They day before she flies out to D.C. for her FBI internship, Veronica spends all day with her dad. Just after dawn, she and Keith fly kites on the empty beach. Back-up runs loops around them, barking happily and chasing after seagulls. The sun is still low in the sky, but the waves are high and strong. Mornings were the best time to catch waves, someone had once told her. She finds herself looking out into the water more than once, searching for him.
"Kites, really?" Keith asks.
Veronica looks up at her kite. Its tail does a slinky dance in the sky."Dad, you know I'm going to need all the wholesome fun I can get before I jet off to the big, bad city."
They don't talk about the election or about school. They don't about leaked videos. They don't talk about boyfriends, present or past. Keith gives her tips on taking the Metro instead.
They eat lunch downtown. Keith buys them matching ice cream cones. For dinner, she makes rigatoni with spinach and tomatoes, and they eat in front of the T.V. She reminds her father more than once that she'll only be gone for three months. Not even sixteen weeks, really, and he gives her a tight hug as a response.
While Keith is doing the dishes, Veronica tells him she's just going to go out for some fresh air.
"Don't you have to finish packing?" he asks.
"Done and done," she says. "Don't worry, Papa Bear. Your cub will be back in the den in no time. I was just thinking, since this is my first time really away from Neptune, I'd take a nostalgic turn around the block so I don't forget what it looks like when I come back. I wouldn't want to get lost. I mean, 'how embarrassing,' am I right?" He throws a dish towel at her and then waves her off, reminding her that he doesn't care if she's of nineteen, she still has a curfew as long as she lives under his roof, and anyway, she has a 9am flight.
She rattles her keys at him and heads out the door.
Veronica drives with the windows down. For all it was, warts and all, at least the air in Neptune still smelled as fresh as the ocean. Washington would be different. It would be tighter, more frenetic. People would be pushy and mean in different ways, but she was up for some change. Maybe Neptune was a poison, and D.C. the antidote. She'd come back in the fall and be purged. She could be normal, or, at the very least, further away from abnormal. It'd been so long. But she realizes how far away she still is when she finds herself driving past the Neptune Grand one, two, three times. And his car is not there, not there, never there. She won't say his name. Her brain won't even form it, but its etched into her DNA, and she thinks it regardless every time she passes and he's not there. Her hands grow tighter on the wheel each time, her knuckles white even in the dark. She's been driving for over an hour, and the pressure in her chest radiates out into her fingertips and down her legs. She drives over every bridge in town and tries to wash away the image of his face smiling at the prospect of death.
She returns home and finds Keith waiting for her at the door.
"Were you doing some minor cartography?" he asks. "You've been gone two hours. I expect to at least see some preliminary sketches."
"Sorry, Pops," she says, pretty sure he'll forgive her for being out so long because she'll be gone come morning.
"Are you sorry for leaving your phone at home, too, young lady? I called you three times before I realized the ringing was coming from your room and not from my head."
Impulsively, she wraps her arms around him and whispers, "I love you, Dad."
"Don't leave your phone at home when you're in Washington," he says, trying to be stern. "Or I'll start calling on the hour, every hour."
They say their goodnights and Veronica checks her voice mails when the lights go out. There's one from Mac and one from Wallace, wishing her good luck. There are two voice mails from Piz, both asking where she is, why she's not picking up. Is she packing? Quality time with dad? He just wants to know he's thinking about her. It's late, and she doesn't want to call him. She feels tired at the very prospect. She paces the room with the phone in her hand and on her head. It buzzes with a text message, and her heart flutters with hope, despite herself. Not everyone has called to say their goodbyes. But when she checks, it's another message from Piz. "Goodnight, sweet Dreams." She's suddenly irritated with his random capitalization, and sees that he's sent her four other texts: "thinking about u," "where are you?" "I'm making you a d.c. mixtape," and "miss you lots!"
Veronica is anything but sentimental, but being with Logan made her understand certain things, like what it meant like to burn up inside. She still feels it when she thinks about him. Her heart tightens in her chest, and she wants to run--toward him at once and away at the same time. Sometimes at night she wraps her arms around her pillow and imagines that it's him. Muscle memory recalls his body, though the pillow is nothing like it. Her hands remember the density of his shoulders, the sinewy biceps of his arms. His arms around her, tight like forever.
Her relationship with Duncan was so high school. Puppy love, firsts, all the intensity of hand holding and googily eyes. Her relationship with Piz is very college. Uncomplicated, fun, more wry, more cynical, but not the be-all-end-all romanticism of sixteen. They can talk about movies and books, about new bands and foreign policy discourse the next. She can think about him without the rending of garments, without always wondering what was going to happen next. And then there was Logan. Always him.
She's had maybe eight hours of sleep over the last five days and she's starting to act crazed. She's forgetting things. She forgets words at the end of sentences and stares off into space, trying to recall the right adjective, noun. Even the sleeping pills aren't working. Sometimes, they just make her crazier. She draws her legs up to her chest, closes her eyes, and thinks about Piz's recent declaration of love. It slides by, like he's just told her about the weather. And of course, she thinks of Logan, about all the times he told her he loved her. How he burned with it. How his eyes shone and how she knew that meant forever. And Veronica thinks about how she never said it back, how the words seemed impossible then as they do now.
She drops her phone into a chair and falls into bed.
"I wuv you beary much," she says aloud, thinking about someone else who is not her boyfriend. Her head sinks into her pillow. She closes her eyes and all she sees is his face, and for once she lets her heart hurt. If she dreams, she wants to dream of starting over, but that doesn't happen. She doesn't sleep at all.