by Kyle SUNDBY

“It’s a living nativity,” he said from the side of his mouth. Before and after that his teeth chattered. The snow on Pastor Bryan’s front lawn wasn’t fake. Loose robes were likely more appropriate away in a manger, somewhere in the Middle East.

Kevin was Joseph, poised over Mary and her bundle of hope and joy. Experience from the year before led the church’s decision to use a doll. Two-plus hours outside in the heart of winter is seldom an environment endorsed by pediatricians and concerned parents. One infant was handed a reprieve but Kevin, the woman portraying Mary, the Three Wise Men, the children dressed as angels of varying order, and a troop of farm animals remained in semi-fixed positions as the appearance of the North Star neared.

Doug took in the scene from the sidewalk with a handful of onlookers. Some had stopped after driving by the Pastor’s house, optimally located at one end of Christmas Lane, a small neighborhood dedicated to holiday cheer and outrageous electric bills. Others were loyal family members, snapping photos of loved ones reenacting that memorable moment.

Conscious of the sanctity the display intended, Doug pointed to his wristwatch and looked at Kevin with arched eyebrows. Kevin rolled his eyes in response. Either he meant that, “I’ll probably be stuck here for another two thousand years,” or, “I can’t believe you’d be so disrespectful.” The crunch of snow under his feet resounded in the still air. Even if Kevin were to break ranks and respond, Doug would not have heard.

Nearly an hour elapsed before the players began hopping up and down to provide heat to their staged extremities. Christ’s birth reenactment drew to a close. Pastor Bryan moved through the set, sharing his appreciation with the dedicated troop, as if they chose to participate.

The movement drew Doug’s attention from the celebrity magazine he was flipping through. He turned on the headlights, signaling Kevin and illuminating the flimsy extent of his costume. Kevin paused then returned his attentions to the dismantling of the set. After ten minutes, then hugs and handshakes with cast and pastor, he got in on the passenger side.

Over the heater and commentary from NPR, Doug and Kevin exchanged heys. Doug put the car into drive and left the remains of the nativity scene behind. He thought Kevin would do the same. The conversation was limited to the commercial-free broadcast the entire ride home.

Kevin moved through the apartment, turning off lights, when Doug decided to break the silence. “I imagine casting you as Joseph ensured the likelihood of an immaculate conception,” he said from under the tightly tucked blankets of the queen-sized, low-profile, ultra-modern bed, “but it must’ve played hell on the young bride’s self-confidence.” Kevin turned and nodded, then began undressing with his back toward the bed. It was minutes after lying down that he said good night.

Since they were now talking, Doug asked what day the following week they should go down to the agency. “Because after that they’ll probably be closed for the holidays, being government run.”

“Can we talk about it tomorrow?” Kevin asked. He was on his side, facing away, and his voice was distant.

“Sure. But if we could decide tonight, there’d be one less thing to have to do tomorrow. It’s our only day off together, remember.”

Kevin rolled to his back and exhaled. “It’s just that I had a talk with Pastor Bryan today, just before the nativity, and he brought up a few points that I’m not sure we’ve thought about. Some of the others in the congregation had opinions, too,” he said.

“No kidding? What a surprise that must’ve been. Who would’ve guessed?” Doug asked.

“I think they had some valid points. I mean … what makes us so knowledgeable about child development? Maybe we’re being a little presumptuous by thinking we know what’s best. Maybe we’re not actually qualified. Maybe we’re not even ready, yet,” Kevin said.

“And maybe there’s no more room at the inn,” Doug added.

“What are you talking about?” Doug asked, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“No, it doesn’t,” said Doug, “Good night, Kev.”

In the morning Doug woke up last. Kevin was in the kitchenette, cooking and humming. Moments later, Doug had a plate on the bed and a glass of juice on the nightstand.

“That was stupid last night,” said Kevin, “I just freaked out a little bit. The responsibility of a child and all. Pastor Bryan doesn’t know our situation.” Doug looked up from his omelet. “He doesn’t know, but I do,” Kevin continued, “and I’ve decided.”

Doug smiled. “A Christmas miracle,” he said.

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