A/N: Kicking it old school with a songfic. I know, random right? This is sort of my ode to LJ, and to one of my favorite movies. Big thanks to MarshmellowBobcat for the gorgeous cover! This story is cross-posted from AO3.
Hope you enjoy.
I sense there's something in the wind…
I'm thinking about my best friend, as my father navigates the evening rush of traffic. I'm thinking about that satisfied grin on her face- something I haven't seen in a while. I'd joked about her being on Prozac, but I wonder how far off the mark I am. My friend is not herself.
I'm wondering about her secret, not obsessively but with a mild curiosity. What could have brought that smile to Lilly's face? If I know my friend (and I think I do) it's got to be something about a boy. But it can't be as mundane as her getting back together with Logan, because that happens every other week. So…what? A different boy?
Someone who'd make Celeste's head spin, obviously. Maybe an actual Tyrone, or Leroy, or Chico.
But… would she really do that to Logan? I mean, yeah, he kissed Yolanda and I know she's still pissed, but… Is she pissed enough to walk away from him for good?
She'd be kind of crazy to let him go. He's just so, like, into her. The way he smiles at her, the way he watches her when she's walking down the hall. And… okay, I won't ever say this aloud because she'd kill me, but Logan is seriously cute.
He did mess up though, kissing Yolanda like that. And yeah, maybe I messed up too by ratting him out. That kiss was just so, like… I mean, it made me mad. Because he shouldn't do that to Lilly, you know? And… and if he wanted to kiss someone else, then why was it her? Why wasn't it-
I don't let myself finish that thought.
That feels like tragedy's at hand…
I'm mulling this over when the call comes in. And there's something… I can't describe it, but there's this dull throbbing in my gut. Like my heart has dislodged and slid down into my small intestines, and it's just thumping away in there. This feeling of wrongness. Like an off-key tune; a spider crawling across bare skin.
I don't want to believe it. Yet, part of me knows something is amiss.
I know it when we pull into the driveway and see the other patrol car. I know it when I'm talking to Duncan and he's not responding. And then I see my lovely friend, those expressive eyes blank, that beautiful smile erased… and I realize that I'm the one with the secret, now: I'll never feel whole again.
And though I'd like to stand by him…
I don't cry at her wake. Her casket is closed, so it's just a really ornate box. (She's not in there; my friend isn't in there.) It's a pretty box, as far as boxes go. Lots of swirly patterns in the wood, extra glossy. Cherry, perhaps? Walnut? Whatever costs the most, I guess.
I sit towards the back of the room, because I don't want to talk to anyone. Her family's in the first two rows, and there's this weird jostling of position for third row seats. Madison and Shelly staking their claim, since "real" friends sit closest to your wooden box when you die, I guess.
There are lilies everywhere- people are so predictable- and I find myself counting them to pass the time. First, I count each arrangement (there are eight-seven), and then I start grouping them into colors. Twenty-six of them are pure white, which almost makes me laugh because c'mon, did these people know Lilly at all? Eleven of them are yellow… yellow cotton…
You are not a yellow cotton dress. You're like… you're red satin! You are strapless red satin…
I swallow hard and continue counting. Twelve of them are pink-
Logan slides into the seat beside me, reeking of whiskey. He looks handsome in his charcoal grey suit, except his tie is on crooked and his eyes are red-rimmed. He's been crying recently, his nose still pink and sniffly.
I reach up and fix his tie, because I'm kind of OCD and it's bothering me. But also because I want something to do with my hands, which I've been sitting on for the past hour.
We don't talk; we just stare at Lilly's wooden box together. Inhaling carnations and calla lilies and exhaling misery.
I see Lilly's dad in the front row, his shoulders shaking in silent grief, and I have this weird impulse to give him a hug. Maybe because no one else seems likely to comfort him. Celeste is straight-backed and elegant in black Versace, and Duncan…
Duncan is just sitting there, staring at the floor- like he has been for the past hour and a half. He didn't acknowledge my presence when I arrived, but that's been par for the course since our abrupt breakup. Far as I can tell, he hasn't spoken to or even looked at anyone else either. So I guess I shouldn't take it personally.
"You want to get out of here?" Logan asks.
His hand is on mine, his warm fingers a welcome relief in the cool room. And I know he's only touching me to get my attention, but there's this… sensation that I have at his touch, that's just-
No. Wrong, bad, inappropriate thoughts. Extremely inappropriate thoughts, Veronica.
I want to say yes, so much. Because Logan and I will mourn her properly, together, away from this floral-encrusted charade. Away from these pretenders.
But I can't. Because he's Lilly's, and he'll always be Lilly's, and here I am having all these wrong thoughts. And his mahogany gaze is on mine, so blatantly needing me, so goddamned vulnerable. And what happens if we're comforting each other and he touches my hand again, and instead of just thinking these wrong thoughts I actually-
I shake my head no.
Logan's face, it just… The only word I can think of is crestfallen. He stands up and walks away.
Can't shake this feeling that I have…
My parents are fighting. Again. It's not the usual fight ("I know I overdid it a little, but I'll go to a meeting tonight, I promise") and they're not even attempting to hide it from me.
"…and how could you do this to him?"
"Believe me, honey, I don't want it to be true either. But the evidence tells me-"
"I don't care what the evidence says! I've known him for years, Keith. Since high school. And he would never, not in a million years-"
My phone rings, offering a welcome distraction.
"We miss you, Ronnie," Logan slurs. "Come hang out."
I walk into the kitchen, so I can hear him over the shouting. "Where are you?"
He giggles. He's always been a happy drunk, unlike my mother. "We're having a picnic. Lilly says 'hi'."
I close my eyes, pressing my forehead to the cool refrigerator door. I know where he is, and I very much don't want to go. But he needs me, and… I think maybe I need him too.
The worst is just around the bend…
I have to take my bike, but at least it's not too far away. I ride the path from memory, but I get lost towards the end because I've only been here that one time. And then I spot Logan, leaning against her tombstone with his eyes closed.
He looks up as I set my bike down, watching as I approach. "Welcome to the party. We're the first ones to arrive."
I don't know how Logan looks so at ease here. Cemeteries make my skin crawl. I walk across the grass gingerly, careful not to step on the rectangular bit of sod that now blankets my friend in her eternal sleep.
He gestures for me to sit down, which I do, but across from him so I don't have to lean against her tombstone. He offers me his flask, but I shake my head no.
"You didn't come to school again today."
Logan snorts. "Who cares?"
"I think the state of California may have an opinion on the matter," I suggest. "Also your teachers, your parents, our-"
He scowls, shaking his head at the ground and taking a sip from his flask.
"I just don't want to see you fail. You're too smart for that."
Logan looks up, his eyes flashing. So much for a happy drunk. "How is everyone still so-" He tears off a clump of grass, tossing it to the side. "Duncan is catatonic, and you, you're just-"
I feel my temper rising. I didn't ride my bike all the way over here just to play the role of punching bag in his one-man show. If Logan wants a fight, he's going to get one.
"I'm just what?" I demand.
"How are you so fucking normal?" He stands up, glares at me, paces ten feet away and then back. "How are you getting up and going to school and studying and acting like everything is still the same?"
"Because I don't know what else to do!" I stand up, too, because I hate the way he's hovering over me. It makes me feel small. And I'm sick of feeling like a bug anyone can grind down with their boot.
"Don't you realize that none of this shit matters anymore? School and dances and fucking homework, it's a joke. You're just going through the motions like it still means something, instead of acting like-"
"What? Like you? There's more than one way to grieve, Logan."
"Yes! Act like me. Let's… get drunk and do something reckless and stupid and just… burn the fucking world down!"
I snatch his flask out of his hands and take a long sip, coughing violently when I'm done. "There," I manage, eyes still tearing. "Are you happy?"
Logan stares at me.
And then he grabs me and pulls me towards him, and his mouth is on mine. And the whiskey on his tongue tastes like flames, and we're burning together, suffocating in the ashes, and I don't care. He's crushing me to him and I'm pressing him to me, but we're still not close enough.
I can feel again, actually feel, and I need this to go on forever because I haven't felt anything real since-
Lilly. Oh no, oh no, oh no, what did we do? She's right here, she can see us, she's going to-
I'm not thinking rationally. But I've pulled away from Logan, who's staring down at me with swollen lips and sinful eyes.
I walk backwards several steps, my gaze locked with his. And then I turn around and pick up my bike, and ride away as fast as I possibly can.
And does he notice my feelings for him?
I think about that kiss all night, playing it over and over in my mind. Trying to work out what it means. I tell myself it was born out of whiskey and grief and it can't be anything real. I close my eyes and touch my lips, which feel kind of soft and sensitive, and I…
No. It didn't really mean anything. When I see Logan in the morning, I'll just act like it never happened.
But he's not in school. And he doesn't show up all week.
When I finally see him again, our kiss seems to be the furthest thing from his mind. I'm at the library, researching for my English paper, when I see Davey and Jian watching the leaked crime scene video of Lilly. As if the image isn't already seared into my brain for eternity, there she is again, with her head and- and the blood…
I'm turning around, hurrying away. Trying not to think about the way the lights from the pool made it seem like her eyes still had life in them, trying to push down the rising panic, trying to-
Logan steps in front of my path.
I'm fighting tears and he's fighting tears and it's obvious he's just seen the video too. And my heart aches for him because he should never have seen his Lilly that way. But selfishly, I'm so relievedthat he's here finally. I'm not alone; we're in this together.
But his eyes grow hard, accusing.
"So does your, uh… Does your dad still think that Lilly's father did this?"
That rush of icy cold sickness returns. I knew he'd hear about my dad going after Jake Kane, but I didn't think he'd blame me for it. Not after-
"That's my girlfriend," he says, and his use of the present tense isn't lost on me. "Your friend. Duncan's sister. Your dad is destroying the Kane family. What's the matter with you people, huh? What's the matter with you?"
I don't know what to say, but he doesn't give me the chance to respond anyway. He walks away, and my tears finally fall free.
And will he see…
Logan won't talk to me. He's being irrational, taking his anger out on me because he's brimming with rage and because-
Could he be mad because I ran away? Does he even remember what happened in that cemetery?
I've half convinced myself he doesn't, and it's honestly for the best right? Because Lilly and because Duncan and because… it's Logan. He's not even my type really. Right?
But in homeroom I catch him staring at me, and then we're in Spanish and our eyes meet again. He's at his locker while I walk down the hall, his eyes searing into mine…
He looks away, so I do too.
Between Logan and Duncan and the nasty looks Madison and company are flashing me, I decide it's easier to spend my lunches in the library.
The week passes without a single word exchanged between us.
How much he means to me?
It's late afternoon on a Sunday when Lynn calls, looking for Logan. His car has been gone all day, she says, and he's not answering his phone. With the way he's been acting, lately…
She lets her sentence linger, but I know enough to be worried too.
I think for a bit. He won't be at the cemetery, not on a day like this. It's sunny and breezy, and I know exactly where I'll find him.
It's a far longer bike ride this time, all the way across town. I'm hot and tired by the time I arrive at Dog Beach, and if I'm wrong about this I'm going to be pretty pissed.
But there he is, sitting in the shadow of the pier. He's in board shorts and nothing else, surfboard and discarded wet suit beside him, his long toes buried beneath the sand.
And there's no flask full of whiskey this time. No bottle, no cooler full of beer. He's sober, which means maybe… maybe we can actually talk.
Logan doesn't see me until I'm standing right beside him. He looks up and sighs, but doesn't tell me to go. Feeling slightly encouraged, I sit down.
"I know you're mad," I begin slowly, "but I'm not my dad. I can't control what he does."
"But you agree with him?"
"I don't want to believe they could have had anything to do with it. But there's a reason he's looking into the Kanes."
"You know Mr. Kane. You know what a good father he is. Do you have any idea how much I wish he was-" Logan shakes his head. "You really think he could smash in his own daughter's skull?"
"Don't say it like that."
"Why? It's what happened. The whole world saw the video."
"I know what happened!" I snap. "I saw it for real, Logan. I was there. I saw it! I saw her, and I can't stop seeing her, every time I close my eyes…"
I'm getting hysterical; I can feel it, but I can't control it. I half expect him to roll his eyes and get the hell out of there, after the way things have been. But he doesn't. He crawls towards me and pulls me into his arms.
His sand-coated hands are rough against my shoulders and my tears leaves a slick trail on his neck. Our skin sticks together where we're joined, my cheek to his chest, my forearms to his bare back. It's hot, and the air reeks of seaweed. Yet, I haven't felt this content since that afternoon at the carwash, Lilly giggling beside me.
I realize Logan is speaking, just low nonsense words meant to soothe. "It's okay, you're okay, I got you."
My sobs subside but he keeps holding me, keeps murmuring soft words, his lips in my hair. I'm vividly aware of every spot where we're connected, like we're a closed circuit and energy is flowing from him to me and back.
I lean back and look at Logan, and he leans back too, his hands now curled loosely around my upper arms. He stares at me, his gaze flickering to my lips, and it's painful how much I want to kiss him again. My heart pounds so hard my whole body feels like one gigantic pulse. Logan licks his lips and I move forward and-
My phone rings. It's my dad. He's saying something about a press conference, and fear of retribution, and asking me where I am.
"At the beach," I manage. "But I don't understand. They're taking his side?"
Logan's expression turns dark. He drops his arms and stands up.
"Look, I'm safe where I am," I promise my dad. "But I'll come home soon. Okay?"
I snap my phone closed and look up at Logan, who's picking his board and wetsuit up off the sand. I'm staring at him, but he won't meet my eye. I stand up, unsure what to say.
"So even the newspapers don't think your dad is right, huh?"
"Apparently not." My voice is calmer than I'd expected.
"But you still do?"
I don't reply. I don't want to regress, with him. I feel like I just got him back.
"Because if you do…" he continues, and the implications are clear.
I take the tip of my sneaker and drag it from left to right, dividing the space between us. "Line in the sand."
He doesn't laugh at my pun, but he's finally looking at me directly. "Veronica-" He stops short and sighs, lifting his eyes upwards.
"Don't ask me to take sides against my dad."
"And don't ask me to take sides against Duncan and his family."
I swallow, hard. "Can't we just be on our own side?"
Logan looks down, shakes his head. "I don't think it works like that."
I'm fighting back tears again, but this time I refuse to show it. "Your mom is looking for you," I tell him. "She was worried, so she called me. I'll see you around."
I turn around and start walking, but I don't seriously believe he'll let me go. He has his car and I only have a bike. Logan is unwaveringly chivalrous when it comes to these sorts of things.
Yet he doesn't call out to me, and he doesn't follow me. I walk back to my bike alone, too angry to let my tears fall.
I think it's not to be…
When I walk into school the next morning, the word "traitor" is written in black Sharpie on my locker. I can hear the snickering behind me as I approach, but I keep my expression carefully blank. I dial in my locker combination, remove the books that I need and go look for the janitor.
The following day, there are news articles taped to the front of my locker. The headline reads "Local Yokel", accompanied by a particularly unflattering photo of my dad. It's a story about the emergency recall election that just cost my father his job. I calmly remove the newspaper, ball it up and throw it into the nearby trash can.
It continues all week. Whispering as I walk down the hall, being chosen last in gym class, my normally chatty lab partner silent as a tomb. It's… worse, than I expected. Because it isn't just the people in my former friend group shunning me. It's the entire school.
And Logan? He doesn't join in on the taunts, at least. But at lunch, he continues to sit with our old group, and with Duncan, while I sit alone.
What will become of my dear friend?
It's been almost two weeks since I last spoke to Logan, and this time I make no attempt to remedy that. I'm still pissed I had to ride my bike all the way home. More, I'm pissed at his stupid line in the sand.
Yet when I see him in homeroom, his eyes bloodshot and his cheeks pink, my anger morphs into concern. I corner him after class, pulling him into an empty art studio and shutting the door behind us.
Logan leans up against it and stares at me, arms crossed over his chest. "What?"
"You know what. You can't come to school this drunk and not expect anyone to notice."
He snorts. "Have you met the teachers at this school? They're not exactly neurosurgeons."
"Yeah, but they're not complete morons either." I sigh, taking a step closer to him and softening my tone. "Just go to the nurse's office, okay? Say you have a migraine or something. Sleep it off for an hour."
Logan produces a fifth of whiskey from his pants pocket, putting it to his lips with his eyes still on mine. Deliberately provoking me. I say nothing and he takes a long pull from the bottle.
"What, your flask doesn't hold enough for you anymore?"
He shrugs. "I'm particularly thirsty, today."
Logan's eyes remain on mine, silently baiting me while he takes another sip. But I've been swimming in this lake for a while, now, and I know better than to impale myself on his hook. I watch him replace the cap on the bottle and slip it back into his pocket, smirk fully intact.
"Fine," I say. "Do whatever you want."
I move forward, expecting him to step away from the door to let me pass. When he doesn't, I square my shoulders and reach for the doorknob at his hip, ready to dig my heels in and pull backward with as much force as I can.
But Logan's hand wraps around my wrist, keeping me from my goal. I attempt, unsuccessfully, to wrench my arm from his grasp. Then glare up at him, thoroughly done with his childish antics. And in his eyes I see satisfaction, because he wants this fight. Yet I also see something less easily defined. Something like… excitement?
No. That's not it.
Logan tugs me forward and I sort of hate how willingly I go, because I'm even more pissed off at him than I was the last time, and because none of this makes any damn sense. But our lips crash together once again, whiskey stinging sweetly on my tongue.
This time I revel in the wrongness of it all, let the warmth of his breath and the heat of his skin consume me. There's nothing gentle or loving about our embrace. His fingers dig into the flesh of my lower back where my shirt has ridden up, and mine grasp and pull at his hair in my haste to bring him closer.
If our kiss was a painting it would be red and black, angry splatters of paint on canvas. No composure, no finesse; just raw emotion. We're panting, moaning, groping, all sense of decorum lost.
I'm suffocating in sensation, gasping at every new touch. Something is jutting into my lower back, probably the door knob, it'll probably bruise me. And Logan's got my hair wound around his wrist like a damn rope, holding me hostage against him. But I don't care because all that matters is his lips on mine and-
The bell rings, an unwelcome intruder, and we separate. We stare at one another, breathing fast, wordless. I sweep my hand through my hair, unwinding it to fall loose behind me, as waves of reality crash toward me in sets: Logan is Lilly's boyfriend… Logan is Duncan's best friend… Logan is the reason all my friends despise me…
He chose them; not me. He stays silent while I suffer.
I tear my eyes from his and surge forward, towards the door. This time he lets me go. I make a promise to myself that I won't even look at him for the rest of the day.
I keep it until just after the final bell rings, when I see him sitting outside the principal's office.
Logan doesn't notice me watching him. He doesn't see the way I walk away, stop and turn back towards him- twice. He doesn't see me shut my eyes and exhale, waging war with my inner goody-goody, who's begging me to check up on him.
I walk over and take the free seat beside him. "What'd they get you for?"
"Why, so you can gloat about being right?"
I sigh and stand up, and Logan shakes his head. "And there she goes again."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're the honor student. You figure it out."
"Fine. Sorry I asked."
I turn and take three steps forward, and he speaks up behind me.
"Mr. Blume smelled the booze. Ratted me out."
I spin slowly on my heel to face him again, but I don't sit. "So, what, detention?"
"No, they called my dad. And-"
Logan stops abruptly, his face crumpling. He looks down at the floor, blinking rapidly, and I cross the distance between us and take his hand.
He doesn't look up, but he squeezes my hand tightly. I slide into the seat beside him, glancing over at him. Logan can get emotional when he drinks, but this doesn't feel like that. This feels like something else.
Whatever it is, I can't leave him alone. So I sit there and hold his hand for the next fifteen minutes. He sniffles softly and rubs his shirtsleeve over his eyes, while I pretend not to notice and don't ask any questions.
When Aaron Echolls rounds the corner, I glimpse a millisecond of rage before he registers my presence. His lips form a pleasant smile as he approaches.
"Veronica," he greets me. "How lovely to see you."
"Hi, Mr. Echolls."
Logan drops my hand- he still won't look at me- and stands up quickly. "Dad, I-"
There's an uncomfortable silence, and I turn to Logan. "See you tomorrow."
He nods, still avoiding my gaze, and then he and his father disappear behind the doors of the principal's office.
I break down and call him later, because that inner princess of mine is a weak-willed bitch. Nobody answers.
Where will his actions lead us then?
Logan stays out of school the rest of the school week, so I assume he got suspended. After that first night, I don't try to call him again.
Now it's Friday evening, and I'm back to being aggravated. At Logan, yes. At the prospect of another weekend at home alone, because I have no friends. At my parents, who are having an embarrassingly loud fight in our living room at this very moment.
I sneak past them and out onto the porch with a glass of iced tea and a book. I'm hoping the porch light is strong enough to read by, and the book is engrossing enough to drown out the all-too-familiar sound of my parents, at each other's throats.
When Logan's yellow X-Terra screeches to a halt on the pavement and he comes stumbling out of the driver's seat, I'm too startled to remember how mad I am.
He sits down beside me without a greeting. The whiskey on his breath is strong, and I'm furious with him for driving in this state- without a license, no less. But damn if that scent doesn't elicit some other, rather provocative emotions too.
"Did you hear?" he asks. "They got Lilly's killer."
"Yeah." I grimace, nodding my head towards the living room, where my parents' fight is in full swing. "You and the rest of my neighbors know all about it."
"So it's over, right?" Logan turns to face me, eyes glassy in the reflected overhead light. "I mean… things can go back to normal, now."
"I think it's a little late for that."
"No it's not. Just… tell everyone your dad was wrong. Tell them you never should have taken his side. They'll forgive you; I promise."
I look at him for a long moment. And then I shake my head. "But that's not what I believe. My dad still thinks they got the wrong guy, and so do I."
"Fuck, Veronica. Why are you so stubborn?"
"Why are you?" I demand, unflinching. "And why do you even care what I think?"
Logan looks away. "Maybe I miss you."
"If you miss me so much, why don't you tell all our friends to back the hell off?"
"Because I don't want them to think-"
"Think what? That I'm an actual human being who has feelings?"
"No. That's not what I meant."
"Then tell me what you meant."
Logan tilts his head, studying me. The artificial yellow lighting accentuates the dark circles beneath his eyes; he looks tired. Almost weary. But he smiles. "You're the honor student. You figure it out."
"Will you quit saying that to me?"
He laughs and stands up, swaying a bit on his feet.
"Don't even think about getting back in that car," I say sternly.
"If I run, will you chase me?"
"Yes. Because there's no way in hell I'm letting you- Damn it!"
Logan takes off at a run, climbing into the X-Terra before I've even set my iced tea down. I'm hurrying towards the car when he peels out. All I can do is stand there, listening to him laugh as he drives away.
The relief at seeing him alive and unharmed on Monday morning quickly transforms into anger. This time I don't speak to him for a full two weeks, despite multiple attempts on his part to smooth things over.
Although I'd like to join the crowd…
My mother slips out of the house on a Wednesday night, leaving behind a note and a music box. My dad finds a buyer for our house and a job as a security guard, patrolling the lush neighborhoods of the very people who ran him out of office.
We spend most evenings with tins of takeout, boxing up the rest of our belongings while Night Court reruns play in the background. He works the midnight to eight shift, leaving me alone each night with Backup and a strict promise to keep the doors and windows locked.
I don't sleep well. Thoughts of Lilly, Duncan, and Logan used to cycle through my mind every night on a loop, but now it's mostly just thoughts of Logan. Memories of our lips and bodies pressed together; that possessive way his hands had roamed across my skin. Duncan had never touched me that way. Not even when I was supposed to be his.
I try not to think about facing Christmas without my mom. We don't bother putting up a tree.
My armor hardens day by day. I visualize it as I make my way down the halls, some sort of liquid metal encasing me like adamantium. I think of Lilly while I walk, moving to the pace of that old childhood rhyme as I imagine it flowing down my face.
Crack an egg on your head, let the yolk drip down, let the yolk drip down, let the yolk drip down…
Duncan is standing at his locker across the hall from me, looking down at his backpack while he unzips it. And the sight of him no longer triggers that deep sense of longing. What I feel now is merely an echo of that emotion; a simple nostalgia, for simpler times.
Logan comes up behind him, slinging an arm across his shoulders in greeting before they bump fists. Something he says actually makes Duncan smile, although it doesn't reach his eyes.
Squeeze an orange on your shoulder, let the juice drip down, let the juice drip down, let the juice drip down…
Madison and Shelly approach them, enthusiastically high-pitched. Shelly passes a flyer to each of them as I look down at the floor, certain that flyer won't make its way into my own hands. Silently adamant that I don't care.
The next time I glance over there Logan is watching me, folding the flyer into a long, thin strip. Catching his eyes on me, Shelly frowns and turns to him, clutching her stack of papers protectively to her chest. She pulls one flyer out and glances at me, but Logan shakes his head no. Duncan slams his locker door shut and the four of them walk down the hall.
Stab a knife in my back, let the blood drip down, let the blood drip down, let the blood drip down…
It coats me, the imaginary liquid. The yolk, the juice, the blood. It hardens as it flows down my body. The taunts and jibes ping off me like buckshot, as I impale my aggressors with my glare.
In their enthusiastic cloud…
I notice the piece of paper sticking out of the slat of my locker as I approach, just after fifth period. I pull it out slowly, as though it may be boobytrapped. Because who knows, with this school. It probably is.
I unfold the paper, recognizing it as one of the flyers for Shelly's party. I think about the way Logan folded his flyer, earlier, and I wonder if this is his roundabout way of inviting me.
The code is easy enough to decipher. Eggs for Friday, pom-pom's because it's at the Pomroy house, little infinity signs indicating the time- eight o'clock. I throw the flyer into a nearby trash can, because why the hell would I go where I'm not wanted?
Yet as I walk down the hall, heading towards the library to eat my lunch alone, that silly inner wannabe of mine won't shut her mouth. Go, she says. Logan wants you there. He said they'd forgive you. Don't you want your life back?
Try as I may, it doesn't last…
There's a drumbeat, steady and loud; the only thing I seem able to focus on. Colored shapes swirl around me- people? Balloons? It's hard to keep my eyes open long enough to tell.
I move towards the music, and it's like moving in a dream. Slow and thick, my body not cooperating with my mind. I keep going forward anyway, because I don't know what else to do, finally finding a wall that I follow to its end.
I step through an open doorway and I'm outside. The music is louder, here, and the conversation too. I smell incense and pot smoke, chlorine and cologne. There are no walls to support me, now, and it takes tremendous effort to keep walking forward.
I can't seem to recall where I am, or how I got here. I feel… drunk, almost. Light and serene, like nothing bad could ever touch me. But I don't remember drinking? I stumble into a lawn chair and sit down, hoping the spinning world will stop. But it doesn't. I close my eyes; I need to sleep.
And will we ever end up together?
"Dude, who's got the salt? I'm thinking body shots…"
"Love that idea. Go ask Shelly!"
"Pass me that tequila?"
"What the fuck are you doing?"
"Hey, no cutting. It was my idea, I go first."
"Like hell. Get the fuck off her!"
"Aw, come on, man. We're just playing around."
"You pass out at a party, people get to mess with you. Those are the rules!"
"Move, both of you. Or I'll make you move."
"Dude, chill! She's the one who crashed the party."
"Yeah, man. She doesn't belong."
"I say who belongs. Not you. Now back the fuck up."
My eyes are closed but I recognize his sharp, whiskey scent. He's wrapping his arms around me, lifting me into the air, and I instinctively burrow my face into the crook of his neck.
"I got you," he says softly in my ear, just like the last time. "I got you."
The sensation of his skin against mine is overwhelming; like nothing I've ever felt before. My whole body screams for more contact; an uncontrollable urge to touch and be touched.
"Logan," I murmur, placing a soft kiss on the nape of his neck. "Mmmm, you taste so good."
"Stop," he replies sharply, jerking his head to the side. "You're wasted. You don't know what you're doing."
"C'mon, kiss me…" I lift my head, arching my neck. My lips find his jawline, lightly stubbled, and I lick a trail along the scratchy surface. My nose bumps his earlobe as we walk, and I nip it lightly. "Kiss me."
"Cut it out or I will," he growls.
"What the hell's going on here?"
A new voice. Duncan. We stop short.
"She's bombed. I'm taking her home."
"I'll do it."
I feel Logan's arms tighten around my body, curling me into his chest. "Why, you suddenly give a shit?"
"I'm taking her home," Logan repeats, his words clipped. "Go back to Shelly."
Their argument, coupled with the sound of nearby laughter, jolts me out of my euphoria; I manage to open my eyes a slit. But all I see are blurred faces and star-shaped lights. Disconcerted, a cold sweat breaks out on my skin and I begin to shiver.
"Get me out of here," I plead.
"Don't worry," he replies, his voice slightly labored as he resumes walking. "We're leaving."
No, I think not…
I wake up in the passenger seat of the X-Terra, my cheek pressed against something soft. It's dark outside, but I can make out a line of streetlamps through the front window of the car. I blink a few times, realizing that I'm parked on the street in front of Shelly's house.
I pivot my head to the left, where Logan is seated beside me. My vision is still a little fuzzy, but my mind feels slightly clearer.
"What's going on?" I manage. My tongue feels thick and swollen when I speak.
Logan passes me a bottle of water. "We're at Shelly's."
"Because despite being sauced out of your mind, you told me I was too drunk to drive. Repeatedly."
"I'm not drunk."
"I'm not," I insist. "All I had was soda."
Logan frowns. "What are you saying? Someone slipped you something?"
I shake my head. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Who would do that?"
"Could've been anyone." I shrug. "They all hate me."
"No one hates you, Veronica. They just feel… betrayed."
I'm having a hard time focusing on his words, and I feel so cold. I look down at my lap, realizing the soft thing I felt before was a Mexican blanket. The one Logan keeps in the back for spontaneous beach trips.
I pull it up so it covers my bare shoulders, and I close my eyes. The material is warm, and it smells like Logan. I think about his lips on mine, and I start to tremble.
"Hey, hey, wait a minute. Don't go back to sleep. I'm okay to drive now but I don't know where to take you."
"Okay," I reply.
"That's not an answer. Hey, come on, wake up. Is your dad gonna lose his shit on me if I take you home like this?"
"Mm-mmm. He's not home."
"What about your mom?"
"She's… never coming home."
"What's that supposed to mean? Veronica? Veronica? Damn it."
It's never to become…
It's just barely light out the next time I open my eyes. I blink a few times, trying to get my bearings. I'm lying on my couch, my head resting on something oddly-shaped. I turn my head, and realize I'm using Logan's lap as a pillow.
He's awake, looking down at me with an unreadable expression. "Good morning, Sunshine."
I lift my pounding head tentatively, managing to gather my body into a seated position on the opposite end of the couch. I run my hand through my tangled hair, trying to piece together the scattered images.
"What… what are you doing here?"
"I drove you home from Shelly's. Rescued you from ne'er-do-wells, you might say." He tilts his head at me. "Do you remember?"
"It's… hazy. What happened?"
"Dick and Sean tried to do body shots off you."
"I got to you before anything happened."
"That… doesn't make it okay."
"I know." Logan glances at me. "Veronica…" He sighs, rubbing at his forehead. "What the hell were you even doing there?"
"So you didn't invite me." My words are flat, and even I can hear the disappointment.
"Invite you? We haven't said more than two words to each other in weeks. Not for lack of trying, on my part."
Guess he didn't leave that flyer in my locker, after all.
"Never mind," I say, and I can't meet his gaze. "I guess it was just some stupid prank."
Logan shifts in his seat, glancing at the door. "You, uh, think you're okay now?"
"I'm fine. Go."
"It's just, my dad…" He shakes his head. "Forget it. I'm not going to leave you alone until I know you're okay. You were… pretty messed up there for a while."
I get a cold, sinking feeling in my stomach. He's saying volumes without saying anything.
"What did I do?"
He shrugs. "It wasn't a big deal."
"You… tried to kiss me. At the party."
I stare at him, horrified. "In front of everyone? In front of Duncan?"
Logan frowns, then nods. "Yeah."
"Oh my god…"
He's studying me, his face somber. He looks at the door again. "Look, your dad's gonna throw my ass in jail if he catches me here. So… are you really okay now?"
"He's not sheriff anymore," I say pointedly. "Remember?"
Logan returns my gaze, his eyes softening. "Yeah. I remember."
I frown, because he always seems to be saying two things at once.
"Hey. Did your, um, mom… Did she really leave?"
"You should go," I blurt out, nodding towards the door. I'm not talking about my family. Not with him.
He hides the hurt well, but I still see it flickering on the edges of his eyes. I watch him stand up and move towards the door, pausing and looking back at me when he reaches it. "Take care of yourself, okay?"
"You too," I reply. "And thanks."
Logan nods and opens the door, closing it behind him with a soft thud.
For I am not the one…
It's just after Winter Break; a new semester and a new year. I'm heading towards the library after school. My dad's got some crazy idea about becoming a P.I., and I want to do a little research.
Logan's walking towards me from the other end of the hall. I assume we'll walk past each other, as usual, but he surprises me by stopping. I guess he thinks it's safe, since no one else is around.
"Hey," he greets me. "Did you, uh, have a nice holiday?"
"Well, my mom skipped town, my best friend's dead and I'm a social pariah, so… what do you think?"
Logan crosses his arms over his chest. "Veronica…"
"Why does it have to be this way?"
"Because I tried it your way. Remember? I went to Shelly's. And someone drugged me."
"Yeah, and I took care of you."
I stare at him, hard. "And what if you hadn't been there, Logan? What then?"
He looks down, his shoulders sinking. "Believe me; the thought has crossed my mind."
"Look, just forget it," I say. "I have to go."
I start to move again, but he falls into step beside me. "I went to your house the other day. No one answered."
I stop abruptly, and he stops too. "That's because we don't live there anymore."
"I know your knowledge of personal finances is limited, given your never-ending supply, so let me spell it out for you. When you're in a single-parent household, and that parent no longer has a well-paying job? You can't afford little extravagances like mortgages, anymore."
He lets the dig about his family roll off, actually appearing concerned. "So where do you live now?"
"A charming little apartment complex called Sunset Cliffs."
"I'm sorry." His voice is quiet; sincere.
But sincerity sounds an awful lot like pity, and I'm not in the market.
"Nothing for you to be sorry about." I take a few steps towards the library, then stop and turn back. "Actually, that's not true."
"Why? What did I do now?"
"You kissed me. Twice."
Logan is silent, and I sigh.
"So I guess that doesn't even rate a conversation, huh?"
"Of course it does," he replies. "And I tried to talk to you about it. But you didn't seem interested."
I scowl. "You tried? When?"
"Just forget it." He shoves his hands into his pockets, his expression guarded, and shrugs. "So let's talk about it."
My heart is racing. I'm not sure I even want to talk about this, with him. And I sure as hell don't know how to begin. "Well, what do you… I mean, how do you feel about it?"
Logan closes his eyes, leaning the back of his head against one of the lockers. After half a moment, he lifts his head and looks at me.
"Guilty," he says. "I shouldn't have kissed you like that. Either time."
It's like getting the wind knocked out, a sudden termination of breath. I'm not sure what I'd been expecting him to say, but his words are a sucker punch to the gut. Despite our strained relationship, I've never regretted those kisses. I've… cherished them. The memories like embers, bringing warmth on even the coldest nights.
"Got it," I reply curtly.
Logan shakes his head. "No. I don't think you do." Then he laughs, low and bitter. "I'm a fucking mess, Veronica. We both know it. Even before she died."
It takes me a few seconds to remember how to breathe again. I feel detached from my own body. It's someone else's lungs, intaking air. It's someone else's chest, rising and falling. It's someone else's heart, broken. Not mine.
Heart? Broken? Heartbroken? Did I really just think that?
No. No, no, no. I don't love Logan. That would be crazy. That would be wrong. Way, way more wrong than a couple of kisses. Because he's Lilly's, always and forever.
"I disagree," I hear myself say. "You were good to her. And she was lucky to have you."
I'm moving again, somehow, without thought or effort. Words are forming; the only ones I can think of. "Goodbye, Logan. Take care of yourself."
I go. And, as usual, he doesn't follow.
My dearest friend, if you don't mind…
I watch her walk away, again. She's always walking away from me. And the ache deepens, each time, because I never know if it's going to be the last.
When will she give up on me for good? Everyone reaches that point with me, sooner or later. My dad, my mom, Lilly. They realize I'm not worth the bother. She'll figure it out, eventually. Hell, maybe she just did.
I should at least be honest with her, though. Tell her how I really feel, about those kisses. Tell her that the guilt I mentioned is… complicated. Because I'm feeling things for Veronica that I never felt for Lilly. The girl I'm supposed to love; the girl I've vowed to mourn with every breath.
What, too dramatic? Yeah, I know. Whatever, I can't help it. It's in my genes.
Lilly… I mean I miss her, all the fucking time. But actually being with her …she was sort of like this heavy, drenching rain. Unrelenting. Drowning everything in her path, leaving you gasping and choking for air.
Veronica? She's a summer storm. A calm breeze that lulls into a false sense of serenity, shifting and roiling into a tempest. Growling thunder and crackling lightning; uprooting the hidden, unearthing the buried. Subsiding just as rapidly, leaving you unsure if she was ever there at all.
After that first kiss, I must have stared after her for an hour. How had that demure, strait-laced priss just made me so hot? How had she learned to kiss, to touch, like that? It seemed impossible. I half convinced myself the whole thing had been some kind of whiskey-fueled fantasy.
And then she did it again. At school, no less. No edges to her passion, no touch denied, nothing out of bounds. A fucking hurricane, she was, there and gone again just long enough to leave me aching and alone.
Veronica hid it from me, all these years. Her true nature. Played the perpetually perfect student, wore actual fucking ribbons in her hair like Cinderella. Duncan's puritanical princess, Lilly's pet project. My platonic pal.
My only true friend, now.
Lilly's gone and Duncan's a shadow. Dick and Sean are dead to me, after what they tried to pull. Luke, Casey, Bodie, Enbom… the whole lot of them are useless.
She was there when I needed her, at the cemetery. Came looking for me when my mom was worried. Sat beside me, while I awaited my father's wrath. Called me, even when I was too shattered to answer.
It's that last one, that made me realize. We ebb and flow like waves, Veronica and me. I hide and she seeks; I push and she pulls. Yet despite the ceaseless struggle, we can't seem to stay away from one another. And I know I should, for too many reasons to count.
There's the obvious. Lilly's only been gone for three months. What kind of asshole falls for his dead girlfriend's best friend? His best friend's ex? Me, apparently.
But it's not the prospect of facing judgement that's stopping me. Not even from Duncan. He dropped Veronica without a word of explanation; he doesn't get a vote.
It's… me. I'm the real problem. I'm broken and she's whole. I'm corrupted and she's pure. I'm me and she's her. How could I ever be worthy?
I'd like to join you by your side…
She's outside for lunch, today. She's never outside for lunch.
I'm not sure where she's been eating, these past few months. Probably the library, knowing her. It's disconcerting to see her, all alone, when she used to be surrounded by friends. Surrounded by us.
I stand beside the soda machine, watching her for a few minutes. It hasn't escaped my attention that lately, I'm the one doing the seeking. I guess it started that day she caught me watching her in the hallway. The day Shelly invited me to her party.
I'd been about to toss my flyer in the trash when it hit me: Veronica was right. There didn't need to be a line in the sand. I'd grabbed a pen and written one sentence on the back of the flyer. "Let's be on our own side."
Then I'd slid it into her locker, waiting for her to discover my note. And watched as she did, barely glancing at it before she threw it away.
So, the damage has been done. I've pushed too much, haven't pulled enough. I'm losing her, day by day. And it's exactly what I deserve.
But… maybe it's not too late.
I take a deep breath, steeling myself for battle, and walk over to her table. Without asking, I take a seat beside her, setting a can of Skist in front of her and cracking one open for myself.
Veronica looks up from her bagged lunch, merely raising one brow and taking a bite of her ham sandwich. After she swallows, she turns her head towards me. "Drunk again?"
"I think you have the wrong table."
"I'm sober as a church mouse," I assure her.
"Are there lots of pious mice out there, these days?"
"You'd be surprised."
"Seriously, Logan. What are you doing here?"
I shrug, helping myself to one of her apple slices. "Having lunch with my friend."
Veronica rolls her eyes. "C'mon, let's be honest. We haven't been actual friends for a while now."
"You're right," I reply. "We haven't." I let her feel the significance of that statement, keeping my gaze trained on hers. She colors slightly, which assures me she catches my meaning. Also, kind of turns me on.
I clear my throat, trying to steer my wayward thoughts back on track. "So, what do you say we go out this weekend? Take my dad's boat out for a cruise one night?"
"Why? Planning to throw me overboard?"
"No. But I might try and kiss you."
She colors again, that delightful peachy-pink, and I smile. But she's frowning, now, her eyes cast downward. "Logan…"
"I was joking," I lie. "I just thought… maybe if we go somewhere alone, just you and me… Maybe we can actually talk, for once. Figure out what's going on, between us."
Veronica looks up, cautiously intrigued. More importantly, she doesn't deny it. Which means she agrees that there is something going on with us.
"You said what happened was a mistake."
"No," I correct. "I said I felt guilty about it. I never said I regretted it."
She studies me closely, silent long enough to make me question opening my mouth in the first place. Then she lifts her chin at our table full of friends, who are no doubt ogling the two of us as we speak. "What about them?"
I keep my eyes trained on hers, reaching over to take her hand in mine. "I don't give a shit about them."
I don't reply, because I do give a shit about Duncan. He's my brother; I'll always care what he thinks. But Veronica is family too. And I'm no longer willing to sacrifice one for the other.
So I scoot closer, my hand still joined with hers. "Look, I don't know what really happened to Lilly. I still don't think your dad is right, but… I don't want to let it divide us. You're too important to me."
Veronica is completely still, save her eyes, which are flickering back and forth from my left to right. I see her swallow while she considers. And then she nods, her lips pulling into a smile. An actual smile; something I haven't seen on her face in months.
"You're… important to me too," she finally says.
And then I'm smiling too, and we're just grinning at one another in the middle of school. The pressure lifts, like breaking the surface after a deep dive underwater.
"So Friday?" I ask.
She does that adorable head tilt thing, sizing me up. "Aren't you too young to drive a boat?"
"I'm too young to drive a car, too," I say with a shrug. "When have I ever let that stop me?"
"Never," she replies, with a pointed look. "Even when you should."
"My dad taught me how to drive a car when I was twelve and a boat when I was, like, ten. Don't worry; you'll be in good hands."
Veronica gives me a long look, and I think I stop breathing. "It'll have to be late," she finally says. "My dad works nights, now."
I nod, standing up because I can't contain my excitement. "It's a date. Albacore Club, slip five. Midnight." I splay the fingers on my right hand and start walking backwards, and she smiles.
Where we could gaze into the stars…
"It's so quiet."
"Mm-hmm," I agree. "That's the best part."
Veronica and I are stretched out on the cushioned benches in the stern of the boat, our bodies curved so the tops of our heads touching. We're lying on our backs, staring up at the sky. The water is lapping against the anchored boat, rocking us gently to and fro. It's a calm, cloudless night, a fat crescent moon centered above us. The perfect scenario for romance.
Unfortunately, I'm not so sure my present company is thinking along those lines. She's been… aloof, tonight. Sort of quiet, sort of shy. A lot more like the Veronica of last summer than the one who yanked me towards her by my hair and kissed me until I couldn't breathe.
It's been an odd week. My dad left this morning, on his way to a film set in Croatia for two months- always cause for celebration. But Duncan, who's been acting weird ever since the night of Shelly's party, is now out and out avoiding me. It was reckless to take Veronica's hand like that, in front of everyone. Gossip spreads fast in Neptune.
But I don't want to think about Duncan, right now. In fact, I don't want to think about any of the Kanes. I just want to think about me and Veronica, sheltered on our little floating island, shrouded in stars.
Veronica shifts and I twist my head. She's sitting up. I sit up too, turning to face her; waiting for her to speak. Wishing I could see her more clearly.
"You really want to do this?"
I stare at her in shock, too surprised to speak for one of the few times in my life. "Yes."
"Yes." I find her arm, then her hand, and take hold. "I don't care if the whole world is against us. If you're by my side, I can handle it."
"You really are just spectacularly dramatic, you know that?"
"I may have heard that, once or twice."
Veronica's quiet for another moment, and then she speaks again. "So how would it work? We'd just… start strolling down the hallways, holding hands? No warning, no explanation?"
I grin, even though she can't see it. "My mom always says it's not worth going anywhere unless you make a proper entrance."
"That would be… quite an entrance."
I slide closer to her, so our knees are touching, bringing her hand to my lips. "I'm game if you are."
"What about Duncan?"
It's not the first time she's brought him up. Does she still have feelings for him? I shift in my seat, straining to see her face in the darkness. Moonlight may be romantic, but it's adding a degree of difficulty to this conversation.
"He'll be upset," I acknowledge. "Whatever he might say, he's still into you."
Veronica scoffs. "He's not."
"Trust me; he is. Does that… change things for you?"
I love how quickly her reply comes. No hesitation at all.
"Does it change things for you?" she asks.
"I like to think Duncan and I are good enough friends that he'll forgive me, eventually. The bottom line is, things are never going to be the way they were before."
"No," she says softly. "They won't."
I move forward to kiss her, because it feels like the perfect time. But she places one small hand on my chest, barring my path.
"Wait. I haven't agreed to anything yet."
I'm still leaning forward, listening, while my heart thumps. I should've known this wouldn't be that easy. "Okay…"
"Look, this year has been…" Veronica sighs. "I really, really needed a friend. And you weren't there for me. Do you know how much that hurt?"
I nod, because she's right. "I know. I'm so sorry."
"I think I need some time, before I can trust you again."
Her words fall like a belt-lash to the back, sharp and jarring, sucking the air out of my lungs. I try to let go of her hand, but she doesn't let me. Her fingers remain wrapped around mine, squeezing them tightly.
"Wait; I'm not done," she says. "This isn't just about me. You need some time, too. So you can…"
"Get my shit together?"
"Honestly? Yeah." Veronica clears her throat. "Logan, you don't know this. Or, I don't know, maybe you do. But my mom… She's an alcoholic."
I did know, about her mom. Guess you could say I recognized a fellow member of the tribe. I don't say it aloud, though. Because this isn't the time to talk about how both our moms hide vodka under the couch cushions.
"I'm sorry," I reply. "But… what's that got to do with us?"
"I can't be with someone who drinks like that."
I wrench my fingers free from hers, and this time she lets me retreat. I shift my hips so my back is against the bench seat, twisting my head to stare out at the black water that envelops us.
She's right; I know she's right. It used to piss Lilly off, too, sometimes. When I got too drunk to drive her home, or when I'd black out at a party.
I bring my knees up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them, and turn my head back towards her. "There are… reasons why I drink."
"I get it. We're both still grieving. But-"
"That's not the only reason."
Veronica is silent, waiting for me to go on. Yet I just sit there, staring at the scattered stars above her head. I don't want to lie to her. I also, unequivocally, do not want to talk about him.
I'm not sure what to say. I won't make her any promises I can't keep, because she deserves better than that. But I'm terrified of losing her.
"Logan?" she prompts.
"I… don't know if I can stop, right now," I admit. "Not a hundred percent."
I can hear her disappointment, but it's nothing compared to the way I feel inside. "Do you still like me?"
My voice sounds small and pathetic; I can't believe I actually said that aloud.
"Of course." Veronica scoots over to me, her body warm against my side. I place my arm across her shoulders, and she rests her head on my chest.
I have a million questions, but they go unasked. I already know the answers. We're friends, again, for real. And maybe one day we'll be more. But today is not that day.
And sit together now and forever…
Another two months have gone by, and the ache of Lilly's death lessens day by day. Veronica and I talk about her a lot now- both the good and bad. It helps. So do the rumors, I've been hearing, about Lilly hooking up with some dude in a motorcycle gang while we were still together.
I've quit drinking completely, save the occasional beer at a party. No more flasks at school, no more late-night binges. Believe me, it's not easy. There are nights when the old man goes at me hard, and all I want is to drift into a whiskey abyss. Instead I take a couple of Tylenol and call Veronica.
She still doesn't know, about my dad. I've almost told her about fifty times, but… I don't know. The words just don't seem to form.
Duncan has accepted my friendship with Veronica, finally; and I'm pretty sure he's starting to accept there's more to us than just friendship. Which is ironic, because she still can't seem to accept it herself.
I get it. It's an odd relationship, we're in. All buttoned up during business hours, back to playing platonic pals at school. But off hours, when we're alone… all that simmering heat between us just seems to boil over. She gives me that look of hers and I know it's game on.
It's that secret side of our thorny labyrinth, perpetually in shadow because we never shine a light on it. We don't define or discuss, we simply are.
I sense that tension inching higher even now, Duncan to my left and Veronica to my right. We're in my pool house, taking turns playing Call of Duty, the outside of her thigh pressed against mine and her strawberry shampoo perfuming the air. I've got the controller, but I'm distracted by her nearness and die quickly.
Duncan announces he's got to get home, and within ten seconds of his departure we're tangled up in each other. Veronica's straddling my lap and I'm sucking on her neck, and the air around us seems to swirl with expanding molecules.
I hear her sigh in this satisfied way, and I smile into her shoulder. This is what keeps me going. The promise of her kiss, her touch. The exhilaration of never quite knowing when I'll get it. The way our kisses seem to calm us, afterward. A frenzy of motion, and then tranquility.
We separate after a bit and she sinks back down onto the couch. "I thought he'd never leave," she says. "And I really needed that."
I raise my brow, because she's breaking an unspoken rule: we don't talk about this.
Veronica ignores my look, bending down to lace up her shoes. I continue to watch her, while she pulls her jacket off the arm of the couch and shrugs it back on.
"Oh, hey," she begins, deceptively casual. "There's something I wanted to ask you."
"Are you… I mean, are you doing this with anyone else?"
I know what she means. Of course I know what she means. But I need her to spell it out.
She flushes a bit, brows furrowing. Then she straightens her posture, those slender arms crossing over her chest, and she looks like a giant while she stares down at me. "Are you hooking up with other girls besides me?"
"No. Are you hooking up with other guys?"
I exhale, because honestly I wasn't a hundred percent sure. I mean, I hoped, but after Lilly I know better than to assume.
"Good," I reply.
Veronica cocks her head to one side. "So that… matters, to you?"
"Yes," I say, because I'm done trying to play it cool. And then I stand up and cross the room, taking her hands in mine. "Does this mean you're ready to do this for real?"
She looks up at me through her lashes, echoes of the girl she used to be, and her fingers tighten around mine. "Yes."
I release a breath I've been holding for a thousand years, lifting her so we're at eye level and kissing her hard. I spin us around, depositing her back onto the couch, and she laughs.
"I've got to go," she protests, making no effort whatsoever to move.
"Nope." I lean down so I'm hovering above her, kissing her cheeks, her eyelids. And then I stare into her sapphire eyes, overcome by her reflected joy. "This is where you belong."
For it is plain as anyone could see…
"It'll be fine," Veronica says, tugging me closer to the door. "My dad loves you."
"Eh, not so sure he's going to love me once he finds out we're-"
"Stop." She places her index finger on my lips. "We won't be discussing our level of intimacy in front of my dad."
"Doesn't he know we're dating? It's been, like, three months."
"Of course," she replies. "But I'm pretty sure he's got himself convinced that it's some kind of eighteenth century affair, where you only touch my gloved hand."
"If he only knew…"
"Hush. Now come on, dinner's getting cold."
I follow her into her apartment, which I've been to a bunch of times- but never while her dad was around. He smiles when I come in, and I'm sort of taken aback.
"Logan, how are you? It's been a while."
"Good, Mr. Mars. Thanks for inviting me over. It's, uh, a really nice place you have here."
"It's a dump," he says with a laugh. "But I appreciate your good manners. Come on over, sit down. We've got chicken marsala, and a little ziti."
"You made all this?" I ask.
"No, that would be me," Veronica speaks up.
She takes a seat at the island and I follow suit. It feels like such a novelty, this family meal. The closest I've come to anything like this was when Trina and I shared some Doritos during American Idol. The one show we enjoy hate-watching together.
We settle into our meal, and my nerves disappear quickly. Veronica's dad asks me about the usual things adults want to know- school, sports, plans for the future. I ask him about his new career path, intrigued by a man who's willing to prod Neptune's seedy underbelly. I want to hear stories, and he obliges; although I get the sense he's holding back the really juicy ones.
The chicken is maybe a little dry, the pasta a bit overdone. But, believe it or not, a homecooked meal and good conversation beats lobster canapes any day of the week. I linger, when we're done eating, loathe to return to the vast emptiness of my own home.
Veronica and her dad start to clear the table and I jump up to help, offering to do the dishes. I'm at the sink, rolling up my sleeves, when Mr. Mars grabs my bicep. I pull back instinctively, startled by both his unexpected touch and the stricken look on his face. And then I follow his sightline to the healing cigar burn on my forearm. The one I was supposed to be hiding under my shirt.
He looks at me and I look back at him, and I know that he knows. The funny thing is, I'm not scared. I feel… an overwhelming sense of relief. He lets go of my arm, returning to his task of scraping the extra food off our plates, and I wonder if he's just going to let it go.
"Veronica, honey," he says, very calmly. "Do you mind running down to my car? I picked up a pie for dessert, but I think I left it on the seat."
She grumbles good-naturedly about chivalry but finally agrees. When the door shuts behind her, Mr. Mars turns to face me.
"Logan… Is there anything you need to tell me?"
We're simply meant to be…
It's been a weird few years, to say the very least. My dad's in prison for murder, now, thanks to a diligent investigation led by Keith Mars. A life sentence without the possibility of parole, for killing Lilly Kane.
Yeah, I know; shocking right? A movie star actually getting convicted for a crime- in Neptune, of all places? I like to think the leaked videos of him whaling on me helped turn the tide against him. Cameras are just so tiny these days… it turns out you can hide them almost anywhere. Even camouflaged in a movie poster, inside someone's office.
My mom and I are in a smaller house, now, just on the outskirts of the 90909 zip code. I like it; it's cozier. I mean, we still have a pool and a home gym, so it's not like we're living in squalor or anything. But we run into each other a lot more, now that we're not in separate wings. And that part is kind of nice.
And Veronica? She's been here with me through all of it.
It's our first day at Hearst College. Yes, I said our first day. We talked about going to different schools, experiencing the world separately so we didn't grow to resent each other. Or doing the long-distance thing, to give one another some space.
Ultimately? We both hated the thought of being apart.
I know everyone thinks we're crazy, sticking together after high school. They don't seem to understand that when you find that person, the one who's your everything, you hold on tight and never let go. And that Veronica and I? We were lucky to find each other early. It just means we'll get more years together than most.
She's smiling at me right now, trying to figure out what I'm thinking while we sip coffee in the food court.
"You're hiding something," she proclaims.
I roll my eyes and sigh, producing a single key on a chain. I dangle it in front of her, and her eyes flicker to mine. "But we agreed-"
"I know. We said we'd wait until the end of the semester."
"And you just decided, all on your own, to ignore that?"
I take a sip of my coffee. "Yup."
She bites her lip, curiosity warring with righteousness. Per usual. "So… tell me about it. Is it close to campus? Does it have a beach view?"
"Yes," I say with a grin. "It has a substantial beach view."
"Logan… we are talking about an apartment, right?"
"Just wait and see," I reply, glancing at my watch. "I'll meet you here after your first class, and we can head over there together."
She sighs. I'm trying to decide if it's out of frustration or genuine anger, when she snatches the key from my hand and stands up. "Take me there, right now."
"What about your class?"
"Oh whatever, it's the first day. It's not like we're going to dive right into solving a geopolitical crisis. I'll turn on the charm next time and find out what I missed."
"Okay," I reply. "Let's go."
She's quiet while we walk to my car, and I'm starting to get a little nervous. "Hey, listen, if you don't like it we'll figure something else out."
Veronica stops walking and I follow suit, turning to face her. "It's just… I thought we had a plan? Why do this now?"
"Why?" I repeat. "Because I can't stand the thought of waking up one more day without you by my side. Because I want to have coffee with you at home, in our pajamas, instead of a noisy food court. Because I want us to have our own bed, and privacy, and the option to stay in that bed together all fucking day long if we want."
"Are you done?"
"No. I want to do this now because I love you, Veronica. And I don't want to wait any longer to start our lives together. I don't give a shit how old we are or what anyone else thinks. I just want to be with you, every day. Okay?"
Her lips curve into a smile. "Spectacularly dramatic."
"And all yours."
"Yeah, you are." The pride in her voice warms me to the bone. She gets up on her tiptoes, placing a soft kiss on my lips, and then takes my hand in hers. "Come on, Loverboy. Take me to our new home."
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