A/N: Taking a page out of Just Silver's book (see "Blind to Hope and Fear"), I'm using FictionPress as a transitional tool. This isn't the actual medium for this story; however, I think it'll help me get a good grip on all of the characters and situations so that the final version really shines. Input is definitely welcome! Constructive criticism on characters, plot, and ANYTHING is appreciated. Enjoy!

1. This deals with homosexuality. If you don't like it, don't read it.
2. This deals with religion. If you don't like it, don't read it.
3. Kris, I picked names at random. You may find people like Alex and Matt and Chris popping up in random places… I needed names. :P

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Angel of love, my guardian dear
To whom God's love commits me here:
Ever this day be at my side
To light and guard and rule and guide.


The final cadence melted away into a burst of applause, filling the church with jubilation. The choir bowed humbly before allowing Jake and Jeanette to step forward, each taking an individual bow. Jeanette took Jake's hand in a gesture of warm friendship, smiling broadly as they and the choir stepped down from the dais.

The Christmas mass was well-attended, even for being in a small town. Nearly everyone in the close-knit community had come to celebrate the birth of Christ. Looking over his shoulder at the beaming audience as he sat down, Jake congratulated his best friend on their performance.

"You were amazing, Nette," he whispered.

"Good job on that solo," she replied with a smile. Nette and Jake were the church's first pick for soloists in the choir's selections, and their talent had yet to let the congregation down. Jake, who was privileged enough to be appointed choir director after the previous director retired, always selected pieces that showcased the choir's full range of vocal talents. Their annual Christmas program was always spectacular and added to the already delighted atmosphere.

They returned to the pews as Father O'Hara stepped up to the podium to close the mass. Jake fidgeted as the rest of the congregation rose to their feet, absentmindedly playing with the hem of his choir robes. Nette gently batted his hand down, and with a sheepish grin, Jake did his best to stand still for the conclusion of the mass.

"The Lord be with you," Father O'Hara said in closing, the last vestiges of an accent from his native Ireland creeping into his voice.

"And also with you," the people said as though with a single voice.

"May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

"Amen," the voices rang.

"The mass is ended; go in peace," Father O'Hara concluded with a smile.

"Thanks be to God."

Jake, Nette, and the rest of the choir broke their solemn states, some (like Jake) hurrying to remove their robes to rejoin their families and friends in more comfortable attire. As they did so, a swarm of people rushed up to the front of the church to congratulate them on "such a wonderful performance" and "the angelic voices that God must be so proud to hear." Nette smiled, seeing the glint of childlike glee in Jake's dark eyes, shaking the hands and accepting the embraces of the members of the congregation coming to greet her.

"Hey, Jake!" The shout was almost lost among the jovial commotion echoing beneath the vaulted ceiling. Turning around, Jake jumped to see over the sea of heads. Cursing his (lack of) height, he finally spotted his friends Matt and Alex behind a particularly well-knitted (read "obnoxious") red-and-green Christmas hat adorning the head of a woman he'd have denied knowing even if he had recognized her.

He placed his robes on the pew behind him and pushed his way through the crowd toward them. His progress was generally less like Moses parting the Red Sea and, unfortunately, more like trying to convince a living wall to let him walk through. Finally, he managed to reach his friends, who were also slowly getting swept away in the wash of people.

"You were great," Matt said.

"Definitely. That wasn't your arrangement, was it?" Alex asked.

"It was," Jake said meekly. "There were a few places where I—"

"Shut up," Matt said, cutting him off. "That was amazing."

Alex shook Jake's hand before explaining apologetically, "I actually have to get out of here. My grandparents will be getting in from the airport in an hour or so. I told my parents I'd go pick them up."

"Sounds good," Jake said. "I should probably be getting home, too. I said I'd help my mom set up for her Christmas party."

"OK," Matt said. "I'll see you later." They waved their goodbyes, and Jake began the arduous journey back toward Nette to say goodbye to her. Catching sight of her long, black curls, he veered to the left and barely made it through a small gap in the masses.

"I'm heading home," he said, giving her a quick hug from behind. Nette thanked the person who was currently congratulating her on her performance before turning around to properly say goodbye.

Smiling warmly, she said, "You were amazing today. I don't think I can say that enough."

"You, too. I'm not sure if it's all the noise in here or if the ringing in my ears is from that high note you hit," Jake said, attempting to keep a straight face.

"Jerk," Nette laughed. "Hey, my mom wanted me to ask you over for our Christmas Dinner. Care to join us? Just the two of us and my parents?"

"I can't," Jake sighed. "I've got to run home and get ready for my family's Christmas party."

"Oh, that's right. I forgot – The Gathering of the Throngs. Your parents invited me, you know. If you want me to go, I'm free until tonight."

Jake shrugged. "Nah, it's fine, really. There's a piano there; I'll be able to occupy myself," he said with a grin.

"All right. Give me a call if you change your mind, OK? Merry Christmas!" They hugged once more, and Jake yet again began the task of navigating the shifting maze of people as Nette greeted yet another admirer.

He felt a tap on his shoulder but dismissed it as someone accidentally bumping into him. When the tap returned, slightly harder, he stopped and turned around to face someone he'd never seen at the church before.

"Hi," he said timidly.

"Hi," said the young man before him, his smile echoed in his blue eyes. "Um… You did a really great job. Congratulations."

"Thanks," Jake said, doing his best to be humble despite all the praise he was getting. "I'm glad you liked it."

"Yeah." A brief pause followed before the stranger extended his hand. "My name's David, by the way." Jake took his hand and shook warmly as he brushed a stray lock of his light brown hair aside.

"Great to meet you, David."

"You, too."

"Merry Christmas!" Jake hated to sound dismissive, but he was anxious to get home. Smiling, he dropped the stranger's hand and resumed toward the doors. "David," he repeated to himself, still curious as to who the blond stranger was. It was a small town, and Jake thought he knew everyone in it, especially someone who looked so close to his own age. They'd have gone to high school together, surely, but David's face didn't ring a bell.

Jake's thoughts were disturbed as the warm air gave way to a sharp chill beyond the church's threshold. The heavy wooden doors opened onto a broad but rather short stone staircase leading down to the sidewalk, which was covered in fresh-fallen snow. Although he was wearing only a long-sleeve button-up shirt and slacks, the cold didn't bother Jake. The sun was out, its rays shattering into a thousand scattered beams by the glittering snow everywhere Jake looked. He savored the faint crunch of it beneath his shoes and smiled at the visible swirls his breath made in the air as he exhaled. The faint breeze was gently toying with his long, brown hair, but Jake didn't mind; it rarely behaved anyway, and he didn't think there was anything the wind would do to it that it wouldn't end up doing by itself anyway.

His footfalls carried him almost robotically home, but inside, Jake felt wonderfully alive. Adrenaline was still flowing through his system in the wake of the choir performance, and coupled with the brisk winter weather, his mind was racing. He wanted to go home and write music on the new guitar he just got, and talk to his friends, and hang out with his parents, and see old family friends… To Jake, Christmas was more than getting presents or even celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Both of those were great, sure, but as much as he pretended he didn't, he always looked forward to his family's Christmas parties.

There was a definite spring and lightness to his step as he walked home, smiling face illuminated by the sunlight and the snow's refracted reflection of it. To no one in particular, Jake said aloud, "I love Christmas."

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A/N: Sooo… That was interesting. I'm expecting to revise this whole damn thing once I write it to make my characterization, etc. more consistent throughout. On my first go, though, please be forgiving (but alert!) if people go OOC for a moment or do something similarly strange. You have to keep me honest with these guys, or they'll do whatever the hell they want. It's happened before, and it wasn't pretty. (It was hot, but not at all what they should have been doing. :P) Please review. More shall be coming soon! Thanks!