Pure chance brought Jim to the street where he'd grown up on Christmas Eve. He'd seen a pickpocket working his skills, his eyes following the deft insertion of hand into pocket from too far away to stop the theft. By the time he'd caught up with the thief, the victim was long lost in the crowd. Jim had passed the thief over for processing and then, moved by a charitable impulse, volunteered to take the wallet back to its owner. It wasn't procedure, but a harried uniform had shrugged, gotten a scrawled signature from Jim on an itemized receipt, and passed the wallet over.
It hadn't contained much money; these days everyone used plastic, but it was stuffed with items that would be a pain in the ass to replace over the holiday period and some faded black and white photos. Jim's wallet didn't contain anything of sentimental value, but it didn't mean that he felt no pang at the thought of someone losing a photo of his wedding day, or of a daughter beaming a gap-toothed smile.
Finding out where the victim lived was a shock, but not enough to change his mind.
He handed over the wallet, endured the stunned gratitude of Mr. and Mrs Wilkins, who hadn't even noticed its loss, refused a drink to celebrate, firmly turned down a reward, suggesting a donation to charity when they became insistent, and bowed out with hot ears and as much grace as he could muster.
Gratitude was hard to receive. Socks, not so much.
He walked back to his car, his breath showing faintly, and paused. So close...
Without allowing himself to think about what he was doing, he continued down the street until he was outside his father's house. It hadn't been home in his mind for years.
The house was decorated with a wreath on the door, but no lights glimmered from the bushes, no tree stood shimmering in the window. A few rooms were lit, but no cars were parked in the driveway. William Ellison's friends were mostly business acquaintances as Jim recalled it and it wasn't likely that the connections had remained after his father's retirement.
Jim leaned on the gate, lost in the shadows, and sent his sight ranging into the house, finding glimpses into rooms that were as he remembered them, unchanged, stiff and still. His father sat in what had been his office, a tumbler of scotch beside him, a book, unread, on his lap. As Jim watched, Sally came in, her pleasant face lined, but still smiling. Outside, in the cool darkness, Jim smiled too, but it faded.
He could have walked up to the door, knocked, been let in. He'd be welcomed, even after years of silence.
He couldn't do it. Too much bitterness, too much resentment. If he couldn't knock on that door with some measure of forgiveness in his heart, then he wouldn't knock at all.
Maybe next year.
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