“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Forty-Four – Away in a Manger – As Read By Anthony Caruso

“Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Forty-Four – Away in a Manger – As Read By Anthony Caruso

Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! And Happy December officially! Welcome to the forty-fifth official installment of “Another Christmas Story”! Can you believe we’re only a few short weeks away from the big day itself? Where has the time gone?

This week’s incredibly long chapter, Chapter Forty-Four, entitled “Away in a Manger”, will be read to you by the author of this story himself, our very own Anthony Caruso! We hope you like it; it really does serve as the climax of the entire book. Everything prior has been leading up to this! So, if you do enjoy it, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many ears and eyes as possible! In addition, make sure to share this installment for a chance to win a brand new, 2021 Hallmark “Stocking Stuffers Special Edition Keepsake Ornament”!

Coming up on the show this upcoming Monday, December 6th, we will be covering the brand new, Netflix original holiday film, “Love Hard”! And, that same night, we will be recording our episode on the brand new Hallmark Channel Original Christmas Movie,  “The Nine Kittens of Christmas“, on which we will be joined by the always hysterical and amazing Tim Babb of “Can’t Wait for Christmas“! That episode will drop in your feeds on Monday, December 13th! Before that, however, on Thursday, December 9th, you’ll get to hear one of the final three installments of “Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Forty-Five, which is entitled “The Christmas Song”, and which our very own Thom Crowe will be reading to y’all! So, keep your eyes on your podcast feeds because there’s lots of great stuff coming up!

Enjoy, y’all! 🎅🏻🎄🎁 🦌🦉⛄️🚂🔔 🤶🏻 🎀 ❄️

 

Chapter Forty-Four: Away in a Manger

December 25th – 12:45 a.m. EST

As Joseph Nazario hurried down Fifth Avenue, which was completely devoid of any semblance of human life beside himself, he shivered against Elsa’s still falling snow and did his best not to slip and fall on his ass. Navigating the icy sidewalks, he mulled over the conversation he had just had at the Plaza with Gabe the porter – Gabe the angel. Had the conversation actually happened, or had it merely been a dream? If it was the latter, it had been the most intense fever dream of Joey’s life.

Joey shook his head vigorously. Ultimately, it didn’t matter whether or not it was a dream. Mary was in labor, and had called him for help. She was out there somewhere, all alone on the dark, snowy streets of Manhattan on Christmas morning, and he had to find her. And yet, he had no idea where she could possibly be. He had tried to call her phone multiple times, but each time he was sent directly to voicemail; it appeared her phone had died. All he had to go on was the cryptic piece of advice that Gabe had left him with – “If all else fails, just follow the star.”

“What star?” Joey demanded out loud in frustration, as he glanced skyward at the heavens above.

Unsurprisingly, he received no response to his desperate question. In fact, a gust of wind blew a large amount of falling snow into his eyes at that moment, as though Mother Nature herself were mocking him. Groaning loudly, Joey buried his face in his hands. ‘Think,’ he silently urged himself, as he squeezed his eyes shut tight. ‘Think. Where would Mary have gone after storming out on you?’

There were too many options within the twenty-two-point-seven-square-miles that made up the borough to be certain – Central Park, a Broadway show, a multitude of museums, any number of eateries – but how many places were open that late at night? Nearly one-in-the-morning on Christmas day? He supposed that midnight mass was always an option, but Mary wasn’t exactly religious, and had already gone to Christmas Eve services with him hours earlier. Was it possible that she had managed to find some mode of transportation to the nearest hospital? He doubted it, given the current conditions, but he supposed there was always a chance. Before he could even begin to contemplate what hospital she might have gone to, however, an epiphany smacked him hard in the face, and his eyes snapped open as a mental image of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree – its star shining brightly atop of it – came rushing to the forefront of his mind, as an echo of something Mary had said to him earlier rang in his ears. “We’ll get a picture in my favorite spot.”

“Her favorite spot!” Joey exclaimed excitedly, though there was nobody around to hear him. And with that, he hurried in the direction of Rockefeller Plaza.

* * *

“Jakey, would you keep up, please? Get your head out of the clouds!”

Jacob Rankin, who had been falling behind his mother as they wandered the snowy streets of midtown, tore his eyes away from the tops of the skyscrapers looming nearest them in order to stare at his mother, who paused in the center of the icy sidewalk to glare pointedly at him. He wanted to snap at her in response – throw some of his usual teenage snark back in her face – but instead, he was filled with an overwhelming sense of pity as he met her gaze. While he had always been consciously aware of how young the woman was, she had never appeared as young to him as she did in that moment, standing all alone, her cheeks blotchy, her eyes brimming with tears, and her frame trembling due to a mixture of cold and nerves. “Sorry, mom,” he mumbled, hurrying to catch up with her.

As the two began walking forward again in lockstep, with no clear destination in mind, Jake consolingly offered, “Maybe the others have found Aaron by now.”

He was referring to his brother’s teacher, Ms. Warren, who had decided to join the Rockette and the young Italian animal handler when their search party split up upon leaving Radio City. For a moment, it had appeared as though she would join he and his mother, but when the woman had floated the idea, Megan had shot her such a dangerous look that she immediately reconsidered, leaving Jake alone with his desperate caretaker whom he didn’t often get along with. And when Megan responded to what he believed were his comforting words, he remembered why. “They would have called me if they found him, Jake! God!”

His face darkening, he muttered under his breath, “It was just an idea. I’m just trying to help.”

Megan’s face immediately softened in response to the words. Glancing sideways at her son, she replied quietly, “I know, sweetie. I’m sorry. It’s just that…” She let out a deep sigh of frustration as her head swiveled in all directions in a vain attempt to take in every inch of the barren, yet beautifully decorated, New York street at once. “I am so worried about your brother.”

“When aren’t you?” Jake sarcastically demanded before he could stop himself.

Megan came to a complete stop at the crosswalk, waiting for the flashing light across the street to signal that it was safe for them to cross despite the fact that there wasn’t a car in sight. Turning to face her oldest, she pointed out, “I’m never not worried about your brother, Jake. Or you and your sister, for that matter.” Jake snorted in derision. “It’s true. And if it were you missing right now, whether here in New York or back home in Tampa, I would be just as stressed, believe it or not.”

As they crossed the street the moment the light across the way signaled that it was okay for them to do so, Megan continued, staring straight ahead. “It’s not easy being a parent – especially a single one, and especially when you become one so young. Seriously…” She shook her head as her eyes glazed over. “Everything – and I mean everything – I’ve ever done since I became pregnant with you has been in your best interest.” She paused to reflect on this for a moment, as a wry smile slowly spread across her face. “Not that I haven’t made some mistakes along the way, especially when it comes to your father, but…” She glanced sideways at her son again. “One day I hope you understand just how much I love you kids, and how I’d do anything for all three of you.”

Before Jake could reply, or do anything more than stare guiltily at his mother as his face burned hot, the woman’s phone began to ring loudly within her purse. Jumping at the sudden sound, Megan began to dig quickly for it. “Maybe this is the others! Maybe they found him!” But when she finally did manage to extricate her phone and glance down at the caller I.D., her face fell. Sighing deeply, she placed the device to her ear and answered. “Yes, mother?”

“We just got home with Amy,” Linda replied. “How’s the search going? Any luck?”

“Don’t you think I’d have called you if we were having any luck?” Megan snapped.

“Honey, I understand that you’re worried – and understandably so – but there’s no need to take that tone with me,” Linda replied wearily, the strained patience evident in her voice.

“Sorry,” Megan muttered, sparing a glance at her teenage son, who appeared lost in thought; maybe the two of them were more alike than she had previously believed.

“It’s fine,” Linda insisted before asking, “Would you like me to report Aaron missing to the police?”

“You haven’t done that yet?” Megan demanded, aghast. “I thought that bitch Barnes – or whatever her name was – said—”

“—She said that you’d be better off calling the police than blindly searching the streets of New York for Aaron yourself,” Linda politely interrupted. “But you decided to ignore her voice and head out into this storm instead.”

Megan rolled her eyes. “Well, then, yes. I’d appreciate it if you called the cops,” she replied through gritted teeth.

“I’ll do that right now,” Linda calmly informed her. “But before I go, I must ask – have you checked Times Square yet? Or Rockefeller Center?”

“Jake and I took uptown.” Megan glanced up at a street sign that read 70th Street. “Patti Warren, Marcello, and Brittany took downtown.”

“Well, you might want to suggest to them to check those two spots if they already haven’t. it seems to me that if a child who doesn’t know the city wandered off in it, he might be drawn to two of its biggest tourist attractions.”

“Yeah, right…” Megan’s eyes glazed over, as she remembered a comment that Aaron had made to her the night before he left for New York about how it wouldn’t feel like Christmas being so far away from home. So, what if that night, when he was so upset, he chose to seek out the most Christmassy spot in New York to feel the holiday spirit? Why hadn’t she thought of it before?

Shaking her head in order to clear it, Megan cleared her throat. “I have to go, mom. Text me after you’ve filed a missing person’s report with the police.” And without another word, she ended the call and turned to Jake. “Come on,” she instructed. “I think I might know where Aaron is!”

“Where?” Jake demanded, as he followed his mother back in the direction from which they came.

“Rockefeller Center! I think he might be at the Christmas tree!”

* * *

“I can’t just sit here twiddling my thumbs, waiting any longer! I have to get out there and help find her!”

Anna Dreyfus stared across the sitting room of the presidential suite at the Plaza Hotel where the first gentleman, who had been pacing the length of it for a good hour now, came to a complete stop. He looked both exhausted and harried, and the worry he felt toward his missing wife was etched into every line of his face. “The secret service has it covered,” Anna patiently reminded him. “They’ll find her! They’re out on the streets with the full force of the N.Y.P.D. behind them backing them up. It’s only a matter of time until—”

“She’s my wife!” Bobby interrupted, his eyes flashing dangerously. “I should be out on the streets helping look for her!”

Anna didn’t know what to say. Her initial reaction was, “It’s too dangerous,” but she feared that the words would have the opposite effect on the man and make him become even more desperate to hit the snowy streets in order to find the President of the United States. So instead, she settled on, “The Secret Service will never let you—”

“They accompany me everywhere!” Bobby snapped. “So it’s not like I’d be alone on the streets!”

Anna hesitated. “Clint and Melissa would never allow it.”

“They’re Emily’s detail, not mine, Bobby forcefully pointed out. “They have no authority to stop me.”

“They’ll try.”

Bobby rolled his eyes, which took the president’s chief of staff by surprise; she had never seen the man in this state before. “And if they do, I’ll find some way to sneak out just like my Emily did,” he replied in an almost petulant manner through gritted teeth.

Anna visibly deflated at the words, as her mind raced – this wasn’t the way she had expected the night to go after the successful call with Russia. “Well, I can’t let you sneak out on your own,” she stressed, which caused a small smile to slowly unfurl across Bobby’s face. “But let’s at least try to talk with Clint and Melissa first, alright? Please?” She implored him. “Let’s see if they’ll come with us.”

Fine.” Bobby threw his hands into the air in concession. “But I’m serious, Anna; if they try to stop us from going, we’re sneaking out.” When the woman nodded in response, Bobby stared down at the bathrobe still covering his body. “Just – uh – give me five-minutes to change first.”

“Of course,” Anna said quickly, as her cheeks flushed pink. “I’ll just – uh – go wait in the hall.” She awkwardly indicated the suite’s door before hurrying through it and out into the hallway, which was teeming with secret service agents. Sighing deeply as she rubbed her temples, it took her a moment to realize that the young agent that had been hoodwinked earlier by his commander in chief, David Wells, was standing immediately to the right of the presidential suite. “Is everything okay?” he asked with quiet concern.

“You mean besides the fact that the president is missing?” Anna snapped, annoyed. “Yeah, everything’s just peachy.” She immediately regretted it the moment that she saw the young man’s face fall. Rolling her eyes, she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder as she blew a stray strand of blonde hair out of her face. “I’m sorry. It’s just – you know, it’s been a really stressful night.”

David smirked. “When aren’t the holidays stressful?”

Anna laughed. “You may have a point there.”

Before either of them could say another word, Gary hurried toward them from the end of the hallway, sweat sprouting across his forehead as he huffed and puffed heavily. As he approached, he waved a piece of paper through the air with a flourish. “Here’s the draft statement on tonight’s call and the preliminary ACER Agreement that we came up with.” He came to a stop in front of Anna and David, taking a moment to catch his breath as he stroked his bushy mustache. “I think it’s going to be agreeable to all parties.”

“Let me see it,” Anna instructed, grabbing the piece of paper from the press secretary before he could hand it over himself. As she skimmed it carefully, Gary proudly puffed out his chest. “Is the president in her room? Once she signs off on it, I can send it out.”

David’s mouth fell open in surprise. “You mean you haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“That the president already turned in for the night,” Anna said quickly and pointedly, shoving the draft release back into the press secretary’s hands before throwing the young agent a warning glance. “She was exhausted, and doesn’t want to be woken up for anything less than a national emergency; gave me the authority to approve the final draft of the statement.

“R-really?” Gary stammered uncertainly.

“Yup. Mhm.” Anna nodded, as she gestured at the piece of paper that the man before her was clutching like a lifeline. “It’s perfect. Send it out.”

“O-okay. If you’re sure—”

“I am,” the chief of staff insisted firmly. “Just make sure you release it to Congress, the press, and the media simultaneously. Don’t let any of them get the statement before the others; the last thing we need is for one group to get the news through the grapevine.”

“You’ve got it,” Gary replied with a nod of his head. And without another word, he hurried off down the hall in the direction he had originally approached from, leaving the chief of staff speechless as to how clueless he could be sometimes. The moment he was out of earshot, Anna glanced at David, who was peering curiously down at her with an eyebrow raised. With a small shrug, she explained, “There’s no point in telling anyone who doesn’t already know that the president is missing,” she explained. “The more people that know, the more likely it is that it will leak out to the press.”

“From the press secretary?”

“Who talks to the press more?” Anna pointed out. “If Gary doesn’t know, he can’t accidentally let it slip, and he doesn’t have to lie about it.” As the secret service agent laughed in response, she eyed him closely and silently admitted to herself that he was cute in a boyish sort of way – and immediately felt like a cougar for thinking such a thing.

As David’s laughter died down, the door to the presidential suite swung inward and the First Gentleman of the United States stepped out into the hallway. He was bundled up in a heavy winter jacket, scarf, and hat, clearly ready to head outside and face Elsa’s wrath, and Anna could just make out a fierce look of determination on the small bit of his face that was visible. “Ready?” he asked, his voice slightly muffled, and without waiting for an answer, he briskly strode down the hall toward the elevator bank at the end of it.

“Where are you going?” David asked, taken aback as the president’s chief of staff hurried after the commander in chief’s husband.

“Downstairs to talk to Clint and Melissa.”

“Why?” the young agent asked, catching up with them.

“Because the first gentleman, here, wants to take to the streets to help find his wife.”

 

“You what?”

Bobby, Anna, and David were huddled at the base of the enormous Christmas tree in the center of the beautifully decorated lobby of the Plaza hotel, conversing in low voices with Clint, Melissa, Commissioner Burke, and Commanding Officer Pendleton. Around them, there was a flurry of commotion caused by secret service agents and members of the N.Y.P.D. rushing back and forth, as members of the hotel staff observed the makeshift command center responsible for locating the missing President of the United States with a keen interest from behind the front desk.

“I want to go out there and help you locate my wife,” Bobby replied to the enormous, African American secret service agent looming large over them all.

Clint, whose mouth had fallen open in response to the request, rounded on David Wells, who cowered under the man’s gaze. “Are you stupid accompanying these two down here, thinking for a moment we’d entertain the idea?”

“I—”

“We gave you one job,” Clint snapped. “To take the first gentleman and the chief of staff upstairs, and—”

“Clint!” Melissa interjected forcefully, as she placed a calming hand on the man’s bulging bicep. When her partner turned to glare down at her, breathing heavily, she shook her head from side-to-side in an almost imperceptible manner, silently warning him to shut his mouth.

Commissioner Burke stared from the three secret service agents, to the president’s chief of staff who was staring pityingly at the dejected looking Agent Wells, to the defiant looking first gentleman. Desperate to diffuse the overly charged situation, he suggested, “I know tensions are running high, so why don’t we all just take a deep breath and calm down?”

“Calm down?” Bobby repeated. “The President of the United States is missing!”

“I know—”

“My wife is missing! Tell me, would you be calm if your wife went missing, Commissioner?”

“Mr. Williams,” Burke began. “Trust me when I say, I know how you’re feeling. But—”

“And believe me, I was calm when I was informed she was missing, knowing what my wife is like. But given the fact that your officers, and her secret service agents have yet to find her…” He shrugged. “I thought you people were supposed to be the best of the best!”

Fuming, Lindsey Pendleton opened her mouth to defend her fellow N.Y.P.D. officers when the phone attached to her hip began to ring. Rolling her eyes, she held up a finger to the rest of the group. “Excuse me,” she said, before moving away from them to take the call somewhere else that would allow her some privacy.

The moment the commanding officer was out of earshot, Melissa spoke again. “Can we please circle back to the first gentleman’s request for a moment, please?”

“It’s out of the question,” Clint said quickly, his jaw clenched and a vein visibly throbbing in his forehead.

Rolling her eyes, Melissa placed another comforting hand on her partner’s arms before addressing Bobby herself. “What Clint means is, you would divert resources from finding your wife in order to protect you if you were to venture out into the heart of the city tonight.”

“If anything, it would put more people on the street looking for her as I would have to have a detail protecting me, so we might actually find her sooner if I’m out there helping.”

“Surely you don’t think this is a good idea.” Clint addressed Anna, who did her best not to wither beneath the gaze of the five pairs of eyes that swiveled in her direction.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s the worst idea,” she admitted with half-a-shrug, as she glanced from David Wells to the panicked, yet determined, Bobby Williams. “I mean, he would have a security detail with him,” she added pointedly, as Clint stammered, completely flabbergasted by the woman’s response. “And I could go with him too.”

“Me too,” David piped up enthusiastically, throwing an eager look at the chief of staff and going red in the face when she met his eyes.

Clint rounded on Melissa, silently imploring the pretty red-headed woman to back him up, but she merely smiled guiltily at him in response. “I’m okay with it,” she conceded quietly. “I mean, we could always go out with them and leave the coordination to somebody else.” When Clint scoffed in disbelief, Melissa prompted gently, “Come on, Clint; I know you want to be out on the street looking for her as much as anyone.”

Clint rolled his eyes before letting out a sigh of frustration and throwing his hands into the air in defeat. “Fine,” he spat, which caused a wide grin to spread across the first gentleman’s face. “Fine. But we’ll take you out.” He indicated himself and Melissa.

“Marvelous!” Bobby clapped his hands together, clearly relieved.

“I’m going to go and find Geoffrey to let him know that he’s in charge of overseeing search and rescue coordination in our absence,” Clint informed Melissa before striding toward the lobby’s elevators.

“Grab my coat while you’re upstairs, please!” Melissa called after him, allowing herself a small smirk as her partner waved his hand behind his back in acknowledgement of her before disappearing into one of the elevators.

“Well, if you’re all going out to search for the president yourselves, then as Commissioner of the New York Police Department, I’ll be joining you as well in order to help ensure the safety of the first gentleman and the quick recovery of the President of the United States. I’ll have Commanding Officer Pendleton join us too,” he added. “Speak of the devil,” he remarked, as the woman rejoined them, a grave look on her face. “Is everything alright?”

“No, actually,” Pendleton replied. “I just got off the phone with dispatch from my precinct. A nine-year-old boy from Florida, in town on a field trip, ran away from the rest of his class at Radio City Music Hall earlier this evening. Aaron Rankin.”

“Jesus Christ.” Commissioner Burke ran a hand over his weary face, as his underling continued.

“It was his grandmother who just called it in. The boy’s mother, Megan, and his teacher, Patricia, are out looking for him right now. I told dispatch to put out an A.P.B. Hopefully he’s picked up soon, what with all of our people out looking for the president and everything.”

Burke nodded. “Speaking of which, we’re heading out there with the first gentleman in a moment to assist in helping search for President Williams.”

Pendleton blinked in surprise. “That’s been decided, then?”

“Unfortunately,” a deep voice growled from behind them. Clint had rejoined the group, and held out Melissa’s winter coat for his partner to take. “Special Agent Geoffrey Torrance has agreed to stay behind and organize things here.” Then, turning to the first gentleman, he asked, “Are you ready to go, sir?”

“More than ready.”

Clint inclined his head stiffly. “Then let’s get moving. We’ll have to leave through a side entrance in order to avoid the press camped outside,” he explained, as he and Melissa led Bobby, Anna, David, and Commissioner Burke across the lobby. Lindsey Pendleton, however, remained where she stood. And as she watched the group move away from her, she called after them, “I’ll catch up!”

Though she received a curious glanced from her superior in response, Pendleton was glad that Burke didn’t question her. The moment that the group was out of earshot and out of sight, Lindsey pulled out her phone and began to dial the number of somebody she really didn’t want to have to talk to again that evening, but whom she prayed would pick up as she placed the cellular device to her ear.

* * *

“How many bars are we just going to blindly search?”

Seamus Dwyer turned to face Andrew Lee the moment that the question slipped out of his partner’s mouth. “As many as it takes! We’re looking for the President of the United States, dude! This is the key that will guarantee we keep our jobs!”

The two N.Y.P.D. officers had just emerged from an unnaturally quiet bar just off of Time’s Square and out into the unusually eerily silent heart of Manhattan’s tourism industry. Though the falling snow had finally begun to subside into a gentle flurry, the roads were still empty and only a few stranglers remained on the sidewalks. “Blindly searching without any idea where she could have gone is a pointless exercise,” Andrew pointed out, as he motioned around at the Christmas lights twinkling around them in all directions. “Trying to locate one person in New York City without any leads is like finding a needle in a haystack!”

Seamus raised an eyebrow. “I think we have slightly better odds than that tonight, considering the fact there’s hardly anybody out on the streets.” As his partner rolled his eyes, he continued. “Besides, we’re cops! It’s our job to find missing people.”

“You know what I mean,” Andrew snapped, as he shivered against a cold gust of wind. “The entire force and the secret service are out looking for the president tonight; what are the odds that we’ll be the ones to find her? You’re resting all of your hopes that we’ll be able to save our jobs on this one in a billion chance!”

“Oh, ye of little faith!” Seamus patted Andrew’s chest roughly. “Have some hope! Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?” He forced a grin on his face, though not-so-deep-down he felt exactly the same as Andrew did; but he was desperate. It looked increasingly like he would never get to Boston in time to see his children open their gifts from Santa, which meant his already rocky marriage was essentially over; if he didn’t have his job, what else would he have?

“Since when are you so into the magic of Christmas?”

Seamus shrugged in response. “I don’t know! It’s freezing, so I’m clearly losing brain cells. But the point is we are going to find Williams, and we are going to keep our jobs. We have to, okay? And best of all, Lindsey wants us to. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have called us begging for our help!”

Andrew stared at his wild-eyed partner, who was exuding desperation. Before he could muster a response, however, the phone clipped to Seamus’ hip began to ring loudly. Glancing at it, his partner grinned widely. “Well, would you look at that?” He held the phone in front of Andrew’s face so his friend could catch a glimpse of the name of the person calling them before activating the speakerphone. “What’s up, boss?”

“Did you find the president?” Lindsey Pendleton asked without preamble.

“Not yet,” Seamus replied casually. “But it’s only a matter of time.”

“Well, do me a favor while searching for her, would you?” Pendleton sounded more strained than she had all evening, and both officers immediately stiffened where they stood upon noticing. “Keep your eyes open for a nine-year-old boy called Aaron Rankin. His grandmother just reported him missing.”

Seamus and Andrew locked eyes over the phone resting in the former’s open palm, both of their faces stony all of a sudden. If there was one thing that affected them – that affected most law enforcement personnel, for that matter – more than anything else, it was cases that involved children, whether they went missing or they were involved with something more sinister. “What can you tell us about him?” Seamus asked, his normally playful tone completely gone now.

“He’s from Tampa Bay, Florida, in town on a field trip,” Lindsey explained. “His class performed at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes in the Christmas Spectacular earlier this evening. Apparently, after a confrontation with one of his classmates, he ran off into the night without telling anybody. The boy’s mother and teacher are out looking for him right now.”

Seamus and Andrew met one another’s eyes over the phone once again, both of them thinking the same thing – needle in a haystack. Pendleton, meanwhile, continued speaking. “I put out an A.P.B., but I…I wanted to ask you two personally to keep your eyes open.”

Ignoring how the woman’s voice caught in her throat as she spoke, Andrew asked, “What does he look like?”

“He’s small with sandy hair and sad eyes. He might be wearing a marching snare drum around his neck.”

“Right.” Seamus nodded. “Andy I will head over in the direction of the Radio City area to look for him and the president – we’ve pretty much exhausted our options in Time’s Square.”

Thank you,” Pendleton replied, the relief in her voice palpable.

“You’re welcome,” Seamus responded, choosing to forgo a sarcastic comment. “And don’t worry – we’ll find the president and the boy.” And without another word, he hung up the phone. The moment he did, Andrew let out an enormous sigh. “This night just keeps on getting better and better, doesn’t it?”

“Well, you know what they say – when it rains it pours.”

“We shouldn’t have drank so much.”

Clapping a reassuring hand on his partner’s shoulder, Seamus gave it a comforting squeeze. “The cold air will help sober us up. Come on.” As the two of them began to walk uptown, Seamus grinned to himself. “If we can locate a missing boy on top of the three missing leaders of the free world, it may make up for how slow the rest of this day has been.” But would it make up for missing out on spending Christmas morning with his family and possibly putting the final nail in the coffin of his marriage?

* * *

“Mary!

Joey rounded the corner of Fifth Avenue and spotted the pregnant woman – his childhood friend – sitting alone on a bench a few feet down the street from the manger that had been erected at the end of the Channel Gardens. As he hurried toward her, he caught sight of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree looming high above the scene in the background on the far end of the Gardens. The star atop its highest bough seemed to be going crazy – shining extremely brightly one moment before dimming for a few seconds and shining bright again, as though it were some sort of flashing beacon. The sight made his stomach constrict uncomfortably, as he finally made sense of Gabe’s words, “Follow the star.” Skidding to a stop in front of the bench on which Mary sat, he nearly overbalanced on the icy sidewalk. “There you are! Are you alright?”

The woman, who had been staring down at her swollen stomach, lifted her head to meet her friend’s eyes and immediately, Joey felt a lump form in his throat as his heart slipped a beat. Doing his best to block out the sounds of the traditional, religious Christmas carols drifting out of the front doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the corner diagonally across the street from them, Joey took in Mary’s appearance. She was extraordinarily pale, and her trembling lips were a light shade of blue. She was clearly freezing, and Joey knew that he had to get her inside and out of the elements soon lest she come down with hypothermia. Shivering where she sat in the snow and a now-frozen puddle of her own amniotic fluid, Mary nevertheless smiled up at the sight of her childhood neighbor. “Joey,” she breathed, her voice hoarse and completely devoid of a British accent now. “You found me!”

“Of course, I did!” Joey glanced up and down the empty street, which was empty apart from the two of them and a Salvation Army Santa Claus at the corner across from them in front of St. Patrick’s, who was stooped low as he packed up his bell and collection bucket.

“How did you know where I’d be?”

“Well, I remembered this was your favorite spot, of course!” Joey answered, doing his best to keep his demeanor bright for the woman’s sake. Then, spotting the star atop the city’s famous tree out of the corner of his eye, he added, “Plus, I might have had some help from above.” He shook his head as Mary stared at him inquisitively. “But that’s neither here nor there. Mar’ – did you call 911 before your phone died?” he asked, noticing for the first time that her pale cheeks were tearstained.

“N-no.” Mary sniffed, as she took a deep shuddering breath. “I was too scared!She shouted the final word, which gave way to a scream of pain as her body contracted and she squeezed her eyes shut tight.

Concerned, Joey crouched down beside the woman suffering a contraction and extended his hand for her to take. When the moment passed, Mary opened her eyes and took a few heavy breaths, but refused to relinquish her grip on the man’s fingers. “Joey, I am so sorry.” She spoke in a hurried whisper, as she stared deep into his beautiful blue eyes, desperate to make him understand how bad she felt. “I shouldn’t have—”

“None of that’s important, Mary,” Joey insisted gently, as he squeezed her hand in a comforting manner. “What’s important is getting you to a hospital.”

Mary shook her head vigorously. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t do this,” she explained. “I’m not ready to be a mother!

Once again, the end of the woman’s sentence devolved into a scream as another contraction crashed over her. Joey waited for the moment to pass, silently panicking at how close the contractions were to one another, before calmly insisting, “Well, ready or not, the baby is on its way.”

“What if I’m an awful mom?” Mary asked so quietly that it appeared as though she didn’t even want to put the idea out into the universe.

“Mary, you’re going to be a great mom.”

“I can’t do this alone!”

“Yes, you can!”

“I can’t,” Mary insisted, as she shook her head. “I thought I could – I was psyching myself up when I was sitting here, and nearly had myself convinced, until my water actually broke. Then reality set back in.”

“Mary,” Joey began, his voice firm now. “If anyone can do this, it’s you. I promise you. Besides, you won’t be alone! You’ll have your family! You’ll have Nat. Me,” he added, as an embarrassed afterthought. Another contraction hit the woman at that moment before she could respond, at which point Joey stood up. “I’m calling an ambulance.”

His heart racing, Joey took a few steps away from the bench on which Mary sat and dialed emergency services as he nervously eyed the pregnant woman. After two rings, an operator on the other end answered. “911, what’s your emergency?”

“Hi. Yes. My name is Joseph Nazario, and my – uh – friend, Mary, is in labor. We need help.”

“How far apart are the contractions, sir?”

“I haven’t timed them, but they seem really close,” Joey answered. “Like, really close. Please, hurry.”

“Where are you located?”

“Rockefeller Center, at the end of the Channel Gardens farthest from the tree. Just in front of the Nativity scene across from St. Patricks’ Cathedral.”

“Outside?”

“Yes, yes, outside!” Joey snapped, annoyed by the operator’s cool demeanor and the matter-of-fact clicking sound he could hear on the other end of the line as she typed.

“We can have an ambulance at your location within the hour.”

“Within the hour?” Joey repeated, aghast. “The baby isn’t going to stay inside of her that long!”

“Sir, I understand,” the operator replied patiently. “But given the current weather and conditions on the road, that’s the best we can do.”

“What are we supposed to do in the meantime?” Joey demanded, as Mary let out another yell of pain from where she sat behind him.

“Try to get your friend somewhere warm, and get lots of towels – you may have to deliver the baby yourself.”

Joey swayed on the spot, feeling extremely lightheaded all over a sudden. “I don’t know how—”

“Keep her breathing and pushing,” the operator replied calmly. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.” And before Joey could protest, the line went dead.

Sighing in frustration, Joey hurried back to Mary and forced a smile onto his face, lest he panic her. “Good news,” he began brightly. “They’re sending an ambulance! How are you doing?”

“How does it look like I’m doing?” Mary snapped, out of breath, as her hair became more frazzled by the second.

Glancing up and down the street, Joey suggested, “How about we get you inside, huh? Warm you up?”

“You don’t think I tried finding somewhere indoors to sit the moment I felt my water break? All of the shops and restaurants in the immediate vicinity are closed,” Mary explained. “And the doormen and security for the residential and office buildings have already gone home.”

Joey stared across the street at the city’s most famous cathedral. “Well, we know St. Patrick’s is still open—”

“I’m not going into a church while mass is in session in this condition!” Mary interrupted, speaking in such a tone that suggested Joey had lost his mind. “The religious nuts will drag me up to the altar to give birth in front of them! They’ll think I’m pushing some kind of miracle out of my vag, or something! The second coming of Jesus Christ!” Yet again, the end of her sentence turned into a scream, as she was hit with a wave of pain like she had never experienced before in her life prior to that night. When it finally subsided somewhat, she panted before finishing. “We’ll just – we’ll wait for the ambulance. How long did they say it would take?”

Well…” Joey hesitated, as he stared down at his shuffling feet. “They didn’t give an exact time per say—

“How long?”

Meeting Mary’s eyes, Joey admitted, “They said they’d be here within the hour.”

“Within the hour?” Mary demanded, enraged as a new wave of panic washed over her. “What the hell am I supposed to do if this baby wants out before that?”

“I guess – uh…” Joey cleared his throat, feeling himself go red in the face. “I guess I’ll have to deliver it.”

“You will not,” Mary insisted breathlessly, her own face flushing red now as she watched Joey remove his coat and throw it to the side. “I am not going to allow the first time you see my pussy to be when it’s an enormous hole pushing out another human body! You’ll never want to look at it again!”

Joey smirked, shivering as he began to roll up his sleeves. “Are you planning on giving me another opportunity to look at it again in the future?”

“I’m serious, Joseph!”

“Well, what other choice do we have, Mary?” Joey demanded, exasperated. “The baby’s coming now!”

Mary glanced around desperately for an alternative solution, and if Joey weren’t so worried about her baby’s well-being or the fact that the woman was on the verge of freezing to death, he would have found her bashfulness quite cute. “Here,” he instructed, picking up his jacket from where he had thrown it aside. “Put this on.”

Gratefully taking it from him, Mary shook the snow from it as she spotted the Salvation Army Santa Claus across the street. “There!” She pointed triumphantly. “Go ask him for help!”

Santa?” Joey asked with a laugh of disbelief. “I think the cold is messing with your already pregnancy-addled brain! Why would some street Santa—”

“He’s with the Salvation Army!” Mary rolled her eyes. “They train their staff to handle all kinds of emergency scenarios, don’t they? He might know how to deliver a baby!” She screamed again, as another contraction overcame her with the force of a freight train. “Just – just please go ask him,” she gasped when the pain subsided somewhat.

Joey threw up his hands, exasperated, before deciding to indulge the woman in order to save her from suffering a little more stress. “Fine,” he said. “Just – just put on the jacket before you get frostbite, alright?” And as Mary began to struggle into his winter coat, he hurried across the icy street toward the Salvation Army Santa Claus who looked like he was just about done packing up his belongings. “Hey!” Joey called. “Hey! Santa!”

When the old man in red turned to face him, Joey had to do a double-take, for the bemused, bearded face staring back at him was the exact same he had encountered multiple times earlier that day – at Macy’s just outside of Central Park, and on stage performing in the Christmas Spectacular. Widening his eyes, he exclaimed, “It’s you!”

“Yes?” the man replied uncertainly, his eyes twinkling mischievously behind his half-moon spectacles.

“I’ve been running into you all day!”

The man’s bushy white eyebrows furrowed together. “Well, it is Christmas, my boy,” he pointed out. “Of course you’d see Santa Claus everywhere.”

Joey opened his mouth to push back when he heard Mary scream in pain once again. Shaking his head, he said, “It doesn’t matter. Look, you’re with the Salvation Army, right? Do you know how to deliver a baby? Because my friend’s is on its way.” He motioned aimlessly behind him, and Santa’s eyes widened in shock as he stared across the street at the pregnant woman sitting on the frozen bench and clutching her stomach tightly.

“Oh, my boy,” the old man began breathlessly. “I’d love to help you – truly I would – but it’s my busiest night of the year, and—”

“You’re joking, right?”

“—I’m already behind schedule as it is,” Santa finished, as though he hadn’t been interrupted. “I have a lot of homes to visit, you know; Christmas wishes to make come true.”

Joey watched in disbelief as the old man took a few steps backward away from him, down the street. He wasn’t sure whether the man was truly insane, or was just really into the role that he was tasked with playing. In the event it was the latter, Joey tried one last, desperate gambit – playing along. “Santa, what I really want for Christmas is help delivering my friend’s baby safely.”

A small, playful smirk unfolded across Santa’s face at the words. “I’ll see what I can do.” And with a final wink of his eye, the old man hurried away down the street, leaving Joey standing alone, dumbfounded by the entire exchange. When he finally found his voice again, he called after the man loudly, despite the fact he was far enough away he probably wouldn’t hear him anymore, “Fine! Go! What kind of psychopath just stands there ringing a damn bell as he listens to a woman in labor screaming without offering any help, anyway?” Then, shaking his head, he hurried back across the street to join Mary just in time to witness the end of another contraction. “Well?” she demanded breathlessly.

Joey shook his head. “Looks like you’re stuck with me delivering this thing.” When Mary let out a frustrated groan in response, he insisted, “Trust me. That guy was the last person you’d ever want helping you; seemed like a real nut job.”

“And you’re the consummate professional?” Mary snapped.

Rather than be annoyed with the fact that the woman was taking out her stress on him, Joey found himself smiling in amusement. “What’s so funny?” she demanded.

“Nothing,” Joey insisted, before deciding to admit, “It’s just – well, I missed your New York accent.” He turned away to look up and down the street before he could witness Mary flip him the bird. Fixing his eyes on St. Patrick’s Cathedral once again, he said, “We have to get you inside—”

“I’m not giving birth in front of a crowd, Joey!”

Rounding on her, frustrated, Joey opened his mouth to argue when his eyes landed on the life-size Nativity scene erected behind her. Though still open and exposed to the elements, the thatched roof seemed to have protected the true-to-scale statues within the manger from the snow and ice all day, as they looked completely dry. And even with the front open to the street, the fact that the manger had a roof, a back, and two partial sides automatically would make it warmer inside of it than sitting out on an icy bench, even considering the fact that the snow had just about all-but-stopped now. “Well, you’re not going to like the alternative,” he warned.

“Try me,” Mary growled.

With a shrug, Joey hurried around the bench on which she sat, and over to the manger, above which the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree’s star shone brightly, as the tree itself was aligned directly behind it at the other end of the Channel Gardens. “You have got to be kidding me,” Mary deadpanned, as she watched Joey begin to struggle to move the heavy statues out of the manger.

“Do you have a better idea?” Joey grunted, struggling with one of the three wise men. “It’s either St. Pat’s or this. Sorry, Gaspar,” he addressed the statue, before chucking it with a loud groan into the Gardens behind the manger, shrugging guiltily at the wire-sculpted angels lining them as he did so.

Mary opened her mouth to reply when another contraction hit her and she let out a loud, protracted, cathartic scream.

* * *

“Where the hell could he be?”

Brittany turned to stare at the young teacher from Florida, whose blonde hair was askew and cheeks were blotchy and red from a combination of clutching at them in worry with her manicured nails, crying, and the sheer cold. “Don’t worry.” She placed a comforting hand on the woman’s shoulder. “He can’t have gotten that far. Not in this.” She gestured around at the snow and ice they were struggling through as they searched. “Plus, we’re on an island! He can only be within a 13-mile long, two-mile wide radius,” she joked. “Right?” She turned toward Marcello, and her face fell when she noticed that the Italian man she had always found ridiculously charming and irresistibly cute didn’t even crack a smile. “Hey…” She began to rub his lower back in a soothing manner. “We’ll find him, okay? And Billy. I promise you. I’m sure they’re fine.”

Marcello smiled sadly. “I hope you’re right. It’s just – they’re so small and frail. And it’s so cold.”

Brittany nodded her understanding, as she pulled the long brown coat that the man had draped around her shoulders so that she could stay warm in her bloodstained costume tight around her in response to a strong gust of wind. The three of them were walking up and down the streets nearest Radio City Music Hall blindly, convinced that Aaron and Billy wouldn’t have ventured far from the immediate vicinity. If they did, well, who the hell knew where they could be!

Ugh!” Patricia Warren let out a loud, frustrated groan as she stared, wide-eyed, at the heavens above. “I am so going to be fired.”

Though Marcello responded with nothing more than an affirmative grunt, curiosity got the better of Brittany. “Why would Felipe fire you? The kid went missing under his watch too.”

The young teacher let out a humorless laugh. “Oh, I’m not worried about Rodriguez – his ass is on the line too! When our district’s superintendent hears about this, he’s going to get rid of both of us. And when word gets out as to why we were fired, do you think another school district will ever hire us?” She shook her head before answering her own question. “I think not! Though I suppose it doesn’t even matter, really, because Aaron’s mother is sure to kill us, anyway.”

“You know what?” Marcello came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the street and whipped around to face the teacher angrily. “Maybe you both deserve it.”

Excuse me?” Patricia demanded, affronted.

“That kid, Aaron?” Marcello began, shaking with a mix of rage and cold. “He’s been bullied by that Daniel boy for years. He told me so himself! He tried to shrug it off, but I could see the hurt in his eyes. And what the hell did you ever do about it, huh? Not only was he allowed on this field trip, but he was Aaron’s understudy, and neither you nor your boss kept a close enough eye on him to prevent this from happening!”

The Italian man lapsed into silence, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he shook with fury. Brittany stared between him and Patricia, who looked as though she were on the verge of tears, before placing a calming hand on Marcello’s arm and suggesting, “Why don’t we all just calm down?”

But the third-grade teacher had other ideas. “You think it’s so easy?” she demanded in a furious whisper that nevertheless echoed around the empty street. “I hate that Daniel boy and his friend, Chris, as much as Aaron does! And I’ve done my best to set them on the right path! If it were up to me, they’d have both been expelled a long time ago! But it’s not. You have no idea how much power parents have in schools nowadays! Every single time that I, or Felipe, have tried to discipline the boy, his parents intervene and prevent it from happening. Every. Single. Time. So don’t you ever accuse me of not doing my job. Ever. As for keeping an eye on the children, yes, I should have kept a more watchful eye on Daniel earlier this evening, but you were the one Aaron was hanging out with backstage.” She poked Marcello hard in the chest. “So don’t pretend like you’re completely guilt-free in all of this.”

Marcello’s face drained of all color at the words, as it hit him like a ton of bricks that the woman was right. Brittany stared between her two angry, devastated companions, desperate to alleviate tensions between them. Before she could say anything in an attempt to do so, however, a mustachioed, desperate-looking African American man came hurrying around the corner. Considering the fact that he was the first person that the three of them had seen out on the streets all evening, his sudden appearance was quite unexpected; as was the fact that he hurried toward them as fast as he could through the snow.

“Hi! Hello! Excuse me!” The man skidded to a stop directly beside the three-person search party, out of breath. “My name – my name is Hudson Jackson. I’m with Animal Control.” He pointed to the patch of identification sewn onto his uniform, just above his left breast pocket. “I was wondering if you could help me. You see, I – uh – I crashed my truck a few streets over by the Atlas Statue on Fifth Avenue, and – well, the dog and the cat I had in the back of it managed to escape. You haven’t come across any in your travels tonight, have you?”

Marcello and Brittany exchanged an uncertain glance, the latter raising a curious eyebrow in response to the overly hyper, twitchy man. Patricia Warren, however, shook her head from side-to-side. “Can’t say that we have.” The man visibly deflated at the words, looking devastated. “But we’re looking for someone ourselves. Have you seen a small boy wandering the streets on his own tonight? About yay-high?” She held up hand just above her waist. “Sandy hair, answers to the name Aaron?”

Hudson blinked in surprise. “You know what?” he began. “I have, actually.”

“You have?” Brittany’s mouth dropped open in surprise.

“Was there a baby goat with him?” Marcello demanded excitedly.

“A baby goat?” Hudson repeated slowly, as though the words were foreign to him. “Don’t tell me there’s a stray goat wandering the streets tonight as well!”

Before Marcello could respond, Patricia asked, “Where did you see him?”

“Back by my truck,” Hudson explained. “But who knows if he’s still in that area.”

“Can you take us there?” Brittany asked. “If we’re being honest, we could use an extra pair of eyes, and something tells me you could use an extra three to help look for your missing animals. Besides,” she pressed on, when she noticed the man hesitate. “It’s Christmas! You shouldn’t be out here all on your own!”

Though Hudson appreciated the sentiment, it caused a painful pang in his heard to think of Booster and Dexter wandering the streets, cold, scared, hungry, and alone. He had to find them – and once he did, he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to let them go. So, conceding, he said, “Okay, then. Follow me.” And together, the now four-person search party started up the street. It was then that curiosity got the better of the man from Animal Control, and he asked, “You lost a baby goat too?”

Marcello laughed despite himself. “It’s a long story.” And, grabbing Brittany’s hand, intertwining his fingers with her own, which caused the Rockette to smile, he began to relay the tale to their new companion.

* * *

Ugh! This is so stupid!”

Joey smiled sympathetically as he threw the last of the statues that had been within the manger – fittingly, the Virgin Mary – into the Channel Gardens behind it. “Maybe so,” he began, as he rejoined Mary where she sat on the icy bench. “But think of the story you’ll have to tell your kid one day!”

As he took the woman’s hand in his own, Mary wearily stated, “I hate you.” Nevertheless, she allowed Joey to gently guide her into the now empty manger, and gently lower her to the floor.

“You do not,” Joey replied matter-of-factly. “And I’m not going to get angry at that comment because I know it’s just the hormones talking.” He stared down at the woman, who was still clutching her stomach tightly, and awkwardly cleared his throat. “You should – uh…you should probably take off your pants.”

“My ass is going to freeze!”

“It’ll freeze less in here than it would have out on that bench!” Joey pointed out. “Besides,” he continued sarcastically. “What are you going to do, push the baby out through your denim crotch? If you don’t want your bare ass on the floor, take off my coat and sit on that!”

Mary scoffed, but shrugged the coat off as he suggested and placed it under her before she began to fumble with the button of her maternity jeans. Joey watched her struggle for a moment before gently asking, “Do you need help with that?”

“I’ve got it!” The end of Mary’s sentence trailed away into a scream of pain again. Once the agony subsided somewhat, she demanded, “Don’t look at me while I’m getting undressed!”

Joey turned his back on the woman to stare across the street at the warm glow emanating from the cathedral’s windows, doing his best to ignore the struggled grunting of his friend behind him. It was only when a pair of pink panties landed on his right shoulder with a surprising amount of force that Joey knew it was okay to turn around again. “Can I just point out,” Joey began, as he stared down at Mary’s face. “How strange I find it that you wouldn’t let me watch you take off your jeans, but you had no problem showing off for me earlier wearing nothing but negligee?”

Mary, who was sitting pantless atop his winter coat with her bare legs closed tightly together so he couldn’t see her nether regions, rolled her eyes in response. “Bite me!” she snapped, as Joey placed her underwear atop her jeans, which she had placed on a bale of hay beside her in the manger. “Can we just get this over with?” As another wave of discomfort hit Mary, whose entire body contracted in response, she grabbed Joey’s wrist forcefully, and though he didn’t flinch, he knew there would be a bruise there in the morning.

When the contraction subsided, Joey gently extricated himself from the woman’s grip and knelt down in front of her. “If I’m going to deliver your child,” he began quietly, in an almost apologetic tone of voice. “I’m going to need you to…you know.” He pulled his hands apart in midair to mime opening her legs. Mary bit down hard on her lower lip in response, and Joey was surprised to see tears welling up in her eyes again. “Hey,” he began softly, as he placed a reassuring hand on her knee. “Mary, it’s okay.”

She shook her head. “I can’t do this.”

“Yes, you can.”

“No, I—”

“You have to,” Joey firmly interrupted, staring deep into her eyes. “And you have to realize that until the ambulance gets here, the only help you’re going to get is from me, okay?” As tears began to splash down her face, Joey reached forward to wipe them away, as he lowered his voice to a gentler tone again. “Do it for your baby. Mary, you’re about to become a mother! And you’re going to be an amazing one! Trust me.”

Sniffing loudly, Mary flashed her friend a quick smile before slowly spreading her legs. Upon catching sight of her most intimate body part, Joey felt his cheeks burn hot as his eyes widened, and he did his best to avoid staring directly at it – as though it were the sun. “Are you – uh…” He cleared his throat. “Are you ready to push?”

“You’re supposed to tell me that,” Mary pointed out, her own cheeks turning beat red with embarrassment.

“How—”

“Am I ten-centimeters dilated?”

Joey quickly stole a glance at the woman’s vagina before asking, “How am I supposed to know that?”

Mary held up the index finger and the middle finger of her right hand, making sure that they were pressed against one another. “If my hole is this wide, I’m ready to push.”

“You’re supposed to push a baby through an opening that small?” Joey’s mouth dropped open, aghast.

Joey!” Mary’s entire body convulsed as yet another contraction hit her.

Joey felt sick, as though he were going to pass out; he had no idea what he was doing. Staring around wildly, he noticed two figures father down the street, inspecting what looked like a crashed truck near the statue of Atlas, which he hadn’t noticed earlier as his entire attention had been focused entirely on getting to Mary.

“Where are you going?” Mary demanded, as Joey sprang to his feet.

“To get help!”

* * *

“Excuse me, officers.”

Seamus Dwyer and Andrew Lee, who were walking along Fifth Avenue uptown from Times Square and were currently only a few blocks away from Rockefeller Plaza, exchanged a look as a Salvation Army Santa Claus – bucket in hand, and stand under his arm – came hurrying up to them from the opposite direction. He looked about authentic a Santa Claus as either policeman had ever seen before, which caused Seamus to impressively remark in a sarcastic tone of voice, “Aren’t you late in starting your annual flight?”

Santa chuckled. “As a matter of fact, I am. But I’m so glad I’ve run into you on the way to my sleigh because there is a young couple that needs your help back at Rockefeller Center.”

Our help?” Andrew furrowed his eyebrows. “Are they in danger? Why—”

“There’s a young woman back there who’s in labor,” Santa calmly explained. “And I daresay that not only does the gentleman she’s with not know how to deliver a child, but emergency personnel are going to have a hard time getting to them through all of this snow.”

Seamus and Andrew exchanged another look, and the former knew that his partner was thinking the same thing that he was – how many more crises could they afford to deal with at the same time? “Thank you for letting us know.” Andrew smiled warmly at the old man before assuring him, “We’ll make sure to take care of it.”

“I had a feeling you might.” Santa winked at the two men. “Have a very Merry Christmas!” And before either member of the N.Y.P.D. could return the sentiment, he hurried away from them at a surprisingly quick pace, continuing on his way downtown.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Seamus closed his eyes tightly and shook his head from side-to-side. “This is turning into a really long night.”

“You’re telling me.” Andrew smiled, as the two of them quickened their ascent up Fifth Avenue. “That poor woman must be worried sick.”

“Do you really think that helping to deliver a baby takes precedent over finding a missing child, or the president?” Seamus asked.

Andrew shrugged. “Probably not. But we know where the woman is at the moment, which is more than we can say about the other two, who have others out looking for them.” Then, staring sideways at his partner, he smirked. “You don’t remember how to deliver a baby, do you?”

“I’ve yet to have to assist in a delivery in all my years on the force!” Seamus replied defensively. “And I haven’t taken any additional training on the matter since the academy!”

Relax.” Andrew laughed. “I’m only joking. Though you’re lucky you have me with you,” he added with a smirk. “Because I actually remember how to do it.”

“Probably because you weren’t traumatized by watching the birthing video since women aren’t exactly your thing,” Seamus pointed out with a grin.

Both of the officers laughed loudly, which ended up dying away moments later as they came upon a bad car accident. Coming to a complete stop, they took in the scene silently, trying to assess what had happened. It appeared that a small box truck had spun out of control on the icy road and jumped the curb of the sidewalk to crash into the bronze statue of Atlas, upon whose shoulders rested the weight of the world. “What the hell?” Seamus breathed, as he slowly inched closer to the vehicle, from which smoke was emanating from under its hood.

Andrew’s eyes traveled from the rising smoke to the side of the truck, which bore a logo that read, “Animal Control Services of New York City”. “I wonder if this truck belongs to that guy who came to collect the Pitbull from us earlier. What was his name again?”

“Hudson,” Seamus responded as he circled the vehicle, surprised with himself for remembering such an insignificant detail of his day. “I doubt it. What are the odds?” Peering into the driver’s side of the car, the front door of which was open, he remarked, “No sign of the driver.”

“Or any animals either,” Andrew noted, peering into the cargo hold of the truck to see that empty cages and other equipment had been strewn all over the floor. “We should probably call this—”

A loud scream of pain – a scream that Seamus knew all too well, having been in the delivery room with Ashley for the birth of their two children – pierced the night at that moment, drowning out the rest of his partner’s sentence. The two policemen could barely do more than exchange a look when a loud, panicked voice came fast approached them from behind. “Officers!” The man to whom it belonged panted as they turned in time to see him come to an abrupt stop before them. “Officers! I need…I need your help.”

Seamus eyed the man, whose stubbled face was flush and whose stomach was slightly pouchy, as though he were out of his mind. As he doubled over, gripping his knees in an attempt to catch his breath, Seamus asked, “Where’s your jacket, kid? You’ll freeze to death out here!”

Straightening up, Joseph Nazario rubbed his bare arms forcefully in a vain attempt to warm himself. Ignoring the question, he replied, “My girl – friend – is in labor back there!” He motioned wildly behind him. “And the ambulance – they said they’d be a while. We need help!”

“Well, we can definitely help you with that,” Andrew insisted calmly, hoping that a steady demeanor would help to cool the young man’s nerves. “Just – lead the way.”

Joey hurried back toward the manger housing Mary and knelt down in front of the pregnant woman, who appeared near tears once again. “Where the hell did you go?” she demanded.

Placing a hand on her bare knee, Joey smiled weakly. “I found some help; people who actually know how to deliver a baby.”

“Thank God!” Mary exclaimed. “Where—”

“Hello, ma’am.” Andrew and Seamus came up behind Joey, who stood up quickly and hurried to stand at Mary’s head. “I’m Officer Andrew Lee, and this is my partner, Officer Seamus Dwyer.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Mary mumbled, embarrassed to be so exposed in front of two complete – and cute – strangers. “I’m Mary. Holiday,” she added, almost as an afterthought. “Mary Holiday.”

Seamus smirked, as Andrew shrugged off his heavy jacket to throw over the woman’s bare legs in order to offer her a modicum of privacy. “Mary Holiday, huh? Did you get pregnant specifically to give birth in a manger on Christmas morning?”

It took every ounce of self-control that Mary still possessed to prevent herself from rolling her eyes at the police officers who were there to help her. Instead, she muttered, “I’ve never heard that one before!” As another contraction overcame her, she tensed up and shot her hand out to grab Joey’s tightly. As her friend squeezed her fingers, concern written all over his face, she implored the Asian cop, who was now kneeling down in front of her spread legs, “Just get this thing out of me, please!”

“That’s the plan,” Andrew reassured her with a smile.

Seamus gave a curt nod in response, as his face drained of color. Despite having two children of his own, he had never acquired a stomach for the childbirth process. He had passed out during the birth of his first child, awakening in a bed beside his wife’s in the recovery room afterward, and had nearly passed out during the birth of his second one too. As such, he’d absolutely be letting Andrew take the lead on this one, and blushed red when his partner continued, “Let’s see if you’re ready to push,” before he ducked beneath his heavy jacket to peer at the woman’s vagina.

A moment later, Andrew reemerged with a smile and met the emotional woman’s eyes. “Just about ten-centimeters. It’s nearly time.”

“Oh God,” Mary whined, unable to believe that she was about to become a mother. Joey must have sensed her panic, for a moment later he insisted with a kind smile, “You’ve got this.”

“Okay, Mary,” Andrew began. “Practice your breathing. Hee, hee, hoo,” he demonstrated. “Hee, hee, hoo.”

“Hee, hee, hoo,” Mary mimicked, squeezing her eyes shut tight in a vain attempt to calm herself. “Hee, hee, hoo.”

Andrew glanced up at Seamus. “Give me your jacket so that I have something to catch and wrap the baby in.”

As Seamus shrugged off his heavy jacket, Mary continued to purposefully breathe, her voice becoming louder with each breath. “Hee, hee, hoo. Hee, hee, hoo!” Her last breath turned into a scream so loud that she was sure the windows of the building nearest her must have been rattling in their frames, and she silently began to pray to whatever God existed to help her get her child out of her as soon as possible.

* * *

President Emily Williams slammed her empty pint glass down on the bar top of the dingy establishment in which she sat with Prime Ministers Nathan Dubois and Miranda Richardson. They were still the only three patrons in the tiny, glum hole-in-the-wall, and were thankfully being given a wide berth by the barkeep, who stood alone at the opposite end of the bar cleaning the same spotted glass over and over again with the same dirty rag, as he eyed them suspiciously. Above the bar, A Christmas Story was playing on the mounted television screens, having just started again on TNT, and as much as Emily loved the holiday classic, she wished she could ask the bartender to switch over to the news for a few minutes without arousing suspicion; she was mildly concerned that her security detail and the N.Y.P.D. had yet to find the three of them (and silently made a note to review security procedures and protocol with her staff after the holidays when they were all back in Washington), and was curious to see whether or not the media had picked up on the fact they had gone missing yet.

“Okay, I think it’s time to stop.” Emily hiccoughed and covered her mouth apologetically, as she swayed on the stool upon which she sat. “Ten drinks are more than enough; any more and we’ll end up spilling state secrets!”

“Speak for yourself,” Miranda responded, her words slurred. “I guess it’s true that Americans really can’t handle their liquor like the rest of the world can, eh, Nathan? Whoopsie!” She nearly tumbled backward out of her seat, but was prevented from doing so by the Canadian prime minister who – though half-asleep – still managed to quickly throw out an arm to catch her.

“I think Emily’s right, Miranda. Besides, we probably have our staffs in a panic by now.” Nathan raised a hand in the air to indicate to the bartender that he wanted the check.

“You’d never know considering the fact that they’ve yet to find us,” Emily pointed out with a small laugh. “But I suppose it’s a good thing if they haven’t realized we’re missing yet, so we should get back to the Plaza before they do. Plus, it looks like the snow’s finally stopped out there.” She nodded out of the frosted front windows of the bar at the festive-looking New York street beyond. “We might actually be able to fly out of here soon.”

“Thank God,” Miranda espoused, as the bartender placed the check in front of them and collected their empty glasses.

“It’s on me, ladies,” Nathan insisted, as he removed his wallet from the inside of his blazer and began counting out cash.

Emily shot the Canadian a grateful smile before yawning widely. “Oh, dear. We need to make sure we all get a good night’s sleep tonight. We need to be fresh-faced in the morning. No doubt we’ll be peppered with questions about the ACER agreement.”

“The CARE agreement,” Nathan gently corrected.

“Whatever the hell it’s called.” Emily waved her hand through the air dismissively. Before Miranda could chime in with her two-cents, a distant scream drifted into the bar, taking them by surprise, as a bright, angelic light filled all of the windows for a few seconds, nearly blinding them. “What the hell was that?” the English woman asked, sounding worried.

“An explosion?” Nathan suggested with concern, as the bartender made his way toward the windows to peer up and down the street in search of a source.

“I didn’t hear a big bang, did you?” Emily asked. “But whatever it is, it sounds like…” Another loud scream and flash of bright light cut the president off, and Emily waited for both to subside before she finished, “…someone’s in pain.” She slid off her barstool less gracefully than she’d have preferred. “Come on. Let’s go find them – see if we can help in some way.”

“Are you crazy?” Miranda demanded.

Elizabeth shook her head. “They obviously can’t be far. If we just follow—”

“We’re alone!” Miranda interrupted. “We don’t have our security details! What if it’s a dangerous situation?”

“All the more reason we should go and see if somebody needs help,” Emily insisted emphatically. “We’re public servants! It’s our job to help the public! I truly believe that!”

Nathan didn’t know whether or not it was the alcohol talking or not, but he nodded his head in vigorous agreement. “Emily’s right, Miranda. What – ten drinks isn’t enough liquid courage for you?”

Emily laughed, as another flash of bright light filled the space they were in, accompanied by another scream. “Come on. Let’s go.” She made her way toward the front door of the bar, silently wondering to herself why she didn’t feel more afraid; all she knew, however, was that she felt the complete opposite. If anything, she felt oddly calm.

With Nathan trailing closely behind her, followed reluctantly by Miranda, Emily cheerily waved over her shoulder at the bartender and said, “Merry Christmas!” before pushing her way outside onto the snowy street just in time to witness another bright flash of light. “It’s coming from somewhere over there.” She nodded up the empty street, and the three world leaders slowly began to walk uptown as another loud scream drifted toward them. “You know, if I didn’t know better, it sounds like a woman in the middle of childbirth!”

* * *

Aaron Rankin stared up at the star atop the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, open-mouthed, as it grew so bright that it was impossible to stare directly at before it grew dull again. The process repeated itself again and again, in tandem with the tortured screams that were emanating from somewhere nearby. Billy, who was still lying across his lap on the frozen bench upon which they sat, turned his head this way and that in search of the source of the noise, unsettled as he baaed nervously. For a brief, panicked moment, Aaron was convinced that the screams were heralding the arrival of Krampus, who had decided to come for him after all, but common sense ultimately prevailed. If anything, it sounded more like a woman crying in pain.

“Come on, Billy.” Aaron stood up, which caused the baby goat to follow suit. “Let’s go see where that noise is coming from. Maybe we can help.”

Billy baaed in agreement, as Aaron led him toward the Channel Gardens, from the far end of which the sound seemed to be emanating. He didn’t know where his newfound courage had come from, but he felt a sense of calm wash completely over him. He was nearly certain that he wasn’t walking into danger, and if someone was in trouble, he would do what he could to assist them.

So, as the star behind him continued to flash even more brightly in time with the screams, he and Billy silently started down the length of the Gardens, flanked by the beautiful wired-sculpture angels, clutching the drum hanging from his neck tightly as they did so.

* * *

Elizabeth Meyer didn’t stop walking through the cold, snowy night from the moment she had stormed out of the N.Y.U. editing bay on Noah until she was within mere blocks of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Indeed, she could see the structure’s high spires farther up Fifth Avenue from where she stood in the middle of the empty sidewalk, and though she had aimlessly been wandering the Manhattan streets without any clear idea about where she was going, it became abundantly obvious that her subconscious had been leading her toward the church. After all, was there any place better to go if she was in search of a hopeful Christmas-related story that captured the true meaning of the holiday than midnight mass?

But it was too late, and Elizabeth knew it. It was well past midnight now, the deadline for when she had to get her edited holiday-themed segment up onto N.Y.U.’s streaming service, and she had failed. Now, not only would she not receive any extra credit, but her professor was sure to be furious with her that she hadn’t gotten something up for the website to stream the week of Christmas. He had trusted her, and she had let him down.

Elizabeth dropped the heavy camera bag that she had been carrying slung over her shoulder onto the snowy sidewalk and doubled over to dry heave as tears began to flow freely down her face. Why did she have to be such a perfectionist? She should have just listened to Noah and uploaded all of the footage they already had. It had, after all, been good enough – hell, she had scored an interview with the President of the United States for Christ’s sake!

And as her boyfriend’s bearded face drifted to the forefront of her mind, Elizabeth began to cry even harder. Not only had she obliterated any chance of getting extra credit herself, but she had also ruined any chance Noah had of receiving it also – after dragging him across Manhattan all day in the middle of a blizzard, no less! And in the process, she had very likely ruined the most meaningful relationship she had ever been in, all in an attempt to compete with her perfect, successful siblings. What the hell was wrong with her?

Perhaps it was because her boyfriend was at the forefront of her mind, but she suddenly imagined she could hear his voice calling her name. The voice appeared to be drawing closer and closer until finally, a strong hand clapped down onto her shoulder with a final, “Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth straightened up and whipped around, ready to deck the stranger in the face, only to pause and blink in surprise with her fist drawn back to find it actually was her boyfriend standing behind her. “Noah?”

“Liz,” Noah began, a mingled expression of surprise and worry on his face. “What’s wrong? What’s—” He was cut off, however, when all of the wind was knocked out of his lungs as his girlfriend threw herself around him, squeezing his enormous frame in a tight hug.

“I’m so sorry.” Elizabeth cried into his chest, as Noah rubbed her back consolingly. “I’m so, so sorry. You gave up your Christmas Eve for me, and I dragged you around this island all day with no concern about what you wanted to do, and – how did you find me?” She pulled away from him slightly, sniffling loudly to stare up into his bearded face, noticing that he was staring at her with an expression akin to bewilderment.

“I tried calling you, but you didn’t answer,” Noah explained. “So I had to come after you. I didn’t know where you were going, but I just had a hunch you were heading to St. Pat’s based on what you said you were searching for.” He nodded at the cathedral a few blocks up the street before shaking his head remorsefully. “I hate how we left things off. You shouldn’t be apologizing to me, I should be apologizing to you. I know how much it meant to you to put together the perfect segment for the website, and—”

“—and in the process I failed,” Elizabeth interrupted. “Noah, I failed. I missed the midnight deadline. I’m not going to get the extra credit for this shift, and because of me, neither are you. After all of our hard work…it was all for nothing. I am so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Noah insisted, shaking his head adamantly from side-to-side. “Seriously. I – uh…” He cleared his throat uncomfortably, as he stared down at his feet guiltily. “I think we’ll still get the extra credit.”

“Why—”

“I may have uploaded what we had already shot and edited together to the streaming service before coming to find you,” Noah explained, red in the face. As Elizabeth’s eyes widened at the news, he hastened to explain. “I was angry! And on top of that, I didn’t want all of our work to go to waste! I knew you’d regret it! But Liz, I’m really sorry – it wasn’t my place. I know that. If you didn’t think it was ready, I shouldn’t have—”

“I love you,” Elizabeth cut him off, as her eyes brimmed with grateful tears.

“I love you too,” Noah replied before leaning down to kiss the woman, as the Christmas lights twinkling around them bathed them in a beautiful, other-worldly glow. When they finally broke apart, Elizabeth smiled up at her boyfriend. “Come on. Let’s go home.”

“Go home?” Noah raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think so!”

“But—”

“We still need to find that last story you wanted to get!” Noah bent down to scoop up the heavy camera bag that Elizabeth had dropped in the snow earlier and threw it over his shoulder.

Elizabeth laughed. “What’s the point? Our segment went live! We can’t take it down without getting permission to re-edit it!”

Noah shrugged. “Then that’s what we’ll get. But we’re going to finish this day your way, Liz.”

Elizabeth smiled wide before taking her boyfriend’s hand in her own, which he squeezed reassuringly. Together, the two walked silently up the street toward St. Patrick’s Cathedral, when a loud scream of pain echoed around their immediate vicinity and a bright glow illuminated the area for a moment. Exchanging a wary glance, the two college lovebirds hurried to find the source, barely registering the crashed truck near the statue of Atlas as they ran past, and finally came upon it when they stopped across the street from the Channel Gardens, at the far end of which, the star atop the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree glowed blindingly bright for a few moments before dimming again and repeating. It was the sight at the end of the Gardens directly opposite them, however, that caught the attention of both Elizabeth and Noah.

A woman – a living, breathing woman – was lying in the manger erected there with her pants off and her legs spread wide open. Standing at her shoulder, concerned, was a man who must have been her husband or boyfriend, whose hand she was gripping tightly, while the two officers they had interviewed earlier that day – Seamus Dwyer and Andrew Lee – were positioned in front of her. The former held her left foot, and was helping to keep her legs spread, while the latter was kneeling between her legs, coaching her through the birthing process. Turning excitedly toward Elizabeth, Noah asked, “Should I get the camera out?”

“Why would you?” Elizabeth blinked in surprise.

“Because there’s a woman giving birth in a manger in the early hours of Christmas morning!” he replied, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“We can’t videotape that!” Elizabeth pointed out. “I wouldn’t want to be broadcast all over the internet with my pants off looking that stretched!”

“But this is it!” Noah insisted. “The hopeful Christmas story you’ve been looking for all day! A modern-day version of the Christmas story!”

Elizabeth hesitated for a moment as she mulled over this reality in her head before instructing, “Get the camera out, but don’t film anything yet. Maybe we’ll be able to capture the aftermath.”

As Noah did as he was told, he asked, “Do you think we should go see if they need help?”

Elizabeth shook her head from side-to-side, as she grabbed her microphone from within the camera bag. “We’d probably just get in the way. Besides, I know that if I was her, I’d want as few people around me as possible at the moment.”

Noah nodded his understanding, as he mounted the heavy camera onto his shoulder and the two silently watched the scene across the street from them unfold, surprised to observe a large dog and extremely fat, familiar looking cat round the corner and immediately begin sniffing their way over to the manger curiously.

* * *

“Oh my God, get these things away from me!”

Mary was crying tears of frustration now, as an enormous brindle-colored dog and a heavy tabby cat slinked cautiously into the manger toward her, eyes wide and sniffing at the air.

“Aw, but Mary, they’re so cute!” Joey pointed out, earning himself a reproachful look from his friend in addition to a hard squeeze of the hand.

“They’re also stray animals!” Mary replied through gritted teeth. “They’re dirty! They could be rabid! They could be dangerous!” Her last word trailed away into another scream, and she squeezed Joey’s fingers so tightly that the man was convinced she’d break them.

“I can’t speak for the cat,” Seamus began, holding Mary’s foot and staring anywhere but down at what was going on between her legs. “But the dog is harmless.” Sparing Andrew a quick glance, he pointed out, “It’s the same one we picked up earlier today. I guess that crashed truck back there does belong to that Hudson guy.” Then, shaking his own foot at the animals drawing nearer to the pregnant woman, he commanded, “Shoo! Go on, get!”

But rather than spooking off, the dog and the cat settled down on either side of the woman in labor, closer to her feet than her head, and calmly watched the proceedings. In response, Mary whined loudly in frustration and protestation, but before she could voice her complaints verbally, Andrew instructed, “Forget about the animals, Mary. It’s time to push.”

“W-what?” Mary asked breathlessly, convinced she had misheard the man. “Are you serious?”

Andrew nodded from where he knelt between her legs. “Your baby’s coming.”

Mary squeezed her eyes shut tight. She couldn’t believe it was time. Nine long months of carrying it around inside of her – culminating in the longest, strangest, and in many ways, best Christmas Eve of her life – had all led to this moment. Despite her best efforts to avoid doing so, she would be giving birth to her baby on Christmas day – lying in a manger beside a man who wasn’t the father named Joseph, no less. Her life from that moment on would never be the same; it would all be dedicated to the tiny human being she was about to bring into the world. And while she couldn’t wait to get it out of her, she was still terrified about what would happen when it was. “I still don’t think I’m ready,” she admitted in barely more than a whisper.

Andrew glanced up at Seamus, who shrugged in response to his unasked question as he clutched Mary’s foot like a lifeline. Neither of them knew exactly how to respond to that, and luckily for them, they were spared having to do so when Joey spoke up. “Hey!” he began in a quiet, soothing voice, as he stroked Mary’s hair gently. “Listen to me – you can do this, alright? I know you can. And whether or not you think you can doesn’t matter, because your baby needs you to, okay?” As Mary met his eyes, Joey smiled warmly down at her and gently brushed her tears away. “You’ve got this. I promise you, you’ve got this. Now, remember your breathing. Hee, hee, hoo. Hee, hee, hoo.”

Mary nodded. “Hee, hee, hoo. Hee, hee, hoo.”

“Okay, Mary,” Andrew began. “Give me a nice big push on the count of three! One. Two. Three!”

Mary contracted her body and let out a long, protracted scream and pushed with all of the strength she could muster. Pain coursed through her – a pain like she had never experienced before in her life – and through it, and her breathing, she managed to choke out through gritted teeth, “Get this baby out of me!”

And then as suddenly as the pain had overcome her, it stopped. Panting, Mary laid backwards again, as Joey did his best not to show that the woman had seriously hurt his hand. Deciding to try and lighten the mood, he joked, “Look at the bright side! You’re doing this all naturally! You’ll get to brag about this for the rest of your life!” If looks could kill, the one Mary shot him in response to that statement would have destroyed him. Blushing, he mumbled, “Sorry.”

“You’re doing great, Mary,” Andrew insisted, trying not to smirk in response to how pail his partner looked. “But you don’t have time to rest, unfortunately. On the count of three, give me another big push, alright?”

“Oh, God,” Mary mumbled.

“One. Two. Three!”

Once again, Mary launched her upper body forward in a contracted manner, reminding Joey of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, and let out a long scream. Below her waist, she could feel herself stretch as her baby began to slide out of her, and as that weird sensation became more pronounced, so too did the pain she felt; it felt as though she were being split in half.

Behind her, meanwhile, unnoticed by anyone in the manger at that moment, the star atop the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was glowing brighter than ever before, and this time it was refusing to dim seconds later – as though it were some sort of honing beacon in the dark, winter night sky.

As Mary fell backward again, out of breath, Joey insisted, “You’re doing great, Mar’. Seriously!” He patted her hand that was still clutching his in a death grip, as he stared down at the dog and cat still lying on either side of her. “So are the animals,” he added with a laugh. “They don’t seem bothered at all!”

Mary couldn’t even muster the energy to roll her eyes in response to the joke. As her chest rose and fell rapidly, she choked out, “Is it over?”

“Not yet,” Andrew replied apologetically. “But the baby’s breached, so you have to give me one last, big, push, okay? One. Two. Three!”

* * *

Aaron Rankin, with Billy glued to his side, rounded the end of the Channel Gardens in time to witness Mary’s final push. Frozen in place, his eyes wide, he stared in amazement and in disgust as the officer crouched between the pushing woman’s legs coaxed the baby out of her wide vagina. Aaron had never seen a girl’s private parts before, and wondered if they all looked so disgusting.

Despite knowing that he was intruding on a personal, private moment – despite feeling slightly sick at what he was witnessing – Aaron found that he was unable to look away. There was something beautiful about the scene, he reasoned with himself, as disgusting as it was. Billy’s eyes too were glued on what was happening in the manger, and the goat nervously pawed at the icy ground beneath his hooves, baaing softly. And as they stood there, unnoticed by anybody involved in the birth, Aaron gently stroked the top of the goat’s head in an effort to calm him down.

* * *

President Emily Williams and her two foreign guests also came upon the manger in time to witness Mary Holiday’s final push, and froze just to the right of the structure, unnoticed by anybody within it and not noticing the boy and his goat directly across from them themselves. Though they were intruding upon an immensely intimate moment, Emily didn’t want to leave; she was, after all, the president of the young woman before her in the final throws of childbirth! Childbirth was often very dangerous in the best of circumstances, let alone when it occurred out in the middle of a snowy New York City street in sub-freezing temperatures without any true medical professionals around. So, Emily was determined to stay there in case a situation arose in which the cops aiding the woman in the manger might need her help.

Though she’d given birth herself many moons ago, Emily had never before witnessed a birth, and was touched by how beautiful the natural occurrence was. Apparently, however, she was the only one who thought so, for behind her, Nathan looked as though he might pass out at witnessing the scene while Miranda had an expression of sheer disgust on her face. The Canadian man and the English woman, however, didn’t voice their objections to staying and watching the birth, and stood dutifully beside their host, who prayed that the two officers helping the young woman wouldn’t notice them until they had delivered the baby – lest they felt that attending to the president and two foreign dignitaries who lacked a security detail took precedent over a woman in labor.

* * *

Mary didn’t need much encouraging to get through her final push. After the baby’s head had begun to crown, she felt an unnatural desire and sudden sensation to keep pushing – as though she were having an unnaturally large bowel movement. When the desire finally ceased and she stopped, she collapsed backward, drenched to the bone in sweat and breathing heavily, as – over her knees – she watched Officer Lee swaddle her baby in his partner’s jacket that he had been holding. “Is it – is it okay?” Mary tearfully asked.

Before Andrew could respond, the newborn that he cradled in his arms began to cry loudly, which caused him to smile as he informed its mother, “She’s okay.”

“She?” Mary repeated.

Andrew nodded. “It’s a girl.”

Mary let out a relieved laugh as the tears began to flow freely down her face. Squeezing her hand reassuringly, Joey beamed down at her. “You hear that, Mar’? A girl!” When she nodded, continuing to laugh through her tears, Joey gently leaned down to kiss her forehead. “You did great. I’m so proud of you.”

Mary beamed up at her childhood friend, as a mix of complicated emotions flooded through her. She had so much that she wanted to convey to him, but she knew that now wasn’t the time. So instead, she settled for gently squeezing his fingers before turning back to the bundle in Andrew’s arms that she couldn’t quite see. “Can I hold her?”

In response, Andrew passed the baby to Seamus, who had remained unnaturally quiet through the entire birth. “My partner is just going to clean her up first,” he informed the new mother. “Besides, you still have to push out the placenta.” When Mary groaned in frustration, Andrew laughed. “Trust me, this part is a cake-walk compared to pushing out the baby.”

And sure enough, the officer was right. When Mary pushed out the placenta moments later, it took almost no effort at all. The second she was done, Seamus gently lowered her swaddled baby down for her to take, a huge smile on his face. “Meet your daughter.”

Mary gently took the child from the cop and held her close to her bosom. As if by magic, the baby girl stopped crying at her mother’s touch. Staring down at the tiny red face, its eyes closed and its head bald, Mary began to cry even harder. This time, however, they were tears of happiness. She knew in that moment that her life had changed forever; she had never loved, nor would ever love, anyone or anything as much as the girl in her arms. As hard as the past nine-months had been – as tiring, and as full of heartbreak – it had all been worth it for that moment. As she ran her index finger over her daughter’s tiny firsts, Joey peered down at the baby. “She’s so beautiful, Mary.”

“I know.” Mary nodded. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

“She looks like you,” Joey pointed out matter-of-factly. When Mary stared curiously up at him, he added, “You can see it around the eyes.”

Mary smiled at the comment, but didn’t say anything as she turned back toward her daughter. At her sides, the dog and the cat leaned closer to her in order to sniff the baby’s head, and this time – rather than get mad at the animals – Mary accepted their presence and gently held her out toward them for a few seconds before bringing her close to her bosom again. Joey smiled at the action, but before he could comment upon it, somebody cleared their throat loudly before remarking, “Congratulations you two!”

Joey felt his mouth drop open in shock as he, Mary, Seamus, and Andrew turned to find President Williams, Prime Minister Dubois, and Prime Minister Richardson standing feet away from them. Though the Canadian man appeared slightly woozy, and the British woman appeared slightly uncertain, the American president was smiling warmly at the group gathered in the manger. And as the three world leaders moved closer in order to peer at the baby, a speechless Seamus rounded excitedly on his partner, who looked just as stunned as he felt. The missing world leaders, still devoid of any security, had stumbled onto the scene and the two of them would probably get credit for finding them!

“She’s gorgeous,” Emily insisted, as she stared down at the baby girl in the stunned woman’s arms. “Just like her mother.”

“T-thank you,” Mary stammered, going red in the face. She had no idea how long the world leaders had been standing off to the side, but she knew that there was a good chance that the most powerful person in the world had witnessed her at the most vulnerable and unflattering moment of her life.

“Do you have a name for her yet?” Miranda asked politely.

When Mary shook her head, Nathan shrugged with a smile. “Ah, well. There’s still time to figure that out.”

“And what’s your name?” Emily asked politely.

“M-Mary. Mary Holiday.”

“What a lovely name!”

Miranda cocked an eyebrow and did her best to suppress a sarcastic grin. “Mary Holiday? Is your husband name Joseph?” She glanced at the man standing just behind the new mother.

“He goes by Joey, actually,” Mary replied, taking the British woman by surprise. “And he’s not my husband. He’s just a…” She glanced up at Joey, going pink in the cheeks as he stared curiously down at her. “…friend,” she finished awkwardly, before recovering and turning to the president. “And he’s a huge supporter of yours! Campaigned for you and everything!”

Emily smiled at Joey, who remained speechless and wide-eyed, as she used her entire hand to push her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Well, thank you. I appreciate that.” Then, staring down at the baby again, she began, “I wish I had something to give you – a gift or something. But…” Her voice trailed away when she caught sight of the golden wristwatch out of the corner of her eye. It was her most prized-possession – blessed by Pope Benedict XV himself – and yet, on that most holy of mornings, standing in a shabbily constructed manger, she couldn’t think of a more perfect gift to bestow on the newborn baby girl sleeping peacefully in the arms of her young mother. “…it turns out I do.”

Undoing the clasp of her watch, Emily shook it from her wrist. “This has brought me so much luck over the years, I hope it brings your daughter just as much.”

“Oh!” Mary exclaimed, as her mouth dropped open, touched by the kind gesture. “You really don’t have to—”

“—I want to,” Emily insisted. “Here, I’ll just give it to Joey for safekeeping.” As Joey took the watch, his hands trembling, he inwardly celebrated over the fact that the president had just spoken his name aloud.

“Thank you so much,” Mary stressed, as she glanced down at her baby. “I’m sure she’ll treasure it.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Emily replied, as she took a few steps backward before glancing at the two policemen she had witnessed deliver the baby and who had remained silent during the entire exchange she had just had with Mary despite never taking their eyes off of her. “And thank you both for your service.”

The cops nodded in acknowledgement as Nathan Dubois, inspired by his American counterpart, stepped forward to address the newborn mother, pulling his rosary beads from his pocket. “My father received these the day he was born, and the day I was born he bestowed them upon me. Now I’m giving them to your daughter,” he informed Mary, who felt overwhelmed by the generosity of the three world leaders. “I hope they bring her as much luck as they’ve brought me over the years. Or, at the very least, that she can use them when she needs a little faith to get through life’s more difficult moments.”

“T-thank you,” Mary stammered, flushing red as the handsome man flashed her a dazzling smile and handed Joey the rosary beads before stepping away.

“I guess it’s my turn,” Miranda stated, adding so only her two foreign contemporaries could hear, “I can’t have you two showing me up.” Taking a step closer to the newborn and her mother, her eyes landed on the enormous dog and the heavy cat lying on either side of the woman. “They don’t bite, do they?”

Mary, who had nearly forgotten about the stray animals due to how well-behaved and quiet they had been, shook her head, at which point the English prime minister nodded and stepped even closer. “While I don’t have anything quite as poignant or as resonant to give you as my colleagues, I do have something for your daughter.” She rummaged in her enormous purse for a moment before withdrawing a half-empty bottle of perfume. “Every woman needs a distinctive scent to call their own.”

Emily and Nathan exchanged an amused glance at the gesture, both ecstatic that Miranda would be unable to continue dousing herself in the liquid every five-minutes for the remainder of the night. “I know it’s not gold or jewelry,” the British woman explained to the young mother. “But…” She shrugged. “Even one of the wise men brought Jesus incense.”

“Thank you,” Mary said uncertainly, scrunching up her face in response to the strong fragrance that the British woman exuded, as she stretched across her to hand Joey the bottle of perfume. As Miranda backed away, a small voice exclaimed, “I don’t have a gift to give!”

Aaron Rankin didn’t know what made him speak up at that moment, but he immediately regretted it as the eyes of the young mother, her friend, the president, the two prime ministers, the two cops, and even the dog and the cat swiveled in his direction. Upon laying eyes on him, Seamus and Andrew exchanged another surprised, excited look with one another; could their luck really be so good that not only had the three world leaders stumbled upon them, but so too had the missing child that Lindsey had called about earlier?

Mary’s eyes travelled from the young boy’s face to the baby goat standing close at his side. Squeezing her eyes shut tight, sure that she was hallucinating, she opened them again to find that the baby animal had not, in fact, disappeared. Needing confirmation that it was real, however, she glanced up at Joey and asked out of the corner of her mouth, “Is there a goat standing over there next to that kid?” When Joey nodded, she let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God. I thought I was seeing things.”

“Are you alright, kid?” Seamus asked, taking a tentative step toward the small child, who clung to the drum hanging around his neck like it was a life preserve. “Where are your parents?”

“Are you lost?” Emily asked, concerned.

“I…” Aaron hesitated, intimidated by all of the adult eyes boring into him, awaiting an answer. Luckily, he was spared having to provide one when Billy, for the first time all evening, broke away from him and trotted over toward the manger. “He’s friendly!” Aaron quickly insisted upon noticing that the young mother holding her baby visibly tensed up as the farm animal approached her. Indeed, Billy took one whiff of the baby’s head before merely letting out a soft baa and settling down beside the Pitbull, which had barely batted an eye in response to the animal that had just joined them.

Worrying that being so close to the three animals couldn’t be healthy for the yet-to-be-vaccinated baby, and noticing how pale and drowsy the mother was, Seamus addressed Andrew out of the corner of his mouth. “I’m going to go check on where that ambulance is. Keep an eye on things,” he instructed, as his eyes darted from the small child, to the goat, to the three world leaders. After receiving a nod of affirmation from his partner in response, he moved a few steps away from the group to place the call.

Aaron, meanwhile, took a few steps closer to the manger, eyeing the three gifts that the bearded man standing at the young mother’s shoulder was holding in his arms. “I don’t have anything like that to give you,” he admitted, feeling bad despite not entirely realizing why he felt so compelled to give the baby a gift in the first place. “I’m – well, my family’s poor, and—”

“It’s fine,” Mary insisted with a warm, genuine smile. “Don’t worry about it, kid. You don’t need to give us anything.”

Aaron opened his mouth to reply when an idea for how to deal with the conundrum he faced smacked him in the face like a ton of bricks. The answer was so obvious, he didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it before. Moving even closer to the manger, he asked the young mother, “Should I play for her? On my drum?” He indicated the drum hanging around his neck with a tiny nod of his head.

Though weary and exhausted, every instinct in Mary’s body screamed at her to roll her eyes in response to the young boy’s question, and she had to exercise every last ounce of self-control in order not to. Instead, she just gave a resigned nod. And as the boy pulled a pair of worn drumsticks from his pocket, Mary glanced up at Joey who had an enormous grin on his face, and she knew immediately that he was thinking the same thing that she was. “Don’t say it,” she warned him. “Don’t even think it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Joey insisted, feigning innocence.

Aaron, meanwhile, straightened up tall and proud. He may have missed his chance to perform on stage with the Rockettes earlier that evening, but in a way, this was better; he was playing for a real newborn lying in a manager with his mother, watched by three world leaders with the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree looming large behind them. It was a beautiful and picturesque scene – one that he wished his mother could see. And even though the woman he loved more than anything in the world wasn’t there at the moment, he was determined to make her proud. So, taking a deep breath, he began to play the opening notes of The Little Drummer Boy on his snare drum. To his amazement, Billy, the dog, and the cat all began to wag their tails and nod their heads in tune with his playing – as though they were keeping time for him. Smiling to himself, Aaron took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he played. He played his best for the newborn child and its admirers, and in his ears, he sounded better than he had ever sounded before in his short life.

Mary too was truly surprised by how excellent the young boy’s playing was – even her daughter, whose eyes were closed tight, appeared to enjoy the music, as a small smile spread across her tiny face. She hoped that one day her child would be that musically inclined. As she stared down at the bundle in her arms, she felt herself welling up again. While still terrified of what the future held for the two of them, she no longer felt that she would be a terrible mother. How could she be when she had never felt this much love for another human being in her life? She knew, as she stared down at the little pink face and gently stroked the tiny bald head, that she would do anything – give everything – to ensure that she gave her the best life possible.

Out of the corner of her eye, Mary noticed Joey staring down at her and turned to glance up at him. “What should I name her?”

“That’s up to you, Mary,” Joey said quickly. “I’m not the father.”

“I know that,” Mary replied. “But I value your opinion. Let me hear some suggestions.”

“Well…” Joey grinned. “Josephina is a nice name.”

Mary rolled her eyes with a laugh. “Yeah, if you were born prior to World War II, maybe.”

“What about Sarah?”

“Sarah Holiday,” Mary said out loud, thinking it over. “It has a nice ring to it. Or would it be Sarah Johnson?”

Joey’s face visible darkened in response to the question, and twitched as though he were trying to dislodge a pesky fly. When he responded, however, he kept his voice even and gentle. “The guy left you, Mary; said he didn’t want to be a part of either of your lives. The baby shouldn’t have his name, and he shouldn’t have a say in naming her.” Then, in an attempt to prevent Mary from becoming upset by these harsh truths, he quickly added, “It’s his loss. I mean, look at you! Look at her!”

Staring down at her peaceful child again, Mary nodded. “You’re right.”

“I’m always right,” Joey joked with a wink. Then, in an effort to alleviate the tension even more, he smirked before suggesting, “You could always name her Jesu—”

“Shut up,” Mary cut across him with a laugh.

“It was just an idea.” Joey shrugged.

Smiling, Mary couldn’t take her eyes off of her baby girl as Joey began to gently stroke her hair. There was still plenty of time to name the child. But in the meantime, she just wanted to memorize her appearance, knowing that she wouldn’t remain that small for very long, and silently enjoy the music and the moment until the ambulance arrived to take them to the hospital.

* * *

“Oh my God, Emily!”

Bobby, Anna, Clint, Melissa, David, Commissioner Burke, and Commanding Officer Pendleton approached the manger scene from the north end of Fifth Avenue, all of them stunned by the sight in front of them. There was the President of the United States, standing to the side of the manger with the leaders of England and Canada, silently listening and watching as a small boy played his drum for a young couple and a baby within the manger. Had they stumbled upon some sort of a living nativity pageant?

Anna quickly scanned the display, taking it all in as relief flooded through her. It was striking, and extraordinarily poignant looking – religious voters would eat it up! So, when the president’s husband and secret service detail made to rush past her toward Emily, who had yet to notice them, she urgently exclaimed, “Wait!”

“What?” Clint demanded, annoyed, as Bobby stared around at her in surprise.

“They’re not in any danger,” Anna insisted. “Don’t ruin the moment.”

“Ruin the moment?” Melissa’s mouth dropped open. “This—”

“—will do wonders for her polling numbers in middle America,” Anna insisted calmly, as she pulled out her phone in order to capture moment.

Clint rounded on Bobby in the hopes that the first gentleman would scoff at the idea, but to his surprise, the man nodded curtly before agreeing, “She’s right.”

Commissioner Burke watched the head of the president’s secret service acquiesce to the first gentleman and the White House chief of staff, shaking his head in disbelief. Leaning over to this underling, he muttered, “Everything’s politics with these people.”

But Lindsey Pendleton didn’t hear him. As he eyes scanned the scene, they darted from the president, to the small child playing the drum, to the two officers who were standing behind him who were keeping watch over the proceedings. At the sight of Seamus Dwyer and Andrew Lee, she couldn’t help but smile. They had found the president and the missing child both – had come through for her in the end just like they always did. How could she ever have doubted them? They were the best officers that she had. Before she could express any of this to the police commissioner, however, a group of four people sidled up from behind, joining them.

“Oh my God, Aaron!” Patricia Warren let out a cry of joyous relief upon laying eyes upon her missing third-grade student, not really seeing the individuals that the group of people they had just stumbled upon consisted of. She made to push her way through the small crowd before stopping herself, taken aback by the fact that the small boy was playing his heart out on the snare drum around his neck. The music sounded beautiful, and though the young teacher had always known that the child was talented, she never truly appreciated just how good he was. And as she listened to him play, and her eyes scanned the entire scene he appeared to be a part of, she felt so touched that tears began to well up in her eyes; she was just so happy that, despite the fact that his performance at Radio City earlier had been derailed, he was giving the show of a lifetime that very moment.

“Booster! Dexter!” Hudson Jackson’s mouth dropped open at the sight of the stray dog and cat he had picked up earlier that day. The fact that they were calmly lying down within the manger, beside the newborn mother – whom he recognized as the pregnant woman he had taken a picture of earlier that day – and keeping time to the young boy’s music with their heads and tails proved to him what he had already suspected; though they had been strays, they were used to being around people and had probably had families at some point in their lives. It both saddened and enraged him that their previous owners had abandoned them, for whatever reason, and it was at that moment – as he witnessed the beautiful scene playing out before him – that he knew for certain he couldn’t bring the two animals to the pound. They would be coming home with him that night, and officially become part of the Jackson family.

Billy!” Marcello’s disbelief that they had found the third-great Florida student, the stray dog and cat that animal control had been looking for, and his precious baby goat in the same place, at the exact same time – which had to be some sort of Christmas miracle – was eclipsed immediately by the overwhelming gratitude that washed over him at the sight of his baby farm animal. Though he didn’t dare utter the idea out loud to his companions, he had thought that the goat surely must have succumbed to the dangerously frigid weather, or had gotten separated from Aaron and had ended up alone and frightened on the busy streets of Manhattan, unable to make it through the night. But there he was, not only alive, but appearing safe and happy too, as his tail wagged and his head bobbed along with the other two animals keeping time with the young boy’s beautiful playing. In fact, the sight of the animals, and the new mother cradling the baby, and the boy playing his music, and – was that the president standing a few yards away from them? – basked in the beautiful glow from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the wire-sculpted angels behind them was such a picture-perfect sight, that it took the man’s breath away. It was almost overwhelming in a sense, and the mingled feelings of awe and relief washed over him so heavily, he thought he might cry. The pretty Rockette beside him, with whom he had always had a flirty rapport with, must have noticed, for she grabbed his hand at that moment and rubbed her thumb over his fingers reassuringly.

The group’s appearance on the scene and exclamations of surprise and happiness at having found who and what they were all looking for happened within a matter of seconds, and almost immediately, Clint, Melissa, Commanding Officer Pendleton, and N.Y.P.D. Commissioner Burke rounded on them as one, as their hands reached for their individual weapons.

“Hey, oh!” Marcello threw his hands up into the air in surrender, and was relieved to find that Brittany, Patricia Warren, and Hudson Jackson immediately followed suit.

“Who are you?” Clint demanded.

At once, the search party of four immediately began to talk over one another, their voices and stories overlapping in a desperate bid to explain themselves to the law enforcement officials.

“Animal Control! That dog and cat are—”

“—my student playing the drum. He—”

“—ran away from Radio City earlier this evening, and with my—”

“—goat. We need to get him inside – get them both inside. They’re not made for weather like this!”

Clint and Melissa exchanged an exasperated look, and the latter couldn’t help but suppress a smile as the former’s forehead scrunched up in annoyance – a sure sign that he had a massive headache and was minutes away from snapping at the odd bunch that had just joined them. As they debated their next course of action silently, staring into one another’s eyes, Agent David Wells spoke up. “They look harmless to me, boss.”

Clint rolled his eyes before shooting the agent a dirty look. Nevertheless, he begrudgingly nodded his agreement and withdrew his hand from the butt of his gun, and motioned for his partner and the two city cops to do the same. It was only then that Patricia Warren noticed the President of the United States and her two foreign guests standing directly across from them on the other side of the manger, seemingly unaware of their presence as they intently watched her student play his drum. “Are you secret service?” she asked, breathlessly.

“They are.” Bobby spoke up, winking at the woman with an amused smile, as her mouth dropped open upon realizing who he was. “And I know you’re as desperate to reunite with your student, and your animals, as I am with my wife, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait a few more moments. Do you mind?” He nodded apologetically at Anna, who continued to snap photos of the scene before them for the president’s social media accounts.

Though the third-grade teacher, the man from animal control, the Rockette, and Radio City’s animal handler all found the reason cynical, none of them truly minded waiting a few more minutes; they were perfectly content to stand there and continue taking in the beautiful scene. Commissioner Burke, however, spoke up at that moment, and asked brusquely, “Do you think they mind?” He nodded across the way at two figures quickly advancing up the street toward the backs of the three world leaders.

Clint’s hand quickly jumped toward his gun once again, but before he could draw it, Patricia Warren urged, “Wait! They’re harmless! That’s Aaron’s – the boy playing the drum – mother and brother!”

* * *

As Megan Rankin slowed her pace upon approaching the scene, she didn’t even realize that three of the most prominent leaders of the free world were standing directly in front of her. She didn’t even realize that Aaron’s teacher, Marcello, and Brittany were standing across from her on the other side of the manger with a fair-sized group of people whom she had never met before. She only had eyes for her youngest son, who was playing his heart out on the old, beat-up drum hanging around his neck for the young couple and the baby resting in the manger with three animals at the end of the Channel Gardens. She didn’t know what the young family’s story was, nor how Aaron had ended up at the scene; all she cared about was the fact that her son was okay – he was safe. She had found him, and better yet, he got to play his drum in front of an audience in New York City after all, and she was around to witness it.

Megan had always known that Aaron was a good drummer, but even she had had no idea he was that good. His rendition of The Little Drummer Boy was gorgeous, and full of emotion. And though she wasn’t sure whether it was the song itself, or the fact that her son was paying it in the snow in front of a manger basked in the glow of the world’s most famous twinkling Christmas tree in the early hours of Christmas morning, but the longer she stood there listening, the more emotional she became until she finally found her eyes welling up.

Turning sideways to glance at Jake, Megan was surprised to find that her oldest son appeared just as impacted by his brother’s performance as she felt. Smiling to herself over this fact, she threw her arm around her eldest’s shoulder and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, Jakey.”

* * *

With tears in her eyes, Elizabeth Meyer took in the beautiful scene from where she stood across the street on the corner opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The centerpiece of it all, the manger itself, looked perfectly framed from where she stood – with the President and the two prime ministers standing to the right of it with a young woman and a teenage boy positioned just behind them, and the first gentleman, the White House chief of staff, law enforcement officials, and a group that included the official from Animal Control Services of New York and the Florida teacher she had interviewed earlier standing to the left of it. Inside it, meanwhile, the young couple and their new baby sat with the three animals, as they watched the little boy play his drum nearby, with the two N.Y.P.D. officers she had interviewed at Central Park hours ago standing just behind him. It looked like a modern-day nativity set brought to life – and she knew she had found the last, hopeful piece that she had been searching for for the Christmas segment she had put together for N.Y.U.’s streaming service. Turning to stare up at her boyfriend, she stated, “We have to get this.”

Noah nodded and watched as Elizabeth pulled a microphone from the camera bag resting on the snowy sidewalk. “You’ve got it, boss.”

As Elizabeth straightened up and stood still so that Noah could frame her in the shot, while capturing the entire scene behind her, an idea struck her. “What if we go live and interrupt the stream of footage you already uploaded to the site on my behalf?”

Taken aback by the woman’s suggestion, Noah began, “We could. But—”

“—I just think it will be more impactful for the one or two people who might be watching live to see this scene unfold in real time,” Elizabeth continued, as though she hadn’t been interrupted.

Noah considered this for a moment before nodding. “I think you’re right.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow, unsure of whether or not her boyfriend was agreeing with her because of the fight they had earlier or not, but either way, she was glad that she didn’t have to defend her point. So, taking a deep breath and forcing a smile onto her face, she waited for Noah to cue her to begin speaking, which he did the moment that the red light atop his camera blinked into life.

“This is Elizabeth Meyer, and we are live outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, just across the street from Rockefeller Center. Though it might not be 34th Street, yours truly just witnessed a modern-day Christmas Miracle right here on Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Street! A young woman just gave birth in a manger, and just like the original manger birth a few thousand years ago, there were gift bearers in this modern-day nativity tale too – President Williams, Prime Minister Dubois, and Prime Minister Richardson, who are listening to a child play his drum for the newborn baby and its parents. Let’s listen in, shall we?”

And with that, Elizabeth ducked out of frame to allow Noah an unobstructed view of the Christmassy scene across the street, and listened in silence as the young boy continued to play his heart out.

* * *

“I’m freezing! How is it that reporters as senior as us get stuck covering the White House over the holidays and presidential vacations? They’re always so uneventful!”

Susan Montrose of CBC fame rolled her eyes at the CNN reporter, hugging herself tightly as she watched him pace back and forth in front of the Plaza hotel, his gloved-hands shoved deep into his pockets, clearly irate. “Stop complaining,” she snapped. “We’re all cold. This is the job we signed up for, and you know damn well why we continue to do it. News doesn’t take a holiday, and has a tendency to break at the most inconvenient of times.”

Leo Alvarez shot the Canadian woman a dark look. “Except for today,” he pointed out. “Not one piece of significant news broke today, as we’ve been traipsing around this godforsaken city trailing three world leaders who have barely acknowledged us!”

“I think you spoke too soon, Leo.” Both the CNN and CBC reporters turned to face the BBC’s Graham Potter where he stood behind them, closest to where their cameramen and photographers had set up and were now chatting to one another amicably. The old reporter was smoking a cigarette in a vain attempt to keep warm, as he scrolled through his Twitter timeline casually. “Did either of you receive a press release from the White House about some agreement that America, Canada, and England have reached with Russia called The ACER Agreement?”

Immediately, Susan whipped her phone from her pocket, as Leo struggled to extricate his with his gloved hands, and quickly scrolled through her emails. “I just did!” As her eyes scanned the email, they widened considerably. “Holy shit, this is unbelievable!”

Finally opening his own email to read through the release, Leo scoffed, “There’s no way the rest of NATO sign onto this.”

“Regardless,” Graham began, as he threw his half-smoked cigarette on the ground and crushed it with the heel of his shoe. “We finally have some news to report on.” Turning toward the camera that belonged to the BBC, he addressed the woman behind it. “Get ready to go live!”

“You might want to wait a moment,” Susan said pointedly. As both of her male colleagues turned toward her, she held out her phone for them to view. “This live video is trending now on Twitter – look who’s at Rockefeller Center!”

Leo and Graham both leaned in to view the video and swore when they saw the president and her foreign guests standing on one side of the city’s manger scene, listening to a young boy play the drum. “Which outlet was lucky enough to pick up this shot?” Graham demanded. “I thought we were the only ones allowed to cover the three of them today!”

“It’s streaming from N.Y.U.’s account,” Susan pointed out. “Look!”

“So some student journalist?” Graham spat, annoyed.

“Was it the cute blonde who ambushed the president earlier today?” Leo asked. When Susan threw him a look, he shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is it’s outrageous that the president snuck out of the hotel with her guests without informing the travelling press of where they were going!” Rounding on the members of the secret service positioned at the entrance of the Plaza, Leo demanded. “What the hell’s your boss playing at, huh? Allowing herself to be shepherded away to Rockefeller Center in the dead of night to partake in some living nativity scene without alerting the travelling press? It’s wrong and unprofessional!”

His words seemed to trigger a surprised reaction from the secret service agents, who exchanged a look before hurrying into the hotel lobby without a word. Rolling his eyes, Leo grumbled, “I swear, our job gets harder with each new president.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Susan pointed out. “Let’s just get over to Rockefeller Plaza before they leave to cover what we can, and ask her about this new agreement with Russia.” Rounding on their collective cameramen and photographers, she twirled her finger through the air. “Pack it up, ladies and gentlemen! We need to get moving! Now!” And she watched, with a satisfying expression on her face, as they hustled into action. Smirking to herself, she remembered that it had always been the rush of the job that she enjoyed the most; she just hoped that, even with their rushing, it would be enough to get them through the icy city in time to cover whatever event the president seemed to have planned in secret.

* * *

Elizabeth Meyer stood quietly beside Noah, as he continued to livestream the perfectly framed nativity scene playing out across the street from them, her eyes focused on the star atop the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree positioned dead center above the manger. She was so wrapped up in the stunning drumming of the young boy that she jumped in surprise when the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral began to ring loudly behind them, signaling the top of the hour. Immediately, her boyfriend swiveled to the capture the ringing bells, leaning backwards to point the camera skyward in order to do so. As he did, Elizabeth spoke into her microphone so that, despite not being on camera, her voice could still be heard over the video. “If that isn’t a sign or a blessing bestowed upon this newborn baby from above, I don’t know what is.”

* * *

As the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral began to echo loudly up and down Fifth Avenue, Joey chuckled, as he mumbled to himself, “Congrats, Gabe.”

“What did you say?” Mary asked, without tearing her eyes away from her daughter. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. It’s just that – well…” Joey shrugged. “You know what they say, ‘every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.’” When Mary glanced up at him, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion, he added, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“Ah, right.” Mary shook her head in an attempt to clear it. “Sorry. Baby brain.”

But Joey wasn’t listening. As he mulled over the famous quote from the beloved Christmas classic in his head, an idea struck him. “What about Gabriella? For the baby, I mean.”

“Gabriella,” Mary repeated thoughtfully. “Gabriella Holiday. Gabby.” She smiled wide, before admitting, “It does have a nice ring to it.”

And, as the two childhood friends fell silent once more, and the baby in Mary’s arms stirred again, Aaron Rankin finally finished his song and opened his eyes just in time to witness an ambulance slowly round the corner a block away, its flashing red and blue lights illuminating everything and everyone within the immediate vicinity, as the doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were thrown open and the churchgoers who had been attending midnight mass began to flood out onto the snowy winter street.

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