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So This is Home

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December 25, 1992

"Time to get up, Richie." Duncan MacLeod's voice came through the door over the rap of knuckles on wood.

"C'mon, Mac," Richie groaned and pulled his pillow over his face. "Aren't grown-ups supposed to sleep in on Christmas?"

"It's almost noon." Another knock. The door opened and light flooded the room. Richie peeked out from under the pillow. Sighed. Sat up. Leaning on the door frame with his arms crossed, MacLeod was fully dressed in jeans and a dark green shirt, with his black hair tied back, and the unfair glow of someone who runs twelve miles and squeezes his own orange juice while normal people are hitting their snooze buttons. MacLeod grinned. "Tessa won't look in her shoes until you're there."

"Her shoes?"

"Santa Claus fills stockings. Père Noël fills shoes."

"Duncan, remind him that breakfast comes after shoes and stockings," Tessa's voice echoed down the hall.

"You're holding breakfast for me?" Appalled, Richie reached for the chair where he piled his clothes. MacLeod closed the door, leaving the light on. To Richie's surprise, his stomach had rumbled at the mention of breakfast. He would have thought he'd eaten enough the night before to last the day at least. Tessa, who normally left the stove to MacLeod, had baked, boiled or bought twelve different Christmas Eve desserts for some French tradition he hadn't caught the name of. He hadn't known which sweets were important or why, so he'd been sure to eat them all.

Twelve was also about the count of varieties of Christmas celebrations that Richie Ryan figured he had been through in his just-turned-eighteen years, across foster homes, the orphanage, and one memorable December in juvenile hall. Because everything changed almost every year, nothing had become a tradition for him — no particular observance had mattered.

Until now.