Harry's prayer rose upward, higher and higher through the snow-laden branches of the evergreens. His petition to God whisked its way past the thick white clouds, carried by the warm winds of his love to the very desk of the Archangel Gabriel. There it landed.

"Harry Alderwood," Gabriel muttered, turning the pages of the massive book that detailed the prayers and lives of the faithful. "Ah, yes, Harry." Gabriel remembered the older man. Harry didn't pray often and seemed to believe he shouldn't bother God with his petty concerns. Little did the old man know how much God liked to talk to His children, how He longed to listen to them.


Having the ear of God and sharing His love for humans, Gabriel felt tenderness for this man who was so close to making the journey from life into death. In many cases when death was imminent, the veil between Heaven and Earth was especially thin. Harry accepted that he was dying but he clung to life, fearful of leaving behind those he loved - especially his wife, Rosalie.

Harry's days were few, even fewer than the old man realized, and that brought a certain urgency to his prayer. Unfortunately, Christmas was only eight days away, and Gabriel was swamped with requests.

Two prayers had now reached him, almost simultaneously, from the small Washington town of Leavenworth. The second was from Carter Jackson, a small boy who felt he could trust God more than Santa.

Carter's prayer wouldn't be any easier to answer than Harry Alderwood's. Requests like this got even more complicated at Christmastime. Heaven was busy, busy, busy. There was work to be done, prayers to be answered, angels to be assigned.

Gabriel studied the list of available Prayer Ambassadors and saw that his three favorite angels were indeed free. Shirley, Goodness and Mercy were close to his heart, but there'd been problems with them in the past.

Lots of problems.

Mercy, for example, tended to become too engrossed with the things of Earth. Gabriel shook his head in a mixture of amusement and irritation. No matter how short-handed he was, he dared not let those three visit Earth again. Giving Mercy the opportunity to be around forklifts and escalators was asking for trouble.

Not once could Gabriel remember assigning her a prayer request without regretting it afterward. Okay, perhaps regret was too strong a word. Mercy always managed to straighten everything out at the last second and he had to admit, she did make him laugh. But Mercy with Harry Alderwood...

"Poor Harry," Gabriel whispered.

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"Harry," Mercy repeated from behind him.

She had a bad habit of sneaking up on him and Gabriel did his best not to leap back in surprise. Controlling his reaction, he turned to face the Prayer Ambassador. She was the picture of innocence, wide-eyed and hopeful.

"Did I hear you mention Harry Alderwood?" she asked, as her wings made small rustling sounds. This happened whenever she was excited. The mere prospect of returning to Earth had Mercy nearly breathless with anticipation.

"You did," he said.

"If there's any way I could be of service," Mercy volunteered, "I'd be more than happy to help."

"I'm sure you would, but there's the small matter of - "

Mercy interrupted him, raising her hand. "If you're going to bring up that unfortunate incident with the aircraft carrier, I want to point out that I've repented."

"Actually," Gabriel said, clearing his throat. "I was thinking about the time you rerouted that 747."


Mercy's cheeks colored, as well they should. That had been the final straw as far as Gabriel was concerned. "I don't know if I can trust you back on Earth," he said pensively. But the number of available Prayer Ambassadors was limited....

"Please, please, please, give me another chance," Mercy begged, hands folded.

For all the trouble she caused, Mercy did have a certain knack for getting prayers answered. What humans didn't always grasp was that prayer requests usually required participation on their end. God liked it when His children trusted Him with their needs, but the Almighty Father welcomed human cooperation, too.

"Harry's prayer just arrived," Gabriel said with some hesitation. "He knows his remaining time on Earth is brief."

"Doesn't he realize he'll receive a new body once he gets to Heaven?" Mercy asked, seeming surprised by the older man's reluctance to leave Earth. "It's so much better here."

"He knows," Gabriel said. Perhaps it would be best if he allowed her a view of Harry and Rosalie. "Come and meet Harry," the Archangel invited and with one wide sweep of his arm, he whisked away the veil between Heaven and Earth. A moment later the two of them were able to look down upon the town of Leavenworth.

"Harry, is that you?" Rosalie called when he stepped into the house and closed the door against the bitter December wind.

"It's me," Harry replied in a strained voice. He felt short of breath, and his mind was full of what Dr. Snellgrove had told him. He knew Rosalie couldn't cope without him; he also knew he'd have to trust that God would answer his prayer.

"I have lunch ready," his wife said as he entered the kitchen.

He had little appetite, but Harry couldn't disappoint Rosalie, since she'd made the effort of preparing their meal. At this stage, she only remembered a few of her favorite recipes. Almost always, they had canned soup for dinner. No doubt that was what she'd made for lunch, too.

Food didn't interest Harry much anymore. He ate because it was necessary but without any real enjoyment.

Coming into the kitchen, he saw that he'd guessed correctly. Rosalie had heated up soup. Two steaming bowls filled with bright red tomato soup sat on the kitchen table. What was left in the small saucepan was boiling madly on the stove. When Rosalie turned her back to bring the silverware to the table, Harry reached over and switched off the burner.

Soon he joined his wife at the round oak table in the small alcove. They bowed their heads, and Harry murmured grace. When he finished, Rosalie smiled softly, her eyes brimming with love. "How did everything go at the doctor's, sweetheart?"

Rather than worry her, Harry simply nodded. "I'm as fit as can be expected for a man of my age."

Rosalie looked back at him with concern. She seemed about to ask him more but changed her mind. He'd told her what she wanted to hear.

"Is soup all right?" she asked.

"It's perfect." Not sure how to broach the subject of moving, Harry swallowed three spoonfuls of his lunch, then paused. This wouldn't be the first time he'd brought it up - far from it. He carefully set his spoon on the place mat.

"How's that nice Dr. Snellgrove?" Rosalie asked, shakily lifting a spoonful of soup to her mouth. She helped herself to crackers from the box and crumbled them in her bowl, one cracker at a time.

"I like him."

"I do, too. Did he give you another prescription?"

Harry shook his head. As it was, the visiting nurse, who stopped by the house every second day, had to use a chart to keep his medications straight.

"You're going to be fine, aren't you?" his wife asked.

Harry saw that her face had tightened with fear. "Of course I am. It's...it's just a matter of getting the proper rest."

She instantly relaxed. "Good. I don't know what I'd do without you."

Harry didn't, either. He sighed. Perhaps he should take this opportunity to introduce the subject - again. "I was thinking that the upkeep on the house is too much for me." Harry felt that if he described the idea of moving to assisted living as something he needed, he might have a better chance of convincing her.

Rosalie ignored the comment. Although her face had wrinkled with age, Harry saw her as he had that first time, sixty-six years ago. She'd worked at the lunch counter at a Woolworth's store in Seattle. Harry had gone over from Yakima to take a short training course, shortly after he'd gotten an underwriting position with the insurance company. He'd worked for the same company for more than forty years.

It had been his first trip to the big city, and the crowds and noise had overwhelmed him. A friend had suggested they stop at the lunch counter for a bite to eat. One look at Rosalie, and he was completely smitten. Until then, he would've scoffed at the very thought of love at first sight. He never did again. One look and he'd fallen head over heels for his beautiful Rosalie.


He blinked, surprised at the way he'd become immersed in his memories.

"You're finished your lunch?" she asked.

"Yes," he murmured. "I'm not very hungry." She didn't seem to be eating much herself, he noticed.

"I'll fix you something later," Rosalie suggested.

"That would be good." He lingered at the table. "Dr. Snellgrove wants me to use my walker."

Rosalie pinched her lips together. "Haven't I been saying the same thing? If you fall down again, I won't be able to help you up, sweetheart."

This was a problem. A week ago, he'd fallen and, struggle as he might, he couldn't get back on his feet. Rosalie had tried to help and soon they were both exhausted. As a last resort, she'd phoned the fire station. They'd sent out an entire crew, embarrassing Harry no end, although the firefighters couldn't have been nicer. He purposely hadn't mentioned the incident to Dr. Snellgrove. No reason to. He was fine, a bit chagrined, but no worse for wear.

With careful movements, Harry shuffled into the family room and settled down in front of the television. Rosalie carried their soup bowls to the sink and after rinsing them out, sat in her own chair, beside his.

"Oprah will be on soon," she informed him.

This was her way of letting him know she'd be watching the talk show. Rosie liked Oprah and Dr. Phil, and while she'd grown forgetful in some areas, she had no trouble remembering when her favorite shows were on. Harry hated to admit it, but he'd come to enjoy them, too. The complete lack of common sense exhibited by some of the folks on those programs continued to astonish him, and he was always heartened by the occasional portrayals of heroism.

"We might think about visiting Liberty Orchard one of these days," he said, reclining in his chair. He reached for the afghan Rosalie had knit him years earlier and spread it on his lap. The cold never seemed to leave him.

"I don't see any rush, do you?" Rosalie asked.

Rather than go into what Dr. Snellgrove had told him, Harry said, "Like I was saying earlier, this house is too much for me now. I don't see any reason to delay. We could put our name in, anyway."

"We can, I suppose," Rosalie reluctantly agreed. "But I'd rather wait until summer."

He didn't want to alarm her and decided to put the discussion off until later. Perhaps after he'd rested...

Gabriel studied Mercy. Her deep-blue eyes brimmed with compassion as she turned to him. "He's very weak."

Gabriel nodded.

"How much longer does he have?" she asked, watching the tender look Rosalie sent her husband as she left her own recliner and walked over to where Harry slept. Rosalie gently tucked the hand-knit blanket around Harry's shoulders and pressed her lips against his brow.

"Not long," Gabriel responded.

"Surely God won't take him until after Christmas?"

"Unfortunately, Harry will leave Earth before then."

"Oh, dear. So his prayer request is urgent. Someone has to convince Rosalie to move, and quickly."


"But Christmas is only about a week away!"

No one needed to tell Gabriel that. "I know."

"Oh, my."

"Are you still interested in taking on this request?" he asked, certain she'd change her mind.

Mercy bit her lip, mulling over the situation. This was the most difficult request he'd ever proposed.

"There can be no shenanigans this time," he warned.

"None," she said solemnly. Her gaze remained on the old couple, and the warmth and love that flowed between them.

"Do you think you can help Harry?" Gabriel asked, still unsure. Mercy was so easily distracted....

"I can," she said confidently. She turned again to look at him and Gabriel was shocked to see tears in her eyes. Harry Alderwood had touched Mercy's heart. Gabriel couldn't hope for anything more. Mercy would do everything in her power to prepare both Harry and his wife for a life apart, for death.

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