Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the twenty-eight official installment of “Another Christmas Story“!
In this week’s official episode, Sean Sotka of “The Christmas Podcasts Podcast” will read to all of you Chapter Twenty-Seven of our tale, entitled “Joy to the World”. Within this chapter, we switch points-of-view between the President and her entourage and Emily and Noah, as the journalism students finally get the opportunity to land an interview with the leader of the free world! We hope you like it! If you do, 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! And make sure to check your feeds today for last week’s official installment of “Another Christmas Story” – Chapter Twenty-Six, entitled “Hark the Herald Angel Sing”, as read by Adam Parker Sibun of “Merry Britmas“! (Hopefully you already saw it and listened to that one first, as it precedes this one!)
Coming up on the show this upcoming Monday, August 9th, we will be dropping a once Patreon-exclusive of the show as – once again – life got in the way for the elves, and they didn’t have time to record an episode this week! And on Tuesday, August 10th, the elves will gather to discuss the 2006 film, “Last Holiday“! Before that drops in your feeds on Monday, August 16th, however, on Thursday, August 12th, you’ll get to hear Chapter 28 of “Another Christmas Story” entitled “The First Noel”, which Robert Nickerson of “Behind the Bells” will be reading to y’all! So, keep your eyes on your podcast feeds because there’s lots of great stuff coming up!
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Joy to the World
December 24th – 4:45 p.m. EST
Per the instructions of their security detail, President Williams and her delegation had to wait for the audience to clear out of Radio City Music Hall before they were allowed to leave the theater for themselves. When they finally were permitted to, they stepped out onto the busy, bustling Fifth Avenue street and were immediately greeted by blinding flashes of light emanating from the cameras shoved into their faces.
“Prime Ministers! How did you enjoy the show?”
“It was a magical delight.” Nathan smiled, as he looked directly into CNN’s camera and answered Leo Alvarez’s question. “Renée and I will forever be eternally grateful to President Williams for arranging this trip so that we could experience it.” He turned to the president and bowed his head. Smiling, Emily nodded at the man before replying. “And the American people will forever be grateful to have such sturdy friends and allies in Canada and the United Kingdom.” She glanced at Miranda, whose smile appeared to be more of a grimace.
“Madam Prime Minister, what about you?” asked Graham Potter of the BBC.
“Well, Graham,” Miranda started, as she began to dig around in her purse with great gusto. “Growing up in Newcastle as a young girl, I was always curious – as I’m sure more foreign children are – of what Christmas in New York was actually like. So many holiday films and television programs are set in this magnificent city that I think it becomes something of a subconscious dream to spend at least one holiday here. And after hearing so much about the Rockettes, I was delighted to get the opportunity to watch them dance in person.” She briefly glanced up from her purse to flash a quick smile at Emily. “I’m thankful to the president for granting me such a wonderful opportunity.” Then, glancing back down again and continuing to dig fervently, she continued. “I’m also thankful to the management team of this glorious institution.” She waved behind her at the glowing, neon Radio City sign. “For granting us a behind-the-scenes tour. Though, I must admit…” She let out a laugh. “The stench of farm animals was a tad strong backstage. Ah, there it is!” With a flourish, she withdrew her perfume and sprayed a liberal amount on herself, to the amusement of the reporters capturing the action on camera.
As the snowy wind carried the heavy fumes past the English prime minister and toward the leaders of the U.S. and Canada, Emily quickly turned her head quickly to conceal a cough. Then, forcing a smile onto her face, she turned to survey the crowds gathered on either side of them for the first time. They consisted of both supporters and protestors, kept at bay by her secret service and aided by New York’s finest. Here they were, standing in the middle of a snowstorm – the worst one the city of New York had ever seen – in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve, all to cheer her on or shout their hate for her; the strong, passionate feelings she elicited all across the political spectrum still amazed her.
Shivering, Emily pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose before pulling her coat closed around her as tight as she possibly could. Glancing over her shoulder for her chief of staff, she was impressed when Anna was by her side in the blink of an eye. Meeting each other’s gaze, the woman knew exactly what her boss was thinking and gave an imperceptible nod of the head. Then, she cleared her throat, before announcing loudly to the small press pool that had been shadowing them all day, “Alright, folks! Elsa is getting strong, and we have places to be, so let’s pick this interview up later! We’re going to head over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the president and the prime ministers are going to meet briefly with Cardinal Luke Sweeney and where they’re each going to lay a wreath on the altar – events you’ll be allowed to witness, and capture on camera. Afterward, they’ll be sitting down for a private dinner at Le Bernardin before retiring to the Plaza for the evening.”
“So they’re staying in New York tonight?” the CBC’s Susan Montrose asked.
“Look around you, Susan.” Anna gestured at the snowy streets and icy sidewalks, which surrounded them all. “I don’t think any of us are going to be able to fly out of New York tonight.”
It was at that moment that Gary hurried over to them from down the street, huffing and puffing, with sweat dripping from his bushy, walrus mustache. Turning to face him, Emily raised an eyebrow. “Well, well, well, look who it is! My missing-in-action press secretary! Where have you been?” she asked sarcastically.
“I’m sorry, Madam President,” Gary replied breathlessly, as he nodded in acknowledgement at the two prime ministers. “It’s just – do you think you have time to take a few more questions?”
“Absolutely not,” Anna answered for her boss. “We have a strict schedule to adhere to! We can’t–”
“Madam President,” Gary interrupted the chief of staff loudly, in order to appeal directly to Emily. “It’s for two students who are journalism majors at N.Y.U. They’ve been interview people all day for the school’s website – just puff pieces about the holidays, you know? Public interest stories.” He motioned up the street past the large crowd of people that the secret service was working diligently to keep at bay. Craning her neck to peer over the crowd, Emily spotted a pretty blonde girl holding a microphone close to her chest, and her muscular, bearded companion clutching a video camera in his arms. They were standing alone, apart from any larger crowds scurrying this way and that, directly across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “They recognized me earlier, when I – uh – was taking a smoke break–”
“Is that what that smell is?” Emily demanded, aghast. “I thought you quit!”
“And they asked if I could arrange for you to speak with them for a few minutes,” Gary pressed on quickly, determinedly ignoring the president’s question. “I think the girl in particular is a big fan of yours.”
Emily glanced at Anna and knew that her chief of staff was thinking the same thing that she was. This would be good optics; a way to show the world that she was the same, fun-loving, good-natured, Emily Williams who served as a senator from Massachusetts before running for president. “I suppose a few questions wouldn’t hurt,” she admitted. “Bring them over.”
Gary nodded before hurrying to where the two students were standing. Emily watched from afar as their smiles widened as Gary spoke to them, before he led them in her direction. Before they could get too close, however, they were stopped by members of the secret service, who patted them down thoroughly. As they were searched, the president turned to the two foreign prime ministers apologetically. “I hope you don’t mind–”
“Not at all,” Nathan interrupted. “It’s Christmas! We’re supposed to do good deeds for our fellow human beings!”
Miranda merely pursed her lips in response, however, and refused to say a word as the two students joined the three world leaders. “Thank you so much, Madam President!” The young blonde girl eagerly shook the hand of the commander in chief.
“It’s my pleasure.” Emily flashed her a warm smile.
“I’m Elizabeth Meyer,” the girl introduced herself in a breathless voice. “I voted eagerly for you during the election–”
“I like you already, Elizabeth,” Emily interrupted, amused, as the young woman brushed a piece of stray blonde hair from her face. “Who’s your friend?”
“Boyfriend, actually.” The young man stepped forward, holding out a hand as he held his camera steady atop his shoulder. “Noah Clark, ma’am. It’s an honor.”
“Likewise,” Emily insisted, shaking his hand before introducing the two students to her foreign counterparts; she had to stifle a laugh at how the attractive Canadian prime minister took the young woman’s breath away. “Are we alright standing here for the interview?” she asked when the introductions were finished. Then, noticing the cameras from the professional networks that had been shadowing her all day, she instructed her press secretary, “Can you move them away? They’ve had enough of my time already. Let these students get some unique footage!” As Gary heeded her instructions, and ushered the members of the media away from the commander in chief, Emily turned once again to the college students, who exchanged a look of disbelief, beaming at one another. “Can we stand here for the interview?” Emily politely asked again.
“Absolutely,” Noah insisted, as he peered at the group through his camera. “You’re perfect right there. The Radio City marquee is framed perfectly behind you.”
“Excellent,” the president replied before nodding at the young reporter. “Anytime you’re ready.”
“Okay.” Elizabeth took a deep breath and exhaled in a controlled, purposeful manner. She then brought the microphone up to her face at smiled at the camera that Noah was pointing at them. “I’m here with President Emily Williams, Canadian Prime Minister Nathan Dubois, and English Prime Minister Miranda Richardson.” Turning toward the group, Elizabeth said, “Thank you so much for agreeing to do this.”
“It’s a pleasure,” Emily replied. “I must say, you two are working hard considering it’s Christmas Eve! Do you celebrate?”
“We both do,” Elizabeth answered. “But the news never stops!” She laughed before asking, “Do you mind telling us what the holiday means to you?”
“I’ll let our foreign visitors answer first.” Emily turned to eye Nathan and Miranda, who exchanged a look amongst themselves. “Please, ladies first,” Nathan insisted.
A look of panic flashed across Miranda’s face for the quickest of seconds as the young college student shoved her microphone into the woman’s face, but in an instant it was gone, and she was speaking confidently to the camera. “Well, it’s very simple, really. The holiday season is about doing good for others; showering them with love and charity. ‘Giving’, just like God above supposedly gave to us the gift of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.” She pulled at the collar of her neck, uncomfortably. “What is that saying that you Americans have? ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’?”
Elizabeth, looking politely confused, turned to Nathan Dubois. “What about you, Mr. Prime Minister?”
“As cliché as the answer is, to me the holiday season is really about ‘peace on earth and good will toward men’.” He smiled. “You know, I feel like the last few months of the year, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, is really a time for self-reflection; a time for us all to take stock of our lives and be grateful for what we have and the opportunities we’ve been given, while taking stock of what others less fortunate than us don’t have. It’s about reflecting on how we can do more to help our fellow man in the coming year.”
Nathan turned toward Emily, who in turn leaned toward Elizabeth’s microphone. “I agree with both of the prime ministers, but I would like to add something. You know, I’ve been compared to the Grinch lately in multiple write-ups about my presidency, so I’m going to quote that Christmas special directly for a moment, if you’d allow.” She took a deep breath. “‘Maybe Christmas, perhaps, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.’ I feel like so many of us get caught up in the lights, the gifts, and the good that we forget what the holiday is really about. Don’t get me wrong, all of that’s great, but in the end, Christmas is about spending time with the people you love; your family and friends. It’s about doing good deeds for people less fortunate than you. I’ve always believed that Christmas is the time of year when the best of humanity shines through the darkness, and I’ve long felt that we should keep that spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year. If we did – if we held dear that spirit of giving, and, as the prime minister here said, ‘peace on earth and good will toward men’ – I have no doubt that the world would be a better place. It’s a good lesson for those who don’t celebrate the holiday.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Can I ask you a quick follow-up about that?” When the president nodded, she continued. “As world leaders, how do you reconcile the concept of ‘peace on earth’ with troops in multiple countries throughout the world and escalating tensions in the Middle East, North Korea, and Russia, specifically? Particularly Russia, with whom it’s starting to look increasingly as though we’re on the brink of war with.”
Emily blinked, taken aback by how triumphant the young blonde looked; clearly it was a “gotcha” question she had been waiting for an opportunity to spring on her. Spluttering slightly, the president answered. “Well, I can’t speak for my foreign counterparts here, but I don’t think that the concept of ‘peace on earth’ and military occupancy are mutually exclusive. The United States has had a policy of ‘peace through strength’ for many years now, and if we just ceased that policy, I think it would create a lot more problems that would make peace even farther from being achieved.”
“Does ‘peace through strength’ include a full-blown war with the Kremlin though?” Elizabeth asked.
“America will always defend its interests, and the interests of its allies, no matter what.”
“If I could just–”
“It was a pleasure talking to you, Elizabeth,” Emily interrupted forcefully. “It was nice meeting you. And Noah,” she added, nodding at the college boy. “But we must be going.”
“Oh-okay,” Elizabeth stammered. “Can we get a picture first?”
“Of course.” Emily forced a smile onto her face, as Noah placed his camera on the ground. Gary rushed forward to take the girl’s smartphone from her and snapped a picture of the two students with the three world leaders. The flash had barely subsided before Emily said, “It was nice meeting you both.” After shaking both hands quickly, she quickly stepped off of the curb and began to stroll across the street in the direction of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, away from the two students and the crowds of protestors and admirers. As her security detail, her staff, the two other world leaders, and their limited press pool quickly followed after her, the secret service – practically at a run – fanned out to stop the slow moving vehicular traffic. As Anna fell into step beside her, Emily snapped, “Tell Gary to vet the questions next time.”
“Yes, Madam President,” Anna replied. “But I wouldn’t worry too much. I mean, it’s only for a university news site, right?”
“You know how quickly these things can go viral,” Emily replied, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Besides, millennials make up a core part of my base.”
“At least you were honest,” Nathan pointed out gently.
“Sometimes people don’t want honesty though,” Emily replied. “It’s where the disconnect I have with half of the population comes into play. I’m too honest for them! It’s how Thompson got elected five-years ago – people liked that he said what they wanted to hear, honesty be damned. And trust me, millennials don’t want to hear any president, regardless of party, advocating for military action, as necessary as it might be.”
“Sounds like I’m not the only one who has to worry about reelection.” Miranda allowed a self-satisfied smirk to unfold across her face.
“I wouldn’t worry about losing the House, Madam President.” Anna threw the old British woman a dirty look as she spoke. “If all goes well tonight, the public will be praising you for deescalating tensions with Russia and saving us from a possible nuclear war.”
“If being the key word,” Miranda pointed out.
* * *
“Did you see the look on her face when I sprung that last question on her?”
“See it? I got it on camera! Gotcha journalism at its finest!”
Elizabeth clapped her hands together excitedly, as she danced a jig where she stood on the snowy sidewalk, absolutely giddy, as the crowds around them began to disperse. Noah smiled to himself as he watched her celebrate; he had to hand it to her – he had doubt that she’d get anywhere near the president, and for a moment, it looked as though she might not. After all, when they arrived outside of the W. 50th Street exit to Radio City Music Hall, they found three professional news networks waiting outside of it, at the front of a large crowd of onlookers, all of them pushing up against the perimeter that the secret service and N.Y.P.D. had set up to keep the crowd at a safe distance from the three world leaders. As such, the two college students were forced to stand further up the street, at the corner of Fifth Avenue across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and neither thought that they’d manage even a faraway glimpse of the president.
But then, by a sheer stroke of luck – or perhaps it was a small Christmas miracle – Elizabeth had caught sight of the country’s beleaguered press secretary, Gary Matthews, standing with his back pressed against the corner of a Banana Republic. Just by looking at him, the two students could tell that he had snuck way from the rest of the president’s entourage in the hopes of getting a few quiet seconds alone. He appeared so stressed, in fact, that Noah hadn’t been surprised in the least when the man whipped out a cigarette and placed it in his mouth. What did surprise him, however – though it really shouldn’t have, given her fierce tenacity – was when his girlfriend walked right up to the man and put on an innocent, young, helplessly clueless and slightly flirty schoolgirl act as she told the face of the White House that she was working on a project for her journalism class, and she would love to speak with the president – whom she adored and voted for – on camera for it, even it for was for less than sixty-seconds. To the surprise of both her and her boyfriend, her pleas had moved Gary who agreed to “see what he could do” under the guise of doing it “in the spirit of Christmas” before hurrying to talk to his boss as she emerged from the theater down the street.
“I can’t believe you managed to get her on camera talking about world peace given the fact that we’re on the brink of war with Russia!” Noah shook his head in amazement. “Not even just her! The Canadian bro and the English witch too!”
“I do feel kind of bad for springing that question on her like that,” Elizabeth admitted. “I know it’s silly, but I did vote for her. I do like her.”
Noah scoffed. “That’s politics, baby! And it’s the nature of the job you want!”
“I know, I know.” Elizabeth waved his mansplaining aside before smiling wide and poking him hard in the chest. “I told you I’d get more than Christmas fluff today! Though I even got them to talk about the holidays too! Did you see the looks that the pros from the professional networks threw us as they scampered off across the street?” She motioned at the imposing looking gothic cathedral overlooking Fifth Avenue across from them, into which the political troupe had hurried into following Williams’ mini-interview with the N.Y.U. students.
“They did look annoyed,” Noah pointed out with a smirk before joking, “Probably won’t help your chances at getting a job with any of those networks after we graduate.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes with a laugh. “Oh, shut up. Don’t try to rain my parade! Not that you could; nothing can bring me down right now. Wait until my family sees this footage!” She clapped her hands together and rubbed them excitedly, practically salivating at the thought. “They won’t be able to believe it!”
“Speaking of that,” Noah began hesitantly, completely aware that he was about to broach a touchy subject. “Maybe it’s time to head back to the school? You know…” He shrugged innocently. “We can surprise your parents by getting in at a decent time tonight?”
Elizabeth considered this for a moment before shaking her head. “Not yet,” she said. “Let’s stay out for a few more hours. There’s something in the air today! Don’t you feel it?” She spun around on the spot, glancing up at the tops of the enormous buildings towering over them.
“High winds, freezing temperatures, and heavy snow?” Noah grumbled sarcastically.
“Nope! Magic! Christmas magic,” his girlfriend stressed. “I just have a feeling there’s another story out here waiting for us to track it down and tell it!”
Noah glanced up at the completely dark sky. The darkness was one of the things that he hated the most about winter – it was dark until eight in the morning, and the sun set by four-thirty in the afternoon. “Well, I hope said story presents itself soon,” he snapped. “I’m cold. I’m wet. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I’m–”
“—complaining,” Elizabeth interrupted with a wide smile. “Strike two!” She wiggled two of her fingers in front of his face. “One more strike and we’re not bringing the camera home!”
Noah bit down hard on his tongue to prevent himself from making a wiseass remark, lest he cause a huge fight between the two of them. After a few seconds of silence in which they stared at one another, one of his girlfriend’s eyebrows raised, he swallowed down his retort before asking through gritted teeth, “Where to next then, babe?”
“Well, we’re in the area, so we may as well get a few shots of the Rockefeller Center tree!” Elizabeth suggested brightly.
As his girlfriend started up Fifth Avenue on the extremely short walk to Rockefeller Plaza, a new bounce in her step, Noah rolled his eyes before mumbling to himself. “Because we definitely need more establishing shots to overlay our interviews with.” Nevertheless, he dragged his feet and dutifully followed after his girlfriend, mumbling in annoyance under his breath the entire time as he fantasized about the enormous Christmas Eve dinner they would probably end up missing out on. The only thought that placated him when that horrific thought crossed his mind was the fact that, at the very least, they’d have Christmas day dinner tomorrow.
* * *
The hustle and bustle of New York City instantly became muffled the moment that Emily Williams and her entourage crossed over the threshold, flanked by two enormous wooden doors, of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was almost as though the intimidatingly high walls, arches, columns, and ceilings magically prevented outside noise from penetrating the holy building. The mouth of Nathan Dubois dropped open as he stared around the church’s interior, from where the group had stopped just inside of the entrance. “It’s stunning.”
Emily silently agreed with the Canadian prime minister’s assessment, her own voice becoming stuck in her throat as she stared around at the garland, lights, Christmas wreathes and trees, candles, and stained-glass windows that adorned the brightly lit, cavernous room. The dulcet sounds of a magnificent pipe organ, located at the front of the church near the alter, reverberated around the space, and the president immediately recognized the song being played as O Holy Night. The notes of the organ were soon joined by excited whispering and the flashing of lights, and as Emily turned to the left she saw a line of citizens staring in their direction, craning their necks in order to ogle them and snap pictures of them on their phones. Raising a hand in acknowledgement, she noticed that they were all waiting in line, not to stare at her, but in order to get their chance to stand directly in front of the life-sized nativity, around which people were also taking photos.
“Doesn’t mass start at five-thirty?” Miranda asked, as she glanced down at her watch. “Why is this place so crowded?”
Keeping a smile plastered on her face, Emily responded through gritted teeth. “This cathedral is an enormous tourist attraction year ‘round, but especially during the Christmas season. The Christmas Eve masses are so popular, people start arriving early in the morning.” She nodded her head at the pews in front of them, many of which were already occupied with chattering people and, sprinkled amongst them, even a few who were silently praying, as they waited patiently for the start of the five-thirty mass. Then, turning to find her chief of staff, she noticed that she was deep in conversation with her press secretary a few feet away from the rest of their group. When they finished talking in hushed voices, Gary hurried down the center aisle of the cathedral, as Anna sidled over to her boss. “Is everything okay?” Emily asked, concerned.
“Everything’s fine, Madam President,” Anna assured her. “Gary’s just gone to fetch Cardinal Sweeney. It should only be a few minutes.”
“Excellent.” Emily smiled wide. “In that case, I think we should get in line to see the nativity, don’t you?”
Anna blinked in surprise. Before she could respond, however, the president raised an eyebrow. Unsure of whether this was a move to impress the more religious, Midwest and southern voters in the country, or something the president wanted to do for herself, the chief of staff couldn’t think of a reason to deny her boss’ request. “I think that would be a splendid idea.”
“Madam President.” Clint spoke up from where he stood nearby with Melissa. His deep voice took Anna by surprise, for the two secret service officers – both of whom looked ragged and exhausted – barely ever interjected themselves into the president’s conversations except in cases of emergencies. “The crowd in that queue…” He jerked his head at the large group of people milling about in front of the life-sized nativity.
“Oh, don’t worry so much.” Emily rolled her eyes with a smile, as she gently brushed the two members of the secret service aside in order to hop on the back of the line. After exchanging the briefest glance of horror, Clint and Melissa rushed after her before her foreign guests dutifully followed.
“Madam President!” A young woman, holding the hand of a little girl who looked no older than five, greeted Emily as she came to a stop just behind them. “It’s an honor! I just – we love you in our family. We both voted for you, right, Hun?” She elbowed a young man behind her, who was staring excitedly at the commander in chief.
“Absolutely!” the man confirmed.
“I’m touched,” Emily replied warmly, trying her best to ignore the darting glances of Clint and Melissa, who were clearly uncomfortable standing in a line full of civilians.
“Do you think…well…” The woman went red in the face, as she rubbed the back of her neck uncomfortably. “Is it okay if my daughter and I could get a picture with you?” She shoved her young, blonde daughter, who stared shyly up at the president, forward in front of her. “She completely admires you, and – well, we both do.”
“I would be honored to take a picture with you both.” Emily smiled wide, as she squatted down so that she was at the little girl’s eye-level. “What’s your name?”
“Theresa,” the little girl replied bashfully, staring down at the ground and shuffling her feet.
After pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose, Emily placed a finger beneath Theresa’s chin and raised her head so that their eyes met once more. “That’s such a pretty name. Do you know who I am?” Theresa nodded, her smile widening. “I suppose most people do. What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“President!” Theresa answered so gleefully that she practically shouted the word. “Like you!”
Emily felt her heart swell with pride as the little girl pointed at her. Pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose, she said, “I think you’d make a wonderful president. Can I have a hug?”
The words were barely out of Emily’s mouth when Theresa launched herself into her arms. The president reciprocated the hug, exultant; she needed this today. Smiling up at the girl’s mother, blinking the flash from multiple cameras out of her eyes, she asked, “And what’s your name?”
“Elaine,” the woman answered breathlessly before jerking her head at her husband. “This is Ken.”
“Hi.” Ken raised a hand awkwardly.
“Hello.” Emily smiled politely before relinquishing her grip on Theresa and springing to her feet with surprising agility for a woman her age. “Well, Elaine? How about that picture?”
“Yes! Of course! I – thank you!”
Emily positioned herself directly behind Theresa, placing both hands on her shoulders, and smiled as both Elaine and Ken snapped pictures on their respective iPhones. Behind them, Anna snapped a picture on her phone as well – no doubt to upload to the president’s official social media accounts later that day. “How about one with you joining us?” Emily asked Elaine.
The woman didn’t need asking twice. Quickly, she joined her daughter and the president, smiling giddily as Ken and Anna both snapped another picture on their phones. “And how about one with dad?”
The words were barely out of the president’s mouth when Ken eagerly thrust his phone into her chief of staff’s hands. Once he joined his wife, daughter, and commander in chief, Anna snapped a picture on the man’s iPhone before capturing one on her own. Before the four could break apart from one another, Anna held up a finger. “How about one with the prime ministers of England and Canada?”
“Oh, remembered us, have you?” Miranda spoke up in a scathing voice from behind Emily.
“That would be wonderful!” Elaine exclaimed, apparently not hearing the leader of England. “I would be – we would be – eternally grateful.” Her voice caught in her throat and her cheeks turned bright red as Nathan Dubois, in all of his handsome glory, sidled up beside her and threw an arm around her shoulders. Miranda, meanwhile, took her place beside Ken.
“Alright! One. Two. Three. Merry Christmas!” Anna counted down.
“Merry Christmas!” The group smiled and held their pose for two pictures before disbanding.
“Thanks so much again!” Elaine exclaimed, shaking the president’s hand. “Theresa, say thank you!”
“Oh, it’s my pleasure, sweetie! Honestly!” Emily smiled down at the young girl as she hugged her waist once again. “And I promise that when you run for president one day, I’ll vote for you. Alright? Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Promise me.”
“I promise,” Theresa replied, the wonder evident in her voice.
“Good.” Emily nodded. “Have a Merry Christmas! I hope Santa is good to you tonight!” And after Elaine and Ken shook the hands of her, Nathan, and Miranda one last time, the young family of three turned to face forward in the line once again, talking excitedly amongst themselves.
“They were nice,” Nathan noted with a smile, as Renée sidled up beside him.
“The American people are generally very lovely,” Emily noted, finding Bobby’s hand with her own as he moved next to her.
“Could have fooled me,” Miranda muttered under her breath, her voice barely audible. Jasper, however, chortled loudly at the comment. Ignoring the British couple, Emily turned to face her chief of staff. “Can you put those pictures on Facebook and Twitter?”
“Instagram too.” Anna nodded. “I’m already on it.” Indeed, she didn’t even look up from her phone to acknowledge her boss as she typed away on it.
As they inched forward in the slow-moving line, Emily felt buoyant, ecstatic to know that there were Americans out there who still believed in her. It partially restored her faltering confidence, and it made her surer of herself that she would be able to handle the Russians later that evening. She was shaken from her thoughts, however, when there was a firm tap on her shoulder. “Madam President?”
Emily turned around to find herself face-to-face with Clint, who was leaning down to whisper in her ear. “Yes, Clint, what is it?”
“It’s just…uh…” He cleared his throat awkwardly as he jerked his head behind him. Emily stared around the man’s massive form to see Melissa, Commissioner Burke, Commanding Officer Pendleton, and other members of her security details keeping the people in line behind them – all of them trying to push past, phones in hand – at bay. “Apparently they all believe they’re entitled to pictures with you now.”
Emily bit down uncertainly on her lower lip and turned briefly to see how long the line in front of them was. Then, forcing a weary smile onto her face, she said, “I don’t mind taking a few more pictures while we’re just waiting in line.” Catching Anna’s bewildered look out of the corner of her eye, she leaned in toward her chief of staff’s ear. “I don’t want to lose whatever support I have, right? Besides – it’s Christmas!”
Anna nodded uncertainly, and for the next quarter of an hour, Emily, Nathan, Miranda, and their spouses posed for selfies with eager American voters and international tourists who had all flocked to the famous cathedral in order to see it decked out for the holidays. As they worked the crowd, Emily monitored the crews from CNN, BBC, and CBC strolling up and down the queue interviewing different people, no doubt asking what they thought about her performance as president so far.
Finally, the three world leaders were relieved of picture duty once they reached the life-sized nativity scene, which was gorgeous in its splendor and far more detailed than the one that adorned the end of the Channel Gardens. When they stepped in front of it, an eerie silence fell over them – as though its majesty blocked out all other noise – and their entire delegation bowed their heads respectfully, each one of them acutely aware of the eyes and the cameras upon them. This silence stretched on until it was broken with a loud, gleeful exclamation of, “Madam President!”
Emily spun around. “Cardinal Sweeney! It’s a pleasure to see you again!” She embraced the young, chubby-faced cardinal with thinning hair, who had snuck up behind them, accompanied by Gary. “How long’s it been?”
“Too long!” Cardinal Sweeney replied with a smile. “I haven’t seen you since the inauguration! And before that, not since the Al Smith dinner!”
“Well, I’m sure you understand,” Emily replied, her eyes twinkling mischievously behind her glasses. “I’ve been quite busy, after all.”
“Indeed. Thank you, by the way, for taking time out of your busy schedule during the holidays, during a particularly bad blizzard, no less! Trust me, the people of New York won’t forget this.” Sweeney smiled at the woman before turning to peer at Nathan and Miranda. “Prime Minister Dubois! Prime Minister Richardson! It’s an honor!”
After the cardinal exchanged pleasantries with the entire delegation, he clapped his hands together eagerly. “Shall we do this? Follow me!” He led Emily, Nathan, Miranda, and the rest of their group out of the winding line to view the nativity scene, cut across a row of pews, and down the center aisle of the cathedral toward the alter. Behind them, the reporters from CNN, BBC, and CBC were capturing the entire thing on camera, hot on their heels. “As you can imagine, today and tomorrow are our two busiest days of the year. Tonight, more so than tomorrow, actually,” he added after thinking about it for a moment. “More people come tonight so they don’t have to worry about leaving family on Christmas day. Of course,” he chuckled. “It always makes me laugh how we have seven times our normal amount of parishioners come in during the holidays – they really should be coming every week! Ah well.” He sighed deeply. “It’s not my place to judge. I truly am happy people still come at least once a year, given the state of the world, nowadays.”
Emily stared around the gorgeous space as they walked up the center aisle, straining to hear the young cardinal’s words over the excited whispering around them as heads turned to watch them walk. “We have three wreaths up front, one for each of you. After a brief moment of silent prayer, you’ll each place one on an easel upon the alter, after which, I’ll say a few words, we’ll say the Lord’s prayer together, I’ll hand out the Eucharist, and then we’re done. Any questions?” He stopped so suddenly in his tracks that the president nearly walked into him when he spun around to face the world leaders and those accompanying them.
“One,” Miranda replied. “Are American clergymen always this abrupt?”
Cardinal Sweeney laughed loudly. “Madam Prime Minister, more often than not, I’m accused of rambling on and on. I do, however, have a mass to oversee shortly.” He glanced down at his watch before gesturing toward the enormous altar ahead of them, behind which a giant golden cross was erected, seemingly glowing in the dull winter light that filtered into the church through the stained-glass windows looming tall around them.
When they reached the front of the church, every member of it followed the cardinal’s lead by coming to a complete stop and falling silent as they bowed their heads in recognition of the cross before them. Behind her, Emily could hear the loud clicking of cameras, and did her best to block out the annoying noise by focusing on the beautiful renditions of various, religious Christmas carols being played on the giant church organ. Finally, the cardinal looked up and beckoned the three world leaders to follow him up the six marble stairs onto the altar, where three priests – decked out in ornate ceremonial robes – were standing off to the side, each holding an enormous Christmas wreath.
After acknowledging each of the priests, Emily, Nathan, and Miranda each took a wreath before walking somberly, in lockstep, up to the marble altar, in front of which three easels were erected amongst the many poinsettia plants. For optics sake, Emily allowed both Nathan and Miranda to place their wreaths down first before placing her own on the easel in the center. Once all three were affixed sturdily, the three politicians took a few steps back, their arms crossed in front of them and their heads bowed in silent contemplation once again, as the reporters from CNN, BBC, and CBC continued to capture the entire scene on camera behind them.
“Thank you,” the cardinal said quietly behind them. “If you’d please…” He motioned toward the pews on their right, which sat on the dais upon which they were standing, offering a close, yet side view, of the altar. Already standing in their pews were their spouses, security details, and various members of their staffs. Emily led the way over to the front-most row, which had been left empty for her and her international counterparts, and once they were standing within it, the cardinal began. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
“Amen,” Emily mumbled in unison with all of those surrounding her.
“Please be seated,” the cardinal instructed.
As Emily sat down, situated comfortably between Nathan and Miranda, she glanced toward the back of the church where the line to view the life-sized nativity scene continued to wind endlessly. Along the sides of the building, admiring the architecture, were more tourists, gaping as their heads swiveled to take in every inch of the space as they snapped pictures on their phones. More than a few wandered toward the front to get a glimpse of their commander in chief and her foreign guests, but Commissioner Burke and Commanding Officer Pendleton kept them blissfully at bay, with the help of their underlings and the secret service. Meanwhile, through the open front doors of the building, the snow was falling heavier than ever. It was so thick, in fact, that Emily couldn’t see anything through it. Shivering, she turned her attention back to the cardinal, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose as she did so, grateful that she was within the warm confines of the religious sanctuary for the moment.
“It is an honor for both St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the people of Manhattan to have the three of you grace us with your presence this Christmas Eve.” Cardinal Sweeney smiled around at the politicians. “I’d like to begin by reciting a prayer that was written by Rebecca Barlow Jordan, a religious and inspirational author and speaker. It’s called ‘A Prayer for Peace and Joy at Christmas’.”
As the cardinal cleared his throat, Emily side-eyed her foreign counterparts with some amusement. Peace was something that all three of them wanted and strived for, but weren’t sure was attainable with the current state of affairs in Russia and the east as a whole. It seemed ironically fitting that the cardinal picked such a prayer to recite to them, and she wondered if it was a direct sign for them courtesy of a messenger from above.
“Lord,” the cardinal began, as he raised his arms into the air and closed his eyes. “In a season where every heart should be happy and light, many of us are struggling with the heaviness of life – burdens that steal the joy right out of our Christmas stockings. Crazy weather disasters strike at unsuspecting areas, ravaging peaceful homes and interrupting the lives of unsuspecting residents. Tragedy arrives as innocent victims suffer, and an inner voice whispers, ‘Be afraid!’ We need your peace, Jesus.
“Lord, we still carol the wonderful message, huddled beneath the winter caps on snow-covered porches, or from churches, led by enthusiastic musicians or choir members. Yet we confess that our hearts are too often filled with wonder of a different kind: wondering when the bills will be paid, when the terror will stop, when rest will come. Will it ever? Is the message still true?
“In a world where worry, not peace, prevails, stir up that good news again. This Christmas, make it real in our hearts. Never have we needed Your joy and peace more than now. Thank You for the gift of Jesus, our Immanuel, the Word made flesh. Forgive us for forgetting – that Your love never changes, never fades, and that You never abandon the purpose for which You came: to save us from our sinful condition, and to give us life eternal, the joy of relationship with a holy God. Your birth – and Your death – sealed Your promise to us forever.
“For those whose hearts are battered by sorry or broken relationships, for those whose lives know only conflict and confusion, for those whose bodies are tired and tested beyond their ability to endure this year – precious Savior, draw them close to You. Let them know You are still the same Jesus who was born of a virgin, not in a hospital but an animal barn, laid in a manger of hay. You are still the One sent by a heavenly Father who offered not condemnation for our sins, but love and forgiveness – and daily, divine fellowship.
“We not only need your peace and joy; Lord, we crave it. You’ve promised rest for the weary, victory for the battle-scarred, peace for the anxious, and acceptance for the broken-hearted – not just at Christmas, but every day of every year. Release the joy in us that’s been crushed by pride, wrong priorities, or world events. Tear down the strongholds that have held us captive far too long. Extinguish the flames of apprehension that rob us of a calm, quiet spirit. Show us again the beauty of that holy night so many centuries ago.”
It was here that Cardinal Sweeney paused to take a deep breath. Emily, meanwhile, stared at him intently through narrowed eyes, her back straight, rapt with attention. The man’s words resonated deeply with her, and she couldn’t help but feel as if God Himself was offering a message directly to her through the cardinal’s words.
“Your name is still called ‘Wonderful’, ‘Counselor’, ‘The Mighty God’, ‘The Everlasting Father’, and ‘The Prince of Peace’. As your children, we cry out for a fresh filling, and a new awareness of Who You are. We choose by faith to make the ‘good news of great joy’ a reality in our own lives, so others can see us as lighted trees of life, pointing to You this Christmas. We know one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that You are Lord. And we also know that peace on earth can only come when hearts find peace with you.
“You are still our Joy. You are still our Peace. You are no longer a babe in the manger. You are Lord of lords and King of kings. And we still celebrate You as Lord – this Christmas and always. Amen.”
“Amen,” Emily replied with the rest of the delegation, her voice hoarse, stricken by the man’s words.
“I chose this prayer to share with you, not just because it’s beautifully written,” the cardinal informed them. “But also because the message rings true. Peace and joy are needed for a better, more inclusive world! And to achieve these goals, we all need to put aside our egos and our pride, and bask in the message of love that God gave to us all of those Christmases ago when he sent his son to us; the message that he sends down to us each and every day, but which seems more prevalent during the Christmas season. Peace and joy,” he repeated. “Peace and joy.” He surveyed the three politicians for a moment. “Every day I pray that God gives you, and everybody else in positions of immense power, the courage and convictions needed to pursue peace and joy, especially in light of recent world events. The last thing the people of this planet need is another war.” He let out a small laugh. “I, unfortunately, don’t have time to give you the fully homily that I’ve prepared for the masses I’m presiding over tonight and tomorrow, but boiled down to its barest form, the message is this – God opens many doors in our lives and gives us all opportunity after opportunity to do the right thing. When presented with these opportunities, especially in regard to foreign affairs, I hope that the three of you are knowledgeable enough to take them.”
A long pause followed the cardinal’s words. Out of the corners of her eyes, Emily saw that Nathan looked as humbled as she herself felt. To her left, however, she could tell that Miranda seemed affronted by the man’s words, as though she couldn’t believe a religious leader had the gall to lecture her about morals or how to do her job. “Please stand,” the cardinal instructed, shaking the president from her thoughts. She sprung to her feet instantly, wincing at the sounds of pews scraping against the marble as he companions all rose to their feet. “If you would join me in the Lord’s prayer…’Our Father, Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name’.”
“‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven,’” Emily and the rest of her colleagues responded. After finishing the prayer and giving one another peace, the cardinal quickly gave them all communion before stating, “Thank you once again for visiting New York and our cathedral on this most holy of nights. Please go in peace, and have a very Merry Christmas.”
The entirety of the pomp and circumstance lasted a mere fifteen-minutes, and after a quick picture with the cardinal in front of the altar, the three world leaders and their entire delegation made their way back up the center aisle with the crews from CNN, the BBC, and CBC walking backwards in front of them to capture it all on camera. “Madam President!” Leo called. “How do you feel about the cardinal’s words?”
“They were extremely inspiring and well spoken,” Emily answered eloquently.
“Do they change any of your calculations in regards to the escalating tensions between Russia and–”
“Every decision I make is made after long periods of deliberation, during which I hear the opinions of a wide-range of people,” Emily interrupted firmly. “In terms of U.S. – Russia relations, I’m confident that they’ll get better in the coming months. There is hardly ‘one decision’ that will solve all of the problems the West and the East have with one another, however, and to adequately address them, myself, Prime Ministers Richardson and Dubois, and the other NATO leaders will all have to roll up our sleeves and reach solutions together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, we have a dinner reservations to make.” She smiled before pushing past the cameras, effectively ending the interview.
Leo, however, had one more question for her. “Do you have any final message for the American people or the people of the world this evening?” he called after her.
Emily stopped dead in her tracks before turning on her heel and staring directly into the lens of CNN’s camera with a warm smile. “Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to you and yours. Let us hope that it brings peace on earth and good will toward men – and women.” And without another word, Emily turned on her heel once more and led the way out of the cathedral into the whiteout that had covered the island of Manhattan.