Veronica carefully kept her eyes trained on the passenger window. The scenery blurred into a dark grey haze as they sped along the streets of Neptune, towards her apartment. She didn't think Piz had looked at her since they had got in the car. Instead, he fidgeted. They were so silent, she could hear with pitch perfect clarity every time he took his hand off the steering wheel, and put it back on. Every time he cleared his throat, or squirmed in his seat.
"So, do you want to go to the movies sometime?" Piz asked unexpectedly. The scent of his aftershave in the air felt thick and oppressive. She could still taste the mint flavour in her mouth from when he kissed her and she wished desperately for a drink to wash it away.
"Uh, sure," Veronica replied quickly. She twisted the end of her dress around her fingers as she looked down. Images of Logan and Parker smiling at each other over their cake span through her mind, Logan's eyes shining with happiness. He seemed carefree, as he flitted around the party, easily joking about her dating someone else. She wasn't even sure he had seemed in the least bit hurt when he'd discovered her kissing Piz, but then why would he be?
"What kind of movies do you like?" Piz asked, interrupting her thoughts. "In the Land of Women is supposed to be good. It looks like a romance, but…"
"Is 300 still on?" Veronica suggested, unable to deal with his rambling. "That looked okay."
"I think so," Piz replied. They trailed back off into silence and Veronica glanced back out the window again.
Perhaps it was just her. She knew she was no Parker – bright and sunny to be around. In fact she was probably the exact opposite, doom and gloom, bringing misery into people's lives. Maybe she just had to face it, she was hard to love. She'd broken Leo's heart, used him and tossed him aside. Duncan had gone so far as to flee the country. Troy had been more interested in drugs than her. And then there was Logan. Sometimes she felt as though she'd just sapped him of every ounce of his passion for life. Why would anyone stick around with someone like her? Her stomach twisted painfully at the realisation. She just wasn't worth it.
The car came to a rolling halt, and Piz carefully put the break on. With a pang, Veronica missed the way Logan slammed the breaks on, skidding to a stop at the last second.
"So, 300 then? Do you want to call me, or should I call you? Or maybe…"
"Yeah, I'll call you sometime," Veronica interrupted again, before he went off into another babbling monologue. He shifted as she put her hand on the handle, before he shot forward just as she turned her head. His lips awkwardly landed on her cheek, and he pulled away.
"Goodnight, Piz," she said quickly, ignoring his look of disappointment, and climbing out of the car. "Thanks for the ride home."
"Night, Veronica. Hey, um, thank you for a great evening."
She nodded, flashing him a quick smile before she hurried into the complex. The lights surrounding the pool cast a dim glow, and she almost missed the outline of someone sitting on one of the chairs near her apartment. She stopped dead as she spotted the person, beginning to pull her phone out, when the shadow shifted into the light. Her heart slowing stopped thudding in fear.
"Dad?" she said in relief. "What are you doing out here? It's late…"
"Hey, honey," Keith replied quietly.
She frowned. She'd always seen her dad as larger than life, her protector and champion. But right then he just looked weary, his shoulders slumped. With a start she realised he looked old. Keith patted the seat he'd pulled next to him in invitation.
"How was the party?" he asked as she dropped down.
"Oh, you know. A lot of liquor, piles of drugs. I left before the orgy started though, I promise," she joked, trying to lighten the mood.
He smiled, but she could see his heart wasn't in it.
"I have to tell you something," he said seriously.
A flicker of dread shot through her. "Are you okay?"
"It's your mom."
"Has something happened?" she asked in concern. "Is she…" she stopped abruptly, swallowing hard.
"She's fine," he assured, and Veronica let out a sigh of relief as she sat back in the chair. "Actually, she's here."
"Here? In Neptune?" Veronica queried in shock.
"As in, in the apartment. Veronica, she's going to be staying with us awhile."
"What?" Veronica gasped out, her shock turning to anger. "Are you kidding me? You've just decided this without even asking me?"
Keith shook his head, gazing out at the pool that shimmered in the moonlight. Even in the dark light, Veronica could see the leaves and scum that had accumulated on the top layer. There were no cute pool boys in the 02er district to clear them.
"It's not as simple at that, honey," he said quietly. "I couldn't turn her away."
Veronica got up onto her feet. "Did you ask her where our fifty grand is? Boozed away, no doubt." She stalked towards the door, her arms crossed over her middle.
"Wait," Keith shouted, jumping up. "Don't go in there yet…"
Veronica yanked the door open and stomped in, before she stopped short, her mouth dropping open. Her mom rose up from the couch, looking surprised at Veronica's dramatic entrance.
"Hello, Veronica," she said carefully.
Veronica let out a bitter laugh. "Well, this explains a lot." Keith stepped through the door, looking worried.
Lianne placed her hand on her enlarged stomach, as if trying to protect it. "I had nowhere else to go."
"So you come running back when you need us for something?" Veronica's gut clenched in fury, her jaw tightening.
Lianne's blue eyes, so like Veronica's own, welled with tears as she looked away, as if unable to meet her daughter's accusing eyes. "Oh, honey, I'm sorry." There was a moment of tense silence, until Lianne said softly, "I know you're mad, but I'm still your mom."
Veronica let out a weary sigh. "You stopped being that a long time ago," she told her sadly and Lianne flinched, huddling into herself. "So, whose is it then?"
Lianne frowned in confusion.
"The baby has a father, right? I'm assuming it wasn't Immaculate Conception?"
Her mother's face flushed, as she glanced down at the floor. "It's complicated…"
"Maybe we should let your mother settle in," Keith suggested. "I've given her my room, I'll sleep on the couch."
"Did you even know the father?" Veronica bit out. "Or was it just another drunken fumble?"
"Veronica!" Keith chastised, reaching for her. "Maybe you should go to bed."
Veronica shot him a scathing look and twisted away from his outstretched hand. "I'm not allowed to have an opinion on this? Seriously? I would just like to know who my little brother or sister to be's dad is – I don't think that's too much to ask."
"It's Jake's," Lianne said softly, her shoulders drawn up as if to keep herself from the inevitable attack to come.
"Figures," Veronica said bitterly, tearing her eyes away from her father. "So you've found time to see Jake and not your family? Have you told him?"
Lianne nodded, tears slipping down her cheeks.
"He hasn't changed then," Veronica said, shaking her head in disbelief. "You know, I think I will go to bed. She walked past her mother, towards the familiar sanctuary that was her room. She shut the door behind her, and sank down to the ground.
The room looked like a bomb had hit it, with every surface covered with an array of cups, plates, napkins and empty glass bottles. Half eaten slices of cake were left, and there were even a few items of clothing, that Logan didn't want to know the details of.
"Thank you so much, Logan," Parker said, as she shoved plastic cups into a black sack. "No one has ever done something so sweet for me."
Logan looked up and gave Parker a smile. "It was my pleasure."
"I'm glad Veronica came," Parker continued and Logan frowned at the mention. "I was worried she'd hate me, you know? She left kinda early though."
"I think she had classes early or something," Logan lied. He dropped the bag he was holding on to the floor. "Hey, let's leave this til' morning, and go do something way more interesting instead."
A slow smile spread across her lips. "And here I thought you'd never ask!" she laughed, walking towards him, her hips swinging. Her arms slipped around his neck, and she pulled him in for a kiss. Logan deepened the kiss, breathing in her Jasmine perfume, and tried not to miss the light spicy scent Veronica wore. As his eyes closed, he fought hard to wipe the image of his ex making out with another guy, instead trying to concentrate on his girlfriend.
Veronica had made tuning other people's conversations out a fine art the year after Lilly died. She'd soon got tired of Parker's excited recaps of 'like, the best party, ever!' and retreated to her own world, moving piles of pasta about on her plate. Piz sat opposite, staring hopefully at her as she avoided his eyes.
She felt a gentle nudge and turned to find Wallace looking at her with a concerned expression. "You okay?" he asked quietly. She shrugged, trying to raise a smile, before she failed miserably.
"Just a lot of work to do," she said and he nodded. She glanced towards Logan, who was listening to Parker talk intently, before he laughed. She felt the familiar rush of jealously enveloping her. Why did Parker get to be that one? The one that made him happy.
"We were thinking of going bowling," Parker announced. "It was so much fun last time."
"I can't," Veronica said quickly. "Got plans."
"You don't even know when we're going," Mac laughed. Veronica shot her a look causing Mac to glance away, looking contrite.
"Come on, Veronica! We need people to beat!" Parker cajoled, with a playful smile and Veronica's jaw clenched. "We're going tonight. It would be great if you could come."
"I have class," Veronica said abruptly, standing up. Parker's face fell, and all eyes were on her as she gathered her stuff, and swung her bag over her shoulder.
"I do too," said Mac, "I'll walk with you." She waited until they were a distance away from the table, before saying, "What's wrong?"
Veronica shrugged. "Nothing."
"You were kinda snappy with Parker. She was just asking…"
"Yeah, perfect Parker. Always so sweet and thinking of others." Veronica regretted it immediately, but she remained silent for a few more minutes. "Sorry," she finally said.
"I don't want to be in the middle," Mac pointed out, as they dodged a group of people milling in the centre of the hallway. "It makes things hard."
"I know," Veronica sighed, before she slowed down. "Do you really have class?"
"Not for awhile," Mac replied, "Do you?"
"Soon. Let's ditch. We should go and see a movie, or something. Go to Amy's for ice-cream afterwards?"
Mac hesitated. "I'm supposed to be meeting Bronson after…"
"Oh," Veronica said, unable to keep the disappointment from colouring her tone.
"No, I'll cancel," Mac said, noticing. Her forehead creased with worry as she pulled out her phone.
Veronica shook her head. "Don't, it's okay."
"Veronica," Mac said determinedly. "I'm ditching. It's cool." Veronica gave her a grateful smile as Mac made the call.
The dark interior of the suite seemed even duller than usual. It was like the walls were closing in on him. The sofa felt uncomfortable as he lounged on it, Parker sitting at the other end. The beady eye of the fish on the wall seemed to bore into the back of his neck. The movie droned on, he'd stop paying attention around an hour ago.
"Let's go away this summer," Logan said abruptly. The idea came to him suddenly, and he realised how perfect it was. What could be better than spending the summer travelling, exploring and lazing on beaches?
Parker sat up slowly. "Really?" she asked in surprise. "Where?"
"Anywhere! Italy, Spain, St Lucia – wherever," he said, his voice rising in excitement.
A smile spread across her glossy lips. "No summer with my parents," she said hopefully.
"Exactly," Logan breathed, jumping to his feet as if he wanted to get out right then and there.
Parker followed him, climbing to her feet until she suddenly stopped. "Why do you want to leave so badly?" she asked.
Logan shrugged. "Just sick of Neptune."
"So it's not about spending the summer together?" Parker asked directly.
"Your first thought was about your parents," Logan pointed out, "not me." He sighed; a discussion about their relationship was the last thing he wanted to happen.
"I just want to know where we're going. If we're on the same page here." The walls were closing in again. "Has leaving got anything to do with Veronica?"
Logan expelled his breath suddenly. "Why the hell would it?"
"I saw the way you looked at her as she left today. It's like you still have feelings for her." She paused. "Do you, Logan?"
"No!" he protested. "Of course not. I just thought it would be fun, that's all. It's not a big deal." She continued to stare at him, as if waiting for the magic words to make it all better. None came. "Look, I said I'd meet Dick after his class. I'll call you later, okay?" He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead before walking away. He didn't turn around to see Parker's crestfallen expression.
"So when are you due?" Veronica finally asked, not looking up from the vegetables she was chopping. Lianne was perched on a stool, peeling potatoes. It was a far cry from the last time they cooked together, joy bubbling in Veronica's stomach that her family were finally back together.
"In a few weeks," she replied. Veronica looked up for a split second, taking in her mother's appearance. Her skin was dull and she had dark circles under her eyes.
"Have you been drinking throughout the pregnancy?" she snapped icily, finally unable to hold back the question that had been gnawing at her for days.
"It's difficult, Veronica," Lianne said piteously.
Veronica pursed her lips. "Well, that's a great start in life. You as its mother, and vodka in its veins." She threw the vegetables into a saucepan and retrieved the potatoes.
"Don't you love me any more?" Lianne asked softly.
Veronica dropped her knife in shock. "You don't have the right to ask that question."
There was a sharp silence, except for the sound of the knife hitting the chopping board angrily. Veronica pursed her lips and let out a quick breath of air, deciding to let the argument go for the sake of her sanity.
She turned to look at Lianne. "Have you thought of any names?"
Lianne look towards her hesitantly, before she grasped hold of the olive branch that Veronica was offering. "I was thinking maybe I could name her after Lilly."
Veronica's eyes widened and the branch vanished with a distinctive pop. "What?"
"I thought you would like it," Lianne replied, looking worried.
Veronica shook her head angrily. "So you can finally have Jake's family?"
"No," Lianne denied swiftly. She paused for a minute before she said in a strained voice, "Okay, bad idea."
The wall of silence spread between them like a steel fortress. Veronica sped to hurry up and finish the potatoes before she fled to her room. She leaned back on her bed, relieved to be away from Lianne and the stifling awkwardness they were living with. Every interaction they had ended with one of them hurriedly leaving the room for fear of a fight escalating.
Her phone rang, pulling her out of her thoughts. She grabbed it from the bedside table. Piz's name lit up the screen. Her thumb hovered over the ignore button for a split second, before she hit answer.
"Hi!" he greeted brightly. "I know you said you'd call, but I thought why not? I was just wondering if you were going bowling tonight?"
"Listen, Piz," she began, "I have to apologise for last night. Things are a mess right now, and I just don't think I'm ready for a relationship." She bit her lip as he went silent.
"Yeah, I figured at lunch," he finally said. "The awkwardness didn't really suggest that things had gone well."
"I'm sorry," Veronica replied genuinely.
"It's cool. I hope to see you at bowling tonight anyway."
"Thanks, Piz," Veronica responded. "Goodnight."
She'd just found a parking spot at Hearst amongst the rows and rows of shiny Hondas and SUVs when she spotted Weevil hurrying over through the lanes towards her. He knocked on her window, and she signalled that he could get in.
"Hey, Vee," he greeted.
"You okay?" she asked in concern, noticing the look on his face.
"Some stuff has been going missing, tools and stuff. At first I thought it was just the others being sloppy, but it's getting worse. I just don't have the time to sit on my ass and watch everything, and I think, being an ex-con…"
"You'll be the first suspect?" Veronica put in, realising he was genuinely worried, skipping their usual banter.
He gave her a wry smile. "When aren't I?"
"I'll try and look into it," Veronica promised. Just then her phone rang. She reached over, pulled it out of her bag and hit the answer button, giving Weevil an apologetic look.
"Veronica, Lianne has gone into labour," Keith informed her, before she could even say anything.
"Now? But she's early!" Veronica pointed out, a flutter of panic twisting at her stomach.
"I know, honey. I'm sure it will be okay," he assured. "We're at the hospital now."
"I'll meet you there soon," she promised, flipping her phone shut.
"Everything alright?" Weevil asked, glancing at her curiously.
"Not especially," Veronica replied. "My mom has just gone into labour. I need to get to the hospital."
Weevil's face was a picture of shock as she restarted the engine. It was almost comical.
"Do you want me to come with you?" he asked slowly, regaining his voice.
"Thanks for the offer, but my dad is there," she answered. "I'll let you know when I get a chance to look into the thefts."
The drive to the hospital took longer than expected, the morning traffic having built up. She sighed worriedly. There was always a risk with older women having babies, and with the drink on top of that, there was a strong possibility of complications. Veronica parked the car and rushed towards the maternity wing.
A dark-haired woman was watering her plants behind the desk. At Veronica's approach, she looked up with a clearly disinterested expression. "Can you tell me where Lianne Mars is please?"
"Family only," the woman replied, putting down the small watering-can.
"I'm her daughter," Veronica told her, swallowing hard.
The woman leaned forward with a sigh and moved her fingers rapidly on the keyboard of her computer. "She's in room 223, just down the hall."
She spotted Keith waiting outside the room, and he stood when he saw her, enveloping her in a hug.
"She's doing okay at the moment," he told her. "I think we have a long wait ahead of us."
Just then the door opened, and Lianne was wheeled on her bed, looking anxious.
"What's going on?" Veronica asked the nearest doctor.
"We're going to have to perform a C-section. Please wait here." He turned to look at Keith. "You're the father? If you want to scrub in…"
"No," Keith said, shaking his head. "I'm not."
The doctor nodded and Veronica and Keith watched as they disappeared out of view.
There was nothing quite like the smell of a hospital. The thick stench of urine never seemed to be covered up, even if they washed the walls in bleach. The smell of overly processed food wafted down the hallways, as they served the patients in a ward near-by their lunch. It smelled worse than the school dinners Veronica remembered, none too fondly.
She could hear the sounds of a woman in labour coming from a nearby room, begging loudly for more drugs. Veronica wished she'd thought to bring her iPod with her that morning.
Veronica sighed impatiently as she read the same line for the third time in the magazine she'd found and was attempting to distract herself with. As fascinating as 'Five Ways to Spot if a Guy Really Likes You' was, she could have used it a few months ago when dealing with Piz.
Veronica tried to keep thoughts of her mother, and the fact they were cutting open her stomach in a room down the hall, at bay, but icy slivers of fear had their habit of forming around her heart with a tight grip, all sorts of possibilities of what could go wrong flying around her mind.
"Do you want another coffee?" Keith asked, standing up and stretching. He rolled his shoulders back, as if sitting for too long had made them ache.
Veronica looked up at him gratefully. "Yes, please. You might as well put all the sugar you can find in it."
"And be responsible for you only having three teeth left, kiddo? You can do that on your own time." He smiled at her reassuringly, and set off towards the drinks machine.
Veronica checked her watch again. It felt like hours had passed since they'd arrived, but in reality it had only been half an hour from when Lianne had been wheeled away. Every minute dragged. Her thoughts kept drifting to her mother, even though she tried to think of anything but Lianne. She'd never been the type to pine for a brother or sister. Lilly, and then Wallace had filled the role in her life perfectly. Now she was going to get one, wanted or not. She hadn't let herself think too much about the baby in the few days her mom had been home, brushing thoughts aside of whether it would be a boy or girl, and what its name would be.
Just then a doctor headed out of the door further down the hall, unbuttoning her scrubs as she walked towards them.
"You're Lianne Mars' daughter?" Veronica nodded at the Doctor's question, biting her lip.
"It's all over now. You want to go and see her? She's out of recovery now," the doctor said, motioning towards the room Lianne was in, before carrying on down the corridor. "I'll be back to check on her in an hour."
Veronica glanced over to the door. So this was it.
She was now a big sister.
She was relieved when Keith came back down the hallway again, two plastic cups filled with steaming coffee in each hand.
"She's had the baby," Veronica told him and he raised his eyebrows, putting the drinks down on a nearby table.
"You ready?" he asked. She watched him push his shoulders back as if steeling herself. She recognised the gesture well.
Veronica looked down at the ground, licking her cracked and dry lips. "Yeah."
The room was bigger and brighter than she'd been expecting, pastel stencils decorating the walls, adding to the nursery like affect. Lianne was lying in the bed, her eyes shut and her face slightly reddened. Next to her was a clear bassinette, and Veronica could see the tiny baby wrapped in a white blanket.
Keith walked over to the bed, and peered down at his ex-wife. Her eyes fluttered open.
"Congratulations," Keith greeted softly.
Lianne smiled and looked over at Veronica. "Don't you want to come and meet your baby sister?"
Veronica remained frozen in the doorway, unable to move as Keith turned to coo over the baby, gently stroking her cheek.
"She's beautiful," Keith announced and looked at Veronica. "Looks just you did."
"What are you going to call her?" Veronica asked.
Lianne looked proudly down at her new-born baby. "I've called her Holly. You know I named you after one of my aunts, so I thought I'd name her after my other aunt."
Lianne looked down at her daughter sleeping in the bassinette next to her. She looked so calm and peaceful now, not like the bright red wailing banshee she'd resembled earlier, when she had been rudely introduced to the world. Lianne couldn't imagine what it would be like to be in such a warm and quiet environment, only for someone to reach in and pull you into the cold. A world that was filled with noisy, busy people that bustled around you, poking you and making you cry.
She sighed, exhaustion prickling down her body, overpowering the drugs for the barest second as her thoughts drifted. She had thought that calling her Lilly would have been such a good idea, that Veronica would appreciate it and stop looking at her with anger and disappointment clouding her eyes. She missed her sweet daughter. The one that did anything for her that she asked and loved her unconditionally. Lianne didn't even know what went on in Veronica's head anymore; she was so closed off and distant.
Lianne had thought her daughter was going to be her ticket to a better life, a second chance. She remembered the way Jake had looked at her after she'd told him. He stared at her in dumb-founded shock, unable to form any words. "Not again," he'd murmured, before stumbling to his feet. Lianne had felt a total wave of devastation when she realised he wasn't leaving Celeste, he was leaving her.
She'd even gone to the clinic to get rid of it, but she just couldn't bring herself to go through with getting rid of Jake's baby. She hoped that after the baby had been born, he'd change his mind. He'd lost his other children, and she had been the one to give him another.
But being back with Keith and Veronica though had given her another hope. Perhaps her new life could be with them, if she just tried harder. She could be happy.
The door finally opened, after the loud thumping music suddenly stopped. Piz looked dishevelled, and surprised to see her there. He reached up and quickly smoothed down his hair.
"Uh, Veronica, hi!" He stood frozen for a second longer before he stepped back. "Where are my manners? Come in!"
"Actually, I'm here to see Wallace. Is he around?"
Piz's face immediately fell. "Oh, right, of course. He's got a game at the moment, won't be back for awhile."
Veronica let out a quick breath of frustration. She'd been counting on him to do his Wallace-thing and work his BFF magic. She just needed someone to listen.
"Do you want to come in anyway? We could hang out, you know, as friends…" Piz continued hopefully.
Veronica frowned, looking up at Piz's eager wide eyes. He was cute, really. Not her usual type but he liked her. God knew why. His lips parted as if to say something, and her decision was made in a split second. She pushed forward, her lips landing on his, propelling them both backwards. She kicked the door shut with her foot, as Piz got over his shock, and kissed her back, his hands snaking around her waist. She suddenly stepped backwards, but before he could look disappointed, she yanked his top up. He lifted his arms, and aided in removing it. He looked at her like all his dreams were coming true at once as she pushed him down on the bed, and straddled him.
"You're beautiful," he said, before his lips found hers again. She kissed him with all the enthusiasm she could muster, as she fumbled with his zipper .
His hand fell on hers to aid her, the mental teeth of the zipper snaking down to reveal innocent white boxers. She almost laughed, they were so Piz. Logan always wore… Veronica shook her head and looked back up at Piz's open face, smiling softly at her and she was overcome with a sickened realisation. What the hell was she doing?
"Oh, god," she said, climbing back up, her arms wrapping around herself as she looked down at him in horror, breathing hard.
"Veronica?" he said, scrambling after her as she backed away like a frightened animal. "What's wrong?"
She felt the acid turn in her stomach as she gasped a breath in. Her hand found the door handle, and she twisted it and rushed out.
The waves quietly rippling onto the beach usually soothed her, as she sat at the shore line, her bare feet pressed into the sand. She'd managed to avoid everyone for two days, dodging lunch and studying in the back of the library. She knew Lianne was coming home that day; Keith had set up an old, but sturdy looking crib in his room. She guessed he'd bought from a thrift store that morning. He'd neatly made it with sweetly embroidered blankets.
He'd done it before, brought up what could have possibly not been his child as his own. Was he going to do it again, even knowing this time she wasn't his?
Veronica reached forward and scooped up a handful of the golden sand. She held it for a brief second before she spread her fingers, letting the sand pour between the gaps until only a smattering of clinging grains remained. They were so tiny, she thought, billions and billions making up a single beach. She brushed her hand, and the remaining grains were pushed off, falling to join the rest.
She heard a cough from behind her, and turned to find Keith walking towards her, Holly bundled up in his arms.
"May I join you?" he asked.
"You don't need permission," Veronica said with a small smile, as he carefully lowered himself to rest next to her. She let out a breath, and gazed down at her tiny sister. She had big blue eyes, and a swathing of blonde head that looked so soft, Veronica ached to touch it. Her hands were balled up into fists as Veronica cautiously reached out and gently stroked her chubby little cheek. Holly just blinked at her in response.
"Would you like to hold her?"
"I don't know," Veronica replied, looking down.
"She doesn't bite," Keith smiled.
Veronica reached out and took her, carefully cradling her head in the nook of her arm. "Hey, you," she said. "I'm your big sister."
"I swear Professor Lewes is trying to kill me," Veronica greeted Wallace as she walked up to the table he was sitting at, and threw her bag down on the bench. Finding a table outside was a rare commodity, and the moments had to be treasured. "She gave us two papers to do by next week. Two!" She swung her legs over the bench, coming to rest, and pulled an apple out of her bag.
Wallace looked up slowly from the book in front of him. "Yeah, it's all about you," he said.
"Sure, there are other students in her class, but I'm so behind right now," she explained, taking a bite of the fruit.
Wallace shrugged and turned the page of his book.
"Are you okay?" Veronica asked in concern, noting his demeanour.
"Great," he said dully.
"Well, good…" Veronica replied uncertainly, her forehead frowning with confusion.
"I'm actually trying to study here, so if you don't mind…" Wallace said pointedly.
Her eyes widened with realisation. "This is about Piz, isn't it?" She let out a sigh. "Look, I should explain about that. Things have been…"
"Stop," Wallace commanded, stopping her in her tracks. "I don't care. I don't want to hear your latest drama, or whatever it is you're going to use to excuse you for treating him like shit."
Veronica stared at him in shock. "Wallace…"
He shook his head, grabbing his book and climbing out of the bench. "Enough," he said finally, before turning and walking away, leaving Veronica staring after him.
He glanced back angrily, and she quickly looked away, covering the tears burning in her eyes.
Logan had never been to a duller lecture in his life. The professor had spoken in the same monotone throughout the whole thing, and hadn't bothered to use slides. He'd lost interest within minutes, but had found himself in the middle of a row, unable to escape without making everyone move.
He looked forward to an afternoon of playing video games with Dick, and possibly getting shit faced as a bonus. He weaved through a crowd, stifling a yawn, trying to remember where exactly he'd parked the car. With a pang he missed his bright yellow car, easily spotted from a mile off.
He glanced across the path, and spotted Veronica sitting at a table. Even though her back was to him, and she was hunched over, he knew it was her. He frowned when he realised that her head was in her hands, her shoulders drooping with resignation. He slowed to a halt, before he shook his head, so not his business. It wasn't often Veronica allowed herself to be publicly upset though, Logan thought, his chest aching. He despised seeing Veronica upset over anything.
"Fuck," he bit out, before he turned and headed towards her, cursing his lack of self control. As he got nearer, he realised she was talking on a phone. He turned to leave; he didn't want to hear her whispering sweet nothings to Piz, but then he heard the name Lianne and stopped dead in surprise.
"Yeah, okay, I'll baby-sit. Be home later," Veronica finished, before she hung up. She turned swiftly, her mouth falling open when she saw Logan standing there, concern written across his face.
"Are you okay?" Logan asked, aware of the awkwardness setting in.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Veronica asked. He could see the faint redness around her eyes.
"You just looked…" He shook his head. "Never mind."
Veronica grabbed her bag from the bench.
"So, super sleuth," Logan asked lightly, "where did I park my car?"
Veronica frowned, as if in deep concentration. "Fifth row back."
"Can always count on you," Logan responded, as they set off towards the parking lot.
Wallace sighed, and threw down the pen he was holding on to his desk in frustration. Every time he tried to concentrate on his paper, he felt guilt gnawing at him. He was angry with Veronica, scratch that, livid – but he knew he hadn't given her a chance to explain. She was his best friend, and it wasn't like her to behave that way.
He shook his head to himself. It was so much easier being friends with guys. They weren't as hard to deal with as Veronica, who was the epitome of complication. Arguments with other guys were usually solved after a big blow-out, and a round of Crash Bandicoot. Guys usually didn't cry, and look at him with a hurt expression that haunted him for the rest of the day.
Wallace stood up and slipped his sneakers on. He knew he wasn't going to get any more studying done.
Logan sighed, mashing the keyboard of his laptop in frustration. Every time he tried to lose himself in some meaningless distraction, his thoughts slid traitorously back to Veronica, and to the knot of worry he felt inside. He'd tried to find out what was wrong with her as they walked through campus, but she'd shut him down point blank. He knew when to push, and when to drop it, and he'd taken the signs to shut up.
"Guess what, dude?" Dick said, after bursting through the door. He threw his key card in the general direction of the table, before jumping over the sofa and landing with a thump.
Logan looked up slowly from his laptop. "You scored with twins?"
"No, although that would be really sweet." Dick paused, picking up an X-box controller and started loading up Halo.
Logan continued to look at him, waiting for him to speak. "Um, hello? We're having a conversation here…"
"What? Oh, yeah," Dick said, glancing back from the screen. His eyes were already glazing over. "Well, I just heard from my dad's friend that has this rockin' summer house in South America. He said we can rent it off him for the summer. It's right by the beach – surfing and bikini babes! How awesome will this summer be?"
Logan grinned in relief. "Dude, day after exams – I'm there."
"We can go halves on the rent or whatever," Dick shrugged, and Logan nodded in agreement.
Logan's phone began to ring, and he reached forward to scoop it up from the table.
"Ah, the keeper of your testicles calls again," Dick predicted.
"You know, you talk about my balls way more than is healthy," Logan pointed out, as he walked across to his room and shut the door.
"Yeah, well I don't want to hear you having phone sex anyway," Dick shouted after him as Logan rolled his eyes and hit the answer button.
"I saw you, you know," she greeted coldly.
"Hey, sweetie," Logan replied sarcastically, sinking down on the end of his bed. "And just how is your day going?"
"You were supposed to meet me after class, remember? And then I saw you with Veronica," she continued angrily.
"Oh, yeah," Logan said in realisation, hitting his forehead with his hand. "I completely forgot."
"Yeah, it's funny how you always do when she's involved."
"Well, actually I forgot before I even saw her," Logan rationalised.
"God, Logan," she snapped, "that makes me feel so much better."
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
"Fine, okay," she said with a sigh. "Have you thought any more about summer plans?"
Logan's eyes widened, as he remember his outburst. "Um, well, I've kinda promised Dick I'd hang out with him in South America." He tensed, waiting for the inevitable explosion. "Parker?" he checked after a few seconds, before the dial tone rang out.
He threw the phone down on the bed in frustration, his fingers itching to call her straight back. He hated putting off confrontations; he preferred to get it all out there, one big violent eruption. He could do damage control, patching things back up, especially when he was in the wrong. But the anticipation of an argument just left him feeling tense and angry, his teeth gritting at the thought of seeing his girlfriend.
"Shh," Veronica pleaded, gently rocking her sister in her bouncer as she screamed, her face reddened with the effort. She wasn't even crying tears, Veronica thought in annoyance, just trying to make as much noise as possible. "I really have to study, kid. Just give me an hour? Please?"
Lianne had left early that afternoon, after calling her and evasively saying she had to run errands. Keith wasn't due back for hours, and it was the first time she'd babysat Holly alone. Veronica had fed and changed her, but she still seemed intent on giving her a migraine.
"I'll give you… five dollars? Some extra milk? I'll get you a pony…" Veronica tried in a cajoling tone. "Fine," she sighed, reaching forward and unstrapping her. She carefully lifted Holly, hugging her small, warm body to her own chest. Immediately, the cries stopped. "So that's what you wanted," Veronica said quietly. "A hug. I know how you feel."
Veronica flinched when there was a knock at the door, but Holly remained quiet. She walked over and opened it.
"Wallace," she greeted in surprise. He was bouncing from one foot to the other, looking at her in trepidation.
He eyed the baby. "Working on a case?"
She shook her head. "Not so much. Do you wanna come in?" She bit down on her lip as she moved to let him past, nerves fluttering in her stomach. Was he there to bitch her out again? She dreaded losing him as friend, especially for one stupid mistake that she would do anything to take back.
"So is she yours?" he finally asked, his tone lighter, as he sat down on the sofa and gestured mischievously at Holly.
"Oh, you know. My secret love child with Jimmy Stewart." Her nose wrinkled. "Now that I think about it, that's gross."
"Because he's old?"
"More because he's dead," Veronica replied. She joined him on the sofa, careful to sit at the opposite end. "I'm sorry, Wallace. I screwed up big time, and I will apologise to Piz."
Wallace looked down. "I just don't get why."
Veronica sighed. "It was a horrible, horrible choice. I wasn't thinking straight. It's not an excuse, I know."
Wallace nodded shortly.
"Well, I guess you should meet my little sister," Veronica said, looking down at Holly, and back to Wallace's stunned face.
To be continued…
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