"You're going where?"
Mozzie had heard Neal the first time, but he'd hoped Neal was joking. Mozzie always spent Christmas with Neal. Even when Neal was in prison, Mozzie had gone there with Kate and a bagful of presents. So Neal couldn't possibly be saying—
"Peter and Elizabeth invited us to spend Christmas with them."
It was thoughtful (and Mozzie was certain Mrs. Suit was behind it). But Mozzie never felt very sociable at Christmas, not like other people did. With Neal, he could always be himself. With anyone else, he had to put on a show, and Mozzie wasn't a very Christmassy person to begin with.
In all honesty (not that he liked this about himself), Mozzie was actually kind of a curmudgeon.
"I can't," he said, "not even for Mrs. Suit. You know how I feel about Christmas—the commerciality, the forced festivity."
"Which was why I was hoping you'd join us," Neal said drily. "Do the un-Mozzie thing and give Christmas a chance."
"Nothing doing. But you go. Give the Suits my regrets. Tell them I'm visiting my mother at the nursing home."
"You don't have a mother," Neal said softly.
"But I could. So they don't have to take it personally."
"All right." Neal sounded doubtful. "But if you change your mind, you know where we'll be. Merry Christmas, Mozzie."
Mozzie went out into the snowy evening to begin the long trip home.
When he got to his storage locker, someone was waiting outside.
"Sam! I haven't seen you since the Chicago job. What're you doing in New York?"
"Just passing through. A storage unit, Moz? Really?"
"As if you've ever valued a permanent address!"
"Yeah, but it's like you've put your whole life on hold, not just your furniture."
Mozzie opened the door. "Are you here for a lecture? Or something else?"
"Just delivering a note from the Cosmos: log onto your life, Mozzie. Live it. Capisce?"
"Is this about tomorrow?" Mozzie asked.
"Maybe. Nobody tells me anything."
"You're not asking me to hack into something?"
"Nah, I've got people for that. So, you know… get on with it. Okay?"
"If you say so." Mozzie put down his satchel, but when he turned around Sam was gone.
Random. Mozzie plugged in the electric blanket for the futon and brushed his teeth for bed.
He'd just drifted off when he woke to find a man in a white linen suit sitting in his prized Shaker chair.
"How'd you get in?" Mozzie asked, suddenly wishing he kept a gun.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"You look pretty solid to me."
"It's more of an abstraction," the man admitted.
"Have we met?"
"You're that friend of Sam's, aren't you?"
"No. You're really trying my patience." The man drew his hand across the air: "Behold."
"This is your past…"
"I know," Mozzie said. "I was there."
"Your mother died, your father drank. You hid in the library to avoid going home."
"What's your point?"
"You gave up on people."
"I have friends!"
"A few. Be generous with your time. Your trust. Make the world happier."
Yeah, right. "Are you about—"
The room was empty.
"—done?" Mozzie trailed off.
He sighed, snapping the lamp off and going back to sleep. An hour later, he woke up again.
Something was wrong.
An older woman wearing a yellow shirt and matching earrings stood over him. Mozzie smelled cigarettes.
"I am the Ghost of yada-yada-yada," the woman said. "Get with the Christmas spirit."
"I brought cookies. You want 'em?" The woman thrust out a plate.
Mozzie sampled a cookie, nearly breaking a tooth. "Melifouth," he mumbled.
"You're welcome," the woman snapped. "You know, most people aren't lying around expecting Christmas to happen on its own. Some of them do the actual work."
Mozzie suddenly glimpsed Mr. and Mrs. Suit in their living room, finishing the Christmas tree. "They still think you're coming," the woman said.
"They'd be decorating anyway," Mozzie protested.
"That's the laziest excuse I've ever heard. Whatever. I've got a roast in the oven."
The woman and the cookies vanished. The cigarette smell remained.
Mozzie tried to stay awake after that, but failed. When a pretty woman in a sundress woke him up, he was hardly surprised.
"Other people have problems too," the woman said accusingly.
"I never said they didn't!"
"You think you're the only one with Christmas issues?" She waved her arm, and a tableau of anxious children appeared, their eyes all watching the same door.
"That's the 87th Street orphanage!"
"Where you used to volunteer."
A little boy in the back of the room turned away tearfully.
Mozzie's heart clenched. "I don't even know that kid..."
"That's not the point. Sometimes people lose hope."
"I can't be responsible for other people's hope!"
"But you are," the woman whispered. "Even if you don't know it."
"You've kept me awake all night and shamed me with orphans. What do you people want from me?"
"Were you even listening?" The woman punched his arm.
"Ow! Yes! I meant, why now?"
The woman snorted. "You certainly weren't doing it on your own."
Her words lingered long after she'd left.
The next morning, Mozzie took an early train to Target. He bought several toys, and headed to the orphanage.
"We've missed your visits," Mrs. Ross gushed.
"Me too. And I brought my toolkit, for assembling presents."
Mozzie spent the morning drinking hot chocolate and playing firetrucks with the kids, wondering why he'd stayed away so long. At noon, he went over to the Suits'.
"Mozzie! I'm so glad you could make it," Mrs. Suit said warmly.
Neal cornered him by the eggnog. "'What made you change your mind?"
"I had an epiphany."
"Like one of those life-changing moments that comes up and slugs you in the arm."
"Huh," Neal blinked. "Well. So, how's your Christmas been?"
Mozzie beamed in spite of himself.
"So far, it's absolutely perfect."
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