Home > The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(7)

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(7)
Author: Roan Parrish

   Charlie’s partner, Rye, had started The Dirt Road Cat Shelter, which River managed, and River spoke of him in reverent tones. It seemed it was Rye Adam was replacing, as he didn’t have time to work at Matheson’s anymore, given how well the shelter was doing.

   Rye was heavily tattooed, with long, messy dark hair and eyes the uncanny gray of a morning storm. He tended to glare a lot, seemingly without ire, but he’d grinned wryly when he met Adam.

   “It’s perfect,” Rye had told him. “I didn’t know shit about the hardware biz. Now that I’m leaving, of course Charlie should hire someone else who doesn’t know shit.”

   Whatever Charlie’s reasons—and Adam was pretty sure it was wanting to help out River as much as to give a job to another queer person—Adam was supremely grateful and was doing his level best never to give Charlie reason to regret it.

   The holiday display did indeed feature Christmas lights, as well as a beautiful wooden cutout of a log cabin, painted in full color, on which a string of lights was draped. Whenever anyone commented on it, Charlie proudly informed them that his brother, Jack, had painted it.

   “Yeah, I guess I was wondering if there might be a way to get them cheaper if I order some directly from the distributor. If that’s not overstepping,” Adam added. He had only been working there for a week.

   “I’m really sorry, Adam.” Charlie looked genuinely disappointed. “I pretty much sell these at cost. Around the holidays they’re a sure sell, so I use them to get people in the door, but I don’t mark them up.”

   “Oh. That’s okay. I’ll just buy some of these, then.”

   He bought ten boxes of lights with his employee discount. There went the day’s pay, but he couldn’t wait to see the smile on Gus’ face when he brought them home.

 

* * *

 

   The scent of snow was in the air when Adam pulled up to his house. Inside, lights glowed warmly, but he found himself glancing across the street at Wes’ house, which stood dark and still.

   For all that he wanted Gus to forget the lure of Wes’ unusual critters, Adam couldn’t forget the way Wes had cradled his pet so gently in his large hand. The way he’d explained his...whatever that thing had been to Gus patiently and as if she could understand everything he was saying.

   Mason had not been patient. Not with Gus and definitely not with Adam.

   “Hey,” Adam called as he unlocked the door. “Where’s my little monster?”

   A giggle, then the rush of footsteps, and Adam turned around to see not Gus, but River, with their arms outflung like a child.

   Adam grinned and Gus peeked from around the corner, hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter.

   “There you are!” Adam cried, playing along. “Come here, my little monster.”

   He threw his arms around River and hugged them tight. River tensed for a moment and Adam started to let go, but then they relaxed into his arms. Adam squeezed his younger sibling tight for a few more seconds, then let them go with a ruffle of their hair. He hadn’t had the chance to do that much in their lives spent mostly apart, and spared a moment of gratitude that he now had the chance.

   “No, me!” Gus yelled, running straight at Adam and plastering herself to him.

   “Here’s my other little monster.”

   She nodded and he swung her around until they were both dizzy.

   “What’s that?” Gus asked, recovering quickly, pointing at the large brown paper bag with Matheson’s Hardware stamped on it.

   “Look inside.”

   She poked her nose inside and grinned.

   “Lights for me!”

   “Lights for us,” Adam said.

   “Lights for us,” Gus echoed politely. Then, to River she said, “I’m gonna make our house have the most Christmas lights in history.”

   “Whoa,” River said. “That sounds beautiful!” They turned to Adam and added under their breath, “And expensive.”

   Adam grimaced. He hadn’t quite realized the expense when he’d agreed to this project.

   “Can we put them up?”

   Gus was already tearing open the boxes.

   “Sure. You wanna help?” Adam asked River.

   “Nah, I’m gonna take off. Gotta check on Hydra.”

   “I hope that’s a cat?”

   River flushed. “Yeah. Bye.”

   “Bye, River!” Gus yelled without looking up from her task.

   Lights freed from their boxes, they went outside. Immediately, Adam realized their first problem: he didn’t have a ladder.

   “Shoot, sorry, sweetheart. I’ll get one from work tomorrow.”

   Adam quickly budgeted for that and wondered if Charlie would lend him one, just for the weekend.

   “Maybe Wes has one,” Gus suggested slyly.

   “Er, maybe one of our other neighbors—”

   “I’ll ask!”

   And with that she ran off. Gus knew he should stop her, but he couldn’t deny that mysterious, reclusive, frankly weird Wes Mobray had gotten under his skin.

   Instead, Adam followed his daughter to Wes’ front door. It opened faster this time, and Wes looked less confused to find them there.

   “Hi,” he said, his frown only at twenty-five percent this time.

   One of the neighbors Adam hadn’t met yet—a woman who lived with her daughter at the end of Knockbridge Lane—drove past and craned her neck to look at them.

   Adam raised a hand in greeting, and she snapped her eyes front. Wes took a step back into the shadows of the house.

   “We’re hanging Christmas lights,” Gus announced. “Wanna help?”

   “Oh, honey, that’s not—We don’t—I thought—Um, we were wondering if you had a ladder we could borrow. You don’t have to—That is, you can if you want, but—”

   Adam physically forced his lips together to prevent more gibberish from leaking out. Wes was looking at him intently. Then he glanced at Gus. She was vibrating in place like a whippet in a snowstorm, eyes huge and hopeful.

   “Um. Okay,” Wes said.

   Adam gaped.

   “Yay! Yes! Yay!” Gus cried, and darted inside. “Can I see Bettie?”

   Adam and Wes looked at each other and Adam felt like Wes could see right through him.

   “You don’t have to,” Adam said. “I just. I accidentally promised Gus the biggest Christmas light display in the world and, uh.”

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