts.  Only by the memories of their old friends... those who had moved on from Dyeland and whose only return was an annual Christmas card placed on the mantle. 

But Willowveil was a second home to Andrew...  A place filled with bright and soothing colors, with sweet, enticing scents, with wonderful memories, with warmth, with love... love he could never have imagined... with family.

And yet...

Andrew screwed his eyes shut against the memory of a different Willowveil... a Willowveil covered with graffiti and cobwebs, mold and moss.  Nen's and Tzila's Willowveil.

JenniAnn sighed in her sleep.

Andrew softly stroked her back.

She was real.  Their room was real.  The castle was real... that other castle was not.

Most of all, God was real. 

Andrew kissed JenniAnn's hair, soaking in the scent of lavender, letting the sensations relax him.

"Thank You," he murmured. 

Soft, familiar humming responded, causing the angel of death to smile.


As he said the beloved name, Andrew's eye lids grew heavy and, soon, he was asleep.



Friday, April 3rd, 2020

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, the Willowveil and McCallum households gathered in the yard between Andrew's workshop and the castle.  Soon, a lone figure joined them.

"Fr. Mike!!!" JenniAnn exclaimed as she ran to her old friend.

The priest caught her in his embrace and laughed.

"JenniAnn!  So good to see you!  So good."  He smiled at those gathered around in the yard between Andrew's workshop and Willowveil.  "So good to see all of you!"

"Hey, Fr. Mike."  Kemara approached and hugged him.

"Kemara... how are you doing?" he asked, his tone gentle and sympathetic.

Kemara shrugged.

"Some days are better than others.  But it's good to be among friends."

"That it is," Fr. Mike heartily agreed.  He waved towards Ilios.  "My parents are coming along with some friends...  Dad's hay wagon doesn't go as fast as my horse, naturally."

Andrew clapped the priest on the back.

"I'm so grateful for all the help.  Thank you!  If you want, you can lead Ignatius over to the stable where he'll have company.  And apples."

"Will do.  Thanks!" 

"Any word on Isolde and Marco?" Rose asked.

JenniAnn shook her head.

"Not since last night.  Isolde was still feeling kinda nervous... but I think Marco is feeling stir crazy so... we'll see!"

"I can imagine this is especially hard when you've lived through other epidemics... and nearly lost your husband to one."  Ivy squeezed Sy's hand.

"Yeah...  My heart really broke for her.  I could tell she misses everyone but she said that God had already given her and Marco more time together than most anyone ever gets.  Like she thinks they've over-stayed their welcome our something..."  JenniAnn shook her head.

Max grimaced.

"I hope they do come.  That doesn't sound like Isolde..."

"I know," JenniAnn agreed.  "It worried me."

"Worry no more."  Andrew clasped JenniAnn's shoulders and turned her in the direction of the Mystical Mountains. 

Marco and Isolde were approaching, with Bram in the latter's arms.

"Oh good...  C'mon, let's go greet them," JenniAnn suggested.

Andrew nodded, took her hand, and headed towards the couple.  He halted when they were several feet away from the Crocettis.

"Stop, Laja.  In case they want space."

"Oh.  Right..."

To Andrew's and JenniAnn's relief, Isolde and Marco came near.

"Andrew!  JenniAnn!  So great to see you both!"  Marco hugged them.

"You too!  And look at you!"  Andrew smiled at the baby.

"Oh my gosh...  He's changed so much since last we saw him!" JenniAnn shook her head in amazement.

Isolde beamed.

"He's such a good little fellow and yes... he's getting so big."  She handed her son to his father then embraced Andrew and then JenniAnn.

"I'm so glad you're here," JenniAnn murmured.

"Me too.  I... I was nervous.  But Marco reminded me that no one's left in weeks... except Andrew who can't catch it.  And that my mental health was also important...  I'd started to name the appliances."

"Aww!"  JenniAnn squeezed her hand.  "Well, you're among friends now.  Let's head over to the others.  If you'd feel more comfortable, we can put you at a station a bit off from..."

"No," Isolde interrupted.  "We're okay.  Really.  I just want to be around people again..."

"We totally get that," Andrew assured.  "Did you eat?  We have some leftovers from breakfast if..."

"I'm fine.  Thanks, though!" Marco replied.  "Isolde?  You didn't eat much this morning."

"I spose I was a wee bit nervous.  But I'm fine."

"Well, just holler if you get hungry.  And we have some granola bars and popcorn and stuff like that sitting out.  Stuff we'd stocked up on for Bible studies so..."  JenniAnn sighed.

"It's been nice to see everyone, at least.  Much nicer than just writing letters that take weeks to arrive... if they even do."  Marco shrugged.  "Just looking for the bright side, I guess."

"As we all should," Andrew encouraged.  "Technology can be a great, great thing."

"Amen to that," Isolde agreed.  "So did many people..." 

Her voice drifted off when they approached Willowveil and saw that the Asterians had arrived, at least a dozen of them.

"Top of the morning to you!" Lewellyn greeted.

"Wow..."  Andrew gaped.  "I had no idea..."

"So many people wanted to come lend a hand," Sibyll replied.  "More than we could fit in the wagon even.  So we'll do daily rotations.  If you do need more help, Lewellyn can make another trip."

"Oh no..."  Andrew shook his head.  "This is more than fine.  I'm so..."  His eyes welled.  "This really means a lot."

Sibyll hugged him.

"Mike was concerned about you.  It's a lot to take on... physically, yes.  But more emotionally.  You should have friends and family with you."

JenniAnn rubbed Andrew's back.

"I couldn't have said it better myself."

"Well, I feel truly and completely blessed."  Andrew beamed.

"Good.  Now...  Why don't you say a few words so everyone knows how this is going?" JenniAnn prompted.

"Yeah.  Sure."  Andrew moved to the steps of his workshop and spoke loudly.  "Thank you, so much, to all of you for coming.  This truly, truly means a lot to me and I know it'll mean so much to Sylvester and, more importantly, to his clients.  Personally, I just love seeing all of you together...  It's been too long.  And I... I know we're missing lots of people.  But I also know they're with us in spirit."

The crowd applauded in agreement.

"Thank you.  So... a few ground rules."  Andrew mimed quote marks.  "The building stations are closest to the workshop.  The sanding stations are just to the side.  And the painting and stenciling stations are closest to Willowveil.  We'll need a little bit of time to get to the latter so feel free to experiment with the cardstock and remnants of wood while you wait.  Snacks and a cooler are right in the middle there.  Take breaks as you need to.  Don't worry about it.  And if you just need to go for a walk or visit the chapel or whatever to reflect... please do that.  We have some sack lunches for noon... but also know you can go home if you'd prefer.  After lunch, I'm doing a grocery run.  If you need me to pick anything up, let me know.  Umm...  Oh, we have a first aid kit in each area.  Hopefully we don't need them!  And just remember... have a good time being together.  This doesn't need to be somber and sad.  But also... it's okay to feel whatever you feel.  Anyway...  I asked Fr. Mike to lead us in a prayer so...  Fr. Mike, please."

The priest joined Andrew on the steps and made the sign of the cross.

"Dear Father... Joshua... we ask You to send Your Spirit to work among us, to guide our hands in this important work.  Help us to enjoy each other's company and this beautiful weather.  We pray also for our friends who can't be here... may You guard them against loneliness, against boredom, against despair.  We know that while we may be separated by distance, we remain joined together by Your love and our love for each other.  Finally, we lift up to You those who are sick, those who are mourning, those who are burnt-out, those who are anxious.  May they draw strength from Your peace and love.  Amen."

"Amen," the others echoed.

Andrew and Fr. Mike hugged.

"Thank you, Fr. Mike.  And now..."  Andrew smiled at the crowd.  "Here we go."

The group cheered and began their work.


Two hours later, JenniAnn was painting when Shelby and Violeta joined her.

"Hey there!  Taking a break from sanding?"

Violeta nodded. 

"We got ahead of the builders so thought we'd join you.  Also... we wanted to talk about the show."

"Ah...  You watched 'The Bent-Neck Lady' last night?"

Both girls nodded.

"What did you think?"

"It was... sad," Violeta replied.  "Poor Nellie...  She was so scared of something... that ended up being her."

JenniAnn patted her hand.

"It was pretty chilling," she agreed.

"I felt kinda bad for Steven," Shelby shared.  "I mean he obviously made a mistake with the book.  But when Nellie was so mad at him in front of all those people...  I thought about how it would feel if Belle was ever really, really mad at me.  And then if I couldn't make it up to her..."

JenniAnn set down her brush and hugged the teenager whose eyes had filled.

"Aww, sweetie...  I can't imagine that ever happening.  Steven was pretty disrespectful in not going over the book with his siblings before he sold it.  You would never do that."

"No... never."

"If... if..."  Violeta's eyes welled. 

JenniAnn motioned for Violeta to sit then wrapped an arm around her.

"If what, honey?"

"If something... did happen to you... are you sure..."  The angel lowered her voice.  "Are you sure your parents wouldn't try to take Belle and Avi?  I feel like their aunt took them away from Hugh..."

"Oh Violeta..."  JenniAnn kissed her hair.  "They go into that a bit more in the next episode but I'm still not sure that's even what really happened on the show.  I think Hugh was just so shaken by what happened with Olivia that he thought the kids were better off with their aunt.  I don't think she necessarily took custody away from him.  And if something did happen to me...  Andrew would keep it together a lot better.  He wouldn't want you kids to be separated.  And, besides, I don't think my parents would do that.  Even if they did, I don't think they'd have a legal leg to stand on.  Further... they know this is the safest place for Avi."

Violeta visibly relaxed.

"That's true...  And it's not that I think they're awful people.  But... their aunt's probably not awful, either."

"No.  She doesn't seem so.  It was just a really bad situation... a situation we're not gonna ever face.  We don't live in a ghost-infested house.  And even if we did...  I would have faith that Joshua was with me.  And he's much, much stronger than all ghosts ever combined.  Right?"

Violeta and Shelby both responded with eager nods.

JenniAnn hugged them both.

"Are you still glad you decided to watch or..."

Shelby nodded eagerly.

"I am!  I love the style of storytelling they're using... jumping back and forth between timelines.  And the acting is awesome!"

"Agreed."  JenniAnn directed her attention to Violeta.  "And you?"

Violeta bit her lip.

"I think so...  I mean... I agree with what Shel said.  But... I guess I thought it would be more... fun.  I mean even when there's a jump scare... you learn more and then it just ends up being sad."

Troubled, JenniAnn took one of Violeta's hands in hers.

"Do you think maybe you should stop watching?  I mean remember... this isn't an assignment.  This is just something Miguel..."

"But I don't wanna be left out!  Even Ivy and Sy are watching it."

"Really?  I didn't know that."

Violeta nodded.

"I think they might have even finished.  And Ivy told me to just stick with it.  She said I'd probably feel better about it at the end.  And she's probably right.  I don't want to leave the Crains where they are now...  grieving and angry and divided."

"That makes sense," JenniAnn responded.  "But... I wouldn't mind asking Ivy and Sy a few questions so... if you girls would excuse me for just a bit."


"Yeah, okay."

JenniAnn smiled at both girls then headed towards the construction area where Ivy and Sy were working together.  They both stopped when they saw JenniAnn approaching.

"Hey!  How goes the painting?" Ivy asked.

"Really good, thanks.  How about things over here?"  JenniAnn ran her hand over a corner of the coffin they were working on.  "These edges are so smooth...  Great job!"

Sy chuckled.

"Yeah...  It took a couple tries for me to get back into the swing of it.  Andrew had to shave down a couple corners on our first two."

"I'm sure he didn't mind."  JenniAnn glanced over at the angel of death who was working feverishly.  She made a mental note to offer him a massage that evening.  "Hey so Violeta mentioned that you're also watching Hill House..."

With a laugh, Ivy nodded.

"Well... kinda.  We were watching."

"You stopped?"

"Nope.  We binged it.  We've finished it... at least for the first time," Sy explained.

JenniAnn balked.


"Yep.  We were thinking of starting it again tonight.  There's so many little things we missed!  Like did you know there are ghosts lurking in the background of many shots?" Ivy asked.  "I mean the super obvious ones, of course.  Like the old lady on the bed or the man in the hat.  But less obvious ones, too.  Lots of them."

"No...  I didn't know that."

"And they wrote backstories for a bunch of them!" Sy enthused. 

"So... you enjoyed the show?  You didn't get depressed or anything?" JenniAnn questioned.  "I'm just asking cause I'm not sure about Violeta..."

Ivy gazed across the lawn at her friend.

"It is a hard watch... but I think it would be better if she'd stick with it as opposed to stopping.  I don't want to give too much away but... the end reminds me of C.S. Lewis of all things."

"Really!"  JenniAnn laughed.  "Was not expecting that..."

"I mean it's not all sunshine and roses," Ivy clarified.  "But it's definitely a satisfying ending.  I mean... I cried buckets."

"She wasn't alone in that," Sy interjected.

"But it was a good sort of cry," Ivy explained.  "What episode are Violeta and Shelby on?"

"Just finished 'The Bent-Neck Lady.'  Now they can go onto 'Two Storms.'  Nellie's visitation.  And 'Eulogy.'"

Ivy grimaced.

"Ugh.  Then, yeah, she needs to keep watching.  Because that would be a really troubling place to stop."

"Andrew and I watched 'Eulogy' last night.  That didn't feel a whole lot better..."  JenniAnn smiled.  "But I trust your judgments."

Ivy hugged her.

"Violeta will be okay.  Really.  I'm actually..."

"Actually what?" JenniAnn pressed after Ivy drifted off.

Ivy looked over at Sy who shrugged.

"Well...  It's just that after we finished it...  We were actually kind of concerned about Andrew watching it."

"Andrew?"  JenniAnn again looked over at him.

"It's just, umm..."  Ivy sighed.

"Hugh has to make a decision that we think kind of mirrors a decision Andrew is going to have to make.  Eventually.  Hopefully not for a long, long time," Sy stressed.

JenniAnn began to spin her claddagh ring anxiously.


"But... you know... maybe that'll be a good thing for you both to talk about now," Ivy suggested.  "Before it's... a real thing."

"Now I'm curious..."  JenniAnn studied Andrew for a few minutes.  "Hugh does remind me of him in some ways...  The way he keeps saying 'I can fix this...'  Andrew's gotten better about it.  Joshua being around helped immensely.  But...  He still has that in him.  I mean just the way he's handling this quarantine..."

"The shower is, uh, interesting."  Sy gestured towards the makeshift structure.

"I know..."  JenniAnn sighed.  "I've been reading some articles and such and even a lot of frontline workers are just taking off their shoes when they get home and then taking a shower... in their home.  And they're much more apt to carry it than Andrew but..."

"There's no harm in it," Sy stressed.  "If it makes him feel better..."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn smiled at the couple.  "Anyway, I better get back to Shel and Violeta.  But thanks for the chat."

"Sure thing!"  Ivy hugged JenniAnn again.  "Don't hesitate to ask us if we can help answer any more questions."

"And let us know when you're finished!" Sy added.  "We'd love to chat."

"Will do!  You two staying for lunch?"

Ivy and Sy nodded.

"Good!  We'll chat more then!" 

With a wave, JenniAnn left the two and returned to Violeta and Shelby.  To her relief, both girls were calmly painting and chatting about the sheep.

"And then Silly tried to hide.  I think sometimes he gets tired of being a Daddy."

Shelby laughed.

"Well, then he could stop, ya know, doing what he does with Mary..."

"I told him that but... he's a sheep.  I don't think he understands."

Smiling, JenniAnn sat down and joined them in painting and getting the latest details on the ovine soap opera.


After lunch, Andrew made his way to Omaha to get groceries.  Despite the large number of items he had to obtain, the trip itself went relatively quickly thanks to JenniAnn's ability to order his list based on the blueprint of the store.  But there was one item she hadn't put on the list...

Andrew stared at the shelves in the wellness section.  He looked at the note Rose had given him for direction.  Scanning the items, he seized upon the test she wanted.  After a moment's hesitation, he grabbed two more.

"Just in case..." he murmured to himself.

Following a final run to stock up on ice cream, Andrew wheeled his brimming cart to a register where a grinning attendant awaited him.

"Wow!  People have been stocking up but I think that's the fullest cart I've seen!" she exclaimed.

Blushing, Andrew smiled at her.

"Yeah...  Technically, I'm shopping for six households."

The cashier's smile faded.

"Wow...  That many people have pre-existing conditions?  Sorry...  I shouldn't have asked."

Andrew shrugged as she began to ring up his groceries.

"It's okay.  And not really.  Just a couple but we're all staying together during this.  So it just seemed safer to send one person out.  Believe it or not, I'm actually picking up more at a second location.  We didn't want to take too much from any one store so there wasn't enough left for someone else."

"Aww...  I'm afraid not many people are thinking like that."

"It's easier for me to get out than some."

"So, if you don't mind my asking, who all have ya got staying with you?"

Andrew grinned.

"This could take a while...  There's my partner and our kids.  Our adult son and his family..."

The cashier's eyes widened.

"No way...  You don't have an adult son."

The angel chuckled.

"I do.  And a grandson.  I'm older than I look.  Anyway... we've also got my partner's parents."

"That... could be interesting."

"It's been fine.  Mostly.  I also picked up some things for some elderly friends.  And another couple families nearby who can't get out.  And assorted family friends hunkering down with us."

"And, umm, maybe more on the way?"

Andrew smiled as the pregnancy tests were run up.

"Yeah.  Maybe.  My daughter-in-law thinks she might be expecting."

"Aww!  Such a good dad to pick up pregnancy tests.  You know, one's usually pretty reliable."

Andrew nodded.

"I thought I'd stock up.  Friends might need them.  Or, you know, this one might be negative but down the road..."

"True!  I'm kinda hoping for a Corona baby bump."

"It would definitely give us a much-needed silver lining," Andrew agreed.  "Have things calmed down around here since the first couple of weeks?  I'm Andrew, by the way."

"Jill!  Hi!  And... yeah.  I mean kinda.  It was total pandemonium at first.  We seriously didn't have a single roll of toiler paper.  We're still busier than usual.  Probably just more people needing groceries since kids are home and they're not going to restaurants.  But nothing like that first week..."

"Well, thank you for being here.  And for the chat."

"Hey, you too!"  Jill beamed at Andrew as she ran up the final items.  "And good luck to your DIL with the test, Grandpa."

Andrew chuckled as he lifted his bags into the cart.

"Thanks!  Have a good day, Jill.  Stay safe."

"You too, Andrew!"

After a final wave, Andrew made his way to the Jolly Green, still smiling.  He loaded up the groceries and returned the cart.  Once he was seated, he found himself reluctant to leave.

For a few minutes, things had seemed pleasantly normal.  Now... after a quick pick-up of more groceries... he would return home... where he and his friends were building coffins.

Andrew took in and let out a few deep breaths.

"Be with me," he prayed. 

Then, after another few moments of stillness, Andrew started up the van and headed to his next stop.


Once Andrew was back in Dyeland, a team of helpers worked on divvying up the groceries while he showered.  After he was done, he retrieved one small package that he'd stashed behind some bushes and made his way to Rose's and Max's bedroom where the former was watching over a napping Landon.

Rose jumped up as soon as she saw the angel in the doorway.

"Hey," she greeted.

"Hey."  Andrew smiled and set the small paper bag on a nearby chair.  "I bought three.  Just in case...  You can keep the other two on hand in case you need them.  Or someone else might."

"Aww, thanks."  Rose hugged Andrew.  "Max is in sessions until 5:00...  I'll take one then.  I don't want to have to wait to tell him... and I don't want to distract him either."

"I totally understand." 

"We'll let you and JenniAnn know as soon as possible.  I... I really do appreciate this, Andrew.  And I really...  I'm grateful that you and JenniAnn agreed to let us stay here.  Whatever the outcome of the test... I'm just really glad we're surrounded by family."

"Absolutely!  We love having the three of you here!"  Andrew smiled when Rose yawned.  "Maybe you should join Landon in taking a nap?" he suggested.

With a sleepy smile, Rose nodded.

"I think I'll do that.  You headed back outside?"


"Okay.  Just don't push yourself."

Andrew chuckled.

"You sound like JenniAnn."

"Good.  Then you get to hear it in stereo."  Rose hugged him.  "See you soon."

"See you soon."

With a wave, Andrew left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.  He made his way to the backyard where the construction, sanding, and painting had continued.

"Hey, Andrew!" Fr. Mike greeted.  "Come see!  We have seven completely finished, three being painted, and three more in the works."

"Wow...  You all made a lot of progress in two hours."  Andrew rested a hand on a completed coffin.  "Thank you all."

"Thank you for including us!" Nico responded.  "It feels good to give back."

"Also..."  JenniAnn approached and tucked her arm through Andrew's.  "I spoke to Vincent while you were gone.  He's agreed that if we just get them through the portal, he'll have a team take them through the Tunnels and to Sylvester's basement.  Starting tomorrow.  However many times they're needed."

Andrew kissed her hair.

"That's great... that's really, really great.  Thank you for arranging that.  And now... I'm gonna get back to work."

Andrew smiled at the trio and headed towards the construction area.

"He looks tired," JenniAnn murmured.

Fr. Mike patted her shoulder. 

"He's got a lot on his mind.  My group needs to head back in a couple of hours."  He checked his watch.  "Maybe more like an hour and a half.  That'll be a good cue for everyone to stop."

"Yeah," JenniAnn agreed.

"I'll keep an eye on him," Nico volunteered.

"Thanks."  JenniAnn sighed.  "Guess I'll get back to painting."

The three parted and returned to their stations, each one of them keeping an eye on Andrew.


Around 4:30, Andrew's crew dispersed with everyone promising to return the following day.  As Andrew gathered some fresh clothes and prepared for his second shower of the day, JenniAnn watched him closely.

"You look really stiff," she observed.  "Would you like a massage after your shower?"

Andrew smiled gratefully.

"I would.  Thank you.  But maybe not right after.  I want to talk to Max once he's done and... I'd rather not cut my massage so short."

"I'd rather not cut it short, either," JenniAnn agreed.  "And... I told the girls we'd probably want to take tonight off from the show.  Get some extra... rest."

Andrew smiled at the way she said the final word.

"Thank you.  That sounds really good.  And now... I'm going to go get cleaned up."

"Me too.  See ya in a bit."

"Happily."  Andrew pecked JenniAnn on the cheek then headed to his old room to shower.  As he passed Max's and Rose's door, he smiled and hoped that, very soon, they'd have good news to celebrate.


Shortly after 5:00, there was a knock on Andrew's and JenniAnn's door.  JenniAnn, who had been brushing her hair, looked up curiously when Andrew ushered Max and Rose in and closed the door.  She cocked her head when she noticed the picnic basket in Max's hand.

"Aww, are you two gonna have a picnic dinner?  Would you like us to watch Landon?" she offered.

Grinning, Max shook his head.

"No.  Your mom has him right now.  And this isn't a picnic.  It's..."  He unloaded a bottle of champagne and another of sparkling grape juice along with four flutes.  "A celebration."

Andrew beamed at Rose who nodded.

"A celebration?  Of what?" JenniAnn asked.  "And thanks for remembering that I can't drink with nursing Avi."

"I absolutely had that in mind," Max affirmed.  "But..."

"You're not the only one who can't have alcohol right now," Rose informed with a giggle.

JenniAnn looked from Rose's face to Max's to Andrew's. 

Rose gently patted her belly.

"A baby!" JenniAnn exclaimed.  "You're pregnant!"

"Yep!"  Rose hugged her mother-in-law.  "And we know thanks to Gampy."

JenniAnn peered at Andrew over Max's shoulder as they hugged.

"You knew!"

Andrew chuckled.

"I had reason to suspect.  Rose asked me to pick up a pregnancy test today."

"He brought back three... just in case."  Rose hugged the angel. 

"I'm so thrilled for both of you!  And for Landon!  And for us!" Andrew cheered.  "But, most of all, for the little one.  They're getting amazing, loving parents."

"Thanks, Dad."  Max embraced him.  "And wonderful grandparents, too."  He sighed happily.  "This is a much needed silver lining."  He poured the drinks and passed them out.  "To Baby Remus," he toasted.

"To Baby Remus!" the other three echoed.

"And to his beautiful mommy," Max added.

"To Rose!" Andrew and JenniAnn cheered.

"And to his awesome daddy."  Rose kissed Max's cheek.

"To Max!"

The quartet exchanged more hugs and sipped their drinks before focusing on more practical affairs.

"We'd really appreciate it if you'd keep this to yourselves at least until after my first prenatal appointment," Rose requested.

"Absolutely," JenniAnn agreed as Andrew nodded.

"And... we need to figure out how we're going to do those," Max added.

"I can talk to Reuel if you'd like," Andrew offered.  "I'd have to tell him someone was pregnant, though."

"We appreciate that," Rose replied.  "And we'll definitely go that route if we have to.  But... we were thinking of looking into someone in Omaha.  Ideally, I'd like to deliver the baby in New York... if things are under control by then.  And it would just make things easier if all my records were, ya know, from Earth."

"Good point."  JenniAnn rested a hand on Andrew's back.  "I know Portia will do anything she can to help, too.  But... she doesn't have access to an ultrasound Below.  You'd still have to go Above for that and Omaha is much safer than New York right now."

"We'd be willing to move back to our place if..."

Andrew shook his head before Max could finish his sentence.

"No, no.  You don't have to do that.  I didn't want people coming and going when they didn't really have to.  But medical care is a completely different story."

"Exactly," JenniAnn agreed.  "Of course you can stay here."

"Even though the jury's still out on them, I'm totally gonna wear a mask," Rose promised.  "And Max will, too.  If he goes with me."

Max nodded.

Andrew smiled reassuringly at them both.

"I'm sure you'll both be very responsible."

"Definitely!  And we'll take showers before coming inside!" Max vowed.

Andrew grimaced.

"Not sure I want Rose out in that..."

JenniAnn laughed and hugged him.

"How chivalrous.  It is a bit... makeshift.  Rose, you can shower at my parents'.  They won't mind.  And it's sitting vacant except for Andrew's brief appearances there so...  Actually, Andrew, why haven't you been doing that?"

The angel of death blushed.

"The thought somehow never came to me..."

JenniAnn hugged him.

"It's okay!  I watched you build the shower out back and it never occurred to me either.  Minds are just a bit fuzzy now is all...  But..."  She beamed at the younger couple.  "We'll have better things to focus on now.  This is such good news!  Another lil grandbaby.  Ya know... I was secretly hoping quarantine might bring us another little one!"

Andrew chuckled.

"Secretly except to me..." he clarified.

Max smiled proudly and looped an arm around Rose's waist.

"Well, I'm glad we came through for you, Maja."

"Me too!"  JenniAnn turned her attention to Rose.  "And how have you been feeling?  Do you need anything?"

"Oh, I'm just fine.  A little more tired than usual but that's it... and that could just be the general way of things right now," Rose explained.  "Otherwise, I've been feeling really good."

"Well, you take it easy when you need to," Andrew counseled.  "And don't feel like you need to keep helping with sanding or painting or anything."

"That's what I said," Max piped up.

Rose rolled her eyes but smiled.

"I'm pregnant... not made of glass.  Sitting on a bench and painting is fine.  Especially when it means catching up with people."  She rested a hand on Andrew's arm.  "I really had a nice time today."

JenniAnn nodded.

"I did, too.  It was so nice to be around so many people again.  And this..."  She waved her champagne flute towards Rose and Max.  "This is the perfect way to cap off our first day."

"Absolutely!" Andrew agreed. 

Another round of hugs started up after which conversation turned to Max's and Rose's plans for preparing for the arrival of their little one.


In spite of his weariness, Andrew was still in a celebratory mood that evening when he and JenniAnn had retired to their room.  At his request, they spent some time dancing before JenniAnn coaxed him to their bed.  He removed his shirt, sat down, and watched dreamily as she lit candles, turned on some soft, relaxing music, and set out her assorted oils and balms.

"Anywhere I should focus on?" JenniAnn asked.

"Mmm... Shoulders and lower back, please."

"Kay.  Remember to keep sipping your water."

"Will do."

JenniAnn set to work kneading his shoulders.

"They're like rocks..." she observed.

"Probably should have stretched more this morning."

"Remember tomorrow.  Okay?"

Andrew nodded, reached back, and squeezed JenniAnn's hand.

"Will do."

"And I think we should all take Sunday off... not because I think God would be mad about us working on something like that on the Sabbath.  I just think it would be a good idea."

"I agree.  Unless..."

"Unless Sylvester really, really needs us to."

Andrew nodded.

"When I called him earlier to say we had fifteen ready to move tomorrow, he was thrilled.  He didn't seem desperate for more so... I think that's fine."


Andrew groaned softly.

"Sorry," JenniAnn apologized.

"No... it's fine.  It feels better after that initial throb."


After a few more minutes, JenniAnn moved away.

"Now why don't you get comfy on your stomach so I can get to your back?"

"Laja, aren't your hands getting tired?"

"They're fine," JenniAnn insisted.  "Besides, you can give me a hand massage after."

Andrew smiled.

"Will do.  Happily."

He got comfortable on his stomach.

"Laja..." he sighed as she got to work.

"Feel good?"

"Mmm hmm..."


"I think I owe you more than a hand massage..."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Hey now, this isn't all about you.  I get something out of it, too.  And not just the whole skin-to-skin contact thing.  It's nice going to bed and smelling sandalwood and verbena and patchouli."

"This is true...  So did you have any idea about Rose?"

"Nope!  I really, really was hoping.  But nothing had made me suspect.  And, I mean, she is still really early on in her pregnancy.  I did feel like you were maybe holding something back.  But I thought it was just worries.  This is much nicer!"


"I am a lil bit concerned...  I just hope there won't be any health care disruptions."

"I hope so, too.  But even if there were, we have Portia.  There are a couple of midwives among the Asterians.  It wouldn't be ideal.  But it's something."


"And I really do think Reuel would make an exception in this case."

"Also true."

Andrew chuckled.

"I can't believe you're gonna be a grandma twice over, Laja."

"And you certainly don't look like you should be a grandpa twice over but... we all know your looks are deceiving," JenniAnn teased before kissing Andrew's hair.

The angel smiled.

"We've come a long, long way."

"Yep...  I can remember the first time I kissed your hair.  It seemed like a thrilling... slightly illicit... thing."

Andrew rolled onto his back and smiled up at JenniAnn who wiped off her hands.

"I wonder what the Laja of then would have made of this?"

"Probably woulda fainted dead away," JenniAnn murmured.

Andrew reached up and buried a hand in her hair.

JenniAnn sunk down and kissed him.

Andrew's hands glided through her hair as he returned her kiss.

Sighing, JenniAnn nuzzled his chest.

"Your hands..." Andrew reminded.

JenniAnn looked up and shook her head.

"Just wanna lay here like this right now."


Andrew wrapped an arm around her and kissed her forehead.

"I love you, Laja," he whispered. 

"I love you, too.  And all of this..."  JenniAnn's voice drifted off.

"All of this?" Andrew prompted.

"All of this staying home... working together... being together almost all of the time... I thought...  It's not that I thought we'd get sick of each other but..."

"I could never get sick of you," Andrew insisted.

"And I couldn't get sick of you!  But I thought maybe I'd... calm down?  I mean I guess it's only been three weeks but... I still get excited that we get to fall asleep together every single night and wake up together and..."

"Laja..."  Tears filled the angel's eyes as they kissed.

"Closer..." JenniAnn encouraged.

Andrew gently lowered the straps of her nightgown and kissed her right shoulder.  He was just about to do the same with her left shoulder when there was a soft knock on their door.

JenniAnn groaned.

The knocking persisted. 

Andrew let out a sigh and began to look for his shirt.

"Be right there," JenniAnn called as loudly as she dared with Avi sleeping in the nursery.

"It's me.  We need to talk."

JenniAnn stared at Andrew.  She'd been expecting a kid... not her mother.  And she didn't sound panicked... more irritated.

"But it's 10:37," she spat out after looking at the bedside clock.

Andrew shrugged. 

"I dunno..."  He headed towards the door then turned around.  "Laja...  Your strap."

Frustrated, JenniAnn pulled her nightgown strap back into place.

Andrew opened the door.

"Hey, Allison.  What's going on?  It's almost..."

"I'm going to kill your father!" the woman spat out as she walked past Andrew and into the bedroom.

JenniAnn's eyes went wide.

Andrew laughed uneasily.

"Please don't."

Allison turned around to face Andrew.

"You're not going to be too pleased with him either!  I overheard him talking to Dave... about meeting up on Monday!"

"Dave?" Andrew repeated.

"A friend from his work," JenniAnn explained.  She got out of bed and put on her robe.  "And if he really feels he needs to... I guess we can't stop him.  But then he has to isolate at your place for two weeks.  But are you sure he really..."

"Yes!" Allison insisted.  "They'd been going back and forth about some project and I could tell things were getting strained but... it's not worth dying for!  And their office is closed!  They can't even go there!"

"Maybe we should check with Robert," Andrew suggested. 

"Can't it wait until tomorrow?" JenniAnn requested.  "It's not like he's trying to leave now."

"It's the principle of it!" Allison cried, tears trailing down her cheeks.  "He'd rather risk us all than inconvenience himself and..."

"I'm going to go check with Robert," Andrew declared, deciding it would be the quickest way to resolve the issue.

"I'll go with you," JenniAnn offered.  "Just gonna check on Avi really quick..."

"Me too."

Andrew joined JenniAnn in the nursery.  They peeked in on their contentedly sleeping baby boy then stared at each other.

"Ugh..."  JenniAnn leaned into Andrew and spoke, her voice hushed.  "Not how I wanted tonight to go..."

"I know, Laja...  Me neither.  But let's just get to the bottom of this."


Hand-in-hand, the two rejoined Allison and made their way to the guest room the Chandlers were using.

When they appeared, Robert gaped at Andrew and JenniAnn then looked to his wife.

"Allison!  Did you get them up?  It's almost 11 o'clock!"

"We were up, Dad," JenniAnn replied, blushing slightly as she recalled what she and Andrew had been up to.

Andrew soothingly stroked her back.

"Still..."  Robert shook his head.  "I'm not going!  I'll tell Dave never mind tomorrow."

"You should never have offered in the first place!" Allison yelled.

"I wasn't thinking, okay?  I was stressed and I wasn't thinking and I'm sorry.  I don't know why you felt the need to drag our daughter and Andrew into this," Robert retorted. 

"Well start thinking!" Allison snapped. 

Robert gritted his teeth and shook his head. 

"There is nothing to be accomplished by furthering this discussion.  Andrew, JenniAnn, I'm sorry you were bothered.  It's fine.  Please go back to bed.  I'm going for a walk."

Allison gawked.

"You're not lea..."

"Of course I'm not leaving!" Robert interrupted.  "I'm just going for a walk outside.  To cool my head."

Andrew nodded.

"That sounds like a good idea.  Enjoy."

"Thank you."

Robert forced a smile for Andrew and JenniAnn, who he patted on the shoulder, then left the room.

"To think that for even a moment he thought..." Allison fumed.

"It's over now, Mom.  He's not going any where," JenniAnn assured.

"Can I get you anything, Allison?" Andrew offered.  "Maybe a cup of tea?"

Allison smiled sadly and patted Andrew's arm.

"Such a good boy.  No, I'm okay."

JenniAnn snuck a wide-eyed look at Andrew who stifled a chuckle.

"I'm sorry I got you both up.  I'm okay now.  You should go back to bed.  I'm sorry...  I just..."  Allison shook her head then kissed JenniAnn's cheek.  "Good night, baby."  She squeezed Andrew's hand.  "G'night, Andrew."

"G'night, Mom."

"Good night, Allison."

"See you in the morning," JenniAnn called as she stepped into the hallway with Andrew.  "Love you."

"Love you, too!"

Allison smiled once more then shut her door.

Andrew steered a slightly dazed JenniAnn towards the stairs.

"I'm a good boy," he declared once they'd reached the landing, hoping to elicit a laugh.

JenniAnn smiled and shook her head.

"That seemed a lil... condescending.  Geez, Mom..."

Andrew shrugged.

"I'd rather she see me as a boy than fixate on our very extreme age difference."

"True enough..."  JenniAnn sighed.  "Just... ugh..."

Andrew brought her hand to his lips.  He wasn't sure what to say.  Yes, things were bound to get tense when people were stressed.  But he was beginning to suspect there was more to Allison's and Robert's problems than that...

The two returned to their room and their bed.

"So you wanna... get back to canoodling?" Andrew asked, his eye brows waggling as JenniAnn slipped into bed.  He just wanted her to be happy again...

"I...  Honestly, I'm just exhausted.  I really just...  It's not that..."  JenniAnn bit her lip and looked away.

Andrew's expression immediately changed to one of concern.

"Hey...  Hey, it's okay.  Laja...  You don't need an excuse.  You never need an excuse.  Sometimes it's just not the right time.  And that's okay."

JenniAnn stared at her claddagh ring and twirled it.

"I just feel bad...  Because I totally was all for it and... it... it was frustrating to stop but... after whatever that was with my parents..." 

"Nope!  Gonna stop you right there."  Andrew took her hand and kissed it.  "I can go without canoodling.  But to think you did something you didn't want to do just because you thought it was what I wanted...  Laja, that would kill me.  Well, not kill me.  I mean... I'm an immortal..."

JenniAnn giggled.

"But it would hurt.  A lot.  Because it would be wrong."

"Love..."  JenniAnn brought Andrew's hand to her lips.  "Thanks."

"You don't need to thank me for common decency, Laja.  But... what do you want to do?  Do you want to talk about what just happened?  Do you want that massage?  Just sleep?  Do you want to be alone for a while?"

"I definitely don't want to be alone.  And... I'm not sure if I want to talk or not."

"Well...  What if I read aloud for a little while?  Give you time to decide?"

JenniAnn smiled and nodded.

"I'd like that.  Thanks."

"Any requests?" 

"Your choice."

"All right..."  Andrew rose to retrieve a well-worn book. 

JenniAnn smiled.


"Wordsworth," Andrew repeated with fondness. 

Once he'd settled back down into bed, JenniAnn rested her head in the crook of his arm and began to softly stroke his chest.

Andrew proceeded to read.

"'There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.'"

The angel frowned, worried the melancholic nature of the words might further distress JenniAnn.  But no... her eyes were closed and she looked peaceful.

"'The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.'"

"My rainbow... my rose," Andrew murmured as he brushed his lips against JenniAnn's hair.  She smiled dreamily.

"'Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
And while the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief:
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
And I again am strong.'"

Andrew continued to read the entire poem, continuing even once he knew JenniAnn was asleep.  When he had finished, he closed the book and set it on his bedstand.  Then, closing his eyes, he prayed silently.

"God...  Father... Joshua... Spirit...  Please help me to understand what's going on with Allison and Robert.  I don't want JenniAnn to be upset or hurt.  I don't want them to be upset or hurt either but... especially not her.  And I don't want the kids having any idea about any of this.  Please, grant them Your patience and love.  Grant me the wisdom to know how I can help.  And please... continue to keep us all safe, all healthy.  Enable us to help others, together."

His eye lids growing heavy, Andrew began to praise God for everything he was grateful for.

The beautiful weather they'd had.

His lively, lovely children.

His dutiful, kind friends.

The skills Joshua had taught him.

The light-hearted conversation with Jill.

Their sweet, sassy pets.

JenniAnn... sleeping in his embrace.

"Love You," Andrew murmured before joining her in dreaming.



Saturday, April 4th, 2020

After a morning spent building coffins, Andrew retreated to his and JenniAnn's bedroom during lunch.  He plopped down in front of their laptop and made his scheduled call.

After a few moments, Vincent appeared on the screen, smiling.

It struck Andrew how long it had been since the two had talked privately.

"Hello Andrew!" Vincent greeted.

"Hey Vincent!  It's so good to see you!" Andrew exclaimed.

"Likewise!  How have you been faring?"

"Good... good.  Feeling very blessed that I've been able to stay here, not having to leave for assignments."

Vincent nodded. 

"I was very relieved when I heard that.  I know Psyche was, too."

Andrew smiled.

"How is she?" Vincent asked.  "I see her during classes, of course.  And we talk but... it's hard not being present.  Maybe soon..."

"I really hope so," Andrew replied.  "And she's good.  Mostly.  Actually...  I didn't arrange this call just to talk logistics about the coffins."

"So I suspected."

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"There have been some... tense moments with Allison and Robert."

"Have they been short with you?"

"Oh no.  Nothing like that.  Just... with each other.  At first it was just little things.  Then last night... it was... less little.  Allison ended up getting JenniAnn and me out of bed and... I mean it's resolved now but...  It... it took something out of JenniAnn.  She's not been herself this morning.  And I don't know whether to just wait it out... hope it was a one time deal... or... or do something?  But what?  I don't know...  And I feel weird even bringing this up to you.  And I wouldn't have!  I mean their business is their business.  But when it begins to impact JenniAnn..."

"I understand."  Vincent smiled sympathetically.  "I'd do the same had Catherine's parents lived to... well..."  He sighed.  "Catherine has mentioned that Allison has seemed increasingly unhappy.  She put it to the looming dread of... all of this.  But now..."

"It just...  I mean everyone handles things differently.  But pretty much everyone else here has settled into a new sort of life.  We miss what we had, of course.  But things feel less tense with everyone else... not more tense."

"I don't think this has anything to do with the pandemic, Andrew.  I think the pandemic has exacerbated issues that were already there," Vincent opined.  "I love Allison and Robert.  They're my cousins.  And they've been good to me.  Not too many people would share their child in the manner they shared Psyche with Catherine and me."  His eyes misted.  "When she went back to them... I was prepared to never see my sweet Psyche again.  I will be forever grateful to them for their kindness."

"Of course."  Andrew nodded in ready agreement.

"But I've sometimes wondered...  They lost their child, Andrew.  Imagine not knowing where your daughter was for months.  And then, once she does come back to you, she's no longer entirely yours.  She has a whole other life, another family who cares for her deeply.  And who she cares for.  And then... and I don't say this to hurt you... not at all... this daughter who you've devoted your life to and who you want to have a happy life.... becomes fixated on a mystery man.  Some years go by and he returns... and she's further gone than she ever was before.  And, also, it turns out he's an angel of death.  Andrew, from the moment little Psyche went through that portal, Allison's and Robert's plans for their only child went completely off the rails.  Was it for the best?  Clearly!  Did it make them feel helpless?  Powerless?"  Vincent nodded.  "And sometimes when you take power away from someone in one area of their life..."

Andrew sighed.

"They start to exert control in another area... sometimes unhealthily." 

Andrew bowed his head and thought of JenniAnn's past bouts with eating disorders.

"I think it's possible that Allison and Robert, to some extent, try to exert control over each other just to prove they have some control.  And with the pandemic taking control of so much away from us... what had been little skirmishes have now grown louder and more obvious."

Andrew shook his head.

"They used to worry that I'd exert control overJenniAnn," he recalled.

Vincent nodded.


Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"So... what should I do about it?"

"It's not your job to fix their marriage, Andrew," Vincent replied.  "And it's not Psyche's either."

"Of course not but... they're in my house."

Andrew's tone made Vincent smile.

"Sorry, that sounded really whiny."

Vincent chuckled.

"It did.  But you're entitled.  What did you and Psyche do when you were struggling?"

"Well... we used to not handle it well.  But most recently... we went to Reuel for counseling."

"And how was that?"

"It helped.  A lot.  But we can't force Allison and Robert to go to counseling.  And it seems like, if we tried, it might only make the control issues worse."

"I can see that," Vincent admitted.  "But you have a right to peace in your own home.  If another instance like last night happens...  You and I both know that it's not good for Psyche to have her sleep repeatedly disrupted."

Andrew blushed.

"We weren't actually sleeping when Allison showed up..."

Vincent smiled and bowed his head.

"Be that as it may, I'm sure what you were engaging in was more enjoyable and less stressful than watching her parents bicker."

"Very much so..."

"Stress weakens the immune system.  This is a matter of Psyche's health.  She is your anam cara.  You're not overstepping if you do what you need to do to keep her safe, Andrew.  Discuss this with her.  I think she'll agree and you can approach them together.  And if they don't listen to you... I'll talk to them.  So will Catherine."

Andrew breathed a sigh of relief, glad to have a plan.

"I'll do that.  Thank you.  I really appreciate this, Vincent."

"You're very welcome.  I hope all goes well.  Don't hesitate to let me know if I can help."

"I will, Vincent.  I promise.  And now..."


Andrew nodded and together the two planned for how to get the coffins to Sylvester which proved to be a less challenging topic of conversation for both.

Once they had a plan in place, Andrew ended the call and went to rejoin the others who were gathered in the ballroom.

He was almost immediately met by the sound of a child wailing.

Mallory and JenniAnn were standing near each other with Evie and Avi in their arms.  The little girl was inconsolable.  Avi was reaching for her.

"Let's take them to the nursery.  They can lay down for a little bit," JenniAnn suggested.

"All right...  I feel bad that Avi has to lay down, though.  He's fine," Mallory lamented.

Approaching, Andrew tousled his son's hair. 

"Yes, he's fine.  But look how he's reaching out for her.  I'll go with you."

The trio of adults brought the toddlers to Avi's room and sat them side by side in his crib.

Evie continued to scream while Avi patted her head.

"Ebie...  Ebie...  No, Ebie..."

Evie's eyes, scrunched up in her panic, began to relax.  She tilted forward so her head rested against Avi's.

The three adults exchanged mystified glances.

"Ebie...  Ebie..." Avi chanted as he continued to pat her head.

After a few moments, Evie sat up and yawned. 

"Seepie," she declared before stretching out.

"Seepie," Avi echoed, following suit.

"You wanna take a nap?" JenniAnn offered.

Both children nodded.

JenniAnn looked to Mallory who shrugged and nodded.

"Okay."  JenniAnn dimmed the lights and turned on a light-up music box that played "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" while projecting a celestial rainbow onto the ceiling. 

After an exchange of "night-nights," the adults exited the nursery.

JenniAnn shuddered.

"That's still adorable... but, wow, is it..."

"Eerie?" Andrew suggested.

Mallory smiled and nodded. 

"Your little guy has the magic touch.  I just wish Evie wasn't so... easily rattled."

"Do we know what set her off?" Andrew asked.

JenniAnn's cheeks flushed.

"We do...  Guess who started sniping at each other?  Again.  And it was so stupid.  I was fixing up a plate for you so I'm not even quite sure how it started but apparently my mom was trying to make conversation with Shelby.  She asked her if she had any plans for her Sweet Sixteen.  My dad commented that maybe now wasn't the time to be making plans which... true, I guess.  But they were just talking.  No harm in that.  Not like Shel had anything extravagant in mind, anyway.  That's not how she is.  So... yeah...  Evie got upset because my parents decided to bicker about a birthday party that's six months away."

Mallory hugged her.

"It's okay.  Really.  I mean... it takes so little to set her off.  I can't expect everyone to be cheery and pleasant all the time."

"But they could manage to be cheery and pleasant a little more often," JenniAnn insisted.  "Still... thank you for your understanding.  I so badly want to point out to them that poor Kemara and Monica are separated from their guys... who are also separated from their children... and they have each other and their daughter and their grandchildren and their great-grandchild all together and are acting like..." 

"Laja..."  Andrew stroked her back as she began to rub at her temples.  "Deep breath."

JenniAnn nodded and obeyed.

"I'll talk to them," Andrew offered.

JenniAnn shook her head. 

"Eat first.  It's almost 1:00.  You haven't eaten since before 6:00."

Andrew had to admit he was hungry.

"Okay.  But then I'll talk to them."

"Thank you."

"I think I'll stay in the library for a little bit," Mallory suggested.  "So I can listen for Avi and Evie.  Just in case."

"Good idea."  JenniAnn hugged the younger woman.  "Sorry... again..."

Mallory patted her back.

"It's not your fault!  Not at all."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn let out a deep breath then turned to Andrew.  "Now to get you fed..."  She took his hand and led him back to the ballroom which had mostly cleared out.  Only Rose and Max were lingering.

"Maja, Dad," the latter greeted.

"Hi there!  Where's Landon?" JenniAnn asked.

"Carted off by Violeta," Rose explained.  "The girls wanted to show off their pillow fort.  I hope he doesn't destroy it!"

Andrew chuckled.

"Even if he does, they'll have just as much fun rebuilding it as they did building it," he reasoned.

"Did you get everything squared away with Vincent, Dad?"

"Thank you," Andrew said to JenniAnn as she set his plate in front of him.  He said a brief, silent prayer then looked to Max.  "I did.  We'll bring them through the portal starting around 4:00.  Pile em up however we can and then leave.  Once we're done, I'll text Eliot and they'll come and collect them and get them to Sylvester."

"So they're still completely isolating, apparently?" Rose inquired.

"Portia said she thought two weeks was good but... three weeks was even better.  And a month... if they wait a month and no one here and no one there gets sick... she thought we could forgo the six feet rule.  It would be nice to hug..." JenniAnn sighed.  "But I really miss everyone...  And they need some sun."

The quartet was quiet for a few moments before Max spoke again.

"Maja... are you okay?"

JenniAnn smiled wearily and nodded.

"I am.  It's just...  Where did they go, anyway?  My parents."

"Your mom and Raquel went for a walk.  I think your dad and Nico are playing pool."

"Thank God for Raquel and Nico..."  JenniAnn looked heavenward.  "I just wish they'd... rein it in.  I get that couples have disagreements... even get snappish.  But being so public about it... that's new.  Don't like it.  Really don't like it that they behaved like that in front of you kids."

"If it makes you feel any better, it was a fairly quick exchange before your dad wandered off," Rose consoled.  "I think Evie is the only one who took it to heart and well..."

"My heart breaks for that kid."  Max bit his lip and shook his head.  "I really hope once she's able to really talk and express herself, things will get better for her."

"I hope so, too," Andrew agreed.  "In the meantime, we have the baby Baby Whisperer."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Avi is that...  I wish he had the same effect on my parents... but I also wouldn't want him in the midst of that."

"He had the oddest look on his face when they started in on each other," Rose recalled.  "It wasn't like he seemed distressed.  More... curious.  Like he was trying to puzzle out what the big deal was."

"I think we may have another shrink in the family," Max concluded with a grin.

"We may need one!" JenniAnn joked though her eyes were wet.

"Laja..."  Andrew rested his chin on her hair for a moment.

JenniAnn stared down at her hands.

"I think, maybe, I could just do with a little time on my own for a bit.  I haven't checked on the mice yet today so... gonna go do that."

"You're sure, Laja?" Andrew checked.

"I am."  JenniAnn forced a smile.  "Just for a little bit.  I'll see you all soon."

"See you later, Maja."

"Take care, JenniAnn."

"I... I'll check on you in a lil bit?" Andrew offered.

JenniAnn kissed his hair.

"Yeah, thanks."  She smiled and waved at the three then left the ballroom.

Andrew shook his head and dragged his hand through his hair.

"I'm really starting to wish I'd told them they couldn't stay here."

Max rested a hand on his shoulder.

"I understand that, Dad.  I do.  But... I don't see how you could have."

"You would have felt really guilty," Rose added.  "And, besides, no one had any idea..."

"Yeah..."  Andrew sighed.  "Well, I'll talk to them when I get the chance."

"Good.  I know you'll do well."  Max smiled proudly.  "You always do.  Especially where Maja's concerned.  And I... I'm grateful I've gotten to see that."

Rose squeezed her husband's hand.

"And I'm grateful, too.  But now...  Mama here could use a nap."

"Do you want me to go with you?"

"Oh no.  I'm fine."  Behind Andrew's back, Rose pointed at him. 

Max nodded.

"See you both later!" Rose called as she left.

"Later," Andrew called after her.

"Love you!"

"Love you, too!"

Max smiled then turned his attention to Andrew.

"How you doing, Dad?"

"Oh... I'm fine.  Just frustrated is all.  But... I actually talked to Vincent about all of this and he gave me some ideas so...  I'll try those when I can.  I just..."

"What?" Max prompted.  "I won't say anything.  Confidential.  Just like with my patients."

After an appreciative smile, Andrew proceeded.

"It bothers me that I should need to say anything.  They should see what this is doing to JenniAnn and straighten up!" 

"I agree.  And I imagine that when they cool down, they do feel badly.  But for whatever reason, in the moment, they can't stop themselves."

"I guess...  But they're not children.  They should have some self-control."

Max nodded.

"They should."

"I just..."  Andrew's eyes welled.  "I don't want her to get sick, Max.  I... I don't want her to have so many seizures that she needs to start seeing a doctor regularly again and every time... it's a risk... her lungs..."

Max hugged Andrew.

"I know, Dad...  I know.  We'll figure this out."

Andrew took in and slowly let out a deep breath.

"Yeah..."  He patted Max's hand.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

As Andrew continued to eat, discussion turned to lighter topics, easing the angel's mood as he prepared to check on his anam cara.


Andrew found JenniAnn sitting on a blanket near the barn, watching the mice frolic.  He smiled as she set a bite of an animal cracker down near them.

"How's our little family?" he whispered as he joined her.

"Good.  That little one with chips in both her ears looks quite chunky."

"So... our little family is likely going to become a bigger family?"

"I'm thinkin' so."

"I'll work on making another couple houses.  It'd be a nice thing to work on.  Cheery."

"Yeah...  Thanks, love."

Andrew slung an arm around JenniAnn's shoulders.

"It's kinda crazy to think that people have been terrified of mice and blamed them for assorted outbreaks and plagues.  And now... now I'm safer out here with the mice than with most of my friends," she observed, a tremor in her voice.

"Laja..."  Andrew kissed her hair then rested his head on hers.  He didn't know what else to say.  She was right.

They were both silent for a few moments then JenniAnn spoke again, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Do you... do ya think they're gonna get divorced?"

Andrew blinked.  He hadn't expected that.

"Laja...   No...  No, I don't.  Most couples fight sometimes and..."

"But... but it's been a lot.  And I don't even mean since they've moved in with us.  My mom texts me at least a few times a week about something or another my dad did that annoyed or hurt her."


"Yeah...  I never said much to you because I guess I didn't really think it was that big of a deal.  But now... actually seeing it..."

"I think emotions... and tempers... are running pretty high right now.  So I just figured..."

"This started long before COVID, Andrew."

The angel sighed.  When speaking with Vincent, he had hoped Allison had limited her comments to Catherine.

"Laja... your mom really shouldn't be using you as her confidante about your dad.  I... well, I don't mean to sound rude but... she has friends, doesn't she?"

"She does.  Yeah.  I dunno..."

Andrew pulled JenniAnn closer.

"I'm going to talk to her."

JenniAnn jolted.

"No!  I don't want her to know I told..."

"You're my anam cara!  I should be able to weigh in when something's troubling you!" Andrew exclaimed.  When JenniAnn gaped at him, he lowered his voice.  "Sorry.  I'm sorry."  He squeezed her hand then brought it to his lips.  "It's only...  Laja, I absolutely don't want whatever's going on with them to impact us.  And I especially don't want it impacting your health and well-being."

JenniAnn nuzzled his shoulder.

"Me either.  And I... I hope we never act like that."

"We won't, Laja," Andrew vowed before kissing her.

JenniAnn followed his kiss with one of her own then smiled.

"You're very distracting, ya know that?"

Andrew chuckled.

"Sorry, not sorry?"

JenniAnn giggled and rested her head on his shoulder.

"Maybe you could say something to my dad...  I mean only if it seems natural.  Like... just being more attentive or something?  But maybe that's not even right.  I dunno...  I feel like I'm only getting one side but I also don't really wanna delve deeper.  I mean this isn't like talking through issues with, say, Kylie and Clay or Emma and Peter.  They're... peers, not parents."

"Agreed.  Actually...  I brought it up with Vincent, Laja.  I didn't intend to but after last night and since I needed to talk to him anyway..."

JenniAnn shrugged.

"It's fine.  I think my mom goes off on Catherine sometimes, too.  Vincent likely knows."

"Yeah... he does.  And he thinks they should start talking to Reuel.  Or a counselor of some sort.  He actually... he thinks we should insist on it if this keeps up."

"And what do you think?"

"I think Reuel helped us a lot, Laja.  I think it's a really good idea.  And... yes, I do think we should insist.  Especially now that it happened in front of the kids."

JenniAnn shook her head.

"I still can't believe that...  But yeah.  You're right."

"We'll talk to Reuel.  See if it's even an option for them to do virtual counseling with him.  In the meantime, maybe I was onto something with distraction," Andrew mused.

"Please don't kiss my parents," JenniAnn jested.

Chuckling, Andrew shook his head.

"No plans to.  But maybe we could do something fun tonight.  A dance party?  It'd be a nice way to thank people for helping with the coffins, too."

JenniAnn lit up.

"That would be fun!  My parents aside, we could all use something to pull us out of the doldrums.  I love it!"

Andrew smiled when JenniAnn threw her arms around him.

"I should start planning snacks!"

"Do you need me to make a grocery run?"

"I don't really think so.  Let's see...  We could have graham cracker sandwiches...  And cheese dips and crackers..."

"We could do a sundae bar," Andrew suggested.


"And we have enough popcorn around to last us into the next century.  We can pop some of that."

"Sounds like a plan!"  Her mood lightened, JenniAnn set down the remainder of the animal crackers.  "Okay, I feel better.  I'll start fixing snacks and ask the older kids to help me get the ballroom moved around."

"And I'll get back to preparing to move everything into the Tunnels.  But... come get me if you need anything?"

JenniAnn kissed Andrew's cheek.

"I will.  I promise.  Thank you for checking up on me."

Andrew kissed her hair.

"My pleasure.  Truly."

Feeling more at peace, the two headed back towards Willowveil, excited about the evening ahead of them.


That evening, Willowveil's ballroom was filled with music, bright lights, good food, and enthusiastic guests. 

"You two...  This is fantastic!" Sibyll praised.  "I've told you before...  You've really brought life back to this whole place!  Lewellyn and I have been talking and we just can't imagine what it would have been like had the pandemic happened before all of you came around.  I mean... we know Mike would have come back to help us out.  But with so many of our kids having moved on..."

"It helps a lot to know that we have people around who can lend a hand," Lewellyn concluded.

Andrew clapped him on the back.

"You know we'd do whatever we can for you and the other Asterians but... I feel like it's all of you who have lent helping hands.  Literally!" 

Lewellyn chuckled.

"I suppose so...  But it helped us.  Truly.  Sometimes we feel a bit useless... sitting around on our island, waiting for a kid or grandkid to call."

"You know you can always come visit," JenniAnn insisted.  "I mean... I'm not personally going to offer to come pick you up as I'm sure I'd probably drive us all into the ocean.  But someone can!"

"Absolutely," Andrew agreed.  "And... I'm feeling pretty good about Asteri's future."  He waved to where Ivy and Sy and Rose and Max were dancing. 

"So precious..." Sibyll cooed.  "Now... when are we going to see you two out there?"

"Soon!" Fr. Mike called from where he was studying the music queue on a nearby laptop.  He made a selection then joined his parents and Andrew and JenniAnn.  "You won't be able to resist the next one," he teased.

"What did you pick?" JenniAnn prodded. 

Fr. Mike mimed zipping his lips.

"It'll be a surprise."

After the final notes of Adele's "Remedy" drifted away, Andrew and JenniAnn realized what the priest had done as big band music started up.

Max whooped and looked to his parents.

"Maja!  Dad!  Come on!"

"Laja...  I don't think we have much of a choice."  Grinning, Andrew held his hand out to her.

"I spose we better not let our guests down..."  With a giggle, JenniAnn took Andrew's hand and let him lead her onto the dance floor.

"'Bei mir bist do schön, please let me explain...  Bei mir bist do schön means that you're grand...'" a woman crooned.

The crowd cheered as Andrew and JenniAnn swung and twirled around the dance floor.  They were a bit rusty at first but soon found their old groove.

By the end of the song, however, they were exhausted.  Laughing, Andrew escorted JenniAnn to a seat and grabbed some punch for them both.  When he returned, he collapsed beside her.

"JenniAnn!  I had no idea you could do that!" Allison exclaimed. 

After taking a large gulp of her drink, JenniAnn patted Andrew's knee.

"He taught me a few years back.  Been a long time since we've done that!"

"It was adorable!  I wish we'd taken video for your grandma."

Andrew chuckled.

"We'll do it again sometime.  Florence can watch that.  I'm afraid I was a little rusty this time around."

"You weren't the only one!" JenniAnn reassured.  "It was fun, though."

"Daaaaaddddyyyy!"  Belle ran towards them.  "Dance with me like that!"

Andrew beamed and plopped Belle onto his lap.

"Happily.  Just let Daddy rest for a lil bit, okay?"


"I gotta get a dance in with my baby boy, too."  JenniAnn looked around.  "Where is Avi?"

"He's fine," Takoda called from a few feet away.  "I have my eyes on him.  Evie, too."

Seeing the amused look in the angel's eyes, JenniAnn rose to investigate.  Andrew, Belle, and Allison followed.

In the newly expanded area of the ballroom, Avi and Evie were plopped on the floor with a bowl of cheese crumbles between them.  In front of them, Fawn, Ichabod, Delilah, Bert, and Leo all sat obediently.  After a few moments, Avi grabbed some cheese and threw it.  He and Evie shrieked with delight when the dogs hustled to get it.  Once it was gone, the dogs returned and patiently waited for the boy to repeat his actions.

"All right...  I gave them that cheese for them to eat!"  JenniAnn reached to take it but Avi turned around and grinned.

"Oggies!  Mama, oggies!" he grabbed another fistful of cheese.

Laughing, Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's shoulders.

"They're fine.  And that much cheese divided between five dogs isn't very much.  He's just being generous."

"True...  And I do love those lil baby giggles..."  JenniAnn rested her head on Andrew's shoulder.

"Daddy... dance..." Belle reminded.

"Of course, my little elf."  Andrew kissed JenniAnn's temple then crouched down in front of Belle and offered her his hand.  "My little lady..."

Giggling, Belle took his hand.

"So sweet... all of them..." Allison cooed. 

"Yes," JenniAnn agreed, her eyes twinkling.  She smiled at Takoda.  "Thank you for keeping an eye on them.  I'll take over.  I happen to know Violeta would love to dance."

"Noted!"  Takoda smiled and went in search of his fellow angel.

"He's a very nice young man," Allison commented.  "I had a lovely chat with him at breakfast.  He is quite young, right?"

JenniAnn nodded. 

"Thirty one.  Almost.  Next month, I think.  I better double check...  But he was in Heaven for several years so...  It's kinda like with Violeta.  She'll be twenty three in a couple of weeks but in many ways... she's much younger."

"Mama..."  Avi held his now empty bowl towards his mother. 

"Sweetie, I think the dogs have had enough.  We don't want their tummies to hurt," JenniAnn gently explained.  "How about we go get something for the two of you to eat?  Evie, are you hungry, sweetie?"

Evie nodded.

"All right.  Then let's get some yummy snacks!"  JenniAnn turned to Allison.  "Could you hold Avi's hand?  I'm gonna carry Evie.  She gets nervous around crowds."

"Happily!  Avi, sweet pea, can you walk with Gramma?"

Avi hustled towards his grandmother and happily took her hand.

Evie looked bereft for a moment then smiled when JenniAnn lifted her up.

"I know...  It's a lot," JenniAnn murmured.  "But everyone here are friends," she soothed.

Evie offered no protest so JenniAnn headed towards the snack table.

Mallory hurried over.

"Sorry!  Takoda said he would watch them so..."

"He was," JenniAnn assured.  "Then I said I would.  Turns out they fed the dogs their snacks so..."

Mallory laughed.

"She does love those puppies...  Not sure how she'll adjust when we go back... whenever that is."

JenniAnn cupped Evie's chin. 

"Might have to talk to Vincent, huh?  Well, I have an in." 

Evie laughed. 

"We'll see.  Do you want me to take her?" 

"Actually..."  JenniAnn noticed Shelby sitting alone at a table.  "If you wouldn't mind.  As much as I'd love to snuggle, I need to go check on something.  Mom, you good with Avi?"

"Of course!  My sweet lil fellow..."

JenniAnn handed Evie to Mallory.

"Good luck getting them to eat their own food!" she called before grabbing a few graham cracker sandwiches and heading towards Shelby. 

The teenager smiled as JenniAnn approached.

"Hey, Psyche."

"Hey, Shel.  I brought some graham cracker sandwiches."


JenniAnn squeezed her hand.

"You doing okay?"

Shelby nodded.

"Yeah...  It's just...  I didn't say anything wrong earlier, did I?  With your mom, I mean."

"Shelby!"  JenniAnn hugged her.  "No!  Of course you didn't!  Sweetie, I'm so sorry.  I didn't realize you thought that.  No...  Absolutely not.  My mom and dad are just...  They can be grouchy with each other sometimes."

"Okay...  Because I really don't expect much of anything for my birthday.  I mean even before the pandemic...  I hadn't even really thought about it."

"Baby..."  JenniAnn kissed her hair.  "We'll do something special.  You only turn sixteen once.  But... I understand.  I think smaller celebrations are nice.  We'll see what's going on come September and plan accordingly."

"Okay.  Psyche?"


"Violeta and I were going through those boxes again.  Your old clothes, you know?"

"Mmm hmm."

"There was some other stuff in there."

JenniAnn froze with a graham cracker halfway to her lips.

Shelby giggled.

"Not anything embarrassing!"

JenniAnn laughed.

"Good...  I thought maybe you found an old, ridiculous journal or something."

Still laughing, Shelby shook her head.

"No!  And I doubt it would have been ridiculous anyway.  I just mean there was some nicer jewelry and hair stuff.  Like this."

Shelby placed a small cross pendant on the table.

JenniAnn examined it.

"Hmm...  Looks like polished stone.  Amethyst, I think.  Ooh...  Ya know, I think I got this when my grandparents took me to this grotto in Iowa.  A priest built this whole place depicting scenes from Joshua's life with various stones.  I know I have extra chains around.  I'll get one for you so you can wear it if you want."

Shelby shook her head.

"No...  You should keep it since it has memories for you."

"Shel...  It's sat in a box for years.  Besides, I like my birthstone cross.  This cross is yours.  C'mon.  We can go look for a chain now so I don't forget."

"You're sure?"


Shelby beamed.

"Thanks.  I really like it because, well, it's a cross, of course.  But lavender is also the asexuality awareness color."

"You're right!"

"So...  It just makes me think about how Joshua accepts us as we are."

"Sweetie..."  JenniAnn hugged her.  "That's lovely.  Now let's go see about that chain..."

Happily, Shelby followed JenniAnn to her room.

For her part, JenniAnn tried to reel in her emotions and focus on Shelby... not the resurfacing of her anger at her parents.


"It's what I feared...  My eyes were totally on the wrong kid...  And not even one of our kids!" JenniAnn lamented that night as she paced and brushed her hair.  "Poor Evie was upset, yes, but so was Shel...  And I had no idea.  And I even knew she was, unwittingly, the impetus of their disagreement."

"Laja...  Shel gave no indication she was upset all afternoon.  She probably just got a little moody during the dance.  All that sappy music...  At least your parents seemed to be in a good place tonight."

"Yeah..." JenniAnn agreed.  "They even danced a couple times."

"I noticed.  Maybe the time apart this afternoon helped... kept us from talking to them about counseling... but helped."

"Yeah...  Maybe Raquel and Nico gave them their own sort of counseling," JenniAnn suggested.

"Maybe!  But back to Shel...  She was beaming once you gave her that necklace.  She's fine."

"I know...  But I'm still ticked that they upset her."

"And you have a right to be.  I'm ticked off, too.  And we'll deal with that.  Tomorrow.  But right now... we're going to have two ticked girls if we don't move on with Hill House.  I was asked not once... not twice... but three times by Violeta if we were going to watch tonight."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Then I guess we better!  And, I have to admit, I want to know how the Crains are doing, too.  Might be nice to focus on someone else's family dysfunction."

"Laja...  We have nothing on the Crains."

"Okay, true..."  JenniAnn slipped beneath the blanket.  "Whenever you're ready."


Andrew started the show and smiled as the now familiar theme music began and JenniAnn snuggled into his embrace.


The Kite and the Line

When the episode ended, Andrew and JenniAnn stared at each other for a moment.  Then JenniAnn let out a deep breath, puffing out her cheeks and causes her bangs to float up.

Andrew laughed.

"That was... some slow-burning intensity."

"No kidding...  I'm scared for Luke.  Was that that Poppy lady who grabbed him?"

"I think so.  She was kinda blurry but had that flapper look to her.  Yikes."

"Yikes is right...  And Poor Olivia...  She was really losing it...  Having imaginary conversations with her twins...  And
poor Steven... and poor Olivia AGAIN when she broke the vanity he'd made for her...  The look on his face..."

"That was crushing," Andrew agreed.  "Not too happy with adult Steven, though."

JenniAnn groaned.

"No kidding!
  I would be so mad if I was trying to get pregnant with a guy and he neglected to tell me he'd had a vasectomy..."

"For two years..."  Andrew shook his head.  "Really unbelievable..."

"Just ugh...  Speaking of family drama...  Nellie does NOT like it when her family fights.  Maybe I need to get ghoulish make up and jump scare my parents into their best behavior..."  JenniAnn rolled her eyes.

"Laja...  We'll get through to them... without you having to impersonate Nellie.  I promise."  Andrew smiled encouragingly.  "Plus...  I don't really care to see that."

"Okay...  Understood.  Ooh!  And poor Theo..." JenniAnn continued.  "To feel so empty and numb...  When I had pneumonia in high school, I got meds that... messed with me.  And I felt that.  I felt so numb that I ended up climbing out of the window and onto my roof during a storm... just to feel something."

Andrew shuddered, both at the reminder of JenniAnn's damaged lungs and the knowledge that she'd done something so foolish.

"I'm glad I know death is more than that..."  JenniAnn clutched her cross.  "Much more."

"It is..."  Andrew's hand rested over her scar and he moved closer.

"And there was no tree house!" JenniAnn exclaimed, startling the angel.  "Oops.  Sorry.  But...  So... where were they when they were in the tree house!?"

Andrew cringed.

"I have no idea...  But that really creeped me out when Hugh revealed that."

"Speaking of Hugh...  I loved how he described his and Olivia's relationship.  The kite and the line..."  JenniAnn murmured.  "We're like that...  A creature of the clouds... a creature of the Earth...  Except... I feel like I'm the cloud one...  You're always so grounded."

Andrew kissed JenniAnn's hair.

"And you lift me up when I get too bogged down over an assignment... or just lost in my own head...  My kite, my wings."

JenniAnn nuzzled the angel's shoulder and kissed his neck.

Andrew sighed contentedly.  He thought of that scene with Hugh... his eyes still alight with love for his long-dead wife.  Tears welled in his eyes.

"Hey now..."  JenniAnn kissed away a tear that rolled down Andrew's cheek.  She straddled his lap and cradled his face in her hands.  "I'm here..." she whispered.

Andrew smiled even as more tears trailed down his cheeks.


"I'm right here..." 

Andrew nodded and let out another sigh as JenniAnn buried her hands in his hair and rested her forehead against his.

"Ya wanna pick up where we left off last night?" she asked, her cheeks flushed.

"I do...  If you..."

"Mmm hmm..."

The two kissed then snuggled beneath the covers.

JenniAnn giggled.

"What?"  Andrew gave her a quizzical look.

"Just... canoodle...  It's a funny sounding word."

Andrew chuckled.

"It is.  Canoodle..."

"More fun to actually do, though."

"Uh huh..."

The two kissed again and, until they fell asleep, didn't give another thought to bickering parents or couples counseling or mysterious non-existent tree houses or the Crains.


Sunday, April 5th, 2020

In the morning, JenniAnn rose first.  She smiled dreamily at Andrew.

"You are so beautiful, my love," she whispered before lightly kissing his brow. 

Deciding she wanted to prepare breakfast in bed for Andrew, JenniAnn slipped into her robe and slippers and made her way to the kitchen. 

She was filling a carafe with coffee when she heard a floor board creak behind her and startled.

"Sorry.  Just me."

JenniAnn turned around and greeted her father with a smile. 

"G'morning, Dad.  Anything I can get for you?"

Robert shook his head.

"No.  I'm fine.  Just going to grab a banana to tide me over."

"If you're sure..."

Robert grabbed a banana and nodded.

"Breakfast in bed?"

JenniAnn blushed and nodded.

"Nothing wrong with that.  Listen... whatever goes on between you and Andrew is your business.  But, just for the record, I don't assume the two of you get in bed and lay on your backs, arms at your sides, not touching," Robert deadpanned.  "And even if I had believed that... last night would have given me solid cause to rethink that position."

JenniAnn giggled in spite of some lingering embarrassment.

"The dance, you mean?"

Robert nodded.

"It was very good.  I felt like I was watching Dancing With the Stars."

"Aww, thanks, Dad.  Hey...would you like to take a tray up to Mom?" JenniAnn suggested hopefully.

Robert balked.

"I dunno...  She likes eating breakfast with the kids."

"Well, she could still sit with the kids.  I'm still gonna come down to breakfast.  Andrew probably will, too.  I just... I think it would be nice."


"Yeah.  I do."

Robert smiled and nodded.


JenniAnn grabbed another tray and handed it to him.

"Have fun!"

After a smile and pat on the back for her dad, JenniAnn left the kitchen and made her way back to her room.

Once there, she found Andrew sitting up and staring at their Kindle.  When she entered, he looked up and smiled.

"Laja...  I was hoping..."

"Glad I didn't disappoint."  JenniAnn set the tray on the bed then carefully settled beside Andrew.  "My dad showed up while I was getting this ready.  I gave him another tray so he could bring Mom breakfast in bed.  So... here's hoping that makes things more pleasant."

Andrew kissed her temple.

"It definitely puts me in a good mood.  Not that I needed to be put in a good mood after..."

"Last night..." JenniAnn finished.  She rested her head on Andrew's shoulder. 

Andrew kissed her hair then made up a yogurt parfait for her.



"So..."  JenniAnn took a bite before proceeding.  "I was thinking that tonight we might try to turn in early and watch the last two episodes?  I just have a feeling that we won't want to stop with one episode left."

"I agree.  Sounds like a plan."

"It'll be nice to actually go to church this morning...  I'm glad Fr. Mike offered."

Andrew gave JenniAnn a squeeze.

"I agree there, too.  Afterwards, I think I might spend a bit of time in my workshop.  I still need to finish some shelves for an order.  And I'd like to get the mice another house."

JenniAnn beamed.

"Sounds good.  Thanks."

Andrew sighed with contentment after downing a few orange slices and hugged JenniAnn's shoulders.

"I love you so much, Laja."

Touched, JenniAnn caressed his face.

"I love you so much, too, Andrew."

They smiled at each other then continued on with their breakfast.


After the church service, Andrew headed to his workshop as planned while JenniAnn hung out with Belle, Shelby, and Violeta in the former's room.  The girls popped in and out of their pillow fort, treating JenniAnn to a fashion show... featuring her old clothes.

"Very nice!" JenniAnn praised when Violeta appeared donning an ensemble that appeared to have been taken from the wardrobe of Cher from Clueless

Belle giggled and threw herself at her mother, nearly sending a Blossom-style hat flying off her head.

JenniAnn laughed and hugged the little girl.

"I love it!  Very... colorful and cute."

Shelby appeared next, wearing flared jeans, a knit top, and a crocheted duster.

"Aww!  Sweetie!  You look adorable!" JenniAnn praised. 

"You look like JenniAnn," Violeta added with a twinge of jealousy in her voice.

JenniAnn gave the angel an affectionate squeeze.

"You all look great.  And I'm glad you've been having so much..."

Her cell phone began to ring. 

"Just a sec."

JenniAnn withdrew her phone and cocked her head.  Loreena was calling...  Since the pandemic had started, they'd exchange texts a few times a week.  But Loreena hardly ever called.

"I'll be right back, girls," JenniAnn announced as she answered the call and headed to her room.  "Hey, Loreena.  What's..."

"Have you been on the Times' web site today?" Loreena blurted out.

"Well... no..."

"There's a photo gallery.  Scenes from the pandemic.  Go to the fifth photo."

"O-okay...  Are you okay?"

"I'm fine.  Safe.  Haven't left my apartment.  It's just... Josh."

JenniAnn's heart began to thud wildly.  She dashed through the hall and to her laptop.

"Is... is he okay?"

"I think so.  It's just...  He's out there.  Helping with... with the bodies.  I'm sure it's him.  Just please look and tell me if I'm crazy."

"Okay...  It's loading.  Okay, I think I see the photo gallery.  Fifth photo?"


Her hands shaking, JenniAnn clicked to the fifth photo.  It showed two men, one on either side of a body bag, carefully lifting it into a van.  Their faces were covered in masks but she recognized them both: John... and Joshua. 

"Yeah... that... that's him.  And his cousin."

Loreena breathed a sigh of relief.

"I... I didn't know he had a cousin in town.  That actually... it makes me feel better to know he's got someone he knows working with him.  It's just...  I'm worried for him.  What if he... what if he gets it, JenniAnn?"

JenniAnn's fingers brushed the photo.

"Joshua is very healthy," she consoled.  "He... he's been through a lot and... he's so strong.  He'll be fine."

"I'm glad to hear that.  I just...  I don't know.  I saw that photo and I suppose it was just nerves but I had this vision of Josh struggling to breath and... it was just awful."

Tears filled JenniAnn's eyes.  That had happened... once... a long time ago.

"How... how horrible," JenniAnn responded.  "But I'm sure he's fine.  I just... I had no idea he was back in town."

"Me neither..."

Sensing the hurt in Loreena's voice, JenniAnn hurried to comfort her.

"I'm sure he's just not said anything because... well... it's not like we can visit, anyway."

"This is true..."

"I'm sure we'll both hear from him.  Soon, I hope."

"I hope so, too.  You doing okay, otherwise?  Andrew being good to you?"

JenniAnn smiled.

"An absolute angel."

"Good for you!" 

"And how are things for you?" 

"You know, I'm actually doing really well.  I didn't think I'd take to this lockdown very well but my co-workers have been having very optional daily happy hours on Zoom and... I feel like we're closer now.  Weirdly."

"Aww.  That's so great!"  JenniAnn smiled. 

"Yeah!  Anyway, I won't keep you.  But... if you do hear from Josh..."

"I will absolutely tell you.  And you'll do the same?"

"Of course!  You take care now."

"You too!  Bye!"

"Good bye!"

JenniAnn ended the call and  resumed staring at the photo, a fresh tear rolling down her cheeks.  Of course Joshua was there...  And in hospitals...  And in assisted living facilities...  And in research facilities... 

A light knock on the door caused JenniAnn to, at last, look away.  The unease in her stomach grew when she spotted her mother, her eyes puffy and edged with tears.

"Mom!  What's..."

"You told him to bring me breakfast!" Allison exclaimed. 

JenniAnn balked, genuinely confused.

"What are you..."

"This morning!  It wasn't your dad's idea to bring me breakfast!  Just like he only danced with me because he felt guilted into it after you and Andrew."

JenniAnn shook her head in dismay.

"Mom... settle down.  I... I didn't tell Dad to bring you breakfast.  I was making breakfast for Andrew and I simply suggested..."

"It doesn't mean as much when it's not coming from him!" Allison wailed.  "I... I thought... until he lit it slip just now...  I thought he'd planned it and... and..."

JenniAnn let out a shaky breath as her head began to throb.

"Mom...  I think you're overreacting.  I just handed Dad the tray and then I left.  I didn't help him prepare anything."

"I just wish... for once... he... he would go out of his way and, without any help or... or guidance, do something... special."

JenniAnn waved for her mother to sit down on a nearby settee then joined her.

"And I can understand that.  But, right now, he's also pretty limited in what he can do, Mom."

Allison shook her head.

"It... it's been years, JenniAnn..."

JenniAnn drew in and let out a deep breath.  Now was her chance...

"So... maybe it would be good for you two to see a counselor."

"He won't go.  I've asked him before."

"Well...  Andrew and I were actually thinking that Reuel might be a good choice.  Virtually, of course.  Maybe Dad will feel more up to it when the counselor is someone I can personally vouch for.  And he doesn't even have to go somewhere.  When Andrew and I were having some issues..."

Allison scoffed.

"What was that about?" JenniAnn questioned.  "I... I'm trying to be helpful."

"It's nothing... but I can guarantee he won't do it."

"You won't know until you ask!  And Andrew could talk to him... man to man."

Allison shook her head.

JenniAnn sighed in exasperation. 

"I just... I don't know what you want me to say or do.  I'm sorry that things are rough right now but... but I don't know how to fix it.  I made a suggestion and... and you just shot it down.  And... you know... sometimes it's hard for me to hear you keep making comments about Dad.  I'm not saying he's not wrong but..."

"But we can't all spend our lives in Shangri La with a literal angel," Allison muttered.  "Real marriages are tough, JenniAnn, and..."

The tears that had threatened began to roll down JenniAnn's cheeks... and then came the anger.  Everything she'd held in for the past three weeks came screaming out of her mouth.

"Yes, I do have a wonderful, caring partner who happens to be an angel.  And I'm sorry if you don't think you have that.  But if you're so bloody miserable, get a divorce!  I don't care!  But do NOT act like my life with Andrew has always been easy!  Have you ever been woken up because Dad was having a PTSD attack?  When was the last time you felt like you were going to die because Dad was going into literal Hell to confront literal demons?  Or how about Dad coming home late because he just had to witness a gang rape?  How's that been, Mom?  No, we may not be married.  But you cannot act like we haven't had real issues!  They're a hell of a lot more real than this stupid sniping at each other the two of you have been doing!"

Allison stared at her daughter, horrified and embarrassed. 

"JenniAnn, I didn't..."

JenniAnn jerked away when her mother reached out to her. 

"Get away from me!" she yelped.  "Don't... touch... me."

"I... I..." Allison stammered, backing away and shaking her head.

JenniAnn tore out of the room and down the stairs.

Having heard the yelling, both Max and Violeta stepped out from their respective rooms.


JenniAnn clamored down the stairs, through the main level of the house, into the backyard, and streaked towards Andrew's workshop.


Andrew looked up with a start when his workshop door flew open.


He sprang up from his work bench and hurried towards JenniAnn, immediately pushing the tear-soaked hair from her face.

"Laja..."  Andrew pressed his lips to her forehead.  "Laja, what's..."

"I... I just couldn't take it any more."  JenniAnn looked around, her eyes darting.  "I just...  The photo of Joshua was already..."  She rested her hand over her belly.  "And then Mom just... went off.  And then... then I went off...  I shouldn't have said those things!"  She cradled Andrew's face.  "I love you.  I'd go through it all again...  I don't regret it.  Please know that.  I love you.  But I just couldn't bear her acting like... like it's easy.  Oh love... I love you.  So much.  I..."

Andrew saw her eyes flutter then felt her swoon against him. 

She was having a seizure.

"Oh, Laja..." Andrew stroked her hair and held her close.

"Don't feel good..." JenniAnn mumbled after a few moments.

"I know, darlin'." 

JenniAnn smiled sleepily.

"I love it when your accent comes through..."

"And I love you, JenniAnn.  And of course I know that you love me.  You've made it clear to me so many, many times.  But whatever was said... we can talk about it later.  For right now..."  Andrew gently steered her to his cot.  "I think you should lay down for a bit."

"Uh huh..."

JenniAnn sunk down onto the cot without argument.

Andrew tenderly tucked a blanket around her.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement in the doorway.  Craning his neck, he spotted Max and Violeta.

"Can I get you something to drink?  Or to eat?"

JenniAnn shook her head.

"Just need rest..."

"Okay.  Laja, Max and Violeta are here so I'm gonna go talk to them.  But I won't be far.  Promise."

JenniAnn squeezed his hand.


Andrew stooped to kiss her forehead then joined the others.

"Any idea what happened?"

Teary-eyed, Violeta shook her head.

"She... she was doing a fashion show with us and then she got a call.  And then I heard yelling.  JenniAnn came running out of your room.  And... and then Allison."

"I stopped her," Max confessed.  "I just... I got the idea that Maja needed to get away from her."

Andrew sighed and dragged a hand through his hair.

"This is ridiculous," he muttered.  "And I'm done with it.  She had a seizure..."

Violeta whimpered.

"Honey, go sit with JenniAnn.  Please," Andrew requested. 

Needing no further convincing, Violeta nodded and curled up beside JenniAnn.

"Dad..."  Max shook his head.  "What are we..."

Andrew motioned for Max to step outside.

"I'm done being polite," he insisted.  He stared up at the sky for a moment then looked back to Max.  "What are you and Rose doing... or were you doing before..."  He waved towards Willowveil.

"We were going to take Landon out to visit the stable."

"Wonderful.  Could you take your brother and sisters... minus Violeta?  She can stay here.  Maybe Evie and Mallory, too?"

"Sure.  Happy to."

"I just want them out of the house in case things get heated.  Not that worried about Marty and Takoda but maybe let them know, too."

"Okay.  Are you going to kick them out?  Allison and Robert, I mean."

Andrew shrugged.

"If I have to.  One thing I am definitely not doing is letting them continue like this.  I... I cannot and will not have them making Laja sick."

Max gave him a shaky smile.

"Go, Dad!"

Andrew smiled and patted him on the back.

"I just can't believe..." 

"I know...  They're behaving worse than children."

Andrew nodded.

"I don't get it at all...  At first I thought, you know, everyone was stressed...  Lots of big changes...  But this...  Nope."

"I know..."

"Anyway...  I need to make a couple of calls first.  And then check on your mom.  Could you go wrangle everyone, please?  And if you see Allison or Robert...  Please tell them I'd like to see them."

"Will do.  But... where?"

Andrew thought.

"Under the willow tree in the front yard."

Max balked.

"Not what I was expecting... but okay."

Andrew smiled.

"I'm not above a little emotional manipulation."

Chuckling, Max patted him on the shoulder.

"Got it.  Will do."

The two men hugged then parted, preparing for their roles in the mission ahead.


When Andrew arrived at the willow tree, he found two contrite Nebraskans.

"Andrew, I'm sorry that we've both been so boorish," Robert apologized.

Allison nodded.

"Things...  Emotions just got out of control and... I'm sorry that... that..."

"JenniAnn is sleeping.  She had a seizure and needed some rest," Andrew interrupted.

Allison sniffled.

"So I don't actually know what happened," the angel of death continued.  "Tell me."

Robert sighed.

"I... I suppose I haven't been as attentive as I should be..."

"Suppose..." Allison repeated before looking to Andrew with regret.

Andrew only sat in stony silence.

"Go on," he prodded when neither spoke.

"And... I've been short-tempered," Robert continued.  "Before we came here... when the news upset Allison...  I didn't know what to do with that.  So I'd just wander away.  Pick up a book.  Do some work."  He shrugged.  "I didn't know what to say so..."

"I didn't expect you to have answers!  I just wanted you to sit with me and comfort me!" Allison bellowed.

"I... I'm sorry.  But the thing is when I do do something... it seems like it's never enough.  I brought you breakfast this morning... and then when you found out JenniAnn did it first, you just got angry, Allison!"

"I liked thinking you... you'd finally thought to do something for me.  It's not the same when it turns out our daughter nudged you into it!"

Andrew stared up at the branches above him.  Two minutes...  He looked at his pocket watch.

"And apparently the dancing last night didn't count, either, because they danced first!"  Robert waved to Andrew.  "I can't win!"

"I never said it didn't count!  It just wasn't spontaneous."

"We're in a pandemic, Allison!  Spontaneous isn't a thing any more!"

"Have we been in a pandemic for the last two years, Robert?" Allison seethed.

Andrew looked at his watch.  One minute.

"I'm tired, all right?  I work eight hours a day... dealing with drama for most of it.  When I come home I'm just plain tired!"

"But somehow not tired enough when bowling night comes around."

"I need to unwind."

"You can't unwind with your wife?"

"It's not the same!  You can't tell me spending time with your girlfriends isn't different than spending time with me."

"Of course it..."

Time was up.

"Enough!" Andrew shouted.  "That's enough.  I'm not a marriage counselor.  I would be happy to set you up with one.  I know a guy... but I am not that guy.  And even if I was... that's a nope.  Ixnay.  Not gonna do it."

Allison and Robert stared at Andrew as if he was an automaton who had suddenly broke down and begun repeating itself.

"Sorry..." Andrew apologized.  "But I just want to know... what happened with JenniAnn?"

Allison's face flushed.

"I... I suppose I just wanted someone to listen while I vented."

"About the breakfast," Robert muttered.

Allison ignored him.

"So... I went to her.  And... and she brought up counseling but I knew he wouldn't go."

Robert said nothing.

"And she mentioned that you two had gone to him... Reuel?  And... I suppose I just got angry.  Because, in my mind, it's not the same.  You... you're practically perfect, Andrew.  And I... said as much." 

There was silence for a few moments until Andrew broke it.

"Go on."

Allison's eyes welled.  "I said that... that real marriages are tough."

"Allison!" Robert chided.  "How could you..."

"Go on..."  Andrew repeated.

The woman flinched under his gaze.

"She... she said that you were wonderful.  But that things hadn't always been... been easy.  She brought up the... the PTSD... and... and your witnessing a gang rape and... and going to Hell.  And she... she was right.  I... I hadn't thought..."  Allison shook her head and began to sob.

Tears trickled down Andrew's cheeks.


He grabbed the cross around his neck.

Robert bowed his head.

"She... she was right," Allison repeated as she continued to sob.  "Those... those are real issues.  I... I've been petty."

"We've been petty," Robert added, reaching out and resting a hand on his wife's knee.

Andrew sniffled and wiped at his eyes.

"You're right.  You have been.  But..."  He softened.  "There's obviously some real pain there.  But I just... I can't have it continue to impact JenniAnn.  So... I spoke to Raquel and Sibyll.  They've each offered to let one of you stay with them.  Just for a few days.  Just... to let everyone breathe."

"O-okay."  Allison nodded.

"Okay," Robert agreed.

Andrew let out a deep breath.

"Did you wonder why I asked you to meet me here?"

JenniAnn's parents nodded.

"When I came back from Sheol, this is where I first appeared.  And JenniAnn was waiting for me.  And it was... glorious."  Andrew smiled at the memory.  "But when we parted...  The agony on her face...  The agony I felt..."  His eyes filled.  "It was terrible.  And I told myself that I would make every day of her life as good as I possibly could.  Not because I felt like I owed it to her.   Not because I felt guilty... although I did.  But because I saw what being separated would do to us both.  And I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure that never, ever happened."

Andrew stared up at the swaying branches. 

"This place marked a new beginning for us.  I hope it can for you, too."  He rose to his feet.  "You can say your good byes to JenniAnn when she gets up.  But then I'd like you to leave.  Just for a few days... like I said."

"We understand."


Andrew stared down at the couple.

"Good.  I'll give you some time to yourselves now.  The house is cleared so you can pack what you need.  I'm going to go check on JenniAnn."

Not waiting for further response, Andrew walked away from the willow tree to seek out his Laja.


Later, once she'd had some time to nap, JenniAnn returned to Willowveil with Andrew and Violeta.

Allison and Robert met her at the back door.

"Sweetie, I'm so sorry," Allison apologized.  "I should never have said what I said.  And I shouldn't have acted like I acted... like I've been acting."

"I'm sorry, too, JenniAnn," Robert added.  "We both made our problems into your problems and that... that was wrong.  Very wrong."

JenniAnn gave them a weary smile.

"Thank you.  I appreciate that.  But I just... I don't want to talk about it any more right now.  I think... let's just leave it for a couple days.  Please."

"Of course," Allison agreed, smoothing some hair behind her daughter's ear.  "And actually..."  She looked to Andrew who nodded.  "We're going to take a break for a few days.  I'm staying with Raquel and Nico and your dad's staying with Sibyll and Lewellyn."

"Right.  It's not a big deal.  We'll be fine.  We're just getting some breathing room and then... then we're going to contact Reuel," Robert shared.

"Okay...  That sounds good.  Right now I just... I just want to go lay down some more."  JenniAnn hugged them both.  "We'll talk soon.  I... I love you."

As Allison and Robert echoed back their "I love yous," Andrew and Violeta escorted JenniAnn to her room.  She heaved a relieved sigh once there.

"I don't really feel like sleeping again.  But... I have no energy.  I just wanna take my shower and get into my jammies."

"Are you sure showering is a good idea?" Violeta asked.  "I mean... you'd be alone."

JenniAnn squeezed her hand.

"It's fine.  It'll help with the queasiness, actually.  And I'll be quick."

"Maybe I'll just hang out here and... and make sure you don't fall?" Violeta offered.

JenniAnn smiled.


"And then I can brush your hair out, if you want," the angel offered.

"Aww, honey.  That'd be nice.  Thank you."

"I'll see your parents off, Laja.  But... I'll have my cell," Andrew reminded.  "Call if..."

JenniAnn stretched up to kiss his cheek.

"I will, love."

Andrew cradled her to him for a few moments then kissed her hair and stepped away.

"Okay.  Be back soon."

"Sounds good."

"I'll be here!" Violeta assured.

Andrew squeezed her hand.

"Thanks, Violeta.  Love you both."

"Love you!"

"I love you, too, Andrew."

The angel of death smiled once more at the two then left, anxious to return.


After JenniAnn had showered and changed, she settled onto the bed with Violeta behind her, brush in hand.

"Tell me if I pull!"

"Will do."

"Okay."  Violeta began to brush out JenniAnn's long tresses in silence.

JenniAnn laughed.

"Honey, we can talk.  It's okay."

Violeta grinned.

"Okay!  I just thought maybe you wanted quiet."

"No.  Talking is good.  Have you heard from Miguel?"

"Yep!  I told him we only have three episodes left to watch!  And also...  I asked him if Shelby could be part of our Zoom call on Saturday.  And he agreed!  That's okay, isn't it?"

"She's mature enough to watch it.  I imagine she's mature enough to discuss it with others.  I trust the rest of the group to not say anything really out of line.  It was nice of you to ask."

"Oh, they're all really nice!  They'll be respectful, I know it.  Also... I just wanted you to know that if you don't feel up to watching tonight... I totally understand."

JenniAnn reached back and squeezed the angel's hand.

"Thank you.  I appreciate that.  And we'll see.  But, so long as I don't have another seizure, I still want to watch.  It's been nice... getting all cozy with Andrew and watching."

Violeta hugged JenniAnn's shoulders.

"Thank you, baby."

"I just...  I know sometimes you and Andrew have disagreements.  But... you... you're not mean to each other.  And even if you've had occasional bad moments... you don't let us see them.  And... I'm glad.  And... and thankful.  I feel like... like it would feel like two halves of me were trying to pull apart... and that would hurt."

JenniAnn's eyes welled.  It did feel something like that...

"We just... we want you kids to feel safe... not stressed."

"We do," Violeta assured.

JenniAnn smiled.


She turned around and hugged the angel tightly.  Then Violeta resumed brushing JenniAnn's hair and conversation turned to lighter topics, eventually leaving them both laughing.


When Andrew returned, he found JenniAnn still in bed, reading a book.  Violeta, however, was dozing beside her.

JenniAnn smiled up at Andrew.

"Poor love...  I think she just got rattled."

Andrew lightly stroked Violeta's hair.

"Yeah, I think so, too."

"How did everything go with... moving them?"

"They were fine.  Really.  Very quiet.  I think... the seizure scared them."

JenniAnn frowned.

"To be fair...  It maybe wasn't entirely them... mostly them.  But not entirely."

Andrew pulled a chair up to JenniAnn's side of the bed.

"Yeah...  You said something about Joshua... before your spell."

JenniAnn grabbed the Kindle off of her bedstand and, after a few moments, handed it to Andrew.

The angel of death stared at the image of John and Joshua.

"Loreena saw it first.  She called to verify that it was him.  I... I know he's fine.  They're both fine.  It was just startling to see."

Andrew flicked at a tear in the corner of his eye.



"Did you tell..."  Andrew looked to Violeta.


"Probably for the best.  At least not right then when she was already so concerned about you... rightly."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn looked down lovingly at the girl.  "Should we tell the Friends, though?  I mean is it better to be told or... just happen upon it and be startled?"

"We should probably tell them.  Loreena may have already told Mason and Roger."

"That's what I figured."

Andrew picked up his phone.

"I can send a group text, if you want?"

"Yes, please."


Andrew did so then sighed.

"Well, I'm gonna go get dinner started.  Any requests?"

JenniAnn shook her head.

"Anything sounds good.  And I'm really okay now.  I can come help you."

Andrew cupped JenniAnn's chin and kissed her.

"No.  It's okay.  Takoda and Marty already offered.  I just want you to rest.  I'll come back up when it's ready... see if you want to come down or eat here."

"Thank you.  But I think I'll want to come join everyone.  It'll be nice to have a peaceful meal... without worrying about a flare-up."

"I understand."

JenniAnn returned Andrew's kiss.

"See you in a bit."

"In a bit," Andrew echoed, smiling softly.

He entered the hallway but looked back once more in time to see JenniAnn smile dotingly at Violeta then return to her book.


That evening, Andrew looked on with concern as JenniAnn gave Avi his final feeding of the day.

"Are you sure that maybe you shouldn't just try to get to sleep early?" he checked.

JenniAnn looked up from Avi's precious, little face to smile at Andrew.

"I'm fine.  Really."  She patted the spot on the bed next to her.

Andrew sat down and smiled as JenniAnn caressed his cheek.

"You were wonderful today.  Truly."

Andrew bowed his head.

"I just... I get concerned about you."

"I know, love.  But you've also proven that you know exactly what to do to help me... and you do it.  I'll be fine.  Truly."

Avi pulled away and yawned.

Smiling, Andrew stroked his cheek.

"You ready for bed, bud?"

Avi smiled sleepily.

"Sounds like a good plan."  JenniAnn wiped his mouth, kissed his brow, and handed him to Andrew.  "Night, night baby."


While Andrew got Avi settled down, JenniAnn went around the bedroom, turning on LED votives and changing out a scented wax cube, making the room even homier.  She also changed out off her flannel pajamas and into the green nightgown and silver robe that Raquel and Monica had made for her when they were waiting for Andrew to return from Sheol.  She sighed as she remembered the look in his eyes the first time he'd seen it... the way his hands had glided over the silk... the way he had held her... closely, tenderly.


Andrew re-entered the room and approached, wrapping his arms around JenniAnn's waist.

JenniAnn closed her eyes as he brushed back her hair and kissed her neck.

"You didn't have to change," he whispered.

"I know...  But Olivia has some real nightwear game.  I didn't want her showing me up," JenniAnn kidded.

Andrew chuckled.

"Well... I am particularly fond of this one.  Much more fond of the woman wearing it, though."

JenniAnn twisted around to face him and cradled his face in her hands.

"Thank you.  I'm incredibly fond of you, too."  She stretched up to kiss him.  "Now... you ready to watch... 'Screaming Meemies'?"

"Ready if you are..."

"I am."

The two settled into bed and took out their trusty Kindle... ready to see how the saga of the Crains would come to a close.


When the episode ended, Andrew looked to JenniAnn who was dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief from Maryam.

"It's so sad...  Just so sad...  All of it.  Poor Olivia having that awful vision of her babies... dead and dying.  Poor Poppy... messed up as she is...  I think I'd go insane, too, if I had to watch my babies die... slowly and painfully.  And the Dudleys...  They did have a living daughter.  But now she's dead, too." 

"Laja..."  Andrew squeezed her shoulders and kissed her hair.  "I think that's enough for the night.  It's been a rough day and..."

JenniAnn adamantly shook her head.

"No...  I just really want to know how it all turns out.  I want to know if the other kids are safe... or not."

"I don't know..."  Andrew frowned and studied JenniAnn.

After dabbing at her eyes once more, JenniAnn sat up straight.

"I'm fine.  Really.  It was just a lot.  But...  I feel like, maybe, there's a glimmer of hope that things will get better.  Like we even saw it in this episode!  Dark as it was! 
I feel like Mrs. Dudley, rough around the edges as she may be, is God's way of pushing back against the evil in the house.  When she was talking with Olivia... all in blue and, at one point, the wings on the angel statue behind her seemed to be coming from her.  And the way she urged Olivia to leave the house...  And how she put aside her fears of the house and came to help when she heard there would be children there."

Andrew smiled.

"I wondered if you'd notice the wings.  Yes, sometimes humans can be angels, too, in a manner.  I know from personal experience, of course."

JenniAnn flushed with pride when Andrew rested a hand over her heart and peered into her eyes.

"Always happy to be your angel," she replied, sneaking a quick kiss.  "But..."  She pulled back and looked at Andrew sternly.  "New rule!  If you ever wake up and I have a screwdriver pressed to your neck... commit me.  Immediately." 

"Laja!  That's never gonna happen," Andrew protested.

"Okay, so maybe that was a touch dramatic.  But I mean..."  JenniAnn sighed.  "Between the seizure and watching Olivia meltdown...  I mean...  There very well could be times when I'm not in my right mind.  I mean, like, with... with my Aunt Sophia."

"Laja...  No."  Andrew shook his head.  "That... that won't happen."

JenniAnn opened her mouth to remind Andrew that he couldn't know that... but something in his eyes made her stop.

"Well, anyway...  I liked seeing Olivia bring up the kite and the line thing with Mrs. Dudley."  JenniAnn rested her forehead against Andrew's.  "You were definitely my line today."

Andrew brushed his lips against hers then sighed happily when she pressed closer.

With a pleased smile, JenniAnn pulled back.

"Anyway...  I went on for a bit.  What did you think?" she inquired.

Andrew dragged a hand through his hair.

"It... it was a hard watch.  Seeing Olivia fall apart and Hugh just so... helpless.  And it broke my heart when Olivia was telling the twins that she would keep them safe, that they were safe with her because... you just... you can't keep your kids safe.  Not always.  I mean...  The Dudleys had their daughter on lockdown and she still...  And Hugh thought he'd done what he needed to to keep Olivia safe but...  And the 'screaming meemies'...  It reminded me of when Nen and Tzila... all of our nightmares..."

Andrew's gaze drifted to the ceiling as he blinked back tears.

"I just...  I... I wanted to keep you safe but..."

JenniAnn stared down at Andrew's left hand which had drifted to her side, right over her scar.

"Oh love...  Maybe... maybe we should call it a night?" 

Andrew nodded.


JenniAnn kissed him.


"I'm sorry.  I just..."

JenniAnn shook her head and rested a finger over his lips.

"No need to apologize.  It's fine.  Truly.  Let's just snuggle, okay?"

Andrew smiled gratefully and nodded.

JenniAnn returned his smile.


She took away the Kindle and placed it on her bedstand then nestled down beside Andrew, her head on his chest, her left arm wrapped across his middle.

"Okay?" JenniAnn checked.

"Mmm hmm..."  Andrew nuzzled her hair.

The two lay in silence for several minutes until JenniAnn drifted to sleep, lulled by the steady beat of Andrew's heart.

Andrew remained awake.  He stared up at the ceiling and thought... thought about how, once, he had been in Hill House... or some place very like it.



Monday, April 6th, 2

"Love... love, wake up."

Andrew's eyes shot open and revealed JenniAnn peering down at him.

"Oh good..."  She bent down and kissed him.  "You... you started whimpering in your sleep and..."

Andrew reached up to caress JenniAnn's cheek.

"I... nightmares... memories...  From when I was with Nen and Tzila."

"Poor love..."

JenniAnn snuggled back down beside the angel.

"I... hurt you," he muttered.  "I killed..."

"But you didn't, Andrew.  Not really."

Andrew sighed as JenniAnn's hand slid beneath his shirt and rested over his heart.

"You've been nothing but good to me.  I honestly... I'm not sure where I'd be with out you, Andrew.  I feel like... like there's no one else anywhere... in all time... who is so perfectly suited to me."  JenniAnn beamed at him.  "What they showed you was ridiculously impossible.  A screaming meemy if ever there was one."

Calmed, Andrew smiled and nuzzled her hair.

"Mmm hmm..."

"And, ya know, I was thinking...  If you don't want to watch the last episode, I can just watch with the girls and..."

Andrew shook his head.

"No... no.  I'm fine.  It just caught me off-guard.  I didn't expect to find a parallel to the show and what happened in Sheol."

"I didn't think of it, either..."

"It's okay, Laja.  Really.  Anyway...  Do you know what time it is?"

"7:34.  And Violeta is up.  I know because she texted me just before 7:00."

JenniAnn held her phone out for Andrew to see.


Andrew chuckled.

"Really got into that episode, I see.  And... we still don't know."

"Nope.  And I got so wrapped up in what was going on with Olivia that I kinda forgot about poor Luke being nabbed by Poppy."

"So...  I have to find out.  I'll definitely watch with you tonight.  But then..."  Andrew cupped JenniAnn's chin.  "Maybe we can find something lighter to watch, hmm?"

Laughing, JenniAnn nodded.

"Because I have enjoyed spending this time with you, talking it over with you."  Andrew rested his forehead against JenniAnn's.  "I know things are hard right now but... I'll always be grateful we had this time."

"Me too, Andrew..."  JenniAnn ran her fingers through his hair and sighed.  "I spose we should get up."

"Afraid so.  You're feeling okay?"

"Like nothing happened."


After one more kiss, the two left their bed and got ready to start preparing breakfast.


After a very pleasant day which Andrew spent working in his shop while JenniAnn taught remotely, the two shared a quiet dinner with their far less strained household.  Once everyone had enjoyed root beer floats for dessert, the two turned into their room for the night.

As she had the night before, JenniAnn lit candles while Andrew got a small fire going. 

When they were finished, they stared at each other for a moment.

"Ya ready?" JenniAnn checked, holding her hand out towards the angel.

Nodding, Andrew took her hand.


They nestled into bed and then started The Haunting of Hill House for the final time.


As the final credits rolled, both Andrew and JenniAnn were in tears.

"So... so the house...  It... it was like Sheol the whole time?" JenniAnn mused, her voice quaking.

"I... I guess so.  Sheol before Joshua came.  To some, it... it was beautiful.  To others, it was bleak and terrifying."

"Do you... do you think they'll ever get to Heaven?  Olivia and Nellie and Hugh and Mrs. Dudley and her girls?"

Andrew put away the Kindle and wrapped his arms around JenniAnn.

"I think the Dudleys were in Heaven.  Or nearly there.  And I think with Nellie and Hugh there to help Olivia... to help break her away from all those misguided thoughts Poppy planted in her head... there's hope.  There's always hope."

"Yes..."  JenniAnn sighed.  "God bless Nellie...  That little speech of hers...  The confetti speech.  It... it was so beautiful.  I... Andrew, I think I want that recited at my funeral."

"Laja..."  Andrew shook his head.  "We don't need to think about..."

"No... love...  We do."  JenniAnn cradled his face in her hands.  "Watching that...  It... it made me think...  No matter what we do... there's no guarantee we can keep trouble out.  And... and we can try and try to... like Olivia... and only cause more hurt.  Or... or we can embrace it... acknowledge that pain, suffering, and, yes... death are a part of life.  And we can prepare.  And we can pray.  And we... we can have peace, Andrew."

"I... I don't want to think about it, Laja.  I just... I don't!" Andrew cried out.  "It... it's my job.  But I just can't... with you."

JenniAnn took Andrew's right hand and held it to her heart.

"I know it's hard, my love.  I know.  But...  I also... I don't want to leave you alone to figure it all out on your own.  I don't want you to... to be like Hugh... 
I don't want to think of you ambling around... talking to me as if I was still here.  For years on end... trying to figure things out because we didn't talk about those things while I was still here.  And, yes, we will still talk after... after I'm dead.  But we don't know the... the whens and the hows of that," JenniAnn insisted.  "I just...  I... I would feel calmer, love.  Especially now... with everything going on.  It would help me to... to know that... that I hadn't left you alone to figure it all out."

Andrew stared at JenniAnn.  He knew she was right.  He, better than most, should know that... 

"She's going to ask you to watch a TV show with her... something that's well outside of your comfort zone.  But it's important."

So this was why...

Andrew drew in a shaky breath and nodded.

"I... I understand, Laja.  And I... agree."

Teary-eyed, JenniAnn brought his right hand to her lips.

"Thank you."

Andrew pulled his journal out from his bedstand and grabbed a pen.

"So... so you want that bit Nellie said recited.  By anyone in particular?"

JenniAnn stroked his arm.

"By... me?"

"Yes, please.  I... I think it would be good for the kids.  And for you."

"Okay."  Andrew wrote.  "Anything else?"

"I want 'What Wondrous Love' played.  And... I want 'The Parting Glass' to be the last song.  And then I want everyone to go to the ballroom or a pub or something and drink their favorite beverages and chat and remember."

In spite of the tears still rimming his eyes, the angel of death chuckled.


"And I don't care whether I'm buried or cremated or whatever.  But I want to be buried here or have my ashes be here.  In Dyeland.  And if I am buried... I want it to be natural.  I don't want my body pumped full of chemicals and then put in the earth.  And whatever I go in... a box or an urn... I don't want it to be ridiculous.  I don't want you spending money that could fund a family vacation.  Plain pine is fine... like the ones you made.  Or a coffee tin.  Clearly labeled, of course."

Andrew set down his pencil and stared, eye brow quirked.

"Laja... we are NOT putting you in a coffee tin."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Well, it's not like it'll really be me...  But you know what I mean.  Just nothing ostentatious."  She sobered.  "And... and if everything happens here...  Preparing my body, I mean...  I just...  I don't want it to be you.  I don't want that to be the first time you... you see me... naked.  Assuming...  Maybe it's silly but... I just don't."

"I... I understand, Laja."

Andrew sighed and brushed his thumb across her cheek.

"My heart..." he choked out.  "Will be broken."

"But God will be there to mend it, my love.  A-and so will I..."  JenniAnn brushed away his tears as she kissed him.  "It... it'll be a change.  That's all.  And... and we've had changes before that seemed scary at first.  But then... then they made everything better."  She smiled.  "You didn't used to live here.  We used to sleep alone."

Andrew, too, smiled but then it cracked.

"How... how will I sleep, Laja?"

JenniAnn bowed her head.

"I... I think Joshua would let you come with me... stay with me... if you wanted."

Andrew closed his eyes and imagined.  An eternity together...  But...

"But... you wouldn't want me to," he murmured.

"I... I would, love.  But... for the kids to lose both parents in a single instant..."  JenniAnn shook her head.  "I... I wanted to ask you... the night we watched 'Two Storms'... if... if you would stay or... or leave them when..."

Andrew shook his head, moving as if it pained him.

"I wouldn't leave them, Laja.  I promise."

"Thank you."  JenniAnn beamed and nestled into Andrew's embrace for a few moments.

Andrew rested his cheek against her hair and breathed in the scent of her lavender shampoo.  He allowed the aroma and the gentle heaviness of her body against his to subdue him.  Then he spoke.

"If... if, God forbid, it should happen while the kids were still young...  I would stay with them until they were all grown-up.  Until I knew they were in good places, mentally and physically and spiritually," Andrew promised.  "But if... and I hope and pray this is the case... we grow old together...  Laja, I don't want to linger forever... to watch them get sick and... and die...  To do it alone... not really alone... but with you gone Home."

"I understand...  Can you... give them a year?  Just a year and then at any point after that... come Home to me, to God," JenniAnn requested.  "And... in the meantime... I would come to you in... in any way God allowed.  In dreams, in visions...  And I know He would let you come Home to visit.  Just as He does now."

"A year...  And, yes...  He would," Andrew agreed, clasping one of her hands in his.

"And... and there's one more thing."  JenniAnn bowed her head sending tears splashing onto the sheets.

Andrew closed his eyes tightly for a moment, bracing himself. 

"If... if things did happen like they did with my Aunt Sophia...  I... I need you to protect the kids.  Even if it makes me sad... or mad... even if it means sending me somewhere.  Sometimes... you know how it is with dementia.  People say things they don't mean.  And I... I just don't want to hurt our kids.  And I don't want to hurt you, either, but... definitely not our babies."

Andrew shifted and rested an ear against her chest.

"I promise, Laja. I... I'll do what needs to be done... for the kids."

JenniAnn gently ran her fingers through Andrew's hair.  She let out a shuddering breath when he sat up and peered down at her.  She brushed her thumbs over the fine lines near his eyes and mouth and stroked the bits of gray in his otherwise bronze hair.

"Sometimes I... I feel... weighed down... by... by how I... I changed you," she confessed.  "All these decisions... you... you could have avoided them all."

"Laja...  No."  Andrew shook his head then kissed her.  "No..." he repeated.  "To avoid them...  It would mean avoiding our five beautiful, amazing kids... our grandson... the little one yet to come.  It would mean avoiding so many friends...  Avoiding seeing all of you meet and love Joshua... and be loved by him.  Avoiding..."  He looked around before returning his gaze to JenniAnn.  "This house and all the beautiful memories that unfolded here.  And..."  He smiled, a twinkle in his eye.  "Avoiding this bed... and all the beautiful memories that unfolded... right here... finding a part of... of myself that I... I didn't even know existed.  Avoiding you... my beloved, my own angel.  No, Laja...  Even if... if everything from now on was just sorrow upon sorrow... which it won't be... but even if it was... I would do it all... all of it... again."

"My love..."  JenniAnn pulled him down towards her. 

Andrew kissed her lips then trailed kisses down to her collarbone.

"Closer... please," he whispered, his voice husky with sadness and gratefulness and a need for comfort.

"Yes, my love.  Yes..."

JenniAnn tugged Andrew's T-shirt over his head, laughing when it got stuck on his chin.  When she wrested it off, his hair was askew prompting more laughter.  She brushed it into place.

"Oh, sure.  And your top just slides down gracefully so your hair looks perfect," Andrew teased, relieved to hear her laughter.

"Poor love..." JenniAnn faux-lamented.

Andrew smiled.

"Blessed..." he corrected as he, gracefully, lowered the top of her nightgown.

"Yes... blessed," JenniAnn echoed as she embraced him and rested her head on his shoulder.

Andrew closed his eyes, focusing on the sensation of their hearts beating together.

"I love you, Laja," he whispered into her ear.  "Always."

"Always, my love..."

They kissed then kissed again.  They dreamed together of their future and the future of their children and grandchildren.  They laughed as they remembered adventures and misadventures of the past.  They were so focused on each other that they didn't hear the footsteps above them.

It was no ghost... but Life Himself.

Joshua didn't want to be heard.  Right then they needed to listen to each other.  But he could give a little inspiration...

Joshua went to his desk and jotted a note.  He knew JenniAnn would find it the next morning when she watered the plants clustered near the windows.

He wrote a few words then, smiling, set down his pen and sighed happily.

All would be well.


Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

Andrew awoke early... too early.  There was no sign of the sun yet.  The dying embers of the fire were the only source of light.

Andrew looked to JenniAnn who was still asleep.  Her right cheek rested against his chest while her hair spread over his torso, tickling him in a pleasant way.

Twenty years and a few odd days...

That's how long he had known her.  A blink of an eye in his lifetime and yet...  So much had happened in those twenty years. 

He had meant everything he'd said to her... he wouldn't change anything.

But still he wondered...  How would it work when he was so changed?

She had touched him in ways no one else ever had... mostly emotionally... but also physically.  And that wasn't nothing.

He both felt and heard her sigh and smiled.

Lyrics of an old song came to Andrew's mind.

"That I had loved, not as I should,
a creature made of clay.
When the angel woos the clay,
he'll lose his wings at dawn of day."

Not true, of course.  She had made him a better angel.  And he should have loved her... should always love her... would always love her.  God had created them to love each other and be loved by each other.  But maybe there was a small kernel of truth... 

The illusion he'd had that he was Andrew, angel of death, the friendly loner, the compassionate one who stood apart, who only observed...  He'd lost that.  He was part of humanity now...  When she'd been in a coma, the word that had most perfectly expressed how he felt was halved.  He'd felt as if his soul had been split in two and one half... her half... was inaccessible to him.  He'd functioned.  He'd parented.  He'd consoled.  He'd defended.  He'd prayed.  But he'd still felt halved.

And he dreaded the eventual return of that feeling. 

Andrew began to weep.

JenniAnn stirred.

"Love..."  She sat up and peered at him in the gloom.

"Sorry.  I just... thinking and... didn't mean to wake you," Andrew apologized.

JenniAnn leaned down and kissed him.

"It's okay.  Thinking about?"

"The future..."

JenniAnn brought his hand to her chest then abruptly dropped it.

"Umm..."  She blushed.

"Laja..."  Andrew sat up, looking at her with concern.

"It's... nothing.  Just... your crying...  Darn oxytocin.  I either need Avi... or my pump."

JenniAnn ran towards Avi's nursery then shrugged.

"Sound asleep.  Pumping it is.  So sorry...  What were you saying?" JenniAnn asked as she gathered what she needed.

Andrew blinked.

"I... I thought it was just when babies cry..."

"Nope.  Anybody really.  This is why I can't watch movies where Hugh Jackman dies or else is majorly distressed with Violeta unless I nurse first... or have some really good padding.  Learned that one the hard way."

Andrew felt his lips begin to twitch.

JenniAnn laughed.

"Oh, go on.  You can laugh.  It's me.  Of course my breasts would be emotional saps, too."

Andrew began to laugh... a lot.

"This is why I always nurse Avi right before bed.  In case we get soppy during the night.  Things are gonna be awkward for a bit once I do start weaning him..."

Once she was settled back down beside him, Andrew kissed her hair.

"Oh, Laja... my Laja..."  He sighed happily. 

"My Andrew..."  She rested her forehead against his.  "Now... talk to me."

"I'm fine.  Really.  This..."  Andrew laughed again as he waved to the pumps.  "Weirdly enough... was what I needed.  I... I was getting a little... a lot... sad.  Thinking about how I felt... halved... when you were in a coma.  And I don't want to feel that again.  Even for a year.  Even if it's not all the time.  But...  I'll get through it.  And, besides, there's no use fixating on the future when we have so many... adventures... ahead of us."

"Such an adventure..." JenniAnn deadpanned causing Andrew to laugh again.

After a few moments of companionable silence, Andrew spoke.

"Do you think... in the future... when you've gone Home... will we... still be as we are now?"

JenniAnn shrugged.

"I... don't know.  You've been to Heaven.  I've not."

"Yes...  But...  It never felt right to ask anyone."

"Well...  I guess I've always assumed that relationships in Heaven would be more intimate... not less.  And maybe... probably... in a different way.  I mean... look at Maryam and Yosef.  They have some sort of physical relationship.  But it's much more than that.  And they seem... settled.  Comfortable with each other.  Like nothing is unsaid or undone that needs to be said or done."

"Yes...  That's true."

"But... supposing you did eventually get back to your AOD gig... and supposing you were on Earth for a space of time in human form... and supposing I was allowed... I wouldn't be opposed to showing up in your apartment or whatever and getting... nostalgic."  JenniAnn bumped her shoulder against Andrew's.

"Nostalgic?" Andrew queried, feigning ignorance.

"Canoodling, Andrew, canoodling."

Laughing, Andrew wrapped an arm around JenniAnn's shoulders and kissed her hair.



They exchanged smiles and, once JenniAnn was finished pumping, got dressed and ready to face the day together.


Max startled when he entered the ballroom to find his parents were already up.  JenniAnn was seated on a couch, reading, while Andrew was laying across it, his head in her lap.  Hearing Max, JenniAnn looked up from her book and smiled.

"Hey there, g'morning!" she greeted.

Andrew moved to sit up.

"No, no," Max protested.  "I didn't mean to interrupt.  I just didn't expect to see anyone else so early.  Rough night?"

"Mmm..."  JenniAnn considered the question.  "Emotional night.  But a good one."

"Very good," Andrew agreed dreamily.

Max chuckled.

"All right...  Well, I definitely do NOT want details.  But I'm glad.  You deserve it.  Truly."  Max beamed at the two.  "Anyway...  I thought I'd get the fire started then... baby wants crepes.  So I thought I'd use your famous recipe, Dad, and..."

Andrew sat up and shook his head.

"Not my recipe.  I got it from Joshua."

Max smiled.

"Then that makes it even more special."

"I'll help you," Andrew offered.

"Dad, you stay put.  I..."

"No, really.  It's okay," JenniAnn assured.  "Avi will be up soon and I gotta get a few things done beforehand, anyway."  She kissed Andrew's cheek then rose and embraced their eldest son.  "But I'll definitely take some crepes afterwards."

"They'll be there for ya, Maja."

"I'll start the fire, Max.  You go on ahead to the kitchen," Andrew directed.


Once they were alone again, Andrew took JenniAnn's hands in his.

"Thank you.  For last night... you were right.  I feel... better.  Everything with COVID...  It was weighing on me.  And it still is.  How can it not?  But it doesn't feel as... rough.  Because... even if the worst happened... I... I know what you want."

JenniAnn squeezed his hands then released them so she could stroke his mussed hair into place.

"I'm glad.  I feel better, too."

They kissed, smiled at each other, then went about their chores, happy and peaceful.


Andrew was piping raspberry compote into crepes when he heard the sound of someone running down the stairs and into the kitchen.

"Andrew!" JenniAnn exclaimed as she approached.  She thrust a piece of paper out towards him.  "I... I found this.  In Joshua's room."

Overhearing, Max set down a mixing bowl and approached.

"Is... is everything all right?"

Andrew read the note and smiled.

"Very much all right."  He looked to JenniAnn who nodded. 

Max accepted the note his father held out to him.

He, too, grinned when he finished reading it.

"I love it!  A ceremony in El-Chanan.  I mean... I'm really glad you had your blessing ceremony with Joshua.  But I always thought you deserved to have something we could all celebrate."

"We've discussed it... here and there.  But never committed to anything."  JenniAnn took the note back from Max and silently reread it.

"You've made difficult... but necessary plans, my beloved ones.  Now plan for something more pleasant... a blessing ceremony in El-Chanan when all of this is over and you can safely gather together again.  And it will happen.  Trust in that... and in me.  All my love, Joshua"

Andrew kissed JenniAnn's hair.

"I can't wait."

"Me neither..."  JenniAnn smiled, lost in pleasant thoughts.

"A nice ceremony... then dancing the night away."  Andrew held his hand out to JenniAnn.

Laughing, she took it and let him lead her in a few steps near the refrigerator.

Max looked on, smiling proudly and feeling grateful to see them so happy.


When it came time for bed that night, Andrew and JenniAnn found themselves uncertain of what to do.

Andrew chuckled.

"I mean we only had Hill House for about a week..."

JenniAnn smiled.

"I know...  But it was nice to have a routine with so much else being so wonky."

"Well, I have an idea."

JenniAnn watched, curious, as Andrew once again took his journal from his bedstand.

"Plans...  For El-Chanan, for our blessing ceremony."  He began to write.  "You told me about your dream wedding once.  Gourmet popcorn as favors, right?"

Delighted that he'd remembered, JenniAnn nodded and rested a hand on his arm.

"And blue and green decorations?"

"Emerald and cerulean."

Andrew grinned.

"Right...  Emerald and cerulean," he repeated as he jotted the words down.

"And you, love... what do you want?" JenniAnn inquired.

"Hmm...  Lots of candles.  Real ones." 


"And a sundae bar at the reception."

With a laugh, JenniAnn nodded.


"But mostly... mostly I just want you... and our family... our friends... all together."

"Yes..."  JenniAnn snuggled against the angel.

Andrew kissed her hair.

JenniAnn smiled then reached for their Kindle.

"I wanna look for a dress.  Is that weird?  Too soon?"

Smiling, Andrew shook his head.

"Not weird, not too soon.  I won't look if you don't want me to."

"No.  You can.  I'd like your input.  I just won't want you to see me in it til that day." 

"Sounds good."

And so they went from site to site, looking at dresses and dreaming until their eye lids grew heavy.

"Best get to sleep," Andrew said between yawns.

"Yes...  I feel like we might get woken up.  Violeta and Shel are probably about half-way through the final episode by now.  There will be... feelings, I think."

"Yes... probably.  So... until then, g'night, sweet Laja."

"G'night, my love."

After a kiss, they got comfortable, silently said their prayers, and drifted to sleep.



JenniAnn awoke to the sound of sniffling.  Wearily, she opened her eyes and turned away from Andrew, expecting to see Belle standing next to their bed.  And, at first, she thought the child standing beside her was Belle.  And then she spoke.

"Can... can I sleep in your... your b-bed tonight, JenniAnn?"

For a moment, JenniAnn gaped.  It had been a long time since she'd seen Violeta's child-form.

"P-please..." the angel pleaded.

JenniAnn snapped to attention.

"Of course, baby.  Come here."

Without hesitation, Violeta climbed into bed and laid beside JenniAnn.

"Poor love... you're so cold."  JenniAnn rubbed Violeta's little arms to warm them.

"I... I went outside.  I wanted to see the stars.  And talk to Joshua."

"I see.  And did that help?"

"A... a little.  But I was still scared.  And then... then I was little."

"Ah...  Sounds like Joshua knew what you needed."

For the first time since entering Andrew's and JenniAnn's room, Violeta smiled.

JenniAnn kissed her forehead.

Violeta reached for the cross around the woman's neck and began fingering the stones.

"This one's for Andrew.  This one's for you.  This one's for Max.  This one's for me."


"This one's for Shel.  This one's for Belle.  And this one's for Avi."

"That's right.  So you're all always close to my heart."

"I came from your heart," Violeta whispered.

JenniAnn smiled.

"I spose ya did, in a manner.  And from Andrew and, most of all, from God."

Violeta nodded and ran her fingers over the stones again.

"'Seven keeps us safe'... like Luke said in the show."

"Honey...  God keeps us safe.  You know that."

"I... I know.  But... I like being seven...  I don't want us to ever not be seven," Violeta fretted.  Her big eyes filled as she stared into JenniAnn's.  "I don't want you to ever go away."

"Baby..."  JenniAnn smoothed some hair behind Violeta's ears.  "I'm not ever gonna go away.  Not really.  You know that.  You've lived in Heaven."

"I... I know.  But... but what if... if you get lost... in the dark... like... like your..."  Violeta's lower lip trembled.

"Like my aunt Sophia did?" JenniAnn whispered.

The angel nodded.

"Then that... that would be very, very sad, my darling girl.  But it wouldn't last forever.  And if it did happen... Andrew has promised to do everything he can to help you kids through it.  And you'd have even better, bigger help."  JenniAnn wrapped the girl's fingers around the cross.  "I don't believe things are really like in the show, Violeta.  When people get sick in their mind... God is still holding them so close.  And even if they say things they don't mean... God knows them.  He knows how they truly are.  They aren't lost.  Not like Olivia.  Not really."

"That... that makes sense."

JenniAnn smiled and kissed Violeta's forehead.


Violeta gently released JenniAnn's cross.

"Can I listen?  To your heart, I mean?" she requested.

"Sure, honey."

JenniAnn nestled the little angel closer.

Violeta closed her eyes and listened.

As she did, JenniAnn began to hum Maryam's lullaby until both she and Violeta were asleep.


Andrew's eyes shot open when he realized JenniAnn wasn't snuggled against him as she usually was.  Anxious, he flicked on his bedside lamp.

And that's when he noticed he wasn't the only angel in the bed.

"Violeta..." he murmured, tenderly stroking the child's curls. 

When he shifted to lay back down, he saw his and JenniAnn's door was cracked open... and someone was standing in the hall.  He beckoned for them.

Shelby entered, holding Belle's hand.  The little girl was blurry eyed and buried her face in her sister's side.

"We... we got up and... and we didn't know where..."  She looked curiously at the girl nestled against JenniAnn.  "Is... is that..."

Andrew nodded.  He examined Shelby.  Even in the dim light, he saw something haunted in the teen's eyes.

"Tell you what...  Since we're three for three on sleepless kids, I'm gonna go check on Avi and stay with him.  You girls can come lay down."

Belle rushed forward but Shelby hesitated.

"You're sure?"

Andrew lifted Belle onto the bed then smiled at the older girl.

"I'm sure."

With a relieved smile, Shelby climbed onto the bed.

"Hmmm?"  JenniAnn roused.

"Go back to sleep, Laja," Andrew urged.  "Everything's okay."

JenniAnn smiled sleepily as Belle nuzzled against her and Shelby clasped her hand.

"Okay, love.  Sweet girls..."

Before heading to the nursery, Andrew looked back once more.  He gazed at the four, his eyes welling at the sweetness of the scene... but also the nascent sadness of it.

A quote from Hill House, from Hugh Crain to his ghostly wife, came back to him.

"Even if they’re broken, or addicted, or joyless or, yes, even if they die, we have to watch it all.  Because we’re parents.  That’s the deal we make.  Whatever that life is, we bear witness."

He may as well have been speaking of being an angel.

A tear trickled down Andrew's cheek as he thought of the future.  As an angel of death and as a father, he would watch his children grieve.  He would bear witness... for a year... God willing.

Andrew brushed at his cheek then stepped into the nursery.  He smiled when he saw Avi standing up, holding the bar of his crib.

"You too, little fellow?"

Avi smiled and held his arms out.

Andrew picked him up and carried him to the couch. 


"I'm here, bud, I'm here."

Andrew laid down with the little boy.

Avi clasped Andrew's pajama shirt and snuggled against him.



"Ove you."

"Love you, too."

"Nigh, nigh."

"G'night, my boy."

Andrew stared up at the ceiling as Avi began to snore so, so quietly.

"Thank You," he whispered.  "Whatever comes... I am grateful.  So grateful."

Then, wearied, Andrew drifted to sleep to dream of emerald and cerulean and popcorn and ice cream and dancing and love.


Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

JenniAnn awoke to the feeling that someone was staring at her.  Her suspicions were confirmed when she opened her eyes to see Violeta's wide, pensive ones.  She was still in her child form.

"Hi, honey.  G'morning," she whispered after looking over at Shelby and Belle, still asleep.

"Morning.  They saw me..."

JenniAnn nodded.

"Although Belle was probably too sleepy to really notice."

"But Shel..."


Violeta frowned.

"I'm her big sister..."

"It's okay.  We all get scared sometimes.  And she knows who you really are.  You're still her big sister."

"Yeah...  But I should ask Joshua to turn me back.  I just..."  Tears welled in Violeta's eyes.

JenniAnn cupped her chin. 

"Let's go in the other room for a lil bit and talk, huh?"

Pleased, Violeta nodded and slipped out of the bed.  She stood still, watching as JenniAnn put on her robe and slippers. 

JenniAnn moved to the door then halted when she noticed the angel wasn't following.  Turning, she saw Violeta smiling shyly.  JenniAnn ruffled her hair then scooped her up.  After checking to make sure no one was in the hallway, she carried the girl into the library and plopped her down on an overstuffed settee.

"Now... did the last episode scare you?" JenniAnn asked.

Violeta shrugged.

"Not really.  It just... it made me think.  A lot.  All of it.  But especially the last episode."

"I can see that.  Andrew and I both cried.  A lot.  And thought... a lot... too."

"I think it would be hard to watch as a mommy or daddy," Violeta mused.

"It was..."

"It... it was hard to watch as a sister, too."  Violeta clasped her butterfly necklace.  "I... I don't want to be like Nellie.  I don't want to be left behind."  She looked around the room.  "All alone in this house..."

"Honey...  Why do you think you'd be left all alone here?"

"Maybe not alone...  But you'll all leave.  Andrew, too.  I... I know he'll go to be with you at some point."

"Violeta..."  JenniAnn pulled the girl onto her lap.  "You know Joshua better than that!  He'd never strand you here."

"But... but then what will it be like?" Violeta bleated.

JenniAnn sighed.

"I don't know, sweet girl.  But I know you'd have a choice."

"Kittens... kittens need their mommies!" Violeta sobbed.

"Oh, honey..."  JenniAnn smiled sadly as she recognized Olivia's line.  She held Violeta close and swayed.  "They do.  But then they grow up.  And they learn how to be out in the world on their own.  You won't always feel so small... so nervous.  You'll keep growing and changing and becoming the angel you're meant to be.  And you'll be ready to be on your own when the time comes... but you'll never really be on your own.  You know that.  God is always, always there.  And He'll call you Home when it's time for you to be Home.  Just as He does now."


"I'm not sure you watching that show was a good idea after all...  I hope Miguel picks something cheerier next time."

"Miguel..." Violeta repeated.

JenniAnn smiled when the girl slid off her lap.

Violeta shook her head.

"I...  It just gave me lots of thoughts.  But... I'm glad I watched.  I'm glad Shel watched with me."

JenniAnn felt a twinge of regret, though mostly relief, as Violeta began to change.

"I really came to love the characters... warts and all.  I'm glad you're not like Olivia.  And Andrew's not like Hugh.  He'd never hide so much from us."

"No...  He wouldn't."

"I did think of him, though...  When Hugh was talking about standing at the door with his arms stretched out to keep the monsters out... and then he didn't have arms left for his kids... to hug them and hold them.  I think... I think maybe that's how Andrew was with you and your friends.  Early on, I mean.  That's why he kept you away."

"Oh...  I think you're exactly right, Violeta."  Fresh tears welled in JenniAnn's eyes.  "He was keeping the monsters out..."

"Yes...  Anyway... I want to talk about it with Miguel and everyone."  Violeta, now grown, sighed.  "But...  I... I guess... I just needed... you.  I know you're not my mommy but... you're close.  And it was really sad watching them lose their mommy... and... and watching her lose herself."

"It was... very sad," JenniAnn agreed as she brushed some tear-laden hair from Violeta's face.  "And I'm glad you came to me.  I want you to always come to me or to Andrew if you have a problem or concern we can help you with.  But you don't have to be little, honey."

"I know..."  Violeta blushed.  "But... I wanted to be.  And Joshua said I could be.  Did I weird Shel out?"

"I think she was startled at first.  But fine.  She knows it's happened before.  And... truth be told... it was nice."  JenniAnn smiled.  "I love you always.  But... it was nice to be able to carry you again."

Violeta grinned.

"It was nice to be carried."

"How about, after lunch, you, me, Shel, and Andrew sit down with some cocoa and talk all about the show?" JenniAnn offered.

The angel nodded excitedly.

"I'd like that.  A lot!"

"Then we'll do that."  JenniAnn kissed Violeta's forehead then cupped her chin.  "Sweet baby..."

Violeta sighed and rested her head on JenniAnn's shoulder.

"I feel better..."

JenniAnn smiled.

"Good.  How about we go start some pancakes?"


The two rose and went to the kitchen together where their discussion turned cheerier.

"And I don't know...  It was just so weird because Teresa kept referencing Dante's Inferno and Judas and Ivy, Sy, and I just kept staring at each other.  Cause, like, we know Yehuda's not still in Hell.  Sometimes it's so weird to not be able to tell people stuff you know, ya know?" Violeta chattered.

"I do..."

"I wish Joshua could come and speak to our class...  But I know people wouldn't believe him.  Are the Friends still doing the big livestream of Superstar on Friday?"


"Do you think Joshua will show up for that... virtually I mean?"

JenniAnn smiled.

"That would certainly be nice...  Guess we'll have to see."

Marty entered the kitchen, sniffing the air.

"Pancakes?" he guessed.

Violeta laughed and nodded.


"And here I was just hoping for some tea...  Pancakes are much better."

"But tea is still nice."  JenniAnn handed him the kettle.

"It is.  I think I could go for some Earl Grey.  Anything for you ladies?" Marty asked as he filled the kettle.

"Ginger Lemon for me, please," JenniAnn requested.


"Mmm...  Surprise me?"

"Will do.  So you've all finished your show then?"

"Andrew and I did a couple nights ago.  Violeta and Shelby just last night," JenniAnn replied.

"I see...  And what did you think?"

"Have you seen it?" Violeta asked.

Marty smiled.

"Not exactly...  But I had to record everything while they were making it...  And record countless reactions...  So... I feel as if I have."

JenniAnn studied Marty as he removed cups from the cupboard.  It somehow hadn't occurred to her until that moment that Marty would know of her and Andrew's conversation after the finale.  And she had to know what he thought...

"I... I think it was exceedingly well done and... I think it prompted important conversations," she answered.  "I just... I hope what came out of those conversations was... right."

Marty met her probing gaze and smiled tenderly.

"I can't speak for all cases... but yours, my lady... yours I feel good about," he assured.

JenniAnn blinked back tears and smiled.

"Good...  Thank you."

Marty squeezed her hand then turned to Violeta.

"And you..." Marty sneered.

"Uh oh..."  Violeta's face colored.

"You're very cute." 

The younger angel giggled.

Marty smiled then resumed preparing their tea while JenniAnn and Violeta refocused on the pancakes, simply happy to be together.


After her morning classes had ended, JenniAnn sat on Willowveil's front porch with Andrew, watching a hay wagon approach.  He could tell she was anxious.

"It'll be all right, Laja," he assured.

"I know...  I just... nerves."  She shrugged.

Andrew hugged her to him.

"I'll be here the whole time."

JenniAnn kissed his cheek.


"Sure thing."

As the hay wagon neared, Fr. Mike waved to Andrew and JenniAnn.

"Hey there!" he greeted.

"Good afternoon, Fr. Mike!" JenniAnn replied.  She turned her gaze to his passengers.  "Mom, Dad... welcome back."

Robert helped Allison off the wagon and walked with her to the porch. 

"JenniAnn..."  Allison hurried forward and hugged her daughter.  "You... you look good.  Better."

JenniAnn smiled.

"Thank you.  I feel better."  She embraced her father.  "I hope the two of you... feel better."

"We do," Robert answered.  "Much better and... we're sorry, sweetheart.  For the yelling... for the..."

"For the lack of boundaries," Allison continued.  "I should have never, ever tried to put you between us.  And... and I don't want to do that now but... I feel like we owe you some sort of explanation... you and Andrew both."

"And that's my cue to go visit with the others..."  Fr. Mike began to back away and towards the backyard where he could hear kids playing and Yoktan braying.

Andrew chuckled.

"Thanks, Fr. Mike."

"Thank you for the ride, Father!" Robert called.

"Oh!  And you got our bags down.  Thank you," Allison added.

"Not a problem.  Have a good visit."

Once the priest disappeared around the corner of the castle, Andrew waved to the porch.

"Let's all have a seat.  We have some tea and coffee."

JenniAnn's parents nodded and took their places on a bench across from Andrew's and JenniAnn's swing.

Once drinks were served, Robert began.

"Things... they've just been tense at work.  Draining.  Exhausting.  And... and instead of working on managing my workload there, I just started coming home: tired and grumpy and short-tempered."

"And... I would get upset that... that he wasn't more attentive," Allison picked up.  "And I poured my frustrations out on you because... because I guess I wanted you on my side.  But that was wrong, JenniAnn.  It was wrong.  And I knew that but I just... I kept doing it.  And the dissatisfaction... the frustration... they just got more intense when we came here and... there was a night... last week... I couldn't sleep and... and I went to the kitchen to make some tea.  And I saw the two of you... dancing."

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged a surprised look.

"And you looked... so... beautiful... and... and so much... a part of each other.  It just... it made me feel worse.  Jealous even...  And on Sunday...  I lashed out.  And I'm so sorry for that.  I'm sorry that I hurt my... my baby."  Allison reached out to pat her daughter's knee.  "And I'm sorry that I implied..."  She shook her head.  "No... I said that what you two shared... wasn't real... that you didn't have real problems.  And I know... I know that's not true.  And I'm so, so sorry."

JenniAnn softly wept and nodded as Andrew stroked her back.

"We'll do better, JenniAnn.  I promise we'll do better," Robert vowed.  "We... we already had our first visit with Reuel.  And he's already given us some things to think about, to try.  And we will.  We are.  I'm sorry... we're sorry... for how we acted."

JenniAnn shakily let out the breath she'd been holding then stood.

"I'm glad and... and thank you.  And I... forgive you.  I do.  And I think... Reuel's a great counselor.  He'll help you out.  But... but if there's any more sniping in front of the kids... you'll have to go again.  And... and you won't get another chance staying here.  Cause... I... we... don't want our kids upset."

Andrew squeezed JenniAnn's hand and nodded.

"We promise, JenniAnn," Allison vowed.

"We promise," Robert echoed.  "Thank you."

Once more, JenniAnn hugged her parents.  Andrew, too, embraced them.

"Now..."  JenniAnn wiped at her eyes.  "You wanna go see the kids?"

"So much!" Allison gushed.

Robert nodded.

"We've missed them.  And you... both of you."

With a smile, Andrew clapped Robert on the back.

"We're glad you're back.  And the kids will be, too."

The quartet made their way around the castle and to the backyard.  Spotting her grandparents, Belle came hurdling towards them.

Andrew and JenniAnn watched, arms around each other, as Allison scooped her granddaughter up.

"Feeling better?" the angel checked.

"Much."  JenniAnn squeezed his middle and rested her cheek against his chest.  "Thanks for being with me."

"Being with you is always a good thing, JenniAnn."

"Even when I haven't slept and didn't get my morning coffee yet?"

Andrew chuckled and nodded.

"Even then."


"No, ma'am!  Can't lie."

"True..."  JenniAnn moved to her tiptoes and kissed him.  "I love you."

"I love you, too, Laja."

Andrew brought JenniAnn's hand to his lips then, together, they moved into the yard and joined the others, basking in the laughter and joy of their children.


After lunch, Andrew, JenniAnn, Shelby, and Violeta settled into the library with cocoa and cookies. 

"So... thoughts?" Andrew prompted. 

Shelby nodded.

"I really liked it!  I liked how each of the siblings were really individuals.  And how it showed that just because they fought... even when it got really ugly... it didn't mean they didn't love each other.  I sometimes wonder...  I mean we're all such different ages.  And Belle and Avi are still so little.  And I wonder what we'll be like when we're all grown-ups.  Will we still all get along?  Still spend time together?  Watching the Crains... whose relationships were so much more strained... come together as adults...  Well, I thought it was hopeful."

"I felt really bad for their dad, though..." Violeta countered.  "All their adult lives, the kids basically ignored him except for Nellie.  And it's only at the very end... when he's dead... that they realize he was only protecting them."

"That was very sad," Andrew agreed.  "It did remind me of Someone, though..."

"God?" Shelby guessed.

Andrew nodded.

"Unlike God, Hugh had flaws.  But I think that happens a lot with humans... and, yes, sometimes even angels.  They don't see the whole picture.  They don't see how God is protecting them.  And they get mad, sometimes, when He doesn't do what they think they need Him to do.  But He knows best... just like Hugh knew it was best for those little kids to not know that their mom murdered little Abigail."

"I hated that scene," JenniAnn remarked with a shudder.  "Poor girl...  Poor Olivia... not being in her right mind."

"The ended reminded me of The Last Battle," Violeta continued.  "For Mrs. Dudley, Hill House became beautiful... just like inside the stable was beautiful for the Narnians.  For Olivia and Poppy... it remained decrepit.  At least sometimes."

"Ivy mentioned it reminded her of C.S. Lewis and now I know why.  But it also reminded us of..."  JenniAnn looked to Andrew.

"Sheol," he finished.  "It was beautiful to me... to Yosef... to John... not to the demons."

Shelby clasped his hand.

"You were like Hugh...  You went to face the demons in Sheol, not knowing how long you might be there, to protect us... to keep them away from us."

"Aww..."  JenniAnn teared up.  "I didn't make that connection but... yes."

"And you can fix things.  A lot... but not always.  Like Hugh."  Violeta beamed at her supervisor.

"And I sometimes feel like..."  JenniAnn looked around the room.  "Our castle is beautiful... and cozy... and filled with warmth and love.  But it's not Heaven.  And yet... here you are.  Staying with me, with the kids... when you could have more.  You gave up a lot... just like Hugh."

Andrew cradled her face in his hands.

"I... I gained a lot more than Hugh, Laja.  You.  Our girls.  Our boys.  A second home."  He smiled at Shelby and Violeta.  "And I'm not the only one who fixes things.  When I've had rough assignments and come back here... walking these halls, seeing all of you... that fixes me."

"Aww!"  Violeta hurried over and hugged Andrew tightly.

"Leave room for me!" JenniAnn cried.

"And me!" Shelby added.

Andrew beamed and soaked in their love. 

"My girls..."


That evening, as Andrew and Robert prepared dinner, Allison sought out her daughter.  She found JenniAnn in her bedroom, folding laundry.

"There you are..."

JenniAnn smiled.

"Yeah...  These have been sitting since yesterday.  I figured it was time to fold them."

"Can I help you?"

JenniAnn froze for a moment.  She wasn't entirely sure what all was in the basket.  But maybe it didn't matter.

"Sure.  Thanks."

For a few moments, the two folded the laundry in awkward silence until Allison spoke again.

"That little Avi and Evie...  What a pair!  Earlier, I picked him up to go change his diaper and the look she gave me... woulda liked to have broken my heart!"

"It's pretty remarkable.  I'm a bit anxious to see how that bond changes as they get older.  But for right now... it's pretty sweet."

"Yes.  It is.  I had a nice talk with Shelby and Violeta, too.  They both... they remind me of you.  Each in different ways."

"How so?"

"Well... Shelby simply looks like you.  And the way she'll sometimes throw out a literary reference.  I suppose that comes from being around Vincent.  And Violeta...  I don't know.  I can't quite put my finger on it."

JenniAnn briefly considered telling her mother about Violeta's creation but thought better of it.  She didn't want her to treat Violeta differently than the others.

"It's like... a blend of protective and vulnerable..." Allison continued.  "She's so sweet and sensitive and yet... I feel like she's do anything for those she loves."

JenniAnn smiled to herself.  That was her girl... borne of longing and compassion and love and tears.

"Well... this is pretty."

JenniAnn looked up to find her mother holding one of her nightgowns.. a strappy, sapphire blue, knee-length number.

"That's one of my nursing nightgowns."

"Oh... right."

"The straps unclip there so... easy access for Avi."  JenniAnn paused for a moment, unsure on if she wanted to proceed or not.

She decided she did.

"But I..."


"I've been wearing stuff like that for a while.  Before Avi.  Not all the time.  But sometimes.  I...  It makes me feel pretty and...  Andrew... likes that... them..."  JenniAnn drew in a steadying breath.  "We don't have a sexual relationship... you know that.  He can't.  And I don't want to.  But... it is... physical.  And it's... deep.  And it's... grown-up."  Her eyes flooded.  "I honestly... I know people say sex brings people closer.  But I don't know how I... I could feel any closer, any deeper.  We don't fight much... not because he's almost perfect... but because when walls come up between us... I feel... we feel... halved."

Allison began to cry.

"It's not that I... I feel in any way intimidated or... or restricted," JenniAnn insisted.  "But to think...  Someone lived thousands... maybe millions of years... waiting for me... meant for me...  And now, finally, we're here.  Together.  For what... to him... is ultimately one, brief, shining moment...  It puts things in perspective.  I'm not going to hurt him... not going to be short with him... about stuff that is, in the end, petty and stupid.  We... we have problems... heartbreaks...  And sometimes we disagree.  But we... we try, really, really hard, to never be unkind.  It... it hurts too much.  But I hope... now and... and on Sunday... you didn't... don't... think that what we share brings me only sadness.  It does sometimes.  But mostly... I feel... joy, comfort, peace, warmth, and love... so much love... for him, from him.  And I feel... whole.  Please... know that."

Through her tears, Allison smiled and nodded.

"I... I do, JenniAnn.  I do.  I spoke foolishly...  But I also... I didn't know.  I suppose.... I suppose I had a bit of a condescending view of your relationship.  And I did... for so long... worry that, in being with Andrew, you would miss out on so much.  It... it never really occurred to me that... you'd miss out on the best things without him.  I'm sorry, baby."

JenniAnn hugged her mom tightly.

"And I'm sorry, too.  I... I should have explained things more... shouldn't have tried to hide things."

"But I understand...  Your dad and I were so... wary at first.  And, truthfully, for longer than we should have been.  I mean... he's an angel, for crying out loud!  What did we think he was gonna do?"

JenniAnn laughed.

"And he's very handsome...  Even more so, I think, since he's started graying."

"I agree!"  JenniAnn beamed.  "And I love the lil crinkles by his eyes."

"Whose eyes are that?" Andrew questioned, mischievously, from the doorway. 

JenniAnn approached and wrapped her arms around him.

"Yours, of course."

Andrew smiled tenderly at her.

"Well, thank you.  Anyway... I came up to tell you ladies that dinner is ready."

"Oh good!  Thank you!  I was getting a bit hungry."  Allison patted JenniAnn's arm.  "I'll head on down to help the kids get settled."

"Thank you!  Be down in a bit."

Once Allison was gone, Andrew cupped JenniAnn's chin and studied her face.

"Is everything all right?" he checked.

Smiling, JenniAnn nodded.

"It is.  We cleared the air.  And... I think she gets us more now."




"Thank you.  For everything you've done to keep us safe.  For helping me through that whole mess with my parents.  For watching the show with me.  And also... for planning with me."

Andrew embraced JenniAnn tightly.

"You're very welcome.  But thank you... for giving me a family to keep safe... for giving me a future to plan... for loving me."

JenniAnn nuzzled his chest.

"'Where you go, I will go," she murmured.

"And where you stay, I will stay," Andrew replied.

"Your people will be my people."

"And your God, my God."

JenniAnn buried a hand in Andrew's hair and kissed him on the right cheek.

"I love you."

She placed another kiss on his left cheek.

"I love you."

Andrew clung to JenniAnn as her lips met his.

"I love you," she whispered.

"And I love you... forever," he replied.

JenniAnn rested her ear against Andrew's chest and listened to the beat of his heart.

"Forever," she echoed.

Andrew nuzzled her hair then smiled as a joyful, childish shriek sounded from the main floor.

"Dinner is waiting," he reminded.


Hand in hand, the two proceeded down the stairs and were soon pulled apart by Belle wanting her Daddy's help and Landon beckoning for his Gamma.

They exchanged sheepish smiles and picked up the little ones.  But before they moved apart, Andrew rested a hand on JenniAnn's arm.

"Later tonight...  It's supposed to be nice.  The balcony?" he suggested.

Beaming, JenniAnn nodded.

"I'll be there."

Andrew grinned.

JenniAnn felt her stomach somersault and let out a giggle.

They parted, both looking forward to the evening ahead.


 At Belle's and Shelby's prompting, the entire family had gathered to watch Frozen and Frozen II after dinner.  Thus, it was well after 10:00 by the time Andrew and JenniAnn made it to the balcony.

"It is so lovely..." JenniAnn praised.  "Warm enough that I don't even need my robe."  She slipped it off and tossed it on a chair.

"And all the stars..."  Andrew smiled out at them.

JenniAnn placed her hand over his as it rested on the railing.

"This morning, when it was just the two of us, Violeta made an interesting connection about Hill House... specifically Hugh.  And you."

Andrew turned towards JenniAnn.

"And that was?"

"The part when he and Olivia are talking just outside the Red Room.  He tells her that he was holding the door closed with his arms outstretched so monsters couldn't get out and get to his children.  But then he didn't have any arms for the kids.  He was protecting them... but he also hurt them without meaning to... without wanting to.  Violeta thought it sounded a lot like you... before.  In the early days.  When you kept so much inside... to protect us... me."

Andrew sniffled.

"It does..."

JenniAnn wrapped her arms around him.

"I understand now.  I do.  But... I'm glad you changed your mind.  Because... cause I'd rather have your arms around me."

Andrew pulled her close to him. 

"I can handle monsters.  I can't handle not having you beside me."

"Laja..."  Andrew brushed his thumb against her left cheek.

JenniAnn kissed his palm then peered up at him and smiled.

"Dance with me?"

"Happily."  Andrew withdrew his phone.  "I unearthed an old friend.  Violeta wasn't the only one thinking about the old days."

JenniAnn smiled as the familiar opening notes of Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" began.

"You used to listen to it all the time.  Why?" Andrew asked as they began to dance.

"I... I guess I just thought it was beautiful.  Half fairy tale, half tragic reality.  It ends on the fairy tale.  I always hoped... we'd end on the fairy tale."  JenniAnn peered up into Andrew's glistening eyes.  "Thank God...  We did."

"Yes... thank God," Andrew agreed, his voice husky.

They swayed, focusing on the music and their bodies moving together.

"'Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine...'"

JenniAnn clung to Andrew as the final notes drifted away, her cheek pressed to his chest.  She looked up when he softly tickled her shoulder.

"Closer?" Andrew requested with a hopeful, crooked smile.

"Mmm hmm..."

JenniAnn rested a hand over his heart then pulled a curtain halfway across the balcony.

Andrew did the same, closing off the other half.

They sunk down to cushions spread across one half of the balcony.  As Andrew unclipped the straps of JenniAnn's gown, she undid the buttons of his shirt.  Once it was off, she moved into his waiting arms.

"Twice..." she whispered with a smile as her fingers gently massaged his back.

"Twice what?"

"Twice this week you've initiated... this."

Andrew blushed.

JenniAnn kissed him.

"I like it," she assured.

The angel smiled then returned her kiss.

"Maybe we need to watch scary things more often?" JenniAnn teased.  "I rather like what it does to you."

Andrew chuckled and rested his forehead against hers.


JenniAnn smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer.

"I love you, Andrew."

Andrew sighed as she kissed his shoulder.

"I love you, too, Laja."

"'The rest is confetti...'" JenniAnn quoted Nellie.

With tears in his eyes, Andrew nodded then rested an ear against her chest and listened.

JenniAnn stroked his hair and stared up at the stars peeking out from the tops of the curtains.  She prayed for the Andrew in her arms.  And she prayed for the Andrew who was yet to be, the Andrew who would mourn and comfort and bear witness.  And then, with a sigh, she released him to the God who would walk beside him when she could not.



Friday, April 10th, 2020

For several evenings, Emma and Peter had hosted Facebook Live viewings of Jesus Christ Superstar with a handful of the Friends dropping in each night.  On Good Friday, however, almost the entire cast and crew logged on for the final viewing of the year.  Andrew and JenniAnn were no exception.  They smiled as a host of comments like "So beautiful..." "I cry every year!" and "Still my favorite version EVER" scrolled down their screen.

"Brings back so many memories... beautiful memories."  JenniAnn squeezed Andrew's arm.  "I'm really glad they did this.  It's... not the same.  But it feels good."

Andrew kissed her hair and nodded.

"That was a special time.  But yeah...  Who knows, though, that this might not have been the only way for some people to see the show?  People who are too far away... people who struggle to leave their homes for any number of reasons even in 'normal' times...  people who simply think they're too busy but, finally, have had to slow down."

"True...  Ooh, Emma said we're going live in... five... four... three... two... one..." JenniAnn counted down.

Once the final notes of music had died away, Emma and Peter appeared.

"Thank you so much, everyone, for watching with us!  I truly hope that next year we can welcome you all back to St. G's.  But this has been really, really great," Peter gushed.

"Definitely!  And now... as promised... we'd like to open it up for some Q and A.  I already saw some questions coming in so I'll start with those and, to my friends, please remember to unmute yourselves before answering," Emma reminded.  "So first up from Darla G...  Oh, this one's for you, Peter.  'Do you prefer playing Jesus or watching Mr. Davidson play Jesus.'"

"Well...  I definitely love them both.  I feel like playing Jesus draws me closer to Jo... to Him.  But...  There's nothing like seeing Joshua's performance.  So... I'd have to go with that," Peter replied.

"Not surprised."  Emma smiled at her husband.  "Okay, Zeke, you're up.  From Clarence S.: 'You seem very religious.  Is it difficult to play Judas?'"

Zeke chuckled.

"Not sure where you would have gotten that idea," he kidded, gesturing to his 'Jesus Freak' T-shirt.  "But yeah.  And I guess it makes sense to me.  I mean Judas loved Jesus.  He followed Him for three years.  I think being Christian actually makes it easier for me to play Judas because I can draw on that love.  But, sure, it's difficult to pull off the anger and that betrayal scene... kills me every time whether I'm acting with Joshua or Peter.  But I don't think it would be nearly as powerful if that anger and grief wasn't rooted in love."

"And you bring that conflict to life so well!  Thanks, Zeke!"  Emma glanced at the list of questions she'd been compiling.  "Oh, okay.  One for me from Shirley Y.  'Is it easier to play Mary Magdalene with Peter as Jesus since he's your husband?'  Hmm...  Well...  In a word, yes.  I mean when I'm belting out 'I Don't Know How to Love Him,' if I need a little inspiration, all I have to do is think of various times in our courtship and marriage that will put me in the right mindset.  But with Joshua...  I mean that was harder because it was a more difficult time in my life.  But it was also...  It was just special in a way that... well, just in a different way than it is with Peter.  And... I miss that sometimes."

Peter handed his wife a handkerchief and stroked her back.

"And I completely understand that," he stressed both to Emma and the audience.  "Joshua just brought a dynamic that... well... it just touched all of us."

As they had throughout the screening and Q and A, comments of 'WHERE IS JOSHUA?' flooded the screen.

Emma gave a little jolt when she looked to the Zoom application open on her laptop.

"The... the waiting room.  Someone's in the waiting room..." she exclaimed.  "It's..."

Peter looked, too, and grinned.

"Yeah, someone is.  I'm gonna let him in." 

After a few movements from Peter, a beaming Joshua appeared on the screen.

"Hi!  Sorry I'm late.  Had some trouble connecting.  Wi-fi isn't great where I am."

Back in Willowveil, JenniAnn giggled with delight. 

"He couldn't just... I dunno... miracle his wi-fi connection?" she asked.

Grinning, Andrew shrugged.

"Probably so.  But... his timing is always perfect."


Joshua chuckled as he surveyed the faces of the Friends and saw the rapidly scrolling comments.

"Aww, Joshua...  I'm so glad you could make it!"  Emma sighed happily.  "Where are you?"

"Here in New York," Joshua replied.  "Just... helping out where needed.  So glad to be here... to see all of my beautiful cast and crew mates and all of these great comments.  Aww!  And some photos from previous audience receptions.  Wow...  Those are great to see."

"So awesome..." Peter agreed.  "Well, while you're here... Emma, do we have any questions for Joshua?"

Emma laughed.

"Do we ever!"

"Well, I'm here for the duration," Joshua assured.  "I'd love to hear from everybody else, too."

"Okay.  Well, we'll just start with one for right now and then hop around.  So first... from Loreena... 'Once theatres are open again, would you consider coming back to St. Genesius' for a performance?  Some of us who missed your previous stint would really love to see you live on stage... no offense to Peter.'"

"None taken!" Peter stressed.  "I'd like this answer myself..."  He smiled eagerly... all of the Friends were.

"Well...  I would certainly not be opposed," Joshua replied with a grin.  "Maybe Peter and I could work a schedule out.  It's a lot to do night after night, huh?"

"I would love that!" Peter replied, beaming.  "I really would.  It would be... amazing."

"Then count me in." 

Emma hugged Peter tightly then smiled at Joshua.

"I'm gonna look forward to that, too!  And since we're talking to you both right now, I'm going to sneak in this question from Heather Z. which I'd be interested in hearing you both answer so...  'I really love Superstar and have for many years.  But one thing that's always bothered me a bit is the line at the end of the leper scene where Jesus yells, "Heal yourselves!"  I'm curious what the group thinks that line is supposed to mean and whether it's something within character for Jesus to say?'  So... Peter and Joshua if you want to go first and then if anyone else wants to weigh in..."

Peter bit his lip in thought.

"Wow...  I mean, yeah...  It really doesn't seem in character for Jesus to say that.  But I don't remember ever discussing changing it.  Andrew?"

The angel of death shook his head.

"No, actually.  At least I don't remember."

"I do."  Kylie, with baby Maisy in her arms, interjected.  "I mean... I don't think we talked about changing it exactly.  But we talked about that scene.  Seeing 'Jesus' overwhelmed, I remembered being little and praying for a caterpillar I had found.  I asked Jesus to not let it die.  And my teacher said that was silly because Jesus had more important things to deal with.  So... I stopped praying about little things.  And then Joshua said..."

Joshua rested his hand on his screen and smiled when Kylie did the same.  Then he spoke.

"I said that while the Bible does suggest that there was an emotional toll on Jesus when he healed people, that didn't stop him.  You should never, ever worry about over-burdening Jesus when you pray.  He wants to hear from you... whether that be about a scary diagnosis or a child just getting their driver's license or... a caterpillar.  That being said, no, I don't think Jesus would have really done that.  But we also had to be careful about toying too much with the fabric of the show.  We know you're all intelligent, thoughtful people.  You know it's a dramatization with a lot of license taken.  While that line doesn't portray the true nature of Jesus, structurally it's a pretty important bridge into 'I Don't Know How to Love Him.'  And I think there's something really powerful in seeing Jesus being vulnerable and, quite literally, being rescued by Mary Magdalene.  It's not literal fact.  But I think it points to a bigger truth: women were and are an important part of Jesus' ministry.  He relied on them.  He trusted them."

"Beautiful...  Thank you all."  Emma sighed then looked to her list of questions.  "So next up... from Parker K... 'Of the ensemble pieces, which was the hardest song to sing and hardest dance to do?'  Anyone?"

"'Simon Zealotes'!"  Max and several of the dancers shouted at once.

Emma laughed and nodded.

"Yeah...  I'd say that was definitely the hardest dance number.  So song?"

"I'm definitely not saying it's the most difficult song technically speaking but... it definitely wasn't fun singing 'This Jesus Must Die,'" Eli responded while Henry, seated beside him, shook his head.

"I think any of us who sing the more antagonistic songs struggled a little," Shane added.  "Both Joshua and Peter are great, great guys.  Not the easiest thing to muster up anger or snideness directed at them."

"I'd imagine not!" Diana grimaced as she stroked her husband's back, knowing how he had struggled at times.  "But technically speaking...  Every time I hear Joshua and Peter hit the big notes in 'Gethsemane'...  I'm amazed."

"Nothing like watching Joshua sing that..."  Peter shook his head in amazement.  "But I guess for me the hardest part... technically... wasn't really a song.  And Eric probably has similar feelings.  For me, it was praying the Kaddish as Peter." 

Eric chuckled and nodded.

"Right!  I'd never spoken a word of Hebrew in my life.  The coaching from Joshua and Peter and Rabbi and Tiva Levine really helped but... yeah.  I was really nervous the first few times.  But I really love how our version brings in more of Jewish culture and practice than others."

"Me too.  And on that subject...  Rita M. asks 'Are you all Christian?'" Emma read.  "So...  I mean I am.  Helping to put together that first run of Superstar really restored my faith.  I think... you know... there's following Jesus and believing in Jesus and then there's... religion."

"Right," Edward assented.  "What I love about this group is that we represent a wide array of denominations.  But we focus more on what unites us... not the differences."

The Friends all nodded in agreement.

"And that's beautiful," Joshua praised.  "As for me...  I'm Jewish.  I agree, whole-heartedly, with the teachings of Jesus.  But that's why it was important to me that we stress his Jewishness.  I think when the origins of Christianity gets too separated from those Jewish roots... bad things can happen."

"Thanks, Joshua.  I'm so glad we did that.  So next up..."  Emma referred to her list.  "Hmm...  From Zachary L. 'What play do you want to perform next as soon as it's safe to do so again?  (And if it's JCS, what one after that?)  Also, would you ever consider doing performances outside?  Maybe not full shows, but songs or scenes or something in a park or on a sidewalk?'  Well... Peter and I have talked a little about this."

"Really it depends on how long this lasts," Peter pointed out.  "We certainly hope and pray we're not still battling this come next Spring so we can proceed with Superstar.  I think it's pretty likely that would be our next production back at St. G's.  As much as I hate to think of the theatre being dark for so long, ya gotta figure in rehearsal time, set building, etc.  So even if we had a vaccine by late 2020, it would be a pretty quick turn-around to get a different show in before Easter and then also proceed with JCS.  If we would have time to do something new...  Well, Emma and I have been talking about how difficult it must be for kids to be so cooped up.  So I think we'd pick something really kid-friendly but that's enjoyable for all ages.  So, like, maybe Beauty and the Beast."

JenniAnn shrieked with delight causing Andrew to chuckle and check to ensure they were muted.

"As for the second part of that question...  Right now we're looking into things that we could maybe do as virtual table reads," Emma continued.  "We're hesitant about any sort of in-person event because not only do we care so much about the health of our cast and crew... our friends... but also you, the audience.  The thing about outdoor events is people still need to travel to them and maybe that means cabs, subways...  We just don't want to be the cause of putting anyone at risk.  But... stay tuned here to our Facebook page!  Once we have plans, we'll post them here.  And now... kind of the flip side of that... From Audra T. 'Are there any musicals you'd never consider performing and why?'"

"Not Rocky Horror Picture Show!" Adam bellowed, causing everyone else to laugh.

Peter grinned.

"Right.  Not that.  I don't think anyone needs to see any of us in fishnet stockings.  And also... that just not really our style.  No offense to any fans of the show.  So, yeah, we'd never do something that just plain made us uncomfortable.  We also like for the shows we do, even if they contain tough subject matter, to have good messages."

"Personally, I hope we never do Phantom of the Opera," Owen added.  "The music is beautiful but it's, umm... problematic?  Yeah, I know that word gets overused a lot now but... the Phantom is a violent ephebophile... not a romantic hero."

Emma raised her mug of spiced milk.

"Hear, hear!  Other than that... nothing immediately comes to mind for me.  We'd definitely avoid anything nihilistic.  And, on that note, I'd like something a little more cheery so... I'm gonna lump a couple of questions from Sierra P. for Joshua together.  So...  'Does Joshua ever get tired of being recognized as Jesus?' and 'What has Joshua been up to since Supersar?   I haven’t seen anything on his IMDB page.'"

Joshua chuckled.

"Well... except for brief stints at St. G's, I don't do much acting.  As for right now, I've been helping out where I can with relief efforts here in the city.  As for being recognized...  It's always really special to me when that happens.  I don't mind it at all and I certainly never get tired of it.  So... when things are better... if you see me on the street, say 'hi.'  I love hearing from you!"

"That's great... and not surprising at all to me."  Emma smiled lovingly at Joshua.  "So now... speaking of being an actor... or not... from Lauren Q. 'Is it worth it trying to make it as a professional actor in New York, or should I just give up and go with something more sensible?'  Well, Lauren... truthfully, none of us are looking to acting to get by.  I mean Peter's and my income comes from the theatre as owners.  But most everyone else has a steady job outside of St. G's.  So I'm not sure if we're the best ones to answer but if anyone has some tips..."

"I think you need to ask yourself what you really want," Shane answered. "I'm a teacher.  And I adore teaching.  For me, acting is a way to express myself creatively in a different way.  I love being on stage.  But I think... as a career... it would wear on me.  So if you just love that thrill but would be content with it not actually being your job, I'd suggest looking for a job that frees up your evenings and weekends so you can support yourself and be an actor."

"You should never give up on your dreams," Joshua counseled.  "But I think it's also important to not put yourself under so much strain and pressure that the beauty and delight drains away.  I agree with Shane that finding a sensible and reliable job that could allow you to pursue acting opportunities in your free time could be really great.  A calling and a job don't have to be the same thing."

"Awesome.  Thanks, guys.  I hope that helps, Lauren.  Now... from Micah W. 'How long did it take to rehearse everything?'  Hmm...  Good question.  I'm trying to remember."  Emma shook her head as she strained to recall.

"Well, for that particular production we just watched, many of you had started rehearsing in mid-February 2014.  But we didn't have our first rehearsal together until... February 26th, I think it was?" Andrew recalled.  "And then our first show was April 4th.  So that's about six weeks in total."

"That sounds right," Caleb concurred.  "And we have a shorter rehearsal period now since we've done it so often.  But with shows that are newer to us... at least two months.  Maybe a little more."
"Right!" Emma confirmed.  "So now... oh good.  We have a crew member question.  From A. Crowley for JenniAnn."

JenniAnn perked up, surprised.

"'How difficult is it to do the Crucifixion make-up?  Emotionally, I mean.  I'm having a very hard time imagining that...'" Emma read.

"Aw, Crowley..." JenniAnn whispered.  She noticed Joshua wink and smiled then raised her voice to answer.  "Well...  It was pretty difficult.  I mean I couldn't help but think that each bit of make-up and body paint signified a wound that... that had been real.  And, as a Christian, I believe I'm responsible for those wounds so... so... yeah.  It was really emotional.  But Joshua was just amazing.  We... we had some really special moments figuring that make-up out.  He was incredibly gentle.  Let me cry on him."

Joshua smiled gently at JenniAnn through the screen while Andrew rubbed her back, steadying her.

"And Peter's great to work with, too," JenniAnn continued.  "They're both really good at getting me out of my head if I start to get too... pensive and angsty.  But, yeah, definitely emotional."

"Thanks, JenniAnn."  Emma smiled at her friend.  "And now... ah."  She laughed.  "A question for our Pilate..."

The questions went on for nearly two more hours with no one wanting to leave anyone out.  Finally, Emma came to the final question.

"So I saved this one for last because I loved that it was forward-looking.  It's mostly for Peter and me, I guess, but we'd love Joshua's take so... From Amy R. 'I love that you put on such great shows for people of all ages.'  Thanks, Amy!  'But would you ever consider going in a darker, more serious direction for one show a year or something?'  Great question!  So... yeah.  I think we would.  If the message was still good.  Peter?"

Peter nodded in agreement with his wife.

"Sure.  I mean dark isn't always bad.  And certainly some of the shows we have done have darker themes.  I mean even Superstar... it gets really rough.  But, yeah, I'd be open to that.  Joshua... we value your opinion so... thoughts?"

"I don't see anything wrong with that.  I know you'd never put on anything nihilistic, as Emma said.  Maybe that has its place but I think people go to the theatre a lot of times for hope.  And sometimes more serious pieces, even with tragic endings, can prompt really important conversations... conversations that can give hope and peace."

Andrew and JenniAnn looked to each other and clasped hands, feeling as if Joshua was speaking directly to them.

"God can be found in the darkness as well as the light," Joshua continued.  "And I think it's good to remind people of that.  We're in a really difficult time right now... a time with a lot of heartbreak, a lot of loss, a lot of stress, a lot of ugliness.  But there's still beauty, still hope, still love.  Families are getting quality time they've missed out on.  Couples are finding more time to talk to each other.  Many people have more time to simply be, to relax, to reflect.  People are waking up every day, doing their part to keep people safe, fed, cared for.  Their selflessness...  That's God's love in action.  I think sometimes those gloomier periods in life... gloomier works of art... can prompt people to search for the light that they too often take for granted.  If they look, they'll find God there, too."

Many of the Friends' had teared up listening to Joshua.  They smiled lovingly at him and he responded in kind.  They felt him beside them, felt his love surrounding them.

He was there.  He was always there.


A Promise Kept

Many, many years later...

Andrew ran his fingers over the carvings of ivy and roses... identical to the design he'd carved into their headboard so long ago.  They'd been there overseeing the bulk of his and JenniAnn's many, many years together... climbing above them as they'd slept, silent witnesses to their long talks, their caresses.

Andrew wanted to go back to bed.  He wanted to wake up and finding her dozing at his side.

But this wasn't a sleep he could join her in.  Not yet.  But she would have her ivy and her roses.

The angel's gaze traveled to her face.  She looked peaceful.  She truly did look like she was sleeping.  But he knew she wasn't sleeping.  His Laja would never sleep when she could ask Joshua every question that had ever popped into her mind... when she could reunite with Vincent, Catherine, her parents... so many others she had lost... when she could charge into Records and demand to know, after so long, how old he really was.

Andrew smiled as the tears rolled down his cheeks and off his chin.  He let out a ragged sigh and brushed away a tear that fell on her cheek.

"Okay, Laja..." he whispered.  "I... I'm gonna do it now.  Just like I promised."  He bent to kiss her forehead and then, leaning heavily on his cane, made his way to the podium at the front of the church.  He smiled at the gathered mourners and began to speak.

"There's a speech from a TV show that JenniAnn and I watched together many, many years ago.  She... she loved it so much.  She'd read it often when someone we loved passed on.  And... and she asked me to read it to all of you.  She... my Laja... she reminded me of it just... just last week when we knew..."  Andrew looked up at the ceiling and blinked back tears.  "We knew...  So... I'm going to read that now."

Andrew took in a deep breath and slowly let it out.  Then he began to read from the piece of paper in his hands, his thumbs caressing her handwriting.

"'I... I feel a bit clearer now.  Everything's been out of order.  Time, I mean.  I thought for so long that time was like a line, that... that our moments were laid out like dominoes, and that they... fell, one into another and on it went, ju-just days tipping, one into the next, into the next, in a long line between the beginning... and... and the end.'"

Andrew thought of the Fields of Gold... the beginning... and their bed... the end.

"'But I was wrong,'" he continued.  "'It's not... not like that at all.  Our moments fall around us like rain.'"

There she was... snuggled against him during a storm, jumping when a loud crack of thunder sounded then laughing into his shoulder.

"'Or... snow.'"

They were dancing in the ballroom with the Christmas tree and the moon as their only light, the windows filled with snowflakes... also dancing.

"'Or confetti.'"

He smiled at her through the haze of confetti that had just fallen on him and he drunk in the sound of her laughter.

"'I learned a secret. There's no... no without.  I am not gone.  I'm scattered into so...'"

He began to sob.  He noticed the alarm on Belle's face, saw her begin to stand up.  Andrew pulled himself together and continued.

"'I'm scattered into so many pieces, sprinkled on your life like new snow. There's so much I want to say to you all.  Forgiveness is warm.  Like a tear on a cheek.  Think of that and of me when you stand in the rain...  I... I loved you completely.  And you... you loved me the same.  That's all.  The rest is confetti.'"

Andrew peered above him and smiled through his tears.

"I love you," he murmured.  "I... I'll see you soon, my Laja."

"Daddy...  It.. it was beautiful, Daddy."

Andrew looked down to Belle who had approached and smiled gently.


Belle kissed his cheek then escorted him back to the front pew.

Once he was seated, Andrew looked around him... to their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren. 


Andrew smiled at the toddler holding his right knee for balance, his great-granddaughter.  As Fr. Kyle began a reading, Andrew picked the girl up and snuggled her close... his Jenna.

"Gampa?" Jenna whispered.

"Yes, my darling?"

"Gamma went to Heaven."

"Yes... yes, she did."

"You see her again."

Andrew smiled and kissed Jenna's curls.


Jenna patted his cheek then settled down onto his lap.

The angel of death stared ahead, lost in his memories... in the snow, the rain, the confetti. 

He was so tired...  Sleep had been scarce in the last week.  He had been afraid to sleep... afraid of what he'd find when he awoke.

He was halved.

Andrew's heavy eye lids closed.

And then Joshua was there, standing in the Fields of Gold but they were... more.  More golden, more alive, more beautiful.  Joshua smiled and clapped Andrew on the back.

"Good job on keeping your promise.  I keep my promises, too."

Joshua winked then disappeared.

And then Andrew heard her... and then he saw her, standing against the trunk of a tree and smiling at him as she sang.

"His tears are more heart-rending than a banshee’s wail
But through it all his spirit doth, with strength, prevail.
And if Andrew were here I’d but one thing to say
That I shall ne’er cease to love him til my last day."

His strength returned, Andrew ran to her.


JenniAnn nuzzled his shoulder as he fell against her.

"My love..."  She met his teary gaze and brushed stray hairs behind his ears.  "It's occurred to me that I probably need to do a rewrite.  My last day's come and gone... still haven't ceased loving you."

Andrew chuckled.

"Oh, Laja...  I... I've missed you."

JenniAnn smiled tenderly at him.

"I know, my love.  But I'm here."  She gazed at the beauty around them.  "And here."  She rested a hand over his heart.

"Yes..."  Andrew sighed and rested his cheek against her hair.  "But I have to go back..."

JenniAnn ran her hands up and down his back in soothing, tender motions.

"Our babies still need you..."

"Yes..."  Andrew thought of them... their hearts broken, the tears in their eyes, their cries when she'd gone from them.

"A year, love

Andrew cradled her face in his hands and kissed her forehead.

"A year," he echoed.

They clasped hands and their lips met.

And then Andrew was back in the church, watching as Fr. Kyle sprinkled holy water over the coffin.

The angel smiled.  She would be there... sprinkled on the year to come.

"'God of love, welcome into your presence your daughter, JenniAnn, whom you have called from this life,'" Fr. Kyle prayed.  "'Release her from all her sins, bless her with eternal light and peace, raise her up to live forever with all your saints in the glory of the resurrection.  We ask this through Joshua our Lord.'"

"Amen," the congregation responded.

Andrew squeezed Jenna's little hand and sighed in relief.

All would be well.

The End

Author's note: It would probably be illegal to stream a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, especially considering that Andrew Lloyd Webber has his own preferred version streaming at the time of this writing.  But I decided to pretend that wasn't an issue.  And, who knows, maybe ALW woulda allowed it just because of the extreme circumstances.

Ivy's and Sy's wedding rite was mostly based off of the Catholic wedding rite with some adjustments made to reflect that Andrew is not a Catholic priest (for which JenniAnn is totes grateful).  To be honest, I don't know that this would be considered a valid marriage by the Catholic Church but Archbishop Tony is definitely an "intent of the law, not the letter of the law" kinda guy and, after all, these are extreme circumstances.  So I think it's believable that he'd sign off on the wedding regardless.  Christ was also replaced with Joshua in all instances.  This site was hugely helpful: http://www.catholicweddinghelp.com/topics/order-wedding-outside-mass.htm

Works Cited:
Jesus Christ Superstar
"Seasons of Love" from RENT
"Love Never Fails" by Brandon Heath
Song of Songs 8: 6-7- "Place me like a seal over your heart"
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9- "I will bless the Lord..."
1 Corinthians 12:31 through chapter 13:8a- "Love is patient..."
1 John 4:16- "Whoever remains in love, remains in God and God in them."
Mark 10:6-9- "What God has joined together..."
"Our Father" by Michael W. Smith
Catholic Matrimony Rite
The Haunting of Hill House- book (Shirley Jackson) and TV show (Mike Flanagan, etc.)
"Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon
The Lion King
Frozen II
"Fields of Gold" by Sting
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
"Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" by William Wordsworth
"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"
"Remedy" by Adele
"Bei Mir Bistu Shein" by Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda (Yiddish) and Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin (English rewrite)
Dancing With the Stars
Lost Horizon by James Hilton
"What Wondrous Love is This?" by Alexander Means
"The Parting Glass" - traditional
"Raglan Road" by Patrick Kavanagh
Dante's Inferno
Ruth 1- "where you go, I go"
"Scarborough Fair/Canticle" by Simon and Garfunkel
Disney's Beauty and the Beast musical
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Phantom of the Opera
A Catholic Prayer for the Dead

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