“YOU’RE DOING great, Mrs. Alcott,” Dex said as he packed his therapy bag. “I think it’s time to discharge you from Home Health.”

“Oh dear. But I’ll miss you.” Mrs. Alcott gave him her sweet smile. “You’ve taken such good care of me. Why, I was telling Eddie just the other night what wonders you’ve done!”

Dex hoisted the bag over his shoulder. “You’re the one who’s done the hard work. That hip is as good as new. Keep at those exercises I gave you, okay?”

“Of course. But wait! Before you go, let me get you a plate of my gingerbread cookies. I always make too many of them for the holidays.” She walked around the corner into the kitchen area of her small apartment.

Dex almost said no, remembering the warning on professional boundaries the social worker liked to drill into the rest of the home health staff. He didn’t want to hurt Mrs. Alcott’s feelings, though, and he wouldn’t be seeing her after today. Dex felt pretty attached to Mrs. Alcott. He was going to miss being her physical therapist.

As she clattered dishes in the kitchen, he took one last look around her cozy apartment. A profusion of green plants, art, books, and knickknacks filled the space. She had traveled widely and brought back artifacts from all over. A piano took up most of one wall, and a double bass stood in a corner. The bass had a new adornment: a strand of Christmas lights, twinkling merrily at him.

“I like your Christmas lights,” he called.

“What?” Mrs. Alcott came back into view, a covered paper plate in her hand. “Oh yes, I like to make things festive this time of year.” She handed him the cookies.

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

“Is that going to be your tree?”

Mrs. Alcott laughed. “No, Eddie is bringing me a small tree tomorrow and helping me decorate. Do you have your tree up?”

“No.” He wondered if he should have gotten a tree for him and Rowan. But Rowan was going to her grandmother’s for Christmas break, and Dex had never been a big holiday person. It had been Jan, his sister and Rowan’s mom, who had gone all out for Christmas, always having the gaudily trimmed tree, the stockings hanging over the hearth, and a million lights inside and out. She took after their mother, who’d loved decorating for the different holidays. Both of them dead now.