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And grace, too.

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I.

It's the same dream, over and over again, never mind the details. Only the location changes, the words, the time of day. So many things to miss. She's on the beach in the morning with Lilly, draped in an oversized Pirates sweatshirt, her knees pale and white in barely-there splashes of early sun. Lilly's talking about something, a dirty page in her magazine, twenty things guaranteed to drive him wild. The surf pulses steadily.

"You're not even listening."

"I'm listening." And she is, to everything. The muted drone of cars passing by the boardwalk, running shoes slapping the tar of the bike path, Lilly's voice washed warmly with stolen champagne, close to her ear. She hasn't heard that sound in ages. "You were saying something about happy trails. And not the Dale Evans kind." Lilly laughs. Veronica watches her manicured fingernails picking the wrinkled edges of the pages apart, wonders how she could be getting this information out of Highlights for Children. A shadow falls across the blanket. It's Logan, soaking wet, without a surfboard.

"Were you watching ?" he asks. To Lilly or to her, she can't really tell. Veronica stares at his feet, crusted with sand, and back up at his face. The sun's behind him. "Were you watching when I went under ?"

She finds she can't answer.

 

 

Keith lost the vote, but he didn't lose his famous lasagna recipe, nor his habit of trading dish duty for homemade dessert.

But there's a kind of quiet in the Mars household, a silence that settles when the plates are in the sink and the leftovers are in the fridge and Veronica is drying the glasses. Keith is in his room instead of in front of the television, working on the computer instead of trading jokes over the last slice of pie. And she knows what it is. He hasn't said anything to her about it, hasn't tried to make her feel bad or guilty. He's been a little too nice. Not serial-killer nice. He's not mailing her to Peru. He's just- let it go. Or he's pretending to.

"Honey, I think that one's done."

Veronica glances down at the bone-dry tumbler she's still anxiously scrubbing with the dishtowel.

"Ah." She sets it down on the counter. "Still busy with your San Diego thing ?"

"Nope." He slides onto a stool. "The San Diego thing is in the bag." He smiles, cat ate the canary-esque, and rests his chin on his hands. Veronica waits a beat. "And I bet you're wondering about that metaphorical bag. Well hey, presto-" he waves his hands around like an amateur magician. "Tickets to the art museum," he says. "The La Jolla Playhouse, and..."

"And ?"

"The Padres," he sighs, and she laughs. "Don't judge me. I can feel the judgment in your mirth. Thought you might want to spend a weekend with your old man before you leave that didn't involve faxing insurance fraud documents."

"I do," she says. "Dad-"

"You'll have to spring for the cracker jacks."

"Are we ever going to talk about it ?" She stares down into the surface of the counter. "I let you down."

"Veronica," he says, "we're okay."

"How can we be okay ? You should be- you shouldn't have lost because of me. Because of what I did."

"We're okay," he repeats. And then she watches as he stands up and pads around the kitchen island in his sock feet. He opens his arms to her and she burrows her face into his shirt pocket for a minute, the way she used to when she was shorter and younger and the world seemed bigger, reassured by the good solid grown-up soap and photocopies smell of him. "You're my girl. You're always going to be my girl, Veronica. I admit I was disappointed. And you disappointed yourself." She grimaces. The understatement of the century. "So, we screw up. We let each other down, and we forgive, and we survive. That's how it works."

"It sounds simple," she murmurs.

"It is simple." He kisses the top of her head. "Now lasagna, that's difficult. A minute to learn, a lifetime to master."

Veronica laughs.

 

II.

On the first night of summer vacation Logan calls her cell phone, leaves a garbled message that sounds like he is sitting in a parked car by a major street with his windows rolled down. She listens to it twice and then something clicks: Veronica slips into a pair of sandals and tells Keith she's going for a walk. She goes out of the apartment, along the open corridor and down the stairs.

He's parked across the street.

She waits for a minivan full of screaming teenagers singing a Kelly Clarkson song at the top of their lungs, waits for a couple of boring sedans and a Lexus and a bright green Kawasaki to pass. They rush by in both directions. There's a floodlight on her side of the road and she's uncomfortably aware that she is standing right under it, washed out and glaring in the near-dark, while she can barely make out his shape in the Range Rover on the opposite side. She crosses when it's clear. Veronica walks around the front of the car. His passenger-side window is open all the way, and she looks inside. He's looking back at her.

"What's the line ?" he asks. "Come into my parlour-"

"-said the spider to the fly." Veronica unlatches the door and climbs inside. She sits in the overlarge seat, turned towards him under the faint reflected light from the windshield. She folds her hands over one kneecap. "I'm not entirely convinced who's who in this setup." He looks down at the steering wheel, grinning to himself.

"Dunno. If we polled the locals, you think they'd go fifty-fifty ?"

"Sixty-forty," she says. "Wait- spider or fly ?"

 

 

She didn't bring her wallet, but Logan drives them to the Cone King anyway. He buys a vanilla milkshake for himself and a sprinkle twist for her. They sit by the boardwalk watching the giddy mating rituals of early summer, the kids holding hands and the people walking dogs and the overserious joggers in short shorts. "Oh, yikes," she says, as a particularly high hemline goes by. "Leave something to the imagination." He drives her home. They talk about nothing, television, Dick's dad coming back, the seasonal scourge of miniskirts with Uggs. She knows he's purposefully not talking about the election, and she's glad. He left a message though, the day after. I'm sorry.

And yeah, tonight is a little surreal. Last summer was like this, and it's a bleached-out memory of evening light, yellow sand and orange waves and him trying to make her laugh, his hands on her hips, the world disappearing in sunset.

"When do you leave ?"

"Huh ?" She comes back to earth. "Oh. The twenty-second."

"And you're done in August ?"

"Yeah." She twists the seatbelt connector around, smiles as casually as she can. "I get home about two weeks before classes start."

"So," he says, awkwardly, "you're doing the long-distance thing." It takes her a second to figure out what exactly he means, and when she does she can't help but laugh a little at the pure childish pettiness in his tone.

"This is not your business," she says, leaning back. She watches the armor go up, the shoulders tense, his fingers tapping the bottom of the steering wheel. It's strange how his eyes stay so soft, when the rest of him takes on the body language of a brick wall. "But that question is about a week and a half too late." He glances back towards her. "So, no. No long distance thing."

"Ah." For a moment, he doesn't seem to know what to say. She knows the feeling. "He was-"

"Don't," she cuts in. "You don't need to do that. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't a good time, and we just didn't- things happened the wrong way, and that's fine. It's done." She inhales. "So let's not." She's starting to feel a little light-headed. This is too far, too soon. He's too close. Her heart's leaping like a fish. She pops the door and slides out, shutting it after her with a click. She's turned and headed for the stairs when she hears Logan's door open and shut, hears his sneakers on the sidewalk. She really should go up to the landing, close the door firmly after herself and stop this right here. Down this road lies madness. Wallace is right, Wallace is always right. She could walk away.

"Veronica-" he says, and it's enough for her to hear her own name like that again, all the longing in the way he used to say it, like every time was the first. She turns and he meets her halfway, presses his mouth to hers. They're under the streetlight again and she shuts her eyes against the glare, sees the burnt-in halos and starbursts under her eyelids.

"I'm coming back," she murmurs. She might as well jump off, if this ledge is going to be so willing. "We could try again." He kisses her forehead, the tips of her eyebrows.

"That's kind of our specialty," he says.

 

 

"Uh-oh," says Wallace, when she picks him up for movie night. "I know that expression. You are back on the wagon."

"I don't know."

"Then explain the face."

"We're- it's complicated. I don't know." Wallace shrugs. "I know that you guys aren't on the best terms-"

"Since he used my roommate as a punching bag ? No, we're not on the best terms." He frowns, staring out the window. "But that probably doesn't make a difference. You and Logan, I don't even know. It's like this weird rubber band thing. I'm not going to tell you what to do, because you're not even going to listen to me, Veronica Mars." He grins and shakes his head.

"Okay, in my defense, the wagon is incredibly good-"

"Don't finish that thought." Wallace tries to cover his eyes and ears at once. It almost works. "Don't think about finishing that thought!"

"-at poker," she finishes. "Get your mind out of the gutter."

 

 

In Virginia she misses her father and her friends and good Mexican food. She's always busy. She sends Mac a "Virginia is for Lovers" t-shirt. She texts Wallace about a million times. But mostly she works and studies and does what she's asked to do. Okay, sort of. She's learning a lot. She's trying to absorb it all, like a sponge. A nonjudgmental sponge that really, really wants to impress her supervisors. It almost goes horribly wrong when she discovers one of the new specialists isn't who he says he is, but thank God for a locked door and a working fax machine and really, there was no way the summer was going to be a boring one anyway.

She gives the details to Logan over the phone and appreciates his valiant attempt to sound nonchalant about her millionth brush with personal injury. He's really trying. In return, she doesn't ask for the details of his weekend in Tijuana. He gives them anyway. Dick, an ill-advised stop at a highway fast-food joint and an extended prayer at the porcelain throne all figure prominently in the telling. "Mystery," she groans. "You're rapidly losing it." August rolls around, and he says he's rented an apartment and moved all his stuff out of the Grand. "Really ?" She's surprised at the eager way he talks about buying a couch, a bathmat, a big-screen television. "You know you'll have to wash your own dishes. It's going to open up whole new worlds for you."

"Some people consider dishpan hands a real turn-on."

"It depends." She fiddles with the top button on her jeans, hoping her roommate is really not coming back anytime soon. "Is there a frilly little apron involved ?"

"Not so frilly. It says Kiss the Cook," Logan tells her. "But it doesn't specify where."

 

 

Her phone vibrates on her desk as she's cramming a granola bar into her mouth and getting ready to leave for her last full day of the program. It's Keith.

"I am so late," she says. "Just in case you're planning a heart-to-heart. Hold it in, if you can. I'll be home soon and we can paint out nails and catch up."

"Honey, Logan was jumped last night."

"What ?" She doesn't think she heard that correctly.

"Three guys with Russian accents, in the mall parking lot. A security guard called the cops." Veronica makes a hurt noise. "He's going to be fine. But they wouldn't release him from Balboa without a ride home. Cliff was in the ER with a client and saw him there, he's the one who called me. Do you have any idea why the emergency contact in Logan's cell would be the public library ?" She feels a hysterical bubble popping in her chest, and she holds a fist against her heart to keep it from spilling over.

"He doesn't have anyone," she says. "Where is he ?"

"He's asleep on the couch."

"Our couch ?"

"Veronica, is there something I should know ?" He sounds worried. More than a little irritated. Maybe he has a right to be. Her first impulse is to deny everything, keep him out of it, but lately she's not certain she should trust that little voice. This is too big to face alone. Isn't it ? She doesn't want to keep making the same mistakes, over and over again, and ride this merry-go-round of consequences forever. Not if this is what happens to everyone she cares about. "Is Logan mixed up in something ? Are you ?"

"I-" Now or never. "Yes," she admits. "Yes."

She thinks this feeling is relief.

 

III.

When Jake Kane walks into his study she is already there, sitting on the arm of the sofa. She waves hello. Jake reaches for the phone in his pocket.

"Your major in Trespassing Arts is going well."

"Let's talk for a minute," she says, and pats the couch. Jake flips his cell open and starts to dial. "Unless you're ordering a pizza, I'd slow that roll."

"Give me one good reason."

"I'll give you names, dates and places." She stares him down. "I want your complete attention."

He must take that seriously, because he shuts the phone and puts it back in his pocket. Jake sits down, not taking his eyes off her. She still can't believe this skinny, stubbly, pale miserable creep is the same Jake Kane that used to drive her and Duncan to the beach and sing along to the classic rock station.

"Talk."

"There was something on your drive I couldn't quite figure out. There were about a million folders, all with names, all with confessions inside. And only one empty folder, marked 'Logan Echolls.'"

"So ?"

"So, he was supposed to be in this year's class. He says he turned the offer down. Made a joke about any club that would have him as a member." She taps her finger on the edge of the chair. "But you didn't delete the file. Not right away."

"Just an oversight."

"I think it's because you still hoped he'd change his mind. You wanted him to take that spot. Because that spot was supposed to belong to someone else. Someone who'd want Logan to have it." Jake stiffens. "That was Duncan's spot. And you saved it for Logan because this," she gestures at him, "this Howard Hughes thing doesn't mean you forgot everything. He told me you used to let him sleep over when his parents were filming. Or when things got hard for him at home. You'd drive us all to get hot dogs when Celeste was out of town."

"Shut up," Jake yells. He stands and paces at the edge of the desk, his hands balled up at his sides. "Why did you come back ? To remind me of what I've lost ?"

"I came here for Logan," Veronica cuts back. Jake suddenly looks like he's listening. "Gorya Sorokin, you remember him ? A real sweet guy. He's trying to prove how tough he is by sending goons to put Logan in the hospital."

"I wasn't aware of that," he says, subdued.

"No, but you knew about his family connections," she frowns. "You didn't have a problem with that. Half your incoming class confessed to getting drunk and plowing into garden gnomes, but you've seen his tape, right ? Gripping."

"If you expose the Castle-"

"I don't want to," Veronica says. "I want you to take care of this. I want you to act like the head of this little cabal. I want you to tell Gorya that Logan is off-limits, forever, at your personal request, and I want you to be extra convincing. Because if anything else happens to him, I will not hesitate. I have copies of copies, and don't think that you can eliminate the problem by eliminating me. You'll be watching two decades of video confessions on youtube. And you will be prosecuted for your knowledge of about fifteen major crimes, unless the families of some of these guys come after you first to cover their own tracks."

"This isn't a game. You can't do this." He's losing steam. "You can't."

"I will," she snaps. "If anyone I love gets so much as a suspicious hangnail, you'll be hearing from me." She stands up and heads for the door. And for some reason she can't really fathom she waits a moment, watching as Jake seems to sink deeper into the cushions, his shoulders sagging. She doesn't know how they got here, how everything went so wrong and so strange that her dead best friend's father is now this sad, bitter person living in this shuttered house. She doesn't hate him. In fact- "I liked you, Jake," says, surprising herself. "You were a good dad." He gapes at her. His face is totally open, surprised and bare. "And Lilly and Duncan, they adored you."

On the way out she passes Clarence Weidman in the hall, where he is standing silently with his arms crossed over his chest.

"Miss Mars."

"Mr. Weidman." She glances over her shoulder and smiles. There is a flicker of amusement on his face, which disappears under the mask of tranquility as quickly as it came. Still waters, she thinks.

"You can see yourself out."

 

 

When Logan wakes up in the early afternoon, Veronica is sitting at the foot of his bed. He smiles groggily and pulls her down across the sheets into a kiss.

"When'd you get in ?"

"Late last night." She pets the weird cowlicks out of his hair. Tries not to show the rage and terror she feels about the giant welt on his forehead. "I had something to take care of this morning." She touches the mark gently with one finger. "Do you need anything ?"

"No." He lies back again and winces as his shoulder touches down. "Percocet is still over the counter, right ?"

She brings him Cookie Crisp in bed and they watch cartoons while he eats. Veronica takes in the look of his new apartment, which is mostly empty except for the swim trunks and jeans scattered on the floor and the empty cups on the bedside table and the hilariously large televisions in half of the rooms. It's way too expensive a place and way too huge, with a showy beach view and a balcony with glass doors right in the master bedroom. And he seems to have set the air-conditioning to "hotel." But there are two cups and two toothbrushes in the bathroom, she checked, one with the plastic wrap still on. She is absurdly touched.

"You have any plans before the semester starts ?" she asks, already thinking about long days wrapped up in this bed. A shadow seems to pass across his face, mottled as it is already. "Oh. No. That's not a good idea."

"You know I'm not going to let it go."

"You have to." She curls closer, under the blanket. "Last time was different. This time, you have to let it go." He stares at her.

"What was the thing, this morning ?"

"The thing ?"

"That you had to take care of ?" She doesn't answer, which is pretty much like answering anyway. "What did you do ?"

"Nothing you wouldn't have done, if you had a few hundred gigs' worth of leverage." She knows that's true. She's sure that what he feels about her, about this, is no less fierce than the crazy feelings that well up in her. She stretches and lies down, sprawled halfway across his lap. She closes her eyes and feels him stroking her arm in little circles. The sunlight coming through the glass is putting her to sleep. She just wants to lie still for a second and savor this, a moment of calm before- before whatever. Before the next wave.

"So what," he asks, half-joking, "I fuck up and you save me, and I fuck up again, and we repeat that for how long ? Forever ?" Maybe yes. Maybe no. She thinks about something her father told her.

"A minute to learn, a lifetime to master," Veronica yawns. "That's kind of how it works." He brushes the hair off her face and it's like she can feel every line in his fingerprint, the trails and swirls, like ripples in water going out from every stroke. She thinks about that, and then she thinks about nothing at all.

In her dreams, Logan is teaching her to surf.