The Reverend finishes his sermon about how we should all remember the real meaning of Christmas when I hear some shuffling behind me. I turn my head just enough to see the face that I was not expecting at all.
The heartbreaker is wearing a black hoodie and black ripped jeans sitting in the pew diagonally behind me. His bright, emerald gaze locks on mine. The brown hair on his head is disheveled more than normal; the brooding man’s expression is solemn. How can a man look so amazing with such little effort?
I face the front. My neck is starting to feel warm; my face is beginning to flush. Why is he here? He’s on the opposite aisle of me, but he’s still too close. His eyes are still on me. The tiny peach fuzz hairs on the back of my neck are telling me so.
Ushers move their way down the aisle from the front as the lights of the building dim. They light a candle at each row, and the congregation passes the flame from their candle to the person next to them. I try to control my breathing. Where is my dad? He should have been here by now...
“Here, dear.” My attention turns to my new friend, Carol, as she gives me a candle to hold. Suddenly, a man sits next to me. I’m relieved to see my father. My eyes catch some mud on his jeans.
Office work? Yeah, right.
I ignore it and am just happy with the fact that he’s here. It’s a nice distraction from the green-eyed boy behind me. At least my father blocks some of his vision of me.
My father puts his arm around my shoulders, then leans down to see beside me. “Carol? Hi,” he whispers with joy to my new friend. This is interesting.
I look to see Carol’s eyes grow wide with surprise -probably matching my own. “Elijah? Oh, it’s so good to see you!” she replies in a hushed enthusiastic tone. How do they know each other?
By the time the ushers make it to the back, the congregation starts to sing Silent Night. The whole church sounds beautiful as they sing the hymn. The church is dark, save for the candles that we each hold, which lights it up, giving the ambiance a radiating glow.
When the song ends, the Reverend tells us to have a ‘very Merry Christmas’ and to be safe going home. Everyone blows out their candle, and the lights turn on. There’s automatic chatter amongst the congregation, including the individuals on either side of me.
“Elijah! When did you get into town?” Carol asks, swatting his arm that still rests behind me. “Why didn’t you ever tell me you were here?”
I look over at my dad. “Just about two months ago. I should have told you, I’m sorry,” he apologizes.
As Carol and dad carry on, I sneak a peek over my shoulder for Mike. He’s not there. Where did he go? He looked so troubled.
Quickly I turn back to the conversation I’m in the middle of as not to be rude. “This is your daughter?” Carol asks my father, pointing a finger at me.
“Yes, Elena-” He’s about to introduce me.
“Yeah, we met when I walked in,” I inform him with a sincere smile.
“Carol is Mike’s mom.” Dad rolls the information off his tongue effortlessly.
Mike’s mom. So, my dad knows her from a long time ago...
I turn my attention to her. “Michael Gilbert?” She gives me a big smile. I almost can’t believe it. This woman is so nice, so different from Mike. I can see the facial similarities now: they share the same eye shape and cheekbones...
“Yes.” She nods. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I should have told you sooner; I wasn’t sure if I should have said anything before, but my son has talked about you. I think he’s very smitten.” She winks, and my dad clears his throat.
“Oh,” I pause... I’m not sure what to say because I got a completely different message from him not too long ago. It’s getting hard to breathe. This woman is the mother of the man who toyed with my heart, and she says that he’s smitten with me? I need some air. “Well, nice to meet you again.” I let out a nervous laugh. “I need to use the restroom; I’ll be right back,” I lie.
“Nice to officially meet you too, dear,” I hear Carol over the sounds of the surrounding conversations as I remove myself from the pew.
I exit the church with near hyperventilation, and as though my life depended on it, I step outside. The air was growing a bit thick in there. As soon as my foot lands on the last step from descending the stairs, I notice a man leaning on the front end of his truck, not too far from where I stand. The thick air must have followed me outside; it’s hard to breathe again. Right now, I refuse to acknowledge the fact that this man has the uncanny ability to steal my breath away.
Neither one of us must know what to say. Standing here, awkwardly in front of each other isn’t helping the nervous flutter beating in my chest. He’s just staring at me; hardly any emotion to be seen... “I-I met your mom,” I break the silence.
Mike crosses his arms over his chest. “I saw that.” His tone is flat.
I look at him from head to toe in the dark. The only light is from the ground swallowing the church. “Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” he spits. Defensive much?
“Well...I don’t know. You, you seem... unsettled, like something’s bothering you.” I’m timider than I want to admit.
“You’re bothering me with your concern.”
“Excuse me?” I’m feeling defensive now. There is no need for him to be rude.
“You heard me.” The man in black pushes himself off the truck and stalks towards me. My hand fists at the side of my sweatpants while the other grips the cold metal railing on the steps. This is done for either stability or to keep myself from slapping him – I’m not sure which it is.
He stands before me; his dark green abysses rake over my face before he locks them to mine. “After everything I’ve done to you...why do you still exhaust yourself by caring about me?”
I must remind myself to breathe, but before I can say anything, the door to the church opens and a familiar southern bell chimes causing us both to look in her direction. “Mikey! You made it!” I turn back to Mike to see his face scrunch at the nickname his mom called out, and I stifle a giggle at his reaction.
Carol meets us at the bottom of the steps and embraces her son in a tight hug. “Yeah...okay. Ma.” He tries to loosen her grip, but she is stronger than she looks. Mike gives me a small embarrassed smile over the top of her head. I can’t help but return it; he’s like Jell-O in his mom’s arms.
She takes herself out of the hug and scrunches his cheeks with her hands. “You were late, but I’m glad you came, dear.” Carol finishes with a light pinch of his cheek with her fingers. The tough act he had is fading away – giving me a glimpse of the Mike that took me on that date and climbed through my window. I feel my heart ache with longing for that Mike.
His mom turns to me, then back to him. “I met your girlfriend,” she says with enthusiasm. My eyes light up with awkwardness and land on his scared ones.
“We aren’t...uhm...We’re not dating,” he enforces, and just like that, my chest tightens. It’s like being rejected all over again.
Carol doesn’t say anything at first but then reaches up to cup her son’s face again to lock eyes with him. “You better hurry up and ask her soon, she won’t stay single forever,” she whispers it to him, but I heard it. I try to hide my smile and the automatic love I have for this woman.
“Yeah. Okay, I need to go now.” He gently pulls her hands off his face and holds them. “Be safe, going home, alright.”
She gives him another hug. “I love you, honey.”
“Yeah.” He pats her back.
She pulls out of the hug and touches his arm. “Merry Christmas Eve.”
Mike rolls his eyes and gives a single chuckle as his mom slaps his chest. “Hey, don’t you roll those eyes at me,” she scolds, and he pretends the slap hurt. Watching them interact is interesting to watch. He’s not rude or cold; he’s...gentle, fun, and warm. Why can’t he be that way with me again?
He lets out a laugh. “Same to you,” he says to his mother.
The heart stealer looks over at me. “Take care,” he says. I nod my head, wishing I could run into his arms, but that would be inappropriate given the circumstances of how he probably feels about me. The feelings his mother obviously doesn’t know about.
He turns around and walks back to his truck. Carol and I watch him as he climbs in and reverses out of the lot.
“He may seem as though he’s made of stone, but in all truth, that boy has the most fragile heart of all.” Carol mentions to the wind as we watch the taillights fade with a growing distance.
It’s a silent night indeed.