Summary: Logan doesn't know what it means to be on a family show. Aaron doesn't know what it means to be a family.
Warnings: Rated PG, gen
"You're late, kid." This greets Logan the second he steps foot through the door after school, not what he needs after a long day of droning teachers and another stint in detention.
He doesn't even know the guy, although he has the look of some of his father's seedier show biz acquaintances, a squat little man with heavy jowls, thinning hair and an unlit Cuban dangling from his mouth. Entertainment is only beautiful on the surface. Scratch it, and you find money, and the less-than-glamorous people willing to risk theirs, just to get a little stardust on their fingers.
"And who might you be?" Logan asks, in the well-perfected tone of dismissal.
"Stu Richmond. I'm the producer."
As if this tells him anything. Drop a rock anywhere in Southern California, and odds are you'll hit somebody calling themselves that.
"For the project, kid," Stu adds, as if Logan isn't any too bright. "What else would we be talking about?"
He gives the man a hard, flat smile. "Of course. That clears up everything. Well, if you'll excuse me..."
He starts to brush past him, but the man commandeers his elbow. "Look, kid, you've got exactly thirty minutes to get through makeup and wardrobe before we start shooting, so cut the prima donna act, okay?"
"No, you look, Stu." He stops and plants his feet. "If this is another of my father's publicity stunts, you can tell him to go to hell."
But Stu is a lot stronger than his five feet, three inches would suggest, and he manhandles Logan down the hall into what used to be the sunroom and now looks like the beauty parlor in Steel Magnolias. There, Stu hands him over to a wild-haired stylist, wearing a caftan and electric blue eye shadow that should have been extinct since the 70's.
Logan tries to tell her that this is all just a big mistake, but she's no more interested in listening than Stu was. She tuts at him and says there's no reason to be nervous, and comes at him with a big pot of rouge. He keeps insisting, and she keeps dabbing away, and when she finally stops dusting him with her powder puff, he tells her dryly, "Thank you. I feel very pretty now."
He takes two steps toward the door, but she heads him off. "Myrna still needs to do something about those clothes." She gives his jeans and T-shirt the once-over, her lips pinched like something tastes bad.
As far as Logan is concerned, people wearing caftans are in no position to throw stones about fashion, and he's just about to tell her so when he's waylaid by a woman who was either a longshoreman or a professional wrestler in her previous life.
"Strip to your underwear, Echolls!" she barks at him.
He laughs. "And they say romance is dead--" Suddenly he's standing there in nothing but his Calvin Kleins. "Shit!" He wraps his arms around himself, but that doesn't change the fact that an old broad built like a tank can now answer the question, boxers or briefs.
"Here." She tosses him some clothes. "Put these on."
The shirt is plaid, with snaps, and piping around the pocket, the jeans stiff and dark indigo, like some kind of Roy Rogers nightmare.
"If you think I'm going to--" The next thing he knows he dressed up like a country-western joke. "Jesus. Stop doing that."
She shrugs. "It's my job, kid."
"I'm not even in the movie," he complains. "I keep trying to tell you people that " He catches sight of himself in the mirror. "Shit! What did you do to me? I look like Howdy-fucking-Doody."
"Television special. And of course you're in it. You can't have An Echolls Family Christmas without the rascally-but-lovable teenaged son, now can you? And you look good." She studies him critically. "We might just need to tuck this shirt in a little tighter." She reaches down the front of his pants and starts pulling on the shirttail.
Logan smacks her hand away. "Fondling a minor is a crime in this state, you know."
Myrna rolls her eyes. "And being a smart ass is the defense mechanism favored by nine out of ten teenaged boys."
"First you molest, then you psychoanalyze, that's very full service of you, Myrrrrrrna." It's a name meant for sarcasm, and he gives it its full due.
She shakes her head. "Actors."
"How many times do I have to tell you that I'm not--"
He's interrupted by a geek with glasses poking his head around the corner. "You're needed on the set, Mr. Echolls."
Logan grits his teeth. "I'm not in the movie."
They all chime in, "TV special."
He sighs. "Dear old Dad must have been on serious crack to let you bunch of brain surgeons into the house." He takes a giant step into the geeky guy's personal space and watches him start to sweat. "Where is Mr. Hollywood anyway?"
"He's...waiting for you," the geek says, with a little bit of a stutter. "Everybody is."
Logan moves even closer, just because it's fun to see the guy shitting his pants. He has more of his father in him than he really likes to admit. "Well, I can't keep everybody waiting, now can I?
He heads down the hall, calling out, "Hey, Dad, how about telling your little friends here to lay off--" And freezes when he gets to the doorway of the kitchen.
Of all the things he expected, the one thing he didn't was...
She's wearing a polka-dotted dress with a full skirt that floats around her whenever she moves, pulling cookies out of the oven like Donna Reed reborn. He knows now that none of this is real, because of course it can't be, and he probably should have figured that out from the very beginning. But his mother, and he hugs her hard, glad to have one last chance, even if it is only in his head.
She indulges him, for a moment, then carefully extricates herself, patting his hand. "That's great, honey. But save it for the scene where you unwrap your present and get the toy train set you've always wanted, okay?" She glances around. "Florence!"
The woman scurries over and immediately sets to work fluffing what Logan has just crushed in his over eagerness.
There are so many things about life that just plain suck, and one of the suckiest of them all is that the harder you try to hold on to something, the slipperier it becomes. Logan wants nothing more than to just stand here in this dream kitchen, with his mother's smile lighting up everything. He'd spend the rest of his life this way if he only could.
But everything starts to shift, the room bending and warping, until the next thing he knows he's in the living room, sitting by the fireplace, toasting marshmallows over the gas logs with his father.
"Oh, it's getting cold out there," his father says, projecting theatrically. "But it sure does feel nice by the fire."
"We live in Southern California," Logan reminds him.
His father ignores that. "This is my favorite part of Christmas, spending quiet family time. There's nothing quite like the holidays, is there, son?" His father smiles, showing his bright white movie star teeth.
"For driving up the suicide rate?" Logan returns his father's plastic smile. "Golly, gee, you're right, Dad. X-mas has no equal."
"Cut!" A voice calls from somewhere.
His father drops the marshmallow stick and stands up. "I can't work like this. How am I supposed to work like this?"
Logan shrugs. "I often ask myself that same question. Only it's more like...how am I supposed to live like this?"
His father points an accusatory finger. "You are not professional. And you have no idea what it means to be on a family show." He storms off with a snort of disgust.
Logan gets to his feet. "Oh, yeah? Well, you have no idea what it means to be a family!"
But his father is already gone. Even in his own dreams, he can't get the last word.
He keeps expecting to wake up, but apparently that can't happen before the big finale. The room tilts, and he finds himself in the living room with both his parents and, terrifyingly, a grand piano.
His dad tells his mom, "You're looking beautiful as ever, sweetheart." And gives her a tidy, primetime kiss.
His mom straightens his tie fondly. "You're looking rather handsome yourself, darling."
"Watch out, you two," Logan tells them. "People will say you're in love."
His father punches his arm, not gently, although he manages to make it look friendly. "You're such a joker, Logan." The laugh track blares, and his father laughs along with it, before turning back to Logan's mom. "Say, sweetheart, why don't we invite our guests to join in one of our family traditions?"
His mother claps her hands together. "What a great idea, honey!"
Logan crosses his arms over his chest. "Which tradition is that, Dad?"
"Now let's all gather around the piano " his mother says, as if she doesn't hear him.
"You mean the one where you make me pick out the belt that you'll beat me with it?"
"There's nothing like a good, old-fashioned sing-a-long," his father says.
"Or maybe the one," Logan continues, "where you just have to bang every bimbo who happens to cross your path?"
"What should we sing, darling?" His mother smiles adoringly at his father.
"Or how about that grand old tradition where Mom used to drink herself into a stupor every night because that's how miserable you made her?" Logan demands.
His father slides his arm around his mother's waist and pulls her close. "Why don't we start with your favorite, sweetheart?"
"Or the fact that your daughter couldn't take time out of her busy schedule to come to her own mother's funeral?"
His mother gives his father a peck on the lips. "You're so sweet."
"Which one of those warm and touching Echolls family traditions do you mean, Dad?"
They start to sing, and Logan keeps on shouting, which one, Dad?, and even though it's just his parents with their reedy voices joined in a duet, the room echoes with "Silent Night" like there's an entire choir backing them up, drowning Logan out completely.
The music swells to a finish, and the director yells "cut," and Logan's mother instantly detaches herself from his father's side, all traces of fondness gone.
His father glares at him. "You never did know how to behave in front of the camera."
"And you've never known how to behave, period. I guess that makes us even, huh, Dad?"
His father takes a step toward him, the familiar tight lines around his mouth. In Logan's mind, this moment is always subtitled, "Prelude to a Beating."
His mother looks away. "I'll be in my trailer if anybody needs me."
She disappears before Logan can beg her stay, and Stu Richmond swoops down on them before Logan can pull his own vanishing act.
"Aaron!" Stu gushes. "You've done it again. That was brilliant stuff! Your best Christmas special yet." He slings an arm over his shoulders. "But next year, we might consider making a few changes--" He stares pointedly at Logan.
His father nods, a hard, unforgiving look in his eyes. "Nobody's irreplaceable."
Stu claps him on the back. "My thinking exactly. I've already got some thoughts on the casting "
They walk away, bandying names of young actors back and forth.
Logan yells after them, "I wish you would get somebody else to play the thankless role of your smacked-around-blamed-for-everything goddamned son. I would weep for fucking joy if you weren't my father. Do you hear that, Dad? Weep for joy."
He keeps yelling it, until he can't yell anymore, but no matter how loud he gets, his father still doesn't hear him.
In the morning, Logan wakes early, with a dull pain over one eye and remnants of the dream still floating through his head, not enough to really know what it was about, just a lingering sense of his mother and the hard reality that absolutely nothing has changed.
It's a relief, at least, to remember that Christmas is still three days away. He flops onto his back and stares up at the ceiling. Quiet family time, that's what his father said when Logan asked what they'd be doing. Which means his father's new girlfriend has already been invited. Sharma or Sierra or something like that. They all have names like cheap perfume, and Logan can't keep them straight. No doubt, there will be piles of gaudily wrapped packages under the tree, and the kind of forced gaiety that deserves its own section of the Geneva Convention, and the conspicuous absence of any mention of his mother or the fact that this is their first Christmas without her.
Under the bed is a bottle, and he reaches down, pulls it out. He found his mother's Scotch pushed to the back of the cabinet the day after the funeral. His father never touches the amber liquors, something about his fraternity days and an infamous three-day hangover, and God, hasn't Logan heard that story too many times? His father never even noticed when he spirited away the Glenfiddich, or possibly he just didn't care. Certainly it's not because he understood.
It would make Logan laugh if it weren't so pathetic. That his mother's booze is the only legacy he has of her.
There's a slightly crusty glass on the bedside table that's been there since...who knows when. He pours the Scotch, sparingly, which isn't the truest tribute to his mom, but then, she had the luxury of getting more anytime she wanted, and he has to make this one bottle last. That's the difference between drinking to remember and drinking to forget.
He lifts the glass and forces a smile that makes his face feel wrong. "Here's to you, Mom." He tips the glass back and swallows down the bitterness in one gulp. Slams the tumbler back down with a sharp crack. "Thanks for nothing."