Veronica was uncharacteristically nervous as she followed Logan on the short walk to the front door. They weren't really in a hugging place in their relationship—but on the other hand, it was Christmas Eve. The holiday seemed like a good pretext for physical contact.
"Are you sure I can't help clean up?" Logan asked.
"Nah, Dad and I will take care of it," Veronica said, waving her hand toward the kitchenette. "Besides, I don't think that three people will fit in there."
Before she had the chance to overthink the hugging issue too much, Logan turned toward her and gave her a gentle squeeze.
"Thanks for having me over," he said softly. "It was nice to see… everyone."
"I'm glad you could come," Veronica replied. He didn't let go right away, so she took the opportunity to breathe in his scent. She thought she heard him smell her hair, but she wasn't sure.
"Hey, are you taking off too?" Keith said as he burst back into the room. Veronica and Logan pulled apart quickly and dropped their arms.
"Yeah, it's getting late."
Keith strode toward Logan with his hand outstretched. "OK then—merry Christmas, Logan."
Logan shook his hand. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Mars." His focus shifted to Veronica and he looked into her eyes in a way that made her blush furiously. "Merry Christmas, Veronica."
She didn't trust her voice not to crack, so she just smiled and handed him his small bag of CDs, books, and candy from the Marses as well as Mac and Wallace, who had left a few minutes earlier. Logan exited with a little wave, and as Veronica closed the door, the bells she'd attached to the knob jangled. She watched through the window as he walked to his car and drove away.
"Ready to have at that pile of dirty dishes, Pops?" she said, aiming for a casual tone.
"I call 'dry'!" Keith shouted. They both dashed toward the sink as he reached for the dish towel, snagging it a fraction of a second before his daughter did.
"Crap." Veronica dug the rubber gloves out of the cabinet while her dad twirled the towel triumphantly. She filled up the sink with soapy water and started to scrub at the first marinara-encrusted plate. The room was quiet but for the squeak of the sponge and towel on the dishes.
"So," Keith finally said, "you and Logan seem to be getting along…"
"Yeah, it seems that way," Veronica replied noncommittally.
"Huh. So you're not—"
"No, we're just…hanging out. Or something."
She sighed. "I don't know what we're doing. I mean, we're trying to be friends, but—" She studiously scrubbed a pot to avoid looking at her father.
"But you think you want to be more than 'hanging out' friends again," Keith said, emphasizing his point with sarcastic finger-quotes.
Veronica looked up at Keith with a pained expression. "Is it that obvious? Ugh—I'm pathetic."
He rolled his eyes. "Come on, Veronica! No matter what goes down between you two, no matter how many times you tell me it's over, you always end up 'hanging out' with Logan again. These finely honed powers of observation have allowed me to pick up on the oh-so-subtle pattern, daughter of mine." Keith tapped his head with his index finger.
"Santa doesn't like sarcasm, Dad. That's gonna get you a lump of coal in your stocking," Veronica said with a huff.
"Veronica," Keith said, resting the towel on the counter, "it's not pathetic to show your feelings. And if you want to be together, you two are going to have to learn to work through stuff, instead of just breaking up every time you have an argument."
Veronica plunked the sponge in the sink with a dramatic sploosh. "Are you actually encouraging me to go out with Logan?"
"I just want whatever is going to make you happy, honey."
"But you can't stand him."
"Hey, wait a minute, that's not true," Keith said scoldingly. "You decided I didn't like him. I mean, God knows, I wasn't thrilled about you dating him in high school, but that was just because the kid was a mess. People were after him, Veronica—I was worried about your safety, and I had good reason to be. Of course, if I knew then what I know now, I hope I would have helped him instead of just kicking him out…" His voice trailed off.
Veronica hung her head slightly. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you then. He didn't want anyone to know."
"I know, I don't blame you—I just feel like I should have seen it myself. All the signs were there…" Keith shook his head. "Anyway, Logan's obviously not the same kid anymore. He's pretty funny, when he's not so nervous around me, and he certainly does his damnedest to keep you out of trouble. I don't want you using my supposed disapproval as an excuse—I actually think he and I have some things in common."
"Ick—we're getting into some weird Freudian territory, Dad."
"Santa doesn't like a smartmouth either, missy." Keith picked up the dishtowel and expertly snapped it at his daughter, getting it to crack loudly. She yelped even though the towel didn't touch her.
"Listen, honey, I just worry sometimes that I may have made you a little gun-shy."
"Gun-shy?" Veronica scoffed unconvincingly.
"There was everything I went through with your mom, and then I let you handle all of those adultery cases—I'd hate for you to miss out on something you want because of the mistakes I made."
Veronica's lip quivered but she quickly stilled it. "Dad, don't blame yourself."
"As your parent, it's my job to feel guilty about your failings," Keith said, only half-joking. "It makes sense that you'd be a little afraid of putting yourself out there. I know I was pretty gun-shy after your mom, but I had to try again when I met the right person."
Veronica put the last clean pot on the drying rack with a clank, and slipped off the rubber gloves. "Are you saying that Alicia is the right person?" she asked with a smirk.
"Maybe." Veronica was delighted to see her father blush.
"Are you and Alicia officially back together and you didn't tell me?" she squealed, whacking him with a wet glove.
"Hey!" Keith wiped at the damp splatter on his sleeve. "No, not yet—I'm still working on her. But we got the invite for Christmas dessert tomorrow, so that's something."
The possibility of her father reuniting with Wallace's mother filled Veronica with glee. "You keep working that Mars charm," she giggled.
"It's all I got, baby," he replied with a grin. "So, my little Christmas angel, why don't you invite Logan over tomorrow? I overheard him telling Mac that he doesn't have anything planned. He tried to make it sound like he didn't care, but I don't think she believed him. I didn't."
Veronica narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "This isn't just because he gave you that signed Padres jersey, is it?"
"Well, for a guy who isn't even actually dating you, he does know how to suck up to your old man in spectacular fashion," Keith said with a shrug. "That's definitely a quality I admire in my daughter's suitors."
"'Suitors'?" Veronica rolled her eyes theatrically. "For the love of…"
"You're changing the subject, Veronicaaa…" Keith chided.
She took a deep, shaky breath. "OK, you're right. I'll call him. OK, here I go. OK. OK."
Keith raised his eyebrows in amusement.
With another loud inhale, she marched into her room and dialed her phone. After a few rings, though, Logan's phone went to voicemail. Veronica went back into the living room, where her father was picking up the last scraps of wrapping paper.
"That was quick."
"He didn't answer. I'm going to go over there before I lose my nerve."
Keith glanced at his watch. "Veronica, it's after eleven."
"What if he doesn't check his phone tomorrow? Dad, he's going to wake up on Christmas morning thinking he's all alone." She looked at him pleadingly.
Keith clutched at his heart. "Ack—you're killing me. Fine, go."
With a huge grin, she scooped up her jacket and purse and scurried out. The bells clanged harshly as she slammed the door behind her.
When Veronica arrived at Logan's suite, she wasn't surprised to hear the TV blaring through the heavy wood door. Falling asleep to the TV was a childhood habit, left over from the days when he needed to drown out the sounds of his parents fighting. She'd gotten him to stop doing that when she stayed over, but she knew he still left the TV on when he had trouble sleeping.
She knocked a few times, then realized that if he was indeed asleep, he probably wouldn't hear her over the high-volume infomercial that was playing. After mentally debating herself for a few minutes, Veronica finally took out the keycard she had never returned and let herself into the suite.
Logan was asleep on the couch in the living room area, but it was clear that he hadn't accidentally dozed off. He was in his t-shirt and pajama pants, with the pillow, sheets, and bedspread that were usually on his bed in the next room.
His expression was so peaceful—he only looked that way when he was sleeping. In fact, when they were together, she had often watched him sleep, although he never knew that. She sat down next to him, gently, so as not to disturb him.
Veronica's hand reached out, almost on its own, and she lightly stroked his hair. Tears welled up in her eyes as she realized how young he looked, without the worries of his difficult life lining his face. Her feelings for him were so strong they frightened her, but at the moment, it was hard to believe that anything about this sweet-faced boy could be intimidating.
Waking him up right now would be the first step in taking the chance with him again—she wondered if she could do it, and thought about the "insurance policy" she'd slipped into her bag. Maybe talking to her dad more would be a good thing. He wanted to help—maybe she needed to let him do that more.
An idiot on the television started rattling a cowbell and shrieking about some supposedly amazing new cleaning product, snapping Veronica out of her thoughts. She picked up the remote and hit the mute button in annoyance.
The sudden silence made Logan awaken with a start. "Huh? What's—" He looked around, momentarily confused. "Veronica, what are you doing here?"
She pulled her hand away quickly. "S-s-sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
Logan propped himself up on one elbow. "What's going on? Is everything OK?"
"Everything's fine—I tried to call you, but you didn't answer, so I came over and let myself in," she said sheepishly. "I hope that's all right."
"Of course," he said sincerely, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "You'd better have a good reason for interrupting my beauty sleep though."
Veronica chuckled. "Yeah, I do… I hope… I, um… I just wanted to invite you over for Christmas tomorrow. You know, if you don't have anything else going on."
"Well, I don't know—I had a heavy schedule of sleeping, playing video games, and eating Chinese takeout, so I need to know what you can offer that's better than that."
Veronica felt herself relax at his light-hearted reply, and she tapped her finger to her chin thoughtfully. "How about getting served a homemade breakfast, opening some more presents, watching movies and various sporting events on the couch most of the day, and then eating pie at Wallace's house after dinner?"
"Hmm, it's a tough call. Are you going to wear this again?" He flicked at the jingle bell on the tip of the elf hat she'd had on her head since earlier in the evening.
"Duh. It's Christmas. Of course I'm wearing this!" She adjusted the hat to a jauntier angle.
Logan grinned. "That clinches it. What time?"
"Nine-ish? I'll make French toast."
His smile broadened at the mention of his favorite breakfast food. "I'll be there."
"Good." She smiled back, and saw that Logan was again staring at her in that intense way that made her stomach do flip-flops. "So what's with the couch setup?" she asked so she could look away. "Did Dick kick you out of bed again?"
"Heh. No," Logan said simply.
"Come on, did you have another lovers' quarrel?" Veronica persisted. "You can tell me, I won't judge."
He sat all the way up, swinging his legs around so he was sitting next to her on the couch. "I, um…I can't really sleep very well in there anymore," he explained, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. "Not since… It's too depressing now and I can't sleep in that bed."
They both leaned forward, resting their elbows on their knees and avoiding each other's gaze. As she looked down at her hands, Veronica noticed her watch and saw that it was nearly midnight.
"Hey," she said, looking at Logan once again. "It's just 10 minutes until the big day. Merry Christmas."
"You too," he replied, looking up at her with a half-smile.
With a brief pause to gather her courage, Veronica leaned in and pressed her mouth against his, grabbing his shoulders and holding tightly. He responded in kind, putting one hand on the back of her head to deepen the kiss. The bell on her hat rang softly and they both laughed against each other's lips.
"I have to get home to my dad," she said, regret tingeing her voice.
"Yeah, I don't want him hating me again already," Logan agreed.
"He didn't hate you, he just thought… forget it, it's Christmas, and it's late. We'll talk about the important stuff on the 26th," Veronica said, punctuating the statement with a kiss.
"It's a date," he said, letting the ends of her hair fall through his fingers once more before standing to walk her to the door.
Before leaving, Veronica stopped suddenly. "Wait!" she said, pulling a small, cream-colored envelope out of her bag. "This is for you. It's sort of a Christmas present."
"You already gave me those books."
"I know, it's just… something I was going to leave here for you if you weren't home. Or if I didn't have the guts to wake you." She put the envelope in his hand. "But it's not officially Christmas yet, and you need to have something left to open on Christmas morning, so you have to wait until then."
"OK," he said, grazing his hand on her cheek. "I'll see you at breakfast."
They kissed softly, and Veronica smoothed her fingers over his chest under his soft t-shirt. "Bye," she whispered.
Logan watched as she walked down the hall to the elevator and waited until she got in, waving to her as the doors closed. As soon as he was back inside the suite, he tore the envelope open.
Inside was just one page of hotel stationery, creased in half. Puzzled, he unfolded the paper and read:
I love you.
Logan sat for a long time with a faint smile on his face, just staring at the words and running his thumb over her surprisingly messy scrawl. He read the words over and over, as if each time were the first.
Finally, he folded the page up again, then gathered his bedding and dragged it back into his bedroom. As he settled back into his own bed, Logan fell asleep to the bells in the church down the street chiming midnight.