Out of habit, Jane tossed her keys onto the small table in the entry of her house, forgetting that they might mar the antique surface as they slid across the top. This table, new to her, had been salvaged from her grandmother’s house just before her aunts and cousins had arrived to haggle over the remnants of the old woman’s life.
Grams, as she had called her grandmother for as long as she’d known how to talk, had called the piece of blonde furniture a telephone table, and indeed, it did have a small drawer just large enough to hold a few pencils, an address book, and a scratch pad, even though it hadn’t played host to an actual telephone in more years than Jane cared to count.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Jane moved through her customary evening routine. Coat on the hook by the door, shoes at the edge of the bench, purse slung over its arm. She didn’t bother turning on any lights, but as she padded in stockinged feet across the cold tile floor, she did pause to plug the Christmas tree.
Barely five feet tall, the tree stood in the center of the bay window that gave Jane’s living room much of its charm. She’d meant to hire someone to hang outside lights on the window, but had never gotten around to it, so the tree was the lone representative of Christmas, save for the four empty stockings hanging from the mantle. One was hers, of course, and one would hold the dog’s annual treat, but the other two were for her parents, even though they had made it clear they weren’t doing Christmas that year.
“We can finally afford to bask on the beach in Mexico, Janie,” her mother had said. “You’re almost forty. You don’t need us to have a good holiday.”
Except she did.
Resisting the urge to curl up on the couch and call it a night, Jane went to put sneakers on and release her dog from his crate, accepting the happy sloppy kisses the aging Airedale offered. “Walkies?” she asked the curly-haired canine, who was absolutely on board with that suggestion. He cooperated while she put his harness on, but once the final snap had been clicked into place, he was a blur of frenetic energy once again. “Hang on, Winston,” she coaxed, but it was useless.
Just at the bottom of the porch stairs, Jane and Winston came to a sudden halt. “Sorry,” she said to the man she’d nearly crashed into. “Are you looking for an address?”
“Sort of,” he said. “I just moved into the house across the street, and my daughter – she’s ten – says I have to introduce myself to all the neighbors.”
Jane grinned. “Well, tell your daughter she’s very wise. I’m Jane, by the way, and this is Winston.”
“Oh, I’m Vince. Vincent really, but…”
“Welcome to the neighborhood, Vince.” She scanned the block. “Your daughter isn’t with you?”
“Ah, no,” he said. “She’s with her Mom, actually, until after the holiday. It’s just me this year.”
Something in his expression, in his posture, resonated with Jane. “Listen,” she said. “I’m alone this year, too, but I have a turkey breast I was going to heat. Why don’t you join me?”
“Seriously?” Vince seemed surprised by the offer.
“Well, my dog seems to like you, and Winston is an excellent judge of character.” It was true. The dog had plotzed on the sidewalk and was laying across both humans’ feet.
Vince reached down to give head fusses to the dog. “Well, who am I to argue with such a wise creature. What can I bring?”
“Salad? Cranberries? Whatever you like.”
“I can do that,” he said. “Around two on Christmas Day?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jane agreed.
She continued on her walk and didn’t even complain when Winston had to pee on every signpost and fire hydrant, instead of just some of them. Maybe Vince would become a friend, and maybe he would just be a good neighbor, but either way, she’d have company for the holiday, and who knew? Maybe in a year or two she’d be hosting an annual gathering of Holiday Orphans.
After the walkies and dinner for both herself and Winston, Jane curled up on her couch with a book and a mug of tea. The lights on the other houses were reflected in her window, and for a change the silence of her house – punctuated only by the soothing sounds of her sleeping dog – felt cozy instead of constricting.