Chapter One

Greg House wriggled his key into the mailbox lock in the foyer of 221 Baker Street. He pulled out a rolled up magazine and several letters before slamming the little metal door shut and turning the key. It was always easier to close the door and lock it with the mail falling out of his hands than it was to get the damn key in the lock and jiggle it open. That was the first reason he hated retrieving the mail. The second was juggling the pieces, an uncooperative backpack, a cane and maneuvering his apartment key into the door lock. On days like this he let it all fall over the threshold once the door swung open.

"Crap," he muttered, not really wanting to stoop down to clean things up.

A particular piece of mail caught his attention. It was in a card sized envelope, easily standing out with the number ten sized envelopes containing bills and junk mail.

"What do we have here?" He picked it up and turned it over to find a return address on the back flap. "Love note from Mom."

Greg absently closed the door, allowing a few pieces of what appeared to be junk mail waft out on the opposing air current, only to be left behind in the foyer. He limped over to the sofa, examining the envelope as he did so. A piece of mail from Blythe House was not to be taken lightly. He was suspicious of the neatly engineered package's contents. He felt like Harry Potter about to open a howler from the Ministry of Magic. Better to be prepared first. Think about what he potentially did to deserve his mother's attention. He meticulously centered the piece of post on the coffee table and stared at it.

Failing to acquire x-ray vision to reveal the unopened envelope's contents, Greg got up to put his things away before getting too comfortable. In front of the door he picked up his cane and backpack, slinging the latter on an empty peg of the coat rack. Greg took off his jacket, hanging it as well. He walked down the hallways towards the bedroom, leaving the rest of the mail where it lay.

A quick detour to the bathroom allowed him to relieve himself first. While washing his hands, Greg took a long look in the mirror. He appeared to have aged twice as fast in the past two years. Lines were deepening, hair was greyer, and the lack of sleep evident with the baggage under his eyes. Fifty-three years old and still leery about opening a letter from Mom.

"Pathetic," he chided his mirror image.

In the bedroom he tossed his cane on the bed and gimp-stripped across the room. The pants were a bit of a struggle to step out of, but he wasted no time peeling the button down shirt over his head and wadding it into a ball to be tossed in the general direction of the laundry basket. Greg bent down to rid himself of the jeans, which were then tossed over a chair.

He half skipped, half hobbled over to the bed in order to grab his lounging pants and get them on before reaching once again for his trusty cane. Greg needed only two more things before he'd be ready to real the mail.

A bottle of Maker's Mark and a highball glass in hand, he headed back to the living room and the comforts of the sofa.

The closer he got to his destination, the weaker his right leg felt. "It's just a damn letter," he chastised himself aloud. "Suck it up."

Greg almost let himself drop onto the sofa after placing the bottle and glass down. Previous experience told him not to. It always seemed like a good plan, that few seconds of free-fall weightlessness. Yet every time it ended in the same way: an ass jarring thud that made his thigh ache more than necessary. He had to face it; he was getting old.

So Greg eased himself into a sitting position, a strange guttural sound escaping his throat as if he were an insanely old man prone to being decrepit. His ability to pour himself a double, however, was not marred by age or infirmity. Holding the drink in one hand, the envelope in the other, he contemplated which to tend to first.

"The drink, definitely the drink," he declaimed to no one in particular, downing the drink in one gulp.

The letter, on the other hand, he worked at slowly. Greg was able to slip a part of his finger under the corner of the seal and pry it open. No white powder puffed out. Not that dear old mom would send him anthrax, but she did have a penchant for getting perfumes and talc on her stationery from time to time. Thank god he didn't suffer from asthma.

He tapped out the card just enough to be able to pull it out without risking a paper cut. It appeared to be an invitation. At least that's what the first word alluded to. He looked at the back of the envelope to make sure he had the return address right. Then he looked at the stamp to make sure it wasn't one of those "LOVE" themed ones used for-

"No way!" Greg took a closer look at the card. "Whew, not a wedding invitation." That little scare deserved another double. He wouldn't put it passed his mother to remarry without so much as a word that she'd been dating. Thankfully that was not the situation.

His real attempt at deciphering this piece of post revealed that indeed it was an invitation to something. He perused the information, which was not in his mother's handwriting, and was able to discern that it was for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Greg poured another drink as he read the address: 2171 Ridgemont Drive, Los Angeles, California.

"California!" Why in the hell did his mother send him an invite to Thanksgiving dinner in California? He dropped the card and picked up the envelope to see if there was anything else in there. Of course there was. He could smell Escada a little stronger as he pulled out a bit of stationery.

'Greg, we have been invited to Thanksgiving Dinner to be with your Aunt Sarah and friends in Los Angeles. Please call me to discuss when you get this. And don't make up your mind yet. There are extenuating circumstances. Love always, Mom.'

Greg sighed heavily, pouring himself another drink. In this state he was too tired and too buzzed to have a decent conversation with dear old mom. It would have to wait until tomorrow.