No matter how many times Veronica reads the headline, it says the same thing: PROSECUTOR CHARGES MARS. Evidence disappears under Sherriff's watch. The newspaper is folded neatly at the bottom of her bag. Taking it off the kitchen counter is as close as she's come to a conversation with her father: she knows he left it for her to see, and he knows that she saw it.
She hasn't been home since, not that she has a good place to go. Mac's room is uncomfortable now that Logan and Parker have broken up. Parker tries to be nice about it, but "it's the least I could do after how cool you were about everything" doesn't hold much weight in between all the sniffles and baleful stares.
"Give her time," Mac says. "It's only been a few days."
Veronica lasts one night on the couch before she shoves her t-shirts into her bag.
"Veronica Mars, reigning down destruction wherever she goes," she says. Even when she doesn't mean to. Especially when she doesn't mean to.
"It's not like that, Veronica," Mac says, sounding desperate, and Veronica nods absently. It isn't her fault that Logan and Parker broke up, but she's to blame for plenty of other things, and she doesn't need to spend another evening caught between guilt and guilty pleasure.
Going to Piz isn't even an option. She doesn't know if he'd be tender or disappointed, and she can't bear either one. But no, who is she kidding? Piz would be tender, and Wallace would be disappointed. She's hiding from both.
Her father's voicemail decides the issue: "I think the very least you owe me is a visit home."
When he looks up at her, he looks so profoundly okay that she almost forgets what happened. Her father had destroyed evidence. To protect her. And he'd lost the election in the process.
"It must be a Mars talent," she mutters, and her father just keeps looking at her, polite and inquiring.
Veronica swallows. "I mean, looking okay, even when absolutely nothing is okay," she clarifies. "You're good at it too."
"I'm sorry if I taught you that trick," her father says.
Veronica stares down at the carpet. Like that's going to make this conversation any easier. Eye contact is probably on the list of things she owes her father, right up there with actually coming home after single-handedly devastating his dreams. She forces herself to look him in the eye.
"I dont -- I don't even know what I can say. I'm sorry doesn't really sound adequate." She swallows the lump in her throat and blinks hard because this isn't her time to cry. "If there's anything I can do to make it right, I'd appreciate it if you would tell me."
Is that the same speech Logan had given her after she found out about Madison? If so, she knows how hollow it sounds.
Her father folds the newspaper neatly and lays it on the ottoman in front of him. "The truth would be nice," he says evenly. "All of it."
He doesn't say for once, but it hangs in the air anyway. Veronica folds herself onto the floor next to the ottoman, not quite kneeling at her father's feet. Vinnie's face is still looking up at her from the front page of the paper, and she flips it over.
"There was a sex tape," she says, not letting herself look away from her father.
"Of you?" he asks, his voice breaking just a little bit.
Veronica's face feels hot. The muscles in her throat go tight. He didn't even ask if it was a friend or a client. She said sex tape and her father knew she would be in it.
"Someone recorded me and Piz. We didn't know." She blinks hard against the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks.
Her father is staring somewhere in the middle distance, the muscles in his jaw working angrily. "Recording someone and distributing it without their consent is a crime. Why didn't you tell me? I could have helped you, Veronica."
Right. Hey Pops, somebody taped me going down on my new boyfriend. Think you could do something about that? That would have gone so well.
"Helped how?" Veronica asks, not bothering to contain her eyeroll. "Shot them in the head? Burned their bodies and salted the earth above their graves?" She doesn't ask what he would have done with Piz for defiling his precious daughter.
"If they were lucky," her father says, looking grim. "So you hid it from me to protect me?"
Veronica looks down at her hands, then up at her father again. "No. I was protecting myself. You were always so worried about me spending the night at Logan's, or Logan spending the night here. And after the things that came up at the Echolls trial... I didn't want you to know that I had well, you know..."
Okay, eye contact done. Veronica stares down at the carpet, feeling the blood rush to her face.
"Veronica," her father says firmly. "Listen to me. I am sorry if I made you feel that way. You are an adult woman, and it wasn't my place to stop you from..." Veronica hears him shifting in the chair, and he tilts her chin up so she's looking at him again. "When you were growing up, I couldn't protect you from very much. I guess protecting you from that" -- he gestures vaguely -- "seemed like the one way I could keep you innocent. But Veronica, there is no problem that you cannot bring to me. I will always help you, no matter what it is. If you didn't know that then, I hope you know it now."
The world blurs, and Veronica leans back, taking a shaky breath. She'd promised her father the whole truth, and she'd give it.
"I didn't know the house belonged to Jake Kane when I broke in. I'd like to pretend it would have been different if I had known, but it wouldn't have. The hard drive had information about the people who made the tape, and I wanted them to pay. I wanted them to feel the way I felt when..." That's not a sentence she can finish. Her fingers are clenched into fists, her nails digging into her palms. "But if I had known what would happen to you, I wouldn't have done it."
"I don't care, Veronica. I don't care about any of it -- the badge, the election, the charges. I'd do it all again to keep you safe." He squeezes Veronica's shoulder, and she leans her head against his knee.
"And for what it's worth," he says, "I hope you made them pay."
Veronica sits up, wiping her eyes. "I didn't. I couldn't. The guy who did it -- his family has a special woodshop in the mountains where they dismember the bodies of their enemies. Logan found out. I warned him, but he --"
"Made the guy pay?" her father asks, a smile ghosting around the edges off his lips.
Veronica nods. "He beat the crap out of him in the cafeteria. Publicly. And then he threw a tray of food on him." She wonders if it will always be this way -- her father and Logan, her two protectors, coming back to her over and over again no matter what she does.
Her father smirks. "Well, I always knew there was somethingI liked about the guy." He leans over and squeezes her hand. "We're okay, Veronica."
"You asked if there was anything you could do, and there is," he says.
"I'm listening," Veronica says, and counts the hours since her last quip. Five? Six? Eight? God forbid. She swallows a snarky comment about a chastity belt and wonders if there's a twelve step program for people like her.
"I want you to leave Neptune," her father says. "For good. Take your internship, and after, I'll bring your things wherever you want to go. But don't come back here."
"You don't want me to work for you?" Veronica asks. Her voice sounds small, and she pushes on hurriedly. "I have this whole business plan, how we can work up to better clients, focus on people who've been unjustly accused... I could get a business degree even, work that side of things." And be her father's partner, not the person who gets him in trouble.
Her father takes her by the shoulders. "I'm not asking you to leave because I'm angry, Veronica." He swallows. "Asking you to go is hard, believe me. But this town eats people up, and I can't watch that happen to you."
He answers fast, just like she'd known he would. Sounds ominous.
Veronica doesn't have an answer to that, and her phone rings ten minutes later.
"Is there any way I could convince you not to do this?" Piz asks.
"We do need to talk. You could come over now if you want," Veronica says, slumping against her pillows.
"Right. Rip the band-aid off quickly," Piz says darkly and hangs up the phone.
Piz gives the door a skeptical side-eye. “Is that a trap?” he asks.
"Don't mind him. He's just trying to be cool," Veronica says. "It's a long story."
Piz nods. He’s still standing in the middle of the room. His shoulders are tight and his hands are shoved deep into his pockets, and Veronica thinks it would be very easy to hug him and say that nothing is wrong after all, sorry about ignoring him for half a week. And he would forgive her and forget about it, just like that. Which is exactly why they shouldn't be together.
She opens her mouth for the good ol' it's not you, it's me, but suddenly he's sitting next to her on the bed, his eyes alight.
"You know, Veronica, I think we had a really good thing going," he says. "You were having fun, I was having fun... Sure, the whole sex tape thing is weird, but why let it ruin something we're both enjoying?"
He looks up at her uncertainly, and Veronica shifts away. "It's not because of the sex tape," she says, looking down at her hands. "Just trust me, Piz, you don't want to be with me right now. I disappear for days at a time, my emotional availability is questionable at best, and I do things without thinking about them, no matter what the consequences for the people in my life."
"Being nice doesn't make me an idiot, Veronica," Piz says. "I'm pretty sure if you actually were all those things, we wouldn't have been having fun. From where I sit, you do a lot of good for a lot of people. If that makes things a little weird sometimes, I'm okay with that."
"That's not all this is about, Piz," she says. "My dad lost his job because of something I did. I can't have fun right now. I have to focus on making things right."
Piz nods. "I get that. But let's take a break instead of breaking up. Go to your internship, take your time, and when you get back to Neptune, we'll see where we stand." He stands up, smiling, like the matter is settled.
Veronica shakes her head. "I'm not coming back to Neptune, Piz," she says and watches his face fall. "Being here, it -- it pulls me under. I can try to be normal, happy, not find the darkness and corruption buried inside everything and everyone. But there's too much baggage here. I always get pulled back in." She stands up and brushes the hair out of Piz's face. "You're a really good guy, Piz. You deserve to be happy."
Piz squeezes her hand. "Well, for the record, so do you." He brushes his lips against hers, and then he turns to leave.
"Stay in touch, Veronica," he says on his way out the door.
She smiles, but they both know she'll never call.
When she can't stand the silence anymore, she picks up the phone and calls her father.
"Hey, Dad, I don't want you to get the wrong idea when I ask this," she says into the phone. It's a good thing her father hasn't figured out Skype yet; she doesn't want him to see her fidgeting.
"What is it, honey?" he asks warily.
"I just want you to know that I haven't seen Logan. Or spoken to Logan. Or even texted Logan since he beat up that guy for me, and that's not going to change."
"But...?" her father asks.
Veronica takes a deep breath. "But he did kind of attack someone who has a creepy murder shed, just because he cared. Is there any way you could keep an eye on him, make sure he's okay?"
"No can do, honey," her father says glibly. She pictures him on the other end of the line with his feet propped on the desk and a carton of Chinese take-away in his hands. "As it happens, I went to visit Logan after I dropped you off. I wanted to thank him for defending my only daughter's honor, and as you say, make sure he didn't wind up in the creepy murder shed."
"I see," Veronica says. "But then your deep seated hatred of him took over, and you killed him with an axe instead?"
"Ah, no, actually," her father says, and there's a break while he chews and swallows a bite of his dinner. "He told me that he had enlisted in the Navy. He left for bootcamp yesterday."
"Wow" is all Veronica can manage. Logan's safe, she supposes. From the murder shed, anyway. Of course, he'd traded it for several other ways to die. Or, more likely, a fun new opportunity to defy authority for a few months until the Navy gives up and kicks him out.
After she says goodbye to her father, she leans back on her bed and tries to compose a text message to Logan. But what does one say to an ex-boyfriend who had most likely gotten drunk before signing his life away to Uncle Sam? Try not to die? I hope you're okay? Let me know how many push-ups you have to do before you finally decide to go AWOL? Nope. Veronica shakes her head and throws her phone back into her bag. She's starting a new life, and maybe Logan is too. His choices aren't her business anymore.
"So, Pa, you going to the big house?" she asks. Her dad has figured out Skype (finally), and she watches his facial expression shift from happiness to unease.
"Veronica, I told you I wouldn't discuss this with you and I meant it," he says, leaning a little too close to the webcam. His forehead fills up half the screen.
Veronica frowns. "Why don't you lean back so I can see more than your gigantic bald head? And you need to tell me about this case. One, it's my fault you're even dealing with this and two, the outcome directly affects me."
Her father leans back, looking annoyed. "Let me be the parent for once, Veronica. I'm going to take care of this, and when there's something to know, I'll tell you. I promise."
The card arrives three days later. Her father's handwriting is unusually neat, as though he'd written it down for practice once and made a final copy later.
Dear Veronica, it says, I am sending this to you in writing because you often fail to listen to what I say. I am not angry with you and I don't want you to feel guilty, and I'm going to explain why. After your mother left, I was lonely. I lost my wife, my job, my house, and my good standing in our community in a few weeks. The only reason I could get through it was because of you. You might not have realized it, but I leaned on you. I made you my friend and my business partner and no matter what it cost you, you did not complain. Some of the things that happened to you were outside my control, but I am part of the reason you grew up before you had to. I should have taken us both out of Neptune, but I stayed out of pride, and I owe you as much as you owe me. So let me take the hit on this one, okay? You are worth it, and all I ask in return is that you be happy.
After Veronica finishes crying, she calls Cliff. Not snooping had been in implicit part of her agreement with her father, but no addict recovers overnight, right?
"I need to know what's happening in my father's case," Veronica says.
"Nice to hear from you too, V. You know there's a thing called attorney-client privilege, right? It's kind of a big deal," Cliff says, and Veronica braces herself against a sudden wave of homesickiness. She hadn't realized how much Cliff had been a fixture of her life in Neptune, or how much she would miss him.
"I'm not asking for confidential details," she says. She takes a breath. "It's just that I asked some of my buddies at the FBI, and it turns out that evidence tampering is a serious crime. I need to know if my dad is going to jail."
"No," Cliff says, sounding reassuringly decisive.
"How can you be so sure?" Veronica asks. According to the state of California, penalties range from twenty-four months to twenty years.
"Well, for one, rumor has it that the hard drive you borrowed from Mr. Kane was full of unsavory information about Neptune's best and brightest, the county prosecutor included. Two, you can't prove evidence tampering without proving intent. All anyone can prove is that your father unwisely stored the security tapes near a very powerful magnet."
"Okay." Veronica drums her fingers on the tabletop and steels herself for the second most frightening question. "Is he going to lose his PI license?"
"Not likely," Cliff says. "If he has a decent lawyer -- and I am comfortable with calling myself at least halfway decent -- he'll plea bargain down to negligence. There will be a fine and an injunction against running for public office, but he'll be okay."
"Thanks, Cliff," Veronica says.
"Anytime, V. Take care of yourself, kid."
Veronica hangs up the phone and pulls the Stanford transfer application out of its envelope. Does her father know how punishing it is to demand her happiness as recompense for spoiling his dreams? No, probably not. He probably just wants her to be happy.
Veronica cradles the phone against her ear and bends over to unpack the last of her groceries. "Nope," she says. "He thinks it would be kind of like an alcoholic spending a week in a bar. If I were there for a night, I’d probably spend it on a stakeout."
"So you're really giving up solving mysteries?" Mac asks.
Veronica sighs and strolls over to the couch, leaving her yogurt cups on the counter. "I think I have to, Mac. Ever notice how even my best friends don't trust me?"
"I trust you, Veronica," Mac says hastily. She takes a breath. "Well, okay, I don't trust every word that comes out of your mouth. But I trust you to have my back and take care of me when I need it. That's more important than whether you tell occasional lies in the course of an investigation."
Veronica squeezes her fingers around the phone, which is a poor substitute for actually hugging Mac. "That means a lot," she says. "If I knew how to express gratitude without sounding sarcastic, I totally would."
Mac laughs. "I could be your sponsor," she offers. "Like, if you're about to take a case, you could call me instead."
"Thanks," Veronica says. "Do you think there's a twelve step program for people like me?"
"Uh, no. I think you'd have to get addicted to something normal. Like heroin."
"Bummer. I just promised my dad I was going to stop breaking the law."
Mac pauses, and Veronica hears her take a breath.
"Okay,” Mac says, “if I say something, do you promise not to bite my head off?"
"Yes, but is it okay if I stick a pin in this voodoo doll instead?"
"I'm going to ignore that quip and bravely press ahead," Mac says. "I think you should consider going to counseling. I know you don't like to admit it, but you've kind of been through a lot. It might help to talk to someone."
"Trusting strangers! My favorite thing," Veronica exclaims. "What if I just settled for taking Psych 101?" She's already highlighted it in her course catalogue and everything.
"Maybe with a side of Abnormal Psychology," Mac says. "But seriously, Veronica, promise me you'll at least think about it? I didn't want to talk about what happened with Cassidy either, but it really helped."
"You're playing the we-got-raped-by-the-same-guy card? Ouch. You mean business."
"I do, actually. I'm even wearing my business face. You can't see it, so just pause for a minute and picture it. I'm going to find out about Stanford's free counseling service, and then I'm going to pretend to be you and make an appointment. It's my first official act as your sponsor."
"Wait. You don't know my student ID number. I don't even have a student ID number yet."
"When you do get one, I'm going to find out. You've taught me the tricks of your trade, and now you're screwed."
When the numbers start blurring in her textbook, Veronica clicks Mac’s latest email open.
This week, Madison Sinclair plunged deeper into hell when she dropped out of UCSD and her father bought her a pole dancing studio for her birthday.
Would that all our fathers be so loving, Veronica thinks.
Now Madison gives pole dancing lessons to Neptune’s stripping elite. Rumor has it that she’s also a lady of the night, but some of us don’t have your stakeout skills, so it’s hard to say whether that’s true. By which I mean that Wallace said following her would be crazy, so we’re not going to do it.
Veronica would like to judge Madison, she really would. But then, it’s hard to judge someone who’s apparently found a path to economic success that doesn’t require selling your soul to student loans.
Susan Knight fell off a rich person’s yacht. No one knows what’s happening, and everybody has lawyers. Except for Dick, who apparently slept through the whole thing. Oh, and Carrie Bishop dropped out of Cornell right after. Someone said she got a recording contract, but the smart money is that she dropped her friend’s body into the sea.
Veronica scrolls through the rest of the email, taking note that Logan had apparently survived basic training and is on tour somewhere in the South Pacific. She tries to picture that one, but her brain short circuits every time she tries to imagine him following an order.
Oh, and by the way, I’m gay. Just thought you should know. It’s a big deal but also not. Why do I have to invest all this time and energy into coming out when my sexual orientation is only a small sliver of my identity and I know my friends don’t care? Anyway, there’s your totally anticlimactic secret for the day. Let me know you got this so I can stop feeling weird.
It’s one a.m., but Veronica calls anyway. Mac has approximately the same sleeping schedule as a vampire, and there’s nobody else in the library this late. Maybe they’d done all their calculus in high school, like good girls and boys.
“How have I lived in California all my life and never had a gay friend?” she asks.
“It’s probably because you only have three friends,” Mac says.
“Hey. I’ll have you know it’s at least six now, and also an uncountable number of distant but unobjectionable acquaintances.”
“So the therapy is working?”
“Slowly," Veronica says, scanning the library shelves for possible eavesdroppers. "I’m trying to stop wondering which people have seen me naked on the internet...or which people would put naked videos of me on the internet if given the opportunity.”
“That sounds healthy,” Mac says.
“Speaking of healthy, I totally ignored it when someone stole copies of our French exam,” Veronica says. “I am officially on the wagon. And a little bored. But that will get better, right?”
“Right,” Mac says firmly.
“And how did this conversation get to be about me?” Veronica asks. “I thought I called to tell you that I know you’re gay, and I’m glad you found what makes you happy.”
“I don’t want to need to hear that, but I kind of do,” Mac says. “You remember when Logan told you that if the best part of sex is the cuddling, the guy is doing it wrong? For the longest time, I thought I was doing it with the wrong guys, or I had leftover rape trauma or something, but no, turns out I’m just gay.”
“Did you tell your parents yet?” Veronica asks, trying to decide if they would care, or if Mac would care if they cared.
“Yeah. It was totally a ‘pass the potatoes, I’m gay’ situation. My dad just grunted, and my mom said some stuff about Jesus. Honestly, my ability to pretend I’m related to them wanes with every visit.”
“Understandable.” Veronica shifts the phone to her other ear. “And Wallace?”
“Tried to be my wingman at a party and got overstimulated, so we had to leave. Which is okay. I don’t think picking up girls at parties is my speed,” Mac says.
“So you’re okay?” Veronica asks.
“I’m okay,” Mac affirms. “Any luck finding a major that won’t destroy your faith in humanity?”
“What little of it is left, you mean?” Veronica asks, tapping her pen against the table. “I eliminated business. Too many douchebags. And architecture. Too much math. The job outlook for journalism is kind of bleak, but I do like my psych class.”
“Enough to make a career out of it?” Mac asks.
“Maybe,” Veronica says. “Hey listen, the lady at the reference desk is trying to kill me with her eyeballs, so I gotta go.”
She hangs up before she confesses to having a CIA brochure in the bottom of her bag.
Finally she gives up on her statement of purpose and calls Wallace.
"Do your students ever do things that make you want to kill them?" she asks. She shuts her laptop with a decisive click, not bothering to save the eighty-seventh draft of her U Chicago application.
"Were you not listening last week when I told you the freshman basketball team had a contest to see who could eat the most Fiber One bars?" Wallace asks. "Let me tell you, that ended badly."
Veronica tries to picture Wallace student teaching at Pan High. Imagining him in the gym is easy; seeing him in control of two or three dozen teenagers is hard. Still, his decision to become a teacher hadn't wavered since he'd come back from Uganda and changed his major from engineering to education.
"And that doesn't make you want to, oh, stab them with a rusty spoon and quit your job and never come back?" Veronica asks.
"One, a rusty spoon would be a really dumb way to stab someone. And two, no. I don't always get why I like my job, but I do," Wallace says. "What's wrong, Veronica?"
"Well..." Veronica picks up a stray highlighter and twirls it between her fingers. "You know I've been doing that volunteer counseling thing in the freshman center, right?"
"Uh-huh," Wallace says. "I do know. Unlike some people, I actually listen when my friends talk to me."
"I'm sorry I missed your story about the basketball team and the diarrhea bars." Veronica frowns. "Okay, actually I'm not. I kind of wish I'd missed it the second time around too."
"Pseudo-apology accepted," Wallace says. "But if you don't listen next time, you'll probably miss out on the one and only time I want to talk to you about a girl."
"There's a girl?" Veronica squeals.
"I said next time, Veronica. Now you're just avoiding the issue," Wallace says. "I thought you psychology types would know better than that."
"Okay." Veronica sighs. "I'm sorry I didn't listen to you last time we talked. And you're right, I'm avoiding telling you that I hate my job. Well, not my job per se. I like psychology. I just don't like talking to stupid people. There's the one girl I've seen four times. She's obsessed with this guy, and it's obviously not working out, but she just keeps going tback to him."
"Right," Wallace says. "Sheer stupidity."
Veronica flushes, even though she hasn't seen or spoken to Logan since she left Neptune three years ago, no matter how curious she is about how he survived in the Navy.
"Okay, not the best example," she concedes. "But there's this other guy who's about to get kicked out of Stanford because he can't stop setting fires. And I know that pyromania is a serious mental health issue, but all I want to say to him is stop fucking burning things." Veronica slumps back in her chair, savoring the relief of finally admitting the truth.
"Yeah, I don't think you should be a psychologist," Wallace says.
"You know Wallace, I really needed to hear that," Veronica says, leaning down to stuff a Penn State brochure into the shredder.
"Anytime," Wallace says.
She logs out of the Columbia app and opens her email without even thinking about it.
I know this is probably going to get lost among the correspondence from all your screaming fans, but I just wanted you to know how happy I am for you. Congratulations on achieving your dreams. And by the way, I do a mean impression of Ira Glass. I'll show you if we ever see each other again.
She really shouldn't be surprised when Piz writes back in less than a day: let's change that if to a when.
And why not? Veronica thinks. She's coming to New York soon to tour campuses. Might as well squeeze in a visit with one of the few people from her past she cares to remember.
When she meets Piz in a bar in Williamsburg, she dodges questions about her three years working as a paralegal to pay off her student loans. "Just my obligatory attempt at a quarter life crisis," she says, and skips straight over her law school applications to talk about Piz's radio career. The truth is, nothing Veronica had done at Stanford appealed to her nearly as much as the PI work she'd done for her father, but that was adulthood, right? Sometimes you skipped over the fun stuff in favor of more important goals, like keeping a roof over your head and not having to buy the cheap brown bananas at the grocery store.
"I'm buying this round," Veronica says, snatching the check as soon as the waiter delivers it. "My compensation for six years of radio silence."
"Fine," Piz says, amiable as ever. "But when you come back to New York, I'm taking you out for real."
"Ever the optimist," she says, sliding her credit card into the black plastic folder. "If you haven't noticed, Ivy League law schools are kind of picky."
"And if you haven't noticed, you're really smart and all around awesome." Piz's smile is warm. "They're going to pick you, and I'm taking you out for a victory dinner."
"It's a date," Veronica says, because it's easy to agree to something that might never happen.
When Columbia sends her acceptance letter, Piz is the fourth person she calls.
"I know fourth doesn't sound great," she says, "but trust me, that puts you in the top third of my facebook friends. It's a real honor."
Dating Piz again is like slipping into an old pair of jeans or a favorite sweater: easy, soft, and comfortable. And that's what the new, improved Veronica Mars is all about, right?
"Well, actually... We kind of already did move in together last week," Veronica says, grateful that all her Skype lessons hadn't held. She's not really clear where her father got his old fashioned ideas about relationships, but she's glad she doesn't have to look him in the eye right now.
"I see," her father says slowly. "And will I be receiving an invitation to a large celebration involving a ring anytime soon?"
"Piz and I are not getting married. And I'm not pregnant," she adds hastily, just in case her dad has any strange ideas. "This a purely practical financial decision.”
"Does Piz know that?" her father asks, just as Piz walks through the front door. Veronica doesn't jump, but it's a close call; this whole living together business is going to take some getting used to.
"Does Piz know what?" Piz asks, and Veronica takes her father off speaker phone hurriedly.
"Nothing," she says, smiling innocuously. To her father, she says, "Yes, Piz was a part of our reasoned adult decision making process. With god as my witness, we’ll never have to buy dented mystery cans at the Price Cutter again."
"Well, I'm glad you two crazy kids have found a way to avoid botulism," her father says. “Just don’t forget to be careful with his heart.”
“Their eyes are haunting my every move,” she says over a bowl of ramen. It’s part of the cruel irony of their lives: their combined grocery budget is enough for better food, but they’re both working too much to cook it.
“Uh-oh,” Piz says. “Then they definitely saw us doing it on the living room floor.”
“Only because our bed is covered with laundry,” Veronica protests. It’s possible that she and Piz are not very good at adulthood.
“Sounds like someone feels guilty for not coming home with me last weekend,” Piz says.
Veronica wrenches her eyes away from the photo on the mantle. “Yes, that is technically possible.” She doesn’t mention how much reading she had to do; it would only restart last week’s argument.
“You know, you don’t have to be afraid of them, Veronica,” Piz says. “They’re nice people, and even though they pretend to be progressive, they’re actually really relieved I’m not gay.”
“Have you noticed how frequently I alienate nice people?” she asks. She might not solve mysteries and expose secrets anymore, but not everyone loves a smart ass.
Piz takes her empty ramen bowl and puts it on the coffee table. “Are you really worried they won’t like you?”
“Maybe. A little bit,” she admits. “What if they’re all ‘Veronica, what are your intentions for our son?’”
“And why did you defile him on the living room floor? Yeah, that would be awkward. If it actually happened. But it won’t, and even if it did, an Ivy League lawyer is a pretty good catch,” Piz says, smiling, all of last week's anger apparently dissolving in the face of Veronica’s weakness.
Veronica takes a deep breath. “So my dad and I are spending Christmas in New Orleans, but do you want me to come home with you for Thanksgiving?”
“Hell no,” Piz says. “That would mean I would have to go home for Thanksgiving. Grandma Edna would be all 'plastics, young Piznarsky', and Uncle Harry would get drunk and talk about 'Nam...just no. You’re off the hook till the new year, Mars.”
Veronica smiles and leans back against the couch cushions. “Rub my feet?” she asks, and Piz acquiesces, just like he always does. And okay, maybe she had offered to go to Oregon for Thanksgiving because she knew Piz would say no, but he doesn’t have to know that, right?
"That's convenient, since I don't have a locket," Veronica says, snaking her arms around Piz's neck. She narrows her eyes. "What exactly are you about to ask me to do?"
"Oh, I don't know," Piz tightens his arms around her waist. "Wear the sexy black panties when you come back. Maybe roast me a large and manly hunk of meat."
Veronica frowns. "Have you looked at our kitchen, Piznarksy? I don't think a manly hunk of meat will fit in the fridge. Or on the counter. Or in the oven."
"I guess that means you have to wear the panties then," Piz says, and Veronica feels a touch of heat bloom in her stomach.
"Does it have to be the black ones?" she asks, nipping at his neck. "Because I was thinking about the red ones."
She's about to ask him to remind her what she's coming home to when he tucks a finger under her chin and tilts her head up.
"Hey Veronica, this is actually a little hard. And I'm doing my very best to be okay with it," he says. "I want you to know that I trust you, and I respect your sense of justice." He takes a deep breath. "And when this takes, like, twice as long as you think it will, just be back in time to meet my parents, okay?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," she says. She's at least eighty-five percent sure she means it.
And anyway, it's not like she's actually going to have sex with Logan. Flirt, maybe. Sex, no. This is her last look at the one that got away.
And look she does. He takes her out to lunch before they interview lawyers, and she watches the way he moves. The theatrics are gone, replaced by a solid confidence. He's still funny, but he no longer communicates exclusively in wisecracks. He opens doors for her with casual diffidence, like he would do this for any man or woman who happened to be nearby, but it still makes her feel like the center of his attention. In short, he looks good -- not just on the outside, but on the inside too.
She's struggling with a way to say any of that when he says, "So what's your favorite thing about law school?"
It shouldn't be hard question, but it catches her off guard, and she has to cram a bite of salad into her mouth to buy some time to think.
"What's not to like?" she manages finally. "The long hours, the thousands of pages to read and memorize, students who'll pour water on your notebook if they get half the chance..."
Logan regards her steadily, and Veronica finally sighs.
"I like the competition," she admits. It's hardly noble, and honestly, tort reform isn't nearly as stimulating as criminal investigation -- but damn if she doesn't love to win. "Your turn," she says. "I'm dying to know why you stayed in the Navy."
Logan tosses a cherry tomato into the air and catches it in his mouth in a way that's wholly inappropriate for a nice restaurant, and suddenly he's her Logan again.
"The flying," he says.
Veronica wants to cry over losing Piz, but even when she feels the tears pooling in her eyes, she knows she's actually crying because she's embarrassed to be caught being such an ass. She'd gone out on a date and fallen into a relationship by accident, and when things got serious too fast, she'd put off ending it just because it was easier not to. The job in New York isn't worth her tears; no matter how much she admired the Jamie Lee Curtis look-alike who'd wanted to hire her, she didn't really want to spend her life awash in legal paperwork designed to protect the wealthy.
Logan is the first one who makes her say it.
They're laying in bed two nights before he has to leave. She's wearing his Navy t-shirt, and he's wearing nothing. Her back is tucked against his chest, and she's about to drift off to sleep when he says, "Hey Veronica, I want to talk to you about something."
She rolls over and looks up at him, expecting a conversation about their relationship or his deployment -- important subjects they keep managing to avoid between her hospital visits and their frantic lovemaking.
Instead he says, "Maybe this isn't my business, but I have to say it. If you don't want to be a lawyer, don't be one."
Veronica huffs faintly. "I don't not want to be a lawyer. It's just complicated with Dad in the hospital." She shakes her head. "The job in New York probably wasn't a good fit anyway."
"Veronica," Logan says. That's all. Just one word to mean don't be ridiculous and I still know you. "You don't have to lie to me," he says after a long pause. "I won't be disappointed or whatever. I just don't want to come home six months from now and find you in a job you hate."
"Do you have any idea how attractive it is when you call me out on my bullshit?" she asks, leaning her forehead against his shoulder. It's true. However guilty the comparison makes her feel, Piz would never have challenged her this way.
Logan smiles faintly, but he's still looking at her in a way that makes it clear she can't flirt herway out of this one. He expects her to talk about it, like the mature and reasonable adult he has apparently become.
"Okay," Veronica says, pulling away from him and drawing in a breath. "If not a lawyer, then what? Revenge obsessed adrenaline junkie didn't work out so well the first time, remember?"
"I think you should have more faith in yourself than that," Logan says in tone that makes it plain that he does have faith in her -- rather a lot of it, actually. "And as for the adrenaline junkie part, I get that. Maybe you should take my word with a grain of salt since some people would call my job fairly suicidal, but there's a lot to be said for feeling alive every day."
Veronica leans back against the pillows and wonders if it's that simple: be who you are, feel alive, be happy. Like a refrigerator magnet. She looks over at Logan, who's watching her through hooded eyes. Maybe he's starting to believe his own inspirational voicemail greetings.
"Wallace," she says, "You're a grown up."
She barges into the kitchen without waiting for an invitation.
"Did you refinish these yourself?" Veronica asks, fingering the mahogany-colored cabinets. She already knows the answer, the same way she knows that there will be no dirty dishes in the sink. Skirting around the butcher block -- which he probably also built -- she leans over to open the fridge. "I see your beer and hot sauce days are behind you," she says.
Wallace puffs with obvious pride. "Snoop around the kitchen all you like, but don't look under the bed, okay?"
"Wouldn't dream of it," Veronica says hastily. She manages what she hopes is a convincing smile. The truth is, it's a little sad, realizing how much of her friends' lives she'd missed in her headlong flight from Neptune.
"I know this isn't a spontaneous home tour," Wallace says. "What's going on?"
"I don't want to go back to New York," she says, leaning against the kitchen counter.
"I know," Wallace says, looking a bit confused. "Your dad needs you here."
"It's not just that," Veronica says, even though it's true: her dad does need her here. After the hospital will be rehab and physical therapy, and he'll have to wean himself off the pain medication before he can work again. Somebody has to run the family business in the meantime.
"Then what is it?" Wallace asks, reaching for a bottle from the wine rack.
Veronica shakes her head. "I don't ever want to go back to New York, and I don't think I want to be a lawyer either."
"So don't," Wallace says, like it's that simple.
"Weren't you the one who was all ra-ra-ra, kill the LSATs?" she asks.
"Yeah," Wallace says with a shrug. "When I thought that was what you wanted to do. Listen, Veronica, I get it. It's weird to give up a career when everybody thinks you have it made. I picked teaching over engineering, remember? But if you have a passion, you're lucky. I think you should go for it." He hands her a glass of wine. "Besides, things have been kind of boring with you gone."
"Thank you, Veronica," her father says. "For everything you've done."
Veronica stares at the steak on her plate and the bottle of wine they can't really afford. Her stomach clenches; she knows what's coming next.
"As much as it pains me to say this, it's time for you to go back to New York." Her father's voice is quiet and even, the soothing voice of a man who is certain he knows what's best for his daughter.
Veronica doesn't answer.
"Listen to me, Veronica," he says. "I know you don't want to, but I am your father. I would love to have you here with me, but you are trading away money and respect --"
"What about self respect?" she asks, her voice sharper than she means for it to be. "Does that factor into your equation?"
"Of course it does, Veronica," her father continues placidly. "And believe me, chasing after the money shot is not a profession that fills you with self esteem. If you don't want to be a lawyer, I can't pretend I understand, but there's a lot you can do with that degree."
Veronica stops him before he can reel off her options. It's not like she hasn't thought about them these past few months. "And what about the people here? Am I supposed to pretend not to notice what's happening? Let Eli Navarros of the world get crushed by the system? Where is the integrity in that?"
"It's not your problem, Veronica," he says firmly.
"Then whose is it?" she fires back.
When her father doesn't have an answer to that, she says, "I'm not selling out, Dad. I know I promised you that I would leave Neptune for good, and I tried. But I can't. It's not who I am." And it only took nine years and a really expensive degree to figure that out.
"This is not about what happened nine years ago, Veronica," her father says, his jaw working angrily.
"It is, Dad. I know you forgave me for that, and I forgave myself too." And maybe she'll always hate herself a little bit for the forgiveness, but her father had had choices; he could have left Neptune and become something else, however hard it might have been. "I think it's time you forgave yourself. Maybe you could have made different choices when I was growing up, but I'm glad you didn't. I don't want to be anyone other than who I am."
Veronica clenches her jaw. "I know what I'm up against here, Dad. Maybe I'll lose. But at least I can say I tried to win."
It's not as eloquent or kind as the letter her father had sent her nine years ago, but it's true, and that will have to do. She sits her napkin on the table, preparing for a dramatic exit, but her father holds out a hand to stop her.
"I'm in, Veronica," he says. "Whatever you need me to do, I'm in. There's no one I'd rather work beside than you."