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When I pulled up in my driveway, Trent was putting up his Christmas lights, shirtless in the late-afternoon heat. Two of the houses across the way already had strings of lights decorating every shingle and window frame, their roofs adorned with illuminated reindeer, and fir wreaths hanging on their front doors, so I’d known it wouldn’t be long before Trent followed. In the three years I’d been living on this street, the displays had been getting ever bigger and more ostentatious, and Trent Maisner always produced the biggest of the lot.
Me, I’d never quite seen the point, maybe because it never really felt like Christmas here. Back in Montana, where I’d grown up, it got properly cold in the winter, and all my memories of Christmas involved snowball fights, carol concerts, and mugs of hot chocolate, topped with cream and marshmallows, drunk in front of a roaring fire. It felt like the right surroundings for snowmen and sleighs and footprints on the roof tiles that might, just might, have been left there by Santa. Here in Southern California, where the temperature barely dipped below the high 60s, even in mid-December, it was a lot harder to get into a festive mood. As a result, my home always remained undecorated, apart from a small, artificial tree in one corner of my living room. Though he’d never said as much, I always got the impression Trent felt I was letting the rest of our little corner of the street down.
I should have gone inside the house. I had groceries to stow, and a half-finished article about one of Hollywood’s hottest young directors on my PC that wasn’t going to write itself. Instead, I stood watching Trent, admiring the way the well-defined muscles in his back and shoulders flexed as he worked.
Not that I didn’t get plenty of opportunities to do just that. The guy, a builder by trade, spent most of his free time remodelling his own home, the quality of his work a perfect advertisement for his professional services. And he seemed positively allergic to wearing anything on his upper torso. Many was the time when the words just weren’t flowing, and I’d step away from my desk to brew myself some coffee and sip it in the kitchen. As I did, I’d watch Trent hammering and sawing, his skin shining with sweat, and imagine how it would feel to lick those salty droplets from his skin. A delicious fantasy, and one I’d jerked myself off to on any number of occasions, but just that. Every impression I’d gained of Trent was that he was as straight as they came; once married, but now divorced, with women seemingly queuing up to become the next Mrs Maisner.
Trent climbed down the ladder propped against his front wall, stretched, and pushed his dark-chestnut fringe out of his eyes. He caught me looking in his direction, and wandered over. I hoped he had no idea of the kind of thoughts I’d been having about him.
‘Hey, Andy, looking for some tips on how a pro decorates his home?’ The man’s self-confidence bordered on arrogance at times. It should have made him less attractive in my eyes, but it didn’t.
‘I would be, if I had any intention at all of decorating my own,’ I told him. I knew it wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but I continued, ‘I’m sorry, Trent, but I just don’t see the point in wasting all that time and money, just to treat the neighbours to a free light show.’
‘You’re a regular old Scrooge, you know that?’ Trent sounded as though he was only half joking.
‘Hey, it’s not that I don’t like Christmas,’ I protested. ‘It’s just not so much fun when you spend it on your own, that’s all.’
When he looked at me, I couldn’t tell whether his expression was one of sympathy or pity. It suddenly occurred to me I didn’t actually know how Trent passed the holidays, or who with. I tended to shut myself in with a turkey dinner for one and some cheesy old film or other on cable; until now, I’d never really given a thought to my nearest neighbour’s arrangements. He probably invited a couple of hot blondes round for a sex marathon, I thought enviously, sharing the kind of Christmas with him that part of me so badly longed to.
He sighed. ‘Isn’t there any way I could persuade you to put a few lights up for once?’
I shook my head, beginning to get a real thrill from our verbal sparring. ‘Do you really think this street needs any more lights? Hell, there are so many up already I bet the whole place is visible from space come nightfall.’
Trent grinned at the image my words created, but he didn’t back down from his position. ‘Andy, what’s it going to take to get you to change your mind?’
With a shrug, wondering just how far he was prepared to push this, I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe you’ll just have to make me.’