Disclaimer: The characters were created by Rob Thomas and remain the property of Thomas, the CW, and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement is intended, no profit is made. All characters in this story are fictional. Any mention of real persons is entirely fictional. None of their quotes or actions in this story have any basis in reality in any way.
Author's note: I would like to thank the lovely love_is_epic for beta-reading this story. It was written for the vmfic_gameon Livejournal community September challenge.
Duncan stopped the stroller and gave the titles on the newsstand a pondering look, knowing he was only attracting attention by doing so. He tried to be firm and to stop thinking about it. He was only setting himself up for disappointment, anyway. There had been nothing since the funeral, and that had been months ago. There was no reason there would be anything now. He would be better off letting it go.
He knew what Veronica would say to him if she were here – could feel her disapproving stare on him, telling him that he was being reckless, that he was wasting his time and his money. Did he want to jeopardize his own safety and his daughter's? Did he want to get Veronica arrested and thrown in jail after all that she had done for him? In the end it didn't matter. He gave in, like he always did, because the hope for even a glimpse of him was too powerful to resist. He'd gone through the same vicious cycle every week since he'd arrived in Mollymook and he would probably go through it for a long time. Resistance is futile, he thought bitterly.
First, he'd mentally berate himself for even thinking about it – dangerous, foolish madness that was going to get him into deep, deep trouble. But then the nagging, creeping thought would spread out over his mind like vine. What if there was something this time? Did he want to miss it? After all, he had no idea what was actually going on in Neptune. It would be a shame to skip exactly when there was something in the news.
Was it even that suspicious? There were plenty of people who bought them, and even if most of them were women, there were probably plenty of good reasons for a teenager with a baby to get them. The guy at the newsstand probably thought he was gay and that Lilly was his little sister or his niece. There was a great leap from buying a few magazines to being an American on the run with a celebrity kid for a best friend. He was just being paranoid – it was not as if the clerk ever looked like he was suspicious of him, after all. And that's how, in the end, he always yielded to the temptation of buying the tabloids and spending hours peering through them, looking for a piece on Logan or Trina.
Duncan sometimes saw Trina's picture at a Hollywood party, arm in arm with some other celebrity, but she wasn't really who he was interested in. What he wanted, more than anything in the world, was news – any news – about Logan. He looked and looked, studying every picture, weighing every "mystery date" the magazines were tantalizing their readers with, wondering if any of the actresses or singers involved could be Logan's type, but nothing ever came from it.
He didn't expect it, of course, now that Logan's father was dead and buried. Duncan tried to tell himself that, considering the way Logan usually attracted the media was by getting into a fight, no news was definitely good news. But he was desperate for anything about his best friend and wished that Logan was a bit less reticent with the media. It was the only way he had left of hearing from him.
Duncan had been so relieved the day he saw "WITNESS IN LOGAN ECHOLLS TRIAL RECANTS!" on the front page, and the accompanying picture of Logan getting out of his car on the school parking lot, wearing sunglasses and fending off the reporters with his hand. It had been so good to see him, to see good old Neptune High again, that he'd almost cried.
"Look, Lilly, it's your uncle Logan," he had told his daughter, showing her the picture. "And there, in the background? That's your auntie Veronica."
Veronica's figure had been hardly recognizable in the gaggle of students looking in on the scene, but somehow he knew that she'd been standing there for him, to let him know that she was okay. Lilly had looked at him uncomprehendingly and gurgled. One day she would understand. Duncan had cut out the picture for her and put it with the other two pictures he'd brought with him - the one of the four of them at that perfect Homecoming, laughing and happy, and the last family picture they had with Lilly on it, only three weeks before her death. Not the one after Mom had thrown a fit and they were all nice and well-behaved, but the one before that, where Lilly was sticking her tongue out at the camera.
He bent down to pick up the new edition of one of the magazines and his heart skipped a beat.
"LOGAN ECHOLLS: MY FATHER NEARLY KILLED ME ON CHRISTMAS MORNING," the cover blared.
He felt feverish, suddenly and he paid for the rag, avoiding the clerk's questioning gaze. How could he ever explain that he was coming undone at the sight of a tabloid? He raced home, avoiding everyone's stares on the street. Knowing he couldn't wait for Lilly to fall asleep, he gave her the bottle with one hand, and opened the magazine with the other. She wasn't used to having to share his attention with anything, so she started whining a little. He gently hushed her and found the right page.
In a shocking interview with Larry King on CNN yesterday, Aaron Echolls' son revealed that he had suffered years of neglect and abuse at the hands of his father.
Duncan threw the magazine aside. Logan had given an interview to Larry King? He'd been on TV? Was there video of him? He turned on his computer, ignoring Lilly's heavy protests, and clicked on his CNN bookmark. Aaron Echolls was pretty famous in Australia - it wouldn't be odd if he watched the video, right? He hesitated for a second, but then decided - surely this wouldn't even be a blip on the FBI's radar?
He finished feeding Lilly, staring impatiently at the screen until the video was downloaded in full. Now they were both fidgety, but he didn't want his best friend to stop in the middle of a sentence because the connection was too slow. He watched, transfixed, as the percentage of what had been downloaded slowly increased. He'd never been more impatient.
Finally, after what seemed like an excruciating wait, he was able to start watching. He settled the baby comfortably in his lap, telling her she was about to see her uncle Logan. Duncan fast-forwarded through the first segment - an uninteresting bit featuring Larry King exchanging barbs with some comedian he remembered that Lilly senior hated.
"I hear you have Logan Echolls on later, Larry. Got a few paramedics in the studio?" asked the comedian at the end, guffawing and winking in what he clearly thought was a cheeky way. Larry King chuckled awkwardly.
"That's right, after the break, we're talking to Logan Echolls, son of recently deceased movie star Aaron Echolls. He's here, on this show, in an exclusive interview, to talk about his family, the tragedies he was involved in, and of course his troubled relationship with his father. Stay tuned for more!"
During the first commercial, Duncan decided that Logan must have been dropped on the head. Talk about his family? His father? Logan, who had always thought media people were worse than Nazis and who really, really hated to talk about his father? Duncan thought there must be a mistake; they must be talking about another Logan Echolls. But there he appeared on the screen, sitting in front of the microphone, looking more than a little uncomfortable in his suit. Duncan felt a rush of affection towards him.
Clearly, Larry was also wondering why Logan had accepted to come on his show, because his first question was why he had accepted any interview at all, considering how much he seemed to value his privacy.
"I dunno," answered Logan, looking at his hands, "you kept asking and I gave in. It's the suspenders, you know, I just can't resist them."
"Actually, I'm here because I received a visit last week," Logan added, "from someone claiming to be my half-brother. He wasn't. My real half-brother is a guy named Charlie Stone, who apparently works as a teacher at Calvert Academy in San Juan Capistrano, California. I had just learned about Charlie's existence the day before."
Logan suddenly seemed more alert and dangerous. He had that look on his face that meant Duncan had to be ready to intervene. But Larry, clearly excited by the prospect of a scoop, didn't pick up on it.
"A half-brother?" he asked, barely able to contain his greed. "On whose side? Father or mother?"
"Father," answered Logan. "The story I got was that his mother was a flight-attendant on the Red Eye who hooked up with Daddy dearest once. Of course, it turned out the guy who told me all that and who wanted to bond over stories about my father was – surprise, surprise – a reporter for Vanity Fair," he continued animatedly. "So who knows if the story is true? My father wasn't exactly particular about who he…"
There was a beep to save Lilly from being a little too well educated at such a young age. She didn't like the noise, though, and gave a little cry. Duncan suspected her eardrums had never fully recovered from the long flight over the Pacific. He hoped she wouldn't end up with any permanent hearing problems.
"I should've known, of course," Logan rambled on, sounding rather bitter. "Colour me naïve," he added, crushing an imaginary bug on the table with his thumb. "So I figured," he continued, giving Larry a rather defiant look, "if every dirty little family secret is going to be front page anyway, I'd rather tell them to you. At least, you're honest about your perverted curiosity."
Larry waited a few seconds before the next question to let Logan calm down. Big mistake, thought Duncan.
"Oh, and Charlie," Logan exploded, looking in the camera, "if the child support is not enough for you, why don't you give me a call? Drugs, booze, gambling… Just let me know, I can help you finance your habit. That's what family's for. No need to sell your story to a sleazy reporter for extra cash."
God, he missed the crazy bastard, thought Duncan. Logan had always walked a fine line between good-humoured mischief and deliberate cruelty, a merry prankster when things went well and lashing out, not always discriminately, when he was hurting. And while Duncan had never cared much for the dark side of the coin, it brought tears to his eyes to just see Logan be Logan. Besides, it looked like that half-brother deserved it. Why was everybody Logan was related to out to hurt him?
"Right," said Larry, clearly wanting to change the topic. "Let's go back to the murder of Lilly Kane. She was your girlfriend, right?"
"She was my first love, yes," answered Logan, suddenly gentle.
Duncan wondered where along the line, Lilly had gone from "the love of my life," as Logan had tearfully said when he'd admitted to Duncan he'd destroyed her sex tapes, to "my first love." Duncan was quite sure that, whether his sister was in Heaven or Hell, she was figuring out a way to claw the eyes out of the poor girl who'd dared replace her in Logan's heart.
"How did you feel when your father was arrested for her murder?" Larry asked in a gentle tone.
Duncan had no doubt that after Logan's outburst, Larry was trying to approach him with kid-gloves, but Duncan wasn't sure you could talk about Lilly with Logan without him getting angry at some point.
"What do you mean - how did I feel?"
"Did you believe he could have done it?" Larry clarified.
"There has never been any doubt in my mind that he did it," Logan answered, looking Larry in the eye.
"He was acquitted in court."
"Which just goes to show that they should have IQ tests before they let anyone sit on a jury," said Logan with a sneer.
Logan looked sickened by Larry's raised eyebrows, and Duncan shared his feelings. If there was anything Aaron Echolls knew, it was PR, and of course he had managed to turn popular opinion in his favour again. Duncan had no wish to know how, because it undoubtedly included a thorough smear campaign against his sister, but just the thought of it made his hands tremble in anger. He'd never understood the phrase seeing red until he'd read the headline announcing that snake's acquittal.
"What makes you so sure that he murdered Lilly Kane? That's a grave accusation to make about your own father."
"Let me tell you a few stories about my father, Larry," said Logan, settling in his chair. "When I was about nine, at Christmas, we were all together, my Mom, my Dad and me – only my sister was with her mother, I think." He paused, frowning to make sure he remembered it properly. "It was Christmas morning," he resumed, "so we were unpacking presents, and well, I was nine and I was very curious, so I had gotten into the closets a few days before and I had peeked. Only I hadn't re-wrapped the presents carefully enough, and so Dad knew what I had done." Logan picked up his glass of water and took a sip before continuing. "He was furious. He opened the gift – a fruit-basket with pears – and ordered me to eat them up. All of them. And, well, I didn't eat them fast enough," he said, swallowing hard, "so my father started shoving them down, until I was choking. My Mom had to put a cheese-knife under his throat to make him stop."
Duncan stared in shock at the screen. He was aware that Logan's father beat him, but he had never imagined it had been so bad. It wasn't something Logan ever talked about.
For a long time, Duncan hadn't even given a thought to Logan's repetitive injuries. He assumed that his friend was really clumsy, and he'd made fun of him for it. Then, one day, they were playing with a tennis ball indoors at the newly built Kane house and they broke a vase. Duncan had looked at the broken glass in horror, knowing that he would be in deep trouble for this. He had said something like "shit, my dad is gonna kill me," and was surprised to see Logan, who as a guest had nothing to fear, freak out like the end of the world was coming. It had taken a long time to calm Logan down. It was only when Duncan told him that it would be okay, that Duncan would only get grounded for a few days, that Logan stopped crying. Duncan hadn't understood what had happened right away, but in the end, he made the connection between his casual remark, what Logan thought Dad would do, and what Mr. Echolls did to Logan at the drop of a hat. He never called Logan a klutz again.
On screen, Logan started another story, about his father breaking his arm for coming inside the house with dirty clothes. He told another one, about his father throwing him in an empty swimming-pool for whining (he had been about six at the time), and then another one, about his father giving him a nose-bleed on his birthday because he'd spilt a milkshake in the car. And then he told how, at the age of twelve, after Logan landed in the hospital for the third time in a row and the doctors were growing suspicious, his father and his mother finally worked out a compromise. Lynn Echolls couldn't take the violence anymore, so Aaron Echolls promised to keep his cool. Whenever Logan misbehaved, he would be punished with a number of belt-lashes that was to be determined in advance.
"If it hadn't been for my mother, he would probably have killed me," said Logan, blinking back tears. "So yeah, I'm sure he murdered Lilly. I haven't had a doubt on that count since he was arrested."
Larry had grown paler and paler while Logan was talking, and so had Duncan. He thought again about the phone call he'd made a few months ago, just after he'd read the verdict of the murder trial. He'd often thought about things like that before, when the plan for him had still been to be President. How would it be when he'd have to decide if someone had to be executed? How would he know who was innocent and who deserved to die? Would he be swayed by things like opinion polls and focus groups and whether or not people thought he was soft on crime? Would he be eaten up by guilt and have nightmares all the time?
Of course he'd worried about all these things when he'd called Clarence Wiedman. But he'd known then that it was the right thing to do. He'd failed everyone important, and killing the man who had harmed all those he loved was the last thing he could do for them. He'd never felt a twinge of guilt, but now that he heard the stories, he was even more convinced of the rightness of his decision.
When Logan finished speaking the segment was nearly up.
"Well, I… er… I had no idea he was that bad," Larry stammered, looking anywhere but at Logan. "I never would have thought…"
"Well," Logan interrupted venomously, "good guy was always the one role he could pull off."
"Right," said Larry, clearly trying to gather his thoughts. "We'll be back, right after this."
During the commercial, Duncan tried to calm himself. He'd forgotten how intense things could get with Logan, and this was certainly one of the most intense moments he'd ever had with him. He picked up Lilly, who had started whining again, took her in his arms and sang her little song, horribly out of tune as always. But she liked it and he felt slightly proud of himself when she smiled. She looked a lot like Meg like this, and he hoped Lilly would get her singing abilities from her rather than from him. In the beginning, he'd had to try everything – check her diaper, give her the bottle, take her in his arms until she stopped crying. But now he knew what she wanted as soon as she was asking. He decided that maybe he could make it as a teenage single dad after all.
When the program returned, Larry wanted to know about the time after Lilly's death.
"You went rather wild after that," he said. "You organized boxing events with homeless men, you got into a fight with a gang that ended in someone's death… What was going on in your mind during that time?"
"Well, I was kind of mad at the world, you know," said Logan, looking embarrassed. "I mean, Lilly was dead, and I kept thinking about all I could have done to keep her safe, and it was just so unfair that she had to die…And then my mother died, and things got even worse."
"So you acted out because you were angry and sad," Larry clarified.
"Yeah," said Logan. He slouched in his seat and tried to put his hands up his sleeves, which was made difficult by his dress-shirt.
And because my best friend wasn't doing his job, Duncan thought Logan could have added. It had been part of their unspoken agreement since the beginning, that Logan would bring a little bit of fun in Duncan's life, and that Duncan would make sure to hold Logan back if he was going too far. Then there had been the mess with Veronica, Lilly had died, and suddenly Duncan didn't have the energy to do both his schoolwork and take care of Logan at the same time.
At the time he'd thought that he couldn't let his parents down. After Lilly's death, he'd tried to be there for them in the only way he knew – by making them as proud of him as possible. There was no way he could fill the gaping hole that Lilly had left – there was just no way anyone could fill that for him, and he was certain it was the same way for his parents. He tried his best to be the best son he could be, and he hoped it would bring them some comfort.
But the achievements that had always brought him so much pride had tasted like ash, and every soccer match, every honour, every issue of the Navigator had taken a bit more of his soul and had made it a bit more difficult to go on. His parents didn't notice how much it cost him - kept harping for more from him, and people at school didn't even seem to care. In the end, it had all left him bitter and cynical.
He didn't realise that he'd made the wrong choice until it was too late. He'd failed Logan, who had been desperate to bring the old Duncan back, and who had done anything he could think of to cheer him up. In turn, he had done nothing at all to rein in Logan when he had embarked on his own journey though Hell. He hadn't even noticed what was going on, even when Logan was busy organizing bum fights. It hadn't been until Veronica pointed out that Logan was getting more and more obnoxious and violent and that Duncan was letting it happen that he'd finally woken up.
"You. Stand. Idly. By," she had told him.
Those four words had stung, deeply, but they had more effect than all the judgemental gossip about Logan that people had stopped bothering to keep from Duncan. They had more effect than all of his Dad's complaints about his passivity and his cynicism. It had been awful to hear those words from Veronica, all the more so because he had been once used to her adoring gaze. Reality hit hard when he found out how low he had sunk in her esteem, but it had finally spurred him into action. There had been some hiccups between Logan and him, but in the end Logan had seemed happy to have Duncan back to his old self.
And later, during the summer before senior year, when Logan had been accused of murder?
"I don't want you to associate with him anymore, Duncan," his Mom had said. "First, his father kills your sister, and now he's gotten arrested for murder himself. It's probably his fault Lilly is dead in the first place."
Duncan wasn't good at resisting his mother without Lilly's help. It had been especially easy to yield to Mom's edicts after Logan had started dating Veronica. He didn't know how he would have reacted to the news that Logan's father had murdered Lilly if Logan and Veronica hadn't been together. He remembered Logan's words when Duncan had confronted him about it.
"I hate him too, you know," Logan had said.
But during that summer, every time he started to dial Logan's number, the questions became just too much. What if Logan was too angry about what Lilly had done to want to talk to him? What if Logan, beneath all the bitching he did about his father, still had too much affection for him to side with Duncan's family? What if Logan was glad to hear from him and invited him over with Veronica, so that Duncan would have to look at the two of them being lovey-dovey the whole time?
He should have known that Logan would choose Lilly over his father, though. Veronica – who had done God knows what to get to the truth about Lilly's murder – would never have dated Logan if she'd had any doubt about Logan's loyalty. He should have seen that. Logan had forgiven him and had even offered a gentleman's agreement about Veronica once she was back with Duncan. Sometimes he wondered where Logan had found the magnanimity to accept Duncan's olive branch.
Duncan had failed Veronica, too, in ways that shamed him more than any of his other mistakes. She had forgiven him, and he hoped she knew that he would have gotten over himself if Lilly hadn't died. He hoped she knew that he would have gone to talk to her and they would have gotten a paternity test and he would have begged her to take him back. He hoped she knew that the only reason that he had believed his mother for so long was that, for once, Lilly hadn't called her a bitch and a liar - because Lilly had wanted Veronica to be her sister.
"So what? Why does it matter? As long as nobody knows about it, what's the big deal?" she said. "Loosen up, Donut! Worst case scenario? You knock her up and you end up with a kid with webbed toes. So just wear a condom and you'll be fine. It's not like you grew up together or anything."
She urged him to talk to Veronica, at least, to give her a reason – even a bad one – for breaking up with her.
"You can't just start pretending she doesn't exist anymore, Duncan," she told him. "It's cruel."
But the prospect was just too terrifying, and he begged her to give him at least a few days before he went to talk to Veronica.
"Please, Lilly, just a few days – I swear. I can't face her now. I need to process this first."
She agreed, rolling her eyes.
"You're really a wuss, you know. God, Veronica can do so much better than you."
But then Lilly died and teenage drama tumbled way down on everybody's radar. Before he could even remember that the break-up talk was still on his to-do list, Shelly Pomroy's party happened, adding a whole new level of awkwardness to the subject. He tried to talk to Veronica, but when she saw him in the hallway that Monday, she turned around and walked away. It had taken a long time before that misunderstanding was lifted.
He still wasn't sure if breaking up with Meg and try to get Veronica back was the right thing to do. Going back to Veronica had caused Meg's death, but would staying with Meg have caused Veronica's death? He'd tried to be true to his feelings and he'd told himself – and Meg – that it wasn't fair of him to stay with her while he was in love with someone else. But, as usual, when he tried to do the right thing, he ended up screwing up worse. He didn't want to be false to a girl he wasn't in love with, and he ended up dumping the girl he'd knocked up.
At least, this time, he was sure he had done the right thing. Veronica had agreed that running away with Lilly was his last option, and Veronica always knew what the right thing was. He held out his finger for Lilly to wrap her little hand around. She put it in her mouth, biting it toothlessly and he gave her a kiss on the top of her head. Lilly would grow up motherless. It was his fault, but he would be damned if he let anyone abuse her.
He couldn't fool himself about the added benefit of running away - that he didn't have to deal with his mother's lies anymore. For all that Mom had ever claimed to love him, she had not only refused to listen to him when he asked for help to get custody of Lilly, but she had also turned Dad against him and assured the Mannings that of course she had no objection to their putting up his daughter for adoption. Duncan knew from Clarence Wiedman that Dad was sorry for what he'd said when Duncan had visited him in prison. Apparently, Wiedman was working on a way to get Duncan help and to let Dad visit him without arousing the FBI's suspicion. So maybe his Dad had really meant it when he said that he wanted Duncan's happiness. He hoped that he was doing okay in Neptune.
On screen, Logan was now apologizing – yet again – for the bum fights and answering questions about the murder of Felix Toombs.
"But you said to the police that you couldn't remember anything. Then how do you know the first witness was lying?" asked Larry.
"The first so-called witness lied. They released the 911 call and it's not remotely his voice on the tape."
"But why would he lie to the police about seeing you on the bridge with the knife?"
"No idea," said Logan with a shrug.
"And why did he recant?"
"Crisis of conscience, I guess."
"And you think that the second witness was the right one?" Larry asked.
Larry waited a few seconds for Logan to elaborate, but he just smiled – a bit too knowingly, Duncan thought – and stayed silent.
"Let's talk about the night your father was murdered," said Larry.
Duncan sat up straight. He'd been wondering for months what Logan thought about his father's death. Could he ever forgive Duncan for that? It was the question he'd been waiting for, ever since he'd downloaded the interview.
"I have a solid alibi for that one," said Logan evenly.
It was as if Logan didn't want to betray his feelings on the matter. Larry gave an uncomfortable chuckle.
"Do you have any idea who could have done it?" he asked.
"I dunno," answered Logan, "the police said there was no evidence and that it looked like the work of a professional."
He shrugged to underscore his ignorance and maybe his indifference.
"It could have been anyone," he added when Larry didn't react. "Plenty of people who wanted him dead, I guess."
"And how do you feel about your father's death? Are you angry with whoever killed him?"
Duncan held his breath. Logan was suddenly serious, and he looked Larry straight in the eye.
"I know that it's a pretty awful thing to say about your father," he said, "but whoever did this? They did a good deed."
Duncan released his breath. Would Logan still say that if he knew it was Duncan who'd ordered the hit? Could it be that Logan knew who had done it? Duncan was aware that Veronica had met Clarence Wiedman. She knew how he'd helped cover up Lilly's murder - hell, she'd been the one to tell Duncan about it - but did she know how far Wiedman's services to the family went? If so, had she told Logan about it?
For the first time since he'd started watching the interview, Duncan wondered how much Logan was talking to Larry, and how much he was talking to him. If, maybe, part of the reason Logan had agreed to go on TV was so he could let Duncan know he was okay and that they were cool.
And Logan did look okay – certainly much better than when Duncan had left him. He seemed healthier and happier, and Duncan guessed that Logan could finally breathe easily now that most of his worries were gone. He hoped that Logan wasn't too angry with him.
Larry's thoughts seemed to go the same way.
"It looks like you've been trying to get your life together now. You're in college, you have a new girlfriend…" he said.
"Yeah," said Logan, "I'm really grateful for my girlfriend. She's really one of the very few people who have an idea of what I went through."
She's really one of the very few people who have an idea of what Logan went through, huh? Duncan thought. So Logan and Veronica were back together. Of course they were… The half-brother, the reporter, the witnesses… they had Veronica written all over them. Well, it wasn't as if he hadn't more or less given Logan the go-ahead before he left.
He remembered it well. The plan was already on its way and they'd had Logan witness their little set-up with Kendall Casablancas. Duncan had been pacing up and down his room, feeling really nervous and unsure what to do. He and Veronica had agreed not to tell Logan anything because Logan was in enough trouble already and he couldn't afford to do anything foolish. But Duncan hadn't wanted to leave without saying goodbye.
So he had knocked on Logan's door and asked if he wanted to play a videogame.
"Anything you want," he said.
Logan looked a little surprised.
"Hey, man, are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure, so what do you want to play?" Duncan insisted.
"Er, you know, Veronica was here earlier, she saw Kendall coming out of your shower."
"Are you mad at me over Kendall?" Duncan asked.
"Ah, no," Logan said, "I was just… Veronica seemed pretty pissed off."
"Okay, whatever," Duncan said in a neutral tone.
If there was anything Duncan was good at, it was being non-committal. Logan's jaw dropped.
"So you want to play or what?" Duncan asked again.
At that point, Duncan was sure that Logan was just humouring him, because they ended up playing Duncan's favourite game, which Logan was pretty blatantly letting him win. For a while, they just played in silence. Duncan was thinking of something to say, but he couldn't come up with anything.
"Er, Logan, um, if anything ever happens to me, take care of Veronica, okay?" was what he finally settled on.
It was lame, but it was the best he could come up with. Logan dropped his controller and turned to him in shock.
"Dude, are you drunk?" he asked.
"You're not thinking of killing yourself, are you?" Logan asked in horror.
"No. I swear I'm not contemplating suicide," Duncan said placating. "But if something happens to me, you look after Veronica, okay?"
Logan put his hand on his shoulder.
"Whatever you want, but, you know, if anything's wrong, you can talk to me, okay?"
There was such a look of concern in Logan's eyes that Duncan couldn't take it anymore. He turned his attention back to the game. After that, Logan's playing became even more horrible, and he made a show of being humiliated by Duncan's mad virtual golfing skills.
They had dinner together, Logan had been goofing off just like old times, and that was the last time Duncan saw him. It had killed him to leave him alone with the threat of going to jail for murder looming over him, but there was nothing he could do to help him.
Well, maybe it was for the best that Logan and Veronica were together. Logan certainly had what it took to make a girl happy, and Duncan hadn't been fooled about Veronica being over her break-up with Logan. If anybody could help Logan keep his newfound stability, it was her. In a way, he thought while Larry was asking Logan about what he wanted to major in, he was glad they were together. That way, they wouldn't forget about him. And Veronica might just be the one girl Lilly wouldn't mind Logan falling in love with.
The interview was almost over.
"Well, thank you, Logan, for talking to us tonight," said Larry to wrap things up. Duncan thought he looked like he was secretly glad it was over. "Tomorrow on Larry King Live…"
"Actually, could I just add one more thing?" Logan interrupted.
Suddenly he had that impish look on his face that meant he was about to do something completely outrageous.
"Sure, go ahead," Larry said, politely.
Another mistake, thought Duncan, another sign that Larry really didn't know Logan at all, because Logan was smiling in the same way he always did when he was about to say something hilarious to a teacher that was going to send the entire class in stitches and that was sure to land Logan in detention. Duncan leaned forward in anticipation.
"You got the clap, you Donut!"
There was a scrambling noise, and then the end credits were suddenly on, but Duncan was laughing like he hadn't laughed in ages. It wasn't just hearing his old nickname. It wasn't just the secret message Logan, or possibly Veronica, was sending him, and the exhilarating knowledge that nobody else in the world watching the interview would ever get it. It was that Logan had not forgotten about him, that they were still friends, and that no matter how many years and miles there were between them, nothing would change. If Duncan could ever come back, he'd find his friend waiting for him at the airport, welcoming him with silly jokes and even sillier nicknames. It was the greatest gift Logan could have given him, and he gave it without reservation. Nothing could ever top that.
When he had calmed down, and Lilly had calmed down too from laughing and clapping her hands joyfully at seeing her Dad so happy, he went back to the tabloid to see what they had to say about it. Apparently, Larry had been very offended and people had started working themselves up in a frenzy about a possible gay affair between the septuagenarian TV-host and the teenager. It had even made the cover of the New York Post.
Logan's lawyers had apparently fallen over themselves to apologize and explain that Logan had said it because he'd lost a stupid bet in order to stave off a scandal. In elementary schools and middle schools all over America, Logan had become a hero overnight, and the latest fad was to tell someone they had an STD. Pastries were now the new insults. The remark had even been graced with a segment on the Daily Show, complete with John Oliver getting a black eye for calling his girlfriend muffin-top and telling her she had herpes, an in-depth analysis of celebrity news and a comparison between Paris Hilton and Logan. To everybody's surprise except Duncan's, the latter had returned to his usual silence. Jon Stewart speculated that he was probably working on a dessert-and-disease-themed album, while John Oliver thought Logan was simply out to get him.
But Duncan knew better than any of that. He had no idea how he had ended up with Chlamydia, but he would take Logan's word for it and make an appointment with the doctor first thing in the morning. For now, he was just happy that his friend had not forgotten about him.
Oh, Logan, he thought. Never change.