Chapter Nineteen—Silly Secrets

That had been fun. Veronica stretched stiff aching shoulders as she got up from her desk, rotating her arms to help loosen things up. That felt a lot better. She'd felt Duncan and Logan's eyes on her the entire period. However, neither boy had tried to approach her, which while a surprise, wasn't something Veronica was going to question. So she'd ignored them both and gotten her work for next week's edition done. Still, the relentless stares had their effect on her, ratcheting up her tension level to defcon four. Veronica headed out into the hall, determined to get through the rest of the day.

"Veronica."

She turned around, ready to do battle, only to see the kid from the video store there. The one she hadn't wanted to tell her dad about. No doubt he wanted something silly done like finding his missing alpaca. Or maybe he wanted her to do a background check on whichever cheerleader he was stalking this week. Either way, she didn't want to talk to him out here in the hall where anyone could overhear. Giving him a cool look, Veronica said tersely, "Follow me."

With that, she made a beeline for the girl's room. Once they were both inside, she pulled the doorstop out and slammed it under the door, preventing it from opening. Turning to the kid, she asked, "What?"

He looked nervous. "I-I don't think I'm supposed to be in here."

Veronica shrugged. "Here or nowhere." Maybe he'd go away.

He appeared to be debating internally, but finally said, "It's my dad. I haven't seen him since he left us ten years ago. I was hoping you could find him."

Veronica frowned. Another parent who had run out on their responsibilities. For the first time, she felt a pang of empathy. She asked, "You sure you want to find him?"

He nodded. "Please..."

Veronica sighed. "Why now? Have you looked for him before? Also, what do I call you?"

He blushed. "Justin. No, first time. As far as why... It's my mom. She got laid off of work a couple of months ago and now she's working two crappy jobs and we barely get by. She needs help."

Veronica could see his point. Deadbeat dads needed to pay their share. God knows, Lianne had left her and her dad high and dry. "Fine. What can you tell me about him?"

Justin shrugged. "I haven't seen him since I was six."

Veronica rattled off, "Picture, last known address, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Driver's License Number, and or name."

Justin looked both surprised at the number of things she wanted to know and helpless because of it. "I don't know most of that. We lived in LA until I was two. His name is John Smith."

Was he joking? There had to be literally thousands of John Smiths in an urban area the this size. Veronica frowned and said, "Justin, I make no promises. That's not a lot to work with. I'll do it for $500, but if I don't find him, you don't have to pay me."

Justin grabbed her hands in his and squeezed them. "Thanks so much, Veronica. I really appreciate you trying."

Veronica watched, bemused, as he ran off. Weird kid. Now at least she had a project to take her mind off of Logan. And, of course, Duncan.

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Justin smiled as he headed over to his friend Jeremy. He held out his hand. "Got it. Pay up."

Jeremy shook his head. "You have nothing. Certainly not a date."

"Au contraire, mon cher. I'm meeting her tomorrow so that she can update me on my case."

Jeremy looked suspicious. "What case?"

Justin almost bounced in excitement as he outlined what he'd done. "The case of my missing dad."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, didn't your dad die, like, seven years ago?

Justin hit air drums before he delivered the punchline. "Well, then, I guess it's gonna take her a long time to find him. Right?"

Jeremy smiled in admiration. "That's genius. Don't get me wrong, you're going to burn in hell for using your dad that way, but genius."

"Hey, if it gets me to first, or God help me, second base with a hottie like Veronica Mars, I'll burn gladly." Justin grinned somewhat lewdly as he contemplated his possible future bliss.

The two boys laughed. Then they high-fived followed by a behind-the-back low-five as they walked off together. Neither saw Logan Echolls or the murderous stare he leveled at their backs.

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As much as he wanted to follow both freshman boys and wring their necks like chickens, Logan stopped himself. He doubted that Veronica would thank him for defending her honor that way. Rather, she would probably turn on him with some vitriolic comments of her own. So Logan decided to do... nothing. It was an odd fit for him and he was already chaffing at the restraints it placed upon him.

But it would not be forever. Logan would give it a week. That would give him time enough to implement his next plan for Veronica. Then, if Veronica wasn't clued in to what was going on, he would teach the little maggots-in-training not to mess with his girl. Nodding in satisfaction, Logan smiled like a cat contemplating a canary.

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Madison stared at the letter in her hand. Since being grounded yesterday, she'd almost died of boredom. She'd done what homework she was going to do and there wasn't anything else to do. When the highlight of your post-school day is getting the mail, you know you've been exiled to Siberia. With a sigh, she opened it.

After reading only a moment, she felt an intense blush spread over most of her body. Someone knew! About it. Then she read a little more and realized that they really didn't. Or they sorta did. But it wasn't personal, just aimed at a specific group of consumers.

Anyone who knew Madison might think she was stupid. She certainly had her share of people who thought she was every bit as dimwitted as her off and on boyfriend, Dick Casablancas. But she was most certainly not a fool. She was just... choosy. Madison smiled at the description of herself. The only careers she ever considered for herself was as a buyer for a large chain of high end clothing stores or a fashion marketing analyst. Madison felt she would be good at either of those careers. There was no one who shopped like she did, or had her eye for color and style. At least not since Lilly Kane had been murdered.

For a moment, Madison's expression grew thunderous as Veronica Mars briefly popped into her head in association with Lilly, but by an effort of sheer will, she banished her. Veronica Mars would not ruin the rest of her day. She would not! Shaking her head in denial, Madison went back to reading the letter.

It was pretty ingenious, really. Whoever had thought of this little marketing scheme whereby you were rewarded for loyalty to the brand with a free upgraded new item was brilliant. All you had to do was fill out an anonymous questionnaire. Madison appreciated cleverness in all its forms, even those that were meant to take long term advantage of her. Then she saw the small print and smiled.

You could enter to win $50,000 and $5,000 in products merely by filling in your name, address, and signature. Madison thought the odds of winning were small, but still she couldn't help but think about not having access to her credit cards. Not being able to shop when she wanted and buy what she wanted. With this bounty, she'd be able to once again frequent La Perla. Smiling a different sort of smile, Madison Sinclair set out to fill out the questionnaire completely.

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Keith walked towards the office after parking his car. He'd finally gotten a money shot of the grifter he'd been following who was trying to sue his client claiming he'd slipped and injured his back inside their place of business thereby making him responsible. Apparently, he wasn't injured badly enough to keep him from a pick up game of basketball down at the Y which Keith had dutifully documented, trying to include every bump and check, even if it was without the artistic flair he was sure Veronica would have brought to the subject. She was a whiz at photography and took beautiful pictures in all different levels of light that were almost always clear and viewable.

Thinking of his daughter brought a smile to his face. It always did. Veronica was turning into a wonderful young woman right in front of his eyes and that scared him. Soon she would be gone and there would be postcards, greeting cards, and the occasional phone call as she moved on with her life. But for now, she needed him. And Keith enjoyed being needed. Especially by those you loved. Even if you didn't understand why they were recording the oddest message on your answering machine.

Keith listened as Veronica spoke into the mic, "Hello. You've reached the administration office of the Stamford Summer Program. No one's here to take your call right now but leave us a message and we'll call you back."

Keith said, "Do I want to know why we have become the Stamford summer Program?"

He watched with satisfaction as the young man sitting across from Veronica jumped in his seat before turning startled eyes towards Keith. Holding out his hand, Keith said, "Keith Mars."

The young man jumped to his feet. "Wallace Fennel, sir. Nice to meet you."

Keith liked Wallace's handshake. It was strong and firm. "You're right, honey. He is much more solid than Moppets."

Wallace turned puzzled eyes towards Veronica who pantomimed zipping her mouth shut, locking it, and tossing the key to the side. Unfortunately, Keith thought she ruined the effect by immediately opening her mouth and talking, "Dad, this is the completely solid Wallace Fennel... my friend."

Keith said, "Where's a drum roll when you need one?"

Veronica smiled and said in a obnoxiously peppy tone, "I know, right?"

Keith smiled at her antics, then focused back upon what they were up to. "So my answering machine..."

"Is being used for a good cause. I'm helping a kid at school locate his deadbeat dad. The somewhat inconveniently named John Smith. But on the positive side, I've narrowed the field down to 440 John Smiths in the greater San Deigo Los Angeles area. I'm sending each of them a letter addressed to his son congratulating him on his scholarship. If our John Smith has an ounce of conscious, he'll see the name of his son, open the letter, and call to say we've got the wrong address." Veronica rattled off her entire plan without pausing to breath, an ability that Keith decided only teenage girls possessed. She was still a member of that subgroup no matter what she might want to believe.

Keith smiled. "Part of me is proud... and let's just leave it at that."

Veronica paused a second, then said, "Oh, I used one of the dedicated phone lines. I hope that's all right. We're gonna trace all of the calls that come in."

Keith just shook his head. Turning to Wallace, he asked, "How did she rope you into this?"

Wallace smiled and said, "She promised me all the answer keys to... uh, she promised to be my friend." Keith, too, had seen out of the corner of his eye the vigorous head shake Veronica gave Wallace.

"Riiigghhtt. I'd have held out for a better offer." He returned Veronica's grin. "I'll be in my office."

With that, Keith retreated, hoping they wouldn't try to take over the world until at least tomorrow.

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Veronica looked thoughtfully after her dad. She hoped he understood that she was as normal as she was going to get. If another friend materialized out of the aether, great, if not, equally great. Wallace, at least, was turning out to be an excellent friend. Which reminded her. "Hey, would you do me a favor?"

Wallace gave her a look that contained more than a little trepidation. "Why did all the hair on the back of my neck just stick up?"

Veronica scoffed, "It's not that big of a deal. Next time you're in the Administrations Office, could you borrow my permanent file? I want to see what Ms James is telling Dad."

Wallace gave her a skeptical look. "Yeah, no big deal. I can only get expelled for that."

Veronica gave Wallace a pout and he caved, nodding in resignation. Although he returned her grin as they went back to letter stuffing. She'd turn him into a daredevil yet.

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The next day, Veronica was walking with Wallace towards the lunch quad area. Wallace held her file and was reading from it.

Wallace exclaimed, "You called your geometry teacher a jackass?"

Veronica corrected, "That's totally taken out of context. Let me see it."

Wallace blocked her with his body as she tried to reach for the file. "Uh uh. Hold up, grabby. I'm discovering a whole new side of you. Damn, Miss Applebaum loved her some Veronica Mars. 'Veronica Mars is a complete angel and a joy to have in class every day.'"

Veronica started to feel uneasy. "Mrs Applebaum? That file goes to the second grade?"

Wallace grinned cheekily. "Kindergarten, actually. Awww, sweet. You wrote your teacher a poem."

Veronica knew her expression was sheepish, but she couldn't help it. "Okay, yes, I was a kiss-ass. You've outed me, now can I see it, pleeeaassseee?"

She was surprised when Wallace stuck the file under his jacket, then she saw Justin. No reason for him to know about her kindergarten and second grade adventures.

Justin smiled at her. "So, any leads yet?

Veronica shook her head. "We should know something by next week."

Justin looked a little nervous as he started to dig into his bag. "Oh, h-hey, I've got something for you. I-I just burned a few songs for you." He handed Veronica a CD. "It has the new 311 on there."

Somehow Veronica managed to take the CD from him without treating it as if it was diseased. "Thanks." She could literally feel Wallace holding in a chortle next to her.

Justin smiled at her. "Yeah, you know, I just thought if you were on a stake out or something, you-you might need something to get you through the night. Okay, later."

As Justin walked away, Wallace started laughing. Veronica mock glared at him and waited it out. Finally, though, after nearly two minutes, she said, "You're not letting this go anytime soon, are you?"

Still laughing like a hyena, Wallace choked out, "He brought you a mix tape."

Veronica was starting to glare for real. "Shut up. Hey, do me a favor."

With satisfaction, she watched Wallace immediately sober up. "Please be kidding."

Veronica shook her head. "Get me his file." She nodded in the direction that Justin had left in.

Wallace threw up his hands. "Fine, but you're buying lunch."

Veronica grinned. "Deal."

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Veronica stared at the gloppy mess that they were laughingly calling lunch today then looked over at Wallace. He wore a look similar to hers. Finally, she exploded. She ranted, "Why can't they give us real food? We give them real dollars. Isn't that what capitalism is all about? I'd rather eat off the $.99 menu at McDonald's than this."

Wallace stared at her. "Wow, I've never seen the whiny side of you before, V. I've got to say, it's makes you more human."

Veronica gave him a baleful stare. "Thanks."

Just then a delivery man came up and set a bag of food with the name Luigi's clearly labeled on the bag. "Veronica Mars?"

Veronica stared at him blankly and said, "I didn't order this."

The guy shrugged and said, "Someone did. Don't worry. It's already paid. Even the tip." His lips formed a smile that bordered on suggestive as he gave her the once over, then walked off.

Veronica considered the delivery guy's retreating back. "Okay, that was creepy with a side of ewww. But on the upside, we have Italian from Luigi's!"

Wallace asked sarcastically, "So any idea who ordered it?" At her wry look, he laughed. "So, are we about to descended upon by hordes of 09ers?"

Veronica sighed. "Probably." She had her suspicions about who it was, but needed to check to make sure. Then she saw that the order contained two Zucchine Frittis, two Cannelloni di Formaggios, two Lasagna di Melanzanes, and two Lasagna della Nonna along with a large insulated container of spumoni. Gee, where had she seen that order before today? Veronica looked around and saw Logan walk towards her table. She tensed, but relaxed when he stopped halfway between her table and the 09er table.

Logan smiled at her, then took his foot and drew an imaginary line on the ground between their tables. He gestured to himself and waved to his side of the line. He gestured to Veronica, complete with a ridiculous hand roll, and pointed to her side of the line. He then made a walking motion with his fingers indicating that she could come over any time. Logan then walked back and sat back on his table and proceeded to eat his own order of Italian food.

Veronica felt the beginnings of a smile crease her lips as Logan sat down, but wiped it away instantly at Wallace's look. He rolled his eyes at her and she frowned. Then she proceeded to dig into her feast, passing cartons of food Wallace's way.

Unfortunately for him, although fortunately for Veronica, Wallace only ate one entree and some breadsticks. Veronica happily packed away the rest of the food for later. She still didn't know what she was going to do about Logan and Duncan. Her previous anger had washed away with the dawn. She could still feel it lurking somewhere inside of her, ready to lash out again, but it wasn't as intense as it had been before.

Too many things were changing. Veronica had noticed that despite Madison's little vendetta, she was actually experiencing a lot less harassment these days that ever before. Some might be because people were afraid of her, which made her scarily happy. However, she suspected a lot was because of Logan and Duncan. They'd sat with her and put the word out that Veronica was to be left alone. Most of the 09er guys were listening, although not many of the girls. They, at least, weren't that intimidated by Logan and his threats of violence or by Duncan and his money. In some ways, Veronica preferred the open hatred to those people who pretended to like her, but were always ready with a knife when your back was turned. Although not when her clothes went into the toilet. Then she would settle for people being fake.

She started heading towards class when a familiar figure waylaid her. "Veronica, can I talk to you a sec?"

Veronica nodded and led the way to her 'office', wedging the door shut behind them. "Mac, what is it?"

Veronica looked the girl over, wondering how she was doing. Overall, she seemed fairly normal, although Veronica had to admit she didn't know her well enough to be sure. However, she did seem a little more twitchy than usual. Veronica gave her an encouraging look and waited.

Mac finally said, "I've been thinking about what you told me."

Veronica felt sympathy war with the remnants of her anger at remembering Mac walking away from her almost a year ago. She'd told Mac the truth when she said she held Logan responsible. Still, she shouldn't feel sympathetic towards those who had abandoned her to her fate through fear of the consequences, should she? Looking at Mac's nervous and uncertain expression, Veronica knew she did. And since she did, Veronica was left with the sad conclusion that she was a marshmellow, all soft and gooey on the inside.

Gently, she asked, "Is there anything I can do for you, Mac?"

Mac looked sideways, then finally straight ahead at Veronica. "Do you have any idea what my birth mother's like? Or my birth father? I've been going over it in my head, and I don't think I ever met either Evelyn or William Sinclair."

"Mac, are you sure you want to know?"

"No, but I need to, you know?"

Veronica nodded. "Yeah. Okay, here goes. William Sinclair, I don't know. But Evelyn Sinclair? Nice woman. Tons of charities to keep her busy. Has two kids, Madison and Lauren. She..."

Mac did deadpan like no one else. "Veronica. I got what you just told me from the wikipedia entry. Do you know anything about them?" She started to pace.

"She looks like you." Mac stopped, arrested by Veronica's words. "So does your sister, Lauren. And I mean exactly like you. Oval face, regular features, dark hair, although no blue streak. She's trying really hard to be a good mom. I think she knows she messed up with Madison, spoiled her rotten. She's gracious. Even when she didn't like what I had to tell her, she didn't take it out on me. She...

Mac interrupted her. "Wait, what did you tell her that she didn't like?"

Veronica looked Mac squarely in the eye. "I spoke with her the other day, Mac. She wanted to know about some photographs I sent her of Madison vandalizing my locker. I guess she thought it was just high school drama, but I let her know it was more. She said she believed me. And Madison's left me alone since."

Mac sagged in relief. "I was worried that you told her that I knew that she was my birth mother."

Veronica sighed. "I did." At Mac's betrayed look, she explained, "I wanted her to know that her secrets were out there. To put extra pressure on her to keep Madison off my back. And because I thought she needed to get to know you."

Mac looked really upset as she spoke in a tight, angry tone, "Tell me, Veronica, why she needs to get to know me?"

Veronica realized that she'd messed up. She should have told Mac as soon as possible that she'd told Evelyn that Mac knew. And she'd made a decision for Mac without asking. "I'm sorry, Mac. I should have told you that I told her. I just told her that you needed someone to be a friend. Not a mother. Just a friend."

Mac's hunched, defensive posture showed that she was still upset despite Veronica's apology. "Next time, you tell me immediately. Got that?"

The words, at odds with Mac's body language, puzzled her. Veronica gave Mac a bemused look, completely confused. After a moment, Mac looked at her like she was an idiot. "What? Did you think I was going to cut you out of my life because you made a mistake? Geeze, Mars, we're starting to be friends."

Veronica smiled, ignoring the sting of tears that she wouldn't let fall lest she reveal a vulnerability. "We're friends, huh?"

Mac made a wry face and corrected her, "Starting to be. Probably. But you know all of my deepest, darkest secrets. I mean, I'm going to have to find out a few of yours to balance things out."

'Not even if it means losing your friendship forever,' Veronica thought tightly. To reduce the tension level even more, she threw her hands up and said in her most perky pep squad voice, "We can have a sleepover and braid each other's hair like true BFF's!"

Mac shook her head. "Never do that again. It gave me cold shivers."

Veronica laughed. "Me too. Well, we had better get to class before we are no longer merely tardy but absent."

"Yes, let's." With that, the two girls headed out.

End Chapter Nineteen