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Here's a brief preview of "A Belated Gift" which should be coming out very soon on all of the big 3. ==================================== Randy smiled as he finished meticulously cleaning the second of the completely intact antique medicine bottles heâ€™d found while walking along the edge of the old canal on Christmas day. Having a day warm enough to take the walk and excavate them from the bank was a gift, as far as he was concerned. The shriveled bit of remaining cork in the bottom of the second bottle was the bow on top. Divorced, and with no living family still in the area, the unseasonably warm days providing a chance to escape the onslaught of syrupy holiday cheer had been more than worth it as well. At least with Christmas finally over and done, he wouldnâ€™t have to deal with it every time he turned on his television. Even the barrage of campaign ads that would only get worse for the rest of the year was better than that. All that remained was to carefully dry the bottles, set them up against a good backdrop, and take pictures for the collectorsâ€™ group before determining their permanent home on his shelf. He barely got started on that before the phone rang. He almost ignored it, because it was most likely a political survey, a telemarketer, or someone looking for a donation. Work had no reason to call him while they were on holiday shut down, and anyone he cared to talk to would have called on his cell. When it rang a third time, he made the effort to cross the room and check the caller I.D. When he saw his landlordâ€™s name, he picked up the phone. â€œHello?â€ â€œHave you seen the next door neighbors by any chance?â€ â€œNot today, but I havenâ€™t really been out.â€ â€œDo you think you could walk over there and have them call me? Iâ€™m not getting an answer from the number I have, and they still owe me fifty on the rent.â€ Randyâ€™s brow furrowed. Even with as tedious and borderline pointless as his life had been for the last few years, he could sympathize with someone who was far worse off. The two girls living in the trailer next door were sisters. They had lost their mother when they were little, and their father had kicked the oldest one out for getting pregnant. The youngest had left home and moved in with her sister the day she turned eighteen earlier that year. Two girls trying to raise a baby on cashier wages had to be a struggle. They frequently asked to use his phone when theirs had no minutes left, and he mowed their lawn for them, because they had no way to do it. He knew their one car had been broken down for a couple of days earlier that week, which surely hadnâ€™t helped matters at all. â€œTheir phone is probably out of minutes,â€ he explained to the landlord. â€œTheir car was broke down, so theyâ€™re probably behind, too. You know what, itâ€™s only fifty bucks. Iâ€™ll take care of it for them this time.â€ â€œYou sure?â€ â€œYeah. Theyâ€™ve had a hard enough time this month. Iâ€™ll send it as soon as I get off here. Donâ€™t tell them I paid it.â€ â€œWell, okay. Thank you, and happy new year.â€ â€œYou too.â€ Randy ended the call, opened the app, and transferred the fifty from his account. He wasnâ€™t hurting for money, thanks to staying in the run down trailer, even though he could afford better after a couple of years of solid raises. Anywhere was as good as anywhere else as far as he was concerned, and it was cheap. That done, he returned to his bottles. **** A knock on the door surprised him a few hours later. He hadnâ€™t been the only one to take advantage of the warm days leading up to Christmas, or the only one to get lucky with new finds. Heâ€™d completely lost track of time looking through the new pictures, and chatting about the two additions to his collection. It had managed to get dark while he was distracted â€“ not that it took long for that to happen in December. When he answered the door, he saw that it was the younger of the two sisters â€“ Emma. The pretty little blonde was so petite that he was always surprised that she didnâ€™t blow off the steps in the breeze. â€œMind if I come in?â€ she asked. The warm streak had died out, so he moved aside to let her in out of the cold. â€œCome on in.â€ He closed the door and asked, â€œNeed something?â€ â€œActually, I was wondering... Did you pay the rest of our rent?â€ Randy clenched his teeth for a moment and grunted. â€œI asked him not to tell you.â€ â€œHe didnâ€™t. We borrowed a phone and called to let him know weâ€™d have it next week, but he said it was already paid. We couldnâ€™t think of anyone else it might be.â€ He nodded in acknowledgment and said, â€œWell, consider it a late Christmas present.â€ Her beaming smile made her look even more beautiful. â€œThank you so much. You donâ€™t know how much that will help.â€ â€œYouâ€™re welcome. You two just take care of yourself and the baby. Iâ€™d rather have you girls over there than whatever loud idiots would probably move in if you moved out.â€ She let out a brief, silvery laugh at that, and then said, â€œI want to do something for you.â€