"'But the Glorious One bent down his golden head
and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, 'Son, thou art welcome.'"
~~ C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

The Messiah

The Surprise        The Prodigal Son        The Letter        Suspicions        He Who is Kind        Friends

Friday        Easter        The Vigil        Jemima        Holy Messes        Evidence       

Cameron        Release        Shepherds        Planting Seeds       

Ground Rules        Mosaic        Peace        Epilogue

Works Cited


The Surprise

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

In a warm, brightly decorated office near a mosque in Manhattan, Fr. Mike and Rabbi Yakov were presiding over a meeting of their ecumenical group's planning committee.  Newly christened Symponia, the group's health and wellness fair would be an opportunity to spread their message of love, compassion, and understanding... and garner some goodwill for their hosts.

"All right...  So we have at least five dentists on board.  And three dermatologists?" Fr. Mike checked.

Tiva nodded.

"And does Liyana still think she can bring in a fourth, Ibrahim?"

Imam Ibrahim Azizi displayed his cell phone.

"Yes.  This is Dr. Hura Khalid, Liyana's cousin.  She's a dermatologist.  We thought some of our ladies, and perhaps others, would feel better being screened by a woman."

Salma nodded.

"Good idea.  I know I feel more comfortable with female physicians.  No offense but..."  Her face clouded.

Yakov squeezed the young woman's hand, lending her his support.

"None taken, Sister."  The imam smiled gently then turned to JenniAnn.  "And the self defense instructors?"

"My cousin hooked us up with three.  They said they could probably have around 30 people per class, one class every hour so... hopefully we can meet demand."

"If not... I propose we schedule another health and wellness fair... perhaps right before school starts?" Rabbi Yakov offered.

"That's a wonderful idea," Isra applauded.  "Maybe, for that one, we could also have some people who can screen for... I forget the English.  When the letters don't appear in order."

"Dyslexia?" the imam suggested.

"Yes!" Isra confirmed.  "And maybe other learning disabilities."

"Maybe a couple of optometrists, too?"

"Good idea, Kyle."  Fr. Mike scribbled notes into his planner.  "We can ask Diana and Shane if they know any screeners who would help us out."

"They're friends of ours who are teachers," JenniAnn explained to Ibrahim.

"Ah!  Good!  As for this fair...  I want to thank you all again for allowing us to host.  It means a lot to our community.  This may be the first time some... maybe even most... of our visitors will have been in a mosque.  It's a great... very welcome... opportunity to share with our neighbors who we really are," the imam effused.

Yakov clasped his shoulder.

"It's our honor, Ibrahim.  And thank you and your wife for joining Symponia and giving us this opportunity.  I truly think we'll change minds and hearts... and hopefully health outcomes while we're at it."

"I'm so excited!" JenniAnn enthused.  "But I do wonder..."  She delicately fingered the scarf on her head.  "I'm very grateful to Liyana for the beautiful hijab.  But not all women coming will have one."

"Nor would we expect them to," Ibrahim stressed.  "And we certainly don't want anyone failing to come only because of that.  And there'd be no need of wearing one during the fair.  I mean...  Many of the Muslim women helping out will be wearing them, of course.  But we wouldn't expect you or the visitors to don them in the community rooms.  My wife only wanted to be sure you had one in cause you wanted a tour of the mosque proper."

"And I'm so glad I took the tour.  But since we have a secondary purpose of educating folks... maybe optional tours would be a nice touch?" JenniAnn suggested.  "Do you have any guidelines on what material could be used to make the hijabs?"

The imam shook his head.

"No.  We don't.  Many women simply use a scarf that any of you ladies might buy at your local store... or Amazon."

"Well, then...  We always end up with so many fabric remnants at St. G's.  I could talk to Emma and Peter, the theatre owners.  Maybe we could fashion those into scarves and have them on hand for any lady wanting a tour to use and keep."  JenniAnn again caressed the hijab that Ibrahim's wife had given her at a previous Symponia meeting.  "They won't be nearly so nice as this one, I'm afraid.  But they wouldn't be shabby, either.  We'd see to that."

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Tiva encouraged.  "We always keep some yamulkes on hand for when we have visitors to the synagogue."

"And we have some hijabs on hand... but likely not enough to provide for such an influx of visitors.  So if some could be made..."

"I'd be happy to help make them.  I've had plenty of practice!"  Isra affectionately patted the veil that Salma was wearing, one of her own making.

Salma laughed.

"I am not nearly as talented as Isra.  But I could help, too.  I at least know how to finish an edge."

"It's a wonderful idea!" a beaming Ibrahim praised.  "I'll speak to Liyana.  Maybe she could arrange a sewing group to help?"

"That sounds like fun!  I'm afraid I'm all thumbs but my fiancee, Ana-Maria, sewed her own prom dress.  I think she'd love to be included," Kyle suggested.

The imam's phone dinged and he checked it, his face lighting up.

"Perhaps we can get something on the schedule yet today.  Liyana's on her way back from her mother's.  Hura... the dermatologist I mentioned... is with her, too.  And our handyman."  Ibrahim chuckled.  "Random, I know.  Liyana's mother, Fatima, took quite a shine to him.  So the ladies thought a visit from him might lift her spirits and take her mind off her broken hip.  Yakov and Tiva... maybe you know him.  He's Jewish.  Joshua..."

"Davidson?!" the others nearly shouted.

Ibrahim burst out laughing. 

"I surmise you all know him?"

The group all babbled at once causing the imam's mirth to increase.

"Well, I can't say I understood any of that," he teased.  "But I gather that our Joshua is much loved?"

Yakov chuckled, realizing how goofy they must all seem.

"Mike, since you've known Joshua the longest, perhaps you could speak for us?" he suggested.

The priest beamed.

"Of course.  Ibrahim, Joshua's a very dear friend of ours.  As he may have mentioned, he travels quite a lot.  We never quite know when he'll find himself back in New York so... as you saw... we all get very excited when he returns."

"And how did you all meet him?"

"Well, I met him at my old church.  It was shortly after some news of... of abuse committed by one of my predecessors broke.  Joshua was an immense comfort to me."

"And the rabbi, Tiva, and I all met Joshua via St. G's.  He helped repair the stage but he ended up playing Jesus," JenniAnn related.  "And so well..."

Ibrahim cocked his head.

"Joshua played Isa?  Strange that he never mentioned that.  As a rule, Muslims don't believe in physically representing the prophets... but I certainly don't begrudge anyone their right to expression of either their faith or creativity.  I imagine he was very good.  He does have a way about him..." 

"He's so modest."  Tiva sighed, happily imagining the coming reunion.

"So I've gathered.  Isra, Salma... how did you meet Joshua?"

"My husband, children, and I met Joshua through our friendship with the others.  And Salma..."  Isra squeezed her sister's hand.

Salma looked the imam squarely in the eyes.

"You know of my life before?" she asked.

The man's gaze softened and he nodded.

"Joshua was among my rescuers.  I had so much support from my sister and her family... from everyone here.  But Joshua... he restored my life to me."

Kyle's eyes filled.

"I know the feeling very well.  Joshua was... is... the reason I retained my faith even after what happened to me."

Ibrahim bowed his head.  During a previous meeting of the ecumenical group, he had heard Kyle speak about the abuse he'd suffered.  He had marveled at the young man's strength.

"I suspected that Joshua was a remarkable man.  But I had no idea...  I'm so glad that you'll be able to see him again."

"Does he know you're meeting with us?" Fr. Mike asked.

The imam shook his head.

"He knew I had a meeting... hence not being able to visit Fatima today.  But he didn't know what sort of meeting."  He grinned.  "Perhaps we could surprise him?"

The priest returned his smile.

"Just what I was thinking..."


Fifteen minutes later, Liyana knocked on the door of her husband's study.

"Ibrahim, we're back.  Are you still..."

The imam opened the door and embraced his wife.

"Welcome back.  How's your mother?"

"Amazingly well!  With some coaxing from Joshua, she even got up and walked around a bit!" 

Ibrahim laughed.

"I told you.  I think your mother has a crush on our handyman."

Liyana smiled back.

"I think you're right.  And if it keeps her in a good mood... I don't object!"

"He did come back with you, I hope?"

Liyana nodded.

"He's in the living room.  We ran into Raheem leaving the mosque so they're chatting.  Hura, too."  Liyana rolled her eyes.  "Do you know that she offered to remove his birthmark?  I was mortified.  And I thought Mom was going to slap her upside the head."

Ibrahim laughed, imagining his enraged mother-in-law.

"I'm sure she meant well and Joshua knows that, too."


"Don't worry about it, Yana.  Besides, I have a surprise for Joshua."

Liyana noted the mischievous glint in her husband's eyes.


"Turns out he's good friends with the planning committee.  They're still here... hiding in my office.  Could you please ask Joshua to come see me?  I'll tell the others he's coming."

"Can I come with him?  I want to see his reaction!"

"Of course!" 

Giggling, Liyana went to retrieve the carpenter.

Ibrahim returned to his office, shutting the doors behind him.

"He's coming!  Liyana just went to get him.  Rabbi, I can see your head."

"Not sure the old knees will let me crouch much lower..."

Ibrahim grabbed some books and piled them on his desk, obstructing the view of Yakov's head.

"Thank you!"

"My pleasure."  Ibrahim laughed then moved to stand casually by his window.  He picked up the Quran and began to read.

The group didn't have to wait long before there was another knock at the door.

"Joshua is here, dear."

"Come in!"

Joshua smiled at Ibrahim as he entered.

"Hey there.  What can I do for you, Ibrahim?"

"Oh, just a small thing.  But first... thank you for visiting with my mother-in-law.  Yana tells me that you did Fatima a world of good.  On her feet and everything!"

Joshua blushed slightly as he continued to smile.

"It was my pleasure.  She was very kind to me and it did me good to see her smiling.  So what is it you'd like me to do?"

Ibrahim waved to a coat closet. 

"That door...  It's very squeaky."

"Hmm.  Probably needs a little oil.  I have some in my toolbox in the other room.  I'll go get..."

Keenly aware of both Yakov's discomfort and the fact that he was on the verge of bursting into laughter, Ibrahim shook his head.

"No.  I really don't think it's that.  Maybe if you could just look at the door first?  Now, please."

Joshua shrugged, somewhat confused by the usually patient imam's seeming impatience.


Joshua approached the closet and opened the door.

"Girls!" he cried when Isra, Salma, and JenniAnn were revealed.

The three women eagerly embraced him then turned him around so he could see Tiva and Yakov rising from behind the desk, Fr. Mike squeezing out from behind a couch, and Kyle sliding out from beneath a covered end table.

Joshua laughed and kissed each of the women's foreheads before releasing them so he could greet the others.

"I had no idea!" he exclaimed.  "I knew Ibrahim and Liyana had joined Symponia but I didn't connect that with the meeting today.  Oh...  I missed you all." 

Ibrahim and Liyana looked on happily as Joshua reunited with his friends. 

"Did you know he knew them?" Liyana asked her husband.

Ibrahim shook his head.

"Looking back, I can remember Kyle mentioning his friend, Joshua, helping him through his ordeal.  But it never occurred to me our Joshua and his Joshua were one and the same." 

"Look...  He's crying."  Liyana rested her head on Ibrahim's shoulder.  "That's so sweet."

Ibrahim studied his new friend who was, sure enough, teary-eyed as he rested his cheek against Salma's veil.  Something about the image sent a shudder through the imam.

"Honey... are you all right?"

Ibrahim roused and nodded to his wife.

"Yes, yes.  Sorry.  Not sure where my mind went just now.  Anyway..."  He approached Joshua and rested a hand on his shoulder.  "Joshua, you've done enough for today.  You visited my mother-in-law which definitely puts you in the above and beyond category.  Take the rest of the day off.  Catch up with your friends."

Joshua released Salma and turned to Ibrahim.

"Are you sure?  I was hoping to get started on the cracked pavement by the...."

"I'm sure," the imam interrupted.  "It can wait until tomorrow.  Besides, you're still wanting to help with the health fair, right?"


"Well, Fr. Mike was our note taker today.  So he's in the best position to fill you in."

Joshua smiled and patted the imam's arm.

"Thank you, Ibrahim.  I appreciate that.  Liyana, thank you for letting me accompany you and Hura on the visit."

Liyana smiled and shook her head.

"It was our pleasure... and most of all my Mom's.  And..."  She cringed.  "I'm sorry about Hura offering to remove your birthmark."

Salma and JenniAnn audibly gasped.

Joshua chuckled.

"It was nothing.  She was only being kind."

"Told you," Ibrahim said under his breath.

"Well, thank you..."  Liyana offered Joshua her hand and, when he took it, she clasped his hand in both of hers.  "I pray you have a good time with your friends."

"Thank you.  Both of you.  I pray you have a good day, as well.  And thank you for the afternoon off."

"Our pleasure.  Oh!  The sewing session..."  Ibrahim turned to his wife.  "The ladies suggested we have more hijabs on hand for visitors to the health fair who may want a tour of the mosque.  JenniAnn thinks she can get a hold of some fabric remnants.  I thought maybe a sewing circle was called for?"

"That's a lovely idea!" Liyana cheered.  "Let's see..."  She pulled out her phone and referenced her calendar.  "I want to be respectful of everyone's holy days...  I know Wednesdays are often reserved for religious classes so...  Thursday evening, perhaps?  6:00?"

Salma, Isra, and JenniAnn all looked at each other then nodded.

"Let me make sure we can get the remnants together by then.  I'll text you sometime later today to confirm?" JenniAnn offered.

"Sounds good!  And the hijab looks lovely on you, by the way."

"Oh thanks!  And thank you for it."  JenniAnn embraced Liyana then the others made their good byes.

Liyana and Ibrahim led their guests back through their house and to the door.  Joshua bid Hura and Raheem farewell then, once more, smiled back at the Azizis.

"Thank you.  I really appreciate this."

"Of course, Joshua.  Ma' salaam."  Ibrahim squeezed his hand.

"Shalom, my friend."  Joshua squeezed the imam's hand in turn.

Ibrahim and Liyana watched their friends make their way towards the nearest subway station then closed the door. 

"Do you think one of them is his girlfriend?" Liyana mused.

"Absolutely not.  We met Isra's husband, remember?  And I believe JenniAnn is married to that Andrew fellow.  And Salma is a nun."

"Oh... right," Liyana recalled with obvious disappointment.  "It would just be nice to think he had someone to watch over him.  He's such a kind man.  You should have seen him with Mom."

"Maybe bachelorhood suits Joshua.  It was good enough for the real Isa, peace be upon him.  Maybe it's good enough for fake Isa."


Ibrahim chuckled.  "Apparently Joshua played him in Jesus Christ Superstar."

"Really...  Well... now I'm going to have to make him sing.  He has such a nice speaking voice... I can only imagine how pleasant his singing must be."

Ibrahim smirked.

"Not sure your mother is the only one with a crush..."

"Ibrahim!"  Liyana's face flushed but she smiled and kissed her husband's forehead.  "I have my hands full with you, thank you very much."

The imam laughed and looped his arm around Liyana's waist, leading her back to the living room where her cousins remained.


As news of Joshua's return swept through the Friends' grapevine, lunch was hastily organized at St. Genesius'.  One by one, those who were able to come affectionately greeted Joshua.  Those who were at work eagerly checked their text messages; relishing the photos of their beloved friend and counting down the hours until they could be with him.

"So how long have you been in town?" Peter asked as he refilled Joshua's iced tea.

"Since last Monday.  I fully intended to make my presence known.  I was going to show up at Shabbat services but..."  Joshua smiled at those gathered around.  "I'm glad it worked out this way."  He picked up Aurora who had toddled to him.  "Very glad."

"So... if you can say... what brought you to the mosque?" Behnam queried.

"Well...  They've been having a difficult time... Ibrahim especially.  So I wanted to be there to support them."

"What's going on?" Zeke questioned.  "I mean...  I know Islamophobia is a very real, persistent problem but... is there something in particular happening?"

Joshua nodded.  Mindful of the little ones, he chose his words carefully.

"After what happened in Christchurch, Ibrahim spoke out.  He didn't go looking for the attention but you know how it is.  Something happens and the local press looks for a relevant talking head.  His statements were all very good... very appropriate.  But some people...  It drew the attention of the Islamaphobes, of course.  But it also angered some of the gun rights crowd.  And, on top of that, some of his own flock were upset with him for drawing attention to the mosque at such a sensitive time.  So... your health fair gave me a good opportunity to come and lend some moral support to him and Liyana.  He wants the mosque to be perfect when they welcome Symponia's visitors.  So I've been painting, sanding, refinishing, doing a little landscaping..."

"Cheering up an old lady laid up with a bad hip," Isra interjected.

Joshua smiled.

"That too.  Liyana's mother broke her hip," he explained to the others.  "So I spent some time with her today."

"Did you heal her?" Emma asked as she swayed with baby Sawyer.

"I... helped things along a bit.  I didn't want to raise any suspicions.  This isn't about me making my true identity known."

"Not even as Isa the prophet?" Ivy questioned.

"No.  If someone makes the connection... so be it.  It will happen... or not... as Dad wills it.  I'm just there to offer my support and love."

The others were quiet, contemplating this.  It hardly seemed fair that Joshua would spend so much time away from Heaven without hope of being recognized and appropriately adored.

Andrew, however, was troubled by another matter.

"The attention that Ibrahim is getting... is it threatening?"

Joshua met the angel of death's eyes.


Andrew rested an arm around JenniAnn's shoulders and snuggled Avi closer.

"Should we be concerned about everyone's safety at the health fair?"

Joshua bowed his head.

Renee rose to her feet.

"Kiddos, ya know what I brought?" she asked in a bright, cheery voice.

"Uh uh," Omar replied.  "What'd ya bring?"

"Froot Loops and cookies!  So how about we go into the office and decorate some very special cookies for Joshua.  Joshua, you'd like that, right?"

Joshua smiled at Renee and the little ones who were crowding around her. 

"I'd love that!  Thank you!"

"I'll come help."  Emma moved to her feet.

"Me too," Violeta offered.

"Okay!  Let's go decorate some cookies!" Renee cheered as she led the children away.

Once the door to the office was closed, Joshua looked to Owen.

"You have your phone on you?"

"Yeah.  Sure."

"Record this for Emma, Violeta, and Renee and everyone who isn't here?"

"Yeah...  Sure thing."

Joshua sighed and began to speak.

"You'll be as safe as you are in any house of worship these days...  Yes, Ibrahim has been threatened.  Yes, the mosque has been threatened.  But the Father's given me no indication that those threats are anything but the rantings of fearful, angry people.  Still... churches are set on fire... shootings in them... in synagogues... in mosques...  Bombings... even yesterday..." 

Joshua wept.

Seated nearest to him, Ivy and Sy enfolded him in their arms.

After a few moments, Joshua regained control of his emotions.  He embraced the young couple then returned his attention to the others and Owen's camera.

"We can't let fear... or heartache... or hate... stop us from doing what's right," he stressed.  "And I know you won't." 

Joshua smiled as he gazed around the room.

"I haven't given you a spirit of fear... but of power... of love... of a sound mind.  Of symponia... compassion."

Andrew let out a deep breath and nodded.  He stood up and crouched in front of Joshua, clasping his hands.

"Of course..."  He looked around to the others who nodded.  "We'll be there, Joshua."

"Definitely," Peter agreed.

The others murmured in assent.

Joshua beamed at them.

"Thank you.  I appreciate that very much... as does Dad.  And so will our brothers and sisters at the Manhattan Mosque."

"I'm looking forward to it," Kylie ventured.  "It's always nice to meet new people."

"And help people!" Ana-Maria added.

"Will we be able to see the mosque itself?" Clay checked.  "I know you mentioned that most of the classes and demonstrations would be in community rooms but..."

"Yes!  And that reminds me..."  JenniAnn turned to Peter.  "Everyone is welcome to tour the mosque but, of course, us ladies will need to cover our heads.  They have hijabs on hand but... probably not enough for this.  So I was wondering if maybe we could use the costume remnants to make some?"

"Of course!  That's a great idea.  We could really use the storage space those bags are taking up.  It'd be great to get them out of here."

"Liyana thought maybe we could have a sewing circle on Thursday night.  Would any of you be available then?" Isra requested.  She smiled when several hands shot up.

"You could do it here," Peter offered.  "That would probably be easier than having someone schlep the fabric elsewhere."

"Good idea!"  JenniAnn clapped her hands excitedly and withdrew her phone so she could text the update to Liyana.

Joshua let out a contented sigh, glad that everyone still intended to help at the fair.

Salma rested a hand on his shoulder.

"You'll be there at the fair... in the flesh, I mean?"

Joshua rested a hand over hers.

"I plan to be, Salma...  I want to be."

Salma peered into Joshua's eyes, trying to puzzle out something she saw there.  But there would always be aspects of Joshua that were unknowable...  Instead, she smiled and rested her head on his shoulder, letting out her own sigh of happiness when he rested his head on hers.


The Prodigal Son

That night, Joshua returned to Willowveil with Andrew, JenniAnn, Belle, and Avi.  It was a welcome respite from the drab, unfriendly apartment where he'd made his temporary home.  Unlike during his previous visits to New York, his neighbors hadn't been receptive to his offerings of friendship.

"Takoda's still staying with you, right?" Joshua checked as they left the gazebo.

JenniAnn nodded.

"But not tonight.  He wanted some alone time so headed to the Fields this morning to grab a cabin.  Is he still not..."

"Sometimes he talks to us.  But not like he used to."  Joshua frowned.  "I was hoping maybe we could reconnect a little... face to face.  Outside of Heaven."

JenniAnn patted his back.

"I think that's a great idea.  Maybe if you're up for a little babysitting, Andrew and I could go fetch him tomorrow morning.  When do you need to get to the mosque?"

Joshua gently tweaked Avi's nose and ruffled Belle's hair, causing both little ones to laugh.

"I try to be there around 9:00.  But I'd love to babysit before that."

"We could go right after Avi's first feeding," Andrew suggested.  "Takoda's an early riser.  He'll be up."

Joshua smiled at the two.

"Thanks.  I appreciate that."

JenniAnn handed Avi to his father then linked her arm through one of Joshua's.

"I'm just so glad you're back.  I know it's only been four months but... it seemed especially long this time for some reason."

"You just can't get enough of me, I guess," Joshua teased.

"Never could," JenniAnn vowed.

The little group entered the castle together.  In the foyer, Belle wrapped her arms around Joshua's legs and peered up at him.

"Can you tuck me in, Joshua?"

Joshua patted the girl's curls and nodded.

"Sure.  Why don't you go get ready for bed and I'll say good night to your Mama, Daddy, and Avi then meet you in your room?"

"Okay!"  Belle hastily hugged her parents and patted her little brother's head then ran towards her room.

Andrew chuckled.

"She's usually not that eager to go to bed.  Thanks, Joshua."

"It's my pleasure.  It feels good to be back here."

"Can I get you anything?  A snack or..."

Joshua shook his head and squeezed JenniAnn's hand.

"No.  I'm fine.  Thank you, though."  He kissed her forehead.  "You should try to get some sleep.  It's been a long day for you."

JenniAnn sighed and nodded.  Avi had woken her up at shortly after 4:00...

Joshua smiled.

"I'll still be here in the morning... and for several mornings after," he promised.

JenniAnn's face lit up.

"Okay.  G'night, Joshua.  Love you."

"Love you, too.  Andrew..."  Joshua hugged him.  "G'night.  I love you." 

"I love you, too, Joshua."

Joshua bent forward and kissed Avi's hair.

"G'night, little Avi.  You are so loved."

The boy peered up at Joshua and gave a little kick and joyful shriek.

After sharing a laugh with Andrew and JenniAnn, Joshua parted from them for the night.

Once he'd dropped his bag off in his room, Joshua trekked back down the stairs.  He entered Belle's room where he found her sitting on the edge of her bed, her legs kicking.  When she spied Joshua, she grinned and held her arms up.

Chuckling, Joshua turned down the covers then scooped Belle up and settled her into the center of her bed.  He dutifully tucked the blankets around her.

"Comfy?" he checked.

Belle nodded and gripped his right hand.

"Story?" she implored.

"Naturally.  What would you like me to read to you?"

"Don't read.  I like the stories you make up!"

"All right then..."  Joshua sat down beside the little girl.  "What should the story be about?"


"A story about unicorns..." Joshua mused.  "Okay.  Once upon a time, there lived a family of unicorns.  There was a mama unicorn and a daddy unicorn.  And they had three older baby unicorns and two little baby unicorns."

"Mama, Daddy, and fives babies...  Like my family!" Belle chirped.

"Yup.  For a long time, there had only been four babies, though.  And the youngest of those four babies loved being the littlest.  She loved being held and sung to and read to by her parents and siblings."

Belle silently nodded.

"So as much as she loved her baby brother unicorn, sometimes the little girl unicorn got sad or impatient or angry when the others didn't pay as much attention to her."

Belle half-buried her face in Joshua's upper arm.

"But the other unicorns... they still loved her so, so much.  And they were so proud of what a wonderful big sister she was.  And her baby brother... he adored her.  He'd laugh and smile whenever she came into the room."

"Avi does that," Belle murmured.

Joshua squeezed her hand.

"Because he loves you very much.  And, one day soon, he's going to be bigger and he won't need as much of your Mama's and Daddy's attention.  But he'll always need his big sister."

Belle beamed.

"I love him...  I'm glad I'm his big sister.  He's so cute."

"He's very cute.  And someone else is very cute, too.  And very smart...  And very kind..."

The little girl laughed as Joshua tickled her.  When her laughter was interrupted by a yawn, he kissed her forehead.

"Now I think it's time for bed."

"Yeah...  Joshua?"


"Are you gonna stay for a while?"

"At least for a few days.  I hope longer."

"You don't know?"

Joshua shook his head.

"I'm not quite sure what the Father has in mind... but I know that whatever His plan is, it's the best plan.  And I know that I'm going to treasure every single day I spend with you and all our family and friends."

Belle took Joshua's right hand in both of hers.

"I hope you stay a long, long time."

Joshua smiled and brushed a curl from her forehead.

"Just remember...  I'm always with you, Belle.  Even if you can't see me."

"I know...  But I like your hugs."

"I like your hugs, too, baby girl.  And I'll definitely be here in the morning to hug you, okay?"

"Okay...  Can you stay with me til I fall asleep?"


As Joshua softly hummed, Belle snuggled into her blankets and pillow.  It only took a few minutes for her to fall asleep.

Joshua silently said a blessing over her before creeping from the room and returning to his own.  After a shower, he collapsed onto his own bed.  Staring out the window, he prayed that the next day would bring about a breakthrough for Takoda... and some understanding about the familiar, sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.


Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

The following morning, Andrew and JenniAnn made their way to the Fields of Gold.  After JenniAnn let out a troubled-sounding sigh, Andrew clasped her hand and brought it to his lips.

"Laja, what is it?"

JenniAnn shook her head, bringing herself out of her thoughts.

"Nothing.  Sorry.  Just... I hope this goes well.  I've enjoyed having Takoda with us.  And I look forward to him remaining with us for a while longer but... I'm not sure I'll be able to control my emotions if he gives Joshua a hard time.  And that's not really fair.  I've been angry at God before.  Just... not when he's been right here.  Where... where I can see his eyes well and... and the way he clenches his hand when... when you know he wants to reach out and touch someone but he knows that would be unwanted and..."

Andrew ceased walking and pulled JenniAnn into his arms.

"Even if that happens... and I'm not saying it will because Takoda's made a lot of progress... you'll be around.  I'll be around.  The kids will be around.  And now Joshua has a whole other set of friends at the mosque.  And he'll be surrounded by our Friends at every opportunity.  He won't be starved for affection, Laja."

"I know...  But it's not as if you'd feel okay if, say, Max shunned you... even if Belle was especially cuddly at the same time."

"No...  I wouldn't be okay.  But I'd also know that you... Rose... likely others would be working on Max... trying to encourage a reconciliation.  And that would help me."

JenniAnn nodded.

"Yes...  And I spose that's part of it.  I... I don't know what I can really say to Takoda.  'I'm sorry your assignments were ruthlessly killed for no good reason.  But look... here's Joshua.  Isn't he awesome?  You can't really be mad at him, can you?'  I don't understand why bad things happen to good people.  I don't know why God sometimes seems to orchestrate miraculous rescues and at other times... doesn't.  I don't know why He sometimes lets you intervene... and sometimes you just have to standby and await the inevitable and... and pick up the pieces afterwards.  But... I... I still don't want to see Him hurt."

Andrew rested his cheek against her hair and closed his eyes.  He had known Takoda's anger... felt it in every fiber of his human form as he'd looked down upon his lady, not knowing if she would wake up from the coma that Rex Remus had put her in.  But she had.  Takoda's assignments had not.

"And he just..."

Andrew peered into JenniAnn's eyes.

"Just what, Laja?"

"I dunno...  Maybe it's just me.  But... Joshua just seems... I dunno...  More... vulnerable than usual.  I mean... I know he's not but..."

Andrew frowned.

"He can be vulnerable, Laja.  Just like any of us.  I think the recent spate of religiously-targeted violence has been especially hard on him."

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn sniffled. 

"And you weren't there that time Emma ran away.  To see him then..."  Andrew, his eyes welling, shook his head.

JenniAnn gripped Andrew's hand tightly.

"I'm sure...  And I can think of other instances, too.  But this just seems like an over-arching sort of... something.  But you're probably right.  I mean... violence in his own houses... where people go to worship him and his Dad..."

"Are you... worried about being at the health fair?" Andrew asked as casually as possible, not wanting to further worry JenniAnn.

"Not really.  I mean Matthew and Tyron promised to have security there.  Are you... worried about my being there?"

Andrew bowed his head.

"Maybe a little."

"Do you... not want me to go?"

Andrew looked JenniAnn in the eyes and adamantly shook his head.

"Laja, it's important to you... to Joshua...  I wouldn't ask you to stay behind when our friends all plan to be there... when I plan to be there.  And besides..."  The color briefly drained from Andrew's face.

"I wasn't safe outside a building... a safe place... owned by my own cousin," JenniAnn expressed on her beloved's behalf.

Andrew only nodded.

"You just never know..." JenniAnn murmured.

"No... you don't."  Andrew let out a deep breath.  "But we do know that God is always with us so..."

JenniAnn stretched up to kiss him then smiled.

"Fear not!"

Andrew returned her smile and nodded.

The couple walked in companionable, peaceful silence as they finished their trek to Takoda's cabin.


Takoda sat on a hill staring out at the horizon and the two figures slowly and haltingly making their way towards him.  He already knew the news they were bringing him.  Wahkan had tipped him off the night before.

He was no longer the lone house guest at Willowveil.

Joshua was back.

The young angel closed his eyes, revisiting the past months.  He had been irritated when his supervisor had insisted he stay at Willowveil with Andrew and his anam cara.  Takoda had never heard of such a thing and, in truth, resented Andrew.  JenniAnn was there... brought back from the brink of death... to dote on him... to dance with him... to hold him close.  Andrew had a piece of heaven even when he was in the mortal realms...

But, in the end, the family had simply been too charming, too lovable for Takoda to sustain his bad attitude.  It was impossible to hold a grudge against Andrew when, on a near daily basis, Takoda heard Avi's and Belle's glee when their father returned home.  Andrew would scoop each child up and pepper their faces with kisses as he spun them around, more vigorously for sturdy Belle and more gently for little Avi.  In those moments, even as he smiled over his new friends' happiness, Takoda felt a stirring in his heart and a rock in the pit of his belly... longing for his own Father and Brother.

Most of the time, his work with Adam kept Takoda's mind off the pain of his self-imposed exile.  There were flowers to plant at the Chrysalis, animals to tend in Dyeland and Albany, food to be delivered to True Light, sets to paint at St. Genesius'.  But Adam was by no means a slave driver.  Takoda always had hours of his day to fill and sometimes he spent the time wandering Willowveil.  Numerous times he had caught JenniAnn, sitting quietly in the chapel, gazing at Joshua's portrait... or in the kitchen, cradling his golden mug... or tidying up his room, her fingers lightly brushing the handle of Joshua's hair brush or the sleeve of a sweater left hung over the back of a chair.

For the first ten of his twenty nine years, Takoda had resided solely in Heaven.  He'd had stints in the Choir, in Records, and, his favorite, the Reliquary.  In all places, Joshua was a constant presence.  It had never occurred to the angel that he was someone to be missed, to be longed for. 

A tear trickled down the angel's face.  Now he knew the feeling all too well.  And, unlike for JenniAnn, it was not a "clean" longing.  She kept Joshua's room at the ready, always eager to welcome him back.  Takoda had pushed him away.

In nineteen years of casework on Native American reservations with Wahkan, Takoda had never truly felt distanced from Joshua or from the Father.  Even when he couldn't see them, he felt them.

Until that night...

Takoda screwed his eyes shut as the sound of shrieking tires reverberated through his memory.  Daniel was shouting expletives as he tried to steer the car away from their pursuers.  In the backseat, Robin was weeping, begging her brother to hurry.  And Takoda had been praying fervently for his assignments, his friends. 

The car had side-swiped them, sending them veering off the road.  Daniel had tried to regain control of the Jeep but he'd hit an ice patch and hadn't been able to keep from plowing into a guardrail. 

Everything had gone black then.  The next thing Takoda had known, he was in a field of wildflowers.  Wahkan sat next to him, eyes closed as he sang a prayer in Sioux... a prayer meant to help guide the dead into the Hereafter and offer hope and healing to those left behind.

And the two angels had not been alone in the field...


Friday, January 4th, 2019

"Where am I?" Takoda murmured groggily as he sat up.

Wahkan's singing stopped.

"On Joshua's island," he answered.

"Why...  Where are..."

Takoda noticed an approaching figure...  Joshua Himself.  His face lit up.

"Joshua!"  He rose to his feet and embraced his Creator.

Joshua held him tightly.

"Takoda... my own..." he murmured as he cupped the angel's face.

Takoda began to feel wobbily when he saw the tears in Joshua's eyes.

"Daniel... Robin...  Where..." 

Wahkan approached and set a hand on his protege's back.

"Home.  They're Home, Takoda," Joshua answered, his voice tender and gravelly with emotion.

"The... the car crash?" Takoda implored.  "They... they were following us.  They thought Daniel was hitting on one of their girls but..."  He shook his head.  "He... he was just being friendly.  You know Daniel..."

"I do," Joshua affirmed.  "When people are filled with hate... they don't need a reason to lash out."

Takoda plopped down on the ground and wept.

"But... but... they were wearing seat belts!  I always made sure of that!"

Joshua knelt beside the angel.  He nodded and smiled sadly.

"I know.  And they were.  Takoda... Daniel and Robin weren't killed by the initial impact."

Shocked, Takoda stared at Joshua.

"The... the men in the car... they got out.  They shot and killed Daniel and... and then..."  A new wave of tears cascaded down Joshua's face.  He tightly gripped one of Takoda's hands in both of his. 

"No..." the angel muttered.  "No...  Not... not Robin..."

Joshua stared up at the sky, briefly closing his eyes as he spoke with his Father.  After a shuddering sigh, he refocused his attention on his angel.

"They raped her.  Then they... they shot her, too.  They brought her back to... to the car.  And they started a fire..."

"Takoda, I am so very sorry," Wahkan whispered.  "You did everything..."

Eyes blazing, Takoda nodded.

"I did everything I could," he finished as he pulled his hand away from Joshua.  "But he didn't."

Joshua reached out to caress Takoda's face but he crawled backwards.

"Takoda..." Wahkan intoned in a warning tone.

Takoda jumped to his feet and pointed to where Joshua knelt.

"You could have stopped them!" he shouted as he bawled.  "You could have saved them!  You could have let me save them!  Instead you... you what?  Knocked me out?"

"You hit your head during the crash, Takoda," Wahkan explained.  "Your human form..."

"He could have shielded my human form!  So I could have shielded them!  How... how many of us is he going to let them murder?" Takoda shrieked.

"Takoda!  Stop it!" Wahkan rebuked, grabbing for the younger angel.

Joshua rose to his feet. 

"It wasn't my will... nor Dad's will... that a single life be lost in violence.  But we gave them... you... humans and angels both... free will.  Because we didn't want blind obedience.  We... we wanted you to know freedom... to know love.  Takoda..."

The angel jerked away when Joshua again reached out for him.

"No...  I...  No..."  With a final shake of his head, Takoda turned away and fled.  He ran and ran until he found himself on a familiar road... the road leading into the reservation where he had spent many happy years before his time with Daniel, Robin, and their tribe.

And there he had remained until Wahkan had found him and brought him to Willowveil.


Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

After brushing away some tears, Takoda closed the distance between himself and his approaching hosts.

"Good morning," he greeted.

"G'morning, Takoda."  JenniAnn smiled and embraced the angel.  "How was your night?"

"Good.  Relaxing.  Thoughtful...  Wahkan told me about your... house guest."

Andrew nodded.

"I was hoping he might."

"Is he still at the castle?"

"Yeah.  He's leaving a little before 9:00.  For the day, anyway.  I think he's planning to come back after his work is done," Andrew explained, trying to gauge Takoda's reaction.


"Joshua is helping a mosque in Manhattan get their grounds in order for Symponia's health fair," JenniAnn chirped.  "We didn't even know til some of us had a meeting there yesterday.  He's already made quite an impression!"

"Of course he has."  Takoda sighed.  "Well, no sense avoiding the inevitable."

"You don't have to see him," JenniAnn insisted.  "Not if you're not ready."

Takoda was humbled by the uneasy tone in her voice.  It was obvious she couldn't imagine not wanting to spend time with Joshua.  But she'd never done what he had...

"No.  I'm ready."

"Can I help you carry anything?" Andrew offered.

Takoda slung a backpack over his shoulder and shook his head.

"No.  I'm fine.  Thanks."  He offered the couple an encouraging smile and then began the near-silent, pensive trek back to Willowveil.


"Did you talk like this when you were alive the first time?"

Joshua wiped some milk away from around Avi's mouth before giving Belle his attention.

"No.  I didn't even speak English.  I spoke a language called Aramaic."

"Can you still speak Airmaic?"


"Okay... how do you say... airplane in Aramaic?"

Joshua laughed.

"Airplanes didn't exist then.  So... we didn't have a word for them."

"Oh.  Do you think I'll ever go on an airplane?"

"I do."

Belle's face lit up and she sighed happily before gulping down a spoonful of Froot Loops.

Joshua smiled and readjusted Avi, who was finished with his bottle, so he'd have a better view of his big sister.



"Did you remember me when you lived then?"

Joshua looked tenderly at the little girl.  She was too young to fully understand what he had and hadn't known then... what he'd given up and what he'd retained.  No, Yeshua ben Yosef had not known of a little girl named Annabelle Luna Chandler-Darcy.  But he had loved her.  He had carried her in his heart... to and beyond his last breath.

"I did.  Yes.  I loved you and your mama and daddy and Avi and Shelby and Violeta and Max and all the people who came before and all the people who would come after and all the people alive then."


Joshua chuckled.

"You gonna come back here after your job?"

"I was hoping to.  You think your Mama and Daddy would let me?" he asked, his eyes gleaming.

"Yeah!  And even if they wouldn't, you could still stay with me."

Joshua tousled Belle's curls.

"Well, thank you.  I appreciate that.  So how do you like having Takoda around?"

"He's nice.  He plays with me and my dolls.  He's not very good at doing their hair, though."

Joshua laughed.

"Well, it takes some skill.  I'm not very good at doing hair, either.  Thank you for being so kind to Takoda, Belle."

She shrugged.

"Easy to be nice to."

"Yeah..."  Joshua rested his cheek against Avi's hair.

Belle slurped up her tinted milk then slid off her chair. 

"I'm gonna go check on Harvey."  She puckered her lips.

"Okay."  Joshua leaned so she could kiss his cheek before running off to see to her bunny.

Avi let out a happy gurgle.

"Anything you'd like to ask me?" Joshua checked, grinning at the little fellow. 

Avi grinned back.

Laughing, Joshua snuggled the baby close as he cleared the table.


JenniAnn rushed into the kitchen and took a cereal bowl from him.

"You don't need to..."

"It's nothing.  Part of being a good baby-sitter," he insisted.

"I suppose..."

"Is he..."

JenniAnn nodded.

"In the ballroom."


"Avi, sweet pea, why don't you come to Mama for a bit..."

The boy let out a squeaky growl in protest which only made his mother and Joshua giggle. 

"Poor love..." JenniAnn cooed as she cradled him.  "Maybe one day you'll have a bit more of a commanding presence like your Appa."

Never angry for long, Avi smiled at his mother.

Joshua kissed the infant's hands then peered at JenniAnn.

"So... I guess I'll head to the ballroom."

With her free arm, JenniAnn hugged the carpenter.

"It'll be good.  He's nervous but I think he really wants to see you.  I'll be praying it goes well."

Joshua smiled and squeezed her hand.

"Thank you.  I appreciate the prayers and you and Andrew arranging this."

"Our pleasure."  JenniAnn gave Joshua an encouraging smile then redirected her attention to Avi.  "Now... how about we get some breakfast started for Mr. Takoda, huh, love?"

Joshua smiled as he left the kitchen to the sound of Avi squealing happily. 

Once he'd reached the ballroom, he paused in the doorway and studied Takoda.

The angel was pacing the room, running his fingers along the windowsills.  He paused in one particular spot... the spot where Joshua's handprint had remained for so many years.


He jolted and turned around to face Joshua before immediately bowing his head.


"I'm so glad to see you.  Would you like to sit down?"

Takoda nodded and sunk into one of the window seats.  Joshua joined him, careful not to crowd him.

"How have you been enjoying your time here and working with Adam?" he politely inquired.

"I have.  A lot.  Enjoyed it, I mean.  Andrew, JenniAnn, the kids, Adam... they're all great.  And the Friends... they're a fun bunch.  And with Wahkan and Marty checking up on me...  I've not been lonesome."

Joshua smiled.


"And... how have you been?  You're... working at a mosque?"

"Yep.  Carpentry, masonry, some landscaping.  Old habits die hard."

Takoda chuckled.

"Guess so."

"I've been pleased with you, Takoda," Joshua assured.  "I know this has been a difficult time but... you've done well.  I've particularly enjoyed watching you with our little Belle.  I also admired your stint as Patrick during Joccy's demonstration for the little Friends."

Takoda's laughter increased. 

"I think I might have been the first ever Native American St. Patrick."

Joshua smiled gently.

Takoda cleared his throat.

"Sorry...  I realize I'm not really..."

"You've bonded so closely with your assignments that you identify with them.  That's not a bad thing, Takoda.  And you are in the form of a Native American man.  You don't have to apologize for..."

"But I need to apologize for how I acted.  My... my heart still breaks for Daniel and Robin and their loved ones.  And... and for me.  I miss them.  But... I... I shouldn't have thrown that up at you.  If anyone knows what it is to feel persecuted..."

Takoda bowed his head and wept.

Joshua closed the distance between them and gently stroked the angel's back.

"Takoda, I weep whenever any of my children are harmed.  And when it comes about for no other reason than someone hates them on account of their race... or gender... or religion... or sexual orientation... I grieve even more as does Dad.  Yes, I know what it is to be despised because of my religion, the color of my skin.  And... I know my angels aren't immune from that.  I'm sorry, Takoda, that you had to face such hate.  But you weren't alone.  Daniel and Robin weren't alone.  Never, ever alone.  But... if I tore away the gun from every hand... lowered every hand raised in anger... muted every hateful word... there would be no freedom, no choice.  My beautiful, glorious creation would be nothing but automatons.  That isn't what I wanted... that isn't what our Father wanted, Takoda."

Nodding but unable to speak, the angel leaned over and rested his head on Joshua's shoulder.

Joshua embraced him tightly and kissed his hair, sighing happily.  His prodigal was back.


The Letter

"Ah, Joshua, there you..."  Ibrahim cocked his head and looked curiously at the man kneeling beside Joshua, planting flowers around the mosque's sign. 

Joshua rose to his feet, pulled off his gloves, and motioned for Takoda to stand.

"Ibrahim, this is my friend, Takoda.  He asked to tag along today.  I figured I could use some help with the planting so... I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all!"  Ibrahim held his hand out to the newcomer.  "Welcome, Takoda!  Are you with Symponia?"

Takoda shook the imam's hand and shrugged.

"Sort of, I guess.  I'm sort of a... professional volunteer.  I pop up where I'm needed."

"Well, we definitely need the extra help around here!  So... how is it that you manage to survive in the city as a 'professional volunteer,' if you don't mind my asking?  Manhattan isn't cheap!"

"My Father provides for my needs," Takoda replied, sneaking a smile at Joshua.

"Must be nice!  Well, I applaud you for doing something with your life instead of lounging around on a couch playing games on your phone... a very tempting fate, I must admit."

"I don't think my Father would allow for that."

"He would not," Joshua asserted with a grin.

The imam chuckled.  "Your father's a good man.  Well, I won't keep you fellows.  Just wanted to check the mail."  Ibrahim turned to a box and pulled the contents out.  "I'm expecting a wedding announcement from my college roommate and..."  He cocked his head and plucked an envelope out of the small stack.  "No return address on this one."

Takoda shot Joshua a worried look.

"Wonderful..." the imam muttered.  "Well, I'll be in my office if..."

"I'll go with you," Joshua offered.

Ibrahim forced a smile.

"If this is what I think it is, I don't think you'd approve of the language I'll be apt to use.  I've noticed you pound your thumb a time or two.  You never cuss."

"I can take it."  Joshua set a hand on the man's arm.  "I've been on the receiving end of hateful messages before.  My friends were with me, supporting me, through it all."

"When you played Isa, peace be upon him?  I think I recall Yakov mentioning that."

Joshua nodded.

"All right...  I wouldn't mind the company."

"I'll be right with you," Joshua promised before turning to Takoda.  He withdrew his wallet and handed the angel a couple of bills.  "Could you run and get lunch please?"

"Sure.  Where?  And what?"

Joshua seized the receipt from the plants and wrote on the back.

"This is the address for a halal restaurant.  I'm writing down what to order for Ibraham, Liyana, and me.  You can order whatever you..."

"I've never eaten halal.  I don't know what I'll like."

Joshua smiled and resumed writing.

"You'll like this.  Thank you.  They'll need some comfort food."

Takoda frowned and raised an eye brow.

"That bad?"

Joshua only nodded and patted the angel's arm.

"Thanks again.  I'm glad you're here, Takoda."

"Me... me too...  Joshua..."  Takoda's brow furrowed with worry.

"It's all right.  Everything's all right," Joshua soothed.  "I'll see you soon."


As Ibrahim escorted Joshua back towards the mosque, Takoda headed in the direction of the restaurant that Joshua had chosen.  Just before turning the corner, he looked back and prayed for the imam.  He didn't want to witness another community brought low by hatred.


Inside Ibrahim's office, Joshua took the typed letter from his shaking hands.

"I'm calling the police.  I could take it when they went after to me.  But to speak so vilely of my wife!" the imam spat out.

Joshua's eyes filled as he read the disgusting missive.  It was far worse than anything Beatrice or her brethren had sent to him before their conversion.  Invoking Christchurch... threatening to violate Liyana...  If it wasn't so horrible, it would be laughable that the letter writer referred to Ibrahim as a terrorist.  *This* was terrorism.

"I think you should.  If you don't have luck with 911, let me know.  I have some connections.  Actually..."  Joshua scribbled a phone number on a nearby piece of paper and handed it to Ibrahim.  "This is the direct line for a friend, detective Matthew Bratton.  He and another friend, a beat cop named Tyron Billings, responded when St. G's got tagged with graffiti while I was there.  I think you should start with them."

"Thanks, Joshua.  You are well connected!"

Joshua only smiled as the imam dialed. 

While Ibrahim spoke with Matthew, Joshua resumed studying the letter.  He tried to determine who had written it.  Certainly there was more than one Islamophobe in the city.  He lifted his gaze, asking his Father for more information.

Nothing came.

It wasn't time for him to confront the letter writer.

"Thank you... thank you so much...  I truly appreciate that.  Yes.  We'll be here.  Thank you, detect...  Matthew.  See you soon.  Good bye."  Ibrahim heaved a sigh of relief as he ended the call.  "Tyron isn't available but Matthew is on his way over.  Thank you.  I don't think I would have gotten anyone over here so soon if not for your help, Joshua."

"Matthew's a good guy.  He'll do whatever he can."  Joshua paused briefly to ask his Father to send word to Takoda... they'd need another lunch.

"How am I going to tell Liyana..." the imam mused aloud.

Joshua stared back down at the letter resting on the table.

"I think you need to let her read it."

Ibrahim snatched up the letter and gave an adamant shake of his head.

"Absolutely not!"

"You should at least ask her if she wants to," Joshua counseled.  "Liyana was standing next to you when you gave your statement after the Christchurch shooting, wasn't she?"

With a pained sigh, Ibrahim nodded.

"I didn't want her to be... but she insisted.  She wanted us to face whatever came together."

Joshua said nothing.

Ibrahim glanced at his phone.

"You're right... of course you're right.  She should be starting her lunch break soon.  I'll... ask her then."  After settling into his desk chair, the imam cradled his head in his hands.  "She's so good...  Better than me.  More faithful than me...  She encouraged me as I worked towards becoming an imam but... it should have been her.  And so to have someone speak so cruelly...  Liyana would give this man... woman... whatever... her last penny if they needed it and this..."  He gestured angrily towards the letter and muttered curses under his breath.

Joshua approached and rested a hand on the man's shoulder.

"I know.  People like the letter's writer... they're so filled with hatred and fear that they're blinded to everything else, including the humanity of those they target with their vitriol and..."

"Violence..." Ibrahim interrupted, his tone icy.

Joshua gave a reluctant nod.

"The Jewish people are certainly no strangers to persecution.  Was that why they came after you at St. G's, Josh?"

"In part.  Also because I'm Middle-Eastern."

"I get that.  The irony is I'm as American as they come.  Born in Wisconsin, lived in Manhattan since my dad was transferred here when I was six.  My grandparents were born in Iran but I've never been.  How about you... where were you born... if you don't mind my asking?"

"Well... I was actually born in Bethlehem."

Ibrahim balked.

"Like... Bethlehem, Bethlehem or Pennsylvania?"

Joshua laughed.

"Bethlehem, Bethlehem."

"No kidding!  And I suppose your parents are named Mary and Joseph?" the imam teased.

"Close.  Maryam and Yosef."  Joshua grinned.

Ibrahim cocked his head.

"You're joking..."

With a laugh, Joshua shook his head.

"I'm really not.  You can ask any of my friends.  They've met my folks."

"I believe you but... wow.  Your name is even...  Jesus, Yeshua, Isa... Joshua... same name."


"But your last name isn't Christ, at least."

"Nope.  Last name's definitely not Christ."  Joshua smiled, declining to point out that Christ was a title, not a surname.

Ibrahim sighed.

"Well...  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find out Isa, peace be upon him, is very much like you, Josh.  You have such a calming presence about you.  I mean the fact that you got me laughing after... that."  He pointed to the letter.  "And yet..."

"And yet?" Joshua prompted.

"I have a feeling that I would not like to cross you....  It's not that I think you're some sort of rage-aholic under the surface or anything," Ibrahim hastily added.  "I just... I don't know."

"No one wants to imagine themselves at odds with their friends," Joshua offered.


The man jolted when his cell phone vibrated.  He steadied himself then checked it.

"Liyana is on her way over from the daycare."


"I don't want her to see..."

"I know..."

Joshua patted the imam's hand.

"I asked Takoda to bring us  some lunch.  We can all enjoy it together and support Liyana... and you."

Ibrahim's eyes welled.

"That's very kind of you, Joshua.  You didn't have to..."

"I wanted to."

"Thank you..."

"You're welcome, Ibrahim.  It's my pleasure.  Truly."

Ibrahim gazed into the handyman's gentle eyes and saw it was true.


"Well... now that I have a bit in my stomach... I want to read the letter," Liyana announced after enjoying half of her lunch.

"Dear...  It's very ugly...  I don't know if..."

Liyana thrust her hand out.

"Letter.  Now."

Ibrahim heaved a sigh.

"All right then..."

His hand shaking, the imam handed the missive to his wife.

Just as Liyana began to read, Ibrahim's phone buzzed, causing her to jump.

With an arm around his wife's shoulders, Ibrahim checked his text messages.

"Matthew.  He's at the front door."

"I'll go get it," Joshua offered.

"I could.  If you want to stay," Takoda countered.

Joshua smiled at the angel and shook his head.

"Thank you.  But I'd like to have a word with Matthew."  He rested a hand on Liyana's shoulder.  "I'm so sorry for that.  I'll be back as soon as I can."

Liyana set down the letter, patted Joshua's hand, and gave him a teary smile.

"Thank you, Joshua.  I'm glad you're here.  And your friends, too."

Joshua nodded in reply then left the room to retrieve Matthew.

The detective gaped when Joshua opened the door.


"Hey there!  Thanks for coming, Matthew." 

The two men embraced.

"Of course!  I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find you here.  Ibrahim mentioned that you'd given him my number but I didn't put together that you were actually here right now.  I'm glad you are!"

"I've been here since around 9:00.  Takoda and I were here when Ibrahim found the letter."

Matthew grunted.

"I don't suppose you could give me any leads on the sender?"

"Afraid not.  Dad hasn't told me and..."

"I imagine there are numerous possibilities."

Joshua looked down at his hands and nodded.

Matthew patted his back.

"I'm sorry, Josh.  I can't begin to imagine what that's like for you.  But we'll figure it out.  There... wasn't anything about you in the letter, was there?"

"No.  I'm a contracted employee, not listed on the mosque's web site so... I doubt they'd even know my name."

Matthew let out the breath he'd been holding.

"Good.  Well, let's go see to the Azizis.  How are they holding up?"

"As well as can be expected.  Liyana had only just started to read the letter when you arrived."

Matthew frowned.

"Poor lady."

"A very strong lady... but I know this will rattle her.  Much less rattled me."

"I remember..."  Matthew clasped Joshua's shoulder and shook his head as he recalled the graffiti at St. G's.

Joshua led the way to Ibrahim's office.  Once they'd stepped inside, they found a helpless looking Takoda playing with his food and Ibrahim swaying with Liyana in his arms, murmuring to her.

"Sit," Joshua whispered to Matthew, waving to an empty seat.

The detective's gaze traveled from the distraught couple to Joshua who handed him a plate of food.

"Oh, thanks.  I didn't expect..."

"You eat hotdogs in your car too often," Joshua gently chastised.

With a slight blush, Matthew smiled and squeezed Joshua's hand.


Liyana sighed and pulled away from her husband.  She brushed at her eyes and gave the newcomer a wan smile.

"Detective Bratton, I presume?"

Matthew rose and shook her hand.

"Matthew, please.  It's a pleasure to meet you.  I'm sorry for the circumstances, though."

"I am, as well."  Ibrahim held his hand out.  "Thank you, again, for taking my call, Matthew."

"It's my job, Ibrahim.  And, well, when Joshua gives out my number... I know it's important.  I trust his judgement.  So... could I see the letter?"

"Perhaps you should eat first," Liyana suggested. 

"I agree," Joshua added.

"All right.  Well..."  Matthew reclaimed his seat.  "Maybe you could tell me about the other incidents leading up to this.  And if you don't mind..."  He placed his phone on the table.  "Can I record this?"

"Of course.  As you can imagine, the mosque... like most... has always received random phone calls from crackpots.  We report them... but nothing ever comes of them... thank Allah."  Ibrahim bowed his head for a moment before continuing.  "But after I appeared on the news following the Christchurch tragedy... the threats amped up.  More calls... letters... emails...  And that..."  He waved to the letter.  "Is a new low."

"The lowest of lows," Takoda muttered. 

"Have you seen anyone suspicious around the mosque?"

Liyana laughed.

"This is Manhattan.  We see everything."

Matthew grinned.

"Good point.  But nothing in particular that got your attention?"

Ibrahim and Liyana both shook their heads.

"And Joshua and Takoda... you didn't see anyone approach the mailbox while you were working?"

"Just the delivery person," the angel replied.

"Same as usual," Joshua added.

"It can't be Murray... our mailman," Ibrahim hastened to defend.  "I've spoken to him many, many times.  He's a good, kind man.  He wrote me the kindest note after the shooting."

"It's not Murray," Joshua agreed, looking pointedly as Matthew.

"Good...  That's good.  And, of course, a non-postmarked letter couldn't have gotten into the bundle... unless someone at the sorting facility did it."

Liyana shrugged.

"I suppose.  But I think it's more likely that someone put it in the box... perhaps in the dead of night.  It could have been sitting there for hours, only noticed when Ibrahim collected the usual mail."

Matthew thoughtfully chewed some bread.

"I agree that's more likely.  There are some surveillance cameras nearby.  I could look at those.  Of course..."

"Unless the person is as stupid as they are hateful, they probably knew better than to make themselves conspicuous.  The footage likely won't show a clear face," the imam concluded.

"No... probably not.  But it's worth a shot."

"Of course," Liyana agreed.  "And we thank you in advance for looking into all options."

"It's no problem.  I want to find this guy... and it probably is a guy.  Although..."  Matthew drifted off, not wanting to bring up Beatrice. 

"Anything is possible," Joshua finished for him. 

Matthew took a few more bites of salad then looked to Joshua.

"Well, can I read the letter now?"

Joshua turned to Liyana who nodded and handed it over to the officer.

As he read, Matthew's face grew red with anger.

Joshua reached over to set a calming hand on the man's shoulder.

Seeing this, a thought crept into the imam's mind and a shiver went through his body.

Perhaps the sender of the letter was in the room with them...



Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

Liyana sighed dramatically before sitting up in bed and turning on her lamp.

"Would you please either settle down or go into the other room and leave me in peace?" she pointedly asked her restless husband.

Ibrahim playfully bumped his wife's shoulder.

"I'm sorry.  It's just..."

"The letter.  I know.  But both of us losing sleep won't help anything!  In fact, it'll just makes things worse.  We need to be alert... not sleep-deprived."  Softening, Liyana wrapped her arms around her husband.  "I'm sorry that you can't sleep.  But please... try to put it out of your mind.  At least for a few hours.  We could pray?"

"Yes...  We should pray.  It's just... it is about the letter.  But less about the awful contents and more about... a thought that came to me.  About the sender."

"Oh?  Do you think you know who it is?"

"I hope not..." the imam muttered.

Liyana frowned.  She plumped up her pillow and sat up, knowing sleep wasn't going to be happening any time soon.

"Tell me."

"It's just...  Think about it.  Joshua showed up so soon after I gave my press conference."

"Because we only put out a call for a handyman a couple of days before."

"Yes...  But...  I was thinking...  It would have been very easy for him to have slipped the letter into the mailbox.  He and Takoda were working out there all morning."

Liyana glared at her husband.

"You had a shock today.  We both did.  And no wonder it's made you paranoid.  But to turn on a man who has been nothing but kind and insinuate he's... what?!  A terrorist and a would-be rapist?  Ibrahim!"

The man gripped his wife's arm when he feared she was going to flee their bed.

"No...  I mean...  Not exactly.  But what if... what if he's sick?  You read stories about that.  People who invent crises just so they can swoop in and offer comfort or garner attention.  I mean... he was right there when I received the letter.  He offered to come into the office with me when I read it.  Then he all but insisted that I let you read it."

"Because I'm your wife and the letter was about me!  Of course I needed to read it!  You actually think Joshua drew some sort of sick pleasure from seeing me weep today?" Liyana demanded.

"Yes... maybe... or not... probably not pleasure.  But..."

"This is insane, Ibrahim!"

"Maybe!  Maybe so.  But I would feel better if we had someone watching him."

"You've got to be kidding..."

"I thought I would ask Raheem.  The health fair is coming up.  There's lots to do.  We'll just tell Joshua that we thought he and Takoda could use some extra help.  And it'll keep Raheem busy.  You told me yourself that Hura said he's been depressed since the layoff.  This could keep his mind off..."

"Because nothing cures depression like telling someone to spy on a friend!  Raheem seems very fond of Joshua and I do not want you poisoning him against..."  Liyana noticed that her husband's head was bowed. 

She reached across him and snatched his phone, rifling through the text messages.

"You already said all this to him!  I can't believe..."

"I needed to tell someone, Yana.  I just..."

"So you could have told me first!  You could have told your wife first!"  Liyana stood up and angrily tied on her robe as she continued to berate her husband.  "So I could have told you that you were being ridiculous!  Because you are, Ibrahim!  You've said so yourself!  I have very good intuition and I know Joshua is a good man!  Do you think he's conned Rabbi Yakov?  Fr. Mike?  JenniAnn?  They've known him for years.  Matthew!  You think he would purposefully draw a detective into this if he had something to hide?"

Ibrahim bowed his head.  He should have thought of that...  But now it was too late.  He'd passed his suspicion onto Raheem.

"And now Raheem will tell Hura!  And you know how jaded she can be!  And she doesn't keep quiet, either!  Soon the whole mosque will turn against poor Joshua who has done nothing but..."

"I... I'm sorry, Yana," Ibrahim interrupted.  "I...  Where are you going?"

"To pray to Allah that my husband's good senses return.  And that he hasn't ruined a good man.  Don't follow me!" she hissed.

"But... but we've never spent a night apart in all our five years of..."

Liyana spun around.

"You've never been so careless in all our five years of marriage, Ibrahim."

With those words, the woman left.

Ibrahim collapsed onto their bed.

He was too distraught for prayers.  All he could do was clutch his wife's pillow and weep.


Liyana wept as she stumbled into the mosque.  Finding her usual spot, she knelt and began to pray.

"Allah...  help my husband...  Free him from the doubts and fears that... that have caused him to behave so rashly and... and so cruelly.  Please, Allah...  Please don't let Joshua suffer for what a cruel man has written or... or for what my foolish husband has insinuated.  Guard Raheem's heart..."

As the distraught woman pleaded, a figure settled beside her and set a gentle hand on Liyana's back.

"Peace be upon you, sweet girl... and upon your husband... and upon the baby in your womb," Maryam murmured with a soft smile.  "And do not fear for my own son.  What the Enemy meant for evil... the Father will use for good."

Feeling suddenly calmed, Liyana sat up and peered around her.  She felt as if she wasn't alone... but the feeling brought serenity, not fear.  She rested her hand on her still flat belly.

She'd intended to tell Ibrahim in the morning, over breakfast.  But, in spite of the sense of calm, anger still rankled in her heart.  She didn't want it wrapped up with her joyful news.

She would wait... and trust in Allah to guide her husband.


Hura smiled as she packed her lunch... and one for her husband, too.  For the first time in weeks, he was whistling as he trimmed his beard.  She had considered asking Ibrahim to find a job for Raheem... but she also knew her husband would feel ashamed if her cousin-in-law simply handed him a job.  A third-generation dock worker, Raheem's strong work ethic was rivaled by only two things: his faith and his love for his wife and children.  Still... somehow Ibrahim had found a way to get Raheem to accept a job and, for that, Hura was grateful. 

Inside the bathroom, Raheem tilted his head first one way and then the next.  He had, admittedly, let his beard grow scraggly since he'd been laid off.  But now... now he thought he looked rather good... respectable even. 

He would be the sane cousin, he thought ruefully. 

Poor Ibrahim...  The letter had done a number on him.  Raheem was sure that his cousin-in-law was now regretting his frantic texts.  He still couldn't believe that the usually stoic, peaceful imam had invented such a deranged theory about Joshua.  Raheem had only met the man three times... first at a dinner hosted by Liyana and Ibrahim shortly after they'd hired Joshua then when he had attended a service at the mosque and, most recently, on Monday when they had spoken following the man's visit with Liyana's mother.  Each time, Raheem's esteem for the handyman had only grown.  There was something about him... something that reminded Raheem of his long gone but much loved father.  A wisdom and dignity tied up with gentleness and compassion.  If trailing Joshua would get Ibrahim to lay off then Raheem would do it... happily.  And perhaps he would learn a thing or two.  Maybe his next job would involve landscaping or carpentry...  The era of Khalid men toiling on the docks seemed to be over.

It was time to make a new start.


"And here you go..."

JenniAnn handed a paper sack to Takoda and hugged him.

"And here you go..."

Joshua smiled as she kissed his cheek.

"Thank you, JenniAnn.  I'm sure whatever you've packed for us, it'll be delicious."

"Hope so!  No peeking."

Joshua chuckled.

"I promise we won't peek, eh, Takoda?"

The angel crossed his heart.

"Good!  Just make sure it gets in a fridge.  And let us know if you'll be any later than 5:30 or so.  We can delay Bible Study if..."

Joshua shook his head.

"I'm confident we'll be back in plenty of time to wash up and attend."

"Good.  And please give Liyana a hug for me.  I'll see her tomorrow at the sewing party but...  I just want her to know I'm thinking of her."

Joshua embraced JenniAnn.

"I'll do that.  Give my best to everyone in the Tunnels.  I'll make sure to come visit."

"They'll love that.  Thanks!"

"Have a good day, JenniAnn.  Thanks for lunch.  I, umm, maybe I'll attend tonight," Takoda suggested.

JenniAnn beamed.  It would be the first time the angel had attended Bible Study and not hid out with the kids.

"We'd love that, Takoda.  See you both this evening!  Love you."

"Love you this much!"  Joshua spread his arms out and grinned.


JenniAnn chased after the retreating men and hugged Joshua again while Takoda chuckled and shook his head.

"Save one of those for me, Laja?" Andrew teased as he entered the kitchen.

Joshua patted JenniAnn on the back and stepped away so he could embrace Andrew.

"Lots," he assured.  "She's very touchy feely.  Gets it from me."

JenniAnn giggled then wrapped her arms around Andrew's middle as they watched the two depart.

"I really do love having him here..."

Andrew kissed his anam cara's hair.

"I know.  Me too."

JenniAnn sighed.

"The kids?"

"Miraculously...  Still asleep."


"Uh huh..."  Andrew waggled his eyes brows then bowed deeply.  "Would the lady care for a pre-breakfast waltz around the ballroom?  I'm no Joshua but..."

"But you're pretty awesome, too."  JenniAnn stretched up to kiss him.  "And the lady accepts.  Gladly."

As JenniAnn shrieked happily, Andrew scooped her up and carried her to the ballroom so their dancing could commence.


"I'm sorry, Yana... for last night... for Joshua... for not coming to you first...  Please... come out so we can talk about it.  I... I missed you last night," Ibrahim's muffled voice pleaded through the door.

Liyana, leaning on the sink as the nausea passed, glanced into the mirror.

Poor Ibrahim thought she was hiding from him.  What a time for morning sickness to start...

"I'll be out soon," she replied.

Liyana could just make out a sigh of relief.

"Good...  I'm glad.  Meet me in the study?"

"Of course."

"Thank you, my love."


Liyana dampened a cloth and pressed it against her face.  In spite of her physical discomfort, she still felt something of the peace that had enveloped her during the night.  And she had missed her husband... 

After checking herself in the mirror, Liyana peered down at her belly.

"Shall we go hear your Daddy out?  See if Allah has knocked some sense into him?" she asked.

The mother-to-be smiled.  It would have been something if the baby had kicked just then.  Of course, maybe he or she had.  It was simply too soon to know.


When he heard the office door open, Ibrahim hastily finished his prayer then turned to his wife.

"I'm sorry," he reiterated.  "About last night... about Joshua... Raheem..."

"Good," Liyana replied.  "You should be sorry."

Ibrahim's face fell.

"But... I should be sorry, too," his wife added.  "I... I could have been more understanding.  The letter was a shock.  And, I suppose, your Joshua theory... terrible as it was... probably comforted you."

"It... it did.  Because I don't believe Joshua could ever actually do anything so vile... so hurtful...  So if it was him...  All we had to worry about was a deranged man with... well... maybe with a savior complex."

"A savior complex?"  Liyana crossed her arms over her chest.  "A bit on the nose, don't you think?  I mean he did play Isa.  I think his friends would have noticed if it was a cry for help."

Ibrahim chuckled. 

"Yes... of course."

"And don't you think... if Joshua were so mentally unstable... we would have seen some hint of it?"

"Probably so...  It is...  It's just odd.  Do you know he told me that his parents are named Yosef and Maryam and... he was born in Bethlehem."

Liyana cocked her head in interest.


"Uh huh.  I mean it could make a person a little... off."

"It could.  But it could also just make a person very good.  He has a lot to live up to.  I mean imagine all the jokes made at his expense.  Joshua of Bethlehem... son of Maryam.  His friends probably ask him to turn their water into wine on the regular."

Ibrahim laughed and nodded, grateful that Liyana was moving closer.

"I feel like if you were right... well, Joshua would be making more of a point of ingratiating himself with us," Liyana continued.  "But he's not.  He's very kind when he's here.  He was wonderful with Mom.  And I did appreciate having him here when... when I read the letter and his staying with us while Matthew interviewed us.  But then he went about his business and he and Takoda left."

"Another good point...  I regret everything.  I'm sure Joshua is completely innocent."

"Good.  I'm very, very glad, Ibrahim.  And all that being said... maybe I did overreact.  I've just...  I suppose I've been a little... hormonal of late."

"You don't need to make any excuses, love.  I was out of line and..."  Ibrahim moved to close the distance and held a hand out to his wife.

"I... I have reason.  To be hormonal, I mean."

Noting the tears in his wife's eyes, the imam felt a wave of panic.  But then she smiled.

"Ibrahim...  I... we..."  Liyana patted her belly.  "Pregnant," she choked out.

Ibrahim clasped her hand and gawked.

"A... a baby?"

Liyana laughed.

"I certainly hope so!  I don't know what else it could be!"

"A baby..." Ibrahim repeated as tears began to streak down his face.  "Yana...  My Yana..."

Embracing her husband, Liyana sighed as she nuzzled his shoulder.

"It's still very early.  Let's keep this to ourselves, okay?  At least for another month or so?  If we can...  I had some morning sickness today so... people may suspect, regardless."

"Yes... yes, of course.  Whatever you want.  Yana..."

Liyana beamed as her husband kissed her.  She was grateful for his sweet, excited reaction to her news... and that his good sense had been restored to him.  But there was still one more issue to be tackled.

"I... I'm so happy," she gushed before growing more serious.  "Truly.  But back to Joshua...  What you told Raheem...  You have to take it back.  But in a way that makes him still feel necessary.  Hura texted me to say how happy he seemed with a job to do.  We can't take that away... but you can't leave Joshua's reputation with him besmirched.  Raheem seems very fond of him."

"Of course...  I'll figure something out.  Maybe..."  Ibrahim looked around the room, desperate for a solution.  "Shelves!  Look at how many books are piled around!  I could use more shelves.  And since that wasn't in Joshua's initial work order, I'll just say that I thought I'd better provide more help.  Surely Raheem can help with some shelves?"

"I hope so.  Joshua's a good teacher from what I hear.  JenniAnn told me he trained Andrew."

"Then there we go.  Raheem has something to do, I'll tell him I was being ridiculous and to disregard everything, Joshua won't suspect anything, and I get some shelves!  And we could use another person to disperse health fair fliers on Friday."

Liyana smiled.

"Good thinking... this time."

Ibrahim smiled ruefully.

"Going forward, I should always consult my wife first, huh?"

"I think that's a wonderful idea."

"I'll remember that.  Can I..."

Liyana took Ibrahim's hand and rested it on her belly.

"It's too early to feel anything.  But I think he or she will know you're there."

"I hope so..."


He Who is Kind

When he reported to Ibrahim's office at 9 AM, Raheem was prepared to launch into a point-by-point take down of his cousin's horrid theory.

What he did not expect was to find the imam nearly giddy as he moved books.

"Raheem!  Glad you're here!  I wanted to talk to you before Joshua..."  Ibrahim raised his hand when the man opened his mouth.  "Please... just hear me out first.  I want to apologize for last night's texts... for the whole thing.  As Liyana helped me to see... I was very, very wrong.  I was speaking from a place of fear.  I suppose in some horrible way I wanted Joshua to have been the one to write the letter.  Because... I know him.  And a known problem is less scary than an unknown one.  But...  That still didn't give me a right to try to poison you against him... or suggest you spy on him.  I'm convinced he's completely innocent.  Forgive me?"

Surprised, Raheem nodded.

"Of course.  And I'm glad you've come to your senses, Ibrahim.  I was more worried for you than over Joshua.  I may have only met the man three times but... I couldn't believe he'd harm anyone."

"I never thought he'd harm us, either.  I just thought... you know, like, maybe he gets something out of creating drama and then comforting people."

"The fear you and Liyana... the wider community even... has been experiencing is still harm, Ibrahim.  No good man would cause such dread."

"Yes...  I know.  I see that now."

"Very good.  So..."  Raheem's face fell.  "I suppose I'm no longer needed then?"

"On the contrary, my friend!  Now you're truly needed... for a good purpose.  While there's no excuse for my behavior last night, it has occurred to me that maybe I'd be less rattled if my office... my oasis... wasn't such a pig sty.  So I'm going to ask Joshua to install some shelving and since it's additional work without necessarily additional time  and because he may have another job lined up after us, I thought it only fair that I provide additional help.  So if you're still willing...  It would really help me out, Raheem.  And... it might help in assuaging my guilt."

"You told Joshua about your suspicions?" Raheem asked, aghast.

"No!  Absolutely not!  The idea is... mortifying.  But I feel guilty even thinking about him coming here... facing him... knowing what I did.  He enjoys your company, Raheem.  He's told me as much and so... if I can make his experience here more pleasant... I would feel better."

"I get that.  And I'd certainly like to help Joshua out but... I don't know anything about installing shelving.  I almost had a stroke when Hura brought a table home from Ikea and asked me to put it together.  I fear I'd be more of a hindrance than a help."

Ibrahim shrugged.

"Only one way to find out.  Besides, one of Liyana's friends... JenniAnn, you may have seen her here on Monday... told her that Joshua taught her husband, Andrew, carpentry.  He's very successful now so, who knows, this could be a good opportunity for you."

"Well... then I won't turn it down.  You're absolutely sure, though, that this isn't a charity..."

"Positive.  You either take the job or I hire someone else."

"Then... I'll take the job."  Raheem smiled and shook his cousin's hand.  "And, for what it's worth, Joshua strikes me as an understanding guy.  I think he'd forgive you in a heartbeat, Ibrahim."

"I'm sure.  But..."  The imam shook his head.  "I just can't tell him."

"I won't say a word," Raheem vowed before embracing his cousin and offering a silent prayer of thanksgiving to Allah.


After a morning filled with learning new things and trying his hand at assorted tasks, Raheem was grateful when Joshua declared it was time for lunch.  It was a mild afternoon and so, after gathering their lunches from the refrigerator, Joshua, Raheem, and Takoda settled beneath a tree in the mosque's courtyard.  Once they'd said their blessings, Joshua reached into his lunch sack and pulled out a note from JenniAnn.

"Have fun today!  I'm sure whatever you do, it'll be beautiful!  It always is.  Love and hugs, JenniAnn"

Raheem looked curiously at the carpenter.

"Someone special pack your lunch?"

Joshua beamed and nodded.

"JenniAnn.  Takoda and I have been staying with her and Andrew and their kids."

"Andrew... the carpenter you trained?  JenniAnn's husband?"

"Yes and no.  I did train Andrew.  He's not JenniAnn's husband."

"Really!  That'd be news to Ibrahim.  I mean not that it's any of our business but...  I think both he and Liyana assumed they were married."

Joshua shook his head.

"But they're very much committed to each other and, I assure you, nothing untoward is going on."

"It's kind of more of a... spiritual union.  Kinda," Takoda tried.  "I just made it sound weirder, didn't I?  They're not weird."

Joshua laughed and patted the angel's back.

"It's okay.  And, no, they're not weird."

"Intriguing...  In any case, JenniAnn must care a lot about you.  Hura definitely doesn't write me lunch notes!"

"But I'm sure she shows her love in other ways, huh?" Joshua checked.

Raheem smiled and nodded.

"She does.  She's a bit of a... burnt marshmallow."

Takoda began to choke on his soda but a brush of Joshua's hand soothed him.

"Sorry...  Burnt marshmallow?" the angel inquired.

"Yeah.  Tough and crusty on the outside... gooey and warm on the inside.  Don't tell her I said that but... as gruff as she can be, she's a very sweet woman."  Raheem gazed down at his wedding ring.  "She's been very good to me since I was fired.  A lot of my buddies... their wives have been giving them a hard time for not finding something sooner.  And it's not for lack of trying.  I lost count of how many resumes I've submitted but our kind of jobs... they're drying up as more and more companies go overseas... or hire robots.  And Hura... she's been very patient.  She hasn't pushed.  It's just... hard.  My father worked so my mother could stay home with us kids.  And even though Hura has no interest in that... she loves her work... just knowing that I couldn't give her that if she wanted... putting all the pressure on her to provide for us..."

Raheem hastily batted at his eyes.

"I'm grateful Ibrahim asked me to help out here.  I only hope I'm not making things more difficult for you."

Joshua responded with an adamant shake of his head.

"Not at all!  You're doing great for your first day!  And you have a really steady hand, Raheem.  I think you'd make a great carpenter... builder... mason... any and all of the above if you put your mind to it."

"If you're willing to teach me... I'm eager to learn."

Takoda smiled proudly.

"Joshua's a great teacher.  Taught me everything I know and... and sometimes I forget that," the angel confessed.  "And I should tell you more often how grateful I am, Joshua."

Touched, Joshua squeezed Takoda's hand.

"I know, Takoda.  I do."

Raheem watched the exchange with growing warmth.  It made Ibrahim's hair-brained theory even more ridiculous.  Joshua was simply kind and attentive to everyone.  But there was no point in focusing on that debacle any more. 

"Now... let's see what this surprise lunch is JenniAnn packed for us," Joshua suggested as he again reached into his sack.  He smiled proudly when he removed the contents.  "She figured it out!  Look inside the wrap, Takoda.  It's falafel." 

Chuckling, Takoda admired his lunch.

"Our friend Emma gave JenniAnn my Ama's recipe for falafel and she's made several diligent attempts but... it takes some practice and this time she got it," Joshua explained before taking a bite. 

Takoda snapped a photo as Joshua grinned contentedly.

"I'll send it to her so she knows you appreciated the effort."


"So you met all of them... the Symponia people... at their theatre, Joshua?" Raheem asked.

"Some.  Others I'd met long before."

"And you were playing Isa... Jesus?"

Joshua smiled.

"I was."

"And that wasn't weird for you?  I mean... aren't you Jewish?"

"Yep.  Born and raised."

"So then... you don't believe Isa was the messiah?"

"Most Jewish people don't... but I do."

"Ah...  Jews for Jesus then?"

Joshua shook his head.

"No...  I...  Well, I came to recognize the truth as I grew up."

"Do you believe that he's God?"

Joshua nodded.

Raheem frowned.

"And so...  Do you believe that those who don't believe as you do... that they're... we're... hellbound?"  He couldn't explain why but Raheem couldn't bear the idea that Joshua would be comfortable with his being damned.

Joshua gazed tenderly at the man.

"I believe that Isa... Jesus... Yeshua... died to redeem humanity and to open the gates of Heaven to them.  But I also believe he feels infinite love and compassion for all of humanity.  He knows that those who seek to follow him...  They don't always remember his admonishment not to judge.  They don't always consider that he wants people to come to him freely, not through fear or force.  They have persecuted those who don't believe as they do.  And who can blame those people when they don't become Christians?  Yeshua can't."

Takoda grabbed a napkin and blotted his eyes.  If only Raheem could know...

"I firmly believe that, at the end of your life if not before, you'll come face to face with Yeshua.  And he will hold his hand out to you."

Joshua held his hand out to Raheem who, caught up in the moment, clasped it.

"And he will say, 'Well done, Raheem, my good and faithful servant.  This is my kingdom... and I would love it if you would live with me here for all Eternity.  Will you?'  And you'll have a choice then, Raheem.  Look upon him with love and consent... and you'll be Home."

Joshua rested his other hand over Raheem's then released it.

"I... I don't know if you're right.  But... it's a beautiful idea."  Feeling wistful, Raheem sighed.

Joshua simply smiled.

"You are a very intriguing man, my friend.  I think I have a lot to learn from you," Raheem complimented.

"Thank you, my friend.  I think we'll have a very good time together.  The three of us."  Joshua beamed at Takoda and Raheem and then the conversation turned to much lighter topics as they finished their lunch break.


That evening, Takoda stood off to the side during the Friends' Bible study which was doubling as Zeke's birthday celebration.  Since it was the first one in a long while that Joshua had attended in the flesh, it had turned mostly into a Q and A session... with cake and ice cream.

While the angel listened, he couldn't keep his mind from wandering back to Joshua's lunchtime conversation with Raheem.  It reminded Takoda of the stories that Wahkan had told him.  He'd spoken of people who had been massacred when the Europeans had come to the "new world."  Some had been told of an angry god who demanded they turn to him and kneel to his cross or risk eternal, fiery torment.  But then they had come face to face with Joshua... the true God... a God who resembled them more than He did their persecutors.  In Him, they'd found rest, they'd found home. 

Takoda was confident that, when the time came, Raheem would take Joshua's hand just as he had that morning.  And he would enter Heaven with a smile for his old friend... the Rabbi Yeshua who still lived... and taught.

"But what do we say to our friends and fellow Christians when they bring up the Bible's apparent condemnation of gay people?" Shane inquired of Joshua.

"You remind them that the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with laws that they freely disregard claiming they are no longer under the Law.  Why do they hold so tightly to those that they feel reference gay relationships?  They also need to consider the historical context in which those words were written... just as they need to do with my prohibition of divorce.  While many have come to understand that I wasn't condemning the more egalitarian divorce system that exists today... rather a biased, cruel, unforgiving system... they need to understand that those passages... of which there are remarkably few... do not refer to loving, committed unions.  They refer to orgies tied to the worship of idols and rape... including the rape of boys and young men by those who were much more powerful.  The worship of idols leads to greater evil.  And rape is evil.  If I truly felt that consensual, committed sex between two men or two women was abhorrent, don't they think I could have found sixty seconds within three years to give voice to that?  Don't they think I could have bribed Mattay or Yohannan to include it in their books?"

The group chuckled. 

Joshua smiled before continuing.

"They'll often bring up Sodom...  When they do, urge them to reread Ezekiel 16:49.  'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.'  That was their sin...  A couple of guys building their life together was definitely not their sin.  Speaking of..."  Joshua turned to Owen and Graham.  "Would you please set a date already?"

Owen laughed and threw up his hands.

"I would!  He's the one with the ridiculous schedule!"

"I know!  I know!" Graham admitted.  "But we will.  Soon."

Joshua winked at them.

"You'll know when the time is right."

"So... when Owen and Graham get married, are you gonna be the person to wed them?" Zelda asked.

Joshua chuckled and shook his head.

"And cheat Mike out of something he's been looking forward to?!  No way!  But Owen and Graham know I'll be there."

"Well, that's a relief!" Fr. Mike teased.

Graham grinned.

"While I'm sure Joshua would do an amazing job... he's right.  We did already ask Fr. Mike."

"And the marriage will be recognized in the El-Chananite Church!" Kyle boasted.

"Which means a lot to us," Owen confirmed before gazing at Joshua.  "But even moreso knowing you'll be there."

"Always," Joshua vowed, beaming at the affianced men.  "Now... who's next...  Isra?"

"I've wondered...  And I wondered it a lot before... before Behnam converted...  Are there any people barred from Heaven?" she softly inquired.

Joshua approached and squeezed the woman's hand.

"Barred?  No.  It's not my will that anyone be eternally separated from me and it's certainly not Dad's will.  Have some chosen to stay apart from us?  Yes.  But the separation is enforced by them... not by me.  And sometimes... sometimes that separation isn't lasting.  You know what happened with Yehuda."

"I've heard all about him," Isra confirmed.  "So moving..."

"Yes...  Very much so.  I'm so glad to have my friend back."  Joshua's eyes moistened with tears of joy.

"Speaking of Yehuda...  How is he doing with the other apostles now that they’ve been reunited?  With his parents?  With the Father?" Zeke fired off.

Joshua laughed.

"The guys are thrilled to have Yehuda back!  Cephas' first words to him were 'Took you long enough, old friend.'  That meant a lot to him.  They've had several good, long talks and now, happily, it's like the good ol' days but even better.  His parents, wife, and children are, of course, over-joyed and are still showing him all the little corners of Heaven that they've come to love.  And Dad... Dad's just happy to have another of His sons back.  It was hard for Yehuda to face Him at first... harder even than facing me.  But they're good.  It's good."

"I'm so glad," Zeke murmured.

"He asks about you sometimes, Zeke.  In fact, I'm very sure he's wishing you a happy birthday.  And he remembers all that you, Peter, and Emma did for him.  One day, he'll have quite the story to tell you all."  Joshua glanced above and smiled.

"And... one day...  I'll gladly hear it."  Emma smiled gently as she recalled the man.  "And I'm sure the others have so much to tell, too!  Speaking of... will you ever bring some of the Twelve down to earth like John?"

"Yehuda's definitely not ready for a comeback.  At least not yet," Joshua explained.  "But some of them have expressed interest so, yes, you'll meet some of them in time.  Mattay, in particular, is anxious to get his hands on a computer.  He still can't believe that nowadays many people file their taxes without ever having to meet with anyone!"

"Or even sign anything!  It all happens with the click of a few buttons," Roger mused.  "I think I'd really like Mattay.  Seems like an interesting guy!"

Joshua chuckled.

"That he definitely is!"

"Joshua... do you miss the Superstar days more, or do you like the present, or even the future better?" Kylie inquired as she swayed with baby Felix.

Joshua drew near and stroked the little boy's head.

"You know, all times contain great beauty and love for me... but, of course, they contain painful moments, too.  The good always outweighs the bad.  Among our group, I do miss our early days... those were and remain so special to me.  But I prefer these moments when you all know who I am and I can speak freely to you about your lives without potentially seeming like a creepy psychic guy.  Plus... think of all the little ones who have joined us since.  And the bigger ones."

Those for whom the Superstar days were merely beloved stories all smiled at hearing this.

"And the future..." Joshua continued.  "Even in my currently limited view of it... I know there will be trying, heartbreaking moments.  But I also know we'll have great joy and ever increasing amounts of love."

"And we'll never be alone," Kylie cooed to the child and to herself.

"Never," Joshua promised.

"Joshua... I have a pressing question," Logan announced.

Seeing the glint in his eyes, Joshua grinned.

"And that is?"

"Is Bigfoot real?"

Laughing, Joshua shook his head.

"No comment!  If I answer then the mystery is gone!"

"Well then...  Evolution, creationism, or both?" Logan asked, half-joking.

Joshua ceased chuckling just long enough to let out a dramatic sigh.

"You can hardly expect an artist to reveal all his techniques... even to his beloved creations!  But think about it...  You were created in my image.  I like to set an example that you can follow.  As the artists here can all attest to, you don't immediately arrive upon the final version of your painting or sculpture or whatever.  You do it in steps.  You build upon each step.  And a truly good artist has love for his or her creation at each of those steps.  They have the finished product in their mind and they long for that finished artwork... but they also love all that came before.  So... supposing you did evolve, know that I loved each creature in the long journey from minuscule organisms to modern humans."

After a chorus of "awws," Ivy raised her own question.

"You talked about how some people miss the spirit of the passages that mention homosexuality.  And I was so glad to hear it!  But what are some other quotes in the Bible that people commonly use to wrongly justify something?"

"Good question.  As I just mentioned with Shane, there are a handful of quotes that people use to attack gay people when, in truth, they were meant to condemn rape, abuse of power, violation of the hospitality code, idolatry, and selfishness.  But people have also used quotes from the Bible to argue that slavery is permissible.  That's obviously not true.  The Bible acknowledges that slavery existed.  That's all.  Other passages have been used to keep women from enjoying the same liberties as men.  And that saddens me.  Greatly."

"You're not the only one..." JenniAnn muttered before brightening.  "But it feels so good to know that you do see us as equal to men."


"So speaking of Bible verses that can get misconstrued...  Is the Rapture and all that really going to happen?  It was never really part of growing up Catholic.  It came up sometimes in my Theology classes," JenniAnn recalled.  "But not much even then."

"Revelation was written at a time when Christians were being persecuted and is rich with symbolism," Joshua explained.  "Trying to take it literally is problematic.  That being said...  Of course the world will end some day.  All worlds do.  Only Heaven is our eternal Home.  But no one should be spending time trying to figure out how to get raptured or what people need to do to provoke the Second Coming... That's for God to determine.  Instead, we all need to do what we were commanded to do: be good stewards of the worlds Dad and I created for you.   Recycle and reuse... get away from single use plastic... yes.  But before that even, be mindful of what you consume and its impact on others.  I see you doing that already the way you pass back and forth all the baby supplies and hand-me-down clothes rather than buying everything new, every single time.  That's great!  Be good to nature and teach your children, friends, family to do the same.  Most importantly, be good to one another and love God.  People will always believe that they're living in the End Times.  Paul believed the end was nigh... 2,000 years ago.  But he still kept his focus on his faith and aiding those around him."

"Thanks!  Good to know!" JenniAnn chirped. 

"You bet."

"Joshua, did you ever know anyone who was disabled, mentally or physically... or rather 'differently abled'... during your first time on earth?" Azalea inquired. 

"Sure!  In fact, you may have read a little book about me healing some of them."

The group chuckled and, smiling, Azalea rolled her eyes.

"Duh.  I don't know why I asked that part.  But...  You know..."

"I do, sweet Azalea," Joshua assured.  "And yes.  I knew people who would now be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, having Downs syndrome, and more.  But did I heal everyone?  Absolutely not.  When people say 'disabilities,' so often they have a negative view.  I really love the term 'differently abled' that Azalea just used and that you hear increasingly often.  Think of our friends in the deaf community.  Some would embrace a cure and, for their sake, I rejoice in the scientific advances that help them.  But for others, their deafness is part of who they are, part of their culture.  Were I to cure one of them, would that be a blessing?  Would it even be welcome?  No.  So I wouldn't do that because there's nothing to be fixed.  There were some of my followers... even some of my Apostles... who had conditions that some might view as disabilities.  But I didn't.  I viewed them as part of their uniqueness... and part of the unique way they might preach to and minister to others.  And some of my followers now... I view them in the same away.  And I wouldn't change a thing."

Azalea's, Basil's, Sean's, and Kemara's eyes filled as they realized that Joshua was speaking of their Lily and Miriam Joy and so many others.

"People think they know what's perfect," Basil choked out.  "They don't."

"No, they don't," Joshua agreed.

"Perfect's such a strange word, anyway," Kemara opined.  "Speaking of... what constitutes you being perfect?  Were you allowed to get annoyed by people, lose your temper, etc.?  How did that work?  Did you always listen to your parents?"

"Perfect is a funny word.  It means something different to each person," Joshua asserted.  "And, of course, the same could be said about 'sinless.'  Just because I am sinless doesn't mean a given person will agree.  They certainly didn't in my time and they don't now.  But, yes, you can be perfect/sinless and experience annoyance, reasonable anger, etc.  When someone is being cruel and harming others, annoyance and anger are reasonable... moral... Godly... responses... so long as you channel them correctly.  If your anger drives you to react violently then you're in the wrong, too.  But if it drives you to stand up for the wronged party, to try to make life better for them, to give power and voice to the powerless and the voiceless... you're doing my work.  So, yes, I got angry and annoyed... most notably in the Temple.  It was wrong to turn God's house into a market.  Temples, churches, mosques... they're meant to give people a place to connect with God... to feel peace and love... not be made to feel poor nor to be distracted by riches.  So what makes a person perfect/sinless?  Perfectly following the greatest commandments: love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as you love yourself... even when it's difficult.  Especially then.  And...as for my parents..."  Joshua laughed.  "No.  There was this one time when I was 12 and we were leaving Jerusalem and they said "Stay close by."  I didn't listen...  Well, I mean I listened.  I just... didn't obey.  I think you know the rest of that story."

The group once again broke into laughter and, soon after, the children joined them and Joshua patiently listened to another onslaught of questions from the little ones before, at just before 9:00, the group parted for the night.


Thursday, April 25th, 2019

"Hura!  Hurry!" Raheem called as he paced in front of the apartment door.

"Yes, hurry, Mom!  Dad's going to wear out the carpet!" his teenaged daughter, Amala, shouted.

Raheem shot her a look.

Amala giggled.

"I just think it's funny that you're so anxious to go... sew?"

Raheem stopped pacing and sat down on the couch beside the girl. 

"I'm not sure I'll be sewing.  Might just be hauling bags of fabric around.  But... yeah.  Your old dad enjoys spending time with friends, too.  Live and in person unlike..."  He tilted his head to Amala's cell phone which had just lit up with a text alert.

"I see them 'live and in person' all day at school, Dad."

Raheem kissed the top of the girl's head as she began to text back to her friend.

"I know.  Just giving you a hard time."

Amala set her phone back down and smiled.

"All right then.  I... I'm glad to see you so happy, Daddy."

Tears filled Raheem's eyes.  Amala hadn't called him that in a very long time.

"Thank you, sweetie."

"Uh huh."

"All right... all right...  I'm ready."  Hura entered the room and pulled on a jacket.  "I don't even know why you're so desperate to go to this.  Part of me thinks Ibrahim should cancel the whole thing in light of..."

"You've said yourself how many people could be saved by the health fair, Hura," Raheem countered.

"I know...  But it's put such a strain on Liyana.  When I stopped by for lunch today, she was so pale."

"Maybe she's preggers," Amala suggested without looking up from her phone.

Hura shot her daughter a look.

"Maybe you're addicted to that thing."

Amala shrugged and continued to play on her phone.

"Just check on your brother once or twice, please?" Raheem requested.

"Will do," Amala promised.

"And finish your homework," Hura added.

"Finished it during study hall."

"Who are you talking to, anyway?"

"Christopher.  He's in my Bio II class."

"Christopher..." Hura repeated quietly.  "Is he..."

Raheem shot his wife a look.

"Well, please, put that thing down long enough to eat."  Hura kissed Amala's cheek then joined her husband who was already at the door.

"See you later, sweetie," Raheem called.

"Have fun!" Amala shouted back as her parents left.

"Christopher..."  Hura looked to Raheem.  "Christian, no doubt."

"Probably so.  But don't think too much about it.  He'll likely be no different than Jamal from Trig or Aidan from World History.  You know how long they lasted."

Hura laughed.

"True.  She's a popular young lady."

"Gets that from you.  I was a wallflower." 

Hura squeezed her husband's arm.

"Still are.  That's why I was so surprised that you wanted to go to this."

"Joshua and Takoda will be there.  I've really enjoyed working with them.  And in only two days, I've learned so much.  You can't tell Ibrahim but Joshua has decided to surprise him with some mosaic elements on the shelves we're building.  He taught me how to cut and set tiles.  It looks really great, if I do say so myself."

Raheem withdrew his phone and showed his wife a couple of photos.  Her eye brows shot up.

"You did that?"

"With a lot of help but yeah."

"It's beautiful, Raheem.  Ibrahim will be so pleased.  And... it's been good to see you so happy."  Hura beamed at her husband.  "I think this might be a new start for you.  And while I know that sort of work is taxing... I won't be as worried as I was when you were on the docks."

"I'm not as worried as I was after the docks," Raheem replied as they descended to a subway.  "I'm not made to sit around, waiting for phone calls and interviews."

"I know...  I know, my dear."  Hura squeezed his hand.

As they settled into seats on the subway, Raheem let out a contented sigh and squeezed his wife's hand in turn.



While the women introduced themselves to each other; Raheem and Ibrahim received a tour of St. G's from the male Friends who had stopped in for the occasion.

"And this... is all the JCS stuff," Peter explained.  "Since we do that every year, we keep it all together."

"And you play Jesus now?" Ibrahim checked.

Peter nodded.

"Yeah.  Andrew directs.  And this year Kyle joined us as a member of the chorus.  Maybe next year you will, too, Takoda?"

The angel, who had been admiring some costumes, turned to Peter.

"Sorry, what?"

"Peter was suggesting that you might join the chorus next year," Andrew repeated.

Takoda looked to Joshua who smiled and shrugged.

"Yeah... yeah, maybe." 

Kyle rested a hand on his back.

"You'd love it.  It's so much fun."

"Normally we don't approve of physically showing the prophets but..."  Ibrahim gazed around.  "I may have to make an exception next year.  I'd love to see all of you perform."

"It really is a wonderful production," Joshua boasted.  "They all do a fantastic job.  But there are also plenty of other shows."

"We're doing The Fantasticks starting in late June.  But that has a pretty small cast," Peter explained.  "Most of us will be back on-stage come autumn with Fiddler on the Roof."

"I love that one!" Raheem explained.  "'Tradition...  Tradition!'"

Andrew chuckled and set a hand on the man's shoulder.

"You should come try out for us!"

Raheem blushed and shook his head.

"No... no.  I'd be too nervous.  But depending on where I am by then... might be fun to get involved behind-the-scenes."

"We can always use help with that," Peter assured.  "Now...  Fabric scraps."  He led the way to the blue room which had six massive trash bags piled in a corner.  "Some might be heavier than others and might need two men to drag them."

"Gotcha."  Andrew grabbed a bag from the top of the pile and easily lifted it down.

"Show off," Peter teased.

Andrew gave him a cheesy grin and wink then headed out with his bag.

Ibrahim, Kyle, Takoda, and Peter each took a bag and hauled them with similar ease.

"This would be the heavy one," Joshua realized as he tugged the last bag.  "Raheem, want to give me a hand?"


The two men yanked the bag out of the room and followed the others to the stage. 

"So we have all sorts of fabric in here," Peter explained.  "And it's my understanding that the heavier fabrics might not be the best so I thought we'd sit here and sort, if that's okay?"

"Sounds like a plan," Ibrahim agreed as the others nodded.

"Great.  So let's stack the good fabric over near the end of the stage.  Maybe we could even sort by color to help the ladies out?" Peter suggested.

"ROYGBIV order?  Neutrals at the end?" Joshua offered.

"If rainbow order was good enough for the Almighty, I think it's good enough for us," Kyle agreed, casting a sly glance in Joshua's direction.

Andrew laughed.


As the six men sorted, they began to chat.

"Ibrahim and Raheem, I haven't had a chance to say anything until now but I was really sorry to hear about everything you've had to put up with at the mosque," Andrew shared. 

Peter nodded in agreement.

"We had just a small taste of it here at St. G's and that was enough.  If there's anything we can do..."

Raheem looked at Ibrahim who was attacking his bag of cloth.  He guessed he was thinking of his accusation against Joshua and embarrassed.  He spoke to give his cousin time to collect himself.

"Thank you.  We really appreciate that.  Simply inviting us here means so much.  It reminds us that the wider community cares."

"Yes, definitely," a still-flustered Ibrahim added.  "It... it impacted me more than I realized but this... this is a wonderful chance to refocus on our shared mission."

"I'm looking forward to the health fair.  Although I'll admit...  I'll miss working on the preparations with Joshua," Takoda admitted.

"Me too!  It's only been two days but I've loved working with you fellows," Raheem enthused.  "I'll be sad when our time together ends."

Kyle, who was seated across from Joshua, thought he saw his face cloud for a moment but then Joshua smiled.

"Thank you both.  I've enjoyed my time with you, as well.  And as the song goes 'Friends are friends forever, if the Lord's the Lord of them.'"

"What song is that?" Raheem questioned.

"'Friends' by Michael W. Smith," Kyle answered.  "It's a Christian song although, come to think of it, I don't think it's overtly so.  The Lord could be understood as Yahweh... Allah."

"Do you know all the words, Joshua?" the imam asked.

"Very well."

Peter and Andrew exchanged secret smiles.

"Could you sing it for us?" Raheem requested.

With a tender smile, Joshua nodded.

"'Packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of you, can't believe the hopes He's granted means a chapter in your life is through.  But we'll keep you close as always.  It won't even seem you've gone.  'Cause our hearts in big and small ways, will keep the love that keeps us strong.'"

With a wave from Joshua; Andrew, Peter, and Kyle jumped in during the chorus.

"'And friends are friends forever, if the Lord's the Lord of them.  And a friend will not say never, 'cause the welcome will not end.  Though it's hard to let you go, in the Father's hands we know, that a lifetime's not too long to live as friends.'"

As they listened; Takoda, Ibrahim, and Raheem were each moved for different reasons.

Takoda thought of his self-imposed exile and the time he'd missed out on with his greatest Friend.  Though they still had Eternity together, he regretted the lost time.

Ibrahim contemplated the hurt in his heart that had made him turn on his new friend.  He thought of his unborn child and prayed that he or she would grow up in a world free of hatred, fear, and anxiety.

Raheem's eyes filled as he gazed at Joshua... this man whose beliefs differed from his own but who still looked forward to a day when they would be together in Paradise.  A man who had begun to patiently teach him a new trade, surely slowing down his own work for Raheem's own benefit.

"'Though it's hard to let you go, in the Father's hands we know, that a lifetime's not too long to live as friends.  No, a lifetime's not too long to live as friends...'" Joshua finished.

From the back of the theatre came the sound of clapping.

The men all turned to find JenniAnn and Liyana at the end of the aisle, smiling and cheering.

"Beautiful, Joshua!" Liyana praised.

"So moving!  All you guys sounded great but, yes, especially Joshua," JenniAnn added.

"I'm glad we came in when we did to see if you had any scraps for us."  Liyana approached and hugged Joshua.  "It really was lovely."

"Thank you.  And, yes, we do have a few small piles going."  Joshua waved to them. 

"Good!  We'll head out with these."  JenniAnn stooped to pick them up.  "But if you're going to do a concert, come get us!"

Raheem laughed. 

"It was spur of the moment.  Joshua quoted the song and I asked him to sing it.  And..."  He beamed at Joshua,  "I'm very glad he did.  It was beautiful."

"Thank you."  Joshua rested a hand on Raheem's back and smiled at the two women.  "When we get more sorted, I'll bring it out to you."

"Thanks!  Oh and the pizza is due here in about thirty minutes," JenniAnn relayed.

Ibrahim noticed his wife begin to look a little green.

Andrew cocked his head.

"Liyana, are you..."

Suddenly, the woman lunged forward and headed towards an empty bag. 

Immediately, Ibrahim and Joshua were kneeling on either side of her as she vomited.  The former held back her hair and hajib while the latter stroked her back.

"Poor love..." JenniAnn murmured.  "I'm going to run to the office.  There's usually some ginger ale in there."

"It's okay, Liyana.  You're okay," Joshua soothed.

"I'm so sorry, my love," Ibrahim added. 

Liyana gasped then sat back up, her face flushed both from her ordeal and embarrassment.

"I... I'm so sorry."

"It's nothing," Peter reassured as he began to carefully fold up the bag.  "It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last time.  More than one pregnant lady has...  I mean... not that I'm saying you're pregnant.  I only mean... we've had lots of pregnant ladies dealing with morning sickness here."

Joshua smiled to himself.  He knew that Liyana and Ibrahim had been trying.  He'd listened to the fervent prayers.  But like most of the recent future, he couldn't grasp at it.  But the Father confirmed his suspicion.

Liyana and Ibrahim quietly conferred and, when JenniAnn returned with a bottle of ginger ale, the woman took a sip.  Then the couple smiled at the others.

"It is morning sickness," she confirmed.  "Stupid name.  It happens all the time but... yes.  Ibrahim and I are expecting."

Hoots and hollers sounded around the happy couple. 

"What's going on in here?" Hura demanded as she stepped inside.  "We're waiting for the fabric."

JenniAnn picked it back up and headed towards the newcomer.

"I'll bring this out to the others.  I think you should speak with your cousin."

Intrigued by JenniAnn's mysterious smile, Hura raced up the aisle.

"Yana... what..."  She noticed the dirtied bag and faint smell in the air.  "Are you sick?  Uh oh...  Do you have the flu?"

"Not the flu," Liyana denied, smiling up at her cousin.  "Baby..."

"Baby..." Hura quietly echoed as tears filled her eyes.  She had known that her cousin had been trying to get pregnant for the past five years.

"We wanted to wait a while to tell everyone.  But... well..."  Liyana waved to the bag.  "That happened.  And this morning, too.  So we just now decided not to hide it."

"The more people to pray, the better," Ibrahim reasoned.

"Exactly."  Liyana rested her head on her husband's shoulder.

"Congratulations to you both!" Joshua cheered.  "I'm so thrilled!  So thrilled..." he reiterated.  "But now since we know...  How about you relax on the couch in the office, Liyana?  And while sipping on the ginger ale might help, I'll brew you a cup of my Ama's famous tea.  Emma and Peter always keep some here.  Many a pregnant lady in our group has sworn by its ability to lessen morning sickness."

"That sounds amazing.  Thank you."

Nestled between Ibrahim and Joshua, Liyana tentatively made her way towards the office.

Raheem looked on, tears beginning to trickle down his face.  He had prayed long and hard for his cousins' wished for child.  And now he or she was coming.  A miracle.

And, like Ibrahim before him, a theory about Joshua began to coalesce in Raheem's mind... but this was a very different theory.


A couple of miles away in an apartment building, a young man sat in front of his computer. 

He opened Facebook and then navigated to the group he'd joined some weeks ago... after he'd posed as an interested party and attended one of their meetings.

Scanning the top post, he smiled.

"Don't forget that we'll be distributing fliers about the health fair tomorrow!  If you don't have yours yet, please stop by the Manhattan Mosque to pick them up.  We don't want anyone left out!  This is a real chance for Symponia to live up to our name and serve others!"

This would be his chance...  The health fair itself would be too populated, too public.  But this... this would bring the would-be terrorists and the traitors together.  He'd pick a few off... send a message. 

Take the country back.

The man stared with gleaming eyes at the gun resting beside him.  It wouldn't do as much damage as he wanted.  But it would be a start.  And then, in the days that followed, the real fun would begin.



Friday, April 26th, 2019

JenniAnn awoke to pain shooting down her leg.  She stifled a scream, not wanting to wake Andrew who was sleeping peacefully beside her.  Dratted charley horse...

After flexing her ankles a few times, the pain began to subside though an ache remained.

She needed to walk... and she obviously needed water. 

Carefully, JenniAnn extricated herself from the bed.  She stepped into her slippers and robe then made her way to the kitchen.  To her surprise, Joshua was there, peering into the freezer.

"Joshua... what are you doing up?"

Smiling sheepishly, the carpenter turned around.

JenniAnn giggled.

"Looking for a midnight snack?"

Joshua shook his head then winced slightly.

"No.  Ice pack.  Just a little bit of a headache."

Frowning with concern, JenniAnn approached.  She moved a couple of cartons of ice cream and a box of popsicles and located the ice pack.

"Here you go."

"Thanks.  So what brings you down here?"

"Charley horse.  Decided I needed some water."

Joshua winced again, this time in sympathy.

"Sorry.  Here."

Joshua took JenniAnn's hand in his.

Immediately, the ache in her calf disappeared.

"Joshua... thank you but... you didn't need to do that."

"Hostess gift?  Belatedly?" he jested.

JenniAnn laughed.

"All right...  But no more of that.  I don't wanna be draining you.  Especially when you have a headache.  Actually..."  She tugged his hand and pulled out a chair.  "I may not have the power to heal.  But I have something."

Joshua sat down and watched as JenniAnn grabbed a small bottle from an upper cabinet and a cloth.

"Lavender balm?" she offered.

Joshua smiled.

"Good idea.  Thank you."

JenniAnn dabbed some balm onto the cloth and gently pressed it against Joshua's temple.

"I love the smell," she mused.  "Good job there."

With a laugh, Joshua closed his eyes.

"Thank you.  Some of my best botanical work, I think."

"Uh huh."  JenniAnn moved the cloth to near his birthmark. 

Joshua sighed contently.

"I think it's already helping."

"Good.  Why do you think you have a headache?  Are you stressed?  Not sleeping?"

"I'm fine, little bird.  Truly."

"Little bird..." JenniAnn repeated.

Joshua opened his eyes and smiled.

"It suits you.  It reminds me of your big talk with Andrew.  'What if you actually were a bird but didn't feel like a bird?'  And the way you flit around... checking in on everyone, making sure all your hatchlings are happy and safe... and checking in on some of us old birds, too."

JenniAnn's eyes filled.

"I like it very much.  Thank you."

"Mmm hmm..."

Joshua closed his eyes again as JenniAnn began a second round. 

"That's such wonderful news about Liyana and Ibrahim.  Did you know?"

"No.  I mean... yes.  But... you know.  The information wasn't currently accessible."

"Aww.  So you got to experience the excitement with us."

"I did.  And it was wonderful!  They'll be such amazing parents."

"Even in the short time I've known them, I can tell that.  Liyana just lights up when she's around children."

"She was born to be a mom," Joshua confirmed.  "As were you."

JenniAnn beamed.

"I just went about it in a very unique way."

"You did... but that was a wonderful way, too.  Speaking of...  It's past midnight.  Happy anniversary!"

"Thanks!  Hard to believe it's been five years...  Five years since we met.  Five years since Belle's baptism.  And, yes, five years since you gave Andrew and me our blessing.  I treasure that memory so much."

Joshua took the bottle and cloth away from JenniAnn and embraced her.

"I do, too.  You've made Andrew so happy.  And your children... together you've built a wonderful, love-filled home for them.  And sometimes for me, too."

JenniAnn laughed.

"Those are the best times... having you here."

"They're some of my favorite times, too.  So... you think you and Andrew will ever have a big ceremony in El-Chanan?" Joshua ventured.

JenniAnn's face lit up.

"Some day, yes.  Maybe when Avi's a little older.  I'd love that.  And...  I want my dance."

"Your dance?"

"Yeah.  Emma got a dance with you.  Kylie did...  Isolde did...  I could go on but you get the idea."

Joshua smiled tenderly and stroked JenniAnn's cheek.

"Why wait?"

JenniAnn wondered at the hitch in his voice but was simply too excited by the idea to give it too much thought.

"I... I guess we don't have to."

Joshua pushed some chairs out of the way and, as he held his arms open, a melody began to play from the ether.

"'I've heard it said that a man would climb a mountain,
Just to be with the one he loves.
How many times has he broken that promise?
It has never been done.'"

Sniffling, JenniAnn moved into Joshua's embrace and rested her head on his shoulder as they began to sway.

"'I've never climbed the highest mountain,
But I walked the hill of Calvary.
Just to be with you, I'd do anything.
There's no price I would not pay.
Just to be with you, I'd give anything.
I would give my life away.'"

"I love you so much," JenniAnn murmured, peering up at Joshua.  "A-and I'm sorry about all the times I screw up and lose patience and..."

Joshua shook his head.

"Shh...  It's okay.  All... all's forgiven.  I love you so much, too, little bird of mine.  I... I love you all so much and... I... I would do it all over if... if I had to," Joshua vowed.

"I... I know you would."  JenniAnn smiled tearfully then, again, rested her head against his shoulder.

"'I've heard it said that a man would swim the ocean,
Just to be with the one he loves.
How many times has he broken that promise?
It can never be done.
I've never swam the deepest ocean,
But I walked upon the raging sea.'"

"Your... your head..."

"It's fine...  I'm fine.  I'm good."


As the song continued, the two settled into the silence, intent on each other and the music floating around them.  And Joshua thought of Calvary... the trauma that had won him this moment and so many others like it.  And he trusted that, whatever the future brought, it could only lead to more equally precious moments.

"'Just to be with you, I did everything.
There's no price I did not pay.
Just to be with you, I gave everything.
Yes, I gave my life away.'"


The morning dawned cloudy and foreboding in Manhattan.  As a result, when the appointed time came to begin distributing fliers, it was a sparse crew that gathered.

"Well...  We can at least start distributing the fliers today," Ibrahim encouraged.  "By tomorrow, hopefully Liyana will be feeling better and I can go out.  I wish I could today but..."

Fr. Mike interrupted.

"But you should stay with your wife.  Don't worry about it, Ibrahim!  We'll cover as much ground as we can today and what has to wait until tomorrow can wait until tomorrow.  By then we'll have more people, anyway, since fewer folks work on Saturdays."

"Exactly," Rabbi Yakov agreed.  "So don't you worry about anything.  Give our best to Liyana.  Get some rest for yourself if you can... you'll need it... and leave the rest to us!"

"All right...  Thank you.  And if it starts to storm..."  The imam looked up at the sky.  "Just head on home and we'll pick this back up tomorrow."

"Sounds like a plan!"  JenniAnn began to hand stacks of fliers to everyone.  "Teams all set?"

The others murmured in assent. 

"Then off we go!" Isra declared.

With an echoing cheer, the group left the mosque's courtyard, heading in opposite directions.  Andrew, JenniAnn, and Violeta went north while Isra, Owen, Isolde, and Josef went south.  Rabbi Yakov, Tiva, Fr. Mike and Kyle headed east leaving Joshua, Raheem, and Salma to cover the west.  Meanwhile, Takoda, Joccy, Emma, and Peter made their way to a nearby subway entrance so they could leave fliers along its route.

As they walked, stopping here and there to ask for permission to display a flier, Raheem questioned his companions.

"Sister Salma... if you don't mind my asking... and please just say so if you do... how did you come to be Christian?  I... I was at the talk you gave to Symponia about your experience with... trafficking... and you spoke so beautifully of your faith but... not how it came to change."

Salma smiled at the man and shook her head.

"I don't mind speaking about it.  In fact, I'm very glad to speak of it.  As you may well assume, I wasn't able to practice Islam while I was being trafficked.  I..."

Joshua smiled proudly at the woman, giving her courage.

"I tried to pray to Allah many, many times.  But...  He seemed so very distant.  Eventually I stopped praying.  But I kept having dreams of a beautiful lion who was very kind to me.  He reminded me of Aslan.  Behnam used to read The Chronicles of Narnia to Isra and me.  And, eventually, stemming from those dreams... I had an incredible experience of Christ.  He came to me.  Truthfully.  He was as near to me as Joshua is now."

Joshua reached over and took Salma's proffered hand in his.

"A-and he loved me.  And he helped me to love myself again.  And he... he understood everything.  Most strains of Islam teach that... that he didn't die on the cross.  That such a death was too ignoble for Allah's prophet, for al-Masih.  But I know he... he died... died terribly.  So... so he understood what I'd gone through.  But... he rose again... and so did I... through him... as a new Salma."

Salma sighed happily, squeezed Joshua's hand, and turned to Raheem.

"Please know that I respect your beliefs and would never try to force my beliefs upon you but..."

"But I asked.  And you answered.  Beautifully," Raheem replied with a gracious smile.  "I struggle with the idea that God became man.  And I do find it hard to believe that Allah would allow someone so holy to be so abused... so humiliated but..."  Tears clouded Raheem's eyes.  "We hear about atrocities committed against children.  And... and what could be more holy than a child?  It happens."

Salma rested a hand on Raheem's shoulder.

"It does.  But Allah is always with us."

"Yes...  It... it would be nice to believe that Allah knows what it is to be human.  I know He is all-knowing but... to know it in His bones... in His blood...  Like... like when my little boy told me he was being bullied at school.  I felt it." Raheem rested a hand over his belly.  "In the pit of my stomach, in the racing of my heart.  I remembered what it was to be bullied.  I had lived it."

Joshua wanted to hug the man and tell him that he was right there... that he knew everything... felt everything... but, instead, he could only smile, willing his love to be evident to Raheem.

"I think he knows to the depth of his being, Raheem," Joshua counseled.  "He experiences the joy and the pain of his children in a very visceral, very real way."

Raheem swerved into an alley and Joshua and Salma followed.

"Raheem, is everything all right?" Salma checked.

"Yes.  Yes... everything is very good.  I just...  Joshua, I... I hope this doesn't come out wrong but... sometimes when I look into your face... I feel like I'm seeing him... Isa...  Or... or even... Allah.  Or maybe... both.  Just now... I... I felt such love.  As... as if my own father was... was looking upon me again and... and I... I was someone's child again." 

When the man began to cry, Joshua wrapped his arms around him.

Looking on, tears pooled in Salma's eyes.  Joshua looked so very happy.

"Raheem..." he choked out.  "That is one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever said to me."

"It... it didn't sound foolish?"

Joshua released Raheem but kept a hand on each of his shoulders.  Smiling through his tears, he shook his head.

"It doesn't sound foolish at all, my friend."

Raheem felt his heart begin to speed.  Was it an admission... or merely kindness?  Whichever, he was grateful he had the whole morning in which to figure it out.


After giving out their last fliers; Salma, Raheem, and Joshua headed back towards the mosque.  As the building came into view, Raheem asked the question that was most weighing on his mind.

"So... if you don't mind my asking... what are your plans for after the health fair, Joshua?  Are you going to stay in town or..."  His voice drifted off.

"I'm not sure yet," Joshua replied.  "I'd like to have a few days to simply enjoy the company of my friends here but it depends on what my Dad wants me to do."

"Your Dad..." Raheem echoed.

A clap of thunder sounded.

Salma giggled.

Joshua was about to make a reply when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye... something... someone... looming in a window across the street.

Suddenly, a loud bang sounded... but it was not thunder.  A second soon followed.

"Salma!" Joshua shouted before pushing the woman behind the mosque's stone sign. 

"Joshua!" she shrieked, pointing at his wounded wrist.  "Your... your..."

A third shot rang out.

Ignoring the pain searing through his left hand and arm, Joshua spun around to face Raheem.

As people screamed and ran around them, Raheem stood with a blank look on his face.  Joshua's gaze traveled down to the man's middle where a red stain was beginning to spread across his shirt.

"Raheem..." Joshua murmured.  With his good hand, he reached out and touched the man.

The haze of pain and shock began to depart from Raheem.  He peered into Joshua's eyes as a warm, tingling sensation wrapped around his gut.  He was only vaguely aware of another popping sound.

Another scream from Salma at last took Raheem's attention away from Joshua's shimmering eyes.

"Joshua!  No!"

Raheem looked on in horror as Joshua began to teeter on his feet.  It was then he spotted the gun shot wound in the carpenter's chest.

"No!  No!  No!"

Raheem was vaguely aware of his cousin's voice as he grabbed Joshua and sunk to the ground with him.

"Joshua...  J-Joshua..."

As he ran towards the besieged trio, Ibrahim felt a stinging in his ear but continued.

"Let's get him inside!" he shouted to the other man, shaking his shoulder.

Raheem nodded and, with the imam, heaved Joshua up.  As Salma ran ahead of them, they bolted into the mosque.

Inside, Liyana was screaming into her phone.

"They've been shot!  They've been shot!  Oh God...  Oh, Joshua...  Is he breathing?"

Raheem and Ibrahim rested Joshua in Salma's lap.

"Joshua..." she murmured as she stroked his hair.  "Can... can you..."

Ibrahim tore off his shirt and pressed it against Joshua's chest.

Joshua's watery gaze peered up at Salma.

"Do... not... be... afraid..." he choked out.

"I... I'm not..." she lied.  "Joshua..."

"Love... you... all.  So... much."

"We... we love you, too," Raheem replied as he clasped Joshua's right hand.

"Stay with us, Joshua.  P-please," Ibrahim begged.  "Help's on the way.  Any... any moment now..."

Joshua gave a slight nod then nestled his cheek against Salma.

"Our... our Father, who art in.. in Heaven," she began to pray.  "Hal-hallowed be Thy name."

Joshua smiled as his eyes closed.

"Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done... on... on earth as it is in... in Heaven."

Liyana, Ibrahim, and Raheem knelt around the two and began to pray in Arabic.

The four jolted as lightning lit up the room and thunder resounded around them. 

"Give us this day... our daily bread.  A-and forgive us our trespasses as... as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation but... but..."  Salma let out a sob.  "Deliver us from evil.  For... for thine is the kingdom, the power, a-and the glory, for-forever a-and ever...  Amen."

"Amen," the others echoed.

In the prayerful silence, sirens wailed.

"J-Joshua?" Raheem rested a hand at Joshua's neck.

"Is he..."  Liyana's voice broke.

"I feel a pulse.  It... it's slow but..."

Salma buried her face in Joshua's hair.

"Live, my love," she murmured so only he could hear.  "Please live..."

Ibrahim rose and peered out the window.

"Police are coming."

"Open the door!" a man's voice shouted.  "You're safe.  The shooting has stopped.  We're here to..."

Ibrahim threw open the door and police officers and EMTs stampeded inside.

"Joshua!  No!"

Stunned, Tyron gaped at the wounded man.

An officer gently pulled the Azizis and Raheem away as the EMTs swarmed Joshua and Salma. 

One of them gasped.

"I... I know this guy!  I mean... I know who he is...  He... he played Jesus."

Through her tears, Salma nodded to the EMT.

"My God..."

Another EMT approached Raheem and Ibrahim.

"Sir, it looks like you got grazed," she said to Ibrahim.  "And you..."  Her eyes went wide when she glimpsed the hole in Raheem's shirt.  "Sir... are you..."

Raheem looked down at his blood-stained shirt.  He yanked it up.


"He... Joshua...  I... I got shot...  But... he... touched me and... He touched me..." he rambled.

"Let's get you two into an ambulance.  Get you properly checked out at the hospital," the EMT suggested.

"Liyana..."  Ibrahim reached for his wife.

"I'll take her in my car," Tyron offered.  "We'll follow you."

"But Joshua..."  Raheem turned to where the fallen man was being gently moved onto a gurney.

"Can-can I go?  Please let me go?" Salma begged.

"Let the nun go with him," Tyron commanded.

"All right.  C'mon.  Hurry."

Surrounded by police officers, the group left the mosque.

On his way out, Ibrahim saw the police tape going up.  He stared at the blood sprayed against the mosque's sign.  Joshua's blood.  He began to weep.

Raheem clung to him as they were waved into an ambulance.  Just before the door was shut, they saw Joshua and Salma loaded into another.

"Let him live..." the imam prayed.  "Oh, Allah... let him live."

Raheem nodded and wept in his cousin's arms.


Within half an hour, the Friends had descended upon New York Presbyterian Hospital en masse.  Stunned silence and weeping gave way to anxious murmurings as Salma joined them in the waiting room.

"Salma!"  Isra rushed forward and hugged her sister.  "Wh-what happened?"

Behnam took his sister-in-law by the arm and helped her to a chair.

"I..."  Salma shook her head.  "I... I tried to get out sooner but they insisted on... on examining me and... and questioning me and... he... he pushed me behind the sign.  A-and then..." 

"Salma..."  Isra held her sister tightly.

Resting her head on Isra's shoulder, Salma spoke as loudly as she could.

"We... we'd finished distributing fliers and were just outside the... the mosque when I... I heard a bang and that... that's when Joshua pushed me.  And then... more shots.  One... one got his hand a-and then... then he... he was bleeding from... from his chest a-and..."

Gasps and wails echoed through the room.

"They... they got him into the mosque and... and..."

"Sweetie, did... did Joshua say anything?" Diana gently asked.

Salma nodded as more tears welled.

"He... he said to not be afraid and... and..." her voice broke.

"'Love... love you all.  So much.'"

The group turned to find a shaking, teary Raheem standing in the doorway.

Salma nodded and rose to embrace him.

"We... we prayed over him.  A-and then... then he closed his eyes," the man explained.

"And... and did they say anything in the... the ambulance?" Owen questioned.

Salma lifted her head from Raheem's shoulder and nodded.

"They... they said his right lung seemed to have been damaged."

"But not his heart?" Peter pressed.

"I... I didn't hear anything about his heart b-but I was so focused on... on just... loving him."

"Of course..."  Emma kissed Salma's hair.  "You did good.  I... I'm so glad you were there."

"I... don't want him to die," Salma squeaked out.  "I... I can't bear for... for him to die..."  She broke down in Isra's arms.

"I... I just can't believe this."  Takoda sat with his head in his hands.  "H-how...  It... it doesn't make sense..."

Andrew rested a hand on the younger angel's back.

"Things like this never make sense."

"But he's..." 

"I know."  The angel of death lowered his voice.  "But... it's happened before, Takoda."

Takoda lowered his voice.

"But there were reasons for that.  Good reasons.  The redemption of all humanity but this..."

Beside him, Joccy burst onto her feet and began to pace.

"I... I have to know what's going on.  Can't... can't someone go check?"  She peered at all the angels.  None moved.  In Joshua's absence, they had only the still, small voice of God to direct them.  But
no such direction or permission came.

"I can try."  Graham raised his head from where it rested on Owen's.  "I've gone on medical rounds here.  Maybe... maybe I can run into somebody who knows me and can get me back into the OR?"

"It's worth a shot," Joccy encouraged.  "If you don't mind."

"I'll try."

Graham embraced his fiance tightly then rose and headed out into the hallway.

"I can't just sit here," Eric announced.  "I'm going to go see if I can donate blood.  Anyone..."

"I'll go, too," Max offered.

"Can I go?" Ana-Maria requested.

"Of course," Eric agreed.  "We'll see if they're taking donations and, if they are, the first one of us done will head back.  Maybe we can go in shifts.  If... if he ends up needing blood... it... it's only... fair after..."

Max hugged him as he broke down.

"I'm fine...  I'm fine..." Eric assured.  "Let's go."

As the trio set off, Nico entered the waiting room.  He hurried to Andrew and JenniAnn and embraced them.

"Raquel's taken Belle and Avi Below.  She's staying there with them.  Your parents are headed there, too, JenniAnn.  Vincent... he's doing his best to keep everyone there calm.  Catherine's stuck at the Phoenix.  She wanted to leave but... the girls are all very upset.  They're having a prayer circle."

"How... how do they know?" JenniAnn inquired. 

Nico sighed and took out his phone.  He pulled up an online article and displayed it for them.

"Terror at the Manhattan Mosque!  Jesus Shot," the headline read.  Just below it was a promotional shot of Joshua from Superstar.

Andrew dragged his hand through his hair.  

"Emma...  Peter..." he called.

Arms around each other, the two approached. 

Nico held the phone out to them.

"Damn..." Peter murmured.  "I mean... when people see that... they'll pray.  So that's good.  But..."

"The theatre...  People could start congregating at the theatre and if... if the shooter is still out there..." Emma fretted.

"He's not."

The group all turned to the entryway where a wearied Joe Maxwell stood with his wife, Angie, at his side.

"Joe!  Angie!"  Kyle crossed the room and welcomed them both with hugs. 

"Hey, Kyle."  Joe clapped the young man on the back.

"Hi, sweetheart," Angie greeted, hugging him tightly.

When she released Kyle, Joe ushered his wife further into the waiting room.  He looked around.

"Do we know everyone here?" he whispered.

Andrew nodded.

"When the nurses saw how many of us there were, they said they'd give us a private room."

"Good.  Because what I'm about to say cannot leave this room... not yet.  But first... any updates on... on Josh?"

Owen shook his head.

"Graham just left to see if he could get back into the OR.  But... nothing before that."

Joe let out a ragged sigh.

"Okay.  I... I guess no news is good news.  So... based on the direction the bullets came from and some eye-witness accounts, it didn't take long to realize the shooter had positioned himself in a vacant apartment across the street.  The building isn't terribly secure but, thankfully, someone had seen the landlord's son there around the time of the shooting.  We already had a file on him so... we knew he was our guy.  Officers were able to locate him and apprehend him.  It... got ugly and... he may not make it."

"And... and the officers?" Clay asked.

"One was shot.  But he's expected to make a full recovery."

The group sighed with relief.

"The reason this isn't public yet is the father has several properties.  The shooter was located at a second one.  We want to conduct thorough searches of each building to ensure he didn't stockpile anything at other locations...  and, of course, we'll be looking for evidence."

"And the motive..." Raheem prodded.  "Was it random or..."

Joe sighed and shook his head.

"No.  We have strong reason to believe he was the one sending the threats.  The mosque was targeted."

Raheem nodded solemnly.  He'd known as much but had maintained a sliver of hope...  Now that was gone.

"Is the imam here?" Joe asked.

"Yes," Salma replied.  "They're probably still questioning him.  Or stitching him up.  It looked like he got grazed."

"He did," Raheem concurred.  "Left ear.  But it wasn't severe.  On the ambulance, they were more concerned about us being in shock than his wound."

"That's a relief.  We need some good news."  Joe managed a smile then turned to Emma and Peter.  "We have four guys stationed at St. G's.  Just out of an abundance of caution.  You may want to organize something, though."

"Organize something?" Emma inquired.

With tears in his eyes, Joe fished his phone out of his pocket.

"Scroll through the photos.  There's five or six."

As others crowded around, Emma and Peter studied the images. 

A small group had descended upon St. G's with flowers and notes. 

"Oh God..." Kylie murmured as she pointed to a framed photo of Joshua, in full Jesus regalia, posing with one of the patrons.  It was rested at the foot of the statue of Maryam.

Rabbi Yakov, who with Tiva had been sitting in prayerful, stunned silence, rose and looked at the photographs.

"I have an idea..." he ventured.


As the group continued to wait for word from Graham, some began to follow up on Rabbi Yakov's plan.

Others, including Andrew, JenniAnn, and Josef, sat quietly, thoughts and memories racing through their minds.

JenniAnn was transported back to Willowveil's kitchen, only a few hours before, when she and Joshua had danced. 

"'Just to be with you, I'd give anything...  I would give my life away...'"

She began to sob again.  How could the man who had, so recently, spun her around the kitchen possibly be laying on an operating table... still and unconscious?  And what would they do if... if he didn't wake up?

Andrew wrapped his arms around her.

"Tell me?" he requested.

"I just...  I think I need to just go to the worst case scenario for a little bit.  Just... so I know... what we'd do if..." JenniAnn whimpered.

"All right," the angel encouraged, taking one of her hands in both of his.

"If... if he doesn't make it...  What do... do we do with him?"

Josef, who had been seated to her other side, turned to the woman.

"I still have my freezer.  The one I used to sleep in, I mean.  I could plug it back in and we could..."

"No!" JenniAnn shouted, causing all the others to look at her.  She let out a sob then lowered her voice.  "I... I don't want him to get cold."

Josef stared at her.  Dead even temporarily was still dead...  Cold wouldn't matter.  But he didn't like the idea much himself.  He didn't like any of this.

Andrew pulled JenniAnn to him, hoping the rapid beating of his heart didn't further shake her.

"We'll do the same thing Mary and Maryam and the others did.  We'll find a cave.  There are some in the Mystical Mountains.  We'll bring him there... and we'll wait," the angel decreed, fighting to keep his voice steady.

"It needs to be a big cave," JenniAnn whispered.

"Why?" Josef asked.

"Because I'm going in with him.  And I know I won't be alone."

"Laja..."  Overcome, Andrew buried his face in her hair.

Josef nodded.

"Good point."  He smiled sadly.  "And if... if it comes to that, I'll look for the cave.  My... my name is Josef.  It... it's my duty."

"Joseph of Aramithea..."

The former vampire nodded to JenniAnn.

Nico, who had been sitting to Andrew's other side, reached across the angel and JenniAnn and clasped Josef's hand.

"I'll go with you.  It's my duty, too."

With tears in his eyes, Josef smiled.


"I always hated it... my full name.  Less so after meeting Joshua but now..."  Nico sniffled. 

JenniAnn let out a fresh sob.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God..."

She leaped up and fled the room.

Seeing her anguish, Andrew hurried after her.

"Laja!  Where are you going?" he asked as he caught her elbow.

"I... I dunno...  B-but... I need to run.  I..."

When she began to have panic attack, the angel pulled her against his chest and softly swayed.

"Deep breaths, Laja.  It... it's okay."  He shook his head.  It wasn't okay. 

"It.. it's not," she moaned after regaining control of her breathing.  "Last night...  I... I woke up with a charley horse and so I went to the kitchen to stretch my legs and get some water.  A-and... Joshua was there."

Andrew nodded, encouraging her.

"He had a headache and wanted an ice pack."

The angel frowned.  Had Joshua known what was coming?

"So... so I found one for him but then I remembered the lavender balm.  I offered it to him and... and I... I applied it to his brow.  I... I anointed him, Andrew.  Just... just like the woman with... with the alabaster jar.   Before he died."

As tears threatened to overtake JenniAnn again, Andrew led her to a nearby bench.

"Beloved, you've done that numerous times.  For me.  For Belle.  Vincent."

"I... I know but... but there's more.  He asked if we'd want a... a ceremony in El-Chanan ever and I said yes.  Which I do.  I want that for us."  JenniAnn stroked some hair behind Andrew's ear.  "But I... I also... I want my dance with him.  Just like all the recent brides got.  And... and he said...  'Why wait?'  And so... so we danced.  Maybe... maybe it... it was because... he... he's not gonna be around like this now and..."

"Oh, Laja..."  Andrew enfolded her in his arms and kissed her hair.  "I think, maybe, he was just giving you... and himself... that moment to help you through this time.  But I don't think it means he's going away."

"Not... not right away.  But... but after forty days?  Maybe..." she lowered her voice.  "Maybe we're entering Acts."

"You've worried about that before, Laja.  Others have, too.  And yet..."

"But something like this has never happened!"

"I know."  Andrew heaved a sigh and dragged a hand through his hair.  "Let's head back to the others.  I know there are things Joshua has promised to be present for.  But right now... my mind is so foggy.  I... I can't remember.  So... let's ask the others.  And then we'll both see... he... he'll be with us for years and years to come.  Okay?"

"Okay," JenniAnn murmured. 

Andrew lifted her from the bench and, arm about her waist, led her back to the others, praying they could offer her more than he could.


"I... I know I'm not family," Graham pleaded with a nurse.  "But his family isn't here right now!  I... I know his family.  I love his family.  And... and he IS family... just... just not biologically."

"I understand, Graham.  But... just the same... I can't let you back there.  You're not here on rounds.  You are simply a concerned friend and you know we can't just let concerned friends go wandering back into the OR!  Now please..."

"I... we... just don't want him to... to be alone," Graham pleaded.

"Sweetie, most... the vast majority.... of patients don't have loved ones with them in the OR."

"But... but he's... different.  Is Dr. Neeley doing the surgery?"

"You know I can't tell you that."

Graham smiled.  He could tell by the look on her face that he'd guessed correctly.

"Patty, can you please just ask him if I can scrub in and go back there?  He's one of my advisors.  He knows me.  I just... I feel like I need to be back there."

Patty sighed.

"If I ask and he says no, will you let this drop?"

Graham nodded.

"All right then... but I already know the answer."

"Thank you!" Graham called as she walked away.

As he waited, Graham paced and prayed.  He also mentally prepared himself for what he might see if he did get back into the OR.  He was just starting a fourth round of the Lord's Prayer when Patty returned looking shocked.

"He said to scrub in," she announced.

In spite of the tears running down his face, Graham beamed.

"Thank you, Patty!  Thank you!"  He hugged her then rushed past and into the prep room.

After diligently washing and putting on his gear, Graham closed his eyes.

"Father...  Joshua... send your Spirit to... to help me and give me strength," he prayed.

As a gentle peace washed over him, Graham entered the operating room.

"Carpenter, glad you're here," the surgeon barked.  "What the hell has been going on with your friend here?"

Graham stared at Joshua, his gaze centered on his face.

"Is he..."

A nurse moved so Graham could stand near Joshua's head.

"I think we're looking at a good outcome," Neeley replied.  "So long as he has a strong will.  I'm guessing he does.  Looks like he's been through some... stuff."

Graham let out a shuddering sigh.

"Good...  I... I'm so glad.  So glad."

"We were going to send for you," a nurse informed him.  "Couldn't believe it when Patty came back here saying you were demanding to be let in."

"Send for me?"

The nurse, Vivian, nodded.

"I found your engagement announcement in his pocket along with a note from someone named JenniAnn.  No idea who she is.  But Dr. Neeley recognized you."

Graham peered down at Joshua's still, peaceful face.  He'd been carrying the engagement announcement around...  He gently stroked his brow.

"And I want some answers.  There's scar tissue in here.  It ended up being a good thing.  Probably kept the bullet from moving around wreaking havoc.  But has Mr. Davidson here been previously stabbed or shot?"

Graham gaped.  The spear wound...  He nodded.

"Stabbed.  A... a long time ago."

"And his wrist?"

"Same incident."


"Was... was he conscious at all when he came in?" Graham inquired.

"No.  Caused quite a stir, though.  Vivian started screaming.  Something about Jesus.  I mean I guess he does kind of look like Him."

"No, that's not..."  Vivian shook her head and looked to Graham.

"Joshua played Jesus in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar," Graham relayed.  "He was phenomenal... is phenomenal."

"I'm sure.  Well, he may want to rest the old pipes for a while after this," Neeley warned.  "Just for a while."

"No... no talking?" Graham implored.  He couldn't imagine a silent Joshua.  How could the Word be wordless?

The surgeon laughed.

"No!  Think, man.  You know better.  He'll talk just fine.  I only meant I don't want him belting out showtunes... and definitely not from a cross if he's still doing that.  That could stretch the wound and I don't want to have to get back in here.  Just finishing up here, by the way.  Then I'll focus on the wrist.  Seems he was just grazed there."

Graham let out a sigh of relief.

"Is there any way word could be sent to our friends in room 333?" he requested.

Neeley nodded.

"Rebecca, please ask Tina to go out there and update them.  Keep it simple.  We're closing up the chest wound.  Wrist wound is relatively superficial but we're working on that.  Prognosis is good... but he's going to need quiet and rest.  And just a friendly word of warning from the surgeon: elect a spokesperson.  'Jesus' gets shot, target of a hate crime...  It'll blow up if it hasn't already."

Graham smiled as he thought of the celebration amongst the other Friends.  They wouldn't feel totally at ease until they could see and speak with Joshua.  He wouldn't feel totally at ease until then himself.  But this was very welcome news!


Pure elation moved through the waiting room when the Friends received news that Joshua was expected to make a full recovery.  More went to donate blood, others left to help Rabbi Yakov put his plan into action, and JenniAnn and Owen focused their attention on building a schedule for visitors since they'd been warned that no more than four people at a time would be allowed into Joshua's room once he was moved.

"I think the four who were there deserve the top spot," Owen suggested.  "They need to see Joshua doing okay."

"Agreed.  But we also don't know when the police are going to want to see him.  Joe?"

"First.  We all know Joshua's testimony is going to be accurate regardless.  But we need to avoid any possibility of the defense later bringing up the possibility of witness contamination... if this does go to trial."

"That makes sense."  JenniAnn sighed.  "Crummy, though."

"I know..." Joe agreed.  "But if the gunman pulls through..."

"Of course.  So... police.  Then Salma, Raheem, Liyana, and Imam Ibrahim.  Then maybe we better get Rabbi Yakov and Tiva in there pretty soon?" Owen suggested.  "I know they want Joshua's blessing for tonight's prayer meeting."

"Yes, we need to get the rabbi and Tiva into his room as soon as they get back.  And we need someone to go put together an overnight bag for Joshua," JenniAnn called.  "I could go... but I'd like a guy to go with me.  I dunno if he, like, needs his beard stuff or if that can wait."

Zeke chuckled.

"Don't worry about it.  You stay here.  I'm on it."


A fresh wave of excitement went through the group when Graham entered the room.

Owen raced towards him and embraced and kissed him.

"So?" he questioned.

Graham beamed.

"He's doing really, really well.  I mean... he's still asleep.  They obviously sedated him during the surgery and he's not come out of it yet.  But he looks very peaceful and they've moved him into his own room.  It's really nice... great view."

"A-and his lung?" Salma pressed.

"It was, umm, pierced by the bullet.  There was a lot of blood in... in there.  That's probably why he lost consciousness.  It was compressing his lung.  He was short on oxygen..."

"But he never stopped breathing," Salma hastened to add.  "At least I... I never heard that in the ambulance.  I mean... they did give him oxygen but..."

"Right.  And seems he never stopped in the OR, either.  Which is great.  And there's more good news: the scar tissue from... from before seems to have kept the bullet from wreaking havoc all around his chest cavity.  It just sorta... lodged there."

"Scar tissue?"  Raheem looked around curiously.

"Joshua was, umm... stabbed.  A long time ago," Kyle carefully answered. 

"Oh...  Wow..." Raheem shook his head. 

He was about to probe further into this when a hysterical shriek resounded through the room.


Hura flung herself at her husband and began sobbing.

"Darling girl..."  Raheem kissed his wife's forehead and began to sway with her.

The others backed away to give them some privacy.

When she'd regained some control of her emotions, Hura cradled her husband's face.

"That daft new girl...  I was in surgery when Liyana called and she waited until I was done to tell me!  Someone else could have stepped in!  What if... if you'd been dying a-and..."

"I wasn't dying.  Not... not even close," Raheem assured.  But even as he said it, he couldn't escape the image of blood seeping through his shirt.  The police had confiscated the shirt, replacing it with the gray NYPD T-shirt he now sported.  But he'd seen the hole...  He'd been shot... and then Joshua had touched him and it was as if it had never happened. 

Who was this man?

"A-and Ibrahim?  Liyana said..."

"He's fine.  A bullet grazed him but there wasn't any permanent damage.  But Joshua..."

"That poor man..."  Hura's eyes welled again.  "I got a news alert on the way here.  I... I can't believe...  Is he..."

Raheem smiled raggedly.

"Expected to be okay.  But his injuries were more severe.  He was shot in the chest but, by some miracle, the damage was minimal."

"Praise, Allah..."

"Yes."  Raheem stroked Hura's hijab.  There was so much more he wanted to tell her.  But he wasn't sure how to put it all into words...  And, right then, he didn't have the time.

A bawling Violeta streaked into the room and collapsed with her head in JenniAnn's lap.

"Why?!" she wailed.

Calmer but quite evidently shaken, Ivy and Sy approached.  Fr. Mike, who had been visiting a seminary roommate at Fordham, had gathered the trio from their classrooms as soon as he'd received word about the shooting.  Though Diana had been texting with Sy to keep them updated during their drive to the hospital, the young angel remained inconsolable. 

"Sweetie...  Joshua's gonna be fine," JenniAnn consoled.  "Yes, it's very scary but..."

"B-but he... he's the best person who ever lived a-and... how... how could..." Violeta choked out.

Hearing this, Hura's eye brows jutted up.

"I know, sweet girl, but... bad things happen... even to very, very good people," JenniAnn carefully answered after noticing Hura's expression.

"Best person ever?  Aren't they supposed to believe that about Isa?" the doctor whispered to her husband.

Raheem nodded.

"She's clearly upset," he reminded.  "We don't think straight when we're upset."  He pondered his own words.  Maybe he'd been confused...  But no.  There had definitely been a hole in his shirt.  That was why the police had taken it.

"Is... is he in pain?" Violeta bleated.

"Probably not.  Not right now.  He's still sleeping."

"St-still?!" Violeta yelped.

"Violeta, honey, they sedated him for the surgery," Andrew explained.  "It would be weird if he wasn't still sleeping."

"That's right," Graham concurred.  "It'll probably be several minutes before he wakes up.  And he'll be groggy for a while after.  But that's perfectly normal."

"B-but what if it... it's like when..."  Violeta's gaze traveled from Graham to JenniAnn and her face began to crumple again.

"It's not gonna be like it was with me," JenniAnn assured.  "I stopped breathing.  My heart stopped.  Neither of those things happened with Joshua."

Finally, Violeta began to relax.

"And will it... hurt once he wakes up?"

"Some.  And, after a while, the wounds will itch.  But there will be medication for all that, too.  I was hardly miserable, remember?  I was just so, so glad to be back with all of you."  JenniAnn smiled at the young angel then at Andrew and the others.  "And it's gonna be like that for Joshua... but even more so."

"O-okay...  Can we see him when he wakes up?" Violeta questioned.

"Yep.  JenniAnn and I were drawing up a schedule when you all arrived.  They don't want any more than four people visiting him at a time," Owen explained.  "But we'll make absolutely sure you get in there, kiddo.  And you, too, Ivy, Sy, and Fr. Mike."

"Thank you," the three chorused.

"Any update since Diana last texted us?" the priest checked.

Andrew shook his head.

"No, not yet.  But someone's supposed to come tell us when he wakes up.  But the police need to question him first."

"Then we thought Raheem, Salma, Liyana, and Imam Ibrahim should see Joshua first," JenniAnn relayed.  "Since they were... there."

Raheem squeezed her shoulder.

"I appreciate that.  Truly."

"Me too," Salma echoed.

"I... heard our names, I think?" Ibrahim asked.

He stood near the doorway with Liyana clinging to his arm.  Ibrahim's left ear was bandaged and he looked haggard but otherwise unharmed.  After Violeta's dramatic arrival, no one had noticed the couple quietly sneak in.

Fr. Mike embraced them.

"I'm so glad you're both okay," he murmured.

"Tis but a scratch," the imam joked though his eyes were teary.  He turned to his wife.  "And you, my love?"

Liyana gave him a wavering smile and only nodded as she fought tears.

Ibrahim wrapped his arms around her when she began to weep.

Raheem and Hura approached their cousins.

"I'm glad you're out."  Raheem clapped Ibrahim on the back.  "The police spoke to you both, I presume?"

"They did, yes.  Have their cards in case we think of anything more."

"Me too."

Ibrahim nodded.

"The worst part was they wouldn't let Liyana check her cell phone so... we only just now caught up on your texts," he explained.  "We're so relieved that Joshua is expected to make a full recovery.  But... but I think I speak for us both when I say that we're very sorry it... it happened at... at our mosque... our home.  I... I should have thought..."

"No!" Owen cut him off.

"We should have delayed the health fair.  Or moved it," Ibrahim hurriedly finished.  "Or... or at the very least, waited on the fliers until..."

"Until when?" Fr. Mike pressed.  "We need to give people enough notice.  And Joshua knew about the threats.  He knew everything.  And he still chose to go out this morning.  Many of us did... and many more would have if not for work schedules.  So you can't pin any of this on yourself, Ibrahim.  One man made this happen.  And it wasn't you."

"He... he's right," Liyana concurred.  "Listen to him."

"But..."  Ibrahim shook his head.

Raheem and Liyana exchanged a look.  They both knew what was weighing on him.  He still felt guilty for doubting Joshua... for even briefly believing he was the perpetrator.  And then it had been Joshua who had paid the heaviest price for that man's hatred.

"How about we all just sit together and pray for a bit?" Fr. Mike suggested.  "And I hear some of us need to be filled in on Rabbi Yakov's big idea."

"Yes!  You do," Andrew asserted.  "So let's all get comfortable."

After a series of hugs, the group settled into chairs and began to pray and plan.


Back at Willowveil, Zeke pulled Joshua's scarred and scratched suitcase out from beneath his bed.  At Graham's suggestion, he packed the comfiest five days' worth of clothes he could find.  JenniAnn had given him careful instructions on what pajamas Joshua seemed to most prefer and which robe to grab.  He collected socks and undergarments, Joshua's hairbrush, and a collection of toiletries. 

Zeke hummed hymns as he worked and occasionally stopped to check his phone to ensure he didn't miss any updates or panicked requests for information from those who had met Joshua.  To his relief, a lone text message from Diana shared the happy news that Joshua was awake and speaking with the police.

With the suitcase nearly full, Zeke decided to make a final addition.  He reverently took Joshua's Bible from off his bedstand.  As he was tucking it into the suitcase, Zeke noticed a piece of paper sticking out.  After a brief prayer asking that he be stopped if he wasn't meant to peek, Zeke did so.  He sat on the bed when he recognized Joshua's handwriting and the opening words on the paper "Dear beloved ones..."

His hands shaking, Zeke began to read.

Dear beloved ones,

If you've found this letter, one of two things have happened.  Either I'm in the hospital and you're, no doubt, making up some sort of elaborate visiting schedule and asking if you can sneak Froot Loops into me or...  I've gone Home to my Dad.  If the former... I know I'll enjoy every moment with you... and the Froot Loops.  If the latter...  I'm sure you have many, many questions.  No, I didn't know this would happen.  Yes, I knew it was a possibility.  Each of you wake up every day not knowing if it will be your last in the mortal realms.  Why should I be any different?  So I treasured every single moment during this visit and all those that came before.  And know this... there will be more to come.  You know how this story goes.  You've read the Book.

Zeke laughed as he swiped at some tears.  He looked over to Joshua's desk where he'd likely written the letter, possibly during the previous night.  A pen lay there, uncapped.

"Lord..." he murmured before continuing.

Regardless of the outcome, I know you'll be fretting over me.  Was he scared?  Did he feel any pain?  Did he feel that hatred?  And the answer to all of those questions will be yes.  But that's only a tiny piece of the truth.  When that moment came, I also felt so much love... your love and the love of so many others who know me by so many different names.  Ama's and Abi's...  My little Mary's...  Yohannan's...  Just as I did so many years ago.  And I'll have felt my Dad's love.  And whether I open my eyes again in Paradise or in a hospital, I know I will be with those who love me.  So do not be afraid, my own.  I'm with you still.  I'm with you always.  Sometimes you can see me.  Sometimes you can't.  But I am always, always there and always, always loving you.

Yours eternally,

Zeke grabbed his handkerchief from out of his pocket and dabbed his face.  He longed to hug Joshua, to tell him that he loved him, too, and always would.  And, thankfully, there would be time for that soon.  There would be no burial.  No awful Saturday. 

Easter was now.



When Salma, Raheem, Liyana, and Ibrahim silently entered Joshua's room, he lay peacefully with his eyes shut. 

With waves forward from the others, Salma approached him.

"J-Joshua?  Are you... awake?" she whispered.

His eyes suddenly wide, Joshua's head swiveled and he looked at the nun with a goofy grin. 

"I made a bang, you know!" he murmured excitedly.  "And it was BIG!  And then it was like planet, planet, planet..."

Salma gawked.  Somehow, she hadn't considered the possibility that Joshua might be, well, doped up.

And then she noticed the corners of his mouth begin to tremble.  He became less wide-eyed and his expression took on a more mischievous aspect.

Salma giggled.

Joshua smiled and held a hand out to her.

"It's all right, Salma.  I'm fine.  Come here, please."

Salma gripped his hand in both of hers.

"I... I want to hug you but..."

"You can hug my left side all you want.  Might need to be a little careful of the right side.  Don't wanna get on Dr. Neeley's, well, bad side."  Joshua waggled his eye brows.

"Joshua..."  Salma shot him a teasing look then moved to gently embrace him.

"That's my girl," Joshua whispered into her ear as they hugged.  "Thank you... for holding me, being with me, loving me."

Unable to speak, Salma nodded against his shoulder.

"I love you so much... my brave, beautiful Salma."

"I... I love you, too."  Salma leaned up and smiled at Joshua then kissed his forehead.  "You... you look good."

"I feel pretty good," Joshua replied.  He reached up to stroke some hair behind her ear.  "Better now."

"Good.  Very good."  Salma glanced over at the trio near the door.  "Raheem, Liyana, and the imam are here, too."

Joshua turned and smiled at them.

"Greetings!  What did I miss?"

The man's casual, friendly tone put the Azizis and Raheem at ease.

"Some major flip-outtage!" Ibrahim responded.  "Joshua..."  He clasped his good hand.  "I'm so glad you're okay.  So very, very glad.  We..."  A lump in his throat cut him off.

"We were all so worried," Liyana continued.  "You... you... it looked... bad."

Raheem nodded.  He was studying Joshua, looking for some hint to his own miraculous recovery.

Joshua looked sympathetically at them.

"I'm sure.  I'm sorry you all had to see that.  But I'm a tough cookie."

"Understatement," Salma muttered, lightly nudging him.

"So I hear.  Kyle told us you'd previously been stabbed?" Raheem checked.

Joshua cocked his head for a moment then nodded.

"Oh... right.  Long time ago."

"The surgeon said the scar tissue prevented the bullet from traveling much.  It... it's a miracle," Raheem continued.

Joshua smiled.

"Lots of miracles today.  I'm so thankful that the rest of you weren't harmed.  Well..."  He waved to the imam's ear.

"It's nothing.  I've done worse trying to trim my hair," Ibrahim demurred.  "I... I am just so grateful..."  He shook his head.  "If... if it had hit your heart..."

"But it didn't," Joshua reminded.  "And I'm okay."  He heaved a sigh.  "The police told me they have the shooter.  He's not doing well."  He left off telling them what his Dad had told him: the shooter was in the very same OR he had so recently departed.

"The police took my shirt," Raheem blurted out.  "There was a hole in it.  A bullet hole."

Salma, who had seen what Joshua had done, bowed her head.

"How is that possible?" Ibrahim questioned.  "You don't have a scratch on you."

Raheem peered at Joshua who gave him an enigmatic smile.

"I really am so glad you suffered no lasting harm, Raheem," he reiterated.

The man cocked his head, pondering Joshua's word choice.  No lasting harm...

"But...  I'm a big believer in talking with others to help you through trauma.  I know I plan to.  I would suggest you all do the same," Joshua counseled.  "Just because we all made it through physically doesn't mean there isn't emotional damage.  It can be very painful to realize that someone, even a stranger, bears such hatred towards you that they wanted to harm... even kill... you."

Salma nodded.

"Therapy has helped me a great deal.  I haven't been going as much in the past months but... I think I'll be making an appointment soon."

"Good idea," Joshua encouraged.

"I think we should go see someone," Liyana said to her husband.  "At least... I want to."

Ibrahim nodded.

"I agree.  But first..."  He sighed raggedly.  "Joshua... I... I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight if I don't get something off my chest."

"We can leave if..." Raheem began to offer.

Ibrahim shook his head.

"No, it's fine.  You and Liyana know.  Salma, I apologize in advance because... knowing your friendship with Joshua... I know this will hurt you and I'm so sorry for that but...  When I think about if... if you'd died, Joshua, and I hadn't been able to... to apologize..."  The imam began to weep.

Alarmed, Salma settled into a chair.

Liyana stroked her husband's back when he knelt by Joshua's bed.

Moved to pity, Joshua rested his hand on Ibrahim's head.

"Tell me?"

"I...  briefly...  I believed that... that maybe you were sending the letters."

"What?!" Salma exclaimed.

Ibrahim met her horrified gaze and shrugged.

"It... it was foolish.  B-but I thought maybe...  I mean...  You are so kind.  Going... out of your way to... to help people," he explained to Joshua.  "And in my jaded mind...  No one is that good.  So I started to think you were one of those sick people who... who create need so they can swoop in and... and be the comforter... the fixer.  You know what I mean?"

Joshua nodded. 

"I know what you're talking about."

"Liyana and Raheem both told me I was off-base.  Liyana made me sleep alone."


"Sorry!  Sorry!"

Joshua smiled gently at Liyana.

"Thank you for defending me.  And you, too, Raheem.  But Ibrahim..."  He lifted the man's chin.  "You were scared and stressed.  And you're right.  I do just kinda swoop in and want to fix things sometimes.  It's just... who I am."

Salma smiled to herself.

"So I can understand how you'd think that.  I'm not angry at you, Ibrahim.  Truly.  I understand and I forgive you, my friend."

Relieved for her husband, Liyana beamed at Joshua with brimming eyes.

"Thank you... thank you, Josh," Ibrahim effused.  "I really am so sor..."

"No."  Joshua waved his hands.  "That's enough.  It's forgotten.  Your people will need you, Ibrahim.  They're frightened, pained...  You need to be strong and help them, Liyana, yourself... not focus on a silly misunderstanding.  I know I won't be."

Ibrahim brushed at his tears and smiled at Joshua.

"O-okay then...  I'll try not to think about it again.  So speaking of the people... I think we should postpone or even move the health fair."

Joshua shook his head.

"No!  You spoke of how much it meant to everyone.  Now there's even more reason to welcome the community in, let them see you as you truly are... so things like this don't happen.  And I happen to believe that most of the people out there want to show their support."


"A little bird told me that Rabbi Yakov is planning a multi-faith prayer service at St. G's tonight.  Go.  And if you still feel hesitant, we can talk more about it tomorrow.  Please?" Joshua requested.

Listening, Salma once again smiled to herself.  No doubt the Spirit... a little bird... had relayed the news to Joshua.

"All right...  Liyana and I did want to go tonight.  Raheem?  How about you and Hura?"

"Yes..."  Raheem gave a ready nod.  "I'd like to be there.  I think Hura will go, too.  Maybe the kids, too."

"Good.  I'll be sorry to miss it.  But I'm sure I'll be kept in the loop."  Joshua smiled knowingly.  The Friends would definitely share Facebook Live videos with him.

"I'm sure you will be," Liyana agreed.  "But now...  We better let the next group in.  Poor, little Violeta was absolutely beside herself, Josh."

"My poor Duckling," Joshua murmured before smiling at his guests.  "I'm so glad to see you all.  So very, very glad.  And I'll get back to the mosque just as soon as..."

"Don't rush yourself!" Ibrahim interrupted.  "Your recovery is more important than fixing a couple retaining walls and some shelves."

"I know, I know.  But...  I like to keep busy.  If nothing else, I can order Takoda and Raheem around.  Eh, Raheem?"

Beaming, Raheem nodded.  Whomever Joshua was, he longed to get back to working with him.

"I would very happily take orders," he assured.  "Rest well, Josh."

"Call if there's anything we can do for you," Liyana offered.

"I will, thank you."

Ibrahim squeezed Joshua's uninjured hand tightly.

"I'm so glad you're okay, my friend.  So glad."

Joshua squeezed his hand back.

"I'm very glad you're okay, too.  I'll see you soon."

"Yes... definitely."

As the others moved towards the door, Salma kissed Joshua's brow again.

"I love you so much, Zmaray."

"I love you, too.  So much, sweet Salma."

Joshua kissed her hand and smiled after the four as they retreated.  The door hadn't even closed behind them when Violeta rushed in, quickly followed by Ivy, Sy, and Fr. Mike.

"Be careful of his right side!" Sy called.

Violeta redirected herself and plopped down at Joshua's left side.

"J-Joshua!" she wailed.

"I'm right here, Duckling.  I'm just fine..." he consoled.

Teary eyed but smiling; Ivy, Sy, and Fr. Mike gathered near.

"So this has been our afternoon," Sy jested.

Joshua smiled as the angel nuzzled into his shoulder.

"Thanks, I owe you."

"Never!" Ivy countered as she gently stroked Joshua's left arm, just above the bandages.  "I'm just so grateful that Fr. Mike was on campus.  I can't imagine what sort of state any of us would have been in if we'd learned from those news alerts."

"I'm glad for that, too.  Thanks, Mike."  Joshua smiled at the priest.

"Of course.  I was glad to have company on the drive.  I was pretty rattled myself."

"One site picked up on the fact that it's Good Friday in the Orthodox churches," Sy informed.  "So you can imagine how they ran with that.  This city sure has a lot of tabloids!"

"Always wanted to be a tabloid star," Joshua kidded. 

"Well, you got your wish!"  Fr. Mike shook his head in amusement then sobered.  "But how are you feeling?"

"Really well, actually.  Hardly feel a thing.  I know that won't last but... I'll enjoy it for now.  How's everyone else?"

"Recovering," Ivy relayed.  "I... I don't think any of us expected this to... to happen to you... a-again."

Joshua carefully moved his left hand and tweaked one of Ivy's curls.

"Even when the pain meds wear off, it'll be nothing like before.  Don't you concern yourself with that.  But I know... it had to have been a shock.  At points, I wanted to tell all of you that this was a possibility but I didn't know myself how it would turn out and... I didn't want a pall hanging over our time together.  I had so much fun on Wednesday night and last night, too.  Talking to all of you, hearing you laugh... it gave me strength to face whatever was coming.  And I knew that even if the worst happened, you'd know our separation was only temporary.  I left you all a note in my Bible back at Willowveil."

Sy perked up.

"You did?  Dad left to collect some clothes and stuff for you.  Maybe he'll find it.  I'm sure he'd pack your Bible."

"I'm sure he would, too," Joshua concurred.  "And... I'm glad it wasn't found under other circumstances."

"Me too," Fr. Mike whispered, rubbing at his eyes. 

"When will you come home?" Violeta asked, her voice hushed and trembling.

"Not sure.  No more than five days from now.  Hoping to get out early on good behavior."

At last, Violeta lifted her head briefly and smiled.

"I hope you do, too."

As Violeta nestled back down, conversation turned to discussion of the prayer vigil that evening which heartened Joshua and his visitors.


In the Tunnels, Vincent paced the nursery, keeping a watchful eye on the children and babies.  The beds and cribs were fuller than usual as most of the Friends' little ones had been brought there once news of the shooting had spread amongst their parents. 

Vincent was greatly relieved that once the children had learned that Joshua was going to be all right, their wailing had given way to weary silence... then chatter... then laughing... and, finally, they'd succumbed to a delayed nap time.

Once their needs were taken care of, Vincent finally allowed the wave of emotions to hit him fully.

Joshua had been shot...

Joshua could have died...

One of his own creations had pulled the trigger...

Just as others had lashed the whip... driven the nails...

As tears threatened, Vincent made his way to Raquel, Allison, Robert, Shelby, and his son who were sharing in the babysitting duties.

"I'm going to the chapel for a few moments since it's quiet.  Jacob, please come get me if any of the children wake up and you need help," he requested.

"Yes, Papa."

"You take your time, Vincent," Raquel encouraged.

"We'll be okay," Shelby added.

Vincent smiled and nodded.

"I know you will be.  Thank you."

After exiting the nursery, Vincent hastened to the chapel.  He was surprised when he found it empty.  But then those who had congregated there earlier were likely taking naps like the children or enjoying some quiet time.  It had been an exhausting three hours that had seemed to stretch on for days, after all.

Vincent collapsed onto a bench near one of Owen's paintings.  It perfectly captured Joshua's spirit. 

Withdrawing his mother's rosary from his pocket, the man began to pray.  He didn't pray the rosary, at least not often.  But the feeling of the beads in his hands soothed him.

"Joshua... I hope you can hear me," he whispered.  "How I... I wish I could come see you.  But... you know.  I know I could ask Joe to sneak me in via a body bag... like before.  With our Psyche.  But I pray you're released soon.  I... I'd really like to talk to you.  This... it... it was the first real crisis since Father went Home and I... I'm not sure I can..."  A sob cut off his voice.  "I... I felt so... so alone.  And I know part of that was being without Catherine.  Even with Raquel, Allison, and Robert helping...  I still felt like so many people were looking to me for answers, for comfort.  And I had no answers... not enough arms or words to comfort them all.  But I... it made me realize how... how much I miss him.  Father.  And I know I'll see him again some day.  I do.  You gave me that.  But...  I needed him today and..."

Vincent shook his head and sobbed for several minutes.

Then two tiny voices broke through.



Hurriedly brushing at his tears, Vincent turned to see his two youngest granddaughters in the entryway.  He rose to his feet and smiled.

"Hello, Annabelle and Aurora.  It's okay.  Come in."

The girls scampered forward and stood in front of their grandfather, eyes wide.

"Are you crying, Grampa?" Belle asked.

"Appa..." Aurora cooed.

Vincent swooped the smaller girl onto his left knee and then placed Belle onto his right.

"Yes, I've been crying," he answered.

"Because Joshua was hurt?" Belle surmised.

Vincent nodded.

"Yes, because Joshua was hurt.  But also..."  He sighed.  "I miss my father.  Sometimes when we're going through difficult times, it makes us miss those who have gone to Heaven."

Belle rested her head on Vincent's shoulder.

"I miss Father, too."

Aurora nodded.

Vincent smiled and kissed them both.

"I know.  He loved you both very much.  He said you were as 'cute as buttons and smart as whips,'" Vincent relayed, pleased with how well he'd been able to mimic Father's voice.

The girls beamed.

"You were his baby," Belle intoned.  "You and Uncle Devin."

Vincent smiled sadly and nodded.

"I was, yes."

"A baby like Avi."

"Just like Avi."

"Did Father sing his song for you?"

"His song?"

"The dilly, dilly song."  Belle frowned.  "I'm starting to forget it, Grampa."

Vincent's eyes welled again.  He'd never caught Father singing his old lullaby to Belle.  But clearly he had.

"Did it go like this?  'Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green.  When you are queen, dilly dilly, I shall be king.'"

Aurora clapped and Belle grinned and nodded.

"That's it, Grampa!" 

"Sing da rest?" Aurora requested.

Vincent smiled and nodded.

"I will do that for my queens."

The girls snuggled back against their grandfather and listened intently.

"'Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green.  When you are queen, dilly dilly, I shall be king.  Who told you so, dilly dilly?  Who told you so?  'Twas my own heart, dilly dilly, that told me so.'"

As his little ones swayed against him, Vincent smiled.  He could remember Father swinging around their chamber with him in his arms.

"'Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green.  When you are prince, dilly dilly, I shall be king.'"

Vincent thanked Joshua as he realized that Father was with him still... in his voice, in his thoughts, in his heart.  He was no king.  But he was the patriarch.  Father had made him so.  And he would continue to help him through every trial that came.


"Well...  Rabbi Yakov and Tiva aren't back yet," Owen observed as he and JenniAnn studied the schedule.  "So... I think you and Andrew should pop in there."

"Just the two of us?"

Owen shrugged.

"Why not?  I don't think you need a chaperone."

JenniAnn gave him a trembling smile.

"Oh... yeah.  Okay."

Owen hugged her.

"Still the same Joshua."

"Yeah...  I just...  Not used to seeing him so... vulnerable."

"All the more reason to go in there and be your clingy, cuddly self."

JenniAnn smiled and nodded.

"Yeah... okay."


"Thanks, O... for the pep talk."

"You bet."

After a hug from her friend, JenniAnn went to grab Andrew from the corner of the waiting room where he was visiting with Roger and Mason.

"Hey.  So... the rabbi and Tiva aren't back yet.  Owen thinks we should take our turn now, Andrew," she informed.

"Oh.  Good idea.  Okay."  Andrew returned his attention to the two men.  "I'll be back in a bit."

"Sounds good."

"No rush."

Andrew smiled at the two then rose and took JenniAnn's hand.

"You doing okay?" he checked.

"Uh huh."

"A little nervous, maybe?"

"Uh huh."

Andrew kissed her hair.

"Me too... a little.  More about how I'll react."

JenniAnn looked up at him with a wan smile.


They made their way to Joshua's room and spied a nurse hovering near him, taking notes.  Spotting the visitors, she turned and smiled at them.

"C'mon in!  Almost done here.  I'm sure Mr. Davidson would prefer your company to mine."

"I love all my company," Joshua protested.  "Including yours, Caroline.  Thank you.  And Joshua, please."

"All right...  Joshua.  Everything looks good so... I'll leave you three alone."

Andrew and JenniAnn stood still as the nurse brushed past them.

Joshua cocked his head and smiled.

"Don't worry.  I don't bite."  He lowered his voice.  "Clearly not in lion-mode right now."

The joke roused Andrew and JenniAnn who ran towards his bed and knelt on either side.

"Oh, Joshua...  I... I was so worried when... when..."  JenniAnn kissed his good hand then rested her head against it.

"I know..."  Tears filled Joshua's eyes as he stroked her hair.  "I've been concerned about the two of you especially."

Andrew raised his head and peered, through his own tears, at Joshua.

"I knew it would remind you of before, Andrew."

"The... the Crucifixion," JenniAnn surmised.

Joshua nodded.

"Yes... but even moreso when it was your Laja lying here."

JenniAnn's eyes went wide.  She couldn't believe she hadn't thought of that.

Andrew nodded and his tears increased.

"It... it's hard not to think of then.  All... all of our friends crowded into a waiting room.  Thinking about how... how someone could do something so awful to someone I... I love so much," he confided.

JenniAnn peered up at Joshua who tilted his head towards the angel.  With some reluctance, she moved to kneel beside Andrew.

"I'm so sorry, my love.  I... I guess since I wasn't really there... I didn't even think."

Andrew smiled at her and rested his forehead against hers.

"It's okay.  It... it caught me off-guard, too."  He drew in and let out a deep breath.  "But we're all three of us here now.  And you're both fine."

"Very much so," JenniAnn assented.

"And feeling very, very loved," Joshua added.

"Good."  JenniAnn stood back up and brushed some hair from Joshua's brow.

Joshua shot Andrew a knowing, amused look as she felt for a temperature.

"They're monitoring me for any sign of infection," he assured.

"Oh, I know.  It's just... can't seem to stop myself."

"It's more than okay.  I just don't want you worrying about me.  I know this is all a shock... and it's a lot to process... and it could bring stuff up for you, too, JenniAnn.  Just because you don't remember much of the hospital, doesn't mean you don't remember the aftermath... the event itself," Joshua counseled.

"Yeah...  I... I remember the itching when it started to heal."  JenniAnn cringed.

Joshua chuckled.

"I can handle some itchiness.  And by the time that sets in, I think I'll be more comfortably settled somewhere with very attentive friends."  Joshua winked at the two.  "So don't go renting out my room."

Andrew laughed, welcoming the lessening of tension.

"Oh, trust me.  Won't be doing that.  I think I'd be banned to my workshop for life if I did."

"Oh yeah," JenniAnn teased before sighing and looking back at Joshua.  "You do look really good considering..."

"Thank you!"

"But... how are you holding up?  I... I'm just thinking... it was hard enough thinking about Rex shooting me.  But I didn't actually ever care about Rex.  This kid... you..."  A sob choked JenniAnn off.

"You created him," Andrew finished, gazing tenderly at Joshua.

Joshua stared across the room and nodded then reached for JenniAnn's hand and looked to Andrew.

"I did.  And I remember every moment.  And I hope and pray that we'll make peace... that he'll see the error of his ways.  But, for right now, I'm surrounded by those who love me.  My Dad is with me.  The Spirit is with me.  I'm okay.  Truly.  And... I know it's expecting too much to want you both to go ahead with your anniversary celebration tonight."

"I... I can't," JenniAnn confirmed as Andrew shook his head.

"I know.  But I don't want you to let it pass unnoticed.  First night I'm back at Willowveil, I'm watching the kids.  Got it?"

Andrew and JenniAnn exchanged a smile then nodded, in unison, at Joshua.

"Good."  Joshua sighed contently.

"The kids will be thrilled.  And... it will be nice."  Andrew squeezed Joshua's good hand.  "But for now..."

"We better let the next folks come in," JenniAnn concluded with a frown.  "But we'll visit again."

"Absolutely," Andrew confirmed.

"Good."  Joshua smiled as JenniAnn bent down to kiss his brow.

Andrew did the same and squeezed Joshua's shoulder.

"You let us know if you need anything.  Night or day, doesn't matter."

"I know and I will.  Thank you."

"Love you, Joshua," JenniAnn murmured.

"Very much," the angel of death added.

"And I love you both very much.  I'll see you soon."

"Soon..." JenniAnn echoed as Andrew led her out of the room.

Once they were in the hallway, they both leaned against the wall for a few moments, collecting themselves.

Joshua was fine...  But an uneasiness remained for them both.


"All right, Kemara, Sean, Basil, and Azalea, you're next," Owen called to the dwindling group in the waiting room.  He turned to his fiance.  "And then us!"

Graham smiled back. 

"And we're going to stay with him during the vigil?"

Owen nodded.

"I want to.  I mean... it would be cool to be there.  But I'd just as soon stay with Joshua.  You can go if..."

Graham shook his head.

"No, no.  I'll stay.  It's just... I'd like to talk to you first about something.  Please."

Owen frowned.

"All right..."

Graham clasped Owen's right hand in both of his.

"Since this afternoon...  I've been thinking.  And I... I don't think we're going to find the perfect wedding weekend.  I don't think we're going to get a week-long honeymoon.  At least... not any time soon.  And, in the meantime, God only knows what could happen.  No one saw this coming!"

"No... we didn't," Owen murmured.

"A-and...  Owen, your grandma's not going to live forever.  Vincent... is not going to live forever."  Tears began to trail down Graham's face.

"Graham...  Sheesh...  Today was enough without getting all morbid."

"Just hear me out!  What if... if Joshua hadn't woken up?  Even... even knowing he'd be back... tonight would have been brutal.  And I... I wouldn't have wanted to spend it alone.  I would have wanted to... to spend it with my husband," Graham stressed.

Owen bowed his head and nodded.

"Me too."

"So... so let's get married.  Tomorrow."

Owen's head shot back up.


"I... I have an idea.  But I want to run it by Joshua first.  But... would you want to get married tomorrow?"

Owen peered into Graham's intense, pleading eyes.

He nodded.

"Yes.  Very much."

Graham let out a deep breath and smiled.

"Good.  So... here's what I'm thinking..."


The Vigil

Raheem sat on his couch, staring at nothing in particular.  He was lost in his thoughts as his family rushed around him.

"Amala...  Longer shirt.  Now, please.  This is a prayer vigil," Hura shouted. 

"All right..."

"And Iz...  You put on another shirt, too.  What is that all over that one?!"

The young boy looked down at his shirt.

"Cheeto dust."

Hura wrinkled her nose.

"Change.  Now."

"Dad, can Christopher walk to the vigil with us?" Amala called from behind her bedroom door.

Raheem came to and cocked his head in his daughter's direction.


Exasperated, Amala exited her room, yanking at her shirt.

"Good enough?" she asked her mother.

"I'll allow it."

"Good.  And yeah... Christopher.  From Bio II.  I told you about him last night."

"Sweetie, your dad's had a rough day," Hura reminded.

"I know...  But..." 

"Oh right...  Yeah."  Raheem nodded.  "I didn't realize he was coming."

"Yeah.  I guess his parents took him to see Joshua perform a few years back.  He says they're all pretty upset.  His parents are walking with the Christians but... he wants to come with us.  That's okay, right?"


"I'm still really sorry it happened... but I think it's going to be really beautiful," Amala opined.

Raheem smiled at her.

"I think so, too."

"Are you... scared at all?" she quietly asked.

"A little maybe.  And you don't have to..."

"I'm going!"

"Okay.  But, yes, I'm a little scared.  Maybe more... nervous.  But the police will be out, keeping watch."

"I'm still a little wary," Hura admitted.  "I mean, yes, they got the shooter but that's only one sicko among many."

"And we let them win if we hide away," Raheem countered.

"Yes, I suppose..."

"Will Joshua be there?" Ismail asked, perking up.

"No, sweetie.  Sorry.  He'll probably be in the hospital for a few days yet."  Hura stroked the boy's hair.

"Do you think Iz and I could visit him at some point?" Amala asked.  "He's pretty cool for an old guy."

Raheem laughed.  Joshua was likely five, maybe even ten, years younger than him.

"An old guy?" he pressed playfully.

Amala grinned and shrugged.

"Old to me.  But he knows all the names of the guys in BTS."

"Oh then he's definitely cool!" Hura teased her daughter.

With a chuckle, Raheem nodded.

"I'll look into that.  But I think he'd appreciate the visit.  Maybe on Sunday.  Give him a full day to rest before we release you two rascals on him."

Iz smiled as his father tousled his hair.

"And now... do the children pass your inspection, Hura?" Raheem checked.

After giving her son and daughter a once over, Hura nodded.

"They do."

"All right.  Let's go.  But first..."  Raheem held his arms out.  "Family hug."

Hura and the children moved in.

As he held his family, Raheem thought of the man in the hospital bed... the man who may have saved him from death.


At last, Owen and Graham found themselves as Joshua's final visitors for the night.

"Hey there," Graham greeted.  "How you holding up?"

Joshua turned to them and beamed.

"Good.  Maybe going a little hoarse so please excuse that."

"Happily."  Owen hugged him and kissed his cheek.

"We're just so glad you're doing okay.  You had us all..."  Graham heaved a sigh as he embraced Joshua.

"Two seconds away from needing to buy our very own asylum," Owen joked.

Joshua chuckled.

"I don't know about that.  But... I do know it was incredibly distressing."  Joshua looked tenderly at the two men.  "How are you two holding up?"

"Better now." 

"Yeah..."  Owen squeezed Graham's hand.  "And... maybe even better by tomorrow.  Graham has an idea he wants to tell you about."

"Oh?" Joshua looked eagerly at the man.

"Yeah.  So...  Owen and I want to get married.  Tomorrow."

A smile stretched across the carpenter's face.

"That's wonderful!"  He moved to hold his arms aloft then, wincing slightly, remembered his bad side. 

Carefully, Owen and Graham hugged him.

"I'm sorry I won't be able to be there in the flesh but... you know I'll be there in spirit, right?" Joshua checked.

The couple exchanged a look.

"Actually...  Owen spoke to your charge nurse and she agreed that... as long as we didn't linger too long... she'd allow six people in your room.  Owen, me, Fr. Mike, Shane, and JenniAnn... our witnesses... and Owen's grandma.  We'd like to get married here, Joshua.  With you," Graham explained.

Joshua bowed his head and began to weep.

Panicked, Owen sent Graham a pleading glance.

"Joshua..."  Graham gently patted his back.

After clearing his throat, Joshua looked to the two.

"That means so... so much to me.  Truly.  So much.  But... here?"  He looked around the staid room.

Relieved, Owen smiled.

"We'll pretty it up.  We need to, anyway, if you're going to be here for a few days.  And we'll go to St. G's and repeat it all for everyone and have a proper reception.  But..."

"We want to be with you when we say our 'I dos' for the first time, Joshua."

"My boys..." Joshua cooed.

Owen took his right hand and Graham placed his hand on Joshua's left forearm.

"So we can do it?" Owen checked.

Joshua laughed through his tears.

"Of course!  I... I really am... so moved.  And relieved.  Finally!"

"I mean we were going to do it eventually.  You really didn't need to go and get yourself shot to make it happen," Owen jested.  "So dramatic..."

"Owen!" Graham hissed.

But Joshua only laughed, thanking the Father for the pure joy he felt.


That evening, just after dusk, Tyron and Matthew, along with several other officers, were stationed a few blocks away from St. Genesius'.  An assortment of news anchors and camera operators lined the street.

"I think I see the first group approaching," Tyron announced, pointing to the north.

"And the second!" a woman shouted, indicating the east.

"You can definitely hear them!"  Matthew beamed. 

"There's the last of them!  Wow..."  Stunned, another officer removed his cap.

From the north, Bishop Tony, Fr. Mike, and Salma led most of the Friends and an array of other Christians singing "Amazing Grace."  From the east, Rabbi Yakov and Tiva led their congregants and several other Jewish Manhattanites in a psalm.  From the west, the Azizis and Khalids led nearly the entire Manhattan Mosque and several members of the wider Muslim community in a hymn of their own.

"My God..."  Tyron fished around for his cell phone and, once he found it, began to take video.

Arriving on the scene, Joe and Angie exited their car.  They had tears in their eyes as they joined the officers.

"It's so beautiful..." Angie murmured.  "I... I wish Joshua could see this.  Live and in person."

"He is," Joe reassured as he looped an arm around her waist.  "Somehow... he is."

When the three groups reached the blocked off streets, they began to intermingle.  Their three songs faded away and were replaced by one resounding anthem.

"'Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on Earth,
the peace that was meant to be.

With God as our Father,
brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother,
in perfect harmony.'"

With police escorting them and several people looking down from their fire escapes and balconies, the combined group proceeded towards St. Genesius' and continued to sing.

"'Let peace begin with me.
Let this be the moment now.
With ev'ry step I take,
let this be my solemn vow,
to take each moment and live
each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
and let it begin with me."

When they reached the parking lot, a few more of the Friends greeted them and distributed votive candles and programs.

After a second round of "Let There Be Peace on Earth," Rabbi Yakov moved to a microphone placed in the center of a makeshift platform.

"Greetings, friends.  I am so pleased that so many of you are able to join us this evening.  If you're like me, you felt some apprehension about gathering together, about creating a spectacle in light of what happened.  But I thank you for putting aside those fears and concerns.  Now, more than ever, it's important that we gather together to support each other, love each other, and take a stand against hatred and for faith, hope, and love."

The crowd cheered and clapped in agreement.

"We especially want to support and love our brothers and sisters from the Manhattan Mosque who suffered a tragic loss today.  Thank God, no one was killed in this morning's attack.  But their sense of security and of safety has been shaken.  Blood was shed on their grounds, on the sign welcoming all to their place of worship.  And it was there that our Joshua, the man who unites so many of us here in friendship, was gravely wounded.  Thankfully, he is on the road to recovery and, at this very moment, is following our prayer service from his hospital bed."

A cacophony of shouts of love and well wishes resounded.

Rabbi Yakov smiled, imagining Joshua being able to pick out each and every word and voice and match them to his beloved children.  When the shouting died down, he spoke again.

"The three faiths represented here tonight... Judaism, Christianity, and Islam... share a common origin.  We're often referred to as the Abrahamic faiths.  It is written that the Lord took Abraham... then Abram... outside and indicated the stars.  He challenged Abram to count the stars and then promised him, as numerous as they were, so would his descendants be.  We are those stars, my friends.  When God spoke to Abram, you were in His mind and heart.  It was us, and so many who came before us and so many who will come after us, that He spoke of to Abram.  We share that history, that patriarch.  But those of us here also share someone else: Joshua.  My congregation and I have been blessed many times when he's come to celebrate Shabbat with us at our synagogue.  Many of you know him for his moving portrayal of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar.  You've welcomed him into your churches.  And, most recently, he was employed by Imam Ibrahim at the Manhattan Mosque.  He spent time in prayer with many of you there, too.  So in honor of our shared ancestry, our shared friend, and, most importantly, our God... we'd like to pray together.  If you'd like to pray along, please refer to the paper you were handed when you arrived.  Now, I ask my wife, Tiva, to lead us in the recitation of Psalm 91."

Tiva embraced her husband then took his place and began to pray.

"'Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day...'"

Once she'd finished the psalm, Tiva smiled at the crowd.

"Now I'd like to welcome Archbishop Tony Merriman to lead us in the Our Father."

Tony hugged Tiva.

"I'm so glad you and Yakov thought of this.  I'll admit... my mind went black when I heard about Joshua," he whispered.  "But this... this is beautiful."

"It truly is," Tiva replied.  "I only wish we could see Joshua's reaction."

The priest nodded in agreement, squeezed Tiva's hand, and moved to the podium.

"Friends, if you're so called, please join me in reciting the Lord's Prayer.  'Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.'"

As the archbishop prayed, Ibrahim clung to his wife, his head bowed and his eyes closed.

Liyana could feel his hand trembling.  She rested her head against his shoulder.

"'Give us this day our daily bread.   And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.   And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.'"

"Amen," the crowd echoed.

"Love, your turn," Liyana murmured.

"Go with me?" Ibrahim pleaded.

With a nod, Liyana accompanied her husband to the podium.

"And now a prayer led by Imam Ibrahim Azizi," Tony introduced.  He embraced both Ibrahim and Liyana. 

Ibrahim clapped the man on the back then took a deep breath and looked out at the crowd. 

"This is a Sufi prayer and, though I am not a Sufi, I found it was on my heart today," he explained.  "I invite you to pray it along with me... especially since I'm not sure my voice will last," he admitted, teary-eyed.  "So... here goes.  'Send us Thy peace, O Lord, which is perfect and everlasting, that our souls may radiate peace.  Send us Thy peace, O Lord, that we may think, act, and speak harmoniously.  Send us Thy peace, O Lord, that we may be contented and thankful for Thy bountiful gifts.'"

Hearing so many... Jewish, Christian, and Muslim... recite the words together, Ibrahim was overcome just as he suspected he would be.  When his own voice came out as a mere rasp, Liyana took over leading the prayer.

"'Send us Thy peace, O Lord, that amidst our worldly strife we may enjoy Thy bliss.  Send us Thy peace, O Lord, that we may endure all and tolerate all in the thought of Thy grace and mercy.  Send us Thy peace, O Lord, that our lives may become a divine vision, and in Thy light all darkness may vanish.  Send us Thy peace, O Lord, our Father and Mother, that we, Thy children on earth may all unite in one family.  Amen.'"


Drawing in and letting out a deep breath, Ibrahim smiled out at the crowd.

"On behalf of everyone at the Manhattan Mosque, I want to thank you all for coming out tonight to support us and our brother, Joshua.  This morning...  I pray I never see anything like that again.  But tonight... tonight I will hold in my heart until the day I die.  I... I wish I could say more to you... to more fully express my gratitude but..."  He cleared his throat.  "Just... just know that your being here... each and every one of you... means so much.  Thank you."

"Thank you," Liyana echoed before gently leading her overcome husband back to his seat.

After shouts of love and support from the crowd, Rabbi Yakov reclaimed his place at the podium. 

"It felt appropriate to gather here... in a place of creativity, humanity, love, and music.  A place where so many of us were moved by Joshua's voice.  Though he can't be with us to sing tonight, I hope you'll be moved by our next performance which is inspired by him.  Zeke, please come up here."

Zeke, along with Peter and Mick, took to the stage. 

"As many of you know," Zeke began, "I had the honor of portraying Judas Iscariot when Joshua was playing Jesus.  As you can imagine, it was a very intense and moving experience.  But I told Joshua that I regretted that all our songs together were antagonistic.  I... I love Joshua.  He's the best friend I've ever had.  And so, that year, for my birthday... Joshua surprised me with a duet.  It meant the world to me.  It's a song about the constancy of God's love for us.  Since Joshua's not here, Peter offered to sing his part and Mick here will be strumming along on Joshua's own guitar.  I know he's here in spirit and, Joshua, know that we love you.  So much."

After the three men exchanged a quick hug, Mick sat down and began to strum.  Soon, Zeke's soulful voice sang out.

"'I know I need You.  I need to love You.  I'd love to see You, but it's been so long...  I long to feel You.  I feel this need for You.  And I need to hear You, is that so wrong?'"

With a wave from Zeke, the rest of the Friends joined him in the chorus of "ohs" with the crowd soon joining in.

"'Now You pull me near You.  When we're close, I fear You.  Still I'm afraid to tell You, all that I've done.  Are You done forgiving?  Oh, can You look past my pretending?  Lord, I'm so tired of defending, what I've become.  What have I become?'"

The chorus resumed.  Zeke's eyes misted as he saw people with their arms linked, swaying.

"'I hear you say...'" he sang before Peter joined him at the microphone and took over.

"'My love is over.  It's underneath.  It's inside.  It's in between.  The times that you doubt me.  When you can't feel.  The times that you question, "Is this for real?"  The times you're broken.  The times that you mend.  The times you hate me.  And the times that you bend.  Well, my love is over.  It's underneath.  It's inside.  It's in between.'"

When Peter began to weep, Zeke slung an arm around his shoulders to buoy him.

"He's with you," he whispered.

Peter nodded and resumed the song... for Joshua.


Back in his hospital bed, with Owen and Graham seated on either side, Joshua sang along with Peter.  Tears streamed down his own face.

"The times that you're healing and when your heart breaks.  The times that you feel like you've fallen from grace.  The times you're hurting.  The times that you heal.  The times you go hungry and are tempted to steal.  In times of confusion, in chaos and pain.  I'm there in your sorrow under the weight of your shame.  I'm there through your heartache, I'm there in the storm.  My love, I will keep you by my power alone.  I don't care where you've fallen or where you have been.  I'll never forsake you.  My love never ends...  It never ends...'"

On Graham's laptop, they watched the three men on stage hold each other as they wept.

"Mick... Zeke... Peter..." Joshua murmured lovingly. 

"And look how into it the crowd got..."  Owen waved to the screen which showed people of all three faiths smiling with tears in their eyes and embracing each other.

"So beautiful..."  Joshua's hand lightly drifted across the screen.

Unable to resist the urge, Graham grabbed his phone and snuck a photograph of Joshua.  He wanted to be able to show their friends how moved and proud Joshua had been.


After brushing tears from her eyes, Emma approached the podium.

"I think I speak for us all when I say that was beautiful and truly appreciated, gentlemen.  But now...  I think it's time for something a little different.  Because we have great reason to be joyful tonight.  Three of the four people who were targeted this morning are here with us... healthy and whole.  And Joshua is expected to make a full recovery and be out of the hospital in five or so days."

Emma paused and beamed as the crowd cheered Joshua's name.  When it finally died down, she spoke again.

"So...  A friend asked if he could perform the following song for you.  It's not a religious song.  But I think its themes of love, home, and unity speak to why we're here tonight.  So, without further adieu...  I'd like to welcome Takoda backed by St. Genesius' Jesus Christ Superstar band!"

"Did you know about this?" JenniAnn shouted to Andrew when the crowd began shouting with excitement.

"The band coming back or Takoda?" the angel of death replied.


Andrew chuckled and shook his head.

"Takoda said he wanted to do something... but sing?  No.  And I had no idea about the band."

JenniAnn swiped at tears as the band members lined the front of the platform.


Andrew wrapped an arm around her waist and nodded.

Takoda hugged Emma before beginning to speak.

"Hi.  Umm...  So I've known Joshua all my life.  And, umm, earlier this year we had a falling out.  It was all on me.  As always... he... he was kind and loving and... and tried to help me see the truth.  But I was so blinded by... by my own grief and wants that I... didn't listen.  We made our peace recently and I'd been helping him at the mosque.  I cherished every moment and... and when I heard about... what happened... it made me think of how I'd be feeling if... if he hadn't forgiven me for being a jerk... if I hadn't been able to make my peace with him.  So this song reminds me of... of coming back into his friendship and coming back to God... back to where I belong... back home."

Takoda sucked in a deep breath, let a shiver of anticipation go through him, and began to sing as the band softly backed him. 

"'I saw the sun begin to dim and felt that winter wind blow cold...  A man learns who is there for him when the glitter fades and the walls won't hold.  'Cause from that rubble what remains can only be what's true.  If all was lost, there's more I gained... 'cause it led me back... to you.'"

Knowing the second verse applied very little to him, Takoda had felt odd about singing it... until he'd realized it wasn't meant for him.  It was meant for another redeemed prodigal.

"Gotta go," Josef declared, grinning at Amber-Marie and Daisy before he left them in the crowd and ran onto the stage.

Beaming, Takoda handed the microphone to the former vampire who, to the shock of many, resumed the song in a surprisingly good, clear voice.

"'I drank champagne with kings and queens.  The politicians praised my name but those were someone else's dreams, the pitfalls of the man I became.  For years and years, I chased their cheers.  A crazy speed of always needing more...  But when I stop and see you here, I remember who all this was for!'"

Sensing that several in the crowd knew the song and were itching to sing along, Takoda beamed and shouted.

"Join in if ya want!"

Arms around each other's shoulders, Josef and Takoda joyfully sang out with the crowd joining them.

"'And from now on, these eyes will not be blinded by the lights.  From now on, what's waited 'til tomorrow starts tonight.  It starts tonight!  And let this promise in me start, like an anthem in my heart.  From now on!  From now on!  From now on!'"

"'And we will come back home!  And we will come back home!  Home again!  And we will come back home!  And we will come back home!  Home again!  And we will come back home!  And we will come back home!  Home again!'"

"'From now on!'"

Spontaneously, everyone began to move into circles: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  They spun as they sang, jumping when the song required a beat. 

"'And we will come back home!  And we will come back home!  Home again!  And we will come back home!  And we will come back home!  Home again!  And we will come back home!  And we will come back home!  Home again!'"

"'From now on...  These eyes will not be blinded by the lights.  From now on!  What's waited 'til tomorrow starts tonight.  It starts tonight!  Let this promise in me start, like an anthem in my heart.  From now on... From now on...  From now on...  From now on...  Home again...'"


In Joshua's hospital room, he, Owen, and Graham clapped and sang along.

"Takoda and Josef are no Hugh Jackman but, dang, they sound good!" Owen complimented.

Joshua nodded vigorously as he reached for a tissue to dab his face.

"They do...  And look at them all dance..."  Grinning, Graham shook his head in wonder. 

"Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.  I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow," Joshua intoned.

"Ya did," Owen affirmed, hugging him.

When the song ended, Joshua collapsed against his pillows and sighed with contentment.

"It is good..." he declared.

Eyes gleaming, Owen and Graham looked to each other then gazed tenderly at Joshua as he continued to study the screen.


Saturday, April 27th, 2019

It was shortly after midnight when, at last, the prayer vigil ended and the group dispersed... but not before Emma and Peter had promised to keep everyone updated on Joshua's progress via the theatre's Facebook page.

After bidding each other adieu with hugs and promises to see each other at Owen's and Graham's wedding, the Friends also departed.

While Andrew carried a sleeping Belle, JenniAnn collected Avi from Vincent and Catherine who had attended the prayer vigil from the safety of the theatre's office.

"He drifted in and out," Catherine reported.

"But, when he's older, he'll be glad to know he was here," Vincent assured.

"That's my hope."  JenniAnn kissed her sleeping son's brow then, after being hugged by her cousins, joined Andrew and Belle in the blue room where they stepped into the portal.

"I'll get Belle settled in.  You okay with Avi Boy?" Andrew checked.

JenniAnn stifled a yawn and nodded.

"Yup.  See you soon."


The two parted to get their little ones tucked away.  Once Avi was safe in his crib, JenniAnn readied herself for bed.  She glanced wistfully at the new nightgown she'd bought in honor of her and Andrew's anniversary.  She was glad Joshua was giving them a "rain date."  She had no energy for romance and, instead, pulled on some leggings and one of Andrew's old, bleach-spotted T-shirts.  It was definitely a night for comfort.

JenniAnn sunk into bed and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Alarmed, she rose and went in search of Andrew.  She checked Belle's room first but found only her daughter and the dogs, all three calmly sleeping.

Next was the chapel but it was empty.  So, too, was the angel's bedroom. 

It was when she returned to their room, hoping that Andrew had shown up, that she heard creaking above her.

Joshua's room.

JenniAnn knew better than to hope that he'd returned.  But she knew where she'd find her beloved.  She raced up the steps then slowed as she approached Joshua's bedroom and heard the sobs.

"Andrew... love..."  Tears welling in her own eyes, JenniAnn entered the room where Andrew sat on Joshua's bed, clutching his pillow.

The angel of death looked up at the woman and shook his head.

"I... I couldn't do that again...  I... I couldn't, Laja."

And JenniAnn knew at once what he meant.  She thought back to the night in his old living room, now Ivy's and Violeta's.  Andrew had watched Joshua die once... and she realized anew how much the chance of that happening again had plagued him, even as he'd remained strong for her at the hospital.

"My love..."  JenniAnn settled beside Andrew and wrapped her arms around him as he wept.

Andrew buried his face in her hair.

"I... I wasn't even there the first time and I... I'm not sure I could have done it.  Just... imagining him so... so still..."  JenniAnn shook her head, mentally protesting the image.

"Horrible..." Andrew muttered before sucking in a deep breath.  "But... it didn't happen.  He's fine.  He'll be fine."

"Yes, my love."  JenniAnn lightly kissed his forehead.

They sat quietly for several minutes, calming.  Finally, Andrew released both JenniAnn and Joshua's pillow.  He stood and held his hand out to her.

"Come to bed with me, Laja?"

JenniAnn caressed Joshua's pillow, whispered an "I love You" and then took the angel's hand and left the room.



"Go home now, please," Joshua requested.  "You need some rest for your big day."  He smiled wearily at Owen and Graham.

"I... I don't want to leave you alone," Owen protested.

Still smiling, Joshua shook his head.

"I'm never alone."

"I know but..."

"I'm not sure he's going to go to sleep if we stick around," Graham whispered to his fiance.

Seeing the truth in this, Owen nodded.

"You're right."  Owen bent to kiss Joshua's forehead.  "We'll head out then.  G'night, Joshua."

Graham squeezed the man's uninjured hand.

"G'night, Josh.  We love you."

"Love you, too," Joshua echoed.  "Looking forward to tomorrow... later today, I mean."

The two men smiled at him and nodded.

"Us, too," Graham replied.  "Now get some rest.  Almost-doctor's orders."

Joshua chuckled.

"Will do, Doc.  G'night."

After one last look, Owen and Graham left Joshua's room and made their way to the nurse's station.

"We're heading out.  You'll call if..."

The nurse, Jemima, cut Graham off.

"Of course.  But I'm sure he'll be just fine.  Got lotsa folks praying for him.  Saw the prayer vigil on the news."

Owen smiled and nodded.

"He does.  Thanks.  See you tomorrow."

"Good night!" Jemima called after the two retreating men.  She waited until they were out of sight then made her way to Joshua's room.  To her relief, he was already asleep so she spoke quietly.

"Yeshu..." she murmured, stroking some hair from his brow.  "I'm here.  Abba sent me to keep you company.  And... well... I asked to come.  Only seemed fair...  You healed me so I wanted to be here to help you heal."  The woman gently traced a scar on her upper lip.  She settled into the chair beside Joshua's bed and recalled the story her Ama had told her so many, many times.


Circa 31 A.D.

Mary woke and stared up at the star-filled sky.  She glanced over at Abigail who was sleeping on a mat beside hers.  Closing her eyes, Mary said a prayer of thanksgiving for the woman's company.  Though several other women were now following Yeshua, Mary suspected she would feel lonely in his inner circle if not for Abigail.  The Twelve were good men...  Yeshua wouldn't have picked them otherwise.  But they could be loud and crass and pushy.  Mary didn't like how they sometimes competed for Yeshua's favor.  She could tell it drained him.  And Cephas, Andreas, the Yaqobs, all the rest...  They didn't understand her need for quiet moments, her need for escape when Shimeon went on one of his rants against the Romans... as if they were all the same.  As if her Lucius had been the same...  Yeshua would give her a sympathetic look and kind word.  But it was Abigail who would sit with her and remember his laugh, his smile, the way his hair stuck up at odd angles after he'd slept.

Mary rolled to her other side and smiled.  She could just make out Yeshua, walking amongst the trees.  She considered going to him but stayed put.  He needed his quiet time, too.  Besides, the way he was gesturing made her think he was speaking to his Abba.  It still sent chills through her... her Yeshua... her friend... the Son of God, the Messiah.  She willed her love to him then, turning back to the stars, she returned to sleep.


When next Mary awoke, it was to the sound of bickering men.

"Roman trash.  This pathetic creature is further evidence of their villainy!" Shimeon shouted.

"Hush!  You'll wake everyone.  And... I feel for the little one and its sad fate," Bar Tolmay lamented.

"We need to tell Yeshua," Cephas insisted.  "Where's he gone?"

And then another sound broke through the men's voices... a baby's desperate cry.

Throwing off her blanket and hastily covering her head, Mary ran towards the three men.

"What is..."  She pointed shakily to the bundle that Bar Tolmay was holding.

"Don't let her see!" Shimeon hissed before donning his most charming smile.  "Mary, it's nothing to concern yourself with.  Why don't you go draw some water for us to..."

"Let me see," Mary demanded, holding her arms out.

Bar Tolmay looked to Cephas who shrugged.

"Just... prepare yourself.  It's... shocking," he warned before carefully handing the squalling bundle to Mary.

"Cephas and I went fishing earlier.  We found it on our way back," Shimeon explained.  "That's what they do with their unwanted children, you know.  They put them out to starve or be eaten by dogs."

Mary snuggled the baby closer then drew the blanket away.  She stifled a gasp.  The child's upper lip was malformed, split in halves.

"We should have left it," Shimeon hissed at Cephas.  "I told you so.  Now it will die and..."  He lowered his voice.  "She's already delicate."

Mary wanted to shoot the man a withering look.  She was not delicate.  But she couldn't take her eyes off the little one's.  They were the clearest blue she had ever seen.

"But Yeshua...  Perhaps he can do something," Cephas insisted.

"For a Roman?" Shimeon scoffed.

"For a baby," Cephas corrected.

Not paying them any more attention, Mary wandered back towards Abigail with the baby.  Once she was back to her mat, she carefully unwrapped the child.  A little girl... perfect except for her lip.  Mary gently stroked her belly and the baby quieted.

Beside them, Abigail stirred.  She smiled when she saw Mary was up... but then she realized what she was doing.

"Mary!  Whose baby is..."  The old woman's voice died away when she was up and got a full view of the child.  "Oh, Lord... Have mercy on that poor child," she prayed.

"She... she was abandoned on the side of the road.  Shimeon and Cephas found her.  Shimeon wanted to leave her," Mary reported, tears in her eyes as she swaddled the baby and brought her to her chest.

"Sometimes the world is very cruel," Abigail lamented.  "Sweet child...  I... I've heard of such things before.  Her mouth... it makes it difficult for her to suckle.  She... she won't live, Mary."

Mary shook her head in protest.

"But Yeshua..."

Abigail sighed.  They'd witnessed the Rabbi doing many wonderful, miraculous things.  But this...


Mary perked up when she heard Yeshua calling to her.  Gathering the baby more closely to her, she leaped up and ran to him.

"Yeshu...  Shimeon and Cephas..."

"They told me..."  He bowed his head in sorrow. 

"Could you..."

Mary held the little one out towards him.

For a moment, Yeshua saw his little Mary, crying as she held a broken doll out to him.  But this was much more than fixing a toy. 

"Let me see her, please."  Yeshua held his arms out.

Carefully, Mary transferred the child to him.  She was so quiet...

With tears in his eyes, Yeshua examined the child.  He envisioned the mother, crying and pleading for her baby as her own life ebbed away.  He imagined the father, horrified and heartbroken and making a terrible, devastating choice... 

The baby let out a wail and Yeshua swayed with her.  Then he began to sing.

"'My soul and my spirit rejoice for now, my own, you are here.  The Mighty One has done great things, best of all brought you near.'"

More tears welled in Mary's eyes.  She recognized the song.  Maryam had sung it to her son... and he had sung it to her.

"'My little one, my precious one, to you these promises I make: I will love you in the daytime, in the nighttime, in the morn as you wake.'"

Mary took up the song when Yeshua quieted.

"'As the years go by, as the seasons change, never will my love.  For you, my sweet girl, I will always pray to our God Above.  When the way is hard, when you feel alone and do weep, remember this, oh my child, my love is always yours to keep.'"

Yeshua staggered against a tree.  Mary hurried towards him.  As he leaned heavily against the trunk, she took the baby from his arms.

"Yeshu...  Are you..."

Wearied, he smiled at her and then at the baby.

Mary looked down and stared in awe.  Where the gaping void had been was only a thin, white scar.

"What will you name her?" Yeshua whispered.

Mary beamed at the child in her arms... so small and pale and sweet... like a little dove.

"Yemimah," she murmured.

"Good choice, Ama," Yeshua affirmed, smiling widely at his friend.

"Ama..."  Mary echoed, tears of joy sliding down her cheeks.

Yeshua stroked her back.

"Go.  Introduce her to Abigail.  And you can ask the other women about providing her with milk."

"Yes..."  Mary grinned up at Yeshua.  "Thank you."

He nodded then watched, happily, as she ran off with her treasure.


Saturday, April 27th, 2019

Jemima brushed some tears from her face as she gazed adoringly at her Creator and healer.  She sighed when her pager sounded.

"I'll be back later, Yeshu," she promised. 

She rose to her feet then bent to kiss his brow.

In his sleep, Joshua smiled and dreamed of a small girl riding on his back as he made his way to Jerusalem.


Joshua awoke with a sigh.  Squinting he looked to the window.  The sun was high in the sky. 

"It's 9:37."

Surprised, Joshua turned away from the window, wincing slightly.


More gently, he shifted and looked to the doorway of his room.  A smile stretched across his face.


The nurse beamed and carefully settled onto the edge of his bed and embraced him.

"I'm actually quite liking Jemima.  Love that crisp J sound," she informed.  "And... Abba said I could come... so I did.  And it's a good thing, too.  I'm not sure many others would give your friends permission to throw a wedding in here."

Joshua chuckled.

"So that was you...  Thank you."

He cradled her face in his hands then looked her up and down.

"A nurse.  The look suits you.  You were always so good about tending to everyone... even when you were tiny."

"Learned from the best."  Jemima patted Joshua's cheek.  "Now... how about we get you onto your feet."

Joshua nodded.

"Yes, please."

He was slightly wobbily as he stepped into his slippers and began to walk.  Jemima linked an arm around his waist.

"Careful now.  They had you pretty doped up yesterday... and with the blood loss..."

"Yes...  I helped you learn to walk, now you get to return the favor," he teased.

"Happily!" Jemima chirped.  "I thought about setting out clothes for you but what Zeke brought is mostly lounge wear.  I thought you might want something nicer for the wedding.  JenniAnn will be by later with that."

"You talked with JenniAnn?" Joshua questioned once they reached the bathroom door.

Jemima nodded.

"She sounded sleepy... but good.  I didn't tell her who I was, of course.  I'll leave that to you if you want."

"Thank you.  And for thinking about the clothes.  You're right."

"Good.  So just stay comfy in your jammies for now.  I've set all your stuff out."

Joshua smiled and peeked into the bathroom.  All of his toiletries were, indeed, neatly situated.

"You're so like your Ama," he complimented.

Jemima beamed.

"Thank you.  Now...  I'll be back with your breakfast."

"Thanks, Jemima!"  Joshua smiled after her as she left then looked to the ceiling.  "Thank You," he whispered to his Dad.  It felt especially poignant that the little girl who had buoyed his spirit as his death had neared would be with him again.


Shortly after noon, JenniAnn arrived with some more clothes for Joshua.  She'd brought Ivy and Violeta with her to help decorate the room.

"Hey there, girls!" Joshua greeted when the three arrived.

They all hurried towards him, glad to see him sitting up in a chair.

Violeta was the first to embrace him.

"How are you feeling?"

"I'm doing good.  Real good.  Still on some meds but they've lowered the dosage.  And how about you?"

"Okay.  Miss you..." Violeta murmured.

"I know, Duckling..."  Joshua squeezed her hand.

"We went to Willowveil for breakfast and... it was just sad to see your empty chair," Ivy confessed.

Joshua beckoned her closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

"I know.  But I'll be back soon."

"To stay for a while?" JenniAnn ventured.

Joshua nodded.

"After all this, I definitely need to be around for the health fair.  But now...  Onto happier things.  Thanks for bringing more clothes."

JenniAnn nodded and reached into the bag she was carrying.

"I still wanted you to be comfy and for nothing to rub wrong so... khakis and a peasant shirt?" she offered.

Joshua smiled.

"Great choice.  And comfortable.  Thank you."

"And... decorations!"  Violeta dug into another bag and pulled out a ball of twinkle lights.  "Can we start?"

"In just a moment," Joshua replied.  "There's someone I'd like you to meet, if she's available."

With the three women watching like hawks, Joshua rose from his chair and peeked into the hallway.  "Jemima... if you have a moment, please."

Smiling with anticipation, the nurse followed Joshua back into his room.

"Hi!" she greeted the others.  "JenniAnn... Violeta... and Ivy..." 

The three exchanged curious looks, wondering how exactly she had known who they each were.

Jemima giggled.

"I think Yeshua better explain."

Ivy lit up.

"You call him Yeshua, too?"

"Always have."

Smiling proudly, Joshua turned from Jemima and faced the others.  "I'd like you to meet Jemima... Mary of Magdala's daughter."

"Jemima!" Violeta cried out.  "I... I remember...  When I read about Joshua's life!  You were in it!  Yemimah!"  She hugged the woman.

"Uh huh!"  Jemima eagerly accepted the angel's hug.

"That's... so wonderful.  And I'm so pleased to meet you, Jemima."  JenniAnn smiled kindly at the woman.  "But..."

"I think we're a touch confused," Ivy confessed.  "So... if you don't mind my asking... was Mary pregnant when Lucius drowned?  Or..."  The color drained from Ivy's face as she recalled that Mary had been raped.

Joshua shook his head.

"I was adopted," Jemima hastened to explain.  "You might have noticed I don't exactly look like Joshua.  Or my Ama.  I was born to a Roman couple.  My mother died in childbirth and... well, I was born with a cleft lip.  A deformed girl..."  She frowned.  "My father left me on the side of the road where Cephas and Shimeon eventually found me.  They weren't sure what to do but my Ama... Mary... knew exactly who I needed.  Him."  She gestured to Joshua.  "So..."  She pointed to her lip.  "He healed me and I spent the first two years of my life traveling with Yeshu and my mother and the others.  When I heard what happened... well, Yeshu healed me so I wanted to help him heal.  Not that you all aren't doing a fine job but... it helps having this."  She flicked her nurse's badge.

"That's so beautiful!" JenniAnn cried.

"It really is.  But... why is that not in the Bible?" Ivy questioned. 

"There's a lot that happened that isn't in the Bible," Joshua explained.  "You know how people are about Mary.  I didn't want to expose her to any more speculation and gossip.  And... Jemima is in the Bible.  She was the little one who I called to me and said 'I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'"  He reached for Jemima's hand.

"Aww..." the three women cooed in unison.

Jemima laughed.

"So I'm kinda famous," she jested.  "But enough about me.  Let's decorate!"

Excitedly, they all began to do exactly that.


At a quarter before 2:00 PM; Shane, Fr. Mike, and Graham showed up. 

"Josh!  Look at you!" the priest hugged the carpenter.  "Your coloring is so much better today!"

"Thanks.  So's yours, to be honest."

Fr. Mike chuckled.

"Yeah...  I imagine we were all a bit ashen yesterday.  But the prayer vigil really helped."

"It was absolutely beautiful," Joshua praised.  "Thank you all for doing that and now... another happy occasion."  He beamed at Graham.  "You look very handsome.  Owen will be pleased."

"Thank you.  You look great."  Graham hugged him.

"With a lot of help from JenniAnn and Jemima.  They spent a while trying to get rid of my bed head."

"It was an honor and a pleasure," JenniAnn insisted.  "And Jemima is a blast to be around."

"Jemima...  The head nurse," Graham remembered.

"Umm..."  JenniAnn looked to Joshua.

"I smell a story," Shane surmised.

"You do," Joshua confirmed.

"Ooh a story from Joshua and a husband.  Big day for me," Owen said, announcing his presence.

Olivia Olsen stepped around her grandson and approached Joshua's chair.

"Oh, Joshua...  How are you doing?" she asked, her eyes moist.

"Very, very well, Olivia," he reassured.  "Come, sit beside me.  We can watch your grandson get hitched together."

Once Olivia was settled beside Joshua, he briefly retold Jemima's story.

Graham shook his head in wonder.

"Well, now it makes sense why she agreed to let us do this.  So amazing..."

Owen nodded. 

"Makes this even more meaningful... and I'm glad you have someone physically here with you, Joshua."

"Me too.  But now..."  Joshua beamed at the two men.

"I guess that's my cue..."  Fr. Mike moved to stand in front of the window which was covered with tulle and white twinkle lights.  A cross, covered in red roses, hung from the center.  "Owen... Graham... you ready?"

The two men exchanged meaningful looks and nodded then moved to stand in front of the priest.  Shane and JenniAnn positioned themselves on either side of them.  Jemima snuck into the room and, grabbing JenniAnn's cell phone, made herself the unofficial videographer.

Owen and Graham joined hands and faced each other as Fr. Mike began the ceremony.

"Dearly beloved... Olivia, Shane, JenniAnn, Joshua, Jemima, I presume..."

Joshua chuckled when she waved the attention away from herself.

"We're gathered here today to witness the union of our friends, Graham and Owen, in marriage.  God, just as You guided them to each other, we ask You to watch over them as they embark on this new chapter in their lives.  Please continue to guide them," Fr. Mike prayed.

Teary eyed, Joshua nodded to the grooms.

"Bless their union, teach them to love more fully, day by day.  Let their love last eternally... as it is written."  Fr. Mike nodded to JenniAnn who withdrew a notecard from her pocket and read.

"'Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.'"  She gave Owen and Graham a tearful smile.

"Owen and Graham, you stand before your friends and your... your God, wishing to be married.  Does that remain your desire?" Fr. Mike asked.

"Heck yeah," Owen replied.

"What he said," Graham echoed.

Chuckling, Fr. Mike continued.

"Very good.  Now I ask you to please, exchange your vows with each other.  Owen."

JenniAnn handed him a ring which he, in turn, slipped onto Graham's finger.

"Graham... with this ring, I vow to always stand by you, to always love you, and to grow with you.  As... as you go about your life healing others, I pray that I will always be a safe place to come home to and that I'll be able to... to... that I'll be able to heal your heart... with help from Joshua a-and from his Father and the Holy Spirit.  I vow to make you laugh when you need a laugh a-and to hold you when... when you cry.  Always."

Shane handed a weeping Graham Owen's ring.  In spite of the lump in his throat, Graham delivered his vows.

"Owen... my beloved, my best friend... after Joshua..."

The others laughed, including Joshua who was making liberal use of one of his Ama's handkerchiefs.

Graham smiled and continued.

"With this ring, I vow to love you to my last breath and beyond.  You are the artist but, with you, I vow to make our life into a masterpiece honoring God a-and His love for us.  I pray that not a day will go by that you won't know how deeply and truly I love and adore you.  May we grow in faith, hope, and love... always together."

The two embraced.

Fr. Mike drew in a deep breath, steadying his own voice.

"And now... united... Graham and Owen would like to make another vow."

To Joshua's surprise, the two men turned to face him and knelt down so they were level with him.

"Joshua...  Just as you showed your love to us, we vow to show your love to others," Owen promised.

"We won't let anyone who comes our way, no matter what they've been told... no matter who has abandoned them... believe that you have anything less than absolute love for them," Graham added.

Sobbing, Joshua leaned forward and kissed both men on the top of their heads.

"Thank you," he murmured.

"We love you so much."  Owen squeezed Joshua's good hand.

"Love you, too... so much."  Joshua sighed deeply and smiled at the two as Olivia tenderly rubbed his back.

After carefully embracing Joshua, Owen and Graham stood back up.

"Beautiful," Fr. Mike gushed.  "And now... with the rings bestowed and the vows exchanged... it's my great honor to pronounce you married, Owen and Graham and..."  He waved to Olivia.

"You may now kiss!" she gushed.

As the two happily obeyed, the others cheered and applauded.

"So beautiful..." Jemima cooed as she snapped photographs.

Joshua moved to his feet and, once the newlyweds finished their kiss, he hugged them tightly, ignoring the pain in his side.

"My boys..."

And so it was that Owen and Graham began their married life in a hospital room which, to them, rivaled the grandest cathedral.


Though the Friends offered to take shifts with Joshua, he declined citing tiredness and his desire that they celebrate with Owen and Graham.  And when word spread about Jemima, the Friends felt better about leaving him alone.

Once they'd enjoyed some wedding cake that had been brought over especially for them, Jemima helped Joshua settle back into bed.  In keeping with the doctor's orders, his wounds were checked and a breathing test administered to ensure his lung was healing. 

"Looks good!" Jemima cheered. 

"Good," a  winded Joshua replied before sinking back against his pillows.

Jemima tucked some blankets around him and brushed a curl from his forehead, resting her hand there for a moment.

"You just took my temperature," Joshua reminded with a smile.

"I know... but sometimes the old ways are better."

"Yes."  Joshua bowed his head.  "Can I ask you something?  About one of the other patients?  I know you can't share details patient-to-patient but... in my other capacity, diminished as it is."

"My break started..." Jemima looked at her watch.  "Five minutes ago so...  Yes, we can talk."  She pulled a chair nearer to Joshua's bed and took his hand in both of hers.  "Is this about Cameron?"

Joshua nodded.

"How is he..."

"They got him pretty good.  But... the surgeons were able to save him.  A bullet hit his spine, though.  He's a paraplegic," Jemima gently explained. 

Tears welled in Joshua's eyes.  He nodded for her to continue.

"They're keeping him heavily medicated.  But... they're starting to wean him off.  By tomorrow, he should be pretty lucid."

"So... so he'll know his condition then."


"A-and his parents?"

"I've only seen them briefly.  They looked... shocked, horrified.  A police officer was with them."  Jemima squeezed Joshua's hand.  "They want to speak with you.  Cameron's lawyer doesn't want them to.  But..."

"They'll insist.  Or at least... Nathan will."  Joshua sighed and pulled a hand through his hair.  "He refused to see the signs...  And Donna was just too..."  He left the rest unsaid, thinking of the woman who dulled her pain and boredom with alcohol.

"Will you agree?"

"To a meeting, yes.  To a photo opp, no.  I can see Nathan wanting that...  To show all is forgiven, this had nothing to do with him, so please don't boycott!  Mammon..."  Joshua muttered.

"I'm sorry," Jemima murmured.  "And... I wish I were as cute and little as I was back then so I could distract you."

Joshua smiled tenderly at the young woman and cupped her chin.

"You will always be cute and you will always bring me joy, Yemmy... Jemmy."

"I...  I wish you could just come Home, Yeshu.  I... don't like seeing you here, like this.  Knowing one of your own put you here."

"But then I wouldn't have been at Owen's and Graham's wedding... at least not in the way I was."


"What else is weighing on you, my own?"

Jemima met Joshua's penetrating yet gentle gaze.

"I... I don't want to be around him.  I don't want to take care of him.  He... he shot you!  Just because of the color of your skin a-and the fact that you were standing outside a mosque.  And even if... if he'd known you aren't Muslim, he likely still would have shot because you're Jewish.  We're Jewish." 

Joshua saw her clasp her Star of David, a gift from her mother.

"Everything's so much harder here," Jemima choked out, tears trailing down her cheeks.

"I know, Jemmy.  I know..." Joshua consoled.

"I... I know you do."

Joshua shifted slightly.

Eagerly, Jemima curled up beside him, just as she had as a toddler.

"Let's rest, okay?"

"Okay..."  Jemima replied, sniffling.

Exhausted, the two drifted to sleep and, soon after, a figure materialized beside them.  She looked adoringly at her little girl and her Lord... her Rabboni... and kept watch as they slept.


Holy Messes

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

JenniAnn rolled from her stomach to her back, trying to find an elusive, comfortable position... but sleep wouldn't come.

She gazed over at Andrew.  His face looked tense but he was, at least, asleep.

After glancing at the clock... 2:43... and realizing that she'd been tossing and turning for over an hour, JenniAnn gave up.  She shuffled into her robe and slippers and left the room.  After checking on her peacefully sleeping children, she made her way to the chapel.  Gazing at Joshua's portrait, she prayed... prayers she'd learned as a little girl, spontaneous prayers, rambling prayers...  But still she felt agitated.

There was one last place to go...

As quietly as possible, JenniAnn made her way up the stairs and stepped into Joshua's room.  The moon was shining brightly, enabling her to navigate the room without a lamp.

JenniAnn sat down at his desk.  She picked up the pen and cradled it, imagining Joshua writing his letter.  Had he finished it right before she'd found him in the kitchen?  Right before she'd anointed him and they'd danced?

Tears pricked her eyes as she imagined the scene.  She wanted to hug him and tell him that everything would be all right... they would be all right.  But then... she'd doubted as much herself.  Joshua hadn't.  Any tears he'd wept were ones of empathy.  Hers were desperate, needy... 

JenniAnn didn't have a good idea of how many people knew the Son of God was dropping in and out of their lives.  El-Chanan and the Friends were the only two communities she knew about.  But Joshua hinted at others.  Everyone else just got by on faith, on the hope of one day seeing Him.

So why did she... who had seen his face, heard his voice, felt his embrace... feel so bereft? 

She set down the pen and lowered her hand to her abdomen.  Gently, she probed where her scar remained... a forever reminder of what Rex had done, yes.  But of something else, too...  Of a decision she had made.

She could have stayed with him forever.  She wouldn't be missing him now. 

Hot tears stung JenniAnn eyes.

How could she think that way?  She would have left Andrew as a single father to poor, little Belle who had already been abandoned by one mother.  And Avi?  What would have happened to Avi if she hadn't been there to nurse him?  And what would have happened to Violeta if she hadn't intervened with the demons?  And how would Max have coped if his father had succeeded in killing her?  Would he have still married Rose?  Would her grandbaby even exist?  And what of Shelby?  She'd seemed so fragile at the time... regressed even.

But Joshua...  To never, ever be parted from Joshua...

Through blurry eyes, JenniAnn peered at a photograph on Joshua's desk... him, Maryam, and Yosef on top of the Empire State Building.  A fresh lump formed in JenniAnn's throat as she thought of Maryam.

How easy it would have been to lose the will to eat... to shut down... to slip away once her son had ascended.  But Maryam hadn't.  She had lived for five more glorious years... supporting Mary, Yohannan, her nieces and nephews turned daughters and sons, the early Church.

But she wasn't Maryam...

A creaking in the hallway roused JenniAnn from her turmoil.

"Oh... I... I'm sorry..."

Turning, JenniAnn saw Emma standing in the doorway.

"Oh... hey..."

"I just... I was having trouble sleeping and... and I thought I'd feel better here.  Peter and Sawyer are downstairs... probably napping on a couch in the living room," Emma explained.

JenniAnn nodded then stood up and embraced her friend.

"I... I just miss him," she cried.

"Me too," Emma commiserated.  "A-and he's not even gone.  We... we could see him in the morning but..."

"It's the knowing he could go away again."

"Yes!  And how this time... this time it... it could have happened so suddenly."


Emma managed a laugh.

"I've heard of ungodly messes... but... I think he's made holy messes of us."

JenniAnn, too, laughed through her tears.

"Holy messes..." she repeated.  "Yes.  That sounds right."  Tugging Emma's hand, she led her to the bed where they both sat down and faced each other.

After pulling down the top of the comforter, JenniAnn handed Emma a pillow then took the other for herself.  They both hugged them.

"If this was anyone else's room... we'd be such creepy stalkers," Emma teased.

JenniAnn giggled.

"You're sure we're not as is?"

"Not really," Emma admitted with a grin.  She nuzzled the pillow and sighed.  "I bought Peter some sandalwood cologne but... he still doesn't smell the same.  I mean... I like his smell but..."

"I get it.  Totally," JenniAnn reassured.

"And... and it's not like I want Peter to be Joshua.  I like having both Peter AND Joshua."

"I like having both Andrew AND Joshua but..."

"I wonder if some of the apostles' wives ever felt like we do right now?  I assume some if not all of them followed Joshua, loved Joshua.  So then you're with this guy who you love desperately and who very much loves Joshua, too, and wants to be like him.  And sometimes he's so much like Joshua that..."

"That it makes you miss Joshua even more."

"Yes..."  Emma squeezed JenniAnn's hand.

Fresh tears welled in the older woman's eyes.

"What is it?" Emma gently prodded.

"Just before you came...  I... I found myself wishing that... that I hadn't come back from my coma.  That I'd... continued on.  Gone to Heaven with Joshua.  A-and it makes me feel so guilty... for wanting to... to not be here with... with my family," JenniAnn confessed.

"Oh, JenniAnn..."  Emma hugged her.  "I don't at all think it means you wanted to leave Andrew and the kids... the rest of us.  You just... you wish you could be with Joshua.  Always.  We... we all have those moments.  It... it doesn't mean we'd do anything to bring about our own demise.  It doesn't even mean we want to be dead.  It's just... who doesn't want to be with the one they love best of all?  And... Friday was scary.  Even knowing Joshua is fine, it was still scary.  We all think differently when we're scared."

"Yeah...  That's true."

Emma glanced at a nearby clock.

"Four hours til visiting hours start."

JenniAnn frowned.

"I wish I could go back to sleep so it would pass more quickly."

"Well... maybe there are other ways to make the time fly.  Wanna swap Joshua stories?"

JenniAnn's face lit up as she nodded.

"Tell me again about when you realized he was him?" Emma requested.

"Sure.  Well, first off, I felt really nervous about the whole make-up test thing.  I... I worried I was going to subject this poor guy to an onslaught of Catholic guilt...  But he was so patient and so gentle..." JenniAnn's eyes filled. 

In the remaining four hours, the two women talked of nothing but Joshua until the time they could race to the hospital and shower him with their adoration and love.


"Can Christopher come with us?"

Hearing her daughter's question, Hura eyed her husband over the rim of her coffee cup.

"Hmm?" Raheem questioned, pulling himself out of his own thoughts.

"Today.  When we visit Joshua.  Can Christopher come with us?  It would mean a lot to him," Amala stressed.

"To him or to you?" Hura questioned.

Amala shrugged.

"Both, I guess.  Christopher would really like to see Joshua... and I like spending time with him.  He's very... chill.  I don't feel like he's putting on some weird, macho act like a lot of the boys.  He totally cried last night."

"Sure, he can come," Raheem agreed.

"Just... remember, you're going to see Joshua... not to swoon over a boy," Hura cautioned.

"I know, Mom," Amala acknowledged, stopping mid-eye roll when her mother glared.  "I'll let him know.  He can meet us in the lobby.  Around 10:15?"

Raheem smiled at his daughter.

"Sounds like a plan."

Grinning, Amala left the table so she could share the good news.

"I'm not sure I like this," Hura confessed.


"Her... and Christopher."

Raheem rose, rinsed out his cereal bowl, and rubbed his wife's shoulders.

"Relax, Hura.  It's not as if they're up to anything.  You can't get much more wholesome than going to visit a friend in the hospital... with the young lady's father and little brother in tow."

"I know...  But this just feels... different.  I don't think this is like with the other boys.  Amala is different... not all giggly and swoony."

Raheem laughed.

"Ah... my darling!  Sometimes I don't understand you!  You're concerned there's something between them... but you're also troubled by Amala not acting giggly and swoony?"

"Yes!  Like... this isn't some goofy, high school crush.  When I was her age, I scribbled mash-ups of my name and the names of boys I fancied.  You know whose name I never wrote?"

"I dunno...  Whose?"


"Because I was a nerd and you were much too cool for me," Raheem teased.

Hura laughed.

"Well, yes...  That was the case for freshman and sophomore years.  But later... when we were paired up for Biology class...  My mind was changed.  You were... awkwardly charming.  And I just didn't feel like doing that goofy, sentimental nonsense.  It seemed... beneath you.  Beneath what I felt about you."

Raheem gazed tenderly at his wife then brought her hand to his lips.

"Thank you...  That... it's very nice to hear.  I... I thought I was beneath you."

Hura kissed him.

"Never...  But my point is, I think Amala is more serious about this boy than you realize."

"Maybe so.  But I trust our daughter to not do anything..."

"I trust her, too.  It's just... he's..."

Raheem blinked.

"Is this really just about his being Christian?"

"I just... I don't want him to try to convert her or... or make her feel lesser because of what she believes," Hura quietly explained.

"I didn't get the impression from Christopher that he would do either of those things.  But let's say for the sake of argument that Amala is fond of Christopher.  And let's say that, in being around him, she becomes curious about his faith.  Maybe she starts asking questions.  Maybe she starts to become interested.  And, yes, maybe she decides to convert.  She would still be our Amala."

"Of... of course she would be.  But... it would be hard."

"Maybe so," Raheem agreed with a nod.  "All I know is that two days ago, a Christian saved my life.  So if my daughter becomes one... I won't say anything against that."

"Saved your life..."  Hura cocked her head.  "I heard Joshua pushed Salma behind a sign but..."

Raheem let out a calming breath.

"Yes.  But... there's something I need to tell you.  Maybe... maybe in our room?"

"O-okay...  Raheem, you're making me worried for real now...  Maybe I was overreacting about Amala but you look..."

"Just come...  Please, Hura."

With a silent nod, the woman took her husband's hand and let him lead her into their bedroom.

Raheem motioned for Hura to sit on the bed then settled down beside her.

"Hura, there was more to what happened during the shooting.  I... I thought maybe I'd hallucinated it but the more I've replayed it in my head... the surer I am."

"What happened?"

"Darling girl...  I... I was shot.  In my abdomen."

Hura glanced down at her husband's belly then let out an uncomfortable laugh.

"Raheem...  You were not.  And if that's a joke, it's in very poor taste considering Joshua..."

"I was shot," Raheem interrupted, his tone insistent.  "I remember the pain.  I remember looking down and seeing the blood.  A-and then... then I remember Joshua touching me."

Hura shook her head.

"He did, Hura.  And then... the wound just... it went away.  And then... then he was shot."  Raheem's eyes filled.  "He could have hidden.  But he stayed there to... to heal me.  And he... he was shot."

"It... it can't be Raheem.  It... it just can't be," Hura persisted. 

Raheem wiped at his eyes.

"But it happened, Hura.  I... I wish I still had the shirt I was wearing.  There was a hole in it.  And blood on it."

"J-Joshua's blood.  Or maybe Ibrahim's..."

"No.  My blood.  Surrounding a bullet hole."

"That... that can't happen, Raheem!  Maybe... maybe a bullet bounced off of something and rebounded and just sort of... dinged you."

"Hura...  It had just enough force to tear through my clothing but leave not so much as a bruise or scratch on me?"  Raheem lifted his shirt.  There was no mark of any kind.

"But how... how could Joshua have..."

"I don't know," Raheem admitted.  "But I do know... I know how I feel when I'm around him.  Allah is with him, Hura.  In a special way."

"This... this is nonsense!" Hura cried, frantically brushing away tears.  "I... I think maybe you should stay away from the hospital, Raheem."

Looking sympathetically at his wife, Raheem shook his head.

"I won't, Hura.  I need to see him.  To talk to him."

"He... he's a good man," Hura replied.  "Maybe... maybe he'll help you see the truth."

"That's what I'm hoping for."  Raheem stroked his wife's arm.  "I'm not losing my mind, Hura.  I'm not."

"I... I pray that's true.  I think...  I'm going to go to the office for a while."

Raheem frowned.

"But it's closed."

"I just...  I want to do some filing."

Raheem sighed.  Hura had staff to do that.  But he recognized that she needed to be alone.  Maybe he should have waited to tell her what had really happened... but it had been difficult hiding the truth from the one he loved best.

"All right.  You'll be back for dinner?"

Hura nodded and kissed her husband's cheek.

"I will.  Just... don't stay at the hospital too long.  Maybe... maybe you need some sleep."


Raheem watched, feeling helpless, as his wife flitted around their room, readying herself for a day at her office.

"I want to change," Hura announced.


Raheem gazed at her for a long moment before leaving the room.

Once her husband was gone, Hura plucked up a business card sitting on his bedstand. 

"Detective Matthew Bratton," she read, her voice hushed.

She slipped the card into her purse.  She wouldn't be going directly to her office.


"And that's when Emma showed up..."

"And we commiserated."

"And swapped stories about you."

"And... sat on your bed and snuggled your pillows.  Like the proper stalkers we are."

Joshua choked on his coffee when he tried to stifle his laughter.

Emma jumped to her feet and gently clapped him on the back.

"I'm all right," he assured.  "Just... very glad Dad and I saw fit to have you both born in the late 1900s and not my time.  That sort of behavior would have been... frowned upon."

JenniAnn giggled.

"Not to mention the wild things Dan Brown would have come up with if we'd been around to feed into the crazy mythology."

Joshua chuckled.

"I shudder at the thought."  He took another sip of his coffee then let out a sigh.  "But I do appreciate how you feel about me.  Truly."

Emma and JenniAnn lit up as Joshua squeezed their hands.

"And I'll be back at Willowveil soon."

"Then we can snuggle with more than pillows," Emma murmured.

Joshua smiled lovingly and nodded.

"I can't wait.  How are you feeling?" JenniAnn checked. 

"Good!  I had a little shortness of breath last night but that's to be expected.  The doctor wasn't concerned.  I probably just walked the halls for too long."

Emma frowned.


"I won't push myself like that again," Joshua promised.  "I just... I wanted to visit with some of the other patients.  Check on them."

JenniAnn's eyes went wide.

"You didn't visit..."

"No."  Joshua shook his head.  "He's still in the ICU.  I stayed on this floor.  Sometimes people would see me, smile, I'd smile back, they'd invite me into their room, and we'd chat."  He beamed.  "They recognize me from the news coverage.  So we'd talk about that for a little bit but then I'd turn the conversation back to them.  It was a good way to catch up since my live feed is... you know."

"I'm glad you weren't lonely.  We missed you at the reception."  Emma smiled dreamily.  "Owen and Graham were so adorable!"

Joshua beamed.

"Logan brought me a laptop so I could watch the videos.  They really were." 

"Don't quite understand how it was that I ended up getting cake smashed in my face," JenniAnn pouted.  "I certainly wasn't the bride."

Chuckling, Joshua shook his head.

"No.  But you are the best friend of one of the grooms.  Did you really expect anything else?"

JenniAnn grinned.

"Not really.  They were so happy...  But... speaking of the happy couple..."  JenniAnn glanced at a clock on the wall.

"We better get ready for their post-nuptial brunch," Emma finished.

Joshua nodded.

"You should."

He rose to his feet and when the two women did the same, he embraced each of them as tightly as he could without sending them into a panic over his stitches.

"I love you both very, very much.  Now... try to have fun.  Don't worry about me.  Please.  I'm fine.  Truly."

"Okay..."  JenniAnn kissed his cheeks.  "I love you, too."

Emma followed with her own kisses.

"I love you... high as the sky and back again."

Joshua's eyes filled.

"And I love you... across the earth and back again," he responded.

The three embraced once more then parted for the day, buoyed by their time together.


After Emma and JenniAnn had left, Jemima had insisted that Joshua take a few minutes for himself and eat some breakfast.  When he'd obediently finished the last of his oatmeal, Joshua grinned at Jemima.


"I think you should have an orange."

Joshua laughed when the nurse pulled one from her pockets.

"I'm really pretty full..."

"But Vitamin C is good for you..."

"And for you, too.  We'll split it?" Joshua suggested.


Joshua looked on, amused, as Jemima rolled the orange and then began to peel it.  He loved when he could catch glimpses of her toddler-self in her smile.  This was one of those times.

"You're very chipper today," he observed.

Jemima grinned.

"Love is in the air!  A wedding yesterday and now..."

Joshua's eyes grew wide.

"Did Zackary finally propose to Helene?"

"Nope!  She proposed to him!  Helene and some of the other nurses went out drinking after their shift yesterday and I guess all she needed was a bit of liquid courage.  She marched right back here, found Zackary in the breakroom, and popped the question!  He said yes, obviously.  He's overly cautious and drags his feet... but he's not an idiot.  They're perfect for each other!"

Joshua chuckled and nodded. 

"They are.  But I'm not sure I'm buying this liquid courage story.  Helene's a lightweight.  I've never known her to have more than one drink a night."

Jemima blushed.

"More like Jemima-courage?" Joshua guessed before popping an orange slice into his mouth.

"I might have suggested that she's a modern woman capable of pursuing her own desires without waiting on a man..."


"A great man told me once that I should never be afraid to ask for what's right and good.  I figured the same applied to Helene."

"Sage advice.  I bet this great man is pretty impressive," Joshua teased.

"Oh, I suppose so."  Jemima laughed.  "Handsome, too."

"Liar," Joshua retorted with a laugh.

"I dunno...  Closest thing I ever had to an Abba on Earth so I reserve the right to think him handsome."  The nurse smiled tenderly at her patient.

"Jemmy..."  Joshua's eyes welled and he squeezed her hand. 

"Another orange slice," she urged.

Joshua obeyed.

"And since we're on the subject...  I think Caroline has a bit of a crush on you so just... keep that in mind, I guess.  I tried to... tamp down any expectations.  But you know how she is.  She tried to convert me, you know."

"I will.  Thank you.  And... how did you handle that?"

"Well, she wanted to be sure I knew my Lord and Savior.  I suppressed the urge to tell her that I do, in fact, know Him and He used to change my nappies."

Joshua burst out laughing.

"Oh dear..."

"It's fine.  I explained to her that I am, in fact, Christian... but also Jewish.  She had a million questions, obviously.  But she's no longer concerned about my immortal soul so that's nice."

"Imagine if she knew who you really are..."

"Jemima bat Mary."  She smiled.  "Sole daughter of the Apostle to the Apostles.  First century martyr.  Lover of chocolate."

Joshua burst out laughing.

"What?  I take my chocolate very, very seriously."

"You're adorable." 

"I know."  Jemima giggled.  "But now... I better take my adorableness elsewhere.  Mr. Taylor needs his blood drawn and I'm the only one he trusts to do it."

"Sounds good.  And thank you for that.  It means a lot that you came here to be with me... and chose to help others at the same time."

"Learned from the best."

Jemima kissed Joshua's forehead.

"Have fun visiting with Raheem and the kids."

"Thanks, will do.  See you later."

"Yep.  I'll bring you your lunch."

"Thank you."  Joshua squeezed Jemima's hand and smiled after her as she left.  Then his thoughts turned to Raheem.  The visit was definitely going to be interesting...



"Thank you, again, for letting me tag along, Mr. Khalid.  I'm super excited to see Joshua," Christopher gushed as the quartet entered an elevator at the hospital.

"You're very welcome, Christopher.  And Raheem, please.  So tell me again how you know Joshua?"

"From the play, Dad," Amala reminded.

"Yes.  But I didn't know if there was more to it than that."

"Not really," Christopher replied.  "I mean... my parents and I went to the show three times and chatted with Joshua and the rest of the cast afterwards.  I was only ten and I dunno...  He just made a really big impression.  I mean I understood that he wasn't Jesus.  But he just...  He was so much like I always imagined Him."

"I really wish we could have seen him..." Amala lamented.

"Not supposed to see prophets," Iz reminded. 

Amala shrugged.

"Sometimes I'm not sure that I think that's really a good rule.  I mean Christopher saw Joshua play Isa and it's not like he started worshiping a photo of Joshua.  Sometimes it's just nice to have an image in mind even if you know it's not the real thing."

"I do see some value in the rule, though, Iz," Christopher opined.  "Don't get me wrong...  I loved seeing Joshua in Superstar. But part of that was because he looked so authentic.  I mean his family is from the Middle East.  But so many of the Jesuses in art...  They look like European royalty."

The elevator dinged and the four exited.

Intrigued, Raheem looked to the young man.

"And how does that make you feel?"

"Weird, I guess.  Maybe a little guilty somehow.  I mean how would you feel if Amala and Iz kept drawing pictures of you as a white man?"  Christopher blushed.  "Sorry if that sounded..."

Raheem chuckled and shook his head.

"Not at all.  It's a great point.  I'd wonder why my kids were so uncomfortable with how I really look."

"Right.  And in the case of Jesus...  A lot of abuse has been committed in His name.  I wonder if it would have been as easy for Christians to commit the atrocities of the Crusades... the Holocaust... if they envisioned their Messiah as looking more like the people they were targeting than themselves."

Raheem studied the boy.  Hura's concerns aside, he found him impressive.

"That's a really, really good point!"  Amala beamed at him.

"I saw a painting of Isa once that looked like Joshua," Iz volunteered.  "A friend at school had it on her cell phone."

"One of Joshua's friends paints pictures of Jesus with Joshua as the model.  Maybe it was one of his?" Christopher guessed.

"Maybe.  It was pretty cool.  He looked... brave."

"I think I'd like to see those paintings," Raheem ventured.  "Might have to find out more about them.  But for now...  Let me go check and be sure Joshua's available."

Raheem made his way to the nurse's station where Jemima greeted him.

"Good morning!  How can I help you?"

Raheem waved to the three children.

"We're here to see Joshua Davidson."

"Sure!  He mentioned he was expecting visitors.  Go right in."

"Thank you, miss."

"You're welcome!"

Raheem smiled then turned back to the children.

"We can head on in.  You all ready?"

The teenagers nodded but Iz suddenly looked pale.

"Is he... hooked up to stuff?  Will he look normal?" he whispered to his dad.

Raheem stooped down and hugged his son.

"No, he's not hooked up to anything.  He might be wearing pajamas or something.  But he'll look normal.  This isn't like with Grandpa, okay?"

Iz nodded.


Raheem smiled encouragingly, his heart melting when the nine-year-old took his hand.

Together, the four walked down the hall.  When Iz hesitated in front of Joshua's door, Raheem indicated for Amala and Christopher to enter first.

"Well, good morning!" Joshua heartily welcomed.

"Hey, Joshua!"

"Joshua... you look great!"

Raheem glanced down at his son who nodded then stepped inside.

"And Iz and Raheem!  Good morning!  So great to see you all," Joshua gushed.

Immediately at ease, Iz grinned and hurried towards the man.

"Hi, Joshua.  I thought you might get bored so I brought you something."

"Oh?  That's very nice of you, Iz.  It can get a little..."  Joshua's voice drifted off when the boy pulled a much-loved, dog-earred comic book from his bag.

"Here you go.  It's my favorite."  Iz held the comic out.

Joshua looked up at Raheem who was staring back at him.

"Whoa..." Amala exclaimed under her breath.  She recognized the comic.  She'd stolen it once in a pique and Iz had had an absolute meltdown.

Smiling at the child, Joshua accepted the comic.

"Thank you, Iz.  I'll definitely enjoy reading this and I'll be sure it gets back to you when I'm done."

"You can keep it."

"I really appreciate that, Iz.  But I think it should stay with the rest of your collection.  But I will definitely, definitely read it.  I love Superman."

Iz beamed.

"Okay!  Cool."

Joshua tousled the boy's hair.

"Please, everyone, make yourselves comfortable," he invited.

Amala and Christopher perched on the edge of the bed while Raheem took a seat across from Joshua who was seated near the window.  Iz sat cross-legged on the ledge in front of the window.

"So how are you feeling, Joshua?" Amala inquired.

"Pretty good!  I'm off the pain meds so I'm glad about not feeling so mentally fuzzy."

"But the pain?"

Joshua shrugged.

"Bearable."  He smiled.  "And how about all of you?  Thank you for going to the prayer vigil.  I loved watching the video."

"It was incredible.  I... I tear up remembering it."  Raheem smiled... tearing up.

"And all of the singers were so talented!" Amala remarked.  "I kind of felt like I was at a concert... but a concert with a lot of God."

Joshua chuckled.

"Well, that's good.  Christopher, good to see you again!  How are you and your parents?"

"Doing good.  We were, umm, pretty upset when we heard the news.  But, yeah, the concert helped a lot."

"Christopher walked with us," Amala informed.

"I know that's not really how it was planned but..."  Christopher smiled at the girl.

"Well, I think that's just as beautiful.  God draws a lot of pleasure from seeing His children united for a good cause."  Joshua glanced across the table.  "Raheem, how you holding up?"

"I... I'm good."

"No nightmares?"

"No... thankfully."

"Have the police reached out to you any more?"

"Just a brief phone call yesterday to check-in... see if I remembered anything else."

"Ah.  Yeah, same here."

"Do you... think you'll have to testify?" Amala asked.

"Maybe," Joshua replied as Raheem nodded.

"And Aunt Liyana and Uncle Ibrahim, too?" Iz questioned.

"Yes, most likely," his father responded.

"Could... could the bad man do anything to you?" the boy fretted.

Joshua reached out and squeezed the boy's shoulder.

"No, Iz.  They don't let weapons into courthouses.  And that man... he's not going to be like he was before."

"I read in the paper that he's paralyzed," Christopher informed.

"He can't walk?" Iz checked.

Raheem shook his head.

"No.  Not any more."

"Good!" the little boy chirped.

Raheem cocked his head.

"No, Iz.  Even when people act hatefully towards us... we shouldn't be glad when bad things happen to them.  We can want them kept somewhere that they can't harm anyone else... but we shouldn't be happy when they suffer," he stressed.

"But... he hurt Uncle Ibrahim a-and Joshua," Iz protested.  "So why can't I be glad that he's hurt?"

"Because Allah created you to love.  He wants all of His children to love each other," Joshua gently explained.  "Some people... they choose their own way.  They choose to hate.  But you must never be like them, okay?"

"Okay...  But... do I have to like him?"  Iz scrunched up his face.

Smiling, Joshua shook his head.

"No...  Sometimes we have to love and forgive people... but that doesn't mean we'll like them."

"Do you... forgive him?" Amala murmured.

Joshua met the girl's intent gaze then looked to her father.  He also seemed keen to hear the answer.

"He hasn't asked for my forgiveness.  But if he does... then, yes, I will forgive him.  But I would also hope that he fully realized and did his best to make amends for all the hurt he caused.  It wasn't just your uncle and me who were harmed.  Do you feel at all scared about being at the mosque now?" Joshua asked the two Khalid children.

They both nodded.

His head cocked, Joshua looked tenderly at them both.

"I'm sorry for that.  But, you see, that means he hurt you, too.  And the hundreds of other people who also go to your mosque and may feel afraid.  He made what should be a safe place feel unsafe.  And true repentance would mean reckoning with that."

"Do you think he will... reckon with that?" Christopher ventured.

Joshua sighed.

"I don't know...  If he does, I think it may take a while to get there.  But now..."  He smiled breezily.  "Let's talk about happier things.  How's school been?"

As the three children excitedly told Joshua about the waning days of their school year, Raheem patiently bided his time.  He hoped to find a few minutes to speak with Joshua on his own.

"Well, I'm excited to hear what you think about The Scarlet Letter, Amala and Christopher.  And, Iz, I think you'll do great on the math test but for now..."  Joshua waved to his bedstand.  "Christopher, could you look in that top drawer, please, and hand me my wallet?"

Christopher obeyed.

Joshua pulled a twenty dollar bill out and handed it to Amala.

"There's a great coffee and smoothie stand down the hall.  Why don't you three go get something while I talk to your dad for a bit?"

"Joshua, you don't have to..." Raheem insisted.

Joshua smiled and shook his head.

"I know.  But I want to.  In thanks for coming to visit me." 

Amala and Iz looked expectantly at their father.

"Well, okay.  Thanks!"  Raheem smiled appreciatively, grateful both for the generosity towards the kids and the opportunity it gave him.

"Yum!  Thanks, Joshua!"  Amala moved to embrace him.  "I hope we see you again soon... and out of here."

Joshua returned her smile.

"I'm sure you will."

Christopher clasped his hand.

"It was really great to see you again, Joshua.  I hope it's not another five years until next time."

With a chuckle, Joshua squeezed his hand and nodded.

"I hope it's not, either.  Thanks again for coming."

Lastly, Iz approached and flung himself at Joshua, causing the other three to grimace.  But if he felt any pain, Joshua didn't show it.

"Thank you for coming and for lending me your favorite comic book, Iz.  We can talk all about it when I'm done, eh?"

The boy nodded excitedly then trotted towards his big sister and Christopher.

"Okay!  See you soon, Joshua!  Keep feeling better!"

"Will do!"

Joshua and Raheem both smiled after the trio as they departed.

"Hura thinks there's something between Amala and Christopher," Raheem shared once they were out of earshot.

"Hmm...  Could be.  And how would you feel about that?"

Raheem shrugged.

"Okay.  I really like the kid.  I mean I feel some... rebellion against the idea that my little girl's at that age but... he's a good kid." 

"He is," Joshua verified.

The two sat in companionable silence before Joshua spoke.

"How are Ibrahim and Liyana doing?"

Raheem frowned.

"Liyana seems more or less like her usual self.  She's been texting pretty regularly with Hura.  Ibrahim...  Liyana wanted to tour a couple hospital nurseries yesterday but he asked to wait.  She understood.  And I did speak to him briefly on the phone yesterday.  He seemed... okay?  I think he's holding a lot in."

Joshua nodded.

"It has only been a couple of days.  I think Ibrahim needs a little time to process things for himself before talking with others.  And it was probably too soon to check out hospitals... even for a happy reason."

"True..."  Raheem sighed.  "Joshua... I've been thinking about Friday a lot."

Joshua reached over and patted his hand.

"Me too.  I really do hope, when you're ready, that you'll consider talking with someone about..."

"I will.  But...  This isn't about the trauma of it, Joshua.  This is about... what you did."  Raheem peered at the man, not taking his eyes off him.

Joshua calmly nodded.

"I was shot...  I know I was shot.  I... I felt it.  And I saw... the bullet hole.  Right here."  Raheem indicated the spot on his belly.  "I remember looking down and feeling... pain, yes.  But mostly shock.  I couldn't believe it had happened.  And it's true what they say...  My life flashed through my mind in mere seconds.  But then... then I just saw you.  Reaching out to me.  You touched me and... no more pain.  No more... wound.  Just... blood and a mysterious hole in... in my shirt.  I saw the shirt.  Here...  When they examined me.  They saw it, too.  The police saw it."

He waited for Joshua to respond.


Taken aback by the blunt, one-word answer, Raheem gaped.

"So... so who are you?"

Joshua again gently patted Raheem's hand.

"Who do you say I am?"

Raheem felt a shiver run down his spine and a lump form in his throat.

"I... I think you are Isa, son of Maryam."

Joshua beamed.

"And I... I think you are no mere prophet," Raheem continued.


"Forgive me for not... not seeing the truth earlier... about Isa... Jesus...  Yeshua?"

"Yeshua," Joshua softly confirmed.  "I was... and am... called Yeshua."

"Yeshua," Raheem repeated, testing it out.  He smiled.

"And you saw the truth much earlier than many, Raheem," Joshua consoled. 

The smile faded from Raheem's face.

"But all the years I've spent... trying to be a good Muslim, raising my children to be..."

"You spent those years seeking Allah's favor...  my Father's favor...  Do you think I could turn my back on those who sought my Father and who love my Father and love His children?"

Raheem blinked back tears.

"The Father and I are one," Joshua stressed.  "And so..."

"I... I was praying to you," Raheem concluded.

Joshua nodded and stroked Raheem's hair.

"I remember each prayer...  I remember you praying for an Atari."  Joshua chuckled and, through his tears, so did Raheem.

"Ouch..." he muttered, embarrassed.

Joshua only smiled.

"I remember you praying for the cool girl in class to notice you."


"I... I remember you praying for your father... praying that the cancer would go away... and then, eventually, praying for his last breath... because, as much as you wanted to keep him near you, you wanted him to be free from pain."

Raheem sobbed, nodding.

"And I was with you...  Through it all."

"You... you were," Raheem acknowledged.  "I... I felt it when we met.  As if... we weren't meeting.  I knew you."

Joshua beamed.

"I... I downloaded the Christian Bible on my phone.  I've been staying up reading it.  And I... I could hear you in the words.  The red letters.  But if it's all true then..." 

Raheem eyed Joshua's left hand, now covered by only a plain bandage.

"We were told prophets couldn't suffer such an... ignoble death."

Joshua shook his head.

"They shouldn't.  Nor should innocent children suffer.  Nor should the poor be made to pay for the sins of the rich.  And yet it happens.  All the time.  Prophets are not immune."

"Al-Masih is not immune," Raheem continued.  "God... is not immune."

"No," Joshua agreed.

"And so... what do I do now?  Do... do I tell Hura?  The children?  Ibrahim and Liyana?  Do... do I shout it from rooftops?" Raheem questioned.

"No.  No shouting.  But you answer, truthfully, any question asked of you.  This isn't like before.  I didn't come back to proclaim the Good News.  I didn't come to redeem humanity.  I've done that already.  Those with ears to hear will hear," Joshua assured.

"So... so why did you come back?"

Joshua looked tenderly at Raheem.

"There have been shootings in synagogues... churches... mosques.  My children have suffered and died.  And I... I am Immanuel.  'God with us.'  I needed to be with you in this.  And being here... it's not going to stop it.  I wish it would but I know it won't.  But footage from the prayer vigil... it was on the evening news.  And then it was shown in a brief clip on the national news.  And now... now it's going viral.  People all over the world are watching Jews, Christians, and Muslims converge to pray for a shared friend, to worship together, to care for one another.  That's important.  It's so, so important."

"It... it is," Raheem averred.

"And it will make a difference.  You will make a difference, Raheem."


"You'll see."  Joshua once again beamed at the man.  "But for right now, focus on making yourself well.  You've experienced a miracle, yes.  But you also saw hatred that day.  Here."

Raheem watched as Joshua grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down a phone number.

"This is the number for my friend, Behnam Al-Mitra.  He's not a counselor but I think he'll be of great help to you."

Raheem accepted the slip of paper.

"Thank you."

Joshua cocked his head when fresh tears welled in the man's eyes.

"Raheem, what else troubles you?"

"Hura...  I... I think she thinks I've lost my mind.  I... I want to tell her all of this but... I don't think she'll listen.  I'm afraid she'll... push me away."

Joshua smiled sympathetically.

"I can understand that.  Hura is a woman of science.  But... as it happens, I can be found in science, too."

Raheem raised his head to see Joshua grinning.  Slowly, a relaxed smile stretched across his own face.


Matthew patiently listened as the woman relayed her husband's story to him.  At points, he'd tried to interrupt but, always, she was too quick for him.

"So I told him the bullet must have rebounded...  Maybe just, you know, dinged him.  It had no more force left in it than to tear his shirt."


"But he wouldn't hear of it!  I think he fell.  Yes!  Maybe he fell when he was trying to escape the bullets and... he's concussed!  They might not have checked him out for that."  Hura dove into her purse and pulled out a cell phone.  "Raheem's at the hospital now.  I'll call him and tell him to get himself checked out and..."

Matthew reached out and let his hand hover over Hura's phone.

"Dr. Khalid...  I've personally interviewed several witnesses to the shooting.  Not a single one mentioned seeing your husband fall.  A number of them recounted Salma being pushed behind the sign.  But nothing about Raheem being on the ground.  I highly doubt he hit his head."

"But..."  Hura's face fell.  "Then... then maybe the trauma... PTSD..."

"Listen, I can't let you see the shirt.  It's in custody and there'd be trouble if I took it out of the evidence room.  But would it help you if I showed you photos?"

 Hura considered this.


"All right...  I'll be right back.  Can I get you anything to drink while I'm..."

"No.  Thank you."


Matthew offered an encouraging smile then left the room.  Once his office door was shut behind him, he leaned against it and looked up.

"Joshua... how am I supposed to handle this?" he prayed.

No answer came... but he already knew it.  Joshua was the Truth... so he had to tell the truth.

Matthew grabbed a file folder and returned to his office.

"I have them.  Now, I warn you... these could be difficult to see."

"I'm a doctor.  I can handle it," Hura assured.


Matthew set the file in front of her.

Hura whipped it open then froze.

There was the blood-splattered sign.  There was a bloody footprint.  And there was her husband's shirt... a shirt she had bought him... bloodied and rent.

Tears spilled down Hura's cheeks.

Matthew handed her a tissue.

"It... it's a lot of blood."


"Joshua's blood."

Matthew said nothing. 

"Maybe... maybe when Raheem grabbed Joshua... something on Joshua tore his shirt.  A... a belt buckle or..."

"There's bullet residue on the shirt.  That's a bullet hole," Matthew insisted.

"So then... dinged.  Like I said."

"Never in my career have I known something like that to happen, Dr. Khalid.  A bullet having just enough strength to tear cloth but not leave even a tiny mark on the skin?"

"Maybe... the shirt was loose.  It wasn't right up against his skin."

Matthew could tell that the woman wasn't persuaded by her own argument.  And the next photo proved it. 

Hura stared at Raheem, the shirt still on him.  It was tight around his gut.

"That... that has to be it," she insisted.  "Because the only other possibility..."

"Have you ever known your husband to have outlandish flights of fancy, Dr. Khalid?"

"No...  And Hura.  Please."

"Is he prone to hyperbole, Hura?  Mischief?"

"No...  He... he's a straight arrow."

"Have you ever doubted your husband when he's sincerely confided something in you?"

"No..." Hura murmured, her eyes welling again.

"Hura, did you see this morning's paper?  There's a write-up about the shooter."

Hura looked to the police officer and shook her head in disgust. 

"No.  I don't want to know anything about him."

"And I respect that.  I do," Matthew insisted.  "But there's one thing you should know.  He had three guns up there... enough ammunition for dozens upon dozens of shots.  And, at our count, he was able to fire only five times.  That's all.  Why?  We don't know.  But it's a miracle he didn't do any more damage.  I believe that whole-heartedly.  And if that miracle happened..."  He rested a hand on one of the photos of Raheem's shirt.  "I have to consider that maybe another miracle happened, too."

"But..."  Hura shook her head.  She sighed and rubbed at her eyes.

"Our lab techs are bewildered.  When the crime scene was examined, they found something very interesting.  There were three distinct blood profiles: Joshua's, Ibrahim's, and..."

"Raheem's," the two said in unison.

Matthew nodded.

"My God..." Hura choked out before beginning to sob.

Matthew patiently waited for Hura to calm.  When she did, she looked up at him with pleading eyes.

"But... how?"

Matthew sighed then looked at the woman with tenderness.

"Your husband told you how."

"You... you believe him?"

Matthew nodded.

"Yes...  Yes, I do."


That afternoon, Jemima made her rounds, checking on her patients.  She saved Joshua's room for last, thinking she'd take her break there.  But when she entered the room, she found he was not alone.

Joshua was napping, a peaceful counterpart to the woman who stood beside him... nervous energy radiating off of her.

Silent, Jemima watched.

"Isa..." Hura whispered.

Joshua stirred.  He opened his eyes and smiled at Hura.

"Hura... hello," he greeted.

"My... my husband...  You healed my husband... my Raheem," the doctor exclaimed.

Joshua sat up.  He reached for Hura's right hand and squeezed it.


Jemima continued to watch, tears filling her own eyes, as Hura fell to her knees and rested her forehead against Joshua's hand.


Raheem gazed out at the Al-Mitras' yard where his children and Christopher were playing with Aiyla, Daisy, Omar, and Aurora. 

"Raspberry iced tea for you, my star, and the plain stuff for Raheem and me," Behnam announced as he placed glasses on the patio table.

Raheem smiled at his host.

"Thank you very much.  And thank you for taking my call and inviting me over."

"It's no problem," Behnam assured.  "I'm just... happy to be able to return the favor.  The Friends were very supportive of me when I learned the truth about Joshua."

"And... you were Muslim at the time?"

"In name, yes.  And... I did pray.  But... my faith was hollow.  Isra and I..."  Behnam sighed and looked to his wife.

"We saw the ugly side of Islam in Afghanistan... Behnam even more so than I did.  I grew up in a peaceful village filled with people who loved me and my family and who truly honored and loved Allah.  Behnam... he was raised by an extremist uncle."

"But you're so... calm and reasonable," Raheem mused, looking to Behnam.

The man smiled.

"Thank you.  I never agreed with my uncle.  He was a bad man.  And, honestly, I think he would have been a bad Jew, a bad Christian, a bad atheist...  Anything.  He was self-serving above all else.  He weaponized Islam but he would have done the same with any belief system.  But when that's the version of your religion that you see...  It doesn't exactly inspire deep devotion."

"No, I would imagine not."

"When Isra converted to Christianity once we'd come to the States, I supported that.  I also supported raising the children in the faith.  But... I didn't feel it myself.  I was too jaded.  But then to spend time with the Friends... to hear them speak with such love of their God..."  Behnam's eyes misted.  "I wanted that.  And then when we met Joshua..."

"I've never felt such love in my life," Isra gushed.  "And I've felt great love."  She beamed at her husband.

"Yes... yes, I felt that, too.  Even before I knew who he was," Raheem agreed.  "But..."

"Go on," Behnam encouraged.

"All those close to you... they were Christians.  They believed in Joshua before you did.  I... I struggle with how to share this with my family."

Isra patted the man's clasped hands.

"God will give you guidance.  But you're right... we don't know what that's like.  I suppose we felt it a little when Salma was recovered.  But... this is different."

"I do find the timing interesting," Behnam mused.  He waved to the two eldest children who were carefully watching as Aiyla and Daisy climbed a tree.  "Christopher coming into your daughter's life just as all this is unfolding... the Christ carrier.  That's what his name means."

Raheem smiled at the teenagers.

"It is interesting," he agreed.  "Maybe he could help answer questions... should Amala have them.  There is one other thing..."

"What is it?" Behnam prompted gently when he saw the man's eyes fill.

"My father... he... he was a good man.  One of the best.  But he... died a Muslim.  Joshua said he heard my prayers... and that he meets with all those who pass... so does that mean... will I see my dad again?"

"Oh, Raheem..."  Behnam hugged him.  "Yes, yes you will.  Have you heard about what happened to JenniAnn a few years back?"

"Whisperings.  She was shot, too?"

"Yes.  And almost died," Isra affirmed.  "She had a near-death experience."

"And while she was There, she spoke with Joshua... and with my sister, Badriya.  She, too, died a Muslim.  And she was in Heaven," Behnam tearfully recounted.  "Happy... whole... perfect... living eternally with Joshua and with His Father."

Weeping joyfully, Raheem hugged his new friends.


Takoda smiled as he perched in the window of Joshua's room. 

Snuggled beside Joshua, Joccy was excitedly showing him clips from national news coverage of the prayer vigil.  They looked every bit father and daughter.

"Ooh... look.  This is my favorite one, I think!"

"'And we close our news broadcast with this stirring scene out of New York City.  Following a shooting at the Manhattan Mosque, a group of Jews, Christians, and Muslims joined together in prayer and solidarity,'" a newscaster informed.

"I just... I'm heartbroken over this.  That isn't what New York is about.  This... this is what New York is about," a teary-eyed attendee told the camera as she spun around, pointing to the brimming St. G's lot.

"I can't help but notice the symbolism, as sorry as I am for Mr. Davidson.  I mean here we have a Jewish man known for playing Jesus, shot in front of the mosque where he was working.  He's an awesome symbol of unity... a part of three different faith communities.  Crap like this wouldn't happen if we were all more like him," a man opined.

"'Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down...'" the crowd sang as the camera panned around before the news anchor reappeared.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Davidson for a speedy recovery and with the entire Manhattan Mosque community.  Thank you and good night," he intoned.

"They got your name in there twice!" Joccy gushed.  "Well, three times if you count the reference to Jesus.  It did make me wonder, though...  If you've appeared to other people and they saw that... would they freak out?"

"This is the only place I've used the name Joshua Davidson," Joshua explained.  "I mean I've used Joshua before and I've used Davidson before... just not together.  So the name alone wouldn't send up any alarms.  Dad did tell me some news outlets outside the area got my photo.  So... anyone who might be alarmed has since been visited by one of my angels... assuring them I'm very much okay."

"Oh good..." 

"Yes.  But now...  You two have been here nearly all afternoon.  It's a beautiful day!  You should get outside, have some fun," Joshua urged.

"Do you want us to leave?" Joccy quietly asked.

Joshua tweaked her nose.

"No, my Joccy.  Never.  But I'm also fine with you leaving.  You're cooped up in a classroom nearly all week then you go Below.  It'd be good for you to get some sun and..." he lowered his voice.  "I think your friend over there is getting a bit restless."

Takoda chuckled.  He was, in fact.  He wasn't used to remaining indoors for so long.

Joccy smiled at the angel.

"I suppose he is...  And a walk around Central Park might be nice."

"It would," Takoda agreed.

"Sounds lovely.  And... I think I could do with a nap," Joshua admitted.

"Have you been sleeping okay?" Joccy checked.

Joshua shrugged.

"Pretty good.  There's just a lot of... well, it can be... loud... here."

"Loud?" the young woman questioned. 

"Think of all the sick people here, all the worried family members, the over-worked doctors and nurses," Takoda explained. 

"But... I didn't think you could hear our thoughts when you're like this?" Joccy questioned Joshua.

"I can't but..."

Awareness flashed in Joccy's eyes.

"But you know everyone here so well that you may as well be hearing their thoughts... like with us," she finished.

Joshua smiled at her and squeezed her hand.

"Yes.  But don't let that worry you.  I'll be just fine.  And I'll be back at Willowveil soon.  It's quieter there."

"And it's easier for us to come and go from there.  So... I can't wait til then.  But... we'll let you go now."  Joccy hugged Joshua and kissed his cheek.  "I hope you get some rest."

"Thank you.  I hope you enjoy your walk."

"Take care, Joshua."  Takoda embraced him. 

"Will do.  Have fun!"

"We will!"

Joshua smiled after the two as they left, his eyes misting.  There would be trouble ahead for both of them... but, for now, they were happy and content in their deepening friendship.  He sighed and sunk back against his pillows.

Closing his eyes, he began to pray.

"'Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings sleep to my eyes, slumber to my eyelids.  May it be Your will.  Lord my God and God of my ancestors, that I lie down in peace and that I arise in peace...'"


Joshua had barely been asleep for half an hour when a noise awoke him... sniffling.

Wearily, he opened his eyes and glimpsed one of the nurses checking his vitals... Caroline.

"Hey there, Caroline," he greeted softly.

The nurse jumped then hastily rubbed at her eyes.

"Hi!  Sorry.  I hope I didn't wake you up."

"It's fine."  Joshua sat up.  "I don't want to ruin tonight's sleep, anyway.  Just needed a short nap and I got that.  You okay?"

Caroline noted one last number then smiled at Joshua and nodded... but her facade quickly crumbled and she began to cry again.

Joshua reached up and patted her arm.

"There now...  What's wrong?" he queried.

"I... I shouldn't say.  It's... about another patient."

"I see.  Well... maybe you could just not tell me anything identifiable about this patient but tell me why you're upset?"

"He... he died," she blurted out.

"I'm sorry."

"He... he was such a nice man but... but he didn't believe a-and so... I hate to think of him not... not being in Heaven," Caroline sobbed.

Joshua thought back on all the other times the sensitive and sweet woman had wept over the presumed fate of her patients.  It was time to take that burden away.

"I see.  And I can understand why you'd be upset.  I'd be upset, too, if I thought someone I cared about was doomed to an eternity apart from God... from love," Joshua concurred.  "But...  I believe that God has infinite compassion and understanding.  I think He understands why some people don't believe in Him.  He knows the times Christianity was used to make them feel badly about themselves.  He knows when they were told God would only love them if they did this or didn't do that.  He knows when they've witnessed self-proclaimed Christians treat others with disdain.  I think, when their time comes, He speaks to them Himself.  And then they have a choice."

"But... but we have to choose Christ in this life," Caroline protested.

"When does life end?" Joshua questioned.  "For a long time, humans considered cardiac death to be the end of life.  But now, more and more often, they consider brain death to be the end of life.  Still others insist life continues even after brain death.  So who are we to say when someone loses the ability to choose?  Only God knows what can happen in that sliver of a second before death when communication with fellow humans may have ended... but communication with God?  He's not bound by the senses.  He can hear a person cry out for Him even when their voice is gone.  He can hear their thoughts even when there are no brain waves.  And He can speak to them through the entire process of dying."

Caroline had calmed a bit as Joshua spoke.  But he could tell she found his words difficult to accept.

Joshua smiled gently.

"You're wondering what the point of living a good, Christian life is if someone can be saved at the very last moment," he posited.

Caroline's face flushed but she nodded.

"Are you happy being Christian?"

Caroline smiled again and nodded.

"It's hard sometimes but... I feel... loved and looked after.  So... there is a point."

"Yes.  And there's a point in spreading the Gospel message... respectfully.  Because you should want others to feel that, too.  But there should be no sense of bitterness when you consider that someone could spend their whole life denying Jesus only to find their way to Him at the end.  Think of the parable of the workers."

The nurse's face lit up even more.

"Yes...  The one who came at the very end got the same reward as those who labored all day.  That makes sense!  I bet Jesus Himself had this sort of discussion with someone."

Joshua chuckled.  If she only knew he was having it at that very moment...

"I'm sure he did," he replied.

"So you think Mr. Roberts is in Heaven?"  Caroline's face burned red.  "Oh...  I shouldn't have said his name."

"I promise I won't tell anyone," Joshua vowed.  "And, yes, I do.  I think he's enjoying many wonderful reunions right now."

"That... that would be really nice.  I...  I feel that you're right."  Caroline's eyes misted though her face remained relaxed.  "Jemima told me I should talk to you.  She was right."

"Jemima has a habit of being right."

Caroline laughed.

"She does, doesn't she?"  With a sigh, the nurse glanced at her watch.  "I better be moving on.  Thank you, Joshua.  Truly."

"You're very welcome, Caroline.  Thank you for all the care you've shown me.  It's meant a lot and made my time here much more pleasant."

"I... I'm so glad.  And, last I heard, doc still plans to release you sometime Tuesday.  I'm so excited for you but... I'll miss you."

"I have a feeling we'll see each other again," Joshua hinted.

Caroline beamed.

"I hope so!  Well, bye for now!"

"Bye for now," Joshua echoed, smiling after Caroline as she exited his room.  He laughed as he envisioned the future... when it would be Caroline's turn to come Home and she would recognize him... and realize who it was she'd talked with all those years before... and know that he had arranged to be taken to that very hospital so he could give her peace... peace that would sustain her for a career spanning nearly fifty years.

"'For I know the plans I have for you... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,'" Joshua murmured.  He smiled up at his Dad then sighed contentedly before reaching for Iz's comic and starting to read.


"Hura, are you here?  We got dinner," Raheem called as he and the children entered the apartment.

"Bedroom," Hura called.

Raheem handed the take-out bags to Amala and Iz.

"Could you two please set the table?  I'm going to check on your mom."



Raheem was shocked when he entered the room he shared with his wife.

Hura was sitting in their bed, weeping, with an open book in her lap.

"Hura... what are you read..."  Raheem paused when he picked up the book.  It was a Bible, open to John's account of the Passion.

"It... it really happened.  To him... to Joshua," Hura croaked out.

"Have you been reading... all four?" Raheem asked as he sat beside his wife and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.  "And... Joshua..."

Hura nodded.

"I... I spoke with Detective Matthew and... he said you were shot... that... that it was a miracle... among other miracles.  And... he... he reminded me of how... how trustworthy you are.  You don't lie.  You don't make up stories.  So... so then I went to see Joshua... Isa.  I... I called him Isa and he... he woke up.  He confirmed that he... healed you.  I... had to know more.  One of the nurses... she gave me this."  Hura reverently caressed the Bible.  "It... it's all true, isn't it, Raheem?"

With tears pouring down his face, Raheem nodded.  He would not be alone in making his way in his new reality.

"It is, Hura.  It's all true," he confirmed. 

"Such... such a nice man..." Hura lamented.

"The best," Raheem affirmed.  "But sometimes... sometimes bad things happen to even the best... even to God."

"Yes..."  With a wavering sigh, Hura embraced her husband.  "They do.  And so... so we are Christians now?"

Raheem beamed.

"So it would seem."

"How do we tell the kids?"

Before Raheem could respond, the bedroom door creaked open and revealed Amala and Iz, both looking stunned and teary.

"We... we were worried when Mom didn't come out," Amala exclaimed.  "And so..."

"We listened," Iz finished.  "We heard...  Joshua is Isa and he's..."

"God?" Amala questioned.

Hura and Raheem exchanged a glance, seeming to read each other's minds.  Eavesdropping certainly wasn't behavior they wanted to encourage... but it did solve their problem rather neatly.

Remembering what Joshua told him... he must answer all questions truthfully... Raheem nodded.

"Yes, he is.  A-and the truth is... I was shot on Friday.  Right here."  He rested his hand over his belly.  "But Joshua healed me.  Right away.  He... he healed me even though he had to have known that he... he was going to get shot himself."

Hearing this, the children roused from their stupor and hopped on their parents' bed, embracing them.

"Daddy..." Amala cried as she wept in his arms.

"I'm here, baby.  I'm just fine... thanks to Joshua."

"Superman...  He's like Superman," Iz enthused. 

Hura chuckled and smoothed back his hair.

"Even better, sweetie.  Even better than Superman."


Monday, April 29th, 2019

Joshua knew as soon as he saw Jemima's face that something was amiss.  She looked to be on the verge of tears
as she brought in his breakfast.

Rising from his chair, he quickly strode towards the woman and took the tray from her.  He set it on a table then embraced the nurse.

"Jemmy... what's..."

"It... it's stupid."

Joshua kissed her hair when she buried her face in his shoulder.

"I'm thinking it's not stupid... and I can never be wrong."

Through the tears that were now freely falling, Jemima laughed.

"Can't argue with that."

Joshua steered her to the chair he'd vacated and motioned for her to sit.

"I... I can't stay."

"You can for a few moments."  Joshua opened up a granola bar that was resting on the tray and handed it to her.  "Chocolate..."

"You're supposed to eat that."

"You need it more than I do."

"All right..."  Jemima took a bite then sighed deeply.  "It is yummy..."

Joshua smiled and waited for her to take another bite.

"And now... what's going on?"

"I, umm, I delivered breakfast to Cameron's room."

Frowning, Joshua nodded for her to continue.

"He... he refused to eat any of it because... he didn't want anything a Jew had touched.  And... and it's not like I didn't hear that 'dirty Jew,' 'filthy dog' stuff all the time... before.  But I... I guess I forgot how it stings and..."

Joshua softly brushed some hair behind Jemima's ear, remembering how much the gesture had soothed her when she was small. 

"And then I just got to thinking...  His hatred knows no bounds!  He... he glared out that window... he saw you... he saw your face... and he... he pulled the trigger," Jemima wailed.  "I mean... at least it was a... a job for the Roman soldiers.  No one made him shoot you!"

Joshua balanced on the arm of the chair and wrapped his arms around the quaking woman. 

"This has been a pretty rough return to Earth for you, Jemmy."

"Maybe... maybe I wasn't ready but..."

"But you were so small the first time.  You didn't have to go through what your Ama did... what my Ama did...  So you thought you should be here this time.  Hmm?"


Joshua smiled tearfully at her.

"And I thank you for that.  So much.  You've brought me so much joy by being here... just as you brought me joy all those many, many years ago with that unique little smile of yours and that sweet baby-giggle."

Jemima smiled... then laughed when Joshua made a face designed to provoke such a reaction.

"Just like that," he recalled.  "But... I think you should head Home after I leave tomorrow.  Tie up what loose ends you need to... but then go be with your Ama... and Abba."

"Okay..."  Jemima nodded.  "I... I know you'll be well looked after, Yeshua.  And... that you have some looking after to do yourself at Willowveil."

"Yes," he confirmed.

"You know those people who think you and Ama had a thing?"

Joshua chuckled and nodded.

"What about them?"

"Do you think they have any idea how many totally wrecked people there would be if you belonged to any one woman?"

Continuing to laugh, Joshua shook his head.

"No, they don't have the slightest idea."

"And someone else already had Ama's heart in that way..."  Jemima smiled tenderly.

"Yes... he did."

"Tell me again about you and Lucius in Sheol?  I love that story..."

"Happily," Joshua agreed as Jemima settled down beside him, her eyes wide with expectation as if she hadn't already heard it so many, many times before.


As a means of passing the time until Joshua's release, Andrew and JenniAnn and Emma and Peter gathered in Willowveil's backyard to get some fresh air with their children. 

"Look at those two," Peter commented, waving to where Ivy and Sy were strolling through the yard, Sawyer snuggled in the former's arms.  "I don't bet they'll wait very long after the wedding to have kids."

"I dunno..." Emma countered.  "Ivy wants to get her Masters.  And I think Zeke and Diana would like for them to be a bit more established first.  I imagine Doreen and Mark feel the same."

"I was kinda hoping they'd settle over at Serendipity for the first couple years at least," JenniAnn admitted.

"They might.  It would be a good way to save money.  But if Sy wants to be a pastor, I think they'll have to find an apartment at least... eventually.  Might raise suspicions, otherwise," Peter pointed out.

Andrew laughed.

"Listen to us...  Planning their futures for them." 

JenniAnn smiled sheepishly.

"I know...  I used to hate when adults did that.  And...  I'm also being a bit selfish.  I don't know what poor Violeta would do without Ivy.  I spose move back in with us."

"Which you would be more than okay with," Andrew teased.

"I would." JenniAnn admitted.  "I like having my kids under one roof.  But...  I've realized that'll likely never happen again.  Max has more than officially left the nest."

"Just to go start my own, Maja.  I'm always happy to come back," Max replied as he approached with Rose and Landon. 

"There's my boy!" JenniAnn cheered, taking Landon when Rose held him out to her.

Max pouted.

"Well then...  Seems I've been demoted."

JenniAnn laughed and kissed his cheek.

"Not at all.  But Gamma loves seeing her little Landon." 

Rose laughed.

"Well, since you have my baby..."  She lifted Avi from his carrier.  "How are you, little man?"

Avi laughed and kicked his legs.

"Sooo happy!" Rose cooed.  "You're just sooo happy!"

Emma smiled.

"I'm glad so many of them are too little to understand... about Joshua."

"Me too," Max concurred.  "I kinda wish I was too little to understand..."

Peter, who had temporarily been distracted by his phone, sighed.

"Well, I don't mean to compound things but...  The theatre got a message on Facebook... from Nathan Burke."

The adults all exchanged concerned looks.  While Joshua had only ever referred to the shooter as Cameron, they'd learned his last name from news reports.

"His dad?" Andrew checked.

Peter replied with a nod.

"He and his wife want to meet with Joshua... extend their sympathies."

"Jemima mentioned them saying as much," JenniAnn muttered.  "She seemed to think it was a publicity ploy.  Have you told Joshua they reached out?"

"No.  I only just now saw the message.  I think I'd better go see Joshua... see how he wants me to respond.  I suppose I could call but... I'd feel better talking with him about it in person," Peter explained.

"I can go with you if you'd like," Andrew offered.

"I would, actually.  Thanks." 

"I... don't like this," Rose muttered.  "I've seen commercials with that guy.  He seems... sleazy and opportunistic.  I don't want him to try to manipulate Joshua.  I know he can't, of course.  But it'd still be a pain for Joshua."

"If he wants, we'll make sure he's not left alone with them," Peter vowed.  "And... maybe it would even be best if we could get it scheduled yet today or tomorrow morning... before Joshua is released.  A hospital is a very controlled environment."

"Good point."  Emma rose and hugged her husband.  "Sawyer and I will hang around here til you're back."

"Sounds good."

"Max... if we do get it scheduled quickly, I might call you for reinforcement."  Andrew clapped his son on his back.

"Of course.  Just say the word."

The two men hugged then Andrew pulled JenniAnn into his embrace.

"It'll be fine.  And just remember... he's coming back here tomorrow." 

"I... I know.  And I can't wait.  Just... another thing to get through."

Andrew brushed some hair behind her ear.

"But they're his kids, too," he gently reminded.

"Yeah..."  JenniAnn stretched up and kissed him.  "I'll see you later.  Love you."

"Love you, too." 

As the two men left, the others peered after them and prayed that Joshua would be treated with respect.


After listening to Andrew's and Peter's concerns and suggestions, Joshua had agreed to a meeting with the Burkes... and soon.  Since no one wanted them to know which was Joshua's room, Jemima made arrangements for the meeting to take place in a small waiting room.  As Joshua sat there with Andrew, Peter, and Max, the nurse stood in the hallway where she was the first to glimpse the couple.  She inhaled and exhaled deeply when she saw Nathan Burke was clutching an obnoxious cluster of "Get Well Soon" balloons while his wife, Donna, stumbled beneath a massive vase of flowers.

"Abba, give me patience," Jemima prayed, peering upwards.

"Excuse me, miss.  Nathan and Donna Burke.  We're looking for Mr. Joshua Davidson.  Is he..."

Jemima pulled open the waiting room door.

"This way.  Let me help..."  She moved to help Donna with the vase only to find herself carrying the whole thing.

Once the group was inside, Joshua immediately moved towards Jemima.

"Jemmy, let me..."  He had his arms out.

Andrew grabbed the vase.

"I've got it.  Don't want to pull the stitches in your wrist," he reminded, feeling only a twinge of guilt for deliberately saying it loudly enough for the couple to hear.

"Right.  Thank you."  Joshua indicated for his guests to sit.  "Please, make yourselves comfortable."

"We will, thank you!  You're looking very well!  Up on your feet and everything!" Nathan cheered.

Joshua nodded.

"I'm being very well cared for and I'm very grateful to the surgeon and nurses who did a wonderful job when I came in."

"As are we," Nathan agreed, smiling too widely.  "Joshua, Donna and I want you to know that we are so very sorry for our son's behavior.  Please know that we had no part in putting that nonsense in his head.  I mean... we're just not like that.  We voted for Obama.  Happily!"

Peter groaned to himself while Max anxiously jabbed a cushion with his finger.  Andrew and Jemima exchanged annoyed glances.

"I see," Joshua replied, his tone calm.  "So... you didn't see any warning signs?"

"Well, to be completely honest with you, we were concerned about the guns.  But... I have guns.  I go hunting sometimes."

"I wasn't shot with a hunting rifle."  A tremble came into Joshua's voice.  "The imam wasn't shot with a hunting rifle."

"Well, no...  But at least he didn't have one of those AK-47s or..."

"But he did," Joshua insisted.  "He just didn't have it with him on Friday."

Nathan shuffled uncomfortably while Donna stared down at her nails.

"Well, obviously he didn't mean to do much harm," Nathan defended.

Jemima audibly gasped.

"You're right," Joshua agreed, to the shock of the others.  "He didn't want to harm any passersby.  He wanted more control... because he only wanted to harm... kill Muslims.  He only wanted to terrorize Muslims.  This didn't start with the shooting.  This started with hateful letters... voicemails...  Neither of you knew about those?"

"Lots of people write horrifying things," Donna offered.  "Stephen King makes millions off of it."

Joshua's eyes flashed.

"Stephen doesn't send hateful letters, anonymously, with the intent of terrifying people.  He writes books people choose to read."

Nathan balked at his wife before giving Joshua another smile.

"You're right.  Of course you're right, Mr. Davidson," he attempted to placate.  "I think we've gotten off track.  Really we just came here to tell you how sorry we are.  And if there's anything we can do for you... help with medical bills or..."

Joshua shook his head.

"I can handle my medical bills.  I suggest you save the money for counseling for Cameron."

"Good idea.  He'll need it.  Losing the ability to walk..."  Nathan sighed.

"He will need it for that.  It's a tremendous loss."  Joshua's face softened.  "But I also mean the help he needed so long before this...  Help with his anger.  Help in realizing that he's allowed hatred to poison his mind and heart.  And if... if you could just be honest... tell your story... then maybe other parents..."

Nathan's face darkened.

"We have nothing to tell other parents.  We didn't know anything," he lied.

Eyes brimming, Joshua turned his gaze to Donna.

"It could save lives," he pleaded.  "It... it could save another Cameron from being hurt."

A tear trickled down the woman's cheek but she shook her head.

"We can't..." she murmured.  "We just can't."

"Leonard was right.  This was a bad idea."  Nathan grabbed his wife's arm.  "We need to go.  Mr. Davidson, best wishes on a complete recovery.  Good bye."

"Good bye..." Donna meekly echoed.

"Please...  Just think about..." Joshua was interrupted by the door slamming.

"Yeshu..."  Jemima hurried to him and sunk down onto the couch cushions with him.

"They knew..." Joshua choked out.  "They knew for months...  Not all parents do.  But... they did.  They just kept denying it... putting it off...  A-and they could help others if... if only they'd listen to me."

"Joshua..."  Andrew crouched on the ground and took his hands in his.

Still seated together, Peter and Max wept quietly.  They had been prepared to defend Joshua.  They hadn't expected to see him so crushed.

Noticing that Joshua was struggling to breathe, Jemima gently placed a finger over his lips.

"Shhh...  Just breathe for a few moments.  Please, Yeshu," she urged.

Joshua obeyed and rested before he resumed speaking.

"I... I thought... maybe if they could see me... face to face... they would listen.  But..."  He shook his head.  "They're too afraid... afraid of losing their business, their money.  But they would fare better if they would just own what happened... what... what they knew."  He kissed Jemima's hair and stroked Andrew's cheek before looking tenderly at Max and Peter.  "I'm all right.  I am.  Just... disappointed.  It's never been easy when people refuse to hear me."  He sighed deeply.  "But... many do listen.  Including all of you.  And for that... I'm grateful.  So very, very grateful."  Joshua gazed out the window and smiled, silently thanking his Dad. 

When he rose to his feet, the four others surrounded him in a group hug.

Joshua smiled and brushed away his tears.  Then, with another sigh, he eyed the balloons and flowers.

"Let's break these up.  Divide them among the patients and nurses and doctors on the floor."

He plucked a daisy and stuck it behind Jemima's ear.

"A daisy for my dove."

"Yeshu...  thank you."

"Thank you for being here... all of you.  And now... let's get to work."

The mood of the five quickly improved as they chatted and made bouquets.  When it came to dispersing them, they grew even more animated and joyful.

And then there was only one bouquet left with a bright green balloon tied to it.

"This one is for Cameron," Joshua announced.  "He always loved this shade.  He had a teddy bear this color that he got for his second birthday and dragged everywhere."  He chuckled.  "It was so filthy-looking... even with washing.  Donna was mortified whenever it made an appearance."

Jemima and the three men exchanged concerned glances.

"I can take it, Joshua," Max offered.

Joshua shook his head.

"I'll take it.  Dad told me he's sleeping so..."

Joshua lifted the bouquet and made his way to the young man's room.  With a wave from Andrew, Jemima followed and stood in the doorway.  She watched as Joshua set the bouquet in front of the window.  Then he stood by Cameron's bedside.

Tears blinded Jemima's eyes as Joshua set a hand on the sleeping man's arm.

"I still love you, Cameron.  I always will.  And... and I hope one day you realize that."

Joshua lightly patted his arm then went to Jemima and pulled her close.

They walked, arms around each other, back to Joshua's room while Andrew, Max, and Peter followed... struck anew by the depth of God's love.


Imam Ibrahim sat at his desk, attempting to catch-up on emails and Facebook messages.  So many, many people were writing to convey their condolences and concern.  There were the odd rude, hateful comments.  But they were drowned out by all the other kind, considerate words.

He was just finishing what seemed like his hundredth reply of the day when Liyana entered his study.

"Phone call."  She held her cell phone out to him.

"On your phone?"

Smiling, his wife nodded.

"Weird..."  Ibrahim picked up the call.  "Good morning.  This is Imam Ibrahim of the Manhattan Mosque.  How may I help you?"

"Ibrahim!  Hello!  This is Tony Merriman.  Apologies for calling this way but the mosque's mainline is giving a message that the voicemail box is full."

"Again?  We'll look into that.  Thanks for letting me know, Archbishop.  How can I help you?"

"Tony, please!  And I'm hoping you and your lovely wife might join me on Wednesday night for a dinner party here at my home.  Our Joshua will be out of the hospital and I'd like to celebrate that.  Nothing fancy.  Just a potluck... but don't feel you and Liyana need to bring anything.  It'll be you and Raheem and Hura and their children.  Bring Liyana's mother, too, if you'd like!  Rabbi Yakov and Tiva.  Salma and a handful of her sisters.  Several of Joshua's friends."

"At... at the cathedral?" Ibrahim stammered.

"Sure.  Is that okay?"

"You're sure you want that?  We might be seen and... you could be... targeted."

"I'm not afraid, Ibrahim.  And you shouldn't have to carry that burden of fear alone.  We're with you.  God is with you."

Tears stung the imam's eyes.  He was afraid... so afraid he'd tried to convince Liyana to go stay with her mother... so afraid that he hadn't visited Joshua since that first day.  It hurt too much... frightened him too much to see him in the hospital.

"Let's go, Ibrahim.  We should go," Liyana urged.

Ibrahim nodded.

"Yes...  Yes, we'll come.  Thank you so much for the invitation, Arch...  Tony.  What time?"

"I was thinking we'd gather around 5:30.  Dinner at 6:00?"


Liyana beamed.

"We're looking forward to it.  Thank you, Tony."

"Thanks for agreeing!  My best to Liyana.  See you both on Wednesday!"

"Wednesday, 5:30," Ibrahim repeated.  "Take care until then."

"You too!  Good bye!"

"Good bye."

Ibrahim ended the call then peered up at his wife.

"We're going to dinner with the archbishop on Wednesday..." he mused. 

Liyana settled onto his knee and hugged him.

"I can't wait!  We need something fun.  And... it just sounds so fancy... dinner at the cathedral!"

Ibrahim chuckled.

"As fancy as a potluck can be, I suppose."

"Hmm...  I need to decide what to make.  He told me we didn't need to bring anything but... oh!  I'll make that quinoa salad that Joshua liked so much.  And cookies...  Baby wants cookies."

Ibrahim patted her belly.

"Do they now?"

Liyana nodded then gently tugged her husband's beard.

"And they could really go for some ice cream now..."

Ibrahim smiled and caressed his wife's face.

"Would you like to go get some ice cream?" he asked.

Liyana nodded eagerly.

"We have been cooped up in here...  All right.  Let's go."


Liyana rewarded him with a kiss and said a silent prayer of gratitude.  Maybe her beloved was beginning to come out of his funk.


After finishing his call to the Azizis, Tony smiled to himself.  He was glad Ibrahim had agreed to come.  He knew it would mean a lot to Joshua to have him and Liyana there... and maybe even Fatima.

Satisfied with himself, the archbishop resumed the task he'd set aside to make his call: rotating out his many portraits of Joshua.  Since they'd met, Owen had gifted him with several prints and paintings... too many to display all at once.  And so, every month, he changed them up. 

Flipping through his selection, Tony felt pulled to one particular piece.  Owen had painted it for Fr. Mike shortly after he'd left St. Mary Magdalene's and Tony had been so taken with it that the artist had created another.

"Beautiful..." Tony praised as he studied it.

In the piece, Joshua stood with Mary in his arms, his head rested on hers.  His hand on her shoulder was pierced.  Owen had dubbed it "Sunday at the Tomb."  Its message was all at once intimate, sweet, and victorious.  Tony wanted to be sure his guests saw it as they celebrated Joshua's recovery.



Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

Dr. Neeley watched attentively as Joshua took his final breathing test.  His incisions had already been checked and cleared.

"All right then!  Looks great.  And with that... I release you, Mr. Davidson," he declared.

Andrew, JenniAnn, Owen, and Zeke who were waiting to take Joshua back to Willowveil all cheered but moans could be heard from the hallway.

Peeking her head inside the room, Caroline frowned dramatically.

"We're all super happy for you, Joshua.  But... we're going to miss you!" she lamented.

Joshua stood and embraced her.

"I'll miss all of you, too."  He smiled at the other nurses who had gathered around.  "But it's time for me to get out of your hair.  Come to the health fair on Saturday if you can!  I'll be there."

"I'll have to do that," Caroline promised as Joshua began a round of hugs.  To Dr. Neeley's delighted surprise, he, too, received a hug.

"I'll be the one to wheel you out when you're ready, Ye... Joshua," Jemima informed.

"Looks like all my things are gathered up so...  Thank you.  All of you.  You took wonderful care of me and you take wonderful care of everyone here.  I know God is so pleased with your healing work."

"Doesn't get any better than hearing that from Jesus himself," Caroline quipped.

The four Friends exchanged amused looks.

"Keep an eyes on those incisions, Joshua.  Itching and a little pain is to be expected.  But if either gets severe or you notice redness and oozing..."

Owen cringed.

"I promise we'll bring Joshua back if he starts oozing, doc.  I hope he doesn't."

Joshua laughed.

"I have no intentions of oozing, thank you very much.  But I'll keep an eye on them.  Thank you, Dr. Neeley."

"Well... you ready?" Andrew checked.

Joshua moved into the wheelchair.


"Thank God," JenniAnn murmured, anxious to get him back into the safety of Willowveil.

"You're welcome," Joshua whispered with a grin as Jemima began to move him.

Amid shouts of "best wishes!" and "take care!" Joshua was wheeled away.  Just before he left the floor, he peered at one closed door beyond which a paralyzed man laid with a bouquet and green balloon nearby.

JenniAnn squeezed his hand and Joshua rested his other hand over hers.

Once they were in the elevator, Jemima spoke.

"They know today is my last day.  And then... I am going Home.  But... I was hoping I could make a reappearance tomorrow night?  I think the archbishop would be okay with it..."

Joshua chuckled and nodded.

"Sure.  You should definitely come to the party, Jemmy."

"My first twenty first century party!" she enthused.  "And people will see me in something other than scrubs!"

Andrew laughed.

"Any modern styles of dress in particular calling your name, Jemima?"

She tilted her head and thought.

"I think I like leggings... with a long, flowy top.  Kinda modern, kinda ancient."

"That sounds perfect," JenniAnn encouraged.  "And I'm so glad we'll be able to celebrate with you!"

"Me too..."  Jemima bent to kiss the top of Joshua's head before the elevator doors opened.

"I'll go get the van," Andrew offered.

"Thanks," Joshua called after him.  "Could we wait outside?  I miss the fresh air."

"We can wait outside," Zeke agreed. 

"But I don't know about fresh air.  You're still in Manhattan," Owen quipped.

"Very true... but it'll do for now."

Jemima pushed Joshua out the front doors.  She and JenniAnn clasped hands as he tilted his face towards the sun... looking beatific.

"Beautiful," he declared.

After Andrew had pulled up to the curb, Owen and Zeke deposited Joshua's bags in the van.

Joshua chuckled as JenniAnn and Jemima hovered on either side of him as he rose from the wheelchair.

"It's all right, girls," he assured.

"Your fault for making us this way," Jemima kidded.

Joshua beamed at them both.

"I regret nothing."

After hugging each of them, he climbed into the van.  Zeke and Owen moved to sit on either side of him while JenniAnn joined Andrew in the front seat.

"Until tomorrow..."  Jemima reached across Owen and squeezed Joshua's hand.

"Until tomorrow," Joshua repeated.  "Give your Ama a hug for me when you see her."

"Will do.  Love you, Yeshua."

"Love you, Jemmy."

With a sigh, Jemima released him, stepped back, and shut the van door.

"Everyone ready and seat belts buckled?" the angel of death checked.



"Let's go!"

With that, Andrew steered away from the curb.

Jemima remained outside, waving until the van disappeared into Manhattan traffic.


Joshua sighed contentedly as he settled onto his bed... caressing the silky, soft sheets that smelled of roses.  It was good to be back at Willowveil!

"Can I get you anything?" JenniAnn asked.  "Maybe some tea?  Or... or spiced milk or..."

Joshua sat back up and shook his head.

"No, thanks.  Just..."  He patted the spot beside him.  "Just rest for a few minutes.  Please.  This place is spotless... the sheets newly washed.  Something tells me you've been on your feet all day save the van ride."

JenniAnn shuffled closer then plopped beside Joshua.  Taking the burden off her body caused her spirit to seek out the same relief.  Unbidden, tears crept down her cheeks.

"There now..."

Letting out a sob, JenniAnn buried her face in Joshua's shirt.

"Let it out, little bird," he quietly encouraged.  He knew, even during their heart-to-hearts at the hospital, that JenniAnn had kept a lot to herself.  There were some things that were simply too horrifying for her to contemplate in the strangeness of the hospital.  Now she could.

"I... I thought we'd have to... to find a cave a-and..."

"I'm so sorry..."  Joshua stroked her hair.  "I knew this was a possibility... but only a possibility.  I didn't want to worry any of you needlessly and I thought...  JenniAnn, you know I'll always come back.  I will never, ever leave you."

"But three days is a really long time!" JenniAnn countered.  "A-and maybe it wasn't going to be three days.  Maybe... maybe three weeks... three months... three years!"

Joshua said nothing.  She needed to get it all out.

"I'm not like them!  Not... strong like them.  The Apostles, I mean.  I... I sometimes still get weepy about a guy I never met who died eight years ago.  B-burying you... even if... if only temporarily..."  JenniAnn adamantly shook her head.  "A-and... it's not the same!  I mean if... if you had died then... then... we all would have been... another Resurrection... would have been... beautiful but... but then.... then you'd leave just like... like after the first time... just like every time... and... and it's not the same!  You can't hug the Holy Spirit!"

"I know...  I know..." Joshua soothed, beginning to softly rock as he held her.

"And I... I started to... to wish... that I... I'd stayed with you.  That I... hadn't come back.  I... I spent my anniversary wishing that... that I'd left... left Andrew behind," JenniAnn confessed.  "And... Emma and I talked about it.  And I know that... that everyone has those times when they wish they could be with you forever...  But right now... right now I can't stop thinking about it."

Joshua was quiet for a few moments as JenniAnn wept in his arms.

"A-and I'm supposed to be making you comfortable," she wailed.  "Not the other way around."

Joshua smiled and brushed some damp hair from her face.

"You are comforting me... in your own very unique way," he gently teased.  "I love comforting people so... this is comfortable."

JenniAnn managed a smile.

"I... I'm really tired.  I haven't been sleeping well," she admitted. 

"No... you've not been."  Joshua caressed the bags under her eyes.

"The... the first night... I... I had a nightmare.  Your... funeral..." JenniAnn choked out.

"Poor, little bird..."

"So... so after that...  I got so anxious that... that I'd have the same dream.  And my head was just so full of... of all those thoughts..." 

"I see... and I understand.  Friday was scary.  And I meant what I said: it probably brought a lot up for you and Andrew.  And, yes, I'm sure your concerns about me rose to the top.  I don't doubt that at all.  But I think there was also an underlying sense of dread.  Someone looked at me... and pulled a trigger... knowing it could kill me."

JenniAnn shuddered.

"And the same happened to you.  That's no small thing, JenniAnn."

"But... but you created Cameron.  I... I never cared about Rex."

"But you love his son.  You and Andrew share a son with him.  We all know he wasn't a real father to Max.  But Max is still part of him... and he's part of Max.  And that can be a lot to deal with: someone who helped create your son hurt you... tried to kill you.  You can't pretend that it's all behind you.  That's something you have to live with.  Always."

"Uh... uh huh...  And... and you created Rex.  It... it's so hard to fathom that... that one of your creations looked at me so hatefully and... and wanted me gone."

"I know."  Joshua kissed her forehead.  "And while all of that was swimming through your mind, I was in an operating room.  The person you feel safest with had been hurt... in a way that reminded you very much of your own trauma.  That's an awful lot to deal with, JenniAnn.  Is it any wonder you wanted to go back to a place where you felt completely safe and protected?  I don't for a moment think anything you've thought or wanted these last few days involved a desire to abandon Andrew and your kids.  You just wanted to feel whole... there's nothing wrong with that.  And there's nothing wrong with wanting to be hugged, either.  And, no, the Holy Spirit can't hug you in the same way I can when I'm here.  But my love is no less real, no less present when you can't see me or touch me."

"But... but some people go their whole lives without hugging you.  And they manage without becoming total emotional basket cases!  I... I've been so blessed a-and yet...  I just want... more," JenniAnn lamented.

"Well, that makes two of us then."

JenniAnn stared blankly at Joshua.

Laughing gently, he pulled her close.

"Of course I want to spend every moment with you!  With all of you," Joshua stressed.  "There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It's not as if you've said 'I want to spend more time with my money.  I can just never have enough money!'  That's greed.  But wanting to spend more time with someone you love?  That's just being a loving person.  And it's not as if you're trying to come between me and everyone else.  You're not, JenniAnn.  You just want to show love and be loved which... by the way... is exactly what you were created to do.  And as for comparing yourselves to the apostles... don't.  I don't want another Cephas or another Andreas.  I already have the very best Cephas and the very best Andreas that I could have.  But to have a Cephas and an Andreas and a JenniAnn... that sounds nice, hmm?"

"Yeah..." JenniAnn agreed, a smile at last appearing.  "It does..."

Joshua kissed her forehead. 

"And just think...  I'll have to be around when Cameron's case goes to trial.  And I'll need somewhere to stay during it..."

"Here?" JenniAnn checked, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice.

"Maybe sometimes with Isra and Behnam or Tiva and Yakov if anyone needs to come to a house to speak with me.  But mostly here."

"I don't like the idea of you having to sit in a courtroom but... I do like that."

"Good.  And all I'll have to do is speak the truth... which is kinda what I'm known for," Joshua jested.

JenniAnn laughed.

"True.  But still..."

Joshua squeezed her hand.

"I know.  It'll be difficult to face him and not say all of the truth... who I am, how I feel about him, what I did for him...  But I'll be fine.  Truly."

"And... Raheem?  And Imam Ibrahim and Liyana?"

"I'll be with them.  We'll all be there to support them.  And about Raheem...  Can you please invite him, Hura, and the kids to this week's Bible study?"

"Well, yes, of course, but... they don't know about Dyeland, about the portals, about... you!" 

Joshua beamed.

"Correction... they don't know about Dyeland and the portals.  They do know about me... but they still have lots of questions."

"But... how!?  And who else knows they know?" JenniAnn questioned.

"Behnam and Isra know.  No one else.  And definitely not Liyana and Ibrahim.  So please keep it quiet.  We'll tell the others on Thursday and, in fact, I think Raheem would like to tell the story himself.  But it would mean a lot to them for you to invite them.  I'll fill him in about the portal and Dyeland at work tomorrow."

"You're going back to work tomorrow?!"

Joshua shrugged.

"We only have a few days before the health fair.  And I won't do any hard labor.  I'll just give instructions.  It'll be good to have that time with Raheem.  And with Takoda, of course.  And I want to be present for Liyana and Ibrahim... and for anyone else who stops in."

"Of course..."  JenniAnn hugged Joshua.

"But first... I'm going to take a little nap.  And then I have some babysitting to do and you... you have some celebrating to do.  And some talking, I think."

JenniAnn's face flushed as she smiled.

"Yes, I do...  But you're sure you're okay with the kids?  They can be exhausting."

"More than okay.  And I've asked Vincent to join me."

"Aww.  Good.  I'm sure that means a lot to him.  But for now..."  JenniAnn reluctantly pulled away.  "You should get some rest.  Sure I can't get you anything first?"

"I'm fine.  Really.  I'll come downstairs when I wake up."


Joshua squeezed her hand.

"Don't worry, little bird."

JenniAnn returned his gentle smile and nodded.

"I won't." 

She kissed his hand then quietly left the room.

After a prayer, Joshua drifted to sleep with a contented smile on his lips.


That evening, Andrew and JenniAnn checked in on Joshua, Vincent, and the kids before departing.  They found them in the library, Avi in his Appa's arms and Belle on Joshua's lap as Vincent read.

"He's almost done," JenniAnn whispered to Andrew as they waited in the doorway.

"'Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days grew warm and sunny, the Boy went out to play in the wood behind the house.  And while he was playing, two rabbits crept out from the bracken and peeped at him.  One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed through.  And about his little soft nose and his round black eyes there was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself: "Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!"  But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.'  The end..."

Joshua wiped away a tear as Belle clapped.

"Yay, Grampa!  Now can we read Beauty and the Beast?" the little girl requested.

Vincent chuckled.

"You've heard it so many times!"

"But it's my favorite..."

"Maybe because it has your name in it?" Joshua teased, gently tugging one of Belle's pigtails.

Belle giggled and nodded.

"All right," Vincent agreed.  "But first... I think I spy Mama and Daddy come to say good night."

Andrew and JenniAnn entered the library, the former swooping his daughter up as she ran to them.

"Mama, you look so pretty!"

"Thank you, sweetie."  JenniAnn kissed both of Belle's cheeks.  "You have a good night with Grampa, Joshua, and your brother, okay?  No staying up too late."

"I know, Mama.  You gonna dance?"

"I sure hope so," Andrew replied, wiggling his eyes brows at JenniAnn.

Laughing, she nodded.

"I think I could manage a few dances with your daddy."

Belle smacked a kiss on Andrew's cheek then wriggled free so she could whirl around the room, dancing with an imaginary prince.

JenniAnn sat beside Vincent and gently stroked Avi's hair before bending to kiss his brow.

"I'll see you in the morning, baby boy."

Vincent cupped his goddaughter's chin as it began to tremble.

"We'll be fine.  I promise."

"I... I know.  I've just only been away from him for... well, the one night when Joshua and I went to D.C. and..."  JenniAnn sighed and looked over at Joshua who was speaking with Andrew.  She turned back to Vincent.  "Of course you'll all be fine."

"And you'll be fine," Vincent whispered.

JenniAnn bowed her head.

"You will be."  Vincent kissed her hair.

"I... I want to stay with him."

Vincent knew 'him' did not mean Avi.  With his free arm, he gave JenniAnn an affectionate squeeze.

"You'll be back in the morning," he reminded.


Andrew and Joshua hugged then both looked expectantly at JenniAnn.  With a soft push from Vincent, she stood and held her hands out to Joshua who squeezed them while Andrew went to twirl around the room with Belle.

"It's a beautiful night," Joshua commented.  "For a beautiful couple."

JenniAnn smiled and nodded.

"It is.  Thank you for that.  And for watching the kids so we could go do this."

"It's my pleasure... as is having this time with Vincent."

"I... wish I could stay," JenniAnn murmured.

Joshua shook his head.

"This is important," he reminded.  "And... he needs this."

JenniAnn followed his gaze to Andrew... her beautiful, beloved Andrew.

"You need this," Joshua stressed.  He moved in and kissed JenniAnn's cheeks.  "I want you to have a lovely night, little bird.  I want that very much."

Tears welling, JenniAnn nodded.

"O-okay.  I... I love you."

"I love you, too."  Joshua flashed her a smile, squeezed her hands once more, then released JenniAnn.

"Laja, you ready?" Andrew called.

"Yes.  Ready," she agreed.

Hastily wiping at her eyes, JenniAnn went to the angel of death and took his hand.


When they arrived in the Fields of Gold, JenniAnn's face lit up as she saw multi-colored lanterns surrounding one of the cabins.

"Oh, Andrew...  It's absolutely beautiful!" she cried.

Andrew embraced her tightly. 

"I'm glad you think so.  It just seemed right to come here."

"We spent the night here before you went to Sheol," JenniAnn remembered.

"Yes..."  Andrew took her hand and led her to the back porch of the cabin.  "And something very special happened right here."

JenniAnn smiled.

"It did..."  She waved for Andrew to sit in the rocking chair then settled on his knee.

Softly, they kissed, remembering the first time their lips had met there.

When they drew apart, JenniAnn rested her forehead against Andrew's.

"I'm sorry, love.  I... I feel like I've been... distant lately."

Andrew shook his head.

"You had a lot on your mind, Laja.  Everything with Joshua..."

"It was hard for you, too!  It was hard for everyone."

The angel nodded.

"But I've also had an eternity with him.  And you will, too.  Some day.  But for right now, it makes sense that you'd feel a little... maybe a lot... more... desperate isn't the word I want..."

JenniAnn laughed.

"It feels right."

"I understand, Laja.  I mean... I don't know what it feels like to not be sure when you'll next see Joshua.  I know that every time I take an assignment Home, I'll see him.  That doesn't mean I don't miss him at times.  I do.  And..."  Andrew bowed his head.  "I do know how it felt to be in Afghanistan.  Then... I guess I didn't know.  And it was... incredibly hard."

JenniAnn's eyes misted as she heard the quake in her beloved's voice.

"But... I have you.  When you were in Afghanistan... you only had Max.  And he didn't know who or what you were.  It... it was so lonely."

Andrew nodded.

"It was.  And while it felt like ages at the time, it was only a few months.  Then I knew I'd see Joshua as usual.  You don't have that.  But even if you did... I'm still not Joshua, Laja.  And I never will be.  Having me around won't make you miss him... desire him... any less no matter how much time passes between his visits.  And that's as it should be.  You should always, always love him more.  Because all that other love."  Andrew rested a hand over JenniAnn's heart.  "It only exists because of him, because of the Father.  He loved you first and he loves you best... that's true for all of us.  Joshua is your first love.  And I feel very, very blessed to be your second love."

"Always..."  JenniAnn vowed before moving in for another kiss.  She smiled and began to gently knead Andrew's shoulders.  "And how have you been, my love?"

Andrew let out a ragged sigh.

"I've been..."  His eyes welled.  "It was hard to see Joshua with the Burkes.  A-and the way he talked about Cameron... remembering him as little boy.  I... I thought about Avi and how much I love and adore him.  If he hurt me... the physical pain would be nothing to... to..."  Andrew's hand went to his heart.

JenniAnn bowed her head.

"I can't imagine that...  I... I kept hoping and praying that Cameron might have some sort of, well, come to Jesus moment while Joshua was still there.  But... Jemima mentioned that he started up on some anti-Semetic crap with her so..."

Andrew nodded.

"I don't think this one is going to end neatly, Laja.  I think we need to prepare ourselves to support and love Joshua in the weeks... maybe even months... to come."

"It... it'll be so sad.  But... we can do it."

"Yes..."  Andrew stroked her face then cupped the cross around her neck. 

JenniAnn glanced down, her eyes filling.

"Sometimes it's still so hard to believe...  That was him..."

"It was..." Andrew replied, his voice hoarse with emotion.  "And I... I am so glad we... we didn't have to relive that."

"Me too..."  JenniAnn sucked in a deep breath.  "He said he wanted us to celebrate."

Andrew met her gaze and smiled.

"He did."  The angel peered up at the luminous sky.  "Dance with me under the stars?"

JenniAnn beamed.

"I'd love to."

The two rose to their feet and Andrew escorted JenniAnn off the porch and into the field.  After a few taps on Andrew's cell phone, their dance began.

"'Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance...'"

JenniAnn laughed, remembering her younger self's embarrassment over the song's lyrics.

"'Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love?  Can I just make some more romance with you, my love?'" Andrew sang along, winking at his partner.

JenniAnn nodded then whooped as Andrew spun her around.

For the first time since Friday, the two felt truly happy and peaceful.


After settling the kids in for the night, Joshua and Vincent reconvened in the library with mugs of tea.  Once they were both seated, Joshua reached over and patted the other man's arm.

"How've you been, Vincent?  Truthfully."

Vincent opened his mouth to speak but, instead, only a strangled sob came out.

Joshua hastened to his side and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

"There now...  I'm here.  I'm always here."

The big man crumpled, his head lolling onto Joshua's shoulder.

"I know how difficult it was... your first major trial after your father's death.  And Devin on the road...  I'm so sorry that you had to carry so much, Vincent... be strong for so many people."

"I... I couldn't have borne it if... if you had..."

"But I didn't.  And you're stronger than you realize, Vincent.  You always have been."  Joshua cupped his chin.  "I remember when my Abi died.  I remember thinking... I'd never been a man without having him to model how to be a man for me.  I wondered what I would do if something came up that he hadn't been able to give me guidance on?  I had Abba, of course.  But... that connection wasn't the same.  And there were things we shared between us... things my Ama didn't even know about.  And I realized I no longer had anyone to talk about those things with."

Vincent nodded.

"You were so much younger than I..."

"But there's no easy age to lose a father." 


"Jacob is so proud of you, Vincent.  I'm so proud of you!  You handled everything beautifully and treated everyone Below with the patience they needed... reassuring them and comforting them.  And... you took a few moments for yourself when you needed to."

Vincent smiled at the memory.

"A few moments...  Then my little ones came... thank God... you."

Joshua beamed.

"Belle and Aurora do love their Appa.  All your grandkids do.  And they helped you to see the truth.  Jacob is alive in my Kingdom.  But he's also alive here... in you, in little Jacob, in your grandchildren and in the many, many other lives he touched and even saved.  His legacy will be without end.  And so will yours when the time comes."

Vincent inhaled and exhaled deeply then smiled at Joshua.

"Thank you.  And... I'm so glad you're out of the hospital.  I missed you."

Joshua returned the smile and squeezed Vincent's hands.

"I missed you, too.  And I'm so glad we have this evening together."

"Me too."  Vincent beamed at Joshua then glanced at the clock.  "I hope Psyche and Andrew are doing well.  Perhaps still dancing?"

Joshua only smiled to himself.  Two hours had passed since they'd left.  He was quite confident they'd moved onto other activities.


JenniAnn shrieked with glee when two strong arms caught her about her waist.

"Found ya!"

"So sneaky!  I didn't hear ya behind me."

"It's not entirely fair, I suppose.  You were a bit distracted."  Andrew waved to a nearby spider that JenniAnn had been watching weave.

JenniAnn smiled.

"I think it's sad that some people are so scared of them.  I mean the poisonous ones, sure.  But the others... they're so amazing.  And that web... so beautiful and intricate.  God sure created a lot of wondrous things!"

"Yes...  There's so much beauty in His creation."

JenniAnn bowed her head after meeting Andrew's misty gaze.

"Do you want me to go hide?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Maybe... let's go inside?  Settle in for the night?"

The angel of death nodded eagerly.

"I'd like that."

They walked to the cabin, hand in hand, and paused on the doorstep.  Silently, they offered thanksgiving and praise for the beautiful, healing night that had been and that was to come.

As Andrew closed and locked the door behind them, JenniAnn picked up her overnight bag and stepped into the bathroom.  After ensuring the cabin was secure, Andrew changed into his own pajamas and waited in bed... and then there she was, shimmering and silver in her gown, like one of the stars they'd left outside.


Upon hearing her name, the old longing stirred in JenniAnn.  This was her Andrew... her beloved... who she never, ever wanted to leave... the one who Joshua and the Father had meant for her, bound to her for all eternity.

JenniAnn slipped beneath covers.

"Love..." she murmured before kissing him.

Andrew's right hand moved to the small of her back, pulling her closer.  After bestowing his own kiss, he buried his face in her hair.

"'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine,'" JenniAnn softly recited as she stroked Andrew's back.

"Yes..." he assented before trailing kisses along the top of her nightgown.

JenniAnn sighed deeply, feeling the tenseness she'd carried in her body since the previous Friday melt away.

Andrew, too, felt more relaxed than he had been in days.  Even as they'd laid together during the previous nights, he'd known his Laja wasn't truly with him.  He hadn't begrudged her that... but he had missed her.  Now she was back... still fully Joshua's but also his.  He smiled when her hand snuck beneath his shirt.

Once it was off, JenniAnn laid with her ear against his chest, listening.

Andrew sunk back against the pillows and stroked her hair.

"I love you so much," he murmured.

JenniAnn lifted her head and peered up at him.

"I love you, too.  Don't... don't ever doubt that.  Please."

Andrew cupped her chin and shook his head.

"I won't.  I promise."

JenniAnn stretched up and kissed him then took Andrew's hands in hers and brought them to the laces on her bodice.

Andrew chuckled.

"I thought that was just a decorative touch."

JenniAnn grinned back and shook her head.

"Okie doke."

JenniAnn giggled as Andrew made short work of the laces.

He sighed when he found the scar.

JenniAnn sunk back against him as he tenderly caressed it.

"Whatever thoughts I've had recently...  The truth remains that when I stood in near-Paradise... with Joshua at my side... I still chose to return to you, to our family.  Scars... they mean a person stayed.  I... I had so many beautiful reasons to stay.  And now... even more.  Andrew...  I love you so."

"A-and I love you.  Forever."  Andrew wrapped his arms around her and clung to her.

"Always," JenniAnn whispered as she, once again, rested her head over her beloved's heart.


Back in his room, Joshua diligently washed his wounds and applied the ointment that Jemima had insisted he use.  As he peered into the mirror to ensure his chest wound looked okay, the old scars that were usually hidden shone.

The Spirit carried JenniAnn's voice to him.

"Scars... they mean a person stayed.  I... I had so many beautiful reasons to stay."

Joshua smiled at his reflection and nodded.

"It is good," he declared.

No matter how many scars it took, it would be worth it to stay with his children.



Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Raheem grinned as Joshua and Takoda parked in the lot of the Manhattan Mosque.  As soon as the engine stopped, he ran to the driver's side and threw open Joshua's door.

"Welcome back!" he greeted, hugging Joshua once he'd stepped out.  "How are you feeling?"

Joshua chuckled, touched by the man's childlike eagerness.

"I'm feeling really well," he assured.

"Still... it's a miracle he's here," Takoda commented.  "I didn't think JenniAnn was going to let him out of the house."

Raheem laughed.

"I don't blame her... but I'm glad she relented... or that you prevailed."

"She relented," Joshua replied with a smile.  JenniAnn had been noticeably calmer since she and Andrew had returned from the Fields of Gold...

Takoda scooped up the bag that Joshua was reaching for.

"I got that."

"Thank you.  I can actually bear some weight, you know," Joshua shared with a wink.  "I doubt Dr. Neeley intends for my muscles to atrophy."

"I think that would take a while."  Takoda playfully patted one of Joshua's biceps.

"Just let us fuss over you.  It's an honor," Raheem insisted, grabbing the men's lunch bags and Joshua's toolbox.

Joshua clapped him on the back and squeezed his shoulder.

"All right.  Thank you.  So... how are you doing, Raheem?  And the family?"

"We've been... wonderful!  We read Matthew's gospel together last night.  It was difficult at points but... I loved when you made the coin appear in the fish."

Joshua laughed at the memory.

"You should have seen Cephas'... Peter's... face!"

"I can only imagine..."  Raheem chuckled but his face clouded when he looked up and saw Ibrahim peering out the window.

Joshua, too, noticed the imam.

"And how are Ibrahim and Liyana?"

Raheem frowned.

"Liyana seems to be doing well.  But Ibrahim still...  Liyana did manage to coax him out for some ice cream yesterday... for the sake of the baby."

Joshua smiled.

"Wise woman."

"Yes.  But, other than that, he's been pretty elusive.  I wish he knew..."

Joshua rested a hand on Raheem's arm.

"The journey will be different for him, Raheem.  Right now, it probably wouldn't be for the best for him to know who I really am... what really happened to me.  He blames himself for what happened here."

Raheem nodded gravely.

"There have been whisperings...  Some of the congregants feel that if he hadn't spoken out after Christchurch..."

"Evil thrives when good men do... and say... nothing," Takoda interrupted.

"I agree.  And Ibrahim does, too.  It's just... a lot," Raheem explained.  "And Ibrahim... he's not had the easiest life."

"No, he's not," Joshua concurred. 

Takoda raised an eyebrow, curious.

"But let's not keep him waiting any longer.  Hopefully, he'll feel better once he sees that I'm healing up really well.  Liyana, too."

"I hope so!  But... let's go around the back.  There's still some police tape out front and..."  Raheem shrugged.  "I don't like seeing it."

"Of course."  Joshua patted him on the back.  "I hope it comes down soon.  That can't be helping either Ibrahim or Liyana... or any of the members here.  And... the sign?"

"Well... that's a matter of some debate.  Some people want your, umm, blood stain left as a testament to what happened and a reminder to not let hate win.  Others want it gone because it's a reminder of something tragic and they don't want to be thought of as victims," Raheem explained.  "If you have a preference, let me know.  I can advocate for it.  I think I'd be listened to since I was there.  Although... since I might be leaving the mosque..." 

Joshua shook his head.

"I don't have a preference.  Either way, someone will be upset.  I think it needs to be decided by majority rules.  And... I don't want you or Hura or the kids leaving the mosque just yet.  Let's get Ibrahim to a better place first, hmm?"

"Of course!  Whatever you say!" Raheem agreed without hesitation.  "It's not as if we can't attend services here and then go to a church service on Sunday."

Joshua smiled.

"Exactly.  And now..."  He was reaching for the mosque's back door handle when it flung open.

"Joshua!" Liyana cried, greeting him with a strong but gentle hug.

"Hey there.  So good to see you, Liyana."

"Mmm...  And to see you..."  Teary eyed, the woman smiled at Joshua and stroked his face.  "You look so good!  Your color's back to normal.  And your breathing?"

"I excel at breathing," Joshua playfully boasted. 

Liyana giggled then clasped his hand.

"Let's go see Ibrahim.  He's in his study.  Good morning, Takoda and Raheem."

"Good morning," the two men echoed back, amused at how much less enthusiastic their greeting was.

Joshua smiled at the two men.

"How about you finish up sanding that new bannister?  I'll meet you there shortly," he suggested.


"See ya there, Joshua."

Once Raheem and Takoda were off, Liyana led Joshua away.

"I'm so, so glad you're back.  I mean... because it means you're well, of course.  But also..."  Her face fell.  "Ibrahim is struggling.  Maybe seeing you..."

Joshua squeezed Liyana's hands.

"I hope so.  And how are you?  And the little one?"

Beaming, Liyana stroked her belly.

"Well, I think.  And I'm doing pretty good.  I... I wish I could have come and seen you again when you were at the hospital but..."

"I understand.  Ibrahim needed you."

"Yes...  Raheem...  He's handling it so much better.  But then..."  Liyana sighed.  "Raheem has always been more..."

Joshua motioned to a nearby bench. 

"Perhaps we could sit a while and talk?"

"I... I'd like that.  Just let me...  So Ibrahim doesn't worry..."  Liyana withdrew her cell phone from her pocket and texted her husband.  "There.  I've told him I'm hogging you and he'll have to wait."

Joshua smiled.  Once Liyana had sat down, he settled beside her.

"Ibrahim...  He's a good man.  I... I wouldn't have married him if I didn't believe that... feel that in the depths of my soul.  But I sometimes wonder if... if it wouldn't have been better for him to have never become an imam.  He... he's so wonderful with everyone but... I think that's part of the problem.  He immerses himself in everyone else's problems..."

"So he doesn't have to deal with his own?" Joshua finished when Liyana became too choked up.

She nodded then, smiling, accepted a handkerchief from the carpenter. 

"I... I hope you know that his distrust of you... that stupid theory of his... it had nothing to do with you.  Ibrahim just has...  Honestly, I think Raheem is the only man he trusts.  And how could you not trust Raheem?"

Joshua smiled with tenderness for both men.

"He, umm...  Why am I telling you all this?"  Liyana shook her head.

"Because you need to talk to someone.  People tell me all sorts of things."

"I can imagine.  You just... you have that sort of way about you."

"Thank you, Yana."

"Uh huh...  Anyway...  Do you know he actually broke off our engagement?"

Joshua only cocked his head.  He did know, of course.  But she couldn't know that.

"That's how... deep... this goes.  He was convinced he'd be an awful husband... and I suppose he had reason to fear that.  When he was eight, his dad walked out on his mom.  The old story... he'd started a fling with someone at work... married her, started a new family with her.  Ibrahim's mother, Mara, threw herself into her religion.  She was at the mosque all the time, volunteering for everything.  And there was little Ibrahim, right there with her.  It made her so happy when he agreed to start studying to become an imam.  He was only a couple years into his studies when she died... heart attack.  He blamed his father for that, too.  The stress... the literal heart break.  Around that time, we met, fell in love, got engaged...  And then... then his father reached out to him.  He'd cheated on his wife... the second one... and they'd divorced.  She'd taken him for everything he was worth.  Good for her, I think."

Joshua eyes welled as he thought of what had come next.

"Anyway, he asked Ibrahim for help and, of course, Ibrahim gave it.  Not that he had much to give...  But he did.  And things were good for a while.  But then Frank... that's his dad... met another woman and... Ibrahim was forgotten again.  That's when he broke off our engagement.  I was devastated.  I... I'm not sure we would have survived if not for some interference from Raheem and Hura."  Liyana smiled through her tears.  "My cousin doesn't back down easily."

Joshua chuckled.

"No, she doesn't."

"So... so you see why he sometimes just can't help himself from thinking the worst.  I think... something about you... you're just so... fatherly.  I know that probably sounds weird."

"It doesn't."

Liyana smiled and nodded.

"You tapped into something that Ibrahim desperately wants.  Just like I did all those years ago.  And his reaction is to pull or push away because he believes either you'll hurt him or he'll hurt you.  A-and in your case...  I think he feels like it was the latter."

Joshua adamantly shook his head.

"Ibrahim had nothing to do with what happened to me."

"I know that.  But he doesn't.  In his mind, he spoke out and you paid the price."

"I chose to be here," Joshua stressed.  "I'll see if I can get through to him.  And if not today...  You're going to Tony's potluck tomorrow, aren't you?"

Liyana nodded.

"Good!"  Joshua's face lit up.  "I think it would help Ibrahim to see me amongst many of my friends.  We're not letting what happened change us.  If anything, it's made our bonds stronger.  Hopefully, he'll be able to see that.  And... I think it would be good for you to have others to talk to."

"That's for sure!  And... thank you.  That makes me feel better.  Now... I'm sure my husband is getting very impatient so..."  Liyana patted Joshua's arm.  "I'll let you go."

"Thank you."  Joshua embraced her.  "I really believe that everything will be looking up very soon."

"I pray so..."  Liyana sighed.  "Well, I'll be around.  Don't hesitate to let me know if you need anything.  I'm sure JenniAnn made you lunch but... should you need a snack or anything... I baked cookies."

Joshua chuckled.

"I can't resist that!  I'll let you know.  Thank you, Yana."

"You're welcome.  Thank you for coming back."

"I wouldn't have it any other way!"

Liyana smiled and nodded.

"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me.  See ya later, Joshua."

"See ya!"

Joshua smiled after the departing woman then made his way to Ibrahim's office.  He only had to knock once before the door was thrown open.


Ibrahim hugged him.

"Welcome back."

"Thank you, Ibrahim.  It's very, very good to be back.  How are you?"

Ibrahim waved him towards a chair.

"Oh, you know...  Busy.  Press requests, well-wishers I feel should get a response... and then the usual.  But... more importantly... how are... are you?"

"I'm doing great!  Slept really well last night.  Feeling really good... spoiled."  Joshua laughed. 

Ibrahim smiled back.

"I can imagine.  Your friends seem very devoted to you.  The waiting room was... so packed."

Joshua looked tenderly at Ibrahim when his voice cracked.

"Are... are you sure you're okay to be here?  Your doctors gave the all clear and..."

"Yes," Joshua interrupted.  "As long as I don't do any heavy lifting or anything to get me breathing really hard, I'm perfectly fine to be here.  And I didn't intend to do any cardio here, anyway."

Ibrahim chuckled.

"All right.  And... mentally?"

"I'm fine, Ibrahim.  I've been talking to people when I need to.  And... how about you?" Joshua questioned.  "Have you looked into counseling?"

The imam shrugged.

"Liyana has us signed up for something."

"Good.  You know, when something difficult happens, lots of times it brings unresolved issues from our pasts up.  Or even things we thought were resolved but take on a newly troubling hue in our memories."

Ibrahim blinked then began to laugh.

"I don't know why I'm paying for counseling.  I could just talk to you for free."

Joshua smiled but said nothing.

"Of course, you're already doing more than enough.  Honestly, I wasn't sure you'd come back."

"Ibrahim, I told you that I'd come back."

"Yes... you did."  Forcing a smile, the imam reached over and squeezed Joshua's hands.  "And I'm grateful that you did.  I'm sure you brought your lunch but... do you think we could have lunch together?  With Takoda and Raheem, too, of course.  And Yana."

Joshua beamed and nodded.

"I'd like that very much.  One o'clock?"

"Sounds good!  Meet you in the kitchen?"

Ibrahim nodded.

"Yes.  Yana will be very pleased.  But now..."  He eyed his computer.  "I better get to work."

"And so should I," Joshua replied.

The two men rose and hugged. 

"I'll see you at 1:00 if not before," Joshua vowed.

"I'll be looking forward to it, Joshua.  Thank you."

"Thank you for the invitation, Ibrahim!  See you later."

"Yes, see you later."

Before leaving the office, Joshua turned back once and gazed at the imam.

"I love you, Ibrahim.  And everything will be okay," he murmured.

At his desk, Ibrahim smiled to himself.


Shortly before lunch, Takoda and Joshua followed Raheem down to a basement room that Ibrahim had given them as a workshop.

"I came by every so often when you were in the hospital.  The work helped me take my mind off things.  And... I suppose I felt your presence here," Raheem explained.

"I'm sure you did a wonderful job.  And I'm grateful for..."  Joshua's voice drifted off when they entered the room.

The mosaic shelves that Joshua had wanted to make for Raheem were nearly finished... and they were beautiful.

"I, umm, I followed your sketches."  Raheem indicated a desk where Joshua's sketch pad and colored pencils remained.  "I thought about waiting for the parts you hadn't yet colored in but... I found the work so soothing that I... well, I hope it's okay that I improvised."

"Raheem..."  Joshua rested a hand on the man's back.  "They're absolutely beautiful!"

"Stunning," Takoda agreed, still staring in wonder at the shelves.

Raheem beamed.

"Thank you.  I couldn't have done it without you gridding it out first but... I do think it turned out pretty well."

"More than 'pretty well,'" Joshua praised.  "The blue you chose for right here is perfect... it's like looking at the night sky.  And here... how you transition into day... lovely!  Ibrahim will be so pleased and..."  He chuckled.  "You'd really know what a wonderful job you did if you'd seen my first attempt at mosaic work."


Takoda laughed as he recalled the story.

"When I was around five, and my cousin John... Yohannan... just a bit older, we decided to make mosaics to cheer up my Ama who had recently lost her parents.  But... you can imagine what five-year-olds without access to tile and grout came up with."

"A sticky, rainbowy mess all over their house," Takoda explained.

Raheem laughed.

"As a father of two former five-year-olds... I can imagine.  So... you weren't exactly a... docile child?"

Joshua grinned and shook his head.

"Not an easy kid, no.  I was always questioning things... always wanting to fix things but not yet having the mental capacity to really understand the problems.  So sometimes I'd get restless and focus on things like poorly planned mosaics."

Raheem sighed.

"It's still... mind-boggling.  Allah... a five-year-old boy...  And... Allah... dead.  You... dead."

Joshua embraced Raheem tightly.

"Not for long," he reminded. 

Raheem gave Joshua a tremulous smile and nodded.

"Not for long," he repeated.

Takoda wiped some tears from his eyes then glanced at his phone. 

"As much as I hate to break this up, it's 12:58.  We should probably head upstairs."

Joshua clapped Raheem on the back then pulled away.

"Yes.  We should."  He looked once more at the shelves.  "Truly wonderful work, Raheem.  Ibrahim will be so pleased."

"I'm glad you think so.  Couldn't have done it without your instruction and inspiration."  Raheem beamed at Joshua then followed him and the angel out of the room. 


"So what is there left for you to do around here?" Ibrahim asked as he munched on his salad.

Joshua set down his wrap and pulled a list from his pocket.

"Well...  Not much inside.  Takoda and Raheem did a great job with the new banister.  I think one more coat of stain should do it.  Then we just need to move some tables around."

Takoda cleared his throat.

"We need to move tables.  You need to direct us where to move the tables."

Joshua shook his head and laughed.

"All right... all right.  So that's about it for in here.  We'll patch the retaining walls.  Then I was hoping to plant some more flowers out front but..."

"It's fine as is," Ibrahim interrupted.

Liyana shot him a look.

Joshua spoke gently.

"It may be that we have to leave it as is.  But if the police tape comes down...  Trampled flowers... well, frankly, they're depressing."

"I don't want anyone out front," Ibrahim ordered.

Raheem met his cousin's eyes.

"If Joshua wants to..."

Joshua set a hand on the man's arm, quieting him.

"Ibrahim, I know it's worrisome.  I do.  But Cameron's chained to a bed in the hospital."

"But copycats..."

The strained, almost child-like tone in her husband's voice alarmed Liyana who took his hand.

"All right.  How about this...  I'll call Matthew and see if he has any idea when the tape is coming down.  If it comes down tomorrow, how about Raheem and I come late, after sunset, and plant some flowers then?" Joshua suggested.  "I could even ask Matthew or Tyron if they could accompany us.  No one would see in the darkness."   

"I think that sounds like a good idea," Liyana replied.  She smiled gently at Ibrahim.  "Love, Joshua's right.  Those dead flowers are depressing.  Saturday is about health and life and happiness.  No one needs to start their visit out with smooshed marigolds."

Ibrahim sighed.

"I suppose...  And I'll join you tomorrow night."

"Great!  And maybe you could head out with me after lunch to pick out the flowers?" Joshua suggested.

"I should probably work on emails..."

"The emails will still be there," Liyana countered.  "It'd do you good.  And maybe you could pick up a nice present for your wife.  An orchid, maybe?"

The imam laughed.

"I suppose I could do that..."  He smiled at Joshua and nodded.  "I'd love to go.  Thank you."

"You're very welcome.  I'll appreciate the company."

Raheem and Takoda exchanged a secret look, each hoping and praying that the outing would provide a breakthrough to Ibrahim.


Ibrahim kept his gaze focused on Joshua as he perused the selection at a garden store.

"We should definitely replace the marigolds.  But what do you think about adding in some of these cosmos?" Joshua asked.

"Umm... sure.  You're the one with the artist's eye."

Joshua smiled.

"Don't sell yourself short, Ibrahim.  You always look so well put together.  You have an eye for color."

"I do like how the pink pops with the orange..."

"Me too."

Joshua grabbed a carton then paused.

"Don't tell the others I did that," he requested with a wink.

Ibrahim startled.

"I wasn't even thinking!"

Joshua chuckled and shook his head.

"I'm not supposed to lift anything over twenty pounds.  They're over-reacting just a little bit."

"It's hard not to."

Joshua nodded sympathetically.

"How about a rest?  Tea?"

"They serve tea here?  At a garden shop?"

"They do garden parties sometimes.  And I happen to know the owner always keeps at least a couple pitchers of iced tea around."

"Well... sure then."

"Great.  I'll be right back.  How about you go take a seat over there?"

Ibrahim glanced over to a nearby bench nestled beneath an arbor.

"Okay.  Sounds good."

"Be back in a bit."

Ibrahim nodded then made his way to a bench.  He cocked his head and studied a statue of the Good Shepherd that was placed nearby.

Joshua made his way to the front counter where he was instantly embraced.

"Good afternoon, Kisi," he greeted.

"Joshua...  Lucia mentioned you'd come back in.  I'm so glad to see you!  And you look so... healthy!"

Joshua smiled.

"I've been well cared for, as you can imagine.  How's everyone at the Chrysalis?"

"Better," the woman replied with relief.  "Hoping for a visit..." 

Joshua laughed at her doe eyes.

"I'm already planning for tomorrow afternoon.  And you got word about the potluck tonight and Bible study being moved to tomorrow?"

"We did.  But you know how some struggle with leaving."

"I do..."  Joshua squeezed Kisi's hands.  "I'll be there tomorrow."

"Wonderful!  But for now... what can I do for you?"

"Well... I was wondering if I could trouble you for a couple glasses of tea?"  Joshua waved towards Ibrahim.  "Hoping for a heart-to-heart."

"The imam..."  Kisi frowned.  "We've been praying for him.  Salma mentioned that he's been struggling.  Of course I'll grab some tea.  You know it's no trouble.  Blackberry, mango, or plain?"

"Mango, please.  And thank you."

"Coming right up!"

While Kisi retrieved the tea, Joshua admired his surroundings.  Lady Maryam's Garden Gala was only the latest in a series of small businesses to spin-off of the Chrysalis and True Light.  While Kisi and Lucia managed it, several of the Chrysalis' current and former residents took shifts, learning valuable skills while helping to beautify the area.

"Two mango teas and... Marco dropped off a plate of biscotti for a party later.  There were plenty extra so..."  Kisi looped a small bag around Joshua's good arm.  "Enjoy!"

"You're very kind.  Thank you, Kisi.  I'll be back later with our purchases."

"Sounds good!  And... I hope it goes well."  Kisi tilted her head towards the pensive man on the bench.

"Thank you.  Me too."  Joshua smiled then made his way towards Ibrahim.  "Mango tea and some biscotti courtesy of Kisi."

Ibrahim smiled at the woman behind the counter and waved in thanks.

"I had no idea this place was even here."

"It's pretty new.  Opened right around Christmas."

"It's beautiful.  Liyana would love it here."

"You'll have to bring her sometime."

"Mmm hmm."  The imam sipped his tea.  "Very nice.  So... while I was waiting... I was studying that fellow."

Joshua looked to the statue Ibrahim pointed to.

"And what do you think?"

"It reminds me of a statue my grandma had.  My paternal grandma.  My dad was actually Lutheran.  Well, in name.  I don't recall ever hearing or seeing him pray.  My grandma Margery, though...  I think it kind of broke her heart that I was raised Muslim.  You would think she would have been prepared for that when she married a Muslim but since my grandpa let her raise my dad Christian... I guess it never occurred to her he might meet a woman from his dad's congregation.  In fact... there was a family rumor that she secretly baptized me when she was babysitting.  Right in her own tub.  Maybe I am a Christian."  Ibrahim chuckled.

Joshua smiled.

"Anyway..."  Ibrahim took another sip of tea.  "I like him.  He looks... tender, peaceful.  I sometimes wonder..."


"I understand the prohibition on statues and other representations of Allah and the prophets.  We don't know what they look like and we shouldn't get attached to a man-made image but...  There's a comfort in them.  My Grandma Margery knew that... felt that.  She died when I was ten.  So good bye, Good Shepherd.  I suppose I envy the Christians.  It may just be pretend but... they have so many images of their God gazing lovingly at them."

"They do," Joshua agreed.

"Must be nice..."  Ibrahim drank again, sighed, and resumed speaking.  "Liyana told me that she talked to you.  About my dad and... all that."

"She did."

"Hard to believe they trusted me with a mosque, eh?"  Ibrahim laughed darkly.

Joshua rested a hand on the man's arm and shook his head.

"Sometimes the wounded shepherds are the best shepherds.  I'm sure you've counseled many of your congregants with a compassion that those who haven't known such heartbreak lack."


"But that doesn't mean you need to run yourself ragged."  Joshua gestured towards the statue.  "Even he took time to go off by himself and pray."

"Good point, Isa."  Ibrahim smiled at Joshua.  "If you ever do that again... the theatre thing, I mean... I'll be there.  I don't care if it scandalizes segments of the congregation."

"I'll let you know.  Biscotti?"

Ibrahim selected a piece from the bag.

"Thanks."  He nibbled thoughtfully.  "How do they live with it?  Or... how do you live with it, I suppose?  Believing that your sins killed your God, I mean.  Sorry if that's too personal."

"No, it's fine.  It's different for everyone.  But, in general, people live with it because he asks them to.  He said 'I came that they might have life... and have it abundantly.'  He didn't come so that they could spend their lives in shame, kicking themselves every time they mess up, weeping in sorrow every time they think of him.  That's no way to live."  Joshua smiled as he gazed around them.  "Christians believe that the same hands that were pierced crafted each of these beautiful blossoms.  He went onto bring about more beauty, more color, more life, more joy.  Not celebrating all of that... it wouldn't be honoring his sacrifice."

"And... and what beauty will come of your sacrifice, Joshua?"

Joshua wrapped an arm around the imam's shoulders.

"For starters, would you have come with me this afternoon if I hadn't been shot?  Or would you have told me to take Raheem and continued on in your study?"

Ibrahim said nothing.  Joshua clearly knew the answer.

"And my friends... new and old... have drawn closer to me.  And, believe it or not, I enjoyed my time in the hospital.  The staff was wonderful!  I'm hoping some will come by on Saturday.  And... while I know you have fears to the contrary... I think attendance on Saturday might even increase because of what happened.  Sometimes morbid curiosity is a good thing." 

Ibrahim chuckled when Joshua smiled at him.

"I suppose."

"And... there will be more flowers... more beauty, more color, more life, more joy."

Ibrahim bowed his head.

"Yes...  I'm sorry if I overreacted at lunch.  You're a grown man.  I just..."

Joshua squeezed his hand.

"I understand.  And gardening under the stars has a definite appeal to it."

"It does," the imam agreed.  "So... what do you suppose the dress code is for tonight?"

Joshua laughed.

"Definitely not formal!  Wear whatever feels most comfortable."

"Silk pajamas it is then," Ibrahim teased.

"Liyana would be so thrilled."

"Liyana would murder me.  But casual... got it.  And speaking of my wife..."

"Orchids."  Joshua pointed to a corner of the shop.

Ibrahim drained his glass.

"I'll go take a took.  Thank you for the chat, Joshua.  I needed it... more than I knew."

"I'm so glad we could do this, Ibrahim.  So glad."

Smiling, Ibrahim nodded before heading towards the orchids.

Joshua returned the glasses to Kisi who had been joined by Lucia.

"How did it go?" the latter asked eagerly.

"Really, really well, I think!"

"Does he... know?"

Joshua shook his head.

"Not time for that.  But... things are better.  Definitely better."

Lucia took Joshua's hands in hers.

"I'm glad, Joshua.  So very glad."

"Me too."  Joshua beamed at the two women and the love continued to shine from his face as he rejoined Ibrahim and they made their final selections.


That evening, Willowveil was filled with frantic energy as final touches were put on dishes and its inhabitants prepared themselves for dinner at the cathedral.

JenniAnn, only half-dressed beneath her robe, swayed with Avi who was fussing.

"Maybe I should stay home with him..." she fretted.  "I wish we could just take him."

Andrew looked away from the dish he was seasoning.

"Laja...  He'll be fine.  Although... I wish we could take him, too."

"So take him."

The two turned to find Joshua standing in the doorway.

"I've asked Tony to open the Tunnel entrance in the cathedral basement."

Avi beckoned for Joshua.

Smiling, Joshua reached for the child.

"Maybe you should sit first..." JenniAnn suggested.

"He's only nineteen pounds.  I can lift up to twenty," Joshua countered.

JenniAnn shrugged.

"Well, you are the boss... the Big Boss."  She handed the baby over.  "And...  It would be nice to take him but..."

"But the only people who will be there who haven't met him are the Azizis and Khalids.  And Jemima and Christopher.  You know she won't be an issue.  Christopher won't care.  The Khalids know who I am so they aren't going to question anyone I choose to invite.  And the Azizis... they'll be curious.  But they won't judge Avi.  Or Vincent."

"Vincent's coming?" Andrew asked.

Joshua nodded.

"I wanted him to come with Catherine and Jacob.  So he is.  So there goes your babysitter."  He grinned at Avi who gurgled in delight.  "Joshua played a trick on Mama and Daddy, huh?"

JenniAnn laughed.

"Well, then I guess it's decided.  I'm glad."  She kissed Avi's hair and then Joshua's cheek.  "Thank you."

"You're very welcome.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some family photos, too.  So we need Avi and Vincent there."

"We do."  Andrew left the stove and stroked his son's hair.  "Thanks, Joshua."

"My pleasure.  And now...  Stylin'!"  He grinned at JenniAnn who rolled her eyes.

"Yes, yes.  I have to finish getting ready so I'll go do that since baby boy is content.  Back in a bit!"

Andrew chuckled once she'd left.

"How'd she do today?" Joshua checked.

"Good!  Went to classes Below... came back here for lunch... I think she only texted Takoda to check on you once or twice."

"Good."  Balancing Avi on his good side, Joshua checked the refrigerator where some wine and grape juice was chilling.  "And you?"

Andrew sighed contently.

"It was a good day.  I felt... relaxed.  Spent some time in my workshop.  Started the cooking.  Last night... it really helped.  Thank you for encouraging us to go."

"I'm glad you went.  You both needed it.  And I think tonight will be good for us all."

Andrew beamed.

"I do, too.  A... a much happier time than when we were all gathered together last Friday."


Andrew hugged Joshua and his son.

"I'm so glad you're okay," he murmured.

"More than okay, Andrew.  I'm very, very happy," Joshua assured.


That evening, the dining hall at the cathedral was packed with tables and chairs and the aroma of numerous savory and sweet dishes.  From 4:30 on, a steady stream of visitors arrived to help with last minutes details... and because they were too excited to wait until 5:30.  The room filled with Friends and the archbishop's other guests who included representatives from his family in Albany, the Tunnels, El-Chanan, the Chrysalis, the Phoenix, and True Light.  The Khalids arrived at 5:10 with Christopher in tow.  To everyone's delight, Jemima returned with a small contingent: Maryam, Yosef, John, and Eben.  Punctual but more hesitant than the others, Imam Ibrahim arrived at 5:25 with Liyana and her mother, Fatima... the final guests.

"Good evening!" Tony welcomed them at the door.  "Come in!  Come in!"

"Thank you, Arch... Tony.  We're very grateful for the invitation."  Ibrahim warmly shook the priest's hand.  "I hope we're not late."

Tony laughed and shook his head.

"Not late at all.  It seems like many of Joshua's friends were eager to get started early but you're right on time.  Ladies, can I take your wraps?" he offered.

"Yes, please."  Fatima handed her coat to their host.  "Fabulous architecture.  I've never seen it from the inside.  I was so pleased to be invited."

"Of course, of course!  Joshua specifically requested that all three of you join us.  Liyana, congratulations!  I heard the happy news."

The expectant mother smiled.

"Thank you.  Ibrahim and I are thrilled!"

"And me too!  About time!" Fatima interjected.


Tony breezily changed the subject as he led his guests towards the dining hall.

"Fatima, you're moving along very well.  I believe I heard you'd recently broken a hip?"

"Afraid so.  But I'm doing much better now.  It may sound foolish but shortly after that young man visited... I started healing up very quickly.  I think our Joshua may be a miracle worker."

Ibrahim laughed.

"Or you have a crush, mother.  Oxytocin promotes pain relief, you know."

"Oh, hush!  He's a baby and I'm no cougar.  Although if Liyana didn't have you, I might be trying some match-making."  Fatima grinned and winked at her son-in-law.

Liyana simply shook her head.

"You two...  It's like this every time they're together, Tony."

The archbishop continued to laugh. 

"And yet I can sense the love."

Fatima gave Ibrahim an affectionate squeeze.

"Very much.  I wouldn't trade this one for anyone.  Not even Joshua."

Hearing his name, Joshua turned to the newcomers as they entered the dining room.

"Ibrahim!  Liyana!  And Fatima!"  He hugged each of them.  "I'm so glad you came!  My parents are here!  And my cousin.  I so want you to meet them!"

"So many people here..."  Liyana surveyed the crowd in amazement.  She cocked her head when she glimpsed a tall, silver-haired man.

Joshua followed her gaze and lowered his voice.

"Yes and I love them all.  Just a quick heads up...  My friend, Vincent, is here with his family.  He's actually JenniAnn's godfather... and cousin... and she and Andrew are raising his... well, the family trees get a little complicated.  But in short, Vincent and Andrew's and JenniAnn's youngest, Avi, have a very rare genetic condition.  They're perfectly healthy.  Nothing to fear.  They just look very unique.  Beautiful, in my opinion.  But unique."

"Interesting.  Thank you for letting us know.  I'm excited to meet everyone."  Ibrahim smiled at Joshua.  "You said your parents..."

"The baby..." Liyana cooed as she headed towards JenniAnn who was sitting near Hura with Avi in her lap.

"I ended up nursing him because he seemed to take to that much, much better than any bottle.  And he seems to have a super strong immune system like his Appa... Grandpa Vincent... but other than that... he's just a normal nine-month-old boy.  Aren't you?" JenniAnn nuzzled Avi's hair as he grinned up at Liyana.  "Oh hi!" JenniAnn greeted.  "Liyana, this is my son, Avi.  Avi, this is my friend, Liyana." 

Liyana crouched down and smiled at the child.

"Hi, Avi.  Joshua was just telling us about you.  You're so sweet!" 

"Would you like to hold him?" JenniAnn offered.

"Would he mind?"

"Naw.  He's very easy-going.  Every so often he gets to wanting a particular person... usually Joshua or his Appa... but, generally, he's just happy to be snuggled."

Liyana settled into a nearby chair and beamed as JenniAnn placed Avi in her arms.

"You're a natural, Yana," Hura encouraged.  "But then I knew that already.  You were always so good with my two."

Avi nestled against his new friend and stared up at her.

"He's precious..." Liyana murmured. 

A less agreeable baby squalled nearby.

"That'd be Evie," JenniAnn announced.

Mallory approached them with a wailing Evie in her arms.

"Sorry.  She's moody today.  Could I either borrow Avi or..."  Mallory looked to Liyana and stuck her hand out.  "Hi.  I'm Mallory."

"Liyana.  So pleased to meet you!"

"I don't mean to be forward but... you're holding my daughter's boyfriend and she's having a meltdown so... could you either take her or could I take him?"

Liyana giggled and looked to JenniAnn.

"For real?"

"It's definitely a thing," JenniAnn answered, smiling at Mallory.

"Could I hold her?" Liyana requested.

"You don't have to ask twice!"  Mallory gently placed Evie in Liyana's other arm.

Avi giggled and reached for his friend who was already beginning to calm.

"Uncanny..." Hura observed. 

Liyana beamed as she cradled the two tiny lovebirds.

"That's so cute!  Aww!  She took his hand!"

Still near the doorway, Joshua realized that Liyana was not soon to be parted from the babies.  Fatima had wandered off to visit with Raheem but Ibrahim remained at his side.

"Well, let's go say hello to my parents just the two of us, you think?" he suggested.

Ibrahim pulled his gaze off of his wife and nodded.

"Yes.  Please.  I'd love to meet them."

"Right this way..."

Joshua weaved his way through tables until he reached his parents and John.

"Ama, Abi, John...  This is Imam Ibrahim who I've told you so much about.  We lost his wife to little Avi and Evie but I'll bring her and her mother by later.  Ibrahim, this is my mother, Maryam, and my father, Yosef, and this big galoot is my cousin, John."

Ibrahim smiled and shook their hands.

"Finally I meet Maryam and Yosef!  I thought Joshua was pulling my leg.  And even with a cousin named John!"

"More than that, I was born Yohannan," John explained with a grin.

"And I suppose your parents are named Elizabeth and Zakharia?" Ibrahim teased.

"Yup!"  John smiled proudly.

Ibrahim looked to Joshua, trying to puzzle out if the man was joking.

Joshua smiled and held his hands up.

"All true."

Yosef laughed and patted the imam on the arm.

"Do not worry, young man.  We get that reaction a lot."

"I can imagine..."  Ibrahim directed his attention to Maryam.  "Your son has your eyes.  I noticed at once.  Very beautiful."

"Thank you."  Maryam reached over and squeezed Joshua's hand.  "I have always thought Yeshu's were far more beautiful."

"She's biased," Joshua demurred, pulling his mother into his embrace.

"Yeshu...  Wait... so is your name actually Yeshua?" Ibrahim questioned.

"My name's actually Yeshua... but also actually Joshua.  I grew up using Yeshua but use Joshua more commonly now.  And, of course, my parents still get to call me whatever they want."

"Oh really?  Well, Skippy, how about you help me get refreshments for the table?" Yosef requested with a grin.

Joshua burst out laughing.

"Abi...  You could pick anything and you pick Skippy?"

Yosef shrugged.

"It sounds cheerful and friendly."

Still laughing, Joshua wrapped an arm around his Abi's shoulders.

"Gotcha.  And, yes, let's go get some drinks.  Ibrahim, coffee, water, tea, soda?"

"Oh, uh, water would be great.  Thank you."

"Sure thing.  We'll be right back."

As Ibrahim watched the two retreat, arms around each other, John pulled out a chair.

"Sit with us, please.  You can tell us all about what my young cousin has been up to."

Ibrahim smiled and took the offered seat.

"Thank you but... 'young cousin'?  If you don't mind my saying, you and Joshua appear to be the same age."

Maryam laughed.

"John is six months older... and he will never forget it.  It's an old joke between the boys."

"I see," Ibrahim replied with a chuckle.  "As for what Joshua's been up to..."  His face clouded.  "He... he's an excellent worker.  And he's been such a support to Liyana and me.  So when Friday happened..."

Spotting the tear rolling down Ibrahim's cheek, Maryam handed him a handkerchief.

"Thank you."  The imam managed a small smile.  "I, umm, would give anything for him not to have..."

John squeezed the man's shoulder.

"Joshua is fine.  Surely you know there's nothing you could have..."

Ibrahim shook his head.

"I don't know that!  I was naive to think everything would be okay.  He even made threats!  It's not as if the shooting came out of the blue."

"And Yeshua knew all of that... and he still chose to be there.  You could not have stopped him from being there, Ibrahim.  Once my son decides to do something... he is going to do it.  Even if it comes at great personal cost," Maryam counseled. 

An edge crept into Ibrahim's voice as he locked eyes with the woman.

"I suppose if I had been born in Bethlehem to Maryam and Yosef and named Yeshua, I might think I need to play the hero, too."

John gaped at the man's boldness but Maryam remained calm.

"Yeshu has always been the master of his own fate."

Something about the way she said it unnerved Ibrahim even as Maryam smiled kindly at him.  There was a history behind that "always" that seemed deeper than Joshua's thirty odd years.

"All right...  Water for Ibrahim and me, hot tea for Ama and Abi, black coffee for John," Joshua recited as he set down a tray and dispersed the beverages.  "I also neglected to mention that I brought wine and grape juice.  But maybe that's better for when we actually eat."

"Joshua makes his own wine and grape juice," John boasted.  "Both are very good."

"Joshua is full of surprises!" Ibrahim mused.  "While I'm afraid I'll have to pass on the wine, I'll look forward to sampling the grape juice."

"Great.  So what did I miss?" Joshua asked, taking a seat.

"Ibrahim was telling us about the work you've been doing," John informed, casting a meaningful glance at his cousin.

"Ah.  All good reports, I hope."  Joshua smiled at the imam.  "Abi taught me everything I know about carpentry, masonry, etc.  So if you'd like to lodge any complaints..."

"No.  None," Ibrahim assured.  "I must confess... I'm still a little daunted by your history, Joshua.  It must be quite a burden having a life that so closely mirrors that of the founder of one of the world's largest religions.  How long were you in Bethlehem?"

"Not long.  Most of my early years were spent in Egypt."

Ibrahim nearly spit out his water.


Joshua nodded.

"And this is the only life I've known.  And I've loved my life.  Any burdens were and are more than worthwhile," he assured. 

Jemima approached and plopped into the empty chair by Joshua.

"Hey there, Jemima!"  Joshua squeezed her hand.  "Ibrahim, this is Jemima.  She was one of my nurses at the hospital... but she's also an old friend.  Jemima, this is Imam Ibrahim Azizi."

Jemima held her hand out.

"Hi!  I think I saw you and your wife at the hospital that first day.  But it's great to properly meet you!"

"You, as well, Jemima.  Thank you for the wonderful care you gave to our mutual friend."

Jemima shrugged.

"It was no problem.  And Joshua used to change my diapers so... it was only fair I do a bit of caregiving for him.  And I didn't even have to do anything near as unpleasant as that."

"It was definitely unpleasant at times," Yosef muttered under his breath as Maryam laughed quietly.

Ibrahim studied the two.  Jemima appeared to be in her twenties, not much younger than Joshua.  But then he supposed an eight or nine year old was capable of changing diapers.

"Diapers are one thing I'm not looking forward to," he commented, glancing over at Liyana who was still entranced by Avi and Evie. 

"Everything else makes it worthwhile," Maryam assured.  "When you see those sweet, little eyes look into your own and those tiny fingers wrap around yours... and the soft wisps of their hair under your chin as you cradle them...  Diapers will be the last thing you think of."

Joshua reached across the table and clasped his mother's hand.

Ibrahim felt the judgment he'd directed towards Maryam and Yosef fade away.  Joshua clearly loved his parents... and they loved him.  He'd wanted to ask why they hadn't been at the hospital but now he suspected they had been... it was he who had stayed away.

"Well, I think I'm going to go check with Tony and see if he needs help with anything.  Then I imagine we'll get started with dinner pretty soon.  Everyone's here," Joshua observed.

"Before you do that, would you mind showing me the way to the men's room, Josh?" Ibrahim requested.  He felt a sudden need to be alone.

"Sure thing."

"See you later, Ibrahim!" Jemima called.

"So lovely to meet you," Maryam added.

"And you, as well.  All of you.  Thank you."  Ibrahim smiled at the four gathered around the table then followed Joshua.

"That poor man..." Maryam murmured once he was out of earshot.

"Takoda said he seems to be doing a bit better," Jemima offered.  "But he's still so haunted."

"It's staggering to consider how long-lasting the aftershocks from one man's poor choices can be.  Joshua and I were very blessed to have the fathers we did," John opined.

Yosef patted his hand.

"Thank you, Yohannan.  And... thankfully... Ibrahim has the Everlasting Father fighting for him."

"Amen," Maryam prayed.

"Amen," Jemima and John echoed.


In the restroom, Ibrahim splashed water on his face and gazed into the mirror.

He looked horrible.  The sleepless nights were obvious.  And he swore more of his hair had gone gray though Liyana assured him it was all in his head.

In any case, he definitely looked older than his thirty one years. 

The bathroom door swung open and Takoda entered.  He smiled and stepped in front of the sink next to Ibrahim.

"I was coloring with the kids and rested my hand over some black marker that hadn't yet dried," he explained, holding his smudged hand up.

Ibrahim chuckled.

"I hope it wasn't permanent marker."

Takoda shook his head.

"Oh no.  They've all been parents long enough to know washable is the only way to go."  He smiled at the imam in the mirror as he began to scrub.

"Takoda, there's something I've been meaning to ask you..." Ibrahim started.

"Ask away!"

"At the prayer service...  You mentioned that you and Joshua had had a falling out.  You don't have to say any more if you don't want but..."

Takoda rinsed his hands and shook his head.

"No.  It's fine.  I just didn't want to tell the whole story then because that day was difficult enough.  In short, I survived a hate crime targeting Native Americans that killed two of my friends.  Joshua was nothing but supportive and loving but... I just wasn't in the right head space to listen.  I just wanted to yell.  So I did.  At him.  And then... then I refused contact with him until, honestly, the very day I started helping him at the mosque.  I... I'm still so grateful for that because if... if we hadn't made our peace before he was shot..."  Takoda shook his head.  "I think it would have taken me a long, long time to forgive myself."



"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I briefly thought he was the one sending the threats to the mosque.  I thought it was one of those create a crisis, be the hero things.  Really screwed that one up, huh?" Ibrahim asked bitterly.

Takoda's face softened.

"Does Joshua know this?"

Ibrahim nodded.

"I confessed... that first day at the hospital."

"And what did he say?"

"He... he said he understood.  And that he forgave me.  And... he called me his friend."

The angel smiled.

"That sounds like Joshua.  But... I'm guessing you haven't forgiven yourself?"

Ibrahim shrugged.

"In some ways.  I still feel sick when I think about it.  And earlier, I basically forbade him from planting flowers in front of the mosque.  I... I was afraid it might happen again.  Something about him... I either come up with cockamamie theories or want to lock him up and make sure no one can ever, ever hurt him."

"We're all pretty shook up, Ibrahim.  It's going to take a while to settle back down."

"Yes... I suppose.  I... I'm nervous about Saturday."

"That's to be expected.  But I'm confident we'll be just fine."

Ibrahim smiled.

"As my grandma used to say...  'From your lips to God's ears.'"

Takoda returned his smile and nodded.

"Amen.  Well, I'm going to head back in there.  Dinner should be starting soon.  You coming?"

"You go on.  I'll be out shortly."

"Okay.  See you in there."

"See you."

Ibrahim faced his reflection and took a few deep breaths.

He was okay... he was sane... he was going to enjoy a dinner amongst Joshua's many friends.

Exiting the restroom, Ibrahim headed back to the dining hall.  He was just about to enter when a painting on the wall caught his eye.  He was sure it had been there earlier but, somehow, it had escaped his notice.

Entranced, Ibrahim moved closer and studied the piece.  "Sunday at the Tomb," he read.  Joshua had obviously been the model.  The imam gazed at the image of his friend, his head rested on the woman's... Mary Magdalene's seemingly.  Ibrahim was transported back to his study.  He recalled Joshua's reunion with his friends, the inexplicable shudder that had gone through him when a teary-eyed Joshua had embraced Salma.  They had looked exactly like this painting... only the clothes and the pierced hand were different.

Raheem stepped into the hallway.

"Hey there.  Everything okay?" he checked.

Ibrahim tore his gaze away from the painting and nodded.

"Yeah... yeah.  I guess I just..."  He waved to the image.  "It's weird to see him like that."

Raheem gazed at the painting and smiled though his eyes welled.

"Fitting, though."

"How so?" Ibrahim pressed.

Raheem startled, not quite sure how to respond.

"Joshua...  He's just... he's very... Isa-like," he tried.

The imam nodded.

"I suppose he is."

Raheem wanted to tell his cousin everything... about his healing, about what he'd since learned about Joshua.  But now wasn't the time.  Joshua had said so.

"Let's go inside.  The archbishop is going to say a few words and then we're starting dinner."

"Sounds good."

The two men re-entered the room.  Ibrahim noticed that two tables had been pushed together and now Liyana and Fatima were seated with Joshua's family.  There was an empty seat beside his wife which Ibrahim took.

"I love Joshua's mother!" Liyana whispered.  "I feel like I know her.  She's just so warm and lovely!  And she gave me her recipe for her tea for expectant moms!"

Ibrahim smiled at his wife.

"That's great.  She's very nice.  They all are."

Liyana gave an effusive nod and squeezed her husband's hand.

"Are you all right?"

Ibrahim nodded.

"Great.  Getting hungry, though."  He smiled and turned his attention to where Tony was standing.

"Welcome, everyone!  Thank you so much for coming out to celebrate the good health of our beloved friend, Joshua.  My special thanks to Imam Ibrahim and his family for being here.  Please know that our prayers," Tony indicated everyone around him, "continue to be with you and with your community."

His face flushed, Ibrahim smiled and nodded when everyone turned to him.

"It's been a difficult time and I'm so pleased that we can gather together for a happy occasion... to enjoy good food, good drink, and good company.  Before we get to that, I've asked Joshua to say a blessing so... Joshua."

Joshua joined Tony and, after the two embraced, the former turned to the crowd and beamed.

"I really am so touched by Tony's kindness in arranging this dinner and to all of you for attending and bringing such delicious food to share.  Your prayers, your visits, your hugs and kisses, so many kindnesses... they've all meant so much to me.  I love you all so much!  I thank you all and I thank the Father for this time together and pray..."  Joshua raised his arms.  "'Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.'"

Some of the Friends joined in.

"'Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who creates various kinds of sustenance.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the earth.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, by Whose word all things came to be.  Amen.'"


Joshua lowered his arms and smiled.

"Now go fill up those plates!"

"You first!" Zeke shouted. 

"Yes, guest of honor goes first!" Mason insisted.

"Joshua!  Joshua!  Joshua!" the crowd started chanting.

Laughing, Joshua shrugged.

"All right!  It's not like I needed much convincing.  It all looks so good!"

Once Joshua started the line, the others soon joined in.

Hesitant and still feeling a little out of sorts, Ibrahim held off until he was nearly at the end of the line.  Fully expecting to make due with picked-over remains, he gawked when he saw that each bowl, dish, and basket still had food in it.

"Wow.  Did everyone bring enough for refills?" he asked Raheem who had waited with him.

Raheem only smiled and shrugged.

Ibrahim glanced around the room, considering that maybe Joshua's friends were simply skimpy eaters.  But, no, every plate was full.

The imam shook his head.

"Guess they must have.  Liyana and I didn't so I'm sure..."  He stopped speaking when the bowl they'd brought came into view.  There was still plenty of salad.  He was sure people wouldn't have skipped it... it looked amazing.  And when Liyana had brought it to a Symponia gathering, several of those present had asked for the recipe.  They clearly enjoyed it.

Ibrahim reached across the buffet table and grabbed his cousin's wrist.

"Raheem...  I think something very strange is going on."

Raheem set down his plate and rested his other hand over Ibrahim's.

"Everything is fine, my friend.  Look around you.  All is well.  Accept it and enjoy it.  Please."

Ibrahim felt his body relaxing.  Raheem was right.  There were so many happy faces, so much laughter.  And he'd thought it himself... Liyana had given her recipe to some of the folks here.  Maybe they'd made the salad, too, and refilled the bowl from their supply.  There was nothing strange... just a lot of very prepared people.

Ibrahim smiled.

"You're right.  Of course.  I will."


The imam refocused on his plate and soon rejoined his and Joshua's family.

"Uncle Ibrahim!" Iz called once he'd sat down.  "Did you know Joshua's dad builds stuff, too?"

"So I've heard."  Ibrahim smiled at Yosef.  "A very talented family."

Yosef raised his glass towards the man. 

"Thank you.  Maryam is very talented with weaving and embroidery.  But Yeshua's our true artist."

"Oh... yes..."  Ibrahim remembered the handkerchief that Maryam had given him.  He pulled it from his pocket, wondering if he should return it now or launder it first.  As he considered, he noticed the embroidery...  IA.  His own initials...

"Isn't it beautiful?" Liyana asked.  "Maryam gave me one, too.  And Mom."

Touched, Ibrahim's eyes brimmed.

"Yes, beautiful."

Liyana kissed his cheek.

"There's so much goodness in the world, honey.  Please don't ever lose sight of that."

Ibrahim looked out across the room, his gaze landing on Joshua who was speaking with Kylie and Clay, their youngest snuggled against him.

"I won't," Ibrahim vowed.

He thought of his father, the originator of so many of the struggles in his life.  He thought of Cameron, the man who had threatened his wife, who had harmed his friend, who had sought to destroy his community.  Some men shirked their responsibility to love, honor, and respect those around them.

But then there were other men.  Men like Raheem who saw the good in everyone, quick to lend a hand, loyal even during the hard times.  And men like Joshua... men who consistently met hate with love, whose inner light couldn't be snuffed out by any darkness, who stood strong against the forces of violence, protecting others at risk to themselves.

Allah had placed both types of men in his life.  He had chosen to focus on the former... but now it was time to focus on the latter.

Joshua caught Ibrahim's gaze and smiled and waved.

Ibrahim waved back, a new peace evident in his smile.


Throughout dinner and dessert, Joshua made the rounds, making sure to spend time with everyone in attendance.  While Ibrahim visited with his family and Joshua's, his gaze often returned to Joshua.  There wasn't a person there who didn't seem to be in love with the guy.


"Hmm?"  Ibrahim turned to his wife.

"Mom and I are gonna go chat with some of the other ladies.  I've decided it's time I start collecting pregnancy and new mom tips and horror stories."

Chuckling, the imam nodded.

"Sure.  Have fun with that."

Liyana patted his knee.

"Maybe you could go be social, too?"

"Oh.  Yeah.  Okay.  I'm going to get more of this grape juice but then... yeah."


After kissing her husband's cheek, Liyana took her mother's arm and left the table.

Ibrahim turned to Yosef and Maryam.

"I'm going to go get more juice.  Can I get you anything while I'm up?"

"Oh, no.  Thank you so much for asking, though," Maryam declined.


Raising his glass of wine, Yosef shook his head.

"I am still working on this.  Thank you, Ibrahim."

"Sure.  Umm.  I guess I should go mingle?"

"A very good idea," Maryam encouraged.  "Have fun!"

"Thanks."  With a polite smile for them both, Ibrahim stepped away and refilled his glass.  He surveyed the room, trying to decide who to approach.  And then a snippet of conversation caught his attention.

"I'm still sorry I wasn't around when all that happened with your mom.  It... feels weird sometimes.  If she hadn't have gotten shot... maybe I'd still be there."

"Don't think that way.  At least not in that way.  What's the alternative?  That she got shot and nothing good came out of it?"

"That's true..."

"And you're with us now, Eben.  That's what matters."

Ibrahim was trying to recall who the speaker was then it clicked.  Max.  Andrew's and JenniAnn's eldest... somehow.  They didn't seem old enough to be his parents but then Ibrahim was learning that Joshua's friends had very interesting family dynamics.

"Imam Ibrahim, can I help you with something?"

Ibrahim startled when he realized Max was speaking to him.  He smiled sheepishly and approached the two.

"Sorry.  I wasn't meaning to eavesdrop.  Just getting some juice and I guess your conversation caught my attention... what with recent events."

Max nodded.

"Yeah...  There's definitely been an aspect of deja vu to it all for us.  But, thankfully, it was much easier this time.  Joshua was never in a coma so... thank God for that!  Imam..."

"Just Ibrahim.  Please."

"Sure.  Ibrahim, have you met Eben?"

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure."  The imam stuck out his hand.  "Pleased to meet you, Eben."

"Likewise!  Since I'm in town, I'm really hoping to stick around for your health fair."

"That would be great.  The more the merrier!  So, if you don't mind my asking... how do you fit into... this?"

Eben chuckled as Ibrahim waved around the room.

"Well...  Joshua and I go way back.  But I was also Andrew's best friend for a long while until, umm, I made some really bad decisions and we lost touch for a while but... happily... I've cleaned up my life and here I am."

"That's great.  I imagine they're all very glad to have you back."

Max clapped the angel on the back.

"We are.  Very glad."

"Well... awesome.  Anyway... I'll let you two gentlemen get back to your..."

"No, no.  Don't feel you need to hurry off," Eben assured.  "I was just about to ask Dr. Max here how his studies are going."

"Almost Dr. Max.  Not there quite yet," Max reminded with a smile.

"Wow.  A medical doctor?" Ibrahim inquired.

"Sort of.  I'm studying to be a psychiatrist specializing in trauma... specifically trauma from war but really any violence."

"That's... very noble.  What made you decide to go into that?"

"Oh.  Well...  How much time do you have?" Max asked with a chuckle.

Ibrahim smiled. 

"As much time as you want to give me.  Now I'm intrigued."

"Well...  I actually served in Afghanistan.  My dad... Andrew... did, too.  We were both taken prisoner by extremists."

"Islamic extremists," Ibrahim muttered.

"Yes.  But...  I know they're the minority.  The vast minority.  Please don't think I harbor any resentment for or fear of Muslims," Max insisted.  "Dad and I wouldn't have been rescued if it wasn't for Behnam and his sister, Badriya.  They were both Muslims at the time."

"That... that's good to know."  Ibrahim smiled at the younger man.

"It's the truth.  Anyway, it was rough going.  We both came back with some issues... Dad especially.  PTSD for both of us.  TBI for him."

"Traumatic brain injury..."  Ibrahim looked sympathetically at an oblivious Andrew. 

Eben wiped away a tear as he, too,  gazed at his old friend, now happily holding his baby girl.

"But even as he faced his own struggles... he was always there for me.  Maja... my mom... too.  I'm sure you've gathered they're not my birth parents?" Max checked.

"I was trying to puzzle it out... I didn't see how they could be," Ibrahim admitted.

"My birth mom walked out when I was young.  My birth father..."  Max bit his lip.

Eben patted him on the back.

"Max's birth father is the one who shot JenniAnn," he relayed.

"Thanks, Eben."  Max smiled appreciatively at him.

Ibrahim gawked.

"My God..." he uttered.

Max sighed.

"So... between the wartime trauma and that... now I think you can probably see why I chose the career I did.  I want to help other people just as I was helped.  And... I think I might understand my future patients in ways others might not."

"Sometimes the wounded shepherds are the best shepherds."

Joshua's words returned to Ibrahim with a new depth of meaning.  He reached over and clasped one of Max's hands.

"Can you take patients yet?"

"Well... not formally.  And I can't prescribe medications yet.  But... if you're asking..."

Ibrahim nodded eagerly.

"Maybe we could meet up... just two new friends.  To chat.  And if my professional expertise... such as it is... comes out, that's okay," Max suggested with a smile.

"I... I would like that.  I'd like that very much.  Thank you!"

"You're very welcome!  I look forward to getting to know you better, Ibrahim!"  Max pulled out a business card.  "Just call or text me and we'll find a time.  Soon."

Ibrahim beamed at Max.

"I will.  I promise I will," he vowed.  "In fact... I'll go tell my wife right now.  She'll make me stick to it!"

Max chuckled.

"Sounds like a good plan!"

As Ibrahim hurried off, Eben smiled at Max.

"Ya done good."

"Thanks.  No one deserves to be carrying as many burdens as that man," Max empathized.

"Especially when someone else is already carrying them for him."  Eben sighed as he watched Joshua sit down beside Iz, Amala, and Christopher.  "I think you have your work cut out for you, my friend."

"I'm up for it.  My parents and Rose had their work cut out for them with me.  They didn't let me down.  I won't let Ibrahim down."

"I know you won't, Max.  You come from good stock.  Hey, did I ever tell you about the time your dad almost ended up as the model for Michaelangelo's David?"

Max nearly choked on his wine.

"No... no you have not.  Do tell!"

With great interest and amusement, Max settled in to listen to the angel's tale.


Planting Seeds

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

After a morning spent putting the finishing touches on some projects at the mosque with Takoda, Raheem and Joshua alone proceeded to the Chrysalis.  In the entryway, Joshua took a few moments to fill his guest in as they sat together.

"So the Chrysalis was founded just over three years ago.  It was originally staffed by some of my angels, a few human helpers, and... Nicholas of Myra."

Raheem's eyes widened.

"Isn't he... Santa?"

Joshua chuckled.

"Sort of.  He still stops in on occasion, along with the others.  But now the Chrysalis is run by Dr. Amber-Marie Sayer Kostan.  Josef's wife and Daisy's mother.  And also a wonderful psychiatrist!"

"Josef...  The fellow who sang with Takoda at the prayer vigil?"

"That's him.  She and her assistant, Gayle, and a lovely survivor named Thandie keep this place going but a lot of former clients also work here."


"She volunteers a lot of her time here."

"So everyone here... they've escaped human trafficking?" Raheem checked.

"Mostly.  Some of them have children who, thankfully, never got dragged into that hell.  Others... did.  They're here, too."

Raheem shook his head.

"It's so huge.  To think that many people..."

Joshua's eyes welled.

"And so many more still live in bondage.  But..."  He smiled through his tears.  "So many people work every day to restore their freedom to them.  And, once they come here, they have community, safety, and every opportunity to rebuild their self-esteem, learn skills that will enable them to live independently, and hear that they're loved and valued."


"It is.  So... we're going to share lunch with them and then... and I had to fight for this... I got a list of things that need fixing."  Joshua produced the list and smiled.  "Amber-Marie didn't want me working but... I'm stubborn."

Raheem laughed and nodded.

"So I'm learning.  I hope I can help."

"You can.  And what you don't know... you can learn.  You're a quick study."

"Thanks."  Raheem squeezed Joshua's hand.  "I have a good teacher."

Beaming, Joshua motioned for Raheem to stand up.

"Thank you.  You're a wonderful student but now... let's have some lunch."

Once they were through the security entrances and into the Chrysalis proper, Joshua was immediately greeted by cheers and hugs.  Raheem stood back, grinning at Joshua's obvious delight.

"Hello!  So good to be back!  Gillie... Wyatt... you've gotten so big!  And look at you... my Anika, Nya, and Zizi!"

Raheem's eyes misted as Joshua knelt to embrace several children.

"Thandie..."  Joshua hugged the woman tightly.  "And Luis...  Ah... Brooklyn.  Thank you so much for coming back."

"We wouldn't have missed your visit for anything!" Luis enthused.  "But I'm also here helping Marco.  He wanted to make something special for this reunion lunch and actually..."  He checked his phone.  "I don't want to hurry this along but it's a plated meal and we don't want it getting cold."

"Definitely not!" Joshua agreed.  He raised his voice so everyone could hear.  "Friends, let's head into the dining room so we don't disappoint our chef.  I promise I'll make the rounds."

With more cheers, the merry group followed Joshua to the dining room where Marco and some helpers were just setting down the last plates.

"Marco!  It smells delicious," Joshua praised as he embraced the chef.

"Thank you.  When Amber-Marie mentioned you were coming, I couldn't resist catering.  I hope you're in the mood for red and white lasagna."


"And we also brought cannolis and macarons," Isolde tantalized.

Joshua hugged her.

"I can't wait!"  He beamed at everyone milling around them then spoke for all to hear.  "Why doesn't everyone take a seat?  I'd like to introduce my friend here and then we'll dig in."

The throng readily obeyed until Joshua and Raheem alone remained standing, the latter blushing.

"It really is so good to be back here with you all!  I love seeing so many familiar faces and so many new ones, as well!  I'm so looking forward to spending this afternoon with you all.  I'll be joined by my friend, Raheem Khalid, as we do some fixing up around here.  And, yes, some catching up, too.  I've missed you all."

Those in attendance who hadn't been present for Joshua's previous visits to the Chrysalis found themselves smiling, feeling as if he was speaking just as much to them as to his old friends.

"And now..."

"A blessing, Joshua?  Please?" Gayle requested.

"Of course."  Joshua raised his arms and prayed. 
"'Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth...'"

Once the prayer was over, Raheem found himself seated with some semi-familiar faces as Joshua, true to his word, jumped from table-to-table.

"Hey there!" Logan greeted.  "I think we met very briefly at a previous Symponia shindig and the prayer service.  My name's Logan Griffen and this is my wife, Zelda, and my mother, Beverly.  And you know Salma."

Raheem shook their hands and smiled.

"Raheem.  So pleased to meet you again.  And yes.  Hello again, Salma.  How... have you been doing?"

Salma smiled breezily at Raheem.

"Very well.  It's helped so much to see Joshua so happy and so surrounded by love these past couple of days.  You?"

"The same.  Actually... better than I've ever been now that I..."  Raheem's voice drifted off.

"Know about Joshua?" Beverly guessed.

"Yes," Raheem nodded.  "I'm still figuring out who all knows."

"We all do here at this table," Logan confirmed.  "You'll get a better idea tonight.  You're coming to Bible study?"

"Oh yes!  With my family, too.  I am confused, though.  JenniAnn invited me and said it was at her and Andrew's place but... Joshua said he'd meet us at St. G's."

Salma laughed.

"You'll see.  It'll all make sense."

"I'm sure it will."  Raheem smiled then directed his attention to the young couple.  "Do you volunteer here?"
"Sometimes," Zelda replied.  "But... I actually spent some time here.  I'm Salma's best friend.  We met while being held captive."  She reached across the table and squeezed the nun's hand.


"I'm not sure I would have survived for as long as I did without her," Salma murmured.

"Likewise."  Zelda smiled tenderly at her friend.  "But everything changed once Joshua entered the picture.  It... it was like The Wizard of Oz.  Everything was gray and then... everything was bursting with color and so much beauty... new life..."

Salma cocked her head.

"What was that?" she questioned Zelda.

"What was what?"

"Your hand...  Right as you said 'new life' your hand..."  Salma patted her belly.

Zelda giggled and looked to her husband.


Logan chuckled as he brought her hand to his lips.

"Are you..."  Salma's face lit up.

"I am.  Two months along.  Mom knew, of course, and we were going to announce it tonight but... I guess I shouldn't ever play poker," Zelda jested.

Salma shrieked and ran around the table to embrace her friend.

"That's so wonderful!  Oh!  I'm so happy for you both!"  She hugged Logan then Beverly.  "And for grandma, too!" 

"I'm over the moon," the older woman shared.  "Can't wait to meet the little one!"

"I... I still can't believe he or she is real," Logan offered, teary-eyed.

Alerted by Salma's excitement, Joshua approached and clapped the expectant father on the back.

"He or she is very real.  And I know you're going to be amazing parents and an amazing grandma."  He hugged the trio. 

"So many babies!" Salma cheered.  "First Isolde and Marco and then Ibrahim and Liyana.  Then Kylie and Clay..."

"What?!" Logan exclaimed.

Joshua laughed.

"I guess the grapevine didn't quite cover everyone last night.  They told me at dinner," he explained.  "She's about three weeks along."

"That's so cool!" Zelda gushed.  "You'll have friends right around your age!" she informed her baby.

"You knew about them, surely?" Raheem asked Joshua who responded with a wink and nod.  Chuckling, he took Logan's and Zelda's hands.  "Congratulations!  You have so much to look forward to.  There's nothing like that moment when they place that sweet, squalling bundle in your arms."

Beverly laughed.

"And squalling he or she will be if they take after their daddy!"

Joshua winced and rubbed at his ears playfully.

"I can remember."

Zelda, who had bowed her head, smiled when Joshua gently lifted her chin.

"You, on the other hand, were a very contented baby.  You only cried when you needed something.  And those big, sweet eyes..."

"Joshua..." Zelda murmured before snuggling against his chest as he held her.

Raheem studied Logan whose eyes had filled.  Noting this, Logan moved to stand beside the other man.

"She's estranged from her parents... for good reason.  Joshua's the only one left who can tell her about her infancy."

"I... I see."  Raheem sighed, moved to tears by the sight before him.

Logan squeezed his shoulder.

"Raheem, this is only the beginning of what you'll see and hear."

Beaming, Raheem nodded.

"I... I'm getting that idea."


After lunch, Raheem and Salma accompanied Joshua as he did his work around the Chrysalis.  The latter's presence comforted those who hadn't previously met Joshua while the former closely studied the carpenter's work, occasionally jotting notes.

"If it's a small piece, it doesn't really matter if you find a stud in the wall.  But with these larger pieces... it's a must."


Joshua lowered his voice.

"Those newer plastic adhesive anchors can work well.  But I avoid using those around here.  They imply impermanence.  It's right there in the commercials.  And, true, this is only meant to be a place where people relaunch their lives and find independence.  But after what they've come from... we need this place to feel like home for as long as they need it.  Proper nails and hooks feel more permanent."

"That makes sense," Raheem agreed, touched but not surprised by Joshua's thoughtfulness.

"All right!  I think we're ready.  Help me lift this, please?"

"Sure thing."

Together, the two men lifted a large, framed painting of a field of wildflowers onto a wall.  Once it was hung, Joshua stepped back and studied it.

"How's it look?" he asked the two young women whose room they were decorating.

"Really beautiful..."

"Look straight?"

The two moved around the room, tilting their heads this way and that before nodding in unison.

"It looks perfect.  Thank you."

"Yes, thank you."

"You're very welcome, Nichole and Morgana.  Anything else we can do?" Joshua inquired.

The two girls exchanged silent, meaningful glances until Nichole, the older of the two, stepped away and pulled something from a drawer.

"I... I'm not sure if this is something you do.  A-and maybe it's just impossibly broken.  But... Amber-Marie said that you could fix even the impossibly broken.  I think she was just being symbolic but..."

Joshua watched as she unwrapped a ceramic swan.  The piece was broken into at least twenty odd pieces.

"It was our mother's.  She loved it.  It belonged to her grandma.  But... our... our pimp broke it," Morgana explained.

Joshua cleared his throat before speaking and smiled at the sisters.

"I think I can handle this.  Could I take it home with me tonight and bring it back to you tomorrow?"


"Uh huh.  Thank you for trying."

"You bet!  Is that all or..."

"That's all," Nichole replied.

"That's enough," Morgana added.

"All right then.  Well, it was a pleasure to meet you girls and I'll see you tomorrow.  Raheem, Salma, let's head across the hall."


"Sounds good."

Joshua carefully rewrapped the pieces of the swan and smiled at the girls.  When they didn't shrink back from his outstretched hand, he lightly touched their shoulders.

"You have a good rest of the day, Nichole and Morgana."

"You, too, Joshua."

"Take care."

Joshua met their forced, weary smiles with a tender, loving one then left the room.  Once the door was shut behind him, Salma gently rubbed his back.

"How are you feeling?" she checked.

"Okay.  A little piqued.  Maybe we could sit in the library for a few moments?"

Confused by Joshua's sudden, wan appearance, Raheem hurried across the hall to pull out a chair for him.

Once Joshua was seated, Salma and Raheem settled down across from him.

"What happened?  Maybe you should leave the rest for tomorrow?" Raheem suggested.

Joshua shook his head.

"No, no.  I'll be fine.  Just need a few minutes."

"Wait..."  Raheem looked back across the hall to Nichole's and Morgana's closed door.  "You touched them.  Right before we left the room."

While Joshua only replied with a weary smile, Salma spoke.

"Just as he touched you."

"He... you... healed them."

Joshua and Salma nodded.

"I don't want to betray their right to privacy," the nun started.  "So I'll speak in... generalities.  Many who come here are sick.  Thank God, medicine can treat many, many conditions... curing some, keeping others under control.  But some... some remain a death sentence... sooner or later.  And in some cases, it's not even a STI.  These men, women, and children are often denied medical care.  Now... now Nichole and Morgana have a chance to live long, happy lives."

Raheem began to cry.

"As... as do I."

Joshua reached over and squeezed the man's hand.

"And I'm very, very glad for that.  I know you'll use your life well, Raheem."

"I... I will...  I'll try.  So hard, Joshua."

"I know you will."  Joshua smiled proudly at him.

Raheem returned the smile then looked to the bundle of tissue paper sitting beside Joshua.

"And the swan?  I assume you can just... make it come together?"

"I could.  But they don't know who I am.  If it looks too perfect, they'll just think I tracked down another one.  So... good old fashioned glue it is!"

Salma moved to Joshua's other side.  She hugged him and kissed his cheek.

"I'm sure it will still look very, very well.  There are no greater, steadier hands."

Joshua smiled when she brought one to her lips.

"Thank you for your confidence in me," he replied before kissing her brow then letting out a contented sigh.  "I'm feeling better.  Onto the next item!" 

As they all stood, Raheem's phone buzzed.

"Better see... text from Amala."  He read.  "Uh oh."

Joshua glanced at the phone.

"What does it say?" Salma pressed.

"Amala says Christopher really, really wants to come to Bible study tonight," Joshua relayed.

"But he doesn't know... about you," Raheem pointed out.

Joshua shrugged and smiled.

"Guess he will after tonight!  Tell Amala to bring him along, please."

With a chuckle as he imagined the boy's reaction, Raheem typed back a reply to his daughter.


"Whoa!" Iz shouted as he and his family, Christopher, and Joshua appeared in the gazebo in Dyeland.  "Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!"

"How..."  Christopher spun around. 

"Castle!" Iz shrieked, running down the stairs and towards the building.

"Iz!  Wait up!" Hura called.

"It's okay," Joshua assured.  "Someone will already be waiting by the door to let folks in."

"Where are we?  And... how?" Christopher asked again.

Joshua smiled and set a hand on his shoulder.

"Christopher, there's so much to tell you.  All of you.  But to answer your question... there's more to Creation than the known universe.  God created many, many universes.  You've just stepped into another one via a portal.  Sort of like in The Chronicles of Narnia.  But don't worry.  At the end of the night, we'll step right back through it again and be back at St. G's... on Earth.  The normal amount of time will have passed."

Amala giggled as Christopher continued to gape.

"How... how do you know this?"

"Well, for one, how else would you explain what just happened?" Joshua gently teased. 

In spite of his continued confusion, Christopher chuckled.

"I guess I can't."  He looked to Amala.  "You're so calm."  His gaze transferred to her parents.  "All three of you.  You've done this before?"

Amala shook her head.

"No.  I'm just as amazed as you are but... I knew we'd be fine.  We're with Joshua."

"Joshua..."  Christopher turned back to the supposed actor.  "You live here?"

"Sometimes.  But I'm not from here."

Unable to bear it, Amala bumped her shoulder against her friend's.

"Ask him where he was born, Christopher."

"Umm.  Okay.  Joshua, where were you born?"


Christopher's eyes widened.

"That's crazy considering...  I mean I knew you were from the Middle East but..."

Amala peered over at Joshua, silently pleading.  He nodded to her.

"Christopher, ask Joshua when... when he died."

"When he..."  The young man gaped at his classmate.  "He didn't die.  He's right..."  Christopher peered at Joshua.  And then he remembered their first meeting... embarrassed, he'd repressed some of it but now the memory was as fresh as if it had been the day before.  "After that... that first show that my parents took me to... I... I hugged you.  And I said... I said... 'I wish you were really Him.'"

Raheem and Hura wiped at tears.

"A-and you said..."

"'He's always with you, Christopher.  Always holding you.  He's
right here,'" Joshua restated, tears filling his own eyes.  "Christopher, I'm right here."

With an abandon equal to that of his ten-year-old self, Christopher threw himself at Joshua and wrapped his arms around him.

"It... it's really you."

"Yes, my boy."

Amala gently rubbed Christopher's back as he wept in Joshua's arms.

Behind them, Raheem and Hura exchanged a knowing glance.  In one way or another, they knew that the young man was going to be a permanent fixture in their daughter's life.

"I really do like him," Hura murmured to her husband.

"I liked him first," Raheem teased.

Laughing quietly, Hura rested her head on her husband's shoulder and admired the scene.

After a few more moments, Christopher startled.

"But then... your parents!" he gasped.  "And your cousin!"

Joshua laughed.

"Thankfully, they're still around.  Jemima, too.  They're staying here," he waved to the castle, "until after Saturday.  So why don't we head in?"

"Yes..."  Christopher nodded eagerly.

Excited, the band of five made their way to Willowveil where they were greeted by a manic Iz.

"It's so HUGE!  And this isn't even the only castle!  And Joshua has his own room here!  And the cookies are really good!"

Hura brushed some crumbs away from her boy's face.

"Sweetie, did you even ask or..."

Approaching, JenniAnn smiled and nodded.

"He did.  And I just couldn't resist that eager smile.  Sorry if..."

"No, no."  Hura shook her head.  "It's fine.  I just wanted to be sure Mr. Iz was being respectful."

"Very much so," JenniAnn assured.  "Just very... excited.  But I can't blame him.  I was pretty psyched when I first saw this place, too!  All those years ago...  I... I had no idea what all would happen here."  Her eyes misted as she peered at Joshua.  "Anyway... come on in!  We're all in the ballroom.  We can do a tour later.  Christopher!  So glad you came!"

The teenager beamed as he shook his host's hand.

"This is incredible..."

"Still, being in a castle probably isn't the most incredible experience you've had in the last few minutes, is it?" JenniAnn asked with a knowing smile.

Grinning at Joshua, Christopher shook his head.

"No... it's not.  This is..."

"Beyond awesome sauce," Amala finished for him when he was overcome.

"Exactly," Christopher choked out as Joshua patted his back.

"I'm so happy for you!" JenniAnn gushed.  "For all of you!"

"Me too," Joshua affirmed.  "And now... the Friends of Joshua... aka the Friends for short," he introduced as they entered the ballroom.

The Khalids and Christopher took in the smiling faces around them, noting some with surprise.

"That's the district attorney!" Hura exclaimed to her husband.

"And the police officers..."

"Matthew..."  Hura rushed to the detective.  "You... you know."

Chuckling, Matthew nodded.

"I do.  And I was so glad to learn that you and your family know, Hura."

"Yes... now.  I... I just thought you were religious but... you knew what Joshua had done for my husband because you knew who Joshua is."

"I did.  It was so hard to not just outright tell you!"

"I can imagine."  Hura squeezed his hand.  "But... I wouldn't have changed the way I put it together."

Joshua squeezed her shoulder.

"I wouldn't have changed it, either." 

The introductions continued followed by a brief tour of Willowveil for the newbies.  After that, the younger children headed to the playroom with Maryam and Jemima, who promised to answer questions about Joshua's childhood and what it was like to be a child in Joshua's time, respectively.  The teenagers and adults returned to the ballroom where Joshua fielded questions.

"How long will you stay?" Raheem asked.  "I assume you can't... won't... stay here forever... like this... and so... I would like to prepare myself... if it can be known.  Please."

Joshua smiled gently.

"I didn't know myself until earlier this evening.  But Dad's spoken to me and...  Andrew, JenniAnn..."

The two perked up and met Joshua's gaze.

"I'm hoping you'll be content with a long-term house guest."

JenniAnn nodded eagerly.

"Of... of course!" Andrew consented.  "How long..."

"Through Christmas... a little into the new year," Joshua replied, laughing when the room erupted.  "I'm sure I can prevail upon folks here to put me up for a night or two here and there to give you a break," he shouted over the din.  "But I'd like this to remain home base since it's so accessible for everyone."

"How wonderful!"

"Yes, definitely stay with us!"

"That's... that's over half a year!  That's awesome!"

"Christmas with... with Christ," Raheem murmured.

Joshua nodded and squeezed his hand.

"We'll have some wonderful times together but... there will also be difficult times.  The reason I'm staying is... Cameron's case will go to trial.  Some of us here will have to testify.  And then... I want to be there.  In the courtroom.  Every session."

"They won't bar us?" Salma questioned.

Joshua shook his head.

"They'd only do that if they thought our testimonies would be colored by what we'd hear in the trial but... ours are actually the most  matter-of-fact, least subjective testimonies.  We didn't see Cameron.  We can't comment on his mental state or body language or expressions.  We'll just tell what happened exactly as we remember it.  Nothing more."

Joe nodded.

"I don't see it being a problem.  You have a right to be in the courtroom."

"And you'll be okay... in the courtroom?" Raheem checked.

"I will.  I won't be alone.  Dad and the Spirit are always with me.  And... JenniAnn and Owen are already planning sign up sheets for all of you.  Am I right?"

Owen laughed as JenniAnn blushed.

"You are right..." he confirmed. 

"Are... are you going to try to speak to Cameron?" Amala asked.

Joshua confirmed this with a silent nod.

The group quieted.

Yosef approached his son and rested a hand on his shoulder before speaking to the crowd.

"I will not pretend that it will be easy for Yeshu.  But it will not be a new experience.  To speak only of his earthly life... we were called rats... dogs... rubes...  Through the centuries, we have been wrongly accused of heinous things."

"So true," Tiva agreed.  "Is Cameron a Christian?"

"He says he is," John muttered.

Joshua rubbed at his brow.

"He has it in his head that I meant to end Judaism.  I didn't.  I wanted Gentiles included, of course.  But I was perfectly happy with my early followers considering themselves both Jewish and Christian.  I'm still pleased with my followers who count themselves as members of both... as long as they do so respectfully as Tiva, Yakov, and Samson do."

"We'll pray for him," Christopher offered.  "That he'll see the truth."

Joshua looked lovingly upon the boy and those who stood around him, nodding in agreement.

"Thank you.  I appreciate that.  Very much.  Now... we can talk more about all of that when the time draws closer but for now... I promised I'd answer some questions so... who's next?"

Graham's hand shot up.


"Yes.  I have a very important question... why did you create the blobfish?"

Welcoming the change in tone, the room erupted in laughter.

"Because I had a deep-seated yearning to count a fish who looks like an angry old man among my creations," Joshua replied with a chuckle.  "And I think they're precious.  Next?"

Christopher raised his hand.

"What do I tell my parents?  Can I tell my parents?"

Joshua's face softened.

"I think your parents might be more than a little concerned if you go home tonight and inform them that you've met Jesus.  However... we have months of time to fill.  Bring your parents to Symponia's gatherings and we'll arrange some potlucks or something somewhere that's not quite so... castle-y."

Christopher laughed.

"Once they get to know me...  It'll become easier for you to tell your parents about me.  Okay?"

Christopher nodded eagerly.

"And... what about my uncle?" Amala followed up with.  "And Aunt Liyana?  I wish they could believe in you, Joshua."

Joshua exchanged looks with Raheem.

"As it happens, Matthew and Tyron got clearance for the police tape to be removed from the front of the mosque.  So after we leave here tonight, your dad, Takoda, and I are going to go help your uncle plant some new flowers near the sign.  That doesn't mean there's going to be a big breakthrough tonight.  I really don't think there will be.  But I'm not abandoning your aunt and uncle, Amala.  Between now and when I leave, I'll find plenty of opportunities to check in on them.  And... they're going to find out about your family's conversion.  That will keep the wheels turning, too.  The way is going to be harder for your uncle than it was for you and your family... and Liyana will walk that path with him.  But they won't be alone.  Pray for them, please."

"I will," Amala promised, the others echoing her.

"Good, thank you."  Joshua smiled at the girl then looked to Adam who was standing nearby.  "And now... it occurs to me that not everyone here is aware of the fact that we're not all humans.  We have some angels among us!  So how about we go around the room and everyone can... properly and completely this time... introduce themselves to the Khalids and Christopher?" he suggested.  "Then we can get back to questions... although I'm sure some will arise during introductions.  Adam, you start us off, please."

"All right!  Well... my name is Adam... and I'm an angel of death."

"Whoa..." Christopher murmured.

"Like Izra'il!" Hura exclaimed.

"Yes.  But much handsomer," Adam jested.

"You're gonna hear about that at the next meeting, buddy," Andrew teased. 

With a playful shrug, Adam continued his introduction, the first of many given throughout the evening which left the Khalids and Christopher feeling even more a part of their new family.


After sunset, Joshua, Takoda, and Raheem left Willowveil along with Max, Matthew, and Tyron.  Max welcomed the opportunity to spend a little time with Ibrahim while the two cops went along to make the imam feel more secure.  Joshua also brought along two butterfly bushes as a gift from the Friends.

"Welcome back!" Liyana greeted when they came to the back door.  "And you've doubled!"

Joshua smiled and ushered the others inside first.

"Max asked to come along... and we felt like Ibrahim might feel better if Matthew and Tyron were here."

"Good thinking!  He has been... antsy as the time for your arrival approached," Liyana shared.  "Oh!  What beautiful plants!"

"They're from my friends," Joshua explained.  "Raheem told me about the debate regarding the, well, blood stain.  So I thought we could put one of these right in front of it.  That way it's hidden until a decision is made."

"Excellent idea," Ibrahim affirmed as he joined them.  "Beautiful."

"From Joshua's friends," Liyana relayed.  "Thank you."  She smiled at the men.  "And to the others, as well."

"Yes, thank you," Ibrahim reiterated.  "And so..."

"Let's get digging!" Joshua encouraged.

Before he turned away, Liyana caught his arm.

"I wanted to join you but... Ibrahim would feel better if I stayed inside.  I thought about pushing but... he has enough weighing on him."

Joshua nodded.

"Good thinking.  I'll come in and see you before we leave, Yana.  I have something for you."

Liayana's face lit up.

"Oh, Joshua...  You shouldn't have...  You've done so much."

"I wanted to," Joshua insisted with a smile.  "See you shortly.  Shouldn't take too long with so many of us."

"Okay.  Thank you!  In advance for the gift but also... for this."  She gestured towards her husband.

"My pleasure."

With a final smile for her, Joshua left to join the others who had headed out front.

"We could do like this... marigold, cosmo, marigold, cosmo," Takoda suggested as he laid the plants out.

"Or I suppose we could put all the cosmos on one side of the sign and all the marigolds on the other," Ibrahim offered.  "But I think I like your idea better."

"Let's see what it looks like with the butterfly bush in the mix."  Max knelt down and placed the plant in front of the stain, wincing slightly as he saw it close up.

"Beautiful," Joshua declared, lightly resting a hand on Max's shoulder.

Tyron switched on a flashlight.

"Not the same as sunshine but I think you get the idea.  The colors look great."

"They do," the imam agreed.  "Well... perhaps if you two gentlemen could keep watch, the rest of us can dig.  Although, Joshua, maybe you should just observe?  You're looking a little wan."

Joshua smiled and shook his head.

"A little digging isn't going to hurt me, Ibrahim.  I'll be fine.  The potting soil's over twenty pounds, though, so if one of you could drag it over..."

"Got it!" Raheem interrupted, pulling the bag closer.

"Thank you!"

"It makes me sad to throw away these marigolds."  Takoda picked up one of the beaten, dried blossoms.  "I know they're annuals and wouldn't have come back but... it's still sad."

"We won't throw them away.  Not exactly.  We'll mulch them and their nutrients will give life to another plant," Joshua comforted.

Raheem sniffled.


"Yes."  Joshua smiled at him. 

On the other side of the sign, Max and Ibrahim spoke as they dug a trench for the flowers.

"So how's your day been?" Max asked.

Ibrahim shrugged.

"Pretty good.  Busy.  Fielded some calls about Saturday.  Press... congregants."

"Are they looking forward to it?"

"Mostly.  A few wanted to know if I intended to speak... I think they hope not."

"And how do you feel about that?"

"Well, I didn't intend to speak.  Saturday is about the community and good health.  The mosque is hosting but it's not about the mosque.  Just the same, I suppose it hurt that people are opposed to me speaking publicly.  There's a definite lack of trust... and probably blame."

"I feel like you weren't the only imam around here who made a statement after Christchurch."

"But I'm the imam whose mosque got targeted."

"Don't you think that's probably because your mosque just happens to be located across from one of the buildings owned by the shooter's father?"

Ibrahim paused in his work. 

"Huh...  I guess I hadn't thought about that."

"Makes sense to me."

"It does..."

Back on the other side, Joshua smiled as he overheard the conversation.

"Go Max," Takoda whispered as he unpotted one of the plants.

"Still...  It makes me wonder about my future here," Ibrahim confessed.  "My recent behavior aside, I'm not a play-it-safe sort of guy.  I've gotten push-back when I've spoken out about other current events or issues, too.  There's the crowd who just doesn't want to make trouble.  But there's also the crowd who thinks I'm too liberal... too modern."

"And those two crowds together... do they make up the majority of your congregation or..."

"The minority.  But why do they have to be so loud?" Ibrahim asked with a grin.

Max laughed.

"I know it's my problem that I focus more on the negative than the positive or even the neutral but..."  Ibrahim drifted off.

"Maybe we can work on that?" Max offered.

Ibrahim smiled and nodded.

"I'd like that."

Joshua approached them.

"We're finished on the other side.  How about over here?"

"Almost there.  You did have one more guy," Ibrahim pointed out.

Chuckling, Joshua stooped down and began to smooth some potting soil over the newly planted flowers.

"Very true.  I'll help out over here, too." 

In only a couple more minutes, all the flowers were planted.  The group stood up, dusted themselves off, and stepped back to admire their work.

"Very nice," Matthew complimented.

"You wouldn't be able to tell anything happened here," Tyron added.

"Good..." Ibrahim murmured.  "Thank you, again, all of you, for coming back out here.  I know it was foolish but..."

"It's fine, Ibrahim.  I had a good time," Joshua assured.  "And I don't think I was alone in that."

"Not at all," Takoda agreed.  "Such a beautiful night..."

"And you know I'm always here for you, Ibrahim.  Anytime," Raheem reminded.

"I do."  Ibrahim hugged his cousin.  "I really do.  And..."  He turned to Max.  "Thank you for coming.  I'm tied up tomorrow with services and then, of course, we have the health fair on Saturday and I'm sure you're busy on Sunday so..."

Max shook his head.

"Church is over by noon on Sunday.  So any time after that works for me."

Ibrahim beamed.

"That'd be great.  Maybe... three-ish?"

"Three o'clock, it is!" Max agreed.  "Would you like me to come here or..."

Ibrahim looked back at the mosque.

"Actually... I've been told I need to get out more so..."

"How do you feel about Adrian's Coffeehouse?" Max suggested.  "She has a couple of fairly secluded areas where we could chat."

"Sounds great!"  Ibrahim shook Max's hand.  "I'm looking forward to it.

"Me too!"

The imam directed his attention to Matthew and Tyron. 

"Gentlemen, thank you so much for your patience and... for getting this cleaned up.  I appreciate it.  Truly."

"It was absolutely no problem at all.  Always a pleasure to spend some time in Joshua's presence," Tyron enthused.

Matthew nodded.

"And with you other fellows, too.  The flowers look great!  We'll be sure to come by on Saturday!"

"Thank you.  I appreciate that," Ibrahim replied.  "And now...  I'll let you all get back to your evening."

"I promised Liyana I'd stop back in.  I have something for her."  Joshua picked up a bag he'd set to the side.  "But you all can head home."

"I'll wait with you, Joshua," Takoda offered.  "I'll just chat with Ibrahim for a bit."

"You really don't need to."

"I know.  But I'd like to."

"Okay then.  Thanks!"

Relieved that Joshua wouldn't have to make his way back to Willowveil alone after an exhausting day, the other four men departed following a round of hugs.

While Takoda and Ibrahim visited in the latter's study, Joshua found Liyana in the kitchen.  He announced his presence with a knock on the wall.

"Hey there.  We're done."

Liyana turned around and smiled at him.

"Good!  I'm glad you're heading out soon.  I don't mean to be rude but... you look a bit tired."

Joshua smiled.

"It's not rude.  It's true.  I am tired.  And I'll make sure I get a good night's sleep.  But first...  My Ama told me she gave you her tea recipe."

Liyana nodded and waved to the counter.

"I was actually just grinding up some of the herbs!"

"Good.  Well, I wanted you to have some place special to keep it so..."

"You're so kind!"

Liyana beamed as she accepted the bag from Joshua.  Reaching inside, she pulled out a wooden box with an intricate mosaic covering the lid.

"Oh, Joshua...  It's so beautiful!  Did you make this?"

Joshua nodded.

"It's... absolutely lovely!"  Liyana hugged him.  "I'll treasure it always!"

"I'm so glad you like it, Yana.  Raheem and I... mostly Raheem since I was hospitalized... have been working on some mosaic shelves for Ibrahim's office."

"Oh...  He'll love that!"

"I was hoping so.  But I wanted to give you something, too, Yana.  I know that your contributions aren't always noticed except by your family and always, always by Allah.  But I know that your support, your kindness, your encouragement... it's what's enabled Ibrahim to stay here, to serve the people here with you at his side."

Liyana cradled the box and bowed her head.

"Thank you for saying that... and seeing that.  But... especially now... I wonder how much longer we can stay here.  I'm sometimes not sure this is the healthiest position for Ibrahim to be in."

Joshua squeezed her shoulder.

"I know.  Have faith that you'll both be led to exactly the place you need to be... when you need to be."

Liyana smiled at her friend.

"I will, Joshua.  I... I hope that wherever that is... it's not so far from you."

Smiling gently, Joshua shook his head.

"I'm never far away, Yana."

Though she couldn't understand his meaning, Liyana was comforted by Joshua's words.

"Good to know," she murmured. 

"Good night, Yana."

"Good night, Joshua."

With a hug, the two parted for the night, Liyana feeling calmer and more at peace than she had since she'd first learned of Cameron's hateful letters and witnessed the impact they had on her husband.


Ground Rules

"All right...  Here we are and I hope you're headed to bed very soon."

Joshua entered Willowveil as Takoda held the door for him.

"Do I look that bad?" he asked with a smile.

"Nope.  Never bad.  Just tired.  And no wonder!  Work at the mosque, work at the Chrysalis, Bible study, back to work at the mosque..."

They made their way to the living room where a much smaller crowd than before was gathered: only Andrew, JenniAnn, Jemima, John, and Joshua's parents remained.

"Yeshu...  I am glad you're back," Maryam greeted.  "Such a long day..."

Joshua smiled and kissed his mother's forehead.

"Yes.  I've already been told I need to head to bed soon.  So I'm going to go take a shower, deal with this mop..."  He waved a hand over his hair.  "And then I need to work on fixing a broken swan for a couple of ladies at the Chrysalis but I can do that from the comfort of my bed."

"Let JenniAnn tend to your hair," Jemima suggested.  "She's good at it."

Joshua chuckled when JenniAnn's face flushed even as she smiled and shrugged.

"I guess that's what I get for confessing that I miss doing your hair and make-up."

"Nothing to be embarrassed about!" Jemima insisted.

"No, it's not," Joshua agreed.  "If you're willing... give me ten minutes?"

"Of course I'm willing!"  JenniAnn hugged him.  "See ya up there.  I'll bring some glue, too."

"Thank you!  Well..."  Joshua began a round of hugs.  "I'll say good night to you all.  Love you all!"

"Love you, too, Joshua."

"Rest well, cousin."

"Remember, Yeshu, you can work on the figurine tomorrow morning, too.  I could help," Yosef offered.

"I know, Abi.  Thank you.  I'll see how it goes." 

"Anything I can get you before you head to bed?" Andrew asked as Joshua hugged him.

"No, thank you.  And..."  Joshua lowered his voice.  "I won't keep JenniAnn long."

The angel smiled.

"I'm not concerned.  If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have her at all."

Joshua squeezed his hand.

"I'll see you all in the morning!" he called before leaving the room.

"So... that was quite the announcement earlier," Takoda observed once Joshua was out of earshot.

"Do you know yet... what does that mean for you all?" Andrew asked, looking to Joshua's family.

"I imagine we will be stopping in," Yosef surmised. 

"On the really rocky days during the trial... that would be nice," JenniAnn wished.

Maryam rested a hand on her arm.

"Maybe.  Or perhaps not.  Yosef, Yohannan, and I were not there when Yeshu was shot.  We visited him as he slept but... we did not need to be there.  You were there.  Your friends were there.  We will visit because we enjoy spending the time with all of you, with Yeshu.  But he draws comfort and love from all of you, as well."

"Oh..."  Touched, JenniAnn wept softly.

"Even I was only there because I wanted to be," Jemima added.  "But you would have managed without me.  Although... Owen's and Graham's wedding video may have been a little tricky."

JenniAnn laughed at the memory.

"True..."  She sighed.  "It's just..."  Her voice cracked and she looked to Andrew for help.

"I think what JenniAnn is trying to say is that it means a lot that you trust us," he offered.

"It really does," Takoda concurred.  "But... I suppose you had to trust the apostles and other disciples, too."

Maryam nodded.

"And they were by no means perfect.  They made mistakes.  But having them near... it meant so much to Yeshu."

Sniffling, JenniAnn hugged Maryam. 

"Thank you for that.  And now... I better start gathering up some glue then head upstairs."

"I'll see you later, Laja."  Andrew kissed her hair and gave her a hug.

"Yes...  I don't think I'll be long.  I hope he goes to sleep soon.  G'night, everyone.  Love you!"

Amidst shouts of love back, JenniAnn left to prepare for her visit with Joshua.


When he opened his bedroom door and looked into the hallway, Joshua found JenniAnn waiting with a basket of assorted types of glue... and Belle's hair detangler.

"Good thinking," he commented.  "I probably didn't help matters by hopping into the shower before brushing it.  I was just..."

"Tired.  I know.  And it's okay.  It can't be nearly as bad as Belle's gets.  At least... I assume you weren't rolling around on rugs or seeing how many barrettes you could stick in there."

Laughing, Joshua shook his head.

"That I was not.  But... I did have several people at the CC running their hands through it... including some children who had been eating sweets just before."


"I wouldn't have changed a thing," Joshua assured before eying JenniAnn's basket.  "Let's see what you got there..."

JenniAnn yanked the basket away.

"Uh uh.  Go sit down first."

"All right... all right..."  Joshua obediently took a seat on his bed where a tray filled with the swan bits waited.  JenniAnn set the basket of glue beside them then picked up Joshua's comb and brush.

"I really like this stuff," Joshua announced, holding up a bottle of glue.

"Good.  I hope it works." 

"Me too.  Did you want to sit or stand?"

"I'll stand, at least for now.  Gotta try to find your part..."

Joshua shifted so JenniAnn could stand at the foot of the bed.

"All right...  Just yell if I pull too hard."

"I doubt you will but got it, thanks.  So... how do you think the introductions went tonight?" Joshua asked as he began to work on the swan.

JenniAnn laughed.

"Very, very well.  We promised Iz a sleepover.  The castle absolutely captivated him.  I figured we could have Liam and Jacob join him."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Salma and Raheem told me about the Chrysalis... about what you did for the girls that swan belongs to.  Is that why you're so worn out?"

"Partly.  If I'd only done that, I'd be fine.  But not yet being at 100% and doing that and working at the mosque and at the Chrysalis..."

"I'd tell you that you shouldn't have crammed so much in but... I know you only did it because that was how you were able to spend time with Ibrahim and everyone at the CC."

"Yeah.  If it had only been about spending time with those who know about me, I wouldn't have done it.  But... I needed a reason to spend time with those girls and others like them and, yes, Ibrahim."

JenniAnn squeezed his shoulders affectionately.

"Speaking of time... I... I'm so glad we'll have so much of it.  The whole rest of this year..."

Joshua rested a hand over hers.

"I'm glad for it, too.  But..."  He set down a wing and turned to face JenniAnn.  "I don't want you running yourself ragged fussing over me.  I'm going to do laundry.  I'm going to do dishes.  Sometimes, you're even going to have to put up with my cooking."

JenniAnn laughed as she swiped at tears of joy.

"'Put up with...'  You're a wonderful cook.  But... I understand.  And I won't.  At least not all the time.  You have to let me fuss over you a little."

"Okay... a little," Joshua agreed with a smile.  "And you and Andrew will take proper date nights during which you will actually leave the castle... and the kids... and spend time just the two of you."

"Getting awfully bossy for a house guest," JenniAnn teased even as fresh tears welled.

"I'm the King of Kings.  I get to do whatever I want," Joshua retorted in a mock, bratty voice.

JenniAnn burst out laughing and sat down to hug him.

"I love you so much!" she exclaimed.

"I love you, too, little bird," Joshua replied, resting his forehead against hers.

JenniAnn stroked his face then stood back up.

"We'll enjoy the date nights, thank you," she murmured, already making plans.

"You're very welcome."

As they both returned to their work, they were silent for a few moments until JenniAnn spoke.

"I hope Ibrahim and Liyana will be okay when they learn that Raheem, Hura, and the kids have converted.  I think they want to make it official soon.  They asked John about baptism."

Joshua smiled.

"It would be nice to do that while he's here.  That would mean a lot to him.  But to answer your question...  I think it'll come as a shock.  And I think they'll miss having them attend the mosque once they stop attending.  I'm sure they'll have questions... lots of questions.  But they'll be fine.  Ibrahim had Christians in his family.  Now he does again.  And Liyana...  She's always been curious about Christianity.  Now she will be even more so."

"Maybe they'll figure out the truth before you... leave," JenniAnn hoped.

Joshua smiled.

"I hope so."

"Look...  You already have the swan's head and neck fixed!" JenniAnn marveled.  "And the lines where it was broken... they're so fine.  You can always see a layer of glue when I try to fix things."

"I'm pretty pleased with how it's turning out.  And I'm very glad they got all the pieces."

"Me too."

Another companionable silence followed before, again, JenniAnn spoke.



"Do you think maybe Andrew and I could have one of those date nights next week?"

"Of course!"

JenniAnn beamed.

"Thanks.  I just... I feel like I still need to make things up to Andrew after I... kinda checked out for a while there.  I thought maybe I'd take him to a baseball game.  Or whatever sport is going this time of year.  Something that he really likes but doesn't do often because I'm so apathetic.  What do you think?"

"I know Andrew doesn't feel like you owe him anything but... I think he'd enjoy that very much.  And, yes, it is baseball season.  Has been for a couple of months."

JenniAnn giggled.

"Oops.  I guess I really am oblivious."

"That's okay.  There are much worse things to be oblivious about.  Maybe after the game, you could take Andrew to LaClytie for the night?" Joshua suggested.  "That used to be where you'd go to, well, get away from him... and your feelings for him, right?  I think it would mean a lot to him for you to bring him there and show him that there's a place for him there... with you."

"Aww...  I love that idea so much!  I'll have to clean it up some.  I'm sure there's lots of dust but... I love it.  Now I'm gonna have to get me one of those 'Jesus is My Wingman' t-shirts."

Laughing, Joshua shook his head.

"Somehow, I'm having a hard time imagining you in that."

"Yeah... a lil cheesy for my tastes.  And I don't think they make them in flowy, hippie-cut.  Still... I do appreciate the wingmannery... in every sense of the word."

Joshua reached up and squeezed her hand.

"You're welcome.  I'm always there for you."

JenniAnn bent to kiss his hair.

"I know.  And I'm very thankful for that."

For several more minutes, the two worked: Joshua mending the swan and JenniAnn gently untangling his hair.  Almost in the same instant, they both finished with their tasks.

"There we go...  I think that was the last knot," JenniAnn declared.

"Thank you!  It feels much better."  Joshua lifted up the swan.  "What do you think?"

"Oh, Joshua...  It's perfect!  Whole and beautiful and yet... you can tell effort and time went into fixing it.  They'll love it.  But now..."  JenniAnn held her hands out.  Once Joshua had given it to her, she carefully laid the piece on his dresser.  When she turned back, he was already stretched out beneath his covers.

Joshua smiled when JenniAnn laid a hand on his brow.

"No fever," he confirmed.  "I really am just tired."

After nodding, the woman bent and kissed his forehead.

"Good.  Rest well, Joshua.  I love you."

"I love you, too.  G'night, JenniAnn."


With a final squeeze of her hand from Joshua, JenniAnn stepped away.  She paused in the doorway for just moment, her heart bursting with joy at the thought that Joshua would be right there, nearly every night, for months to come.

Once "alone," Joshua smiled and thanked his Father for the gift of time that he'd been given.


Friday, May 3rd, 2019

JenniAnn awoke to the sensation of Andrew softly stroking her hair... and the sound of quiet footfalls above them.

Smiling, she lifted her head from the angel's chest just in time to see him open his eyes.

"G'morning, Laja.  I was just listening... and thinking.  We'll be hearing that a lot."  He gazed at the ceiling. 

JenniAnn nodded then snuggled against him.

"And I couldn't be happier..."

"No..."  Andrew sighed happily. 

"Sometimes I still marvel at how you managed to not talk about how wonderful he is for so many years.  I mean... you talked about God a lot, of course.  But to keep quiet about so many specifics..."

"It's just the same as how we still have to be careful of what we say when around people who don't know who Joshua is.  But... it was especially hard with you... both because I knew how you felt about him but also... because of how I felt about you.  He's so much a part of me that to keep that from you..."  Andrew smiled and kissed JenniAnn's hair.  "It was difficult... even at my most reticent points.  But worth it, too... to see the bond that formed between you and our enigmatic Mr. Davidson, independent of anything I had to say."

"I'm so glad you felt that way.  Not that I'm surprised but... you've always been very unselfish when it comes to me and Joshua.  Especially this past week..."

"Laja..."  Andrew cupped her chin.  "I understood.  Trust me on that.  Everything is fine between us."

"I... I know.  Just the same..."  JenniAnn smiled.  "Joshua told me something last night...  It was an order, really."


JenniAnn nodded.

"He wants us to take date nights... starting with next week.  He'll take care of the kids.  Not exactly sure on which date yet but... I have something planned."

Tears welled in Andrew's eyes.  Even before Joshua's arrival, he and JenniAnn had been struggling to find quality, alone time together.  While they spent most nights together, too often that meant a quick kiss, an exchange of "I love yous," and collapsing into bed.  He'd prayed about it and, as so often happened, the answer was even greater than what he'd hoped for.

"That... sounds wonderful, Laja."  Andrew pulled her close and nuzzled her hair.

"Just one of the many reasons I'm so glad Joshua's here.  To think it was just a week ago..."  JenniAnn voice drifted off as she buried her face in Andrew's chest.

The angel of death kissed her hair.

"Think of all the good that's happened since then, Laja."


"How about we go make breakfast?  I'm thinking... French toast?"

Smiling, JenniAnn nodded. 

"I like that plan."

After parting with a kiss, they both got ready for the day then headed to the kitchen, hoping to greet their now long-term house guest with coffee and delectable French toast.



Shortly after their arrival at the mosque, Joshua, Raheem, and Takoda sought Liyana's help in distracting her husband.  While she kept him busy in the living room perusing nursery decor options, the three men moved the mosaic shelves into the imam's office.

"Are we going to install them or let him pick where he wants them?" Raheem asked.

"He wants them here."  Joshua indicated an area of wall.

Raheem chuckled.

"I guess you would know." 

Swiftly and carefully, the three installed the shelves then stepped back to admire their work.

"They're beautiful," Takoda admired.  "Ibrahim will love them!"

"He really will," Raheem agreed.  "I wouldn't mind making some for my place.  Or for others.  I really enjoyed it."

Joshua rested a hand on his back.

"Seems like a great side job.  You'll do wonderfully with it, Raheem.  But...  I happen to know someone's hoping to offer you a full-time gig."

Raheem looked to the carpenter in surprise.

"Really?  I mean...  Of course you wouldn't lie but... who?"

"Amber-Marie.  She'd like to have a full-time handyman at the Chrysalis.  They've been making due with some Friends helping out and Amber-Marie and Gayle have gotten pretty handy themselves.  But they need to focus their energies elsewhere.  So... since you made a good impression yesterday, Amber-Marie asked me to feel you out.  What do you think?"

Raheem gaped for a few more moments then threw his arms around Joshua.

"I... I would love that!  But... there's still so much I don't know!"

"You and I will make the rounds the first several times.  You're a quick study, Raheem.  You'll be going at full-speed, unassisted, in no time at all," Joshua assured.

Overjoyed both at the prospect of gainful employment and spending quality time with Joshua, Raheem wept happily.

Looking on, Takoda brushed at tears in his own eyes.  He marveled anew at how he had ever managed to keep his distance from Joshua...

"Thank you, Joshua... thank you.  And I... I need to thank Amber-Marie, too."

"I need to swing by there later to return that swan.  You can tag along then.  Talk it over with Hura tonight... although I know she'll agree... and we can go back Monday to get the paperwork signed."

"Congratulations, Raheem!  You deserve it!" Takoda applauded, clapping him on the back.

"Thank you... thank you.  This is... such a blessing."  Raheem drew in a deep breath and wiped at his tears.  "I can't wait to tell Hura!"

Joshua beamed.

"She'll be very, very pleased... but she never doubted you'd find the perfect job."

"No... no, she didn't," Raheem agreed, thinking proudly of his wife.

"All right, what's going on in there?" a voice called through the door. 

Liyana poked her head into the office and smiled.

"Sorry.  I think I lost him when I tried to get him to commit to a print for reusable diapers."

"The kid's gonna poop in them," Ibrahim called.  "What does it matter what they look like?"

Joshua laughed and pulled the door all the way open.

"It's okay.  We're done.  Please come in."

"A secret meeting in my office and I'm not even invited..."  Ibrahim's voice faded when he caught sight of the shelves.  "Those are..."

"Yours," Joshua interrupted.  "A gift.  We started them together and Raheem finished them while I was in the hospital.  I hope you..."

"They're..."  Ibrahim shook his head in wonder as he ran his fingers over the beautiful shelves.

Liyana linked her arm through Joshua's.

"They're wonderful, Joshua.  Thank you."

"Now you have no reason to stow books everywhere.  You can display them in organized style," Raheem observed. 

The imam nodded, tears welling in his eyes.

"Thank you...  They're...  I love them...  The time it must have took to... to plot out the designs and then to actually put them together..." 

"It was all Joshua's idea," Raheem shared.

"Josh..."  Ibrahim approached the carpenter and embraced him.  "Thank you...  I adore them.  And I... I will never forget... you."

Joshua gently rubbed the man's back.

"You're very welcome.  I've enjoyed my time here and..."

Ibrahim scoffed.

Joshua pulled away, peered into the man's face, and shook his head.

"No.  I have.  Truly.  What happened last Friday is nothing compared to the friendship I've experienced with you, Liyana, Raheem, Hura, Iz, Amala, Fatima, and others of your congregants.  Nothing," he reiterated. 

Too moved to speak, Ibrahim could only nod.

"And I will never, ever forget any of you, either."

Raheem bowed his head, understanding the full import of Joshua's words in a way his cousins couldn't.

"But, happily, we don't have to worry about that at all, anyway.  I've decided to stay in town for the rest of the year," Joshua informed, smiling brightly.

"The rest of the year..." Liyana repeated, her eyes lighting up.

"That... that's wonderful news.  I... I am so happy, Josh."  Ibrahim hugged him again.  "As much as I love the shelves and I know Liyana loves her tea chest, I... I think we love that even more."

"Absolutely!" his wife agreed, moving in to embrace both men.

As they looked upon the touching scene, Raheem whispered to Takoda.

"I wish they knew who held them in his arms..."

"Maybe they already know," the angel counseled.  "Maybe their hearts and minds just need a little time to accept what their souls have."

Raheem smiled, pleased at the idea and recognizing how much it had applied to him.

"I think you're right, Takoda," he concurred.

"Yeah, well, I am an angel..." Takoda teased.  "Older than time..."

Raheem laughed.

"Strange.  I coulda sworn JenniAnn said you were twenty nine, no?"

Takoda smirked.


Still laughing, Raheem hugged him.

"Aww, come join us," Liyana invited after glancing over at the two men.

Needing no convincing, Raheem and Takoda joined the trio.

And so it was that one week after it had been an unwilling host to violence, the Manhattan Mosque housed a group hug between an imam, his wife, a new Christian, an angel, and God Himself.


After a brief and joyful meeting with Amber-Marie that afternoon, Joshua and Raheem returned to Nichole's and Morgana's room at the Chrysalis.  Following a knock from Joshua, the two sisters nervously answered the door.

"Hi," Morgana greeted.

"Joshua, right?" Nichole checked.  "And... Rama?"

Raheem chuckled good-naturedly.

"Raheem.  Close, though.  And, yes, this is Joshua."

"Good afternoon, Nichole and Morgana.  I have something for you."  Joshua held out a small sack.

Nichole eagerly took it from him.

"Come in," Morgana invited, holding the door open for the two men.

Once both Raheem and Joshua were inside, Nichole hurried to her bed with her sister following her.  Carefully, they withdrew the bundle from the sack and unwrapped it.

From Raheem's vantage point, the swan appeared to be unharmed.  But the girls could see the small seams where Joshua had glued their treasure together.  Joshua peered at them as they intently studied it.

Morgana was the first to look up and meet the carpenter's gaze.

"It... it's perfect.  How... how long did it..."

"Not long," Joshua assured. 

Nichole remained transfixed then delicately clasped the swan to her chest. 

"Perfect..." she echoed before rising and resting the swan in a place of honor on a shelf.

Raheem watched in awe as the skittish sisters approached Joshua who remained very still.  First Nichole and then Morgana embraced him. 

With tears in his eyes, Joshua wrapped an arm around each girl.  He knew this was the first time they had willingly embraced a man in many, many months.

"I'm so pleased that you're happy," he murmured.  "You deserve happiness."

The sisters said nothing, both weeping softly.

Raheem found himself gently swaying as Joshua began to hum and sway.

After a few moments, Joshua released the girls whose faces now shone.

"I'll be here for the next several months, helping Raheem to settle in as the Chrysalis' new handyman.  If there's anything else we can do for you, just let Amber-Marie or Gayle or Salma or someone know and we'll be by, okay?"


"Uh huh...  Thank you, Joshua."

"Yeah.  Thank you."

Joshua beamed at the girls.

"My pleasure.  You both take care.  We'll be seeing you soon."

"Good."  Morgana smiled, shy but clearly delighted.

"Looking forward to it," her sister affirmed.

"Me too."  Joshua squeezed their hands then turned to Raheem.  "How about we swing by a hardware store?  You're going to need a tool box for yourself."

"I'd love that!" Raheem agreed.

"All right then.  Morgana, Nichole, enjoy the rest of your day."  Joshua smiled once more at the sisters.

"Have a good day, ladies!" Raheem called before stepping into the hallway with Joshua.

"You too!"

"See you soon!"

Just before they left, Joshua and Raheem saw Morgana and Nichole move in front of their shelf and gaze happily at their mended heirloom.

Raheem rested a hand on Joshua's back.

"You did good.  You always do good."

Joshua patted his hand.

"Thank you.  You're gonna do a lot of good, too, Raheem.  I know it."

"You've seen it," Raheem observed.

Joshua only smiled.


The two men were checking out at a locally owned hardware store when Raheem's cell phone chimed.  He cocked his head while reading the message.

"What is it?" Joshua asked as he loaded the final items onto the register.

"Liyana.  She said someone showed up at the mosque demanding to see you.  Does the name Beatrice ring a bell?"

Joshua smiled and nodded.

"It does.  Tell Liyana to gently encourage Beatrice to calm down.  Give her some chamomile, please, and assure her that I'll be there very soon.  Maybe fifteen minutes.  Please."

Raheem texted the message back then chuckled.

"Liyana is wondering if she's an ex.  She says she's sending out crazy ex-girlfriend vibes."

Joshua chuckled.

"Poor Beatrice.  And poor Liyana.  No, obviously.  Please reassure Liyana that I would love to see Beatrice again."

Raheem did so then smiled.

"Okay.  They're good."

"How are you gentlemen today?" the cashier chirped.

Joshua smiled at her.

"Very well, thank you, Anna!  You know, I have to say... you look lovely today!  That shade of pink is perfect on you!"

Raheem froze, afraid for Joshua.  He knew how well-meaning praise could sometimes be perceived.

Anna's lip trembled for just a moment but then, with tears in her eyes, she smiled at Joshua.

"Thank you, sir.  That's so kind of you to say.  It's my favorite but..."

Raheem relaxed... and marveled.

Joshua rested a hand on hers.

"Joshua, please.  And it's true."

Anna smiled and nodded.

"Thank you, Joshua."

"This is my friend, Raheem," Joshua introduced.  "He's starting a new job as a handyman and I'm training him.  I suspect you'll be seeing a lot of us."

"Well, I'll be looking forward to that!"  Anna looked to Raheem.  "Congratulations, Raheem!"

"Thank you!  Thank you very much."

"You're welcome!  Okay... that's one hundred and twenty seven dollars and forty five cents."

Raheem approached but Joshua blocked him.

"My treat.  My Abi bought me my first tool set."

"Joshua..."  Tears welled in Raheem's eyes.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome."  Joshua beamed at him then withdrew the cash and handed it to Anna.  "Here you go!"

"Thank you!  Have a blessed day, gentlemen!"

"You too, Anna!" Joshua replied as he and Raheem gathered up their purchases.

"See you soon!" Raheem added.

"Yes!  Thank you!"

Anna smiled after the two men as they left.

"That one's a flirt," another woman called from the next register.

Anna looked to her co-worker and shook her head.

"No... no, I don't think he is, Sandy.  It's just..."  She bowed her head.  "This morning when I left my... my husband told me that I was too old to wear such a flamboyant color.  But... I love it so.  It... it's almost like he knew."

Sandy's face softened and she stared out the window at Joshua's and Raheem's retreating figures.  After a few moments, she gasped.

"Do you know who that was?"

"He said his name is Joshua.  And the other man is Raheem."

"Joshua," Sandy repeated.  "Joshua Davidson.  That's the man who was shot at the mosque last week.  They had that big prayer vigil for him at the theatre where he played Jesus, remember?"

Shocked, Anna rushed to the window.  Sandy followed.

"I... I'm so glad he's okay."

Sandy rested a hand on the other woman's shoulder.

"Me too."

Just before crossing the street, Joshua looked back and smiled and waved at the two women.

Dazed, Anna and Sandy waved back.

"He said he's coming back, right?" Sandy checked without looking away.

"He did."



"I get to check him out next time," Sandy insisted.

Anna giggled.

"You said he was a flirt."

"Yeah, well..."  Sandy laughed, too.  "Just something about him..."

"There is, isn't there?"

And they watched until Joshua and Raheem were absorbed into the crowd on the street.


After dropping off Raheem's new tools in their makeshift office in the mosque, Joshua and his protege made their way to the Azizis' living room where they found the husband and wife chatting with a reasonably calm Beatrice.  However, as soon as she saw Joshua, the woman leaped to her feet and threw her arms around him.

"Joshua...  I... I was at a retreat and they took away our phones so I only found out last night and I drove here as soon as I could and..."  Beatrice began to sob into Joshua's chest as he gently swayed with her.

Curious, Takoda entered the room.  He approached Raheem, Ibrahim, and Liyana who were trying not to stare.

"Said her name's Beatrice.  Know anything about her?" Ibrahim whispered to the angel.

Equally quiet, Takoda replied with a soft smile.

"I've never met her before... but I know about her."  After a moment's pause to check with the Father about sharing the woman's story, Takoda resumed speaking.  "You've heard about how, when Joshua played Jesus, the theatre was hit with hateful, anti-Semitic and anti-Middle Easterner graffiti?" 

The three nodded.

"She was one of the perpetrators.  The ringleader, really.  But... she came to know Joshua as he truly is and now..."  Takoda gestured towards the two.

"I'm all right, Beatrice.  Really," Joshua consoled.  "I mean... look..."  He rolled up his sleeve and showed the largely healed wound there.  "And even this..."  He pulled up a corner of his shirt.  "It hardly bothers me at all.  I've had more pain when I've mashed my thumb with a hammer."  He chuckled.

"I... I know but..."  Timidly, Beatrice rested her hand over his heart.

Joshua clasped her hand.

"Yes... that hurts.  But I've been surrounded by so much love and support... a whole prayer vigil!  So many friends and family members checking in on me.  I've made new friends!"  Joshua beamed at the Azizis and Raheem.  He lowered his voice and turned back to Beatrice.  "I would rather it was me than someone else.  You know that."

Sniffling, Beatrice nodded.

"But... but what if somehow the shooter was impacted by... by what remains of my old group?  By... me?"

Joshua cupped the woman's face.

"You've repented and you're forgiven, Beatrice.  Nothing anyone else says or does can change that.  You didn't cause this.  Trust me, okay?"

At last, Beatrice smiled.

"How could I not?"

Joshua returned her smile and kissed her forehead before clasping her hand and turning to the nearby quartet.

"Beatrice and I are going to go grab a snack and catch up.  I'll be back soon, okay?"

"Okay!  Beatrice, a pleasure to meet you!" Liyana called.

With a smile, Beatrice nodded to her host.

"Thank you, Liyana.  A pleasure to meet you and the imam."

Ibrahim forced a smile but said nothing.

"I hope you'll be by tomorrow?" Raheem checked.

Beatrice looked to Joshua who nodded.

"I'd love that!  Sure!" she accepted. 

"Great!" Joshua cheered.  "See you all soon.  Beatrice, there's a sweet little garden shop nearby..."

Once the two had left, Ibrahim sunk into a chair.

"That woman... she's really the one who harassed Joshua?" he questioned Takoda.

The angel nodded.

"Years ago, yes."

"And he... he treats her like... that?"

"Joshua is a merciful man, Ibrahim," Raheem reminded. 

"But..."  Ibrahim shook his head. 

Liyana sat down and stroked her husband's back.

"Now you can never doubt that Joshua has forgiven you for your doubts, honey.  If he can forgive that..."  Liyana indicated where Beatrice had been sitting.  "Then you have to know he forgave you."

Ibrahim nodded solemnly.

"I do.  But... I... I've never known a man like him."

"You never will, Ibrahim.  There's no one like Joshua," Raheem professed.

He and Takoda shared a secret, knowing look.


After putting the final touches on setup for the health fair; Joshua, Raheem, and Takoda joined Ibrahim, Liyana, and their congregation for evening prayers.  Following the service, they reconvened in the Azizis' dining room for a dinner to celebrate the completion of their work.

"Based on how everyone reacted this evening, I think we need to put Joshua right at the check-in desk tomorrow so he can sign autographs," Raheem teased.

Joshua chuckled and shook his head.

"I don't know about that..."

"Word to the wise, Josh.  Get yourself a girlfriend.  Soon," Ibrahim advised.  "Or else I see many, many blind dates in your future if you stick around here."

Raheem coughed and made a face while Takoda suppressed a laugh.

"What?  Did I miss something?" the imam questioned. 

Liyana's face lit up.

"Have you met someone, Joshua?  Ooh, maybe one of the nurses?"

Joshua smiled and shook his head.

"No.  Nothing like that.  I'm not looking to meet anyone... in that sense.  My life is very full as is."

"You do have an extraordinary number of friends," Ibrahim observed.  "Speaking of... how might Liyana and I go about seeing you after tomorrow?  Do we need to file a custody claim with Andrew and JenniAnn?"

Chuckling, Joshua shook his head.

"No, no.  Although, since I don't have a cell phone, they'd be good ones to call when you're trying to reach me.  They'll usually know where I'm at.  But I won't disappear on you.  I promise," Joshua vowed.  "In fact, I thought we might stop by sometime early next week.  Lotsa people are going to be around here tomorrow.  Might be some minor scuffs and such in need of repair."

"I'd go for that," Raheem readily agreed.

"Me too," Takoda assented.

Ibrahim's face lit up.


"Yes, and, well, we will see each other during the trial... if it comes to that," Liyana murmured.

Joshua nodded.

"Yes.  But I intend to be around more than that.  You're my friends.  You're part of my life now, Liyana and Ibrahim.  It's like... mosaics.  Each tile is important to the larger image.  When one tile is missing, the overall piece suffers for it.  I... I would miss you."

Sniffling, Ibrahim reached across the table and rested a hand on Joshua's.

"I... I would miss you, too, Josh.  Very much." 

Liyana nodded and reached into her pocket for her handkerchief.  As she lowered it from her eyes, she looked to Joshua and laughed.

"No wonder your mother gives handkerchiefs to everyone.  She knows what you do to people."

Joshua laughed as he shrugged.

"Maybe so..."

"It just... it seems like I've known you so much longer than what?  Not even a full three weeks," Ibrahim mused.

"I feel the same," Joshua agreed, his voice hoarse with emotion.

Raheem swiped at a tear, wishing his cousins could know how sincerely Joshua meant what he said. 

"Good... that's good."  The imam bowed his head and hastily wiped at his eyes. 

Wanting to draw attention away from her self-conscious husband, Liyana raised her glass.

"To tomorrow...  May friendships be formed, lives be made better, and may people know they're never alone."

The four men also raised their glasses.

"To tomorrow," they echoed.

And, silently, they each prayed that the day would be filled with happiness and peace.



Saturday, May 4th, 2019

"And now we go to Beth St. John who is standing just outside the Manhattan Mosque which is set to open its health fair in only... five minutes?  Is that right, Beth?" a newscaster asked.

Just in front of the mosque, Beth smiled into the camera and nodded.

"That's right, Bob.  The health fair is actually being put on by Symponia, a local ecumenical group, and I'm standing here with two of its founders: Rabbi Yakov Levine and Fr. Mike Solas.  Gentlemen, could you tell us a little bit about why Symponia decided to host a health fair here at the mosque?"

Fr. Mike motioned to the rabbi who spoke first.

"Well, we've been wanting to host something for the community since our founding.  And so many different aspects of life are impacted by health: employment, school attendance, self-esteem, and so on.  If we can offer solutions or at least pair people up with those who can help them, the impact could be huge... life-altering.  Maybe even life-saving.  And Imam Ibrahim and his wife, Liyana, saw that.  They agreed to let us host the event here at the mosque and we're very grateful for that."

"I have to ask..."  Beth bit her lip.  "Was there any discussion of moving the fair or even canceling after..."

Fr. Mike surreptitiously squeezed Beth's elbow, knowing she hadn't wanted to ask that question but had been convinced to by her boss.

"No," he replied.  "What happened here a week ago was one man's doing.  So many, many people put time and effort into building this health fair.  We saw no reason to cancel it or even alter it because of that one man.  And Joshua made it very clear that he didn't want us to. "

Beth beamed.

"That's Joshua Davidson.  The man who... survived the... the shooting?" she asked for the viewers.

"That's right!  And actually..."  Fr. Mike waved Joshua over.  "Joshua, say hello to Beth's audience."

Joshua grinned into the camera and waved.

"Hello, Beth's audience."

Beth let out an unprofessional but sweet giggle.

"Hi Joshua!  So how are you doing?"

"Very, very well, thank you!  Thank you to everyone who prayed for me and everyone here at the mosque.  We hope to see you today!"

"Joshua, what will people find if they make their way here today?" Beth inquired.

"Well...  we have some mental health counselors, dentists, diabetes screening, dermatological screening, self-defense instructors, we've got a bloodmobile for those looking to donate, child health experts, geriatric health experts, nutritionists...  We've got some fantastic advisers on pre-natal health for moms-to-be."  Joshua winked at Beth.

Giggling again, the reporter patted her distended belly.

"I'll be sure to pop over there!  And this is all at no cost?"

Joshua, Fr. Mike, and Rabbi Yakov all nodded.

"Absolutely no cost," the rabbi stressed.  "This is Symponia giving back to the community."

While the other two men gave Beth some background on Symponia, Joshua spied Ibrahim and Liyana nearby.  He stepped away to speak to them.

"Are you sure you don't want to say anything?" he checked.

Ibrahim frowned.

"I just...  I don't want to upset anyone."

"Honey, I don't think anyone could begrudge you welcoming everyone to our mosque," Liyana encouraged.  "You fully intended to speak before... last week... and I don't think that should stop you."

The imam peered at his wife and then at Joshua, both smiling gently at him.

Finally, he nodded.


"Great!"  Joshua clapped him on the back then steered the couple over to Beth.

"And here are our hosts: Imam Ibrahim Azizi and his wife, Liyana," the rabbi introduced.

Beth smiled at the couple.

"Thank you for joining us!  Is there anything you'd like to say to our viewers as we're just about to get started here?" she invited.

With Liyana hugging his right arm and Joshua resting a hand on his left shoulder, Ibrahim looked into the camera and nodded.

"I... I just want to thank everyone who has been so supportive of the mosque and our community over the past week.  I... I want to... to thank Joshua for... for sticking with us..."

Joshua squeezed the man's shoulder and nodded encouragingly.

"And I hope everyone has a good time here today.  I hope lives are made better.  I hope people find the support that they need."  Calmed by the support of Joshua and his wife, Ibrahim smiled at the camera.  "And I hope everyone stops by the little farmer's market that we have in the courtyard because they're giving away shortbread cookies that are out of this world!" 

Beth laughed.

"And now I know what my first stop will be... and then the pre-natal counselor.  Thank you, Imam Ibrahim.  Thank you, Liyana.  Fr. Mike, Rabbi Yakov, Joshua.  And now... I'm signing off from the Manhattan Mosque where the health fair is just about to begin!  So come on down!"

Once the microphone was off, Ibrahim turned to Joshua in a panic.

"I hope I didn't just set Randall and Dot up for some angry visitors.  They can't possibly have enough shortbread for everyone!"

Joshua smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"I wouldn't worry about it.  I'm confident they'll have enough."

Beth, Fr. Mike, and Rabbi Yakov all smiled to themselves... sure Joshua would be visiting the market regularly, working multiplication miracles.

"Good...  Well..."  Ibrahim waved to the mosque's front doors.  "We have a health fair to start!"

The little group moved towards the doors.  As the imam turned to face the gathering crowd, they quieted.

"Everyone... thank you so much for coming.  When we agreed to host this fair, it was because we wanted to give back to our community.  But I hope you know... today it feels like... like we're the ones being blessed.  Your presence here after... everything... means so much.  Thank you..."  Ibrahim found Joshua in the crowd.  "Thank you..."  He beamed and gripped the handle of one of the doors while Liyana did the same.  "And now... welcome!"

Once the doors were open, the excited crowd stepped inside and perused the many offerings there.

Joshua approached Ibrahim and slung an arm around his shoulders.

"Ya did good," he complimented.

"Most of this wasn't me," Ibrahim countered.

"True, many, many people played a part.  But you could have put the kibosh on the whole thing... given into fear.  But you didn't.  That's good, Ibrahim.  Ya did good."

"I... I would have put the kibosh on it if... if you hadn't... made it," Ibrahim admitted.

"No sense thinking about that," Joshua counseled.  "I'm here.  And you're not gonna get rid of me."

The imam smiled.


"Promise."  Joshua held his hand out and Ibrahim eagerly shook it then moved into his embrace.

Standing nearby, with tears in her eyes, Liyana prepared to snap a photo of her husband and Joshua.

As she peered at her cell phone screen, Liyana noticed something... and then another something.  Dazed, she took the photo.

The photo of her husband and Isa... al-Masih... 

Frozen in a stupor, Liyana only moved when a gentle hand landed on the small of her back and steered her into Ibrahim's office.

"Mar... Maryam..."

Shaking, Liyana pulled up the photo on her phone.  She blinked.  It looked totally normal.  But she knew what she'd seen.

"His... his wrists...  Joshua's wrists...  I... I saw..."  Liyana looked, imploringly, at Maryam.  "Holes.."

Maryam pulled the woman to her and gently stroked her back.

"It happens sometimes.  The Father allows some to see my son... His son... as he truly is."

"Then it... it's all true?  The... the scourging and... and the crucifixion and..."  Liyana stepped away, tears pouring down her face, and shook her head.  "No... no... not... not him."

Maryam nodded, tears welling in her own eyes.

"It... it was what was necessary.  And he did it all... willingly... purposefully.  For... for all of us."

Liyana returned to Maryam's waiting embrace.

"Why... why did I see, Maryam?  What... what am I supposed to do?"

Maryam cupped the younger woman's chin and shook her head.

"I cannot answer those questions for you, sweet girl.  But..."

"I can, Yana."

Liyana spun around to find Joshua had entered the room.  To her relief, his wrists were now unblemished save the recent stitches.

Joshua took the woman's hands in both of his and tenderly peered into her watery eyes.

"Last night, you prayed for strength to support Ibrahim, for the words you would need to bring him peace today and going forward.  You prayed that your own faith would remain strong... even as you found yourself questioning things you've believed... and not believed... for as long as you could remember."

Liyana collapsed against Joshua who rested his cheek on her hijab as he continued to speak.

"You dreamed about me.  You saw me as a baby in my Ama's arms... beneath the Bethlehem skies.  You saw me preaching... healing... gathering my followers.  And then... then you saw the cross.  You saw me die."

Liyana nodded against Joshua's chest.

"And then you woke up.  And you wondered why your dream had ended there... why you hadn't been allowed to see what came next.  Yana..."  Joshua stepped back and rested his hands on the woman's shoulders.  "You have seen.  I am the resurrection.  I am Immanuel... God with us... with you."

Liyana shook her head in wonder and tentatively reached up to caress Joshua's face.


Smiling, he nodded.

"Still me.  Now you just know a whole lot more about me."

Liyana rested her hand against his cheek then, remembering Maryam, craned her neck to see her.

Beaming, Maryam reached out and squeezed the woman's shoulder.

"Still him," she reiterated.  "I would know."

Liyana laughed and nodded before giving her attention back to Joshua.

"And you are here because..."

"Because I love you.  Because I love Ibrahim.  And I wanted you to know that you're not alone... in whatever you face, you're not alone.  Many changes have come your way... and many more still will.  And, whether you see me or not, I'll be there for you through it all."

"And Ibrahim?  He... he doesn't know...  But if he could...  That... that wound of having been abandoned... cheated... by his father has followed him his whole life.  If... if he could know...  You... you left Paradise... for him... twice!" Liyana mused.  "Everything you went through..."  She delicately kissed the wound on Joshua's left wrist, recalling the far more severe one that she had glimpsed.

"And that's why we need to be careful... and why we need to give Ibrahim time," Joshua gently stressed.  "Because, yes, the impact of Frank's decision to leave his wife and son has made it difficult for Ibrahim to trust others, especially other men.  But... you know so well that it's also made him fear hurting others... or failing them.  And with me..."

"He... hurt you.  We all hurt you," Liyana murmured, her tone mournful.

Joshua nodded.

"And I want my sacrifice remembered... but because it's proof of my great love for you all.  Not because I want it to be a cudgel you use to beat yourselves up.  And right now..."

"Ibrahim is in cudgel mode," Liyana concluded.

Joshua, again, nodded.

"But we have time.  Cameron's case will go to trial.  And I'll be here through it all... into the new year," he vowed.

Liyana sighed with relief.

"And then... then we will have to leave."  She peered around the office. 

"Yes... in time.  Someone will come to take Ibrahim's place... so he will know his congregation is in good hands.  It may happen sooner than you think... before Ibrahim has come to recognize me.  But don't be afraid.  It will all happen as my Father wills it, in His time."

"Good...  I'm so proud of my husband.  Of all he's done here... but... it's also been his crutch.  He hides behind the problems of others so he doesn't need to face his own.  I... I don't want that passed down to another generation."

Joshua smiled when Liyana rested her hands on her belly.

"It won't be," he assured.

Liyana gasped.

"Hura... and... and Raheem and..."

A knock sounded on the door.

Joshua grinned then stepped away from Liyana to answer it.

"There you both are!  And Maryam, too!" Hura exclaimed.  "You just disappeared and..."  She halted, noting her cousin's tear-streaked face.  Then she looked again to Joshua and Maryam, both of whom were beaming.

Shutting the door behind her, Hura hastened to her cousin.

"You know... about Joshua," she squeaked out.

Liyana giggled and nodded.

"Yes... as of a few minutes ago.  He is Al-Masih... but more.  He is... God."

"Yes," Hura confirmed.

"How long have you known?"

Hura heaved a sigh...

"It... it's quite a story."

"And we will leave you to tell it," Joshua interjected.  "Ama and I are going to check on everything out there."  He held his hand out to Maryam who affectionately squeezed it. 

"Just... first..."  Liyana hugged them both.

"Me too!"  Hura followed suit, laughing as she embraced mother and son.

"I love you both... so much," Joshua effused.

"I... I love you, too," Liyana murmured.

"Me too," Hura echoed.  "And now..."

She turned back to her cousin as Joshua and Maryam returned to the busy hallway.

"That... was beautiful," Maryam marveled.  "Not that I expected any different, of course."

Joshua grinned.

"Of course.  I'll check back in on them shortly but right now..."  He lowered his voice.  "I have some shortbread to multiply."

"Already?" Maryam asked with a laugh.

Joshua shrugged.

"The people love their shortbread!"

Still laughing, the two headed to the courtyard to bail Randall and Dot out.


That afternoon, Joshua at last found himself alone for a few moments.  He wandered through the fair, smiling and waving... and thinking and praying.

There was Beatrice, helping Fatima to comfort a child who was afraid they were going to get a shot.

Joshua winked at Jemima who was giving a small contingent of nurses a tour... a tour he knew would end with Caroline sharing a meet-cute with a nutritionist named Dave.

Joshua's heart swelled when three newcomers arrived: Nichole and Morgana escorted by Gayle.  He hurried to the door to greet them.

"Welcome, Nichole, Morgana, and Gayle!" he greeted.  "I'm so pleased that you came!"

"I'm glad I could find a few minutes to sneak away!" Gayle replied, warmly embracing Joshua. 

"This is a lot of people..." Morgana whispered.

Joshua squeezed her hand.

"It is.  But everyone's been really great.  Actually...  Raheem!" 

Smiling, the man approached with Hura at his side.

"Morgana!  Nichole!  So glad you're here!" Raheem welcomed.  "I'd love for you both to meet my wife, Hura."

"Hello!  So nice to meet you girls!"  Hura shook their hands.  "Are you hungry?  Raheem and I were both about to go get some snacks... they have the most delicious shortbread out back!"

The sisters looked to Gayle for permission.  She laughed and shooed them away.

"You don't need my permission.  Go have fun!  I'll be around shortly... for some shortbread."  Gayle laughed again then sighed happily as Morgana and Nichole left with the Khalids.  "They backed out last minute when the others came over here earlier," she explained to Joshua.  "But I could tell they regretted it."

"Sweet girls," Joshua murmured.  "Thank you for bringing them over.  This'll be good for them."

"Definitely.  And it'll be nice if Raheem and Hura take them under their wing... if they're willing."

Joshua smiled.

"Something tells me that won't be a problem."

"Very good!  Well, I'm going to go check in on the others.  See you later, Joshua!"

"See you!"

After a quick hug, Gayle disappeared into the crowd.

"Joshua!  Joshua!"

Spinning around, Joshua spied Christopher and Amala approaching with the former's parents in tow.

"Joshua!"  Christopher hugged him.  "I'd like to introduce you to my parents... well, re-introduce.  Mom, Dad... this is Joshua Davidson.  Joshua, this is..."

"Troy and Wendy!" Joshua finished.

Christopher's mother balked.

"You... you remember our names?"

"I'm good with names," Joshua explained with a grin.  "So great to see you again.  Christopher mentioned that you came to the prayer vigil last week.  Thank you for that."

"It was our honor.  We were so distraught when we heard the news..."  Troy shook his head.  "But very glad that you made a full recovery."

"Thank you.  All the support meant the world to me.  God is good."

Amala bowed her head and giggled.

"I have to say... it's been quite a week," Wendy marveled.  "Our boy gets a girlfriend and meets Jesus!"

"Mom..."  Christopher's face flushed. 

"Oh, I'm only teasing him.  I'm sure Joshua is used to it."

"Absolutely," Joshua assented with a chuckle.  "But..."

"Not sure the kids are official yet, Wendy," Troy pointed out.

Amala shrugged.

"I mean... I'm okay with it if..."  She peered at Christopher.

The boy grinned and nodded.

"Then I guess I'm okay with it."

Joshua beamed.

"Well, there then... Jesus and a girlfriend, just like I said," Wendy reiterated.

"Maybe we could introduce you to my parents?" Amala offered.  "My mom just texted me.  They're having snacks in the courtyard."

"Great idea," Troy concurred before sticking his hand out.  "Joshua, great to see you again.  Let us know if you need anything."

"Thank you, great to see you again, too, Troy.  And I will, thanks."  Joshua clasped Wendy's hand.  "Wendy, it's been a pleasure.  You both have a wonderful son."

Once again, Christopher blushed.  This time, Amala hugged his arm.

"Thank you, Joshua.  He really is.  Hope to see you again soon!"

"Likewise.  Enjoy the snacks!"

"Will do!" Wendy called as the quartet headed towards the courtyard.

Joshua smiled to himself as he imagined the introductions.  Only a week before, Hura had fretted about Amala's relationship with Christopher, fearing the boy would try to convert her.  But it had been Hura's own husband... beautiful Raheem... who had led the way towards their new faith.

Thinking about that Friday, Joshua's mood began to dip.  Not wanting to upset anyone, he made his way down to his makeshift office and settled onto a bench there.

"Dad..." he called as a vision flooded his mind.

Several blocks away, Cameron was getting released from the hospital.  Escorted by three police officers, he was cuffed and wheeled into the hallway.  Trailing behind them, Donna wept for her son.  Nathan walked beside her, stone-faced and offering no comfort.

Cameron, too, was emotionally vacant.  He stared ahead, a grimace on his face.

Patients, nurses, doctors, and visitors all gawked at the grim procession, some making snide comments as Cameron passed. 

"Getting what you deserve!" a man shouted.  "Waste of space!"

"Aren't you at all sorry?" a woman called.

Cameron craned his neck to see her. 

"Just sorry I didn't kill them all," he sneered.

"Cameron!" Donna bellowed.

"You lousy, piece of..."  The man who had spoken earlier moved towards Cameron.

"That's enough!" an officer barked.  "Everyone shut up and stay back!"

At the mosque, tears trailed down Joshua's cheeks as he saw the scene unfold.

Chastened, the group lining the hospital halls quieted, many returning to their rooms and tasks.

Cameron, his parents, and his escorts made their way to the front doors.  Outside, a police van waited. 

"I love you, Cameron!" Donna called.  "We... we'll come see you!  Cameron..."

The young man refused to look at his mother.

"Quiet, Donna.  You're making even more of a scene," Nathan hissed. 

"But he..."  Donna stared down at the ground, continuing to weep.

The police officers carefully loaded Cameron and his wheelchair into the van.  Two officers situated themselves on either side of their prisoner.  The third closed the door then, without another word, hopped into the front passenger seat.  As soon as traffic allowed, the van turned onto the street.

"Cameron..." Donna bleated.

"Donna..." Joshua cried out.

"Let's go," Nathan barked, pulling his wife down the street and away from the hospital.

Joshua buried his head in his hands and wept.  He thought of his own mother, weeping as he was hauled from one trial to the next.  Donna and Nathan had made several missteps that his own parents had not... but, still, Joshua's heart broke for Donna... and for Nathan... and for Cameron.  No matter what happened, their lives, their family would never be the same. 


Startled, Joshua looked up to find Ibrahim standing in the doorway.

"Josh... what's wrong?" the imam inquired, moving to sit beside his friend.

Joshua smiled when Ibrahim rested a hand on his back.

"I'm fine.  It just... it hit me that Cameron was getting taken to jail just now.  I was thinking about his parents... about him."

"Do you... forgive him?" Ibrahim asked, as gently as possible through his shock.

"He hasn't asked for forgiveness.  He hasn't even admitted he did wrong.  Neither have his parents for that matter.  But still...  I think of what might have been.  Cameron was created by the same loving God who created all I hold dear.  He was loved... is loved.  If he could have embraced that..."

Ibrahim shook his head.

"You amaze me.  To have such compassion for the man who tried to kill you!  But... I guess it shouldn't surprise me.  I've spoken to Beatrice a couple times today.  Delightful woman... if a little... intense."

Joshua laughed and swiped at his tears.


"I mean... I guess if I'd seen her the day she painted that graffiti, I probably would have thought she was beyond all hope.  But here she is... here to support you.  So... there's hope."

Joshua nodded and squeezed Ibrahim's hand.

"There's always hope.  And I have hope for Cameron and Donna and Nathan.  And I will pray for them...  I'll pray for them to hear the voice of the One who loves them... who never stopped loving them."

Ibrahim studied Joshua as he peered up at the ceiling, the light making what remained of his tears shine.  He looked beatific. 

"You put me to shame, Joshua.  Such faith and love...  And here I am... a religious leader... and I only feel anger when I think of him," the imam admitted.

"Don't be ashamed, Ibrahim.  Just... pray for him.  You might be surprised how it changes you," Joshua counseled.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,'" Ibrahim recited.  He smiled at Joshua.  "I took a couple Christian scriptures classes.  That one got stuck in there, I guess."  He tapped his head.  "It's a good one.  Your Jesus had a lot of good lines, come to think of it."

Joshua grinned.

"I like to think so."

"Well...  I will pray for him... for Cameron.  But right now..."  Ibrahim stood up and held his hand out to Joshua.  "You feel up to coming back upstairs?"

Joshua took his hand and nodded.

"I do.  Thanks for coming to look for me."

"You bet."  Ibrahim sighed just before they crossed the threshold and looked around the room.  "Gonna miss having you here on the regular."

Joshua patted him on the back.

"I promise we'll see each other.  Maybe not every day like we had been.  But a lot.  Okay?"

"Okay," Ibrahim agreed with a smile.

Once they were upstairs, Joshua was surprised to see that many of the mosque's rooms were cleared out.

"Where did everyone..."

"Let's check out in the courtyard," Ibrahim suggested, his eyes gleaming.

Once they made their way to the door, Raheem greeted them.

"Oh good!  You found him.  Everyone's been practicing but I think they're ready now so..."

"Practicing?" Joshua questioned.

Raheem only grinned and pushed open the door into the courtyard.

To Joshua's surprise, the area was brimming with people who all began to clap as they saw him.

"What is..."

Raheem hugged him.

"We wanted to do something special for you.  So... Rabbi Yakov, Tiva, and several of your friends have been making the rounds... adding a little bonus lesson to the various classes."

A familiar chord sounded and Joshua looked away from Raheem and noticed that a folk band from the Beth El synagogue was set up in a corner of the courtyard.

"We now all know the Hora," Ibrahim shared.

Joshua laughed and fresh tears, this time of happiness, welled in his eyes.

Hura and Liyana approached, each taking one of Joshua's hands.

"I hope you trust Raheem, Ibrahim, Takoda, and Christopher," Hura began.

"Because they're carrying your chair," Liyana finished.

Laughing, Joshua shook his head.

"You don't have to..."

"Sit, Yeshua," Yosef called from the crowd.

"Listen to your Abi!" John shouted. 

Joshua grinned and held up his hands in defeat.

"All right... all right."

Hura and Liyana led Joshua to the chair.

"Thank you all.  This... this is... it really means a lot," he called, as loudly as he could over the lump in his throat.

"Oh wait..."  Jemima ran to Joshua side.  "We should probably check..." she teased.  "Dr. Neeley?"

The surgeon, who had been sampling shortbread, looked up with puffed cheeks.

"Mmm?"  The man quickly chewed and swallowed then approached.

Joshua rested a hand on the man's arm.

"I didn't know you were here!  Thank you for coming!"

The doctor shrugged.

"I had the day off.  Thought I'd check up on you.  Yes, Jemima?"

"Dr. Neeley, can we lift Joshua into the air on a chair and hop around with him?"

Laughing, Dr. Neeley raised his voice so everyone could hear.

"I told Joshua he couldn't lift over twenty pounds.  But I didn't say someone couldn't lift him.  So... yes, Jemima, I'll allow it."

The crowd cheered again and Joshua settled into the chair.

As the music began; Ibrahim, Raheem, Takoda, and Christopher, all smiling, surrounded him.

"On the count of three, up we go!" Ibrahim called.  "One... two... three..."

A fresh wave of applause sounded as Joshua, beaming and laughing, was raised into the air.

The group surrounded him in circles amid circles and began to dance.  Just as they'd been united the week before outside of St. Genesius', the children of Abraham... the children of God... were once again united in song and dance.

Clapping and cheering, Joshua drank it all in and smiled up at the sun, thanking his Dad.



Saturday, December 14th, 2019

Ibrahim wearily entered the apartment he was sharing with Liyana and their newborn, Judah.  After quietly readying for bed, he made his way to the bedroom.  Ibrahim smiled down at his son, asleep in his basinette, then approached the bed and gently caressed his wife's hair.

Liyana turned onto her back and smiled up at her husband.

"Sorry, did I wake you?" he whispered.

"No.  I was trying to get to sleep but wasn't there yet.  How was your night out with the boys?"

"Good.  Raheem has an ugly Christmas suit now."

Liyana giggled.


"Yep...  Christians..."  Ibrahim rolled his eyes.

Liyana playfully swatted at him.

Chuckling, Ibrahim settled into bed beside his wife.  He lifted the cross from around her chest and studied it.

"I'm happy for him.  For you.  I just... I wish I had the same clarity," he lamented.

"I know, honey."  Liyana kissed him.  "But it's okay to be a work-in-progress."

"I feel like I've been a work-in-progress my whole life."

"We all are."

"But some of us are more polished than others," Ibrahim countered.  He sighed.  "Earlier today, Max made me list out all the changes I've had in my life this past year."

"That must have been quite a list."

Ibrahim nodded and began to recite.

"Became a talking head for the media... got shot during a hate crime...
made new friends... started counseling... had my whole family convert on me... became a regular fixture at an attempted murder trial... had a nervous breakdown... left the mosque... left my home... moved into an apartment with my lovely wife... started a new job... welcomed a baby with said lovely wife..."  He smiled at the cradle then at Liyana.

"It's a lot," Liyana affirmed.

"But so much of it good.  Even the stuff that seemed scary at first.  I... I thought you might leave me when you, well, found Jesus... and after my breakdown."

Liyana nuzzled into his neck.


"I know... now..."  Ibrahim closed his eyes and remembered what he could of his breakdown.  He could recall returning home after a session at the courthouse in June.  Joshua and Liyana had gone to prepare tea.  He'd gone to his study and then, suddenly, he was on the ground, quaking and sobbing and feeling like his heart was going to explode in his chest.  He'd wanted to run but he couldn't move.  Then it was just a blur of Joshua holding him and Liyana frantically calling 911. 

He'd left the mosque the following week. 

Ibrahim kissed Liyana's hair. 

"I also thought Raheem would get all weird and preachy," he mused.

"He hasn't."

"No.  You all seem... happier.  I just wish..."  Ibrahim stared up at a ceiling.  "I can imagine that Allah... God... loves me.  Because He's... God.  Divine.  Perfect.  But imagining that a man could be that good..."  He shook his head.

"A man who is also God," Liyana gently corrected.

"But he's still a man.  And apparently a perfect one.  Even if I could square that in my head... I can't imagine what he'd want with me."

Liyana wrapped her arms around her husband.

"When Judah is older, he's going to be a brat at times.  And when he's older still... he may be a downright jerk at times.  But you'll still love him, won't you?"

"Of course.  He's my son!"

"Exactly.  I believe that's how Jesus feels about us."

"But he's not the Father."

"He's the Everlasting Father.  I believe he had a hand in creating us and so... he loves us as a father would... should."  Liyana winced.

"Should..." Ibrahim repeated.

"My love..."  Tears welled in Liyana's eyes as she tightened her embrace.  But she knew that, no matter what, no matter how strong, the love of a wife couldn't make up for the apathy of a father.  And then a new thought came to her.



"Do you think Joshua is a better man than you?"

"Without a doubt," Ibrahim answered without hesitation.  "You should have seen him tonight.  This dude was giving one of the waitresses a hard time.  I was embarrassed and felt for her but... I didn't know what to say.  Joshua goes over there... I don't even know what he said.  But that man was silent for the rest of the night... other than squeaking out an apology.  And then, get this, the poor girl was still flustered so Joshua starts taking orders himself so she could have a few minutes to collect herself!  And whatever he said to her after she came back... she lit up like a Christmas tree.  He's something else..."

Liyana smiled and nodded.

"He is.  Actually... can you think of any time in the past several months when Joshua's done something wrong?"

Ibrahim's eyes grew wide.  He'd marveled at Joshua's kindness but somehow never realized that he'd not stumbled even once.  He didn't even yell at other drivers!  And all those days in the courtroom... not once had he said anything snide or unfair.  Even gentle Raheem had let out a few curses on a particularly bad day.  But not Joshua.  He'd only seemed sad and pained.

"I... I can't, actually," Ibrahim admitted. 

"And Joshua loves you," Liyana reminded.  "So... so don't you think Jesus could, too?"

For a moment, Ibrahim felt something kindling in his heart... but then it began to fade.

"But Joshua only knows what he sees.  He doesn't know the wickedness in my heart.  He doesn't know about the wrath I sometimes feel.  He doesn't..."  Ibrahim began to cry. 

"Ibrahim...  Shh...  It's okay.  I... I'm sorry if I pushed...  Oh, honey..."  Liyana began to rock with her husband in her arms.

"It... it's not you...  I'm just..."  Ibrahim sighed.  "A mess.  I... I hope Judah didn't get whatever's wrong with me."

"There's nothing wrong with you," Liyana soothed.  "You've just been through a lot.  And yet you're still here.  And you're a good man, Ibrahim.  That's what Judah is going to get from you!  Resilence."

Ibrahim smiled through his tears and cupped his wife's face.

"I hope so... and I hope he also gets a good wife.  If he's anything like his old man... he's gonna need her."

Liyana laughed.

"Let's hold off on the wife business.  He's only two weeks old."

"Okay."  Ibrahim kissed Liyana's forehead then yawned.

"Let's try to get some sleep, okay?" she suggested.


After taking one more peek as Judah, Ibrahim turned off the lamp and the couple settled into each other's embrace.

"Good night, honey."

"Good night, my dear."

"Love you."

"Love you, too."

After a final kiss, Ibrahim closed his eyes and, exhausted, took little time to fall asleep.

Liyana remained awake, praying for her beloved husband to see the truth.



"Come on, Ibrahim, time to go."

Eight-year-old Ibrahim took his mother's hand and exited the mosque with her.

"Did you pray for Daddy to come back?" Aida asked.

"Yes, Mom," Ibrahim replied, nodding vigorously.  "Very hard."

"Good boy."  Aida stroked his hair.

As they passed a park, Ibrahim looked longingly at a swing set.

"Mom, could we..."

Aida frowned.

"We should get home in case..."

Ibrahim's face fell.

"Well, a few minutes won't hurt.  Okay."

Grinning, Ibrahim ran towards a swing, jumped on, and began to pump his legs.  He was so excited by the opportunity that he didn't notice a man pushing another little boy two swings away... but Aida did.  The sight of the father and son brought fresh tears to her eyes and she began to weep.

With a sigh, Ibrahim slowed so he could see to his mother.

"It's okay.  You keep going.  I'll take care of her."

Startled, Ibrahim turned to his other side, away from the father and son, and saw a man smiling at him.

"Who are you?" Ibrahim demanded.

"My name is Joshua.  I'm a friend of your mom's.  I'll go talk to her.  You keep swinging.  It's good for you."


Ibrahim obeyed but watched like a hawk as the stranger approached his mother.  To the boy's relief, he could see recognition on her face.  A moment later, she was crying in the man's arms.

Though he was sorry for his mother, Ibrahim was relieved that he wouldn't need to leave the park just yet.  He closed his eyes as he swung higher into the air, feeling the whoosh of wind against his face.  Inhale as he went up, exhale as he came down...  In the air, he wasn't a fatherless little boy with a distraught, heartbroken mother.  He was Super Ibrahim!  And he would make everything better!

When Ibrahim opened his eyes, his mother and the stranger were still embracing.  The man's cheek was resting on his mother's hijab and he appeared to be murmuring to her.  Or maybe singing.

After a few minutes, Joshua and Aida clasped hands then drew apart.  To Ibrahim's surprise, the man returned to him and settled into the swing beside his.

"Hey there, Ibrahim.  I know this is weird but your mom asked me to talk to you for a little bit.  Is that okay?"

"I guess."

"I know things are really difficult right now.  And I know you feel like you're the man of the house now and you need to take care of your mom.  And it is really, really good to take care of her but... it's important to take care of you, too.  And it's okay if you're sad sometimes or mad sometimes.  It's okay to cry."

Ibrahim's swinging slowed.

"Mom cries a lot," he confided.

"I know..."

"I don't think Dad is... is coming back."  Ibrahim flinched.  He hadn't said it out loud before.

"If he doesn't... it's because he made a mistake.  It doesn't say anything about you.  You're a good boy, Ibrahim.  Your mom and grandma tell me all the time about what a good boy you are."  Joshua smiled at the boy.

Shyly, Ibrahim returned his smile.

"I just... I want you to remember that, Ibrahim.  Please, remember that," Joshua implored.

"Okay... I'll try."

"Good.  Thank you." 

Ibrahim studied Joshua as he swung.  He liked him.  The sick-feeling in his stomach that had lingered since his father had left was beginning to go away.

"Let's see who can go higher!" Joshua dared.

Grinning, Ibrahim pumped as hard as he could.

"I think it's you, Ibrahim!"

The boy swung for a few moments longer then again slowed so he could talk to his new friend.

"Do you live around here?" Ibrahim asked.

"You could say that," Joshua answered with an enigmatic smile.

"Ibrahim!  We should head home soon!" Aida called.

Ibrahim waved to his mother.

"Okay.  Just a minute."  He turned back to Joshua.  "Am I going to see you again?" he questioned.

Joshua held out his hand.

"How about this?  When you really need me, you'll see me again.  Deal?"

Ibrahim shook his hand.


"Good.  Take care, Ibrahim."

"You too, Joshua!"

Ibrahim jumped off the swing and ran to his mom.

"Did you have a nice talk?" she asked.

"Uh huh!"

"Good!  Joshua's a nice man I met at work.  Now... let's head home." 

Ibrahim took his mother's hand.  When he looked back to wave once more to Joshua, he saw no one except the man and his son, still pushing and swinging.  There was no sign of Joshua, only a small, white bird sitting on the swing.


December 14th, 2019

Ibrahim gasped as he awoke from his dream... his memory.


"How about this?  When you really need me, you'll see me again.  Deal?"

Ibrahim's eyes misted as realized that the past eight months had been the fulfillment of a decades old promise... a promise made by no mere mortal.  The Joshua of his memory and the Joshua of the previous evening's gallivanting around town were identical.  And that image of Joshua comforting his mother...  Ibrahim could remember the shudder that had gone through him when he'd seen Joshua holding Salma the same away... and again when he'd seen Owen's painting of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.  It had been deja vu.  He'd seen it before...

Ibrahim turned to Liyana but she was still sleeping.  He didn't want to wake her but he had to see Joshua.


Ibrahim grabbed his cell phone then stumbled out of the bedroom.  With shaking hands, he pulled up Raheem's number and dialed.

"Ibrahim!" Raheem gasped, startled out of sleep.  "What is it?  Are Liyana and Judah..."

"They're fine.  I... I need to see Joshua, Raheem.  Right... right now."

"Okay... no problem."  The relief... and excitement maybe?... was evident in Raheem's voice.  "How about I come get you and we'll go see Joshua together?"


"You're sure you'll be all right until..."

"I'm fine, Raheem.  Just... text when you're at the apartment and I'll run down."

"Okay.  I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Thank you."

"Would you feel better if I stayed on the phone the whole time?"

Ibrahim laughed.

"Raheem, I'm fine.  Really.  I'll see you soon."

"Yes!  Soon!"

Ibrahim ended the call, got into his coat, and waited to go get the answers to all the questions swimming in his head.

But one thing he knew for sure... and the knowledge of it made his heart soar.

The Everlasting Father had come back for him!

To be continued in this year's Christmas story beginning on December 22nd...


Works Cited:
  • The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • 2 Timothy 1:7- "I haven't given you a spirit of fear..."
  • Luke 15:11-32- the Prodigal Son
  • Genesis 50:20- Maryam uses a variant of this when blessing Liyana
  • Ezekiel 16:49- the sin of Sodom
  • Matthew 22:36-40- the greatest commandment
  • Luke 2:41-52- Young Jesus at the Temple
  • "Friends" by Michael W. Smith
  • Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8- anointing of Jesus
  • "Love Song" by Third Day
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • Luke 2:10- do not be afraid
  • The Lord's Prayer/Our Father/Matthew 6:9-13
  • John 19:38-40/Matthew 27:57-60- Joseph and Nicodemus at Jesus' burial
  • Matthew 26:7- alabaster jar
  • The Acts of the Apostles
  • John 1:1- Jesus is the Word
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • "Lavender's Blue"- Traditional
  • "Amazing Grace" composed by John Newton
  • "Let There Be Peace on Earth" by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson
  • Genesis 15:5- Abraham and the stars
  • Psalm 91- "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High..."
  • Sufi Prayer for Peace by Hazrat Inayat Khan
  • "Times" by Tenth Avenue North
  • "From Now On" from The Greatest Showman by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • Jeremiah 31:13- "Then shall the young women rejoice..."
  • Genesis 1- "It is good"
  • Matthew 18:3/Mark 10:15/Luke 18:17- "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children..."
  • Ruth 1- where you go, I go
  • The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
  • Superman
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Matthew 16:13–16; Mark 8:27–29; Luke 9:18–20- "Who do you say I am?"
  • John 10:30-"The Father and I are one"
  • Matthew 11:15- "He who has ears, let him hear."
  • Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23- Immanuel
  • "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Paul Simon
  • Bedtime Shema
  • Matthew 20:1-16-the parable of the workers
  • Jeremiah 29:11- "For I know the plans I have for you..."
  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  • "Moondance" by Van Morrison
  • Song of Solomon 6:3- I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine
  • Matthew 17:27- coin in the fish's mouth
  • John 10:10- "I came that they might have life..."
  • Isaiah 9:6- Everlasting Father
  • Jewish blessings for food and drink
  • Michaelangelo's David
  • The Wizard of Oz film
  • 1 Timothy 6:15/Revelation 17:14/Revelation 17:14- King of Kings
  • Matthew 5:44- "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"