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The Radio Game

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Trina used to play the radio game with her friends, which was where Logan picked it up, but most of his memories of the game involve Lilly and Duncan and Veronica, back in the good old days.

The worst round Logan ever played was the night his dad was arrested. He stumbled into his car, bruised and bloody and with that boy’s dead body burning in his retinas, thinking that Veronica believed him guilty of murder—thinking that Veronica had sicced the PCHers on him for Christ’s sake—and he’d been half ready to just accelerate into the nearest guardrail, but instead, he pulled his car over to the shoulder and tried to think. Where to go. How to fix this.

He didn’t believe in God, and it felt hypocritical to throw up a prayer just because he was suddenly desperate. If there were a God, the big guy would probably just roll his eyes and say this fucker and ignore the whole thing, because George Bailey, Logan was not and he had no illusions about the fact. So without prayer, without Veronica, and without any stable, useful adult figure presenting itself, Logan stared helplessly at the dark highway ahead of him, at the twinkling of headlights on the opposite side of the road, moving toward him and then disappearing out of his periphery, replaced by another set emerging in the distance. That guy was dead. He was dead, he was bleeding, they think I killed Lilly and now that boy is dead.

His eyes fell to the sound system before him. He remembered Lilly’s manicured fingernails poised over the pre-set stations, her voice honey as she asked the question, dirty of course: “What will I be doing tonight?” Logan was driving that day, and she’d glanced over at him. On again. And because it was Lilly, when she hit the button to switch to a Top-40 station, of course, the lyrics answered her question as if she had manufactured them as a part of her seduction: Call your name two, three times in a row...

They’d laughed.

Logan slammed his thumb against the radio button, and he couldn’t pray, and he couldn’t ask Veronica, and Lilly was dead and his mom was dead and Duncan hated him and that boy on the bridge was dead, just fucking dead, and he thought: What do I do?

A newscaster’s voice filled the car over the expensive speakers, and that’s how Logan learned that his dad murdered Lilly. He didn't laugh that time.

This morning, the circumstances are less dire. Logan recognizes this fact. Even his scenery is decidedly more pleasant: a suburban street, two miles from Veronica’s apartment building, a sunny June morning... the day after his graduation from high school.

Across the road, a forty-something woman in work-out clothes is loading two kids into a minivan, the older one—a boy—wearing a too-big soccer uniform as he scrambles into the backseat of the car. There’s another woman—this one younger, in her thirties, maybe—walking a beagle on a leash, and the mailman in his little white truck has stopped up the road to deposit some envelopes in the box by the curb. There’s no flag on this mailbox. Logan isn’t sure he’s ever actually seen a flag on a mailbox, outside of the movies.

Keith Mars is alive.

Logan’s really fucking glad that Keith Mars is alive—for so many reasons, not the least of which is that Veronica deserves to be happy, and it just wouldn’t be fucking fair for Aaron Echolls to literally get away with murder, while Keith Mars gets blown to smithereens. Logan is also extremely relieved that his obviously misguided attempt to take care of Veronica this morning are likely to go unnoticed in light of the revelation that Mars Sr. lives on.

You thought you could take care of her? You thought, what, you’d make her breakfast and that would fix something, like she would even be able to eat anything, like she would even fucking notice—she was screaming for her dad when she ran into the kitchen and if he hadn’t shown up, you would have devastated her. Fucking moron.

He notices the self-flagellation becoming indulgent, momentarily loathes himself for that, and moves on.

Not that Logan stuck around long enough to verify that his breakfast blunder had, indeed, slipped under the radar. He was out the door before Mr. Mars had the chance to throw him out, because as relieved as he is that Veronica isn’t alone in the world, that the only half decent father figure he can think of isn’t dead, he’s just not equal to being berated as a lamp-smashing fuck-up this morning—even if it’s true. It’s been too long a night.

Another boy is dead, and Logan’s ribs are bruised again, and his dad is an evil son-of-a-bitch. It’s not as dire as it was that night he learned what Aaron did to Lilly, he knows that, he does, but it feels... it feels almost worse. He’s not struck by overwhelming terror and self-doubt; he just feels empty.

He left Veronica’s apartment, got in his car, turned the key in the ignition and made it to the end of the parking lot before he realized that he had nowhere to go. Cassidy Casablancas stepped off the roof of his building last night and even if he hadn’t—even if Logan could somehow get his body through those doors and into that elevator and up to the suite and into his own bed and just close his eyes... he has no way of paying for it. His dad is staying in the very same hotel, and he has made it clear that he’s not giving Logan a red cent, unless Logan wants to play by his rules.

So Logan drove around the neighborhood aimlessly for a few minutes until he ended up on this unexceptional tract of ranch houses and minivans and soccer jerseys. He put the car in park along the first stretch of empty curb he found, and he sits there now, staring out through the window at touching scenes of suburban domesticity. He’s exhausted, but he doesn’t close his eyes, because whenever he does, he sees Beaver and hears it all again, hears my name is Cassidy his name is Cassidy his name was Cassidy that boy is dead now, you’ve known him half your stupid life and you didn’t even know what he did, what you let him do, what happened.

The car is quiet. The road is quiet, but Logan’s head throbs with the endless diatribe of voices, first Beaver’s, then his own, and then so many others all jumbled together, fogging his brain with my name is Cassidy you’re saying you want me dead my name is I hold the purse strings again my name he raped me he killed my father he raped me even if it was you we find the defendant my name is don’t why not guilty I keep waiting for you to poor little rich boy with a death my name is all the people on the bus quiet baby your father’s in a mood I can’t take it anymore my name is what will I be doing tonight what you said about our relationship epic even if it was you he raped me my name is

Logan thrusts his fist against the radio button just to fill the deafening, maddening silence.

Maybe things aren’t actually worse for him this morning, because there isn’t a warrant out for his arrest, and Veronica is happy and safe, and no one’s trying to kill him today, but Logan isn’t stupid enough to think that anything is okay. Before all this—before Beaver and Veronica and Mac and Keith Mars—Logan was pretty sure he had no fucking clue what he was going to do with his life. He has no marketable skills, no vested interest in college or continued academic life, and not much money of his own. And before all this, he’d accepted that this could be a problem, but had been sort of okay with the thought of drifting off into oblivion on a surf board or a morphine high or Dick’s boat... depending on how self-destructive he was feeling.

Nothing has substantively changed in Logan’s circumstances since last night. He still has no prospects and his dad’s still a murderer. The big, dramatic, Veronica-shaped change turned out to be short lived when her father re-emerged on the scene, one terrible intermediate night notwithstanding, and yet Logan feels as though his whole world has been turned on its head.

Beaver jumped.

Logan didn’t, but Beaver did. Cassidy did. One or the other or both, but not Logan.

But maybe Logan would have. He could’ve. He just didn’t want to be pushed.

He still can, of course. Jump. There are plenty of guardrails for him to smash this stupid car into, plenty of bridges to hurl himself off of, he even still has a gun. Unloaded of course.

For the first time in years, the thought leaves a bad taste in his mouth, though. He doesn’t really want to die anymore, he doesn’t think. He just doesn’t really want to live that much either. He’s trying to see the point in it, continued existence, but can’t. His one shot at being useful to someone was a colossal failure and only ended up making Veronica cry more

So sorry, I’m so sorry

He couldn’t even tell Beaver not to jump.

Logan fishes around in his pocket for his cell phone and pulls it out. There have been half a dozen missed calls from numbers he doesn’t know, which he assumes are the sheriff’s department, trying to get him back down to the station for more questioning about what happened on the roof, but there’s one from a number he does know, and it looks like—yes. Dick left a voicemail.

Logan brings the phone to his ear to listen to it, and his friend’s voice, grainy in the shitty cell phone speaker, makes him sick. 

“What the fuck is going on, man? What the fuck did you—the cops said... Beave was on your roof during the party, and they said you were there too and—what the fuck is going on? Answer your fucking phone...”

It deteriorates from there. More swearing—it gets angrier and angrier and Logan thinks he probably owes Dick a phone call, but he doesn’t know what to say. He’s not even sure that he’s not angry at Dick. He thinks he is, a little. He thinks he’s a lot angrier at himself. That was Dick’s brother. Dick couldn’t be expected to know, if it was his brother. Like with Aaron.

How could you not know—

Maybe Dick is lucky, Logan thinks, staring at his closed cell phone and swallowing thickly. He’s going to have to live with what his brother did, with what he did to his brother, with all of it... but Cassidy is gone. That boy is dead. He’s gone. It’s fucking over. Not so for Logan. Hell, Aaron is living in the same fucking building as him.

It’s a red letter day for Neptune’s patriarchs: Keith Mars lives to dumpster-dive-for-the-greater-good another day, and Aaron Echolls goes free.

That’s the heart of the problem.

Things could be worse, sure, but really, Logan isn’t sure he can get behind living in the world with his father. It’s not even just living with the soul-crushing knowledge that Aaron Echolls will most likely go on to have a successful career comeback; that women will still come easy to him; that his wealth and popularity and ego will be fed in the months to come, even though he doesn’t fucking deserve any of it. What like you do. No, the most excruciating thing—the deal breaker, for Logan—is that he’s not sure he will ever be able to get away from it all. His mother never could; his mother was a better—sweeter, softer—person than Logan ever has been, and he has no reason to believe that he is any stronger, so he’s got no reason to believe he’ll be able to claw his way out of what his mother could only escape in death.

Free at last.

Maybe that’s the secret.

He listens to the insipid John Mayer song playing quietly on the radio and imagines his life in the years to come—he imagines making just nice enough with Aaron that, with a little guilt-ing, his old man continues to fund the booze and the drugs and the cars and the accoutrements of extravagance. He imagines brawls outside clubs with paparazzi, meaningless sex with women who really want to fuck his dad (fuck fuck fuck fuck), a succession of empty, intoxicated days where the best he can hope for—the highest high—is numbness and silence and never again thinking about my name is Cassidy or Lilly’s beatific face as she rode Aaron, lay bleeding beside the pool where they used to play Marco Polo.

Logan punches the number two button on his radio to another pre-set station, where a girl sings a sad song and strums a guitar. A bit on the nose, Logan thinks.

He remembers playing the radio game with Duncan and Veronica once—in Duncan’s car, this time. He was riding shotgun, because they’d just picked up Veronica. Ronnie, then. He can’t recall where Lilly was that day.

“Okay, your turn, Ronnie,” said Logan, and Veronica frowned, carelessly thoughtful—Logan saw it in the mirror. Her eyes rolled up, her mouth quirked to one side, mild concentration. “Um... what will I get for Christmas?” Which made him laugh, but she leaned forward, between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat and punched Logan in the arm and told him to just hit the radio, already.

“Not until you come up with a better question. That was—I don’t even know what that was...”

“Oh, just do it, Logan,” said Duncan, as if he couldn’t have changed the radio station himself. But Logan obeyed—good boy—hitting the scan button, which stopped them on oldies.

She wore an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini, that she wore for the first time, today...

Logan wolf-whistled and Duncan blushed and Veronica laughed, falling back into her seat again with an enthusiastic and commanding: “You should all be so lucky!”

With effort, Logan tries to change the fantasy—and he uses the term loosely, because it’s certainly a dystopian future that he’s conjuring for himself, straight out of Orwell... no, Huxley—into something positive. He imagines leaving Aaron behind forever. Rejecting the money, the luxury, the only blood relation he’s got left, and the only relation (Jesus, probably the only person alive) that has any interest in him at all, and just... just...

What, exactly? What exactly would he do?

Live on the beach, smoke a lot of weed, and surf, maybe. That sounds all right. Do something to keep himself mostly fed. Go nowhere, but hurt no one, and retreat into blissful obscurity. Disappear, like Duncan, but not quite like Duncan. Disappear, not fade. And then, on school vacations, Veronica could come home to visit her dad and play Gidget to Logan’s Kahuna, and even though she’d go home with the college boy, at least she’d be around from time to time.

That’s best case scenario.

Sounds good. Well, it doesn’t sound bad.

Logan hits four on the pre-set radio stations. NPR. The California Report. A journalist with a pleasant, soothing voice talks about expected rainfall for the year. Logan closes his eyes and sees Veronica clutching at Cassidy’s gun, and he opens them again. That’s better. The mail truck has reached the corner of the block, and a balding man in cargo shorts is mowing a lawn just two houses away.

Logan tries—really strives—to imagine Aaron pushing a John Deere mower over a square of crab grass, framed by petunias. Logan tries to imagine Aaron doing anything that normal people do... struggles to summon a single memory of real, genuine, sincere behavior from Aaron Echolls, Sexiest Man Alive, 1989. But everything was just so fucking practiced, all the time. He’d fire up the grill sure, occasionally walk through the house in his boxers, brush his teeth in the hallway, pump gas, lean close to the mirror to shave, and, once, Logan thinks he remembers seeing his dad run the net through the pool to fish out a stray leaf, but it was always such a show. It was subtle, maybe you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know Aaron like Logan did, but Logan had seen the real, true, Aaron Echolls, teeth barred, eyes bright, hand raised, and after that, everything else just seemed like—playing at being a real person. Pretend. Behaving like he saw someone on a TV show do once. Unimaginative, useless, like making pancakes to help someone feel better.

Seriously, how stupid must she think he is, god, really...

“Okay, I got one,” Duncan said, the only time Logan can remember his best friend playing the radio game for himself. Usually he just laughed at the others’ antics, passed his turn to Veronica, or let Logan and Lilly ask embarrassing questions of the radio for him—“Who’s DK’s secret crush?” (Logan’s question—they got big laughs when the radio responded with The Kinks chanting L-O-L-A), “When, oh when, will Duncan lose his virginity?” (Lilly’s question—Logan doesn’t remember the answering tune), “What will Duncan owe me when he gets creamed in mini-golf this afternoon?” (Veronica’s question—the alt-rock station spat out some weepy acoustic song that didn’t really relate, but it became Duncan and Veronica’s song anyway; Logan knows, because Duncan wouldn’t fucking shut up about it).

But one time, Duncan asked his own question. It was after Lilly died. It was after Aaron killed Lilly, Logan reminds himself for good measure.

They went surfing one morning, Duncan and him. Ditched first period, and when they sat in the warmth of the car (Duncan’s, formerly Lilly’s) afterward, wetsuits around their waists as they avoided that hellhole that was Neptune High, Logan switched on the radio and asked: “Should we go back to school today?” He whipped the dial theatrically, but the Kelly Clarkson ballad that followed hadn’t been particularly helpful.

“Okay, I got one,” Duncan said eventually. No enthusiasm in the tone. He didn’t even sit up, just sat flush against the driver’s seat, head back, chin in the air, eyes half closed—he looked drunk, but wasn’t—as he recited: “Should we go back ever?” He leaned forward just enough, back arched away from the leather seat, as though the top of his head were magnetized to the headrest, and tapped the dial with the blunt end of a fingernail.

Them good ol’ boys were drinking whisky and rye, singin’ this’ll be the day that I die...

They didn’t laugh, and they went back to school after lunch.

Logan turns off the radio when the reporter starts to interview a movie critic giving a summary review of The Devil Wears Prada

It’s frustrating, because:

This isn’t his lowest, or it shouldn’t be. He was worse after Lilly died, flying through his life in a drug-and-booze-fueled haze, thinking that once he was eighteen, he could get the hell away from Aaron. He was worse last summer, worse when he torched the pool, worse when he lied to Veronica about it, worse when she left him, worse when she hated him, worse when he fucked Kendall, worse when he tried to break Hannah’s heart. Any of those moments should’ve been rock bottom, because they were so much worse than this right here right now.

Maybe rock bottom doesn’t always feel like the lowest, though. Maybe it’s like rolling, falling, jumping down a hill, bouncing off the jagged rocks on the way down, each bump more painful than the last until you tumble to a stop. The stillness should be better, really, but there’s nowhere else to go, no hope for something nice at the end, you’re just stuck—worn, permanently misshapen from the ride down.

You saved Veronica last night, Logan offers himself feebly, and even the responding, but not Cassidy can’t quite ruin that thought. If he never does anything useful or good again in his whole life, at least one time, he saved Veronica Mars.

The responding, after all the times you failed to protect her, does manage to dim his satisfaction, though.

So, on the one hand, there’s that. There’s Veronica, there’s the slim chance that he might someday be someone that someone else might actually, theoretically, like; there’s a whole stack of maybes.

On the other hand, there’s the very real possibility that he’ll live out the rest of his life as a career fuck-up, stuck in the same miserable limbo that slowly but surely killed his mother.

He hates Aaron. He doesn’t want to think that this could happen, but here’s the truth, fuck everything, that he can deny as much as he likes but that won’t make it not so: his father loves him.

How’s that for devastating?

Aaron is the only human being on the planet who loves him. He’s a monster and a rapist and a murderer and Logan wishes he were dead, but Aaron loves his son—wouldn’t let his lawyers go after him, even though it would’ve been easier than framing Duncan Kane, still wants to keep Logan nearby even though he doesn’t have to, wants Logan to believe that he’s innocent, even though Logan knows he’s not. His dad is a sick, twisted fuck whose love is blood stained and toxic, but all the same, he loves Logan. And fuck everything, Logan’s not entirely sure he can stay away from that. He could do without the money, probably, the luxury, the comfort, security--but Logan's not sure he could go on completely, totally alone.

So here’s what Logan decides, flicking on the radio again, turning to soft rock and not really hearing it. He’s got two options and he’ll keep it simple, really simple, fifty-fifty, like flipping a coin. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Option number one: he can give the whole Being a Real Boy thing another shot. He can turn on his car and drive back to the Neptune Grand, clear out the hotel room that he’s already lived in far too long (what did you think, Duncan was going to come back and want the other room?), and spend every day of the rest of his goddamn life not needing, not being, not knowing Aaron Echolls.

Or:

He can admit defeat now. He can accept that living means being someone that he doesn’t want to be, and the only way to be at last free is to make use of that guardrail, bridge, gun, whatever, before he can fuck anything else up too badly. My name is free at last--

Logan holds his hand, which is perfectly steady, in front of the radio dial. He won’t use the pre-set stations, because he wants to keep this completely objective. He’ll just swing the dial once around as far as he can and wherever he ends up, that’s that.

Here’s his deal. Fifty-fifty, no ambiguity. If the first voice he hears is a woman’s voice, he’ll pick curtain number one. Try his luck at life. See how this turns out. If the first voice he hears is a man’s, it’s to the Coronado Bridge for him. Or a bottle of aspirin. Or the gun Dick Sr. gave him. Oh, wow, that would just be...

Logan exhales slowly. He’s just so fucking tired.

He jerks the dial as far to the right as he can and it stops on some obnoxious morning show program. In between sets and raunchy jokes, they report the news and the weather though, and now, the DJ—a guy—seems to be reading:

“...ing news, we're hearing that Aaron Echolls was found dead early this morning in his Southern California hotel room...”

It’s by no means the last emotional response that Logan will have to this news in the hours and days to come, but in that moment, he laughs.