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Chapter 1

Present Day
December 20

Nine-year-old Logan Ailshie waited while his mother paused to gaze in another storefront window on W 45th Street. His patience tested, he resisted the urge to whine, fearing she might decide to end their shopping spree before they got to the Disney Store. There she’d purchase gifts for him, and return his accelerated pulse to normal.

They’d spent most of the morning shopping on 5th Avenue. Some Italian place to find a suit for his stepdad, a fancy makeup store called Sephora, then to pick up a sixteen-hundred-dollar handbag for his aunt. It didn’t look like much to him, but his mom seemed quite impressed the initials LV had been printed all over the bag. After another minute, she turned from the window, grabbed Logan by the hand, and continued west toward Times Square. Although he’d reached the age where he didn’t think it was necessary for her to hold his hand, he didn’t really mind so much. His mom was super pretty, and the attention she drew from other men and women on the street made him feel proud.

To him, the streets of Manhattan looked like one big commercial for Santa Claus. Less than a week before Christmas, displays of the jolly old fat man, Christmas trees, and winter wonderlands populated every storefront window. Each presentation was made more appealing by the elaborate strings of lights bordering the outside. Like most kids, Logan loved the decorations. But turning the city into a second North Pole was only part of the reason. Decorations signaled the start of the countdown to his receiving everything on his gift list. Directly in front of them, a huge billboard hung on the side of a building that read: Make America Great Again, Skip Church! Nearing the corner, his ears picked up the familiar ring of a Salvation Army bell by a middle-aged man standing next to one of the famous red kettles.

Logan and his mom made a right onto Broadway where they entered the Disney Store. He led her to a line of shelves containing toys and other stuff based on the Incredibles 2 animated movie, a picture he’d seen four times.

“Here they are, Mom.” He picked up several items, including an Incredibles logo T-shirt, a Mr. Incredible action figure, and a set of character drinking cups.

“Are you sure you got everything you wanted? You didn’t leave anything behind, did you?”

Logan recognized his mother’s sarcasm. And although he may have felt a twinge of guilt at being so greedy, it wasn’t enough to cause him to put anything back.

His mom looked down at him with raised eyebrows. “You do realize Christmas is more than just about you getting presents?”

If it was, his parents hadn’t done much to reinforce the notion. His stepfather, a successful Wall Street executive, married his mom when Logan was three. Together, the three of them lived in a fancy East 63rd Street condominium. To make up for never being around or showing much interest in Logan, his stepdad tried to compensate by buying him everything he wanted. This was particularly true at Christmastime. As far back as he could remember, he never had less than twenty presents under the tree with his name on them.

While they waited for the cashier, Logan pleaded with his mom to wear the Incredibles T-shirt out of the store.

Mom crossed her arms and lowered her chin. “How’s Santa going to bring it to you if you’re already wearing it?”

Logan rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on, Mom. I learned last year you and Dad are Santa Claus.”

“You’ll still have to wait until Christmas before wearing it.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s a Christmas present and it’s not Christmas yet.”

Logan gritted his teeth. “Fine.” He grabbed the T-shirt off the counter and threw it onto the floor.

His mom threw her hands to her hips. “Pick that up, young man,” she said, a sternness in her voice.

“No.” Logan pressed his lips tightly together and stomped back to the Incredibles display.

“Logan, get over here.”

He kept his back to her, pretending not to hear.

“Logan.”

He peeked back over his shoulder but stood firm. Mom apologized to the cashier, picked up the T-shirt, and paid for the items. She approached him and asked if he wanted to carry the bag, but he just shook his head. “I’ll take you to Chick-Fil-A.”

Here it comes. Every time he’d get mad at her or refused to do something she wanted, she’d pull out the old Chick-Fil-A card as a bribe. Usually, he was too weak to resist, especially with a Chick-Fil-A right around the corner. Sometimes he regretted letting her know how much he loved their chicken nuggets. “Okay, but I’m still not carrying the bag.”

After lunch, Logan exited the fast food restaurant carrying what was left of his soda and waffle-cut fries. Just north of the exit, a homeless man held a cardboard sign that read, “Hungry Veteran Needs Help.” The man looked to be in his thirties, clean-shaven, and had a military-style haircut. He wore a green army jacket. A small red Christmas ball about the size of a quarter dangled from one of the buttonholes in his coat. Logan approached the man and offered him the fries.

“Why thank you, young man,” he said, “But I sure could use something to wash them down with.”

Logan handed him the soda.

His mom walked up beside Logan and put her arm around his shoulder. “I think we’ve taken up enough of this man’s time, sweetie. And we still have a great deal of shopping to do.”

The man thanked him again before adding, “Your mom’s right, though. Christmas is more than just about getting presents.”

As they walked away, Logan looked back over his shoulder at the man. How did he know about that?

“That was very generous,” Mom said.

“I remember what you and Dad told me about our country’s veterans. Besides, the man really did look hungry.”

They turned right onto W 47th Street and made their way back to 5th Avenue to shop for another two hours before taking a taxi home.

No sooner had they arrived than Logan pressed her again about wearing the t-shirt. When she refused to give in, he stormed into his room, slammed the door, and flipped on the TV. Twice she’d told him no, but he wasn’t about to give up. He’d get that t-shirt one way or another. And he wasn’t about to wait until Christmas. He just needed to push the right buttons.

Following dinner, while Mom loaded the dishwasher, Logan spotted his dad on the couch in the living room. He’d been reading a report he brought home from work. After spending all day shopping with his mom, Logan was in the mood for some guy talk. “Hey, Dad. How about a game of Stratego?”

Dad stared at the pamphlet on his lap. “Not tonight, Logan. Maybe tomorrow.”

Logan kneeled beside the Christmas tree decorated with white lights and blue and silver balls standing a few feet away in the corner. He examined the packages beneath it in search of ones with his name on them. When he found one, he’d pick it up and give it a shake. One smaller box drew special attention. “I wonder if this is my new iPhone?”

His mom entered the living room. “What makes you think you’re getting one?”

Logan grinned broadly. “Dad. I heard today the Yankees are already talking about choosing Gerrit Cole to pitch on opening day. Do you think we might be able to go to the game?”

His dad ignored him.

Logan felt his heart sink. “Dad?”

“I’m trying to read this prospectus, Logan. Let’s talk later.”

Mom put a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll play Stratego with you if you want.”

While he’d played with her before, he didn’t consider her as worthy an opponent as his stepdad. “No thanks. I think I’ll just go to my room.” Logan paused on his way out of the living room and turned back to him. “Goodnight, Dad.”

His stepfather grunted, never looking up from the report.

Logan entered his bedroom and felt a chill. He hit the light switch and closed the door behind him. Burr. Where’s that draft coming from? Across the room, one of the two windows was cracked open about four inches. Strange. He hadn’t had a reason to open the window. Not in this weather. Could Mom have been in here cleaning and forgot to shut it? He shut the window, but needed a sweatshirt from his closet. He took a step inside the darkened space and a hand clasped over his mouth. A man pulled him in close and whispered in his ear. “I’m not here to hurt you, just to talk. Do you understand?”

Legs shaking, Logan managed a nod.

“If I take my hand away, will you promise not to cry out?”

A yell would immediately bring his parents into the room, but there was something calming about the man’s voice, some supernatural quality he didn’t understand. His legs stopped shaking. He decided to trust him, nodding again.

“Let’s get out of this closet.” With his hand still over Logan’s mouth, the man marched him out of the closet and over to his bed where he let him sit.

Logan stared into the man’s face. Before him stood the person he’d given his lunch to earlier in the afternoon. Logan pointed at him. ‘You’re . . . you’re.” His finger moved from his face to the little red ball hanging from his buttonhole. “That homeless guy from this afternoon.”

“Robert is my name.”

“But how did you get in here?”

Robert put his finger over his mouth. “Shh. We need to keep our voices down. I came in through the window.”

“What do you mean, the window. We’re on the 10th floor.” Logan didn’t know a whole lot about the law of gravity and physics, but he knew enough to know that only Spiderman could have climbed up the outside of the building. And this guy was no Spiderman.

“That’s okay. I’m not afraid of heights.”

“So why are you here? Are you some kind of angel or something?”

Robert’s head jerked back slightly. “Very good. That’s pretty perceptive for a boy your age. What made you say that?”

“Process of elimination. I already figured out you weren’t Spiderman. And I can’t think of another human being crazy enough to try and make the climb up here. Plus, that business with you knowing what my mom said to me in the Disney Store this morning. So let’s see. Defies gravity. Picks locks. Reads minds. My guess is an angel.”

“Speaking of this morning, have you given any thought to what your mother said?”

“You mean about Christmas being more than about me getting presents?”

“There is a more profound meaning, you know?”

“You mean Jesus? Oh yeah, everybody’s heard that story before.”

“Then you know how important His birth was?”

“Well, sure. If Jesus hadn’t been born, there wouldn’t be a Christmas, and there wouldn’t be any presents.”

Robert smiled and shook his head. “I can see you still have quite a bit to learn. How much do you know about the birth of Jesus?”

“Just what I learned in Sunday school. That a couple named Mary and Joseph traveled to a town called Bethlehem. That Mary had to have her baby in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. And after Jesus was born, they laid him in a manger. And that a star led three wise men to the place where He was born.”

“Do you believe it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. My mom does, but my stepfather says it’s all hooey. So do a lot of my friends at school. I guess I really never thought about it much.”

 “Would you like to know for certain who’s right?”

Logan thought for a second. “I guess so, but I don’t know how anyone could ever be certain of anything they hadn’t seen with their own eyes.”

“Excellent point. What do you say we test out your theory?”

“How?”

“Are you game for taking a little journey?”

Logan couldn’t believe he was considering saying yes. Ten minutes ago he’d found a stranger hiding in his closet, and now he was thinking of going on a trip with the guy. But the truth was, Robert could have hurt him at any time but he didn’t. Instead, he showed a quiet strength and a gentleness that convinced Logan he was the real thing. The way Logan saw it, if he couldn’t trust an angel, who could he trust? “How long are we going to be gone?”

“Just long enough to prove your theory.”

“Okay.”

“You might want to grab a coat. It’s chilly out tonight.”

Logan grabbed his coat from the closet and followed him to the window. Robert raised one of the panes and took the boy by the hand. “Ready?” he said.