The Orphan Boy

My entry to the Christmas Advent Competition! I'm entering under the Christmas calendar romance option.
The Orphan Boy follows the romance between Church goer Clara Dawkins and orphan boy Charlie Birch. Each chapter is a new Sunday leading up to Christmas, but also a new Sunday for them to get to know one another a little more and perhaps embark in a Christmas romance.

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2. The Second Sunday

I spent my week leading up to December 11 stressing about the little things of what to wear, what will we do and what will people say? In class, multiple times my best friend Judith had to snap me out of my daydreams and at home, Jen was getting almost unbearable. I had lost track of how many times she had questioned me about our encounter, but we made sure to keep our conversations quiet. My mum and dad were not happy that Charlie was back in Liberty Cove which infuriated me.

“I hope trouble does not start again,” my father fumed at the dinner table that Sunday night. “It is terrible what happened to him, but he was always a trouble maker in school and I will not forget how he got half a class suspended for the prank he constructed.”

“He was just having fun,” Jen jumped into support. I angrily stabbed at my roasted carrots, worried that if I opened my mouth I could say something I would regret.

“His fun is not normal,” my dad shook his head. “You know that.” “

Fancy Pastor Gerard giving the boy a lift,” my mother muttered. “Maybe they think he will convert.”

“He is converted,” I had snapped and my parents fixed their concerned gazes on me. Under the table, Jen kicked my shin hard and I winced. I quickly back-peddled. “I heard someone say he wanted to go back to the Church. Why would you do that if you did not have a faith?”

My parents just huffed and the conversation was silent for the rest of the meal.

Sunday morning, I awoke early. Rolling over, I groaned to read the time on my phone. 6am. That meant two hours before we left for Church.

Tossing and turning, I could not get back to sleep and eventually I resigned myself to climbing out of bed. I went through my everyday motions of getting ready. From my closet, I pulled out various outfits until I settled for one that I thought would suffice. I chose a long-sleeved black top with my favourite knee-length red skirt. It was a chilly morning so I decided to throw in a purple scarf and chose my knee-high high-heeled boots. One thing about belonging to a relatively small Church was we could not afford a heater for the winter or an air-conditioner for the hot Australian summers.

Because Jen was still asleep, I had no one to fight off as I locked myself in the bathroom. After a hot shower, I set about drying and curling my black hair to fall below my shoulder blades. I layered on my usual make-up which was not too artificial, but not to natural either. I thought to myself that perhaps I was being a bit to over enthusiastic about seeing Charlie again.

“We’re just going to hang out,” I told myself forcefully, but part of me was still hopeful that perhaps it would go further.

By the time I made my way downstairs, mum was already awake, drinking her coffee and reading the Sunday newspaper.

“Your father and I are thinking of staying home this morning,” she told me and I felt my stomach drop. To my relief, she did not stop there.

“Jen can still drive you both if she wishes.” I knew she would, so I nodded enthusiastically. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about them seeing me talk to Charlie.

“I might be home a little later today,” I told her. “I am thinking of meeting up with some friends.”

“As long as you are not too late,” she told me with a shrug.

 

The drive to Church was uneventful. Jen and I worked out our plans for after the service. She was going to her best friend’s and she would come and pick me up about 4ish. I would just have to let her know where I was.

“Are you sure it will be safe?” she asked me as she pulled into the parking lot. “I mean, you just met the guy.”

“Do not worry,” I shook my head. “I will not go anywhere reclusive. I just want to be his friend.”

“Or more,” I heard her giggle, but I ignored her and flounced out of the car.

I could not find Charlie prior to the service and I spent the service looking around the pews, gnawing on my lip. What if he was not going to come? I tried not think about how disappointed the idea made me feel. By the time the service drew to a close, I was resolved to think he was not going to show up. However, as I climbed to my feet, there was a tap on my shoulder. Whirling around, I could not stop the wide smile appearing on my face.

“There you are,” I smiled at him. Even in my heeled boots, he was slightly taller than me.

“I have been here the whole time. I was just helping the ladies out back prepare the food and drinks.”

“That is really sweet of you to do,” I told him as we made our way towards the table where the people were already flocking for their warm drinks and tasty food. Charlie shrugged.

“I trust that you had a good week.” “

I did,” I assured him. “You?”

“Same old, same old,” he shrugged again and began to make his coffee, handing me a cup and utensils to do the same.

“You’ll have to tell me all about what the same old is,” I warned him and he laughed.

We seemed to have attracted the attention of several people. Some of the older ladies murmured amongst themselves and some of the other young girls were glaring at me. They probably thought he liked me or something. I wished they would mind their own business.

 

After downing our drinks perhaps too quickly, we set off into town once I told my sister and Charlie had spoken to Gerard and Lynn. I requested a popular spot and he seemed to have no issue. It surprised me how he could still remember the place of everything in Liberty Grove, but I supposed that the town your parents die in is a town you wouldn’t forget. We took a seat on a park bench in the middle of the popular family park, Goose Gathering. For a moment, we sat in cold silence until I decided to get the ball rolling.

“Tell me about yourself.”

The prompt was all he needed to launch into an animated story. He told me that he was born and raised in Liberty Grove. His father was a businessman who often travelled out of town and to the big cities while his mother was an artist and worked at the local library. They were regular Church goers, hence his proximity to Pastor Gerard and Lynn. I was worried he’d feel pressured to talk about the night he found the bodies, but he briefly touched on it. Charlie told me that it wasn’t a party he was at, but his best mate’s. He was going through a tough time so they would meet up weekly and talk late into the hours of the night.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” I blurted out and Charlie paused to rub his forehead, eyes downwards.

“My mum always told me that no matter the truth, people will always prefer the lies. What’s a better news story? A boy finding his dead parent’s after watching movies with his mate, or a boy finding his dead parent’s after going to a party like a rebellious teenager?”

I thought of my parents and began to chew on my lips again while Charlie continued his story.

After being taken in by the state, he was moved to small town in Queensland. He had no troubles with his adoptive parents, but they didn’t understand his desire to return to Liberty Grove. He was a hard worker though and after studying to Grade 10, became an apprentice mechanic and moved to a town only half an hour away from here. He reconnected with the pastors who were more than happy to welcome him back into the Church. It astounded me how easy it was for him to tell me anything. I tried to think of the last time I had spilt my guts to a stranger, and then only time that came to mind was when Jen convinced me to go to a Catholic confessional. Even then, I held back the small details, but I felt like Charlie was painting every detail of the picture for me. It was an attribute I could easily admire.

“You didn’t have to tell me everything,” I told him once he had completed the story and he shook his head.

“Many people know my story or what they think is my story. Not many people have bothered to ask me.”

I thought of the women murmuring in Church and sighed deeply. It must be painful to see people’s judgements so clearly.

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon together in a quaint café, the only on in Liberty Grove to be open on a Sunday, eating a small lunch and drinking coffee. I shared some of my life story as well, although I felt it was a poor comparison to his. Charlie soaked up every word though and didn’t hesitate to ask any questions he might have. Like the name of my best friend in primary school or my favourite movies. When he asked what my favourite thing in the world was, I felt particularly touched.

“I’m guessing you mean besides God?” I asked and he chuckled.

“You guess correctly,” he put his hands on the table and leant further in, momentarily causing my breath to freeze in my throat. Somehow, I suspected the goose bumps on my arm weren’t caused by the chilly New South Wale’s air.

“Umm,” I giggled nervously to clear my head. “I guess reading would have to be my favourite.”

He waited expectantly and I told him of my favourite books, the secret corners of the local library where it was best to read and I told him of my own collection and how I couldn’t wait to expand it into a personal library itself.

 

All too soon, 4pm came around and I glanced at my phone to see a text from my sister seeking my location. Charlie waited with me outside the café and once my sister arrived, turned to me.

“Would you like to do this again next Sunday?” he asked me and I nodded, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. He raised a finger before I could say anything, though. “I’d like you to get to know Gerard and Lynn.”

“I do know them,” I told him, but then when I thought about, I realised I only knew what they shared in front of the Church and what others had to say. Nervousness swirled my stomach, but I still agreed to it.

As I neared the car where I could see Jen inspecting her nails and pretending to ignore us, his hand on my arm stopped me.

“Here’s my number,” he gave me a piece of paper where I could see it scrawled neatly. “If you want to talk throughout the week, you know how to contact me then.” I smiled gratefully, and quickly pulled my own phone out of my handbag.

“I’ll text you mine.”

 

I jumped into the car then and Jen sped off, turning the heater up to keep the growing chill out.

“Did you have fun?” she asked.

In response, I rested my head on the window and sighed happily.

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