Friends With Benefits

Leah perched in her usual spot on the low brick wall that bordered the path leading from the parking lot to the entrance near the cafeteria. The grass was still damp under her as she sat, her hands wrapped around a paper cup of coffee, inhaling the steam and feeling the rising sun heating the back of her black hooded sweatshirt.

The rumble of a Harley jolted her out of her thoughts. She watched as Logan parked it, slid off, and paused to light a cigarette. Smoke swirled from his lips as he stared off into the distance, looking scruffy and tough and ready for anything.

Leah wanted to be that cigarette.

No one knew much about the kid everyone knew only by his last name, which made the rumors all the more interesting. Some said he had no parents, that he had been in jail, that he was really older than the 18 years he claimed. Whether any of it was real or not, Logan never gave a clue; he barely talked to anyone, and only when it was necessary. He went to class, he did the work, and he kept to himself. That was it.

Over the summer, Logan had lunch every day at the diner where Leah worked as a waitress. She couldn't recall ever talking to him, aside from the usual waitress and customer interactions. Once back in school, they were strangers again. But she still found herself obsessing over him. The way he smelled when he came in for his lunch break, like sweat and wood from his labors at the lumberyard. How his dark, tousled hair clung damply to his temples. Maybe it was the mystery, maybe the raw sex appeal of muscle and stubble, or just the way he didn't care what people thought. He never threatened, but the tough kids stayed away from him. He heard the comments, but they rolled off him without leaving a mark.

"Hello? Ground control to Major Leah?" Tom said, snapping his fingers next to Leah's ear. Leah jumped, then gulped down some coffee in an attempt to act casual.

"Sorry. I was spacing out," Leah said, turning to her friend. Tom was wearing a pair of sunglasses with mirrored lenses, and a white t-shirt with jeans. He looked good, Leah thought, remembering hot summer nights when Tom would crawl through her window. She still dreamed of his hands on her, his

lips on her throat, her long hair clinging damply to his face, his breath panting hot in her ear.

"Or something," Tom muttered, glancing over at Logan. "I was wondering if you were still going to come over after school to help me study for chemistry."

"Yeah, I can't stay all night, though; I have some reading to do for social studies."

"It won't take too long. Marie's coming over at eight." Leah gulped her coffee to keep herself from saying anything. Marie was Tom's new girlfriend, the reason the nighttime visits had stopped.

Logan had stomped out his cigarette and was walking slowly down the path toward the doors, hands in the pockets of his well-worn leather jacket. "I don't know what you see in him," Tom muttered, almost to himself. Leah ignored him; it wasn't her who had dodged commitment only to hook up with the new girl before she had time to learn where all her classes were.

"He's sexy," Leah said. Let him chew on that.

"He doesn't talk. And the rumors—"
"Are rumors. Jealousy doesn't suit you, Tommy." Leah heaved her backpack onto her back, the bell interrupting Tom's indignation either at the accusation or the hated childhood nickname. "See you at lunch. Maybe. I gotta go to English." She rushed into the building without looking back.

Leah started into the lunchroom at noon, clutching her brown paper bag, but froze when she saw Tom and Marie sitting at a table in the far corner. Marie was laughing at something Tom was saying, her round cheeks crinkling up her eyes, her large breasts jiggling in her tight little t-shirt. She was pretty; Tom would probably have her on her back within the week, Leah thought sourly. Before they could notice, she turned and headed for the front doors. People often ate out on the lawn when the weather was nice, but apparently almost everyone had decided the air-conditioned cafeteria was more pleasant. The sun beat down on Leah's pale shoulders; she sought out a piece of shade where she could avoid sunburn.

Logan was sitting against a tree. He had a book open in one hand, a sandwich in the other. He ate without taking his eyes from the page. Leah ambled over. "Mind if I sit here?" she asked.

Logan looked up, squinting. He shrugged. "It's a free lawn." Leah sat a few feet away from him and pulled out her sandwich. She slid her feet out of her sandals; the grass was pleasantly cool between her toes

"Sorry for interrupting," Leah apologized, poking the straw into her juice box.

"It's okay. Mind if smoke?" He pulled a pack of Marlboros out of his pocket. Leah shrugged, then shook her head when he offered her one. He lit it up and took a drag. There was a long space of silence, Leah just sitting there eating and thinking that even the disgusting smoke was worth being in his presence.

Logan didn't say anything, just puffed on his cigarette. His face was all planes and angles, rugged and attractive. Leah wondered why he didn't have girls following him around. "You don't seem so bad," she said, offhand. Raising an eyebrow, Logan stuck a blade of grass in the book, closed it, and set it down. Leah stammered, realizing she had said more than she meant to. "I mean, well people say stuff, yknow?"

"Stuff like what?"

"Well… they say you fight people for money, for one. That you're some escaped mental patient convict who killed his parents. Crazy stuff." Leah felt silly just repeating the rumors.

Logan laughed. "Idiots. Only the first one is true."

"Really? You feel like you have to prove something?"

"I don't need to prove anything. I don't seek 'em out. They come to me, thinkin' they're so tough, so I figure why not? Money's money." He smirked and eyed her as though he expected her to say something.

"What?" she asked. What was she supposed to say?

"I'm waiting for the big morality speech every girl gives me when I tell her the truth."

"I think it's kinda cool," Leah admitted. "A lot of the assholes around here could stand to get knocked about. Their parents don't keep them in line." She twisted the napkin in her hands. "My favorite part of middle school was the fights during recess. Now they just stand around threatening until a teacher comes along so they have an excuse not to fight."

Logan finished up his cigarette and put it out against the sole of his boot. "I'm fighting Vince Marco tonight. Wanna watch?"

Leah knew that name. Vince Marco, the kid who set his gang of bullies against her all throughout middle school, the kid who threw trash in her locker, smeared food in her hair, and sexually harassed her. He was on the football team now, a huge kid with tons of stupid boneheaded friends who thought he was a god. "Do I ever," she breathed.

Logan said, "Eight tonight, the sandpit back past the railroad tracks, behind the Wal-Mart on Oak Street."

"I know the place."

The bell rang. Logan pushed himself to his feet and offered Leah a hand. She took it; calluses rubbed against her palm. He pulled her up. "See you tonight?"

"I might swing by," she said casually and, she hoped, seductively.

"I'll see you then," he said with a smile, as though Leah had said yes. Even as she walked back into the building she knew her mind was made up.

Everyone either had a big mouth or let everyone step on them, but not Logan. That was what she liked. She had let Vince get away with it because she was scared; she had believed in the illusion of his power over her. Tom let his father push him around. Tom was a head taller and probably stronger than his old man but often he still came to school in long sleeves. Leah wondered how Marie would handle seeing those bruises on him. Maybe he'd lie to her too.

But Logan had the right idea: don't start anything, walk softly, but keep your fists up. Deep down, Leah still believed wholeheartedly in revenge.

Before Marie showed up, Leah had already left Tom's house. They both pretended they hadn't argued that day, but the study session was formal and impersonal. Usually "studying" meant a lot of off-topic conversation and goofing off, but not this time. Tom would probably pass the test, all the better. His father was, as always, polite and harmless-seeming, coming home to a late dinner after a long day at the office, but there was something menacing in the way he said, "You'd better pass this test, Tom," that sank Leah's heart.

It was out of her mind now, though. Her head pounded and she felt vaguely sick as she parked at the far end of the parking lot, along the fence, and walked the gravel road to the sandpit. The police never seemed to patrol out there unless someone phoned in a specific complaint. Leah had never been there. She suddenly felt exposed, out of place. But she forced herself to keep walking. The sun hadn't set yet, but the light was losing strength. The sand had a dry, dusty, baked smell to it: construction sand, not beach sand. Heat rose from it

A small crowd had already formed. Vince and his friends stood in a clump, looking menacing. There were some others Leah recognized as students, and some that she had seen around town but didn't know. She wasn't the only girl there; there were a few others, standing with guys she assumed were their boyfriends, looking irritated and bored or as uncomfortable as Leah felt. It was small-town entertainment, a cheap date. Logan stood alone, neither eager nor bored, just waiting with his cigarette. He gave her a little nod, to show he knew she was there.

"It's eight," someone said. Vince stiffened, then forced a menacing sneer onto his face and slammed his fist into his palm. Logan dropped his cigarette and ground it into the dirt under his heel. Almost instinctively, the crowd formed a wide circle around the pair.

Logan didn't respond to the posturing. "Ready?" he asked. Vince came forward, stepping quick like a boxer, fists up. A kid at play. Logan stood ready, serious. Vince threw a punch that Logan dodged easily and did not return.

Vince's face flushed. "You gonna do something, asshole?" he growled. Logan spat.

There was an eruption of movement as Vince came in swinging, Logan blocking and laying in some punches of his own. It wasn't a boxing match or some kind of martial arts fight, it was just brawling. Or Vince was brawling, rather; Logan was dancing. It wasn't that he was emotionless. He grunted, his brows furrowed, his jaw clenched, but there wasn't any rage, just concentration. Vince was the one snarling, cursing, fighting like a mad dog.

The crowd seemed to rage enough for both; what started out as scattered cheers became louder, more frenzied, as the fight went on. Leah could feel all the old fury rising in herself, remembering Vince's abuse, feeling a vicious satisfaction with every smack of a blow connecting, as though she was the one making it. A purple welt bloomed on Vince's cheek. Leah's heart was beating hard, a sort of wild energy rising within her, a mindless bloodlust that surprised her. She found that she was clenching her fists hard enough to leave nail-marks in her palms.

Vince lunged and caught Logan around the waist, slamming him down into the sand. Logan managed to throw the football player off him. Vince scrambled to his feet. Logan lashed out with his foot as Vince started forward to catch him before he could rise. His boot caught Vince in the stomach, and the kid went down. Logan stood. He could've kicked him more, done more damage, but he didn't. He just stood at ready, waiting to see if Vince would get up and come at him again. Vince lay gasping, clutching his belly and trying to get up. Logan gave him a warning look. "You want some more, Marco?" he asked.

Vince's glare was pure hatred. He spat blood, didn't say anything. Two of his friends hauled him up while another slapped a wad of cash into Logan's hand, looking as though he'd rather shove a knife through him. Logan bared his teeth at him, a mock-smile, and stuck the money in the pocket of his jeans. Leah glanced at her watch. The whole thing had only lasted fifteen minutes.

The crowd drifted away. Logan had caught his breath and was pulling on his leather jacket, rubbing his knuckles. Leah wandered over. "You went easy on him," she said.

"I could've killed him if I wanted to." He said it so casually, and she believed him. She tried to imagine what he would be like if he really let himself go. It made her shiver, whether in fear or delight she found herself unable to decide. "But I got what I wanted." He patted his pocket, and started walking down the dirt road toward the parking lot.

Leah followed. "How did you learn to fight like that?"

"My dad taught me how to defend myself when I was younger. He showed me how you could use the other guy's moves against him, how to let him wear himself down and do all the work for ya."

"Have you ever lost?"

"Once. You know Pete Barton?" Leah nodded; he was on the basketball team. He was a fairly nice guy, rather popular. "I think he lost a bet or something, 'cause I don't know why else he'd want to fight me. But he kicked my ass. He was quick, quicker than me. There's always someone better, no use getting cocky."

"It's a good attitude to have," Leah agreed. They were back at the parking lot now. "How long have you been doing this fighting thing?"

"One kid, freshman year, he decides to start something with me. So I told him to meet me that night, that we'll settle it once and for all, we'll even put cash on it. I kicked his ass. You know the rest. It's not an every-night thing. Only happens maybe a few times a month."

"It's very Fight Club."

"You ever read that?"

"It's a book?"

Logan laughed. "Yeah, before the movie. You wanna read it? I'll bring it in to school tomorrow," he decided. He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked up at the stars. "Well, since I have a little cash on me now, wanna go out for a coffee or a donut or something?" Logan asked.

Leah hesitated. "I'd love to, but… I really ought to get home. It's a school night and stuff." Her shoulders sank.

Logan shrugged. "Well, it's up to you. But I wouldn't keep you out late; I oughtta get home by ten at the latest. But it won't be that long."

She considered it. Going home, or going out with the guy she'd been crushing on all summer? "Okay, sure," she agreed, smiling. Logan smiled back and beckoned.

"C'mon then, we can take my bike. I'll just bring you back here for your car after," he said. "You ever ridden a Harley before?"

"No," Leah admitted, following him to the bike. "Where did you get it?"

"From my uncle. He was getting a new one, and this one was pretty worn out. I fixed it up, so it runs okay," Logan told her as they got on. "It's cheaper than a car, too."

"What if it rains?" Leah asked.

"Then I get wet," Logan replied with a smirk. "Hold on tight, around my waist." Heart pounding, Leah put her arms around his waist, feeling the firmness of his torso. She was actually touching him; she couldn't believe it. Logan started up the motorcycle and they roared off.

They went to the Dunkin' Donuts on the opposite side of town, taking as roundabout a route as possible "so we can have a little ride," Logan said. Leah clung to him, wind whipping her ponytail around, making her eyes water. The bike was loud, the ride far from smooth. But it was exciting.

At the Dunkin' Donuts, they sat down across from each other, Leah with an apple fritter, Logan with half a dozen honey-glazed. He ate two of them, saying, "I'll bring the rest home for my folks. Dad loves these things." She watched him lick the sugar off his fingers, like a cat cleaning its paws. "I'm actually surprised you showed up tonight," he admitted.

"Really? Why?"

He shrugged. "I didn't know if you were really interested."

"Well I am."

Logan raised an eyebrow. "You know I'm no pretty-boy like your Tomcat there."

"Tomcat?"

He waved it away. "Nickname, from all the tail he gets. That's what I heard, anyway. People say a lot around you when they think you're not listening."

Leah straightened up. "Well he's not mine, in any case."

"He was, though."

Leah picked at her fritter. "Almost."

"What went on with you two, if you don't mind my asking?"

She wanted to tell him that it was none of his business, because it wasn't. Also, she didn't want to tell him that even though every day at the diner her heart would pound as the clock neared noon, she still spent almost every night sweating under Tom's weight. And it had gotten her nothing. "We're best friends," she said finally. "We're close." Staring out the window helped her avoid looking at him as she went on. "One night we made out. It felt good. I wasn't getting any, and we both wanted some. So we kept going." She tore a bite off her pastry. "I know he's been with a lot of girls. I thought it was different, or at least I started to think that way the longer it went on."

Logan just nodded. Leah went on, "School starts up and he meets Marie. He was never monogamous before. I didn't think anything would change. But I guess she told him it was her or everyone else, but not both. And all of a sudden, I'm history. For this girl he barely knows."

"I don't think he's forgotten you," Logan said. "He stares at you. And he glares at me."

She looked at him with a little smirk. "Is there anything you don't notice?"

Logan shrugged again. "I didn't really notice you 'til this summer, at the diner."

"Well ditto," Leah said. "You were in there almost every day I was."

"It wasn't a coincidence," he said.

"No?" Leah felt her face get hot. It seemed too much to hope that he'd been after her as long as she'd been after him. Logan just smiled.

They were silent for a while, Logan watching her as she finished off her fritter and licked the glaze off her fingers. She felt naked under his gaze. "Nine-thirty," he said, looking at his watch. "Better get going, Cinderella, before you an' me turn into pumpkins."

Tom came up to Leah the next day at school. "Where were you last night?" he asked. "Your mom called my house around nine asking about you. I told her you were in the bathroom and couldn't talk."

"Thanks for covering for me, Tom," Leah said gratefully, feeling ashamed that she had been so angry at him. "I was watching Logan fight."

Tom's brow furrowed. "What for?"

"He told me about it, and I wanted to see him. It was kinda cool."

"I was wondering how Vince Marco got that shiner. Dammit, Leah, Logan's bad news."

Leah whirled on him. "What do you know? Rumors, Tom? He took me for a ride after, on his motorcycle. We went to Dunkin's and talked for an hour or so. He's a nice guy."

"Well don't expect me to cover for you next time," Tom muttered. "Your mom interrupted me and Marie."

Her eyes narrowed. "Oh, did you fuck her last night?"

Tom knew fighting words when he heard them. "Yeah, she was really good too," he said. "It was nice to have someone who makes noise for a change."

"Spare me," Leah spat. "Enjoy the pussy, Tomcat, and call me when you're sane." She stalked off.

Leah went to Logan's house after school a few weeks later, to work on an English project. She followed his motorcycle in her car to the trailer park on the edge of town. The outside looked much like the rest of the mobile homes surrounding it, but inside was cozy and clean. "We have to be quiet; my mom's sleeping. She tends bar at Lucky Joe's Tavern, nights," Logan told her.

There was a man sitting on the couch, a cane leaning against his knee. He looked up. "There's my scholar," he said in a slightly slurred voice. Leah thought it must be Logan's grandfather; he looked a lot like him, but older and more haggard.

"Hey, Dad," Logan said warmly, bending to give his father a hug. "Dad, this is Leah."

"Nice to meet you," Leah said, reaching out a hand.

"You too. Forgive me if I don't stand; my left leg ain't what it used to be."

"Oh," Leah said. She didn't know what else to say.

"Do you need anything, Dad?" Logan asked. Leah was struck by how different he was in his house than at school. Gone was the silent, serious, aloof young man, replaced by this caring, smiling son.

"Some more water, if you don't mind." Logan went to get it.

"Oh yeah, I almost forgot," Leah said, digging into her backpack and taking out a book. "I finished it," she said, handing it over to Logan. "Thank you."

Logan's father looked up at Leah and chuckled. "Heh, you're just like my boy. Eats up books like a stack of pancakes." She giggled a little, feeling more at ease.

They grabbed their backpacks. "We're working on a project, Dad. Let me know if you need anything," Logan said, leading Leah to his room.

He closed the door behind them. "So we don't wake up Mom," he explained, settling down on the gray carpet and pulling out his notebooks.

"I didn't know she worked two jobs," Leah said softly.

"Dad had a stroke a few years back, when I was in eighth grade. We lived in the next town over from here, but we couldn't afford it, what with the hospital bills and Dad not being able to work. So we sold the house and moved here. Mom stayed on at the bank but she can only work so many hours there, so she got the job at Joe's. We're getting by on disability and her paychecks and mine. Dad's trying to find something he can do without leaving the house, with a computer maybe, but there isn't much, especially for guys his age. He did construction before. Now he just sits at home feeling useless." Logan closed his mouth, seemingly aware all of a sudden of how much he'd said. "I don't mean to go on about our problems."

"It's okay," Leah said, venturing to put her arm around him. "I'm sorry."

Logan shrugged. "What can you do, right? I would've worked full time but Dad told me the only way I'd get anything better is if I stayed in school. I'm hoping I get a full scholarship to somewhere." He said this like it was a secret. "My grades are good, and I've been applying to every one I can. If I don't get a scholarship, I probably won't go to college."

"I'm sure you'll find something," Leah said. "I hope you do."

"Me too," he said. "Let's get started on the project."

A few hours later, he walked her out to her car. They hesitated, standing there with each other. "See you tomorrow," Leah said.

"Yeah, see you later," he said. Then he reached out and pulled her into an embrace, kissing her. They drew back after a moment, and smiled. Leah felt dizzy, giddy. "Goodnight," Logan murmured, releasing her.

"'Night," she said back as she got in her car. He waved as she drove away.

A week later, after another fight, when the crowd was dispersing and the loser being helped to his car, Logan and Leah saw someone approaching as they started back from the sand pit. "Well look here," Logan said quietly to her, glancing ahead at the path. "Tomcat's never come to watch before." He shouted to Tom, "You're a little late. Show's already over."

Tom was marching toward them stiffly. He looked like he had been in a fight already; he had bruises on his face and around his wrists. "Tom, what did he to you?" Leah asked, starting forward. Tom ignored her.

"I didn't come to watch," he said. "I want to fight."

Logan gave a short, mirthless laugh. "You, Tom? No way." He started to walk past.

"What's the matter, you afraid to face me or something?" Tom said, trying to sound tough but coming across as frantic instead.

"I ain't gonna fight you, Tom. I've got nothing against you and you're one of Leah's friends. Besides, you look like you've had enough already, and I'm done tonight."

"I'll pay you double," Tom said. Logan froze. "If you win." Leah thought he seemed to be considering it. He turned.

"Why are you so eager?" Logan asked. "This ain't some 'knight dueling for the lady fair' thing is it?"

"If you're asking is this about Leah, it isn't. What do you care if it's about anything? I know you need the money, trailer rat," Tom spat.

Logan's look was even and calm, but his nostrils flared. "Right. If you're trying to get me worked up, it won't work. Go home."

Tom scowled. "I'm not going home. And you don't have a choice." He came at Logan with a punch. Logan blocked it and threw Tom back. Tom hurled himself forward again; Logan grappled with him and threw him to the ground. Leah cried out, but Logan wasn't fighting back; he just kept pushing Tom down or dodging him.

"Damnit, fight back!" Tom shouted, on his ass in the dirt yet again. With a roar, Tom rose up, knocked Logan down. They wrestled for a moment, then Logan had Tom pinned, his arm across Tom's throat, pressing down just enough to make it hard for him to breathe.

"You had enough yet?" Logan asked. Tom stopped struggling, angry tears in his eyes. Logan let up and stood, brushing dirt off of himself. Tom lay there in the dirt, cursing but not getting up. Leah went and knelt next to him.

"Tom?" she murmured, laying a hand on his chest.

"Leave me alone, Leah," he whispered brokenly.

"What is this all about, Tom, really?" she pressed.

"I'm sick of being smacked around. I wanted to do some smacking for a change," Tom muttered. "I got home late because I went to Marie's after school, and when I got in Dad laid into me."

"He do this a lot?" Logan asked. He stood off to the side, not watching. He had lit up a cigarette; the tip glowed orange in the deepening dark.

Tom looked like he wanted to snarl. "None of your fucking business!"

"I can show you a few things." Logan took a drag, exhaled. Waited.

Tom heaved himself up. "I don't need your help," he spat, and started to stalk off.

Leah rushed after him. "Where are you going to go?"

"I don't know! Somewhere." He stopped, hugging himself. He looked at Leah, his face haggard. "Your house is the first place he'll look."

"Marie?"

"Her parents wouldn't let me. They don't know about… Dad's temper. And I don't want to tell them."

"He won't look at my place," Logan said. They hadn't even noticed his approach. "I can put you up for the night. My folks won't ask questions." Tom eyed him suspiciously. "Don't be an idiot, man. Where the hell else are you gonna sleep tonight?"

There was a long pause. "All right," Tom said.

"Can you drive him over, babe?" Logan asked. Leah nodded. "Okay. Let's go then."

Tom was quiet for most of the ride. "I told you he's a good guy," Leah said. "Are you okay?"

"I feel stupid."

"Don't." Leah reached over to pat his knee. Tom drew back and leaned against the car door. Leah sighed. She had forgotten she wasn't allowed to do that anymore.

Leah had no idea what had gone on that night when Tom stayed at Logan's house, but from that night forward, Logan and Tom seemed to have formed some sort of silent alliance. They nodded at each other when they passed in the hallway. After a little coaxing, Leah got Logan to tell her that he was teaching Tom how to fight.

One night there was a frantic knocking on the door of Logan's trailer home. Leah and Logan were on the couch studying, Logan's dad at the kitchen table with the newspaper, working on a crossword. Logan got up to answer the door.

Tom stood there, covered in fresh bruises, his lip split and swollen, his breath ragged. "I had… nowhere… my dad…can I stay?" he panted out. Logan stood aside and let him come in. Tom collapsed next to Leah on the couch.

"What happened to you?" Leah asked. Tom only shook his head.

Logan looked to his father, who nodded at him. "He can stay as long as he needs," he said to Logan in an undertone. "It'd be cruel to send that kid back to that house."

"Thanks, Dad," Logan said. He asked Tom, "You want to wash up?" Tom got up from the couch. His eyes darted about, as though he still didn't feel entirely safe, but he went off to the bathroom.

"You're a lifesaver, man," he said to Logan on his way past.

Logan sat back down with Leah, but their books remained untouched. "He's never gotten it this bad before," she said in a small voice. The corners of her mouth pulled down. "I'm worried."

There was a pounding at the door. Logan's father got up, clutching his cane, and made his way to the door. The cane made him stoop a little, but Leah could clearly see that he was once a powerfully-built, tall man. Like his son was now. He opened the door; Tom's father stood on the steps. They could see now that he must have gotten as good as he gave; one eye was swollen nearly shut. Leah wondered how he managed to drive all the way there.

"Where's my son?" he demanded. Next to Logan's dad, he looked small, but there was something frightening about the flash of his eyes, the way his fists clenched and shook with the adrenaline of rage. "Don't tell me he's not here. I know he's friends with your boy. Your boy's the one who got him to do this to me!"

Logan rose smoothly. "I only taught him to stand up for himself against bullies," he said.

The man sneered. "You get him out here or I'll come in and get him myself." Logan started forward, but his father held out a warding hand.

"Sit down, son," he said. Then he turned to Tom's father. "Your son is a guest in my home. And you're not taking one step through this door."

"And just how are you going to stop me?" Tom's dad retorted. Logan's father stood as tall as he could. He held his cane with the pride of a king with a scepter.

Tom's father knocked Logan's father aside; he fell and hit his head against the door frame. Tom's father was barely through the door when Logan barreled into him, knocking him clear off the steps and onto the ground outside. Tom's father nailed him in the jaw. Logan growled and slammed his forehead down onto the man's nose. Tom's father screamed. Logan's fist turned the scream into a moaning gurgle. He started hollering at the man, bits of sentences and words about Tom and Logan's own father and cowardice and violence that became just a muddle of harsh babbling.

Leah watched in horror from the doorway as Logan pummeled Tom's father into the grass. Logan's father was shouting his name and trying to pull himself to his feet, a bump already rising near his temple where he'd been hit. Tom, hearing the commotion, had run out of the bathroom and was helping Logan's father up.

Finally, something seemed to get through. Logan stopped yelling in tongues. Tom's father had passed out, or been knocked out. He wheezed through a squashed nose and a mouth full of the broken-off stumps of teeth. "Dad?" Tom said, voice wavering.

"Call an ambulance," Leah gasped at him, tripping down the steps in her hurry to get her arms around Logan as he started to shake, eyes staring ahead at nothing, his hands blood-dipped and held out in front of him as though even he was afraid to touch them.

"He hit Dad. I just…" Logan whispered. Leah hugged him tight and waited for the sirens.