"Be civil," cautioned Veronica, pulling into the parking complex of her father's apartment building.
"Not to worry, I'll nod and smile and hold my pinky aloft when I drink tea, and I won't upset your father's delicate sensibilities," said Logan.
"I could just leave you in the car, you know," she said. "You know, take the keys and roll up the windows."
"I'm reasonably sure that's illegal."
"If you were a baby or a puppy, sure."
"I'm at least as cute as either of those. Or maybe some kind of baby-puppy hybrid."
"You're also about as independently useless as either, or as any genetically modified weapon of mass adorable." Veronica killed the engine. "Stop trying to distract me and get inside. You can discuss morality issues and weigh the pros and cons of playing God with my dad."
"At last, we'll have something to talk about, instead of him just glaring at me and plotting how to dispose of my body without pesky police investigation."
"Dad's warmed to you," Veronica insisted. She pulled her duffel out of the backseat and slung it over one shoulder.
"And yet he's still making me sleep on the couch," said Logan. He folded his arms on the top of the car and stared over the roof at her with faux-mournful eyes.
"He just wants to make sure that his beloved only child doesn't end up barefoot and pregnant."
"You'd be cute barefoot and pregnant."
"Keep it in your pants, Echolls."
"The words every father longs to hear," said her dad, opening the door before Veronica had a chance to knock with her raised hand.
"Watching out of the window again, Dad?" Veronica dove in for a hug, suddenly realizing she hadn't actually spent any quality time with her father in about a month. "You make me feel like I'm in high school again."
"That's the general idea. Lower your confidence to a public school level, so that you'll come back into the loving and supportive arms of your patriarch." He squeezed a little tighter.
"Good parenting, Pops."
"Come on in, I was just about to find out which dead bulb was ruining the string!" He threw one arm around Veronica's shoulders and one around Logan's, and ushered them inside.
"Joy of joys," said Logan, with a tight smile.
Veronica, being Veronica, still had reservations about the whole arrangement, and the forced cheer it implied. But her boyfriend's uncomfortable expression and her dad's gleeful one painted a genuine smile on her own face. "That's the holiday spirit."
Logan sat cross-legged in front of an open box, dust from the storage room on his pant legs, and a dull box-cutter in one hand. Veronica paused in the act of kneading cookie dough to eye him as he dug through the contents of another family's history.
The way the Mars family did holiday decorations focused on sports-themed ornaments lavished on a tree that shed well into mid-February. The hour and a quarter the three of them had spent untangling a volleyball-sized knot of colored lights was nothing compared to the solo four-hour marathon of the same activity she'd once had to endure when she was sixteen.
Her dad had saved every terrible popsicle stick and candy cane ornament she'd ever smothered in glue. There was a trail of glitter on the carpet, bleeding from an unknown source. Logan picked up a crooked paper reindeer on a string. Veronica could remember the afternoon she'd come home brandishing the thing to her parents, who'd oohed and ahhed as though it was an actual quality piece of craftsmanship. She could remember the way her mother sat on Dad's lap and laughed...
"What is this supposed to be, a rhinoceros?" asked Logan, holding it up so it could rotate slowly on a length of dollar store thread.
"A reindeer," she explained, banishing thoughts of a happy and complete childhood home from her mind. "See, it has antlers."
"These are horns."
"I think you're confusing a rhinoceros with a triceratops," she said. She tried not to let him get to her, tried to let a decade-plus-year-old faded memory of parental pride win out, but studying her creation with the critical eye of an adult, she realized how truly kind the units had been. She wasn't exactly John Singer Sargent with safety scissors.
"I think you're confusing either of those with a reindeer," said Logan with a trace of smugness. She resisted the urge to flick a lump of dough at him. They may not have gone to the same elementary school, but ridiculous homemade art projects were a vital element of so-called higher education, and she didn't doubt that Logan had a few googly-eyed skeletons in his craft closet. You know, bits of normalcy sprinkled in between a blatant disregard for marriage vows and the burn he'd gotten from an 'accident' with an advent candle when he was thirteen.
Christmas was apparently a time to mope and reflect on ugly truths. Not on my watch. "I'll have you know, it looks exactly like the one that Mrs. Paulson made to show us."
"And was this esteemed Mrs. Paulson blind in one eye, or just the victim of blunt head force trauma?"
"Honey, wasn't Mrs. Paulson the one that had corrective lenses the size of silver dollars?"
"Everyone's a critic," sighed Veronica, consoling herself with kneading the dough well beyond what was necessary. She glanced up to see that her dad was carrying yet another box. "You found more decorations?"
"Decorations?" her dad scoffed. "Try my San Diego Chargers 2011 Superbowl Champions commemorative ornament." He held the orb aloft triumphantly. Behind him, Logan promptly turned his back so he could dangle the lopsided reindeer from a branch. Veronica pressed a tree-shaped cookie cutter deep into the dough. "Yes, sir! This is getting a place of honor!"
"The baby Jesus thanks you for your holiday spirit," said Logan.
"He shares in it! He helped us win, baby!" Her dad kissed the ornament and ruffled Logan's hair all in one move. As Keith jauntily turned his attention to the tree, Logan turned his to Veronica to mouth, What? Veronica shrugged, stifling laughter.
Logan got to his feet and crossed over to Veronica. "Need some help? I'm worried I'm going to interfere with your dad's... aesthetic eye."
"Logan, the last time you 'helped' me bake, you forgot to use flour."
To his credit, he didn't try to refute the claim or defend himself. "So if I can't hang things and I can't bake things, what good am I?"
"You carried the tree inside and put it in the corner, didn't you?" she said. "You're here as the towering hulk of brute strength."
"Whichever you prefer."
She never learned what he preferred, because in retaliation, he daubed flour on her nose. "I remembered the flour this time," he said with the sweetest imaginable smile. Historians would later document the moment as the one where everything went to hell. In a few short seconds, flour was dusting his forehead, cheeks, and shoulders.
Keith laughed. "Logan, if I were you, I'd run for the hills. It seems like a fun idea now, but it's going to end messily. Literally messy. And I for one am not going to clean it up."
"Just trying to be a good father, sweetie. And seriously, if you make a mess in my kitchen, I'm not cleaning it up."
Logan held her gaze as his fingertips grazed the top of the flour bag. "It's worth it," he said. The baking ingredients flew.
It was worth it.