And All Through the House

by Jump Ai (じゃんぷEYE)


He was fourteen going on fifteen, which was far too old to believe in Santa Claus. And his parents were already asleep; he had passed their open bedroom door on the way back from the bathroom. So when he heard the bump in the living room, his first thought should have been the dog, or else his sister, or else an honest adult fear of intruders, burglars or Christmas Eve stranglers.

But he was only fourteen yet, and had been reading holiday stories to his baby sister before bed, and the porch light was glimmering on the snow outside, shining through the front door window like magic to light his way. So that, still half asleep, his first thought was, Maybe… And perhaps that was all it took, that when he peeked around the lintel, the shape under the Christmas tree was not the dog, and as definitely not his sister, nor a burglar, nor anything of regular real life. Instead he saw a small, quick figure, fantastically colored under the rainbow medley of lights on the tree, busy with the presents his mom and dad had arranged there.

“H…hey,” said the boy, remembering too late that he was (almost) a grownup, so this must be an intruder after all, maybe a dopehead looking for his next fix like on TV, and it would have been smarter to call the cops rather than bring attention to himself.

The elf jumped up like a jack-in-the-box, whirling around in the air to land facing the boy. It was an elf after all, its wide surprised eyes a shimmering blue-green, set in a little pointed face with little pointed ears under a little pointed cap topped with a tassel. Riotous curls spilled out from under the cap, glowing white one moment and blue the next as the tree’s lights flickered.

The elf blinked its blue-green eyes. “Oh dear,” it said.

“What are you doing?” the boy asked, whispering, and not just so he didn’t wake his parents. “That’s my baby sister’s present you’re messing with.” It was the biggest present under the tree, and the wrapping paper hardly concealed the pointed turrets of the dollhouse she had been whimpering about for months. He had helped his dad bring it downstairs earlier tonight, after his sister was asleep. It was three stories of real wood and weighed a ton. But she was going to be so happy when she unwrapped it. And would hopefully stop whining.

The elf blinked at the boy again. “I, er, suppose it’s too late to tell you you’re dreaming and send you back to bed?”

He wasn’t half-asleep anymore. “Yeah, too late.”

“Darn it!” The elf snapped his fingers in frustration. “My first Christmas out independently, and this–I don’t suppose you want a candy cane?” He held out a big red-and-white striped cane. Definitely a he-elf; his voice was a light tenor, and standing straight he would have been as tall as the boy, had it not been for his growth spurt last summer.

“I don’t like candy canes,” the boy said. “My sister’s present–”

“Don’t worry about that,” the elf said, anxiously. “I may be clumsy at the espionage but I’m good with the toys, wouldn’t have been sent to this home if I weren’t. It’s these mass-produced constructions–yes, your mom and dad gave it lovely touches, I especially liked the bunny stencils in the bedrooms, they’re her favorite animal–but you all know that. It wasn’t the details or the care, it’s just, the base being what it is–I’m not saying your parents didn’t buy the best they could afford, but the boards would splinter, and the lights likely go in a couple months, and this is such a special toy for her, it would’ve been too much of a shame. You won’t notice a thing, I promise, I know what I’m doing.”

As he was speaking, the elf took the boy by the hand and led him back down the hall to his bedroom. Such was his chatter that the boy didn’t notice until he was almost to his bed. He tore his hand from the elf’s–not a child’s hand for all its small size, with those long, supple, clever fingers–and crossed his arms. “You can’t put me back to bed. I’m not sleepy.”

“Oh dear,” the elf said again.

The boy turned on his desk lamp and sat down on his bed. The elf blinked in the florescent light, his eyes squinting, though they were still larger and shinier than normal human eyes. In the plain light his pants were green and his fur-trimmed coat was ivory, and the curls under his cap were flaxen pale, fair and soft as cotton candy and almost white against his chestnut skin. With the blue-green eyes, the elf looked more supernaturally exotic than the gentle, heartwarming holiday magic of cards and TV specials.

The elf sighed. “So what do you want?”

“Um,” the boy said. He was much too old for Christmas lists to Santa. “Do you have any PS3s?”

“Not my department,” the elf said. “Besides, your parents would notice. Which is good, of course, the parents who notice, more difficult for us but so much better for you, and that’s what matters. There’s more creativity allowed in the neglect divisions, but it’s so much happier in the especially loved, I wouldn’t ask for a transfer if…oh!”

The elf had been wandering the bedroom as he prattled, studying the movie posters over the bed and the dusty matchbox cars on the shelf and the stack of burned CDs by the stereo as if hunting for inspiration. He was almost to the closet and the boy stood to stop him–he didn’t trust his visitor not to open that door, even if it was locked; the dollhouse had been wrapped, after all–but the elf halted at the desk, his eyes opening wide again. “My goodness,” he said. “I didn’t expect…perhaps that’s why…”

“Hey,” the boy said, as the elf plucked a pen from the canister on the desk, a thick six-color cartridge pen, “that’s mine!”

“Yes, of course,” the elf said, nodding as he turned it around in his long fingers. “Your stocking stuffer, five Christmases ago–it was a near thing, you being almost ten, and everyone at school telling you Santa was a trick your parents were playing on you, but you wanted it so badly, and I’d worked so hard on it…it was my first independent work, you see, my final apprenticeship piece, all my own making. It just squeaked by approvals–I couldn’t help the label, the pride of inexperience, you know, but that was deemed insignificant enough not to be noticed. But I couldn’t know what became of it–I thought I’d never know, we rarely do, once you’re grown we can’t keep track. It still works, doesn’t it? Doesn’t spatter, doesn’t run dry?”

“Y…yeah,” the boy admitted, taking his pen. The plastic was warm where the elf had clutched it. “It’s my favorite, still. I almost lost it at the end of fifth grade but I went back to the classroom at the end of day to find it…”

“Can I…” the elf ducked his head, the red tassel on his cap bobbing, “would you mind if I saw what you do with it? If you have anything?”

“Okay,” the boy said, though he felt his ears grow hot. But that sketchbook was safe in his closet. He took out his math notebook instead and showed the elf the copied equations and the doodles in the margin.

“Oh my,” the elf said, looking. “These are amazing. That one, there, it’s so intricate,” and he leaned over the boy’s shoulder to point to a sketch of a machine of black gears and red wires, overrun by green vines. All the doodles were of machines or plants or animals. He hadn’t drawn people at school for a couple years. The other boys in his class covered their notebooks with superheroes or big-breasted women or especially superwomen with heroically sized breasts, but he didn’t join them unless they teased him into a contest and gave him no choice. Then he made sure to draw the biggest, most impossible boobs of all.

The elf was still leaning on his shoulder, warm through his worn bedtime T-shirt. The elf’s ivory coat was thin for the cold winter night, for all its red furry trim. If the boy leaned back his bare arm would be resting against the lean flat planes of the elf’s chest, against his warm belly, with only the thin coat between them. The spun-sugar hair smelled sweet, not as sickly saccharine as candy but like baking cookies.

“Wonderful,” the elf said as the boy turned the pages of his notebook. “You’re gifted,” and his admiration wasn’t the pointless, overplayed praise an adult might give, ‘You’re so talented for your age!’ He could see the truth shining in the blue-green eyes.

The boy blushed. “They’re not so good. Look, that’s all wrong,” and he poked his finger at the frustratingly crooked sketch of a wolf’s head.

“Yes, the shape is off,” the elf said, “but the idea of the wolf, that’s there completely, behind the lines. You just need more practice to bring it out.”

“It’s not…” the boy looked over at his desk, “it’s not the pen, is it? And not me?”

“What? No, of course it’s you,” the elf said, laughing. His laughter was just like it should be, high and ringing like sleigh bells. “The pen’s just a toy. A tool, now that you’re older. It works better than a regular manmade pen, that’s all. I couldn’t draw anything like these with it. But I’m so glad I made it for you, to help you draw like this.”

“Thanks,” the boy said. Then, bashfully, but it was a way to show his gratitude, he told the elf, “I have another notebook.”

He took the key where it was hidden under the desk, unlocked the closet and got out his sketchbook. The elf, standing by his chair, took the pad and opened it while the boy stared down at his bare feet, his ears hot and red. He had never shown these drawings to anyone.

“Beautiful,” the elf said. “Oh, beautiful.” He held the sketchbook out at arms’ length, cocked his head as he studied the pictures, his mouth round in honest amazement.

“You think so?” the boy mumbled, feeling the blush move from his ears to his cheeks. His fingers were tingling.

“Oh, yes. Yes,” the elf said, turning the page. “The ideas here, they shine. Brighter than your others. And they’re beautiful.”

“It’s not that special. That one, I copied from photos, some. I got a couple magazines, and…you really think they’re beautiful? Aren’t they, you know, weird? If it were girls, maybe, it wouldn’t be, but they’re not. I don’t like drawing girls, they’re not as fun to look at. I mean…I guess. They’re just…” He shrugged helplessly, his head ducked. Afraid. If his mom or dad found this sketchbook, if they went into his closet–he didn’t know what he would do. What they would do, and he didn’t want to find out. They had never talked about that. So many other things, even drinking and safe sex and drugs, but not that.

“Copying’s all right,” the elf said. “It’s how you learn. Ah, this one’s different.”

“That’s…” The boy peeked up, then away. “That’s Tim. In my biology class. He’s really…” He had tried to take pictures with his cell phone when no one was looking, but they hadn’t come out right. So instead he had done it with his eyes, looking carefully every class to remember just right the blond curls at the nape of his neck, the curves and angles where his neck met his shoulders, the moist swell of his lips. He had studied biology harder than anyone else in biology class, until a couple of Tim’s friends had noticed and come for him after school one day. He had barely run fast enough. After that he had been careful not to look.

He was trying not to look now–the elf was smaller, and his hair was far lighter than Tim’s gold, but it curled the same way, so soft-looking against the rich brown skin, and his shoulders, though narrower, had the same lithe angles.

“He’s lovely,” the elf said, carefully putting the sketchpad down. “And the drawing is lovely. But you…”

The boy looked up, into blue-green eyes as the elf leaned close. His face was hot and the tingling in his fingers had moved down his arms and spread into his body. He shifted uncomfortably, tried to cross his legs. The drawstring sweatpants he wore for pajamas were a thick knit, but not thick enough to hide everything, not with the elf so close.

“You’re more beautiful,” the elf said, breathlessly, and so quick the boy wasn’t sure he had heard right.

“Me?” he said, hearing his voice crack as it hadn’t in almost a year. He swallowed. Boys weren’t supposed to be beautiful, anyone knew that. Not like he drew them. Not like the elf’s sharp, perfect features, the pointed nose and gemstone eyes under the flaxen hair. Not like the elf’s trim, graceful figure. Though shorter than the boy, he had no babyfat roundness in his face or form, slender as a tall man is slender. Only smaller, like the flawlessly scaled miniatures of his sister’s new dollhouse.

“Yes, you,” the elf answered. “You’re beautiful.” Their faces were close, so close that if he leaned his head down their foreheads would touch, and he could feel the heat of the elf’s face against his own. A dusky rose flush was spreading over the elf’s defined cheekbones as he looked up at the boy, but he didn’t look away. Instead he brought up his hands to cup the boy’s cheeks. His long fingers were warm even in the chill of the house at night.

“Really?” the boy asked, as breathless, thinking that this was a Christmas present, as much as anything wrapped under the tree, as much as that old pen on his desk. To look into those exotic blue-green eyes, and see them gazing back as eagerly. Unashamed and unafraid, and that gave him the courage to lean down, to close his eyes and press his lips to the elf’s.

It always looked so easy and natural on TV or in his drawings, but real kissing was wet and squishy and warm, an uncoordinated mashing together of their mouths. But still, when he felt the elf’s lips move against his, it sent a frisson like the prickling of electricity down his spine.

They broke apart. The elf blinked, and the boy asked, apologetically, “Can I–can we try that again?”

The elf blinked again. “Y-yes,” he said. “Please,” and he reached up and took the boy’s face in his hands once more, tilted his head to bring their mouths together again. This time the elf opened his mouth, and when the boy pressed closer their teeth clicked together, bright and jarring. But the elf’s tongue was as quick and clever as his fingers, and the elf’s mouth tasted sharply sweet. Not like mint, but a flavor rich as a sneaked sip of wine from his father’s glass, the pine-tree taste of his mother’s anisette cookies.

This kiss lasted longer, and they were slower to part. When it ended, the elf’s fingers stayed warm on his cheeks, and his own arms had found their way around the elf’s slender torso, drawing him near. The rose flush still colored the elf’s chestnut complexion, and his soft breaths were coming quickly, a match to the boy’s own.

“Once more?” the elf asked, when they had caught their breaths. “They say third time’s the ch–” and then the boy was kissing him once more. His hands roamed up and down the elf’s lean back, feeling his warmth through the thin coat. The elf’s long fingers slipped from his cheeks to curve around the back of his head and trace down his neck, the tickle of his nails making the boy shiver. One of the elf’s warm hands slid under the loose collar of his t-shirt, and his own hand found the fur-trimmed edge of the elf’s coat and worked under and up until he was touching smooth, bare skin, hot against his palm. The elf was trembling, just as he was.

“I’ve never done this before,” the boy whispered into the elf’s mouth.

With his eyes closed he felt the elf shake his head, warm lips brushing his. “Nor I,” the elf said. “But it’s good–I mean, is it good? Are you–”

“Yes,” the boy said. “It’s good. Really good.” They were wrapped close, arms around one another, and the elf smelled so good and warm that he could do nothing but breathe and it would be the best thing he had ever done. He buried his nose in the warm crook of the elf’s neck, put his lips to the smooth skin to see if it tasted as sweet as it smelled. Instead there was salt sweat raised on the dusky skin, and that tasted even better, somehow. The elf shivered, a tremor that went through him, too, they were pressed that close, and that felt so good that it was frightening. Like he could be lost in the feeling and never come out, like an addict overdosing.

He returned to the elf’s mouth, their fourth kiss and already it was familiar enough a place to be safe. Still wet, still hot, though it was a different kind of hot now. He felt it all through him, pooling in his groin and it felt so good he didn’t want to stop, though he burned red with embarrassment. “I–sorry–I gotta–”

The elf gazed at him with wide blue-green eyes, and both blushed and smiled. “It’s okay. See?”

The elf was wearing loose green trousers, not the tights they wore in TV specials or decorations, so really it was hard to see, but flush to one another, cheek to cheek and chest to chest and his groin twitching against the elf’s belly, the boy felt the hardness prodding his thigh.

“A-ah,” the boy stammered. “O-okay,” and the elf laughed, the ringing-bell sound again, and the boy giggled with the chiming laugh. It rang through both of them, merrily, and for no reason but joy the boy kept laughing, quietly, but so much that he fell back breathless onto his bed. The elf fell with him, and for a long while they lay together, side by side lengthwise across his bed, their legs dangling off the edge and their feet tangled together.

Like that they talked, whispering like they were two children at camp trying not to be heard past light’s out. They talked about art. About the boy’s drawings and the elf’s toys, about going to school and serving a workshop apprenticeship. About beauty. Touching a little, the boy’s hand sliding down the elf’s hip, or the elf’s fingers tickling the boy’s stomach until he squirmed and laughed again; and sometimes they kissed. Sometimes more than their lips brushed together, as they cuddled close, facing one another.

Turned toward the desk lamp and looking into the bright bulb, the boy had trouble seeing the elf’s face, the sharp extraordinary features cast in shadow, haloed by the lamplight caught in his curly ashen hair. At last the boy got up to turn off the light, drawing back his curtain so the dim room was illuminated by the starlight on his snow-piled windowsill. He sat down again on the bed, and the elf curled up catlike with his pointed-eared head resting on the boy’s leg.

The elf’s hair was cloud-soft, like mist made tactile under the boy’s hand, twisting around his fingers. The elf purred as he combed his fingers through the curls, and it was wonderful, as magic and perfect as the warm weight of the elf’s head against his thigh.

Perfect. It was that realization that made the boy ask, with a sorrow great as his joy, “I’m not going to remember any of this tomorrow, am I?”

The elf turned his head on the boy’s leg to look up at his face. “What do you mean?”

“I mean–this. It’s a dream after all, isn’t it.”

The elf only looked at him, blue-green eyes shining in the starlight.

“I mean,” said the boy, “it can’t be real. Santa Claus, elfs, that’s all made-up kids’ stuff. This is just a dream. One of those dreams, like I’ve been having. A really, really weird one. But I’m going to wake up any time now, all…uncomfortable, and there’s going to be stuff on my sheets and God, I really hope my brat sister doesn’t come in to wake me up, since it’s Christmas–” He was blushing now (not fair, to blush about it even in his dreams) and couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with his brain, or his teenage boy body, that childhood Christmas tales came out like this when he was asleep. Though when the elf sat up he couldn’t help the pang in his chest, to lose that warmth against him. “It’s just a dream and I’m going to forget it. You never remember dreams totally right. No matter how real they feel, that feeling always gets forgotten when you’re awake.”

The elf nodded, and touched one hand to the boy’s temple. “Yes, there’s only so much room, and more to fill it when you’re older.”

“So you are a dream,” the boy said.

The elf stood and kissed him. His mouth still tasted of anisette, of the evergreen of the fresh-cut Christmas tree. “You’ll probably forget it all,” he said.

Stories talked about broken hearts, but they never mentioned that it actually felt like half your beating heart was being ripped from your chest. “I don’t want to forget,” the boy whispered, putting his arms around the elf and pulling the slender warm body close. “Even if it’s just a dream, I want to remember this.”

The elf’s body was warm, but the elf was shivering in his arms, trembling. Afraid he was hurting that smaller frame, the boy let go, and saw that the elf’s eyes were liquid, shining with water.

“Then remember,” the elf said, liquid in his voice, too, choked up in his throat and muffling the ringing-bell clarity of his tenor. “You can remember a few dreams, if you try.” He sniffled, dragged his fur-trimmed sleeve across his eyes to wipe them dry. “I’m going to try. I don’t want to forget, either.”

“But you…” Could dreams forget? “You don’t have to.” He stood up, crossed to his desk and picked up his sketchbook. Flipping past the fantasies and studies of his classmates to the final drawing, he tore out the page from the wirebound pad. “Here,” he said. “You didn’t see this one, but you said the drawings of Tim were okay, so…”

“I said they were beautiful,” the elf said, “and they were. But this…” He took the page, and for a long moment did nothing but stare at it, the white square of paper reflecting in his great black pupils, the darkness no hindrance to his sight.

The boy had drawn his last picture only a few days before. Avoiding paying too close attention to his classmates, but wanting more than photographs to draw from, he had resorted to the bathroom mirror. It hadn’t come out as well as the others, without a good model. The elf was silent, no compliments this time, just staring at the drawing, as the boy put his sketchbook back in the closet and locked the door.

But when the boy said, “Sorry, I know it’s not–” the elf shook his head, a sharp shake like he was casting off water.

“There’s nothing you can say of this. Nothing that it doesn’t already say. And nothing left for me to say.” He bowed his head. “Thank you,” he said, “that’s not enough, but thank you for sharing this with me.”

With both hands, carefully, he held the page out to the boy, as if expecting him to take it back.

“No, keep it,” the boy said. “It’s yours.” Then he was embarrassed. “I mean, if you want it. If you want one of the other pictures, that’s okay, I just thought, you said you wanted to remember me. This. I–”

“You’re giving it to me?” the elf whispered.

“Yeah,” the boy said. “Um. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” the elf answered automatically, and took a while longer to blurt out, “Thank you!” as if he had only just remembered how to pronounce the words.

“I know it’s not a magic pen,” the boy mumbled, “or anything special like you probably usually get, but…”

“It’s the first Christmas present I’ve ever gotten,” the elf said, not like he was ashamed or depressed but so plainly it had to be true. “We make them all for you; there’s no time to make anything for each other.”

“Never?” Even for a dream, even for an imaginary being, that was so sad it was unbearable. “That’s terrible.”

The elf looked confused. “Why? Giving gifts is more fun than receiving them, isn’t it?”

Which any child knew was patently untrue, something only a Christmas elf would say. Except the boy thought of helping his mom and dad with the dollhouse, how they had laughed while trying to wrap the turrets with the paper running short, and of what his sister’s expression would be when she unwrapped it next morning. He thought of his parents smiling at him, so kind and happy, all the Christmas mornings before this, and the presents labeled ‘From Santa’ in his father’s neat and poorly disguised calligraphy. And he thought of the elf’s blue-green eyes opening so wide as he looked at the drawing, and the elf’s purr as he caressed his hair, and the taste of the elf’s tongue on his, and thought that maybe it might be true after all.

“Thank you,” the boy said. The elf cocked his head, and the boy explained, “Thank you for letting me give you a gift.”

“Then thank you,” the elf said. “For letting me give you this,” and he stepped close, tilted up his head and kissed the boy.

It was their last kiss. He could taste it, under the sharp-sweet anisette. When the boy brought up his hands, they were shaking. So were the elf’s, as he clutched the drawing in his deft fingers, almost tight enough to wrinkle the paper. The boy cupped his own bigger hands around the elf’s, feeling the warmth of the chestnut skin, soft and smooth as polished wood.

He wanted it to last forever, but it didn’t. Then they were separated, both stepping back. The boy sat down on his bed. It was almost Christmas morning, the still house was chilly, and he was sleepy, for all the blood singing in his veins. Maybe it was something the elf was doing. Or maybe the dream was ending and he was about to wake up.

The elf stood in the center of his room, small and unbelievable and perfect, gray-cast in the starlight glowing off the snow. Watching, as the boy climbed under the covers and pulled them up, with the delicately uncertain poise of a deer a moment before it bounds into the forest brush and disappears.

The boy knew there wasn’t any reason to ask, when this was just a dream. He couldn’t help it. “Will I see you again?”

“Maybe not,” the elf said. His tenor now was clear and steady, mature, for all his child’s stature. “You’re only barely still a child now, and by next Christmas–adults remember the adult world, believe in adult things. A lot of good things, important things. But there’s only so much room.”

The boy was old enough to realize that much already. He took a deep breath, but instead of saying anything he held it, as if air could fill the empty places inside him. He closed his eyes.

The elf’s voice came to him in the darkness behind his eyelids, so quiet a whisper it might only be wind after all. “But some things are important to everyone. And some adults understand more than anyone has room for. That’s what art is, you know, everything that won’t fit. So, maybe…”

The boy opened his eyes, but his room was empty. His bedroom door was closed, and his window. The drawn curtains were billowing a little in the draft through the old window panes, and their shifting shadows were the only motion in the room.

The boy closed his eyes again.

The uncannily pitched shriek of a little girl on Christmas morning woke the boy a split second before his sister landed on top of him. “IT’S CHRISTMAS! PRESENTS! WAKE UP!” she hollered, yanking down his blankets.

Last year he had sprung out of bed the moment she opened her mouth, but he was fourteen going on fifteen this year and his alarm clock was flashing 5:56 AM. He pulled the covers back over his head. She drummed on his shoulder with a seven-year-old’s fists. “Come on, come on!”

“Lemme alone, brat! Go bug Mom an’ Dad,” he mumbled through the blankets’ protection. “Can’t open presents without them.” That would give him a couple minutes.

“Right!” she cried, and bounced off his bed and across the hall.

Alone in his room, the boy opened his eyes under the blankets. It was brighter outside even if the sun wasn’t quite up, and the light filtered through the cotton layers of his comforter. He pushed down the blankets and sat up.

There were no pointy-toed footprints on his rug, no little tasseled cap hanging forgotten in a corner. The faint scent of the Christmas tree was tainted by the reek of his sneakers under his bed. But the taste of anisette was under his tongue. A memory.

He got up, scrambled for the key to his closet. The sketchbook was standing on the shelf where he always kept it. He took it out, flipped to the last sketch, the one of Tim from the month before.

He remembered drawing a self-portrait, standing in the bathroom with the sketchbook propped on the sink. But maybe he had only dreamed that memory.

He wondered if his parents would notice any alterations in his sister’s dollhouse after she unwrapped it. He wondered if anyone would notice if the wood never splintered and the wiring was still working years later, no matter how much she played with it.

He wondered if he counted the pages of his sketchbook, would there be fifty as advertised on the cover, or forty-nine. Unless he had torn one out before and forgotten. Or the sketchpad factory might have made a mistake.

His favorite pen, with its six colors of ink that hadn’t yet run dry, was laying on his desk. He picked it up, clicked out the black.

You can remember dreams, if you try.

Across the hall he heard his sister’s shouts, his dad’ sleepily cheerful replies. It would take them a couple minutes to rouse his mother. The boy put the pen to the paper, began to sketch. Just a cursory draft, pointed ears and a pointed nose and quick swirling strokes for the pale curly hair. And blue ink scratched over green for the eyes.

On the pen’s black barrel the manufacturer’s logo was imprinted in silver, followed by the tiny outline of a pointy-eared, smiling cat face. It wasn’t a logo he recognized from any art store he had been in. But then the pen was old enough that maybe the company had gone out of business. He could look it up online, except he couldn’t read the logo. It was in a language he didn’t know, some script that maybe was Russian or Japanese. Or maybe something else entirely.

Maybe next year, he could ask.

Maybe not. But maybe.

“Merry Christmas! Come on!” his sister shouted, squealing giggles as she dashed down the hall to the living room. The dog was barking at his dad’s heels, and his mom was groaning about coffee as she staggered after them. The boy clicked off the pen, put it down on the open sketchpad on his desk, and joined his family under the Christmas tree.

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