[step one: had become unmanageable]
“Long distance,” she says, with that hell yeah intonation like she knows what she’s doing. And okay, here's the thing: she really, really doesn’t, and this is probably going to be something she regrets in the next three seconds, but damn if she doesn’t give the trainwreck a chance to happen, “my middle name is Long Distance. I can sext like nobody’s business, phone sex like an operator, and, well, if you ever get really lonely, there’s always the sex tape for those long nights. Not like the drama society doesn’t play it every Thursday around here. ”
Piz looks at her like he isn’t fooled for a second, and she can’t help the stereotype, stick to what she knows best-- deflection-- but, for what it's worth, in the moment she means it. She does. She can do this. She wants to do this.
He doesn’t say anything, and she goes on, can’t seem to stop, “hello,” in lieu of goodbye. That would be final. That would be miles she can’t count up to.
“Good luck, Veronica,” is all he says, and kisses her; soft, sweet, the least broken thing in Neptune, and it sounds a lot like goodbye anyway.
[step two: restore to sanity.]
She parks on the other side of the road to the Grand; habit, if nothing more.
She can make out the bright lights through the rain-streaked window. And it’s strange how she knows this, but she knows this: if she goes in, she’s going to end up in Logan’s bed. She’s going to end up in his bed, back in the rollercoaster, at dizzying heights and she isn’t going to regret it till she does, later, much later, maybe post-flight later, maybe the next-time- Piz-calls later.
But right now, she’s going to let him do whatever the hell he wants to her, do whatever the hell she wants to him if it turns out he doesn’t want anything from her anymore. That’s a lie (he never stopped. Here’s the truth: she sometimes lies for him, he makes too much of an honest living, doesn’t seem to understand plausible deniability. Tells her he loves her in the backseat of cars when all she wants is to let him get to second base. Liquid disaster when all she wants is normal.)
It will be a mistake.
To walk through the pouring California rain, end up at his door, chilled, soaked to the bone, so she’ll have an excuse to take her clothes off. Knock on his door, like she doesn’t still have the keycard. Or use the keycard buried at the bottom of her sling bag, barge in, tell him to fucking give her reasons to stay. Because he will.
But, you know what, here’s what she learned from the Castle fiasco, the election she single-handedly destroyed for her dad, the prosecution she accidentally almost gifted him: mistakes suck. And she's done making them.
She doesn’t get out of the car, not even when he turns the lights off much too early for him, and she can't help wondering if he has someone else with him already. But still; the important part is she doesn't.
(Doesn't drive away either, but that's a different story.)
[step three: made a decision to turn]
She goes to Stanford, she and Piz break up, that much is history.
She befriends people who have never heard of Lilly Kane, never owned an action figure of Aaron Echolls, never watched an episode of Tinseltown Diaries. She goes to all the seminars on Melanie Klein, and on occasion laughs when someone makes a penis joke that is actually funny. For anyone who cares, it's something like this: she eats lunch beneath the tree in the Quad, and mostly, she isn’t alone. She bitches about life choices to people who listen, and declares her major later than she reasonably should, but her Thesis adviser turns out to be a genius, and sometimes, outside Neptune, every mistake she makes doesn’t lead to someone ending up dead, and honestly, she could almost get used to this.
Some evenings, she sits in the Library till closing hours. Gets reading glasses prescribed when her head starts to ache far too often, doesn't tell her dad about it. Doesn’t allow anyone to pour her a drink at the wild college parties, and yeah, the boys think she’s weird, but they also think she’s kind of hot, and she’s come to realize that one of those, mostly, tends to cancel the other.
She waits for Logan’s call the entire first year, anticipation and terror interchangeably tying her stomach in hard knots. Has an I don't owe you anything at the tip of her tongue. Waits to hear his drunken slur in her voicemail at some odd hour in the night, telling her what a goddamned bitch she is for leaving, when he should be asleep, or not drunk, or not thinking of her. Just like she isn’t, of him.
He doesn’t, though.
She thinks of deleting his number about five times a day when her thumb scrolls down to it much too often, almost, mostly, on accident. Habit, again, probably. Goes as far as holding the phone in her hand, imagines telling him unimaginable things like you are always ticking inside of me and I dream of you more often than I don't.
(She doesn’t, though. On both counts. This is the new normal, and she's going to make it stick.)
[step four: moral inventory]
The first boy she dates at Stanford doesn’t have a smile like a clenched fist. “You’re so fucking hot,” he says, the second time she meets him, when she’s wearing a sundress, ditz level off the charts because she’s allowed to be fun and fake once in a while, okay.
She hates the party, of course, but thinks she does a reasonable enough job pretending not to, because Veronica Mars isn’t Latin for cannot survive a social gathering without ending up forever alone. The perks of being a wallflower kind of disappeared when she left Mac back home, some 2,413 miles behind. Not having a snark-partner to judge everyone with kind of puts a damper on the whole judging thing in totality. These days, when she’s alone, it doesn’t mean she’s being ironic, it just means she’s alone.
She kisses him by the end of the night, uses too much tongue and tries to will herself to not draw back, to not think of Cassidy after all this time, to not think of Logan either, for the opposite reasons, even though she doesn’t know what the reasons are. She doesn't think of Piz, but she doesn't realize that till later and by then it's too late to go back in time and think of him so this wouldn't be what it sounds like.
She doesn’t succeed exactly, in not drawing back, but she tries, and that has to count for something.
So here’s what he doesn’t do, the new boyfriend: he doesn’t reach inside her and mess up all her wiring and make her short circuit with just his tongue. He talks Psych and shares his readings with her when she can’t find enough research material for her term paper, and holds her hand in The Cafe like he can let go, eventually.
This is what she's been missing out on, she realizes: easy.
[step five: the exact nature]
When he breaks up with her because she’s too hard or too brittle or too insecure or too suspicious and doesn’t really know what he broke up with her for, because she wasn’t paying attention-- god, maybe that’s what he broke up with her for-- she doesn’t go home, and cry in the shower.
She goes to the showers, takes off her clothes, gets in, her hand already between her legs, and allows herself memories. The most basic reconstructions; no name, no face, no voice, just a bruised fist, and a smile like the wrong end of a knife.
The 'no voice' thing? Yeah, doesn’t work out so well. Nothing ever really does with him. She comes to the sound of her own name in her head, in his voice, said like a prayer, or maybe a curse, she was never sure which. Comes harder than she can remember in a while. And honestly, she never did before-- this, touching herself, familiarizing herself with her body-- because after everything, all she’d wanted for a long time was to cut her hair and never allow anyone near her again, not even herself. Eventually, of course, she’d allowed other people in, but not herself, never herself.
That she reclaims herself here, in a community bathroom in college, isn't normal, she knows, but what about her is.
The important part is: she puts on her clothes, gets out, and goes back to her life, back to the term paper submission she has on Saturday.
This must be what moving on feels like. She hasn’t done it before, so sue her for being hazy on the concept.
[step six: entirely ready]
Columbia is…different. It’s more intense, for one. But she kind of thrives on intensity, so.
Law School, the law on paper, is where she was born to be. And mostly? She tries to forget about the law in practice and Weevil never graduating alongside her, the jury’s brazen eyes, just like Lilly's, when they came with the Aaron Echolls’ verdict, a torn white strap and Lamb laughing her out of his office. Reasonable doubt.
The world is not Neptune, she knows, she has to know. Neptune is a special breed of hell, the tenth circle Dante almost added in. The world doesn’t sell justice to the highest bidder-- that’s Neptune, that’s all Neptune, that’s only Neptune.
She has to believe that, because she’s in Law School and if she doesn’t believe it then that’s three years of her life and her entire life after this that she doesn’t believe in and she can’t do that to herself all over again. The road not taken leads to madness. This is a lesson she’s learnt.
There’s only this one time when she— only this one time when this girl in her class comes with shades on in the middle of winter and flinches every time someone shouts a little too close to her. She talks to her after class, borrows notes on Jurisprudence, she needs them for end of term exams anyway.
Why Alice’s boyfriend, the MVP of the last Dean’s Cup, ends up with a restraining order no one knows- and honestly, no one probably cares- but two weeks later, Alice isn’t wearing her shades and-- at least, she used the law and not her taser, she thinks. That has to be a count in the ‘moving on’ tally.
Not like she’s keeping count, though, obviously.
[step seven: asked him to remove]
Her dad calls about twice a day, she calls thrice. They talk about everything, nothing, she can never exactly remember what after she gets off the phone. All she can remember are impressions; an ache somewhere deep inside which she can’t exactly pinpoint, soothed for a little while longer. Like she’s going to go out there and be okay and not take the next flight back, and not just kneel over with how much she misses her dad.
Wallace calls too, often, and he doesn’t do the filter thing where he only tells her things he should, so obviously he’s the one to say, “Logan enlisted.”
For a comical moment, her hand just stills jarringly in the middle of putting on another coat of nailpolish, and the black drips off her brush, and stains her rug and every time her eye falls on it ever after, she thinks something stupid like; he could be dead.
“Why didn’t you tell me,” she asks—says, doesn’t really ask, the next time Keith calls, and he sighs, doesn’t so much as have the decency to pretend he doesn’t know what she means; “I didn’t think you’d care, honey.”
Hoped you wouldn’t care, he doesn’t say and of course she doesn’t care any more than she reasonably should that an ex-boyfriend of hers has joined the fucking Navy.
“Do you really,” and she’s angry, and that feels good, anger always filled every ache inside her better than anything else, “do you really think that I haven’t moved on after all this time. Did you...what? Expect me to come back and hold onto Logan like some tragic made-for-TV wife and tell him to not go out there? I don’t understand what this is. Don’t you trust me?”
Her dad is silent for a long while on the other end, “I trust you,” he says, and it's past the cue, but she's going to take it anyway.
Sins of the father, she thinks, when she disconnects. And yeah, okay, that’s very Ibsen of her, but Logan is apparently now a naval aviator, she’s allowed the dramatics for a little while.
[step eight: made a list of]
Here’s what the list doesn’t have: the way he used to spin her, the times when she sat and watched Easy Rider and kind of liked it, the times she understood, or maybe he did, the only ones really, what it felt like. She doesn’t think about it anymore because it’s been way too long and plausible deniability is something she wrote a twenty marker on in her last term, and unlike him, she actually looked it up in the dictionary when she was thirteen and the term came up in a short story in their eighth grade English Reader.
It changes, sort of, through the years. From the only guy I may have loved to the best sex I ever had, and if all she does, if the only thing she does, is think of him in that capacity, it’s fine. Sex, everyone knows he’s good at, that’s no probable cause. She has an Ivy League degree and everything, okay, she knows this stuff.
(A week away from you. That’s like a month.
She’d laughed, allowed him to get to third base, gripped his hair too hard when he went down on his knees, leaned against the wall, closed her eyes.
Here’s a secret: she wishes she hadn’t. Doesn’t know which one; allowed him inside, or closed her eyes.)
[step nine: to do so would injure]
The familiarity is what makes her give in.
When he smiles, his hair no longer falls over his eyes, but when she wraps it around her fingers, just a week later, because they’ve been here before, it still feels the same. Feels like it feels the same, because she has no sense memory of it and a psych degree and she can distinguish romanticism even when she doesn’t want to.
“Hello,” he says, and yeah it could just be something to say, something everyone does at this stage, but it’s not, because it’s Piz. This, this she does remember, because it’s the last thing she said to him the last time she saw him and she can’t believe he remembers too, after all this while.
It makes her kiss him that much harder when she finally does. And if she hasn’t thought of him more than ten days each year out of the last four years then, really, that’s neither here, nor there.
Piz fits in New York, she realizes by the third month. These days, women, some men, turn around to look at him when they walk past, and she feels that quiet, selfish satisfaction of having something someone else wants. She thought she got over being selfish, but hey, why fix something that ain’t broke.
(Logan, just for comparison’s sake, and she’s not above it, wouldn’t fit in New York, in his too-expensive everything, leaning against graffitied walls with the casual, lazy grace that he has, the slow smirk. But the boy in her head is eighteen and the man she doesn’t know anymore, the man she can’t fully picture in uniform, isn’t.)
But this much is true: Piz is New York and she—she wants to be New York too, dammit.
[step ten: personal inventory]
Growing up kind of blows, she decides, by her third job interview. Sometimes when her bank statement comes in, she just stares at it like she can pay back her student loans through sheer force of will.
“They brought up the sex tape.” Her legs don’t reach the floor when she sits on the counter; every man in her life has thought it endearing, it’s mostly just annoying, if she's being honest.
And he says, “again?” Which is fitting, because he’s as tired of it as she is, but he can joke about it in cryptic terms on This American Life, increase his ratings, and she has to deal with stiff office spaces and glances that mostly say slut in different languages.
She comes up with an arsenal of replies, practices her unruffled face in the mirror, tries her best to look tough, like there won’t be a time when she grabs someone too hard and say something like: my best friend was murdered over a sex tape, excuse me for being touchy.
This isn’t about her, all about her, is something Piz doesn’t know. Or rather, Piz doesn’t know, specifically. It’s not his fault she never gave him the details.
“How is Logan?” he asks, once, and he’s concentrating on cutting the slices evenly so even if it’s a non-sequitur, even if he’s not looking at her, it’s only reasonable in the circumstances. The conceit of the reasonable man is a well-known legal fiction, and legal fictions she knows.
“Good,” she says, “fine,” she amends, “I don’t know,” she completes.
She doesn’t know if there’s a right answer when Piz is the one asking, but she hopes to god it’s that one.
And later: I need your help, Veronica.
So here’s what she really, absolutely, does not do: call up Piz and say, “well, that’s how Logan is.”
[step eleven: conscious contact]
Being back is like— like, not exactly like she never left, but like she isn’t back.
Old rhythms, he calls them and she wants to know if that’s an accurate analysis, wants to ask him if she’s always wanted him as much as she does now and how that could possibly be true, because she’s clean now, and if this is what being clean feels like, then how did she even manage to ever get out of his bed and function at seventeen?
The car ride is long, silent and she feels electric, terrified she’ll blurt out something along the lines of: I got myself off thinking about your hands. More times than I should have.
She’s Veronica Mars, she doesn’t do intimacy, that used to be her tagline back when. She grips the leather seat till her knuckles turn white, but it’s either that or something else and she doesn’t want to know what. And the truth here is, he could land up on death row. She’s reading this all wrong, but instead it’s this for her: something about his hands on the wheel, the familiar/unfamiliar crevices that makes her hot and uncomfortable, her skin charged with static electricity, like paper would just stick to her body if she let it.
If he glances over twice, he does not do it a third time. She knows because she does.
“I missed you,” he says, just once, staring straight at the open road ahead.
Everything is different now. But when it comes to words, he makes an honest living; this she knows about Logan.
She turns her head away, smiles.
[step twelve: in all affairs]
“Are you awake?” Piz asks. He knows she is, of course.
Her dad is going to ask her why she didn’t make him use the couch, but she needs a catalog of why’s for the moment. Piz’s face is still bruised; he doesn’t belong here, he belongs on the streets of New York. Maybe if she sleeps with him right now, right this moment, she’ll remember what the city tastes like.
She doesn’t answer. This is her first-- mistake, honesty-- well, something.
She’s not drunk, not exactly, not on the job, that's not who she is, but it's an easy pretense, anyway. She’s been pretending her whole life, and there was this time in the middle there, hundreds of miles away, when she convinced herself she’d stopped, but maybe— maybe all that happened was she just got better at it.
He doesn’t ask again. When he switches off the light and lies down next to her, she doesn't draw in closer, like she should. He doesn't either, his breathing far too even for him to be asleep.
(This is what she knows he knows about her: she’s always been that much of a trainwreck. She was his mistake.)
When he breaks up with her, gives her that, because she’s apparently selfish and a coward, she cries in her room at night. Piz deserves that much.
Her voice is swollen when she picks up the next call, and Logan talks around it, tells her the background of the days before Susan’s death that she isn't familiar with, completely impersonal. Maybe he thinks he has no right anymore, but fact is, this is also something she knows about him: he’s never been particularly good at this, wasn't built to step aside, and he only talks around it till he doesn’t.
His voice sounds rough when he finally says, “what happened?”
And Lilly sits at the edge of her bed, legs crossed; sixteen, always, forever: listen up, Veronica Mars, today is the first day of the rest of your life.
[step thirteen: relapse and/or recovery]
His touch is less/more reverential than she remembers, and she’s always hated/loved his worship. She wants to bleed out her fear, her desperation and tell him that yeah, okay, fine, they’re epic and she believes it, like she’s sixteen and naïve, like she’s sixteen and Lilly never died and Cassidy never found her drugged in a room and her mother never ran away and her father didn’t just get hit by a car and isn't lying in the hospital chained to tubes, like everything happened just as it did in a stupid dream she can't even remember if she ever really had. Like she’s that sixteen.
Or maybe, like she’s the sixteen she was, and she's the twenty eight she is, and everything that happened, happened, to her, to him, to everyone in this fucking town-- and she’s done running.
She has sex with him, pushed against the wall of her living room, in the bedroom she's going to recognize from on by his lowered voice and whispered words, makes a holy mess of the sheets she didn’t pay for. His thumb curls into the inside of her wrist, and she doesn’t want her pulse hammering like that, because that’s another language he can read.
She can barely breathe that first time, slow down long enough for it, because if she stops, even for a moment, maybe she just won't be able to start again ever, and he keeps telling her it’s okay, Veronica, it’s going to be okay, and here’s what she knows about Logan: he doesn’t lie, he omits, so if he’s saying it at all, it has to be true.
The second time, when she’s tired out, the nervous energy almost drained, the panic quieting down to exhaustion; he goes slower.
And when he sinks into her, finally, achingly, that—that feels like being back.
This can't be normal, she's fairly sure, her high school boyfriend's cock literally feeling like home. But then again, what about her is.
He swipes his tongue across the pulse point at the base of her throat, like this time, he's trying braille. She wants to tell him truths too; tell him there's a black nailpolish stain on the rug she couldn't even afford in her apartment back in New York, and it's all his fault that whenever her eyes fall on it, her heart slams into her chest and she thinks she may throw up.
But she's not there, not just yet, so I missed you, is all she can manage through clenched teeth. Maybe it's cheating because he's already said it, already made himself vulnerable, but, with her, it's a confession, admission, an apology, defiance, all at once, and maybe-- maybe he understands because he says fuck, Veronica, when he comes, hot, low, urgent; and it's strange, after all this while, after everything that's different, this didn't change.
She doesn't close her eyes, in case you were wondering. Some battles, she's heard, aren’t for the winning.