Angela was surprised to find Thomas Jefferson casually leaned against the wall in the kitchen when she hurried downstairs to start coffee.
People were coming.
It was Christmas morning—she wished they had known about Corby earlier. She wished they had a ton of presents for him under the tree.
She didn’t even have anything to wrap for Jackson this year. They’d worked, worked—and come here.
But he had wanted the house . . .
But for Corby . . .
And she was looking at their nightly visitor. She hadn’t expected to see the ghost by day, only at night, sitting by the fire in the rocking chair.
“President Jefferson! A delight to see you, sir. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, my dear. Merry Christmas. I was waiting to smell your coffee. Obviously, I cannot imbibe the brew, but it seems I can still smell the delicious aroma.”
“I’m going to brew it right now,” Angela said, starting forward to do so.
“Thank you, thank you!”
She smiled. “Will you be with us—through the day? We have friends coming today, co-workers, friends—” She hesitated, stopping to look at him. “People like us. They would be delighted to meet you. They were here last year. We were here, too.”
“Ah, were you part of that lovely group? I must admit, I watched a bit from afar, but a wedding, hm, a bit much. You just never know when someone who has no knowledge of the fact they can see the dead suddenly sees you—and then they scream, and there’s a huge melee going on . . . not fitting for a wedding.”
“The only people who will be here today know they can see the dead; and they will be thrilled, sir, if you’d be so kind as to remain, or stay for part, or return tonight if you must leave during the day?”
“I shall have to check my schedule,” he said, but his eyes were dancing.
“You will be here for a bit?”
“I’ll return by nightfall,” he told her. “I’d be delighted to meet your friends, knowing I wouldn’t disturb
the sanctity of a marriage.”
“That’s kind of you,” Angela said.
“There are no presents under the tree,” he noted.
“I know. It’s horrible. I’m so sorry. We tried to talk about what we need, what we’d like to have, things for one, things for the other . . . we had a lot of work. Then we decided to come here—”
“Don’t be sorry. And good Lord, it is anything but horrible. The best presents, my dear, are never those things that are material. Seriously,” he added, a dry grin curled into his features, “you can trust me, I know. None of that can you take with you. Now love—that’s a gift. It can’t be bought, of course. Yes, I know— that from a man who came from an era when marriages were often planned for property or wealth. Even then, love couldn’t be bought. Kindness is a great gift, too; and what you and your husband have done for that child is pure kindness. It gives as much to those who practice it as those who receive it.”
Angela was grinning.
“What, my dear? You don’t believe me?”
“No, I’m understanding why you were such a great statesman.”
“Oh, well,” he said, and she was certain he was blushing. “I tried. I tried to live my life to the best of the beliefs I saw to be paramount, but like all beings of flesh and blood, I made mistakes.”
She nodded again.
“What is it this time, Angela?” he asked.
“I was just thinking about love. It’s such a strange emotion.”
“Well, of course. You have matters of logic, and then matters of emotion. The head manages the one; the heart the other.” He moved closer to her, one hand rested on an elbow and the other hand set thoughtfully beneath his
“It’s the boy, isn’t it?”
“We’ve just met him; I couldn’t possibly love him.”
Jefferson laughed at that. “You’re bright and wise and kind; and I imagine, as they say these days quite rudely in my opinion—kick-ass—at your work. But even with that beautiful relationship you have with your husband, my dear, you have yet to fully understand the wonder that can exist in our hearts. When we let it. Do you love the child? I think you do. Now, while I joke about my schedule, I do have old friends about—yes, very old, dead ones—but I’ll see them in the next hours. Enjoy your time; I will come back.” He gave her a gallant bow and exited through the wall.
“Show-off,” she murmured and turned her attention back to the kitchen.
She was startled to see Jackson had come in, but she had been watching Jefferson leave.
“Hey,” he told her. “Christmas morning.”
“I know. And I have nothing wrapped, no stockings on the mantle,” she apologized. “I mean, it’s been just us for so long, but we have a child here now. I mean, we can get Corby a present tomorrow, but I have nothing to wrap.”
“He isn’t going to care. Besides, I was thinking of a really amazing present for him. I—”
“Oh, I have an amazing present for you. I meant to give it to you last night, and now . . .”
“Ah . . . okay. We’re not even by the Christmas tree that was so kindly left for us.”
He came close and took her into his arms.
“My present?” he asked.
“A child,” she said.
“What? I was thinking the same thing.”
Angela frowned. “What do you mean? You can’t be preg—”
“Pregnant? No, I watched you and I started thinking. We’re not old, and we’re not leaving the country. I watched you with Corby. I thought we could maybe . . . I mean, of course, we need to talk about it, consider everything, but—”
“You want to adopt Corby?”
“If you do?” he said hopefully.
She started to laugh.
“Yes. I’m nuts about the kid. We’ll have to see if he wants us, if the agency will let us adopt him. But, if so, yes! Yes, yes, yes. Wow. Oh, my God, yes! What a present to both of us!”
“Was that what you meant?” he asked, still confused.
“No, but I love it.”
“So, what did you mean?”
“We’re going to have another child.”
“We—what? We weren’t even seeing a doctor or doctors, and . . . oh, my God!” He exclaimed, looking at her. “Really? I mean, how—”
“Seriously, you must know how.”
“No, I mean—”
“It just happened, Jackson. And I didn’t even tell you right away because I wanted to give it enough time so that . . . so that I was in something of a safety zone. But I’m three months along, Jackson. The doctor said everything is fine, and I should make an appointment for an ultrasound as soon as we’re back and . . .”
“But . . . okay . . . Corby. I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am. And still—”
She laughed, kissed him, and curled her arms around his neck. “Jackson, I handle crazy people who see ghosts, who deal with the worst of humanity. I want to deal with the best. I already love Corby; I think you do, too. I want to adopt him. And have our child. And next Christmas—though, no, it’s not the wrapped things that matter—I want to be a great mom and have stockings hanging from the mantle with our names on them. Yes, yes, yes. I still want to adopt Corby.”
His smiled was deep and his kiss was long and sure. It was broken when it seemed a whirlwind tore into them, hugging them.
It was Corby, of course.
“Merry Christmas!” he said, his words muffled against them.
“Merry Christmas, kid!” Angela said, pulling him to arm’s length. “I’m so sorry. Tomorrow, we’ll go and get those shoes. And—”
He shook his head, looking from her to Jackson.
“I—I heard you. But you don’t have to, you know. You’re great people, kind people. I’m so grateful just for this time with you guys. But I heard you . . . you’d adopt me?” he asked with disbelief.
“Of course,” Angela said.
“In fact,” Jackson said, “Let’s make this official. Well, as official as we can. Corby Latimer, Angela and I would very much so like to be your parents. We can’t replace your real parents, of course. But we will love you deeply and scold you and do our best to guide you to adulthood. We will be imperfect, but you will love us anyway, through good times and bad, sickness and health . . . and all that.”
Corby started to laugh. And he barreled into them again and then he looked up at Angela and said, “And I’m going to be a big brother?”
“Yes. You are. And you may have to baby-sit,” she said gravely.
“That’s okay. I love kids—watch them often enough for Miss Victoria. Oh, I’ll complain. I mean, that’s what big brothers are supposed to do, right?”
“We can live with you acting like a normal kid,” Jackson said.
Corby started to jump up and down, whooping and hollering, and hurrying out to run around the parlor.
Angela looked at Jackson. “You don’t think we’ll have a problem adopting him, do you? I mean, we don’t have records. We’re young enough to be having a baby of our own.”
Jackson grinned, pouring two cups of the now brewed coffee.
“We won’t have trouble. You forget our Assistant Director, Mr. Adam Harrison, knows every politician in the country, has given to every charity known to man, and is simply kind and brilliant and capable in all things. I guarantee you the adoption will go through.”
She smiled. “You didn’t know what to get me. He’s the best present ever!”
“Let’s not let it all go to his head, eh? Don’t we have a turkey to cook? I believe a fresh turkey was left with other stuff in the fridge. We can get cooking—”
“No. Turkeys are my specialty. You can go out and play ball with your son.”
“Then go throw snowballs at each other. Get out!”
“Going.” Jackson said, “I’m going.”
Angela had to sit down for a minute before she started. She hadn’t known this kind of happiness and wonder could make a person so weak.
Then she stood, smiling, strong again.
She had a son. By summer, they would add another child to their family.
She closed her eyes and whispered to the air and all that might be here, on earth and beyond. “Thank you. Thank you for the best gifts—ever.”
Adam Harrison was the first to arrive, and Jackson was glad. He was able to corner Adam—who thankfully—didn’t seem surprised Jackson and Angela wanted to adopt a kid they had just met. He was pleased to meet Corby, too, and quickly built up a rapport with the boy who was immediately helpful about hauling some of the food and beverages Adam had brought to add to the party. Adam hadn’t come alone; he was with his son, Josh, who had died young. For years, Adam hadn’t been able to see him. Adam hadn’t been gifted—or cursed—with the ability to see most ghosts, but finally, in the middle of a case, he’d at least been able to see Josh.n And Adam was delighted Corby could see Josh, talk to him, and listen to him. Josh got to act like a big brother with Corby.
The McFadden group arrived next, all three brothers with their wives. Brodie and Dakota were delighted to be back in the house, and they were adorable and charming as they talked to Corby, telling him all about the wedding.
The Krewe, of course, had grown to forty-plus members over the years, and many of those agents were in the field and others had traveled to wherever their homes might be to see loved ones. But the meal they shared that night had twenty-two people gathered around the old house, all anxious for nightfall and the time when Jefferson had promised to return.
Angela’s turkey was magnificent, of course, as were the dishes brought by the others.
Jackson paused while clearing the table, smiling.
He had so wanted the house; he had thought it was the history and the beauty surrounding it.
But the house wasn’t about history; it was about people.
And he was grateful, whispering his thanks to the heavens.
Then, he almost dropped a platter. He heard Adam Harrison shouting with wonder.
Adam never shouted.
He hurried into the parlor. Thomas Jefferson was sitting in the rocker by the fire, and Adam was in the chair before Jefferson looking as if he’d gone straight to heaven.
Maybe, in a way, he had.
“I can see him! I can hear him! I can see and hear President Jefferson!” he said to Jackson.
“Well, of course, sir,” Jefferson said. “I like to think we’re both good men, sir. The wonders you have done!”
“Adam has done wonders,” Bruce McFadden, sitting cross-legged on the floor, said. “We all thank God daily we’re with Adam. But I know he, and all of us, want to hear about you, sir, about the founding of this country, about Christmas long ago . . .”
“He is just wonderful,” Corby assured them all. Corby was on his knees by Jefferson. Jefferson placed a hand on his head. “Well, then, I shall tell you . . .”
Jefferson spoke. He spoke about the founding of the country, about his own mistakes, and what he considered his own triumphs. “I managed to get laws passed, my friends. But still, I was wrong. I wanted African Americans freed, but I didn’t really see them as equal. I wanted education and a way of life . . . but I still saw myself superior. And so, my friends, I am grateful. Because I’ve been able to see every man born on this earth is equal, every man, and every woman. And as I return here, I pray that each year, every Christmas will bring a greater understanding between all of us, that we may learn the kindness of the season, and that every man and woman of every color, ethnicity, every sex, every sexual inclination—we are all equal under God!” He winked at them all. “Trust me—I have a little experience with the matter!”
He laughed and he had the others laughing. Then Kody asked a question and he was talking again. Jackson and Angela served hot chocolate and cookies, and then stood together, looking at the scene in the parlor—at what would be their parlor—and at the boy who would soon be their son.
He set his arms around her shoulders and looked down.
She smiled up at him.
“Best Christmas ever!” she told him.
“Best Christmas ever!” he agreed.