They’d just finished singing The First Noel when the church clock started to chime the twelve strokes of midnight. Everyone remained standing and, after the final chime, the smiling vicar announced, “Joy to the World, the Lord has come,” and encouraged the congregation to exchange the time-old Christmas greetings.
Luke shook hands with the couple on his right, and then turned back to her.
“Happy Christmas, Beth,” he said softly.
She smiled and put out her hand to him. “Happy Christmas to you, too.”
He didn’t take her hand. Instead he enveloped her in a hug. His face was warm against her cheek, and his firm hands were tight on her back. Her own hands moved automatically around his thick sheepskin jacket, and everything inside her did a double somersault.
Her mind tried to detach itself from the moment. Something was happening here that she didn’t understand but it felt good, so good, to be in his arms.
Luke released her and gave her a quick smile. Beth didn’t have time to think about the effect of his hug as he introduced her to several people who came to greet him and who then leaned past him to shake her hand and wish her a happy Christmas. She was impressed yet again by the villagers’ friendly acceptance of a complete stranger.
Everyone was recalled to their seats by the vicar announcing the final carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful.
Standing by Luke’s side as they sang, she was nerve-tingling conscious of his nearness and his masculine scent, and of the way all her senses were responding. She could hear his strong voice, feel his arm brushing slightly against hers, and see his strong hands holding the carol sheet. Most of all she sensed her own inner tension, her pulse racing and every single nerve ending shivering in some strange anticipation.
“Of what?” she wondered.
She hardly knew him, so why was she feeling like this? Her body was giving her the answer that her brain wouldn’t accept as it stirred in response to a strong sensual attraction she’d thought she would never experience again. Quickly she pulled her mind back to the present, blushing slightly at what seemed to be sacrilegious thoughts in the middle of a church service.
During the carol, the vicar and choir had processed down the main aisle, and Beth saw the congregation start to file out of the pews and move towards the church door.
She glanced round at Luke. “What’s happening?”
“It’s the tradition here. Come on.”
They joined the rest of the people standing outside the church in the crisp night air.
“Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,” the vicar called out, and then from inside the church the organist struck up the final verse of the carol and everyone joined in.
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee – Born this happy morning...
As they sang outside the grey stone church, Beth looked out at the slate roofs of the stone houses of the village below them, then beyond to the dark countryside with only a few pinpricks of light from isolated houses and farms, and finally up at the millions of stars in the sky. It was a magical few minutes. One star seemed brighter than all the rest. It was probably a planet but, for a fanciful moment, she imagined it to be the star of Bethlehem.
When the last strains of the organ finally died away, she looked round at Luke. “That was beautiful,” she breathed.
“Yeah, it’s a nice tradition.”
He put his arm around her and hugged her again.
A very Happy Christmas to you all!
Susan Boyle sings with Elvis!