Scripps brings the cold inside with him like a cloak. Mrs Rothwell, who always sits in the back pew in case she needs to nip to the bathroom quickly, shivers as he walks past her, but smiles slightly as she sees it's him. She's always telling him how nice it is to have more young people in the church. Given that he's the the youngest member of the congregation by about forty years, he's befriended all of the other regulars.
It was self defence really. He's found that if he's overly cheerful it confuses them, and he gets left alone. Bad enough he has to suffer the indignity of truly and utterly believing, he shouldn't have to have to deal with conversations about chilblains or piles. He'll put up with it all for the joy that Christmas services bring, even as nauseating as that sounds to say aloud. When he was younger he'd look forward to Christingle all year, oranges and ribbons and sweets and being trusted to hold it with the candle and not drip wax on the kneelers.
He still goes to that service now, but it's the late night Communion that he enjoys more. It's quieter and more serious and there's something about the dark and the choir and ceremony of it all that makes him certain that he's not been wasting his time this year. The other boys have their music and car magazines and girlfriends and he has God. While most of the year it seems an unfair trade off, he's pretty certain at Christmas that he's getting the better end of the deal. But for now, he's still waiting to snap out of it, for the phase to pass and one morning to wake up and decide that Matins are pointless and he's going to spend 40 minutes in the shower instead. At least Christmas services bring out some familiar faces; he smiles at Mrs Lintott, and waves to her slightly as she herds a gaggle of small children towards the door.
Mrs Lintott's Christmas is full of children. She sighs as she realises that even this oh-too-brief break from school will still be filled with the little terrors and now she has the unlucky privilege of being related to them. Her sisters' children. Three boys and two girls, all under ten and all introducing chaos into her house. Laughter too, but the chaos has the more lasting impact. She'd always had too much of children at school to want any of her own, and Richard had never voiced an opinion one way or the other. He never voiced an opinion about much, come to think of it, not to her anyway. Although it turned out that Sarah in Dumfries turned him into quite the conversationalist. That was 10 years of her personal history that she wouldn't mind forgetting about. So here she was, middle aged and divorced and trying to be tolerant of a three year old wiping its nose on the seat of her armchair. She winced as one of the children found the bag of party poppers and started firing them at his siblings. One of the boys was sitting to the side, nose buried in a book and ignoring the chaos which seemed to flow around him. It reminded her of the way Posner would stay on the sidelines as the other boys created noise and fury. While she tried never to admit it, even to herself, she did care about the children that passed through her care, and of all of them, she worried about Posner the most. And she, like him, hoped that once he got into Oxford he'd find his place in the world.
Posner likes Christmas. Chanukah's great and he wouldn't change it for the world, but it's very hard to get anyone else excited about candles and latkes. Everyone wants to talk about Christmas and he really can't say that he minds. He knows he shouldn't, and his mother would cry if she found out, but as soon as December comes around he'll spend ages listening to Radio 3 and waiting for them to start playing Christmas music. He even loves all of the slightly shabby lights that they string up around the town, even if they do reuse the same faded snowman and reindeer year after year. He's one of the few that stops and watches the carolers that sing outside M&S at weekends.
He's even taken to revising for the exam in the tea shop on the high street so he can hear them then. It's also a perfect spot for eavesdropping. It lets him overhear snippets of conversations as people prepare for the holidays. You see, despite his fascination, Posner only knows about a typical Christmas morning from what they show on Coronation Street or American movies. The tea shop lets him in to other people’s traditions and secrets. Now he also knows that that Jane won't like the scarf she's getting but Mary's run out of other options and that Andrew had to cut a whole two foot off the base of the tree to get it to fit up the stairs. As he sips his tepid but perfectly brewed tea (this is Yorkshire after all) and brandishes a highlighter half-heartedly at his notes, he watches a dark-haired boy flirt with the cashier and idly wonders what Dakin will be doing for Christmas. Will he be up uncharacteristically early, still rumpled from sleep and tearing paper off his presents that his parents, still keeping up the illusion of Santa, have put into the stocking his grandmother knitted, or will he stomp downstairs an hour before lunch having managed to avoid helping at all in the kitchen?
Dakin does neither of those things. He's told his mother that he'll be back before lunch and he was staying with Scripps after Christmas communion, and for the first time in his life, hasn't woken up in his own bed on Christmas morning. There's an initial moment of confusion before everything comes flooding back to him and he just can't help the smirk. He hears a snort across the room and opens his eyes to see Irwin sitting at his desk, glasses firmly back on. 'I just knew you were going to be a cocky bastard about this.' Dakin's smile widens and he stretches languorously, making sure that he even moans slightly. Sometimes he thinks, Santa really does bring you everything you want. Roast dinner and a blowjob, what more does a boy need?
Irwin hasn't told Dakin this, and of course Dakin never thought to ask, but he has nothing to do today. He has a turkey drumstick in the fridge that he'll put in the oven later and maybe he’ll see what's on TV apart from the Queen's speech but otherwise he has a new biography of Henry VI and really Christmas is only just another day. He'll make the perfunctory call to his parents and assure them he's spending the day with friends and he really has to get back to them soon. Then he will carry on reading. He tells himself he didn't stay here entirely for Dakin. Irwin had even told his father he wasn't coming home a few weeks back, back when he, well not ‘hoped’ so much, but had a sort of prescient feeling that spending the break near school wouldn't be all bad. So even if he has to pretend that reading a poorly written and somewhat sensationalist account of the mental breakdown of a long-dead English king is what he really wants to be doing, he doesn’t think it’s going to be such a cheerless Christmas after all.