A gentle glow rose up from the tops of imposing, cream white pillars, arranged in artistic groups. They flickered constantly, in an ongoing battle between heated flame and the cold drafts of air that constantly encircled the Church’s interior.
Beauty though, in Amy’s opinion, didn’t make up for the discomfort of hard wooden seats or the soporific drone of the Vicar’s voice. Her discreet squirm morphed into fidgeting. How much longer did she have to sit here? She was beginning to feel cold. The chill rolling off stone walls seemed determined to breach the warm defence of her coat.
Shifting in her seat yet again, trying to get comfortable, Amy pulled in a lungful of cool air and experimented with how long she could hold it in before bursting at the seams. One, two, three… her foot tapped out the seconds on the wooden floorboards… forty four, forty five…no, that was it. She let the air go noisily and dragged in another long breath, ready to start again.
Looking up, Amy wasn’t surprised to see the exasperation on her Mother’s face. “Sorry Mum,” she whispered, then clarified the need for entertainment, “I’m just so bored!”
Mum, who wasn’t nearly as strict as Dad was, smiled slightly and leant down in a conspiratorial manner, “I know sweet-pea. Look, why don’t you go see your friend Tommy for a while? You can give him his present.”
Relief surged through Amy, at last. This was the green light she’d been waiting for. Nodding, she tried to communicate her thanks by being as quiet as she could, whilst squeezing through the tiny gap between the end of their pew and the wall.
Once free, she crept past the heavy Church door and across to the space behind the font, where Sunday school was usually held. There, she arranged herself, crossed legged on the floor and squinted into the surrounding gloom.
There was no need for words. She could already see Tommy, sitting on one of the simple wooden chairs. He was watching her silently, his dark eyes gazing at her with something approaching surprise. Amy smiled, Tommy was shy. She supposed it was because of his face. Not that that mattered to her.
Amy shook her head as she regarded her friend. Silly Tommy; didn’t he know? He was the centre of her world, next to Mum and Dad. He was the only adult, apart from them, who accepted her exactly as she was, without comment, without expectation.
Long moments passed. The staring continued. Then, finally, Amy gave in, reaching into her coat pocket and pulling out a folded piece of paper. She opened it up. Her eyes flicked back and forth, between the paper in her hands and Tommy. “I brought you a present Tommy.” She whispered.
Tommy didn’t reply, his poor, damaged face showing no hint as to whether he had heard her. Amy waited for another heartbeat, then placed the paper on the floor, right side up and slid it across towards him. She waited, stomach clenching, for his reaction.
Slowly, Tommy leant forward, his face finally clearing the shadows, the candlelight softening his ravaged, scar hardened features. Amy smiled in encouragement, pushing the paper a little closer to him. Tommy was beautiful to her, and so brave. His eyes shone out at her, offering her all the freedom she would ever need, to be herself. He reached out one hand, pulling the paper back towards him, into the semi-darkness. His eyes narrowed as he scanned it, in quick, jerky movements.
Amy held her breath. Would he like it? Would he mind?
The congregation had started to sing ‘Silent Night’, their voices filling the Church with reverent music. Tommy’s eyes suddenly widened, his mouth dropping into a softly rounded ‘O’ as he stared at the naively drawn picture in his hand. It showed a family, arms linked, with a Christmas tree beside them. Four figures with a child’s scrawl identifying them, ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’, ‘Me’, ‘Tommy’. He looked up, and Amy smiled in relief. He liked it...but…why was he crying?
Had she gone too far? She’d only wanted to make him see himself as she did. He was part of her family. The big brother she’d always wanted. Tommy seemed so alone and she’d wanted to show him that he didn’t have to be, especially now. It was Christmas, after all. He deserved better than that. He’d earned better than that.
“Thank you Amy.”
The words were so softly spoken; Amy almost missed them, the chorus of ‘Silent Night’ once more drifting into their private meeting place. Another cold draft blew passed, raising goose bumps along Amy’s arms, despite her coat. Where had that come from? She turned to see if the Church door had opened. Almost immediately, there was a scraping noise, the distinctive sound of wood against hollow floorboards, and the thud of heavy boots walking quickly away from her. Whipping her head around, Amy blinked for a moment, slightly dizzy from the rapid movement.
The chair where Tommy had been sitting was empty.
Nothing changed. He made a habit of leaving without saying goodbye. She didn’t mind; Tommy was shy.
Amy didn’t go back to her parents. Instead, she continued to sit, staring at the rectangle of white marble on the wall opposite. ‘Silent Night’ ended. The Vicar bade his congregation a ‘Merry Christmas’ and retreated to his vestry. Amy’s parents came to find her.
Dad crouched down beside Amy, before his big arms scooped her up into a hug. Mum laughed, ruffling Amy’s blonde curls, “Ready for home sweet-pea?”
“Yes.” Amy replied, burrowing her face into her Father’s shoulder. She was starting to feel sleepy. 8.30pm was late for a six year old, over-excited about Christmas Day. “Tommy’s gone.” She said her voice soft; tired.
“He’s probably on his way home to bed, just like you.” Dad soothed, raising an eyebrow towards Mum, “Did he like your present baby?”
Amy’s eyes were almost closed now; sleep tugging insistently on her conscious mind. She managed only a nod.
Carrying his now sleeping daughter towards the Church door, Dad glanced around carefully before nodding over towards Tommy’s chair. “It’s over there” he whispered, shifting Amy’s weight in his arms.
“I see it.” Mum said, bending to retrieve the drawing that was wedged between Tommy’s chair and the wall. She pocketed it, a thoughtful look crossing her face as she raised her eyes to the white marble plaque above them. It listed all those from their village, who had given their lives during the First World War. Amy's Great, Great Grandfather, ‘Thomas Mallory’ was the last name shown.
“’Night Tommy,” she murmured, turning to follow her husband and child.
From a darkened corner, Tommy watched them leave. For the first time in close to one hundred years, he felt at peace. And it was all down to one small girl, with angel blonde curls and a heart as big as... Christmas.