The house on Christmas Eve held a silence that made Simon's ears ache more than the jangle of carols in the mall. A week to pack and move out, with Joan sweeping Daryl off to her parents' house where the kid would get spoiled to death.
Seven days to put his married life into storage.
The knock on the door made him scowl. Company was the last thing he wanted, or expected. He'd turned down every invitation to share the festivities with his friends, unwilling to intrude. Discovering his neighbor of a decade on the doorstep only deepened his frown.
Mr. Grisham was called the Grinch even when it wasn't December. Simon had never gotten more than a curt nod from him, and the invitations to come over for eggnog that Joan had insisted be delivered each year had never been accepted.
Simon stared at Grisham, noting absently that the man looked older up close, dried meat on picked bones.
"Well?" Grisham snapped. "I'm here. Invite me in."
Manners Simon's mother had knocked into him with a firm hand warred with the impulse to turn the man away. Manners won.
"Sure, come on in," Simon said with a sigh. "The place is a mess, though, and I don't have eggnog."
"Nasty stuff," Grisham said, peering around curiously. "Gives me heartburn. Never touch it."
"I've got bourbon," Simon offered. Taggert's gift and he'd planned to make it take the place of turkey and pie.
Amused despite himself, Simon got his guest settled on a chair with a drink, after removing a stack of messily folded shirts. He perched on the arm of the couch, with his own drink warming his belly pleasantly.
"I suppose you're wondering why I'm here."
"Kind of," Simon admitted.
"Don't like women." Grisham's face twisted in a scowl. "Talk too much. Don't like kids, either. They're noisy. Destructive."
"Daryl isn't --"
"Rode his bike across my yard. I saw him."
That had to be six years ago. Simon sighed. "So now they've gone, you thought it was safe? Well, I'll be moving out in a week, so make the most of the quiet."
"Heard about that," Grisham said, no sympathy in his voice. "Women."
Simon raised his glass in an ironic toast. "Women," he echoed.
"So, who's going to cut my grass when you go? And shovel the sidewalk if it snows?"
Simon shrugged. "Daryl will if you pay him, I guess."
"You never asked for money."
"No," Simon said. He'd seen Grisham struggling with his ancient mower that first summer and quietly taken care of Grisham's patch of grass ever after. "You're my neighbor."
Grisham nodded and drew a flat package out of his pocket and a smile from storage. "Merry Christmas, neighbor."
Simon opened it when Grisham had gone. A framed photograph: Daryl at the age of five, wobbling on his first bike, his smile triumphant, Simon beside him, beaming proudly, hands outstretched to catch.
A gift from the Grinch.
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