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in exultation

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Abbie doesn't divulge where they're going, just admonishes him to "dress nice" and then laughs as if she's made a joke (he suspects it's at his own expense), but it's Christmas Eve, and when they slow in front of what the townspeople now call the Old Dutch Church, waiting for traffic so that she can turn, Ichabod can guess well enough.

She parks a little distance away, slots in neatly behind a line of other cars, and they have to retrace their path back to the church's entrance. The night is cold, dark and clear and bracing; beyond the silhouettes of bare trees, there are just a few high clouds, and Ichabod can see bright stars pricking the sky, though not in the same abundance as he once did. It's late and hushed—in the quiet, he can hear the sure click of Abbie's boot heels on the pavement. Ichabod lets out a breath, watches the white of it hang in the air before it dissipates, and lengthens his stride to keep pace with her.

The church is half full already when they step inside. The sanctuary is spare and simple, much as it once would have been, he imagines, and it's cheerfully festooned with greenery and lit with candles. Abbie tugs his arm, settles them in a pew close to the warmth of a wood stove.

She closes her eyes when a solo cellist plays something sweet and haunting that Ichabod doesn't recognize, stands and sings carols with the rest of the congregation in a clear, strong, lovely voice.

He should be giving the minister's homily his attention, if only out of courtesy, but it's a familiar story, and Ichabod finds himself drifting instead. The creak of old wood, the rustle of heavy cloth, the scents of wool and pine and the flicker of candlelight . . . it's easy to forget, for a moment, that he's a man out of time, and he feels his throat tighten against his will.

And then Abbie jostles his shoulder, passes him the hymnal to hold, and the weight of it in his hand, the bright, kind spark of her smile, ground him in the present. After the service, there's apple cider, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, sweet and earthy and real.

When they step outside together, the clock has ticked past midnight. Abbie's hand is warm in his, and it's just beginning to snow.