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Amanda gave Sara a confused look and then looked down at the exceptional sketch that Reggie had handed her. “I don’t understand,” said Amanda. “Milo is Reggie’s cousin-,”

Sara nodded. “-But he doesn’t share his art, and Milo, being Milo, doesn’t want to press the point.” Sara paused, wondering how to explain. “Milo thinks there’s a connection between Reggie’s art and Murphy’s Law.”

“And speaking of Murphy’s Law,” put in Zack, he looked as though he was about to ask something he had been wondering all afternoon. “Milo, your dad, your grandpa, your uncle and both of your cousins in the place at the same time?”

Dakota saw Zack’s point at once. “Seven Murphys in one place,” he said. “That’s a lot of Murphy’s Law.”

Sara nodded, wondering why that hadn’t occurred to her as well. She thought for awhile before answering. “Well, it’s been awhile,” she said. “The last time there were this many Murphys in one place was before Milo was born and it didn’t go well, so we stopped having family gatherings.” She paused and looked around, as if in anticipation. “The house is pretty sturdily built, but I admit that I’m surprised that nothing’s happened yet.” As if on cue, Milo, who had been sitting in a corner listening to the conversation, suddenly fell through the floor and landed with a thud in the basement.

Thirteen people made for a tight fit around the Murphys’ dining room table. Milo found himself sitting next to Amanda, who was opposite Sara, Zack and Melissa. Nate and Reggie were sitting with Milo’s aunt and uncle at the other end of the table. Cavendish and Dakota were sitting in the middle, between Milo’s immediate family and Milo, Sara and Milo’s friends. Amid the clatter of knives and forks, Milo and his friends continued their conversation.

“Did I understand you right?” asked Milo. “Reggie actually gave you one of his drawings?”

Amanda nodded. “Sara said he almost never does that.”

Milo shook his head, “no he doesn’t.” He paused for a swig from his glass of milk to wash down his mouthful of turkey and mashed potatoes, wondering how to explain. “Murphy’s Law doesn’t affect all of us in exactly the same way.” He paused again, searching for the right analogy. “It’s a bit like a fingerprint.”

“So what does Reggie have to live with that you don’t?” asked Zack.

“Well, Nate for start,” replied Milo.

“Wait, so Murphy’s Law manifests in Reggie’s life through Nate?” asked Melissa in surprise. “How does that even work?” Melissa had once tried to study Murphy’s Law. At the time she had had the hope of being able to give Milo the opportunity to live a normal life. As a result, she knew at least as much about Murphy’s Law as he did. “We’re not entirely sure,” Milo admitted, “but Reggie has a lot more accidents and mishaps than I do for a start and Dad thinks that Nate’s fingerprint is his denial that he has Murphy’s Law in the first place.” Milo paused again and drained the last dregs of his glass of milk. The glass shattered in his hand. A thin trickle of blood welled in his palm, which he cupped and held upright. Without looking, Milo reached into his backpack, pulled out his first aid kit and calmly tied a bandage around his cut hand.

“So what’s the connection between Reggie’s art and Murphy’s Law?” asked Amanda. “Sara said you think there is one.”

Milo nodded, colouring slightly. “He draws for companionship,” he said simply. Milo watched the expression on Zack, Melissa and Amanda’s faces as they absorbed this information. He eyed Amanda. “What did you say to him, anyway?”

Amanda flushed. “Nothing,” she replied. “I just said that his drawings were really, really good, and he ripped one out of his sketch book and handed it to me.”

“Wait, back up,” said Zack. “Milo are you saying, that Reggie has no friends at all.”

Milo nodded. “I Skype with him sometimes, when I can get my computer to work,” he said, “but he kind of reminds me of myself, before…well….”

“You mean before me,” said Melissa, “don’t you Milo?” Milo nodded again. It was typical Milo. In spite of the ridiculousness that was his life, he was trying to reach out to his cousin, in whatever way he could to give him a shoulder to lean on.

“I don’t know,” said Zack, after a moment’s thought. “It sounds like Reggie just made some new friends.”

Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda were back at school the next day. They met in the library after school to continue work on their on-going school projects. As everyone had been tugging on hats and coats after dinner, preparing to leave before the inevitable turkey coma set in, Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda had taken Reggie aside, where they had all exchanged contact information.

“Reggie, I’ve got the three best friends in the world,” Milo had said, “and my friends are now your friends.”

Reggie had looked at Milo like a deer caught in on-coming headlights. “I-really?” Amanda had nodded. “If you ever want to talk, you know how to get us.”

As the four of them sat together talking and checking each other’s homework, Milo was quietly proud of his friends. He had thought that Zack, Melissa and Amanda would probably like Reggie, as he was a very likeable kid, but he hadn’t expected the three of them to take his cousin under their collective wing in quite the way that they had. It was only Milo’s innate humility that prevented him from acknowledging to himself that, yes, he really did have a knack for picking his friends. It was only when Milo realized that he’d been staring at the same paragraph in his social studies text book for ten minutes, that his brain was saturated and he decided to call it quits for the day. “See you later, guys,” said Milo, packing his backpack. He pulled on his hat and coat, shouldered his backpack and left the library.

The weather continued to get colder. It was now dark in the morning when Milo walked to the bus stop at the end of his street. On a couple of mornings, Milo had had to exchange his winter coat for his heavy snow suit. The windows of the houses in Milo’s neighbourhood cast squares of warm yellow light on bare snow covered lawns and twinkling Christmas lights began to appear around the windows and eaves and garages doors of the houses in Milo’s subdivision. When he wasn’t thinking about his homework and studying for his exams, which took up most of his time and had left little time much else, he was starting to think about Christmas, which was a little less than a month away. The way in which Zack, Melissa and Amanda had unexpectedly reached out to Reggie had reinforced the feeling that Milo had had after his birthday and he once again started to wrack his brain because he felt that his friends had earned something special, even though he wasn’t sure what that was.

A few snowflakes drifted lazily out of a dull, lead coloured sky early one Saturday morning two weeks before Christmas, as Cavendish and Dakota’s battered van pulled up at the edge of the large empty parking lot. The engine grumbled for a moment in the still air of the pre-dawn gloom, then fell silent as Cavendish pulled the key out of the ignition. The side door opened and Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda piled out. Phineas and Ferb were absent. They were studying rings of Saturn. They had claimed that they were studying the planets of the outer solar system as school science project. Cavendish handed out the usual trash picks and garbage bags. It was so cold that they had forgone the usual white coveralls. Cavendish and Dakota were both wearing winter coats. Milo and Zack were both dressed in their snowsuits and Melissa and Amanda were equally bundled up against the cold weather. The site was a large one and there were only six of them. Additionally, the freezing weather kept forcing them to stop and warm up. As a result of the forced breaks to take cover from the bad weather and lack of two extra people to make the job go faster, it took most of the day to clean up the site. By the time they were finished it was mid-afternoon and Milo’s hands were numb from the bitter cold, even through his heavy ski gloves and he wondered how Murphy’s Law would mix with frostbite, probably not very well he decided.

It was snowing heavily on Sunday afternoon as Milo trudged through the snow across the parking lot at the Googleplex Mall. Between the snow and Murphy’s Law, a twenty minute bus trip from his house to the mall had take almost forty-five minutes and on two separate occasions Milo had had to talk himself out of turning around and going home. He still had no idea what to get anyone for Christmas, even though he had been wracking his brain for three weeks. The previous Christmas Milo and Sara had surprised their parents by arranging to have Uncle Joe, Aunt Laura, Cousin Nate and Grandpa and Grandma Murphy to come to town for Christmas Eve dinner. It had been the first time since before Milo was born that there had been that many Murphys in one place at one time. As Milo’s relations had come for Thanksgiving this year instead of Christmas, it meant that he would have to actually buy Christmas gift for his family and friends.

Milo reached the mall entrance, pulled open the door and went inside, glad to be out of the bad weather. The mall seemed to be more crowded than usual, which Milo assumed to be the result of the bad weather. Deep green garlands hung from the ceiling under the skylights overhead, Christmas lights wound their way up the columns and red and white striped ribbons hung from the handrails on the upper floors. Christmas carols played quietly over the PA system. Milo unbuttoned his coat and pulled off his hat and gloves and stuffed them into a pocket. He walked over to the information board and studied it for awhile, until the LED lighting system inside shorted out and the outer plexiglass casing cracked.

Milo avoided the escalators and elevators, deciding to walk up to the fifth floor instead. Reflections was Brigitte’s favourite clothing store and Milo decided that he would start there. As he reached the fourth floor he came up the stairs in front of Safety Barn and twenty minutes later he came out with three matching hard hats, the same sky blue colour as the one that Melissa had given him for his birthday. He had had Zack, Melissa and Amanda’s names stencilled onto the back over the axiom of Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” He kept walking and made his way up to the fifth floor. He stopped again to orient himself and after a couple of minutes and another shorted out information board, Milo set out for Reflections.

Reflections was tastefully decorated in pastel colours. As Milo wandered amid the various racks of women’s clothing and accessories he eventually settled on two silk scarves, one in lilac and the other in pale green. Milo paid for them and left, leaving several overturned mannequins and racks of clothing in his wake. As he left Reflections, he walked slowly, wondering where to go next. He eventually made his way up to the seventh floor to Burke & Gower, where he bought a pair of cuff links for his father before heading back down to the fifth floor and the Trashcandroid’s Dungeon.

Milo lingered in the Trashcandroid’s Dungeon for a long time, looking at the various action figures, coffee mugs, T-shirts and other collectibles, wondering what to get Sara for Christmas. He knew she’d be happy with anything Doctor Zone related, but he wanted to get her something special, after she and Amanda had surprised him with his Weird Al tickets for his birthday and after picking out some T-shirts and a couple of graphic novels that he knew she wanted to read, he also picked out the chronotronic drill used by the Doctor in Trashcandroid’s Revenge, which was Sara’s favourite episode. Sara had a couple of high quality prop replicas, but she didn’t have any actual items from the show. Mom and Dad and Sara, thought Milo as he left the Trashcandroid’s Dungeon, half an hour later, that just leaves Zack, Melissa and Amanda.

He walked down two floors to Waterstone Books, where he emerged fifteen minutes later carrying several books for Melissa, American Presidents: A History, Understanding the Universe and Planet Hunters: Searching for Other Worlds, Murphy’s Law having toppled several book cases in the cook book section. That only left Zack and Amanda. Zack played second string fullback for the Jefferson County Middle School Geckos and Milo knew that there was sports collectibles store called Champs up the eighth floor. After hitting the food court for a quick lunch, Milo decided to walk up to Champs to see if he could find something for Zack, who he knew was a fan of the Danville Thunder. He stayed away from the display case full of gleaming Super Bowl rings, which started at $2,500 and escalated rapidly from there. He settled on a jersey signed by the Danville Thunder’s starting fullback, Buck Sanderson. That just leaves Amanda, thought Milo, frowning slightly. He really had no idea what she might like for Christmas. He had initially thought of a deluxe personal planner, as she was very, very organized, but he had rejected that idea as being a bit impersonal, and she already an autographed copy of the official Cake Splosion Cook Book. Milo slowly walked around the mall wracking his brain, then he remembered the pictures she had posted a couple of weeks ago from the Love Handel concert she had been to with her cousin. He had been surprised when she had told him that she collected vinyl records and that she didn’t have any Love Handel music in her collection.

“Really?” Milo had said in surprise, “you collect vintage vinyl?”

Amanda had nodded. “You don’t know everything about me,” she had teased. “Have you forgotten that I skateboard as well?”

He had.

He seemed to remember that there was a record store called Notes on the ninth floor. Milo walked up to Notes and browsed through the various categories until he found himself in the section labelled “Classic Rock.” He found the L section and began flipping through the various albums until he found Love Handle: Ninja of Love. Milo took it off of the shelf and examined it. It appeared to be in good condition. He took it up the cashier and paid for it, then exited the store, preparing to head home.

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