"You convinced her to tell Catherine the baby wasn’t Ted’s?” The question came from Gabriel and had the ring of challenge in it.

"Not entirely on my own, mind you,” Mercy was quick to add, her eyes avoiding Gabriel’s.

"But Blythe did confess the truth?” Goodness wanted to know.

"Yes, and soon afterward Ted proposed to Joy.”

"Wonderful.” Shirley clapped her hands together.

"Where are they now?”

"The two are spending Christmas Eve with Catherine.”

"How sweet,” Shirley said with a romantic sigh.

"Perhaps you’d care to explain what old Charles said about a certain angel visiting him,” Gabriel said sternly.

"Ah…well…”

"I seemed to hear something about you speaking to Joy Palmer and instructing her to keep a party dress. What was that all about?”

Once again Mercy cast a flustered, helpless look at Gabriel. "I think I might have helped Charles.”

"Were you assigned to him?”

"No.” Mercy swallowed tightly.

"That’s what I thought. Now about the dress?”

"It’s the most perfectly beautiful dress you’ve ever seen. Joy looked absolutely spectacular in it. She was going to return it to the department store, and I knew she was going to regret that,” Mercy explained, talking so fast the words blended together. "I was working hard on Blythe, and I knew she was close to confessing the truth. It didn’t make sense for Joy to take back a party dress when she was going to need it so soon.”

"Soon?”

"New Year’s Eve party at Ted’s company,” Mercy said, in the know. "He got the invitation last week.”

"So you’ve taken to reading his mail?” Gabriel asked in a deep, rich voice that spoke of disapproval.

"Not always,” Mercy admitted. "Just sometimes.”

"I see.” The archangel didn’t look any too pleased.

"They’re going to marry, aren’t they?” Mercy wanted to know.

Once more Gabriel hesitated before revealing the future. "Ted and Joy. Yes.”

"Children?”

"Three. Two boys and a girl, in rapid succession. They name their daughter Catherine.”

"What about Blythe and her baby?” The question came from Shirley, which made sense. As a former guardian angel, Shirley was often concerned about children’s welfare.

"Blythe will deliver a healthy baby boy this coming summer. After counseling and a good deal of soul-searching, she’ll decide to give the child up for adoption. Blythe will personally choose his parents, and the two will exchange letters for the first year. Giving her son a good home was probably the most unselfish act of her life. It helps mature her.”

"Does she marry?” Goodness asked. It seemed only right that Blythe find happiness.

"Yes, to a friend of Ted and Joy’s. They’ll introduce them two years from now, and the couple will marry after a whirlwind courtship. Blythe and her husband will have two children.”

"So everything turned out well in the end.”

"It wasn’t the end,” Gabriel corrected, "but the beginning.”

"That’s so romantic,” Mercy said, and sighed. She rested her cheek on the back of her hands and floated several feet off the ground.

"I can’t get over how good we are,” Shirley said, and buffed her nails against her chest. "I mean, when we first started out, who would have believed we’d meet with such unabashed success?”

"Not I,” Gabriel was the first to agree. "I was sure each one of these assignments was far more complicated than any of you were capable of handling.”

"The key to our success,” Shirley informed him primly, "is that we work so well together.”

"That’s it,” Mercy agreed, crossing her arms and wearing a smug look. "We’re willing to help each other.”

"Is that right,” Goodness said, her arms folded over her chest as well. She tapped her foot just so they’d remember exactly how little help she had gotten from her two best friends. "I seem to recall that the two of you were at the Forum while I was stuck with Paul, who completely ignored me.”

"Of course Goodness had a more difficult assignment,” Shirley said, rushing to get all the words out.

"That she did,” Mercy agreed.

"Tell me about Karen and her mother,” Gabriel asked, apparently looking to sidetrack the three before they broke into an argument.

"Well, Karen’s spending the night with her dad.”

"Is she enjoying herself?”

"Yes. Brian’s new wife is a gentle creature, and Karen’s half brother is as cute as a bug’s ear. Karen’s crazy about him. I overheard Brian suggesting that once Karen is a little older, she can baby-sit for them.”

"Sure, he thinks he doesn’t need to pay his own daughter.” The cynical remark came from Mercy.

"You might be right about that,” Shirley added in a whisper.

"What about Maureen, Thom, and Paula?” Gabriel asked next.

"They’re having a good time. After dinner, they finish decorating the tree, then Thom convinces Maureen to take a ride with him and Paula. He drives around to the parade of homes decorated for Christmas. The same route he took with the girls that Friday night.”

"What I want to know is how Maureen met a man as perfect for her as Thom?” Goodness asked.

Shirley clasped her hands behind her back and whistled. "Don’t look at me,” she said when Goodness focused her attention on her. "Really. All I did was place the brochure at Maureen’s disposal.”

"Rather pointedly, as I recall,” Goodness reminded her.

Gabriel frowned. "There was a little something about mixed-up phone calls, as I remember.”

"Yes, well, that was just a little thing, don’t you think?”

Gabriel ignored the question. "Go on,” he instructed, gesturing toward Shirley. "I’m curious as to what’s happening between Thom and Maureen.”

"I am, too, but what I still want to know is how, out of all the stables in the world, Shirley found Thom’s. He’s helped her through every hurdle. I can’t believe that the Maureen Woods we first met is the same woman who stood before her ex-husband this evening and apologized.”

"I was rather proud of her myself,” Shirley admitted. "It took real courage to face Brian and admit she was wrong.”

"Raw courage,” Goodness amended. "She couldn’t have done it without Thom’s encouragement.”

Gabriel cleared his throat. "Moving on, let’s discuss—”

"Moving on?” Mercy looked up at the archangel. Slowly her gaze met Goodness’s, and then Goodness’s wide gaze traveled to Shirley.

"Could it be?” Goodness whispered to her friends, "that our very own Gabriel, the renowned archangel, isn’t beneath a little manipulation of his own?”

"How else do we explain Thom and Maureen meeting?” Mercy wanted to know.

"How else do we explain a whole lot of other matters?” Shirley raised the question suspiciously.

"Thom and Maureen will marry this summer,” Gabriel said, ignoring them. Goodness noted that he didn’t need to be prodded to explain the future this time. She guessed he was grateful to turn the subject away from himself.

So Gabriel had arranged for Thom and Maureen to meet, Goodness mused. Would wonders never cease? Apparently not.

"Maureen will give up her job with the bank and take over the bookkeeping duties for Thom,” he told them. "When she sees the mess his ledgers are in, she’ll think he married her just because she knows how to balance a checkbook.”

"What about Paula and Karen?” Shirley asked.

"They remain the best of friends even as stepsisters. They’ll have some loud fights in their teenage years, but nothing will ever stand between them. Not other friends, not boys, not school.

"When Karen said they’d decided to be friends for life, she wasn’t joking. The two were able to help each other in ways their parents couldn’t.”

"That’s wonderful,” Shirley said.

"What about Thom and Maureen?”

"They have two more children. Two little boys, a year apart. Thom loves his daughters, but the afternoon his first son is born, Thom Nichols will shed tears of joy.”

"Does Maureen ever learn to ride?” Mercy asked.

"Not really. She leaves the horseback riding to Thom and the girls.”

"I can’t say that I blame her,” Shirley said, and it was clear to Goodness that her dignity had taken a beating on her one venture atop a horse.

"We did good, don’t you think?” Goodness asked Gabriel. She felt worlds better knowing that Paul hadn’t turned his back on the ministry.

"You three amaze me.”

"Can we do it again?” Shirley asked eagerly.

"New York City,” Mercy suggested. "Now there’s a city that could use a few more angels.”

"You’re getting ahead of yourself,” Gabriel cautioned. "Let’s take one Christmas at a time.”

They started to rise skyward, the four of them together, drifting effortlessly upward toward the realm of glory. Heavenly music floated down to greet them. Songs unlike anything sung on earth. Thick white clouds parted, ushering them home. It was a night to celebrate.

***

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