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Ghosts and Christmas Past

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There are a couple of customers in the shop when the phone rings, but nobody who’s wanted more attention than a polite ‘good evening’ when they entered. Christmas season brings in window-shoppers looking for inspiration; none of them are going to be serious purchasers, just serious hemmers-and-hawers. They’re all lost in their own way, trailing wet footprints as they wander into strange territory looking for somebody’s perfect gift. These aren’t people who are going to drop the money it takes to get a quality piece of furniture, but he might make a sale or two if one of the smaller items catches someone’s eye.

Abe gives all of them a once-over before he picks up the phone— needs to make sure nobody’s going to need help in the next five minutes, and so he knows everyone’s face if one of those smaller items walks off. He’s run this shop too long to have any faith in the good nature of mankind, even during the holiday season. Henry swings between scoffing and chiding when he says as much out loud, but Henry can also tell what someone’s grandmother’s best soup recipe is from a glance, so he can forgive Abe for giving his opinion as much weight as it deserves.

Once he’s sure, he answers the phone: “Abe’s Antiques.”

The line fuzzes with static, and a young man carefully enunciates: “Hello. My name is Daniel from United Bank. Have I reached either Henry Morgan or Abraham Morgan?”

Ah, crap. Script-reading call center kids are never anything good. At best, they’re trying to sell something.

“Abe Morgan. You trying to sell us something?” He keeps his voice even. He knows it wasn’t the kid’s idea to call him.

“I’m calling to verify some recent activity on your cards. Do you know if your business account card ending in 5505 has been in your possession at all times during the past three weeks?”

Ah, crap twice.

Abe gives the customers another once-over. He’d like to handle this in private, but they try to route calls through the shop first— there’s a lot of anonymity in being an entity called Abe’s Antiques. It puts a layer between Henry’s identity and the world.

Besides, Henry probably would have answered if they’d called the upstairs line, and Henry hasn’t made an unusual credit card purchase since….  well, since credit cards were a thing, probably.

He looks up to think it through, smiles absently in case any of the customers look over, and tries to remember the last time he used that card. He’d taken it out of the business safe on Thursday for brunch-- a legitimate business expense, trying to soften the Frenchman up enough pre-estate-sale so she’d leave the furniture alone and focus her bids on the armoury collection. And yeah, yeah, he’d put it back after he’d come back from the auction.

It should still be there then, he hadn’t needed it since-- wait, but on Friday Henry had run the order down to Moving Solutions, for when the auction furniture shipped out in the New Year. Delightful dinosaur, nevermind that it would be easier to phone the order in or use on the online form. But Henry would have mentioned if he’d lost his wallet-- and would have called Abe if he’d lost everything and needed a lift home from the river. Well, he might have called Jo, but they were all still a little rocky on that front, and anyway, then the card would have been gone for good, not triggering an unusual transaction investigation.

So, “As far as I know; it’s locked up. I can check to make sure it’s still there, but not right now. I’ve used it on some auctions this month, maybe that’s what’s showing up.”

“Okay, sir. Can you confirm the following five purchases?”

“Hit me.”

“Seven hundred dollars to Rennoo Brokers, December fifteenth.”

That takes a second: “Re-Nu. Re-Nu Brokers. Yep, that was me.” The estate auction; he got some furniture older than Henry for a song.

“Thank you. Thirty-eight dollars to Lamplighter Cafe on December fifteenth?”

“Yeah, that was me too.” Brunch with the Frenchman. Good eggs. Terrifying company.

“Eighty-six dollars to Roth & Roth LLP, also on December sixteenth?”

End of year filing with his accountant. He’d forgotten about that, but he’d just called Myron-- hadn’t needed the actual card. “Yup, that was me.”

“And one hundred and fifty dollars to Moving Solutions Island Inc on December sixteenth?”

“Furniture pads and tie-downs, that’s legit.”  Good people. Possibly because Henry was probably the last guy in the world who still walked into the store with a handwritten order form every month and they enjoyed the novelty.

“One hundred and twenty seven dollars to Grandma’s Attic LLC on December sixteenth?”

That stops him in his tracks. Grandma’s Attic. It takes him a moment to place the name-- a smaller online-only shop, owned by two ladies in Michigan. They dealt mostly with mid-twentieth century memorabilia, sports teams and McCarthy-era idealism, some collectable toys and a bit of vintage fashion. Not his usual speed, and he tried to work mostly with the other local shops and brokers, but he’d used them once to complete a set of flatware for a customer.

That was months ago, but they had been on the level. And if a third party had stolen Abe’s Antique’s banking information, that was real unlikely place to run a spending spree, especially for just a hundred odd dollars. Couldn’t be Henry, could it? He frowns. He can’t imagine the chain of events that would have gotten Henry within ten feet of a computer and shopping for 50’s kitsch, but he’s having more trouble imagining an alternative.

“Look, I gotta talk with my business partner about that. Can I get a case number and call you back?”

The kid on the other end of the line hits some buttons loudly, and then reads him a slow string of letters and numbers, pausing three times to make sure he’s keeping up. Abe is.

“If you don’t call back within twenty-four hours, we’ll try to contact you again,” Daniel reads off the script.

“Sure thing. Thanks, Daniel.”

There’s no automated prompt asking him to stick around for a survey, so he hangs up the phone with an easy conscience and takes stock again. Nobody’s pockets are bulging surreptitiously, and nobody’s set the shop on fire since he picked up the phone, so it’ll probably be all right to put up the back-in-five ring-bell sign and go ask Henry if he suddenly found an interest in mid-century Americana.

He finds Henry in the living room, hunched over the coffee table with a fan of printed out sheets of paper in front of him, a red pen in hand, and a half-empty whiskey beside him.

“Well, doesn’t this look a wild night in.”

Henry looks up, eyes sparkling because Abe might have being a bit facetious but it’s only funny because it’s true. This is absolutely Henry’s idea of a great night. “Ah, Abraham-- is it closing time already? Lucas asked if I would go over a paper he plans on submitting to some journals, and it’s a bit convoluted but I hadn’t thought it had been that long.” Henry glances to the clock on the mantel and stops, since there’s clearly a few hours to go until Abe closes shop for the night..

“Aw jeez, and there’s you with the red pen. Go easy on the kid. Sure he’s a dipstick but he’s alright.”

“I’m only making the necessary corrections. It’s fascinating work, under the shoddy grammar. Did you need me downstairs?”

“Meh, nah,” Abe waves a hand. “It’ll take five minutes. Just got a phone call from the bank. Did you buy something from Grandma’s Attic on the shop card? Hundred-and-change, on the sixteenth?”

Henry’s mouth opens.

And Abe knows. Henry’s caught-out-in-a-slip face is distinct and Abe knows it very well-- usually it’s not directed at him, but he’s seen the world-ending panic settle in like this enough times, he could probably do it himself and save Henry the brown paper bag.

“Surely I didn’t use--” Henry seems to put the memory together and sags, reaching up to cover his face. “Oh no. I can’t believe it. I’m sorry, Abraham, I thought it was my personal card. I’ll reimburse the account at once.” He looks like he’s confessing to a murder.

“Nah, nah, don’t get verklempt. It happens. Remember last year at Jenny Carter’s wedding? When the store bought the whole wedding party a round?”

Henry grips his whiskey glass hard enough to whiten his knuckles, and won’t meet his eyes. Abe’s brow furrows.

“C’mon, Henry. You got close enough to a computer to buy something online, I’m proud of you. Whatever it was it couldn’t be that bad.”

“It was a gift,” Henry blurts out, and then kills his whiskey one swallow. “It was a gift,” he repeats, a little more quietly. “Just… a badly conceived notion. Forgot about it. I’ll stop by the bank in the morning and transfer funds over.”

“Hey. Hey, what’s wrong?”

“I just-- it was foolish of me, Abraham. It was a foolish notion.” Henry lurches out of his chair, setting his empty glass down quickly enough to rattle.

“Henry?” And when that doesn’t get a response-- “Pops?”

Henry turns, spackling on a smile. It sags, dangles lopsidedly.  “It’s nothing. Really. Just a bit of foolishness on my part. I’ll start dinner. You should get downstairs; someone might need help.”

“Right,” Abe says, meaning anything but. “Sure. Sure, I’ll be up late. Just, uh, leave my share in the oven.”

“Don’t work too long,” Henry says, braces up his smile for one big reassuring paternal look, and vanishes into the kitchen.

Well then.

Abe takes the stairs slowly, keeps glancing up over his shoulder to see if Henry’s going to think better of it and come tell him what the damage is. All he gets is defiantly loud pot-and-pan sounds from the kitchen.

Okay. He can wait Henry out. For now he’ll go see if anyone’s suddenly decided they actually do want a chaise longue from the 1890s after all.

Abe lingers a while in the shop after the last customer has gone and the day’s receipts are in order. The sky is long since dark, that deep rich endless kind that sets in on winter’s nights so you barely even notice the streetlights are on.

The shop across the way has Christmas lights in the window; the upstairs residences have paper snowflakes hung between the windows and the thick curtains. Someone somewhere is playing Christmas carols. Upstairs, Henry has hopefully stopped hyperventilating.

Instead of heading up the stairs, he goes to the closet under them. Behind a few boxes of old accounting, jammed into the corner and half-hidden by the shelf where they keep the cleaning supplies, there’s the holiday boxes.

He doesn’t know if he should put the tree up this year. He didn’t last year. Henry forgot and Abe did everything he could to let him forget.

Henry doesn’t do Christmas. Not really; in good years he finds it kind of cute, reminds everyone within earshot that none of this was traditional until the Victorians got a hair up their ass about trees and presents, and lets it go.

But these past two years haven’t been great years. Especially because--

Well, Henry’s not religious. Abe’s religious, but not that religion. The tree, the trimmings, the Christmas season, that had belonged to Abigail.

His mom had loved it all, the bows and gifts and the tree and tinsel and lights, the Christmas carols, the nativities, the story of gifts given to a baby on a cold night. She glowed like the advent candles she carefully lit all December; she gave gifts, she made gifts, she teased her husband and surprised her son, she baked superhuman hours after long shifts in the hospital because she loved it.  To Abe, all the trappings aren’t about the holiday. They’re about his mom.

When Abe left for ‘nam and all they had was a palm frond with spent shells for ornaments, that had been his mom to him, and when he was doing his best to stay married to Maureen Delacroix and they put up the biggest tree in the lot with the shiniest ornaments Sears would sell them, and even after she’d been gone he’d found a little plastic tree and set it up every year in their upstairs apartment, and that had been his mom.

And last year, the first Christmas since they’d found out what happened to Abigail, he’d pulled out the box of Christmas supplies and stopped. Because Christmas meant Abigail to Henry, too, and he knew his dad couldn’t face it.

So they’d just gone without.

This year… he’s not sure if it’s still too soon. Henry’s actually making an attempt. Hey, the guy had gone out of his way to get a gift for someone instead of going on Georgian-childhood-autopilot and giving everyone fruit. But look at him, he’s a mess.

He stands in the closet for a minute, fretting about it, and then picks up the box before he can talk himself out of it.

Henry’s not in the living room when he gets upstairs. That’s good; it’ll be easier if they don’t talk about it, if the tree just quietly appears. No big sentimental conversations.

Abe hadn’t realized how much he’d been missing it until the box is open and the miniature tree is set up on an end table in the corner; he catches the battered artificial branches out of the corner of his eye and it feels like the holidays suddenly, feels right.

There’s a smaller box with her nativity set; that he leaves packed. It’d be too painful to have it out without her to give it meaning. But the tree is right; the tree is something they shared.

He checks the string of old lights-- there are two burnt out bulbs, but replacements in the box, and they actually work, and it feels like a minor Christmas miracle. He’s going to have to get new lights though, for next year.

He pulls out the little box of ornaments, the one that Abigail took with her in every move-- not the mass produced glass globes, they’d left those and bought new every time. These few are the ones she’d got from her family, the ones she’d bought when she was traveling with Henry, the ones that meant something.

This part of Christmas they’d always been able to share.


Abe’s twelve when he goes to his mother, unpacking their little box of Christmas ornaments in the fading sunset light, and asks her with that pre-pubescent earnestness: “Ma, do you believe that Jesus is the son of God?”

She pauses. Blinks. Her red mouth dips down into a surprised frown. “Oh, goodness. I thought we were going to have to have the Santa Claus talk first.”

He shakes his head. “Dad told me about Santa Claus last year.”

“Did he-!” She shoots a sideways look toward the kitchen where his dad is puttering around with hot cider and about half the spice cabinet. She looks grumpy, but it fades quickly back to that anxious frown. “Well. Oh dear. What brought this on?”

He crosses his arms, feigning bravado. “Lily MacPherson at school says Christmas is about Jesus Christ being born and the rest of it’s all dumb. And her family are Protestant. And you’re Protestant. So is that what you think?”

“The rest of it isn’t dumb,” she says fiercely. “...How long have you been wondering this?”

“A while,” he says stubbornly, unwilling to be distracted. “But do you?”

She hesitates for another moment, and then sees through him, down to the worry at the bottom of him, and her face softens. “I do believe that, Abraham. But it’s not a thing you can know for certain. It isn’t. It’s a matter of faith. And I know that other people have different faiths…”  

“It’s all right if you don’t believe the same as me,” he tells her. “Rabbi Buchdahl said so.”

She gives him a proud look. “That’s right. And it’s all right if you don’t believe what I believe, too,” she says, as if it’s an afterthought and she hasn’t realized that it’s been chewing Abe up all week. “I still love you, my little boy.”

“Maaa,” he objects, but when she opens her arms he leans against her, and they stand hugging for a bit in front of the dining room table, the box of half-unpacked Christmas decorations.

“Help me trim the tree?” she asks, and he makes a half-hearted protest-- just for show, because he’s an independent young man of twelve-- before reaching into the box to pull out a newsprint-wrapped glass ball. A few flecks of sparkling plastic fall out of the paper, and he gingerly unwraps a glittery pattern of peacocks.

“That’s one of my favorites,” she murmurs, and he stands a little straighter as if he did it on purpose, just for her.

“What does Dad believe?” he asks, as they sort.

“Your father believes in science,” she sighs.

“So do you,” he points out. Obviously. She’s a nurse. She’s a genius, and he’ll knock you down if you say otherwise.

She nods. “But I believe in miracles, as well. I believe in things that can’t be known. Your father thinks that it can all be known. That it must all be known.”

“But... “

“Yes.” Abigail’s eyes dip. She busies herself with a little wood-carved ornament, unwrapping it carefully so that the stiff paper doesn’t snag on the fiddly little details and break them. “It’s… a matter of faith, you see. We see things differently. Some people might think that your father is... miraculous. But he would tell them that he’s simply a scientific phenomenon.”

Abe considers that. He knows she’s right: nothing makes his gentle, friendly father go grim and quiet like talking about his immortality does. But. “I think he’s a miracle.”

“So do I,” Abigail says, and pats his hand.

“Mom, why are you sad?”

“I’m not sad, Abe. Your father and I disagree and that’s fine. It’s all right to disagree with the people you love.”

He hugs her again, and she holds him close and murmurs something about what a good boy he is. He doesn’t understand why it makes her expression so heavy.

He didn’t understand for a long time. Now he was older, though, and he did understand. There’s a lot of weight to Henry’s secrets. Even if Abe doesn’t think it’s that much of a burden, Henry does-- Henry spent years calling it a curse, and there’s no telling him that there’s wonder in it too. To feel joy and not be able to offer it to someone you love-- that’s why his mom used to look so sad.

He wouldn’t trade those winters, though. Not for a normal family. Not for a life with fewer secrets.

He opens his eyes. His vision is fuzzy with the long day, and the twinkling lights across the street streak into long stars for a second before he blinks.

He can almost feel his mother’s arm over his shoulder, smell her perfume-- the sensation so strong and bittersweet that his vision goes streaky again until he wipes his eyes, and mutters ‘damn furniture polish’ as if anyone could see.

The next morning he calls back United Bank to settle the case-- new voice on the phone, and he has to repeat himself a few times, but it only takes ten minutes to establish that nobody’s stolen the business credit card. The survey at the end sucks up another five minutes, but it’s the holidays and someone has to give the kids a decent rating to balance out all the rage.

Henry made tracks for the OCME early in the morning-- earlier than he had any reason to. He wouldn’t have taken Friday off if he had a case cooking or a backlog of corpses. So much for a good night’s sleep getting him in a better mood.

Abe considers for a moment; the shop’s empty and he feels like meddling. He picks the phone handset back up. Luckily, he’s always been a pro-meddler.

“Detective Martinez.”

“Hey, Jo. Abe Morgan. Do you have time for civilian talk?”

Office and angry-person noise in the background; she’s probably in the bullpen. “Maybe a minute. Can it wait?”

“Yeah, it can wait. It’s about Henry.”

“You called me to gossip during work hours?” She sounds scandalized, not pissed, and Jo doesn’t scandalize. Ergo: not actually upset with him.

“Eh, it’s a slow day. Drop by the shop tonight, and I can hook you up with last night’s leftover casserole. We can chat.”

“You know bribing an officer of the law is a felony, right?” she laughs. “Sure. I’ll be out when my shift ends for once.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Henry cleaned up my paperwork backlog last week.”

“Did he now?”

“Long story. I’m going to require home cooked food to part with it.”

“Extortion,” he scoffs. “Hey, have a good day. I’ll see you.”

“See you.”

Things are… better with Jo. It’d taken a lot longer than Abe had thought for her to forgive Henry. If Henry’d just been straight with her from go-- eh, well. He couldn’t blame Henry for being cautious, and plain sensible at the beginning, but eventually he just got in his own way. She’d taken the immortality thing surprisingly well, but the lies….

It’s been more than a year, now. For mortals like Abe and Jo that’s more time than you want to waste. Jo’s actually been coming back to the shop again, spending time with Henry that isn’t directly related to cases.

He’d been hoping-- well, Jo was a great lady, easy on the eyes and good at her job, strong, able to protect Henry. It wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if Henry moved on to something serious. That’s not looking likely anymore, but having Jo around-- a friend, in on the secret-- that’s more than enough.

He hadn’t realized how much it would help, having someone else to talk to about it. For him, not Henry.

He’ll kick the leftovers up with some fresh rosemary before he gives them to Jo. She needs to eat better.

He makes two major sales that day, and the shipping paperwork on the big armoire eats up the afternoon. Inevitably, it’s a rush job; why not buy someone early-nineteenth century hardwood furniture as a gift earlier than the week before Christmas, right?  And true to her word, there’s Jo a few minutes before closing, smiling through the door before she lets herself in, followed by a swirl of snow and the Christmas music from the shop next store.

He offers her a one-armed hug, waves her in. “Look at that! Who’d you have to blackmail to get out of there before midnight?”

“Long story,” she repeats firmly, unwrapping her scarf and hanging up her coat on their stand. “Casserole first.”

“Sure thing. Hey, watch the desk? Great. Right back.”

He gives the casserole a quick shot under the broiler while he selects a wine and grabs the glasses, and adds the fresh rosemary before he brings it down-- with a lid on the crock but the silverware on top, because he knows her. She makes a token show of ignoring it when he unloads the meal onto the table, but he turns away long enough to go lock the front door and flip the sign, and by the time he has himself back and on a chair the lid’s open and there’s a dent in the steaming food. Jo looks at him innocently.

“Asiago on your chin there, detective,” he points out, and she wipes it away, stonefaced, as she sits in the chair catercorner to him.  

“So,” he says, after she’s taken a few more bites. “Someone actually got Henry onto a computer long enough to buy something. Online. Like some weirdo who was born in the last century or something. Know anything about that?”

She snorts around a mouthful of food, and Abe waits patiently for her to finish the bite, even though now that he knows she knows the story he’s easily twice as curious.

She clears her throat. “So I told you he helped me get my paperwork done last week?”

“Yeah-- and just how did you manage that. Dangle a preposition in front of him?” He nabs a bite of the casserole, and she grabs another.

It's a bad joke, but it makes her smile; he watches it loosen her up, her jaw slowly go less end-of-the-day tight, and is glad. “Nothing so drastic. We’ve got a running deal going. He generates the paperwork, he does the paperwork. And after what he pulled in the Bell case last month--”

“Oh-ho? I didn’t hear about a Bell case.”

“Henry’s usual MO,” she sighs, exasperated. “Looked open-and-shut, woman killed during a break-in. Something about her follicles set Henry off and he accused her husband when he came to ID the body. He wound up being right, but you can’t arrest someone because the ME has a hunch about a corpse’s follicles--”

Abe makes a sympathetic noise.

“So the guy’s lawyers are breathing down our neck, we’ve got no legal reason to keep him longer than 72 hours, and he’s a giant flight risk. Of course he isn’t legally a flight risk because we don’t have any grounds to arrest him. So we have to run the case backwards. Like we always seem to when Henry’s involved. The guy was out of custody and through airport security when Hanson dug up proof that he had a motive to kill this woman-- we had to delay his flight to bring him in. I’m pretty sure an old woman almost took a swing at me with her walker. Happy Thanksgiving, right?”

“A headache with bonus paperwork,” Abe summarizes.

“Exactly. So Henry did the paperwork. That’s the deal.”

“That’s fair-- kinda wish I had worked something like that out with him ages ago.” He holds up the bottle of wine, and she thinks about for a quick second before nodding.

“Please. So, my backlog is done, because he did it. Of course every form he fills out is five times as long as it needs to be, but it gets done.”

“Of course.” Abe pulls out the bar knife from his pocket and serves them both. Jo’s mastered the art of eating and talking because somehow the casserole is disappearing despite her easy chatter. Probably a cop thing. Or at least an ‘eating while working’ thing. “Is that how he got close enough to a computer to go shopping on one?”

“Yeah,” she says, “sort of. Cops are just like anyone else, right? Ship your presents to work because where else are you going to be when couriers are out? Home? Yeah right. So the mail cart is more of a mail wagon in December-- a mail sleigh.”

He chuckles and she quirks one of her quiet smiles at him, eyebrows bobbing in acknowledgement of the poor joke.

“Hanson was probably responsible for half the mail load this year, I kid you not. And anyway, Henry was there when the mail came in that afternoon-- doing my paperwork... actually I think Hanson gave him some of his from the Bell case too.”

Abe snorts into his wine glass.  

“Hanson got something like six packages, and wouldn’t shut up about one that was for his kids. A couple of toy eggs? Something like that. Apparently they’re impossible to get, but he managed through some sort of deal with a cousin in Japan and someone in Italy? A lot of the parents were pretty impressed though, so he was telling the story for a while. I guess the toys are going for almost a thousand dollars on Ebay, which is about when Henry started actually paying attention.”

“Here we go,” Abe says.

“Mm,” Jo says, and pauses to scrape some of the crunchy cheese off the side of the casserole dish. “No one believed that they were that expensive-- at least no one who hadn’t been trying to get one, I guess-- so Hanson pulled it up on his laptop. And they were really going for that much money, I still can’t believe it.” She shakes her head. “Who has that kind of money to spend on a toy that a kid isn’t going to even play with for more than a few weeks?”

“And who takes advantage of people like that,” Abe adds, and Jo makes what Abe can only think of as Cynical Cop Face. “Okay, so one thousand dollar kid’s toy, and... Henry. I know he didn’t spend that much.”

“Right, right. So we're all appalled at the price of this weird egg toy, and Henry is doing his little dance, you know?”

Abe turns his laugh into a rough throat-clearing. He knows.

“He’s peering over everyone’s shoulder trying to see the screen, he’s a bit alarmed, he’s a lot intrigued, and he’s just dying to say something.”

“I can just see it,” Abe says. “I have seen it.” He almost says: ‘You should have seen him when I was eleven, at the beginning of the year conference with my sixth grade teacher and all the parents, and Mrs. Kruger pulled the projector out and started explaining what it was to the parents. Apparently she was completely wrong, which Mom and I heard about in-depth on the drive home, but he’d never seen one like that model before.’ Almost says it, but he stops himself without a thought before the words even form, he’s so long-practiced at keeping those stories to himself.

And then he realizes he didn’t have to stop-- that he could have said it, that Jo would have maybe gone a little tense around the eyes, but that she’d have listened, she’d have laughed, she’d have wanted to know more because she’s been fascinated even when she was angry. It leaves him unbalanced for a moment, disoriented, like all the furniture’s just been moved around.

“Abe?” Jo asks, and he smiles quickly.

“Yeah, all good,” he says. “So knowing Henry-- how long until he can’t help himself and has to speak up? Ten seconds?”

She laughs, relaxing back in her seat, wine glass at her lips. “He tried, I could tell-- so maybe fifteen?” They share a grin at poor Henry’s expense, but hey, look at all the joy he brings them. “He had to butt in, you know how he is. He squeezed in there and was looking at Hanson’s laptop with everyone else, and, hand to God, asked if this was the ‘e-buy’ you had talked about.”

Abe almost chokes on his wine. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“No word of a lie.”


“It was actually kind of cute.”

“It’s actually kind of something,” Abe sighs, and laughs. Oh, Henry. The future always has its claws in him-- in everyone. No one really ages gracefully. He tops up his wine, and with a nod from Jo, hers too.

“Everyone else thought it was hilarious-- I think Benson asked him to repeat himself twice before he caught on that he was saying something wrong, although Hanson’s ‘Ebuy, Doc?’ had to have tipped him off.” She does a pretty passable impression of Hanson that catches Abe by surprise, and he coughs around a mouthful of wine.

“So Hanson takes pity on him and pulls out his seat and gives him a guided tour of Ebay. It was... well. A little painful. But entertaining. Henry had no idea what to even begin with-- he didn’t want anything, and he didn’t recognize half the things people suggested. Although," she adds, remembering and a little surprised, "he can really type, for not knowing what autocomplete is.”

Abe nods. “Typewriters.”

“...Typewriters." She shakes her head. "Anyway, most people stopped paying attention after a while, except when one of them would get snappy at the other, but then Hanson said something like ‘What, Doc, really?’

“And I look up, and there’s Henry standing up to get his wallet out of his pocket.”

Abe can just picture it, feels a little like he’s there. He imagines Henry like he sits at Abe’s computer, the few times he’s used it, back perfectly straight and wrists hovering over the keyboard like he’s playing the piano, that frown of stubborn confusion-- that time in '85 when he'd been practically half a bottle of Scotch in and had seen his first infomercial. Oh jeez, he had forgotten about that. Now that is a story he's saving for Jo. She'd appreciate it.

“And then Lieutenant Reece is standing over him-- don't ask me when she came out of her office, I was watching almost the entire time and I didn't see it-- and says loud enough for everyone to hear: ‘Are you using an NYPD computer to shop, Doctor? I’m sure you know that’s against the Code of Conduct.’”

Abe actually does choke on his wine this time, coughing painfully into his arm but waving at Jo to continue.

“Then she says, “‘Luckily, you don’t work for the NYPD.’ So then there’s Henry, still half-standing and everyone is staring at him again, and he’s just staring at Reece until she has to say ‘Please, Doctor. Continue. Let’s see how this goes.’”

She shakes her head, smiling wryly. “I swear, it was like lightning was going to strike to or something-- it was so wrong. Henry, online shopping. But he just lowered himself back down and stared at the computer screen. Hanson had to tell him to click the shopping cart, and point to it so he could find it. You could have heard a pin drop. And...he bought something. Online. For the first time. Henry.”

Abe shakes his head. “Will wonders never cease.”

“Everyone cheered; he just laughed with us. He’s a good sport,” she adds, and scoops the last bite of casserole into her mouth.

“All right, Detective,” Abe says, and finishes his wine. “That was worth parting with those leftovers. Thank you for your part in pulling Henry that much farther into the twenty first-century.”

“So what did he get?” Jo asks, sipping at her own wine. “He wouldn’t say when I asked.”

Ah, damn. So he won’t get all the details out of her then. “A gift.” Abe shrugs. “Maybe we’ll find out. I only know there was anything at all because-- and kid you not-- the universe was obviously so out of whack about Henry using a credit card to shop online that we got a call about unusual activity on the card.”

He waits until she's finished laughing. It takes a while. “Well then, hopefully it arrives in time,” Jo says, wiping at her eyes. “Only a few days left. I’m headed out to my sister’s place tomorrow. You guys sticking around here?”

Abe nods. “Yeah, we don’t celebrate too much anymore. After Abigail.”

“She liked Christmas, huh?” Jo’s face softens. She’s always kind about Abigail-- was when she first found out, even before she knew all of it.  

“Yeah. It was nice. It was good.” He waves her concern away, hand flapping like he’s clearing cobwebs. “Anyway. Henry not so much. He’ll cook for it. Latkes, sufganiyot, maybe wassail around Christmas-- I really hope he doesn’t get it in his head to bring home an entire goose again. Everything else... well surely you’ve heard Professor Morgan’s lecture on the Victorians ruining a perfectly pleasant family holiday by ‘endorsing door-to-door singing at defenseless strangers, extorting children with questionably religious gift-giving figures, and relocating entire trees indoors?’”

She laughs into the hand that’s suddenly covering her face and he knows she has, and takes it as carte blanche to launch into his best Henry impression while the wine bottle slowly empties and the Christmas lights turn on in the residences across the street.

The holidays rush up on them and suddenly like a hurricane things go kind of quiet; there’s foot traffic in the store and regular traffic on the street, but then on Christmas Eve they're in the eye of the storm. Everything's so still.

Well, relatively. It’s New York. People still drive. And they get a couple sets of carollers, to Henry’s dismay.

Abe keeps an eye on him-- he’s not sure if the holidays are going to just blow over him, or if he’s going to get sucked into one of those reminiscent spirals of his that involve sitting in his chair listening to old records for hours and looking like he wants the floor to swallow him.

It’s a relief when he gets a call from the lab around three in the afternoon-- for Abe and obviously for him, because he almost bounces out the door. Good. He could use a distraction. Maybe some tough case to keep him working through the holidays. It wouldn’t be the first time work has kept him out over Christmas, and it doesn’t bother Abe like it did when he was kid.

Abe putters around the shop doing not much: he did all the tidying after yesterday’s close. When he’s rearranged all the light bric-a-brac he can arrange, he goes to start dinner and get something to drink. It’ll have to be beer tonight; he’s not great about keeping kosher, but during holy days he does his best. And kosher wine’s more of a pain to find than it’s worth. Maybe on Christmas he’ll share a red with Henry-- Henry defaults to gift wine when he doesn’t default to gift fruit-- but this first night Sam Adams will be just fine.

He puts two white tapers into the menorah, but sunset’s still far enough away that he doesn’t light the shamash yet. Instead he plugs in the string of lights for the Christmas tree. The room takes on an instantly warmer glow.

First time in a while Hanukkah started so close to Christmas... last time was, what, ‘05? And before that he’d been too busy fighting and kissing Maureen in equal shares to observe the holiday.

And before that--

Abe’s fourteen, and something about lighting the Menorah with the smell of gingerbread in the air and torn gift-wrap still folded by the sofa puts him off kilter. In a good way. Christmas and Hanukkah are his first and second favorite holidays respectively.

Ben Blumberg at school makes fun of him for that, but none of the other kids care, and Ben Blumberg has problems of his own. It doesn’t have to be a big holiday for the other kids. Their dads aren’t immortal.

He smiles at his mom, and she smiles at him, and it’s like they’re sharing some big understanding.

His voice cracks when he lifts it to sing the first blessing, but Abigail’s voice is reassuringly awkward right along with him, perfect pitch and too-careful pronunciation and too-round vowels, and he feels so content and free from the difficulties of adolescence for a second that it’s like the whole world is at rest.

Abe’s dad watches them from the kitchen doorway, like he does, with eyes warm and twinkling at Abe’s mom and a fond smile for both of them.  He waits until they’ve done all three blessings before announcing that the table is set and dinner is laid out, and Abe and his mom share one last conspiratorial smile before she walks into the dining room for a well deserved sit-down.

“Abraham,” his father calls, before he can follow.

“Yeah, Dad?”

“I do support your faith.”

“Yeah, Dad. I know.” School might be a little less embarrassing if his parents weren’t so quote unquote supportive, but he knows they try because they love him and they think it’s important for him to know where he came from. So it’s nice. But embarrassing.

“Would you prefer that I -- took part, like your mother?”

Abe’s fourteen but shouldering a secret ten times that old, and he knows that his father doesn’t see himself as a miracle, so he says: “No. Don’t worry. It’s okay.”

A stifled chime from the bell over the shop door pulls him out of his thoughts-- for an absent-minded moment he thinks it must be a customer, but no, they’re closed through the 27th, because his old unit is going out drinking together night of the 26th and he’s going to need a day to recover after that. Besides, it’s Henry. He knows those footsteps.

Earlier than he’d thought; maybe his new mystery was a bust?

Henry’s nose and cheeks are red with the cold, and there are still snowflakes stuck in the weave of his scarf and dusting the shoulders of his coat. By the time Henry’s hung his coat and scarf, fingers stiff, they’re little water droplets instead. Speaking of the coat, what’s the bulge in the pocket? Henry’s ignoring it studiously, studying Abe instead-- taking in the tableau of the tree, the window, the unlit menorah and the bottle of beer on the table beside it.

“You didn’t take a cab,” Abe accuses him. Sherlock Holmes he isn’t, but fingers that stiff and muddy shoelaces that are still frozen are pretty obvious clues. “If you’re looking to liven up Christmas with a festive death, let me remind you that you’ve done hypothermia before. On five separate occasions.”

“It wasn’t the hypothermia in ‘02,” Henry says pedantically. “It was lead poisoning from the water.”

“Oh. Pardon me. Only four occasions.” Abe rolls his eyes. “Short day in the lab?”

“I was barely there. They only needed me to pick up a parcel.” Henry’s eyes flick toward the lump in his coat pocket and then away. Very subtle, Abe’s sure. “Lucas was in to finish his reports-- did I tell you he had to leave early yesterday? Unpleasant cold, poor man. He’s doing better.”

“Mm-hmm.” Are they ever going to get around to the package that had Henry conflicted enough to wander around in the cold for a couple hours? ...No, not if Henry gets his way, obviously.

“He asked me to wish you Chag Sameach. Well. More of a ‘cogg sabayick’, he’s still extremely congested, but the spirit--”

All right, the dance around the subject was cute but it’s time to stop. “That was kind of him, I’ll give him a call later, what’s in the package?”

Henry sighs. “If I say it’s nothing of importance--”

“--I definitely won’t believe you.”

“Of course.”

Resigned, Henry turns back to the door, and pulls a plain brown shipping box out of the capacious outer pocket of his coat.

“Merry Christmas, Abraham.”

Abe takes it-- it’s about six inches square and a little more than twice that long, smooth with a double layer of packing tape covering every seam. Not more than two pounds--so not alcohol, and the shipping label says--

“Grandma’s Attic, Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is-- this is your mystery box. Your very first online impulse buy. For me?”

Henry nods, but his smile is weak. “Yes.”


Henry finds something fascinating to look at in the folds of the miniature skirt under the little Christmas tree. “I wasn’t sure whether or not to give it to you. I’d been half-hoping it wouldn’t arrive. What a brave new world where you can buy something so quickly and yet have so much leisure to regret it.”

“I keep forgetting we invented buyer’s remorse in the 1990s,” Abe quips, trying to lighten Henry’s mood even a little. “Come on, they take exchanges, it can’t be that bad. Not from this outfit, I’ve seen their website.”

Henry declines to comment. Abe rolls his eyes, and grabs a letter opener to open the box, revealing another, smaller box cocooned in bubblewrap and more packing tape. Inside that, a thin cardboard box-- it would have been brightly printed fifty-odd years ago, but now it’s got that distinct fade of old printing.

Abe whistles. “An original fix-it car. The Buick, even! With the chrome bumpers, and the tools that actually work. Mint-? You got this for less than a hundred-fifty? I’m impressed.” He chuckles. “I would have given my right arm for one of these when I was twelve….”

He looks up, and Henry’s turned entirely away from him, staring intently out the window without seeing anything. His face is a picture of thinly concealed misery.

“I know,” he says quietly. “I remember.”

“Hey, just because it’s sixty years late doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the gesture,” Abe soothes.

“We can’t buy the past back,” Henry mutters to himself sharply. “I know better than to think-- but I did, Abraham, I let myself think for half a moment that I could ransom it back.”

Oh no.

“Oh, Henry.”

“You’re not that boy anymore. I know that, but my heart doesn’t, and I-- sometimes I want more than anything-”

“You’re scared I’m getting old?” It’s gentle. “What, just now? Join the club, established 1978 along with my first gray hair.”

“I’m not ready.”

“Yeah, likewise.” Abe reaches out for his shoulder. “But you know what? It doesn’t scare me as much as it oughta. Other guys I know… they’ve got kids that don’t call, they’ve got partners they don’t talk to. They’re alone, they don’t know who’s going to be around towards the end. Me? I couldn’t be luckier. Because I know. My dad’s gonna be there.”

Henry lets out a shuddering breath and closes his eyes-- there’s a dangerous wet gleam on his eyelashes, and Abe squeezes his shoulder.

“Besides, nothing keeps my mind off my mortality like worrying about what kind of trouble you’re getting yourself into.”

Henry snorts.

“Thanks for the car, Henry. I like it. And-- you get one sentimental moment a year-- I’m glad you’re my dad. I’m glad you’re here.”  

Henry looks over at him, and Abe realizes what’s going to happen a second too late to dodge the hug. ...honestly, macho standoffishness aside, he’s not sure he minds. He wraps his arms around his father’s shoulders and hugs back.

“I’m never making an internet purchase again, I can promise you that,” Henry mutters, disengaging after a long moment. He pulls out his handkerchief to wipe his eyes-- because he’ll be seen crying any day, but like hell will you catch him wiping the tears on his sleeve like some kind of barbarian.

“You told me you once said the same thing about getting into a car with a combustion engine.”

“That was different--”


The light outside the window’s gone completely golden-red now, the shadows long on the street, and Abe gives a little start.

“Crap, almost sunset already? Wait a second--ah, where’s that lighter?”

“Here.” Henry swiftly pulls out the table drawer and produces a box of matches.

“Thanks, thanks.” He’s in too much of a hurry and the match doesn’t light the first time. He takes a second to calm down; he’s not going to get this done any faster if he rushes it. On the second strike, it flares into life, and he lifts it to the wick of the shamash candle until the flame takes.

Relieved, he spares a glance at Henry. “Now, we never speak about our feelings again, right? Once a year.”

“Tch.” Henry’s regained enough good humour to look judgmental. “Late twentieth-century emotional constipation.”

“Hey, I know an early nineteenth-century guy who represses with the best of them,” Abe says, lifting the shamash out of its holder. “Speaking of which, you may want to leave. I’m about to commit spirituality. I know that makes you uncomfortable.”

“Would you mind very much if I stayed?”  

Surprise makes Abe pause. “...No. I’d like that.”

He lifts his voice in the first blessing, and almost stops again when another voice joins in. He had no idea Henry had taken the time to memorize the words. But there it is-- just too round vowels, too careful pronunciation. It’s a bit like having his breath snatched away and a bit like take-off in a helicopter, his heart growing too big and opening up. It’s not like his mom at all, except it really, really is, because he hasn’t felt looked after like this for... well. It’s been a long time.

The third blessing is only spoken on the first night, and he thinks Henry must know what it means, because Henry never does things halfway.

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe
who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season

For sixty-odd years he’s said it and meant it, thinking of Henry-- Henry who believes there are no miracles.

Abe believes there are. He’s willing to buy that, once, a day’s worth of oil just somehow kept going, because it was needed.

He hopes someday Henry can understand how much good he’s done. How much he’s been needed. That to the people who love him he has always been a miracle.

“Amein,” Henry finishes solemnly.

“Love you, Dad,” Abe mutters, quietly enough to maintain deniability, and lights the candle for the first night.