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"I'm coming," he muttered, wiping his hands clean on a rag. Jake hated to tear himself away from his work, for progress was going well and his opinion of the painting had been slowly improving.

Jake swung open the front door, and raised his eyebrows in surprise when he saw who the visitor was.

"Hi," greeted Tyler, a little awkwardly. "Abby told me to drop by when I was in the neighborhood. I hope this isn't a bad time?"

"I'm afraid Abby's not here right now," explained Jake. "In fact, you just missed her. I think she's Christmas shopping."

"So close to the twenty-fifth?" smiled Tyler. "It's like her to wait until the last moment. Well, I'll come back later. I don't want to bother you."

"No, please," invited Jake, surprising himself by his own hospitality to Abby's old boyfriend, "come in."

"Are you sure?" Tyler asked, hesitantly. He didn't know how Jake would receive his presence, and wasn't sure he wanted to find out.

"You must be cold by now," Jake insisted, ushering Tyler out of the chilly air and into the warm house. The fireplace was burning, so Tyler made his way to the heat to warm his hands. Under one arm was an ornate container.

"Mom made this for you and Abby," said Tyler, presenting Jake with the small Christmas tin. "It's gingerbread," he explained. "Every Christmas, Mom goes a little crazy in the kitchen."

"Thanks," accepted Jake, setting the container on the coffee table.

"Be glad it isn't fruitcake," said Tyler, as Jake offered him a seat on the couch. "Last year, Mom made so much of the stuff, Dad was passing it out to strangers on the street."

Jake smiled politely, and for a moment, the men were silent.

"I was sorry to hear about your wife," said Jake. "I can't imagine what you're going through."

"I think you can," replied Tyler, thoughtfully. "You've been through some pretty rough times, yourself. It must have been hard to leave all this and go back to prison."

"It was," confirmed Jake, noticing for the first time that his jeans had become smudged with paint.

"You're an artist?" asked Tyler, recognizing the familiar smell of acrylics on his host.

"I'm trying to be," Jake answered with a smile. "Would you like to see what I'm working on right now?"

"Sure," said Tyler, getting up and following him to the master bedroom where Jake had set up an easel to work. A high stool sat nearby, and on it rested the artist palette that Jake had been using to mix his colors on.

"Here it is," sighed Jake, showing his guest a large canvas on Abby's old easel.

"Wow," said Tyler, immediately struck by the skill of Jake's artistry. "You really did this?"

"I've been working on it for a few weeks," said Jake. "I'm going to give it to the Johanneses for Christmas. Do you think they'll like it?"

"They'll like it," smiled Tyler, knowingly. "It's really impressive, Jake. No way Abby could've ever done something like this."

"Why do you say that?" asked Jake, curiously.
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