"I don't know about this," Piz said, running his hand over his head. "It feels weird."
"Trust me, you look cuter like this," Lilly replied, stopping one step above him and turning to face him. She raked her nails through his now-shorter hair and then laced her fingers together at the back of his neck. "It's not hanging in your face anymore. I can see your eyes," she added with a grin.
They stared at each other, and when Lilly leaned closer to Piz, she saw his gaze flick downward for a fraction of a second.
"Did you just sneak a look at my rack?" Lilly asked with a smirk. Piz looked abashed. "You did! I just caught you ogling me, Stosh Piznarski!"
"I didn't mean to… I mean, that shirt is really low-cut, and…" he stammered.
She thrust her chest forward. "I don't blame you. I've got a fabulous rack."
He laughed at her bluntness. "No argument here. It's one of my favorite things about you."
"One of your favorites? What else is on the list?"
"Well, your eyes…" he began.
Lilly responded by rolling those eyes. "Gawd."
"It's true!" he protested. "That first time I met you, I noticed your eyes."
"Aw, aren't you sweet," she teased, giving him a peck on the cheek.
It was nice to be able to do that without standing on her tiptoes, so Lilly took the opportunity to pull him close and kiss him hard. When she slipped her tongue between his lips, his grip on waist tightened briefly, and then he pulled away.
"So, um," he began, looking self-consciously at the other students going in and out of the dorm, "I-I-I don't have anywhere to be until after dinner, so if you want to come in for while…"
Lilly's face brightened mischievously and she grabbed his hand to drag him into the building. As they rode the painfully slow elevator that stopped on every floor, she flushed with anticipation.
Piz's suggestion that they slow things down had been a smart one. On that first night, Lilly had agreed that jumping into bed right away probably wouldn't have been good for building a solid relationship. Their adherence to that rule, however, was loose at best: On their first "real" date, they kept things at the light making-out level, but on the second, they'd nearly torn each other's clothes off in the back seat of Piz's hatchback.
After a three-year dry spell, Lilly knew she wouldn't be able to stop at just kissing once she climbed into Piz's lap and felt his warm hand grazing her bare thigh. She pressed her hips against his and whispered, "Touch me."
Piz's agile musician's fingers made her body hum like a guitar string, and it wasn't long before Lilly was clutching at his shoulders, arching her back, and crying out his name. It was hard to believe that this same guy blushed the next morning as he returned the panties she'd forgotten in his car.
In the weeks since then, they'd done "everything but," and the wait was almost more than Lilly could bear. She and Piz had been practically inseparable since they'd gotten together, but they were rarely alone—except when they were in the car, and no matter how hot it got, Piz had insisted (and Lilly had reluctantly concurred) that their first time should be in an actual bed.
When the elevator doors finally opened to Piz's floor, the couple began walking quickly toward his room before breaking into a run. Piz fumbled with his keys as Lilly reached around him from behind and started unzipping his fly.
"Not making this easier, Lill," Piz laughed nervously as he tried for the third time to put the key in the lock.
The door fell open and they stumbled inside, Piz slamming and locking the door as Lilly yanked off her shoes and threw her bag on the desk. She stood next to his bed, breathing hard, and opened her arms to him.
She didn't get the passionate attack she'd been expecting, though. Instead, Piz walked to her, smiling slightly and looking into her eyes. Lilly bit her lower lip shyly, suddenly a little uneasy but not really sure why. He gently cupped her face in his large hands and kissed her slowly and softly, making her breath catch in her throat. They embraced and slowly lowered themselves onto the bed.
With his weight on top of her and his lips on her neck, Lilly began to relax and she entangled her legs with his. She slid her hands up his body, and when she reached the hem of his shirt, she pulled the garment up over his head and tossed it across the room with a flourish.
As he supported himself on his arms, Piz gazed down at Lilly intently.
"What?" she asked.
He took a deep breath before answering. "I love you, Lilly," he said quietly.
"It's OK," he continued. "You don't have to say anything. It's just that…I've been thinking it for a while and this seemed like a good time to say it out loud."
She froze, simply staring back at him in shock until his roommate's voice shattered the silence.
"Seriously, people—necktie on the door handle! Is that so much to ask?"
Lilly and Piz hurried to sit up and readjust their clothing under Wallace's irritated glare.
"I thought you had practice," Piz tried to explain and he glanced around for his t-shirt.
"I had to stop by for my gym bag," Wallace huffed, stomping over to the pile of basketball gear in the corner of the room. "Don't worry—I just have to get a few things and you two can get back to… your business."
"It's OK, hon," Lilly said, quickly retrieving her shoes and bag. "I… have a study group I totally forgot about."
"Lill…" Piz said simply.
"I'm sorry, it's important. It's… it's for that lit class." She picked up his shirt and handed it to him. "I'll talk to you later," she said, giving him a quick, dry kiss before rushing out the door.
Lilly stopped just outside their room to slip her shoes back on and catch her breath. Her heart was pounding, but she didn't want to stand around too long thinking about it. She ran to the elevator, relieved when the doors opened before Wallace left his room, so she wouldn't have to ride with him and perhaps talk about what had just happened—especially since Lilly herself wasn't too sure.
Lilly managed to avoid Piz for a few days, visiting the food court only when she knew he was in class, not answering his calls, and giving brief, noncommittal responses to his texts. When Wallace tried to ask what was going on, she used the fake study group as an excuse, claiming the project was taking up a lot of her spare time.
After another mostly sleepless night, Lilly realized she needed to relax her unsettled mind. So before anyone else in the house was awake, she dressed, packed her book bag for the day, and headed out to the Hearst library to get in some reading before her first class.
When she settled into a chair in the literature section, venti mocha in one hand and Proust in the other, Lilly was glad for the opportunity to bask in the quiet and occupy her thoughts with Modernist themes instead of… whatever was bothering her.
She was so engrossed in her book that she didn't even hear Piz approach until he sat in the chair across from her. Her heart began to race, and not in a good way.
"I hoped I'd run into you here," he said softly, as if he was worried he'd startle her. "Lill, are you OK?"
"I'm fine," she said, trying to sound casual, though her voice shot up an octave. "It's just, you know, I've been really busy…"
Piz reached out and took her hands in his. "Come on, Lilly, please talk to me. You can tell me anything—what happened the other day?"
Lilly shrugged, looking down at her book instead of into his eyes. "I don't know… it was nothing…"
"It wasn't nothing—I told you I loved you and you ran out like the building was on fire. Was it—I mean, should I not have said anything? Because I thought—"
"No, no, it's not you, it's me. I-I can't explain…" It was getting hard for Lilly to breathe. She pulled her hands away and anxiously fidgeted with a lock of hair that covered the scar above her temple.
Piz paused for a moment and then lowered his voice, even though no one else was in the room. "Does this have anything to do with Aaron? I mean, since he was your last, you know—"
"I did not tell you that so you could use it against me!" she hissed, surprising herself with her anger. It felt like she was listening to someone else.
He pulled away as though she'd slapped him. "Whoa—hold on," he said, his eyes widened. "That's not at all what I'm doing. It's just that everything was so great between us, and now you won't even look at me, so I'm just trying to understand—"
"So you're psychoanalyzing me. That's just great." Lilly started stacking her things and cramming them into her bag. "I haven't had enough of that lately."
"Lilly, please, don't go," Piz pleaded. "Let's just talk about this."
"I have to go," Lilly replied coldly, sidestepping quickly out of his reach. Her legs moved seemingly of their own accord as Lilly stormed out of the library and desperately tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
For the rest of the day, Lilly busied herself with classes and errands, then caught up with her friends in the late afternoon when she knew Piz had a shift at the radio station. Wallace animatedly described a new play he'd learned at practice, while Logan and Veronica play-wrestled over the snack that Logan didn't want to share.
"Is anyone actually listening to me?" Wallace asked, exasperated. Lilly nodded wordlessly.
"I am too," Mac said. "Wait—what's a power forward again?"
"There's a difference between sharing and taking all of them, and I don't think you know what—ow!" Logan yelped as Veronica successfully grabbed the chip bag from his outstretched hand.
Lilly smiled her first real smile in days as Logan feigned injury and Veronica did a victory dance. Up until three years ago, anyone who thought those two would end up together would have sounded insane, but now Lilly often wondered why she hadn't seen it coming.
After she was attacked, the Kane parents immediately took Duncan out of school. When suspicion fell on him, the Kanes hired a tutor so he could stay home until his name was cleared. Even after Veronica and her father discovered Lilly's hidden tapes and Aaron Echolls was arrested, Duncan continued working with a tutor so he'd be free to visit his comatose sister during visiting hours.
Logan, however, had no such help from the adults in his life. With his father charged with attempted murder and his mother falling deeper into the bottle, Logan was ignored at home and the subject of too much attention at school. In an effort to shield his mother from any more scrutiny from the authorities, he showed up to school every day, but the support he usually counted on from his friends was gone. Instead, he was the victim of constant ridicule and threats.
But soon, snide cheerleaders began finding their uniforms soaked in the locker room toilets, and heckling PCHers discovered that their motorcycles were missing vital engine parts. It became clear that Bad Things happened to anyone who picked on Logan Echolls, and while no one had proof, everyone suspected that Veronica Mars was behind the incidents.
By the time Lilly woke up, Veronica and Logan had developed a powerful partnership, each holding the other together through crisis after crisis. When Veronica's mother deserted her family, Lilly felt helpless, confined to her bed at the rehabilitation center, but took comfort in the fact that her best friend had Logan's shoulder to cry on. When Logan's father was found guilty and sent to a prison in another state, Lilly's guilt prevented her from offering any consolation to her ex, but she knew Veronica could keep him from spiraling out of control.
Lilly began to think of them as a pair, long before they became a couple. They always showed up to visit her together, even in the early days of her recovery when Logan was still too angry to speak to Lilly. When they told her about their day-to-day activities, everything was "we"—"We had to work on an article for the paper" or "We went to the beach" or "We missed the movie and played video games on Saturday night."
On one especially boring day, Lilly peered out the window of her room, impatient for her friends to arrive. She saw Logan's conspicuous yellow SUV in the parking lot, and could make out the silhouette of two bodies in a clinch in the front seat. When she saw Logan and Veronica finally climb out of the vehicle, holding hands as they approached the building, she felt a slight pang—part guilt and part nostalgia—but realized that she was mostly happy for them. She pretended to act surprised a few weeks later when they finally told her they were dating.
When Duncan returned to school, and Lilly did later, the protection Veronica and Logan had given each other extended to the Kanes as well. Veronica even got suspended once, when another student claimed to have seen her putting the blue dye in Madison Sinclair's shampoo bottle. Madison left Lilly alone after that, but Lilly always wondered if the suspension on Veronica's record had kept her out of Stanford.
"Lilly? Lill!" Veronica's voice snapped her out of her thoughts.
"I said we're heading out—we're gonna meet up at Los Compadres for dinner. Are you coming?"
Lilly cleared her throat. "Oh, um, no—I have some other stuff to do. You guys have fun."
After some prolonged goodbyes, Veronica, Logan, Mac, and Wallace headed off to their respective vehicles to go to the restaurant. The sun began to set, casting a burnished golden glow on her friends as Lilly watched them walk down the long path away from her. Her eyes filled with tears and she sat on a nearby bench, ducking her head so that other passersby wouldn't see her cry.
"Hey, have you seen my phone?" Logan called as he came jogging back up the walkway. "I think it fell out of my pocket when Veronica went all Cobra Kai and swept my leg."
He bent forward, walking carefully and inspecting the grass behind Lilly. She surreptitiously wiped her cheeks with her hand.
"Got it!" Logan said. He buffed the phone's screen with his sleeve, then pressed a few buttons to make sure it still worked. "That's a relief. Getting a new phone set up is a pain in the ass."
Logan came around to face Lilly as he put his phone back in his pocket. "Are you sure I can't talk you into—"
Lilly raised her eyebrows and smiled brightly, but her old friend wasn't fooled. "Lill, are you OK?"
She just nodded, afraid that she'd burst into sobs if she tried to speak.
"Very convincing," Logan said dryly as he flopped down next to her and nudged her affectionately. "What's up? Is this about what's going on with Piz?"
Lilly swallowed hard. "Why? What did he tell you?"
"Nothing, but every time I see him, he looks as depressed as you do. You guys were attached at the tongue for, like, a month, but in the last few days, you haven't even shared the same airspace. I may not be the brains around here, but give me a little credit. So what happened?"
Lilly sniffled and took a deep breath to pull herself together. "Nothing. I'm fine."
Logan turned to sit sideways on the bench, facing her. "Do you really think there's anything that you can't tell me? Come on—it can't possibly worse than the shit we've already been through."
The flood of tears that Lilly had been desperately holding in for days finally came pouring forth. Logan put an arm around her shoulders, which shook as she struggled to get the words out. "Logan, why did you ever forgive me?"
"What? Where is this coming from?"
"You loved me, and I was so horrible to you. You had even tried to tell me what he was like, and I got involved with him anyway. And then everything you had to go through…"
"OK, stop." Logan turned to face her. "Aaron going to jail was the best thing that could have ever happened to me and my mom. I…I've always felt kind of guilty for thinking that, since hurting you is what got him sent away."
Lilly furrowed her brow. "Is that why you don't hate me?"
"Oh, I hated you at first, don't get me wrong," Logan said with a smirk that lightened his words. "That sullen kid glowering in the corner of your hospital room? That was me."
"I thought you looked familiar."
"But the longer it took you to get better, the less angry I got, and the more I felt partly responsible for what happened—you know, if I had reported what he was doing to me, or if I hadn't kissed Yolanda at that party, or if I'd gone up to you at the car wash... Or lots of other what-ifs that almost drove me crazy."
"Ha ha." He narrowed his eyes at her. "Then when I had to see that therapist while my mom was in rehab, we talked a lot about how crappy parenting can lead to self-destructive behaviors—because I had a few of those, you may have heard."
"So did I! What a coincidence."
"Exactly," Logan said with a wry chuckle. "So I guess I just realized that you and I had a lot in common, with our talents for making remarkably shitty decisions. Plus, Veronica decided to forgive, and I figured that if I couldn't do the same, it was going to make things very hard on her."
"I still don't understand why she forgave me either."
"Because you're her best friend? Because she loves you and knew that you were still a good person even though you did something stupid?"
"But I put you all through so much," Lilly said sadly. "Everyone who cared about me got dragged through hell."
"We all came out OK on the other side though, right? Right?" he replied, trying to get her to smile. "Come on, Lill, we're all better off with you here. Don't ever think otherwise."
Lilly brightened a little. "And you got together with Veronica while dealing with the consequences of my stupidity, so there's that."
"True, I guess I owe you one," he said with a grin.
She shrugged. "Eh, call it even."
"Then I—" Logan began. "Hey, you made me lose track of our original topic. Does this exercise in self-flagellation have anything to do with your problems with Piz?"
Lilly sighed. "Sort of. He told me he loves me."
"That's it," Logan said, rolling up his sleeves. "I'm gonna kick his ass."
She laughed and smacked him on the arm. "Shut up."
"I'll do it," he offered, flexing his muscles for emphasis.
"I don't think that will be necessary, but thank you," Lilly said, feeling sad again. "When he said it, I…I sort of panicked. I didn't even know why, but I'm starting to think that I'm just afraid…after what I did to you guys…"
Logan pushed his sleeves back down and grew serious. "Lill, that was a long time ago. A lifetime ago. You're older now, and definitely wiser. Everyone is—people grow, people change, you know?"
"That's what Piz said too."
"He's a wise man." Logan stretched and stood up. "Listen, I need to get to the restaurant or Veronica's going to use the cell phone tracker to find out where I've disappeared to."
Lilly giggled as she took out a tissue to fix her eye makeup.
"You laugh, but you know I'm only joking a little bit."
"Oh, I know—I get phone calls if I'm more than five minutes late," Lilly said. "I pretend to be annoyed, but it's kind of cute."
"Yeah," Logan agreed. "Why don't you join us?"
"No thanks," Lilly said, rising to her feet. "I think…yeah, I'm going to go over to the radio station."
Logan nodded and smiled. "I think you should. I'm going that way—I'll walk with you."
Lilly slung her bag over her shoulder and fell into step with him.
"So, I'm not gonna spill out your romantic troubles over the quesadillas, but is it OK if I give Veronica the short version later?" Logan asked. "She's been really worried about you the last few days."
"Yeah, she's been wanting to ask you what's up, but you know how she hates to pry."
The pretend-serious look on Logan's face hit Lilly in just the right way, and she laughed out loud.
"Yeah, you can tell her," Lilly said with one last giggle. "We'll have a longer girl talk later."
"OK, well, here's your stop. Good luck."
Lilly breathed a deep, shuddering sigh as she looked at the door. "I hope I didn't blow this…"
"Oh please—you're Lilly Kane!" Logan teased. "It takes a lot more than one little emotional scene to turn a guy away from you. Come on—chin up, chest out…"
"'Chest out' usually works pretty well for me," she laughed as she straightened her posture. "Thanks for the pep talk. See you tomorrow."
Lilly wandered into the main student center and went to the station, where she knew Piz would be finishing up soon. When she arrived in the outer office, he was still on the air, so she made some small talk with the next DJ on duty while she waited. After a few minutes, the door to the booth opened.
"Hey, Shannon, the mike on the right is buzzing a little bit. I called A/V but…" He looked up from his papers and saw Lilly waiting for him. "Um, but, uh, they're not going to be able to come until tomorrow morning," he stammered as he finished.
"OK, thanks," Shannon said, hurrying into the booth without noticing the awkwardness between them.
"Hi," Lilly said softly as Piz busied himself with filing the pages he was holding.
"Hi…" he replied cautiously. "So, um, you told me once that you used to pick fights with your high school boyfriends just for fun. Is that what this was?" He leaned against the desk and crossed his arms nervously. "Because then I need to go on record as saying that this? Really not fun at all."
"No, I'm with you on the not-fun thing," she said, trying to be a little funny. When he didn't respond, she continued, her words coming faster and faster as she spoke. "I'm sorry. I just kind of freaked out on you, and I should have said something but I didn't know what to say because I didn't know why I was freaking out, but now I think I do, so I needed to tell you that I'm sorry."
"Lill, a-a-are you…are you breaking up with me?" Piz asked, a pained expression on his face.
"No!" Lilly yelped. "I mean, not if you don't want me to, but if you do, then—"
"Stop." Piz stepped toward her and cupped her face in his hands, kissing her lightly. "I'm not going to be scared off by one misunderstanding. I'm in this for the long run, if you are—I mean, I let you talk me into cutting my hair."
"It was for your own good," Lilly said with a sly smile, starting to feel more like herself than she had in days.
"So we've established that you're staying and I'm staying. But can you tell me what's been going on with you? I've been worried about you."
Lilly took his hands in hers and led him to the small office couch so they could sit down. "I didn't really know why I panicked and ran out the other day—that's why I've sort of been avoiding you."
"Sort of?" Piz raised an eyebrow. "I would have filed a missing persons report if Wallace hadn't told me he'd had a confirmed sighting."
"I know, but I just didn't know what to say. But I'm pretty sure I figured out why I bailed," Lilly looked down and took a breath. "The thing is, people who love me tend to get hurt."
Piz scoffed. "Lilly…"
"It's true, Piz—I'm not just talking about boyfriends or whatever. I mean Veronica, my brother, my dad, Logan…even Mac and Wallace. They became total social lepers just for being friends with me."
"They still got the better end of the deal, I think," Piz replied.
"Well, that's nice of you to say, but when it keeps happening, over and over, it…" Lilly paused, irritated at herself for feeling like crying again. "…It seems like the universe is punishing anyone who dares to care about me."
"Lill." Piz grasped her shoulders so she'd look up at him. "You can't really believe that."
She shrugged. "I know it's not rational, but that's just how it feels sometimes."
"Look, I'm not being punished by the universe. Do you want to know how I know that?"
Lilly furrowed her brow, wondering what he was up to. "How?"
He took a lock of her hair and stroked it between his fingers. "Because when I realized how I felt about you, and found out that you liked me back... I-I-I felt like the luckiest guy in the world."
Tears sprung to her eyes and she beamed up at him. "Thank you," she said softly.
Piz leaned in close until his lips were inches from hers. "Can I say it again?" he said, his eyes twinkling playfully.
Lilly nodded. "Mm-hmm…" She leaned in to kiss him when he backed away a little.
"'Cause I'm gonna say it, and you'd better not run off," he teased.
"Stosh Piznarski…" she said warningly.
He laughed. "OK—I love you."
Their lips finally met and Lilly realized how much she'd missed him. Her muscles, which had been tight and tense for days, slowly relaxed as his arms wrapped around her, protective and passionate. Again, she was overwhelmed by his feelings for her, but she decided not to listen to the voice in her head that said she didn't deserve them. She still wasn't sure if she did, but she didn't want to let that ruin this for her.
With that little boost of confidence, she pushed Piz back onto the couch and crawled on top of him. She let out a soft moan as their bodies pressed together and she felt the warmth of his hands on her back.
An irritated little tick-tick-tick on the window of the DJ booth interrupted their breathless reunion. They glanced up to see Shannon holding a hastily scrawled note against the glass: No PDA in the office!
Lilly grinned sheepishly and mouthed the word "Sorry" as Shannon shot them one last glare and then returned to her DJ duties.
Piz sighed as Lilly climbed off him. "It is impossible to be alone."
They gathered up their book bags and headed out of the office, hand in hand. As they crossed through the nearly empty food court, Lilly stopped suddenly, yanking his arm back.
"Hey…" She looked at Piz out of the corner of her eye. "I just remembered that my parents are out of town…"
"Is that an invitation?"
She dropped his hand and took off. "Beat you to the car!"
Her cute ballet flats were terrible for running though, and Piz easily caught up to her just outside the doors. He scooped her up in his arms and she squealed in surprise as he carried her the rest of the way to the parking lot.
He put her down next to her door, and as she watched him jog around to the passenger side, a thought drifted into her mind.
"What?" Piz asked when he saw her staring.
She shook her head and bit her lip to keep from laughing aloud. "Let's just go."
I think I might I love you too, she thought with a little smile as she hopped into the driver's seat.