She never let herself think about it.
If she thought about it…if she thought about him...she came perilously close to losing control. And she must never lose control.
So during the day, she concentrated on being upbeat, positive and in the moment. She acted as though the past were no part of her at all. The past was filled with him and if she let herself think about it, she felt as if she had somehow strayed from her own life.
So she never wondered how it had come to this. She just kept breathing in and breathing out and moving forward. This was the technique she had developed and perfected in the years since Lilly died. She kept the outside shell of herself hard and shiny so no one could see that inside she was shredded and bleeding out. It's how she had managed to survive high school. It's how she had kept her Dad from suspecting that she'd been raped. It's how she got from one minute to the next; suppress, deny, avoid, pretend. And smile.
She smiled a lot.
She smiled at Wallace and Mac and especially at Piz. Even though the sight of Piz frequently made her want to scream. Not because there was anything wrong with him or because she didn't like him but because he wasn't…someone else.
It wasn't his fault. He couldn't possibly know. She would never let him know.
Sometimes she blamed Wallace. If he hadn't accused her of cruelty…
But Wallace was right. Wallace was always right. What she had done, what she had begun to do, was cruel. She had known Piz had a crush on her since last September. She had always known and if she were honest with herself, she had kind of gotten off on it. Who doesn't revel in the knowledge that someone finds you attractive, even when you're with someone else. Even when you are in…
Don't go there. Don't think about it and above all don't be honest with yourself.
It can't be true. If it were true, then she'd blown it. It can't be true because it was just too horrible to think that at the age of nineteen, she had already…
So she smiled at Piz and she acted as if in the hope that by acting the part she would begin to feel it, too.
And she got through one day after the other.
But the nights…she had no control over the nights.
She thought that the Madison dreams had been torture. They were fun compared to what her subconscious cooked up for her now. It was always a variation of the same thing; night after night she found herself outside. Sometimes it was snowing, sometimes there was a hard wind blowing but she was always cold. There was a building, or a wall. She searched in vain for a door or even a window, to get in out of the cold.
She awakened the mornings after those dreams with a low level of dread in the pit of her stomach. So, she would smile at herself in the mirror and focus her mind on happy thoughts. Like thoughts of a boy from Oregon who had never been beaten, betrayed or broken hearted. A boy for whom she felt no guilt. He had never dated her best friend. Veronica had never unjustly accused him of anything. She had never said unguarded things about him that lead to him being beaten nearly to death. She had never made Piz feel like less than she knew he was, which was a normal young man with whom she could pretend that there had never been overwhelming sadness in her own life. A happy young man who didn't really know her at all, so she was free to pretend she was someone else.
God, she wished she were someone else.
She had thought, after Parker's party, that by moving on, as he had moved on, she would be able to leave the dreams behind.
But they only got worse.
She finally found a window. Through it, she could see who she never let herself think about. Sometimes he was younger, the way she remembered him with Lilly. The way he had been with Duncan. Sometimes she saw him come around the corner of the Camelot and knock down the young agent trying to drag her inside. Sometimes she saw him pull an empty gun on Liam Fitzpatrick inside the River Styx. Sometimes she could only see his face, etched with tenderness and horror as he hovered over her in the parking garage. Sometimes he was sitting up in bed, smiling at someone entering the room. Worst of all was when she had seen the look on his face after he asked her if she loved him.
She wanted to pound on the window but she couldn't move. She wanted to scream but she had no voice.
She could never get his attention.
She began to wake up with a pounding headache to go with the twist in her gut, so she reached for Piz's hand while watching Desmond Fellows. She had no intention of being cruel to Piz. She just thought that he could help her banish the dreams that were so cruelly tormenting her.
She felt like a wanderer in the desert who found not the water that would keep her alive but a glass of lemonade. Hey, it was better than dying, wasn't it?
Well, what is so great about living?
No. She never said that. She never thought that. It had shocked and scared her to her core when she'd heard him say it.
Don't remember that don't think about that.
So she kissed Piz. She became his girlfriend. She drank the lemonade even though it's not what she wanted. She thought she needed to drink something or die.
She didn't die. It sort of worked.
Her dreams changed again. She had vivid make-out dreams. She was wrapped up with him, kissing, petting, laughing, spinning…
She woke up for the first time in months, feeling that giddy rush of adrenaline that she lived for. She felt great! She tried to hold on to the feeling of the dream but while she was brushing her teeth, it hit her; Piz doesn't spin.
She had been dreaming of someone else.
The happy excitement in her breast turned into a lead ball and dropped through her guts, ripping through her organs to settle deep in the pit of her stomach.
Well, there was clearly only one thing to do. If she was going to banish the dreams, which weren't dreams at all but memories, she had to replace them with something new.
She had never had casual sex. She wasn't sure she really believed in it. She knew she wasn't in love with Piz. So what? Turns out, she hadn't been in love with Duncan, either. She wasn't going to drink lemonade for the rest of her life; just until her thirst was quenched. And who knows? Maybe if she really threw herself into it, she'd discover that lemonade is fantastic.
So she looked across the room, smiled her fake smile and pretended to call him from Virginia.
She didn't know why she wasn't able to go all the way. She had started out with every intention of banishing her ghosts by banging her brains out. Somehow, she just couldn't…close the deal.
Piz was a perfect gentleman, of course. He seemed genuinely satisfied (oh, he was satisfied, all right) with what they did. Maybe going a little slower was a good strategy. Gave her something to look forward to.
That night, she dreamed of Lilly for the first time in months.
"What in the world are you wearing?" Lilly demanded.
"Lilly!" They were sitting on the bed in Veronica's room.
"Seriously, Ronica, what the hell?"
"What?" Veronica looked down at herself. She was wearing a sun dress like she'd had back in ninth grade.
"Yellow cotton? I thought we agreed that you were a red satin girl yet here I find you back in yellow cotton again. What are you doing?"
"Don't be mad at me, Lilly." Veronica felt like crying. "I can't wear red satin anymore."
"Why the hell not?"
Veronica shook her head, feeling strangely reluctant to tell Lilly what was wrong.
"Come on, Ronica." Lilly stood and went to the closet, where she began going through the clothes hanging there. "Where's your red dress? What happened?"
"I'm sorry, Lilly. I didn't mean….I lost it."
"You were supposed to wear it, how in the world did you lose it?"
" Madison Sinclair took it."
"Ew. How did that happen?"
"I…I'm sorry, Lilly. I left it out. She wore it."
"You left it out?" Lilly looked appalled for a moment, then shook her head and shrugged a shoulder. "So take it back. You look better in it, anyway. That dress was you, Veronica."
"I can't! Didn't you hear me? Madison wore it. I can't wear it again. I threw it away."
"You what?" Lilly's mouth dropped open in horror. "Ronica, you don't throw away a dress like that! Even if a skeez like Madison wears it. Jeez, haven't you ever heard of the dry cleaners?"
"Of course you can. Don't be stupid." Lilly dropped back down beside her on the bed. "I can understand that you'd be mad. So you scream and cry. You clean the dress off and fix the ripped seams; Madison is a cow. What you don't do is get back into that BORING yellow cotton sundress. Who are you trying to fool?"
"Lilly!" Veronica started to cry.
"Oh, honey!" Lilly put an arm around her. "This is what happens when you forget who you are."
"I miss you, Lilly."
"Yeah, you do. I'd never have allowed you to leave your dress where a pair of zubas like Madison could get at it."
That made Veronica smile. "How's Duncan?" she suddenly asked.
"Duncan is right where he belongs, with the right person, being who he's supposed to be."
"That's good." Veronica wiped her eyes.
"Whatever." Lilly shrugged. " What are we gonna do about you, Sweetie?"
"What do you mean?"
"We gotta get you out of this frikkin' yellow cotton and back into red satin."
"Lilly, how can you, of all people, say that I belong in that dress? You were red satin, not me."
"Oh, Ronica!" Lilly laughed. "I was never red satin! I'm beaded gold silk. I may have found that dress, but I always knew it was yours. That's why I gave it to you, remember?"
"No." Veronica shook her head.
"And you have to get it back." Lilly said, as though Veronica hadn't spoken at all.
"I can't, Lilly. I tried. I couldn't do it."
"Of course you can. It's what you were born to do. Don't worry, honey. It's all gonna work out okay. That's your dress. No one can wear it like you do. It was MADE for you. You'll see."
The next morning, she awoke feeling calmer and more peaceful than she had in months. If she had allowed herself any introspection at all, (she never would) she may have realized that a layer of her guilt had been removed.
Even after all these years, she missed Lilly constantly. Like a phantom limb, sometimes she could feel her friend beside her and sometimes the ache of losing her felt sharp and fresh. None of her current friends had known Lilly, so they never saw the huge, Lilly-shaped hole in Veronica. He's the only one who knew what Veronica missed. He had an identical hole through himself. He said that Veronica had helped him leave his guilt behind. She had never thought, never known that she needed someone to do that for her.
She had always assumed that finding Lilly's killer would help ease the pain of her death. As she had told Ms. James years ago; she didn't want to talk away her anger. It made her strong and fearless. It also made her reckless and destructive but she refused to acknowledge that. It never occurred to her that the festering sore deep inside of her was not the remnants of old anger, but layers of new guilt.
One layer down, countless to go.
It would also never occur to her that running away when things got difficult was very Lianne of her. Her fear of being her mother's daughter prevented her from drinking but she never stopped to consider that her mom had worse traits than drunkenness. Veronica still saw her mother through the eyes of a child. A hurt, betrayed and abandoned child who blamed the outside influence of alcohol, rather than the inherent character flaws of her mother for the event that had hurt her most- even more than the murder of her best friend. Someday, if she let herself, Veronica might be able to come to a deeper understanding of what had ripped her childhood family apart and the affect it had on her own ability to accept that there was someone besides her Dad who loved her completely but for now, it was just one more thing Veronica refused to allow herself to think about.
It was just one more wound too raw to probe.
Not that it mattered anyway; he had moved on. The hero is the one who stays and the villain is the one who splits.
She would not think about who split first.
One more layer of guilt.
Then he had arrived in the office, his hands dripping blood on her floor.
She didn't know if the horror that bloomed in her guts at his words were because of what he said or what he thought. She didn't know why it was so important that he know what she had not done, regardless of what it looked like but she wasted no time setting the record straight.
She could barely hide her shame behind her anger.
If she were honest with herself (never) she would've admitted that when she went in search of Piz, it was to end things; to retreat to their separate corners and ride out the public humiliation. The whole point of this relationship was that it was a pain-free zone.
Unfortunately, when she saw Wallace helping Piz walk down the hall, she realized immediately that she couldn't do that. Not now. Not after this.
The sight of his battered face ruined everything. Piz was no longer a boy who had never been hurt on her account. He had become the manifestation of someone else's pain.
This third video had clearly deranged him. Didn't he understand that his actions had trapped her? She was tied to Piz now, with thick chains that dripped with guilt like his knuckles had dripped with blood. Stupid, stupid stupid!
She went to confront him for his actions, pretending that her rage was solely on account of Piz's injuries. Being angry with him on those terms was easy and safe. Screaming at him that he had locked her into the wrong relationship was something she would never admit.
Seeing him, hearing what he had to say, was even more difficult than she had feared it would be. She had to stoke up her anger to keep it large enough to hide behind. She said stupid things that she didn't mean but she wished were true because if they were then her life would be easier.
But no one writes songs about the ones that come easy.
Her investigation into how the video had come to be kept her mind off the aspects of the case she couldn't bear to dwell on. She didn't have to think about her own mortification. Or what seeing that video had done to him. Or how she felt about his defense of her, or that he had done exactly what she would have done in his place. Or even of Piz's injuries. She could concentrate solely on getting to the bottom of the mystery.
But when she did, she found herself helpless.
Gory Sorokin knew it. And he laughed at her.
Like Lamb had laughed at her, the morning after Shelley Pomroy's party.
She hated being helpless!
This time it was even worse because he was standing there when it happened.
And then, right there in the cafeteria, in front of everyone, he made her remember who she was.
Who they were.
As she watched him, it hit her with a blinding flash that he blamed her for nothing. When his eyes briefly met hers, she saw in them that he loved her for exactly who she was and he lifted the weight of the world off of her.
Suddenly free, she couldn't tear her eyes off of his retreating figure as Logan strolled out of the cafeteria; red satin, as far as the eye could see.