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Christmas in Arkham

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I. Monday

Logan would have been just as happy spending Christmas alone.  He would have been just as unhappy spending Christmas with his grandparents.  In a discussion of quantum singularities, where everything squeezed down to nothing, the little distinctions didn't mean much. 

Except he'd promised. 

He wasn't sure what to expect after that bombshell, but it sure wasn't an invitation for Christmas.  He blinked at the phone.

"I can't leave," he repeated. "Did you miss the part where —"

"I won't have you spending Christmas by yourself," Grandma Isabel cut him off. As if Logan's ankle locator was no more an obstacle than his making with the, "Oh no, I couldn't possibly!" out of politeness; like he was turning down a second piece of cake.  As if he'd ever be that polite.  "Don't worry," she added. "Your Uncle John is an attorney. We'll sort something out."

He was silent.

"Logan?"

"Yeah."

"Promise me you'll come for Christmas.  Please?"

"Sure," Logan said, knowing he wouldn't, that they wouldn't really try all that hard, that there was nothing they could do anyway — and being very surprised three days later, when a thick packet of legal papers arrived via Fed Ex, certifying his grandparents had posted a hefty bond and assumed full legal custody of him over Winter Break.

How the hell had they pulled that one off?  Black magic? Possibly. He wouldn't rule it out, considering where they lived: Arkham, Massachusetts, a tiny college town nestled amid darkly wooded hills. Parallel universe; nexus of all things ephemeral and bizarre. 

On Monday, Deputy Sachs came over to the Neptune Grand.  While Logan propped himself on the arm of the couch, the deputy crouched down and unlocked Logan's locator cuff, looking like he'd caught a whiff of something truly nasty.

"I knew someday my prince would come," Logan sighed.

Sachs eyed Logan balefully as he got to his feet.  "You make a run for Canada, and your grandparents wind up in jail.  For the one or two seconds when you're not thinking about yourself, remember that."

"Right. Like I'd flee to Canada.  Besides — lest we forget — I'm innocent, and your star witness is a liar."

"We'll see about that."

"Yeah.  We will."

By evening, Logan was on a red eye out of San Diego International.

***

II. Tuesday

United Airlines Flight Seven touched down at twenty after ten in the morning.  The walk to the terminal was hideous.   It was cold.  Incredibly cold.  Grandma Isabel warned Logan it would be cold.  She'd told him to bundle up.  Logan himself had endured a few shivering minutes of a Massachusetts snowstorm last summer, and yet the balmy California "winter" still lulled him into forgetting how cold the cold could really get. The suede jacket that was fine for walking from the lobby of the Neptune Grand to his car with his fists balled in the pockets — that wasn't doing shit.  Wind sliced across the tarmac, through his jacket and his heaviest sweatshirt, through his skin and into his muscles.  His jaw hurt from clenching his teeth to stop them from chattering.  He'd always thought those numbers at the bottom of the thermometer were just there for show.  But, freezing and below? All quite useful to measure exactly how unbelievably fucking cold it was.

    He made it to the terminal.  Barely.  The heat inside Arkham International Airport was cranked up so high, all the windows were veiled in steam. Logan continued to shiver.  His muscles ached from being held tight; his face and his hands stung as the feeling returned.  He glanced around the terminal, and he spotted his Aunt Eleanor. 

    "Sh-shit," he whispered.

    She'd never been anything except polite, but she didn't like him.  Last summer, her children had nearly gotten drowned, eaten, and lost through a rip in time, all thanks to Logan.  He wouldn't be hired for any babysitting gigs chez Crane, that was for sure. Not to mention he was a constant reminder of his dead mother, Eleanor's sister.  That had never seemed to bother the grandparents, but Logan was their long-lost grandbaby, and they were, well... out of their minds, for starters. 

    Eleanor Crane was almost as tall as Logan, rosy-cheeked from the winter air and, as far as he could tell, not the slightest bit cold.  She smiled when she saw him, and hurried over with a shaggy, brindled monster-dog loping beside her on a leash.  It made Backup look like a teacup poodle, but it sat down on its massive haunches and gazed up at Logan gravely, tail sweeping the floor.

    "Logan, you poor thing." Eleanor bussed him on the cheek. "You're half frozen!"

    "Nine-t-tenths."

    She held out a brown wool coat with a heavy sheepskin lining. "Mom said you wouldn't have any proper winter clothes.  You're just about John's size.  This ought to fit you. Gloves are in the pockets."

    Logan slipped the coat on over his own jacket. The more layers between him and the ice planet Hoth, the happier he'd be.  "Thanks."

    "Don't give it a thought.  This is Farley."  The dog scrambled up at the sound of his name, ears pricked. "Don't worry.  He won't bite."

    Logan reached down (he didn't even have to lean over) and tussled Farley's floppy ears.  The dog pressed himself against Logan's side, wiggling and panting ecstatically.  Eleanor handed him the leash.  "Here, you hang onto Farley, and I'll get your suitcase."

    "No, I can —"

    His aunt tossed her blonde hair over one shoulder and strode off to collect his luggage with a brisk purpose that reminded him of his cousin Jeanette, her daughter.

    Never mind, he thought.

    Logan and Farley followed Eleanor.  Farley looked slightly insulted at being on a leash at all.  He kept pace beside Logan without lagging or yanking.  Nothing in the terminal distracted him, except for an elderly lady in a puffy turquoise parka who passed them cradling a massive ham in both arms like a baby.  Even then, the dog only turned his head.  (To be fair, so did Logan.)

    Eleanor issued a firm, "Put your gloves on," hustled Logan out of the airport, and into a silver Ford Explorer.  Farley leapt into the back, and immediately squeezed himself between the two front seats, perching his gigantic head on Logan's shoulder like Long John Silver's parrot.

    What is it with me and the dogs? Logan wondered.

    "Farley, sit!"

    "I don't mind." Logan scratched the wolfhound's muzzle.

    "He'll drool all over you."

    "It's your husband's coat."

    "Good point." Aunt Eleanor pulled out of her parking space, dodged around a blue Jeep with its hazards flashing. The Jeep's driver, a kid about Logan's own age, beeped his horn, and Logan expected him to flip Eleanor the bird — but the two of them exchanged cheery waves; his aunt rolled down her window and shouted, "Merry Christmas, George!"

    "Merry Christmas, Mizz Crane!"

    Eleanor pulled out onto Highway One, and headed for Arkham, threading a narrow canyon between broken escarpments of gray, dirty snow.  She drove like The Transporter.  Obviously, this was where Logan's younger cousins had inherited their total disregard for personal safety.

    Pot, meet kettle, he thought.

    "How was your flight?"

    "Plane didn't crash."

    "Is that good or bad?"

    "I'll let you know."

    Eleanor snorted, then said,  "I'm sorry Jeanette and John Ross weren't able to come along.  They're in school.  But, there was some fierce lobbying, believe me.  Of course, your grandfather is still teaching classes, and your grandmother won't drive in this weather."

    "What weather?"

    "Give it five minutes," his aunt replied." Logan, you know... I think we got off on the wrong foot last summer."

    "The wrong foot?" Logan repeated.  "I almost killed your children."

    "They're a bit headstrong.  You didn't ask them to go after you to Innsmouth.  I know that.  And you brought them both home in one piece.  I was only... well, you know how parents can when they're worried about their babies."

    "Not really, no."

    "I don't want an armed truce with you, Logan."

    "Okay," Logan said.  "Sure."

    His aunt didn't press the point.  Farley, no doubt uncomfortable with the awkward silence, whuffed a hot breath over Logan's cheek, and then slopped him wetly in the ear. 

    "Augh!"

    "Farley, get down!"

    "Hey, forget it." Logan scrubbed his ear with the heel of his hand.  "That's the most action I've gotten in weeks."

    Eleanor laughed.  "Warm enough?"

    "Yeah," he replied.  Curled inside the gigantic coat, Logan felt deliciously snug; the heat pouring out of the Explorer's vents had started to make him drowsy.

    "Good."

    "It's winter," Logan said.  "Isn't it supposed to be snowing?"

    She shook her head. "We had a couple of inches earlier this month. I don't think we'll have a white Christmas this year.  Too cold to snow."

    Logan had only seen snow once, briefly.  He'd assumed it arrived hand in hand with real winter weather.  "Too cold to snow" was just flat-out weird, especially since places like Antarctica appeared to be covered with the stuff.  He'd looked forward to watching white drifts pile up from the warm comfort of his grandparents' house.  Possibly while drinking hot chocolate and wearing a reindeer sweater.  This was a bummer of a development.

    "Too cold. How is that possible?" he asked her.

    "Alchemy?" Eleanor made a face, then smiled.  "I don't know.  We get more when it's a little warmer." She shrugged, then glanced over at him. "So, Logan..."

    "Yes?" Logan answered warily.

    "Jeanette tells me you're a writer."

    Your daughter's got a big fucking mouth, he thought. And I'm going to kill her.

    "No," he said curtly. 

    Jeanette was one of the reasons he hadn't communicated much with his cousins since his last visit.  Her brother John Ross was the other reason. It was awful, knowing Jeanette knew everything about him.  Or, maybe it was that she knew everything, and she still apparently liked him. Maybe that was what he had the most trouble with.  She e-mailed him all the time (though not as often as John Ross).  How are you doing? How is Veronica? What happened when you got back? We love you.  We miss you. When are you coming to visit? Please write back soon. (((Hugs!)))  Ironic, since Jeanette couldn't actually hug him without learning the sordid denouement to The Veronica Story.  Oh, fun.

    With a shake of his head, Logan said,  "I used to think I wanted to be writer.  I don't have anything to say anymore." He winced; he'd gone on talking one more word than he should have.  Per usual. 

    "I see," Eleanor replied.

    "If nothing I say makes a difference, then I should just shut up. That's logical, right?"

    His aunt hesitated a moment, as if trying to figure out which response would be the least likely to turn the conversation in a worse direction.  Then, she said, "Maybe you could make an exception.  We have a Christmas Eve tradition.  We tell stories around the fire."

    "Oh, of course. How else?"  Logan said sarcastically.  But, now his curiosity was piqued and it was too late. "What kind of stories?"

    Aunt Eleanor gave him a sideways look.  "The best kind."

    "Mmmm..." He gave himself a twee little squeeze.  "The heartwarming kind."

    "Hell no," Eleanor replied.  "The scary kind."

    ***

    III. Wednesday

    "Do you ever think about reincarnation?"

    "King me."

    John Ross made a face — but no other protest — and stacked one of the red checkers he'd captured from Logan, on top of the checker Logan had just hop-scotched to his cousin's end of the board.

    "You're the guest," John Ross advised Logan.  "I'm letting you win."

    "Sure you are."  Logan leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms up over his head, lacing his fingers together.  The wooden chair creaked, as did the tense muscles in his back.

    John Ross laid his chin on his palm, frowning at the checkerboard.  Outside, the wind lashed icy rain at the windowpanes like handfuls of small stones.  Rattle and silence.  Rattle and silence.  Then, for variety, it shrieked across the yard and throttled the skeleton trees, shaking down the last few leaves.  And back again: rattle-rattle-rattle. 

    "Maybe," John Ross said, "in a previous life you were somebody really bad."

    "Huh?"  Logan roused himself out of contemplating the bleak ink-wash of Saltonstall Street.

    "Maybe you killed people."

    "Maybe that's why Fate enjoys fucking with me?"

    "Yeah, maybe." John Ross shrugged. "Maybe you were Jack the Ripper."

    "What exactly are they teaching you in fifth grade?"

    "Nothing that interesting. I saw a show on The History Channel."

    "You get nightmares?"

    "No," John Ross scoffed. 

    "Hmm..."  Reaching to the plate beside the checkerboard, Logan picked up a gingerbread girl.  "So." He held the cookie in both hands, slowly increasing the pressure between its head and its neck. "I was Jack the Ripper in a past life."  The cookie's head snapped off with a small pop, sending crumbs flying.  "And now I'm paying for my hideous crimes?" 

    "Stop trying to scare me."

    "I don't know what you're talking about, John Ross. You're not an eighteenth-century prostitute.  Logan leaned forward across the table.  "Wait. Are you?"

    His cousin leveled an exasperated look at him. 

    "Maybe..." Logan paused, then dropped his voice dramatically. "...you're a reincarnated one." 

    "Quit it!"

    Grandma Isabel stuck her head out of the kitchen. "What's going on?"

    "Nothing!" John Ross hollered.

    "Do I have to come in there?"

    Logan tipped back in his chair so he had a direct line of sight to his grandmother. "We are running low on the cookies."

    "If you fall over and split your skull open — "

    "On the carpet?  I should be so lucky."

    "Your chair has four legs, Logan.  Kindly use all of them."

    Logan thumped his chair back onto the floor, and then stood up, grabbing the empty cookie plate.  He pointed at the checkerboard.

    "No cheating," he told John Ross, who looked absolutely scandalized by the idea.

    Logan crossed the dining room, and walked into the kitchen. His grandmother was hard at work.  Cooling racks crowded the big wooden table; most of the racks were full of cookies, gingerbread and otherwise.  It looked like that scene in Gone With the Wind with the wounded Confederate soldiers laid out in endless ranks, the camera pulling away slowly as Scarlett stood in the midst of them.  Magnificent holiday carnage.

    "Stop teasing your cousin," Grandma Isabel said, as he came into the kitchen.

    "He started it," Logan said.

    "I don't care who started it.  And hands off.  Those are still hot."

    "John Ross thinks I was Jack the Ripper in a previous life."

    Grandma Isabel looked like she was trying very hard to keep her expression stern.  She gave up and laughed. "You could put your imagination to better use." She took the plate from him.  "Have you given Christmas Eve any thought?" She laid the plate in the sink, and turned on the faucet.

    "Grandma!  You're cutting me off?"

    "I think you've had enough sugar."

    Logan's shoulders slumped. "Aw."

    She added, "And you could use a little distraction.  You don't seem..."

    "I'm fine."

    "You're not fine.  You haven't smiled once since you got here."

    "I'll make up my quota next week."

    Why are you doing this? he thought. Stop being a fucktard. 

    His grandmother was pretty much the only person who soothed the confusion and anger inside him, put everything into perspective, made him not feel like a complete asshole.  He'd come three thousand miles to see his grandparents, making his escape from Neptune, flipping the bird at the Sheriff's Department as he yanked the ripcord — Ha-ha, psyche!   He might as well have spent Winter Break holed up in the Neptune Grand, drinking himself comfortably numb. 

    He couldn't talk about what had happened since last summer.  Even to his grandmother.  What could she possibly say to make it better?  This too shall pass?  The sun will come out tomorrow? Suck it up?  No; it was enough to be here.  Even for only two weeks.   Just to get his feet under him. 

    "Logan, please talk to me."

    I don't even know where to start.  "I told you I'm fine."

    She waited.

    He added, "It doesn't matter.  Talking won't make any difference."

    "It might make you feel better."

    "I don't want to feel better.  There's a lot to be said for apathy.  You should try it."

    Grandma Isabel reached for him; Logan pushed her hand away, and moved around her, intending to walk out of the kitchen.  But his grandmother stepped into his path.

    "Logan," she said again, the undercurrent of frustration very clear in her voice, "stop it."

    Don't do this, he thought.  Please don't. 

    "You know, it's funny," he said to her, "last summer when I was a complete asshole, you didn't get pissed off at me once."

    "Last summer, you talked to me."

    "I'm minding my manners now."

    "Although, not your language, evidently."

    "I'm a teenager.  We're supposed to be difficult."

    His grandmother sighed, and moved out of his way. "All right, Logan."

    "All right what?"

    "Do what you want. I'm not going to twist your arm."

    "No? My dad always found that method really effective."


    1. He stood behind her for a moment longer, then he turned and walked out of the kitchen.

    John Ross looked up from the checkerboard.  He'd obviously heard the entire conversation. The expression on the ten year-old's face was a mixture of hurt and disappointment; it was perfectly clear to Logan that he'd just fallen off the hero-worshipping pedestal his cousin had built for him, with a resounding crash.

    "I'm going to go home now," John Ross said quietly.  "I'll see you later, Logan."

    "Sure," Logan said. "Whatever."

    ***

    IV. Thursday

    Logan didn't see much of his grandfather at the beginning of the week.  Miskatonic University final exams kept Grandpa James at the school until late, and when he came home, he was tired and exasperated. Grandma Isabel treaded lightly.  Logan did likewise.   He thought for sure this would be when the Currier and Ives print would peel away and show him what was really going on underneath.  But, Arkham wasn't Neptune; and this house wasn't the Echolls house.   

    "He's had a difficult semester," Grandma Isabel told Logan at breakfast.  The first thing she'd said to him since Wednesday afternoon.  "A few scuffles with administration."

    "Why?" Logan asked, watching his grandmother carefully.  Her expression was as unreadable as her back had been yesterday.  "What's going on?"

    "They're a tad resentful."

      "Is he retiring?"

      "No; he accepted another offer," Grandma Isabel replied, and then added briskly, "I don't know much else about it.  Would you like more bacon?"

      Don't want to talk to me? he thought.  Well, that's fair.

      M.U. finally closed its doors to the faculty and the staff on Wednesday evening. The heat and the electricity were turned off, and the university settled in for a long winter's nap.  Thursday morning, Grandpa James was in his study with the door only half closed for a change. Logan took this to mean his grandfather wouldn't object to an interruption, unless it was stupid.  In any case, he wasn't going to bother his grandfather for very long. 

      He tapped on the door.

      "Come in," his grandfather said.

      Logan looked into the study.  The drapes were drawn, shutting out the gray December day; warm lamplight buttered a chaotic swirl of papers and books — everywhere, all over the floor, the chairs, stacked on top of each shelf of the bookcases.  In the middle of this, Grandpa James sat at his huge desk, paging through a stack of yellowed newspaper clippings, his brow furrowed.

      "Hello, Logan."

      "Uh, hi." Logan said. "I'll come back."

      "No. Come in; come in.  I've barely had a chance to see you."

      Lucky you, Logan thought, and stepped into the study, edging between the piles of papers, easing the door shut behind him. "What are you doing?"

      His grandfather smiled. "Organizing.  Finally, I have some time at home, so I can get all my paperwork straightened out."

      Logan thought back to the previous summer, when his grandmother had told him what Grandpa James was working on. "For the book? Phoenician fish-gods?"

      "No; good memory, though.  Finished that in March.  How are you, Logan? Staying warm enough?"

      Logan rubbed the back of his head, and then said diffidently, "Can I talk to you for a sec?"

      Grandpa James set aside the newspaper clippings, and gestured at one of the oxblood leather chairs in front of the desk.  "Go ahead and put all that on the floor."

      Lifting a pile of leather-bound books stuffed with slips of paper, Logan sat down.  "Look, about the transfer of custody; I just wanted to say thank you."

      "You're welcome."

      "And about the bond you posted.  It's a lot of money.  I have a trust fund.  I can pay —"

      "Logan," his grandfather cut him off gently, "no.  The subject is closed.  I was glad to do it. I'm not as well-off as your father, but I manage all right. "

      "You're a college professor."

      "I'm a tenured college professor.

      "If you're tenured, why are you leaving?"

      Grandpa James raised his eyebrows, then replied, "Changing circumstances.  It doesn't matter. Let's just say I have alternate financial sources."  Leaning over the desk, he stage-whispered, "Pirate treasure."

      Logan blinked in surprise; a playful remark like that, he'd expect from Grandma Isabel, but not from his grandfather.  A second later, he wasn't sure if Grandpa James actually was kidding.  Especially since according to John Ross, the Miskatonic Valley had been Pirate Central back in the sixteen hundreds.

      Grandpa James added, "Don't worry about the legal matters. I imagine you have enough on your mind.  If there's anything else you want to talk about, go right ahead."

      Logan squirmed uncomfortably in the chair, leather creaking under him. I guess you're entitled.  For posting that bond.  For taking me in and feeding me.  For not kicking me out after I made your wife cry yesterday.  For asking me.  So, this is my story. This is how it all started.  Once upon a time.  It was a dark and stormy night...  If he could just open his mouth and say it.  If there even were words to talk about it.

      His grandfather picked up the fat pile of newspaper clippings again, and tapped them together into a neat stack.  "So.  What are you up to today?"

      That was that, apparently.  Logan eyed his grandfather.  "I don't know."

      "Nothing planned with your cousins?"

      Nope; already alienated the one who likes me.  The Logan Echolls Action Initiative for 2006 is going ahead like gangbusters.  He shrugged at the stacks of paper on the floor.

      His grandfather asked, "Would you like to help me?"

      Logan lifted his head. "You're on vacation."

        "I'm not really... I don't know how much help I'd be."

        "Can you recognize English?  As opposed to, say, Greek or Arabic?"

        "I guess."

        "Well, that's more helpful than most of my grad students.  What do you say?"

        Logan hesitated, feeling suddenly, painfully grateful to his grandfather for extending the offer, for not forcing him to open up and share and care; for not leaving him by himself.  "Yeah.  Okay."

        "Stupendous," his grandfather said. "Start anywhere."

        He and Grandpa James worked without talking. Pretty much the same thing Logan had done for detention last year.  The similarity didn't escape him.  But, that was just fine.  He was perfectly happy to sit on the Oriental carpet and not have any conversations more complicated than, "Pass me the stapler," and, "Do you want Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle filed under H, U, or P?" 

        A knock on the door roused him out of his narrow concentration.  He heard his grandmother ask, "James, have you seen Logan?"

        "Yo," Logan said.

        Grandma Isabel stuck her head into the study.  She looked into Logan's eyes and smiled in the slight, inscrutable way that never failed to fill him with paranoia.  Logan shifted his attention to the carpet.

        "Off to Kingsport?" Grandpa James asked her.

        "I've gone and come back, dear.  It's after five."

        "Is it really?" Grandpa James turned in his chair and pushed back the drapes hiding the window behind his desk.  Outside, the sky had turned the deep blue of late twilight.

        "You and your grandson didn't even step out for a little fresh air, did you?"

        "It's below freezing, Isabel."

        "Oh, it is not.  It feels a bit warmer."

        "Relative to what?" Logan asked.  "Liquid nitrogen?"

        Grandma Isabel replied with amused exasperation, "Do you boys want meatloaf or spaghetti for dinner?"

        Spaghetti was unanimously voted in, and as soon as Grandma Isabel shut the door to the study, Logan's grandfather steepled his hands under his chin.  "So.  Jeanette says you're a writer."

        "Uh," Logan said.  Dead. She is oh-so dead.

        "You know, Hearst College has an excellent creative writing program. Right there in Neptune."

        Logan shook his head, and focused on the pile of papers in front of him.

        "How about the near future," Grandpa James said. "Christmas Eve?"

        Logan sighed. "Ah, everybody's on me about that."

        His grandfather laughed.  "You don't have to participate if you don't want to."

        "Maybe," Logan replied.  "If I think of something."

        "All right," Grandpa James said with a smile, and dropped the subject.

        ***

        Logan had a few Christmas stories he could tell around the fire.  Like last Christmas, when his father had gotten stabbed (sadly, not fatally) by the caterer he'd fucked and discarded like a condom wrapper.  Or, this Christmas, when he'd paid fifty thousand dollars for the privilege of watching his father's home movies.   Knowing the tapes existed wasn't enough.  He had to see them.  He had to keep picking that same fucking scab.  Keep hurting himself.  He couldn't feel anything, otherwise.  He was just walking around dead, waiting for somebody to notice the smell. 

        Or, that one Christmas when he'd been about John Ross's age, and his father flipped on the overhead light, stripped off the covers and pulled Logan off the bed by one arm, through a litter of action figures and school books on the floor.  Logan was already accustomed to his father's unpredictable temper, expecting a sneak attack at any moment, yet his father always managed to outsmart him.

        He was caught completely off-guard, sleepy, squinting in the bright light, half-convinced he was dreaming, until his father by accident or design wrenched his arm up over his head and dislocated his shoulder. Logan, wide awake in one painful second, screamed at the top of his lungs — doing nothing except incensing his father even more.  Aaron had cuffed him hard on the ear, and that was when he got an upside down, swimmy glimpse of his mother running into the bedroom.  His parents screamed at each other, and then he remembered being driven to the hospital in the middle of the night, holding his arm against his side and biting his lower lip until it bled, so he wouldn't cry.  As many times as he went back to that moment in his memory, he never came up with a reason why his father hand punished him.  Maybe he'd broken one of the tree ornaments.  Maybe he'd whined about not getting a Red Rider BB gun, so he could shoot his eye out.  Maybe his father didn't even have a reason. 

        After that, Logan slept light.  Even after his father went to jail. Even now that he kipped in the spare bedroom of Duncan's suite at the Neptune Grand. He woke up and prowled around, or lay staring up at the ceiling until sleep swept him under again.  Even in his grandparents' house, sleep slipped away from him in the middle of the night, like a furtive lover. However, it turned out that the bed in the east guest room (unlike the bed in the attic), was big enough that his feet didn't hang over the edge, so he didn't insist.

          Every night, he slept under a huge mound of afghans, with his nose and cheeks a little bit cold because the thermostat was turned down to sixty, listening to the wind, and the sleet ticking on the windowpanes.  He was warm and comfy. Ah, bliss.  Exquisite.  He still woke up, but he rarely bothered getting out of bed.

          Except at three-thirty on Friday morning, he was baking like a chicken.  He sat up, flopping back the heavy pile of blankets.  Opposite the bed, a curtained bay window with a window seat and tartan cushions.  A low bookcase. All the authors had M-names.  He'd checked it out earlier.  His grandparents' library spilled into nearly every room of the house.  He sat listening, sweat cooling on his scalp and spine.  No noises, except the wind, and old Victorian creaking and sighing as it settled. Wasn't he supposed to sleep ten or eleven hours a night, plus afternoon naps on the couch?  Neptune was three thousand miles away; his father was three thousand miles away, and he was still waking up in the middle of the night, and nothing changed.

            ***

            V. Friday

            "Logan?"

            "Uh?"

            "Wake up, sweetheart." 

            Logan opened one eye, to see his grandmother bending over him.  She was dressed already.  Figured.  She'd probably been up for hours and hours.

            "Whutimezzit?" he mumbled.

            "Eight-thirty."

            "A.M.?"

            "It's morning; yes."

            "What's wrong?"

            "Well, I'm sorry to tell you this," Grandma Isabel replied,  "but you're two days early for Santa."

            "Huh?" As Logan woke up more fully, he realized he was still curled in the wing chair by the fireplace. "Aw, goddammit."

            "Would you like me to put a blanket over you?"

            "Uh-uh." He rubbed his hands over his face. "M'okay."

            Grandma Isabel touched his head.  He didn't pull away from her this time.  He hadn't wanted to the time before.  Stupidity, or self-preservation.  Maybe they were the same thing. 

            He uncoiled himself from the chair, grunting as the blood rushed into his cramped muscles.  "I couldn't sleep."

            She asked, "Are you awake-awake, or do you want to go back upstairs?"

            "No," he said.  "I'm awake."

            "Should I make you some coffee?"

            "Sure. Yeah." He added, "Thanks."

            Several hours later, Logan met Jeanette at the Starbucks because, while his grandmother did make very good coffee, what he really wanted was a double mocha with extra foam.  It wasn't any less Arctic outside.  Just wishful thinking on his grandmother's part, or maybe some subtle New Englander sense he hadn't inherited from his mom.

            Since last summer, Jeanette had cut her hair short, and the Audrey Hepburn bob made her look older and emphasized her eyes more than her long hair had.  She'd sprouted up a bit, and actually she looked a lot like Logan, now; except that Jeanette was pretty.  He wasn't going to tell her that. He suspected she wouldn’t take it as a compliment.

            They sat at one of the high tables in the Starbucks. Somehow Jeanette had managed to get her skinny butt and one of her feet on the tiny stool at the same time, and she perched there quite comfortably with one knee drawn up and her arm wrapped around it.  Several of the townies had come over to say hello to Jeanette, but really to get a look at this unknown person who was very obviously related to her.  Jeanette typically identified him, with a casual flick of her chin, as "My cousin Logan."

            "That's what you need to tell people," she said to Logan.  "If anybody says hello to you, or asks you if you want fries with that — what they really want to know is if you're a vacation-person-or-college-person — or part of the Borg Collective."

            "Uh-huh," Logan said.

            "You're a native.  You're related.  That's what you say.  'Hi. Put that on my no-limit Visa.  By the way, I'm Isabel and James Lester's grandson.'  So they treat you like you belong here."

            "Which I don't."

            "Trust me.  There's nothing more deeply lame than being a tourist," Jeanette replied. "Besides, if somebody finds out you're a native later on, they'll take it like a personal insult that you didn't tell them yourself.  And New Englanders are famous grudge-holders.  You'll never live it down."

            "Jeanette," he cut her off,  "why did you tell everybody I'm a writer? What is wrong with you?"

            "I have you for a cousin, Emo Boy.  That's what.  And anyway, you are a writer.  So, why don't you ever e-mail me back?"

            "I'm busy working on my novel."

            She squinted at him intently. "Why won't you talk to me, Logan?"

            "Why don't you just grab me and find out, like you did last time?"

            Jeanette made a huffy noise.  Logan said nothing.  He watched Jeanette moving a stirrer around in her Gingerbread Latte, drawing patterns in the foam.  Then, his cousin flipped a hand at him.  "Fine. Have it your own way.  Hey, did Grandma Isabel tell you about Christmas Eve?"

            As prickly as his cousin typically was, Logan was surprised that he hadn't pissed her off even more.  She'd apparently dismissed the subject completely.  He frowned then took a sip of his mocha.

            "Yeah," he said.

            "So? Any ideas?"

            "Maybe."

            "Like what?" Grinning, Jeanette reached a hand across the table. Logan snatched his arm out of her reach.

            "I'm kidding," she said.  "I won't cheat."

            "No, please.  Be my guest."  He laid his arm back on the table, but Jeanette made no move to touch him.

            I never should have come here, Logan thought.  I should have stayed in Neptune.  It doesn't make one goddamned bit of difference anyway; I've just brought Neptune here with me.

            "You know," Jeanette said, "it's Christmas.  Maybe Santa will bring you the perfect gift."

            Oh, but what could possibly make this holiday season more magical than spending an evening alone in a hotel room, watching the tapes of my father fucking my dead girlfriend? Golly, that was the bestest Christmas present ever!

            He said, "Santa already stuffed my stocking this year."

            "How about a yacht?"

            "Already got one."

            "Really, that's not a lot," Jeanette pointed out. "You've been an angel all year."

            Logan scowled at her.

            "One little thing you really need."

            "Let me guess. The deed?  To a platinum mine?"

            "And a duplex," Jeanette added.  "And checks.  Sign your X on the line.  And hurry down the chimney tonight."

            "I liked you better when you were a bitch, Jeanette."

            She sighed.  "Logan, are you sure you don't want to talk about..." 

            She trailed off as he pointedly looked away from her.

            "Fine," she said again, softly.

            ***

            Chapter Text

            VI. Saturday

            Logan, as the newly acquired cousin, was expected to open the Christmas Eve festivities, and so he took the seat of honor: the big wing chair where he'd slept Thursday night.  Grandpa James handed him a small, heavy packet that felt like it held sand.

            "Toss that onto the fire when you're ready to start."

            Logan refrained from making any drug-related remarks.  He chucked the packet into the fireplace.  Farley promptly plopped down and laid his head across Logan's socks.  As the paper charred and curled away, a shower of grains fell into the flames, which flared up suddenly green and purple.  Logan started back in surprise; his cousins clapped appreciatively at the display of holiday pyromania.  The flames now popped up cherry red amid the green.

            Logan looked at the small circle of his relatives.  His cousins sprawled on the floor with Farley.  The adults in the living room chairs, which had all been dragged close to the fireplace in a semi-circle.  The only absentees were Charlemagne, who had streaked upstairs as soon as Farley thundered into the house — and Logan's mysterious Uncle John.  According to Aunt Eleanor, her husband was "detained at the office." She wouldn't say any more.  Except he would try to swing by later.  Nobody looked upset by this. Logan figured his uncle's absence had less to do with working overtime than it did with underhanded Christmas dealings.

            I wish I belonged here, Logan thought.

            Feeling incredibly self-conscious, he cleared his throat and began, "When I was a really little kid," he said, "about John Ross's age –"

            "Hey!"

            "Okay, no. When I was about six.  I lived in Bel Air. Naturally.  It's expected, for a kid whose parents are movie stars.  You'd also expect a kid like that to be spoiled.  Don't worry.  I was.  If I didn't find a giant pile of presents under the tree on Christmas morning, I pitched a shrieking fit you could hear in Santa Monica.

            "My pile of presents got bigger every year, and the presents themselves got more expensive.  My parents always had to top themselves, and outdo all their friends.  They were more concerned about making everybody else look bad, than about their number one son.  That was perfectly okay with me, since I raked in all that loot.

            "Across the street from me lived a famous director and his third or fourth wife.  I'm not going to name-drop.  It's not that kind of a story.  This story is about how I learned the true meaning of Christmas.

            "Anyway, the director and his third or fourth wife had a kid named Billy.  That wasn’t actually his name, but like I said, this isn't a name-dropping story. Billy and I hated each other like Klingons and tribbles.  He was even more obnoxious than me, if you can believe that."

            "No," Jeanette said, right on cue.

            Logan yanked the chair's embroidered toss pillow from under his hip and pitched it at her head.  She squealed, ducked, and it bopped her on the shoulder.

            "Where was I?" Logan said. "Before I was so rudely interrupted?"

            "Little Billy," said his grandmother, leaning down to snag the pillow before Jeanette could retaliate.

            "Right. Except he wasn't little.  Billy was big, fat kid.  That's no reason to hate somebody, unless they happen to get that way by beating up smaller kids and stealing their lunches."

            "Did he beat you up?" John Ross wanted to know.

            "Oh no.  I was too fast for him.  We were the only two kids on my street, though, so we ended up hanging out a lot.  And Christmas rolled around, as it inevitably does, and we arrived — as kids inevitably do — at the question of whether or not Santa Claus existed.  I was a practical kid.  I didn't believe in Santa.  Even though I wasn't a very good kid, I managed to get that tremendous haul every Christmas, and therefore Santa Claus, in his all-knowing glory, did not exist.

            "Billy contended that Santa Claus was real, because someone always ate the cookies and milk left out for Santa on Christmas Eve.  I pointed out the obvious flaw in this argument.  Then, like proper gentlemen, we had a duel at dawn."

            "Who won?" John Ross asked.

            "I did."

            "I don't believe that either," Jeanette said.

            "I gave Billy the Indian burn to end all Indian burns.  Allow me to demonstrate."  Logan started to get up.

            "No!" she squealed.

            "How about after you're finished with the story?" Aunt Eleanor suggested to Logan.

            "Mo-om!"

            "I want to hear the story," John Ross said, exasperated.

            "All right." Logan settled back in the chair. "Here goes. Billy and I couldn't come to an agreement, and Billy suggested we settle the argument through the empirical method, which means observing natural occurrences and drawing a conclusion.  In other words, we agreed to wait up for Santa on Christmas Eve.  It seemed logical that since we were both incredibly naughty, Santa would visit both our houses, or neither.  Hearts were crossed, and the oath was solemnly spat upon, and then we took our leave of one other.

            "Well, I'm a lazy shortcut taker, which I'm sure is extremely easy to believe.  I drank a Dr. Pepper right before bedtime.  I figured I would hear Santa Claus from my bedroom.  If he showed.

            "Billy was more enterprising.  He waited until his parents went to bed, and wife three or four started busting out the Z's, and don't let anyone tell you women don't snore, because that is a filthy lie.  Billy snuck downstairs.  There were significantly more presents under the tree than there had been when he went to bed.  Billy hadn't heard any suspicious noises downstairs, so he decided his parents bought him a few presents, and then later, Santa came and delivered even more. 

            "As I've said, Billy was quite the butterball, and the only place he could squeeze himself was behind the chair next to the table where his parents had left out the cookies and milk for Santa.  There was a large cut-crystal tray of shortbread cookies, and beside it was an equally lovely and tempting glass of milk.  A little of the milk was gone, and a bite taken out of one of the cookies, but Billy chalked this up to his parents.  Already, he was coming around to my way of thinking, though I doubt he'd ever admit that.

            "Billy crouched down behind the chair, and he waited.  And he waited. And waited. And after a while, he got hungry.  The cookies were right there, very tempting, very easy to reach from his hiding place. Why go all the way into the kitchen and get more cookies? It was a big house, and a long way to go in the middle of the night, and so Billy ate the entire tray full of cookies, and he drank all the milk, and then he fell asleep curled up under the table.

            "This next part is boring, because it mostly concerns Billy being asleep, and me being awake, and so I'm going to digress for a moment, which means go to another subject, as a footnote to the main one.  Now, I'm sure everybody is familiar with the phenomenon of things represented one way in fiction, which are completely different in reality.  Take bears, for example.  Teddy bears.  They're cute.  Those Coca-Cola bears who party with the penguins.  Adorable.  But, bears aren't really like that.  There's a perfectly good reason why all the polar bears live in the North Pole and all the penguins live in the South Pole, and that reason is: all you can eat penguin buffet.

            "There's a reason why, if you're hiking in the woods, you clap your hands when you walk around a corner, and it's not because the bears are plotting to steal your pic-a-nic basket.  In fact, if you do happen to meet a bear, one thing it likes to do is put your head in its mouth and bite down."

            "Logan!" his grandmother exclaimed, horrified.

            "Sorry.  Moving on..."

            "Wait.  Why does a bear do that?" John Ross wanted to know.

            "It's to keep you from biting back. That's true.  I looked it up."

            "What happened to Billy?" Jeanette asked.

            "Ah, Billy. Well, I must now cut to an exterior shot of my house, to establish a change of scene.  Inside, I was still awake, even though it was long after midnight.  Suddenly, I heard tapping and thumping on the roof.  And then noises downstairs.  It sounded like prowlers. You can imagine my surprise. Santa Claus was in my house.  I sat up in bed, debating whether or not to check it out.  It might be a situation like Schrödinger's cat, who got put in a box with a can of poison gas and a radioactive nucleus but, you know, I was six, so I didn't really understand quantum theory.  Anyway, the upshot is that I was worried if I peeked at Santa, he would disappear. Tricky situation."

            "Did the cat die?" John Ross asked.

            "I want to know what happened to Billy." Jeanette said.

            "Well, Mr. Schrödinger published an article about the cat in the nineteen-thirties, so yeah.  The cat probably is dead by now."

            John Ross said, "Okay, so Mr. Schrödinger wasn't your neighbor."

            Jeanette thumped her head on the carpet.

            "Not as far as I know," Logan replied. "Turns out, my quantum paradox resolved itself, because the door of my bedroom slowly creaked open.  I lay down immediately and faked being asleep.  I kept my eyes open just the narrowest slit, as something smelling like ashes glided into my room and stood over my bed.

            "'Logan James Echolls,' it said in a low, hissing voice. It definitely sounded like an It, and not a like a Him.  'I see you when you're sleeping. And I know when you're awake.'

            "I opened my eyes. I was scared. This wasn't the Santa Claus I expected.  I call your attention to my previous example of the bears. 

            "The thing was large, and red and furry. Parts of it were white, but those parts were all teeth and claws. It wasn't my idea of a right jolly old elf.  Somebody's idea. Somebody who'd gone off their meds, maybe.

            "I expected to be shredded like an old credit card statement, but the thing said to me, 'All the cookies and milk left out for me over the years, and even the occasional beer... how I do appreciate these little devotions to an old, dark god like me.  I must say I am touched. Especially by the generous offering Billy's parents left downstairs for me this year.'

            "Leave it to the famous director and his third or fourth wife to try and outdo my parents in even this sneaky, petty way.  I opened my mouth to say my parents had a whole fridge full of catered party food downstairs, but Santa Claus continued speaking.

            "'Logan, you're not a very nice child, but you are a lucky one. I'm too full to eat a skinny boy like you, right after a huge meal like Billy.'"

            Jeanette gasped, then started laughing.

            "Santa Claus put its nose right down to my cheek and inhaled, and that was the most frightening moment, to be so close to it and its many, many teeth; to smell the ashes and bloody meat smell, and something else underneath like rotten eggs.  It sniffed me, and memorized my smell. I wasn't anywhere near as fat as Billy, but I certainly was just as naughty.

            "Santa Claus said,  'Have yourself a Merry Christmas, Logan.  Perhaps next year, your parents will leave you downstairs.' 

            "With that, the thing was gone, but I stayed awake anyhow, for the rest of the night.  Just in case."

            Grandma Isabel said with a smile, "After which, you mended your errant ways?"

            "Of course not," Logan replied.  "Before the next Christmas, my family moved to Malibu.  But Santa's out there, somewhere. Hunting for me.  Hoping to catch a whiff.  And the moral of this story is...?"

            "Don't drink soda before bedtime," Jeanette said.

            "Exactly."

            ***

            Later, Logan woke up.  Of course.  Rolled over and looked at the clock.  Quarter to two.  Not as bad as usual. Maybe if he could fall back to sleep, he would sleep until morning.  He lay on his back with his hands laced behind his head, staring up at the dim ceiling and listening to the sounds of the house settling.  It had been raining earlier, but now the night was still and windless.  He fell asleep again, maybe.  He wasn't sure.  He was awake, looking at a splash of headlights gliding across the ceiling.  It took him a second to realize he hadn't just woken up all by himself.  He'd been roused by the crunching of car tires in the old, frozen chunks of snow in the driveway.  He tossed off the covers and slipped out of the warm bed, shivering as his feet hit the cold wood of the floor past the edge of the rug. As he climbed onto the window seat, he heard a car door slam. He pushed back the curtain.  Behind Grandpa James' black Mercedes, another car had pulled into the driveway. Curls of steam still rose from the exhaust pipe and the hood.  A Jag.  Santa Claus had traded up, evidently.  A figure in a long, dark coat hurried up the walk to the front door, disappeared under the overhang of the house, and then a wedge of light spilled onto the lawn.

            Okay. Not Santa Claus.  But, expected at two in the morning on Christmas Eve, nonetheless.  Logan's imagination flirted with the idea that maybe Archibald Gilman had finally tracked him down.  Offered Grandpa James ten bucks and a couple lobsters to take Logan off his hands, toss him in the trunk of the Jag, and drive him to Innsmouth and a watery grave.

            Aware he was acting just like the ill-fated Billy, Logan stole to the door of the guest room and eased it open.  Lights were on downstairs.  He snuck along the hallway to the head of the stairs.  From that vantage, he could see down into the front hall.  Shadows rippled along the wall.

            "I appreciate your stopping by so late," his grandfather said.

            "You know I'm not much for sleeping," replied the late night visitor.  "Sorry to keep you out of bed, though."

            Grandpa James added, "Little pitchers."

              The other man laughed. "It's almost two."

              "Isabel found him downstairs in the wing chair on Friday morning."

              "It's been difficult, hasn't it?  Not telling him."

              "Yes," Grandpa James said, halfway between a sigh and a laugh.

              The other man replied, "You and Isabel will have everything back to normal by Tuesday, at the very latest."

              "I think you're giving us too much credit."

              "No.  I don't think so."

              Hey, don't sweat it, that annoying little voice piped up in his head, you'll be back in California before you know it!

              God, shut up, he told himself.  Anyway, cold sheets or not, I probably won't get any more sleep tonight, since what the hell was that all about?

              Well, it was obvious.  He was supposed to stay in Arkham through New Year's, but he felt sudden sinking certainty the grandparents would cut him loose a lot sooner.  Somehow, he'd screwed up.  Royally.

              Somehow? he thought. What do you mean "somehow"? They've got hundred reasons to give you the heave-ho.  Pick one.  Hmmm... let's see.  You can't alphabetize or organize for shit — so, you probably fucked up Grandpa James' research notes. Your grandma caught you sleeping downstairs in a chair on Friday morning like a homeless person. You went way, way too far with that Santa story.  Oh, and let's not forget you've been either sullen or outright nasty to everybody since the moment you set foot in town.  And you made your grandmother cry, for fuck's sake.  Gosh, it must be such a treat for them to have you here. Last summer when you wrecked the car and almost killed your cousins? Small potatoes. At least you said you were sorry about that.

              They'd ask nicely.  But they would ask.  By Tuesday, he'd be on a plane to California, and everything would be back to normal.

              ***

              VII. Sunday

              Logan rolled out of bed around nine o'clock Christmas morning.  He would've preferred to hibernate until at least noon, but the smell of roasting turkey was driving him crazy.

              When he came downstairs, Bing Crosby was singing "White Christmas" on the stereo in the living room, and Grandma Isabel stood by the kitchen sink, peeling potatoes.  Charlemagne lay smack in front of the stove, looking patient and expectant, his long, fluffy tail curled neatly over his paws.  Grandpa James sat at the kitchen table reading the Arkham Advertiser.  The red-hot news stories in Arkham were, "Town Council Vetoes Re-Zoning of Historic Waterfront," and "M.U. Badgers Defeat Ithaca Bombers 93-82."

              "Morning, Logan," his grandfather said. "Merry Christmas."

              "Merry Christmas," Logan replied quietly.

              His grandmother turned and lightly scooped the tabby cat out of her path with one foot, then came across the kitchen to kiss Logan's cheek. "I thought you were going to sleep all morning."

              "Tried to," he answered. "You've turkey-bombed the whole house." 

              "It's a goose. Turkey is for Thanksgiving. Which you missed."

              Logan sighed. "I told you."

              "Next year."

              He shrugged.

              "Never mind. Sit down, sweetheart.  I'll feed you."

              He'd never passed a Christmas morning at home without dozens of presents. His parents were rich, and he was spoiled, and that was expected.  This year, when he'd gone up to bed, there was a much smaller pile under the tree.  From his cousins, his aunt and uncle, and his grandparents.  He didn't expect or want anything more.  He couldn't have hoped for a better Christmas, even if he'd spent his entire vacation pissing off his relatives.  Just to be here.  That was all.  That was fucking great all by itself. 

              If only.

              Maybe you're wrong about last night, he thought.

              Not possible. He couldn't be.  Okay, his grandparents wouldn't kick him out on Christmas Day.  He could open his presents and drink eggnog, and eat goose and all the trimmings, and watch Frosty the Snowman with his cousins; and on Monday, Grandpa James and Grandma Isabel would sit him down and Have A Talk.  Now, Logan... you know how much we care for you. We didn't believe it was possible, but you're even less of a delight to have around than you were last summerI'm afraid we'll have to return you.  Don't worry.  We saved the receipt.

              Grandma Isabel arched an eyebrow at Logan, as if she expected him to be something other than silent and unsmiling.  She crossed the kitchen and got a coffee mug down from the cupboard.

              "Maybe he'd like to open his presents first?" Grandpa James suggested.

              Grandma Isabel asked hopefully, "Would you, Logan?"

              "Sure."

              She smiled. "Come on, then, grumpy."

              Logan got up and trailed the grandparents into the living room.  He half expected the pile of presents under the tree to have exploded sometime during the night into a haul of loot worthy of his parents; all those presents, just to soften the blow.  Oh, sure.  He knew his grandparents loved him.  Only from now on, they'd rather show their affection from a safe distance.  He didn't blame them.  But, the little clutch of gifts under the tree was exactly the same.  The only difference was his grandfather had a serious expression on his face.  Logan's heart sank.

              Grandpa James said, "Logan, there's something we need to discuss." He picked up a manila envelope off the sideboard, and gestured at the couch.  "Why don’t we sit down for a moment?"

              Please.  Don't send me away.  I'll try... I'll be...

              "What is this?" he asked.  "An intervention?"

              Jesus Christ. Please.

              "Go ahead and open it," Grandpa James replied.

              Logan did so, and pulled out a thick sheaf of papers.  On the top were a few papers he'd seen before: fax copies of emancipation paperwork signed by his father, paperwork for the bond his grandparents had posted, the temporary transfer of custody.  Under all that, a fat legal-sized document.  He unfolded it.  Across the top in Old English lettering, like something inked on the back of Weevil's neck, the paper read, Certificate of Legal Guardianship, State of Massachusetts.  Logan skimmed it, seeing his own name typed in at several places, his grandparents' names, their signatures, several places where his grandfather's attorney had attached "Sign Here" tape flags.  More paperwork for the transfer of custody.  He looked from one grandparent to the other.  This merited a special Christmas Day meeting how, exactly?

              "We started discussing it last summer," Grandpa James added, although this clarified nothing for Logan.  "You're already emancipated, and old enough to decide for yourself. Your father being in prison makes the permanent legalities a good deal easier."

              "So... I need to sign these?" he ventured.

              "Only if you want to," his grandfather replied. 

              Logan frowned at him, confused.  And then he got it.  His throat turned cottony and closed up.  He wouldn't say it.  They'd tell him he'd misunderstood.  They had to tell him that. He couldn't be right.  He couldn't be. 

              The permanent legalities, his grandfather had said. Jeanette's stupid comment about Santa bringing him the perfect gift.  His uncle missing the Christmas Eve party; how it had upset nobody.  Logan had almost figured it out right then, when he'd assumed Uncle John's absence had more to do with Christmas than with work.  And the late-night visitor?  His uncle, the lawyer. Working late. Had to be.

              No, you're wrong, he thought.  This didn't happen.  It wasn't happening.

              "I know this must seem silly," his grandmother offered.  "You'll be eighteen in three months.  But, eighteen is still so young."

              "Isabel, honestly..." Grandpa James said.

              "Well, it is!" She looked like a ruffled sparrow. " Legal adult or not, he shouldn't be alone.  He should be with people who love him."

              "You want to adopt me?" Logan managed, finally.

              "You don't have to make up your mind right this minute," his grandfather said. "Take your time. Think it over.  We realize this is a big decision, but it may be easier to —"

              Logan dropped the envelope and the pack of papers.  Everything turned dreamlike and unreal. He watched the papers fall in slow motion, strike the surface of the coffee table and spread in a fan.

              His grandparents wanted to keep him.  Nobody ever wanted him.  Not even his mother.  Not enough to stick around.  But, his grandparents wanted him because — because of his trust fund.  Except, Logan also came with a murder charge, and so many issues the inside of his head looked like a doctor's waiting room; and his grandfather wouldn't even let him broach the subject of paying him back. They didn't give a flying fuck about Aaron Echolls' money; they had their secret Gringotts vault full of fucking pirate treasure.  Every year, the giant pile of presents under his parents' tree, and never the gift he wanted.  The one thing. The only thing.  To be wanted. 

              "I can't live here."

                Grandma Isabel put her hand on his knee.  "We know.  That's what we want to discuss with you."

                "It's not that I'm not grateful. It's.... I can't..."

                "Logan," said his grandfather, gently but firmly.  "Listen to me.  We understand your situation.  We know you can't stay in Arkham. I've resigned from the faculty at Miskatonic and accepted a position at Hearst."

                Logan stared at him.  He could feel his mouth moving, but nothing came out.  Nothing glib; nothing vicious.  Nothing at all. 

                His grandfather shrugged and smiled wryly.  "Changing circumstances."

                "You can't live on pizza at the Neptune Grand," his grandmother put in tartly.  "I won't permit it."

                They were packing up and moving three thousand miles, just so he wouldn't have to go back there alone.  Not love from a safe distance.  Love right at ground zero.

                Grandma Isabel touched his arm.  "Logan?"

                He burst into tears. He never saw it coming. Like one of his father's slaps to the back of the head, one second he was fine, and the next second, he lost it completely, his body curling up tight, holding itself in, his arms clutched around his stomach.

                "Oh dear," his grandmother said.

                She took him in her arms. He couldn't even hug her back.  He crumpled until his head rested in her lap. Too much.  Way too much at once.  Everything he couldn't say, wouldn't say, wouldn't start, because he could never stop.  He broke open and all the black emptiness poured out of him; night on the Coronado Bridge, night in Casa de Killer with Chinese takeout and the glow of the television, night in the Neptune Grand, slinking into his own room, barely tolerated; this dark jigsaw of booze and trim and weed and pills; anything, anything to keep the fear at bay, because he knew this would never, ever change.  Sorry nobody ever gave a shit about you, but life's a bitch. Sack up, baby.  And now every single thing he knew was wrong.  Terrified and too happy, and incredibly shocked and grateful, Logan turned his head, hid his face against his grandmother's terry apron, and cried until he had nothing left. 

                "Shh..." she whispered, stroking his hair. "It's all right, Logan.  Shhh... You'll be all right now."

                Logan felt his grandfather lay one hand on his back. He could imagine the look his grandparents exchanged over his head: Ah, crap. What have we gotten ourselves into?  Except, they knew exactly what. And they wanted him anyway.   He couldn't be dreaming, because he'd given himself a ferocious, pounding headache.  Shit. Holy shit. Talk about your fucking Christmas miracles. 

                The stereo clicked, changing CDs; Tony Bennett softly urged everyone within earshot to have themselves a merry little Christmas. 

                And who am I to argue with Tony Bennett? thought Logan.

                "Would you make us some hot chocolate?" Grandma Isabel said. "And get Logan some Tylenol?"

                Grandpa James replied, "Absolutely."

                Logan heard his grandfather rise to his feet, but not walk into the kitchen.

                "Jamie?" his grandmother asked. "What is it?"

                Grandpa James laughed and then he answered, "It's snowing."

                THE END

                ***