A/N I apologize for the extended delay (I moved- hooray!) and offer up a long, 33 page chapter in penance… Hope you enjoy! :)
Chapter 5: Magic Hour
"Veronica! You are precisely the person I was hoping to run into."
She swivels her head to the left, not recognizing the voice at first, then smiles when she sees who's standing beside her. "Hey, Mac. What's up?"
"I need a huge favor."
Veronica renews her attempt to pull her Algebra textbook from her overfull locker. When she finally manages to pry it loose, everything on top of it tumbles to the floor. She's able to catch her English notebook mid-fall, yet watches helplessly as a folder full of Spanish notes spills open and scatters.
She groans and begins to pick the papers up off the floor, glancing at Mac briefly as the brunette bends down to help her. "Thanks. I'm sorry, what did you need?"
"I was wondering if you could cover for me at work," Mac responds.
"Yeah, sure," Veronica agrees distractedly. She accepts the stack of papers that Mac is holding out to her and stuffs them back into her folder, along with those she's gathered. Both girls stand up, and Veronica manages to replace her folder and notebook without disturbing anything else. She slams her locker door shut and turns to face Mac. "So, when do you need me to work?"
"Um, now-ish?" Mac replies hopefully. "But only for a couple of hours, and you would seriously be helping me out."
"Oh." Veronica tries not to let her disappointment show, but the look on Mac's face tells her she's not doing a very good job. She chews on her lower lip, trying to decide what to do.
She hadn't been sure what to make of Mac when they'd met at the diner last night. Yet they'd ended up bonding instantly over their mutual hatred of the itchy polo shirts they were forced to wear. Veronica had been both pleased and surprised to hear that Mac also attended Neptune High, and she'd been looking forward to getting to know her better. But Logan…
Despite having no solid plans for the evening, Logan has insisted that he'll think of something fun for them to do later. As they'd walked out of Photography class earlier, he'd offered to have his father's driver pick her up at her house in an hour. It would be so nice to have a night out… And, more importantly, I made him a promise. Resolved, she opens up her mouth to tell Mac she has other plans. But Mac, obviously sensing her hesitation, continues speaking.
"Okay, full disclosure before you give me your answer," Mac goes on in a rush. "I'm totally not sick, and it's by no means an emergency." She gives Veronica a wry smile. "Basically, the cute boy in my gym class- who, I should mention, I've been crushing on all year- needs my help with something. And I was in such a stupor that he was actually talking to me that I sort of told him I could meet him after school today. Forgetting that, duh, I'm supposed to work."
"Ohhh, who is it?" Veronica asks excitedly, momentarily forgetting her decision to decline.
"No," Mac replies, shaking her head firmly. "Absolutely not. You would laugh your ass off."
"I would not!" Veronica denies adamantly. Certain now that it's someone who she knows, she's more curious than ever. She considers Mac thoughtfully, crossing her arms over her chest. "If you want my help, you have to tell me who it is."
"Blackmail?" Mac asks, raising an eyebrow. "Why, Veronica Mars. I never thought you'd stoop so low."
"Okay fine," Veronica grumbles, exasperated. "You don't have to tell me. But, for the record, I'm incredibly intrigued." She pauses, wondering if she can at least nudge a couple of clues out of her. "So, what does he need your help with?"
"His computer crashed."
Veronica looks at her in confusion. "And… why is he asking you for help with that?"
"Because I'm sort of the resident computer geek around here, and someone pointed him in my direction. We're supposed to meet in the library after school so I can take a look."
"Yeah, I know," Mac sighs. "Not exactly romantic."
"Well that's not necessarily true," Veronica says judiciously. Images of one of her most recent trips to the library flash through her mind, and she suddenly feels warm all over.
"No, it's true," Mac responds matter-of-factly. "Believe me, I'm fully aware that he has zero interest in me. And it did cross my mind that I could be heading into a Carrie, pig-blood-type trap. Or worse, that he bet someone he could transform me into a ravishing beauty by the Winter Dance."
"Yet you're willing to take your chances?" Veronica grins.
"Yes," Mac admits. "But only because he's so damn cute. And he smells amazing. Even in gym class. I mean, that's tough to accomplish."
Veronica laughs. She loves how direct Mac is; it's very different from her own crowd. Where people smile at you, just before they whisper the words guaranteed to destroy your reputation. Talking to her is so… refreshing.
This realization makes Veronica certain that she has to help her new friend out, and she's speaking before she has time to give it any real thought. "Well far be it from me to hinder your olfactory delights," she says with a smile. "I'll cover for you tonight."
"Really? Oh, man, you're the best. Seriously. Do you have your work clothes with you?"
Mac reaches into her messenger bag and produces her own waitress uniform. She hands the folded items to Veronica, who accepts them silently. "They're clean," she promises. "Just a little wrinkled. You're tiny so they'll be baggy on you, but hopefully not too bad."
"Thanks. I'll wash them and get them back to you tomorrow."
"No rush. I have, like, four sets." Mac glances at her watch. "I'll be there no later than five to work the rest of my shift, and I'll make sure my aunt Charlie gives you a ride home when you're done. Okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Veronica replies. It's starting to sink in now that she's going to be stuck working instead of doing something fun with Logan, but she manages a smile for Mac. "Hey, good luck with your mystery man."
"Thanks," Mac grins. "I owe you one, for real. See you later!"
She takes off down the hall, and Veronica looks at the uniform with a sigh. Deciding to get it over with, she pulls her phone out of her pocket and types a quick text to Logan.
Working tonight. Rain check?
Her phone rings just seconds after she hits the send button, and she doesn't need to look down to know who's calling. Before she even has the chance to say hello, Logan starts speaking.
"How come you have to work?" he asks, more than a hint of petulance in his voice.
"One of the other waitresses needs me to cover for her tonight," she responds.
"Oh," Logan replies, sounding relieved. "We still have tons of time. I'll just pick you up when you're done."
Veronica hesitates. Between starting her new job and being overly preoccupied with Logan this week, she's been struggling to find time to get her schoolwork done. She's already fallen way behind on writing her journal for English, and she'd been planning to catch up on her Algebra homework, too, at some point tonight. I'm also pretty sure Mr. Schnier is going to spring a pop quiz on us in Social Studies tomorrow…
"Are you seriously punking out on me?" Logan asks with a sigh.
"Well, it's not like we even knew what we were going to do tonight," Veronica points out, not quite answering his question.
"Sure we do."
"Since about five minutes ago," he replies. "I thought of something awesome." After a brief pause, he continues. "I'll pick you up at six. Be ready."
"So bossy," she retorts.
"Pardon me," Logan says dryly. "May I pick you up a six o'clock this evening, Miss Mars?"
"Yes, you may," she returns, grinning into the phone.
"Good. See you then."
They both hang up, and Veronica shoves her phone back into her pocket. She knows she should have done the responsible thing and told him no, but she doesn't care. Truthfully, she's looking forward to seeing what Logan has planned. Knowing him, it could be anything. I hope it's legal.
Considering various possibilities, she toys with the idea that Logan will take them out on his parent's boat. No, he wouldn't put us in that situation. If something happened, like the boat ran out of gas or broke down, we'd be trapped together. Alone… And that would be bad. Really, really bad.
Yet the scenario running through her head doesn't seem so bad at all… The sun has just begun to set, tipping the waves around them with copper. They're in the aft of the boat, seated close together on the curved white cushions. A large wave rolls beneath them, and Veronica's forced to cling to Logan for support. He wraps one arm around her shoulders to steady her. But after the swaying boat has settled, he doesn't let go…
Unreasonably distracted by her daydream, Veronica has just walked directly into someone else heading down the hallway. The wind is knocked out of her, and she has to take a moment to compose herself before she can apologize. But when her gaze falls upon a familiar pair of light green eyes, all she can do is stare back guiltily.
"Trying to mow me down?" Lilly asks playfully. "At least tell me what I did first."
Veronica lets out a laugh that sounds false to her own ears, but Lilly doesn't seem to notice anything amiss. Instead, she throws her arm across Veronica's shoulders and begins walking down the hall with her. "You have been seriouslyMIA lately. How come you weren't in Sculpture today? Or yesterday, for that matter?"
Deciding that there's no point in prolonging the inevitable, Veronica opts for the simple truth. "I transferred out of the class," she replies, as nonchalantly as she can. "I'm taking Photography now."
"What?" Lilly demands. She drops her arm and turns to stare at her, and they both stop walking. "Why?"
Veronica shrugs. "I've been getting really into photography lately," she explains. "And I thought it would be cool to learn more. Besides, we both know I'm a pretty crappy artist. I only got a B minus in Sculpture I." There. That's the truth, mostly. So why do I feel so nervous?
"I seriously doubt Stanford's looking for the next Michelango," Lilly retorts.
"Well, no, but…" Veronica flounders, her usually quick mind going blank. She can tell Lilly's a bit put out that she wasn't consulted about this decision. Taking Sculpture together had been Lilly's idea in the first place, and she's not a fan of seeing her plans go awry. I really should have told her…
"I see what's going on here," Lilly replies slowly, placing one hand on her hip.
"What?" Veronica asks, trying to keep her voice steady.
"You're worried about screwing up your precious GPA, aren't you?" Lilly guesses.
She's just unwittingly given her the perfect excuse, and Veronica can't help but take it. "You got me," she replies, exhaling as she speaks. "I really can't afford to get grades like that if I want to get a scholarship one day."
Lilly shakes her head, looking at her like she's crazy but making no further comment. They continue walking down the hall. Veronica is distinctly uncomfortable. Aside from a few brief phone conversations and a shortened lunch earlier today, she's barely spoken to Lilly since "the incident" on Saturday night.
Avoidance had been working relatively well as a combatant against her crushing guilt. But then Logan and I went ahead and kissed again. And again… Banishing the accompanying visuals from her head, she swallows hard and glances over at Lilly. She knows what she has to reveal next, and she can feel her palms dampening as she thinks about it. As calmly as possible, she says, "Logan transferred into Photo, too."
Veronica can see the surprise flit across Lilly's face, but her friend doesn't say anything right away. They round the corner towards the front entrance of the school. Veronica's certain that Lilly's silence is taking years off of her own life. Finally, she speaks.
"So I take it that's because of me?" Lilly inquires.
"I, uh, didn't ask," Veronica replies, trying to hide her relief. She risks a glance at Lilly, who is looking contemplative.
"Huh. He's more pissed off at me than I realized," she muses quietly. Then she shrugs and turns to Veronica with a smile. "Oh well."
Lilly can be impossible to read, sometimes, and this is one of those occasions. And although Veronica knows these aren't waters she should be treading in, she can't seem to stop herself from asking the question on her mind. "So then… you don't want to get back together with Logan?" she asks tentatively.
"Are you kidding?" Lilly responds, a large smile spreading across her face. "I love being single. I'm having a total blast." She taps on her bottom lip thoughtfully with the tip of her index finger. "You know, that reminds me. I told Lewis to meet me in the equipment shed after school in nothing but his boxers." She pauses to catch Veronica's reaction, which is suitably scandalized. "He's probably already there," she adds, in vaguely negligent tones.
Lilly's utter lack of concern for the precarious position she's left Lewis in causes Veronica to shake her head. But she also can't help but giggle at the image of him in his underwear, waiting with growing anticipation behind the rolled up wrestling mats. "Well you'd better go then," Veronica suggests with a grin. "I wouldn't want him to catch a chill. Besides, I've really got to run."
"And where are you off to in such a hurry?" Lilly inquires.
Veronica realizes suddenly that she hasn't told her about the diner yet, either, and she feels another swell of remorse. How has so much changed, and so quickly? "I, uh, sort of got a job," she replies.
"Ah, yes," Lilly says. "That. My brother told me all about it." She scrunches up her nose in distaste, and she and Veronica pause just before they reach the front doors. "A waitress, Veronica? At a diner? Really?"
"I know," she sighs. "It was the only thing I could find. And I'm sort of running late, so…"
Lilly rolls her eyes and grabs her arm. "C'mon," she offers, pulling her towards the exit. "I'll give you a ride. But don't think this means I condone your choice in jobs."
"But I thought you and Lewis were-"
"He'll wait. Let's go."
"Already have him trained, huh?" Veronica remarks dryly.
Lilly just grins in response, and they walk out into the sunlight. As Veronica dutifully follows her through the open doorway, she can't help wondering if her friend has ever left Logan in the same situation that Lewis is currently in. And, if so, how long did he wait for her before he got pissed and took off?
Quickly deciding that it's best not to dwell on such matters, Veronica looks around for a distraction. As they cross the parking lot, she begins to notice that every guy they pass is ogling them. This wouldn't normally strike her as particularly strange- Lilly attracts male attention everywhere they go. But these are head-turning, mouth-dropping stares.
Veronica looks down self-consciously, making sure that she doesn't have toilet paper stuck to her shoe or something along those lines. When she's certain everything is in order, she studies Lilly more closely. Ah. It all makes sense now.
"Um, Lilly? Your skirt seems to have shrunk since lunch time," she notes. "And what's up with these?" she adds, tugging on one of Lilly's long braids.
"It's my costume," she explains with a laugh, twirling around slowly. "Like it?"
"That depends. Who are you supposed to be, exactly?"
"Lolita." Off Veronica's questioning look, she continues. "My therapist wants to discuss my 'promiscuity' in tonight's session. I figured I may as well play the part. Give him something to think about."
"Please tell me you don't have any Basic Instinct leg-crossing planned."
"Naturally," Lilly confirms. "Wouldn't be much fun if I didn't."
"Ew. Isn't he like, forty?"
"He's thirty-six," Lilly corrects her. "And very well preserved, I'll have you know. The man definitely makes use of his gym membership. You should see his forearms."
"Isn't he married?" Veronica questions, not bothering to keep the disapproval out of her voice.
"Mm-hmm," Lilly replies, unconcerned. She throws Veronica a quick grin. "With two kids."
"Okay, this is just wrong on so many levels."
"Please, I'm helping the guy out," Lilly disagrees. She tosses one braid playfully behind her shoulder and smiles at a passing senior. "Giving him a little fodder for his fantasies. Spicing up his sex life."
Veronica knows very well how much Lilly enjoys shocking people- and it hasn't escaped her notice how much her friend seems to take particular pleasure in shocking her, specifically. She always tells herself that she shouldn't be surprised by anything she says or does anymore. Yet she's managed to do it once again.
She's fairly certain that Lilly won't let this little act of hers go too far, and that she's not as attracted to her therapist as she's pretending to be. But she's witnessed the effect Lilly has on the male population of Neptune, firsthand, for years. Boys seem to lose all sense of self-control when they're around her. And sometimes, she worries that her friend will toy with the wrong boy.
Veronica can't help thinking about Lewis again, likely growing more anxious by the second as he waits. Instead of finding the situation funny, now she just feels sort of bad for the guy. And she can't help thinking about Logan, too. The desperation she'd seen in his eyes after past breakups with Lilly; the way Logan would watch her every movement as she snuggled up to another guy, seemingly oblivious to his presence. But not really so oblivious at all.
Lilly has been watching her carefully since she last spoke. Veronica has the impression that she's using her reaction to try and gauge just how wrong this stunt of hers really is. Lilly studies her in this manner frequently. Like I'm some kind of moral thermometer. And, this time, she correctly takes Veronica's silence as censure.
Sounding slightly defensive, Lilly offers up a more suitable explanation for her behavior as they reach her SUV. "Hey, if Celeste is going to force me to keep going to therapy, the least I can do is have a little fun with it."
Veronica is well aware of Lilly's ongoing battle to gain her parents' respect, and she's instantly sympathetic. She's seen how clearly the Kane's favor their son over their daughter, and she suspects it bothers Lilly far more than she'll ever admit. Her friend has become increasingly frustrated over the difference in the way she and Duncan are treated. So frustrated that she's started doing stuff like this to get their attention…
Deciding it's best to just change the subject, Veronica replies lightly, "Ah, it all makes sense now."
Lilly gives her a rather coy smile, and they both climb into her car. She pulls out of her parking spot quickly; yet they soon get stuck waiting behind a line of cars and buses that are all trying to leave at the same time.
Veronica's eyes fall upon Logan, who's getting into the back of a limousine. Not appearing to see her, he shuts the door quickly behind him. The tinted glass effectively hides him from her view, and Veronica looks away.
Lilly's gaze lingers on the limo, however, and Veronica realizes that she's noticed Logan as well. She fusses with the radio, as Lilly continues to stare. "Since when does Logan go straight home?" she finally asks.
It's a valid question; he normally hangs out in the parking lot with the guys for awhile, before they end up hitting the beach or heading to someone's house. But Veronica just shrugs noncommittally.
"He's been acting a little weird lately, don't you think?" Lilly continues.
"Weird how?" Veronica responds evasively.
"Just… not his usual post-breakup M.O."
"And what's that, usually?"
"Oh, c'mon, you know. Calling me constantly, chasing after me, trying to convince me to get back together." Lilly laughs shortly and adds, "Hooking up with whatever chick he thinks will drive me the craziest."
All of the guilt and anxiety she'd been feeling earlier returns with a vengeance, and Veronica can't even manage a response. Lilly continues to look speculatively at the limo, which hasn't moved yet. "What girls are in your Photo class, anyway?"
Veronica looks down at her hands as she responds. "Um, Kimmy, Susan, Carrie… Carmen Ruiz, Caitlin Ford-"
"Caitlin?" Lilly interrupts. "Hmm." The traffic finally starts to move, and they're both quiet until she pulls out onto Broadway. When she speaks, she sounds like her normal self again. "So the Cosmo bedside astrologer came out yesterday. You want to swing by after work and take a look?"
"Uh, I can't tonight," Veronica says, growing even more uncomfortable.
Lilly glances over at her with a raised brow. "Why not, Veronica?" she asks teasingly. "Don't you want to find out what your sexual forecast is? I can quiz you on which sign's 'passion personality' is most compatible with yours."
"I wish I could," she replies. She takes a deep, silent breath; and then she continues, speaking rapidly. "But I'm, um, actually supposed to meet Logan when I'm done with my shift. We were paired up today in Photography, to work on an assignment together."
When she looks up, she can't read the expression in Lilly's eyes. Her stomach churns, and the little bit of food she'd managed to eat for lunch threatens to make a very sudden reappearance. "Are you mad?" she asks quietly.
"No," Lilly laughs, focusing her attention back on the road. "Why would I be mad? If anyone should be upset, it's you. I can guess who'll be pulling all the weight on that little team of yours, and it's not going to be Logan."
Veronica relaxes slightly. She's been worried about sharing this bit of information since the moment Mr. Garvey agreed to her suggestion, earlier, that Logan should become her partner. Although their pairing offered an excellent opportunity to keep her promise to herself, to try and keep Logan's father at bay, she couldn't help feeling paranoid that Lilly would smell a rat when she found out.
"Well I was paired up with Kenny Houseman, originally," Veronica reveals.
"I know. Anything is better than that. I asked Mr. Garvey if I could switch, and wound up getting Logan instead."
"Who was he with before you switched?" Lilly inquires.
"Double ugh. Thank god he didn't wind up with her."
Veronica looks over at Lilly, surprised. "I thought you didn't care?"
Lilly shrugs. "Just because I don't want him anymore doesn't mean I want that little skank to get her hands all over him."
"Well I don't think Logan's into her, so don't worry," Veronica responds quietly.
"Oh I'm not worried," Lilly informs her. "He can do what he wants. I certainly am."
"So I take it things are going well with Lewis?"
"As well as I need them to," Lilly replies vaguely. She pulls into the diner parking lot and puts her car in park, and then she turns to Veronica with a wicked grin on her face. "So, the Winter Dance is coming up. And I have it on very good authority that you're going to be asked by at least two guys."
"What?" Veronica replies, stunned. "Who?"
"Come over tonight and I'll tell you all about it," she answers, eyes twinkling.
Veronica takes off her seatbelt slowly, her mind spinning with questions. Who wants to go to the dance with me? Is Duncan finally going to ask me out? She feels a quiver of excitement run through her at the idea. She's had about eighty variations of the Duncan Dance Daydream running through her head for months. But as she tries to conjure up the image now, she finds it won't come.
Confused, she focuses on who the other guy could be. She hasn't noticed anyone showing any particular interest in her, lately. Well, except Logan. She feels her cheeks flush pink, and she busies herself with gathering up her backpack and purse so Lilly won't notice. There isn't a chance in hell that Logan's the other guy Lilly is referring to. So who could it be?
She glances back over at Lilly, who's still wearing that devious little smile of hers, and sighs heavily. "Can't you just tell me now?" she pleads. "You know I can't come over tonight. Logan and I really have to get this thing done-"
"Oh, whatever. Just blow it off. C'mon, you owe me for ditching me in Sculpture. I've barely seen you all week."
"I'm sorry, I can't," Veronica says apologetically. She pauses, but Lilly remains stubbornly silent. "You're really not going to tell me who's planning on asking me to the dance?"
"Nope," Lilly confirms. "Not until you come over and play."
Veronica shakes her head. "You're evil."
"I know," Lilly laughs. "Meet me after Dance Team tomorrow, I'll tell you then."
Veronica bites her lip. "I, uh, sort of dropped Dance Team."
"Okay, what the hell is going on with you?" Lilly demands.
"Nothing," Veronica insists. "I'm just really busy with this new job."
Lilly looks at the white stucco building in front of them, and then back towards Veronica. "About this job… is everything okay?" The teasing note in her voice is gone, and her eyes are full of genuine concern.
"Yeah, everything's fine," she replies, forcing a smile. "I just wanted a little extra spending money is all."
Whether Lilly believes her or not, she lets the matter drop. "So, any cute waiters on staff?" she questions.
"Um, that would be a big no."
They both laugh, and Veronica feels some of the tension begin to ease.
"Are you working tomorrow?" Lilly asks.
"Yeah. But I'm free Friday."
"Excellent. Stop over, and I'll tell you all about your secret admirers."
Veronica shakes her head. "I can't believe you're seriously going to make me wait for two days."
"Hey, you're making me wait for two days, too," Lilly points out with a laugh. "Come on, Veronica, anticipation is good for the soul. I'll pick you up in the morning, 'kay?"
"Okay," she relents. "Thanks for the ride."
They say their goodbyes and Veronica climbs out of the car. Lilly gives her a bright smile and a wave as she pulls out of the parking lot, and Veronica watches her car until she makes the turn onto Broadway. Then she exhales a heavy sigh and heads towards the diner.
Work goes by in a busy blur, and before Veronica knows it she's back home with only a half hour to spare. She hadn't done as well in tips tonight (no real surprise, since Logan wasn't there to add so dramatically to her earnings) but she's pleased to see her small pile of cash growing. She deposits the money into a shoebox in her closet, carefully positioning two other boxes on top of it.
After taking Backup out for a walk, she showers quickly and ponders over what to wear for several minutes. She wishes she'd asked Logan to give her more information, so she'd have a better idea of how to dress. This isn't a date, she reminds herself. It's not like he's going to take you to La Belle Fleur. As the night is becoming cool, she finally decides on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, adding a light blue sweater in case they'll be outdoors.
Veronica heads downstairs, where all is quiet. Her father is still at work, and her mother is lying down with a headache. These evening headaches seem to be coming with more and more frequency, and the thought makes her frown. She scribbles a note to her dad, telling him where she'll be and reminding him that there's leftover spaghetti and meatballs in the fridge. Then she steps outside to wait for Logan.
The limo pulls into her driveway just moments later, and the driver gets out to open the door for her. As many times as she's been chauffeured around by the Echolls and Kane drivers over the years, she still feels a bit out of her element when she thinks about just how wealthy both families really are. The limo looks incredibly out of place in her ordinary, middle-class neighborhood.
But all thoughts of mediocrity flow from her mind when she climbs into the back seat and spots Logan, who's sitting across from her in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt just like any other average teenage boy. His hair is slightly disheveled and his expression is languid, as though he's just awoken from a nap. He stretches his long legs out in front of him and gives her a warm smile. Well, okay, he looks better than just average, she silently acknowledges.
"Hey," he greets her.
"Hi," she replies.
As soon as she's settled, he points to an object next to him. "Check it out."
As her eyes adjust to the dim lighting in the back seat, she sees a camera sitting on the seat beside him. "Um, that doesn't look like a school camera."
"Nope," he confirms. "I just bought it."
She leans forward slightly to take a better look. "Jesus, Logan, is that a Leica M4?"
"Uh, I think so. I just asked the guy to give me the nicest one they had. He said analog cameras are getting harder to find, but I got him to sell me this one from his own personal collection." Logan glances down at it doubtfully. "It looks pretty old to me, but he said it takes great pictures." He shrugs. "It seemed kind of pricey, but I didn't have time to shop around."
Veronica shakes her head. The cheapest she's ever seen this model sell for online is five thousand dollars. She can't even fathom what it must be like to have that kind of wealth; to be able to purchase anything you want, whenever you want, without a second thought. "Must be nice," she says aloud.
Misinterpreting her meaning, Logan merely laughs and raises one eyebrow. "You want to touch my camera, Veronica?"
"Um, yeah. Actually, I do," she replies.
Logan hands it over to her, and she spends several minutes studying the black enamel camera body and admiring the smooth turn of the lens. As much as she likes the instant gratification of a digital camera, there's something about the weight and solidity of the older analog cameras that she finds very comforting. This particular camera is a vintage model from the late 1960's, and she's wanted it since the first time she laid eyes on it.
When she glances up at Logan, he's watching her with a rather sly smile on his face. "What?" she demands.
"Well, let's just say this is the first time I've been in the back seat of a car with a girl who's more interested in fondling an inanimate object than yours truly," he smirks.
"Oh, whatever," she grumbles, handing the camera back to him carefully. "You have no idea what you even have there, do you?"
"Nope," he says dismissively, setting it back down on the seat. "It's strictly for appearances. But I made sure my mom saw me with it before I left. Alibi officially established."
"Nicely done," she concedes.
"What can I say, I'm thorough," Logan returns, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
His eyes linger on hers for a moment, and she feels that familiar tension building between them. Very deliberately, she sits back in her seat more fully and glances out the window. When she feels a bit more composed, she turns her head back towards him. "I can't believe you just spent all of that money on a camera for a class you don't even care about."
"Hey, at least it's a better cover story then slaving away at a diner for a Louis Vuitton purse," he teases.
She stares at him in surprise. "How did you know I was lying about that?"
Logan shrugs. "I don't know, I just did." He clears his throat. "You, uh, want to tell me why you're really working there?"
"Money's just kind of tight," she responds mechanically, toying with the silver braided ring on her middle finger. "I needed a little extra cash."
Veronica's thoughts travel to the previous Sunday, the day after Casey's party. Overwhelmed with guilt, both for her initial kiss with Logan and the sleepless night she'd spent fantasizing about him that followed, she'd cancelled her beach plans with Lilly. Her mother had seemed unusually bothered by her decision to stay home, asking her several times if she wanted to change her mind and get a ride over to the Kane's. Veronica had assured her that she was fine staying home for the afternoon.
After a couple of hours of trying to concentrate on homework (and failing miserably), she'd taken Backup out for a run. When she returned, she'd entered the kitchen to find her mother on the phone, crying. Upon seeing her standing in the doorway, her mom hung up the phone quickly. When Veronica asked her what was wrong, she'd said an old college friend was very sick. Then she'd reached into the pantry and produced a bottle of vodka.
Veronica tried not to count the number of times her mother traveled back to the pantry that afternoon for a refill, and she tried to convince herself that consuming five vodka tonics on a Sunday afternoon was really not so troubling. After all, her mother's friend was ill, and she was upset. But when five became six, and six became seven, she'd finally allowed the weighty truth to settle on her shoulders: her mother was an alcoholic, her father was in denial, and she wanted desperately to get away from it all.
While Lianne was busy drowning her sorrows, Veronica was busy planning her escape route. It was no longer enough to assume she'd get a scholarship when she graduated. She needed to start saving money, and lots of it. But her meager allowance wasn't going to cut it. She'd have to find a job.
By the time her mother passed out on the couch, several hours later, Veronica had already lined up an interview with the woman who ran the diner. She'd ridden her bike there, nailed the interview and returned before her mother had even woken up. When her father got home from work an hour later, dinner was on the table and no one was any the wiser.
Veronica comes back to the present to find that Logan is still watching her. After half a minute, he finally speaks. "That's not it either, is it?" he asks softly.
"No," she confirms.
Logan nods but doesn't pursue the subject. Veronica appreciates it, and gives him a little smile. He's far more considerate of her privacy than she'd ever given him proper credit for in the past. She also appreciates that he's managed to talk her into going out on a Wednesday night. I know I should be home quizzing myself for Social Studies, but… I have to admit. This is a nice change of pace.
She looks back at Logan, who's still studying her silently. "So where are we going?" she asks.
"Oh wow. Really?"
Veronica used to beg her parents to take her to Laguna Pier nearly every weekend when she was a kid, but she hasn't been there in ages. She feels a jolt of excitement at the prospect of going on rides and eating fried dough again, followed immediately by a bought of anxiety. Riding the Ferris wheel and sharing cotton candy seem like far more appropriate activities for two people out on a date than two people trying desperately to be "just friends".
"Uh, yeah…" Logan replies, sounding uncertain. "Is that okay?"
"It's fine," she says quickly. "But, you know, we really are going to have to do some actual school work on the nights we hang out. And we'll have to work on our assignment for Photo, too."
"Hence the camera," Logan remarks dryly, pointing to the object beside him. "I figured we could take pictures tonight. You know, kill two birds."
Veronica glances out the window at the failing light. "I don't know," she says doubtfully. "We're not supposed to use a flash. I'm not so sure we'll get any clear shots this time of day."
"So they'll be a little blurry," Logan shrugs. "The teacher will be impressed by the artistic liberties we're taking."
"Not so sure about that," she laughs. "But we can give it a shot."
"Naturally," Veronica acknowledges with a grin. She relaxes a bit and turns to face Logan more fully. "So I was thinking about this whole thing with us hanging out. Photography is a good excuse for now, but we'll need something more permanent."
"What did you have in mind?"
"I think we should tell people you're failing Algebra, and that I'm tutoring you until you get caught up."
"Me, failing?" Logan replies in mock horror, placing his palm against his chest. "You wound my ego. Besides, no one will believe it. It's common knowledge that I'm a genius."
"A genius who cuts class at least once a week," she points out.
Logan sighs dramatically, but Veronica knows it's all an act. "Fine," he grumbles. "But don't think it's escaped my notice that you'll wind up looking like the hero in this little scenario. I feel emasculated."
"Yeah, I seriously doubt that," she remarks. "Anyway, it's a necessary evil. How else will it explain why we're hanging out so much?"
Logan picks up the camera beside him and fusses with the lens for a moment before he replies. "And how much will we be hanging out?"
"As much as we can," she replies with a shrug. "I'll be working like three days a week, but other than that…"
He glances up at her, his expression unreadable, and her sentence seems to echo in the sudden silence. Logan sets the camera back down and runs one hand through his hair. "Veronica-"
"Just stop," she interrupts, anticipating what he's about to say. "I want to do this, okay? As your friend. We're not discussing it again."
Logan smiles slightly, an unexpected reaction. "So bossy," he remarks softly, mimicking her own words from earlier today. He clears his throat noisily. "Fine, I agree to your terms. But it can't be all work, all the time."
"I really can't afford to fall behind…"
"You won't," he promises. "We'll be good little school children most of the time."
"Okay," she concedes. "So what are we going to do when we're not studying?"
"I don't know. Watch movies. Hang out. We'll figure it out." Logan's eyes light up. "Let's go swimming."
"Now?" she asks in confusion.
"No, the next time you come over. I, uh, haven't been able to go for a couple of weeks because of…" he trails off, gesturing vaguely to his back.
Veronica swallows hard, remembering the sight all too well. But she manages a warm smile for Logan. "Yeah, okay," she agrees. "I love to swim."
The limousine comes to a stop, and they both look out the window. The colored lights of the Ferris wheel twinkle invitingly in the distance. Logan lifts the camera strap onto his shoulder and reaches out a hand towards Veronica. "Come on," he says with a boyish grin. "We're here."
Logan's sudden enthusiasm mirrors her own, and she places her hand in his. Without bothering to wait for the driver, he pushes the door open himself and they step out into the evening.
As they approach the boardwalk, Veronica is momentarily overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of her childhood. The odor of fried foods permeates the air, and she can hear the tinny music of the carousel in the distance.
Everything looks a tad seedier than she'd recalled; the old wooden slats creak beneath their feet as they walk, and there are questionably dressed women loitering by one of several tattoo shops just ahead of them. But there's an undeniable charm about the place in spite of its worn appearance, and she can't help smiling at Logan in delight.
He smiles back at her, but there's a hint of sadness in his eyes that confuses her. Logan shoves his hands in his pockets and nods toward the pier. "So what do you feel like doing first?" he asks.
"I don't know…" she answers uncertainly, glancing around. Her eyes fall upon the tattoo shop again, and she looks up at Logan with a grin. "I dare you to get a Tweety Bird tattoo."
"Wimp." Veronica gestures to the old wooden structure directly ahead of them. "Roller coaster?"
Logan eyes her speculatively. "You sure you're tall enough to ride?"
"There's nothing wrong with being petite," she retorts haughtily.
"I couldn't agree more," he replies, his lips quirking up into a half smile. "I find it rather adorable, actually."
Veronica glances up at him in surprise, but Logan doesn't look particularly repentant about the remark he's just made. Quite to the contrary, his brown eyes meet hers playfully as he awaits her response. Yet she's too flustered to think of a suitable comeback, and after a moment he simply laughs. "Wait here," he instructs. "I'll go get us tickets."
She nods mutely as he walks towards the ticket booth, unable to stop herself from admiring his easy, fluid movement as he goes. Okay, so we're flirting a little bit. There's nothing wrong with that, right? Just as long as we don't act on it…
Logan begins to head back over to her, and she takes a steadying breath. We've been friends for years, she reminds herself quickly. Years. I just need to remember what things were like between us before. Resolved, she gives him a bright smile as he meets her, and they begin walking towards the roller coaster.
"We might still be able to get a few good pictures before the sun goes down," Veronica suggests.
Logan points to a photo booth just ahead of them. "Can't we just cheat and use that?"
"Not a chance," she replies firmly. But Logan has changed course slightly, ignoring her instructions and heading towards the booth. Without thinking, she laughs and grabs his hand to pull him back. He resists only slightly before allowing her to lead him away, and it takes Veronica several paces to realize that they're still holding hands.
She lets go abruptly, keenly aware of the fact that this is feeling more and more like a date with each passing second. Veronica sneaks a glance at Logan, but he's looking off to the side and she can't see his expression. Neither one of them says much to the other until they reach the roller coaster and climb into one of the seats. Forced together by the constrained space, they can't help but sit with their bodies pressed close together.
Veronica thinks she hears Logan exhale softly, but he appears entirely composed when she looks over at him. She nods towards the camera in his lap. "You want a quick tutorial?"
"Sure," he agrees.
She runs through the basics as they wait for the ride to fill up, and by the time the coaster begins to move Logan is already snapping pictures. As their car creeps up the first hill, Logan trains the camera on Veronica's face. Yet his finger remains poised over the shutter release, unmoving.
"What are you doing?" she laughs.
"Waiting," he replies cryptically. As soon as they begin to make their rapid descent, Logan snaps the picture. He finally lowers the camera, looking pleased as he glances over at Veronica. "That was a great shot."
"Yup," he replies confidently. "With the ocean and that killer sunset behind you? I'm pretty sure I just got us an A."
"You do realize it's black and white film, right?" she reminds him. His face falls, and Veronica can't help but take pity on him. "It'll still come out really well, though," she promises. "It's magic hour."
"Magic hour?" he asks.
"Yeah. It's what photographers call the hour before the sun sets, when the lighting is sort of warm and diffused, and the shadows are really long. It's also the hour just after the sun rises."
Logan's eyes focus on a spot behind her, and she turns to see what he's staring at. The sun is hovering just over the horizon, casting a glimmering orange path on the ocean below. The clouds glow red and gold, and the vivid blue sky above them dissolves to pale yellow as it nears the sun. "But you won't get to see any of that color," he says doubtfully. "It'll be all grey and boring."
"It won't," Veronica insists, twisting back around to face him. "Just wait until we develop the film. You'll see what I mean."
They begin another slow climb, this time up the largest peak of the roller coaster. This part used to terrify her as a child, but now she finds herself enjoying the anticipation of the descent to come. Logan eyes drop down from the sky to meet hers, his irises a deep burgundy in the reflected sun. She forgets, momentarily, that they're teetering precariously close to the edge of a fall.
"Magic hour," Logan repeats with a smile. He reaches out and touches the side of her face, the backs of his fingers traveling slowly down her cheekbone. Eyes still locked on his, she leans toward him without conscious thought. But before they can get any closer, a sudden jolt pulls them apart. Their car is plummeting quickly down the steep hill, and Veronica gasps at the unexpected movement. She grabs onto the bar in front of her for support as the wind whips around her.
Keeping her eyes trained forward, she tries to pretend for a moment that Logan isn't beside her. That he's a figment of her imagination. I'm alone. Not out with my best friend's ex-boyfriend. Not almost kissing him…again. But it's no use. The left side of Logan's body is pressed against her right, warm and solid, and she can smell his scent clearly in the air.
Veronica feels his arm curl around her waist, steadying her as they bank sharply to the right, and she finds she has no will or desire to protest. She decides to stop fighting her emotions, if just for a moment, and embrace them instead. She nestles closer to Logan and lays her head against his shoulder. His arm tightens around her protectively, while his other hand smoothes her hair back from the wind. She closes her eyes and breathes him in.
All too soon, they're coasting to a stop. Veronica lifts her head and Logan removes his arm, and neither one of them comments on the events of their ride as they clamber out of the car. But Veronica feels strangely peaceful, almost weightless. She glances up at Logan, who's wearing a slight smile as he walks down the pier. He looks back at her and his smile widens, as though they share some sort of secret.
We do, she reminds herself. And there seems to be more and more to hide with each passing hour. Still, Logan looks more relaxed than she's seen him in a long time. For the first time, she wonders if maybe this thing between them- whatever it is- is really so terrible after all.
"That was fun," Logan remarks lightly. "I haven't been here in forever."
He nods to a row of food vendors set up ahead of them. "C'mon. Let's go get something that'll make our teeth rot."
"Okay," she agrees.
They're quiet for several seconds, while they walk down the boardwalk. As they wait for a large group to pass in front of them, Logan looks down at her. "So who is this Mac person that you're all chummy with, now?"
"How do you know Mac?" she asks in surprise.
"I make it my mission to associate with the proles, from time to time," he replies.
Veronica rolls her eyes. "I think you may have missed the central point of 1984."
"Then how did I get an A on my essay?" Logan counters.
"Bribery?" she suggests.
He makes a face. "I happen to be a big fan of Orwell, I'll have you know. Calling her a prole was meant to be a compliment. Everyone knows the proles have all the power."
"Yeah," Veronica says sarcastically. "I'll remember that the next time I'm asking someone if they want fries or onion rings with their order."
"Always fries for me, thanks," Logan grins. "See? I've saved you the hassle of asking in the future."
Veronica shakes her head at him, but he continues, undeterred. "So for real, how well do you know her?"
She shrugs. "I just met her. But I like her. Quite a bit, actually. Why?"
Logan opens his mouth as though he's about to say something, but closes it again quickly. "No reason."
Veronica frowns, sure that there's more to the story and wanting to press him. But they've arrived at an ice cream stand, and the sight of Logan pulling out his wallet distracts her. "No, I'll get my own," she says quickly, opening up her purse and pulling out her wallet.
"Put that away," he says impatiently. He turns towards the vendor. "Can I get two large chocolate and vanilla swirls, both in cones and one with chocolate sprinkles on it? Thanks."
The man walks away to fill the order, and Veronica looks at Logan indignantly. "Did you seriously just order for me?"
"Um, it would have been nice if you'd asked me what I wanted," she remarks.
"What did you want?" he asks, placing one hand on his hip.
Veronica doesn't look at him as she mutters her reply. "A large chocolate and vanilla swirl cone, with chocolate sprinkles."
"Exactly," he smirks.
The man comes back with their order, and once again Veronica attempts to pay. Logan continues to ignore the money she's holding out for him and hands her the ice cream, instead. Frustrated, she takes the ice cream but gives him a withering look. "Logan, let me pay."
He takes his own ice cream cone from the vendor and pays for both before he finally looks down at her. "Why are you making this such a big deal?" he inquires.
"Because I'm not a charity case," she answers firmly, as they begin to walk away. "And this is not a date."
Instead of looking upset, Logan appears to be fighting off a smile. "Hey, I'm just trying to give some credibility to that lame cover story of yours. You remember, how you're supposed to be so broke that you had to get a job slinging hash?"
"I don't sling hash," Veronica objects, glaring up at him.
Logan just laughs. "Besides," he continues, "it's a little known Chumash tradition that the first guy who kisses you has to buy you ice cream within the week, or it's bad luck for life."
"Is that so?"
"It is," he confirms.
"And does the same tradition hold true for guys, or just girls?" she asks, playing along.
"Both. The Chumash people don't discriminate, Veronica."
"I'm ashamed for even suggesting it."
"I'll let it slide this one time."
They sit down on a nearby wooden bench, watching the sun dip down below the ocean while they eat. Now that Logan's brought it up, Veronica can't help wondering again why he kissed her in the first place. He's never given her a proper response to that question, and it's been nagging at her for days.
All he said was that he "just wanted to". What kind of explanation is that? No, he was taking pity on me, because he knew I'd never been kissed. He thought I was far too old for that, I bet. Hey, it's not like he was wrong. Veronica looks over at Logan, who's wiping a drop of ice cream off his lips with a napkin. I wonder what his first kiss was like? And who it was with?
"So who got stuck buying you ice cream?" she blurts out.
"Are you asking me who my first kiss was?" Logan clarifies.
Veronica considers briefly before answering. Do I really want to know this? Was it with Lilly? And what about his first time doing… other stuff? Was that with her, too? She begins to lick the melted ice cream off the base of her cone to explain away her lack of response while she when she glances up to catch Logan watching her progress with a rather devilish grin, she stops immediately.
She can feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment, and she's grateful for the darkening sky. Oh, god, we probably shouldn't get into this conversation. Who knows where it could lead? Especially with his reputation… But her curiosity wins out, as usual, and she forces herself to meet his gaze without flinching. "I am," she finally confirms.
"Marla Singer," he replies immediately.
"Who the hell is Marla Singer?"
"We went to elementary school together in L.A."
"Elementary school? How old were you?"
"Eight," he replies with a dramatic sigh. "She kissed me and I fell in love with her instantly. And then, five minutes later, she kissed Jack McCall and left me broken-hearted on the swing set."
"Awww." Veronica giggles, taking a small bite of her ice cream. "Well if it's any consolation, this Marla girl sounds like a real hussy. You're better off without her." Logan grins, and she goes on. "Okay, so who was your real first kiss?"
This time Logan doesn't answer right away, and the smile fades from his lips. As she watches his expression change, Veronica can't help wondering what's going on behind those dark eyes of his. For as much as she's always thought that Logan just says whatever passes through his mind, she's been noticing more and more that he can be surprisingly reticent at times.
Or maybe his first kiss really was with Lilly, and he just doesn't want to talk about it with you, Veronica considers. For obvious reasons. Realizing this must be the case, she's just decided to change the subject when he speaks.
"A while back, my parents threw this big party," he begins. "And there were a bunch of actresses and actor's there- you know, Hollywood people. Me and Trina kept sneaking downstairs to check it out, but it got pretty late and they finally told us to get to bed. Anyway, I was just about to drift off to sleep when I heard someone come into my room."
Logan pauses to glance at her, and she nods for him to continue. "I thought whoever it was had made a mistake, like they were looking for the bathroom or something. People used to do that shit all the time. But then I saw this, like, shadowy figure coming towards me, and I felt someone sit down on my bed. I was a little freaked out at first, you know? My parents are friends with some seriously weird people. And then she spoke, and I realized who it was."
"Who was it?" Veronica asks quietly.
"Britney Holmes," he replies.
"Britney Holmes?" she repeats incredulously.
"Yeah," he confirms. "She was kind of a nobody at the time. Anyway, she said I looked like I needed a good night kiss. And then she kissed me."
"How old were you?"
"Eleven." Logan finishes his cone and crumples up his napkin into a ball, tossing it into the garbage can beside him. He glances over at Veronica with a wry smile. "Needless to say, I couldn't sleep after that. So I got up and went to the top of the stairs, to see if I could hear what everyone was talking about. I used to do that all the time when I was younger."
"Me too," Veronica confesses.
Logan stares out at the ocean as he continues, his voice flat. "I see my dad walk over to her, and I hear him say, 'So, you make a man out of my son yet?' And she laughs. 'Well, I kissed him, Aaron,' she says. 'I didn't think you'd want me to go any farther than that. He's just a kid.'" Logan shakes his head slightly, his eyes still far away. "He'd set the whole thing up."
Veronica's strong dislike for Aaron Echolls deepens even further, and she's glad Logan can't see the disgust on her face. The biggest role of his career seems to be corruptor of his own son, carefully masked behind the façade of loving father. His beautiful home, his perfect family… it's all an illusion, like a Hollywood set.
"Wow," she comments, not sure what else to say. "Was this before they did, uh, Running Blind together?"
"Yup," he confirms bitterly. "The movie that made her a star."
He scowls down at the ground, and Veronica gets the distinct impression that there's more to the story. But Logan's mood has taken a sour turn, and she has no desire to pursue the subject. Instead she places her free hand on his shoulder to get his attention. When he turns towards her, she smiles.
"What are you so happy about?" he asks gruffly.
"Just feeling lucky, I guess," she shrugs. "Mine was way better."
Logan blinks a few times as that sinks in, and then he returns her smile. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah," Veronica replies softly. She holds up the remnants of her cone. "I even got ice cream afterward."
"Well what can I say, I aim to please," he responds with a smirk.
She laughs lightly, taking the last bite of her cone and tossing her napkin into the garbage can. Armed with a witty comeback, Veronica turns back around to face him. But as their eyes meet, her remark dies upon her lips. Once again, Logan has managed to catch and hold her gaze with his own. Like a snake charmer. She watches, entranced, as his dark eyes become focused and intent, and his lips part slightly.
Veronica recognizes this look. She's become very familiar with it, over these past few days. It's that look. The one that leads to very bad decisions… And althoughshe knows this, rationally, she can't seem to prevent the way her body responds. She can feel her pulse quickening and her palms tingling as she stares back at him.
But this time, she refuses to give in to her more primitive desires. Very deliberately, she forces her eyes away and manages to slow her breathing. She realizes, suddenly, that this whole night has been a test. For both of us. If we fail, it means we can't spend time together anymore. Not like this, anyway. Not alone. And I refuse to let that happen.
After one last deep breath, she risks a look at Logan. He's still watching her, but his expression has changed. His eyes are cautious, now; guarded. He scratches at a spot on his forearm absently as he waits for her to speak.
Veronica plasters a smile on her face. "So, what do you feel like doing next?"
"Uh, I don't know," he replies vaguely. "Ferris wheel?"
Trapped in an enclosed space together, in the dark? Alone? Probably not the best idea in the world, Logan. As appealing as it sounds… Veronica stands up abruptly, not giving that errant thought time to germinate. "How about we test your dart-throwing abilities?" she suggests. "My inflatable palm tree collection isn't nearly as impressive as it should be."
"Yeah, okay," he agrees, standing up.
They begin walking towards the northern section of Laguna Pier, where the arcade and game booths are located. Logan is being very quiet; she wonders, again, what he's thinking about. She searches for a topic to break the silence, saying the first thing that comes to mind.
"Hey, can I ask you something?"
"Yesterday, when you said that Lilly doesn't tell me everything… Were you talking about something specific?"
Logan glances down at her, his expression still guarded. Several seconds pass before he responds. "Can I answer that with a question?" he asks.
"I think you just did," she jokes.
But he doesn't smile. In fact, he looks rather uncomfortable, and takes his time replying. "Look, everyone knows she hooks up with other people when we're broken up-"
"Well so do you," Veronica interrupts, feeling a bit defensive on her friend's behalf.
Logan flashes her an amused, rather pointed look. Veronica recognizes the irony of her statement, wishing she'd kept her mouth shut, and waits for him to continue.
"Fair enough," he replies. "But I've, uh… I've heard rumors that it's not just when we're broken up." He stops walking, and she follows suit. "Do you know anything about that?"
"No," Veronica answers honestly, surprised. "And it's not true."
He shrugs and resumes walking. She keeps pace beside him, still wondering where this is all coming from. What rumors has he heard? From who? No, it's a bunch of crap. I don't believe it.
"Seriously, Logan," she continues earnestly. "I don't know who told you that, but she's never said anything about it to me. I really don't think she'd do that to you."
"Then what about this Lewis guy?" he counters.
"What about him?"
"Dick mentioned seeing them together, a few weeks ago. Before we broke up."
"Seeing them do what?"
"Just talking," he replies. "But he said they looked pretty friendly."
Veronica frowns, not responding right away. She doesn't like discussing Lilly with Logan. She never has, but now it feels especially wrong. I know I was the one who brought her up…but I didn't think the conversation would go here. "Well, she never mentioned him to me," she says quietly. "I'm sure it was nothing."
Logan just nods, thankfully not pursuing the subject. Yet he continues to look thoughtful as they walk down the boardwalk together, and Veronica can't help feeling a bit uneasy about the conversation they've just had. She's obviously still on his mind. And no matter what Lilly wants people to believe, I know Logan's still on her mind, too. Hey, it's not like I'm surprised. They have a lot of history together, and it hasn't even been two weeks since they split up…
Veronica remains silent as she contemplates all of this, absorbed in her thoughts for several moments. When she becomes aware of her surroundings again, she realizes that they've paused at the entrance to the arcade. She glances up at Logan. He's watching her curiously, and she wonders how long they've been standing there.
"C'mon," he says with a small smile, nodding toward the arcade. "Let me win you a stuffed animal that still has both his eyes."
"Well, for now, anyway," Veronica amends.
She follows him through the maze of games until they reach a booth at the back. The carnie in charge, a decent looking guy with spiky blond hair and tattooed arms, locks his eyes on Veronica as she approaches. He stands up straight and gives her an openly admiring smile, completely ignoring Logan.
"Hey, darlin'," he greets her in a heavy southern drawl. "You want to try your luck at darts?"
"Um…" Veronica glances at Logan, who's surveying the guy with narrowed eyes and a clenched jaw. Feeling oddly pleased by his reaction, she adopts her best dumb blonde voice and turns back to face the carnie. "I'm really bad at sports and stuff," she informs him. "But my boyfriend here is amazing."
She links her arms around Logan's bicep, and he glances down at her in surprise. The carnie finally looks over at him, clearly unimpressed with what he sees. "Well, let's see what you got, kid. Three tries for five, eight tries for ten. Pop one balloon and you get a prize."
"What happens if I pop all three?" Logan returns with a smirk.
The carnie points to the larger bears on the top shelf. "You get one of those."
Logan holds out a five dollar bill, and the guy looks at it dubiously. "You may want to fork over a ten, kid," he suggests. "Increase your odds." He nods at Veronica. "That girl of yours will be mighty disappointed if she leaves here without her bear."
Veronica squeezes Logan's arm enthusiastically. "Oh, Honeymuffin, I really want a bear," she chimes in helpfully. "Maybe you should give him a ten."
Logan looks down at her in undisguised amusement, his lips twitching as tries not to laugh. "Don't you worry, my little Tootsie Pop," he assures her. "I'll get you a bear." He nods at the carnie. "Tell you what, dude. Give me one shot for five bucks, and if I make it she gets the bear."
The guy looks at him suspiciously, as though he's not quite sure if he'd be making a good deal or not. Veronica sees him moving his fingers slightly, like he's counting in his head. Finally, he nods. He accepts the five from Logan and hands him a single dart. "Alright, kid. Take your best shot."
Without hesitation, Logan aims and throws the dart, instantly popping a yellow balloon on the top row. He turns to the carnie with a smug smile, and Veronica grins. She's lost to Logan enough times at darts to know that this outcome hasn't come as a surprise to either of them. But it's still pretty hilarious to see a carnie get beaten at his own game.
"Go on, Lovebug," Logan says indulgently. "Choose your spoils."
Veronica points to a large brown bear with enormous paws, and the carnie swats it off the top shelf with a long stick. He glances at Logan with a scowl as he hands it to her. Logan just smiles back at him pleasantly, taking Veronica's hand in his as they leave the booth. She's not sure if he does it for pretense or what, but he doesn't let go until they're well out of sight of the booth.
"Nicely done," she tells him.
"You too," he grins. "You're quite the little con artist, aren't you?"
"I have no idea what you're referring to," she says innocently.
"Honeymuffin?" he returns, raising one eyebrow.
"Lovebug?" she counters. "Tootsie Pop?"
Logan chuckles, and they make their way back outside. "So what do you want to do next?" he asks.
"Um…" Veronica glances down at her watch. "Honestly, it's getting kind of late. Is it okay if we get going?"
"Sure," he agrees easily. They start heading back to the front entrance, and Logan nods to the bear in her arms. "So what's his name?"
Veronica holds the bear out in front of her, considering. "I'm not sure. Any ideas?"
"Name it after me," he suggests.
"That might raise a few eyebrows."
"Aw, c'mon," he urges. "It'll be our little secret."
"Pretty sure we don't need any more of those," she remarks dryly.
"I seriously doubt anyone's going to storm into your bedroom and demand to know the names of all of your teddy bears," he replies. He snatches the bear out of her hands and holds it high above his head. "You can't have him back until you promise."
Veronica sighs, too tired to argue the point any further. "Fine," she agrees. "Logan it is."
He hands the bear back to her. "And keep it away from that mutt of yours," he instructs. "I'd prefer Logan's face remain in its current pristine, handsome condition. Like his namesake."
"Backup happens to be a purebred, I'll have you know," she retorts.
"Nothing but the best for the Mars family, huh?" he asks. "Well, obviously. You're out with me, aren't you?"
She rolls her eyes at him, and they continue walking. When they reach the car and get inside, Logan hesitates for several seconds before choosing the seat across from Veronica. It's a subtle reminder that they haven't quite proven themselves capable of controlling themselves, especially when they're in close proximity to each other.
Veronica strokes the fur on the bear's head absently as she looks out the window. She stifles a yawn as she watches the lights of the pier fade into the distance. They merge onto the highway, and she glances over at Logan. He's leaning back in his seat, fiddling with the strap of the camera as he watches her.
"You look tired," he observes.
"I am," she acknowledges.
Logan sets the camera down beside him and crosses over to sit beside her. Without asking permission, he drapes his arm across her shoulders and pulls her closer to him. "Lean on me," he offers, his voice barely above a whisper. "Rest."
It's too tempting to pass up. Working so hard not to do anything inappropriate with him all day has taken its toll, and she's mentally and physically exhausted. She scoots over a few inches and lays her head against his chest, reveling in his warmth. He rests his chin atop her head, running his hand up and down her arm soothingly. This is nice. He's so comfortable. I feel so safe…
Veronica drifts off to sleep, awakening to the sound of Logan speaking softly in her ear. "Hey, wake up. You're almost home."
She lifts her head, blinking and looking around groggily. When she glances outside, she realizes that the limo is pulling onto her block. She sits up straight and yawns, turning to face Logan. "Sorry about that. I didn't realize how tired I was."
"That's okay. Was I a good pillow?"
"The best," Veronica replies honestly. Logan gives her a very sweet smile, and she's struck by how much she doesn't want to leave him. Feeling very vulnerable and uncertain, suddenly, she gazes up at him. If this were a real date, this would be the part where we kiss…
Logan's looking at her as though he just might kiss her, after all, and she knows that she won't stop him if he tries. He's just inches away from her, but she wants him to be closer. Much closer. As he stares back at her, the air in the limousine seems to charge with energy. The space between them feels over-inflated, like a balloon that needs to pop.
He reaches out and takes hold of her chin, tilting it upward slightly. But he makes no motion to come closer. Instead, he speaks. "I had a lot of fun tonight," he says quietly. "Thank you."
"Me too," she manages.
Logan strokes her jaw lightly with his thumb, finally leaning forward. Veronica can feel the car come to a stop as she closes her eyes. But the expected kiss doesn't come. Instead, he presses his lips to her forehead, stroking the side of her face tenderly before letting go. She pulls away, trying not to let her disappointment show as she gathers up her purse and the bear.
The driver pulls the door open, and Veronica finally glances up at Logan. He's receded into the corner of the bench seat, and his face is in shadow. "Good night, Veronica," he says softly.
"Good night," she replies. She scrambles out of the limo and the driver shuts the door. Veronica walks up the driveway towards her front door, hearing the car pull away behind her but not turning to look. When she reaches her door, she doesn't go inside. Instead, she sinks down onto the top step of the porch with a sigh.
She looks down at the bear in her arms, secretly very pleased to be bringing home a souvenir from her night out with Logan. I know it wasn't a date, but… parts of it certainly felt like a date. Logan Bear smiles up at her in silent assent, with warm brown eyes the exact color of the person on her mind. Although, on real dates, there's a good night kiss…
But we can't do that anymore, no matter how much we may want to. So that's that. We passed the test. It means we can actually make this work; we can actually behave ourselves and manage to stay friends. Going forward, this is how it's going to be.
Veronica leans her head against the wooden post of the porch, so cold and uncomfortable compared to Logan. I should be happy that we got through tonight without slipping. It's what we both wanted, to prove that nothing has changed. So why does it feel like everything has changed? And why do I feel so…lost?
She glances back down at the bear, the corner of her mouth curving up as she thinks about Logan's decree that it be named after him. Yet another secret we need to keep, she muses. But this one doesn't fill her with dread. Veronica hugs the bear closer to her, closing her eyes as she recalls the events of the evening. No matter what happens in the future… even if Logan and Lilly get back together… I'll always know that, at one point, the two of us shared something special.
Not sure why that matters, but feeling cheered by the thought nonetheless, she opens her eyes and stands up. Plastering a brave smile onto her face, she heads inside to face her parents.
A/N The encouragement I'm getting from you guys on this story (and others) has just been so positive and amazing. It's been a very strange and stressful couple of years for me, but you wonderful people at FF have made it easier to bear. Much love, and many thanks!