Strange charity service in the Neighborhood door – 02

* * *

By 8:30 I was enjoying a cigar with John, sitting out in their driveway, trying to figure out what our football team’s chances were of going anywhere in the playoffs. We were strategically positioned so I had a view of the Morrison’s driveway.

When Victoria drove up, I excused myself from John and jogged across the alley.

“Victoria, can I talk to you for a moment?”

She looked ready to chase me off, but after a few awkward seconds she crossed her arms, leaned back against the car and raised her eyebrows.

“Again, I’m sorry I entered your house without your permission. I know that was wrong. All I can say is I wasn’t really thinking straight.”

She rolled her eyes. “Anything else?”

“Yes. I know you told me you didn’t need my help, but there’s someone I’d like you to speak to. I have a friend that’s a lawyer, and he’s willing to check into your insurance situation pro bono. Like you and me, he’s suffered a few losses in life, and he’d like to help you if he can. If you’d just give him a call, he’ll see what he can do.”

I could see she wanted to say no, but was torn. She gnawed on her bottom lip, which I saw were chapped. She looked exhausted. I pulled out his card and held it out to her. “It’ll only take a couple of minutes. It can’t hurt.”

She finally nodded and took the card from me. “Is that it?”

“One last thing. I’m headed over to my ex-wife’s house tomorrow to clean out the refrigerator, and to get rid of her tree. It’s my responsibility now. I was going to ditch the tree; it’s one of those pre-lit artificial ones which I never could stand. I thought, if you don’t mind, and it’s not interfering too much,

I could bring it by here and you could take it off my hands. Otherwise it’s going to the dump.” I spit out the words quickly before she could find too much fault with me.

She seemed resigned to allow me to interfere, at least this much. She sighed and finally spoke up. “Alright. That would be nice. Now if that’s all, I’d like to go in now. My feet and back are aching and I have to get up early tomorrow.”

“That’s all. You can call Joseph tonight if you’d like, he’s a night owl and is expecting your call. Good night.”

I took off quickly before she could change her mind about anything.

* * *

I had recruited Paisley’s help over dinner the night before, assuming things went Ok with Victoria, and by noon we were back at the Morrison house, knocking on the door.

Hannah let us in, and we hauled our goodies in after us. I had the tree folded up and left it on the front doorstep while we made room for it in the living room. After I’d put it in place, I hauled in a large plastic crate of Christmas decorations, and encouraged Paisley and Hannah to get to work making the tree look ‘festive’.

Right on schedule my weekly cleaning crew showed up and I put them to work giving the entire house a thorough cleaning. I had felt guilty chasing them away the last few weeks, and had begged and cajoled them into doing me this one favor, on Christmas Eve of all days. The team of four went to work like whirling dervishes, storming through the rooms in pairs leaving sparking chrome and sweet smells in their wake.

We only had a few hours if Paisley was right, and I had one more big task lined up. The Chem-Dry carpet cleaners were running a little late, but showed up not long after the cleaning crew had finished with the living and dining rooms, and I had moved most of the furniture into the hallways and kitchen.

They went right to work, and had the downstairs completed in a little over an hour. While they worked at that, I spent the time decorating the front yard and the house with Christmas lights. I hoped that Victoria liked traditional multi-color displays. I wasn’t all that fond of the ‘all-white’ look, and was using my own lights to decorate her house. By the time I had finished I was sweating up a storm, and was getting nervous about the time.

The carpet guys left first, reminding me to let the carpet dry for another hour before returning the furniture to its place. The cleaning crew followed shortly after, and I’d rewarded them nicely, tipping them an extra $100 for coming out on Christmas Eve. I moved indoors, with the lights complete and lit up, to find a Christmas wonderland awaiting me.

Paisley and Hannah had done an amazing job, using what I had brought over and getting the Morrison’s decorations out of the attic and putting those to use as well. You could hardly tell it was the same house.

“You ladies have done an incredible job!” I announced, standing in the doorway.

Paisley looked a little disheveled but very pleased with herself. “Let’s finish up quickly. I have to get home; John’s going to kill me.”

I’d promised her we’d be done by 4:00 and it was already nearly 5:00. She was holding a Christmas Eve open-house and was expecting half of the neighborhood over that evening. She only had a couple of hours left to finish her own preparations. I gave her a hug for all of her effort and shooed her off, while I started hauling the furniture back into place, working at a frenzied pace to get done before the unsuspecting benefactor got home.

Hannah followed behind me, arranging all the lamps, baskets and knick-knacks, and adding additional holiday decorations as we went. With the last of the furniture in place, I turned and gave her a high-five.

“This is all our secret, right? If your Mom asks, the Christmas elves stopped by to help clean up. You did a great job, Hannah.”

She smiled and held her arms out to me. I leaned down and gave her a hug.

“Thank you,” she whispered, just before she let go and disappeared up the stairs.

I felt a lump in my throat. Whether it was fear of being caught by her mother, or the joy of hearing her speak her first words to me, I couldn’t be sure.

* * *

By eight o’clock, Victoria still hadn’t shown up on my front-doorstep with a shotgun. I guess she was going to wait until after Christmas to eviscerate me over meddling where I didn’t belong.

I didn’t care. I felt good, the best I’d felt in two weeks, thinking about that little girl celebrating a real Christmas. Kids should have Christmas.

I had cleaned up and decided to make an appearance next door, as I’d promised, when I got a call from Joseph.

“Hey-ho, Stevorino.”

“Only my Grandma gets to say that, asshole.”

“Merry fuckin’ Christmas to you too.” I teased.

I heard him chuckle. “Merry Christmas is right. At least for your neighbor.”

“How’s that?” I asked, suddenly interested.

“The insurance creeps were just stalling. They don’t have a leg to stand on. The only change to the policy was upon their advice after an annual policy review by their own agent. A little legal pressure was all it took. It’s not a lot, less than $300K, but she’ll be getting her check next week.”

“Joseph, you’re the man. I take back all those nasty things I said about you.”

“Shit, they’re probably true. If anybody would know, it’d be you.”

“All kidding aside. You’re a lifesaver.”

I knew he hated any hint of seriousness. I could almost hear him blushing over the phone. “Hey, that’s what friends are for, right?”

“That’s right. And I couldn’t ask for a better one.”

“Ditto. Asshole.”

“Shit. You had to go and spoil it. Listen, I gotta run. Give your family my love and have a great Christmas. I’ll give you a call next week.”

Strange charity service in the Neighborhood door – 02 will continue in the next page.

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