Alaidh and catherderPairing:
A very shippy look at Logan’s family. Takes place some 13 years after Freak Nation.Chapter 26: Business Hours
Logan could hear Max in the background talking on the phone. He was in the computer room making the final adjustments to an Eyes Only broadcast he intended to prerecord, and which he would set up to broadcast later in the day. Max had sent Jonas and Ben to the park, telling them to come back when they wanted lunch. “Make the most of the sunshine while it lasts,” was her parting shot as they noisily ran out the door.
Logan had gone to the drug store first thing that morning and managed to get hold of the acetaminophen drops for Eva’s fever. Eva lay across Logan’s lap on her tummy, one of her father’s hands gently rubbing her back while he read through the typed notes on his computer screen. He leaned the other elbow on the desk and thoughtfully tapped the back of his head with a pencil as he read.
Max, her phone call over, quietly entered the computer room and leaned a hand on Logan’s shoulder, reading with him, her hair tickling his neck. He touched her hand in acknowledgment of her presence, and resumed reading. Finally, he leaned back in the chair, satisfied with what he had written.
“Looks like you’re good to go,” Max said with a smile.
“I think so.”
“Logan, that was Gem on the phone. She wants to know if I can hold the fort at Sublime for a few hours.”
“Oh, okay, and you said?”
“I said I’d go.”
“I’m meeting Matt at about four…”
“I was going to ride my bike – don’t need the car.”
“Besides, I need the exercise.”
“So, you don’t mind?”
“No, should I?”
“No.” Logan turned around to face her, smiling, using the desk to pull himself around one-handed.
She pointed down at Eva and started to laugh. The baby was gripping the wheel of the chair, fortunately the one on which he had pivoted, with both hands, and was chewing on the tire. “She seems to think your wheel is a teething ring.”
Logan dissolved into laughter. “She’s half-X5 – she needs a big teething ring.” He gently untangled the baby’s fingers and sat her up on his lap.
Max fetched her bike and a backpack of baby items. She strapped Eva into the baby seat on the back and put a small helmet on her head, then she was gone, leaving Logan alone to make his recording.
Logan rolled into the pub a few minutes late, but considering the three-car collision he’d had to bypass on the way, he hadn’t made bad time. He looked for his friend and smiled as a familiar head snapped up, all attention, as the TV screen over the bar flickered from a baseball game to the familiar red, white, and blue stripes surrounding a pair of serious eyes.
“Do not attempt to adjust your set. This is a streaming freedom video bulletin from the Eyes Only Informant Net. The cable hack will last exactly sixty seconds. It cannot be stopped, it cannot be traced and it is the only free voice left in this city. For years, the citizens of Seattle had to make do with an outdated and only semi-functional medical system. Since the civil war of the last decade, things have slowly improved, however, in recent times, a large black market in stolen medical supplies….”
“Hey, Matt. How’s things?”
The detective, concentrating deeply on the TV screen, jumped as Logan’s hand came down on his shoulder. Matt Sung turned his eyes away from the screen for a split second, meeting Logan’s steady gaze. Logan had prerecorded the broadcast earlier, and deliberately set it up to coincide with meeting Matt at the pub.
“Good.” The detective cast one more glance up at the TV screen as Logan pulled in around him to the table. “What did you want to see me about?”
Logan pulled an envelope from the backpack he carried on his lap and handed it to his friend.
“What’s this?” Matt asked.
“The downlow on who’s stealing those medical supplies,” Logan replied quietly.
Logan pulled in closer to the table, dropping the backpack on the ground beside him for the moment. He gestured to the bartender, who brought them both beers. Matt slit the envelope open and peered inside to see two unmarked computer disks.“This has been a streaming freedom video bulletin of the Eyes Only Informant Net. Out.”
The TV screen flashed for a second before returning to the baseball game.
They waited for the bartender to go back behind the counter after handing them their beers before speaking again.
“Where did you get these?”
“Never mind. There’s enough info there to blow Matthew Cornford right out of the water.”
“Cornford?” The detective looked stunned. “That’s big game.”
“Matt, what I’ve given you is details of every missing shipment in the last three months, together with financial records leading right to the top.”
“Cornford’s not going to be easy to take down. You better be sure of your sources. There won’t be any second chances on this one.”
“Okay. Thanks.” The handsome detective’s face relaxed into a smile. “We’ve been after him for a while. Knew he was dirty, but the problem is proving it.”
“Glad to help.”
Matt leaned forward, pulling an envelope from his own pocket. “Something for you.”
“What’s this?” Logan asked.
“You’ll see.” Matt stood, preparing to leave. “I have to go –“
“Yeah, okay, Matt. See you later.”
Logan fingered the envelope curiously for a moment before tucking it into the backpack and closing the zipper. He slung the pack over his shoulder and looked up at the TV screen, watching the baseball game and taking occasional sips from his beer. Ben’s baseball season was over, the team having lost the final by a narrow margin. The boys had played well – just not well enough to win. Logan, as coach, was pleased with his fledgling team. They had played gamely, but just weren't quite good enough in the end result. Basketball, the other sporting love in his life, would be starting up again soon - the change in the seasons marked by the change in the sport. He idly watched the game while he finished his beer, while his mind ticked over on what might or might not be in the envelope he had just been handed.
Logan’s curiosity eventually overcame him, and he reached for the backpack. He pulled out the envelope and fingered it thoughtfully for a moment before slitting the top with his finger. He tipped out the contents into his other hand, finding tickets to a basketball game later that same week. He put the tickets back in the envelope and the envelope into the backpack, preparing to leave. He wondered where Matt had gotten hold of the tickets. He figured he should get home and see what Ben and Jonas were up to. Jonas was staying another night. He would be going home the following afternoon, when they were all expected for dinner at Bennett’s house.
“Sublime PI and Laundromat,” Max answered automatically, juggling baby and phone. She wedged the receiver between her ear and her shoulder and grabbed a pen from the desk. “Our hours of business are 8:00 am to 9:00 pm.” She listened for a moment. “No, Alec isn’t here right now. Can I take a message?” She had a page of notes for Alec – she suspected something to do with one of his scams. She wasn’t about to speculate, however – just kick his ass when it all went wrong.
He and Gem were both on the same surveillance job – their phones turned off, communicating strictly by comms for the time being. They were doing surveillance on a matter of industrial espionage for one of their more lucrative clients, and couldn’t afford to mess up. Gem had called in some favors from former inmates of Terminal City to keep the teams swapping over. The relief team would be there at about 6:00 pm, and when Gem returned to the laundromat, Max would be free to go home. Gem had also arranged for Elfie to spend the day with Normal – or even the next few days, if necessary. Normal enjoyed playing the role of doting “godfather” to the pre-teenager, and she was helping him with some work at the videoshop he had taken on after Jam Pony was sold. In Normal’s eyes, Elfie could do no wrong.
Max was content to answer the phone while keeping an eye on the laundromat operations. It wasn’t intellectually demanding, but it was a change from her normal routine, and she was glad Gem had chosen to accept her offer to help out. She had sporadically worked in the PI agency since Normal sold Jam Pony – not for cash, but as a physical and mental outlet. She enjoyed the intellectual challenges of Eyes Only work as well, but coordinating that with family life was too hard for the moment. Answering the phone and keeping a weather eye on the laundromat customers at Sublime made a pleasant, and useful, change. Max leaned back in the chair, holding Eva comfortably in one arm, and waiting for the phone to ring.Chapter 27: Taking the Plunge
“Logan, where are you?” Max’s impatience could be felt vibrating through the phone.
“Max, we’re in the car,” Logan responded, impatiently waving the two boys out of the door of the apartment.
“Would you hurry up? Alec may well decide to take off before you get here, and I don’t want to leave Elfie here on her own.”
“We’re on our way.”
Max had been at Sublime nearly all day for the second day running, with Elfie for company. Gem had called an hour earlier. She had sent Alec back, only to have to stay in position when another team member failed to appear. When she contacted Alec, he was already back at the laundromat but he had readily agreed to get on the phone and try to find a replacement. What had started as a small, but important, surveillance job was fast becoming a hassle. Max had almost offered her own services, but realized in time that the response would be a flat “No” from Gem and a big case of pissiness from Logan if he ever found out. She couldn't really blame him for that. Still, she had enjoyed the last two days. She missed the physical and mental outlets of employment. Much as she loved her family and home, she wasn’t geared to the sedentary life.
Thirty minutes later, having collected Max and Elfie, Logan brought the Aztek to a stop in the driveway of the Cale family mansion. Taking Elfie had been a spur of the moment decision. She could have stayed with Alec, although the wisdom of this was somewhat doubtful. He was likely to take off and leave her there on her own, and who knows how long Gem was going to be – maybe all night. No, Max made the only choice possible in taking the girl with her, and Alec had let Gem know Max’s movements with her daughter. Elfie had to sit in the rear load-space of the car due to lack of space, which wasn’t very safe for her, so Logan had been especially cautious on the drive. As soon as the engine stopped, the two boys and Elfie were out and running through the house.
The maid, Lynella, who was in the hallway of the mansion, was almost flattened by the three children as they ran past, Jonas dropping his bag at the foot of the stairs on the way through. They made a beeline for the back of the house, heading in the general direction of the pool.
Lynella came out on the porch just as Max, carrying the baby, started up the front steps. They exchanged a few brief words while Logan was assembling the wheelchair. When Max returned to the car, he was preparing to transfer. She gave a small grin at the sight of his rippling shoulder muscles, clearly defined under a black t-shirt as he efficiently made the transfer. After positioning his feet on the footrest, he looked up enquiringly, then blushed, realizing that she had been watching him...again.
“They’re down by the pool. Looks like we’re having a barbecue.”
Logan grabbed the backpack from the floor of the back seat and followed her along the concrete path around the side of the house.
Family barbecues had been a kind of family institution, even with Uncle Jonas. They had been a regular occurrence throughout the summer for most of Logan’s early years. Manning the grill was the one kind of cooking Jonas didn't frown upon among the Cale men.
The land sloped gently down to the yard, and while there were a couple of wide steps at the front, there were a dozen at the back of the mansion. Bennett had had a ramp built up to the front porch, as Logan had become a frequent visitor, and it was also convenient for moving large or heavy items into or out of the house. The back entrance, however, remained inaccessible.
Logan coasted gently down the sloped path leading to the pool and the shady pergola housing the barbecue and outdoor furniture, hearing the noise of the two boys, who were apparently already in the pool.
Marianne was helping Elfie alter one of her own swimsuits by tying a ribbon around the straps to make it fit. They had met Elfie on several occasions, so she wasn’t a complete stranger. She was a good foil for the two exuberant boys – a year or so older and wiser; Ben's equal, if not superior, in strength; and she was street-smart as well. For the moment, however, she stood quietly as Marianne tried to shorten the straps of the swimsuit so that she could join the boys in the water.
Bennett, his CEO uniform of suit and tie replaced by shorts and unbuttoned short-sleeved shirt, handed Logan a beer from a cooler beside the barbecue. He held a bottle of olive oil in the other hand. Max greeted Bennett and Marianne warmly, hugging them both in turn.
"Hope that's cold-pressed," she joked, eyeing the oil bottle.
"Nothing but the best for the Cale household," Bennett responded, with a grin showing her the generic supermarket label. He shrugged. “Hey, it’s what I could get on the way home. This stuff is like gold.”
“Why didn’t you ask? I could have borrowed some from the Italian Embassy,” she snapped, cheekily, then seeing Bennett’s expression, added, “That was a joke.”
“I know, Max,” he replied mildly.
Seattle was turning on its best late summer weather. The evening was still warm, and the sky clear, despite the usual haze. The three older kids splashed noisily in the pool, tossing a ball around, the two boys trying, unsuccessfully, to keep Elfie from grabbing it.
"Hey, Elfie, need a hand?" Max called.
"I...got it...under...control!" the girl replied, successfully lunging for the ball, and poking her tongue out at Jonas, who had been trying to get to it first.
Bennett, his preparations complete, started throwing steaks on the barbecue while Logan watched. Max and Marianne sat at the glass-topped table in the centre of the pergola and exchanged news while Marianne put together a salad. She'd brought the ingredients down from the house earlier and just needed to assemble them. Max relaxed in her chair, leaning into the cushion. She had enjoyed the last two days immensely. Eva's brief illness was running its course – the spots over her torso had broken out the previous day, and, though her face still looked flushed, she was much less grumpy. She wasn't back to her normal self, but was well on the mend. She hadn’t really been a problem at work. Sitting up on Max's lap with her mother's hands loosely holding her, Eva looked around curiously and chewed her fist.
For herself, Max kept casting envious looks at the three noisy kids in the pool, as she talked to Marianne.
"Max, go and have a swim. You're obviously dying to. I can take care of Eva. In fact, I'd love to."
Max looked at her indecisively for a moment before making a move. She got up and handed the baby to Marianne, and, after a quick word to Logan, made her way into the downstairs bathroom to change. Logan had brought both of their swimsuits with him. She figured that there was little chance of getting Logan into the pool with Elfie there, but she still decided to try.
"Logan, wanna join me?" she asked, a cajoling tone in her voice.
“No…thanks,” he said, scratching the back of his head in a gesture that was always a dead give-away that he was feeling discomfort.
Max rolled her eyes. “God, Logan, after all this time I’d’a thought you’d have been past this.”
She stood in front of him sassily, hands on hips, fixing him with a steely gaze. “Is this because of Elfie?”
“Well, that’s just stupid. We’re all family here – yours and mine. So get your ass in that pool, buster, before I throw you in.”
“Sure, mom.” Logan ducked as she cuffed his ear.
“I’m not your mom.”
Bennett was grinning, trying hard not to laugh at the exchange. Max turned quickly, point made, took a couple of quick steps and executed a perfect dive into the pool. Logan looked up at Bennett. “Yeah, I know,” he sighed. “I’m so whipped.”
“Man, you got some issues,” Bennett responded, taking away the sting with a smile. “But she’s right. We’re family here. No need to be embarrassed.”
“No, but I might be pushing up daisies if you don’t do what the lady says.”
“Yeah, sure, she’d snap your neck, just like that,” Logan smiled, snapping his fingers, then he snapped off the brakes of the wheelchair and went to change in the downstairs bathroom.
Logan sat on the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water at the deep end, watching the contest before him. He enjoyed swimming, even though it was harder to go fast without the use of his legs. It had, however, taken all of Bling’s persuasive skills, and even a few threats, to get him into the water the first time after the shooting. He was still loath to swim in public, tending to use the pool in his apartment building only at quiet times – early in the morning or late in the evening.
Max swam across to him and grabbed his legs in a hug, anchoring herself in position. The water was too deep for her to stand – not that that was a problem. Her dark hair gleamed wetly, like the pelt of a black cat, and she smiled.
“Sorry ‘bout being so hard on you and all,” she said.
“No, you were right, as always. I was being an ass.”
She grinned. “Well, it’s a very nice ass,” she said, reaching up to pat the accessible part of his behind. “Are you just gonna sit there?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I think you’re comin’ in.” She reached up for his hand and tugged gently, pushing off from the wall with her feet.
Logan allowed himself to be pulled in, smiling all the while.Chapter 28: Surprise Surprise
Logan swam the length of the pool, taking leisurely strokes, Max swimming beside him. The three kids kept out of the way. After several laps, Max stopped and got out of the water. She sat on the edge of the pool watching the game. Logan held onto the wall beside her for a moment. He shook his head, spraying her with water, then turned away with a smile, and started to swim again. Since returning from the cabin, Logan had let his exercise routine slip somewhat, so he was actually quite glad he’d let Max talk him into the water. Max watched him traverse the length of the pool, slicing through the water efficiently, then she was in again, swimming beside him.
Finally, they both joined the kids in a lively game of boys vs girls in "water volleyball", using a plastic ball and an imaginary central net marked by a join in the tiled inner surface of the pool. Naturally enough, the two transgenic females were at somewhat of an advantage over their opponents and didn't hesitate to break the superhero code over their heads. It wasn’t easy for Logan to maintain his position or capture the ball in the water, as he had to either use his arms in order not to drown or hang from the side of the pool, but he still participated to the best of his ability, swimming back and forth in the role of backstop to the two boys. Half-transgenic Ben, with his two mere mortal partners, didn’t stand much chance against the all-transgenic opposition, but the three of them took the loss in their stride.
An hour and a half later, dinner had come and gone. Bennett was packing up the barbecue – giving it a cursory scrape before covering it over and unscrewing the propane tank. Marianne and Max had taken the dirty dishes inside, and Jonas and Ben had vanished as well, leaving Logan with Eva and Elfie for company. Logan again had Eva lying across his legs while he rubbed her back – she really enjoyed the gentle massage and lay there quietly for him.
Elfie, sitting to the side and slightly behind Logan, studied the old scars on his back thoughtfully. Neither of them had yet changed into their clothes, although Logan had a towel loosely wrapped around him. Logan had long ago discarded the rehab chair he used in the early days for a more streamlined model with a much lower backrest so his scars were clearly visible to Elfie.
“Guns are bad, aren’t they?” Elfie asked suddenly.
Logan was caught by surprise at the girl’s question, coming out of the blue as it did. He turned slightly to face her. “No, guns aren’t bad. Only people are bad. Guns are things – they can’t be good or bad. It’s what people do with them…”
Elfie digested that for a moment. “Max doesn’t like guns. Is that because of you?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Well, you were shot, weren’t you?”
“Yes, but that’s not the reason. Max doesn’t like guns because of something that happened when she was a child – younger than you.”
Elfie waited expectantly.
“She saw her sister shot dead – in cold blood.”
“It was the night they all escaped. Max hasn’t liked guns since that night. This,” he touched a wheel thoughtfully, “probably didn’t help, but Eva’s murder was the main thing.”
“Her sister was called Eva?”
“Yes, Eva and Ben are both named after Max’s siblings. Both of them are dead.”
“Cool.” Elfie smiled. “I like that.”
“Twelve of them escaped that night…”
Logan sat quietly for a moment. A breeze had sprung up, and he felt a sudden chill on his arms.
“Elfie, could you look after Eva for a few minutes? I want to get dressed.”
“Sure. No problem.”
"So, Max has been working at Sublime?" Bennett leaned forward over the pool table to line up his shot.
"Yeah. Gem put in a call for help. It's fine, but it worries me a bit."
Bennett was silent for a moment. He took his shot, the white ball caroming off the red at an oblique angle and sending the red into the side pocket. He stood back to study the table again, chalking the end of his cue. "What do you mean?"
"I'm happy for her to be back out there feeling useful. I know she was getting bored at home." Logan smiled. "Just as long as..."
Bennett raised an eyebrow, and took another shot, which missed.
"The PI stuff can be dangerous." Logan shrugged and lined up his shot. The balls connected with a satisfying click, the striped one dropping into the pocket.
"Logan, she won't put Eva in any danger. You know that."
"Yeah, I know, but trouble sometimes has this way of finding her."
"She's answering the phone, not tracking down leads."
"I know. She's a big girl. But that doesn't stop me from worrying."
"Right. And she could snap your neck as soon as look at you." Bennett smiled as he turned Logan’s own joke from earlier back on him.
“I’d be more worried about her riding a bicycle with the baby on the back to work.”
“Well, she’s not doing that all the time. I drove her today. But you’re right. It’s not the safest way to travel.”
“So...do something about it. You got the cash, go spend it.”
Logan, lining up his shot, looked across the table at his cousin, and sunk the last ball. After a brief, satisfied grin, he looked up at Bennett and said, “I will. And that’s ten bucks you owe me.”
Bennett grinned and pulled a bill from his pocket as Logan rounded the table to put the cue away. Bennett handed him the money. “You been practising?”
“Nope. Not really.” Logan looked over his glasses and grinned at Bennett as he pocketed the money. "Well, maybe just a little."
“I knew it. Come on. Let's go see if Marianne made that coffee, like she promised."
Max watched Marianne putter around the kitchen from the doorway. She leaned against the timber doorframe comfortably, baby clutched on her hip, as the other woman made coffee and loaded the dishwasher.
"How does it feel to be a working girl again?" Marianne asked.
"Good. Logan seems chill with the idea, as well," she smiled.
"Well, that's good to hear. How long do you think you'll be there?"
"No clue. As long as it takes Gem to get this job done. Only, I'm hoping it doesn't end there."
"Well, you'll just have to make yourself indispensable," Marianne responded, adding the last plate to the dishwasher.
"If it doesn't work out, you can always go look for something else."
"Like what? You got any openings for a transgenic former bike messenger?" They both laughed at the thought of Max working in Marianne's tiny law office, where the entire staff consisted of a secretary and a part-time bookkeeper–cum-general factotum.
"I'll let you know if anything comes up." Marianne surveyed the kitchen one last time before firmly shutting the dishwasher door and starting the cycle. The kitchen was huge and modern – a relic of Jonas and Margo's days of excess, when there had been a large paid staff to run the household. Bennett and Marianne lived on a more frugal and modest scale. In fact, Marianne liked to cook, and did so most nights. When Jonas was murdered, most of the staff had been sacked as Margot couldn't pay their wages. There was now only the maid, Lynella, a part-time cleaner and the gardener left – modest enough domestic staff for a house of such generous dimensions.
Marianne rummaged in a cupboard and pulled out a wooden serving tray on which she set coffee cups, sugar and cream. She gestured for Max to take the coffee pot itself. Max followed Marianne down the hallway toward the living room, holding the coffee carefully out of Eva’s reach.
Max’s phone started to ring as she walked. Logan looked out of the poolroom curiously, hearing the phone. Max cocked her hip at him and said, “Can you get that for me? Got my hands full.”
Logan reached into her pocket and pulled out the phone. He checked the number before answering the call. “Hey, Alec. What’s up?”
Max rolled her eyes and mouthed, “What’s he want?”
Logan held up a hand in a ‘wait-a-minute’ gesture. “Okay, sure. She can spend the night with us.” He listened a moment. “I’ll let her know.” He terminated the call.
“So, what’d he want?” Max asked again.
“Gem won’t be back tonight. I said we’d take Elfie home with us and we’ll take her to the laundromat tomorrow morning. He’s going to relieve Gem in the morning and let her get a few hours’ sleep, if you can hold the fort and Sublime again.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me,” she smiled.
“Yeah, I’ll drop you there in the morning – got something I want to do first thing.”
“It’s a surprise.”
“So tell me…”
“Then it wouldn’t be a surprise.” Logan dropped the phone back into Max’s pocket, gave her an enigmatic smile, turned and pushed himself off toward the living room, leaving her standing in the hallway wearing a dopey grin at his parting shot.“…Thursday night there will be an abundance of mirth and maybe a little surprise.”
“What?” she asked, smiling.
“Then it wouldn't be a surprise.” He turned away, heading out of the kitchen.
Max stumbled after Logan, her hand on his shoulder. He had blindfolded her with a dark-colored scarf before leaving the apartment. A grinning Ben carried the baby. Logan guided her out to the street and stopped. Max could hear the satisfaction in his voice as he said, “You can take the blindfold off now.”
She pulled off the scarf and blinked a couple of times to clear her eyes. They were standing in front of a shiny, metallic silver car – a Series 3 BMW. There was even a baby seat already installed in the back.
“What?” she asked, puzzled.
“Mine? A car?”
“Well…I did think about getting you an X5, but then I realized we already have one of those in the house and two would be total overkill.”
Max, grinning, accepted the keys Logan held up in front of her, dangling them in her face. She took one step toward the car, then turned back, grabbing him in a tight hug and kissing his cheek. “Nice surprise, Logan.”
“Well, if that’s the reaction I get, I’m sorry I didn’t do this sooner.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “Aren’t you gonna try it out?”
Suddenly, she was all business. ”Get in, everyone.” She took Eva from Ben and sat her in the baby seat, first adjusting the straps to fit.
An hour later, they were well to the south of Seattle, travelling fast along the highway. Max put the car through its paces, flying through the gear changes. Eventually, they passed a field where the only occupants were a family of fibreglass cattle: a bull, cow and calf. They were old, and somewhat beat-up, but basically intact, although the bull had lost one of his horns. How the artificial animals had escaped being vandalized was a mystery, but they had. Max pulled the car over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. She leaned across the center console to Logan, who was watching her curiously, and pulled him closer. Then she kissed him deeply, to the sound of a muted, “Gees, I wish you two wouldn’t do that in public,” from Ben. Max waved an admonishing finger at Ben as Logan deepened the connection, holding her head and the back of her neck in his hands.
They backed off slightly, staring into each other’s eyes.
“I should surprise you more often,” Logan said softly.
Max just smiled. “Let’s go home.”Chapter 29: Sticks & Balls
“Hey!” Max called through the open window of the car. “Want a ride?”
Original Cindy leaned down to the window to see who had called out to her. “Hey, sugah. Look at you flossin’.”
Original Cindy opened the door and got in, snuggling into the comfortable seat. “A girl sure could get used to this,” she said, closing her eyes and pretending to sleep as Max pulled out from the curb. Eva babbled and kicked, announcing her presence. “And hello to you, little sugah.” OC snapped one eye open, closed it again, then reconsidered and sat straighter, no longer pretending. “I see that man o’ yours finally got you some wheels befittin’ your station in life.”
“Yeah, and you knew about it all along, ‘coz he came to you for advice, didn’t he.”
“Advice? Nah. I just told him not to get you a Sherman tank like that heap he drives. A lady likes a ride with style. Now look at you. Gonna have to go to some fancy finishin’ school just to be seen with you.”
“Yeah, right. Gonna be home alone tonight. Wanna chill out with me?”
“What, you lettin’ the boys out on their own?”
“Basketball. Not my thing, you know that.”
“Yeah, I know.” Original Cindy considered a moment. “Might just do that, boo. Where you headed at this hour anyway?”
“Work,” Max smiled.
“Alec and Gem keeping you busy? Guess it beats climbing the walls.”
“That’s for sure.”
Max slowed to a stop outside the salon where Cindy was employed. OC got out and shut the door. She leaned in the window again to say, “Later…”
Logan plonked his soda down on the molded plastic seat beside him and wrote himself a mental note to thank Matt Sung again. The tickets the detective had given him for this game couldn’t have been better – courtside seats on the aisle. They were in the area designated for wheelchair users. There were several other wheelchair users of various sizes and shape, with their families, around them. Logan appreciated the fact that they were almost exactly mid-court and had a clear view of both ends. Ben’s eyes shone with excitement. He had been to several basketball games with his father, but the excitement never left him.
Logan, waiting for the game to begin, was startled when a firm hand came down on his shoulder. He looked around into the wise, dark eyes of his former PT, Bling.
“Bling!” Logan gave a smile of delight. He hadn’t seen his former therapist for a considerable time – not since Bling had knocked him into shape for the second time following the collision with the bridge, which had written off both Bessie and the exoskeleton, and had nearly written off Logan as well. He grasped the physical therapist’s hand in a firm shake. “Ben, do you remember Bling?” Logan had looked back at the boy once and caught his expression.
“Yeah, Dad, I do.”
Bling reached across and high-fived the boy. “How you doing, Ben? I wouldn’t have recognized you.”
Ben rolled his eyes in a way so reminiscent of Max that both men laughed. “Yeah, whatever.”
“Great.” Logan couldn’t help smiling. “What’re you doing here?”
“Really?” Logan’s tone was only mildly disbelieving. “Who’d’a’ thought.”
“Really. Kid from the rehab centre. I should introduce you as the archetypal bad patient – a classic example in how not to do things.” There was a flash of white teeth, a fleeting grin, taking the sting out of the words.
“Aww, go ahead, say what you like. It’s open season.”
“Yeah, right – like you’d let me.”
“Bling?” The hesitant voice came from behind them.
“Sorry, Steve, I really should introduce you.” Bling turned to his charge, a slim, fair-haired man in his early twenties, still with a hospital pallor. Logan figured that probably wouldn’t last long if the therapist had his way. “Steve, this is my friend and one of my old clients, Logan Cale. Logan, this is Stephen Hallsmith.”
While Bling spoke, Logan had unlocked his brakes and pivoted on one wheel to face the young man. “Hey, Stephen.” He held out a hand in greeting.
“Hey.” Stephen took the proffered hand in his own.
Logan knew then, if he hadn’t already, how recent Stephen’s injury was. His hand was smooth, uncallused, a complete contrast to Logan’s chair-hardened one. Logan looked fit and healthy in comparison to the much younger man before him. He had been spending a lot of time in the outdoors recently – both at the cabin and the park – and had acquired a suntan in the process. He had also resumed his regular workouts following the visit to Bennett’s house earlier in the week, and had even shaved that morning, and so presented a smooth-skinned face to the world. Bling looked as impressive as ever, with his body-builder physique and no-nonsense attitude. He was a calm, sensible presence, although Logan had not always appreciated that. All the same, Logan was genuinely glad to see his old friend.
Logan was about to speak again when another voice hailed him from farther afield.
Logan looked up to see one of his basketball teammates rolling toward him at a fast clip. The newcomer executed a smooth pirouette to pull around Bling and his charge and come to a stop in front of Logan, grinning from ear to ear.
“Well, ain’t it a small world. How ya doin’, man? How’s Max? And how’re you doing, Ben?”
“I’m good.” Ben smiled at the man’s onslaught of words. Scott wasn’t known to keep quiet for more than about 30 seconds at the best of times, but when he was excited, verbal diarrhea ensued.
Logan, amused by the torrent of words, was forestalled from speaking by Bling. “Hey, Scott, long time, no see.”
“Bling. Fancy seeing you here.” He high-fived the physical therapist and went on talking, this time to Logan. “We gonna see you at training on Wednesday, Logan? We aim on takin’ the championship this year.”
“Gee, I don’t know about that, Scott. I’m getting a bit old and slow to keep up with you young guys.”
Bling smiled. He was the one who had introduced Logan to the joys of wheelchair basketball. Stephen followed the conversation with interest. Ben’s ears had pricked at the words “training on Wednesday”. He was a keen sports fan, as well as being a keen sportsman. He attended a large percentage of his dad’s games, and even the occasional training session.
“Crap.” Scott wasn’t hearing any of that. “If you can keep up with that beautiful wife of yours,” Scott wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, “then you can keep up with us. Speaking of which, where is the lovely Max?”
“Damn. Well, any time you wanna trade her in, I’m available.”
“Yeah, and Claire would have my ass in the fire faster’n’ I could blink if I did that.”
“What would you care? Your ass couldn’t feel the flames anyway.”
Logan grinned ruefully, while Bling and Ben were openly laughing at the exchange. Stephen, sitting beside Logan, listened to the exchange and took note of how these two experienced wheelers were acting toward each other – laughing at their predicament.
“And yours could?”
“Well…maybe not,” Scott conceded. “But I’d be there selling the tickets.”
“Like Max’d really let that happen,” Bling interjected.
“She’d swoop in on her faithful steed and have you back in that rich-kids’ playhouse making sweet monkey love faster than I could blink. Ain’t never seen anyone so stuck on anyone else after so long in my entire life. When are you guys gonna quit the honeymoon and join the rest of us plebes. Though mind you,” Scott scratched his chin thoughtfully, “if I had Max…”
They were interrupted by an impatient movement from Stephen.
“Oh, hey, sorry, I’ve been rude. Scott Mitchell.” He held out his hand.
“You’re here with the big guy?”
Steve nodded. “Well, you couldn’t be in better hands. Right, Logan?”
Scott turned a semi-circle to watch as the two teams ran out onto the court and prepared to do battle.
"So what'd you do with Claire tonight?
"She's in Portland. Went to stay with her mom for a few days."
"How'd you piss her off this time?"
Scott donned an exaggeratedly hurt expression as if to say, "Who, me?" turning his head so Logan could see it. "I didn't. Her mom's been sick and she went to play nursemaid."
Logan nodded thoughtfully, watching the teams run around the court, practicing free throws. "Come back to my place later?"
"Bling? You and Steve could come too."
Bling was slightly taken aback at the invitation. Logan wasn't normally quite so forthcoming in asking people to invade his privacy. He looked at Steve and responded with a cautious, "We'll see."
Max stretched out on the sofa while Original Cindy engaged in some pedicure. Original Cindy had already dealt with Max's fingernails. She leaned her back against the arm, waving her fingers before her face and blowing on the nails to hurry up the drying process. The containers from the Chinese takeout they'd eaten for dinner earlier were still on the kitchen counter. Cindy had just turned on the coffee machine, and it gurgled and belched. Max was keeping half an eye on Eva, who had started crawling. She was up on her hands and knees, rocking back and forth.
"Gonna have your hands full soon. Nothin' gonna stop that little girl."
Max just smiled.
"What're you grinning at? You're the one gonna be doing the chasing. Remember Elfie and the stuff she used to get up to? Nothing was safe. Darn kid was part monkey."
"What – think I can't cope? Didn't kill us last time."
"It may not have crossed your mind, but Ben isn't Eva."
"Logan's pretty toys aren't going to be safe."
"We do know how to childproof, OC."
"I know that. Just trying to point out that you need to do it soon."
Cindy watched Eva set off across the floor, almost falling on her nose when she reached the edge of the rug and moved onto the smooth floorboards. She had her eyes fixed on the TV remote control, which was on the floor where Ben had left it. Eva was fast, but OC was faster – for now. She stopped what she was doing and made a dive to get there first. She swapped the remote control for a colourful plastic toy, which seemed to satisfy Eva and was definitely safer.
"See what I mean?"
"Yeah, I get your point, I guess. What was your point?" Max asked innocently. "Oh, that's right. Gotta childproof."
"Okay, I'm done here, I think." Cindy sat back and admired her handiwork, then started repacking her kit.
"Can't have ya wandering the streets looking like one of the local street hoes, with your nails all busted up."
"Well, this is more fun than doing guy stuff with Logan, anyway." Max rolled her eyes and laughed. "Downtime with sistah-gurl is always a good thing."Chapter 30: Hangin’ with the guys
“Logan! Hey! Wait up!” Logan looked around, hearing his name called for the third time that evening. He scanned the crowd around him, eventually meeting the dark eyes of his former school basketball teammate, Henry. Standing beside Henry were Carl and Aaron, both grinning from ear to ear.
Logan swung around to face them, forcing Ben into a quick sideways hop to get out of the way. “I thought you guys would’ve gone back home by now.”
“Umm, Logan,” Carl rubbed his head, rumpling his short, curly hair. “I live here.”
“And I’m taking some time off,” added Henry. “I’m thinking of moving back to Seattle. Mom isn’t getting any younger and, well, she won’t move. It’s just a matter of getting all the ducks in a row, persuading the family…you know.”
Aaron was silent for a moment. “I’m on vacation,” he shrugged, “kind of.”
“Yeah, right Aaron. Permanent holidays,” joked Carl.
Aaron shrugged. “I’m between jobs,” he admitted.
Ben stood by, his hand on his dad’s shoulder. They had been on their way to the exit when Henry called out to them. Bling, Steve, and Scott were already out of the stadium. They’d made a quick beeline for the exit as soon as the game ended, but Logan and Ben had been slower and were now caught in the crush.
“Hey, move it, will ya,” someone called from farther back in the line. Logan gave the speaker a dirty look and closed up the gap between him and the people next in line, wheeling backwards in an arc so he again faced the front of the line.
“Look, there’s a bunch of people coming back to my place now. Why don’t you guys join us?”
The three men looked at each other. “Not tonight,” answered Aaron. “But if you want to give us your number, we'll call later in the week.”
They were now at the gate. Logan pushed out the gate, followed by Ben and the three men. He moved a little way from the gates and stopped. He felt around in the pocket of his backpack, finding a red ballpoint pen and a scrap of paper – a shop receipt. He quickly scribbled out his phone number and address and handed it to Carl, who was the closest of the three.
“Boy, your writing sure hasn’t improved any,” Carl commented, squinting at the scrawl.
“Gee, thanks,” Logan responded sarcastically. “You can read it?”
“Yeah, I can read it. See you later.”
The three of them turned in the opposite direction.
“Who were they?” asked Ben.
"Some guys I knew in school."
"Just as well they said no. Mom is gonna freak out anyway."
“Ya think so?” Logan asked. He looked at Ben, green eyes meeting green eyes and smiling slightly. They were approximately the same height with Logan seated, although the boy was growing fast. He was of middle height for his age, but so had Logan been at the same stage.
“Yep, Dad. You’re gonna be so dead.”
“I doubt it,” Logan responded, gritting his teeth as he forced his way across the rough blacktop of the parking lot, heading in the direction of the Aztek.
“Whatever.” The single word utterance was so Max-like that again Logan smiled. “But don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”
Max came back into the living room after changing Eva’s diaper, and sat down in the corner of the couch. Original Cindy blinked, averted her eyes, and shook her head as Max bared her breast and started feeding the baby. Max caught the movement and looked at her friend, startled. “What?”
“That is just something I never get used to.”
“Flashing me like that. It just ain’t fair.”
Max giggled. “Sorry, boo. Little lady is hungry.”
“Just warn me next time.”
“’Kay.” Max smiled down at Eva then looked across at Cindy. “You never wanted one of these for yourself?”
“Nope, no thank you! Original Cindy has enough hassles in her life without an extra mouth to feed. She happy just to be Aunty OC.” Cindy got out of the armchair in which she was sitting and went over to sit next to Max. She squeezed one of Eva’s plump thighs thoughtfully, feeling the baby-soft skin.
Max smiled. “It’s all good.”
“All the time, boo. Besides, anytime I need remindin’, you just come on out and ask me to babysit and I remember lickety-split why I don’t have none. Don’t get me wrong. I love yo’ kids like they’re mine. You my sistah, after all. But at least I get to give ‘em back after. And it ain’t just a lesbian thing. Plenty of lesbians got kids.” OC raised an eyebrow. “There’s ways, ya know.” She smiled at Max. “Just never wanted ‘em. Besides, why go through all that pain when all ya have to do is borrow them now and then.”
Max caught OC’s look and they both laughed. “Never thought I’d be doin’ it either. Not once, let alone twice. Not after Sandeman…and everything that happened…Logan…”
“Well, if you had to hook up with a male, ya could’a done worse. If Manticore’d had its way, you’d have ended up with Alec.”
“Oh, God,” Max moaned. “Don’t remind me.”
“Heeeeee. Aww, Alec’s not so bad provided you beat on his ass from time to time.”
Max rolled her eyes. “So how long were you and Alec stuck in the closet?” Logan asked, his expression amused.
“About an hour. He was yapping the entire time.”
“He's a yapper.” Logan chucked. “Yeah, stuck in the closet with Alec--you're pretty much describing my worst nightmare.”
Max smiled. It was worth it, though. It got me here.”
“His yapping would have driven me nuts by now.”
Original Cindy gave a deep chuckle. “Yeah, he sure knows how to talk. Guess that’s one of the nice things about Logan, huh? Guy knows when to keep his trap shut.”
“There’s a lotta nice things about Logan, hon, but I don’t gotta go there with you. You heard ‘em all before.”
“Only ‘bout a thousand times.” Cindy giggled.
“’Course, there’s also a lotta annoying things, as well. But…it isn’t a perfect world.”
“Word, sistah. It’s straight off the rack and I ain’t no perfect size three no more.”
Max smiled at Cindy. “Were you ever a perfect size three?” she asked sweetly.
“I ain’t tellin’ you that
Max cocked an ear, hearing the ping of the elevator and voices from outside. “Sounds like they’re home.”
“Sounds like the Mongol hordes are home,” Cindy corrected, hearing Ben running through the apartment, then someone else's more measured tread. Had it been just Logan and Ben, she knew she wouldn’t have been able to hear anything. Logan’s wheels rang nearly silently, except when they needed oil, and Ben was normally quiet on his feet, except when he ran. “I think he brought someone with him.”
“Well, that’s different."
"Max?!" Logan called.
"In here!" Max called back, pulling her top down to avoid "flashing" anyone else. Eva had grabbed hold of a handful of the red fabric and Max had to gently untangle it from her fingers. Max looked up as Scott bowled into the room first and did a neat double-take on seeing Max and Eva.
"Geez, and I thought you might leave Logan and shack up with me," he quipped. “Damn.”
"Ouch," she replied as Eva, hearing the unfamiliar voice, had pulled back, turning her head to see, without releasing Max's nipple.
"That's okay," Max responded, popping her off. If Eva was that distracted, she wasn't going to argue.
Logan, Bling, and Steve came in, followed by Ben, who had detoured via his parents' bedroom to drop off the backpack.
"Wow, Bling, didn't know you'd started a rock band," Max grinned.
"Hey, Max. A rock band?" The big therapist looked puzzled.
"Yeah," responded Max. “Never mind. Doesn’t matter.”
Scott gave a huge guffaw of laughter. "You gonna roadie for us, Max?"
"Yeah, sure, why not." She smiled. "How ya doing, Bling? You remember Original Cindy?"
Logan smiled, knowing all was well. He turned and went into the kitchen to start making coffee.
The evening had been a pleasant interlude. Bling and Steve hadn’t stayed long – always one to keep the needs of his patient in mind, Bling had whisked Steve away as soon as he started to show signs of flagging. Steve was only a few weeks into his rehab program and still tired quickly. It was a slow process, but Bling was also trying to educate him into the fact that his life wouldn’t be all doom and gloom. In a way, meeting up with the two experienced wheelers had been just what the doctor ordered.
It had also been helpful to show Steve that it was possible to achieve a long-term relationship after a life-changing injury. Steve’s girlfriend had dumped him within days of the worksite accident that had resulted in his paralysis, a double blow. Showing him that Logan and Scott had been able to both establish and maintain long-term relationships – that not every woman was going to turn away was yet another step in that education. Scott had met his partner, Claire, during rehab when she was visiting her brother – another patient at the center. They’d started dating as soon as he was allowed out alone, and had been together ever since. And then there were Max and Logan. Bling was able to reflect on how long it had taken them to figure things out – all that denial. Max had never seen the wheels – they had never mattered to her – but it had taken Logan a long time to see past them. They were both strong-willed and had stubbornly refused to acknowledge the truth.
Bling was also convinced that Max was the only reason Logan was still alive – that if it weren’t for her, he would have put a bullet in his brain long before. He was fine now, but Logan’s mental state in the period immediately after he was injured, his depression, were such that suicide had been a very real possibility. He still had his demons – they were part of his psychological make-up and he would never lose them all. In a way, the demons were what gave him his edge. They had caused him to stray from the path set out by his family and had made him into Eyes Only.
Logan had always been a different person with Max around. She brought him out of his self-pity with her wise-ass remarks and no-nonsense attitude. Max cared deeply for those closest to her – she was like the mother octopus, who would sacrifice her own life so her eggs would reach maturity. She only cared for the big picture in an abstract way – where it affected her and hers. She had had to live her life that way in order to survive – to stay one jump ahead of capture or death. Seeing them together now, so happy and comfortable with one another, was a total contrast to their year of denial and the familiar mantra of “We’re not like that”, when it was obvious to everyone around them that they were.
Bling ruminated on this and more as he drove Original Cindy back to the apartment block on Waverly, then took Steve back to the rehab center and settled him in for the night.
The apartment was quiet now that everyone had left. The kids were asleep. Logan had turned out most of the lights, except for one small lamp in the corner of the living room. He sat in his favorite position at the window, staring into the night. The window was open slightly and a faint breeze stirred his hair. He looked up at Max as she walked into the living room. When their eyes met, they both smiled. He held his hands out in a gesture to invite her closer. She sat on his lap, one arm loosely wrapped around his neck. They touched foreheads, leaning against one another in a moment of relaxed companionship.
“So…about this rock band…” Logan said softly.
“What about it?”
“Where and when’s the first gig?”
“Bedroom, in…oh…any time you like,” Max responded with a impish grin.” At Logan’s mystified expression, she added with a husky laugh. “Well, you can rock my world any day.”