Logan knew the emergency room drill better than most. Whether you went to Neptune Memorial, the tiny community hospital near his family's ski cottage, or Royal London Hospital, it was always the same: Head injuries got you in to see the doctor quickly, but once they determined that you weren't about to die, they made you wait…and wait…and wait…
His eyes drifted over to his mother, who was staring blankly from her chair in the corner of the room.
"This is what's wrong with the healthcare system, you know," he griped.
Lynn raised an eyebrow in her son's direction and the corners of her mouth went up ever-so slightly. Having successfully gotten her attention, Logan went on complaining.
"How long does it take to put in some stitches and slap on a few band-aids? They took the x-rays, like, an hour ago. They know what's wrong, so why not tape me up and get me the hell out of here so one of those poor slobs in the waiting room can finally get in?"
"Logan, you need more than band-aids."
"Whatever. Just sitting here doing nothing is driving me crazy." As he tried to shift into a more comfortable position on the bed, a sharp pain shot through his broken ribs and he gasped.
"Honey?" Lynn began to rise from her seat but Logan waved her off.
"Unh, I'm OK." He sighed as he reached for the TV remote attached to the bed and hit the mute button. "This wouldn't be so bad if this crappy TV got more than one channel."
The room went quiet again. After a short time, Lynn finally spoke.
"Logan, honey, I—"
"Lilly, they said we have to sign in! There are rules! You can't just walk in here because you want to."
"Of course I can—see? Ta-da, I'm in. God, Donut, you're such a pussy."
"Seriously, if you two don't stop bickering, I'm calling your mom to give you a time-out! Can you please shut up and focus? Let's just find Logan."
Lynn gave her son a pointed look and he smiled mischievously. "I'll get them before someone calls security," she said, leaning out the door of Logan's room. "Kids? In here."
"Hey, Mrs. Echolls!" Logan heard the trio scurrying in his direction. Lilly, Duncan, and Veronica materialized in the doorway, and then froze when they saw their friend. Veronica stifled a little gasp.
"Get inside," Logan said, mustering up a casual tone. "They put me in a private room for a reason, and you guys are kind of defeating it."
The teenagers shuffled in and Lynn closed the door behind them. The girls each gave him a gentle hug and Duncan slapped hands with him awkwardly.
"So, um, are you OK?" Duncan mumbled.
"I've been better." Logan shrugged. "But I've been worse, too."
"Ronica told us," Lilly said, with a gesture toward her best friend. "We went to your house, but it was all blocked off with police tape and Mr. Mars told us you were here. We waited outside for a little while, but we got bored and decided to just come in."
"Lilly got bored," Veronica corrected. "We were dragged along in her wake. She—hey, is that about you?" She pointed toward the TV screen, where a reporter stood outside Neptune Memorial's emergency room entrance. Logan turned up the volume.
"…our sources tell us that Logan Echolls' injuries are not life-threatening, but the boy will be kept here overnight for observation due to his concussion. In the meantime, Aaron Echolls is at the county jail, awaiting his bail hearing tomorrow. This is Kat Erickson, reporting live from outside Neptune Memorial Hospital. Back to you, John."
"And so it begins," Logan said, running his good hand through his hair. "Fan-fucking-tastic."
A doctor strolled in, her eyes down on her clipboard. "Mrs. Echolls, a resident will be by in a few more minutes to get your son stitched up, but we'd like to keep him here overnight for observation, just to be sure about that head injury."
"Yeah, we heard. It's all over the news," Logan gritted. "Everyone in Neptune knew about my situation before I did."
The doctor's eyes lit up as they flicked toward the screen, but the reporters had moved on to another story. "We were on TV?" she asked breathily.
Veronica piped up. "I think Mrs. Echolls' lawyer might want to know why her son's personal medical information has been released to the media without their permission, don't you?"
The implied threat pulled the doctor's attention from the television, and she stared at Veronica with alarm. "Oh!" She turned toward Lynn as she backed out of the room. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Echolls. I'll take care of that right away. I'm so sorry!"
Once the frightened physician had gone, Lynn rose slowly. "I probably should call my lawyer—just to let him know what's going on so he can tell everyone 'no comment.'"
Lilly, Veronica, and Duncan gaped at Lynn's white suit, crusted with Logan's dried blood. "Mrs. Echolls, you cannot be seen like that," Lilly said.
Lynn looked down at her clothes. "Oh, I almost forgot. I guess I should call Mrs. Navarro and have her send the driver here with our overnight bags."
"Mom, you don't have to stay here," Logan chimed in. "I'm just going to be asleep most of the time and—"
"No, I'm staying."
"Logan," Lynn said firmly, "I am not leaving you. Not another word about it."
Logan blushed, embarrassed at being treated like a little kid in front of his friends, but kind of liking it anyway. "OK."
"I'll be back in a minute, sweetheart." His mother kissed his forehead before she left the treatment area to use her cell phone.
The group was silent as they listened to Lynn's footsteps trail off down the hall, and Logan suddenly felt self-conscious, running his hand lightly over his face and realizing he couldn't do much to cover up the dark bruises around his eyes or the cut his father's ring left on his cheekbone. He settled for putting his splinted fingers down at his side, where they were less visible.
"It's, uh, not as bad as it looks…" he began weakly.
"So, what's next?" Veronica jumped in, asking the question that everyone else was thinking. "I mean, what's going on with, you know, your dad?"
"He's been arrested," Logan said. "I already saw that on the news earlier. Beyond that, I don't know. But I'm sure our trusty local media will do their best to keep me updated on my life."
"…After posting bail this morning, Echolls was released from the county jail and held an impromptu press conference on the front steps. Our cameras were there: 'This is just a horrible misunderstanding. I had to talk to my son, Logan, about some behavior problems he's been having at school, and he became out of control. It was all I could do to defend myself. My son has a terrible temper, and I'm just sorry I didn't manage it better when he was a child so it wouldn't have to come to this. The only thing I'm guilty of is not being strict enough when Logan was younger…'"
"Come on, I don't want to go dateless," Lilly wheedled. "You've been gone for so long. Everyone's asking about you."
"Oh yeah, I can feel the love, given that none of our so-called friends have gotten in touch with me all week," Logan gritted. "They're just asking because half of them want to see how bad my bruises are, and the other half believe Aaron when he says that it was my fault and he just had to smash my bones into dust."
"You are such a drama queen."
"And Madison only invited me for the shock value. Lill, I just don't want to be a spectacle—I've had enough of that already. Please understand."
Lilly took on a tone of annoyance. "I understand that you'd rather stay locked up in that condo with your mommy than come to a party with me."
"No, that's fine. I can go my myself. Just know that whatever happens, it's on you."
Before Logan could respond, her end of the line went dead. He clicked his cell phone off and dropped it on the couch next to him. After sulking for just a few minutes, he picked it up again and dialed.
Veronica picked up after one ring. "Hey, Logan!"
"What the hell is with our friends?" he said without preamble.
"Why? What's going on?"
"Lilly isn't taking any of this seriously, and now she's pissed that I don't feel like being the main attraction at Madison's party. And Duncan is barely returning my calls—I've gotten one voicemail and two texts from him all week, all about nothing. I'm starting to think that my mom's lawyer and agent are my real best friends, because I've heard from them more than the Kanes lately."
Veronica paused for a long time before responding. "Well, you know how Lilly is. She's all about living in the now—she doesn't think about the big picture. But Duncan…I don't know…he's really busy…" she said unconvincingly.
"You are a shitty liar, Mars."
"That's a lame excuse even if it was true. You have as many activities as DK, and more honors classes, but you manage to check in every day. You know the real reason. Spill."
She paused again. "If you tell him you heard this from me, I will disavow all knowledge of this conversation."
"Celeste told him not to get involved. She's afraid of him being associated with any whiff of scandal. Might hurt his future presidential bid, you know."
"So he obeys her and ditches me? With everything that's going on?"
"He's just a wuss where Celeste is concerned."
Logan thought about his best friend's longtime crush on the sheriff's daughter, which he would never act upon because Celeste wouldn't approve, and realized Veronica was right.
"Man, he sucks," Logan stated simply.
Veronica giggled in reply. "Hey, if you want to stay in, why don't I bring over some movies?"
"No, go to the party. You don't have to skip it because of me."
"Please—I was only invited because of Lilly. Madison hates me, and only tolerates my presence because of you three."
Logan laughed, but didn't deny that.
"And if you and Duncan won't be there, I won't have enough protection from Madison's death-ray stare. It burns from the inside! Come on, let's hang—we can order pizza."
"All right, you've sold me. But only if one of the movies you bring is 'The Princess Bride,'" he said.
"As you wish!" she replied before hanging up.
A few hours later, Logan and Veronica were sprawled on the couch, watching the movie credits scroll by on the TV screen.
"Need another drink?" Logan asked as he struggled to stand without disturbing his still-sore ribs.
"Here, let me get it," Veronica said, jumping to her feet before picking up their empty glasses. "As much as I enjoy seeing you find your way around a real kitchen, I also don't want you to hurt yourself doing it."
"Hey, I've been managing just fine, thank you very much," he said, raising his voice so she could hear him in the next room. "I've been cleaning my own room and clearing my own dishes and everything!"
"Clearing dishes for a whole week!" Veronica teased as she reentered the living room. "That's really roughing it. I don't know how you've held up under all that effort."
"Shut it," Logan pouted. "You know what I mean."
Veronica laughed as she flopped back down on the couch. "I think I actually like this place better than the manse. It feels more like a real home. Except for the paparazzi staking out the place."
"Yeah, but we're learning to work around them—rented Toyota, disguises, me ducking down in the back seat. You know, your typical wholesome, mother-son fun."
"Whatever works." Veronica looked down at her hands, lost in thought for a moment. "Listen, I just wanted to say I'm sorry…about what happened."
Logan was baffled. "What are you sorry about? You probably saved my life, Veronica."
She bit her lower lip before continuing. "I mean, I'm sorry that I didn't do anything sooner. I kind of suspected something was going on, but I didn't do anything! I should have done something more before… this… happened to you."
"You tried—I just didn't let you. Just that afternoon you tried and I blew you off." Logan pulled a throw pillow into his lap and began twisting the tassels between his fingers anxiously. "I've been hiding this for so long, I guess it was a habit. I didn't think anyone would believe that the big-time Oscar winner would hit his own kid."
"I would have believed you—your friends would, my dad…"
"But what about the public? A judge? A jury? Haven't you been watching the news? The world loves that asshole. And you may have noticed that most of our friends don't believe me." He grew more agitated as the words came spilling out. "My mom has stayed with him all these years because she's so afraid of him. He had to be stopped for good. That's why I had to do this. I had to make everyone believe me. They needed to know so—"
"You 'had to do this'?" Veronica asked, her voice dropping to a whisper. "What do you mean? Logan, what did you do?"
"It doesn't mean anything," Logan said, fighting back the tears and wishing he had his parents' acting abilities. He could practically see the gears turning in Veronica's brain. "I'm just rambling. Head injury, remember?"
"This isn't funny. Did you do this on purpose? Get yourself beaten half to death to make sure he'd be punished? And make me listen to it?" She was pacing the room now, and Logan could tell that she was fighting to keep her voice down.
"Veronica, just let me explain." He got to his feet and grabbed her by the elbow to get her attention.
"Explain?" Veronica yanked her arm out of his grasp. "I've had nightmares every night—nightmares where my dad doesn't get to your house on time and I have to sit there and listen to your dad killing you. And now I find out that you planned that? You are sick, Logan."
"It wasn't anything he hadn't done before—you know that! I just had to…"
She scooped up her purse and stormed toward the door. "I know your dad needed to be stopped, but risking your life was not the way to do it. Good luck with your case, Logan."
After Veronica walked out the door, Logan stood staring at it for a few minutes before going into his bedroom. A minute later, he came back out and picked up the dishes, glasses, and pizza box and brought them into the kitchen.
"…Coming up tomorrow on The Insider: Aaron Echolls' other child comes forward. Trina Echolls defends her father, describes her brother's history of violent behavior, and discusses her upcoming movie role in a revealing interview with our very own Pat O'Brien…"
"You're quiet—are you nervous about your first day back at school?" Lynn peered at her son over her glasses, which she wore instead of her contacts as part of her latest disguise.
Logan shrugged. "Well, let's see: My girlfriend isn't speaking to me, all of my friends are either ignoring me or are mad at me, the rest of the world thinks that Aaron beating me up was my fault, and I have a week's worth of homework to catch up on. What's not to look forward to?"
"I'm sorry you have to go through all of this, sweetheart," Lynn replied.
"I know, Mom, you've said that a million times. I'll be OK."
"Just don't feel like you have to handle all of this yourself. We're in this together, and I'll help you with anything I can."
Logan looked at his mother's profile and smiled. "Actually, just seeing you in this ensemble is enough to cheer me up." He tweaked the brim of her baseball cap. "The t-shirt and jeans make it look like you're playing a part. Lynn Echolls: Soccer mom."
"Ack!" Lynn pretended to shriek. They laughed together until it was time for Logan to duck so they could pull into the school parking lot without attracting the attention of the reporters camped out across the street. "Mr. Clemmons said he got extra security to make sure the paparazzi stay off school grounds, so you go to the office if you have any trouble."
"Gee, I've never been to the principal's office—I hope I can find my way."
Lynn rolled her eyes. "Have a good day, honey. I'll see you when you get out."
Logan kissed his mother on the cheek, picked up his backpack with his good hand, and headed into the building.
The school day was surreal. Logan was used to being the center of attention—he often made himself so—and every walk through the halls was filled with called-out greetings, whispered weekend plans, and high-fives from his friends. But today, almost nobody spoke to him. People were watching him, and obviously talking about him in hushed tones, but except for a "'Sup?" from Casey Gant, a kind hello from Meg Manning, and a huffy hair-flip from Lilly, no one acknowledged his existence. He felt like a ghost.
While he was sitting on the bench during gym, he saw Duncan looking at him, but his best friend averted his eyes guiltily when Logan saw him. He started to think that he would almost welcome a confrontation—it would have to be better than being ignored.
After lunch, he went to his locker and found it plastered with tabloid headlines:
"Aaron Echolls: My son attacked me"
"Is Logan a liar?"
"'Self-defense' claims action star"
Wearily, Logan pulling down the clippings, tearing them into shreds before letting them fall to the floor. Just as he finished, a group of PCHers approached, and he tried mentally to take back what he'd thought earlier about wanting someone to confront him.
"Aw, poor little rich boy," said the hulking boy in the front of the pack.
"Fuck off," Logan muttered, opening his locker to retrieve his books in an effort to ignore the boys, who were slowly surrounding him.
"Oh, do you only fight guys who are over 40? I thought you might want to fight someone your own age for a change," the big one threatened.
"Ha! You wish you were his age, Chardo." Veronica's voice rang out from behind Logan. "You're older than some of the teachers here."
"You got a little cheerleader to defend you!" Chardo sneered. "Niiice. Maybe you can get an attack poodle next."
"Yeah, and you're a real badass, going after a guy with two broken fingers, a concussion, and cracked ribs." Veronica stepped in front of Logan held up something that looked like a flashlight, but he couldn't really see it well. He jumped when it crackled loudly.
Chardo scoffed. "A taser? You gonna shock me, little girl?"
"Mr. Sparky was a gift from my dad. Professional grade, so I hear it gives a real nice jolt." She gazed at the taser admiringly, and Logan had a hard time not laughing. "Wanna find out?"
"Why don't you just go to class, sweetheart," Chardo replied. "This isn't about you."
"When you threaten my friend, it is about me. Why don't you go to class, Chardo, before you get held back a third time."
The PCHers snickered, forcing Chardo to back off. As the boys slunk away, Chardo narrowed his eyes at Veronica and she gave him a cute little wave. When they were gone, she twirled the taser around in her hand like it was a six-shooter and dropped it back into her bag.
Logan was about to crack a joke when Veronica whirled around and pointed at him angrily. "Just because I didn't let you get your ass kicked doesn't mean I'm not still pissed at you."
"Just let me explain. Blow off last-period study hall and meet me on the quad. I'll tell you everything."
Veronica scrutinized him for a moment. "Fine," she said as she stalked off. As he returned to his original task of getting his books for his next class, Logan flashed on the image of Veronica on her tiptoes, getting up in the PCHer's face with taser in hand, and he chuckled to himself.