The soft thud of the front door closing made tears spring to her eyes. Veronica looked at the clock on her desk: 10:30 pm on the dot, as usual.

She'd discovered this pattern accidentally. One night when her father was on one of his bi-weekly overnight patrol shifts, she was staying up late to study for a geometry test. Instead of allowing her to work out her proofs in peace, her mother kept interrupting her every 15 minutes to ask her when she was going to sleep.

By 10:15, Veronica was so fed up with the nagging that she pretended to go to bed, planning to get up and cram again once her mother was asleep—or passed out, whichever came first. But shortly after she turned her light off, she heard her mother leave.

Before long, Veronica learned that this happened every time her dad worked late, and she worried that her mother was using the opportunity to go to a bar. So this time, she decided to follow her to make sure she got home safely.

Veronica flung off her covers and jumped, fully clothed, out of bed. She quickly slipped on her shoes and jacket and jogged down the stairs. As she walked through the front hall, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and realized that her long, blonde hair made her easy to spot, even at a distance. Her father's Padres cap hung on a hook by the door; it would have been too big for her, but with all of her hair tucked into it, it fit perfectly. Veronica reached inside his jacket pocket to take the keys to his car, praying she wouldn't get caught driving on a learner's permit.

The deserted roads made it easy to catch up to her mom's car. Remembering her father's stories about tailing suspects, Veronica followed her at a distance, keeping an eye on her tail lights. As they arrived in the shady part of town, Veronica watched for a turn indicator, expecting her mother to stop at one of the many dive bars populating the street.

They passed one after another and finally, the car's right blinker went on. Veronica slowed down to see where her mother was turning, and was stunned to see that it was the parking lot of the Camelot. She pulled up to the curb in front of the cheap motel and watched as her mother got out of her car and went to one of the rooms on the first floor; she already had a key.

A wave of nausea hit Veronica and she rolled down the window to get some air. The Camelot was well known as a place where Neptune's supposedly upstanding citizens met with hookers and drug dealers. Her father used to tell her stories about the busts that happened there regularly until her mother decided it wasn't appropriate dinnertime conversation. Veronica gulped the night breeze into her lungs as she wondered how her mother's substance abuse problems could have gotten so much worse.

Should she knock on the door? Call her dad? Phone in an anonymous bomb threat? As her mind raced through the ways she might be able to help her mom, a nondescript but expensive-looking black SUV pulled into the lot. Veronica slouched down in her seat and watched carefully so she'd be able to accurately ID her mother's dealer later.

The SUV door opened, and Veronica gasped as Jake Kane emerged, looking around guiltily. Before she could speculate on what her best friend's father was doing at the Camelot, he ran to the same door she'd seen her mother enter. He knocked, and a few seconds later, her mother opened the door and threw herself into his arms. They kissed passionately, not parting as Lianne backed them into the motel room and Mr. Kane kicked the door closed behind them.

Veronica didn't realize she was crying until she felt the tears trickling down toward her chin. Every night that her mother snuck out, Veronica laid awake for hours, praying that she wouldn't drive her car into a tree on her way home. Tonight she had risked her own safety—and her future driver's license—because she thought her mother needed her help.

She scrubbed off the tears with her hand and clenched her jaw; she refused to be sad about the woman who was cheating on her beloved father while he took extra shifts at night to earn overtime and keep Neptune safe. Throwing the car back into drive and stomping her foot on the gas pedal, Veronica headed for home.

When she arrived, she stormed into the house, up the stairs, and into the comfort of her bedroom. Too angry to sleep, Veronica paced as she took off her shoes and jacket. She then took off her dad's cap, hanging it on her doorknob so she'd remember to put it back in the morning. Standing in front of her mirror, Veronica shook out her hair, then watched as the long blonde strands fell smoothly over her shoulders. Before she could talk herself out of it, she picked up her scissors and began to cut, dropping flaxen handfuls into the trash can next to her desk.

After a shower and blow-dry the next morning, Veronica decided that her DIY haircut actually looked kind of cute. It definitely worked better with her new wardrobe. As she stood in front of her closet, she noticed the pink and white sundresses pushed off to the side and decided that they needed to go to Goodwill.

Duncan had always liked those sweet, lacy clothes on her, and when he'd started ignoring her, she'd worn all of her prettiest outfits in an effort to get his attention. Then one morning, she noticed her black boots in the back of the closet. She hadn't worn them since she bought them because Duncan thought they were too butch; in fact, that was exactly why Lilly had talked her into getting them in the first place. When she wore them to school that day, Lilly was thrilled—"Look at you, rocker chick!"—while Duncan glowered behind her. After that, Veronica wore them almost every day. The boots, and the new clothes she'd gotten to go with them, made her feel like Veronica Mars instead of just Lilly Kane's Best Friend.

Her parents were sharing a tense, quiet breakfast, as usual. Lianne looked up when Veronica entered the kitchen.

"Oh, you cut your hair," she said, disappointment in her voice.

"Yeah," Veronica replied tersely. "So?"

"No, it's…nice," Lianne said. "It's just that…I thought you liked to wear it long because it made us look more alike."

"Well, maybe I don't want that anymore," Veronica said, downing her orange juice and setting the glass down hard on the counter. She quickly gathered up her books and bag. "I have to go."

"I'll drive you, honey," Keith said. He stood, still in his uniform.

"Dad, you just got home," Veronica began.

"You embarrassed to be seen with the sheriff?" he joked. "Come on, we'll take the Buick instead of the squad car so no one thinks you're a perp."

"OK, I'll take you up on it," Veronica giggled. "Your car smells better than the bus."

"Gee, thanks," he said as he fished through the pockets of his jacket. "Hey, where are my keys?"

"Oh, I…uh…think you left them in the upstairs bathroom yesterday," Veronica said quickly. "I'll go get them." She ran up the stairs and slipped into her bedroom to get the keys out of her own jacket pocket.

"Here ya go," she said as she came down and tossed the keys to her dad. "Your age is starting to show, I think."

"Hey! Don't tease the senile old man who's giving you a free ride today!" he scolded as they both walked out the door without saying goodbye to Lianne.

The ride to school with her father had cheered Veronica up a little, but by lunchtime, she was tired and headachy. After getting a pass from the school nurse, she stopped by the lunch area and saw Logan surrounded by his friends.

"Hey, Logan, where's Lilly?" she asked as she walked up behind him.

He didn't look up from his pizza. "I wouldn't know. She's not speaking to me at the moment because somebody ratted me out for kissing Yolanda Hamilton."

The other boys at the table guffawed, and Dick Casablancas reached across to give Logan a high-five.

Veronica looked down uncomfortably. "If you see her, can you tell her I went home sick today so I won't see her at pep squad?"

"What's wrong?" Logan sighed, wiping his fingers and turning to look at her. "You OK?"

"I just didn't sleep much last night, so I feel awful."

"Well, ya look good," Dick piped up. "Like the new 'do, Mars. It's…sassy." He punctuated the last word with a toss of his own shaggy hair.

"All for you, big guy," Veronica shot back with a sarcastic wink.

Logan squinted up at her. "You need a ride home?"

"With you, Permit Boy?"

"What's a few months?" Logan shrugged. "I won't get busted. Your dad won't be home and your mom…" He paused and threw his used napkin on the table. "Come on—you're not taking the bus if you feel like shit. We can't have you puking on Neptune's fine public transit."

Riding the bus with a throbbing head sounded dreadful, so she let Logan steer her through the crowd toward his car.

"Aren't you afraid of getting pulled over?" she asked once they were on the road.

"Nope. I'm careful," Logan said as his tires screeched around a corner. "Plus, ever since my dad did that cop movie, they all fuckin' love him. As soon as they see my last name, I'm off the hook. Sometimes I have to promise to send them an autograph."

"And your parents really don't care?"

"They bought me the car already, didn't they? Besides, they're both out of town," he replied. "Lilly won't pick me up anymore, and I'm not going to take the bus. No offense."

She nodded. "None taken. Just be sure you don't run into my dad. He won't be so easily impressed by the Echolls name."

"I knew I liked him," Logan said. "So how come you didn't sleep last night? Were your parents fighting again?"

"No, my dad was working last night. He's actually home today, but he'll be sleeping so he won't see you behind the wheel," Veronica explained. "It was just…stuff with my mom."

"Oh. Does the new cut have anything to do with it?"

Veronica played with the ends of her shorn hair. "Yeah, sort of."

"Hmm. Well, I like it," he said with a little smile.

"Thanks. Me too."

Logan was quiet until he pulled his car into the Mars' driveway. "I'll wait here until you're sure everything's cool."

"You don't have to…" she began, until she saw the serious look on his face. "OK. Thanks for the ride."

"Get some sleep."

As Veronica put her key in the lock, she heard loud voices inside. She turned her key slowly and quietly opened the door, sticking her head in to listen.

"I'm telling you she knows, Lianne," her father was yelling. "She followed you last night."

"No, she couldn't have…" Her mother's voice was slightly slurred.

"She had my keys!" Keith replied. "The driver's seat in my car was moved up! Goddamnit, Lianne, figure it out! Did you see the way she treated you this morning?"

If her mother replied, Veronica couldn't hear it.

"Staying together for her sake doesn't make sense anymore," Keith continued wearily. Veronica could picture him rubbing his forehead. "We're going to do her more harm than good this way, so I think it's time for you to leave. Go get help, run away with him, I don't care anymore. It's bad enough that you're doing this to me, but I'm not going to have my little girl…"

"Keith, you know she might not…"

"Don't you say it! Don't you dare say it! Veronica is mine, do you hear me?" Veronica had never heard her father shout like that. "And if you bring up the goddamned paternity test again, I will throw you out right now! I do not need a test to know that Veronica is my daughter! It's bad enough that Jake Kane has taken you, but he cannot have her! She's mine…" His voice trailed off as he began to sob.

Veronica's head swam and she thought she might faint. She heard her mother's footsteps running toward the front hall, so she quickly closed the door and stood frozen on the top step. Seeing Logan still waiting, she walked robotically down to the driveway and got into his car. He backed out without saying anything. As she watched her house fade in the rear view mirror, Veronica burst into tears.

"Are you…" Logan began.

"Can we just go somewhere?" she asked.

Logan nodded and drove on in silence. After a short time, they arrived at the beach. He pulled a blanket out of the back of his SUV, then went around to open Veronica's door and help her out. When they got down to the sand, he spread the blanket and sat down, inviting Veronica to sit by patting the space next to him. They watched the waves for a long time before he spoke.

"This is where I come when I can't go home," he said.

Veronica tucked her knees in toward her body, put her head down, and continued to cry. Logan put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close so she could lean on him. They stayed that way until the sun began to dip in the sky, and Veronica knew her dad would be expecting her.

When Logan pulled up next to her house again, Veronica noticed that her mother's car was gone. She took a deep, shuddering breath to prepare herself before going inside.

"Thanks for staying with me today," she said. "Sorry I made you miss your afternoon classes."

"You're just sorry I skipped history because now you won't be able to cheat off me for the quiz tomorrow," Logan said. "I'm on to you, Mars."

It felt good to laugh a little after crying most of the day. "I'll see you in the morning," Veronica said.

When she went inside, she found her father standing in the kitchen, his shoulders slumped sadly. "Honey," he said. "We need to talk about your mom."

Veronica ran forward and threw her arms around him. "I love you, Daddy," she said as a fresh wave of tears came.

When Veronica went to school the next day, she thought she was basically OK—until her best friend pranced up to her.

"Why so mopey, girlfriend?" Lilly perked. "This isn't about the Donut again, is it? I keep telling you, he's not—"

Her rant against her brother was cut off when Veronica started to cry. Lilly grabbed her arm and hustled her into the bathroom, shooing out the other girls who were touching up their makeup in the mirror. She listened intently while her friend told her about her mother's departure the day before.

"Oh my God, Ronica, that sucks," she said. "She didn't even stick around to say goodbye?"

"She left a note," Veronica sniffed, "and a stupid, fucking unicorn music box."

"Bitch!" Lilly exclaimed. At Veronica's look, she added, "I'm sorry, but that is bullshit. Your dad would never do something like that."

Veronica nodded as she blew her nose.

"At least you've got him, right?" Lilly said in an effort to cheer up her friend. "I mean, he's kind of a geek with the whole cop thing, but he's a good dad. At least you've got one parent who gives a crap about you."

"Yeah," Veronica agreed.

"It's gonna be OK, Ronica." Lilly took out a fresh tissue. "Look up." As Lilly dabbed at the streaked makeup around her eyes, Veronica realized that the girl taking care of her could be her half-sister and nearly started to bawl again. "There you go. Now you're presentable again."

Veronica hugged Lilly tightly around the neck and held her for a moment. "Thanks, Lill."

Lilly shrugged. "What are BFFs for?" She linked her arm through Veronica's and pulled out her cell phone with her other hand. "One more class until lunch, so place your order now, my treat. I'll even let you pick the place this time."

After spending her post-lunch class period throwing up in the bathroom, Veronica was late for history. She hurried in just as the teacher was handing out the quizzes. When she passed Logan, he flung himself across his desk to cover his paper with his arms and gave her a mock glare. Veronica giggled as she moved to the back of the room and took her seat.

Despite Logan's lack of assistance, Veronica finished her quiz first and was allowed to leave. Most days, she would go outside and half-study-half-socialize until pep squad, but she didn't feel like talking to anyone. Today, she sat on the floor in front of her locker and opened a textbook in her lap.

Veronica wasn't paying very close attention to her reading, so she didn't know how much time had passed when she heard a voice bellow in the quiet hallway.

"Fucking whore!"

Her head flew up and she saw Logan, facing away from her as he yelled at an invisible enemy and gesticulated wildly. "You fuck wit' Tony Montana, you fuck wit' da best!" he continued in a bad imitation of Pacino's bad Cuban accent. "Pshew!" He made a gunshot sound and his body jerked backward at the pretend blast. Veronica grinned.

"Who you think I am?" Another sound effect blew him back again. "I kill all you fuckin' assholes!" The next "shot" threw him up against the locker next to Veronica's with a crash. "You need an army, you hear? An army to kill me!" he cried as his body was riddled with imaginary bullets and he slumped down to the floor. He closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest as Veronica watched him, bemused. Logan picked his head up and drew his hand down in front of his face. "And…scene," he said.

Veronica laughed as she applauded his performance, and Logan responded with a bow and a flourish.

A secretary leaned through the doorway of the nearby school office. "Logan Echolls! There are still classes going on!"

He smiled charmingly. "Sorry." The secretary shook her head and went back inside. "My adoring public."

"Does this mean you're thinking about taking after the old man?" Veronica asked.

Logan scoffed. "Fuck, no. I just knew it would make you laugh." She smiled in appreciation. "So what are you doing here?" he asked.

"Just waiting around until the pep squad meeting later," she said.

"Ah, yes, the important car wash meeting," he said with an emphatic nod. "Well, you don't look very peppy."

Veronica plastered a big, phony grin on her face and made "spirit fingers" with her hands.

"Much better."

"Hey, um, I'm sorry I told Lilly about the Yolanda thing," Veronica said, looking down at her lap. "I thought about it a long time before I said anything, but I had to. If you saw me kissing someone, you would have told Duncan."

"Yeah," Logan conceded. "It doesn't matter anyway—I think we're really done this time."

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Veronica said, putting a hand on his arm. "I didn't mean to—"

"No, it's not your fault," Logan said. He leaned his head back against the lockers. "She's been cheating on me again."

Veronica didn't respond.

"Try not to be too surprised," he said sarcastically.

"I wish I was," she replied. "I kind of suspected. And it seems to be going around lately."

"What do you—hey, that's not why Duncan—" he stammered.

"No, I still don't know what happened with him," she said.

"Then what are you talking about?"

In a nervous habit, Veronica reached for a strand of hair to twist around her fingers. She discovered that her hair was now too short to do that easily, and she clasped her hands together tightly. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Better than anyone," Logan replied, uncharacteristically serious.

She took a deep breath. "Yesterday, when you first dropped me off, I heard my parents…My mom has been cheating on my dad with Mr. Kane."

Logan's eyes were wide. "Whoa," he said.

"It gets worse," Veronica continued. "Apparently, this has been going on for a long time, and my dad might not…he might not be my father." She felt her eyes start to fill up again and she pinched the bridge of her nose to keep from crying.

"So wait," Logan whispered as he looked around to make sure they were alone. "Mr. Kane might be your father?"

Veronica nodded, and Logan exhaled loudly.

"Wow. That's fucked up." He stopped as a thought occurred to him. "So Duncan could be…"

"Don't say it," Veronica interrupted, holding up a hand. "That thought already popped into my head after lunch and I spent the next half-hour tossing my cookies. A waste of perfectly good Italian takeout."

Logan scrunched up his face. "At least now it's a good thing that you guys didn't…do more."

Veronica shuddered. "Please stop talking about it."

"Sorry. So what are you going to do?" Logan asked.

"I don't know," Veronica said. "I mean, my dad is always going to be my dad. But part of me wants to know the truth. I don't want anything from Mr. Kane, but I just need to know."

"Well, if you want help, just say the word," Logan said. "I'm always here if you need anything."

"I know," she said, nudging his shoulder with hers. She glanced at the clock on the wall across from them. "Oo, I'd better get to the gym before classes let out. I don't want to run into Duncan."

"Are you sure you're up to it?" Logan asked, standing up. He extended a hand to her and pulled her up from the floor. "I can take you home."

"No thanks, I told Lilly I'd be there," Veronica explained as she brushed off her pants. They started walking down the hall. "What are you doing this weekend? You gonna come by and let us scrub down that yellow monstrosity?"

Logan put a hand to his heart as though wounded. "Hey, lay off the Xterra," he groused goodnaturedly. "I don't think so though. I need to get away from all this crap with Lilly, so I'm going down to TJ with Dick and the Beav."

"Cheap beer and donkey shows. Lovely."

"Best therapy there is," he said with a grin as they arrived at the gym doors.

"So," Veronica said, "if you and Lilly are broken up for good, I…I don't want to have to choose between you two. I hope you and I can stay friends even if I'm still friends with Lilly."

"As long as you don't hold it against me if I'm still friends with Duncan." Logan held up his pinky.

"Deal," Veronica said, hooking his little finger with her own. "I'll see you later?"

"Yeah, see ya." They pulled their fingers apart with a snap, and he gave her a little wave as he left for the parking lot.

The house felt very quiet without her mom there, so Veronica was glad to have the distraction of the car wash. However, she soon discovered that the repetitive physical work did nothing to keep her mind off her family's problems. All she could think about were her father's words that she overheard that afternoon.

As they were sudsing up one of the last cars, Lilly sidled up to Veronica, startling her out of her reverie.

"I've got a secret," Lilly said with a smirk. "A good one."

Veronica was dumbfounded. "Oh my God, you know? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Huh? Know what?"

"Nothing, forget it."

"Nuh-uh, Ronica," Lilly said, grabbing her shoulders and turning her so they were facing each other. "What do you think I wasn't telling you?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Veronica said, choking over the lump in her throat.

Lilly lowered her voice. "Is this about your mom?"

Veronica simply nodded.

Lilly called out to the pep squad advisor. "Hey, Ms. Stafford, we've gotta go. Veronica doesn't feel well."

"Oh, that's too bad. I hope you feel better, sweetie!" Ms. Stafford yelled back.

"We're out of here," Lilly said. She picked up her bag and her friend's, and led her to her car.

"I thought you had somewhere to go after this," Veronica protested.

"Fuck it," Lilly said as they climbed into the SUV. "Doesn't matter."

She drove a short distance from school and pulled over.

"OK, we're away from the gossip mill. Talk to Lilly, girlfriend," she demanded.

Exhausted from keeping the secret from her best friend, Veronica told Lilly what she'd heard her parents say. Lilly tried to feign surprise, but she just looked guilty.

"Oh my God, Lilly, you knew?" Veronica asked.

"Noooo, I…" Lilly said slowly. "Oh shit, I can't lie to you. But I've only known about it for a couple of weeks! And I was sworn to secrecy."

Veronica realized that the timing wasn't coincidental. "That's why Duncan broke up with me, isn't it?"

Lilly furrowed her brow in sympathy. "I kept pestering him to tell me why he was blowing you off, and he finally 'fessed up. Celeste told him."

"Fuck, your mother knows?" Veronica dropped her head into her hands. "Great. That's just great."

Lilly reached over and gently pushed Veronica's hair away from her face. "Well, if it's true, that means that you and I are sisters for real, so that's kind of cool, huh?"

"Yeah," Veronica sniffled.

"I'm sorry, Ronica," Lilly said. "I really wanted to tell you, but I promised my brother I wouldn't. But now that it's out, what are you going to do? Are you going to try and…find out? See if we're really sisters?"

Veronica stared out the window at the traffic going by. "I don't know."