Lorraine and her husband, Kenny, had arrived early on Christmas Eve. Now it was two o'clock, and Rosalie was busy in the kitchen with her daughters, getting everything ready for dinner that evening. Richard and Ken sat with Harry in the family room, watching a football game on television. Two of the grandchildren would come later that afternoon.

This was all the Christmas Harry needed. With his children and two of his four grandchildren close, he was at peace.


Rising from his chair was difficult, and embarrassed by his need for it, Harry groped for the walker.

"You need any help with that, Dad?" Richard asked.

"No, I'm fine. A little slow, but fine." A bit wobbly on his feet, he glanced over at the two men who'd married his daughters. He loved them as much as he did Lorraine and Donna. They were the sons he'd never had. It was through their children that Harry and Rosalie would live on.

"Where are you going, Dad?" Lorraine asked, stepping out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. Harry didn't know what they were cooking in there, but it sure smelled good.

"I thought I'd rest for a while before dinner."

She put her arm around his waist and walked him down the hallway to the master bedroom.

Inside the room, Harry sat on the edge of his bed and Lorraine placed the walker where he could reach it once he awoke.

"I'm grateful to have this moment alone with you," he said to his oldest daughter.

"What is it, Dad?" She sat on the bed beside him.

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"After I'm gone, I'll need you to look after your mother. You and Donna."

"You know we will." Tears filled her eyes.

Harry took her hand and squeezed it. "I don't want there to be tears when I pass, understand?"

"Oh, Dad, of course there'll be tears. You have no idea how much you're loved. You're the very heart of our family."

Harry sighed, knowing their sadness couldn't be avoided. Death for him, though, would be freeing. "Donna will be here to help your mother with the move."

"Kenny and I plan to come, as well."

"Thank you." Harry wasn't sure he'd still be around by then. But everything had been set in motion, and that brought him a sense of peace. "I think I'd better rest for a while."

"Good idea." When he lay down on the quilt, she kissed him on the cheek, then rearranged his pillows.

He'd just closed his eyes when Rosalie came into the room. "How are you feeling, sweetheart?" she asked.

"I'm tired, that's all."

She picked up the afghan at the foot of the bed and covered him gently. "Rest now, and I'll wake you in time for dinner."

Harry nodded, and then, as his wife of sixty-six years was about to leave the room, he reached for her hand.

Rosalie turned back expectantly.

"I've always loved you, my Rose."

She smiled softly. "I know, Harry. And you're the love of my life."

"This life and the next."

Rosalie bent down to kiss his cheek, and Harry closed his eyes.

"Harry," Mercy whispered.

Harry Alderwood's eyes flickered open and he stared at her in astonishment. "Am I dead? In Heaven?"

Mercy nodded. "Look," she said, with a gesture that swept from his head to his feet. "You're not old anymore. You're young again."


"You'll see her soon," Mercy promised him. "And when she gets here, she'll be the young woman you met all those years ago."

"I saw you before," Harry said, pointing at Mercy. "That night I forgot my walker."

Mercy smiled. "That was me."

"You helped me, and I'm most appreciative."

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy surrounded Harry. "Come with us," Mercy said. "Your parents and your brother are waiting for you."

"Mom and Dad?" he asked excitedly. "And Ted, too?"

Mercy smiled again. "Everyone. All of Heaven has been waiting for your arrival. We're celebrating Christmas and you'll see - it's nothing like it is on Earth."

Gabriel appeared before them. "Harry Alderwood?"

Harry, young and handsome, nodded.

"Welcome to Paradise," Gabriel said. "I'll take over from here." The Archangel looked at the three Prayer Ambassadors, dismissing them. "I'll be joining you shortly."

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy stood in the choir loft at Leavenworth First Christian Church for the seven o'clock Christmas Eve service. Once they were finished here, they'd join Beth and her family at Midnight Mass in Seattle.

As the organ music swelled with the opening strains of "O Holy Night," Goodness leaned over to her friends. "Just wait until these humans hear the music in Heaven. Boy, are they in for a surprise."

"Like Harry," Mercy said. She'd served God as a Prayer Ambassador but she'd never assisted in the crossing before now. Watching as the frail body of Harry Alderwood was transformed into that of a young man had been a moving experience. His spirit had been set free from his weak and failing heart, free from his pain and free from the restraints of the world.

"Like Harry," Gabriel agreed, suddenly standing beside them. He focused his attention on Mercy. "You did well."

"Thank you," she said humbly. "I'm glad I was there to escort him to Heaven."

"How's his family doing?" Mercy asked, concerned for Rosalie and Harry's daughters. She couldn't imagine what it must've been like for Rosalie to come into the bedroom and find that her husband had died in his sleep.

"It's never easy for those on Earth to lose a loved one," Gabriel told them.

"They don't understand, do they?"

"Not yet," Gabriel said. "For now, they're looking through a dim glass. Soon, each one will know, each one will have his or her own experience and understand that death is not just an end but a beginning. A true beginning."

"How's Rosalie?"

"At the moment, she's overwhelmed by grief. Her daughters are with her, though, and their love will sustain her. One or both of them will stay here until she's settled in Liberty Orchard."

That reassured Mercy.

The music came to a halt and the minister, Pastor Williams, stepped over to the podium in the front of the church.

"I have two announcements to make before we proceed with the Christmas program," he said. "I've received word that Harry Alderwood passed away this afternoon. I ask that we keep Rosalie and her family in our prayers."

Hushed murmurs rippled through the congregation.

"Also, as many of you know, the Jacksons lost their home in a fire last night. Fortunately, they have insurance. However, all their belongings have been destroyed. They're staying with relatives in Wenatchee right now, but if the people of our community could open their hearts to this young family, I know you will be blessed."

"That's Carter's family," Shirley said, glancing at her friends.

"Ah, yes, Carter," Gabriel muttered, turning a suspicious look on Shirley.

"I promise you I didn't have anything to do with the house fire," she said, holding up her hands.

"I know - because the three of you were out rearranging the street displays."

"Ah..." Mercy stared down at her feet. It was just a little thing, something they'd done for enjoyment. Surely Gabriel wouldn't mind. The residents didn't seem to.

"You knew about the fire?" Shirley asked the Archangel.

"I did."

"What happened?" Clearly, curiosity was getting the better of her. "How did it start?"

Gabriel leaned against the railing in the choir loft. "You remember that Christmas tree David Jackson found by the Dumpster?" he asked.


"There was a reason it'd been thrown away."

"It shorted out?"

Gabriel nodded. "Carter's mother didn't turn off the lights when they went to bed because she was afraid that once she did, they wouldn't come back on." He sighed. "Foolishly they hadn't checked the batteries in their smoke alarm."

"Oh, dear."

"The fire, while devastating, will work out well for the family. The insurance will take care of replacing their earthly possessions. David, Carter's father, will soon be offered a new job at higher pay."

"And his mother?"

"She'll get that job with the school district and the family will be able to afford Rusty without a problem."

"That's wonderful news," Goodness said.

"What about Rusty?" Shirley asked.

"He'll live a good life and a long one. Rusty will be Carter's constant companion. They'll remain close until Rusty dies when he's sixteen human years old."

"Oh-h-h," all three of them breathed.

"Carter will remember his dog for the rest of his life." Gabriel touched Shirley's arm. "Well done."

Shirley beamed at his praise.

"Tell us about Beth Fischer," Goodness said.

"Ah, yes, Beth and Peter. They're going to step into church right now." In the blink of an eye, it was almost midnight. The three Prayer Ambassadors and Gabriel made the transition from Leavenworth First Christian to St. Al-phonsus Catholic Church in Seattle.

The loft was crowded with members of the choir, resplendent in their long red robes. The music had just begun when Goodness saw Beth walking into the church with Peter at her side. A smile came over her as Beth and Peter entered the pew where the Fischer family was sitting.

Even from this distance, Goodness could see the surprise on Joyce Fischer's face as Beth gestured toward Peter. Soon Joyce and Peter were hugging.

"What'll happen with them?" Goodness asked. "Do they remarry?"

Gabriel grinned. "Yes, they'll wed just a few weeks from now. They've both learned from their mistakes."

"They'll have children, won't they?"

"Three," Gabriel said. "Two boys and a girl."

"Please tell me they won't name their children after their characters from World of Warcraft." Goodness grimaced and shook her head.

Gabriel laughed. "Don't worry. The oldest boy will be John, the daughter Mary and the youngest boy's going to be named Tim."

"For Timixie?"

"You'll have to ask them."

"I can?" Goodness squealed excitedly.

"Not for many years but in time, yes, you'll have that opportunity."

Goodness couldn't possibly have looked more pleased.

"I believe we're late," Gabriel said, ushering the three toward Heaven.

"Silent Night" played softly at the church as Gabriel, along with Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, returned to Heaven, where the joyous celebration of the Savior's birth was about to take place.

"Peace on Earth," Gabriel murmured as they ascended.

"And goodwill to all mankind," Shirley added. "Dogs, too."

Goodness and Mercy laughed as the gates of Heaven opened to bring them home.

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