Tuesday, December 6, 2016


A Just for Fun Christmas Fiction
Celia Jolley

Noelle bit her lip to keep from arguing and just took another sip of her coffee.  As events coordinator at her church, it was her place to put her two bits in, but the last word was left to their worship leader, Curt.  After all, he was a well-known contemporary Christian music recording artist.  Their church was blest to have him on staff when he wasn't out on tour.  Besides, he was one of her dearest friends, not to mention her brother-in-law. 

"Kenner Coble and I have been friends since we played together in our garage band in high school.  We just, shall we say, parted ways as we got older: I went one way and he, the other.  But he's been on my prayer list all these years.  So when he contacted me about possibilities for a concert in our area, I decided to invite him to be a part of our Christmas concert this year.  He's excited about it.  It's a slow time for artists in the secular world, but it is a great opportunity to remind him what the truth of Christmas is really about.  I'm not claiming in any way that he is a Christian, but he is a soul who needs the message our Savior came to bring," Curt stated.

He went on sealing the deal when he asked, "Okay, which of you just listen to Christmas music known to be sung only by Christian artists?  Don't you all listen to the season's songs sung by any and all vocalists?"

"Okay, you've won me over," Pastor Sinclair admitted.  "See what can be arranged."

"I'm not saying we should bring him along with us just to increase our audience, but it sure won't hurt to have the attention his name will bring.   Just saying that there may be others who can be reached for Christ when they come hear the message of Christmas in our sanctuary."

"I still don't like it." Noelle sounded like she was whining, but went on.  "It's not like I read the gossip columns, but with the internet, it's hard to miss seeing this guy's antics.  He's a big time player known for his star-studded sleazy behavior as much as his music.  I hate to think that his reputation will be associated with our church."

"I see his call to me as almost a cry for help, if you really want to know." Curt went on, "I know this guy, and this opportunity to reach him is golden.  I suggest we all really pray.  His conversion would mean quite a witness to the world."  He looked at Noelle, "You know more than anyone else in this meeting that I wasn't always a shining example.  In my most hopeless time, your sister reached out to me in college.  Well, the rest is history, except to say that without her being in my life, I don't think I would have been used of God like I have been.  Kenner is grasping for the husks to fill the hole in his heart., but deep down he knows better.  He actually was raised in a Christian home."

Noelle knew that anything else she had to say would not be appreciated, so she shut up and began taking notes on what was going to be needed to pull off their grand Christmas concert outreach.  Normally, it was the highlight of her year.  She just loved Christmas music.  She just loved music! The greatest delight in her life was being on the worship team with Curt.  So, she  tried to put a lid on her nervousness over Kenner Coble coming. 

"Though he's coming on his tour bus, Essie and I'll offer him to come to our home to stay in our spare bedroom if he'd rather." 

Noelle felt like a guppie gasping for air.  If he stayed with Curt and her sister, did that mean Kenner would be part of her family's Christmas celebrations?  What a way to spoil a perfectly good holiday!

"In other words, the church won't have to worry about lodging.  The rest of his band are off for the holidays.  It will only be Kenner joining us, well and his bus driver, but even he's got family in the area.  Kenner's agreed to arrive the week before to practice with us.  We'll either have take-out or we'll feed him at our place, so the church won't have a lot of extra expense, except for a little security staff."

"Sounds like everything is settled then," Pastor Sinclair said.  "Unless there is another point of business, I move we adjurn."

"I'll second that motion," someone said.

"All in favor say, "Christmas!"

Everyone joined in the excitement for the concert, except for Noelle.  She felt more like the Grinch and wanted to go hole up on top of a mountain somewhere until the concert was over.

Curt walked over to her and squeezed her shoulder.  "You worry too much, Noelle.  Just pray and watch God work."

She managed a smile and went back to her office.  There was so much to do, but first she had to add Kenner Coble's name to their publicity.  Ugh!

The weeks before Christmas were like on speed-dial and she was connected to the eve of the concert before she could say "Jingle Bells." 

In spite of her effort to avoid him, Curt drug her outside when the cowboy drove up in his tour bus and stepped out.  He made good and sure she was introduced to Kenner Coble.  Curt even told him that she was the go-to-girl if he needed anything.  Thanks a lot, Curt!  He was getting coal in his stocking from her this year.

Yet, standing there looking at this music idol, she had to admit he had a certain star power, almost a gravitational pull.  He looked just like the photo they'd used to publicize his upcoming performance in the Christmas concert.  Kenner was nothing but polite to her,  looking her straight in the eye before giving his trademark smile.  She refused to smile back at the man in spite of Curt poking her with his elbow and whispering, "Play nice, Noelle."

"Welcome to Harvest  Church, Mr. Coble..."

He snorted, "I don't remember anyone calling me that.  Ever!  Call me Kenner, Miss...I don't recall hearing your last name actually."  He was calling her gruff bluff.

"Just call me Noelle.  Alright, Kenner, if you need help with anything, let me know.  My name is on my office door just down that hall from the church secretary," she manage a polite smile this time, the kind mannequins wore.

"I might just knock on your door.  Just how available are you, Miss Noelle?"

The man was insufferable!  Fortunately Curt interceded for her saying, "She's off limits, Kenner.  Noelle happens to be my sister-in-law, not just on staff here.  So she gets kid-glove treatment, alright?"

"You have my word on it, Curt.  But a guy can't help looking at a beauty like her, can I?  It must be that artificial smile she plasters on for me."

Noelle blushed clear up to her hairline though Curt burst out laughing.  "You got her pegged, Kenner!  It must be a little different reception than you usually get from your adoring fans."

"I thought you'd be wearing your cowboy hat and boots, Mr...I mean Kenner.  Isn't that your trademark?" she asked snootily.

"It's easier to pass myself off as just a regular guy when I wear a ball cap and sweatshirt.  Believe it or not Miss Noelle, I don't always try and draw everyone's attention."

They'd walked inside now and she stammered, "Well, I need to go back to my office..." before stalking off.  It wasn't fair.  Even Curt was having fun at her expense.  She felt like bonking him on the head with the biggest lump of coal she could find to put his stocking.  But she kept her door cracked and listened as those two continued talking.

She couldn't help but hear Mr. Big Shot say, "It's a shame she's off limits.  She obviously is something special, a natural beauty with a kind of glow..."

"You mean, when she lights up like a Christmas tree blushing?" Curt kept up the laughter.  "But
seriously, no flirting.  I promised my wife that I'd tell you her sister is off limits to your charms."

"You drive a hard bargain, buddy.  But I'm at your mercy.  Is this part of the whole Christian package?"

"You were raised in it, you should remember how it works.  Speaking of which, are you going home to see your folks for Christmas?  If not, you are more than welcome to join us for the whole family Christmas kind of thing.  One more would not matter to us."

"Is Miss-Nose-Up-In-The-Air going to be there?"

Noelle was steaming and slammed the door, but could hear the men's laughter even through the hollow door.  Noelle was curious to know whether he would be part of their family gathering, but she couldn't hear what they were saying any more.  "Grinch, Grinch, Grinchy-Grinch!" she said through clinched teeth.

Still, even she had to admit when they practiced for the concert, it was coming together beautifully, the best yet, in fact.  And yes, Kenner Coble added quite a bit with his performance with Curt and with his solos.  Getting to sing in the back-up harmonies was quite an honor.  It was dreamy, in fact, icing on the Christmas cookie kind of delicious!

However it was hard to ignore how Kenner's eyes followed her.  If he ever caught her looking back, he just grinned smugly.  Yet, sometimes there was something else in his eyes that was deeper than flirtatiousness, a wistful longing.  He had a lonely existence no doubt, even though constantly surrounded by mobs of fans and his entourage.  Well, that wasn't her problem.  Once in awhile though, she threw up a guilty, begrudging prayer for his salvation.

One catered lunch after an especially good practice, Noelle was still in the glow, that is, until Kenner sat down next to her in the church fellowship hall.  She stiffened noticeably.

"Is it okay if I sit here" He asked politely.

"I thought I was off limits to your flirtations," she grumbled.

"What about friendly conversation?" He was seated  and leaning over staring at her now.

"Umm, as long as that's all it is.  But do you actually know how to talk to a person of the opposite sex without expecting their adoration?"

He grunted and shook his head saying,  "You're a piece of work, Miss Noelle.  So much for the milk of Christian kindness..."

"Wait a minute, Mr. Nose-Up-In-The-Air, I'm not one of your groupies ready to fall in your lap!"

He broke out laughing then whispered, "I wouldn't mind if you fell in my lap, pretty lady."

Noelle stood up so fast that her chair fell over backwards cheeks blazing.  Suddenly she noticed the rest of the worship team, the technicians and the pastor staring at her shocked.  Except for Curt.  He was glaring, almost pawing the ground ready to charge like a mad bull.  She gulped.   She never meant for everybody to hear her tirade.

"Excuse me," she mumbled before she fled the room running to her office and shutting the door noticing for the first time that she had no lock on her door.  Sure enough, Curt stormed in and shut the door behind him.  Hard.

"What do you think you are doing, Noelle?  Don't you know we are talking heaven or hell here with my buddy.  What kind of Christian witness are you trying to show?  Huh?  I am pretty ashamed of you right now.  The chip on your shoulder doesn't become you."  She'd never seen him so mad.

"I, uh...I just don't want to be around him.  Isn't that what a Christian should do, separate themselves from those who walk in the darkness?"

"Actually, we are to be a light.  Our job is not  going around snuffing out every flicker of light God might be trying to breathe to life in the heart of someone else.  We are commanded to go out into all the world.  Jesus said he was sent to the lost sheep, not those already in the fold.  That's what this church is about, Noelle.  Are you happy just being comfortable around other Christians without a thought for the lost?  Did you know that Kenner and I spent half the night last night talking Scriptures.  He is seeking but has lots of questions.  He saw plenty of judgmental attitudes growing up when he started playing rock music.  That's what drove him away from God, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes.  By the way, you're off the worship team as of now.  I can't have attitude up there when we are trying to do something for the kingdom.  I suggest you just stay in your office until he leaves."   Curt then stormed out the way he had come leaving a chill in the room that entered her heart.

"Oh God, what have I done?"  She put her head down on her arms and bawled.  Curt had just taken away her most favorite thing in the world, singing on the worship team--at Christmas most of all-- all because of a heathen who still got to remain on the stage.  Well, God was poking her conscience about her attitude worse than Curt had done, but she'd rather feel sorry for herself for awhile first.  She heaped on the agony over the family Christmas ahead at her sister's with having to have him there too.  He stole her song.  He stole her whole Christmas!

The concert was a success.  A sold-out top event of their church year.  Beautiful.  Meaningful.  A shining moment. A true celebration of Christmas and the coming of Christ.  It's just that she relegated herself to sit in the very back of the auditorium to wipe her tears feeling sorry for herself for not being able to be up there with her worship team where she belonged.  But even from way up there on the stage, even in the glare of spotlights, somehow Kenner's eyes seemed to seek hers out.  She couldn't get away.  It gave her a shiver head to toe.  God wasn't leaving her alone either.  She felt convicted for her behavior towards Kenner Coble.

She did not see him again until Christmas Eve.  When he came down from his room upstairs at her sister' house, the only place left to sit, other than the floor, was beside her on the couch.  He squeezed in with a quiet, "Hey, pretty lady.  Do you think we can we have a truce for Christmas at least, Noelle?  By the way, you sure looked pretty the night of the concert in that sparkly skirt."

"Thank you, Kenner, but I have to apologize to you and say I'm sorry.  I know I've been awful," she whispered.  "Will you forgive me?" Brushing up against his shoulders left her breathless.  She figured that and her heart pounding had to do with her humiliation at having to apologize.  Yet when she looked up into his eyes, she felt almost as puddled as a melted snowman with big black eyes of coal about to fall out.  He put his arm around her and gave her a squeeze.  "Sure thing." Then he put his arm down again..  His large hands were spread on his legs looking more like they should be holding something, holding someone's hand or something.   Instead he kept wiping them down his pants.  His leg kept jiggling too.  He seemed nervous.  She took her eyes off him and tried to concentrate on the iced cookie in her hand."

Noelle's mother called from the kitchen, "Sweetheart, did you bring the presents in from the car?"

"No, but I'll go get them," she answered.

"I'll help," Kenner said.

Umm, I can probably get them, but suit yourself."  She didn't bother putting her coat on since she'd be right back in.  Kenner followed her out.

"So, is my present from you in there?" he asked as she started piling presents into her arms.

"A present?  No, I guess, I forgot to get you one."

"Did I ever tell you what I want for Christmas?"

"Not really..." she wondered what he was getting at.  The man had made it in the music world and probably had enough money to buy whatever he wanted.   So, what could he want from her?
"Do you have a Lamborghini?" Noelle suddenly asked.

"No, I'm not into the whole sports car thing.  I have a nice Jeep though, four wheel drive for the snow, but I don't get to drive it much.  I'm mostly in my tour bus.  Why are you asking?"  He had come up and taken most of the presents out of her hands and put them on top of the car.

"It just seems like a guy like you would already have everything he's ever wanted.  You'd be a hard man for a Secret Santa to buy for," she said while trying to pull a package from his grasp.  He just set it up with the rest of the presents.

"I don't have everything.  I'm thinking of something I want from you right now..." and he kissed her, a lingering kind of delicious kiss as his arms pulled her close.

Suddenly, Noelle realized she had her arms around him responding to his kiss.  She gasped and pushed him away.  "Oh!  What do you think you are doing?  I'm off limits, remember?" 

"What?   Don't you believe in recreational smooching, no strings attached.  You just looked ripe for a kiss, you know, a mistletoe thing."  He grinned.  "That was the present I gave myself, I guess, unless you want to give me another."

"No!  There's no mistletoe here."  Noelle slammed the car door and marched into the house  leaving Kenner to bring in the presents.

"Thanks for my present," he called just before she went inside shivering from the cold, or was it from the kiss?  She just kissed Kenner Coble, and it was burned forever on her lips! 

After placing the gifts from the car under the tree, Kenner sat down by her again. The family was going to exchange their Christmas presents now on Christmas Eve.  Afterwards, the usual pile of wrappings, ribbons, and festive bags were strewn all over the living room floor.  Her mother liked to fold up the leftover wrapping paper and tissue to be used again and stuck it in empty gift bags.  She was like that.  Noelle was hugging her new iPhone that Curt and Essie got her. 

Then Curt got out the new Taylor guitar Kenner gave him, and Kenner brought his own down from his room, and the family sang carols together.  It would be one of her favorite Christmas memories ever, the night she sat on the floor by Kenner Coble and sang harmony with one of the best voices in the country music world.  It was icing on the Christmas cookie, a delicious moment!

When the singing finally wound down, Essie called, "There's more goodies in the kitchen.  Come help yourself!"  The family migrated towards the food, but Noelle stayed there beside Kenner.

He  had been quiet, just rubbing his forehead as if he had a headache.  Curt had given him some really nice guitar picks and a fancy western belt, but nothing compared to the gift the country music star had given him.  Kenner kept bouncing the small package of guitar picks against his leg turning it round and round.  Noelle could tell he was going to say something. Finally he spoke, "Noelle, I need to ask you, never mind."  He jumped up from where they had been sitting and put his hands in his back pocket.

Noelle jumped up right beside him and grabbed his arm.  "That's not fair.  You have to tell me what you were going to say?  You've got my curiosity up now."

"Well, I have no right, no right at all, but I was wondering..." he was gazing right at her, "umm, I was wondering if you would wait, wait for me.  I can't ask you not to see anyone else, but I just was hoping you would wait and not write me off as a lost cause, you know.  You're right in what you thought of me.  I've been a pretty egotistical, despicable guy.  Well, and maybe later this year, I could write or call you from time to time, that is if I'm allowed.  Would you hang up on me, burn my letters unopened, or would you by chance talk to me or write me back?"

She was speechless.  What did he mean, if he was allowed?  He looked so hopeful, like a little kid opening a present wishing with all his might that it was he'd asked Santa for kind of hopeful.

"It's okay.  I know it's stupid.  Forget I even said anything..." His face fell, and he started to walk off.

"No, Kenner," she grabbed his arm again.  It's not stupid.  I'm honored in fact.  Thank you.  I promise I won't write you off.  I promise I'll pray for you every day.  If you write me or call me, I will answer."

"Really?" Then he hugged her tucking her head under his chin.  Her arms slipped around his waist and she hugged him back.  Curt happened to walk in right then and cocked his eyebrow at them.

"You were right, Curt.  She said she would.  She's promised to pray for me."  He let go of her and clinched his hands behind his head, elbows out.  "I can do this.  I just needed a little something to look forward to."  He winked at Noelle giving her the shivers again without even going outside.

"I'm going to head up to bed in a minute," he continued.  "I'm not feeling so good, you know.  This is Day Two of being clean, but my body's not liking it.  Tomorrow might be my worse day yet, but that's okay because it's about Christ's birth, not about me.  By the way, Curt, I did call my folks.  They were really happy for me, just like you said.  They've been praying for me every day.  I was actually shocked to hear they'd even been following my career.  Imagine my mom buying those gossip magazines just to see my picture in them.  It's embarrassing.  They insist that they'll be here first thing in the morning to take me to the place."  

"I'm sure they will be ecstatic to see you, even under these circumstances," Curt encouraged him.

"Well, thanks for everything, Curt.  I never could have gotten up the nerve to do this without you.
 Anyway, I also told my business manager that I'm firing him, giving him six weeks to cancel all my upcoming concerts, and asked him to send my affairs over to the guy who manages yours.  But the big news is that I've notified my guys that I'm disbanding.  That was a tough one.  We've been together for five years."  He scowled.  "Not a Merry Christmas for them, but it is what it is.  That's Nashville.  When I told them they should go get help too, they just laughed it off.  But it sure feels good to tie up all these loose ends.  Maybe in a couple of days, you could give my tour bus a thorough going over in case I forgot some stash somewhere, and then park it in that storage place you told me about.  Here's the keys."  He blew out.  "I can do this."

"You'll be glad you made this decision, Kenner.  Other than asking Jesus back into your heart, it's the biggest and best choice you could make.  Have I told you yet how proud I am of you?  This is huge!  Know that you're not alone in this.  Besides God, we have your back too and will always be praying for you."

Noelle stood there looking back and forth between them with wide eyes.

He saw her and ran his hand nervously through his hair.  "I've been taking pills to prop me up, Noelle, and got addicted.  I started  using them to help me get up for the concerts, but then started taking more and more.  Traveling like I do, it wasn't hard to find doctors willing to fill my prescriptions.  I'm ashamed, of course.  This isn't who I was going to grow up and be, but thanks to Curt, I'm finally willing to get help.  I've tried to quit several times before, but now I'm willing to admit, I need help."

"Noelle, we aren't telling anyone where he's going or why, so you need to keep this confidential, obviously.  He's thinking of moving over to the Christian music scene after he grows in the Lord.  But his future depends on this program which will disciple him as well as teach him how to cope without drugs."

"Of course, Kenner.  I won't ever say a word.  I'm proud of you seeking help.  It's a big step," Noelle looked into his eyes where fear lurked.  "You got this!"

"All I care about is that God's got this," he responded.  "I'm just weak.  If His strength is perfected in my weakness, I'm giving Him a lot to work with then," he chuckled.

Just then her parents walked from the kitchen to the entry and began putting their coats on.  "Are you ready, Noelle?"

"I'll be out to the car in a minute,"  she said as Kenner helped her on with her jacket.  As soon as they were alone in the hall, he tipped her face up.

"Just so you know, not everything you read about me was true.  I'll be the first one to admit that  I was living a life of sin, but the publicist lead the public into believing I was worse than I was just to make news.  Maybe I was blinded at first with all the girls throwing themselves at me, swarming the tour bus after every concert, but I wasn't anywhere near the player that I was depicted to be.  It began to disgust me actually.  One of my band members got in trouble with an under-aged girl and that was one expensive mistake that cost him some jail time.  I really backed off then. That's why you are such a breath of fresh air.  Thanks for not throwing yourself at me, Noelle."

"You're welcome, I guess," she said nervously.

"May I?"  he asked.  She nodded with big eyes.  He just gently brushed a light kiss on her lips then stepped back.  "I'm using all the self-control I can, you know," he said softly. "I'd much rather kiss you to death, but I'm trying to honor you and keep my word to Curt.  Sorry, I slipped up out there earlier when I stole that kiss since I had promised to respect you.  And I do.  But I have to tell you that ever since I first saw you, Noelle, I knew you were pretty special.  Anyway, thanks for not giving up on me and for promising to pray for me.  It means a lot."  He kissed her on the forehead, tugged her hat down a little bit more and opened the front door.  "You'd better go before I loose my head."

Noelle walked down the front path to the car in a fog.  Oh, my goodness.  I can't believe that just happened she said to herself before getting in the car with her folks.  When she looked up, Kenner was still standing in the doorway as her dad backed out of the drive.

"He's a nice young man, even if he is a celebrity," her mom said.  Noelle nodded her head, but just kept quiet.  She saw her dad's eyes on her in his rear-view mirror.

As soon as the holidays were over and she came back to work, she started planning for Easter.  Their drama director had big plans for this year.  Curt would be on his Spring tour, so the emphasis would be on a play with a scaled down choir involved.  She poured herself into work, but as much as she tried to fool herself, there was a part of her heart she couldn't corral.  

Curt assured her that Kenner would be on a blackout for the first month or so, maybe longer.  That's just how the program worked.  Still, she hoped that maybe she'd hear from him--she sucked in her breath--by Valentine's Day?  Who was she fooling.  She was a prop for a guy who was used to having admirers.  Curt had not encouraged her to get involved, but neither had he put his foot down.

He came into her office one day and looked at her straight.  "This puts me in a difficult position, Noelle." He scratched the back of his head.  "My first loyalty lies with you as family, making sure you don't get your heart broken.  Then again, Kenner's my friend, and I want to hope for the best for him.  He's going to need someone solid in their faith like you to stick by his side, like your sister did for me.  So, do you see where that leaves me?"

She just nodded.  "I doubt that he's really that interested in me as a girlfriend.  I think he just needs to know that he has more than one person in his corner."

"It might be a little more than that.  Remember, the guy stayed at my house for over a week, and we had a lot of long talks, some even with your sister, some even about you."

That shocked her.  "About me?" she squeaked.  "And Essie?  What did she say?"

"What you would expect.  She said to go slow and be cautious."

"Well, it's not as if we are an item or anything."

"Noelle, I know you.  I can read you like a book.  You have backed out of a lot of relationships waiting on God for the right man to come along.  I haven't seen you quite like this before.  But just so you know, I found out that he can't really contact you for the whole year he's in there. He can call or write me, just no one of the opposite sex."

"A whole year?"  Her heart just sank.

"Well, unless he earns a right to have a home visit.  He could come here or go to his parents' house in a few months.  But if he comes here, he can't be alone with you.  He could see you and talk with you, but that's it.  No dates or anything."

"He didn't ask me to date him, Curt," she sniffed while he snorted a laugh.

"Oh, he just wanted a pen pal?  Yeah, right.  Anyway, they don't want their students distracted by any relationships outside of marriage.  So, basically, you'll have to bide your time and see where God takes this, and pray."  He winked.  "I just didn't want you to get upset if you didn't hear from him."

"Thanks, Curt.  I know you are just looking out for me."

A whole year?  Her heart dropped into a pool of despondency.  Noelle quit going to the singles group outings making one excuse after another.  She turned down four dates to the Church's Valentines Dinner put on by the Seniors' Group.  She just wasn't interested.  Finally, as she drove home from helping with the decorations for the banquet to spend a Valentine's Day all by herself, she admitted out loud in her car, "If nothing comes of this silly Kenner and me thing, I will have wasted a whole year of my life.  He didn't ask me not to see anyone else," she groaned, "it's just that I can't think of anyone else, the spoil sport."

One Sunday in May, she was singing with the worship team when she looked down and saw Kenner sitting by her sister in the sanctuary.  He winked at her.  Noelle's mouth dropped open.  When it was time to sit down, she slipped in beside him.  Kenner immediately tucked her hand into his while grinning.  He whispered, "Hey pretty lady."

She nudged him playfully with her shoulder, then whispered,"How come I didn't know anything about you showing up here today?  How long will your visit last?"  Essie glared at her, big sister that she was, and told her to shush.

Kenner ignored her and whispered back.  "I got in late last night.  It's a three day pass.  Wanna hang out today?"

"Yes, of course!"

"Shh!" she warned again, but Essie was really grinning.

After church they went to a steakhouse to eat together.  Curt explained the rules.  "You can see Kenner only if I'm there to council you as a sort of pastor-mentor thing.  That means no going off by yourselves, no muchy-touchy stuff.  I'd hate for Kenner to get kicked out of the program because you two can't follow the rules that I agreed to abide by.

"What kind of counseling?" Noelle asked?

"Relationship counseling.  Essie will help.  There's that course that the church requires engaged couples to go through before pastor will marry them."

"Engaged!  We haven't even gone on a date, for goodness sakes," Noelle sputtered.

"I don't mind, if you don't," Kenner grinned wide. 

"Just look at it as conversation starters, Noellie," Essie added using her pet name.  "Otherwise, I'll drop you off at home.  End of conversation."

"Okay, I guess I'll do it.  What can it hurt?" She glanced over at Kenner.

"I told him I'd agree if I can hold your hand while we do this," Kenner smiled.  "It's amazing how much a guy can anticipate something as simple as that as a highlight of my pass."

The course material actually was kind of fun and certainly had them talking about things she never in a million years would have believed that they would discuss.  Sometimes Curt and Essie stepped across the living room to leave the two of them to have some privacy as they whispered back and forth the kind of things not easily shared.

Curt continued teaching.  He said, "Psalm 139 says that God searches us.  He knows us.  Nothing is hidden from His sight.  Maybe He is also revealing the perfect kind of relationship for us to follow, a pattern.  It is a mixture of transparency added with the mystery of love itself which illuminates our lives shining in the deepest parts of the heart."

"Wow, Curt, that was quite poetical as well as deep," Kenner ran his hand over his chin.  "I'm being taught where I am about how to be transparent with God and in accountability with the men.  But that part about the mystery of love sounds good.  Psalm 139 certainly is a beauty." He looked at Noelle, "I've never given much of my heart in any relationship.  It's only been more of a physical thing."

"I believe you called it recreational, no strings attached," Noelle commented.

"Yeah, well that about sums it up.  That got old quickly though.  It held no real satisfaction with such a fleeting shallow pleasure that I finally figured it wasn't worth it.  I haven't had a girlfriend for three years or so.  Even when I was in a relationship with someone, it wasn't as if it was a deep and committed one.  It was almost as if we were using each other.  I had more than one girlfriend who was either trying to advance her own singing career or was reaching for my deep pockets."

"What were you getting out of those relationships, Kenner?  Or rather, what were you hoping to get?"  Curt probed.

"I don't know, I was probably looking for someone to keep the loneliness away.  Sometimes I think I was using them too as shields against all those others who wanted to break a piece off me.  It was wearing.  That's why I quit trying to be in a relationship.  But then when my addiction started controlling me more, I could see where all my life would be sucked right back into that scene again.  I didn't want to go back down that road.  That's why I called you, Curt.  It scared me seeing how quickly everything could spin out of control."

"How about you, Noelle?  How does that make you feel when Kenner talks about his past relationships?"

"Of course I don't like it." She paused then squeezed his hand to add, "But it's not a deal-breaker." Noelle let go of some of the tightness in her chest.  She'd thought this over a lot while they were apart and had decided to pursue their relationship anyway.  "As long as he's honest about them.  I hope at sometime though that he'd get tested for, you know, any diseases that he might have acquired from that lifestyle though."  She looked over at him embarrassed.

"I did that as soon as I entered the program where I am now.  Some of it was required, and some I just asked for to be on the safe side.  I'm clean, thank the Lord," he said with relief.

"And what are you looking to get out of a relationship, Noelle?" Curt asked.

"Wow, this is making me a little nervous here."  But she took a deep breath while she thought then blew out.  "I guess I've had enough shallow little dating relationships that were dead ends, you know, no real interest.  I've dated some real duds."  She gave a shallow laugh.  "Then there were the other kind who wanted more of a physical relationship, which I wasn't interested in at all, getting the cart before the horse so to speak.  I guess, I've wanted someone with a passion for God, for music..." she cut her eyes over to Kenner, "and someone to be my best friend while at the same time thinking I'm beautiful even at my ugliest moments.  I want someone who will challenge me, you know like iron sharpens iron, and yes, a good kisser.  That's all for now."  She could feel herself blushing lit up like a Christmas tree.  "Oh, and someone who will watch Jane Austen movies with me."

Kenner and Curt both exclaimed at the same time, "Who?"

"Wait, don't tell me Essie that you haven't gotten Curt broken in to watching Jane Austen movies with you!"

Curt winked.  "Of course she has.  I was just teasing you."


They all laughed at Kenner's confusion.  "It comes with the marriage territory," Curt warned him.  "I think it's written in the nuptials around here, that you must prove yourself to be Mr. Darcy."

Kenner shook his head.  "I don't have a clue what you're talking about, but maybe I'll find out someday."

"We can watch 'Pride and Prejudice' together after this session!" Noelle giggled.  "It could be quite instructive."

"Do you want the older version with Colin Firth or the newer one?"  Essie asked.

"The newer one is shorter.  We could start with that one," Noelle suggested.

"Whoa, am I to take it that class is dismissed for now so Mr. Darcy can take over?" Curt threw his hands up in mock frustration.

"Mr. Darcy?  I think you guys are all crazy," Kenner laughed.

"Hold that thought," Noelle smiled smugly.  "You don't have to love it, but you do have to like it at least a little bit."

Noelle cuddled up to Kenner as they watched it together.  She felt that painful lump of longing she'd felt from his absence all these months in melt away.

Kenner was watching the movie keenly trying to absorb not just the story line, but whatever it was that had them so enchanted.  He got it. 

When it was all over, he laughed and said, "You have to admit, Noelle, that you were kind of like Elizabeth when we first met, with more prickles than a porcupine."

Curt roared with laughter.

"Okay, and you two have been laughing at me ever since.  Admit it, Kenner, you thought I'd be the last person you would ever be attracted to."

"But for a pair of very fine eyes," he quoted Darcy, tipping her face up to look into his.  He wasn't laughing.  Under different circumstances, he would be kissing her about now.  It's a good thing that their first kiss was so over the top memorable, that she could still savor it whenever she thought of it.  And she was thinking of it right now.  She could tell that he was too.

"Alright, before you forget all about the rules, let's go grab something to eat," Curt said.

"How about if I order pizza in.   It gets too crazy sometimes when I go out.  I haven't missed my public and don't want to get mixed up in it right now."

"Sounds like a plan," Essie said.  "Supreme, okay?"  Kenner offered her some money which she shooed away.  "It's on us.  You're our guest." 

They all agreed on the pizza.  Noelle thought about getting up to help her sister set out the paper plates and napkins and pour the soda, but she didn't want to leave Kenner's side.  They had so little time together.

"Hey, pretty lady," he whispered.  "I think about you every day.  In fact, when I'm not working on new song lyrics, I write letters to you even though I can't send them.  It helps me when I'm missing you."

"I miss you too.  Me, I just go in my room, shut the door and talk to you even though you aren't there.  I might say something like, 'How 'bout that Jane Austen movie, huh?" 

He laughed then got serious.  "Sometimes I long to hear your voice.  Your laugh.  To hear you singing."

"Me singing?  Lucky me, when I want to hear you sing, all I have to do is go to my iTunes and find you.  Sometimes I just sit and cry though.  It just makes me miss you more, Kenner."

He looked around making sure Curt and Essie weren't there, and snuck a quick kiss.  "Don't tell anyone that I did that," he whispered and grinned.  "But seriously, I wanted your opinion if you think I can make it in a cross-over into Christian music.  Do you think people would still come to my concerts?"

"Of course!   It might not be all the same fans, but you'll have a following no matter what.  At first you could join up with some of those touring concerts like Curt does with other recording artists.  I'm sure he can work that out for you when you are ready."

"I wouldn't want to go out on tour for very long though, not without you.  I want to put that kind of life behind me."

"Curt began by staying on the road all the time, but it was hard on the marriage since he was away more than he was home.  I'm sure he told you about that though.  Now he keeps a better balance between working at the church and just doing a few short tours a year.

"If I could tour with Curt, it would be great.  He'd hold me accountable, and we could do Bible studies together even on the road.  I've made enough from my old life so that if we're careful, it can last us a long time.  There's more to this life than making money.  I found out the hard way that it doesn't guarantee happiness, not to mention how quickly it can run through your fingers."

Noelle was kind of stuck on the way he kept including her in his plans using words like "we" and "us."  But he didn't notice how quiet she'd become and went on.

"I'm working on new songs too, though I don't have much time to myself.  You won't believe this, but I go out with the guys in my house and clean churches and do their yard work as well as work in their thrift store.  My old band would fall over dead if they saw what I'm doing.  I even take my shifts cooking in our house down there.  You have to be creative in the kitchen when you 
sometimes get more Rice-a-Roni donated than anything else."

"You poor thing," she teased.  "You have to eat your own cooking!"

"Actually, we  get a lot of good donations usually.  Little Caesar's sends over any pizzas they don't sell each day, and grocery stores are pretty generous too.  Sometimes we even have steak."

"The pizza will be here in about twenty minutes," Essie announced.  "I made a salad to go with it too." 

"The guys kept them in stiches telling about crazy people and situations they'd encountered on their concert tours. 

Noelle stayed as late as Curt and Essie would let her.  When it was past time they wanted to turn in, she had to leave.  Kenner held her for a long time before letting her go. "Come over for breakfast, and you'll put a smile on my face," he said.

"Okay.  I'll be here around 7:00.  I don't work Mondays anyway unless we are gearing up for a big Sunday.  What time do you have to leave tomorrow?"

"My ride is coming by after lunch, around 1:00.  The good news is that I'm almost half-way through the program."  Neither of them could smile about that.  It still seemed like an eternity.

"See you in the morning.  She finally let go and went out to her car waving to where he was standing in the door until she had to back out.  She was already crying thinking about telling him goodbye again tomorrow.

Noelle was surprised to find her dad still up when she got home.  "Hey, Dad, why are you still awake?"

"Just wanted to talk with you for a minute," he answered.  "Come sit down in here with me, Noellie."

This was enough to make her heart skip a beat, but she did what she was told.

"Have you been crying, sweetheart?" he asked looking at her red eyes.

"Well, maybe a little," she admitted.

"Did that big time music guy break your heart or something?" he asked looking angry.

"No, it's just that he has to leave tomorrow again, and it makes me sad."  Kenner had given her permission to tell her parents where he was and what he was doing, so she guessed this was as good a time as any.

"Dad, Curt's been keeping close to Kenner since they were friends from a long time ago.  Anyway, when Curt realized that Kenner was stepping off the deep end, he asked him to come for Christmas, to try to get him to agree to get some help.  Anyway, to make a long story short, Kenner got things straight with God again and is in a Christian rehab.  He can't call or write me.  Even our time together on this visit has to be closely supervised by Curt.  It's just that..."

"You've fallen in love with him," her dad stated knowingly.

She nodded her head in agreement sniffing.  "I was pretty awful to him when he came, Daddy.  My attitude was so bad that Curt kicked me off the worship team last Christmas.  Do you remember asking me why I wasn't up there, and I didn't  give you a straight answer?  Well, that's why.  Anyway, on Christmas Eve, we worked it out.  The  rest is history," she sighed.

"Well, isn't it kind of fast then for not being able to write him or call?" 

"I guess you could say that distance has made the heart grow fonder.  We kind of came to an understanding Christmas Eve before he left for rehab.  But while he was here this time, Curt took us through some pretty intensive counseling, as was required if we were going to be together at all," she told him.

"Well, your mother and I will be praying, and I promise we'll keep this confidential for his sake."

"He's planning on going into Christian music when he gets out.  Curt's helping him.  I think they'll do some concerts together.  He won't be going back to his old life," she added.

"That's encouraging to know.  Love you, Noellie."  He gave her a hug, and they both went to bed,
but she lay there with thoughts swirling until the wee hours. 

Still, she was up early and knew she needed to read her Bible before leaving her room.  It would be a wonderful, but difficult day with another goodbye.

She read again Psalm 139 grateful that God was so well acquainted with every detail of her life.  She didn't want to do anything that would make her want to hide from God, including this relationship with Kenner. 

She prayed, "Dear God, please, please, if you aren't pleased with Kenner and me being together, please put a kibosh on it, 'cause I'm sliding into love pretty fast here.  In fact, I think it's too late to protect my heart.  I'm a goner!  Well, please help this be at least a special time, good for both of us today.  Amen."

The morning passed all too quickly.  Kenner and Curt talked a lot about their future plans for his breakout into the Christian music world.  He even borrowed Curt's guitar to play one of the songs he'd written so far.  It was really, really good. 

They went to eat downtown at a small café and sat in a back corner that would keep them away from prying eyes.  Then, she stood with him outside, his cap down and his sunglasses on while they waited for his ride.  They couldn't even kiss good-bye this way, but at least she could hold his hand.  When his friend drove up, her heart landed with a kerplop sinking down into the mess of her stomach.  Noelle did her best to blink back tears and smiled at him through glassy eyes.  He braved a kiss to her forehead before climbing in the car.  Then he was gone. 

Essie hugged her and kept her arm around her walking to the car.  "So, you like the guy, huh?  Curt and I think he's pretty special.  We never told anyone, but before he hit it very big, he'd hang out with us a lot whenever he wasn't on the road.  But since he wasn't a Christian then, we didn't want you anywhere near him."

Curt joined their conversation after they got in the car.  "You know that until someone is discovered, they spend most their time going from bar to bar with their bands, county fair to county fair," not necessarily the best way to live.   At least he didn't drink.  After a few bad experiences in high school partying, it made him so sick that he swore off.   But," Curt looked at his wife, "it's a life where temptation abounds.  I'm glad I'm on a totally different route than those terrible days."

A light came on in her head remembering a time when her sister had broken up with Curt when they were in college.  It had shocked her.  Even though she pushed her sister to tell her why, Essie was  tight-lipped and wouldn't say a word.  Finally a couple of months later, a very humble Curt was back instead of the swaggering one.  He was a different man from that time forward.  He testified how God had gotten ahold of him at a low point in his life and turned him around.  He'd lived a totally Christian life from that point on and only sang for the Lord.  No details were ever given, but it had always made Noelle wonder.

Kenner's next home pass was to his parents'.  Though it was probably against the rules, they spent hours talking on the phone skyping.  It wasn't the same.  He couldn't hold her hand.  But she knew he needed to do this, to repair some bridges he'd torn down when he'd left home. 

"You wouldn't believe this, but my parents left everything in the garage set up just as if our band had walked away from it yesterday, the drums, the microphones, the amps.  My mom said it was a good reminder to pray for me, and they promised themselves that they weren't going to take it down until I came back to God.  They say that sometimes people drive by when dad has the garage door up to get his lawn mower out, and they get out of their cars to take a picture.  Can you believe that?"

"People are curious how their favorite stars live.  Like it or not, you've been idolized.  God can use that now for his glory."

"That's what I'm praying for.  I promised that as soon as I reached the next stage of this ministry program I'm in, that I will do a fund-raising concert for their organization.  Only a few know who I really am.  I go by Kid Coble down there, a name I got back in my school days.  It is fun to help lead worship in our house, though they've agreed not to use me in their other services since I need to be out of the limelight for now."

"Kid Coble, huh.  It's kinda catchy," she teased.

He groaned, "I knew I should never have let that slip.  But hey, maybe you can come with Curt and Essie to the graduation ceremony the first part of December.  I' be giving my testimony.  After that, I'll be on to the next phase, being out on my own."

She squealed.  "Of course I'll be there!  Does this mean you'll be back here after that?"

"Yes. Curt and Essie invited me to stay with them for awhile.  I might even take you on a date.  I also promised to take all of you up to my cabin at Lake Tahoe."

"You have a cabin at Lake Tahoe?  How did I not know that?  Do you have a bunch of other houses too?"  she asked half teasing, half serious.

"No, just a loft I keep for when I land in Nashville.  I'll probably keep that for now hoping to get in touch with other Christians in the country music vein there.  It's also where the recording studio is that I use.  I just won't hook up with any of my old crowd back there.  I'm making that promise to you, Noelle.  Those days are over!  They don't hold any appeal to me at all."

"I'll look forward to going to the snow then in December.  It sounds like fun.  Do you ski?"

"Not much," he said.  "I went there to get away, not be seen.  "Do you ski?" 

"Not this dork.  I can barely sled," she laughed.

He joined her.  "I guess that means I'd have to go easy on you in a snowball fight.  Maybe we can take on Curt and Essie though."

"She's about the same as me in the coordination department.  Don't believe any roller skating stories she likes to brag about.  She hung out with me mostly pulling herself around by the rail."

Kenner chuckled.  "I guess that answers my next question if you ever were a roller derby queen."

"Nope, but I did win my sixth grade spelling bee," she bragged.

"You got me there, but I got an "A+" on a poem I wrote in fifth grade," he countered.

"We're just a pool of talent, I'd say.  You'll have to read it to me sometime," she said.

"I'll ask my mom to dig it out.  It was on the frig so long that it bears the stains of every meal we ate for six months until it just disappeared one day.  They resurrected it when it was found under the old icebox when they moved in a new one.  But my mom filed it away somewhere for safe keeping." 

"It sounds like a family treasure," she smiled.

"Hey, I hate to say this, but I have to sign off.  My folks have been patiently waiting to visit with me some more.  I know I should wait to say this in person, but it  just seems right to say before we hang up, "Love you, Noelle."

"Love you too, Kenner."  Her smile was a little wobbly as she fought back the usual tears at saying goodbye.  Wait, they didn't say it.  He said he loved her instead.  Her heart was full to overflowing!

The days, weeks, and months dragged by.  Even her pastor remarked that he missed the sparkle in her eyes and asked why she went around like she'd just buried her cat or something.  She gave her usual answer.

"It's kind of private."  She wouldn't have cared if her pastor knew, but it was Kenner's story to tell, not hers. As far as others who asked about him, unfortunately the curious got more "curiouser." But that was one thing she had found out after working in the church: those kind of people often were looking for juicy gossip that could and probably would be used against her.  She'd learned and earned her thick skin.  Noelle had to discern between those who were concerned from those who were just curious.  With a name as big as Kenner Coble , she'd have to be very careful who she confided in.  It was a good thing she had her sister for her best friend and her brother-in-law Curt.  They knew better than anyone else what Kenner's life was about and the better direction it was headed.

Noelle was feeling pretty low looking at Thanksgiving, not feeling all that thankful.  Essie stopped by her desk one day after popping in to see Curt at work.  "Guess who's coming for Thanksgiving?"  She clapped and nodded as Noelle's face lit up. 

"You're kidding!  Are you sure?"

"Yes.  He'll be here Wednesday through Sunday night.  Aren't you excited!" Noelle jumped up and hugged her sister.  Then Noelle grabbed a calendar off the wall and counted the days until Thanksgiving.  She put a big fat "X" through every day including today.  "That's less than a week away!"  She swallowed a scream.  The pastor stuck his head in to see what the ruckus was about.

"Well, it's nice to see you happy again, Noelle.  Am I to be privy to the reason for such gladsome rejoicing?"

Curt was right behind him and patted his shoulder.  "Kenner's coming for a visit, then he'll be back in December to work on the Christmas concert with us again this year.  We're thinking about doing it for two nights instead of just one.  He'll be staying with us for a while, actually.  He's planning to leave regular country music for Christian and will be touring with me in the Spring. "

"That explains a lot.  Now I know why a certain little lady has been walking around like somebody stepped on her baby turtle or something."  Her pastor waved.  "I'll leave you to your celebrating, and now I can stop worrying about your turtles and cats and canaries."

Noelle laughed.   "You're too funny, Pastor, but thanks for your concern."

Essie asked after he left, "Turtles and cats and birdies?"

"He's been teasing me about the sad face I guess I've been wearing, always asking if I buried my cat or if my turtle died, or if my canary escaped and flew away."

Curt chuckled.  "Sounds like him.  Looks like we'll be having an extra special holiday this year, huh ladies?"  He exchanged such a private sweet look with Essie that Noelle had to look away. 

"I hope you are taking your husband out to lunch, Essie.  He's been stealing all my chocolate kisses I keep on my desk to stave off his hunger," she smiled.  She doubted she'd be able to wipe the smile off her face until she had to tell Kenner goodbye one last time.

"Gladly.  Ready to go, sweetie peetie?"

"You bet, honey bunny!"

"Ugh.  Tell me if I ever get as bad as you two," Noelle groaned.

"Just wait.  We'll be plugging our ears pretty soon now when it starts to get kissy-squishy," her sister said.

Curt popped his head back in her office.  "Just remember.  Kenner has to keep to the same rules as his last visit, so don't plan on getting too mushy any time too soon, okay?"

"Okay, boss,"  she sighed.  "It would be good enough just to see Kenner and to hold his hand.  His kisses would have to wait until graduation, she figured.  Noelle ran to the door yelling down the hall, "I'm going with you to the graduation where Kenner's speaking, got it?"

Curt gave her a thumbs up as he ushered his wife out the door.

Noelle worked Saturday in order to be able to take off the day before Thanksgiving when Kenner would be in town.  They weren't sure what time he'd arrive.  It might be anytime, even late at night, but she wanted to be available when he showed up.  In the meanwhile, she'd help her mother prepare for their Thanksgiving dinner.  Fortunately, the other people her parents had invited to come had been unable, so it would be just Essie, Curt, and Kenner with them.

It was always awkward how people acted around Kenner because of his star aura.  His face had been plastered everywhere by the media, which was a good thing in the industry, except it didn't make for a lot of privacy. It was the best when people had no idea who he was, however.  Kenner loved nothing better than to kick back in a restaurant shooting the breeze with a couple of old geezers swapping fish stories until fans would find him and asked for autographs.  The looks on the older gentlemen's faces was always priceless.

Kenner had made her promise not to buy the gossip magazines.  It was too much of a rollercoaster with the speculations about his disappearance from his concert schedule, and would not all be flattering, to say the least.  Noelle couldn't help but see some of the headlines as she stood in the grocery store checkout counters, however.  She couldn't resist buying the one that said he'd last been seen with some space aliens in Roswell, New Mexico.  She'd shrieked with laughter before she caught herself and slapped a hand over her mouth.

Somebody from his place dropped him off at Curt and Essie's right before supper Wednesday night.  Essie wasn't feeling very well, so Noelle had offered to come over and cook them dinner.  It was just spaghetti, but smelled wonderful. 

She answered the door, and they had time for a kiss that curled her pinky toenails, before they heard Curt thundering down the stairs.  "Is that Kenner?"  He smirked at his buddy.  "I see Noelle gave you a nice greeting at the door."

Noelle wiped a bead of spaghetti sauce off his collar where her fingers had smeared it accidently.
Kenner only winked at her and grabbed her hand. 

"Wow, it's nice to be back.  After looking at a bunch of guys faces, day in and day out, you are a sight for sore eyes, Noelle,"

"I'll have supper on in ten minutes," she announced but looked longingly at Kenner not wanting to let his hand go.

"I'll help."

"I'll go up and see if Essie feels good enough to come down and eat with us," Curt said over his shoulder as he disappeared.

Instead of stirring the noodles, Noelle got swept up into another heart pounding kiss that left her breathless, until the spaghetti noodles boiled over, that is.  "Oh no! I need to take care of those."  She lifted up the stirring spoon full of a glob of noodles all stuck together.  "I guess I need to boil some more.  I hope Essie has another package."

Kenner searched the pantry and came back waving the package of noodles prize, but Curt and Essie caught her dumping the huge pasta lump in the garbage can.  Their peals of laughter filled the kitchen.  "I can't leave you two for a minute, I guess," Curt gasped.  "It's a good thing you're graduating in a couple of weeks and I can resign from my position as your nanny."  He laughed some more as Noelle playfully shoved his shoulder. 

Kenner lifted the lid  and looked at the lump in the garbage and said, "Shoot, I was going to throw that up on the ceiling to see if it would stick."  That sent them all into more gales of laughter.

Soon they were sitting down to a nice dinner though Essie didn't eat much looking rather pale. 

"So, if you come back immediately after the graduation you are speaking at, we'll have a week to work on our Christmas concert with you.  We're going to do two nights this year since we had to turn so many away last year, if that's alright with you," Curt said.

"Sure.  I wanted to play some of my new songs and some arrangements of old carols for you while I'm here.  I was thinking about cutting a Christmas album soon.  My producer had asked me about it once before, but I wasn't ready or in the right state of mind.  Now, it makes me excited.  Maybe I'll let him know about this concert, and he'd probably fly in to listen.  That would make a good transition to my new career as a Christian performing artist, don't you think?"

"Excellent idea!" Curt grinned. 

"My folks also want to come this year.  I'm booking them a hotel room, and then they'll go stay up at my cabin for a few days.  I was hoping all of you could come up too."

"Is it big enough for us all?" Noelle asked.

"It has three bedrooms, and the den and living room each have fold-out couches."

"We'll be there or be square, right Essie?" 

She nodded but excused herself to run to the bathroom. 

"Oh no!  She must have the flu," Noelle said sympathetically. 

"Probably something like that."  Curt left to go check on her.

Kenner grabbed her around her waist and pulled her close.  "And she even can cook!  I don't think I can let you get away.  You're quite the catch!"  Then he kissed her.

"Hey you two in there.  When it gets quiet, I know what you're doing," Curt called from the other room.

"Okay, I'll be good," Kenner heaved a sigh.  "I've never had the skids put on me like this before.  Even if it wasn't Curt though, God has me restraining myself so I can do this the right way."

Noelle gave him a peck on the cheek, then began clearing the table.  "I guess it's a good thing," she said sighing before rising off the dishes.   I made a death by chocolate dessert, a cake to die for.  We'll have that a little later.  "By the way, Thanksgiving Dinner is at our house this year.  That's a good thing too since Essie is under the weather."

Curt walked in just then.  "I think she'll be able to go as long as she takes it easy."

When the dishes are done, I'll grab my guitar and play those songs for you," Kenner said.  Soon they were settled in the living room in front of the fire, all three of them ready for their own personal concert by Kenner Coble.

"I got the idea for this one just thinking about Joseph's perspective, not only about all the troubles caused what between Mary coming up pregnant and the tax edict which forced them to travel, but also about the love he must have truly had for her young as she was.  So here goes. 


She was born to be mine,
Mary of Nazareth,
Sweet innocence sublime,
She takes away my breath.

With eyes dark and deep,
Lovely hair, that waves and curls,
So glad she's mine to keep,
Looking forward to what unfurls.

The marriage promise was given,
But oh what consternation!
The unthinkable has arisen,
I feel such indignation!

Angels hover near her.
They speak to me as well,
Only hinting at what will occur,
Hard to comprehend what they tell.

"Don't be afraid," they say,
"Take her to be your wife."
Yet how can I not feel dismay,
It's not what I expected for my life.

"But she's with child, "I cry!
The babe is not mine!"
"Just take her," knowing not why.
"Trust, and you'll be fine."

He says, "She's God's chosen one:
Though so young and pure.
He knows what she'll endure,
As the mother of His Son."

So I'll protect her purity.
She's my beloved still,
And offer her security.
Blindly following God's will.

Her life is in my hand,
Entrusted there by God,
No matter where we land,
Or the unknown paths we'll trod.

To pay a tax, Roman law,
We're forced to travel far,
Until a stable we saw,
By the light of a star.

There she gave birth
In Bethlehem that night,
A babe of infinite worth,
He brings us life and light.

Though the babe's not mine,
Yet God trusted Him to me,
A mysterious plan divine,
That involves Calvary's tree.

Then like Joseph, I'll protect her purity,
And promise to be a godly man,
Offer her security,
As I follow God's plan.

So with eyes dark and deep,
Your lovely hair, in waves
I'm blest you're mine to keep,
The one my heart craves.

When he was done, the room was still.  Noelle wiped one single tear that escaped from the corner of her eye.  Finally she said softly, "Thank you, Kenner.  I love it!  I want to hear it again."

"Me too," Essie said.

"I think you nailed it, a little twist on the perspective of what the man went through by turning it into his love song for Mary," Curt added.  "Maybe you can take the first couple of verses repeating them to make a refrain with the little change up at the end to bring it to the present as a challenge for men to be like Joseph. It's a word, man!"

"Really think so?" Kenner asked with sincerity.  "Most of the other songs are my take on old carols putting them a little more in my country comfort zone."

Thanksgiving night, Kenner took a walk with her dad.  She didn't know which one of them suggested it, but it drove her crazy wondering what they were talking about.  When they came back, both of them were mum but had gleams in their eyes.

The next day they returned to be with Curt and Essie for more of the intense counseling.  There were some issues that were hard for Noelle to talk about, like her own flaws and character traits she needed work on.  Essie didn't hold back telling her what she thought either.  Curt was likewise hard on Kenner.  Having someone's outside opinion, wasn't easy to take, was painful even.  But rather than get huffy about it, Noelle decided to take it as constructive criticism.  Unfortunately, she knew they were probably right about most of it, like her immaturity in being harsh and judgmental towards others who weren't in her comfort zone.

"Hey, I almost got knocked off the boyfriend chart because of it," Kenner winked.  "But it motivated me to want to get some spiritual maturity under my feet before I pursued you.  I didn't want to get unequally yoked by always trying to catch up as you charged ahead of me.  Hopefully, we can work it out together on more equal footing now as things come up."

"No husband likes to have to be instructed or chastised very often by their spouse." Curt said.  "He at least wants to be able to pretend he's the leader of his household while still being open to her input.  It's team work, shoulder to shoulder.  When one has strength, he helps the other's weakness and vice versa.  And let me tell you, it fluctuates.  I'm just thankful to have a strong wife who's not afraid to challenge me when I need it.  While on the other hand, she thinks I need it more than I think I need it sometimes..."

Essie laughed.  "Actually, I think you have needed almost all of it.  But the old saying is true, "It's not what you say, but how you say it."  And NEVER, I repeat never open up a touchy subject until you've fed your man, otherwise..."

It was Curt's turn to laugh.  "Okay, I'll own that," and he gave her a loud smooch.  "Then kiss and make up."

"It's also a good saying," Essie continued, "'Never go to bed mad.'  Have you heard the sad story of the couple who got in a tiff.  She refused to roll over and stayed in bed until he left for work and was in bed when he got home.  A few days later he realized that she had died.  They'd never made up.  He just assumed she was giving him the cold shoulder."

"Ugh!  That's awful!" Noelle cried out while Kenner and Curt hooted.

"Always make sure she still breathing, in other words," Kenner grinned.  "I can think of a way or two."

Curt playfully punched him in the arm.  "Save it.  I don't want to know."

Too soon it was time to say their last goodbye until he was past this upcoming graduation.  Curt gave them privacy in the entry so they could do it properly.  A horn honked outside, and then he was gone. 

Noelle was extremely busy getting the event set up for the Christmas concert.  The children's choir was to do a musical with a nativity the Sunday before, then their special concert was to be Saturday and Sunday nights a week before Christmas.  Nothing much was planned then except a carol sing with a Christmas message on the following Sunday followed by a candlelight service that night.  She did not have a lot to do after the concert and could enjoy most of the holiday with little pressure then.  She tried to get as much done as possible before Kenner came back to town.

She rode with just Curt to the graduation as Essie still wasn't feeling totally better.  Kenner's eyes lit up when he saw her.  The graduation was special with testimonies and music.  It was the night that Kenner was going to give his and reveal who he really was then by ending the service with one of his new songs.  He'd be back in the new year for a fund-raising concert.  It was all very moving.  She used up her whole pack of tissues in her purse.  Afterwards, Kenner was swarmed, but Curt helped her move through the crowd until she could stand by him gripping his hand.

"Oh, Kenner, that was wonderful," she said just loud enough for him to hear."

"I can't believe this time is over.  I've grown so much and am so thankful.  God is good."  Then he smiled down, "But I'm ready for a new chapter, how 'bout it pretty lady?"

She beamed.  "I'm counting on it!"

They packed his few belongings in Curt's truck and drove home.  It was very late.  He and Curt sang all the way home.  He had them in stitches over his silly new tune saying, "This one's definitely not for the Christmas concert, but maybe just for fun on my next Christmas recording...

"It's a blue, blue Christmas,
The dog ate my shoe.
The cat's eating tinsel, right off the tree too, 
While the fish is floating in its bowl
Buried in a snowfall of flocking, poor soul.

It's a red, red Christmas, my bank just said:
My account's overdrawn, and implied,
My card's been denied.
So I'm pulling out all the stops
and re-gifting since I can't shop.

It's a yellow, yellow Christmas,
I'm just a chicken fella:
I can't find three little words to tell my girl, 
though she's quite a pearl,
'cause my knees are knocking from fear,
so I'll put off popping the question till next year.

It's a green, green Christmas,
I'm  feeling kinda mean,
With fingers  in my ear: 
Don't want to hear any more cheer.
I think I got a case of the flu
'Cause I've been throwing up since two.

I just wanted a white, white Christmas,
But there's no snow in sight.
My skates' are in the shed
Next to my sled,
While grandma's running over reindeer
Riding on her John Deer.
I pick up my Red Ryder bb gun and shout,
"I'm going to shoot yer tires out!"

Well, what do you know, it all ain't so:
I jump up and scream,
"It was all a bad dream!"
My dog's chasing the cat round the tree,
Where the presents are for all to see.
While carols we sing,
My gal's wearing my ring,
But there grandma goes
Plowing through the snow,
On her John Deer, so Rudolph better fear,
Because it's just that colorful time of year.

The rehearsals went smoothly until the day of the concerts approached.  Noelle was nervous about meeting Kenner's parents, not to mention the dinner he had planned with his music producer.  That night at the fancy Italian restaurant, Kenner tried to tell the man how God had turned his life around, but he just didn't get it, how someone could walk away from it all at the peak of his career. 

"I have a lot invested in you, Kenner.  This new direction you're choosing affects a lot of people, not just you," the man almost growled.

"I understand, Julian.  But I have to do what is right for myself.  I'm thankful for all you've done in the past that has helped my career."  Then Kenner tried to switch the subject.  I'm excited for you to hear the Christmas concert to see what you think about producing that C.D. you talked about last year.  I wasn't ready then, but I think I am now.  I appreciate you coming all this way to listen.  I don't know if you've heard of my friend Curt Coleman.  He's a big name in the Christian music industry..."

"Yeah, I know who he is.  Is he the one who influenced your decision?"  the producer asked glaring.

"Well, he influenced me to seek help for my addiction, if that's what you mean.  I've always admired Curt, and we've been friends since we were teens.  But the cross over to Christian music is my idea.  The Christian music scene isn't what it used to be and is wide open for more country music infusion into its ranks.  Besides, country music, like blue grass, has its roots in church music, the old hymns.  So many of the early stars made their way up using that background.  I just don't want to sing about drinking and womanizing any more."

Julian sat there staring at Kenner.  He finally smiled and said, "I can see you are serious about this.  I don't suppose this little lady had anything to do with it?" and he winked at Noelle.  The tension finally broke.

His parents arrived just before the concert began.  Noelle's mom and dad had waited for them in the foyer and ushered them up front where seats were saved, right next to Julian.  This year Noelle got to sing with the background singers.  She watched as her mother leaned over to Kenner's to point her out.  She smiled, then the dazzle of the evening took over as glorious music resounded in honor of the Christ Child.  She especially loved the hush that fell over everyone when Kenner sang "Joseph's Song."  It always choked her up. 

Afterwards, Kenner went out the back way off the platform as security personnel kept the crowd away.  Both sets of parents, Essie, and Julian came to greet them.  Introductions where made and then everyone turned to the producer.

"What do you think, Julian?  Do you think it could fly?" Kenner asked earnestly.

The man rubbed his chin then grinned.  "I think we can do this.  If we get a jump on it, we can have it ready by next year, no problem.  That new song will be the hook.   How soon can you get to Nashville?  Curt, will you be in on it?  I like that duet you two did on that last carol."

Kenner swung Noelle around then shook Julian's hand.  "I'll get back to you right after the holidays.  And I'll let Curt decide if he wants to be in on it on our duet."

"I'm in," Curt grinned.  "We'll just have to work around our concert schedule this Spring.  But it shouldn't be a problem."

"Okay then, I'll pencil you in tentatively on the studio schedule for the middle of January at the latest.  Well, I'm flying out tonight, but we'll keep in touch, Kenner.  You too Curt.  It was nice to meet you all," but he looked especially at Noelle and grinned.  "I'm glad to see he found his muse."

"It was nice to meet you too, Julian," Noelle said with a blush. 

Curt rallied them saying, "When the crowd clears, we have a catered dinner in the church fellowship hall.  That way we can go over any issues before tomorrow night's repeat performance.  Overall, I think it went well, very well."

Everyone talked over each other with the joy of the evening still glowing in their hearts.  Kenner kept his arm around her holding her close, kissing her on the top of her head.  His thumb rubbed her arm in gentle circles sending shivers.   

Kenner's mother was almost weeping.  "Oh, Kenner, tonight is one of the best nights of our lives seeing what God has done for you.  It is such an answer to prayer!"

"These people right here have made it all possible.  They never gave up on me either," Kenner said.

"I can see you are in good hands," his dad said.  "And it's nice to finally meet you, Noelle.  Kenner said he'd found someone pretty special, and I can see why."

She smiled and looked up at Kenner and saw his joy.  Their gazes locked.  He had his family, his friends, and his music with a promising future.  Best of all, he most certainly had her heart.  God had done it all.

After the next night's concert, another sell-out, they were almost giddy with the performances' success and the whole beauty of it all.

The Pastor came by to shake everyone's hands.  "Thank you all so much!  What a blessing.  Now you all get out of here and take a few days off.  I'll see you next Sunday, but not before!"

"Time to go to the snow!" Kenner said.  "You're all invited to my cabin.  We'll leave at 9:00 A.M.  Curt and I each have four wheel drive so we can all ride together." 

"I can't get off until next Friday," her dad said.  "But we'll come up then."  He winked at Kenner then said, "We wouldn't miss it for the world."

The next morning, Noelle and Kenner's parents rode with him in his jeep.  Curt followed with Essie who seemed to be finally feeling a little better. They enjoyed a delicious lunch at a retro dinner in Truckee and walked around a bit. 

"Do you feel better, Essie?" Noelle asked her sister.  "Did you get car sick going around all the curves?"

"I guess a little.  I'll be okay.  It's not much farther."

The roads were clear while the snow clung to the higher elevations.  But a grey curtain of clouds covered the sapphire sky a few miles before they arrived at his cabin.  The snow began falling like feathers from the sky as they unloaded. 

It was a good thing that they had made a quick stop to purchase groceries just before arriving.  "I'll put the soup on," Jenny, Kenner's mother offered.  Essie helped her put groceries away while Curt started a fire in the large fireplace. 

Noel was in awe of the cabin.  Kenner took her hand and showed her around.  It wasn't overly large, just comfortable.  She was curious, "Who chose your furniture and decorated?  It's really nice."

"I came up here about four years ago with a friend, okay she was an old girlfriend, and we whiz-banged buying the basic furniture."  He watched her face as he told her this, but she just smiled.  "The rest, I picked out more slowly on later trips when I was by myself.  I didn't want a decorator just filling it with random stuff.  I've seen some awesome places that have inspired me."

"So you have an artist's eye.  It's very well done, but not overdone," Noelle said putting her suitcase in one of the smaller bedrooms.  He insisted that his parents take the master bedroom.  while he would sleep on the foldout couch in the den.  

Once there he pulled her inside there and shut the door. "Finally, alone," he said pulling her into his arms and kissing her."

"I about went crazy missing you, pretty lady.  It was an important decision to stay with the program, but I lived for this moment.  I'll be held to six months with accountability to the ministry to make sure I don't break this probationary time before I really graduate.  They will be following up with me to make sure I'm making it.  But I'm free to work, to live on my own, but with a close relationship to a pastoral mentor, like Curt."

"I'm so glad you will be around now.  You have a whole new life," she smiled while hugging him back.

"A life that includes you, I hope, Noelle.  I may have to call you carrot because you've been my carrot in front of this horse to keep me going.  In fact, Kenner knelt down.  "I have a carat to offer you, if you'll accept my offer for marriage."  He slipped a ring on her finger.

Noelle gasped.  "Oh, Kenner!  Yes!"  and fell into more of his kisses.before he had a chance to stand back up. 

"I'm sorry, I was going to do this in a more romantic moment, or at least wait until your mom and dad were here too, but I couldn't wait.  It seems like all we've done is wait."

"Is this what that Thanksgiving walk with my dad was about?" she asked.

"Yes, he gave me his approval.  He knew I planned to ask you sometime while we were up here."

"Does Curt know, and Essie?"

"I told Curt, but he wanted Essie to be surprised," he grinned.  "So go surprise her!"

Noelle pulled him out to find her sister then thrust out her hand to show her ring.  Essie gave a little scream that brought the others running.  Essie hugged her, then Jenny held her close.  The guys pounded Kenner on the back while laughter spilled over.  "Congratulations!" were sounded.

"You better call Mom now or she won't forgive you," Essie warned.   "She'll be coming round the mountain with wedding plans."

"We don't want a big wedding!"  They both had exclaimed it at the same time though a wedding  had never been discussed.

"Really? You don't either," Noelle asked her new fiancé.

"Absolutely not, unless you had your heart set on it," he offered.  "I prefer something small with just our family here, well and your parents, of course.  But I can pay for whatever you want."

"Well, do you believe in long engagements?" she then asked.

"Not if I can help it," he grinned.


"Well, what?  How soon, pretty lady?" Noelle didn't think his grin could get any broader.

"I don't know?" she looked perplexed.  "I haven't ever thought much about getting married, just about being with you."

"Silly, Noelle," Essie teased.  "That's what marriage is, being together, not apart, unless you're married to a musician and he goes on tour, that is."

"Well, he has a nice house here.  He has a job.  You've been through your engagement counseling, thanks to yours truly.  What are you waiting for?" Curt teased.

"Curt, don't rush her," Essie said.  "But really, Noelle.  If there was one thing I'd do over if I could, was not wait so long to get married.  It's too hard once you know you've found the one.  I let mom talk me in to the big wedding which took months planning.  If you both want just a small wedding,  you won't have to wait as long as we did," she added.

"Who's rushing her now, Essie," Curt chortled.  "By the way, Essie, your dad already knows.  They just hoped somebody could wait until they got here before he popped the question," he joked poking Kenner in the ribs.

"What can I say?  She's too irresistible!"  Kenner's laughter was contagious.

Noelle and Kenner could hardly let go of each other to even eat.  His mother had made a delicious tomato basil soup served with fresh bakery sour dough bread and a salad.  Even though they had to let go of each other's hands to hold their soup spoons and their salad forks, they barely kept their eyes off each other.

"It's a wonder you can manage to get any soup in your mouth, Noelle," Essie giggled.  "Look what you're doing!" she said as Noelle was lifting an empty spoon into her mouth. 

Later, they cuddled on the couch whispering.  "How about Valentine's Day?" Noelle asked.

"How about Christmas Eve?" Kenner responded.

"How about New Year's Day?" she suggested.

"How about Christmas Eve?" he smiled his charming smile.

"Okay, okay, I'll compromise and say, Christmas Eve!" she grinned. 

"And the lady's set the date!" Kenner hollered thrusting a fist into the air before pulling her off the couch to do the Texas two-step around the living room floor.  She didn't know what it was, but just followed his lead.

"When?" they all asked.  "Where?"

"Christmas Eve," Noelle announced.  "Here at the cabin, if that's agreeable to you, Kenner?  Now to tell Mom and Dad."

Kenner got out his phone and punched in the numbers.  "Do you want me to tell them or you?"

"Go ahead," she nodded.  "Just ask them to see if Rev. Sinclair is available."

She could hear her mom through the phone yell, "Christmas Eve?  That's not enough time!"

"They're on their way up," Kenner said.  "It quit snowing, so they should be okay driving."

When he hung up, Essie said, "I know what we're going to do tomorrow, shop for a wedding dress!"

"Or I could look online to find one that I like, give them my measurements and have it sent special delivery." 

"But what if you don't like it once you try it on?" Essie wanted to know.

"I'm not that particular.  I always dreamed about meeting the man who would sweep me off my feet, but not really about the wedding or the dress.  Is that weird?"

"No, honey, just smart," Jenny said patting her hand.  Isn't this fun though!"

"Well, I'll compromise since I'm sure mom will insist, but I won't spend more than a couple of hours looking, and I don't want to drive down to Reno either.  If I can't find something up here, I still have a week before the wedding to look in the shops back home." 

In the other room Kenner was saying, "I'll book us a few nights in the Regency.  That way, our families can stay here a couple of extra days while we have a little honeymoon.  Then after everybody leaves, we'll come back here.  The main thing I have to work on is finishing the song that I wrote for her.  I want to surprise her at the wedding."

"She'll love that, son," his dad said clasping his shoulder.  "I think you picked a real winner."

By the time her mother arrived, Essie, Jenny and Noelle had pretty much planned out the details, much to her disappointment.  No one paid attention to the late hour.

"Just find the perfect dress you want to wear, mom, only remember how cold it is up here."  If the weather cooperates, we want to get married outside in the snow.  If not, in here by the fire.  All we need are a couple of poinsettias and a bouquet of red roses tied with a wide white ribbon for my bouquet.   The guys are going to string lots of white lights outside tomorrow, then we'll go get a Christmas tree from a lot, not in the woods, to save time.  Kenner says he has some decorations from another Christmas he spent here alone a couple years ago."

"That's so sad, honey.  You know your dad and I would have wanted you to come home," his mother Jenny said.

"I know, mom.  It's just that I wasn't ready.  My addiction didn't have me in a good place right then." 

"I looked up on the internet while your dad was driving and found a hotel up here that does catering and is known for their fabulous wedding cakes," her mom said.  "Since it doesn't have to be a big cake, we won't have to order ahead and can just pick up one of theirs from their bakery and request just a little extra piping.

"As long as it's not very big," Noelle said.  "We don't need a lot of cake leftovers.  Whatever you decide on having catered is okay by me, but I'll ask Kenner what he wants."

"Of course, dear," her mother said trying to sound agreeable though biting her lip.  Then she went on,  "Rev. Sinclair said he and his wife would love to come up to do an early afternoon wedding, but don't want to drive home after dark.  They'll come up the day before and stay in a hotel that we will arrange for.  It's nice of them to take the time away from their family, though they assured us that they celebrate on Christmas morning." 

"It sounds like it will all come together," Noelle sighed.  As an event planner you'd think that she would have been planning her own wedding for years.  It's just that she had overseen so many over-blown weddings at the church full of drama, that she only wanted to keep things simple, to not draw away from the special sacredness of the marriage ceremony.

Essie hugged her.  "It will be perfect, but if not, I don't think wild horses will keep Kenner away from marrying you."  But just then she looked a little pale and ran from the room.  Curt followed  close on her heels.

"She's sure been sick a lot, mom.  I'm starting to get worried," Noelle said, but her mom and Jenny exchanged a smug smile.  "What?" Noelle asked?

Finally, Curt came in with a pale Essie and got everyone's attention. "Since this is a day for announcements, Essie and I have one as well.  We were going to wait until Christmas, but...we're expecting!" 

Noelle had never seen them look happier.  She slapped her forehead.  "Of course!  That's why you've been so sick, Essie!  I'm so happy for you!"

Hugs were given all around, but Curt decided to break up the party.  "I'm taking my little mama to bed.  I'm afraid she's getting too tired, and it's late.  It's one o'clock, people!"

Noelle was going to give her parents her bedroom upstairs, but they insisted on taking the living room hide-a-bed.  "You're mom's been thinking about getting a new couch like this, and we want to try it out," her dad insisted.  Besides, we're not leaving you two alone down here together.  I'm still your dad, you know."

"Thanks, for raising such a wonderful daughter, sir.  I appreciate you coming at the last moment to join us since I got ahead of myself popping the question before you planned to get here."

"The important part is she said yes.  You're getting married before God, and we'll only be the witnesses to that ceremony.  But until then..."  her dad cocked his eyebrows and shook his finger.

Kenner put his hands up.  "I agree she's worth protecting."  Kenner hugged her and gave her a delicate kiss in front of them all.  "There, and now my fiancé is off to her beauty sleep even if she  got any more beautiful, I couldn't stand it!"

The next morning the women came home triumph with a mystery dress in a garment bag. 

"Eureka!"  Essie gave a victory shout.

"It's time to go Christmas tree shopping now!" Noelle said excitedly.

"She wasn't that excited to go dress shopping," her mother shook her head.

"Ready?"  Kenner asked.  "Who all are going?"

"It's your tree, why don't you two go by yourself," her dad suggested. 

"Are you sure, Mom?  Dad?"

"Go on you two," Kenner's mom shooed her out the door. 

"Essie's taking a nap and Curt is with her," her mom added.  "They're not going anywhere.  Wedding dress shopping wore her out."

They got back so late that they could have climbed to the tallest peak, to chop a tree down, and drag it back down the mountain in their bare teeth.  In fact, it wasn't the tallest peak, but it was high enough to have a beautiful view of the lake with a prize of a tree straight from the forest.  Noelle would never forget the special memory.



Supper was on the table as soon as the guys set up the tree.  After the chili and cornbread, everyone gathered to decorate it together. Kenner lifted her up so she could put the star on top of the tree.  When she slid back down in his arms, he said, "You can't top this, the wonder of Christmas.  Because of you all and the gift of Noelle's love in my life,  because of the gift of God's love in my life, I have true joy, so Joy to the World, y'all!  And then he did what musicians do best, he burst into song.  He'd found his song.

Noelle's Wedding Song

It's about the one, a girl,
Who lights my heart
With every dawn.

It's about the one, a girl,
Who sets on fire my love
With every sunset.

It's about the one, a girl,
Who eases into my mind,
Like a refreshing breeze.

It's about the one, a girl,
Who's not afraid to challenge me,
Demanding my very best.

It's about the one, a girl,
Who defies description,
By calling her merely beautiful.

It's about the one, a girl,
Whose lingering kisses
Refine my very soul.

It's about God, the One,
Who gave me the gift
Of the one I call my own,

This story's dedicated to my man, who believes in and works for Teen Challenge.
One of his Christmas gifts from me is this fictional tale,
to illustrate this fine ministry.
He kept hinting he wanted such a story,
and he could hardly wait for me to finish!
If it wasn't for his encouragement,
I would never be brave enough to post any of these stories,
(over fifty now.)

Merry Christmas A.J.



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