Coffee still in hand, Shaun made the short journey from kitchen to hallway. The doorbell chimed again - for the third time - and through the stained glass of his front door he saw the silhouette of a tall woman. Ah. Shaun didn't even need to see her fully to know exactly who it was.
After fumbling for the keys one handed, juggling both hot coffee and a mass of oversized key chains, he successfully opened the door. No sooner had he let it open - and uttered a simple hello - when the woman rushed inside in a flurry of thick black curls and furry coat. Shaun sidestepped to avoid her, stumbling over a pair of shoes he had carelessly left the night before, and narrowly avoided spilling hot coffee all down his t-shirt.
The woman turned, and his suspicions were confirmed. Thick black hair streaked with grey tumbled down narrow shoulders. Deep brown eyes sparkled, skin creasing into faint crow's feet. "Shaun!" she exclaimed, absolutely beaming, "I texted, but you never replied. I was hoping I'd find you here."
"I live here," he noted with a faint laugh, "where else would I be? Anyway, I didn't recognise your number."
The woman - Cynthia, her name was - had been his neighbour for over ten years now. Although Shaun made the effort to know all of his neighbours - or at least the ones who wanted to be known, and not all did - Cynthia had always been an enigma. She was surely in her forties but claimed to be younger, always greeted him as if they were close childhood friends, and always had some crazy story to tell. Stories that Shaun thought were probably only half true.
And now she stood in his hall, grinning widely and clutching... something concealed by a white Tupperware. "I know you like to spend Christmas by yourself sometimes," she said with a smile, "but my daughter is spending it with her boyfriend in England. I thought, what better opportunity to spend the day with my favourite neighbour!"
Shaun simply blinked as the Tupperware was shoved into his hands, ignoring the fact he still held a mug of coffee. But whatever food was inside smelled delicious - sweet and citrus, definitely a luxurious dessert. He couldn't find it within himself to be angry, not when the mystery dessert smelled so wonderful, and not when Cynthia was beaming at him with such obvious delight.
So he relented, showing her into the kitchen. He offered her a drink like a good host, making her a cup of hot peppermint tea that she gratefully accepted.
It wasn't long before he found himself across the table from her with his third coffee that morning, laughing away as if she was an old friend. He supposed, despite her not being much more than an overly friendly neighbour, they were friends.
By the time his eyes drifted to the clock above the wall, the hands were reaching past noon. He blinked, a shot of surprise igniting in his chest. "This has been great, Cynthia, but I had planned on starting the dinner by one o'clock. You know, so the turkey has time to roast."
She simply grinned, and Shaun had the sinking feeling that she was about to say something he perhaps didn't want to hear. "I brought dessert, silly, we can eat together."
Ah, so he was right. It wasn't that he wanted rid of her exactly, but Shaun had prepared for a simple, cosy Christmas. Everything was planned out, from dinner to the cheesy Christmas movies he was going to watch. He shifted uncomfortably, but the sight of Cynthia's eagerness still brought a smile to his face. "All right," he relented, "but you have to help cook."
"Of course," she answered - and already she was on her feet, downing the last drops of tea. "Where do we begin?"
They started with Shaun's favourite part - the stuffing. Shaun gave up his oversized slippers for the cooking - not out of embarrassment, although when Cynthia teased him for it he did playfully jab her in the ribs - but because it simply felt more comfortable. They began by chopping vegetables, side by side at his kitchen counter, chatting aimlessly about this and that.
Next Shaun went about preparing the turkey. It was a simple crown, only meant for a few people, but it would still be the perfect size for himself and Cynthia. Meanwhile, Cynthia chopped potatoes for roasting, rubbing them with garlic.
It felt oddly domestic, to be standing side by side with someone and sipping tea as they worked. Now, Shaun had never been in a long-term relationship, and certainly not one long enough to involve cooking together, but it felt nice. Familiar, even if it was new. He smiled to himself as he worked, slinking around Cynthia in the cramped space of his kitchen.
Although Shaun had decided dating wasn't for him, and romance wasn't something that he wanted, he enjoyed this. For all his earlier complaints, perhaps he did want to spend the day with someone. Besides, domesticity didn't always have to indicate romance.
Maybe he had done Cynthia a disservice by wanting her to leave.
After a while their conversation dimmed, each of them putting their entire focus into separate tasks. The silence was peaceful, and eventually, Shaun decided to play Christmas music as they worked.
Soon enough the turkey was stuffed and in the oven to roast, the vegetables were prepared for later, and Shaun's traditional Christmas soup was simmering away on the stove.
"Smells wonderful," Cynthia noted, taking a deep inhale.
It was true. The kitchen was uncomfortably hot now, but the delicious scent of roasting turkey, crisp garlic, and spicy stuffing was fantastic. Well worth the discomfort of an overheating kitchen.
"Not much else to do but wait," Shaun answered with a smile, "unless there's anything else you want?"
Another inhale, a peaceful expression on her sharp features. "No, it already smells and looks perfect."
Admittedly, a stroke of pride swelled in his chest at that. Shaun was no professional chef, but he was proud of his abilities. Smiling to Cynthia, he led her into the living room where they settled down with yet another comforting hot drink.
This wasn't at all how Shaun had planned his day, but he had to admit he was looking forward to it nonetheless.