"Morning," Logan groaned.
"Well, don't you look refreshed after your little vacation?" Veronica teased.
He squinted over his sunglasses at her. "I have a headache that would kill a lesser man, but it was totally worth it."
"You're still hungover?" Veronica was incredulous.
"Nah, mostly just tired now, maybe a little dehydrated. We didn't get back until after midnight last night," Logan explained, scratching his head sleepily. "We had to wait until Beav was done dry-heaving before I would let him in my car."
"Jesus, Logan, he's fourteen. You should be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Oh, wait—you're still a minor yourself."
"If you're done with the lecture, Sheriff, I could use some caffeine." Logan headed toward the soda machine and Veronica followed him. She leaned against the side of the machine while he fed his money in.
"I need your help," she said.
"You think that little head-tilt is going to erase all that crap you just gave me about Mexico?" he scolded as he punched his selection. Veronica smiled. "OK, fine, it does. What can I do for you?"
"I need you to get me a sample of Mr. Kane's hair."
Logan popped open his soda can and took a sip. "That is definitely the strangest…oh, wait." He lowered his voice. "Sorry, my brain is running slow. You decided to get the test done?"
"I have to, Logan. I can't stand not knowing," she said sadly. "Lilly knows what's going on—she found out from Duncan, who found out from Celeste."
He took off his sunglasses and hooked them onto his shirt pocket. "And that's why he dumped you."
"Yeah. And why Celeste hates my guts," Veronica said.
"Although it still doesn't explain why she hates mine."
"At least I'm in good company," she chuckled. "I don't feel comfortable hanging out around the Kanes' house these days, and Lilly's a little too jazzed at the idea of us being sisters—I just want to keep this low-key, you know?"
"You don't need to give me excuses," he said with a little shrug. "I'll do it. I'm going over there after school today."
Veronica smiled up at him. "Thanks, Logan."
He looked up for a few seconds, then raised his index finger at the exact moment the first bell rang. "Three minutes till geography. Walk me to class?" he asked, batting his eyelashes.
"I'd carry your books, but people might talk," she said, spinning him around and pushing him toward the entrance.
Early that evening, Veronica opened her front door to find Logan with his hands shoved deep in his pockets and his eyes darting back and forth.
"Is your dad home?" he asked.
"Not yet," she said.
Logan relaxed. "Oh, good." He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out an envelope. "Here's what you needed."
"You're the best," Veronica said, glancing into the envelope. "Did it go OK?"
"This cloak-and-dagger stuff is nerve-wracking," he said. "Celeste and Jake weren't even home, and I was still freaking out about sneaking into their bathroom."
Veronica snapped her fingers. "There goes your shot at the CIA."
"So acting's out, and now I can't be a spy either? Damn. I'm running out of career options."
She giggled. "Thanks a lot for helping me with this. I mean all of this, not just the hair sample. It's nice to have someone to talk to." Rising up on her tiptoes, she gave Logan a peck on the cheek.
He looked down sheepishly, but stood up a little straighter. "No problem. I should, um, probably go before your dad gets home."
"Good night, Logan," she said. "See you tomorrow."
Her father was working another overnight shift, and Veronica was a little nervous; she'd never spent the night alone in the house. So when she saw Lilly's black SUV pull into her driveway, she ran to the door and flung it open eagerly. She was startled to find Celeste Kane standing on her front porch.
"What do you want, Veronica?" she demanded.
"I-I don't know what you mean, Mrs. Kane," Veronica replied, still stunned.
"Don't play dumb with me," Celeste said, stepping imperiously across the threshold and into the Mars' front hallway. "I overheard my children talking, and I know your mother's dirty little secret is out. I will not have the Kane family dragged through an ugly scandal, so my question is: What do you want?"
Veronica steeled herself, although she found it hard to not be intimidated. "I don't want anything from Mr. Kane," she said. "I just want to know the truth."
Celeste looked around the Mars' average, middle-class home. "Do you really expect me to believe that you're not after your share of the Kane fortune?"
"I'm not," Veronica said, her face growing hot. "I don't need your money."
Her friend's mother laughed mirthlessly, and Veronica's nervousness was quickly replaced with anger.
"This may be hard for you to comprehend, Celeste, but not everyone thinks that 12 bedrooms and a live-in staff are necessary to survival," Veronica spat. "I don't want your money, and I don't want to hurt your family. I wouldn't do that to Lilly. Or Duncan." She fought back tears, refusing to appear weak in front of this woman. "I only want to know the truth about my paternity, but Keith Mars will always be my dad. It's time for you to go now—I have homework to do."
Celeste eyed her for a moment, then left without a word. Veronica slammed the door, then leaned back against it with her heart beating wildly. After waiting a few minutes to calm down, she picked up her phone and dialed Logan's number.
The wait for the test results wasn't as difficult as Veronica had expected, since she had a few other things to occupy her thoughts. On the morning of her 16th birthday, she was awakened by the sound of the doorbell, shortly followed by her dad's voice: "Honey? There's a delivery for you!"
Veronica entered the kitchen to see a large bouquet of yellow roses in a glass vase. "Oo, my first present!" She clapped excitedly and reached for the card. "'Every girl should get roses on her birthday. – Logan'."
She grinned at her dad, who scowled in response.
"Yellow roses are for friendship, Dad," Veronica noted.
"I don't care," he pouted. "I don't want you to be old enough to be getting your first present from a boy instead of your father."
"Aw, you'll still always be number one with me." She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. "Now where's my present?"
Keith chuckled softly. "I need to talk to you about that." He gestured for her to sit down at the table. "You know your mom and I talked about getting you a car for your 16th birthday, but since she's not here and we don't have her salary coming in—"
"Dad, I can keep taking the bus," Veronica interjected. "It's fine."
"No, no, I want to do this," Keith said. "Besides, you said you wanted to get a part-time job soon, and you're going to need some transportation for that. But we're not going to be able to get you a new car—it's going to be used."
"Pre-owned," Veronica corrected with a grin.
"Very pre-owned," Keith added. "Just be warned. And it's going to be something reliable, nothing flashy."
Veronica hugged him again. "Thanks, Dad."
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Keith said as she squeezed him. "I always thought that by this time in your life, we'd be a little more set for money. I just need to keep a closer eye on our finances for a while, especially if I'm going to pay for one of those kick-ass colleges that you're going to get into."
"Stop," Veronica said gently. "I understand. I'm just glad I have you." She heard her dad sniffle, and he turned away quickly after they released their embrace.
Keith busied himself with breakfast. "But first things first, daughter of mine: You have to pass your driver's test. Are we still on for after school?"
"It's a date!" she replied.
When Veronica and Keith arrived back at home late that afternoon, she was still gazing at her brand-new driver's license.
"You really don't think this looks like a mug shot?" she asked as they pulled up to the house.
"If it does, it's the prettiest mug shot I've ever seen," Keith teased. He held the door open for her and she stepped in first.
Veronica noticed the mail on the floor under the slot and quickly scooped it up.
Keith came up to look over her shoulder. "Anything good?"
"The Glamour winter fashion issue!" she exclaimed. "Here, the rest are for you."
"Oh goody, I get the bills and junk mail," Keith said as he bopped her on top of the head with his stack of envelopes. "So where are we ordering dinner from, Birthday Girl?"
After dinner, Veronica went to her room to do homework—but as soon as her door was closed, she took the Unified Genetics envelope out from the pages of her magazine. Her hands trembled as they paused over the flap and she put the envelope down on her desk, stacking her textbooks on top of it. Every time she decided to open it, she found that she couldn't.
Veronica was so tense about the test results that it wasn't until the next morning that she realized that her birthday had passed with no word from her mother.
When she arrived at Neptune High, Logan was waiting near her locker. "Well?"
"I passed," she said.
"Yeah, you did!" he yelled. He held his hand up for a high-five and Veronica gave it a half-hearted slap. "What's up, Mars? You don't seem all that excited about your newfound automotive freedom."
She looked around to make sure no one was listening. "The test results came yesterday."
Logan's expression grew serious. "And…?"
"And I haven't opened them yet," she said. "I'm too nervous."
"Do you want me to…I can come over…if you think…"
Veronica nodded tearfully. "After school?"
"You got it," Logan said as he headed off for class. Then he spun around and added with a wink, "Maybe I'll even let you drive my car."
"Fuck," Veronica hissed as she stared at the report. "Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck."
Logan gently took it out of her hands and looked it over. "This looks pretty clear—99.9 percent certainty." He dropped the pages into his lap. "I'm sorry."
Veronica covered her face with her hands and started to cry. Logan put his arms around her and she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Fuck! I didn't want this. I don't want to be Jake Kane's daughter."
"Then don't be," Logan said. Veronica sat up and looked at him, confused. "Jake Kane may have screwed your mom 16 years and nine months ago, but Keith Mars is your dad. Biology doesn't mean shit when it comes to being a good parent."
"I guess," she said.
"And no one knows about these results except you and me. So if we don't tell anyone, then you can just keep being Keith Mars' daughter. We can even tell Celeste that the report said that. She'll be fucking thrilled."
Veronica let out a cry of frustration. "I hate letting her think she won!" She clenched her fists. "She's been such a bitch to me all these years. And you should have seen the way she looked down at me when she came here."
"Yeah, it doesn't seem fair. But you're just going to have to live with it if you're going to keep this test under wraps."
Veronica grew quiet for a few moments. "Not necessarily," she said. "Can you hand me my phone?"
Logan did as he was asked and Veronica dialed. "Celeste! It's Veronica," she said overly sweetly. "I just got some interesting news and I changed my mind—I do want something from you, seeing as you're sort of my stepmother...Well, I've realized that college is really expensive these days, and I'm thinking that $250,000 might cover it…Don't worry, you'll get something out of the deal too. Where shall we meet?"
After she made arrangements with Mrs. Kane, Veronica hung up to see Logan watching her with amused surprise.
"You have enormous balls, Mars! I'm impressed," he said. "You're way better at this spy stuff than I am."
"Oh, you're not off the hook yet, Agent Echolls," she said with a head-tilt. "I still need your help if I'm going to pull this off."
Veronica casually sipped her cappuccino as Celeste Kane stared in disbelief.
"And you expect me to just give you a quarter of a million dollars?" the older woman asked.
"It's a lot less than a third of the Kane fortune," Veronica said, licking the foam off her lip.
"What's my guarantee?" Celeste demanded. "How do I know you'll hold up your end of the agreement?"
Veronica leaned back in her seat and folded her arms, relishing the feeling of control and power she had at the moment. "Because I don't want this to get out any more than you do—I want Keith Mars to be my dad, regardless of how much money he makes. And I don't want to be known around school as the girl who dated her half-brother."
Celeste looked pained, and Veronica actually felt a twinge of sympathy for her. Briefly.
"But I will let it out if you try to fuck me over," Veronica bluffed. "All you have to do is get me that money, and this will all go away. We'll both get what we want."
"How are you going to explain your financial windfall to your father?"
"I'm not," Veronica explained. "Like I said before, we're doing just fine without your billions. The money is going into a trust until I turn 18, and then—ta da! I'm going to win a college scholarship! Full ride—books, room and board, the works. I'm sure there are plenty of schools out there that would make such an offer to a smart girl like me." She raised her eyebrows triumphantly.
"All right," Celeste said resignedly. "I'll get a cashier's check and have it ready."
"Great," Veronica said, taking back the paternity test report she'd shown Celeste. "After we make the trade, you can tell your family that I'm not related to them, and I'll take care of my dad." She stood up. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go shopping for a cheap yet reliable pre-owned car with my father. I assume you'll pick up the tab here."
Veronica strode out of the coffee shop proudly. As soon as she was out the door, she ducked down the alley where Logan waited in his car. He had his iPod on and his eyes closed, and Veronica startled him when she climbed in.
"We really have to work on those spy skills of yours," Veronica said as he scrambled to sit upright.
"How did it go?" he asked, taking out his ear buds.
"I feel like I made a pact with the devil," she said, "but I think it's going to work and I'll be able to pay you back in a couple of days. That's assuming you got it?"
"You don't have to pay me back." Logan whipped out a small sheaf of paper with a flourish. "It didn't even cost me half of what you predicted. Security guards are shockingly easy to bribe. I'm not sure if I'm pleased or frightened by that fact."
Veronica perused the pages. "Nice work. There may be a future in espionage for you after all."
"Are you meeting your dad at home or at work?"
"Hmm, let's see if I can remember how to get to the police station," Logan said, tapping his temple. "I've never driven myself there before."
Logan compared the two sheets of paper. "The font spacing still isn't quite right," he said. "See where the line breaks here?"
"The font itself looks right, though?" Veronica asked, squinting at Logan's dad's computer screen.
"I think so," he said, holding the pages up to the light.
"OK, I'll just try to tighten it up a little then." One hand worked the mouse and one tapped at the keyboard as she tried to get it just right. "So…how do you feel about the latest Neptune High news?"
"You mean the fact that Lilly Kane arrived at school today on the back of Weevil Navarro's bike?" Logan asked, one eyebrow raised.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," Veronica said.
He shrugged. "Whatever. I don't care. Although if Felix Toombs makes another snarky comment about my manhood, he's gonna get his teeth knocked down his throat."
"Don't get yourself into trouble over him." Veronica frowned. "Are you really OK with this?"
"Yeah, I meant it when I said Lilly and I were done," Logan replied. "Plus, I do get some joy over the fact that this thing with Weevil is going to make Celeste's head fucking explode."
"Which is probably the point, for Lilly," Veronica noted.
"True. Celeste probably misses the hell out of me right about now," he said with a smirky grin.
"Who wouldn't?" she laughed. "I'm printing out another one—how does that one look?"
Logan pulled the sheet off the printer and compared it to the original. "I think this is it." He handed them to Veronica to inspect. "You are a master counterfeiter, Veronica. I had no idea. I'm learning all kinds of new things about you lately."
She exhaled loudly as she looked at the latest printout. "Let's put in the stationery."
Logan opened the machine and inserted the watermarked paper he'd "purchased" from the Unified Genetics security guard. "Ready."
Veronica and Logan watched as the faked reports rolled out of Aaron Echolls' top-of-the-line laser printer. Logan picked up the pages, holding the corners with his thumb and index finger.
"Here you go—one paternity test report for Veronica Mars, daughter of the town sheriff," he said, presenting the papers to her.
Veronica blinked back tears. "OK, let's print out the rest."
After they were finished, Veronica placed one copy of each of the faked reports—one positive for Keith Mars, one negative for Jake Kane—in an envelope and wrote "Celeste Kane: Personal and Confidential" on the front. The rest of the faked reports and the leftover stationery were tucked into a manila folder, while Logan shredded all of the test pages they'd created. He then sat in his father's chair to readjust it to the correct height, and spent a few minutes carefully straightening the mouse and other items on the desk.
"He doesn't like it when I use his stuff," Logan said simply when he saw Veronica's questioning look. He closed the office doors softly behind him and they walked down the long hall toward the front door.
"If I hurry, I think I can catch Celeste before she goes home for the evening," Veronica said, looking at her watch. "Then hopefully, she'll talk to Lilly and Duncan before we see them at school tomorrow."
"It's too bad for Duncan," Logan mumbled. "You know, if these results were real, you guys could get back together."
"No." Logan was surprised at Veronica's definite response. "The test results don't even matter," she added.
"Why not?" Logan asked.
"Let's just say that Duncan's not the person I thought he was, regardless of our shared DNA," she said. "I may have dodged a bullet on that one."
They stopped at the front door and Logan opened it for her. "Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?"
"No, I've already made you do so much for me," Veronica replied. "Thanks for everything. You've really been a great friend when I needed one."
"It's OK, I—" Logan was cut off when Veronica stepped up and kissed him firmly on the mouth.
She pulled back and bit her lower lip while giving him a shy smile. "Bye," she said quickly, before she scurried out to her new, pre-owned car.
For once, Veronica was glad that her dad was working an overnight shift. Adrenaline was coursing through her veins as she struggled to comprehend the fact that she had a check for $250,000 between the pages of her geometry book. She ate her dinner at her desk while she searched the Internet for information on setting up a confidential trust fund.
Before she went to bed, she took the original test results out of the Unified Genetics envelope and replaced them with the ones she and Logan had made. She placed the envelope on her desk and laid some homework pages on top of it. With one last look at the original reports, she crushed them tightly into a ball and shoved them into the bottom of her bag.
Veronica awoke the next morning to the small of bacon cooking. "Morning, Dad!" she yelled down the stairs.
"Morning, honey!" he yelled back. "I got home a little early so I'm making eggs! How do you want yours?"
"Scrambled, please!" Veronica quickly washed and dressed so she'd have time to linger over breakfast before school. As she picked up her bag, she glanced at the papers on her desk.
Thinking for a moment, Veronica went back and shifted the stack, making sure that the corner of the Unified Genetics envelope was sticking out more, with the logo visible. "You'd better have saved some of that bacon for me!" she called out as she skipped down the stairs.
She hadn't gotten much studying done in the last few days, so Veronica went to school early to take care of a quick errand and then hit the library before class. Before the first bell, she headed to her locker; on the way, three different students stopped to tell her that the Kanes were looking for her. Lilly found her first.
"Hey, I heard the news—I'm happy for you." Lilly pulled Veronica in for a hug and whispered in her ear. "Bummed for me, because it would have been super-cool to have you for a sister, but happy for you."
Veronica held her friend tight. "I love you, Lill."
Lilly let her go, then threw an arm over her shoulders as they continued toward Veronica's locker. "I love you too, Ronica!" she crowed. "We're still gonna be BFFs till we're little old ladies, sitting together on the porch of the world's most fabulous retirement home."
Veronica laughed, and the girls walked and traded gossip until they saw Duncan approaching, with Logan hanging back uncomfortably.
"Oh crap—I forgot to warn you about my brother—he wants you back again—I've gotta go—bye!" Lilly said quickly before vanishing into the crowd. Veronica glared at the spot where she'd been standing.
"Hey, Veronica," Duncan said shyly.
Veronica looked over her shoulder with false surprise. "Oh—I exist? I thought I felt different today."
Logan clamped his lips together, trying not to laugh.
"Yeah, um, my mom told me about…you know…so I was thinking that maybe…you and I…" he stammered hopefully.
"Fuck you, Duncan," she said suddenly.
Duncan and Logan both stared in shock. "Veronica! What did you—" Duncan began.
"You heard me. Fuck. You. I could never get back together with you after what you did to me," Veronica said.
"Veronica, don't be like this." He leaned in toward her and whispered loudly. "You know why I had to break up with you!"
"I do," she replied, "and I understand the reason. But you didn't break up with me—that would have been the kind thing to do. You blew me off. Instead of talking to me, instead of giving me any sort of reason, you decided to act like I dropped off the face of the earth. You took the cruel and selfish way out to avoid the emotional scene. That's why I would never get back together with you."
Duncan stood before her with his mouth hanging open, clearly not having expected that response. Logan was still trying to suppress a smile.
"Hey, look at that," Veronica continued sarcastically. "I'm actually doing you the courtesy of saying this to your face so you won't have to wonder what I'm thinking. Isn't that nice of me? See you in journalism, Duncan."
She walked past him, brushing lightly against Logan's arm as she went. Logan turned to watch her go, and she spun around quickly to give him a little wave before she strutted down the hall.
Logan wiped the smile off his face before he stepped around to face his friend. "Hey man, you OK?"
"Do you believe that?" Duncan sputtered.
"Well…" Logan said carefully. "She does kind of have a point…"
Duncan growled in frustration and stormed off. Logan thought about following him, but the first bell rang and he still needed to stop at his locker. He jogged around the corner and quickly spun the numbers on his combination lock.
When Logan swung the locker door open, he saw a red rose resting on top of his books with a little card. He pulled the card out of the envelope and read: "To Agent Echolls, From your partner in crime." Leaving the flower in his locker, he slipped the note into his pocket before grabbing his books. He practically skipped down the hall as he hurried to his first class of the day.
After the last bell, Veronica went to her car and found Logan leaning against it with a mischievous grin on his face.
"Thank you for the gift, master counterfeiter," he said, cocking an eyebrow. "And lock-picker."
"You're welcome, super-spy," she said with a grin.
He stood up and moved closer to her, and her breath quickened. "You busy today?" he asked.
Veronica sighed apologetically as she ran her fingers down the lapel of his jacket. "My dad's home today and I need to go see him. Tomorrow?"
"It's a date." Logan kissed her forehead gently and walked to his car. Veronica watched him for a moment before getting into her LeBaron.
When she walked through the door at home, her father bounded up to her like an excited puppy. "How was your day, honey?" he asked with a big, silly smile.
"Good," she said, bemused. "I thought you would be sleeping."
"Who could sleep on a day like this?" Keith spread his arms wide. "Do you have a lot of homework? Because I was thinking that we could have a daddy-daughter outing since I have the afternoon off—maybe get the cheap tickets for the early show, then go out to dinner after. What do you say?"
"Sure, that sounds good," Veronica said. "Just let me go up and put my stuff away."
Her father clapped his hands together loudly. "Great! What a beautiful day," he said to himself as he walked back to the kitchen.
Veronica went into her room and looked at the stack of books on her desk. The envelope had definitely been moved, just a bit, and she smiled as she put down her bag and took out her homework assignments that would have to wait until later.
When her bag was nearly empty, she saw the crumpled pages at the bottom. She pulled them out and smoothed them with her hands. Before going back downstairs, Veronica stopped in her dad's office and listened to the satisfying zzzip as the real test results were turned into confetti by the shredder.
"Let's go, honey!" Keith called from the bottom of the stairs. "The movie starts in 20 minutes and we need time to get popcorn!"
"Coming!" Veronica answered as she ran down to meet her dad.