“Seven inches of snow fell overnight, blanketing the city in a thick, sparkling blanket of white, and shutting several schools…”
The local news kept going on about the chaos the snow had caused, but Merry had stopped listening in favour of sighing at her daughter: “Looks like it’s me and you today, kid.”
Her daughter Sariah didn’t respond, too happy sitting at the kitchen table, munching away on her waffles. She was a little too young to really understand snow days yet, anyway, having only started pre-school this year. She wouldn’t mind tagging along with Merry as she ran her errands for the day…but Merry certainly wasn’t really looking forward to braving the results of last night’s snowstorm with a four-year-old in tow.
Sariah was a great kid…but she was still a kid, and there was only so much Merry could ask of her, especially when it was freezing and everyone was acting like a crazy person because of the snow.
Merry was already dreading it.
At least most of the errands she nodded to run could actually be put off until the snow melted, but the trip to Walmart was not one of them. And neither was clearing her driveway.
“Beautiful, but only until you remember what a pain it is, right?”
Merry turned towards the sound of the voice calling out to her as soon as she got outside, smiling when she saw her neighbour Sebastian standing there with a shovel, half-way through clearing his own driveway: “Tell me about it.”
“I’d love to, but my useless brothers - ” he yelled the last three words, looking pointedly at his front door, where his two younger brothers were standing with steaming mugs, were watching on calmly: “ - are leaving me to do this all alone, so I don’t think my lungs could take it.”
“If you have energy to bitch, you have energy to shovel.” Remington replied casually, before turning to smile brightly at Merry: “Hey Merry - do you want some coffee? We just made some.”
More than used to the brothers’ unique we-love-each-other-but-will-torture-each-other-at-every-opportunity dynamic, Merry just laughed: “I think I’ll leave it for your brother; he’s going to need it.”
“At least someone around here thinks about my needs…” Sebastian muttered, making Merry laugh as she ducked into her garage for her own shovel.
The brothers continued to bicker, although the actual words were lost on Merry, muffled by the walls of the garage.
Even though she’d had some reservations when she’d learned her new neighbour was in rock and roll band that was growing in popularity by the day, who often had his younger brothers: the other members of said band, round, Merry actually really liked Sebastian and his brothers.
Sebastian was the textbook definition of a good neighbour: pulling her trash bins back from the curb when he was retrieving his own, always stopping for a chat when they passed each other coming in and out of their homes, didn’t pull faces when Sariah was playing (and wailing excitedly) in the backyard. And his brothers were equally sweet. Emerson had bought her flowers after she’d let him borrow some coffee one morning, and Remington was always so happy to crouch down at talk to Sariah, going along with her babbling and responding as if it was a real two-way conversation, even before Sariah had really been able to speak properly.
Just remembering all the nice interactions she’d had with the brothers - especially Sebastian - was enough to bring a smile to Merry’s face…right before it fell into a frown.
Even after searching for almost ten minutes, she hadn’t found her shovel. She was absolutely she’d put it back in here after the last time she’d used it…but that didn’t mean it would still be in here, she realised, when she remembered her ex-husband coming round last week to drop Sariah off, and asking to borrow something out of her toolbox. It wouldn’t be unlike him to take the shovel too and not tell her.
Sighing, she resolved to asking Sebastian if she could borrow his, heading out and hoping she caught him before he was finished clearing his own driveway…only to find that he had finished, but instead of going inside where it was warm, he was now shoveling the snow away from the path between Merry’s front door and her garage.
“Oh, Sebastian, you don’t have to do that!”
Sebastian, being the sweetheart that he was, just looked up at Merry to smile: “It’s okay. No sense in two of us getting sweaty and exhausted.”
“You shouldn’t have to worry about sorting out my driveway if you’re already exhausted…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I’m going to be going to the gym for a while, in this weather, so I’m going to have to get my work-outs in somehow.” he chuckled, before gently shooing her towards her door: “Go get in the warm, I’ll sort all this out.”
Merry wanted to argue…but it was cold. And she knew Sebastian wasn’t likely to give in, no matter how much she argued: it’d be easier on both of them for her to just go inside.
So she did, but not before giving Sebastian a grateful look. She also started some fresh coffee for when Sebastian was finished - because she refused to let him help her, without at least offering something in return, even if it was just coffee. Sebastian did so much, considering they were just neighbours, and Merry didn’t want to take advantage of his willingness to be kind.
By the time she’d checked in on Sariah, who was still happily sat at the kitchen counter, colouring in a new page of her colouring book, and checked on the coffee, Sebastian had not just finished the path, but the driveway too, and she had the chance to wave him into the kitchen before he headed back to his own house:
“I made you some fresh coffee, in case your brothers finished what was at your place.”
“It’s not unlikely.” he smiled wryly, before the expression turned more genuine when he looked at Sariah: “Hey, Sariah.”
“Hi Mister Sebastian.”
Merry rolled her eyes at Sariah’s vague response, but apparently Emerson was just the same when he was drawing, and Sebastian thought her daughter’s focus on her colouring in was adorable - so Merry let her daughter’s slight rudeness go and handed Sebastian a mug of coffee: “Here you go, splash of creamer and no sugar.”
“Thank you.” Sebastian responded gratefully: “So, I’m guessing the schools are shut today?”
“They are indeed,” Merry nodded, reaching over to ruffle her daughter’s hair: “So little miss is going to come to Walmart with me, aren’t you sweetie?”
“Mo-oom.” Sariah complained, batting at Merry’s hand: “I don’t wanna go out. ‘S cold.”
Sebastian hid his smile behind his coffee mug, while Merry just rolled her eyes again.
She couldn’t blame her daughter; it was bitterly cold outside, and Walmart was going to a warzone with it being so close to Christmas and the snow from last night, and the more snow that was predicted to come down tonight and tomorrow. If she could leave Sariah at home, she would, but with no-one to watch her she didn’t really have a choice.
“Sorry, baby, but you’re a little young to be staying home alone yet.” she leant down to kiss Sariah on the top of her head.
Her daughter grumbled, but went back to her colouring without complaint…but Sebastian looked thoughtful: “I could always get Emerson and Remington to watch her, if you don’t mind?”
They’d done it before, in an emergency, but snow was hardly enough to make Merry desperate: “I couldn’t ask them to do that, honestly. You’ve already been so helpful today.”
“You’d actually be doing me a favour. Otherwise they’ll insist on coming to Walmart with me, and it’ll mean at least another hour and a half in there.” Sebastian shuddered dramatically: “They could watch Sariah, and then we could go and do the shopping without my brothers trying to elbow drop each other off of freezers.”
It actually sounded pretty good.
Sariah could be safely watched at home, and Merry wouldn’t have to turn into an aisle to see Sebastian holding his head in his hands while Remington pinned Emerson to the floor and gave him a noogie. It had been funny to her, but Sebastian had looked ready to disown them both. Sariah got on with all three of the brothers, but she got on especially well with Emerson…it really was a good idea.
“Please mum?” Sariah looked up at her: “I really don’t want to go out in the snow.”
“Okay,” Merry relented: “Only if Emerson and Remington don’t mind.”
And that was how she ended up in the passenger seat of Sebastian’s car, being waved off by her daughter, Emerson, and Remington.
The drive was filled with easy conversation, Merry never finding it awkward to spend time with Sebastian. It felt like no time at all before they were in Walmart, pushing their carts around the aisles, still chatting about the all the same things they had in the car.
It was one of the main reasons Merry liked Sebastian, really liked him; he was just so easy to be around. Merry never felt uncomfortable with him, or like she had to walk on egg shells to keep him happy. By the end of her marriage to Sariah’s father, Merry had been so used to feeling nervous that it had felt like it was going to be her default setting forever…but with Sebastian it was completely different.
With Sebastian, Merry felt like she could really just let loose, knowing that he would never hold it against her or judge her. He was always willing to drop an arm over her shoulders as he laughed with her, or wrap his fingers around hers whenever Sariah wasn’t around to see her mum getting so close to a man who wasn’t her father. She was still adjusting to not having her father in the house, and no matter what Merry personally wanted, Sariah had to come first, and Sebastian had been very understanding of that...so, for now, Sebastian was just Merry’s neighbour, but in the future…she was eager for so much more.
And when she felt Sebastian drop a light kiss on the top of her head, she was filled with hope that she was going to get it.