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The Gift

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The tapestry in the hall came with the house; it's large, old and ornate, images from Bible lore interlaced with woven geometrical shapes. Her husband hates it.

"It needs to go," he says, staring up at the textile art with unbridled dislike painted all over his face.

She shrugs in reply. It holds no emotional value for either of them. "It looks expensive."

"Probably is." Richard looks at her. "Do you have any idea who on earth we should call to get it off our hands?"

The thought strikes her out of the blue, making her heart beat faster and her throat turn dry. It's the perfect idea, the perfect excuse. She thinks she's waited years for this.

"I'll take care of it," she offers.

Richard looks relieved, as she knew he would. "If you're sure," he says.

She nods. "I'm sure."

. . .

She enlists the help of her oldest son to load the tapestry into the back of the car. Emmanuel offers halfhearted complaints but goes along with it, and also agrees to accompany his mother to the cathedral; as a budding photographer he's never been able to resist the charms of old buildings, not even as a young child, and his grandfather used to nourish that fascination with all his might.

Once they get to the church she heads inside while Emmanuel lingers in the street, taking pictures of the building's facade. The interior of the cathedral is just as beautiful as she remembers it, and her father's handiwork is still on display. It makes her smile.

She finds the priest kneeling in front of the altar. His head is bowed and his hair is thinning, but she recognizes the broadness of his shoulders, the golden tint to his locks. He finishes his prayers as she approaches, and when he rises and turns to welcome her she can see the shock and recognition wash over his face.

"Hello Edmund," she says.

Edmund swallows, hands nervously smoothing the front of his cassock. "Alys."

. . .

His office is neat and organized, and when he adds the details of her gift to the church records his hands are shaking; he's tense, like he expects her to lean over the desk and brush her fingertips against his cheek. She can't blame him. She was young, but he was younger still; young and stupid, and she enticed him and swept him off his feet and then she left him to deal with the shards of his sins.

Nonetheless, he seems pleased with her offering, thanking her.

"It's the least I can do," she says. She wants to say more, to perhaps ask for forgiveness, to throw herself at his feet, but she doesn't. He's looking at her, his expression less guarded than it initially was, and she thinks that maybe he understands all the regrets she can't put into words.

"I need to give you something," he says, after a moment's hesitation. "I'm sorry to lay this on you, but I need you to keep it safe."

. . .

He walks her out and they find Emmanuel by the altar, head tilted back and eyes shining as he takes in the wooden carvings reaching up towards the ceiling.

She makes introductions, willing her voice not to shake, and they both smile the polite smiles of strangers; she's struck by how alike they look, the way the hair curls around their foreheads and the gentle mirroring slopes of their noses.

"It's nice to meet you, Father," Emmanuel says. "Your church is beautiful."

She thinks she can see Edmund's smile widening, a flicker of pleased pride sweep across his features, and she would like to imagine that it has something to do with the young man in front of him; the blues of his eyes and the broadness of his shoulders, the gentle strength of his handshake.

"Thank you, my son."

Joy is bubbling in her chest, tickling the back of her throat, and she makes no effort to smother it; in the large hall her laughter echoes bright and clear.