The Holly and the Ivy


I hurry through the freezing cold to the heavy church doors. It smells like snow. The cast iron doorknob sucks the warmth from my hand, makes me wish for of a mug of mulled wine. Shit. The damn door doesn't move one bit. I have to push with the force of my full body weight before the wooden barrier gives way and promptly hear an amused chuckle from behind.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing, love."

Nothing my ass.

The warmth from the inside of the incense-smoky church hits me and I almost gag. I hate incense.

There are only a few free seats left. When I feel a tug at my coat sleeve, I follow to our pew in the right aisle. I have a bad feeling. We shouldn't have come here tonight.

"We're not late, a real Christmas Miracle," I grumble.

He makes a noise between a grunt and a laugh.

"We should have stayed home. I've had a bad feeling for days, but you insisted we come here. Losing face... That's bullshit and you know it, but whoever listens to me?"

I'm whining. I just should shut up.

We sit down and I glance around the church. Nothing has changed since last year, or ten years before, or… The large Christmas tree behind the altar. The choir getting ready for the opening song, most likely 'Oh Little Town of Bethlehem'. The band retuning their instruments… "Somehow I expected that it would be different this year," I mutter to myself.

From the corner of my eye, I can see he is looking, probably with a lifted eyebrow. "Why would you think that?"

Of course he heard that; superior hearing skill and all I guess. "Dunno… maybe because I am different?"

"Well, you were right then." Pleased with himself he leans back and crosses his long legs at the ankles. "Something has changed this year."

Smartass. I roll my eyes. That's just so typical of him. Tipping my head back, I start counting the ceiling beams. I don't know how often I've done this in the past years. It has always been oddly soothing, not tonight though. I shiver although the church is well heated and my stomach is churning with the little I ate. I can feel eyes on me. I need to get out of here.

He grabs my hand and entwines our fingers. "It's okay, Noël. Everything will be fine."

I wish I had his confidence. There is a real chance that tomorrow the man beside me will be dead. Or I will. Or somebody could try... I stare at the Christmas tree behind the altar, its many lights get blurry, my mind slips back, and I'm on the bus again, where my life took a turn. Whether for better or for worse has yet to be decided.