It was still too soon to be able to lie on his back. In another 20 minutes or so, the wounds between his shoulder blades would be numb enough that he could take a shower, wash off the dried blood, and put a shirt back on, but until then Logan knew he needed to lie face-down and let the painkillers seep into his bloodstream.
His face was damp on the pillow, but it was from sweat, not tears. He no longer cried at the sharp sting of his father's leather belt against his skin; he'd learned long ago that if he didn't "take it like a man," it only made the punishment crueler. The last time he cried in front of his father, he was 11 years old. It was also the first time Aaron broke his nose.
He heard a soft knock on his bedroom door and ignored it. It wouldn't be his father—he was probably in the pool by now and Aaron never knocked before entering anyway—and the help should know to stay away for the time being.
"Logan, sweetheart, can I come in?" He was surprised to hear his mother's voice. She was usually halfway through a bottle of Stoli by this time, and he didn't expect to see her until the following morning when she would pretend that nothing had happened.
"It's not locked," he called out.
After the click of the doorknob turning, he heard her gasp, and he realized that the belt marks must be especially bad this time. It's not like she hadn't seen them before.
She closed the door, then he felt the side of the bed sink down as she sat next to him. He inhaled deeply when he caught the scent of her perfume. When he was little and she had to go out of town without him, she would spray some on his pillowcase to help him fall asleep at night.
"I brought you these," she said. He lifted his head and saw that she had a glass of water and one of her prescription bottles in her hand.
"I already took something," he said. He flipped over his pillow and laid his face back down on the cool cotton.
She set the glass and bottle down and touched his back lightly with her fingertips, trying to find a place she could rest her hand on him without hurting him more. After a moment, she laid her palm on the back of his head; he closed his eyes against the hot tears that welled up in them.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," she whispered, stroking his hair. "I'm so sorry he did this to you."
"Well, I did scratch the Jag," he said with a sniff. "Maybe we should buy a domestic car for me practice with until I get my license." He tried to laugh, but it came out as a sob.
"Oh, baby, this isn't your fault," his mother said, her voice quavering. "You don't deserve this, this isn't…"
"I know I don't deserve this," he replied defiantly, although that wasn't always the case. Since his family had moved to Neptune, he'd spent most of his time at his friends' houses, mainly because he didn't want them to come to his. In the hours spent on their pool decks and in their game rooms, he'd come to realize that his friends—many of whom got in trouble as much or more than he did—weren't punished the way he was. Duncan and Lilly would get grounded if they stayed out too late. When Dick got busted for throwing a party while his parents were out of town, Mr. Casablancas took away his surfboard for the rest of the summer. And Veronica—well, Veronica almost never did anything wrong, but Logan was certain that Sheriff Mars would never hit his daughter if she did.
Logan had taken his mother's silence on the subject to mean that she approved of his father's disciplinary methods, or at least she tolerated them. And the fact that his sister never had a hand laid on her made him wonder sometimes if maybe he did do something to deserve it, just a little bit.
So until he turned 18, Logan was resigned to making up stories about fistfights and clumsy falls, wearing long sleeves in the summer, and convincing Lilly to fool around with the lights off.
But tonight, his mother had come to him, so he seized the opportunity. He sat up quickly, wincing against the pain that hadn't faded yet. "Why don't we just go, Mom?
"Go?" she said foggily.
"Yeah, let's get out of here!" he said, growing more excited at the possibility. "We don't need him! We can get our own place to live, just you and me, Mom." He bounded off the bed and went to his closet, pulling out a duffel bag and shoving handfuls of clothes into it. "Let's just take off! We can stay at a hotel until we find somewhere—"
"Logan, we can't."
"Why not? Nothing's stopping us."
Lynn held out a hand to her son. "Baby, come here for a minute. I have to tell you something."
Logan let the bag slide to the floor, and sat next to his mother on the bed.
"Do you remember when I had all this work done?" Lynn waved a finger in front of her face.
About 10 years earlier, after being away for a few days, Logan's mom had come home with her face covered in bandages. He'd been scared of the bandages, but then he was disappointed when they finally came off, because she didn't look quite the same as she had before. It still made him a little sad to see older photos of her; she was so pretty before, and he didn't understand why she felt the need to change anything.
A photographer had captured her leaving the hospital with her face covered in gauze, and the "Lynn Echolls' Plastic Surgery Nightmare!" had been plastered across every tabloid's front page. He wasn't aware of that at the time, but he'd heard about it later from Trina and knew that his mother had been humiliated.
"What does that have to do with this?" he asked.
Lynn let out a ragged breath. "The first time your father hit you, you were only five. You were fidgeting at the breakfast table and you knocked over your milk onto his lap." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "He backhanded you off of your chair."
Oddly, Logan didn't remember it. The beatings had become such a regular part of his life, he never knew when they had begun.
"After you left for school, I packed up our things and I told him that we were leaving him. He—he went insane. I'd never seen him so angry…"
Logan clenched his fists. "Did he hit you?"
His mother nodded. "He just kept punching me, over and over, until I blacked out." Her hand shook as it grazed across her cheekbone. "When I woke up, someone had moved me to the bedroom, and a doctor paid by your father was telling him that I would need surgery to repair the damage. The plastic surgeon was on your dad's payroll too."
"Why didn't you go to the police? To the media? Someone?"
"You have to understand—we were still in L.A. then. The police chief wasn't like Mr. Mars… And I was so out of it those first few days, with all the painkillers that doctor gave me. After that I was at the hospital, and then when I left there were those photos…" she trailed off.
"You still could have gone to someone—everyone should have heard the truth about why you had surgery," Logan said, turning to face her.
"Baby, you know how it is with him," Lynn said. "They love him. No one would have believed me, because they wouldn't want to think that their hero was capable of that." Her eyes filled with tears. "He's an actor—he makes them believe whatever he wants them to, and they shower him with awards for it. I just hoped that if we were careful, if we tried to stay out of his way, it wouldn't happen anymore. I thought I could protect you."
"No one could protect me, Mom," Logan said bitterly. "Even if I was a straight-A student who made curfew every goddamned night, he'd flip out because I didn't come running fast enough when Mrs. Navarro called me for dinner. He's a fucking monster—he doesn't need a good reason. There's nothing you can do."
"You'll be able to get away soon though, sweetheart," Lynn said, desperation creeping into her voice. "In less than three years, the trust fund from my dad will come through and you can move out."
"If that asshole doesn't kill me first," Logan muttered.
"It's a lot of money," she continued. "You can use it to go to college, anywhere you want to—anywhere in the world! You can go far, far away from him."
"Will you come with me?" Logan asked, his voice breaking. "I can't leave you here with him. You have to come with me."
"If we both go, he'll just come after us. He knows he can get away with anything," she said softly. "But you can go yourself. Please promise me that you'll get away as soon as you can. Please, baby."
"Mom…" Logan couldn't get any more words out as his face crumpled and the tears he'd been holding back began to spill down his cheeks. All of his strength left his body as he slowly collapsed, burying his face against his mother's chest. He sobbed hopelessly as she wrapped her arms around him.
"It's going to be OK, baby," she said as she rocked him the way she had when he was a little boy. "It's going to be OK."
Logan was a master at hiding the physical signs of his father's abuse, but he'd never been good at keeping his emotions in check. The following morning, he strode into school with his muscles tense and his brow furrowed. His friends were familiar with this state, even if they didn't know the reason behind it.
Most of the 09ers left him alone, as they usually did when Logan was in one of his infamous "moods," but his best friends had their own ways of trying to make him feel better. Duncan tried to act as normal as possible, but studied Logan with concern when he thought he wasn't looking; Logan often wondered if his best friend suspected what was going on. Dick cracked jokes—which were stupid but kind of funny—and Beaver was overly cheerful. Logan didn't see much of Veronica during the day since she was in all honors classes, but when she passed the open doorway of his history class, she did a goofy dance to make him laugh and then ran off.
Lilly was much sweeter to him than she usually was, and at lunchtime, she dragged him into an empty classroom and gave him a blowjob that nearly made his knees buckle. That improved his mood considerably.
But in his idle moments, like when he got bored during class and his thoughts started to drift, the conversation with his mother the night before still gnawed at the back of his mind.
Between the attentions of his friends and another dose of Vicodin for his back, Logan was feeling a little better by the end of the school day. He tried to keep a little spring in his step as he walked to Lilly's car, where Veronica was waiting for him and the Kane siblings for the drive home. She had a serious look on her face.
"Hey, Mars," he said jovially. "What's wrong—get an A-minus on the geometry quiz?"
She turned and stood in front of him. "Logan, are you OK?"
Logan paused. "Yeah—why?" he said with a forced smile.
"You just weren't yourself this morning, so I wanted to see if there was anything I can do. To help," she said, emphasizing the last word with a raise of her eyebrows.
"Other than your bitchin' dance moves?" he said with a smirk. "That's a pretty smooth Running Man you've got."
"You know what I mean, Logan," she said without cracking a smile.
He sighed. "I'm fine."
"OK," she said, resting a hand on his arm and looking into his eyes intently. "But if you ever need me to help you, or if there's anything my dad can do, all you have to do is ask. Do you understand?"
"I said I'm fine," Logan replied through gritted teeth. He saw Lilly and Duncan heading toward them, and he jerked his arm out of Veronica's grasp.
"Why so serious, kids?" Lilly called out.
"It's nothing," Logan said, glaring at Veronica.
The ride home was uncharacteristically quiet, as Logan's friends realized that his stormy mood had returned. Duncan tried to lighten things up with a joke about the fact that Logan wasn't talking, for a change.
"I'm thinking," Logan barked, and the group went silent again. When they dropped Veronica off at her house, she gave Logan a pointed look, but he pretended not to see it.
At the Echolls estate, Lilly got out of the car and followed him to his front door as usual, so they could say goodbye properly without making her brother squirm. Breaking their kiss, she put her hands softly against his chest. "You know," she purred, "after I bring Donut home, I can come back here and work on cheering you up again."
"Not today," Logan said tersely. Lilly pouted and he pulled her into his arms. "I'm sorry, Lill, it's just—I sort of want to be alone right now. Call you later?"
"OK," she agreed, looking at him suspiciously. He knew she'd worry when he turned down sex, but he needed time to think.
As he watched the Kanes drive away, Logan didn't know if he wanted to cry, throw up, or break something—or all of the above. After all his efforts to keep things hidden, Veronica knew. He hung his head and slogged into the house, closing the door behind him with a swift kick.
He dropped his books on one couch and flopped down on the other; he gasped, having forgotten about his wounded back until it hit the cushions. Throwing an arm over his eyes, he held his breath for a few moments until the pain subsided, then let it out slowly while he thought about how to handle Veronica. He tried to craft a good lie to tell her, then he contemplated just telling her the truth and begging her to stay out of it. His body was stone-still, but his mind was racing.
"Jesus Christ!" Logan yelped in surprise. He sat up and saw his father's driver standing over him. "Damn it, George, quit sneaking up on me like that. You're going to give me a fucking heart attack. And stop calling me sir."
"Sorry, Logan, I thought you were asleep," said George. "But it's time for me to take you to your father's office."
Logan had forgotten about that. His father was being interviewed by People magazine, and Logan was supposed to drop by "unexpectedly" so Aaron could show the reporter what a family man he was. Logan knew the routine by heart, and the entertainment writers ate it up:
"Hey, Logan, I didn't expect to see you here today. How was school, sport [or buddy or pal or kiddo]?"
"Pretty good, Dad."
"Oh, I'm sorry, let me introduce you. This is Joe Blow from Craptastic Entertainment Magazine."
"Nice to meet you, sir." (Handshakes all around.)
"So—what's going on, son?"
"Nothing, Dad, I just thought I'd stop by and see if you wanted to do something when you were done here."
"Hey, that sounds great! How about the batting cages [or similar wholesome activity] before dinner?"
"Sure! Should I wait for you?"
"Yeah, why don't you do your homework in the spare office and I'll come get you when I'm finished with Joe."
After kissing the reporter's ass for another minute or two, Logan would leave the office and go home to have dinner by himself at the kitchen island. The whole thing usually just irritated him, but today the idea of playing the dutiful son made him sick to his stomach.
"No," he told George simply.
"I said no, I'm not going." Logan stood up and folded his arms. "Tell him I said he can go fuck himself."
"I'm not going to say that," George replied. "You shouldn't talk that way about your father, Logan."
"Why not? He's an asshole."
George was horrified. "How can you say that? He's given you everything a boy your age could ever want. The least you can do is show up when he asks you to."
Logan's shoulders slumped in resignation. George had actually driven him to the hospital—twice—but apparently he really believed that Logan was just accident-prone. Aaron was a better actor than Logan thought.
"Yeah, I am so goddamned lucky," Logan said, narrowing his eyes. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go count my blessings." He spun around and left through the glass door.
Before the door closed, he heard George sigh loudly behind him. Logan raised his hand to give him a little goodbye wave over his shoulder as he headed for the pool house.
After lying on the pool house bed for a while, he picked up his phone to check the time and saw that almost an hour had passed. He dialed Veronica's number.
"Hey, Veronica. Whatcha doing?"
"Just homework and stuff. You know, the usual. How about you?"
"You know, the usual."
"Blowing off homework to play video games?"
He laughed. "Pretty much, yeah."
They were both quiet for a moment.
"Listen, Veronica—I just wanted to apologize for the way I was acting this morning. I was just in a bad mood. I didn't mean to snap at you."
"It's all right. Are you sure you're OK?"
"I told you, I'm fine. I just…I don't want you to worry about me, OK? I'm fine."
"If you say so. But I meant what I said, Logan. If you ever need help or you need to talk or whatever, I'm here for you. You can call me any…"
He stopped listening to her when he heard his father's roar. "Logan! Goddamnit, where are you?"
"Veronica, I gotta go," he said quickly.
"Logan, what's…" He dropped his phone before he heard the rest of her sentence. He jumped off the bed as Aaron barreled through the door.
"You selfish little prick. Where the hell were you today?"
"I-I'm sorry, Dad, I just didn't want to go this time," Logan stammered.
"You didn't want to?" Aaron snarled, slowly walking toward him. Logan backed up until his heels met the wall behind him. "I knew you were stupid, but I thought you were smart enough to know that my orders are not optional." He gripped Logan's hair at the back of his head and pulled his neck back painfully.
"Ow! Dad, please don't—" Logan began.
"Go pick out a belt and meet me in my study." He let go of his hair and thrust a finger toward the main house.
Logan looked down and took a deep breath. Then he looked back up at his father. "I can't."
Aaron's eyes widened with rage. "You can't? You CAN'T?"
"I've still got the cuts from last night," Logan pleaded, tears pricking the corners of his eyes. "I can't let you do it again. Not so soon. Please, Dad."
"What did I do wrong to make my only son such a pussy?" Aaron looked at Logan with disgust. He stood so close that their noses were nearly touching. "Why can't you be a man?"
"Dad, I'm only 15."
"'I'm only 15!'" Aaron repeated mockingly in a high-pitched voice. "You whiny little pain in the ass." He grabbed the front of Logan's shirt in his fists and slammed his back against the wall. Logan cried out as he felt the barely healed wounds from yesterday tear open again.
"Don't do this!" Logan yelled. "You're hurting me!"
Still clutching his shirt, his father threw him at the bed. Logan hit the mattress and rolled off, landing on the floor on the other side. As Aaron stalked around the bed toward him, he tried to scramble to his feet. His father stopped in front of him and Logan cowered, holding his hands up in front of his face.
"Stand up!" Aaron bellowed. He grabbed the boy's arm and yanked him to his feet. "When are you going to learn to take it like a man?"
Logan saw his father pull his fist back and he squeezed his eyes shut. The pain from the punch was dizzying and he staggered backward. Aaron grabbed the floor lamp in the corner and swung it at him like it was a baseball bat, connecting with his face once again. Logan felt a gush of blood from his nose and he wiped at it with his hand as he doubled over in pain.
"Why do you do this to me?" he shouted hoarsely, looking up at his father. "Why?"
"Because you never learn a lesson!" Aaron swung the lamp at him again. Logan put his hand up to protect his face and the lamp cracked across his knuckles. He cradled his fingers in agony. "Because you are an ungrateful punk who doesn't obey his father!" Aaron threw the lamp down and punched his son again, splitting open his cheekbone with his ring. "Because you have been nothing but a disappointment to me since you were born!"
Logan heard sirens in the distance and he choked out a sob. "Don't say that, Dad."
"Christ, are you crying now?" He heaved his fist at his son again, and the boy's head snapped painfully to the side. Logan dropped to all fours and spit a mouthful of blood onto the floor as the sirens grew louder. "And here I thought you were toughening up. You fucking baby."
Aaron gave him a hard kick to the ribs, and Logan felt the familiar sensation of his bones cracking as he collapsed. Then he heard the click of his mother's heels on the pavement outside.
"Aaron, the police are here! I told Lettie to tell—oh my God! Logan!" she screamed as she saw her bloodied son on the floor. Her husband grabbed her by the shoulders before she could go to Logan.
"What did you do?" he yelled. "Did you call them?"
"No, I didn't! I swear!" she cried. "They said that—"
"Mrs. Echolls! Lynn!" Sheriff Mars and two deputies were running across the deck toward the pool house, followed by two EMTs.
Aaron let go of his wife and she rushed to her son. She fell to her knees and pulled him into her arms. Logan shut his eyes and rested his head on her lap as she tried to clean the blood off his face with the sleeve of her white Chanel suit. He heard his father picking the lamp up and quickly tidying the room.
When Logan finally opened his eyes, three officers were surrounding his father. "What's going on here, Aaron?" Sheriff Mars asked.
Logan saw his father immediately transform into his charming, meet-the-public persona. "Keith, can you believe the boy got into another fight at school? You know what his temper is like."
Sheriff Mars gestured toward Logan. "This was from a fight with another kid?"
"I guess he mouthed off to someone bigger than him—again!" Aaron said incredulously, throwing his hands in the air. "I need to go talk to that principal and find out why they're not doing more to stop this sort of thing. It's ridiculous. They're supposed to be keeping our kids safe!"
The sheriff told his deputies to stay with Aaron, and moved toward the boy huddled on the floor with his mother. "Logan," he said quietly. The boy refused to meet his eyes. Keith put his hand on his arm. "Logan, did you get into a fight at school?"
Logan looked up into the man's kind face and broke down. He shook his head. The tears ran off his face and landed on his mother's pant leg, leaving bright red stains.
"Connolly, can you take Mrs. Echolls and Logan outside?" One of the deputies took Logan's arm and helped him to his feet. As the deputy moved to help Lynn, Logan saw his phone still on the bed, with Veronica's name still showing on the screen. He picked it up, snapped it closed, and slipped it into his pocket.
Lynn wrapped her arms around her son as the deputy led them out to where the EMTs were waiting. Logan inhaled the cool night air and tried to pull himself together as best he could.
He and his mother sat together on one of the pool lounge chairs while the medics checked Logan's injuries. He only caught snippets of what they were saying…contusions…two fractured fingers… lacerations…sutures…possible head trauma…fractured ribs… need to take him in…as he tried to listen to the voices coming from the pool house.
"This is just a misunderstanding," he heard his father say jovially. "The boy is mad at me because I grounded him for fighting again. You know how teenagers are, right, Keith?"
As an EMT bandaged the cut under Logan's eye, Logan saw him give his partner a meaningful look.
"Please sit, Mr. Echolls," said Sheriff Mars seriously. "My deputy and I are just going to take a look around."
Logan held his left hand out silently while an EMT taped splints to his fingers. Lynn held his right hand in both of hers and stroked it gently.
"Hey, Sacks—come here and take a look at this," the sheriff said. "What do you think this is?"
Logan squinted, trying to see more than the blurry shapes through the pool house's sheer curtains.
"That's just some extra wiring we needed for the custom ceiling fan," Aaron said casually. "It's nothing."
"Hmm, I think it might be something. Connolly, can you come back in here?" the sheriff called out. The deputy went back to the pool house and stood in the doorway. "Stay right there for a minute. I want to see where this wire goes."
Logan let out the breath he'd been holding. Apparently, Mr. Mars was as smart as Veronica always said. He'd noticed the camera wiring much more quickly than Logan had.
"We're going to go get a gurney," said one of the EMTs. "We'll be right back."
"No, I can walk," Logan said, groaning as he lifted himself off the lounge with some difficulty. He stared at the pool house for a moment and watched the outline of his friend's dad and the deputy as they rolled back the bookcases.
"Check it out, Sheriff, we're on Candid Camera!"
"Hey, is that recording right now?"
This time, the tears that filled Logan's eyes were real.
Lynn took Logan's arm and put it over her shoulders, then put her arms around his waist. She tried to support her son's much-larger frame as they walked out to the driveway.
"It's going to be OK, baby," Lynn whispered, her voice hoarse and shaking. "I'll think of something. It'll be OK."
Logan kissed her on the temple. "Yeah, it will. This time, it will."