The Truth

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” --John 8: 32, NIV

A large crowd had gathered at Willowveil Castle for Thanksgiving dinner.  By 10:00 PM the pumpkin pie and other desserts had been devoured, leftovers packed up and divvied out, and most of the guests had retired to their own homes.  However, a handful were not quite ready to call it a night and had moved to the parlor for coffee and a game.  Wooed by memories of a cozy... if somewhat combative... Thanksgiving with Monica and Tess, Adam had tossed several thought-provoking questions into a bowl.  One by one, each of the players selected a question and answered.  With one round behind them and all nerves long since settled, the players had begun to truly enjoy themselves.

Violeta, ever eager to learn more about her friends, practically skipped to the bowl when her turn came around again.  Unraveling the question, she beamed.  "'What's the best vacation you ever took?'  Well, I loved Alaska but I'm going to have to say Florida because it was my first vacation and because we saw Hogwarts."

"Way.  To.  Be!" Max hooted.

Rose sighed dreamily.  "Best vacation ever...  And we have to go back sometime with Kemara here now!"

"Yes!" Violeta enthusiastically hugged Kemara who was seated next to her.  "Except don't let me go on the big roller-coaster."

"Oh, you don't like them?" Kemara asked.

"Something like that..."

Andrew, seated next to JenniAnn on one of the loveseats, smiled.  He remained incredibly grateful that they'd had the opportunity to go.  "I'm sure we'll go back sometime but now... Adam's devilish grin is telling me it's my turn to answer."  He stood and approached the bowl.  "Don't think you're fooling me, buddy.  I know you're hoping I get an embarrassing one."

Adam feigned shock.  "Me?  Play a trick on you, one of my dearest friends?  In fact, I am so kind that I pre-selected your next question."  He held a strip of paper out to the younger angel of death.

"Oh dear..." Monica murmured, visibly amused. 

Sitting beside her on the settee, Arthur could only gape in amusement.  He wondered what angels found embarrassing.

Andrew chuckled as he took the paper from Adam.  "Let's see..."  He cocked his head.  "Actually, this is a very nice question.  'If you could go back twenty years, what would you tell yourself?  Wow... 1993."

"I was four," Max chimed in.

"Three," Rose added.

"Not born!" Violeta chirped.

"I feel old..." Tess lamented.

"You are old," Adam shot back with a grin.

"And you aren't?" the supervisor demanded.

"I am vintage," Adam declared majestically.

"Ha!" Tess rolled her eyes but still hugged the angel.  "Vintage Boy..."

"I like the sound of that but now... Andrew, your answer?" Adam prompted.

"Well, I'd tell myself that my life was about to get even better in ways I couldn't possibly imagine.  I mean a couple years later, I'd start working with Monica and Tess and then Gloria.  And then about four years after that, I'd come here and... I'd hear a love song about me being sung."

JenniAnn's face flushed but she beamed at the angel.

"And then blessing after blessing would follow.  So many friends, a protege."  Andrew smiled tenderly at Violeta.  Then his smile widened into an all out grin.  "And... I'd also tell myself to neglect my top shirt buttons more often," he continued in a rush, eyes twinkling.

Monica was the first to burst out laughing.

"Angel Boy!"

"Heck to the yeah," JenniAnn merrily encouraged when Andrew sunk back down beside her. 

"Honestly..." Tess continued.  Still, even she had to admit Andrew wore the rakish look very well.

After recovering, Monica looked to Adam.  "So why'd you choose that question for Andrew?"

Following one last chuckle, Adam shrugged.  "I really thought he'd just give some profound, 'awww'-inspiring answer and what can I say?  No one can spend much time in Dyeland and not develop at least a small sappy streak... myself included.  But that... that was at least two levels of impressive: sappy and wicked.  Rough night for Tess, though."

"Ol' Tess is doing just fine, thank you very much.  And it happens to be my turn."  After claiming her piece of paper, Tess cleared her throat and read.  "'If you could have any super power which one would you choose?'  The power not to wear one of those silly suits.  Nobody needs to wear clothes that tight."

"Aww, Tess.  A real super power," Monica pressed.

"All right...  Let's see..."  Tess pondered the question for a few moments then shrugged.  "Babies, I don't pay enough attention to those things..."

"You could be invisible," Max suggested.  "Oh wait... I guess you already have that sometimes."

"No leaping tall buildings in a single bound for you, Tess?" Arthur asked. 

Tess turned up her nose.

"Well, maybe you could answer not so much with a super power but a superhero car.  Really fast, indestructible, sleek, impeccable paint job..." the man tantalized.

The supervisor's eyes grew wide.  "Car!  I'm going with the car."  Her smile stretched across her face.  "I like this boy, Miss Wings!"

Monica's face glowed with pride as Arthur blushed happily.

"Well played, Arthur!" Adam praised.  "Owen, you're up."

Rising from where he sat with Eliot and his new bride, Brittony, Owen approached the bowl.  "And my question is..."  He beamed.  "Highly appropriate.  'If you could paint any one thing and know you'd capture it perfectly, what would it be?'"  Thoughtful, the artist sat back down.  "I had this dream once when I was around sixteen.  It was when... when things got really bad with my parents.  It's not like I'm overly religious but... but I guess I can be sometimes.  So in this dream, I was sitting in a field and I saw this man walking up a hill.  He was far enough away that I couldn't see his features but somehow I just knew he was..."  He glanced over as JenniAnn, the only person he'd ever confided in about the dream.  She smiled softly and nodded in encouragement.  "Jesus.  He got to the top of the hill and held his arms out and all these colors... I know it sounds crazy but it was like the colors were alive and they swirled all around Him and made everything around Him light up and come to life.  When I woke up, all I wanted to do was capture that image but I never could.  Not perfectly.  Because my colors aren't alive like His.  But I can still remember it.  So I'd paint that." 

An awed hush fell over the room.  Several of the listeners had seldom heard Owen say much of anything serious and to hear his account and the depth of emotion in his voice as he spoke... angel and human alike were intensely moved.

Andrew tucked the story away in his memory, knowing he might soon need it.  Then, seeing the young man begin to squirm, he broke the silence.  "That's beautiful, Owen.  Absolutely beautiful."

JenniAnn moved to hug her friend.  "He loves you, O," she whispered.

"So I've heard.  I think there's a song about it... or several," he teased.  Then he grew serious again.  "It's your turn.  Please pick.  I, ummm..."

Knowing he wanted the attention off him, JenniAnn nodded.  "Going now."  She closed her eyes, stuck her hand in the bowl, and chose a question. 
"'What's the biggest regret you have?'" she read from the strip of paper in front of her.  "Boy...  Umm..."

Eliot, also keen to restore levity for Owen's sake, laughed when he caught her unintentional gaze his way.  "You can say it.  Water under the bridge, Psyche."

Blushing but smiling, JenniAnn nodded.  "Okay...  I regret dating Eliot.  NOT because he's a bad fellow.  Obviously he's quite a catch.  But he's Brittony's catch and I, for one, am very glad they caught each other."  She lifted her mug to the couple.  "To the newlyweds!"

Cheers and shouts and clanking of mugs and glasses resounded as the happy couple beamed. 

When the din had quieted, JenniAnn continued as she moved back to the loveseat.  Her voice came out softer but more sure.  "I regret that I distanced myself from Andrew and hurt him."

Andrew took her hand in his.  He remembered those days and was immensely grateful that they were over.  He'd never felt before how much it hurt to have someone you loved physically present and yet not really there... apart from you because of their own choice.

"But I learned a lot and... I feel like after that we became a lot more open with each other so... there's that."  JenniAnn beamed at the angel then hugged his arm and sighed.  "So who's next?"

"Uh me, I guess."

Hearing Arthur's voice, Andrew and JenniAnn both turned to face the man.  In doing so, they noticed Monica, pale and distracted looking as she sat beside him.  Arthur himself seemed ill-at-ease.  He whispered something to Monica and when she nodded, only then did he rise to select a piece of paper from the glass bowl sitting on the coffee table.

Andrew's eye brows rose.  He glanced over to JenniAnn and knew she, too, noticed the change.  "Is something going on with them?" he whispered.  "But they were fine just a minute ago.  I saw them clasp hands during Owen's answer."

Frowning, JenniAnn shrugged.  "Whatever's happened, I think we need an intermission."  She stood up and went to where the coffee pot and fixings sat on a serving table.  "Actually, Arthur, would you mind waiting for just a bit?  I think we could do with another pot of coffee."

"No problem at all.  Happy to wait," the man agreed.

"Monica, maybe you could help me in the kitchen?" JenniAnn requested.

Eagerly, Monica nodded and jumped to her feet to follow their hostess.  For a brief moment, she smiled at the irony.  Only a few short years ago, she wouldn't have dreamed of confiding in JenniAnn.  Now she wanted to.  Needed to. 

"Are you okay?" JenniAnn asked as soon as they were in the kitchen and she was sure no one had followed.

The caseworker nodded.  "I was just... relieved I didn't get your question."

"Oh.  Yeah..."

Monica forced a smile.  "Your response was considerably more innocent than mine would have been."

Stepping away from the coffee maker, JenniAnn set a hand on the angel's arm.  "Give me 6,000 years and we'll see what trouble I can get myself into.  I mean even as it is... I almost killed a guy over Andrew.  Okay, really just plotted to temporarily paralyze him with a wooden stake... but that's not very nice, either.  Which reminds me... I need to call Josef and try to persuade him to come home for Christmas.  Mick and Beth pulled Andrew and me into their campaign."

Monica smiled, touched by the diversion.  "Thank you."

"You're welcome.  Not that it's not a big deal but... I'm glad it's only the question at fault.  Arthur seemed out of sorts so I... well, Andrew and I... we were worried maybe something had happened."

"Ah no but when he... when Arthur heard it, he... he smiled so sweetly and... and said that he figured if I'd gotten that question, I wouldn't have been able to make much of an answer."

JenniAnn bit her lip, wondering if she should have cornered Arthur at some earlier date and tried to dispel a little of his starriness.  But, no... it wouldn't have mattered.  He'd have paid as little heed to her as she had Tess in the early days when the supervisor had tried to temper her feelings for Andrew.

The angel continued as she piled more sugar cubes into a dish.  "And I... I shuddered and he noticed and... then I... I realized..."

JenniAnn frowned.  "You realized what?"

"Perhaps I should tell him.  I mean... if it were Andrew... when would you want to know?  Or would you?  And would you be angry if you found out long after he had opportunity to tell you but chose not to?"  Monica sighed.  "I know, of course, that Andrew never would... have done what I did but... hypothetically?"

"Hypothetically... I would want to know as soon as Andrew felt he could tell me because I would be extremely hurt if, after all our talk of being honest and after all the things I confided in him about... that... well, that's a pretty big thing.  I mean it's not like I feel his life should be an open book to me and you deserve privacy with Arthur, too," JenniAnn clarified.  "But... I mean if something horrible happened to me, I think Andrew would want to know.  And if it was him and I found out through some other means... I think I would be angry and hurt both.  And I promise I would never say anything about that day to Arthur but the way I figure it, four of us know about it.  You, me, God, and Satan.  I can account for the goodwill and love of three out of the four but unless you're sure the latter would never see to it that Arthur was told..."  JenniAnn bowed her head.  "Eben once tried to convince me that Andrew had done something unforgivable... when really he'd only followed God's commands and it was humans who did the unforgivable.  I don't think I need to remind you that their side doesn't need to deal in the truth."

Monica shivered.  It was one thing to confront a demon herself but to consider one coming near Arthur...

JenniAnn refilled Monica's mug and pushed it into her hand.  "I'm sorry."

Gratefully, Monica took a sip.  The lump in her throat subsided.  "Please don't be.  It's a good thing to keep in mind.  But... you and Andrew, you've known each other for nearly fourteen years and Arthur and I have only really known each other for two months.  What if... what if he turns from me when he learns what I did?"

JenniAnn blushed.  She'd done exactly that.  However, she was also not in love with Monica as she was very sure Arthur was.  She smiled.  "'God never created anything stronger than the power of real love.'"

Recognizing her own words, the angel laughed.  "True."

"Arthur truly cares about you.  If you don't tell him, can you be certain that your own anxiety over keeping that from him won't create distance?  It can really hurt to think someone you love doesn't trust you.  And I know now that wasn't usually the case with Andrew.  I do.  The fact that I wasn't even old enough to drink for the first few years of our friendship probably contributed."

Monica smiled wanly.  She could well remember how reticent Andrew could be... and she was his fellow angel and 6,000 years old.  It was a wonder he hadn't driven the teenaged JenniAnn insane with his protective streak.

"But Arthur is very much an adult."  JenniAnn paused to pray her next words would be utterly moot.  "If he does react badly, the pain of that will only increase the longer you spend time with him, Monica.  But I truly don't think he will.  I mean in the little time that's passed since you reunited, he's seen you counsel homeless men and women.  He's seen you play with their children, bringing them joy in times of uncertainty.  He's seen you will babies to live even as the hospital meant to heal them fell apart.  He witnessed you comforting their parents when the lil ones went Home.  He's walked with you in former neighborhoods riddled with bodies.  I don't think he could every turn his back on the one who stood by his side through that.  I... I know the pull of bonds formed and strengthened in pain and grief."

Tears welled in Monica's eyes.  "You do," she agreed quietly.

"So were you thinking... tonight?"

"Not before... but I think I owe some explanation for how I reacted and I think it should be the truth," Monica nervously reasoned. 

"I do, too.  Maybe you could just finish this round and then excuse yourselves.  Are you staying in Dyeland tonight?"

The caseworker nodded.

"Well then, you can cite the walk back as your reason for wanting to get going.  That bridge over the Gulf gets downright cold once you get too long into the night.  I trust Arthur's walking you back?" JenniAnn checked.

Monica smiled and nodded.  "He offered earlier."

"Good!"  JenniAnn hugged the angel.  "It'll be fine.  And I'm setting places for both of you tomorrow for breakfast."

Monica tried to soak in the woman's confidence that all would be well.  "I'll... we'll... see you then."

"You will.  Both of you.  Now... more coffee and more questions!  Arthur's up, remember." 

"He is..."

"C'mon."  Offering her breeziest smile, JenniAnn grabbed the coffee pot and headed out.

Monica followed with the sugar and creamer tray. 

"And here they are!" Adam cheered as they re-entered the parlor. 

JenniAnn set the coffee down then returned to Andrew's side.  "He's going to make us do this every year now, isn't he?"

Andrew chuckled.  "Yup.  Think so."

"And Arthur's question is..." the elder angel of death prompted.

Arthur unrolled his question and smiled.  "'If you could relive any day of your life, which would it be?'"  He briefly bowed his head, thanking God.  His gaze settled on Monica.  "October 3, 2013."  Returning to her side, he hugged her.

A memory from that terrible day so many years ago returned to Monica.  Lilacs...  How much she loved them though they never lasted long.  But oh how beautiful they were during their brief lives.  Even if Arthur walked away from her that night... something she felt she deserved... she would always cherish the beauty of what they'd so briefly shared.


By 11:30, only Andrew and JenniAnn remained in the parlor.  Adam and Tess had gone onto assignments.  The Tunnel contingent had went home.  Max, Rose, Kemara, and Violeta had taken up residence in the theater room where they were watching Harry Potter yet again.  Monica and Arthur had, as planned, left after the second round of questions. 

"Well, what should we do now that the kids are settled down?" Andrew asked drowsily, tucking his arm around JenniAnn's shoulders when they both collapsed onto a couch after getting everything back in order. 

Also tired yet too nervous to sleep, JenniAnn laughed.  "Dunno..."

"'Kay."  The angel closed his eyes and let his head roll back onto the cushions.  He hadn't felt so tired in a year at least.  As tempting as his bed was; the lingering scent of pumpkin and cinnamon, the comfortable white noise of Willowveil, and the calming presence of someone he loved was still more enticing. 

"I'm sure you can head back to Serendipity, Andrew, if you want to go to bed.  I'm pretty confident Max can make the walk through the basement tunnel on his own... after all, he can find his way here clear from New Jersey," JenniAnn gently teased.

"Mmm hmm."

JenniAnn sighed as she nuzzled his shoulder.  Quite obviously Andrew didn't want to be alone.  So it had been for much of the month.  He'd been gone for the greater part of it, sometimes not leaving the Philippines for days at a time.  When he returned to Dyeland, he'd stop at Serendipity to clean up but then make the rounds to visit his friends.  If no one was up and about, he'd settle in the Willowveil library and that's where JenniAnn would find him in the morning... coffee already brewed and his nose in some book or the other.  She understood.  She'd felt it herself though never to that degree.  Death had a way of making an empty house the enemy.  It also had a way of wearing the mightiest of souls down, making them bone-tired.  Andrew was definitely there and yet he'd insisted on a big Thanksgiving celebration; knowing his fellow AODs, Monica, and Arthur needed it.  But now... maybe now he would rest, JenniAnn prayed.

Fighting his sleepiness, Andrew roused.  "Laja?"


"Monica's going to tell Arthur tonight, isn't she?  About what happened the day they first met?"

"Yes, love."

Andrew prayed silently that all would go well, that Monica would find the strength to tell Arthur what she needed him to know.  Now more than ever they needed each other.

JenniAnn prayed, too.  She fervently hoped she hadn't been wrong to encourage Monica.  When she sensed Andrew was through with his prayer, she peered up at him.  If he wasn't going to lay down and go to sleep, they might as well talk about the situation.  "Andrew, how much do you think you deserve to know about me?"

"Whatever you want to tell me."


"It's true!"

"I know that but... can you just try to be at least somewhat selfish for ten seconds?  Let's try it this way: what would you want to know?"

Dragging his hand through his hair, Andrew considered the question.  He sensed his answer was important.  "I suppose I'd want to know anything that involved me because, ya know, in case I'd need to do something or say something.  And then I guess... anything formative.  So I could understand you better.  I mean I know you had your reasons, and they were good reasons, for waiting a few years to tell me about what happened when you were four.  But if I'd known you'd been waiting around for me since then, well, I might have done and said some things a little differently.  I... I thought it was just a typical teenage crush."  He left unsaid that he'd assumed she'd get over him, leave him entirely even. 

"So you would have liked to have known that... even if it felt awkward and weird at first?"

Andrew smiled.  As if they'd completely bypassed awkward and weird...  "Yeah, I woulda."

"Okay.  But what if it'd been something I'd done wrong?  Something I deeply regretted?  Something that seemed counter to everything you know of me?"

Andrew was beginning to form an idea of what had been said during JenniAnn's and Monica's too-long coffee run.  Monica had likely asked JenniAnn about whether or not she should confide in Arthur and now JenniAnn was doubting her own counsel.  The angel of death sighed.  "I don't know, Laja.  I don't feel like I'm owed an accounting of your past transgressions... hypothetical or otherwise.  But if there was something... some guilt you carried around... maybe I could lighten that burden or even take it away if you'd tell me."  He cupped her chin.  "I wouldn't stop loving you.  And Arthur's not going to stop loving Monica so you... you need to accept that ya done good with your mini-coffee summit earlier."

JenniAnn hugged him.  "You know me so well.  Thanks."

"I do and you're welcome."  Andrew tried to use his hair to hide a yawn.

The charade didn't fool his friend.  "Now... you need to sleep."  She kissed his forehead.  "It's been a hard few weeks.  I know it has.  You can rest here until Max is ready to go."

Andrew bowed his head and played with an embellishment on a throw pillow.  "I don't want..."

"I'm just gonna grab some crafting stuff and I'll sit with you.  Too amped up to sleep, anyhow."

Andrew clasped her hand once she'd stood.  "You know me so well," he echoed.

JenniAnn smiled.  "And yet I know very little.  Thank God I have an eternity to figure you out."

The angel grinned as he snuggled into the cushions.  "Ya do."

JenniAnn pulled a blanket from an oak chest and tucked it around him.  "Now rest."

"Love you."

"Love you, too."

After briefly praying that Andrew would sleep peacefully and enjoy only pleasant dreams, if any; JenniAnn grabbed some yarn from a shelf and began to knit.  Arthur didn't yet have his own hand-knit coaster.  And it just wouldn't be right for him to be the only one not to have one.  Or several.  Maybe he would even want his own little place someday... if he stayed.  When he stayed.  He had to.  As the woman worked, she prayed continuously that all was going well at Monica's cottage.

On the couch, Andrew's eyes cracked open.  He watched his friend, taking in her pensive expression and the swift movements of her hands.  Memories from the past nearly fourteen years flashed through his mind.  Monica didn't have that history with Arthur but Andrew knew her feelings were similar.  Andrew couldn't imagine... didn't want to imagine... how he would feel if JenniAnn left him.  He truly believed Arthur would accept whatever explanation Monica gave... but he didn't have proof.  Again he prayed.  "Please, Father, don't let him turn away from her.  Strengthen Arthur.  Help him to hear the truth and the love behind it.  Help Monica to find the words and... and please deliver her from this guilt she's carried for too long.  You and I both know she doesn't deserve it.  Thank You.  I love You.  Amen."  When he was finished praying, Andrew finally drifted to sleep.


Arthur milled around the cozy living area while he waited for Monica.  He re-examined the last couple of hours, looking for clues to the pensive mood that had befallen the angel.  Their walk to Veritas had been pleasant but quiet.  Monica had said little, speaking only when they passed landmarks she wanted him to note.  When they had at last come to her doorstep, she'd asked him in for tea.  She'd smiled so charmingly when she'd added that she had banned herself from any more coffee for the night but, if he wished, she would make him some.  He'd agreed to tea, not wanting to request anything that would further delay her.  They needed to talk.  Inadvertently, he'd upset her and he was eager to make amends.  He vowed to himself that he would remain until he had mended whatever wound he'd caused.

After perusing a book shelf, Arthur made his way to a neat, well-organized writing desk.  A paperweight caught his eye.  Picking it up, he admired its craftsmanship.  The stone had been carved into the shape of a shamrock but there was something else.  Drawing near a lamp, the man saw that tiny flowers were etched into the clover.  Lilacs.  Somehow it seemed perfectly... Monica.

"A friend carved it.  Kilkenny limestone."

Arthur turned to the voice, charmed as he always was by the soft lilt.  "It's beautiful.  Your friend knows you very well.  Andrew's handiwork?"

Monica shook her head as she held his cup of tea out to him.  "An even older friend."

Arthur's eyes grew wide as he sat the stone down.  "God?"

The angel nodded.  "He gave it to me after..."

Arthur noticed Monica's cup was rattling on its saucer.  With a start, he realized she was trembling.  Grabbing a quilt off the nearby couch, he wrapped it tightly around her.  "I hope you didn't catch anything.  I mean assuming you can..."

"As Andrew puts it, we're 'immortal, not invincible'.  But, no, I haven't caught a cold.  Arthur, I... I have something I need to tell you."  Still feeling shaky, Monica moved to the couch and set her tea down for fear she'd soon spill it. 

Arthur hurried to her side.  "If this is about earlier, about what I said after JenniAnn got that question, then I'm sorry, Monica.  I know angels aren't perfect.  Only God is perfect.  And I don't need you to be perfect.  In fact, it would be better for me if you weren't because God knows I am far, far from perfect.  I know I've done things I regret and I'm sure you have, too, but whatever they were..."  He took her hands in his.  "They've made you who you are.  Someone I..."

"I ran away the day of the shooting," Monica blurted out.  "I... I just left everyone and I walked into the desert and I... I... I walked away from my assignment, I walked away from my friends, I... I walked away from humanity, and I walked away from... from my... my Father... our Father."

Stunned, Arthur released her hands.  He rubbed at his temples and stared at the floor.  Surely he hadn't just heard that.  Or maybe she meant she'd taken a breather.  He could certainly understand that.  It had been a terrible, wrenching, frightening day.  Years later he could still remember the sirens blaring and people screaming for their loved ones as they stumbled into the hospital.  Heart rate machines screeching, shouts of "Code Blue," victims wailing...  He'd dealt with the aftermath of natural disasters many times before but never a mass tragedy wrought by a human, not to that scale.  At least he hadn't faced it before at the time.  He could hardly blame anyone who needed to step away for a few...  The desert?  Had she said she'd gone into the desert?  That was no breather.  He turned back to Monica.  "Why... why the desert?"

In her mind's eye, Monica saw that horrid black car.  The driver's cocky grin...  "He found me wandering and he picked me up and..."

Arthur tensed and his voice came out sounding strangled.  "He... he who?  Did someone hurt you?"  Several thoughts came to his mind, none of them good.  Immortal, not invincible... 

Monica adamantly shook her head.  "No.  Not... not like that.  I... It was Satan and he... he tried to tempt me into... abandoning God and my duties as an angel and becoming human."

Arthur was silent for a few moments, running the words over in his mind.

Monica stole a glance at him.  She badly wanted him to take her hand again.

Her listener blinked.  "How... how is that even remotely tempting?"

Stricken, Monica stared down at her lap.  It shouldn't have been.  "Arthur, I was so distraught and upset about what that young man did... all those people he hurt and killed and the families and friends he devastated.  And in... in that grief and that anger I... I couldn't see anything but that. The pain and the selfishness and the cruelty and callousness.  I felt like...  I know it was a terrible thing to think, to feel... but in that darkness I believed that humans didn't know how to love.  That I... if I were human... I could... could have loved better than them..."

"Than us," Arthur murmured.  He felt bereft.  How could someone he cared so much about have once thought so little of his kind?  Of him?  He thought, even during their brief exchange at the thrift store, that there had been a connection... a meeting of like spirits.  But hearing this...  He shook his head.

Monica knelt beside him on the cushions and at last made eye contact.  Even through her own tears, she could see that Arthur's eyes were clouded.  "Oh Arthur..."  She caressed his cheek.  "I was so blind and so confused.  My own memories... memories that should have told me I knew better... I grasped for them but... nothing."

The man shook his head, trying to make sense of everything she was telling him and his own memories of her... all poise and beauty and kindness... on that day.  "I... I guess it was goofy.  Ridiculous even.  But I thought, even then, for a moment we connected on some deep level b-but now I find out that right after that you..."  Arthur felt sick.  If he'd been so wrong then, maybe he was wrong now.  Maybe he wasn't particularly special to her.  Maybe she didn't care about him beyond a casual feeling of goodwill.

"We did!" the angel cried.  "I... I felt something.  I did.  Something like I'd never felt before and had never felt since until... til October.  And in... in the desert... even when I lost so much of myself when he... he was tempting me... I still held onto that.  But he... he used it."

"Used it how?" Arthur pressed as gently as he could.  He was angry and hurt but she looked so devastated, so fragile.

"He put before me a... a vision.  A vision of a life he said could be mine if I... left."  Monica squeezed her eyes shut.  She couldn't bear to see Arthur as she told him of what she'd seen.  "I... I was human.  And we were married.  We had a daughter... a wee girl named Tess.  And I... I was pregnant.  He said that you were a good man and we would... love each other tremendously."  She sobbed.  "He made me feel the baby kick a-and the... the warmth of our home.  And I... I wanted that life."

Arthur groaned softly.  So she had felt something when they'd met... and it had cost her.  What Monica described wasn't entirely unlike the daydreams he'd had after that brush at the store.  But at least those dreams had arisen from his own mind, his own heart.  Monica's abandonment hurt.  He couldn't deny that.  But she hadn't deserved to be preyed upon like that, especially not at a time when she was so vulnerable.  And to use the promise of a child...  Satan had struck just where he knew it would most hurt.  Arthur closed his eyes against the memory of trying to comfort Monica after she'd had to tell some of the Filipino parents that their children hadn't made it.  As he had then, he wrapped his arms around her and gently rocked her.

Monica felt him softly kiss her hair.  She remembered the other kiss, the kiss that hadn't truly happened.  She caught a glimpse of them in a mirror that hung on the opposite wall and gasped.  The Arthur who Satan had counterfeited had embraced and loved his serene, glowing wife and mother of his children.  But this Arthur... the real Arthur who God had made... embraced a weeping angel with bloodshot eyes and mussed hair who had just confessed to wishing to abandon the entire human race and who could never, ever share his bed or give him children.  The sweet, easy love Satan had boasted about giving her was nothing to this worn and weary but steadfast love that God had brought to her.

Arthur sighed when she brought one of his hands to her lips.  "I... I'm glad you didn't listen to him.  That you came back.  Because... if he's to be believed... which is a big if... I could have had you for a lifetime but lost you for eternity.  I'd rather have eternity, Monica.  And I'd rather have you in my life as the angel you were created to be and not... not anything else."  As he spoke the words, Arthur knew he meant them honestly.  Yes, he had treasured dreams of a quiet life with her as his wife, settled in a cozy home with their kids.  But that wasn't reality.  He couldn't remain infatuated with a phantom woman when her existence would have cost this girl he loved everything.  His embrace tightened.  "Please tell me how you came back."

Monica was slow to answer.  Arthur's words had touched her deeply and for several moments she could make no response.  She'd never felt anything so close to God's love... not even with Tess or Andrew or Adam or Gloria.  Any remaining question she'd ever had about why Andrew so often chose to be among his human friends when he could have gone Home evaporated.  Now she truly understood that he felt God with them, too.

Finally, the angel drew in a slow, shaky breath.  "The vision, the temptation, fell apart when I heard God calling out for me... telling me He loved me.  He loved me still... even after all those terribly wrong, judgmental things I'd thought and said.  I told Him that I loved Him, that I loved all of you.  That I knew that within humans there is a tremendous capability and willingness to love.  I-I just wanted to go back to serving Him as His angel and helping humanity... beautiful, wonderful humanity.  I asked for His forgiveness and He granted it to me.  And He... He sent me a lilac... because He knew I love them.  Then I... I did come back.  I went to the hospital and I spoke to some of the victims, telling them God loved them.  There was a... a wee girl I had met earlier in the day.  I thought she had died b-but she hadn't yet...  God let me tell her she would be going Home to Him and to her mommy.  So I... I did.  Then Andrew took her Home.  And I-I saw you.  Helping them, comforting them.  You... you'd been there the whole time.  You'd never left them."


"You hadn't," she pressed on.  "And I was so moved.  You were the proof of... of all those beliefs, those truths about humans that had been restored to me.  I... I went to you.  And for just a moment I set my hand on your shoulder and I told you that you were so, so loved and the Father was so pleased with you.  He still is, Arthur.  And He still loves you.  And I... I am so grateful to Him for bringing you back into my life.  If what you know now changes how you feel about me, how you see me... then I understand.  I do.  But I will always cherish these two months and..."

"No," Arthur cut in.

Monica sat up straight, pulling away, and looked at him in alarm.

Seeing the shame and regret in her eyes, odd little moments during the past two months began to make sense to Arthur.  Even if he'd wanted to hurt her, a prospect he found unbearable, nothing he could say or do would equal the punishment she'd pushed onto herself.  He shook his head.  "No," he repeated.  "I... I'm not letting you finish this 'It's okay to leave' speech because I... I'm not leaving, Monica."  He brushed away some of the hair that clung to her tear-streaked face.  He thought of that first dinner together... the way he had hung on her every word and soaked in the pure joy contained in her laughter.  He thought of the first time she'd brought him to Dyeland and run around with his hand in hers, excitedly showing him the sights of Asteri.  He thought of how lovely she had looked as his Queen Guenevere on Halloween and how proud he'd been to bring her to the shelter's party.  And then the past month... they'd seen so much despair, so much pain, so much loss.  But still, with her, he felt peace.  God had blessed him so much.  He hugged Monica tightly then held her just far enough from him that he could peer into her eyes.  "I was shocked when you started your story... still am a little.  And I was angry and hurt.  But now, having heard all of it, I think... I think maybe you've carried around and focused on the wrong part of the story, Monica.  Yes, you walked away.  But you also walked back.  And you never walked away again, I take it?"

Monica shook her head.  "Never again."

"I thought so.  So you're not leaving.  And as for me, I'm not leaving... because I love you."

Fresh tears welled in the angel's eyes, however, they were tears neither of regret nor worry.  She had believed Arthur loved her, truly loved her, and Andrew, JenniAnn, and Tess made no secret of believing as much.  But never had Arthur said it.  Until now.  "I... I love you, too," she replied.  She cupped his face in her hands and planted a soft kiss on his forehead then smiled.  "Thank you for listening... and not giving up on me."

Arthur smiled, too.  "I think we've proven tonight that you can definitely surprise me... but you could never make me give up on you.  I spent over twelve years pining for you so how could I ever turn my back on you?"  He grinned, relieved to see Monica smiling again but longing to hear her laugh.  "Besides, I think it might be dangerous if I did.  I'm fighting visions of Andrew and JenniAnn chasing me down the street armed with a baseball bat and... and a ruler."

Monica giggled.  "A ruler?"

"Well, she teaches, doesn't she?  I didn't know what other kind of weapon she might have access to.  I'd rather not find out, frankly.  And Tess... she'd go get herself one of those superhero cars and then I'd really be sorry."

"Adam could lead a legion of turkeys."

"To peck me to bits."

"Rose, Max, Kemara, and Violeta would come at you with their magic wands."

Arthur chuckled.  "And all of them would be justified in their anger."  He sighed and gently ran his hand through her hair.  "Have you forgiven yourself?" he questioned, all seriousness.


He noted her hesitancy.  "You said God forgave you, didn't you?"

The angel nodded.

"So why haven't you forgiven yourself?"

"I... I didn't wrong God alone," Monica explained quietly.

"You mean humanity?"


Taking her hands in his, Arthur peered into her eyes.  "Then on behalf of humanity, I, Arthur Reese, forgive you, Monica, daughter of the Most High, for walking away.  And... I thank you for walking back and walking with us ever since because that is what really matters."

Tears of happiness and of gratitude slid down Monica's cheeks.  She hugged Arthur tightly.  "Thank you, Arthur."

"You're welcome."  He noticed the wall clock read 12:30.  He wondered if he should bid her good night.  Henry's place was nearby and the angel of death had told Arthur he could stay there any time he wished.  Arthur didn't want to leave but he also didn't want to do anything to threaten the ease he hoped Monica was beginning to feel with him.  And he hadn't yet gotten a good feel for what was considered acceptable behavior.  He definitely wasn't sure about staying over.

No sooner had Arthur opened his mouth to suggest parting for the night when the wind howled and sleet began to pelt the windows.

Monica rose to get a good view and shivered.  "So unpleasant... I hope no one's out in this."  She settled back into her spot, hugging Arthur's arm.

Arthur smiled.  Maybe he'd appeal to Henry's hospitality some other time.  "I hope not, either."

They sat together in the warmth of the little room, embracing each other and thanking God for bringing them back together and to that moment.


Andrew woke just in time to see JenniAnn disappear into the hallway.  It took a moment for him to get his bearings.  He remembered falling asleep to the sound of her needle tapping against her spool.  But now, if the soft light seeping beneath the curtains was any indication, it was dawn.  And he wasn't alone.  Lulu was curled at his feet.  Kemara was across the room on the other couch.  Max, Rose, and Violeta were on the floor, each tucked into a sleeping bag.  Fawn was dozing on the loveseat where the angel guessed her mom had lately slept.  Careful not to step on the three on the floor, Andrew made his way to the hall.  Finding no sign of JenniAnn there, he proceeded to the kitchen where he found her standing in front of the coffee maker and piling plates onto the counter.  Eight of them.

"Good morning, Laja," he greeted.

JenniAnn jumped then spun around and grinned at Andrew.  "G'morning."

"So... you hosted an impromptu sleepover."

Nodding, JenniAnn hugged him.  "You were sleeping so soundly when Max came to wake you so... we decided to leave you as you were.  And not alone."

Andrew closed his eyes and rested his cheek against her hair.  "Thank you."

"Welcome.  So did you sleep well?"

The angel nodded.  "Very."  It was true.  Maybe it was sheer exhaustion or maybe it was that, on some level, he'd known some of his dearest friends had kept near him all night.  He suspected it was both but was glad that, whatever the reason, he felt rested for the first time in weeks.

"Good."  Reluctantly, JenniAnn stepped away from him.  "Need coffee...  You?"

Andrew nodded.  As he took the creamer out of the refrigerator for her, a thought he'd had right before he'd succumbed to sleep returned to him.  "When you asked me that question last night about if I would want to know about your past... you were being hypothetical, right?  I mean that was all about Monica, wasn't it?  Or was there something..."

JenniAnn laughed as she filled his mug with black coffee then began to fix her own.  "My past before you is strikingly boring.  But, actually, after you went to sleep I did remember something from when I was younger that I never told you about.  It was during college."

The angel's eye brows rose as he sipped his coffee.  "Oh?"

"Yep.  I was in some class... World Literature, I think.  And the professor was talking about some belief system in which the world ends and recreates every so many years.  And I didn't believe it, of course.  But it did make me wonder if maybe... if something like that could happen... maybe in the next incarnation of the world, we'd all switch places.  And it would be us watching over all of you angels, protecting you, reassuring you.  Because then everything would be fair after you've spent so long tending to us.  I didn't so much like the apocalyptic element... but I liked that."

"Laja..."  Andrew shook his head.  "You... neither individually nor collectively... owe us that."

"I know.  But that fleeting wish came back to me last night as I knitted and it occurred to me that... that we have the best of that now.  God didn't recreate the world and have us switch places.  But He gave us this world.  Where... where sometimes we can watch over you, protect you."

"He did," the angel of death agreed, squeezing her hand.

JenniAnn looked over at the stack of plates.  "I just... I really hope Arthur feels that way, too."

Andrew smiled gently.  "I hope so, too."  Hugging JenniAnn to him, he prayed Arthur truly did feel that way.  He knew Monica would be heartsick if he'd left and the angel of death couldn't bear that for his friend.  However, he knew that God loved her even more than he did and He would hold her close no matter what decision Arthur had made.


Back in her cottage, Monica awoke from a restful, dreamless sleep.  Then she remembered the previous night... the after dinner game, the question, the quiet walk from Willowveil to Veritas, the talk with Arthur, the sleet, and finally separating after 2:00... she to her room, Arthur remaining on the couch. 

What if he'd left?  She'd seen humans do that sometimes... disappear in the middle of the night.  She trusted him.  She believed he'd meant every word he'd said... believed that he loved her.  But what if, in the darkness of the night, Arthur had begun to question her?  To question himself and his feelings and then...

Shaking her head against the doubts, the angel grabbed her robe and walked briskly to the living room.


The quilts were folded.  The pillows stacked neatly to one side.  Arthur's coat was gone.

Tears pricked at Monica's eyes as she approached the couch, tenderly running her hand across the topmost pillow.

Then her head darted up when the front door swung open.  Arthur.  He was back and smiling widely.

"Oh good!  You're up.  I was debating whether or not to wake you.  Grab your coat and your boots!  You have to see this!"

In a daze, Monica grabbed her coat and pulled on her boots and approached him.  He took her arm and she sighed.  He was real.

"Watch your step and hold onto me.  It's a little icy."


Slowly, they walked out to a grove of trees. 

"Oh..." Monica murmured. 

When they were in the center of the trees, Arthur hugged her.  "Aren't they beautiful?  I saw them through the window when I woke up and I just had to get a closer look."

The angel could only nod as she took it all in.  The delicate trees were encased in ice and shimmered with the colors of the sunrise. 

"It's amazing, isn't it?  God turned these dormant trees into things of beauty," Arthur whispered, his voice full of awe.

"It... it's perfect." 

The man looked tenderly down at Monica and when she smiled up at him, he could only nod silently.  It truly was a perfect moment. 


As Andrew and JenniAnn sat at the table, drinking their coffee and planning out the breakfast menu, the former jumped.

"Sheesh!  You okay?  Maybe switch to decaf?" JenniAnn suggested.

Andrew chuckled.  "Yes, I'm okay.  And you're a fine one to talk about caffeine intake."

JenniAnn laughed.  "Point taken.  But..."

"My phone vibrated and I'd forgotten I had it in my pocket.  I really need to go home and change..."  He wrinkled his nose at the sight of his crumpled khakis.  "But let's see what..."  He navigated to the text message and smiled.  "Hey so... pretty sure Arthur and Monica are just fine."  He turned the phone to face his friend.

JenniAnn beamed as she looked at the photo of the two standing in front of glistening trees.  "Thank God."

"Definitely."  Andrew turned the phone back to him when it sounded again.  "They say they'll be here in an hour so... I'll go get changed and cleaned up real quick, we can see if the others want to get up yet, and then... I think we all need to do some tree watching ourselves before they get here and we get breakfast... Laja..."  He reached across the table for her hand when he noticed she was crying.  "You okay?"

"Oh... Oh yeah.  Definitely okay.  Good tears.  I just... I need to go to my room for just a bit.  It's a good thing just... need to talk to Someone."

Andrew smiled.  Joshua was about to get an earful... and he would love it.  "I understand.  I'll run back home and then meet you outside the parlor.  Take your time."

With a hug, they parted and JenniAnn went to her bedroom.  She pulled her Bible from her nightstand and turned to the passage she had marked years before.  There, resting just below Mark 11:25 was a frayed, flimsy coffee sleeve... the one from the latte "Jack" had bought her the day she and Monica had made peace. 

"Thank You," she murmured.  "It's funny, You know?  Three years ago I could have gleefully screamed at Monica for hours.  Now... now I just want her to be happy... both here and Home.  And she is.  And I'm really, really grateful for that.  I don't know what Your plans are for Arthur and Monica.  Heck, I don't know what your plans are for Andrew or me or any of us.  But I know they're good and beautiful a-and more wonderful than we can even imagine."  She blushed.  "And if You ever wanna come back again like... like in Jack mode...maybe I could get the coffee that time?  Sorry.  I'm being goofy.  I didn't sleep much.  But I guess You know that.  Anyhow... thank You.  Love You."

After gently closing the Bible, JenniAnn set about preparing for the day ahead... certain it would be a good one.


After breakfast, Andrew and Monica found themselves alone for a few minutes after Rose, Max, and Violeta had returned to their movie watching while Arthur, JenniAnn, and Kemara had insisted on doing the breakfast dishes... alone.  Sensing they wanted some time to talk, the two angels hadn't argued.  They were just as eager to speak with each other privately.

"So everything's good?" Andrew checked.

Monica turned away from the enchanting, wintery view outside the ballroom window to smile and nod at the angel of death.  "Better than good."

Andrew hugged her.  "And for that... I am very, very glad.  I like Arthur a lot.  And I'm glad that now..."  He halted.  He'd known for a long time that Monica had been jealous of his friendships with the Dyelanders, chiefly the one he shared with JenniAnn.  He'd never said anything to her about it, knowing it would embarrass her.  Now she would never need to feel that again.  Andrew was sure of that.  "I'm glad you have each other," he finished.

"Me too.  Andrew, I... I feel like I understand much better who... who you are.  Who you've always been.  I wish I had earlier but..."

Andrew chuckled.  "Monica, it's a little hard to understand someone who kinda had a problem with the whole confiding his feelings thing."

Monica smiled tenderly at him.  "I know.  I could have tried more, though.  But maybe sometimes... sometimes it takes a human to push past those defenses."

"I think so."



Monica looked to her folded hands, her cheeks flushing slightly.  "I told him I loved him."

The angel of death grinned.  "Well, you are the Angel of Truth so... you should be honest.  That's honest."

"Yes..."  Monica knew what she felt.  She was grateful for what she felt.  But what did it mean?  She hoped her older, wiser friend knew.  "But how... why?"

Andrew settled on the couch and rested his arm around Monica's shoulders when she joined him.  "I've spent a lot of time thinking about it.  And this much I know... the Father willed it all.  And Joshua?"  He chuckled.  "Sometimes he just can't help himself from getting directly involved.  Ya know, I put something together last month...  I was going to tell you but then everything..."  His face clouded for a moment as he thought of their recent assignments.

Monica patted his hand.  "I know."

"Yeah..."  After letting out a slow, deep breath, he continued.  "That day of the first Coffee Summit... the big one... I got a message telling me to meet someone in a park.  It turned out to be Joshua.  And when I arrived, he had a takeout bag from Panera... a Panera I later discovered Tess had driven you and JenniAnn to.  Coincidence?  Or God remaining... well, not entirely anonymous."

Monica giggled.  "'Jack' bought us coffee and had it brought into us during our, ah... discussion."

"So I thought.  So 'Jack' clearly wanted you and JenniAnn to have your talk at that very restaurant... knowing that you're both so sentimental in an entirely good way.  Knowing that you'd make a tradition out of it.  And knowing that three years later..."

"Arthur would be there..."

"Exactly.  Remember, Joshua told me to go there last month so JenniAnn would still have company after you moved to Arthur's table.  None of this happened by chance.  I don't know what his grand plan is.  But I know that it... it's like that question Adam picked for me.  Twenty years ago, I woulda been shocked... shocked but very happy... to learn about where I am now.  And twenty years from now... something tells me we'll both be completely shocked and pretty darn happy about where we find ourselves... and neither of us will find ourselves there with only God for company... as wonderful company as He is." 

Monica pondered his words.  It was unbelievable to her that Arthur would stick around for twenty years and longer, knowing what he couldn't have with her.  And yet... she'd been so sure that the seventeen year old girl Andrew had first introduced her and Tess to would drop him as soon as she entered college.  And that now thirty one year old woman was still there, ever more in love with Andrew.  There were differences to be sure but... so much hope.  She saw hope, too, in the way Arthur's eyes had shone that morning... even brighter than the trees.  "Yes," Monica finally replied.  "I... I believe that, too, Andrew."  She sighed contentedly.  God had richly blessed her.  The future with Arthur seemed more sure and with that assurance came the possibility of drawing closer to the precious part of her past seated next to her.


"So what all do you do for Christmas?" Arthur asked shyly.  He wasn't yet entirely sure where he stood with the larger group and if he would be included in their plans.  And there was something else he hadn't quite figured out and hoped the two women could help him with.

Kemara shrugged.  "I've heard things but it's my first Christmas around these parts so I'm not sure."

JenniAnn beamed as she set some newly washed mugs in a strainer.  "Well... the given is we have a party here sometime in the month of December... depending on what works with the most people's schedules... to decorate the big tree in the ballroom.  Which reminds me... we gotta get ornaments for you two!"

Arthur and Kemara smiled at each other, both pleased to be thrust into the Dyeland traditions.

"There'll be lotsa food.  Dancing.  Santa always stops by to visit with the kids... with Adam mysteriously disappearing during that.  Games sometimes.  So that's our big thing.  But then we also try to schedule other, smaller activities and whomever wants in on those just shows up.  So like we always try to do something at the Phoenix.  Again, Santa usually makes an appearance.  Then we bake cookies and/or lead carols.  Arthur, we'd love to do something at True Light if you're willing."

"Wow.  I...  Yeah!  I'd really love that."

"Cool.  So there's that.  Then Andrew and Max would really like to do something with the veterans again.  Last year we made em blankets and hosted a party at the hospital/ counseling center."

Kemara beamed.  "I love that.  So it's not like you keep busy or anything?"

JenniAnn laughed.  "Oh no, not busy at all...  And then Christmas Eve and Christmas are kinda plan as we go.  Sometimes we have a get-together here again or at Serendipity.  Sometimes that's more quiet and smaller with some people traveling.  Oh except for sure this year some of us are going to my hometown on Christmas Eve cause we have a friend, Ivy, who is performing in a concert at her church.  So we'll do that."

"Is Ivy a former Dyelander?" Arthur asked.

Kemara shook her head.  "She was one of Andrew's and Violeta's assignments and then JenniAnn and I helped and got to know her."

"I see."

"We've been really wanting Monica to meet her so maybe the two of you could join us?" JenniAnn invited.

Arthur smiled.  Apparently he was included in a lot of plans!  "I'd really love that.  Thank you, JenniAnn.  So... do you do... is there like a gift exchange or..."

"Not officially.  People just do on their own."

"So... if you don't mind my asking... what do you... I mean do you... usually get Andrew something?" 

While Arthur fixated on the pan he was scrubbing, JenniAnn and Kemara exchanged bemused smiles.

"Well... usually I can't quite stop myself from buying him a new sweater or something.  But for the most part we're more into the sentimental, homemade gifts.  But, yeah, we do exchange presents."

"Oh.  So... what does he... when he gets or makes your present is it more..." Arthur shook his head.  He didn't want to pry but he had no idea what to get Monica for Christmas!

Kemara stifled a laugh.  Poor Arthur.

JenniAnn set a hand on the man's arm.  "We can help you pick out or make a present for Monica if you want."

Arthur blushed but smiled gratefully.  "Thank you.  I, umm, I've never had to get a lady a Christmas present except my mom."

"I'm sure you'll choose beautifully," JenniAnn assured.  "And I... I'm just really glad you're here, Arthur."

"I know I've only been around a short time but I've never seen Monica so happy," Kemara added.


"Really," the two women replied in unison.

"I really... really don't want to screw this up," the man confided.

"You won't.  I mean we all end up goofing up a bit sometimes... angels and humans alike.  But trust me on this... even when it seems to make no sense and you can't see how it's all going to work out... it just does.  Because you have love... and God who is Love... on your side, Arthur.  You and Monica both do."

Arthur let out a ragged breath then smiled again.  If anyone would know, he figured JenniAnn would.  "I know.  Thank you for the reminder."

"Any time."

Before any more could be said, Andrew and Monica trooped into the kitchen with Max trailing them.

"Sorry to intrude.  My butterbeer making skills have been requested," Andrew explained.

"Harry and his friends were drinking some and we got jealous," Max added.

"And I could do with a bit more coffee if there might be some left..."

JenniAnn grabbed the coffee pot.  "Of course."  She handed it to Monica. 

"Thank you!"  Taking it, Monica moved to the counter to prepare a cup.  Arthur moved to stand near her.



"There's something I've been meaning to tell you." 

The angel looked to him and smiled when she saw he was grinning.  "Oh?"

"Well, a few years ago at the thrift shop, we thought that we might get an increase in business if we added a little something.  So we put in a cafe and I learned how to be a barista.  I hadn't done it in a while so I was afraid the ol' skills might have gotten rusty but I was trying them out with some of the guys back in Manhattan and... turns out I make a pretty mean mocha latte."

Overhearing, Andrew chuckled.  Arthur hardly needed anything further to endear him to Monica... but his double life as a barista certainly couldn't hurt.

"Could I make you one?" the man offered eagerly.

"Yes... please."  Monica stepped away from the coffee and watched in awe... already sure it was going to be the best mocha latte she'd ever tasted.


Later that day, as the others played with Fawn and Lulu, Monica and Arthur sat in the gazebo behind Willowveil Castle.  They laughed as they watched the ecstatic dogs run from person to person, searching for their toy.

"Do you know who has it now?" Monica asked.

"Rose, I think.  And I think Fawn's onto her."  Arthur laughed when the dog made a beeline for the young woman and began nosing her coat pocket.  "And there it is."

Monica smiled.  "Arthur?"


"I'm really glad you could spend Thanksgiving with us.  And I'm even more glad for... for last night and this morning."

The man beamed.  "I'm glad, too.  Everyone's so great and has made me feel so much at home and... and you.  Monica, I've never had a happier Thanksgiving.  I've, umm..." He glanced over to where JenniAnn was hugging Andrew as they both laughed while Max played tug of war with the dogs.  "I'm not like JenniAnn with the one boyfriend to her name.  I mean not that I've had tons of girlfriends.  I've not.  But... more than one... and probably more seriously than..."  His cheeks flushed. 

Monica took his hands in hers.  "JenniAnn had her path.  You have yours.  I would never judge, Arthur.  Especially not after last night.  Tell me?"

He smiled gently.  "Thanks.  So...  Maybe it's cool to date the guy who runs the charity thrift shop.  I don't know.  But I guess it's not as cool when he needs to leave repeatedly for weeks at a time because something happened a world away.  And sometimes... sometimes I have a more difficult time adjusting back.  At first they'd want to hear all about what I'd seen but... but then they'd be ready for me to shut up and just talk about 'normal things' but 'normal' just didn't seem real to me yet. 
They wanted the do gooder boyfriend... but not all the difficulties that came with it.  So I never blamed them when they left.  But it still hurt so... so I stopped trying a while ago.  Gave up on the whole idea of being in love."

Monica sniffled.  Despite the fact that these failed relationships had worked to her favor, she hated thinking that anyone had ever hurt Arthur.

Arthur hugged her.  "Until one day when this beautiful girl walked into my shop because her friend needed a new outfit and some glasses.  And something told me that this girl would understand me.  If only we got to know each other a little better.  Because I sensed in her a deep compassion and desire to help and a gentleness and a willingness to listen and to talk honestly about both the trivial things and the really, really important things... and nothing I know now has changed that, Monica.  I look at you and I still see that... even more.  Because when I was out there alone this morning, looking at those trees, I realized that you didn't need to tell me any of that.  But you wanted me to have the chance to see you honestly.  Which makes me think that's the way you see me... honestly.  And that... that's what I need more than a wife or kids or a house with a picket fence running around it.  Someone who sees me honestly and loves me in spite of it."

"Because of it," the angel gently corrected.

Too moved to speak, Arthur bent to kiss the top of Monica's head.

After a few moments of companionable silence, Arthur startled.  "I just remembered there was something else I was thinking about this morning that I meant to tell you.  So that day you walked into the store... we'd had an influx of donations and needed to add more shelves to the backroom.  So I was trying to get those installed.  But then this guy walks in and says he was sent to get the shelves put up so I could focus on the customers.  I should have found it all a bit suspect, I guess, but there was just something so... trustworthy about him.  So I went and left him to do his shelving thing.  And to think... if he hadn't showed up, we wouldn't have met because I would have been in that backroom!  And it turned out he was a pretty stellar guy, too.  I saw him at the hospital later.  Never got a chance to talk to him there but every time I saw him, he was comforting someone... and they actually looked comforted."

The pieces began to slide together for Monica.  Mystery man.  Carpentry skills.  Trustworthy.  Comforting.  Andrew's words from earlier: 
"Sometimes he just can't help himself from getting directly involved."  "Arthur, what... what did he look like?" she questioned.

"Details are getting blurry but I still remember his general description because later I asked my supervisor about him.  Maybe mid-thirties.  Middle Eastern descent.  Not incredibly handsome but he had a good quality to him.  My supervisor didn't know who I was talking about."  Arthur smiled.  "I always wondered if he was an angel.  So... sound like any angels you know?"

Monica stared up at the sky, her eyes misting.  "There... there are many angels who could fit that description but I think the person you saw... I think he belongs to us all."

Arthur was struck by the enigmatic response and the beatific smile on Monica's face but he sensed he needed to leave it at that... an enigma.  And he was content to remain in that mystery and whatever other mysteries came his way... so long as she was with him.

The End

Credits: As with "The Coffee Summit," Monica's temptation remembrances were heavily inspired by "Netherlands."  Also, "God never created anything stronger than the power of real love. It lives forever, and you never know where it's coming from next" is one of Monica's lines from the episode "The One That Got Away."

Other references:
John 8: 32
Harry Potter
Mark 11:25

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