Thick snow blanketed the world outside, fluffy white clinging to the trees, turning everything the perfect shade of pure white. Inside, however, was enveloped in cosy warmth that protected from the harsh cold outside. Warm, soft, and so inviting that Shaun could have stayed in bed all day.
But it was Christmas morning, and eagerness had settled into his stomach, made itself a home there. Sleep still clung to his heavy eyes, the sun barely peeking through the open curtains, but Christmas only came around once a year and he wasn't going to let it waste.
Shaun had been around for forty-eight years and been single for almost all of that time, but being alone for a holiday wasn't an excuse not to enjoy it. So with one last moment to enjoy the warmth of the blankets piled on his bed, Shaun braced himself for the cold to hit. He shivered as bare feet hit the wooden floor, quickly traipsing across his darkened bedroom for the fluffy slippers that belonged in his wardrobe. Were they childish? Perhaps. But they were damn comfortable, and it wasn't as if anyone was around to witness them anyway.
First on the agenda was coffee - a special salted caramel flavour that he saved for special occasions. Downstairs, Shaun let the coffee machine work as he wandered to the pile of mail on the hall sideboard. Across the streets lights were beginning to turn on, Christmas lights glittering through windows. The MacIntosh's three kids were awake, and he caught the youngest darting into the living room. He could imagine them, shrieking in delight, tearing through festive wrapping paper with gusto.
Shaun had no kids, and his only nephew was already an adult, so he had never experienced the chaos of a child-filled Christmas. No, he was much more suited to something quiet. Peaceful. Some might have said lonely, but it was only lonely if the person didn't want to be by themselves.
The coffee machine pinged, signalling it was finished brewing his sweet but smoky drink. Shaun picked up his mail - none today of course, but he had collected quite a few Christmas cards over the last week. Grabbing his coffee - which was in an enormous Christmas tree mug, a joke gift from a friend - Shaun settled down with the cards.
The first was from his parents - a cheerful card with reindeer on the front, and a handwritten message inside. They were away this holiday, spending time with friends abroad, but Shaun couldn't bring himself to be envious. Still, he hoped they were enjoying themselves.
The second card was from his cousin oversees. Shaun sipped his coffee as he opened it, and he couldn't help but laugh at how messily the card was written. It could have been written by a child, not a man in his thirties.
There were plenty more cards to read - from uncles and cousins and friends, even one from the aunt he only ever saw at family reunions. Sometimes he wondered why she bothered, if she never visited anyone, but it warmed him to know she still thought about her family even with her hectic life.
He displayed them on a little Christmas-themed card stand, right in the centre of his coffee table. Shaun didn't go all out with the decorations like some people - although he had to admit he enjoys seeing the homes that went extreme - but, he liked to think the simple twinkling lights above the window, and the matching decorations in his coffee table were modestly tasteful.
While he was there, standing in the living room, why not put the fire on? It was a proper wood-burning stove, and he loved the sound of the wood crackling in the background. It always took a few tries to get it working, and he had never really learned how to do it properly - but after several discarded matches, the fire was lit.
Warmth flooded the modest living room almost immediately, the smoky scent of the wood filtering through the air. That was a Christmas smell, absolutely wonderful. Shaun took a moment to enjoy the enveloping warmth, smiling to himself as he reached out large hands to toast them by the fire.
He cast a glance toward the Christmas tree as he finished the last of the delicious coffee. It was a simple affair - it was a fake tree, since he knew from experience that a real one created an absolute mess. Just because it was fake, however, didn't mean it wasn't decorated properly. Gently twinkling lights wound around the branches, interwoven with red baubles and tiny snowflake-shaped decorations decked in silver glitter.
While waiting for the oven, Shaun took a wander back to admire the Christmas cards. It was then when he caught sight of a little gold envelope, tucked away unseen behind another card. Shaun smiled, reaching across to pick it up - and his smile only grew when he saw the cheesy, over the top Santa on the front of the card. It was from Michelle of all people, a woman he had only met two weeks ago. He had met her perhaps twice, but she was so sweet and fun it was impossible not to like her.
Michelle's card joined the rest on the card stand on his coffee table, displayed for any - unlikely - visitors to appear. It looked good there, he thought, amongst the cards from family and friends.
At last the oven was ready, so Shaun settled down to enjoy his breakfast. His kitchen window overlooked the street, giving him a perfect view of the beautiful, untouched snow. How often did they get a white Christmas here in Scotland? Certainly not as often as he would have liked, and glancing out across the expanse of perfect white brought a smile to his lips.
So did the delicious lemon and cinnamon of his breakfast muffin, sweet and citrus and warm spice all at once. It seemed to disappear in only a few bites, and he had to stop himself from getting another. Or two. Or more.
He could eat later, when it was time for the fantastic dinner he had planned. For now, there were other things. First, he had to water the plants - because they didn't wait for anything, not even a holiday, and he should call his parents. Even if the overseas call was going to cost him a fortune.
It was then that he saw his phone, forgotten on the kitchen counter by the oven. The screen lit up with a text, but he didn't recognise the number. Shaun chose to ignore it, instead, heading to the tiny greenhouse that extended out from the summer sunroom.
Still, he couldn't help but wonder who it was.