Chris was making sandwiches for the deli case when he heard Elmo calling him from outside. "Chris! Chris!" Elmo ran into the store and straight into Chris's legs. "Chris, Elmo has news!"
"What is it, Elmo?"
"Someone new moved in, Chris, next door to Gordon! Come meet him with Elmo."
New people on Sesame Street were often uncomfortable with monsters and grouches unless humans cushioned the first few interactions, and most of the monsters sensibly took humans along with them on new-neighbor calls. (Grouches do not make new-neighbor calls, unless you count appropriating new-neighbor trashcans.) It wasn't anti-monster prejudice, exactly, Chris thought, as he reached down to take Elmo's hand. It was more that most humans from elsewhere didn't know monsters existed.
Or talking giant birds, or talking bears, or fairies, either, come to think of it.
This new neighbor, though, was sitting on the stoop next to Oscar's can. Elmo and Chris could hear Oscar cackling in grouchly joy at something the new guy was saying. Chris sized him up: white, probably mid-30s, accent, wearing a long coat despite the midsummer heat. The guy's face creased as he smiled at Oscar, and Chris was suddenly unsure of his age.
Elmo, emboldened by someone unfazed by Oscar, let go of Chris's hand and charged ahead. "Elmo is here! Elmo wants to welcome you to Sesame Street!"
"Welcome! Hah!" said Oscar. "More like welcome back. He has a recipe for stinky fermented anchovies in cream."
"That doesn't sound very nice to Elmo," said Elmo.
"I also have a recipe for zabaglione," the new guy said, holding out his hand to shake Elmo's, gently. "Much tastier. And I know some excellent cookie recipes, if that Cookie Monster fellow still lives here."
"He does," Chris said, reaching the stoop and holding out his own hand. "Chris."
"Adam," the man said. "An uncle used to live here, long ago. I visited as a child."
"How long ago? My uncle and aunt have been here forty years; maybe they remember him."
"Oh," Adam said vaguely, "a while now. I mostly remember the monsters."
"So what brought you back?" asked Chris.
"Yes," said Elmo. "Why did Adam come back? Adam has been gone a long time."
Adam smiled down at Elmo. "Oh, I just thought it was time, is all."
Oscar laughed, and Adam shot him a look. "Heh," said Oscar. "Time. Time."
"Yes," said Adam, very quietly. "Time." He and Oscar stared at each other. Chris and Elmo looked from one of them to the other, wondering what was going on. After a few seconds, Oscar disappeared into his can, slamming the lid hard. They could hear him laughing from within.
Chris looked up at Adam, and found Adam looking thoughtful. "Grouches," Adam said, and smiled again. "I wonder if anyone understands them." The smile didn't quite reach his eyes, and Chris felt a slight chill up his spine. It worried him; he didn't usually meet people who gave him chills up his spine on Sesame Street. (Though there had been that fellow who tried to get Big Bird to move to a different habitat. That guy had been upsetting.)
"Elmo thinks other grouches understand," said Elmo, oblivious. "Does Adam want to meet the other monsters? Elmo can introduce Adam!"
"Thank you," Adam said. "That would be lovely." He nodded politely to Chris, took Elmo's hand, and walked down Sesame Street, his long coat brushing the backs of his knees. Chris watched them until they entered the Fix-It Shop, then returned to Hooper's and his unfinished sandwiches. He wasn't sure about this guy, and that was weird. He'd have to watch, and wait, and think.
At least Adam seemed to like monsters.